Pato O’Ward has three main goals he can achieve in the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, and two are attainable at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
O’Ward will speed onto the track Wednesday, Aug. 13 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prepared to achieve his goals of winning Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, driving to victory in the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Aug. 23 and continuing his quest for the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship.
Mexican driver O’Ward is not eligible for the Rookie of the Year Award in the series because he competed in seven contests in 2019. But O’Ward is a contender for Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. He did not make the field for the 103rd Indy 500 in 2019 when he was with Carlin, but he is having an outstanding 2020 season with Arrow McLaren SP.
“I had no idea about being able to run for Indy 500 Rookie of the Year until you just told me,” O’Ward said. “That’s pretty cool. Other than that, I did too many races to be counted as a rookie in the series, but I still count myself as new to the series with a lot to learn yet. I think it’s pretty cool. I don’t think there is another word to put on it.
“It’s something cool to do.”
O’Ward, a 21-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico, is fourth in the standings. He trails three of INDYCAR’s biggest names, five-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and current points leader Scott Dixon, 2016 champion and defending Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden.
“It’s been a fantastic year so far,” O’Ward said. “It’s such a competitive championship. You have to always be there, you have to score points, you have to finish races. I never doubted myself that I couldn’t compete against them. I knew I could.”
O’Ward is part of the “Youth Squad” at Arrow McLaren SP that also includes 23-year-old rookie Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida. When the famed McLaren operation purchased an ownership stake in Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports last year, the team decided to double-down on young talent rather than mix experience with youth.
So far in 2020, O’Ward and Askew have shown the kids can drive. Both have raced up front and been in contention for victory, including O’Ward’s fantastic drive at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, in the second race of the REV Group Grand Prix doubleheader.
“We are going to say they made the right decision because people would do anything to have an opportunity like this, but we have both done a very good job with the amount of experience that we have in the series,” O’Ward said. “We know we have very good cars and very good people behind us. It’s about executing and not making any mistakes. We proved to be up there, speed-wise, every weekend, and I think it’s down to not making any mistakes and trying to be as perfect as possible every race. In doing that, the results show.”
Road America is considered one of the premier road racing circuits in the world. Veteran drivers dream of scoring a victory on the Wisconsin road course while young drivers generally have a lot to learn on the 4.039-mile, 14-turn trip around the track.
But O’Ward drove with the speed of a youngster and the savvy that comes with experience. He started on the pole and was out front for 43 laps before Felix Rosenqvist chased him down and passed him for the lead with just two laps remaining.
Rosenqvist won the race and O’Ward finished second. O’Ward showed talent that could make him a big winner in 2020.
“To be fairly honest, I’ve never had any doubt in myself or the team starting the year,” O’Ward said. “We had all the tools and potential to be winning races. We have shown we are contenders the last few weekends. We got the win ripped away with two laps to go at Road America, but second was a very solid finish, very strong. We performed and executed perfectly that weekend, especially the Sunday race.”
O’Ward backed up that road course performance with impressive doubleheader results at Iowa Speedway the next weekend, placing fourth and 12th, respectively on the short oval.
“We’ve made some great strides forward and improved massively,” O’Ward said. “We were one of the cars to beat at Iowa. This series is so competitive. It is the most competitive series in the world. If you make one mistake, you are going to be all the way in the back. That happened to us. We were fighting for the win heading to the last pit stop, a mistake occurred, and we got shuffled to the back.
“There is no room to make any rookie mistakes, or any mistake in general. Everybody has to be on top of their game, 24/7. The speed is there, and I know we are very capable of winning races. That is what we want to do.”