Pato O’Ward took another big step toward a breakthrough inaugural victory in the NTT IndyCar Series, outdueling many of the circuit’s major names and teams to capture the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama pole position Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.
O’Ward, who is only his second full season with Arrow McLaren SP, put the No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet in the top spot, besting Alexander Rossi by 0.0698 seconds. Alex Palou qualified third, followed by Will Power, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson.
It’s the second career pole for O’Ward, who led 43 laps and finished second at Road America last July after starting first.
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“Man, we made some changes after practice,” O’Ward told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Such a messy practice. We’ve been working so hard in the offseason, and I think we’re clicking, man. Everyone in the team is working well together, and I knew exactly what I needed to get the time out of the reds, especially.
“We just had to maintain pace on blacks, because I felt we were pretty strong. We did that, and we’re starting on pole, man. It feels good. These guys deserve it. And we’ve got a race to win (Sunday).”
The rest of the top 12 starting positions for Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET, NBC) went to rookie Romain Grosjean, Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta, Conor Daly, Jack Harvey and rookie Scott McLaughlin.
Jimmie Johnson failed to advance in his first IndyCar qualifying session, but the seven-time Cup Series champion did score a moral victory in outqualifying Dalton Kellett and finishing 11th of 12 drivers in Group 1. Johnson’s No. 48 Dallara-Honda had been slowest in Saturday’s practice sessions.
In the second session, Felix Rosenqvist was poised to advance but had his Round 1 lap time wiped out after he caused a yellow by sliding off course in Turn 17.
James Hinchcliffe also failed to advance after causing a red flag by nerfing the barrier in Turn 5.
Other drivers who didn’t make it out of the first round and will be starting outside the top 12: Ed Jones, Rinus VeeKay, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato.