By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – With the laps winding down in Sunday’s 106th running of the Indianapolis 500, Pato O’Ward could do nothing but helplessly watch Marcus Ericsson inch closer and closer to racing immortality.
Sitting in the runner-up position, a few seconds in arears of Ericsson’s Honda, if nothing changed in the closing stages of the race, O’Ward would fall agonizingly short of a career-defining win. All he needed was a chance.
When Jimmie Johnson crashed with six laps to go, bringing out the yellow and subsequently the red, Ericsson’s advantage was erased and O’Ward had his shot.
A two-lap dash to the checkered was all that remained to determine who would be taking home the Borg-Warner Trophy.
As soon as the green flag flew, the battle was on. Juking and jiving, snaking down the straightaways, neither wanted to give an inch to the other with the ultimate prize on the line. Wherever Ericsson went, O’Ward was right in his tire tracks, just looking for his opportunity to strike.
Entering Turn 1 for the final time, O’Ward made his move, flanking Ericsson to his outside, just hoping his Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet would be able to stick. But it didn’t and O’Ward had to back out of it, giving Ericsson firm control of the lead.
Though he still had time to try and gather it back up and make another run at it, he wouldn’t get the chance as the yellow flag came out for Sage Karam’s spin, bringing the race to an end and locking in a runner-up finish for O’Ward.
While he wasn’t able to come home with the trophy, the finish was the best yet for the Mexican-born driver at Indianapolis, improving on a third-place result a year ago.
“Really proud of the team,” O’Ward said. “They gave me a really, really good car. I was so happy with the handling. We did everything perfectly. We did the fuel perfect. No mistakes were done. We positioned ourselves perfectly to have a shot at it.
“When we got done with that last pit stop, Felix undercut us, then when I pitted and started catching up to him, then Marcus out of nowhere just came out with insane speed. Got by me like I was standing still. Got up to Felix I think within two laps, passed him like he was standing still, left him. I got to Felix finally. I passed him. I had nothing for him. I said, I need a yellow to try and have a shot.
“Tony was also really quick coming behind me. I know he was catching me faster than what I was catching Marcus. When the restart happened, I said, I have one shot, I have to go flat, and still wasn’t enough.
“Sadly, they have the faster car. We need to do a better job. We need to come back next year and give it hell again. I’m proud of the job we did today. It’s my best result in the 500. It’s a bit of a tough pill to swallow after such a long race, doing everything correctly.”
O’Ward conceded that even though the two staged a thrilling battle over the last two laps, Ericsson ultimately had the better performing car down the stretch, which made all the difference.
“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.”
After coming so close to the win on Sunday, O’Ward and his AMSP team will regroup and look to come back next year with a better car, as they look to continue their upward trend at the Racing Capital of the World.
“I sure as hell will do everything in my power to find more,” O’Ward 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.”
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