After a rough start to the season, Pato O’Ward paired his best qualifying effort of the year with a win in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
O’Ward started second and trailed Rinus Veekay for the majority of the day, but a stellar pit-in lap on lap 61 put him right on the rear bumper of the polesitter, and he made the winning move exiting the pits around the outside of turn five. From there, it was smooth sailing for the young Mexican to earn his first win of the season, first career win at Barber Motorsports Park, and third of his career.
“It was so tough to follow just because it’s such a fast and flowing circuit so I knew if I would have the opportunity it would have been right then and there,” O’Ward said post-race.
“So I got on my (push to pass) button and got around him into five. I knew if we could get into clean air we could control the thing so once we did that it was a cruise to victory lane.
O’Ward’s desire for a new contract hung over the team through the first months of the season, but now with a new deal seemingly imminent, O’Ward has refocused and regained the form that had him in contention for a championship last season.
“It sucks to be at war within your own team, so I’m glad there’s been very positive talks for the future,” O’Ward said. “And man I wanted to do it for these guys, Arrow McLaren SP, Team Chevy, they’ve swept this year so far, so I think it’s great for them.
“…I was tired of being 10th, 11th and fifth so I said let’s get a win under our belts so we can claw our way back into this championship fight.”
Defending race winner Alex Palou finished second, also benefitting from a stellar in lap two laps later than Veekay and O’Ward on lap 63, jumping the Dutchman and falling in line behind O’Ward. After dominating the first two stints of the race, Veekay came home in third place.
After storms drenched the early races, sunshine broke through in time for the main event. Early on the race was a strategic chess match, with teams torn on if a two or three stop strategy would be the one to put them in contention for a win.
A few of the leaders opted for the three stop strategy, like Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean who came in on laps 11, 12, and 13 respectively.
Those on the two stop strategy didn’t come in until about lap 30, with Veekay reclaiming the comfortable lead he had before the stop. Strategy was thrown out the window only a few laps later on lap 32, as Callum Ilott spun in turn nine and found his Juncos Hollinger Racing machine beached in the gravel forcing a caution. Ilott battled with Helio Castroneves for a spot in the top ten, and carried way too much speed into the corner, ending a truly spectacular run inside the top ten for the small team in heartbreak.
While the caution worked to the benefit of those on the two stop, drivers on the three stop came in during the caution and found themselves shuffled to the back for the restart on lap 35. Veekay once again re-established his lead until the second pit stops where he was overtaken by O’Ward and Palou.
Scott Dixon also benefited tremendously after his second pit stop on lap 62, blending into third before settling to fifth as his tyres came up to temperature. He finished fifth.
Those on the two stop then had to slice their way through the field, with Grosjean being the biggest mover from nineteenth to seventh, passing Graham Rahal on the final lap in a duel that left Rahal not too happy after contact. Herta, who had the fastest car all weekend, carved his way through the field after starting sixteenth, but an agressive move late into turn five against Scott McLaughlin sent him into a spin. After quickly recovering, the young American finished tenth.
The best drive of the day however goes to Team Penske‘s Will Power. Power struggled to find pace all weekend in practice, leading to an abysmal qualifying position of nineteenth. But Power kept focused, and raced his way to a brilliant fourth place finish, keeping his streak of finishing in the top five in every race this season alive.
Now into the highly-anticipated month of May, IndyCar will return home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the GMR Grand Prix on IMS’ road course on 14 May.
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama – Official Results
|1||5||Pato O’Ward||MEX||Arrow McLaren SP||1:48:39.436|
|2||10||Alex Palou||ESP||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 0.980 sec.|
|3||21||Rinus VeeKay||NED||Ed Carpenter Racing||+ 12.481 sec.|
|4||12||Will Power||AUS||Team Penske||+ 15.261 sec.|
|5||9||Scott Dixon||NZL||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 22.829 sec.|
|6||3||Scott McLaughlin||NZL||Team Penske||+ 24.064 sec.|
|7||28||Romain Grosjean||FRA||Andretti Autosport||+ 24.516 sec.|
|8||15||Graham Rahal||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 31.917 sec.|
|9||27||Alexander Rossi||USA||Andretti Autosport||+ 33.249 sec.|
|10||26||Colton Herta||USA||Andretti Autosport||+ 33.510 sec.|
|11||60||Simon Pagenaud||FRA||Meyer Shank Racing||+ 33.741 sec.|
|12||8||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 34.473 sec.|
|13||51||Takuma Sato||JPN||Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Racing||+ 34.914 sec.|
|14||2||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||+ 35.680 sec.|
|15||30||Christian Lundgaard (R)||DEN||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 37.041 sec.|
|16||7||Felix Rosenqvist||SWE||Arrow McLaren SP||+ 41.614 sec.|
|17||29||Devlin DeFrancesco (R)||CAN||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||+ 42.451 sec.|
|18||45||Jack Harvey||GBR||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 1:02.326 sec.|
|19||20||Conor Daly||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||+ 1:03.294 sec.|
|20||18||David Malukas (R)||USA||Dale Coyne Racing w/ HMD Motorsports||+ 1:03.743 sec.|
|21||06||Helio Castroneves||BRA||Meyer Shank Racing||+ 1:04.532|
|22||14||Kyle Kirkwood (R)||USA||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||+ 1 lap|
|23||4||Dalton Kellett||CAN||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||+ 1 lap|
|24||48||Jimmie Johnson||USA||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 1 lap|
|25||77||Callum Ilott (R)||GBR||Juncos Hollinger Racing||+ 2 laps|
|26||11||Tatiana Calderon (R)||COL||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||+ 2 laps|