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Pato O’Ward Optimistic for Strong Race at Road America

Pato O'Ward

Pato O’Ward prepares for an action packed XPEL Grand Prix at Road America. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Pato O’Ward has taken a liking to the 4.014-mile Road America road course in the past six years. Mainly, it is a winding, serpentine track that just suits his smooth, efficient driving style.

Following O’Ward’s debut in 2019, qualifying 13th and finishing 17th, the Monterrey, Mexico, native has finished ninth or better in four of his five past starts. Save for an engine failure in 2022, O’Ward is a constant fixture inside the top 10.

Last year, O’Ward and his NTT INDYCAR Series comrades took to a freshly repaved Road America that proved slick and treacherous. Qualifying second, O’Ward scored a podium, his second since his runner-up in the second of the Road America doubleheader during the 2020 season.

Ahead of Sunday’s XPEL Grand Prix at Road America, O’Ward was elated about returning to the longtime open wheel racing staple in the Midwest.

Pato O'Ward

Pato O’Ward takes to a slick, wet Road America ahead on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Photo: Maddie Skidan | The Podium Finish)

“Since this track was repaved, Road America has become one of my absolute favorite tracks,” O’Ward said in a press release. “It’s a track that’s able to show everything that an NTT INDYCAR Series car is capable of, and the racing always seems to be great here. I can’t wait to get up there with our Arrow McLaren Chevrolet team.”

On Friday afternoon under ideal conditions, O’Ward was the ninth fastest in opening practice, trailing Alex Palou, two-time and defending series champion, by 0.5106 seconds. Ahead of Saturday’s qualifying sessions, conditions were, in a word, wet.

Nevertheless, O’Ward did enough to advance to the second qualifying session. Similar to last weekend on the Streets of Detroit, the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Dallara Chevrolet entry did not have enough to make the Firestone Fast Six, qualifying 11th.

“I messed up on my single flyer before the tires overheated, the second set,” O’Ward said to NBC’s Kevin Lee. “We didn’t have enough to transfer. I think we would’ve been close to transferring around where Palou is, maybe Newgarden. No, it actually started kinda drying out. We kinda got stuck and that’s pretty much as we had. It’ll be fine.”

O’Ward reflected on how those advancing to the Firestone Fast Six would fare on a track that was starting to dry with slick spots.

Pato O'Ward

Pato O’Ward is not too worried about qualifying 11th for Sunday’s Grand Prix at Road America. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

“You’ve got the out lap and one flyer,” O’Ward mused. “Then, after that, they completely overheat and two and a half seconds off. It’s just greasy. It’s really greasy. It’s not dry enough to put dries on.

“Maybe toward the end of the Fast Six, someone may take a risk but it’s gonna be really tough to get the tires up to temperature when they’re super, super cold. Once they’re up to temp, maybe they can get them to work. But if you get offline, you’re flying out.”

If any driver has a shot to maximize points and continue the steady progress up the points standings, O’Ward is more than capable of getting the job done. After shaking his car down in Sunday afternoon’s warmup session, the XPEL Grand Prix at Road America gets underway shortly after 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio and SiriusXM.

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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