No Shortage Of Emotions After Indy Qualifying

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 20 2019
Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske was one happy pole-winner at Indy on Sunday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske drove flat-out Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and qualified on-pole for the 103rd edition of the Indianapolis 500.

Fernando Alonso of McLaren Racing said he did likewise around the famed 2.5-mile oval. But Alonso exited IMS as perhaps “The Greatest Spectator in Racing” for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” next Sunday after failing to earn one of the final three starting positions.

“We didn’t do the job. We were not quick enough. Simple,” Alonso, a two-time Formula One World Driving Champion, said during his post-qualifying presser. “The others, they did better. We congratulate them.”

Let the kudos begin with Pagenaud, the Frenchman who positioned himself for a Month of May sweep at IMS at the end of a rain-plagued/drama-filled Sunday afternoon that featured separate qualifying sessions to fill opposite ends of the 33-car starting grid. Pagenaud completed his four-lap/10-mile Fast Nine Shootout qualification run at an average of 229.992 mph to earn the NTT P1 Award, the 11th pole of his 11-year INDYCAR career and first in the Indy 500.

Meanwhile, Sage Karam, James Hinchcliffe and Kyle Kaiser drove into the field with the best qualifying efforts during the Last Row Shootout, with Alonso among three entrants coming up short on speed.

Pagenaud delivered the 18th Indianapolis 500 pole for Team Penske, extending Roger Penske’s IndyCar Series record that stands at 13 more than any other organization. In addition, Pagenaud became the first Frenchman in a century to capture the Indy 500 pole, since Rene Thomas in 1919.

Fernando Alonso came up disappointingly short on Sunday.

“This is incredible. This is the biggest race in the world, so obviously I’m on Cloud Nine,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet. “Team Menards and Team Penske have been phenomenal about giving me the best equipment. I can’t thank them enough and my teammates for always pushing me to the limit.”

Pagenaud, who turned 35 on Saturday, heads into next weekend’s 200-lapper as the hottest driver in the series following his victory in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road-course on May 11. Pagenaud secured P1 Sunday after outperforming a trio of Ed Carpenter Racing drivers who qualified second through fourth.

Team-owner/driver Ed Carpenter qualified the No. 20 Chevrolet at 229.889 mph to narrowly miss winning the Indy 500 pole for a fourth time. Spencer Pigot, fastest in first-day qualifying on Saturday, ranked a career-best third Sunday in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet at 229.826 mph. And Ed Jones was fourth in the No. 63 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet at 229.646 mph.

“I was hoping one of the three of us was going to get the pole, but finishing 2-3-4 is the next best thing,” said Carpenter, whose home and organization are based in Indianapolis. “I’m really proud of the whole team to give us the cars we had, which put us in the position to go out and qualify the way that we did.” 

Rookie Colton Herta repeated his stellar effort from Saturday, qualifying fifth at 229.086 mph in the No. 88 Honda for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Will Power, who swept both events at IMS last May, rounded out the second row by qualifying sixth in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet at 228.645 mph.

Four-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais posted the seventh-best run in the No. 18 Honda (228.621 mph) fielded by Dale Coyne Racing. The Frenchman was followed by series point-leader Josef Newgarden in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet (228.396 mph) and 2016 Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi in the No. 27 Honda (228.247 mph) fielded by Andretti Autosport.

Members of the Juncos Racing team celebrate after earning a spot in the Indy 500 field.

Pagenaud will lead the closest field in Indy 500 history to the green flag. The time separating Pagenaud’s four-lap qualifying attempt and that of slowest qualifier Pippa Mann was 1.8932-seconds, breaking the previous mark of 2.1509-seconds in 2014. The 228.240 mph speed average of the 33 qualifiers is fourth- fastest in Indy 500 history.

Rain delayed the start of Sunday’s two qualifying sessions more than four hours. The Last Row Shootout to decide the grid’s final three drivers preceded the Fast Nine Shootout, and it ended with Alonso and McLaren Racing as stunned spectators. Returning to the Indy 500 for a second time in a bid to win the last leg of motor racing’s Triple Crown, Alonso was booted from the field when Kaiser of fledgling Juncos Racing posted a four-lap qualifying run 0.019 of a mph faster.

