Rookie Rinus VeeKay captures first pole position in the IndyCar Series

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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.

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Harvest GP Race 1 overall I Group 1 results I Group 2 results

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.”

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.

Colton Herta and Will Power will make up the second row.
With qualifying starting at 6:20 p.m. ET as the sun was setting and temperatures dropping into the 50s (the track temperature was 73 degrees when the green fell), drivers struggled with unusual glare and brisk conditions they weren’t accustomed to facing at IMS (after several already went off course during practice).

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.

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.

Click here for qualifying results for Race 1 of the Harvest GP.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”