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:

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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.

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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

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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.

 

 

 

 

2019 Indycar Grid Gets Less Fuzzy

Usually, that headline is a positive statement. However, today Ed Carpenter Racing  announced that Fuzzy’s Vodka will no longer be a sponsor. The official announcement:

(INDIANAPOLIS) October 29, 2018 – After seven consecutive seasons, one of the most recognizable partnerships in the IndyCar Series will conclude as the relationship between Ed Carpenter Racing and Fuzzy’s Vodka has come to an end. While Fuzzy’s Vodka will concentrate on business initiatives outside of motorsports moving forward, Ed Carpenter Racing’s 2019 plans are unaffected with the No. 20 and No. 21 entries still competing full-time.

Fuzzy’s Vodka has been with Ed Carpenter Racing since the team’s debut season in 2012 and has supported ECR in each of the 118 IndyCar Series events since. Team owner Ed Carpenter has had Fuzzy’s Vodka on the sidepod of his car every one of his races the past seven seasons, including his three successful Indianapolis 500 pole runs and runner-up finish this year. A Fuzzy’s Vodka car has pulled into victory lane five times and Fuzzy’s Vodka drivers have stood on the podium 16 times. Away from the track, ECR is proud to have supported Fuzzy’s successful activation efforts, including unique bottle designs and heavy promotion during the Month of May which led to substantial sales uplifts each year.

Carpenter is grateful for the support Fuzzy’s Vodka has given his team and is now focused on the future. “I am very appreciative and proud of the relationship between ECR and Fuzzy’s, really going back to before the team began. It has been a good run and I wish them nothing but the best with their future endeavors. Tony George, Stuart Reed and I started ECR together back in 2012 and we are still as committed now as we were then to winning Indy 500s and competing for IndyCar Series championships. Our plans for 2019 and beyond remain unchanged and I cannot wait to see what we accomplish together moving forward.”

Ed Carpenter Racing is deep in preparations for the 2019 IndyCar Series season, having just solidified a driver lineup for the upcoming year earlier this month. Spencer Pigot will continue with ECR for a fourth season, his second as the team’s full-time driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet. Carpenter will remain the only owner/driver in the series as he continues to drive the No. 20 Chevrolet in the five oval races. A new partnership with Scuderia Corsa will see Ed Jones behind the wheel of the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet for the 12 road and street course events. Jones will also compete in the 2019 Indianapolis 500 alongside Carpenter and Pigot as the team enters a third car, the No. 64 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet.

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Fuzzy’s has been a great Indycar sponsor. Activation was great with their commemorative bottles including this year’s set of four honoring A. J. Foyt’s four Indianapolis 500 victories. Fuzzy’s had a booth in the fan village for the first few years of their involvement. ECR had two of the best looking cars on the grid as well.

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Spencer Pigot at Iowa, where he earned a career best second place.

Some Thoughts-

Will Fuzzy’s continue to sponsor the Turn 2 Suites?

Is Scuderia Corsa bringing another sponsor? Oriol Servia’s car last May did not have a lot of sponsorship on it.

Will Preferred Freezer Services have increased involvement with the 21 car?

Will Direct Supply be more involved with the team?

 

 

Carpenter, Scuderia Corsa Join Forces for 2019

In a just released announcement, Scuderia Corsa and Ed Carpenter Racing have combined to field the number 20 car in 2019  Ed Jones was named as the road and street course driver for the number 20 car.  Ed Carpenter will continue to drive the car on ovals. The entry is now Ed  Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa. Jones will drive a third car,number 64, in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500.

Jones drove for Chip Ganassi Racing last season. He had several top tens on road and street courses, but struggled on ovals.

Academia Corsa entered the 500 last year with Oriol Servia , who led late in the race but needed to make a late stop for fuel. Serbia had hoped to drive for the team full time this upcoming season.

