BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Just a little over a month since the open test at Barber Motorsports Park, Dale Coyne Racing and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series setup for a short, two day event at the 2.38-mile, 17 turn road course. Two quick practice sessions and qualifications were on Saturday and the race went green on Sunday afternoon.
Rodolfo Gonzalez made his first Verizon IndyCar Series start in the No. 18 car after having previously tested for Coyne and one other team this offseason. He comes with a rich open wheel pedigree having competed in 64 GP2 Series races and spending 2 years as the Marussia F1 Team’s test driver.
Despite his IndyCar testing history, this is the first time the Venezuelan was able to run with the new Honda HPD aero kit and the learning curve proved to be challenging. He spent most of Saturday finding the limits of the added downforce, which contributed to his 21st starting position.
Gonzalez made the most of his opportunity to show his racing skills honed at Europe’s top levels as he battled all the way to 10th position during the middle portion of the race. The team’s strategy would have brought the car home in 15th place had he saved a bit more fuel in the last stint. Gonzalez was forced to pit with just two laps left.
Despite bringing the car home in 20th position, Gonzalez raced many of IndyCar’s accomplished veterans to their limits. He had battles with Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, and Juan Pablo Montoya while trying to hold on to his strong run. As the television commentators mentioned, Gonzalez was fearless during the battles and his experience showed through.
Speaking of the fuel situation, Gonzalez said, “(We were) two laps from the end. We didn't quite make the fuel numbers and it was disappointing I had to come in and finish 20th. In the end, it was good experience and in the future I just have to be more cautious of the way I save fuel.”
Francesco Dracone made his fourth consecutive start in the No. 19 LaPasta entry and made the best out of his return to Barber. He participated in March’s Open Test there but was forced to run with the 2014 Dallara aero package due to part shortages. Similar to his teammate, Dracone spent most of the early sessions looking for the limits of the DW-12 car with the additional downforce. He started the race in 23rd place.
Dracone kept pace with his teammate in the early stages of the race and did well to keep his car on the lead lap after the team put him on an alternate strategy. This strategy landed Dracone right in the middle of a battle with second place finisher Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe where he held on to his top position of 15th for several laps.
“I was a little disappointed in my performance during some phases of the race but there were others where I had some good battles when I was in the middle of the pack,” said Dracone. During the last stint of the race, another driver clipped his rear wheel and caused a tire puncture. He was forced to stop one extra time which relegated him to a 23rd place finish, two places below where we was running at the time of the contact.
The series now shifts its focus to the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the “Month of May” in which they will race on the road course in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and then the Indianapolis 500 on the oval portion of the track. The speedway aero kits will be revealed when the cars hit the oval on May 3 for the Indianapolis 500 Open Test. Follow along with the month’s action at www.dalecoyneracing.com and www.indycar.com.