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Indianapolis 500 qualifying overhauled; bumping to Sunday

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In a move hailed as enhancing the drama of making The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the 103rd Indianapolis 500 will determine the field of 33 and pole position consecutively.

IndyCar announced Thursday that 30 positions will be locked in during nearly seven hours of qualifying May 18, which won’t be a traditional “Bump Day” (as the Saturday of qualifying weekend was last year).

On May 19, the 2.5-mile track will feature an hour of practice for the fastest nine cars and the cars that haven’t secured a top 30 speed. In an hour-long session beginning at 12:15 p.m., each unqualified car will get one attempt at filling one of the final three spots in the field.

Because more than 33 cars are expected to qualify, the session should feature the bumping of cars from the field that has made it a tension-filled exercise. (Last year, fan favorite and 2016 pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe failed to make the race).

After the last row of three cars is set, the Fast Nine shootout for the pole will begin at 1:15 p.m. The order will be based on Saturday times from slowest to fastest with each car having one attempt.

NBC will televise qualifying for the pole position and the last row from noon-3 p.m. May 19. The coverage then will move to NBCSN for a three-hour practice session that is expected to feature cars in race setup and running in packs as an Indy 500 preview.

“With this schedule, fans will get a phenomenal weekend of action, with two days of qualifying, bumping, the run for the pole and this incredible practice that effectively is the race before the race – all in a two-day span,” IndyCar President Jay Frye said in a release.

NBC will televise the Indianapolis 500 for the first time on May 26, the centerpiece of its first full season of NTT IndyCar Series coverage.

The 2019 season of 17 races will begin March 10 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Here’s a recap of how qualifying will work:

Saturday, May 18

  • Positions 10 through 30 in the Indianapolis 500 field will be decided, as well as Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout that will determine the pole position. Each entry is guaranteed one attempt and multiple four-lap runs may be made as time permits
  • Cars in positions 10 through 30 at the end of the session will be locked in and won’t requalify Sunday

Sunday, May 19

  • Those outside the top 30 will compete to make the last row, positions 31-33
  • The Fast Nine Shootout will determine the pole position

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.