It’s an odd NTT INDYCAR SERIES road course qualifying session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when Team Penske’s Will Power, No. 2 on the series’ all-time poles chart with unmatched success in the GMR Grand Prix, had to search deep for the bright side to starting 12th for Saturday’s race.
“At least we’re 12th,” he said. “That’s better than St. Petersburg – 20th.”
Power has won five of the previous nine poles on this 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course, and scored four race wins, including the INDYCAR Harvest GP last year. He won from the pole in that most recent race here, held Oct. 3, but his work will be cut out for him in this 85-lapper.
2014 series champion Power went off the track in the second round of Friday’s NTT P1 Award qualifying session, then sounded off with his crew. He couldn’t believe how the handling of the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet changed so dramatically from the afternoon’s practice. The conditions were similar, as close to perfect as could be requested.
Power not only went off track, he had trouble with the clutch and stalled in the qualifying session. Per INDYCAR rules, drivers who bring out the red flag in qualifying must sit out the rest of the session and start last in the group.
Power started to explain more about the difficult situation, then stopped himself mid-sentence in frustration.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I think we would have been OK in that session had I not made a mistake. I’m very frustrated with myself.”
Power wasn’t the only driver starting farther back in the 25-car field than expected. The top two drivers in the standings – Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP – will line up nose to tail in the 16th and 18th positions, respectively.
Dixon won this event last year on July 4 and has had three second-place finishes here, but he also has qualified 12th, 15th and 18th in the last three road course races at IMS. He qualified 18th in 2018 but recovered in the race to finish second. O’Ward won INDYCAR’s most recent race, the XPEL 375 on May 2 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) has three wins on the IMS road course, including the inaugural event in 2014, but he, too, will have more cars to pass than he’d like to win this one. He will start 10th.
Meanwhile, only two of the cars reaching the Firestone Fast Six – the drivers comprising the first three starting rows – have won an INDYCAR race, and one of those has only won one. That includes rookie pole winner Romain Grosjean of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR (No. 51 NURTEC ODT Honda), Jack Harvey of Meyer Shank Racing (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda), rookie Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske (No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet) and Conor Daly of Ed Carpenter Racing (No. 20 MannKind Chevrolet).
Seventh-place qualifier Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing (No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet) and No. 9 qualifier Ed Jones of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan (No. 18 MOUSER MOLEX Honda) also are yet to win their first series race.
Josef Newgarden, who qualified the No. 2 Snap-on Team Penske Chevrolet in the second position, called it “a mixed-up qualifying session.”
“I’m really surprised,” he said. “I think it will make for an exciting show. It’s getting impossible to predict how these things are going to go.”
Rolling, Rolling, Rolling
Grosjean took several questions about how he will handle his first rolling start from the pole in INDYCAR. He said he planned to review the series’ rulebook before going to bed, but he has watched many races since deciding last year to come to the series and is an experienced professional driver, so he thinks he will be fine.
Said Newgarden, “We’ll talk about it, but he’s seen a couple of these.”
Grosjean also showed he hopes to make INDYCAR a true second career.
“I’ve started looking for homes in the U.S., if that answers your question,” he said with a smile.
Grosjean Excited To Keep Farewell Date with F1 Car
A shakeup in Formula One’s June schedule won’t impact Grosjean’s chapter-closing Grand Prix test, he said.
The 10-year F1 veteran saw his Grand Prix career ended Nov. 29 when his Haas F1 car veered into and through a guardrail at the Bahrain circuit and caught fire. Grosjean suffered severe burns to his hands and was fortunate to escape with his life.
The Mercedes team, the winner of the past seven Constructors’ Championships, offered Grosjean a chance to drive Lewis Hamilton’s title-winning W10 Silver Arrow car at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, then do demonstration laps during the French Grand Prix, Grosjean’s home race.
But moving the race up a week due to the Turkish Grand Prix being canceled won’t impact Grosjean’s opportunity.
“I still get to do the full day of testing,” he said. “I just won’t get the demo day in front of my fans, but that’s OK. I can’t be selfish.”
Grosjean can’t attend the new French GP date because he will be competing in INDYCAR’s REV Group Grand Prix on June 20 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. He wishes there could be fans at the circuit when he tests the Mercedes on June 29, but he can’t hide his excitement to drive Hamilton’s car. He vowed to push the title winner “100 percent.”
