By IndyCar Media
FORT WORTH, Texas (Sunday, May 2, 2021) – Pato O’Ward’s time is now.
O’Ward broke through for his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, winning the XPEL 375 on Sunday evening at Texas Motor Speedway. O’Ward, who started fourth, passed two-time series champion Josef Newgarden with 24 laps remaining in the 248-lap race and pulled away to a 1.2443-second victory over Newgarden’s No. 2 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet.
The win came after five top-three finishes – including three as runner-up – since O’Ward became a full-time driver in the series in 2019, including third Saturday in the Genesys 300 on the 1.5-mile oval. The site also has significance for Mexican O’Ward, who went to middle and high school and has lived in San Antonio.
“Finally!” O’Ward said. “That was a long race, but we had so much pace in the Arrow McLaren SP No. 5. We got the job done today, man. I couldn’t be happier for a group of guys. It’s Texas. It’s very close to my heart. Many Mexicans were out there in the grandstands, so thank you guys so much.”
O’Ward became the first Mexican winner of an INDYCAR SERIES race since Adrian Fernandez in 2004 on the 2-mile oval at Auto Club Speedway. This also was McLaren’s first win in INDYCAR since April 22, 1979, when Johnny Rutherford swept a doubleheader at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Graham Rahal finished third in the No. 15 Fleet Cost & Care, Honda. Six-time series champion Scott Dixon, winner of the Genesys 300 on Saturday night, finished fourth after starting from the pole in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Colton Herta bounced back from an early exit Saturday night due to mechanical failure to finish fifth in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
Dixon kept the series points lead. O’Ward jumped to second in the standings, 22 behind.
“Huge congrats to Pato,” Dixon said. “I was watching from back a few spots there, and what he did there at the end was a tremendous drive, especially against one of the best guys in the field.
“Hopefully he calms down a little bit and doesn’t make it too often,” Dixon joked about O’Ward.
While Dixon and teammate Alex Palou were the only leaders Saturday night with three lead changes among them, there were nine leaders and 12 lead changes tonight in a contest that shifted from tactical fuel strategy to all-out speed over the closing laps.
With 100 laps to go, Dixon, Rahal, O’Ward, and 2014 series champion Will Power closed to within one second of each other, packing closely to try and save fuel while whittling the number of pit stops needed from four to three.
Dixon and Rahal peeled off for their final pit stop on Lap 186, followed by O’Ward on Lap 187 and Power on Lap 188. Team Penske President Tim Cindric, who serves as Newgarden’s race strategist, decided to keep his driver on track until Lap 189.
It was a deft call by Cindric. Newgarden produced blistering in and out laps around his stop and returned to the track in second behind Takuma Sato in the No. 30 Panasonic Mi-Jack Honda, who had not made his final stop.
Then the last of three caution periods started on Lap 190 when the right rear wheel of the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet driven by Felix Rosenqvist worked free from the wheel hub assembly in Turn 3. Rosenqvist returned to his pit box safely for service.
On the ensuing restart on Lap 197, Newgarden was content to let Sato lead for a while to ensure he had plenty of fuel for an all-out dash to the checkered. Newgarden’s patience ended on Lap 202 when he rocketed past two-time and reigning Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Sato for the lead.
O’Ward then pulled closer and began to stalk Newgarden. On Lap 225, he tried to pass Newgarden for the lead with a daring outside move in Turn 1 but was parried. But O’Ward sealed his powerful deal by diving inside Newgarden for the lead in Turn 3 on the same lap and began to pull away, never trailing thereafter. He averaged 169.360 mph in the victory.
“We were in the catbird seat there, for sure, and just did not have the speed at the end,” Newgarden said. “I don’t know what it was.
“We’ll figure it out. But we did a great job. I was really proud of the team. They stuck to it.”
The complexion of the race changed on Lap 1 before the 24-car field arrived in Turn 1.
Pietro Fittipaldi’s No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda hit the rear of Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet while the back of the pack compressed while approaching the green flag at the start-finish line, triggering a melee that involved seven cars and eliminated six.
Involved in the incident besides Fittipaldi and Bourdais were Conor Daly (No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet), Ed Jones (No. 18 SealMaster Honda), Tony Kanaan (No. 48 The American Legion Honda), Dalton Kellett (No. 4 K-Line Insulators/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) and Alexander Rossi (No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda). All the drivers in the incident were unhurt, and Kanaan was the only one to continue in the race.
Daly took the wildest ride in the crash. He tried to follow James Hinchcliffe in the No. 29 #ShiftToGreen Honda through a hole in the chaos, but that escape route quickly closed. The ensuing contact turned over Daly’s car, and it slid down the track on the roll hoop and revolutionary Aeroscreen, turning right-side-up when it touched the infield grass. Daly climbed from the car without assistance.
“We found the hole,” Daly said. “Hinch got right through it. I tried to follow my pal through there, and the 4 car (Kellett) looks like they caught whoever else was also crashing on the inside, and the two giant cars came (together), and I was in the middle.
“On our Bingo card of terrible things to have happened to us this year, I don’t know what’s going to be next. I really hope we can just start turning things around. It’s been a rough start. But I’m good. I’m all right.”
The series shifts to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the next two races. The GMR Grand Prix is scheduled for Saturday, May 15 on the IMS road course, with the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge set for Sunday, May 30 on the Brickyard’s world-famous oval.
Photo: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media