Pato O’Ward knows a strong rookie showing in the IndyCar Series would go a long way toward cementing a new race in Mexico for the first time in over a decade.
O’Ward, who will join fellow rookie Colton Herta as Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s 2019 IndyCar lineup, will become the first Mexican driver to race full-time in IndyCar since Mexico City’s Adrian Fernandez in 2014. With IndyCar’s promising discussions for a race in Mexico City stalling last November, the 19-year-old Indy Lights champion thinks a return to Mexico would be “huge” for the series.
“They received [news of my promotion to IndyCar] very well,” O’Ward, a native of Monterrey, said Tuesday.
“People were very happy. A lot of people that I know followed the race and they were following the progress throughout the weekend.
“I think it’s huge for the series. It was such an important race in the calendar. There’s a lot of fanatics in Mexico. I think it’s important to engage them again because IndyCar is growing, the series is definitely going to get bigger. I think it’s the most competitive series in the world. I think it’s one of the hardest championships to win by a team or a driver.
“I think having their support, having their following could lead to a very strong and good event in Mexico. Hopefully the people are happy. It would be great to give them some of the emotions that I gave them this year in Indy Lights.”
In winning the Lights crown for Andretti Autosport, O’Ward capped a nine-win season with an impressive weekend sweep in Portland, clinching the championship in the first race and charging from seventh to third in the finale before diving past Santi Urrutia in Turn 1 and checking out for the win. Two weeks later, he qualified fifth for his IndyCar debut at Sonoma and brought home a ninth-place finish. In his mind, continuing that success next season is vital to all interested parties who want to race south of the border.
“I feel like [a race in Mexico] would be one of the best events on the calendar,” he reiterated. “I think next year is going to be very critical to that. I think it’s going to play a lot if it becomes true or not. I think a strong year next year with a lot of following, especially from Mexican media and people joining the following of the IndyCar Series from Latin America, would really help the series go back. I really hope it does because, like I said, I think it would be one of the best events. It would be a great addition to the IndyCar schedule.”
A potential 2018 date at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was penciled in for the weekend of Aug. 3-5, after Mid-Ohio and with a break until the Aug. 19 Pocono race. When IndyCar needed to finalize the schedule without Mexico, CEO Mark Miles emphasized that IndyCar “is invested in the process of putting together the right deal with a partner we are certain can deliver this race.”
“IndyCar appreciates the rich racing history in Mexico and we would like to be part of that once again,” he stated last November. “We will keep working with the intent of making an INDYCAR event in Mexico City a reality in the future.”
In the meantime, O’Ward sees the newly added Circuit of The Americas as another opportunity to draw in fans.
“I’m really excited for that race weekend because that’s the closest one to Mexico,” he said. “I think it’s a lot easier for the Mexicans that follow the IndyCar Series, for the Mexicans that follow me, I think it’s a lot easier for them to go to that event.
“I’ll be really excited for that one. Hopefully I see a lot of Mexican flags there. “That would be awesome to see.”