Thoughts on the Phoenix Open Test and Other Matters

It’s like baseball’s Spring Training, only with race cars. The open test at Phoenix is reason enough to keep racing there. All the teams are there in their new liveries and they are practicing. This year’s test session was even more important since it was the first major workout for the new aerokit. I was especially looking forward to finding out how the new package performed in traffic. I have read many conflicting reports, but based on what I was able to watch and putting all I’ve read together, it seems Indycar is on the right path.

Three things I heard give me some hope for better racing:

The car is a handful to drive.

Drivers are lifting in turns 1 and 3.

This year driver skill will truly be on display.

Keep in mind Phoenix has never been known for passing. It has always been a one groove track. That doesn’t mean we will see the same type of race we saw the last two years. The new aero package allows a trailing car to get closer to the car ahead without upsetting the handling as much. Tire degradation will also play into passing. Firestone may still be working on a better tire design. They are still learning how the new kit works, too. I’m hopeful of a better race.

I think the speeds will be close to last year and there will be some wild action near the end of a stint.

Liveries

I like most of the new liveries. There are fewer blue and white cars, which is a welcome change from the grid at the end of last year. The one livery I’m not crazy about is the 26,driven by Zach Veach. I think it’s rather plain and dull.  Some of the best:

Ed Carpenter has a distinct color for each car. Spencer Pigot’s number 21 is a light green, and the shared number 20 (Jordan King on road/street/Ed Carpenter on ovals) is black.

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Back- Spencer Pigot Front- Ed Carpenter/ Jordan King

A.J. Foyt Racing retains the basic color scheme but the 14 Tony Kanaan drives has red as the main color on the nose and the 4 of Mattheus Leist has blue.

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Mattheus Leist
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Tony Kanaan

The Carpenter and Foyt teams were the most difficult to distinguish last year. I’m glad to see there will be some differentiation this season.

Scott Dixon’s new livery is growing on me. I was put off by it when I first saw it. I thought the blue and the orange should be reversed, but after seeing the car on track, I like it the way it is.

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Sebastien Bourdais’s number 18 is probably the wildest of all. The black and yellow stripes give the car a menacing look. It reminds me of a shark.

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Windscreen test

Scott Dixon drove the car with the new windscreen attached in its first on track test Friday night. The results were quite positive in the three lighting conditions- daylight, dusk, and under the lights. Dixon reported no distortion, but did complain about the heat in the cockpit. Some type of ventilation will have to be worked out. He also said there was no buffeting and that it was quieter in the car. Indycar is planning a test for he windscreen on one of the early season street courses. That type of course is my biggest concern for this device. the field of vision is limited with the tight turns and walls on a street circuit. More advanced ballistics test also will be conducted. The screen is at least a year away from full implementation.

Danica has a Deal to Do her Double

Danica Patrick announced late last week that she has a deal to drive in the 500. The team and terms were not announced. During a press conference yesterday in Daytona, Danica accidently mentioned that she will be driving for Ed Carpenter Racing.

Other Notes

Ed Carpenter Racing will give rookie Jordan King an oval test this week. King was hired to drive the shared ride on the road and street circuits. The announcement fueled speculation about a third car for ECR in the 500, but the possibility of Danica Patrick in the third car would seem to end that thought. Another thought- Is this Ed’s last year in the car and is King going to be full time next year? That would be surprising considering the experienced talent waiting for a ride. I would think they would want to see how the first part of the season goes before making a long term commitment.

ABC announced the same broadcast booth for their telecasts with Alan Bestwick, Eddie Cheever, and Scott Goodyear. The pit reporters remain the same. Retaining Cheever and Goodyear tells me that they have no interest in improving their telecasts. I wonder if they are truly interested in continuing their relationship with Indycar. They did upgrade their 500 team with the addition of Nicloe Briscoe.

The track build for the St. Pete race began Tuesday, and the weekend schedule came out today. We are 25 days away from race day and 21 days away from the first practice.

 

Note: Photos captured from various internet sources.

 

 

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Windscreen Testing, News, and Thoughts

Indycar continues to make progress in safety with its announcement Friday of the first windscreen on track test next Thursday at Phoenix.  The trial for the new safety component comes the day before the open test at ISM Raceway ( still can’t used to calling Phoenix that yet). One of the major questions is whether the drivers see out of the screen in all directions and during daylight and night conditions. Is the view blurry or distorted? The wind tunnel tests apparently were satisfactory enough to proceed to on track testing. I’m at least as interested in this test as I am seeing how the cars will race at Phoenix. Chip Ganassi Racing with Scott Dixon driving will have testing honors. The test will be three sessions of 5-10 laps, one in full sun, one at dusk, and one at night. The runs will occur between rookie sessions.  The series still needs to test for how the screen performs in the rain and do more intense ballistic tests.

