INDIANAPOLIS — Pato O’Ward kept everyone waiting Friday — even after qualifying ended.
After another few moments, the stewards made it official — the 22-year-old Mexican in championship contention earned his third pole of the season and fourth overall.
Just seconds after Will Power thought he’d be taking the No. 1 spot after besting Romain Grosjean, O’Ward crossed the yard of bricks in 1 minute, 10.7147 seconds to pass Power for Saturday’s race. Power went 1:10.7214.
“I wanted to make sure this was a turning point,” O’Ward said. “We’ve had a very tough last three races and we need to get back to victory lane. A lot can happen, but we’re on the right track.”
It was a dramatic start to what could be a wild, wooly three-race weekend. Grosjean, the Swiss-born French driver, appeared headed toward a second straight pole on Indy’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.
Instead, Power knocked Grosjean out of the top spot then O’Ward followed suit, and the stewards denied an appeal from Team Penske.
“On the first lap, I was up and he started slowing and warming his tires and I had to back up. That’s what it was about,” Power said. “It wasn’t blatant but yeah, it’s fine. The top four or five cars are all on the same tenth, so its anyone’s race.”
The incredible finish wasn’t the only big surprise.
Twenty-year-old rookie Christian Lundgaard qualified fourth in his IndyCar debut, just ahead of American Colton Herta. The Danish driver who had been climbing the Formula One ladder series looked comfortable after Rahal Lanigan Letterman hired him earlier this week.
“I’m obviously enjoying myself and trying hard,” he said. “It’s amazing to be here and to be able to prove myself. I didn’t expect to be here.”
Those who didn’t make the 12-car shootout were equally surprising.
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon of New Zealand will start 26th in the 28-car field after spinning out and rolling backward down the track on his final qualifying lap. He needs one more win to tie Mario Andretti for second all-time with 52.
“It was a horrible drive, so tough day for us,” said Dixon who drives the No. 9 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Two-time series champ Josef Newgarden, who is fourth in points, also was eliminated in the first round. He qualified 14th but will start 20th after series officials docked him six starting spots for making an unauthorized engine change following last week’s race in Nashville.
Helio Castroneves, the Brazilian who won his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 in May, will start 23rd after going 1:11.7319. And seven-time Cup champ and 45-year-old IndyCar rookie Jimmie Johnson will start 22nd in Ganassi’s No. 48 car.
“That was a good session for me,” Johnson said. “This is a huge accomplishment for me.”
The only driver who may have been happier was O’Ward.
“I’ve never felt so good about running on the Indy road course,” he said. “We’re going to get some good points tomorrow.”