O’Ward gets much needed top 5 finish Sunday in Long Beach, next few races can bring them forward

LONG BEACH, Calif — Arrow McLaren SP had high hopes for the 2022 season. Pato O’Ward had a shot at the championship here a year ago after a breakout season in 2021. Felix Rosenqvist turned his luck around in the second half of the year and now both had high expectations for how this season would play out.

Unfortunately, their start to the season was anything but.

Part of that is due to both being off in the season opener on the streets of St. Pete. Rosenqvist qualified 21st and O’Ward 16th. They’d finish 12th (O’Ward) and 17th (Rosenqvist) respectively.

Texas was shaping up to be a highlight before each had problems on pit road on the same stop while entering in the top three. Rosenqvist, would finish 21st despite earning the pole where O’Ward was 15th.

Entering Sunday’s race in Long Beach, they sat 13th (O’Ward) and 19th (Rosenqvist) in points.

That had most thinking those hopes would be dashed a bit on another street circuit in Long Beach this weekend. In practice, they were 14th, 21st (O’Ward) and 15th and 14th (Rosenqvist) respectively. It was looking like neither would advance out of the first round again.

Instead, not only did both, but Rosenqvist advanced all the way to the Fast Six.

Now, could they turn that into a solid outing on Sunday?

O’Ward’s season was already on the brink. You can tell the decision from McLaren to choose Colton Herta over him for an F1 opportunity this season left him stewing and being where he is in points just left a dark cloud over this team. He felt that was his opportunity and now that it was taken out from under him, there was definitely some questions on his future. Could he get past this?

Then, with Felix Rosenqvist qualifying in the Fast Six and him not, things weren’t looking up for the man that has made it to the final race with a shot at the championship for two straight years now.

On Sunday, he had a stellar drive up to 5th for his first top 10 of the season. O’Ward says this could be momentum changing. He was well aware and said that this wasn’t an ideal start to the year, but he said he told his team if they could get him a car, he’d take it from there to lay the foundation and give them the momentum that they’ve been searching for.

“Today was honestly very solid for us,” O’Ward said to the broadcast after the race. “I know it’s not a win but we’ve had a very rough start to our year. All I wanted for the team today was to get a nice, solid foundation and I’ll take care of the rest. We can build on momentum today and we should be proud of that. We went forward, not just a couple of positions but a good handful.”

This finish can do just that. It was O’Ward’s 16th top five in 41 career starts in the series but maybe the most important once. At the last visit for the next two tracks (Barber, Indy road course), he won the pole. AFter that is the Indy 500. He finished sixth and fourth respectively in his two starts there. Then we go to Belle Isle where he won at last June.

This next stretch is very important to O’Ward’s championship aspirations. He moves up to 9th in points and goes from 64 points down to 55.

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