Josef Newgarden didn’t have to look far for the benchmark in qualifying at Barber Motorsports Park. Team Penske teammate Will Power is a four-time Verizon IndyCar Series pole winner at the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course.
Newgarden knew he would need to outperform Power in the Firestone Fast Six today to collect the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First, and he did just that – barely. Newgarden’s last lap in the final round of knockout qualifying clipped Power by a mere 0.0128 of a second for top honors.
Scott Dixon starts sixth. “We had quite a few red flags in the first session today so that was tough to get the car consistent and where we needed it.
“Once we get the PNC Bank car in the right area, we know it’s fast. It’s just about finding that correct balance. We’re still working on the car.
“We’re trying to get the grip we need. We just missed in qualifying and hopefully we’re not looking at too much rain for the race tomorrow.”
Newgarden will start first in Sunday’s scheduled 90-lap race in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske, after a lap of 1 minute, 7.4413 seconds (122.773 mph). It earned Newgarden his first pole position at Barber and the third of his seven-year Verizon IndyCar Series career.
“I think whenever you get the pole it’s a good day,” said Newgarden, who won last year’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on his way to the season championship. “It shows the speed of the car, it shows the work that everyone at Team Penske has put in.
“We all win together. (Power) could have easily had the pole. All three of us work so well together at Team Penske trying to make these cars fast.”
Power’s best lap in the Firestone Fast Six was 1:07.4541 (122.750 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Power will drive in his ninth Barber race on Sunday. He’s started all but one from the first two starting positions. He’s also the only driver to reach the Firestone Fast Six in the first three road- and street-course events this season, earning the second starting spot each time.
“The pole would have been nice,” said Power, whose 50 career pole positions are tied for third most in Indy car history. “I’m sure you could pick out a number of little things on a lap when it’s that close, but a little mistake out of (Turn) 9, a little lift here or there (would make the difference). Yeah, it was close.”
Sebastien Bourdais fashioned his best Barber qualifying effort in eight tries, earning the third starting position with a lap of 1:07.5337 (122.605 mph) in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan. Bourdais, who won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, has never finished better than eighth in the race at Barber.
“It was almost perfect,” Bourdais said of his lap. “I got every little bit of it I had and the SealMaster Honda No. 18 was good but obviously not quite good enough – just a tenth off. It’s just super, super tight. Those (Team Penske) guys always seem to be able to step it up in (the Firestone Fast Six). … It is what it is, but I’m pretty happy with that.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay survived a short off-track excursion in the second round of qualifying to advance and earn the fourth starting position in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport (1:07.7807, 122.159 mph). Like Power, Hunter-Reay is a two-time Barber race winner.
James Hinchcliffe qualified fifth in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda (1:07.9472, 121.859 mph), with Scott Dixon sixth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (1:08.0303, 121.710 mph). Marco Andretti barely missed reaching the Firestone Fast Six but will start a season-best seventh in the No. 98 Kerauno / Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.
Alexander Rossi, who won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15 to take the points lead after three races, qualified eighth in the No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda for Andretti Autosport. The point Newgarden earned for winning the pole today closed him within 21 of Rossi.
1. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:07.4413 (122.773 mph)
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 1:07.4541 (122.750)
3. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 1:07.5337 (122.605)
4. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 1:07.7807 (122.159)
5. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 1:07.9472 (121.859)
6. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:08.0303 (121.710)
7. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, 1:07.6027 (122.480)
8. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 1:07.7488 (122.216)
9. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 1:07.8409 (122.050)
10. (6) Robert Wickens, Honda, 1:07.8455 (122.042)
11. (26) Zach Veach, Honda, 1:07.9894 (121.784)
12. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, 1:08.4386 (120.984)
13. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 1:08.0235 (121.723)
14. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 1:08.5494 (120.789)
15. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:08.1038 (121.579)
16. (19) Zachary Claman De Melo, Honda, 1:08.5531 (120.782)
17. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 1:08.1184 (121.553)
18. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1:08.5676 (120.757)
19. (20) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 1:08.3997 (121.053)
20. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 1:08.9763 (120.041)
21. (4) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 1:08.5516 (120.785)
22. (32) Rene Binder, Chevrolet, 1:09.5404 (119.067)
23. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 1:11.2015 (116.290)