Will Power saw off a late challenge from Robert Wickens to claim pole for tomorrow’s IndyCar Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Wickens was sitting at the top of the timesheets in the final couple of minutes before Power reeled off a 1m09.8182 on scuffed reds to bump him to the outside of the front row. Wickens had just enough time to summon a response, but ultimately fell just 0.08s short. It’s Power’s 51st career pole.
“We did have to dig deep,” the Team Penske driver admitted. “That was everything I had. We made a downforce adjustment after the first round when we saw how fast the other guys were and got pretty close, and then on used tires the car was really good. I’m stoked.”
Wickens was disappointed at falling short, and put much of the blame on himself.
“I’m a bit gutted with P2,” he admitted. “Great for a front row, but when you lead the whole quali, you want to finish the job. It wasn’t the tidiest lap on the used reds there; wasn’t that smooth from me. I’m just happy to be back in the Fast Six because the last time I did it was at St Pete. Tomorrow’s a new can of worms so let’s go and play.”
His performance was the cherry on top of a successful afternoon for the Schmidt team, with James Hinchcliffe joining him in the Fast Six and putting the No.5 car fourth on tomorrow’s starting grid. Struggles during second practice had prompted Hinchcliffe to borrow Wickens’ set-up ahead of qualifying – a reversal of a similar exchange between the pair at Long Beach – and this, he insisted, was what made the difference.
“It was a bad day to have a bad day with the compressed schedule, and we had a really bad practice,” he said. “Lucky we’ve got a solid teammate in Robbie and we were really leaning on him. Just really proud of the whole team.”
Sandwiched in between the two SPM cars was Sebastien Bourdais, who will start from third but believes the car was capable of better.
“I didn’t [maximize the reds],” he shrugged. “The only really good run was in Q1. I made a mess of Q2; barely made it [through], then in Q3 I had a good run but made a small mistake on that last lap and that cost us dearly. Good job to the boys for giving me a car good enough for pole, but I didn’t quite extract everything out of it.”
Jordan King served up one of the big surprises of the day, not just by planting his ECR car fifth on the grid, but through the manner in which he did it. Brake problems relegated him to pit lane for all but the final two minutes of the first segment, and after some quick repair work, he made it out of pit lane on a set of reds with just enough left on the clock for one flying lap, and used it to comfortably book himself a place in segment two.
Reigning series champion Josef Newgarden rounded out the Fast Six, leaving a lot of other big names facing the prospect of a Saturday spent passing their way up to the front. Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud was among them, although the Frenchman was encouraged by what he hopes was the first hint of a breakthrough in his comfort level with the 2018 aero.
“I have struggled with this car a lot, with the feeling of it,” he said. “The team brought me what I needed this weekend but I’d lost so much confidence in my ability… [But now] I’m very positive for the rest of the season. I think we’ve found what I need, and that gives me a smile.”
Things were less smiley in the Andretti garage. Alexander Rossi was the team’s strongest qualifier, but he said that eighth was rather less than he’d hoped for.
“I think we just missed it, which is disappointing,” he said. “We were in the top three for both sessions. We expected a lot more, so we’ll have to figure it out. You can pass pretty easily here so I’m not worried about that, but it’s just disappointing.”
At one point Rossi looked in danger of not even transferring into the second round when teammate Marco Andretti started putting a lap together in the final moments of the first segment while Rossi was sitting on the bubble, but he ended up securing passage through by a scant 0.1s.
“I needed to do what we just did,” Andretti said. “I don’t want to start 14th in these races, but to know that we were just outside the top six hurts. You go through your head and think of things you could have done, but… I think we just practiced better than we qualified.”
He’ll be in familiar company on the seventh row, with teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay starting alongside in P13.
“Been struggling with the balance all day,” said Hunter-Reay. “Unfortunately we just missed out. The two cars in front of us were 0.02s quicker. It is what it is; we’ll have to come through tomorrow.”
Perhaps the biggest shock was Ganassi, with Ed Jones and Scott Dixon lining up 15th and 18th, respectively. The problem, Dixon said, was a cocktail of handling problems compounded by the warm temperatures.
“This morning in the cooler conditions the car wasn’t too bad so we took a pretty big swing at it,” he said. “Ed and I have the same thing, the car just doesn’t have any speed. It feels like it’s on top of the [track] surface. We took a big swing at it but we’re not even close to where we should be. Even at the test here we struggled to make the front tires work, and today with the heat seems to make it a little bit worse for us than for others.”
Equally disappointed was Graham Rahal, who will line up alongside Dixon in 17th after making a mistake on his best lap in the opening phase.
“I’m really upset,” he said. “We continuously make our jobs harder than we have to. I’m really mad. We locked the right front so bad that I never stood a chance. Probably should have come into pitlane and tried to swap them out. We haven’t had great pace, but certainly we’re a lot better than that.”
Elsewhere, Helio Castroneves will start the first half of his month of May cameo in P10.
“We did a lot of adjustments in one session and took a chance, but unfortunately it wasn’t the right direction,” he said. “Starting in the top 10 is not that bad – we’ve started ninth and finished on the podium here before.”