LEEDS, Alabama – Rinus VeeKay drove a tremendous lap after time ran out in the session to score his second-career pole of his NTT IndyCar Series career Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.
The last car on the track after time had run out, VeeKay’s No. 21 Sonax Chevrolet lapped the 2.3-mile, 17-turn Chevrolet in a time of 1:06.2507.
He will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
“I thought we had potential in practice,” said the 21-year-old VeeKay. “We knew we could put it on the pole. Really a team effort. It’s good to put it on pole for the second time in my career now.
“Confidence is high. This is a track where passing is not happening too much. From here, we can have a great race and fight for the win. You want to be super happy and celebrate, but in a few hours, there is warmup. Sunday is when you get the points and when it matters.”
VeeKay’s lap knocked Pato O’Ward off the top spot. O’Ward’s best lap was 1:06.4003 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
“It’s my mistake that we aren’t one position better, but I’m happy with the car,” O’Ward said.
Defending race winner and reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou was third at 1:06.4415 in the No. 10 American Legion Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Scott McLaughlin’s No. 3 Chevrolet was fourth at 1:06.4967.
“I don’t know if we had a pole lap left because Rinus was impressive,” McLaughlin said. “But I’m really happy about qualifying. There is no doubt we can win on a road course. A wild card could be rain. I have never driven in the rain before.”
Alexander Rossi was fifth at 1:06.5549 in the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts/Auto Nation Honda. Earlier Saturday morning, Rossi crashed that same car in practice.
“I’m so grateful to the whole Andretti Autosport organization,” Rossie said. “It wasn’t just my guys, but from everyone on the team that jumped in to help repair the car.
Felix Rosenqvist of Arrow McLaren SP rounded out the Fast Six at 1:06.6410 in the No. 7 Chevrolet.
The Firestone Fast Six featured five different teams in the six positions.
Earlier in qualifications, the six drivers that advanced out of the first group, segment one including McLaughlin’s 1:06.0389, O’Ward’s 1:06.2448, Rosenqvist’s 1:06.3855, Palou’s 1:06.3877, Rossi’s 1:06.3962 and Rahal’s 1:06.5016.
Rossi’s No. 27 Honda was involved a crash in the first practice session Saturday morning which led crewmembers from all four Andretti Autosport cars to jump in and help repair the damage in just over two hours.
“It was huge because there was a lot of work to be done,” said Rossi’s race strategist Brian Barnhart. “A massive effort to get here and Alex was able to stand up in the seat and make it happen. The result of that teamwork got him here.”
Several big names expected to advance out of the first group of segment one was Scott Dixon and Will Power. Both drivers failed to make it out of the first session as Dixon was seventh in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda with a time of 1:06.5142 and Power was 10th at 1:06.7775 in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet.
The second group included a spirited battle in the closing minute before rookie David Malukas crashed after going through turn 15. Helio Castroneves’ Chevrolet was also involved and that brought an early end to qualifications.
“Good news and bad news,” Castroneves said. “The good news is, we are in a good one. The bad news is I couldn’t make it out of turn 9. I didn’t stall it and did not cause the red flag. Lost a little bit of time, but we’ve been up and down.
“It was good that we tried, but a shame we are in the top six of the session.”
Advancing were Grosjean at 1:06.2000, Herta at 1:06.3396, Newgarden’s 1:06.3799, VeeKay’s 1:06.5477, Ilott’s 1:06.6649 and Ericsson’s 1:06.7305.
“I think we are very happy to finally be in the top 12,” team owner Richard Juncos said of Ilott’s run. “Right now, P5 is very, very good for us. This is very challenging and that is when I’m very happy.
“This is great for the guys. With a rookie driver and a one car team, this is huge. It’s a small dream coming through every time, so I’m very, very happy.”
Failing to advance were Christian Lundgaard, Helio Castroneves, David Malukas, Devlin DeFrancesco, Conor Daly, Simon Pagenaud, and Jimmie Johnson.
In the second segment, Grosjean complained about the brakes not getting up to temperature and came into the pits for his crew to check it out. Herta laid down the early fast lap but was pressured by Palou. O’Ward jumped into second place in the No. 5 Chevrolet before coming in to put on the softer Firestone reds for a run at the pole.
In the final minute, Palou went to first for just a few seconds before Romain Grosjean and then Newgarden went to the top. With 37 seconds left, O’Ward went to No. 1 and Rossi to No. 2. McLaughlin went to second with 15 seconds left.
The drama came to an early end when Marcus Ericsson lost control of his No. 8 Honda and buried it in the gravel trap in turn 9. The red flag came out and Herta was trapped, left outside of advancing into the Fast Six.
“We just waited a little bit too long,” Herta said. “I thought we were going to go ahead of everybody, but this time we waited until everybody went by. I’m still not sure if it would have gotten us in or not.
“Tenth isn’t terrible. Plus, it might rain tomorrow, and the track will change. I’m happy with the car, for sure.”
The cars that did not advance into the Fast Six were Josef Newgarden, Grosjean, Graham Rahal, Herta, Callum Ilott and Ericsson.
“Seventh is a good spot,” Newgarden said. “I wish I could have done a little better. Scott McLaughlin’s car was really quick and I’m glad we could work off his car. We were close. I would love to win this weekend and see if I can conjure up a good race weekend.
“We’ve started seventh here before and won the race so I’m confident in the car. We’re close.”