INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — All James Hinchcliffe wanted this week was a good car. Turns out, he’ll have the best view in this year’s Indianapolis 500 field.
The Canadian driver, who started second in the race in 2012 and 2014, edged out American Josef Newgarden on the final qualifying attempt of the weekend to claim his first IndyCar pole. Hinchcliffe posted a four-lap average of 230.760 mph, barely ahead of Newgarden, who came in at 230.700.
“It was a great run. The car was stellar,” Hinchcliffe said after winning the fourth-closest pole contest in the race’s 100-year history. “We have the best seat in the house for the biggest race in history.”
Hinchcliffe, who drives for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, turned one of the most chaotic qualifying weekends in recent memory into one of the most heartwarming stories of the year.
A year ago, Hinchcliffe watched the 500 from a hospital bed after a broken suspension part punctured him in the left leg. The ensuring injury required life-saving surgery and forced one of the series’ most popular drivers to miss the season’s final 11 races as he fought his way back to racing.
But Hinchcliffe is only part of an incredible story.
Team owner Sam Schmidt, like Hinchcliffe, was a popular IndyCar driver when he was seriously injured in a 2000 crash at Walt Disney World, which rendered Schmidt a quadriplegic. The next year, Schmidt started an Indy Lights team and now he has expanded what was once a low-budget team into a real contender by claiming three of the top 10 spots in this year’s 33-car starting field
Russia’s Mikhail Aleshin and Spain’s Oriol Servia, Schmidt’s other drivers, qualified seventh and ninth.
“It was an incredible day,” Schmidt said, noting he had won the 2011 Indy pole with Alex Tagliani exactly five years earlier. “I didn’t think anything would get better than five years ago. I had three cars in the top then and to come out here today…”
Newgarden will start second with Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 race winner, on the outside of the first row.
Roger Penske’s top qualifier was Will Power in sixth, ending the team’s streak of winning the pole in all five of this season’s previous races.
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