Indy Lights: O’Ward wins Race 1 to clinch 2018 championship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Patricio O’Ward clinched the 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship on Saturday with a Race 1 victory following a hard-fought duel with Andretti Autosport teammate Colton Herta.

O’Ward led early on after starting on the pole, but Herta took the lead on Lap 5 after an aggressive inside pass entering Turn 1.

However, after regrouping and closing back in on Herta, O’Ward returned the favor on Lap 12, making the same move entering Turn 1 to retake the lead – Herta tried to defend, but was pushed out wide and bounded over the curbing in the Festival Curves.

O’Ward pulled away from there, leading Herta at the finish by 1.6 seconds.

The victory also comes after O’Ward crashed in qualifying for Race 2 earlier on Saturday. O’Ward drifted off the track approaching Turn 4, and slid all the way into the tire barrier, making hard contact with the left-front corner of his Dallara IL-15.

However, the Andretti Autosport team quickly repaired the car, allowing O’Ward to make the start for Race 1.

“I was screaming in the car! You work for it all year, so many months of just hard work and focus, and finally all that weight is off my shoulders,” said an elated and emotional O’Ward afterward.

Patricio O’Ward celebrates winning the 2018 Indy Lights championship. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“I knew it would be a battle with Colton (in Race 1), and I had to beat him, because that’s the only way you can be a champion. My pass on him was pretty much the same pass he did on me; he just didn’t give me as much room as I gave him. It was hard racing: we both want to win. I knew I had the car and I just had to get around him. It’s been this way all year, just hard-fought races. We have been pushing each other so hard, and IndyCar owners have realized that. Hopefully you’ll see us both in IndyCar next year!”

Herta finished second, with Victor Franzoni rounding out the podium.

Santi Urrutia, Ryan Norman, Aaron Telitz, Dalton Kellett, and Heamin Choi completed the running order.

Results are below. The 2018 season finishes on Sunday with Race 2 at 12:55 p.m. ET (9:55 a.m. local time).

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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.