Alonso Leaves F1; Next Stop Indycar?

Above: Fernando Alonso at the 2017 Indianapolis 500

Two time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso announced this morning he will leave Formula 1 in 2019. The announcement comes a day after Scott Dixon signed a new multi-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing. It ends months of speculation about Alonso’s future plans. He will likely continue to drive in WEC events next year and is assumed to be participating in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, if not the entire Indycar season. In 2018, there were no conflicting dates between WEC and Indycar.

Alonso has driven for McLaren in Formula 1 since 2015 after failing to win a third title with Ferrari. He won World Championship titles in 2005 and 2006 driving for Renault. Alonso began his F1 career in 2001 with Minardi. McLaren struggled with a Honda engine for two years before switching to Renault power this season. Results have been slightly better.

Today’s retirement from F1 announcement gave no hint of Alonso’s future plans, but indications are McLaren is pursuing an Indycar program for 2019 with Alonso and another driver. McLaren will partner with another team, thought to be Andretti Autosport, whom Alonso drove for in 2017 at the 500, but there is some talk that McLaren may be looking at a Chevy team. Ed Carpenter Racing has been mentioned as a possibility.

What is the impact of Alonso in Indycar? The series would gain some prestige having a former fairly recent champion on the grid. The worldwide viewing audience will likely increase, although his presence may not do much for the U.S. viewership. Alonso would become the fourth former F1 driver in Indycar, joining Takuma Sato, Sebastien Bourdais, Max Chilton, and Alexander Rossi. In 2012 Indycar also had four former F1 drivers- Rubens Barrichello, Justin Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais, and Takuma Sato.

A possible scenario for Alonso is select Indycar races and a full WEC schedule. Another is that he does both series full time, possibly working in the Daytona 500 as well. But we are getting way ahead of ourselves. He does not at this moment have an Indycar ride. That is the next step before we know where he will race.

The 2019 Indianapolis 500: A Fan’s Dream?

Imagine the race next year featuring Alonso, Tony Stewart, Helio Castroneves, plus all the current veterans and up and coming stars in Indycar. Prior to the race we could see a crazy Bump Day, I expect a bigger entry list next year. It could be one of the best Mays in a long time.

Pocono Update

Harding Racing has changed plans for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono this weekend. Conor Daly will be in the car instead of Zachary Claman DeMelo as was announced yesterday. Daly has driven at Pocono twice. Claman DeMelo is slated to take over the car at Gateway and Portland. A current Indy Lights driver may drive the 88 at Sonoma. This means Gabby Chaves will not return to the schedule this year.

Sage Karam hoped to get enough funding to drive in his home race Sunday, but has run out of time. He hopes to be able to land a ride for Gateway the following weekend.

Look for my Pocono preview on Wildfire Sports Friday.

 

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Dixon Stays Home

Scott Dixon has signed a multi-year deal to remain at Chip  Ganassi Racing. Dixon had considered an offer from McLaren and also had drawn interest from Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, and another team. 2019 will be Dixon’s 18th season at Ganassi, the longest any driver has been with the team. he made his 300th Indycar start at Mid Ohio July 29. Dixon began his Indycar career with PacWest Racing in Champ Car in 2001, then moved to Ganassi for the 2002 season.

Dixon has 44 career wins, third on the all time list behind A. J. Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52). While the length of the contract isn’t known at this time, he should have time to catch Andretti. Dixon currently leads this year’s points, holding a 46 point lead over Alexander Rossi with four races remaining. Winning the the title would be Dixon’s fifth, just two behind Foyt.

Rob Edwards, COO of Andretti Autosport, expressed disappointment but not surprise at the announcement. ” Probably some of the other conversations took too long to come together to the point where Scott needed to make a decision,” he said.

In this afternoons’ teleconference, both Dixon and Ganassi gave a glimpse of how the new deal came about. Dixon talked to Ganassi about a month ago and Dixon told his car owner that they were okay.  He conceded there were “moderate discussions going on” with other teams, but in the end, it was “a fairly straightforward decision.”

“These people gave me the opportunity to start with,” Dixon said.

As for the championship race this season, his approach is to “take each weekend as it is. The worst thing you can do is points racing.” Dixon hopes the missed opportunities at the beginning of the year don’t reflect at the end of the season.

Ganassi thinks Dixon is driving as well in 2018 as he has in his career.

“It was easier for Scott with teammates Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon. It’s tougher now without a champion driver on the team.”

Ganassi said he has no plans to expand the team beyond its current two cars.

Talking about the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono this weekend, Dixon said the new front wing configuration “gives everybody more options,” but will not “fundamentally change things.”

He went on to say he thinks the race will be “similar to last year.”

Dixon said, “I like this year’s style of racing better. ”

On the health of the series, Ganassi said, “It’s in a period where it’s on the uptick,” noting that he has seen Indycar go through up and down cycles. He is very excited about the NBC package.

Dixon added that his PNC sponsorship “speaks volumes about Indycar racing.”

Dixon staying with Chip ganassi racing is also a positive for the series.

Thoughts:

Seeing Dixon at any other team would just not feel right.

I wonder how much sponsor PNC Bank influenced the decision.

Staying with Ganassi means if he wins the title, we likely won’t see a number 1 car next year. Ganassi has been reluctant to have that number on his championship cars. can PNC help here? I think the champion should carry the number 1 the following year.

Some late news items:

Zachary Claman de Melo will drive for Harding Racing at Pocono and Gateway. DeMelo, who drove earlier in the season for Dale Coyne Racing’s shared number 19 car, takes over the 88 car as the team seeks to audition drivers for 2019.

Richmond is looking more likely as the oval to be added to next year’s schedule.

fernando Alonso is making an announcement tomorrow. Is Indycar involved? I may be up late tonight waiting to hear.

 

 

Dixon Stays Home

Scott Dixon has signed a multi-year deal to remain at Chip  Ganassi Racing. Dixon had considered an offer from McLaren and also had drawn interest from Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, and another team. 2019 will be Dixon’s 18th season at Ganassi, the longest any driver has been with the team. he made his 300th Indycar start at Mid Ohio July 29. Dixon began his Indycar career with PacWest Racing in Champ Car in 2001, then moved to Ganassi for the 2002 season.

Dixon has 44 career wins, third on the all time list behind A. J. Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52). While the length of the contract isn’t known at this time, he should have time to catch Andretti. Dixon currently leads this year’s points, holding a 46 point lead over Alexander Rossi with four races remaining. Winning the the title would be Dixon’s fifth, just two behind Foyt.

Rob Edwards, COO of Andretti Autosport, expressed disappointment but not surprise at the announcement. ” Probably some of the other conversations took too long to come together to the point where Scott needed to make a decision,” he said.

In this afternoons’ teleconference, both Dixon and Ganassi gave a glimpse of how the new deal came about. Dixon talked to Ganassi about a month ago and Dixon told his car owner that they were okay.  He conceded there were “moderate discussions going on” with other teams, but in the end, it was “a fairly straightforward decision.”

“These people gave me the opportunity to start with,” Dixon said.

As for the championship race this season, his approach is to “take each weekend as it is. The worst thing you can do is points racing.” Dixon hopes the missed opportunities at the beginning of the year don’t reflect at the end of the season.

Ganassi thinks Dixon is driving as well in 2018 as he has in his career.

“It was easier for Scott with teammates Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon. It’s tougher now without a champion driver on the team.”

Ganassi said he has no plans to expand the team beyond its current two cars.

Talking about the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono this weekend, Dixon said the new front wing configuration “gives everybody more options,” but will not “fundamentally change things.”

He went on to say he thinks the race will be “similar to last year.”

Dixon said, “I like this year’s style of racing better. ”

On the health of the series, Ganassi said, “It’s in a period where it’s on the uptick,” noting that he has seen Indycar go through up and down cycles. He is very excited about the NBC package.

Dixon added that his PNC sponsorship “speaks volumes about Indycar racing.”

Dixon staying with Chip ganassi racing is also a positive for the series.

Thoughts:

Seeing Dixon at any other team would just not feel right.

I wonder how much sponsor PNC Bank influenced the decision.

Staying with Ganassi means if he wins the title, we likely won’t see a number 1 car next year. Ganassi has been reluctant to have that number on his championship cars. can PNC help here? I think the champion should carry the number 1 the following year.

Some late news items:

Zachary Claman de Melo will drive for Harding Racing at Pocono and Gateway. DeMelo, who drove earlier in the season for Dale Coyne Racing’s shared number 19 car, takes over the 88 car as the team seeks to audition drivers for 2019.

Richmond is looking more likely as the oval to be added to next year’s schedule.

fernando Alonso is making an announcement tomorrow. Is Indycar involved? I may be up late tonight waiting to hear.

 

 

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.

2019 Indycar Finale at Laguna Seca

The Verizon Indycar Series announced today that Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca will host the Indycar season finale in 2019. The event is scheduled for September 20-22  Indycar raced at the northern California track from1983- to 2003 under CART sanction. Champ Car sanctioned the last race in 2004.

The announcement most likely means that Sonoma will not return to the schedule. Remarks by Sonoma Raceway president Steven Page indicated that Sonoma would “seek other opportunities” if the finale moved.  I think it would be difficult for that area to support two Indycar races, even though they would be at opposite ends of the calendar.

Pros and Cons of the Move

Pros

Sonoma’s attendance has been flat the last four years. I have attended since 2014, and didn’t notice an appreciable difference from year to year. Weather Tech Raceway Laguna  Seca has a chance to build a crowd at an historic venue for Indycar. I’m not saying the racing will be better, but the opportunity to build an audience over the next three years is there. The track will be another chance to see how the new aerokit works. Sonoma this year may give us a clue.

