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.


Chase Sexton wins Triple Crown Anaheim 2 Supercross: Levi Kitchen unseats Jett Lawrence in 250s

Supercross Anaheim 2
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Chase Sexton won two of the three races in the Monster Energy Supercross Anaheim 2 Triple Crown, which was enough to overcome a fifth-place finish in Race 2 and give him the overall victory. It was the second Supercross win of his career.

“Super big night for me,” Sexton told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “After last weekend with that being a struggle, I just need to come out here and stop the bleeding a little bit and I did that tonight.”

Sexton suffered a crash on Lap 1 of his heat, sending him into Last Chance Qualifier. The bad gate pick put him in a difficult position to start the race and he was able to climb to only fifth at the checkers.

At Anaheim 2, three riders entered the final race of the Triple Crown in a winner-take-all scenario. Sexton, Jason Anderson and Eli Tomac each had a shot at victory. It raised the intensity level for all riders in an evening that featured a lot of comers and goers.

Jason Anderson took the early lead in Race 3, which set him up for the overall victory. Sexton stalked and passed him midway through the race and then a minor mistake late allowed Webb to slip around as well. Anderson’s 5-1-3 gave him second overall.

“I had a tough couple of rounds, getting off that Anaheim 1 crash and then last week weekend I fumbled a little bit, but I’m excited to get back on the box and start moving forward,” Anderson told Jason Thomas.

Anderson finished seventh in the first two rounds of 2023.

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Ken Roczen was the model of consistency in the opening rounds and at Anaheim 2. In three races so far this year, he’s gotten progressively better each time with a fifth in A1, a fourth last week in San Deigo and a third this week.

With results of 2-3-4, he earned his first podium of the season, which lands him fourth in the standings.

“This was hard earned,” Roczen said after the race. “I completely botched the start and then to have to work my way up. I only happen on the very last lap to step up here on the podium.”

Webb’s solid second-place finish in the third race allowed him to leapfrog several riders and finish fourth overall, but a seventh in Race 1 kept him off the podium. He improved in each race in Anaheim, however, with a 7-4-2.

With a 4-6-5, Dylan Ferrandis rounded out the top five.

The intensity of the race was a little too much for Tomac.

While battling side-by-side with Webb in Race 3 at the one-third mark, Tomac jumped wide and crashed hard. He fell to 14th, doing some damage to his bike in the process. He advanced only one position in that race to 13th. His first two races, a third and second, were strong enough to give him sixth overall. He retains the points lead, but it has shrunk to a gap of only four over Sexton and Webb.

Malcolm Stewart injured late in the week and was not able to mount.

Levi Kitchen became the first rider to unseat Jett Lawrence in the Triple Crown format at Anaheim 2 and won the overall with consistency. In his three races, Kitchen finished 4-2-2 to narrowly edge the winner of the first two races.

“This whole day; this is unbelievable. I took a few good slams in practice and I was down on myself,” Kitchen told NBC Sports Jason Thomas afterward. “The first moto I got a good start and got shuffled back, then I knew I just needed to be consistent.”

Jett Lawrence saved his best for last – which wasn’t hard given the struggles he experienced in the first two races.

Despite those problems, he entered Race 3 of the Triple Crown three points behind Kitchen after suffering a pair of disappointing races by his personal measuring stick. In the first and second 250 races of the night, Lawrence hit the ground. He dropped to the final rider in the running order in Race 2 with a Lap 1 fall. But in both races, he was able to overcome his mistake and close the gap so that he had a chance to take his first Triple Crown win of his career.

Click here for full 250 West Main Results

Lawrence rode to third in Race 1 and sixth in Race 2. In the final race of the night, Lawrence did all he could. He earned the holeshot, but when Kitchen fell in behind him, Lawrence’s fate was sealed. His 3-6-1 tied him in points with Stilez Robertson, but the tiebreaker goes to the final round and his win secured second-place.

“I can definitely say Triple Crowns are not my thing,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Will Christien. “We have one more to try and fix this, so hopefully we can get that done.”

Lawrence will move into the 450 class for the Lucas Oil Motocross outdoor season and his 250 record book will be closed.

The best news for Lawrence is the other riders who entered this round in the top three had a worse night, so Lawrence leaves Anaheim with a 16-point gap on Cameron McAdoo and 17 over RJ Hampshire.

Roberston finished 6-1-3 to take the final step of the podium.

“Getting that win in the second Main meant a lot,” Roberston told Thomas. “I wish I could have done a little better in the third one, but we’re still up here on the box.”

Mitchell Oldenburg used consistency to earn fourth in the overall. He finished 5-4-6.

After missing the Main last week in San Diego, Max Vohland finished 7-8-4 to round out the top five.

RJ Hampshire set himself up as the early favorite with his Race 1 win. In Race 2, it all fell apart. He fell in the sand section and damaged his bike, finishing last in that race. The final event of the night for the 250s provided only a 13th-place finish, leaving Hampshire deep in the points.

Cameron McAdoo hard crash in qualification, which was scary news for a team that has seen three of their riders sidelined with injury. McAdoo was never quite able to get his rhythm with an 8-7-5.

2023 Race Recaps

San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Anaheim 2 coverage

Power Rankings Week 2
SuperMotocross tightens playoff schedule
Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence go two-for-two in San Diego
Results and points after San Diego
Seth Hammaker to miss 250 E season opener with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner with injury
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX