New Zealand’s Scott Dixon captured pole position for the 101st Indianapolis 500 with a dramatic four-lap qualifying run Sunday while Formula One racer Fernando Alonso booked a second-row start.
Dixon, who won his only Indy 500 crown in 2008 from pole, shocked even himself by driving his Honda-powered car around the 2.5-mile (4km) Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval at 232.164 mph (373.631 km/hr).
He then watched rivals try in vain to bump him from the inside front row spot in next Sunday’s IndyCar classic.
“When I saw that first lap (at 232.595mph) I was a little shocked myself,” Dixon said. “It feels damn good. But this was job one. The pole is its own race. The significance is big. But the most important thing is the race. Let’s bring on next week.”
Spaniard Alonso, a two-time F1 champion who will skip next week’s Monaco Grand Prix to seek a checkered flag as an IndyCar rookie, settled for fifth at 231.300 and will open in the middle of the second row.
“This is the biggest race in the world,” Alonso said. “I felt that the first time I came here. Now getting up to speed, with all the fans, I feel it’s even more amazing. I can’t wait for next Sunday.”
American Ed Carpenter was second at 231.664, edging US defending champion Alexander Rossi, the outside row one starter.
Alonso will be flanked in row two by Japan’s Takuma Sato to the inside and American J.R. Hildebrand to the outside.
The 33-car field was filled in two sessions based upon Saturday times, the fastest nine Saturday running for the pole and the others completing the last eight rows.
That’s how American Ryan Hunter-Reay had the fourth-best run of the day at 231.442 but will only start on the inside of row four.
“It was crazy. It was white knuckle the whole time,” he said. “It didn’t feel like I took a breath.”
Dixon’s third career Indy 500 pole after 2008 and 2015 came after the team gambled and trimmed out downforce. It paid off but left Dixon on edge as he watched rivals attack his time, some nudging the outer wall with tires in their speed quest.
“This place is nerve wracking, especially when you see everybody going around, touching the wall,” Dixon said.
“These extremes, the highs and lows, it’s emotional. The emotions you get here are crazy.”
That’s how last-man Carpenter felt after failing to overtake Dixon.
“If you told me we would have done what we did I would have thought that would have been on the pole,” he said. “But when I saw Dixon’s time, I knew it was going to be hard to beat.”
Alonso had the fastest morning practice time but diagnostic readings worried team leaders and they ordered an engine switch, which came in 90 minutes to beat a deadline, adding to the stress on Alonso.
“With everything that has happened today being among the top 5 is a dream!” Alonso posted on Instagram, adding, “15 days ago I would never have thought about fighting for the pole. Thanks to the whole team!! Now another week of learning and race next weekend.”
Alonso said he felt there was more he could have gotten out of the car as he learns with every Indy lap.
“I felt a little more confident on the track,” he said. “I think I they changed the engine in record time and the car performed well.”
Australian driver James Davison, grandson of a four-time Australian Grand Prix champion, was named by car owner Dale Coyne to replace injured French racer Sebastien Bourdais, who underwent successful surgery after suffering multiple pelvic fractures and a broken right rib in a crash during a qualifying attempt Saturday.
The Honda-powered entry, which turned Saturday’s fastest two laps above 231 mph, will start last after not posting a qualifying time.
French driver Sebastien Bourdais will undergo surgery on a fractured pelvis and hip after his high-speed crash during the first day of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.
Bourdais, who drives for Dale Coyne Racing, crashed on the third of his four laps of qualification as, travelling at over 230mph, he lost control on a bend, flipping his car over and setting it on fire.
The former Formula One driver remained awake and alert and did not lose consciousness as he was rushed to hospital, where his injuries were later diagnosed.
A statement from the IndyCar Series said: “Verizon IndyCar Series driver Sebastien Bourdais was diagnosed with multiple fractures to his pelvis and a fracture to his right hip following an incident today while attempting to qualify for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
“According to INDYCAR Medical Director Dr Geoffrey Billows, Bourdais will undergo surgery on his pelvis this evening at IU Health Methodist Hospital.”
Team owner Dale Coyne added: “Sebastien is in good hands here at IU Methodist Hospital with the staff and now we just wait for him to recover.”
Wow I can only hope but pray that Sebastien Bourdais is okay after this terrifying crash. pic.twitter.com/XD3H2mVinh— RPM Report (@RPMReport) May 20, 2017
Away from the drama of Bourdais’ crash, which came after a lengthy rain delay, Formula One’s Fernando Alonso made it into the Fast Nine.
The McLaren driver, who will not drive in next week’s Monaco Grand Prix in order to compete in the famous American race, finished seventh with a four-lap average of 230.034mph.