I love the look of the screen. It reminds me of the windscreens on the roadsters of the ’50s and early 60’s. The size of the screen almost gives the car a roadster look, adding to the retro feel of the new aero design.

The screen is manufactured by PPG, and it is composed of a material called Opticor. This is the same material used in fighter jet canopies. Indycar has not set a timetable for putting the windscreen on the cars. I would not look for them this year. I applaud the series taking a careful, well thought approach to this safety feature. They have come up with an aesthetically pleasing screen that I hope serves its intended purpose well.

News

Updates:

Some big news broke after I published this morning.

First, Scott Dixon will have a full year primary sponsor, PNC Bank. No terms were announced although Chip Ganassi Racing has an announcement scheduled for tomorrow at IMS. This will be Dixon’s first full time sponsor since Target left. Here is the car:

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I think reversing the red and blue would be a better look. The car reminds me of Charlie Kimball’s old livery.

The second bit of news involves Dale Coyne Racing and a return of two familiar names top Indycar. Jimmy Vasser and James Sulivan have partnered with Coyne and Sebastien Bourdais  The new team name is Dale Coyne Racing w/ Vasser-Sullivan. Seal Master will sponsor the number 18 for nine races including the Indianapolis 500. Speculation continues that Coyne will enter a fourth car at Indianapolis for a driver that has driven for the team before. I’m excited I might get to wear my Dracone shirt again. A source hinted about this at Daytona.

 

Dale Coyne announced, as expected, car 19 will be shared by Zachary Claman DeMelo and Pietro Fittipaldi. Still to be determined is which races each will drive. DeMelo drove in Indy Lights last year, winning at Road America. He also drove in the Indycar season finale at Sonoma for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, DeMelo maintained a respectable race pace. Fittipaldi,  grandson of 2 -time 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi,  spent last season in Formula V8  3.5, notching six victories and winning the championship. He will have an oval test at Phoenix. Coyne said he was not opposed to running both driver in the Indianapolis 500. He also indicated Pippa Mann will also be in the race.

This announcement means Conor Daly will not have a full time ride  for 2018 unless a last minute deal emerges at Harding for a second car. Indycar needs to find a way to do a better job of keeping its popular drivers. It is a money over talent game, and Conor lost out. Daly still might get something for the 500.

Chip Ganassi Racing has scheduled a major announcement tomorrow morning at IMS. Speculation is that they have a sponsor for Scott Dixon.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports unveiled the liveries for their three cars last Thursday. The big news is that Robert Wickens will have number 6 instead of Schmidt’s traditional 7 this year. Speculation is the 7 is being saved for Danica Patrick. If that is the case, I don’t see where any one-off has the right to demand a number be reserved for them. Kurt Busch and Fernando Alonso took whatever number they were offered. Sometimes the series tries too hard to attract certain drivers at the expense of others.

The SPM cars look great. James Hinchcliffe will be in the same Arrow livery of the past few years. Wickens’s car is red with Lucas Oil sponsorship, and Jack Harvey’s number 60 displays Sirius XM on the sidepod. Harvey currently has six races planned with an eye toward possibly adding more.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan announced the return of Total Oil as the primary sponsor on the 15 at Long Beach. Total sponsored Bobby during his 1992 championship season. RLL will have more sponsor announcements soon. It sounds as if they had a great off season procuring sponsorships.

I will be exploring the Everglades and Key West the rest of the week. If I’m not eaten by a Burmese Python, I will be back on the 14th with thoughts on the Phoenix test. The test will be live streamed on Indycar.com. Because of the time difference, I hope to watch the evening practice.

24 Hours, 24 Photos

So many hours, so many cars, so many photos. I chose 24 of what I think are the best ones. Enjoy.. I had fun taking them. Click on a photo to enlarge it.

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Dusk into Night

 

Vintage

 

Rolex24 Recap- Few Yellows, Lots of Laps; Fernandomania, Part Dos

The race began with lots of questions- how would the new Penske Acuras do? Would Ganassi”s Ford GTs continue its domination of the event? Could Fernando Alonso finish on the podium?Will Wayne Taylor Racing be as strong as last year without Ricky?

The answers started coming in qualifying. Renger van der Zande put the Wayne Taylor Racing car on the pole on the last lap, nipping Helio Castroneves in the Penske Acura. The starting lineup set the tone for the Acura vs. Cadillac battle the next day. It was clear that the United Autosport car that Alonso drove was going to have a tough time moving to the podium.  The Fords started 1-2 on the grid in GTLM and it was just a question of which one would win assuming both cars held together until the end.

This was the first Weather Tech Championship race without the PC class. Their absence may have been the reason there were fewer yellows this year. Last year, PC cars seemed to account for at least six of the full course cautions. This year, there were just three full course yellows. The caution periods were well spread out. While it was nice to have just a few yellows, it made the race a runaway in all three classes.

