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Indycar

O'Ward only has himself to blame for Indy 500 defeat

Pato O'Ward was crestfallen after his final lap Indy 500 defeat to Josef Newgarden - but only has himself to blame, writes Jake Nichol.

Pato O'Ward
Column
To news overview © IndyCar media// @jamesjblackphoto

If you ever wanted to know just how much winning the Indy 500 means, take a look at the reactions between Josef Newgarden and Pato O'Ward.

As Newgarden was off busy vaulting fences and diving into the crowd, a heartbroken O'Ward was being consoled in the pit-lane by his McLaren team after Newgarden's stunning Turn 3 overtake on the 200th and final lap. 

The race had been building, as it always does, with the crescendo of the final 25 or so miles as drivers decide it is time to go and you win it, or you bin it. 

But for a broken O'Ward, who had earlier survived two massive snaps a la Fernando Alonso in the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, his defeat at Indy actually started back in 2022, and he did not learn a lesson from Newgarden from last year's race.

In short, he only has himself to blame.

Article continues below. 

"We recovered, we went back, we went forward and some people were driving like maniacs, we had so many near race-enders and were just so fucking close," he said in the immediate aftermath of the race.

"I put that car through things I never thought it was going to be able to do and sometimes I said: 'Oh that is it', but came out the other side of the corner.

"It is just so painful when you put so much into it - and then end two laps short, or two corners short.

"This places owes me nothing, but yeah, I'd much rather finish the race compared to last year [where he crashed], but it is always a heartbreak when it is so close - especially when it is not the first time and you don't know how many opportunities like that you get."

That first time he alludes to came back in 2022 when heading onto the 200th tour, he was right behind Ganassi's Marcus Ericsson heading onto the pit-straight. 

Drawing alongside of the ex-F1 racer into Turn 1, the victory was there for O'Ward but he backed out, deciding the risk of a plane accident wasn't worth the reward of milk. 

But this time, he was not about to make that same mistake - as later on that final lap in 2022, the caution flew into Turn 3 after Spencer Pigot crashed. Very simply, be ahead on the final lap as you never know what might happen. 

BUT, on the flipside, is what Newgarden did to Ericsson in 2023.

A monster run off Turn 2 12 months ago, allowed Newgarden to sweep past and claim an emotional victory - that should have been in O'Ward's mind. 

Whoever was leading out of Turn 2 was going to give an almighty tow at over 220mph down the back-straight and Newgarden timed it perfectly. 

In trying to right the wrong of 2022, O'Ward left himself exposed and gave Newgarden all the incentive all he could ever want. 

But in better news for O'Ward, at least he gets to try again next year.

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