Pato O’Ward claims IndyCar pole at Barber
Pato O’Ward took another big step toward a breakthrough inaugural victory in the NTT IndyCar Series, outdueling many of the circuit’s major names and teams to capture the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama pole position Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.
O’Ward, who is only his second full season with Arrow McLaren SP, put the No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet in the top spot, besting Alexander Rossi by 0.0698 seconds. Alex Palou qualified third (tying his career best at Road America in July 2020), followed by Will Power, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson.
The pole-winning lap was 1 minute, 5.8479 seconds, just off the 1:05.5019 lap that O’Ward, 21, turned in the second round to smash the former track record of 1:06.6001 set by Sebastien Bourdais in 2016 at Barber, which was repaved a couple of years ago.
It’s the second career pole for O’Ward, who led 43 laps and finished second at Road America last July after starting first.
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“Man, we made some changes after practice,” O’Ward told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Such a messy practice. We’ve been working so hard in the offseason, and I think we’re clicking, man. Everyone in the team is working well together, and I knew exactly what I needed to get the time out of the reds, especially.
“We just had to maintain pace on blacks, because I felt we were pretty strong. We did that, and we’re starting on pole, man. It feels good. These guys deserve it. And we’ve got a race to win (Sunday).”
Rossi qualified a career-best second at Barber, where his previous best starting spot was eighth in 2018-19.
“Ultimately it’s much better than we’ve ever had around Barber,” said Rossi, who went winless last year. “A big step up. We have a good shot at it (Sunday).”
The rest of the top 12 starting positions for Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET, NBC) went to rookie Romain Grosjean, Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta, Conor Daly, Jack Harvey and rookie Scott McLaughlin.
Jimmie Johnson failed to advance in his first IndyCar qualifying session, but the seven-time Cup Series champion did score a moral victory in outqualifying Dalton Kellett and finishing 11th of 12 drivers in Group 1 of the first round.
After his No. 48 Dallara-Honda had been slowest in Saturday’s practice sessions (which were paced by Palou and Rossi), Johnson will start 21st Sunday.
“This smile is not going to go away,” Johnson said after qualifying. “What an amazing day. Didn’t qualify last, so that’s a really good thing and a small victory for me in this journey. Today was full of firsts, red tires, qualifying session, race weekend. Just the different layers that exist.
“And I survived the day. Had a lot of fun. And really excited about my first race tomorrow. We’re back on track in the morning with the warmup session, again something new and something I’ve not been through before. Dial in our race setup and then we go racing tomorrow and have a lot of fun in that Carvana Honda.”
In the first-round Group 2 qualifying session, Felix Rosenqvist was poised to advance but had his Round 1 lap time wiped out after he caused a yellow by sliding off course in Turn 17.
James Hinchcliffe also failed to advance after causing a red flag by nerfing the barrier in Turn 5.
Other drivers who didn’t make it out of the first round and will be starting outside the top 12: Ed Jones, Rinus VeeKay, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato.
QUALIFYING RESULTS AT BARBER
1. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:05.8479 (125.744 mph)
2. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:05.9177 (125.611)
3. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:06.0538 (125.352)
4. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:06.1186 (125.230)
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:06.3976 (124.703)
6. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:06.4102 (124.680)
7. (51) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:05.7643 (125.904)
8. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:05.7902 (125.855)
9. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:05.7957 (125.844)
10. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:05.9118 (125.622)
11. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:05.9634 (125.524)
12. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:06.7226 (124.096)
13. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:06.5578 (124.403)
14. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:06.4770 (124.554)
15. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:06.6480 (124.235)
16. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:06.5035 (124.505)
17. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:06.8512 (123.857)
18. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:06.8489 (123.861)
19. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:07.1026 (123.393)
20. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:07.0021 (123.578)
21. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 01:07.7092 (122.288)
22. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:07.0254 (123.535)
23. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 01:07.8100 (122.106)
24. (29) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, No Time (No Speed)