LONG BEACH, Calif. — Gaining track experience and continuing to grow are the keys to success for rookie Tatiana Calderon as she’ll start 26th in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The AJ Foyt Racing driver will make her second career NTT IndyCar Series start in the sport’s most prestigious street course. It’s a circuit that’s unlike any other track she’s competed in her tenured career.
During Friday’s media bullpen, Calderon explained the expected challenges where she emphasized the track surface.
“I don’t think you get this kind of bumps and change of surface in so many places anywhere that I’ve been before. It’s going to be new to me,” said Calderon. “The last part of the track have a lot of grip because of drifting. Then there’s the concrete patches that makes it tricky to set up the car as well. I think it’s going to be one of the most challenging places that I’ve been.”
Calderon added that through watching onboards and sim racing, she was able to get an idea how the track is going to be like, more so before hitting the track for the first time Friday afternoon.
“I’ve done a lot of simulator work and saw all the comments from last year from the drivers,” Calderon commented. “Kyle (Kirkwood, Calderon’s teammate) hasn’t been there before either, but I’ve watched a lot of onboards. Hopefully that’ll help us at least getting up to speed.”
Track conditions have been the one of the themes this weekend with Friday’s temperatures peaking at 94 degrees (with track temp being over 130). As time went by, the expected cooler temps occurred. Additionally, other challenges were paramount including how other racing events potentially impacted tire grip.
After not making it out of Group 1 in Saturday’s qualifying, Calderon described what’s needed in her No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet heading into the Sunday’s warmup and 85-lap contest.
“I’m improving and getting more comfortable,” said Calderon Saturday afternoon. “I hope the car gets better and I need a few more laps. It’s good it’s not as warm as Friday, but I’ll just keep improving.”
She’ll also hope to improve on her 24th place result at the season opener in St. Petersburg over a month ago. Between St. Pete and Long Beach, there’s only been one other race that was held at Texas Motor Speedway. With the Colombian only running the road and street courses, J.R. Hildebrand piloted the No. 11 machine last month.
Due to this, Calderon knows it was a long time since she last competed in INDYCAR.
“We haven’t had any testing in between and most of the guys run the oval and did a little bit of testing,” said Calderon. “For sure, it’s not going to be easy. Long Beach is tough but fun, so hopefully we can keep learning and making steps forward against the big guys.”
Live coverage of the 47th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC.