Tatiana Calderon completes First IndyCar race on the Streets of St. Petersburg
She is the first female full-season entry since Simona de Silvestro in 2013: Tatiana Calderon made her IndyCar debut on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. It was all about learning, adapting and bringing the car home - mission accomplished.
It was a long time coming without a female full-time entry in IndyCar, America's top open wheel series and one of the world's most elite racing championships - the last was Simona de Silvestro in 2013. De Silvestro and Pippa Mann had started a handful of races in 2015, with Mann's participation at Sonoma being the last female entry outside the Indy500.
With the exception of the American legendary race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in fact, there was a long hiatus. But now the female power is back: Tatiana Calderon has just started her full time campaign (ovals aside, at least for her first season) with AJ Foyt Racing. And the first race was a solid and good performance for the Colombian racing star.
The qualifying session of the GP of St Pete, traditionally the starting point of the Indycar season on a spectacular street circuit, already saw a surprise outcome as Penske driver and 2021 Rookie of the Year Scott McLaughlin scored his first pole position, ahead of Will Power - who smashed the track record in Q2 - and Colton Herta (Andretti Autosport).
Tatiana Calderon (A.J. Foyt Enterprises) had good practice sessions, focused on learning the car and the demanding track, and made more progress in qualifying, finishing 25th in a significant time improvement and maximising track time in every session.
"We need to do as many laps as possible to get all the information and experience, because I would like to get an idea of where we are in the first race and go from there to set realistic targets."- she commented before the event.
"Of course, as a race car driver, you always want to win. In testing, everyone is really doing their own program and you never know where you stand in terms of performance, so I'm curious to see where we are in St. Pete, as well as finding out if we need to focus more on the race pace or qualifying."
"Also, I want to learn about a full distance race using both tire compounds and how well I can adapt to the conditions", added Calderon, who thinks that her experience in endurance racing and in Japanese SuperFormula will came in handy in the strategy-heavy IndyCar races that involve tire and fuel management.
The race itself was a 100 lap long on the west-side of the "Sunshine State" and it would be again McLaughlin to lead into the first corner while Power, the only driver in the leading group on the Black tires, dropped back to 4th. But as soon as the drivers on the softer Reds - especially Rinus Veekay (Ed Carpenter Racing) - pitted, Power made up positions again.
After 25 laps, the first and only full course caution phase of the race was called when David Malukas (Dale Coyne Racing with HMD) made contact with the outside wall into Turn 3. He was out of the car unhurt, and also out of the race. While everyone who had not pitted before stopped as soon as the pitlane opened, Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) was the only driver to opt to stay out, in a strategy that would ultimately not pay off. He pitted on lap 37, and dropped at the tail end of the pack after leading at the restart.
In the last stint, McLaughlin was back ahead of Alex Palou (Chip Ganassi Racing) and Will Power. The latter, though, lost time to the leading duo as he wasn't able to pass the lapped car of Jimmie Johnson (Chip Ganassi Racing). During the last lap, Palou applied intense pressure on McLaughlin, who also had to lap Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Autosport). The New Zealander remained behind the bright yellow car of the Canadian, but was able to defend his position against series champion Palou and scored his maiden victory in the IndyCar series, ahead of the Spaniard and Power.
Among the three-stoppers, Dixon was the best placed in P8. Other championship candidates like Pato O´Ward (Arrow McLaren SP) were also unlucky with the strategy - just as Alexander Rossi.
The only female driver in the field, Tatiana Calderon, managed to finish her first ever IndyCar race in 24th position. Calderon had a solid start, stayed out of trouble and made a few places up to P23. She pitted for her first stop under yellow on lap 27 - and was up to 16th at one point in the race. With four pit stops, though, she was 24th at the end, still with a clean and solid debut that allowed her to collect plenty of data.
Despite the physical challenge - she would describe the race as one of her toughest ones - Calderon gained experience and learned important information to continue her IndyCar adventure, up against one of the strongest fields in today's motor racing.
“We are still learning and getting better every lap" - Tatiana commented after the race.
"Of course we are not where we want, but with work we will get there. It is a privilege to be part of such a competitive category”, she concluded.
The next race will take place on 20th March in Fort Worth/Texas, but as the first oval race of the season, Calderon will have to wait a little longer to get back behind the wheel of the #11 RoKiT AJ Foyt Chevrolet: precisely on 10th April, at the world-famous Long Beach street circuit in California.