(Reuters) - Mikhail Aleshin exited pit lane with just one second to spare and raced around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to record the seventh fastest time on the first day of qualifying on Saturday for the 100th Indianapolis 500.
By finishing seventh at the 2.5-mile oval, the Russian locked up a coveted spot for the Fast Nine Shootout on Sunday when the top nine drivers will compete for pole position for the May 29 race.
Canadian James Hinchcliffe recorded the fastest time on Saturday with a four-lap average of 230.946 mph, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Townsend Bell, Josef Newgarden, Aleshin, Carlos Munoz and Simon Pagenaud.
A year ago, Hinchcliffe was involved in a life-threatening crash during practice for the Indianapolis 500.
“Being fastest doesn’t really mean anything or pay anything, but it’s certainly a nice cherry on top,” Hinchcliffe told reporters. “What a difference a year makes.”
Aleshin had a spot in the top nine until Munoz pushed the Russian out with just under 90 minutes to go. Aleshin, however, pushed his way back in with about 30 minutes to go only to get knocked out again to set up the last-gasp drama.
Two cars were unable to make qualifying attempts due to crashes on Saturday. Rookie Max Chilton crashed in practice and Pippa Mann made light contact with the wall in her first qualifying lap.
Reporting by Tim Wharnsby in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes