By: Spencer Neff
March 12, 2019 | 12:44 PM
Unlike the other drivers competing for Rookie of the Year in 2019, Patricio (Pato) O’ Ward was on the sidelines last weekend.
A whirlwind offseason left the 19-year-old without a ride for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Thankfully, he has been able to shore things up for the rest of the season
Before we discuss O’Ward’s 2019 plans further, let’s take a look at his path to the NTT IndyCar Series.
O’Ward is one of three rookies currently age 20 or younger (Colton Herta and Santino Ferrucci). The Monterey, Mexico-native began his career in karting. In 2005, the six-year-old O’Ward started off in Kid Karts.
During his karting career, O’Ward made his mark in both Mexico and the United States. In six years, he earned three titles in his native Mexico and more than four in America. Among his most notable achievements, he earned the 2010 SKUSA SuperNats.
To conclude his karting career, O’Ward notched 2012 Texas Pro Kart Challenge, SKUSA SummerNats and SKUSA SuperNats titles. Each of these crowns would come in the Stock Moto Junior S5 Class.
For 2013, O’Ward moved on to Formula car racing and his pursuits took him across the globe. His greatest 2013 success would come in America. Driving in the Pacific F2000 Series for Dave Freitas Racing, he earned two pole positions, four victories, five podiums and five fastest laps en route to a fifth-place finish in the points standings.
In addition, he made six additional starts in both Europe’s Formula Renault 1.6 NEC (Provily Racing) and Mexico’s Latam Fórmula 2000 (Paradise Racing).
The following season, O’Ward remained in Europe. In 2014, he would compete in the French F4 Championship. Contesting 15 races of the season’s 21 races for Auto Sport Academy, O’Ward finished seventh in points (1 win-Paul Ricard and an additional podium finish at Circuit de Nogaro, both in France).
An opportunity in Pro Mazda with Team Pelfrey gave O’Ward the chance to return to North America in 2015.
Although O’Ward did not win a race or pole position, he did earn two third-place finishes (Toronto Race 2 and Iowa). The results were good enough to net O’Ward seventh in the championship.
He also participated in the 2015-2016 NACAM Formula 4 Championship, the inaugural season for the series. O’Ward participated in 12 of 21 events. Despite missing the first six and last three rounds, he earned a third-place finish in the standings with Martiga EG (Six wins, two poles, five fastest laps and 11 podium finishes).
Team Pelfrey and O’Ward reunited for another season in Pro Mazda for 2016. O’Ward earned his first career win at St. Petersburg in the season opener. From there, he amassed a five-race win streak following a runner-up finish in the second race at the Florida street course.
Although he earned Top Five finishes in six of the final nine races, O’Ward would win just once more (Laguna Seca 1). He finished second in the championship, 28 points behind teammate Aaron Telitz.
O’Ward also ran two races in IMSA’s Mazda Prototype Lites with Performance Tech Motorsports. During the two rounds at Sebring International Raceway, he earned finishes of second and fourth overall.
In 2017, O’Ward and Team Pelfrey stepped up a rung on the Road to Indy ladder. While contesting the St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park doubleheaders, he finished with Top Fives at St. Petersburg (including a 3rd in Race 2). After four starts, O’Ward did not return to Indy Lights in 2017.
His IMSA efforts in 2016 were parlayed into a full-time run in Prototype Challenge with Performance Tech. O’Ward and teammates James French (full-time), Kyle Masson (Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans-Road Atlanta) and Nicholas Boulle (Daytona) dominated.
The team combined to win seven of eight races in the Prototype Challenge class (finished third at Petit Le Mans) and won the championship.
In 2018, O’ Ward would again contest the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring for Performance Tech. This time around, he would race in the Prototype class. Masson and French would once again join the effort. Joel Miller was also added to the team for Daytona.
Neither race would see O’Ward and his team earn their desired result, as they finished eighth and 13th (38th overall-DNF) for the two races.
Luckily, Andretti Autosport signed O’Ward for the Indy Lights season. In his first full-time ride in Road to Indy’s top rung, O’Ward did not disappoint.
He earned three wins in the first four races. Although teammate Colton Herta dominated with four wins in the next five races (O’Ward earned two runner-up finishes in that span), he responded with a brilliant second-half run.
Over the last eight races, O’Ward earned a podium finish in each race. The six wins he amassed in that time (including weekend sweeps at Mid-Ohio and the Portland finale) helped him earn the title. In 2018, O’Ward had recorded nine wins, nine poles, four fastest laps and 13 podiums in 17 starts.
By winning the Indy Lights crown, O’Ward received a $1 million scholarship to help him move on to IndyCar. At the season finale in Sonoma, O’Ward and Herta made their Series debut with Harding Racing.
In his first IndyCar start. O’Ward turned heads by making the Fast Six and qualifying fifth. During his first race, he continued to impress on the 2.385-mile road course, completing all 85 laps and finishing ninth.
Two days later, he and Herta were announced as teammates at the newly-rebranded Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worst as the offseason went on.
With funding prospects for a full-time ride with the team looking murky at best, O’Ward was granted his release from HSR on February 11. Scrambling to put a full-time deal together in time for the March 10 opener at St. Petersburg proved unsuccessful.
On Thursday, O’Ward’s luck turned around. Carlin Racing announced that they had hired the driver to run 13 IndyCar Series races with the team in 2019.
O’Ward will make his debut with the team in the IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas on March 24. In the announcement, he emphasized excitement and gratitude for his 2019 deal.
“I’m just thankful that he and the whole Carlin team really believe in me and I’ll give it my all to show them that I’m ready to tackle any challenges ahead of us starting in a few weeks at COTA,” O’Ward exclaimed.
I just don’t think I can properly express how excited I am for this opportunity.”
Trevor Carlin, Team Principal praised O’Ward’s driving ability and emphasized his motivation for 2019.
“He’s a hugely promising talent who deserves this opportunity and has a massive amount of potential,” Carlin expressed.
“As a young Chevy team, we are incredibly driven and excited to help him achieve his goals in this 2019 program.”
With the stress of trying to secure his 2019 ride behind him, O’Ward shifts his focus to behind the wheel. If he can continue on his current path, he will be in for a strong showing this year.
Header Image By Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR