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Spring Training whets appetites for NTT IndyCar Series season to begin

by Mike Haag | Posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Courtesy of the NTT IndyCar Series

AUSTIN, Texas – If 11 hours and more than 8,000 miles of on-track testing over two days showed anything, it’s that the NTT IndyCar Series fits in marvelously at the sparkling Circuit of The Americas and the competition will be deep and intense in the 2019 season.

Takuma Sato races toward Turn 17 during the Open Test at Circuit of The Americas — Photo by: Stephen King

Twenty-five drivers completed 2,367 laps at INDYCAR Spring Training, the only officially mandated testing prior to the NTT IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10. Rookie driver Colton Herta surprised many by turning the fastest lap on the 3.41-mile permanent road course and topping the timesheet in three of the four sessions in the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda.

INDYCAR SPRING TRAINING: Session 3 results I Session 4 results I Combined results

Savvy veterans were close on Herta’s heels, however, with Alexander Rossi, who led Wednesday’s final session, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud rounding out the top five on the combined-session speed chart. It left drivers and fans alike itching for the season to begin and the return next month for the INDYCAR Classic on March 24, the first Indy car race hosted by COTA.

Will Power navigates the Esses complex during the Open Test at Circuit of The Americas — Photo by: Joe Skibinski

“The track is phenomenal,” said Power, the 2014 series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “I love it, love it, love it! Very technical, obviously a lot of complexes. … Great facilities, all the drivers are stoked to be here.”

Herta, the 2018 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires runner-up who made his NTT IndyCar Series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing in last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, set the overall best lap of 1 minute, 46.6258 seconds (115.132 mph) in Tuesday’s afternoon session. The 18-year-old Californian backed it up by leading Wednesday’s practices and running second to Rossi in the afternoon session..

“This track just suits my driving style a lot,” Herta said. “The team has been working really hard to get the car where it needs to be. Obviously, they’ve made really big gains in the winter time compared to last year, and we’re kind of seeing that. Really stout job by the boys.”

Felix Rosenqvist dives into Turn 19 during the Open Test at Circuit of The Americas — Photo by: Stephen King

Herta and fellow NTT IndyCar Series rookies the likes of Felix Rosenqvist (sixth on the combined speed chart), Marcus Ericsson and Santino Ferrucci have only added depth to a full-season field of drivers already considered the deepest in motorsports.

“Every year it just gets better and better, which is a testament obviously to the series and the value that drivers are placing on it,” said Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner and 2018 NTT IndyCar Series championship runner-up. “We’ve seen guys come over from Europe, which is a super positive thing. I would completely agree that 2019 will be the most competitive season that I’ve been a part of.

“If you look at the top 15, top 20, in reality there are a lot of really good guys. That’s pretty much unlike any other series when you look at it, and I fully expect there to be 10 to 12 guys every single weekend to beat in the race.”

The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series calendar features 17 races, all airing live on NBC or NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Opening with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10 (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and followed by the INDYCAR Classic at COTA on March 24 (1 p.m., NBCSN), the schedule is highlighted by the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26 (11 a.m., NBC) and closes with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey from WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (2:30 p.m., NBC).

SPRING TRAINING DAY 2 QUOTES:

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda): “Another good day of testing at COTA. We were quickest this morning and P2 by a tenth (of a second) this afternoon. And there’s still more to find. We are still working on getting the balance as it gets colder. When it was warmer, we were really good, so I think we’ll be fine for the race as it should be warmer. Overall the team had a great test. I’m really happy with how everyone is working so hard and putting in so much effort to get everything done. I can’t wait for next month when this No. 88 Honda-powered car hits the Streets of St. Pete.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We made good strides today. Generally, the whole day we just kept chipping away at it, moving in the right direction. In the end, it went red (red flag condition] during our sticker tire run so we had to finish the day off on used Firestone tires and we did our fastest lap of the day. I think it’s a good point to come back with – we’re quick on used rubber. Hopefully, we can turn that into a good race weekend here in late March.

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It’s been positive. Yesterday we had a big gap to the front guys, so I had to do a bit of homework last night. My NTT DATA car has seemed to be quick in every session this year. I think we can really fight in the top five, but there are still things we have to learn and work on. For me, I kind of learn every time I’m out. But after two days here, it feels like we’re done and it’s time to move on to Sebring.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda): “Two great days of testing here at COTA. We ended up fifth and there is a lot for us to be happy about. We found a lot over the past two days. Starting where we did yesterday morning, for us to be fifth is a great accomplishment. I think we learned a lot. When we go back to Laguna Seca, when we go to a lot of other tracks there is a lot that we can take from here. I’m really proud of my guys. They really worked hard. This United Rentals car looks awesome. I’m really happy with how things went and looking forward to coming back.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “We had a big break before the last 45 minutes (of the afternoon test session). We tried a few different things, but I don’t feel like we really got – it kind of just feels really disconnected for me in some portions of the track, quite good in others. I don’t think I did a really good job in piecing together a lap either. It seems like there is something wrong with the suspensions too. That is what we were kind of chasing before. The steering wheel is kinked to the left and then also when it brakes, it brakes funny. We’re trying to figure that as well.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “Another productive day. Obviously, we closed the gap to the guys in front, and it’s even closer than it looks on the timesheets because we kind of got hosed by that red flag at the end on our last set of tires when everyone was getting quicker and quicker. I’m really happy with the progress that we made, the direction that we found, and we’ll keep chipping away at it. Hopefully, by qualifying day here on the race weekend, the Arrow Electronics cars will be right up there.” 

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “It was another really good day for us at Circuit of The Americas. A lot of learning to be done. In the morning session, realistically we were P4, but a red flag came out right before we crossed the line. Luckily, we have the lap on data but it didn’t show on the time sheets. At the end of the last session, right when we thought we were kind of getting lost a little, we went back in the right direction. It feels good to end up P9 and to have a good lap time to end the test before heading into the race weekend next month. It was a great job by all the guys, it was a busy two days and we’re looking forward to the season opener in St. Petersburg.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We had a productive day today. We made big changes and we tried to separate the changes between the cars so at least we are learning as a team now. Matheus (Leist) is helping quite a bit, so a happy day for us. We came here trying to learn what we did over the winter on the shaker and on the simulator and things were pretty close, so we’ll take it from here and try to improve it until the first race. This is our first test and we have three more before St. Pete, so I’m excited.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We just finished here for the second day at COTA. We had a lot of fun at this beautiful track. A lot of progress made with the team. I think we still need to keep working hard, still need to figure out new stuff, but I’m pretty happy with these two days of testing here. I think we made some good progress compared to last year and now we’re looking forward to the next test and also to the first race of the year.”

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.

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