The downhill hairpin left-handed Turn 5 follows a long climb from Turn 2, and it is notoriously difficult to judge the ultimate braking distance for the corner while on a cold set of Firestone’s harder primary compound tyres.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s VeeKay led Arrow McLaren SP rival O’Ward for the first two stints of the race from pole position, but his two-second advantage was closed to virtually nothing as both headed for the pits on lap 61 when the Dutchman lost ground in traffic.
As they departed the pits on lap 62, O’Ward was so close that he even took a look down the inside of Turn 2, before slipstreaming the ECR car up the hill.
VeeKay moved left to defend the inside line into Turn 5, but the Arrow McLaren SP driver outbraked him on the outside, took a wide radius to the corner and assumed the net lead.
Two laps later, Alex Palou (Chip Ganassi Racing) emerged from his final stop into the gap between O’Ward and VeeKay, at which point the ECR driver was unable to keep on terms with the leading pair.
VeeKay nonetheless came home third, his best result since he finished runner-up to O’Ward in last year’s first Detroit race.
“The weekend has been pretty good,” VeeKay said. “We started out the first two-thirds of the race very strong, leading, saving a lot of fuel. Very happy with that.
“Unfortunately I got held up a little bit before getting into my second pit stop, so Pato was on me, really on me.
Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Patricio O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, podium
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
“I did beat him out of pit lane but coming into Turn 5 I just took it a little bit too conservative, and he got around me. He drove away basically. I lacked a little bit of pace on the last set of tyres.
“Pato and Alex were a little bit too fast for me to hang with, but I think third place is pretty good still.
“Unfortunately I didn’t push enough on that out lap. Another lesson learned – unfortunately the hard way.”
Asked why he had been cautious, VeeKay replied: “Well, I have screwed myself a few times in the past braking a little too deep, locking a tyre, basically destroying my whole last stint.
“I did not know Pato was going that deep. I was looking in my mirrors a lot – maybe that distracted me a little bit, I don’t know.
“If I could go back, I would go way deeper and stay ahead of him.
“I was also struggling a little bit more on my last set of tyres, he was definitely faster on that last stint.
“It’s a deserved win for him, fortunately I still got a podium out of it.”