BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It appears Pato O’Ward’s time may be here.
Mexican driver O’Ward was pegged as a rising young star of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES after finishing fourth in the series standings in 2020, and he opened the 2021 season Saturday by winning the NTT P1 Award for the pole position for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park.
O’Ward led the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1 minute, 5.8479 seconds in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. It was the second pole of his career, with the first coming last July for the second race at Road America. He will attempt to earn his first INDYCAR victory in the 90-lap race, with live coverage starting at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
“I feel like I have earned by spot in the sport to challenge for podiums and wins,” O’Ward said. “Man, we’ve been working so hard in the offseason, and we’re clicking. Everyone in the team is working well together, and I knew exactly what I needed to get the time out of the reds (Firestone alternate tires), especially. We just had to maintain pace on blacks (Firestone primary tires) because I thought we were pretty strong.
“We did that, and we’re starting on pole. It feels good. These guys deserve it. We’ve got a race to win tomorrow.”
2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Alexander Rossi will start on the front row with O’Ward after his top lap of 1:05.9177 in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda. Alex Palou started his tenure with Chip Ganassi Racing by qualifying third – the top Ganassi driver – at 1:06.0538 in the No. 10 SEGI.TV Honda.
2018 Indy 500 winner and 2014 series champion Will Power will start fourth at 1:06.1186 in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet. Reigning and six-time series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon was fifth at 1:06.3976 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda, while Marcus Ericsson was the third Ganassi driver in the Firestone Fast Six by qualifying sixth at 1:06.4102 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean was the top-qualifying rookie, seventh, on his 35th birthday. His time of 1:05.7643 in the second round of qualifying fell just short of earning a spot in the Firestone Fast Six in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda.
Other rookie qualifiers were three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin, 12th in the No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet, and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, 21st in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
O’Ward was even quicker during the second round of qualifying than during the Firestone Fast Six, as he ripped off a track-record lap of 1:05.5019 to lead his group. A repave of the 17-turn, 2.3-mile circuit since the series last competed at the picturesque circuit in 2019, along with continued development of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES car and Firestone tires, helped numerous drivers obliterate the previous record of 1:06.6001 set by Sebastien Bourdais in qualifying in 2016.
Rossi and Palou foreshadowed their strong performances in the Firestone Fast Six during practice. Palou was quickest in the first practice, while Rossi paced the second practice.
Track action starts at 11:30 a.m. (ET) Sunday with a 30-minute warm-up session (live on Peacock).