Hinch and Honda On Top Of Indy Qualifying

A year after he was nearly killed at Indianapolis, James Hinchcliffe makes a hell of a comeback.

Give IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 a little credit: After the moderately embarrassing situation caused by having only 33 cars show up for the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the inherent drama of having to eliminate some cars through qualifying is gone. There is no “Bump Day,” no real meaning to being “on the bubble.”

But that term was used plenty Saturday for day one of the two-day qualifying, when only the top nine qualifiers would be able to run for the pole on Sunday. If you qualified outside the top nine today, the best you could hope for is to start 10th in the race – and have, um, only 500 miles to advance your position.

So yeah, the drama was sort of manufactured, but there were some moderately compelling last-minute qualification attempts. But everybody has to re-qualify tomorrow, so, you know, stay tuned.

Regardless, there were two genuine feel-good stories: Honda hasn’t won a race all year, and hasn’t even qualified on the pole. But a Honda was fastest on Saturday, and it was James Hinchcliffe, who was seriously injured at Indy last year in practice, and easily could have died if not for the quick work of the track safety crews.

So Hinch, one of the best-liked people in the sport, let it be known he was back with a four-lap average of 230.946 mph in the Arrow Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. A Honda was also second, as former winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was booted out of the top nine by teammate Marco Andretti but, with just over a minute left, Hunter-Reay cranked out a run of 230.805 mph in the DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport. Marco ended up eleventh.

The fastest Chevrolet was Will Power, who was third at 230.736 mph in the Verizon Chevrolet for Team Penske. Teammate Helio Castroneves was fourth fastest at 230.500 mph in the Pennzoil Chevrolet.

The most dramatic moment was supplied by Russian driver Mikhail Aleshin, who had been eliminated from the top nine. With just one second left in qualifying, he made it onto the track and managed a 230.209 mph run in his Doom Honda for seventh place.

Other members of the Fast Nine club: IMSA sports car racer Townsend Bell, who was on top for most of the day; Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Carlos Munoz. There are four Chevrolets and five Hondas.

There were only two incidents: Pippa Mann, the race’s only female driver, crashed while trying to qualify, with the cause traced back to an endplate issue in the car’s rear wing. Damage was not serious. More serious was an earlier practice crash by Max Chilton – his Chip Ganassi Chevrolet was damaged enough for the team to go to a backup car, which wasn’t ready in time to qualify today.

The schedule today was moved around due to rain last night at the track. You have to wonder if ABC was second-guessing the decision to dedicate two hours of network time to Indy today, only to have the more compelling final hour shift to ESPN News.

Tomorrow, the action starts on ESPN3 at 2:30 p.m. ET. (If you don’t know where to find ESPN3, you might want to start looking now.)