Is Randomness a Bad Thing?

Jay Frye, Indycar President of Competition, said last week via a David Malsher story on Motorsport.com that the series was reviewing race procedures ahead of the 2018 season. He said Indycar was trying to eliminate some of the randomness in races caused by closing the pits when a caution occurs. The reasoning is to ensure that the fastest cars are rewarded by keeping the position they’ve earned.

There were several races in the last few years when the quickest car was caught out by a yellow happening just as they were going to pit. The race usually went to a surprise winner from a smaller team. Usually the winning team pitted early and cycled to the lead during the yellow when everyone else pitted.

Sebastien Bourdais at St. Pete, James Hinchcliffe at Long Beach, Simon Pagenaud at Phoenix (yes, an oval), and Josef Newgarden at Toronto all benefited from the pit closing rule and a timely caution.

My opinion?   If a team plays the strategy according to the rules and it works, great. Perhaps the teams that got hurt could anticipate the eventuality of the yellow and pit earlier. I’ve heard some team owners complain about throwing yellows just when we needed to pit.  Their need to pit does not supersede the need for a yellow.

If the race should be won by the fastest car all the time, why have the race? Does the team with the most regular season wins always win the Super Bowl or the World Series? Random things happen in all sports. It’s part of the drama. Let the teams play the game and see who wins. I agree preparation and speed goes a long way toward winning, but there has to be some strategy and breaks during the race.

I think what needs to be employed more on road courses is local yellows instead of the full course cautions for every incident, no matter how small. This will keep the pits open for a longer time during the race. It will have the same effect as keeping the pits open during a full course yellow.

Another procedure Indycar is reviewing is qualifying order on ovals other than Indianapolis. Currently the order is determined by a blind draw. It seemed as though a certain driver was always going last, which is a great advantage with the rubber laid down on the track and potential track cooling as the session progresses. I prefer the order be set by the inverse order of final practice times.  The fans will be able to know the order quicker, and we should see a different order at each track.

This is my last column before migrating to winter headquarters. I’ll be back in about a month. Changes will be coming to this space, including a possible new name.

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Quick Thoughts on the ABC Supply 500

A huge thank to Dallara, the AMR Safety Team, Jay Frye, Indycar and anyone else who had a hand in designing this car. It definitely saved a life today. I hope Robert Wickens has a speedy recovery.

It looked like the front aero improvements did not help passing. I’m not sure if it the lack of the final practice, the temperatures, or effects of the accident,  but it seems as if there was no improvement from IMS.

Alexander Rossi continues his meteoric rise to stardom. If anyone can overtake Scott Dixon for the title, he is the one who can do it.

Dixon showed again today why he will be tough to beat for the Astor Cup. He had an amazing drive today for the podium.

Zach Veach had an outstanding weekend. he lead the practice session, sat on the provisional pole until fewer than ten drivers were left to qualify, and had his third straight top ten finish. keep an eye on him next year.

Why did NBC have to replay the accident so many times? I could understand once or twice, but it seemed as if they were showing it over and over. It seemed as if one time they showed the replay followed by the Indycar commercial with Dixon’s accident at the 2017 500.

The repair of the catch fence looked like a shoddy patchwork job that was not up to standards. I’m glad there was not another incident there the rest of the day. The series should have paid more attention to Sebastien Bourdais.

I hope before the race at Gateway Race Control has a long talk with the drivers about starting a race. Power did start correctly, but other drivers got too anxious.

I will have a full race story on Wildfire Sports sometime tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Quick Thoughts on Qualifying- Pocono

Great day for Zach Veach. He led the practice session and hung on to P1 in qualifying longer than I expected.

Is this the opening the  four drivers chasing Dixon need?

Can Power defy the odds and win the race too? Only five pole winners have won this race.

Pagenaud could a points spoiler for one of the championship contenders, possibly one if his teammates.

Honda and Chevy seem pretty equally this weekend.

Never thought I’d see anyone tie an A.J. Foyt record. Well done, Will Power.

With final practice washed out the race will be more intriguing. I like that there is no morning warmup on road courses for that reason as well.

Quick Thoughts on the race this evening.

 

Alonso Leaves F1; Next Stop Indycar?

Above: Fernando Alonso at the 2017 Indianapolis 500

Two time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso announced this morning he will leave Formula 1 in 2019. The announcement comes a day after Scott Dixon signed a new multi-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing. It ends months of speculation about Alonso’s future plans. He will likely continue to drive in WEC events next year and is assumed to be participating in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, if not the entire Indycar season. In 2018, there were no conflicting dates between WEC and Indycar.

