It took until the final 30 minutes of qualifying but Bump Day suddenly came alive and produced a genuine shock at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
James Hinchcliffe’s first run came at a bad time as the Canadian was the first driver out on track after a rain delay. But after a relatively slow attempt the No.5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car wasn’t seen as in genuine danger, just potentially needing another run.
Then a run of 225.007mph changed that feeling. Oriol Servia had been struggling to even complete an effort but managed to wrestle his Scuderia Corsa with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car (pictured, top) into 31st place and left Hinchcliffe on the bubble.
Bump Day was well and truly in action as Conor Daly headed out from Lane 1 once again, withdrawing his previous time in an attempt to make it into the race. A run of 224.874mph was just enough to do it, jumping ahead of James Davison and bumping Hinchcliffe down.
While the No. 5 car was switched over to the priority lane, Pippa Mann – also out at this stage – had just left from that lane in her next attempt to try and improve. It wasn’t good enough, so Coyne called the No. 63 back in.
That should have left Hinchcliffe with plenty of time to get out and improve, with Jay Howard the lead SMP entry up in 18th place and the track getting quicker. But on his warm-up lap he reported “very, very, very bad vibrations” and said he’d need to abort. The team called him in, then Hinchcliffe felt the issue was improving and was going to stay out, before pulling back onto pit road with just over 11 minutes remaining.
Davison himself later admitted that discussions had been taking place over whether to switch to Lane 1 – and therefore withdrawing his previous time – in expectation of Hinchcliffe bumping him, but the No. 33 crew held their nerve.
This is when Mann’s position in Lane 1 became crucial. While DCR was working on her car, Graham Rahal and then Alexander Rossi headed out from Lane 2. While Rossi was on track, Mann got to the front of Lane 1 before Hinchcliffe was ready, and time ran out for the 2016 pole winner.
Once Mann started her first timed lap the game was up for the No. 5, and he was joined by the No. 63 as Mann – not the center of attention at that point but still in with a shot – failed to make the 33 as well.
Rossi’s run wasn’t enough to make the Fast Nine as he dropped from fourth after the first lap to 10th by the checkered flag, but it was all secondary to the drama unfolding in Lane 1. Over nearly seven hours of qualifying, all that was settled was the two cars that won’t race and the nine that will go for pole, but the final half-hour was the crescendo that the return of Bump Day provides.