Barber Motorsports Park was one of few tracks so far this season that a majority of this rookie class has had experience racing on in an IndyCar, and the first natural road course that suits the European background of drivers like Christian Lundgaard and Callum Ilott. However, Barber is also one of the most physically demanding circuits on the calendar and it proved a challenge for this crop of rookies, including a heartbreaking early ending to the weekend for one. Let’s break it all down in this week’s IndyCar Series Rookie Report.
CHRISTIAN LUNDGAARD – RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING
QUALIFYING: FOURTEENTH – RACE: FIFTEENTH (-1)
Lundgaard ran as high as ninth in the early stages of the race before traffic on pit lane cost the Dane all the ground he had made up. When trying to exit the pits on lap 29, he was held up by David Malukas, who was just entering his pit stall, which cost Lundgaard valuable track position. After that his race was quiet, coming home with a top fifteen finish.
“At that point we were already set back from there so it was all about keeping your head cool, save some fuel, and get the car over the line in the end,” Lundgaard said.
“We will go on to the first Indy GP in a couple of weeks and take it from there.”
On a positive note, Lundgaard jumped up two places in the championship standings from seventeenth to fifteenth, with 57 points so far this season.
DEVLIN DEFRANCESCO – ANDRETTI STEINBRENNER AUTOSPORT
QUALIFYING: TWENTIETH – RACE: SEVENTEENTH (+3)
After a disappointing qualifying left him starting twentieth, DeFrancesco managed to gain a few spots over the course of the race to finish seventeenth, his best result of the season thus far. The Canadian was the only rookie that finished with a net gain on their qualifying position, but still felt like the team had more to give.
“One little mistake I’d say we made; just a shame to have that restart on blacks, but we had great pace, great fuel mileage and definitely finished higher than where we started,” DeFrancesco said.
“We know we left some on the table, so hugely happy to get an alright finish here and looking forward to the month of May.”
DAVID MALUKAS – DALE COYNE RACING W/ HMD MOTORSPORTS
QUALIFYING: EIGHTEENTH – RACE: TWENTIETH (-2)
Malukas struggled in pit lane and on restarts this race, losing spots early to Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. The lone caution of the day saw him move up a few positions to restart sixteenth, but once again he slipped down the order to nineteenth five laps after the race was resumed. Thankfully, that pattern was broken after the American’s final stop, gaining a couple of positions after exiting the pits in twenty-second to finish twentieth.
Despite the setbacks, Malukas was proud of the effort put together by the team.
“… it was a bit unfortunate with how the yellow came out with what we were trying to do,” he said.
“At the end of the day, I think I tried my best, on my end. We had a bit of a kerfuffle in the pits and the bad timing on the yellow and we ended up coming out with a twentieth place. But everyone at Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports did their best this weekend, the car felt good in the race and I’m happy we were able to finish.”
KYLE KIRKWOOD – A.J. FOYT ENTERPRISES
QUALIFYING: TWENTY-FIRST – RACE: TWENTY-SECOND (-1)
A rare instance where Kyle Kirkwood didn’t have a standout performance, early troubles on pit lane trying to get a tyre on the car put Kirkwood a lap down. He successfully fought back to regain the lap, and gambled on strategy to help catapult him up the order. The caution the team needed didn’t come, and unfortunately he went one lap down once more, finishing twenty-second.
“This place is just so hard to pass so that was a hard thing, I think, for everyone out there,” Kirkwood said.
“We were stuck in twenty-first so we took a big gamble and ended up going a lap down due to that gamble because we didn’t get the caution that we needed [to make it work]. But all is good, we know we had some pace there and we could have finished towards the front, probably in the top-10 if we played the strategy right.”
Kirkwood also raced at this track in Indy Lights last season, and when comparing the two cars said that the IndyCar was easier to drive around the circuit.
“It tells you what the car is going to do a lot better than a Lights car,” he explained.
“The Lights car likes to move around a lot so the elevation changes and the curb usage doesn’t help that whatsoever, and the Indy car with its damper programs and whatnot, it’s really nice over all those crests and bumps and high-speed sections as well.”
CALLUM ILOTT – JUNCOS HOLLINGER RACING
QUALIFYING: ELEVENTH – RACE: TWENTY-FIFTH (-14)
In all honesty, this is not the position we should be talking about Ilott in. The young Brit was far and away the fastest rookie of all this weekend, finishing in the top ten in the first two practice sessions before stunning everyone by topping the final practice session Saturday afternoon. Just a few hours earlier, Ilott advanced to the Fast Twelve round of qualifying for the first time in his career.
He ran as high as eighth before his first pit stop on lap 29, and not long after on lap 32 he got too aggressive defending against Helio Castroneves in the turn seven complex, running wide, and ending up beached in the gravel trap. The car was re-fired, and Ilott continued to run two laps down, finishing in a heartbreaking twenty-fifth.
“I was on cold tires and heavy fuel and just ran slightly wide and then I was just a passenger and lost it unfortunately,” he said.
“Bit of a shame to end the weekend like that. I feel sorry for myself and for the team. We had such a good car this weekend so yeah it’s a bit of a hard one. We will take the positives as it was overall a great weekend up until that point. We had lots of pace, lots more than normal so hopefully we can continue that momentum into Indy GP and see what we can do.”
Although the result may not show it, this was the weekend where Ilott announced his arrival to the IndyCar Series. He’s quietly had very strong performances but for a young, one car team like Juncos Hollinger Racing with a young, inexperienced IndyCar driver like Ilott to be where they were, there are so many positives to take away from Barber. They are no team to sleep on, and it goes to show just how close and competitive the series can really be.
TATIANA CALDERON – A.J. FOYT ENTERPRISES
QUALIFYING: TWENTY-FIFTH – RACE: TWENTY-SIXTH (-1)
Calderon was the only member of this rookie class without experience in an IndyCar at Barber, and found out first-hand just how physically demanding the track can be.
After a crash in final practice, the team was able to repair her car in time for the race, which the Colombian driver found incredibly grueling from start to finish.
“Obviously, it hurt us not to do the warmup in terms of getting a feel for the car in high fuel on both compounds, so we decided to go on the blacks to do a longer stint,” she said.
“Even though it was really hot out there, I just struggled a little bit to get the tires into temperature and to be able to push. When we went to the reds, the car felt really, really good so I was really happy with the red stints. We did two stints on the reds and then, back on the blacks I just couldn’t find the grip.”
Able to find the positives in the last-place finish, Calderon noted that she’s still improving every time she gets in the car.
“I’m happy to finish,” she said.
“I think my fitness is getting better because this place is really tough but I managed to finish and I’m feeling better and stronger every time out on track, so I think the training has been good. Ultimately, I think the more you drive the car, the fitter you get so hopefully now that we have a lot of races in a row, it will just get better.”
Calderon is only running a road and street course schedule, and the next race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course will mark her third consecutive start after missing time at Texas Motor Speedway.