The 2021 season is officially green for the NTT IndyCar Series. The action got underway today from Barber Motorsports Park, which hosts the season-opener for the first time. After two wild practice sessions, qualifying provided even more drama as there were plenty of surprising storylines. In the end, it was young phenom Pato O’Ward earning pole position and setting the stage for tomorrow’s race.
Three of the last four race winners at Barber have started from pole position. O’Ward is hoping to keep the trend going on Sunday, which would net him career victory number one in the NTT IndyCar Series. The Arrow McLaren SP driver earned his second career pole on Saturday and will lead the field to the green flag in the season-opener. “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.”
Alexander Rossi will join O’Ward on the front row. The Andretti Autosport driver led the afternoon practice session and is aiming to start his bounce-back season with a victory on Sunday. After a dismal start to the 2020 season, Rossi rebounded nicely by finishing on the podium in four of the last five races. His last race win came at Road America during the 2019 season.
Qualification Results for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
Alex Palou had an incredible debut with Chip Ganassi Racing and qualified third. He will start alongside Will Power, who led the way for Team Penske. Palou led the morning practice session and has been one of the fastest drivers since the cars hit the track this morning.
Two more Ganassi drivers will start from Row 3 on Sunday. Scott Dixon has eight podium finishes in his ten starts at Barber but has never won the race, or even qualified on the front row. Marcus Ericsson has been quick in each session and gives Chip Ganassi three solid shots to win tomorrow’s race.
Romain Grosjean was the highest-qualifying rookie on Saturday. He was second-fastest in group qualifying and then missed the Firestone Fast Six by a hair and will start 7th tomorrow. Josef Newgarden will start 8th on Sunday but had an eventful afternoon with a loose steering wheel to start the second practice session, and losing power in the final minutes of that second practice.
Colton Herta starts 9th tomorrow but did not have a great afternoon. The Andretti Autosport driver crashed in Turn 14 with 20 minutes remaining in the afternoon session. He had the fastest lap at the time of his incident but others were able to leapfrog him once they began using the red alternate Firestone tires. He initially failed to get out of the first round of qualifying but a penalty on Rosenqvist got him back into the top six transfer spots.
Conor Daly had an impressive on-track performance throughout the entire day. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver rounds out the top ten of qualifying. Row six belongs to Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey and Team Penske rookie driver Scott McLaughlin. Row 7 features Ed Jones and Rinus VeeKay.
A pair of seasoned champions will start from Row 8 tomorrow. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud struggled all day on Saturday, and Sebastien Bourdais was hoping for a better result in his AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Row 9 has another set of disappointed veterans in Honda drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal. Row 10 features a pair of former Formula One drivers in Takuma Sato and Max Chilton.
Jimmie Johnson’s IndyCar career begins from Row 11 on Sunday. The newest Chip Ganassi Racing driver will start alongside former Ganassi driver Felix Rosenqvist. Dalton Kellett and James Hinchcliffe will start from the final row after disappointing days. Hinchcliffe went off course and into the tire barrier during group qualifying.
The race distance is 90 laps, which is 214.2 miles around the 2.38-mile 17-turn road course. Sato is the defending race winner, leading 74 laps on his way to victory after starting on pole in 2019.
Coverage for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins at 3 PM ET on NBC.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar