Pato O’Ward is listed as a rookie at Indianapolis but his experience was on display again Friday in the final practice before Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500.
The 21-year-old Mexican, bumped from last year’s race but in his second season as an IndyCar driver, led the way on Carb Day with a lap of 225.355mph in his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
O’Ward, who nearly captured his initial IndyCar win at Road America last month, was the only driver to crest 225mph as it was basically a two-hour conga line for most of the 33 starters.
“I think it’s just been really important to try and get the best car under us for race day,” O’Ward said. “I think traffic running is going to be key. From just feeling out practice and everything, it’s so important to have a car that’s able to follow closely and be able to get runs on people, ultimately move forward instead of moving backward.”
Scott Dixon, who starts second in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, wound up there on the speed chart Friday with a lap of 224.646mph and that was just a tick quicker than Alexander Rossi’s best of 224.599mph in the No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA Honda.
“We had to go through our front wings today just to make sure they’re all close in case we need one in the race,” Dixon said. “We lost some front grip, and we’re trying to see if the (Chip Ganassi Racing) teammates had the same situation. Apart from that, the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda felt really good and really fast. It pulls up wicked fast. Hopefully that’s true when it comes to the race.”
Takuma Sato, who lines up on the outside of Row 1, continued to show his speed with the fourth fastest lap of 224.580mph in the No. 30 Panasonic Honda and another rookie, Oliver Askew, was fifth at 224.128 in his No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevy.
Polesitter Marco Andretti could only muster the 28th-best lap as he complained of having trouble picking up a tow from other drivers in his No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda.
Team Penske, which had a miserable qualifying run last weekend, fared a little better on Friday as Josef Newgarden was seventh best in the No. 1 Shell Chevy. Last year’s winner, Simon Pagenaud, was 14th in the No. 22 Menards Chevy, three-time winner Helio Castroneves was 17th in the No. 3 Pennzoil Chevy and Will Power 24th in the No. 12 Verizon Chevy.
Among no-tow speeds, Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 21 of rookie Rinus VeeKay (16th overall) was fastest at 220.189mph, Newgarden second at 220.002mph, and Andretti third at 219.562mph.