By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
A dramatic qualifying frenzy unfolded at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course Friday afternoon with two promising drivers catching people’s undivided attention while two former champions have their work cut out for tomorrow’s GMR Grand Prix.
Those who stood out were outside pole sitter Jack Harvey and fifth-place starter Oliver Askew, both at one point looked poised of stunning the NTT IndyCar Series paddock by getting their maiden NTT P1 Pole Award.
Those visions were halted by none other than the sport’s pole master Will Power, who snatched the top spot away from Harvey at the last second with a time of 70.1779 seconds to score his 58th pole. Power will be fighting for a fourth GMR Grand Prix victory as all of his wins came from the pole position.
“It was Will Power doing Will Power-y things,” Harvey’s reaction of losing pole at Indy. “He’s got a lot of poles. Think he maybe could have maybe shared one of his (poles).”
“When I get to 67 I’ll stop (laughs),” Power replied.
Despite not pulling the upset, it’s the British driver’s best career INDYCAR start, improving one spot from last year’s GMR Grand Prix, the site of both Harvey and Meyer Shank Racing’s only podium.
“There’s no disappointment in anyone today. We were thrilled to be on the front row for the first time,” Harvey on his best qualifying start. “I think we have pace on blacks, pace on reds. Hopefully we’ll be competitive tomorrow. For now we’ll enjoy this and get ready to zone in for the race.”
Three spots below Harvey was Askew, who was the fastest man in both Group 1 and Round 2, setting the best overall time of 69.878 seconds (Round 2). However, the final session was a struggle for the Arrow McLaren SP rookie as he ran on used red Firestone compounds.
Nonetheless, the 24-year-old was satisfied with his fifth starting position as the goal for the day was to simply advance out of Group 1. Once key changes were made in his No. 7 Chevrolet between practice and qualifying, Askew’s car “was just on rails.”
“I thought it was important for us to roll out of the gate with a good car and I think we did. It was in the window right away. I knew we had a shot at having a good qualifying,” said Askew, who won at the 2.41-mile circuit in USF2000.
“Really happy with the car. I think once we were P1 in Q2, I realized that we could really have a shot at pole here. I wish we were able to put on a new set of reds in Q3. That was the first time experiencing a heat cycle on reds. It’s quite a bit different.”
At the end of the day, the reigning Indy Lights champion showcased he might have something up his sleeves to not only continue the yearly trend of rookies shining bright, but fighting for a series win.
“Really happy to be in the top six at the end. I think it’s a great day for everyone at Arrow McLaren SP and Chevy,” said Askew. “Looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully we can have another good one like we did in Texas, maybe a little bit better.”
Further down the grid you’ll find two former champions who failed to make the Firestone Fast Six. Those were five-time series champion Scott Dixon and 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud.
Dixon just missed out of making the final round of qualifying by 0.570 seconds to Josef Newgarden, who locked up his brakes in Turn 12 in the Fast Six and failed to run a full lap. Therefore, Dixon will roll off seventh out of the 26-car grid.
Dixon, who’s looking for his first GMR Grand Prix victory, felt he didn’t nailed his best lap like he would’ve hoped following an aero experiment that “went up and down” between the red and black compounds.
“It was a bit of chaos. The car on the reds was actually pretty good,” said Dixon. “I kind of mistimed my first lap just a little bit and gained a bunch on the second. Then I kind of got a bit excited in the (Turns) 7-8-9 complex and kind of lost some more there. It was pretty close.
“A lot of guys in that last section that went quick that we probably didn’t expect to. It’ll definitely make an interesting race tomorrow,” Dixon added.
Pagenaud’s qualifying session was a surprise as he didn’t even make out of Round 1 as his No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet was only 10th fastest out of the 13 drivers in Group 2.
The defending race winner commented that his red compounds developed a push along with a unbalanced car, causing the frustrating qualifying effort.
“The rear of the car was pushing the front at mid-corner, so I couldn’t complete in the corners and didn’t translate into lap times,” said Pagenaud. “It’s so tight here, you got to be able to roll those speeds into those corners. Unfortunately, the adjustment we made went in the wrong direction.”
The three-time GMR Grand Prix winner will start a personal worst 20th Saturday. In fact, the furthest a driver has won the grand prix was eighth last year won by Pagenaud.
Heading into the 80-lap race, the Frenchman noticed a few trends and now by starting deep in the field, he’ll have to figure out a way to manipulate the downforce since tire degradation was low Friday.
“You can play with downforce levels and really decide to run less a lot quicker on the straightaways,” said Pagenaud. “When you let that rear wing down, there’s a lot of gain in speed. I think we might have to do that tomorrow, but will see.”
Live coverage of the second round of the championship trail begins at Noon EST on NBC. The race consists of 80 laps.