O’Ward hoping to keep momentum going after front row starting spot for Sunday’s race at Barber

LEEDS, Ala — While there’s parity up front for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network), Arrow McLaren SP is the only one with multiple cars in the Fast 6. They’ll start 2nd and 6th respectively in the 12th NTT INDYCAR Series race at the Barber Motorsports Park. which is a track that’s seen all it’s winners come from the top 9 starting spots. However, following a rough go of it in the season opener on the streets of St. Pete, AMSP has been quick in qualifying in the other three races but has no wins to show for it.

Felix Rosenqvist has now qualified 1st, 4th and 6th respectively over his last three races. Pato O’Ward has been 10th, 11th and 2nd in the same three races.

Their finishes though?

Rosenqvist was 21st and 11th in Texas and Long Beach respectively while O’Ward was 15th and 5th.

Now that they have track position, can they keep it on Sunday? O’Ward started on the pole for this very race last year but due to an early race tire puncture, he had to pit prematurely. It cost him track position and had them have to alter their strategy from a 2 stop to a 3 stopper. That was the wrong strategy to be on.

Alex Palou won on a 2 stop strategy while O’Ward could only come back to finish 4th.

Now that he gets a do over, can he make up for it?

Pato O’Ward now has 2 straight front row starting spots at Barber. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

O’Ward, was sitting idle on pit road after turning that lap early on in the 6-minute final session. He didn’t feel like he could go any faster so they parked it. 

“Yeah, I guess we were just playing the waiting game whenever I came into the pit lane,” he said. “Yeah, the car has been feeling well. We rolled off the truck really strong. We haven’t made much changes, just kind of see where the track was going.

“I’m comfortable with it. A little different with how this tire compound likes to be driven compared to last year. There’s been a bit of a shift there.

“In terms of lap times, I think they’ve been pretty close, probably half a second off last year. I can’t remember. They’re close enough to feel similar.

“Yeah, we almost got it. I made a huge mistake starting my lap. I think that one’s on me. I really think that we had everything to get it done. Just got a little too greedy coming into turn 16, huge moment. Completely missed the apex.”

O’Ward, has 5 front row starting spots in his career but has never turned those into a win. He does have a top 5 in all though including 3 podiums. While he wants a win, an opportunity to keep this much needed momentum is bigger.

The Indy 500 comes later in the month and he’s had a pair of top 6 results in that race. He qualified on the pole for the Indy road course race the last time out last August and picked up his second career win at Belle Isle in the race after Indy.

“It’s been the goal to kind of ramp up how we’ve had a bit of a rough start,” said O’Ward. “I think Long Beach was a significant step forward. I think this is a great qualifying for us as a group. I think Felix had a great qualifying, as well. We’re both happy that we’re both towards the front end of the grid.

“With the series being so competitive, it’s just really tough to make ground whenever you’re starting — it makes a big difference from third or fourth versus 10th or 11th just because everything is so tight.”

This next 4 race stretch is big for him to getting back in the championship race and it all starts Sunday in Barber.

“Yeah, this is the first decent qualifying we’ve had this year, which makes us all feel really good, motivated for tomorrow,” O’Ward said of momentum right now and feeling like he can win the race after qualifying. “I would say we’ve had it probably twice this year. Not in St. Pete, not in Long Beach. Definitely in Texas. I really think in Texas we had an easy podium finish there. If I didn’t overshoot the pit lane and hurt one of my guys. But I’m glad he’s all good and participating.

“Yeah, I mean, I think it’s probably the second time we’ve rolled off in the window without kind of having to scramble and finding things to make it go faster.”

The thing is, rain is in the forecast tomorrow. Does that alter his outlook at all?

“I think tomorrow the weather is going to be an interesting factor into playing what the strategy is going to be like. I think it also might play into shuffling things around.

“It’s a tough circuit. If it gets a little bit wet or I guess if it starts drying, but the grass gets a little bit wet, there’s going to be a lot of shuffling with everybody just trying to make passes, grabbing a bit of that grass, probably spinning. It will probably get a little bit more chaotic than if it just stays dry.

“I think we’re in a good starting position to do some good stuff tomorrow. We can work from there.”

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