COTA: A circuit to behold from the passenger’s seat


It’s not often you get the opportunity to have a few laps in an Audi with a three-time Le Mans winner at a world-class circuit. Yet that was the chance afforded to me this past weekend at Circuit of the Americas, part of the FIA WEC media rides with Rinaldo “Dindo” Capello in an Audi RS 7.

Though Capello’s been retired from the LMP1 ranks of the Audi prototype program for two years, he hasn’t lost his joie de vivre, or his ability behind the wheel. He remains as active as ever in an ambassadorial role for the brand and still travels to events.

Alas, my ride came after the first round of laps were complete. Capello was wondering what kind of brakes – carbon or steel – his car he had when they were smoking upon pulling into pit lane, just prior to pit out.

Dindo Capello

“Must be steel,” he said as the smoke dissipated and I buckled in.

Immediately, as we launched out of the pit lane, you could tell Capello was reminiscing about what it would be like to drive one of the latest generation Audi R18 e-tron quattros, or even the standard Audi R8 LMS, in this moment.

While the RS 7 is an incredible beast, at 560 bhp with all-wheel drive and an awesome interior, it’s still a much heavier car and that’s not ideal for this circuit which tends to favor sleeker, more svelte and nimble type cars.

“This car is too heavy for this track,” said Capello, who still had no problem extracting the maximum out of it as we flew down the hill, through Turn 2 and immediately into the esses.

He began to wax poetic about the track before we’d even really got going.

“Love this circuit. Love this sequence. Just like Silverstone,” he said, as the esses section of COTA from Turns 3 to 7 is a near carbon copy of the Silverstone sequence that includes Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel corners.

Now when you’re feeling how heavy the steering input is, and how hard you’re thrashing to pound these corners in a heavier car, you can begin to appreciate the magnitude of what the racers are doing this weekend.

Turns 8 through 10 are a bit slower as you crest the rise and then run down the hill to Turn 11. Capello leaves his braking fairly late here, but turns into the hairpin at the proper angle to release out and launch down the back straight.

Turn 12

Then you get into the tight, twisty bits. Turns 12 through to 15, it’s difficult to get much rhythm as it’s stop-start-stop-start before you exit Turn 15 and head into the three-apex right-hander just next the COTA Tower, Turns 16-18.

This was where the extra weight was noticeable because Capello was pushing like mad through the corner. He was oversteering as we did a near-perfect, opposite-lock power slide through the right hander before plunging down into Turn 19, catching our breath for maybe a split second, hard on the gas and then back on the brakes into Turn 20.

And that was a lap – before he got it going even better on the second lap.

Interestingly as you crest the hill into Turn 1, from the passenger’s seat (and to a point, the cockpit), the climb up the hill isn’t nearly as severe as it appears from a spectator standpoint. It feels a gradual rise, rather than one that’s as severe as it looks in track maps and from either the inside or outside of the circuit.

But it’s the plunge down the hill after Turn 1, into Turn 2 where you feel your stomach drop out. It’s more noticeable than the Corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, for instance, where it feels a slight gradual drop rather than a plunge.

And then we were on for two more laps. With Dindo bang-on at every single apex.

I knew he was pushing too, because our rides were scheduled maybe half an hour before the Austin weather went south and the rain hit.

Perhaps the only thing that could have made it better was if Capello did one lap, did a driver change, handed off to Allan McNish, another change and then Tom Kristensen jumped in to bring it home.

But the sensory experience of riding merely in the passenger’s seat at this track just showcases what a circuit this is.

Sometimes you have to pinch yourself on occasion to remind you of the awesomeness this line of work entails, and riding shotgun with one of Italy’s greatest sports car heroes at one of North America’s finest circuits certainly affords you that opportunity.

Sincere thanks to Fiona from FIA WEC and Dave from Circuit of the Americas for the opportunity.

Josef Newgarden claims first Indy 500 victory, outdueling Marcus Ericsson in 1-lap shootout


INDIANAPOLIS — Josef Newgarden won the 107th Indy 500 with a last-lap pass of Marcus Ericsson, giving team owner Roger Penske his 19th victory in the race but his first as the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In a one-lap shootout after the third red flag in the final 20 laps, Newgarden grabbed the lead from Ericsson on the backstretch and then weaved his way to the checkered flag (mimicking the same moves Ericsson had made to win at the Brickyard last year). Santino Ferrucci finished third for AJ Foyt Racing, maintaining his streak of finishing in the top 10 in all five of his Indianapolis 500 starts.

“I’m just so thankful to be here,” Newgarden told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “You have no idea. I started out as a fan in the crowd. And this place, it’s amazing.

INSIDE TEAM PENSKE: The tension and hard work preceding ‘The Captain’s’ 19th win

“Regardless of where you’re sitting. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving the car, you’re working on it or you’re out here in the crowd. You’re a part of this event and the energy. So thank you to Indianapolis. I love this city. I grew up racing karts here when I was a kid. I’m just so thankful for Roger and (team president) Tim (Cindric) and everybody at Team Penske.

