Racin’ Today » O’Ward Drives McLaren Back To Victory Lane

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Young Pato O’Ward won a Texas shootout on Sunday in Fort Worth. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Patricio O’Ward signed-on with Arrow McLaren SP in 2020 believing any NTT IndyCar Series driver content to run fifth or 10th was in the wrong business.

The driver routinely referred to as “Pato?” He’s in the right business.

O’Ward decisively broke through for his first career INDYCAR victory in his 26th career start Sunday evening at Texas Motor Speedway. O’Ward passed two-time series champion Josef Newgarden with 24 laps remaining in the 248-lap XPEL 375 and pulled away to a 1.2443-second victory. The win came after five top-three finishes _ including three as runnerup _since O’Ward became a fulltime driver in the series. Included in those stats was his third-place finish in Saturday’s Genesys 300, Race 1 of the inaugural doubleheader around TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval.

After filling Newgarden’s rearview mirrors with a series of fake moves for several laps, O’Ward took the bit with a bold pass below the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet through the 24-degree banking of Turn 3.

And that was that. With his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet running in clean air, O’Ward distanced himself from Newgarden, who won here in June 2019. In the process, Pato returned the famed McLaren nameplate to Victory Lane in domestic open-wheel racing for the first time since Fort Worth’s Johnny Rutherford swept a doubleheader at Atlanta Motor Speedway on April 22, 1979. The 83-year-old Rutherford, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1974 and 1976 driving for Team McLaren, spent the weekend “hanging out” in O’Ward’s pit and joined in the Victory Lane festivities.

A native of Monterrey, Mexico, O’Ward considers TMS his home track. O’Ward, who will turn 22 on Thursday, attended middle school and high school in San Antonio and still has a home there. “It’s honestly very, very close to Monterrey, Mexico. Just three hours from the border from Mexico,” O’Ward said. “San Antonio, Texas, does feel very much like a home to me.

“It’s really cool to do it (win) in a place that’s very close to my heart. Lots of my family was here. It’s really cool to share this moment with them. Texas is the closest that I will ever have to racing in Mexico. Hopefully, we can change that in the future.”

O’Ward previously lived in the Dallas area for several years for easy access to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport as he barnstormed Europe and Japan in various series in search of a fulltime ride.

Pato O’Ward leads the field though a turn at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Pato is the first Mexican to win an INDYCAR race since Adrian Fernandez prevailed on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., in 2004.

“Man, I admire Adrian a lot,” O’Ward said. “It’s very special to me to represent my country. I’m the only Mexican driver racing here. I’m a competitive being. I like to win. I like to be at the front. I don’t think there’s anything better than putting your flag as high as you can. I feel like there is nothing better than the Mexican fans. There is so much life and energy, especially for their fellow countrymen. It’s really cool.”

O’Ward capped a doubleheader weekend that saw Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing win Saturday’s Genesys 300 by leading 206 of 212 laps en route to his track-record fifth INDYCAR win. Dixon, the series’ six-time/reigning champion, led another 163 laps in his No. 9 Honda Sunday to surpass the 1,000 mark at “No Limits, Texas.”

But Dixon finished fourth Sunday after dealing with plenty of competition in the closing stages from Graham Rahal, who placed third in the No. 15 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Rounding out the top-five was Colton Herta, winner last Sunday on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in his No. 26 Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport.

Dixon exited Texas with the championship point lead, while O’Ward advanced from fourth to second in the standings, 22 behind (153-131).

“Huge congrats to Pato,” Dixon said. “I was watching from back a few spots there, and what he did there at the end was a tremendous drive, especially against one of the best guys in the field. Hopefully he calms down a little bit and doesn’t make it too often.”

While Dixon and CGR teammate Alex Palou were the only leaders Saturday via three lead changes between them, Sunday’s nightcap produced nine leaders and 12 lead changes as the contest shifted from tactical fuel strategy to all-out speed.

With 100 laps to go, Dixon, Rahal, O’Ward and 2014 series champion Will Power closed to within one second of each other, packing closely to try and save fuel while whittling the number of pit stops needed from four to three. Dixon and Rahal peeled off for their final stops on Lap 186, followed by O’Ward on Lap 187 and Power on Lap 188. Team Penske President Tim Cindric, who serves as Newgarden’s race strategist, decided to keep his driver on-track until Lap 189.

Former McLaren driver Johnny Rutherford congratulates current McLaren driver Pato O’Ward at Texas.

It was a typically deft call by Cindric. Newgarden nailed blistering in-and-out laps around his stop and returned to the track in second behind Takuma Sato in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The two-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, Sato had not yet made his final stop.

However, the race’s last of three caution periods began to unfold on Lap 190 when the right rear wheel of the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet driven by Felix Rosenqvist worked free from its hub assembly in Turn 3. Rosenqvist returned to his pit box safely for service.

On the ensuing restart on Lap 197, Newgarden was content to let Sato lead to insure he had plenty of fuel for an all-out dash to the checkered. Newgarden’s patience ended on Lap 202 when he rocketed past “Taku” for the lead.

O’Ward, meanwhile, had begun to stalk Newgarden. On Lap 225, he tried to pass Newgarden for the lead with a daring outside move in Turn 1 but was parried. O’Ward then sealed the deal by diving inside Newgarden for the lead in Turn 3 on the same lap and began to pull away. Pato’s winning average speed was 169.360 mph, as Chevrolet ended Honda’s three-race winning streak to start the season.

“Yeah, Josef was riding not as low as my car liked to ride,” O’Ward said of the winning pass. “I was just watching what he was doing. I was hanging back because I had to hit a number of fuel. It’s a lot harder whenever you’re in clean air.

“Once they let me loose and said, ‘You know what to do,’ is where I really closed it up. I think it took maybe one or two laps. But he’s someone I can really trust when I’m racing. Around this place, you’re going 210, 220 plus miles an hour, you need someone that can race you hard but clean. Josef is someone that has always raced me very, very clean. It’s someone that I highly respect a lot. Honestly, it was really cool to have the battle of the win with him.”

Newgarden said Cindric’s strategy was sound. “We were saving more fuel than anybody, just going that little bit longer which enabled us to do what we were doing,” Newgarden said. “We were kind of working towards the back end of this race all day _ kind of the boring way to hit it, but it’s effective.

“I just didn’t have pace at the end. I had positioning. I, for whatever reason, didn’t have the pace. I was really positive on the approach. I always am. I feel confident in what we’re doing. I always feel big confidence in Tim and the boys on pit lane. They crush it pretty much every time. There’s no lacking of confidence there. We’ll figure it out. I was really proud of the team. They stuck to it.”

O’Ward finished fourth in the 2020 driver’s championship after winning Indy 500 and series Rookie of the Year honors for Arrow McLaren SP. McLaren Racing formed its new domestic open-wheel partnership with the team founded in 2001 by former INDYCAR driver Sam Schmidt after the 2019 season. Schmidt and business partner Ric Peterson remain co-owners Arrow McLaren SP, led by President Taylor Kiel, O’Ward’s strategist.

The victory also will allow Pato to cash-in on a preseason offer from Californian Zak Brown, chief executive of McLaren Racing. Brown, who oversees worldwide motorsports for the organization founded by the late Bruce McLaren, promised Pato a test drive in a McLaren Formula 1 car would come gift-wrapped with his first INDYCAR victory. Brown, in fact, tweeted post-race that O’Ward would get that test at the season-ending Abu Dhabi round of the FIA F1 World Championship Dec. 10-12.

“Yes, he’s going to pay up!” O’Ward said a smile during his post-race presser. But O’Ward was truly focused on enjoying the moment with the INDYCAR team where he finally has found career stability.

“It feels well-earned,” O’Ward said. “It’s a race win that no one can take away from us by saying, ‘You won it because you were lucky.’ I truly feel like we earned it based on pace, pit stops and the job that I did on-track. Without the overtakes that we did, we probably wouldn’t have had a chance.

“I couldn’t be happier for the group of guys. We’re going to take it in. But we’ve got a long way to go in the championship. The Month of May (at Indianapolis Motor Speedway) is coming up, going to be very busy. We need to be on top of our game. We’re going to try to rack up as many more wins as we can. If we can’t do that, score as many points as we can.”

That said, O’Ward also sought to temper speculation about an impending F1 career with McLaren.

“Man, I mean, my heart’s with INDYCAR,” said O’Ward, who made seven series starts with Carlin in 2019. “It’s just great racing and it’s so, so competitive. I think for a driver there is nothing harder in the world. I think many drivers can agree with me that have come from Formula 1 to INDYCAR, back to Formula 1.

“You know what, Formula 1 is the peak of technology. Everybody wants to go there. If the opportunity ever came by Zak, he said, ‘There’s a seat open. I want you in my team,’ I’d be pretty dumb not to take it because it would just be a crazy opportunity. They don’t come often.

