Some Off Season Thoughts

The first week of the off season brought the exciting news that Harding racing will partner with Steinbrenner Racing in 2019. The new Harding Steinbrenner Racing team has signed rookies Pato O’Ward, 2018 Indy Lights champion, and Indy lights runner-up Colton Herta. Very few details other than the driver announcements are known at this time. There is a technical partnership with Andretti Autosport which will provide shocks, dampers, and engineering help.

The big question is which engine will Harding Steinbrenner use? Harding had Chevrolet power in 2018, and Andretti is a Honda team. For these teams to work together, the engine needs to be the same. If HSR goes with Honda, would that rule out a possible third car at Rahal letterman Lanigan Racing?

One of the greatest things about this new team is that the two team owners come from outside of racing. My friend Steve Wittich wrote an excellent article for Trackside Online about how Indycar needs diversity in its ownership. I hope we see more owners from outside racing. they should provide a fresh perspective on the business of racing.  You can find his article on Trackside Online.com. It is a site worth subscribing to.

New Title Sponsor?

There has been no word on a new series title sponsor. Things have gone rather quiet about who it will be. That could mean it’s wrapped up ready to be announced, or Indycar is still searching. It would have been good to have an announcement at Sonoma, and have some sort of handing over ceremony to thank Verizon for their sponsorship.

The Mysterious Third OEM

Is there someone ready to jump in for 2021? There has been some talk of one or two manufacturers, with one name mentioned more than others, but again, things seem very quiet on the new engine front right now.

McLaren News in November?

We may not know Mclaren’s plans until November. It would be great to have McLaren in Indycar, but this is turning into racing’s version of General Hospital. First Honda says they will not help Mclaren, then reports have come out saying yes they still might. Alonso has not made a decision. My guess he is in for the 500 only. Stoffel Vandoorne, considered a candidate for the seat when Alonso doesn’t drive, is rumored to be close to having a contract in Formula E. That could mean McLaren will be here for the 500 only as well.   Stay tuned.

Coyne’s Car 19

Dale Coyne has talked to some former Formula 1 drivers about driving the 19 car next year. he continues his quest to have one driver for the entire season in that ride. Apparently neither Zachary Claman De Melo or Pietro Fittipaldi will return. Too bad. They both have some potential to be decent drivers.

October Coming Attractions

Next month I have several columns planned for here and on Wildfire Sports.

A review of Born Racer.

A book review of Gentleman, Start Your Engines.

Look for  another month of May review via the official program for that year.

Commentary on off season news and the big announcements that could be coming will be posted as needed. In addition to a title sponsor, I am most interested to see which races will be on NBC network. I’m guessing there will be a lot in May and very early June. They didn’t ask me (again) but I think one Detroit race would be enough.

Look for a column on things Indycar might want to change for 2019.

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The 2019 Indycar Schedule; News and Comments

Some thoughts on the Indycar schedule released today:

I like that the huge gap between the first and second race is gone. Having three weeks between Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is probably more appropriate. It allows for testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at a time closer to the 500.

I hope the three weeks between Portland and the Laguna Seca final is just a one year arrangement. IMSA races at Laguna Seca September 15.

Team members have two three week stretches of races plus the four week grind of May and the Detroit doubleheader.

Will Barber return to its traditional date next year? Easter falls on the usual Barber weekend necessitating the change.

I’m excited that Indycar is going to Circuit of the Americas. My first though when I went there for the inaugural Formula 1 race was  that it would be a good track for Indycar.  My concern is attendance. COTA is a huge property. Like IMS, what would be a decent crowd at most places will make the track seem empty. F1 is the only series that has had good attendance in Austin.

While I’m sad to see one less oval on the schedule, I’m happy that Iowa will again be a Saturday night race. That track was made for Indycars on Saturday night.

Attendance at Laguna Seca could also be a concern with IMSA holding an event the weekend before. These two series need to work together and hold joint events.

Television Schedule Still to Come

We know all, the races will be on an NBC network. The question is, which race on which network? I will go out on a huge limb here and say the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Seven other races will appear on the big network. My guessses:

St. Pete- season opener; introduces audience to Indycar

Long Beach- historic track and event

Indycar Grand Prix- prelude to the 500; promotes the 500

The 500

Road America- another classic track; spectatcular scenery

Iowa- Saturday night racing showcases Indycar roots

Pocono- another 500 race; usually one of the best races of the year

Laguna Seca- season finale allows season recap and promotes 2020 season.

