Pato O’Ward wins a thriller for Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in Belle Isle, how he won with my main takeaways

BELLE ISLE, Mich — When you look at the box score of Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix you’ll see Josef Newgarden led 67 of the 70 laps from the pole and didn’t win. You’d also see Pato O’Ward was victorious by 6.7595-seconds in his No. 5 Chevrolet.

The box score may lie to you if you didn’t actually witness the race. The crowd of 8,500 spectators on Belle Isle on Sunday was treated to a phenomenal race, one of the best road/street course races that you’d ever see.

Newgarden, was hurt from an early change in pit strategy in the sense that Dalton Kellett stalled at pit exit on Lap 18 in his No. 14 Chevrolet. Everyone up front didn’t want to risk being caught out by a caution, so most hit pit lane on Lap 20 as a result.

That included race leader and pole sitter Josef Newgarden. He was on the Firestone primaries at the start and wanted to run that opening stint long. He broke out to a 10+ second lead but had to pit at that time.

So did Colton Herta and those behind him. The problem was, they didn’t throw out a caution and Newgarden was screwed. With not knowing what was going to happen, Tim Cindric elected to go with Firestone blacks again for Newgarden’s second stint. But, Herta was coming.

On Lap 30, Newgarden’s lead was 10.0894-seconds. Three laps later, it was up to 10.3294-seconds. That’s when the race changed. Herta cut the deficit to 8.9789-seconds on Lap 36. Then it was down to 7.8706-seconds by Lap 40. On Lap 43, it was 6.9597-seconds.

Herta, pit on Lap 45 for a fresh set of Firestone primary tires. The race was coming to him in the sense that Newgarden had to pit one lap later but had to use the alternate tires. On Lap 47, the lead was 3.0590-seconds with Newgarden barely leading Herta.

The guy that had started on the pole and led the entire race was no longer in control. Herta, was all over him but then the race changed again. Jimmie Johnson spun in Turn 1 on Lap 54. It bunched the field up but helped Newgarden in the sense he had less green flag laps to hold Herta off. Alex Palou was third at the time over 10 seconds back. Graham Rahal was fourth (+12 seconds). O’Ward was sixth at that moment.

So, how did O’Ward end up winning and not Newgarden and Herta?

Well, Herta wasn’t great on restarts. Newgarden, was able to pull away to over a second lead on the initial restart laps. So, when the green flag dropped, Newgarden pulled away. O’Ward then made a bold move to the inside of Scott Dixon entering Turn 1 and moved up into fifth.

Then, Romain Grosjean’s car stalled for a brake fire on track and brought out the third caution of the day. It gave O’Ward more life again.

O’Ward passed Graham Rahal with the same move that he did to Dixon on the seven to go restart and moved to fourth. He then was aggressive to get by Alex Palou for third two corners later.

Newgarden, pulled away from Herta to where O’Ward was coming. A lap later, O’Ward powered by Herta for second. He had six laps to get by Newgarden.

Newgarden, said his rear tires were gone on the reds and he slid out of Turn 6 with on Lap 67. That allowed O’Ward to make his move. He powered his way by Newgarden and never looked back en route to his second career Indy Car victory and Arrow McLaren SP’s ninth all-time.

“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.”

As far as the aggression in the end?

“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 said that you have to balance the aggression but 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.”

He bested Newgarden by 6.7595-seconds while Palou got by Herta to finish third in his No. 10 Honda.

“Yeah, they were fried,” Newgarden said of his tires in the end. “I think probably the worst part was we had to put about 10 extra laps on those tires because we thought the caution was going to come out in that first stint around lap 18 I think we pitted, and you just can’t risk missing the caution. If you miss the caution, you’re just hosed. It just completely ruins your day.

“I think that compromised us more than anything. Then we had to run 25 laps on used reds, so that was not ideal, and then the cautions bunching us up probably hurt us, as well, just brought the whole field back to it. I think we probably could have held Colton off potentially if we just would have run cleanly to the end there. But that’s kind of impossible to say. I’d have to see that play out. I think, yeah, just the cautions and the potential caution is more of what hindered us today.”

This was the third end of the race battle in the last nine races between the two drivers. Newgarden actually beat O’Ward twice in the final seven races this year but is 0-2 against him in eight races this year.

“I don’t know that he’s done anything different, but he’s — I think he’s picked up where he left off last year,” he told me. “They were in the fight last year and they’ve got strong cars certainly at McLaren. They were in the fight pretty much all the way through last season. I think you’re seeing a lot of the same.”

The runner-up was Newgarden’s third of the season and his 38th career podium. He moves up to fourth in points, -51. He entered the weekend -64.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Newgarden continued. “Look, you can’t predict these races. You can look like a hero or a zero pretty easily in this sport, so yeah, I would ask anyone to change anything. I think they’re doing all the right stuff, it’s just not worked out.

“I’m sure it’ll happen at some point. It just hasn’t aligned. Sometimes you get that. You just don’t get everything to line up perfectly. I think we’ve got a lot of the ingredients right. I don’t think we really need to change much, just keep doing our thing.”

