Exclusive | Luca Ghiotto reflects on a “crazy” period following IndyCar debut with DCR in April

Photo Credit: Penske Entertainment | Joe Skibinski
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Luca Ghiotto has spoken exclusively with Pit Debrief about his IndyCar debut at Barber Motorsports Park in April, what stuck out most to him and his hopes for a future in the North American single-seater championship.

The Italian driver recalled the long story that led to him getting behind the wheel of Dale Coyne Racing’s car number 51, explaining how he had been trying to get a drive in the series for a while.

However, the call-up by Dale Coyne Racing for Barber and the Indy Road Course races was sudden and a surprise, although Ghiotto is convinced his hard work behind the scenes in previous months and years helped him get this opportunity.

“It was crazy, I have to say, because I always looked into IndyCar, I mean, not always, but since 2-3 years, and I’ve been to the Nashville race weekend for 2 years in a row, so 2022 and 2023.

“As you can imagine, I’ve not been there just for fun, but it was for meetings, more for work, and trying to talk with teams, and see what the opportunities were and everything.

“But IndyCar is not an easy place to get into, so in the end I had a lot of talks and everything, but it never worked out in the end.

“So I really just think that what really happened is the fact that when the team had this free seat, probably they remembered me from the times I’ve been there in the last few years, and they decided to contact me.

“I mean, I guess that’s how it happened, because on my side everything happened so quickly that it’s been really a crazy few days.

“With the amount of drivers that are available now around the world, for sure the work that we have done in the past few years, I think that really helped having this opportunity.

“As I said, it’s always hard to say how it really happened, but I guess that when it was time for them to choose the driver, probably I was one of the names. They knew I was available, and they knew I was interested in it, and [I] had been for the last few years.”

Ghiotto mentioned that he did not have time to prepare for Barber as he would have liked because he only found out a few days before the event that he would be driving for the team, meaning he had no chance to drive the Barber track on a simulator.

His main focus was physical training in the short time he had. As he experienced previously in Formula 2, there is no power steering in IndyCar.

“Well, I didn’t prepare, because I didn’t have time. I had the confirmation that I was going, but the 100% confirmation was on Sunday, which is too late, because I had to fly in on Tuesday, and you don’t do much in 48 hours anyway.

“But I knew there was a good chance of going from, I would say, Thursday afternoon to Friday morning, so I just tried to do as much training as I could, especially on the neck, because I know the car is quite physical.

“I didn’t have the chance to do much, I didn’t have the chance to do any simulator stuff, I didn’t have the chance to learn the tracks.

“It was all about organising the trip there, and trying to train myself in the areas where I knew the car is hard.

“And I knew it was going to be difficult, so really, in the small time I had, I just tried to make sure I was as prepared as possible in a way, even though, as I said, I basically didn’t have time to prepare myself.”

The Italian, who is competing full-time in the ELMS with Inter Europol this year, drove in two championship rounds on the Barber and Indianapolis circuits, and he explained what it was like to drive them.

“They are both really nice tracks and fun. They are really different, even though they are both some permanent tracks.

“IndyCar is quite famous for having some really cool street circuits.

“Basically, I only had the chance to try permanent American tracks. I feel like they are both nice in a way that they are so different, but there are some peculiarities that make them both nice.”

The 28-year-old explained that Barber reminded him of Mugello in Italy as it has plenty of elevation changes throughout the course of a lap.

“I would probably say that Barber is, in a way, kind of like Mugello for us here in Italy or in Europe. There are so many up and downhill areas, there are so many corners, blind corners, fast corners.

“Indy is more like a flat track, and it’s just the track design that makes the track itself. There are no elevation changes, it’s just completely the opposite on that side.

“Honestly, I don’t have one that I prefer between the two. I think they were both really cool, really short.”

Ghiotto encountered many challenges to overcome while adapting to his latest single-seater experience, including longer races on shorter tracks regarding lap time.

During his time in Formula 2, the feature race would last around an hour, and he raced on circuits with very long laps, such as Spa and Baku.

