Thoughts on the Phoenix Open Test and Other Matters

It’s like baseball’s Spring Training, only with race cars. The open test at Phoenix is reason enough to keep racing there. All the teams are there in their new liveries and they are practicing. This year’s test session was even more important since it was the first major workout for the new aerokit. I was especially looking forward to finding out how the new package performed in traffic. I have read many conflicting reports, but based on what I was able to watch and putting all I’ve read together, it seems Indycar is on the right path.

Three things I heard give me some hope for better racing:

The car is a handful to drive.

Drivers are lifting in turns 1 and 3.

This year driver skill will truly be on display.

Keep in mind Phoenix has never been known for passing. It has always been a one groove track. That doesn’t mean we will see the same type of race we saw the last two years. The new aero package allows a trailing car to get closer to the car ahead without upsetting the handling as much. Tire degradation will also play into passing. Firestone may still be working on a better tire design. They are still learning how the new kit works, too. I’m hopeful of a better race.

I think the speeds will be close to last year and there will be some wild action near the end of a stint.

Liveries

I like most of the new liveries. There are fewer blue and white cars, which is a welcome change from the grid at the end of last year. The one livery I’m not crazy about is the 26,driven by Zach Veach. I think it’s rather plain and dull.  Some of the best:

Ed Carpenter has a distinct color for each car. Spencer Pigot’s number 21 is a light green, and the shared number 20 (Jordan King on road/street/Ed Carpenter on ovals) is black.

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Back- Spencer Pigot Front- Ed Carpenter/ Jordan King

A.J. Foyt Racing retains the basic color scheme but the 14 Tony Kanaan drives has red as the main color on the nose and the 4 of Mattheus Leist has blue.

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Mattheus Leist
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Tony Kanaan

The Carpenter and Foyt teams were the most difficult to distinguish last year. I’m glad to see there will be some differentiation this season.

Scott Dixon’s new livery is growing on me. I was put off by it when I first saw it. I thought the blue and the orange should be reversed, but after seeing the car on track, I like it the way it is.

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Sebastien Bourdais’s number 18 is probably the wildest of all. The black and yellow stripes give the car a menacing look. It reminds me of a shark.

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Windscreen test

Scott Dixon drove the car with the new windscreen attached in its first on track test Friday night. The results were quite positive in the three lighting conditions- daylight, dusk, and under the lights. Dixon reported no distortion, but did complain about the heat in the cockpit. Some type of ventilation will have to be worked out. He also said there was no buffeting and that it was quieter in the car. Indycar is planning a test for he windscreen on one of the early season street courses. That type of course is my biggest concern for this device. the field of vision is limited with the tight turns and walls on a street circuit. More advanced ballistics test also will be conducted. The screen is at least a year away from full implementation.

Danica has a Deal to Do her Double

Danica Patrick announced late last week that she has a deal to drive in the 500. The team and terms were not announced. During a press conference yesterday in Daytona, Danica accidently mentioned that she will be driving for Ed Carpenter Racing.

Other Notes

Ed Carpenter Racing will give rookie Jordan King an oval test this week. King was hired to drive the shared ride on the road and street circuits. The announcement fueled speculation about a third car for ECR in the 500, but the possibility of Danica Patrick in the third car would seem to end that thought. Another thought- Is this Ed’s last year in the car and is King going to be full time next year? That would be surprising considering the experienced talent waiting for a ride. I would think they would want to see how the first part of the season goes before making a long term commitment.

ABC announced the same broadcast booth for their telecasts with Alan Bestwick, Eddie Cheever, and Scott Goodyear. The pit reporters remain the same. Retaining Cheever and Goodyear tells me that they have no interest in improving their telecasts. I wonder if they are truly interested in continuing their relationship with Indycar. They did upgrade their 500 team with the addition of Nicloe Briscoe.

The track build for the St. Pete race began Tuesday, and the weekend schedule came out today. We are 25 days away from race day and 21 days away from the first practice.

 

Note: Photos captured from various internet sources.

 

 

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24 Hours, 24 Photos

So many hours, so many cars, so many photos. I chose 24 of what I think are the best ones. Enjoy.. I had fun taking them. Click on a photo to enlarge it.

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Dusk into Night

 

Vintage

 

Rolex24 Recap- Few Yellows, Lots of Laps; Fernandomania, Part Dos

The race began with lots of questions- how would the new Penske Acuras do? Would Ganassi”s Ford GTs continue its domination of the event? Could Fernando Alonso finish on the podium?Will Wayne Taylor Racing be as strong as last year without Ricky?

