Some Notes and News

The best way to get news to break is to publish your blog. News is sure to come 10 minutes later.   Race Director Brian Barnhart is leaving Indycar to become president of Harding Racing.  Barnhart was a controversial figure, especially in the early IRl days and in the years just after the merger. I thought he did a better job after returning to the position after Beaux Barfield left.  It woiuld be great if Barfield came back. Indycar has not announced a replacement.  More in a few days.

Just a few notes and news on this post-Thanksgiving  day without a shopping name:

My take on Danica Patrick returning to the Indy 500- I have no feelings one way or the other. It’s great that there will be more attention on the race, but I don’t see it helping the series as a whole.  I wish her well in the race. It will be interesting to see how she adapts to a car she’s never driven.  The new aero configuration will be an adjustment for all the drivers. The regular series drivers will have had five races, including an oval, to see how the car handles. That is where Danica’s disadvantage may be.  She does have an outstanding record at IMS with top 10 finishes in 6 of her 7 500’s. Let’s  see if that continues.

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Speaking of women in racing, yesterday’s announcement of a new all women racing series leaves me cold. Racing is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on the same field equally.  The champion gets an F1 test driver contract. There are lots of F1 test, or reserve drivers, who never get a shot at F1.  The only woman to start an F1 race was Lella Lombardi in the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix. This series is a bad idea and somewhat dismissive of female drivers.

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Adrian Fernandez reiterated what many have said about the proposed Indycar race in Mexico City: Without a full time Mexican driver in the series, the race will not succeed. Esteban Gutierrez would be the likely candidate, but there not many seats left. Many of the projected seats are speculation at this point. There is a definite opening at Coyne, a possible second car at Harding, and the road course slot at Carpenter.  The Carpenter seat is not an option. The driver needs to be full time. Juncos and Shank are not running full season programs, so they can’t be considered. My suggestion is to shelve this race until 2019 and work on getting a full time driver from Mexico in the series then.

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Aerokit delivery has begun.  Teams began receiving the kits last week.  I believe these are the two free kits for the full time teams.  I cannot wait to see these new configurations race.  The first turn at St. Pete is going to be very interesting

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1954- The Year Before the Storm

The program was buried in a stack of old programs in a box at the IMS memorabilia show  the day before the 500 this past May.  I  was thinking of collecting Indy 500 programs for all the races beginning the year I was born. Hard for some of you to believe, but cars were invented before I was born.

My plan was to begin with the programs from 1953 to 1956, the programs covering the Bill Vukovich era.  The programs on top were pre World War II, and the prices were quite high. I dug through the stack and found this 1954 edition in a sheet protector. There was no price label attached. I asked the vendor how much it was. She looked it over and said, ” $20″, at least one third the price of the others I saw.  I paid quickly and walked away before she could change her mind.

1954 is  the appropriate year to begin my collection quest for several reasons. It was the first year I was fully aware of the race. 1953 was the first year I heard any of the race on the radio. I was six at the time. I wanted to learn more about it. Bill Vukovich won the race and became my first racing hero. The program recapped the 1953 race and previewed the upcoming event.

To put the 1954 race in perspective:

It was  the third year of the IMS Radio Network.

This would be the ninth race under Tony Hulman’s ownership.

The 1954 500 was the eighth race Tom Carnegie handled the PA full time.

AAA was the sanctioning body. USAC would not exist for two more years.

 

There was a nice bonus inside when I first opened the program. The starting lineup sheet for the race fell out. The original owner wrote some notes on it during the race.  Pole sitter Jack McGrath led the first lap with a speed of 132.004 mph.  The average speed of the race at 200 miles was 134.225.

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The pre-race schedule was shorter and simpler in 1954. The race started at 10.  The schedule lists just the National Anthem, a salute to soldiers who died in battle, and “Back Home Again in Indiana” sung by James Melton. This all completed by 9:35. Then the cars are gridded. Following a series of aerial bombs, the Dodge pace car leads the field on the ONE pace lap before the start.  The command to start engines was not listed as part of the schedule.

