Photo: Walter G. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Grosjean Captures Second Pole of 2023 with Fast Lap at Barber

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Romain Grosjean is getting really good at this whole qualifying thing.

For the second time in 2023, the Andretti Autosport driver will lead the field to green in an NTT IndyCar Series race after scoring the pole for the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park.

The Frenchman started the weekend off on the wrong foot when mechanical issues forced an engine change between first practice on Friday and the start of on-track activity on Saturday, but he didn’t let that keep him down heading into qualifying.

Grosjean started the Fast Six with the fastest lap before being eclipsed by Scott McLaughlin and Pato O’Ward, but he returned to the track shortly thereafter to assert his dominance with a lap of one minute, 5.839 seconds around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course.

In addition to it being Grosjean’s second pole of the season, he also extended the streak of different pole winners at the track, which now sits at eight different drivers over the last eight races.

“I’ve got a hell of a team,” Grosjean said as he celebrated the pole in a mob of Andretti crew members on pit road. “We’re doing such a great job this year. The car is awesome and I’ve got three teammates that I can rely on, so I went with their setup for the baseline we had. From the moment we started [qualifying], I knew I had it, so I just didn’t want to mess it up that last lap.

“We’re starting in the best position, but now we’ve got 90 laps to lead. We’ll see tomorrow, but I’m really happy with my guys and with everything we’re doing.”

Alex Palou kept up the speed he showed earlier in the day by qualifying second, joining Grosjean on the front row. Defending race winner O’Ward will start third, with McLaughlin rolling off fourth.

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon starts fifth in his quest to finally check a win at Barber off on his resume and Christian Lundgaard continued to keep his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team up front with a sixth-place qualifying effort.

Josef Newgarden started qualifying as the fastest within his group in the first round. However, he was “frustrated and annoyed” after his run in the second round, which left the two-time champion just 0.0617 seconds shy of being able to transfer to the Fast Six. Newgarden will roll off seventh at the track that he has won at three times previously.

The remainder of the top-10 starters will be Felix Rosenqvist in eighth, Rinus VeeKay in ninth, and Alexander Rossi in 10th.

As has been the case all weekend, qualifying wasn’t immune to off-track excursions, with at least three of the top-12 qualifiers finding themselves in the grass or gravel at one point or another. Among those were VeeKay and Will Power in the final minute of the second round as each of them exited stage right or left during the session.

Both drivers were able to gather their cars back up, but the damage had been done and they were unable to move on to the Fast Six.

If their issues at the end of the session weren’t enough, VeeKay and Power also got into it at the start of the session as they jockeyed for position to get the best lap possible.

Despite all of it, VeeKay still managed to have a laugh about it afterwards.

“I did it last year and got a pole, so why not pass everyone on the out lap,” VeeKay said. “Will got a little heated, but that’s Will. That’s why he’s got a red car, right? It wasn’t meant to piss anyone off, but I had to do something to get my place on the track. I got my third lap on track because of it.”

The most recent winner in the IndyCar Series, Kyle Kirkwood, lost control of his car on his out lap, keeping his foot in the gas and kept rolling after a 360-degree spin. Kirkwood will start 12th on Sunday.

Rookie Marcus Armstrong also learned a hard lesson when he slowed in front of Lundgaard’s oncoming Honda, causing Lundgaard to have to check-up and regroup before setting his fast lap.

IndyCar officials ruled that Armstrong had interfered with Lundgaard’s lap and he lost his two fastest laps, dropping him almost to the tail end of the field in 26th.

Rain is forecasted to move in overnight, washing away all of the rubber laid down thus far in the weekend, making for a big unknown when the green flag drops on Sunday’s 90-lap race at 3:00 pm ET.

Ahead of the main event, drivers and teams will have a short 30-minute warm-up session at Noon ET to get a feel for the track before buckling down for the race.

Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.