The answers started coming in qualifying. Renger van der Zande put the Wayne Taylor Racing car on the pole on the last lap, nipping Helio Castroneves in the Penske Acura. The starting lineup set the tone for the Acura vs. Cadillac battle the next day. It was clear that the United Autosport car that Alonso drove was going to have a tough time moving to the podium.  The Fords started 1-2 on the grid in GTLM and it was just a question of which one would win assuming both cars held together until the end.

This was the first Weather Tech Championship race without the PC class. Their absence may have been the reason there were fewer yellows this year. Last year, PC cars seemed to account for at least six of the full course cautions. This year, there were just three full course yellows. The caution periods were well spread out. While it was nice to have just a few yellows, it made the race a runaway in all three classes.

Early on the Prototype class was setting up to be a battle to the end between Team Penske and the Action Express Cadillacs. The teams swapped leads on pit stops for several hours. On track the Action Express cars looked a bit stronger. I could sense both teams were preparing their pit strategies for the last two hours well in advance. Just past the halfway point, the Number 6 Penske Acura, driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron, and Simon Pagenaud, went to the garage for a gearbox change. After that, the Number 7 drove to the paddock to repair damage from contact. Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, and Graham Rahal, who been the better of the team cars, effectively had their race ended at that point. Both cars came back to earn top 10 finishes.

The Penske troubles allowed the Action Express team to lap the field in virtually coasting to a 1-2 finish from there. It was Cadillac’s second straight win at Daytona.

The GTLM race was all Ford all the time. The question was would Ganassi allow them to fight each other for the win. A real battle never happened. The 67 car of Scot Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, and Richard Westbrook came home first, followed by the 66 of Joey Hand, Sebastien Bourdais, and Dirk Muller. The victory was the 200th win for the Ganassi organization. Ironically, Briscoe also won the 300th race for the Penske team.

In GTD, The Lamborghini Huracan  driven by Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers, and Franck Perera won the Rolex watches. The number 86 Acura NSX, owned by Michael Shank and driven by Katherine Legge, Alvaro Parente, Trent Hindman, and A J Allmendinger,  finished second.

Current Indycar drivers had mixed results. Scott Dixon won his class and Sebastien Bourdais finished second. Wayne Taylor Racing, where Ryan Hunter-Reay drove, had to retire the car after seven blown right rear tires destroyed the car’s floor. Spencer Pigot drove the Team Joest entry which dropped with mechanical issues. As mentioned earlier, the Penske drivers soldiered home near the back of the top ten.

Notes

I had a great time Friday night as IMS President Doug Boles came to our campsite to chat . He even persuaded Chip Wile, President of Daytona International Speedway, to join us for a bit. Boles mentioned several things I’m not sure are ready for publication, but he seemed optimistic that there might be bumping at Indy this year. Of course, nothing is true until it is in Indycar.

Fernandomania was every bit as strong at Daytona as it was at Indy last May. Crowds followed him everywhere. People reported sightings. I was in the paddock Sunday morning when his car pulled into the garage. Throngs appeared out of nowhere and followed the wounded racer into its stall. They were running after the car. From all accounts, Fernando was gracious and accommodating.  McLaren announced today that Alonso would be participating in several rounds of the World Endurance Championship when there is no Formula 1 conflict. Now if he could just fit another Indianapolis 500 in there somehow.

With just three classes in IMSA, I think the color designation for GTLM should change. Currently both Prototypes and GTLM have red number squares. This could be confusing for new fans. The red was fine when there were two prototype classes, but a change might be appropriate now. Each class should have its own color.

A video board in the horseshoe would nice.

This was the largest crowd of the three years I have been attending this race. With the larger crowd and. it seemed, more vendors, parking seemed to be at a premium. I heard from some long time fans who were unhappy about limited access to places they used to be able to get to.

The Dan Gurney tribute at the beginning of the race was amazing. Gurney’s winning car from the inaugural 1962 Daytona Continental appeared at the front of the field just before the start and led the parade lap. It was a most fitting tribute to one of the greatest drivers of all time. I’m hoping for a similar salute before the 500.

 

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A photo gallery will be posted in a few minutes. There are two many to put in this post. Enjoy them.  Thanks to Vincent Anderson for the camera tips.

 

 

Rolex 24 Preview- Racing Returns

It’s not Indycar, but many current and former Indycar drivers will be driving in the Rolex24 at Daytona this weekend. IMSA has shown steady improvement since Grand Am and the American LeMans Series merged in 2012 and the new series began racing in 2014. The series begins 2018 with new teams, a very large prototype class, and some new full time drivers. Here is a look at the teams with Indycar connections.

