INDIANAPOLIS – Move over Team Penske; this INDYCAR Grand Prix will be led to the green flag by Chip Ganassi Racing.
Rookie Felix Rosenqvist won his first pole in the NTT IndyCar Series by outpacing teammate Scott Dixon in the Firestone Fast Six qualifying session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 27-year-old Swede posted a lap of 1 minute, 8.2785 seconds. Dixon, a five-time series champion, ran 1:08.2979.
INDYCAR GRAND PRIX: Unofficial qualifying results
Team Penske has dominated this event in the past, with Will Power winning three times -- and Simon Pagenaud another -- all from the pole. On this day, the fastest Penske driver was Power, who settled for the sixth starting position. The only other Penske driver starting in the top 10 is Pagenaud in eighth.
Chip Ganassi's team was happy to step into Team Penske's lead place, but Rosenqvist wasn't sure he would be the pole sitter until Dixon completed his final lap.
"The first two laps I didn’t really feel like I had a (tire) grip, and then the final lap there was something switching on and I was like, ‘OK, this could be good,” Rosenqvist said. “But honest, I didn’t think it was going to be (fast enough). It’s so tight. I looked up at the screen and we were P1. I just prayed it was going to hold til the end.”
Rosenqvist wasn’t the only driver celebrating. Jack Harvey, who earned the third starting position, participated in his first Fast Six. Driving for Meyer Shank Racing, Harvey has only 13 career starts in the series. He won the Freedom 100, the Indy Lights race at IMS, in 2015.
Rookie Colton Herta had been the fastest in Friday’s second practice, but he settled for fourth, tying his best of the season (at Circuit of The Americas). He swept all three Indy Lights races at IMS last year.
Ed Jones will start fifth in Saturday’s race, easily his best of the season. His previous best this year was 15th in St. Petersburg, Florida. Jones has had only one other top-five start – last year in the second race in Detroit when he started fourth.
Dixon finished second to Power in last year’s race here after starting 18th.
The first group in the first round was interesting as three high-profile drivers – series points leader Josef Newgarden, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi – failed to advance. Team Penske drivers Newgarden, Castroneves and Power took turns bumping each other out of the transfer line in the closing seconds of the session.
Newgarden was surprised to be nearly six-tenths of a second off Takuma Sato’s pace in the group. “That’s a big deal,” he said. “I’m not sure where that (improvement) is at.”
Newgarden will start 13th, which is not ideal, but he finished fourth last month at Barber Motorsports Park after starting a season-low 16th. He brings a 28-point lead over Rossi into this race.
The possibility of a wet race exists. In that case, the action could be especially thrilling as teams manage the conditions, and some drivers are better in the wet than others.
“If it rains, it rains, (and) it’s the same for everybody,” Pagenaud said.
Coverage of the 85-lap INDYCAR Grand Prix, the fifth race of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, begins at 3 p.m. Saturday on NBC, NBCSsports.com, the NBC Sports app and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.