Indy Grand Prix of Alabama: O’Ward surges as Andretti teammates clash

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After an eventful return to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward overtakes Rinus Veekay in the closing stages to score his first victory of 2022 at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Andretti Teammates Go At It

On Lap 16, just after the first round of pit stops for the drivers who chose the three-stop strategy, Colton Herta cycled out a few seconds behind his new Andretti Autosport teammate of Romain Grosjean in his No. 28 Enevate Honda. While Grosjean was on colder tires, his American teammate tried to pass him on the inside of Turn 1. In what NBC’s Leigh Diffey noted as an F1-style move, Grosjean defended Herta almost to the pit wall, preventing the young American from passing. While Grosjean carried on, Herta went on to have a moment into Turn 1 and cut through the grass inside of Turn 2. Later on in the race, the Andretti cars of Grosjean, Alexander Rossi, and Herta ran in a pack, and wound up finishing seventh, ninth and 10th.

Herta’s Mad Dash Ends in Disaster… Again

After Callum Ilott’s spin on Lap 33 brought out the only caution of the race, much of the field took to the pits, including those like Herta, who was on the risky three-stop strategy. On the restart, Herta found himself mid-pack due to the unfortunate timing of Ilott’s caution, showed off his signature short run pace, carving his way through the field all the way up to 9th. Herta, in a word, was dusting the entire field on his fresh slicks, the softer compound of the two offered. However, just like in Nashville last August and two weeks ago in Long Beach, Herta pushed his car a bit too far. On Lap 75, as Herta was approaching rival Scott Mclaughlin for sixth place, the American made a very late lunge into Turn 5, making contact with the rear of McLaughlin’s No. 3 machine and sending Herta into a spin.

However, Herta did end up recovering well to put himself across the line in 10th, the third of four Andretti cars in the field.

Veekay’s Day Ruined On Final Stint as O’Ward Pulls Through

For much of the day, 21-year old Dutchman Rinus Veekay, driving for Ed Carpenter Racing was in full control of the race. But around Lap 60, already two-thirds through the race, last year’s Indy GP winner had his luck turned around on him. On Lap 62, Veekay and eventual winner Pato O’Ward, running in 2nd at the time, pulled into the pits. While Veekay was still ahead of the young Mexican driver coming out of pit lane, it wasn’t too far after that O’Ward made what would be the race-winning overtake in the hairpin at Barber. Alex Palou, who had been a force all weekend long, momentarily took the lead before settling behind O’Ward for 2nd as Veekay faded back. On his final stint, Veekay said “Unfortunately, I didn’t push enough on that out lap. Another lesson learned, unfortunately the hard way.”

It was the hard way indeed, as Veekay’s lap times dropped off dramatically as he filled in the 3rd and final spot on the podium, 12 seconds behind race winner Pato O’Ward.

For O’Ward however, his final stint went as smoothly as it could, with McLaren’s young stud putting in clean lap after clean lap, all while keeping defending race winner Alex Palou at a reasonable distance behind. When asked about the mindset arount the Arrow McLaren SP team going into the weekend, O’Ward said “I love this place. We had a great car here. No reason why we wouldn’t have a good car here this weekend, we just proved that we were the guy to beat.”

Standings after Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

A good result for Alex Palou puts a non-Penske driver on top of the championship standings for the first time in the 2022 season. After four rounds, here are the top-15:

1: Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing – 144 points

2: Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske – 141 points

3: Josef Newgarden, Teamp Penske – 135 points

4: Will Power, Team Penske – 134 points

5: Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP – 114 points (Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner)

For a full field points rundown, click here.

Final Takeaways from Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

1: Pato O’Ward and McLaren have finally shown that they can truly compete for a championship in 2022.

2: Colton Herta needs to learn how to lift.

3. Rinus Veekay can take Ed Carpenter Racing to new heights.

Upcoming (All Times in EST)

GMR Grand Prix (Indianapolis Road Course) – May 14, 3 p.m. on NBC

106th Indianapolis 500 – May 29, 11 a.m. on NBC

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TOP IMAGE: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment