The Season Begins- Testing at Sebring

0110181154a-1One of the perks of living in Florida during the winter is the opportunity to see Indycars on track in January. Wednesday I went to Sebring to watch the second day of testing. Ganassi and Andretti teams put in a busy day.  It was great seeing the new look cars and noticing how differently they need to be driven.

My impressions of the new bodywork:  this is a proper looking race car. The back end is opened, the front wings have a less cumbersome appearance, and the car looks fast. I had seen the road/street configuration on display at Mid-Ohio, but Wednesday was the first time I’d seen it on track. I saw the speedway version in a test at IMS in July. Both cars are sleek and beautiful. The liveries work better than I thought they would on this car. I still wish the car number on the endplates were larger. Fans furthest from the track may have a difficult time identifying some cars, especially if we see the multitude of blue and white combinations that dominated last year.

On track, drivers talked about the lower downforce giving the impression of a horsepower boost. That was very evident as they approached the hairpin. Ed Jones locked up the brakes several times in the morning session searching for the correct braking point. The brake zone is definitely longer. I think that should lead to more passing opportunities.  Back ends slid quite a bit coming out of the hairpin. For the first few races at least we will see a lot of action as the drivers figure out how to handle this new setup.  This car has to be driven, not just steered. I’m not sure the difference will be as noticeable on an oval. I will be watching the oval test at Phoenix with great interest. I hope the drivers have to lift in the corners.

The cars looked faster on the straight leading to the hairpin, and they also seemed to accelerate quicker off of what is turn 5 of the full course.  Drivers who have experience in lower downforce cars will have an early advantage. I think the new drivers from Europe, Jordan King and Rene Binder, will struggle for awhile.  I am really excited to see how turn 1 goes at the start of the St. Pete race. That might give us an indication of who knows what they are doing.

My friend Ed Murray from New York came up from his snowbird nest to watch the test. Ed is very knowledgeable about dirt tracks. He goes to the Knoxville Nationals every year. I learned a lot about dirt track racing talking to him. It was Ed’s first time at Sebring. He was quite impressed.

I hope to get in one more Sebring test this month, although with the Rolex 24 coming up it may be a challenge. We will see.

News

Harding Racing made the official announcement yesterday that they will be a one car full time team in the Verizon Indycar series in 2018. Gabby Chaves will drive the Chevrolet powered entry. Team president Brian Barnhart left the door open to a possible second car for the 500. There are now four new owners in the series, two full time and two part time.

The aeroscreen is still scheduled to tested at Phoenix, but it sounds like it won’t be implemented until 2019. I applaud Indycar’s cautious approach with this. It seems as if Formula 1 is rushing into their halo too quickly.

Danica Patrick’s chances for a ride in the 500 continue to dwindle. She has virtually no shot at the Daytona 500 at this point. Some people think there just a couple possibilities for Indy remaining. I’m not so sure. I will echo what my friend Patti Nolen said in her ikissedthebricks blog this morning:

Leave Stefan Wilson alone!  He paid his dues last year.

We are now just 58 days away from the first green flag!

 

 

 

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Gateway Preview- Racing by the River

Indycar returns to Gateway Motorsports Park after a 14 year absence.  CART ran here from 1997-1999 the day before the Indianapolis 500 then moved to a September date in 200. The IRL raced at Gateway from 2001-2003.  The 2017 date corresponds to the date when the IRl raced here.  This weekend’s weather is going to be unusually pleasant for St. Louis at this time of year. It’s the last oval race of the year and the newest event on the Indycar schedule.

St. Louis is a market I’ve always wondered why Indycar in any of its iterations never paid more attention to. I remember on Pole Day at Indy in the 60s and 70s a large group sitting in the upper paddock just north of the start/finish line. They displayed a banner, “St. Louis Auto Race Fans”. There were a lot of fans in this area. I hope there still are. Seeing that group was a Pole Day tradition for me.

Indications are this will be a triumphant return. The track has gone all out promoting the race, getting lots of community involvement, including the St. Louis Cardinals. Ed Carpenter threw out the first pitch before Tuesday night’s game, and tonight there is an Indycar FanFest at Ballpark Village, a gathering place across the street from Busch stadium.This past week has had several community activities leading up to the race. Word is ticket sales are going very well.

After an initial Indycar test, the track was completely repaved after drivers were concerned about the surface. Another test on the newly paved track brought rave reviews from the drivers. The drivers think passing will be possible. I hope that’s the case. The series doesn’t need another Phoenix-like parade this season.

Honda drivers are pretty much conceding Chevy has a huge advantage one the 1.25 mile oval. The track probably works more like a road course than an oval due to the odd configuration of turns 1 and 2.  The shape of the track should produce better racing than Phoenix.

Who will win? Helio Castroneves won the 2003 race  and Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are the only other active drivers who have raced at Gateway. Dixon does not expect to have a car capable of a top 3 finish. I’m looking for a penske sweep of the podium, with Will Power getting his second straight win in his march toward the title.  Josef Newgarden will retain his points lead, but there will be some shuffling behind him.  This  race will be decided by when the yellows fall and as a result, fuel saving could play a part in the final result.

Notes:

In a surprise announcement last evening,   Sebastien Bourdais will return to the number 18 for the last three races of the season starting this weekend at Gateway.  This is just 14 weeks after his horrific 118 g crash at Indy. It never ceases to amaze me how resilient Indycar drivers are after crashes like that.  There will not be a third car for Esteban Gutierrez . Just when I learned how to spell his last name.

Sebastien Saavedra likely needs a strong showing to make up for his crash at Pocono if he wants any consideration for a job at Schmidt next year.

Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing did very well in their 3 races this year. Two top 10s and strong qualifying effort at Pococno is a fine debut for the team looking to go full time next year. They also completed every lap in the three races.

This will be another baseball/racing weekend. I’m going to the Cardinals-Padres game Thursday night and possibly the Cardinals-Rays game Sunday.

Team Silver, my Indy 500 group will be well represented at Gateway.