Pagenaud Fastest In P2; Three Drivers Break 60 Second Mark

Turn 11 continued to be tricky in the afternoon session as Simon Pagenaud led Practice 2. The winner of the 103rd Indianapolis 500 had the day’s first sub-60 second lap with a best time of 59. 871. Felix Rosenqvist was second quickest 0.06 seconds behind. Sebastien Bourdais ended the period third 0.116 seconds slower than Pagenaud.

Turn 11 again was a busy spot with contact by Takuma Sato,  Marcus Ericsson, and Alexander Rossi.  Ericsson had another contact incident in turn 5.  Rossi hit the turn 9 wall and damaged the left front tire.There was no suspension damage and he returned to the track, but finished 14th.

Pagenaud, Bourdais, and Rosenqvist looked strong in both sessions. Scott Dixon, who led the morning practice, was fifth this afternoon. The Ganassi pair of Dixon and Rosenqvist join Pagenaud as the only three drivers in the top five of both sessions.

Notes

Spencer Pigot was fourth in practice 2 as he continues to seek a breakout race performance.

The cars of Marco Andretti and Colton Herta look a lot alike from a distance. It will be good to know their starting positions to help watching them in the race. I hope they don’t end up in the same row.

Both of Rossi’s wall contacts happened in the first 20 minutes of the session. The car looks like it needs some work overnight.

Tomorrow’s practice session is at 10: 20 am ET. Qualifying begins  at 2 pm ET. The practice is on NBC Gold. Qualifying is live on NBCSN.

Dixon Leads Practice One; Turn 11 Proves Tricky

Scott Dixon led the first practice session for the Honda Indy Toronto this morning. His lap of 1:01.072 was nearly two tenths better than Josef Newgarden’s best time. Dixon’s teammate Felix Rosenqvist was third quickest. and Alexander Rossi was fourth. This is the NTT Indycar Series’ first race since Road America June 23.

Newgarden, Will Power, and Takuma Sato each spun on the exit of turn 11 causing stoppages to the session.  Newgarden bent the rear tow link in his incident. Ther is an expoxy patch in the center of the road just past the turn’s apex. if the car straddles the patch, no problem. If the tires touch it, there could be an issue.

Rossi led the session until the last five minutes when Dixon passed him. Rossi’s final attempt at a decent lap was frustrated by his being behind another car, then not not having enough tires left for a quicker lap.

Notes

It’s difficult to get used to Sebastien  Bourdais in a blue car.

Karam’s car reminds me of Paul Dana’s car.

Turn three seems even trickier than it has been.

The next practice begins at 3:15 eastern. You can watch on NBC Gold. The coverage this morning was excellent.

The top 12:

Screenshot_20190712-121925

 

Toronto Preview

Photo from Alexander Rossi’s Twitter feed

Summer break is over. The NTT Indycar series points battle returns this weekend in Toronto. This is the 34th running of the series on the streets of Exhibition Place. The event began in 1986 and except for 2008 has run continuously.  The weekend has the feel of the Indianapolis 500 to it. The course layout has changed over the years  due to construction. It is a narrow track which makes qualifying very important and  perfect pit stops almost mandatory.

We are near the point of the season where a good points finish matters almost as much, if not more, than winning. Josef Newgarden leads Alexander Rossi by just seven points. Simon Pagenaud is 61points behind, and Scott Dixon trails by 94. Of the top four Rossi and Dixon are the two who most need to win Sunday. Rossi needs the victory to tie Newgarden with firsts this season.  Rossi would then hold the tiebreaker with three second place finishes should he and Newgarden end the season tied.

Dixon’s only chance to defend his series title is to win as many of the seven races left as he can. A deficit of nearly 100 points is difficult to make up, but Dixon is known for his second half strength.  Toronto was the last of his three victories last season. Dixon has won at Toronto three times. He swept the double header here in 2013.

Team Penske drivers Newgarden and Will Power have won three of the last four races and three of the last four poles. newgarden has won twice. Power, Newgarden, and Pagenaud have each won a Toronto pole since 2015. Dixon broke up the Penske pole party in 2016.  Since 2009 only Dario Franchitti (2009), Dixon (2013), and Sebastien Bourdais (2014)  have won the race from the pole.

