I never think of Indycar without envisioning a car with Firestone tires. Firestone tires have been synonymous with Indycar it seems like forever. The tire has been on the winning car at the Indianapolis 500 69 times, including the first race in 1911. That relationship remains with today’s news.
Firestone will continue as the sole tire supplier to the NTT Indycar Series through 2025. The announcement of the new deal came at the Dallara Factory in Speedway this morning. In addition, Firestone is building a new state of the art manufacturing facility for Indycar tires in Akron. The building, the Advanced Tire Production Center (ATPC) should produce its first tire in late 2020.
“Champions have relied on Firestone tires for more than a century, and racing has always been the ideal proving ground for new technologies that help us evolve and advance our company’s passenger tire offerings,” said Philip Dobbs, chief marketing officer, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations. “As the NTT IndyCar Series continues gaining momentum, we are introducing new fans to the Firestone brand and strengthening our relationship with the drivers who use our durable, dependable Firestone tires.”
Ralph Hubbard, Creator of the HANS Device
Hubbard and his brother-in-law, Jim Downing, created the device in an effort to save drivers’ lives by protecting their heads and necks from the violent jolting in accidents. Their research began in the early 80’s. Indycar was the first series to adopt the device and Formula 1 made it compulsory in 2003. The HANS Device was optional in NASCAR, but after Dale Earnhardt’s death in the Daytona 500, it soon became mandatory.
Drivers and fans are thankful to Dr. Hubbard for work and inventing what is now taken for granted as a part of a driver’s equipment. Many lives have been saved with this attachment.
Indy Qualifying Changes?
The Pit Window has learned that an official announcement about the qualifying format for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 will come either at the end of this week or early next week. Some tweaks to the current format are expected. I will share my thoughts on the new procedures next week. I hope more changes may be on the way for 2020.
Weather Tech Raceway hosts the first Indycar test of 2019 Friday. Most of the projected grid will be there. Official Spring training begins Tuesday at COTA. The Tuesday session will be live streamed on Indycar,com.
The entry list for Weather Tech Raceway:
I’m kidding. It was one of the best weeks the series has had since 2008 reunification. The announcement of NTT as series sponsor was the week’s biggest news, but three announcements followed, strengthening two events and one team. Friday’s news about the new ASPM team, in my opinion, is just as big as the NTT announcement. It could very well change the dynamic in the paddock.
The Road to the Title Begins and Ends with Firestone
Firestone has sponsored the opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for the last few years. The tire supplier now will also sponsor the season finale at Weather Tech Raceway at Laguna Seca.
Firestone and Indycar have been together virtually since the beginning of racing in America. It is a relationship fans almost take for granted. It’s great to see that they continue to increase their support of the NTT Indycar Series.
REV Group Helps Road America Keep it Local
REV Group has replaced Kohler as title sponsor the race at Road America. REV is a Milwaukee based company that manufactures RVs and emergency vehicles. REV Group plans to have a hospitality area to salute first responders who attend the event.
The new race sponsor replaces Kohler, who held title rights for the first three years of the race. It is one of the most popular events on the schedule.
The REV Group Grand Prix is June 21-23, and is one the eight races televised on the NBC network.
Arrow Steps Up Commitment to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Schmidt Peterson is now Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. In a Friday announcement in Denver, Arrow became a team partner and primary sponsor of both Schmidt Peterson cars. James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson will drive in 2019. A third car will be ready for Robert Wickens when he is able to return.
The relationship between Schmidt and Arrow goes back to 2013 with the develoment of the SAM car, a semi- autonomous vehicle which has allowed Sam Schmidt to drive a street car again. That partnership led to Arrow sponsoring Hinchcliffe and ultimately to a stake in the team.
The new team structure brings a huge infusion of resources to Schmidt’s organization, which should see better results from the entire team. It might take a year for them to be really strong, so I’m looking at a great season in 202 for this outfit.
Arrow is one of the classiest sponsors in the paddock. They stood by the team when Hinchcliffe failed to qualify for the 500 this year, and they are supporting Wickens by holding a seat for him.
To me, this announcement is nearly as big as naming the series title sponsor. It is another large company investing heavily in Indycar.
Aero Tweaks Should Improve Racing at Indy, Pocono
In an effort to improve the superspeedway package the NTT Indycar Series is introducing aero options for both Indianapolis and Pocono. The new Universal Aero Kit introduced last year greatly improved the road and street course racing, but the speedway configuration didn’t produce the hoped for results.
Teams will have more aero tuning freedom on both the front and rear wing of the car.
The rear wing will have a 3/8 inch tall Gurney flap. One option is 13.2 inches wide and adds 50 pounds of downforce. The other choice measures 24.5 inches across and adds 100 pounds of downforce. there is a third flap which covers the entire length of the wing and adds 200 pounds. The full wing flap will only be allowed at Texas.
Extra downforce should allow cars to pass easier.
The front wing has a 3/8 inch tall flap which is 5.5 inches wide. Teams may use this flap asymmetrically. One problem in the 500 last year was the front end washing out as cars attempted to pass.
Sad news today about the death of Glen Wood, of the famous Wood Brothers racing team. Wood, 93, drove until 1964 and began his race team with is brother Leonard. His team also was Jim Clark’s pit crew in 1965 when he won the Indianapolis 500. Their pit stop routine became the norm for Indycar.
The Wood Brothers team is the oldest team in NASCAR. They have won 99 races including 5 Daytona 500s
Indycar put together another good race. The Honda Indy Toronto was a great follow-up to the great race in Iowa last week. This was a street brawl. Cars banged together, fought for position, went wider than anyone thought possible at Toronto. The race played well on television.
The new aero kit has definitely improved the street course races. They have all seen more passing and action than in year’s past. I hope what we saw last weekend means they have finally figured out the oval configuration. Pocono and Gateway will provide those answers. I’m not sure if there is much to be done on road courses. At Road America Newgarden didn’t run away and hide from Hunter-Reay, but Hunetr-Reay couldn’t pass.
Good Days Spoiled
Marco Andretti had fourth place locked up until he pitted for fuel with two laps to go. Was there a fueling issue on his last stop?
Spencer Pigot was on his way to his second good finish when he hit the wall and had to retire.
Josef Newgarden had the race in hand, and would probably have had a close fight for the win with Scott Dixon when he brushed the wall on a restart. He clawed his way back to 9th, but lost a lot of ground to Dixon in the title chase.
Good Days Rewarded
Simon Pagenaud had his second podium of the season in what has been a frustrating year for the former series champion. The next race at Mid Ohio is a track where he done well. It will be interesting to see if his success carries over.
Tony Kanaan’s sixth place was AJ Foyt Racing’s best result of the year.
Robert Wickens reached the podium in his first home race. Teammate James Hinchcliffe finished fourth. This is the third straight year a Canadian driver has been on the Toronto podium. Hinchcliffe finished third the last two years.
Conor Daly stepped into the 88 Harding Racing car this week. He started 11th and finished thirteenth, Harding’s best overall weekend of the year. Daly is a master of jumping in a car at the last minute and doing well. Harding is looking to put a second car on the grid in 2019. Could Fall be a candidate for that seat?
Charlie Kimball in fifth was the best result for Carlin Racing this year.
Zach Veach finished seventh after starting 22nd.
Dixon in Control of the Title
Dixon’s quest for a fifth championship is looking better. he now leads Newgarden by 62 points. I believe this is the biggest lead this late in a season since Juan Pablo Montoya held a commanding lead in 2015. Dixon has done very little wrong this year, taking as high a finish as he could, then finally breaking through at Detroit for his first 2018 victory. He and Newgarden now lead the series with three wins each.
Dixon has now won 44 races, just 8 behind Mario Andretti. If you don’t appreciate this future legend yet, start now. He definitely belongs with the greats of old.
My full Toronto recap will be on wildfireradiosports.com Tuesday. Wednesday watch this column for a story on the 1956 Indianpolis 500.
Photo above from Honda Indy Toronto website
The Verizon Indycar series makes its only trip outside the United States this weekend in Toronto. James Hinchcliffe gets to race at home coming off his victory in Iowa. Teammate Robert Wickens also can claim Toronto as his home track. Look for great results from this pair this weekend. With Zachary Claman DeMelo also in the field, this is the first time in several years that three Canadian drivers have been in this race.
Indycar has had a long history at Exhibition Place beginning in 1986. The race was off the calendar in 2008, but returned the next year following the merger. This was one of the venues where double headers took place in 2013 and 2014. Michael Andretti won at Toronto seven times, including three sets of back to back wins in 1991 and 92, 1994 and 95, and 2000 and 2001.
Active drivers who have won previously are Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, and Scott Dixon. Power leads active drivers with three wins. Newgarden and Dixon each have won twice. Dixon swept the 2013 doubleheader for his two victories.
The event has the buzz of Indy about it, making it a fun race to attend. After track activity, there is Toronto to explore. This race is definitely worth a trip. Public transportation makes it easy to get to.
Does Honda Street Course Domination Continue?
Hondas have dominated on street circuits this season. Power has had the strongest Chevy on the streets with two seconds and a seventh place finish. He has qualified second twice and third once. Newgarden has not qualified well and although he has three top ten finishes, he hasn’t really been a factor in any of the street events.
Honda has won the pole for all four street races. Alexander Rossi has won two poles. This trend should continue. Hondas seem to like tracks with slow corners and short straightaways.
A Great Weekend for the Home Team?
The momentum SPM and Hinchcliffe have from winning Iowa and Honda’s strength on this type of track point to a great weekend for the team. Robert Wickens excelled at St. Pete and is one of the favorites to win his first career Indycar race Sunday. Wickens has been in contention in most races this season and will be a factor on race day.
Robert Wickens is one of the favorites for his hometown race. Photo: Mike Silver
Can Dixon Extend His Points Lead?
We are in the part of the season where points are as important as who wins the race. Dixon’s big lead suffered a slight drop last Sunday, but not enough to put his spot in jeopardy. It would be a shock if he had two bad races in a row. I’m not sure if he’ll extend his lead, but he may have a different runner-up chasing him to Mid-Ohio.
Is the Duel Back On?
My picks- Rossi on pole and Wickens winning the race. In a perfect world, they will both start on the front row. Rossi and Wickens could develop into a great rivalry with their different driving styles. Rossi has gained a reputation for his aggressive, unapologetic style on track, while Wickens drives steadily and doesn’t push the envelope.
Daly to drive for Harding
Conor Daly will drive the 88 Harding car this weekend, replacing Gabby Chaves. In a statement from Harding the team states they are looking to audition drivers for a second car next year and want some fresh input on the car. They are also looking at some Indy Lights drivers. Chaves will be back in the car at some point this season has a contract for 2019 with Harding.
Look for my Toronto recap on wildfirradiosports.com early next week. I will catch up on Indycar news in this space mid week, and I plan to have a feature story on a n historic turning point in 500 history.
A tight battle on lap 1 for fifth through ninth in Turn 5. Photo: Mike Silver
Not the best I’ve seen, but hardly the worst. I enjoyed watching Josef Newgarden turn in a flawless performance yesterday afternoon. He had pressure from Ryan Hunter-Reay all day long, but the Chevy was too strong on road America’s long straightaways. Alexander Rossi once again nearly stole the headlines from the winner, but not for the reason he usually does. More on the controversy later. Scott Dixon didn’t qualify as well as he hoped- he missed the Fast Six- but managed to be the only leader besides Newgarden to lead any laps. Dixon finished third and increased his points lead.
Best drama of the day happened just before the green flag when Will Power, who started second, was nowhere to be found as the field roared into turn one. An engine issue put him out of the race for his third DNF of the season. Outside of May, Power has really not had a great year. He drops from third to fifth in the title chase.
Tony Kanaan tried to use a four stop strategy to move up, but the caution free race didn’t allow that plan to work. Kanaan finished 14th.
Alexander Rossi- Series Villain?
Indycar has needed rivalries and villains to give the series some spark. Have they found them? The season began with hopes of a Rossi/Newgarden battle for the title. That hasn’t materialized, but a Rossi/Robert Wickens feud may be brewing. Wickens and Rossi collided in turn one at the start. After their collision on the white flag lap at St. Pete, the animosity seemed to have died down. It may be on again. Takuma Sato also took issue with Rossi’s driving in yesterday’s race. He and Rossi had contact in turn 5 later in the race.
