Larson Dominates to Win Second Straight Chili Bowl

Photo from Chili Bowl website

Kyle Larson led every lap in the 55 lap feature as he won he won the 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl, a race that didn’t begin until after midnight. Polesitter Justin Grant pulled out front of Larson on the initial start, but an accident caused the field to reform in double file. On the restart Larson pulled ahead and was never caught.

Justin Grant hung on for second after Christopher Bell, who had been Larson’s strongest challenger, crashed late in the race. Tanner Thorson finished third after starting 11th.

Daryn Pittman charged to fifth from his 20th spot on the grid.

Tanner Thorson and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won the two B-Main events, placing them behind the nightly feature winners and runners-up.

Results:

A Feature (55 Laps): 1. 01-Kyle Larson[2]; 2. 2J-Justin Grant[1]; 3. 08-Tanner Thorson[11]; 4. 71K-Cannon McIntosh[4]; 5. 21-Daryn Pittman[20]; 6. 89-Chris Windom[14]; 7. 17S-Ricky Stenhouse Jr[12]; 8. 1R-Brad Sweet[19]; 9. 1S-Spencer Bayston[15]; 10. 39-Logan Seavey[17]; 11. 39B-Cole Bodine[24]; 12. 25X-Alex Bright[7]; 13. 27W-Colby Copeland[23]; 14. 84X-Christopher Bell[3]; 15. 7C-Tyler Courtney[6]; 16. 97-Rico Abreu[5]; 17. 52-Blake Hahn[13]; 18. 3G-Kyle Cummins[10]; 19. 67-Michael Kofoid[8]; 20. 72-Chase Johnson[21]; 21. 7X-Thomas Meseraull[9]; 22. 21H-Brady Bacon[16]; 23. 3N-Jake Neuman[22]; 24. 49J-Joe B Miller[18]

Lap Leaders: Kyle Larson 1-55
Hard Charger: Daryn Pittman +15

Marco Will Run Indy Only, Looks at Other Racing Options

Photo from Marco Andretti Twitter

In a surprise announcement this afternoon, Marco Andretti said he will not drive full time in the 2021 NTT Indycar Series. Andretti said he will still enter the Indianapolis 500 and possibly some other selected races. Marco hopes to do some sports car racing in IMSA and explore other racing opportunities.

The 98 did not qualify for the 2021 Leader’s Circle money and US Concrete is not returning as a primary sponsor. Marco has struggled the last few years on track. He won the pole for the 2020 Indianapolis 500 but finished 13th, not leading a lap.

It will be strange but not unprecedented not seeing the Andretti name on track. Mario and Michael Andretti only did the 500 while driving full time in Formula 1.

Marco’s statement from his Twitter account:

“Upon careful thought over the past couple of months, I have made the decision to make some changes to my racing activities and focus for 2021,” said Andretti. “I recently shared this decision and the changes that I want to make with my dad (Michael) and have spoken at length with him about it. I appreciate his openness and for allowing me the flexibility to map out my own course going forward.

“I am fortunate to be in a position at Andretti Autosport to run the full IndyCar season if I want to. But, instead, I have decided to change up my direction somewhat — to reset, to do something a little different — look at everything fresh and see where that takes me. And, to me, now seems like the appropriate time to do that.

“I definitely am going to keep driving. I still have a deep passion for it and have unfinished business to take care of and some boxes that I want to check before I consider retiring as a driver.

“First and foremost, I remain very hungry to win the Indy 500. It is our biggest stage and the place that I feel I bring the most to the table as a driver. I’ve come close there and am in the mix there it seems each year. Winning the pole there last year was awesome but that isn’t enough — I know that a victory there is in my future so we’ll try to get that done in the coming years. As such, I have committed to and am looking forward to running the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport this year.”

“In addition to being squarely focused on the Indy 500, I might also take a look at running some other races on the IndyCar schedule as the season progresses, in order to remain ‘car fit.’ I have also offered to help the team with some testing and other activities along the way,” Marco said. “And, I may look at different opportunities in all of motorsports. My involvement in my Andretti Autosport entry will continue.

“I also want to do some sports car racing — maybe even get the chance to do IMSA events with my cousin Jarett, which would be a lot of fun for me. I’ll be looking into other sports car opportunities as well in the coming months and welcome discussions in that regard. Marquee events like the (Rolex 24) 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, and Le Mans would be on that list for sure.

“I am excited for what the future holds for me both on and off the track and, again, am grateful to Dad and Andretti Autosport for allowing me the freedom to change things around as I’d like and to proceed forward a little differently this upcoming season.”

Michael Andretti, Marco’s father, emphasized that the decision was Marco’s alone. Andretti’s decision does not affect James Hinchcliffe’s situation. Hinchcliffe is expected to be confirmed soon as a full time drive for Andretti Autosport for this coming season. Hinchcliffe will not be in the 98.

Chili Bowl : Bell Locks in Spot in Title Race

Photo: Chili Bowl website

Christopher Bell led the final 21 laps in Thursday’s A feature to secure a spot in Saturday’s Chili Bowl final. It will be bell’s seventh straight time in Saturday’s main event. Michael Kofoid also earned a spot in the finale by finishing second to Bell.

Bell, a former winner of the Chili Bowl, is joined by former winners Rico Abreu and Kyle Larson in Saturday’s feature race.

Tonight is the final night of qualifying. Racing begins at 5 pm Central time. Tonight’s action is on FloRacing.com. Tomorrow’s race is on MAVTV beginning at 8:30 pm Eastern Time.

Larson, Abreu Continue Winning Ways at Chili Bowl

Kyle Larson and Rico Abreu won the feature races on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, respectively. Cannon McIntosh won Monday’s feature. The top 2 in each night’s feature advance automatically to Saturday’s Chili Bowl finale.

Larson won his fourth straight Tuesday qualifying round. Abreu dominated his event.

Tyler Courtney was second on Monday night. Thomas Meserault was runner-up to Larson Tuesday and Alex bright came home behind Abreu last night.

Christopher Bell won Tuesday night’s VIROC Race of Champions.

Tonight 64 cars will vie for a spot in the feature race in which two more drivers will lock in a spot in Saturday’s final. Top cointenders racing tonight are Christopher Bell, Sam Hafertepe, Jr. Logan Seavey, and Zeb Wise.

Hunter-Reay Returns to Andrettiwtih DHL

Photo: Chris Jones, Indycar

Ryan Hunter-Reay confirmed this morning that he will return to Andretti Autosport in the 28 car, continuing with DHL and Auto Nation sponsorship. 2021 will be Hunter-Reay’s 12th year with Andretti. The 2012 Series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner finished 10th in the 500 last season and 10th in the season standings.

Hunter-Reay is the third confirmed driver for Andretti, joining Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta. James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti are expected to have rides confirmed soon.

The full time grid is nearly full. In addition to the two expected to be claimed Andretti seats, there are two openings at Coyne, and confirmation of at least one car at Carlin.

Notes

Per Curt Cavin on Trackside Tuesday and a report from another highly reliable source, it appears former F1 driver Romain Grosjean will be in one of Dale Coyne’s cars for 2021. No driver is set for Coyne’s second car, but I hear Ed Jones might be the leading candidate.

Aldo’s Last Lap

Aldo Andretti, who died December 31, was taken for a lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Wednesday before his celebration of Life service. Mario’s twin brother had done just a few laps in a tire test at IMS, but never got to drive an Indycar in a race.


Back later this afternoon with a report on the Chili Bowl.

Indy Autonomous Challenge Begins New Era of Innovation at IMS

Photo from IMS website

The Indy Autonomous Challenge, set for October 23 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ushers i n a the next wave of automotive innovation. IMS used to be a proving ground for safety and other aspects of passenger vehicles. Modern racing has pushed that mostly to the side. This event, featuring autonomous vehicles, seeks to return the Speedway to its role as a developer of advanced automotive progress.

The release from IMS:

January 11, 2021 | By Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Energy Systems Network (ESN) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), organizers of the Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC), today unveiled the official race car that will be autonomously driven by scores of university teams in the world’s first high-speed, head-to-head autonomous race at the Racing Capital of the World on Oct. 23, 2021.

The primary goal of the IAC is to advance technologies that can speed the commercialization of fully autonomous vehicles and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), leading to increased safety and performance. In addition, the IAC is a challenging competition to excite the best and brightest university students from around the world to engage in hands-on engineering firsts.

“The Dallara-built IAC race car is the most advanced, fastest autonomous vehicle ever developed,” stated Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of ESN, and co-organizer of the IAC. “Our IAC sponsors are providing radar, lidar, optical cameras and advanced computers, bringing the value of each vehicle to $1 million.”

The IAC is scheduled for Oct. 23, 2021, at the IMS, with a qualifying simulation race during the Indy 500 week in May. The total IAC prize purse is $1.5 million: $1 million awarded to the winning team of the October IAC race, and an additional $500,000 for winners of the hackathons and simulation races, awarded by IAC sponsor, Ansys.

More than 500 undergraduate and graduate students, PhDs and mentors who excel in artificial intelligence software have responded to the challenge, representing 39 universities in 11 countries on four continents and 14 U.S. states.

Inspiration for the IAC was the DARPA Grand Challenge, as explained by 2005 winner, Sebastian Thrun: “The DARPA Grand Challenge proved that robots can drive themselves in very confined environments, but that they don’t have the agility and skill of a really well-trained human racecar driver to act in extreme situations. IMS is the best place in the world to challenge the robotics community to test self-driving cars. By going into a racing context, we will stretch self-driving cars to the absolute limit.”

The Modified Dallara IL-15 Autonomous Race Car

Since 2002, Dallara has been the sole race car supplier of the Indy Lights series, and now the modified Dallara IL-15 is the official IAC racecar.

“Dallara is the best race car engineering company in the world, yet designing the chassis for autonomous racing was really challenging,” explained Stefano dePonti, CEO and general manager of Dallara USA. “Dallara loves innovation and technological challenges, and we share the IAC’s passion for education and motorsports.”

The modified Dallara is retrofitted with hardware and controls to enable automation to enhance safety, control and performance. Components include rugged-edge on-board computing, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, perception systems, high-end graphics processing units (GPUs), drive-by-wire, and artificial intelligence acceleration and powerful central processing units to run IAC teams’ software and algorithms in the racecar.

One of the challenges for autonomous racing is solving edge case scenarios – challenges that occur only at extreme operating parameters, such as avoiding unanticipated obstacles at high speeds.

“We know how the world’s best race car drivers react in the Dallara, in high-speed scenarios, but now we have to anticipate the actions of a robot,” added dePonti.

Innovation at IMS

IMS has been a catalyst and proving ground for motorsport and transportation innovation since its inception in 1909. IMS hosts the crown jewel of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, the Indianapolis 500 — annually the world’s largest single-day sporting event. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is North America’s premier open-wheel racing series.

“The IAC is going to bring the best minds from around the world to solve a very complex problem, right here at the Racing Capital of the World,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “As the birthplace of motorsports’ innovation, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a fitting setting for this event, and we can’t wait to see the winning entry cross the Yard of Bricks into history.”

IAC Sponsors and Contributors

Indiana Economic Development Corporation, ADLINK, Ansys, Aptiv, AutonomouStuff, Bridgestone, Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), Dallara, Microsoft, New Eagle, PWR, RTI, Schaeffler and Valvoline. See IndyAChallenge.com for more information about these amazing companies realizing autonomous mobility.

About the Indy Autonomous Challenge

The Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC), organized by Energy Systems Network and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is a $1.5 million prize competition among universities to program modified Dallara IL-15 race cars and compete in the world’s first autonomous head-to-head race around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Oct. 23, 2021. Racing at speeds of up to 200 mph, the primary goal of the IAC is to advance technology that can speed the commercialization of fully autonomous vehicles and deployments of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). These enhancements will lead to increased safety and performance in all modes of racing and commercial transportation. In addition, the competition is a platform for students to excel in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

35th Chili Bowl Goes On with COVID Limitations

Open wheel racing season begins tonight with the first evening of the 35th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl presented by General Tire in Tulsa. I am glad to see that the indoor race will proceed with limitations necessitated by the pandemic. The midget event is the most prestigious of the year. The organizers have worked closely with the local board of health, which has warned the event that it could be shut down if protocols aren’t followed.

