Autonomous Cars at IMS: Some F1 Thoughts

Photo: The winning car in the Indy Autonomous Challenge from the Technical University of Munich. IMS photo.

Saturday’s Indy Autonomous Challenge provided an interesting look at the future of cars-driverless, computer controlled machines, best suited for regular driving, but not for racing. I found it unnerving to see a car controlled by a team of people sitting around a computer instead of being driven by someone in the cockpit. I hope racing never comes to this.

For the record, European teams dominated the day, making the final three in a shootout looking for the best two lap average. The fastest lap was by the Europe team at just over 139 mph, but a programming error caused the car to slow to about 90 mph on its second lap. The team programmed one lap too few into the car.

The winning speed achieved by the TUM team, from Munich, Germany was 135.9 mph. Some cars hit 155 mph down the front straight.

I would not be concerned about these cars running in the 500 in our lifetime. They did have engines, and it was nice to hear the sound on the track, but I don’t see the same rooting interest for a machine as there is for a driver.

Andretti and F1-Deal or No Deal?

First reports said the sale was complete. Then another report said that Michael Andretti needed another 250 million Euros to complete the purchase of the Alfa Romeo team.

The anticipated announcement of an American F1 team did not happen in Austin over the weekend. Having a team from the USA announced at the US Grand Prix would have been most appropriate.

We might know something by the time of Grand Prix of Mexico in two weeks, but I’m thinking the deal is off the table. Colton Herta fans can relax for now.

The Crowd

Attendance at the USGP in Austin was mind boggling- 140,000 yesterday for the race and 400,000 for the weekend. The race day crowd exceeds the 135,00 who were allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500 in May. Can the USGP repeat this number next year?I think that is what we need to keep it in perspective.

I’m seeing a lot of hand wringing by some outlets and on social media about how F1 is now more popular in the US than Indycar is. Let’s consider some things, though.

I’m not dismissing the great job the organizers did in getting a crowd of that size, but here are some circumstances that may have led to the huge attendance. First, this was the first US Grand prix since 2019. Many fans are thrilled at the return of racing and don’t want to defer going to a track they have always wanted to visit.

Second, COTA has always had huge draw from Mexico, which also lost its Grand Prix in 2020. There may have been an even larger contingent from south of the border. The crowd in two weeks in Mexico City may be even bigger.

Third, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have brought legions of fans to every grand prix this season, and those fans at the last five races will continue to grow.

Some people credit the Netflix series “Drive to Survive” with an increase in F1’s popularity here. It may have something to do with it, but to swell the Austin crowd that much? I’m not sure.

My question is, how many fans were from the United States?

The Race

As far as the race goes, it was one of the better USGPs. It was a strategy race, which I enjoy. Max Verstappen’s tire strategy of pitting early gave him an edge over Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen increased his lead in the standings to 12 points over Hamilton with five races left.

Barber Test

Indycar etsting continues at barber today. The weather should be decent- temperatures in the mid 70s with only a 15%chance of rain.

Andretti will eb testing with Devlin DeFrancesco and Kyle Kirkwood. DeFrancesco is rumored to be set in the 29 while Kirkwood’s status for next year is still uncertain.

AMSP will test former F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg as the team considers a third car for 2022, perhaps part time before a full time run in 2023.

The A J Foyt Racing test with Logan Sargeant has been cancelled as Sargeant signed late last week with the Williams Driving Academy.

Autonomous Challenge- The Future of Racing?

This Saturday Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the Indy Autonomous Challenge, a competition for autonomous cars. The cars are the products of engineering teams from 21 universities from nine countries. $1 million in prize money is at stake. My understanding is that this is not a race. The event hopes to encourage high school STEM programs as well as develop the driverless car concept.

While autonomous cars seem to be making some inroads on the streets and highways, are there implications for racing? For now, no one thinks so, but perhaps someday in the very distant future? I hope it happens after I am gone. I don’t think there will ever be an Indianapolis Autonomous 500.

I assume the track is open for viewing, but the IMS website doesn’t sya anything about spectators.