Roger Penske starts a full time entry into the series with two Acura prototypes. Former Indy 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya each drive one of the cars. Castroneves is in the number 7, and Montoya is in car 6. For the Rolex, Graham Rahal will co- drive with Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud will team with Montoya. Ricky Taylor is Castroneves’ full season teammate. Dane Cameron is Montoya’s co-pilot for the full season.

Chip Ganassi continues to field Ford GT cars in the GTLM class. Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe drive number 67 this weekend. Sebastien Bourdais will be in the 66.

New Indycar team owner Michael Shank-gosh it feels great to write that phrase- has former Indycar drivers Katherine Legge and A.J. Allmendinger in his 86 machine. Bruno Junqueira drives number 93 for Shank.

Bobby Rahal’s BMW team, cars 24 and 25, race in the GTLM class. Connor DePhillippi is one of his drivers.

Spencer Pigot is back in the 55 Mazda with Team Joest in the Prototype class.

Fernando Alonso makes his endurance debut in car 23 for United Autosport. The car is a Ligier Prototype, one of ten LMP2 cars.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is driving car 10 for Wayne Taylor Racing, the defending race champion team.

Two drivers from Indy Lights of note- Pato O’Ward, who returns for a full Indy Lights season this year, will drive the Performance Tech number 38; Felix Rosenqvist, who had a brief run in Lights and is the current pints leader in Formula E, co-drives the Jackie Chan entry number 37.

Fifty cars will start the race Saturday. There are 20 prototypes, 9 GT Le Mans cars, and 21 GT Daytona machines. Gone is the Prototype Challenge class.

I plan to watch the Indycar test at Sebring on Wednesday before going to Daytona. 15 cars are scheduled to test, including newcomers Carlin and Shank. It should be a busy day.

The Cadillacs of Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express will be strong again. I’m interested to see how strong the Penske Acuras are in their first race. They should be contenders later in the year. Ganassi Ford GTs will likely dominate the GTLM class. The GT Daytona class is usually wide open, but I’ll go with the Porsche 911 team for the win.

I hope to post about it Wednesday night and provide update from Daytona this weekend.

 

 

Dan Gurney, the All American Racer

Name a racing series, any series past or present. Run your finger down the list of race winners from that series. You are likely to find the name Dan Gurney somewhere in the list.  Gurney died yesterday in California, closing the book on one of the most brilliant drivers and minds to ever set foot on a race track.. He drove anything, anywhere. He won in anything, anywhere. He built his own cars, developed engines, and wrote a white paper outlining what the future of Indycar should be. CART used his ideas to form their series. If Gurney had chosen to run CART, Indycar racing would be on very solid ground today.

I cheered for A.J. Foyt win every race. I loved watching Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones drive. Bobby Unser’s aggressive driving was beautiful to watch, and his brother Al’s cool, let the race come to him strategy made for some late race intrigue. Then there was Dan Gurney. I loved the five regulars, but I admired and adored Dan Gurney. I liked that he didn’t race exclusively in one series, and that he had success no matter where he raced.

Gurney was the first driver to win races in Indycar, Nascar, and Formula 1. Only Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya have duplicated that feat.  What Andretti and Montoya didn’t duplicate was building their own car to race and drive to victory. The Eagle Mark I, shown below, is the only American built car to win a Formula 1 race. Gurney won the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in it. It remains the only time an American won a Grand Prix in a car they built.    This win came just one week after he and A. J. Foyt won LeMans in a Ford GT40.

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Gurney made nine starts at Indianapolis. He started on the front row twice, second in 1967 and third in 1965.  In his last three 500’s- 1968, 1969, 1970- Gurney finished second, second, and third. His Eagle cars won the race in 1968, 1973, and 1975. He only led two laps, both in 1967. He took the lead when Parnelli Jones took the turbine for short detour through the north short chute grass.

I will not bore you with every statistic of his racing career. I followed him avidly. He was never in any series long enough to win a championship. He would have been a multiple titlist in several series.  After his driving career, Gurney continued to a force in racing with his cars, innovations, and ideas. The Gurney flap, a small tab on the trailing rear wing, is still in use today. His Eagle cars were the dominant chassis in the mid 70s.

I met Gurney after he won a road race at Indianapolis Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway Park) in 1963. He autographed my event program, and was very gracious to an awkward 16 year old kid. I wish I knew what happened to that program.

