Making of a Champion: Patricio O’Ward
Wednesday, November 15, 2017

“It was in Monterrey, Mexico. I think it was October 21, 2005, if I’m correct. I was six years old. That’s where it started.”

These are the words of now 18-year-old Mexican driver Patricio “Pato” O’Ward, the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge (PC) co-champion, recalling the moment he decided to pursue a career as a race car driver.

“I got a little kart,” O’Ward said. “It was the spark of everything. I liked it, and I kept going up.”

He progressed through the various karting ranks – winning a 2010 SKUSA SuperNats title in Las Vegas – before switching to formula cars at the age of 13, from F2000 in his native Mexico through Formula Renault in Europe to the Pro Mazda Championship in the United States.

He got his first exposure to sports car racing in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda in 2016 with Performance Tech Motorsports, scoring a second-place result in his debut race at Sebring International Raceway. That performance opened the door to another opportunity in 2017.

“I got contacted by (Performance Tech Motorsports Owner) Brent O’Neill, probably around November last year, or maybe early December,” O’Ward said. “He basically asked me, ‘Hey, would you be interested in doing Daytona?’ I said, ‘Sure.’”

He may not have known it at the time, but that simple, one-word answer turned out to be the catalyst for a PC class victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona alongside his season-long co-driver James French, and Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup teammates Kyle Masson and Nicholas Boulle.

“I tested with them at the Roar, did really well, did Daytona and then basically (O’Neill) said, ‘Hey, I want to put you in the car for the full season,’” O’Ward said. “I said, ‘All right.’”

That two-word answer would yield another victory, in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The duo then won the next five races helping them clinch both the WeatherTech Championship and Patrón Endurance Cup titles in the PC class. And in the process, O’Ward also turned the class’ fastest lap in all eight races.

In fact, O’Ward, French, Masson and the Performance Tech team went into the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta looking to become the first IMSA championship team to win every race in a season, but an incident in the 10-hour race removed them from contention.

“Kyle came out of the pits, and the dude didn’t see him, and he slammed right into him,” O’Ward said. “It screwed our race up.”

It was the only blemish on the season for the team, which was somewhat remarkable given that Performance Tech hadn’t won a WeatherTech Championship race before the start of the 2017 season. And at the same time, O’Ward was learning new skills.

“I never did endurance racing ever before, and I thought it would be a pretty fun challenge to do and to learn,” he said. “I learned that it’s very different than other things. In my opinion, it’s a lot more relaxed. More teamwork goes into play because you have other drivers that you have to work with and the car has to be to the liking of pretty much everyone.

“The GTD cars were way slower, the GT Le Mans cars sometimes were faster in the rain and slower in the dry, so it’s a lot of things to play with. You have to be careful because other people don’t really watch what they’re doing and they don’t really care if you’re in their class or not. What they basically do is just get around you any way they can.”

By the end of the 2017 season, O’Ward had the hang of it and believes the championship helped him make a name for himself as he looks toward the future.

“I think it definitely did,” he said. “I feel like having two of the biggest race wins in the United States that you can get in endurance racing is pretty good to have on your résumé, and no one can take that away from you.

“That, for sure, is always going to help. I think it just opens doors to chances in sports cars and somewhere where I wasn’t really known. I definitely want to keep that door open and keep trying to explore what I can do in sports cars, and not shut the one in open-wheel racing either.

“I think the ideal (path) would be to do a P car, a DPi or even a P2 car. I think that would be the aim. I haven’t gotten contacted yet, so I’m just kind of waiting.”

And when that call comes, his answer probably will be another positive short one.