AVONDALE, La. (AP) — Juan Pablo Montoya got some extra mileage out of his season-opening IndyCar series victory, thanks to a rain out of qualifying Saturday in the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana.
The grid order for the race Sunday was set on points for the season. And because there has been only one race, drivers will start in the order they finished in St. Petersburg, Florida, two weeks ago.
That’s good news for all four Team Penske cars after they finished in the top five — but especially so for Montoya. The 39-year-old Colombian spun off the wet NOLA Motorsports Park track during the first group of qualifying Saturday and would have started 15th had the weather not worsened.
“It’s the rules that we play with,” Montoya said. “Sometimes it goes your way. Sometimes it goes against you.”
It went against Scott Dixon, who earlier Saturday posted the fastest practice lap of the entire weekend, but now must start 15th.
“Dixon’s been really quick,” Montoya conceded. “He is going to start where I was supposed to start, so we swapped. Thanks.”
More rain is expected Sunday, and officials moved up the start by about an hour, to 1:45 p.m. CDT.
Dixon’s Chip Ganassi team had done ample offseason testing at the 2.74-mile, 13-turn track in the swamps southwest of New Orleans and looked comfortable there. While it was dry early Saturday afternoon, no one could match Dixon’s average speed of 125.570 mph.
“It’s really a shame we didn’t get qualifying in today. The weather just hasn’t been cooperative for us this weekend,” Dixon lamented. “We paced the practice session and were in a position to advance in the limited qualifying session we ran, so I guess we did the best we could today. Hopefully the weather is better for tomorrow and we can get the race in for the fans.”
Fellow Ganassi driver Tony Kanaan, who had Friday’s fastest practice lap, will still have a good grid spot based on his third-place finish in St. Petersburg
Montoya was quick to concede he and his team got a break, but wasn’t about to apologize.
“Yeah, I mean, but it’s the way the rules are,” said Montoya, a former champion who returned to IndyCar racing last year after a six-season stint in Formula 1 and spending the previous seven years in NASCAR. “If we would have struggled in St. Pete, then we would have started in the back.”
Some Penske drivers still turned some of the fastest practice laps, including Simon Pagenaud, who was second, and defending series champion Will Power, who was fourth.
However, Penske driver Helio Castroneves’ best lap ranked 18th after three practices, and now he’ll start fourth.
The portion of qualifying that did take place was eventful, particularly for Sebastien Bourdais. He posted the fastest lap of the 12 drivers in Group 1, but was penalized for interfering with Kanaan after he’d slid off the track and then merged back on.
Bourdais said he did not see Kanaan coming until it was too late and thought the penalty was unfair because Kanaan still would have been fast enough to advance to the next round of qualifying.
But what looked like brewing controversy became moot shortly after the second group of drivers went out to qualify. Lightning struck nearby, bringing an immediate halt to proceedings, and spectators were instructed to leave the grandstands and take shelter in buildings around the track in case severe weather arrived.
All that came was steady rain, but enough to force race officials to call off the rest of qualifying.
Firestone’s wet weather tires allow Indy cars to run in the rain, as long as there is not too much standing water on the track.
Confident drivers say they like the rain, because it puts more of a premium on their ability than their equipment. But even if the race is run in dry conditions, Montoya said it will be tricky.
In racing jargon, a track without much rubber coating the asphalt is called “green,” a term Montoya used as he discussed the intermittent rain that has washed the track on both Friday and Saturday.
“The hard thing is, we keep going every time back to a green race track,” he said. “Every time we go out there, the first 10 minutes I’m kind of hanging on for dear life.”
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