Thursday Austin press conference noteworthy by Kovalainen’s absence

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Thursday’s press conference for the United States Grand Prix was more notable for the one driver absent from the proceedings: new Lotus signing Heikki Kovalainen.

The Finn was meant to join the other five participants in Austin, but for the slight problem he hasn’t arrived in Austin yet. The team said he was en route to the facility in due course, before he replaces Kimi Raikkonen for the final two Grands Prix this Formula One season.

As it is, of the other five present, only Jules Bianchi (Marussia) has a contract in place for next year. The rest – Paul di Resta (Force India), Pastor Maldonado (Williams) and Mexicans Sergio Perez (McLaren) and Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) – are all figuring out plans for next season.

“I’m confident with the team as we try to do our best to finish this year,” said Bianchi. “It all started really well, but it has been difficult of late.”

Di Resta, who’s been back on form of late with back-to-back points scoring finishes in the last two races, is surprised by late the silly season is occurring.

“I think it’s very late, but what can you do really?” di Resta said.

Maldonado, who seemed optimistic about his future at last night’s FOTA Fan Forum, pretty much echoed those thoughts this morning.

“For sure I know (what I’ll be doing),” Maldonado said. “We have a couple options. I have a tough decision ahead.”

Perez and Gutierrez largely echoed the same thoughts as they did at the Fan Forum, although Perez had the line of the morning regarding the large Mexican contingent of fans expected to attend in Austin this weekend.

“The grandstands would be empty without the Mexicans,” he deadpanned.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.