O’Ward Secures Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Honors

O’Ward Secures Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Honors

Arrow McLaren SP’s 21-year-old driver, Pato O’Ward, came up only five places shy of his ultimate-goal of winning the Indianapolis 500, but he did not go home empty-handed. With his impressive sixth-place finish, the young Mexican took home the trophy for the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and the $50,000 check that goes with the prestigious title.

“I wanted to win the Indy 500, but near the end, I knew it was going to be really difficult” said O’Ward. “When I crossed the finish line, I realized that I was the only rookie running. I said to myself – not too bad for my first try – the finishing spot was pretty good. It made me happy, but I was shooting to win the race.”

For the second time in three years, the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year is a driver from the Arrow McLaren SP stable, with Robert Wickens having claimed the award back in 2018.

O’Ward gained nine spots from his starting spot, but he didn’t have it easy behind the wheel with ambient temperatures reaching 90 F and track temperatures in excess of 130 F.

“It was super hot,” explained O’Ward at the conclusion of the famous 500-mile race. “It was really greasy out there, especially when the train of cars was like seven, eight cars. It was definitely tough. I wasn’t the only one struggling. I couldn’t be close to people because I would just start dancing on top of the surface. There were a few close calls where I almost got really, really close to the wall.”

With the focus on the driver, it can be easy to forget that racing is a team sport. Pit stops are a big influence in any motor race, but even more so at the Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, the crew members of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet performed five important stops, gaining O’Ward at least one position on each occasion.

“This race, the pit stop guys were fantastic,” said a thankful O’Ward. “Hats off to them, they’ve been working really hard in the shop. They were, if not the best, one of the best out there for sure.”

O’Ward heads to this weekend’s doubleheader on the oval of Gateway, sitting third in the NTT IndyCar Series championship standings, only 33 points behind reigning champion Josef Newgarden. O’Ward has one previous start on the 1.25-mile oval, which resulted in a third-place finish during his 2018 Indy Lights championship season.

Oliver Askew

Oliver Askew and Fernando Alonso did not have as smooth of a race on Sunday.

Alonso, the two-time Formula One World Champion, discovered he had an issue in the No. 66 Ruoff Mortgage Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet early in the race. The Spaniard came to pit road early under caution on Lap 8 for a significant adjustment, and again only 19 laps later in an attempt to improve the balance of his car. Further changes on pit road significantly improved the car, but he encountered problems with the clutch, forcing the crew to push start him for his final three pit stops. His up and down race eventually concluded with a 21st-place finish.

“I’m happy to finish the race, cross the line and have one 500 miles in the pocket, that’s the positive thing,” explained Alonso after the difficult race. “The negative is that we were out of contention very quickly with the clutch problem. Anyway, I think the Arrow McLaren SP team was fantastic during the race, the strategy and pit stops meant we were always gaining positions. I am very proud of the work we have done over the last couple of weeks. We tried to race but luck was not with us today, but I’m proud of the effort from everyone in the team.”

Askew and his No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet started six spots behind his full-season teammate O’Ward. When the yellow flag came out early on Lap 6, the team decided to opt for an alternate strategy. The young American driver had excellent company on pit road, with the last two Indianapolis 500 champions, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, also electing to take fuel and tires.

On the restart, Askew was able to get past Power, and two laps later moved ahead of Pagenaud, making him the leader of the ten cars that had adopted the alternate strategy. When the rest of the field came to pit road under caution following Marcus Ericsson’s crash, Askew cycled through to the lead, pacing the field for four laps. When racing resumed, Pagenaud was able to find a way past Askew, but the rookie spent the next 14 laps shadowing his every move.

When Pagenaud headed for pit road on Lap 45, Askew followed. The Bob Jansen-led crew executed a perfect stop, beating the vaunted Team Penske crew in getting Askew back on the track ahead of Pagenaud.

As the drivers on the other strategy began to pit, Askew cycled back to second place, trailing only Scott Dixon. Unfortunately, the third yellow flag of the day was poorly timed for the drivers on the alternate strategy. With Askew having pitted for a full service stop on Lap 79, he found himself one lap down as a result. After the wave-around to get back on the lead lap, Askew pitted for fuel, finding himself 23rd when the field accelerated through Turn 4 for a restart.

It was at this stage that Askew’s first Indianapolis 500 abruptly ended. Conor Daly, a few cars ahead, hit the curbing at the apex of Turn 4 and spun, creating a smokescreen for the drivers behind to navigate. Through the smoke, Askew attempted an evasive maneuver and lost control of his No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, crashing into the SAFER Barrier on the inside of Turn 4.

“In the accident, I saw a bunch of smoke in front of me and I tried to avoid Helio Castroneves,” Askew explained. “I just lost the car trying to avoid the incident. But I need to thank the AMR Safety Team, Dallara, and INDYCAR for keeping us as safe as possible in these cars going these speeds. I’m sorry for the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP team, they’ve worked so hard all week, all month, all year building up to this event. So, to have a result like this is really sad for all of us but we will move on to Gateway next weekend. I was really happy with the pace we had and the aggressive strategies we were running. We were trying to make something happen with passing being at a premium at this race. Thanks again to the team for all their hard work.”

Askew, the 2019 Indy Lights champion won last year’s 75-lap Indy Lights race at Gateway, leading the final 23 laps, and winning by a comfortable 6.7890-second margin.

Askew trails fellow 23-year-old Álex Palou by a single point and has a slim six-point gap to Road to Indy rival Rinus VeeKay in the IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year battle.

This week, Askew, O’Ward, and their crews will make the trip to the St. Louis area track. The pair of 200-lap races on Saturday and Sunday will get underway at 3:45 p.m. ET. Fans can watch practice and qualifying live via the NBC Sports Gold app, with both races being aired live on NBCSN.

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