A frenetic qualifying session for Round 1 of IndyCar’s doubleheader at Mid-Ohio produced a blend of familiar and unexpected outcomes as Team Penske’s Will Power captured his 60th pole position in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevy (1m6.3343s).
The Australian, who commanded the opening qualifying group, will lead the field to green for today’s Honda Indy 200, with fellow NTT IndyCar Series champion and Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay on the front row in the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda (1m6.7287s), who led the second qualifying group.
In both session, drivers struggled to get the most from the faster, red-banded Firestone alternate tires.
“Very pleased, obviously,” Power said. “It’s a very slippery track; that lap, it still didn’t feel like the tires were in. We were sliding all over the place.”
Seeking his first win of the year, Power had one thing in mind for this afternoon’s 75-lap contest: “I just want to have a good race.”
For Hunter-Reay, finding speed to open his session on Firestone’s primary black tires was a breeze; most of the field had similar comments.
“We went to the reds and they never really came in,” he said, which could lead teams to limit the time they spend on reds once the green flag waves at 5 p.m. ET. “Hopefully we can go out and be on the same playing field in the race.”
Behind Power and Hunter-Reay, the rest of the top six had an interesting look. Team Penske’s title contender Josef Newgarden secured third in the No. 1 Chevy, while Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly added another notch to his list of wildly impressive qualifying performances by earning fourth in the No. 20 Chevy.
The hometown Meyer Shank Racing team was another entry to make a statement with Jack Harvey’s run to fifth in the No. 60 Honda, while Andretti’s Alexander Rossi rounded out the first three rows with the No. 27 Honda.
One major shock emerged from time trials as the master of Mid-Ohio, championship leader Scott Dixon, and his Chip Ganassi Racing team missed – and missed big – in qualifying with the No. 9 Honda. Matching his car number, the New Zealander was ninth-fastest in the opening group of 11 drivers, and, with the full grid added in, he will start 17th.
“We’re not really sure,” Dixon said when asked if he knew why they were so far off the mark. “The car was really good on blacks. Went to the reds and just had no rear grip. This morning, it went the other way.
“I don’t know, maybe we missed something. I think it might have just been that set of tires; I can’t figure out how we were faster on blacks than reds. It definitely hurt us, so we need to do something strategy-wise.”
Dixon’s struggles could play to Newgarden’s favor as the Penske driver looks to carve into the 94-point deficit to the CGR driver. In a typical 90-lap Mid-Ohio event, the length of the race would provide Dixon’s team with numerous strategy options to try and leapfrog their way to the front. At the shortened 75-lap distance for both races, creative strategies will not be an option, leaving Dixon to hope for caution periods where alternate strategies might be tried, and Newgarden to hope for a clean race that pins his title rival near the back of the field.