Six drivers were eligible for the last three positions in the field. Alonso, the third to try, completed his run at 227.353 mph in the No. 66 McLaren Racing Chevrolet. It placed the Spaniard second to Hinchcliffe at the time.

Karam qualified at 227.740 mph in the No. 24 Chevrolet, dropping Alonso onto the bubble as 33rd qualifier. Driving a backup car cobbled together by his Juncos Racing crew after crashing the primary No. 32 Chevrolet in practice on Friday, Kaiser reeled off four laps at 227.372 mph to take the last spot from Alonso.

Kaiser, the 2017 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion, called the days since his crash “the most emotional 48 hours” of his life. “I don’t think I can wrap my mind around what we just did,” Kaiser said. “Like I keep saying, all the credit to the team. They’ve been working non-stop trying to get this car ready for us and they did everything we needed to get us in this field. I’m so proud of them, so proud of everybody that helped make this happen.”

The 2017 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year with Andretti Autosport, Alonso and McLaren Sporting Director Gil de Ferran recounted a frustrating week that began when Fernando crashed his primary car during practice on Wednesday. The team never recovered in its backup Dallara chassis outfitted with a new Chevy powerplant.

McLaren announced it will not try to buy Fernando Alonso a ride for next weekend’s 500.

“You know, once you are not anymore in, you try to, yeah, start relaxing a little bit,” Alonso said. “It has been a very long qualifying, nearly 56 hours of qualifying from yesterday morning. So yeah, we were just one place all the time-out. Yesterday 31st instead of 30. Today 34th instead of 33rd by a very small margin, and yeah, unfortunately not fast enough in any or both days.

“Yeah, disappointed now. Obviously it would be nice to be in the race next Sunday. We came here to race and to challenge ourselves, and we were not quick enough. You know, I congratulate all the other guys that did a better job.”

De Ferran, the 2003 Indy 500 champion with Team Penske, began his emotional remarks by apologizing to Alonso/McLaren fans worldwide, to the team’s corporate partners, to the INDYCAR community as well as this first-time Indy 500 crew.

“You know, the guys been have been working for several months, and particularly this last month or so have been a tremendous effort,” said de Ferran, a native of Brazil. “To try to come here and do the best we can they’ve worked all hours in the day, and I guess that was one of the main messages I had for the whole crew there. This is a very difficult sport. We certainly didn’t underestimate the challenge. We knew this was going to be a tremendously hard challenge. I’ve been here before. I’ve seen some incredible people not make the race. So we were certainly very aware of how difficult this was going to be.

“You know, and I think last but not least, I want to thank this man (Alonso) here who…and I want to apologize to you, as well, because we didn’t give you a car that was fast enough. You drove like the champion that we know you are. It’s been particularly these last three days, been incredibly tense and very difficult, and we couldn’t have asked anything more from you, Fernando. So I’m sorry, man. You’re an amazing driver.

“So you know, this is in my 35 years of racing, actually a few more, but this is the most painful experience I’ve ever had. There’s a mixture of emotions going on inside of me, but you know, we are racers. This is…we respect this place. This is one of the toughest challenges in racing. I want to come back tomorrow, you know. I want to fight. I want to come back tomorrow and fight. This is incredibly painful.”

That said, de Ferran added that McLaren’s management, led by Chief Executive Zak Brown, was not interested in buying an Indy 500 ride for Alonso. “Yeah, I can comment on that,” de Ferran said. “We will not do that. We want to earn our place in the field.”

Alonso skipped the 2018 Indy 500 while competing for McLaren in his final FIA Formula One World Championship season. A two-time winner of F1’s Monaco Grand Prix who shared the winning Toyota Prototype car in last June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Alonso is looking to join Graham Hill of Great Britain as the only drivers to have won motor racing’s Triple Crown. Still, Alonso would not immediately commit to returning to IMS in 2020.

