Will Power’s splendid record around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway reached another milestone today as he timed his final run to perfection to just deny Alex Palou pole position for tomorrow’s GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
Power, who is now three from matching Mario Andretti’s record for career pole positions, had been briefly upstaged by Palou, who initially started the Fast 6 on the slower primary compound of tires to preserve a set of fresh reds. Despite having a slide out of the final corner, Power managed to secure his first pole of the season.
Qualifying before the first of three races held at the Brickyard would take place in ambient temperatures that hit an eye scorching 31 degrees whilst track temperature hit 54 degrees.
Fresh from completing his duties as an ambassador for the Miami Grand Prix, Juan Pablo Montoya would take part in his first IndyCar Qualifying of the season, with the Colombian veteran, who has two Indy 500 wins to his resume driving the number six Lucas Oil Arrow McLaren SP Dallara Chevrolet.
Montoya would feature in group one of Qualifying with countrywoman Tatiana Calderon, Devlin DeFrancesco, Takuma Sato, Jack Harvey and Felix Rosquenvist, with Josef Newgarden. Also featured in group one along with the defending series champion Palou, were Power, Rinus Veekay, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves who comes into the month of May chasing a record-breaking fifth Indy 500 win.
First to set the pace in Group 1 was Veekay with a 1:10.6265 two tenths faster than DeFrancesco, Palou and Rosenquvist on the opening runs. Further back, Grosjean was reporting a handling issue with his number 28 Gleaners food bank Honda as he returned to the pits sixth fastest after the opening runs.
After a short time spent in the pits and with a change to the faster red alternative tires, the 13 runners returned to the track to see if they could improve on their opening lap times, with Calderon the first to try and improve, albeit she later abandoned her run after hitting traffic.
The times quickly tumbled near the end of group 1, with several drivers breaking the sub 1 minute 10 barrier as the track quickened. Then, at the chequered flag, Power finished group 1 fastest ahead of Palou, Rosenquvist, Newgarden and Harvey, who snuck into the fast 12 for the first time this season, with Grosjean just sneaking in at the expense of Sato and Veekay.
Group two would include Barber winner Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta, and Christian Lundgaard, who dazzled in last year’s Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix with fourth on the grid in his maiden IndyCar start. Also featured in group 2 were Alex Rossi, Marcus Ericsson, Conor Daly, Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal, Jimmie Johnson, and Dalton Kellett, whilst the ever-impressive Callum Ilott would complete the lineup along with fellow brickyard rookies David Malukas and Kyle Kirkwood.
McLaughlin set the pace on the primary tires with a 1:10.8506, marginally quicker than Daly, Ilott, Herta and Kirkwood as the field switched to the alternatives.
The Penske driver held his advantage at the top of the times on the second runs until O’Ward managed to bank a 1:09.4708, over a tenth faster than the Kiwi, with former Formula 2 rivals Lundgaard and Ilott finishing the session third and fourth ahead of Daly. On his final run, Rahal managed to drag himself into the fast 12, knocking out Herta, who came into the session as one of the favorites for pole position but would now start tomorrow’s race a surprising 14th on the grid. Rossi, too would have plenty of work to do during tomorrow’s race as he would start 16th after only managing the eighth fastest time in the group.
In the opening stages of the eight-minute Fast 12 session, Newgarden again was fastest by over two tenths. Meanwhile, Ilott encountered an incident at Turn seven as the field made the switch to the alternative compound.
Now on the reds, Palou produced a super lap of 1:09.4114 to go top in the session’s closing stages, with the Spaniard marginally ahead of the rejuvenated Rosenqvist and O’Ward with Power fourth, Newgarden fifth and Daly sixth just ahead of Ilott and Lundgaard. Harvey, try as he might, couldn’t break into the fast six and subsequently finished the fast 12 ninth ahead of Grosjean, McLaughlin and Rahal, who brought up the rear.
O’Ward, Daly, Power and Rosenqvist would start the Fast 6 on the red compound of tires whilst Palou and Newgarden went for the black compound, only for them to quickly pit for a fresh set of reds. The first runs saw McLaren take a provisional 1-2 on the grid with O’Ward leading Rosenqvist whilst Power was third in front of Daly, Palou and Newgarden, who hadn’t set a time.
Palou’s gamble to start the session on reds appeared to have paid off on his last run as he managed to snatch provisional pole position from Newgarden. But Power wasn’t content with third, and on his last run, the Australian got his just rewards with the 58th pole position of his IndyCar career and the 64th in total when combined with his six Champ Car pole positions. Palou would start second ahead of Newgarden and the surprise of Qualifying Daly whilst the early pacesetters O’Ward and Rosenqvist rounded off the top six.
After the race , Power reflected on his tremendous achievement stating that he felt privileged to be among the likes of AJ Foyt and Andretti.
“I feel so privileged to get so close to him. I never thought I’d get there. Yes, three away, he’s an absolute legend of the sport. It would be such an honour to match or surpass him. To be up there with names like Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt is something I wouldn’t have imagined when I started my career.”
Power added that he feels the lottery of the series's Qualifying format made it much more enjoyable as he felt he had to work hard for it, praising his team for helping him end his pole position hoodoo in the process.
“That is the fun of this series. It’s so tight. When you get a pole these days, you know you’ve done a really good job. The team has done a great job. I’m super stoked. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a pole on a road course. Yeah, man, I worked hard for that one!.”
O’Ward was satisfied with fifth on the grid but admitted that he could have pushed a little bit harder if it weren’t for his red compound of tyres degrading on his final run.
“We had a very good day today. We didn't quite get it done in the Firestone Fast Six. We were as quick as anybody on fresh reds, but we missed it a little bit on used reds. I think we could have been a bit faster, but in the end, we didn't have enough for pole. I'm happy that we are starting toward the front; that's important in IndyCar. I'm also happy to have Felix up there with me. We are going to look to have a good race tomorrow.”