Pato O’Ward claimed pole for the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix in a tightly-contested qualifying bout around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The 22-year-old Mexican navigated the slick track surface of the 2.439-mile, 14-turn circuit to elevate his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet to the top spot with a lap at 1m10.7147s, besting Will Power by a narrow 0.0067s.
“I didn’t quite know (but) I wanted to make sure that this was a turning point,” said O’Ward, currently third in the IndyCar championship standings (48 behind leader Alex Palou). “We’ve had a very tough last few three races, and we’re ready to get back into victory lane. This is the first step to that. Tomorrow we have a job to finish and just continue it on, man. I mean, it’s still five races to go. A lot can happen, but this is definitely on the right track.”
There was a brief moment of hesitation before the declaration of the pole winner after a complaint was lodged by Team Penske against O’Ward about what it claimed was a block on the No. 12 Chevrolet during Power’s first flying lap.
“Thanks to our test in Portland, we found that a few things that I knew were going to help us here,” added O’Ward, who captured his third career pole. “I’ve never been so excited to race here on the Indy road course. Since Practice 1, I said, ‘’Man, we’re going to get some good points this weekend.”
The duo occupy the front row ahead of a pair of rookies. May’s Indy Grand Prix pole-sitter, Romain Grosjean, ended up third ahead of Christian Lundgaard, who is making his first-ever IndyCar start driving the No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda. Colton Herta rounds out a top five that was covered by a narrow 0.0484s.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) August 14, 2021
Alex Palou, Jack Harvey, Conor Daly, Rinus VeeKay and Alexander Rossi complete the rest of the top 10.
AS IT HAPPENED
Unlike a typical weekend on road or street courses with three rounds of qualifying, the NTT IndyCar Series opted for a two-phase format this weekend where the top six advance out of each group of Round 1, with 12 drivers battling for pole in the Firestone Fast 12
Colton Herta was the first to roll off pit lane to kickstart the 10 minutes for Group 1 of Round 1 on a treacherously slick track. The Firestone primary tire compound was the choice for many at the beginning, except for Cody Ware, who locked it up entering Turn 1 on alternates just three minutes into the session. Moments later, Jack Harvey set top pace 1m11.9293s on primary tires on the third lap of his run. Rinus VeeKay had an off-track excursion, called in over the radio that he was “needing more rear grip.” Herta received an added turn of front wing and swapped to alternates with three minutes to go. Harvey bettered his pace on the alternates, hitting a 1m11.2603s, but lost it to Will Power, who hit a 1m10.9988s lap to claim best of the group and bump Harvey to second. Conor Daly, Simon Pagenaud, Herta and VeeKay were the top six to advance. Hunter-Reay narrowly missed the cut, 0.0876s behind VeeKay.
Group 2 of Round 1 began and Grosjean was the first to go top after one lap at 1m12.6886s on primary tires, and then retained it after 1m12.0367s on the second lap. The majority of the field switched to alternates with less than five minutes to go. Alex Palou was the last to swap to the alternates with roughly three minutes remaining. A refreshing change of the tide for Jimmie Johnson, who jumped into the top six with a 1m12.1251s, good enough to slot fourth with less than two minutes remaining. He went faster on his second lap at 1m11.8624, but was bumped out after Alexander Rossi went top at 1m10.9867, with Christian Lundgaard coming across in second at 1m11.0511s. Palou, Grosjean and O’Ward advanced. Rosenqvist was in a transfer spot, but lost it due to being penalized after going through a caution zone, which came out as a result of a spin in the final sector in the final seconds by six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon. As a result, Marcus Ericsson, who was seventh, was elevated into the Fast 12. Dixon ended up 13th out of 14 in the session, while Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Johnson ended up11th. Newgarden, who has a six-place grid penalty, ended up seventh – the first driver outside the cutline.
REPLAY: Trouble for @scottdixon9 as time expires.
Here are the drivers advancing to the #FirestoneFast12.
6. @Ericsson_Marcus #INDYCAR // @IMS // #BigMachineGP pic.twitter.com/Q1qd0hhEKP
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) August 13, 2021
The battle for pole kicked off with Lundgaard, who went top on his second lap on primary tires at 1m11.7329s, 0.1544s ahead of Power. Veekay dropped everyone down after hitting a 1m11.5901s lap to take the top spot with just over four minutes to go. The field began swapping to alternates to go after the money lap. Moments later, Grosjean hit 1m11.1182s to take first, 0.069s ahead of Lundgaard. Musical chairs of the top spot started as Rossi, then Palou and then Grosjean swapped P1 before O’Ward seized it for good with a lap at 1m10.7147s. Power took second at 1m10.7214s, with Grosjean, Lundgaard and Herta making up a close top five that were covered by 0.0484s.
UP NEXT: Warmup, 8:45 a.m. ET Saturday on Peacock; followed by the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix (85 laps), 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.