LEEDS, Ala. – Pato O’Ward affirmed the claim that Arrow McLaren SP is ready to challenge the big three in the NTT IndyCar Series, adding a fourth team to that elite power group Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.
O’Ward scored his second career NTT IndyCar Series pole in the Firestone Fast Six. The young driver from Mexico laid down a track-record lap of 1:05.8479 around the 17-turn, 2.3-mile natural road course, an average speed of 125.744 mph in the No. 5 Chevrolet.
He starts first in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the season-opening race of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season.
“That’s what we have been working for all weekend,” O’Ward said. “We want to challenge Team Penske and Ganassi and Andretti and truly show people that we are one of the Big Four in IndyCar. There are a lot of smart people behind the scenes in the UK (at McLaren) and in Indianapolis that are working on making the cars even faster.
“We are better and better and better and I’m very excited about this.”
O’Ward’s pole also marked the 100th Indy car pole for Chevrolet as an engine manufacturer since the Bowtie brand returned to the NTT IndyCar Series in 2012.
With 35 seconds left in the “Fast Six,” O’Ward was on pole and it appeared that Team Penske’s Will Power and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi were saving speed for a run to end the session.
Rossi’s time was 1:05.9177 (125.661 mph) in the No. 27 NAPA Honda, second fastest. Chip Ganassi Racing driver Alex Palou was third at 1:06.0538 (124.352 mph) in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda.
Power was unable to get some last-lap speed to grab the pole and will start fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet for Team Penske after running a lap 1:06.1186 (125.230 mph).
Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing was fifth at 1:06.3976 (124.703 mph) in the PNC Bank Honda with another CGR driver, Marcus Ericsson, rounding out the Fast Six at 1:06.4102 (124.680 mph) in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda.
All six drivers broke the previous track record of 1:06.6001 (124.324 mph) set by Sebastien Bourdais on April 23, 2016, during a day of blistering speeds.
O’Ward actually set the official mark with his second-round lap, a time of 1:05.5019.
The track was repaved in late 2019 and this is the first time the NTT IndyCar Series is running on the new surface, which led to an increase in speed.
O’Ward won his first IndyCar pole last July at Road America for the second race of the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America. He finished second to Felix Rosenqvist, who is now his teammate at Arrow McLaren SP.
“I want to win races, challenge for the championship the whole year, not just for myself but for the whole team,” O’Ward said. “We want to give the veterans like Scott Dixon something to think of and enjoy it. That is the most important thing, to go out and execute.
“We’re just ready. We’re ready to go and battle it out. We need to achieve wins and score as many points as we can every weekend.”
Of the three highly touted rookie drivers that are in the series this year, former Formula One driver Romain Grosjean was the most impressive.
Grosjean barely missed making the “Fast Six” after running a time of 1:05.7643.
Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin starts 12th and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson never advanced out of his first group and will start 21st in the 24-car starting lineup.
Up front, however, O’Ward is brimming with confidence.
“I think we have a good shot at winning here,” he said. “I won here in Indy Lights and I would like to close it out in IndyCar as well.”
QUALIFYING RESULTS: NTT IndyCar Series; Barber Motorsports Park; April 17, 2021
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)