“Coming from Europe, I’m not used to driving tracks that we are lapping in just above one minute lap times. That was also one more thing [to get used to], because the track was so short that the race distance was very long.

“We had 90 laps in Barber and 85 in Indy. And I’ve never done in my life such long races, so that was also something new for me.

“But as I said, they were both pretty cool. Different, for sure, but I think they fit perfectly in the car and I had a lot of fun in both of them.”

The Indy 500 has just crowned its latest winner from a field of 33 cars which included a number of one-off entries, but that is not something in Ghiotto’s plans.

However, the former GP3 and GP2/F2 driver would be willing to run the greatest spectacle in motor racing if he got a full-time shot, citing how you cannot afford to miss races if you want to compete for the championship.

“If I have the chance to go to IndyCar in the future, like for a full season, then I think I have to do it. I know that there are drivers that sometimes share the cars, where one does only the road courses and someone else does the ovals.

“But at the end of the day, if you really want to fight for the championship, you need to do all of them. You cannot afford to miss four or five races, even though in the last few years the number of oval races has reduced massively, because in the past it was mostly ovals and less road courses, now it’s the other way around.

“Still, the number of ovals is high enough to really make an effect on the championship. Especially the Indy 500 is the most important race of the season, so you cannot really afford to miss that.

“It really depends if I have the chance to do a full season in the future, for sure. Right now, I won’t feel ready to do any oval races, because I’ve never done an oval race in my life.

“But at the end of the day, there is always a first time for everyone. So if I have the chance, why not?”

During his two-race outing, Ghiotto impressed. He outqualified Sting Ray Robb at both events in the same group in Round 1, as well as outpacing Kyffin Simpson and Tom Blomqvist in qualifying at Barber and the Indy GP respectively.

In the race on the Indianapolis Road Course — before he had a spin that caused a caution — Ghiotto ran as high as P7 because he ran longer than most ahead of his final stop.

The 7-time winner in the category below Formula One said he really enjoyed the racing, even though he was in a team that has regularly been at the back of the pack in IndyCar in recent times and is unable to compete with the likes of CGR, Team Penske, Andretti and Arrow McLaren.

“Yes, of course I did. It was hard, I have to say, because as I said, the level is quite high, and there are drivers that have been racing in IndyCar for more than a decade.

“The Indy teams are really super competitive, so it’s always hard to fight with others, and the series itself is a bit more open, because teams can play a bit more with certain things on the set-up.

“So in the end there are even more differences between teams. It’s not like Formula 1 where every team builds its own car. But it’s also not like Formula 2 where everyone has to use the same material, both from the same place and everything.

“It’s still a one-maker series, because the car is the same chassis, but there are already two engines. And some other areas of the car, like electronics and other things you can play with. Each team can do their own stuff. So the field is always quite spread.

“The same teams are always at the front, and it’s kind of difficult sometimes to make good results if the car is not performing as well as others.”

The Italian, who also had the chance to test an F1 car in 2017 with Williams, explained how he wanted to see the chequered flag in both races and avoided getting into too many squabbles as learning was the most valuable thing for him.

“But on my side I really enjoyed it. I had only two races, so what I tried was just to make as much as I could [out of it], really.

“Not make any stupid mistakes, which unfortunately I did one, but anyway. Even on the race starts, I always tried to be cool and not do crazy battles, I always tried to just stay out of trouble, to go ahead and finish the races, trying to see how I was compared to the others and all this stuff.

As he only had a two-race deal, Ghiotto explained how tricky it is to find the balance between learning and not taking too many risks. He also stated it’s important to show your worth to the paddock when you get an opportunity like this.

“When you have the chance to do only a few races, it’s hard to really go for it, because in a way you’re just trying to learn, but in the end, at the same time, you need to perform, because you don’t have a lot of chances to prove yourself.

“But those two races for me were mostly about, as I said, learning and trying to show what I could do to the team and everything, while at the same time, trying not to risk it too much.

“Especially on track battles, I had some overtakes, I had fun, but I always tried to keep it cool and focus more on myself rather than the race itself.”