O'Ward surges late for first-ever IndyCar win in Race 2 at Texas

Barry Cantrell/Motorsport Images

O'Ward surges late for first-ever IndyCar win in Race 2 at Texas

IndyCar

O'Ward surges late for first-ever IndyCar win in Race 2 at Texas

By

The bravest driver in the NTT IndyCar Series showed why he was Arrow McLaren SP’s first choice to lead the team into a new future as Pato O’Ward raced his way to Victory Lane on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

The day will also be remembered for a giant Lap 1 crash that took out 25 percent of the field before they reached the green flag.

On happier fronts, the win was a first for the 21-year-old Mexican, the first for the AMSP relationship which started in 2020, the first for the team since July 8, 2018, and the eighth since the team was formed as Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2001.

“Finally, man!” said the Mexican, who spent many years growing up in the Lone Star state and put his attacking driving style to good use with the breakthrough performance. “Everybody at this team has been doing such a good job. I couldn’t be happier. [Winning in] Texas; it’s close to my heart.”

It was what the rest of the NTT IndyCar paddock expected coming into the new season, and with a pole to open the year at Round 1 and fightback drive to finish P4, a P3 in the first Texas race, and today’s win, O’Ward and AMSP hold P2 in the championship as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway beckons.

And if you watched the majority of the 248-lap contest on the 1.5-mile oval, there was nothing to suggest the 2018 Indy Lights champion would score his maiden win until things got fun in the closing stages. Saturday’s race winner and Sunday polesitter Scott Dixon held a firm grip on the weekend until he made his final pit stop on Lap 187; a stunning in- and out-lap by O’Ward, coupled with a speedy pit stop by the crew of the No. 5 Chevrolet, brought him closer into contention.

When AMSP teammate Felix Rosenqvist lost a wheel and triggered a caution period on Lap 190, the lead group was shuffled as Team Penske’s a few laps after Dixon and the chasing Graham Rahal pitted before calling in Josef Newgarden. The decision paid off as the Penske driver would eventually inherit P1.

Once the action resumed on Lap 199 and the running order settled down, O’Ward probed and jabbed at Newgarden while Rahal and Dixon slowly lost contact with the dueling leaders. Despite receiving instructions to cruise behind the two-time IndyCar champion, youthful exuberance gave way to strategist Taylor Kiel’s command and O’Ward took P1 on Lap 226.

A day of flying around his rivals on the inside and outside — risking calamity as his No. 5 Chevy wiggled below the white line and up on the unloved second lane — offered some of the only thrills the weekend-long procession had to offer.

Powerless to respond, Newgarden’s No. 2 Chevy trailed home 1.2s behind at the checkered flag, giving the Bowtie a 1-2 after Honda won the first three races, and Team Penske its fifth podium of the year. Rahal, 4.4s adrift in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda, put in another impressive performance at TMS to earn his best result of 2021 in P3, and in P4, Dixon led 163 laps but didn’t have the speed to lead down the stretch.

“Chevrolet is always top notch,” Newgarden said “We were in the catbird seat there. We didn’t have the speed in the end. I don’t know what was causing that, but I’m really proud of the team. Second place is a good day for us.”

Thanks to O’Ward, who joins his former Indy Lights teammate Colton Herta in becoming an IndyCar race winner, the combined Genesys 300 and XPEL 375 ended with something new to celebrate as the dawn of a new era begins.

RESULTS

AS IT HAPPENED

Cars were crashing before they crossed start/finish as Conor Daly slid upside down until reaching the grass, where the No. 59 Carlin Racing Chevy righted itself. It was a calamity for A.J. Foyt Racing and Dale Coyne Racing as both cars from each of the respective teams — Sebastien Bourdais, Dalton Kellett, Ed Jones, and Pietro Fittipaldi — were taken out. Andretti Autosport’s unluckiest man of 2021, Alexander Rossi, crashed out as well.

The melee was triggered after Bourdais was hit from behind for the second time in less than 24 hours — this time by Fittipaldi. The contact with the Foyt driver knocked the Frenchman into Rossi, which collected Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan who was trying to sneak through next to the wall.

Daly, who went for a wild and tumbling ride, took a few moments to gather himself on the car’s sidepod before walking to the safety truck. The rest of the five drivers that were out on the spot were uninjured; Kanaan was able to pit for repairs and continue in the No. 48 Honda to give fans 18 cars to take the restart.

