Pato O’Ward’s performance in this weekend’s NTT IndyCar Series doubleheader at Iowa Speedway was another strong case of his growing reputation as a contender on ovals.
Piloting the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, the 23-year-old Mexican began the weekend with a runner-up in Saturday’s Hy-VeeDeals.come 250, and followed it up by winning the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 on Sunday.
It is an incredible transformation from when the first time O’Ward stepped onto an oval in the NTT IndyCar Series, which ended by not making the field for the 2019 edition of the Indianapolis 500. That attempt came with Carlin.
Since moving to Arrow McLaren SP in 2020, though, he has scored two wins, four runner-up finishes and a total of eight podiums – all of which have come in his last 10 oval starts. Additionally, he has 11 top 10 finishes in 14 oval races with AMSP.
“I think the team has a great package in the ovals,” said O’Ward. “I think that’s definitely our strong suit. We’re getting better in other areas. But, yeah, just as a team I think we go to every oval believing that we can beat anybody and we’re going to have as good of a package as anybody else.
“Yeah, going to other tracks is a little bit of a different story in terms of I think we’ve done a good job strategy-wise in ovals, whether it’s a superspeedway or short oval. We don’t seem to have that in road courses. So I think there’s some work to do there.
“Yeah, great job by the team.”
The strong weekend at the 0.894-mile oval based in Newton, Iowa was much-needed for O’Ward after three consecutive results outside the top 10 in Road America (26), Mid-Ohio (24) and Toronto (11). Now, he sits fifth in the championship standings, 36 points behind leader Marcus Ericsson (403-367).
As far as what the approach is for oval races, O’Ward responded with, “I think the biggest factor is just confidence and having a car you can attack with. It doesn’t only go for ovals, it goes for street courses. You have to put a lot of trust in the car if you want to extract a lap time.
“Here in Iowa, it’s a tire deg [degradation] race, it’s not a fuel race. It’s important to have a car that can last, but a car that’s good in traffic.
“While you’re wanting to get through traffic as quick as you can, you need to kind of hold back just a teensy little bit because you can over-burn quite quick.
“I don’t know if it’s one thing or another. I try and prepare physically as much as I can. In terms of video, I’ll watch a few minutes. Every weekend is different. All you can do, if you have a good feeling for it practice one, you just keep working at it.”