Indycar Grid Update and Other News

This is the post I was going to write earlier this week before something happened. I think this should be safe until next week or longer, I hope. The good news is the NTT Indycar Series grid for 2020 is nearly full. The bad news for drivers on the outside is the grid is nearly full. Here is a team by team look  at where things stand.

Chevrolet Teams

Penske– All set with the same lineup as last year- 2019 champion Josef Newgarden, 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power.

Carpenter- Nothing confirmed for either car except for Ed Carpenter running the ovals. I expect Spencer Pigot to return to the 21. The road course races for the 20 could go to Rinus Veekay, although he is seeking a full time seat. Would Carpenter consider a full time car for VeeKay and run the 20 just on ovals?

Carlin- Nothing solid at Carlin yet. Will Max Chilton be back for just the road/street courses?  Can Charlie Kimball get a full time budget? Who else might be in the mix? Ed Jones, Matheus Leist, and Conor Daly are some of the available talent.

Foyt- Tony Kanaan will be in the 14 for his final full time ride in Indycar. The seat in the 4 car is still open. It likely won’t be Leist again. Right now this ride is wide open.

AMSP- Plenty has been written about this team this week. Their lineup is set with Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew, the last two Indy Lights champions.  I expect expansion team type results from them next year.

Dragonspeed- The team is hoping to run 10 races next season, which may be optimistic. Ben Hanley is their main driver, although someone with money could drive in some races for them. The team is expanding their sports car program in both WEC and IMSA.

Honda Teams

Andretti Autosport- The armada returns with an expanded lineup. Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, and Zach Veach all return. They are joined by Colton Herta as Harding- Steinbrenner has been absorbed by Andretti.

Meyer-Shank – Jack Harvey hopes to run a full season in 2020. the team will have a technical alliance with Andretti.

Ganassi- The team has expanded to three full time entries. Scott Dixon and 2019 Rookie of the Year Felix Rosenqvist return. Marcus Ericsson will drive the third entry. Don’t look for a fourth car except maybe for the 500.

Coyne- Sebastien Bourdais stays in the 18. It appears the team is close to completing a deal with Santino Ferrucci to return to the 19. I don’t think the Hinchcliffe situation changes anything here.

Rahal- Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato are set. Everyone’s attention is focused on the third car which doesn’t yet exist. Will it come into being for James Hinchcliffe? I’m not sure enough money can be put together by the parties concerned.

As of today there are 20 solid full time cars. The question marks are Carlin and Meyer-Shank. I’m not counting the 4 car at Foyt, either.

Cara Adams Promoted at Bridgestone/Firestone

Congratulations to Cara Adams. In a press release from Bridgestone, Adams is now  “…director, race tire engineering & production, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO) and Firestone Racing. In this expanded leadership role, Adams will oversee the entire race tire production process – from product design and development through manufacturing and management – in support of the Firestone brand’s role as sole tire supplier of the NTT IndyCar® Series.”

Cara is one of the hardest working people in the paddock, but she always has time to answer a quick question.

Aeroscreen Test Underway- Some Early Impressions

Everybody relax. This will take some getting used to. And we will get used to it.  Aesthetically it’s not the best looking Indycar I’ve ever seen, but it is the safest to date. I do see some things that pleasantly surprised me.

Since this piece is a retrofit on existing bodywork it is not going to be the best presentation. I think with the new car the aeroscreen will look better as an integrated part of the tub.

First, my biggest concern from a viewing standpoint, is that you can see the driver and his hands on the steering wheel. The screen is clear. I expected some kind of tinting that would make the driver invisible. Second, a crew member can reach inside to fasten the belts. I thought the driver would need to learn how to do that task.  I still have a concern about extracting a driver in a bad accident or in case of fire.

From the little bit I’ve seen of the cars on track, I don’t notice much difference at speed. I will go out to turn 2 later and see if I can see much difference in how the cars look on track. I imagine there will be a much more noticeable profile difference on a road course.

I talked to Cara Adams of Firestone this morning. The tire supplier is using the current tire and has also brought last year’s tire as a backup. She expects higher right front loads due to the weight shift to a higher position. I will try to follow up with her later.

Here are a few more photos.  I will up date later. Scott Dixon, Will Power, Jay Frye, and Andy Damerun of Red Bull Advanced technologies will have a media availability at 3 pm.

Firestone Extends Indycar Partnership Through 2025; Building Race Tire Facility

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.

Testing Begins

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:

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Indycar’s Pretty Good Week

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.

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The top 2 wings will be available at Indianapolis.

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.

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Glen Wood

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

 

Quick Quick Thoughts- Honda Indy Toronto https://t.co/6Qlbh0QPfN- Honda Indy Toronto

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.

A Home Game for SPM Drivers- Honda Indy Toronto Preview

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.

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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.