Spring Training at COTA

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With a full day of Spring Training yesterday at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas for the NTT IndyCar Series, is it too much of a stretch to say that the offseason is officially over? A quick glance at Tuesday’s weather map shows that a giant swath of heavy downpour and/or snow encompassed a great deal of the Eastern US. That was not the case in Austin.

The brilliant blue sky provided a beautiful backdrop for colorful Indy cars on an unusually colorful track. As I stole a few glimpses while at work, it was quite the contrast to look out my window to see gloomy rain showers compared to the bright colors on the screen of my phone as I tried to get something accomplished on my day job. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to break away much and focus on what was playing away on my phone, but I took an early lunch and was able to watch before the drivers broke for lunch.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t watched much action from COTA in the past. I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to Formula One anymore and I’ve never followed IMSA that closely. When a handful of drivers tested the track out last fall, that was probably the most attention I’ve paid to the track since it opened in 2012. But it seems so different from most of the road courses that the NTT IndyCar Series visits.

The first thing that stands out are the brightly painted track boundaries. I’m not talking about the curbing which is painted in traditional alternating red and white. No, I’m talking about the track limit areas beyond the curbing, painted in either solid red or green – outlining the entire length of the 3.4-mile circuit. Some of the paved runoff areas are also painted in brightly colored designs. It’s a far cry from the rustic wooded area that surrounds Barber, Road America and Mid-Ohio.

Spring Training is the only practice event that will not be broadcast through the NBC Sports Gold package. Yesterday’s coverage was free with video provided on You Tube and IndyCar.com with commentary from the Advanced Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network; anchored by Mark Jaynes and analyst Anders Krohn with pit-reporting handled by Jake Query. The one thing I will miss with the NBC Sports Gold package is the commentary provided in practice from this crew we’ve grown accustomed to over the years.

Another thing I enjoy about Spring Training is our first live glimpse of the new liveries. To be honest, most of the liveries are unchanged from last season. Three of the four Andretti Autosport cars remain unchanged, but the car of Zach Veach will carry a bold blue, black and gold livery from Gainbridge, who is the new presenting sponsor for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Another new livery is on the car of Max Chilton. He is still sponsored by Gallagher, but the bland blue and white livery he has carried in previous years has been replaced by a sky-blue scheme trimmed in dark blue that is reminiscent of the two-toned blue featured by the Tennessee Titans of the NFL. The No. 10 NTT Data car of Felix Rosenqvist has a similar two-toned blue scheme that will make it tough to tell the difference between those two.

None of the Penske cars were sporting a new look. Josef Newgarden was in the black and white Hitachi car, Will Power was in the familiar silver Verizon car and Simon Pagenaud was in the day-glo Menard’s livery. One surprise, to me anyway, was the presence of Helio Castroneves who is beginning his second full-time season for Acura Team Penske driving sports cars. He was in the traditional yellow Pennzoil car that he will be driving in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

I’ve seen where Helio and Newgarden will both be driving Pennzoil Chevrolet’s at Indianapolis. I wonder if Newgarden’s will be in the more contemporary red and white livery of Shell/Pennzoil or if he will be in the traditional yellow that Helio was in yesterday at COTA. I guess we’ll find out in about three months.

The Harding Steinbrenner Racing (HSR) car piloted by Colton Herta (who led the morning session) was carrying a solid black scheme that screamed that they are looking for sponsorship. The season hasn’t even started, but we’ve already had one casualty to lack of sponsorship – and that is the HSR No. 8 that had been pegged for Pato O’Ward. We learned on Monday that O’Ward and HSR had parted ways. I will have much more regarding this split on Friday.

Speaking of sponsorship, the sidepods on the Dale Coyne entry driven by Santino Ferrucci sure spurred a lot of conversation. Quite honestly, I thought they were blank, but I finally saw they were sponsored by David Yurman. Who? I Googled it and found that is a jewelry company. So why did it spur a lot of conversation? That’s because the car was in a chrome wrap that really popped on the screen whenever it was shown. Since the SPM Arrow cars have abandoned the chrome look, I’m hoping that the No. 19 Dale Coyne car of Ferrucci will carry it through the season.

With no commercials and an all-day broadcast, there was extra time for extended driver interviews. Just before the morning session was over, Jake Query interviewed Andretti driver Zach Veach, who was fifth quick in the morning. I have become a big fan of Veach after the very impressive season he had last year. Not only has he impressed me with his talent and ability on the track, but I’ve been equally impressed by his humble and unassuming personality out of the car. He has quickly become one of my favorites.

Max Chilton was interviewed earlier and he compared COTA to what he said was one of his favorite tracks – Spa, not only for the sheer size, but because of the elevation changes. I’ve heard before that the incline up to Turn One looks a lot steeper in person than it does on television. Road America, Sonoma and Barber are known for their drastic elevation changes. Apparently, COTA surpasses those tracks.

There were several rookies at COTA with strong showings yesterday morning. Not only did Colton Herta have a strong showing for HSR, but so did Marcus Ericsson with SPM Arrow, Felix Rosenqvist for Chip Ganassi Racing, Santino Ferrucci for Dale Coyne and RC Enerson in the No. 23 for Carlin. Enerson’s car had sponsorship from Craft 1861 on the sidepods, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in that car for at least some of the twelve races when Charlie Kimball will not be in the car.

