Pato O'Ward patiently charged his way through the pack to secure his third IndyCar win at Barber Motorsports Parkway. The Mexican driver trailed behind Ed Carpenter Racing driver Rinus Veekay for the majority of the race until the final pit stop, where he managed to catch the Dutchman off guard and overtake for the lead.
After the race, O’Ward discussed his aggressive move on Veekay which ultimately led to his first victory of the season.
“Yeah, Taylor (Kiel, president of Arrow McLaren SP) told me we are fighting for the win. We almost got them in the pit stops, so I said no this is your chance man. It’s so tough to follow just because it’s such a fast and flowing circuit O’Ward said.
“I knew if I would have the opportunity, it would have been right then and there. I got on my button and got around him into (Turn) five and then I knew if he would get into clean air, we can kind of control the thing. Once we did that it was a cruise to victory lane.”
The Arrow McLaren SP team endured a rough start to the season with two disappointing races for both drivers O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist. O’Ward finished 12th in St.Pete’s and 15th in Texas before he gained some momentum in Long Beach with a solid P5 result. The 22- year old Mexican also admitted that there was some turmoil within the team around his contract that he had to push aside to regain his focus for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
“Man, it sucks to be at war within your own team. I’m glad there’s been very positive talks for the future and man I wanted to do it for these guys” he said.
“I wanted to do it for Arrow McLaren SP, Team Chevy. They’ve swept this year so far, so I think it’s great for them. Yeah, man I was just tired of being 10th and 11th and fifth. I said let’s get a win under our belt so we can claw our way back to this championship fight.”
Alex Palou, who managed to move up from third off the starting grid finished second and acknowledged his mistake on the restart that cost him the win.
“He was running second at that time,” Palou said of O’Ward on the restart. “I think we're running fourth and just that track difference, that's what what got us. I think I did a mistake on a restart and the 27 (Rossi) got us there. So, I think that was all the difference.
“The No. 5 (O’Ward) was really fast today. But yeah, so we're happy with the No. 10 American Legion Honda car was super-fast this weekend and another podium, so we were fighting until the end. We couldn't make it today, but we'll try to win at the next one.”
While Veekay led the most laps of the race, 57 out of 90, the Dutchman confessed that he utilized his brakes too much in the last battle with O’ward after the final pit stop of the race.
“It was going really well. The car was really super fast even saving fuel. Then that last pit stop I was a little too on the brakes turning into five and that’s where he (Pato O’Ward) got me” Veekay stated after the race. “Then I lost some time and Alex Palou got me and we dropped to third. Normally I should be the happiest guy on earth with a podium, but now…but we are headed to the Indy Road Course and that’s been good for us, and then the 500. I feel ready and excited to get there.”
The race at Barber started off in an unusual way when race control decided that they were not satisfied with the way that the cars were stacked for the official start. The race commenced on the second lap and Veekay managed to have a clean start and pull away from O’Ward and the rest of the card on the field.
Chip Ganassi Racing driver Marcus Ericsson was the first to pit on lap 11 and commit to the three-stop strategy. Shortly after, on lap 12, Josef Newgarden, Jack Harvey, and Hélio Castroneves follow the Swede’s pit strategy.
By lap 15, Veekay has a two-second lead over O’Ward. Andretti Autosport teammates Coton Herta and Romain Grojean who were on different strategies battled for track position on the following lap. Herta passed the Frenchman and managed to pull away.
Rookie Callum Ilott caused the only full course yellow of the race on lap 32. The Juncos Hollinger Racing driver spun at Turn 9 into the gravel which then triggered nearly every driver to pit.
Veekay held a lead of 2.0875 seconds over O’Ward by lap 60 and both decided to pit at the same time on lap 62. Veekay retained the lead over O’Ward out of pitlane. However, the Arrow McLaren SP driver pulled a bold move on the Dutchman and overtook him on Turn 5. For the remainder of the laps, O’Ward controlled his tires as he held off Palou for the win.