Sebring Test Day; Catching Up with Indycar News

I really cannot wait for St. Pete after today. Yesterday was like a first practice at a race weekend. Eleven cars completed a very busy day at Sebring Wednesday. Drivers from Foyt, Carlin, Andretti Autosport, Coyne, Foyt, and Rahal turned a significant number of laps, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay drive the most laps. Rookies Zach Veach, Robert Wickens,  and Mattheus Leist all logged important track time. Zachary Calaman DeMelo drove the Coyne number 19 in a test drive. There has been no official announcement yet on who will be in that car this year.

Rossi and Hunter-Reay also looked the smoothest and most consistent on their runs. Many drivers experimented with braking points and acceleration areas. I saw a lot of sliding through the corner leading to the backstretch.  The cars seem to approach the hairpin faster than I recall them doing at testing last year.

Max Chilton was the lone participant for Carlin Racing today. Charlie Kimball had a sponsor event commitment. Both Carlin drivers tested Monday and Tuesday on the oval at Homestead. This was their first road course test. It was great to see a new team, especially this one, on track.

I will be leaving Sebring Thursday morning for Daytona and the Rolex24. Sportscars are my second love after Indycars. The number of Indycar drivers in the race makes it that much better. It will be interesting with the large prototype field and the addition on Team Penske. Three Indycar owners have teams in the IMSA series now. If Andretti would join, there could be an even more massive crossover. I’m all for a return to the days when drivers drove anything, anywhere, anytime. See my post about Dan Gurney.

Catching Up on Indycar news

Lots of news to catch up with.

The biggest news is Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports hiring Leena Gade as their lead engineer. Gade is a three time winning engineer at Le Mans for Audi. She is the female lead engineer in Indycar. This move is a huge coup for SPM and the series.

DRR is scheduled to announce a two car team for the Indianapolis 500 today. Let the Danica speculation begin. I think Ed Carpenter Racing would be a better place for competitively. There are some family connections at DRR, though. Stay tuned.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has partnered with New Era as their clothing supplier. SPM could be the sharpest dressed  team in the paddock.

From Indycar’s newly released rule book:

The best thing is the severe points reduction for 500 qualifying. Only the fast nine receive points. Nine points go to the pole winner and the points drop by one for each position following. I always thought too many points were given for qualifying. My preference would be one point for pole, but this is a fair compromise.

The worst thing- the qualifying procedure for ovals other than Indianapolis. Cars will qualify in inverse order of entrant points. While this fair to part time drivers, virtually the same order at every track is not relevant to the weekend. Inverse order of final practice times is a better method. It reflects how a team is performing on a particular weekend.

I’m disappointed to see double points remaining for Indy and Sonoma.

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Rolex 24 Preview- Racing Returns

It’s not Indycar, but many current and former Indycar drivers will be driving in the Rolex24 at Daytona this weekend. IMSA has shown steady improvement since Grand Am and the American LeMans Series merged in 2012 and the new series began racing in 2014. The series begins 2018 with new teams, a very large prototype class, and some new full time drivers. Here is a look at the teams with Indycar connections.

Roger Penske starts a full time entry into the series with two Acura prototypes. Former Indy 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya each drive one of the cars. Castroneves is in the number 7, and Montoya is in car 6. For the Rolex, Graham Rahal will co- drive with Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud will team with Montoya. Ricky Taylor is Castroneves’ full season teammate. Dane Cameron is Montoya’s co-pilot for the full season.

Chip Ganassi continues to field Ford GT cars in the GTLM class. Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe drive number 67 this weekend. Sebastien Bourdais will be in the 66.

New Indycar team owner Michael Shank-gosh it feels great to write that phrase- has former Indycar drivers Katherine Legge and A.J. Allmendinger in his 86 machine. Bruno Junqueira drives number 93 for Shank.

Bobby Rahal’s BMW team, cars 24 and 25, race in the GTLM class. Connor DePhillippi is one of his drivers.

Spencer Pigot is back in the 55 Mazda with Team Joest in the Prototype class.

Fernando Alonso makes his endurance debut in car 23 for United Autosport. The car is a Ligier Prototype, one of ten LMP2 cars.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is driving car 10 for Wayne Taylor Racing, the defending race champion team.

Two drivers from Indy Lights of note- Pato O’Ward, who returns for a full Indy Lights season this year, will drive the Performance Tech number 38; Felix Rosenqvist, who had a brief run in Lights and is the current pints leader in Formula E, co-drives the Jackie Chan entry number 37.

Fifty cars will start the race Saturday. There are 20 prototypes, 9 GT Le Mans cars, and 21 GT Daytona machines. Gone is the Prototype Challenge class.

I plan to watch the Indycar test at Sebring on Wednesday before going to Daytona. 15 cars are scheduled to test, including newcomers Carlin and Shank. It should be a busy day.

The Cadillacs of Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express will be strong again. I’m interested to see how strong the Penske Acuras are in their first race. They should be contenders later in the year. Ganassi Ford GTs will likely dominate the GTLM class. The GT Daytona class is usually wide open, but I’ll go with the Porsche 911 team for the win.

I hope to post about it Wednesday night and provide update from Daytona this weekend.

 

 

Dan Gurney, the All American Racer

Name a racing series, any series past or present. Run your finger down the list of race winners from that series. You are likely to find the name Dan Gurney somewhere in the list.  Gurney died yesterday in California, closing the book on one of the most brilliant drivers and minds to ever set foot on a race track.. He drove anything, anywhere. He won in anything, anywhere. He built his own cars, developed engines, and wrote a white paper outlining what the future of Indycar should be. CART used his ideas to form their series. If Gurney had chosen to run CART, Indycar racing would be on very solid ground today.

I cheered for A.J. Foyt win every race. I loved watching Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones drive. Bobby Unser’s aggressive driving was beautiful to watch, and his brother Al’s cool, let the race come to him strategy made for some late race intrigue. Then there was Dan Gurney. I loved the five regulars, but I admired and adored Dan Gurney. I liked that he didn’t race exclusively in one series, and that he had success no matter where he raced.

Gurney was the first driver to win races in Indycar, Nascar, and Formula 1. Only Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya have duplicated that feat.  What Andretti and Montoya didn’t duplicate was building their own car to race and drive to victory. The Eagle Mark I, shown below, is the only American built car to win a Formula 1 race. Gurney won the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in it. It remains the only time an American won a Grand Prix in a car they built.    This win came just one week after he and A. J. Foyt won LeMans in a Ford GT40.

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Gurney made nine starts at Indianapolis. He started on the front row twice, second in 1967 and third in 1965.  In his last three 500’s- 1968, 1969, 1970- Gurney finished second, second, and third. His Eagle cars won the race in 1968, 1973, and 1975. He only led two laps, both in 1967. He took the lead when Parnelli Jones took the turbine for short detour through the north short chute grass.

I will not bore you with every statistic of his racing career. I followed him avidly. He was never in any series long enough to win a championship. He would have been a multiple titlist in several series.  After his driving career, Gurney continued to a force in racing with his cars, innovations, and ideas. The Gurney flap, a small tab on the trailing rear wing, is still in use today. His Eagle cars were the dominant chassis in the mid 70s.

I met Gurney after he won a road race at Indianapolis Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway Park) in 1963. He autographed my event program, and was very gracious to an awkward 16 year old kid. I wish I knew what happened to that program.

All racing is poorer for his passing. I’m thankful I grew up in an era when the sport’s great legends raced and drivers weren’t limited to one series for their entire career. If you see A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, or any other driver from that time period at a track, please take a minute to say hello to them. We have no idea how much more time we will have them around.

Photo notes:  The Indy 500 car pictured at the top is on display at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum at the Barber race track in Birmingham. The Formula 1 Eagle in the lower picture is in the REVS Institute in Naples, Florida.  Top photo captured from internet; bottom photo my own.

