IndyCar 2019 preview: Say hello to ROY contenders

Leave a comment

Editor’s Note: Over the last two days, MotorsportsTalk has been previewing all full-time entries competing in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series. Our fourth preview features the full-season drivers competing for rookie of the year in 2019.

This week’s previews so far:

The Champions

The Veterans

The Young Stars

The 2019 season begins on March 10 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Additional coverage can be found on NBC Sports Gold.

Colton Herta – #88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda

IndyCar

Second-generation racer Colton Herta enters his first full NTT IndyCar Series season after a successful Indy Lights career that included six wins, nine poles, and a runner-up finish in last year’s championship. At age 18, the son of ex-driver and current team owner Bryan Herta will be the youngest racer on the circuit, but he’s already had an impressive 2019 so far. In January, he helped BMW & Rahal Letterman Lanigan win the GTLM class in his first start in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and last month in IndyCar testing at Ciruit of the Americas, he topped the speed charts in three of the four sessions. It’s raised expectations a bit for his rookie season, but while Herta and the entire #88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing team are hoping to hit a home run, a few singles to start would be nice.

************************

Felix Rosenqvist – #10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Malcolm Griffiths/FIA Formula E via Getty Images

Rosenqvist will be the third driver to pilot the #10 NTT Honda in three years, but there likely won’t be a fourth driver next season as the Swedish has been a driver that team owner Chip Ganassi has had an eye on for a long time. The Formula E veteran first tested for Ganassi at Mid-Ohio in 2016 and has already proven to be fast in preseason testing, finishing sixth quickest overall at COTA, ahead of teammate Scott Dixon. Driving for an established team like Ganassi, Rosenqvist is expected to perform well this year. Ganassi’s #10 car hasn’t reached victory lane since Tony Kanaan won at Fontana in 2014. Rosenqvist enters the 2019 season with an excellent opportunity to end that drought.

************************

Marcus Ericsson – #7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Fellow Swede Marcus Ericsson finds himself in a new home for 2019. The former Formula One pilot will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut Sunday, driving the #7 Honda for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Ericsson finds himself in unfamiliar territory in his inaugural IndyCar season, but while he has never competed on an oval before, his F1 experience will surely help him on the road and street circuits. And after five years at the back of the F1 grid, 2019 is a golden opportunity for Ericsson to show what he’s truly made of. It’s too early to predict whether or not he’ll win this year, but he should be fairly competitive from the start.

************************

Santino Ferrucci – #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

IndyCar

Santino Ferrucci enters 2019 returning to Dale Coyne Racing, where he ran four races last season with a best finish of 11th at Sonoma. Like Ericsson, Ferrucci – who spent nearly seven years in Europe trying to make it to Formula One – will learn to race on ovals for the first time in his career, starting with the biggest race of them all, the Indianapolis 500. His road and street course prospects look more promising for now, and he was a respectable 10th overall over the combined test sessions last month at COTA. Once heralded by GQ as “America’s most promising young driver”, Ferrucci is also seeking validation from fans and peers. Last year in Formula 2 at Silverstone, he had a public meltdown in which he purposely crashed into a teammate during the race. The subsequent backlash damaged his reputation, and Ferrucci has acknowledged his mistakes. If he can find speed and, just as importantly, avoid controversy, it’ll be a good start to earning the respect of IndyCar fans and making sure his decision to return Stateside was the right move.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
1 Comment

Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.