It was his first oval-track race, but Santino Ferrucci looked like anything but a newcomer to turning only left for 500 miles.
The 20-year-old rookie from Connecticut started 23rd, charged into the top 10 early, avoided a five-car pileup by driving through the grass in fourth gear, and came home a sterling seventh in Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500.
“Racing with other drivers [here] was a lot more fun than I ever hoped it would be,” said Ferrucci, whose Dale Coyne team was all smiles after the kid’s debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I got to battle it out almost the entire race with (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, who is a champion here; and I can’t thank him enough because the experience that you get racing someone like that — and the enjoyment and excitement of racing around other competitors like him — it was just a blast.
“I almost stuffed it trying to pass Ed Carpenter for sixth,” Ferrucci went on, “but I had a good race car and confidence in it. It was such a cool experience.”
The one-time Formula 1 test driver showed his savvy and bravado on Lap 178 when Graham Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, Zach Veach, Charlie Kimball and Felix Rosenvqvist all piled to a stop in front of him as he stormed into Turn 3.
“My spotter said, ‘Don’t go high!’ and I was in the middle of the track and saw all that smoke, so I just shoved it into fourth gear and $$$@# floored it,” he explained with a big grin. “It looked like my best option, and it turned out OK.
‘So I mowed the grass and finished seventh — a pretty good day.”
Pancho Carter, one of USAC’s biggest talents ever during his driving days and a 17-time starter at Indianapolis who spots for Ferrucci on the ovals, isn’t easily impressed, but gave his driver high marks.
“He did a good job,” said the 1974 Rookie of the Year. “He’s a sensible kid; he listens, asks questions and doesn’t argue. I told him to listen to me and do what I tell him, and he did. That’s a plus in this sport, and he did a good job.”
Ferrucci said his butt got tired but he felt great otherwise.
“I wasn’t tired or dehydrated, and I was actually hoping there was another pit stop and we could keep going. Heck, I wish there was another 500 tomorrow. The race is surprisingly longer than it looks, but it was a blast.
“Racing in front of 300,000, having a solid team behind me, mowing the lawn and finishing in the Top 10 — it’s the experience of a lifetime, one that can’t be beat, especially at 20 years old.”