Arrow McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward delivered an all-out attacking lap to take pole position for the IndyCar season-opener at Barber, while Romain Grosjean was a spectacular seventh.
— Pato O'Ward (@PatricioOWard) April 18, 2021
O’Ward was entertaining throughout qualifying, often seen sideways and screeching tyres as he held off heavy pressure to top the fast six in qualifying ahead of Andretti’s Alexander Rossi and weekend stand-out Alex Palou.
Ganassi’s new signing Palou topped the first practice and constantly appeared among the fastest cars on track throughout the day.
After being inwardly critical of its qualifying form on road courses in 2020, Ganassi got three of its four cars into the fast six in an epic turnaround, with reigning champion Scott Dixon fifth and ex-Formula 1 driver Marcus Ericsson in sixth, the Swede recording his best road course qualifying in Indyar so far.
Splitting those two Ganassi drivers was the top Penske car of Will Power – the only one in his team to make the fast six – although his pace was also significant for another reason.
Grosjean delivered a stunning performance to take seventh on his race weekend IndyCar debut.
Debuting the helmet designed by his children that had been intended for his F1 farewell in Abu Dhabi last year, Grosjean was undoubtedly the story of the session as he qualified seventh, only bumped out of the fast six by the last possible car in the round of 12 – Power.
It was a strong but quiet pair of practice sessions for the ex-Haas F1 driver, whose first ever taste of the soft tyre used in qualifying only came in the afternoon practice session as those tyres are not made available for testing.
He gave hints at what he had in his pocket by making the group of 12 in qualifying and then repeatedly hit the front in the battle to make the fast six.
Grosjean was perhaps a victim of lapping a bit too early in the session as others improved late, but he beat the most successful driver ever at Barber, and two-time IndyCar champion, Josef Newgarden.
Potential title contender Colton Herta was ninth and also beaten by Grosjean.
One of Grosjean’s big-name fellow rookies Scott McLaughlin used the strategy of consuming two sets of soft tyres to ensure he made the group of 12, but this meant he had no fresh sets for that stage and he’ll start 12th in another impressive newcomer display.
The final member of the IndyCar debutant trio, Jimmie Johnson, had some reason to celebrate although the size of the task he has to adapt to the series was underlined.
He was adrift in the first qualifying group but he gave a strong account of himself, beating Road to Indy veteran and now second-year IndyCar driver Dalton Kellett to avoid being last. Johnson will start 21st.
Two series champions also went out in the first group as Simon Pagenaud’s 2020 qualifying struggles appeared to return and Ryan Hunter-Reay also missed out. The Andretti man had drivetrain issues and will start 17th, two places behind Pagenaud.
Sebastien Bourdais (16th) and Kellett (23rd) made a disappointing start to what many hoped would be the resurgence of the AJ Foyt Enterprises team after it brought in Bourdais and has been improving its engineering programme.
While his team-mate O’Ward took pole, Felix Rosenqvist crashed for the second time in the day.
He had been set to make the top 12 from the second group, but lost the rear at the final turn late in the session and caused a red flag, which meant he lost his lap and promoted Herta – who wouldn’t have made the top 12 otherwise – instead.
It’s not the start with his new team Rosenqvist will have been looking for after he crashed on pitlane in the first practice of the day. He’ll start 22nd.
James Hinchcliffe had the same fate in the first qualifying group and also left himself at the back with his crash and consequent red flag.
|1||Patricio O'Ward||Arrow McLaren SP||Chevrolet||1m06.069s||1m05.501s||1m05.847s|
|2||Alexander Rossi||Andretti Autosport||Honda||1m06.234s||1m05.695s||1m05.917s|
|3||Alex Palou||Chip Ganassi Racing||Honda||1m05.903s||1m05.632s||1m06.053s|
|4||Will Power||Team Penske||Chevrolet||1m05.919s||1m05.522s||1m06.118s|
|5||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||Honda||1m06.377s||1m05.686s||1m06.397s|
|6||Marcus Ericsson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Honda||1m06.499s||1m05.661s||1m06.41s|
|7||Romain Grosjean||Dale Coyne Racing with RWR||Honda||1m06.07s||1m05.764s|
|8||Josef Newgarden||Team Penske||Chevrolet||1m06.388s||1m05.79s|
|9||Colton Herta||Andretti Autosport||Honda||1m06.428s||1m05.795s|
|10||Conor Daly||Ed Carpenter Racing||Chevrolet||1m06.103s||1m05.911s|
|11||Jack Harvey||Meyer Shank Racing||Honda||1m06.523s||1m05.963s|
|12||Scott McLaughlin||Team Penske||Chevrolet||1m06.455s||1m06.722s|
|13||Ed Jones||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan||Honda||1m06.557s|
|14||Rinus VeeKay||Ed Carpenter Racing||Chevrolet||1m06.477s|
|15||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||Chevrolet||1m06.648s|
|16||Sébastien Bourdais||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Chevrolet||1m06.503s|
|17||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||Honda||1m06.851s|
|18||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Honda||1m06.848s|
|19||Takuma Sato||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Honda||1m07.102s|
|21||Jimmie Johnson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Honda||1m07.709s|
|22||Felix Rosenqvist||Arrow McLaren SP||Chevrolet||1m07.025s|
|23||Dalton Kellett||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Chevrolet||1m07.81s|
|24||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport||Honda|