The lion’s share of attention will go to Scott Dixon, now a five-time IndyCar Series champion, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who dominated the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma, in the wake up Sunday’s IndyCar season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
However, one other driver deserves his share of attention following the weekend.
Quite simply, Patricio O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion, had a dream weekend in his IndyCar debut with Harding Racing.
O’Ward shined in Friday practice, ending up third in Practice 2. He starred in qualifying, making the Firestone Fast Six and qualifying a remarkable fifth. And in Sunday’s race, he took the checkered flag in ninth, Harding’s only Top 10 of the 2018 season and their best result since Gabby Chaves finished fifth for them last year at Texas Motor Speedway.
What’s more, O’Ward underwent a baptism by fire in the opening stint, as he struggled with tire management – he described that his tires lost grip after only a few laps – and he dropped well outside to the Top 10 after the opening round of stops.
However, pit strategy and a timely caution on Lap 44 – Graham Rahal lost power and pulled off on thr back straight away – allowed O’Ward to regroup, and once he found his rhythm, he began charging his way back toward the Top 10.
He ultimately finished a very impressive ninth, putting the cap on a dream weekend for the 19-year-old native of Mexico.
While he admitted that he wanted to finish a little higher, O’Ward was plenty happy afterward.
“It was a really great weekend, we learned a lot,” he detailed. “We qualified the car fifth and we ended the race ninth. As a driver, you want to stay in your qualifying position or get better. But I think for a first try, especially with a super long race with three or four pit stops that was a job well done. I’m really satisfied, and I just want to get better for next year.”
As the Indy Lights champion, O’Ward is guaranteed at least three races in the 2019 IndyCar season, including the Indianapolis 500.
More details about O’Ward 2019 plans will come at a later date.