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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Indycar News and Notes- Coyne Again Searching for Drivers

With activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginninjg this Friday, Dale Coyne finds himself in a familiar position- looking for a driver or drivers to fill a seat vacated by an injured driver. Pietro Fittipaldi was slated to drive the number 19 car in both the Indycar Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. He was injured in a severe crash Saturday preparing for the 6 hours  WEC race at Spa. Fittpaldi injured both legs, including a complex fracture of the left leg. He underwent successful surgery and will be out at least eight weeks. Fittipaldi will also miss his scheduled start at Texas in June. The projected recovery time could allow him to drive his next assignment at mid Ohio in late July.

The scenario is a familiar one for Coyne. Last year Sebastien Bourdais fractured his pelvis in a qualifying crash at Indianapolis. James Davison filled in for Bourdais fort he 500. Coyne than had other drivers drive the number 18 until Bourdais returned for Watkins Glen. Tristan Vautier, one of last year’s subs, is under consideration to take Fittpaldi’s ride.

Other drivers thought to be in contention are Zachary Claman DeMelo, who shares the 19 with Fittipaldi and has ties to the car’s sponsor, Paysafe; and Ryan Briscoe. Practice and qualifying for the Indycar Grand Prix is Friday, so a decision should come quickly.

Entry List for the 102nd Indianapolis 500

The official entry list is out. Thirty-five cars have entered to attempt to get one of the thirty-three spots for the race. Buddy Lazier is not one of the entries. The field includes six former winners. Four of the five past champions are entered. With Fittipaldi out there are now three rookies in the field: Robert Wickens, Matheus Leist, and Kyle Kaiser. Helio Castroneves will drive in both the Indycar grand Prix and the 500. These are scheduled to be his only Indycar appearances  this season. Danica Patrick returns to the 500 for the first time since 2011. The 500 will be the final race of her career. The entry list appears at the end of this post.

Donuts for Daly

Jack’s Donuts has signed on to support Conor Daly’s Indanapolis 500 ride with Thom Burns Racing. Look for promotions during the month @ConorDaly22, @ThomBurns Racing and @jacksdonuts. If Conor is involved, it should be fun.

Bump Tales

Thursday the second part of “Bump Tales” appears. It is a tale of just how humbling Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be.

Castroneves, Taylor win IMSA race at Mid Ohio

The Team Penske Acura driven by Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor won the IMSA race at Mid Ohio Sunday. The race marked the return of sportscar racing to the track. The former American LeMans Series used to run the same weekend as Indycar, making for a tremendous weekend of racing. The IMSA/Indycar is a doubleheader that needs to return.

This was Team Penske’s first victory in the Weather Tech Series.

Entry List

Here is a link to the Entry List for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

Indy 500 Entry List 5-

 

I will also be back with a preview of the Indycar Grand Prix on Friday.

Sebring Recap= Mixed Day for Indycar Drivers; ABC out?

Cool nights and very hot days made the 66th 12 hour race at Sebring an endurance contest for the fans as well as the drivers. It turned out to be a great race with some late drama as usual. The final two and a half hours had some great battles for the lead. At one point after dark, both the Prototype and GTLM classes had three way fights for the lead. IMSA’s restart procedure in which the cars line up in groups helped. It made for exciting action.

Indycar drivers had a mixed day with a couple class podiums, some major disappointments, and some midpack finishes. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the top finisher with a second place overall in the Wayne Taylor car co-driven by Jordan Taylor and Renger Van Der Zande. Former Indycar driver Mike Conway  joined Hunter-Reay on the podium in the third place entry for Action Express. He teamed with Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran.

Other Indycar related finishes:

The Penske team did not fare well, retiring early in the contest. The car of Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud finished 40th overall. Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal dropped out first in 41st place. In general, the number 7 of Castroneves, Rahal, and Ricky Taylor has been the faster of the two. Taylor qualified third.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTLM machines did slightly better. Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, and Richard Westbrook finished 4th in class and 13th overall. Sebastien Bourdais dropped out in 39th place, last in class.