Alonso has driven for McLaren in Formula 1 since 2015 after failing to win a third title with Ferrari. He won World Championship titles in 2005 and 2006 driving for Renault. Alonso began his F1 career in 2001 with Minardi. McLaren struggled with a Honda engine for two years before switching to Renault power this season. Results have been slightly better.

Today’s retirement from F1 announcement gave no hint of Alonso’s future plans, but indications are McLaren is pursuing an Indycar program for 2019 with Alonso and another driver. McLaren will partner with another team, thought to be Andretti Autosport, whom Alonso drove for in 2017 at the 500, but there is some talk that McLaren may be looking at a Chevy team. Ed Carpenter Racing has been mentioned as a possibility.

What is the impact of Alonso in Indycar? The series would gain some prestige having a former fairly recent champion on the grid. The worldwide viewing audience will likely increase, although his presence may not do much for the U.S. viewership. Alonso would become the fourth former F1 driver in Indycar, joining Takuma Sato, Sebastien Bourdais, Max Chilton, and Alexander Rossi. In 2012 Indycar also had four former F1 drivers- Rubens Barrichello, Justin Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais, and Takuma Sato.

A possible scenario for Alonso is select Indycar races and a full WEC schedule. Another is that he does both series full time, possibly working in the Daytona 500 as well. But we are getting way ahead of ourselves. He does not at this moment have an Indycar ride. That is the next step before we know where he will race.

The 2019 Indianapolis 500: A Fan’s Dream?

Imagine the race next year featuring Alonso, Tony Stewart, Helio Castroneves, plus all the current veterans and up and coming stars in Indycar. Prior to the race we could see a crazy Bump Day, I expect a bigger entry list next year. It could be one of the best Mays in a long time.

Pocono Update

Harding Racing has changed plans for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono this weekend. Conor Daly will be in the car instead of Zachary Claman DeMelo as was announced yesterday. Daly has driven at Pocono twice. Claman DeMelo is slated to take over the car at Gateway and Portland. A current Indy Lights driver may drive the 88 at Sonoma. This means Gabby Chaves will not return to the schedule this year.

Sage Karam hoped to get enough funding to drive in his home race Sunday, but has run out of time. He hopes to be able to land a ride for Gateway the following weekend.

Look for my Pocono preview on Wildfire Sports Friday.

 

Dixon Stays Home

Scott Dixon has signed a multi-year deal to remain at Chip  Ganassi Racing. Dixon had considered an offer from McLaren and also had drawn interest from Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, and another team. 2019 will be Dixon’s 18th season at Ganassi, the longest any driver has been with the team. he made his 300th Indycar start at Mid Ohio July 29. Dixon began his Indycar career with PacWest Racing in Champ Car in 2001, then moved to Ganassi for the 2002 season.

Dixon has 44 career wins, third on the all time list behind A. J. Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52). While the length of the contract isn’t known at this time, he should have time to catch Andretti. Dixon currently leads this year’s points, holding a 46 point lead over Alexander Rossi with four races remaining. Winning the the title would be Dixon’s fifth, just two behind Foyt.

Rob Edwards, COO of Andretti Autosport, expressed disappointment but not surprise at the announcement. ” Probably some of the other conversations took too long to come together to the point where Scott needed to make a decision,” he said.

In this afternoons’ teleconference, both Dixon and Ganassi gave a glimpse of how the new deal came about. Dixon talked to Ganassi about a month ago and Dixon told his car owner that they were okay.  He conceded there were “moderate discussions going on” with other teams, but in the end, it was “a fairly straightforward decision.”

“These people gave me the opportunity to start with,” Dixon said.

As for the championship race this season, his approach is to “take each weekend as it is. The worst thing you can do is points racing.” Dixon hopes the missed opportunities at the beginning of the year don’t reflect at the end of the season.

Ganassi thinks Dixon is driving as well in 2018 as he has in his career.

“It was easier for Scott with teammates Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon. It’s tougher now without a champion driver on the team.”

Ganassi said he has no plans to expand the team beyond its current two cars.

Talking about the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono this weekend, Dixon said the new front wing configuration “gives everybody more options,” but will not “fundamentally change things.”

He went on to say he thinks the race will be “similar to last year.”

Dixon said, “I like this year’s style of racing better. ”

On the health of the series, Ganassi said, “It’s in a period where it’s on the uptick,” noting that he has seen Indycar go through up and down cycles. He is very excited about the NBC package.

Dixon added that his PNC sponsorship “speaks volumes about Indycar racing.”

Dixon staying with Chip ganassi racing is also a positive for the series.

Thoughts:

Seeing Dixon at any other team would just not feel right.

I wonder how much sponsor PNC Bank influenced the decision.

Staying with Ganassi means if he wins the title, we likely won’t see a number 1 car next year. Ganassi has been reluctant to have that number on his championship cars. can PNC help here? I think the champion should carry the number 1 the following year.

