By Pato O’Ward, Driver Columnist
Editor’s note: Pato O’Ward will be contributing to Motorsports Tribune selectively throughout the 2018 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season. The 18-year-old Texas-based Mexican racer pilots the No. 27 Mazda/Dallara IL-15 for Andretti Autosport. A Rolex 24 at Daytona winner and series champion in the Prototype Challenge class a season ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, O’Ward will be looking for similar success during his rookie campaign in the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy.
I can’t believe the first race of the Indy Lights season is here already. St. Pete is a track where I have had a lot of success, and I really enjoy racing on this circuit. Having the first event of the year here is awesome because every year it has turned out great for me! I’m excited to show the fans what we can do!
I plan to continue building on the success I’ve had here in the past, and I’m looking forward to creating some new memories and being on the podium again.
The team and I have had solid testing results this offseason, so that has been a big help in preparing for this weekend and the entire season. Aside from testing, I have prepared myself physically and mentally like never before; to be as fit and lean as I can, to be able to push the car to its limits every single lap. This season won’t be easy; the entire field is competitive, and a lot of the drivers on the grid already have a year or more under their belt, but I am excited for the challenge ahead of me and I’m sure I will be a top contender for the championship.
Being in the Mazda Road to Indy program for the past couple of years, and competing in Pro Mazda, has really prepared me for the Indy Lights series and driving the Indy Lights Mazda. It’s definitely a big step, but with the help of the team and being able to test this offseason, I’ve gotten accustomed to the car pretty quickly, and I enjoy pushing it to the limit and figuring out what the race car can really do.
Unlike past seasons, I have had a chance to work with the team I’ll be racing with during the season. My engineer and my mechanics have really welcomed me into the team, and we’ve really taken strides learning more and more about what I like, and what the car likes.
It’s no secret that you have to have funding to go along with having talent as a race car driver. Having a Mexico-based sponsor on my car is something I have been working towards for a long time. Being able to have a primary sponsor, or even just a sponsor in general, unfortunately can be tough to come by, so I’m feeling very fortunate about the newly formed partnership. I’ve been working extremely hard, and hopefully our relationship will continue to grow over the next few years, and we make a name for ourselves in the Verizon INDYCAR series.
My overall goals for this season are to win the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship and get that big check to move up to the IndyCar series next season. I want to be a championship contender from the Streets of St. Pete all the way to the finale in Portland.I want to qualify the fastest and be at the top of the podium! I’m competitive and my goal is to portray that on the track.
Having the opportunity to drive for Andretti Autosport is something I think almost every driver dreams of. It is a very strong team, with very strong infrastructure, great group of people, but most importantly, they have really welcomed me and made me feel at home the past couple of months. I’m looking forward to working with my crew this year and hoping to build a relationship that will hopefully carry into IndyCar.
The ultimate goal is moving up to IndyCar in the next couple of years and turn IndyCar wins into winning the championship!