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IndyCar Classic: Weekend Preview

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Chris Jones/IndyCar (1); Karl Zemlin/IndyCar (2); Shawn Gritzmacher/IndyCar (3)

The time for hype is over: the NTT IndyCar Series is finally coming to Circuit of the Americas.

In a move that fans have clamored for since the circuit’s opening, COTA—the United States’ home for Formula 1, MotoGP, World Challenge, and in the past a number of sports car events and X Games—will play host to its first IndyCar event this weekend. The inaugural IndyCar Classic serves as the first event in a five-year contract between series and circuit, and joins June’s mainstay event at Texas Motor Speedway to make Texas one of only three states to host multiple IndyCar events in 2019 (Indiana and California are the others; Michigan gets two rounds via the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader weekend).

The second of 17 rounds on the 2019 calendar comes just two weeks after a thrilling season opener in St. Petersburg, where 2017 series champion Josef Newgarden held off defending champion Scott Dixon for the victory. The series’ usual suspects up front made up most of the top finishers, with last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power completing the podium and 2018 runner-up Alexander Rossi bookending the top five.

But this year’s rookie crop made a strong impression in Florida as well, led by Felix Rosenqvist, Dixon’s new teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing. The Swedish driver, a former Formula 3 champion and Macau Grand Prix winner, lived up to the hype set for his debut by finishing fourth in his first IndyCar start. Colton Herta carried on the strong pace he set in preseason testing at COTA by finishing eighth for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, while the much-maligned Santino Ferrucci began his first full season in a respectable ninth place for Dale Coyne Racing.

COTA will mark the season debuts for both Kyle Kaiser, who returns to Juncos Racing for another limited schedule in 2019, and Patricio O’Ward, who just announced a deal with Carlin Racing to partner with Max Chilton. O’Ward, whose deal to race alongside Herta at HSR fell through in the offseason, was the 2018 Indy Lights champion, and will complete the schedule for the team’s second car alongside Charlie Kimball; all three Carlin drivers will run the Indianapolis 500. With DragonSpeed’s Ben Hanley not scheduled to compete at this race after a respectable driver and team debut in St. Petersburg, the driver and team changes keep the field at a solid 24 cars this weekend.

Qualifying for the inaugural IndyCar Classic airs on Saturday at 3PM ET/12PM PT on NBCSN, while the race itself will also show on NBCSN on Sunday at 1PM ET/10AM PT. From there, the IndyCar season continues with three more road and street courses at Barber Motorsports Park, the streets of Long Beach, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course layout, before finally making its 2019 oval debut with the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500.

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