By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – With the clock down to mere seconds and a pole position at Indianapolis on the line, Pato O’Ward’s black and orange Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet streaked across the line, sending the No. 5 to the top of the board and securing him the pole for the third time this season.
After a short dispute by outside pole sitter Will Power’s team, O’Ward’s lap of 1 minute, 10.714 seconds became official and the celebrations for driver and team could begin in earnest.
“It’s good, man,” O’Ward said. “Like I’ve been telling everybody, we’ve had a very tough last few races. I’m tired of being in the middle of the pack. We had a great test in Portland. What we found there I knew was going to help us here. So, the goal is definitely to truly return where we belong, which is contend for podiums, for poles, ultimately for wins.
“I think we have the car to do something great tomorrow. We just need to execute. The next session is warmup. Do that, get as much information as we can to help us for the race. Then when the race comes, we try and maximize what we got there.”
Though the dispute over O’Ward’s lap was denied, Power explained why exactly he and his team thought the dispute was warranted in the first place.
“He started warming his tires and slowing up. Then I had to back up. Aborted the lap,” he noted.
“I didn’t get close enough to him. I could have driven right up to the back of him and he would have got a penalty. I had to get a gap for the next lap because I only had fuel for the next lap.
“That’s all that was. Let’s say it wasn’t a blatant block, but he starting waving and backing up. You know you only have one more lap to do it. If you finish on his gearbox, you’re not going to be quick because you lose all your air.
“It is what it is. It’s fine. Top four or five cars were on the same tenth. Anyone’s go, I had a good second lap.”
In a near repeat of his pole winning run in the Indianapolis Grand Prix in May, Romain Grosjean clocked in second, followed by the standout rookie, Christian Lundgaard, who came into the day never before making a lap in an IndyCar in competition, only to finish practice in seventh place and qualify fourth.
“Let’s just say I didn’t expect to be here now when I left home,” Lundgaard said. “I know my family is asleep right now. I guess they will have a heart attack when they wake up in the morning.
“I’m just super happy to be here. I’m enjoying every second of it. It’s so different to Europe. Just seeing fans is amazing. We’ve had one or two races this year in Formula 2 where we’ve had fans. It’s only half capacity. So, to come here and see so many people near us is just awesome.”
Lundgaard’s run also caught O’Ward’s attention, with the polesitter noting how well he had performed his first day out.
“I think it’s awesome. I think it was really cool to see him up there,” O’Ward said. “I know he has a good, strong car under him. He’s a good driver. I don’t think anybody doesn’t agree with me. He’s strong. He has a lot of experience in Europe with Formula 2 and Formula 3 and other categories.
“I think he likes this INDYCAR. I didn’t really get much out of him. He’s very quiet. From experience from driving an F2 car, I guarantee you he likes this INDYCAR.
“This IMS road course is probably the closest track that we have to a Formula 1 spec racetrack with just being very flat, lots of runoff, just the type of course fits to what he’s used to.
“I think he’s probably not as in a place like going to a Detroit and going out like, Man, something is broken with this car with all the bumps. I think it’s great. I think it’s great we’re having new faces up into the series.”
Colton Herta will look to rebound from his misfortune in Nashville from a fifth-place starting position, with points leader Alex Palou, Jack Harvey, Conor Daly, Rinus VeeKay, and Alexander Rossi rounding out the top-10 starters.
Josef Newgarden, who was already facing a six-position grid penalty heading into Indianapolis after an unapproved engine change following last week’s race at Nashville, will have his work cut out for him on Saturday as he failed to make it into the Firestone Fast 12 and will roll off 20th.
Despite a 22nd place start on Saturday, Jimmie Johnson showed vast improvement in his second trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, climbing into the top-six during the second round of qualifying before being bumped out in the waning moments of the session.
The lone incident of qualifying came during the second round, when six-time series champion Scott Dixon looped his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in the last turn and rolled backwards across the finish line. As a result of causing a caution, Dixon lost his fastest lap and will be relegated to a 26th place start on Saturday.
An 8:45 am Warm-Up awaits the drivers and teams on Saturday morning ahead of the 85-lap Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix at 12:45 pm on NBC.