 

The Season Begins- Testing at Sebring

0110181154a-1One of the perks of living in Florida during the winter is the opportunity to see Indycars on track in January. Wednesday I went to Sebring to watch the second day of testing. Ganassi and Andretti teams put in a busy day.  It was great seeing the new look cars and noticing how differently they need to be driven.

My impressions of the new bodywork:  this is a proper looking race car. The back end is opened, the front wings have a less cumbersome appearance, and the car looks fast. I had seen the road/street configuration on display at Mid-Ohio, but Wednesday was the first time I’d seen it on track. I saw the speedway version in a test at IMS in July. Both cars are sleek and beautiful. The liveries work better than I thought they would on this car. I still wish the car number on the endplates were larger. Fans furthest from the track may have a difficult time identifying some cars, especially if we see the multitude of blue and white combinations that dominated last year.

On track, drivers talked about the lower downforce giving the impression of a horsepower boost. That was very evident as they approached the hairpin. Ed Jones locked up the brakes several times in the morning session searching for the correct braking point. The brake zone is definitely longer. I think that should lead to more passing opportunities.  Back ends slid quite a bit coming out of the hairpin. For the first few races at least we will see a lot of action as the drivers figure out how to handle this new setup.  This car has to be driven, not just steered. I’m not sure the difference will be as noticeable on an oval. I will be watching the oval test at Phoenix with great interest. I hope the drivers have to lift in the corners.

The cars looked faster on the straight leading to the hairpin, and they also seemed to accelerate quicker off of what is turn 5 of the full course.  Drivers who have experience in lower downforce cars will have an early advantage. I think the new drivers from Europe, Jordan King and Rene Binder, will struggle for awhile.  I am really excited to see how turn 1 goes at the start of the St. Pete race. That might give us an indication of who knows what they are doing.

My friend Ed Murray from New York came up from his snowbird nest to watch the test. Ed is very knowledgeable about dirt tracks. He goes to the Knoxville Nationals every year. I learned a lot about dirt track racing talking to him. It was Ed’s first time at Sebring. He was quite impressed.

I hope to get in one more Sebring test this month, although with the Rolex 24 coming up it may be a challenge. We will see.

News

Harding Racing made the official announcement yesterday that they will be a one car full time team in the Verizon Indycar series in 2018. Gabby Chaves will drive the Chevrolet powered entry. Team president Brian Barnhart left the door open to a possible second car for the 500. There are now four new owners in the series, two full time and two part time.

The aeroscreen is still scheduled to tested at Phoenix, but it sounds like it won’t be implemented until 2019. I applaud Indycar’s cautious approach with this. It seems as if Formula 1 is rushing into their halo too quickly.

Danica Patrick’s chances for a ride in the 500 continue to dwindle. She has virtually no shot at the Daytona 500 at this point. Some people think there just a couple possibilities for Indy remaining. I’m not so sure. I will echo what my friend Patti Nolen said in her ikissedthebricks blog this morning:

Leave Stefan Wilson alone!  He paid his dues last year.

We are now just 58 days away from the first green flag!

 

 

 

F2, Brute?

 

I intended this post  as a news summary, but with all that happened late last week, I decided to share my thoughts about a couple things.

First, Ed Carpenter named Jordan King the driver of the 20 car for the road and street events. Later, Juncos Racing announced Rene Binder will run four races for the team- St. Pete, Barber, Toronto, and Mid-Ohio. Both drivers come from European racing, with time in what was F2, now GP2, The Indy Lights equivalent of Formula 1.

King spent three season in GP2. He also was a test driver for Manor F1 and won the 2013 British Formula 3 title.

Binder won four races last year in the Formula V8 3.5 series and spent three years in GP2.

My issue is not necessarily with the drivers. Mike Conway has a background similar to King’s.  The question is why teams look to Europe and ignore the Mazda Road to Indy drivers. There are several who are ready to move to Indycar. The ladder series is largely ignored by the Indycar paddock when a new driver is needed. If I’m a driver in Pro Mazda, I’ve got to wonder if my money might be better spent just pursuing an Indycar ride, or maybe I’ll have a better shot driving in Europe. King and Binder might have decent seasons. The new aero configuration may be a bit of an equalizer. However, Indycar owners and the league itself should get more behind the development and promotion of drivers in their own developmental series.

Kyle Novak is the new race director for Indycar. Last year he directed races for IMSA’s Continental Tire Series races, a support series for the IMSA Weather Tech Series. He worked under Beaux Barfield. He replaces Brian Barnhart, who left to become president of Harding Racing. It will be interesting to see if he uses this year just to learn or will implement some changes right away. At any rate, it is a fresh perspective in race control, which could be a good thing.

Pato O’Ward secured a full time ride in Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport, joining Colton Herta, Dalton Kellett, and Ryan Norman on the Lights squad. O’Ward won seven races in Pro Mazda in 2016 and drove in four Lights races last year before finishing the year in IMSA. His presence adds to an already strong Lights field for 2018. Should he move to Indycar in 2019, O’Ward could be the Mexican driver to help the league secure the race in Mexico they have been pursuing.

Indycar’s television time schedule came out last week. ABC, in what is hopefully their final year of covering Indycar, will covermost of the early part of the season and NBCSN has the  rest of theyear.. The best thing about the race times is that Iowa will start  at 2 pm Eastern time. This race should be a Saturday night race, and track president Jimmy Small is working toward the goal. A date change may be needed to accomplish it, but that would be fine. I have not enjoyed the Sunday afternoon races as much as I have the Saturday night ones. This earlier time may allow some fans to attend who couldn’t with the later start.  Another good note is that Gateway will begin an hour earlier. Starting a race at twilight instead of when the sun is completely gone provides a different, interesting dynamic as the track changes.

Wednesday I will be going to Sebring for the Indycar test. Ganassi, Andretti, and Coyne are scheduled to participate.  Hope to post pictures and report later this week.

 

Qualified Opinions

 

Happy New Year, everyone. It’s finally 2018. We are closer to the start of the new racing season. Many Indycar drivers will be testing the new aerokits beginning this month and some drivers get in their first taste of competition at the Rolex 24 at the end of the month.

I have some exciting ideas for this blog for this year. Some are based on reader suggestions, and some come from the responses to types of articles I did last year. Indycar  was very busy just before the holidays with news.

Indycar made two announcements about oval qualifying just before Christmas. One involved qualifying points at The Indianapolis 500, and the other concerned qualifying procedures on ovals.  The details and my thoughts on these follow.

Indy 500 qualifying will not be the point-a- palooza it has been the past few years. In 2018, the Fast nine are the only drivers receiving points. The pole winner gets 9 points and the other eight get points in descending order with ninth place receiving 1 point. No points are given for qualifying 10th or lower.  I have read many arguments in favor of the new format as well as some opposed to it.

My feeling is there were way too many points given for qualifying so I am happy about the change. Did Indycar go too far the other direction? I’m not sure. Drivers  have to make two runs to make the race. There should be a bit of  a reward for that extra effort. Perhaps a larger, separate qualifying purse would help. If there are more than 33 entries, which is a greater possibility this year than there has been lately, a new format altogether may be needed. I would like see cars limited to no more than three attempts on Saturday.

The qualifying change on ovals I do not like at all. On ovals other than Indianapolis, qualifying order will be determined by entrant points. This means by Iowa we will likely have the order at every oval pretty much set. The idea is to give the leaders the best chance to start the race at the front. Why? If the points leaders are slow in practices, why should they get an advantageous qualifying slot that weekend? Having all the points leaders, assuming they are the fastest cars, begin at the front every race could make for some boring races.

A better way would be to use the final practice times for each event as the qualifying order with the fastest qualifying last. In discussions I have had with other fans, there has been talk of having the points leaders go first. I like that idea as well. If they are the fastest cars, qualifying order shouldn’t matter since they will all be going out in a short time fame of one another. I see nothing wrong with having the best drivers race to the front. Eliminating randomness, as the league seems determined to do, could turn Indycar into Formula 1.

