Indycar News and Thoughts – Change is in the Air

 

Sad news to begin with. Former Indy 500 Bill Puterbaugh (photo above), 81, died October 9. He ran in three 500s, finishing 7th and winning Rookie of the Year in 1975. His next best finish was 12th in his last 500 in 1977.  He ran mostly sprint cars and raced in 30 Indycar races with mixed results. Puterbaugh first came to the Speedway in 1968 and attempted to qualify seven straight years before getting in the race. His most famous qualifying run was the first one on Bump Day 1968, when he ran in near total darkness to complete a run which was too slow to make the field.

Schedule News- The schedule will be announced this morning. I  learned yesterday that Watkins Glen will not be on the schedule next year. The track wanted to move the race from Labor Day, but Indycar and track president Michael Printup couldn’t find a mutually agreeable time. Sounds like the Fontana situation all over again. I conced that labor Day weekend is not the ideal time for a race, but I really enjoyed going to the Glen the last two years. the area is beautiful, and the track is very fast and racy.  Odds are Portland will make its return to the schedule next Labor Day.

I put this solely on Indycar for not being flexible. There is a large enough gap in the schedule to fit Watkins Glen in. I can’t see saving a spot for Mexico. With no Mexican driver in the series currently, that race will not draw as well as some might think.

They didn’t ask me, but…If Portland is on the schedule, why not have it the weekend after Labor Day then everyone can drive down to Sonoma for the finale?

The one positive for the schedule as it looks like it will end up is that teams won’t go to Pocono, then St. Louis, then back to Watkins Glen.

IMSA Shocker- Wednesday Team Penske announced the completion of their DPi team competing in IMSA next year. Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron were previously set in one car and Helio Castroneves was confirmed for the other one. Castroneves’ teammate is Ricky Taylor, this year’s co-champion with his brother Jordan. There had been rumblings about this move, but I’m still surprised Ricky would leave the family team after the great season they just had. If it results in Taylor getting as Indy 500 ride next year, then it’s worth it.

The huge shock, however, was one of the extra drivers for the endurance races.  Simon Pagenaud was not a surprise, but the addition of Graham Rahal was. Rahal has done the best driving of his career the last two years in Indycar and I guess Penske finally took notice. Rahal drove for Michael Shank Racing in the Rolex24 this year.

Kanaan to Foyt- This is old news by now, but I think this is an interesting pairing. TK is the best driver Foyt has had for a while, and bringing engineer Eric Cowden with him might help the team. As lost as Foyt Racing was with the Chevy aerokit, I hope they can get a handle on the new universal kit quickly. No word on the driver of the 4 car yet, but both Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz are in the running for the seat.

Oval Qualifying Changes?  Some drivers have called for modifying the qualifying procedure for ovals.  Currently, order is determined by blind draw. It seemed that Will Power always went last, giving him the advantage of a fully rubbered in track. Early runners are dealing with the tire compounds of support series and sometimes the heat of a sun drenched track. Some suggestions have been qualifying in inverse order of final practice times, which I favor. Others have suggested a knockout format like the road/street courses use. I think knockout qualifying on an oval could be risky to equipment. I’m not sure anything will change, but we shall see when the rules come out for 2018.

I will post my comments on the schedule after it is announced tomorrow. I hope to put out another column or two before migrating to winter headquarters around the first of November.

 

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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.

Race Week-My Love/Hate Relationship

I both love and hate race week. There is unbridled excitement. By Wednesday people find me annoying. (That late? you’re asking).  There is stress, mainly worrying about the weather, but also getting preparations done in time.

I vow every year to not worry or even listen to anything weather related until Wednesday, and not take a forecast seriously until Thursday. How does that work out?  Well… Monday I might sneak a peek at the weather app and close it quickly.

Tuesday I do the same thing. If I see a sun, my anxiety goes down. A hint of cloud sets me off in a panic. Then Wednesday i became Mr. Meteorology. I start talking like I’m an anchor on the Weather Channel. I really want a full, dry,  uninterrupted race.

It’s not all stress. I have daily rituals leading up to Friday morning. Going to Carb Day helps make the week shorter. Here is a diary of my daily routine, beginning right after qualifications end:

Sunday night:  Come home, watch the qualifying show on dvr, get ready for Monday final practice.

Monday: Glance at weather app, close it quickly, start rain panic no matter what it says. My philosophy- it will get worse. Cut starting lineup from newspaper and start learning positions.

Tuesday: Glance at weather app, get in more panic mode, locate rain gear. make supply list for the track and our pre-race party.

Wednesday: Study weather forecast and start freaking out. Where did the sun icon go? Bring it back! Shop for supplies. Place race ticket in ticket holder and place in car. I’m negotiating to have this ceremony live-streamed.

Thursday: More party preparations. Start tracking the monsoon heading this way from China. The timing always looks bad. Await the arrival of friends coming in for Carb Day.

Friday: Carb Day! the weather looks good for the whole weekend! Maybe. Celebrate the day and go to the Burger Bash at night.

Saturday: Legends Day. Vintage cars on track, drivers’ meeting, hanging out anticipating the next day.  A sense of resignation sets in that whatever weather happens is what I deal with. Get ready for pre-race party.  Get three hours of sleep, then

RACE DAY!

Usually, it’s not as bad as i think it will be, but I’m sure I’ve subtracted 20 years from my life worrying about getting the race in. One year I will enjoy race week without any stress. That will be the year I am not going.

 

 

Honoring A Legend- The A. J. Foyt Exhibition at the IMS Museum

First, a bit of news: Spencer Pigot has been confirmed as a driver for Juncos Racing in the Indianapolis 500. he will drive car no. 11, with sponsorship from Oceanfront Recovery, an organization involved in helping people overcome issues with opioids. This will be Pigot’s second 500. he drove last year for Rahal letterman Lanigan. Sebastian Saavedra has been announced as the driver of the second Juncos car.  These two cars and the entry from Lazier Racing brings the car count to 33.  I don’t believe this to be fully firm at this point.

 

The Speedway legends I grew up with are all in or nearing their 80’s.  They race during what I consider the Golden Age of Indycar racing.  Foyt,  Andretti, Jones, the Unser brothers, and Gurney would race almost anything on almost any kind of track- pavement, dirt, oval, road course. When the checkered flag waved, it was highly likely that A. J. Foyt was the first to see it.

Full disclosure- I was a crazy Foyt fan back then. Yes, I appreciated the skills and talents of the other drivers, but Foyt was my man. Thanks to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, I had a chance to see his entire career on display.

Virtually every car he drove, including the four he drove to his 500 wins, is on display.  One car I didn’t see was the car he and Dan Gurney drove to victory in LeMans in 1967.  I  was really looking forward to seeing that one. It did not take away from my enjoyment of the exhibit, however. Several of the cars I had completely forgotten about, like the Scarab MK IV from 1964. A. J. won 3 races in 1964 driving for Lance Reventlow.

One poignant entry was the 1981 Coyote, the last coyote chassis Foyt produced.

The cars and their histories are displayed clearly. It would take a while to read every word. I have all summer. The display is at the Museum until October. Even more intriguing than the the cars was all the memorabilia and photos. People apparently donated things from their private collections for the show. Make sure to walk to the display room in the back.  The most fascinating item to me was a set of micro-miniatures cars, replicas of many Foyt’s Indy 500 cars, labeled by year. The photo collection the walls, including a couple of murals take you back in history.

I plan to return to see the exhibit in more depth later this year.  I will close with some photos, including a mural of A. J. on dirt.foytexhibit 025

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This is the car Foyt drove to the first of his 67 wins in Indycar. The Scarab is the blue car in the background.
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The car A. J. Foyt drove at Indianapolis his rookie year, 1958
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Midget racer from the early 1960’s.

