On July 12, 2020 at Road America, Felix Rosenqvist tracked down Pato O’Ward late in the second race of the doubleheader weekend, setting up an intense battle between the two young stars of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
O’Ward led nearly the entire race, 43 of 55 laps to be exact, and had his sights set on his first career series win. Rosenqvist, then driving the No. 10 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, was charging hard because his first win was also within reach.
Mexican O’Ward was on old Firestone red tires, the alternate compound, while Swedish Rosenqvist’s fresher tires gave him a much-needed advantage. The two were locked in a stirring battle in the final five laps, and with two laps to go, Rosenqvist made the winning pass.
Nobody could have predicted that this battle eight months ago would be so representative of Arrow McLaren SP in 2021, but it is.
The team, which unveiled its 2021 season liveries for the season Friday morning, will embark on its second season with O’Ward, as Rosenqvist joins the team in its second full-time entry. Two-time Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Juan Pablo Montoya will join the team for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
O’Ward said the duel last summer taught him who Rosenqvist is as a driver and makes him excited to welcome him to the team.
“He’s actually one of the drivers that I really, really respect and a driver that I can truly trust that we won’t end up in the wall when you go into a corner side-by-side,” said O’Ward, 21. “I think you saw that at Road America where we raced each other very hard, but it was very clean, and we all gave each other very good space. Just enough, but we gave each other space. I think this year you won’t see anything else.”
Rosenqvist agreed that he and O’Ward will battle on track all season like they did at Road America because the more they can push each other on the track, the more it will help both of them achieve more.
“I think we’re on the same page, and I think that’s really important,” said Rosenqvist, 29. “We’re a team of two drivers, and I think that can be a strength if you work together for the same goal. I don’t think there’s a place for egos. Everyone has to pull around in the same direction, and that’s what I feel like we’re doing. If I’m not quick and Pato is quick, that’s going to help me, and the opposite.”
Although it will take a couple more months before they see the benefits of pushing each other on the racetrack, Rosenqvist said the off-track relationship between himself and O’Ward already is paying dividends.
“Pato is a super-fun guy and he’s a great character, and I think that’s really good for me and everyone in the team,” he said. “I’ve definitely come out of my shell a little bit more with this team. It’s great fun. You have that family feel when you come here, and it’s just fun. And when we need to perform, everyone switches on really quickly.”
Rosenqvist isn’t the only one feeling a sense of optimism. Confidence radiates throughout the team.
O’Ward scored three second-place finishes en route to a fourth place in the season standings. While there are no trophies to show for performance, O’Ward thinks the consistency of year two can bring AMSP up to par with perennial title contenders Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske.
Road to Indy graduate O’Ward spent the offseason watching the races he came so close to winning last year. He insisted AMSP only had minor things to tweak over the offseason to up their performance. Early indicators, like a private preseason test at Sebring International Raceway, show O’Ward and Rosenqvist may be top contenders in 2021 along with their Andretti, Ganassi and Penske targets.
“There were chances to maybe get it done (in 2020), but I think in some areas we weren’t the quickest guys out there, and even if I did get the pass done, we don’t know if I would’ve been able to hold it off,” he said. “We should all see it as a positive to see where exactly we needed to improve. We’ve seen where we need to improve, and we’ve been pushing to try and find solutions to make that better.
“I think for us this year, one goal is to try to improve our all-around pace everywhere we go, but I think in doing so, just making sure we don’t make mistakes in anything and make everything the best that we can. I think that will give us the wins we’re looking for. It will give us more podiums, and at the end of the year we want to be in contention to challenge for the championship.”
The team, led by new president Taylor Kiel, will get its first chance to stand tall at the season opener Sunday, April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park. The race can be seen live on NBC.