There’s no need for Arrow McLaren SP’s leadership team, race engineers or strategists to waste time crafting a detailed plan for Pato O’Ward this weekend.
As the NTT IndyCar Series lands in Long Beach to settle the championship and say farewell to the 2021 season, the 22-year-old Mexican ace has nothing other than total mastery of the event to consider.
Down an imposing 35 points to championship leader Alex Palou from Chip Ganassi Racing, O’Ward and every other driver headed to the street course have a maximum of 54 points available. There’s a chance he can overtake Palou and win the title, and for his benefit, the simplicity of the task that lies ahead – winning while hoping his rival has terrible luck – makes keeping track of points an utter waste of time.
Go forward, O’Ward, be victorious, and hope it’s enough to overhaul Palou at the checkered flag.
“I’m going for the win in Long Beach, whatever it takes,” he said. “I think our street course package is probably one of our stronger packages in terms of road courses, street courses, ovals, short ovals. I think I’m pretty handy around a street course, so hopefully I can pull off something good and put us into contention.”
There will be disappointment if O’Ward comes up short in the championship bid, but if you’re Zak Brown from McLaren Racing and Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson from AMSP, there’s also a reason to marvel at all he’s accomplished in his second full season of IndyCar competition.
The team will either leave Southern California with its first IndyCar title in hand ,or start the clock on the next pursuit with O’Ward, and you won’t find a single person in the paddock who questions whether he’s capable of becoming champion in the near future.
“We obviously needed more to close the gap,” O’Ward said after placing fifth in Monterey. “So, we made it a bit harder on ourselves for Long Beach. I mean, we still have a shot. I know things can go south real quick in racing. All I can do is just send it in Long Beach [and] take the fight to the guys. I think that’s the only thing we can do now.”