Last week at Detroit, O’Ward wrested the points lead from Alex Palou by a solitary point after becoming the first driver to score more than one win this season
But now he says is the time for the team to push and take advantage of their situation because he feels sure his strongest rivals have the ability to retaliate.
“I think we’ve had a strong year so far,” said the 22-year-old Mexican, “but there’s still so many races to go, so we can’t get really focused on where the championship is right now.
“We’re definitely on the right path. But we need to continue doing what we have been doing. We need to be consistent, and we know the Ganassi cars are always going to be there, the Penskes, the Andrettis…
“I feel like in the next few races, the championship is going to get even tighter than what it is now, especially in the top five positions.
“We just need to continue pushing, and I tell the team all the time, ‘Right now is the time where we really need to push and we need to stay on track and just make sure we make no mistakes, and the results will come.’”
O’Ward finished fourth in the championship last year, with four podiums, but this year he has scored four podiums at the halfway stage, and two of those have been wins. Asked how much better prepared Arrow McLaren SP is in 2021, team president Taylor Kiel replied: “Much more. I would say last year we were kind of just living in the moment, and by the end of the season we found ourselves in a pretty good spot. We were still putting pieces of the puzzle together.
“We’re racing against teams that have decades of championship-winning experience. Those are the teams we’re trying to beat, so it’s a tall task.
“What I feel this year is, we’ve experienced it, we’ve been in the fight, and we know what it takes now, so it’s more of a methodical focus of winning the championship.”
For his own part, O’Ward said: “I feel more prepared just knowledge-wise in what I know of IndyCar racing in a way. Like I just know what to expect in certain scenarios, certain situations.
“Honestly, last year we were more in the fight maybe for third or second. I think Dixie [Scott Dixon] was quite far away leading into the end of the championship, but we’re in a great position right now where we’re in it. We’re in the fight to win this championship.
“So I think that’s quite ahead of where we were last year, we kind of know what to expect a little bit more. So I feel like everybody is just a little more prepared.
“Every race is different; not one single one will ever be the same. But I think we’re ready for the challenge ahead.”