Motorsport: Scott Dixon to start fifth, Scott McLaughlin 12th for opening IndyCar Series round in Alabama

Defending series champion Scott Dixon will start fifth and rookie Scott McLaughlin 12th for the opening round of the IndyCar championship in Alabama.

Both Kiwis made it through to the second part of qualifying, a stellar effort, particularly for McLaughlin, in his first full-time round of the series.

It could have been even better for the reigning three-time Supercars champ, but a small mistake on his final lap of the second qualifying run relegated him to 12th, when a spot in the 'Fast Six' looked likely.

Dixon was quick throughout all three sessions at Barber Motorsport Park and will be delighted with his spot on row 3, after his qualifying issues in 2020.

For McLaughlin, 12th represents a solid starting position for Sunday's [NZ time] race, with half the pack behind him.

Mexican Patricio O'Ward will start from pole, with Alexander Rossi second while Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean was the top-qualifying rookie, seventh, on his 35th birthday.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was 21st in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

"I feel like I have earned by spot in the sport to challenge for podiums and wins,” O’Ward said. “Man, we’ve been working so hard in the offseason, and we’re clicking.

"Everyone in the team is working well together, and I knew exactly what I needed to get the time out of the reds, especially.

We just had to maintain pace on blacks because I thought we were pretty strong.

“We did that, and we’re starting on pole. It feels good. These guys deserve it. We’ve got a race to win tomorrow.”