It came down to a couple of hungry kids dueling for their first IndyCar win in the closing laps and in the end, Felix Rosenqvist was just a little bit better than Pato O’Ward.
Rosenqvist passed O’Ward for the lead with two laps to go in a sliding crossover move at Road America to capture his first IndyCar victory and keep Chip Ganassi’s team unbeaten in 2020.
O’Ward, the 21-year-old Mexican who won the pole in his Arrow McLaren SP Chevy, led 43 laps and drove as well and hard as anyone could ask but basically ran out of tires.
“I had so much pace and I could run a half a second a lap faster than Pato and when I saw he was on used reds for the last stint, I definitely thought we might have a shot at it,” said the 28-year-old Swede after pushing his NTT DATA Honda 2.9 seconds ahead of O’Ward at the checkered flag. “I’ve been close so many times, so this feels great and it’s for my crew.”
Following the last round of pit stops, O’Ward held a five-second advantage on Rosenqvist with 12 laps to go in the second of two 55-lap races around the 4-mile road course. But the 2018 Indy Lights champ went with used optional tires while his competitor went with new primary Firestones and that appeared to be the difference.
“I gave it everything I had but I couldn’t keep Felix behind me,” said O’Ward. “We got in dirty air and I was having trouble keeping the rear tires under us. But when second place is disappointing, it’s a good day.”
The first Swedish driver to win an IndyCar race since Kenny Brack in 2002 kept methodically cutting into O’Ward’s lead lap after lap with encouragement from his engineer Chris Simmons. And when he got a run on the 2018 Indy Lights champ steaming down into Turn 5, it was game on. Pato got to the corner first but Felix crossed over and pulled alongside as they accelerated towards Turn 6. That gave him in the inside line and he made it stick to muscle into first place.
With Scott Dixon winning the first three races of this crazy season, his teammate of two years kept Ganassi Racing perfect.
After three miserable races, Alexander Rossi got untracked and came home third in his AutoNation Andretti Autosport Honda. “It’s not a win but it’s a step in the right direction,” said the 2016 Indy 500 winner, who started 10th.
Marcus Ericsson, the third member of Ganassi’s squad, drove splendidly and charged from 16th to fourth.
“It was a great race and I needed to make up for my mistake yesterday,” said Ericsson, who spun out of the last lap Saturday while running sixth.
Colton Herta continued his consistency with a fifth in another Andretti Honda and moved into second in the points.
“It’s nice to get another top 5 but I want some hardware and I just didn’t get enough out of my car today,” said the 20-year-old second generation star.
Dixon, who had amassed a monstrous point lead after three races, was never a factor Sunday but still was headed for a top-10 finish before stalling on his final pit stop and winding up 14th. He leads Herta by 54 points heading into next weekend’s doubleheader at Iowa.