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Rossi Speeds On With Pole At Road America

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 12 2022

Alexander Rossi will start from the pole at Road America on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Honda)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

A rejuvenated Alexander Rossi earned his first NTT IndyCar Series pole in more than three years Saturday during qualifying for the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Rossi’s final lap around the challenging 4.048-mile/14-turn layout _ 1-minute, 44.8656-seconds/137.799 mph _ secured his seventh career series pole and first since June 2019 at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. Rossi, of Andretti Autosport, is the eighth different pole-winner in as many races this season, a feat last achieved in INDYCAR in 1961 when nine different drivers claimed P1 to start the season.

Four drivers in the Firestone Fast Six qualifying session opted to run Firestone Racing’s primary “black” tires, which are more durable but have less grip than the alternate “red” tires. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden used that strategy last year to win the pole _ and Rossi took notes.

“I think we saw with Josef last year that he was able to get Colton (Herta) on the blacks, and most of our competition was on the primaries, as well,” Rossi said. “I think that’s just kind of the trend here.
“Three years removed from my last pole, so I hope I remember what to do (Sunday). It’s been an amazing weekend for the No. 27 Andretti Honda guys. It’s really, really cool to come back to Road America where we’ve had a lot of success in the past. We have a big job ahead of us but the car has been spot-on all weekend, so hopefully, we can go out and execute and bring this whole journey full-circle from three years ago.”

Rossi is looking to maintain the momentum he generated last Sunday at Belle Isle, where he finished second to Team Penske’s Will Power in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

Sunday’s 55-lapper is scheduled to start at 12:55 p.m. (EDT). Live coverage will begin at 12:30 p.m. on NBC and Peacock Premium and at noon on the INDYCAR Radio Network.

Newgarden will join Rossi on the front row after his qualifying lap of 1:44.9371/137.705 mph in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. In an ironic change of strategy from last year, Newgarden joined Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP as the only drivers using alternate tires for their flying laps during the Firestone Fast Six.

“I thought he was on used reds like everyone else,” Newgarden said of Rossi. “I’m surprised he was able to make that work on the blacks, to be quite honest. In my opinion, I thought it was clear we were going to go used reds. They just seemed significantly better this year than last year. If he made that work, that’s pretty stout. The lap time he did on blacks was really, really good. That’s an impressive pole.”

Reigning series champion Alex Palou of Spain, who led the final warmup session Saturday afternoon, qualified third at 1:45.3822 in the No. 10 Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. Teammate and 2022 Indianapolis 500 champion Marcus Ericsson of Sweden will join Palou in the second row after his best lap of 1:45.4240 in the No. 8 Ganassi Racing Honda.

Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport will start fifth after his lap of 1:45.5388 in the No. 26 Honda. O’Ward, a native of Mexico, completed the Firestone Fast Six at 1:45.6826 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

Rossi and the No. 27 team have re-invented their season after a rough start. Rossi was 18th in the championship standings after finishing 11th in the GMR Grand Prix on May 14 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course. Since then, Rossi has finished fifth in the Indianapolis 500 on May 29 and second in Detroit last Sunday to vault to seventh in the standings, 74 points behind leader Power.

Rossi used a three-stop strategy at Belle Isle to carve into a Power lead that at one point reached a massive 16.079-seconds. Rossi trimmed the gap to 12.128-seconds with 10 laps left in the 70-lapper. With one lap to go, the gap was down to 2.8-seconds. Rossi trimmed another 1.8-seconds on the final trip at speed around the 2.35-mile/14-turn layout.

Rossi is in his seventh and final campaign with the team owned by Michael Andretti, who announced last week he and the native Californian had mutually agreed to part company after this season. Simultaneously, Arrow McLaren SP confirmed it had signed Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 champion, to a multi-year agreement beginning with the 2023 season.

Rossi has vowed to give maximum effort to “Mikey,” backing that up Friday by turning the quickest lap in practice before winning the NTT P1 Award Saturday.

“We’re really strong on the primaries,” Rossi said. “The balance isn’t quite there on the Firestone reds. I think we struggled a little bit through the first two rounds. We knew that if we could get there (Firestone Fast Six), it would be ours to lose, really.

“A huge thanks to the team. It’s been a tough go for all of these guys. It’s a good boost for everyone.”

