Toyota, Alonso Win; Wet 12 Hours of Sebring Next

Good morning from a very wet and rainy Sebring Raceway. The forecast calls for rain most of the day.

Late last night the first WEC 1000 miles of Sebring concluded in the rain. The yellow at the end didn’t change the outcome. The number 8 Toyota Gazoo, co driven by Fernando Alonso, won by a two lap margin over the team’s second car. The third place car was five laps down.

This is the second straight Weather Tech Championship race that will be affected by rain. We’ll see what happens. Hope to have a mid race update this afternoon.

The race will start on CNBC then switch to NBCSN at 3.

Sebring Update: Alonso Leads Early; Penske Takes 12 Hour Pole

Fernando Alonso and his Toyota Gazoo team have dominated the first 35 minutes of the 1,000 Miles of Sebring. The two car team occupied the front row and began lapping the field very quickly.

Cameron Wins Pole for Penske

The number 6 Penske Acura driven by Fane Cameron won the pole for tomorrow’s  12 Hours of Sebring. Team Joest car number 77 completes the front row.

In GTLM Porsche 911 won the pole and it’s teammate 912 starts second.In GTD Meyer Shank Racing number 86 will lead the group. The number 57 Shank car starts 6th in clasd.

Full qualifying story tomorrow along with a wrap up of the 1,000 mile race.

Sebring 2019 – A Two World Show

It’s called Super Sebring. The 67th running of the oldest sportscar race in the United States will also feature a 1,000 mile race featuring the World Endurance Championship series. The WEC cars look similar to the IMSA machines with a similar class structure. Most of the drivers who ran at the Rolex 24 will participate this weekend, although some will be in different cars.

The prime example of a driver switching to not only a different car, but the other series, is Fernando Alonso. Alonso was part of the winning Wayne Taylor Racing entry at Daytona. This weekend he drives for Toyota Gazoo in the WEC, his regular job. Toyota Gazoo is the top team in the WEC.

Indycar newcomer Ben Hanley’s Dragonspeed car will race in the WEC series Friday. Teams are not allowed to participate in both races. Jordan King, who drove the road course schedule for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018 and will enter the 500 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, will also drive the WEC event in LMP2 car 37.

Chip Ganassi’s LMGTE Ford entry for Friday has two driver slots listed TBA. There is speculation Ford may leave the GT program at the end of this season.

Indycar Drivers Return to Rolex Teams

Five Indycar regulars who drove in the Rolex 24 return to the same teams for the 67th 12 hours of Sebring. Alexander Rossi will drive car 7 and Simon Pagenaud car 6 for Roger Penske’s Acura team.

Sebastien Bourdais in car 66 and Scott Dixon in 67 again join Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTLM squad.

Colton Herta will again co drive car 25 for the Rahal BMW team.

Kyle Kaiser again drives for Juncos in car 50.

The Meyer Shank car 57 continues its all female lineup with Katherine Legge, Christina Neilsen, and Ana Beatriz. The team was disappointed this week to learn they did not receive an invitation to Le Mans.

The Disappearing Class

There are just two LMP2 entrants for the 12 hour. The class had just four cars at Daytona. As I wondered then, why does this class exist as a separate group? They qualify with the DPi cars and receive little recognition during the race. IMSA very much wants four classes, but they need to have a plan in place to develop the fourth class.

I am eager to see how this double header weekend works out. It will be interesting to compare the cars of the two series. I expect the WEC cars to be faster, but the IMSA racing to be better.

Watch for Updates Here

I will be posting updates all weekend, beginning with WEC qualifying tomorrow. Some will be quite brief.  I will have my Quick Thoughts column after each race. The WEC race ends at midnight, so look for that column Saturday morning (not early).

On Monday my full weekend wrap-u will be on Wildfire Sports.

Quick Thoughts on The Rolex (RainX?) 24

The weather at Indycar’s Barber race last season seems like a minor sprinkle compared to today’s deluge at Daytona. Weather situations like this put sanctioning bodies in a bind. Where do participant safety considerations end and wanting to satisfy the fans begin? When possible, the must meet in the middle. I think IMSA maybe erred a bit too much in favor of the fans.

