James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify for the Indy 500 Saturday. Photo: IndyCar/Joe Skibinski

Hinchcliffe fails to make Indy 500; Helio fastest qualifier; Danica in Fast Nine

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Team Penske dominated Saturday’s qualifying and bump day for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 27th, taking two of the top three spots and four of the top seven.

Helio Castroneves was fastest of the 35-driver field with an average four-lap speed of 228.919 mph.

But perhaps the biggest surprise — and disappointment — was 2016 Indy 500 pole sitter James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify for the race, along with Pippa Mann. Virtually every member of Hinchcliffe’s team and family — including the driver — broke into tears after the qualifying timer expired.

“We came here with big expectations and high hopes,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s the rules. We’re not the first big name to go home.

“It’s devastating to everyone. We had a tire vibration. Indy is a cruel mistress sometimes, the highest of highs, the lowest of lows. We have three cars in the show, unfortunately the fourth didn’t make it.

“But we win as a team and lose a team. It’s crazy to be here after where we were two years ago. But we’ll put our heads down and learn from this experience. … It’s a big blow, for sure.”

Hinchcliffe (224.784 mph) missed the 33rd and final qualifying spot — held by James Davison (224.798 mph) — by .014 of a second, and was .100 of a second behind No. 32 qualifier Conor Daly (224.874 mph).

Mann, meanwhile, made several qualifying attempts but could do no better than a 224.360 mph four-lap average.

Getting back to Castroneves, he went out early in qualifying and his lead held up through the rest of the session.

Helio Castroneves went out early and recorded the best four-lap average, which held up through the rest of the season. Photo: Getty Images.

“It was a great event,” Castroneves said. “Very tough. Now having the Bump Day, what a stressful day for everyone.

“Yeah, it’s tough for Hinch. Sounds like that car should be in the grid, but that’s the name of the game. You got to understand the rules. Especially the Fast Nine, as well. So many people taking chances to be on the Fast Nine.

“For me and Team Penske, I have phenomenal teammates which helps the program keep going forward. Obviously my run earlier, the weather was much more consistent. When you have that kind of scenario, helps a lot.

“We all work together to obviously find the limits. We did. We have to do it again tomorrow, the Fast Nine, and let’s see what happens.”

2013 and 2014 Indy 500 pole sitter Ed Carpenter was second-fastest (228.692 mph). Carpenter and Castroneves were the only drivers to surpass 229 mph in a single lap (Carpenter 229.266 mph, Castroneves 229.108 mph and 229.080 mph).

Carpenter looked as if he would take the day’s top average in his bid for a 15th appearance in the 500, but his fourth and final lap speed (227.913 mph) slipped slightly, dropping him from No. 1 to No. 2.

“I’m really happy with the feel of the car,” Carpenter said. “I think it’s just a testament to the team, how hard they work and what a great group we have, to have three cars so close in performance.”

When Carpenter made his qualifying effort, it knocked out 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan (227.508) from being part of Sunday’s Fast Nine.

Getting back to the Penske drivers, 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Simon Pagenaud was third (228.304 mph), while Will Power was fourth (228.194 mph).

And 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden rounded out the Penske effort with a seventh-place effort of 228.049 mph.

The Fast Nine drivers that will qualify Sunday to run for the pole will be Castroneves, Carpenter, Pagenaud, Power, Sebastien Bourdais (228.090 mph), Spencer Pigot (228.052), Newgarden, Scott Dixon (227.782) and Danica Patrick (227.610).

“I have high expectations for doing well here,” Patrick said. “That’s why I was fortunate enough to be able to drive for Ed (Carpenter). They always have great cars, especially here at Indy. They’re always very strong.

“But to think that I was going to come back (to Indianapolis) and be in the Fast Nine right off the bat, I mean, I’m going to tell you, I was doing 208 at the test the first day and thought, I might not be able to do this. 228 is much better. I definitely am relieved.”

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Formula One: Haas fighting for ‘best of the rest’ in Year 3

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The third season for Haas F1 has been its best, even if it’s been a bit bizarre.

Formula One’s only U.S.-based team has scored the most points in its young history and overcome some serious bumbles early to compete with – and beat – some of the legacy team names in F1.

Haas heads into this week’s U.S. Grand Prix in a tough season-ending fight with Renault for the “best of the rest” title among the teams outside of the Big Three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

“It’s the best battle of the field. It’s very tight. It’s going to go to the last lap of the race in Abu Dhabi, while I think the world championship is probably going to go this weekend,” said Haas’ French driver Romain Grosjean, who signed with the team before their first season.

“To rise as quickly as we’ve done hasn’t been seen in Formula One, I don’t think,” said his Danish teammate Kevin Magnussen.

Haas launched with a surprise in 2016 and has been rising ever since.

Haas scored points in its first race in 2016, and in 2017 had both cars finish in the top 10 for the first time at Monte Carlo, the biggest race on the annual calendar. A strong run over the last 10 races of this season has Haas just eight points behind Renault in the race for fourth place with four races left.

The 2018 season looks to finish better than it started.

After Haas scored the team’s best-ever qualifying at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, neither car finished the race. Magnussen and Grosjean both left pit stops on consecutive laps with unsecured wheels and had to stop. The team was fined for sending the cars out in unsafe conditions.

“That was extremely, extremely disappointing” Magnussen said “We are still showing signs of immaturity at certain moments.”

Other problems followed. A month later in Azerbaijan, Grosjean fought his way from the back row into sixth before he drove straight into the wall while following a safety car. Grosjean felt horrible, but blamed one of the season’s most bizarre incidents on an errant flip of a steering wheel switch that he said upset the car’s brake balance and sent him spinning into the barrier.

More valuable points were lost in Italy when the floor of Grosjean’s car was deemed illegal and he was disqualified from sixth place. Haas appealed and is awaiting a decision on points that would close the gap with Renault with a stroke of a pen. Despite the gaffes, Grosjean has finished in the top 10 four times in the last seven races.

“I got eight points stolen in Monza,” Grosjean said. “The results are coming with the kind of performance Haas signed me for in the first place.”

After the problems, Grosjean admitted it was a relief to extend his contract with Haas for 2019. He and Magnussen will be teammates again.

“When I joined, I didn’t know what Haas was going to be. I think they gave me some credit for that when I had a tough time earlier this year and turned things around, Grosjean said.

Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner said he and team owner Gene Haas saw value in staying with drivers who knew the Haas cars.

“Just to change a driver for the same level of skill, you go backward,” Steiner said. “There’s not a lot of better drivers out there, so why should we change them? Stay the same and mature quicker.”

The question now is how high can Haas go?

The Haas business model – which has drawn complaints from its middle-of-the-pack rivals – has it buying parts and engines, most notably from Ferrari. It keeps costs down but creates a performance ceiling that Haas is unlikely to break through.

“We are not developing parts for our car,” Grosjean said. “So far it hasn’t been a problem. If one day we start to beat Ferrari, it’s not going to work.”

Steiner said a top three finish isn’t realistic, not against teams with much bigger budgets, development and staff.

“The first year we didn’t finish last, the second year we didn’t finish last and now we are fighting for fourth. We must be doing something right,” Steiner said. “How do we get to that next step? Where do we go from here? Right now, there is no answer.”

That can be the frustrating part of an otherwise very good season.

A taste of success begs for more. For the 26-year-old Magnussen, he can be good with Haas, maybe even the “best of the rest.” But that’s a career definition no driver wants.

“It’s been six years since I won a race in motorsport,” Magnussen said. “I miss winning. Badly.”