It will be an all-Chip Ganassi Racing front row for Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix, as rookie Felix Rosenqvist scored his first IndyCar pole position Friday afternoon.
The driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Honda set the fastest lap of the session with an elapsed time of 1 minute, 8.2785 seconds.
“The first two laps, I didn’t really feel like I had a (tire) grip, and then the final lap, there was something switching on and I was like, ‘OK, this could be good,” Rosenqvist told NBCSN. “But honest, I didn’t think it was going to be (fast enough). It’s so tight. I looked up at the screen, and we were P1. I just prayed it was going to hold ’til the end.”
Rosenqvist’s first career pole comes in just his fifth start. With the past four winners of this race starting from the pole, Rosenqvist put himself in good position to claim his first series victory Saturday.
Scott Dixon (1 minute, 8.2979 seconds) will start alongside Rosenqvist in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, with Jack Harvey (1 minute, 8.3238 seconds) starting third after making his first career Firestone Fast Six appearance.
Will Power, whose three victories in the IndyCar GP have all come from pole position, was unable to capture his fourth pole on the 2.439-mile road course and will start sixth, his worst IndyCar GP start since 2016.
“I think we’ve just back foot all day honestly,” Power told NBCSN. “The lap I did to get into the Fast Six was just a neat, neat lap on a right time on the tires. It’s killing me to only be P6! But it’s so competitive, man. [If] you’re a little bit out of the window, you’re going to struggle.”
In a surprising first round of qualifying, both series points leader Josef Newgarden and Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi were not fast enough to advance. Newgarden qualified 13th, and Rossi was 17th.
From the start, Eli Tomac wanted to go into the season-ending race at Ironman Raceway with the 2020 red plate already in his possession. That final race has been know to devolve into muddy conditions and it is best not to leave things to chance.
For a rider with an almost perfect record of overall podium finishes, one would not have thought there would be much drama at the end of Round 11 at Budds Creek, but it took until the last lap of the final moto for Tomac to achieve his goal.
One reason was that Tomac’s near-perfect season was not so perfect. From the very beginning at Hangtown, Tomac struggled with poor starts to his events. Getting a bad jump out of the gate and finishing fourth in Moto 1 that weekend was not the auspicious beginning he wanted in search of his third consecutive 450 outdoor championship.
The hallmark of Tomac’s season has been overcoming bad starts. He rode through the field at Hangtown and nearly stood on the podium. Then he won Moto 2 and finished second overall. It was his first of nine consecutive overall podiums. Tomac came back the following week for a perfect sweep at Pala.
In Round 3, Tomac once again got off to a bad start. He finished fifth in Moto 1 at Thunder Valley – and then won Moto 2 in a duplication of his opening round.
In Round 5, Tomac had his worst performance until that time. He finished seventh in Moto 1. Nearly halfway through the season, a pattern was firmly established with his Moto 2 win.
One should recall that the hallmark of Tomac’s season was strong finishes. Four the next four weeks Tomac failed to podium only one time in a moto. On that occasion, he would stumble in Moto 2 at Spring Creek in Round 8 before scoring his second perfect race at Washougal.
And that is where it got interesting. Tomac left Washougal with a 50-point advantage over Marvin Musquin. It was just the scenario Tomac had seesawed his way through the season to achieve. But it was too good to be true.
In most of his previous bad performances, there was an extenuating circumstance for Tomac’s bad start: a fall or an off course excursion. This time, he simply rode an uninspired race and finished seventh again to match his worst single moto performance. He could not fully rebound in Moto 2 and finished third.
For the first time in 2019, Tomac failed to stand on the overall podium in fourth. Worse still, he lost 10 points to Musquin and no longer had his one-race cushion.
But this is a season of recovery for Tomac. At Budds Creek last week it was reported that Tomac’s lackluster performance in Washington was due to his overdoing his chores on his Colorado ranch. Rested and restored, Tomac scored his third perfect race with Moto 1 & 2 wins. And this time, he looked sharper than he had in any previous race.
Tomac did all the could do by winning both motos, but in the closing laps at Budds Creek he needed a little help to clinch the title. As it turned out, Tomac needed the perfect performance to clinch his third consecutive championship.
In Moto 1, he narrowly edged Ken Roczen and Musquin, to give the three championship contenders a sweep of the top three spots; that was not enough to regain his cushion.
Roczen was close enough to force Tomac into The Ironman needing to score points to permanently affix the red plate on his Kawasaki in 2020, but just as Tomac’s season has been marked by second half improvements, Roczen’s has been marred by a lack of performance in the second motos.
Musquin passed Roczen late in Moto 2 last week and could have extended the drama one more week if he could have caught second-place Jason Anderson. Musquin could not erase an 11-second deficit to the runner-up and now Tomac’s almost perfect season has a distinctly perfect feel to it.