Patricio O’Ward finished a solid eighth place in his debut race with Carlin Racing.

The result mirrored his finish in his NTT IndyCar Series debut at Sonoma Raceway last fall.

The 19-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico started Sunday’s 60-lap IndyCar Classic at the Circuit of the Americas in eighth place after barely missing out on the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying.

He made a splash early by picking off two cars on the opening lap and had a clean opening stint before pitting on Lap 11. The pit cycle left him in ninth place, and he remained near that spot before coming to life around the race’s 2/3rds mark.

He fought feverishly for the eighth spot with Graham Rahal from laps 36-41. The pair exchanged positions several times throughout the 3.41-mile natural terrain road course.

The driver of the No. 31 Carlin Racing Chevrolet made his final stop on Lap 41 and got a stroke of good luck when the race’s only yellow flag flew on Lap 44. The yellow elevated him to fifth place on the Lap 50 restart as the remaining cars who hadn’t pitted were forced to stop under the yellow.

He ultimately relinquished positions to Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato in the final two laps as he needed to save fuel and crossed the line in eighth place.

O’Ward had mixed feelings about his run – he was happy to come home with a top ten but felt that he could have challenged for a higher position had he not have to save fuel. Nonetheless, he took the positive out of the situation and plans to build on it before heading to the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, where he swept the Indy Lights races a year ago.

“I just wish we had a little extra fuel at the end of the safety car so that we could just attack and strike for a podium or a top five,” he said. “We had the pace, but we didn’t have enough fuel to attack or defend. I’ll learn to manage the race better for the next one. It’s a solid first run.”

While he hadn’t driven a car in anger since his series debut at Sonoma Raceway last fall, he admitted that there is still much to learn as he continues his IndyCar career.

“I just know what to expect and know how to overtake a lot better," he said. "I’m a lot more racy, but we just have to find that pace. It’s not really easy to fight with Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. They have been in IndyCar for like 20 years."

His team owner Trevor Carlin mirrored his feelings and felt that his driver’s performance and attitude was a breath of fresh air as the team enters its second season.

“It’s a massive change, it’s really positive,” he said. “Just talking to the guys here, we’re disappointed to be P8. Last year we would have been happy to have a P8. It’s a big weekend for us. Now we’re going to Barber, where Pato’s been before and done a test. So we’ll start a tiny bit better off.”

Carlin praised his driver’s maturity throughout the day as he fought hard and had to conserve fuel at the end.

“The way he drives, he races hard but there’s no accidents,” he continued. “He’s forceful but it’s respectable. When he had no fuel, no power, he didn’t over defend and cause a crash.”

With a productive first race now in the books, Carlin feels that O’ Ward will only get better as the season progresses.

“The kid did a great job, it’s what I’ve hoped for and he’s delivered,” he said. “Now we’re in the detail of turning that performance into podium finishes.”

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