Indycar Season Preview, Part II: Teams That Should Improve

Here are four teams I think should show improvement over their 2019 performance. They are presented in no particular order.

Meyer Shank Racing

Michael Shank has finally reached his dream of a full time entry in the NTT Indycar Series.  Jack Harvey did well early in 2019 when the team ran virtually every race, culminating in a podium at the Indycar Grand Prix. When the team had a gap before their next race, their performance dropped off. The consistency of a full season will help the team do well in 2020.

Not hurting their chances is the technical alliance with Andretti Autosport. Colton Herta had this same arrangement last year, and he did all right.  Harvey had three top 10s in his first six races. He was 13th in points after the Indianapolis 500. I think he may have moved up a spot or two had he run every race in 2019.

Arrow McLaren SP

On the surface, it appears this team is doing everything the wrong way. They signed a rookie driver and one with eight races of experience. In the process, they fired their most veteran driver. They are bringing in a new engineering staff. Even the ownership has seen a shakeup. In the team’s favor is that all of the new pieces have a lot of talent.

Rookie Oliver Askew is a steady driver. The 2019 Indy Lights champion is  focused and analytical behind the wheel. Pato O’Ward had a roller coaster season bouncing from series to series. I think he will show his appreciation for having a full time ride. Both drivers were in the top 10 at Spring Training.

The third element that will help AMSP is engineer Craig Hampson, who joined the team after working with Sebastien Bourdais. Hampson and Bourdais won several championships together, and the pair gave the Dale Coyne team some relevance. The team may need a race or two to get their footing, but I think they will have enough good results to call their season successful.

From Yesterday- https://thepitwindow.blog/2020/02/27/indycar-season-preview-part-i-coyne-foyt-carlin-look-to-improve/

Rahalk Letterman Lanigan

This group seems to always be looking for consistency. Graham Rahal said on Content Day, “When we were strong at a track, both of ttling battling tus were strong. When we struggled at a track, both of us struggled.”

Takuma Sato was ninth in the final standings and Rahal finished tenth. They are not that far off from moving up in the top 10. Sato won twice and earned two poles. Rahal started on the front row at Barber but was sidelined by mechanical problems. It was a steady season for two drivers who still weren’t satisfied.

RLL should have a few better race results, but moving up in the final standings may be difficult battling the three teams that make up half the grid. Both drivers can win a race and I could see that happening in 2020.

Ed Carpenter Racing

The oval program is solid, especially at Indianapolis. Two spots on the front row last year and three poles in the 500 are a great qualifying record. The team is still looking to improve their road and street course performance. I think they are on their way to doing just that.

The road/street team of Conor Daly and rookie Rinus VeeKay are capable of turning the  team’s fortunes around. Daly seems to make any car he drives better. With a full season at the same team ECR should improve as the year goes on. VeeKay, the Indy Lights runner-up needs to focus his energy and adapt quickly to the nuances of Indycar. He is a talented, consistent driver.

How many more seasons will Ed Carpenter drive the oval races? Only Ed knows that answer. His runner-up finish at Gateway last August shows he isn’t ready to step out of the car yet. I think in a couple of years he will cut back to Indy only, but for now there isn’t any good reason to stop.

A good season for this team on the road courses would be some second round qualifying results and a few top ten race finishes. The talent is there. I can see this team putting it together, especially after Indianapolis.

 

Monday I’ll preview the Big Three. Tomorrow- a summary of all the great news that happened this week in Indycar.

Daly Happy to Have a Steady Ride

 Note: Thoughts are with NASCAR driver Ryan  Newman  who was seriously injured in a crash at the end of the Daytona 500 last night. The latest report at just after 10 pm last night said he is in serious condition with non life threatening injuries. Please keep Ryan and his family in your thoughts.

NTT Indycar Series teams needing a driver replacement won’t have the series’ supersub available this season. Conor Daly will drive 13 races for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2020, competing in all the road and street races plus the Indianapolis 500.  In 2019 Daly drove in seven races for three different teams.  Daly drove full time for Dale Coyne in 2016 and A. J. Foyt in 2017. Those two season account for 33 of his 46 Indycar starts. While this season is not full time, Daly is glad to be with the same team for all his races in 2020.

While Daly feels more pressure, he feels the season long assurance will help in the long run.  “I’m putting more pressure on myself, ” he says.”Something crazy may happen at St. Pete, but we’ve got another race coming up. That’s so nice; you forget how good that feeling is.” Daly is thankful for the U.S. Air Force support, which began on a limited basis in 2019.

Daly says he is not a huge fan of the aeroscreen, citing vision and cooling issuesas his main concerns. He thinks he may have to raise his seat to see. “There are issues we won’t really know until we do testing with everyone.”

