Story By: ZACH HORRALL / INDYCAR – LEXINGTON, OH – For the ninth different time in nine races to start the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, a different driver will lead the field to green on Sunday.
This time, it will be Pato O’Ward, who won the NTT P1 Award for pole Saturday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. His best lap of 1 minute, 6.7054 seconds in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet capped an eventful qualifying session on the picturesque permanent road course.
O’Ward’s fast lap on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course marked his fifth career NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole. What’s more, by becoming the ninth different pole winner to start the season, he matched a number from 1961, when there were also nine different pole winners to start the year. The record for most pole winners to start the season is 10, set in 1952.
O’Ward will see the green flag first for Sunday’s The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the All-New 2023 Civic Type R (12:30 p.m. ET, live on NBC, Peacock Premium and INDYCAR Radio Network).
“It was a good session for us,” O’Ward said. “I couldn’t get the lap together in the first two sections, but I got it done the third time. The car’s been great. We didn’t roll off the truck the best, but we made some changes overnight, and we got her in the window.”
Lining up alongside O’Ward will be Scott McLaughlin, who qualified second in the No. 3 Odyssey Battery Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:06.8382 for his best starting spot of the season since starting second in the second race of the year at Texas Motor Speedway.
Colton Herta will start third at 1:07.0262 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda, with Felix Rosenqvist fourth at 1:07.2163 in the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, Scott Dixon fifth at 1:07.4047 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and Simon Pagenaud rounding out the Firestone Fast Six at 1:07.4199 in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda.
David Malukas held serve as the fastest rookie of the day and nearly qualified for his second Firestone Fast Six, posting a best lap of 1:06.8201 in Round 2, good enough for eighth in the No. 18 HMD Honda.
Malukas led a trio of rookies qualifying in the top 10. Kyle Kirkwood qualified ninth at 1:06.9506 in the No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet for his career-best qualifying effort, and Callum Ilott qualified 10th at 1:06.9534 in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet.
It was a challenging day for the three drivers leading the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship.
Points leader Marcus Ericsson, who won the double-point Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, was the best of the rest in Group 1 of Round 1 of qualifying. Ericsson put down a best lap of 1:07.1475 and will start 13th Sunday in the No. 8 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda.
Will Power is second in the standings, 27 points back of Ericsson, and he’ll be worse off on the starting grid. In Group 1 of Round 1 of qualifying, Power was swerving side-to-side to warm up his tires before a quick run. In doing so, he impeded the lap of Helio Castroneves in the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda. Power, who had 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 his third consecutive start outside the top 15 and his worst-ever start at Mid-Ohio.
Meanwhile, Josef Newgarden, who is 32 points behind Ericsson in third place and has a season-high three wins this season, qualified a frustrating 14th in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet with a best lap time of 1:07.3338.
Two-time series champion Newgarden struggled to find open track that would allow him to put down a quick lap without the impediment of slower cars, and he tied his worst qualifying effort of 2022. He also started 14th in the Indy 500.
O’Ward hopes to capitalize on a familiar trend for Mid-Ohio INDYCAR SERIES pole sitters: winning the race. Fifteen times, the INDYCAR SERIES pole sitter at Mid-Ohio has gone on to win the race, including the last three Mid-Ohio pole sitters (Power, Herta and Newgarden).
O’Ward, who has one win this season at Barber Motorsports Park, feels confident he can continue that trend.
“It’s huge, man,” he 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.”
A final pre-race practice will be held Sunday at 9:45 a.m. (ET).