Grosjean scores 3rd career INDYCAR pole on Saturday at Barber, recap with my top 5 thoughts

Romain Grosjean is rolling. The Andretti Autosport driver is using his fresh Honda engine to his advantage on Saturday by going sixth quickest in the morning practice and turning those efforts into a pole later on in the afternoon. Grosjean circled the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park in the Firestone Fast Six with a top lap of 1:05.8396-seconds in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda to score his third career NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole, two of which coming in the first four races to this season.

“Yeah, it went really well,” said Grosjean. “This morning, Alex (Palou) was very fast, and I was actually having lunch with Michael, and we didn’t think we would catch them. But then we started qually and the car felt amazing on the blacks and then got a bit of traffic on reds but then made it through, and then the Fast 12 got the fastest lap again.

“In the Fast Six, I think my first run should have been better. Made a mistake in 12 and 13. So ran again, and yeah, the car was good.

“I think we’ve shown that we’ve got a very strong baseline, very strong package this year on street course and road course, and oval is getting good, as well.

“Honda has done a very good job, especially after yesterday where we had the engine rolling off in practice, so we lost all of practice one, which was not ideal. But luckily I’ve got very good teammates, and I could rely on them to kind of go over my setup, and Olivier made a few changes between practice two and qually, and that worked well.

“Yeah, happy for the team, happy for the result, and looking forward to the race.”

On a track that he’s 2-for-2 at in terms of Top-10 finishes, can he turn this pole into a win in Sunday’s Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)?

Qualifying is everything here. All 12 races have been won from a top 10 starter. Furthermore, 10 of the 12 INDYCAR races at Barber have been won by a top five starter. 5 of the last 6 have been won by the top 3 including 4 straight.

This is his third top three starting spot in four races this season. He’ll lead the last two Barber race winners to green on Sunday.

He’ll be joined on the front row by 2021 winner Alex Palou. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver went 1:05.9130-seconds in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda in the final round to net his third consecutive top three start here. He was third in both 2021 and 2022 and turned those into a race win (2021) and a runner-up (2022).

Last year’s winner, Pato O’Ward (1:05.9382-seconds) will start third in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet. O’Ward scored the pole in 2021 and was also on the front row (2nd) a year ago too.

Scott McLaughlin (1:05.9515-seconds), Scott Dixon (1:06.0723-seconds) and Christian Lundgaard (1:06.1601-seconds) rounded out the Fast Six.

Romain Grosjean this weekend at Barber. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Grosjean’s Weekend Improvement While Herta Slides Backwards

I think entering Saturday’s knockout qualifying session, most would have put more faith in Colton Herta being in the Fast Six over Grosjean. Instead, it was the other way around. Herta was remarkably eliminated in the opening round and will start 14th. He was second and fifth respectively in the pair of practice sessions.

Grosjean blew an engine on Friday and was sixth in Saturday’s practice. He’s on the pole. They’re going in opposite directions heading into Sunday’s race.

Herta called it unacceptable to miss out of the second round. While he’s only qualified 9th, 9th and 10th respectively here, he’s at least 3-for-3 in second round appearances. Or at least, was.

Marcus Ericsson this weekend at Barber. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Tough Session For Championship Leader(s)

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson enters Sunday’s race as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader. His teammate, Marcus Armstrong, enters as the leader in the Rookie of the Year race. Both also didn’t make it out of the first round in qualifying.

Grosjean on his final lap in the first round bumped Ericsson out. He’ll start 13th in his No. 8 Dallara-Honda. Armstrong, was set to join him on Row 7 (14th). That was until he was caught swerving and blocking Christian Lundgaard’s lap. That cost him his top two laps and dropped him from 14th on the starting grid to 26th.

Armstrong didn’t necessarily agree with the call since both were on their out laps. Still, a penalty is a penalty and it was a massive one for him.

Armstrong enters Sunday’s race 1 point ahead of Agustin Canapino for top rookie honors. Canapino qualified 22nd.

For Ericsson, he is 15 points ahead of Pato O’Ward and 19 above Alex Palou. He cited qualifying in the offseason as a major area of weakness that was keeping him from getting to where he wanted to go.

His Achilles heel in 2022 was in that aspect. 9 times did he started 12th or worse including 5 times in the final 7 races. It’s why he went from 6 top 5’s in the first 10 races this season and was leading the points to 4th. He had no top 5 finishes over the final 7 race stretch. While he had 3 top 10’s, it was the lack of top 5’s that allowed everyone else to catch up.

Consistently coming from behind was the culprit. Imagine if he started closer to the front in those races. It’s not like he wasn’t a hard charger. He went from 14th to 3rd in Texas, 18th to 4th in the GMR Grand Prix, 13th to 6th in Mid-Ohio, 15th to 6th in Iowa 2, 25th to 11th in the Gallagher Grand Prix.

“I think us as a team, it’s been one of our weaknesses the last couple years in that we’re not qualifying as high as we should,” he said. “Race day I’m not scared of anyone. I think on the 8 car we’re always going forward in the races; we’re always very strong in the races.

“It’s no secret that we need to improve on qualifying day. That is us in the 8 car but also Chip Ganassi Racing as a whole. I think if we can all improve, it’s going to help us. These days as well, INDYCAR is becoming more and more competitive. So many good drivers and teams. If you start mid pack, yeah, it might be long races, but to win a race from mid pack is getting harder and harder.

