Indycar Drivers’ Licenses and Thoughts on the Mad Silly Season

Catching up on a few items from Indycar over the past week:

Last week Indycar in conjunction with the five year plan for Indy Lights, introduced a procedure to obtain an Indycar driver’s license. The criteria grants automatic eligibility to drivers who race in Formula 1 or NASCAR or have a predetermined level of success and/or experience in other series.

Indy Lights drivers become automatically eligible by finishing in the top three in one full season or the top five over two full seasons. Drivers in other series can get a license by accumulating a set number of points over a two year period.

The license criteria allows for exceptions. Among this season’s drivers, Robert Wickens is an example of someone who would have needed an exception and most likely would receive one based on his experience. Santino Ferucci likely would not have gotten a license.

The point values  and criteria for exceptions have not been announced.

I like that Indycar is implementing this system. It should strengthen the grid. Will it prevent ride buying? Not necessarily. It might actually force owners who rely on ride buyers to hunt for sponsorship on their own. Another possible consequence is a case where an owner needs a driver to bring money, but that driver isn’t eligible for a license. How will that exception be handled? Could it cost the grid a car? Would that owner have to sit out?  Like the Road to Indy five year plan, this is still a work in progress, but it is a step in the right direction.

The Three Headed Silly Season- Drivers, Teams, Tracks

Usually Silly Season is all about drivers. This year it is about drivers, teams, and tracks. The one key driver is Scott Dixon, who is a free agent at the end of the season. Will he stay at Ganassi, take what’s rumored to be a gigantic offer from McLaren, or move to Team Penske, as Robin Miller mentioned on the NBCSN Mid-Ohio broadcast?  My guess is he sticks with Ganassi. The McLaren money is untouchable by anyone else, but there are a lot of unknowns with a new team. Dixon at Penske would sap a lot of the rivalry out of the series.

 

Which shade of orange will Scott Dixon wear next season?

Team Shuffles?

Andretti Autosport is planning on having McLaren bring two cars to Indycar next and assumes McLaren  will be in a technical partnership with AA. That would give Andretti eight drivers. Meanwhile, Harding Racing is looking for a technical partner, possibly with Andretti. Two Andretti cars could become a part of Harding’s stable along withe the potential two cars Harding plans to run next year. Got all that? This would give Andretti full or partial control of one third of the grid.

I admire Harding and Juncos Racing going alone this year. A partnership with an established team would help speed their development. However I think eight is too many cars for one owner to have a hand in. I have thought for years Andretti Autosport was spreading itself too thin, yet they keep producing results.

Belardi Racing is looking to expand its entry beyond the 500 next year. Belardi was affiliated with A.J. Foyt Racing for the 500 this year. the car was driven by James Davison. They are also looking to expand their Indy Lights program. This is what more Indycar owners need to do- have an Indy Lights program and develop a driver in their system. It would instantly give more value to a ride in Lights.

The Schedule

We know a little about the schedule from track announcements and an assist from the recently released IMSA schedule. It’s what we don’t know that is preventing a final announcement.

What replaces Phoenix in the Spring? I can’t imagine the series would go dark for five weeks from the St. Pete opener  March 10 to April 14 at Long Beach. The gap to Phoenix was too long at three weeks. With Iowa moving to July 20, does Mid Ohio keep its date the following weekend?

Speaking of Iowa, great news that this will be a Saturday night race again. The racing has always been better there at night.

While Belle Isle got the go ahead from the advisory committee, the race is not officially on until the Michigan department of Natural resources approves it. IMSA has their Belle Isle event listed as tentative on their schedule.

Is there another new track coming on board? Mark Miles has said there will be 17 races again.

The IMSA schedule shows the sports car series at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca the week before the Indycar finale there. I don’t understand how either event will draw much of a crowd. Two major events on back to back weekends cannot help a track’s bottom line. The only remedy would be a discounted combo ticket or a season pass. This sounds iffy for a good crowd at the Indycar finale.

Notes

Colton Herta had his first Indycar test at Portland  with Harding Racing.

Sportscar driver Colin Braun has expressed interest in getting an Indycar ride for next year. The announcers on the IMSA telecast said he would be testing a car. I don’t think he has one scheduled at the moment.

Another sportscar team, Dragonspeed (not Jay Penske’s outfit) is also interested in forming an Indycar team.

With all the expansion planned by current teams and all the possible new entries, the grid could be quite crowded next year. realistically, probably not all of these will pan out, but I do look for a larger grid and even more entries at Indianapolis in 2019.

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Road America Thoughts and Other Musings

The race-

Road America 2018 206

A tight battle on lap 1 for fifth through ninth in Turn 5. Photo: Mike Silver

Not the best I’ve seen, but hardly the worst. I enjoyed watching Josef Newgarden turn in a flawless performance yesterday afternoon. He had pressure from Ryan Hunter-Reay all day long, but the Chevy was too strong on road America’s long straightaways. Alexander Rossi once again nearly stole the headlines from the winner, but not for the reason he usually does. More on the controversy later. Scott Dixon didn’t qualify as well as he hoped- he missed the Fast Six- but managed to be the only leader besides Newgarden to lead any laps. Dixon finished third and increased his points lead.

Best drama of the day happened just before the green flag when Will Power, who started second, was nowhere to be found as the field roared into turn one. An engine issue put him out of the race for his third DNF of the season. Outside of May, Power has really not had a great year. He drops from third to fifth in the title chase.

Tony Kanaan tried to use a four stop strategy to move up, but the caution free race didn’t allow that plan to work. Kanaan finished 14th.

Alexander Rossi- Series Villain?

Indycar has needed rivalries and villains to give the series some spark. Have they found them? The season began with hopes of a Rossi/Newgarden battle for the title. That hasn’t materialized, but a Rossi/Robert Wickens feud may be brewing. Wickens and Rossi collided in turn one at the start. After their collision on the white flag lap at St. Pete, the animosity seemed to have died down. It may be on again. Takuma Sato also took issue with Rossi’s driving in yesterday’s race. He and Rossi had contact in turn 5 later in the race.

Rossi had a suspension problem which dropped him to a 16th place finish. He is now tied with Hunter-Reay for second, 45 points behind Dixon.

I like Rossi’s style. He is bold and relentless and can pass anybody anytime it seems. He is also unapologetic. As long as he isn’t ruining other drivers’ races, I’m fine with his racing.

Road America Renews for Three More Years

Yesterday morning Road America President George Bruggentheis announced that Indycar will return to Elkhart Lake for three more years. This has been one of the more successful events on the calendar. Sunday’s crowd was equal to or may have topped the great attendance in 2016. The track instantly become my favorite road course the moment I entered the track.

On the Flip Side…

The not unexpected news that ISM Raceway in Phoenix would not return in 2019 became official over the weekend.  Crowds were virtually nonexistent and the racing was not great. There was little excitement or presence for the event the two times I went to the race.

It’s sad to lose such a classic track, but the newer cars don’t always perform well on the older tracks.

The series is looking for a replacement in that that calendar slot. Many fans have made many suggestions. It needs to be a warm weather locale, and preferably another oval.

I’m wondering if other schedule changes are in the offing for next season.

On to Iowa

Next up for Indycar is Iowa, the most fun oval on the schedule. You may have heard this before in this space, but I hope this the last daytime race and beginning in 2019 this is again a night race.

I have a couple features planned for later this week and next week. Enjoy the week off.

 

 

Detroit Preview- Points Battle Get Serious; McLaren Talks; Racier Event?

With May finished, the Verizon Indycar gets back to the business of deciding a series champion. The first stop as the second third of the season begins is Detroit for two races.  Just ten points separate the top three. Will Power leads Alexander Rossi by two points and Josef Newgarden is ten points behind. Scott Dixon is 25 behind in fourth. Surprisingly, James Hinchcliffe is still in the top ten despite missing the 500. Sebastien Bourdais also lost a lot of ground by crashing in last Sunday’s race, dropping to eighth. The standings will scramble again after this weekend.

The points leader after this Sunday will be the one of the top three who has the best average finish of the two races. I like Rossi’s chances. Honda and Chevy are more equal on road and street courses. Honda and Chevy have each won two non oval events this year. Honda has dominated the street circuits and Chevy has been slightly stronger than Honda at the road courses.

Saturday’s race looks to be dry, but there is now the threat of a wet race on Sunday. I have been to wet races here. They are chaotic, but there are a lot of different strategies employed. This type of race usually produces a surprise winner. If it rains, look for Sebatien Bourdais to regain some of the ground he lost last week. Alexander Rossi will win one of the races, likely Saturday when the track is dry.

McLaren Visiting Detroit

Zak Brown, head of McLaren, will be in Detroit to talk with teams about a partnership as a full time Indycar team next year. Fernando Alonso’s manager is also attending the meetings. Andretti is said to have the inside track since they partnered to field Alonso in last year’s 500. Rahal Letterman Lanigan is also interested in working with McLaren.

2019 Indy 500 Field Already Beginning to Form

Team Penske announced earlier this week that Helio Castroneves will return for another shot at winning his fourth Indianapolis 500 next May.

Scuderia Corsa, whose entry with Oriol Servia led 16 laps at the 500 this year, also confirmed they will return to Indianapolis in 2019. They are still considering entering Indycar full time.

At this pace, it appears likely there will be bumping again.

Pit Lane Parley

This week’s episode of Pit Lane Parley features Indy lights Driver Aaron Telitz. Telitz currently sits  seventh in Indy Lights points. He had a difficult start to the season, not completing a lap until the fourth race of the season.  Pit Lane Parley airs at 3:15 EDT on Wildfireradiosports.com and is available on Podbean and other apps.

Notes

Hard to believe Scott Dixon has not led a lap this season. This weekend may end that drought.

I am interested to see the new aerokit perform at Texas. I think that will be the true test of how this new superspeedway package works. Jay Frye said this week they will look at possible tweaks to the Indianapolis package.

I will be onsite at Detroit beginning Saturday morning. Look for updates throughout the weekend.

Thanks for reading this month. It was a lot of fun producing stories.

 

King of Barber Knows a Good Tire Guy

Josef Newgarden needed help from his Tim Cindric to win the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Monday. For the second time in three races, Cindric made the correct call on when to switch tires. In Phoenix it was a fresh set for the final restart. Monday it was putting rain tires on several laps before anyone else. He had some assistance from the weather. Had it not started raining harder Sebastien Bourdais would have won staying on slicks.

The rain with about 15 minutes left turned what was an ordinary race into an intriguing finish. Newgarden was clearly the class of the field. Bourdais’s gamble didn’t work because the rain intensified. He might have had a better chance pitting when Newgarden did. Bourdais ended up fifth, beating Scott Dixon in a drag race to the line.

With the victory Newgarden takes the points lead back from Alexander Rossi, who finished eleventh. This is the first time this season Rossi has not been on the podium. Newgarden leads by 13 points. I expect these two to swap the lead back and forth a few more times before Sonoma. Meanwhile, don’t ignore Sebastien Bourdais or Graham Rahal. They are tied for third 39  points behind. Bourdais owns the tie breaker with his victory at St. Pete. Rahal is having a very consistent year and one of his best starts to a season. He is usually very strong in the second half. Bourdais has led laps in all four races this year.

Notes

Why weren’t the leader lights working at Barber? They were on during Friday’s first practice, but weren’t on the rest of the weekend.

SPM continues its resurgence with a third for James Hinchcliffe and fourth for Robert Wickens.

Matheus Leist finished 12th for his best result this season. It was a bit of  salvation for an otherwise horrendous weekend for the Foyt team.

Zachary Claman De Melo turned the fastest lap of the race, 1:09.8183. He made some great passes. Keep an eye on this rookie.

Three drivers have won at what they consider their home tracks this season.  Bourdais at St. Pete, Rossi at Long Beach, and Newgarden at Barber. Does this trend bode well for Ed Carpenter at the 500?

Newgarden has won three of the last four races at Barber. He now has nine career wins.

Marco Andretti earned his third top 10 of the season Monday. This is by far his best start in a long time.

The windscreen gets its second test at IMS next Monday after the open test. Josef Newgarden will test the the device. Dixon tested it at Phoenix.

“Bump Tales” Begins May 3

A four week series recounting some of the more dramatic Bump Days in the past begins May 3. Many former winners missed the race and there was once a tie for the last spot.

Check in each Thursday during the month for stories about who didn’t make the fastest 33.

 

Quick Thoughts on Phoenix

Josef Newgarden won. Alexander Rossi was the star. Robert Wickens continues to impress. Passing and the racing was better. The finish was great. The crowd was small.

IndyCar’s first short oval test of the UAK 18 had mixed results. There was more passing, but it wasn’t always easy. Leader Sebastien Bourdais needed several laps to lap the last car in the opening stint. The beginning of the race looked like it was going to be a repeat of first two races here. After the first of two caution flags, Alexander Rossi gave the fans something to hold their interest. A lap down following his drive through penalty for hitting of his crewman, Rossi was determined to unlap himself. He sliced through the field, eventually regaining his lap on the track. He had the fastest car all night. Rossi even led some laps before finishing third. Until the final restart, most drivers st a he’d single file, saving g tires. It made me almost wish for a fuel saving race..

Newgarden, who took fresh tires during the yellow, roared to the front and passed rookie Robert Wickens with two laps to go.

Takeaways

Despite the new aero package, passing was still difficult. The tire degradation didn’t help create as much passing as hoped.

Robert Wickens  had another great race was again leading with two laps left. He will get that first win before Indy.

Alexander Rossi’s second straight podium puts him in a great position to fight all season long for the title.

Will IndyCar return to Phoenix? I think the race, which was the best of the three in this set, was good enough to warrant a return. I’m concerned that IndyCar left without a renewal. Both sides sound like they’re interested. Attendance was said to be slightly better.

Sebastien Bourdais’s day got off to a bad start and kept getting worse. He cannot afford another race like that this early in the season.

Why did the last caution take so long? I understand wanting to sweep the track, but no one was using that part of the track anyway.

Race control deserves credit for its judicious use of the yellow. They could have thrown three more but didn’t. Teams might need to adjust strategy to not expect as many cautions this year.

Back Friday with my Long Beach preview.