Did Indy test help AMSP and Andretti here at Mid-Ohio?

LEXINGTON, OH — Last summer, there was a lengthy break between the July Mid-Ohio race and the August Nashville street event. That’s partially because COVID-19 restrictions kept the series from being able to race in Toronto then and the other part because NBC Sports didn’t have much time slots available to air races due to the Summer Olympics over in Tokyo.

So the NTT INDYCAR Series teams adapted. Some took some time off. Others went west to test. For one organization, that test in Portland propelled them to a strong push to the finish. While we don’t have that gap again this year, Arrow McLaren SP was hoping the test session a few weeks ago among 8 total drivers around the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is that one that helps them move forward again in 2022.

“I think this is a great opportunity,” Felix Rosenqvist told me then.

So, being able to test at Indy he says, that goes a long way.

“Testing is so valuable because you don’t get to do very much of it,” O’Ward told me. “Before St. Pete we had just 1 day in Sebring. Yeah this is huge. To have it right before the 2nd half of the season is really good for us. It just gets us into the groove of what’s coming up which is Mid-Ohio, then Toronto, then so forth. It’s going to be intense.

“Indy road course would translate to Portland, maybe things you can find here you could use at Mid-Ohio. I think this is a good place to have a test and especially because it’s beautiful.”

Having 4 natural road courses among the final 9 races of the year would at one point have been a detriment for AMSP. O’Ward told me last year that these were their worst tracks on the schedule. They had nothing for Penske or Ganassi or even the Andretti teams on them.

I mean at Indy as an example, he’s never finished better than 5th on the road course and that’s even with a pole last August. However, they know this too and spent a lot of time improving in this area of discipline.

Pato O’Ward practicing at Mid-Ohio on Saturday. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

“I think we’re getting better. Our car is better,” he told me. “We made some changes in the offseason and into making our car just better. Not much faster but definitely easier to drive in a way. We haven’t really hammered it everywhere but we’ve been quick. We’ve been qualifying in the Fast 6 ever since Barber. That’s huge for us. I told the team pole is cool but I don’t really care about the pole I care about Fast 6’s. As long as you’re in the Fast 6, you always have a chance.”

With Penske having 4 wins in 7 races run this season, this was a huge test for Andretti and Arrow McLaren SP who took 3 of the top 4 starting spots.

Pato O’Ward scored his 5th career pole on Saturday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. 4 of his 5 poles are on natural road courses. His teammate Felix Rosenqvist will start fourth in his No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. Rosenqvist qualified with a time of 1:07.2163-seconds for his 7th top 8 starting spot in the last 8 races this season. He’s also fighting for his job and doing a great job of doing so.

“I’m so happy that he’s there,” O’Ward said of his teamamte Rosenqvist. “The guy is there, and hopefully we’ll be sharing a podium. I think that would be fantastic for the team. It was never a doubt of like can he do it. We all knew that he could do it. But for some reason it just wasn’t clicking.

“But I think now we’ve worked really hard with the team to bring up and better our package into something that is just a little bit better in terms of operation window to be able to get those laps that you need, because it’s such a tight championship where if you don’t get it right and you don’t have the car to help you with that, it just makes qualifying so much harder, which has happened to us in the past here specifically.

“So I think it’s great that both cars are up there. I mean, I expect him to be the same for the rest of the year as I expect for myself. I think we’ve put it into the Fast Six since Barber, guess. I’m really happy with how I’ve been performing. Sadly just some things haven’t really gone our way. Our races have really turned upside down in a lot of cases where it should have been a solid podium or even a win.

“Yeah, I think I’ve really learned that in INDYCAR you can never take things for granted and things can get thrown away in an instant, so I think it’s great that we’re starting on pole, and we just need to make the best race that we can for tomorrow.”

Colton Herta will roll off third alongside of Rosenqvist in his No. 26 Dallara-Honda with a lap of 1:07.0262-seconds. Herta now has 3 straight top 3 starting spots here and 4 of his 5 Mid-Ohio appearances coming from 7th or better.

Penske and Ganassi have 6 of the top 9 in points including 5 of the top 6 in general. They’ve won 13 out of the last 14 series titles including 9 straight.

Plus, during the Aeroscreen era (17 races) on natural road courses, both Penske and Ganassi have each won 6 times on them accounting for a 71% win rate.

“I think they’re still going to be good right,” O’Ward said. “They’re championship level teams and always fighting for wins and poles everywhere they go. That’s what we strive to be and hope for and hope to make it harder for them this year.”

O’Ward sits 4th in points. He has 4 top 5 finishes in his last 6 starts on the season. But he knows that wins are needed to really make it hard on the “Big 3” and a test like the one they had in Indy can go a long way to making it happen.

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