Young drivers continue to flourish in the NTT IndyCar Series as Pato O’Ward was representative of that in the Indianapolis 500 with a runner-up result.
The No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet team were in contention from start to finish. O’Ward led 26 laps, which marked a career-best in three Indy 500 starts.
The final pit-stops changed the complexion of how the last 28 laps were going to unfold when Scott Dixon, who led a race-high 95 laps, was busted for speeding on pit-road. That mistake opened the door for Marcus Ericsson to be the new competition for O’Ward.
Ericsson assumed the lead with 10 laps to go and had a gap of over three seconds to the young Mexican, who just couldn’t close.
“Too fast in the straight,” O’Ward said. “Maybe if I would have timed it a little bit better. I really don’t think I could have done it much better. I did enough to what we had been doing all race. But, yeah, at the end I was surprised with how much more pace they had in a straight line with quite a bit more downforce.
“I was just trying to time it as good as possible. Obviously the weaving helped him. Staying on the inside helped him. I got alongside him, but we all know how that ends up in the last lap. No way he would have backed off.”
It wasn’t until the final caution with six laps to go where the field were bunched back up and O’Ward was given another shot at victory. However, race control made the decision to red flag the race because the laps spent under caution speed would exceed the amount that remained.
A potentially controversial decision throughout the industry, but when it comes to drivers it simply depends on if it helps their performance.
“I think that’s okay,” he said. “Obviously I wanted it because there was no way I was going to get caught. Tony was probably going to catch me before I would catch Marcus and get by me pretty easily, just like he did. I was happy with it.”
One thing that wouldn’t let down throughout the month of May was the strength of Chip Ganassi Racing and their Honda engines. O’Ward looked to find the gap between the Hondas, and AMSP made the necessary changes to have its cars in contention for the win.
“Yeah, especially this last stint, the car was hairy out of a few moments (with low downforce),” O’Ward added. “That was the only way for me to have a shot. That was the only way for me to have a shot because I knew they were going to pull out something from their back pocket. I knew it.
“I think we were one of three cars that was really trim. Yeah, like whenever we practiced and we put the wicker on with everybody else, I said, no, this is turtle slow. We need to trim out and we risk it. I will make sure I don’t put the car in the wall. But it was hairy. At the end it was tough. The red flag really helped me cool down the rear tire.”
O’Ward is aware of how bowtie brigade struggled when it came down to the finish of the race and made that known.
“I sure as hell will do everything in my power to find more,” he said. “We need to do a better job and just be better. It’s frustrating because I think they’ve done a great job, the team has done a great job, but not enough, not enough. So, yeah, work to do for next year.”
Still a youthful talent in the series, the three-time race winner holds a fancy record at the Brickyard. In three starts, it has been all top 10s with two consecutive top-five finishes.
“Every year not really doing much different,” O’Ward said “Just knowing a little bit more of how this race usually unfolds and how much to give in certain parts of the race.
“It’s such a long race. We positioned ourselves to really open our strategy windows. Yeah, I think you got to do the race, right, to just keep gaining experience like this guy (Tony Kanaan). He’s got I think 17 more than me or something.”