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On June 13, 2021, I watched IndyCar racer Patricio “Pato” O’Ward’s brilliant drive to victory at Belle Isle in Detroit. It was quite possibly the most well-deserved jump in the fountain that I’ve ever seen. He’s only 22 years old and he’s only been in the IndyCar series for a few years, but he already has two wins under his belt this season and is in serious contention for the 2021 Championship. 

There are only two races left this year, and he’ll need to perform at his best to take over current points leader Alex Palou. With 10 Top 10 finishes, O’Ward currently sits at 452 points, down 25 points to Palou’s 477. 

Before the most recent IndyCar race at Portland International Raceway, McLaren reached out to offer an interview with O’Ward. He shared his thoughts on the 2021 season, discussed his background, and enthusiastically answered all of our questions. Read on to learn more about one of the sport’s bright stars before the season heads to IndyCar this weekend, and then wraps up at Long Beach on September 26.

Arrow McLaren SP

Car Bibles: You’ve been flirting with the points podium all season. What’s your strategy for winning the championship?

Pato O’Ward: We’ve had a great year so far. We’ve been very strong in certain parts of the season, and we haven’t been very strong in other aspects of the season, but I think that’s just how a season goes. Not everything can go perfect, but we’ve grown a lot as a team. We all kind of broke through that wall of truly being a contender. Last year, we ended fourth in the championship, which is obviously not bad at all, but we weren’t really in the fight to win it.

But we are this year. We’re leading the charge now and we’re up against, arguably, the best IndyCar teams in history with some of the best drivers in history. Like Scott Dixon, the guy’s won six times. He has more than 50 wins, so we don’t have it easy, but I think the best strategy is trying to win as much as we can. There’s three left, if we can win one or two of those, I think that will set us up in a great position to try and win it.

CB: Absolutely. Speaking of these final three races, Long Beach and Laguna Seca are the two final races in this season and are historically fan favorites, including myself as a Long Beach resident. What are your personal thoughts on these two tracks? Are there any special strategies, or a certain kind of mindset you put yourself in for them? 

PO: I enjoy driving both of them. I probably would say I enjoy Laguna a little bit more because I think it suits my style. It’s very flowy, and it takes a lot of commitment to go fast around there. And the car will move around, I enjoy that. I like to feel the car in the limit and just try and extract everything out of it, truly being on the edge, rather than a lot of stop and go corners. It’s more of just flowing and really feeling the grip of the car. So, I love going there, and I think Long Beach is a mega event as well.

There’s probably no better place to end the season. Also from my side, a lot of Mexicans go to watch Long Beach, so I’m really hoping to see a lot of Mexican flags out there this year. I’m looking forward to both of them, and I think we’re gonna close out this championship very strong.

CB: Very cool. When IndyCar came back to Laguna Seca a few years back, watching those cars go three-wide into The Corkscrew was really something. Do you expect to have some pretty up-close interactions? 

PO: I think it’s a track where tire degradation comes into play. Overtaking is easier whenever you have a fresher set of tires and maybe someone else doesn’t. But it’s a tough track to pass because it’s so flowy and it’s tight, so when you’re trying to make a pass stick, you have to be sure that you’re gonna make it happen because there’s not a lot of room for two cars there, in any corner.

CB: Even in tiny IndyCars.

PO: Yeah. [chuckles]

IndyCar at Belle Isle, Detroit, June 2021 AP Photo/Paul Sancya

CB: Then Long Beach is tighter technical slow stuff. Would you say it just takes more finesse and precision?

PO: Yeah, I think getting the last little bit out of the car there is probably a little bit tougher since you’ve got walls, not sand around you. A lot of the other guys that we’re racing against have raced there for like 20 years or more, but I’ve only raced there once.

Compared to Laguna, it’s a lot more stop-and-go, just a bumpy street course kind of feel. Which, at the end of the day, it is a street course and it’s what it’s supposed to feel like, but it’s a lot more raceable than other street courses we go to. Especially comparing it to like Nashville. [chuckles]

CB: How did you like Nashville? 

PO: I think it’s a really cool track for racing. I just think the gentleman’s agreement behind closed doors that we all kind of have with each other comes more into play, but no one respected it this year. I think that’s why you saw so many crashes.

CB: It was rough.

PO: Yeah, it’s raceable, but it takes two to tango. If one of you isn’t willing to give enough space or be willing to give enough respect, like, “okay, here’s a position, you’re gonna touch and you’re gonna go into the wall.” That’s my take on it.

CB: How do these tracks compare to the Portland track?

PO: It’s a lot like Laguna in that it’s a very flowy race track. It’s not a lot of stop-and-go, and I really enjoy that. I actually won my Indy Lights championship there in 2018.

Still from a McLaren commercial shoot, featuring Pato behind the wheel. McLaren

CB: That’s very cool. Do you have any plans to race for McLaren elsewhere after the IndyCar season? IMSA, GT racing in Europe, anything like that?

PO: I might do a race with Zak and Felix, actually. [Ed. Note: As in Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren, and Felix Rosenqvist, Pato’s Arrow McLaren SP teammate.]

 I’m not really sure which one it is yet, but Zak just kinda threw it out there to us and was like, “Hey guys, let’s do something.” So we all wanna do something together, we just need to find the race to do it. So that’d be pretty cool, too. I’m assuming we’d probably do it in a McLaren GT4 car or something. 

Other than that, I’d love to do the 24 Hours of Daytona in a prototype, and I’d love to do Le Mans in the future, plus the 12 Hours of Sebring. That’d be really cool.

CB: For sure. Switching gears up a tad, what is your best advice for someone with aspirations of becoming a pro driver? How did you get your start?

PO: Your plan will never go as planned. That is probably the best explanation I can give from my life to someone else. [chuckles]

CB: Would you say you had a different path in mind?

PO: You always have a plan on how you want things to shape up, but there’s gonna be a lot of emotion and there’s gonna be a lot of ups and downs. You should just push through and believe that things fall in their place for the right reasons, and then just take advantage of the opportunity that’s presented.

CB: Well said. And now, a little bit more on the fun side. Let’s say you’re asked, maybe with Zak, to jump behind the wheel of something at the club level. I’m talking about SCCA, NASA, an amateur endurance racing series, etc. It could be for charity, it could be like, “hey, guys, let’s go racing.” What would you choose, and what kind of car? 

PO: Man, you gotta give me some options.

CB: Like Spec Miata, or something like that.

PO: Oh my God! Spec Miata! My engineer, Will Anderson, raced in Spec Miata, and we all kind of laughed about it and said we should all get in Spec Miatas and race against each other. Because, I mean, there’s no aero wash, there’s no nothing. It’s just bumper cars out there. I feel like that’d be pretty fun to do.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

CB: Haha, the Arrow McLaren SP Spec Miata Championship! Now my final question: If you were to anonymously drive somewhere, anywhere in the world, like renting a car at the Nurburgring, where would you go and what car would you use?

PO: That’s on my bucket list. Well, two things on my bucket list: I wanna do the Nordschleife, but I don’t want to do it in a not-horrifyingly-fast car. I feel like I just wouldn’t enjoy it as much, you’re just so fast. I’d probably do that, and I’ve never been on the Autobahn in Germany.

CB: Define a car that isn’t horribly fast.

PO: I’d probably do something with 550 horsepower or less, and naturally aspirated.

CB: Oh, okay. Very nice. 

PO: Definitely with a double-clutch transmission, too, I wouldn’t do manual.

CB: Haha, something you’re more used to. So for driving on the Autobahn, probably the same scenario, huh? 

PO: No. For the Autobahn, give me the fastest thing you have.

CB: Like that McLaren 720S I saw downstairs.

PO: That’s what they lent me this week, and man, I’m a big fan of that car. I love it. I think it looks amazing. I love that yellow too. It drives amazingly, is ridiculously fast, and sounds so cool.

CB: That’s awesome, Pato! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, and best of luck for the rest of the season.

PO: Yeah, no worries, man. Cool, thanks a lot!

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