A welcome, different Firestone Fast Six occurs for 2016 Indy GP

Photo: IndyCar

INDIANAPOLIS – There aren’t too many trends you can pick out in a three-year race, but an abnormal and perhaps welcome, jumbled grid for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis is one of them.

In 2014, Sebastian Saavedra and Jack Hawksworth were perhaps the perfect front row starters for the inaugural GP race, with no disrespect to either of them. Neither was particularly experienced or highly rated at the time but both maximized the slick, tricky conditions to their benefit.

Frankly, it was weird seeing IndyCar race a road course event for the first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it was weird seeing two guys who had a combined zero front row starts in IndyCar between them share the front row.

Two years later Saavedra isn’t in a seat although he is here this weekend, and Hawksworth is now in the No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda, and only in the Firestone Fast Six for the first time since qualifying third for Detroit race one in 2014, some 32 races ago, after qualifying sixth for Saturday’s race.

“Seems like an eternity since I’ve been in the Fast Six. Nice to be up here again,” he quipped during the Firestone Fast Six press conference.

Hawksworth’s presence in the Fast Six – along with fellow participants Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal (polesitter Simon Pagenaud came in later, separately) provided a needed spice of life to something that’s become a Penske and Ganassi benefit since the debut of manufacturer aero kits at the start of 2015.

Sure, Pagenaud took Team Penske to the Verizon P1 Award for the team’s fifth in as many races.

But behind him, there were five other teams represented – so a perfect six different teams in six spots, with Kimball (Ganassi), Rahal (RLL), Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson), Newgarden (Carpenter) and Hawksworth (Foyt) all flying the flag for their respective teams.

“We’ve been kind of knocking on the door of the Fast Six for the last couple rounds,” said Hinchcliffe, who’s qualified eighth, seventh and eighth in the three previous road and street course races in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

“It was nice to finally break into that. Not really full of the of the usual suspects. Charlie and I were joking, probably the youngest median age, six different teams.”

Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan with Theodore Racing Honda added, “It’s crazy to me, you look at this, Hinch touched on it a second ago, if anybody were to dispute the thought that IndyCar racing is the most competitive form of motorsports in the world, you just need to look at the time sheets this weekend. It’s not like this is easy. You slide a 10th in practice, it’s like five, six, seven spots. It’s crazy right now.”

Also crazy is how well Rahal is getting on despite battling arguably his worst cold he’s dealt with on a race weekend.

And how random has it been since there were last six different teams in the Fast Six?

This is the first time it’s happened in the aero kit era.

For reference, prior to today only six teams total (Penske, Ganassi, RLL, Carpenter, Andretti and KVSH) had a Fast Six appearance. Hawksworth and Hinchcliffe bring eight of a possible nine full-time teams into the Fast Six; the only team that hasn’t is Dale Coyne Racing.

It didn’t happen once last year where there were six teams in the Fast Six; Team Penske got at least two of its four cars into the Fast Six every single qualifying session.

Today, they didn’t; behind Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power and Helio Castroneves qualified eighth, 12th and 18th.

It’s been since Houston race 1 2014 – ironically, when Pagenaud was also on pole – that six teams last graced a Fast Six. Pagenaud then drove for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and qualified ahead of Castroneves (Penske), Dixon (Ganassi), Luca Filippi (RLL), Hinchcliffe (Andretti) and Takuma Sato (Foyt).

Kimball, in second, has a career best start. The driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet had a best of fourth on two prior occasions (Fontana 2013, Phoenix 2016) as he heads into his 89th career start.

“Kind of the first session that really counts here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May,” he said. “Nice to start up front. Although a couple of people have reminded me since qualifying that I think last year in the melee, second place was not the place to be. But I can’t control what happens behind me, I can only really look forward.”

Newgarden, driver of the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet, then outlined the goal the non-Penske five have going into tomorrow’s race (3:30 p.m. ET).

“Hopefully we can make it through Turn 1; that’s going to be the hot spot. Hopefully we don’t have a car that goes off very hard, race up front, take on Pagenaud who has been on a tear lately,” he said.