Hinchcliffe fails to make Indy 500 field in qualifying shock
The 2016 pole-sitter might yet sneak back on to the grid, however.
Bumping returned to the Indianapolis 500 in Saturday’s qualifying session and immediately claimed a big-name scalp, with 2016 pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe failing to qualify for next weekend’s race.
With 35 entrants vying for 33 spots in this year’s 500, two drivers were always going to miss out on a place in the field. There were a few obvious favourites, though at no stage had Hinch been mentioned among them.
But bumping’s popularity stems from its uncanny ability to produce shocks and create emotion. In Hinchcliffe’s case, it was just another chapter in a love-hate relationship with the Speedway.
Hinch has experienced highs and lows at Indy. Pic: IndyCar Media
The Canadian suffered serve injuries during qualifying for the race in 2015, crashing heavily due to a suspension failure and then missing the remainder of the IndyCar season.
He made a triumphant return to the track in 2016 by taking pole position, but this represents another low for the 31-year-old Schmidt Peterson Motorsport driver.
It was not purely down to a lack of speed. Hinchcliffe ran first after a long delay for rain, so it was not a great surprise to see his time gradually tumble down the order.
After he was finally bumped by Conor Daly, Hinch made a late attempt to bump his way back into the field, but a tyre sensor pressure failure prevented him from getting a proper run. That allowed James Davison – whose car was almost destroyed in a huge crash on Friday – to sneak through in 33rd.
Pippa Mann also failed to make the show. The veteran Indy 500 driver was looking qualify for her seventh 500, but lacked the outright speed to make the top 33.
She will therefore miss out on next Sunday’s race, but Hinchcliffe might not. Indy 500 rules allow for a driver to be swapped into another car that has already qualified, and Schmidt Peterson have three other cars in the 33.
Of those the #7 entry, which was qualified by Jay Howard, could well be a destination for Hinch. Howard is making a one-off appearance at Indy whereas Hinchcliffe is a full-season driver and currently sits fifth in the championship. With Indy paying double points, missing out would be catastrophic for any hopes of a title push.
Howard could be moved aside for Hinch. Pic: IndyCar
Then again, what does bumping mean if a driver can find their way back into the field through the back door? That question is likely to be raised in the coming days, as is the worry that bumping will put off potential sponsors.
For most fans, however, there would be no complaints about the immensely popular Hinchcliffe finding his way back into the field.
Helio Castroneves was fastest on Saturday and will be joined by eight other drivers in the Fast Nine pole position shootout.
Helio looks rapid in his 'yellow submarine'. Pic: IndyCar
The Brazilian will compete with his three Penske teammates – Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden – as well as the three Ed Carpenter Racing machines of Spencer Pigotm Danica Patrick and Carpenter himself. The Fast Nine is completed by Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon.
The other 24 drivers will also hit the track again to set positions 10 through 33 for next Sunday’s race.