By: Spencer Neff
March 13, 2019 | 7:32 AM
The newest addition to the NTT IndyCar Series paddock debuted last weekend. After revealing their 2019 plans in December, traditional sportscar organization DragonSpeed entered the first of five races for this season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The Jupiter, Florida-based outfit entered their Dallara-Chevrolet with driver Ben Hanley. Less than three months after declaring they would be fielding an IndyCar team, DragonSpeed hit the track. Their first venture into the series began on a relatively quiet note.
The team placed 24th out of the 24 entries in each practice session (including Sunday morning’s warmup). However, Hanley and DragonSpeed continued to improve their fastest lap throughout the weekend.
Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session would bring the team some much-needed luck. When several drivers were unable to record laps at full speed due to two red flags, Hanley advanced past the first group. In their first race, their No. 81 entry would start 12th.
On Sunday, the team continued to show promise. During the 110-lap race, Hanley would run as high as eighth. When all was said and done, the team settled for an 18th-place finish, two laps off the pace.
After his debut, Hanley spoke pragmatically about the team’s development.
“It’s been a really positive weekend,” he remarked. “We knew we were jumping in at the deep end, so simply finishing is an achievement in itself.”
“Our longest run before the race was just eight laps, so we learned a lot more about the car today and tried out some aspects of IndyCar racing that are totally new to us, like the push-to-pass. I have to thank Elton for turning this dream into a reality, the crew’s fantastic race prep and pit stops, and the engineers who made the car more competitive each time out.”
Team Principal Elton Julian offered up additional praise for the team’s debut race.
“Today was a vital first step which gives us a solid basis for further improvement,” Julian noted. “Running the full distance let us get a feel for how an IndyCar race unfolds and even experiment a bit with strategies and settings.”
“Despite the car only running for the first time last Monday and our problems in practice, we not only finished but hauled ourselves to within a second of the midfield pace over the course of the weekend. I’m super proud of Ben and the team, and grateful to the IndyCar paddock for the welcome and support they’ve given us – we’re honored to be part of this great show.”
DragonSpeed did not include the March 24 IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas. With their planned absence for that race, the team’s focus on their IndyCar program will shift to Barber Motorsports Park.
Their second race will be their first of three they enter on natural terrain courses (Road America and Mid-Ohio). The April 7 race will also be their last race before their oval debut and their first Indianapolis 500 entry.
If Hanley and DragonSpeed follow a similar trajectory from this past weekend, they could make some noise this season.
Header Image By Karl Zemlin/INDYCAR