INDIANAPOLIS — Pato O’Ward had a hard charging car for Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500. He had a potential race winning one at that. The 12th place starter drove himself up to the lead group near the midway mark and had a battle between himself Helio Castroneves and Alex Palou for the race win over the final couple of stints.
The thing is, O’Ward said that he just pushed too hard with a car that maybe wasn’t as capable in the end as it had been prior and it cost him a position on track at the finish. The Arrow McLaren SP driver was passed by Simon Pagenaud on the final lap and slipped from third to fourth as he crossed the yard of bricks for the 200th and final time.
Pagenaud though, well he was coming. He started 26th and appeared almost out of no where in the final laps sitting there in fourth. His No. 22 Chevrolet was strong and it paid off with his 37th career NTT IndyCar Series podium and third top six in his last four Indy 500 starts.
“I was hoping. I was really hoping. The big thing for us is obviously we got caught up in the first yellow,” Pagenaud said following his 69th career top five finish. “We hadn’t pitted, so we had to take an emergency pit stop after lap 44. From there we got sent back to the back of the field because of the emergency pit stop. We had 156 laps to come back to the front.
“What a shame. I really think we had the race car to get it done today. Certainly Chevy amazing job with the engine power and the race was amazing. Handling was phenomenal all day. We managed to really adjust the car through the beginning of the race. At the end I was pedal to the metal. I didn’t care. Just wanted to get to these guys and have some fun with them. I could see Helio was playing a very smart game. Obviously he knows how to win the race. Alex was trying his best to hold him off. Helio was just biding his time.
“Because of that the draft was difficult in fourth place. It was difficult to get through Pato. We did on the last lap. I thought I may have had a shot in turn four, but Helio was too fast.”
Pagenaud said that he has so much respect for this place. He loves the tension through the race and how much you have to let the animal inside of you come out in the last 20 laps.
“It’s a feel I’ve never had on any other racetracks,” he continued. “That fight at the end. Being in it, even though I was third, I could smell the blood.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s the best feeling in racing. Obviously I want to win. It hurts to be third. Maybe one more lap I would have had a shot at Helio, who knows. But it’s only 500 miles. We should have done it earlier. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.
“I’m proud. I’m proud of my team, proud of myself. I’m proud for John Menard, as well. A great showing at the 500. Like you said, it’s amazing to have won, come back, every year you know we are threats. That’s what it’s all about for me. It’s about always scratching at victory.
“This place is just amazing. There’s nothing else like it.”
Pagenaud said that his day started with too little downforce and he was struggling to get passes done because of that. The chassis was great, he just needed more downforce. That first pit stop was when they made the necessary adjustments to how he got to third in the end.
“I was waiting for the pit stop to make adjustment,” he said. “We made a rear wing adjustment, a front wing adjustment at the same time and the car came together. Then we kept adjusting through the race. At the end there it was loose. That’s what I needed to be good in traffic.
“It was definitely difficult for me when I had clean air. My car was very loose. That was the only way I could go through traffic.
“I think it really the fact that I started at the back really helped me at the end to go through the pack, get to the front. I could see I was more ready than the others at positions the car, knowing what to do with it. Had been aggressive for 200 laps.
“Great job. The whole 22 team did fantastic today.”
Pagenaud, now sits fourth in points, 47 points arrears to Alex Palou. He’s had five straight top 10 results on the season and heading to Belle Isle in two weeks with some much needed momentum to challenge for his second championship.
“It’s a silver lining. I’m not going to be honest, it hurts,” Pagenaud said of his defeat on Sunday. “All I’m thinking about is the 500-mile race I just lost. Like I said, no disrespect to Helio. I’m super happy for him and he deserved it, but I do believe I had the chance.
“I need to just – how do you say – mourn my loss tonight and get back into the championship rhythm. It’s obviously great to be fourth, I think that’s what I heard. That’s definitely going to help me going forward.
“Yeah, I’m hurting. I’m hurting in my heart. I drove my heart out and my soul out of this race car. My team did such a great job. I need a little bit of time to digest, switch my mind over to Detroit next week. At the moment my mind is solely on Indy. I want to come back and win this again.
“We’ve got some great things for Detroit coming up. We know we have a strong car, street course. Excited about that. But Indy to me is the one off. I don’t really put it in the championship.”