“It’s been one of the big focus areas in the off-season, to try to find things in the setup, in the way to understand the tires, stuff like that, to mainly improve our qualifying performance. It’s been a big focus for us. It’s going to be interesting this week to see if we have found some things that are going to work, then apply that throughout the season.”

This year, he’s qualified fourth in St. Pete and second in Long Beach. He was on the podium both days. In Texas, he started 16th. He finished 8th. Now, he starts 13th.

Alex Palou this weekend at Barber. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Good Points Opportunities for O’Ward, Palou

As a result of Marcus Ericsson starting in Row 7, this is a great opportunity for Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou to potentially take over the NTT INDYCAR SERIES points lead heading into the Month of May. They’ll make up 2 of the top 3 starting spots for Sunday’s race with Palou in second and O’Ward in third.

Qualifying is everything here. All 12 races have been won from a top 10 starter. Furthermore, 10 of the 12 INDYCAR races at Barber have been won by a top five starter. 5 of the last 6 have been won by the top 3 including 4 straight.

5 of the last 6 races have been won via a top four starter including all 3 this season. Pole sitter Romain Grosjean is 0-for-33 in INDYCAR. Just 3 of the last 20 races have been won from the pole at that. Only 5 of the 12 Barber races too were won from the pole.

Palou won from third in 2021 while O’Ward won from second last year. They’re back again and can put the pressure not only on Grosjean, but Ericsson too.

Outside of his win a year ago, O’Ward was fourth in 2021. Palou was runner-up last year and won in 2021. With them being 15 points (O’Ward) and 19 (Palou) behind Ericsson, that gap could dwindle greatly on Sunday.

Christian Lundgaard testing at Barber this spring. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Lundgaard Carrying RLL Banner This Weekend

Christian Lundgaard has been very impressive this weekend. He was sixth and seventh respectively in the pair of practices while being sixth as well in qualifying. Both of his teammates failed to advance out of the opening round.

Graham Rahal starts 19th in his No. 15 Dallara-Honda while Jack Harvey rolls off 24th. Rahal was 12th and 16th in practice with Harvey being 20th and 21st.

Lundgaard started 14th and finished 15th last year, but this time around, he looks like a legitimate top five threat.

Scott Dixon this weekend at Barber. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Dixon Doing Dixon Things

Scott Dixon comes to the Barber Motorsports Park looking for a rare stat that he’s not yet accomplished. The Barber Motorsports Park is a track that he’s never won at before. He’s 0-for-12 to be exact. He’s also never won at St. Pete (0-for-19), Iowa (0-for-17), Portland (0-for-6) or Laguna Seca (0-for-5) either.

Can he get another track off the list?

So far, so good. He was fourth in both practice sessions and qualified his No. 9 Dallara-Honda in fifth. This was his 12th Fast Six appearance in 13 Barber tries and it just feels like he’s lurking right now.

It’s also not like Dixon hasn’t been close at Barber though either. In those 12 career starts, he has 9 podiums. 6 of those 9 podiums were runner-ups. He has two second place finishes in his last five Barber starts at that with a third place run in 2021 and fifth last year as two of the outliers.

Does 2023 = a win?

Dixon comes in mad with contact from Pato O’Ward in Long Beach relegating him to a last place finish (27th). That has dropped him down to sixth in points at -38. He was third (-15) entering.

Meanwhile, Dixon has also won at 11 venues currently not on the schedule too: COTA, Motegi, Houston, Kansas, Edmonton, Homestead, Richmond, Nashville, Kentucky, Watkins Glen, Pikes Peak and Nazareth. Can he finally snag a Barber win on Sunday?

Tip Ins

Will Power only qualified 11th and made note that his Team Penske engine seems to be a bit off in the power department this weekend. That’s because a lot of drivers are nearing the mileage completion for them and when they get to this point, they do lag behind in power in comparison to others. That’s why Power says that they just have to get a solid result on Sunday and will receive a new engine for the GMR Grand Prix up next in Indy.

Power is ninth in points and having a quiet defense year of his 2022 championship. He was seventh in St. Pete, 16th in Texas and sixth in Long Beach.

Another note is McLaren had all three cars in the second round of qualifying including one in the Fast Six. All three still start in the top 10 which is a big win for them in the fact that they were one of the few organizations that elected not to test here earlier this spring.

Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix Starting Lineup

Row 1: Romain Grosjean, Alex Palou

Row 2: Pato O’Ward, Scott McLaughlin

Row 3: Scott Dixon, Christian Lundgaard

Row 4: Josef Newgarden, Felix Rosenqvist

Row 5: Rinus VeeKay, Alexander Rossi

Row 6: Will Power, Kyle Kirkwood

Row 7: Marcus Ericsson, Colton Herta

Row 8: Callum Ilott, Simon Pagenaud

Row 9: David Malukas, Devlin DeFrancesco

Row 10: Graham Rahal, Conor Daly

Row 11: Helio Castroneves, Agustin Canapino R

Row 12: Sting Ray Robb R, Jack Harvey

Row 13: Santino Ferrucci, Marcus Armstrong R

Row 14: Benjamin Pedersen R

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