The battle for pole position at Barber Motorsports Park saw three drivers from Chip Ganassi Racing and one each from Andretti Autosport, Arrow McLaren SP, and Team Penske hurl their cars around the gorgeous 2.4-mile road course, and once the Firestone Fast Six was settled, Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward blitzed the group with his second career pole.
“GOOOOOOO,” the 2018 Indy Lights champion yelled over the radio after clinching first place with a lap of 1m05.8479s in the No. 5 Chevy. The 24-year-old Mexican was indeed a headache for the others as he led the Fast Six and the Fast 12 sessions, and will have Andretti’s Alexander Rossi alongside him on the front row in the No. 27 Honda (+0.0698s).
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“Man, we made some changes after Practice 2, and we’ve been working so hard in the off-season,” O’Ward said. “I knew exactly what I needed to get time out of the [Firestone] reds. We did that, and we’re starting on pole. We’ve got a race to win tomorrow.”
CGR’s Alex Palou led his trio in third with the No. 10 Honda (+0.2059s), Penske’s Will Power was fourth in the No. 12 Chevy (+0.2707s), and CGR’s Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Honda (+0.5497s) and Marcus Ericsson in the No. 10 Honda (+0.5623s) rounded out the sextet.
Just outside of the Fast Six, ex-Formula 1 driver and NTT IndyCar Series rookie Romain Grosjean was all smiles after qualifying seventh in the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda. Better still for the Frenchman was the fact that he displaced two-time series champion Josef Newgarden, who will start eighth.
“Had a bit of traffic, but it doesn’t really matter today,” he said. “I’m very proud of the boys getting me to P7. I was just thinking Josef Newgarden is one of the stars of the series and knows Barber very well. So, I think we can be super happy with that. I think we’ve shown the work we’ve done in testing worked well.”
AS IT HAPPENED
In the opening 10-minute session where half the field went out and six moved forward into the Firestone Fast 12, the luck of the qualifying draw did not favor Team Penske as all four of its cars were thrown into the same group. CGR’s Marcus Ericsson led the 12 drivers in the first round of fastest laps, and once the field pitted, reset, and went out for a final blast around Barber, teammate Alex Palou delivered a monster lap—first below 1m06s with a 1m05.9032s—to claim P1.
Behind Palou in the six who transferred, it was Penske’s Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin—with an epic final lap—in a row, Ericsson, and Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey. Those who failed to transfer were, in order, Ed Jones, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Jimmie Johnson, and Dalton Kellett.
I wonder if you know,How they live in Tokyo.If you seen it then you mean it,Then you know you have to go.
Felix Rosenqvist goes for a slide, and we have the Teriyaki Boyz stuck in our heads. #INDYCAR #Drift pic.twitter.com/skK8u2aU4x
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) April 17, 2021
In the second 10-minute session where the other half the field went out and six moved forward into the Firestone Fast 12, it went red less than three minutes in as James Hinchcliffe slid across the grass and gravel at Turn 5 and nosed his car into the tire barrier. The No. 29 Andretti Honda wasn’t damaged, but rather than re-fire the car, the IndyCar safety team towed the it behind the barriers and left Hinchcliffe to sit and watch the rest of the session.
Less than five minutes were left to chase a fast time and in the final tour, Pato O’Ward went for a wild ride over the crest at Turn 13 to knock Romain Grosjean off of P1 with a 1m06.0696s lap, just 0.0013s ahead of the DCRwRWR driver. Behind the two were Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi.
Moments after O’Ward crossed the line to go P1, his teammate Felix Rosenqvist took a wild ride of his own at Turn 15 which left his car stuck and stalled in the gravel trap.
Fifth at the time, Rosenqvist lost his two fastest laps, which knocked him out of the transferring group, moved Scott Dixon from sixth to fifth, and promoted Colton Herta from outside the group in seventh to inside in sixth. The six who went no further were Rinus VeeKay, Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Rosenqvist, and Hinchcliffe.
James Hinchcliffe, returning to @IndyCar Series racing full-time, locks it up in the first round of qualifying at @BarberMotorPark.@PeacockTV: https://t.co/tDyccI5pHe pic.twitter.com/5W0MaeKuF0
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) April 17, 2021
In the first round of the Firestone Fast 12 where the top six would transfer, Colton Herta set the best lap on Firestone’s primary tires at 1m06.4171s before the group pitted and installed the faster, red-banded alternate tires. As the best laps started pouring in, Romain Grosjean took P1, and in a span of one minute, was dropped to P7, missing out on making the Firestone Fast Six by just 0.0690s.
Fastest with another lap record was Pato O’Ward in P1 with a 1m5.5019s. From second to sixth were Will Power, Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson, Scott Dixon, and Alexander Rossi.
Starting with Grosjean on the other side of the transfer line in P7, it was a pair of disappointed drivers in Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta in P8 and P9, and a trio of Conor Daly, Jack Harvey, and Scott McLaughlin completing the top 12.