No regrets for Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP on strategy coming up short of Barber win


Though the strategy play ultimately was wrong, Arrow McLaren SP doesn’t have any regrets about the decision to pit Pato O’Ward three times Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park.

“We’ve certainly done all the post-event homework, and we really as a team felt like in that moment, we’re not quite sure we would have done anything different,” team president Taylor Kiel said during a Zoom news conference Wednesday.

After starting on pole position in the No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet, O’Ward led 25 of 90 laps and finished fourth despite having the fastest car all weekend in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. That blinding speed made a three-stop strategy the “primary target,” Kiel said.

But when two early caution flags led to eight of the first 11 laps being run under yellow, the tactical window opened, and Kiel said McLaren considered switching to two stops for O’Ward. Two stops were the call for the top three of Scott Dixon, Will Power and first-time winner Alex Palou, who said he was surprised when the top two starters, O’Ward and Alexander Rossi, pitted within the first 20 laps for the first of their three stops.

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Kiel, though, said there were a few mitigating circumstances in the 2021 season opener that kept the team on a three-stop strategy at Barber for Pato O’Ward.

“One thing we were struggling with, and everybody was struggling with, was a lack of telemetry early on due to some network issues within the facility,” Kiel said, referring to one of multiple power outages over the weekend at Barber that affected connectivity. “So we had no line of sight to anything that was going on from a car or systems point of view. Also, being the first car in line, we were a bit nervous about having any tire damage or punctures driving through a lot of that debris and chaos (from a six-car crash during the first lap) on the run down into Turn 5.

“So we were a bit nervous about that, and then we were receiving some messages that the rear tire life was going away. Factor all those things into play, and our primary car that we were racing was Rossi, and he opted for the three-stop right away, so we decided to cover.”

That early stop also took O’Ward off the tires that had raised doubts, and it allowed the rising star from Mexico to push without conserving fuel over the final 70 laps.

But the extra stop left O’Ward 3.9741 seconds behind Palou at the checkered flag.

“I think at the end of the race, over the full span, the two and three stops were within a couple of seconds of each other; you could throw a blanket over them,” Kiel said. “So we unfortunately weren’t on the right strategy, there’s no doubt about that. But at the moment with the information that we had, I think it was the right decision for the team.”

It was another near-miss for O’Ward, who came close to his first NTT IndyCar Series victory multiple times last year (notably at Road America and Gateway) during his first full season on the circuit.

He stuck an upbeat tone Wednesday, looking forward to Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where O’Ward finished second in his IndyCar debut last year and also won an Indy Lights race in 2018.

“We had a very solid start to the season,” O’Ward, 21, said. “Very, very quick in qualifying. We were the fastest car on track during the race. Unfortunately we didn’t make the perfect call on what strategy to take, but it’s such a tricky situation. When there’s yellows coming out, you don’t really know what’s going to happen. I come out of the weekend pleased with how the team was working, how the pit stops went. How we had great pace. I think we salvaged a great result.

“I think it was a great weekend. We showed we’re here to compete and to win races. We showed we’re not here to mess around.”

It isn’t the first time O’Ward has had the fastest car and come away empty-handed.

“It’s happened in Indy Lights, but there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “In Indy Lights, it was someone else punting me off the track. This time, it was not quite making the right call to cover the Ganassi cars on the two-stopper. It’s not like we had a terrible weekend. In IndyCar, it’s such a competitive series, that, like, fourth ain’t bad.

“We’re just going to regroup, and we’ll be ready to hammer down in St. Pete.”

IndyCar releases schedule for 2023 season

IndyCar schedule 2023
Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NTT IndyCar Series’ 2023 schedule will feature the same number of races and tracks as this season with some minor reshuffling of dates.

IndyCar will open the 2023 season March 5 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and will conclude Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The 107th Indy 500 will take place May 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 17-race schedule will conclude with a stretch of eight races in the final nine weeks.

“The NTT IndyCar Series is on an impactful upward trajectory, making progress at a pace that befits our thrilling style of competition,” Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “The 2023 season provides an opportunity to further build on this trend, bringing our sport and its stars to more markets and households and reaching new consumers across the globe.”

There will be 15 events on NBC: 13 races (including six of the final seven) plus Indy 500 qualifying May 20-21. There also are three races on USA Network and the Toronto race exclusively on Peacock. All races on NBC and USA also will have live simulstreams on Peacock.

In partnership with NBC Sports, the 2022 IndyCar season was the most-watched in six years and the most-watched across NBC Sports on record. The 2022 season also was the most streamed season on record.

“We’re very excited for our 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule and to build on this past season’s viewership milestones,” NBC Sports vice president of programming Mike Perman said in a release. “In providing comprehensive coverage across NBC, Peacock and USA Network, NBC Sports is once again looking forward to telling the stories of these world-class drivers and this compelling series.”

Notable elements on the 2023 schedule:

–There will be the same balance of seven road course races, five street courses and five ovals.

–St. Pete will be the season opener for the 13th time.

–The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will move from Belle Isle to the streets of downtown.

–The NASCAR doubleheader weekend at the IMS road course will shift to mid-August.

–The World Wide Technology Raceway event will move from Saturday to Sunday.

Start times for the 2023 events will be announced at a later date.

Here’s the 2023 IndyCar schedule:

Date Race/Track Network/Platform
Sun., March 5 Streets of St. Petersburg NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 2 Texas Motor Speedway NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 16 Streets of Long Beach NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 30 Barber Motorsports Park NBC, Peacock
Sat., May 13 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) NBC, Peacock
Sun., May 28 The 107th Indianapolis 500 NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 4 Streets of Detroit NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 18 Road America USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 2 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 16 Streets of Toronto Peacock
Sat., July 22 Iowa Speedway – Race 1 NBC, Peacock
Sun., July 23 Iowa Speedway – Race 2 NBC, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 6 Streets of Nashville NBC, Peacock
Sat., Aug. 12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) USA Network, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 27 World Wide Technology Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 3 Portland International Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 10 WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca NBC, Peacock

*dates and networks/platforms are subject to change