A Busy Day at Sebring

It was a busy day at Sebring today as several teams wound up their preseason test. With less than two weeks to go before the St. Pete opening race, 15 cars were on track in the ‘thours I was at the track. I didn’t see either of the Arrow McLaren SP cars or any of the Penske drivers. Their transporters were there. They may have gone out after I left at 2:30.

Teams that I saw were Andretti, Ganassi,  Coyne, Foyt, Meyer Shank Racing, Carlin, and Dragonspeed. I believe Felipe Nasr was in the Carlin car. I did not see Max Chilton  on track.

Here are a few photos from the day. More will we posted on The Pit Window”s Facebook page tomorrow.

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Indycar Season Preview, Part I: Coyne, Foyt, Carlin Look to Improve

Photo by Kyle McInnes

It’s time for my annual projection of how I think each team will perform in the NTT Indycar Series in 2020. This is the first of three parts on a team by team breakdown.

Carlin

Driver stability looks to be an issue once again for this team. Carlin placed only one car in the Indianapolis 500. Max Chilton chose to not run ovals. Charlie Kimball ran just seven races.  Conor Daly did a decent job running the ovals, but he is no longer available.

With Chilton returning for the road courses in car 59. the team still has to find a driver for the ovals for that car and a full time driver for the 31. While it looks as if Felipe Nasr may drive most of the races in the second car, nothing is confirmed. Nasr would be a great addition to an already talented grid. He was quick at the COTA test.

Carlin will struggle, especially the first half of the year. If they can get affirm driver lineup before St. Pete, we could see some progress after the Indianapolis 500.

Foyt

Optimism abounds at A. J. Foyt Racing. A new driver lineup, which I think is a bit of improvement, makes the outlook brighter. Charlie Kimball has the full time ride in car 4. His engineering background should help the team improve. Three drivers will share car 14. I think the first driver in it holds the key to their season.

Sebastien Bourdais will be in the 14 for the first three races of 2020. I believe that is how long Foyt has to get everything in place for the rest of the year. Between Kimball’s engineering and Bourdais’s experience, the team has a great opportunity to set up for a successful season. The unknown factor is how rookie Dalton Kellett does in his eight road/street events.

Tony Kanaan will drive the 14 in the oval races as he phases out his career as a regular in the series. Ovals have been the strong suit for Foyt. Kanaan has qualified well at Indianapolis and finished third at Gateway last season.

I think the team will be better than last year. I can see a couple more top tens and possibly a few second round entries in road and street course qualifying.

Coyne

2019 wasn’t a terrible season for cars under the Coyne umbrella, but they were expecting a bit more. I think one car will improve while the second car may surprise some people but have a few hiccups along the way. Santino Ferrucci moves to the 18 car for his second Indycar season. Rookie Alex Palou, who looked decent at Spring Training, is in the 19.

The team lost engineer Craig Hampson, who went to Arrow McLaren SP, and had some other personnel changes as well. This may change the dynamic a bit at Coyne, but they are such a close knit group that the effects should be minimal.

Ferrucci had many flashes of brilliance last year and ended third in the Rookie of the Year standings. He was Rookie of the Year at Indianapolis. Ferrucci seems to have a natural knack for ovals. He was in contention for the win at Gateway. He is my dark horse candidate for a season top 10 finish.

Alex Palou could surprise some people. He won’t have Ferrucci’s  2019 advantage of an experienced teammate, but he is quick. How long it takes to channel that quickness to the nuances of an Indycar weekend will determine how his year goes. He joins a very talented rookie class, which I’ll discuss next week. The Indycar youth movement continues.

Coyne should have some slightly better results this season, especially from Ferrucci.

Tomorrow- Ed Carpenter Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Meyer Shank Racing, and Arrow McLaren SP.

 

Foyt Looking to Reset with Kimball

Photo from Charlie Kimball’s Twitter page

“Let’s hit the reset button,” Larry Foyt said, We want our effort to start showing results.”

Foyt explained one of the reasons the team signed Charlie Kimball for the full season ride in their car number 4 for 2020. He is impressed with the feedback Kimball provides. “I enjoyed the challenge of bringing my Indycar experience to Carlin,” Kimball said. He hopes to do the same thing at A. J. Foyt Racing.

Kimbal is looking forward to running a full season after a brief part time stint with Carlin in 2019.  “I would not have survived a,a,partial schedule again. It was really tough on me watching races from the sideline,” he said.

“Running a full schedule allows me to stay in rhythm,” Kimball added. He said he felt other drivers were ahead of him when he drove since they were driving every race.

Kimball thanked his sponsor Novo Nordisk, his sponsor for the last twelve years. The company which has been with Kimball since his Indy Lights days will be the primary sponsor for six races during the upcoming season.

Foyt said last year the team went the wrong direction on dampers. “Our setups showed well off the track, but they didn’t work when the track changed. Our setups weren’t working with the dampers.” He hopes Kimball’s mechanical feedback can help point the team in the correct direction.

Team goals for 2020 are second round qualifying on road and street courses and fighting for the top 10 in the championship. Kimball sees no reason the team can’t qualify in the top 12 at Indianapolis or perhaps be in the Fast 9.

Foyt said the number 14 car is a “work in progress.” An announcement may come in a couple of weeks. Asked about Tony Kanaan, Foyt answered, I’m sure he will be part of the team.”

Thoughts

Whatever some may think of Kimball’s driving ability, I have to tip my hat to any driver who runs a partial season after being a full time driver then bounces back with a full time ride the following season. That doesn’t happen very often.I’m not su

Kimball Has a decent record in the Indianapolis 500 with four top 10 finishes in nine races. He was third in 2015 and fifth in 2016. Foyt’s cars have run well at IMS. This could be an interesting combination in May.

I think Foyt’s team goals will be difficult to achieve. The top 10 is a tough club to break into. I could see some good results and some road/street qualifying success, but I’m not sure we’ll see the consistency he’s looking for this year. His goals are admirable and I hope the team gets a sniff of them.

Rumors are that the 14 car will be shared by Sebastien Bourdais, Dalton Kellett, and Tony Kanaan. Kanaan is slated for the ovals, I’m hearing. Kimball will need to provide strong feedback to the drivers, especially the rookie Kellett.

The Foyt cars may be hard to spot for a couple races without the familiar ABC Supply Co. logos. I’m glad they will return for the Indianapolis 500. Iwill misss them the rest of the season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pit Window Plays Santa

The big day approaches rapidly, and The Pit Window has gifts for Indycar. Before I pass them out, I want to thank everyone who has read the column this year. There has been a 300% increase in readership in 2018. I am humbled and appreciative. I hope everyone has a great holiday season no matter what or how you celebrate. On to the gifts.

For Indycar- An improved aero package for ovals. The street and road package is great. I hope you can find the answer to improve the oval racing. It seemed to improve as the year went on.

For IMS-

A tweak to the Indy 500 qualifying format to accomodate the larger entry list.

An IMSA race for 2020.

For A. J. Foyt Racing- Some top five finishes in 2019.

For Juncos Racing- A car on the grid for several races, including the 500.

For Zach Veach- Your first Indycar victory.

For Scott Dixon- Your first back to back championship.

For Will Power- Another Indy 500 win. The celebration was worth it.

For Robert Wickens- Continued progress toward full recovery. Watching you battle has been inspiring. You were a joy to watch on track, and you have shown that same spirit in therapy..

For McLaren- A successful Indy debut that leads to fuller participation in the series.

For NBC- Great coverage of all races and an outstanding Indy 500 broadcast.

For All Teams and Drivers- A safe, competitive 2019 season.

I will return mid week next week with a news roundup and a look at what you’ll see here in 2019.

Happy Holidays to all.

James Davison- Maximum Efforts, No Regrets

James Davison has had an on again, off again relationship with Indycar. When he was in Indy Lights, he competed against several current Indycar drivers. The last three years he has driven in the IMSA Weather Tech Series, winning the pole in GT Dayona class at the Rolex 24 and he won twice in Pirelli World Challenge driving for Nissan in 2015.Davison, speaking to fans as part of the Fast Cars Fast Girls podcast series, says while he enjoys racing, ‘The Indy 500 is where I want to be.”

He had his first start in the 500 in 2014, driving for KV Racing. He started 28th and finished 16th. The following year, driving for Dale Coyne, he started last because he had a sportscar commitment on qualifying weekend. Tristan Vautier qualified the car for Davison. He finished 27th after first lap contact and an incident in the pits.

Last year, he had a deal fall through because of the limited availability of Honda engines and chassis for Chevrolet teams. When Sebastien Bourdais was injured during qualifying, Davison got the call to replace him. He again started 33rd, but led two laps late in the race. His day ended in a five car pileup in turn one with about 16 laps to go. He feels that he lost a chance to win the race.

2018 is the earliest he has had a 500 program in place, driving the Johnathon Byrd car owned by Brian Belardi in a partnership with A. J. Foyt Racing. He admits the one off teams are behind the full timers, but he feels they can be competitive.

“if we don’t qualify but I know the team put forth maximum effort on everything, I will have no regrets.”

Davison discussed the new car and his thoughts echo what other drivers have said- it is difficult to pass and the front end is loose in the corners.

Davison has started in the back in each 500 he has been in, but has always improved his position. As long asm he qualifies, Davison will be someone to watch on race day.

Pit Lane Parley Podcast

Due to technical difficulties, recording of the Pit Lane Parley podcast had to be postponed. Recording is planned for this evening. I will announce the air date and time. They have a not so special guest I happen to know.

 

Season Preview, Part 2- Smaller Teams Look for Bigger Results

First, some personal news:

Beginning this weekend I will be covering Indycar for Wildfire Sports, a sports site carrying podcasts and written content. I am very excited for this opportunity. Please give them a look at wildfireradiosports.com. I plan to continue this blog, probably with a slight change in content. Thanks to everyone who reads this blog. You helped make this happen.

 

The four smallest established teams in the paddock expect better results this year thanks to the new aero package. TheHonda teams are especially optimistic that equal aero with superior Honda power will yield higher finishes. Each of the teams featured today have at least one driver new to the team. All but one driver was not in Indycar last year.

A. J. Foyt Racing

Foyt turned over their driver lineup for the second year in a row. They now have former series champion and 2013 500 winner Tony Kanaan and rookie Matheus Leist. Kanaan has struggled the last few years with Ganassi. He is looking for a fresh starts. I’m not sure this is the best team to get better results with, but his talent may help improve the team’s standing.

Leist drove in Indy Lights in 2017 and won the Freedom 100 in dominating fashion. He also won at Iowa. Still, I think he could have benefitted from another season in Lights. Leist spun four times at the Phoenix test. He will have a challenging year.

Overall I don’t look for much improvement from Foyt Racing. The constant change of personnel makes it difficult to produce decent results. Kanaan may be able to get a few top 10s, but anything beyond that would be a major accomplishment.

Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan

This team has some unfinished business. Sebastien Bourdais was poised to be a championship contender last year, winning the St. Pete opener and on his way to the pole at Indy when the horrendous crash occurred. Bourdais was sidelined until Labor Day weekend.

2018 begins with a full time sponsor and a partnership with former team owners Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan. This may be the boost that Coyne needs to move his organization closer to the front consistently. Look for Bourdais to be in the thick of the title fight.

The second car will have two part time drivers, Zachary Claman DeMelo and Pietro Fittipaldi. DeMelo drove in Indy Lights last year and had an Indycar debut at Sonoma with Rahal :Letterman Lanigan. After a slow start to the weekend he showed a decent race pace. I thought he was one of the most improved Lights drivers last year, but I still think he could use another year’s experience. DeMelo will run at St. Pete, Long Beach, Barber, Detroit, Road America, Pocono, Toronto, and Gateway.

Fittipaldi is the grandson of former series, world, 2-time 500 champion Emerson Fittipaldi. He raced in Europe last season and did well. He performed well in testing, but he is still a rookie on a low budget team. I think he will be interesting to watch. Fittipaldi’s seven races are Phoenix, GP of Indy, the 500, Texas, Mid-Ohio, Portland, and Sonoma.

Ed Carpenter Racing

2018 sees some shuffling and one part time addition to the Fuzzy’s Vodka backed team. Owner Ed Carpenter will continue to drive the ovals in car 20 and rookie Jordan King, who comes from F3 and F2 with respectable credentials, will take over the car fro the road and street schedule.

The 21 car will have Spencer Pigot, last year’s road and street driver of the 20. Pigot is a major talent who should do well in a full time seat. Last year a series of mechanical issues cost him some great finishes. I anticipate fewer problems and some top 5s this season.

Carpenter always qualifies well at Indianapolis, but has very little good fortune in the race. Could this be the year their fortune changes?

The 20 and the 21 will have different liveries this year. Last year the two cars were a spotter’s nightmare as they were pretty much indistinguishable in the race. When both cars carry the Fuzzy’s sponsorship, the 21 will be green and the 20 will be black.

Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports

I always start the new season with high hopes for this team.  There are some flashes of brilliance but not a consistent result for the entire schedule. 2018 could be different. James Hinchcliffe returns and his teammate, Robert Wickens, is someone he grew up with. Wickens was headed for an open wheel career which got derailed and spent last year in DTM.  This is the strongest two car lineup SPM has had in a while.

Adding Leena Gade as lead engineer is a huge hire for SPM. She is one of the top engineers in the world. It will not take her long to get these cars competitive. Gade is also a strong, articulate  advocate for equal opportunities for women in sport. I am very glad she is in the Indycar paddock.

There were some issues with Hinchcliffe’s car at Phoenix, which hopefully will be resolved by the April race. Wickens showed good speed at the Sebring test. He has a smooth style.

The team has added several partners in the offseason. The biggest deal is with New Era as the team’s apparel provider.

I think Hinchcliffe will win a race this year as he did last year. Wickens will have several good runs and likely finish second in the season Rookie of the Year chase.

Tomorrow concludes my team previews with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Andretti Autosport. On Friday I will have a full season preview with predictions you can take to the bank, or anywhere else that has a trash can..