IndyCar: Pato O'Ward edges Alex Palou in Alabama to win first race of the season

After qualifying in second, Pato O'Ward was able to make the move on Rinus VeeKay and hold on to win the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, his first victory of the season.

Pato O'Ward's difficult start to the season now seems firmly behind him, with the 22-year-old putting on an impressive display in Alabama to clinch his first race win of the season.

The Mexican driver endured a tough start to the year with respective 12th and 15th placed finishes in St.Petersburg and Texas, while last month's race at Long Beach saw him finish an improved fifth.

But the Arrow McLaren SP driver was a class above the rest on Sunday. After suggesting his poor start was due to contract negotiations with the team, it seems he's finally been able to look past the distractions.

Starting behind Rinus VeeKay, O'Ward tried a move down the inside of the Dutch driver on lap 1, but was unable to make the move stick and was forced to wait patiently for another opportunity.

It began to look like it'd become a race of strategy, with some drivers opting for a three-stop tactic while others tried to drag out two stints on their tyre.

However, former Formula 2 driver Callum Illott's spin on lap 32 handed almost all drivers a free pit-stop opportunity, meaning the entire field ended up on the same strategy.

With Illott's spin allowing VeeKay a cheap stop, it seemed the Dutch driver would bring home the win after building up a two second lead by lap 60, but in the pair's final pit-stop, O'Ward was able to catch the leader on his outlap, before making a brave outside move in the hairpin around Turn 5 for the lead.

Alex Palou stayed out for a further two laps before coming in, but impressive in-and-out laps also saw him gain position over VeeKay, with the Spaniard re-entering ahead of the Dutch pole-sitter.

Palou then continued to pile the pressure on O'Ward, but the McLaren driver held on to take the chequered flag just 0.9 seconds clear of the Honda driver.

Following the win, O'Ward stated how important the side's strategy and pit stops were to the win. "Taylor Kiel [Team President] told me we were fighting for the win.

"We almost got him in the pit stops. I said, 'Man, this is the chance.' It was so tough to follow because it's such a fast and flowing circuit. I knew if I had the opportunity, it would have been right then and there. I knew if we got into clean air, we could kind of control the thing. Once we did that, it was cruise to Victory Lane."

Elsewhere, it was a race to forget for points leader Josef Newgarden, whose 14th-placed finish saw him drop down the standings to third.

O'Ward climbed to fifth from ninth after picking up the win, while Palou took the lead of the championship with his third podium in four races.

However, just 10 points separates the top four drivers, and Scott McLaughlin is just three points behind Palou's 144 total after four events this season.

Up next for IndyCar series is two races at the hallowed ground of the sport, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The GMR Grand Prix is set for Saturday, May 14, while the 106th Indianapolis 500 follows on Sunday, May 29.

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