Carlin Announces Chilton Full Time; Kimball Will Run Partial Schedule

Carlin Racing today confirmed Max Chilton will return as driver of the number 59 car for the 2019 NTT Indycar Series.  The announcement had been expected for quite a while. This will be Chilton’s fourth year driving the Gallagher car. He raced out of the Chip Ganassi Racing team in 2016 and 2017 before moving with teammate Charlie Kimball to Carl;in’s new entry last year.

“I couldn’t be happier to formally announce that Gallagher will be back for the 2019 season partnering with myself and Carlin. Gallagher and Carlin are like family to me and I’m excited to see what we can do together building on both partnerships,” said Chilton. “Our first year together as an IndyCar team had its ups and downs, but the potential and growth that we showed as a team was obvious to everyone. I want to say a massive thank you to Gallagher for their continuing support of me. To have the opportunity to represent the nearly 30,000 employees of Gallagher, a brand that focuses so heavily on teamwork and innovation, is a true privilege.”

Kimball, meanwhile will be back with long time sponsor Novo Nordisk on a part time schedule. His races weren’t confirmed yet. My guess is his schedule will include the Indianapolis 500, Laguna Seca, Mid Ohio, and  one of the March/ April races.  I’m not sure how many Kimball will run. I had heard he had a 70% budget, which would mean he would run about 12 events.

Carlin will have another driver fill in for the remaining to complete the entire schedule. R. C Enerson has tested with the team.

I thought last year it was a bold move for Carlin to plunge into Indycar full time with two cars. They did manage a couple of top 10s. They should see improved resulkts this season.

Tomorrow morning Meyer Shank Racing will announce Jack Harvey’s 10 race schedule for the Indycar season. Watch this spot for news of that announcement tomorrow afternoon.

2018- Passing Grade for New Aero; Close Points Battle; Talented Rookies

St.Pete set the tone. The racing was going to be better with the new kit. It was going to be a competitive season. A rookie star emerged and would captivate fans. 2018 was all that. That rookie, Robert Wickens, unfortunately didn’t get to complete the year.  Younger stars made a bold statement that they arrived, but the established stars rose to the top at the end, It was one of the most enjoyable seasons. I’ve seen.

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Robert Wickens at Mid Ohio. He finished second in what would be his last complete race of the year.

The Meteor

Robert Wickens stole the pole at the opening race in St. Pete and dominated the race until a lap 108 collision with Alexander Rossi knocked him out of the race. Indycar fans suddenly had a new star to root for. Wickens followed up with a second place finish  at Phoenix after leading the late stages of the race. Five consecutive top tens, including three top fives followed. Then everything came to a horrendous halt in the accident at Pocono. Whether Wickens gets back into a car again is still undetermined. He may miss the entire 2019 season. Despite missing the final three races, Wickens still finished tied for tenth in points and won Rookie of the Year. One of the highlights of last Sunday’s Sonoma finale was seeing a video of Wickens talking to the fans.

The New Aero Package

Two goals of the new aero package were to improve the racing and put the car back in the hands of the drivers. It definitely accomplished the second aim. There was better racing for the most part. Ovals definitely need some more work. Street courses showed the most improvement and road courses had more passing than last year. There is still an aero wash that needs to be tweaked. It’s fun seeing the cars slide through the corners.

A Tight Title Fight

Six different drivers swapped the lead eight times through the Texas race. Scott Dixon took the points lead with his win at Texas and led the rest of the way. His lead ballooned to 62 after Toronto but shrunk to 26 after Gateway. Alexander Rossi was third after Toronto, 70 points behind, but won two in a row at Mid Ohio and Pocono to cut into the lead. Rossi’s last chance to catch Dixon ended in the second turn at Sonoma when he clipped Marco Andretti, cutting a tire and damaging his front wing.

While Dixon’s 57 point final margin seems large, it was not an easy title to win. Dixon, Rossi, Josef Newgarden, and Will Power won three races each, and Ryan Hunter-Reay won twice. This concentration of big points days among a few drivers kept things close.

Dixon’s fifth title puts him into rarefied air. Only A. J. Foyt with seven championships has more than Dixon.