“Right now I think it’s difficult to make any promise,” Alonso said. “I don’t know even what I will do after next month Le Mans 24 hours, finish my program in the World Endurance Championship. And I wanted to have 2020 open because I don’t know exactly what opportunities may come for me for next year in terms of racing.

“But as I always say, I would be more than happy to race here again in the future and to win the Triple Crown, which is still a target or different target. You know, maybe I race different series with different challenges. Maybe next year, as well, completely out of my comfort zone again, and maybe, you know, this type of challenge, they can bring you a lot of success and you can be part of the history of the sport or can be really disappointed.”

Alonso reiterated he drove flat-out during all five of his qualifying attempts on Saturday and his one shot on Sunday. “There is not really anything big that you need to drive,” Alonso said. “You know, as long as you don’t lift, it’s more or less the speed on the car that put you in one position or another or the time of the day. And yeah, I tried. You know, I tried my best.

“Every attempt. I drove with a loose car and didn’t lift-off. I drove with an understeer car; I didn’t lift-off. I drove with a rear puncture; I only lift-off in the last lap because I could not make the corner. And today we went out with an experiment (chassis setup) that we did overnight. We changed everything on the car because we thought that maybe we need something from the mental different to go into the race with some confidence because yesterday the car even if we were qualifying today, we were not maybe in the right philosophy to race next Sunday, and we went out not knowing what the car will do in Turn 1 _ but you’re still flat. So we tried.

“You know, I think…I still feel proud. Obviously, I’m disappointed now because we will not be in the race. But as I said, even for McLaren, they will be a bit thin in the next day or next two days, and then everyone will forget. But at the same time, I think only McLaren is the only team in motorsport that won the Indy 500, won the Le Mans 24-hour, won the Formula 1 championship. You can only do that if you try. If you stay only in one series and you concentrate there for all your history or your organization is only racing in one series, maybe you can succeed, you can have good seasons, bad seasons. But you are in that small world.”

The field of 33 has a two-hour practice scheduled for noon (ET) Monday that will stream live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold. The final practice, held traditionally on Miller Lite Carb Day, has been expanded to 90 minutes starting at 11 a.m. Friday and will be televised on NBC Sports Network.

The 103rd Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to air live at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 26, on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Results of qualifying Sunday for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with rank, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 2:36.5271 (229.992 mph)

2. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 2:36.5971 (229.889)

3. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 2:36.6402 (229.826)

4. (63) Ed Jones, Chevrolet, 2:36.7629 (229.646)

5. (88) Colton Herta, Honda, 2:37.1465 (229.086)

6. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 2:37.4490 (228.645)

7. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 2:37.4659 (228.621)

8. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 2:37.6208 (228.396)

9. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 2:37.7240 (228.247)

10. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, 2:37.3729 (228.756)        

11. (25) Conor Daly, Honda, 2:37.4688 (228.617)

12. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 2:37.5337 (228.523)

13. (7) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 2:37.5415 (228.511)

14. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 2:37.6874 (228.300)

15. (33) James Davison, Honda, 2:37.7057 (228.273)

16. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 2:37.8116 (228.120)

17. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 2:37.8226 (228.104)

18. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 2:37.8256 (228.100)

19. (77) Oriol Servia, Honda, 2:37.9009 (227.991)

20. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 2:37.9535 (227.915)

21. (48) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 2:37.9584 (227.908)

22. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 2:37.9799 (227.877)

23. (19) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 2:38.0815 (227.731)

24. (4) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 2:38.0911 (227.717)

25. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 2:38.1063 (227.695)

26. (42) Jordan King, Honda, 2:38.2402 (227.502)

27. (81) Ben Hanley, Chevrolet, 2:38.2542 (227.482)

28. (26) Zach Veach, Honda, 2:38.3523 (227.341)

29. (10) Felix Rosenqvist, Honda, 2:38.3834 (227.297)

30. (39) Pippa Mann, Chevrolet, 2:38.4203 (227.244)

31. (24) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 2:38.0747 (227.740)

32. (5T) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 2:38.2118 (227.543)

33. (32) Kyle Kaiser, Chevrolet, 2:38.3311 (227.372)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 20 2019
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