Yesterday, Patricio O'Ward started on pole for the first of two races at Detroit's Belle Isle street circuit. After a caution forced him down the order early, he fought back to finish third. Today, he qualified a disappointing 16th. Naturally, he won.
With O'Ward out of the picture, the clear class of the field in the early running was Josef Newgarden. The former series champion started on pole and led the first 60 or so laps of the 70-lap race, building an enormous ten-second lead on his Penske teammate Will Power and Andretti Autosport's Colton Herta on the clean track ahead of him. But his race strategy dictated that he would have to finish the race on the red alternate tires, the same tires that have burned off after about 12 laps throughout the weekend. They were already fading with 16 to go, and Colton Herta was on his bumper and in position to pass well before the end of the race. Then Jimmie Johnson spun, forcing a yellow. A lap after the race resumed, Romain Grosjean's car caught fire, forcing another.
All of this led to Newgarden, leading the field on cooked tires for a final restart. Newgarden led Herta, Alex Palou, Graham Rahal, and Pato O'Ward when the restart came with seven to go. Within half a lap, O'Ward was past both Rahal and Palou. It took just one more lap to get past Herta, who had run second or third all day and was on equal tires, and two more to move past Newgarden. By the time the race was over, O'Ward had won by six seconds.
Given that Belle Isle is a street circuit known for a distinct lack of passing zones, it is hard to overstate what O'Ward actually pulled off. Each move was aggressive, but none were particularly reckless. Each was methodical, too; O'Ward never lost ground on the next car in his sights while passing another. And the charge was only possible because of the brilliant, ordinary race he had run up to that point, moving up 11 spots over the course of 50 laps run largely under green flag conditions and finding himself on the right tires at the end of the race anyway.
It was a sensational drive, a perfect representation of why O'Ward is one of the most exciting talents in racing, outright. And, despite being just 22, he is already more than just great for his age. After today's win Patricio O'Ward is now leading the IndyCar championship in his third season. O'Ward is not just a prospect who will clearly become great, not just someone who could put it all together and become a champion. He is a championship contender right now, one of the best drivers in a field dotted with proven veteran stars from all disciplines of racing, and he is not going to wait around for anything.
It has been clear since the two were signed to an ill-fated two car program at Harding Steinbrenner Racing in 2019 that O'Ward and Herta were the future of IndyCar. HSR may never have expanded to two cars (in fact, it merged into Andretti Autosport the next offseason), but their eye for talent is unmatched. Their would-be rookie teammates are now multi-time IndyCar winners and already proven season-long contenders after finishing third and fourth in last year's standings. With O'Ward's win today, one that involved a dramatic pass on Herta, one of the two is now leading the IndyCar standings outright halfway through the season.
You Might Also Like