Being among the fastest nine means the Spaniard, in the Honda 29, will compete for pole position on Sunday.
“They were intense laps,” he said on the race’s official Twitter site. “With the weather we only had one attempt so this creates stress. We put four laps together that were enough to get into the Fast Nine.
“There has been a lot of people supporting me. That makes me very proud and happy.”
Ed Carpenter was the fastest driver of the day, with a 230.468mph average, ahead of Takuma Sato.
Briton Max Chilton is in 12th position, averaging 229.636mph while countrywoman Pippa Mann finished in last position with 219.282mph.
The racers outside the top nine who are not competing for pole will race again on Sunday to try and improve their starting position.
If you hadn’t heard of UAE motorsport sensation Amna Al Qubaisi yet, then expect to read plenty more of her as the Emirati continues on making big strides in her racing journey.
At just 17, the Abu Dhabi schoolgirl is already making an impact behind the wheel, becoming the first Emirati girl to win the UAE senior Rotax Max Challenge last month.
In 2018, she will be the first Arab woman to test herself in Formula Four, when she lines up for Prema team in Europe.
Al Qubaisi speaks to Sport360 on her Formula Four ambitions, how it was to win the Rotax Max Challenge title and how she wants more Arab women to follow in her footsteps.
You are set to make history by becoming the first Arab female to race in Formula Four in Europe in the 2018 season. How does it feel to write your name in the record books?
It feels really amazing to reach this far. If I look back a year ago, I never imagined myself to be here. It was a big shock for me and I’m confident and happy that I’ll do very well next year.
What do you think your challenges will be in that championship?
It will be driving on tracks that I’ve never driven on and I might be the only girl and probably the youngest too so that’s the challenges for me.
It’s been a memorable season for you, becoming the first Emirati girl to win the karting UAE senior Rotax Max Challenge. How do you look back at this?
I go back to the times where I first began karting where I didn’t have much experience and was mostly at the back of the grid. I didn’t even know what the set-up of a kart meant and now seeing myself progress and gain the experience in the Daman Speed Academy is incredible.
Winning the Rotax is something I’m really proud of and it’s not just a big achievement, I’ve also created history and accomplished the fact that I’ll be representing the UAE in the World Finals in November.
For sure, it was difficult and I was racing against the most experienced and fittest drivers. For me, being the only girl on the grid, my experience of racing in Europe helped me stay focus and become very fit. I have become capable and potential to beat them.
It’s very rare to see Emirati and Arab women in sport. What do you think is the barriers in stopping Emirati women?
When I was in karting last season, it wasn’t just about wanting to prove that women can race but also send out a message that Arab women can do something in sport. I want to change how people think that Arabs are not capable to doing sports and I want to change.
When I’m in Europe, they’ve never seen a Arab woman drive in any competition and it’s very rare for them but I feel with my achievements, I can help females by training them and giving them tips and advice whether it’s karting or single-seating.
How did your interest in motorsport begin?
It began very late and I was just 13 years old when I joined Daman Speed Academy. Before that, I was doing gymnastics because it was something different in the UAE. But then, I grew bored of it and competitions was just once a year.
I then started watching my dad (Khaled, DSA founder and Abu Dhabi racing managing director) racing and he travelled around the world, telling me about the different tracks and cars he drove on. It was from then, I got more interested in motorsport.
Since joining Daman Speed Academy, how have they helped you in your progress?
They’ve done a lot. They helped me grow and gave me everything to succeed whether that’s karts, coaching or preparation. I’ve also realized the importance of nutrition as it’s important for any athlete. If I don’t eat healthy, I will feel really weak during the race.
What are the steps taken to prepare for races?
I sleep very early the night before and try and get 10 hours maximum of sleep. I will also eat a lot of paste so I have the carbs for the next day. Before going to sleep, I’ll also check my GoPro and rememorise the track and the lines so that it stays in my head when I sleep.
Who is your favourite role model and why?
It’s of course my dad (Khaled). He’s the main reason on why I started racing. He inspired me through all his races and made history by becoming the first Emirati to win two podiums in a row at Le Mans and winning second position at the World Endurance Championship.
Who is your favourite racing driver and which motorsport championships do you follow?
It has to be Max Verstappen because he’s the youngest on the F1 grid and no-one expected him to do so well. He’s an example of those who made it big coming from karting to Formula One. Out of all the competition, I follow MotoGP but mainly Formula One, GP2, and GP4.
How you split your time between school and motorsport?
My parents are very clear when it comes to studying and if I miss homework or don’t get good grades on my test, I may have to miss a race meaning I’ll have to focus on my studies before I go back to racing. I’ve had good grades this year and am graduating so it’s pleasing to have done well in karting and studies.