Saturday, June 17, 2023

INDYCAR: Ferrucci’s breakout month continues at Road America

Ferrucci coming out of Turn 5 during second practice.
ALL PHOTOS: William Soquet, @WilliamSoquet

by William Soquet Staff Writer

On May 17th, Santino Ferrucci was third in Indianapolis 500 practice. On June 17th, he made the Fast Twelve at Road America, showcasing just how much of a breakout month it has been for the young driver from Connecticut.

While Ferrucci’s career was not on life support at the beginning of the 2023 season, he was not the hottest commodity in the IndyCar garage either. After an unamiable exit from Formula 2 midway through the 2018 season, Ferrucci landed at Dale Coyne Racing, piloting one of that team’s entries for both the '18 and '19 seasons. While the results were fine – a best finish of fourth, achieved four times – they weren’t the light the world on fire results that propelled Romain Grosjean from a DCR car to Andretti Autosport the following year.

Ferrucci then elected into dip his foot into stock car racing, going NASCAR XFINITY Series racing with Sam Hunt Racing for 2021. This occurred after rumors swirled that he would instead run with Our Motorsports. Running a string of four straight races in the spring, Ferrucci turned in three straight top-fifteen finishes. The success continued, as he signed with Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing to run an extra entry in the Indianapolis 500 and finished sixth. In a right place, right time moment, Ferrucci parlayed that into four extra races with the team as RLL looked to expand as a team in 2022.

Ultimately, Ferrucci lost that driver sweepstakes to Christian Lundgaard. Despite that, there were some positives in 2022. When Jack Harvey was injured in a practice crash at Texas, Ferrucci was the sub, reuniting with RLL. A ninth-place showing ensued, and a previously announced deal with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the Indianapolis 500 yielded a tenth-place finish, making Ferrucci two-for-two on the year. He solidified a reputation as a ‘super sub’ the next week, filling in for Callum Ilott at Detroit. Although a quiet 21st was the result, the name stuck in the minds of IndyCar team owners.

As the dust was settling from the 2022 season, Ferrucci was announced as the driver of A.J. Foyt Racing’s #14 entry for 2023 as his predecessor, Kyle Kirkwood, went to Andretti Autosport. That was complimented by Foyt inking former Chip Ganassi Racing engineer Michael Cannon just after the beginning of the year. It looked to be an uphill battle at first, as Kirkwood piloted the entry to a 24th-place finish in points in 2022. Ferrucci also had to become a veteran presence on the team as rookie Benjamin Pedersen was announced as teammate, replacing Dalton Kellett.

The early portions of the season went how many on the outside thought it would go. Both Foyt cars were caught up in the opening-lap melee at St. Petersburg, and a lackluster Texas race resulted in a 21st-place finish. Long Beach was the first glimmer of speed with an 11th-place finish, but the team struggled again at Barber and the Indianapolis road course.

It was not until Indianapolis 500 practice that Ferrucci really began to put the rest of the field on notice. After losing Tuesday’s practice due to rain, Wednesday was the debut day of practice and Ferrucci showed out, placing third on the overall speed charts. The speed stuck, as he put the #14 car in position to qualify for the Fast Twelve during Friday’s practice, and then did so on Saturday with a ninth-place effort in preliminaries.

The race was an even better affair, with the car growing stronger throughout the race. It culminated in a sequence with under 50 laps to go in which the driver said “shall we lead some [laps]?” to the team via radio and then proceeded to take control of the race. While a slow final pit stop brought him a handful of spots down in the running order, a few late-race cautions enabled Ferrucci to get back within striking distance of the lead. While he would ultimately settle for third on the one-lap shootout that ended the race, it was the best performance by a Foyt car at Indianapolis and showed that with the right driver, track, and engineer, driver and team could most definitely shine.

Ferrucci in Turn 13 after a spin in second practice.

The question then became whether A.J. Foyt Racing could continue that kind of form at a track not named Indianapolis. To the outside observer, the immediate answer seemed to be no. Ferrucci and teammate Pedersen were both three laps down by the end of the Detroit street race, finishing ahead of only one other running car. Even with that result, Ferrucci sat 16th in points after Detroit, eight positions ahead of where his car finished 2022 and ten positions ahead of Pedersen.

This Road America weekend started off on somewhat of a positive note, as Ferrucci slotted in 13th on the overall speed charts. Despite going for a spin and stalling the car in Turn 12 midway through the practice session, he ended sixth in overall speed, which boded well for qualifying.

Running in the first group, Ferrucci was sitting on a provisional second for much of the session before a torrent of drivers clocked fast laps at the end of the session. Despite that, he and Pedersen both made it through to the Fast Twelve. It was the first time since 2018 that Foyt put both cars in the Fast Twelve at a non-oval track. 

Ferrucci will roll off 11th in the race, looking to cap off what has arguably been the best 31 days of his career.

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