Counting Blue Cars- Long Beach Preview: Will Honda Stay Strong?

Round 2 of the Verizon IndyCar Series starts Friday in Long Beach.  This is my favorite street event on the circuit.  The entire community embraces the race, the fans are knowledgeable, and the amount of activities and displays are unsurpassed at any street event.  This race has a 40 year plus history, and it shows. They know how to do this event properly.  Every Indycar fan needs to go to Long Beach at least once.

The best advice for watching this year is get a spotter’s guide. Sponsor and livery changes abound.  Ed Carpenter Racing has Spencer Pigot sponsored by Loki the Wolf Dog and J. R. Hildebrand is in the Preferred Freezer Services livery this week. Scott Dixon’s car will look like Tony Kanaan’s carrying both carrying NTT Data colors.  Helio Castroneves is in the AAA car this week.  Simon Pagenaud has Menard’s livery and Josef Newgarden is wearing the Hum colors.  Graham Rahal’s car is sponsored by Mi-Jack this week. Last, Marco Andretti has switched to UFD, which will be his sponsor for 7 races this year, as H. H. Gregg is out as a sponsor.

If you like blue and white cars, don’t miss this race.  Eleven cars carry this combination in some form.   I can’t remember such a large change in two consecutive races.

This race will tell us more about Honda this year. Was St. Pete a fluke? Is Honda for real? I think the latter is true.  Do they have enough for the pole? Probably, but Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have to be the favorites.  For the race itself, there is an even more motivated Will Power after his race debacle at St. Pete, and Scott Dixon, hoping to build on his third place finish  in Florida. Dixon also wants to correct his qualifying error that cost him the pole.

Drivers to watch closely this weekend are Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal, and Josef Newgarden.  After his convincing win at St. Pete, a good Long Beach result could put Bourdais in the thick of the title hunt. Rahal typically starts the season slowly, but could use a top 5 in the race after his collision in St. Pete. Newgarden, in his second race for Penske, looks to improve on his 8th place at St. Pete.  He has qualified on the front row at Long Beach before, so a crucial good starting spot is possible.

Passing is challenging here, so pit strategy is crucial. Only two drivers, Mike Conway, who started 17th in 2014, and Will Power,12th on the grid in 2012,  have won from outside the top 5 in qualifying..  I see this coming down to a race between Pagenaud and Dixon, like last year, with Dixon prevailing this time.

Bonus Coverage:  NBCSN is airing practice live tomorrow at 5 pm . The network did this several times last year.  Qualifying is at 6:30 pm Saturday, and race coverage begins at 4 pm Sunday.  Practice sessions not on TV are streamed.

Notes:

Remember the good old days when Penske and Ganassi were known collectively as the red cars?  The only red left are the numbers on the 2 and 12.

I can’t remember the last time Fuzzy’s Vodka was not a primary sponsor on an ECR car.

This is the 34th Indycar event at Long Beach.  Mario Andretti won the first event in 1984.  Before Indycar ran here this was the venue for the Formula 1 US Grand Prix.

IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge also are racing this weekend.

 

Indycar News-All Seats Accounted For; Rolex24 Photo Gallery

Mikhail Aleshin returns to Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in the #7 car. There was some doubt about his filling this seat. Seems he had been talking to Trevor Carlin about driving for him, but Carlin is going to wait at least another year before joining the series. Funding apparently was not the issue.

Sage Karam will be back for the Indianapolis 500 in the DRR entry. Karam was having a great race last year, moving up to 6th place before his contact with another car put him in the wall.

7-Eleven returns to the series as an associate sponsor for Tony Kanaan, highlighted in four races- St. Pete,Long Beach, Indy, and Texas. 7-Eleven was a long time sponsor of Kanaan’s in his years at Andretti.

