Colton Herta took his third IndyCar pole position of the year at Laguna Seca, as third place championship contender Josef Newgarden will start 17th in the penultimate race of the season at a track known to reward a good qualifying start.
With the usual road course qualifying of the fastest six from the first two groups going to a round of 12, the fastest six of whom would then fight for pole, Newgarden struggled at the first hurdle.
Starting the weekend 34 points behind Palou entering Laguna Seca, Newgarden topped the first practice session but in a stacked group one qualifying segment which featured his title rivals Pato O’Ward, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson, Newgarden failed to get a lap together.
Points standings with two races, 109 points available
1 Palou 477
2 O’Ward -25
3 Newgarden -34
4 Dixon -49
5 Ericsson -75
He will start well down the order at a track where qualifying is absolutely vital. Newgarden won the 2019 title at this venue with a measured drive to eighth that wouldn’t be enough in 2021.
In the absence of Newgarden, his Penske team-mate Will Power starred topping the Fast Six late on, but right at the very last the driver who beat him to victory when this track returned to the schedule in 2019, Colton Herta, dived in to steal the top spot and a third pole of the year.
Power appeared to improve a lap with O’Ward spinning at the corkscrew, and in-turn lost second gifting Alexander Rossi the spot and an Andretti Autosport 1-2.
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) September 18, 2021
Power took third ahead of points leader Alex Palou, who can be happy to start as the top points contender after a messy session.
He struggled to tie his first laps together in his group one segment and particularly took too much kerb at the corkscrew on his penultimate effort before improving at the last.
James Hinchcliffe and Power bumped Palou to sixth, the last available spot to advance, while Conor Daly couldn’t improve as Palou scraped through in what is likely a vital moment in his season and title chances.
Back in the Fast Six, qualifying star Oliver Askew took fifth for Rahal Letterman Lanigan as he runs the last three races of the year to audition for a drive in 2022.
Askew topped the group two runners initially and then drama hit in the round of 12 as he was penalised for not slowing for yellows.
However, that meant he lost his fifth lap and his sixth was fast enough to put him into the Fast Six for the second time in his IndyCar career, and then he had one final piece of luck as O’Ward lost his best lap for his corkscrew spin and starts sixth.
Even though O’Ward is two spots behind Palou, he was happy with his run given his car and his own troublesome weekend so far having gone off track earlier in the day too.
Two title contenders missed out on the Fast Six fight for pole by a hair. Marcus Ericsson and his Ganassi team-mate Scott Dixon are seventh and eighth, ahead of Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and an impressive run for Carlin’s Max Chilton.
Hinchcliffe and Rahal were the last drivers in the second round, with Rahal spinning on his way to the corkscrew after straddling a kerb that sent him off track.
Dale Coyne Racing’s Romain Grosjean missed out on making the second part of qualifying by 0.0027s, and will start 13th at a track he picked at the start of the year as one of his most highly anticipated thanks to racing it on Gran Turismo.
His weekend didn’t get off to a great start as he crashed the IndyCar pacecar as part of a video where drivers do laps of a circuit for the series media channels. Luckily Grosjean and Ed Jones were OK.
Rinus VeeKay’s disappointing weekend continued with a sticking throttle after going off twice in practice. He’ll start 24th.
|1||Colton Herta||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m10.902s||1m10.584s||1m10.799s|
|2||Alexander Rossi||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m11.069s||1m10.916s||1m10.995s|
|3||Will Power||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m11.283s||1m10.833s||1m11.131s|
|4||Alex Palou||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m11.439s||1m10.835s||1m11.331s|
|5||Oliver Askew||Arrow McLaren SP, Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m11.015s||1m10.911s||1m11.893s|
|6||Patricio O'Ward||Arrow McLaren SP||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m11.299s||1m11.022s||1m24.271s|
|7||Marcus Ericsson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m11.317s||1m11.258s|
|8||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m11.527s||1m11.276s|
|9||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m11.377s||1m11.306s|
|10||Max Chilton||Carlin||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m11.185s||1m11.308s|
|11||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m11.354s||1m11.456s|
|12||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m10.991s||1m12.467s|
|13||Romain Grosjean||Dale Coyne Racing with RWR||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m11.53s|
|14||Ed Jones||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m11.469s|
|15||Felix Rosenqvist||Arrow McLaren SP||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m11.544s|
|16||Scott McLaughlin||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m11.576s|
|17||Josef Newgarden||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m11.55s|
|18||Conor Daly||Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m11.592s|
|19||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m11.672s|
|20||Jack Harvey||Meyer Shank Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m11.668s|
|21||Sébastien Bourdais||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m11.977s|
|22||Helio Castroneves||Meyer Shank Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m11.807s|
|23||Takuma Sato||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m12.144s|
|24||Rinus VeeKay||Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m12.284s|
|25||Jimmie Johnson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||1m12.286s|
|26||Callum Ilott||Juncos Hollinger Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m12.355s|
|27||Dalton Kellett||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||1m12.605s|