Rossi had a suspension problem which dropped him to a 16th place finish. He is now tied with Hunter-Reay for second, 45 points behind Dixon.
I like Rossi’s style. He is bold and relentless and can pass anybody anytime it seems. He is also unapologetic. As long as he isn’t ruining other drivers’ races, I’m fine with his racing.
Road America Renews for Three More Years
Yesterday morning Road America President George Bruggentheis announced that Indycar will return to Elkhart Lake for three more years. This has been one of the more successful events on the calendar. Sunday’s crowd was equal to or may have topped the great attendance in 2016. The track instantly become my favorite road course the moment I entered the track.
On the Flip Side…
The not unexpected news that ISM Raceway in Phoenix would not return in 2019 became official over the weekend. Crowds were virtually nonexistent and the racing was not great. There was little excitement or presence for the event the two times I went to the race.
It’s sad to lose such a classic track, but the newer cars don’t always perform well on the older tracks.
The series is looking for a replacement in that that calendar slot. Many fans have made many suggestions. It needs to be a warm weather locale, and preferably another oval.
I’m wondering if other schedule changes are in the offing for next season.
On to Iowa
Next up for Indycar is Iowa, the most fun oval on the schedule. You may have heard this before in this space, but I hope this the last daytime race and beginning in 2019 this is again a night race.
I have a couple features planned for later this week and next week. Enjoy the week off.
Remember a few years ago when Texas decided to have twin races on the same night? Last night’s one scheduled race at Texas was two races in one, as Scott Dixon and the other Honda teams came to life after the sun set . Team Penske Chevrolets had swept the first three spots in qualifying and led early, but tire issues affected all three cars. Pole sitter Josef Newgarden and teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud had to make early stops to replace blistered tires. Only Pagenaud would be contending at the end.
Dixon, Robert Wickens, and Alexander Rossi showed speed early, and when the Penske cars faded they went to the front. The cooling track favored the Hondas. Pagenaud came back to finish second, fighting off a strong challenge from Rossi. Newgarden faded to 13th, three laps down, and Power crashed into Zachary Claman de Melo just past the 200 lap mark and ended in 18th.
The results again shook up the point standings. Dixon now leads Rossi by 23 points and Power is 36 behind. The fight for the championship will continue until the end. This is a fun battle. Dixon is the third different leader since the 500.
Thoughts and Notes
The early part of the race was processional and not very interesting, but as the track cooled it became turned into a good show. I think the oval aero package needs a tweak or two, hopefully by Pocono.
I appreciate Indycar’s mandate that cars had to use scuffed tires on their first three stops. This is a much better plan than last year requiring a stop every 30 laps.
Rossi and Wickens can pass anyone, anytime, anywhere. These two continue to be the highlight of every race. Rossi had passed more than 50 cars halfway through the race. Wickens looked to have the fastest car of the night, but Ed Carpenter collided with him as Wickens tried to pass on the low side. I still think Wickens will catch a break and win a race this year. Hard to believe he hasn’t broken through yet.
Rossi apparently learned his lesson from Race 2 in Detroit as he conceded second to Pagenaud in the last few laps. Pagenaud came on strong after getting his last set of tires and Rossi’s car didn’t seem to work as well in the high groove as it did early in the race.
Tire wear seemed to affect the Penske cars more than it did the rest of the field.
The pack race many feared never developed. There was, however, some good close racing throughout the field.
Newgarden was the points leader after barber, but now is fifth in points with three finishes outside the top ten in the five races since May.
Good for Ed Carpenter and Will Power for admitting that their mistakes caused the crashes.
It was very cool to see Rossi go to Pagenaud after the race and shake his hand. That was a great battle for second.
Dixon, Power, and Newgarden have each won twice this year.
Pagenaud and James Hinchcliffe, who finished fourth, both needed good results. They had been struggling this season.
Scott Dixon now has 43 victories and now is third on the all time list behind Mario Andretti and A. J. Foyt. Enjoy watching this new legend race while you can. I think with another win or two this season, Dixon has a shot at passing Mario.