By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – When the green flag flies for Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it will be the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet and Felix Rosenqvist leading the field into Turn 1 after scoring the pole on Friday.
After bolting on the red Firestone alternates during the Fast Six, Rosenqvist’s lap of one minute, 10.226 seconds was quick enough to boost him to the top of the board for his second pole of the 2022 season.
“It’s been a pretty smooth day, surprisingly smooth, and I think those guys are kind of rare in INDYCAR,” Rosenqvist said. “I think the whole team has just done a really good prep work for this race. We tested here like a month ago, which I think really helped. We kind of got here with a good starting package, so we knew that this was going to be one that we had to really extract everything in qualifying.
“But yeah, it was really cool. We did only one lap in Q1, saved those tires for the Fast Six, and everything just worked out to plan. Man, it’s rare to have those days, but I think today was just a day about execution, and now eyes forward to tomorrow.”
Rosenqvist will be joined by current Andretti Autosport and future McLaren driver Alexander Rossi, who backed up his speed from practice to time in second fastest.
“It’s great to be here during the GP,” said Rossi. “We’ve always historically struggled here, especially in qualifying. Our race pace has been good in the past, and that’s never been an issue, but we’ve never been able to qualify here, so we had a really good test a month ago, and it’s nice to see that translate. We had a really good test in Iowa, too. That didn’t really work out.
“It’s good. It’s good to be back obviously at the speedway. We all love coming here, and it’s great to be here on the triple-header weekend, and hopefully we can have a good day tomorrow.
“That lap that Felix did, I don’t think we had anything for it, so hats off to him.”
Rosenqvist’s Arrow McLaren teammate, Pato O’Ward made wholesale gains from his struggles in practice to claim the third starting spot. Will Power will join him on Row 2.
“It’s a great team result,” O’Ward said. “Extremely happy with, first of all, making it to the Fast Six because when we started qualifying we were in trouble, just as we were in FP1.
“We turned — I don’t know how we did that, but we turned it around, and we got the car into a window where I could work with it, and yeah, like Alex said, I think Felix — I don’t think anybody had anything for Felix’s lap. Great job to him. Super happy to see that for him. He deserves it. He’s been working really hard, and it’s a great result for the team.”
Josef Newgarden, who got the green light to participate in qualifying and the race after being re-evaluated by medical personnel on Friday morning, once again seemed like a man on a mission, rounding out the top-five fastest drivers.
Rookie Christian Lundgaard will start sixth, followed by Alex Palou, Rinus VeeKay, Colton Herta, and Conor Daly filling out the first five rows on the starting grid.
Herta laid the blame for his inability to transfer into the final round at Firestone’s feet, as did Daly, noting the inconsistencies in the red Firestone alternates.
“These last two years, Firestone tires have been so inconsistent,” Herta said. “We go out with one balanace, don’t change the car at all. Go out the next time and it’s incredibly different. We’ve had problems with this – everybody has the last year and a half.
“It’s so frustrating when you have a good car. The car is fine. It’s not the car’s fault, but then you have inconsistent tires. It sucks. We were locking up rears, super loose. I’m pretty frustrated about it.”
“There’s a bit of red tire inconsistency,” Daly added. “Like you’d put on another new set of reds and the balance is completely different in Q2. We’ve seen that a couple of time this year and a couple of times with the black tires too. Firestone’s a great tire partner, but there’s just some odd inconsistencies. I don’t know whether it’s the weight of the car now or whatever it is, but just kind of a victim of that.”
Even the fastest drivers in qualifying also noted that there have been issues with the alternate tires at times throughout the season.
“I think we all at one point unfortunately will get burned by it at one point in the year,” Rossi said. “Yeah. I mean, it is a thing. It does exist. It’s frustrating for sure when it happens.
“Firestone for the most part does a very good job, but there certainly has been inconsistencies that have popped up, especially on the red tire, I think for the past couple of years.”
Championship leader Marcus Ericsson will have his work cut out for him on Saturday after his No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda slowed to a stop almost immediately after leaving pit road during the first round of qualifying, bringing out the red flag and relegating him to a 25th place start.
Ericsson’s points lead has been shrinking in recent weeks and with only a slim eight-point advantage heading into the weekend, he will have to be on his A-game when the green flag drops to stay atop the standings.
“Tough day here in Indy,” Ericsson said. “I think we had a decent practice session, went through a lot of things, and had quite a good direction going into qualifying. And then in qualifying, straight-away out of the pits on the blacks, something broke in the car and we need to investigate what it was.
“Obviously very disappointing. I feel like we had a good chance to qualify well today, but we have a lot of tires tomorrow. It’s still a long race. The Huski Chocolate Honda is always strong on race day. We’ll have to work a bit harder tomorrow, but we’ll get there.”
Next up for Gallagher Grand Prix weekend will be a half-hour warm-up session at 8:15 am ET on Saturday, ahead of the main event at 12:20 pm ET on NBC.