Pato O’Ward doesn’t have that first IndyCar victory yet but he’s certainly got the attention of the upper echelon of the IndyCar paddock.
O’Ward capped off a brilliant weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway on Sunday with a runner-up finish to go with his third place on Saturday for the Arrow McLaren SP team. Had he not lost two split-second decisions on his final pit stops, the 21-year-old Mexican could have swept the doubleheader on the 1.25-mile oval.
After crediting his triumph to his Team Penske crew that enabled him to win a side-by-side duel as they excited pit road on Lap 153, Josef Newgarden paused to praise Pato. “That kid is going to do great things in this sport,” said the two-time IndyCar champion.
Earlier in the NBCSN telecast, it was reported that Scott Dixon (whose final pit stop won Saturday’s race for the five-time IndyCar champ) was giving props to the second-year driver for his amazing in- and out-laps.
And Will Power, the winningest driver of the past decade, said O’Ward “drives way beyond his 21 years.”
The 2018 Indy Lights champion has found a chemistry with engineer Will Anderson and performance director Nick Snyder while the pit stops gave been right there with Ganassi and Penske. Managing director Taylor Kiel has assembled what Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson were hoping for — a team that could consistently challenge the Big 3.
“Man, we had a great weekend and our Chevy was very strong right out of the gates,” said O’Ward, who also has the engineering expertise of Craig Hampson in his corner. “We were super, super competitive and we’re going to keep pushing because we’re very close. We have to stay there.”
Kiel was proud of his troops, as he should be. “The team is headed in the right direction. Really good run by Pato — he drove great all day — and the pit stop guys did an excellent job again. And hats off to Chevrolet for locking up the first four positions. We’re knocking on the door of our first victory as a team and I’m excited to get to Mid-Ohio. It’s too bad we don’t have three races here this weekend.”
As the laps wound down, Newgarden found O’Ward in his mirrors just a few car lengths behind until a late caution sealed the deal but the challenger claimed he didn’t have anything for the Penske driver.
“It would be great to say I did but, honestly, I was really struggling. Today was harder than yesterday for passing and the asphalt was quite a bit hotter so that makes it tougher with big trains of cars. We got to the back of the pack and kinda got stuck there.
“I was pushing, pushing, pushing to get close to him and try and strike but I couldn’t quite do it.”