Indycar News and Thoughts – Change is in the Air

 

Sad news to begin with. Former Indy 500 Bill Puterbaugh (photo above), 81, died October 9. He ran in three 500s, finishing 7th and winning Rookie of the Year in 1975. His next best finish was 12th in his last 500 in 1977.  He ran mostly sprint cars and raced in 30 Indycar races with mixed results. Puterbaugh first came to the Speedway in 1968 and attempted to qualify seven straight years before getting in the race. His most famous qualifying run was the first one on Bump Day 1968, when he ran in near total darkness to complete a run which was too slow to make the field.

Schedule News- The schedule will be announced this morning. I  learned yesterday that Watkins Glen will not be on the schedule next year. The track wanted to move the race from Labor Day, but Indycar and track president Michael Printup couldn’t find a mutually agreeable time. Sounds like the Fontana situation all over again. I conced that labor Day weekend is not the ideal time for a race, but I really enjoyed going to the Glen the last two years. the area is beautiful, and the track is very fast and racy.  Odds are Portland will make its return to the schedule next Labor Day.

I put this solely on Indycar for not being flexible. There is a large enough gap in the schedule to fit Watkins Glen in. I can’t see saving a spot for Mexico. With no Mexican driver in the series currently, that race will not draw as well as some might think.

They didn’t ask me, but…If Portland is on the schedule, why not have it the weekend after Labor Day then everyone can drive down to Sonoma for the finale?

The one positive for the schedule as it looks like it will end up is that teams won’t go to Pocono, then St. Louis, then back to Watkins Glen.

IMSA Shocker- Wednesday Team Penske announced the completion of their DPi team competing in IMSA next year. Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron were previously set in one car and Helio Castroneves was confirmed for the other one. Castroneves’ teammate is Ricky Taylor, this year’s co-champion with his brother Jordan. There had been rumblings about this move, but I’m still surprised Ricky would leave the family team after the great season they just had. If it results in Taylor getting as Indy 500 ride next year, then it’s worth it.

The huge shock, however, was one of the extra drivers for the endurance races.  Simon Pagenaud was not a surprise, but the addition of Graham Rahal was. Rahal has done the best driving of his career the last two years in Indycar and I guess Penske finally took notice. Rahal drove for Michael Shank Racing in the Rolex24 this year.

Kanaan to Foyt- This is old news by now, but I think this is an interesting pairing. TK is the best driver Foyt has had for a while, and bringing engineer Eric Cowden with him might help the team. As lost as Foyt Racing was with the Chevy aerokit, I hope they can get a handle on the new universal kit quickly. No word on the driver of the 4 car yet, but both Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz are in the running for the seat.

Oval Qualifying Changes?  Some drivers have called for modifying the qualifying procedure for ovals.  Currently, order is determined by blind draw. It seemed that Will Power always went last, giving him the advantage of a fully rubbered in track. Early runners are dealing with the tire compounds of support series and sometimes the heat of a sun drenched track. Some suggestions have been qualifying in inverse order of final practice times, which I favor. Others have suggested a knockout format like the road/street courses use. I think knockout qualifying on an oval could be risky to equipment. I’m not sure anything will change, but we shall see when the rules come out for 2018.

I will post my comments on the schedule after it is announced tomorrow. I hope to put out another column or two before migrating to winter headquarters around the first of November.

 

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Book Review- Kiss the Bricks by Tammy Kaehler

Kate Reilly- full time race driver, part time sleuth, hopes for a drama free May as she prepares for her second Indianapolis 500. As usual, drama finds her. She sets fast time on the first day of practice, duplicating the accomplishment of another female driver thirty years ago.  That driver, P.J Rodriguez, died before Pole Day in a mysterious fall from the roof of her downtown hotel. Rodrigueaz’s family asks Kate to help them  find out if her death was  suicide or  murder?

Kiss the Bricks is the fifth book in Tammy Kaehler’s Kate Reilly Racing Mystery series. Usually Reilly drives sports cars, but moves to the Indycar series for this adventure.

The first third of the book alternates between the present day and May of 1987. We learn of the events that lead to P. J.’s death and how Kate gets involved in attempting to find out what happened.  P. J.’s family tells Kate their suspicions and asks for Kate’s help. Her reputation as an amateur sleuth precedes her.

With the help of her grandfather and her PR rep, Kate sets about identifying suspects and motives. They come to the chilling conclusion the culprit may be someone very close to her own race team. The answer becomes clear after the race as activity at the track slowly winds down.

