A recap of Friday’s events and where the 2020 grid stands on Wildfire Sports:
Editor’s note: I just arrived at Winter Headquarters and saw the news. Here are some brief thoughts. I will follow up in a day or two.
Photo: Kyle McInnes
The NTT Indycar Series November of change added another shock today with the announcement of an amicable separation of Sebastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan. The news follows the November 4 sale of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the series to Roger Penske and the release of Spencer Pigot from Ed Carpenter Racing. The 2020 grid will look very different from the 2019 grid. Bourdais will race for JDC -Miller in the number 5 Cadillac prototype with Jaoao Barbosa, who drove the same car last year fro Action Express.
The opening raises several questions. Is this where James Hinchcliffe will land? I’ve seen different answers from different sources. Since Honda pulled its support from Bourdais, is that money available for Hinchcliffe? Could Conor Daly take the seat? I’m not sure his Air Force money is enough for a full season. Will we see another driver from Europe driving for Coyne next year?
The 2020 grid is now missing three full time drivers from 2019- Hinchcliffe, Pigot, and Bourdais. I’m still not sure Tony Kanaan will be full time next season.
Meanwhile, the rookie battle for 2020 is set with Oliver Askew at AMSP and Rinus VeeKay at Ed Carpenter Racing. It could be close as both are on teams with fairly similar results in 2019. The outcome may depend on which team improves. AMSP with its new influx of resources or ECR, which is still looking for funding.
Goodbye to a Champion
Bourdais, who will 41 years old by the time the season begins, likely will not return to Indycar. His deal with JDC-Miller is for the next two seasons. Bourdais had a great career in Indycar. He is a four time season champion in ChampCar (2004,2005,2006,2007), has 37 wins, which ranks fourth all time, and earned 34 poles.
In late 2016 he returned to race in the last couple if races in that season after his horrible crash in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. In 2017 Bourdais won the season opener at his hometown of St. Pete and repeated the victory the following year.
I was fortunate to see several of his wins. My favorite was at Milwaukee in 2015 when Bourdais took the lead halfway through the race and ran away from the rest of the field.
Robert Wickens returned to a race track for the first time since his accident. He spoke to the media. He is in good spirits and doing well. Some excerpts:
“Being back at a race track makes everything a little better.”
“It was strange being on the smart side of the pit wall.”
“I’m getting some stuff back. Trying to utilize every day to get as healthy as I can.”
He called the fan support here at St. Petersburg “Amazing. I thought the fans would be more focused on the race cars.” “Fan support has been a big motivation piece.”
“100%” he wants to race again. “I want tog et back into racing as I left off. I don’t want to just run at the back of the field.”
Wickens’ appearance was a great emotional lift for him. I think it was just as much as an emotional lift for the media. The press doesn’t usually applaud at the end of a conference.
A pleasant problem-Additional teams at a street course race means a more crowded paddock.
It’s not quite 10:30 and there is already a good sized crowd here.
The top six in Practice 1 were all Hondas. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist led the session with a time of 1:01.8215. Josef Newgarden was the fastest Chevy 0,35 seconds behind. The rookies I spoke with the other day are interested to see how the red tires work in today’s second session.
Dale Coyne announced a third car for James Davison for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500. Davison drove for Belardi in partnership with A. J. Foyt Racing last year. he finished 33rd. Davison becomes the official 33rd entry for this year’s field.
Max Chilton has the best looking car.
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Conor Daly will drive a fifth car with sponsorship from the U. S. Air Force in the103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. The Air Force will also be an associate sponsor on the Andretti cars of Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, and Zach Veach for the entire season. Daly will carry number 25.
Daly drove in the 2018 500 with Air Force sponsorship as part of Dale Coyne’s team. He started last and finished 21st, completing 199 laps. This will be Daly’s sixth 500. His rookie season was 2013. He returned to the 500 in 2015. His best starting spot was 22nd in 2015. Last year was his best finish and also the race in which he completed the most laps. This is the best car and team Daly will have had for the race.
“It’s my best shot at at the race ever. I can’t wait to get to work,” Daly said.
Michael Andretti said they are working on a few things to possibly get Daly in more races this year. He has no plans to add a sixth ca for this year’s 500 entry list.
Daly drove in just one race, Mid Ohio, for Harding. He was competitive, giving Harding its best starting spot to that point. He ran well in the race but ran out fuel with two laps left and finished 20th. In2017 Daly drove full time for A. J. Foyt Racing.
