O’Ward had to dig deep in the car to make the Fast 6 on Saturday at Indy, detailing his day and why he’s starting 3rd for Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix

INDIANAPOLIS — The last time the NTT INDYCAR Series was here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the summer race weekend, Pato O’Ward won the pole. This past May, he qualified 5th in the GMR Grand Prix. He was also just 1 of 8 drivers to test here on the 2.439-mile road course last month too. So when he rolled out on the track for practice on Friday morning, he was puzzled.

Where did the balance go in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet?

“What’s confusing sometimes is we were here in May, and we had a very solid qualifying,” he says. “We had a very good race until it started raining. Anyway, we had pace.

“We obviously come here with pretty much the same, and we’re six-tenths off. But only one car is six-tenths off and the other one is okay.

“I’m still in the process of — and I think I’m probably never going to find it, but I don’t know why it happens. It’s very, very sensitive, and it’s extremely sensitive in how you, one, push the tire, and two, how hard you’re attacking the corners, because it’s just so flat, so there’s no cambers or off cambers that you can kind of take into your advantage.”

O’Ward was found in 20th on the speed charts in the opening practice session on Friday morning. They knew they had to make some big swings at his car to get it dialed back in or he was going to be starting Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) from the back.

He says that it’s part of the nature though because every time that they come here, it doesn’t matter if it’s the same track, it’s always different.

“Well, sometimes you just don’t know what to expect so you kind of just take it as it comes to you,” he says.

Pato O’Ward back in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Unfortunately, the changes the made between the short break between sessions didn’t work out so O’Ward had to dig deep and do it on his own in the car.

“Yeah, sometimes it’s hard to judge. The problem is for us at least in the past it’s always been your balance on blacks has to be pretty tough to drive in order for it to be decent on reds,” said O’Ward. “It was extremely difficult to drive, like even worse than FP1 in the morning, so I was like, oh, we’re in trouble. But they were like, man, we can’t change anything.

“I was like, you know what, I’m just going to try and pull something out of my hat to see if we can transfer, and when they told us we transferred, I was like, whew. Then we were able to make a longer change, which then put me in a way happier window for the second shot of qualifying and then that transferred us into the Fast Six.

“At that point the feeling that I had before we went on the reds, it was like, well, this is going to be a handful. But then on the prep lap, I guess, before you do your flier, you get a little bit of a feel for what it’s going to be like when the tire is coming up to temp, and it was a significant step into, okay, I can work with this.

“Extremely happy with, first of all, making it to the Fast Six because when we started qualifying we were in trouble, just as we were in FP1. We turned — I don’t know how we did that, but we turned it around, and we got the car into a window where I could work with it.”

From there on, the speed was back and O’Ward qualified his car in 3rd. He says that they’ll go back to look at what happened but some times it just comes down to minor details in terms of car balance on each compound.

“Sometimes it works out that way and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it feels great in the first run and then you put the other set of tires, and it’s like, what the heck happened.

“It’s tough. It’s extremely tough to nail both types of tire compounds in terms of balance. You’ve got to be a little unhappy with one of them to excel in the other one. You always kind of want to excel on the red one because the black ain’t going to transfer you anywhere unless you’re a second and a half faster than anybody, which doesn’t happen in the series.

“Yeah, it’s tough, and it speaks to how hard it is to qualify in INDYCAR and how competitive it is.”

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