It was a whirlwind of an experience for Santino Ferrucci when the NTT IndyCar Series visited last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
The 23-year-old Connecticut native went from spectator to super-sub and went on to put in a sensational drive from last to ninth in the XPEL 375.
Ferrucci moved to Dallas – roughly 30 minutes from the track – over the off-season and arrived on Saturday simply to wander the paddock and greet some familiar faces. Then, like a script from a movie, he showed up the next day helmet in hand and ready to race the No. 45 Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing after Jack Harvey was ruled out following a hard crash in final practice. The impact of Harvey’s crash was severe enough to force the team switch to a backup car, which happens to be the primary challenger for the Indianapolis 500 in May.
Ferrucci, who drove five races for RLL last year, including a sixth-place finish at the Indy 500, was quickly debriefed before getting a 15-minute warm-up roughly an hour before the start of the 248-lap race. Due to the driver change, he was forced to start 27th before his methodical climb into the top 10, salvaging a positive result for an otherwise terrible weekend for RLL.
“I was just coming to say ‘Hi’”, Ferrucci told TobyChristie.com. “I live in Dallas, in Victory Park, and was just coming to check out the scenery and Rico [Ricardo Nault, team manager] called me last night and said, ‘Hey, what do you got here for gear? Just to keep you on standby.’ And I was like, ‘I got my helmet. I don’t have my suit.’ I’m in Jack’s suit, which is hilarious. But they flew my seat in last night (and) picked it up. They literally put it in the car as we rolled out to start the race. I guess it goes to show you only really need six laps of practice to come from the back.”
The seat came courtesy of Dreyer & Reinbold, whom Ferrucci is set to drive for at this year’s Indy 500.
“They (RLL) called Dreyer last night and Chase Selman, who’s head of the team, was like, ‘We’ll get it to you,’ and got them everything and got it to the team and the team got it here. They’re more than happy to get me in the car here at Texas, because for them it’s better, for me it’s better. I’m racing for them at the (Indy) 500 and to get a whole almost 400 miles of racing today is a big deal for me to move forward.”
The day didn’t come without its fair share of close moments, though. On Lap 129, he had a front row seat to the biggest incident of the day when rookie Devlin DeFrancesco triggered a crash involving RLL teammate Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves in Turn 3.
“I was really happy I was in the middle,” Ferrucci said. “I was really pushing Helio on the top because Graham was in the middle, and then last second I saw Devlin just really pull out late. He definitely was alongside Graham, but because of PJ1 (stained upper lane) we can’t go three-wide and I think that everybody just literally came together. Graham got sandwiched. I mean, that’s racing, but dude seeing that I just hit the brakes and I was like, ‘What a way to finish a day.’ And then I didn’t hit anything and was like, ‘Nevermind, let’s keep going.’”
Last season, it looked like a possibility Ferrucci’s trial run with RLL would lead to a full-time seat in 2022. While the team moved forward to choose Harvey over a short list of other candidates, the opportunity to return to the team – albeit for a likely one-off – and deliver a strong result left Ferrucci feeling appreciative but also to remind the paddock his desire to be a full-time competitor in IndyCar is unwavering.
“No, of course,” Ferrucci said. “I mean, the opportunity that Bobby (Rahal), Mike Lanigan and David Letterman gave me last year was second to none. That’s not something I’ve really ever had in my career to where it’s just call you up and go drive. Obviously, chips didn’t fall my way for a full-time ride, but honestly it’s also just as refreshing to know that I’m first call if anything happens to replace anybody on this grid. From not driving anything since Nashville, no testing, no sim time, no nothing, I can get back in the car and put it back in the top 10. I think it shows as much as I’m young, I’m still incredibly competitive and think I deserve to be here. So, we’ll see what happens.”
After the race, Piers Philips, president of RLL, was all smiles as he made a run down to the No. 45’s pit box, where crew members were already making rounds giving Ferrucci congratulatory fist bumps and hugs.
“He’s the super-sub,” Philips said of Ferrucci. “I mean, obviously we know him really well. We know how good he is on an oval, and he knows the team. You know, after Jack’s unfortunate incident yesterday, he was at the top of the list and we were just so lucky that he was available. What an awesome job.
“You know, he hadn’t driven an Indy car for so long and had no practice, he didn’t even have his own seat until the race. There was a few laps he did earlier before the start were in somebody else’s seat. But, awesome. He couldn’t fold it and to bring it home in the top 10, a good result for Hy-Vee with everybody here. Absolutely stellar; so pleased.”