INDIANAPOLIS — Romain Grosjean spent a lot of years in F1 battling for a midfield spot. It wasn’t for a lack of talent, it was just because F1 competition rewards only the big teams. Grosjean, was finally done with it. He wasn’t coming back for 2021. Then, comes his horrible accident in Bahrain that some thought would surely end his career.
Six months later, he’s on pole at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Grosjean, turned a top lap of 1:09.4396-seconds in his No. 51 Honda en route to his first pole in over 10 years and his teams’ third pole ever. The last came with Sebastien Bourdais at Phoenix in 2018.
While Grosjean knows that some could say that him being on the pole could spark from F1 fans from saying “see.” But he shoots those thoughts down in saying that Indy Car drivers are just as talented over here.
Part of the reason for Grosjean’s comfort this weekend is that this track was actually built for F1. This is an F1 type of circuit. That’s why you see guys with F1 background excel on this track in general. It suits his driving style and his comfort levels.
So combine all, you get a not so flukish pole.
It was an odd mix in the Fast Six in general though. You had two of the three rookies it int, only two guys that have even visited victory lane in their Indy Car careers and the top two in points not even making it out of the first round.
Scott Dixon will start 16th. Pato O’Ward comes from 18th. This morning’s quickest driver, Alexander Rossi, will roll off 14th. Five time GMR Grand Prix pole winner Will Power starts 12th. Three time GMR Grand Prix winner Simon Pagenaud will start 10th.
So, who’s in the Fast Six?
Josef Newgarden joins Grosjean on the front row with Newgarden qualifying with a time of 1:09.5665-seconds in his No. 2 Chevrolet. Newgarden, has made the Fast Six in three of his last four starts here and coming into last October, he had no top five finishes on this road course. Now, he looks to be among the ones to beat following a first and fourth place effort in the Harvest Grand Prix race weekend as well as being fastest in the second practice session on Friday afternoon.
Penske has put a driver runner-up in all four races run this season and now has a second place starter on Saturday.
Jack Harvey (1:09.6528-seconds) starts third in his No. 60 Honda. Harvey, has four Fast Six appearances in five IMS tries including three of which in the top three at that.
Alex Palou qualified fourth in the second race last October and did so again in his No. 10 Honda while rookie Scott McLaughlin and Conor Daly round out the top six in sharing Row 3.
Andretti Autosport Struggles
Andretti Autosport has had a love hate relationship with the IMS road course. Prior to last October, they were just off. They had no wins and just a couple of podiums since we started racing here in 2014. Then in October’s Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader weekend, Alexander Rossi went 2-3 while Colton Herta finished 4-2. Was momentum turning for them here?
While they started out fast in the morning practice session on Friday, they struggled in qualifying. In fact, mix that with how this season is going and you can see the frustrations boiling.
Colton Herta was the only one of their drivers to make it out of the first round. Rossi, who went quickest in practice on Friday morning, qualified just 14th. Ryan Hunter-Reay was 19th while James Hinchcliffe being 22nd.
This was just the second time of Rossi’s career that he failed to make it out of the first round here. He’s now qualified 11th, 16th, 15th, and now 14th this season after earning a front row starting spot in the season opener in Barber.
For Hunter-Reay, this was the seventh time in 10 tries that he’s qualified 12th or worse here. He’s also started 17th or worse in four of the five races run in 2021 too.
In Hinchcliffe’s sake, he’s qualified 20th or worse in four of the five races too.
With how much starting position matters here, they need some luck on Saturday.
Great Qualifying Effort From ECR
Rinus VeeKay narrowly missed out on making the Fast Six. He’ll start seventh in his No. 21 Chevrolet. He was on the pole for Race 1 in October and was third and second respectively in practice earlier in the day. His teammate, Conor Daly, did make the Fast Six. That’s the first time of his career that he’s done so. Daly, qualified his No. 20 Chevrolet in sixth giving ECR two of the top six starting spots. The only Chevy quicker than them is Josef Newgarden who qualified on the front row.
New/Old Guys Struggle
Charlie Kimball and Juan Pablo Montoya are making their season debuts. They’ll start 21st and 25th respectively. Jimmie Johnson is making just his third career Indy Car start. He’ll roll off 23rd. Combined, that’s three of the last five starting spots belonging to them. That’s definitely something that is eye opening in the sense that it further shows just how difficult this series is to compete in.
We have three rookies here this weekend. A talented trio at that. Two of those three made it all the way to the Fast Six on Friday afternoon with Scott McLaughlin qualifying in his No. 3 Chevrolet fifth. Romain Grosjean qualified his No. 51 Honda on the pole in dramatic fashion.
That bodes well for each on Saturday. 36 of the last 37 race winners came from a top 10 starting spot. 25 of the last 32 races on natural road courses like this one has seen the winner come from the Fast Six. Could we get a rookie winner on Saturday?
Top Points Guys Struggle
Scott Dixon enters this weekend as the points leader. Pato O’Ward trails him by 22 points. Neither though made it out of the opening round. Dixon starts 16th. O’Ward in 18th. To make matters even more interesting, fifth place in the standings Graham Rahal will also start outside of the top 10 in 11th. Simon Pagenaud is sixth in points and he’ll only start 10th.
That’s four of the top six in points coming from 10th on back. In turn, that opens up the possibility of the standings getting even closer when the checkered flag drops on Saturday.
Track Changed A Lot Between Practice And Qualifying
One gripe with a lot of drivers was that the track at IMS changed a lot as the day went on. The Friday morning practice session was run in cooler temperatures which means a cooler track. In turn, that means more grip. The second session was vastly warmer which made the track a little more slick. The qualifying round though was cooler than the second session but hotter than the first. The teams felt like they’d have a good grasp on how to setup their cars for qualifying. That all changed though.
The drivers were saying that the track was actually really slick which made these cars really loose as a result of that. Will Power (12th) made that point following a disappointing session. This was his worst starting spot of his career here as he had five poles and eight Fast Six appearances in his previous nine IMS road course tries.
Alexander Rossi agreed. He was fastest in practice this morning but his car got worse in qualifying.