Pato O’Ward reigned supreme and held off a late charge from Alex Palou to claim victory in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
The 22-year-old Mexican began the 90-lap contest on the outside of the front row, alongside Rinus VeeKay. He settled into second while VeeKay dominated the race’s opening half – only relinquishing the lead during the first pit sequence.
O’Ward rose to the fore when the leaders made their final pitstop on Lap 61. The pair had equally quick pitstops which kept VeeKay briefly in the lead. He only enjoyed one more lap up front as O’Ward trailed him before passing him going into Turn 5.
VeeKay soon fell into the clutches of Alex Palou following his final stop as Palou motored around and took over the position.
The lead see-sawed over the final 30 laps but Palou never got close to mount a charge and O’Ward took the checkered flag .9800 of a second ahead.
“Taylor (Kiel) (Arrow McLaren SP team president) told me we were fighting for the win when we almost got (VeeKay) in the pit stops, so I said, ‘No, this is the chance, man,’ ” O’Ward said in victory lane. “It was so tough to follow just because it’s such a fast and flowing circuit, so I knew if I would have the opportunity it would have been right then and there. I got on my (push to pass) button, got around him into 5, and I knew if we would get into clean air, we could kind of control the thing.
Palou claimed his third podium in four races which vaults him to the top of the points standings ahead of Scott McLaughlin heading into the two rounds at Indianapolis. VeeKay held on for a podium finish, his first since the second Detroit race a year ago.
Completing the top five was a pair of heroic climbs through the pack in Will Power and Scott Dixon. The pair both started outside the top ten and ascended through the field to finish fourth and fifth respectively.
Scott McLaughlin hovered around the top five throughout the day and ended up sixth despite relinquishing the championship lead to Palou.
Romain Grosjean and Graham Rahal claimed seventh and eighth, but not without drama. The pair collided multiple times in a battle for position during the final stint. Rahal ultimately relinquished the spot as he saved fuel to make it to the end.
Alexander Rossi claimed ninth while Colton Herta survived an up and down day to finish tenth.