The Mexican ace started fourth and passed Conor Daly for third on Lap 16, just before the first caution of the day, and although he would lose this spot to a charging off-sequence Colton Herta, he pitted on Lap 59, two laps before Power , and his fast laps on fresh rubber were enough to see him easily emerge ahead of the polesitter’s car and start challenging Newgarden.
Although he would then be jumped by Marcus Ericsson and Power on a restart soon before half distance, and by Alex Palou on the final restart on Lap 175 of the 250 laps, O’Ward never sank lower than fourth. On Lap 207, he passed Palou for third, a three-lap tussle with Power was resolved in his favor and he then had just over 30 laps to try to get on terms with leader Josef Newgarden.
However, the Iowa dominator was more decisive through traffic and had pulled a six second gap on the AMSP driver by the checkered flag.
“Really solid points day for us today,” said O’Ward who is fifth in the championship, 59 points behind Ericsson with a five races to go. “I thought we had a little bit more for Josef in the end. He was really strong. All Penske cars were extremely strong.
“It was all about what can we do different to them to be able to just have a shot at getting by them. I had to use my tires a bit much. I think Will was on the same train battling with me and Palou, Marcus. So I think we used up our tires a little bit more than what Josef did. He had a little bit more to give in the end.”
Although he said he was eventually happy with his car, he admitted it “didn’t really start off very good. We were just extremely, extremely loose… We need to see what we can do better for tomorrow to not have that because it took a lot of pit stops to get it into a window where we could actually attack rather than just being a little bit of a passenger.”
Part of O’Ward’s trouble, that allowed Newgarden to make a break on restarts, was that “Josef had different gearing to us,” said O’Ward. “I’m pretty sure he was aware of that.
“So the team told me to do a certain thing, which I did. It was pretty horrendous and we got passed by two guys, I think. In the next one, I did the opposite, and it worked. Yeah, it’s hard to say, right? You don’t know who’s going to be leading you. You don’t know if you’re going to be the one leading. Obviously you’re going to do the best for whatever is your gearbox pattern.
Teammate Felix Rosenqvist, just a week after scoring his first podium in Toronto, was gutted to post first retirement at Iowa, when his car snapped sideways on Lap 110 and he went into the wall. That drops him outside the Top 10 in the championship.