By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin — Defending Road America race winner Josef Newgarden has put himself into a fantastic position ahead of Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix as the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion qualified fourth.
The No. 2 REV Group Chevrolet turned in a lap of 1 minute, 43.6036 seconds around the 14 turn, 4.014 mile road course to average 139.478 mph.
After turning in the fifth and third fastest laps in the respective first and second practice sessions, Newgarden had every reason to be confident in his Team Penske machine but running 13th fastest was not an ideal way to go into qualifying.
“I thought we were a third- or a fourth-place car,” said Newgarden. “That is what it seemed like right from the get-go. I don’t think we were as strong as these guys next to us. We didn’t have a great Q3 lap, I think we could have maybe pipped Will (Power), but that’s maximum.”
Newgarden had set the third fastest time in his group in the first round to advance to round two. In the second round of qualifying, the Tennessee native again went third fastest but could never overtake Colton Herta or Alexander Rossi as the Honda duo locked out the front row for the 55 lap race.
Further down the grid, it wasn’t an ideal qualifying for Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud. The 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner was eliminated in the first round of knockout qualifying and will start 16th.
“We’re lacking some overall pace,” said Pagenaud. “It was tight clearly with us missing transferring by three-thousandths of a second, but we just don’t quite have the grip. The good thing is this is a track where you can pass, so we’ll see where we can go from here in the Menards Chevy tomorrow.”
That’s marginally better than Scott Dixon. The 2017 Road America winner qualified 12th but had severe mechanical trouble on his final lap in the first round of qualifying. Despite transferring, Dixon’s car would go no further with smoke coming from the rear of the car.
“Well, I don’t really know what to say,” said Dixon. “It just seems like one of those weekends where anything that could go wrong, goes wrong. We struggled a little bit with pace, and then just putting laps together for whatever reason. I’m not sure if that was just an underlying issue that finally just gave up, but I lost power coming into Turn 12. It’s unfortunate, of course, but at least we made a few little gains on track before that happened. Not a great start to the weekend for us in the PNC Bank car but it’s a long race and hopefully we can make it up tomorrow.”