By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Josef Newgarden missed out on capturing the NTT P1 Pole Award during Friday qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. That’s because Romain Grosjean was able to set a time of 69.4396 seconds, just 0.1269 seconds quicker than the two-time series champion.
During the closing minutes of the Firestone Fast Six, Newgarden fought hard to knock the Frenchman down. However, they didn’t quite have enough mustard to set one last flyer that would’ve marked his first pole of 2021. Instead, he’ll start alongside Grosjean for his best start of the year for tomorrow’s GMR Grand Prix.
Although he won’t lead the 25-car field to the green flag, Newgarden wasn’t fully dissatisfied with his run. He was proud of the No. 2 team’s efforts they’ve made to improve on their qualifying program.
“I did a pretty good lap. I wasn’t dissatisfied with it because I was within a tenth of what was ultimately possible. We got beat. Grosjean did a good job, but I’ve been very happy with our pace. It’s a lot of work to be second,” said Grosjean.
“It’s kind of funny to be disappointed with that. I think we have a good vantage point for tomorrow. We can focus on the main thing which is trying to get to this race and win. Winning at the end of the day is what’s most important. We got to put our best foot forward.”
Newgarden noted it shouldn’t be a surprise the 10-time Formula One podium finisher would impress in IndyCar. Noting that the competition and parity is ever so there compared to other sanctioning bodies.
“Grosjean’s a great driver. Not surprised he’s adapted super well. Much like Scott McLaughlin, he’s done stellar job. He’s right on the pace, but you can jump on any car in this series and have a shot of winning,” Newgarden commented. “You really can and that’s the great thing about IndyCar right now. There’s so much parity and competition that you don’t know who’s going to win each weekend.”
Newgarden was the fastest Team Penske driver as aforementioned McLaughlin was fifth quickest. On the other hand, his other teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power missed the Fast Six and we’ll roll off 10th and 12th respectively.
While the competition is fierce, there’s a little hesitance about the parity. By being a part of one of the sport’s elite teams, it does make things difficult for him and Penske as a whole.
“We’d love to have an advantage and have a little bit more cushion each week. It’s not guaranteed. Ultimately, we put in a lot of work here. I think it’s the commodity at Team Penske that makes us successful. We have what we need to get on top of these people tomorrow, but it’s no easy task to beat anybody nowadays.”
Time will tell how the 85-lap contest will unfold, but Newgarden is searching for his first GMR Grand Prix triumph. In seven previous starts, it’s been one of his Achille’s heals with a seventh last July being his best result.
However, in the Harvest GP double header last October, Newgarden finally broke through at the 2.439-mile road course. That’s a direct result of scoring a win and a fourth in those races. He’ll hope to replicate some of his recent success.