Some Off Season Thoughts

The first week of the off season brought the exciting news that Harding racing will partner with Steinbrenner Racing in 2019. The new Harding Steinbrenner Racing team has signed rookies Pato O’Ward, 2018 Indy Lights champion, and Indy lights runner-up Colton Herta. Very few details other than the driver announcements are known at this time. There is a technical partnership with Andretti Autosport which will provide shocks, dampers, and engineering help.

The big question is which engine will Harding Steinbrenner use? Harding had Chevrolet power in 2018, and Andretti is a Honda team. For these teams to work together, the engine needs to be the same. If HSR goes with Honda, would that rule out a possible third car at Rahal letterman Lanigan Racing?

One of the greatest things about this new team is that the two team owners come from outside of racing. My friend Steve Wittich wrote an excellent article for Trackside Online about how Indycar needs diversity in its ownership. I hope we see more owners from outside racing. they should provide a fresh perspective on the business of racing.  You can find his article on Trackside Online.com. It is a site worth subscribing to.

New Title Sponsor?

There has been no word on a new series title sponsor. Things have gone rather quiet about who it will be. That could mean it’s wrapped up ready to be announced, or Indycar is still searching. It would have been good to have an announcement at Sonoma, and have some sort of handing over ceremony to thank Verizon for their sponsorship.

The Mysterious Third OEM

Is there someone ready to jump in for 2021? There has been some talk of one or two manufacturers, with one name mentioned more than others, but again, things seem very quiet on the new engine front right now.

McLaren News in November?

We may not know Mclaren’s plans until November. It would be great to have McLaren in Indycar, but this is turning into racing’s version of General Hospital. First Honda says they will not help Mclaren, then reports have come out saying yes they still might. Alonso has not made a decision. My guess he is in for the 500 only. Stoffel Vandoorne, considered a candidate for the seat when Alonso doesn’t drive, is rumored to be close to having a contract in Formula E. That could mean McLaren will be here for the 500 only as well.   Stay tuned.

Coyne’s Car 19

Dale Coyne has talked to some former Formula 1 drivers about driving the 19 car next year. he continues his quest to have one driver for the entire season in that ride. Apparently neither Zachary Claman De Melo or Pietro Fittipaldi will return. Too bad. They both have some potential to be decent drivers.

October Coming Attractions

Next month I have several columns planned for here and on Wildfire Sports.

A review of Born Racer.

A book review of Gentleman, Start Your Engines.

Look for  another month of May review via the official program for that year.

Commentary on off season news and the big announcements that could be coming will be posted as needed. In addition to a title sponsor, I am most interested to see which races will be on NBC network. I’m guessing there will be a lot in May and very early June. They didn’t ask me (again) but I think one Detroit race would be enough.

Look for a column on things Indycar might want to change for 2019.

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The 2019 Indycar Schedule; News and Comments

Some thoughts on the Indycar schedule released today:

I like that the huge gap between the first and second race is gone. Having three weeks between Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is probably more appropriate. It allows for testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at a time closer to the 500.

I hope the three weeks between Portland and the Laguna Seca final is just a one year arrangement. IMSA races at Laguna Seca September 15.

Team members have two three week stretches of races plus the four week grind of May and the Detroit doubleheader.

Will Barber return to its traditional date next year? Easter falls on the usual Barber weekend necessitating the change.

I’m excited that Indycar is going to Circuit of the Americas. My first though when I went there for the inaugural Formula 1 race was  that it would be a good track for Indycar.  My concern is attendance. COTA is a huge property. Like IMS, what would be a decent crowd at most places will make the track seem empty. F1 is the only series that has had good attendance in Austin.

While I’m sad to see one less oval on the schedule, I’m happy that Iowa will again be a Saturday night race. That track was made for Indycars on Saturday night.

Attendance at Laguna Seca could also be a concern with IMSA holding an event the weekend before. These two series need to work together and hold joint events.

Television Schedule Still to Come

We know all, the races will be on an NBC network. The question is, which race on which network? I will go out on a huge limb here and say the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Seven other races will appear on the big network. My guessses:

St. Pete- season opener; introduces audience to Indycar

Long Beach- historic track and event

Indycar Grand Prix- prelude to the 500; promotes the 500

The 500

Road America- another classic track; spectatcular scenery

Iowa- Saturday night racing showcases Indycar roots

Pocono- another 500 race; usually one of the best races of the year

Laguna Seca- season finale allows season recap and promotes 2020 season.

I’m sure I have one correct. I left off the Detroit doubleheader. With a limited number of network appearances, putting half of that schedule in a four week span creates a large gap until the next network race.

Harding’s Future?

Last weekend at Portland Harding racing announced that 2018 Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward and Lights runner up Colton Herta will drive in the Indycar finale at Sonoma. Herta tested with Harding earlier this season and O’Ward will test with the team Thursday.

We might be seeing the future of Harding Racing begin. Gabby Chaves, who began the year with Harding and has a contract for next year, may be out of a ride.

Talk still is going on about MclAren taking over harding and some uinvolvement with Andretti Autosport. Both O’Ward and Herta drove for Andretti in Indy Lights.

However this situation turns out, I admire Mike Harding for putting a team together, hiring good experienced people, and running the entire season with older equipment. This was a low budget operation. Small teams like this are what the series needs more of.

Fred Watch

On Wednesday, weather permitting, Fernando Alonso is scheduled to test an Indycar at Barber Motorsports Park. He will drive an Andretti Autosport car, the one Carlos Munoz drove in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Alonso has not announced where he will drive next year. The Indycar schedule has no conflicts with his WEC commitments for 2018. The WEC opener for 2019 is the same weekend as Portland.

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.

A New Indy Lights Plan- Financial Incentives for New Teams; More Prize Money Among Enhancements

On the heels of Mazda’s announcement yesterday that they are ending their sponsorship of the Road to Indy after 2018, Indycar and Andersen Promotions unveiled a five year plan to strengthen Indy Lights. The plan includes budget reductions, discounts for new teams, more prize money, and a revised Indycar licensing program.

The financial incentives include reduced tire costs, $100 less per set of Cooper Tires; a reduced engine lease with the engine locked in to 4,500 miles. The  engine will be the same AER powerplant, just not badged by Mazda. The chassis is guaranteed to be in use for three more seasons and possibly one more after that. The reductions should reduce a team’s budget to less than a million dollars.

Prize money increases include $1.1 million to the season champion, $50,00 to the winner of the Freedom 100, and a per race prize increases to the top three finishers. Cash awards were the main concern after yesterday’s announcement.

The plan also includes a revised licensing plan for Indy Lights drivers. The top three finishers in a season are eligible to obtain an Indycar license. A driver com- peting in two full seasons of Indy Lights and finishing in the top five is also eligible.

New teams have added incentives. They will receive six free sets of tires, free entry to a two day test at Mid Ohio, and a free set of Motegi wheels.

This is a big step in the right direction. Indycar and Andersen Promotions worked together to devise this plan. What it doesn’t do is give any incentive to an existing Indycar team to start an Indy Lights team. That is the one thing that would solidify the future of Indy Lights.