Pato O’Ward is still “seeking answers” from IndyCar after a number of cars appeared to improve their positions at his expense while a local yellow was out during the second phase of IndyCar qualifying at Long Beach on Saturday.
O’Ward and fellow championship contender Alex Palou both backed off when a yellow flag came out in response to Will Power crashing at Turn 9, however a number of other cars — including that of O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP teammate Felix Rosenqvist — set their fastest times while the yellow was waving, and secured places in the Fast Six battle for pole.
The break between the second and final qualifying phases were filled with teams making their case to the series for the offending drivers to have their times deleted, setting up a bizarre scene in which even Alex Palou — who at 10th-fastest would have needed four drivers ahead of him to have their times thrown out in order to sneak into the Fast Six — remaining strapped into their cars. The Spaniard admitted that his chances of progressing were slim.
“I knew we were 10th and that there were only four cars or three cars in front of us that passed under the yellow,” Palou said. “Even if they reviewed everything, we were not going to make it. But still, you have to be there ready, just in case, right? You never know. It was a bit confusing. I think we had lots of those moments this year.”
But O’Ward, who fell two places short of having a chance at pole, wants answers.
“I’m really happy for Felix, that he went into the Fast Six,” O’Ward said. “We’re in the same team and we have data that shows that at least two of the cars that didn’t get penalized kept going quickly under the yellow flag. I don’t know. Maybe rules don’t apply (to) the last race of the season when everything’s at stake.
“It just sucks. It sucks that we’re stuck there, because we should have transferred. We had the car to fight. I don’t know if (we could fight) for pole, but we definitely had a car to be in the Fast Six and start within the first two rows. I’m still waiting on the explanation (from race officials), but doubt I’ll get an explanation.”
We don’t make the calls so all we can do tomorrow is SEND IT. Starting 8th. #LongBeach
— Pato O'Ward (@PatricioOWard) September 25, 2021
RACER understands that the review by race control determined that while several cars improved their lap times while the local yellow was waving, everyone other than Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones slowed down in the affected area. Those drivers compensated for the time lost to the yellow with the gains they made on red tires around the rest of the lap.
While O’Ward will start tomorrow’s race from further down the grid than he feels he deserves to, he’ll take some solace in having a better car to work with than he might have expected after a difficult outing at Laguna Seca last weekend was followed up by a similarly frustrating practice session yesterday.
“We definitely have a better car than what we’ve had, at least last weekend,” he said. “(I’m) happy about that. The guys have done a great job in being efficient with changes, just working together to make everything just go a little bit better.
“But it’s hard to say (how the car stacks up to those around him). There’s a lot of really quick cars out there. We’ve got champions in the front, people that know how to win races, people that know how to win championships. It won’t be easy. But we’re definitely going to send it tomorrow.”