The Honda Indy Toronto race has never been caution free. I don’t think Sunday’s race will break that tradition.  Pit strategy will be a big factor in the race. Newgarden and Tim Cindric have won three times this season playing pit strategy  perfectly. The breaks could fall their way again. In Rossi’s dominant win at Road America, his last pit stop was earlier than the first two. In other races Rossi had seemed to stick to a plan regardless of the situation. That early stop might mean the team is going to be more flexible should the situation warrant.

Qualifying is key at Toronto. The winner will likely come from the Firestone fast Six group.  In 2001 Michael Andretti won from 13th, the farthest back the winner has started. Newgarden started from the pole last year and seemed to be in control of the race. He went wide on a restart and hit the inside wall, allowing Dixon to take the lead and the victory.

Spotlight on the Canadian Duo

A Canadian will triumph before the race begins. Robert Wickens, severely injured in a crash at pocono last August, will drive the parade lap in a modified Acura NSX. Wickens has worked extremely hard on his recovery. He is still a long way from competing again, but his progress has been amazing. This might be the most watched parade lap in series history.

Note to NBC: We’ve seen the crash; we don’t need to see it Sunday. Thanks in advance.

Hometown hero James Hinchcliffe, Wickens teammate,  just missed the podium last year, finishing fourth. He has been on the podium  here, but has had some mixed results. A Hinchcliffe win would cap an amazing day for the two Canadian drivers.

Don’t Bet Against the Front Runners

Newgarden has won two street races on strategy. Rossi has won one in a powerful statement race, although that turned out to be a preview of Road America. Rossi also has finished second on a street course. Toronto is similar to Detroit, where Rossi and Newgarden made up the front row.

I think the race comes down to a battle between these two, but I also wouldn’t count out Pagenaud or Dixon. Last year there were three full course yellows, all in the first half of the race. A late yellow coukld completely change the complexion of the race.

I’m going with Rossi to make it two wins in a row. In 2018 Rossi won back to back races at Mid Ohio and Pocono.

 

 

 

Wickens to Drive Parade Lap at Toronto

Big news from Robert Wickens this morning.  It will be great to see him behind the wheel. I hope we don’t have to see numerous replays of the crash beforehand on NBCSN.  Back later with some thoughts on other things.

Indycar Drivers’ Licenses and Thoughts on the Mad Silly Season

Catching up on a few items from Indycar over the past week:

Last week Indycar in conjunction with the five year plan for Indy Lights, introduced a procedure to obtain an Indycar driver’s license. The criteria grants automatic eligibility to drivers who race in Formula 1 or NASCAR or have a predetermined level of success and/or experience in other series.

Indy Lights drivers become automatically eligible by finishing in the top three in one full season or the top five over two full seasons. Drivers in other series can get a license by accumulating a set number of points over a two year period.

The license criteria allows for exceptions. Among this season’s drivers, Robert Wickens is an example of someone who would have needed an exception and most likely would receive one based on his experience. Santino Ferucci likely would not have gotten a license.

The point values  and criteria for exceptions have not been announced.

I like that Indycar is implementing this system. It should strengthen the grid. Will it prevent ride buying? Not necessarily. It might actually force owners who rely on ride buyers to hunt for sponsorship on their own. Another possible consequence is a case where an owner needs a driver to bring money, but that driver isn’t eligible for a license. How will that exception be handled? Could it cost the grid a car? Would that owner have to sit out?  Like the Road to Indy five year plan, this is still a work in progress, but it is a step in the right direction.

The Three Headed Silly Season- Drivers, Teams, Tracks

Usually Silly Season is all about drivers. This year it is about drivers, teams, and tracks. The one key driver is Scott Dixon, who is a free agent at the end of the season. Will he stay at Ganassi, take what’s rumored to be a gigantic offer from McLaren, or move to Team Penske, as Robin Miller mentioned on the NBCSN Mid-Ohio broadcast?  My guess is he sticks with Ganassi. The McLaren money is untouchable by anyone else, but there are a lot of unknowns with a new team. Dixon at Penske would sap a lot of the rivalry out of the series.

 

Which shade of orange will Scott Dixon wear next season?

Team Shuffles?

Andretti Autosport is planning on having McLaren bring two cars to Indycar next and assumes McLaren  will be in a technical partnership with AA. That would give Andretti eight drivers. Meanwhile, Harding Racing is looking for a technical partner, possibly with Andretti. Two Andretti cars could become a part of Harding’s stable along withe the potential two cars Harding plans to run next year. Got all that? This would give Andretti full or partial control of one third of the grid.

I admire Harding and Juncos Racing going alone this year. A partnership with an established team would help speed their development. However I think eight is too many cars for one owner to have a hand in. I have thought for years Andretti Autosport was spreading itself too thin, yet they keep producing results.

Belardi Racing is looking to expand its entry beyond the 500 next year. Belardi was affiliated with A.J. Foyt Racing for the 500 this year. the car was driven by James Davison. They are also looking to expand their Indy Lights program. This is what more Indycar owners need to do- have an Indy Lights program and develop a driver in their system. It would instantly give more value to a ride in Lights.

The Schedule

We know a little about the schedule from track announcements and an assist from the recently released IMSA schedule. It’s what we don’t know that is preventing a final announcement.

What replaces Phoenix in the Spring? I can’t imagine the series would go dark for five weeks from the St. Pete opener  March 10 to April 14 at Long Beach. The gap to Phoenix was too long at three weeks. With Iowa moving to July 20, does Mid Ohio keep its date the following weekend?

Speaking of Iowa, great news that this will be a Saturday night race again. The racing has always been better there at night.

While Belle Isle got the go ahead from the advisory committee, the race is not officially on until the Michigan department of Natural resources approves it. IMSA has their Belle Isle event listed as tentative on their schedule.

Is there another new track coming on board? Mark Miles has said there will be 17 races again.

The IMSA schedule shows the sports car series at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca the week before the Indycar finale there. I don’t understand how either event will draw much of a crowd. Two major events on back to back weekends cannot help a track’s bottom line. The only remedy would be a discounted combo ticket or a season pass. This sounds iffy for a good crowd at the Indycar finale.

Notes

Colton Herta had his first Indycar test at Portland  with Harding Racing.

Sportscar driver Colin Braun has expressed interest in getting an Indycar ride for next year. The announcers on the IMSA telecast said he would be testing a car. I don’t think he has one scheduled at the moment.

Another sportscar team, Dragonspeed (not Jay Penske’s outfit) is also interested in forming an Indycar team.

With all the expansion planned by current teams and all the possible new entries, the grid could be quite crowded next year. realistically, probably not all of these will pan out, but I do look for a larger grid and even more entries at Indianapolis in 2019.

Indycar News and Notes

Programming note- Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will be televised live on CNBC at 3 pm ET and re-aired on NBCSN at 6:30 pm Sunday.

It seems as if Indycar has a news item or two every day lately. Here are a few tidbits.

Mo Nunn

Mo Nunn died last Wednesday after battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Nunn was the engineer who helped Chip Ganassi’s team first taste success with Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Mike Hul credits Nunn for his current success Ganassi has.

A former Formula 1 driver and team owner, Nunn also owned teams in CART and the IRL. Tony Kanaaan drove for Nunn in CART before going to Andretti Green in 2003.

My friend George Phillips wrote a nice tribute to Nunn on Monday. you can read it here:

https://oilpressure.wordpress.com/

Mid Ohio Features Return of Three Drivers

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will see the return of Jack Harvey in the number 60 Meyer-Shank racing entry. This is a home race for Michael Shank, who is looking to eventually become a full time Indycar team.

Pietro Fittipaldi, recovered from fracturing both legs in a practice accident at Spa two months ago, returns to the 19 car for Dale Coyne Racing. His absence allowed Zachary Claman De Melo toget more time in the car. DeMelo did a nice job. I’d like to see him in a full time ride.

Conor Daly will again be driving for Harding Racing. He took Gabby Chaves’ place in Toronto, giving the team its best qualifying and finishing position of the year. Chaves is still under contract with the team through 2019. He will be back in the car at some point. The team is pleased with the technical information Daly is providing. Harding is hopeful of having a two car team next season.

Rahal Says Steak n Shake May Return

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing owner Bobby Rahal said that Steak n Shake may return as a sponsor of Graham Rahal’s car in the future. The company withdrew this year to redirect funds elsewhere. It would be great to see them back. Steak n Shake did a lot of activation with signs and prerace weekend appearances by Rahal at their restaurants.

Wildfire Sports is My Home for Mid Ohio

I will be reporting for Wildfire Sports this weekend Friday through Sunday. You can find my columns at wildfireradiosports.com.

I will post quick thoughts here and live tweet during the weekend. Follow along on the blog’s Twitter account @PitWindow.

Mid Ohio usually produces some big announcements about the next season.  Stay tuned