By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
MADISON, Ill. — Rookie sensations Santino Ferrucci and Marcus Ericsson certainly didn’t run speeds like rookies at Gateway.
During Friday’s opening practice for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway, the young drivers set the early tempo, with Ferrucci topping the practice charts at 184.804 mph to Ericcson’s 184.527 mph in the closing minutes.
Veterans Scott Dixon, championship leader Josef Newgarden and Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top-five.
For Ferrucci, who’s 13 points behind rookie points leader Felix Rosenqvist, being on top of the session continues his momentum of strong runs on ovals.
“It’s all about momentum and I feel like we’ve been doing a really good job, especially in the ovals lately,” Ferrucci said. “It makes a difference, especially coming down to the end of the championship for us to win the rookie title, obviously coming into the top-10 in points. Just keep staying on our game, staying consistent and doing what we can do.”
The Dale Coyne Racing driver commented his battle against Rosenqvist for top rookie honors has its similar playing field as far as teammates are concern. Rosenqvist has five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon as his teammate at Chip Ganass Racing, while Ferrucci has Bourdais, a four-time IndyCar champion, to learn from throughout the season.
Despite dealing with similar situations, Ferrucci believes that consistency, being on top of his game and taking these next three races a weekend at a time will make the difference as to who ends up as the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year.
“For us finishing in the top 10 is good as a rookie. Tough to fight for top fives, wins. Not really something you expect out of your first season,” Ferrucci said. “I keep going off of the completing laps. I’m not really looking forward into Portland or Laguna. I know the car is going to be somewhat decent if not really good. I just want to take one race at a time and focus on what’s at hand and go from there.”
Ericsson came into Gateway without having specific expectations in mind as his prior experience at the 1.25-mile oval was last month’s testing session, but knew he’s been right on pace with the veterans and ready to see what his No. 7 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Honda will fare in qualifying.
“It’s only practice one, so will see in qualifying where we’ll really stand but for sure the car was really good to drive,” Ericsson said. “I thought the driving was really good as well, so the ARROW SPM guys have done a great job so far.”
With Gateway being the fifth and final oval race of the season, Ericsson has felt really comfortable on running those circuits for the first time. Although a seventh at Texas is the Swede’s only oval top-10 out of the three top-10s he’s had this season, he’s hoping to continue hitting his stride.
“The guys have really helped me to get up to speed and get comfortable, and giving me a very nice to drive. Unfortunately, there’s been a couple of mistakes on my side when we had some really good runs like the 500 and Iowa.
“If you want to look at the results, maybe our oval record is not that great but the actual pace we’ve shown has been really strong. Hopefully, we can piece a whole weekend together and really get a good result. That would be nice and we have that possibility this weekend.”
The top-five were separated by less than a tenth of a second and not among the five was championship contender Alexander Rossi, who was only sixth fastest in the hour-long session.
Meanwhile, championship leader Newgarden ended up fourth fastest at 184.348 mph after being on top of the leaderboard for a majority of the session.
The 2017 race winner felt that his No. 2 PPG Chevrolet is right up there to compete for another Gateway victory.
“Today the car was stellar right out of the pits. I’m happier with this. A lot more like 2017,” Newgarden said. “I think we’ve got it in a really good window. Now we’ll fine-tune it. See what race running brings this evening. I think that will be another challenge.”
Coors Light Pole Night will commence at 6:15 pm EST as Newgarden eyes for his second NTT Data P1 Pole Award this season after qualifying was washed out at Pocono where he started first due to the field lining up by points.
“I think for qualifying we’ll have a good car to go up and challenge everybody,” Newgarden said. “Yeah, I feel confident. I think we’ve got something to fight for this weekend with PPG and Chevrolet.”