Pato O’Ward refocused after 2022 IndyCar season that started ‘with so much noise’

Pato McLaren
Greg Doherty/Getty Images
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As 32 engines crank up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week, the 2022 NTT IndyCar season somehow has gotten quieter for Pato O’Ward and his Arrow McLaren SP team.

O’Ward will enter this week’s Indy 500 test coming off a fifth-place finish in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach after a 2022 season that started with two disappointing finishes and a plethora of potential distractions.

Slightly over a month ago, O’Ward went public with news that he was testing the IndyCar free agent market. The revelation came just days after McLaren announced a Formula One testing contract with Colton Herta. O’Ward, who shares the same F1 aspirations as his Rolex 24-winning teammate, initially seemed miffed by the news.

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But he put that all aside at Long Beach, overcoming mediocre practice and qualifying sessions for an inspired drive in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet after starting 11th on the street course difficult for passing.

“I definitely had as a goal in Long Beach to try to turn around our championship,” O’Ward told NBC Sports in an interview last Friday. “We started just rough, and things were going wrong, and there was so much noise, and I said, ‘You know what? We will turn it around in Long Beach, and we will start our claw back into the championship hunt because there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be in the championship hunt this year.’

“We were last year (finishing third in points), and I think we can do it again this year. Right after Long Beach, I was very satisfied. Obviously, we’re there to win and for more, but in terms of where we were, you can’t just want to swallow the world in one bite. You’ve got to go step by step. I think that was a very good step in the right direction. I think it’s just going to build a great foundation on what we can achieve these next few races.”

The Mexican driver entered the 2022 season as a rising IndyCar star who seemed on the cusp of taking Arrow McLaren SP to the next level of challenging Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport as a 22-year-old championship contender.

But things seemed amiss for O’Ward in the Feb. 27 season opener at St. Petersburg (finishing 12th) and the March 20 race at Texas Motor Speedway (where he placed 15th after a pit miscue). Meanwhile, he faced questions about his contract and his feelings about Herta’s deal.

Team president Taylor Kiel referred to it as “external noise,” and it was notable that O’Ward used a similar term in describing his 2022 start and rededication to keeping the team on point and unified.

So has that “noise” settled down?

“Yeah,” O’Ward said. “I just really want to focus on doing a great season for these guys. Because they deserve it and put so much time and energy into trying to build better and faster and more predicable race cars for us. The best way we can repay them is give them wins. Give them results. So that’s the focus right now.

“Everything else will take its course. It’ll take its time, but I’m so happy with the group of guys I get to work with, and it’s very important to be all-in when you’re doing something, and I’m the type of person that you go 110 percent in anything that you’re doing. And if you’re not, then you’re a 20th in the series. That’s how competitive IndyCar is. If your head isn’t in the game 100 percent, if you’re not 100 percent focused on what is next — that next practice, qualifying, race — you’re not going to extract everything out of what you’ve got.”

The positivity continued to build during Indy 500 testing as a happy O’Ward told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider that he had a contract offer that he intended to sign

With O’Ward locked into McLaren through at least the 2024 season (and the Associated Press recently reporting the team intends to continue building its future around him), the focus has shifted to improving its race-day performances.

McLaren teammate Felix Rosenqvist won the pole position at Texas and made the final round of qualifying at Long Beach. But the Swedish driver told NBC Sports that he was hampered by poor first stints in both races with tire degradation being a concern.

“That’s a combination of setup and driving, obviously,” said Rosenqvist, who eventually was sidelined by a mechanical failure at Texas. “It’s something we’re working very hard to capitalize on good starting positions. Because you can’t really afford to start fourth or fifth or first and not finish in the top 10. You should be able to bring it back at least where you started if you finish the race. So yeah, that’s been on our minds, and hopefully with a couple of good races, we’ll get a good flow going.”

The next two races are on road courses (Barber Motorsports Park on May 1, Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 14) before the attention turns to the biggest race of the season on May 29.

Even though he will spend the next two days making laps on the 2.5-mile oval at IMS, O’Ward hopes the Indy 500 test will keep building the team’s momentum.

“I think Long Beach was a great weekend, maybe we didn’t start the best way, but we significantly turned it around, and I think that’s huge,” O’Ward said. “In terms of road courses, we haven’t rolled off the trucks perfectly, but we have found things quickly and efficiently that have turned our weekend around, and I think that’s what we showed in Long Beach.

“So it’ll take time. Not everything is going to be perfect, but we’re definitely on the right track. And I’m excited of continuing to push with the guys and just getting some solid results under our belt and building on our championship to try and win it at the end. Because that’s why we do this, right?”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

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With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III