In an impressive showing, Alexander Rossi claimed the Verizon P1 Award for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio by edging championship contenders Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden in a frantic “Fast Six” shootout.
Rossi’s lap of 1m4.6802s was over two tenths quicker than Power (1m4.8939s) who was the next closest competitor. The California native’s triumph is a shot in the arm that is dearly needed if one last run at the championship is in order.
“The No. 27 NAPA Andretti Honda has been so strong on reds (Firestone alternate tires) on Lap 1,” Rossi explained after his effort. “We thought that was a disadvantage going into last night, but when a similar thing happened in Group 1 for qualifying, we were like ‘OK, we will use this to our advantage’, especially when the red flag came out there.
“Huge hats off to the team, P1, first and third (where teammate, Hunter-Reay, qualified). The effort that they put in, we were one of the only teams that hasn’t tested here. Huge credit to the whole organization and hopefully we can convert it tomorrow.”
As mentioned by the pole sitter, a red flag during the group of 12 qualifying session made things rather interesting. While leading all drivers in round two, James Hinchcliffe spun his No. 5 ARROW Electronics Honda and brought out a red flag.
The miscue cost all drivers a portion of the session but hurt Hinch the worst. At the time of the spin, the Canadian was on top of the speed charts and looked to be on his way to the “Fast Six.” Unfortunately, by bringing out the red flag that eliminated Hinchcliffe’s fastest two laps and relegated him to 10th place on the grid.
“I got a bit greedy, there’s no two ways about it,” the disappointed Hinchcliffe said. “I feel really bad for everybody on the Arrow Electronics car. Obviously, the car got really, really good in qualifying. We’ve been sort of there, thereabouts in practice – we kind of struggled with different issues.
“With those Firestone reds (alternate tires) on, we were second in the first group and I had just put the fastest time up; obviously, most guys hadn’t done that yet…it’s tough. This place is a qualifying track position race and I think for sure we had a good shot for the Firestone Fast Six.
“Who knows what could have been. It is what it is. We’ll do what we can tomorrow, try and play tire strategy a little bit and see if we can move up.”
Hinchcliffe’s SPM teammate was just as quick under pressure as Robert Wickens cracked the Fast Six and ended up P5 in the session.
Potentially the most impressive run came from Max Chilton this afternoon. The British driver plugged his No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet into the Fast Six and will roll off P6 on Sunday, a high water mark for freshman Verizon IndyCar Series team Carlin.
“It’s been a good weekend for us so far and I think it’s due in large part to the fact that we got to test here at Mid-Ohio last week,” Chilton explained. “We were feeling pretty confident after we tested here, but it’s just so tight in INDYCAR, so you never know.
“I was so close to not getting through to the Firestone Fast Six and since we only had scuffed reds (Firestone alternate tires) left, we went out early in that final session just to get a lap on the timing sheets. We went into that final round of qualifying on 13 lap-old red tires, so I’m pretty happy with where we ended up. It’s amazing how qualifying can change your whole weekend and shift the momentum heading into the race on Sunday.
“While where you start certainly doesn’t guarantee where you are going to finish, qualifying well does make a huge difference, especially for a new team like us. If we can just keep it clean tomorrow, I will take care of the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet the best I can, and hopefully, we will come through with a great result for Carlin and Gallagher.”
Rounding out the top ten are a pair of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammates in Graham Rahal (P7) and Takuma Sato (P8) in row four, the five-time Mid Ohio winner (and championship leader) Scott Dixon starting 9th, and of course Hinchcliffe in 10th.
A bit further down the order, you’ll found another strong run from Conor Daly in his extended audition with Harding Racing. The Indiana native qualified 14th, ahead of veterans Simon Pagenaud (17th) and Sebastien Bourdais (24th) who have had their fair share of trouble this weekend.
For Bourdais in particular, it was a short and frustrating round of qualifications. On his out lap, the Frenchman locked up the brakes and went straight off into the tire barrier to bring out a red flag.
After being towed back to pit lane, the No. 18 SealMaster Honda didn’t see the track again.
“The same thing as a couple of other times where I look like an idiot on the out lap or the first lap, going straight with no rear brakes whatsoever,” an understandably perturbed Bourdais stated. “We, for whatever reason, have to run a very forward brake balance and the front brakes heat up much faster than the rears.
“It was a super slow out lap. It’s been like that the whole weekend, everyone is not getting going and I just can’t seem to be able to factor it in. You need to be so far off any kind of braking references until the brakes temperature stabilizes. I just can’t wrap my head around it and I keep getting caught out and making mistakes.
“It’s very frustrating. I am very sad for the guys, they have worked so hard, and for SealMaster, Honda, everyone involved. We have a pretty good race car and we have nothing to show.”
With no warm-up period on Sunday morning, teams further down the grid will be taking some big swings on car set-up to try and overcome some qualifying miscues. Look for guys such as Pagenaud, Bourdais and Tony Kanaan to come charging up through the field early on.
The Honda Indy 200 from Mid-Ohio will go live on CNBC starting at 3:00 p.m Eastern time. The race can also be heard on the IndyCar Radio Network and streamers can pick the event up on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Header image by Chris Jones/INDYCAR Media.