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.

 

 

 

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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

 

Endings and Beginnings- Thoughts on Sonoma

The last race of the season creates a conundrum. There is a race to watch and people want to see a race winner. But there is a season title on the line which creates another layer of watching.  Point scenarios are discussed for a week. Very little attention is on the race itself.

Sonoma itself has unique issues a site for the finale. It’s a beautiful venue in a beautiful setting. Track management does a great job presenting the event as the finale. Yet the race is usually not the type of race a series needs for the one that decides its champion. Passing is at a premium. The cars get strung out. Pit strategy is the way to get by someone. An oval in prime time would make for a better ending to the season and add more drama to the title fight.

The 2017 edition of Sonoma was better than most races thanks to Simon Pagenaud’s four stop strategy. It was clear this was the plan from the start when his first pit stop came two laps before the pit window opened. He continued to build his gap after the other drivers pitted each time by staying on reds until his last stop. Pagenaud’s gap was big enough by the time he made his last stop to beat Josef Newgarden out of the pits. Newgarden tried to pass a couple times, but decided, or actually Tim Cindric did, that second place meant the title.

Newgarden is one of the youngest drivers to win the series championship. He took the lead at Mid Ohio and never looked back. The only hiccup the last two months was his problem leaving the pits at Watkins Glen.  The rest of his final stretch showed first or second place finishes. Newgarden is destined to add a couple more titles to his resume.

While we’re possibly seeing the beginning of a new Indycar star, we may have seen the last of another one full time. Indications are even stronger now that Helio Castroneves will not be a full time driver next year in Indycar. He will run the 500 and possibly the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but he will be driving for Penske in the IMSA sports car series. I’ve never been a fan of Castroneves, but the last two years he has done the best driving of his career . The paddock will seem empty without him.

The race was the final outing for the manufacturer aerokits. New bodywork for next season should make for better racing since most of the downforce will be on the underside. I will not miss the rear bumpers. I thought they made Indycars look too much like sportscars.

Scott Dixon fought hard for fourth in the race and finished third in the points. The bar Newgarden is shooting for as a career? Dixion has finished in the top 3 in points 11 of the 12 years he’s been in the series.  I hope everyone appreciates that we are watching a legend drive.

Thoughts

I thought the crowd was the biggest I’ve seen at Sonoma in the four years I’ve been there. It was definitely the best Saturday crowd I’ve seen.

Zachary Calaman de Melo did a good job during the weekend. His main job was to get laps and he accomplished that.

I watched Friday’s second practice from the turn 2 and 3 area. It is a great spot to see most of the track. Cars tended to have a bit a back end slide through 3.

Word came yesterday that Ganassi will be a two car team next year. This should not come as a surprise as signs have been there for awhile. I have a couple friends on the 8 and 83 crews. I hope they can land another spot soon.  Brendon Hartley is expected to drive the 10 car.  Nothing against Hartley, a great driver in sports cars, but I’d rather see the opening go to someone who has gone through the Road to Indy.

Will Carlin be full time in Indycar in 2018 with Max Chilton and possibly Charlie Kimball?

Conor Daly ended the season with a couple of top tens and led some laps at Sonoma. Is it enough to save his job? Many of his early season issues were team related.

Silly Season is looking to be very short. Most of the regular seats are filled. We are waiting to see what some possible new teams are planning. I think it’s possible there may be several teams who make select appearances during the year rather than go full time.  The car count may look stable at every race, but some teams will be different.

Thanks to all of you for reading my posts this year. I’ll be back next week with a season review and then I will be posting stories of races past throughout the off season.

 

True Racer- McLaren Movie Review

Just one more lap before lunch. Bruce McLaren, always looking for more from himself and his car, wanted to try a different downforce level.. He left the pits but didn’t return that day in June 1970, ending a meteoric rise from champion driver to successful car builder. A view of the accident scene comes at the end of the documentary, McLaren, a film making sporadic appearances in the United States. I had the good fortune to see it Thursday night.

The film chronicles McLaren’s life in chronological order from his humble beginnings in New Zealand. Bruce knew he wanted to be a race car driver by the time he was 5 years old. When he was nine, he developed Perthes disease, a disease that causes the head of the femur to lose blood flow and die. As a result his left leg was shorter than his right one. McLaren was bedridden for nearly 2 years as doctors tried to strengthen the hip and lengthen his left  leg.  While the hip got stronger, his leg did not get longer. Mclaren walked with a permanent limp.

He went to Europe to drive F2 in 1958 and won his first Formula 1 race the following year, the U.S. GP at Sebring. At the time McLaren was the youngest F1 winner in history, a distinction he held for 44 years. He drove as a teammate to Jack Brabham for Cooper.  Brabham won the World Championship the following year and McLaren finished second.   Both drivers  left Cooper and eventually each built their own Formula 1 cars.

McLaren’s greatest success came in the Can Am series.  In 1969, McLaren-built cars won every race on the Can Am schedule. The three McLaren  cars swept the podium twice that year.  Dennnis Hulme and Mark Donohue were McLaren’s teammates that year.

