Simon Pagenaud takes Indy 500 pole as Fernando Alonso fails to qualify on thrilling bump day

INDIANAPOLIS — Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing are in. Fernando Alonso and McLaren Indy are out.

On a wild, emotion-filled, rain-soaked Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, David conquered Goliath, James Hinchcliffe earned redemption, and Simon Pagenaud seized the pole as the field for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 was set.

Ed Carpenter’s and Roger Penske’s cars went toe-to-toe for the pole during the Fast 9 Shootout as Penske’s Pagenaud continured his magical month of May, backing up his IndyCar Grand Prix victory with a sprint to the Indy 500 pole. Pagenaud put together a four-lap qualifying average of 229.992 mph to edge three-time pole-sitter Carpenter (229.889).

Simon Pagenaud, front, poses with his Team Penske owner and crew after winning the pole for the 103rd Indianapolis 500. (Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA TODAY Sports)

On the final attempt of the day, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot, the provisional pole-sitter from the first day of qualifying, couldn’t muster enough speed to overcome the Frenchman or his owner/teammate but was able to lock up the final spot on the front row.

“I think when you look at Simon’s run today, it was amazing consistency for him to run laps over 230,” said Penske, who won his 500-record 18th pole. “I want to congratulate him in front of all you. We had four good cars, but he was strong all month. He had to execute. I knew if there was going to be one guy who was going to get on the pole, it was Simon. These past few weeks, he’s been terrific. Now it’s time to get the big one.”

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Drivers and fans were on edge all day, waiting more than four hours for the rain to cease, the track to dry and racing to resume. But when it finally did around 4:30 p.m., the drama that was come to proved more than worth the wait.

With the do-or-die Last Row Shootout leading off, James Hinchcliffe got a chance to put the heartbreak of last year behind him and find a little redemption. That’s precisely what he did, blistering around the track at 227.543 mph and delivering the fourth and final Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car into the field.

“Relief is the biggest emotion right now,” Hinchcliffe said following an emotional 24 hours.

James Hinchcliffe, left, hugs Fernando Alonso (66) of McLaren Racing after his qualifying run for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 19, 2019. (Photo: Matt Kryger/IndyStar)

Hinchcliffe’s time in the Last-Row Shootout was only surpassed by Dreyer and Reinbold’s Sage Karam, whose 227.740 mph four-lap average put him on the inside of the final row and was the death-knell to Team Carlin’s Max Chilton, who was bumped from the 500.  

“This has been the most stressful 48 hours of my life,” an elated Karam said afterward.

One group that could share in that sentiment was Juncos Racing. All week long, they’ve been the little engine that could, clinging desperately to their hopes of putting their car in the 500 field, while trying to overcome a mid-week crash, no sponsorship and a budget half the size — at best of — McLaren. But none of that mattered on Sunday. Not after Kyle Kaiser usurped the two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren on the final lap of his qualifying run and sent the storied program packing. Kaiser’s four-lap average of 227.732 mph was just two-thousands of a second faster than Alonso’s 227.353 mph.

Jubilation filled the speedway, as team owner Ricardo Juncos was reduced to tears. His team worked for nearly 43 hours straight to build Kaiser another car to qualify with. When asked later how many of his 45 employees — between his IndyCar and Road to Indy programs — stayed overnight Saturday to work on the car, he joyfull replied:

“All of them.”

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