The Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet driver, who last year finished fourth in his first full season in IndyCar, nailed his first win at this level with victory in the second round of Texas Motor Speedway’s double-header on Sunday.
O’Ward, who turns 22 tomorrow, was asked afterward if his triumph might help IndyCar return to his homeland.
“I sure hope so,” said the 2018 Indy Lights champion. “I don’t think just one win will do it. I think if we’re consistently championship contenders, if we win a couple more, I think that will definitely help the chances of a bit more. That’s the goal.
“I always tell everybody, ‘If we go back to Mexico, it’s going to be a sold out event and it’s going to be awesome!’ We just have to get into the process as soon as we can.…
“I feel like there is nothing better than the Mexican fans. There is so much life and energy, especially for their fellow countrymen. It’s really cool.
“We always want to see more. I feel like we have so much potential to grow in the country of Mexico and in South America, with all the Latins. I feel like this is obviously a step in the right direction. But nowhere close to where I feel like it could be.”
U.S. open-wheel racing has been absent from Mexico since the 2007 Champ Car World Series season finale at Circuito Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. Only a year earlier, the country had two races – at Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Nueva Leon, near the start of the season, and the Mexico City race.
Although Fundidora Park is no longer usable, since then there have been rumors of IndyCar returning to Mexico City which gathered pace when the track was upgraded to current Formula 1 safety standards and the Grand Prix returned in 2015.
Puebla’s 1.25-mile oval was also considered as a possible venue, although investigations by track designer Tony Cotman of NZR Consulting generated a list of required upgrades for cars of IndyCar performance, and it’s understood the cost of these killed off the idea.
O’Ward said that, for now, scoring his first win in Texas – a state where he spent much of his youth – made the breakthrough triumph all the more satisfying.
“Very special for sure,” he said. “It’s really cool to do it in a place that’s very close to my heart, very close to home. Texas is the closest that I will ever have to racing in Mexico. Hopefully we can change that in the future.
“I lived just four hours south of here, in San Antonio, for many years. I grew up there a lot of my teenage years. I love coming here.”
Later he expanded on the theme: “I lived in [Monterrey,] Mexico for the first 11 years of my life. I went to middle school and high school in San Antonio, Texas… I just moved to Indy a year ago to be closer to the team. I enjoy spending time with them. They’re like a second family.
“San Antonio, Texas, does feel very much like a home to me.”
Informed that he was the first Mexican driver to win an Indy car race since Adrian Fernandez in 2004, O’Ward responded: “Man, I admire Adrian a lot. It’s very special to me to represent my country. I’m the only Mexican driver racing here.
“I’m a competitive being. I like to win. I like to be at the front. I like to compete. I don’t think there’s anything better than putting your flag as high as you can.”