Will Owen’s double podium finish at Road America is just the latest good result in what has been a turnaround year for the young American in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires. He looks to carry that momentum into the doubleheader race weekend beginning Friday at the Honda Indy Toronto.
Owen started sixth in both Road America races three weeks ago, but battled hard with Juncos Racing teammate Jake Parsons and championship leader Pato O’Ward to finish third in each race and secure his first podiums of the year.
“Those were some of the best races of my entire life; well, the most fun my entire life,” said Owen, driver of the No. 23 AMR entry for Juncos Racing. “There was a battle the whole time with all of the other drivers.”
Heading to Toronto, Owen sits a distant third in the Pro Mazda championship behind Team Pelfrey’s O’Ward and Aaron Telitz, who have won all nine races to date this season. Although the margin is large – Owen trails O’Ward by 90 points and Telitz by 62 – he has used the points gap as motivation.
“The fact that they were so much faster at the beginning was really frustrating,” Owen admitted, “but it has made Juncos a so much better team and it’s made me a better driver and it’s made everyone push so much harder.
“The team has spent countless hours trying to figure out any little bit of time they can get out of the car. We’ve been trying to get closer on the weight. Any little bit we can find in order to get closer, that’s what we’ve been working on. I was able to pass Pato in both races at RA and that was huge because the entire year I’ve been trying to catch up to him and haven’t been able to.
“I think we’ve reached the turning point.”
In the first nine races of his second season in Pro Mazda, Owen has scored six top-five finishes – already equal to the number he had in the entire 2015, 16-race season. Owen credited his turnaround to a number of factors, the first being to minimize mistakes.
“Last year I had some moments of some good passes and good moves in the racing, but I still made a lot of mistakes, Owen said. “I backed out of some passes and wasn’t quite where I needed to be usually. This year, I have cut those mistakes down almost to none. I still have some moments in races where I make the wrong decision as far as races go, but you can’t be perfect at it.”
Owen also spent the offseason racing in the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand. He believes it improved his race craft and helped him become more versatile.
“I learned so much about race craft and racing itself,” he said. “I learned so much what it’s like to get into a new car. That car has a pretty similar pace to the Pro Mazda, but it is just so different. There’s way more aero, there’s less power and it feels totally different.
“It was really tough and it sort of made me realize I’m driving this Pro Mazda car really well but I can’t relax. I have to keep on my techniques and keep focused on everything about this car, learning about it and learning about open-wheel cars in general because each one is different. You’re not going to be able to just hop into it and be quick right away.”
In addition to chasing his racing dream, Owen also is pursuing a degree in finance from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. While attending college presents a challenge, Owen enjoys the life balance it creates.
“I don’t like to just be thinking about racing 24/7 when I’m home not racing,” he said. “I think a lot of people sit around and dwell on racing for so long.
"For me, I have an advantage. I can go back to college and hang out with my friends and have some good time off and not have to think about racing. That’s really rejuvenating for me and that helps a lot.”
All three Mazda Road to Indy series – Pro Mazda, Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda – have doubleheader weekends slated in Toronto. Each series has two practice sessions scheduled Friday, with qualifying and the first race for each on Saturday and the second race in each series Sunday. All sessions will be streamed live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.