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Pato O’Ward takes hold of his season with Barber IndyCar victory

Patricio O’Ward’s slow and frustrating start to the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series after going toe-to-toe with eventual champion Alex Palou last season, all came to a celebratory end. The young Arrow McLaren SP driver held off the reigning champion of Palou after passing Rinus VeeKay in the final 35 laps of Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Sunday’s 90-lapper around the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park was a competitive battle with split strategies fighting for the edge at the tire-eating circuit. After a full-course caution for rookie driver, Callum Illott beached in the turn nine gravel hung those trying a three pit-stop strategy out.

Pato O’Ward celebrates with his No. 5 crew after winning the HIGPA at Barber. (Picture Credit: Chris Jones / INDYCAR Media)

O’Ward led 27 laps in his No. 5 Chevrolet and beat Palou’s Chip Ganassi Racing Honda by 0.980-seconds when the checkered flag flew. The young Mexican from Monterrey began the year with 12th, 15th and 5th-place runs and ranked 9th in series standings ahead of the weekend.

Palou’s second podium on the campaign nets him and the No. 10 the top spot following the fourth race of the IndyCar season.

Polesitter Rinus VeeKay led 57 of the first 61 laps in his Ed Carpenter Racing Sonax Chevy and stood on the podium for his first time since Detroit last June. The No. 21 team seemed back in shape after a very off-form end to the 2021 season, however, fought to fight at the conclusion of the race, finishing 12 seconds behind the top two.

After starting 19th and 13th, respectively, Will Power and Scott Dixon scored top-five finishes in the 207-miler outside Birmingham, Alabama. Power’s strong start to the 2022 season consists of all top-4 finishes thus far, on the three different types of circuits on the schedule.

Romain Grosjean and Graham Rahal had choice words for one another in the concluding laps after making contact racing for the seventh position. “He’s had this reputation his whole career in Europe and we’re learning his reputation quickly here,” the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing No. 15 driver told NBC Sports post-race. Rahal alledges Grosjean intentionally hit his Honda as the two fought with four laps remaining. On the last lap, Rahal’s machine ran out of fuel and allowed Grosjean to overtake the position anyway as Rahal coasted to an 8th-place.

Grosjean shrugged it off as “good IndyCar racing.”

Colton Herta had a frustrating weekend with his Andretti Autosport team. In Saturday’s qualifications, his No. 26 was on pace to make the Firestone Fast Six, however, his team was caught out when a red flag flew for Marcus Ericsson in the gravel trap. He started 10th and finished there, too.

Herta and Newgarden were the two lead drivers on the three pit-stop strategy early in the race, prior to Ilott’s spin, and paid the price when the yellow flew, having to pit behind the pace car and cycling back to the rear of the field. Unlike Newgarden who fell through the field, Herta was able to march up the pack despite the extra pit stop. Racing hard for a top-six spot, Herta spun in the turn-six hairpin, losing all his track positions yet again. He fought back to finish where he begun the day.

Newgarden, who now ranks third in the series standings and led two laps Sunday, finished 14th.

Pato O’Ward celebrates with champagne on the podium at Barber Motorsports Park. (Picture Credit: Joe Skibinski / INDYCAR Media)

2022 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Results

1: Pato O’Ward (5) – 3rd IndyCar Victory [42 Starts]
2: Alex Palou (10) – 12th IndyCar Podium [34 Starts]
3: Rinus VeeKay (21) – 4th IndyCar Podium [32 Starts]
4: Will Power (12)
5: Scott Dixon (9)
6: Scott McLaughlin (3)
7: Romain Grosjean (28)
8: Graham Rahal (15)
9: Alexander Rossi (27)
10: Colton Herta (26)
11: Simon Pagenaud (60)
12: Marcus Ericsson (8)
13: Takuma Sato (51)
14: Josef Newgarden (2)
15: Christian Lundgaard (30) – R
16: Felix Rosenqvist (7)
17: Devlin DeFrancesco (29) – R
18: Jack Harvey (45)
19: Conor Daly (30)
20: David Malukas (18) – R
21: Helio Castroneves (06)
22: Kyle Kirkwood (14) – R
23: Dalton Kellett (4)
24: Jimmie Johnson (48)
25: Callum Ilott (77) – R
26: Tatiana Calderon (11) – R

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