Former INDYCAR driver Michel Jourdain Jr. says two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES race winner Pato O’Ward is developing a sizable fan base in Mexico, and Jourdain wants to keep the momentum building for U.S. open-wheel racing in their home country.
Jourdain, who recently created Andretti Jourdain Autosport with INDYCAR team owner Michael Andretti, was at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course earlier this month for the Indy Lights test of another young Mexican driver seeking a career path in this part of North America.
Salvador de Alba Jr. is 20 years old and leading Mexico’s two national divisions, touring cars and stock cars. Super Copa is the touring cars class, and de Alba won the most recent race for a team with a technical alliance with Andretti Jourdain Autosport, for which the 44-year-old Jourdain drives.
The stock car class, known as Peak Mexico, is sanctioned by NASCAR and in 2010 had Cup Series driver Daniel Suarez as its Rookie of the Year. De Alba won the first of two races held so far this season.
“I believe he is the best young Mexican driver, and it is OK if he (beats me),” Jourdain said of de Alba, who was at Mid-Ohio with Andretti Autosport. “He is a good person. He deserves this because not only is he a great person, he has a great family. He is a great representative of Mexican drivers.”
Jourdain, who made his Indianapolis 500 debut in 1996 to become, at the time, the third-youngest starter in event history, won a pair of Champ Car World Series races in 2003, one on an oval track (Milwaukee), the other on a permanent road course (Montreal). He is one of five Mexican drivers to have won INDYCAR races – Hector Rebaque, Adrian Fernandez, Mario Dominguez and O’Ward are the others.
There was a time when U.S. open-wheel drivers had a strong contingent of Mexican drivers, as many as a dozen in the mid-2000s with Dominguez adding INDYCAR wins in 2002 and ’03 and Fernandez winning three times in INDYCAR in 2004.
For more than a decade, Mexico didn’t have INDYCAR footing. Jourdain earned a “500” start in 2012 in a car fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, but it wasn’t until O’Ward won the Indy Lights championship in 2018 that Mexico was back to prominence in U.S. open-wheel racing.
Jourdain said Mexico’s currency exchange has often been a hindrance to competing in the U.S., and Sergio Perez’s rise in Formula One, which has a popular race in Mexico City, has kept the focus on European racing.
“When we were here (in the U.S.) and everything was good, there were like five or six guys running at the same time, and then it died real quickly,” Jourdain said. “There was Adrian and myself, basically, and then it suddenly stopped.”
Now, O’Ward is chasing an NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship, and last month became the first driver to win two races this season. His ascension could be pathing a renewed path for young Mexican drivers, Jourdain said.
“Pato is starting to get a good name (in Mexico), and hopefully that can be the start of making it easier to connect (sponsorships),” he said. “My love for INDYCAR racing is huge, and I believe it makes more sense for sponsors to be in the U.S. rather than in Europe.
“But to make it work for sponsors we need to bring other guys here (to INDYCAR) to give more eyes for the companies.”