Photo: Pato O’Ward by Joe Skibinski, Indycar
Pato O’Ward began his title quest by winning the pole for the season opener at Barber Motorsports Park. The Mexican driver in his second full time Indycar season set a track record in round 2 on the way to the first starting spot for tomorrow’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. O’Ward led the round of 12 with record lap of 1:05.5019.
Qualifying began five minutes late after a power outage postponed the USF2000 series second race. The race ran after Indycar qualifying.
O’Ward earlier this year declared his intention to have his Arrow Mclaren SP Chevy contend for the series title, and today gave credence to his goal. In two practice sessions and two qualifying rounds where some top drivers had issues, O’Ward stayed focused on the task at hand. He also had to survive the more difficult qualifying group.
Alexander Rossi will start on the outside of row 1. Rossi led the second practice session earlier in the day. He abandoned his usual qualifying strategy when he is a pole contender. Instead of waiting to get in one hot lap as time runs out, Rossi was one of the first two cars out at the start of the Fast Six. He stayed out the entire time. Will Power was the first car out for the final round. Power’s tires seemed to fade as could not improve his times from early in the session.
James Hinchcliffe slid into the tire barrier in turn 5 causing a red flag in the second group. The round restarted with just a bit more than 4 minutes left. As time ran out, Felix Rosenqvist went off track in the final turn. He lost a spot in the final round for affecting another driver’s lap.
Rookies Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean advanced to the second round. Grosjean finished second in his group, and McLaughlin was fourth. Grosjean starts seventh tomorrow and McLaughlin will roll off twelfth.
I can’t remember the last time Chip Ganassi Racing had three cars in the Fast Six. Alex Palou led the first practice session, and Marcus Ericsson had an impressive qualifying. Scott Dixon begins his title defense from fifth place.
The biggest surprise in qualifying was Josef Newgarden finishing eighth. He usually does very well here. Starting position is generally a big factor in the race results at Barber.
I think we will see a first career win tomorrow, but it may not necessarily be Pato O’Ward. Alex Palou looked very strong all day.