By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
In 2016, Pato O’Ward had a ton of pressure on him as he began his campaign in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires. After the season concluded, O’Ward found himself in second position in the championship standings. Let’s take a look at his 2016 campaign on the second step on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.
Before the season began, O’Ward only had enough funding for the first two race weekends of the season. The first two races for O’Ward went about as well as they could have for the 16-year-old Mexican as he managed a victory and a second place finish while teammate Aaron Telitz swapped positions with O’Ward in the second race of the year as he won.
Looking ahead to the first race at Barber Motorsports Park, O’Ward was second behind Telitz heading into a late race restart but O’Ward’s number 80 car managed to find its way into victory lane after a late race pass on Telitz’s No. 82 car. In the second race of the weekend, O’Ward was able to stay ahead of Telitz to secure his third victory of four races in the Pro Mazda season.
Heading into the month of May, Team Pelfrey confirmed that O’Ward would be joining the team for both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course as well as the only oval race of the season at Lucas Oil Raceway in nearby Brownsburg, IN. This would prove to be a good move as O’Ward scored a sweep of all three Indianapolis races, something that had never been done before across all three levels of the MRTI.
After May is when the championship started to turn for O’Ward. Road America would prove to be the first true defeat for O’Ward as he scored two fourth place finishes but Telitz scored a pair of victories, bringing him back into championship contention.
Toronto would prove to be the biggest dagger in O’Ward’s championship hopes. First lap contact between O’Ward and the 2015 USF2000 champion Nico Jamin in the first race of the weekend gave O’Ward his only retirement of the season and with Telitz winning, it brought the championship race even closer. O’Ward would come back to finish second in the second race at Toronto to keep the championship race close but it would come down to Mid Ohio and Laguna Seca to settle the championship.
Mid Ohio would prove to be problematic for the No. 80 Topo Chico entry. O’Ward finished seventh and fourth at the two races at Mid Ohio while Telitz scored a pair of podiums to extend his lead in the championship standings.
A triple header weekend necessitated by the cancellation of the race at Iowa Speedway would be the last chance O’Ward would have to cut into Telitz’s lead and cut into it O’Ward did by winning the first race of the weekend.
However, the Team Pelfrey duo would have contact in the second race of the weekend, and with O’Ward having suspension issues, he would drop to tenth at the checkered flag. Race three of the weekend would be only slightly better as O’Ward would finish sixth but Telitz would win the final race of the season and with it the 2016 Pro Mazda championship.
O’Ward battled valiantly throughout 2016 and given his funding situation for the ride, he performed admirably. The next Mexican IndyCar star is attempting to climb the ladder and its worth noting his successful 2016 season.