An already great weekend for Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden got even better in qualifying for the second half of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix double-header. The Race 1 winner again led his qualifying group, but this time reversed the order from yesterday to best Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi for pole position for this afternoon’s race. He did so despite his faster red tires coming in to their sweet spot faster than he anticipated.
“I got it on the first one — normally the second lap is our peak lap, but I could see the grip was there so I had to go,” related Newgarden. “The second lap was done — the tires were already burned off so I had to maximize that first one. Must have got lucky!”
The luck came in the form of another slight mistake from teammate Will Power who, up slightly on Newgarden’s time on his final lap, brushed the wall slightly and as a result faces another midfield start, this time from 11th.
After the challenging weather conditions of Saturday, Sunday’s qualifying ran under clear skies — which are expected to remain that way for the race this time. But this is Belle Isle, where weird things seem to happen, and yesterday’s weather still managed to impact the action in the form of water runoff that forced a lengthy mid-session delay before the second, faster group.
Sure enough, the early “banker” laps on the black primary tires were upward of two seconds slower than the previous day’s qualifying. Most in Group 1 therefore waited into the final minutes to switch to the alternate reds. Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Takuma Sato, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot and Harding Steinbrenner’s Colton Herta all took turns laying down fast laps before Rossi went to the front, then bettered his own time with a 1m15.1825s to guarantee at least a front row start — and another vital championship point, awarded to the pace-setters in each group.
“I’m not expecting it to hold up but I think we did the best we could,” shrugged Rossi.
Herta held on for second, 0.4s down on Rossi, ahead of Dixon and an resurgent Patricio O’Ward for Carlin. The Harding Steinbrenner phenom was already looking ahead.
“In years past, if you’re second you can kind of slot in most of the time; if you’re third, you want to be on the inside going into Turn 1,” said Herta. “On the outside, nothing good happens…”
The second group figured to be faster, but had an early curveball thrown them when water flowing out of the tire barriers in Turn 6 prompted a red flag.
When action resumed some 50 minutes later, a few, including Sebastian Bourdais, opted to try reds straight away just in case of another red flag. Newgarden nevertheless led the early going on blacks before Bourdais edged him on his second red tire run. The late runs put Newgarden back in front with a 1m14.8607s that held up for pole to his aforementioned surprise.
Indeed, the lack of info on how well the red tires will hold up made for additional intrigue about the race.
“We figured out the second lap on the reds was probably the best and I put all my effort into the first lap and the rear was gone by Lap 2,” related Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, 14th on the final grid. “We had the pace, just mismanagement on my part. It’s not much, just takes a few tenths of a second to be back there.”
Could be worse — you could be in Tony Kanaan’s shoes. The Brazilian said of his A.J. Foyt Racing entry, “I lack everything — front grip, rear grip, the car feels like it’s on ice.
“It makes it hard to explain to your engineer. He said, ‘What do you need?’ I said, ‘I need everything!’ Basically over the concrete the car is really slippery so I need more grip. We are trying to figure out, should we run softer, stiffer… downforce, we have everything on the car we can have. I think we’re lacking a little on the damper side; we’re trying to figure that out. We have nothing to lose and I can assure you, we are rolling the dice!”
UP NEXT: Detroit GP Race 2, 3 p.m. ET, NBC.