It is rare for him to have races before Indianapolis, Daly notes. At the moment his focus is on the St. Pete opener. He plans to work even harder this year. “It’s nice to have more chances,” Daly said.

Of the three rookies driving in the NTT Indycar Series this season who came directly from Indy Lights, Daly said that it shows the drivers in the Road to Indy ladder that getting to Indycar is not impossible.

After seeing how Daly performed in good equipment at Indianapolis in 2019, it will be interesting to see how he does with another team that has shown consistent competitiveness at the Speedway. I also look for Daly to help improve ECR’s road course program.

Has Daly Found a Home?

Today’s announcement of Conor Daly getting the road/street course seat in the number 20 car was the most positive driver news of the past seven weeks. It has been an off season of seismic changes in the NTT Indycar Series paddock. What a great feeling to see the news and smile instead of thinking “What?” Here are some of my thoughts about what this could mean for Daly and the series.

I can’t think of a better fit at ECR than Conor Daly. Both he and Ed have very strong ties to IMS and the series. The move strengthens ECR as Indycar’s ambassador team.

2020 will be the first year since 2017 that Daly will drive for just one team. He drove for multiple teams in 2015, 2018, and 2019.

I’m very happy the Air Force continues with Daly. They could not have picked a better representative.

We can call car 20 the Indiana car.

I hope Ed Carpenter will allow Daly to drive in other series as his schedule allows.  He had success in the Super Trofeo Series last year. Daly is willing to drive anything; I hope gets the opportunity.

I could see Daly at ECR for a few years. Next season may be a getting acquainted period, but it will be interesting to track Daly’s performance compared to Ed Jones’s and Jordan King’s in comparable events.

Daly should be a huge help to Rinus VeeKay in his rookie year in Indycar.

I have seen Daly drive in several series. It seems as the car he is in always improves when he drives it. The road/street course help he can give this team will be invaluable.

Daly may have an even better chance at the 500 in 2020 than he had last season at Andretti. He will get more attention at ECR since it’s a smaller team. Also, the team is really good at IMS.

Wild conjecture on my part: Is this hire a part of Carpenter’s succession plan? Is Ed contemplating giving up the ovals other than Indy in a year or two and letting Conor drive full time?

 

If nothing else breaks, I will be back Thursday with annual (okay first annual) podcast edition.

 

 

Daly Completes ECR Lineup

Photo: Daly’s US Air Force livery from last year

From Ed Carpenter Racing:

CONOR DALY COMPLETES ED CARPENTER RACING’S 2020 DRIVER LINEUP

This is a great spot for Daly. I’m glad the Air Force is still on board. I hope they keep the same livery he had last year. ECR should give him a decent shot at contending at the 500.  More thoughts later.

VeeKay Signs with ECR

From Ed Carpenter Racing this morning. more this evening.