I’m sure I have one correct. I left off the Detroit doubleheader. With a limited number of network appearances, putting half of that schedule in a four week span creates a large gap until the next network race.

Harding’s Future?

Last weekend at Portland Harding racing announced that 2018 Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward and Lights runner up Colton Herta will drive in the Indycar finale at Sonoma. Herta tested with Harding earlier this season and O’Ward will test with the team Thursday.

We might be seeing the future of Harding Racing begin. Gabby Chaves, who began the year with Harding and has a contract for next year, may be out of a ride.

Talk still is going on about MclAren taking over harding and some uinvolvement with Andretti Autosport. Both O’Ward and Herta drove for Andretti in Indy Lights.

However this situation turns out, I admire Mike Harding for putting a team together, hiring good experienced people, and running the entire season with older equipment. This was a low budget operation. Small teams like this are what the series needs more of.

Fred Watch

On Wednesday, weather permitting, Fernando Alonso is scheduled to test an Indycar at Barber Motorsports Park. He will drive an Andretti Autosport car, the one Carlos Munoz drove in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Alonso has not announced where he will drive next year. The Indycar schedule has no conflicts with his WEC commitments for 2018. The WEC opener for 2019 is the same weekend as Portland.

Alonso Leaves F1; Next Stop Indycar?

Above: Fernando Alonso at the 2017 Indianapolis 500

Two time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso announced this morning he will leave Formula 1 in 2019. The announcement comes a day after Scott Dixon signed a new multi-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing. It ends months of speculation about Alonso’s future plans. He will likely continue to drive in WEC events next year and is assumed to be participating in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, if not the entire Indycar season. In 2018, there were no conflicting dates between WEC and Indycar.

Alonso has driven for McLaren in Formula 1 since 2015 after failing to win a third title with Ferrari. He won World Championship titles in 2005 and 2006 driving for Renault. Alonso began his F1 career in 2001 with Minardi. McLaren struggled with a Honda engine for two years before switching to Renault power this season. Results have been slightly better.

Today’s retirement from F1 announcement gave no hint of Alonso’s future plans, but indications are McLaren is pursuing an Indycar program for 2019 with Alonso and another driver. McLaren will partner with another team, thought to be Andretti Autosport, whom Alonso drove for in 2017 at the 500, but there is some talk that McLaren may be looking at a Chevy team. Ed Carpenter Racing has been mentioned as a possibility.

What is the impact of Alonso in Indycar? The series would gain some prestige having a former fairly recent champion on the grid. The worldwide viewing audience will likely increase, although his presence may not do much for the U.S. viewership. Alonso would become the fourth former F1 driver in Indycar, joining Takuma Sato, Sebastien Bourdais, Max Chilton, and Alexander Rossi. In 2012 Indycar also had four former F1 drivers- Rubens Barrichello, Justin Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais, and Takuma Sato.

A possible scenario for Alonso is select Indycar races and a full WEC schedule. Another is that he does both series full time, possibly working in the Daytona 500 as well. But we are getting way ahead of ourselves. He does not at this moment have an Indycar ride. That is the next step before we know where he will race.

The 2019 Indianapolis 500: A Fan’s Dream?

Imagine the race next year featuring Alonso, Tony Stewart, Helio Castroneves, plus all the current veterans and up and coming stars in Indycar. Prior to the race we could see a crazy Bump Day, I expect a bigger entry list next year. It could be one of the best Mays in a long time.

Pocono Update

Harding Racing has changed plans for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono this weekend. Conor Daly will be in the car instead of Zachary Claman DeMelo as was announced yesterday. Daly has driven at Pocono twice. Claman DeMelo is slated to take over the car at Gateway and Portland. A current Indy Lights driver may drive the 88 at Sonoma. This means Gabby Chaves will not return to the schedule this year.

Sage Karam hoped to get enough funding to drive in his home race Sunday, but has run out of time. He hopes to be able to land a ride for Gateway the following weekend.

Look for my Pocono preview on Wildfire Sports Friday.