By Aaron Bearden, Open Wheel Editor
The bumpy, narrow Raceway at Belle Isle Park is challenging for even the best in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
It’s no surprise, then, that series newcomer Santino Ferrucci was challenged in his IndyCar debut.
Ferrucci took advantage of an off-weekend for Formula 2 and Formula One – where he is a reserve driver for Haas F1 Team – to make the voyage to Detroit and compete at the 2.35-mile Belle Isle Park for Dale Coyne Racing. The 20-year-old hopped in the team’s No. 19 Honda for both races of the weekend doubleheader, replacing the injured Pietro Fittipaldi.
Race 1 was a challenge for the rookie. Ferrucci’s 18th-place qualifying run mired him back in the pack, and passing proved difficult on the 14-turn course. But he persisted, rising slowly through the field through the early section of the race.
A top 10 appeared to be at play when a Lap 56 crash took the Connecticut native out of the race in 22nd.
His No. 19 Honda was sent into the Turn 7 tire barrier after a nudge from Carlin Racing’s Charlie Kimball. The shunt eliminated Ferrucci from the event, and while he protested the call, Kimball’s day was also undone by an avoidable contact penalty from the stewards after the crash.
“We had a fantastic balance coming out of qualifying,” he said. “All the engineers did a fantastic job sorting the car out for me during the race. Once I figured out how to fuel save better, we picked up massive time and we were doing a really good job.
“We were in great shape to get a potential top 10 finish for my first outing in the Verizon IndyCar Series, so it’s disappointing to get run over like that, but that’s racing and we’ll come back stronger tomorrow.”
Come back stronger Ferrucci did – at least early on. The prospect made a five-position improvement in qualifying for Race 2, slotting in 13th despite the difficult wet conditions that the field faced during time trials.
A bit of early controversy came Ferrucci’s way on the opening lap, when he made contact with Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot. The Mazda Road to Indy graduate’s No. 21 Chevrolet spun around, stalling out and forcing the race’s only full-course yellow.
Pigot was critical of Ferrucci’s racecraft after the race.
“First, we banged wheels, then he just kind of punted me in Turn 5,” he said/ It is very disappointing to end the race this way. The Fuzzy’s Vodka was strong yesterday and we were hoping to move forward in today’s race.
“It’s unfortunate when drivers come into the series and do silly things like that because they don’t respect that all of us are out here racing every weekend for the championship.”
Controversy aside, Ferrucci appeared poised to contend for a decent result as Race 2 continued on. But those plans went awry after the first round of pit stops, when he spun his No. 19 Honda around at the pit exit. The crash forced the young star back to pit road, costing him a lap and resulting in a 20th-place result.
“I’m just upset, being a rookie, that I made a rookie mistake coming out of the pits and spinning the car,” Ferrucci said. “Despite that, we showed incredible pace throughout the race. These guys really deserve a good finish.”
His IndyCar foray over, Ferrucci will return to the F2 paddock for the remainder of the season.
But while nothing is guaranteed, the American voiced hope for an IndyCar return down the road, saying “I’m very happy that I was able to come out and participate this weekend in Detroit, and I hope to be back.”