O’Ward secures record ninth pole of Indy Lights season

Pole man Patricio O’Ward. (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

He’s new to the Portland International Raceway circuit, but is not new to pole position. That was the story for Patricio O’Ward in qualifying for the first of two Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races at the track.

O’Ward is in search of the Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship to win the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder. He’ll start from the best possible place to do so on Saturday with a record ninth pole position this year.

The four Andretti Autosport and two Belardi Auto Racing cars led the field out of the pits for the 30-minute qualifying session. Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni followed about half a minute later. Heamin Choi’s second car remained on pit lane at the start of the session, as the Juncos team had to repair it following his incident in the morning practice session.

After Patricio O’Ward’s 1:03.933 lap in the morning practice, it remained to be seen whether anyone could go faster in the heat of the day for qualifying. That question didn’t take long to get answered.

O’Ward and Colton Herta were both into the 1:03.8 range to start off the session. O’Ward then improved to a 1:03.1868 lap, which was significantly quicker.

Herta got down to a 1:03.3508 lap before a red flag flew with just under 20 minutes remaining, for Dalton Kellett off course at Turn 4.

The green flag flew shortly thereafter with O’Ward, Herta and Franzoni going back on track. Kellett returned to the track next ahead of Aaron Telitz and Ryan Norman. Santi Urrutia completed the runners on track with less than 12 minutes remaining.

Kellett had another off in Turn 11 later in the session into the tires, and pulled off course at that corner. Norman had an off-and-on at the same corner, but resumed.

O’Ward made it into the 1:02 bracket at 1:02.8074, a full half second clear of Herta.

Telitz moved into second at 1:03.3171 with Herta third with one minute to go. But Herta got him back at 1:03.1808, 0.3734 off the pole.

Ultimately, the pole time eclipsed Townsend Bell’s previous qualifying record of 1:04.991, set in 2001, by more than 2.1 seconds.

O’Ward told the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network’s Rob Howden on pit lane: “I didn’t know the track coming into the weekend. I knew I just had to get it together. I didn’t expect it by four tenths! Survive Turn 1 and we’ll have a chance to win. I did really well in Turns 4, 5 and 6. The lasts sector of the track is so fast and keeps you on your toes. It’s so narrow. There’s no room for error. I didn’t think I would like this place, but man I really do like it.

This pole is O’Ward’s ninth this year, which is a new single-season record. It broke a tie he had with Bryan Herta (1993), Townsend Bell (2001) and Thiago Medeiros (2004).

Qualifying two is Saturday at 9:50 a.m. The first race, where O’Ward can clinch the title, goes green at 2:05 p.m.

Indy Lights Qualifying #1 – Unofficial Results

P No Name FTime Diff Laps
1 27 Patricio O’Ward 1:02.807 –.—- 23
2 98 Colton Herta 1:03.181 0.3734 21
3 9 Aaron Telitz 1:03.317 0.5097 21
4 23 Victor Franzoni 1:03.452 0.6449 21
5 5 Santi Urrutia 1:03.593 0.7859 19
6 48 Ryan Norman 1:03.611 0.8034 21
7 28 Dalton Kellett 1:04.687 1.8800 14
8 7 Heamin Choi No Time

VeeKay grabs Pro Mazda pole for Race 1

Rinus VeeKay. (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Rinus VeeKay’s coronation as champion of this year’s Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires series is off to a good start at Portland International Raceway.

The Dutch teenager scored the pole position for Saturday’s first race of the weekend, ahead of his two sparring partners in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda from last year.

VeeKay took his No. 2 Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18 Mazda to a best time of 1:06.3317 around the 1.964-mile, 12-turn road course. The new car is a full two-plus seconds quicker than the previous qualifying record, set by Pablo Donoso in 2005, at 1:08.466.

VeeKay moved into the top spot with just under eight minutes remaining at 1:06.3475, then improved by a little over one hundredth before the checkered flag flew to end the 20-minute session.

While VeeKay will look for his sixth consecutive victory this season, last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew is poised to return the “Soul Red” Mazda colors of Cape Motorsports to victory lane for the first time this season in Pro Mazda.

Askew will start alongside with a best time of 1:06.4202 in his No. 3 car. Askew seeks third place in the championship, and locked in a battle with Robert Megennis and David Malukas for that position.

Parker Thompson came up just 0.0008 of a second off a front row starting position, but the Exclusive Autosport driver may have the benefit of the clean line on the run down to Turn 1 from third place.

Malukas is fourth, ahead of Sting Ray Robb in fifth. Each of these three drivers are their lone representative from their respective teams (Exclusive, BN Racing and Team Pelfrey) this weekend, as all of their teammates have dropped off at some stage this season.

Megennis will look to continue his recent run of form, with four consecutive podium finishes, from sixth on the grid.

DEForce Racing’s Moises de la Vara will start seventh ahead of Cape’s Nikita Lastochkin. De la Vara was late out to the track and his car sounded off song, but he still managed to complete 10 laps.

The first race of the weekend for Pro Mazda goes green at 4:50 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Before they race, they’ll have their second qualifying session of the weekend on Saturday morning at 10:35 a.m.

Pro Mazda Qualifying #1 – Unofficial Results

P No Name FTime Diff Laps
1 2 Rinus VeeKay 1:06.332 –.—- 14
2 3 Oliver Askew 1:06.420 0.0885 15
3 90 Parker Thompson 1:06.421 0.0893 14
4 79 David Malukas 1:06.536 0.2044 15
5 82 Sting Ray Robb 1:06.735 0.4031 15
6 9 Robert Megennis 1:06.843 0.5111 15
7 12 Moises de la Vara 1:07.859 1.5276 10
8 8 Nikita Lastochkin 1:08.130 1.7986 13