MADISON, Ill. – Five days after claiming the 2020 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, Pato O’Ward brought his speed over to the banks of the Mississippi River.
O’Ward, who finished sixth in the 104th Indianapolis 500, was the fastest driver in Friday evening’s one-hour practice for this weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 doubleheader at World Wide Technology Raceway.
O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet turned 75 laps around the 1.25-mile short oval with the fastest lap in the session at 181.532 mph.
“We put a lot of very valuable work in that session,” O’Ward said. “We did everything we wanted to do to prepare for tomorrow’s qualifying and race. There’s so many little things that go into it that make a perfect race, so we want to make the best out of it.
“This Arrow McLaren SP crew gave us some really strong cars to roll out with, and I think it was just fine tuning from there. I ended the day really happy, and I think we will be ready for qualifying tomorrow.”
Former driver Robert Wickens, who continues to recover from injuries suffered in a crash at Pocono Raceway in 2018, works with O’Ward and fellow driver Oliver Askew as a driver consultant at Arrow McLaren Racing SP.
“Pato is doing a great job,” Wickens told SPEED SPORT. “Week-in, week-out, Pato is showing he is more experienced than what his age tells us. He’s never been to Gateway. This is only his second short oval in an Indy car, and he hit the ground running in the 30-minute refresher session. The time he ran in that stood out for P1 for quite a while.
“He is doing a great job. His feeling for the car is getting better. He is getting more and more confidence every day he is in the car. That’s pretty amazing considering how fast he was out of the box for us.”
Team Penske’s Will Power was second in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet at 180.961 mph. NTT IndyCar Series points leader Scott Dixon was third in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda at 180.822 mph.
“It was a good setup, it was good right off the truck, and we tried a few things and did a long run,” Power told SPEED SPORT. “We have to look at qualifying tomorrow and see what we can do. I love tracks like this. I really want to have a good weekend and see what we can do here.
“There will be more tire deg and certainly a more physical race than last year. O’Ward is good every week. He is very strong.”
Conor Daly, who this week is driving for Carlin Racing, was fourth at 180.581 mph in the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet. Last Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Takuma Sato, rounded out the top-five at 180.434 mph in the No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Panasonic/PeopleReady Honda.
There are 23 car/driver combinations at Gateway for this week’s doubleheader. Qualifications are set for Noon ET on Saturday. Series officials will use the same qualifying formula used previously this year at Iowa Speedway to set the field for both races. The first lap will set the field for Saturday’s race and the second will set the field for Sunday’s contest.
The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 will take the green flag at 3:40 p.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race also starting at the same time.
O’Ward competed in seven races last year, so he is not eligible for the NTT IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year award, but he did not participate in last year’s Indianapolis 500. That made him eligible for the award this year.
“It’s kind of ironic that the Indy 500 counts as one of his IndyCar races, which didn’t allow him to become an actual rookie for this year, but he was a rookie for the race because he didn’t run the race,” Wickens said. “It’s a bit ironic how that works out.
“He’s just a down to earth kid. He knows what he wants to be quick and how to get the most out of it. We try to provide that for him.”