Romain Grosjean, six months removed from a fiery crash in Formula One that nearly killed him, won the pole position for his third career NTT IndyCar Series start, qualifying first for the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Grosjean, who raced for a decade in F1 without a victory, outqualified two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden by 0.1269 seconds on the 14-turn, 2.39-mile road course at IMS to earn the top starting spot Friday in his No. 51 Dallara-Honda for Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing.
It was the Frenchman’s first pole position in more than 10 years. When he leads the field to green Saturday, it’ll be the first time he’ll be at the front of a rolling start in his major-league racing career.
“That feeling, whoa!” Grosjean told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “I forgot what it was. … the last few laps, I was on it.”
— Romain Grosjean (@RGrosjean) May 14, 2021
QUALIFYING RESULTS: Full field rundown
INDYCAR SATURDAY: How to watch the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Said car owner Dale Coyne: “We knew he could win races. We knew he could win poles. He’s proving it today.”
Grosjean’s most recent pole position was in Turkey in a 2011 race in the GP2 (now F2) Series. He gave an exuberant shout after exiting the cockpit Friday and said “It’s like being alive again … I’m happier than I’ve been for a long time.”
Grosjean’s best start in F1 was a second nine years ago in Hungary. He had 10 podium finishes over 179 starts from 2009-2020 but none in the top three since 2015.
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 14, 2021
“Days that I completely forgot about is when you get to race weekend, you got those butterflies because you know if you do everything right, you may end up on pole or trying to win the race,” he said. “That’s definitely something I had no chance to do over the last few years.”
Grosjean narrowly missed making the Fast Six in qualifying for his IndyCar debut at Barber Motorsports Park, where he could tell he was competitive from the second practice. The Frenchman, who is racing exclusively on road and street courses this season, said the IMS road course (which opened 20 years ago as a host to F1) suited his style.
“All the tracks I’ve been racing in the U.S., that’s the one that feels the most familiar,” he said. “I can tell it was actually designed for Formula 1 the way the curves are, the layout and the corners.
“I knew I was going to feel OK on the track quite quickly, whereas St. Pete takes a little bit more time to learn. Barber, a few tricks here that you need to understand. Here for me it’s a bit more straightforward.”
Grosjean solved the IMS road course on a day when many veterans struggled.
Newgarden qualified second, followed by the unlikely group of Jack Harvey, Alex Palou, rookie Scott McLaughlin and Conor Daly, who made the Fast Six in knockout qualifying for the first time in his career.
Will Power, Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon all were eliminated after the second round Friday.
Power failed to advance after spinning and then stalling on course, bringing out a red flag that knocked out his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet. The 2018 Indy 500 winner threw his HANS device upon reaching his team’s timing stand, yelling “There’s no way he’s running the same (expletive) aero balance. No (expletive) way!”
Power failed to make the Fast Six for only the second time in 10 starts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. After a minute to cool off, he took the blame in an interview with NBC Sports’ Marty Snider.
Being up front at Indy feels different.
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“I made a mistake,” said Power, a road and street course ace who was eliminated after the first round at Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg last month. “Drove in with such a loose car, made a mistake. I would have been fine (but I) just stalled. Having trouble with the clutch, stalled, very frustrating. We could have driven back to the pits and been fine. Unfortunately, I cause a red and can’t continue. At least we’re 12th. That’s better than St. Pete 20th.
“I was very mad, yeah. Just so crazy how the car can change so much session to session. It’s the second race on a road course we’ve had this. I think we would have been OK had I not made a mistake. So frustrated at myself.”
Rossi also was flummoxed by his lap after leading the morning practice.
“Trying to figure it out; I honestly don’t know,” the Andretti Autosport driver said when asked by told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee why he lost speed. “Got a lot looser that time, so I’m kind of stumped. We’ll have to look into it. The second (round) went slower than the first session. A lot of confusing things.”
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 14, 2021
Juan Pablo Montoya, who will be making his first IndyCar start in nearly four years, qualified last after his fastest two laps were tossed out because the IndyCar stewards ruled he interfered with Palou.
Otherwise, the slowest lap would have belonged to Jimmie Johnson in Group 1. The seven-time NASCAR Cup champion had an adventurous session, needing an escape route off the course after being unable to slow down his No. 48 Dallara-Honda to make the Turn 1 corner.
“The peak of grip is so small, and that was the lap I needed to put everything together on, and I just outbroke myself,” Johnson told Lee. “So lesson’s learned, and it’s so tough to figure out where to be aggressive and how to increase each lap, but I’ll file that away. I’ve got 85 laps in the race tomorrow, plus the warmup. Just keep filing away everything that I can.”
Other notables who failed to advance from Group 1: Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson, Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Charlie Kimball.
QUALIFYING RESULTS: Click here for the full rundown
QUALIFYING RESULTS FOR GMR GRAND PRIX AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
1. (51) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 1 minute, 9.4396 seconds (126.447 mph)
2. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:09.5665 (126.216)
3. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:09.6528 (126.060)
4. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 1:09.7118 (125.953)
5. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 1:09.7140 (125.949)
6. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:09.8662 (125.675)
7. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 1:09.8185 (125.760)
8. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 1:09.8222 (125.754)
9. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 1:09.8548 (125.695)
10. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 1:09.8722 (125.664)
11. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:09.9060 (125.603)
12. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, No Time (No Speed)
13. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 1:09.8243 (125.750)
14. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 1:09.9012 (125.612)
15. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 1:09.8382 (125.725)
16. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:09.9512 (125.522)
17. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1:09.8665 (125.674)
18. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 1:10.0726 (125.304)
19. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 1:09.8759 (125.657)
20. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 1:10.1830 (125.107)
21. (11) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 1:10.6810 (124.226)
22. (29) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 1:10.6174 (124.338)
23. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 1:11.0455 (123.588)
24. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 1:10.9312 (123.788)
25. (86) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 1:11.1370 (123.429)