Fast Nine and first 24 spots set for Indy 500

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Eric Mauk

The recently-revamped qualifying system for the Indianapolis 500 provided some late drama Saturday, and more than a handful of surprises as the IZOD Indy Car Series set 24 spots in the 33-car Indianapolis 500 field.

At the time of this writing, the Fast Nine had yet to take place, as the nine quickest cars of the opening qualifying session will go out to duel for the pole. (Allan Brewer will report on this later today) James Hinchcliffe led the way in the opening qualifying laps, carding a four-lap average of 225.746 mph. The Fast Nine was populated predictably with all three Team Penske cars, three Andretti Autosport cars, two KV Racing machines and Sarah Hartman Fisher Racing’s Josef Newgarden.

The bigger surprise came in who wasn’t in the Fast Nine. None of the four Ganassi cars moved into the bonus round, with Graham Rahal leading the team’s four-car charge by taking 12th. The Sam Schmidt cars that dominated qualifying last year also did not move into the Fast Nine, nor did Panther Racing machine of J.R. Hildebrand that nearly won the race last season.

James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

“The car got a little free on me in the later laps,” Rahal grinned. “I probably won’t be jumping up and down to go back out there if I don’t have to. I thought we’d be quicker, but the weather must have made a big difference.”

The was a flurry of activity at the end of the five-hour qualifying period as teams took their last chances to seal a spot in the race on Saturday – thereby avoiding the pressures of tomorrow’s Bump Day qualifying.

Ed Carpenter, Wade Cunningham, Sebastien Bourdais, Mike Conway all spent time on the bubble during the last hour of the session, which wasn’t finalized until Sebastien Saaevedra went out as the gun sounded and claimed the 24th and final spot on today’s grid, forcing Wade Cunningham to come back tomorrow.

Katherine Legge, Bourdais, Conway, Cunningham, Carpenter, Bryan Clauson and Oriol Servia made runs today but did not make the field. Simona De Silvestro did not make a qualifying attempt.

Carpenter, Servia and Clauson each had their qualifying runs end in crashes. Each of the drivers were cleared and released and deemed fit to drive tomorrow if their cars can be repaired.

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Series INDYCAR
Tags featured, hinchcliffe, indy, mauk, saaevedra