PORTLAND, Oregon — Fourth and 12th place finishes at Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland wasn’t enough for Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou, respectively.
Both racers lost enough points to second place-finisher and IndyCar Series points leader Will Power to mathematically eliminate themselves from IndyCar title contention. Palou is sixth in points, 66 behind Power. O’Ward is one more point behind Palou in the standings.
A driver can earn a maximum of 54 points in an IndyCar weekend by qualifying on pole position (one bonus point), leading the most laps (one point for leading one lap, two points for leading the most laps) and winning the race (50 points). Scott McLaughlin did exactly that on Sunday, leading 104 of 110 laps to win at Portland International Raceway.
O’Ward ran third on the Lap 88 restart and tried getting second place from Power going to Turn 1. The No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet didn’t yield to O’Ward and the pair had contact. That contact damaged O’Ward’s left sidepod just in front of the rear wheel.
O’Ward stayed in third place, but on the way to Turn 4 he moved to defend his position from Scott Dixon. Dixon had overtaken both Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi to move from sixth to fourth place and was looking for another place.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) September 4, 2022
IndyCar race control determined that O’Ward moved in reaction to Dixon’s advances and called for a blocking penalty for the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. The 2018 Indy Lights champion ceded third place to Dixon as instructed a few laps later.
O’Ward made his feelings known about the call post-race.
“We had to let Dixon by because apparently we blocked him,” O’Ward said on pit road after the race. “I expect IndyCar to make the same call whenever someone does that to me.”
Dixon told his side of the move in the post-race press conference when a Spanish-speaking reporter asked if Dixon felt like O’Ward blocked him.
“It was pretty obvious. Are you his mate or something?”
A light chuckle emanated from the press conference tent following Dixon’s remark.
As for Palou, the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda started fourth but lost that spot to O’Ward at the start of the race. After losing fifth place to Josef Newgarden and sixth to Graham Rahal on successive laps, Palou pitted early for his second pit stop for a used set of the black sidewall primary compound tires.
“I was feeling comfortable behind Pato and then we pitted,” Palou told TobyChristie.com. “Since we went on reds, I couldn’t have the pace that we had on used reds. Yeah, started losing a lot.
“It felt like we had something that was not right. I don’t know why that was or if it was something on the car or something else, so yeah. Need to check, but not an easy day. Probably one of the worst days we’ve had this year.”
The defending IndyCar Series champion was ninth after the second pit stop sequence and lost two more places to Colton Herta and Rinus VeeKay on Lap 56. After the final pit stop sequence, Palou eventually settled into 11th place until teammate Marcus Ericsson went by the Spaniard on Lap 100.
The defending Portland race winner held on to 12th place until the end of the race.
In 2021, Palou won three races en route to winning the championship. This year, Palou has no wins and is in the middle of a large, well-documented contractual struggle. Instead of fighting for a title, the 25-year-old is looking to just win a race after a mysterious loss of pace in Portland.
“It hurts a lot. After the day we had [Saturday] that we were able to just maximize the opportunities, I thought that today we were able to do the same,” Palou said. “Maybe not win, but try and do the best we had, and we didn’t. So yeah, hurts a lot. I’m not so worried about the championship right now. It’s more like, what happened to us and if we’ll be able to find it for next weekend.”
Palou said that the team would go aggressive with their strategy and everything else for the Laguna Seca weekend. However, figuring out what happened in Portland is the first priority. It’s not exactly liberating not having to think about the championship since it’s now out of reach.
“I wish I had the issues of thinking about points and all that stuff,” Palou said. “So yeah, it’s not good for us that we’re out of the championship.”