May 12, 2021

McLaren’s O’Ward starts IndyCar season on pole as Grosjean stars

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In the round-up: Qualifying for the first IndyCar race of 2021 was almost curtailed by power blackouts at Barber Motorsports Park, but it went ahead in thrilling style.

In brief

O’Ward claims second pole, Grosjean starts seventh on debut

The 2021 IndyCar season got underway at Barber Motorsports Park on Saturday with the day split by a major power outage between the two practice sessions and qualifying.

Qualifying in IndyCar is split into two groups of drivers at first, and Ganassi’s Alex Palou set a new track record in group one while team mate and seven-times NASCAR Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson avoided starting last for his IndyCar debut by outpacing Dalton Kellett.

The second group was interrupted by a crash for Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe, who skated through the gravel and caused the session to be red flagged when he got stuck in the barriers, and only a few minutes remained when the session restarted. The lap times tumbled once the drivers were back on track, and McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward went fastest despite almost flying off track at the end of his fastest lap. In second place was Coyne/Rick Ware debutant Romain Grosjean who was celebrating his 35th birthday and racing comeback.

A spin for O’Ward’s team mate Felix Rosenqvist at the end meant his best lap was removed, and promoted Andretti’s Colton Herta into sixth place and enabled him to progress to the next stage of qualifying.

Grosjean impressed in his first IndyCar qualifying session

The 12 drivers in that segment were closely matched in the next qualifying session, bar Penske rookie Scott McLaughlin who was using a different tyre compound, and Herta topped O’Ward on the first runs.

Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson and fellow ex-F1 driver Grosjean both briefly went fastest in the final two minutes, with Grosjean then returning to the top with one minute to go. His decision to pit after that meant he couldn’t respond to the drivers improving around him, and he was shuffled out of the progression spots to the Fast Six session as O’Ward went fastest again.

O’Ward carried that confidence into the pole-deciding Fast Six, setting a 1’05.848 that couldn’t be matched and meaning he starts the opening race of the season from the first place grid spot. Practice pacesetter Alexander Rossi got within two tenths for Andretti, while Palou and Penske’s Will Power will fill the second row of the grid.

Scott Dixon and Ericsson fill an all-Ganassi third row, with Grosjean lining up in seventh for his first IndyCar race later today.

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