Colton Herta won pole position for tomorrow’s Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
He denied another second-generation racer, local favourite Graham Rahal, pole position by just four hundredths of a second.
Rahal, a native of New Albany, Ohio – 86 kilometres south of the town of Lexington and the Mid-Ohio circuit – stood on provisional pole after making his final qualifying attempt on a used set of the softer, alternate-compound tyres. Herta, who’d gone for a fresh set of the harder, primary-compound tyres, overtook Rahal at the chequered flag with a time of 1’06.310 to win the pole by just 0.043 seconds.
Behind them on the second row, Long Beach Grand Prix winner Kyle Kirkwood qualified third, next to IndyCar championship leader Alex Palou in fourth – who is looking for his fourth win in the last five races.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing got all three of their cars into the second stage of qualifying for the first time this year, with Christian Lundgaard qualifying fifth, and Jack Harvey in a respectable 11th. Lundgaard will share the third row of the grid with six-time Mid-Ohio race winner Scott Dixon in sixth.
Honda-powered cars locked out every position in the Fast Six stage. The fastest Chevrolet-powered drivers were defending IndyCar champion Will Power in seventh, and defending Mid-Ohio winner Scott McLaughlin in eighth. Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist rounded out the top ten, ahead of Harvey and David Malukas on the sixth row.
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Several big names didn’t advance out of their respective groups in first-round qualifying, including three in group one. Alexander Rossi and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden just missed the cut and will start 13th and 15th respectively. Meanwhile, Pato O’Ward took a massive blow to his hopes in regaining ground in the championship when he spun during qualifying and brought out a red flag.
O’Ward will therefore start 25th in tomorrow’s race. Only two drivers have ever won from lower than eighth on the grid in 39 previous races at Mid-Ohio, and Dixon’s run from 22nd is the furthest behind that any winner has ever come from in history.
Out of group two, Romain Grosjean missed out on advancing and will start 14th, blaming an error with his tyre pressures, while rookie Marcus Armstrong in 18th was far from where he wanted to be after a strong outing in Road America.
But the one significant absence from qualifying was 2016 IndyCar Series champion and 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, who had a frightening roll in second practice earlier today. A suspected brake failure preceded Pagenaud running off at the end of the back straight and rolling over several times in the gravel in turn four.
Pagenaud was able to walk away from the crash but was not medically cleared to take part in the session, and the number 60 Meyer Shank Racing Dallara/Honda did not run in qualifying.
A statement from IndyCar released before qualifying said: “Following this morning’s incident at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the driver of the number 60, Simon Pagenaud, was evaluated and released by the IndyCar medical team. As per IndyCar protocol, Pagenaud has not been cleared to return to racing today. He will be re-evaluated tomorrow morning.”
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If Pagenaud is unfit to race, former Ed Carpenter Racing driver Conor Daly is available to stand in as a relief driver, and would have a 30-minute warmup session to use as practice. Whoever drives the car must start from 27th on the grid.
Pole winner Herta, whose last IndyCar win came 21 races ago, will hope to avoid a repeat of the final stint meltdown which cost him a victory at Road America two weeks ago. He won at this track in September 2020.
Meanwhile, for Rahal, his second-place starting position is his first front-row qualifying effort since April 2019 when he qualified second at Barber Motorsports Park, next to then-team mate and eventual race winner Takuma Sato. Rahal’s last IndyCar win was 99 races ago, when he swept both legs of a double-header at the Detroit Grand Prix in 2017.
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