By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Pato O’Ward went from fighting for the win to finishing third in Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Throughout the day, O’Ward’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet had a car strong in clean air as he led a race-high 94 of 200 laps, but things started to change when he made his final pit stop on Lap 163.
O’Ward was slowly being chased down by second place Scott Dixon, so when the duo pitted, the chase was on where a slight mistake would cost one or the other a shot towards victory.
That turned out to be O’Ward as an apparent slow right front tire change was all the difference Dixon needed to beat him as his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing crew nailed their stop.
The 21-year-old would lose ground on the five-time series champion and then with 21 laps to go, last week’s Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato was on the charge for the runner-up spot.
Sato made his move on the high line in Turn 1 and made quick business of passing O’Ward by just mere inches as they narrowly touched wheels in Turn 1.
“It was too close maybe,” said Sato. “This was towards the podium and obviously he did a phenomenal job and had great fun.”
“I honestly thought we touched,” O’Ward on being passed by Sato. “I’m sure fans would’ve loved it but I had to step on the brakes and back out. Otherwise, we would’ve been in the wall.”
Sato would make an attempt of catching Dixon which came up just 0.1404 seconds sort of scoring back-to-back wins.
O’Ward on the other hand, trailed Dixon by seven seconds as he had to hold off Colton Herta and Marcus Ericsson at race’s end to score his second career podium.
Rather than being disappointed with his crew on the final stop, which he didn’t noticed the slight mistake on the right front, O’Ward said he just didn’t have the pace towards the end of the 200-lap odyssey.
“I thought we had very strong pace all race. We rolled out of the gates very strong,” O’Ward on his afternoon at Gateway. “The guys gave me a very strong car right off the bat. It was very consistent throughout the run.
“Just in the end, I don’t know what these guys do, but Dixon obviously got in front of us in the pits and he left us. Then when I saw Taku coming behind, I didn’t think he had so much more pace then us. As soon as he passed us, he left us.
“I was kind of in a race on my own towards the end. Just trying to defend from Herta and I think Marcus was behind us, but I think it was a very solid points for the championship. We’ll be working for that win tomorrow and hopefully we can be fighting for it towards the end of the race.”
While the quest of becoming the first driver from Mexico to score a win in the sport since Adrian Fernandez in 2004 will have to wait, O’Ward feels he’s at a fantastic place in his career due to the race team’s overall efforts after eight rounds in the championship trail.
“I owe a lot to the team because they were the ones who gave me a chance to showcase and to push forward with what we can do. I think we can achieve great things. We’re working on it,” said O’Ward. “Dixie and Sato have been in the series so long and guys that are not easy to beat. We’re going to keep working at it and I’m sure our win will come. We just have to keep adding on points in the end because every point is gold.”
The man third in points will roll off fourth for tomorrow’s second race at Gateway (3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN), hoping to find a proper setup that can compete all race long.
“I think we can find tune the car a little bit and try getting it a bit more into a window where it can be a little bit easier to drive. Especially in the end when you’re really pushing,” said O’Ward.
“I was pretty happy out there. We ran a very solid race, but just towards the end is where we kind of just have to look back and really see what happened. I thought we had a great pit stop, a good in/out lap, but apparently it wasn’t good enough.”