Holiday Wishes for Indycar

As we begin the most festive week of the year, I have some holiday wishes for Indycar. The first practice at St. Pete is just two months from Christmas day. Knowing that should make the holiday better. Here are six things I wish for in 2022.

A Full 17 Race Schedule

Indycar has not run its complete, originally announced schedule in two years. 2021 looked promising, but Toronto again was cancelled due to COVID-19. The border has reopened, but will the Omicron variant close it again? If it does, for how long?

I hope by July that things will have settled down enough to allow the race to go on.

I am not concerned about St. Pete or Texas yet, but the situation warrants wartching.

The Unicorn

I wish for the elusive third OEM to be announced. An announcement in 2022 means the new engine will appear in 2024. With the growth in entries anticipated for next season and a number of other teams looking to join Indycar, a third engine is a necessity. Honda is maxed out for the season and the Indianapolis 500. Chevrolet is close to capacity as well.

A third engine opens the possibility for 30 cars at some tracks and 39 or more entries at the 500. I think one of the bigger teams will align with the new manufacturer.

A Sold Out Indianapolis 500

Conditions permitting, it would be great if the 106th running of the 500 would be a sell out. Local television might show the race live again if all tickets are sold. Many fans who skipped the 2021 race plan to return. The 135,00 or so at the 2021 race seemed larger than that to those who were there, but the partially empty grandstands did not look good on television.

I spoke briefly with Doug Boles at the PRI show. He said that ticket sales are looking good.

A Title Fight Between O’Ward and Herta

Just like 2021, 2022 will bring more of the younger kids contending for the championship. This coming season I would love to see a battle for Astor Cup between Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta. The youngsters had two the fastest cars last season. Herta was never really in title contention because of some early DNFs. He still tied for the most wins in the series with three, and he had four poles.

O’Ward had some early issues with team strategies and setup problems. He finished third in the standings after being taken out of the finale early. His two wins in 2021 kept him in the hunt. I think he is ready for an even bigger season.

Some Top 5s for Kirkwood

First of all, I am happy that Kyle Kirkwood has a full time ride. Of course, I wish he were on a more competitive team. But I hope he can raise the bar at A. J. Foyt Racing and maybe squeeze a top 5 or two out of the car. It will be a challenge. His best chance for a good finish will be at World Wide Technology Raceway, where Foyt cars have a third and two fifth place finishes.

Kirkwood might sneak in a good finish at a road course somewhere as well. Realistically, I can see him getting some top 10s in 2022.

The Biggest Wish of All

Well, maybe the second biggest after the third OEM, but an announcement of a 2023 IMSA race at IMS would make me very happy. The odds are long as IMSA has established a May race at Mid Ohio. The sports car series seems happy with their schedule. I don’t think they are looking for new venues or to switch any dates around.

I have also heard IMSA is not happy with Indycar putting Texas on the schedule on March 20, the day after the Sebring 12 Hour race. Many Indycar drivers participate in the 12 hour as an extra driver. Some plan to do double duty that weekend.

All, or possibly none of my wishes may come true, but I hope that all of your holiday wishes do. I will have a post next week before moving to winter headquarters. Happy holidays, everyone.

PPG Returns to Indycar and IMS as Official Paint and Finishing Supplier

Indycar and IMS welcome back an old partner in PPG. Roger Penske has a knack for getting his team’s sponsors to partner with the series in a larger ole. The official press release. below:

INDIANAPOLIS (Monday, Dec. 13, 2021) – PPG (NYSE: PPG) has reached an agreement to become the Official Paint and Finishing Supplier of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

As part of the multiyear agreement, PPG is also the Official Sponsor of Indianapolis 500 qualifying weekend. Drivers will compete for the prestigious Indianapolis 500 pole and one of the coveted 33 spots in the field for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” during PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying on Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22 at IMS.

