If it weren’t for an asinine passing attempt by Ed Jones at Long Beach’s Turn 11 hairpin, championship contender Pato O’Ward might have given Alex Palou a proper fight to bring a natural conclusion to their season-long battle for the NTT IndyCar Series title.
But with a silly lunge by the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan driver at the end of lap 1, O’Ward’s hopes came to an end as the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevy, holding second in the Drivers’ standings, was hit and spun by Jones, who entered the Grand Prix of Long Beach buried in 21st in the championship.
Dropped to last in the field, O’Ward would get turned around and continue for 17 laps before the right-rear axle — hit by Jones after sailing past James Hinchcliffe — broke and left the popular Mexican stranded on the front straight.
“It’s not the first time he’s hit us, and not the first time he’s done something stupid all season,” a frustrated O’Ward said. “I just wish he could use his head a little bit more; at least respect the guys that are fighting the championship. I don’t know what else to say. That corner is kind of just respect the guys that’s in front and then maybe you get a run. I mean, I’m not telling him not to race me but don’t be stupid about it.”
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O’Ward’s AMSP boss Zak Brown searched for positives after their title chances were dashed and was less than impressed by Jones’ title-deciding contact.
“The team’s done an outstanding job all year, Pato’s done an unbelievable job all year, and a lot of credit to the team,” he said. “So disappointed to have Pato taken out by an amateur move before the race [had] really gotten started, but these things happen.”
With second in the championship still possible to retain, the AMSP team repaired O’Ward’s car and sent him out to try and salvage the day. Despite his best efforts, O’Ward was overtaken by Josef Newgarden in the standings and closed the season in third.
After the race, Jones offered his take on the incident.
“It was an eventful day for the SealMaster Honda,” Jones said. “At the start of the race I was pushing to gain positions, everyone stacked up and unfortunately, I caught another car and spun him. So we got penalized for that and went to the back of the field. We had to work our way forward.
“We did a good job getting back up to 10th. We had a major issue on the last stint with the tires and lost 2 positions. We had a great car today,”