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In the Hot Seat: Pato O’Ward

Pato O’Ward is in the midst of a strong start to the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Despite the immense crowds and adulation from NTT INDYCAR Series fans, whether it is Long Beach, California or Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Pato O’Ward makes time to create lasting memories while pursuing his dreams as a race and championship winning racer.

The 24-year-old Monterey, Mexico native, by way of San Antonio, Texas, has emerged as one of motorsports’ most popular drivers for his on track exploits as a competitive, determined force on the track. Smooth and calculative, O’Ward thrives on the high speed superspeedways like Indianapolis and Texas as much as the serpentine road courses like Road America or Barber Motorsports Park.

After an impressive rookie season in 2020 with a fourth place points finish, O’Ward established himself as a championship contender. Consistency nearly netted him with a championship in 2021 with wins at Texas and Belle Isle. Last year, a trio of DNFs made for a somewhat frustrating season although he won at Barber Motorsports Park and Iowa to salvage a seventh place points finish.

Now, O’Ward is in the hunt for this year’s championship, ranking fifth and just 82 points behind Alex Palou for the lead. Accidents at Detroit and the 107th Indianapolis 500 have cooled an otherwise terrific start to this season with three podiums.

The familiar papaya colors of O’Ward’s No. 5 Dallara Chevrolet logs warmup laps at Road America. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

Perhaps the most poignant stat from the Arrow McLaren IndyCar Team racer’s 2023 campaign is the laps led, 154, after seven races, already nine laps from tying his season total last year. Clearly, the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Dallara Chevrolet entry knows how to run at the front of the field and battle against the usual contenders like Palou, Will Power, Marcus Ericsson, Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon.

He is not afraid to extend his elbows out while doing so in a clean manner, opting to to pick and choose his battles at the right time. Then again, if the win is in the offing, O’Ward does not hold back with an aggressive, tenacious charge.

As O’Ward’s confidence builds as quickly as his No. 5 drive making an unfailing presence at the front of a larger INDYCAR field, so does his connection with fans around the world. Certainly, from his behind the scenes posts to his clips as a two-time dog parent to Rocky and Norbi, the four-time INDYCAR race winner lives life to the fullest in authentic manner.

Ahead of Round 8 of the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season, O’Ward qualified second, just missing the pole by 0.1698 seconds. Still, it is his best starting effort of the season and at a track that he has a podium and two top 10 results in his past five starts.

Prior to Sunday’s Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America, O’Ward climbed back into the “Hot Seat” here on The Podium Finish. Put on your firesuit, helmet, gloves and shoes because it is time to hit up the track with O’Ward!

Rob Tiongson : Welcome back to another edition of the pony finish lives. hotseat segment with me Rob Tiongson and driver of the number five era McLaren Delaire Chevrolet pedo award. Otto, how’re you doing today?

Pato O’Ward : Hey, Rob, I’m good. Thank you for having me.

Tiongson : Absolutely. You’re in the midst of another championship hunt. You’ve got three podiums, you’ve led 154 laps. And you are fifth place in the point standings. What are some things you are encouraged by? And what are some things you want to work on in these next 10 races?

O’Ward is in the championship picture entering Sunday’s Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America. (Photo: Logan Skidan | The Podium Finish)

O’Ward : Yeah, I mean, it’s been a frickin year, I can tell you that. Lots of different emotions, especially in the last few weeks. But you know, everything, every race that we have finished, we’re inside the top five, which is really, really hard to do in this in this series. And ultimately, what’s really killed us have been the DNFs.

So I think we’ve we ran out of those. I guess the free balls, we can call them, where you’ve only got a very few amount during the year, if you still want to be in contention. And we’ve definitely finished ours. And so we need to be picture perfect.

And we understand that not everything is always going to be picture perfect. But we’re going to be working on it. And there’s 10 races to go. We’re not even halfway yet.

Tiongson : Plenty of time for sure for the No. 5 team. Although your organization has yet to win an IndyCar championship, I think you Alexander (Rossi) and Felix (Rosenqvist), you’re all making compelling cases to be in that mix and possibly bring home that first championship for the team.

How significant is it for you, especially to know that you and your team, despite those DNFs, are competitive, getting top fives and you’re returning to the form that you knew back in 2021?

O’Ward : Yeah, we’ve been in championship contention every single year. The thing is, sometimes, things don’t go our way. For example, last year, we would have been there up until the end if it wasn’t for all the DNFS that I’m telling you, I mean… those those just kill your championship.

