The IndyCar Series hit the Circuit of the Americas for the first time yesterday in a Firestone tyre test. Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport and Tony Kanaan of A.J. Foyt Enterprises had the honour of completing the series’ first official running at the Texan track, with both drivers describing the venue as “fun” but “challenging”.
The test took place so that IndyCar’s tyre supplier, Firestone, would be able to gather vital data that would help them decide what compounds of tyre to bring to COTA in March; when IndyCar holds its inaugural race at the circuit.
It was announced back in September that COTA would be making it’s much anticipated IndyCar debut in 2019, with drivers and fans delighting at the arrival of the superb circuit. Having played host to the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix since 2012, the circuit has established itself as one of the best in the world; having played host to several fantastic races during its first six years of operation.
Since the circuit’s inception, rumours of an IndyCar event have circulated but were ultimately foiled by a previous deal between IndyCar and Texas Motor Speedway; which has appeared on the IndyCar calendar for many years. The deal essentially meant that IndyCar could not have another race in Texas, through fears that another race could syphon off ticket sales for the speedway’s event. It is understood, however, that this clause of the speedway’s contract with IndyCar was scrapped during the most recent renegotiations that took place in August.
This paved the way for COTA to join the IndyCar calendar, with the full Grand Prix circuit layout playing host to the second round of the 2019 IndyCar Series, which will take place in March.
In the circuit’s first test session for IndyCar, the first impressions were hugely positive. Series veteran Tony Kanaan likened the circuit to previous locations he has raced at, hailing the track as “awesome” and the facilities “beautiful”:
“The track was awesome. It’s a proper race track, and the facility is beautiful,” Kanaan said in an interview with RACER. “It’s a mix of Road America, Laguna Seca, and a little bit of Sonoma. We did more than 100 laps and it was badass.”
Kanaan went on to talk about the potential excitement of the upcoming race in March, stating that he thought that COTA visitors would be treated to a much different type of racing than they might have seen from Formula 1; particularly highlighting the closeness of the IndyCar field compared to Formula 1.
“It’s a road course, so I don’t want to give the wrong impression that we will always be passing there, but there are two places that will be easier to pass and some others to try,” Kanaan continued. “And I think our racing will be exciting because there’s less discrepancy on lap times with our grid, and 20 cars have a chance to win the race.”
Tony also stated that he would have some fitness work to do during the off-season to prepare for the race at COTA. At 3.4-miles in length, the circuit will become the second-longest circuit on the calendar, only surpassed by Road America. Despite being renowned as one of the fittest drivers on the grid, Kanaan admitted that his neck muscles would need some strengthening in order to tackle the physical demands of the high-speed circuit.
“Turns 16, 17, and 18, the carousel before the pits, it’s like Elkhart Lake [Road America] – really long.” Kanaan said, “We did a lot of new-tire runs. By the end of the day, it was like, ‘OK, we’ve got some work to do on the neck…’”
Kanaan may have been a newcomer to the Circuit of the Americas, but for Alexander Rossi, it would be a return to the circuit where he last raced at in 2015; when he was competing with the Manor Marussia F1 Team.
“With the various programs Tony and I were doing, it was hard to tell where we were at comparatively,” Rossi said in an interview with Motorsport.com yesterday. “But I can tell you that our car around that track is awesome! I had a smile on my face for the entire 90 laps and the package is great.
“It’s challenging, it’s technical, but there’s also a lot of high-speed corners. It’s a perfect circuit for us.
“From Turn 1 to Turn 9 is just mega. The first bit of it is pretty close to flat and each one subsequently gets tighter so you kind of decelerate as you go through them and if you’re a little bit off on the first one, you pay a big penalty six corners later! So it’s definitely a drivers’ track.”
Whilst Rossi, Kanaan and Firestone agreed with IndyCar to not disclose lap-times, it is understood that Rossi set the fastest lap time of the day, with the unofficial best lap being a 1:47.8. Many fans have been interested to see what lap times could be achieved by IndyCar at COTA, as it offers the direct comparison with Formula 1 in many years.
By comparison, Lewis Hamilton‘s pole position time set in qualifying for the US Grand Prix two weeks ago was a 1:32.2; a lap-time fifteen seconds faster than Rossi’s unofficial best lap yesterday. It was obviously expected that IndyCar would be a lot slower than Formula 1; given the stark differences between the two categories. However, as yesterday’s running took place with various tyre compounds and turbo boost levels, expect the lap-times to be much faster when the actual race weekend takes place in March.
As for how an IndyCar feels at the circuit compared to a Formula 1 car, Rossi was unable to draw any real comparisons due to the wildly different track conditions that he experienced back in 2015.
“In 2015 in the Marussia, the whole time it was wet!” Rossi said, “and in 2013 driving for Caterham as test driver I did one free practice in the dry. But I honestly don’t remember too much about that.”
“Anyway, it was just good to get out on track – and that track in particular.” Rossi went on to conclude, “Austin, COTA is a strong addition to the IndyCar schedule, and I think we’ll put on a good show for the fans, I really do.”
British team Carlin was also in attendance at COTA for yesterday’s test, however, the team elected to keep much of their running under wraps. It is believed that RC Enerson was behind the wheel in a rookie orientation test, with the team understood to be working toward their potential third car for 2019. The American driver previously drove for Dale Coyne Racing in three races at the end of the 2016 season.
The 2019 IndyCar Series will kick-off with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 10. The inaugural IndyCar race at the Circuit of the Americas will be the second round of the season, which will take place on Sunday, March 24. The first official group pre-season test will take place at COTA from February 12 to 13.