O’Ward on pole for IndyCar season opener


18 Apr 2021

Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar Media

Pato O’Ward kicked off the 2021 IndyCar season by claiming pole position  at Barber Motorsports Park ahead of Alexander Rossi.

The Arrow McLaren SP driver topped both his Q1 group and the second qualifying session. He then set a time of 1 minute 5.8479 seconds in the Fast Six, Andretti Autosport driver Rossi by just under 0.7s.

Alex Palou, making his first start for Chip Ganassi Racing, was third fastest. The Spaniard, who was one of the stars of pre-season testing, was also a pacesetter in practice and the first part of qualifying and kept Penske’s Will Power out of the top three.

Power chose to set his Fast Six times on used tyres, but had enough to beat reigning champion Scott Dixon, while Marcus Ericsson rounded out the fast six.

Ericsson’s fellow Formula 1 refugee Romain Grosjean, one of three rookie drivers in the field this weekend, will line up seventh for Sunday’s race after a stellar qualifying session.

Rarely far from the top of the timing sheets throughout qualifying, the 10-time Grand Prix podium finisher was second fastest in group two of the first part of qualifying, then looked set to advance from the second session, but for a late fast lap from Power that bumped him out of a transfer spot.

Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar Media

Grosjean did however better two-time series champion and three-time Barber winner Josef Newgarden who, after a subdued session, could only manage eighth.

Colton Herta and Conor Daly rounded out the top-10, ahead of Jack Harvey and Scott McLaughlin.

Three-time Supercars champion McLaughlin, embarking on his first full IndyCar season after a cameo appearance in St. Petersburg last year, shone in the first part of qualifying. He advanced with the fourth-fastest time in group one, despite a start motor failure almost costing him a chance to set a final lap time.

He was able to get back on track though, but his best time was achieved at the expense of an extra set of the softer ‘red’ tyres. That left him short of a set of the faster compound for the second session, hampering his progress.

Among the high-profile casualties towards the back of the field were seven-time NASCAR Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson who will start 21st for his IndyCar debut, and Felix Roseqvist and James Hinchcliffe who both went off in Q1 and were denied a chance to continue as a result – the former despite setting a time that would’ve been quick enough for him to advance had he not caused a yellow flag which instantly took him out of contention. They will start 22nd and 24th respectively.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama qualifying results

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)