CLICK: Full qualifying results from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
Just two weeks ago in Toronto, Sebastien Bourdais was celebrating winning his first pole position in US open wheel racing in over seven years. He hasn't wasted any time in following that up with a second, after he comprehensively beat Josef Newgarden to the top spot by over half a second in a topsy-turvy wet qualifying session at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Sunday's Honda Indy 200.
"The last lap I knew I was shy and needed some more, so I just went for it and made it stick," he said as he celebrated winning the Verizon P1 award. "Things are finally starting to align for us - sometimes it's the difference between things going your way or not going your way. I like it a lot better like [this]!
The 2.258-mile, 13-turn permanent road course just outside Lexington, Ohio had received a thorough soaking an hour before the scheduled start of qualifying, and even though the rain had broadly stopped by the time the first group went out for Round 1 the conditions were still atrocious - as was immediately demonstrated by Ryan Briscoe spinning in the NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing #8 to bring out a red flag. That cost Briscoe is best lap times of the sessions and ensured that he wouldn't progress to round 2; the same fate awaited AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato who spun on the first lap out of pit road when the green flag came out.
"Unfortunately the track was just so slippery that first time out," sighed Briscoe. "I spun out in the first lap to cause a red flag. I wasn't able to turn any laps that counted, so NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing will have to start in the back for the race tomorrow. I still feel really optimistic about the race, especially since I know what the car can do."
"It was extremely slippery track conditions and I spun out on my out lap," concurred Sato of his own incident. "The engine was still running and I tried to shift, but it was stuck in a false neutral at which time the engine shut off. It's really a shame that we couldn't complete a lap."
With the time lost recovering the stricken cars of Briscoe, Sato and Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe (who spun under the first stoppage), that left only enough time for the remaining cars to put in one flying lap: in this game of qualifying Russian roulette, Penske's Juan Pablo Montoya came up top ahead of Justin Wilson, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Mike Conway and Tony Kanaan, while Mikhail Aleshin and Helio Castroneves lost out in the mad scramble on the wet track and joined Briscoe, Sato and Hinchcliffe on the sidelines.
"Unfortunately the qualifying session was a bit crazy," said Castroneves, who is defending a slender 13 point lead in the championship battle. "Not only was it wet, there were so many yellows that we only got one timed lap in. At the end of the day it was the same for everyone. We were the first car out and tried some different lines. Sometimes that is not the best place to be. It gives the other guys some direction on where to run. It is what it is."
Although conditions had improved slightly by the time the second group came out on track a few minutes later, they were still bad enough to catch out Ganassi's Scott Dixon. causing him to spin out and trigger a new red flag. The Kiwi had been at the top of the practice times throughout the build-up to qualifying, but that mishap cost him his best times and means he will start from last place on the grid for Sunday's race.
"Not the best qualifying session we've had this year I can tell you that!" he said afterwards. "Unfortunately it was dry yesterday and this morning and we were fast, then it rained for qualifying. I had an off in the second session and lost my two fastest laps. After that we had one more chance to advance the Target car on our final lap but there just wasn't any grip to be found out there. We'll have to come up with a great strategy for tomorrow to dig us out of this hole."
The remainder of the second group's session went ahead without further interruptions, with Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay topping the times by three tenths from Sebastien Bourdais, with Josef Newgarden, Carlo Munoz, Graham Rahal and Carlos Huertas also progressing while Sebastian Saavedra, Marco Andretti, Jack Hawksworth and Charlie Kimball were eliminated alongside Dixon.
The track was drying up during Round 2, which this time saw Sebastien Bourdais go top ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay by almost eight tenths of a second with Kanaan in third. Munoz also made it through, finishing in third despite two pit lane speeding violations; Newgarden finished fifth fastest ahead of Power but had to undergo an investigation by race control into whether he had impeded Conway during the session. The decision went in Newgarden's favour meaning that Conway along with Rahal, Wilson, Pagenaud, Huertas and Montoya were all eliminated.
During the final session the track was starting to dry out in patches, but in other areas it was still too wet to lure the drivers into making a gamble fo switching to slicks. By now, Bourdais was in unstoppable form and he posted the best time of the afternoon of 1:24.1610s (96.586mph) putting him 0.5117s ahead of an impressive Newgarden who will join him on the front row of the grid for Sunday's race.
Tony Kanaan will take up third place with Munoz joining him on the second row, while Hunter-Reay will have to make his way forward from fifth place at the green flag as he starts alongside his rival for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship Will Power.
"A little bit disappointed," admitted Hunter-Reay afterwards, having dominated the earlier practice sessions. "We were really quick in the wet and then when it started drying out, we came up to some other cars and fell off a bit. It's unfortunate we just missed it.
"We have a great car here this weekend so to start fifth is definitely disappointing, but we can get it done from there," he pointed out. "It will be a challenging day for us trying to get through those top four, but we can definitely do it. I feel like we missed an opportunity a little bit but tomorrow is the only day that counts."
Will Power- who has had a recent string of disappointing qualifying results leaving him battling his way forward from way back on the starting grid - was somewhat happier with the view from sixth place.
"It's definitely better to start closer to the front," he said. "Pole is a big deal here because it's so difficult to pass. I was really happy to make it to the Fast Six.
"The toughest possible conditions at this track, it's just so slippery," he added. "It's typical IndyCar, it's all mixed up, you don't know who is going to be pole one week to the next. It's great racing. Hopefully we can get together and get a podium tomorrow, maybe a win."
There will be one further half-hour warm-up session on Sunday morning before the race itself, which takes place at 3.50pm local time (8.50pm BST) on Sunday afternoon.
See full qualifying results from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course