After a week off, the NTT IndyCar Series teams are back in action this weekend in Texas. The inaugural IndyCar Classic (1:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network) will take place at the Circuit of The Americas on Sunday afternoon.
Here are five storylines to watch.
Can Herta Pick Up Where He Left Off?
How crazy would it be for Colton Herta to win his first Indy Car race in just his third career start? It could happen on Sunday too.
Herta, was in the top two in all four test sessions last month at COTA including being quickest in the first three of them overall. Now, can his No. 88 Honda remain on top again in the return trip this weekend?
He was fast in the season opener in St. Pete to where if not for an unlucky penalty in qualifying, he would have started in the Fast Six instead. He still climbed to an eighth place finish in the 110 Lap race a day later.
Can he pick up where he left off at COTA in February?
Rookie Class Could Be Strong In General
Forget Herta’s possible dominance, all four rookies in the field this weekend could shine in general. Herta’s stats are above, but Felix Rosenqvist started third and finished fourth at St. Pete as the top rookie. He led 31 laps in the March 10 race. He was also fast in the two-day test at COTA last month as well.
So was Marcus Ericsson. He was P2 in the first test session of the day in February and showed some speed in his No. 7 Honda in St. Pete too. Plus, he’s not a rookie at COTA either. He raced there in F1 as well.
You can’t count out Santino Ferrucci either. He went from the last row to a top 10 finish in St. Pete and keeps getting better and better. COTA, is designed like the tracks in Europe, the same ones that Ferrucci grew up racing on.
Penske The Favorites?
All weekend in St. Pete, the Penske drivers kept talking about how much importance that they put on the street course program in the offseason. See, prior to St. Pete, they were 1-for-10 in their last 10 street course starts. They only swept the front row in the season opener and took two of the three podium spots including a win. All three drivers finished in the top seven.
Now, can they back that up with a strong performance at COTA?
They were just ho-hum in the test in February, but that doesn’t mean anything. They may have been sandbagging a bit and could have decided to keep some cards in their pockets.
Will Penske go back-to-back to start the 2019 season?
They’ve been strong on natural road courses over the years and look to be back on their game again in 2019.
Hunter-Reay/Bourdais Needing Good Finishes
The start of the season opener in St. Pete couldn’t have gone much worse for Hunter-Reay and Bourdais. Both saw their engines blow in the first 20 Laps. With how close the points standings typically are at the end of the year in this series, neither driver can afford another bad finish on Sunday.
Bourdais, closed out 2018 with four top six finishes over his final five starts. But, that momentum was halted with a last place finish (24th) in St. Pete.
Hunter-Reay finished 2018 with a second place finish in Portland and a win in the season finale in Sonoma. In practice at St. Pete, he was first or second quick in all three sessions. His engine expired early on in the race though as he’d finish 23rd as a result.
After a year full of bad luck in 2018, Hunter-Reay needs to end this string now.
We touched on it above with the engine reliability issues in St. Pete for Honda. They had the top cars but failed to get the job done in qualifying and the race itself. Overall, six cars scored a DNF in St. Pete, four of which belonged to Honda drivers. All four of them were mechanical failures.
With COTA being a demanding track, will the Honda engines hold up on Sunday?