Grosjean On Pole For Indy GP

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 15 2021

IndyCar rookie but F1 veteran Romain Grosjean captured the pole for Saturday’s race at the Indy road course. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Former Formula One regular Romain Grosjean generated headlines across the motorsports world Friday by qualifying on-pole for this afternoon’s NTT IndyCar Series GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course.

Grosjean earned his first NTT P1 Award in his third series start via a lap of 1 minute, 9.4396-seconds/126.447 mph in the No. 51 Honda during the Firestone Fast Six final round of qualifying. Grosjean claimed his first open-wheel pole since his days in GP2 _ the final ladder series leading into Formula One _ in May 2011 at Istanbul, Turkey.

Frenchman Grosjean, 35, has transitioned to domestic open-wheel racing this season with Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing after 10 seasons in Formula One. His F1 career ended in a fiery crash last Nov. 29 during the Bahrain Grand Prix, when he miraculously escaped an inferno  during a YouTube moment defined by a halo, assisted perhaps by a guardian angel.

Grosjean’s 179th F1 start ended on the opening lap in Bahrain when contact with the wheel of another car sent his American-owned No. 8 Haas F1 Team entry hurtling through and under a metal Armco barrier. The Haas chassis was torn in half, with Grosjean managing to extricate himself from the burning wreckage seconds before the arrival of F1 safety personnel.

Grosjean credited F1’s halo cockpit safety device with saving his life. “It’s not unknown that I was against the halo being brought to motorsport,” Grosjean said during a ZOOM conference announcing his deal with Coyne in early February. “But in French we say only idiots don’t change their mind. I did change my mind. I wouldn’t race a car with no halo or Aeroscreen on.” INDYCAR introduced the Aeroscreen cockpit safety device for all events in 2020.

Grosjean is driving this season under a one-year contract with long-time INDYCAR team-owner Coyne. Grosjean is contesting the series’ street and road-course events on a revised schedule featuring the 105th Indianapolis 500 on May 30 as its “grand prize.” Grosjean will take in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” as…a spectator.

“Amazing,” Grosjean said after his hot lap. “When I saw the (first qualifying) group I was in, I was like, ‘Oh, dear, if we can get out of the first group, we’re going to be OK,’ and we did. That last few laps, we were on it. What a day for us. I’m happier than I have been in a very long time.”

Grosjean will lead a 25-car field to the green flag on the 2.439-mile/14-turn road-course Saturday afternoon. Live coverage of the 85-lap race starts at 2 p.m. (EDT) on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden will join Grosjean on the front row after a top lap of 1:09.5665/126.216 mph in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. It’s Newgarden’s best starting position this season.

Jack Harvey of Great Britain continued his strong start to the season by qualifying third at 1:09.6528 in the No. 60 Honda. Season-opening race-winner Alex Palou of Spain will start fourth after a lap of 1:09.7118 in the No. 10  Honda.

Australian Scott McLaughlin, second rookie in the Firestone Fast Six, will start a season-best fifth after a lap of 1:09.7140 in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet. Conor Daly rounded out the top six at 1:09.8662 in the No. 20  Chevrolet, also his best qualifying performance this season.

Grosjean posted the first INDYCAR pole for Coyne’s small team since 2018, when fellow-Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais took the top spot at Phoenix Raceway.

“When you look at his resume and how great he was before he got into Formula One, and Formula One is such a team performance issue, we knew he could win races and we knew he could win poles,” Coyne said of Grosjean. “He’s proven it today.”

The Firestone Fast Six was almost as noteworthy for the drivers who failed to make the cut as those who competed for P1.

Four-time GMR Grand Prix pole-winner Will Power of Australia didn’t advance to the final round after spinning between Turns 12 and 13 early during the second round of qualifying in a loose-handling No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet. Power, the 2014 series champion and three-time GMR Grand Prix winner, will line up 12th _ his lowest position in eight career starts in this event.

“At least we’re 12th _ that’s better than St. Pete, 20th,” said Power, referring to the street race earlier this season in Florida. “It’s so crazy how the car can change so much from session to session. I made a mistake. I’m very frustrated at myself.”

A handful of other series heavyweights didn’t advance from the first round of time trials, including the top two drivers in the championship standings. Scott Dixon, the six-time/reigning series champion from New Zealand, will start 16th in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, while Mexico’s Pato O’Ward will line up 18th in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. O’Ward posted his first series victory in Race 2 of the doubleheader weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on May 2.

Also starting in the back half of the field are 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi (14th); two-time/reigning Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato of Japan (17th); 2012 series champ and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (19th) and four-time INDYCAR champion Bourdais (20th).

Qualifying results for Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.439-mile/14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

  1. (51) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 1:09.4396 (126.447 mph)
    2. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:09.5665 (126.216)
    3. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:09.6528 (126.060)
    4. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 1:09.7118 (125.953)
    5. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 1:09.7140 (125.949)
    6. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:09.8662 (125.675)
    7. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 1:09.8185 (125.760)
    8. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 1:09.8222 (125.754)
    9. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 1:09.8548 (125.695)
    10. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 1:09.8722 (125.664)
    11. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:09.9060 (125.603)
    12. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, No Time (No Speed)
    13. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 1:09.8243 (125.750)
    14. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 1:09.9012 (125.612)
    15. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 1:09.8382 (125.725)
    16. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:09.9512 (125.522)
    17. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1:09.8665 (125.674)
    18. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 1:10.0726 (125.304)
    19. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 1:09.8759 (125.657)
    20. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 1:10.1830 (125.107)
    21. (11) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 1:10.6810 (124.226)
    22. (29) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 1:10.6174 (124.338)
    23. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 1:11.0455 (123.588)
    24. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 1:10.9312 (123.788)
    25. (86) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 1:11.1370 (123.429)


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 15 2021
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