BROWNSBURG, Ind. – This evening’s Cooper Tires Freedom 90, Round Seven of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, run as part of the Carb Night Classic “The Race Before the 500" at Lucas Oil Raceway, provided yet another victory for Team Pelfrey’s Patricio “Pato” O’Ward.
Only this time the Mexican teenager had to work for his laurels, pushed every inch of the 90 laps around the demanding 0.686-mile oval by Canadian Garett Grist, driving for locally based Juncos Racing.
Grist’s teammate, Argentinean rookie Nicolas Dapero, earned his first podium finish with a fine run to third.
O’Ward continued his dominance by easily claiming pole position earlier this evening with a pair of qualifying laps comfortably faster than anyone else. Predictably, he took full advantage by romping into the lead at the start. Behind, Dapero, who qualified an impressive second, was unable to keep the more experienced Grist behind him for long as the Canadian made his move at the end of the first lap to slip through into second place.
Rather than drive away into the distance, as he had done in five of the six previous races this season, O’Ward instead found his mirrors filled by Grist’s familiar green-and-white Juncos machine. And try as he did, O’Ward was unable to shake off his pursuer.
Dapero gradually slipped back in third, chased by Australian Jake Parsons in yet another Juncos car, then Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey) and Will Owen (Juncos Racing), who wasn’t able to maintain the kind of form that had taken him to a pair of strong podium finishes most recently on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course.
The two leaders stretched their advantage over Dapero to as much as 3.6 seconds after 33 laps. But then the gap stabilized, and in the later stages Dapero actually managed to reduce the deficit to a little more than one second as he, in turn, inched clear of Parsons.
The gap between O’Ward and Grist never grew to more than a few car lengths as Grist – the winner at Lucas Oil Raceway in 2014 – enjoyed by far his most competitive outing of the season so far. The eventual margin of victory for O’Ward was just 0.4117 second. Grist’s efforts earned him the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award. Team Pelfrey claimed another PFC Award, while Dapero claimed the Staubli Award.
O’Ward now has won six of seven races this season, including the last five in a row. He now holds a commanding 55-point advantage, 221-166, over teammate Telitz, who finished a disappointing fifth this evening.
Patricio “Pato” O’Ward (#80 TopoChico/Gap Guard-Team Pelfrey): “I’m stoked! I won every race in the month of May, so I’m very excited. We struggled here last year, but I had a podium in Iowa so it was a matter of finding the good setup. To get the pole and the win is fantastic. After the third lap, Garett was on my tail. This is not an easy oval. I had to be consistent and keep the car controlled. I wanted to win, but we’re also focused on the championship. I have to focus on my races and be consistent, because championships can be lost toward the end of the season.”