By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The fascinating and cruel nature of Bump Day reignited the debate of whether it’s a good idea having cars failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 compete. It’s simple, if they’re not fast enough or didn’t make the gun, they’re out.
Two drivers’ aspirations of drinking the glass of milk and their heads engraved on the Borg-Warner Trophy were dashed Saturday as the charitable lass Pippa Mann and arguably, the face of IndyCar, James Hinchcliffe didn’t make the 33-car grid.
Mann was bumped and didn’t have enough time to make a third qualifying attempt. Hinchcliffe’s fate was etched when he aborted his qualifying run due to a left rear wheel vibration.
Because of those two drivers missing the cut, the talk evolved about them over Ed Carpenter’s astonishing third pole for Sunday’s 500-mile race and several stories across Gasoline Alley.
Fans were irate towards Mann, Graham Rahal and even time constraints by ABC for taking the “Mayor of Hinchtown” out of the race and likely, the Verizon IndyCar Series championship. This crated a buzz about Hinchcliffe being inserted in the 500-mile race
I’ve read several comments on social media, saying Hinchcliffe must be in the race because he’s marketable, thanks to his notoriety from ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and featured predominately on Honda commercials.
They’ve also said he should be guaranteed a spot because he’s fifth in points. Then there’s those who have said, ‘screw tradition, have all 35 participants run the race.’
At the end of the day, only 33 cars can run the race and it should stay that way. Don’t make it 35 cars like the controversial and poorly officiated 1997 event. Hinchcliffe and Mann have accepted defeat and are trying to move forward.
Since the official entry list came out earlier this month, the debate of Bump Day returning for the first time since 2013 has seemingly split audiences. People saying everyone should race has to understand that we don’t get what we always want in racing.
It must be a generational thing, but the appeal of Bump Day is no promises are made. One year you’re on top of the world, but a lot can change the next.
Who can forget 1993 when Bobby Rahal, the reigning PPG IndyCar champion, failing to put his iconic Miller Genuine Draft livery into the field. Two years later, the Marlboro Team Penske squad were unable to put one, but both championship caliber cars, driven by reigning Indy 500 winner Al Unser, Jr. and two-time winner Emerson Fittipaldi.
Those two examples lead to the reasonable, but vile act, buying yourself onto the grid. Neither Rahal and Penske kicked other drivers, who rightfully made the race on speed, just to put their drivers in the 500.
Sure, there’s been instances when sponsors jumped into other cars and that’s fair. It’s up to them if they want their product featured on the grid and are willing to do one-race deals.
That’s what ARROW can and should do with Hinchcliffe’s teammates Jay Howard, Robert Wickens and satellite teammate Jack Harvey from Meyer Shank Racing, if they really want their name on the grid.
Another big buzz was Schmidt Peterson Motorsports may buy a ride for Hinchcliffe, like Conquest Racing’s Alex Tagliani and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay replacing Bruno Junqueira in both 2009 and 2011.
Junqueira, who’s Champ Car World Series championship bid ended after a season-ending crash in the 2005 edition of the 500, lost two opportunities to race, all thanks to the “Money Talks” scheme. Since 2011, Junqueira has never attempted the race again.
I called it vile because that’s an unethical way to participate in a race. It’s hard, but Indianapolis has its way with drivers unlike any other circuit in the world. Even the best has had their darkest days at the 2.5-mile circuit. To me, buying a ride leaves a bad taste in my mouth and sounds petty that they can’t accept defeat like those two examples from the 1990s.
For quite some time, I’ve felt that Jay Howard may be bought out of the race in favor of Hinchcliffe. Howard, who’s trying to redeem himself from last year’s horrendous two-car crash with Scott Dixon, told Robin Miller that money won’t make him give up his ride, even if it’s his teammate.
Several other teams and drivers have followed suit by saying no. Hinchliffe has even stated that he’ll be a spectator Sunday.
At least Hinchcliffe’s attitude on Pole Day was admirable because he’s out there to root for his race team. It’s tough for a driver to miss the biggest race on the IndyCar Series calendar, but it shows why the community loves him because he’s a team player.
My verdict is no. If you had the speed, you’ve deserved it and if you didn’t have it on Bump Day, it’s over. IndyCar shouldn’t even bother bringing up having a 35-car field because it’s the last thing the sport needs is more unnecessary drama.
This is the one time of year I look forward to qualifying, more so when there’s more than 33-cars attempting to make the 500-mile race.
It still has redeeming quality unlike NASCAR’s Daytona 500 because there’s no charter rule that kills any chance for small and part-time entries competing in the sport’s biggest event. This year’s Daytona 500 lost its mystique when 40 and only 40 cars entered, demoralizing the Budweiser Duels as I once knew. The race became just 60 meaningless practice laps.
The Indianapolis 500 has struggled to have 33 entries this decade and now that we had 35 this year, the last thing I want to hear is allowing everyone who showed up to race. That’s not how qualifying goes. The drivers must earn their way into the field, not buy a ride from someone who made the field like Junqueira or giving a beneficiary because of name value.
American Open Wheel Racing has survived just about everything, even when the sport’s giants aren’t in their pinnacle event like Rahal and Team Penske. Qualifying is now over, and it’s time to set our eyes on the journey that lies ahead.
There will be 33 well-earned qualifiers being tested for 200 laps and we’ll witness an individual who properly conquers every hurdle, win their biggest race of their lives, etching another story to the illustrious legacy of the Indianapolis 500.