The differences between Oliver Askew and Patricio O’Ward on paper are clear: They took different routes to get to the top level of open-wheel racing in North America, they have different driving styles on track, and they have different personalities off the track.
Given their level of talent at such a young age, it’s no surprise that Askew, 23, and O’Ward, 21, are NTT INDYCAR SERIES teammates at the newly formed Arrow McLaren SP.
What is surprising is that given the clear differences between them, the two drivers have created a deep level of friendship they believe is imperative to their on-track success.
“I think it’s very special in a way, because we both took very separate journeys, but it led us to the exact same place almost,” O’Ward said. “I think that is cool and unique, and we’ve seen stories in Formula One and INDYCAR where guys that have been racing each other forever are now racing against each other in the big cars.”
Askew remembers the first time the two drivers ever spoke to each other. They were both racing karts in Utah in 2014 for the national championships. Askew was in the senior level, while O’Ward was in the junior level. The two briefly discussed similar wrecks they were involved in and moved on with their days.
No friendships were formed. No bonds were made.
Because of the age difference – nearly three years – Askew was always a level ahead of O’Ward in karts, and the two never truly got the chance to race with or against each other.
In 2017, O’Ward got his first taste of Indy Lights with a four-race stint that resulted in one podium finish. He also ran eight races in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship and scored seven wins and eight podiums.
Askew, in a reverse order from karting, was a few steps behind O’Ward and won the USF2000 championship.
In 2018, O’Ward ran full time in Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport and dominated the season, winning nine races, scoring 13 podiums and winning the series championship. The following year, O’Ward made seven appearances in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for Carlin.
Askew, meanwhile, jumped in the same car O’Ward won the 2018 championship with Andretti and backed up the team’s performance with a stellar season in 2019. Askew won seven races, scored 15 podium finishes and won the series championship.
While racing in O’Ward’s former ride, Askew began to learn more about his Mexican predecessor.
“I didn’t really get to know Pato as a person and as a driver until maybe a couple years ago in the Road to Indy,” Askew said. “It wasn’t through a personal relationship with him. At Andretti Autosport, I raced his exact car the year following when he won the championship, and then I won the championship that year. I got to know Pato through the team almost, like through stories in a separate way other than through knowing him.”
O’Ward knew of Askew, who hails from Jupiter, Florida, long before Askew was picked to take over his former ride. O’Ward said that while making his way through the ranks of karting, Askew was the talk of the country.
“The first thing that usually popped up, especially in the U.S., was just that Oliver Askew was really strong, because he was always fast and always fighting at the top,” O’Ward said. “I knew he was very good, but I never really got to race against him because I was always with the younger crowd.”
After years of name recognition and an occasional conversation here and there, the two future stars of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES landed this season at the new Chevrolet-powered race team with O’Ward driving the No. 5 and Askew driving the No. 7.
Immediately, the two formed a connection. They moved into the same apartment complex in Indianapolis, and when they’re in town, they spend ample time together working out, eating meals and more.
The two realized that while they have different personalities – Askew being quieter and more reserved, and O’Ward being outgoing and very social – they have a lot in common.
“I think it’s important to have a friendly, normal relationship, even outside of the car,” Askew said. “Both Pato and I kind of have the same interests. We can talk about things away from racing. It’s cool to have that friendly relationship.”
That friendly relationship has led to a solid foundation as teammates in the race shop and at the track. Askew and O’Ward both agreed that the most important attribute they look for in a teammate is mutual respect, friendship and support.
“It’s important to have both drivers be very competitive with each other, but to push each other to do better,” O’Ward said. “Many times, I’ve heard many stories or circumstances where there has been tension and the teammates kind of hate each other but they fake liking each other. I feel like in our case we actually want each other to do well, and we want the team to be stronger. I think that’s the most important thing: Having two drivers that will work together.”
As the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season gets to its second race of the season with the GMR Grand Prix on Saturday, July 4 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (noon, NBC), the two friends will look to support each other and help their team find success in the first road course race of the season.
While they have different styles on track, Askew being more easygoing in corners, while O’Ward admits he’s more of an aggressive driver, the two will still look for ways they can help each other. They believe two drivers with similar success will move their team forward more than one driver experiencing much more success than the other.
Although neither driver has scored a win on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course, both have experience various levels of success. O’Ward started on the pole in both Indy Lights races in 2018 and finished fourth and seventh, respectively. Askew started third and fifth, respectively, in the 2019 Indy Lights doubleheader on the road course and finished second and third.
“I look up to Pato, as well, like he is a veteran,” Askew said. “He has a lot of experience in cars already, probably two or three more years than I do, and we both have very different styles. That way, we’re able to learn from each other, because we have very different strengths and very different weaknesses.
“I think that’s very important to have in a pairing like this. If we both drove the same and had the same mentality, it’d be a little bit harder to learn from each other.”