COTA Friday Impressions

Some thoughts from afar:

The track appears to be going all out to make Indycar feel welcome. The $100,000 bonus for winning the race from the pole is something more tracks should consider, perhaps not on that scale if they can’t afford it, but some kind of bonus would be good. COTA is definitely a track where winning from the pole is more likely.

What a great touch having the drivers’ names painted in front of their pit boxes. It’s a nice idea for those in the stands opposite the pits and might help for television.

More engine problems for Honda. I hope they can figure out the cause quickly. Three engines from three different teams shows it’s manufacturer problem.

Colton Herta could be a sleeper this weekend.

I can see the race getting strung out quickly with pit strategy determined by tire wear determining the outcome.

I’m glad race control decide to allow use of the turn 19 runoff area. We could see some crazy moves there.

I watched on NBC Gold for the first time today. I was impressed with the depth of the coverage, especially the shots inside the Harding Steinbrenner garage this afternoon as they threw the car back together.

Tomorrow- I will have Qualifying Quick Thoughts here and a full report on Wildfire Sports.

COTA- Journey to the Unknown

A new race on a new track  increases the intrigue of a race weekend. The NTT Indycar Series is at Circuit of the Americas in Austin this weekend for the inaugural Indycar Classic. I still wonder how a first race is already a classic, but I’m glad to see Indycar race here at last.  The 20 turn, 3.41 mile circuit is a composite of famous features of tracks around the world. Turns 19, 20 and the front straight reflect the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. F1 has raced at COTA since 2012.

Here are some things to look for, and one thing not to do, for this weekend.

First the don’t. Don’t compare this weekends times and speeds to F1. Each series has cars built for different purposes. Of course Indycars will be slower. Just accept it.

Will Rookies Continue to Impress?

Felix Rosenqvist led laps and finished fourth at St. Pete. Two other rookies finished in the top 10. Colton Herta led three of the four test sessions at COTA. Pato O’Ward makes his highly anticipated debut.  I look for another strong showing for this talented crop of rookies. One thing in their favor is that it’s the first race at this track for everyone. Marcus Ericsson has driven here in F1, although how that experience translates to this car remains to be seen.

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Pato O’Ward makes his highly anticipated season debut with Carlin Racing.

Honda Engine Issues Just a Fluke?

For Honda drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay, their engine issues at St. Pete has some concerned that the engine has lost the reliability it had last year. 2017 saw  several Honda engine failures. I’d be surprised if the first race signals a year long trend, but there is cause for concern at the moment.

Hunter-Reay and Bourdais both need a strong showing this weekend to return to the points chase. I think Hunter-Reay will be a factor. Bourdais may qualify well, and should run a steady race.

Will Penske Momentum Continue?

Will Power won the pole and Josef Newgarden won the race in the season opener. Simon Pagenaud finished seventh and feels better about his chances this year. While Penske was just so-so in the test here, don’t bet against this trio. The team will at least win the pole and barring issues during the race should see all three drivers in the top 10.

Andretti Rebound?

Andretti Autosport hoped for better results at St. Pete. Besides Hunter-Reay’s engine failure, Alexander Rossi seemed off pace all weekend, and Marco Andretti had a problem at the start of qualifying. The team tested well here with Rossi leading the final session. The team should have a very strong weekend. Hunter-Reay needs a good finish to stay in title contention, and Rossi should improve on his fifth place in race 1.

Attendance

The track is projecting a race day crowd of at least 30, 000. While that is a decent attendance for an Indycar event,  especially a first time race, the audience will look very sparse inside that huge track.   I hope for tight crowd shots, but the overhead views will show lots of empty places. Despite how the crowd may look, I think 30,000 is a decent number to start from.

Look for my Quick Thoughts here after qualifying and the race. My full qualifying and race reports will be on Wildfire Sports Sunday and Monday.

Qualifying is live on NBCSN at 3 pm ET Saturday.

Race coverage begins at 1 pm ET Sunday on NBCSN. Engines fire at 1:37.

Bold yet inaccurate predictions:

Pole- Rossi

Winner- Rossi

Cautions- 0

Top Rookie finisher- Herta

 

COTA Entry List-O’Ward Debuts

Patricio O’ Ward begins his rookie season at Circuit of the Americas as the NTT Indycar Series visits Austin for the first time.

O’Ward will join the 24 car field for his initial race of the year for Carlin Racing. Kyle Kaiser drives for Juncos in what is to date their only confirmed event. Juncos is expected to enter the Indianapolis 500.

The entry list:

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Watch for a race preview later this week.

Spring Training Begins at COTA; 25 Entries Set to Run

Today, at last, is the official opening day of the 2019 NTT Indycar Series season. Spring training begins at 11 am ET at Circuit of the Americas, the newest track on the schedule. Cars have 5 hours of track time available today and 6 hours tomorrow. Today’s action will be streamed on Indycar’s Facebook page, Twitter, and YouTube.

With Monday’s news about the change in plans at Harding Steinbrenner Racing, Colton Herta will test the lone car for the team.  Kyle Kaiser will likely test for Juncos. The team announced yesterday that Kaiser will drive the number 32 at COTA in the March 24 race.

IndyCar sessions are scheduled from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3:30-6:30 p.m. ET on the 12th, and 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2:00-6:00 p.m. ET on the 13th.

Expected to test :

A.J. Foyt Racing Chevy (2): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist

Andretti Autosport Honda (4): Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda (2): James Hinchcliffe, Marcus Ericsson

Carlin Racing Chevy (2): Max Chilton, RC Enerson

Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (2): Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist

Dale Coyne Racing Honda (2): Sebastien Bourdais, Santino Ferrucci

Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy (2): Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones

Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda (1): Colton Herta/Patricio O’Ward

Juncos Racing Chevy (1): TBA

Meyer Shank Racing Honda (1): Jack Harvey

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda (2): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato

Team Penske Chevy (4): Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves

Tickets for Spring Training can be purchased at http://www.circuitoftheamericas.com/indycar-spring-training.

King Joins RLL for the 500

Photo above: Jordan King at Mid Ohio, 2018

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced this morning that Jordan King will drive their third entry in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. King drove for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018 as the road/street course driver of the number 20 car. He had hoped to put together a full time ride for this season. King joins Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato on the team for the oval portion of May. He will drive the car Oriol Servia used in this year’s 500. Servia led late in the race until he needed a late splash of fuel.

In 2018, King showed good pace in qualifying. He advanced to the second round six times, twice getting into the Fast Six. His best start was fourth at St. Pete. His best race finish was 11th at Toronto.

A lack of funding has prevented King from landing a full time ride. RLL has also been looking to field a third full time car. King hopes to add more Indycar races to his 2019 schedule. RLL is open to that idea.

COTA Tickets on Sale

Tickets for the Circuit of the Americas Indycar Classic went on sale today. There are four plans available. General admission is $85, Premium Grandstand seats begin at $119. Turn 12 bleachers are $119. There is also a Flex Pass, where fans can choose a different seat for each day. The pass is $189. Paddock Passes are $75. Seems a bit pricey to me, but it is a great track. Austin is a fun city as well.  The track is offering a 10% discount on General Admission until January 3.

I’m excited to return. I attended the first two F1 races. The hill in turn 1 was my favorite viewing spot. You can see some other parts of the circuit from there. The turn 12 stands also presents a good view. The cars come downhill to a left hand corner, then go uphill.

The 2019 Indycar Schedule; News and Comments

Some thoughts on the Indycar schedule released today:

I like that the huge gap between the first and second race is gone. Having three weeks between Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is probably more appropriate. It allows for testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at a time closer to the 500.

I hope the three weeks between Portland and the Laguna Seca final is just a one year arrangement. IMSA races at Laguna Seca September 15.

Team members have two three week stretches of races plus the four week grind of May and the Detroit doubleheader.

Will Barber return to its traditional date next year? Easter falls on the usual Barber weekend necessitating the change.

I’m excited that Indycar is going to Circuit of the Americas. My first though when I went there for the inaugural Formula 1 race was  that it would be a good track for Indycar.  My concern is attendance. COTA is a huge property. Like IMS, what would be a decent crowd at most places will make the track seem empty. F1 is the only series that has had good attendance in Austin.

While I’m sad to see one less oval on the schedule, I’m happy that Iowa will again be a Saturday night race. That track was made for Indycars on Saturday night.

Attendance at Laguna Seca could also be a concern with IMSA holding an event the weekend before. These two series need to work together and hold joint events.

Television Schedule Still to Come

We know all, the races will be on an NBC network. The question is, which race on which network? I will go out on a huge limb here and say the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Seven other races will appear on the big network. My guessses:

St. Pete- season opener; introduces audience to Indycar

Long Beach- historic track and event

Indycar Grand Prix- prelude to the 500; promotes the 500

The 500

Road America- another classic track; spectatcular scenery

Iowa- Saturday night racing showcases Indycar roots

Pocono- another 500 race; usually one of the best races of the year

Laguna Seca- season finale allows season recap and promotes 2020 season.

I’m sure I have one correct. I left off the Detroit doubleheader. With a limited number of network appearances, putting half of that schedule in a four week span creates a large gap until the next network race.

Harding’s Future?

Last weekend at Portland Harding racing announced that 2018 Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward and Lights runner up Colton Herta will drive in the Indycar finale at Sonoma. Herta tested with Harding earlier this season and O’Ward will test with the team Thursday.

We might be seeing the future of Harding Racing begin. Gabby Chaves, who began the year with Harding and has a contract for next year, may be out of a ride.

Talk still is going on about MclAren taking over harding and some uinvolvement with Andretti Autosport. Both O’Ward and Herta drove for Andretti in Indy Lights.

However this situation turns out, I admire Mike Harding for putting a team together, hiring good experienced people, and running the entire season with older equipment. This was a low budget operation. Small teams like this are what the series needs more of.

Fred Watch

On Wednesday, weather permitting, Fernando Alonso is scheduled to test an Indycar at Barber Motorsports Park. He will drive an Andretti Autosport car, the one Carlos Munoz drove in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Alonso has not announced where he will drive next year. The Indycar schedule has no conflicts with his WEC commitments for 2018. The WEC opener for 2019 is the same weekend as Portland.