Tech is a fairly open process, so fans can watch the cars go through. The mornings of both Saturday and Sunday are open practice, with afternoons dedicated to qualifying. Both days included a bit of rain, but fortunately qualifying was delayed only slightly on both days. As you can see, by the time cars were rolling through tech on Sunday, the weather was perfect for fast speeds.
Saturday qualifying was largely uneventful, and ended with the Fast 9 as follows: Ed Carpenter, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, JR Hildebrand, Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Fernando Alonso, Tony Kanaan, and Marco Andretti. The end of Saturday qualifying should have been about how incredible it was to see Ed Carpenter back on top of the time sheets. It should have been about how quick Rossi was and what a great shot he would have to defend his 500 title. How about the fact that Alonso, shown above, who only had a few short days of testing on his first oval and in his first IndyCar had qualified 7th. Or hell, even that Takuma Sato was 2nd! Where did that come from?! But no, the end of Saturday had a much darker tone…
Sebastian Bourdais was looking set to make it into the Top 9. He had just turned two laps that were a full mile per hour faster than any other car would turn that day. As he exited Turn 2, the rear broke loose. He corrected, but the car caught and shot towards the wall. He hit the wall broad-side and nose first. The right side of the car disappeared as it exploded into a million pieces. He flipped over briefly as his car skidded down the backs straight, but the car soon righted itself. He slid a third of the way down the backstretch before coming to a stop. As it was happening, long-time fans of the Indy 500 were instantly reminded of Gordon Smiley, who died in a nearly identical accident 35 years ago. However when the car came to a stop, you could practically hear the crowd exhale as Bourdais moved in the car, trying to lift his visor. He was alive and conscious. The Holmatro Safety team swung into action and iummediately began the process of extricating Bourdais from the car. It took 15 minutes to remove the Frenchman from his destroyed car. He was immediately taken to IU Hospital for treatment. Qualifying was delayed for 45 minutes while the debris was cleaned up and the SAFER barrier was repaired.
Telemetry shows that SeaBass hit the wall at 227 MPH and at its peak, the deceleration force was 100G. This was even bigger than Hinchcliffe’s accident in 2015. Fortunately, the DW-12s have all been upgraded since that awful wreck to prevent another suspension intrusion. The car, SAFER barrier, and HANS device all did their job. Seb never lost consciousness and was awake and alert when the Holmatro Safety Team reached him. He unfortunately will be out for the rest of the season with a broken pelvis and right hip. The fact that he is alive and expected to make a full recovery is amazing. Most of the drivers were sporting Get Well decals for both Sebastian and for the now late MotoGP rider, Nicky Hayden.
With Bourdais’ crash still fresh on team’s minds, cars were rolled out Sunday afternoon for final qualifications. Each car would only get one chance at qualifying. Running order was the reverse of Saturday qualifying position, with a short break between the lower 24 and the top 9.
At 2:45pm, the green flag waved to open final qualifying for the 2017 Indy 500.