Quick Thoughts- The Season’s First Day

Robert Wickens returned to a race track for the first time since his accident. He spoke to the media. He is in good spirits and doing well.  Some excerpts:

“Being back at a race track makes everything a little better.”

“It was strange being on the smart side of the pit wall.”

“I’m getting some stuff back. Trying to utilize every day to get as healthy as I can.”

He called the fan support here at St. Petersburg “Amazing. I thought the fans would be more focused on the race cars.”  “Fan support has been a big motivation piece.”

“100%” he wants to race again. “I want tog et back into racing as I left off. I don’t want to just run at the back of the field.”

Wickens’ appearance was a great emotional lift for him. I think it was just as much as an emotional lift for the media. The press doesn’t usually applaud at the end of a conference.

A pleasant problem-Additional teams at a street course race means a more crowded paddock.

It’s not quite 10:30 and there is already a good sized crowd here.

The top six in Practice 1 were all Hondas. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist led the session with a time of 1:01.8215. Josef Newgarden was the fastest Chevy 0,35 seconds behind. The rookies I spoke with the other day are interested to see how the red tires work in today’s second session.

Dale Coyne announced a third car for James Davison for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500. Davison drove for Belardi in partnership with A. J. Foyt Racing last year. he finished 33rd. Davison becomes the official 33rd entry for this year’s field.

Max Chilton has the best looking car.

 

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Ben Hanley Looks for a Solid Weekend

Ben Hanley eagerly anticipates his first Indycar weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The driver oft he number 81 Dragonspeed entry, the newest car in The NTT Indycar Series paddock, told The Pit Window the team has no major expectations except to have “Solid results and concentrate on getting a good race car Sunday. ”

Hanley, 34, from Manchester, UK, won the LMP2 pole for Dragonspeed at the Rolex 24 in January. He has open wheel experience driving in the GP2 series.

Hanley said the Indycar is similar to  the  prototype he drives in IMSA and the WEC, perhaps a little heavier on the downforce. He is eager to drive in traffic. Although there were other cars testing at Sebring with him, he realizes this weekend this will be different.

He has not run on the alternate red tires and won’t until Friday afternoon’s practice session. I asked Hanley what he expected from the tires.

“Hopefully stickier, ” he said. He is eager to see how the tires will change as the track changes throughout the weekend.

As for overall team goals for their five races in 2019, “We want be in it for the long term.   Just put our heads down and go to work.”

Wickens Will Be at St. Pete

In a new Instagram post from Robert Wickens up this afternoon  he says he will be coming to St. Pete this weekend. Here is the post with a list of his schedule.

It’s Race Week at Last! Some Things to Watch; Indycar News

The NTT Indycar Series begins the 2019 season Friday with the first practice sessions at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.  This event has grown tremendously since I first attended in 2013. Support from the city and businesses have helped the race and activities surrounding it to flourish. It has become the place where fans from the north come to escape the winter for a while. The racing has improved the last two years.

Just ten drivers have won the 15 previous races, including three occasions where a driver has won back to back. Helio Castroneves won in 2006 and 2007. Jaun Pablo Montoya in 2015 and 2016, and Sebastien Bourdais has won the last two years. Bourdais, Will Power, James Hinccliffe, and Graham Rahal are the active former winners.

LED Panels Return

The LED panels which show a driver’s position on the cars will return this weekend. The panels, which were popular with fans when they first appeared, were absent last year due to technical issues.

As before, the panels will show race position, time pit stops, and tell the AMR safety crew whether the engine is running after a spin, crash, or stall, and what gear the car is in.

The panels are big help to fans at the race, especially the casual and first time race goers.

Talented Rookies, New Teams

This weekend will see the debut of series rookies Felix Rosenqvist,  Colton Herta, and Marcus Ericsson in full time rides. Ben Hanley, driving for new entrant Dragonspeed, will drive in the first of his five races. This is quite a talented rookie class. Some are predicting a victory at some point this year for at least one of these drivers. In 2018, two rookies, Matheus Leist and Jordan King, made the Fast Six in qualifying.  Their performance this weekend bears watching.

What Have Teams Learned about the UAK?

After a season of working with universal aero kit, it will be interesting to see what teams have learned and how they apply their findings. Some teams and drivers struggled last year. Will a season of experience allow them to improve? Simon Pagenaud for one seemed uncomfortable last season.

Indianapolis Feel

The race this year should make attendees from Indianapolis feel at home. Jim Corelison, who has sung “(Back Home Again in) Indiana at the 500 the last two years, will sing the national anthem before the race. Tony Dungy, former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts was named the Grand Marshall.

I will be covering the race for Wildfire Sports this weekend. Check them out for my preview, practice and qualifying wrap ups, and race review.  The Pit Window will feature quick thoughts and other tidbits throughout the weekend.

More Indycar News

The series announced today that race morning warmups will return to Barber and Mid Ohio this season. In 2018 only street courses had the warmup, and they will continue to do so this year. The series extended practice session times on the natural road courses to compensate. Because of the later race starts for Barber and Mid Ohio and a need for track action, the warmups were reinstated.

Dreyer and Reinbold will again have Sage Karam driving car 24 in the Indianapolis 500.The team still hopes to have additional races. Karam will likely have a teammate at IMS.

International TV Rights- Not Done Yet

Some international broadcast rights have yet to be announced, the most glaring omission being a Canadian arrangement. I have heard one is just about ready, but it’s getting late.

