until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Heartbroken O'Ward's greatness shone through in Indy 500 defeat

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Five years of pent-up frustration and emotion poured out of Pato O’Ward at the end of the Indianapolis 500.

The 25-year-old Mexican is a force of nature, but another Indy 500 defeat left even him struggling to cope.

This event had all the things that make Pato great. Thousands of hats and shirts showing just how popular he is, not limited to but dominated by a huge Latino support network that show up for him, and then in the race, he pulled off an eye-watering double-save of an out of control car at Turn 2 that will no doubt go down in history as one of the special moments of this event which has run 108 times.

It doesn’t really matter if O’Ward dominates large portions of an Indy 500 or comes on strong at the end as he did on Sunday, he’s always a threat and his last-lap pass for the lead at Turn 1 showed it. Sadly for him, Josef Newgarden had a better move up his sleeve later in the lap.

The Race asked O’Ward if he could take solace in Newgarden - someone O’Ward says is a “fantastic competitor” who he can “trust” racing with - needing 12 tries to get his first win here.

“I think everybody's path is different,” he says, still pondering questions with so much sincerity and thought, even though he’s been pummelled with questions tantamount to ‘what’s it like to lose, why didn’t you win, how do you feel about this negative event that just happened to you’ etc.

“Some guys obviously get it done very early on and then never again, and some guys take a long time and get it. But I don't think any of these guys have been basically in contention five years in a row and not got the win. That's what I'm going through.

“I think probably the closest one that's been through that is Helio [Castroneves]. 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.

"Maybe I get a couple in a row in the future. I don't know. Maybe I don't get any.

“This place, like I said, it doesn't owe me anything. It's just very cool to be a part of this event.”

Despite the clear heartache, O’Ward was gracious in praising Newgarden, his own team and his fans.

“Everybody here, the IndyCar community, all the IndyCar fans, people from Indianapolis have really made it feel like home here to me,” he added. “I’m so thankful for that. I'm so grateful for that.

“I hope I put smiles on kids' faces and people that were here out to support us. I hope that they go home tonight happy with the show that we gave them because I feel like it was definitely not a boring race.

“We had to fight for our result 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.”

It’s easy to see why O’Ward is so popular. He’s spectacular in the car and wears his heart on his sleeve out of it.

Pato O'Ward, McLaren, Indy 500

He's unmatched in terms of fan engagement, and financing some of that comes out of his own pocket, too - because he believes in his mission to grow IndyCar (and, of course, his own support in the process).

Even without a championship or Indy 500 win yet, the queues for his autographs are as big as any.

On track, things have been tricky in 2024. He won St Pete after Newgarden’s exclusion for using push to pass on restarts, but after that it’s been tough. Crashes in Long Beach, at Barber - both including team-mates - and 13th in the Indy GP have left a lot to be desired in terms of fighting for a championship, a goal his new $10million contract demands.

The thing that will make this lost win more difficult is that people who have never driven an IndyCar will question O'Ward's application, in the sense that in 2022 people say he bailed out of a move on Marcus Ericsson that he could have made stick, and in 2023 he crashed after trying to pass Ericsson. That was interpreted as going from too weak to too aggressive.

But if you spent the time I did watching how out of control O'Ward's car looked in the closing stages of the Indy 500, maybe he just knew his car wasn't capable of making the same move Newgarden did at Turn 3 and that's why he passed into Turn 1. Think about that epic double save and how tough he was working coming off Turn 2; would he have had the same run and would his car have been as planted as Newgarden's was at Turn 3?

Without sitting in the car it's hard for us to know and not fair of us to judge.

But if he continues to perform as he did on Sunday - against Newgarden, in a battle between arguably the two best oval racers in the series right now - his stock is only going to rise further.

Pato O'Ward, McLaren, and Josef Newgarden, Penske, Indy 500

Videos of his incredible skill will continue to help. They’re a lot more frequent than any other driver, with Colton Herta being the only real competition.

“Man, if there was one time where I had to put so much trust in my skill, it was today,” said O'Ward when asked about his ‘save’ at Turn 2.

“Like I said, there were so many where I was, like, 'I don't know if this is going to work out'.

“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 I knew what to expect, but sometimes you just never know when it's going to kind of want to bite.

“I risked so much to put myself in contention to win this race, but that's what you have to do whenever you're stuck in line like that. That's why, if not, you're just stuck, no one passes.

“I did it when it counted.

“The most crazy 500 that I've had for sure just in terms of, like, issues that I was having within my car. So many moments.”

O’Ward will do well to look at Newgarden for how long it took him to win - or even Scott Dixon, who was in the press conference room when a clearly disconsolate O’Ward came in, and patted O'Ward on the leg and issued some words of encouragement out of earshot of the mic.

Scott Dixon, Ganassi, Indy 500

Dixon may have won in 2008, yes, but he could have won any number of Indy 500s since. Three, four, five? That’s a matter of opinion. But even he doesn’t expect them and talks about being content with what he has even if it’s one and not more.

O’Ward has already appeared to adopt the same approach. He acknowledged he may never win this race. But at this point, it feels like the chances of that happening are zero.

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