In four Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire races this season, Pato O’Ward has certainly been impressive with victories in three of those. Prior to the Grand Prix of Alabama this past weekend, the Andretti Autosport driver shared his thoughts with POPULAR OPEN WHEEL.
POPULAR OPEN WHEEL: What are your thoughts going into Barber?
PATO O’WARD: Well, it’s a track that I really enjoy driving. Just like every other driver, I think it’s one of the best tracks that we go to. It’s a track that you need a lot of commitment, that you have to pretty much to commit to what the car can give you and you have to kind of think and believe the car will give it to you because it can be very unforgiving at times.
But it’s definitely a track that I’m really looking forward to racing at. I’ve had a lot of success there, especially in 2016 with Pro Mazda – I won both races. I’m really excited for this year with the Andretti boys and the No. 27 team. It’s an event that I really like, and a track that I’ve proven to be a winner and strong force so I’m looking forward to it.
POW: What is the toughest part about Barber?
PATO: I think the toughest part for me is the last sector. The last sector is really important, because you can be carrying around the perfect lap and then you mess up in that last sector and everything goes to the trash. So when you feel like you’ve got a perfect lap going, you have to stay focused because that last section can kill it or make it better. The last sector – turn 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 – I think that’s the sector that you need the most confidence and commitment, and it can make a lap.
POW: Looking back on St. Pete, what are your thoughts?
PATO: St. Petersburg was honestly awesome. I showed a lot of speed, I showed a lot of power. It’s too bad that I didn’t get the race two win. I honestly gave it away to second place. So I’m looking forward to redeeming myself in getting both poles, and both wins at Barber – that’s honestly my goal. I want to make it better than St. Pete, so that’s what I’m going to look forward to.
POW: Were you at all surprised by the immediate success with Andretti?
PATO: Honestly, the goal was always to start the year strong and finish strong. I honestly never have had the chance to really get seat time and comfortable. So this is the first year that I’ve gone testing in the off-season, so I feel that’s a big bonus in time working with my engineer. So it’s something that I’ve never experienced, but I know if they give me the tools, I will win. Having those tools, I knew Andretti would give me an awesome car and my engineer has been working really well with me. It’s all down to me to make it happen.
I’m really bummed that I didn’t get that race two win (at St. Pete) as that was all my fault, so I’m definitely really hungry for more wins and more poles.
POW: What is it like working with the variety of teammates you have?
PATO: I get along with them really well. I get along really well with Dalton (Kellet), Colton (Herta) and Ryan (Norman). I think we help each other every single session and debrief, and obviously make everybody in the team faster. As of now, I’m really enjoying myself with them.
POW: Looking ahead, what track are you most excited to get to in the weeks to come beyond Barber?
PATO: I think a really cool event that I’m excited for is the Freedom 100, just because it’s a speedway, oval, and basically the biggest race on the calendar.
POW: Who is your racing hero?
PATO: I get that question asked a lot, but I don’t really have one. I look up to Scott Dixon a lot. I feel like the way he goes about things is the right way to go. I really admire Helio (Castroneves). I’m good friends with him, so I’m looking to follow in his footsteps and achieve as much as he did, or even more. Those are definitely my top ones.
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