Like nearly every driver who tests an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car for the first time, Tatiana Calderón noticed the difference in steering right away.
Yes, she felt the extra weight in the wheel due to the lack of power steering. But there was something else that made an even bigger impression on Colombian driver Calderón during her first test, with AJ Foyt Racing on July 6 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“I’ve been running power steering for the last two years,” Calderón said. “But also like the steering wheel, you have a few buttons, but nothing like compared to Formula E or Formula One. That was really nice – the throttle, the brakes, the steering, go flat out and push every lap. It was really enjoyable to go out there and just push.”
Calderón, 28, tested with the Foyt team through mutual sponsorship from ROKiT, which backs the No. 14 Chevrolet driven by Sebastien Bourdais. Calderón also has been sponsored by ROKiT as she has driven a wide range of high-powered single-seaters all over the world, including FIA Formula 2, Super Formula in Japan and in Formula One, in her capacity as Alfa Romeo Racing test and development driver. She also races in the World Endurance Championship sports car series.
Testing an INDYCAR SERIES car in America completed a bit of a career circle for Calderón, who began her single-seater auto racing career in 2010 and 2011 in Indy Pro 2000, the middle rung of the Road to Indy ladder series.
Still, Calderón never had turned a lap on the undulating, 13-turn, 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio circuit. So, she relied heavily on coaching from INDYCAR SERIES veteran JR Hildebrand, who spent the day with her at the track, studying her line from various spots on the track and poring over data with her in the pits.
“It was quite important,” Calderón said of Hildebrand’s tutelage. “I come from driving totally different cars with totally different tires. This track, he’s been here for so many years. He has been in the championship recently.
“So, it helped a lot to have someone to share with what I’m feeling and how to relate. It was really nice to work with him.
That cerebral approach – always a hallmark of Hildebrand – helped Calderón learn the track and some of the unique characteristics of the car quickly. She ended up turning 87 laps, usually in stints of around 10 laps before she would return to the pits to interpret data and review setup changes with the team.
Calderón said the team trusted her feedback on changes it lacked time to make to the car during The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the HPD Ridgeline race weekend July 2-4.
“It went pretty well,” Calderón said. “I’m actually quite happy with the way the approach was from the team and myself, taking it step by step. At the end of the day, my last lap was my best lap. That shows the progression.
“Of course, there was no one there to compare, but we had some good comparisons from the weekend before, and the lap times were quite competitive. So, I’m really happy.”
Like anyone who tests an INDYCAR SERIES car for the first time, Calderón knew all about the brutish, physical nature of the machines. No power steering. Aggressive engine mapping featuring between 550 and 700 horsepower.
But the braking capabilities of the car, mated with their Firestone tires, surprised Calderón. She said her biggest adjustment and most work with Hildebrand and Foyt team engineers came when learning where to brake for corners.
“The brakes of these cars, they seem like comparable with Formula One cars,” she said. “It has more braking power than the Super Formula that I’ve been running.
“Really brake much, much deeper into the corners. That was the biggest thing we did during the day, was finding the limit under braking. The braking is really, really good. Even F2, I think, this car is better everywhere than F2. I think it’s unique.”
Calderón also knew many eyes would be on her at this test since she’s one of the female drivers competing in global open-wheel racing. There was risk, especially if she didn’t mesh with the car.
But the reward was well worth the risk.
“Before the test, you think: ‘Will I do well? Will this suit me?’" Calderón said. “I think I did really well, and I hope it’s a chance. You have to take those chances. I took this chance, and I hope in the future it gives me a chance to join (the NTT INDYCAR SERIES).
“Even before the test, who wouldn’t want to do INDYCAR? It’s something I’ve always followed because I started my career here in the U.S. in single-seaters. It’s always been a dream to drive one of these cars.”