Another complication for Kate is an envelope her grandfather gives her early in the month. He explains it makes clear some family issues that Kate needs to know. He requests she not open it until after the race, so she can focus on the most important event of the year. She resists the temptation to open a few times.

I found this book fun to read. It presents a great look at what a driver’s May is like off the track as well as on it. May seems incredibly busy with media appearances, sponsor meet and greets, and oh yeah, prepping for the 500. I was most impressed by the author’s portrayal of how isolated the drivers are while in the car. Each driver is focused on his/her  car and his/her performance, and only mentions others when they do something that might interfere with the team’s plan.  Drivers rely on their spotters and crew chiefs to know what is happening in the race.

This is only the second Kate Reilly book I’ve read, and I will be reading the others. Kaehler writes great racing stories with a murder mystery thrown in. Her books are available on Amazon.

Race Week-My Love/Hate Relationship

I both love and hate race week. There is unbridled excitement. By Wednesday people find me annoying. (That late? you’re asking).  There is stress, mainly worrying about the weather, but also getting preparations done in time.

I vow every year to not worry or even listen to anything weather related until Wednesday, and not take a forecast seriously until Thursday. How does that work out?  Well… Monday I might sneak a peek at the weather app and close it quickly.

Tuesday I do the same thing. If I see a sun, my anxiety goes down. A hint of cloud sets me off in a panic. Then Wednesday i became Mr. Meteorology. I start talking like I’m an anchor on the Weather Channel. I really want a full, dry,  uninterrupted race.

It’s not all stress. I have daily rituals leading up to Friday morning. Going to Carb Day helps make the week shorter. Here is a diary of my daily routine, beginning right after qualifications end:

Sunday night:  Come home, watch the qualifying show on dvr, get ready for Monday final practice.

Monday: Glance at weather app, close it quickly, start rain panic no matter what it says. My philosophy- it will get worse. Cut starting lineup from newspaper and start learning positions.

Tuesday: Glance at weather app, get in more panic mode, locate rain gear. make supply list for the track and our pre-race party.

Wednesday: Study weather forecast and start freaking out. Where did the sun icon go? Bring it back! Shop for supplies. Place race ticket in ticket holder and place in car. I’m negotiating to have this ceremony live-streamed.

Thursday: More party preparations. Start tracking the monsoon heading this way from China. The timing always looks bad. Await the arrival of friends coming in for Carb Day.

Friday: Carb Day! the weather looks good for the whole weekend! Maybe. Celebrate the day and go to the Burger Bash at night.

Saturday: Legends Day. Vintage cars on track, drivers’ meeting, hanging out anticipating the next day.  A sense of resignation sets in that whatever weather happens is what I deal with. Get ready for pre-race party.  Get three hours of sleep, then

RACE DAY!

Usually, it’s not as bad as i think it will be, but I’m sure I’ve subtracted 20 years from my life worrying about getting the race in. One year I will enjoy race week without any stress. That will be the year I am not going.

 

 

Sebring Wrap-Up: Please Help Me, I’m Falling. Taylor, Cadillacs Stay Strong; GTLM Surprise

I need help. I am slowly rekindling my love for sportscar racing. The IMSA Weather Tech Sportscar Championship is growing on me.  Will I go to more races?  Probably not. I have a full Indycar schedule.  However, I will pay more attention to them when they race with Indycar.

This year’s 65th running of the Sebring 12 hour race was a fascinating event. Going in, I was wondering if the Cadillacs would be as strong here as they were at Daytona. This track is very different than Daytona. The results were basically the same.  Wayne Taylor Racing (below) swept the 36 hours of Florida while Action Express finished second again.  The difference was Taylor dominated and won without any last minute controversy.0318171253i

In GTLM, the Ganassi Ford GT’s were expected torepeat their Daytona victory, but issues allowed the #3  Corvette (below)  to prevail. The Corvettes struggled at Daytona, and the #4 Vette retired around the midpoint of this  race.0316171534

Why am I starting to like this series? I used to follow sportscars as avidly as I do Indycar when I was younger. I began to focus on Indycar more and sportscars got pushed to the side.  I like the diversity of engines and chassis. I like the fact that a driver who has no chance at the overall win can still win his class. I like that there are lots of cars racing at once.  I’m finding the races getting easier to follow.

Sebring- the town, the track, the race- is my favorite sportscar event. The track is old and looks very similar to how lit looked in the 60’s.  Fan amenities were somewhat improved this year. They could use a couple more video boards.  Club 12  was a nice addition. It had a full bar and a very nice menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I explored some viewing spots for the first time this year. Last year I discovered the turn 7 grandstand just outside the hotel. This stand is on the hairpin with a view of the straight leading to the turn and a good view of the straight as they exit the turn. I crossed the bridge and walked down to Turn 9. From the mound inside the hairpin, you get a nice look at the approach to the turn, then watch the quick acceleration toward turn 8. Walking toward Turn9 and looking back to the hairpin is an action-packed place to watch the race.  I will spend more time there next year. My goal is to get all the way around the track both inside and out. I may need to live a long time.

The fans at Sebring are a mix of serious race fans and serious party fans. They remind me of the 60’s at IMS.  I also saw some incredible camping setups. One site had a mini kitchen set up complete with a sink with running water.  Many sites are made to resemble living rooms. Campers cover virtually every inch of the grounds. The gates open Wednesday, the day before the event begins. Many fans camping arrive several days before and wait for the track to open.

In just three short years, Sebring has earned a place on my annual calendar. I ran into more Indycar fans that I know this year as well. I have also made some friends among the sportscar crowd. It doesn’t hurt the appeal of the race that some Indycar drivers participate. St. Pete and Rolex 24 winner Sebastien Bourdais came up just a bit short in his bid for the Florida sweep.

I recommend a trip to the Sebring 12 hour. It is a fun weekend. Endurance racing has always had an intrigue for me. I am glad I can watch it unfold in person.

Greatest 33 Non-winners update- I have narrowed the field to 48 drivers. I am compiling stats for them and will have the list out next week so both my readers can create their grids.

 

It’s Not Where You Start…..

 

A wild weekend ended with a surprise winner.  Street course winners don’t come from last to win.  Sebastian Bourdais showed strength in practice, but a qualifying crash put him last on the starting grid. I thought he had a strong enough car to salvage a top 10. He won by more than nine seconds, passing Simon Pagenaud for the lead on lap 37 and not looking back. He was out of the lead only for pit stops the rest of the way.

The first part of the race was one of the best street races I’ve seen. Multiple passes, including two for the lead, close racing throughout the field, and two caution periods in the first 30 laps helped make it quite a show.  The caution free last part caused the field to get quite strung out with an occasional battle here and there. Overall, it was an above average St. Pete race.

I don’t think Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball  will be having dinner together anytime soon. They collided at Watkins Glen last year and had a first lap incident yesterday. I’m still not sure who was at fault yesterday.  It just seems Kimball is becoming a part of more than his share of these crashes in tight corners.

Power outage.  Will Power won the pole Saturday and was a strong favorite to win the race. He took the lead at the start, but was passed by James Hinchcliffe soon after the restart on lap 5. He made an early pit stop due to a  flat-spotted tire, hit an air hose on the way out, resulting in a drive through penalty. He worked his ay back to third before the engine began to sour.

He is still in a better position than he was after last year’s race, where he didn’t start yet almost won the championship.  Last year he left St. Pete with the single point for winning the pole. Do not count him out yet.

Other great drives yesterday- Rookie Ed Jones finished tenth, running a very steady, clean race. It was a very nice debut for his first Indycar race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay lost his rear brakes in the morning warmup and crashed hard into the tires in turn 10. The accident reinforced everyone’s concerns about the brakes during the race, but except for Spencer  Pigot, there didn’t appear to be much of an issue. Hunter-Reay finished fourth, passing teammate Takuma Sato late.

Speaking of Pigot, before the brake issue, which happened as he entered the pits, he was having a great day. He moved to the top 10 quickly and was in position for a solid finish. He seems much more comfortable in his second year with the team.

Honda is definitely back in the game. They led all the practice sessions, just missed the pole, then dominated the race standings. There goes my theory that 2017 would be a 2016 rerun.

The Event

The crowd seemed to be stable, about the same as last year. It was wonderful to see and spend time with so many friends. It was just a great feeling to be back at an Indycar event.

The biggest issue was entering the track. I understand the need for security checks. This year the system was very inefficient, causing waiting lines of more than an hour according to some reports. I arrived later than I normally do on Saturday, a tale for another day, and was shocked at how long it took to move through the entrance. Some team staff were furious at having to wait to get in since they carried nothing with them. One said they were late for a meeting. They simply need more bag checkers and an express line for those with no bags. This was the worst it has been here.

The volunteer staff did their usual fine job. They are friendly and helpful. St. Petersburg is getting more and more community buy-in for the race. The mayor is fully behind the event.

