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Friday morning IndyCar update from Austin
Rossi in the dog Manor F1 car at COTA in 2015
Rossi in the dog Manor F1 car at COTA in 2015

This day has finally arrived. The first ever IndyCar weekend at Circuit of Americas (COTA) starts today under fair skies and a morning temperature of just 47 degrees as I write this.  However, it's expected to warm into the 70s this afternoon. First practice begins in about 3 hours.

Three drivers - Alexander Rossi, Marcus Ericsson and Max Chilton - have raced an F1 car at COTA previously, however, that is not expected to be any benefit whatsoever because and F1 car is so much more sophisticated and easier to drive.  In F1, the car is 99% of the equation, but in IndyCar, driver talent means so much more.

Several other drivers, including IndyCar Series rookie Patricio O’Ward, competed in the LMPC IMSA race in 2017 and of course all drivers tested here at COTA in an IndyCar back in February.

Mexican driver Patricio “Pato” O’Ward has the most local ties. The 19-year-old grew up in Monterrey, Nuevo León, and lives in San Antonio. He said he will have lots of relatives and friends here this weekend.

“This is the closest home race I’ll ever have,” he said Wednesday.

Andretti Autosport star Alexander Rossi drove in five Formula One races with Manor in 2015. 

“When I’ve come here in the past, I came into the weekend fully knowing that there was no chance to ever really do anything from a results perspective,” Rossi said in Thursday's press conference. “To could come here to a track that I’ve spent a lot of time at, not necessarily driven a whole lot, but spent a huge amount of time at. To come into this weekend’s race, competing on a level where we have as good a shot as any, to win the race would be pretty cool.

“There’s kind of an almost unfinished business box that we’d like to tick here in some way. I’m very excited to get the weekend started.”

Chilton raced at COTA in 2013 with Marussia. He started 21st and finished in the same position. 

“Me and Alex probably had pretty similar experiences. Obviously the more laps are better — but the car we were in, we weren’t doing much racing, so the sort of racing experience part isn’t going to help.

“It’s good to be back. I first came here in 2013 for the (United States) Grand Prix. I loved the track. I love the city. I really enjoyed the whole facility, the race track. It’s a pretty long track in an Indy car but it’s got lots of overtaking potential for us and hopefully we’ll put on a great show.

“It’s great to have a British band like Muse on Saturday night, as well.”

Marcus Ericsson of Sweden has the most F1 experience at COTA where he finished 15th in 2015, 14th in 2016, 15th in 2017 and 10th in last year’s USGP.

“I’ve been here quite a few times,” Ericsson said. “It’s one of the best tracks on F1 and I think it’s great we are going here with IndyCar. It’s going to be a great weekend.

“The racing should be very good. It’s already good on F1 on this track and from what I’ve done in IndyCar, it’s going to be a really good show from everyone, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

“I think for me I was here a couple months ago in F1 doing the race in ’18. I had all my reference points and then I did the first run and realized that didn’t really work,” Ericsson explained to NBC Sports.com “So I don’t know that the experience — it’s good to know the track, but then the Indy cars are very different cars to the F1 (car) so you have to sort of drive it quite differently and in the end, I think it didn’t really help the maximum amount in my opinion.

“The problem is we had two days of testing already in IndyCar. If we had come here straightaway without any testing it would be an advantage of one hundredth approximate. But now, if you don’t get the track in two days, I don’t think you would be in IndyCar.

“I don’t think it’s a big advantage now going into the weekend.”

“For sure there’s things I can bring from my experience there that helps in INDYCAR, but the Indy car to drive today is different than the Formula One cars with the power steering and everything,” Ericsson continued. “I think it’s two different cars and what I found here on the test; things that worked in the F1 car didn’t really work in the Indy car. I think both cars of very difficult to be fast in but in different ways.

“For sure my experience in F1, it’s helped me to get into IndyCar.”

All of the teams start with a clean slate this week, and COTA offers a completely different set of challenges from the street course in St. Petersburg. Whoever posts the fastest time in qualifying will be eager to keep the lead on the 133-foot climb to Turn 1. With an extra $100,000 at stake, the chance for carnage has been raised along with the stakes.

“A bit of a mess,” Ericsson said Thursday when asked what he expects from the first turn. “Hopefully we come out on top of it. Every start here, there’s always people bumping into each other, so I’m expecting something similar on Sunday.”

Firestone has decided to bring last year's Road America tires to COTA for this weekend and we do not expect any tire issues this weekend because they worked well at Road America and in February during Spring Training testing. Mark C. reporting from Austin

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