Pato O’Ward sent notice to the Indy Lights field on Saturday after taking a flag-to-flag victory on his debut for Andretti Autosport.
The Mexican showed potential last year for Team Pelfrey at St. Petersburg with a fifth in the first race and third in the second, but he would only contest one more round before switching to IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Without the funding to make a full-time jump from Pro Mazda to Indy Lights, an opportunity with the Performance Tech Motorsports IMSA PC team allowed O’Ward to show his skills as the team won all but one race and captured the championship with ease. An offseason deal with Andretti helped O’Ward to get his open-wheel career back on track, and after trouncing the opposition, he said the time in sports car helped sharpen his craft.
“I definitely matured, and got to drive with a lot of big names, especially earlier this year at Daytona,” he told RACER. “I’ve grown a lot.”
With the possibility of expanding on his burgeoning IMSA career, O’Ward decided he wanted to take one more crack at the Mazda Road To Indy and the $1 million prize that awaits the next champion.
“I sat down with my parents and said, I want to give it another try, but I wanted to say we did everything we could – drive for the best team, have the best equipment, and to have everything up to me – so I’m the only factor in if I succeed or I don’t. I wanted to have 100 percent control over how things went, no excuses about anything. And I want to win.”
With support from Bob Stellrecht, a committed sponsor of the Andretti Lights team, O’Ward lived up to the high expectations he set out at the beginning of the year.
“I have to thank the Andretti team because my Stellrecht Mazda was so good,” he continued. “It gives you great confidence going into tomorrow, my times were really consistent, and I just wanted to keep the gap to second. We won the first race, start on pole, and I’m looking forward to a lot more wins this season.”