Lap 20 saw polesitter Scott Dixon steal the march on teammate Alex Palou as Jack Harvey shot from P5 to P3 with a pair of daring passes leading into Turn 1.

By Lap 25, Dixon’s lead was 0.5s on Palou and 1s on Harvey as Will Power, Pato O’Ward, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott McLaughlin formed a Chevy-powered armada behind them.

Lap 50 revealed another CGR parade was in effect as Palou sat 0.5s behind Dixon and Harvey was 3.9s back as the field fell away. Power was 4s behind, O’Ward was 4.6s, and throughout the remaining drivers, saving fuel was a priority to make the race a three-stop affair with the use of the long caution period that opened the race.

O’Ward saved a crash while getting below the while line while trying to pass Power in Turns 3 and 4, wiggling his way to recovery while alongside the Penske driver.

Lap 67 had Colton Herta making the first pit stop and more followed.

With the first round of stops complete, Newgarden was the only leading driver to gain a position after taking fourth from O’Ward. Newgarden took third from Harvey on Lap 82 as O’Ward showed intentions of demoting Harvey to fifth.

Lap 100 was another demonstration of the ‘Dixon and Palou Show’ as 0.6s separated the teammates. Newgarden was 4.6s arrears and Harvey, still in fourth, was 5.2s back.

Harvey’s fairy tale start to the season was spoiled on Lap 115 as he slowed with smoke spewing from the back of his car after the right-rear wheel bearing appeared to fail. A caution on Lap 117 to inspect the track followed. Pit stops came on Lap 119 as Power jumped to P2 and Rahal to P3 as Palou fell four spots.

The Lap 128 restart featured O’Ward blitzing Rahal for P3 and he tried to get Power as well by venturing up into the grip-less upper lane, but wiggled and nearly crashed again and fell in line. He got the job done on Power on Lap 131 and chased after Dixon.

Rahal demoted Power on Lap 134 as Palou ran a distant P8, leaving Dixon without the advantage of having a tail gunner. And Rahal kept going, taking P2 from O’Ward on Lap 136 as the gap to the leader was just 0.2s. It wasn’t clear whether Dixon was struggling for pace or looking to save a lot of fuel by running at a reduced pace. By Lap 140, the margin was down to 0.09s and on Lap 141, Rahal motored by to become the first non-Ganassi driver to lead this weekend.

Lap 150 showed Dixon 0,2s adrift and O’Ward 0.5s behind; Power in P4 was 1.1s back as it became obvious the field was cruising to save fuel as the leaders’ pace hovered around 204-205mph. Dixon reclaimed the lead from Rahal on Lap 153 and other than changing car colors at the front, not much of interest was happening.

Lap 175 was more of the same with Rahal 0.2s in Dixon’s wake, O’Ward 0.8s, and the rest of the top seven within 2.5s of the leader.

Pagenaud and McLaughlin were the first to make their final stops as cars started diving in on Lap 184. Dixon and Rahal pitted on Lap 187 as Rahal cut into the leader under braking at the top of pit lane. They resumed in order but O’Ward jumped the two as Rahal overtook Dixon Lap 189. O’Ward’s teammate. Felix Rosenqvis, saw his torturous season continue after leaving the pits and the right-rear wheel fell off.

A caution on Lap 190 revealed Newgarden, who pitted three laps after Dixon and Rahal, used the overcut to his advantage and waited to take P1 once those who were ahead and hadn’t stopped paid their final call to the pits. Only Takuma Sato stayed out, holding P1 while hoping for another caution to cover his need for fuel.

The Lap 199 restart saw Power slide up into the higher lane and lightly hit the wall as Sato led Newgarden, O’Ward, Rahal, and Dixon with Herta making an appearance in P6. Newgarden took the lead on Lap 203 and O’Ward followed on the next lap.

O’Ward had enough of watching Newgarden lead and took P1 on Lap 226. By Lap 238, Newgarden had been dropped like a rock, 1.2s behind as Rahal in P3 was 3.s back and the rest of the field had no answer for the Arrow McLaren SP driver.

Pato O’Ward becomes the newest winner in IndyCar, taking a statement-making win over some of the series’ most decorated drivers. Bravo.

More RACER
Home