Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward claimed his second NTT IndyCar Series pole position at Barber Motorsports Park, shattering the lap record in the process.
The Alabama circuit had been resurfaced in the late 2019, which has led to faster lap times. O’Ward’s pole time of a 1:05.847 is nine tenths faster than the previous record set by Simon Pagenaud in 2016.
The young Mexican carried through his strong pre-season form and pushed his No.5 AMSP-Chevrolet to the ragged edge in a hotly contested session.
On several occasions, the 21-year old was seen running wide on the exit kerb at Turn 15, trying to maximise every inch of the Alabama race track.
Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi has kicked off his 2021 season with conviction and will start alongside O’Ward on the front row, narrowly missing out on pole by just 0.07s.
Chip Ganassi’s Alex Palou was the fastest of the Chip Ganassi trio which made it into the Firestone Fast Six, the Spaniard will share the second row with Will Power.
Scott Dixon has yet to win at Barber during his career, to change that he’ll have to do so from fifth on the grid with team-mate Marcus Ericsson in alongside.
Romain Grosjean narrowly missed out on a Q3 appearance on his IndyCar debut, however, his effort was good enough to see him put his No.51 Nurtec-Honda seventh on the grid.
The Frenchman will have tough competition as two-time champion Josef Newgarden will join him on the fourth row.
Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta struggled to get back up to speed after his hefty crash in FP2 and will line-up in eighth with Conor Daly alongside him.
Jack Harvey will have rookie Scott McLaughlin for company on the fifth row with the pair in 11th and 12th places respectively.
McLaughlin almost didn’t make it into Q2 after his engine starter failed, crew from Daly’s Ed Carpenter outfit were kind enough to offer their help to get the Kiwi back out on track.
Felix Rosenqvist had a lap time worthy of passing into the Firestone Fast Six but it was deleted after he spun himself into the gravel at the final corner bringing out a yellow flag for other drivers.
James Hinchcliffe did not enjoy his return to full-time competition after dropping out of qualifying due to a crash at Turn 5. The No.29 Genesys car ran straight on as the Canadian struggled to get the car stopped for the hairpin.
Given the ever-more competitive nature of IndyCar, two series champions in the form of Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay were victims of early exits and will start towards the back of the field.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion turned IndyCar convert Jimmie Johnson was also an early casualty of qualifying as he continues to build confidence in his No.48 Carvana-Honda.
Pace has been lacking for both Graham Rahal and 2019 winner Takuma Sato as they exited their respective qualifying groups in disappointing fashion for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
O’Ward will lead the field to the green flag for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama tomorrow at 16:00 EDT.
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