News

Carlos Munoz will return for the 500 driving for his old team, Andretti Autosport. Munoz has finished 2nd twice at Indy and always runs very well there. Adding Munoz gives Andretti six cars for the race.

Indycar announced the first on track test of the aeroscreen prototype will be February 9-10 at the Phoenix open test.  The schedule is subject to change.

Carlin Racing announced Charlie Kimball will drive car number 23 and Max Chilton will be in the 59 car. Those numbers haven’t been seen on an Indycar since 2011, when E. J. Viso drove number 59 and Paul Tracy attempted to qualify the 23 car at Indy.

Indycar announced last Thursday that only rookies would get extra tires for the first practice on road and street courses. Last year teams outside the top 10 in points also get an extra set. I like this idea. Nearly half the field received the extra set. The teams in the top 10 usually sat out the first half of practice. Now just the rookies will be on track during the first half of the session. That is something else that needs to be tweaked. Shortening the practices would help. Portland is the only new track on the schedule. Most teams should have enough data for each venue that a shorter practice would be fine. The only teams shorter practices this could hurt next year are Carlin and Harding.  They are new full time teams and do not have rookie drivers. Jay Frye indicated the league is looking at incentives to get more cars out for practice sessions.

Teams will get an extra set of tires at Phoenix, Detroit, Texas, Iowa, and Toronto in an effort to make tire distribution more consistent. These tracks were picked on the basis of tire wear. on track.

Podcasts

I have started listening to a couple of  new podcasts and want to make sure everyone knows about them.  Both are great additions to the Indycar podcast universe. I would start one myself, but I have a voice for the print media. Check them out when you have a chance.

The newest, Pit Lane Parley, hosted by Mike Joachim and Jess Baker, offers insight and commentary on Indycar news. Their podcasts are on the Podbean app.

Fastcarsfastgirls, also available on Podbean as well as other sources, features Abby and Molly with a look at happenings in the racing world. They usually include a bit of history and always have a feature on women in racing.

Enjoy the first week of the new year. Racing is getting closer.

 

 

 

My Last Post- of 2017

I know the first part of the title got everyone really excited and the last part brought great disappointment.  However, I’m not going anywhere.  I  just wanted to get in one last column this month. Some news and thanks for a great year.

Carlin finally announced that they will be a full time 2 car team in 2018 with drivers Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton.  They will use Chevy engines. Honda already said they were full for the regular season.  This is essentially Ganassi’s B team from last year. I hope both drivers have better years on a team where they will get full attention. Carlin is the Roger Penske of European junior formula racing.  I look for them to be contenders in a couple of years. Both drivers will bring their sponsors from last year.

With Carlin on the grid there will be four new teams running Indycar next year, two full time and two part time.  This is a welcome influx of new owners. There might be a couple more joining in the next few years. Steinbrenner Racing, currently running Colton Herta in Indy Lights, will move up to Indycar at some point, possibly as soon as 2019. I think Herta’s Indy Lights results may determine when that happens.

There could potentially be 24 cars starting at St. Pete to begin the season.

Thank You

First, many thanks to those of you who read this column. It is a pleasure to write and I am glad to be able to share my thoughts with you.

I would like to give special thanks to  two of my fellow bloggers:

George Phillips of Oilpressure for his encouragement and support during the two years I have been writing. If you are not reading his blog, start this week.

Patti Nolen of ikissedthebricks  I appreciate her feedback, and we have had some really good racing discussions. Patti writes great stories of her personal track experiences. Check out her blog.

I want to give special thanks to those who read the column for the first time this year. You have helped the blog grow beyond anything I expected when I began in May, 2016.

Finally, but not least, my fellow class members of the Creative Writing class at the Life Enrichment Center in Tampa. This blog started because of the help and encouragement I received early in 2016.  Two of my columns last year began as pieces I wrote for class. It has been a life changing experience.

I will return in January with more goings on in Indycar and a look ahead to the Rolex24. Indycar fans should be interested in IMSA next year with Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya driving full time for Penske and many other Indycar drivers making part time appearances in the series.

Have a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year.   Mike