Pato O’Ward beats Josef Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway for first IndyCar victory

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Pato O’Ward broke through for his first NTT IndyCar Series victory Sunday, taking the lead from Josef Newgarden with 23 laps remaining and driving away at Texas Motor Speedway.

The Arrow McLaren SP driver, who finished fourth in the points standings last year, won by 1.2443 seconds over Newgarden, who was trying to win after inheriting the lead on a fuel strategy overcut call.

O’Ward, who turns 22 Thursday, becomes the third driver in his 20s to win this season, joining Colton Herta, 21, and Alex Palou, 24, who became a first-time winner in the season opener by taking advantage of a tactical miscue by O’Ward’s team. They also are IndyCar’s three youngest full-time drivers.

STATS PACKAGE: Results and points from Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway

CRAZY START: Alexander Rossi questions qualifying call after Lap 1 pileup

The opposite was true Sunday for O’Ward and McLaren as the Mexican driver zoomed past Newgarden and cooly built his lead over the closing laps in his No. 5 Dallara Chevrolet.

NTT IndyCar Series XPEL 375
Pato O’Ward celebrates after winning the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway, his first IndyCar victory (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

“Oh, finally man!” O’Ward told pit reporter Marty Snider on NBCSN. “That was a long race, but we had so much pace in this Arrow McLaren No. 5. And we bounced back from last weekend and we got a podium yesterday, we had pace and we got the job done today. I couldn’t be happier for another group of guys.

“It’s Texas; it’s very close to my heart, and I have lived here for many years. Many Mexicans are out there in the grandstands, so thank you very much. So happy. Finally!”

O’Ward was born and lived in Monterrey, Mexico until he was 11 and then moved about three hours away to San Antonio, Texas, where he lived through middle and high school before moving to Indianapolis last year. After winning in the 26th start of his IndyCar career, he said, “lots of my family was here. It’s really cool to share this moment with them.”

The last Mexican driver to win in IndyCar competition was Adrian Fernandez at Auto Club Speedway on Oct. 3, 2004.

“Man, I admire Adrian a lot,” O’Ward said. “It’s very special to me to represent my country. I’m the only Mexican driver racing here. I’m a competitive being. I like to win. I like to be at the front. I like to compete. I don’t think there’s anything better than putting your flag as high as you can. I’m very proud of what we accomplished and really happy that we got this all together in a way.

“I just moved to Indy a year ago to be closer to the team. I enjoy spending time with them. They’re like a second family. San Antonio, Texas, does feel very much like a home to me.”

O’Ward’s previous best finish was second three times, most recently at St. Petersburg last October. His victory was the first for Arrow McLaren SP since July 2018 at Iowa Speedway with James Hinchcliffe.

It was the first victory of the season for Chevrolet, which swept the top two spots, and the first for a non-Penske Chevy in nearly five years (the most recent was Scott Dixon at Watkins Glen International in 2016).

“Strategy was sound,” said Newgarden, who led 25 laps. “We were saving more fuel than anybody, just going that little bit longer, which enabled us to do what we were doing. We were kind of working toward the back end of this race all day, kind of the boring way to hit it, but it’s effective.

“I just didn’t have pace at the end. I had positioning. I, for whatever reason, didn’t have the pace. I don’t know. I was pretty flat out but just didn’t have the pace.”

 

Graham Rahal finished third, followed by Dixon, who led a race-high 163 of 248 laps, and Herta. After winning Saturday night in the opener of the doubleheader weekend at Texas, Dixon maintained his lead in the points standings (by 22 points over O’Ward).

Simon Pagenaud, Palou, Scott McLaughlin, Rinus VeeKay and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top 10.

O’Ward’s victory also means that he will be collecting on a bet from McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown, who promised a test in the team’s Formula One car after the season if his young star could win a race.

Though he plans to ask Brown for a production model McLaren (“probably some crazy color; I won’t ask him for a normal one. I want a limited edition.”), he reiterated his short-term commitment to an IndyCar championship after originally aiming for an F1 ride.

