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HINCHCLIFFE ON PROVISIONAL POLE FOR THE INDY 500
Author: Mark W. Theisen
May 21st 2016 -      INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 21, 2016:     James Hinchcliffe, a year removed from a life-threatening crash in Indy 500 practice, was the day’s fastest qualifier with a four lap average speed of 230.946 to put his Schmidt Peterson Racing Arrow Honda in prime position to win the coveted pole position for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 next Sunday, May 29th.

     An impressive and exciting day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway saw the Honda powered cars prove that what they had been doing in practice was not an accident or luck but was, in fact, a complete turnaround from last year’s 500 qualifications.

     The surprise came in that it was a Schmidt Peterson Honda and not an Andretti Autosport Honda that sits atop the speed chart following day one of the two day qualification format now in place for the 500.  Andretti drivers had led the field in three of the five practice days and put three of its five drivers in the Fast Nine Shootout tomorrow but it was Hinchcliffe who stole the show along with one of his teammates, Mikhail Aleshin.

     Aleshin, who left pit lane for his third qualification attempt of the day (each car is allowed three) precisely one second before the end of the session.  Once on the track, the gun sounded to end the day, but because he was on the track he was allowed his four-lap attempt.

     Aleshin than made his nail biting four laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway count, by bumping his #7 Honda back into the top nine a third time.  His run climaxed a frenetic and exciting final 75 minutes of qualifying that saw the fast nine list change eight times, which is just how close it was today.  Impressive!

     The Fast Nine Shootout for the pole will commence at 5:00 P.M. tomorrow, with Simon Pagenaud out fist by virtue of finishing ninth today.  He will be followed by Carlos Munoz, Aleshin, Josef Newgarden, Townsend Bell, Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe.

     5 Honda powered cars and four Chevrolets make up the Fast Nine a complete turnaround from last year when nary a Honda made the prestigious Fast Nine.  It should be noted that of the four Chevrolets in the Shootout, three are from Team Penske and they look to add another pole win to their deep tradition of winning poles and races at Indianapolis.  Andretti has three cars as well, Schmidt Peterson two and the lone independent is Newgarden, who is driving for Ed Carpenter Racing, the team that has won pole positions for the 500 in the past.  It is truly anyone’s pole.  Speeds are close and just what weather, wind and temperature figure into the equation tomorrow will go a long way toward determining who will start #1 for the 500.

     “It was pretty good,” exclaimed Hinchcliffe talking about his top speed of the day.  “I mean it was really good.  Huge credit to the team.  They’ve worked so hard on these race cars since back in February.  We have three quick ones.  I made some mistakes on our first run and I tried not to let that get in my head.  We then ran four very consistent laps and it held up after some very good drivers made runs at my speed.”

     11 cars cracked the 230 mil-per-hour bracket this afternoon with only the aforementioned Chevrolets among that group.  Former 500 winners, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, all in Chevrolet’s were unable to crack that barrier and make the shootout, after being in it last year. 

    So close that Dixon said, after the day ended.  “It wasn’t the result we wanted for our team today, so we just have to keep working on things.  The field is really close and there are some guys out there who really put some speed on the time sheets today.  It is impressive that we are all so close.”

     “We had the fastest car on Wednesday,” said number two man today, Hunter-Reay,  “which was great but we had some troubles toward the end of the week so today we’ve just been getting up to speed.  Our first run, we just did not have the balance but our last run was great the whole team turned back around in the right direction and to have a shot at the pole tomorrow is terrific.”

     Power, who was fastest in yesterday’s practice was third in his Penske Chevrolet.  “Today it was more conditions than anything else,” said Power.  “Honestly I didn’t change anything on the car and didn’t’ trim it out any more.  It was just a matter of picking the right time to go in that line and make sure you made it too.  Today we had the luxury of multiple chances to get in the Fast Nine, tomorrow it is one run for all the money.”

     Two cars were unable to make qualifying attempt due to on track incidents in Turn 2.  Rookie Max Chilton crashed in pre-qualifying practice and Pippa Mann made light contact with the wall on the first lap of her qualifying attempt.  

     Chilton and Mann were uninjured.  By rule, because both were unable to complete their guaranteed qualifying attempt due to an on-track incident, they will be placed at the rear of Group 1 for qualifying tomorrow.  The same goes for Gabby Chaves, who withdrew an earlier qualifying attempt and then waived off a second attempt after one lap.  These three cars will begin the qualifying tomorrow that will set positions 10 through 33, followed by the Shootout that will lock up the pole.

    It has been a remarkable turn round for Honda now it is up to one of those 5 drivers to thwart the Penske juggernauts that has captured so many Indy honors.

     Tomorrow’s weather looks good so it should be exciting.