INDIANAPOLIS — Pato O’Ward is among the future of the NTT IndyCar Series. The 21 year old Mexican driver won the last oval race of the season at the Texas Motor Speedway to score his first career win in just his 26th career start. That has him confident in his abilities to win next Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).
“I think it just kind of gives us an idea on where we stand on superspeedways and gives everyone in our team to know that we can win this thing if we have a car that’s as competitive in Texas. We can win it,” he says.
O’Ward was gushing over his team and their potential on Wednesday morning from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I mean, how can you not? He’s got a teammate in Juan Pablo Montoya who’s as good as they come here.
“I think Juan Montoya has a lot to offer,” said O’Ward. “He knows that a race car needs to win around here. I think that’s the biggest thing we can take away from him.”
He also knows that he has a car capable of putting him in victory lane too, the very spot right behind him as we chatted with him before practice began for the second day of action here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
O’Ward, 21, knows that he has the potential and skills that it takes to win here too. The car is there, it’s up to the driver and he has the upmost confidence in himself to get the job done on May 30.
“I’m coming into this weekend knowing I can win this race,” he continued. “You have to do that. If you’re thinking we can’t win it, then you’re in the wrong sport. You have to come into it knowing you can win it and beat everyone else out there. I think I have the tools that I think I can do it.
“I think we’re on the right path of where we’re wanting to become. I don’t think we’re there yet. We’re not as strong in some places where we should have been stronger. I think our superspeedway package has improved which we’ve shown in Texas. That give us some good confidence going into this race and just trying to score as many points for the championship. We want to win it. I’d be lying if I said something different. I still feel like there’s some improvements that can be made. We’ve got a quick race car, we just have to get better.”
That’s something though that he didn’t have in his first time here as an Indy Car driver. O’Ward was in the second Carlin car in 2019 and the car just wasn’t good enough he says. He had a scary crash during practice of that year and the speed just never was there to get him solidly in the show. He would be one of the few cars bumped.
That experience led him to be as confident as he is now he says. It makes him appreciate it more as well.
“I’m lucky to be in a car that deserves to be in the show and quick,” he said. “Not to throw at anything at what I had in ’19 but it just didn’t deserve to be here because we just weren’t quick enough period. What I have now is something that I know is quick and I just need to take care of it. It seems like we have so many practice sessions but things can spiral out of control in no time and you don’t want to do that. We just need to stay on our list.
“Honestly when you think about ’19, I’m happier that I didn’t make the race than go through 200 miserable laps because it’s terrifying when you don’t have a car that’s capable and you’re trying to put it where it shouldn’t be, it’s freaking terrifying. I think I learned a lot then to really know what oval and superspeedway cars do. You’re kind of like a passenger. When you have a good car and can put it where you want it to go, the car has to do everything. You can’t really manhandle the thing like you can on a road course. I’m just trying to take care of my baby the best that I can.”
He notes that his car is good now and that he almost feels like it would be better off sitting idle in Gasoline Alley than getting a false sense of security from cooler conditions during practice early this week. But, with how competitive this field is, you also have to turn laps, so instead of focusing on qualifying setups, they’ll get their race car dialed in as perfectly as they can.
“We’ve been really working on our race car to be honest,” he said. “I think you’ll see bigger numbers when you see the boost go up. We need to make our race car as good and comfortable as possible and then we can focus on qualifying. If you get to a point where the race car is always solid and strong, it just translates well over to the qualifying car.
“It’s still more important to have a good race car. Last year, I didn’t really qualify up front. I started 15th and we finished sixth because we had a good race car. There’s going to be a point in the race to where you’re going to get behind a 15 car train. Everyone’s car is going to feel like absolute trash but you just need to make your car feel the least trash.”
O’Ward said that while qualifying here is tough enough, running in traffic is even tougher, hence the reason to get his car dialed in for the race.
“I gotta say it’s actually more terrifying to be in traffic running than by yourself because you’d be surprise on how much downforce we lose when you’re in a 5-6 car train. Then when the thing goes loose on you, there is no recovery and that wall approaches really fast. We need to be patient and I think that’s the key here. If you don’t have anything as good to be running as close, just pit. Don’t put yourself in any situation where it will bite you.”
This kid is the real deal. He’s a championship front runner as well as a future Indy 500 champion. But, the future to both could be now. He’s a legitimate factor to win both this season.