By Ken Severson | For the Daily Journal
The name Santino Ferrucci conjures up images of a world-renowned chef, matinee idol or soccer star.
Great professions all, but he’s doing just fine for himself as a race car driver.
Ferrucci, a Connecticut native who now calls Dallas his home, will drive in Sunday’s 106th Indianapolis 500 for Greenwood businessman Dennis Reinbold and has an excellent chance for another great result after placing in the top seven each of the last three years.
Perhaps even a win.
“I’m very excited about Sunday’s race, especially after running in race trim,” Ferrucci said. “Dreyer & Reinbold Racing always puts together a strong race car. That is one of the reasons I came to the team this year.”
Make no mistake — Ferrucci’s a racer.
He’s raced since he was a boy and has been versatile, racing in several different disciplines from IndyCar to Formula 2 and Formula 3 and NASCAR.
It’s IndyCar that has given him his best shot at winning of late.
Sunday’s drive will be the fourth time Ferrucci tries for an Indy 500 win. He placed seventh in his 2019 debut, fourth in 2020 and sixth a year ago.
Last Saturday, Ferrucci recorded a four-lap speed average of 231.508 miles per hour to land the 15th position with his red and black No. 23 DRR Screamin’ Sicilian Pizza/Barrett-Jackson Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
It’s the best-ever Indy 500 starting position for Ferrucci.
Ferrucci clocked four laps of 232.239, 231.729, 231.329 and 230.741 to put him on the outside of the fifth row. He was just three positions away from making the top 12 and the shootout for the pole.
“It wasn’t a bad run, but it wasn’t my favorite qualifying showing,” Ferrucci said. “We were way faster in practice, but we had a right front tire vibration on the first lap of qualifying. That hurt the run. So I just held on and got the best time.
“I think we might have tried for another run to get in the top 12, but the weather halted that chance.”
Helping Ferrucci and the team was the announcement prior to qualifying that Arizona-based Barrett-Jackson, the renowned collector car auction company, has teamed with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for a new partnership for the race.
Barrett-Jackson will sponsor Ferrucci’s car, perhaps one of the few changes for him compared to past years.
“The past two years I’ve been here (my team) have done changes to the wheelbase, geometry, ride heights, all kinds of things to try and get comfortable,” Ferrucci said. “Here we show up (with Dreyer & Reinbold) and I think we change the front wing.
“I don’t expect a lot of big changes (for race day).”
Ferrucci won’t be alone. Sage Karam will be behind the wheel of the other Dreyer and Reinbold Racing entry; he qualified 22nd.
Karam’s a veteran compared to Ferrucci, with this being his ninth Indy 500.
“Being teammates and kind of putting our minds together, I think, is really strong,” Karam said. “I’ve never worked with Santino in single-seaters before, but it’s been really refreshing, and we have similar driving styles, and want the same out of the car. I feel like that’s helping the program go forward at even at a more dramatic rate.”
Although being teammates with Karam is a new experience, Ferrucci goes back with Karam several years — the two were karting friends as adolescents.
Had things worked out earlier, Ferrucci would have been paired with Karam last year, but instead, contracts were pounded out this racing season.
“I’m super excited to get things kicking off here and we’ll see what happens,” Ferrucci said. “I met Sage when I was four and we ended up racing together across the country.
“I think it’s pretty cool for us to be teammates.”
The boss has been happy not just with the progress of Ferrucci, but also with how Ferrucci and Karam have jelled and exchanged information in preparation for the biggest race of the year.
As a result, Reinbold is optimistic for a good outcome.
“I’m pleased how Sage and Santino have worked together,” he said. “They have known each other for nearly 20 years back in karting, but this is their first time with an IndyCar team as teammates. And our engineering staff has blended together with our two drivers.”
Ferrucci may also have an extra advantage on race day as he will have a key race strategist in his corner. Buddy Rice, the 2004 winner, will call Ferrucci’s shots from the pits.
“Having that kind of knowledge is just amazing,” Ferrucci. “Buddy’s been helping me move my progression along.”
Ferrucci and the team felt they would be a little stronger in qualifying, but starting on the outside of the fifth row is not a bad position for the race.
Especially with what the team has planned.
“We have a good strategy for adjustments in the race,” Ferrucci said. “It looks like the weather will be a little warmer for Sunday and could play into our hands. We worked early last week on race settings, and I’m pleased how things went for our No. 23 car. Now, we’ll be ready to move to the front of the field when the green flag drops.”