INDIANAPOLIS (INM) – Pato O’Ward is looking to add fuel to his NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship challenge after winning the NTT P1 Award for the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix on Friday on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
O’Ward earned his series-leading third pole of the season in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet with a best lap of 1 minute, 10.7147 seconds. He is third in the series standings, 48 points behind leader Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing, with two victories this season. But his best finish in his last three starts is eighth, on July 4 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“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’s pole capped a tight, tense Firestone Fast 12 final segment that ended with the top five drivers all in the 1:10.7 range. Will Power will join O’Ward on the front row for the 85-lap race Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network) after his top lap of 1:10.7214 in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Chevrolet.
Rookies Romain Grosjean and Christian Lundgaard will start from the second row. Grosjean was third at 1:10.7418 in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda, while FIA Formula 2 Championship driver Lundgaard qualified fourth for his first career INDYCAR start at 1:10.7433 in the No. 45 Mi-Jack Honda.
Colton Herta was the final driver in the 1:10.7 range, qualifying fifth at 1:10.7631 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
Palou will try to defend his championship lead from the sixth starting position after a best qualifying lap of 1:10.8290 in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda. He led the opening practice Friday afternoon on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course that incorporates part of the famous IMS oval.
Six-time and reigning series championship Scott Dixon faces a tough climb toward the top of the field Saturday, as he will start a season-low 26th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda after spinning on his final lap of the first segment of qualifying. Dixon spun exiting Turn 10 and lost his quickest lap of the session for causing a local yellow that affected another competitor.
“It’s definitely going to make for an interesting race tomorrow,” Dixon said. “Definitely a tough day. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Dixon is second in the series standings, 42 points behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Palou.
Among the other championship contenders, Marcus Ericsson will start 11th after a best lap of 1:11.0342 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda. Ericsson is fifth in the standings, 79 points behind Palou.
Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden will start 20th. He qualified 14th at 1:11.3623 in the No. 2 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet after failing to reach the Firestone Fast 12 final segment, but he will move back in the starting lineup after incurring a six-position grid penalty for an unapproved engine change after the race last Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee. Newgarden is fourth in the standings, 75 points behind Palou.
Track activity resumes at 8:45 a.m. Saturday with a 30-minute warmup, streamed live on Peacock Premium.