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RINUS VEEKAY SELECTED BY ED CARPENTER RACING TO CONTEST FULL 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SEASON
19-Year-Old Dutch Driver Joins ECR Full-Time in the No. 21 Chevrolet
(INDIANAPOLIS) November 20, 2019 – Ed Carpenter Racing announced today it will welcome Rinus VeeKay as the full-time driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. The 19-year-old joins ECR after a meteoric rise through the Road to Indy ranks and a second-place finish in this year’s Indy Lights championship. As VeeKay begins his Indy car career, he will benefit from the guidance of team owner Ed Carpenter, who will be driving in his 18th season.
Born in Hoofddorp, Netherlands, Rinus van Kalmthout began karting in 2009 at the age of 8. With sights set firmly on the NTT IndyCar Series, he transitioned to the Road to Indy in 2017 and launched his U.S. career driving as Rinus VeeKay. He found immediate success, following up a second-place finish in the 2017 USF2000 standings with the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 title. His championship season included seven wins, 10 podium finishes and the Road to Indy career advancement scholarship, which placed him just one step below his ultimate goal. For the 2019 Indy Lights season, VeeKay claimed six race wins and finished on the podium 14 of 18 times en route to a runner-up finish in the standings. In all, the Dutch teenager earned 16 Road to Indy victories and 36 podium finishes in just 48 races.
The newest addition to ECR is ecstatic to have reached the pinnacle of North American open-wheel racing. “I’m so happy!” exclaimed VeeKay. “It’s a dream come true and something we have worked extremely hard for over the last couple of years. To step up from USF2000 to the NTT IndyCar Series in three years is really special.”
VeeKay got his first taste of an NTT IndyCar Series car in August when Carpenter selected him for an evaluation test at Portland International Raceway. A second successful test followed at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in October, confirming VeeKay’s compatibility with the Indianapolis-based team. Days later, he stepped back into an Indy Lights car at the Chris Griffis Memorial Road to Indy Test and set the fastest time in all six sessions. VeeKay will now focus solely on the NTT IndyCar Series, competing with ECR as a true Indy car rookie throughout the 2020 season.
“I have been following Rinus’s path through the Road to Indy, especially the past two years,” commented Carpenter. “It was clear to me that he deserves to be in an Indy car. After his first day in a car at Portland this past season, that feeling became even more apparent. His pace, feedback and demeanor inside the car was very impressive for such a young driver.”
Since ECR’s inception in 2012, the No. 21 Chevrolet has always featured an Indy Lights graduate, a trend that will continue with VeeKay. ECR has shown versatility by earning seven wins on each style of track the series competes on – street and road courses, short ovals and speedways. The team currently boasts 28 Top 5 finishes, 20 of which have been podiums. ECR Chevrolets have started on the front row of the Indianapolis 500 six of the past seven years, including Carpenter’s three pole positions. In 2019, ECR was the only multi-car team to have their entire lineup make a run for the coveted first starting position and would ultimately start second, third and fourth.
“I would like to thank Ed Carpenter and his partners for this great opportunity and trust,” continued VeeKay. “The number of available seats in the NTT IndyCar Series is very limited, so it’s a great honor that they have chosen me to join their team. I would like to thank Jumbo, La Place, KNAF TeamNL, my new partner Basic-Fit, all my other partners, my manager Charles Crews, but most all my family who made this all happen. I’m really looking forward to the start of the season.”
Carpenter echoed VeeKay’s enthusiasm for the upcoming year. “We’re very excited for the 2020 season to get here and have an ECR car return to Victory Lane!”
The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series will see ECR continue to compete with two full-time entries, the No. 20 and No. 21. While the No. 21 will feature VeeKay for the full season, Carpenter will continue as oval driver of the No. 20 in his 18th season of Indy car competition. The road and street course seat for the No. 20 is still under consideration and will be announced at a later date. VeeKay will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15, 2020.
After a meteoric rise through the Road to Indy ranks, Rinus VeeKay has joined Ed Carpenter Racing as driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet. VeeKay, a native of the Netherlands, will be the team’s full-time driver for the upcoming NTT IndyCar Series season. The 19-year-old will make his Indy car debut on March 15, 2020 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
With his sights set firmly on the NTT IndyCar Series, Rinus VeeKay transitioned to the Road to Indy. In only three years, VeeKay finished second in the 2017 USF2000 points, won the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 championship and was runner-up in the 2019 Indy Lights standings. VeeKay will now focus solely on the NTT IndyCar Series as driver of Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 21, a car that has always featured an Indy Lights graduate.
About Ed Carpenter Racing
Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) first entered the NTT IndyCar Series in 2012. The Indianapolis-based race team has proven its versatility by collecting seven wins on each type of track the series competes on – street and road courses, short ovals and speedways. ECR is led by IndyCar’s only team owner/driver, Ed Carpenter, three-time pole winner for the Indianapolis 500 (2013, 2014 and 2018). The 2020 season will see Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay make his Indy car debut as full-time driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet. Carpenter will compete in his 18th season, driving the No. 20 Chevrolet in all oval events. More information on Ed Carpenter Racing may be found at http://www.edcarpenterracing.com/.
About Rinus VeeKay
19-year-old Dutch phenom, Rinus VeeKay, will achieve his dream of becoming a full-time IndyCar driver, piloting the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. The Hoofddorp, Netherlands native arrives on the grid as the youngest competitor in the field and with high honor after a successful career in the Road to Indy development series. After finishing runner up in the 2017 USF2000 Championship, VeeKay graduated to the Indy Pro 2000 championship, where he dominated the 2018 season and won the Road to Indy scholarship to compete in Indy Lights in 2019. After six impressive victories leading to a runner-up result in the Indy Lights championship, VeeKay tallied an impressive 16 race wins and 36 podium finishes in just 48 races in his Road to Indy career. You can follow the Dutch rookie via his website RinusVeeKay.com as well as his Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Updated- Pigot Out at Carpenter; Management Change at Laguna Seca

Photo: Spencer Pigot on Pole Day, 2018. Photo by Mike Silver

The 2019 Silly Season keeps spinning along. It seems as if it has been a decade  Alexander Rossi re-signed with Andretti and we all thought we were in for a boring off season. Today, two changes came to light. Neither is actually a surprise, but the reality always seems to hit hard.

After hearing rumblings all day, confirmation came that Spencer Pigot has lost his ride in the number 21 Ed Carpenter Racing car for 2020. The decision appears to be financial. Carpenter is looking for a driver who is bringing funding, which Pigot does not have. No replacement has been announced, but there are indications that 2019 Indy Lights runner-up Rinus VeeKay may be in line for that car.

