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IndyCar: Qualifying abandoned as lightning strikes twice at NOLA

Another outbreak of lightning at NOLA Motorports Park meant qualifying had to be abandoned and Juan Pablo Montoya was handed pole for Sunday's race.
Penske pair Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power will start from the front row when the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana gets underway on Sunday afternoon, after weather forced race officials to abandon qualifying part-way through. That meant the the starting grid was set according to entrants points instead - essentially, the order in which they finished the season opener at St Petersburg two weeks ago.

CLICK: Qualifying times and the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana starting grid

Just as it had on Friday, the weather started to close in around NOLA Motorsports Park shortly before the start of the second track session of the day on Saturday. The start of qualifying was put on hold for 45 minuted but during that time it appeared that the conditions would stay limited to light but steady rain, with the reported storms not encroaching into the immediate area.

That meant qualifying on a sodden track, which got underway shortly after 5pm local time with the first group of round 1 managing to be successfully completed, albeit not without controversy as KVSH Racing's Sebastien Bourdais set the best time of the session only to be penalised and docked his two best laps for impeding Tony Kanaan's qualifying lap.

That dropped Bourdais to the bottom of his group's time, with Bourdais and team co-owner Jimmy Vasser both wasting no time in expressing their displeasure with race control's call. In the meantime, there was a delay getting the second group underway as track workers had to retrieve Montoya's car which had slithered off into the grass in the final seconds.

Conditions were worsening sharply as the second group attempted to set their fastest laps, and a massive crack of thunder and visible lightning close to the 2.74-mile, 13-turn road course was caught on in-car camera footage leading rce control with no option but to throw a red flag and order team members, drivers and spectators to urgently seek shelter from the possibility of further lightning strikes.

With the weather systems apparently stalled over NOLA and stubbornly refusing to move away, and with the evening gloom starting to affect lighting and visibility, the decision was soon taken to abandon qualifying for the day. Under the rules of the Verizon IndyCar Series, the fact that the session had not been completed meant that the starting grid order was instead set by entrants points coming into this weekend.

That means Montoya and Power have been handed the front row for Sunday's race, with Kanaan set to start alongside Castroneves on row two. French pair Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais round out the top six ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Jack Hawksworth, Luca Filippi and Marco Andretti.

The decision to abandon qualifying and set the grid according to the points is a huge boost for Bourdais, who otherwise would have started from the back of the grid after his penalty. Hawksworth was also saved from a last row start, as he had not had a chance to set a representative time in the second group before the red flag came out.

Montoya had been set to start from 13th place after a disappointing end to the first group's run in which he failed to progress to round 2. The round had been led by Kanaan whose time of 1:38.3668s (100.278mph) set before the worst of the weather closed in proved to be the best of the curtailed qualifying session, 0.0752s ahead of Pagenaud.

However the points-based grid will be a major disappointment for Carlos Munoz and James Jakes, both of whom had been on course for at least a top 12 start after finishing in the top six of their group assuring them of an appearance in the second round for the top 12 drivers. Munoz will now line-up in 14th place on the grid and Jakes all the way back in 22nd.

Sage Karam will also be ruing the premature end of qualifying which means that he starts from 19th when it had looked like he too would make it into at least the top 12 following his fifth place in the earlier sole Saturday practice.

On the plus side, there were no significant incidents or crashes during the limited running time despite the treacherous conditions, meaning that none of the teams will be having to work late on frantic repairs to their race cars ahead of tomorrow's race.

The teams will now have one further half hour warm-up opportunity on Sunday morning to fine-tune their cars and carry out any last minute set-up tweaks ahead of the 75-lap race, which gets underway shortly after 2.30pm (8.30pm BST).

Unfortunately the threat of further weather problems remains, with the possibility that further storms could be in the area during at least part of Sunday's race.

See qualifying times and the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana starting grid

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Cars wait on pit road for the weather to clear for qualifying at NOLA Motorsports Park. Saturday April 11 2015. (Photo by: Joe Skibinski for IndyCar Media)
Juan Pablo Montoya waits for the rain to stop for qualifying at NOLA Motorsports Park. Saturday April 11 2015. (Photo by: Bret Kelley for IndyCar Media)
Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates pole for the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana after a rain-hit qualifying session at NOLA Motorsports Park. Saturday April 11 2015. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) celebrates winning the 2016 IndyCar title with victory at Sonoma   [pic credit: Chris Owens]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Will Power - Team Penske
Scott Dixon leads the Indycar field   [pic credit: Indycar media/Bret Kelley]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Simon Penske - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar media/Bret Kelley]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Joe Skibinski]
Will Power - Penske  [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [image credit: IndyCar Media/Bret Kelley]
Sebastian Bourdais (KVSH Racing) celebrates in Detroit   [image creid: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Sebastian Bourdais - KVSH Racing   [image credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske

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