It’s been an eventful last 48 hours for Pato O’Ward.
Not long after the 20-year-old Mexican climbed out of the cockpit of his No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet after a grueling 55 laps in IndyCar race at Road America, he received a call from Dr. Helmut Marko.
The Red Bull junior driver quickly learned he was the choice candidate to replace banned MP Motorsport driver Mahaveer Raghunathan for this weekend’s FIA Formula 2 event in Austria. Could he catch a plane ride immediately?
“I don’t think I’ve ever had something so last-minute in my life,” O’Ward told RACER. “I’m excited for the opportunity. It’s huge for my career, huge for my development, although it is going to be a very challenging and tough task.
“I’m going in stone cold, not knowing the track at all. Not knowing the car at all. Not knowing the tires at all, and first time with the team. So I mean, it is going to be a tough task, but it’s not the first time something pretty steep has been in front of me. I’m curious to see how well I do.
“Just like everything else, I’m going to be giving it my 110 percent. I’m sure if we work around the issues and get some good track time and I get comfortable pretty quick, I think we can bring a strong result.
“I have no idea what my expectations are. I’m kind of going into it not expecting anything and just enjoying what I love to do, to be honest.”
O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion, joined Red Bull’s development program in May and is embracing the opportunity to make his debut at its home circuit: The Red Bull Ring.
“It’s really cool that I get to do it for them, and get to do it on Red Bull’s home soil,” said O’Ward.
“I’m going in mid-season, where guys have known the car for so much longer than I have. It’s not an easy car to drive. The tires have a very particular way to be driven. So it’s going be tough; it’s going to take some time, but I guess it’ll put my adapting skills to the test again.”
Additionally, O’Ward will be joining a series that is the direct undercard and shares the weekend with Formula 1. That means both Dr. Marko and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner will get a firsthand look at their investment.
As of now, O’Ward is confirmed for this weekend only, joining MP Motorsport and another driver with recent IndyCar experience, Jordan King. And although there is some financial instability surrounding O’Ward’s opportunity to do more IndyCar races, he has no plans to call it quits in the U.S.
“We’re working as much as we can to get the funding, but it’s been so hard – so hard – to get the backing,” said O’Ward.
“IndyCar is not done, though. This [F2 ride] is just a one-off as of right now, to see what it’s like over there. I’m still pretty green and still pretty unsure about what’s going to happen in my future.”
Perhaps the biggest thing O’Ward takes to heart in all he has endured in 2019, is the fact that Red Bull has such faith in him despite his only being a part of the Junior Team for a little over a month.
“It means a lot for such a prestigious name to want my help,” said O’Ward. “It’s not the first time someone has struggled. It’s a sport that requires a lot of support, and that’s really hard to find sometimes. But the most important thing is just to never doubt yourself, to always know that you can do it.”