Sebastien Bourdais has signed with Chip Ganassi Racing to drive one of his Cadillac DP1 cars in IMSA fulltime in 2022. He hopes to still race for A J Foyt Racing when his schedule allows. The IMSA schedule has five conflicts with Indycar. Both series share weekends at Detroit and Long Beach.

Bourdais plans to continue helping develop the 14 car. Foyt is still putting together sponsorship for next season and will take a look at other drivers as well.

Monday’s test at Barber may provide more focus for the 2022 grid. Seats are getting filled, and some of the drivers testing may end up on the grid at St. Pete.

Foyt will be testing Logan Sargent, who has been on the F1 ladder the last two years.

David Malukas, 2021 Indy Lights runner-up, will test for dale Coyne Racing.

Ryan Hunter Reay is scheduled to be in the 20 for Ed Carpenter Racing. Hunter-Reay may run the road and street courses for ECR if Conor Daly doesn’t return.

Former F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg will have a test for Arrow McLaren SP. This is an exploratory test. Hulkenberg may run a few road races for AMSP in 2022 in a third car. He may be more interested in a full time ride in 2023.

Indy lights champion Kyle Kirkwood and Devlin DeFrancesco will be in Andretti Autosport cars. DeFrancesco is thought to be locked into the 29, while Kirkwood is still looking for a full time spot. Nothing against DeFrancesco, but this seems backwards.

Ferrari Prances to Pole for Indianapolis 8 Hour Sports Car Race           Indianapolis Motor Speedway Press Release Pole Shootout Results

INDIANAPOLIS (Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021) – The Prancing Horse strutted with authority Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as Alessandro Pierguidi drove the No. 51 AF Corse-Francorchamps Motors Ferrari 488 GT3 to the pole for the Indianapolis 8 Hour Presented by AWS.Italian driver Pierguidi climbed to pole on his first flying lap in the 15-minute pole shootout for the top 15 cars in earlier rounds of qualifying, stopping the clocks at 1 minute, 33.456 seconds to topple the No. 32 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS GT from the top spot. No other driver could go quicker in the final six minutes of the session. The No. 25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc will join the No. 51 Ferrari on the front row after Patric Niederhouser of Switzerland turned a top lap of 1:33.514 in qualifying. The No. 99 Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Mercedes-AMG GT3 just missed a front-row start by one-thousandth of a second after a best lap of 1:33.515 by Jules Gounon of France.Joining the No. 99 Mercedes in the second row will be the teammates of the pole-sitting No. 51, as Antonio Fuoco of Italy qualified fourth at 1:33.556 in the No. 71 AF Corse-Francorchamps Motors Ferrari 488 GT3. NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Callum Ilott is a member of the three-driver team for that car.
Just one-tenth of a second separated the top four cars in the taut, 15-minute session under sunny skies and moderate breezes at the Racing Capital of the World.The Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli endurance sports car race starts at 10 a.m. (ET) Sunday on the 2.589-mile IMS road course layout, with the 41-car field taking the checkered flag at 6 p.m. It’s the largest-ever field at a North American event for the global series.
Tickets are available at Dienst of Belgium drove the No. 33 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 to the Silver Cup class pole with a top lap of 1:34.013, good for seventh overall. Mikael Grenier of Canada won the Pro-Am class pole at 1:34.232 in the No. 75 SunEnergy 1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, good for 10th overall.

IMS Tire Test – Looking Two Seasons Ahead

Photo: Pato O’Ward will represent Chevy in today’s test.

Today’s schedule:

Tire testing 9-12

Break 12-1

Tire testing 1-5

Today’s tire test won’t have the drama or excitement of Wednesday’s Rookie Orientation, but it has importance for the next two seasons of the NTT Indycar Series. In addition to testing next year’s tire compound for the Indianapolis 500, Indycar will add weight to the cars, simulating the added weight in 2023 of the larger 2.4 liter engine and the hybrid energy recovery system. The new components should about 125 pounds to the cars. The extra weight will give the series an idea of how the balance of the cars will change under more weight.

