Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi scored his third career pole with a flying final lap in qualifying for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Team Penske’s Will Power was the last driver to set a time and improved to second, but Rossi’s staggering 1m04.6802s tour around the 2.2-mile road course was not going to be beaten.
Despite the intense effort, Power’s Chevy (+0.2137s) was a fair distance behind Rossi, who will have his Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay starting directly behind him in third (+0.3094s).
“The car has been so strong on [Firestone] reds on Lap 1,” Rossi said. “A huge hats off to the team for being first and third. It’s all about managing these Firestone tires. The car’s been good since we rolled off. To get a road course pole against this field is a big thing.”
Rossi, who holds third in the championship, can look forward to Power going for broke on Sunday as he tries to rise up the standings from fifth.
“Pretty good — front row,” he said. “I thought my lap was really good. Gotta be real aggressive. I want to be in the fight; I’m going to go for it.”
With no morning warmup prior to the race, Hunter-Reay had some fun with responding to how he hopes to improve on Sunday.
“We’re going to put a really good race setup on this thing,” he said. “There’s a lot of curveballs coming.”
Penske’s Josef Newgarden was fourth (+0.4533s), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens was a lucky fifth after being gifted a place in the Firestone Fast Six by his teammate (+0.4945s), and the best story of the afternoon — Carlin Racing’s Max Chilton — delivered the rookie team its first Fast Six performance (+1.9370s).
“Fourth’s relatively good. We can work with that,” Newgarden said. “If we can figure out the consistency, I think we’ll have a good race car.”
Wickens, like Chilton, found all the team learned in last week’s test at Mid-Ohio did not translate into a quick car once practice got under way. Constant improvements to their cars would ultimately salvage strong qualifying positions.
“The test went well for us,” Wickens said. “We went more or less full circle and from what I’ve learned here at Mid-Ohio the track changes a lot, and overall, it was a decent result.”
“We rocked up here yesterday and weren’t confident,” Chilton added. “Hopefully this [Fast Six start] is a sign of things to come. I feel like I’m driving well. Tomorrow’s the best time to show that.”
Hinchcliffe was the author of major drama in the Fast 12 as he spun and crashed in Turn 12 with 10 second remaining in the session — while sitting first overall. Per the rule book, Hinchcliffe’s mistake erased the two fastest laps set in the No. 5 SPM Honda and dropped the Canadian to 10th overall.
With Hinchcliffe’s demotion, the penalty helped Wickens — who was sitting in seventh — to transfer into the Fast Six, but it also cost a few favorites in Graham Rahal (seventh) and Scott Dixon (ninth) from completing their final hot laps.
“I feel really bad for the [team],” Hinchcliffe said. “With Firestone reds on, the thing came alive. It’s tough. This place is a track position-qualifying race. We’ll do what we can tomorrow with tire strategy to see if we can move up. This was on me and we threw away a good starting position tomorrow.”
Rahal, who waited toward the end of the session to put in a fast lap, felt Hinchcliffe’s penalty was insufficient.
“We didn’t get a lap,” he said. “It’s frustrating. We had the pace to advance. There is no penalty for going off and ruining someone’s day.”
Conor Daly put in another stout effort in Harding Racing’s Chevy to secure 14th ahead of the entire Ed Carpenter Racing team, A.J. Foyt Racing team, and both Dale Coyne Racing entries, among others, while using dampers that are almost half his age.
The Hoosier will also have Penske’s Simon Pagenaud starting behind him in 17th and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais ready to come forward from 24th and last. For Bourdais, who started the weekend fastest in the first practice session, the brakes locked on his out lap, which sent the No. 18 Honda sliding off into the grass into the tire barriers somewhat hard. IndyCar’s Safety Team was dispatched to get him moving again, and Bourdais did not return after pulling into the pits.
“The same thing as a couple of other times where I look like an idiot on the out lap or the first lap, going straight with no rear brakes whatsoever,” he said. “We, for whatever reason, have to run a very forward brake balance and the front brakes heat up much faster than the rears. It was a super slow out lap.”