Alex Palou delivered an IndyCar pole position on his first visit to Portland, while his fellow title contender Josef Newgarden will start 21st in a nightmare qualifying session.
This weekend’s race kicks off a three-event run to the end of the year where the champion will be decided, and used the usual road course qualifying format of two groups of 12, the six fastest from each going through to a round of 12. The fastest six from the round of 12 fight for pole.
Palou had a pole earlier in the year at Texas but the grid was set on championship order after a qualifying washout, so the driver racing for the first time in the PNC Bank livery normally associated with Ganassi team-mate Scott Dixon has been looking for a fully-fledged pole all year.
Palou topped practice and graduated through the segments, but his team-mate Dixon always looked threatening even though he hasn’t taken a road course pole since 2016 at Watkins Glen.
But Dixon locked up on his final qualifying run and that allowed Palou to streak clear, reducing Pato O’Ward’s points lead by one to nine thanks to a bonus point for pole.
Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi took second.
He told The Race earlier this week he had confidence heading into the final three-race stretch and delivered on that to beat Dixon to a front-row grid spot in a Honda-powered top three.
Dixon’s ex-team-mate Felix Rosenqvist scored fourth as the top Chevrolet runner for Arrow McLaren SP, at a track he finished second at in 2019, ahead of Graham Rahal and IndyCar’s best average qualifying position holder Colton Herta.
Earlier in qualifying Rosenqvist may have been celebrating making it through to the Fast Six fight for pole, but he inadvertently knocked team-mate Pato O’Ward out of the chance to further his championship ambitions.
O’Ward scraped through the first group of qualifying with a wayward lap where his car looked so ill-handling that it couldn’t possibly have allowed him to qualify. He called his pace at this point “horrendous”.
But as is usually the case this year, points leader O’Ward dragged the car round and seemingly willed it through, scraping by with 0.0089s to spare.
On the ragged edge, @PatricioOWard sneaks through to round 2.
Group 1 is a wrap. Here's who is advancing :
6. @PatricioOWard#INDYCAR // #PortlandGP // @Portland_GP pic.twitter.com/9eaR4HMG9p
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) September 11, 2021
However, he couldn’t make it through the next session in a bid to take pole and will start seventh.
Ed Jones took eighth for Dale Coyne with Vasser Sullivan, ahead of the returning sophomore Oliver Askew.
The 2019 Indy Lights champion starts a race for his third different team this year, but with more security in knowing it will be more than a one-off for Rahal Letterman Lanigan as he runs the last three races of the year.
Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top 10. He’s the outsider in the championship hunt but has been buoyed by some future news. The Race understood his stay at Chip Ganassi Racing had been extended and the Indianapolis Star reported today that a new multi-year deal has now been signed.
Max Chilton (Carlin) scored 11th and his best start of the year, ahead of Sebastien Bourdais who was the last driver in the top 12 segment for AJ Foyt Racing.
Romain Grosjean had qualified 13th after missing out on graduating from the first group by 0.0089s.
However, after appearing to hold up Scott McLaughlin he was penalised for interference, lost his two best laps and dropped to 21st on the grid.
McLaughlin and his Penske team-mates all failed to make it through to the top 12 battle, meaning double champion Newgarden was the only title contender who didn’t make the second session and starts well back in the order in 18th, confused at the lack of pace.
.@josefnewgarden's hunt for the Astor Challenge Cup faces an uphill battle tomorrow. Here are his thoughts after a challenging qualifying session for the #PortlandGP.#INDYCAR // @Portland_GP pic.twitter.com/UiKkyNb5HR
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) September 11, 2021
Will Power is the last driver to win at this track as the coronavirus pandemic forced the race’s cancellation in 2020, but the 2019 victor starts 14th.
Callum Ilott will start 19th in an impressive IndyCar debut. He’s had one practice on this track and one test at Indianapolis, while Juncos Hollinger Racing is making its IndyCar return ahead of a full-season in 2022 and hasn’t done a road course since 2018.
Ilott was 0.6914s adrift of the fastest driver in his session but such is the competition in IndyCar it puts him way down the order.
Rinus VeeKay (Chevrolet-powered Ed Carpenter) and Takuma Sato (RLL, Honda) made engine changes before qualifying.
In an unusual case, Ryan Hunter-Reay wasn’t able to start qualifying after his Andretti team couldn’t repair his car from practice, and had to change his Honda engine.
He will likely drop to the back of the 27-car grid, with VeeKay 25th and Sato 26th, after penalties are applied.
|1||Alex Palou||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||58.797s||58.769s||58.77s|
|2||Alexander Rossi||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||59.017s||58.957s||58.857s|
|3||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||58.868s||58.769s||58.867s|
|4||Felix Rosenqvist||Arrow McLaren SP||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||58.691s||58.962s||58.95s|
|5||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||58.936s||58.933s||59.006s|
|6||Colton Herta||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||58.845s||58.945s||59.279s|
|7||Patricio O'Ward||Arrow McLaren SP||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||59.214s||58.973s|
|8||Ed Jones||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan||Dallara DW12-Honda||58.933s||59.024s|
|9||Oliver Askew||Arrow McLaren SP, Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||59.196s||59.083s|
|10||Marcus Ericsson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||58.809s||59.09s|
|11||Max Chilton||Carlin||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||59.017s||59.234s|
|12||Sébastien Bourdais||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||58.939s||59.241s|
|13||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||59.253s|
|14||Will Power||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||59.003s|
|15||Scott McLaughlin||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||59.356s|
|16||Conor Daly||Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||59.097s|
|17||Helio Castroneves||Meyer Shank Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||59.419s|
|18||Josef Newgarden||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||59.137s|
|19||Callum Ilott||Juncos Hollinger Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||59.5s|
|20||Jack Harvey||Meyer Shank Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||59.146s|
|21||Romain Grosjean||Dale Coyne Racing with RWR||Dallara DW12-Honda||59.634s|
|22||Rinus VeeKay||Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||59.188s|
|23||Jimmie Johnson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||59.712s|
|24||Takuma Sato||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||59.195s|
|25||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda|
|26||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||59.659s|
|27||Dalton Kellett||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||59.743s|