Santino Ferrucci is already set with a full-time return in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for 2023 but maintains every bit of the “will drive anything” persona as he prepares to race at this year’s edition of the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
A Connecticut native, Ferrucci was tabbed last October to drive the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet for the 2023 season. However, the first thing on his calendar is getting behind the wheel of his No. 16 Dave Mac-Dalby Motorsports Toyota for prelims on Friday night (5 p.m. ET on FloRacing) at the Tulsa Expo Center.
This year marks Ferrucci’s fourth appearance in the signature midget classic, with 370 cars entered for the week-long festival of racing. Combine that with running the Tulsa Shootout last month, and there’s reason for him to feel more confident this time around.
“Having run the Shootout beforehand, having more laps and more experience and now having done everything a bit more, I'm just more comfortable with the car at this point,” said Ferrucci, 24. “That alone is massively helpful for me. So, we'll see what we can do. We also have great equipment. Cannon (McIntosh), our teammate, just proved that; he won his prelim night (Monday) night.”
The quarter-mile indoor dirt oval has proved tricky for Ferrucci. But he has made progress adapting to the new style of racing since debuting in the race in 2020. Specifically, he’s learned more about the unique setup configurations.
“The biggest thing for me is when I roll the bottom, I know that the car needs to be loose,” Ferrucci said. “So, that's a big proponent. I can't drive the race car tight. Funny enough, it correlates for me in INDYCAR there, but when they're doing adjustments, I try to pay attention a little bit as to what they're doing. I still don't know what I need to specifically adjust in the cars for myself, just because it's so backwards to what I'm used to doing.”
When it comes to the racing itself, it’s a “YAW thing,” noting commitment to the sliding maneuver of pitching the car sideways to the point when it can accelerate with traction. Finding that limit hasn’t been easy, though.
Last year, Ferrucci flipped following contact in Turn 3 during hot laps ahead of the preliminary night and was sidelined the remainder of the event with a concussion.
Considering there is an NTT INDYCAR SERIES season on the horizon, his first as a full-time driver since 2020, there is an altered approach this year.
“I'm also driving a little bit more conservatively because I don't want to injure myself,” said Ferrucci, who has four top-10 finishes in four starts in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, including a best of fourth in 2020. “Last year, I really didn't have anything for a while. This year, as much as I want to let it rip, I do have to pay a little bit of attention to things that are happening.”
Being fast is one element needed at the Chili Bowl. But understanding how to pass is the one focus in Ferrucci’s ever-growing race craft.
Ferrucci will look to reset the record of his best performance in the event, which came in 2021 when he placed 10th in the B Main on prelim night before going on to finish 10th in the G Main on Saturday.
As he looks ahead of Friday night’s prelim night, the goal is advancing all the way. There isn’t much thought, though, to the “alphabet soup” of running Saturday, which features a win-and-advance format all the way to the night’s 55-lap A Main to battle for the coveted Golden Driller trophy.
“I have no expectations for Saturday,” Ferrucci said. “I'd like to do my best on Friday to make A (Main). I know the car is good enough. I think it'll just be dependent on the heat and a little bit of luck here and there, but there's no reason as to why I don't think we can't do it.”