MADISON, Ill — Pato O’Ward had a great first pit sequence. He went from second to the lead on Lap 69 when he undercut Will Power for the top spot. The Mexican driver would lead every lap until he pit for the final time on Lap 162. That’s when the experience rose to the top.
Combined around him was at the time, 55 Indy Car wins, three of which in the Indy 500, and five championships. This was O’Ward’s ninth career start.
O’Ward entered the pit sequence with the lead. He had a fast stop. It’s just that Scott Dixon’s was just that much better. Dixon, beat O’Ward out of the pits and never looked back en route to his 50th career NTT IndyCar Series victory.
“I think it’s a little mix of everything, to be honest,” O’Ward said of the ending. “I felt like we were stronger than what we appeared in the end. When Dixon was behind me, he was kind of saving fuel and hanging out. I knew he had a bit more pace in him.
“(Takuma) Sato came out of the blue. Whenever I overtook him when he came out of the pits, I didn’t think he had that much more pace than us. He really did. I couldn’t catch Scott. He cut me. Honestly from there it was just a race by myself. I guess we’ll have to see why.
“But, yeah, I don’t have an answer for you. I truly don’t know.”
Takuma Sato won last Sunday’s Indy 500 and made a daring move to pass O’Ward for second on the final stint on the outside in Turn 1. O’Ward was smart to bail out and just finish third.
“I think that’s the name of racing, isn’t it” Sato said of the pass of O’Ward. “Nothing risky at all. Pato, he’s such a great driver, such a talented driver. He always give us space. Very committed driver.
“We were just able to have a better go because obviously Dixie will be run away. Had to make most of it while the tire still fresh. Once again, I feel fresher tire definitely helped.
“After the race, he came to me, hugged me. He really enjoyed it. I know he went sideways. I gave him room for that. If I put too much room, I put myself in the gray, never come back.
“It was tight. But that’s podium fighting in racing, shall we say. I certainly, yeah, enjoyed it. Hopefully the fans enjoyed it is really most important.”
O’Ward was equally as pleased with how Sato raced him too.
“Honestly I thought we touched,” he said. “I didn’t think he was going to throw it outside, but he did. He didn’t do anything wrong. I mean, I think that was racing. I’m sure fans would have loved it.
“Yeah, just right when he was on the outside, I had to step on the brakes and back out. If I didn’t do that, we were both going to be in the wall.”
O’Ward says though that this was a great Championship day for him overall.
“I think we got some really solid points for the championship,” said the second year driver. “We led quite a bit of the race, and in the end, I thought we had a clean, fast pit stop.
“My in and out laps were very strong, but (Scott) Dixon got us by a little bit. He’s a tough guy to beat. We had a very strong run, but I had nothing for Takuma (Sato) and Scott. I had to maintain where I was and salvage the podium from there. Tomorrow, we just have to work on the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet a little bit, and hopefully we can challenge for the win at the end.”
O’Ward is somewhat shocked to be third in the standings at this point. He didn’t necessarily expect it.
“I do. I do, man,” he continued. “I was not expecting. Obviously when you go into a season, you kind of put expectations towards the side, you kind of go day-to-day to maximize your opportunities.
“We’re in the fight. We’re in the fight, at least for second (laughter). I think it’s been a long time coming. The guys have been working very hard. I truly feel like they deserve the strong results we’ve had these past couple weekends. We’ve left a lot of points on the table, as well. But I think as a team we’re just getting better and better.
“We are running in a very cool position to be in in my first year in INDYCAR with such a competitive field, such talented drivers honestly. I’m very happy.“
Still, he’s looking like that No. 5 Chevrolet is going to get into the victory circle soon. O’Ward has had a top 12 finish in all eight races this year including six top eight finishes in his last seven starts on the season. He’ll roll off fourth on Sunday now too.
“I truly feel like those were kind of the last little push we needed to really be there every single weekend. You have to do it first in order for yourself and your team to, like, 100% believe you can actually achieve it.
“There’s so many little things that go into an INDYCAR race to finish like in the top five. You’re in and out laps have to be very strong. Your pit stops have to be very strong. Consistency, tire management, a lot of factors that go into it. Whenever you are learning to master that, you’re getting results within the top five, top three, it’s like, Okay, we can do this.
“We just have to keep chipping away. I’m sure a win will fall soon. I sure hope it does. But, yeah, it’s been a good ride so far. I’m still learning a lot when I’m driving behind these guys that have been in the series for so long. You can definitely learn something from them.
“I’m trying to gather up as much as I can this year.”