INDIANAPOLIS – The NTT IndyCar Series community isn’t too happy with how Arrow McLaren SPM has treated James Hinchcliffe. But, one of the things that the Indy Car fan base is happy with his that they chose the Road to Indy Path for both of their drivers.
On Wednesday, the organization named Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew as their driver lineup for the 2020 season. Both are the last two Indy Lights champions.
For team owner Sam Schmidt, the path from the Road to Indy program to an IndyCar seat is working flawlessly which is why these two drivers are getting the opportunities that they are next season.
He credits that the series is also keeping them in house too. In the past, the avenue to Indy Car was slim. Most of the feeder series took drivers to other forms of motorsports like IMSA or NASCAR. Now, with a defined Road to Indy Program, it’s not only allowing drivers to hone their skills, they have a path to move up.
“I think it’s a different time,” Schmidt said on why Indy Lights drivers are having quick success in IndyCar. “When Gil (de Ferran) and myself were coming through the ranks there was no sort of clear path. In what we’re seeing recently with the Mazda Road to Indy is nothing the short of amazing. If you win you advance. If you win you advance.”
“You know, these guys have been racing for many years and so although they are young, certainly a lot younger than I am and even younger than I was when I first joined the NTT IndyCar Series, these are guys that have been winning throughout their careers,” said the former series and Indy 500 champion.
“I know Oliver a little bit better than I know Pato, but I know Pato’s history as well and I recall like it was yesterday watching qualifying for the last round at Sonoma and then he puts it in the top-6 if I’m not mistaken. But that to me was an extremely impressive feat, particularly as it was the last race of the year and everybody’s all tuned in and been racing the whole season and you got a guy that comes in the first race and has such an amazing performance.
“And with Oliver, you know, I remember going here to West Palm Beach as a guest judge for the USA Scholarship when he was just coming out on the car scene and watching his performance driving small single-seater cars for the first time it was nothing short of impressive. And I’ve seen him with his career develop since then.
“So you come to these observations not just because of one thing, you build a picture over time and I think you get to the point where you say, well, what else do you need to do to prove that you are one of the best prospects out there. And I guess that’s the conclusion that we all came together.
“And, you know, we embark on this journey which, certainly with a lot of promise, but at the end of the day we have to focus on our preparation, execution, review, preparation, execution, review, and just work hard, keep our heads down and work hard and go through every twist and turn of this journey with a lot of focus and determination, but with our arms tied together.”
Another thing that Schmidt points to is that these drivers coming through the ranks aren’t newbies to the racing scene. They’ve been racing since they were little kids and bring in years of experience still.
“The other part of it is these kids aren’t coming in with three and four and five years of experience, as they mentioned, we’re talking 13, 14 years of racing experience and so they’re coming in a lot more advanced than the rookies of days of old.
“So we saw, it’s no shocker, I mean what Colton Herta did this year was nothing short of amazing and these guys come from exactly the same background. So we’re hoping we’ll have the same type of results. So a lot of people have said that it’s really risky, it’s a gamble, but we really don’t think it is.”
Askew, won seven times in Indy Lights last season. Despite not having a veteran to lean on, he’s not holding back from what he wants to accomplish in his rookie campaign next year.
“I believe in myself and the team as well, they have plenty of data and onboard from years past and I believe that I’ll be plenty prepared going into the first race of this season,” Askew said. “The goal is to show up in St. Pete not feeling like it is my first race weekend. So I think we have the resources to do that and we have a couple of test days before that first race in St. Pete, so it’s all about front loading the offseason now and just getting ready for it.”
For O’Ward, he does have a little bit of Indy Car experience but also a vast array of racing experience around the world. He feels like that will be a strongsuit for him in 2020.
“I think more than anything I think it’s just so much experience,” said O’Ward. “Obviously, it’s not easy walking into a championship that you know absolutely nothing about, but I think everything that I got to do this year and so much change and, honestly, I mean, a driver’s career doesn’t get more challenging than that. So I think more than anything it just helped me grow, it helped me grow as a person, it helped me grow as a driver, and I think it just helps to prepare you for future circumstances and future situations, good or bad, so I think it only helped to what we can build on next year.”