By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – It was the Honda show during Fast Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Whether it’s single-lap or a four-lap average, they ruled the speed charts.
The stranglehold was strong that only three Chevrolet drivers cracked the top-10 on the four-lap average. One of the three also was the lone man who’s one-lap speed made the top-10. That guy was Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward.
The XPEL 375 winner was sixth fastest in single-lap speed at 232.034 mph with his four-lap average of 231.522 mph being third overall.
On paper, you’d think there might be total optimism for O’Ward, but he was honest about some struggles. More so when comparing his teammates Felix Rosenqvist and Juan Pablo Montoya, who’s results left a lot to be desired.
“They were happier with their cars (in run two or three). I was struggling with mine. It’s so easy to get, like, dragged into a hole here, just spiral down and go crazy about it,” said O’Ward.
“I had to work with my engineer to see what we had to do. Obviously we didn’t have enough tires to be just doing 10, 15 runs. We had to be as efficient as possible with those changes.”
O’Ward further explained that while he’s yet to speak with his teammates, how a car transitions from ideal to sensitive is real small. As a result, condition changes can play a big factor on the car’s handling on a four-lap run.
“It is so sensitive, the window of having a good car and having a car that’s undrivable in four laps, is really small,” O’Ward commented. “Like sometimes the changes it takes to get you from really struggling to being like, wow, this is solid, is not much.
“I think the heat plays a big factor into that. Yeah, I haven’t had a chance to debrief with Felix and Juan. I mean, I’d be assuming that they’re just not as happy with their car as I am.”
On a brighter note, O’Ward was still happy how his Chevy has done thus far at Indy and hopes it translates into tomorrow’s qualifying.
“We can all look at the chart and see who is more dominant. My Chevy has been good to me so far,” said O’Ward. “I think we’ve been doing a good job with what we have. Tomorrow obviously the goal is going to be getting to the Fast Nine.”
What was unique about Fast Friday was a comment O’Ward said Thursday afternoon. He mentioned there could be some sandbagging due to how tight the competition between the two engine suppliers.
“I think this year is going to be a pretty close fight. I mean, I sure hope that is the case,” said O’Ward. “I think it’s going to really give everybody an idea of who has been sandbagging or not. I mean, from the looks of it, it looks very well mixed up.”
A day later, O’Ward felt what we saw in the six-hour session is what we’ll likely get with qualifying. If so, he should be poised for a superb performance that might get him in the Firestone Fast Nine. For Chevrolet, they’ll have a ton of work to do if they’re going to go toe-to-toe with Honda.
“I feel like it wouldn’t be very smart to go into sandbagging here,” said O’Ward after practice. “I’m going to be okay tomorrow. I think what we saw today is a pretty good tell of what we’ll see tomorrow.”
The field will have a brief practice session before the fight of making the field begins at Noon ET. Last year’s Rookie of the Year of the 500 will be 20th in line for qualifying.
With 35 entries, it’ll be an all-out battle as to who’ll make the Fast Nine and/or qualify within the first 10 rows. O’Ward is no stranger of seeing both sides of qualifying. Last year, he safely made the 33-car field but missed the race the year before with Carlin. Time will tell who’ll show up or have a hard time of making the grid for the 105th Indianapolis 500.
“I think everybody’s going to try to make their race car as fast as they can. It’s going to be a big factor to win the race,” O’Ward before finding out his drawing order.
“It’s so important to start up front. But ultimately you can qualify in the first three, something happens in a pit stop, you’re going to be stuck in 20th. If you don’t have a good race car, you’re screwed. I think that’s probably the priority, is to have the best race car you can.”