Thursday I head to Sebring for my favorite sportscar race of the year, the 12 hours of Sebring.  I will be tweeting all weekend and have a report next week. I am anxious to see the midway upgrades they have done. They have also added a showing of the Steve McQueen movie, Le Mans. I think they should show half of it.

ICYMI: St. Pete Preview- Penske Party on the Beach

Opening Race Weekend is finally here. Gosh, it seems like it’s been a long time.  The Firestone Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – green flag Sunday at 12:30 on ABC -again begins the season. This is my fifth time at this race.  I have seen this event grow a lot since my first trip […]

Opening Race Weekend is finally here. Gosh, it seems like it’s been a long time.  The Firestone Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – green flag Sunday at 12:30 on ABC -again begins the season. This is my fifth time at this race.  I have seen this event grow a lot since my first trip here, especially the last two years.

Friday’s practices may tell us how much the Hondas have improved. We will also get to see how Ganassi and Foyt cars are adjusting to their new engines and aero packages. Honda believes they will be better since the same package as last year is mandated for this year. Of course, Chevy has likely made some gains as well. Qualifying will be the main indicator of where Honda stands.

As far as the race, Penske dominates this race. The team has won eight of the twelve races here, including the last two and three of the last four.  I don’t see a change in this trend. One Penske driver is particularly motivated to win this race.  Will Power won the pole last year but missed the race due to what was believed to be a concussion.  Sitting out probably cost him the season title. Look for Will in Victory Lane Sunday. He easily could be joined by two teammates on the podium, though I would not rule out a Honda driver sneaking in there.

I am eager to see how the new push to pass format plays out.  Drivers have 150 seconds total to use as they wish. each push can last up to 15 seconds if they wish. It cannot be used at the start of the race or on restarts except for a restart with 2 laps or fewer left. I hope there isn’t ever a restart that late.  Will starts be more bunched up? I’m glad I’m sitting in Turn 1.

Things that may take a while to adjust to:

Scott Dixon in a blue car

J R Hildebrand in the 21

Josef Newgarden in the 2

A number 4 Foyt car

Bourdais in the 18

 

Great Idea:

Just before I began writing this piece on Wednesday, I saw a tweet from Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports called “Our Starting Lineup”.  It listed the race pit crew by position, their faces placed around a car outline. These guys work hard and it’s great that their team is recognizing them in this way. I hope other teams follow this example.

I will send out reports from the track Friday and Saturday. Let me know if there is any information you’d like me to get and I’ll do my best to get it to you. If you’re going to the race, I hope to meet you if I haven’t yet.

 

ICYMI: St. Pete Preview- Penske Party on the Beach

Opening Race Weekend is finally here. Gosh, it seems like it’s been a long time.  The Firestone Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – green flag Sunday at 12:30 on ABC -again begins the season. This is my fifth time at this race.  I have seen this event grow a lot since my first trip here, especially the last two years.

Friday’s practices may tell us how much the Hondas have improved. We will also get to see how Ganassi and Foyt cars are adjusting to their new engines and aero packages. Honda believes they will be better since the same package as last year is mandated for this year. Of course, Chevy has likely made some gains as well. Qualifying will be the main indicator of where Honda stands.

As far as the race, Penske dominates this race. The team has won eight of the twelve races here, including the last two and three of the last four.  I don’t see a change in this trend. One Penske driver is particularly motivated to win this race.  Will Power won the pole last year but missed the race due to what was believed to be a concussion.  Sitting out probably cost him the season title. Look for Will in Victory Lane Sunday. He easily could be joined by two teammates on the podium, though I would not rule out a Honda driver sneaking in there.

I am eager to see how the new push to pass format plays out.  Drivers have 150 seconds total to use as they wish. each push can last up to 15 seconds if they wish. It cannot be used at the start of the race or on restarts except for a restart with 2 laps or fewer left. I hope there isn’t ever a restart that late.  Will starts be more bunched up? I’m glad I’m sitting in Turn 1.

Things that may take a while to adjust to:

Scott Dixon in a blue car

J R Hildebrand in the 21

Josef Newgarden in the 2

A number 4 Foyt car

Bourdais in the 18

 

Great Idea:

Just before I began writing this piece on Wednesday, I saw a tweet from Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports called “Our Starting Lineup”.  It listed the race pit crew by position, their faces placed around a car outline. These guys work hard and it’s great that their team is recognizing them in this way. I hope other teams follow this example.

I will send out reports from the track Friday and Saturday. Let me know if there is any information you’d like me to get and I’ll do my best to get it to you. If you’re going to the race, I hope to meet you if I haven’t yet.