In an event dominated by Rinus VeeKay, Pato O’Ward rose to the occasion in the late stages and rallied from a difficult start to the season by winning the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, May 1.
The 22-year-old O’Ward from Monterrey, Mexico, spent more than 70% of Sunday’s event trailing pole-sitter Rinus VeeKay. During a late cycle of pit stops under green with less than 30 laps remaining, however, O’Ward capitalized on the opportunity to close in and overtake VeeKay for the lead. From there, he fended off Alex Palou by less than a second to grab his first NTT IndyCar Series victory of the 2022 season.
With on-track qualifying occurring on Saturday, Rinus VeeKay started on pole position after notching a pole-winning lap at 124.980 mph in one minute, 6.2507 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Pato O’Ward, who recorded a fast lap at 124.698 mph in one minute, 6.4003 seconds.
The first lap of the event occurred under caution as the IndyCar competitors were still working to line up in double lanes under a cautious pace.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced on the second lap, VeeKay took off with the lead followed by O’Ward and Scott McLaughlin battled Alex Palou for third place while the rest of the field jostled for positions in a long single file line.
As the field made their way through the 15-turn circuit for a full lap under green, VeeKay was leading ahead of O’Ward, McLaughlin, Palou, Alexander Rossi, Felix Rosenqvist, Romain Grosjean, rookie Callum Ilott, Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps, VeeKay continued to lead by more than a second over O’Ward while McLaughlin, Palou and Rossi occupied the top five, all while trailing VeeKay by more than three seconds. Rosenqvist, Grosjean, Ilott, Rahal and Newgarden remained in the top 10 ahead of Colton Herta, Jack Harvey, Marcus Ericsson, Christian Lundgaard and Scott Dixon. Takuma Sato, Helio Castroneves, Devlin DeFrancesco, Will Power and David Malukas were in the top 20 while Jimmie Johnson was mired in 25th.
A lap later, pit strategy ensued as Marcus Ericsson pitted his No. 8 Huski Chocolate Dallara-Honda. Shortly after, Newgarden pitted his No. 2 PPG Dallara-Chevrolet along with Helio Castroneves and Jack Harvey. During the proceeding lap, Colton Herta veered his No. 26 Gainbridge Dallara-Honda to his pit stall for his service along with rookie Kyle Kirkwood, who endured a slow pit stop after his pit crew encountered issues while changing the right-front tire. In the midst of this, Romain Grosjean also made his way to pit road for service.
On Lap 15, Herta overshot the course entering the first turn while battling teammate Grosjean, but the race proceeded under green as the two Andretti Autosport teammates continued to battle.
By Lap 20, VeeKay extended his advantage to more than two seconds over O’Ward while McLaughlin, Palou, Rossi, Rosenqvist, Ilott, Rahal, Lundgaard and Dixon were in the top 10. By then, Will Power was in 13th, Johnson was in 16th ahead of Newgarden, Herta and Grosjean and Ericsson was in 22nd behind Tatiana Calderon and Jack Harvey.
Nearing the Lap 30 mark, Rosenqvist pitted his No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Dallara-Chevrolet along with Devlin DeFrancesco, O’Ward, Rossi, Ilott, Lundgaard, Takuma Sato, David Malukas and Simon Pagenaud. Soon after, the leader VeeKay made his first pit stop of the event along with Palou, McLaughlin, Rahal, Power and Dixon.
Then on Lap 32, the first caution of the event flew when Ilott, who was having a stellar run in the top 10, overdrove and spun in Turn 9 before getting his No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Dallara-Chevrolet stuck in the gravel while battling Castroneves. At the moment of caution, Newgarden, who was on a different strategy from the leaders, was leading ahead of Herta, VeeKay, Grosjean, O’Ward, McLaughlin, Palou, Harvey, Rossi and Ericsson.
Under caution, some like Newgarden pitted while the rest led by VeeKay remained on the track.
When the race proceeded under green on Lap 36, VeeKay retained the lead ahead of O’Ward as the field jostled for positions.
On Lap 41, Castroneves got into the rear end of Johnson’s No. 48 Carvana Dallara-Honda, which sent Johnson spinning in Turn 8 while the race proceeded under green. As a result, Castroneves was assessed a drive-through penalty for the incident.
At the halfway mark on Lap 45, VeeKay was leading by over O’Ward while McLaughlin, Rossi, Palou, Dixon, Power, Rosenqvist, Rahal and Pagenaud were in the top 10. Herta was up in 11th ahead of Sato, Laundgaard, Newgarden, Grosjean, Ericsson, DeFrancesco, Harvey, Malukas and Conor Daly while Johnson and Castroneves were back in 22nd and 23rd behind Kyle Kirkwood.
Five laps later, VeeKay stabilized his advantage to less than two seconds over O’Ward while McLaughlin, Rossi and Palou remained in the top five.
By Lap 60, VeeKay continued to lead by more than two seconds over O’Ward followed by McLaughlin, Rossi, Palou, Dixon, Power, Rahal, Herta and Pagenaud.
Shortly after, pit stops under green ensued as Rossi pitted followed by Rosenqvist, Lundgaard, DeFrancesco, Harvey and Rahal. During the following lap, the race leader VeeKay pitted followed by O’Ward, McLaughlin and Power. Despite VeeKay exiting pit road ahead of O’Ward, the latter was able to gain the speed needed to overtake VeeKay for position after trailing him throughout the event.
When the pit stops concluded on Lap 65, O’Ward cycled his way into the lead while Palou, who had just exited his pit stall on Lap 64, fended off VeeKay for the runner-up spot, thus dropping VeeKay to third place. With Ericsson pitting, Dixon and McLaughlin were in the top five followed by Power, Rossi, Rahal, Herta and Pagenaud.
