Carlos Huertas

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Carlos Huertas is thankful for time in 2015. Track time, that is.

Essentially, the Colombia native made a round of introductions last March at St. Petersburg, Fla., and then quickly got down to business in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

So here is Huertas nearly a year later at Barber Motorsports Park – a road course he competed on – with the same team and the same car (albeit altered by the aerodynamic bodywork kits being introduced) for a two-day Promoter Test.

Huertas, 23, appears more settled and comfortable, too, as he prepares for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29..

“Last year was tough because some events I had never been to the place before and sometimes it was a two-day event of practice and then qualifying so it’s impossible to do miracles, especially on the ovals,” he said. “I think I drove really well. I finished a lot of races, I was consistent and for a first year without any testing before the first race I think it was pretty good.”

Huertas held his own throughout the season, and even won the first race of a doubleheader at Houston. Overall, he advanced a cumulative 37 positions relative to his qualifying in the 18 starts (finishing better than/tying his qualifying spot 12 times).

“I won a race in my rookie year and not a lot of other people have done that so that was pretty good, but I think I had some other good performances that I didn’t get the result because of some things that happened – like a penalty at Long Beach and a messed up pit stop at the Indy road course,” he said.

Added team owner Dale Coyne: “Carlos surprised everyone last year with his performance. The effort the team has made over the winter, as shown by our Sebring test with Carlos, gives us confidence for the upcoming season."

The supporting cast of chief engineer Robert Ridgely, race strategist Darren Crouser and chief mechanic Greg Senerius returns, which also will benefit the second-year driver.

“We did a test a few weeks ago at Sebring where we tried out a lot of stuff that was productive and I really enjoyed my time in the car,” he said. “Coming to this test (at Barber) I know this place, how the series works and how the team works so that is a positive.”

Huertas will receive additional track time at NOLA Motorsports Park during the week leading up to the March 27-29 race weekend at St. Petersburg to tune the base set-up and continue to explore the multiple optional aero components.

“Even if the cars were the same as last year you would still be learning and improving all the time,” Huertas said. “The formula this year is new for me and the rest so that’s a big challenge and you have to work a lot closer with the team. Sometimes you have to try different things to get the best out of the package and that is what this test is for.”