Inclement weather left a question mark hanging over on-track activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but the skies cleared long enough Sunday afternoon to allow the Fast Nine Shootout to play out and gave Simon Pagenaud the opportunity to secure the pole position for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500.
Consistency was key to Pagenaud’s four-lap run in the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet wearing its bright yellow Menards livery. While his first lap at 230.119 mph wasn’t the fastest of the Fast Nine session — that honor went to Ed Carpenter — his subsequent laps had less falloff than his competitors.
After a 230.011 mph second lap, Pagenaud bucked a well-established trend and actually increased his pace to 230.110 mph on his third lap. A fourth lap at 229.729 mph gave Pagenaud a 229.992 mph four-lap average, granting the 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion his first Indianapolis 500 pole. The result marked Frenchman’s 12th career pole and his first since Toronto in 2017.
Not able to repeat his pole-winning performance from one year ago, owner-driver Ed Carpenter settled for second on the grid. While his first lap was faster than Pagenaud’s, his speed dropped below 230 mph for the third and fourth laps, dropping his 10-mile average to 229.889 mph. Even though he missed out on pole, his second-place qualifying effort marked the fifth time Carpenter earned a front-row starting position.
Spencer Pigot, Carpenter’s driver and teammate who was fastest on the first day of qualifying, lacked the outright speed he previously demonstrated. With each of Pigot’s laps slower than Carpenter’s, he averaged 229.826 mph and secured a starting position from the outside of the front row.
Ed Jones, the third Ed Carpenter Racing driver in the Fast Nine, had the fastest lap in Saturday qualifying but was unable to back up is earlier speed. With a 229.646 mph four-lap average, Jones delivered a lockout of the second through fourth starting positions for his team.
Colton Herta ended Fast Nine qualifying as the fastest Honda driver despite being the only rookie in the group with a four-lap average of 229.086 mph, giving him a starting position from the middle of Row 2.
Shy of teammate Pagenaud’s impressive speed, Penske drivers Will Power and Josef Newgarden had the sixth- and eighth-fastest four-lap averages. The duo was split by Sebastien Bourdais who made the first run of the Fast Nine session and averaged 228.621 mph.
Long Beach winner and championship contender Alexander Rossi brought up the rear of the Fast Nine. His NAPA Auto Parts-liveried Andretti Autosport Honda dropped below 228 mph for two of its four laps, averaging 228.247 mph.
Hinchcliffe Survives Bumping, Kaiser Sends Alonso Home
The thrill of deciding the pole was preceded by qualifying for positions 31–33, a new spectacle for 2019 dubbed the Last Row Shootout.
Contested by the six slowest drivers from the first day of qualifying, the qualifying session for the last row began with James Hinchcliffe’s four-lap run that ended with an average speed of 227.543 mph.
Hinchcliffe’s pace remained the class of the group until Sage Karam took to the track with a comparatively massive 228 mph first lap. His 227.740 mph four-lap average took over the top spot and bumped Max Chilton from the field after four qualifiers.
With Fernando Alonso on the bubble and Hinchcliffe ranked second behind Karam, Patricio O’Ward was fifth to qualify and failed to have enough speed to bump Alonso. Instead, the reigning Indy Lights champion was bumped from the field.
Kyle Kaiser was the final qualifier in the No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, a makeshift road course car put together by the team after Kaiser crashed his primary car on Fast Friday. With a four-lap average of 227.372 mph, Kaiser bumped Alonso from the field by a margin of 0.019 mph — just 0.0129 seconds over 10 miles.
Thanks to Kaiser and his team’s efforts, the part-time driver will start from the outside of Row 11 alongside Hinchcliffe and Karam.
Besides the exclusion of a two-time Formula One world champion, this year’s Indianapolis 500 grid made history by being the closest field ever with just 1.8932 seconds separating the fastest and slowest qualifiers.
With rain having washed out what was to have been an afternoon practice session following the conclusion of qualifying, the next time cars will be on track at IMS is noon EDT on Monday for a two-hour practice session.