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Author: Mark W. Theisen
May 22nd 2016 -      INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May22, 2016:     A year ago to the date, James Hinchcliffe was sitting in a hospital bed, unable to compete in qualifying for the 99th Indianapolis 500.

     Fast forward to this afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Hinchcliffe and Honda Motor Car Company have come full circle.

     Taking the last qualifying attempt in today’s Fast Nine Shootout, Hinchcliffe in his Schmidt Peterson Racing #5 Honda edged Josef Newgarden in the #21 Chevrolet from Ed Carpenter Racing by less than four hundredths of a second over the 10 miles of qualifying.  Hinchcliffe covered the four laps in 2 minutes 36.0063 seconds for an average of 230.760 to edge out Newgarden’s 230.700, the closed margin ever in the battle for an Indianapolis 500 pole.

     It was evident at the outset of practice last Monday that Honda had done its homework, put in countless hours of preparation and in addition, their teams also put in that extra effort to become competitive at Indianapolis again taking their first pole since 2011 when Alex Tagliani, then driving for Schmidt Peterson won the pole, exactly five to today’s date.  

      “I came into this month, hoping we’d have a new story to talk about after what happened last year,” said a jubilant Hinchcliffe, surrounded by family and friends, after his white knuckle, do-or-die, qualification attempt,  “ and I think we did it!.”

     To put frosting on the cake, so to speak, today’s pole was Hinchcliffe first in the Verizon IndyCar series and he will not only start number one for the 100th running of the Indianapolis presented by PennGrade Motor Oil he pocketed $100,000 for his effort.  The pole for Hinchcliffe came in his 79th attempt.

     “I knew we had a car capable all month long,” continued Hinchcliffe.  “That means more pressure to do well.  The crew gave me a great setup and scheme for todays’ qualifying, but you can only prepare so much.  So much has to do with weather here over the 2 and one-half mile oval.  Wind, anything can cause a slight bobble and then all is lost.  When they (his crew) came on the radio and said I had done it (posted the top time) I then could exhale.  It was that stressful.”

    “I can’t thank Sam Schmitt and everyone at Schmidt Peterson Racing and Honda for sticking with me and getting me to this point in my career today.” concluded Hinchcliffe.

    For Newgarden it was a bittersweet pill to swallow.  He will make his first every front row start in the 500 but knows just how close he was to giving Ed Carpenter Racing its third pole at the Speedway.  

     “It was a tough pill to swallow,” said Newgarden.  “I try to remind myself it’s not just about today’s battle, it’s about the war, and we’ve got to try and get that done next week in the ‘500.”  But it was still a lot of fun just to up there and have this opportunity to compete.

     Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 champion, rounds out the front row in the #28 Honda from Andretti Autosport with a 230.648 so incredibly close to Hinchcliffe’s speed as well.  His teammates, Townsend Bell and Carlos Munoz also qualified in the 23o’s to start in the second row.  Will Power will compete the second row in his Chevrolet that qualified at 229.562.

     Row three will have Mikhail Aleshin in a Honda, and Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, both in Penske Chevrolet’s.

     These nine driver’s made up the Fast Nine Shootout based on yesterday’s qualifying runs.

     Prior to the Fast Nine Shootout, position’s 10 through 33 were filled based on a four lap qualifying run in the order in which the cars qualified yesterday with the slowest going out first.

     Oriol Servia, in the third entry from Schmidt Peterson Racing was the fastest of the 24 cars completing their qualifications today to determine their place on the starting grid.  That run by Servia, of 229.060 gave the Schmidt team all three of its drivers in the top 10.

     Yeoman effort of the day went to defending Verizon IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team.  After an engine problem arose in practice the team made a 64 minute engine swap, made it through technical inspection by three minutes and then qualified 13th at a speed of 227.991 with zero practice laps on the engine.

     Defending Indy 500 champion Juan Pale Montoya will start 17th after starting 16th last year and winning the race.

James Hinchcliffe
Josef Newgarden
Ryan Hunter-Reay
Townsend Bell
Carlos Munoz
Will Power
Mikhail Aleshin
Simon Pagenaud
Helio Castroneves
Oriol Servia
Alexander Rossi
Takuma Sato
Scott Dixon
Marco Andretti
JR Hildebrand
Charlie Kimball
Juan Pablo Montoya
Tony Kanaan
Sebastien Bourdais
Ed Carpenter
Gabby Chaves
Max Chilton
Sage Karam
Conor Daly
Pippa Mann
Graham Rahal
Mat Brabham
Bryan Clauson
Spencer Pigot
Stefan Wilson
Jack Hawksworth
Buddy Lazier
Alex Tagliani

     17 Honda powered cars and 16 Chevrolets make up the starting grid.

     The track is open for practice all day, tomorrow, Monday, as teams revert back to the normal boost pressure for the engines following use of additional boost or about 30 more horsepower for qualifying.  The final practice is Friday and the 100th running of the 500 is just a week away.

     Stayed tuned!