Indycar Season Review- Newgarden Reclaims Title and Rookies Shine

Photo: Josef Newgarden on his way to clinching the championship at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca. Photo by Kyle McInnes

In some ways 2019 was an unusual season for the NTT Indycar Series. In other ways, it was a typical season.

Some unusual items:

All three of the championship contenders heading to the final race had at least one finish of 15th or worse.

The seven race winners each won multiple times. I can’t recall that ever happening before. Seven winners seems like the lowest total in a few years as well.

None of the three contenders won a race after July 20.

Alexander Rossi did not lead a lap after his dominating win at Road America on June 23.

Typically, Team Penske drivers led more than 900 laps and won nine races. The team also enjoyed a 1-2 finish in the final standings.

Josef Newgarden combined  consistency and some great pit strategy by Tim Cindric to jump to an early points lead which he held most of the season. Rossi climbed to within 16 points after Mid Ohio, but the lead expanded in the following race after Rossi’s involvement in the first lap incident at Pocono. Simon Pagenaud saved his job with his two brilliant victories in May. He had a 4.8 finishing average over the last six races and came up just 25 points short of his second title.

Rossi was dominating at Long Beach and Road America. He finished second in the Indianapolis 500. The rest of the time he was good, but not great. I thought Rossi was more consistent in 2018. Since his Road America win, Rossi had an average finish of 7.7

Dixon’s Title Defense Stalls

Scott Dixon’s season was typical of his title defense years. He never got going. 2019 was just the second time he has finished outside the top three in the standings.

Dixon finished second three times and third once in the first five races. A 17th place in the Indianapolis 500 followed by a crash and 22nd place in the first Belle Isle race put Dixon  in a hole he could not climb out of. He did bounce back to win the second race at Belle Isle and also won at Mid Ohio. Dixon now has 46 career wins, just six short of Mario Andretti for second place all time.

Rookies Have Outstanding Year

The four rookies- Colton Herta, Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson, and Santino Ferrucci- collectively had a season that any rookie group would be thrilled with. The class earned  2 wins, 4 poles, and 6 podiums. Ferrucci had an average finish on ovals of 6.2. Rosenqvist’s street/road course average was a respectable 7.1. Herta took most of the headlines with his three poles and two victories, but mechanical issues and accidents suppressed his averages and kept him behind in the points standings.

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Felix Rosenqvist edged Colton Herta for Rookie of the Year. Photo: Kyle McInnes

Rosenqvist won the Rookie of the Year title with a fierce drive at Laguna Seca from 14th to fifth to edge Herta by five points. He served notice at St. Petersburg that the rookies meant business when he passed Will Power on a restart. With Rosenqvist staying at Ganassi and Herta moving to the main Andretti team, I see a future rivalry between these two in a couple years.

Surprises and Disappointments

The biggest surprise of the year was Takuma Sato winning two races and earning two pole positions. Sato had a big slump beginning at Texas and was blamed for the early accident at Pocono. It would be nice to see him put a full season together.

Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank racing deserve consideration for driver and team of the year. Harvey earned the team’s first podium at the Indycar Grand Prix. In just 10 races, Harvey had four top ten finishes, got into the Fast Six twice, and finished on the lead lap in seven races. They seemed to struggle after their long break following Road America. If their plan to be full time in 2020 works out, they should be even better.

Zach Veach was probably the most disappointing driver. After finishing 2018 strongly, I thought he would have a great year. He lingered in the back half of the field most weekends and finished 18th in points, ahead of only Matheus Leist and Ed Jones among the drivers who drove all 17 races.

The Best and Not So Best

Not every race can be great, and like most years a few races stood out.

For me, the best races were the Indycar Grand Prix, Mid Ohio, Iowa, and Gateway.

The worst races in my opinion were Pocono, Detroit 1, Toronto, and Portland.

 

 

 

 

Rosenqvist Sets Pace in Practice 3; Qualifying Groups; Announcements

Photo: Kyle McInnes

Felix Rosenqvist led the final practice before qualifying this morning as qualifying groups were set. Team Penske cars of Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud took the next three spots. Title contenders Alexander Rossi 10th and Scott Dixon was eighth.

