Arrow McLaren's Pato O'Ward confident as he dreams of first Indy 500 victory: 'We’ve got a shot'


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When Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward closes his eyes at night, he dreams about the Indianapolis 500. 

“Last night, that’s all I’m dreaming of,” O’Ward told Fox News Digital on Monday, six days before the biggest race in IndyCar each year. “I keep racing multiple Indy 500’s in my head. It’s crazy. You try and tone it down as much as you can, but this race…it’s unlike anything else.”

Ask any driver in Indianapolis how much this race means to them, and you’ll likely get the same answer. For O’Ward, though, you’d think this race would make him grimace because of what could’ve been the past two years. 

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Pato O'Ward looks on course

Pato O’Ward of Mexico talks with his crew after qualifying for the NTT IndyCar Series Sonsio Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, 2024. (Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

But the 25-year-old Mexican driver couldn’t be in better spirits heading into Sunday, when he gets another opportunity to come out victorious after 200 long laps.

“I want to have a clean, good race. I want to freaking race, man,” he said, laughing. “I think sometimes it’s so easy to get greedy, and you forget it’s already such an opportunity to have the chance to race. It sucks when something goes wrong, if someone hits you, or you make a mistake. The opportunity to just be able to race, it’s so special. That’s what I want. I want a chance to finish the 200 laps, and honestly, I’m probably the last guy that needs a hype man. If anything, I need somebody to tone myself down.”

O’Ward has a solid pole position, sitting in the middle of row 3 in eighth. His Arrow McLaren teammates – Alexander Rossi and Kyle Larson – are in fourth and fifth position, respectively.

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Team Penske owns the first row after Scott McLaughlin won the qualifier and Will Power and Josef Newgarden followed right behind him.

But O’Ward knows he’s in position to compete for the win and that’s all that matters. 

“I think the team put some very fast race cars together for all of us. My car didn’t quite have the speed that Alex and Kyle had, but we’re right there. It’s all about positioning yourself and running the cleanest race you can, because anything can happen in the Indy 500. It’s such a long race, you got to be there. The last stint is where everyone turns up, and well, it’s a free-for-all.”

That free-for-all is something O’Ward knows all too well, but it hasn’t resulted in the victory he’s yearned for in Indianapolis. Two years ago, he finished in second place after making all the right moves, in his eyes, down the stretch. 

But the “second heartbreak,” as he put it, came in 2023 when he led for a race-high 39 laps. However, his race ended just before the finish line.

On lap 192, eight to go for the win, O’Ward tried to make a move to the inside on Marcus Ericsson, but he ended up spinning out and hitting the wall.

Pato O'Ward drives at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Pato O’Ward of Mexico goes into turn 1 during the NTT IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Qualifying, May 19, 2024, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“Is six laps to go close enough to start taking risks? Well, I don’t know. If it worked out last year, I would’ve said yes,” O’Ward said.

“You got to take risks, and that’s inevitable. That will always be a part of it, and if you want that big reward, you’re going to have to take it. You take it as they come.”

O’Ward doesn’t just want that big reward for himself, but for his Arrow McLaren team. It’s a group that he signed a contract extension with because he believes in what they’re building together, and he knows they’ve got what it takes in Indy this week. 

“There’s so much expectation from everybody involved,” he said. “And everyone puts expectation on themselves for this race. Expectations are a constant battle within yourself. No matter how high you want to set the bar for yourself, you need to realize what the reality is. For us, we’ve got a shot.”

A shot is all that’s needed, especially if O’Ward finds himself in the lead with 10 laps to go again. Because everyone wants to cross the finish line first, he knows risks will need to be taken, and he’s learned from the previous two Indy 500’s when they need to be done.

But at the same time, O’Ward knows that no matter what you plan, no matter how many times you dream about how to run the race, things change and adaptation will need to come.

Pato O'Ward looks on course

Pato O’Ward of Mexico is shown during the NTT IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Qualifying on May 18, 2024, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In those dreams about the race, O’Ward said he has come out victorious over his competition. The feeling of winning, though, is something he knows he can’t drum up in his head.

If it happens Sunday, he can forever say he knows what it felt like to win the Indy 500.

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“I get goosebumps. Like, right now, when I told you I got goosebumps, I got goosebumps,” O’Ward said, laughing. “You can’t help it but not think about it, but you try not to because I don’t know what it would feel like. It must be so much more than anything else that I’ve ever won.

“Only the guys who won it can tell you. I’ve dreamt about it.”

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