A December News Blizzard

This is the type of December blizzard I like- nothing to shovel, no running to the grocery store for French toast supplies, just some great Indycar news.

In order of the most recent first:

Michael Shank today (Friday) announced a partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to run Jack Harvey in up to six races this year, including the Indianapolis 500.  In addition to the 500, they will race at St. Pete, Long Beach, and Sonoma. The plan is to try to add 2 more. I would think Mid-Ohio would be one, since that is Shank’s home track. The sixth might be one close in time and distance to another race. Portland and the Indy Grand Prix are two good candidates. Harvey will carry sponsorship from Auto Nation, as he did last year for the last two races, and Sirius XM. Michael Shank is a great owner and a fantastic addition to the paddock. Harvey is a very capable driver who now has several races to learn about Indycar as this program heads toward a full time grid spot.

Andretti Autosport announced Thursday Marco Andretti will be in the 98 car for Bryan Herta and Alexander Rossi will drive the 27 car. Essentially it is just a car number switch as the crews will move with the drivers and the strategists will stay the same. This is the third number switch for Marco. I really don’t see the point of constant number switching. It hasn’t improved his performance in any way. Andrettti only has a couple left for him to try.

In an interview with Chip Ganassi at the PRI show, he said that talks with Danica Patrick concerning a ride at the 500 have stalled. It doesn’t appear that she will have a ride with that team. I think it will be rather difficult for her to find another team to join without a huge sponsor check. Huge should probably be in all caps.

Indycar also had some news about changes coming during race weekends in2018.

Teams will receive extra sets of tires at certain venues. This should encourage more practice laps. There will be a larger difference between the red (soft) tires and the black (hard) tires on road and street courses. I hope we see that. At some tracks I did not see much difference in the wear of the tires. The series and Firestone are also looking at a faster rate of tire degradation, which should help make for better racing.

Late Friday an article in Motorsport cited Jay Frye talking about possibly modifying Indy 500 qualifying points. This cannot come soon enough. I have disliked this system from the beginning. There are simply too many points awarded for qualifying. I would just scrap the entire current system and award one point for the fastest qualifier Saturday and one point for the pole winner Sunday.  Qualifying should not be worth as much as a race.  I hope a new system is put in place by May. I will not bore you with my qualifying format rant or my view on double points. Until May that is.

 

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Jim’s Back Home Again

This is one of four blogs I dreaded needing to write.  Jim Nabors, the iconic, legendary singer of “Indiana” at the Indianapolis 500, died today at 87.  He had been in ill health for quite some time and had not been back to the Speedway for a few years.

Like hearing Tom Carnegie on the PA,, Nabors’ singing proclaimed, ” Race time is near.” When he finished, the command to start engines was the next order of business. The pre race ceremonies, starting with “Taps” and ending with the command, still gives me goose bumps.

Nabors first sang at the 500 in 1972 when Tony Hulman asked him if he wanted to sing 30 minutes before the race began. He assumed he would be singing the National Anthem, but when he discovered it was (Back Home Again in) “Indiana”, he wrote the words on his hands.  A couple years later, he became the annual singer for that revered part of the pre race ceremony.

Jim last sung at the 2014 race. An idea was floated to have him return for the 100th running, but he was too ill to travel.

So another Speedway legend has left us.  I was fortunate to be at the race for each of his performances. No matter who has sung at the race the last few years, and Jim Cornelison was excellent last year, I still hear Jim Nabors’ voice singing.  Rest in Peace, Jim.

 

 

Some Notes and News

The best way to get news to break is to publish your blog. News is sure to come 10 minutes later.   Race Director Brian Barnhart is leaving Indycar to become president of Harding Racing.  Barnhart was a controversial figure, especially in the early IRl days and in the years just after the merger. I thought he did a better job after returning to the position after Beaux Barfield left.  It woiuld be great if Barfield came back. Indycar has not announced a replacement.  More in a few days.

Just a few notes and news on this post-Thanksgiving  day without a shopping name:

My take on Danica Patrick returning to the Indy 500- I have no feelings one way or the other. It’s great that there will be more attention on the race, but I don’t see it helping the series as a whole.  I wish her well in the race. It will be interesting to see how she adapts to a car she’s never driven.  The new aero configuration will be an adjustment for all the drivers. The regular series drivers will have had five races, including an oval, to see how the car handles. That is where Danica’s disadvantage may be.  She does have an outstanding record at IMS with top 10 finishes in 6 of her 7 500’s. Let’s  see if that continues.

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Speaking of women in racing, yesterday’s announcement of a new all women racing series leaves me cold. Racing is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on the same field equally.  The champion gets an F1 test driver contract. There are lots of F1 test, or reserve drivers, who never get a shot at F1.  The only woman to start an F1 race was Lella Lombardi in the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix. This series is a bad idea and somewhat dismissive of female drivers.

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Adrian Fernandez reiterated what many have said about the proposed Indycar race in Mexico City: Without a full time Mexican driver in the series, the race will not succeed. Esteban Gutierrez would be the likely candidate, but there not many seats left. Many of the projected seats are speculation at this point. There is a definite opening at Coyne, a possible second car at Harding, and the road course slot at Carpenter.  The Carpenter seat is not an option. The driver needs to be full time. Juncos and Shank are not running full season programs, so they can’t be considered. My suggestion is to shelve this race until 2019 and work on getting a full time driver from Mexico in the series then.

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Aerokit delivery has begun.  Teams began receiving the kits last week.  I believe these are the two free kits for the full time teams.  I cannot wait to see these new configurations race.  The first turn at St. Pete is going to be very interesting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Randomness a Bad Thing?

Jay Frye, Indycar President of Competition, said last week via a David Malsher story on Motorsport.com that the series was reviewing race procedures ahead of the 2018 season. He said Indycar was trying to eliminate some of the randomness in races caused by closing the pits when a caution occurs. The reasoning is to ensure that the fastest cars are rewarded by keeping the position they’ve earned.

There were several races in the last few years when the quickest car was caught out by a yellow happening just as they were going to pit. The race usually went to a surprise winner from a smaller team. Usually the winning team pitted early and cycled to the lead during the yellow when everyone else pitted.

Sebastien Bourdais at St. Pete, James Hinchcliffe at Long Beach, Simon Pagenaud at Phoenix (yes, an oval), and Josef Newgarden at Toronto all benefited from the pit closing rule and a timely caution.

My opinion?   If a team plays the strategy according to the rules and it works, great. Perhaps the teams that got hurt could anticipate the eventuality of the yellow and pit earlier. I’ve heard some team owners complain about throwing yellows just when we needed to pit.  Their need to pit does not supersede the need for a yellow.

If the race should be won by the fastest car all the time, why have the race? Does the team with the most regular season wins always win the Super Bowl or the World Series? Random things happen in all sports. It’s part of the drama. Let the teams play the game and see who wins. I agree preparation and speed goes a long way toward winning, but there has to be some strategy and breaks during the race.

I think what needs to be employed more on road courses is local yellows instead of the full course cautions for every incident, no matter how small. This will keep the pits open for a longer time during the race. It will have the same effect as keeping the pits open during a full course yellow.

Another procedure Indycar is reviewing is qualifying order on ovals other than Indianapolis. Currently the order is determined by a blind draw. It seemed as though a certain driver was always going last, which is a great advantage with the rubber laid down on the track and potential track cooling as the session progresses. I prefer the order be set by the inverse order of final practice times.  The fans will be able to know the order quicker, and we should see a different order at each track.

This is my last column before migrating to winter headquarters. I’ll be back in about a month. Changes will be coming to this space, including a possible new name.

Goodbye, Glen; Hello Portland; Hola, Mexico?

Indycar’s schedule release produced the expected dropping of Watkins Glen and introduction of Portland as its replacement.Mexico City is still a possibility for August 5.  TV networks and times were not announced today.

The schedule is below:

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule

March 9-11               St. Petersburg, FL
April 6-7                    Phoenix Raceway, AZ
April 13-15                Long Beach, CA
April 20-22                Barber Motorsports Park, AL
May 11-12                 GP of Indianapolis, IN
May 15-27                 Indianapolis 500, IN
June 1-3                     Dual in Detroit, MI (2 races, Sat. & Sun)
June 8-9                     Texas Motor Speedway, TX
June 22-24                 Road America, WI
July 7-8                       Iowa Speedway, IA
July 13-15                  Toronto, ON, Canada
July 27-29                  Mid-Ohio SportsCar Course, OH
Aug. 18-19                 Pocono Raceway, PA
Aug. 24-25                 Gateway Motorsports Park, IL
Aug. 31-Sept. 2         Portland International Raceway, OR
Sept. 14-16                Sonoma Raceway, C

Before I discuss Watkins Glen, here are some thoughts about the schedule. The last three races are all west of the Mississippi. Having Portland and Sonoma as the last two races eliminates travel time for the teams and allows a great promotion period for Sonoma. This season the last four races had teams going back and forth from the east to the west, way back east again then all the way to California. This is the easiest schedule travel wise in a while.

The Indy 500 qualifying weekend is not listed on the schedule as it has been the last two years. Perhaps it will be added when the TV schedule is published.

Portland was a staple of CART and Champ Car but was a casualty in the merger. Indycars raced there from 1984.  until 2007. There were some fun races there, including the closest three car finish on a road course in 1997 when Mark Blundell beat Gil De Ferran by 0.027 seconds and third place Raul Boesel by 0.055 seconds. They were three wide at the line. In 1986, Michael Andretti ran out of fuel coming to the checkered flag and was passed by dad Mario, who won by 0.07 seconds. The race was on Father’s Day then. Michael said that was Mario’s present. The last winner at Portland was Sebastien Bourdais.

Watkins Glen rescued Indycar in 2016 when the Boston Grand Prix folded. I have enjoyed going to the race there. It’s a great track and a beautiful area. A race later in September when the leaves are turning would be amazing.  It was obvious Labor Day wasn’t working attendance wise, but the the track’s schedule and Indycar’s stubborn insistence on not competing with football doomed the attempt to find a mutually agreeable date.

To keep tracks like Watkins Glen a part of the schedule, Indycar needs to extend the schedule into October. The television numbers will not be that much different. If they were getting over a million viewers a race and had a 30% drop when football begins, I could understand their concern. The current ratings will not change that much.

Mark Miles did not say that there is an absolute deadline for a decision on Mexico City. A Mexican driver in the series would definitely help that race if it happens. I haven’t heard anything about Esteban Guttierez having a ride for this, year. Someone might get him a one off for that weekend.

Silly Season News

Sage Karam will drive in the 500 for Dreyer and Reinbold in 2018. DRR also indicated their intention to enter more races next year. Entering Karam at Pocono might boost attendance a bit there.

If you haven’t seen the visor cam from Spencer Pigot driving the 2018 configuration at Road America yet, make sure you do. This car acts very different than the cars in manufacturer trim. Drivers actually drive the cars. You can find the video at the Indycar twitter site and possibly on Indycar.com.

 

 

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.

 

Endings and Beginnings- Thoughts on Sonoma

The last race of the season creates a conundrum. There is a race to watch and people want to see a race winner. But there is a season title on the line which creates another layer of watching.  Point scenarios are discussed for a week. Very little attention is on the race itself.

Sonoma itself has unique issues a site for the finale. It’s a beautiful venue in a beautiful setting. Track management does a great job presenting the event as the finale. Yet the race is usually not the type of race a series needs for the one that decides its champion. Passing is at a premium. The cars get strung out. Pit strategy is the way to get by someone. An oval in prime time would make for a better ending to the season and add more drama to the title fight.

The 2017 edition of Sonoma was better than most races thanks to Simon Pagenaud’s four stop strategy. It was clear this was the plan from the start when his first pit stop came two laps before the pit window opened. He continued to build his gap after the other drivers pitted each time by staying on reds until his last stop. Pagenaud’s gap was big enough by the time he made his last stop to beat Josef Newgarden out of the pits. Newgarden tried to pass a couple times, but decided, or actually Tim Cindric did, that second place meant the title.

Newgarden is one of the youngest drivers to win the series championship. He took the lead at Mid Ohio and never looked back. The only hiccup the last two months was his problem leaving the pits at Watkins Glen.  The rest of his final stretch showed first or second place finishes. Newgarden is destined to add a couple more titles to his resume.

While we’re possibly seeing the beginning of a new Indycar star, we may have seen the last of another one full time. Indications are even stronger now that Helio Castroneves will not be a full time driver next year in Indycar. He will run the 500 and possibly the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but he will be driving for Penske in the IMSA sports car series. I’ve never been a fan of Castroneves, but the last two years he has done the best driving of his career . The paddock will seem empty without him.

The race was the final outing for the manufacturer aerokits. New bodywork for next season should make for better racing since most of the downforce will be on the underside. I will not miss the rear bumpers. I thought they made Indycars look too much like sportscars.

Scott Dixon fought hard for fourth in the race and finished third in the points. The bar Newgarden is shooting for as a career? Dixion has finished in the top 3 in points 11 of the 12 years he’s been in the series.  I hope everyone appreciates that we are watching a legend drive.

Thoughts

I thought the crowd was the biggest I’ve seen at Sonoma in the four years I’ve been there. It was definitely the best Saturday crowd I’ve seen.

Zachary Calaman de Melo did a good job during the weekend. His main job was to get laps and he accomplished that.

I watched Friday’s second practice from the turn 2 and 3 area. It is a great spot to see most of the track. Cars tended to have a bit a back end slide through 3.

Word came yesterday that Ganassi will be a two car team next year. This should not come as a surprise as signs have been there for awhile. I have a couple friends on the 8 and 83 crews. I hope they can land another spot soon.  Brendon Hartley is expected to drive the 10 car.  Nothing against Hartley, a great driver in sports cars, but I’d rather see the opening go to someone who has gone through the Road to Indy.

Will Carlin be full time in Indycar in 2018 with Max Chilton and possibly Charlie Kimball?

Conor Daly ended the season with a couple of top tens and led some laps at Sonoma. Is it enough to save his job? Many of his early season issues were team related.

Silly Season is looking to be very short. Most of the regular seats are filled. We are waiting to see what some possible new teams are planning. I think it’s possible there may be several teams who make select appearances during the year rather than go full time.  The car count may look stable at every race, but some teams will be different.

Thanks to all of you for reading my posts this year. I’ll be back next week with a season review and then I will be posting stories of races past throughout the off season.