As a European, it’s always hard to understand how popular a sport is in the U.S. where the country is almost the size of our whole continent. But as American football is vastly growing in Europe, the same goes for IndyCar. North America’s premier open-wheel racing series featuring a global field of drivers from 15 nations. And as a lot of new international drivers are entering the sport, so are the fans.
One of the rising names in IndyCar is the 24-year-old driver Pato O’Ward. The Mexican fan favourite has, while still just in his early twenties, compiled four race victories and 20 podiums in the competitive racing series. If that wasn’t enough, he also achieved second place at the world-known Indy500. Starting at Red Bull Racing, he today drives for the celebrated Arrow McLaren, always bringing out the big crowds thanks to his energetic charm and passion for the motorsport.
Schön! sits down with the driver after returning to the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, UK during IndyCar off-season and Formula One testing to chat about his love of fashion, food, and, of course, racing.
How is your spirit at the moment?
I am very good, thank you. I am travelling between Woking and London, and I am getting ready to fly to Barcelona for some testing. I get to enjoy Europe for a while.
How did your passion for motorsport start?
For me, it’s been quite a journey. I would say I started off really young in go-karts when I was six years old. Thanks to my grandfather on my mom’s side who was very interested in cars and motorsport. He gifted me and my cousin a go-kart when we were younger and that was ultimately a part of what sparked it for me. I then started watching more motorsport in 2007-2008, and what truly made me make the decision to get into motorsport was in 2012. I was invited by a friend of mine to my first Formula One weekend, who was actually connected to McLaren, which is funny as I am driving for the team today. It was an amazing experience, especially hearing the sound of the cars as you got closer and closer to the track. I remember Lewis winning that race, and I thought “Yes, this is for me, this is what I want to do. It’s a no-brainer.”
With a second-place finish at the Indy500, tell me about your journey to IndyCar.
When I started driving go-karts and later elevating to Formula cars, I just never stopped driving. After some time travelling between Europe and the States, I decided to stick to the States and continue my fight winning championships there. I think it all began after winning the Indy Lights championship, which ultimately is the feeder series into IndyCar. After some time with Red Bull, we decided that the best thing for my career was for them to let me out of my contract. With that, I got the opportunity to call Zack Brown, the CEO of McLaren, who had been scouting me for a few years to tell him I was free. It all fell into place. I felt like the time was right. I started with Arrows McLaren in 2020.
How is it being a part of the McLaren family?
When I grew up, I was already a big fan of McLaren. The best part, among many, is probably the history of the brand. We are the only brand to have so many different teams all around the world, obviously, the big one is the Formula One team, but then also IndyCar, the Formula E team, and the Extreme E.
With a fearless profession as a racing driver, are you a fearless person in your day-to-day life?
I like to live on the edge, I feel like that in everything that I do I’m constantly pushing certain limits. But I don’t know why, I don’t think I am a fearless person. It’s probably because that’s just what I’m used to — to always push myself — that it has become a normality for me. You want to keep improving in every way that you can, but there are obviously certain times where you’re aware of the risks of the sport I am in but not that I think about too much.
Known as IndyCar’s ‘foodie’, would you say food might be one of your hobbies outside of racing?
I love food. Every time that I travel to new places, which is a lot, I always want to experience new cultures and part of that I believe is to try new cuisines and make sure I try the different foods in the city. I feel like trying the local cuisines is the best way to experience a city. That’s one of my biggest hobbies outside of racing.
As a professional athlete, how do you slow your mind down?
Living a very fast-paced life 11 months out of the year makes it important to get balance in life. I feel like I always live in extremes, so when I have the chance to do nothing, I really do nothing. I love to be outside, especially by the water. I am a big ocean guy and I always try to be as close to the ocean as I can. It’s my best reload. It’s important to get that balance in, I feel that I am always living in the extremes and it’s always fast-paced. I don’t even really watch a lot of TV. I relax, and since I don’t really have a schedule, I will eat at super awkward times. It’s definitely super weird.
Driving a race car is very physically demanding to take it to the limit, so I have to focus on my workouts. I mostly keep my workouts because they just make you feel good and make your day better in my opinion. It helps you feel fresh.
Wearing the race wear for most of the time, what do you love to wear when not at the racetrack?
I’m big into fashion. I love clothes, I love shoes and I love accessories. There are so many ways to express yourself and explore fashion overall. I feel like with clothing you can create many different vibes. In a way, it is like art that you ultimately are wearing instead of looking at on a wall.
What inspires you with fashion?
I think it’s very fun and entertaining to just express yourself but also look at what somebody else wears. I love playing around with fashion.
You mention always having your Polaroid camera with you, are you a bit more creative than we know?
Yeah, maybe! I love taking pictures a lot because ultimately what you have when you leave a location is your memories, and those can be elevated with pictures. Every time I go to a new city and I see something cool that I enjoy, I’ll just I’ll take pictures. To later be able to share my favourite places on my social media, like a diary. To remember this journey I am on, if it’s food, my friends or just a selfie.
photography. Alvin Kean Wong @ Seen Artists
creative direction + production. Clara La Rosa
fashion. Anthony Pedraza
talent. Pato O’Ward
grooming. Lisa-Raquel @ See Management using R+Co
lighting direction. Naoki Fukuda
digital tech. Takeki Yasuda
location. Cafe Studio
words. Yasmine Mubarak