Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi has been a man on a mission thus far in the IndyCar portion of the Detroit Grand Prix weekend, and served notice of his determination to make up for the one that got away last weekend at Indianapolis — and another here at Detroit last year — by scorching to pole position for this afternoon’s first of two NTT IndyCar Series races on the Belle Isle park/street course.
The usual knock-out qualifying system is replaced for Detroit’s unique double-header format by a pair of 12-minute sessions that split the field in half, with the field being set by alternating through the results of each group.
Under near-perfect sunny skies, Team Penske’s Will Power and Josef Newgarden went to the front in Group 1 on black tires before Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist blasted past them on the alternate reds, the Swede being the first driver of the weekend to crack the 1m15s barrier with a 1m14.998s. Newgarden rebounded to take the top spot with a 1m14.827s in his own run on the alternates, but Power had a big lock-up on his first run on the reds, then made another mistake in Turn 7 on his last lap and fell to sixth, ensuring a midfield start for the afternoon’s race.
Friday practice pace-setters Scott Dixon and Rossi were in the second group, and soon established their superiority again by nearly matching the Group 1 leaders in the “banker laps” on blacks. After changing to the alternate reds, Ganassi’s Dixon posted a 1m14.584s, only for Rossi to rip off a lap nearly a half-second quicker.
Dixon threw in another flyer on his last lap and momentarily appeared to have the upper hand for pole, but wound up 0.2s slower after sliding wide in the final corner.
“There’s never a perfect lap — but it was good enough, right?” said Rossi of his 1m14.199s that held up for pole.
Indeed it was. While still down on the 1m13.673s track record set by Takumo Sato in the higher-downforce aero days of 2017, it clearly marked Rossi as the man to beat.
“A huge hats off to the No. 27 NAPA Andretti Honda boys for putting together such fast race cars.” Rossi added. “We’ve been quick here the past three years but haven’t been able to execute on race days. That’s the name of it right now.
“Goal No. 1 (winning the pole) has been accomplished; hopefully we can go out and get the second part of the goal this afternoon.”
Newgarden will start alongside Rossi on the front row — and picks up another point for leading his group, as does pole winner Rossi — with Dixon joining teammate Rosenqvist on the second row. Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta and Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay make up the third row of the grid, while Patricio O’Ward impressed again by taking seventh for Carlin — along with Newgarden, the only other Chevy runner in the top 10 — ahead of Zach Veach, who also got a welcome boost of encouragement from the pace of his Andretti entry.
The Penskes of Power and Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud will be starting well back in 12th and 13th respectively. However, the starting order could lose its customary significance if predictions of rain ahead of the 3 p.m. ET start prove correct.
UP NEXT: Detroit Race 1, 3 p.m. ET, NBC