The session ran green the entire way. Takuma Sato led early in practice and ended fifth. Colton Herta, who led a practice yesterday, was seventh this morning.  Ryan Hunter-Reay, leader of Practice 2 Friday, was 18th.

The top 12:

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Qualifying begins at 1:35 Pacific time and can be viewed on NBCSN.

Notes

Rahal Letterman Lanigan officially confirmed that Takuma Sato will return to the team for 2020. Sato has won twice and earned two pole positions this year.

The Road to Indy announced that Exclusive Autosport will field teams on all three rungs of the development series in 2020. They plan to have two cars in Indy Lights. This team will be a great addition to Indy Lights and a much needed expansion to the field.

Back with Quick Thoughts after qualifying.

Rosenqvist Cleared to Drive; Reveals New Livery for Saturday

Felix Rosenqvist has been cleared to drive in the Bommariot Automotive Group 500 Saturday night at World Wide Technology Raceway. Rosenqvist was involved inn the first lap crash Sunday at Pocono. The nose of this car lifted into the fence, but returned to the track. he was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation and released later Sunday evening. Yesterday he received the final okay from NTT Indycar Series doctors to drive in this weekend’s event.

Today Chip Ganasssi Racing revealed Rosenqvist’s car for Saturday with Monster Energy sponsorship.

This livery should look great in a night race. I’m wondering if this is the start of Monster Energy’s interest in sponsoring a car on a more regular basis. I hope so.

World Wide Technology Raceway Adds Fan Enhancements

The track  will have three large video boards at the race Saturday.  It will sure be an improvement over the tiny screens from the past two years.

The Stanley Cup, the NHL’s trophy won by the St. louis Blues in June, will be on display at some point Saturday on the fan midway stage. Colton Parayko of the Blues will be the Grand  Marshal  for the race. Blues team captain Alex Pietrangelo will also be at the track.  I am very excited to at last get to see the Cup in person. After the Borg-Warner trophy, I think the Stanley Cup is the coolest trophy in North America.

Back later with some more on the race Saturday.  Look for my race preview tomorrow.

Day 2 Wrap-up

Photo: Felix Rosenqvist at the Indycar Grand Prix. Photo by Kyle McInnes

Felix Rosenqvist spun in turn two at 5:02. His car snapped as it appeared he caught the grass with his left front tire. He backed into the outside wall the went head on into the tire barrier on the inside.  His spinning car just missed clipping Will Power and Jack Harvey just missed running into Rosenqvist. He was checked and released from the infield medical center.

After just a few minutes of green flag running, the yellow flew for a track inspection. Another track inspection with seven minutes left, the track closed for the day.

Josef Newgarden’ s earlier time of 228. 856 held as the fastest of the day. Alexander Rossi was 34th quickest but had the fastest no tow speed.

Alonso talked to NBC Sports about his accident.

“It was understeer on the car, and even if I lifted the throttle on the entry of the corner, it was not enough, and I lost completely the front aero. The wall came too close and too quickly. Unfortunately, it happened today. We will lose a little bit of running time again. I’m sorry for the team, but we will learn and hopefully, we will come back stronger tomorrow. I’m disappointed and sad for the team and for the guys. We worked quite a lot on the car and definitely now it’s quite damaged, so I feel sorry for the team and for my mistake. We will learn from this and hopefully tomorrow we’re back on track and back stronger”

McLaren is repairing the primary car and also building the backup car. they will try both tomorrow and decide which car to qualify.

Notes

The F1 grid lines are slowly returning as the sealant lightens.

Newgarden said that like last year it is difficult to follow especially in a deep pack of cars. He thinks the race will be similar to last year, but it will depend on the temperature. A cooler day might see better racing than a warm day. Newgarden also noted that the team or other teams as well have not tried all the downforce and aero tools Indycar has made available this year.

Rossi said the team completed their checklist for today and then parked the car. He didn’t seem concerned about his speed ranking today and thought being first on the no tow list was irrelevant.

