The NTT IndyCar Series kicks off their 2020 season on Saturday night in Texas. The Genesys 300 (8 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) serves as the first race of the season. The drivers though, are in for a tall task.
They haven’t even been in these race cars since February. They’ve last raced almost nine months ago. Now, they have to do so with a new device (Aeroscreen) and all of that’s uncertainties, a unknown from the tires and have to do so in a new one-day format.
That’s why the veterans of the sport don’t envy the position the rookies have been put in. To make your series debut at one of the most challenging ovals on the circuit under these circumstances, well good luck.
“I certainly don’t envy their position,” said James Hinchcliffe. Defending series champion Josef Newgarden agrees and says that Texas is tough for seasoned veterans, he can’t imagine doing so with such little preparation like these rookies will have.
“Texas is a very difficult racetrack to race in general, whether you’ve been there 20 years or first time,” Newgarden said. “It’s a daunting track to get right. Typically we have five races or so to sort out our stuff, kind of get ourselves in the right frame of mind, have a general base before we go to a track like that.
“I think for the veterans it will be a tough race to get thrust into. From the rookie side, it’s going to be extremely difficult.”
But, for one rookie, while he’s rightfully nervous, he’s also anxious. Oliver Askew has been waiting almost his whole life for this moment. He’s going to soak this in on Saturday.
“Getting in a car, racing an Indy car, this is a moment I’ve been waiting for since I was 10 or 11 years old when I began to follow the series, began to realize this is what I wanted to do at the end of the day for my professional career,” said Askew who will make his series debut Saturday night.
“I’ll be making my professional debut tomorrow. I honestly couldn’t be more excited about it. I’m very relaxed going into it as well. I know the weekend, it’s not a normal format. I don’t think anybody’s experienced something like this before.”
Askew, notes that the team has had great race cars in the past at Texas and says he feels comfort by that.
“I know we’ve had really strong cars here before,” Askew continued. “Arrow McLaren SP has done a really good job rolling off the trailer and being quick right away. Hopefully, we can have a good qually and a good, clean race tomorrow.”
Askew, 23, has quickly rose up the ranks. He spent just one year in USF2000 in 2017 when he won seven times en route to the series championship. He took the Road to Indy scholarship money to Pro Mazda for 2018 and finished third in the standings. The Florida native had enough funding still to move up to an Indy Lights ride last year with Andretti Autosport. Askew, won seven more times en route to a second title in three years in the Road to Indy.
Now, he’s an Indy Car driver.
But, with that, Askew is still very inexperienced. He tried to stay in the right mindset during this long COVID-19 break by using iRacing. While he didn’t learn much in terms of driving style from it, one thing he did learn was crucial for this season though.
“I think it was extremely beneficial for myself especially because I’ve never done a pit stop before, I haven’t been able to hear what the timing stand has to go through, strategy. All of that was very realistic,” Askew noted.
“I think our team took the initiative early on and set a trend by building our own timing stand essentially in the iRacing software. I had all of my strategists and engineers on-call through every race. Towards the end of the season I think most of the drivers had the same thing because they realized that was a huge factor in scoring good results, was strategy through iRacing.
“There wasn’t so much I could take away from the driving side. I think on the ovals a bit more I was able to take away a bit more than the road courses because of the dirty air. It was quite realistic. Being able to race with these guys on track that I’ve been looking up to for so long, each have a different personality, it was cool to see that side.”
Now, Askew takes to the Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet to his first start in what he says they will be conservative with his No. 7 Chevrolet. While he went 2-for-2 on ovals last year in Indy Lights, making his first ever start at Texas can be daunting, so his team is going to give him maybe a slower car than others, but more grip though too.
“Yeah, I think the team has been studying past races here. I’m sure we’re going to be able to start with a conservative approach because it’s my first oval race in an INDYCAR, first speedway race in an Indy car. I have been here before. I have a little leg up on Pato. I’m sure he’s going to learn the track quite quickly.
“With the impound after qualifying, I’m quite happy about that. I’m sure a lot of other drivers are, especially the rookies, because we won’t be trimming out for qualifying. We’re going to be running race downforce. I think that’s pretty close to max.
“Qualifying is going to be interesting, for sure. You’ll see which guys are light on downforce and which guys are not. We’ve had really good cars here in the past, Arrow McLaren SP has. We finished in the top five here multiple times over the past couple years. That definitely builds confidence within myself, I’m sure Pato as well, heading into tomorrow.”