The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series championship is not out of reach for Pato O’Ward. The young Arrow McLaren SP driver made a statement at Indianapolis today, earning his third pole of the season in an incredibly tight qualifying session. O’Ward had a best lap of 1:10.7147 seconds around the IMS road course. The pole also earned him one bonus point in the championship. He is now 48 points behind leader Alex Palou, sitting in third place.
“I wanted to make sure this was the turning point,” O’Ward said. “We’ve had a very tough last three races, and we’re ready to get back to Victory Lane. This is the first step toward that, and tomorrow we have a job to finish. It’s still five races to go. A lot can happen. But this is definitely on the right track.” O’Ward narrowly edged out Will Power for the pole, as the Team Penske driver will start on the front row tomorrow.
Qualification Results for the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix
Row 2 is very interesting, with Romain Grosjean starting third after winning the pole here last fall. Next to him will be RLL Racing driver Christian Lundgaard, who is making his IndyCar debut this weekend. The Formula 2 championship driver turned a lot of heads today, in what was his first-ever experience driving an IndyCar. A pair of young stars fill Row 3 in Colton Herta and Palou. Herta is oozing with motivation after last weekend’s race in Nashville got away from him. Palou is aiming to add to his championship lead heading into the final five events.
Jack Harvey and Conor Daly will start from Row 4 tomorrow afternoon. It was a much-needed boost for both drivers to qualify so well on Friday. The key will be staying there, and not suffering any setbacks during the race. Rounding out the top ten starters is Daly’s ECR teammate and defending race winner Rinus VeeKay and Alexander Rossi, who continues his disappointing season. Snapping his winless drought at Indianapolis would be the perfect scenario for the former Indy 500 winner.
Marcus Ericsson, the most recent race winner, starts 11th tomorrow and Simon Pagenaud will start 12th. His teammate Josef Newgarden will have some work to do on Saturday. He and James Hinchcliffe had a moment during qualifying that ultimately prevented the two-time series champion from advancing. His day started off on the wrong foot as IndyCar announced that he would be penalized six grid positions after an unapproved engine change after last weekend’s race in his hometown.
Speaking of having some work to do, that is exactly what Scott Dixon is facing on race day. The six-time champion spun on his final lap during qualifying and was penalized for bringing out a local caution flag. He will start 26th tomorrow and will need some strategy and a little luck on his side.
“It’s definitely going to make for an interesting race tomorrow,” Dixon said. “Definitely a tough day. We’ll see how it plays out.” If it were anyone else, they would be written off. If anyone can pull a rabbit out of their hat, it is Dixon and the No. 9 Ganassi team. He starts behind RC Enerson and Top Gun Racing, who will be starting their first race on Saturday.
There are 28 drivers entered in tomorrow’s event, making it the largest non-Indy 500 field since the 2011 race at Kentucky. Heading into the race, Palou holds a 42-point lead over his teammate in the standings. Since 2008, the championship leader with five races to go has gone on to win the championship seven times.
The race distance is 85 laps, which is 207.32 miles around the 2.439-mile 14-turn road course. Grosjean won the pole for the GMR Grand Prix back in May, and VeeKay is the defending race winner.
Coverage for the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix begins at 12:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.