Redeemed Rahal leading Brickyard IndyCar Race to Green

The drivers and teams of the NTT INDYCAR Series are competing on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of a triple-header event weekend with NASCAR’s Xfinity and Cup Series. It’s the second time around for the IndyCars on the 16th and Georgetown road course this season.

With a stacked weekend on deck, the INDYCAR Series shares its Saturday race day with the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Rain or shine, the Gallagher Grand Prix will showcase 85 laps, or 207.32 miles, of open-wheel action Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on USA Network.

The always intense Will Power

“I’m really excited to get (back) to Indianapolis,” Will Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet, said earlier this week. “It’s my favorite road course on the calendar, one that I’ve won five times and have a lot of pole positions. It’s always good racing.

“It’s also really cool to be on the same weekend as NASCAR. I think it helps both of us, and it’s a weekend I look forward to each year. It’s the only time I’ve seen them (our Chevrolet NASCAR teammates) at the same track, and it’s the only time it ever happens. It’s so cool to see those guys race, and they get to watch Indy cars go around on track. It’s awesome.”

Power is the defending winner and polesitter of both the 2020 and 2021 events, but he won’t have such an easy task today. Power starts way back in 17th as the whole Penske team pretty well missed the set-up in qualifying.

“Definitely a little disappointed in our qualifying results,” said Power. “It was just quite difficult for us to put a good lap together. I think we do have good Verizon Chevrolet here – we did when we raced here in May – and there are a lot of good cars and drivers starting back where we are so it will be a very interesting race. It’s a tough track and it should be tough. This is INDYCAR and you just can’t leave anything on the table.”

The surprising speed leader of the day was Graham Rahal, who is most recently famous for failing to qualify for this year’s Indy 500. Rahal turned the top lap of 1 minute, 10.1132 seconds in the No. 15 Code 3 Associates Honda during the Firestone Fast Six. It was his fourth career INDYCAR SERIES pole and first since June 2017 (six years!) at Belle Isle in Detroit.

Rahal’s pole was a 1-2 triumph for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. His teammate Christian Lundgaard was on pole for the Indy GP here in early May, and what the RLL team learned about his set-up then was transferred to Rahal’s car.

Graham celebrated with his wife, Courtney Force, and their two young daughters on pit lane—a welcome change from their complete despair when Rahal was bumped months earlier.

Graham Rahal

“It means a lot,” Rahal said. “Everybody has seen it: We’ve had to work ridiculously hard to get back. This isn’t a win, but it feels like it for us. It’s just nice to feel competitive; it’s nice to be able to push and get something out of the car. You ask for it, you demand it, and it’s there. It feels really sweet.”

The team owned by 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, late night TV icon David Letterman and business magnate Mike Lanigan took the top two spots in qualifying for an IndyCar race for the first time since April 2019 at Barber Motorsports Park, when Takuma Sato won the pole and Rahal started second. Jack Harvey completed RLL’s great day, qualifying eighth at 1:10.2228 in the team’s No. 30 Kustom Entertainment Honda.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do tomorrow,” Toronto race winner Lundgaard said. “The team is strong. I certainly think we can do something great tomorrow. We’ve got two opportunities on splitting strategy and seeing what works best. I’m definitely hungry for another win, but at this point, I’m really happy for Graham to get his pole.”

Three teams – RLL, Arrow McLaren and Andretti Autosport – comprised the competitors in an ultra-competitive Firestone Fast Six session. Just .2889 of a second separated the six drivers, the third-tightest margin in the format’s history.

2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi qualified third in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet at 1:10.2932, tying his season best set on the oval at Texas. Teammate Pato O’Ward was fourth at 1:10.3453 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.

Devlin DeFrancesco was another one of the stars of the three rounds of qualifying. He earned a career-best starting spot of fifth at 1:10.3938 in the No. 29 TRUBAR/Jones Soda Honda fielded by Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport after driving into the Firestone Fast Six for the first time in his two-year NTT INDYCAR SERIES career.

Romain Grosjean rounded out the Firestone Fast Six at 1:10.4021 in the No. 28 DHL Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport.

Narrow time margins were a theme of the three-round session, as rookie Marcus Armstrong qualified seventh at 1:10.2106 in the No. 11 IU Simon Cancer Center Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. He missed a spot in the Firestone Fast Six by .0008 of a second, the second-closest miss in this qualifying format’s history.

Alex Palou

Championship leader Alex Palou qualified ninth at 1:10.2974 in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s his second-lowest qualifying performance on a road or street course this season, with only 15th at Toronto lower. But any sting for Palou may be eased because his closest rival in the title hunt, Josef Newgarden, qualified a season-low 19th at 1:10.6150 in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Palou leads Newgarden by 84 points – a gap of 1.5 races – with four races remaining.

“Confident for tomorrow, but obviously a bit bummed not being in the Fast Six,” Palou said. “We’re starting P9 tomorrow, right? So, it’s not a bad starting position. We can do a lot from there, especially being such a long race with the strategy.”

Newgarden, who has won four races this season—all on ovals—wasn’t the only star to be eliminated in a wildly unpredictable first round of qualifying. He was joined by Long Beach and Nashville race winner Kyle Kirkwood (starting 15th), six-time series champion Scott Dixon (16th), reigning series champion Will Power (17th) and St. Petersburg winner Marcus Ericsson (18th).

Live coverage of the 85-lap race on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile starts at 2 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

Qualifying Friday for the Gallagher Grand Prix NTT INDYCAR SERIES event on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:10.1132 (125.232 mph)
2. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 01:10.2286 (125.026)
3. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 01:10.2932 (124.911)
4. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:10.3453 (124.819)
5. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 01:10.3938 (124.733)
6. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:10.4021 (124.718)
7. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 01:10.2106 (125.058)
8. (30) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:10.2228 (125.036)
9. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:10.2974 (124.904)
10. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:10.4389 (124.653)
11. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:10.4782 (124.583)
12. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 01:10.5207 (124.508)
13. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:10.4398 (124.651)
14. (60) Linus Lundqvist, Honda, 01:10.4570 (124.621)
15. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 01:10.4869 (124.568)
16. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:10.5006 (124.544)
17. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:10.5237 (124.503)
18. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:10.6348 (124.307)
19. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:10.6150 (124.342)
20. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:10.7249 (124.149)
21. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 01:10.6461 (124.287)
22. (20) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Chevrolet, 01:11.0083 (123.653)
23. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 01:10.8687 (123.897)
24. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 01:11.0611 (123.561)
25. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 01:11.5658 (122.690)
26. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 01:11.1027 (123.489)
27. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 01:11.2971 (123.152)

story (mostly assembled from IndyCar and manufacturer press releases) and photos by Tim Hailey

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