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Ferrucci’s road trip chat: Penske alliance, targeting The Double and Indy 500 reflection

Written by Archie O’Reilly

It is two days on from the Indianapolis 500 and Santino Ferrucci is unwinding with a road trip back to Dallas. He is in Missouri as he dials into a media call, roughly the length of last weekend’s race away from his destination.

The mental toil of the Month of May can take its toll so Ferrucci is doing his best to recharge ahead of the IndyCar circus continuing on the streets of Detroit on Friday. His wife Renay and dog Cleo are napping while the second of his dogs, Kodak, listens in.

“Everyone makes fun of me for driving everywhere,” he says. “I’m not going to lie, there’s nothing more stress-free than an open road and no distractions. To be driving home from Indy with the dogs and with everybody, it’s like a nice break from constantly checking your phone or worrying about sending emails or doing this or doing that. It’s calming to me.”

Ferrucci is heading home for the night before he gets on a flight to Detroit. He is grateful to have this chance amid this busy portion of the season, with five successive weekends of action from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis up to Road America. His crew chief has not been able to go home and tend to a fence that “got swept away in a tornado” while he was away.

“This is where it really counts,” Ferrucci adds. “You’ve really got to dig down deep, got to make sure you get all the rest you can at night. These are the races that really make a big swing on your championship.”

By the time Ferrucci logs off the call, for which he did not have his camera on for safety reasons, he is in the countryside contemplating stopping off for energy drinks after a gruelling month. But things will not be tranquil for much longer. Attention will soon turn to racing again, which was still fresh on his mind as he was quizzed by the media.

Penske alliance “worked both ways”

Hot on everybody’s mind has been the technical alliance formed between Ferrucci’s AJ Foyt Racing team and the famed Team Penske ahead of the 2024 season. 

Ordinarily, it would be the smaller outfit gaining merit from this sort of situation. But in this case, while Foyt are gaining avail on road and street course situations, the view is that Penske have been aided on the oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as Foyt learning a thing or two more from Penske for the Indy 500.

While he was on their dampers, Ferrucci claimed last week that the Penske drivers were using his set-up in qualifying as Roger Penske’s team achieved their first front row lockout since 1988. This was a marked upturn on a best qualifying result of 11th in the four years prior - too much of a coincidence for Ferrucci to believe Foyt had no impact.

“It was a very helpful relationship for us and then obviously, as you saw on Sunday for them, as much as certain drivers or a certain driver is not…” 

Ferrucci stopped short of continuing that answer as he spoke on Media Day last week. But his frustrations with a perceived lack of public credit being given to Foyt from Penske’s drivers was still evident.

When pressed, Will Power said the relationship provided “just a little bit of information” but “it certainly wasn’t a big chunk” of their success. Power’s teammate Scott McLaughlin said it only “felt like it was a confirmation of a couple of things” for Penske. Both drivers denied that they were using Ferrucci’s set-up, instead saying they were using their own from 2023. 

“Obviously the race cars are the race cars,” Ferrucci said on Tuesday. “The qualifying cars kind of showed that alliance in full form. We were missing something. We couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with our car. We couldn’t get it above the 233.2 [mile per hour] mark all day. Not quite sure what that was. Same thing in the race. 

“We were just missing a little bit of speed. But those guys [at Penske] did an excellent job. They built quality cars and they showed up. I was really surprised. We built some really good race cars. We were on their dampers, we were running our own set-up but their equipment. Honestly, it worked both ways for us pretty well.”

Ferrucci does not want to hide the benefit that Foyt have gained from the alliance. He has said it has “definitely” sparked an early upturn on road and street courses after Ferrucci only once finished higher than 16th away from ovals in 2023. 

“Look at a race like Barber… last year we finished kind of nowhere [in 20th],” Ferrucci said. “This year we were leading, running up front. Slightly different strategy but we ended up seventh in points going into [the Grand Prix of] Indy. We’ve had a much better year so far. A lot of that is thanks to the Penske alliance.”

But not all of the upturn is down to Penske.

