Good Morning from Iowa

Welcome to Iowa Speedway for Indycar’s race weekend. This could be a pivotal weekend in the future of this event. Will the decent temperatures improve attendance? How will the new cars race here? Will Iowa return to a Saturday night race next year? If so, will the date change? We will have the answers to the first two questions by tomorrow afternoon. The last two will take a while.

I will have a qualifying wrapup later tonight. During the day I will be tweet updating. Follow along on @PitWindow.

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The Last Gift- A Tribute

Note- I first published this two years ago in honor of my late wife, Vicki Silver. In honor of what would have been her 70th birthday today, I’m reposting it. Thanks for reading.

“I just want one thing for Christmas. “

“I know what it is and no, I won’t give you that. It’s dangerous. You could get killed and then I’d be all alone”

We had no clue how ironic that statement would become a few months later.

“What else do you want?” she demanded.

“Nothing. It can be for my birthday too,” I countered, “since it costs about what you’d spend altogether anyway.”

The discussion ended. I gave her no more gift ideas.

On Christmas morning she handed me a thick envelope.

I opened the envelope and then opened the card. A wad of cash fell out. Inside the card she had written, “ Enjoy your 2 -seater ride!”

Ecstatic doesn’t begin to describe my feelings or my love for her at that moment. “Just don’t get killed,” she warned.

Ever since Indycar created their 2-seat stretch race car, I had wanted to ride in it. Now my opportunity was just months away.

I reserved a spot for early May. The morning of my ride she was quiet, fearing the worst as she tended to do. She left for work with just a nod and a reminder to call after the ride. I was about to make a joke that she would definitely get a call from someone, but thought better of it.

I arrived at the Speedway and joined the line at registration. “Please read and sign the waiver,” the girl at the table recited the mantra to each person as she handed out clipboards. No problem. I had signed waivers to get into the pits at races, so this would just take a second. But, wait.. there must be 10 pages here! Reading War and Peace would take less time than it would to get through than this waiver.

Paragraph 3, Page 1 contained the words “maimed or killed”…I checked the next page-“maimed or killed” ,the next “maimed or killed”. The phrase repeated itself throughout.

Scanning the rest of the document, I did not see a sentence saying, “I realize I am about to do something really stupid… “

After signing the waivers we went into a trailer to change into drivers’ suits. I learned that most riders were cashing in a birthday or Christmas gift as well. We had a great time sharing stories about races and tracks until it was time to head to the pits.

This is a very organized operation. The cars are lined up, head scarves, helmets, and gloves get distributed efficiently, the riders are assigned a car and order.

I watched with envy as the other riders got in the cars and returned with a huge smile on their faces. Finally it was my turn. I stepped into the cocoon and lowered myself into the seat. A Mini-Cooper seems spacious now. The crew strapped me in, asking me to scoot lower. Any lower and I wouldn’t be able to see anything. After they lowered my helmet visor, there was an eerie silence and a feeling of isolation for a brief moment before the engine started. Here we go!

We accelerated down pit road. It was fast but not too fast. I’m thinking, “This isn’t so bad”. Then we got on the track. Ignore my previous thought. Pushed to the back of the seat and holding on to the handles, I looked down the backstretch. It didn’t seem so long now. When we turned left I slid to the right side of the tub then back again as the car straightened. I was screaming for joy!

We passed the pits to begin the full speed lap. How do the drivers ever find their pits, I wondered, looking at the blur on my left. On this lap, I noticed that each turn, although supposedly identical, had a different look. The view on the right is white wall, close enough to touch.

In less than three minutes, it was over. The crew unstrapped me and I climbed from the car, wearing the same large grin I saw on the people who went before me. Of course, I dutifully called to tell her how great it was. I’m not sure she understood a word I said.

Just over a month later, the monster appeared. It would not go away; it only exerted its will over her more and more. There were small, short-lived victories, but after four months the monster won. Somehow she knew the 2-seater ride would be her final gift to me. I know it made her happy to give it to me, as we both took great joy in exchanging gifts. It was a reluctant gift given out of unconditional love.

Pre Race Notes

Good morning from IMS. Some things to note heading into this afternoon’s race:

TV Coverage-

ABC 3:30 EDT Green flag at 3:50

Bonus Point Watch- through Barber

Josef Newgarden  6

Alexander Rossi    6

Sebastien Bourdais 5

Robert Wickens       5

Will Power                4

Ryan Hunter-Reay   3

Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Jordan King  tied at 1

It’s not surprising that the top three in points have the most bonus points. Power earned another point yesterday with his pole for today’s race.

Another charge to the front for Rahal and Dixon?

Rahal and Dixon have had to come back through the field in every race this year either due to poor qualifying, penalties, or track incidents. From their ninth row starting spots, they may have a tough time today. A different pit strategy might help them. This has not been a race with a lot of yellow flags the last three years.

The Schmidt-Peterson Factor

Keep an eye on Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe. This team started the season strong and has become a cohesive unit. Their top six starting spots bode well for good results today. A first win for Wickens is not out of the question.

Has Andretti Lost Their Momentum?

Andretti Autosport had a difficult day in qualifying. Perhaps most disappointing was Rossi not making the Fast Six. Is this a temporary hiccup in their season? I expect them to be very strong when 500 practice starts Tuesday.

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.

 

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.

True Racer- McLaren Movie Review

Just one more lap before lunch. Bruce McLaren, always looking for more from himself and his car, wanted to try a different downforce level.. He left the pits but didn’t return that day in June 1970, ending a meteoric rise from champion driver to successful car builder. A view of the accident scene comes at the end of the documentary, McLaren, a film making sporadic appearances in the United States. I had the good fortune to see it Thursday night.

The film chronicles McLaren’s life in chronological order from his humble beginnings in New Zealand. Bruce knew he wanted to be a race car driver by the time he was 5 years old. When he was nine, he developed Perthes disease, a disease that causes the head of the femur to lose blood flow and die. As a result his left leg was shorter than his right one. McLaren was bedridden for nearly 2 years as doctors tried to strengthen the hip and lengthen his left  leg.  While the hip got stronger, his leg did not get longer. Mclaren walked with a permanent limp.

He went to Europe to drive F2 in 1958 and won his first Formula 1 race the following year, the U.S. GP at Sebring. At the time McLaren was the youngest F1 winner in history, a distinction he held for 44 years. He drove as a teammate to Jack Brabham for Cooper.  Brabham won the World Championship the following year and McLaren finished second.   Both drivers  left Cooper and eventually each built their own Formula 1 cars.

McLaren’s greatest success came in the Can Am series.  In 1969, McLaren-built cars won every race on the Can Am schedule. The three McLaren  cars swept the podium twice that year.  Dennnis Hulme and Mark Donohue were McLaren’s teammates that year.

The movie contains interviews with many racing greats including Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, and Chris Amon. McLaren’s family also appears, lending a personal view of the man. We also hear from several engineers and mechanics, mainly Robin Heard, who came to work for McLaren after helping design the Concorde supersonic airplane.  Many of the airplane’s aerodynamic principles, and some of the same materials, were applied to the cars.

My favorite segments were the vintage racing footage. The race films contain shots of Graham Hill, James Hunt, Jack Brabham, and many other drivers of that era.  We see Le Mans in 1966, Monaco in 1958, Sebring in 1959, and Spa in 1968.  Several things in the films stood out. Grand prix races used to start 3 wide and both F1 and F2  raced at the same time just as sports cars race today. It was great to see the traditional Le Mans start again, with drivers sprinting across the track to their cars. How would that work today?

Several McLaren home movies brought a personal touch to McLaren’s life. He would send film of his European races home and the family and their friends gathered to watch. I also enjoyed the movies of Bruce with his wife and young daughter.

McLaren is one of the best documentaries I have seen on any subject. It is a new, important contribution to preserving racing history. I’m hoping the movie returns in general release. Had there been a second showing last night, I might have stayed for it.  Look for its return, and go see it.

Indycar News-All Seats Accounted For; Rolex24 Photo Gallery

Mikhail Aleshin returns to Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in the #7 car. There was some doubt about his filling this seat. Seems he had been talking to Trevor Carlin about driving for him, but Carlin is going to wait at least another year before joining the series. Funding apparently was not the issue.

Sage Karam will be back for the Indianapolis 500 in the DRR entry. Karam was having a great race last year, moving up to 6th place before his contact with another car put him in the wall.

7-Eleven returns to the series as an associate sponsor for Tony Kanaan, highlighted in four races- St. Pete,Long Beach, Indy, and Texas. 7-Eleven was a long time sponsor of Kanaan’s in his years at Andretti.

Tim Cindric will be the strategist for Josef Newgarden in his first year at Penske. This move appears to be an attempt to help Newgarden have a comfortable first year with Penske. Simon Pagenaud struggled in his first year with the team, and it may be that Team Penske learned from his struggles.

Starting February 1, Firstone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ads began running in the Tampa Bay Times. The ads have run daily. I noticed them last year as well. This is a city that really gets behind the race. Each year I have been here local support seems to have increased.

Rolex24 Postscript and Gallery

First, after watching a replay of the late race incident between Ricky Taylor and Fillipe Albuquerque, I stand corrected in what I stated in my last post. Taylor was in no way at fault, and I agree with the no call by the stewards.  Enjoy the photos.

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