Catching Up with Indycar News
Vasser Sullivan and Dale Coyne have signed a multi year agreement which has Sebastien Bourdais staying in car 18. Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan became a partnership last year. Nice to see Coyne will have some driver stability and additional resources. Bourdais won the 2018 opening race in St. Pete. It was his second consecutive win in his hometown race.
More Boost at Iowa, Gateway
The NTT Indycar Series announced cars will receive increased boost at short ovals Iowa and Gateway in 2019. The higher boost will necessitate more braking in the turns, which should allow more passing. The boost will increase to 150 kPa, the same as on road and street courses. In 2018 cars were allowed 140 kPa on the short ovals. Superspeedway boost for races is 130Pa. Please do not ask me what kPa means.
Allen Miller of HPD says the goal of 90 horsepower for the new 2.4 liter engine is “very realistic.”
The series continues to seek more ways to improve the racing. This measure sounds like a bridge to the higher horsepower in the 2021 formula.
Helio at Le Mans?
Three timne Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves is close to finalizing a deal to drive in the Le Mans 24 hour race this year. Castroneves, who now drives full time for Team Penske Acura in the IMSA Weather Tech Championship, will drive for the RLR group in the LMP2 class. The team uses an Oreca 07 chassis, which has been dominant in Europe.
Castroneves was one of the drivers in the third place car at last weekend’s Rolex 24.
Indianapolis 500 Ticket Unveiled
Last Indianapolis Motor Speedway revealed the design for the 2019 Indianapolis 500. I’m always excited to see the new ticket. This year’s design I find disappointing. The photo of Will Power that was used is okay, but a photo of him when he first go out of the car would have been better. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a driver express that much unbridled joy after winning.
Rolex 24 Post Script
I’ll end today with four photos from last weekend’s Rolex 24
Indianapolis Motor Speedway just announced a press conference tomorrow afternoon for a major announcement regarding the 500. I’m guessing a presenting sponsor will be named.
Chip Ganassi has never been known for his patience with drivers. Ask Darren Manning and Ed Jones. Jones was the latest one year and out at Ganassi as Felix Rosenqvist will drive the 10 car with continued support from NTT Data. To be fair, Jones did not have a bad season with eight Top tens and two podiums. It was just not as good a season as the team had hoped. He did not take many points away from Dixon’s championship rivals. 2019 will be the third consecutive season a new driver has been in car 10.
Rosenqvist won three races in 10 starts in Indy Lights in 2016, then spent 2018 in Formula E. He won twice and finished sixth in the standings. Rosenqvist does have talent and will be a strong contender for Rookie of the Year. The rookie class is quite deep with Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta already in the field.
C. J. O’Donnell to Leave at the End of the Year
C. J. O’Donnell, Indycar’s chief marketing officer since November 2013, will leave his position at the end of the calendar year. In his five years with the series, O’Donnell and his team has grown the fan base, adding 1 million followers to Indycar social media platforms, increased television viewership by 23% and helped attendance at races grow. I had the good fortune to meet him at Long Beach a few years ago. I wish him well in his future endeavors. O’Donnell and Jay Frye are two of the best hires Indycar has made in recent years.
Coyne Fills Second Seat
Yes, it is October 1 as I write this. No, that is no a typo. Dale Coyne Racing announced today Santino Ferrucci will drive the number 19 car full time in 2019. He and Sebastien Bourdais in the 18 mean Coyne has both drivers signed about as early as I can remember. This should help with their off season testing.
Ferrucci drove four races for Coyne in 2018, the double header at detroit and the final two races at Portland and Sonoma. He finished 11th at Sonoma. Ferrucci had been pursuing an F1 career in Europe but was suspended for on track incidents at a race in early July. There have been no issues during his brief time in Indycar.
I’m interested to see how he does over the course of a season. He has done fairly well as far as keeping the car on course. Ferrucci was hit from behind in the second Detroit race after a clean Race 1.
Seats Still Open
Three full time rides from 2018 still need drivers. The 23 Carlin car, the Schmidt 7 (6 is reserved for Robert Wickens), and the Carpenter 20 road/street ride. Charlie Kimball, who drove the 23 for Carlin last season, reportedly does not have a full year budget and may drive the car part time. Schmidt has offered his open seat to a couple of drivers who have turned it down. Carpenter would like to re-sign Jordan King, but there has not been any news about that lately.
Carlin and Rahal Letterman Lanigan have talked about adding a third car, which could be good news for Ed Jones. Dreyer and Reinbold Racing may be close to running a part time schedule, including the Indianapolis 500. Sage Karam would likely drive.
Dragon Speed and Scuderia Corsa are still consdering their options.
Of course everyone is awaiting a decision from McLaren. I’m trying to keep my expectations low and hope to be pleasantly surprised. When they do announce their plans, I think I’ll be grateful that I gave up Track Forum a while ago.
Running the 1?
Unless sponsor PNC Bank insists on having the 1 on the car they back, look for Scott Dixon to carry the number 9 again next season. Ganassi and Dixon have been reluctant to put the number 1 on their cars following a championship. They did one year and that year did not go well.
I think the champion should not have an option and should be required to run the number 1. This is another point on which the series will not listen to me.
Scott Dixon must have been an alchemist in another life. He turned what looked to be a disastrous points day into gaining points on his closest rivals.
What can I say about the Dale Coyne with Vasser Sullivan racing team and Sebastien Bourdais? Took P1 in Saturday practice, crashed the next lap, pieced a car together to qualify fourth, then finish third in the race. That team will sleep well tonight. This is the best story of the weekend.
It was a tough ending to what had been a great weekend for Zach Veach. His top ten streak ended. I still look for great things from him next season.
Another great day for Spencer Pigot. He’s another young driver coming into his own. His fourth place finish today and his second place at Iowa show his late season maturity.
The crowd today was the largest I’ve seen for an Indycar race outside of IMS. I hope attendance figures for the weekend are released. Each day was a crowd other tracks would have been thrilled to have on race day.
For a race where not much passing was anticipated, there was a lot of drama and plot twists. Takuma Sato’s two stop strategy paid off. The yellows fell at the right time for him, while others were caught out by them.
Overall, it was a good race.
I believe Robert Wickens has clinched Rookie of the Year. It shows what a strong season he was having. Continued hope for recovery for him.
Whos Rossi’s Rival?
At the beginning of the season the talk was of a rivalry between Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden. After St. Pete, it was Rossi and Wickens. In mid season it Rossi and everybody. It turns out that the rivalry was Rossi and Scott Dixon. They are the only two realistically with a shot at the title.
The twenty nine point difference between Dixon and Rossi is a good argument to get rid of double points. I don’t think the series needs six drivers eligible to win the championship at the last race unless the points naturally fall that wa
There is a strong buzz that COTA will be the seventeenth race. The schedule should be announced Tuesday.
After two consecutive races with huge crowds, Sonoma will look emptier than usual.
Fernando Alonso will test an Andretti Autosport car at Barber this coming Wednesday.
Look for my full race recap on Wildfire Sports later tonight or tomorrow morning.
Programming note- Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will be televised live on CNBC at 3 pm ET and re-aired on NBCSN at 6:30 pm Sunday.
It seems as if Indycar has a news item or two every day lately. Here are a few tidbits.
Mo Nunn died last Wednesday after battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Nunn was the engineer who helped Chip Ganassi’s team first taste success with Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Mike Hul credits Nunn for his current success Ganassi has.
A former Formula 1 driver and team owner, Nunn also owned teams in CART and the IRL. Tony Kanaaan drove for Nunn in CART before going to Andretti Green in 2003.
My friend George Phillips wrote a nice tribute to Nunn on Monday. you can read it here:
Mid Ohio Features Return of Three Drivers
The Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will see the return of Jack Harvey in the number 60 Meyer-Shank racing entry. This is a home race for Michael Shank, who is looking to eventually become a full time Indycar team.
Pietro Fittipaldi, recovered from fracturing both legs in a practice accident at Spa two months ago, returns to the 19 car for Dale Coyne Racing. His absence allowed Zachary Claman De Melo toget more time in the car. DeMelo did a nice job. I’d like to see him in a full time ride.
Conor Daly will again be driving for Harding Racing. He took Gabby Chaves’ place in Toronto, giving the team its best qualifying and finishing position of the year. Chaves is still under contract with the team through 2019. He will be back in the car at some point. The team is pleased with the technical information Daly is providing. Harding is hopeful of having a two car team next season.
Rahal Says Steak n Shake May Return
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing owner Bobby Rahal said that Steak n Shake may return as a sponsor of Graham Rahal’s car in the future. The company withdrew this year to redirect funds elsewhere. It would be great to see them back. Steak n Shake did a lot of activation with signs and prerace weekend appearances by Rahal at their restaurants.
Wildfire Sports is My Home for Mid Ohio
I will be reporting for Wildfire Sports this weekend Friday through Sunday. You can find my columns at wildfireradiosports.com.
I will post quick thoughts here and live tweet during the weekend. Follow along on the blog’s Twitter account @PitWindow.
Mid Ohio usually produces some big announcements about the next season. Stay tuned