The opening day of Content Day for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES kicked off Tuesday at the Palm Springs Convention Center in breezy and sunny California, with a variety of topics that spanned from optimism for the upcoming season to learning which driver was part of a graduating class of less than 100 people.
During Content Days, drivers pose for photographs and videos for INDYCAR and sponsors, perform promotional duties for tracks and sponsors, and are interviewed by NBC, the INDYCAR Radio Network and other media as the buildup toward the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding on Sunday, March 5 shifts into top gear.
Drivers and teams will head down the road from the Palm Springs Convention Center to the nearby The Thermal Club on Thursday and Friday for the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES open test of the 2023 season.
Notable quotes and odds and ends from Day 1 of Content Day:
Winning with Jet Lag
The signature mark of travel hit Arrow McLaren Racing driver Felix Rosenqvist, who started the day’s festivities after jet lag assisted him with an early 3 a.m. start, which means he’s already winning.
“P1 is P1, right?” Rosenqvist said. “I'll take it.”
Rosenqvist Meets Larson
Rosenqvist, driver of the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Racing Chevrolet, also shared that he recently met with 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, who will drive for the team in the 2024 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
Following a meet-up at the simulator, Larson jumped in the car at the race shop and started to get a greater understanding of next year’s undertaking. Rosenqvist noted the two began talking about “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” with Larson sounding “very interested, especially in the road courses, actually,” Rosenqvist said.
“I tried to convince him to maybe try to do a road course, as well,” Rosenqvist said. “That would be fun. He's a great talent. Actually, I've heard a lot of people already betting for him to win the race. That's kind of the expectation that he has (smiling). I think people truly believe he can do that.
“Again, it's an opportunity to learn from someone that comes from a completely different environment. Already the little chat I had with him, 30 minutes, I felt like I learned something. No, it will be great to have him around.”
Rossi Getting Familiar with New Surroundings
Speaking of Arrow McLaren Racing, Alexander Rossi is still adapting in the transition from Andretti Autosport, where he spent the first seven seasons of his INDYCAR SERIES career before moving teams after the 2022 season.
2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Rossi is using name tags to get to know his new employer.
“Yes,” Rossi said when asked about name tags. “But I think, honestly, everyone is. I think there were like close to 40 hires over the organization the past couple months. It's been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who's who, finding everyone's strengths and weaknesses.”
Rossi Approves of First Thermal Test
When it comes to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES heading to The Thermal Club for the first time with an open test Thursday and Friday, Rossi sees a lot of positives beyond a track to visit in the winter months with a picturesque backdrop and beautiful weather.
The Thermal Club is a private, exclusive motorsports and automotive enthusiasts’ facility near Palm Springs.
“I think on top of that, not only do we have a beautiful place to come with seemingly good weather, but you're introducing INDYCAR to obviously a demographic that has an interest in racing, with some decent capital behind them,” Rossi said. “They may not know of INDYCAR. They may have known of INDYCAR but never seen it in person.
“What we're doing is we're able to bring and showcase what we believe is the best series in the world in front of people who are passionate about motorsports, participate in motorsports themselves, and maybe haven't seen it before.”
Rossi: Andretti in Good Hands with Herta
As far as Andretti Autosport, where Rossi was the longest-tenured Andretti driver among the team’s 2022 lineup before leaving at the end of the season, he believes the team is in good hands with Colton Herta taking on the leadership role.
“Colton, he's excellent in really everything he does other than dressing (smiling),” Rossi said. “He's going to do just fine. He's one of my closest friends in life, actually. I look forward to competing against him on track. It will be weird to kind of race him certainly a little differently than I have the past couple of years.
“At this point, he's pretty experienced, and obviously his performance and capabilities speak for themselves. I think he'll be just fine.”
O’Ward Rested, Ready
A planned extended offseason with six weeks of vacation was exactly what Pato O’Ward needed for “healing.”
The Mexican driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet opted to do less with his time off, which was vastly different to previous years such as 2021 when he went directly from the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season into getting behind the wheel of a Formula One car followed by hopping in a car for the Rolex 24 At Daytona a couple of weeks later.
Ericsson Rues Lost Chance at ‘Double’
Marcus Ericsson won the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge last May, but he didn’t mince words about how he felt about also not winning the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season championship for Chip Ganassi Racing.
“I had a chance going into the final, but I also was leading the championship for a long time last year,” Ericsson said. “I'm still a bit pissed off about the ending of last year because I felt we were having a really strong year, then the last three races or so we just fell off a little bit. That was disappointing.
“But it's given me a lot of motivation to work hard in the offseason to try and be better this year. It's definitely our goal to try and get that championship this year.”
Palou Back to Normal at Ganassi
Things appear to be back to normal with Alex Palou at Chip Ganassi Racing after a 2022 season marked by a midseason contract squabble with Arrow McLaren Racing that wasn’t resolved until immediately after the season ended.
