After everyone other than Stefan Wilson and Colton Herta had completed their first run – both required engine changes – Grosjean was sitting ninth, and therefore able to graduate to the Fast 12 segment of qualifying tomorrow.
“I think we were expecting more wind like this morning [in practice] and the wind didn’t pick up, so the conditions were very good,” said Grosjean. “We played it too safe for our first run, but it’s OK because if the conditions are similar or the same, we should have a good run tomorrow.”
However, Alexander Rossi was 15th, rookie Devlin DeFrancesco was 21st and Marco Andretti only 29th. The latter, preparing for his 17th Indy 500 and 250th IndyCar start, had suffered when his engine cut out briefly on his second lap.
But even when he went for a second time in the afternoon, he could improve only to 24th, not aided by the track temp reaching 107degF.
“It didn’t help with the engine shutting off!” Andretti told NBC. “From the test, I’m not surprised. I know we’ve been battling car speed issues which is a bit of a bummer.
“Really happy with the race balance so it’s a bummer we’re going to be coming from that far back. But it’s 500 miles, we’re ready to fight.”
Those were also the track conditions for Herta’s first run, an average of 230.235mph, which left him only 25th.
“I’m hoping [the engine] still needs to be broken in a little bit,” Herta laughed. “It sucks that we’re 25th, I’m not going to lie, but I’m happy with the effort my guys put in to get me back out. That was the biggest thing, because we were going to start 33rd if it wasn’t for them.
“We’re not as quick as we thought we were, so that’s a little surprising.”
Then their teammate Rossi, who had been bumped down to 17th by improvements from the Dale Coyne Racing duo, went to the Priority Lane, Lane 1, to have a second stab at it. The downside of using the Priority Lane is that it obliges the driver to delete his previous speed, and this would bite Rossi, as his second run left him only 21st.
“I said we had to get brave and just go Lane 1 – it was worth the risk in my mind,” said the 2016 Indy winner. “So proud of the guys but it didn’t quite pay off. Somehow we completely missed the balance this morning for the first attempt, which was very frustrating because I feel like the car is good. So we got it right there.
“The second and third runs are always hard to find the speed, so it is what it is at this point. We’ll go off 21st and try to do what we did in 2018 [when he climbed from the back row to finish fifth].”
Rossi will in fact now start 20th, and Andretti now 23rd, as Scott McLaughlin’s strand of the Penske team saw the series sophomore pull his 15th-fastest time and he dropped to 26th on his second run.