The movie contains interviews with many racing greats including Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, and Chris Amon. McLaren’s family also appears, lending a personal view of the man. We also hear from several engineers and mechanics, mainly Robin Heard, who came to work for McLaren after helping design the Concorde supersonic airplane.  Many of the airplane’s aerodynamic principles, and some of the same materials, were applied to the cars.

My favorite segments were the vintage racing footage. The race films contain shots of Graham Hill, James Hunt, Jack Brabham, and many other drivers of that era.  We see Le Mans in 1966, Monaco in 1958, Sebring in 1959, and Spa in 1968.  Several things in the films stood out. Grand prix races used to start 3 wide and both F1 and F2  raced at the same time just as sports cars race today. It was great to see the traditional Le Mans start again, with drivers sprinting across the track to their cars. How would that work today?

Several McLaren home movies brought a personal touch to McLaren’s life. He would send film of his European races home and the family and their friends gathered to watch. I also enjoyed the movies of Bruce with his wife and young daughter.

McLaren is one of the best documentaries I have seen on any subject. It is a new, important contribution to preserving racing history. I’m hoping the movie returns in general release. Had there been a second showing last night, I might have stayed for it.  Look for its return, and go see it.

New Drawings of Next Year’s Car; News; Greatest 33 Non-Winners Project Quick Update

First, some news from IndyCar:

Pippa Mann has been confirmed for the Indianapolis 500 with Dale Coyne Racing.  This will be her sixth Indy 500, the fifth consecutive with Coyne.  Mann will again drive car #63, raising awareness for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Ed Carpenter Racing announced an expansion of its partnership with Preferred Freezer Services. They had sponsored J. R. Hildebrand in the 500 the last couple of years. PFS will be the primary sponsor for the 21 car at Long Beach, the Indianapolis Grand Prix, The 500, and the Honda Indy Toronto.  They will continue as an associate sponsor at the other races.  No word on whether this gives ECR room for a third 500 entry for Spencer Pigot.And this morning (Wednesday) new designs of the 2018 car.

Now Wednesday’s big news:

Indycar released more definitive drawings of what next year’s Indy race car will look like. The overall reaction has been very positive. I love the design. Gone are the awful airbox and the hideous rear sportscar bumper. This looks like a proper race car.  My biggest concern is the short nose. The cars of the late 80’s and early 90’s had very short noses, result in many foot and leg injuries. Several drivers from that era still suffer from effects of crashing those cars. I can assume that technology allows this design with enough reinforcement to protect the drivers’ feet.  I like the outlined silhouette of this year’s car laid over the concept drawing. It shows how dramatic the change will be.  The big question. Will it race well?  Stay tuned.

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Greatest 33 Non- Winners Project-  Judging from the response I received yesterday, I will be getting a lot of grids. In fact I received one from a high school friend yesterday who did an interesting data analysis to rank the drivers. I will share his work in next Tuesday’s post.  Thanks for your interest in this project. I look forward to seeing what everyone comes up with.

 

 

 

ICYMI: Power Restored in St. Pete

After three practice session dominated by Honda, I heard a lot of discussion about whether Chevy was sandbagging. After qualifying, it does not appear that was totally true. Four Hondas made the Firestone Fast 6, a better representation than at any race last year. However, a Chevy won the pole. One thing we need to keep in mind is there are 13 Honda cars and only 8 Chevys. The odds are in Honda’s favor.  However, I believe given this same proportion last year, the first rows would have been all Chevys. Honda has definitely made strides this season. Scott Dixon beat Power’s track record in Round 2 today.

In the end, Will Power is again on the Pole. This is the 7th Pole here and the 45th of his career. When he retires, Power will go down as one the great qualifiers in IndyCar history. He has some unfinished business from last year, when he missed the race. Power has a good shot at finishing where he starts.

The two biggest disappointments in qualifying belong to Marco Andretti and Sebastien Bourdais.  Andretti led FP1 and was strong in the other practices rounds. He did not even advance out of Round 1, mirroring many of his results from last year.  Bourdais crashed in his qualifying group.  Some teams, notably Rahal, still experienced brake issues.

Brakes will be a concern tomorrow. I have seen many lockups in turn 1. Overheating brakes going into turn 1 could be a huge worry.  This is a heavy braking track. Failures and overheating will need to be monitored closely tomorrow.

It will be an interesting race. Josef Newgarden starts from fourth. He gets special mention because the winner has started from outside row 2 the last four years. A chance of rain late in the race will also mix things up. The forecast as of 10:30 Saturday night as I write calls for a 40% chance of morning showers, then cloudy.

Tomorrow when we wake up, we can finally turn to our partners and say those three little words, “It’s Race Day!”

Indy Lights Notes:

First, a salute to Carlin Racing for honoring John Surtees, who died Friday.

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The Indy Lights race today was one of the best I’ve seen from this series. There were many battles for position and several passes for position.  The star of the race was Colton Herta, who started fifth and fought his way to second. He had some tough battles to get by a couple drivers, but showed patience and made moves at the right time.  Aaron Telitz won the race going away. He led from start to finish with a steady pace and got through lapped traffic with little trouble.

My final race report will be out Monday. Enjoy the race. I think this season may be more fun than I thought.