Guaranteed first place money was $20,000. Drivers also received money from the equipment companies for using their products. Lap leaders got $150 for each lap lead. n 1953, Vukovich collected more than $89,000 for winning.  Guaranteed money for 10th place? $1,750. I can’t imagine what last place got.

The ads in the program feature many companies and products that no longer exist such as Eastern Airlines, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Belond Exhaust Systems, Pure gasoline, and RCA.

Bill Vukovich won the race for the second straight year. Jimmy Bryan was second, Jack McGrath came home third, and Duane Carter finished fourth. Vukovich started 19th; the others in the top 4 started in the top 8, McGrath and Bryan on the front row. The winner led 90 laps, the fewest he had led in the  last three races.

The following year was the year auto racing nearly ended.  In practice for the 500, popular driver Manny Ayulo was killed. In the race, Vukovich died in accident while leading after a great duel with McGrath early in the race. McGrath would die in a sprint car wreck at the end of the year.  These deaths, coupled with the 83 spectator deaths at LeMans in June, nearly led to a worldwide ban on the sport.

AAA decided they were done sanctioning racing after 1955. Tony Hulman formed the Untied States Auto Club to sanction races and keep the sport going.

I wish both my readers a Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be back next week with thoughts on the news that broke last Friday and other Silly Season ramblings.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

Blue Cars, Red Flags, New Stars- Indycar Season Review

Intriguing. Weird. A look into the future.The 2017 Indycar season had all of that. The first half of the season was chaotic and amazing.  It looked like there would be a wide open fight for the championship. Yet the Penske armada was lurking, picking up poles and leading laps, but not winning a lot until later on. Then Josef Newgarden jumped into first place at Mid-Ohio and hung on to the end. His path became more difficult with his miscue leaving the pits at Watkins Glen, but winning the pole and finishing as runner-up in Sonoma clinched the crown for him.

The year began with seven different winners in the first seven races. Overall 10 drivers won races.  Penske drivers won 10 of the 17 races. Josef Newgarden won four times to lead the series. Graham Rahal was the only non-Penske driver to win more than once with his two wins at Detroit. Surprisingly, Scott Dixon won only once. Despite that he entered the final weekend at Sonoma only three points out of the lead.

Honda’s early engine failures changed the results of races through May. Honda teams used up their engine allotments early and saw their manufacturer lead evaporate since they couldn’t score points in the later races. Reliability improved the second half of the season, but Chevy/Penske was dominating by that time.

I don’t remember as many races in one year stopped by red flags for accidents. Phoenix, The 500, Detroit race 2, and Texas  had stoppages for cleanup. The flag at Detroit I thought was a bit questionable. Iowa was red flagged for rain although I thought it could have been stopped sooner.

What color should our car be this week? I know. Blue and white! In several races this season one third of the field was in blue/white liveries, many in the same pattern. This made it difficult to distinguish cars as they approached at the track and was challenging on television to tell them apart.

I thought this was a really fun year, and next year should be even better with the new look aerokits. The new bodywork looks sleek and fast. Josef Newgarden leads a growing field of rising stars including Alexander Rossi, Ed Jones, and Spencer Pigot. The newcomers will have strong competition from the established core of Scott Dixon, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud. I cannot wait for St. Pete.

Highlights:

Best wins: Sebastien Bourdais at St. Pete, Newgarden at Gateway, Rossi at Watkins Glen, Takuma Sato at Indianapolis.

Most improved driver: Alexander Rossi

Best races: Pocono, Road America, Indianapolis 500, Watkins Glen

Worst races: Texas, Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, Phoenix.

Best pass: Newgarden over Pagenaud at Gateway.  AyrtonSenna would have been proud of that pass.

Worst decision: Fernando Alonso as sole winner of 500 rookie of the Year. Ed Jones deserved a share of the award.

Notes:

Honda and Chevy will be testing the new aerokits soon. The last test for Indycar was Tuesday at Sebring. Team testing begins in January.

Carlin seems to be on the verge of having an Indycar team next year.

The 2018 schedule should be out soon, likely with a TBA date. The earthquake in Mexico may push that event back a year. Other than that, the circuit should be similar to the last two years. This consistency is a great thing for all concerned.

2017 drivers without 2018 commitments as of today: Conor Daly, Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe, Ed Jones, J. R. Hildebrand. Jones is likely to be back at Coyne and Hinchcliffe is  likely to be back at Schmidt.

I will be going to the SCCA Runoffs this weekend. This is essentially their national championship event. Past winners include Paul Newman and Willie T. Ribbs. I’ll report about it next week.

Thank you for reading this season.

Endings and Beginnings- Thoughts on Sonoma

The last race of the season creates a conundrum. There is a race to watch and people want to see a race winner. But there is a season title on the line which creates another layer of watching.  Point scenarios are discussed for a week. Very little attention is on the race itself.

Sonoma itself has unique issues a site for the finale. It’s a beautiful venue in a beautiful setting. Track management does a great job presenting the event as the finale. Yet the race is usually not the type of race a series needs for the one that decides its champion. Passing is at a premium. The cars get strung out. Pit strategy is the way to get by someone. An oval in prime time would make for a better ending to the season and add more drama to the title fight.

The 2017 edition of Sonoma was better than most races thanks to Simon Pagenaud’s four stop strategy. It was clear this was the plan from the start when his first pit stop came two laps before the pit window opened. He continued to build his gap after the other drivers pitted each time by staying on reds until his last stop. Pagenaud’s gap was big enough by the time he made his last stop to beat Josef Newgarden out of the pits. Newgarden tried to pass a couple times, but decided, or actually Tim Cindric did, that second place meant the title.

Newgarden is one of the youngest drivers to win the series championship. He took the lead at Mid Ohio and never looked back. The only hiccup the last two months was his problem leaving the pits at Watkins Glen.  The rest of his final stretch showed first or second place finishes. Newgarden is destined to add a couple more titles to his resume.

While we’re possibly seeing the beginning of a new Indycar star, we may have seen the last of another one full time. Indications are even stronger now that Helio Castroneves will not be a full time driver next year in Indycar. He will run the 500 and possibly the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but he will be driving for Penske in the IMSA sports car series. I’ve never been a fan of Castroneves, but the last two years he has done the best driving of his career . The paddock will seem empty without him.

The race was the final outing for the manufacturer aerokits. New bodywork for next season should make for better racing since most of the downforce will be on the underside. I will not miss the rear bumpers. I thought they made Indycars look too much like sportscars.

Scott Dixon fought hard for fourth in the race and finished third in the points. The bar Newgarden is shooting for as a career? Dixion has finished in the top 3 in points 11 of the 12 years he’s been in the series.  I hope everyone appreciates that we are watching a legend drive.

Thoughts

I thought the crowd was the biggest I’ve seen at Sonoma in the four years I’ve been there. It was definitely the best Saturday crowd I’ve seen.

Zachary Calaman de Melo did a good job during the weekend. His main job was to get laps and he accomplished that.

I watched Friday’s second practice from the turn 2 and 3 area. It is a great spot to see most of the track. Cars tended to have a bit a back end slide through 3.

Word came yesterday that Ganassi will be a two car team next year. This should not come as a surprise as signs have been there for awhile. I have a couple friends on the 8 and 83 crews. I hope they can land another spot soon.  Brendon Hartley is expected to drive the 10 car.  Nothing against Hartley, a great driver in sports cars, but I’d rather see the opening go to someone who has gone through the Road to Indy.

Will Carlin be full time in Indycar in 2018 with Max Chilton and possibly Charlie Kimball?

Conor Daly ended the season with a couple of top tens and led some laps at Sonoma. Is it enough to save his job? Many of his early season issues were team related.

Silly Season is looking to be very short. Most of the regular seats are filled. We are waiting to see what some possible new teams are planning. I think it’s possible there may be several teams who make select appearances during the year rather than go full time.  The car count may look stable at every race, but some teams will be different.

