PPG 375 | Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward on their titanic fight: “It could have gone either way”

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The first oval race of the 2023 season featured a lot of on track action and an incredibily close battle for the race win. Six different drivers managed to lead during the 250 laps long race, but the most striking battle was definitely the one between Pato O’Ward and Josef Newgarden.

Newgarden took the lead of the race in the early laps, with the Arrow McLaren driver quickly moving up from his starting P5 to the second podium position. O’Ward took the lead of the race for the first time on Lap 130 with a brilliant move on the outside, and went on to lap all cars on the grid bar Newgarden’s.

The Mexican driver held on to the race lead until the restart after the yellow flag brought out by the collision involving Rahal and DeFrancesco, when the fight for the lead expanded to the whole top 6.

The final duels were cut short by two laps due to Romain Grosjean crashing into the wall while trying to return on the podium, freezing the race with Newgarden ahead of O’Ward.

Asked in the post-race press conference attended by Pit Debrief if he believed he could have returned to the lead had the race not been interrupted, O’Ward had no doubts: “Oh, yeah, I had the timing right.

“The lap before we crossed the line, my nose was slightly in front of his. There was no way it was going to finish in single file. Yeah, racing gods had other plans.”

Winner of the 2021 Texas round, O’Ward is now leading the championship after finishing both races of the season in P2. It’s the second time in a row that the race win has slipped away from him after St. Petersburg, where he had been leading the race up until the final laps, when a mechanical issue slowed him down just enough to be passed by Marcus Ericsson.

“I have to say to the guys it’s been a hell of a start to the year. I had a rocket. Like, I don’t think there’s another way to put it.I was really comfortable in the car. It was fun, I have to say. Like, it’s got to be the best Texas race in the last four, five years.”

The driver of the car N°5 also highlighted the importance of fair racing, and driving against his competitors extremely closely while fighting for the win, but never actively trying to endanger them or ruining each other’s race:

“It was freaking awesome. Really, really nice that I got to drive and race with guys that I have so much respect for: Alex, Josef. You can push it to the limit, but you always give each other the room that you need. I think that’s what we gave the fans. That’s what they deserve,” he concluded.

He also denied that Newgarden touched him in the final, heated moments of the race, even if the actual race winner had been incredibly close: ”I don’t know why Josef likes to get so close to me,” he commented with a laugh.

“We touched in Detroit. That one I felt. This one, no.”

On the other hand, Newgarden confirmed instead that they had definitely made slight contact.

“We did. Right in the dogleg there. The second apex, we just touched kind of heading into T1.

Wasn’t as bad as the hit I had with Romain, but it was a light touch.”

Like his Arrow McLaren rival, Newgarden was full of praise for how they raced.

“Pato gave me all the respect in the world when he was racing next to me.”

The two-time IndyCar Champion went on to break down his race and what led him to win his second Texas race in a row, in front of a “just as good” O’Ward:

“Yeah, well, you know, it would have looked silly if we led the whole race… just trying to keep it fun. People would have said it’s a conspiracy for PPG. Don’t want to see that happen. Let Pato have his fun, then I had to put him away,” he joked at first.

“No, just kidding, that’s not what happened. We were getting beat pretty significantly in the middle of the race. I thought beginning of the race we had him, like, super covered. The car was good, track gripped up. I asked for some progressions on the setup.”

The American driver also highlighted the impressive performance O’Ward and his McLaren had in the middle part of the race, which had forced him to slip back in P2.

“They were not right [car tweaks] for the way the track was trending. I think Pato went the right way. He did the exact opposite of what I was doing. They were telling me what he was asking for. We were bad in the middle. He snuck back up on me. I had a big gap. He snuck up on me, was walking away.”

“I was like we just need to get through this stint and catch back up. He had such a lead at that point, it was going to be difficult. The caution 100% brought us back into it. We got the car back to where it needed to be. When we were in position, we could get the job done.”

After the occasion to return in the heat of the fight for the lead offered by the caution issued after Felix Rosenqvist’s crash.

“But we were not significantly better than him. I mean, he was just as good. He was definitely better in the middle. In the end he was just as good. It could have gone either way, in my opinion, between our cars, “ Newgarden concluded, acknowledging the extremely high level of racing offered by the two of them during the race.