Throughout the year, Continental Tire will focus on celebrating the fans, media, drivers, and teams and their contributions to sports car racing, including a weekly trip down memory lane in Sportscar365’s Continental Tire IMSA Reflections series.
This week, Pato O’Ward looks back on his breakout 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge class championship season, stepping into the top class for two races in 2018, and how sports car racing has made him a more well-rounded driver.
What were your expectations entering the 2017 IMSA season in Prototype Challenge with Performance Tech?
“As always, expectations are usually high coming into a race season.
“It’s always important to be competitive and be winning so the objective was always to score wins, especially the important ones like the Rolex 24, 12 hours of Sebring, 6 hours of The Glen, and Petit Le Mans.
“2017 was my first season racing with another driver alongside me or in some cases not just one driver in the same race car and it was my first ever season racing in such long races. I was usually more used to quick sprint races.”
When did you realize that the 2017 IMSA season was going to be a special one?
“It wasn’t really a change in realizing it was just proving ourselves that we could achieve what we wanted to putting in the work. So it was just a matter of time of putting the puzzle together and racking up the wins.”
Is there a victory from that season that stands out to you?
“Yes, rolex 24. Why? Well because its Daytona 24! It was also special because it was my first ever endurance race and also that win made me one of the youngest ever to win it.
“So that was very special and definitely one of the best races to ever win in a driver’s career in whatever category they are racing in.”
How much did you enjoy stepping up to the Prototype class for Daytona and Sebring for 2018?
“It was very enjoyable. Honestly i enjoyed the car a lot more than anything.
“We didnt really have the results in races but I was very happy with the performances I put out in qualifying, especially at Daytona. That one opened some people’s eyes for sure.
What did you learn from sports car racing that has helped you in your open-wheel career?
“What most helped me was that I really learned how to take care of a car but still be really fast.
“I learned to fuel save, learned to be patient, and learned to stay aware of my surroundings.
“I feel like the outright speed was always there, it was just a matter of learning how to mesh it all together correctly to get the results I was looking for.”