Simon Pagenaud continued on his roll this May, winning the pole position for the upcoming 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso, however, will be a spectator for the May 26 race after failing to successfully qualify.
In a drama-filled Sunday afternoon that featured separate qualifying sessions to fill opposite ends of the 33-car starting grid, Pagenaud completed a four-lap Fast Nine Shootout qualification run on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway superspeedway at 229.992 mph to earn the NTT P1 Award, the 11th pole position of his 11-year Indy car career and first at the Indy 500.
Meanwhile, Sage Karam, James Hinchcliffe and Kyle Kaiser drove their way into the field with the best qualifying efforts in the Last Row Shootout, with Alonso among those whose runs came up short on speed.
Pagenaud delivered the 18th Indianapolis 500 pole position for Team Penske, extending the benchmark NTT IndyCar Series program’s record that stands at 13 more than any other team. In addition, Pagenaud became the first Frenchman in a century to capture the Indy 500 pole, since Rene Thomas in 1919.
“Team Menards and Team Penske have been phenomenal about giving me the best equipment,” said Pagenaud, who turned 35 on Saturday. “I can’t thank them enough and my teammates for always pushing me to the limit. This is incredible. This is the biggest race in the world, so obviously I’m on Cloud Nine.”
Pagenaud is the hottest driver in the NTT IndyCar Series, fresh off a May 11 win in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course. Driving the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet on the oval on Sunday, he outperformed a trio of Ed Carpenter Racing drivers who qualified second through fourth.
Pagenaud edged out Ed Carpenter, who qualified the No. 20 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet at 229.889 mph and narrowly missed 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. 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,” team owner/driver Carpenter said. “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 on Sunday at 229.086 mph in the No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Will Power, the 2018 Indy 500 winner, rounded out the second row by qualifying sixth in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet (228.645 mph).
Sebastien Bourdais posted the seventh-best run in the No. 18 SealMaster Honda (228.621 mph), ahead of NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden in the No. 2 Shell V-Power Nitro Plus Team Penske Chevrolet (228.396 mph) and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda (228.247 mph).
Pagenaud will lead the closest field in Indianapolis 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 Indianapolis 500 history.
Rain delayed the start of Sunday’s two qualifying sessions more than four hours. The Last Row Shootout to decide the final three drivers in the field preceded the Fast Nine Shootout, and it ended with Alonso and McLaren Racing on the outside looking in. Returning to the Indy 500 for a second time in a bid to win the last leg of racing’s Triple Crown, Alonso was knocked from the field when Kaiser posted a four-lap qualifying run 0.019 of a mph faster.
Six drivers vied 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.
Sage Karam qualified at 227.740 mph in the No. 24 DRR WIX Filters Chevrolet, dropping Alonso onto the bubble as the 33rd qualifier. In a backup car cobbled together by his Juncos Racing crew after Kaiser crashed the primary No. 32 Chevrolet in Friday practice, Kaiser ran four laps at 227.372 mph to take the last spot away from Alonso.
“Obviously, it would be nice to be in the race next Sunday,” Alonso said. “We came here to race and to challenge ourselves, and we were not quick enough. I congratulate all the other guys that did a better job, and hopefully we’ll see a nice show next Sunday.
“We are all disappointed, and we will try to do better next time. But it’s that kind of things that you learn. I said before, I prefer to be here – even 34th – than being at home like last year.”
Kaiser called the days since his crash “the most emotional 48 hours of my life.” The 2017 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion qualified for his second Indianapolis 500 with the small-budget Juncos team.
“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 nonstop 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 field of 33 has a two-hour practice scheduled for noon ET Monday that streams 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 NBCSN.
The 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 airs live at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 26 on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
INDIANAPOLIS 500 STARTING GRID:
- Simon Pagenaud
- Ed Carpenter
- Spencer Pigot
- Ed Jones
- Colton Herta
- Will Power
- Sebastien Bourdais
- Josef Newgarden
- Alexander Rossi
- Marco Andretti
- Conor Daly
- Helio Castroneves
- Marcus Ericsson
- Takuma Sato
- James Davison
- Tony Kanaan
- Graham Rahal
- Scott Dixon
- Oriol Servia
- Charlie Kimball
- JR Hildebrand
- Ryan Hunter-Reay
- Santino Ferrucci
- Matheus Leist
- Jack Harvey
- Jordan King
- Ben Hanley
- Zach Veach
- Felix Rosenqvist
- Pippa Mann
- Sage Karam
- James Hinchcliffe
- Kyle Kaiser