Penske Gives IMS a Valentine

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I came away from the announcement at Indianapolis Motor Speedway even more impressed with Roger Penske and what he can accomplish. It was just 100 days ago that he purchased the Speedway and the NTT Indycar Series.  There is a lot of information to digest from the press conference. Here are some thoughts about the major areas discussed today.

For a detailed list of the improvements at IMS, click or paste this link:

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/90591962/posts/2589662794

Increased Purse

Adding $2 million to the purse for a total of $15 million is a step in the right direction. It’s an increase of about $60,000 per starter. The winner is guaranteed $2 million. I hope the winning driver’s total reaches $3 million with other prizes. Could this be just a first step? Penske seemed to dodge the question about adding a title sponsor to raise the purse even further.

Qualifying

I like the multiple attempts on Bump Day for those trying to get in the field. One of the issues with the 2019 format was that a driver couldn’t defend by going out again. Expanding  the time to 75 minutes is okay. I would prefer two hours for this. I will save my annual qualifying rant for May.

The turbocharger boost to 45 horsepower for qualifying should see speeds increase. There are many other factors that may prevent this- weather, time of day, the effect of the aeroscreen.  Fast Friday will be interesting.

NBC expanded coverage on both qualifying days may lead to higher race day ratings. Some coverage will be on NBCSN, but it sounds as if the main segements- the Fast Nine and the  Last Row Shootout- will be on NBC. Again, more about this in May.

New Sponsors

The new sponsors announced today show the power of Roger Penske. Several are associate sponsors of Penske’s race team. The more the merrier in this department.

Fan Experience

Penske has said from the first day he would invest in the fan experience. He is doing that. The improvements to the video boards alone would have been a big enough enhancement for one year. However he is not stopping there. Moving the west side fence into Georgetown Road will greatly help the congestion there.

Refurbishing 125 restrooms with fresh paint and new sinks has been needed for some time. No mention today of the famous (infamous?) troughs.

I’m excited to see the lighted signs at the main gate and at Gate 2.

Victory Podium

The one thing that concerns me is raising the winning car to the podium. It’s a nice idea and I understand why they want to do this, but I think this will take some excitement away from the celebration. I thought this practice was stopped because the moment lost spontaneity. I would prefer the celebration be on ground level, where there is actually more room, then lift the car and have the driver and team come up to the podium. Maybe IMS can practice this during the GMR Grand Prix and the Freedom 100 to work out any possible kinks in the new procedure.

Today was a very positive day for the future of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s always a nervous time when anew owner comes to a place. I felt at the time Penske was the best person to take over the Speedway. Today showed that so far my feeling was correct.

Bumped Before May; Honda Nixes Alonso Andretti Ride

Fernando Alonso watches as he is bumped from the Indianapolis 500 in 2019. Photo: Mike Silver

\Fernando Alonso will need to find needs to find a Chevy team to take him on if he wants another chance to win the Indianapolis 500. An expected announcement from Andretti Autosport putting Honda in the 29 Andretti ride never came. I thought that was because of the death of Michael’s cousin, John Andretti. But Honda headquarters in Japan vetoed the deal.

The bad blood between Alonso, and McLaren for that matter, stems from criticisms leveled at Honda in Formula 1 when they supplied engines to the McLaren which Alonso drove for. Granted, the engine performed poorly. Alonso called it a GP 2 engine during one race. The team was not happy with the engine the entire season.

Alonso now has limited options among the Chevy teams. Penske never was a possibility, Ed Carpenter racing will not run a fourth car. The best opportunities lie at Arrow McLaren SP, Coyne, or Carlin. Alonso failed to qualify last year in a Carlin supported entry. I’m not sure he wants to go that route again.

One off Chevy teams which may have availability are Juncos and Dreyer and Reinbold. Alonso needs a huge check to hook up with Juncos. I’m not sure where D&R stands with their second driver, thought to be J. R, Hildebrand.

Door Open for Hinchcliffe?

My first thought upon hearing this news is does Hinchcliffe have a shot at the now open Andretti ride? I don’t know which teams he has talked to already or how far negotiations have progressed. He wants to run races besides Indianapolis. Andretti would probably be the easiest team to accommodate that.  The team had considered running Alonso at one or two more races.

I’m sure Andretti is getting lots of calls from lots of drivers asking about the now empty seat. Some possibilities are Carlos Munoz, Stefan Wilson, and Oriol Servia. Sebastien Bourdais may be interested as well.