While I and the other fans want to see racing, we want it to be safe for the competitors. I felt the both red flag came later than when needed, and the race resumed before the competitors could race safely. I understand racing in the wet carries more responsibility, but these drivers are professionals of highly seasoned near pros.

I’m not sure what IMSA’s protocol for situations as today is, but I hope it is reviewed at the end of the season. Yes fans want a show, but they want a safe one.

A big thank you to all involved for trying hard to get the race finished. I give special thanks to the pit crews who had to perform their jobs under very difficult conditions. Also the track workers and flag marshals who were stuck at their posts during the delays deserve a lot of gratitude.

The early ending stopped what was going to be an interesting three way battle between the number 7 Penske Cadillac Acura, the number 31 Action Express, and the eventual winner number 10 Cadillac from Wayne Taylor Racing. Pit and driver change strategies were lining up for a great cat and mouse game in the last 90 minutes.

Fernando Alonso showed why he is still one of the best drivers in the world. His stints in the rain late were amazing. Alexander Rossi also did a great job as he nearly won the Rolex watch for the second year Penske team. An added bonus for Indycar fans is that both Alonso and Rossi will be in the Indianapolis 500. If you were still on the fence about Rossi’s skills or think Fernando has lost his championship form, re-watch this race.

It was great to watch Alex Zanardi race, especially in yesterday’s rain. Is there anything he can’t drive? The team’s early race steering issue may have cost him a decent finish.

The all female team from Henricher/Meyer Shank Racing battled strongly all race until a spin during the restart took them out of a chance at a top five. Still, it was nice to see Simona and Bia on the track again.

Indycar drivers Colton Herta drove for s winning car. Herta in the GTLM winning number 25 BMW for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Former series driver Sebastian Saavedra was driving the LMP2 winning car as the race was called. The victory came despite a heavy crash just before the second red flag.

Rossi reached the podium with the number 7 Penske Acura.

I am completely exhausted so will end here. Look for my full race recap on Wildfire Sports tomorrow. I’ll be back in this spot later this week with an Indycar news roundup.

Catching Up with Indycar

Seems as if a lot has happened in Indycar since last Wednesday. I had a great time at the PRI Show. If you ever get a chance to attend, please do so. It is an amazing display of all things racing. Having the show in December helps the off-season blues.  Anyway, here are some news tidbits and some thoughts on each one.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing to Use Honda Engines

The hissing sound you heard was the sigh of relief from the Indycar paddock, who had grave concerns about Andretti Autosport giving technical aid to a potential Chevy team. I have voiced concerns about this since the possibility first arose.  Honda now has 14 full time entries for 2019.

In a related announcement, McLaren announced they will have Chevy power at the Indianapolis 500. Any technical partnership will be with a Chevy team. McLaren partnered with Andretti in 2017.

E85 fuel to Power Indycars Through 2020

Although Indycar will have Speedway as the official fuel supplier for 2019, E85 will remain the fuel for the next two years. There had been some talk of returning to methanol whent he new car came on in 2021 to add more horsepower. That is still possible, but keeping the same fuel formula makes sense since the engines are essentially the same.

It appears that this will be a seamless transition from Sunoco to Speedway.

BC39 Returns to IMS

The BC39 midget event will be back at IMS September 4-5 as a prelude to the Brickyard 400 weekend. this year’s event was a rousing success with great racing and sellout crowds. The race is the perfect opportunity for people like me who keep saying, “I should go to a dirt track this weekend” and never get around to it.

It was one the best events I attended in 2018.  MY review of it can be read here:

https://wordpress.com/post/thepitwindow.blog/8551

Foyt to be Inducted into Houston Sports Hall of Fame

A. J. Foyt will be inducted into Houston’s Sports Hall of Fame 2019 class. Foyt is a Houston native who operates part of his racing team in Houston. This is a great honor for him. My question- What took so long? The induction comes on the 60th anniversary of Foyt’s first Indianapolis 500. While he didn’t finish that race, he did pretty well in subsequent races.

