O’Ward On Point For Mid-Ohio IndyCar Race

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 3 2022

Pato O’Ward is on pole for first time in 2022.. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Pato O’Ward transferred the speed his Arrow McLaren SP team found during two practices leading into qualifying for today’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course into his fifth career NTT IndyCar Series pole.

O’Ward continued a trend Saturday that has seen nine different drivers earn the NTT P1 Award in as many 2022 events. The native Mexican’s lap of 1-minute, 06.7054-seconds/121.861 mph around the 2.258-mile/13-turn natural terrain road-course in Lexington, Ohio, tied an INDYCAR qualifying mark set in 1961. The INDYCAR record for most different pole winners to start a season is 10, set in 1952.

O’Ward will lead a field of 27 to the green flag for an 80-lap/180.64-mile event that will be televised live at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) on NBC and Peacock Premium and broadcast on the INDYCAR Radio Network.

“I think we’re in a really good spot. I’m very happy with my car,” said O’Ward, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet. “(Friday) was a bit of a rough day and we’ve made strides every single session with both car and myself, and I think qualifying shows to that. I couldn’t get the lap together in the first two sessions, but I got it done the third time. We didn’t roll off the truck the best, but we made some changes overnight and we got her in the window.”

O’Ward now hopes to maximize his starting spot alongside Scott McLaughlin, who qualified second in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:06.8382/121.619 mph. A native of New Zealand in his second season with the Penske juggernaut, McLaughlin posted his best starting spot since qualifying second in Race No. 2 of the season in March on Texas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth.

“It for sure makes your life a lot easier when you think of it in terms of where you’re starting,” said O’Ward, fourth in championship points. “Logically you don’t have to pass anybody when you start first place, right? But there’s so many variables…so many different things that are out of your control that you can’t really dictate what’s going to happen. But you can try and make the best race for you, try and kind of get the best race car into the best window as you can in terms of (Firestone Firehawk) tire deg and all that stuff.”

Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport will start third at 1:07.0262 in the No. 26 Honda. Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist celebrated a contract extension announced earlier in the week by qualifying fourth at 1:07.2163 in the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

“I think it’s great that both cars are up there,” O’Ward said of his teammate. “I mean, I expect him to be the same for the rest of the year as I expect for myself.”

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon of New Zealand placed fifth at 1:07.4047 in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda with 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud of France rounding-out the Firestone Fast Six at 1:07.4199 in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda fielded by Meyer Shank Racing.

David Malukas held serve as fastest rookie of the day and nearly qualified for his second Firestone Fast Six, posting a hot lap of 1:06.8201 in Round 2. That was good enough for eighth in the No. 18 Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing.

Malukas led a trio of rookies qualifying in the top-10. Kyle Kirkwood qualified ninth at 1:06.9506 in the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet for his career-best starting effort and Callum Ilott of Great Britain qualified 10th at 1:06.9534 in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet.

Meanwhile, it was a challenging day for three drivers atop the championship standings. Point-leader Marcus Ericsson, the native of Sweden who won the double-point Indianapolis 500 in May, was “best of the rest” in Group 1 of Round 1. Ericsson put down a lap of 1:07.1475 and will start 13th in the No. 8 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.

Perennial pole contender Will Power _ second in the standings and 27 points behind Ericsson _ faces a tougher task than Ericsson. In Group 1 of Round 1, Power was swerving side-to-side to heat up his tires before launching a run. But in doing so, Power was judged to have impeded the lap of four-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves of Brazil in the No. 06 Honda fielded by Meyer Shank Racing.

Power, who had posted the fastest lap of the group, was penalized for the incident and lost his two fastest qualifying laps from the session. Falling back on a best lap of 1:07.5559, Power will start 21st in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. It marks the third consecutive start outside the top-15 and worst-ever start at Mid-Ohio for Power, a native of Australia and the 2014 series champion.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who is 32 points behind Ericsson in third place despite a season-high three wins this season, qualified a frustrating 14th in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet after a best lap time of 1:07.3338. A two-time series champion, Newgarden struggled to find open track that would allow him to put down a quick lap without having to deal with traffic. The result was tying his worst qualifying effort of 2022. Newgarden also started 14th in the Indy 500.

O’Ward, whose lone win this season was on the Barber Motorsports Park road-course in Birmingham, Ala., is well-aware of another Mid-Ohio trend for series pole-sitters _ winning the race. On 15 occasions the INDYCAR pole-winner at Mid-Ohio has gone on to Victory Lane, including the last three _ Power, Herta and Newgarden.

“It’s huge, man,” O’Ward said. “It’s a track-position race. The best position that we’ve had here starting is like 15th, so first is definitely a lot better than that.

“Yeah, I think I’ve really learned that in INDYCAR you can never take things for granted and things can get thrown away in an instant. So I think it’s great that we’re starting on-pole, and we just need to make the best race that we can.”

McLaren Racing has signed Felix Rosenqvist to a multi-year contract extension that will keep the native of Sweden with the organization from 2023 and beyond.

McLaren Racing remains in the process of evaluating its driver lineups for 2023. The newly formed McLaren Formula E Team will embark on its debut season in the all-electric series next year while expanding Arrow McLaren SP into a three-car NTT IndyCar Series team. Rosenqvist will be driving in one of the two series.

“I’m delighted to be continuing our relationship with Felix,” Zak Brown, CEO, McLaren Racing, said in a statement. “He’s a fantastic racer, with a lot of experience in many different types of racing cars. As a proven race-winner in both categories, it was important for us to secure his talent within the McLaren Racing family as we work to finalize our plans for 2023.