Montoya: Team Using This Race To Prepare for ‘500’
Veteran drivers Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 86 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) and Charlie Kimball (No. 11 Tresiba AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) are competing in their first INDYCAR event of the season in the GMR Grand Prix, and they are doing so primarily to prepare their programs for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, which begins official practice Tuesday.
This is Montoya’s first race with Arrow McLaren SP, and he said the crew has “some younger guys working on the car,” a suggestion that he feels it is more important for them to experience a live race than it is for him. Montoya has won the “500” for two other teams – Chip Ganassi Racing in 2000 and Team Penske in 2015 – so he knows what it takes to be successful.
“Running the road course is key to succeeding in the Indianapolis 500 because it’s very different working under pressure than working on a test day,” he said. “I think it’s going to be good preparation for everyone.
“So, there’s work to be done, but I think running the GP and being under pressure is going to show what we all need to work on. If we do a good job with that then I think we will be pretty good. The whole thing here is being as good as we can be for the ‘500.’”
Montoya will start 25th in Saturday’s race after being penalized his two fastest laps for driver interference with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda) in the first round of qualifying. For all of the Colombian’s experience, this will be his first INDYCAR race since the 2017 Indy 500. He finished sixth in that race.
Kimball will start 21st.
A Busy Day for Road to Indy
Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist of the Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports led every lap and won his second Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race of the season Friday in the first of two series races this weekend. Saturday’s race is at 12:45 p.m.
Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen of Jay Howard Driver Development won the Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires race, his second of the season, by .07 of a second over Ohio’s Braden Eves of Exclusive Autosport. The two past Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winners are tied atop the standings. There will be two races Saturday (7:50 a.m. and 11:40 a.m.)
Wisconsin’s Yuven Sundaramoorthy of Pabst Racing swept Friday’s two USF2000 races to give the University of Wisconsin student three in six starts this season. The series stages its third race of the weekend Saturday at 9:40 a.m.
Odds and Ends
- Colton Herta, who recently turned 21, said it took virtually no time to negotiate and execute his contract extension with Andretti Autosport. From the start of the discussions late last month to Friday’s announcement was about two weeks. The deal will keep the four-time INDYCAR race winner in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda at least through the 2023 season. This is his third year in the series.
- Jimmie Johnson’s positive approach continued Friday, acknowledging he made a mistake in qualifying that put him in the back of the pack – 23rd in the No. 48 Carvana Honda for Chip Ganassi – for Saturday’s race. He said he missed Turn 1 on his one-lap chance to capitalize on fresh alternate (red) tires. “I’m learning where to be aggressive,” he said. “I’ll file that (learning experience) away.”
- Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS/Honda) had the fastest lap time in Friday’s first 45-minute practice, although it didn’t translate to qualifying (he’ll start 14th). Harvey was second, VeeKay third and McLaughlin fourth. Palou didn’t participate due to a water leak. Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 14 ROKiT AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet came to a stop, necessitating a red flag and drawing a five-minute hold for causing it. Johnson completed a lap after the session’s checkered flag, drawing a five-minute hold penalty for the next session. Bourdais, who had a strong start to the season, will start 20th.
- In the second practice, Chevrolet posted the fastest three laps (by Newgarden, VeeKay and Power). Dixon’s car labored with a clutch issue. He was 23rd on the speed chart.
- Firestone has certainly been busy preparing for this month’s IMS action. Before manufacturing and prepping 5,000 Firestone Firehawks for these two events, it has done 120 track scans and 510 friction surveys over the past year to collect finite details on race surfaces. For the GMR Grand Prix, each car gets six sets of primary (black) tires and four sets of alternate (red) tires. Thirty-four sets are distributed to each “500” entry, plus a few extras for special circumstances. Firestone will provide 28,000 tires for the season.
- Saturday’s pre-race flyover will be executed by the Indiana National Guard, utilizing four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Many of the honorary pre-race roles will be executed by health care personnel who have been among the heroes of the pandemic. Brittney Jones, a registered nurse case manager on the IU Health Methodist Hospital Palliative & Renal/Metabolic unit, will sing the national anthem; Ryan Crohn, a paramedic supervisor, will give the “Drivers, To Your Cars,” and Jennifer “Gigi” Durham, a flight nurse, will wave the green flag for the 85-lap race. New Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz will give the command to start engines.