Tatiana Calderon says she couldn’t have asked for more from her first experience behind the wheel of an IndyCar after putting AJ Foyt Racing’s No.14 Chevrolet through its paces at Mid-Ohio on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old Colombian, who is spending this season dividing her time between Super Formula and Richard Mille Racing’s LMP2 in the WEC, was invited to sample the car normally raced by Sebastien Bourdais through mutual sponsor ROKiT. She completed 87 laps.
“I just wanted to build up to it,” Calderon told RACER. “That’s the way I’ve always treated new experiences. And I really wanted to know if I could drive an IndyCar quick, and adapt quickly. It was also the first time in two years that I have driven a car without power steering, and the Firestone tires were new. So I really just wanted to explore the limits, enjoy driving an IndyCar and see how far I could come. And I think it went really well, and I’m quite happy with my performance and how the day went.
“I improved until the last run. My last lap was almost the quickest. That was also the thing you have to show when you have an opportunity like this, is progression. There were no mistakes, no spins, nothing. And I was just getting more and more comfortable with finding the limits of the car. There was still a bit missing in the high-speed sections, but I think the team was quite happy with the progression.”
Although Calderon spent two years racing in Star Mazda a decade ago, this week’s test marked her first visit to Mid-Ohio’s tricky 2.4-mile layout.
“Everything was new,” she said. “Talking to some other people, they were like, ‘Oh my God, your first time is going to be at Mid-Ohio?’ (laughs). ‘It’s the most difficult place you could have chosen’. But I just wanted to take the opportunity as it came, and I’m really grateful to ROKiT and AJ Foyt Racing for making it happen. And I think now that I’ve done it, Mid-Ohio is now at the top of my favorite tracks in the U.S. I really enjoyed it. I think it’s better to go in hard and take on the toughest things, and then if you do well it really means something.”
As part of her preparations, she sought advice from compatriot Juan Pablo Montoya as well as Bourdais and JR Hildebrand, who coached Calderon throughout the day. Their advice was valuable – if a little intimidating.
“They certainly scared me a little bit!” she said. “‘Oh, you have this entry oversteer, and then there’s massive understeer mid-corner, and then the power, you get some kicks out of the back…’ So I was a certainly a little bit nervous when I heard those comments. But they have all driven IndyCar before when the cars had more downforce, so maybe they compared it with that and felt like this car has less grip. But I didn’t have that feeling, because I’ve been driving things like Super Formula with a lot of downforce. I think it was good that I didn’t have any previous experience and didn’t know what to expect. But they were certainly saying that it was a tricky car to drive.”
Tatiana did an awesome job today. Her approach was that of a pro, making gains every lap and never being overwhelmed. Enjoyed helping you find your way around @Mid_Ohio, @TataCalde! https://t.co/GDygpHzt0D
— JR Hildebrand (@JRHildebrand) July 6, 2021
As her comfort level with the car increased, so did the team’s confidence in Calderon.
“We even got through some test items that they had planned for the weekend but hadn’t been able to do,” she said. “For them to trust me to do those changes was also very nice, and it was good to see how the car reacted to the changes. I really couldn’t have asked for more from the day.
Calderon’s future remains focused elsewhere for the time being, but she admitted that the success of the test day has brought American open-wheel racing into sharper focus as something to potentially consider if a pathway presents itself.
“Initially (the plan) was just go out there, have fun and experience the car,” she said. “Whether it will translate into something else, I don’t know. Every driver would love to do IndyCar. At the moment I’m happy that I took the test opportunity and that it went well. Hopefully it might open up some doors in the future, but it’s too early to say. Right now I’m focusing on finishing 2021 with Super Formula and the WEC. But it’s nice to know that I can drive an IndyCar well. Let’s see if an opportunity comes around.”