May 16, 2021

Pato O’Ward Surges To First IndyCar Triumph

Pato O’Ward celebrates in victory lane after winning Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. (Al Steinberg photo)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Through the first three races of the NTT IndyCar Series season, it appeared that Pato O’Ward’s first victory was going to happen any day.

That day came Sunday as the popular and exuberant 21-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico won the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway.

O’Ward’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet tracked down and passed Josef Newgarden’s No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet for the lead in turn three on Lap 224. From there he drove away to a 1.244-second victory over Newgarden to score his first career win.

It was the eighth IndyCar Series win for Arrow McLaren SP; the team’s last win came at Iowa Speedway when James Hinchcliffe won in 2018. That was before McLaren became a partner of Sam Schmidt’s and Ric Peterson’s IndyCar team.

O’Ward’s first win came in his 26th NTT IndyCar Series start.

“It was like, finally,” O’Ward said. “The last 15 laps, I was just enjoying the ride. I felt really proud. We’re all here to win. There are a lot more lows in racing. The highs are really high, and we have a lot more to go in the championship.

“It was fun, today, I believe we truly earned our first win today. I knew I had to keep the tires under me and attack whenever I had the opportunity to do it. The team gave me a very strong car and I could attack when I wanted to.

“It was a lot of fun and I’m very happy to win today.”

It was the first McLaren Indy car win since a twin-race sweep at Atlanta Motor Speedway on April 22, 1979 with Johnny Rutherford as the driver.

Furthermore, it’s the first McLaren win of any kind since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix in Formula One with Jenson Button on Nov. 25, 2012.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown said two weeks ago if O’Ward won an IndyCar race, he would get a Formula One test ride this season. Brown tweeted after the race, “See you in Abu Dhabi.”

“Yes, he’s going to pay up,” O’Ward said of Brown’s promise. “When he calls, ‘I’m going to ask, when is my F-1 test and I want a McLaren.’”

In a race that was once again dominated by five-time Texas Motor Speedway race winner Scott Dixon, who started on the pole and led 163 laps. But late in the race, the aspects of the race changed because of fuel strategy and the timing of the third caution period.

Dixon and then second-place runner Graham Rahal pitted for the final time on Lap 187. O’Ward pitted one lap later and was in and out of the pits in just 7.5 seconds.

But three laps later, fellow Arrow McLaren SP race winner Felix Rosenqvist lost a rear wheel after his final pit stop to bring out the final yellow flag of the race.

On the restart, Newgarden was running second to Takuma Sato and passed him for the lead four laps later. That allowed O’Ward to size up the competition and make the race-winning pass in turn three on Lap 224.

“I truly feel like we earned it based on pace and pit stops,” O’Ward said. “It feels really good that we truly earned this. I could feel happier for the guys.”

Pato O’Ward en route to victory Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. (Al Steinberg photo)

O’Ward became the first driver from Mexico to win since Adrian Fernandez in 2004.

“I admire Adrian a lot and it’s very special to me to represent my country,” O’Ward said. “I’m the only Mexican here and I’m here to compete. It feels good to put the Mexican flag high and I’m very happy and proud to get this victory.”

Rahal’s Honda was third for his second-straight top-five finish in the weekend doubleheader. Dixon finished fourth and Colton Herta finished fifth.

A massive multi-car crash heading to the green flag marred the contest before it ever really got started.

The crash was triggered when Dale Coyne Racing with RWR rookie Pietro Fittipaldi ran into the back of AJ Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais. That sent cars at the back of the field scattering.

The Carlin Racing Chevrolet driven by Conor Daly hit the outside wall and flipped upside down before skidding into trioval grass and slowly rolling back onto its wheels.

Other drivers involved in the crash included A.J. Foyt Racing drivers Dalton Kellett and Bourdais, Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi and Dale Coyne Racing drivers Ed Jones and Fittipaldi.

The remainder of the field had to follow the pace car down pit lane because the front straightaway was blocked with crashed cars and safety vehicles.

The first 18 laps of the race were run under caution before the green flag waved to resume competition. All drivers were checked and released from the infield care center at Texas Motor Speedway.