Thanks to all of you for reading my posts this year. I’ll be back next week with a season review and then I will be posting stories of races past throughout the off season.

 

Sonoma Preview: Cementing a Legend or First Step to a New One??

This is always the race preview I don’t enjoy writing because it’s the last one of the season. It seems this race always comes too soon. I’m positive it was only two weeks ago that I was standing on pit road at St. Petersburg with my friend Shay Hazen of Live Full Throttle when the engines came to life for the season’s first practice. Now we are at Sonoma for the finale.

Sonoma has never been a great race. The track is narrow and passing is minimal. This year’s event has some intrigue, however, due to the tight points battle. While the track puts on a great event,  this is not the best place to determine a season champion. An oval is better suited for ending the year, especially if Indycar insists on the unnecessary double points ending.

Indycar will tell you that six drivers have a chance at the Astor Cup. two of those drivers are only eligible because of the double points gimmick.  The two ahead of them are a longshot, as I’ll explain. This is really a two driver shootout between Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon. Newgarden leads Dixon by just 3 points. Dixon is going for his fifth title, while Newgarden looks to continue his quick rise to the top rank of Indycar drivers.

Let’s play along with Indycar for a moment and look at the six drivers and their chances. Alexander Rossi is 84 points behind Newgarden. His title chances depend on his repeating what he did at Watkins Glen, taking the maximum points and Newgarden finishing 21st. Only one of those events is likely. Will Power, 68 points in arrears, needs the grand slam and for Newgarden to finish 13th. Power has had issues at Sonoma. In 2014 he spun while leading in the hairpin, and in 2015 he collided with teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, likely costing Montoya the title.

Defending champion Simon Pagenaud trails Newgarden by 34 points. If   Pagenaud runs the table for 104 points, Newgarden must finish fourth or worse. If Newgarden comes home third, they tie and Newgarden wins with 4 victories to 2 for Pagenaud. Helio Castroneves, like the others, needs to collect the most available points. If he does that,  a second place finish by Newgarden, even if he leads a lap, Castroneves wins the title.

For Newgarden and Dixon, the job is much easier. Whoever finishes ahead of the other is the series champion.  This is one of Dixon’s best tracks. He and Power have won the race three times, with Dixon winning most recently in 2015. The Chevy package will likely have an advantage this weekend, but Dixon just needs to finish ahead of one of them and as far up in the order as he can.

Usually this race comes down to who wins the pole. That single point can be crucial. Saturday’s qualifying will actually eliminate a couple of the drivers with a chance. As we saw in Watkins Glen, however, nothing is certain in Indycar racing. Pit errors may play a role in determining the outcome.

Then there are the spoilers. Rossi played that role at Watkins Glen, taking 11 points that Dixon could have had. Graham Rahal has had a great run the last half of the season, accumulating top 5s and top 10s. Will the extra RLL car for Zachary Claman de Melo be a factor in a point stealing sense? A 22 car field means last place pays16 points, while 21st, the size of most grids this year, is worth 18.

Who will it be? I’m still going with Scott Dixon to be the 2107 champion. He knows how to win championships coming from behind.  Simon Pagenaud will win his second consecutive GoPro Grand Prix, but not from the pole.

Notes

Zach Veach apparently has a 3 year deal with Andretti Autosport. An announcement  should be made this weekend.

Tristan Gommendy and Calmels will drive the 77 car for Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports at next year’s 500. Gommendy rove for KV in CART in 2007.

It looks like Tony Kanaan will drive for A J Foyt next year in the 14. No word on who will be in the 4. I hope it’s still Conor Daly, but I’m not optimistic.

Late news has Brendon Hartley joining Chip Ganassi racing to replace Tony Kanaan. Look for a 2 car effort from Ganassi next year.

My season review and Sonoma post race will be out on September 29. I’m staying in California for a few days after the race. I will try to post Sunday night but it will be brief.