“I just felt like everyone kept asking me why I haven’t won this race. They look at you like you’re a failure if you don’t win it, and I wanted to win it so bad. I knew we could. I knew we were capable. It’s a huge team effort. I’m so glad to be here.”

Newgarden became the first driver from Tennessee to win the Indy 500 and the first American to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing since Alexander Rossi in 2016.

“I think the last two laps I forgot about being a track owner and said let’s go for it,” Penske told Snider. “But what a great day. All these wonderful fans. To get No. 19 racing my guy Ganassi, my best friend in this business. But a terrific effort by Josef. Tim Cindric called a perfect race.

“Had a great race, safe race. I’ll never forget it. I know Josef wanted it so bad and wondered why he couldn’t be there, but today all day long, he worked his way up there, and at the end when it was time to go, I was betting on him.”

After Newgarden finally got his first Indy 500 victory on his 12th attempt the two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion climbed out of his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet, squeezed through a hole in the catchfence and ran into the stands to celebrate with fans.

“I’ve always wanted to go into the crowd at Indianapolis,” Newgarden said. “I wanted to go through the fence. I wanted to celebrate with the people. I just thought it would be so cool because I know what that energy is like on race day. This was a dream of mine. If this was ever going to happen, I wanted to do that.”

After finishing 0.0974 seconds behind in second with his No. 8 Dallara-Honda, Ericsson was upset about how IndyCar officials handled the ending.

Though it’s not the first time a red flag has been used to guarantee a green-flag finish at the Indy 500, IndyCar races typically haven’t been restarted with only one lap remaining. The green flag was thrown as the field left the pits in an unusual maneuver that had echoes of Formula One’s controversial 2021 season finale.

“I just feel like it was unfair and a dangerous end to the race,” Ericsson told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I don’t think there was enough laps to do what we did. We’ve never done a restart out of the pits, and we don’t get the tires up to temperature.

“I think we did everything right today. I’m very proud of the No. 8 crew. I think I did everything right behind the wheel. I did an awesome last restart. I think I caught Josef completely off guard and got the gap and kept the lead. But I just couldn’t hold it on the (backstretch). I was flat but couldn’t hold it. I’m proud of us.

“Congratulations to Josef, he did everything right as well. He’s a worthy champion, I’m just very disappointed with the way that ended. I don’t think that was fair.”

There also were a lot of emotions for Ferrucci, who was tearing up as he exited his No. 14 Dallara-Chevy. In the past eight weeks, the team has weathered the deaths of A.J. Foyt’s wife and longtime publicist Anne Fornoro’s husband.

“It’s just tough,” Ferrucci told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “We were there all day. All day. I’m just so proud of our AJ Foyt Racing team. We had a few people riding on board with us. This one stings, it’s bittersweet. I’m happy for third and the team. I’m happy for Josef and all of Team Penske.

“I was trying not to tear up getting into the race car before we started the race. Different emotions. It was different. I think coming to the end, the last few restarts. I think IndyCar did the right decision with what they have done. a green-flag finish for the fans. Wish we had a couple more laps to finish that off.”

Pole-sitter Alex Palou rebounded to finish fourth after a collision in the pits near the midpoint. Alexander Rossi took fifth.

The race was stopped three times for 37 minutes for three crashes, including a terrifying wreck involving Felix Rosenqvist and Kyle Kirkwood that sent a tire over the Turn 2 catchfence.

It had been relatively clean with only two yellow flags until the final 50 miles.

After spending the first half of the race trading the lead, pole-sitter Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay (who started second) collided while exiting the pits under yellow on Lap 94.

Leaving the pits after leading 24 laps, VeeKay lost control under acceleration. He looped his No. 21 Dallara-Chevy into the No. 10 Dallara-Honda of Palou that already had left the first pit stall after completing its stop,

Palou, who had led 36 laps. stayed on the lead lap despite multiple stops to replace the front wing but restarted in 28th.

“What an absolute legend trying to win it,” Palou sarcastically radioed his team about VeeKay, who received a drive-through penalty for the contact when the race returned to green.

The incident happened after the first yellow flag on Lap 92 after Sting Ray Robb slapped the outside wall in Turn 1 after battling with Graham Rahal.

Robb put the blame on Rahal in an interview with NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch.

“I think I just need to pay more attention to the stereotypes of the series,” Robb said. “Pay attention to who I’m racing, and that was just way too aggressive of a move I thought. But yeah, I guess we’re in the wall and not much further to say.”

An already miserable May for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing continued before the race even started.

Rahal, who failed to qualify but started his 16th consecutive Indy 500 in place of the injured Stefan Wilson, was unable to start his No. 24 for Dreyer & Reinbold/Cusick Motorsports.

After two aborted attempts at firing the car’s Chevrolet engine, team members pushed Rahal behind the pit wall and swapped out a dead battery. Rahal finally joined the field on the third lap, but he wouldn’t finish last.

RLL teammate Katherine Legge, who had been involved in the Monday practice crash that fractured Wilson’s back, struggled with the handling on her No. 44 Dallara-Honda and nearly spun while exiting the pits after her first stop on Lap 35.

Legge exited her car about 30 laps later as her team began working to fix a steering problem.