So we definitely…. it’s not that we haven’t been there. But we’ve definitely had just a few instances that really have thrown us into into our back foot. And I think this year represents a great opportunity to recover because there’s still so much championship (races) to go, there’s still so much racing to go and and I think we’re going to be right there just as we are every single year.

Tiongson : Certainly, I definitely expect that for sure. And Road America, Mid-Ohio, these next coming races are plentiful opportunities and Toronto as well.

Speaking of INDYCAR, the series seems to be growing by leaps and bounds, the fan base is getting bigger, the personalities like you are getting more well known. And in fact, I would say you’re probably one of the most popular drivers in INDYCAR. What does that mean to you to be one of those favorites at the racetrack? And even on social media?

O’Ward : No, it’s amazing. It’s very humbling. And that’s what it’s for. At the end of the day, we’re in entertainment. And for me, it’s awesome to see all the No. 5 O’Ward jerseys walking around and people cheering for us for the team. That’s what we want to see right away. That means we’re doing something right and we’re just gonna keep on pushing.

Tiongson : And I love what you said during media day a few weeks ago (during the Indianapolis 500). You’re like, “I’m just a regular person. I just want to make sure that I make a few seconds for that person’s year.” Were there drivers that you looked up to as a kid that made you kind of reflect upon that?

Much like his heroes, O’Ward makes as much time with fans to make it a memorable experience. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

O’Ward : So, when I was young, I really looked up to (Fernando) Alsono, (Lewis) Hamilton, (Scott) Dixon and (Will) Power. I personally had never been to a INDYCAR race in person up until I started doing Road to Indy, which was 2015 when I did Pro Mazda back in the day.

I didn’t really get to meet them until I started to, I guess, be teammates with them. I’ve never been teammates with with Hamilton but I have with Alonso a few years actually, not just one. And so the summer, that was a really cool moment for me and and then racing against Power (and) Dixon. I never got to meet them before then.

But I know them now and it’s cool. It’s cool to share a track with them and compete against them.

Tiongson : I think you’re gonna like what Will Power said about you recently. He described you as an amazing talent and one of the quickest guys he’s seen in INDYCAR. When you hear someone like Will Power saying that about you, how does that make you feel?

O’Ward : It ultimately makes you feel like you’re doing something. It not only gives you the confidence, but it reminds you that it’s backing up what you’re doing and what you feel like you are in the path that you’re on.

So it’s great to be able to share a track to compete with these guys. And I think it’s another thing for them to say something and recognize what you’re doing. I think that’s really nice.

Tiongson : It’s pretty cool, though. And I’d say you’re definitely making a compelling case for what Will’s had said about you, to say the least.

Now, for someone who has never driven any car like me, and I don’t have the guts to do what you do, how would you describe racing your car at a place like Road America, the next track or even last month at Indianapolis?

By far, O’Ward likes the repaved Road America. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

O’Ward : So, we just got to test at Road America. Actually, they just repaved the whole thing, which the track did a phenomenal job with. It is one of the best repaves I’ve ever seen in my career, very similar to what the repave did to Barber Motorsports Park.

It’s silky, smooth, so much grip whenever the rubber gets laid down. And I mean, the thing is, it’s like four seconds faster. I mean, that’s frickin fast. It was already a fast track.

And right now, I’m very curious to see how it races and I’m curious to see what deg (tire degradation) is going to be like, because we got to we didn’t get to test with the tires that we’re going to be racing. So I’m really hoping it’s the same because it was frickin awesome.

I mean, on Lap 19, you were as fast as you were in Lap 1 or sometimes even faster. So it’s going to be really all about, how is the characteristic of the tire that Firestone is going to give us (to) play into that.

If it’s similar to what we tested, then it’s going to definitely open up the strategy windows where you can either be very aggressive into the overcut or you can do the undercut, which is usually been what what’s been in the past. So yeah, I’m super excited to see that.

Tiongson : That’s gonna be exciting because of the group that the team strategists are going to be tabulating those figures. And then, of course, you’re going to do as much as you can to charge down that long straightaway. And I can’t wait to see what happens in Turn 1. That’s always exciting to watch.