Reader Billy the Skink added an explanation about the Houston Sports Hall of Fame:

To be fair to the Houston Sports Hall of Fame, they didn’t take all that long to induct Foyt. This is only the hall’s second year of existence (the project was proposed many years ago and languished in development hell for a lonnnnnnnnnnng time). They rightly recognized that Foyt was one of the first nationally prominent sports figures to hail from or be associated with Houston. The only reason he was not an inaugural class member is likely because the hall’s organizers liked the synergy and splash made with a 3-person class of Hakeem Olajuwon, Nolan Ryan, and Earl Campbell, all patron saints of sorts of Houston’s 3 major pro team sports and all wearers of the number 34.
Foyt has long been a member of the more established Texas Sports Hall of Fame, along with other racing Texans Johnny Rutherford, Carroll Shelby, Jim Hall, and the Labonte Brothers. Still need to get Lloyd Ruby, Jim McElreath, Kenny Bernstein, Eddie Hill, and Ted Johnson in there.
So it didn’t really take that long for A. J. to get in the hall. I apologize tio the Houston Sports Hall of Fame.

Indycar’s IMSA Invasion Continues

The Weather Tech Sportscar Series is quickly becoming Indycar’s second home. Roger Penske debuted an Acura DPi team last year. Chip Ganassi has been in the series for a long time. Bobby Rahal also has a two car team. Michael Shank was in IMSA before he entered Indycar. For 2019 Ricardo Juncos will have a DPi team as well.  Many drivers participate in the Rolex 24 and Sebring 12 hour events.

Graham Rahal drove for Penske last year. In 2019 Alexander Rossi will join Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor in one of the Penske entries. Simon Pagenaud will co drive the other car with regulars Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron.

Rahal said the reason for the switch is that he cannot fit comfortably in the car. Ryan Hunter-Reay backed him up on that point. Hunter-Reay has driven the Wayne Taylor Racing prototype.  Rossi is one of the taller drivers in the series as well. I’m not sure that this move changes much. Rossi is a bit slimmer than Rahal, but I think the height is the issue.

In related news, Alex Zanardi was confirmed for the Rolex 24 as a co driver of one of Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s cars. The car will have special hand controls to accommodate Zanardi. It will be gbreta to see him in major racing again.

TV Summit

This weekend NBC met with nine racing series that are on their networks to work out plans to better coordinate schedules. Some things discussed were joiny events and a Racing Week in America, seven nights of racing on television. Yes, please! I will have more about the summit later this month.

Coming Attractions

After my move this week to The Pit Window’s move to winter headquarters, look for a post on another 500 mile race program and another in which  I play Santa for the Indycar community.  My last 2018 post will be around the 28th.

 

McLaren Forms Its Own Team for Indy; Some Thoughts

Following yesterday’s late afternoon announcement that McLaren and Fernando Alonso will enter the 2019 Indianapolis 500, CEO Zak Brown added further details. The Mclaren effort will be a separate team, McLaren Racing. It is expected they will still receive some support from Andretti Autosport.  The team will run Chevrolet engines in all likelihood.

Brown would not comment on a possible two car effort at Indy. He did say that this entry is a precursor to a full time Indycar team.

Some Thoughts

It’s always great to have more cars in the 500, especially with another separate team. The international aspect is great for the race.

The possibility exists to have six former F1 drivers on the 500 grid, including a former world champion. Maybe Team Penske can bring Juan Pablo Montoya back as well.

Alonso will drive a car very different from the one he drove in 2017. There will be less downforce. I have no doubt he will adjust quickly as he did in his first May.

If McLaren’s main focus is helping Alonso win the third leg of the Triple Crown, would it be helpful for them to enter Pocono as well in 2019? While it is a different track from Indy, it is still a high speed track of the same length.

Andretti Autosport will be giving support to two Chevrolet teams, Harding and McLaren, during May. I don’t think that is a good idea for the series.  Even if their personnel are completely removed from engine discussions, it just looks bad.

The entry list for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 appears to be heading to about 38 cars. I will wait until late April to begin my annual plea to change the qualifying format.

McLaren, Alonso Will Enter the Indianapolis 500

Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren, confirmed last night the team’s entry in th e 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. Fernando Alonso will drive for McLaren .

No announcement concerning which engine the team will use or what full time team, if a nylon, they will partner with.

In 2017 Alonso drove in the 500 for McLaren, who partnered with Andretti Autosport. He led 29 laps before dropping out with engine failure. Alonso earned Rookie of the Year for his efforts.

