Change Coming to ECR- New Driver, Team Partnership; Vasser-Sullivan Expands to IMSA

An announcement should come tomorrow (Wednesday) regard Ed Carpenter racing’s car 20 for 2019. Jordan King will not return to the road/street course schedule in the Fuzzy’s car. The team is expected to announce a partnership with Scuderis Corsa, which fielded Oriol Servia in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. Ed Jones, who drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2018, will be introduced as the driver of the shared ride. Ed Carpenter will drive the 20 on all ovals. Jones will drive a third car in the 2019 500.

The partnership with Corsa puts Oriol Servia on the sidelines once again. Servia was instrumental in getting Scuderia Corsa to the 500 last season and was looking to drive for them in a full season effort in 2019. Servia would be a good candidate for the second seat at Carlin.

The Carlin seat is one of two still open. Schmidt=Peterson has an open seat while Robert Wickens continues his recovery.

I will follow up tomorrow afternoon on the details after the announcement.

Vasser-Sullivan Joins Lexus  in IMSA

Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan, who joined forces with Dale Coyne Racing for Sebastien Bourdais’ ride, announced their entry into IMSA. They will field a Lexus in the GT Daytona class. No driver has been named. Vasser said this will not affect the Indycar portion of their program. Indycar owners have been expanding into IMSA at quite a clip lately.

Will Bourdais continue to drive foir Ganassi in the endurance races or will he switch to the Vasser-Sullivan ride?

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Quick Thoughts- Portland Grand Prix

Scott Dixon must have been an alchemist in another life. He turned what looked to be a disastrous points day into gaining points on his closest rivals.

What can I say about the Dale Coyne with Vasser Sullivan racing team and Sebastien Bourdais? Took P1 in Saturday practice, crashed the next lap, pieced a car together to qualify fourth, then finish third in the race. That team will sleep well tonight. This is the best story of the weekend.

It was a tough ending to what had been a great weekend  for Zach Veach. His top ten streak ended. I still look for great things from him next season.

Another great day for Spencer Pigot. He’s another young driver coming into his own. His fourth place finish today and his second place at Iowa show his late season maturity.

The crowd today was the largest I’ve seen for an Indycar race outside of IMS. I hope attendance figures for the weekend are released. Each day was a crowd other tracks would have been thrilled to have on race day.

For a race where not much passing was anticipated, there was a lot of drama and plot twists. Takuma Sato’s two stop strategy paid off. The yellows fell at the right time for him, while others were caught out by them.

Overall, it was a good race.

I believe Robert Wickens has clinched  Rookie of the Year. It shows what a strong season he was having. Continued hope for recovery for him.

Whos Rossi’s Rival?

At the beginning of the season the talk was of a rivalry between Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden. After St. Pete, it was Rossi and Wickens. In mid season it Rossi and everybody. It turns out that the rivalry was Rossi and Scott Dixon. They are the only two realistically with a shot at the title.

The twenty nine point difference between Dixon and Rossi is a good argument to get rid of double points. I don’t think the series needs six drivers eligible to win the championship at the last race unless the points naturally fall that wa

Notes

There is a strong buzz that COTA will be the seventeenth race. The schedule should be announced Tuesday.

After two consecutive  races with huge crowds,  Sonoma will look emptier than usual.

Fernando Alonso will test an Andretti Autosport car at Barber this coming Wednesday.

Look for my full race recap on Wildfire Sports later tonight or tomorrow morning.

 

Bourdais Leads Saturday Practice; Crashes on Next Lap

In two laps that encapsulated Sebastien Bourdais’ season, he went to the top of the charts in Saturday morning’s practice, then crashed into the tire barrier in turn 11 on the next lap. There were about three minutes left in the session, which was red flagged and not resumed. Earlier in the practice period James Hinchcliffe slid into the barriers. The session was clean otherwise.

Graham Rahal had led most of the session until Bourdais took the top speed with a lap of 57.470 seconds. Rahal ended 0.044 seconds behind Bourdais. Among the contenders for the title, Will Power was third, Alexander Rossi fourth, Josef Newgarden ninth, and leader Scott Dixon finished eleventh.

Bourdais’ season has had highs and lows. he won the season opener at St. Pete and the pole at the next race at Phoenix. A pit violation put him to the back of the field. He had a chance to win at Barber, but poor pit strategy pushed him to a fifth place finish. The team has struggled since. The most recent highlight was his brilliant drive from last to sixth at Mid Ohio.

Below are photos of the #18 when it was brought back to the paddock

 

 

I’ll be back here with qualifying quick thoughts later and a full story on Wildfire Sports after that.

Gateway- Therapy for the Indycar Community

The Bommarito 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park could not have come at a better time.  The entire Indycar community- fans, teams, drivers, crews- needs to get right back to a race after last Sunday.  When Dan Wheldon lost his life in Las Vegas in 2011, it was the season finale. That made the pain worse as we all had to wait until the following spring to get back to a track.

In 2015, after Justin Wilson’s accident, Sonoma was the following week.  It felt comforting to be back  at the track so quickly and to be with many Indycar friends. I remember the subdued tone to the paddock that Friday at Sonoma.  I’m keeping Robert Wickens in my thoughts still, but I will feel better when I get to the track Friday.

Friday the paddock again may not have its usual frenetic short weekend buzz, but by Saturday things should get back to normal. Once the green flag drops everyone will focus on the race. There is still a tremendous fight for the season championship going on. Scott Dixon will try to extend his shrinking lead over Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, and Will Power.

The Bommarito Group is expecting another huge crowd this year. To address some issues from last year’s event, they have undertaken a $1.1 million project. A new entrance, wider roadways inside, and more parking are just some of the items added to help fans have an easier time at the track.

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Part of the tremendous crowd at Gateway Motorsports Park last year. Photo: Mike Silver

 

Iowa or Phoenix?

The big question is will we see a race like we saw at Phoenix with no passing or an action packed race like Iowa? The Gateway track sits between those two distance wise. The banking more resembles Phoenix, as does the narrowness of the racing surface. Perhaps the shorter distance and the aero tweaks since Phoenix will make for a better race. After Sebastien Bourdais tested here, he said he thought a pass could be made one on one, but passing would be difficult in a group of cars. That could prevent the leader from getting away from whomever is chasing him if he has trouble getting through lapped traffic. Rossi is the only driver who has consistently been able to pass cars on difficult tracks this year. Bourdais has also shown the ability to pass to a lesser degree.

Chevy or Honda?

Honda cars have won the last three oval events despite a Chevy winning the pole. I suspect that is what will happen Saturday. The Chevy cars have not been great in traffic on ovals, while some  Hondas seem to be able to work around slower cars easier. Hondas also appear to be getting better fuel mileage. In a normal year, which this hasn’t been, I wold this should be a Chevy track. But then,  Pocono and Texas should have been also.

Can Dixon Hang On?

This will be the week Dixon extends his lead. I don’t think it will grow by much, but he will finish ahead of the three drivers chasing him. I’m not sure one of the contenders will win Saturday’s race. I think Dixon will leave St. Louis with a lead big enough to hold through Portland next weekend and be the man to catch going to the Sonoma finale.

Will Veach Continue His Late Season Run?

Zach Veach has finished in the top ten the last three races and should make it four at Gateway. Veach also had a fourth place at Long Beach. He sounds very confident and is someone to watch for the rest of the year. Veach has shown some flashes of good driving which have been spoiled either by on track missteps or pit fires.

Notes

Gabby Chaves returns to the number 88 Harding racing entry this weekend. Chaves began the season as Harding’s regular driver, but Conor Daly stepped into the car in Toronto. Daly gave the team its best qualifying spot and finish there and also drove at Mid Ohio and Pocono as the team looks for developmental help.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will James Hinchcliffe as their only entry this weekend. The #6 car of Robert Wickens will return at Portland with a driver to be named.

Winner?

This is a tough one to call, but I’m going to say Marco Andretti breaks his long drought. I have a perfect record this year (all wrong), so don’t bet the house on this.

 

 

 

Quick Thoughts on Mid Ohio

I am so impressed with the drivers that have come into the series the last three years. It was an impressive win for Alexander Rossi, and a good drive to second for Robert Wickens.

Rossi’s fuel saving drive was Dixon-like.

Scott Dixon is now 46 points ahead of Rossi, who leaps to second. Rossi expressed confidence he has time to take the lead.

Disappointed to see Max Chilton not take advantage of his sixth place starting spot.

Conor Daly ran another good race for Harding. A shame he ran out of fuel on the last lap. If a team needs to develop a car, Daly is the driver they want.

The attendance was the best I’ve seen at Mid Ohio since my first year there in 2008.

Sebastien Bourdais put on quite a show coming from last to a top ten on a track where passing is difficult. Not many of his position gains were in the pits.

Dixon did what he needed to do, hang close and get another top 5.

The cloudy skies and cooler temperatures allowed more grip contributing to the surprisingly caution free race..

My more detailed race report will be up no later than tomorrow morning on

wildfireradiosports.com

 

 

A Home Game for SPM Drivers- Honda Indy Toronto Preview

Photo above from Honda Indy Toronto website

The Verizon Indycar series makes its only trip outside the United States this weekend in Toronto. James Hinchcliffe gets to race at home coming off his victory in Iowa. Teammate Robert Wickens also can claim Toronto as his home track. Look for great results from this pair this weekend.  With Zachary Claman DeMelo also in the field, this is the first time in several years that three Canadian drivers have been in this race.

Indycar has had a long history at Exhibition Place beginning in 1986. The race was off the calendar in 2008, but returned the next year following the merger. This was one of the venues where double headers took place in 2013 and 2014.  Michael Andretti won at Toronto seven times, including three sets of back to back wins in 1991 and 92, 1994 and 95, and 2000 and 2001.

Active drivers who have won previously are Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, and  Scott Dixon. Power leads active drivers with three wins. Newgarden and Dixon each have won twice. Dixon swept the 2013 doubleheader for his two victories.

The event has the buzz of Indy about it, making it a fun race to attend. After track activity, there is Toronto to explore. This race is definitely worth a trip. Public transportation makes it easy to get to.

Does Honda Street Course Domination Continue?

Hondas have dominated on street circuits this season. Power has had the strongest Chevy on the streets with two seconds and a seventh place finish. He has qualified second twice and third once. Newgarden has not qualified well and although he has three top ten finishes, he hasn’t really been a factor in any of the street events.

Honda has won the pole for all four street races.  Alexander Rossi has won two poles.  This trend should continue. Hondas seem to like tracks with slow corners and short straightaways.

A Great Weekend for the Home Team?

The momentum SPM and Hinchcliffe have from winning Iowa and Honda’s strength on this type of track point to a great weekend for the team. Robert Wickens excelled at St. Pete and is one of the favorites to win his first career Indycar race Sunday.  Wickens has been in contention in most races this season and will be a factor on race day.

Indy 500 2018 190

Robert Wickens is one of the favorites for his hometown race. Photo: Mike Silver

Can Dixon Extend His Points Lead?

We are in the part of the season where points are as important as who wins the race. Dixon’s big lead suffered a slight drop last Sunday, but not enough to put his spot in jeopardy. It would be a shock if he had two bad races in a row. I’m not sure if he’ll extend his lead, but he may have a different runner-up chasing him to Mid-Ohio.

Is the Duel Back On?

My picks- Rossi on pole and Wickens winning the race. In a perfect world, they will both start on the front row. Rossi and Wickens could develop into a great rivalry with their different driving styles. Rossi has gained a reputation for his aggressive, unapologetic style on track, while Wickens drives steadily and doesn’t push the envelope.

Daly to drive for Harding

Conor Daly will drive the 88 Harding car this weekend, replacing Gabby Chaves. In a statement from Harding the team states they are looking to audition drivers for a second car next year and want some fresh input on the car. They are also looking at some Indy Lights drivers. Chaves will be back in the car at some point this season has a contract for 2019 with Harding.

Look for my Toronto recap on wildfirradiosports.com early next week. I will catch up on Indycar news in this space mid week, and I plan to have a feature story on a n historic turning point in 500 history.

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.