“PPG is one of the most loyal and trusted partners in the history of our sport, and we’re proud to pair IMS and INDYCAR with such an iconic and globally recognized brand,” Roger Penske said. “Like us, PPG is built on quality and leadership in the marketplace with a strong tradition of excellence spanning more than a century. We look forward to seeing and supporting PPG’s sponsorship activation, especially during Indy 500 qualifying weekend.”

“We are excited to continue and further expand our relationship with racing and specifically with the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Michael McGarry, PPG chairman and chief executive officer. “PPG paints, coatings and specialty materials have been used throughout racing for decades, and now to have them be part of the future INDYCAR SERIES and IMS experience is an exciting opportunity. Our company purpose is ‘to protect and beautify the world,’ and this partnership will provide opportunities to bring this to life in new and colorful ways.”

The partnership revives a relationship between PPG, IMS and INDYCAR that began decades ago. PPG served as the title sponsor of the INDYCAR SERIES from 1980 to 1997. The company sponsored the Indianapolis 500 Pole Award and was an Indy 500 contingency sponsor from the mid-1970s until the late 1990s. PPG sponsored the winner’s trophy for the NASCAR Brickyard 400 at IMS from its inaugural race in 1994 through 2000.

PPG has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Team Penske in both the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and NASCAR, dating back to 1984 when PPG provided the paint for Team Penske’s numerous race cars. Today, PPG’s involvement with the team includes primary sponsorship of Team Penske’s cars in both INDYCAR and NASCAR.

PPG: WE PROTECT AND BEAUTIFY THE WORLD™

At PPG (NYSE: PPG), we work every day to develop and deliver the paints, coatings and materials that our customers have trusted for more than 135 years. Through dedication and creativity, we solve our customers’ biggest challenges, collaborating closely to find the right path forward. With headquarters in Pittsburgh, we operate and innovate in more than 75 countries and reported net sales of $13.8 billion in 2020. We serve customers in construction, consumer products, industrial and transportation markets and aftermarkets. To learn more, visit www.ppg.com.

We protect and beautify the world is a trademark and the PPG Logo is a registered trademark of PPG Industries Ohio, Inc.

Al Unser, Sr. – Simply One of the Best

This morning has been devastating. I woke up to the news that my beloved sister-in-law died last night. Five minutes later I stumbled across the news about Al Unser, Sr. Please forgive me if this seems somewhat random. We have lost one of the best ever.

First 500 win. One of my favorite cars

There is a bit of irony in his passing. Last evening, the newest four time winner, Helio Castroneves, unveiled the ticket for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500. Castroneves was the first back to back winner of the 500 since Unser turned the double in 1970 and 1971.

Fourth 500 win

Unser’s older brother, Bobby, died in May of this year. It is hard to believe that Racing’s First Family has been taken away within seven months.

Al (left) and Bobby Unser, 2017

Al’s driving style was one of patience. I remember many races where he wasn’t even in the conversation until the final stages, but when the checkered flag waved, he saw it first. His fourth win and final 500 was like that. He only got into the 1987 race after Danny Ongais was injured in practice. Roger Penske pulled a show car out of a hotel and Al qualified 20th. He took the lead when Roberto Guerrero stalled in the pits on his final stop and led the rest of the way.

At the wheel of the Marmon Wasp

Unser still is the all time lap leader at IMS, with 644 laps at the front of the field. His 39 race wins is sixth on the all time list. Unser is the only driver to win the Triple Crown, the three 500 mile races at Indianapolis, Pocono, and Ontario in the same year, 1978. He won eight different 500 mile races.

Fortunate that this photo was taken earlier this year.

I was fortunate to see all four of his Indianapolis 500 wins. I will remember his smooth driving, his taciturn interviews, and his interactions with fans. The last time I saw Al was at the 2018 PRI show. He and his son, Al, Jr., were the keynote speakers at the opening breakfast. They kidded each other and told stories about each other. Someone asked Al Sr. where he learned to drive. Jr. suggested his brother Bobby taught him. I will never forget the look the elder Unser gave him.

With Al, Jr. (left)

Please take some time next time you see A. J. Foyt at a track next year to say hi and thanks. We are quickly losing our legends.

