Tatiana Calderon completes her best IndyCar race so far in a chaotic Indy GP
Colombian driver Tatiana Calderon had a fantastic weekend at a chaotic Indy GP, leading her first ever lap in IndyCar and narrowly missing out on a Top10 finish. Rain, wind and a storm made for an exciting race, ahead of one of the biggest events in motorsport.
Ahead of the big event of May - the Indy500 - Indycar returned to the track for its traditional Indy GP round, on the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The big starting field was faced with a tricky weekend due to challenging weather conditions.
Among the drivers was Tatiana Calderon, looking for more track time and experience after Barber Motorsport Park, as she continues her learning process in her rookie campaign at the pinnacle of American motorsport.
“Racing in Indianapolis during the month of May I think will be something very special, especially since it will be my first time on that stage." - said Tatiana before the race weekend.
"We've been looking at our performance at Barber and we know we need to find a way to get more temperature out of the tyres, so we'll try to tackle those issues on a very different type of track, slower and more technical", she explained.
"The team has a lot of ideas to try, so there is a lot of work to do, but I am really looking forward to getting back in the car and starting a month that will be very exciting for me and the team.”
It was a very wet Saturday, with some changes in the time schedule due to support series races and a delay for the main race, which went green some minutes after the original starting time with drivers on wet tires on a soaked track.
Will Power started from pole and led the field into the first corner ahead of Alex Palou and Josef Newgarden. The three went wide through the first lap and Palou took over the lead in turn 7, while Newgarden also found the grass and dropped a few positions. But that was just the beginning of the lead changes, as Pato O´Ward went into the lead into turn 12 on lap 1.
The tyre-roulette started and the first driver to change to slicks in the leading group was Colton Harta on lap 3; he had a tough time keeping the car on track and had a big moment as he slid in a rally-style move through Turn 8. The track did improve though and soon all drivers followed his strategy. Herta found himself in the lead again, ahead of O´Ward, Felix Rosenqvist and Power.
Tatiana Calderon, driver of the #11 AJ Foyt ROKiT Chevrolet, qualified in P25 and had a solid start of the race, consistently moving up the order and making the most out of the situations to climb the order. Unlike some more experienced colleagues, she never put a foot wrong and despite the tricky conditions, she ran flawlessly in the top-20 throughout the first part of the race.
Palou spun and caused the first Safety Car phase of the race. Herta defended his lead at the restart, ahead of O´Ward and Rosenqvist. But a second neutralization followed, as Newgarden made contact with Alexander Rossi and - one corner later - with Jack Harvey, picking up two rear punctures.
The race was again green with Herta ahead of O´Ward - but the field was able to complete just a few corners before Rinus VeeKay went off track and was collected by Devlin DeFranscesco - bringing out the next caution.
Herta was the first from the leading group to grab the opportunity to pit for new slicks; O´Ward followed him one lap later. Scott Dixon had the longest stint - but the New Zealander came to a halt with an empty tank just shortly before his pit slot and needed some help being pushed into the right spot for refuelling.
But drama was not over yet: another rain shower moved onto the track and the next yellow was just around the corner - giving Marcus Ericsson and Kyle Kirkwood the perfect opportunity to take a gamble: the two stayed out.
During the pit stop sequence, Tatiana Calderon - who had now steadily climbed the order and was running just outside the top-10 - managed to lead her first ever lap in IndyCar on lap 36, just before her pit stop. It was the first lap led by a female driver since Simona de Silvestro in 2011 at Baltimore. After the stop, Calderon continued her positive run as she remained in contention for the top-ten.
Despite a wet track, Rossi was the only driver to have opted for wets. Ericsson now led the race, ahead of Kirkwood and Herta. Just behind them, at the restart, O´Ward lost his car under braking at Turn 1 and made contact with his McLaren teammate Rosenqvist, who needed to pit for a new nose.
Herta passed Ericsson for the lead at the next green flag, with Scott McLaughlin, Harvey and Romain Grosjean right behind him - all passing the Swede on track. And again, it was not a long-lived green flag: Grosjeand and Harvey made contact and the Frenchman spun, while Harvey continued, behind Simon Pagenaud who had passed both.
On lap 60, a spin by Jimmie Johnson - who was still on slicks - brought out another caution and the whole field took the opportunity to come into the pit lane for new slicks. McLaughlin was first out of pit road - but the crazy weather meant that just a few laps later, Herta led a group of drivers coming back in for wets.
McLauglin led ahead of O´Ward and Grosjean - who had all stayed on slicks - but the rain was so heavy that McLaughlin spun under caution, handing O'Ward the lead ahead of the restart. The Mexican also had trouble keeping the car on track and Herta went by.
McLaughlin spun again and caused the seventh caution of the race. In these hectic stages, Rossi, Rahal and Calderon were forced to take evasive action to avoid the spinning Penske and went through the gravel trap. All rejoined, but lost several positions. Tatiana Calderon had managed to advance to 11th place and was looking strong to break into the top-ten, but would be forced to build her recovery again in the closing stages.
New race leader Pato O´Ward spun under yellow as well and was forced to come into the closed pitlane to change to wets - which cost him a drive through penalty.
At this point, the race was shortened to a time distance rather than scheduled lap count. Shortly after the last restart of the day, Juan Pablo Montoya crashed his Arrow McLaren SP and the race was eventually finished under yellow. Colton Herta claimed his first win of the season and preceded Simon Pagenaud and Will Power in an-action packed GMR Indy GP.
Having dropped to 17th after avoiding McLaughlin's spinning car, Tatiana Calderon was still able to keep it clean to the end and gain a few spots back - ultimately finishing 15th in what was her best race in IndyCar to date, at her fourth start in the championship.
With this result, she added a good amount of points to her championship tally and - importantly - she gained experience and confidence in the car.
In such treacherous conditions, her cool head and background in endurance racing might have come in handy and she marginally missed out a reachable top-ten - still finishing in a very respectable top-15.
“We continue to improve, which is why I am happy to leave Indianapolis with such a result at my first race there" - commented Tatiana after the race. "I achieved my best result so far and led the competition at one point. Indianapolis is a fabulous and magical track.”
Tatiana Calderon will be back in the #11 AJ Foyt ROKiT Chevrolet at Detroit's Belle Isle, on June 5th, while she will be supporting her team at the next big event - the Indy500, on 29th May.