A Better Race- Bourdais, Power, and Pagenaud Talk About the Indycar Grand Prix

Good morning from IMS. A brief summary of yesterday’s press conference and some other notes.

Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, and Will Power ( L to R above) agree that the new aero package will produce better racing in the Indycar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Saturday. The new package tightens the gaps and allows the drivers to race closer. At a late morning press conference Friday, the drivers  praised the IMS  road course as one of the best the series runs on. They like its smoothness.

Pagenaud thinks restarts here are exciting because of the speed on the front straight heading into turn 1. He believes having the Grand Prix as a prelude to the 500 is a good idea.

” It shows the true nature of the Verizon Indycar series,” he said. “Fans can see what the whole series is about.”

Power and Pagenaud agree that this is a very European style track, which is part of its appeal to them.

Bourdais likes the idea of having the Grand Prix. He said there is no need to have nine days of practice on the oval. He would rather have had a practice session Thursday afternoon than the 9:15 session Friday morning. Bourdais believes the early morning session will not reveal any useful information for qualifying or the race.

Notes

Conor Daly will announce plans for the remainder of 2018 at an 11:30 press conference today. Speculation is he will be driving in the NASCAR Xfinity Series road course races.Your intrepid reporter will be covering the conference and report on it later.

The LED panels that displayed car positions and pit stop times have been shut down for May. There were issues with the system at Barber and the series stopped using them Saturday. The series hopes to have the panels back for Belle Isle. Teams will replace the panels likely with carbon fiber. It would be great if they put the car number there to compensate for the small rear wing numerals.

Juncos Racing announced Alfonso Celis, Jr. will drive in Kohler Grand Prix at Road America. Celis debuted in Indy Lights at Barber. Celis’ entry in the Freedom 100 has withdrawn, shortening an already small field.

Back later today with a qualifying summary and other news.

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Windscreen Testing, News, and Thoughts

Indycar continues to make progress in safety with its announcement Friday of the first windscreen on track test next Thursday at Phoenix.  The trial for the new safety component comes the day before the open test at ISM Raceway ( still can’t used to calling Phoenix that yet). One of the major questions is whether the drivers see out of the screen in all directions and during daylight and night conditions. Is the view blurry or distorted? The wind tunnel tests apparently were satisfactory enough to proceed to on track testing. I’m at least as interested in this test as I am seeing how the cars will race at Phoenix. Chip Ganassi Racing with Scott Dixon driving will have testing honors. The test will be three sessions of 5-10 laps, one in full sun, one at dusk, and one at night. The runs will occur between rookie sessions.  The series still needs to test for how the screen performs in the rain and do more intense ballistic tests.

I love the look of the screen. It reminds me of the windscreens on the roadsters of the ’50s and early 60’s. The size of the screen almost gives the car a roadster look, adding to the retro feel of the new aero design.

The screen is manufactured by PPG, and it is composed of a material called Opticor. This is the same material used in fighter jet canopies. Indycar has not set a timetable for putting the windscreen on the cars. I would not look for them this year. I applaud the series taking a careful, well thought approach to this safety feature. They have come up with an aesthetically pleasing screen that I hope serves its intended purpose well.

News

Updates:

Some big news broke after I published this morning.

First, Scott Dixon will have a full year primary sponsor, PNC Bank. No terms were announced although Chip Ganassi Racing has an announcement scheduled for tomorrow at IMS. This will be Dixon’s first full time sponsor since Target left. Here is the car:

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I think reversing the red and blue would be a better look. The car reminds me of Charlie Kimball’s old livery.

The second bit of news involves Dale Coyne Racing and a return of two familiar names top Indycar. Jimmy Vasser and James Sulivan have partnered with Coyne and Sebastien Bourdais  The new team name is Dale Coyne Racing w/ Vasser-Sullivan. Seal Master will sponsor the number 18 for nine races including the Indianapolis 500. Speculation continues that Coyne will enter a fourth car at Indianapolis for a driver that has driven for the team before. I’m excited I might get to wear my Dracone shirt again. A source hinted about this at Daytona.

