Indy 500 Top Rookie Santino Ferrucci

Rookie Santino Ferrucci at Indianapolis. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Rookie Santino Ferrucci at Indianapolis. [John Wiedemann Photo]

by Paul Gohde

“I mowed the lawn up there in Turn 3, but we made it through ok.”

Rookie IndyCar driver Santino Ferrucci did more than just avoid that late race accident that almost ended his day today. The 20-year-old Dale Coyne Honda driver finished seventh in his first ever Indianapolis 500, winning the Top Rookie award along the way. Quite a fete for a driver who had never been in an Indy car just a year ago.

Top finishing Rookie in the Indianapolis 500, Santino Ferrucci. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Top finishing Rookie in the Indianapolis 500, Santino Ferrucci. [John Wiedemann Photo]

“Oh, boy,” he exclaimed, when told there were almost 300,000 people watching him today. “There’s a lot of people here. I’d never seen what that looked like before. But my day almost ended when I saw everyone wreck in front of me (late in the race) and the spotter comes on the radio and tells me not to go high. Then I saw the grass, which to me was the only hole, and that looked like the most intelligent place to go. So, we mowed the lawn and came out just fine,” which was a pretty veteran move for a rookie, given his early racing experience in junior open wheel cars in Europe.

So, was this first race here at Indy everything the Woodbury, Connecticut resident thought it would be? “I’d say that would be an understatement. Coming here and racing in front of these fans. Having such a solid team behind you, mowing the lawn, finishing in the top 10. This was an experience of a lifetime you just can’t beat; especially at 20 years old.”

And what he described as “fun” came just before that incident when he found himself holding on to a surprising 11th place; mixing it up with several IndyCar veterans. “This is crazy. I was picking off people before the last round of pit stops and before the race was stopped,” explained the youngster with just seven IndyCar starts under his belt before today, who now found himself defending seventh place when the race resumed, with veterans Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay on his tail. “You find that you enjoy racing around the other competitors. I can’t thank (RH-R), who’s a champion here, enough, because the experience you get racing someone like that…it was just a blast.”

And did anything surprise him in the race? “It’s surprisingly longer than it looks, and the racing—racing with the other drivers–was actually a lot more fun than I ever hoped it to be. But I almost stuffed it trying to pass (Ed) Carpenter for sixth…To move forward like that, it just helps you out as a young driver so much. I think it was a really cool experience.”

So now that he has, perhaps, the toughest race on the calendar behind him, what will next week’s Detroit Duels bring, given that he started his brief IndyCar career there a year ago? “I think in the Indy Grand Prix (earlier in May), we finished tenth, and it’s nice to have a rolling consistency being in the top 10 and going into Detroit will be the first time I’m back in a track that I will actually know on the calendar. I’m very much looking forward to those Duels. But I kind of wish there was another 500 tomorrow, to be perfectly honest with you.”

And so do his new fans who have many more races ahead to watch Ferrucci, yet another IndyCar Series youngster, create even more excitement. Detroit, watch out.

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