It was a strange route to the championship. Dixon did not win a pole and didn’t lead a lap until the first race in Detroit in June. He had the fewest bonus points of the four main contenders. Dixon dodged two bullets late in the season. He narrowly missed the spinning tub of Wickens’ car at Pocono. At the start of the Portland race, Dixon was involved in a scramble with four other cars, but he suffered no damage and fought back to a fifth place finish.

New teams

Carlin and Harding Racing joined the series full time. Meyer Shank Racing and Juncos Racing had part time entries. All four new teams will return next year with expanded programs. The biggest change for 2019 will be Harding, now Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Carlin is planning on adding a third car. Meyer Shank hopes to participate in ten races next season. Juncos bought a second car but is unsure if it will race during he season.

I will talk about the Harding Steinbrenner team in a post next week.

Rookies Impress

In addition to Wickens, Zach Veach had a string of four consecutive top tens at Toronto, Mid Ohio, Pocono, and Gateway. Veach had run well at times in other races but was plagued by mistakes. He was instrumental in setting up the Andretti cars in testing.

At Sonoma, Indy lights champion Patricio O’Ward got his first Indycar ride with Harding Racing. He got people’s attention with the third quickest lap in Friday’s second practice. He backed that up by qualifying fifth and finishing ninth in the race. O’Ward and Colton Herta will be full time next year for Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

Final Thoughts

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Alexander Rossi at St. Pete. He showed amazing ability to pass anywhere and also had some controversial moments.

Rossi put some spice into several races this year with his charges from the rear. He started 32nd at Indianapolis and finished fourth. At Phoenix he went to the back because of a penalty and came back for a third place finish. At Sonoma he used a timely caution to fight back to seventh and keep second place in the final standings.

Rossi also created some controversy with some moves where contact was involved. the most notorious was was his collision with Wickens at St. Pete. I liked the way he didn’t apologize and just went on driving. Rossi has an old school attitude I really enjoy.

I admire Mike Harding for fielding a team all season on a limited budget. Next year the team should be stronger with added resources.

Thanks to Verizon for their series sponsorship the last five years. I appreciate that unlike other series sponsors, they completed their entire contract length.

Finally, I will continue to send good healing thoughts to Robert Wickens. I hope to see him race again.

 

 

Season Preview, Part 1- New Teams Hope New Aero Package Levels the Field

New teams, new drivers, new sponsors, and a new aero package are ready. The fans are more than ready. The 2018 Indycar season starts Friday when practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg begins.

In a three part series, I take a look at each team and make some predictions for the year.

Today I focus on the new teams. In all parts of this preview, team order is random and is not intended to be a prediction of season long results.

Michael Shank Racing

It has been a long road to Indycar for Michael Shank, beginning last year with the Indianapolis 500. Jack Harvey drives the Shank car, which has a technical partnership with Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. The team has scheduled 6 races this year so far. Harvey will drive at St. Pete, Long Beach, The 500, Mid-Ohio, Portland, and Sonoma. The team may add a couple more races. This will be an interesting team to watch. They might be able to grab a couple of top 10s, but I see them using this season to learn and build.

Juncos Racing

Ricardo Juncos may be pioneering the model for future Indycar teams. Juncos has been a long time steady participant in the Mazda Road to Indy, winning the 2017 Indy Lights championship with Kyle Kaiser. Kaiser and the team both move to Indycar this year. Juncos has eight scheduled races this year. Kaiser will drive in four, and newcomer Rene Binder will drive the other four. There is hope to add some more outings for Kaiser, the team’s primary driver.

Binder will open the season at St. Pete, then race at Barber, Toronto, and Mid-Ohio. Kaiser debuts at Phoenix, then goes to Long Beach, and finishes the season at Indianapolis, driving in the GP of Indy and the 500. The hope is to add more races for Kaiser. I hope that happens because he needs more seat time and needs to have races deeper into the season.

I think this team will struggle to get results, but they will build a solid foundation for the following years. Juncos still has a presence in the Mazda Road to Indy with Victor Franzoni headlining their Indy Lights program.

Carlin Racing

It was just a matter of time before Carlin moved to Indycar. After a successful two years in Indy Lights, including the 2016 championship with Ed Jones, they become a two car team with former Ganassi drivers Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton. Carlin knows how to run races and their two drivers have Indycar experience.

Chilton is still learning the craft and showed improvement last year. Kimball is at a crossroads. Were his problems last season a part of being on Ganassi’s B team? This will be a pivotal year for him.

I think they will have some good results and will end up in the upper half of the field.

Harding Racing

A three race toe dip last season and now Harding is a full time entry with Gabby Chaves. In their brief time last year the team produced two top 10s and was running at the finish of every race. Chaves is a steady driver. The team strengthened their leadership hiring Brian Barnhart as president and Al Unser, Jr. as driving coach. That experience alone gives them a bit of an edge over the other new teams. Look for a consistent season with some very good results on occasion. Harding could be the best of the newcomers.

Tomorrow-

A. j. Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan, Schmidt Peterson Racing, and Ed Carpenter Racing

Sebring Test Day; Catching Up with Indycar News

I really cannot wait for St. Pete after today. Yesterday was like a first practice at a race weekend. Eleven cars completed a very busy day at Sebring Wednesday. Drivers from Foyt, Carlin, Andretti Autosport, Coyne, Foyt, and Rahal turned a significant number of laps, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay drive the most laps. Rookies Zach Veach, Robert Wickens,  and Mattheus Leist all logged important track time. Zachary Calaman DeMelo drove the Coyne number 19 in a test drive. There has been no official announcement yet on who will be in that car this year.

Rossi and Hunter-Reay also looked the smoothest and most consistent on their runs. Many drivers experimented with braking points and acceleration areas. I saw a lot of sliding through the corner leading to the backstretch.  The cars seem to approach the hairpin faster than I recall them doing at testing last year.

Max Chilton was the lone participant for Carlin Racing today. Charlie Kimball had a sponsor event commitment. Both Carlin drivers tested Monday and Tuesday on the oval at Homestead. This was their first road course test. It was great to see a new team, especially this one, on track.

I will be leaving Sebring Thursday morning for Daytona and the Rolex24. Sportscars are my second love after Indycars. The number of Indycar drivers in the race makes it that much better. It will be interesting with the large prototype field and the addition on Team Penske. Three Indycar owners have teams in the IMSA series now. If Andretti would join, there could be an even more massive crossover. I’m all for a return to the days when drivers drove anything, anywhere, anytime. See my post about Dan Gurney.

Catching Up on Indycar news

Lots of news to catch up with.

The biggest news is Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports hiring Leena Gade as their lead engineer. Gade is a three time winning engineer at Le Mans for Audi. She is the female lead engineer in Indycar. This move is a huge coup for SPM and the series.

DRR is scheduled to announce a two car team for the Indianapolis 500 today. Let the Danica speculation begin. I think Ed Carpenter Racing would be a better place for competitively. There are some family connections at DRR, though. Stay tuned.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has partnered with New Era as their clothing supplier. SPM could be the sharpest dressed  team in the paddock.

From Indycar’s newly released rule book:

The best thing is the severe points reduction for 500 qualifying. Only the fast nine receive points. Nine points go to the pole winner and the points drop by one for each position following. I always thought too many points were given for qualifying. My preference would be one point for pole, but this is a fair compromise.

The worst thing- the qualifying procedure for ovals other than Indianapolis. Cars will qualify in inverse order of entrant points. While this fair to part time drivers, virtually the same order at every track is not relevant to the weekend. Inverse order of final practice times is a better method. It reflects how a team is performing on a particular weekend.

I’m disappointed to see double points remaining for Indy and Sonoma.

Rolex 24 Preview- Racing Returns

It’s not Indycar, but many current and former Indycar drivers will be driving in the Rolex24 at Daytona this weekend. IMSA has shown steady improvement since Grand Am and the American LeMans Series merged in 2012 and the new series began racing in 2014. The series begins 2018 with new teams, a very large prototype class, and some new full time drivers. Here is a look at the teams with Indycar connections.

