Photo: Aaron Skillman/Penske Entertainment

Graham Rahal Backs Up Practice Speed with Pole at Indianapolis

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been a day for Graham Rahal.

After starting the morning with the fastest speed in practice, the driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda backed it up in qualifying to secure the pole for the Gallagher Grand Prix – his first since Detroit in June of 2017. A stretch of more than six years.

Though he had some qualms with the way his car was driving at certain points through qualifying, the end result is no doubt a stark contrast from the last time Rahal was qualifying at Indianapolis, when he found himself bumped from the Indy 500 field.

“It was nice. It’s truly good to be able to just translate what we had in practice, to make it improve to qualifying,” Rahal said. “Frankly, the very first Q1, I think we were still P2 or 3, but I was not pleased at all with the car.

“Even in Q2 we were P1, but it was just a terrible lap. That’s always a good sign. It’s nice to be able to feel that way. It’s been a long, long time since I felt very in control, could make it happen when we needed to, put it together.

“Q3, it was really tricky, frankly. My brake pedal was really, really long through all of qualifying, which it was this morning, too. We bled them. Thought it was going to be better. It wasn’t. I locked a few times in Q3. Kind of released the pedal and hoped it stuck, and it worked out.

“We have a little bit of work to do to get better here and warm up before the race. It’s awfully nice to be able to have the Code 3 Associates car up front, to be able to go challenge from there with some clear road ahead. We’ll see how the start goes and things like that. But clear road ahead. See how it plays out.”

Rahal was not the only RLL Honda that was strong in qualifying, with his teammate Christian Lundgaard timing in second fastest and nearly backing up his pole in the first race on the IMS road course back in May.

“I mean, we are strong here,” Lundgaard said. “Graham was strong already this morning. Every time we come to this racetrack, we know we’ll be able to fight for a win. Now we’ve just given ourselves two chances.

“In that matter, I think it’s all about executing tomorrow. We’ve proven that we can do it on one-lap place. We struggled in the May race on the consistency throughout a stint, the strategy decision making. Now we have two opportunities to make up for that.”

Arrow McLaren teammates Alexander Rossi and Pato O’Ward will start third and fourth, respectively, followed by Devlin DeFrancesco in fifth and Romain Grosjean rounding out the Firestone Fast Six.

For DeFrancesco, it was not only his first appearance in the Fast Six, but his best qualifying effort ever in his IndyCar Series career.

“Honestly, I was really happy with how we rolled off in practice,” said DeFrancesco. “We did a few things going into qualifying. I think we just needed to nail the balance. Between Round 1 and the Fast Six, we really didn’t change much. Really happy with how we ended up today. Looking forward to having a good result tomorrow.”

Rookie Marcus Armstrong will roll off from seventh on Saturday, followed by current points leader Alex Palou, Felix Rosenqvist, and Scott McLaughlin to complete the top-10.

The third RLL entry belonging to Jack Harvey was also strong in qualifying, making it through to the Fast 12 and putting up the eighth fastest time, but a six-place grid penalty for changing engines between last week’s event in Nashville and Indianapolis drops him to 14th when the green flag drops tomorrow.

While the unusual suspects were taking in the glory of their stout qualifying runs, some of the heavy hitters will have their work cut out for them on race day having to start from deep in the 27-car field.

Among those is the most recent IndyCar winner Kyle Kirkwood in 15th, six-time series champion Scott Dixon in 16th, Will Power in 17th, Marcus Ericsson in 18th, and Josef Newgarden in 19th.

Newgarden especially was visibly frustrated after getting knocked out in the first round of qualifying, knowing he is in a virtual must-win position if he has any chance of catching Palou for the points lead over the final four races of the season.

Just one final practice session remains before race day with a short half-hour warm-up session at 4:00 pm ET to try and get the cars dialed into perfection before buttoning them up for the night and getting ready to race.

Gallagher Grand Prix Qualifying Results

1. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:10.1132 (125.232 mph)
2. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 01:10.2286 (125.026)
3. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 01:10.2932 (124.911)
4. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:10.3453 (124.819)
5. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 01:10.3938 (124.733)
6. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:10.4021 (124.718)
7. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 01:10.2106 (125.058)
8. (30) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:10.2228 (125.036)
9. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:10.2974 (124.904)
10. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:10.4389 (124.653)
11. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:10.4782 (124.583)
12. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 01:10.5207 (124.508)
13. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:10.4398 (124.651)
14. (60) Linus Lundqvist, Honda, 01:10.4570 (124.621)
15. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 01:10.4869 (124.568)
16. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:10.5006 (124.544)
17. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:10.5237 (124.503)
18. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:10.6348 (124.307)
19. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:10.6150 (124.342)
20. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:10.7249 (124.149)
21. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 01:10.6461 (124.287)
22. (20) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Chevrolet, 01:11.0083 (123.653)
23. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 01:10.8687 (123.897)
24. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 01:11.0611 (123.561)
25. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 01:11.5658 (122.690)
26. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 01:11.1027 (123.489)
27. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 01:11.2971 (123.152)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.