After being eliminated from the 2018 Indianapolis 500 field in yesterday’s “Bump Day” qualifying session, James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann have shared their thoughts on what was a hugely disappointing day for the both of them.
With the Indy 500 entry list reaching over the maximum grid size of thirty-three cars for the first time in several years, there was much anticipation heading into “Bump Day” as everyone wondered which two drivers would fail to make it to the race. With the field so close on the speed charts, there were no clear favourites for elimination.
After rain interrupted the initial qualifying runs, Hinchcliffe was much lower down the order than he would have been hoping for. His first run came immediately after the track re-opened after the rain, meaning the racing surface was not as rubbered in as those who ran before and after him.
Heading into the final half an hour, late improvements from other drivers saw Hinchcliffe pushed down into the bottom two. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team had left it quite late to commit to sending James back out to re-qualify. What was worse was that when he did get back out on the track, he had to abandon the lap due to a massive tyre vibration.
James bought the #5 car back in the pits for new tyres and then got back in line, but the session time would expire before he could make another run. This meant that, despite being on pole position for this race just two years ago, he would not qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
“It’s devastating in every way possible,” a dejected Hinchcliffe said after qualifying, “We got in line there and then we had a tyre vibration. I’m not exactly sure what the problem was… Indy is a cruel mistress sometimes.
“The highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but SPM worked their tails off to get these cars ready. We have three cars in the show, unfortunately, the fourth one didn’t make it, but we win as a team and we lose as a team.
“It’s crazy to be here after where we were two years ago, but we will put our heads down and we will take a look at it and definitely learn from this experience. It’s a character builder for sure, but yeah, I’m just disappointed. The Arrow Electronics car is fast enough to be in the show, no doubt about it. We’ve got one of the best crews in pit-lane – we’ve proved that all year long. It’s just a big blow for sure.”
Hinchcliffe may still have a lifeline to get back into the race. He is currently fifth in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, meaning that he could stand to lose many vital points, especially as the Indy 500 is a double points race. This may persuade SPM to make the decision to place him in their #7 car, currently occupied by Jay Howard. This would not be the first time a driver switch has taken place after bump day. The most recent example of this took place when Ryan Hunter-Reay replaced Bruno Junqueira after being bumped in qualifying for the 2011 Indianapolis 500.
Whilst Hinchcliffe still has a slim chance of making the race, there’s no coming back for Pippa Mann. Her Dale Coyne Racing team were left baffled in the run-up to this weekend when, after showing decent pace in race practice, they could not get the #63 car up to speed in qualifying trim.
The DCR mechanics tried everything they could to make the car fast enough to qualify, but ultimately, Mann could not drag any more speed out of it. She would set the slowest lap-time of the day and fail to make the grid; a massive disappointment for her and her sponsors who only get the chance to race in IndyCar once a year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Coming into this May, I knew things were going to be tough,” Mann would say in the post-qualifying press conference, “I normally get time in an Indy car once a year. With a new aero package, not getting to do any of the testing ahead of time because we don’t have a budget that allows for that.
“All of the people who have supported me to be here, Dale Coyne Racing, the entire crew on my car, worked so hard to turn that car over from a road course car to an oval car so we could shake it down, get me through my refresher on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“I’ll be honest with you, we thought things were going pretty well. The car handled great. It was really good. It was pretty good in traffic. We thought things were rolling along pretty nicely. The no tow reports, they looked fine. Then yesterday morning, I rolled out, 226 mph out of the box. Great, this isn’t bad. Now let’s trim the car. Went through it again, nothing. That’s when we started to realize we might really be in trouble.”
Pippa would then go into detail about the lengths her team went to in order to try and get the #63 Honda into the show, saying that: “We tried everything we could think of yesterday.”
“The boys stayed really, really late last night,” she continued, “We pulled the rack off the car, we resanded the car, resanded the floor. We went through all the brakes again because we thought we had some brakes that were dragging a little bit out. I knew if everything we did last night still hadn’t made us go faster, we were going to be in trouble today, but you have to try and get out there anyway.
“When we got back in line for the last run, we took every single trim we could possibly could to the race car, we did everything. Obviously, it wasn’t enough. What’s worse, it was slower than our time before. Once you pulled your time, if the car is still functioning, you kind of have to finish the run because what if somebody in front of me just didn’t get through tech and I withdrew and didn’t complete my run and pulled off the racetrack?
“It’s the worst feeling in the world. The team worked so hard. Earlier today I really thought we were going to get it done. Then we went out again for the first run and I knew we were in the fight in final trim. We took it further than any of our cars have gone. Big stats. If we understood what was going on, we wouldn’t be here.”
For the thirty-three remaining drivers, qualifying for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 will continue later today. The cars in positions ten to thirty-three yesterday will head out on track first to decide who will start where in the midfield, with the fastest nine drivers fighting it out for pole position later on in the day.