The six NTT IndyCar Series drivers attacking the Indianapolis road course for pole position at Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix contained a highly unexpected assembly of talent as Romain Grosjean captured an emphatic pole position in the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda.
Considering all he’s been through since the fiery end to his Formula 1 career and the comparatively small size of his team to those he out-ran, Grosjean’s achievement in his third-ever IndyCar qualifying bout was nothing less than remarkable. With a lap of 1m09.4396s, Grosjean demoted Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden in the No. 2 Chevy to P2 by 0.1269s and Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey in the No. 60 Honda to P3 (+0.2132s).
“Honestly, the first part of quali, I was struggling a bit, but we got there,” said the overjoyed Swiss-born Frenchman. “The car felt so good. Amazing.”
Newgarden offered no excuses after pushing hard to try and capture P1.
“I did a pretty good lap, to be honest,” he said. “We just got beat, but I think we have a good vantage point tomorrow.”
Recovering from the loss of the first practice session due to a water leak, Barber Motorsports Park winner Alex Palou was the lone bright spot for Chip Ganassi Racing in P4 (+0.2722s) with the No. 10 Honda. Penske’s Scott McLaughlin was the second-fastest rookie in the Fast Six and an impressive second among his veteran teammates with the No. 3 Chevy in P5 (+0.2744s). And closing out the marvelously diverse group was Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly — making his first Fast Six appearance — to P6 in the No. 20 Chevy (+0.4266s).
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The Firestone Fast 12 cleaved a few drivers out of the Fast Six who weren’t expecting to be on the outside looking in. A polesitter last year on the Indy road course, ECR’s Rinus VeeKay led the group in P7 with the No. 21 Chevy. Behind the Dutchman, it was Colton Herta leading a struggling Andretti Autosport team in P8. Although his DCR teammate made it inside the Fast Six, there was no reason for Ed Jones to be unimpressed with a starting spot of P9. Simon Pagenaud was the first of two Team Penske drivers to miss the cut in P10; Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal was P11, and after spinning and causing a red flag, Penske’s Will Power was demoted to P12.
AS IT HAPPENED
In the opening 10-minute session where half the field went out and six moved forward into the Firestone Fast 12, Jack Harvey, Colton Herta, Graham Rahal, Rinus VeeKay, Takuma Sato, and Simon Pagenaud held P1-6 after the first run on the faster red-banded alternate tires. On the second run on reds, Felix Rosenqvist took P1, followed by Harvey and Herta in subsequent jumps to P1. VeeKay took his turn atop the group of 12 drivers in the last minute with a 1m09.4890 to hold onto the position.
Transferring behind him from P2-P6 were Herta, Ed Jones, Harvey, Rahal, and Pagenaud. Those who failed to go forward in order from P7-P12 were Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson, Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jimmie Johnson.
In the second 10-minute session where 13 drivers went out and six moved forward into the Firestone Fast 12, the order halfway through the segment while on the harder primary tires had Josef Newgarden leading Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Scott McLaughlin, Romain Grosjean, and Pato O’Ward in the top six. The shift to reds in the exceptionally deep pool of talent produced a few surprises as P1-P6 featured Newgarden in charge with a 1m09.6101s lap to lead Alex Palou, Scott McLaughlin, Conor Daly, Grosjean, and Will Power.
Being up front at Indy feels different.
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Those who would go no further were led by a formidable trio of Rossi, Dixon, and O’Ward. Behind them, more dissatisfaction was found with Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Dalton Kellett.
In the Firestone Fast 12 where the top six would transfer to the Fast Six, the red flag was out less than three minutes into the 10-minute session for Power who spun into the grass on the right of the entry to pit lane and stalled the car. Although the car was undamaged, IndyCar’s rules prevented his ongoing participation in qualifying and stripped Power’s two best laps, leaving him in P12.
With the clock down to 3m30s remaining in the session, the field charged out on reds to settle the Fast Six runners and it was another surprise as Palou led the group with a lap of 1m09.4743s. It was mostly young or new drivers to transfer as P2-P6 was represented by Harvey, Grosjean, Daly, McLaughlin, and Newgarden.
Locked into P7-P12 starting positions were Veekay, Herta, Jones, Pagenaud, Rahal, and Power.
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