Top 5: Shock Indianapolis 500 qualifying failures
It’s not just Fernando Alonso and McLaren who’ve suffered the humiliation of failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Some great drivers and teams, from the past and near-present, have fallen short when everything was on the line to make the field. It just goes to show how damned hard it is here!
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5: Andretti Autosport 2011
Photo by: Covy Moore
That year might be remembered for JR Hildebrand’s epic last-corner fail, but it was also the time that all five Andretti Autosport cars struggled throughout qualifying. Although John Andretti locked himself in early, followed on Bump Day by Danica Patrick, teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Mike Conway all ended up battling for the final spot on the grid between themselves. Marco bumped Hunter-Reay – who’d go on to win the 500 three years later – with the last run of qualifying. Hunter-Reay did start the race, however, buying Bruno Junqueira’s AJ Foyt drive, but Conway was done.
4: James Hinchcliffe 2018
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
After setting the pole in 2016, a year after he nearly lost his life at the track following a monstrous shunt, the fact that Hinch then failed to make the grid last year seems implausible. Adverse weather conditions played their part in him slipping into the danger zone on Bump Day, but the final chance to save himself was ruined by a tire vibration – due to a sensor failure – and had to be aborted. Then he simply ran out of time to get out on track again, leaving him “devastated”. This year, he crashed in qualifying, but scraped in on Bump Day. How many more peaks and valleys can the Speedway add to Hinch's career?!
3: Bobby Rahal 1993
Photo by: IndyCar Series
Rahal was defending CART champion when he failed to make the field in ’93. He persevered with the Rahal-Hogan (an adapted Truesports chassis), despite struggling for speed all month, and he was bumped out late on by Eddie Cheever, who’d switched teams to drive for John Menard. Having reverted to the spare car, Rahal tried again in the final minute of qualifying but just couldn’t find the speed he needed, so the three-time and defending CART Indy car champion was absent from the Indy 500 for the first time ever. Then he almost missed it again a year later, but was bailed out by Roger Penske loaning him a car!
2: Rodger Ward 1965
Photo by: IMS LLC
The two-time Indy 500 winner – who had an exemplary finishing record during a hugely dangerous era – shockingly failed to make the field in ’65 after suffering a crash and three blown engines during practice. He made one last attempt in the final 15 minutes, but his run was too slow. “Today it wasn't fun anymore,” the former WWII fighter pilot declared tearfully at the banquet and announced his retirement. In fact, he did race again at Indy in ’66, but then called time on his racing career and this time stuck with his decision.
1: Penske Racing 1995
Photo by: IndyCar Series
A year on from dominating the Indy 500 with its Mercedes-Benz pushrod engines, Penske returned with Al Unser Jr and Emerson Fittipaldi – who had won four of the last six 500s between them – and neither made the field. Penske tried everything, even salvaging one of the ’94 cars from a showroom as well as borrowing some Lola chassis from Bobby Rahal. Penske nobly took his lumps and didn't attempt to buy an entry onto the grid.
How did McLaren get Indy so wrong?
“Nothing went right” – How Alonso and McLaren failed at Indy