Takuma Sato will start on pole position for the 2019 Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. Sato edged out his team-mate Graham Rahal by a tenth of a second in the final round to score his first NTT IndyCar Series pole position since Pocono Raceway in 2017, with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing locking out the front-row.
It was a topsy-turvy qualifying session that ended up producing a hugely mixed-up grid for Sunday’s race. The surprises started early on when championship leader Josef Newgarden was eliminated in round one. The surprise eliminations did not stop there, with Josef’s Team Penske stablemate Simon Pagenaud also failing to make it through along with Felix Rosenqvist; who had qualified in the top six for the last two races.
More shocking results came in the second round of qualifying, where Will Power would come within a tenth of a second of transferring through to the final round. Sadly, he would just fall short and would qualify in seventh place; a disappointing result for the man who had taken pole position for the first two races at St. Petersburg and COTA.
The result, coupled with the eliminations of his team-mates Newgarden and Pagenaud in round one, meant that no Penske driver made it through to the final round for the first time in five years.
Neither Alexander Rossi or the defending race-winner Colton Herta would make it through to the final round of the session, meaning that it was a somewhat unusual line-up of drivers who would fight it out for pole position.
As the clock ticked down towards zero in the final round, it looked as though Graham Rahal was on course to claim what would have been his fourth pole position in the NTT IndyCar Series. The driver of the #15 Honda even managed to improve upon his first lap to set a great lap time of 1:08.6971.
However, right at the last moment, Takuma Sato would put a fantastic lap together to set a new fastest time of 1:08.5934; a lap time that was just a tenth of a second faster than his team-mate. No one else would be able to go faster, therefore putting Takuma on pole position for the eighth time in his IndyCar career.
Rahal’s second place would lock-out the front-row for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing; a result that is surely the highpoint for the team’s tenure as a two-car outfit; having expanded to two-cars with Sato at the beginning of last season.
Reigning series champion Scott Dixon will line-up in third place for tomorrow’s race. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver will be hoping to finally secure his elusive Alabama victory, having finished on the podium in seven of the eight IndyCar races held at Barber Motorsports Park.
Entering qualifying, all eyes were on Arrow Schmidt Peterson‘s James Hinchcliffe. The Canadian had set the fastest lap of the weekend in final practice prior to qualifying, having also finished as the fastest driver in practice two on Friday. Hinchcliffe’s pace looked strong during qualifying, too, but he would ultimately have to settle for fourth place on the grid. Less than three-tenths of a second separated him from Sato’s pole position time.
Dale Coyne Racing‘s potential resurgence continued into qualifying. After showing great pace throughout practice, Sebastien Bourdais would qualify in fifth place. He will be hoping to challenge for the victory again in tomorrow’s race, just as he did in the closing laps of last year’s race.
The final driver to make it through to the top six shoot-outs for pole position was Ed Carpenter Racing‘s Spencer Pigot. Just by making it into the shootout, Pigot had matched his best-ever IndyCar qualifying position, having qualified sixth for last year’s Indianapolis 500. It was an impressive showing by Pigot, who set the fastest time of the weekend in the first round of qualifying by setting a 1:08.3548. He would go on to finish sixth in the final session, with Spencer hoping for a strong race tomorrow to at least take his first top ten finish of the year.
Positions seven, eight and nine would be occupied by Will Power, Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta. Power stated after the session that he had mistakingly backed out of a lap that could have seen him advance to the final round. Herta, meanwhile, cited a potential engine issue as the cause of his elimination.
Tenth place would go to Dale Coyne’s rookie Santino Ferrucci. The young American has had some promising speed throughout the weekend so far, thus underlining the potential return to form for the team. Just behind him was Ryan Hunter-Reay in eleventh place, with British driver Jack Harvey putting in a decent run for Meyer Shank Racing to take the final spot in the second round.
Marco Andretti just missed out on a spot in the second round and will, therefore, start in thirteenth place. Simon Pagenaud will line-up just behind him in fourteenth, with Simon’s Penske team-mate Josef Newgarden a little further back in sixteenth. It will be a tough task for Newgarden to secure his third-straight win at Barber, but don’t count him out until the chequered flag flies.
Rookies Felix Rosenqvist and Patricio O’Ward will have been hoping for higher grid positions. Instead, the duo will line-up together in seventeenth and eighteenth respectively. Fellow rookie Marcus Ericsson will start just behind in twentieth place.
Propping up the back of the grid will be Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach and DragonSpeed‘s Ben Hanley. Zach will start in a disappointing twenty-third place after what has already been a difficult weekend for the American. Throughout every session he has taken part in, Veach’s #26 car has looked squirrely, to say the least. After multiple off-track excursions, he will be hoping to just to finish tomorrow’s race unscathed.
The stage is set for a potentially incredible race. A mixed-up grid, coupled with one of the most physical tracks on the calendar, will certainly provide an entertaining spectacle. Be sure to tune in for the Grand Prix of Alabama tomorrow.
2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Alabama – Qualifying results:
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