INDIANAPOLIS — Santino Ferrucci is back in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES as a full-time participant. The last two years, he’s done so in a part-time role. Now, he’s racing all the races in a season again.
“It’s definitely less stressful,” Ferrucci told me on Tuesday morning of opening day for 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 practice. “Put it this way, you know, the checks consistent.”
Ferrucci this year joins AJ Foyt Racing. That comes after running for Dale Coyne Racing in 2019, then shifting to the Coyne with Vasser Sullivan entry in 2020, then over to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in their third car for 2021 and finally with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing last year. The last two years were one-off efforts. Ferrucci says that being with Foyt is more a work in progress feel in comparison to the past.
“It’s a lot of work,” he told me. “It’s a lot of work, you know, and I really like that, because, you know, going back with our RLL car, you know, the car was really good. All I really had to do every weekend was show up and finish in the top 10. Nothing to it. But here, you know, it’s continuous work, you know, trying to figure out where to go with the dampers, what to do with the car, how to, you know, roll everything into the weekend with the team because we’ve started every weekend, a couple of seconds off the pace, and we managed to get it within a couple of times. I mean, the GP was no different. We started in no man’s land and by the time we did race day, minus the hiccup we were running 13th from dead last so you know, we are finding the speed. We’re hoping that the GP for us was kind of our tipping point of you know rolling out of the trailer better a lot easier.”
Ferrucci says that the GP was strong but they’ve still not had a real solid race weekend yet. However, with two weeks of activity here for the ‘500 in comparison to just a few days of a normal race weekend, the slower pace could be just what his No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet team needed.
He was third on the opening day speed charts in going 228.977 mph. That’s a shot to the field that he’s that quick this early.
“We haven’t had a real solid race weekend yet,” Ferrucci said. So I’m hoping that with the slow pace of the Speedway, you know, we can actually come away with a really good finish here, driving the 14 here. It’d be nice to get AJ his second team win, team owner win and six to 500. I’d like to get my first so, you know, having been really close to it in previous years, you know, I definitely feel like I have the capabilities of doing it. So it’s just closing on race day.”
Closing on race day is something he has almost always done. He went from 23rd to 7th as a rookie. A year later, he improved from 19th to 4th. In 2021, he qualified 23rd but finished sixth. Last year, he was running as high as fourth twice in the race and as late as Lap 158 but ended up 10th when it was all said and done.
“I’ve always hated qualifying,” Ferrucci admitted. “I was shaking after my first qualifying run. I was happy it was done. So I just I don’t know. It doesn’t matter me I’ve just I’ve never started well here. I’ve never qualified well here I’ve got a 23rd to 19th and a 15th in qualifying and all the top 10 finishes so yes, I would much rather start on the outside row five or six then have to manage being upfront. When we got up from the Dryer car, started 15th last year and we stayed up front all day till the very end, so it’s one of those things where we can definitely do it. My focus is always race car.
“I’m not afraid to pass people I’m not afraid to you know, be on the limits in the pits.”
Ferrucci also notes this year he can get back to taking more risks as a full-time driver. Last year with DRR, it was just a one-race deal. He babied the car because of that. This year, this is his ride and his ride only. He’s going to go back to the old Ferrucci approach of being overly aggressive.
“You know, last year the team did really save me a bit,” he said. “I didn’t have the greatest restarts which is kind of unusual. I was definitely taking more of a step back being on a you know, just a one ride time to deal because I really needed to finish. So, this year you know I can go a little bit more out ahead of my skis per se and really be aggressive but also just being comfortable. So starting in the back for me people make mistakes trying to push the frontier early and I just you know I’m more of the last 75 laps kind of guy.”
That’s music to the ears of his boss, AJ Foyt.
Ferrucci is just a younger version of AJ Foyt. Brash. Doesn’t care what people think about him. Fast. Races anything. Makes everything that he does race in competitive. He’s raced sprints, he’s raced midgets, he’s raced an INDYCAR a NASCAR, you name it. He also likes to work on his own cars just as his new boss.
Foyt sees a lot of himself in this young racer too and now the 24-year-old is back in Indy Car with a potential to bring AJ Foyt Racing back from the ashes and into the national limelight again.
Ferrucci lives in Texas. That’s where Foyt lives. That’s where this 14 car resides. Ferrucci’s lucky number?
Ferrucci’s favorite driver he idolized growing up?
Now, he’s in the 14 car at Indy.
“Yeah, it’s cool. I mean, I idolized Tony (Stewart) growing up,” Ferrucci says of driving the 14 car here this month. AJ is a bit before my time so it’s kind of cool to see it come full circle and I’m really good buddies with Chase Briscoe who’s also in the 14 car in NASCAR. So for us, it’s kind of cool, at least for me. It’s really cool.
“I saw Tony, actually right after I had signed with AJ. And he was really happy and I was really happy . Yeah, it’s definitely a full circle aha moment for me in my lifetime but ya know, I’m it’s I definitely want to get that that sixth win for him and my first in this in this car be so freakin special.”
So far so good. He’s fast early and doing so when they didn’t expect to be already.
“Yeah, no, we’re in full race trim, nose down, rear wing is pretty stacked on there,” he said on the opening day pace.
“Honestly, we were looking for a tow lap like everybody else. What I didn’t expect was to be passing people in that lap, and to be able to follow as closely as we did because we did make a change before we put the set of stickers on because the left rear is a little bit softer this year, so with the track being as green as it is, they’re not quite lasting as long as we probably would have liked the first day, but expect that to obviously change.
“No, I’m pretty comfortable, and this is definitely a car that I can see not needing too much adjustments for next Sunday.”