Some late news items:

Zachary Claman de Melo will drive for Harding Racing at Pocono and Gateway. DeMelo, who drove earlier in the season for Dale Coyne Racing’s shared number 19 car, takes over the 88 car as the team seeks to audition drivers for 2019.

Richmond is looking more likely as the oval to be added to next year’s schedule.

fernando Alonso is making an announcement tomorrow. Is Indycar involved? I may be up late tonight waiting to hear.

 

 

Dixon Stays Home

Scott Dixon has signed a multi-year deal to remain at Chip  Ganassi Racing. Dixon had considered an offer from McLaren and also had drawn interest from Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, and another team. 2019 will be Dixon’s 18th season at Ganassi, the longest any driver has been with the team. he made his 300th Indycar start at Mid Ohio July 29. Dixon began his Indycar career with PacWest Racing in Champ Car in 2001, then moved to Ganassi for the 2002 season.

Dixon has 44 career wins, third on the all time list behind A. J. Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52). While the length of the contract isn’t known at this time, he should have time to catch Andretti. Dixon currently leads this year’s points, holding a 46 point lead over Alexander Rossi with four races remaining. Winning the the title would be Dixon’s fifth, just two behind Foyt.

Rob Edwards, COO of Andretti Autosport, expressed disappointment but not surprise at the announcement. ” Probably some of the other conversations took too long to come together to the point where Scott needed to make a decision,” he said.

In this afternoons’ teleconference, both Dixon and Ganassi gave a glimpse of how the new deal came about. Dixon talked to Ganassi about a month ago and Dixon told his car owner that they were okay.  He conceded there were “moderate discussions going on” with other teams, but in the end, it was “a fairly straightforward decision.”

“These people gave me the opportunity to start with,” Dixon said.

As for the championship race this season, his approach is to “take each weekend as it is. The worst thing you can do is points racing.” Dixon hopes the missed opportunities at the beginning of the year don’t reflect at the end of the season.

Ganassi thinks Dixon is driving as well in 2018 as he has in his career.

“It was easier for Scott with teammates Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon. It’s tougher now without a champion driver on the team.”

Ganassi said he has no plans to expand the team beyond its current two cars.

Talking about the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono this weekend, Dixon said the new front wing configuration “gives everybody more options,” but will not “fundamentally change things.”

He went on to say he thinks the race will be “similar to last year.”

Dixon said, “I like this year’s style of racing better. ”

On the health of the series, Ganassi said, “It’s in a period where it’s on the uptick,” noting that he has seen Indycar go through up and down cycles. He is very excited about the NBC package.

Dixon added that his PNC sponsorship “speaks volumes about Indycar racing.”

Dixon staying with Chip ganassi racing is also a positive for the series.

Thoughts:

Seeing Dixon at any other team would just not feel right.

I wonder how much sponsor PNC Bank influenced the decision.

Staying with Ganassi means if he wins the title, we likely won’t see a number 1 car next year. Ganassi has been reluctant to have that number on his championship cars. can PNC help here? I think the champion should carry the number 1 the following year.

Some late news items:

Zachary Claman de Melo will drive for Harding Racing at Pocono and Gateway. DeMelo, who drove earlier in the season for Dale Coyne Racing’s shared number 19 car, takes over the 88 car as the team seeks to audition drivers for 2019.

Richmond is looking more likely as the oval to be added to next year’s schedule.

fernando Alonso is making an announcement tomorrow. Is Indycar involved? I may be up late tonight waiting to hear.

 

 

Indycar Drivers’ Licenses and Thoughts on the Mad Silly Season

Catching up on a few items from Indycar over the past week:

Last week Indycar in conjunction with the five year plan for Indy Lights, introduced a procedure to obtain an Indycar driver’s license. The criteria grants automatic eligibility to drivers who race in Formula 1 or NASCAR or have a predetermined level of success and/or experience in other series.

Indy Lights drivers become automatically eligible by finishing in the top three in one full season or the top five over two full seasons. Drivers in other series can get a license by accumulating a set number of points over a two year period.

The license criteria allows for exceptions. Among this season’s drivers, Robert Wickens is an example of someone who would have needed an exception and most likely would receive one based on his experience. Santino Ferucci likely would not have gotten a license.

The point values  and criteria for exceptions have not been announced.

I like that Indycar is implementing this system. It should strengthen the grid. Will it prevent ride buying? Not necessarily. It might actually force owners who rely on ride buyers to hunt for sponsorship on their own. Another possible consequence is a case where an owner needs a driver to bring money, but that driver isn’t eligible for a license. How will that exception be handled? Could it cost the grid a car? Would that owner have to sit out?  Like the Road to Indy five year plan, this is still a work in progress, but it is a step in the right direction.

