Zanardi Goes Home

Alex Zanardi went home from rehab yesterday, 18 months after suffering traumatic brain injuries in a cycling accident. He was training for a race in July, 2020, when his hand cycle hit a truck.

Zanardi will continue therapy and at home. He will still need top go to rehabilitation clinics at times.

Zanardi, 55, won the 1997 and 1998 CART championships, lost both of his legs in an accident at the CART race at Lausitzring in Germany in 2001. He then become a gold medalist in cycling at the paralympic games. He has returned to a race car. Zanardi drove in the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Zanardi’s wife, Daniela, issued a public statement.

“An important step was that Alex was able to leave hospital a few weeks ago and is back at home with us now,” she said. “We had to wait very long for this and are very happy that it was possible now, even if there are still temporary stays in special clinics planned for the future to carry out special rehabilitation measures on site.”

“The recovery continues to be a long process,” said his wife. “The rehabilitation programme led by doctors, physiotherapists, neuropsychologists and speech therapists has enabled steady progress. Of course, setbacks are there and can still occur. Sometimes you also have to make two steps back in order to make one step forward. But Alex proves again and again that he is a real fighter.”

“It is a big help for him and us that we receive so much support on this way, not only from the doctors and therapists that intensively work with him,” she said.

“We are very grateful to everyone for that and for so much more because these strong ties give us additional energy. This also goes for the continued sympathy we receive from racing drivers, fans and acquaintances from all over the world. We would like to express a big ‘grazie’ to all who send their good thoughts and power to Alex.”

Holiday Wishes for Indycar

As we begin the most festive week of the year, I have some holiday wishes for Indycar. The first practice at St. Pete is just two months from Christmas day. Knowing that should make the holiday better. Here are six things I wish for in 2022.

A Full 17 Race Schedule

Indycar has not run its complete, originally announced schedule in two years. 2021 looked promising, but Toronto again was cancelled due to COVID-19. The border has reopened, but will the Omicron variant close it again? If it does, for how long?

I hope by July that things will have settled down enough to allow the race to go on.

I am not concerned about St. Pete or Texas yet, but the situation warrants wartching.

The Unicorn

I wish for the elusive third OEM to be announced. An announcement in 2022 means the new engine will appear in 2024. With the growth in entries anticipated for next season and a number of other teams looking to join Indycar, a third engine is a necessity. Honda is maxed out for the season and the Indianapolis 500. Chevrolet is close to capacity as well.

A third engine opens the possibility for 30 cars at some tracks and 39 or more entries at the 500. I think one of the bigger teams will align with the new manufacturer.

A Sold Out Indianapolis 500

Conditions permitting, it would be great if the 106th running of the 500 would be a sell out. Local television might show the race live again if all tickets are sold. Many fans who skipped the 2021 race plan to return. The 135,00 or so at the 2021 race seemed larger than that to those who were there, but the partially empty grandstands did not look good on television.

I spoke briefly with Doug Boles at the PRI show. He said that ticket sales are looking good.

A Title Fight Between O’Ward and Herta

Just like 2021, 2022 will bring more of the younger kids contending for the championship. This coming season I would love to see a battle for Astor Cup between Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta. The youngsters had two the fastest cars last season. Herta was never really in title contention because of some early DNFs. He still tied for the most wins in the series with three, and he had four poles.

O’Ward had some early issues with team strategies and setup problems. He finished third in the standings after being taken out of the finale early. His two wins in 2021 kept him in the hunt. I think he is ready for an even bigger season.

Some Top 5s for Kirkwood

First of all, I am happy that Kyle Kirkwood has a full time ride. Of course, I wish he were on a more competitive team. But I hope he can raise the bar at A. J. Foyt Racing and maybe squeeze a top 5 or two out of the car. It will be a challenge. His best chance for a good finish will be at World Wide Technology Raceway, where Foyt cars have a third and two fifth place finishes.

Kirkwood might sneak in a good finish at a road course somewhere as well. Realistically, I can see him getting some top 10s in 2022.

The Biggest Wish of All

Well, maybe the second biggest after the third OEM, but an announcement of a 2023 IMSA race at IMS would make me very happy. The odds are long as IMSA has established a May race at Mid Ohio. The sports car series seems happy with their schedule. I don’t think they are looking for new venues or to switch any dates around.

I have also heard IMSA is not happy with Indycar putting Texas on the schedule on March 20, the day after the Sebring 12 Hour race. Many Indycar drivers participate in the 12 hour as an extra driver. Some plan to do double duty that weekend.

All, or possibly none of my wishes may come true, but I hope that all of your holiday wishes do. I will have a post next week before moving to winter headquarters. Happy holidays, everyone.

Hinchcliffe Moves from Car to Broadcast Booth

Tuesday James Hinchcliffe announced that he was stepping back from full time Indycar racing. Today he is now in the broadcast booth for NBC, covering Indycar and some IMSA races. It’s not his first foray into broadcasting, and many thought television is where Hinchcliffe would land when his career ended. He replaces Paul Tracy in the booth. Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell return for 2022. Hinchcliffe will provide insight into what the current car with the aeroscreen is like to drive.

The Indycar on NBC announcement:

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE JOINS NBC SPORTS AS MOTORSPORTS ANALYST

Hinchcliffe to Serve as Analyst for NTT INDYCAR Series and Select IMSA WeatherTech Championship Series Events

Will Make 2022 INDYCAR On-Air Debut at Season-Opener at Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on February 27 on NBC

2022 NTT INDYCAR Series Features Record 14 Races on NBC Broadcast Network, Including 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29

STAMFORD, Conn. – December 16, 2021 – INDYCAR fan-favorite and veteran driver James Hinchcliffe has joined NBC Sports as a full-time analyst for its coverage of the upcoming 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series. Hinchcliffe will join play-by-play voice Leigh Diffey and analyst Townsend Bell to comprise NBC Sports’ lead INDYCAR commentary team for the 2022 season.

In addition to his role on NBC Sports’ exclusive INDYCAR coverage, Hinchcliffe will also serve as an analyst for select IMSA races. Hinchcliffe will make his 2022 INDYCAR on-air debut at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, February 27, on NBC.

“I couldn’t be more excited to join the NBC Sports team this year,” said Hinchcliffe. “I got a taste of calling INDYCAR back in 2020 and that really solidified my desire to get into this side of the sport. It’s always been a passion of mine to educate people about INDYCAR, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to help tell those stories from the booth alongside a couple of pros in Leigh and Townsend.”

“James Hinchcliffe is one of the most dynamic personalities in motorsports and we’re excited to bring ‘The Mayor of Hinchtown’ straight from the car and into the booth for NBC Sports,” said Sam Flood, executive producer and president, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “James’ engaging personality, combined with his unique perspective of what these drivers are experiencing in real time, will be a great addition to our motorsports coverage.”

Hinchcliffe recently announced he was stepping away from full-time competitive racing following a decade in INDYCAR which included six race wins and the 2011 NTT INDYCAR Series Rookie of the Year award. Hinchcliffe was also awarded the INDYCAR Fan Favorite Award in 2012 and 2018.

NBC Sports’ exclusive coverage of the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series will feature a record 14 races on the NBC broadcast network, including the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29. The first six races of the season will air on NBC, and all races, qualifying and practice will stream live on Peacock.

The 2021 campaign delivered NBC Sports’ most-watched INDYCAR season on record and the second most-watched Indy 500 in the past five years.

Indycar News Release: MALUKAS JOINS COYNE FOR 2022 IN NEW PARTNERSHIP WITH HMD

This announcement confirms the final full time seat for 2022

From Indycar:

Dale Coyne Racing announced Dec. 15 it has entered a partnership with HMD Motorsports and has signed 2021 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship runner-up David Malukas to drive its No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports entry for the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.

Malukas, 20, is a Road to Indy graduate who hails from suburban Chicago, about 10 miles from the Dale Coyne Racing shop in Plainfield, Illinois. He claimed seven wins, seven poles and a series-leading 16 podiums in 20 races en route to finishing second in Indy Lights in 2021.

“I am very happy to join Dale Coyne Racing for my first season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES,” Malukas said. “It has been my dream since a little kid to get to this point, and I am thrilled to get it started with this team. After my first test with DCR, I felt right at home. They are like family already, and I am excited to see what we can accomplish. Bring on 2022!”

Before his 2021 season in Indy Lights and after the enforced hiatus of the 2020 Indy Lights season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Malukas finished second in the 2020 Formula Regional Americas Championship powered by Honda with two wins, 15 podiums, one pole and top-five finishes in all 17 races. He made his Indy Lights debut in 2019, finishing sixth in the championship with six top-five results.

Earlier in his career, Malukas finished fourth in his rookie Indy Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires championship in 2018 and competed in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship in 2017 after picking up multiple wins as he climbed the karting ranks.

This is one of the best looking Coyne cars in recent memory.

Malukas got his first taste of an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car in October 2021 and topped the time sheets during a driver evaluation day with the team at Barber Motorsports Park.

“I’ve been following David in Indy Lights, and I was very pleased by what I saw,” team owner Dale Coyne said. “He had a remarkable season, and then he impressed everyone when we tested him back in October. It was his first time in an Indy car, and he was the fastest one at the test, even ahead of a veteran driver. And, on top of it all, he comes from right down the road in Chicago, so it’s a perfect fit for us to run David next season.

“We’re also excited about our new partnership with HMD Motorsports. We can’t wait to start building on this relationship, and we’re looking forward to a successful season together.”

HMD Motorsports has competed in the Road to Indy (RTI) since 2017, earning many race wins, podiums, pole positions and track records across all three RTI ladder programs. In 2021, HMD Motorsports turned its focus toward Indy Lights, where it claimed 10 wins, 33 podiums and the team championship title.

“Having the HMD Motorsports name in INDYCAR was a goal that we had set several years ago and is the first step in the overall plan for the future,” HMD Motorsports General Manager Mike Maurini said. “INDYCAR is experiencing major growth, and HMD is able to be involved at the right time for our drivers and partners.

“Tying the successful Indy Lights program, and business, to an INDYCAR effort gives the HMD name a ladder to the upper echelon of open wheel racing in North America. The goal is to continue to win in Indy Lights, expand and grow a commercial side of the business and advance drivers up into the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.”

The 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season starts with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding on Feb. 25-27 at St. Petersburg, Florida.

Jimmie Johnson Goes Full Time

The announcement this morning that Jimmie Johnson would enter the Indianapolis 500 was not a surprise, but the fact that he will run the four other oval race was. The seven time NASCAR champion announced that he will run the entire NTT Indycar Series season in 2022. The Chip Ganassi Racing entry will bear Carvana as his primary sponsor for 16 of the 17 races. The American Legion will be on the number 48 car for one of the two Iowa races. Carvana was Johnson’s amin sponsor in 2021.

The announcement came on NBC’s Today Show. Johnson followed with this Tweet:

In 2021 Johnson only ran the road and street courses in the series. He showed steady improvement throughout the year. His best qualifying spot was 22nd, where he started in three races. Johnson had a best finish of 17th in each of the final two races at Laguna Seca and Long Beach.

Johnson tested the oval at Texas and ran a rookie orientation program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October. He did well at IMS. Johnson needs two more laps to complete the rookie test.

The 106th running of the Indianapolis 500, scheduled for May 29, now has six rookies who will attempt to qualify. The other rookies expected to enter are Kyle Kirkwood, Callum Ilott, David Malukas, Devlin DeFrancesco, and Christian Lundgaard. There may be one or two more rookies on the entry list.

Hinch Steps Aside

James Hinchcliffe announced on Twitter what was assumed would happen. Hibchcliffe won six Indycar races and the pole for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. In 2015 he was involved in a near fatal crash during final practice for the 500. His comeback to win the pole the following year is one of the greatest IMS stories. His announcement:

Enjoy your time off, Hinch. we hope to see you back at Indy someday.

PPG Returns to Indycar and IMS as Official Paint and Finishing Supplier

Indycar and IMS welcome back an old partner in PPG. Roger Penske has a knack for getting his team’s sponsors to partner with the series in a larger ole. The official press release. below:

INDIANAPOLIS (Monday, Dec. 13, 2021) – PPG (NYSE: PPG) has reached an agreement to become the Official Paint and Finishing Supplier of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

As part of the multiyear agreement, PPG is also the Official Sponsor of Indianapolis 500 qualifying weekend. Drivers will compete for the prestigious Indianapolis 500 pole and one of the coveted 33 spots in the field for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” during PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying on Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22 at IMS.

“PPG is one of the most loyal and trusted partners in the history of our sport, and we’re proud to pair IMS and INDYCAR with such an iconic and globally recognized brand,” Roger Penske said. “Like us, PPG is built on quality and leadership in the marketplace with a strong tradition of excellence spanning more than a century. We look forward to seeing and supporting PPG’s sponsorship activation, especially during Indy 500 qualifying weekend.”

“We are excited to continue and further expand our relationship with racing and specifically with the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Michael McGarry, PPG chairman and chief executive officer. “PPG paints, coatings and specialty materials have been used throughout racing for decades, and now to have them be part of the future INDYCAR SERIES and IMS experience is an exciting opportunity. Our company purpose is ‘to protect and beautify the world,’ and this partnership will provide opportunities to bring this to life in new and colorful ways.”

The partnership revives a relationship between PPG, IMS and INDYCAR that began decades ago. PPG served as the title sponsor of the INDYCAR SERIES from 1980 to 1997. The company sponsored the Indianapolis 500 Pole Award and was an Indy 500 contingency sponsor from the mid-1970s until the late 1990s. PPG sponsored the winner’s trophy for the NASCAR Brickyard 400 at IMS from its inaugural race in 1994 through 2000.

PPG has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Team Penske in both the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and NASCAR, dating back to 1984 when PPG provided the paint for Team Penske’s numerous race cars. Today, PPG’s involvement with the team includes primary sponsorship of Team Penske’s cars in both INDYCAR and NASCAR.

PPG: WE PROTECT AND BEAUTIFY THE WORLD™

At PPG (NYSE: PPG), we work every day to develop and deliver the paints, coatings and materials that our customers have trusted for more than 135 years. Through dedication and creativity, we solve our customers’ biggest challenges, collaborating closely to find the right path forward. With headquarters in Pittsburgh, we operate and innovate in more than 75 countries and reported net sales of $13.8 billion in 2020. We serve customers in construction, consumer products, industrial and transportation markets and aftermarkets. To learn more, visit www.ppg.com.

We protect and beautify the world is a trademark and the PPG Logo is a registered trademark of PPG Industries Ohio, Inc.

Al Unser, Sr. – Simply One of the Best

This morning has been devastating. I woke up to the news that my beloved sister-in-law died last night. Five minutes later I stumbled across the news about Al Unser, Sr. Please forgive me if this seems somewhat random. We have lost one of the best ever.

First 500 win. One of my favorite cars

There is a bit of irony in his passing. Last evening, the newest four time winner, Helio Castroneves, unveiled the ticket for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500. Castroneves was the first back to back winner of the 500 since Unser turned the double in 1970 and 1971.

Fourth 500 win

Unser’s older brother, Bobby, died in May of this year. It is hard to believe that Racing’s First Family has been taken away within seven months.

Al (left) and Bobby Unser, 2017

Al’s driving style was one of patience. I remember many races where he wasn’t even in the conversation until the final stages, but when the checkered flag waved, he saw it first. His fourth win and final 500 was like that. He only got into the 1987 race after Danny Ongais was injured in practice. Roger Penske pulled a show car out of a hotel and Al qualified 20th. He took the lead when Roberto Guerrero stalled in the pits on his final stop and led the rest of the way.

At the wheel of the Marmon Wasp

Unser still is the all time lap leader at IMS, with 644 laps at the front of the field. His 39 race wins is sixth on the all time list. Unser is the only driver to win the Triple Crown, the three 500 mile races at Indianapolis, Pocono, and Ontario in the same year, 1978. He won eight different 500 mile races.

Fortunate that this photo was taken earlier this year.

I was fortunate to see all four of his Indianapolis 500 wins. I will remember his smooth driving, his taciturn interviews, and his interactions with fans. The last time I saw Al was at the 2018 PRI show. He and his son, Al, Jr., were the keynote speakers at the opening breakfast. They kidded each other and told stories about each other. Someone asked Al Sr. where he learned to drive. Jr. suggested his brother Bobby taught him. I will never forget the look the elder Unser gave him.

With Al, Jr. (left)

Please take some time next time you see A. J. Foyt at a track next year to say hi and thanks. We are quickly losing our legends.

If a Ticket Sprouts Can Spring be Far Behind?

Ticket unveiling day always brings the promise of May. It serves as a mid winter lift of the spirit. We are just a little more than five months away. The ticket for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 was unveiled tonight by the 2021 winner Helio Castroneves. Castroneves, the fourth four time winner, will drive full time for Meyer Shank Racing in 2022.

The May 29 race will mark the first time in 30 years that a driver will have a chance to win a fifth 500. Rick Mears was the last driver to have that opportunity in 1992.

I think they could have chosen a photo with a more expressive Helio. The posed shot seems very static, especially for the spontaneous Castroneves, whose display of exuberance after winning last May was a joy to watch.

The unveiling capped the opening day of the PRI show, which returned to Indianapolis after a two year COVID induced absence. 62,000 people are attending this year’s show which has displays in the Indianapolis Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium.

Some photos from this evening taken by The Pit Window camera crew (me):

Doug Boles, IMS President, introduces Castroneves
Castroneves gets his first look at the ticket bearing his image.