Sports Journalism Blog

By Ruby Olston | @rubyberlynn

Sports Capital Journalism Program

“…we had to fight for our result today, harder than I’ve ever had to fight for it. And I think that’s why it’s just that much more emotional because I put everything into today.” – Pato O’Ward

INDIANAPOLIS – After another bittersweet visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May, Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward, the 25-year-old Mexican driver, found himself – for the fourth time – just shy of becoming an Indianapolis 500 winner.

The 108th running of the 500 concluded with none other than Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden becoming a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. But when asked about the final laps before the checkered flag, Newgarden revealed the respect he carries for the driver of car number 5.

“I’ve gotta give it up to Pato, as well,” Newgarden said. “He’s an incredibly clean driver. You know, it takes two people to make that work. So it’s not just a good pass, it’s also someone that you’re working with that’s incredibly clean. So I gotta give hats off to Pato, he could have easily won this race, too.”

But as Newgarden was bouncing with utter elation, O’Ward was stuck, remaining in his car with his head bowed – helmet on – in disappointment, mourning another defeated chance at the 500 mile race.

The scene sparked a worry amongst the crowd, but O’Ward clarified it was a moment that he needed for himself. A moment of peace.

“Just very wet in there, so I was just trying — I didn’t want to take it off just yet,” O’Ward said. “Just wanted to calm down a little bit.  I feel very proud of what I did today, it’s just after all that work and all those very risky choices I had to make in order to put myself in that position, it just stings to not be able to just finish it. But it is what it is. I know that we’ll be there next year.”

Later, he candidly expressed his degree of frustration, revealing just how desperately he wants to win.

“I’m fine,” O’Ward said. “It’s been a tough month. So much goes into this race and I think I’m somebody that wears my heart on my sleeve, I don’t really hide anything. It’s just when you come so close, and you just can’t seem to get it right, it’s a lot of emotion, I would say.”

Just like Newgarden, O’Ward said he appreciates the comradery and trust he has for the Penske driver when racing each other.

More than anything, O’Ward knows what he is capable of, so it is not a matter of how, but when.

“I think Josef is a great competitor, I’ve raced wheel to wheel with him so many times, and he’s obviously one of the stars in the series, one of the strong ones. I knew he was gonna be a fighter until the end and it was just two laps. Just two laps. Two laps. Two corners short. I really thought I did everything in my power to get it done.”

Circumstances may have been against the young Mexican driver in the past, but his confidence as a driver has never been stronger.

“I think, in a way, I’ve cracked a code,” O’Ward said, “and I know how to position myself to win this race. I know I can win this race. And I know that I know how to also protect a good result when maybe the win isn’t on the cards for me in a race like that, where it was a constant emotional rollercoaster, where things weren’t going perfectly smooth – they really weren’t – but I think the team did a fantastic job.”

No matter the result, O’Ward recognized his team, or rather his family, for making this month possible.

“Very proud of what Arrow McLaren did for, not just me, but for everybody within the team,” O’Ward said. “I think I can speak on behalf of Kyle [Larson], Alex [Rossi], Callum [Illot]; they gave us the tools to fight, they gave us the tools to be there.”

Beyond his team of engineers, O’Ward reflected on the special relationship he has with teammates and just how important it is to not only win together, but lose together.

“We do no good to each other by not helping each other,” O’Ward said. “It’s important to know that if your teammates are up there, that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. I was very happy to see that I had two of them up there. And you know, before the race, [Rossi] just came up, he’s like ‘I’ll see you there soon’ because he knows that I was gonna be in the mix.”

Despite the unfortunate finale, O’Ward said he finds comfort in knowing his team is not only reliable, but a group of people he enjoys to spend time with.

“It’s cool to do it with people that you trust and people that you get to work with day in and day out,” O’Ward said. “At the end of the day, if it was [Rossi] winning this race, if it was me winning this race, I think we could say we would have been really happy for each other because I know how much work we’ve all put into just making the team take that step into where we wanna be.”

Christy Raedeke’s quote, “if there is no risk, there is no reward,” finds its relevance amongst all different outlets, but Pato O’Ward lived and breathed that motto this race weekend.

“If there was one time where I had to put so much trust in my skill, it was today,” O’Ward said. “Like I said, there were so many moments where I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is gonna workout.’ I was so loose, so so so loose. It was just wiggling so much, moving around a lot. “There were so many moments like that where, you know, I knew what to expect, but sometimes you just never know when [the car is] gonna kinda wanna bite. That’s what makes it so much more ugh, because I risked so much today to put myself in contention to win this race.”

O’Ward is no stranger to a painful racing experience, whether that’s emotionally or physically, but despite all that, he remains a pillar of joy for the racing community.

“I think on both runs on Scott [Dixon] and [Rossi], I was like higher probability of shunting the car than getting back in one piece,” O’Ward said. “I put that car in certain points where I didn’t know if it was gonna come out the other end in one piece because I want to win this race so freaking bad. It owes me nothing, so everytime we come back, there’s always a smile on my face to have another opportunity.”

O’Ward admitted, although the race might not be kind to him, the people have truly made him feel like he belongs in Indy.

“Everybody here, you know the Indycar community, all the Indycar fans, people from Indianapolis, have really made it feel like home here to me,” O’Ward said, “and I’m so thankful for that, I’m so grateful for that.”

With his emphasized passion for the fans and people of Indiana, it’s encouraging to trust that, no matter the journey it takes to make it to the top, the ever charismatic Pato O’Ward will never have to face that path alone.

The drive, the determination, the skill: it’s all there, O’Ward is just waiting for the triumph.

“I think everybody’s path is different,” O’Ward said. “You know, some guys obviously get it done very early on and then never again, and then some guys take a long time and get it right, but it’s just, I don’t think any of those guys have been basically in contention five years in a row and not gotten a win.”

And as O’Ward considered the reality of his journey so far, history disagreed.

“And that’s what I’m going through, and I think probably the closest one that’s been through that is probably Helio, I know he has four, but he’s been second a lot of times, so I think it’s a good thing that I’m finishing second,” O’Ward said. “You know, maybe I get a couple in a row in the future, I don’t know. Maybe I don’t get any! This place, it’s just, this place, like I said, it doesn’t owe me anything, and it’s just very cool to be a part of this event.”

Nonetheless, the weekend has passed, the fans have departed, and Pato O’Ward has left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway awaiting the day he’s the first to cross the line of bricks.

“So, today we’re second,” O’Ward said.