Graham Rahal took his second pole position in three races for Sunday’s BitNile.com Grand Prix of Portland after grabbing a fresh set of primary tires in the Firestone Fast Six and fighting off the best Penske, Andretti and Ganassi cars.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda of Rahal, which also started from pole on the Indianapolis road course last month, edged last year’s Portland polesitter Scott McLaughlin by barely more than 0.03s to claim top spot. It is the first time Rahal has scored more than one pole in a season since 2009.
McLaughlin was the only Penske driver to make it through to the Firestone Fast Six, while title contenders Scott Dixon and Alex Palou also got to the final segment of qualifying and will roll off fourth and fifth respectively.
Firestone Fast Six
McLaughlin and Colton Herta started the session with a supposed tire advantage, having put one fewer lap on their Firestone alternates, and started the session on primaries. Palou, the championship leader, went out straight away on his alternates and delivered a 58.6972s effort on his first flyer which he lowered marginally to 58.6505s next time by. He then pitted to grab a second set of reds.
Meanwhile, Rahal went fastest on a fresh set of primary tires, a 58.3195s, and McLaughlin tried and failed to usurp him, falling just 0.033s short. Herta’s third and final flyer went wrong when he lost time at Turn 7 and he wound up a further 0.1s behind.
Ganassi’s Scott Dixon nipped teammate Palou by 0.0689s to get a spot on the fourth row, while Pato O’Ward took sixth.
Callum Ilott went straight out on alternate tires, at the track where he made his IndyCar race debut two years ago. However, before he could lay down his faster second lap, out came the red flag for a hefty hit for Josef Newgarden at the exit of Turn 12, after he launched off the curbs on the outside and into the tire wall. Naturally, the two-time champion was out and will start 12th.
Red flag comes out in Round 2 of qualifying after this incident for @josefnewgarden.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) September 2, 2023
The session resumed with seven minutes remaining and everyone ran one more lap on hard tires, except for Ilott, of course. Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist and McLaughlin sat at the top of the times at this stage.
Into the pits to grab alternates, the 11 remaining cars took to the track once more, but in Rosenqvist’s case, not for long, as he pitted again to report that “something” was broken.
Meanwhile, McLaughlin delivered a 58.0777s to go P1, chased by Herta, ahead of O’Ward, Palou and Dixon. Rahal just got in, and Will Power should easily have bounced him out, but the No. 12 Penske Chevy ran wide in Turn 7, so its left side wheels went into the dirt and didn’t accelerate. Even so, he fell only 0.05s short of progressing.
Ilott did a fine job to grab eighth ahead of Alexander Rossi and Marcus Ericsson.
Q1 Group 2
Palou worked down to a 58.6784s on primary tires, 0.0354s ahead of Saturday morning’s fastest man, McLaughlin. Agustin Canapino went out on alternates and delivered third fastest time. Ericsson had an off and accidentally held up Ganassi teammate Dixon, although they were fourth and fifth on the harder compound.
Once everyone grabbed the reds, Palou and McLaughlin remained up top, but Palou pushed the benchmark to 57.9651s, with O’Ward in third for Arrow McLaren ahead of Dixon, Rossi and Ericsson.
Marcus Armstrong of Ganassi and Kyle Kirkwood of Andretti Autosport just missed the cut, surprisingly, ahead of Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s IndyCar debutant Juri Vips. Canapino wound up 10th, ahead of Helio Castroneves and David Malukas.
Tom Blomqvist, IMSA champion, was 14th for Meyer Shank Racing, 0.6s off teammate Castroneves.
Q1 Group 1
With the ambient temperature at 80 degrees and track temperature nudging north of 102 degrees, the opening group took to the track with Newgarden leading the way, while several drivers making a clear effort to immediately separate themselves from the car in front, so as to lay down a decent banker lap on Firestone’s harder primary tire. The exception was Ryan Hunter-Reay who started out with the softer alternate tires on his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.
On his second lap, Santino Ferrucci drifted his AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet wide into the final corner, Turn 12, but got himself out of the sand and continued.
Rahal continued to show RLL’s promise here, laying down a 58.3956s lap at 121.078mph on his fourth tour, shading Rosenqvist’s Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, before everyone pitted for the reds.
Herta, Ilott and Romain Grosjean all jumped Rahal on this softer compound, then Rosenqvist produced a 57.8967s (122.121mph) to grab P1, ahead of even Herta’s improved time. Newgarden and Power got through, split by Rahal, while Ilott was a happy surprise for Juncos Hollinger Racing.
The major shock was Christian Lundgaard, who got his first lap in on reds but found traffic on his second – the faster lap – and failed to advance. Unfortunately, he was also the car who Grosjean blamed for getting in his way and preventing him advancing. Rinus VeeKay, after setting some impressive times in practice, came within 0.0165s of usurping Ilott and getting through to Q2.