Update

On Friday November 15 Rinus Veekay issued the following statement:

screenshot_20191115-161549.png

Pigot won every step on the Road to Indy, but has not achieved much success in Indycar. his best finish was second at Iowa in 2018.  He may find an entry for the Indianapolis 500, but I think IMSA may be his best bet for steady employment next season. I have always thought Pigot had loads of talent, but he never consistently showed it in the NTT Indycar Series.

indy5day2 108
Pigot practicing for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 in May

There is speculation as to who will drive the number 20 on the road and street courses. Ed Carpenter struck down the talk of F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg joining the team next year.

SCRAMP Out as Laguna Seca Management

lagunawhales 159

In an email from SCRAMP today:

“After 62 years of continuous management of the Laguna Seca Raceway, the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) has been advised via email by County of Monterey Assistant County Administrative Officer (ACAO) Dewayne Woods that “…the County is now in negotiations with another proposer for management services at Laguna Seca Recreational Area.”

According to the agenda for Tuesday, November 19 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, that proposal is centered on Monterey County’s direct management of the Raceway and Recreation Area.

“This news comes as a surprise to the SCRAMP organization,” said Tim McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and SCRAMP, who took over the position in June 2018. “We were starting to make real progress on getting the facility and the raceway operations turned around and poised for the future, but it appears at this time we may not have the opportunity to see these plans through,” continued McGrane.

“As the existing facility operator, we were stunned by the fact that we were not provided the opportunity to discuss our proposal with the ACAO. The entire process has been unconventional, ranging from the bypassing of the County’s usual Request For Proposal (RFP) process, the announcement in mid-October requesting proposals from any interested parties with only two weeks’ notice, and complaints that SCRAMP had not met deadlines to submit a proposal when in fact a submission date had been agreed upon in May, and subsequently met, has been challenging,” McGrane said.

This is not the first time that the County has sought an alternative to SCRAMP. “We have been in this position before with the County administration, but we, our fans, racing series and teams, do have to look at the possibility of the era of SCRAMP operating Laguna Seca Raceway coming to an end,” McGrane said.

In 2015, Monterey County began private talks with International Speedway Corporation (ISC) who, after a careful review of the operational parameters of the facility, determined not to submit a formal proposal for management of the track. In 2016, the Monterey County Administrators Office entered into negotiations with another group to replace SCRAMP for 2017 but were unable to agree to terms that were mutually acceptable. The County then reverted back to a three-year agreement with SCRAMP to continue running Laguna Seca.

In 2018, the SCRAMP-run Laguna Seca Raceway attracted 263,888 attendees and generated $84.4 million in direct spending generated by event attendees over 26 days of the seven major events. 2019 saw SCRAMP orchestrate the long-awaited and highly-successful return of IndyCars to Laguna Seca, with a larger than anticipated spectator count for the weekend.

“We’ve delivered an extensive, forward-looking proposal to the County for a new, long-term 20-year management and operating agreement that incorporates solid plans for revenue generation and expense reduction, expansion of the use of existing facilities, and development of Laguna Seca into a world-class destination,” said CEO McGrane. “We are building the right team, both paid staff and volunteers, with extensive motorsports experience, institutional knowledge, and the dedication to lead this important Monterey County asset into a successful future. We hope we still have the opportunity to present our plans directly to the County Board of Supervisors and we would be proud to continue SCRAMP’s 62-year stewardship of Laguna Seca on behalf of Monterey County.”

The Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, a 501(c)4 not-for-profit, was formed in 1957 by local business owners and civic leaders. SCRAMP’s goal was to raise the funds needed to construct a permanent motor racing circuit to maintain the tradition of sports car racing on the Monterey Peninsula which had begun in 1950 in the Del Monte Forest at Pebble Beach. SCRAMP is comprised of a Board of Governors, Race and Events Committees, and hundreds of loyal volunteers who donate thousands of hours each year to ensure the successful operation of events here.

The SCRAMP organization acquired leased land from the US Army at Fort Ord on August 7, 1957, and the now-legendary track, built with funds raised by SCRAMP, held its first race, the 8th Annual Pebble Beach at Laguna Seca SCCA National Championship Sports Car Road Races, on November 9 & 10, 1957. In 1974 the site was transferred from the Army to Monterey County, who together with SCRAMP, have managed the facility through this year.

SCRAMP’s current three-year management and operating agreement with Monterey County ends on December 31, 2019. SCRAMP currently employs a full-time professional staff of just over 40 team members. “

I thought the season finale at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca was a well organized event. The media center was one of the best all year.  I know there has been some differences between SCRAMP and the county.

My hope is that this change does not jeopardize the Indycar event in the future. I always get nervous when track management changes.

Back later this weekend with a review of Ford vs. Ferrari.