 

Dale Coyne announced, as expected, car 19 will be shared by Zachary Claman DeMelo and Pietro Fittipaldi. Still to be determined is which races each will drive. DeMelo drove in Indy Lights last year, winning at Road America. He also drove in the Indycar season finale at Sonoma for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, DeMelo maintained a respectable race pace. Fittipaldi,  grandson of 2 -time 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi,  spent last season in Formula V8  3.5, notching six victories and winning the championship. He will have an oval test at Phoenix. Coyne said he was not opposed to running both driver in the Indianapolis 500. He also indicated Pippa Mann will also be in the race.

This announcement means Conor Daly will not have a full time ride  for 2018 unless a last minute deal emerges at Harding for a second car. Indycar needs to find a way to do a better job of keeping its popular drivers. It is a money over talent game, and Conor lost out. Daly still might get something for the 500.

Chip Ganassi Racing has scheduled a major announcement tomorrow morning at IMS. Speculation is that they have a sponsor for Scott Dixon.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports unveiled the liveries for their three cars last Thursday. The big news is that Robert Wickens will have number 6 instead of Schmidt’s traditional 7 this year. Speculation is the 7 is being saved for Danica Patrick. If that is the case, I don’t see where any one-off has the right to demand a number be reserved for them. Kurt Busch and Fernando Alonso took whatever number they were offered. Sometimes the series tries too hard to attract certain drivers at the expense of others.

The SPM cars look great. James Hinchcliffe will be in the same Arrow livery of the past few years. Wickens’s car is red with Lucas Oil sponsorship, and Jack Harvey’s number 60 displays Sirius XM on the sidepod. Harvey currently has six races planned with an eye toward possibly adding more.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan announced the return of Total Oil as the primary sponsor on the 15 at Long Beach. Total sponsored Bobby during his 1992 championship season. RLL will have more sponsor announcements soon. It sounds as if they had a great off season procuring sponsorships.

I will be exploring the Everglades and Key West the rest of the week. If I’m not eaten by a Burmese Python, I will be back on the 14th with thoughts on the Phoenix test. The test will be live streamed on Indycar.com. Because of the time difference, I hope to watch the evening practice.

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.

A December News Blizzard

This is the type of December blizzard I like- nothing to shovel, no running to the grocery store for French toast supplies, just some great Indycar news.

In order of the most recent first:

Michael Shank today (Friday) announced a partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to run Jack Harvey in up to six races this year, including the Indianapolis 500.  In addition to the 500, they will race at St. Pete, Long Beach, and Sonoma. The plan is to try to add 2 more. I would think Mid-Ohio would be one, since that is Shank’s home track. The sixth might be one close in time and distance to another race. Portland and the Indy Grand Prix are two good candidates. Harvey will carry sponsorship from Auto Nation, as he did last year for the last two races, and Sirius XM. Michael Shank is a great owner and a fantastic addition to the paddock. Harvey is a very capable driver who now has several races to learn about Indycar as this program heads toward a full time grid spot.

Andretti Autosport announced Thursday Marco Andretti will be in the 98 car for Bryan Herta and Alexander Rossi will drive the 27 car. Essentially it is just a car number switch as the crews will move with the drivers and the strategists will stay the same. This is the third number switch for Marco. I really don’t see the point of constant number switching. It hasn’t improved his performance in any way. Andrettti only has a couple left for him to try.

In an interview with Chip Ganassi at the PRI show, he said that talks with Danica Patrick concerning a ride at the 500 have stalled. It doesn’t appear that she will have a ride with that team. I think it will be rather difficult for her to find another team to join without a huge sponsor check. Huge should probably be in all caps.

Indycar also had some news about changes coming during race weekends in2018.

Teams will receive extra sets of tires at certain venues. This should encourage more practice laps. There will be a larger difference between the red (soft) tires and the black (hard) tires on road and street courses. I hope we see that. At some tracks I did not see much difference in the wear of the tires. The series and Firestone are also looking at a faster rate of tire degradation, which should help make for better racing.