“We still have our own things that we’re sorting out,” Ferrucci added. “All of our engineering department is brand new with the exception of Michael Cannon and one of our DAGs. It’s been quite a learning process for us - I feel like with the continuity of just the driver. It’s a lot to learn in not a lot of time.”

It is thought that the expertise of esteemed engineer Michael Cannon has been one of the big boosts to Penske, who have used the alliance to give some personnel on their own books an opportunity to grow in the smaller environment. Foyt also added sophomore Sting Ray Robb, who is still finding his feet, to their driver lineup in place of Benjamin Pedersen.

“What a cheap way to hire Cannon, right?” Andretti Global’s Colton Herta quipped early in the Indy 500 campaign as Penske’s dominance, which resulted in victory for Josef Newgarden, first became apparent. 

“Get a deal with Foyt and get all your speedway secrets for free.”

Ferrucci is now looking forward to returning to road and street course races, foremost Detroit, where he finished 21st last year. He admitted the team are “really going to utilise that Penske partnership” because they were “terrible” away from ovals in 2023. And he feels there is still even more to find with the relationship.

“I think we were always of the mind of this being a two-year programme,” Ferrucci added. “It’s definitely more challenging than I anticipated with Penske. I think a lot of us were thinking plug-and-play. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. 

“I do drive similar to one of the three, but I am kind of in between on my own little island with my driving style. I do like a very loose race car mid corner. This year it’s been really good because it’s made me drive a bit more of a pushy race car and it showed when I’ve been able to do it correctly. 

“Last year we only had one top 10 and that was [third] at the Speedway. This year we now have three - one at a street course, one at a road course and obviously Indy. I think the team’s consistency is getting much better. The two races we didn’t do so well… one we missed the strategy, the other one we had a couple of failures in the race.”

Ferrucci started the season by finishing ninth in St. Petersburg before he “struggled” to 21st in Long Beach after “some strategy things” went awry. Both offered lessons as to how to benefit from the Penske alliance and what is beyond being able to be taken from their allies.

“That’s where the learning curve of understanding what we can and can’t take away from the Penske alliance [comes],” he said. “I mean, you look at Barber… if that’s the case for some of those tracks where we really struggled, we have that full faith in what they’re doing to our cars, to our system.”

May had “a lot of hurdles”

Ferrucci was left in tears after the 2023 Indy 500 after coming within touching distance of victory but ultimately having to settle for third - his best-ever IndyCar finish. But this Month of May, spanning the Indy GP and Indy 500, was “really a tough three weeks” for Ferrucci this time around, even though he preserved his all-top-10 Indy 500 record by finishing eighth.

“The GP didn’t go well,” he said. “We had a lot of car failures. We had to run a couple mechanical things to do as well as we did [in the Indy 500]. Really proud of that result, all things considered. It was a lot of hurdles.”

Ferrucci still made the Fast Six for the second successive year - his second with Foyt and the most continuity he feels he has ever had in his career - at the Speedway. But as late as Carb Day’s final two-hour practice session, there were issues with his race car after a disjointed, rain-marred opening week of on-track preparations.

These issues were solved and made manageable in the race, allowing an eighth-place finish and sixth top 10 in six Indy 500 appearances for Ferrucci. He felt things were “looking pretty good” at the midway point but balance started to be lost into the second half - the opposite of his 2023 race, when he “came alive” at the end.

“We could have led a lot of laps,” Ferrucci still said. “We could have led almost as many as Scott [McLaughlin] if we really wanted to. There was one point in the race where Josef [Newgarden] was braking in front of me to get me to pass him. Because I wouldn’t, Scott passed me then they tried to both get me to go out front. 

“We weren’t born yesterday. I’ve been racing here for a while now. They were suffering massively with fuel - they wanted someone who wasn’t one of their two cars out front. I knew better. My boss [Larry Foyt] knew better. We just kind of sat there and rode. 

“It was complex to watch from my point of view. You see a car that’s supposed to be doing 235 miles an hour on the straight hitting the brakes at the bricks to save fuel. It’s not the race that you want to run but sometimes that’s what happens with the way that the yellows fall. I hate that Indy is a fuel race… it’s nice to just run wide open there.”

