Admitting I was Wrong…Again

It’s never fun to admit when you are wrong. If you were to talk to my wife, she would go so far as to say I have an insatiable desire to be right all of the time. While I think that may be an exaggeration, I do find it hard to eat crow and admit I was wrong. Then again, I think most people are that way. It seems I’ve been proven wrong a lot lately – at least more than I care for.

That being said, I will gladly admit that I was wrong a couple of years ago when I surmised that Pato O’Ward would not be heard from again after his partial season with Carlin in 2019. I was wrong.

When Pato O’Ward teamed up with his Indy Lights rival and teammate, Colton Herta, for the 2018 IndyCar season-finale at Sonoma – many labeled it a dream team. They were both at Harding Racing, which was about to be re-branded as Harding Steinbrenner Racing for the next season. O’Ward was given the Andretti shocks, while Herta was left with the standard shocks that Harding had been running all season with mostly Gabby Chaves behind the wheel. O’Ward qualified fifth and finished ninth with the premium shocks, while Herta qualified nineteenth and finished twentieth.

At the time, I told a few of my IndyCar friends that Colton Herta was the real deal, but O’Ward was not – despite the results from that race in Sonoma. I was told I was crazy and that Herta was the imposter. As it turns out, we were both right – and wrong – at the same time.

I don’t think I will get much of an argument that Colton Herta has already become a star, and his star is still rising. In his rookie season of 2019, he won two races – COTA and Laguna Seca – on his way to a seventh-place finish in the championship. He followed that up with another win at Mid-Ohio and finished third in the championship. He did all of that in what was considered a horrible season for Andretti Autosport – with their other drivers finishing ninth, tenth and twentieth in the championship.

While Herta was having a rookie season in 2019 that most drivers only dream about, Pato O’Ward was living a nightmare. Just prior to the start of the season, Harding Steinbrenner Racing realized they could not afford to run two cars, so they gave O’Ward his release under the guise of doing him a favor to allow him to pursue other opportunities. The problem was that he was released in February with the season starting in March. All the available seats were already filled.

After the season-opener at St. Petersburg, O’Ward was named to the second car at Carlin. His first outing with his new team went surprisingly well – an eighth-place finish at COTA, although it should be noted that Colton Herta won the race.

After that decent race at COTA, it all went terribly wrong. A sixteenth at Barber was followed by a twelfth at Long Beach. Nineteenth in the Grand Prix on the IMS road course looked bad until he failed to qualify for the 2019 Indianapolis 500. The double-header at Belle Isle produced two more mediocre results out of the Top-Ten before he skipped the race at Texas. He returned to the No. 31 Carlin car for Road America, but only managed a seventeenth place finish.

It was then that O’Ward left to race in Japan. I mistakenly said at the time that we had seen the last of Pato O’Ward and it may be several years if he ever made it back to IndyCar. It wasn’t that I thought he was sub-par driver; after all – how high were our expectations for the second Carlin car? I just thought that doors may open up for him in Japan and he would eventually find his way to Formula One, without ever driving in IndyCar again.

But it’s funny how things work out. The McLaren takeover of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports came out of nowhere in August of 2019 and in October, the revamped team with the financial muscle of McLaren behind it announced their new driver lineup – with Pato O’Ward in their primary car.

With a rebuilding, but financially sound Arrow McLaren SP surrounding him; Pato O’Ward showed the world what he was really capable of. While the team was still finding its way, O’Ward put together a strong season – after stumbling to a twelfth-place in the opening race at Texas. In the abbreviated fourteen-race season, O’Ward had ten Top-Ten finishes, which included four podiums. What was missing was his first career IndyCar win.

I don’t think we are going to have to wait too long into the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season, for that first win to come. Just Monday, he led the IndyCar test session at Laguna Seca with a quick lap of 71.293 seconds, more than two-tenths of a second quicker than the second-quickest car of Ed Jones. The test also featured Romain Grosjean, Felix Rosenqvist, Jack Harvey, Rinus VeeKay, Juan Montoya and Helio Castroneves.

Not only has O’Ward demonstrated his prowess on the track, he has shown resiliency by handling adversity off of the track. Many times we say that young drivers have not paid their dues. Pato O’Ward has. What is so appealing about him is that he doesn’t whine or complain about it. He is a very upbeat, polite, mature and likeable twenty-one year-old. In short…he is a sponsor’s dream.

I have made it clear here that I am not a fan of the way McLaren bought their way into the sport and jettisoned a lot of good people in the process. When they hired O’Ward and Oliver Askew a year ago, that softened my stance – although I didn’t care for the way they kicked Askew to the curb at the end of last season. But I can still cheer for a driver, even if I don’t care for their team. I am jumping aboard the Pato O’Ward bandwagon, even though I wasn’t a true believer at first. I hate to be proven wrong!

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Admitting I was Wrong…Again”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    I think it is very fun to have a ladder series rivalry like O’Ward-Herta carry over into the big cars, with both drivers having the talent and equipment to run up front. It has been quite a while since we’ve seen that, you probably have to go back to the 2006 Atlantic series with Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud (and Hinchcliffe too).

  2. seppefan Says:

    I agree with you in that I did not expect Pato to be so quick. Superformula and F2 were both disappointing. He has most definitely had a tough ride with the Harding Steinbrenner screwing him over and I rather doubt he was impressed with his present teams treatment of Askew. All this will mould him and coupled with the speed he naturally has and his mature driving approach I see only good stuff coming for us fans.

    One question. You write about the “ McLaren takeover of SP”

    Am I correct in thinking that McLaren are still sponsors only holding zero equity in the team.

  3. Lynn Weinberg Says:

    I agree, I thought Pato O’Ward would be a “one hit wonder,” so to speak,

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