Pato O'Ward, 22, is second in the NTT IndyCar Series standings after four races in 2021.
O'Ward scored his first career IndyCar win on May 2 at Texas.
The young driver plans to test a Formula 1 car this fall in Abu Dhabi.
Pato O'Ward won his first career NTT IndyCar Series race on May 2 at Texas Motor Speedway. He also won a friendly wager with McLaren Racing boss Zak Brown in the process.
O'Ward's victory in his 26th career IndyCar start called for a make good from Brown, who vowed on social media to give the young Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar team driver a Formula 1 test at season's end with McLaren in Abu Dhabi should O'Ward win an IndyCar race in 2021.
"It's really cool," O'Ward told Autoweek during a promotional stop in Detroit this week for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear on June 11-13. "I was really pumped whenever he told me the bet. And I told him that I was going to win this bet."
O'Ward, who turned 22 on May 6, says his win at the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway is just the beginning. His goals include more than just an IndyCar win and an F1 test session. Last year, he finished fourth in the NTT IndyCar Series standings in his first full season in the series.
"It's been a long time coming," O'Ward said. "We were real close last year. It was really cool to get the first one just out of the way. I think it was a great place to do it at. I love Texas. It's very close to my heart. The celebration, the trophy, honestly I couldn't have imagined my first win being better.
"It was really, really, cool and I was able to soak every little bit of it in. That's what made it so sweet, in a way. I feel like the long wait was kind of like a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to soak it in. I was telling my family like I have never been able to soak in a win as much as I did my first IndyCar win."'
As for that first trophy for winning an IndyCar race, O'Ward says it has already found a home.
"It's downstairs in my parents' living room," he said. "I went straight home to Mexico after my win, celebrated with my family, had a dinner with them the next day. The trophy is right where you enter our home in Mexico. It's right there. It's got a special place in my heart, and it will always have that special place in my heart."
O'Ward thought it only fitting to let his mom and dad hold onto that first major hardware from his IndyCar career.
"They are the biggest influences in my career," he said. "My mother has always been a supporter. She's just a great lady. My dad is probably the biggest figure in my career. He has not missed any of my races in his whole life, whether it was in Europe, Japan, Mexico, United States, Canada, Dubai. You name it, he's been there.
"He has seen everything that I've gone through, and he has gone through it with me. He's my right arm. He knows everything and anything there is to know about my racing career, and he knows me better than anybody."
O'Ward doesn't come from a big racing family.
"My grandfather was a huge car nut, still is," O'Ward said. "But be never raced professionally. He did a lot of vintage stuff when he was older, and that's what he did for fun, as a hobby. He is the one that I can blame for this addiction that I have for race cars. He gave me a go-kart when I was three years old. I was too little back then, so I didn't start racing until I was six. But he is the one at fault."
The young O'Ward is part of a new wave of IndyCar stars that includes youngsters Colton Herta and Alex Palou. O'Ward, Herta, 21, and Palou, 24, have combined to win three of the first four races of the 2021 IndyCar season.
O'Ward definitely feels that he's part of a changing of the guard in the IndyCar series.
"I think it's currently happening right now," said O'Ward, who lists his racing heroes growing up as Scott Dixon, Will Power, Lewis Hamilton, and Fernando Alonso. "But I think it's awesome. There's a great mix of legends and rookies, and early legends.
"It's really cool to see just everybody mix it up. Man, I enjoy racing with these guys—Dixon, (Josef) Newgarden—they're such great competitors. I've been racing with Colton (Herta) my whole career. So, it's really cool that we get to take it up to the big boys in the big cars now."
O'Ward wasn't surprised last year when Herta finished third in the championship, just one rung ahead of him in the final standings.
"I think we're both such competitive individuals that we weren't planning to get to IndyCar and get beaten," O'Ward said. "We wanted to get to IndyCar, and we wanted to compete. We wanted to win races. We wanted to consistently be in the fight, and I think that's what you're seeing."
This season, Dixon leads the championship through four races with O'Ward—who comes from the Ricky Bobby school of "If you ain't first, you're last"—is second, and Palou third. Herta is seventh.
"I'm not surprised," O'Ward said. "I'm a very, very competitive individual and I like to win. I don't like to be third, fourth, fifth. If I'm doing something, I do it at my maximum capacity.
"IndyCar is so competitive. We're in a sport where if you aren't here to win, you will never be successful, and I think at the end of the day, that's what separates very, very successful careers versus some that are not so successful."
O'Ward said that he would like nothing more than to follow in the footsteps of Dixon.
"You need to be driven and you need the hunger to never stop and that is something that I've seen year in and year out with Scott Dixon," he said. "And that's why I have so much respect for the guy. I was telling the team, I was telling my family that I feel so grateful that I get to race with him right now because I don't know how many more years he's going to be in IndyCar—it could be five, it could be 10, it could be two. You never know, and I want to take full advantage of the chance that I have right now racing with literally a walking IndyCar legend.
"To me, he's the greatest IndyCar driver of all time because he's been there always fighting at the front when the championship is so competitive. I think Graham (Rahal) said it best, that the golden era of just talent and the amount of competitiveness in the series is now. I couldn't agree more. It's just so tough. It's one thing to do it for a couple years. It's another thing to keep doing it for decades.
"But I feel like that's just why everyone respects (Dixon) and loves him so much because he's a great driver, a great guy, great competitor. It's really cool to have someone like that in the series to still race with us rookies."
So, back to that F1 thing. Does O'Ward see his future in IndyCars or F1?
"Everybody keeps asking me that," he said. "I'm always going to get that asked, and I'm telling everybody I have a job to do in IndyCar right now. And I want to make sure that I do the best I can here before anything else or before any other options arises.
"But if Zak comes in a year or two and he tells me 'I want you in this Formula 1 seat,' I'd be stupid not to take it. I would take it because those chances don't come and as much as I love IndyCar, the pinnacle of technology is Formula 1. There's nothing bigger than that. But I truly believe in what I've said multiple times—for a driver, there is nothing harder than IndyCar racing. Period. There is nothing in the world that is as competitive and as hard to win in as IndyCar."
And then there's there the fact that winning in Formula 1 is not a given, no matter how talented the driver is.
"The problem with Formula 1 is that it's more of a constructors championship than a drivers championship," O'Ward said. "I feel in IndyCar everything is so much more packed together. I feel like that's what makes it so satisfying to a driver, just from a racing standpoint.
"I will always be hungry. I can guarantee you that. Winning never gets old, and the high that winning give you—nothing in the world is able to give you that, nothing. It is why we work so many hours. It is why we put our whole lives into it. It's why we put aside anything that's not racing during the season just to win. Man, it just never gets old."
"I have a job to finish here. If I ever do end up leaving in the future, I want to be sure to give this team what they deserve, and that's championships and wins. So much hard work has gone into this, and I'd love to be the one who gives it to them."
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