All racing is poorer for his passing. I’m thankful I grew up in an era when the sport’s great legends raced and drivers weren’t limited to one series for their entire career. If you see A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, or any other driver from that time period at a track, please take a minute to say hello to them. We have no idea how much more time we will have them around.

Photo notes:  The Indy 500 car pictured at the top is on display at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum at the Barber race track in Birmingham. The Formula 1 Eagle in the lower picture is in the REVS Institute in Naples, Florida.  Top photo captured from internet; bottom photo my own.

 

F2, Brute?

 

I intended this post  as a news summary, but with all that happened late last week, I decided to share my thoughts about a couple things.

First, Ed Carpenter named Jordan King the driver of the 20 car for the road and street events. Later, Juncos Racing announced Rene Binder will run four races for the team- St. Pete, Barber, Toronto, and Mid-Ohio. Both drivers come from European racing, with time in what was F2, now GP2, The Indy Lights equivalent of Formula 1.

King spent three season in GP2. He also was a test driver for Manor F1 and won the 2013 British Formula 3 title.

Binder won four races last year in the Formula V8 3.5 series and spent three years in GP2.

My issue is not necessarily with the drivers. Mike Conway has a background similar to King’s.  The question is why teams look to Europe and ignore the Mazda Road to Indy drivers. There are several who are ready to move to Indycar. The ladder series is largely ignored by the Indycar paddock when a new driver is needed. If I’m a driver in Pro Mazda, I’ve got to wonder if my money might be better spent just pursuing an Indycar ride, or maybe I’ll have a better shot driving in Europe. King and Binder might have decent seasons. The new aero configuration may be a bit of an equalizer. However, Indycar owners and the league itself should get more behind the development and promotion of drivers in their own developmental series.

Kyle Novak is the new race director for Indycar. Last year he directed races for IMSA’s Continental Tire Series races, a support series for the IMSA Weather Tech Series. He worked under Beaux Barfield. He replaces Brian Barnhart, who left to become president of Harding Racing. It will be interesting to see if he uses this year just to learn or will implement some changes right away. At any rate, it is a fresh perspective in race control, which could be a good thing.

Pato O’Ward secured a full time ride in Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport, joining Colton Herta, Dalton Kellett, and Ryan Norman on the Lights squad. O’Ward won seven races in Pro Mazda in 2016 and drove in four Lights races last year before finishing the year in IMSA. His presence adds to an already strong Lights field for 2018. Should he move to Indycar in 2019, O’Ward could be the Mexican driver to help the league secure the race in Mexico they have been pursuing.

Indycar’s television time schedule came out last week. ABC, in what is hopefully their final year of covering Indycar, will covermost of the early part of the season and NBCSN has the  rest of theyear.. The best thing about the race times is that Iowa will start  at 2 pm Eastern time. This race should be a Saturday night race, and track president Jimmy Small is working toward the goal. A date change may be needed to accomplish it, but that would be fine. I have not enjoyed the Sunday afternoon races as much as I have the Saturday night ones. This earlier time may allow some fans to attend who couldn’t with the later start.  Another good note is that Gateway will begin an hour earlier. Starting a race at twilight instead of when the sun is completely gone provides a different, interesting dynamic as the track changes.

Wednesday I will be going to Sebring for the Indycar test. Ganassi, Andretti, and Coyne are scheduled to participate.  Hope to post pictures and report later this week.

 

Jim’s Back Home Again

This is one of four blogs I dreaded needing to write.  Jim Nabors, the iconic, legendary singer of “Indiana” at the Indianapolis 500, died today at 87.  He had been in ill health for quite some time and had not been back to the Speedway for a few years.

Like hearing Tom Carnegie on the PA,, Nabors’ singing proclaimed, ” Race time is near.” When he finished, the command to start engines was the next order of business. The pre race ceremonies, starting with “Taps” and ending with the command, still gives me goose bumps.

Nabors first sang at the 500 in 1972 when Tony Hulman asked him if he wanted to sing 30 minutes before the race began. He assumed he would be singing the National Anthem, but when he discovered it was (Back Home Again in) “Indiana”, he wrote the words on his hands.  A couple years later, he became the annual singer for that revered part of the pre race ceremony.

Jim last sung at the 2014 race. An idea was floated to have him return for the 100th running, but he was too ill to travel.

So another Speedway legend has left us.  I was fortunate to be at the race for each of his performances. No matter who has sung at the race the last few years, and Jim Cornelison was excellent last year, I still hear Jim Nabors’ voice singing.  Rest in Peace, Jim.