VeeKay takes pole at Barber as Rossi rebounds from crash
LEEDS, Ala. (AP) — Rinus VeeKay led an upset in IndyCar qualifying to position himself to race for the win at Barber Motorsports Park.
The Dutchman was the surprise pole winner for Sunday’s race after a qualifying session that saw most of IndyCar’s big names fail in the heats.
Saturday’s first lap bounced two-time Barber winner Will Power and six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon. Both are among IndyCar’s top active drivers, but both struggled on the scenic permanent road course which is considered one of the most physical tracks on the circuit.
Told he was starting 19th, Power frowned; “It’s a terrible place for this track. Terrible.”
Power in 2012 won from ninth place – the furthest starting point for a winner in 11 previous events. The average starting place is 3.2 for winners of previous races.
This puts VeeKay in position for his second career victory.
“Confidence is high and it’s a track where overtaking doesn’t happen too much,” said the 21-year-old. “From here we can have a great race and fight for the win, that’s for sure.”
VeeKay clocked a lap of 1 minute, 6.2507 seconds in the “Fast Six” qualifying round to edge past Pato O’Ward, last year’s pole winner, for the top starting spot. It’s the second pole of his career, the first since the Indianapolis road course at the end of his 2020 rookie season.
The front row was a lockout for Chevrolet, which is 3 for 3 so far on the IndyCar season as Team Penske swept the first three races of the season. IndyCar raced two street courses and an oval, so Barber is the first road course and first new field this year.
It’s a track the Penske riders have dominated — Josef Newgarden leads all active riders with three wins at Barber and embarks on a two-fight winning streak on Sunday. But like many other big names, he failed to make it to the “Fast Six”.
Newgarden was eliminated in the second qualifying round and will start seventh.
Reigning IndyCar champion and reigning Barber winner Alex Palou qualified third for Chip Ganassi Racing. Scott McLaughlin finished fourth and the only Team Penske driver to make the “Fast Six”, and was followed by Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.
Felix Rosenqvist qualified sixth to join Arrow McLaren SP teammate O’Ward in the front three on Sunday.
The Andretti cars were clearly quick in practice but suffered a serious setback when Rossi destroyed his car in an accident on Saturday morning. This gave Andretti Autosport just over two hours to change its engine and gearbox and repair the car so Rossi could be back on track for qualifying.
Crew members from all four of Andretti’s teams were struggling and, after qualifying fifth, Rossi acknowledged that the organization had saved his weekend.
“I put them in a very difficult situation,” he said. “It was amazing to be there in the first place, to have the opportunity to compete and qualify. Where we were two hours ago, I think everyone is relieved and happy that we Every result we get this weekend is down to those guys, for sure.
“If we hadn’t qualified, starting 27th, you’re really screwed. It gives us a very good shot to have a good day.
PRAY FOR RAIN
The forecast for Sunday called for rain during the IndyCar race, but drivers were actively watching the skies in hopes of a chance to do a few laps in wet conditions before the main event.
IndyCar has yet to race in the rain since adding the cockpit-protecting aeroscreen to its cars, so there’s no data on how it will handle wet weather. Drivers in 2020 were able to put in a few laps at a pre-season test in Texas, but it wasn’t real race conditions with a full field of 26 cars on track.
IndyCar had a final practice session scheduled for Saturday and rain was on the mind.
“I think everyone’s rain tires on the truck are probably about two years old, which isn’t ideal,” O’Ward said. “Hopefully it’s raining now so we can get some cooler for the race. I think it would do us good if we all had a chance to see what it was like during the warm-up. Not in terms from, like, by yourself, but I think that changes a lot every time there are 26 cars driving around.
“I think there’s a big difference between being alone or being out there, just having an idea of what the spray might be.”
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