Steve Wittich

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Choosing the optimal #INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone squad most often relies on a combination of past results at an event, which drivers are currently hot and keen intuition.

Heading into Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas, two of those things can be tossed out the window. As only the second race of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season and taking place on the first new natural terrain road course added to schedule since NOLA Motorsports Park in 2015, the two most important tools to help select a four-driver squad are nullified.

So I’m left with relying on my racing intuition this week.

At the cost of only $18 for the COTA race, Colton Herta might be the best value pick you’ll find this season. The rookie’s No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda topped three of the four sessions during INDYCAR Spring Training last month at the track in Austin, Texas. His lap at 1 minute, 46.5258 seconds (115.132 mph) was two-tenths of a second clear of the field on the combined timesheet from the two-day test.

The soon-to-be 19-year-old, second-generation driver was one of the quickest at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg two weeks ago, too. I plan on utilizing Herta for as long as he remains hot or until his price is increased.

Alexander Rossi ($31) led the fourth and final test session at COTA in February and ended up with the second-quickest time of the two-day test (1:46.8535). Another factor influencing me to make the driver of the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda part of my squad is his experience at the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course. The Californian made one of his five Formula One starts there in 2015, finishing 12th in the United States Grand Prix.

A driver representing Team Penske stood on the podium in 13 of 17 races during the 2018 NTT IndyCar Series season and that trend continued in the 2019 opener, with a pair of Penske drivers in the top three. That makes it hard to go a race without picking one of the terrific trio.

Choosing St. Petersburg winner Josef Newgarden ($33) is tempting but too limiting on choices for the final member of my squad.

Will Power ($30) started on the front row in five of six permanent road courses during the 2018 season and began this season by showing the field he wasn’t planning on slowing down. The Australian started on pole for the 54th time, a number surpassed only by the great Mario Andretti (67) in Indy car annals.

It also doesn’t hurt that Power was the quickest of the Chevrolet drivers during last month’s open test.

Choosing a pair of rookies is risky, but Marcus Ericsson ($21) stands out as the best choice among the 10 drivers who fit within the constraints of the $100 salary cap I am faced with after tabbing my first three drivers. The pilot of the No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has four F1 starts at COTA, including a 10th-place finish in the 2018 U.S. Grand Prix six months ago.

"I can't wait to get to COTA,” said the Swede, who was running inside the top 10 in his NTT IndyCar Series debut at St. Pete before a mechanical issue ended his day. “It's the only track on the calendar that I know from before, having raced there previously quite a few times in Formula One. It's a track I really like. I've had some strong weekends there in F1, so I'm coming back with good memories.”

Those are my picks for this week’s visit to Texas Hill County. Make yours at