MRTI: O’Ward flyin’ high early on in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

It cannot be understated how dominant Andretti Autosport’s Patricio “Pato” O’Ward has been to start the 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season. With two poles and three victories in the opening four races at St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park, O’Ward has asserted himself as the fastest driver early on in the Indy Lights campaign.

And the weekend from Barber serves as evidence of this dominance. O’Ward started second in a hot and dry Race 1 on Saturday, passed polesitter Colton Herta in Turn 5 right after the start, and ran away from there to lead every lap and take the win.

On Sunday, with conditions now cold and rainy, O’Ward didn’t miss a beat, scoring the pole and immediately shooting off into the distance when the green flag waved to complete the weekend sweep with a Race 2 victory.

O’Ward revealed that some of that success is down to the track, one he describes as a favorite, a feeling that goes back to his days in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

“Barber, honestly, is a track I really enjoy driving. I’ve had a lot of success there, especially in 2016 in Pro Mazda. I didn’t qualify on pole in one race, and I won it from fourth (on the grid), and in the other I qualified on pole and I basically just left everyone behind and got the win. So, it’s definitely a track where I’ve had a lot of success,” he told NBC Sports.

Further, O’Ward added that he feels like the track meshes well with him. “I think it really suits my driving style,” he explained. “I really like fast tracks, like obviously Barber. I really enjoy street courses as well. I know where I’m going to be strong so I wanted to get the most out of it.”

And while the rain on Sunday presented a very tricky challenge in and of itself, O’Ward, who has raced in the rain previously, explained that the bigger challenge was actually getting used to driving the Dallara IL-15 in the rain.

“The hardest thing with the Indy Lights car is there’s so much torque, it’s so hard to keep the rear tires under you, even in the dry,” he detailed. “But in the rain, whenever it’s wet and slippery, the hardest thing is to put the power down.”

However, O’Ward was surprised to find that the track had much more grip than he thought it would.

Pato O’Ward’s most recent win came in the wet at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“When I first went out, I felt the track had a lot of grip, that was something I was not expecting at all,” he revealed. “The braking (zones) weren’t pushed far back that much. It was a surprise, first of all, and second of all, I had the best place to be in, which is first, so you don’t have anyone in front of you. There’s no spray, and you can actually see. It was definitely a new learning experience, but I think I got around it pretty fast and we were putting down some really fast lap times.”

What is potentially more daunting, especially for his Indy Lights competitors, is that O’Ward could easily have four wins in four races if not for Race 2 in St. Petersburg, when he overshot Turn 4 and went into the runoff area before stalling the car on re-entry.

He eventually finished seventh, and revealed that while it was an honest mistake, it is one that did not sit well with him.

“It was kind of embarrassing,” he revealed. “I was seven seconds in front of everyone, and then all of the sudden you mess up by yourself, go in the runoff area, and stall the car. I basically just gave a win (away), gave a podium away.”

He further explained that running by yourself, as he was at that point in the race, can present a unique challenge in that it can be very easy to lose focus, as you aren’t battling anyone.

“Whenever someone is behind you, it kind of helps you keep your focus, but when you’re so far ahead, it becomes a mental challenge by yourself. So you’re your own competition. I think that’s what got to me. I kind of relaxed a little too much and I just made a stupid mistake. On a street course, they’re not going to be forgiving. It’s definitely something I’m not going to want to happen again.”

In addition to honing his craft in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, O’Ward is also taking advantage of opportunities in IMSA. He raced full-time in the Prototype Challenge class of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship last year with Performance Tech Motorsports, and is doing the endurance races with the same team in 2018, now in the Prototype class.

The relationship between O’Ward and Performance Tech goes back to 2016, when he first contested IMSA Prototype Lites races (now called the IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda) with them, and that quickly grew into a full-season opportunity for 2017.

“I did an IMSA Lites race with them. We didn’t have the strongest car, but they saw what I could do. (Team owner Brent O’Neill) called me and said ‘Hey, would you be interested to jump in the car with James (French) and Kyle (Masson) for the PC?’ I was like ‘Well, yeah, that’d be awesome to do Daytona, Sebring, and everything,'” he said of how their relationship came together.

And while the Prototype Challenge class did not feature deep fields in 2017 – BAR1 Motorsports was the only other team with entries in every event, with only Don Yount contesting every race for them – it nonetheless resulted in several noteworthy accomplishments, including wins at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, along with a class championship.

Even though O’Ward’s primary focus is in the single-seater realm, he is not dismissive of his IMSA exploits.

“I think the championships and the IMSA stuff, it’s going to add to your bonuses, to your persona, it just adds to everything,” he asserted. “It’s always good to have some seat time, to get more seat time, to get your name out there. It’s definitely not hurting.”

While his career has at times hit a couple stumbling blocks – he ran only four Indy Lights races in 2017 before his budget ran out – O’Ward is confident that if he can keep up the same work ethic, attitude, and form he has displayed so far, a big payoff could be down the road.

“I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason, so I’m sure where I’m at right now is because of the things that have led up to this. So, I think it’s just part of the sport, it’s part of what it takes to kind of start making (a name for) yourself as a driver. I feel like it’s just all a part of it, and honestly I wouldn’t be changing a thing.”

His championship outlook certainly looks strong four races in – he leads Santi Urrutia by 16 points (110 to 94) – but his focus is not necessarily on maintaining his dominant form.

Rather, he is keen to get the most out of every race, even if that means not winning. “If I have a car for second, I’m going to finish second. If I have a car for a podium, I’m going to finish on the podium – I’m not going to push for the win. But when I know I have a car to win, I’m going to (try to) win. So, I just want to play it smart, watch my surroundings, because I know sometimes when things don’t go your way it’s not your fault. So that’s basically going to be my approach for the rest of the season.”

And while the Indy Lights field is small, he is by no means underestimating anyone.

“Santi has been a vice-champion in Indy Lights for two years already. Colton (Herta) got a bunch of race wins last year. Aaron (Telitz) got wins last year and he was fast. Every single guy in the series has gone for wins or has showed a lot of speed. This year is definitely not a walk in the park.”

Indy Lights’ next event is this weekend’s double-header at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.


Jett Lawrence wins Hangtown Pro Motocross, remains perfect in 450s

Lawrence Hangtown Motocross
Align Media

Jett Lawrence remains perfect in the Pro Motocross series after recording another perfect round at Hangtown in Rancho Cordova, California. In his second start on a 450, Lawrence won his second National with his fourth consecutive moto win. It is getting increasingly difficult to find the right superlatives to describe the exploits on the reigning 250 West Supercross champion.

“The track was so brutal out there,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Jason Thomas. “The bike handles amazing even when it’s not too friendly. You had to be really patient; you couldn’t take too much. I didn’t eat enough before that second moto. I kind of lost energy halfway through, but luckily I could use technique and balance and just keep that flow going.”

Lawrence leaves Hangtown with an 18-point advantage over Ferrandis in the 450 Motocross standings, but perhaps more importantly, he climbed to 19th in the SuperMotocross standings and should he stay there, he has an automatic invitation to the Main events in the SMX Championship.

“On this track, you just have to manage,” Lawrence continued. “If you try to take too much and not respect the track, it will bite you very quickly. It was humbling on the first few laps. I got kicked on the cutout at the start of the third section, the tabletop going to the left. I had to get my focus because the boys were coming.”

Still in his first few races since returning from a concussion suffered at Houston in the Supercross series, Dylan Ferrandis finished second with results of third in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2. While Ferrandis was happy with the result, he remains hopeful that he will contend for victory shortly.

“The first moto was very hard for my physically, Ferrandis said. “I got arm pump and when you get arm pump your body gets tired. But I’m very happy because we made a big change for the second moto. We tried stuff every session today and in the last moto the bike was much better, but unfortunately I wasn’t sure what I could do with this bike because the track was very hard and difficult to pass.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Hangtown

With the rash of injuries at the end of the Supercross season, the podium was filled with heartwarming stories. Cooper Webb returned to action last week in Pala and failed to make the podium. He is steadily improving with a third-place finish in Hangtown. after finishing with a 4-2.

