By: Tanner Watkins
May 10, 2019 | 5:00 PM
In as unpredictable a qualifying session the NTT IndyCar Series has seen this season, Chip Ganassi Racing locked out the INDYCAR Grand Prix front row when rookie Felix Rosenqvist went fastest and five-time champion Scott Dixon slotted in just behind him. It is Rosenqvist’s first pole in the NTT IndyCar Series and he will lead the field of 24 drivers to the green flag in Saturday’s 85-lap race.
Despite the weatherman predicting some partly sunny conditions for the afternoon, drivers were faced with the same cold and gloomy conditions in qualifying that they had seen in today’s two practices. The temperature at the start of qualifications was 53 degrees Fahrenheit and little changed as the session progressed.
For the first round of qualifications the 24 drivers were separated into groups of two. After what unfolded in that first group’s 10-minute session it became quickly apparent that we were going to see some chaos on this Friday afternoon.
In a group that featured Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Patricio O’Ward and Marco Andretti, each of the previously-mentioned drivers missed the cutline and were eliminated from qualifications at the end of the first round. Matheus Leist joined the list of drivers missing out while Takuma Sato, Sebastien Bourdais, Rosenqvist, Jack Harvey and Will Power moved onto round two.
The second half of round one wasn’t short on surprises either as veterans Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan were left on the outside looking in. Rookie Santino Ferrucci missed out on advancing by seven hundredths of a second, joining Zach Veach and Max Chilton as others missing the cut for round two.
From group two it was Colton Herta, Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud and Spencer Pigot advancing into the second round of 12 drivers.
When it was go time for round two, Honda drivers stepped up by delivering four of the final six spots in the Firestone Fast Six shootout.
Despite a valiant effort, Rahal, Pagenaud, Ericsson and Bourdais were bounced from qualifying by mere hundredths of a second. Sato and Pigot, a little further off the pace, were also eliminated and relegated to 11th and 12th place starting spots, respectively.
After all was said and done in round two, a pair of rookies (Herta and Rosenqvist), two part-timers (Harvey and Jones) and two former champions (Power and Dixon) were left to duke it out for the first pole award in the month of May. They would put on a show in the final round that didn’t disappoint.
By the final round’s midpoint – the session is only five minutes long – Herta was looking strong with a lap that was a full tenth-and-a-half faster than Jones, followed by Rosenqvist, Power and Harvey. Dixon had yet to set a lap, saving his best run for last.
Then the final two minutes took on a life of its own.
At the two-minute mark Harvey took the top spot while Dixon jumped to P2, sliding Herta back to third. The Meyer Shank Racing driver held the top spot until there were 33 seconds left in the session – the precise time when Rosenqvist took the top spot with a lap of 1m8.2785s.
As the clock ran out, Herta had improved his lap time but it wasn’t enough to launch him out of fourth place. The second-to-last man across the line would be Dixon, who promptly bumped Harvey from the front row. It secured an all-Chip Ganassi Racing front row start, and the first time that a CGR driver had won the pole at the INDYCAR Grand Prix.
For Rosenqvist, it was a breakthrough for his first pole position in the NTT IndyCar Series – a highly anticipated moment when many in the paddock thought this weekend he could make waves.
“We have been up there all day,” said Rosenqvist after qualifications. “The NTT Honda car has been amazing… A really good day. It started solid and we had been sort of (in the) top five all day, and that final run on reds – the first two laps I really didn’t feel that I had the grip. Then on that final lap there was just something switching on and I was like, ‘Okay, this could be good!’
“Honestly, I didn’t think that this was going to be it – it is so tight. I looked up at the screen and we were P1 and you just pray that it is going to hold to the end.”
In total, eight Honda drivers made up the first 11 spots with Jones, Power and Pagenaud serving as the only Chevrolet representatives in that span of the grid. It was a dreadful day for some of IndyCar’s veterans, including Kanaan in 24th, Andretti in 23rd, Hinchcliffe placing 18th, Rossi slotting in 17th and Hunter-Reay in 16th.
Castroneves will start Saturday’s race 15th as he searches for his first win on the IMS road course. He hasn’t been in an official IndyCar race since last year’s Indianapolis 500 when he crashed out in the back half of the event.
The drivers will get one final tune-up on Saturday morning (11:15 AM Eastern) before the 85-lap INDYCAR Grand Prix goes green at 3:30 PM Eastern. The race will be broadcast live on NBC, the first such time that an IndyCar event will be shown on the network television channel.
Header image by Walter Kuhn/INDYCAR.
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.