DETROIT – A day after his 20th birthday, American rookie Santino Ferrucci made his first official run in an Indy car during Friday practice for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.
The native of Woodbury, Connecticut, a reserve driver for the Haas F1 Team, was named on May 18 to compete in this weekend’s doubleheader after Dale Coyne Racing was forced to shuffle its driver schedule for the No. 19 Paysafe Honda when Pietro Fittipaldi was injured in a sports car crash.
In his first session behind the wheel, Ferrucci ranked sixth quick among the 23 drivers. He wound up 18th – and second best among rookies – in the faster second practice with a lap of 1 minute, 17.5554 seconds (109.083 mph).
“I'm happy to be here and I'm so happy Dale had me come out for this race,” Ferrucci said between practices. “This track is really bumpy, and it a little bit caught me off guard. But no, the car is fantastic. Honestly, I really like this track just for my first take. It's really fun, really fast. Just getting the hang of it. I'm very much enjoying my time here, enjoying the track and driving the car.”
Ferrucci began karting at age 5 and moved to Europe to compete in British Formula 3 in 2014. He advanced to the FIA GP3 Series in 2016, when he also became a test driver for Haas F1. Last year, he continued as a Haas F1 development driver while also racing in GP3 and Formula 2.
He said the Dallara IR-12 with the new universal aero kit and 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engine, compares to the previous generation car he drove in Formula 2.
“The car is actually really different compared to what I'm used to driving, with this year being in Formula 2 because we got a new car as well – similar to INDYCAR,” Ferrucci said. “But this Indy car is very similar to something that I drove last year, the old GP2 car with the V-8 engine. “So it's just got that really nice, powerful, nimble feeling for me.”
Ferrucci has found important help in teammate Sebastien Bourdais. The youngster listens intently when the four-time Indy car champion talks.
“To work with Sebastien has been a blast. He's incredibly helpful,” Ferrucci said. “He's been in INDYCAR for probably about, I don't know, I want to say 16 seasons or something crazy. He's won the championship numerous amounts of times. So to have him kind of almost in my corner helping me, guiding me throughout the weekend, it's amazing.”
Also providing Ferrucci advice to take the opportunity to drive this weekend was Guenther Steiner, Haas F1’s team principal.
“He said he thought it was a great opportunity and he thought I should take it and get some experience,” Ferrucci said. “He said seat time is very, very limited out in Europe, so to come here and have a little bit more of a vast, I want to say, driving skill and to show a little bit more of my potential back here as well.”
Ferrucci had difficulty comparing the bumpy Belle Isle circuit to any street courses he’s driven elsewhere.
“I've only driven on concrete one other time out in Sebring, and I really enjoyed that track as well,” he said, “but this is something almost completely new for me.”
It’s why he was particularly pleased to finish sixth in the opening practice.
"To end up P6 in the first session was very nice,” Ferrucci said. “We're obviously still working on the car. We struggled a bit more with the understeer in the second practice session, but I'm confident we'll get it sorted out. The track is ridiculously bumpy and very fast. It's a little 'icy,' too, so it's a little bit like a skating rink for race cars.”
Ferrucci and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers will qualify for the first weekend race at 10:55 a.m. ET Saturday (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). The 70-lap race airs at 3:30 pm on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Race 2 airs at the same time Sunday on the same outlets.