Attendance each night is limited to 25% of normal capacity. Limited pit passes are available, which surprises me. I’m not sure I would want fins in the pits right now. Masks must be worn at all times and fans who do not comply will be asked to leave, with an escort if necessary. Everyone entering receives a temperature screening. Those who have a reading above the 100.4 degree threshold will have their temperature taken with a different thermometer.

Monday’s schedule ( All Times Central)

Monday, January 11, 2021

Building/Pit Pass Booth Open………………8:00 am
Building Secured………………………………….8:00 am
Practice………………………………………. 9:00 am
Draw For Lineups…………………………………2:00 pm
Driver’s Meeting……………………………………3:00 pm
Hot Laps………………………..……………..5:00 pm
Races……….……….….….…………..…….. 6:00 pm

Action at the Chili Bowl (Photos in this article from the Chili Bowl website)

Tuesday night features the Vacuworx invitational Race of Champions in which former winners of the event, and other top finishers from past years participate in a 25 lap feature race.

The entrants in the Race of Champions:

Aaron Reutzel – All-Star Circuit of Champions Champion
Brad Sweet – World of Outlaws Champion
Brady Bacon – USAC Sprint Cars Champion
Cannon McIntosh – 2020 Monday Night Winner
Chad Boat – 2018 VIROC Winner
Chris Windom – USAC Midget Champion
Christopher Bell – 2017-2019 Champion
Daryn Pittman – 2017 Runner-up
Jake Neuman – POWRi Midgets Champion
Justin Grant – 2019 Third Place
Kyle Larson – 2020 Champion
Rico Abreu – 2016 Champion
Sam Hafertepe, Jr. – American Sprint Car Series Champion
Spencer Bayston – 2018 Runner-up
Tanner Thorson – 2019 VIROC Winner
Zach Daum – 2016 Third Place

The full Chili Bowl entry list can be found at this link:

https://www.chilibowl.com/entries/manual.aspx

Each night’s activities Monday through Friday is streamed on FloRacing.com. Saturday’s program is live on MAVTV.

I will provide updates during the week as we build toward Saturday night/

Ferrucci Latest Driver to Find Life After Indycar

Photo:Chris Graythen (Getty Images) via Indycar

Santino Ferrucci will drive in 20 Xfinity Series races for Sam Hunt in 2021 as he begins the road to a NASCAR Cup ride. Ferrucci spent the last two years in Indycar driving for Dale Coyne with Vasser Sullivan Racing. He was Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 2019, finishing seventh.

Ferrucci is the latest driver who has found work in another series after losing their Indycar ride. Many factors have caused the drivers to go a different direction. Sometimes it is a budget issue, other times team owners have made the choice.

Zach Veach, released by Andretti Autosport before the end of the 2020 season, will drive full time for Vasser-Sullivan’s GTD team in IMSA. Veach replaces Townsend Bell in the number 12 Lexus, and he will team with veteran Frankie Montecalvo. The car was a series title contender last year.

Helio Castroneves moved to the Team Penske Acura prototype in IMSA in 2018. That program ended with Castroneves winning his first title. He has a busy year coming up. Castroneves will drive in six Indycar races for Meyer-Shank Racing- Barber, Long Beach, the 500, the IMS Road Course race on August 14, Portland, and Laguna Seca. He will also participate in Tony Stewart”s and Ray Evernham’s new SRX series in addition to sports car races in the United States and Europe.

Juan Pablo Montoya was also out of work with the ending of the Team Penske Acura program, but he will return to the Indianapolis 500 with Arrow McLaren SP in May. Montoya will be one of the added drivers for Meyer-Shank’s Acura prototype in IMSA’s four endurance races. The rest of his 2021 season will be in Europe driving Dragonspeed’s LMP2 car in the WEC series.

I really enjoy seeing a driver run in several different series during a season. It would be nice if contracts allowed for more of this.