Implications

I really don’t see Alonso driving in the 500 this year. The Chevy possibilities themselves have limited room for another car.

Drivers and teams may now be even more leery of criticizing their engine supplier. Indycar seats and engine leases are hard enough to come by. This not a component of a team anyone wants to upset.

Honda’s veto of Alonso underscores the need for the NTT Indycar Series to secure a third OEM. If  one supplier has a say about who drives cars with their engines, the field narrows for the parties affected. Of course Honda has every right to make decisions they believe are in their interests, but  having just two engine choices is limiting.

What will it now take for a driver to get the seventh Andretti car for Indianapolis? Alonso was likely bringing significant sponsorship to the team. Will Andretti decide to forgo the extra car?  I was seeing one less car for qualifying this year as it was. I hope I’m wrong.

 

 

Drivers Branching Out- A Good Thing

Photo: James Davison at Indianpolis in 2018

What used to be routine is now causing a stir. Several drivers made  news last week when they announced deals to drive a few races in a series other than their main one. To me, this is not a big deal. Drivers used to be itinerant gypsies, driving several times a week in different kinds of cars.

It wasn’t unusual to see the winner of the Indianapolis 500 in a sprint or midget race three days after collecting his check at the Victory banquet, then heading to Milwaukee the next weekend for another Indycar race. I seem to recall a year when A. J. Foyt led the standings in Indycar, USAC sprints, and USAC midgets. Foyt also won the Daytona 500 and LeMans. Mario Andretti also won Daytona and the F1 world championship. Lloyd Ruby and Dan Gurney had success driving almost anything.

Those days are pretty much gone now, but it seems as if drivers are starting to look for rides in different series again. In the past 12 months, Alexander Rossi has driven in Indycar, the Baja 1,00, and the Bathurst 12 hour race. I like that racers are starting to fill gaps in their schedules with more races. Fans find a newseries they enjoy while their favorite competes inanoher form of racing.

Outside of Indycar, Fernando Alonso left his Formula 1 ride to drive in the World Endurance Championship full time. He also drove for the winning Wayne Taylor Racing entry in the 2019 Rolex 24. Alonso has one Indianapolis 500 start on his resume and will participate n the Dakar Rally.

The most fascinating announcement last week concerned James Davison, mainly because he will have the same sponsor in both the Daytona 500 and at Indy. I think we may be seeing the beginning of a sponsorship trend.

I would like to see more arrangements like this for these two races. It gives potential sponsors two races instead of one. Sponsors also get great exposure from the two largest U.S. events on the racing calendar.  We also get to see a driver run in both NASCAR and the NTT Indycar Series.

To recap last week’s announcements:

Indianapolis 500 veteran James Davison will attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. The effort is part of Jonathan Byrd’s Racing. Byrd’s, led by David Byrd, has paired with Davison the last two years at Indianapolis.  Oilfire Whiskey will be the primary sponsor at Daytona and an associate sponsor in May.

Davison has four start in NASCAR’s Xfinity series, all on road courses. The Daytona 500 will be his first drive in a Cup Series race. Davison has four starts in the Indianapolis 500. He had a career best finish of 12th in 2019.

Dixon Gets a Ride Near Home

Scott Dixon will drive in the Bathurst 12 hour in Australia. In 2019, Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe teamed up in this race. Dixon will drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT3 car sponsored by Castrol. The race is just a week after the 2008 500 winner participates in the Rolex 24 with Wayne Taylor Racing.

After the Indycar opener in St. Pete in March, Dixon will have driven in three different series in seven weeks.

Bourdais, Leist Focus on IMSA

As of now, Sebastien Bourdais will drive full time in IMSA. He may get an Indycar drive or two.

Matheus Leist, who drove for A. J. Foyt Racing the last two seasons, will join JDC-Miller car 85 as the extra driver for IMSA’a four endurance races- the Rolex 24, 12 Hours of Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit LeMans. Leist will not drive for Foyt. I don’t see him getting any Indycar rides except possibly in May. In two Indianaolis 500s, Leist finished 13th in 2018 and 15th in 2019.

Thoughts for Bill Simpson

Safety innovator Bill Simpson suffered a major stroke this weekend. Please keep him in your thoughts.

 

Thoughts on McLaren

Silly Season was straightforward this year. Alexander Rossi stays with Andretti. Done. Wrap it up. Look to next year. Today, with McLaren’s announcement that they are joining Arrow Schmidt Peterson for 2020, the dam has burst. There are ripples throughout the paddock. Here are some of my thoughts about this development.