“Right now I’m focused on the job that I have in INDYCAR. I want to make the best of it. I know my goals are very clear with the team. I know the team goals are basically what mine are. We all want to be competing against the best drivers, the best teams. But it’s not easy competing against the Penskes, the Andrettis, the Ganassis…that have been taking control of the series for the last two decades. We’re pushing hard and we’re improving and we have to continue focusing. If there’s a time to push, it’s right now.”

Sunday’s race began with a massive bang. Pietro Fittipaldi’s No. 51 Honda hit the rear of Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet while the back of the pack compressed approaching the green flag at the start/finish line, triggering a melee that involved seven cars and eliminated six.

Involved in the incident besides Fittipaldi and Bourdais were Conor Daly (No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet), Ed Jones (No. 18 Honda), Tony Kanaan (No. 48 Honda), Dalton Kellett (No. 4 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet) and Alexander Rossi (No. 27 Honda). All drivers in the incident were unhurt.

Kanaan, the 2004 series and 2013 Indy 500 champion, was the only driver able to continue. The popular Brazilian now is halfway through a four-race, oval-only 2021 schedule in the No. 48 CGR Honda series rookie/seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is campaigning on the road and street-courses this season.

Daly took the wildest ride in the crash. He tried to follow James Hinchcliffe’s No. 29 Honda through a hole in the chaos, but that escape route quickly closed. The ensuing contact turned over Daly’s car, and it slid down the track on its roll hoop and Aeroscreen cockpit safety device, turning right-side-up when it touched the infield grass. Daly climbed from the car without assistance.

“We found the hole,” Daly said. “Hinch got right through it. I tried to follow my pal through there, and the No. 4 car (Kellett) looks like they caught whoever else was also crashing on the inside, and the two giant cars came (together), and I was in the middle. On our Bingo card of terrible things to have happened to us this year, I don’t know what’s going to be next. I really hope we can just start turning things around.”

The series shifts to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the next two races. The GMR Grand Prix is scheduled for Saturday, May 15, on the IMS road-course, with the 105th Indianapolis 500 set for Sunday, May 30, on the Brickyard’s famed 2.5-mile oval.

###

Results of the XPEL 375 NTT IndyCar Series event on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (4) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 248, Running
    2. (6) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 248, Running
    3. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 248, Running
    4. (1) Scott Dixon, Honda, 248, Running
    5. (10) Colton Herta, Honda, 248, Running
    6. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 248, Running
    7. (2) Alex Palou, Honda, 248, Running
    8. (7) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 248, Running
    9. (12) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 248, Running
    10. (21) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 248, Running
    11. (19) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 248, Running
    12. (13) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 248, Running
    13. (3) Will Power, Chevrolet, 248, Running
    14. (11) Takuma Sato, Honda, 247, Running
    15. (20) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 246, Running
    16. (17) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 246, Running
    17. (5) Jack Harvey, Honda, 115, Mechanical
    18. (22) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 30, Mechanical
    19. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 0, Contact
    20. (15) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 0, Contact
    21. (16) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 0, Contact
    22. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 0, Contact 
    23. (23) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 0, Contact 
    24. (24) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 0, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s Average Speed: 169.360 mph
Time of Race: 2:06:31.1155
Margin of Victory: 1.2443 seconds
Cautions: 3 for 35 laps
Lead Changes: 12 among 9 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Dixon 1-70
Palou 71-73
Carpenter 74
VeeKay 75-79
Dixon 80-139
Rahal 140-152
Dixon 153-185
O’Ward 186
Power 187
Newgarden 188-189
Sato 190-201
Newgarden 202-224
O’Ward 225-248

Point standings: 1, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 153; 2, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 131; 3, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 127; 4, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 116; 5, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 107; 6, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 102; 7, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 100; 8, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 99; 9, Will Power, Team Penske, 99; 10, Jack Harvey, Meyer Shank Racing, 90.

###

2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE/RACE WINNER

Sunday, April 18 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala. (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, April 25 _Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport)

Saturday, May 1 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 1, Fort Worth (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, May 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 2, Fort Worth (Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP)

Saturday, May 15 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (NBC)

Sunday, May 30 _ The 105th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (NBC)

Saturday, June 12 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1, Detroit (NBC)

Sunday, June 13 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2, Detroit (NBC)

Sunday, June 20 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (NBCSN)

Sunday, July 4 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio (NBC)

Sunday, July 11 _ Streets of Toronto (NBCSN)

Sunday, Aug. 8 _ Streets of Nashville, Tenn. (NBCSN)

Saturday, Aug. 14 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (NBCSN)

Saturday, Aug. 21 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill. (NBCSN)

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif. (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif. (NBCSN)

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 4 2021

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