Comings and Goings- The Indycar Grid Adds More Youth, and Other Notes

Chip Ganassi has never been known for his patience with drivers. Ask Darren Manning and Ed Jones. Jones was the latest one year and out at Ganassi as Felix Rosenqvist will drive the 10 car with continued support from NTT Data. To be fair, Jones did not have a bad season with eight Top tens and two podiums. It was just not as good a season as the team had hoped. He did not take many points away from Dixon’s championship rivals. 2019 will be the third consecutive season a new driver has been in car 10.

Rosenqvist won three races in 10 starts in Indy Lights in 2016, then spent 2018 in Formula E. He won twice and finished sixth in the standings. Rosenqvist does have talent and will be a strong contender for Rookie of the Year. The rookie class is quite deep with Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta already in the field.

C. J. O’Donnell to Leave at the End of the Year

C. J. O’Donnell,  Indycar’s chief marketing officer since November 2013, will leave his position at the end of the calendar year. In his five years with the series, O’Donnell and his team has grown the fan base, adding 1 million followers to Indycar social media platforms, increased television viewership by 23% and helped attendance at races grow. I had the good fortune to meet him at Long Beach a few years ago. I wish him well in his future endeavors. O’Donnell and Jay Frye are two of the best hires Indycar has made in recent years.

Coyne Fills Second Seat

Yes, it is October 1 as I write this. No, that is no a typo. Dale Coyne Racing announced today Santino Ferrucci will drive the number 19 car full time in 2019. He and Sebastien Bourdais in the 18 mean Coyne has both drivers signed about as early as I can remember. This should help with their off season testing.

Ferrucci drove four races for  Coyne in 2018, the double header at detroit and the final two races at Portland and Sonoma. He finished 11th at Sonoma. Ferrucci had been pursuing an F1 career in Europe but was suspended for on track incidents at a race in early July. There have been no issues during his brief time in Indycar.

I’m interested to see how he does over the course of a season. He has done fairly well as far as keeping the car on course. Ferrucci was hit from behind in the second Detroit race after a clean Race 1.

Seats Still Open

Three full time  rides from 2018 still need drivers. The 23 Carlin car, the Schmidt 7 (6 is reserved for Robert Wickens), and the Carpenter 20 road/street ride. Charlie Kimball, who drove the 23 for Carlin last season, reportedly does not have a full year budget and may drive the car part time. Schmidt has offered his open seat to a couple of drivers who have turned it down. Carpenter would like to re-sign Jordan King, but there has not been any news about that lately.

Carlin and Rahal Letterman Lanigan have talked about adding a third car, which could be good news for Ed Jones. Dreyer and Reinbold Racing may be close to running a part time schedule, including the Indianapolis 500. Sage Karam would likely drive.

Dragon Speed and Scuderia Corsa are still consdering their options.

Of course everyone is awaiting a decision from McLaren. I’m trying to keep my expectations low and hope to be pleasantly surprised. When they do announce their plans, I think I’ll be grateful that I gave up Track Forum a while ago.

Running the 1?

Unless sponsor PNC Bank insists on having the 1 on the car they back, look for Scott Dixon to carry the number 9 again next season. Ganassi and Dixon have been reluctant to put the number 1 on their cars following a championship. They did one year and that year did not go well.

I think the champion should not have an option and should be required to run the number 1. This is another point on which the series will not listen to me.

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Quick Thoughts- Portland Grand Prix

Scott Dixon must have been an alchemist in another life. He turned what looked to be a disastrous points day into gaining points on his closest rivals.

What can I say about the Dale Coyne with Vasser Sullivan racing team and Sebastien Bourdais? Took P1 in Saturday practice, crashed the next lap, pieced a car together to qualify fourth, then finish third in the race. That team will sleep well tonight. This is the best story of the weekend.

It was a tough ending to what had been a great weekend  for Zach Veach. His top ten streak ended. I still look for great things from him next season.

Another great day for Spencer Pigot. He’s another young driver coming into his own. His fourth place finish today and his second place at Iowa show his late season maturity.

The crowd today was the largest I’ve seen for an Indycar race outside of IMS. I hope attendance figures for the weekend are released. Each day was a crowd other tracks would have been thrilled to have on race day.

For a race where not much passing was anticipated, there was a lot of drama and plot twists. Takuma Sato’s two stop strategy paid off. The yellows fell at the right time for him, while others were caught out by them.

Overall, it was a good race.

I believe Robert Wickens has clinched  Rookie of the Year. It shows what a strong season he was having. Continued hope for recovery for him.

Whos Rossi’s Rival?

At the beginning of the season the talk was of a rivalry between Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden. After St. Pete, it was Rossi and Wickens. In mid season it Rossi and everybody. It turns out that the rivalry was Rossi and Scott Dixon. They are the only two realistically with a shot at the title.

The twenty nine point difference between Dixon and Rossi is a good argument to get rid of double points. I don’t think the series needs six drivers eligible to win the championship at the last race unless the points naturally fall that wa

Notes

There is a strong buzz that COTA will be the seventeenth race. The schedule should be announced Tuesday.

After two consecutive  races with huge crowds,  Sonoma will look emptier than usual.

Fernando Alonso will test an Andretti Autosport car at Barber this coming Wednesday.

Look for my full race recap on Wildfire Sports later tonight or tomorrow morning.

 

Indycar News and Notes

Programming note- Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will be televised live on CNBC at 3 pm ET and re-aired on NBCSN at 6:30 pm Sunday.

It seems as if Indycar has a news item or two every day lately. Here are a few tidbits.

Mo Nunn

Mo Nunn died last Wednesday after battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Nunn was the engineer who helped Chip Ganassi’s team first taste success with Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Mike Hul credits Nunn for his current success Ganassi has.

A former Formula 1 driver and team owner, Nunn also owned teams in CART and the IRL. Tony Kanaaan drove for Nunn in CART before going to Andretti Green in 2003.

My friend George Phillips wrote a nice tribute to Nunn on Monday. you can read it here:

https://oilpressure.wordpress.com/

Mid Ohio Features Return of Three Drivers

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will see the return of Jack Harvey in the number 60 Meyer-Shank racing entry. This is a home race for Michael Shank, who is looking to eventually become a full time Indycar team.

Pietro Fittipaldi, recovered from fracturing both legs in a practice accident at Spa two months ago, returns to the 19 car for Dale Coyne Racing. His absence allowed Zachary Claman De Melo toget more time in the car. DeMelo did a nice job. I’d like to see him in a full time ride.

Conor Daly will again be driving for Harding Racing. He took Gabby Chaves’ place in Toronto, giving the team its best qualifying and finishing position of the year. Chaves is still under contract with the team through 2019. He will be back in the car at some point. The team is pleased with the technical information Daly is providing. Harding is hopeful of having a two car team next season.

Rahal Says Steak n Shake May Return

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing owner Bobby Rahal said that Steak n Shake may return as a sponsor of Graham Rahal’s car in the future. The company withdrew this year to redirect funds elsewhere. It would be great to see them back. Steak n Shake did a lot of activation with signs and prerace weekend appearances by Rahal at their restaurants.

Wildfire Sports is My Home for Mid Ohio

I will be reporting for Wildfire Sports this weekend Friday through Sunday. You can find my columns at wildfireradiosports.com.

I will post quick thoughts here and live tweet during the weekend. Follow along on the blog’s Twitter account @PitWindow.

Mid Ohio usually produces some big announcements about the next season.  Stay tuned

 

Afternoon Update

Davison Crash

James Davison crashed hard in turn two. The back end of the car seemed to snap as he entered the turn. The team was concerned about his speed being fast enough to make the race and they were trying something new. Davison was cle3ared to drive by the medical team.

The tub of the at is okay, but the gearbox is damaged. Making the race has turned very iffy for this team.

Ferucci to Drive Car #19 in Detroit for Coyne

Maker:0x4c,Date:2018-3-6,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y
Santino Ferucci and car owner Dale Coyne

Santino Ferucci will replace Pietro Fittipaldi in car 19 at the Dual in Detroit June 2 and 3. Ferucci currently drives in GP2 and is a reserve driver for Haas F1 team. The Detroit race weekend is on a Formula 1 off week.  He will have a test the week after the 500.

Ferucci said the biggest difference between GP2 and Indycar will be the jump in power. His long term goal is still F1. He is looking to gain some seat time since GP2 testing is limited. Ferucci’s last race in the United States was a Formula Ford 200 race at Mid-Ohio.

Practice Update

At 4:15 Marco Andretti continues to lead with a 231.802 lap. Robert Wickens is second at 231.732. Ed Carpenter is the only other driver over 231 mph. Oriol Servia is the only other drive over 230.

At the other end of the chart J. R. Hildebrand and Jack Harvey are the two slowest with speeds in the 226 range.

Will Power leads the No Tow list with 229 mph.  His Teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud are second and third.

 

News From IMS

Maker:0x4c,Date:2018-3-6,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y
Maker:0x4c,Date:2018-3-6,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

Cars are about 35 minutes away from being on track. the first segment of practice between 11 and 1 is for veterans. Rookie and refresher tests run from 1-3. The rest of the day until 6 is open practice.

Zachary Claman DeMelo will drive the Dale Coyne number 19 entry. DeMelo was sharing the ride this season with Pietro Fittipaldi. Fittipaldi was scheduled to drive the car in the 500, but his injury qualifying for the 6 hour race at Spa opened the seat. There had been lots of speculation about who would get the seat, but Coyne decided to keep things in house. I think this is a good move for the future of the team.

