Rinus VeeKay won the first pole position of his NTT IndyCar Series career Thursday during a Harvest GP qualifying session that featured an interesting twist in the championship race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The Ed Carpenter Racing rookie qualified first with a 1-minute, 9.7442-second lap in his No. 21 Dallara-Chevrolet around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn circuit in unusually cold and late conditions.
“It was tough; I was not very happy with the car (earlier), but Tim (Broyles) and I sat down, and we found some great stuff,” VeeKay, who has a best finish of fourth in 11 races, told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “I put in a good lap, so I’m very happy with that. Finally, finally my first pole.
FRIDAY’S RACE: What you need to know for watching the Harvest GP
“That would be amazing (to win). We’ll go for the win now, but anything can happen. It’s a crazy track, and everyone is super talented.”
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) October 1, 2020
Rinus VeeKay will start on pole alongside two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, who was fastest in the first qualifying group of the session. The Team Penske driver earned a point in his pursuit of title standings leader Scott Dixon, shaving the five-time champion’s margin to 71 points with three races remaining.
The complexion of Group 1 changed dramatically when Takuma Sato spun into a gravel trap in Turn 8, bringing out a red flag for the final five minutes of the session. That was before all the drivers (including Dixon) had the chance to make laps on the faster alternate (red) tires.
My first ever IndyCar POLE! pic.twitter.com/sTWeVP4VM6
— Rinus VeeKay (@rinusveekay) October 1, 2020
Newgarden went fastest on the harder black compound, giving him the front-row starting spot.
“That’s the luckiest we’ve been as far as yellow flags go this year,” Newgarden told Lee. “I just wish we’d gotten it in the race, but we’re not going to complain obviously. We were quick on blacks. The car felt awesome right out of the box. Some of the issues we were struggling with in the first practice were completely gone.
“You couldn’t see super well in Turn 13, so we were kind of guessing coming onto this front straightaway. But it made for an interesting session. I don’t know what would have happened on reds. I think we would have been in the fight without a doubt. The car felt so good. I feel pretty confident for the race.”
Dixon will start 12th on the road course where he finished second in the July 4 race.
“That’s just the way it goes sometimes, man,” the Chip Ganassi Racing driver told Lee. “We didn’t do anything wrong. Maybe we should have tried to make the cars better on blacks, but you’re always chasing what it’s going to be for the reds.
“It’s racing, it’s not over until you’ve won the championship. We’ll keep our head down and see how it goes (Friday). We’ll dig deep and see what we get.”
Friday’s Race 1 of the Harvest GP will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network, followed by a 2:30 p.m. start Saturday on NBC in Race 2.