Ferrucci said he expected the race to be “very caution-filled” as it transpired to be, with eight stoppages before the 150-lap mark. Eight cars ended up crashing out.

“I don’t think it’s due to the aggressivity of anybody in particular,” he said. “I had my fair share of aggression… three-wide Lap 1, going between [Kyle] Larson and [Alexander] Rossi. I think why you saw so many wrecks is Firestone is trying to build the tyre around the hybrid, so they stiffened up the left sides, which is the correct thing to do. 

“The cars were definitely a little bit more free this year. Everybody is really pushing limits because it’s super competitive. Everybody is trying to ride that razor edge. Unfortunately we saw a lot of wrecks. Luckily everyone walked away. Thank Dallara for making a safe race car.”

Could Ferrucci do The Double?

Ferrucci ran nine NASCAR Xfinity Series races across 2021 and 2022, giving him a different perspective of May’s biggest story as Kyle Larson attempted the ‘Hendrick 1100’ by running the Indy 500 and NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Unfortunately for Larson, weather delays prevented him from running the NASCAR event.

“I’ve watched Larson for a long time,” Ferrucci said. “I like to call him a good friend. The dude’s awesome. He’s a wheel-man, drives everything. There’s not a lot of drivers that will go and drive everything like him. I like to think that I’m one of the few because I run the Chili Bowl every year, I’ve run some NASCAR. I do very much enjoy it.

“Hopefully he comes back. I feel bad because the media commitments I feel like he does are absolutely ridiculous. But he brings an incredible energy to Indy - same thing like [seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion] Jimmie Johnson coming in to run the Indy 500. It was a cool thing. I would have loved to see Jimmie run it in his prime.”

Ferrucci himself is very keen to run The Double in the future in the unconventional direction, being an IndyCar driver attempting to run the NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway too.

“I definitely want to run the double,” he said. “I think there potentially could be a possibility for me in the future. I think it would be fun to go the other way. Most drivers do it NASCAR to Indy, then back to NASCAR. You don’t have any IndyCar drivers going to NASCAR and back. Me and Kyle actually talked about it a little bit. 

“You can hop in a quality car here at Indy… You don’t really have that opportunity in NASCAR because the field is always full. All the top cars are tough to get into. You need to run it with a team that’s going to run a really solid extra car effort. I think that’s the only way one of the IndyCar drivers or myself, if I ever get the opportunity, would do it.”

“I’m better than a couple in front”

Looking ahead to the remainder of the season, with 12 races still to run, Ferrucci has an air of confidence that a top-10 championship finish could be a possibility. His previous best finish in the standings is 13th place in 2019 and 2020 with Dale Coyne Racing. He is currently 12th and 20 points adrift of Kyle Kirkwood in 10th.

“I definitely think I’m better than a couple of the people in front of me,” Ferrucci said. “I feel like I’m more consistent than a couple of them as well. Why not [top 10]? It’s one of those things though… we are a small team. We do have to keep that in mind. We have yet to run a completely clean weekend. We keep having little things go wrong throughout. 

“It’s very hard when most people have more staff on their catering than we do on our race cars. It’s an uphill battle in today’s sport. You think 15 years ago we wouldn’t be talking about this because it was a different sport. Now everything is so tight, the competition is unbelievably high. Attention to detail is really what makes the difference.”

The next step is for Foyt to develop consistency on Ferrucci’s side, as well as elevate Robb above 25th after his season-best finish with 16th in the Indy 500. Ferrucci feels the team is “very close” to this and also believes he can “consistently finish in the top 10 [or] top five” to lift himself in the championship.

“If you think about the amount of discipline, not just myself but everybody needs to have to strive for perfection,” he said. “It’s very difficult. It’s very difficult on our crews. We’ve been non-stop. We went to the GP, now we’re going to Detroit, Road America, then to testing.”

The goal is initially to emerge from the next three weeks in “clean and consistent” fashion to allow them to be well-placed heading into the summer swing, which includes six oval races making up the final eight rounds. But attention first turns to switching from oval mode to street course mode ahead of the second running of the new downtown Detroit event.


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