Cusick-‘2023 Starts Now’

Don Cusick has teamed with Elton Julian of Dragonspeed and with some huge assistance from A.J. Foyt Racing, has put together the 33rd and final entry for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500. Stefan Wilson will drive the number 25 Chevrolet in the race. A few weeks ago chances for the Cusick Motorsports entry looked grim. Finding a chassis, arranging to lease one of the few remaining engines, and putting a crew together were some of the challenges in getting the final entry together. A meeting with Julian set things in motion, and the final entry for the race is now official. Asked when the team will begin planning for 2023, Cusick said,

“We don’t want to do that again, I can
assure you. I would tell you that we’re going to start
working on 2023 on May 15, 2022. I think everything we’re
doing, everything we’re putting into this effort is leading us
towards that, and everything we learn is going to be applied to that.”

Julian, who entered a car in the 500 in 2019 for Ben Hanley, is excited to return to I

“Obviously Indy has been a passion of mine when I was a driver, as a team owner. Now, it’s firmly a target that I’ve always wanted to get to.
We made strides in that direction and got killed during the
lockdowns. We couldn’t hold on to the INDYCAR side of
things, and it was disappointing. A large part of, call it
excitement, is the fact that we’re coming back basically a
year earlier than I had hoped.
We shifted a lot of our focus back to the States this year,
racing full-time in the States, but in the back of my mind
was always ’23, ’23, whatever, even if it’s just the 500, but I
can start preparing properly was always the mission.
So I wasn’t thinking too much about it this year. Heard all
the rumblings about I would but I can’t, or I would but I
can’t, so I just put my hand up and said, well, we’ll do it. If
personnel and the will and just having the fortitude to say
yes and go for it, knowing that we have the quality, of
course, it took some traction, and Jay instantly put us
together with Stefan.”

Wilson said that the expanded full time Indycar field makes it difficult for one offs to enter the 500.

“It was not from a lack of interest, it was just there was so
much interest in the INDYCAR Series right now. There’s
27, 28 full-time entries. A big issue that a lot of teams have
run into is just personnel and having that bandwidth to take
on more cars or to commit to the 500 in that kind of time.
So we tried multiple different avenues, and we just kept
hitting stumbling blocks. The later it got, the less likely it
looked that we were going to be here.
I think Elton tweeted out something was it four weeks ago
maybe, that hey, we want to go back to Indy, and it was
like, hey, huh, that’s interesting. Jay connected us and we
started exchanging a few texts, and I wasn’t sure what
Elton thought of me. I didn’t know if he respected me as a
driver, wanted to work with me, but I was like, I’ll just see
where this goes.”

In addition to a scarcity of cars and engines, Julian said that crew shortages make assembling a team difficult. He also noted that Indycar needs younger personnel.

“I think we’ve suffered a little bit from getting new blood in. Racing
sports car and racing around the world, I will say that the
average age of the crew member in INDYCAR is way older
than anywhere else I see, and the first time we went to
INDYCAR with my European crew, they were like, wow,
we’re really young here. So I think there’s been a lack of
new blood.”

He added that kids coming out of college aren’t interested in crew work before they begin their engineering careers
“Some of the older talented guys that are in retirement
mode now, that have left, you’ve got to beg the Andy
Browns and these guys to come back out and do a race
with you. So there’s been very little backfill from that, and
you have a lot of kids now that go to school that have
engineering degrees that want to get paid like 150 coming
out of school. Nobody wants to just go work. So I think
that’s part of it.”
But I can tell you 100 percent I fight with Penske in Europe
for personnel. They poached my systems engineer last
year. I was like, why don’t you just take the whole team.
But it’s like that, and it’s happening everywhere. There is a
serious lack of people out there, and at the same time
there’s people falling out of Formula 1 because they can’t
hack the schedule. So there’s places to go find people.”

Wilson:

It will be very tempting to just focus on the race car, but we
have to kind of also try and improve our starting position,
as well. But I think we’ll know straight away on that first
day of what’s realistic, and if we think that it’s going to be
better time served just focusing on the race car straight
away, then that’s what we’ll do. But if we think we’ve got a
chance of starting much higher up the grid, then we’ll be
splitting that time between both and making sure that we
can try and make both as good as possible, because it is
really important where we start. I found that out last year,
just very, very difficult to pass. I think I passed like two
cars in 20 laps, and that felt like a victory.
I think that’s going to be our sort of mentality. We’ll kind of
see where we start on that Tuesday.

Hinchcliffe Leads Rain Shortened Practice

James Hinchcliffe led a rain shortened practice session for the six cars still looking for a spot in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. Hinchcliffe had a lap of 228.125. Sage Karam was next at 228.083.  Fernando Alonso was slowest of the five cars that were on track. at 220.009′

Kyle Kaiser did not turn any laps in the session that lasted just 20 minutes before the rain began.  The rain just returned as the track was nearly dry.

McLaren Options?

Should Alonso and McLaren not qualify, might they try to buy a ride?  There are rumors they are considering it.  I have never been a fan of drivers who don’t qualify buying their way into the field, as Michael Andretti did for Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2011.  Stay tuned.

Dragonspeed, Hanley to Focus on Indycar in 2020

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Ben Hanley (L) and Elton Julian talk about qualifying and the future of Dragonspeed

Team owner Elton Julian said plans are do as many or more races in Indycar next year.

“Commercially no other series is as viable as this one,” he said. “I’ve always been quick to step up to the next formula.”

Dragonspeed will stay involved in sports car racing, but cut back a bit’

Hanley on his first week here:

“The Rookie Orientation is amazing. It’s hard to not go over 205 but the program makes you stop and think about what you’re doing.”

Rain continues to fall and the schedule is on hold. I’m not optimistic about any running today. Should the rain stop now and not return, it will be at best 3 pm before the track dries.  I would look for the last row qualifying tomorrow before the final practice from 12-2.

I will keep everyone posted via @PitWindow on twitter and The Pit Window on Facebook for immediate weather updates and back here for any extended news.