Still no word about other races for 2019 for McLaren or Alonso.

More details later tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Updated: McLaren Not Coming to Indycar in 2019; Indy 500 Undecided

Photo: Fernando Alonso at the 2017 Indianapolis 500

Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren, confirmed today that McLaren will not have a full time entry in Indycar in 2019. He left open the possibility of McLaren still entering the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 in May.

“As far as the Indy 500 is concerned, it’s something that remains of interest to us,” Brown said. “That’ll be a decision that ultimately we take in the off-season, and it’s something Fernando would like to do. Right now, we’re still focused on Formula 1, and until we get a little bit of fresh air, we’ll remain focused on that.”

In 2017, McLaren ran the 500 in partnership with Andretti Autosport. COO Rob edwards of Andretti confirmed that the team will run one or two extra cars for the 500. McLaren might run with them if they can iron out their differences with Honda.

Fernando Alonso has yet to indicate what races he wants to run next year. He is committed to the full WEC season with Toyota. Their only conflicting  date with Indycar is labor Day when Indycar is at Portland.

The Formula 1 season ends November 25. A decision may come in December, but January I think is more likely.

This decision should not be a shock to anyone. Talk of McLaren running next season has quieted down since June. There will still still be at least one more car on the grid full time with Harding having two cars. Ten to twelve races should have even larger fields.

Some Off Season Thoughts

The first week of the off season brought the exciting news that Harding racing will partner with Steinbrenner Racing in 2019. The new Harding Steinbrenner Racing team has signed rookies Pato O’Ward, 2018 Indy Lights champion, and Indy lights runner-up Colton Herta. Very few details other than the driver announcements are known at this time. There is a technical partnership with Andretti Autosport which will provide shocks, dampers, and engineering help.

The big question is which engine will Harding Steinbrenner use? Harding had Chevrolet power in 2018, and Andretti is a Honda team. For these teams to work together, the engine needs to be the same. If HSR goes with Honda, would that rule out a possible third car at Rahal letterman Lanigan Racing?

One of the greatest things about this new team is that the two team owners come from outside of racing. My friend Steve Wittich wrote an excellent article for Trackside Online about how Indycar needs diversity in its ownership. I hope we see more owners from outside racing. they should provide a fresh perspective on the business of racing.  You can find his article on Trackside Online.com. It is a site worth subscribing to.

New Title Sponsor?

There has been no word on a new series title sponsor. Things have gone rather quiet about who it will be. That could mean it’s wrapped up ready to be announced, or Indycar is still searching. It would have been good to have an announcement at Sonoma, and have some sort of handing over ceremony to thank Verizon for their sponsorship.

The Mysterious Third OEM

Is there someone ready to jump in for 2021? There has been some talk of one or two manufacturers, with one name mentioned more than others, but again, things seem very quiet on the new engine front right now.

McLaren News in November?

We may not know Mclaren’s plans until November. It would be great to have McLaren in Indycar, but this is turning into racing’s version of General Hospital. First Honda says they will not help Mclaren, then reports have come out saying yes they still might. Alonso has not made a decision. My guess he is in for the 500 only. Stoffel Vandoorne, considered a candidate for the seat when Alonso doesn’t drive, is rumored to be close to having a contract in Formula E. That could mean McLaren will be here for the 500 only as well.   Stay tuned.

Coyne’s Car 19

Dale Coyne has talked to some former Formula 1 drivers about driving the 19 car next year. he continues his quest to have one driver for the entire season in that ride. Apparently neither Zachary Claman De Melo or Pietro Fittipaldi will return. Too bad. They both have some potential to be decent drivers.

October Coming Attractions

Next month I have several columns planned for here and on Wildfire Sports.

A review of Born Racer.

A book review of Gentleman, Start Your Engines.

Look for  another month of May review via the official program for that year.

Commentary on off season news and the big announcements that could be coming will be posted as needed. In addition to a title sponsor, I am most interested to see which races will be on NBC network. I’m guessing there will be a lot in May and very early June. They didn’t ask me (again) but I think one Detroit race would be enough.

Look for a column on things Indycar might want to change for 2019.