The first full-field IndyCar test session rolled out earlier the week at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tex., and it really produced an interesting mix of results. Here are my Top 5 thoughts.
1) COTA Is Freaking Beautiful
The first part of that statement I knew already as I spent a weekend in September 2017 at the track when the F4 US Championship cars raced there along with the 6 Hours of COTA. You have to see it to really believe it. The facility is absolutely massive (it even has an amphitheater that holds close to 20,000 people, and everything from the racing surface, to the grandstands, to the garage, suite and media center is fantastic.
It is an amazing facility and the topography of the race course makes it a really cool place to watch cars. When I was there I really enjoyed watching the cars fly down the long back straight and into Turns 12-17. If I watch the race from the stands next month, that’s where I’ll be sitting.
2) The Track is a Great Place for IndyCars
As far as the racing goes, I think it will be a good show. During testing the field was pretty much only separated by about two seconds, which I think will tighten between now and next month. The track features a lot of racing room and there will be a couple of interesting passing zones: Turn 12 which I already mentioned and of course the long uphill into the really tight, not-quite-a-hairpin Turn 1.
The main straight at COTA looks to be at least 4-5 cars wide, so starts and restarts into T1 will be pretty exciting. If it were me, I’d let them race anywhere there is pavement, but even if they enforce the track limits like they do for Formula 1 and the painted area is pretty much off limits, there will still be drivers that will take it right to that edge and late in the race we could see people take huge chances.
Should be fun.
2) Colton Herta Looked Really, Really Good
The week didn’t get off to a good start for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, when it was announced on Monday that Pato O’Ward had been released from his contract due to lack of funding. O’Ward is a massive talent who will land in a good spot in the future, but the media — and social media — had a bit of a field day with the news.
It’s really unfortunate when the business side of the sport gets aired out for everyone to see like that. At the end of the day, the money just wasn’t there. I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, so I’m not going to speculate the way many others have. I’m sure no one wanted the situation to come to this, especially with the season opener at St. Pete just three weeks away, but like everyone else, I hope O’Ward finds something solid, if not for St. Pete maybe for something a little later on down the road.
Things got a little better for HSR on Tuesday it was announced they had formed a technical alliance with Andretti Autosport. According to this article from Motorsport.com, HSR “will be staffed by veteran race engineers with Andretti Autosport experience, receive technical and development support, and have access to the same damper program used by Andretti Autosport entries.”
This move alone will have an immediate impact on the team, which because of it should be improved this year. I think it will pay big dividends at Indianapolis, and with both teams now running Honda power (HSR was a Chevy team last year) everyone should be on the same page.
Maybe it has already been paying dividends this week. Driving an all-black car, Herta paced three of the four practice sessions and closed out the test finishing just behind Alexander Rossi in the final run. Overall, his fast lap over the 19-turn, 3.41-mile course of 1 minute, 46.6258 seconds was about a quarter-second faster than Rossi and almost four-tenths faster than Will Power’s best lap, who posted the second and third-best times of the test.
It’s hard to make a ton out of the results, as you never know what teams are showing what, but for Herta to show that kind of pace bodes well for the team.
3) Things Still Look Wide Open
When you look at the Top 10 of the combined results, which you can view here, signs point to another competitive season.
A total of seven different teams were represented in the Top 10, and while Penske Racing, Andretti Autosport and Ganassi Racing took up six of the 10, as expected, the rest of the spots were taken by HSR (Herta), Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Graham Rahal, 7th), Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (James Hinchcliffe, 9th) and Dale Coyne Racing (Santino Ferrucci, 10th).
The Top 10 were covered by just about nine-tenths of a second, and Jack Harvey in the 15th position was 1.2 seconds back of Herta. Again, expect those times to tighten up and get closer both at St. Pete and the return trip to COTA next month.
4) Felix Rosenqvist Might Be Robert Wickens 2.0
First of all, continued prayers and good mojo go up to Wickens as he continues recovering from his injuries.
But remember when Wickens showed up last year? We knew a little about him thanks to his test with (then) Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at Road America in the summer of 2017, and he arrived at the start of the 2018 season as a 29-year old rookie with a ton of diverse racing experience.
All of the sudden, Wickens was fast out of the box. He had a chance to win at St. Pete, posted three podiums in the first five races and then won the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year (and later the series ROY) after finishing ninth.
Enter Felix Rosenqvist. The 27-year-old from Sweden showed what he had on the Road to Indy when he won three times in 10 Indy Lights races with Belardi in 2016. Like Wickens, he has driven in a lot of series around the world — most recently Formula E — and has been a success pretty much everywhere he’s gone.
This week, driving the No. 10 for Ganassi Racing, he was sixth overall (two spots ahead of his teammate, defending champion Scott Dixon), leading many to speculate that podiums, and even wins, may come sooner than were even expected.
Between Herta, Rosenqvist, Ferrucci, Marcus Ericsson, who are all in full-time rides this year, and guys like O’Ward, RC Enerson and Kyle Kaiser, who should see some limited action in 2019, this year’s rookie class is one of the best we’ve seen in quite some time.
Want to hear more about the COTA test? Check out this week’s episode of Pit Lane Parley, where Host Mike Joachim, Matt and Jess talk about the events in Austin and more. You can find the show here on iTunes, or go to your favorite streaming platform and find it there.
Just three more weeks to go! Can you believe it?