A LOT of Red (Circuit of the Americas)

This year, the best open-wheel series in the world (fight me!) takes on a Formula 1 track. The INDYCAR Classic set for March 24 fills the gap in the schedule between the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (you can read my write up on that race HERE) and the rest of the schedule.
The Circuit of the Americas is a classic permanent road course. It is a twenty-turn 3.4-mile track that sort of resembles a knife or maybe a shark. It will be a beautiful race to watch, the cars flow through a series of turns ending in a blind turn. There is an overall elevation change of one-hundred and thirty-three feet. The course is similar to a roller-coaster actually (and Mike Hull’s tweet with elevation is a beautiful illustration) with the cars climbing up to Turn 1 and then screaming back down. Entertaining twists and turns and additional elevation changes will challenge drivers until they hit Turn 20 and start it all over again.
Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 10.08.06 AM
The track sits just outside of Austin Texas. If you’ll forgive a bureaucratic moment, the track enjoys having the sanctioning fees paid because of the Major Events Trust Fund of Austin. This partnership has Austin as a sponsor in attempts to attract major sporting events to Texas. A lot of cities and states to this, in fact, Indiana has many similar tools at their disposal. There was some recent uproar because the tracks 2018 payment was declined by the State as they didn’t have the track’s human trafficking prevention plan on file. Track says it is on file, and quite honestly this whole thing is going to go away because the state will cave.
The track’s primary open-wheel race has been the United States Grand Prix (which prior to Austin was held in Indianapolis) since 2012. Lewis Hamilton has the record for most wins. Hamilton also holds the fastest race lap of 1:37.392.
Billows at COTA
Yep that’s INDYCAR Safety Director Dr. Billows deciding he’s going to jump the Juncos car at COTA.
In February, INDYCARs took their first true laps around the track holding four different sessions spread out over two days. Rookie Colton Herta held the top spot after all four tests sessions, with 2018 Runner-Up Alexander Rossi in second. It looked great on television, the circuit is brightly coloured and the elevation changes are really pronounced.

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.

harding pitcrew

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.

On my way to steal your pole

The Race

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.