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.

Rolex 24 Mid Race Update

Good morning from Daytona International Speedway. The race is just past halfway. Jordan Taylor leads in the number 10 car for Wayne Taylor Racing . Juan Pablo Montoya is second in the number 7 Penske Acura. Alexander Ross in the number 6 Penske Acura is fourth.

The lead has changed hands on pit stops, but has mainly been a battle between the Taylor machine and the two Penske cars. The 31 from Action Express is also in the mix for the win.

The Penske team has been strong since the race began

Sebastian Savasdra leads LMP2 in the 18.

GTLM leader is Phillip Eng in the 25 Rahal BMW.

GTD is headed by the 63 Ferrari of Cooper McNeil.

The 57 car frt Meyer Shank Racing has stated around mid pack most if the race.

Alex Zanardi experienced a steering wheel issue and was unable to drive. The team repaired the car but is several laps down.

Back with quick thoughts tonight.

Quick Thoughts on A Day at the Roar

New liveries, All Star drivers, and of course sportscar drama all happened today at the Roar Before the 24.  Seeing Alex Zanardi and Fernando Alonso at the same track was thrilling. Hearing Alonso along with his Wayne Taylor Racing teammates talk was another highlight of the day.

The Ganassi GTLM Fords were white, a departure from their red, white, and blue scheme of the past few years.  While it made finding the cars difficult at first, the engines still have that distinctive sound. I like the clean look of the car in white.

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Team Penske, on the other chose to leave their cars in unpainted carbon fiber. Could a throwback livery be coming for the Rolex?  A  Mark Donohue Sunoco car would look nice.

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Black is the new black

Shank’s All Female Lineup Leads Qualifying

GT Daytona had their pit/garage qualifying this afternoon.  The 57 Meyer Shank Racing entry with Ana Beatriz driving, ended the session as the fastest driver. Car 71 had the fastest session time but was disqualified for using a Gold rated driver. Only Silver and Bronze rated drivers may participate in the GTD class.

It was great to have a chance to say hello to Simona this afternoon. Nice to get a chance too watch her race again.

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An Improvement – Almost

 

IMSA has changed the class color system this year. I like 75% of it. In previous years both the prototypes and the GTLM cars had numbers on a red field, while  the PC and GTD classes had green behind their numbers.  Last year with just three classes, both the prototypes and GTLM carried fields and GTD kept the green. I thought that was confusing for the casual viewer/fan. This each class has its own color.

DPi numbers are on a black background, LMP2 digits have blue, GTLM keeps the red, and GTD remains green. While it’s great that each class has a distinct color, I’m not a fan of the black. There are sweven colors in the spectrum. I think IMSA could have made a better choice for DPi.

Back tomorrow with some photos.

 

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.

 

Change Coming to ECR- New Driver, Team Partnership; Vasser-Sullivan Expands to IMSA

An announcement should come tomorrow (Wednesday) regard Ed Carpenter racing’s car 20 for 2019. Jordan King will not return to the road/street course schedule in the Fuzzy’s car. The team is expected to announce a partnership with Scuderis Corsa, which fielded Oriol Servia in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. Ed Jones, who drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2018, will be introduced as the driver of the shared ride. Ed Carpenter will drive the 20 on all ovals. Jones will drive a third car in the 2019 500.

The partnership with Corsa puts Oriol Servia on the sidelines once again. Servia was instrumental in getting Scuderia Corsa to the 500 last season and was looking to drive for them in a full season effort in 2019. Servia would be a good candidate for the second seat at Carlin.

The Carlin seat is one of two still open. Schmidt=Peterson has an open seat while Robert Wickens continues his recovery.

I will follow up tomorrow afternoon on the details after the announcement.

Vasser-Sullivan Joins Lexus  in IMSA

Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan, who joined forces with Dale Coyne Racing for Sebastien Bourdais’ ride, announced their entry into IMSA. They will field a Lexus in the GT Daytona class. No driver has been named. Vasser said this will not affect the Indycar portion of their program. Indycar owners have been expanding into IMSA at quite a clip lately.

Will Bourdais continue to drive foir Ganassi in the endurance races or will he switch to the Vasser-Sullivan ride?

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- Coyne Again Searching for Drivers

With activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginninjg this Friday, Dale Coyne finds himself in a familiar position- looking for a driver or drivers to fill a seat vacated by an injured driver. Pietro Fittipaldi was slated to drive the number 19 car in both the Indycar Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. He was injured in a severe crash Saturday preparing for the 6 hours  WEC race at Spa. Fittpaldi injured both legs, including a complex fracture of the left leg. He underwent successful surgery and will be out at least eight weeks. Fittipaldi will also miss his scheduled start at Texas in June. The projected recovery time could allow him to drive his next assignment at mid Ohio in late July.

The scenario is a familiar one for Coyne. Last year Sebastien Bourdais fractured his pelvis in a qualifying crash at Indianapolis. James Davison filled in for Bourdais fort he 500. Coyne than had other drivers drive the number 18 until Bourdais returned for Watkins Glen. Tristan Vautier, one of last year’s subs, is under consideration to take Fittpaldi’s ride.

Other drivers thought to be in contention are Zachary Claman DeMelo, who shares the 19 with Fittipaldi and has ties to the car’s sponsor, Paysafe; and Ryan Briscoe. Practice and qualifying for the Indycar Grand Prix is Friday, so a decision should come quickly.

Entry List for the 102nd Indianapolis 500

The official entry list is out. Thirty-five cars have entered to attempt to get one of the thirty-three spots for the race. Buddy Lazier is not one of the entries. The field includes six former winners. Four of the five past champions are entered. With Fittipaldi out there are now three rookies in the field: Robert Wickens, Matheus Leist, and Kyle Kaiser. Helio Castroneves will drive in both the Indycar grand Prix and the 500. These are scheduled to be his only Indycar appearances  this season. Danica Patrick returns to the 500 for the first time since 2011. The 500 will be the final race of her career. The entry list appears at the end of this post.

Donuts for Daly

Jack’s Donuts has signed on to support Conor Daly’s Indanapolis 500 ride with Thom Burns Racing. Look for promotions during the month @ConorDaly22, @ThomBurns Racing and @jacksdonuts. If Conor is involved, it should be fun.

Bump Tales

Thursday the second part of “Bump Tales” appears. It is a tale of just how humbling Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be.

Castroneves, Taylor win IMSA race at Mid Ohio

The Team Penske Acura driven by Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor won the IMSA race at Mid Ohio Sunday. The race marked the return of sportscar racing to the track. The former American LeMans Series used to run the same weekend as Indycar, making for a tremendous weekend of racing. The IMSA/Indycar is a doubleheader that needs to return.

This was Team Penske’s first victory in the Weather Tech Series.

Entry List

Here is a link to the Entry List for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

Indy 500 Entry List 5-

 

I will also be back with a preview of the Indycar Grand Prix on Friday.