The IndyCar teams rolled into Austin for two days of testing in advance of their first race at Circuit of the Americas on March 24th. This was the first time on the track for all but a handful of the IndyCar drivers. The track proved challenging for the teams, with the combination of long fast straights combined with slower technical sections. The drivers had great things to say about the track. Fans had a chance to mingle with the teams and drivers up close.
Second generation driver, Colton Herta finished the first day on top, followed by veterans Will Power, Helio Castroneves, fellow rookie Felix Rosenquist, Scott Dixon, Simon Paganaud, Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal, Santino Ferrucci, and Spencer Pigot. Colton remained on top through the two second-day practices on Wednesday, until the final five minutes, when Alexander Rossi tipped him for fast lap. The sessions at COTA were spent experimenting with setups—springs, shocks, ride heights, and so forth, rather than all-out qualifying setups, so the lap times next month are expected to be faster. The combined session results showed Colton Herta on top with a 1:46.64, Rossi next with a 1:46:853, Will Power at 1:47.104, Ryan Hunter-Reay at 1:47.176, and Simon Pagenaud at 1:47.212.
Colton Herta drives for the Harding Steinbrenner race team, which had move up to IndyCar from competing in the Indy Lights ladder series. Colton had battled with his teammate, Pato O’Ward, for the Indy Lights championship, with Mexican O’Ward taking the championship. Unfortunately the HSR team has struggled to find sponsorship for their two-car team, which led to Pato O’Ward leaving the team just prior to the COTA test. This leaves the promising rookie in a tough spot now to try and find a drive with another team at the last minute. HSR had run both drivers in the season-ending IndyCar race at Sonoma race last fall with Pato stunning the paddock with a 5th place qualifying position the first time he had ever driven an IndyCar. This is an unfortunate backward step for the promising new IndyCar team, formed by combining Harding Racing with Steinbrenner Racing with great fanfare late last season. George Steinbrenner IV, grandson of New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner III, might be compared to John Mecom Jr., who was roughly the same age when he started the Mecom Racing Team in the 1960’s. The Mecom Racing Team had great success with drivers like Roger Penske, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Jim Hall, A.J. Foyt and scored many race wins. Now, HSR, with help from Andretti Racing, shows great promise, but they will still need to find more money. The carbon fiber bodywork on the 88 Colton Herta car still lacks any sponsorship logos.
It was terrific to see the IndyCars at the challenging race track outside Austin and bodes well for the race next month. Be sure not to miss the start as the IndyCars climb the hill to Turn 1 at full speed after a rolling start!