Pato O’Ward had a completely trimmed-out car, perfect pitstops and strategy, track position when he needed it – and he still didn’t have quite enough to reel in Marcus Ericsson and become the first Mexican driver to win the Indianapolis 500.
“Too fast in the straight,” said O’Ward of the Swede’s No. 10 Ganassi Honda. “Maybe if I would have timed [the last attack] a little bit better… I really don’t think I could have done it much better.
“At the end, I was surprised with how much more pace they had in a straight line, with quite a bit more downforce. I was just trying to time [the move] as good as possible. Obviously the weaving helped him. Staying on the inside helped him. I got alongside him, but we all know how that ends up in the last lap. No way he would have backed off.”
O’Ward refused to be drawn further on Ericsson’s defending over the final two laps – “I’ll leave that to the race directors” – and also declined to directly identify where he believed his package fell short, preferring instead to take the road less likely to anger team partners by merely dropping very strong hints. What he was sure of is that there was nothing left to squeeze out of his car.
“Especially this last stint, the car was hairy for few moments,” he said. “That was the only way for me to have a shot — because I knew [my rivals] were going to pull out something from their back pocket.
“I think we were one of three cars that was really trimmed. Whenever we practiced and we put the wicker on like everybody else, I said, ‘No, this is turtle slow. We need to trim out and we risk it. I will make sure I don’t put the car in the wall.’
“But it was hairy. At the end it was tough. The red flag really helped me cool down the rear tire. I was loose. That was the only way. Without that I would not even have had a chance.
“These [Ganassi] guys had the better car. They did the better job. They had the better package. We need to work. That’s just the only thing we can look at; come back next year and give it a run again.”
After failing to qualify with Carlin in 2019, O’Ward’s Indy 500 appearances have shown a consistent upward swing: sixth in 2020, fourth in 2021, second on Sunday. There’s inevitably a bittersweet aspect to a performance that’s better than anything you’ve done previously and yet could very nearly have been a lot better, but O’Ward said that the progress he’s made is what will help take the sting out of a narrow defeat.
“I think every time you do laps around this place you learn,” he said. “It’s the race where you learn as you go. You don’t go out and go balls to the wall. If you do, you’re going to put it in the wall. It’s a race of a lot of patience, but it’s a race where you have to be really smart and you have to be thinking a lot of different things.
“It’s definitely a race that’s different to any other. We keep getting better and better, so I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.”