It seems as though the weather gods may not be quite sure what to make of the fact that the IndyCars will be racing tomorrow in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, as teams battled a mix of rain and sun in their endeavor to qualify for the event on Friday, May 9.
During Round 1 of qualifying Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Simon Pagenaud posted a track-record lap of 1 minute, 9.6716 seconds, 126.026 mph on the 2.439-mile Grand Prix road course at IMS. A red flag before the end of the final round of qualifying in the Firestone Fast Six prevented Pagenaud from completing a flying lap on new tires.
"There were a lot of changes in weather conditions during qualifying today," Pagenaud said. "We started dry and knew we had a fantastic package for the car's setup, so I went out straightaway in Round 1 with the red Firestone tires. We posted the fastest lap of qualifying in that first session, which also happens to be a track record for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. We're really proud of that!"
Rain started falling during Round 2, and Pagenaud transferred the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda to the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1 minute, 24.2156 seconds, 104.261 mph. Heavy rain caused a slight delay for the start of the Firestone Fast Six, but the sun came out again before the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers took the track for their final qualifying round.
"SPM devised a great strategy using two sets of rain tires," Pagenaud said. "The first set we had used briefly in Round 2, and the second set was brand new so that we could gun for the pole."
A red flag brought out by an on-track incident by Ryan Hunter-Reay ended the session just as Pagenaud was getting up to speed on a new set of Firestone rain tires. Sebastian Saavedra of KVAFS Racing won the pole and the Verizon P1 Award.
"Unfortunately, there was a red flag on our first lap with those new tires, so we didn't get a chance to finish our flying lap," Pagenaud said. "That's racing, though, and starting fourth is a very good position to be in. The team has done a fantastic job preparing for this race, and I'm looking forward to being aggressive at the start to see if we can gain ground right off the bat."
Rookie Mikhail Aleshin posted the third-quickest lap of his qualifying group for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but he was issued a penalty from Verizon IndyCar Series Race Control for interference. He lost his two fastest laps of the session, which dropped him to the 25th starting position.
"My car had great speed today," Aleshin said. "It's hard to find the appropriate words to express how disappointed I am that we were penalized. I'm very happy for the team, though, because our car was fast enough for third during the first round of qualifying."
Despite starting last in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Aleshin is confident the setup prepared by his No. 7 SMP Racing crew will enable him to advance through the field.
"There is always opportunity for passing, especially at this track with the big straightaways," Aleshin said. "I'm very sure that we'll have a good car during the race, so I just need to make my way through cleanly tomorrow. I'll move forward and fight for every position and every point I can possibly get for the team."
Josef Newgarden will start 15th in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Saturday, May 10 for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR) after turning a lap of 1 minute, 10.3601 seconds in qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Newgarden was eliminated in Round 1 of Firestone Fast 6 qualifying, just one-tenth of a second short of advancing to Round 2.
"It's a really close field; IndyCar is just really tight all around," Newgarden said. "With everyone being incredibly good and close, if you miss it by a little bit, you can be off. It's a shame we didn't get through to the next round. I think we were close to a top-five car, but we will be working hard tomorrow and try to run up front."
Scattered showers throughout practice and qualifying session Friday forced the Verizon IndyCar Series teams to make quick decisions involving tire choice and car setup.
"It's been back and forth all weekend trying to figure out the rain and dry conditions," Newgarden said. "We've been chasing it quite a bit, but that's all part of the learning experience. We have a lot of data to pour through for tomorrow, and we will figure out the setup we need for Saturday."
Newgarden, a native of Nashville, Tennessee, is confident he can climb through the field in the Klipsch Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.
"The Klipsch car should race well tomorrow," he said. "We still aren't 100 percent sure how passing will be because we've never raced here, but it seems like it will race well, and if it does, I think we'll have a good shot at getting to the front."
Tune in to ABC to watch the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis at 3:30 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, May 10 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For the latest trackside updates, follow @SPMIndyCar on Twitter.