With 20 laps remaining, O’Ward was leading by more than a second over Palou while third-place VeeKay trailed by more than four seconds. Dixon and Power were in the top five followed by McLaughlin, Herta, Rahal, Rossi and Grosjean.
Five laps later, O’Ward continued to lead by more than a second over Palou and more than six seconds over VeeKay. Behind, a tight battle ensued for fourth place as Dixon was in position ahead of Power, McLaughlin, Herta, Rahal, Grosjean and Rossi. Soon after, Herta made contact with McLaughlin while battling for position and spun, but he proceeded under green.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, O’Ward remained as the leader by more than two seconds over Palou and more than seven seconds over VeeKay. Power and Dixon remained in the top five while McLaughlin, Rahal, Grosjean, Rossi and Herta were scored in the top 10. Pagenaud, Ericsson, Newgarden, Sato and Lundgaard were in the top 15 followed by Rosenqvist, DeFrancesco, Harvey, Daly and Malukas while Castroneves and Johnson were in 21st and 24th.
With five laps remaining, O’Ward retained the lead by more than a second over Palou while third-place VeeKay trailed by more than 10 seconds. While Power and Dixon stabilized themselves in the top five, McLaughlin continued to be pressured by Rahal and Grosjean for more.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, O’Ward remained as the leader by more than a second over Palou. With the battles ensuing behind but none near his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Dallara-Chevrolet, O’Ward smoothly navigated his way through the 15-turn circuit and cycled his way back to the finish line to claim his first checkered flag of the season.
The victory was the third of O’Ward’s IndyCar career and first since he won the first of a Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader feature in June 2021. He also recorded the fourth consecutive victory of the 2022 season for Chevrolet and the first of the season for Arrow McLaren SP.
“[Team principal] Taylor [Kiel] told me we were fighting for the win when we almost got [VeeKay] in the pit stops, so I said, ‘No, this is the chance, man.’ It was so tough to follow just because it’s such a fast and flowing circuit, so I knew if I would have the opportunity it would have been right then and there. I got on my [push to pass] button, got around him into [Turn] 5, and I knew if we would get into clean air, we could kind of control the thing. Once we did that, [we] cruised to Victory Lane.”
The Barber victory also erased all speculations of O’Ward’s on-track struggles to the start of the season and uncertainty beyond this season as he is now poised to ink a new contract extension with Arrow McLaren SP.
“It sucks to be at war within your own team, so I’m glad there’s been very positive talks for the future,” O’Ward added. “And man I wanted to do it for these guys, for Arrow McLaren SP, Team Chevy, they’ve swept this year so far, so I think it’s great for them…I was tired of being 10th, 11th and fifth, so I said let’s get a win under our belts so we can claw our way back into this championship fight.”
Alex Palou, who notched his first IndyCar career victory at Barber a year ago, settled in second place as he trailed O’Ward by less than a second. Despite falling one spot shy of claiming his first victory of the season, Palou emerged as the new leader in the championship standings.
“We had a good day, overall,” Palou said. “Super happy with P2. [O’Ward] was running second at that time. I think we were running fourth. Just that track difference, that’s what got us. I did a mistake on the restart where [Rossi] got us there. I think that was all the difference. [O’Ward] was really fast today, but super happy with the No. 10 American Legion Honda car. It was super fast all weekend. Another podium. We were fighting till the end. Couldn’t make it today, but we’ll try on the next one.”
VeeKay, meanwhile, came home in third place after leading a race-high 57 of 90 laps.
“We were in a great race and coming into pit lane, and I really got held up a little bit with Jimmie [Johnson], so Pato closed the gap a lot,” VeeKay said. “I was so much looking in my mirrors I forgot to use the push to pass because I was too much looking in my mirrors. Yeah, I was just a little bit too conservative there. So pretty bummed missing out on that win. We had a great car, great race.”
Power and Dixon completed the top five on the track while McLaughlin, Grosjean, Rahal, Rossi and Herta finished in the top 10.
Following the event, Rahal voiced his displeasure towards Grosjean over their late battle and on-track contact.
Newgarden, who was vying for his third consecutive win in the IndyCar Series along with a $1 million bonus, settled in 14th place after an early gamble with a three-stop strategy was spoiled due to Ilott’s incident.
There were five lead changes for four different leaders. The race featured one caution for three laps.
With his runner-up result, Alex Palou leads the IndyCar drivers’ standings by three points over Scott McLaughlin, nine over Josef Newgarden, 10 over Will Power, 30 over Pato O’Ward and 31 over Scott Dixon.
1. Pato O’Ward, 27 laps led
2. Alex Palou, four laps led
3. Rinus VeeKay, 57 laps led
4. Will Power
5. Scott Dixon
6. Scott McLaughlin
7. Romain Grosjean
8. Graham Rahal
9. Alexander Rossi
10. Colton Herta
11. Simon Pagenaud
12. Marcus Ericsson
13. Takuma Sato
14. Josef Newgarden, two laps led
15. Christian Lundgaard
16. Felix Rosenqvist
17. Devlin DeFrancesco
18. Jack Harvey
19. Conor Daly
20. David Malukas
21. Helio Castroneves
22. Kyle Kirkwood, one lap down
23. Dalton Kellett, one lap down
24. Jimmie Johnson, one lap down
25. Callum Ilott, two laps down
26. Tatiana Calderon, two laps down
The 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season will be returning to action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in Indianapolis, Indiana, for the GMR Grand Prix. The event is scheduled to occur on May 14 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.