While Colton Herta was re-writing the history books with his maiden NTT IndyCar win, it was a case of missed opportunities for the championships’ other rookies.
Pato O’Ward marked his 2019 debut with an impressive top-10 finish as Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson and Santino Ferrucci endured a day of highs and lows.
A stand out performance for O’Ward
On any other day, O’Ward’s 8th place finish for Carlin Racing – in only his 2nd IndyCar start – would have made the headlines. However the young Mexican believes there was even more to come from his No. 31 Chevrolet had circumstances been different.
“I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today”, said the reigning IndyLights champion. “Even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”
O’Ward: we needed one more lap under yellow
O’Ward’s performance was one marked out by daring overtakes – including a thrilling battle with Graham Rahal – but his attempts to match the ultimate pace of the leaders came at a cost: “I was having to save a lot of fuel to make it to the end, so it was just impossible to keep Marco (Andretti) and Takuma (Sato) behind me coming full power.”
“We ran a clean race and we were right on pace, but after that yellow came out we needed one more lap under yellow to be able to push as hard as we wanted to”, concluded O’Ward who will race in a further 12 races including the Indianapolis 500 this year.
A day of frustration for Rosenqvist and Ganassi
On a frustrating day for Chip Ganassi Racing, Felix Rosenqvist recorded his first DNF of the season after a clash with James Hinchcliffe. Both Rosenqvist and his teammate Scott Dixon were unable to get a handle on their cars all day, despite the Swede making the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying for the inaugural IndyCar Classic at COTA.
“We just couldn’t get where we needed to in the race”, said Rosenqvist, echoing the sentiments of teammate Dixon who was at a loss to explain the team’s performance deficiency.
“I made a mistake and spun which didn’t help. Then Hinchcliffe and I got together and I got knocked out”, said the rookie of his race-ending clash with James Hinchcliffe.
Ericsson rues what might have been at COTA
For fellow rookie Marcus Ericsson it was a case of what might have been. The Arrow Schmidt Peterson driver struggled in qualifying but fought his way through the field to run as high as P5 prior to the one and only caution of the day. Trouble on pit road scuppered those chances however and left the former F1-driver to rue what might have been.
“I think a podium was in the cards with the pace that we had”, concluded Ericsson post-race. “It was very unfortunate on the last pit stop that we had traffic there on pit lane and had an issue there, which picked us up a penalty which was extremely frustrating.”
A pit safety infraction meant Ericsson’s SPM Honda was relegated to the back of the field for the final restart. From there he was unable to make much progress, eventually coming home in 15th place.
Ericsson: we had the pace to be in the top-5
“Of course it’s extremely frustrating that the second weekend in a row we have the pace and the Arrow car to be in the top five, or better, and we got away with almost nothing”, said Ericsson who admitted his poor qualifying performance was the root of the problem.
“Fifth where we were running would’ve been an amazing result considering where we started the race. I think we have a lot of things that we are very happy and proud of, but we need to sort out that.” Ericsson now languishes 19th in points, just one ahead of O’Ward.
Santino Ferrucci outshone veteran Dale Coyne teamate Sebastien Bourdais with some eye-catching overtakes. The American ran comfortably in the top-10 in the early part of the race.
“The first stint was really, really solid. The car was really good and we were able to hold our ground”, explained the 20-year-old. However the prospect of a strong finish and a tight midfield battle ultimately compromised Ferrucci’s strategy.
COTA curbs and tire management hurt Ferrucci
“In the second stint, on Firestone red tires, there was a lot of fighting and I killed the tires a little bit too soon”, he admitted.
Struggling with heavily worn tires, Ferrucci then fell victim to the combination of IndyCar’s ‘no track limits’ policy and COTA’s baguette curbs: ” We blew up both rear dampers and that was basically it for us.”
Ferrucci eventually finished 20th and last of the cars that finished the full race distance following rapid repairs by his crew to replace both dampers.