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Graham Rahal savors Indianapolis GP celebration after winning 1st IndyCar pole in six years

Graham Rahal records a message after winning the pole for the IndyCar Indianapolis GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 11, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Graham Rahal left Indianapolis 500 qualifying in tears.

Three months later, he savored every precious moment of an unforgettable celebration.

The Ohioan ended a six-year pole drought Friday by outdueling teammate Christian Lundgaard for the No. 1 starting spot in the Indianapolis Grand Prix.

Rahal’s completed his final qualifying lap on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course in 1 minute, 10.1102 seconds. Lundgaard was second in 1:10.2208 while 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi of Arrow McLaren qualified third in 1:10.2932.

Afterward, Rahal pumped his fists and traded fist bumps — a stark contrast to the seemingly inconsolable scene after teammate Jack Harvey knocked him off the 500 starting grid earlier this season. Rahal eventually started the race, replacing the injured Stefan Wilson in a different car.

“You move on it from it as best you can,” Rahal said. “There’s a lot of frequent reminders of what happened not only in qualifyng but the car not starting the race and things like that. When I got back home after May, the very first voice mail I had was form Al Unser Jr. You see somebody like him, who — he’s won here, been here — but he’s also seen the lowest of lows. And seeing his name on my phone lifted my spirits.”

If Rahal wins Saturday, it would be a storybook ending.

The pole is the first for Rahal since June 2017 when he dominated the weekend in Detroit by winning both races. That was also the last time Rahal drove into victory lane.

Indy’s road course has been good to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this season.

Lundgaard got his first career pole at the Indianapolis GP in May. The Dane earned his second pole at Toronto last month and then drove to his first career victory.

With Jack Harvey starting eighth, Lundgaard thinks the team could be celebrating again Saturday.

“I just got outqualified by Graham, technically everyone did,” Lundgaard said. “I think there was some small mistakes I could have prevented to jump ahead. But I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position. We’ll see tomorrow.”

There was plenty of intrigue even before Rahal’s final run.

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon and Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden both failed to advance out of the first round. Newgarden, a two-time series champ, enters the weekend second in points — 84 behind leader Alex Palou.

But the chasers caught a break when Palou, the 2021 IndyCar champ, was eliminated in the second round. The Spaniard will start ninth.

In fact the two strongest teams in the series, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, were shut out of the final round.

Four-time 500 winner Helio Castroneves also didn’t make the fast six, shortly after announcing the only IndyCar race he intends to run next season will be the 500 — this time as a minority owner with Meyer Shank Racing.