The Three Headed Silly Season- Drivers, Teams, Tracks

Usually Silly Season is all about drivers. This year it is about drivers, teams, and tracks. The one key driver is Scott Dixon, who is a free agent at the end of the season. Will he stay at Ganassi, take what’s rumored to be a gigantic offer from McLaren, or move to Team Penske, as Robin Miller mentioned on the NBCSN Mid-Ohio broadcast?  My guess is he sticks with Ganassi. The McLaren money is untouchable by anyone else, but there are a lot of unknowns with a new team. Dixon at Penske would sap a lot of the rivalry out of the series.

 

Which shade of orange will Scott Dixon wear next season?

Team Shuffles?

Andretti Autosport is planning on having McLaren bring two cars to Indycar next and assumes McLaren  will be in a technical partnership with AA. That would give Andretti eight drivers. Meanwhile, Harding Racing is looking for a technical partner, possibly with Andretti. Two Andretti cars could become a part of Harding’s stable along withe the potential two cars Harding plans to run next year. Got all that? This would give Andretti full or partial control of one third of the grid.

I admire Harding and Juncos Racing going alone this year. A partnership with an established team would help speed their development. However I think eight is too many cars for one owner to have a hand in. I have thought for years Andretti Autosport was spreading itself too thin, yet they keep producing results.

Belardi Racing is looking to expand its entry beyond the 500 next year. Belardi was affiliated with A.J. Foyt Racing for the 500 this year. the car was driven by James Davison. They are also looking to expand their Indy Lights program. This is what more Indycar owners need to do- have an Indy Lights program and develop a driver in their system. It would instantly give more value to a ride in Lights.

The Schedule

We know a little about the schedule from track announcements and an assist from the recently released IMSA schedule. It’s what we don’t know that is preventing a final announcement.

What replaces Phoenix in the Spring? I can’t imagine the series would go dark for five weeks from the St. Pete opener  March 10 to April 14 at Long Beach. The gap to Phoenix was too long at three weeks. With Iowa moving to July 20, does Mid Ohio keep its date the following weekend?

Speaking of Iowa, great news that this will be a Saturday night race again. The racing has always been better there at night.

While Belle Isle got the go ahead from the advisory committee, the race is not officially on until the Michigan department of Natural resources approves it. IMSA has their Belle Isle event listed as tentative on their schedule.

Is there another new track coming on board? Mark Miles has said there will be 17 races again.

The IMSA schedule shows the sports car series at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca the week before the Indycar finale there. I don’t understand how either event will draw much of a crowd. Two major events on back to back weekends cannot help a track’s bottom line. The only remedy would be a discounted combo ticket or a season pass. This sounds iffy for a good crowd at the Indycar finale.

Notes

Colton Herta had his first Indycar test at Portland  with Harding Racing.

Sportscar driver Colin Braun has expressed interest in getting an Indycar ride for next year. The announcers on the IMSA telecast said he would be testing a car. I don’t think he has one scheduled at the moment.

Another sportscar team, Dragonspeed (not Jay Penske’s outfit) is also interested in forming an Indycar team.

With all the expansion planned by current teams and all the possible new entries, the grid could be quite crowded next year. realistically, probably not all of these will pan out, but I do look for a larger grid and even more entries at Indianapolis in 2019.

A New Indy Lights Plan- Financial Incentives for New Teams; More Prize Money Among Enhancements

On the heels of Mazda’s announcement yesterday that they are ending their sponsorship of the Road to Indy after 2018, Indycar and Andersen Promotions unveiled a five year plan to strengthen Indy Lights. The plan includes budget reductions, discounts for new teams, more prize money, and a revised Indycar licensing program.

The financial incentives include reduced tire costs, $100 less per set of Cooper Tires; a reduced engine lease with the engine locked in to 4,500 miles. The  engine will be the same AER powerplant, just not badged by Mazda. The chassis is guaranteed to be in use for three more seasons and possibly one more after that. The reductions should reduce a team’s budget to less than a million dollars.

Prize money increases include $1.1 million to the season champion, $50,00 to the winner of the Freedom 100, and a per race prize increases to the top three finishers. Cash awards were the main concern after yesterday’s announcement.

The plan also includes a revised licensing plan for Indy Lights drivers. The top three finishers in a season are eligible to obtain an Indycar license. A driver com- peting in two full seasons of Indy Lights and finishing in the top five is also eligible.

New teams have added incentives. They will receive six free sets of tires, free entry to a two day test at Mid Ohio, and a free set of Motegi wheels.

This is a big step in the right direction. Indycar and Andersen Promotions worked together to devise this plan. What it doesn’t do is give any incentive to an existing Indycar team to start an Indy Lights team. That is the one thing that would solidify the future of Indy Lights.