Palou, lost 38 points to O’Ward this weekend as he went from +37 to -1 heading to Road America. But, that’s all lost in Race 1 as Palou struggled to get up to speed on this 2.35-mile street circuit. He qualified in the back on Saturday and finished just 15th.

Sunday was vastly better for him as he qualified fourth and finished third but with O’Ward finishing third on Saturday and a win on Sunday, it allowed him to storm into the overall points lead at the midway mark of the season.

Herta, had to settle for fourth in his No. 26 Honda for his 13th career top five result while Rahal rounded out the top five in his No. 15 Honda for his 62nd career top five result. Rahal, has had a potential for a top seven in every race run this season. That’s where he finished in the season opener at Barber. He was fifth and third respectively in the two races at Texas last month, he was fifth in the GMR Grand Prix and fifth again on Saturday. He had a top five car before having a run-in with Alexander Rossi in St. Pete and crashed while exiting pit lane in the Indy 500 after being in the top five again and on the right strategy to compete for a win. Due to those two bad races, he’s -90 still in the standings.

Is This What INDYCAR Is Going To Look Like For The Next Decade?

We’ve been talking about this all season, but was this weekend in Belle Isle what the future of the NTT IndyCar Series is going to look like for the next decade. Saturday was thrilling racing which saw 30 year old Marcus Ericsson earn his first career victory. 20 year old Rinus VeeKay was runner-up while 21 year old Pato O’Ward was third.

On Sunday, you had 30 year old Josef Newgarden, a two-time series champion with 18 career wins, battling with 21 year old Colton Herta as well as that same 21 year old O’Ward to go along with 24 year old Alex Palou at the end of an instant classic.

These four are title contenders now and race winning threats each race. Imagine what the next 10 years are going to look like. Then, factor in VeeKay and you get a bright future.

Just look at the points. 21 year old O’Ward leads 24 year old Palou by one point. 40 year old Scott Dixon is in third while 30 year old Newgarden is in fourth. 20 year old VeeKay is tied with Simon Pagenaud for fifth. 21 year old Herta and 32 year old Graham Rahal are right behind with 30 year Ericsson right there with them.

Is the future now?

“I think over the years in INDYCAR we saw some really young drivers that are really good one or two years and then the veterans are always there, so we’ve got to keep the consistency up,” Palou told me. “That’s how you can run up front in the championships. I’m trying to learn as much as possible from the man Scott. Hopefully I can make it happen, but it’s not easy. It’s not easy.”

Belle Isle Gave Us Everything We Wanted This Weekend

What a weekend it was we witnessed in Belle Isle. On Saturday, we saw a frightening crash on Lap 25 that showed not only is racing a very dangerous sport but also one that’s as safe now as ever before. Felix Rosenqvist crashed his No. 7 Chevrolet into the tire barriers in Turn 6 which the impact was so severe, his car got airborne and sent tires even higher and further which also created damage to the concrete wall several feet behind.

Rosenqvist, was hospitalized and held at a Detroit area hospital overnight for further evaluation, but he has no life threatening injuries and by all accounts will end up being okay.

That was the danger impact of Saturday’s Detroit Grand Prix in which treated us to not only a wild and chaotic event, but one of the most thrilling that we’ve ever seen on the 2.35-mile Belle Isle street circuit. See, normally the racing on Belle Isle is difficult. It’s hard to pass and creates a lot of follow the leader racing.

Well, Saturday’s show proved to us all that the racing within the NTT IndyCar Series today is as good as ever. Strategy calls in these races have opened up what has made road/street course racing as exhilarating as high speed ovals.

There’s just so much strategy at play from literally the drop of the green flag that you better be paying attention or you might miss something crucial. You can’t take a nap or leave too far from a room that you’re watching from because something is likely to happen on track or on pit road.

Take Saturday as a prime example.

You had a two stop vs. three stop strategy. That interesting in itself. But, you also had yet again varying strategies among those groups.

21 of the 25 starters on Saturday elected to start on the Firestone alternate tire. It’s quicker but was degrading really quick on the abrasive street course near downtown Detroit. Then you had the top starters electing to get off these tires quickly and I do mean quickly.

Lap 3 saw leader and pole sitter Pato O’Ward hit pit lane to go on the Firestone primary tires. Lap 4 saw sixth place starter Colton Herta do the same. Lap 5 was second place starter and at the time leader Alexander Rossi’s turn. Lap 6 was third place starter Romain Grosjean’s chance to join their strategy.

Josef Newgarden did it too. He started fifth. He had a problem with his left rear wheel that literally fell off and had to pit again. He’d fall a lap down but use a different strategy later to come back to finish 10th.

Ryan Hunter-Reay started eighth and pit on Lap 2. He got into the wall shortly after and saw his race ruined. I just mentioned six of the top eight starters there.

Fourth place starter Ed Jones stayed on track to run his three stop strategy a little longer. So did seventh place starter Will Power and ninth-10th place starters Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais.