Rosenqvist Wins Pole in a Different Fast Six

Photo:  Felix Rosenqvist on his way to his first career Indycar pole. Photo: Kyle McInnes

 

Scott Dixon and Will Power looked at their Fast Six competition and had to ask, “Who are these guys?”  Two  rookie drivers, Felix Rosenqvist and Colton Herta, had each made one Fast Six appearance this season. For Jack Harvey and Ed Jones, this was new ground.

Each round of NTT Indycar Series  qualifying for the Indycar Grand Prix had twists and turns, with many favorites, including points leader Josef Newgarden and other usual final round residents like Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay not advancing out of Round 1.  Yet things didn’t\;t seem totally amiss. Takuma Sato led Group 1, which was not a surprise this season. Power advanced, but no one thought anything of his fourth place. There was more focus on who didn’t advance than who did. Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden watched the rest of qualifying and will start 17th and 13th respectively. Group 2 knocked out Ryan Hunter-Reay and Patricio O’Ward, who faded late in the session after showing early speed.

Probably the shock of Round 2 was Sato not advancing. Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud looked like they had a chance, especially given the inexperience of the rest of the group.

Then the Fast Six gave us a rookie pole winner with his veteran five time teammate starting next to him’

Rosenqvist said, ” It was the first time I felt relaxed in the car and didn’t feel I had to push 120%.”

The polesitter has won four of the five Indycar Grand Prix. Weather may be a factor in who wins tomorrow. It is likely the string of winners whose last name starts with P is about to end.

Qualifying Results by Round. Starting Lineup will be up tomorrow with the latest weather update.

Round -1-1

Sato

Bourdais

Rosenqvist

Harvey

Jones

Power

Round 1-2

Herta

Dixon

Ericsson

Rahal

Pagenaud

Pigot

Round 2

Herta

Rosenqvist

Harvey

Power

Dixon

Jones

Fast Six

Rosneqvist

Dixon

Harvey

Herta

Jones

Power

 

Quick Thoughts- Indycar Grand Prix Qualifying

Nice to see so many different drivers in the second round.

Even nicer to see new faces in the Fast Six.

Scott Dixon and Will Power have a big chance to move up in the point standings tomorrow.

I can’t remember the last Ganassi front row lockout. It might have been when Dario Franchitti and Dixon were together.

Jack Harvey was having an under the radar good season. It’s not under the radar now. When you remember Harvey is not full time, this makes a Fast Six appearance even more impressive.

The Fast Six had two rookies, three drivers making their first appearance in the final round, and two drivers who make regular appearances.  The changing of the guard is getting closer.

Weather could play a huge role in tomorrow’s race.

Full qualifying story up later tonight. Thanks for following along today.

 

 

COTA Qualifying-Quick Thoughts

 

Will Power is trying to pass Mario Andretti’s pole record this season.

Another first round red flag cost Sebastien Bourdais a chance to advance. Has to be frustrating for him, especially since his teammate, Santino Ferrucci, advanced. The red flag to end group 2 may have cost Marco Andretti. Unlike St. Pete, the reds came with less than a minute left in each session, so no one can complain about not having a shot.

I’m not so sure now that the race will be caution free. Turn 19 could be an action packed spot tomorrow.

This rookie class is good. Four of the six advanced to the second round. Felix Rosenqvist was the only to get through to the Fast Six for the second race in a row. He has out-qualified Scott Dixon twice. Rosenqvist had the fastest qualifying lap, 1:45.5 in round 2.

It’s great to see the rookies contending for starting spots at the front every week.

Look for the Power-Rossi front row a lot this season, though not always in this order.

Cars are sliding a lot, which will make for some exciting racing.

Round 2 was one of the best qualifying rounds I’ve seen.

Thank goodness there are no track limits in turn 19. The series might want to move some Porta Potties around, however.

The cars of Pato O’ Ward and Kyle Kaiser look very similar. Doesn’t help that they are numbers 31 and 32.

The race could be 2 hours long at these speeds.

A full qualifying report will be on Wildfire Sports later this evening.