Car 55 with Spencer Pigot led late and was in contention for the win. On a pit stop with 41 minutes left, the car would not restart. They finished a lap down, 6th overall.

The best story of the weekend was Michael Shank Racing’s car 93. A brake failure and heavy wall contact in Thursday evening practice destroyed the car. The crew worked tirelessly to make repairsr and presented the car for Saturday’s pre-race warmup. From starting in last place the trio of Lawson Aschenbach, Mario Farnbacher, and Justin Marks led some laps and eventually finished seventh in class.

Next year Sebring will be interesting. After IMSA runs the traditional 12 hour race, the WEC will have its own 12 hour race about 90 minutes later, beginning at midnight. This sounds like a logistical nightmare to me. Exchanging pit equipment, podium ceremonies, pre-race for WEC, all in less than 90 minutes might make for a more interesting show than the race. The response from the fans will be interesting as well. I talked to several fans at the track about it. Most are not sure how this will work. There is a lot of skepticism about this idea.

ABC Out of Indycar?

A tweet sent out Saturday by a weatherman in Macon, Georgia, said that 2018 will be ABC’s final year covering the Verizon Indycar Series. The tweet was taken down and Mark Miles said it was a little premature. If true, it means that NBC will be the sole carrier for Indycar next year.

ABC has covered the Indianapolis 500 for 50 years. Since their new deal with Indycar that split the races between ABC and NBCSN, their coverage has been rather weak. There is no chemistry in the booth, they seem to always have the wrong camera shot on screen, and worse, it seems like they care very little about their product. Even their 500 broadcasts, which should be one of their crown jewels, has not been great.

I will have more to say after an official announcement. I’m thinking it will come just before or during the Phoenix race weekend.

Servia Enters the 500

There was an announcement that slipped through the cracks St. Petersburg race weekend. Veteran Oriol Servia will enter the 500 in a car in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan stable run by Scuderia Corsa. Corsa has an association with Ferrari and runs sportscar programs in the US and Europe. I don’t see any interest beyond the 500. It’s nice to have some more international flavor to the race.

Sebring Preview- Penske, Ganassi Look to Recover from Difficult Rolex 24

The second part of the 36 Hours of Florida takes the green flag at 10:40 am Saturday morning. The 66th 12 Hours of Sebring is the second race in the IMSA Weather Tech Series. Like the Rolex 24, several current  Indycar drivers and a handful of former Indycar drivers will participate. Indyccar  team owners Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, and Michael Shank also have full time teams. This is Penske’s first full year in this series.

The Penske and Ganassi cars had a rough start to the season with various mechanical issues and a crash pushing them out of contention. Helio Castroneves nearly won the pole at Daytona and his number 7 Acura prototype was in the hunt for the first half of the race. Ganassi’s Ford GTLM machines had a variety of issues that kept them from challenging for the podium.

I’m looking for both teams to be among the top challengers this year. In the prototype class, Penske will have a tough battle with the Cadillacs of Wayne Taylor Racing and the  Action Express cars which dominated at Daytona.

In GTLM Ganassi’s Fords will have to fend off the Corvettes in a fight between American manufacturers. The Porsches and Ferrari also could be in the mix. GTLM is the most competitive class due to its smaller field.

The GTD race is wide open as always. Ferrari usually does well at Sebring. I’m looking for one of the Shank cars to be on the podium here.

A list of Indycar drivers, both current and former, and what car they’re driving this weekend. Current full time Indycar drivers in bold:

Prototype-

#6- Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud

#7- Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal

#10- Ryan Hunter-Reay

#31- Mike Conway

#38- Pato O’Ward (IndyLights)

#52- Sebastian Saavedra

#90- Tristan Vautier

GTLM-

#25- Connor De Phillippi

#66- Sebastien Bourdais

#67- Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe

GTD-

#64- Townsend Bell

#86- Katherine Legge

The race will be televised on FS1 and FS2. The finish is on FS2 from 6-11 pm.

Back with a wrap-up next week.

 

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.

 

IMG_0917 (7)

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.

 

 

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.