11th place starter Scott Dixon did the same but he was on a two stopper and started the race off on the Blacks. He could do longer than everyone else and he did too. Graham Rahal, Santino Ferrucci and James Hinchcliffe were on his strategy.

That’s why we saw so much action early. Jones took over the lead when Rossi pit. His tires were falling off hard. Power, passed him for the lead two laps later because of that. Dixon was on the longer lasting tire and passed Power four laps later.

All the three stoppers had pit by Lap 21. So did a few of the guys that stopped early for a second time. Then, a caution flies for Rosenqvist on Lap 25 and hurt those that had yet to pit as well as the ones who didn’t pit for a second time yet but pit on the early cycle.

Three strategies. Three scenarios and one part of the race that was pleasing. After a lengthy red flag ended, the top nine cars had to pit. Power was shown in the lead. Marcus Ericsson was second. O’Ward, Rossi, Dixon, Herta, Rahal, Ferrucci and others were flying through the field to come back. That was fun. Power, Ericsson, Rinus VeeKay and Takuma Sato were up front battling hard to keep them at bay.

Ferrucci, ran the red alternate tire longer than anyone on that first stint. He said he could come back from the back again and he did. He finished sixth.

Rahal, went totally different and went primary tires on his first couple of stints. He then would have to do the opposite and be the only one on reds for the final run to the checkered.

That paid off.

Rahal and Ferrucci were the the last to pit on Lap 53. Everyone else hit pit lane at least five laps prior. Rahal, had a shorter life on reds and it worked in his favor. He finished fifth.

Power, had the race won but you get the final caution for Grosjean’s crash and the consequent red flag. Talk about drama. Then, Power’s car wouldn’t start. More drama. Ericsson, was handed the lead and he didn’t give it back.

He’d earn his first career Indy Car victory and become the fourth different first time winner in just seven races run this season. Speaking of which, we’ve had seven different winners in those seven races and all hailing from seven different countries.

If you go back to the end of the 2020 season, we saw Will Power and Josef Newgarden win the final two races. We’ve had Alex Palou (Barber), Colton Herta (St. Pete), Scott Dixon (Texas 1), Pato O’Ward (Texas 2), Rinus VeeKay (GMR Grand Prix), Helio Castroneves (Indy 500) and now Ericsson (Belle Isle 1) each win in the last nine races.

Then you get Sunday’s fantastic show which gave us an intense battle from the drop of the green flag to the checkered where the end of the race was as good as it gets.

This weekend was further proof that INDYCAR is the best racing on the planet. We saw 222 on track passes in just 70 laps run in race 1. That’s the second most ever at Detroit.

This weekend was each a race for the ages. So was the Indy 500. So was almost every other race run this season.

Penske Sits 0-for-8 In 2021

Team Penske won the final three races of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. In fact, they won five of the final six races at that. But, as we hit the midway mark of the 2021 season, they’re winless. What’s frustrating for them is, it’s not like they’ve been too far off. In eight races run this season, they’ve had the runner-up finisher five times.

In fact, they had both races in their grasps this weekend.

Will Power had the strategy call early to get to the lead among the drivers on his sequence. While he sat in 10th at the time of the Lap 25 caution for Felix Rosenqvist’s crash, the top nine drivers had to pit and was going to hand him the lead.

Power, dominated the rest of the way until that late yellow for Romain Grosjean’s crash on Lap 64. The race was red flagged and his No. 12 Chevrolet wouldn’t refire. Race ruined.

On Sunday, Josef Newgarden qualified on the pole and dominated in leading the first 67 laps of the race. The first pit call to have to pit just in case of a caution for Dalton Kellett stalling on pit road and then the final caution in the end caught Newgarden out as he had to settle for second again.

Now, they’re 0-for-8 heading to Road America. That further adds to the frustration for them as they entered Belle Isle frustrated from Indy.

They went 4-6-8-11 in the GMR Grand Prix, then 3-12-20-30 for the Indy 500. On Saturday’s Race 1, they finished 10-12-19-20.

Drivers Noticing Trend With Arrow McLaren SP Cars

The drivers are noticing a trend, the Arrow McLaren SP cars just shoot out of a rocket on restarts. Pato 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.

Dixon’s Quiet Weekend Could Come Back To Help Later

Pato O’Ward told me earlier this week that in order to beat the master on consistency at his own game was to be consistent himself. He was referring to Scott Dixon. Well, O’Ward did just that in finishing third on Saturday and winning on Sunday.

Dixon, did what he had to do in typical Dixon fashion this weekend. He qualified just 11th for Saturday’s race and sixth on Sunday. The box score shows finishes of eighth and seventh respectively. Not great days but not bad ones either.

Dixon, entered this weekend 36 points out of the lead. He leaves 36 points out with everyone else either gaining a lot of ground or losing. But there Dixon remains wildly consistent in gaining or losing nothing.

We’re going to have to remember this weekend later this season because if Dixon goes on a typical Scott Dixon run at any point of this season, then this could be the weekend that he wins the championship.

Or, if O’Ward just shadows him the rest of the way, then this could be the championship winning weekend for himself.



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