Pato O’Ward was happy to proclaim he is “back in the fight” for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship, but he wasn’t proud of how his deficit to series leader Alex Palou got shaved more than half Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Palou was running fourth in the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix – two positions ahead of O’Ward – when his No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda had mechanical trouble with all scheduled pit stops behind him. Which means, O’Ward said, he was fortunate to gain 26 points on Palou.
“I think it was a positive that we gained (on Palou), but it was a negative that if it wasn’t for his (trouble) he would have beat us today, and we would have lost even more ground,” said O’Ward, the driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
Palou finished 27th of 28 drivers, allowing the field to gain on him in the standings.
Palou’s lead on second-place O’Ward is down to 21 points heading to the season’s final four races, beginning with next Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway. Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) is within 34 points after a 17th-place finish while Josef Newgarden (No. 2 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet) and Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) are within 55 and 62 points, respectively, after finishing Saturday’s race in the eighth and ninth positions.
“It’s a shame (not to get more) because we had race-winning pace,” said Newgarden, who started 20th after serving a six-position grid penalty for an unapproved engine change. “If we’d have started up front, we’d have probably had a really good day.
“But, yeah, I think it worked out pretty good for us.”
Dixon’s finish doesn’t suggest a productive day, but he still gained eight points on teammate Palou after starting 26th, his lowest position in eight years (since the 2013 race in Long Beach, California).
Regardless of how the gain was achieved, O’Ward had a positive spin for it.
“We’re back in the fight,” he said. “We’re right there.”
Lundgaard Battles through First INDYCAR Race
Christian Lundgaard couldn’t give a fair performance assessment of his first INDYCAR race because of a bout with food poisoning that went through the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team Friday night.
Sitting on the pit wall following Saturday’s race, the 20-year-old Dane looked dehydrated and seemed to be sweating more than the other drivers finishing the nearly two-hour race.
Lundgaard estimated he got two hours’ of sleep before climbing into his No. 45 Mi-Jack Honda for the longest race of his career. The FIA Formula 2 driver said there was no way his body was ready for this debut.
“I think the physicality, in the end, determined the racing because if you can’t hold on, how are you going to race?” he said. “The whole day has been chaotic from when I went to bed last night.”
A team spokesperson said many members of the organization were fighting illness from food served to the team hospitality area by an outside vendor. Graham Rahal also had a rough night, but he continued to drive well on the IMS road course, scoring a seventh-place finish to extend his run of top-10 finishes here to 10 races. Takuma Sato did not eat the same food as other team members, as he has his own pre-race eating routine – ramen noodles.
Lundgaard finished 12th, but he led two laps in his first INDYCAR race.
“I got through it; I survived,” he said, forcing a smile. “I think (INDYCAR) is great fun.
“It’s been a hell of an experience.”
Lundgaard’s INDYCAR future hasn’t been determined, but he hopes to have a better understanding of tire wear if he competes in more of these races. He said he didn’t know when he could push Firestone’s tires and when he couldn’t.
He gave himself a reasonable grade for how he handled his first rolling start and his first three INDYCAR pit stops.
“I guess it went fine,” he said. “We were probably more on the safe side than the aggressive side. The target was to get through it and not make any mistakes. We survived that.”
Rahal Again Moves Up
If only Graham Rahal could qualify better …
Rahal, driver of the No. 15 One Cure Honda, started Saturday’s race from the 17th position and finished seventh. It was the 20th time in the past 22 INDYCAR races where he finished better than he started.
Best of all, Rahal told his engineer, Allen McDonald, that they hit on something positive Saturday.
“The setup we tried today was significantly better than what we had yesterday (in qualifying),” Rahal said. “I do think we were quite good on the (Firestone alternate) red (tires) and would have qualified quite nicely if we’d have had used that (setup) yesterday.
“The positive is, it’s a good foundation, something for us to consider when we go to Laguna (Seca) and some other (road courses) that can relate in certain ways.”
As for the food poisoning, Rahal said it definitely impacted him Friday night – “It was a rough night, (and) I haven’t eaten much today,” he said – but he emerged from the car in reasonable shape.
“I feel fresh, which is surprising (as) I didn’t really sleep at all,” he said.
The heel of Rahal’s racing boot also had a rough time. He raised his foot high enough to show how the heel had essentially melted against the floor of the car.
“Kind of strange,” he said.
Odds and Ends
- The 269 on-track passes were the most ever on the IMS road course. The 190 passes for positions tied the event record set in 2018, another race won by Team Penske’s Will Power.
- Power’s victory extended his streak of consecutive victories with at least one INDYCAR victory (now 15). Dixon extended the series record to 17 with his May 1 victory at Texas Motor Speedway. A.J. Foyt holds the record for the most winning seasons – with 18 – but his didn’t come in consecutive years.
- INDYCAR newcomer Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Carvana Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) finished a series-best 19th, which was welcomed with so many of his longtime NASCAR friends on hand for Brickyard Weekend.
- Felix Rosenqvist and NASCAR Cup Series driver Austin Dillon did a driver swap of sorts prior to Saturday’s race, with each climbing into the other’s race car. Rosenqvist finished 13th in the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
- Indianapolis Colts safety Kenny Moore watched O’Ward finish fifth. They have become fast friends, and Moore has attended a handful of INDYCAR races this season, including the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. NASCAR driver Daniel Suarez, whom O’Ward has known since their karting days in Mexico, also watched the race from his friend’s pit box.
- Next weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500, the 13th race of the season, is set for 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network).