Reigning IndyCar champion and defending Texas winner Josef Newgarden took pole position for the season-opener of the series’ truncated 2020 campaign, usurping five-time champion Scott Dixon at the last.
Dixon set the best time in practice in his Honda-powered Chip Ganassi Racing-run machine, and only the Chevrolet-propelled Penskes of Simon Pagenaud and Newgarden could top him as the last two cars to complete their qualifying runs.
Pagenaud fell short, but Dixon felt he “left something on the table”, which became clear as Newgarden managed an average speed of 215.740mph over his two laps to storm to pole position for tonight’s race – the whole event taking place on Saturday as part of the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The cars now go to parc firme, and it’s possible drivers have prioritised race set-ups over their qualifying runs.
Pagenaud held on for third behind Dixon, while Ryan Hunter-Reay took fourth for the Honda-powered Andretti Autosport squad.
Hunter-Reay repaid the team for his Turn 2 crash around halfway through practice earlier in the day – only just making the cut off for qualifying as repairs were completed – and starts in a premium position where he believes he will be able to fight at the front all race.
Making it two Andretti cars in the top five, Zach Veach – who kept his participation alive in IndyCar’s off-season iRacing series with a spring for his sim pedals borrowed from his girlfriend’s sewing machine – thanked his team-mate James Hinchcliffe for his contribution to his lap.
Hinchcliffe ran almost the whole length of the pit lane in 96 degrees fahrenheit heat to feed back tips and track conditions to his Andretti Autosport stablemates, having been the first one of the team’s six entries to run in the single-car qualifying format.
Penske’s Will Power had a reserved run to sixth, beating Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Graham Rahal.
Alexander Rossi was seventh for Andretti, beating Dixon’s team-mate Felix Rosenqvist – who has been working on his oval form over the winter to improve on the weakest part of his package despite winning rookie of the year last year.
Rounding out the top 10, Tony Kanaan will start a record 318th consecutive IndyCar race with the AJ Foyt squad.
The session was halted for a significant period after ex-Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato crashed at Turn 1.
His car snapped loose on corner entry as he took an unconventional high line, and the 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner hit the wall at speed.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) June 6, 2020
His team-mate Rahal said he and Sato had discussed not entering Turn 1 high up before the latter’s lap, and Sato said the loss of the rear end was a “big surprise”.
He got out of the car and returned to the pits, while the short turnaround between qualifying and the race will leave the Rahal Letterman Lanigan squad plenty to do to allow Sato to even start the race.
Alex Palou was the top rookie in qualifying, despite having never raced on an oval – taking 16th as he followed up on his impressive practice run for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh.
Palou’s team-mate Santino Ferrucci’s car was “not right” in practice according to the Dale Coyne with Vasser Sullivan squad, and it missed qualifying to try to solve the problem.
Rinus VeeKay crashed early on in practice, and his Ed Carpenter Racing team was unable to repair the car in time for qualifying. He’ll start at the back of the grid along with Ferrucci and Sato.