O’Ward scores a ‘long time coming’ win over Palou at Mid-Ohio

“Long time coming,” was Pato O’Ward’s message to his team after producing a masterful performance to turn the tables on Alex Palou and secure his first on-track victory since Iowa in 2022.

Although the Arrow McLaren driver was credited with the win in St. Petersburg after Josef Newgarden was disqualified, there was no satisfaction taken from the result since it didn’t come with a trip to victory lane. On Sunday at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, the Mexican appeared to be playing for second place as Palou streaked away from pole on the first stint.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver had an advantage on Firestone’s primary tires, but when both pitted and went to the faster but less durable alternates, O’Ward’s No. 5 Chevy started cutting into Palou’s lead, and with the gap cut to almost nothing, their final stop is where their respective fortunes rose and fell.


With a 5s lead cut to 0.5s, O’Ward stopped one lap before Palou, got in and out of the pits with haste, and had hot tires to attack Palou who pitted on the next lap. But O’Ward wouldn’t need to do anything courageous to snatch the lead; Palou’s stop was clean from his No. 9 Honda pit crew, but he sat idle for an extra moment or two while trying to engage the transmission and fire back onto the circuit.

That tiny bobble was all it took for the charging O’Ward to power around Palou and hold onto a diminishing lead of his own to bring his on-track winless streak to an end after 714 days.

“That was a hard-fought race,” O’Ward said after handing Chevy the first win of IndyCar’s hybrid era. “Great job by the team. It’s been a while. This is a proper win. We earned this one.”

Just 0.4493s separated Palou from earning his second straight win.

“Shame,” he said. “It was a good race. We couldn’t make the alternate tires last. I destroyed my front tires. We had a slow stop; [I] couldn’t engage first gear.”

Scott McLaughlin, 16.1s shy of O’Ward, salvaged the day with a third for a Team Penske squad that had its share of struggles with Will Power running out of the lead pack in 11th and Josef Newgarden who tried to make a three-stop pit strategy work before receiving three straight penalties—the only penalties in the race—for speeding on pit lane, failing to heed instructions from IndyCar, and another speeding penalty while serving a penalty. He’d end the day a distant 25th.

With O’Ward and Palou in a world of their own, McLaughlin and the Andretti Global duo of Colton Herta in fourth and Marcus Ericsson in fifth ran smart races while lacking the pace to chase the leaders. O’Ward’s teammate Alexander Rossi completed the top six.

Elsewhere, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Christian Rasmussen turned his strong qualifying performance of eighth into his best race finish of ninth, and not far behind him on the road in 13th, IndyCar rookie Toby Sowery was nothing short of impressive as he took his Dale Coyne Racing car from 25th to 13th.

IndyCar’s new energy recovery system was almost flawless in its first race.

Ganassi’s Scott Dixon was bitten by some form of hybrid-related issue before the green flag which ruined his race, but his was the only car among the 27 in attendance to encounter adversity with the system.

As it happened

The first hybrid IndyCar race got off to a disastrous start for perennial Mid-Ohio contender Scott Dixon whose No. 9 Ganassi Honda died on the final warmup lap, which forced Dixon to sit and wait for his powerless car to be pulled off the course where he climbed out and watched for 22 laps from the sidelines.

The proper race start on lap three saw polesitter Alex Palou lead into Turn 5 and build a 1.0s lead over Pato O’Ward. The jousting between Christians—Lundgaard and Rasmussen—over seventh place on lap four went to Rasmussen as Palou stretched his lead over O’Ward to 1.5s on lap five. David Malukas sat 2.2s back in third.

By lap 10, Palou was disappearing into the distance with 3.3s over O’Ward and 6.5s over Malukas.

Pit lane got busy starting on lap 11 as Kyffin Simpson dove in and committed to a three-stop strategy; Josef Newgarden and Rinus VeeKay did the same on lap 12. Marcus Armstrong, Felix Rosenqvist, and Nolan Siegel pitted on lap 13. Palou held 4.4s over O’Ward on lap 14 and Malukas was 9.9s arrears.

O’Ward was 5.7s back on lap 20—the one-quarter mark—and Malukas was a full 13.0s behind Palou, who was cruising. In fourth, Colton Herta was down 14.4s, Scott McLaughlin was fifth at 15.6s, and Marcus Ericsson was 17.4s shy of the leader.

