BELLE ISLE, Mich — Pato O’Ward was as aggressive as they come at the end of Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. See, the second caution of the race helped and hurt Josef Newgarden all in one. He needed a yellow to cool Colton Herta off from the back end of his No. 2 Chevrolet.
Newgarden, was caught up by an early race pit strategy as they had to cut their opening sequence short in fears of a caution coming. The yellow never actually came which in turn affected how and when Newgarden used the reds.
Herta was the one in the catbirds seat at the time as he was on the blacks and coming. It was only a matter of time. But, that yellow for Jimmie Johnson’s spin on Lap 54 cooled his jets. It also allowed the rest of the field to close up too.
Instead of either of them winning, Pato O’Ward was the one celebrating in victory lane. How?
Well, O’Ward used aggression. He went from sixth place on Lap 54 to a win 16 laps later.
See, some drivers are saying that they’re noticing a trend. They say that the Arrow McLaren SP cars just shoot out of a rocket on restarts and they think they now know why.
O’Ward went from sixth to fifth on the restart with 12 laps remaining in Sunday’s race. Then, a caution came out. On the next restart, O’Ward looked like he had a rocket strapped to the back of his No. 5 Chevrolet as he did the same move on Graham Rahal entering Turn 1 as he did the restart prior to Scott Dixon. Then, two corners later, he passed Alex Palou for third.
The race was his. But, it also is allowing for the other bigger teams to take notice and make adjustments themselves.
“I think it’s basically what we’ve been seeing all year, that they were able to switch the tires on in one lap, and that’s why they get so many poles — well, he got two, and he’s always up there on qualifying,” said third place finisher Alex Palou on O’Ward. “But that’s also why he had to do an extra stop in Indy road course, in St. Pete. There’s a compromise, right? It worked really good this weekend, and we need to find that compromise, but we think we know what it is now. Not before but now. So we’re going to try, and if we can get that right, it’s going to be really fun.”
O’Ward just calls it fast hands on the restart and the need to be aggressive at that point.
“The problem is whenever you let people step around over you, then it becomes a habit,” he said. “You need to — I mean, people know that I’m not here to be fifth or sixth. They know I’m here to win. I’m pretty sure that’s the message that we portrayed today.”
O’Ward was aggressive in his move on Newgarden with three to go. He had to be. Newgarden had to be aggressive with defending. Neither had an issue with the others’ move.
“Definitely I think on the limit, but I think it was good hard racing,” Newgarden said of his late race battle with O’Ward there. “There’s a kink on the back straight so it’s not perfectly straight, so to be fighting side by side, I think you probably get a little bit of contact like that. It’s not completely abnormal down in that section of the track. But he was coming like a freight train. My tires were cooked, and he was having great drives off the corner, as you saw.
“I think that’s what kind of did us in. It almost did us in with Alex, too. Thankfully we were able to hold on to second, but yeah, just hard racing.”
O’Ward said Newgarden’s move with him was all fair game and that he doesn’t have an issue with it.
“Yeah, he was moving me on to the marbles,” O’Ward said of Newgarden. “He knew where to put me in order for me not to be able to get him, but I didn’t move, so we kind of both went into each other, I guess. That straightaway isn’t really straight.
“Yeah, it was a good battle, I think. I think it makes it more exciting whenever there’s a little rubbin’ rub.”
O’Ward said that part of it is trust too. While you have to balance the aggression, you also have to take note on who you’re racing around at the time too.
“Yeah, I didn’t forget the words that Taylor said. He’s like, okay, this is the caution, everybody is going to stack up, lap cars are going to go, blah blah blah. If you have a chance, take it, but if you don’t, keep the championship in mind. But in my head, the two guys that I’m fighting the championship with are in front of me, and I was not going to be pleased if we ended behind them, especially if we had a restart and we were all together, so if I had the chance I was going to strike. I just had to make sure every strike wasn’t like, Oh, am I going to get it? No, it had to be like boom, definite. Once you’re on the inside, it’s yours.
“Yeah, I mean, I think they were very clean passes. I don’t think I put anybody in jeopardy in ways of hey, I screwed your race or anything. I felt like I did it very clean. I knew I was racing around very professional drivers, very clean, hard racers, Josef, Colton, Palou, definitely on, Graham, some of them have been racing many years. Some of us have been in INDYCAR very little, but these guys are pros. I was around people that you can get within less than an inch and race.”