This is the type of performance that defines a championship-winning effort in the most competitive era in NTT INDYCAR SERIES history.
Not only did Pato O’Ward become the first driver to win multiple races this season, he did it on a weekend when Arrow McLaren SP could have come off the rails following Felix Rosenqvist’s vicious crash in Turn 6 during Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit at Belle Isle Park.
With Rosenqvist unable to participate in Sunday’s second race and the team incurring a setback in NTT P1 Award qualifying when O’Ward slapped the wall, no one on the Indianapolis-based team panicked. Oliver Askew was prepped to drive in Rosenqvist’s place, and the rear corner of O’Ward’s car was fixed.
O’Ward capped the weekend by going from fifth to third on the first lap following the final restart, then dispatching the second-place No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Colton Herta and finally overhauling race leader Josef Newgarden in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet for his second career series victory in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
Team president Taylor Kiel was all smiles as he prepared for the traditional winner’s swim in the Scott Fountain.
“I don’t think there’s words (for this),” Kiel said. “Anytime you have a weekend like (this) in motorsports, you’re living in recovery mode, trying to make the best decisions that you can.
“Certainly, I’m thrilled with the work the team put in to try to get the car back on track and even more thrilled that Felix is OK and he’s healthy and he’s going to be back with us soon. But, yeah, what an effort from Pato. He drove his butt off.”
Rosenqvist spent Saturday night at DMB Detroit Receiving Hospital for observation and was not at the track for the race. However, the team announced that he had been released from the hospital and has no injuries that are expected to linger. His status for this Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix at the Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, will be determined at a later time. Practice for that event begins at 5:15 p.m. (ET) Friday (live on Peacock).
Kiel turned to Askew because of the team’s familiarity with him. 2019 Indy Lights champion Askew drove 12 of last year’s 14 races in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP now designated for Rosenqvist. He was in Detroit to help coach Andretti Autosport’s Indy Lights driver, and like any well-prepared but unemployed driver, he had his helmet.
Askew borrowed driving shoes from Alex Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) and used an Arrow McLaren SP suit made for Juan Pablo Montoya, who drove for the team in last month’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Neither the suit nor the car was fit to Askew’s liking, but he made the best of both in driving on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile course for the first time.
The handful of laps in Sunday morning’s qualifying session were his first not only at the track but in this season (he tested with Michael Andretti’s team at Sebring on Feb. 1). Ironically, Askew might not have been available if Indy Lights wasn’t making its first appearance in this event since 2000.
Askew said he got car setup information from O’Ward and team consultant Robert Wickens, and he joked that he took track “tips” from the Indy Lights drivers he had been coaching.
“We were here until 1 a.m. – I was, and the crew guys stayed (and) probably slept one or two hours last night,” Askew said. “We did a track walk late last night – couldn’t see much – but it was good. But you can only do so much until you get on the track and feel it.”
Askew ran competitive laps in the race but retired on Lap 46 when the team saw something in the telemetry data it didn’t like. The car finished last in a 25-car field, but it was nonetheless a victory in perseverance and determination – worthy of that swim in the fountain.
Ferrucci, RLL Recover from Morning Crash
If the situation surrounding Arrow McLaren SP’s No. 7 car was heroic, the same could be said for what Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing did to get its No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda ready for action.
Santino Ferrucci, who finished sixth in Saturday’s first race, hit the wall on the final lap of the morning’s qualifying session. With extensive damage to the car, the team turned to Takuma Sato’s backup machine, replacing the engine in the two hours available to them.
“We rolled one out from the top of the hauler within two hours flat and somehow made this race,” Ferrucci said.
With the car still in speedway configuration, Ferrucci advanced from 12th to ninth on the opening lap when three drivers in front of him tangled, and his 10th-place finish was nothing short of remarkable.
The Lap 1 tangle benefiting Ferrucci involved series rookie Romain Grosjean (No. 51 NURTEC ODT Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR) getting squeezed into Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) by the inside move of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda). The cars of Grosjean and Rossi absorbed light damage, with Dixon recovering from his car being turned sideways.
Dixon went on to finish seventh. Rossi, who had front wing damage, settled for 13th.
Grosjean: A Fireman, Too
Grosjean kept having troubles, and on Lap 57 he stopped his car and quickly exited with both front brakes on fire. He initially retrieved a fire extinguisher from a corner worker in a personal bid to put out the flames, but for his own safety he was quickly halted by a member of the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team. That crew finished the job.
Grosjean, who famously extricated himself from a fiery Formula One crash last November, took to social media after this race to show off a T-shirt signifying him as a Detroit firefighter.
“I care about my race cars,” he said on Twitter, utilizing a heart emoji for effect.
Odds and Ends