A new race on a new track increases the intrigue of a race weekend. The NTT Indycar Series is at Circuit of the Americas in Austin this weekend for the inaugural Indycar Classic. I still wonder how a first race is already a classic, but I’m glad to see Indycar race here at last. The 20 turn, 3.41 mile circuit is a composite of famous features of tracks around the world. Turns 19, 20 and the front straight reflect the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. F1 has raced at COTA since 2012.
Here are some things to look for, and one thing not to do, for this weekend.
First the don’t. Don’t compare this weekends times and speeds to F1. Each series has cars built for different purposes. Of course Indycars will be slower. Just accept it.
Will Rookies Continue to Impress?
Felix Rosenqvist led laps and finished fourth at St. Pete. Two other rookies finished in the top 10. Colton Herta led three of the four test sessions at COTA. Pato O’Ward makes his highly anticipated debut. I look for another strong showing for this talented crop of rookies. One thing in their favor is that it’s the first race at this track for everyone. Marcus Ericsson has driven here in F1, although how that experience translates to this car remains to be seen.
Honda Engine Issues Just a Fluke?
For Honda drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay, their engine issues at St. Pete has some concerned that the engine has lost the reliability it had last year. 2017 saw several Honda engine failures. I’d be surprised if the first race signals a year long trend, but there is cause for concern at the moment.
Hunter-Reay and Bourdais both need a strong showing this weekend to return to the points chase. I think Hunter-Reay will be a factor. Bourdais may qualify well, and should run a steady race.
Will Penske Momentum Continue?
Will Power won the pole and Josef Newgarden won the race in the season opener. Simon Pagenaud finished seventh and feels better about his chances this year. While Penske was just so-so in the test here, don’t bet against this trio. The team will at least win the pole and barring issues during the race should see all three drivers in the top 10.
Andretti Autosport hoped for better results at St. Pete. Besides Hunter-Reay’s engine failure, Alexander Rossi seemed off pace all weekend, and Marco Andretti had a problem at the start of qualifying. The team tested well here with Rossi leading the final session. The team should have a very strong weekend. Hunter-Reay needs a good finish to stay in title contention, and Rossi should improve on his fifth place in race 1.
The track is projecting a race day crowd of at least 30, 000. While that is a decent attendance for an Indycar event, especially a first time race, the audience will look very sparse inside that huge track. I hope for tight crowd shots, but the overhead views will show lots of empty places. Despite how the crowd may look, I think 30,000 is a decent number to start from.
Look for my Quick Thoughts here after qualifying and the race. My full qualifying and race reports will be on Wildfire Sports Sunday and Monday.
Qualifying is live on NBCSN at 3 pm ET Saturday.
Race coverage begins at 1 pm ET Sunday on NBCSN. Engines fire at 1:37.
Bold yet inaccurate predictions:
Top Rookie finisher- Herta