Newgarden, meanwhile, can claim a $1-million bonus from PeopleReady with a victory Sunday. The PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge will reward the first driver to win on all three types of INDYCAR circuits _ road-courses, street circuits and oval tracks _ in 2022. If earned, the $1-million will be shared, with $500,000 going to the team/driver and $500,000 donated to their chosen charity. Newgarden has won this season on Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked oval in Fort Worth and the famed Streets of Long Beach in Southern California.

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Sting Ray Robb added his unique moniker to the list of pole-winners in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series Saturday during qualifying for the Indy Lights Grand Prix at Road America.Robb circulated around the 4.048-mile/14-turn layout in 1 minute, 53.9743-seconds in the No. 2 Sekady car fielded by Andretti Autosport.

Robb’s best lap cleared the competition by more than two-tenths of a second. Rookie teammate Hunter McElrea also will start on the front row after a best lap of 1:54.1981 in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport entry.“Pole position _ that’s pretty exciting,” Robb said. “We know Road America is a tough place to win from pole. A huge shoutout to the team for this one.”

Andretti Autosport swept more than the front row as the team’s other two drivers monopolized Row 2 after drivers from HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing led both practice sessions.

Christian Rasmussen, last year’s Indy Pro 2000 season champion, qualified third at 1:54.2714 in the No. 28 car. Matthew Brabham will start fourth at 1:54.3889 in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport machine.Robb’s run to P1 ended championship leader Linus Lundqvist’s streak of five consecutive Indy Lights poles dating to the second race of the season at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Lundqvist held provisional pole for most of the session in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car. As the pace picked up near the end of the 25-minute session and a majority of the field began turning hot laps, Lundqvist’s top time fell.

Lundqvist attempted to re-take pole position in the closing minutes, but an uncharacteristic off-track moment left him settling for sixth with a best lap of 1:54.6060.

It’s his worst Indy Lights start this season. In the one race to-date that saw Lundqvist fail to start from pole _ at St. Petersburg, Fla. _ he started second.Following Lundqvist is teammate and closest championship competitor Benjamin Pedersen, who will start seventh in the No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD car at 1:54.7035.

Pedersen is second in the driver’s championship, 84 points behind Lundqvist.Robb sits fourth in the standings, 92 points back of Lundqvist. Danial Frost, third in the standings, qualified fifth at 1:54.4251 in the No. 68 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car.

Robb’s first career pole marked his second consecutive race starting on the front row. He started second in last week’s Indy Lights Detroit Grand Prix, his previous best start. Robb now is eyeing his first career Indy Lights win. His best finish is third _ a result he’s recorded four times this season.

“It’s just been constant improvement each week for us,” Robb said. “I’m confident in the car I’ve got, I’m confident in the team. So, we’re going to do our job and hope it all pays off.”

The Indy Lights Grand Prix at Road America will take the green flag at 10:35 a.m. (EDT) Sunday, live on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

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Qualifying results for the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR NTT IndyCar Series event on the 4.048-mile/14-turn circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wis., with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and speed in parentheses:
1.(27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:44.8656 (137.799 mph)
2. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:44.9371 (137.705)
3. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:45.3822 (137.124)
4. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:45.4240 (137.069)
5. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:45.5388 (136.920)
6. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:45.6826 (136.734)
7. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:45.1543 (137.421)
8. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:45.2307 (137.321)
9. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:45.2412 (137.307)
10. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:45.2446 (137.303)
11. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 01:45.2759 (137.262)
12. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, No Time (No Speed)
13. (30) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 01:45.4024 (137.097)
14. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 01:45.6017 (136.839)
15. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:45.4227 (137.071)
16. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 01:45.6217 (136.813)
17. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:45.5581 (136.895)
18. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:45.7234 (136.681)
19. (51) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:45.7045 (136.706)
20. (45) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:45.9420 (136.399)
21. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 01:46.0785 (136.224)
22. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:45.9951 (136.331)
23. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 01:46.9755 (135.081)
24. (14) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 01:46.6130 (135.541)
25. (11) Tatiana Calderon, Chevrolet, 01:47.5661 (134.340)
26. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 01:47.3134 (134.656)
27. (16) Simona De Silvestro, Chevrolet, 01:48.1033 (133.672)
NTT IndyCar Series point-standings (top-10): 1, Will Power, Team Penske, 255; 2, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 252; 3, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 243; 4, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 241; 5, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 208; 6, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 202; 7, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 181; 8, Simon Pagenaud, Meyer Shank Racing, 179; 9, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, 174; 10, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 173.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 12 2022
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