Early on the Prototype class was setting up to be a battle to the end between Team Penske and the Action Express Cadillacs. The teams swapped leads on pit stops for several hours. On track the Action Express cars looked a bit stronger. I could sense both teams were preparing their pit strategies for the last two hours well in advance. Just past the halfway point, the Number 6 Penske Acura, driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron, and Simon Pagenaud, went to the garage for a gearbox change. After that, the Number 7 drove to the paddock to repair damage from contact. Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, and Graham Rahal, who been the better of the team cars, effectively had their race ended at that point. Both cars came back to earn top 10 finishes.

The Penske troubles allowed the Action Express team to lap the field in virtually coasting to a 1-2 finish from there. It was Cadillac’s second straight win at Daytona.

The GTLM race was all Ford all the time. The question was would Ganassi allow them to fight each other for the win. A real battle never happened. The 67 car of Scot Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, and Richard Westbrook came home first, followed by the 66 of Joey Hand, Sebastien Bourdais, and Dirk Muller. The victory was the 200th win for the Ganassi organization. Ironically, Briscoe also won the 300th race for the Penske team.

In GTD, The Lamborghini Huracan  driven by Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers, and Franck Perera won the Rolex watches. The number 86 Acura NSX, owned by Michael Shank and driven by Katherine Legge, Alvaro Parente, Trent Hindman, and A J Allmendinger,  finished second.

Current Indycar drivers had mixed results. Scott Dixon won his class and Sebastien Bourdais finished second. Wayne Taylor Racing, where Ryan Hunter-Reay drove, had to retire the car after seven blown right rear tires destroyed the car’s floor. Spencer Pigot drove the Team Joest entry which dropped with mechanical issues. As mentioned earlier, the Penske drivers soldiered home near the back of the top ten.

Notes

I had a great time Friday night as IMS President Doug Boles came to our campsite to chat . He even persuaded Chip Wile, President of Daytona International Speedway, to join us for a bit. Boles mentioned several things I’m not sure are ready for publication, but he seemed optimistic that there might be bumping at Indy this year. Of course, nothing is true until it is in Indycar.

Fernandomania was every bit as strong at Daytona as it was at Indy last May. Crowds followed him everywhere. People reported sightings. I was in the paddock Sunday morning when his car pulled into the garage. Throngs appeared out of nowhere and followed the wounded racer into its stall. They were running after the car. From all accounts, Fernando was gracious and accommodating.  McLaren announced today that Alonso would be participating in several rounds of the World Endurance Championship when there is no Formula 1 conflict. Now if he could just fit another Indianapolis 500 in there somehow.

With just three classes in IMSA, I think the color designation for GTLM should change. Currently both Prototypes and GTLM have red number squares. This could be confusing for new fans. The red was fine when there were two prototype classes, but a change might be appropriate now. Each class should have its own color.

A video board in the horseshoe would nice.

This was the largest crowd of the three years I have been attending this race. With the larger crowd and. it seemed, more vendors, parking seemed to be at a premium. I heard from some long time fans who were unhappy about limited access to places they used to be able to get to.

The Dan Gurney tribute at the beginning of the race was amazing. Gurney’s winning car from the inaugural 1962 Daytona Continental appeared at the front of the field just before the start and led the parade lap. It was a most fitting tribute to one of the greatest drivers of all time. I’m hoping for a similar salute before the 500.

 

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A photo gallery will be posted in a few minutes. There are two many to put in this post. Enjoy them.  Thanks to Vincent Anderson for the camera tips.

 

 

This is the Final Countdown

A bit less than 3 hours to go. Nothing has changed. The number 5 Mustang Sampling from Action Express has a commanding lead. Katherine is still in position for a GTD podium. Ganassi Fords continue to dominate GTLM.

What was a beautiful morning now has the wind picking up and some gray clouds rolling in. A wet finish? Possibly but not supposed to be heavy. Enjoy the end of the race. My thoughts on the weekend probably out on Tuesday. I’m a slow thinket6.

Rolex24 Update

Good morning. The sun is  just beginning to rise. Both Penske Acuras are out of contention. The 6 had to replace an alternator. The 7 had contact with the 31 and spent time behind the wall for repairs. Action Express appears in complete control of the race. The 5 car with Jaoa Barbosa, Felipe Albuquerque, and Christian Fittipaldi have led much of the 18.5 hours.  Another update around noon.

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It’s 2:40 AM; Do You Know Where Your Favorite Driver. Is?

My first mix race update. At the halfway point it has a been a pit exchange of the lead between the Penske Acuras and the Action Express cars. The 7 Penske and the 5 AX are the strongest pair. Pit strategy in the final 2 hours Will decide the outcome. Defending champion Wayne Taylor Racing is in 295th after a mechanical issue. In GTLM Ganassi Ford HRs have a comfortable lead. In GTD Katherine Leche has a shot at the podium. More after sunrise.