McLaren has a lot to prove after their debacle in May. Will partnering with Schmidt Peterson help them?

I’m disappointed that McLaren does not add to the car count. I’ve said before they are looking to come in the easy way, becoming part of an existing team instead of building their own team with  a technical alliance with an established team.

It’s a shame the way Honda’s hand was forced to make this deal happen. I can’t think of a Chevy team that would be a good match for McLaren. I’m not sure they even considered one.

My first concern was for James Hincliffe and Robert Wickens.  In Marshall Pruett’s story, he said that the commitment to Wickens will be honored. Later this morning, Hinchcliffe issued the following statement:

hinch statement

I hope he also  has a contract extension. Hinchcliffe’s current contract expires after the 2020 season. He also is losing his Honda commercial deal. I hope that he receives compensation for that.

Marcus Ericsson was likely going somewhere else anyway. he may be in a carlin car next year. Which brings up the question- who will drive the second car for the new team? Fernando Alonso said he is not interested in a full time Indycar ride.

Colton Herta may be available, but I think he will become the fifth driver at Andretti Autosport.  If he is, is Conor Daly once again out of a potential full time ride? It’s those paddock ripples splashing up.

With whom  does Meyer Shank now partner with as they prepare for a full schedule in 2020? The team is committed to Honda. An alliance with Andretti or Coyne seems most probable. I don’t think Ganassi is interested in being anyone’s partner.

The new team name is Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It bothers that mcLaren comes before Schmidt and Peterson and that the two founders names are reduced to initials. Since mcLaren is buying the team or acquiring the shares of either owner, I guess it’s a name recognition thing.

The biggest positive in today’s events is that Indycar now has a worldwide name in its paddock. it should help with recognition in Europe and may cause a bit of a bump in the United States.

I will keep updating as i learn more.  Everything I just wrote could be incorrect by now.

 

Quick Thoughts- Hybrid Power to Indycar in 2022

First, it’s about time! I have wondered why Indycar had not done this sooner.

I like that the cars  will have 900 horsepower and that the noise of the cars won’t be affected.

Onboard starters- about time again. This should reduce yellow flags during races even more. It will definitely make for fewer red flags during practice sessions.

This opens the door for a third OEM. Perhaps Porsche will reconsider joining? I have heard and thought that lack of a hybrid component was the hangup in getting a new engine manufacturer.

I don’t mind waiting another year for new features.  I’m interested to see how the new larger  engine will alter the shape of the bodywork on the car.

I’m not sure this will increase the size of the field, but it could.

PLEASE do not call this a Power Unit. It’s still an engine.

I will be back later today with more details. I’m heading to IMS for an adventure I will talk about tomorrow.

 

 

Rossi, NAPA, Honda Stay with Andretti

Photo: Rossi in his dominant Road America win in June

Andretti Autosport put an end to Silly Season this afternoon, announcing that Alexander Rossi will be driving for the team in 2020 “and beyond.”  NAPA will continue to sponsor Rossi in nine races next year. Auto Nation will sponsor the number 27 car in seven 2020 races. Honda will continue to power Andretti cars. The announcement ends the rumors that Rossi might sign with Team Penske and the Andretti was switching to Chevrolet engines for 2020.

“It feels good to continue with Andretti Autosport,” said Rossi. “Over the past four years, we’ve built a very strong team with great chemistry and I believe that we have the tools necessary to win races and championships. I’m looking forward to not just calling this my team, but my home in the IndyCar Series. Michael [Andretti], J-F [Thormann], Doug [Bresnahan] and the entire team have been working very hard to put all the pieces of this deal together and it’s definitely a relief to have the future settled and be able to focus on the championship fight ahead of us.  

“It’s fantastic to have NAPA AUTO PARTS, AutoNation and Honda supporting the 27 program. I’ve had the pleasure of developing a great relationship with both NAPA and Honda and couldn’t imagine not having them in my corner. AutoNation has always had a strong partnership with the team through Ryan [Hunter-Reay] and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to represent the Drive Pink campaign and getting to know the AutoNation team better.”

Had Rossi signed with Penske, four of the arguably five best drivers in the series would be on one team. An Andretti switch to Chevy would give the engine seven of the best cars on the grid. With Rossi and Honda staying put, the balance of power in the series is preserved.  I’m not sure how Honda would have replaced Andretti in the series. The options are somewhat limited.

 

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.