O’Ward sets Barber track record; Johnson 21st

Pato O’Ward ran three blistering laps around Barber Motorsports Park to win the pole for IndyCar’s season-opening race and make good on his promise to become a headache that series veterans must deal with all year long.

O’Ward, in his second full season of IndyCar and the centerpiece of Arrow McLaren SP’s bid to become a series heavyweight, set a new track record in Saturday qualifying. It came in the second round, and he closed out the session with a lap of 1 minute, 5.8479 seconds to win the second pole of his career.

O’Ward’s lap of 1:05.5019 earlier in qualifying broke the record of 1:06.6001 set by Sebastien Bourdais in 2016.

“I want to win races, I want to challenge for the championship the whole year, and we want to be able to talk not just about myself but the whole team,” O’Ward said. “We’re just ready. We’re ready to go. I don’t feel like such an underdog.”

The 21-year-old Mexican will lead the field to green Sunday alongside Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport. O’Ward beat Rossi by 0.0698 seconds for the pole.

Alex Palou qualified third and led three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers into the Fast Six. Will Power of Team Penske qualified fourth while Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon, the six-time and defending IndyCar champion, was fifth and Marcus Ericsson was sixth.

Romain Grosjean, the former Formula One driver racing for the first time since he suffered significant burns in a November crash in Bahrain, qualified seventh for his IndyCar debut. He will drive for Dale Coyne Racing in a partnership with Rick Ware, the NASCAR team owner who fields four noncompetitive Cup cars.

“What we’ve shown is very good. I think we can be super happy with that,” Grosjean said. “We’ve shown that the work we’ve done in testing worked well.”

Jimmie Johnson will start 21st out of 24 drivers in his IndyCar debut, drawing a tweet from the seven-time NASCAR champion: “I wasn’t last!

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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