Pato O’Ward challenged Marcus Ericsson for the lead in the two-lap, final mad dash of last Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, but at the last second he lifted out of a two-wide duel in Turn 1 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and settled for another chance that never came.
While not winning was painful, the benefit of playing it smart was 87 points for second place, which has the Arrow McLaren SP driver in prime contention for his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship. O’Ward trails Ericsson by 13 points as the season’s halfway point nears.
Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear is the seventh of 17 races this season.
Arrow McLaren SP president Taylor Kiel said he was proud of how O’Ward handled what could have been a season-turning moment. Crashing, Kiel said, “would have been a tough pill to swallow.”
“I think we’ve seen that a lot of times in that race,” Kiel said, referencing Takuma Sato’s crash in Turn 1 while dueling with Dario Franchitti on the last lap of the 2012 race. “I think in the position that (O’Ward) was in, he made a move that was wise beyond his years with the bigger picture in mind. That’s what I think about. That’s what makes me proud, is that he’s a young kid on the scene that’s very aggressive.
“I know in his heart he wanted to keep it flat, see what happened. But something in the back of his mind said, ‘Let’s focus on the championship.’ That, to me, is a huge thing.”
O’Ward had the second-quickest time in Friday’s lone practice, turning a lap of 1 minute, 16.1556 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. He was topped by only .0211 of a second by series rookie Kyle Kirkwood (No. 14 ROKiT/AJ FOYT RACING Chevrolet), who had an additional set of Firestone Firehawk tires by virtue of being new to the series.
Kirkwood Pulling Double Duty
In addition to driving AJ Foyt Racing’s car in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Kirkwood is piloting the No. 17 Lexus of Vasser-Sullivan in the IMSA sports car race this weekend in Detroit.
Due to the extreme differences in the cars, including the engine being in the front of the GT3 car rather than the back of the Foyt car, Kirkwood said it wasn’t a difficult transition.
“It’s like driving a street car and then jumping into an Indy car,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it. They’re so vastly different that you don’t really have to adjust.
“Now, if I was stepping out of an Indy Lights car into an Indy car, that would be a different story – different downforce levels, way different tires and yet the car is very similar. The GT car is super heavy, no downforce, ABS (brakes), traction control, all the aids you could ever want, so it feels more like a road car.”
It should be noted Kirkwood also has enjoyed success at this venue. Last year, he won both Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races in what became a championship-winning season.
What About Rosenqvist?
Arrow McLaren SP confirmed this week that Alexander Rossi will join O’Ward, who recently signed an extension to remain with the team through 2025, in a three-car effort beginning in 2023. As for the team’s third driver next year, Kiel said incumbent Felix Rosenqvist remains a possibility.
“I think Felix is a fantastic driver, and he’s a great fit for our team,” Kiel said. “Felix just needs to continue doing what he’s doing, right? We’re evaluating how to make our team better all the time. Felix is part of that right now.
“As long as he’s doing what he needs to do – and he knows what that is – he’ll be driving for us. There’s no secret about that.”
Rosenqvist finished fourth last weekend at Indy, two positions behind O’Ward and one ahead of Rossi. Unfortunately, Rosenqvist’s Friday practice in Detroit ended early with his car hitting the tire barrier for the second consecutive year here. Rosenqvist was not hurt this time, but he said this mishap was his fault due to carrying too much speed through the corner.
Ilott Could Return to Action Next Week
Callum Ilott, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie who is sitting out this race due to a broken right hand suffered at Indy, said he expects to return to the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet for next weekend’s Sonsio Grand Prix presented by AMR at Road America. Santino Ferrucci is replacing him this weekend.
“I’m going to send it, yeah,” he told NBC on the Peacock broadcast. “Here was not the best (venue) to (return). Obviously, speaking with the doctors and the specialists there was a little bit (with healing) that they weren’t too happy with, which should heal pretty quickly.
“It will be a little sore at Road America, but it’s a completely different track.”
Ilott believes he broke the black-and-blue hand against the side of the tub on the first of two wall impacts. Both were fierce hits, he said, but the first one surprised him because he thought he would hit with the rear but the car swung quickly around.
“Pile-drove it,” he said of the first hit. “You know how it is. … But the second was just as high with the g-force because there was no SAFER Barrier on the inside. The second one I saw coming, so I knew it was going to hurt and wasn’t the nicest feeling.”
Coincidentally, Ilott raced against Ferrucci in their junior days in Europe. Ilott considers Ferrucci, who has more NTT INDYCAR SERIES experience, as “a teammate” to possibly show him where their program stands this far into the season.
Ferrucci spent Friday’s practice getting acclimated to the team. He finished the session with the 23rd-quickest time among 26 drivers.
Odds And Ends
- Dalton Kellett (No. 4 K-Line/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) will start Sunday’s race six positions lower than he qualifies due to an unapproved engine change out of schedule at Indianapolis.
- Veteran NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver Simona De Silvestro is attending this event in preparation of driving for Paretta Autosport in a technical partnership with Ed Carpenter Racing at Road America. Her last series road race was in 2015 and she won’t test in advance of the upcoming race. “I think it’ll be interesting,” she told the INDYCAR Radio Network. “I’ll do what I know, and I have confidence in the team.”
- Wildlife crossings are always a possibility at Belle Isle. Friday, it was a groundhog that drew the most attention.
- Sting Ray Robb led an Andretti Autosport sweep of the top three positions in Friday’s Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires practice. Robb will get a chance to win his first series race Saturday in Race 1 at 11:30 a.m. (ET). The second race is Sunday at 12:35 p.m. Both races air live on Peacock Premium. Qualifying is Saturday at 7:45 a.m., with the first 12-minute session setting the grid for Race 1, the second 12-minute session doing the same for Race 2.