By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Pato O’Ward was two laps away from capturing his maiden NTT IndyCar Series victory. Instead, that honor went to Felix Rosenqvist as O’Ward ended up second during Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America.
The pole sitter had a dominant showing as he led a race-high 43 of 55 laps. This can be accredited to his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP crew executing great pit stop sequences all afternoon and of course his blistering pace.
However, multiple factors curtailed his bid for a race win with the main cause being rear tire wear. It made O’Ward’s Chevrolet very difficult to navigate around the 4.014-mile circuit compared to Rosenqvist and the rest of Chip Ganassi Racing, something he reflected heavily when the race was over.
“Today, we executed and did absolutely everything that we had to try and win that race. We knew we had the pace, but we kind of took a shot in the dart for the long stints,” said O’Ward.
On the team’s final pit stop, they switched from the self-struggling black primary Firestone tires to a more comfortable red alternates. Despite the strategy, O’Ward couldn’t properly save his tires to his liking when it mattered most.
“We made some changes, hoping it’ll help, but it hurt us in rear tire life,” O’Ward added. “Both Chip Ganassi cars were just so fast over the course of the stint, especially in the last five laps. That’s where we lost the race. We missed on being able to extend the life on the rear tires a little bit more.”
Not only Rosenqvist had the benefit of pitting a lap later than O’Ward, but also received tremendous help from a couple of competitors.
That help came from Conor Daly and Dalton Kellett as O’Ward had to deal with those two drivers who were a lap behind and created the ever dreaded dirty air.
Kellett easily yielded in Turn 5, but Daly’s much fresher tires made things difficult for the Mexican racer and while O’Ward lapped Daly, he had to let him go with four laps left.
The damage was already done as the rear tires were worn out and began going wide on multiple occasions, notably in the Canada Corner coming to two to go.
Due to this, a once five-second lead was down to just under a second as Rosenqvist was now all over O’Ward’s mirrors.
“Being behind lapped traffic is what hurt my tires,” said O’Ward. “At least it hurt them to get to that tipping point probably a couple laps earlier than what they should of. That’s probably why Felix caught me in the end.”
Business really picked up in Turn 4 as Rosenqvist used the draft to his absolute advantage and ate up any last bit of O’Ward’s lead. The Swede pulled the crossover on the Mexican at the entry of Turn 5, resulting in a frantic side-by-side battle for the lead. They battled door-to-door across the track, wowing the crowd in attendance as neither were willing to give up a shot of a maiden INDYCAR victory.
In the end, Rosenqvist’s No. 10 NTT Data Honda stayed on the bottom lane and passed O’Ward at Turns 7-8. It didn’t meant that O’Ward wasn’t going to give up without a fight, but couldn’t regain the lead back.
“I had nothing for him! Absouletly nothing, ” O’Ward exclaimed. “I tried to conserve them, but the dirty really made us scrub a lot of speed and that little extra temp really gets you. Especially, when they’re falling off.”
Disappointed O’Ward may be of not capturing his maiden INDYCAR win, but there were still a few things worth smiling about. Sunday’s race at Road America marked his first career podium in 12 starts and moved up from eighth to a tie with Simon Pagneaud for third in the championship trail, trailing points leader Scott Dixon by 63 points after four races.
“I’m so thankful for the hard work that Arrow McLaren SP gave me, Team Chevy, and all of the sponsors,” said O’Ward. “It’s not easy to compete in INDYCAR and I think today that we’re contenders. I’m very much looking forward to Iowa.”
The final stretch of the 15-day grind will head to Iowa Speedway for the next doubleheader. Live coverage of the Iowa INDYCAR 250s will commence Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN. Both races consists of 250 laps.
Following today’s performance, the former Indy Lights champion made it clear the entire crew are there to challenge for wins and podiums going forward.
“That’s what we’re here to do,” said O’Ward. “I’m really proud of what the team and I achieved today. A little bummed that we didn’t get that win because we were a couple of laps short, but it is what is. We have things to look forward to and to work on. I know we’re going to execute and get those wins very soon.”