According 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Palou, the relationship is “back to 100 percent like it was before from both sides.” He said he spent several days in the team’s Indianapolis race shop before going to Europe for Christmas.
Armstrong Soaks In Ganassi Shop Stories
Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who will drive the team’s No. 11 Honda for the road and street courses this season, has embraced story time with the engineers and employees around the shop.
“Oh, it's awesome,” New Zealand driver Armstrong said. “It's funny when I talk to people around the factory, they talk about when they arrived at Chip Ganassi Racing. I was like, ‘I wasn't born yet, but cool (smiling).’
“A lot of people have been there forever. So much experience, so much knowledge, which is exciting. I'm a fan of the sport as well as a driver, so I like to learn everyone's stories. Also my teammates, haven't really spent much time with them, but just understand where they came from, how they sort of grew as drivers. It's really interesting to me.
“The engineers, as well. They all have a lot of history. Certainly, my engineer (Eric Cowdin) has been there, done that. I draw inspiration from that.”
While Armstrong is making solid connections with his new team, he said the transition to living in Indianapolis has been unique because Americans can’t quite figure out his thick Kiwi accent.
“People speak to me like I'm French or something, speak to me in pidgin English,” Armstrong said. “That's been an interesting experience.”
Thermal Inspires Future Idea for Pagenaud
Fresh off his win in the Rolex 24 At Daytona last weekend, which also included Meyer Shank Racing teammate Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud has been in awe of The Thermal Club.
In fact, the Frenchman confessed he’s interested in creating something similar… someday.
“I love the concept,” Pagenaud said. “Actually, before my INDYCAR career, I was on a project like that myself in France. I was going to build something similar. I had the backing, I had everything going on, but my career took off. I had to give up on the project. But it is something I've always been interested in.
“My dad used to run my home racetrack. I had access to it, so I could see how that was going. I always had a passion for it because it's a way to allow the fans to get closer to the car, allow the sport to be more known to the general public. There's so many things that you can do with a racetrack, not only for races, but so many people that can come to bicycle races, you can have runners do a marathon.
“You can bring actually a lot of people to a racetrack. It doesn't have to be just racing. It can be events. I'm into that. I've always been. Certainly, when it's time to stop driving, it will be something that I'm interested in, yes. That's maybe 20 years from now.”
Ferrucci Shows Off New Lid
AJ Foyt Racing driver Santino Ferrucci brought his helmet to the media availability for a show and tell.
The lid, which was a surprise crafted by Troy Lee Designs, was 1990s-themed, with half of it sporting elements of the TV show “Saved By the Bell” that was crafted by inspiration from clip-art images from Ferrucci. The other side of the helmet was designed similarly to his first-ever helmet.
DeFrancesco Focused on Qualifying
Devlin DeFrancesco has shaken off the rookie stripes after his first season with Andretti Autosport and comes into Year 2 recharged and focused on being more toward the front of the grid.
The Canadian made it no secret the focus improving on qualifying, which he noted as an “Achilles heel,” so race days will be easier to manage.
Robb Remembers Small Town Roots
After competing the previous two seasons in INDY NXT by Firestone, Sting Ray Robb is ready to step up to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this year as rookie driver of the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda.
It has been a unique journey for Robb, who was part of a graduating class of less than 100 people at his local high school in Payette, Idaho.
“My graduating class was less than 100 people, so there's not a lot of expectation of where your career is going to take you in that sense,” Robb said. “Harmon Killebrew was a (Hall of Fame) baseball player, and he's been the town hero because he's the celebrity that the town knows. Recently I've gotten on Wikipedia and it says, notable alumni from Payette High School, Sting Ray Robb and Harmon Killebrew.”
Malukas Dusts Off Cobwebs
Dale Coyne Racing with HMD driver David Malukas said his offseason was so long that he joked he may have forgotten how to drive.
“I haven't touched anything – I've only been able to hug my car at the shop, but that's it,” Malukas said. “I did a seat fit, and everything felt so fresh and new.
“I'm really excited for Thermal to come because I've been overthinking, I've been having nightmares I don't know how to drive anymore, like really funny nightmares where we go out and I don't know how to turn left or right, and it's pretty funny dreams.
“I think once I get in the seat, I think everything will come back, but I cannot wait to go back to racing. When the season ended, I was like, ‘That was so much, so quick, and I was like, ‘Finally, I can get a break,’ and one week later I was already like, ‘I want to get back into a car.’”
Rossi, DeFrancesco and NBC Sports analyst James Hinchcliffe were spotted racing small pedal cars in the hall of the Palm Springs Convention Center, with Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles among the amused onlookers.
After numerous hijinks, DeFrancesco got to the finish line first. But he also got out and pushed his car across the line, much like the famous push of a crippled car to the checkered by Ralph De Palma in the 1912 Indianapolis 500.
Palou exited a nearby conference room as that race ended and couldn’t resist joining the fun, racing fellow NTT INDYCAR SERIES rival Hinchcliffe in a head’s-up scrap.