“His experience in Formula E would be invaluable as we head into this exciting new era of racing for McLaren Racing, but he has also made a fantastic contribution to our INDYCAR team. I look forward to working together with him to finalize the best opportunity for him next season.”

A 30-year-old native of Värnamo, Sweden, Rosenqvist joined Arrow McLaren SP in the NTT IndyCar Series in 2021. The 2019 Rookie of the Year with Chip Ganassi Racing, Rosenqvist has posted three podium finishes and two poles in the series. He finished the 106th edition of the Indianapolis 500 fourth in May and currently is eighth in the championship standings.

As Brown noted, Rosenqvist’s career includes a stint in Formula E, having raced in the series from 2016 to 2019 with three victories, six poles and seven podiums.

“I’m delighted to be remaining with McLaren for 2023 and beyond,” Rosenqvist said. “With the team expanding into Formula E next season, it provides additional opportunities for me both in the USA and Europe and I look forward to being in a position to announce my plans in the coming weeks.

“I’ve loved my time with the Arrow McLaren SP team in INDYCAR driving the No. 7 car and we’ve had some great moments together, including securing pole earlier this year in Texas and coming home P4 in the Indy 500. I’m excited and grateful to be given this opportunity to explore the new options available to utilize my experience to help McLaren start 2023 on the strongest possible footing.”

Earlier this season, McLaren ended speculation surrounding Pato O’Ward’s interest in moving to Formula One by extending his contract as its lead INDYCAR driver. O’Ward, 23, applauded the decision to retain his current teammate in the organization.

“I’m so happy that he’s there,” O’Ward said Saturday at Mid-Ohio. “The guy is there, and hopefully we’ll be sharing a podium. I think that would be fantastic for the team. It was never a doubt of like can he do it. We all knew that he could do it. But for some reason it just wasn’t clicking.

“I think now we’ve worked really hard with the team to bring up and better our package into something that is just a little bit better in terms of operation window to be able to get those laps that you need. It’s such a tight championship where if you don’t get it right and you don’t have the car to help you with that, it just makes qualifying so much harder, which has happened to us in the past here specifically.”

Hunter McElrea’s dominant Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course continued Saturday as he qualified on-pole for today’s Indy Lights at Mid-Ohio event.

The rookie driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport car scored his second pole of the season with a best lap of 1-minute, 12.1926-seconds. The pole completed a strong weekend for McElrea, who was fastest in both practice sessions. McElrea put an exclamation point on his qualifying effort by besting his own time, which already was good enough for P1 as time expired in the 20-minute session around the 2.258-mile/13-turn natural terrain road-course.

“We were P1 almost the entire session,” McElrea said. “I started getting a little sloppy at the end. Even on my last lap, I completely blew through Turn 2, but I didn’t think that was going to be a (1:12) lap.  I can’t tell you how fun it is when you drive a car this good around Mid-Ohio. I love this place. We’re back where we belong.”

Joining McElrea on the front row will be Indy Lights point-leader Linus Lundqvist, who put down a best lap of 1:12.4218 late in the session to secure his seventh front-row start in eight races this season in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry.

“I’m very happy and super-proud of the team,” said Lundqvist, who holds an 82-point lead over Sting Ray Robb in the championship. “We knew that this place is probably one of our weakest, so good job. Thanks to my guys for giving me a car that could fight for the front row.”

Lundqvist’s teammate, Benjamin Pedersen, will start third at 1:12.4459 in the No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports car. Streets of St. Petersburg (Fla.) winner Matthew Brabham qualified fourth at 1:12.4911 in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport car while Christian Rasmussen, the series’ most recent winner, will start fifth at 1:12.5129 in the No. 28 Road to Indy/Stellrecht car for Andretti Autosport.

McElrea currently sits seventh in the championship, 117 points back of leader Lundqvist. Mid-Ohio has proven to be a favorite track for McElrea, who has five poles and two wins around the Ohio layout. McElrea is confident about finally scoring his elusive first career win Sunday in an event set for 35 laps/79.03 miles or 55 minutes. The race is scheduled for 10:35 a.m. (EDT), carried live on Peacock Premium and broadcast by the INDYCAR Radio Network.

“It’s pretty obvious what I’m going to plan on,” said McElrea, a native of Los Angeles who grew up in Australia. “We’re pretty dominant all weekend, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t keep that pace in the race.”

Qualifying for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the All-New 2023 Civic Type R NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.258-mile/13-turn Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

  1. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:06.7054 (121.861 mph)
    2. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:06.8382 (121.619)
    3. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:07.0262 (121.278)
    4. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:07.2163 (120.935)
    5. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:07.4047 (120.597)
    6. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 01:07.4199 (120.570)
    7. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:06.7965 (121.695)
    8. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 01:06.8201 (121.652)
    9. (14) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 01:06.9506 (121.415)
    10. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 01:06.9534 (121.410)
    11. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:06.9843 (121.354)
    12. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:07.0155 (121.297)
    13. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:07.1475 (121.059)
    14. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:07.3338 (120.724)
    15. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 01:07.1798 (121.001)
    16. (30) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 01:07.4207 (120.568)
    17. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:07.2573 (120.861)
    18. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:07.5909 (120.265)
    19. (51) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:07.4645 (120.490)
    20. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 01:07.6475 (120.164)
    21. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:07.5559 (120.327)
    22. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:07.6745 (120.116)
    23. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 01:08.2444 (119.113)
    24. (45) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:07.9362 (119.653)
    25. (16) Simona De Silvestro, Chevrolet, 01:08.4995 (118.669)
    26. (11) Tatiana Calderon, Chevrolet, 01:08.4370 (118.778)
    27. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 01:08.5318 (118.614)

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine). 



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 3 2022
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