Late Friday an article in Motorsport cited Jay Frye talking about possibly modifying Indy 500 qualifying points. This cannot come soon enough. I have disliked this system from the beginning. There are simply too many points awarded for qualifying. I would just scrap the entire current system and award one point for the fastest qualifier Saturday and one point for the pole winner Sunday.  Qualifying should not be worth as much as a race.  I hope a new system is put in place by May. I will not bore you with my qualifying format rant or my view on double points. Until May that is.

 

Is Randomness a Bad Thing?

Jay Frye, Indycar President of Competition, said last week via a David Malsher story on Motorsport.com that the series was reviewing race procedures ahead of the 2018 season. He said Indycar was trying to eliminate some of the randomness in races caused by closing the pits when a caution occurs. The reasoning is to ensure that the fastest cars are rewarded by keeping the position they’ve earned.

There were several races in the last few years when the quickest car was caught out by a yellow happening just as they were going to pit. The race usually went to a surprise winner from a smaller team. Usually the winning team pitted early and cycled to the lead during the yellow when everyone else pitted.

Sebastien Bourdais at St. Pete, James Hinchcliffe at Long Beach, Simon Pagenaud at Phoenix (yes, an oval), and Josef Newgarden at Toronto all benefited from the pit closing rule and a timely caution.

My opinion?   If a team plays the strategy according to the rules and it works, great. Perhaps the teams that got hurt could anticipate the eventuality of the yellow and pit earlier. I’ve heard some team owners complain about throwing yellows just when we needed to pit.  Their need to pit does not supersede the need for a yellow.

If the race should be won by the fastest car all the time, why have the race? Does the team with the most regular season wins always win the Super Bowl or the World Series? Random things happen in all sports. It’s part of the drama. Let the teams play the game and see who wins. I agree preparation and speed goes a long way toward winning, but there has to be some strategy and breaks during the race.

I think what needs to be employed more on road courses is local yellows instead of the full course cautions for every incident, no matter how small. This will keep the pits open for a longer time during the race. It will have the same effect as keeping the pits open during a full course yellow.

Another procedure Indycar is reviewing is qualifying order on ovals other than Indianapolis. Currently the order is determined by a blind draw. It seemed as though a certain driver was always going last, which is a great advantage with the rubber laid down on the track and potential track cooling as the session progresses. I prefer the order be set by the inverse order of final practice times.  The fans will be able to know the order quicker, and we should see a different order at each track.

This is my last column before migrating to winter headquarters. I’ll be back in about a month. Changes will be coming to this space, including a possible new name.

Saturday at Watkins Glen- Rossi Wins His First Pole

Maybe Michael Andretti should renew engine, driver, and sponsor agreements every weekend. One day after renewing with NAPA and signing Alexander Rossi to a multi year deal, Rossi won his first Verizon IndyCar Series pole on a chilly day in upstate New York. He bear Scott Dixon on the final lap of the Fast Six. It was one of the best qualifying rounds of the season with P1 constantly changing hands. Rossi used the F1 strategy of being the last car on track.
The significance of this pole victory was not lost on many. It was a very popular win. I think we saw IndyCar’s next big star come to life today. The floodgates are open. I can see a great rivalry developing between Rossi and Josef Newgarden. Now that Rossi knows he can win poles, I think he will begin contending for poles and race wins. He may start with a victory today.
Rossi’s growth since winning the Indianapolis 500 last year is phenomenal. He has improved both on and off the track.
Rossi didn’t sound like he was at all happy or excited to be driving in IndyCar early last season. When he won the 500 things began to change. Rossi slowly began to embrace the series. At the post qualifying press conference we hear a driver who has found a .home.

Rain seems likely tomorrow for the start of the race.
Honda is having a dominant weekend over Chevy.

I had a great evening meeting new IndyCar fans at Seneca Lodge tonight. The racing talk helped the time waiting for a table go by quickly. This is one of the many reasons why I love IndyCar road trips.
Race wrap up and other news Tuesday.