O’Ward Suffers The Agony Of Defeat Again At Indy

O'Ward

Pato O'Ward stands on pit road following the 108th Indianapolis 500. (Matt Fraver/Penske Entertainment photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – As Josef Newgarden rode the iconic lift to Indianapolis 500 victory lane, Pato O’Ward stood on pit lane with his head buried in his hands, his heart broken yet again.

For the third straight year, the 25-year-old driver from Monterrey, Mexico endured a gutting end to his attempt to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, finishing as the runner-up for the second time in that span on Sunday evening.

Two years ago, it was Marcus Ericsson who denied O’Ward on the final lap as a race-ending caution flag came out. Last year, O’Ward crashed with eight laps left while battling Ericsson and Newgarden for the lead.

This time around, however, might have been the most devastating of O’Ward’s near-misses to date.

O’Ward used a well-executed slingshot draft coming to the white flag to pass Newgarden on the outside and lead lap 199 of 200. He came off turn two in front, but vulnerable to the same move he’d just put on the defending Indianapolis 500 winner.

That vulnerability played out entering turn three for the final time, as Newgarden used a run of momentum to drive past O’Ward on the outside, clearing him through the short chute and going on to become a back-to-back victor at the oldest motor race in the world.

After climbing from his No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, O’Ward was left to wonder what could have been – again – as he missed out on hoisting the BorgWarner Trophy for the fifth time in his career.

“It’s hard to put this into words,” O’Ward said of his latest Indy 500 defeat. “I’m proud of the work we did today. We recovered; we went back, we went forward, we went back ... some people [were] just driving like maniacs.

“We had so many near-race-enders. Just so close again … so f*cking close.”

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O’Ward led seven different times Sunday for a combined total of 11 laps, including twice inside the final 15 miles. He couldn’t, however, put himself at the head of the line when it mattered most.

“I just tried to keep pace [for] as much of the race as I could. I feel like I did that,” he noted. “[I was] really prepared to open the door and ultimately have a chance to win at the end of this, but it’s just heartbreaking. [We were] two corners short.

“I’m glad that we finished the race,” he added. “Congratulations to Josef [on winning] two in a row. But I put that car in certain points where I didn’t know if I was going to come out the other end and in one piece, because I just want to win this race that badly.

“This place owes me nothing, so every time we come back, there’s always a smile on my face because we have another opportunity to go out and win.”

In reflecting on the final lap, O’Ward admitted that he didn’t believe there was much he could have done differently. This day was just not his, he pointed out, while giving due credit to Newgarden.

O'Ward

Pato O'Ward in action Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment photo)

“Josef is a great competitor. I’ve raced wheel to wheel with him so many times. He’s obviously one of the stars in the series, one of the strong ones,” said O’Ward. “I knew it was going to be a fight until the end and I really thought that I did everything in my power to get it done.”

Asked how he was feeling after the despondent scene on pit road, O’Ward nodded an affirmative before breathing out a short sigh.

“I’m fine. It’s just been a tough month,” he said. “So much goes into this race. I think I’m somebody that wears my heart on my sleeve. I don’t really hide anything.

“It’s just when you’ve come so close here and you just can’t seem to get it right … there’s just a lot of emotion in that, I would say.”

Reflecting on how close he’s come to winning the Indianapolis 500, O’Ward mused that he knows the blueprint now, and it’s just about executing that blueprint to perfection.

“I think in a way I’ve cracked the code now, and I know how to position myself to win this race,” he explained. “I know I can win this race, and I know that I know how to also protect a good result when maybe the win isn’t in the cards for me.

“But in a race like this one where it was a constant emotional roller coaster and thing weren’t going perfectly smooth … I think the team did a fantastic job, gave me an opportunity, and called a really good strategy to put ourselves back near the front. We made a very strong overcut that ultimately got us into contention there in the end.

“It’s a privilege to really make a fantastic group like Josef and Team Penske sweat. I think we certainly did today, and hopefully we can again in the future.”

But as for the present, the pain of losing will persist for another 364 days, before the 109th Indianapolis 500 takes center stage on May 25, 2025.

“I think in a few hours, the ache will go down,” O’Ward lamented. “I do feel very proud of what I did today. I really do. It’s just after all that work and all the risky kind of choices that I had to make in order to put myself in position … it stings to not be able to just finish it. But it is what it is.

“I know we’ll be there next year.”

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.