The faith placed by Arrow McLaren SP in 21-year-old Pato O’Ward to lead its reconfigured team was rewarded on Sunday at Road America as the young Mexican captured his first pole and dominated 95 percent of the race. It was the final five percent where things went awry for the Chevy-powered outfit as Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist swept by O’Ward to lead the last two laps.
Struggling with rear traction on his used Firestone alternate (red) tires in the closing stint, O’Ward was powerless to stop Rosenqvist’s advance in the No. 10 Honda; the same balance problem occurred with the No. 5 Chevy on the previous stint while using Firestone’s primary (black) tires.
Although there was clear disappointment to have controlled all but the final minutes of the race, there’s something to be said for O’Ward’s efforts to manage three competing objectives of maintaining the lead, saving his rear tires, and saving fuel for the second half of the 55-lap contest.
It wasn’t the win he or the AMSP team wanted, but there’s no doubt O’Ward delivered a remarkable performance while earning his best IndyCar finish to date.
“Pato’s the real deal,” AMSP managing director Taylor Kiel told RACER. “We put a lot of emphasis in showing we can unload and go quickly, and we put that all together on the 5-car side. We dominated 95 percent of the race, and we’re gutted to get that close. Credit to Felix and what the Ganassi team was able to do. But Pato drove like a veteran today. It’s only our fourth race together, and we have a long and successful road ahead. Disappointed for now, but proud of how well the Arrow McLaren SP team performed today.”
Kiel also spared a thought for O’Ward’s teammate, 2019 Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew, who had an event to forget in the No. 7 Chevy.
“Oliver’s the real deal, too,” he said. “He had a terrible weekend, and when you start at the back, it’s tough to move up; his race was ruined from the beginning, so we’ll work on turning that around here in a few days for Iowa.”
The relationships between O’Ward and his race engineer Will Anderson, and Askew with Blair Perschbacher, have been a strong component in how well the Nos. 5 and 7 cars have run at various times over the first four races. Kiel expects those bonds to strengthen — and deliver more — as the season continues.
“They quickly got on the same page, and I also think that Pato and Oliver are still trying to find constructive input to give, since they are so new to IndyCar, while the guys they are racing against have decades giving feedback to their teams,” he noted. “So I’ll give credit to our engineering group as a whole, which includes the support we receive there from McLaren. Blair and Will are putting the fine touches on things, and the group as a whole it putting out good work to get us where we are.”