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.
The month of May is very special to the world of motorsports in general. It’s the biggest month during the racing season and I’m more than excited to be a part of something that holds so much history. The Freedom 100 is the secondary event after the Verizon INDYCAR Series Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, so I’m even more motivated to finish well at the Freedom 100 because my overall goal is to move up to IndyCar in 2019.
The Freedom 100 is basically a mini version of the Indianapolis 500 and I think people pay more attention to who wins, or how well a driver finishes, more than any other race on the schedule. So it’s the race I’m really wanting to win because I want my name out there as much as possible and to have fans recognize me in the paddock – not only will that help me be more of an established driver once I make the move up to IndyCar, it’ll also help me to continue building relationships and hopefully secure the sponsorship backing to move up to the next level. The Mazda Road to Indy program also helps to make that move up, so obviously winning the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship is just as high on my list as winning the Freedom 100.
I have always wanted to race on the iconic oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and there isn’t a better way to get my feet wet than racing in the Freedom 100 race in an Indy Lightsmachine. This will be my first oval in an Indy Lights car but I’m sure we will be fast. As a rookie in the series, I’m going to have to try and play catch up on our test day – I want to get comfortable in the car and be sharp for qualifying. Once I’m comfortable,I’ll be fighting at the top because the No. 27 crew has been working hard and I’m confident we’ll have a good race car.
As excited as I am for my first oval this season, I’m honestly more of a road course guy – because you can actually drive and hustle the car on a circuit with a lot of turns. On an oval, you kind of just let the car drive you.
I’ll be spending more time in Indianapolis this month than I ever have, but I’m looking forward to spending time with the team and creating new relationships with race fans and car fanatics. Being at IMS is such a cool experience – you don’t really get approached much when you are alone, but at the race track on race weekends I’ll have the chance to meet and connect with so many cool and interesting people and I’m looking forward to that.
My trainer will also be coming to Indianapolis with me. so when I’m not at the track, I’ll be training a lot to stay fit, but I’m also on the lookout to find good restaurants to try – I’m a big foodie and love food, so if you have a suggestion on where I should go while I’m in Indianapolis, let me know!