Ferrucci named Indy 500 rookie of the year

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INDIANAPOLIS – Santino Ferrucci turned “one of the coolest days of my life” into one of the best rewards of his young racing career.

The 20-year-old from Connecticut was honored for his seventh-place finish in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge as the race’s rookie of the year at Monday night’s Victory Celebration at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.

Driving the No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda for Dale Coyne Racing in his first race on an oval, Ferrucci finished a dazzling seventh on Sunday. Starting 23rd, he ran in the top 10 for most of the second half of the grueling 200-lap race on the famous 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

The result surpassed all of Ferrucci’s expectations and he wasn’t shy sharing that emotion about it afterward.

“If this was my introduction to oval racing, I am so happy,” Ferrucci said. “I would go out and run another 500 miles tomorrow if I could. The build up to this event is unreal. There’s nothing like this. I loved every minute of it.

“I've never been in front of 300,000 people before. I've never seen what that looks like, either. I can tell you it was probably one of the coolest days of my life.”

The Connecticut native started in the middle of Row 8 but had the car to move through the field throughout the day. Ferrucci made the most on-track passes in the race, at 30.

Achieving excellent fuel mileage, Ferrucci completed the race with just five pit stops. After leading the first lap of his 10-race NTT IndyCar Series career on Lap 172, Ferrucci made his final stop a lap later. It set him up for the run to the finish but also put him in the middle of the aftermath of the biggest incident of the race.

Sebastien Bourdais, Ferrucci’s teammate, and Graham Rahal made contact in Turn 3 crash on Lap 178, setting off a chain reaction involving six cars. Ferrucci had to make an evasive maneuver to avoid being collected in the accident by going into the grass and onto the warmup lane.

“The spotter said, ‘Don’t go high! Don’t go high!’ So I said, ‘Let’s mow the lawn,’ and that turned out to be the best option for me,” Ferrucci said. “Watching all of that happening in front of you, it felt like slow motion.”

The multi-car cfrash resulted in an 18-minute red flag that halted the field after 180 laps. The young American driver knew it was time to go once the race resumed.

“At the end of the day, you put your visor down after the red flag and give it your all. It’s the Indy 500 and you go for it,” he said.

Ferrucci took the final restart on Lap 187 in seventh place but was quickly passed by 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Undaunted, Ferrucci returned the favor to Hunter-Reay on Lap 199 – the same lap the Simon Pagenaud made what turned out to be the race-winning pass on Hunter-Reay’s teammate, Alexander Rossi.

Ferrucci was quick to spread the credit for the achievement.

“My crew did one of the most amazing jobs I have ever seen,” he said. “Solid stops, amazing engineering, great spotting. I couldn’t have the confidence without their help to pass as many cars as I did.”

The seventh-place result was the best for Ferrucci in his short NTT IndyCar Series career – hew finished ninth in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – and gave him a pair of top-10 results at IMS this month. He finished 10th in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11.

“In the GP of Indy we also finished in the top 10 in 10th. It's nice to have a rolling consistency being in the top 10,” Ferrucci said. “Now going into Detroit, this will be the first time I'm back in a track that I actually know on the calendar, and I'm very much looking forward to the Duals.”

“But I kind of wish there was another 500 tomorrow, to be perfectly honest with you. I had so much fun out there.”

Ferrucci made his NTT IndyCar Series debut last year at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, the lone doubleheader on the schedule. Practice begins Friday, Ferrucci's 21st birthday, on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park, with qualifying and a race each day on Saturday and Sunday. Both races air each day at 3 p.m. ET on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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