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Alex Palou embraces IndyCar hybrid engine, edges Pato O’Ward to win second straight Mid-Ohio pole

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LEXINGTON, Ohio (AP) — Alex Palou demonstrated his quick command of IndyCar’s new hybrid engine on Saturday to nudge Pato O’Ward by 0.0024 seconds for his second consecutive pole at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Palou now seeks his third victory this season on Sunday in the 200-mile race and second in a row on the sloping road course in northeast Ohio. He won from the pole two weeks ago at Laguna Seca.

Safely among the top three in the final qualifying session, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver from Spain mounted a furious charge in his Honda as the final qualifying session wound down to clock a fast lap of 1 minute, 5.3511 seconds (124.387 mph) and edge O’Ward.

O’Ward gave it one last try in his Arrow McLaren Chevy before falling just short at 124.382 mph. A day after showers stunted hopes by O’Ward, Palou and many other drivers to get substantial laps in the series’ rollout of hybrid power units, those two transitioned quickly to the boosts and overcame trouble in several turns on the repaved 2.258-mile layout to rank among the top 10 in morning practice and top six in two qualifying rounds.

That set the stage for a thrilling duel that went down to the final minute.

“It was tight all qualifying,” Palou said about his car. “Fortunately, we had a really fast car since practice one. (Qualifying session) one was good, (session two), as well. We made it through, which is the target.

“We had to try and gamble a little bit and made a few changes for the Fast Six (round) to try and get a little bit, and it worked.”

Asked about falling just short of Palou, O’Ward glanced at his counterpart beside him and joked, “It meant that he went to the bathroom just before going to qualify.”

Palou answered, “That’s enough.”

O’Ward’s reference to body weight was no small matter in cars now running 100 pounds heavier with capacitors that increase power in small boosts and generate up to 120 more horsepower with the push-to-pass option. Drivers appeared intrigued by the power potential of the new engine, but challenges loom with issues such as setup, balance, braking and handling.

Especially as rubber builds up on Mid-Ohio’s new surface under hotter conditions.

“It’s hard to say with the repave with what we felt here last year, but like that extra weight does make a difference,” O’Ward added. “If you choose to optimize the system rather than optimizing the balance of your car or trying to ignore it, you’re definitely going about it the wrong way because there’s just not enough to override that.”

Some, such as David Malukas, seemed to have no problem.

Malukas — who joined Meyer Shank Racing nearly a month ago after Arrow McLaren fired him for missing four races with hand and wrist injuries from an offseason mountain bike crash – will start third in a Honda after clocking 1:05.6509.

Andretti Global Racing teammates Colton Herta and Marcus Ericsson will start fourth and sixth, respectively, with Ganassi’s Marcus Armstrong fifth as Honda claimed five of the top six spots. But Armstrong will start six positions lower Sunday because of a penalty for an unapproved engine change after the team test on June 27 at Iowa Speedway.

Scott McLaughlin, the 2023 race winner, and Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi will start on the fourth row in Chevys.

Meanwhile, several notable drivers will try to figure out the new engine from the back half of the 27-car grid after failing to advance past the first round of qualifying.

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon, who also has six wins at Mid-Ohio, will start 14th in a Ganassi Honda. Penske’s Will Power, the 2014 IndyCar champ and 2020 race winner, will start 16th while teammate Josef Newgarden, the two-time defending Indianapolis 500 winner who is three years removed from his second Mid-Ohio triumph, qualified 18th.


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