I am very interested to hear what Jay Frye and the technical crew says about today’s results. We are a long way from the final configuration for 2023.

Helio Castroneves after winning his fourth Indianapolis 500 in May

Meyer Shank Racing with Helio Castroneves will represent Honda and Arrow McLaren SP with Pato O’Ward will test for Chevy. are the test cars. The oldest driver in the series and one of the youngest drivers providing input reflects the 2021 season and the generational transition Indycar is going through.

As far as I know the turn 2 mounds are open. There is no streaming for today’s activity.

Rain Cuts ROP Short; Grosjean and Johnson Have Long Wait to Finish

The on again, off again rain finally cut short Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway around 4 pm this afternoon, leaving Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson short of completing their rookie tests. The drivers, who just completed their first season in Indycar, will have to wait until the open test in April to finish the final laps of phase three of the 40 lap test. The afternoon stoppage was the second one of the day, and there was not enough time to get the track dry for more running.

These photos by Joe Skibinski of Indycar sum up the day. Race cars and dark clouds

Grosjean needs two more laps at 215 mph or better, while Johnson needs about five laps.

Johnson had a bit of an advantage as he remains with his Chip Ganassi Racing team. Grosjean not only had the stress of his first time driving on the IMS oval, but also the concerns of his first day with a new team. It was his first day as a driver for Andretti Autosport.

Romain Grosjean photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

Asked about the stress, Grosjean said,

“I think really the most stressful part was to know what my first lap speed was going to be. You grow up or move from there. I had no idea what to expect to get to 205. Then it went pretty smoothly, enjoyed
it. When you have to go above 215, that’s where the fun starts. ”

Grosjean felt at ease with the support he received

“I got some good explanation, some good tip from the guys, from the engineers also, James Hinchcliffe came in the morning, which I appreciated a lot. Michael was there, as well. When you’ve got those guys, they know what they’re talking about, so that was great to
be with them and to know what to do.”

Jimmie Johnson photo by Chris Owens Indycar

Johnson fuflilled a childhood dream by running the oval in an Indycar.

“… just a special day to drive an INDYCAR at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I have truly, truly enjoyed it. It was a childhood dream come true. The experience is more than expected and something that I really, really enjoyed.”

He said today has heightened his interest in driving in the 500.

“(My interest) Definitely, definitely increased. I think
the look I had at Texas increased it and brought me here.
A little short on laps for what I wanted to experience today.
As comfortable as I felt my interest is at the highest it’s
been, certainly my comfort is at the highest it’s been. All
that said, there’s still a lot of work between now and really
pulling through with this opportunity.”

In an interview just after the day ended, Johnson’s face lit up when he was asked if today made him want to run the 500. While he admitted there is “still a lot of work to do” for him to be able to run in May, he seems determined to make it happen.

It was an exciting day to see two veteran drivers turn their first Indycar laps on an oval. For Grosjean, it was just the second time he had seen open wheel cars on the oval. Johnson, who has won at IMS four times in NASCAR on the oval, I enjoyed watching him run in a different type of car.

The rookie class for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 could be very deep in talent and numbers. In addition to Grosjean and Johnson, there could be up to four drivers from this year’s Indy Lights Series, plus maybe a current NASCAR driver.

Update from IMS- Rain Delays Rookie Tests

A damp morning pushed back the start of on track activity by 10 minutes this morning. Jimmie Johnson left thepits first Romain Grosjean followed. Both drivers did an installation lap and returned to the pits. Johnson left to begin Phase 1 of his roomie test. Grosjean started out, but the yellow light came on for moisture at the south end of the track.

Johnson had completed five laps with a top speed of 208 mph.

Track drying efforts halted after a soaking rain hit the track.

Track drying has just resumed. More rain may arrive around 3:30.

Here are some photos from this morning.

Johnson, Grosjean Take Next Step in Indycar Careers

Photo: Romain Grosjean set for his new team.

Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean hope to complete Rookie Oientation tests at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today in preparation for their Indianapolis 500 debuts next May.

Jimmie Johnson. Indycar photo by Chris Jones

Johnson did not run any ovals in 2021, while Grosjean ran one, At World Wide Technology Raceway. Grosjean did a great job on his initial oval run.

Today’s activity begins at 10:30 am. ROP was originally scheduled to begin at noon, but was moved up because of a chance of rain this afternoon. The Turn 2 viewing mounds are open. There is no streaming of the tests.

Each car gets three sets of tires for the three phase test.

Phase 1- 10 laps 205-210 mph

Phase 2- 15 laps at 210-215 mph

Phase 3- 15 laps at at 215 + mph.

It will be hard to get used to seeing the 28 car with someone other than Ryan Hunter-Reay in it.

Grosjean, Johnson Take IMS Rookie Tests Wednesday

From Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

Indianapolis Motor Speedway & NTT INDYCAR SERIES
Grosjean, Johnson To Take Indy 500 Rookie Test Wednesday at IMS

Grosjean and Johnson, both series rookies in the 2021 season, will attempt to complete the test that involves a series of laps at three controlled speed phases on the 2.5-mile oval. The Rookie Orientation Program is a prerequisite for participation in the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 29, 2022.
Former Formula One standout Grosjean plans to compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in the No. 28 DHL Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport, while seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Johnson is exploring possible participation in the race in the No. 48 Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.


I understand that fans may view the tests from the turn 2 viewing mounds.

Book Review- Indy Split

Marti update: Marti is getting treatment for a bone infection which was just identified over the weekend. She is recovering as we still search for an answer to her orthostatic issue. The best news- no cancer was detected in the MRI last week.

Pride. Ego. Stubbornness. There ay be other apt descriptors, but these three sum up the behavior of many of the main figures in Indy Split by John Oreovicz. Oreovicz , a former writer for ESPN and other racing publications, has been hooked on Indycar racing since he was ten years old and living with his parents in West Lafayette.

Oreovicz writes in a crisp, concise, easy to follow style which allows event he most casual fan to take in the history of the politics in racing through the years. I remember much of what happened, but I learned some details I was not aware of, especially in the early years of CART. The author presents a nice refresher study for those of us who were around then, and it is also a good accounting for newer fans.

From Dan Gurney’s White Paper, which leads to the formation of CART in 1978, to Tony George’s formation of the Indy Racing League in 1996, Oreovicz presents the tale of the battle for control of the soul of the sport in great detail. While everyone claims to have the best interests of the sport in mind, the splits are a matter of money and control. Should Indycar racing revolve around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or should IMMS simply be a part of the overall series?

The question remains unresolved. I think it is a miracle the sport survived at all, as the two rival series presented a confusing picture of racing to fans and sponsors.

Oreovicz maintains a somewhat neutral tone as far as the protagonists are concerned, but Tony George does not come out looking good. The 25/8 rule he institutes for the 1996 Indianapolis 500 is a shot that set the split in motion and probably prolongs the feud for several more years.

After twelve years and many talks that come close to ending the split, , the sides agree to unify in 2008. The story of the split could have ended here, but Oreovicz goes on to chronicle each year after unification. I think his narrative bogs down here. it may just be due to my familiarity with the series, and perhaps a younger fan will find this part of interest.

The book ends with Roger Penske buying the Indycar Series and IMS. The purchase receives nearly universal praise. In my opinion, it is one of the few things over the years Indycar has done correctly.

Perspectives from seven key figures in racing follow the text. Essays from Mario Andretti, Chip Ganassi, and Dario Franchitti, among others give different viewpoints of the split and the state of open wheel racing. There is unanimous praise for Penske’s purchase of the track and the series.

As far as the split goes, Dario Franchitti sums it up best.

“When people get so entrenched in their positions, it’s difficult…Th split hit a lot of people hard. It hurt them, and some people still can’t get over it. That’s a shame, but we have to move on.”

Indy Split is available through Octane Press.