Now, recently, I know you and your colleagues, you all participated in “100 Days to Indy” to showcase what it was like to lead up to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on The CW. What was that like to be a part of that, given how F1 has “Drive to Survive” and NASCAR had the “Race for the Championship” series on USA?

O’Ward : It was amazing. It really was. And it was great to see that the series has taken steps forward in terms of marketing and getting the series into the public. Your average IndyCar fan, they know what is INDYCAR. But a lot of people have no idea what it is.

And it’s such a cool racing product, which I felt like it had to be seen, it has to be seen, it needs to continue on (and) to grow because the racing product, there really isn’t anything like it in the world. So it’s amazing to be a part of it. And having all the “100 days to Indy” crews from Vice was awesome to have at the track.

They really told the story of how it is. They didn’t create any drama. They just told it as it is. And I think that there’s a lot of a lot of truth to that not only I enjoyed, but I think everybody in the paddock loved that about the series. There wasn’t something just created for for views. It was all very raw, as it should be. And I think a lot of a lot of the people loved it.

Tiongson : That’s great. And that’s how it should be because it’s really intense to get ready for the month of May from the GMR Grand Prix down to the 107 running of the Indy 500 this past May. So that’s really refreshing to know that it was really unfiltered in that regard.

Before we got started (with the interview), Norbi made his cameo appearance here. What’s it been like to be a dog parent to Rocky and Norbi, dog parent to dog parent?


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A post shared by Pato O’Ward (@patriciooward)

O’Ward : Well, right now, all you can see are his ears. He’s been a good boy. He’s four months now. And he’s a very smart dog.

Rocky’s a bit more of a senior dog. He’s eight years old. So he sometimes gets a little annoyed, I guess, with his very young energy. But like, I’ve never had a dog that swims and Norbi genuinely goes to the pool and like jumps in to swim, which is, I feel like unheard of for a Corgi.

I would expect it more with a German Shepherd. But Rocky, he just likes to go into the low end and just kind of like, play around there. But he’s never jumped and actually swam.

But this guy loves it. And yesterday, I thought it was very cute. Because I think he looks up to him as like a dad. I mean, he just does what he does. And he follows him. But he wants to play with him and Rocky’s not as as young (as Norbi) anymore.

So what he likes to do is not as as early on, I guess, as this guy likes, like the squeaky toys and all that. So they’re getting along they. I think they’re growing into the relationship slowly, but I think they like each other.

And yeah, I thought it was very cute that Norbi does everything like he did. He was following exactly what Rocky was doing. And then he purposefully would touch him and show him like, “Hey, I can swim! Swim with me.” And he kept jumping in front of him to show him to go swimming. But Rocky didn’t really go for it. He just stayed (with) doing what he was doing.

Tiongson : Oh, man, you’re so lucky to have two dogs. I just became a dog parent last year. It’s such a wonderful experience. So I hope I have experiences like yours with Rocky and Norbi.

What would you consider to be you’re welcome to INDYCAR moment that makes you laugh or smile when you talk about it in a setting like this.

From jump street, O’Ward has proven his worth as an INDYCAR contender. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

O’Ward : Oh, “Welcome to IndyCar” moment? It’d probably have to be the first race that I did (2018 Grand Prix of Sonoma, finished ninth). No matter where I started, I was really, really fast. We qualified fifth. And it’d have to be when I went into the race where there was so much going on. I think that’s when reality kind of like checks in and you learn that it’s not just about being quick on the track. But all the little details have to be done perfectly.

If you want to go forward, the pit stop have to be good, the in and out laps have to be good. You need to control the tire (and) you need to feel safe. Like there’s so many things that you don’t learn when you’re younger up until you actually get to INDYCAR that it’s fairly overwhelming. So honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. I was just driving.

Tiongson : That sounds like a lot of fun just to kind of be immersed in that experience and do what you wanted to do since you’re a little boy so yeah, that’s so cool, my friend.

Well, Pato, I know you gotta get going get ready for the Grand Prix at Road America. Best of luck to you in these next couple of races. Hope to catch up with you and yeah, man, really appreciate you stopping by!

O’Ward : No worries, man. I appreciate your time. Thank you.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Pato for taking time this week for his “Hot Seat” interview along with Alex Kryah and Lauren Gaudion of Arrow McLaren IndyCar Team for making this opportunity possible. Keep up-to-date with O’Ward’s efforts here on The Podium Finish throughout the 2023 season and be sure to check out the podcast today!

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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