A Great Day for Two Good Guys

It’s only Wednesday and the emotions in the Indycar family have been riding a roller coaster since Sunday. The joy of Pato o’Ward’s victory was tempered with the news of Bobby Unser’s death. But yesterday, two of the nicest guys in the paddock had great days. Robert Wickens drove a car at speed for the first time since his horrific crash at Pocono in 2018. Stefan Wilson confirmed he has a ride for the Indianapolis 500.

Stefan Wilson Returns to 500 with Andretti

Andretti Autosport announced Stefan Wilson as the driver of car 25 in the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500. Wilson’s entry will be the sixth car in the Andretti stable. The announcement from the team:

STEFAN WILSON RETURNS TO ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT WITH LOHLA SPORT FOR THE 105th RUNNING OF THE INDIANAPOLIS 500

05.04.21

• Wilson and LOHLA SPORT to complete Andretti Autosport’s six-car Indy 500 lineup
• Premier women’s golf lifestyle brand LOHLA SPORT to make their debut in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and Indianapolis 500 for Wilson’s third start at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing

Andretti Autosport announced today that Stefan Wilson and new partner LOHLA SPORT will join the five-time Indianapolis 500 winning team for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 to complete the team’s six-car lineup. Wilson, who ran the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport and competed for the team in Indy Lights, will team up with the new premier women’s golf lifestyle brand to run the No. 25 LOHLA SPORT Honda.



“We’re excited to not only welcome Stefan back to the team, but also to have a new partner in LOHLA SPORT come on board to experience their first Indy 500,” said Michael Andretti, Chairman and CEO, Andretti Autosport. “We have a great history with the Wilson family and we’re hopeful we can build on successes we’ve had in the past this May.”

 
“After leading laps with Andretti Autosport at the Indianapolis 500 in 2018, I’m hungry to return and finish the job. I’ve worked tirelessly to make this return happen and I am so thankful that LOHLA SPORT has believed in me to represent them,” said Wilson. “It’s a dream come true to rejoin Andretti and also partner with Honda once more in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The icing on the cake is we get to do this with a brand new company in LOHLA SPORT, a premium women’s apparel brand already captivating the golf lifestyle scene. Among the fans and partners involved with the Indianapolis 500, we have a huge amount of golf enthusiasts, so I’m excited to get them exposed to what LOHLA SPORT is all about. None of this would have happened without Don and Carolyn Cusick, who are avid racing and golf enthusiasts and also shareholders in LOHLA SPORT. This program also represents the birth of Cusick Motorsports, and I am hopeful the 2021 Indianapolis 500 will be a springboard to many exciting opportunities for the Cusick Motorsports brand in the future. Lastly, I am thankful to have Expedia Group’s VIP Access join the effort, along with Menlo Ventures, VSRS and Liberty Group.”


Debuting in January of 2021, LOHLA SPORT has quickly captivated the golf, country club and resort market. The brainchild of recognized fashionista Lisa O’Hurley, former Golf Channel and GOLFINO executive with more than two decades in the industry, the brand’s impeccable sense of style features colorful, on-trend European designs with Los Angeles flair. Formal collaboration with London-based Paul Rees – renowned creator of countless Burberry, Aquascutum and GOLFINO hits – has LOHLA SPORT in roughly 100 exclusive golf shops coast to coast.

“Taking this cool, market-broadening road to Indy doesn’t happen every day,” said O’Hurley. “LOHLA SPORT is proud to support women who love golf and love all sports as our outfits are fit for the course, court, racetrack and everywhere between.”

Also joining the effort is Cusick Motorsports, created by Don and Carolyn Cusick as a business incubator in racing; VIP Access, Expedia Group’s network of premium, invitation-only properties; VSRS, specializing in forging exclusive relationships in the automotive sector; Menlo Ventures, an investment firm having backed 70+ public companies and Liberty Group, specializing in wealth management, tax planning and estate law.

