Will Ferrucci’s Success Continue This Season?

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Before getting into today’s racing-related topic, I’d like to pass along my condolences to the fans, friends and family of NBA star Kobe Bryant and his thirteen year-old daughter Gianna; who lost their lives in a helicopter crash just outside of Los Angeles yesterday. I’m not much of an NBA fan, but I recognize his importance in the sporting world. Please keep his widow Vanessa, his remaining three children and his parents in your thoughts; as well as the families of the other victims on board. This is just a horribly tragic story.

During the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, rookie driver Santino Ferrucci turned a lot of heads – among fans and those in the paddock. He was especially impressive on ovals, considering he had come from a European background.

Despite what his name might imply and his European racing background, Ferrucci is an American that was born in Woodbury, Connecticut. But until he drove in last year’s Indianapolis 500, he had never driven on an oval in his life. He finished seventh after starting in the middle of Row Eight and made one of the signature moves of the race, diving down onto the grass at the north end to avoid a pile-up in the short-chute. Ferrucci earned Rookie of the Year honors for his efforts in the “500”.

He continued to impress when the series went to the next oval at Texas, where he finished fourth. He ran up front a large part at Iowa before dropping back to finish a disappointing twelfth but finished fourth at the final two ovals at Pocono and Gateway. That’s not too shabby for a driver who had never driven an oval race until last season.

Oddly enough, it was his mediocre results on the non-ovals that kept Ferrucci from winning Rookie of the Year for the season. That honor went to Felix Rosenqvist, who showed more consistency than Ferrucci or that other rookie sensation, Colton Herta. In fact, although everyone was talking about what a rookie sensation Ferrucci was – he was never really a threat to win Rookie of the Year. He finished up seventy-four points behind Rosenqvist and sixty-nine points behind Herta.

The perception was that Ferrucci was the next great thing in the NTT IndyCar Series, and he may just turn out to be – but I’m not sure his trajectory will continue in that direction for 2020.

It was finally announced this past Thursday that Ferrucci had re-signed with Dale Coyne Racing (DCR), the team where he experienced all of that rookie success in 2019. It had been presumed for months that Ferrucci would re-sign there, but as the weeks and months went by – people were beginning to wonder.

But this is not the same Dale Coyne Racing that Santino Ferrucci last raced with at Laguna Seca back in September. There have been several major changes the team has gone through since the season-finale – most notably the loss of four-time champion Sébastien Bourdais with a year left on his contract. The team also lost two of the best engineers in the paddock; Mike Cannon is now with Ganassi and Craig Hampson went to Arrow McLaren SP. Those are three major holes to fill on a team that failed to win a race last year. Olivier Boisson is still with the team and is a solid engineer, but the expertise lost by the departures of Cannon and Hampson will be felt.

But in my opinion, the loss of Bourdais will be what is felt the most – especially by Ferrucci. I’m not sure that one can overestimate the mentorship that Bourdais provided to the younger driver over last season. Ferrucci could have benefited from another season under Bourdais’ wing.

Instead, Ferrucci is being thrust into the unfamiliar role of team leader at Dale Coyne Racing. That’s pretty heady territory for a twenty-one year old with only one season of IndyCar experience under his belt. Instead of a veteran driver with four series championships to his credit aiding a young rookie as they had last season; Dale Coyne Racing will have a young inexperienced driver still trying to find his way being paired with another young rookie in Spain’s Alex Palou.

It’s fairly normal for a rookie with surprising results to suffer a sophomore slump in their second season. You don’t have to look any further than the second season that Zach Veach had in 2019 for a perfect example. Even if DCR had remained the same with no change for 2020, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if Ferrucci regressed some in his second season. We’ve seen it happen too many times.

But now, one of last year’s rookie sensations is being asked to carry the team that looks quite different than it did less than six months ago. That’s a tall order for anyone.

We all know of Ferrucci’s history in Formula 2 and the now-infamous incident at Silverstone in 2018. If you don’t know the story, Google it. There is some debate over exactly what happened, but overall – it was not a good look for Ferrucci. Most of his behavior was blamed on a lack of maturity. The incident occurred less than two years ago. Although he displayed maturity beyond his years last season, has he really matured that much in such a short amount of time?

Last season, he was just out having a good time and learning from one of the best. There was not a whole lot of pressure on him, except to prove that he was not the same immature kid that pulled that prank in F2 the year before. Now he has set the bar with a good rookie season. There are a lot of expectations on him to perform better than he did a year ago, and to provide leadership to another rookie coming over from Europe. Plus, he is now under the Vasser-Sullivan umbrella driving the same SealMaster car that Bourdais piloted to a couple of victories recently. That’s a whole lot of pressure on a twenty-one year old who seemed so happy and care-free last season.

I’m not pointing this out to bring up Santino Ferrucci’s flaws – in fact, quite the contrary. My hope is that if Ferrucci stumbles this season that fans and the media will give him a break. I think back to what a knucklehead I was at twenty-one and realize how poorly I would have handled Ferrucci’s situation over the past couple of years. He did a wonderful job in 2019, both in and out of the cockpit. Cut him some slack if he struggles this season. But if he continues to impress everyone in 2020 like he did in 2019 – my hat is off to him. He will have earned my respect, for whatever that’s worth.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Will Ferrucci’s Success Continue This Season?”

  1. I am not sure why, but I keep getting this feeling that Ferucci will be swayed to NASCAR in a season or so. I think it is because of how much Dale Jr seemed impressed with him.

    I hope he does well, I do wonder what got him in that ride this year, maybe he is bringing money or driving for free vs Seabass taking a salary.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I’m pretty sure Ferrucci has brought money about every where he has raced and is doing so again with Coyne this year. Well, maybe it was Byrd money at the Chili Bowl…

      I would not be shocked if he improved, but the loss of personnel at Coyne makes that a tougher row to hoe than continuity would.

  2. At times I have this dream that at the start of every racing year the drivers throw their names into a hat and the teams draw for drivers.

    Now that’d be an interesting year. Talk about eyes glued to the tv (or lack thereof).

  3. Along with RP I spent the previous 24 hours watching the Rolex 24. Loud shiny cars going fast. What’s not to like? Mr. Dixon took home another watch in his class. Frooch was not there, but lots of international drivers of course along with Kyle Busch, and many international marques. There were two female drivers who finished the race. Katherine Legge-bless her heart-was one. She will race anything anywhere there is not a deer on the track. Since she did not win a Rolex, they could at least give her a Lady Elgin. The other female driver-a Dane-had to leap out of her Lamborghini in the pits to put out a fire. A fast up and coming Indy Lights driver-Aaron Telitz-was also in the race. Kyle Busch said he had fun and will likely try it again. The race was broadcast live at times on network NBC..

  4. Froochie will be my pick for 2020.

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