By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
AUSTIN, Texas– Eight one hundredths of a second. That’s all that separated Patricio O’Ward from the Firestone Fast Six during Saturday’s qualifying for Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic, the NTT IndyCar Series’ debut race at Circuit Of The Americas.
The 2018 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion made it through the first group of the first round of qualifying in his No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet by posting the sixth fastest lap around the 3.41-mile natural terrain road course. What’s crazier is that O’Ward beat out veteran teammate Max Chilton in the first round of qualifying by just seven ten-thousandths of a second.
Averaging 114.917 mph around the 20-turn circuit, O’Ward would have beaten Chilton to the finish line by 1.41 inches had the two started their qualifying laps side-by-side. That difference means that Chilton will start 13th.
In the second round of qualifying, the Mexican racer set a best lap of 1 minute, 46.3807 seconds to average 115.397 mph but Scott Dixon’s lap of 1 minute, 46.3075 seconds (115.476 mph) was the sixth fastest, enabling the five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion to advance while O’Ward had to settle for eighth behind St. Petersburg race winner Josef Newgarden.
This is O’Ward’s first race of the season after missing out in St. Petersburg but had mixed emotions about his result.
“This was my objective, I wanted to get through the Fast 12,” said O’Ward. “The optimal would be to get to the Fast Six and we barely missed it so I’m happy. I’m happy. I’d be happier if I were in the Fast Six but I’m happy.
“We have the pace, I’m just a little bit behind on track knowledge because it requires a lot of technique around here, especially in the slow stuff because of the long straightaways. We’re going to be starting eighth tomorrow and I think that’s a very good starting position for this race and for the first one being with the Carlin boys.”
Carlin Team Manager Colin Hale was impressed with his rookie’s performance, especially since this is Carlin’s second full season i Indy car competition.
“We’re really happy, it’s great to get him in the team and to start looking from a different direction,” said Hale. “He’s helping us push along and obviously the experience of Max and Charlie (Kimball) is a massive help and the three of them, we’ve got a really good, strong group of help to push the team forward.
“I really didn’t have any expectations, those days are long gone in racing as far as just hope for the best and see what we get. If I had expectations [he’s] surpassed them. I think from where we were last year and where we started this year it’s a massive step so we’ve got to keep pushing and see what we can do tomorrow.”
O’Ward’s race engineer Matt Greasley was proud of his driver’s performance, especially since O’Ward didn’t test with the team in the spring.
“When we look back at the test here, everyone else had two days and lots of running, good sessions for them and Pato’s here just now catching up,” said Greasley. “The development through the weekend has been good, it’s what we want to see. Every session he’s been better and better so we couldn’t ask for any more, really. We’re in the fight, which is the main thing.”
The INDYCAR Classic will be on NBCSN starting at noon CT with a race start around 12:40 pm. The race will be 60 laps.