Hunter-Reay: ‘Race Control Had Its Hands Tied’ Over COTA Track Limits

Ryan Hunter-Reay outside track limits during IndyCar race at COTA

Several hundred yards back from Circuit of The Americas’ unique first turn, onlookers watched 24 Indy cars leave the defined racing area and venture into Turn 19’s runoff lap after lap during the NTT IndyCar Series’ inaugural race weekend in Austin.

A unique motor sports sight of its own, the line through the circuit’s 19th of 20 turns was deemed a safety enhancement as it reduced the load on right-front tires while offering the benefit of a marginally faster lap time.

Had COTA not hosted IndyCar’s preseason Open Test in February, Turn 19 would likely have posed a serious challenge to both drivers and Race Control throughout the INDYCAR Classic weekend.

“Race Control had its hands tied on this,” third-place finisher Ryan Hunter-Reay said after Sunday’s 60-lap race. “In the Open Test here, there were hundreds of violations. You don’t want to be watching a race and cars start peeling off the track from penalties from Race Control. ‘Why?’ ‘He was an inch and a half wide from this corner.’

“There’s nothing we could do about it. We just have to come back next year with a better solution.”

IndyCar drivers ignore COTA track limits at Turn 19
The alternate route through Turn 19 was said to lessen tire degradation but kept drivers on edge all weekend long. | Credit: Jamie Sheldrick/Spacesuit Media

Beyond impacting lap times, the off-track route at Turn 19 directly sparked the race’s lone full-course caution as contact with James Hinchcliffe sent Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist hurtling toward the inside wall. The leaders that paced the first two-thirds of the race dropped down the running order as they were forced to pit under yellow, but a mechanical failure for Will Power turned the caution from bad to worse for the pole sitter who had led every lap.

That highly impactful situation at Turn 19 turned the race upside down but very easily could have been repeated, given the challenge drivers had muscling their cars through the penultimate turn.

“You’re kind of rolling the dice a little bit,” Josef Newgarden said after celebrating his second-place result. “You could gain a lot of time. If you hit it perfect, the car was stable. Go off by an inch here or there, you could have a big moment.”

Noting the inconsistency of what seemed like the same path through the turn, Hunter-Reay concluded that he looks forward to not facing Turn 19 for a while after spending the weekend on edge.

“It was a wild ride through there, for sure,” the Andretti Autosport veteran commented. “Enough rodeo for me for one day.”

Before returning to COTA with a potentially different approach to the 19th bend in 2020, IndyCar will complete its third race of 2019 at Barber Motorsports Park on the weekend of April 5–7.

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