Monterey has a larger, closer population base to draw from. The Monterey area is as beautiful as Sonoma, and is closer to more potential fans.

The track has fourteen months to promote. The management should be on the phone to Gateway to find out how to promote a race.

The race is a week later than the finale is later. Keep pushing the season toward October.

Cons

The finale is still on a road course. A road course gives the points leader heading into the event a big advantage. An oval would give the drivers behind more of a chance.

The race will finish late on a Sunday afternoon or early evening in the East, meaning less recognition for the series champion.

If Portland is still the next to last race on labor Day weekend, there will be a three week gap until the final. That is too long to build momentum for the race that could determine the championship.

 

I’m always willing to give tracks a chance. It will be fun watching how this event turns out.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dixon Domino; Other Thoughts

Silly Season began early with talk of new teams, especially McLaren, working with established teams. Now the first driver name has emerged as possibly moving to a new team. To the surprise of many, Scott Dixon’s name came up as the possible diver of the full time McLaren entry should Fernando Alonso only want to do the 500. The story seemed odd at first, but Dixon has confirmed that he has talked to Zak Brown’s team. he has also had talks with Andretti about next year. While everyone assumes McLaren will, partner with Andretti, that may not necessarily be the case.

Honda wants to keep Dixon as one of their drivers. Is Honda completely okay with  McLaren?  Although HPD, the U. S. arm of Honda that provides the engines for Indycar, would be welcoming, is the parent company okay with McLaren and Alonso after the Honda/McLaren debacle in Formula 1? Zak brown has had talks with Chevrolet as well, looking for the best fit for his Indycar team. I think they will definitely be at the 500, but the rest of the season is still a long way from being settled. What Dixon does will determine all other driver movement in the offseason. If Dixon stays at Ganassi, there shouldn’t be a lot of changes in the driver lineup.

There likely will be more intrigue with new teams and this year’s part time teams than with drivers heading to 2019.

An Andretti F1 Team?

Rumors flew the weekend of the Canadian Grand Prix when Michael Andretti and one of his team principals made an appearance. He spent a lot of time with McLaren and Alonso, but there was talk that he was also looking into buying the beleaguered Force India team. Somehow, the conversation turned to Andretti trying to buy McLaren.

I don’t think  buying McLaren is even a remote possibility. Purchasing Force India is probably not happening either. I don’t see how Andretti could swing that deal. The F1 team has huge debts that the new owner needs to assume. Andretti would be better off starting an IMSA team than drowning in the red ink of a Formula 1 entrprise.

The 2019 Schedule

A great weekend at Road America got even better with Sunday’s announcement that the Kohler GP will return for three more years. Next year’s event will be on the same weekend, June 20-23. The race has rapidly become the Crown Jewel of Indycar’s  road course races.

Speculation that Homestead will replace Phoenix as next season’s second race continues to grow. Homestead had the same attendance issues that caused Phoenix to be dropped. It would be putting an oval on the schedule just to replace an oval. Indycar might be better off finding a road course replacement until an oval venue that will be viable is found. The season doesn’t need to begin with two street races.

No word on where next year’s finale will take place. There is strong sentiment for Gateway. If the season ends in St. Louis, where does Sonoma go? It would be difficult for the tracks to just swap places. Does the series go down to just one race in California? I think that would be a mistake.

Bonus Point Watch

Apparently I had way too much time on my hands this week. I have compiled totals of each drivers’ bonus points for the year. I did this as a means to see how the bonus points affect the championship. The maximum bonus a driver can earn at the Indianapolis 500 is 12, nine for the pole, one for leading a lap, and two more for leading the most laps. In all, other races, the maximum is four, one for pole, 1 for leading, and one for leading the most laps. For Detroit’s races, a point also goes to the driver who led the qualifying group that did not include the pole winner. At Indianapolis, the fastest nine qualifiers receive points, with the polesitter getting nine points then one point les for each position.

In the ten races to date, a driver has earned the maximum bonus points eight times. Phoenix and Texas are the only times no driver received all bonus points possible. Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden have earned four bonus points twice, Rossi at Detroit Race 2 and Long Beach; Newgarden at Road America and Barber. Below are the top eight in bonus points through Road America:

Newgarden                       20

Will Power                         16

Rossi                                     13

Sebastien Bourdais          12

Ed Carpenter*                    12

Simon Pagenaud               11

Robert Wickens                  10

Dixon                              9

*Carpenter’s points all earned at Indianapolis 500

Dixon’s first bonus point was qualifying ninth for the Indianapolis 500. Newgarden has earned bonus points in seven races. Bourdais, Rossi,  and Ryan Hunter-Reay  in six each.

While bonus points may be important, consistent finishes lead to championships. They are the reason Dixon leads the championship at the moment.