Pato O’Ward was one lap away from earning his first pole of the season but Rinus VeeKay had other plans for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver, fastest in the morning practice session, blitzed the opposition on his final tour and put down a 1m06.2507s lap in the No. 21 Chevy to earn the second pole of his career.
O’Ward was close behind in his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP (+0.1496s), but that’s where the trend stopped as the Dutchman left Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou (+0.0412s), Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin (+0.0552s), Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi(+0.0582) and AMSP’s Felix Rosenqvist (+0.0861s) well and truly behind.
“We had a really good car but we did have some hiccups going through the first two sequences,” VeeKay said. “I was behind Romain [Grosjean]. He went through the grass in [Turn 8/9], slowed me down half a second because of all the dust going on the tires. Luckily we had the pace to advance. Still I knew we had a lot left in the tank coming to the Fast Six qualifying.”
Rossi’s Andretti team replaced the entire back end of the No. 27 Honda in the brief period between his crash in practice and the start of qualifying two hours later.
Behind VeeKay, only Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott stood out yet again. Continuing the theme from Friday, he earned the team’s first appearance in the Firestone Fast 12 where with his 11th in the No. 77 Chevy.
The Firestone Fast 12 provided more dramas with a few teams waiting to the last minutes of the session to send their drivers out to set their fastest laps. Running the risk of a red flag ruining their plans, the Andretti team paid for the last-moment strategy when Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson spun and brought out a red flag that ended the session with Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean needing one more lap to crack the Fast Six.
“I don’t understand why we waited to let the whole field go by,” an unimpressed Herta, who starts 10th, said to the team as he drove towards the pits.
Surprised to find himself knocked out in the early stages of qualifying, CGR’s Scott Dixon was not a fan of earning P13 on the starting grid.
“I didn’t expect that. Definitely bummed for the team,” he said. “It’s not a great starting position.”
Team Penske’s Will Power was thoroughly perplexed about where their speed went missing.
“It wasn’t bad. I don’t know, man,” he said, mystified after qualifying P19. “That’s a terrible place for this track.”
All three A.J. Foyt Racing drivers were clustered together in the opening qualifying round and all three were relegated to the back, with Kyle Kirkwood leading the trio in P21. Lacking speed all weekend, the Foyt team has Kirkwood, Dalton Kellett and Tatiana Calderon to try and move forward with alternate strategies on Sunday.
AS IT HAPPENED
The first round of qualifying saw half the field head out to try and run inside the top six to transfer into the next round and, once over, the fastest group was led by Scott McLaughlin, Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou, Alexander Rossi, Felix Rosenqvist and Graham Rahal. Those who would go no further were Scott Dixon, Jack Harvey, Kyle Kirkwood, Takuma Sato, Dalton Kellett, Will Power and Tatiana Calderon.
The second round for the other half of the field was led by Romain Grosjean, Colton Herta, Josef Newgarden, Rinus VeeKay, the surprising Callum Ilott and Marcus Ericsson. A late off-track excursion and contact with the wall by David Malukas brought out the red flag—Helio Castroneves spun on his own elsewhere on the same lap—and amid the adversity, those who missed the cut were Christian Lundgaard, Castroneves, Malukas, Devlin DeFrancesco, Conor Daly and Simon Pagenaud.
The move to the Fast 12 was a shocker as a last-lap spin and red flag caused by Marcus Ericsson left Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean unable to complete their final laps which should have moved them into the Fast Six. Nonetheless, those who were knocked out were Josef Newgarden in seventh, then Grosjean, Graham Rahal, Herta, Ilott and Ericsson.
The Fast Six consisted of O’Ward, McLaughlin, Rossi, Rosenqvist, VeeKay and Palou.