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Pato O’Ward Brings Life to Arrow McLaren SP with Barber Victory

Pato O’Ward scored his third career INDYCAR win at Barber Sunday (Photo: Riley Thompson | TPF).

Team Penske’s winning ways in the NTT IndyCar Series are over as Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward scored the victory in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

O’Ward held off defending race winner Alex Palou to score his third career INDYCAR win. Following the final set of pit stops, O’Ward trailed pole sitter Rinus VeeKay all afternoon but was able to make the race-winning move in Turn 5 on Lap 62.

“The Ninja” never looked back and took race strategist Taylor Kiel’s word to heart.

“Taylor told me that we’re fighting for the win. We almost caught him in the pit stops. I said, ‘No, this is a chance!’ It was so tough to follow just because it’s a fast and flowing circuit,” said O’Ward, who led 27 of 90 laps.

“I knew if I would have the opportunity, would’ve been right then and there. I got on my (push-to-pass) button and got around him into (turn) 5. I knew if I could get into clean air, we can kind of control the thing. Once we did that, it was a cruise to victory lane.”

Kiel told O’Ward in victory circle the winning move on VeeKay was everything.

“It was huge for us to be able to clear Rinus, ultimately take the lead. Also it was huge to us to defend against Alex on the overcut as well,” Kiel explained.

“The boys did a great job in pit lane to do their job, execute. Pato did what he needed to do. Ultimately it ticked both boxes. We were able to advance our position and defend against Alex who did a great job certainly closing the gap to us.”

Although not a win, Palou had something to smile about as he’ll head into the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis with the championship lead. He noted that tires were a factor in losing out to O’Ward after making his final stop.

“We had a good day overall. Super happy with a P2,” said Palou. “Pato was running second at that time and I think we were fourth. Track difference is what caught us. I made a mistake on the restart and (Alexander Rossi) got us there. That was all the difference.

“Pato was really fast today, but super happy with the car. It was super fast all weekend and it’s another podium. We’ll try on the next one.”

VeeKay’s quest for a second INDYCAR win wasn’t meant to be, but it’s his first podium since Belle Isle Race No. 1 last June. This took place before his cycling accident altered his 2021 campaign.

“The weekend has been pretty good. We started out the first two-thirds of the race very strong, leading, saving a lot of fuel. Very happy with that,” said VeeKay, who led a race-high 57 laps.

“Unfortunately, I got held up a little bit before getting into my second pit stop, so Pato was on me, really on me. I did beat him out of pit lane. Coming into turn five, I just took it a little bit too conservative, and he got around me. Yeah, he drove away basically.

“Lacked a little bit of pace on the last set of tires. Pato and Alex were a little bit too fast for me to hang with. Yeah, I think third place is pretty good still.”

Game of Strategy

After the initial start was waved off, VeeKay led the 26-car field to the green flag on Lap 2. The waved-off start initially boosted confidence in some race strategies with the debate of either going three or two stops becoming a dominant headline.

Already on the move was Callum Ilott, who moved up from 11th to eighth early on. Whereas Josef Newgarden, who started the race on the primary Firestone tires, dropped from seventh to 10th. But it was the big picture for Newgarden.

The debate of which strategy will bode well began on Lap 11 when Marcus Ericsson was the first to pit. From there, Newgarden, Colton Herta, Jack Harvey and Helio Castroneves went for the three-stop strategy with the goal of leapfrogging those who were opting for a two-stopper.

Following the switch from blacks to reds, Newgarden was on the prowl, passing Romain Grosjean for 19th in Turn 5 on Lap 15. The same corner where his day ended on Lap 1 last year.

Grosjean would then have to fight for his life, giving little real estate on a hard-charging Herta at start/finish. Seconds later, Herta went wide and lost 20th, but ultimately regained the spot back and went on with his day.

Those going for two stops wouldn’t make their pit services until Lap 29 when Felix Rosenqvist and Devlin DeFrancesco pitted. A lap later, top-five runners Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi were among those pitting. Rossi had a lengthy stop with three-strategists Grosjean and Harvey getting by him.

VeeKay, who had led every single lap to that point, went onto pit road on Lap 30. As did Scott McLaughlin and Alex Palou with the former beating the latter. This gave the lead to Newgarden with Herta right behind him. The latter had an episode with the lapped car of Jimmie Johnson in Turn 12 when both made contact.

Ilott’s Demise Alters Race Strategies

One man that faced heartbreak was Callum Ilott, who’s No. 77 Racing for Children’s Chevrolet snapped and hopped the Turn 7 curbs before losing control on Lap 32.

Ilott’s car was beached in Turn 9, bringing out the full course caution. Before his exit, Ilott was battling Castroneves for 13th and had him cleared until everything went awry. A gut-wrenching 25th-place ended an otherwise superb weekend for Juncos Hollinger Racing.

Add insult to injury, Ilott’s caution dashed any possible edge for those going on a three-stop strategy. Herta and Newgarden restarted 17th and 18th respectively when the race resumed on Lap 36 as VeeKay was now back in first.

“Hertamania” ran wild on the restart as he pick-pocketed spots left and right and in a span of two laps, he was already up to 13th. Another man that quietly improved as the race went on was Will Power, who started in 19th. As the race was almost halfway, he was up to seventh.

Further back, Castroneves was penalized by INDYCAR Race Control for avoidable contact after running into the back of Johnson in Turn 7. Consequently, he had to drop behind Johnson.

