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Pagenaud Wins Pole; Alonso Fails To Qualify for 103rd Indianapolis 500

Simon Pagenaud became the first Frenchman in 100 years to win the pole for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, while two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso will need to wait to become just the second driver to win the Triple Crown of motorsports after failing to qualify on a dramatic final day of Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying on Sunday.

Pagenaud, from Montmorillon, France, turned a four-lap average speed of 229.992 mph during the Fast Nine Shootout in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet. He is the first French pole sitter since Rene Thomas in 1919. Pagenaud’s previous best start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” was second last year.

“It's my whole team behind me that prepared me to be here,” Pagenaud said. “It's a team effort, but obviously super happy for France. I think this sport is a sport that I know France would really enjoy, and they do. So this can only help gain the recognition over there and in Europe.”

Team Penske earned its 18th career Indianapolis 500 pole, extending its event record. Chip Ganassi Racing is second with five poles. This was Team Penske’s first Indy 500 pole since Ryan Briscoe earned the top spot in 2012.

“Well, I think when you look at Simon's run today, it was amazing to see the consistency over 230 (mph), which looked like (Rick) Mears was qualifying there back in the old days,” team owner Roger Penske said. “But I just want to congratulate him in front of all of you. We had four good cars. He was strong all month, and I think when we had to execute, there was certainly one guy that was going to get on the pole, and that was Simon.”

Ed Carpenter Racing teammates Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot completed a Chevrolet lockout of the front row for the race, which starts at 12:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday, May 26. Three-time Indy pole winner Carpenter qualified second at 229.889 in the No. 20 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet, and Pigot earned the third starting spot at 229.826 in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.

The field of 33 cars was the closest by time in Indianapolis 500 history, but the biggest story of the day besides Pagenaud’s pole was the most prominent driver not to make the show during the Last Row Shootout, which featured single qualifying attempts for each of the six drivers trying to earn one of the final three spots in the field. The Last Row Shootout began qualifying for the day after a rain delay of four hours, 15 minutes.

Alonso, from Spain, posted a four-lap average 227.353 in the No. 66 McLaren Racing Chevrolet as the third driver in line for the Shootout. But Kyle Kaiser from the low-budget Juncos Racing team bumped Alonso from the field on the last run of the Shootout, posting a dramatic average speed of 227.372 to earn the 33rd and final spot.

Kaiser and Alonso both crashed during practice last week, with both teams scrambling to get their cars repaired, prepared and quick enough to make the show.

“It felt like we qualified on pole when I came in, to be honest,” Kaiser said. “It was pretty wild. I didn't really know right away. Everybody keeps asking, when did you know. I had no idea. I had somewhat of an idea because I got to see the laps, but I heard it was really close. And I came across start finish and first thing I asked was: ‘Are we in? Did we make it?’ and I just heard screaming, so that was a good sign.

“But the last 48 hours has been an absolute whirlwind. It's been crazy. We had really good pace with our main car, but obviously we had an incident, and it's been just an uphill battle since then.”

Other drivers to qualify in the last row were Sage Karam and 2016 pole winner James Hinchcliffe, who narrowly avoided missing the field for the second consecutive year.

Alonso must return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway another year if he wants to join 1966 “500” winner Graham Hill as the only driver to capture the Indianapolis 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans and Monaco Grand Prix. Missing the show was a crushing disappointment for Alonso and the powerful McLaren team, which made six total qualifying attempts between Saturday and Sunday.

“I drove with a loose car and didn't lift off,” Alonso said. “I drove with an understeer car; I didn't lift off. I drove with a rear puncture; I only lift off in the last lap because I could not make the corner.

“And today we went out with an experiment that we did overnight. We changed everything on the car because we thought that maybe we need something from the mental different to go into the race with some confidence because yesterday the car even if we were qualifying today, we were not maybe in the right philosophy to race next Sunday, and we went out not knowing what the car will do in Turn 1, but you're still flat. So we tried.”

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