(Reuters) - Canada’s James Hinchcliffe turned in a fearless performance on Sunday when he grabbed pole for the Indianapolis 500, one year after being critically injured in a crash during practice at the famed Brickyard.
Hinchcliffe will be joined on the front row for next Sunday’s centennial showcase by two Americans, Josef Newgarden and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“The Arrow Electronics car was an absolute smoke show out there, it was right on the edge,” Hinchcliffe told trackside reporters. “Now we’ve got the best seat in the house for the start of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.”
Two days of qualifying at the sprawling Indianapolis Motor Speedway reached a pulsating climax when Hinchcliffe, the last car onto the track, stormed around the 2.5 mile (4.0 kilometer) oval in a four-lap average speed of 230.760 mph (371 kph) triggering wild celebrations in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s pit.
It was far different scene a year ago when Hinchcliffe was rushed to hospital fighting for his life instead of battling for pole following a spectacular crash that ended his IndyCar season.
The Canadian lost control entering turn three and careened into the wall. A piece of the car’s suspension pierced his left thigh and he lost massive amounts of blood.
“I came into this month really hoping we would have a new story to talk about after what happened last year and I think we did it. I can’t believe it,” a beaming Hinchcliffe told trackside reporters.
“A year ago (my parents) came here for a very different reason. They were out of the country when I had my accident and I can’t imagine what that plane trip must have been like for them.
“Mom moved in on May 1. She said she wasn’t missing a single lap just in case I tried to kill myself again and luckily that wasn’t the case.”
It was a big day for the little guys at the Brickyard as Hinchcliffe and Newgarden, driving for two of IndyCar’s smaller outfits, upstaged two of the sports giants Penske Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing.
Newgarden, who drives for local outfit Ed Carpenter Racing, threw down the gauntlet putting his Chevrolet at the top of the timing sheets with a 230.700 mph average and then watched nervously as Townsend Bell, three-time winner Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Hunter-Reay all failed to better his effort.
But with the crowd on its feet, Hinchcliffe managed to squeeze a bit more out of his Honda, taking top spot after twice starting from second on the grid in 2014 and 2012.
“It was a tough pill to swallow,” Newgarden said. “I try to remind myself it’s not just about today’s battle, it’s about the war, and we’ve got to try and get that done next week in the 500.”
The Roger Penske team, which has put a record 16 cars in Victory Lane at the 500, failed to produce its dominating effort at the Brickyard with Power producing the top result.
The Australian took the outside spot on Row Two alongside a pair of Andretti Autosport drivers Bell and Colombian Carlos Munoz.
Row Three will feature Hinchcliffe’s teammate Russian Mikhail Aleshin and two more Penske drivers, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, winner of the last three IndyCar races and Brazil’s Castroneves.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Andrew Both