INDIANAPOLIS — Pato O’Ward won the pole the last time we were here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In the session before qualifying on Friday afternoon, the Arrow McLaren SP driver was right back to where he was in August.
O’Ward paced the 27 driver field in the second of two 45-minute practice sessions from a hot, sunny day around the 2.439-mile road course. The Barber race winner turned in a time of 1:09.7839-seconds in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet. Now, can he turn that into another strong qualifying run later on and if so, can he get his first podium in 7 IMS road course starts in the NTT INDYCAR Series?
O’Ward topped Alex Palou in Barber and did so again on Friday with Palou going 1:09.8137-seconds in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda. Palou, was fastest in practice 1 and has qualified in the top six in each of the last 3 road course races here. He’s started 3rd in each of the last two races on the season as well.
Colton Herta (1:09.8423-seconds) was P3 in his No. 26 Dallara-Honda while last year’s winner Rinus VeeKay (1:09.9265-seconds) and Christian Lundgaard (1:10.0002-seconds) rounded out the top five.
The question now is, does Honda have anything for the bowties. Honda topped the morning speed charts and put 4 cars in the top six in session 2. However, Chevrolet has won each of the last 4 road course races here and all 4 races on the season at that.
Palou, is likely the lead Honda with being 1st and 2nd respectively in practice, finishing 3rd in this race last year and having 3 straight top 6 appearances here. Also on the season, Palou has 3 podiums in 4 tries too.
Herta can be right there with Palou if luck is on his side. He’s qualified in the top 5 in 5 of his 6 Indy road course starts and has finished in the top 4 in 4 of the last 5 tries at that. He was 10th and 3rd respectively in practice.
Romain Grosjean is worth a look. He qualified 1st and 3rd in the two races here last year, finished runner-up in both too and was 12th and 6th on the speed charts on Friday.
I also like the RLL camp. They took 2 of the top 8 speeds in session 1 and put all 3 cars in the top 15 in session 2. Lundgaard, qualified 4th here last year and was 5th in practice on Saturday. Harvey, has 5 top 6 appearances in 6 Indy road course tries and the one he didn’t make it he started 7th. He was 8th and 12th respectively on the speed charts.
The rest belongs to the Chevy camp. VeeKay was fourth in session 2 and is coming off of not only a pole in Barber but leading the most laps in a podium effort too. O’Ward is quick as always while Conor Daly may be the top sleeper in being 7th.
An absence on the speed charts are the Penske and Ganassi cars. Yes, Palou with Ganassi has been a mainstay but I don’t necessarily like where the rest are.
Will Power is the best Penske driver in being 3rd and 10th respectively. While he’s won here 5 times, 4 of them were from the pole and the other from the front row. Scott McLaughlin was 17th and 11th while Josef Newgarden was 16th quick in each session. Newgarden, has 1 career podium in 11 road course starts here.
Penske has won 3 of the 1st 4 races run this season and heading into last season, they had won this race in 5 of the 6 years that it was around including having every winner of it under their umbrella (Simon Pagenaud won the inaugural race for SPM in 2014).
Then, Scott Dixon went out and whooped the field in July 2020 in winning by nearly 20 seconds over second place. That ended the Penske reign.
Last year, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay triumphed that day in beating Romain Grosejan and Alex Palou.
Penske went 3-7-20 that July 2020 race. Last year, they were 4-6-8-11.
However, if you take in account the two October races that same 2020 season and the one last August, they’re back to being undefeated.
Newgarden led 34 of 85 laps in his win during the first doubleheader race of the Harvest Grand Prix race weekend. A day later, Will Power led all 75 laps in victory.
Last August, Power led 56 of 85 laps in another win. The question now is, why are they so good outside of May here and how can they recapture that May magic back?
Right now, I’d say, no.
Ganassi went 1st (Palou), 6th (Marcus Ericsson), 13th (Scott Dixon) and 24th (Jimmie Johnson) in session 1. They were only 2nd (Palou), 13th (Ericsson), 20th (Dixon) and 27th (Johnson).
Ericsson has 3 top 10’s in 4 starts here but no top 5’s. For Dixon, he has 1 win in his last 26 series starts and his finishes since his win here in July 2020? 9th, 8th, 9th and 17th respectively. He’s qualified 12th, 15th, 16th and 26th in his last 4 tries too.
Between Penske and Ganassi, they’ve won 9 of the last 10 road course races here as well as 13 out of the last 14 series titles. Right now, they have 5 of the top 6 in points too. So far though, they look pedestrian this weekend outside of Palou.
Out of the top 7 starters for the August race, 6 of them were in the top 8 of the speed charts in session 2. 1 of the 2 outliers? VeeKay who is the defending race winner here.