Santino Ferrucci ready for ‘team leader’ role at Dale Coyne Racing

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images

In just one season, Santino Ferrucci has gone from brash rookie hoping to prove himself in IndyCar to driving dean of Dale Coyne Racing.

Last year, he was teamed with wise veteran and four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais, who was more than twice his age. Bourdais and the team split during the offseason, and Ferrucci, 21, is now the “team leader” at Dale Coyne Racing.

Ferrucci has moved into the No. 18 SealMaster Honda at Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan. Talented newcomer Alex Palou if Spain is in the second Dale Coyne Racing entry, the No. 56 Honda.

“Me and Seb got along incredibly well; it was like a father-son bond,” Ferrucci told NBC “He was such a mentor to me. He understands the politics, and I understand the politics. I wish I had the opportunity to be with him for another year because I was learning so much and was so happy there.

“But this is what has happened and what I have to work with.”

How does it feel to be the team’s “elder statesman” at 21?

“I’m pretty excited,” Ferrucci said. “Now, I have the keys to the kingdom, and I get to be the leader. It’s a lot of weight on my shoulders. It’s a lot of pressure to step up to the plate, perform and fill these shoes.”

Much has changed in such a short period of time for Ferrucci.

He entered the series trying to shed an image from an unfortunate incident with a teammate in a Formula 2 race at Silverstone before the British Grand Prix. Ferrucci was ultimately dismissed from the Trident team for a variety of reasons that have been well documented.

Some on social media refuse to let him forget about that incident. They are part of today’s “Cancel Culture.”

But what fans in the NTT IndyCar Series discovered was a fast driver with a friendly personality who always took time to engage anyone who stopped by with a smile and friendly conversation.

He even made a fan out of NBC Sports and former NASCAR hero Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who raved about Ferrucci on last year’s telecast of the 103rdIndianapolis 500.

“I really like Santino Ferrucci,” Earnhardt told at this year’s Daytona 500. “That kid is really fast, and I can’t wait to see what he does this season.”

Ferrucci has had to learn his share of lessons and develop into a potential star.

“Honestly, I think people that still want to bring up the past need to look at themselves and look at the future,” Ferrucci told NBC “If you are still holding on to something that is two years old, that’s kind of pathetic.

“I spent a lot of time meeting people last year. I think a lot of people that had a negative opinion, I reached out to them and said, ‘Please, come by. Hang out.’ I’ll take time for anybody and everybody if I have to. It doesn’t make a difference to me.

“For people that don’t want to even do that, that’s fine. It’s their choice. You can’t control other people; you can only control yourself and control what you want to do. From here, I’ve been building my image with Dale Coyne Racing. I think we’ve done a good job. I’ve gotten to show a little bit of what I’m made of and what I can do with the team.”

Ferrucci had two top-10 finishes in his first five NTT IndyCar Series races, before his breakthrough at the 103rd Indianapolis 500. He started 23rd, drove to the lead, finished seventh, and put on a show in between.

His most memorable move came late in the race during the big five-car pileup in Turn 3 that involved Graham Rahal, Sebastian Bourdais, Felix Rosenqvist, Charlie Kimball and Zach Veach.

Ferrucci avoided the carnage by hitting the throttle and driving through the grass.

“It was really good but in long run, I’m going to try and not to do that again this year,” Ferrucci said. “I’d prefer not to test the lawn setup.”

It was on the oval tracks where Ferrucci found his groove. He finished fourth in another wild race at Texas Motor Speedway, fourth at Pocono and fourth at Gateway. He ended the season as one of the top drivers in the entire series on the ovals.

“It was a solid first year,” Ferrucci said. “We learned so much. Especially the ovals. I just felt right at home there. With the road and street courses and working with Sebastien and with the team. I feel a lot more confident going into a lot of races this year, knowing the tracks, understanding how the team works throughout the weekend. Every race is drastically different.

“It’s been an awesome learning curve. We’re ready to take on this year with the same mentality of go through it, have fun and just enjoy it and see how we do.”

Photo by Chris Graythen, Getty Images

It’s been a rapid rise for Ferrucci, but he is no longer the kid learning from the mentor. In 2020, he will have to embrace the role as team leader.

“Obviously it’s very different,” Ferrucci said. “I go from someone with my entire life’s worth of experience to a kid I know very well from Europe and worked with before and get along with as well in Alex.

“I think it’ll be a good fit. We’ll both be really competitive this year. We’ll really be able to push the team to its limits and see what we can get out of the cars.

“But it is weird being the veteran driver at 21.”

Ferrucci was able to grow as a rookie in 2019. In the process, marginalized the “Cancel Culture” that wanted to see him fail. But he admits he has more growing up to do, now that he is in a new role at Dale Coyne Racing.

“I’m still very immature to be the veteran on the team, especially Dale’s team,” he said. “Those guys are like family, so they’ve treated me well. Sebastien taught me so much over the year. It’s working with everybody and keeping them in good spirits. I feel like Sebastien was a natural leader for the team. He did a really good job mentoring me and putting me in a position that I was expecting to have another year with him.

“But since he’s unfortunately not with us, I have to try and fill his shoes and try and bring that direction to the team.

“I have to keep everybody in that together, that happiness and momentum moving forward.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Jack Miller wins MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his points slide


Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.