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.
“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.”
A historic day for @PatricioOWard, who becomes the first Mexican to win in @IndyCar competition since @AdrianF007 in 2004. pic.twitter.com/5nQAWuXUyg
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 2, 2021
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.”
'@PatricioOWard TO THE LEAD!
IS THIS HIS DAY? TV: NBCSN pic.twitter.com/4yEotB82Gz
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 2, 2021
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.
A deal’s a deal @patriciooward – what a win! See you in Abu Dhabi later this year! https://t.co/njw2soyZFR
— Zak Brown (@ZBrownCEO) May 2, 2021
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.”