Pato O’Ward captures the Central Ohio field as rivals battle for title

LEXINGTON, Ohio (AP) – The IndyCar championship faces a major upset at the Mid-Ohio sports car field, where top contenders for the title battled and Pato O’Ward took the pole to match the streak set in 1961.

O’Ward became the ninth different pole winner in nine races this season – the first in 61 years – and the Arrow McLaren SP driver now has a shot at the IndyCar points lead.

The modern record for different drivers taking pole positions at the start of a season is 10 in 1952.

“This is huge man, it’s a race for position on the track,” O’Ward said of the difficulty of overtaking at the 13-turn, 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio track. “It’s a long race.” A lot can happen, but we have a great starting position.”

The championship leaders will start Sunday’s race mired in heavy traffic.

Marcus Ericsson, Will Power and Josef Newgarden failed to advance from the first group of Saturday’s qualifying, after reigning series champion Alex Palou crashed out in the second round.

“IndyCar, man,” Palau shrugged.

This created a huge opportunity for O’Ward and Scott Dixon to make a push in the championship race. O’Ward and Dixon were the only two drivers placed in the top six of the championship standings to advance to the final round of qualifying on Saturday; O’Ward is fourth in the standings, 45 points behind Ericsson, while Dixon trails his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Ericsson by 69 points.

O’Ward was followed in qualifying by Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin as the Chevrolet drivers swept the front row. Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta was third for Honda and O’Ward’s teammate Felix Rosenqvist was fourth.

Meyer Shank Racing’s Dixon and Simon Pagenaud took the third row on Hondas.

A pair of early mistakes in qualifying slowed down the two championship leaders.

Indianapolis 500 winner Ericsson said dirt was thrown back onto the track during his attempt. The current IndyCar points leader will start 13. Power was penalized for interfering with the wheels of Helio Castroneves.

Newgarden said traffic was holding him back.

“It’s just IndyCar qualifying, sometimes it’s just fine and you don’t have any problems,” Newgarden said. “It’s a tight track and we go out first and I keep catching slowpokes.

Power, who trails Ericsson by 27 points in the standings, had his two fastest laps disqualified and will start 21st. He said it was a mistake by Team Penske that likely cost him any chance of Sunday’s victory.

“Anything can happen in this series, but you won’t have as many cars to back off. Let’s put it this way,” Power said. “And on weekends when you have a car that can win, you can’t do that. It’s on us, we weren’t above it, and those are the rules.’

CALDERON’S FUTURE IN DOUBT

Tatiana Calderón has traveled from her first Goodwood Festival of Speed ​​in England back to IndyCar, where her future in the series is uncertain due to sponsorship issues.

The Colombian driver was due to do all the road and street races for AJ Foyt Racing this season, but sponsor ROKiT Group is behind on payments. Foyt still brought Calderon to Mid-Ohio because she was testing the track a year ago when she was putting together her deal.

“I know a little bit about the track and the feeling with this car,” she said. “It’s the first time I’m going to a circuit I know. I look forward to it.”

He will start the 26th, but the future of the No. 11 Chevrolet after Sunday is not guaranteed. ROKiT is also behind on payments at No. 14, driven by Kyle Kirkwood. The team moved associate sponsor Sexton Properties to the primary position on Kirkwood’s car at Mid-Ohio, and team president Larry Foyt is working to resolve the funding shortfall.

“We are trying to resolve a difficult situation because I know that ROKiT wishes to continue the program, but there are some issues that may prevent that from happening,” Larry Foyt said. “We will continue to deal with either ROKiT or try to find replacement funding, which is difficult at best at this point in the season. Item #14 will run the entire season as it is not solely dependent on ROKiT funding.”

Meanwhile, Calderon spent her time at Goodwood driving the 1957 Kuzma Offenhauser in which Jimmy Bryan won the national championship. When Bryan switched teams in 1958, AJ Foyt made his first Indy 500 start in the car.

“It was a privilege to drive … the car at Goodwood and to learn that it was the car where AJ made his Indy debut,” Calderón said. “Also to compare it a little bit to the Indy cars of today and see how much change we’ve seen in the Indy cars.”

RAHAL MILESTONE START

Fittingly, Graham Rahal will make his 250th career start at Mid-Ohio, a track near Rahal’s original home of Letterman Lanigan in Hilliard.

Rahal has made 15 previous IndyCar starts at Mid-Ohio, winning on his home turf in 2015. At 16, Rahal became the youngest winner of the SCCA National Formula Atlantic Championship with a dominating win. In 2005, he also competed in the Star Mazda race here, and in 2007 he tested a sports car at Mid-Ohio.

“It’s always great to be home in Central Ohio. We have very high hopes and expectations, as always, when we go back to Mid-Ohio,” Rahal said. “I would like to get a podium there or a win at home. The Fourth of July weekend is a big weekend for everyone.”

Starts on the 18th.

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