Change Coming to ECR- New Driver, Team Partnership; Vasser-Sullivan Expands to IMSA

An announcement should come tomorrow (Wednesday) regard Ed Carpenter racing’s car 20 for 2019. Jordan King will not return to the road/street course schedule in the Fuzzy’s car. The team is expected to announce a partnership with Scuderis Corsa, which fielded Oriol Servia in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. Ed Jones, who drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2018, will be introduced as the driver of the shared ride. Ed Carpenter will drive the 20 on all ovals. Jones will drive a third car in the 2019 500.

The partnership with Corsa puts Oriol Servia on the sidelines once again. Servia was instrumental in getting Scuderia Corsa to the 500 last season and was looking to drive for them in a full season effort in 2019. Servia would be a good candidate for the second seat at Carlin.

The Carlin seat is one of two still open. Schmidt=Peterson has an open seat while Robert Wickens continues his recovery.

I will follow up tomorrow afternoon on the details after the announcement.

Vasser-Sullivan Joins Lexus  in IMSA

Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan, who joined forces with Dale Coyne Racing for Sebastien Bourdais’ ride, announced their entry into IMSA. They will field a Lexus in the GT Daytona class. No driver has been named. Vasser said this will not affect the Indycar portion of their program. Indycar owners have been expanding into IMSA at quite a clip lately.

Will Bourdais continue to drive foir Ganassi in the endurance races or will he switch to the Vasser-Sullivan ride?

Final Thoughts- Qualifying Weekend

What do Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser, Jr., and Emerson Fittipaldi have in common? There are two things. They won a combined six Indianapolis 500s, and they each failed to qualify for an Indianapolis 500. It can happen to the best. Great drivers-popular drivers-  have missed the race from time to time. The series moves on and the race goes on. There is a season to run, and the Indianapolis 500 will be back next year.

Saturday was one of the most intriguing, compelling Bump Days I have seen. It is nice to know that after a seven year absence, bumping is still the heart of qualifying. I’m glad it has returned.

Can We Ditch the Fast Nine?

The Fast Nine was a good idea when there were only 33 entries. It did add a bit of excitement to what was an otherwise ho hum weekend where no one was going to miss the race.

This year the Fast Nine was anticlimactic. It is time to put it away until the next year only 33 cars show up. Removing it would solve a major hiccup in the qualifying procedure.

Near the end of Saturday some teams were scrambling to make the field and others went out to attempt to makea the Fast Nine.  This is confusing to teams and fans. Who gets priority? The groups need to be separated.

Saturday should be running for the pole, and Sunday should be for making the race. With the pole decided on Saturday, the speedway and Indycar can promote the winner on Sunday’s qualifying show in addition to having a Sunday morning headline.

Notes

In years past I have watched drivers on television after they failed to qualify for the 500. I heard the disappointment in sadness in their voices, the tears in their eyes and thought I knew how sad they were feeling. Seeing that emotion in person Saturday evening at Pippa Mann’s press conference, however, really drove home how much this race means to the drivers who base their entire year on being in the 500.

Ed Carpenter and Scott Dixon have combined to win five of the last six poles at Indy. James Hinchcliffe is the only other pole winner in that stretch.

Saturday’s crowd was low because of the weather. yesterday’s crowd seemed smaller than last year’s Sunday attendance.

Indy Lights has two sessions today. The first round is from 10:45-11:30. The next round is at 4:30 after the Indycar  practice from 12:30-4. Indycar practice is streamed. There is no streaming for the Lights practices.

Aaron Telitz on Pit Lane Parley

Indy Lights driver Aaron Telitz is this week’s guest on Pit Lane Parley. Tune in at 3:15 EDT Friday on wildfireradiosports.com

 

 

 

Season Preview, Part 2- Smaller Teams Look for Bigger Results

First, some personal news:

Beginning this weekend I will be covering Indycar for Wildfire Sports, a sports site carrying podcasts and written content. I am very excited for this opportunity. Please give them a look at wildfireradiosports.com. I plan to continue this blog, probably with a slight change in content. Thanks to everyone who reads this blog. You helped make this happen.

 

The four smallest established teams in the paddock expect better results this year thanks to the new aero package. TheHonda teams are especially optimistic that equal aero with superior Honda power will yield higher finishes. Each of the teams featured today have at least one driver new to the team. All but one driver was not in Indycar last year.