DeMelo will take his rookie test this afternoon.

My plan is to get a photo of every car today. I will post them as I get them here.

A new “Bump Tales” is coming Thursday.

Season Preview, Part 2- Smaller Teams Look for Bigger Results

First, some personal news:

Beginning this weekend I will be covering Indycar for Wildfire Sports, a sports site carrying podcasts and written content. I am very excited for this opportunity. Please give them a look at wildfireradiosports.com. I plan to continue this blog, probably with a slight change in content. Thanks to everyone who reads this blog. You helped make this happen.

 

The four smallest established teams in the paddock expect better results this year thanks to the new aero package. TheHonda teams are especially optimistic that equal aero with superior Honda power will yield higher finishes. Each of the teams featured today have at least one driver new to the team. All but one driver was not in Indycar last year.

A. J. Foyt Racing

Foyt turned over their driver lineup for the second year in a row. They now have former series champion and 2013 500 winner Tony Kanaan and rookie Matheus Leist. Kanaan has struggled the last few years with Ganassi. He is looking for a fresh starts. I’m not sure this is the best team to get better results with, but his talent may help improve the team’s standing.

Leist drove in Indy Lights in 2017 and won the Freedom 100 in dominating fashion. He also won at Iowa. Still, I think he could have benefitted from another season in Lights. Leist spun four times at the Phoenix test. He will have a challenging year.

Overall I don’t look for much improvement from Foyt Racing. The constant change of personnel makes it difficult to produce decent results. Kanaan may be able to get a few top 10s, but anything beyond that would be a major accomplishment.

Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan

This team has some unfinished business. Sebastien Bourdais was poised to be a championship contender last year, winning the St. Pete opener and on his way to the pole at Indy when the horrendous crash occurred. Bourdais was sidelined until Labor Day weekend.

2018 begins with a full time sponsor and a partnership with former team owners Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan. This may be the boost that Coyne needs to move his organization closer to the front consistently. Look for Bourdais to be in the thick of the title fight.

The second car will have two part time drivers, Zachary Claman DeMelo and Pietro Fittipaldi. DeMelo drove in Indy Lights last year and had an Indycar debut at Sonoma with Rahal :Letterman Lanigan. After a slow start to the weekend he showed a decent race pace. I thought he was one of the most improved Lights drivers last year, but I still think he could use another year’s experience. DeMelo will run at St. Pete, Long Beach, Barber, Detroit, Road America, Pocono, Toronto, and Gateway.

Fittipaldi is the grandson of former series, world, 2-time 500 champion Emerson Fittipaldi. He raced in Europe last season and did well. He performed well in testing, but he is still a rookie on a low budget team. I think he will be interesting to watch. Fittipaldi’s seven races are Phoenix, GP of Indy, the 500, Texas, Mid-Ohio, Portland, and Sonoma.

Ed Carpenter Racing

2018 sees some shuffling and one part time addition to the Fuzzy’s Vodka backed team. Owner Ed Carpenter will continue to drive the ovals in car 20 and rookie Jordan King, who comes from F3 and F2 with respectable credentials, will take over the car fro the road and street schedule.

The 21 car will have Spencer Pigot, last year’s road and street driver of the 20. Pigot is a major talent who should do well in a full time seat. Last year a series of mechanical issues cost him some great finishes. I anticipate fewer problems and some top 5s this season.

Carpenter always qualifies well at Indianapolis, but has very little good fortune in the race. Could this be the year their fortune changes?

The 20 and the 21 will have different liveries this year. Last year the two cars were a spotter’s nightmare as they were pretty much indistinguishable in the race. When both cars carry the Fuzzy’s sponsorship, the 21 will be green and the 20 will be black.

Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports

I always start the new season with high hopes for this team.  There are some flashes of brilliance but not a consistent result for the entire schedule. 2018 could be different. James Hinchcliffe returns and his teammate, Robert Wickens, is someone he grew up with. Wickens was headed for an open wheel career which got derailed and spent last year in DTM.  This is the strongest two car lineup SPM has had in a while.

Adding Leena Gade as lead engineer is a huge hire for SPM. She is one of the top engineers in the world. It will not take her long to get these cars competitive. Gade is also a strong, articulate  advocate for equal opportunities for women in sport. I am very glad she is in the Indycar paddock.

There were some issues with Hinchcliffe’s car at Phoenix, which hopefully will be resolved by the April race. Wickens showed good speed at the Sebring test. He has a smooth style.

The team has added several partners in the offseason. The biggest deal is with New Era as the team’s apparel provider.

I think Hinchcliffe will win a race this year as he did last year. Wickens will have several good runs and likely finish second in the season Rookie of the Year chase.

Tomorrow concludes my team previews with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Andretti Autosport. On Friday I will have a full season preview with predictions you can take to the bank, or anywhere else that has a trash can..