Saturday’s preliminary round of qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was good for Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing and Chevrolet.
But it’s a bummer for James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann, who were bumped from the lineup.
Helio Castroneves, a four-time pole-sitter at Indy who is making his only IndyCar appearance of the year this month, posted the fastest average speed of 228.919mph in his Pennzoil Chevy.
“It was very good, very solid and we kept the same pace all four laps so I was happy,” said the three-time Indy 500 winner who is a full-time sports car driver for Penske.
And Ed Carpenter brought the small but enthusiastic crowd to its feet with a spirited run averaging 228.692mph in the Fuzzy’s Chevy to claim the second spot of the Fast 9.
“My car was crazy fast,” said the two-time Indy pole sitter who went out in much tougher conditions in the final hour. “I was trying to calculate how brave to be on my last lap but there was no need to do anything crazy.”
Until Carpenter’s heroics, it was looking like a Penske Perfect day as Simon Pagenaud and Will Power were sitting second and third.
Pagenaud would up third with a 228.304mph average in the Menard’s Chevy and Power settled for fourth at 228.194mph in the Verizon Chevy.
“We knew the Penske cars were going to be fast and I want to take my hat off to Chevrolet because they’ve really stepped up their game,” said the 2016 IndyCar champion.
Power turned the quickest now-tow speed of 229mph on Friday and had to settle for fourth fastest.
“The conditions are a lot different today but I have a very balanced car and I got faster on every lap so we’ll be going for the pole tomorrow,” he said.
Sebastien Bourdais continued his solid month by putting the Coyne/Sullivan/Vasser SealMaster Honda in the fifth slot with a 228.090mph average.
Spencer Pigot, given a full-time shot by Carpenter in 2018, repaid his car owner and had a solid average of 228.052mph to secure the sixth position.
The final three spots of the Fast 9 were Josef Newgarden, the fourth member of Penske’s armada, who checked in with the seventh best time, while Scott Dixon was eighth in the Chip Ganassi PNC Honda and Danica Patrick ninth in the GoDaddy Chevy with a four-lap average of 227.610mph.
It was quite an achievement for Patrick, who has not been in an Indy car for seven years.
“I’m very happy with this car; Ed’s [Carpenter] team has made me very comfortable,” said Patrick, the only women ever to lead the Indy 500.
Hinchcliffe, the pole-sitter here in 2016 and one of the most popular drivers in IndyCar, was bumped in the closing 45 minutes and suffered a severe vibration when he attempted to go back out with just minutes remaining. He was sitting in line when the 5:50 p.m. gun sounded to end the session.
“We win as a team; we lose as a team,” he said. “It’s crazy to be here after where we were two years ago. But we’ll put our heads down, we’ll take a look at it, and we’ll learn from this experience. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, for sure.”