A. J. Foyt Racing

Foyt turned over their driver lineup for the second year in a row. They now have former series champion and 2013 500 winner Tony Kanaan and rookie Matheus Leist. Kanaan has struggled the last few years with Ganassi. He is looking for a fresh starts. I’m not sure this is the best team to get better results with, but his talent may help improve the team’s standing.

Leist drove in Indy Lights in 2017 and won the Freedom 100 in dominating fashion. He also won at Iowa. Still, I think he could have benefitted from another season in Lights. Leist spun four times at the Phoenix test. He will have a challenging year.

Overall I don’t look for much improvement from Foyt Racing. The constant change of personnel makes it difficult to produce decent results. Kanaan may be able to get a few top 10s, but anything beyond that would be a major accomplishment.

Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan

This team has some unfinished business. Sebastien Bourdais was poised to be a championship contender last year, winning the St. Pete opener and on his way to the pole at Indy when the horrendous crash occurred. Bourdais was sidelined until Labor Day weekend.

2018 begins with a full time sponsor and a partnership with former team owners Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan. This may be the boost that Coyne needs to move his organization closer to the front consistently. Look for Bourdais to be in the thick of the title fight.

The second car will have two part time drivers, Zachary Claman DeMelo and Pietro Fittipaldi. DeMelo drove in Indy Lights last year and had an Indycar debut at Sonoma with Rahal :Letterman Lanigan. After a slow start to the weekend he showed a decent race pace. I thought he was one of the most improved Lights drivers last year, but I still think he could use another year’s experience. DeMelo will run at St. Pete, Long Beach, Barber, Detroit, Road America, Pocono, Toronto, and Gateway.

Fittipaldi is the grandson of former series, world, 2-time 500 champion Emerson Fittipaldi. He raced in Europe last season and did well. He performed well in testing, but he is still a rookie on a low budget team. I think he will be interesting to watch. Fittipaldi’s seven races are Phoenix, GP of Indy, the 500, Texas, Mid-Ohio, Portland, and Sonoma.

Ed Carpenter Racing

2018 sees some shuffling and one part time addition to the Fuzzy’s Vodka backed team. Owner Ed Carpenter will continue to drive the ovals in car 20 and rookie Jordan King, who comes from F3 and F2 with respectable credentials, will take over the car fro the road and street schedule.

The 21 car will have Spencer Pigot, last year’s road and street driver of the 20. Pigot is a major talent who should do well in a full time seat. Last year a series of mechanical issues cost him some great finishes. I anticipate fewer problems and some top 5s this season.

Carpenter always qualifies well at Indianapolis, but has very little good fortune in the race. Could this be the year their fortune changes?

The 20 and the 21 will have different liveries this year. Last year the two cars were a spotter’s nightmare as they were pretty much indistinguishable in the race. When both cars carry the Fuzzy’s sponsorship, the 21 will be green and the 20 will be black.

Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports

I always start the new season with high hopes for this team.  There are some flashes of brilliance but not a consistent result for the entire schedule. 2018 could be different. James Hinchcliffe returns and his teammate, Robert Wickens, is someone he grew up with. Wickens was headed for an open wheel career which got derailed and spent last year in DTM.  This is the strongest two car lineup SPM has had in a while.

Adding Leena Gade as lead engineer is a huge hire for SPM. She is one of the top engineers in the world. It will not take her long to get these cars competitive. Gade is also a strong, articulate  advocate for equal opportunities for women in sport. I am very glad she is in the Indycar paddock.

There were some issues with Hinchcliffe’s car at Phoenix, which hopefully will be resolved by the April race. Wickens showed good speed at the Sebring test. He has a smooth style.

The team has added several partners in the offseason. The biggest deal is with New Era as the team’s apparel provider.

I think Hinchcliffe will win a race this year as he did last year. Wickens will have several good runs and likely finish second in the season Rookie of the Year chase.

Tomorrow concludes my team previews with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Andretti Autosport. On Friday I will have a full season preview with predictions you can take to the bank, or anywhere else that has a trash can..