Tim Cindric will be the strategist for Josef Newgarden in his first year at Penske. This move appears to be an attempt to help Newgarden have a comfortable first year with Penske. Simon Pagenaud struggled in his first year with the team, and it may be that Team Penske learned from his struggles.

Starting February 1, Firstone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ads began running in the Tampa Bay Times. The ads have run daily. I noticed them last year as well. This is a city that really gets behind the race. Each year I have been here local support seems to have increased.

Rolex24 Postscript and Gallery

First, after watching a replay of the late race incident between Ricky Taylor and Fillipe Albuquerque, I stand corrected in what I stated in my last post. Taylor was in no way at fault, and I agree with the no call by the stewards.  Enjoy the photos.

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Cold, Wet, Wild- Rolex24 Recap

After the 1992 Indianapolis 500, I was positive I would never be any colder at a race. After last year’s Angie’s List Grand Prix, I was positive I would never be any colder at a race. After last weekend’s Rolex24 at Daytona… you get the picture.  This race completed the podium of cold weather races on the top step.  Plus there was rain. Despite the weather, it was a great race. The skies cleared and the temperature warmed enough at the end for an exciting finish.

 

Endurance racing is a different type of racing. Race three hours. Try to survive during the  night. Race the last three hours. Some drivers must drive a designated amount of time. A driver can only drive so many hours in a certain time frame. Pit stops must work around these factors.

The opening segment had lots of good racing throughout all the classes. As evening came, most teams settled in to their long range strategies. The rain began around 8 pm and continued for thirteen hours off and on. Mostly it was a steady light rain punctuated by two heavy downpours.

Your intrepid reporter put up a good fight, but surrendered at 1 am.  I went back to my lodging and tried to sleep. I returned to the track around 7. I found out the previous hour was almost entirely under caution for rain. The class battles  tightened up after the race returned to green. The rain finally stopped for good a little after 9. The skies eventually lightened and actually got a bit sunny by the end of the race.

As for the end of the race, I happened to be sitting directly across from turn 1. I thought Taylor could have waited to pass Albuquerque. His car was the fastest the entire race. It had cut through the field to regain lead in short order after every pit stop. He would have passed on that lap anyway.  But contact occurred and the stewards ruled no foul.

The GTLM class had a four car battle going until the end. The #66 Ford GT of Chip Ganassi.Racing won with a late pass. Indycar driver Sebastien Bourdais was a driver on the winning team. Other Indycar drivers didn’t fare as well. All had car problems at some point. Some Indycar drivers will return at Sebring the week after the Verizon Indy Car Series opens at St. Pete.

Good places to watch

There are several great places to watch this race from. The most popular is the bleacher section at the exit of the International Horseshoe, turn 3. From here you have a view of turn 1, where the cars exit the oval; pit out, the horseshoe, and the straight leading to turns 4 and 5. I also like standing behind the fence at the apex to turn 3 and at the entrance to turn 3.  From the last two spots you get a great sense of how to drive this corner. There is quite a difference in the approach of prototype and GT car.

In the main front stretch grandstand, the entrance of turn 1 provides a great view of 95% of the track. You can see the entire road course section, watch some pit stops, and watch the reentry to the oval. This year I walked along the grandstand to the end, to turn 4 of the oval.  It’s a beautiful view of the cars sweeping through the high banked turn. As the cars come in to the pits, they all come to nearly a complete stop as they try to get down to pit speed before the cones.  The rain made for great rooster tails here. As I went to my car parked outside turn 4, a cloud of spray rose from the track as cars ran through the turns.

Notes

Cadillacs are fast and proved to be durable in their debut.

The GTLM class will be the one to watch for close battles this year.

I hope there are more video boards next year. There is one in the fan plaza and one in turn 6 very far away from most spectators.

I really enjoy the vintage cars display and the fact they take laps before the race. Below is a 1962 Ferrari and two Lolas.

I will publish more photos in a couple days as well as catch up on Indycar news.