Fernando Alonso fifth in Indy 500 qualifying as Scott Dixon takes pole

Fernando Alonso
Alonso took part in the 'fast nine' which determines pole position at the Indy 500

Fernando Alonso will start his first Indianapolis 500 from the middle of the second row of the grid after qualifying fifth for the race on 28 May.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver set an average of 231.300mph on his four-lap qualifying run, while New Zealander Scott Dixon took pole at 232.164mph.

It was an impressive performance from the two-time F1 champion - he had not driven an IndyCar until this month.

Alonso said he was "happy" but had been slightly delayed by an engine issue.

"I think the car was better than yesterday," he said. "We had an over-boost problem (with the turbocharger) in the final corner, so the engine was like hitting the brakes and I lost a bit."

The Spaniard said this cost him 0.3-0.4mph on his average, which equates to the difference between fifth and either second or third.

Alonso, whose engine needed to be changed between final practice earlier on Sunday and qualifying, added on his Instagram account: "With everything that has happened today being among the top five is a dream.

"Fifteen days ago I would never have thought about fighting for the pole. Thanks to the whole team. Now another week of learning and race next weekend."

To put Alonso's performance into context, 1992 F1 world champion Nigel Mansell qualified eighth on his debut in 1993, in what was the Englishman's fourth IndyCar race after switching to the US-based series.

Fernando Alonso
Alonso has appeared relaxed and happy in Indianapolis

Alonso's first taste of Indianapolis was in his 'rookie' test on 4 May. He is missing next weekend's Monaco Grand Prix to race at the speedway as part of his quest to win the so-called 'triple crown' of Monaco, which he has won twice, Indy and the Le Mans 24 Hours sportscar race.

The 35-year-old Spaniard is directly behind two former F1 drivers on the grid.

American Alexander Rossi, who had a brief career with the back-of-the-grid Caterham and Marussia teams, was third and Japan's Takuma Sato, who raced in 90 grands prix for the Jordan, BAR and Super Aguri teams, was fourth.

American Ed Carpenter takes the middle slot on the three-car front row.

Rossi won the Indy 500 from 11th on the grid last year, an illustration of the fact that qualifying positions are not of great importance in predicting race form at the so-called 'Brickyard'.

That is because the set-up of the cars is changed significantly between qualifying and race to ensure drivers can run consistently in heavy traffic during a 500-mile race that is usually punctuated by several 'caution' periods in which drivers are restricted to reduced speeds behind a pace car.

Alonso was consistently fast through the days of practice last week, whether running in qualifying or race trim.

None of the British drivers in the field were in the 'fast nine'. Ed Jones was 11th on his debut, followed by Max Chilton in 15th, Jay Howard in 20th, Jack Harvey in 27th and Pippa Mann in 28th.

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