A case of the budgetary blues is making its way through portions of the NTT IndyCar Series paddock as 2018 Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward has confirmed he is at risk of having his rookie season conclude unless new funding is raised.
The remaining balance of O’Ward’s $1 million advancement prize for winning the Lights championship was consumed in May, and only through the benevolence of Carlin Racing’s sponsor Gallagher Insurance was the 20-year-old able to contest both rounds last weekend in Detroit.
Following Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s budget shortfall for O’Ward’s former Lights teammate Colton Herta, two of IndyCar’s most promising young talents find themselves in a precarious position during their rookie campaigns.
“Obviously, my crash at Indy didn’t help, and starting the year as late as we did, we didn’t have much time to find more money,” O’Ward told RACER. “We didn’t have a comfort zone to fall back on, so our budget is very tight. We have to find more backing to continue.”
The Texas-based Mexican has been on a rollercoaster ride of fortunes since the offseason. Signed by the Harding Steinbrenner team alongside Herta, O’Ward was only required to bring the Lights’ advancement prize to the program. Having learned the HSR team was incapable of honoring the contract in the early states of 2019, difficulties in gaining his release from the team left O’Ward with few viable options to land elsewhere.
Although the Andretti team offered O’Ward a half-season home in one of its highly competitive entries, the seat was not free; Harding would need to fund the ride which, in light of the absence of budget to run O’Ward at his own team, failed to address the core financial issue that led to the split.
Extricating himself from that Catch-22, O’Ward and Carlin struck a deal to start racing at Circuit of The Americas. The original scope of the arrangement had O’Ward driving the second Carlin Chevy for most of the races that team veteran Charlie Kimball would skip during an abbreviated season. With upwards of 10 races on his schedule, the costly crash during practice for the Indy 500 and failure to qualify for the race proved to be a significant budgetary setback. Through six rounds, O’Ward’s best finish is eighth at COTA, which serves as the top result for Carlin so far in 2019.
For O’Ward, who has seen Trevor Carlin and Grahame Chilton go well beyond expectations to keep him in a car, the desire to stay and reward their belief with more strong performances is clear.
“I’m grateful for everyone who has helped me to get here, and the Carlin team has been really amazing, honestly,” he added. “It’s not the first time I’ve been in this situation, though, and it won’t be last because that’s how the sport goes, but we’ll keep giving it our best and keep trying to find the money to race in IndyCar.”
On a personal front, O’Ward was signed as a member of the Red Bull Junior Team in May with a view to potentially integrating him within its Formula 1 program, although the extent to which the Austrian energy drink company will be willing to fund his racing in America is unclear.