Preview: 2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Circuit of the Americas

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Graham Rahal (USA), 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, COTA Pre-Season Test
Credit: Stephen King / Courtesy of IndyCar

The NTT IndyCar Series will be back in action this weekend for the second round of the 2019 season. The teams and drivers will head to Austin, Texas for the first IndyCar race held at the Circuit of the Americas. Fans and drivers alike have longed for a race at the home of the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. That wish has now been granted.

Here is everything you need to know ahead of this weekend’s 2019 IndyCar Classic at COTA.

What happened in pre-season testing at the Circuit of the Americas?

Usually, in our preview pieces, we would take a look at the last race held at the upcoming circuit. However, as this is IndyCar’s first race at the Circuit of the Americas, we will instead look back to the two-day pre-season test that took place at the circuit last month.

The vast majority of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series competitors took to the track at Austin, Texas for a two-day “spring training” test from February 12 to 13 last month. The test gave a number of drivers their first laps behind the wheel of an IndyCar at the Texan circuit and it was also the only official group test prior to the start of the season.

Despite having limited IndyCar running before the test, and also having never driven at COTA beforehand, Harding Steinbrenner Racing‘s rookie Colton Herta would set a blistering pace on both days of the test. The American teenager set the fastest time of anyone during the test and ended each day as the fastest driver.

Of course, pre-season testing times cannot be used as an accurate indicator for pace later in the season. Nevertheless, it was an impressive display by Colton, who showed that he was feeling comfortable at the wheel of his #88 Chevrolet already.

Many racing fans had wondered what the lap-time comparison would be between Formula 1 and IndyCar; with COTA’s arrival to the IndyCar calendar this year providing the first direct comparison for the first time in many years. Herta’s best lap-time from the two-day test was a 1:46.6258. That time was just over fourteen seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton‘s pole position time for the 2018 United States Grand Prix last November. Expect the lap-times for the IndyCar drivers to get a little closer to Formula 1 territory this weekend. However

By the end of the two-day test, Andretti Autosport‘s Alexander Rossi was the driver who had gotten the closest to Herta’s benchmark times. The Californian was two-tenths off of Herta’s best, with Colton and Alexander the only drivers to lap in the 1:46’s during the test. Will PowerRyan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud ended the test in the top five on the leaderboard, with rookie Felix Rosenqvist sixth for Ganassi.

The most amount of laps completed over the course of the two days came from Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden. The 2017 champion completed 115-laps, a tally that was one lap more than the total set by both Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson. Thanks to Newgarden and his team-mates – Power, Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves – the Team Penske ended the test with 420 laps completed; the most of any team during the two days.

You can read the full reports from both pre-season test days at COTA by following the links below

What should I look out for this weekend?

Josef Newgarden comes into this weekend’s race as the championship leader having won the opening race of the season at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The Penske driver will be looking to be fighting for the win again this time out to try and maintain his strong start to the season and keep himself in contention for his second title.

It is very likely that Newgarden will not have it easy this weekend, however. A number of drivers could be set to challenge him for the top, including his two team-mates, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. Penske once again showed their supremacy in qualifying at St. Pete, with Power and Newgarden locking out the front-row. Look to one of the three Penske drivers to be in contention for both pole and the win this weekend.

One of the disappointments of the first race weekend of the season came from Andretti Autosport, in particular, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Both drivers seemed to have really fast race cars, but neither was able to finish as high as they would have liked. Rossi had to settle for fifth place, whilst Hunter-Reay retired early on after an engine failure. Both drivers, along with team-mates, Zach Veach and Marco Andretti, will be hoping to make amends this time out.

Perhaps the story of St. Pete, for the second year in succession, was the pace of the rookies on the grid. Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Felix Rosenqvist lead the charge for the new guys, starting the race in third and leading many laps before falling down to a finish of fourth-place. The Swedish driver admitted that he had a car that could have won him the race had pit-stop issues and other problems not hindered him. It will be interesting to see if Felix’s experience of the circuit in testing will help him match his more experienced veterans even better this time out at COTA.

Rosenqvist may have a fight on his hands this weekend for the top rookie finisher. As mentioned previously, Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta was seemingly on fire at the pre-season test, topping both days of running. The American could well be a dark horse this weekend; especially given his pace at St. Pete despite having started in the midfield after a qualifying penalty.

Last, but by no means least, keep a close eye on a driver making his return to the IndyCar grid this weekend. Reigning Indy Lights champion, Patricio O’Ward, was set to race this season full-time with Harding Steinbrenner Racing before the deal collapsed a matter of days before the pre-season test at COTA. Thankfully for Pato, he was able to secure a part-time deal for 2019 with Carlin.

This weekend will be O’Ward’s first race with the British team. The Mexican driver impressed massively in his one prior start in last year’s season-finale at Sonoma Raceway; taking his #8 Harding Chevrolet to a top five grid spot and a top ten race finish; defying his lack of experience and the chaos erupting around him. Many are touting O’Ward as a potential star of the future. Be sure to watch out for Pato this weekend, as he aims to impress once again on his comeback to the series.

What is the schedule for the weekend?

Friday 8 March

11:15 ET / 15:15 GMT – Practice one
15:00 ET / 19:00 GMT – Practice two

Saturday 9 March

11:00 ET / 15:00 GMT – Practice three
15:00 ET / 19:00 GMT – Qualifying

Sunday 10 March

13:00 ET / 17:00 GMT – Race

Where can I watch the 2019 IndyCar Classic?

Tickets are still available for this weekend’s race. Head to the Circuit of the Americas website for more information.

As a part of the IndyCar’s UK coverage deal, both qualifying and the race will be broadcasted live on Sky Sports F1.

In the United States, television coverage for COTA will be shown on NBC Sports.

Further coverage of practice and qualifying will be provided in the United States by NBC Sports Gold.

How can I keep up to date with all the race action?

If you cannot make it to Austin, Texas for this weekend’s race, you can keep up to date with all the action across the weekend right here at The Checkered Flag. We will have coverage of this weekend’s practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Be sure to also follow IndyCar on Twitter – @IndyCar – for live updates throughout the event.

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