Practice and Qualifying
Practice and Qualifying showed that (a) the track is unpredictable and (b) the field is aggressive. We had multiple red flags throughout the sessions and once again a red flag ruined some flyers of drivers. As fast as a lot of the drivers were (and each practice session had a different driver on top of the chart) this part of the weekend belonged to Colton Herta and the Harding Steinbrenner Racing team. During Practice Session 1 – the engine on that car blew. That crew got that together in a handful of hours. Colton was back out on the track during the “warm-up” practice on Friday. Colton continued to show real promise both in the final practice session and Qualifying. He is going to roll out 4th for the race.
Track limits are apparently a misnomer on this track. We had cars off everywhere and sometimes just blatantly driving on the other side of the curb. Practice and qualifying cued up that the race is going to be…a madhouse.
Of course, I cannot fail to mention that Will Power has decided that 2019 is the year he collects all of the poles. He nabbed his 56th pole and the Fast 6 was a dramatic event! With both sessions in Round 1 falling prey to red flags, the guys in the Fast 6 were playing chicken with themselves and fate. Some went right out and put out fliers and some waited. Alexander Rossi and his strategist are playing tire game again. Rossi did exactly two laps during the Fast 6. He at one point hopped right up to the top but Will Power did Will Power things and again held pole.
We had track limits abused by eeeeveryone. Everyone. Most notably Zach Veach decided to get a new nickname AT-Veach (as in ATV) when that first lap he missed the turn and went off-roading in an INDYCAR. It was a lot of fun to watch the nosecone of that car just humming along on the grass until he found the track again. Santino Ferrucci got mixed up and got airborne. Everyone was just deciding that the end of the track was a guideline and to go where they want. Honestly, I don’t fully agree with that call by the officials. The track limits are there for reasons (I’m not really sure what the reasons are at COTA but I’m sure they have a reason). As someone indicated either on a group text or social media: we know what happens when you let INDYCAR drivers ignore track limits. They take that to heart.
It was a race where drivers were fighting and passing throughout the field. I’m not sure what happened to the CGR cars (I mean except when Rosenqvist got his nose taken off by Hinch properly defending his line). Dixon just didn’t have a good race. They did get whatever it was fixed and Dixon was making his way up the field at the end of the race. Patricio O’Ward also decided to make moves. As we watched with a group of fans, everyone started cheering when he made passes. This is going to be a fun rookie to watch, he lost the ride with Harding Steinbrenner Racing, and he’s out to prove he deserves a full-time ride next year.
Oh Will! There is something about his car when there is not a morning practice. He led forty-five laps, and after a yellow (when Hinch and Rosenqvist got together) dipped into the pits. And then a sensor failed and his car died. It died. Will took to complaining about the closed pits on a yellow…but I fail to see how that caused a mechanical gremlin. He can complain about the closed pits sure, but that is not what killed the race for him. His car died. That killed it. He was out of the race after that. Yellows are part of races. They can make or break a driver’s race. The three leaders needed to pit when the yellow came and got caught. It happens.
Speaking of pits – they were handing out penalty for pit issues like it was a going out business sale. There were eight sanctions for pit safety infractions. Seven got post-race fines, and the Number 7 (Ericsson) received a restart at the back of the field. That penalty was deserved. There was miscommunication at some point. His team got him out of his pit directly in the line of Spencer Pigot who was coming in. Luckily the two did not get tangled up.
At the end of the day – the weekend belongs to young Colton Herta. The rookie took the race. He made a climb through the field, battling with the more senior drivers. The back and forth between him and Rossi was beautiful to watch. Admittedly I enjoy watching Rossi line up to make passes. You hear the Jaws theme in your head. The yellow and the leaders pitting found Colton suddenly leading laps. It was the restart where we all watched holding our breath (because at the end of the day don’t we all want a rookie to win). He took that restart and held off Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Not only hold them off but gave himself breathing room. With some strategy, a yellow flag, and a beautiful restart Colton led the final fifteen laps and celebrated in victory circle. He now holds the record as youngest INDYCAR driver to win a race. In a few short weeks – maybe he’ll break the record of youngest Indianapolis 500 winner.