“My heart’s with IndyCar,” he said. “It’s just great racing and it’s so, so competitive. I think for a driver there is nothing harder in the world. I think many drivers can agree with me that have come from Formula One to IndyCar, back to Formula One.

“Formula One is the peak of technology. Everybody wants to go there. If the opportunity ever came by Zak. He said, ‘There’s a seat open, I want you in my team,’ I’d be pretty dumb not to take it because it would just be a crazy opportunity. They don’t come often. Right now I’m focused on the job that I have right now in IndyCar. I want to make the best of it.”

As expected, FIA denies granting Colton Herta a Super License to race in F1

Colton Herta Super License
Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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The governing body for Formula One on Friday said IndyCar star Colton Herta will not be granted the Super License that the American needs to join the F1 grid next season.

“The FIA confirms that an enquiry was made via the appropriate channels that led to the FIA confirming that the driver Colton Herta does not have the required number of points to be granted an FIA Super Licence,” the FIA said in a statement.

The FIA decision was not a surprise.

Red Bull was interested in the 22-year-old Californian and considering giving Herta a seat at AlphaTauri, its junior team. AlphaTauri has already said that Pierre Gasly will return next season and Yuki Tsunoda received a contract extension earlier this week.

However, AlphaTauri has acknowledged it would release Gasly, who is apparently wanted at Alpine, but only if it had a compelling driver such as Herta to put in the car. F1 has not had an American on the grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015, but Herta did not particularly want the FIA to make an exception to the licensing system to get him a seat.

At issue is how the FIA rates IndyCar, a series it does not govern. The points it awards to IndyCar drivers rank somewhere between F2 and F3, the two junior feeder series into F1.

IndyCar drivers have criticized the system in defense of Herta and the intense, close racing of their own highly competitive series. Herta has won seven IndyCar races, is the youngest winner in series history and has four starts in the Indianapolis 500. He qualified on the front row in 2021 and finished a career-best eighth in 2020.

Rossi, who has spent the last four seasons as Herta’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, lashed out this week because “I’m so sick and tired of this back and forth” regarding the licensing.

“The whole premise of it was to keep people from buying their way into F1 and allowing talent to be the motivating factor,” Rossi wrote on social media. “That’s great. We all agree Colton has the talent and capability to be in F1. That’s also great and he should get that opportunity if it’s offered to him. Period.

“Motorsport still remains as the most high profile sport in the world where money can outweigh talent. What is disappointing and in my opinion, the fundamental problem, is that the sporting element so often took a backseat to the business side that here had to be a method put in place in order for certain teams to stop taking drivers solely based on their financial backing.”

Rossi added those decisions “whether out of greed or necessity, is what cost Colton the opportunity to make the decision for himself as to if he wanted to alter career paths and race in F1. Not points on a license.”

The system favors drivers who compete in FIA-sanctioned series. For example, Linus Lundqvist earned his Super License by winning the Indy Lights championship.

Lundqvist’s required points come via the 15 he earned for the Lights title, 10 points for finishing third in Lights last year and his 2020 victory in the FIA-governed Formula Regional Americas Championship, which earned him 18 points.

That gave the 23-year-old Swede a total of 43 points, three more than needed for the license.

Herta, meanwhile, ended the IndyCar season with 32 points. He can still earn a Super License by picking up one point for any free practice sessions he runs this year; McLaren holds his F1 rights and could put him in a car. Herta could also potentially run in an FIA-sanctioned winter series to pick up some points.

Michael Andretti, who has petitioned the FIA to expand its grid to add two cars for him to launch a team, said he never bothered to explore potential replacements for Herta on the IndyCar team because he was confident the Super License request would be rejected.

Andretti has been met by severe resistance from existing F1 teams and even F1 itself in his hope to add an 11th team. Andretti could still get on the grid by purchasing an existing team and he’d like to build his program around Herta, who is under contract in IndyCar to Andretti through 2023.