In the afternoon session, the speed chart took a more normal look…for a while, at least. Names like Power and Rossi were near the top of the charts. But by the end of the day, Colton Herta was the quickest in both the morning and the afternoon session with a time of 1:46.6258 which translates to an average speed of 115.132 mph. The Top-Ten behind Herta was Will Power second quick, followed by Helio Castroneves, Felix Rosenqvist, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal, Santino Ferucci and Spencer Pigot. The Top-Ten was an interesting mix of veterans and rookies. All Session Two times were quicker than the fastest times from Session One.

What was my only negative comment about Spring Training? It should have been on a weekend. Last year, Spring Training took place on a Friday and Saturday. When I got home on Friday afternoon, I was able to catch the end of the afternoon practice and watch the entire night practice on Friday night. Then on Saturday, I was able to be a slug and watch the entire day from the comfort of my den. Due to the day job, I wasn’t able to catch much of Spring Training yesterday, and they will not have video coverage at all as Spring Training continues today. They were happy that some fans came out on a Tuesday, but wouldn’t they have more fans able to come out on a Friday and Saturday?

But other than that, it was good to see cars on track yesterday. After today, we will just be a little over three weeks away from the first practice at St. Petersburg. That’s a thought that can keep us going.

George Phillips

16 Responses to “Spring Training at COTA”

  1. BrandonW77 Says:

    I’m one that will not miss the IMS Radio team. They spend more time interviewing random people and talking about how great the series is than they do talking about what’s happening on track or giving useful information. Not a big Anders Krohn fan either, he’s definitely passionate and seems like a nice guy but he just talks and talk and talks and talks while rarely saying anything useful. Having the NBC team takeover the practice broadcasts is worth the $4/month to me alone.

    • I cannot stand them. And Jaynes is as stuck up in person as he sounds live….

      • Sorry Phil, but I must strongly disagree.

        On the contrary…I feel like I know Mark very well and he has always been very kind to me. The first time I met him, he approached me at Barber several years ago to tell me how much he enjoyed my site. Every time I see him, we have lengthy conversations about racing and many things outside of racing. At Gateway last year, Mark and his wife talked to Susan and me at length about what we needed to check out at Sonoma. We converse through social media throughout the offseason on various topics. Perhaps you came across him on a very bad day – but I consider Mark Jaynes to be a friend and a very genuine person; which is how he comes across to me on the air.

      • I’m going to have to disagree here as well. I’ve known Mark Jaynes for many years, before I was even involved with blogging for the IndyCar Series. I think I first met him in late 2008 or early 2009 when I was in town mid-winter and stopped by for a taping of the Autosport Radio Show. We chatted for a couple minutes and he gave me his email address so we could continue chatting later on. That following May, he invited me to watching qualifying for the 500 with him from his perch in Turn 3 and was kind enough to be a guest on my podcast several times in the following years. I don’t know if you perhaps tried to catch him at a particularly busy time, but I’ve never seen or known Mark to be anything but exceptionally gracious to anyone and everyone he crosses paths with.

        • Well, people are usually cool with other people in the “in” crowd, you know. It’s my opinion, and you can disagree all you want but remember, one never gets a second chance to make a first impression, right?

          • And I LOVE Kake Query!!!!

          • As I said, Mark was exceptionally kind and gracious to me well before I was involved in the sport. At the time, I was a fan who struck up a conversation with him at a smoky restaurant in the middle of the winter. I didn’t have a website or a podcast or a blog and I’d certainly never set foot in a media center. I most assuredly wasn’t in the “in” crowd. I guess everyone’s experiences might be different.

  2. The IMS Radio team is like an incessant chihuahua yapping and barking at your heels. I have been hoping for the past few years that they would just hush a minute and let you hear the cars. COTA is a helluva venue.

  3. Great write up! My viewership was choppy as well yesterday so I like the cliff notes version of the day.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I really do wish this had been on the weekend. I strongly considered taking a vacation day to go watch the test, but I have to be more judicious with them this year due to certain life events that involve a significant other and an uncomfortable suit…

    And yes, the hill up to turn 1 at COTA is much steeper than it appears on television, as is the path to the turn 1 grandstands.

  5. How did my phone mess up “Jake?” Lol!

  6. I am playing catch up today, but was able to watch all of the morning session from yesterday on YouTube. Just having the highlights wasn’t enough. I sure hope I will be able to do the same with Gold. Life sometimes gets in the way from watching live. Personally, I like Anders and Mark and thought Jake had good driver interviews. At least we were able to see his interviews! Not always the case in the past for practice.

    I am trying to find a middle ground here and wanted to suggest that perhaps being from the radio end of the coverage meant that they are told to fill the holes. It can be trying at times.

    BTW, congrats Billy on your news!

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Thank you for the congratulations, folks.

  8. I went and took my 3 year old son for his first Indycar experience. Though it was really cold (the wind was killer) he had alot of fun I think and enjoyed seeing the cars. I’m not gonna take him to a full race weekend until he gets older but it was a good introduction for him. I think he will be a fan.

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