DeFrancesco learns from Texas error but vows to stay aggressive, use haters ‘as fuel’

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Devlin DeFrancesco made a mistake at Texas Motor Speedway — no ifs, ands or buts about that — and he takes full blame for the three-car crash that also wiped out veterans Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal.

The other two incidents he has been blamed for? Well, DeFrancesco has his own opinions on any role he played in race-ending crashes for Takuma Sato and Kyle Kirkwood. Blame doesn’t really matter at this point, though: his IndyCar debut on an oval was marred by three separate incidents.

Mistakes and overaggressive driving can be bad for a reputation, particularly for a rookie trying to change the narrative surrounding his IndyCar arrival.

“People think I am just this rich kid in Miami that’s going racing and that’s just not the case,” DeFrancesco, who was the highest-qualifying rookie at Texas in 17th, told The Associated Press. “I worked my ass off to make this happen, from a physical side, from a mental standpoint, anything that could get me better. That’s all I’m focused on right now.”

DeFrancesco is in his first season at the top level of American open-wheel racing (and part of a large rookie class), driving for Andretti Autosport in a Honda fielded in partnership with George and Julia Steinbrenner. He landed the promotion after one season in Indy Lights, where DeFrancesco earned a pair of podium finishes but was winless in 20 races. He finished sixth in the standings, far behind then-Andretti teammate Kirkwood and runner-up David Malukas.

Kirkwood and Malukas combined for 17 victories and both also moved up to IndyCar this season. But it was DeFrancesco who landed a seat with Andretti, one of the top teams in IndyCar. Kirkwood had to leave the organization to find a job with A.J. Foyt Racing. Malukas drives for Dale Coyne Racing.

Giving a seat to DeFrancesco over Kirkwood, a winner at every level of IndyCar’s ladder system, raised eyebrows but was staunchly defended by Michael Andretti. The team owner has insisted that DeFrancesco rates highly on the Andretti talent board and was faster than both Kirkwood and Malukas in initial IndyCar testing.

The 22-year-old dual citizen of Canada and Italy comes from a wealthy family and his father, entrepreneur Andy DeFrancesco, has funded much of his son’s career. Alleging that’s the only reason DeFrancesco has his seat is unfair, the driver said, and he has shown talent: DeFrancesco was largely overlooked when fellow IndyCar drivers Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward teamed in January to win their class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona; it was DeFrancesco who turned the fastest lap of the race in that car.

“A lot of people think that I don’t deserve to be here, it’s no secret, everyone reads social media. My phone vibrates quite a lot when all the notifications come up,” DeFrancesco said. “But at the end of the day, I use it as fuel.”

He also puts the work in off the track, which is partly why he chose to live in Miami when he returned from racing in the F3 Series in Europe at the end of 2020.

“Seven days a week I’m training for this one purpose – to do well in IndyCar racing,” DeFrancesco said. “I eat, sleep and breathe this. I’m not a party person. Miami is a good place for all the training and the boxing and the biking that I do, and I go karting three days a week.”

DeFrancesco said he makes the hourlong drive to Homestead-Miami Speedway three times a week to hone his craft, and spends most evenings on his simulator learning everything he can about both the Indy car and the tracks on this year’s schedule. Prior to Texas on Sunday, the only other oval he’d ever raced was at Gateway outside St. Louis.

So, yes, he made a mistake when he tried to go inside for a risky three-wide move that ended with three crashed cars. He apologized afterward to both Castroneves and Rahal, and both went easy on DeFrancesco after the accident.

“As I said to Devlin, I think he’s got a bright future,” Rahal said. “He’ll learn from these mistakes.”

DeFrancesco had a follow-up chat with four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves to understand what he did wrong and “it’s just not something I will do again,” he vowed.

In the opener on the street course in St. Petersburg, DeFrancesco finished 22nd in the 26-car field but he was the last car on the lead lap and didn’t move out of the way as leaders Scott McLaughlin and Alex Palou closed in on him while racing for the victory.

McLaughlin held off Palou for the win – Palou and DeFrancesco are both Honda drivers while McLaughlin drives a Chevrolet – but DeFrancesco said he was running his race. His team radioed for him to simply stay out of the leaders’ way and keep going, he said, so he did.

He’s no different than any other driver in that he has partners to keep happy. Though funding does come through his father, he and the Steinbrenners have secured outside sponsorship. DeFrancesco pointed specifically to a deal with PowerTap, brought to Andretti by the driver.

He isn’t letting Texas shake his confidence and is determined to show his talent.

“I spoke to a lot of people who have won a hell of a lot of races on ovals to get their insight, and I am going to race hard and I’m going to race aggressively,” DeFrancesco said. “It’s no secret I made a mistake, and it’s a mistake I won’t make again, and at the end of the day the only way to change people’s minds is when the 29 crew gets a good result. I think it’s coming.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III