Zanardi Well Enough to Transfer; Kirkwood Gets a 2020 Do Over

Some bits of positive news:

Alex Zanardi, two time Indycar champion and paralympic gold medalist, continues to recover from his hand cycling accident last June. Zanardi suffered neurological and facial damage when his cycle hit a truck during a race in Tuscany. He had been in a facility in San Rafaella, but is moving to a rehabilitation center in Padua, which is closer to his home.

“The patient has reached a generally stable physical and neurological condition that permitted his transfer to another hospital equipped with all the necessary clinical specialties and closer to the family home,” said a spokesman for the San Rafaella hospital.

Kirkwood Returns to Andretti for Indy Lights

For 2021 Kyle Kirkwood will be where he was supposed to be in 2020. The 2018 USF200 champion and 2019 Indy Pro 200 champion will finally get to drive in Indy Lights for Andretti Autosport, where his 2020 season was going to take place.

Kirkwood spent the past season in IMSA, which is not a bad alternative. For one thing, he received some experience doing pit stops, which drivers don’t get in Indy Lights. I look for Kirkwood, who will be in car 28 for Andretti, to be a strong contender for the title.

Hinchcliffe to Complete Season in #26

In a move which is not a big surprise, James Hinchcliffe will take over the number 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Autosport for the last three races of the season. The car had been driven by Zach Veach for the lats three years. veach stepped out of the car earlier this week. Hinchcliffe’s time in the car may be a prelude to his driving the 26 next season full time. The announcement from Andretti Autosport:

James Hinchcliffe has been confirmed as the driver of the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda with Andretti Autosport for the remaining three events on the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES calendar. This comes following an announcement Wednesday confirming that Zach Veach would not return to the 26 car for the remaining events.

Hinchcliffe has competed in three prior events [Genesys 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, the GMR INDYCAR Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500] this season with Andretti Autosport in the No. 29 Genesys Honda.

The Harvest GP presented by GMR will see Hinchcliffe join Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS / AutoNation Honda), Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda), Colton Herta (No. 88 Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Honda) and Marco Andretti (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda) for the doubleheader race weekend. The pair of races on the IMS Road Course will be broadcast live Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network and Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI, CHAIRMAN & CEO, ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT
“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021. James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE, NTT INDYCAR SERIES DRIVER, NO. 26 GAINBRIDGE HONDA
“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can. I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”

Veach Out at Andretti

Photo: Zach Veach at mid Ohio in what turned out to be his final ride for Andretti Autosport. Indycar, Chris Owens

Zach Veach will step out of the number 26 Andretti Autosport Gainbridge car effective immediately. he will not return for the 2021 season.

Two statements released this morning via Andretti Autospport’s twitter:

The team will name a replacement in the next few days. This could be an opening for James Hinchcliffe to have a full time ride with the team next year.

Veach sits 20th in the 2020 standings with a best finish of 4th at Texas. Veach began his Indycar career in 2017 at Barber Motorsports Park. In 2019 he finished 18th in points.

Quick Thoughts- Mid Ohio Race 2: The Weekend Andretti Needed

Photo: Matt Fraver, Indycar

Andretti Autosport took out their season long frustration on the Mid Ohio track this weekend. Outside of Marco Andretti’s  pole at Indianapolis and a third place for Alexander Rossi at Road America in Race 2, not much has gone right for the team. This weekend’s team record: four of the six podium spots, including a podium sweep yesterday; a pole, a victory, two front row starts, and 66 laps led.

Colton Herta owned yesterday. He edged Santino Ferrucci for the pole, and drove a clinical , masterful race similar to his win at Laguna Seca last year. Herta has moved to fourth in the standings with his third career win. Ferrucci’s fast lap in the first qualifying group was amazing. The track was still very wet, yet he easily topped the rest of his section.

Seventh place for Will Power yesterday had to seem like a win for him. After his Saturday dominance, Power spun on his qualifying out lap and started 17th. He could have started further back had  other drivers not had issues as well.

Scott Dixon’s drive after his spin was the most exciting thing to watch the last 50 laps. His last lap pass on VeeKay, who has made some incredible passes himself this year, was a beautiful inside move in turn 4. Dixon got just 1 more point for the effort, but he needs every point he can get. Newgarden has gained 44 points on Dixon in the last three races. Dixon still has a 72 point lead with as many as three races to go.

While there wasn’t much drama at the front of the field, there was again some very entertaining action behind the leaders.

I understand the need to shorten the races on a double header weekend this season, but 5 more laps might have made this pair of races more interesting. It was  obvious they would be two stop races with little room for strategy. The lack of yellows Saturday and the the two very early yellows Sunday didn’t allow for any changes to teams’ original plans.

Ferrucci may be a decent driver ( I’m still not completely sold on him) , but he needs to be a little less impulsive. Coming back on the track the way he did could have made the first lap incident much worse than it was.

Rinus VeeKay was just half a lap short of getting two top tens. Dixon’s pass on the last lap knocked him back to 11th Sunday after his 8th place finish Saturday. Overall, this was one of Ed Carpenter racing’s strongest rtoad course weekends in awhile. Conor Daly was in position Saturday fora top ten until a fuel issue droped him back in the last couple of laps.

Alexander Rossi finally had a decent weekend. Perhaps the most frustrated driver on the Andretti Autosport team, Rossi move in to podium spots quickly both days and didn’t yield his position. I hope he can continue this weekend’s strong run into the Harvest Classic.

Mid Ohio Sports Car Course did a great job with COVID protocols. people kept their distance, staff not only enforced the mask requirement, they also enforced the number of people per square limit. I only saw one group with more than the four person limit in a square, and a staff member asked them to split up. They complied. The track hopes to get clearance for a larger crowd for the IMSA race in two weeks.

I didn’t understand why the grandstands were closed. I thought that have in some of them open would allow the crowd to spread out even more. It seemed as if the majority of the 6,000 spectators were in the esses.

Was this the last Indycar weekend where fans will be allowed? there is no word yet on the situation for the Harvest Classic at IMS. I am still not optimistic about St. Pete happening. With the success that othet tracks have had with limited crowd sizes and the plan IMS produced for the 500, I think a limited number of fans could attend. We should know soon.

 

Quick Thoughts- Mid Ohio Race 1

Photo: Matt Fraver, Indycar

It was obvious after qualifying that Will Power was going to have a monster race. Any driver who can win the pole from Group 1 in this qualifying format has a really good car. The bad news for the rest of the field is that Power is in Group 2 tomorrow. The expected rain means Group 1 will got out on a green And possibly slightly wet track.

Although Power had the race well in hand, there were some good battles behind him. Alexander Rossi and teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay fought early. Rossi and Graham Rahal had a late battle for third. The Rahal home crowd perked up when Rahal nearly got by. Scott Dixon and Colton Herta also had a good fight for tenth.

If Conor Daly hadn’t run out of fuel, Rd Carpenter Racing would have had two cars in the top ten. Daly qualified fourth. Perhaps ECR might be getting more competitive on the road courses. Rinus VeeKay had another top ten. He also made another great pass in turn 4 on Herta.

It was one of Andretti Autosport’s best days of the season, with three cars in the top ten plus the Meyer Shank team getting another top ten with Jack Harvey. Hunter-Reay also started on the front row.

Speaking of Harvey, he just quietly goes about his business and keeps getting good results.

Power’s 60th pole and 38th career win move him closer to joining two legends. He is just seven poles behind Mario Andretti and one win behind Al Unser, Sr. for fifth place. He passed Sebastien Bourdain’s today on the victory list.

Josefs Newgarden made up 20 points on Scott Dixon today. How many can Dixon get back tomorrow? Dixon’s biggest ally is time.

COVID Protocols

Mid Ohio did a great job keeping fans safe. Masks were worn more today than at any other track with fans I’ve been to. Staff reminded people who had masks off to wear them and fans complied. The squares painted in orange for people to sit in were hard to see. White paint or chalk might have been better. I appreciate the concept and people respected the boundaries.

The track is hoping the success of their protocols this weekend will allow them to host more fans for the IMSA race on two weeks. All 6,000 tickets for today we’re sold.

I’ll be back with a Day 2 preview in the morning. Quick Thoughts for tomorrow’s race will be up Monday morning. Thanks for following this weekend.

Results

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Qualifying Update- Where’s Chevy?

Andretti Autospport backed up their strong practice times, with the top four spots on the provisional grid after the initial round of qualifying. Marco Andretti did not get hurt by his 28th spot in line , setting the day’s fastest single lap at 232.177 mph. His four lap average of 231.351 just clipped teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 231. 330. the top seven cars averaged more than 231 mph.

Chevys continued to struggle as Rinus Veekay is the only bowtie in the top nine. the next Chevy is Josef Newgarden in 13th.

The afternoon could be a scramble for the last four spots in the Fast Nine.

Notes

From head on, the aeroscreen looks like a cone that a dog wears after surgery.

It was a brilliant move by some teams to use a smaller air hose for qualifying to lessen the drag.  The hose and helmet need a redesign so that they are not protruding above the aeroscreen frame.

Helio Castroneves currently sits 28th, which would be his worst starting spot in his 20 500s.

The session was clean but there were several close calls in turn one.
Back after qualifying ends today.

 

Update: Herta Transporter Catches Fire; Car Okay

Andretti Autosport issued the following statements on Twitter @FollowAndretti around 11 am ET:

At this time, damages to the 88 car appear to be minor and cosmetic, caused by heat, smoke and/or water. We have no current reason to believe that any competition or mechanical aspects of the 88 car have been damaged or compromised. (cont.)

Andretti Autosport
@FollowAndretti
Our Indy Lights team is in Florida for testing and is now in route to St. Pete to help evaluate and assess. Additionally, we are sending a team of INDYCAR crewman from Indianapolis to St. Pete today – in advance of the full team’s arrival tomorrow morning. (cont.)

Andretti Autosport
@FollowAndretti

We are also preparing backup pit equipment at our Indy race shop, this equipment & a spare transporter will depart Indianapolis today as well. Again, we would like to express our gratitude to our transport drivers & local fire departments for their quick responses & support.

 

The transporter carrying Colton Herta’s number 88 car to the Firestone Grand Prix caught fire early this morning just about 15 minutes from the track. An update just a few minutes ago reported that the car was not damaged, but there is extensive damage to the pit equipment.

Herta is expected to be a contender for the NTT Indycar Series championship. Follow along all day for updates.

My guess is the fire was caused by brake failure. A similar incident involving a Penske transporter happened in the early 2000s. I believe it Helio Castroneves’ car, but I’m not sure. He went on to win the race.

Update from Nathan Brown if the Indianapolis Star:

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 III- The Contenders

Three teams which comprise nearly half of the full time grid will battle for the NTT Indycar Series season championship. I’m going to save my predictions for next week. here’s a look at the Big Three. As in my previous two posts, the order is random and is not necessarily indicative of my thinking about their finishing order

Chip Ganassi Racing

The team has expanded by one car and now is home to the two Swedish drivers, Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson. Five time champion Scott Dixon gives the team veteran leadership. Their 2019 season wasn’t bad with Dixon ending the year fourth and Rosenqvist sixth. In addition, Rosenqvist earned Rookie of the Year. Dixon won twice, putting him just six wins behind Mario Andretti for second all time.

Still, it seemed as if Dixon was not having a good year. But it actually was just a poor three week period. A poor showing in the Indianapolis 500 was followed by a self inflicted crash at Detroit Race 1, and then  he was involved in a crash at Texas. He won Race 2 at Detroit to salvage something of that three week period, but seeing him end fourth for the year was unusual.

Rosenqvist won a pole and nearly beat Dixon in a dramatic finish at Mid Ohio. A qualifying penalty cost him a potential pole at Laguna Seca, but he stormed back to finish eighth in the race.  I look for Rosenqvist to have a strong second year with his first series win likely.

Ericsson comes to the team from Arrow Schmidt Peterson. The highlight of his season was a second place at Detroit. He was 17th in the final standings. Ericsson should have a better year his time around, but there may not be a huge jump in his year end ranking. I’m interested to see what he does with better equipment.

Team Penske

Four series titles and two Indianapolis 500 wins should make a driver from the Penske stable the odd on favorite for the championship. Josef Newgarden is at the top of his game, and Simon Pagenaud revived what may have been his sagging team standing in 2019. Will Power had what was for him a substandard season. Then there is the Scott McLaughlin factor to consider.

McLaughlin at present is entered only in the GMR Grand Prix in May, but there is talk of him driving in as many as eight races in 2020. Is he being groomed as a replacement for one of the three drivers? Or, will Penske go to four cars in 2021? Does it make financial sense to run a fourth car next year with a new chassis due to come on line in 2022?

While this seems like a lot of intra team drama, I wouldn’t worry about any effect on the racing. This team will run up front most weeks and at least one of the drivers will be in the conversation for the title in September. McLaughlin could actually help take points away from the contenders on other teams.

Andretti Autosport

This team seems to grow bigger every season. For 2020 Andretti is fielding five teams with the absorption of Harding Steinbrenner Racing in addition to a technical alliance with Meyer Shank Racing. In May James Hinchcliffe joins the squad for three races. Are they spreading themselves too thin? I don’t think so. Of all the teams in the paddock, Andretti seems to work better with more work.

This is an interesting mix of drivers with different goals for the upcoming season. Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta are probably going to contend for the championship. I’m looking forward to seeing if we have an intra team rivalry and how that might appear on the track. Both had great seasons last year. Herta was hampered a bit by rookie mistakes and mechanical gremlins, but he is a quick learner. Rossi had two dominant victories, but most of the time he was behind the drivers fighting him for the points lead.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is entering the final year of his contract. His long time sponsor, DHL, is also is up for renewal after the season. Will Hunter-Reay step down from a full time ride? He wants to finish on a high note. 2019 was a difficult year for him. His results this year may determine his future. I think Hunter-Reay can find a way to win a race this season.

Zach Veach is also entering the last year of his contract. He finished 18th last year, the lowest of the drivers on the team. Veach had a decent rookie year, but seemed to slip a bit in 2019. He needs to have a solid year in 2020.

Marco Andretti went to driving school in England to sharpen his skills. He dropped from a ninth place finish in 2018 to 16th last season. Andretti needs to improve his road course qualifying to be in a better position for good race results. He won a pole at Detroit in 2018. Andretti needs a good start to the year to set a positive tone for an improved season.

Parts I and II

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https://thepitwindow.blog/2020/02/28/indycar-season-preview-part-ii-teams-that-should-improve/