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One chance for Hinchcliffe – and one chance only – to make the field at Indy but has he got enough gas in the tank?

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

This has nothing to do with auto racing but it has to do with racing, so I think that makes it legal.

The first hour of NBC’s broadcast Saturday of the Preakness horse race focused on the disqualification of the Kentucky Derby winner. Over and over again, you heard the words Maximum Security and disqualification. Then Vanessa Williams sang the national anthem. She was Miss America until she was disqualified. Do you think they did that on purpose?

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Unlike a year ago, when James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify for what was then the 102nd Indianapolis 500, it was over and out as of the end of the first day of two days of time trials.

This year, he has one more chance Sunday – but one chance only. There will be none of the way things worked Saturday, when cars could qualify and then requalify and requalify ad nauseum until the driver was satisfied with his time or else time ran out. Sunday, even before (weather permitting) the Fast Nine duke it out for pole position, the six cars that didn’t make it into the field Saturday will have one shot at filling out the final three positions that make up Row 11 of the 11 rows of three that will start the race.

That means two warmup laps and four on the gas to either get in or go home.

Six cars and drivers will get that one more chance. Those six are Fernando Alonso, Sage Karam, Patricio O’Ward, Max Chilton, Kyle Kaiser and Hinchcliffe. Off the top, I don’t think Chilton will make it, nor will Kaiser. It’s a tossup among the remaining four which ones will make it in.

Hinchcliffe’s terrible luck at Indianapolis continued Saturday. He crashed in Turn two and walked away (see photo above). Several hours later, he was out in the team’s spare car – a road-course car that had to be changed over to an oval setup – but he couldn’t quite get it up to qualifying speed despite numerous attempts. You have to wonder – you do – whether he has any more gas in the tank for that place after all that’s happened to him there.

What’s worse is that Arrow Schmidt  Peterson Motorsport has four cars entered in this year’s “500” and the three others are all solidly in the field. Veteran Oriole Servia, in a one-off to drive the car being held for the injured Robert Wickens, will start 11th when the green is thrown on the 103rd renewal next Sunday. Ex-F1 pilot, but raw rookie at Indianapolis, Marcus Ericsson, qualified 13th. And Jack Harvey, driving for Meyer-Shank Racing with Arrow SPM, time-trialed in 25th.

Team leader Hinchcliffe is on the outside looking in – until his last-chance number comes up Sunday. Last year he sat it out and Wickens won Rookie-of-the-Year. This year, things almost look worse. His luck has got to change sometime. Let’s hope that happens Sunday.

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I do not understand IndyCar’s marketing. I do not.

For instance, what are all the NASCAR people doing around this year’s Indy 500? I could understand Jeff Gordon driving the pace car to start last year’s “500” because, even though I didn’t like it all that much, he lived in Indiana when he was cutting his racing teeth and is considered, by many there, to be a home boy. But Dale Earnhardt Jr.? What is he doing driving this year’s pace car? And Dale Jarrett colour-commentating Saturday? And Junior doing colour on the race broadcast? Danica I can understand because she’s an Indy veteran. But the rest of them?

Would Mario Andretti be asked to drive the pace car for the Daytona 500? Or Bobby Rahal? Or Al Unser Jr.? Not on your life. So why all this NASCAR attention at Indianapolis? Does somebody there really think that because Junior Earnhardt is “in the booth” that all sorts of NASCAR fans are going to watch the race?

And talking about watching. I live in Canada, and once I pay my cable carrier to deliver TV to my house, I can watch every NASCAR race in Cup, Xfinity and trucks plus Cup practice and qualifying; I can watch F1 practice, qualifying and four-to-five hours of race day programming around the two-hour race; I can watch all the IMSA races, I can watch all the European Formula 2 races and races in the World Endurance Championship plus rally racing. But I can’t watch IndyCar on TV unless I pay an additional premium for one obscure SportsNet channel or pay a premium to watch on my computer.

Yes, I can watch the NBC coverage (when it’s on) – and they are doing a bang-up job promoting next Sunday’s “500” – but it’s activities like today’s qualifying sessions that fans want to see and the casual fan would probably watch too, seeing as the Blue Jays game was rained-out after four-and-a-half innings and there was no NHL hockey (if anyone really cares any more). So a nail-biter day like today would be ideal to promote IndyCar racing in Canada but it didn’t happen.

As I say, I don’t understand. I don’t think all that many other people do either.

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By the way, I couldn’t watch a gripping IndyCar day today but I could watch the NASCAR All-Star Race tonight as I typed this. (Just thought I’d mention that.) Kyle Larson won all three stages of the NASCAR Open and transferred to the All-Star race. And he won it. No points but boasting rights and first-place prize money of one million dollars. Pretty good racing and a typical NASCAR ending: as Larson celebrated on the main straight, Clint Bowyer ran over to Ryan Newman’s car and started punching him through the driver’s side window. In animated TV interviews later, both drivers blamed – and insulted – the other.

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The Victoria Day Speedfest continues today at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, north of Bowmanville. The headline race is the first of the season in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series but rounds of the Canadian Touring Car Championship, the Porsche GT3 Series Cup Challenge Canada, the Nissan Micra Cup and several divisions of the Pirelli World Challenge are sure to keep you entertained.

See you out there.

 

About the author

Norris McDonald

Norris McDonald

Veteran reporter and news editor Norris McDonald is the former editor of Toronto Star Wheels, where his work continues to appear each week. He's also the former Toronto Star Sports online motorsports writer and columnist. His columns - which have also been published in the Globe and Mail - and feature stories about the automotive industry in general and motorsports in particular are considered industry-leading. He’s received awards and citations for his newspaper work and he also appears on radio and television. A former owner and driver of super modified racing cars who's well-known as a trackside announcer, he is a member of the Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway Hall of Fame. In 2014, he became the first journalist to be inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame.