In their own words…Pato O’Ward on the Indianapolis 500
By: Pato O’Ward, Driver, No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
My first experience at the Indianapolis 500 was unlike anything I have ever witnessed.
What I felt on race day as a fan in 2016 was the craziest mix of adrenaline and energy that I had ever felt. In my eyes, it was absolutely absurd.
When it is close to race time, people are chanting drivers’ names and screaming like they are ready to witness something spectacular. I don’t care if you are at the biggest music festival or sporting event, there is no other event in the world that gives you the type of sensation that the Indy 500 does.
That’s why 2020 was so difficult, racing without fans in my first Indy 500. Last year was sad and felt like a ghost town as we were preparing and competing for the biggest race in the world.
When I look back at last year’s race, one thing that we did really well was follow our test plan – not getting too ahead of ourselves and managing our anxiousness about the speeds of the race car. To be honest, I didn’t put too many expectations on myself or the team throughout the practice sessions.
One thing I learned early last year is there’s nothing I could do, preparation wise, having never raced a 500 before, to actually get ready for the race. Me, my race engineer Will Anderson, and everyone on the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP pit stand were focused on making me comfortable in the race car from Day One.
Qualifying came and went without much incident but it’s something we want to improve this year, as starting position is always important, but especially here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
As Carb Day approached, I felt very strong compared to everyone as we gained experience running in a pack. Traffic running is such a different beast compared to when you are running by yourself.
That’s the best way I can explain it. I finally felt ‘racy.’
On Sunday, the race started and we fell into our rhythm, gaining positions on track and in the pit lane through the first half of the race. It wasn’t until the restart on lap 101 that we found ourselves P3 on track, passing Takuma Sato and ready to battle with Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi.
Right then, I was just trying to learn as much as I could behind them: seeing what they do in traffic, when they were saving fuel, how to save tires and certain lines they were taking around the track.
I was able to soak in a lot of the little things in those moments.
The pivotal moment came on our fourth pit stop on lap 124. We came out of pit lane ahead of both Sato and Rossi. THAT moment was what really put us into position to fight for the win and absolutely a top-five finish. At the end of the day, we settled for sixth against very strong competition.
To me, at the Indy 500, you either win or you don’t. While I went into the race not thinking about Rookie of the Year, it is so cool to be on that list with eventual race winners like Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya. Hopefully I can continue that trend and win this race sometime in the future.
Now our focus turns to this year’s Indianapolis 500. Arrow McLaren SP has some momentum on superspeedways, fresh off my first career win at Texas Motor Speedway.
But first of all, I’m so happy to have fans back at the racetrack. You all are what is so special about this event. We want you there, and we race for you, hoping you have fun with the entire experience. This is such a big race for everyone, but without you there, it is not the same.
I’m very much looking forward to this year’s race. We have to stay on top of everything, because things can go south very fast during practice and qualifying. We have to be ready when the Fast Nine comes along, then just prepare for the race.
The most important thing for the 500 is to have a car that can race in traffic. You can have the best car in the history of cars, but if you’re behind a train of 10-12 Indy cars, it’s going to feel like trash. The only drivers making up positions on track will be the ones who can work through and maneuver traffic.
Truly, I feel like we have the right group of people, a great car under me, and I think we can achieve something great this year.
From my perspective, the confidence is there, and it is telling me, “Hey, we won one of the first superspeedway races of the year. We can absolutely do this.” I’d be lying to you if I said anything else.
This year we have Juan Pablo Montoya joining Felix Rosenqvist and myself and I’m just looking forward to learning from his experience of winning the Indianapolis 500 twice. Obviously, he’s not going to give all his secrets away because he wants to beat Felix and me too. But, he knows what we need in order to win this race. I’m going to grab any tip or any comment that he has toward that goal. And hopefully, if we are in a position to win the race, this No. 5 team is the one that comes out on top.
The mentality is going to be the same as 2020. The only differences are we have one Indy 500 under our belt and a race in in 2020.
We feel strong. We feel confident.
So, what do you say? Let’s go get it baby.