Pigot leads Indy 500 qualifying, Alonso struggles

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Spencer Pigot posted the fastest Indianapolis 500 qualifying time on Saturday while two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso and fan favourite James Hinchcliffe will try earn starting grid positions on Sunday.

Pigot turned in a blistering average lap of 230.083 mph in his second lap on Saturday to earn the top seed after the first day of qualifying for the May 26 race.

Spain's Alonso and Canada's Hinchcliffe, however, failed to make the top 30 on the starting grid and will have to take part in in Sunday's last row shootout to try and punch their tickets to the 33-car race.

Penske drivers Will Power, of Australia, and Frenchman Simon Pagenaud had the second and third best times of the day behind Pigot.

Under a new format announced this year, positions 10-30 on the 33-car starting grid were locked in on Saturday, the first day of qualifying for the 103rd running of the race.

Saturday's nine fastest drivers will battle for pole in a Fast Nine Shootout on Sunday, the same day that cars outside the top 30 will decide their fates via the last row shootout -- a one-hour session in which the last three places on the grid will be up for grabs.

Alonso and Hinchcliffe, who survived a scary crash in practice on Saturday, will be joined by Max Chilton, Patricio O'Ward, Kyle Kaiser and Sage Karam -- each getting one run Sunday for the final three positions.

Alonso hopes to become the second driver, after Britain's Graham Hill, to win the Triple Crown of motorsport, after his successes at the Monaco Grand Prix in F1 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in endurance.

Alonso (McLaren) took the 31st time in qualifying on Saturday. He was 30th, and therefore last qualified, two minutes from the end of the session, before the American Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan) relegated him to 31st place on the timesheet.

- 'Difficult day' -

Since the beginning of the week, 37-year-old Alonso has collected one disappointment after another. He had an electrical problem during the first day of testing on Tuesday and crashed his car the next day, which deprived him of the third day of testing on Thursday.

"It has been a difficult day, and it follows a difficult week," said Alonso, who played a leading role in the 2017 Indy 500 before he was forced to retire with engine failure.

"We were running quite well this morning when the conditions were not too bad, but unfortunately, we picked up a rear puncture and then we decided to wait until this afternoon to get back out on track when track conditions were slightly better," he said.

"At the end of the day, we didn't have the pace and the final time we posted wasn't enough to be in the top 30, so we must try again tomorrow and we'll need to execute the four laps as well as possible, clean and with no mistakes."

Hinchcliffe, who suffered life threatening injuries in an Indy 500 practice accident four years ago, was unhurt in his Saturday morning shunt.

"Something just caught me in (turn) two. I don't know if it was a gust of wind or what," said Hinchcliffe, who was back on the track in his backup car hours later.

Sunday's weather forecast calls for showers throughout the day. This means the fast nine and last row shootout have potential to see faster speeds under cooler temperatures. However, if showers cause a washout, the last row shootout will be run on Monday.