Indy: The Right Guys Win the Pole

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

bySteve Cole Smith| PUBLISHED May 23, 2016 12:35 AM
Indy: The Right Guys Win the Pole
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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.

Hinch shows who's number one., Chris Jones

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