“As a lifelong INDYCAR fan I have always wanted to attend the Indianapolis 500 live, but never found my way there until now,” said Don Cusick. “Thankfully the stars aligned this year, meeting Stefan Wilson and creating this amazing partnership. From casually asking Stefan if he had any contacts for great seats at Indy and half-jokingly telling him the best seat would have him driving in it. As it turns out I’m getting the second-best seat in the house as the sponsor of the number 25 Andretti Autosport Indy car driven by Stefan. LOHLA SPORT is a company I am invested in, owned by our family friend Lisa O’Hurley. I couldn’t be more excited for the month of May and this opportunity to sponsor Stefan Wilson, one of the truly great people in motorsports.”

The No. 25 LOHLA SPORT Honda and Wilson will make their 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut on with Opening Day on May 18 before the green flag waves for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Sunday, May 30 with broadcast on NBC.

Bobby Unser, 1934-2021; A Hero for Everyman

Photo from my 1968 program, autographed by Unser at a 100th running event at the IMS Museum

I loved Bobby Unser. Yes, I am an unabashed A. J. Foyt fan. After Foyt, Bobby was my man. He was like A. J. in many ways- bold, brash, not caring what people thought, but with a genteel edge and charm. His biography is well documented in the IMS press release I posted earlier. I probably have more photos of Booby Unser’s cars than i have of Foyt’s cars. What follows are some personal thoughts on my second racing hero.

Bobby Unser signing autographs at the IMS Museum, 2016. This where he signed the autograph above.

My first memory of Unser was at Indianapolis 1963. He was a 29 year old rookie driving the famed Novi. I thought a driver had to pay his dues to drive that car, and here was this newcomer in it. I was skeptical. He did well, qualifying 16th. Unfortunately, he slid into the fourth turn wall after just two laps.

The next year, 1964, Unser fared even worse, as he was caught up in the tragic first lap accident involving Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald. With his car on fire, Unser accelerated to put out the flames, but his day was done.

In 1966 Unser began to hit his stride with his first of four straight top 10 finishes in the 500.

In 1968, he seemed to have the best chance against the powerful turbine Lotuses. I picked him to win the race. Unser started third and looked good early. He faltered a bit when he lost sixth gear. On a late restart, Unser regained the lead when Joe Leonard’s car stopped in the first turn. Booby Unser had conquered the turbines.

Bobby Unser and crew at the 1968 500. This car is one of my all time favorites. The car was designed by Dan Gurney.

Unser would win the 500 two more times, in 1975 and 1981. He is one of two drivers to win the 500 in three different decades.

I also loved his mastery of the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb. He won 13 times in an event his family dominated. It was a race I wish I had been able to attend.

After Unser retired from racing, he did race commentary on television. I loved his folksy manner, and his subtle way of disagreeing with Sam Posey. Bobby did not pull many punches when asked about what was going on.

In he broadcast booth and when he gave talks, Unser just seemed like a regular race fan. He connected with people on a personal level.

In his later years, he gave talks and interviews reflecting on his career. I loved listening to his stories. I’m sure they were embellished some, but they were always unfiltered and never boring.

We now have one less living legend. Many are close to Unser’s age. Only Paul Goldsmith, in his 90s, I believe is older than Bobby was.

My last photo of Bobby, with nephew Al, Jr. Taken at the SVRA event at IMS, June 2018

Today I celebrate the life of one of my heroes. This May I will make an extra effort to talk to A. J., Mario,and any other divers of that era I happen to see, just to say thanks.

Bobby Unser, Three Time 500 Champion, Dies at 87

Note: I am posting this statement from IMS now. I will have my own story up later today.

www.IMS.com Facebook             Indianapolis Motor Speedway Press ReleaseFor Immediate Release Three-Time Indianapolis 500 Winner Bobby Unser Dies at 87INDIANAPOLIS (Monday, May 3, 2021) – Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser, one of the most colorful, outspoken and popular drivers in the history of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” died Sunday, May 2 at his New Mexico home. He was 87. Unser won the Indianapolis 500 in 1968, 1975 and 1981. He is one of just 10 drivers to win the “500” at least three times and is a member of numerous motorsports Halls of Fame, including induction into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 1990. Unser and Rick Mears are the only drivers to win the “500” in three different decades. He was one of six members of the Unser family to race in the Indianapolis 500. Bobby and his brother Al, a four-time winner, are the only brothers to win the race. Bobby Unser also was renowned and admired for his work in and out of the cockpit before his Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR driving career started and after it ended. He dominated the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb before he ever turned a lap at Indianapolis, and he was a popular INDYCAR color analyst on national telecasts in the 1980s and 1990s after retiring as a driver. Unser was born Feb. 20, 1934 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the third of four brothers. When he was 1, his family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico – the city forever associated with the Unser family racing dynasty. In 1949, Unser started racing at Roswell (New Mexico) Speedway. In 1950, he raced at Speedway Park in Albuquerque and won his first championship in Southwestern Modified Stock Cars. After serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1953-55, Unser and his brothers Jerry and Al decided to pursue racing careers in United States Auto Club (USAC) competition. Bobby Unser raced successfully in USAC Sprint Car, Midget and Stock Car competition. He earned seven career USAC Sprint Car feature victories and placed third in the standings in 1965 and 1966. He also won six USAC Stock Car races and three USAC Midget features. Unser’s career in Indy cars started in the end of the 1962 season. He spent three years driving Novi-engined cars for Andy Granatelli, including the No. 6 Hotel Tropicana, Las Vegas Kurtis/Novi roadster in which he qualified 16th and finished 33rd and last as an Indianapolis 500 rookie in 1963. Unser’s day ended after completing just two laps due to an accident. In fact, Unser’s first two career Indy starts gave no indication of his future success. After completing two laps and finishing last as a rookie in 1963, he completed just one lap in 1964 and was credited with 32nd place in the four-wheel-drive No. 9 Studebaker-STP Ferguson/Novi fielded by Granatelli, getting caught in the multi-car accident that claimed the lives of Dave MacDonald and Eddie Sachs. Unser earned his first career top-10 finish at Indy by placing eighth after starting 28th in 1966 for Gordon van Liew’s team. In 1967, he moved to Bob Wilke’s Leader Card team for a four-year stint, which resulted in even greater fortune at Indianapolis and on the USAC Championship Trail. Unser earned his first Indianapolis 500 victory in 1968 in the No. 3 Rislone Eagle/Offy, one of the most iconic and beautiful rear-engine cars in Indianapolis 500 history. His first spot on the Borg-Warner Trophy came after a spirited duel with Joe Leonard in one of Granatelli’s famous STP Lotus cars powered by a Pratt & Whitney helicopter turbine engine. Unser led 118 of the first 191 laps but was running second to Leonard when Leonard’s fuel shaft broke on Lap 192, with Unser powering past for his first “500” victory. Later that year, Unser won the first of his two USAC National Championships, ending the season with five victories and edging Mario Andretti by a scant 11 points. In 1972, Unser earned the first of his two Indianapolis 500 poles during his successful five-year partnership with Dan Gurney’s All American Racers. Speeds skyrocketed that year with the legalization of bolt-on wings to chassis, and no one took better advantage than Unser. His four-lap record qualifying average speed of 195.940 mph in the No. 6 Olsonite Eagle was more than 17 mph faster than Peter Revson’s pole speed from the previous year – the largest year-to-year increase in “500” history. Unser won his second and final USAC National Championship in 1974 after finishing runner-up to Johnny Rutherford in the Indy 500. In 1975, Unser won the Indianapolis 500 for the second time, driving the No. 48 Jorgensen Eagle fielded by Gurney’s team. Unser led only 11 laps, taking the top spot from Rutherford on Lap 165 and holding it until the race was ended by a downpour on Lap 174 of the 200 schedule laps. He drove for Fletcher Racing in 1976 and 1977, returning to Gurney’s All American Racers for one season in 1978. Unser joined Team Penske in 1979 for the start of a three-year stint in which he won 11 races and finished second in the CART standings in 1979 and 1980. But perhaps his most famous race during his Penske tenure was the 1981 Indianapolis 500, which he won from the pole in one of the most controversial and contentious outcomes in the event’s storied history. Unser beat Mario Andretti to the finish by 5.18 seconds in the No. 3 Norton Spirit, but USAC officials ruled Unser passed cars illegally while exiting the pit lane during a caution on Lap 149. Unser was penalized one position, with Andretti elevated to the winner. But after a lengthy protest and appeals process, Unser’s penalty was rescinded, and he was declared the winner of the race Oct. 9, 1981. That victory became the last of Unser’s storied INDYCAR career, as he skipped the 1982 CART season to serve as driver coach for Josele Garza and decided against a planned comeback in 1983 with Patrick Racing. He finished his career with 35 career INDYCAR victories and two championships among his eight top-three finishes in the season points. Unser ended his driving career as one of the greatest performers in the history of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” He produced 10 top-10 finishes in 19 career “500” starts. Unser led in 10 races for a total of 440 laps, still 10th on the all-time list. Unser’s nine front-row starts included poles in 1972 and 1981. His speed in qualifying at the Speedway was exceptional, as he was one of the 12 fastest drivers in 18 of his 19 starts. Fourteen of his 19 starts came from the first three rows. While those statistics are among the greatest in Indy history, Unser produced even more eye-popping numbers at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, nicknamed “Unser Mountain” due to his family’s success in the longtime race in Colorado Springs. Unser won 13 class titles at Pikes Peak and earned “King of the Mountain” honors 10 times during his career as the fastest driver overall up the famed mountain, tops among the racing Unser family that dominated this event. Unser also had a keen engineering mind that always searched for a technical advantage over his rivals. He sometimes would call his crew chief well after midnight with an idea for chassis setup or another technical issue, and his prowess as a test driver was highly regarded because he turned every lap at the car’s limit. Every angle was pursued by Unser when it came to trying to find the edge against his foes. Team owner Jim Hall’s famous Chaparral chassis – the first Indy car with ground-effects aerodynamics underneath the car – got upside-down when Rutherford crashed in 1980 in the CART season finale at Phoenix. Unser learned of a photographer who took pictures of the closely guarded aero channels and tunnels beneath the car, and he obtained the photos, which were used in the development of Team Penske’s 1981 ground-effects chassis. After his driving career ended, Unser combined his vast racing experience and considerable skills as an outspoken raconteur to become a popular broadcaster on ABC, NBC and ESPN INDYCAR telecasts and on IMS Radio Network race broadcasts. The booth trio of play-by-play announcer Paul Page and the opinionated Unser and the erudite Sam Posey – with Unser and Posey’s styles and comments almost always contrasting and often clashing — was one of the most entertaining and popular in INDYCAR television history. Two of Unser’s proudest moments in the TV booth came when he called the finish in 1987 with play-by-play announcer Jim Lampley as his younger brother, Al Unser, earned his record-tying fourth “500” victory and again in 1992 when he and Paul Page called the race when his nephew, Al Unser Jr., won Indy for the first time in the closest “500” finish ever. Unser also was part of the ABC Sports broadcast team that won an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Live Sports Special” for its coverage of the 1989 Indianapolis 500. After his TV career ended, Unser continued to visit IMS every Month of May. In 1998 and 1999, he served as driver coach and assisted with race strategy on the radio for his son Robby Unser during his two starts in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Robby finished fifth and eighth, respectively, in those two starts with his father’s help. Fans always flocked to “Uncle Bobby” to get a picture or autograph, to share their memories or to hear one of Unser’s countless colorful stories about his career and fellow racers. He also savored spending time in the Media Center swapping tales with many veteran journalists every May, as Unser was a tireless ambassador for IMS and the Indianapolis 500 until the end of his life. Unser is survived by his wife, Lisa; sons Bobby Jr. and Robby; and daughters Cindy and Jeri.

Pato EXPELS His Frustrations- Quick Thoughts on the EXPEL 375

Photo: Pato O’Ward celebrates his first Indycar win. Photo by Chris Jones, Indycar

Finally. Pato O’Ward knew he could win Indycar races before he even raced in the series. I remember his first press conference at Sonoma in 2018 before his first Indycar start. There was a quiet confidence about him. I felt then that I was looking at a future Indycar Series star. Today the road to stardom in the Indycar Series officially began.

O’Ward’s first series win came tonight with a series of strong passes, including moving past two cars on the second restart. His car was one of the strongest the entire race and the pit strategy on the final stop put him in a position to go for the win. he showed the patience he has sometimes lacked in waiting until the right moment to overtake Josef Newgarden with 23 laps to go. This won’t be his last win of 2021. We have a new contender for the championship.

Slow Start

Scott Dixon brought the field to the green flag at a slower than normal pace. The resulting six car pile up at the back of the pack caused the first 18 laps to be run under caution. I was surprised there was no red flag, but I assume the television window played a part in keeping the lap count going.

Alexander Rossi is off to another frustrating start to his year. He is more irritated this year about it because he feels his car is more competitive than it was in 2020. Rossi felt Indycar should have held qualifying for today’s race. That may not have prevented the accident, but I see his point, that some of the drivers involved in the wreck would have started further toward the front.

One of the problems with double header weekends is it is hard to deviate from the schedule. A last minute call to qualify today would have caused teams to scramble for an extra session. Indycar might want to look at building some flexibility into their double header schedule for a situation like this weekend in the future.

Tough Weekend for Bourdais, Daly

The early promise shown by Sebastien Bourdais and A. J. Foyt racing fell apart, literally theses last two days. Bourdais was involved in two of the three crashes the past two days. Neither was his fault.

Conor Daly struggled to a 21st place finish Saturday and ended up upside down today. Again the aeroscreen prevented an unpleasant outcome.

Both Dale Coyne cars and both Foyt cars suffered damage in the incident.

It is a good thing that the next race is in two weeks. Some of these cars were the teams’ cars for the Indianapolis 500, so there is plenty of time for repairs.

A Better Race

After Saturday’s race, I was not expecting an improvement in the racing tonight, although I though it would play out differently. Sunday’s race turned out to be a darned good one. I don’t know if it was the earlier start time in warmer temperatures than Saturday, or the teams learned some things in the first race, but there was passing for position, including at least three passes for the lead.

The oval package still needs a lot of work to make the cars race better. Texas Motor Speedway has to somehow eliminate the PJ1 compound for Indycar. I would not mind future races to be like what we witnessed tonight.

Kids!

Indycar is four races into the 2021 season. Drivers under the age of 25 have won three races and have been on the pole three times. One of the poles was awarded by rule due to rain. Both Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward have won their first Indycar race. Colton Herta the “veteran” among the under 25 crowd, has won four races and four poles in his career. Palou led the point standings until the end of Saturday’s race. O’Ward is now second to Dixon in points, while Palou is third.

The future of Indycar is looking very bright.

Notes

It is hard to believe that Josef Newgarden led his first laps of 2021 in the fourth race of the year tonight.

In four races Indycar has seen four different winners from three different teams. two different drivers have won the two earned poles.

The Top 5 finishers tonight represent five different teams.

Alex Palou is the only driver to have led laps in every race this year.

This is the deepest into a season I can remember going without a win by a Team Penske driver. I will be shocked if I can still say that by the end of this month. Penske’s record at IMS on both the road course and in the 500 is second to none.

EXPEL 375- Another Dixon Runaway?

Tonight’s EXPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway could possibly be a repeat of lat night’s race. There are a couple of factors that may change the outcome. The race is 36 laps longer, 248 laps, which will require an extra pit stop. The temperatures will be warmer, which will increase tire wear. Whether these things are enough to make a better race I’m not sure. It will be just be different.

The starting lineup- Entrant points once again determine the lineup. The points used for today’s race reflect the standings following last night’s race. Setting the lineup when qualifying is washed out is a no win situation for the series. There is no way to make everyone happy. Some fans have said there is plenty of time to qualify today. That may be true, but there is no broadcast window for it, and the rules for this situation are in the rule book.

Here is how the grid looks. Green flag is at 5:15 pm Eastern on NBCSN. Coverage begins at 5 pm Eastern.

I will be back with my thoughts on Race 2 later tonight.

Genesys 300-Quick Thoughts

Photo of Scott Dixon by Chris Jones, Indycar

Scott Dixon’s masterful drive last night has us on the cusp of history. Dixon now has won 51 Indycar races, one shy of Mario Andretti’s 52 victory total. If he doesn’t win tonight, he should tie Andretti later this season, and will probably pass Andretti as well.

Dixon shot to the front from his third starting spot and led all but four laps the rest of the night. I loved the way he toyed with Scott McLaughlin at the end, keeping Mclauglin at arm’s length while avoiding getting mixed up with lapped traffic. Dixon is the best of this era by far.

The other Scott from new Zealand, McLaughlin drove a great race and got himself into second with a great pit call on the last stop. Staring 15th, McLaughlin was steady and let the race come to him. I didn’t expect this type of performance from a rookie on an oval, but I knew he would get a couple of podiums this year.

Scott McLaughlin heading to his first career podium. Indycar photo by Joe Skibinski

I guess if you are a driver from new Zealand and your name is Scott, you need to be looking at Indycar.

Notes

Today’s starting grid is again by entrant points as they stand following last night’s race. Dixon is on the pole and Alex Palou starts second. All four Team Penske cars will start in the top 10. I will have more on today’s race later.

Indycar dropped the ball keeping fans informed about what was happening schedule wise. I don’t know why Peacock did not come one when pr4actice was scheduled to begin. The announcers could have discussed the situation and reviewed possible scenarios for the race.

Tony Kanaan can still drive. Kanaan started 23rd and finished 11th.

Alex Palou is the only driver to have l4ed a lap in all three races. Palou and Dixon are the only drivers to have finished in the top 10 in every race this season.

Andretti Autosport continues to struggle. Colton Herta had a solid top five in hand before his brake issue. Alexander rosi finished a quiet eighth. Jack Harvey, whose Meyer-Shank team has a technical alliance with Andretti, was seventh. Harvey is now fifth in points. Herta dropped to 10th after winning at St. Pete.

The race itself was only good dafter the final pit stop, that was a result of the restart with 39 laps to go. Texas has become an unraceable track because of the JP1 compound taking away the second groove. Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to this track. It’s become another track NASCAR has ruined just so their cars can put on a staged show once a year.

Pato O’Ward and Arrow McLaren SP finally hit on a strategy that worked and reached the podium. Yje team struggled last week folowing their pole at Barber. O’Ward told me last week good strategy was the missing element in their program. O’Ward moved to fourth in points and may be ready to get his first Indycar win today.

I liked The pit stop clock NBCSN had at the bottom of the scoring pylon. I loved comparing the pit stop times when several drivers stopped at the same time. I hope this feature stays. It definitely helped capture the competition between drivers battling for a position.

Thank you all for following yesterday. Today seems less uncertain. I will have a preview of today’s race aroun mid Day. The race begins at 5:15 Eastern on NBCSN.

Kanaan Leads Practice

Indycar photo by Chris Owens

Green Flag at 7:10 pm Eastern. Watch the Kentucky Derby on NBC then immediately switch to NBCSN.

Just like getting on a bike again, Tony Kanaan got into a car for the first time this season today and led the only track time before tonight’s Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. The session was clean although there were a few close calls when cars got a little too high on the traction patch were grip is sketchy.

Tire degradation may play a big role in tonight’s race. There is still a chance of rain. The race is official after 107 laps.

The top 12:

The starting lineup. I’m hearing that this will also be the starting grid for tomorrow’s race.