“It’s incredible what seven days can do,” Webb said. “Last week I felt like I was going to get lapped in the second moto. This week, I could see the leader. It was nice. I fought hard, learned how to suffer again there and that felt nice.

Moto 2 wasn’t pretty for Lawrence. On several occasions in the opening laps, he nearly high sided as he rode the front wheel through the ruts. The reward was worth the risk. By the halfway point, Lawrence had 4.5-second lead over Webb, who was embroiled in a tight three-rider battle for second with his teammate Aaron Plessinger pressuring him and Ferrandis ready to take advantage if those made contact.

It took 20 minutes for Plessinger to get around Webb and once he did, he trailed Lawrence by four seconds. But then, with three minutes remaining, Plessinger crashed and had difficulty restarting the bike, handing second back to Webb who has seven seconds behind Lawrence. Plessinger fell to fourth with results of third and sixth.

Adam Cianciarulo rounded out the top five with a 5-4.

Last week Hunter Lawrence won the overall with a 3-1. He repeated that feat in Hangtown in an exact replica of his Fox Raceway results last week. In Moto 1, Lawrence got off to a slow start and lost 10 seconds in the opening laps. Forced to overcome a sixth-place position in the race at the end of Lap 1, he once again caught the riders ahead of him when the field hit heavy traffic. For the second week, scored another 3-1 for the Hangtown National win.

“The start was crucial’ I knew I had to go,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “They laid a lot of water down, so I didn’t want to be behind any longer than [I was]. First hot one of the year, was a bit of a wakeup call, so I’m happy to get out of here safe and healthy.”

Lawrence’s third-place finish in Moto 1 featured a fierce battle for final spot on the podium when he caught Spain’s Guillem Farres and France’s Tom Vialle. With Lawrence hailing from Australia, the international nature of the sport was highlighted.

Lawrence left Hangtown with a 10-point advantage over Haiden Deegan in the Pro Motocross championship battle.

Click here for 250 overall results

Justin Cooper finished second in both motos to finish second overall. Hangtown represented a huge improvement from Fox Raceway where he finished fifth overall with a 5-4 finish in the two motos. Cooper pressured Haiden Deegan in the second half of Moto 1 and he earned the holeshot in the second moto and stayed within three seconds of Lawrence in that race.

“He was following me a little bit, checking out my lines, seeing where he was better,” Cooper said. “It’s disappointing to give up the lead like that but it was way better than last weekend. I will definitely take two seconds. I want to be on the top of the step. I feel like I get close to the top step but I never get it done. That’s building up the frustration – the fire. I really want to get one of these wins, so it’s time to start digging.”

Haiden Deegan earned the first holeshot of his career in Moto 1 and rode away from the field, building a four-second lead in the opening laps. Cooper trimmed the lead at the halfway point and for a while it leveled off at two seconds. Then Cooper made another charge with three to go and closed to within a second. Deegan was biding his time, however.

“I was saving a little. I knew at the end Justin was going to try and put a charge on. I let him get up close and then sent it super hard at the end to break him a little at the end.”

Deegan’s first moto win comes in only his fourth National and he remains perfect in regard to podiums this year.

“This was a dream since I was a little kid, to win,” Deegan said. “And in my fourth race, it’s gnarly. I was just sending it. I was getting a little tired at the end becasue I left my mouth open the whole time. It’s unreal; I’m so hyped. I wanted to win bad and I proved it to you guys.”

Chaos erupted in turn 1 in Moto 2 Jeremy Martin went and another rider ran over his arm. Michael Mosiman crashed further down the track on that same lap. Both riders were helped off course by the Alpinestars Medical team.

2023 Motocross Race Recaps

Fox Raceway: Jett Lawrence wins in first 450 start

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Chase Sexton is out for Hangtown
Enzo Lopes re-signs with Club MX for 2024
Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Pala
Results and points after Pala
Jett Lawrence wins Pala in his first MX start
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury