Indycar Notes- Is Mario Out of a Ride? Honda Ends Fastest Seat in Sports Commitment

Photo: Mario Andretti drives the two seater before the start of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Indycar photo, Chris Jones

A story that got curiouser and curiouser finally reached its conclusion this morning.

An article in The Drive by Steve Cole Smith on October 31 indicated that !969 Indianapolis 500 winner and World Champion Mario Andretti will not return to drive Honda’s Fastest Seat in Sports, the 2 seater that leads the grid before the start of races. Smith said he learned at St. Pete that Honda is removing Andretti from the ride.

Andretti later responded with a Tweet saying this was “Fake news.”

Robin Miller of Racer magazine in a story yesterday (November 1) says that Honda has denied firing Mario. Mario also stated his desire to continue with the program, which began in 2005.

Just a couple of hours ago, Marshall Pruett of Racer reports that Honda is ending its sponsorship of the Fastest Seat in Sports. Indycar is seeking a new sponsor for the program. The question left is, will Mario Andretti still be driving?

Testing at Barber Today

21 cars will participate in the first official day of offseason testing for the NTT Indycar Series today. First time drivers taking part are three time Australian Supercars Champion Scott McLaughlin for Team Penske, seven time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson for Chip Ganassi racing, and Formula E champion Antonio Felix da Costa for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The da Costa test is a courtesy test and not expected to lead to an Indycar ride.

The testing list, from Nathan Brown’s Twitter feed:

St. Pete Tears Down Track

My Eyes in Florida tells me that the St. Pete track is being torn down, to be rebuilt late February next year. the podiums for the race winner and championship celebrations are still up as of this morning. I would think they would leave the grandstands up as they did all summer. There is actually less time between the March 2021 race and the race two weekends ago than there was between the original date for this year and when the race was held.

Limited 500 Seating? Other News of the Week

An answer to a question by Robin Miller in Racer magazine mailbag may offer a hint as to what to expect attendance wisewhenever the Indianapolis 500 is run. I’m still not optimistic about August. The answer:

From IMS President Doug Boles: “We are not installing the southern third of the Pit Road Terrace seats this year. The Pit Road Terrace seats are the temporary bleachers that we install behind the pit road fence on the south side of the Pagoda. It would not impact a decision to bring back the apron or not. A couple of reasons for the change: (1) With IndyCar using the Gasoline Alley garages on July 4 weekend, it helps us with our install time by not putting up as many seats between the race and Aug 12, and (2) in a typical year, we only sell about 50% of these seats, so a third reduction in more appropriate related to demand. And, not the reason why, Skip is correct that it would be a benefit in a COVID year in the sense that it is less people in the area. Ticketing customers in the impacted seats are being relocated inside the remaining Pit Road Terrace seats or given an option for another seat without having to pay the seat price difference.”

Along with fewer seats there will likely be no fans in the infield. Another blurb I read last week said that 175,00 tickets have been sold. Will IMS cap the sales now? I would expect a decision about August needs to come by mid July. The COVID-19 numbers in Indiana continue to decline, but several other states are experiencing large spikes in cases and deaths. Stay tuned. Wash your hands.

From earlier: Schedule Set for GMR Grand Prix

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Barber Renewal or Extension?

Earlier this week an announcement from the Birmingham News Journal said that the NTT Indycar Series and Barber Motorsports Park signed an extension of their agreement through 2023. Today, a Barber spokesperson said the contract runs through 2022.  Barber is a staple on the Indycar calendar. The track is a great setting for a race. It is one of my favorite tracks to go to.

Illinois Opens Tracks With Limited Attendance

The state of Illinois has allowed race tracks to open with fan attendance limited to 20%. I’m not sure of the specifics of Illinois’ phased openings, so I don’t know what this means for Gateway yet. Gateway is another track that may have to make an attendance decision. The best attended non Indianapolis oval could open the first turn grandstand to allow the fans to spread out more.

McLaren Financial Troubles

reports this week say McLaren is facing some financial issues. The company is seeking a loan and legal action to raise 280 million pounds. A buyout and lease back arrangement is a possibility. We will have to wait and see what effect this has on their Indycar program.

A Positive Ending

Former Indy lights driver Aaron Telitz has signed on full time with AIM Vasser Sullivan’s IMSA GTD program. Telitz replaces Chase Parker, who was let go by the team last week. Telitz is a good driver. He is with a team with an Indycar connection, which I hope will earn him a chance at an Indycar ride someday.

Kody Swanson, USAC midget and Silver Crown driver, tested an Indy Pro 2000 car this week. Swanson is another driver who is long overdue for a shot at Indycar. It would be great if he could get some Road to Indy races in this year.

We are just nine days away from the next Indycar race!

 

 

Quick Thoughts- Barber iRace

Indycar teams are now taking this iRacing thing seriously. Teams brought in their engineers and pit strategy won the race.

It was great having the race on television. In addition tom the broadcast I hope something can be worked out where fans who don’t have access to NBCSN can watch online without subscribing to a service.

It was a decent race with more of an air of a real race than the Watkins Glen race

The best part of yesterday was having Robert Wickens participate. His 8th place finish after starting last was a great drive. He ran as high as third. Wickens definitely had the drive of the day.

I thought the track had a bit of a cartoonish look on television. I’m not sure if that was because I had never seen this type of race on a large screen before, but it I found it a bit unsettling. Where was the bridge by the museum?

Sage Karam proved once again that he is a master at iRacing, but he still doesn’t seem to handle adversity well.

What a great win by Scott McLaughlin. I wouldn’t be surprised if he repeats that feat when he gets his first real shot at Indycar.

Three of yesterday’s top five were not Indycar full time drivers.

It was nice to have an hour or so of distraction.

I’m very excited for next weekend’s race at Michigan. look for lots of flying cars.

The race summary:

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Wickens Return Highlights Indycar iRace at Barber

Robert Wickens returns to the cockpit although virtually today. No matter. It will be great to see him on “track.” The race is at 2:30 pm ET and also on NBC sports.c and the NBC Sports app.

Here is Wickens’tweet from yesterday:

 

Fast Facts for Barber iRace

Virtual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Fast Facts

When: 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, April 4

Track: Barber Motorsports Park, a 17-turn, 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama

Race distance: 45 laps/107.1 miles (approximately 60 minutes)

Push-to-pass parameters: 10 activations for a 10-second duration

Expected pit stops: One. Cars will be allowed two “Fast Repairs” during the race.

Competition caution: A planned competition caution period will bunch the field on Lap 15. It will consist of three laps, followed by a single-file restart.

Twitter: @IndyCar, @iRacing, @BarberMotorPark, #INDYCARChallenge, #INDYCAR, #HIGPA

TV/Online: 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, NBC Sports App. Leigh Diffey is the lead announcer, alongside the network’s INDYCAR analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. The pre-race activities will be highlighted by Miss Alabama 2019 Tiara Pennington singing the national anthem and NBA and Auburn University legend Charles Barkley giving the command to start engines. The podium finishers will be interviewed on the live NBCSN broadcast. Diffey also will host a post-race virtual press conference with the podium finishers for media members (call-in details will be distributed).

Spotter guide: Click here to see a detailed spotter guide for this Saturday’s race.

Race notes:

Sage Karam (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) won the inaugural round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge on Saturday, March 28, the American Red Cross Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International. Karam beat Felix Rosenqvist (Chip Ganassi Racing) to the checkered flag by 3.6174 seconds. Will Power (Team Penske) finished third in the 25-driver field.

• INDYCAR has conducted 10 Indy car races at Barber Motorsports Park. Takuma Sato won the most-recent race at the track, in 2019. Helio Castroneves won the first Indy car race at Barber, in 2010.

• Reigning series champion Josef Newgarden is the winningest Indy car driver at Barber Motorsports Park with three victories (2015, 2017 and 2018). Newgarden is in the field for the virtual race Saturday after finishing seventh last Saturday at Watkins Glen.

• The field for Saturday’s race at Barber consists of 29 drivers, including 21 with previous starts in Indy car races at the track. Watkins Glen INDYCAR iRacing Challenge winner Sage Karam has just one previous start at Barber, in 2015 for Chip Ganassi Racing. Most notable among drivers without Indy car starts at Barber is seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson , who raced in an Indy car last Saturday at Watkins Glen after 18 Cup Series starts at that track.

• Four drivers are joining the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge for the first time this Saturday: Five-time series champion Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing), 2018 series Rookie of the Year Robert Wickens (Arrow McLaren SP), three-time Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge pole winner Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing) and Jack Harvey (Meyer Shank Racing).

• Nineteen of the 24 drivers who started the inaugural event last Saturday at Watkins Glen were running at the finish, proving these athletes are just as skilled in the virtual world as in reality.

Entry List for Honda Grand Prix of Alabama- iRacing Saturday

Photo: Takuma Sato celebrates winning the pole at Barber in 2019.

Twenty -nine drivers are entered for Saturday’s event on NBCSN beginning at 2:30 ET. The biggest surprise- Ed Carpenter who last race on a road course in Indycar in 2013. Carpenter will be in the 21 car while Conor Daly stays in the 20. Scott Speed is in the 98 again this week.wp-1585844828134597717769225287296.png

The race is scheduled for 45 laps and will include a competition caution after the first round of pit stops has been completed around laps 28-31. The caution will last three laps and the race will resume with  a single file restart.

Starting positions will be determined by a 10 minute qualifying session just before the start of the race. All cars will have the same setup.

The Greatest 33 Non-Winners: Final Grid- A Reader Request Post

Editor’s Note: This is the first reader request; originally published May 9, 2017

What a fun project this turned out to be! It was fascinating seeing how much those who submitted grids both agreed and disagreed. Some drivers got just one mention, while others appeared on every ballot.  There was near unanimous placement for some drivers, and some drivers were near the front on some grids and near the back on others. The driver nearly everyone agreed should be on the pole is Michael Andretti (pictured above, from 1992).

I  noticed the rankings were along age lines. Older fans close to my age seemed to have near identical grids,  and younger fans as a group submitted similar lineups.  Many drivers from long ago in general fared better on the lists from the older group. I was surprised how well the current drivers stacked up against the racers of the past. Another interesting detail is that all 50 driver finalists had at least one mention. I didn’t expect that.

To rank the drivers, I assigned points to the drivers corresponding to their spot on each person’s grid. A driver on pole got 1 point, the last driver got 33. If a driver was listed on pole on five grids, his total was 5. The lowest total won the pole. If a driver did not appear on someone’s grid, he/she was given 34 points. To my shock, there were only two ties. I resolved placement by averaged each driver’s highest and lowest rank of all the grades, with the lowest average getting the higher spot. One of the ties was for 32nd and 33rd. It was just like qualifying for the 1963 500.

The front row- Michael Andretti, Rex Mays, and Ted Horn, is strong. These drivers were in the top 10 on everyone’s grid. Andretti led 431 laps, the most by any non-winning driver. he started on the front row three times and had 5 top 5 finishes.  Rex Mays, in the middle of the front row is the only other driver to lead more than 200 laps and not win. Mays was on the pole four times. Ted Horn, on the outside of the front row, finished in the top five 9 times in 10 starts.

So here they are, the Greatest 33 Non-Winners of the Indianapolis 500:

Row 1

Michael Andretti

Rex Mays

Ted Horn

Row 2

Harry Hartz

Marco Andretti

Lloyd Ruby

Row 3

Gary Bettenhausen

Ralph Hepburn

Roberto Guerrero

Row 4

Scott Goodyear

Carlos Munoz

Robby Gordon

Row 5

Eddie Sachs

Tony Stewart

Jack McGrath

Row 6

Wally Dallenbach

Tomas Sheckter

Will Power

Row 7

Danica Patrick

Tony Bettenhausen

Joe Leonard

Row 8

Jimmy Snyder

Ed Carpenter

Danny Ongais

Row 9

Pancho Carter

Mel Kenyon

Kevin Cogan

Row 10

Vitor Meira

Russ Snowberger

Paul Russo

Row 11

Tom Alley

Johnny Thomson

George Snider

it’s kind of fitting that Snider is last on the grid. his trademark was jumping into a car on Bump Day and getting into the field starting near the back. Thanks to everyone who submitted a grid. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and reasoning as to how yo put your grids together.

I will be back tomorrow with some 500 news and a report on my visit to the A. J. Foyt exhibit at the Speedway Museum. The cars were great to see, but the memorabilia was even more amazing to me. Thursday I will have my Indianapolis Grand Prix preview with my normally inaccurate winner’s prediction.

 

 

 

 

 

McLaren Reveals Car for 500; Some News; Barber Photos

McLaren revealed the car Fernando Alonso will drive in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 next month.  The mainly  papaya orange machine, the traditional McLaren color, has blue accents. While similar to Scott Dixon’s car, I think they are different enough to tell apart. The McLaren has less blue in the middle and is a different shade of orange from the Ganassi PNC Bank entry.

The sidepod sponsor is an e-cigarette company and includes a health warning. Don’t look for tobacco companies to come rushing back to motorsports just because they can add a health warning.  This si the second e cigarette company to be on a car. Blu sponsored Sebastien Bourdais a few years ago.

It’s a great looking car and it always adds to the race to have a former F1 champion in the field.

HSR Adds King Taco for Long Beach

Harding Steinbrenner Racing will carry King Taco sponsorship on Colton Herta’s car at Long Beach this weekend.  King Taco usually sponsors a car in their local race.  GESS, the primary sponsor of the 88 at Barber, is an associate sponsor this coming weekend.

It will be interesting to see if GESS commits further with the program in May.

Rich Energy Sponsors Jordan King

Jordan King, who will drive in the Indianapolis 500 as a third entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, yesterday announced Rich Energy is now a personal sponsor. This might help King, who drove the Ed Carpenter Racing number 20 on the road/street courses last year, get more races. Not sure if Rahal wants to do a third car for more than Indianapolis with the momentum the team has built the last two races.

Frye- Third OEM May Become Necessity

In a media availability at Barber Motorsports Park this past weekend, Indycar President Jay Frye said as more teams enter the field, a third engine manufacturer may “become a necessity rather than a luxury.”

It sounds as if he expects some more teams may be planning to enter the series. I agree. Honda and Chevy are getting stretched a bit already, especially in May.

Frye did not give any hints that a third OEM is imminent though rumors persist that a certain German company may have its name mentioned next month.

Last Look at Barber in Photos

Here are some final photos from Barber. The first two are from my friend Kyle McInnes, a photographer aspiring to become an Indycar photographer. Check out his work at kylemcinnesphoto.com.

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Top: Matheus Leist after spinning in practice.

Bottom: Spencer Pigot brings out another red flag Friday’

Photos by Kyle McInnes

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Scott Dixon makes his final pit stop.

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Sato’s crew celebrates after the checkered flag.

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Takuma Sato addresses the media after his convincing victory.

The last three photos are mine.

Back Thursday with a Long Beach preview.