Roger Penske starts a full time entry into the series with two Acura prototypes. Former Indy 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya each drive one of the cars. Castroneves is in the number 7, and Montoya is in car 6. For the Rolex, Graham Rahal will co- drive with Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud will team with Montoya. Ricky Taylor is Castroneves’ full season teammate. Dane Cameron is Montoya’s co-pilot for the full season.

Chip Ganassi continues to field Ford GT cars in the GTLM class. Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe drive number 67 this weekend. Sebastien Bourdais will be in the 66.

New Indycar team owner Michael Shank-gosh it feels great to write that phrase- has former Indycar drivers Katherine Legge and A.J. Allmendinger in his 86 machine. Bruno Junqueira drives number 93 for Shank.

Bobby Rahal’s BMW team, cars 24 and 25, race in the GTLM class. Connor DePhillippi is one of his drivers.

Spencer Pigot is back in the 55 Mazda with Team Joest in the Prototype class.

Fernando Alonso makes his endurance debut in car 23 for United Autosport. The car is a Ligier Prototype, one of ten LMP2 cars.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is driving car 10 for Wayne Taylor Racing, the defending race champion team.

Two drivers from Indy Lights of note- Pato O’Ward, who returns for a full Indy Lights season this year, will drive the Performance Tech number 38; Felix Rosenqvist, who had a brief run in Lights and is the current pints leader in Formula E, co-drives the Jackie Chan entry number 37.

Fifty cars will start the race Saturday. There are 20 prototypes, 9 GT Le Mans cars, and 21 GT Daytona machines. Gone is the Prototype Challenge class.

I plan to watch the Indycar test at Sebring on Wednesday before going to Daytona. 15 cars are scheduled to test, including newcomers Carlin and Shank. It should be a busy day.

The Cadillacs of Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express will be strong again. I’m interested to see how strong the Penske Acuras are in their first race. They should be contenders later in the year. Ganassi Ford GTs will likely dominate the GTLM class. The GT Daytona class is usually wide open, but I’ll go with the Porsche 911 team for the win.

I hope to post about it Wednesday night and provide update from Daytona this weekend.

 

 

Qualified Opinions

 

Happy New Year, everyone. It’s finally 2018. We are closer to the start of the new racing season. Many Indycar drivers will be testing the new aerokits beginning this month and some drivers get in their first taste of competition at the Rolex 24 at the end of the month.

I have some exciting ideas for this blog for this year. Some are based on reader suggestions, and some come from the responses to types of articles I did last year. Indycar  was very busy just before the holidays with news.

Indycar made two announcements about oval qualifying just before Christmas. One involved qualifying points at The Indianapolis 500, and the other concerned qualifying procedures on ovals.  The details and my thoughts on these follow.

Indy 500 qualifying will not be the point-a- palooza it has been the past few years. In 2018, the Fast nine are the only drivers receiving points. The pole winner gets 9 points and the other eight get points in descending order with ninth place receiving 1 point. No points are given for qualifying 10th or lower.  I have read many arguments in favor of the new format as well as some opposed to it.

My feeling is there were way too many points given for qualifying so I am happy about the change. Did Indycar go too far the other direction? I’m not sure. Drivers  have to make two runs to make the race. There should be a bit of  a reward for that extra effort. Perhaps a larger, separate qualifying purse would help. If there are more than 33 entries, which is a greater possibility this year than there has been lately, a new format altogether may be needed. I would like see cars limited to no more than three attempts on Saturday.

The qualifying change on ovals I do not like at all. On ovals other than Indianapolis, qualifying order will be determined by entrant points. This means by Iowa we will likely have the order at every oval pretty much set. The idea is to give the leaders the best chance to start the race at the front. Why? If the points leaders are slow in practices, why should they get an advantageous qualifying slot that weekend? Having all the points leaders, assuming they are the fastest cars, begin at the front every race could make for some boring races.

A better way would be to use the final practice times for each event as the qualifying order with the fastest qualifying last. In discussions I have had with other fans, there has been talk of having the points leaders go first. I like that idea as well. If they are the fastest cars, qualifying order shouldn’t matter since they will all be going out in a short time fame of one another. I see nothing wrong with having the best drivers race to the front. Eliminating randomness, as the league seems determined to do, could turn Indycar into Formula 1.

News

Carlos Munoz will return for the 500 driving for his old team, Andretti Autosport. Munoz has finished 2nd twice at Indy and always runs very well there. Adding Munoz gives Andretti six cars for the race.

Indycar announced the first on track test of the aeroscreen prototype will be February 9-10 at the Phoenix open test.  The schedule is subject to change.

Carlin Racing announced Charlie Kimball will drive car number 23 and Max Chilton will be in the 59 car. Those numbers haven’t been seen on an Indycar since 2011, when E. J. Viso drove number 59 and Paul Tracy attempted to qualify the 23 car at Indy.

Indycar announced last Thursday that only rookies would get extra tires for the first practice on road and street courses. Last year teams outside the top 10 in points also get an extra set. I like this idea. Nearly half the field received the extra set. The teams in the top 10 usually sat out the first half of practice. Now just the rookies will be on track during the first half of the session. That is something else that needs to be tweaked. Shortening the practices would help. Portland is the only new track on the schedule. Most teams should have enough data for each venue that a shorter practice would be fine. The only teams shorter practices this could hurt next year are Carlin and Harding.  They are new full time teams and do not have rookie drivers. Jay Frye indicated the league is looking at incentives to get more cars out for practice sessions.

Teams will get an extra set of tires at Phoenix, Detroit, Texas, Iowa, and Toronto in an effort to make tire distribution more consistent. These tracks were picked on the basis of tire wear. on track.

Podcasts

I have started listening to a couple of  new podcasts and want to make sure everyone knows about them.  Both are great additions to the Indycar podcast universe. I would start one myself, but I have a voice for the print media. Check them out when you have a chance.

The newest, Pit Lane Parley, hosted by Mike Joachim and Jess Baker, offers insight and commentary on Indycar news. Their podcasts are on the Podbean app.

Fastcarsfastgirls, also available on Podbean as well as other sources, features Abby and Molly with a look at happenings in the racing world. They usually include a bit of history and always have a feature on women in racing.

Enjoy the first week of the new year. Racing is getting closer.

 

 

 

My Last Post- of 2017

I know the first part of the title got everyone really excited and the last part brought great disappointment.  However, I’m not going anywhere.  I  just wanted to get in one last column this month. Some news and thanks for a great year.

Carlin finally announced that they will be a full time 2 car team in 2018 with drivers Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton.  They will use Chevy engines. Honda already said they were full for the regular season.  This is essentially Ganassi’s B team from last year. I hope both drivers have better years on a team where they will get full attention. Carlin is the Roger Penske of European junior formula racing.  I look for them to be contenders in a couple of years. Both drivers will bring their sponsors from last year.

With Carlin on the grid there will be four new teams running Indycar next year, two full time and two part time.  This is a welcome influx of new owners. There might be a couple more joining in the next few years. Steinbrenner Racing, currently running Colton Herta in Indy Lights, will move up to Indycar at some point, possibly as soon as 2019. I think Herta’s Indy Lights results may determine when that happens.

There could potentially be 24 cars starting at St. Pete to begin the season.

Thank You

First, many thanks to those of you who read this column. It is a pleasure to write and I am glad to be able to share my thoughts with you.

I would like to give special thanks to  two of my fellow bloggers:

George Phillips of Oilpressure for his encouragement and support during the two years I have been writing. If you are not reading his blog, start this week.

Patti Nolen of ikissedthebricks  I appreciate her feedback, and we have had some really good racing discussions. Patti writes great stories of her personal track experiences. Check out her blog.

I want to give special thanks to those who read the column for the first time this year. You have helped the blog grow beyond anything I expected when I began in May, 2016.

Finally, but not least, my fellow class members of the Creative Writing class at the Life Enrichment Center in Tampa. This blog started because of the help and encouragement I received early in 2016.  Two of my columns last year began as pieces I wrote for class. It has been a life changing experience.

I will return in January with more goings on in Indycar and a look ahead to the Rolex24. Indycar fans should be interested in IMSA next year with Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya driving full time for Penske and many other Indycar drivers making part time appearances in the series.

Have a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year.   Mike