After 50 laps, Herta had worked his way up to ninth while Newgarden was unable to match his pace. Mired back in 14th where he stayed, his shot of winning a million dollars in the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge would have to wait until the Indianapolis Road Course.

Race to the Finish

During the final set of stops, Rossi, Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud were the first to pit on Lap 61. A lap later, leader VeeKay and second-place O’Ward had their pit service with the latter being not far behind. In the end, VeeKay still bested O’Ward out of the pits.

But O’Ward wouldn’t be denied and got a run on VeeKay off Turn 5 that would ultimately put him in first for the first time. The pendulum swung big time, but not just for the top spot.

Meanwhile, a battle of the two Kiwis unfolded as Scott Dixon and Scott McLaughlin fought hard for fifth. McLaughlin went a bit wide in the treacherous Turn 7 chicane, giving Dixon the edge.

Another man with an edge was Palou, who pitted at the end of Lap 64 and was ahead of VeeKay, giving the reigning champion a shot at another Barber win.

Once Ericsson pitted, the cycle of stops saw O’Ward, Palou and VeeKay as your podium runners. Dixon and McLaughlin rounded out the top-five. It was now the battle to the finish and tire management.

With 23 laps to go, Power dive bombed McLaughlin for fifth as his much better start to the year continued. Power ended up fourth, equaling his “worst” finish of the season as his streak of top-fives lives on.

Despite the progress, the big show was going from Penske to Ganassi as Palou was gradually gaining ground on O’Ward. Three laps later, the chicane bit another one as Palou lost tremendous ground on O’Ward and wasn’t able to catch him.

Further back saw another battle for valuable position as Herta struggled to get by McLaughlin for sixth as the former was on red tires compared to the latter’s black primaries.

Much like many situations when Herta is under pressure, problems followed as he lost it in Turn 5. Got it back going unharmed, but fell back to 10th.

The pressure would transition to Grosjean, who ran into the side of seventh-place Graham Rahal. Not once, but twice in Turn 5. Without hesitance, Rahal was irate with Grosjean.

“This guy’s a punk! He’s hit me on purpose,” Rahal exclaimed over the radio.

Rahal wasn’t able to fend off Grosjean on the last lap and finished eighth. Not by merit, but as a result of Rahal running low on fuel. He exited his No. 15 Code 3 Associates Honda frustrated while chatting with Rossi.

All Smiles for the No. 5 Camp

While the madness was unfolding behind him, O’Ward went on to bring Arrow McLaren SP another victory. Before the race, there has been drama between the driver and team regarding O’Ward’s contract status with a fair chance he may not be back in 2023.

Two poor runs at St. Petersburg and Texas certainly didn’t help, but negotiations have improved over time after an encouraging fifth at Long Beach. Focusing on what’s ahead instead of the drama certainly helped and with a season win under his belt, all-around morale has increased.

“It sucks to be at war within your own team. I’m glad there’s been very positive talks for the future. Man, I wanted to do it for Arrow McLaren SP and Team Chevy. They’ve swept this year so far, so I think it’s great for them. I was tired being 10th, 11th and fifth. So, I was like, ‘Let’s get a win under our belts so we claw our way back into this championship fight.”

The 2022 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama podium finishers (Photo: Riley Thompson | TPF).

Kiel said the victory is huge for the team, noting the organization has shown strong potential all year.

“We had a rough start to the season. It’s nice to get back on track, perform how we know how to,” said Kiel. “Ultimately bring a win back home for everybody that works at Arrow McLaren SP and our extended family at McLaren. I think it’s a big boost for us heading into the month of May.”

After four races, four drivers are separated by 10 points as the field hits the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a month’s worth of action.

First up, the GMR Grand Prix at the IMS Road Course Saturday, May 14 (3:00 p.m. ET on NBC/Peacock). Then finally, “The Month of May” at the prestigious 2.5-mile oval takes center stage with the 106th Indianapolis 500 airing live Sunday, May 29 at 11:00 a.m. ET on NBC/Peacock.

2022 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Results

  1. 5 – Pato O’Ward
  2. 10 – Alex Palou
  3. 21 – Rinus VeeKay
  4. 12 – Will Power
  5. 9 – Scott Dixon
  6. 3 – Scott McLaughlin
  7. 28 – Romain Grosjean
  8. 15 – Graham Rahal
  9. 27 – Alexander Rossi
  10. 26 – Colton Herta
  11. 60 – Simon Pagenaud
  12. 8 – Marcus Ericsson
  13. 51 – Takuma Sato
  14. 2 – Josef Newgarden
  15. 30 – Christian Lundgaard (R)
  16. 7 – Felix Rosenqvist
  17. 29 – Devlin DeFrancesco (R)
  18. 45 – Jack Harvey
  19. 20 – Conor Daly
  20. 18 – David Malukas (R)
  21. 06 – Helio Castroneves
  22. 14 – Kyle Kirkwood (R) (-1 lap)
  23. 4 – Dalton Kellett (-1 lap)
  24. 48 – Jimmie Johnson (-1 lap)
  25. 77 – Callum Ilott (R) (-2 laps)
  26. 11 – Tatiana Calderon (R) (-2 laps)

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content. With two National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to The Aces. Not only that, expect my social media filled with references nobody will understand, especially Licorice Pizza.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. jlccdn@yahoo.com'

    Jim Cooke

    May 1, 2022 at 5:25 pm

    Very good article Luis, keep them coming..!

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