Lap 22 saw Dixon emerge from the pits in an attempt to salvage his day in any way possible. Palou’s march continued as his gap to O’Ward grew to 6.3s on lap 25. By lap 27, O’Ward cut the lead down to 5.6s as he prepared to pit at the start of lap 28 and move from Firestone primaries to alternates—like the other leading drivers — on his two-stop strategy.

Third-place Malukas pitted as well, which forced O’Ward’s team to hold him as Malukas pulled into his pit box. The time loss for O’Ward wasn’t great, but Malukas stalled, which lost him even more time.

Palou was in at the start of lap 29 and had a slightly slow stop as a wheel gun issue added a few seconds to the stop. With the top three having pit stop issues, the damage varied as Palou returned with 5.7s over O’Ward and Malukas fell from third to 13th.

McLaughlin went for the overcut by pitting at the start of lap 31 and was rewarded by emerging in third ahead of Herta and Newgarden, who was in need of stopping soon on his three-stop plan. Fellow three-stoppers Siegel and VeeKay were in on lap 33.

Newgarden was in on lap 37 and resumed in 16th. Palou’s lead fell to 4.5s on lap 38 as he worked through traffic; McLaughlin was 11.5s back in third.

Palou focused on conserving his alternate tires in the race’s middle phase as O’Ward did the same, but on lap 42, Palou’s lead was down to 4.0s as O’Ward slowly drew the margin down. Was it a case of O’Ward catching, or Palou giving up outright speed to get more life out of his tires?

Running sixth on a three-stop strategy, Linus Lundqvist pitted—he’d need one more stop—on lap 45 and resumed in 17th. Without a caution at an opportune time, the three-stoppers were facing some rough results.

By lap 47, O’Ward had Palou’s lead down to 3.2s and McLaughlin was only 6.3s back. Second- and third-place drivers were going forward and the leader was going backward. lap 49 and it was down for Palou to 2.7s. O’Ward’s charge continued as 2.3s separated him from Palou on lap 50 as traffic was on the horizon.

Lap 52 and O’Ward was down by just 1.4s. Ericsson also took fourth from teammate Herta. The start of lap 53 had only 0.8s between Palou and O’Ward. O’Ward was in Palou’s wheel tracks on lap 54 with 0.5s between the contenders. The McLaren pitted at the end of the lap—the start of lap 55—to take primaries as Palou stayed out and lost a bit of time trying to get around Will Power.

Palou was in at the end of lap 55 and the race for the lead was on. A delay dropping the clutch gave O’Ward the lead as Palou watched O’Ward sweep by on pit exit. By lap 57, O’Ward held 1.5s over Palou. Could Palou summon his earlier pace on primaries, or would O’Ward hold firm in the lead?

Palou got the lead down to 1.1s on lap 59, but he spent the next lap stuck behind Pietro Fittipaldi and saw it swell to 1.6s. A bobble by Newgarden who hit the inside curb at Turn 11 slowed his progression as he flew across the grass but he didn’t lose an immense amount of time and resumed in fifth while preparing to make this third and final stop.

Lap 63 and Palou carved O’Ward’s down to 0.8s. McLaughlin was 12.3s behind O’Ward and Ericsson — on alternates — was 17.0s back in fourth.

Sixty six laps down and now Palou was in O’Ward’s wheel tracks, 0.3s behind. Newgarden was in for his final stop and back in on lap 67 for speeding. He returned in 25th.

O’Ward was pushing and drew the lead out to 1.0s on lap 68, and imprecise driving from Palou and a slide out of Turn 13 had his deficit grow to 1.3s on lap 69. O’Ward was back in control with greater comfort.

Catching traffic, including Palou’s teammate Simpson, the leaders had a 0.7s separation on lap 70. Herta reclaimed fourth from Ericsson and Alexander Rossi was in sixth.

Lap 74 and it was 0.5s. Palou was close, but he’d need something remarkable to happen to get by O’Ward. Lap 77 and Palou was within one car length but he slid off the course and gave away a few tenths. Lap 78 and it was 0.5s, which was close for Palou, but not close enough as Romain Grosjean spun off the course on his own.

When the white flag flew, a 0.4s lead was in store for O’Ward, and he held onto it to claim his second race of the year.


Story originally appeared on Racer