Rinus VeeKay will start from pole for NTT IndyCar Series Round 1 on Friday at the Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader in the No. 20 Chevy. Alongside the Ed Carpenter Racing rookie on the front row is Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who capitalized on a shortened outing to lead his group in the No. 1 Chevy.
The young Dutchman was fast on his first visit to the Indianapolis road course, where he placed fifth after starting 18th, and with challenges presented by a number of IndyCar’s established stars in the Group 2 session, the 20-year-old rose to the occasion and secured the first pole of his brief IndyCar career.
“It was tough,” he said. “Great team, a lot of work was put in here. And finally, finally, my first pole. We’re going for that win now.”
Sweeping the front row with twin-turbo V6 Chevrolet power, Newgarden was thankful for an unexpected bit of help from Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Takuma Sato.
“That’s the luckiest we’ve been as far as yellow flags this year,” Newgarden said. “We were quick on (primaries); the car felt awesome right out of the box.”
Split into two groups based on the times set from the opening practice session, Group 1 was loaded with some of IndyCar’s fastest drivers as Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing’s championship leader, second-place man Newgarden, third-place Pato O’Ward from Arrow McLaren SP, Penske’s Will Power and Simon Pagenaud, and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, among others, headed out to fight for the top spot.
But an error late in the session by Sato, who pulled away for his first lap on the faster Firestone alternate tires and promptly spun into a gravel trap, rendered the last five minutes of Group 1’s time all but useless as the rest of the drivers were stuck on pit lane and unable to make their runs on alternates. Extricated with 1m17s left on the clock, and leaving a trail of rocks in his wake, the Indy 500 winner wasn’t the most beloved driver in the field after the series announced their session was over.
As a result, the best opening laps turned by the Group 1 drivers on Firestone’s primary tires rewarded Newgarden, who was fastest prior to the stoppage, plus teammate Power who was second, and Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey in third.
The loser in Group 1 was Dixon, who was sixth-fastest in opening session, but with Group 2 getting a clean run for the duration of their session, including runs on the quicker alternate tires, he was demoted to 12th on the starting grid.
“That’s just the way it goes sometimes, man,” Dixon said. “We didn’t do anything wrong. Maybe we should have made the car better balance-wise on the (primaries), but you always chase what it’ll be for the (alternates). Bummer for the whole crew, we’ll start 12th; we’ll just have to figure it out and hopefully we have a good day tomorrow. It’s not over until you win the championship.”
After VeeKay and Newgarden, Andretti’s Colton Herta will start third, Power will start fourth, an inspired Marco Andretti claimed fifth, and MSR’s Harvey took sixth. Leading CGR, Felix Rosenqvist was seventh, Andretti’s Alexander Rossi earned eighth, Carlin Racing’s Max Chilton was strong in ninth, and AMSP’s O’Ward completed the top 10.