Indy: The Right Guys Win the Pole

James Hinchcliffe and car owner Sam Schmidt have given so much. They got a little back today.

Honda

Sam Schmidt is just 51, but he has been in a motorized wheelchair since a practice crash at the miserable little Walt Disney World Speedway on January 6, 2000. Actually, the wheelchair had to wait – he was on a respirator for more than five months.

Schmidt is a quadriplegic, and while many of us who suffered an injury like that would give up and live out the balance of our lives at the nursing home, Schmidt jumped back into the waters that tried to drown him.

As an IndyCar driver, Schmidt made 26 starts, won once at Las Vegas in 1999, when he finished fifth in points. Cheerful and accessible for the media, Sam was one of The Good Guys, and his crash at the Mickyard was hard to take.

But the last thing Schmidt would ask for is sympathy. He started Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2001, and his teams have been very successful in mid-level open wheel racing, moderately so in IndyCar. In 2011, Alex Tagliani put Schmidt’s car on the pole for the Indianapolis 500.

Canadian James Hinchcliffe did the same thing today, driving the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Honda to a four-lap average speed of 230.760 mph, one year after he crashed hard the day after qualifying for the 2015 Indy 500, suffering injuries that nearly killed him.

After a long recuperation, Hinchcliffe came back with a roar, running the fastest lap on Saturday’s pre-qualification day, and returning Sunday as the last driver to take to the track.

 “I came into this month hoping we’d have a new story to talk about after what happened last year, and I think we did it,” said Hinchcliffe after winning the pole and $100,000, not to mention the first pole of his IndyCar Series career, in his 79th start. All three Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Hondas will start the race in the top 10, as Mikhail Aleshin qualified seventh and Oriol Servia 10th as the rest of the grid was set earlier on Sunday.

Josef Newgarden will start second and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 champ, rounds out the front row in third. Newgarden has Chevrolet power; Hunter-Reay has Honda. Hinchcliffe’s pole is Honda’s first this year, as Chevrolet has won every pole and every race in 2016. His pole is Honda’s first at Indy in five years, since Tagliani won it for Sam Schmidt. Tagliani, incidentally, crashed during his attempt today, and will start 33rd and last. A full field is 33 cars, and that’s all that showed up, so "Bump Day" didn't bump anybody.

The final extended practice for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 will be Monday from 12:30-4 p.m. After that, the cars will not be on track again until the traditional hour of practice on Miller Lite Carb Day on Friday, May 27. The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is expected to be heavily attended, and the track is asking fans to head for the track at least two hours earlier than usual – which is pretty much Saturday.

Chris Jones

Hinch shows who's number one.

THE LINEUP:

1. James Hinchcliffe
2. Josef Newgarden
3. Ryan Hunter-Reay
4. Townsend Bell
5. Carlos Munoz
6. Will Power
7. Mikhail Aleshin
8. Simon Pagenaud
9. Helio Castroneves
10. Oriol Servia
11. Alexander Rossi
12. Takuma Sato
13. Scott Dixon
14. Marco Andretti
15. J.R. Hildebrand
16. Charlie Kimball
17. Juan Pablo Montoya
18. Tony Kanaan
19. Sebastian Bourdais
20. Ed Carpenter
21. Gabby Chaves
22. Max Chilton
23. Sage Karam
24. Conor Daly
25. Pippa Mann
26. Graham Rahal
27. Matt Brabham
28. Bryan Clauson
29. Spencer Pigot
30. Stefan Wilson
31. Jack Hawksworth
32. Buddy Lazier
33. Alex Tagliani