There are several deals set, with the UK rights going to Sky Sports.  It is puzzling why the Canadian rights are taking so long.

 

Indycar Releases Indy 500 Qualifying Schedule Tweaks- Some Thoughts

First the news release:

  • News from INDYCAR: More action, increased drama given to both Indianapolis 500 qualifying days

    More action, increased drama given to both Indianapolis 500 qualifying days

    INDIANAPOLIS (Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019) – Bumping to secure locked-in grid positions on both qualifying days, the thrilling Fast Nine Shootout for the pole position and an opportunity to preview the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge with a full-field practice await NTT IndyCar Series fans May 18-19 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

    The action-packed format for Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying weekend was announced today by INDYCAR. The Indianapolis 500 runs Sunday, May 26 on the iconic 2.5-mile oval.

    Highlights of the qualifying weekend are:

    • The drama on Saturday, May 18 will be intense with competitors battling for one of the 30 locked-in starting positions and a berth in the Fast Nine Shootout the following day. Each entry is guaranteed one attempt and multiple four-lap runs may be made as time permits. Cars in positions 10 through 30 at the end of first-day qualifying on May 18 are locked into those starting spots for the race and will not re-qualify the next day.
    • NBC’s coverage on Sunday, May 19 (12-3 p.m.) will feature two highly competitive battles – for the last three starting positions in the field of 33 and the pole-deciding Fast Nine Shootout to determine the starting order of the first three rows.
    • Sunday’s action will be capped by a practice of nearly three hours that should serve as a preview of the Indianapolis 500. Cars will be trimmed in race setup and running in groups. NBCSN will provide the coverage (3-6 p.m.).

    “With this schedule, fans will get a phenomenal weekend of action, with two days of qualifying, bumping, the run for the pole and this incredible practice that effectively is the race before the race – all in a two-day span,” INDYCAR President Jay Frye said.

    The qualifying weekend schedule is as follows:

    Saturday, May 18 (all times ET):

    • 8-9:30 a.m.: Practice
    • 11 a.m.-5:50 p.m.: Qualifying (order based on draw, top 30 locked in field at end of day)

    Sunday, May 19:

    • 10:15-10:45 a.m.: Fast Nine Shootout practice 10:45-11:15 a.m.: Last Row Shootout practice
    • 12:15-1:15 p.m.: Last Row Shootout qualifying (order based on original draw, one attempt per car)
    • 1:15-2:15 p.m.: Fast Nine Shootout qualifying (order based on Saturday times, slowest to fastest, one attempt per car)
    • 3:15-6 p.m.: Open practice, all 33 qualified cars

    The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season totals 17 races and opens with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 10 (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).


Thoughts:

I like the fact that the field won’t be set until Sunday. I’d prefer only 27 cars be locked in on Saturday.

It’s fantastic that both the pole run and bumping will be on NBC. The TV window dictated the format most likely.

I’m glad  the 10-30 group doesn’t have to requalify Sunday.  It rewards the teams for making the field on Day 1.

Giving the cars still needing to make the race just one shot Sunday seems inconsistent with the qualifying rules for Saturday. They should have two shots as time allows. Perhaps have the Fast Nine shootout first and make the practice  only two hours.

I could live without the Fast Nine Shootout. Determine the pole by fastest time Saturday and allow the Pole winner to spend time in the tv booth on Sunday. The schedule allows little air time for the polesitter.

Although I think this doesn’t go far enough, it is a big step in the right direction with what appears to be added television time. It is still probably a work in progress depending on the number of entries.

Clauson-Marshall Racing, Pippa Mann Enter Indy 500

Pippa Mann will get another shot at driving in the Indianapolis 500. Clauson-Marshall Racing, one of the most successful dirt car teams at the moment, announced their entry for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. Tim Clauson, father of the late Brian Clauson, said he and partner Richard Marshall are continuing Brian’s legacy of short track drivers racing in the 500.

The team has a technical alliance with A. J. Foyt Racing. The Foyt team  did have speed at IMS last year. Tony Kanaan qualified 10th and Matheus Leist started 11th.  Kanaan led 19 laps and was a contender for the win until a tire issue put him toward the rear of the field. He eventually crashed. Leist finished 13th.

Driven2 Save Lives will be the primary name on the car. Mann said several of her sponsors from last year will be back as well as at least three new backers. Mann was one of two drivers bumped from the field in 2018. Mann has participated in six Indy 500s, debuting in 2011. Her best starting spot is 22nd in 2014 and her best finish is 17th in 2017.

 

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Pippa Mann speaks at the Clauson-Marshall announcement.

The car will carry number 39, Brian Clauson’s number.  Clauson and Mann were teammates at Dale Coyne Racing in 2016.

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The car has similar colors as last year’s Driven2SaveLives entry.

Thoughts

Despite the partnership with Foyt, who did find some speed last year, the team faces long odds of making the race. With 36-38 entires expected, the one off teams could have a difficult time cracking the fastest 33.

I like Pippa. She is a great ambassador for the sport and works tirelessly on behalf of health causes and to help women in racing. She adds a lot to the paddock. However, I think a new team would want a more seasoned driver to have a realistic chance at lining up race morning.  It will be great if she drives on May 26, but I fear the same result she had last year.

It’s always great to have a new team and more entries at Indy.