From a rookie who opened a lot of eyes, to taking over one of the main seats in the NTT IndyCar series – that’s Santino Ferrucci’s whirlwind story of the past 12 months.
The 21-year-old American is replacing Sebastien Bourdais in Dale Coyne’s No.18 car (co-owned by Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan) after Coyne cut the four-time IndyCar champion loose with one year remaining on his contract. It was a shocking decision apparently based on finances, and it changed the landscape of one of IndyCar’s longest-standing operations.
“I thought maybe down the road I could take over the No.18 car when Seb retired, but I didn’t expect it this year,” said Ferrucci, who will team with rookie Alex Palou in 2020. “Seb was super-helpful to me, and I liked his straightforward feedback and being his teammate. But now it’s up to me to lead the team, and I’m excited about that.”
A virtual unknown on this side of the Atlantic going into St. Pete a year ago, the native of Connecticut ran fourth at Texas, Pocono and Gateway, where he led 97 laps, and was seventh at the Indianapolis 500. He never put a wheel wrong until the season finale, and made some memorable passes on ovals.
“I felt like I was going back to an old-school formula car with momentum, and downforce-driven, and I was comfortable pretty quick,” he continued. “I think I’m pretty good with data from what I learned in Europe, and I like being involved with the engineers. I think I’m like Seb in that regard, just 20 years behind him.”
Ferrucci was approached by a couple other teams in the off-season but felt like he’d found a home at DCR.
“I like Dale; my crew,” he said. “Todd Phillips (chief) is the best, and the engineering team, and it was a great experience. It’s a good team, and now I know all the tracks – except Richmond – so that’s one less thing I have to learn this year.”
Coyne lost the engineering prowess of Mike Cannon (Ganassi) and Craig Hampson (Arrow McLaren SP), but veteran Olivier Boisson is still on board and will be Ferrucci’s race engineer.
“Olivier and Mike worked hand-in-hand last year, and he’s very accurate and understands what I like in setup,” said Ferrucci. “He’s really good with shocks and on strategy too, so I guess I just need to get better at understanding French.”
His oval-track debut at Indy was nothing short of sensational when he charged from 23rd to seventh, dodged a major crash and walked away with Rookie of the Year honors. “I’m looking forward to going back to Indy, because I wasn’t close to maximizing my potential or the car’s potential,” he said.
Ferrucci also just completed his initial try at the Chili Bowl, and wants to run the BC39 at IMS this July.
“Racing on the dirt was a blast, and those midgets are such cool cars to drive and I’m really glad I did it,” he said. “There were a lot of IndyCar fans in Tulsa, and it was a great experience. I just moved to Florida and I’ve got a good ride in IndyCar and life is good. I can’t wait for St. Pete.”