Josef Newgarden put down a big lap for the pole in qualifying for Sunday’s Detroit Grand Prix from the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.
The No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet was on rails for its Fast Six outing, as the Tennessee-native turned a time of 1:15.2153s, over a tenth of a second quicker than the second-place qualifier, Takuma Sato.
As the session’s clock expired, Newgarden chose to bank on his final run, which promoted him from fifth to first, allowing the 31-year-old to secure his 16th career NTT IndyCar Series pole position.
Exiting the car, Newgarden was enthralled with the handling of his car and the lap he was able to lay down.
“That was one of the most satisfying pole laps I’ve ever had because of the difficulty of it,” Newgarden said. “It was on the edge. It was not easy at all. Some laps you put together, the car is so hooked up and so good you’re kind of just steering it. Makes it sound a little bit too basic and simple. It feels that way at times.
“Today was not that case. It felt like you really had to go and attack and work for it. Like I said earlier, the way I started the lap was so promising. I was up already from the Q2 lap. I said if I can just really push this thing in the middle section of the track, I’m going to try to go for it.”
It was clear that the eventual pole-sitter was going to put it all on the line in one of the most intense qualifying sessions of the year.
“If I hit the fence, that’s what it’s going to be today,” he continued. “Fortunately, we had just enough to not do that, had plenty of speed to put it on pole. It was on the edge. Four, five, and six, I thought those three corners I was going to hit the wall, and we stayed off.”
Over the course of his IndyCar career, Newgarden has converted a pole position into a victory on four occasions, the latest of which was Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last season.
Throughout the entire weekend, a major topic of conversation among those in the garage has been the Belle Isle course’s physical nature, a sentiment that Newgarden echoed following his pole-winning effort on Saturday.
“Yeah, today was hard,” Newgarden said. “It was harder than last year I would say to get the pole. Sunday last year when we put the car on pole, it was a lot simpler. The car was hooked up, was not loose, just fast. It was easier to guide it to that position. Today was a real fight. I mean, we really had to work. We almost got knocked out of the Fast Six.
“In actuality, we probably got saved in Q2. I think (Scott) Dixon probably would have bumped us out if that red didn’t come into play. We just snuck into the Fast Six, then had to really work to get the pole today. I was very, very proud of that. What that means for tomorrow, I don’t know yet. I think we’ve got a fast car, quick enough to win.”
Apprehension surrounding a victory for Newgarden on Sunday doesn’t come from a lack of success, as the two-time champion has recorded six top-10 results in his eight starts at the facility with Team Penske, including a victory in 2019.
Never has Newgarden been able to parlay the premium starting spot into a winning result. the 2021 Belle Isle doubleheader weekend was the sight of his second pole at the track, where he finished second on the day.
Newgarden dominated, leading 67 of the race’s 70 laps, but passed by the race’s ultimate winner, Pato O’Ward, with just three laps remaining. It marked a missed opportunity for the championship runner-up later that season.
“It’s just a matter of getting the strategy right, not having any missteps,” Newgarden added. “This field, it’s too difficult to keep everybody behind you nowadays even when you have a fast car. You just can’t make any mistakes. I feel confident we can do the job. But feeling confident is not enough these days. You got to really go and really make it happen.”
After 30 events at the current venue in Belle Isle, IndyCar will transition to running on a newly-designed 1.7-mile street course in downtown Detroit, beginning in 2023.
With Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix being the final on the current configuration, there is an added level of prestige for the driver who secures the victory in the final event on the storied island, something that would top Newgarden’s win from 2019.
“I do like this track on the calendar,” he said. I’m going to miss it. I think it was a fantastic track to drive. It’s very challenging. It’s predominantly concrete. With that it takes a lot of rubber to build grip. Before that point happens, it’s very slippery. It’s hard to keep it off the fence here. You’ve seen a lot of wrecks here this weekend because of that. That challenge is something I think all of us enjoy.”