If a Ticket Sprouts Can Spring be Far Behind?

Ticket unveiling day always brings the promise of May. It serves as a mid winter lift of the spirit. We are just a little more than five months away. The ticket for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 was unveiled tonight by the 2021 winner Helio Castroneves. Castroneves, the fourth four time winner, will drive full time for Meyer Shank Racing in 2022.

The May 29 race will mark the first time in 30 years that a driver will have a chance to win a fifth 500. Rick Mears was the last driver to have that opportunity in 1992.

I think they could have chosen a photo with a more expressive Helio. The posed shot seems very static, especially for the spontaneous Castroneves, whose display of exuberance after winning last May was a joy to watch.

The unveiling capped the opening day of the PRI show, which returned to Indianapolis after a two year COVID induced absence. 62,000 people are attending this year’s show which has displays in the Indianapolis Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium.

Some photos from this evening taken by The Pit Window camera crew (me):

Doug Boles, IMS President, introduces Castroneves
Castroneves gets his first look at the ticket bearing his image.

Lights Drivers Mum on Indycar Futures

Indycar photo: Kyle Kirkwood on track by Chris Owens

The top three 2021 finishers in Indy Lights, Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas, and Linus Lundqvist, talked about their very cold test day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today. The trio had the opportunity to test an Indycar on the IMS road course. It was the first time in an Indycar for Lundqvist. Kirkwood and Malukas tested at Barber. Kirkwood also had a test at Sebring.

Kirkwood and Lundqvist drove cars prepared by Andretti Autosport; Lundqvist drove the number 2 car of Team Penske.

Much of the post test discussion centered on the Indycar prospects for the drivers.

All driver photos by Joe Skibinski

Kirkwood, the first driver to win the championship on all three levels of the Road to Indy, still has no ride for 2022, but he hinted that things are moving in a positive way.

“We have an idea, yeah. I think we
have a direction. It’s not all said and done yet. As of today, which today is November
1st, I’ve been given permission to look elsewhere. I
haven’t been able to have conversations. I don’t know
exactly what I can and cannot say, so I’m going to keep my
mouth shut on the direction “.

 

malukjs

Malukas is strongly thought  to have a ride with Dale Coyne Racing for 2022. In response to a question about how far along his deal is, he would only say, “We will do 99.9%”

lundjs

As for Lundqvist, it appears he has very little going on  at the moment. He replied to questions about his Indycar future,

“Unclear I would say. You never
really know what’s going to happen. I would love to stay
here in the U.S. to start off with. Obviously I would love to
be in INDYCAR next year. If that doesn’t happen, then I’m
looking to do Lights another year.
You never really know because budget-wise it’s a very big
question. We’ll see what we can do during the winter, after
this test as well, what pops up. I’ll keep digging no matter
what.”

Tire Heat Biggest Surprise

All three drivers seemed most impressed by how quickly the tires got warm. It caught a couple of them by surprise.

Lundqvist commented, “Actually the Firestone tire, the grip that they have just
straight out of pit lane was a lot better than what I
experienced in Indy Lights. Obviously it takes a little bit of
time for the pressure to come up, but it wasn’t as bad as I
expected it. You just had to be a little bit careful. It was
not too bad. Obviously I think it would have been even
better when it was warmer. Within a lap or two the tires
were in.”

Malukas agreed with Lundqvist, “Comparing to Indy Lights, it’s like
night-and-day difference. With Indy Lights in this weather,
it would have taken quite some time.”

Kirkwood noted, “One thing I did notice that was pretty big, especially
compared to the Lights car, is the tires switch on so quickly
even in the very cool conditions, which I was not expecting
on the first few laps.”

Lundqvist concluded with a comment about how well Indy Lights prepares drivers for Indycar.

“What you learn in Indy Lights, you
can definitely bring on here. The cars are very similar in
some sense but quite different in others.
I think what I learned in Indy Lights is that you’re able to
drive a car just on the limit. That really rewards you in
INDYCAR as well. It’s that you have so much more grip to
play with. It’s not as much on a knife edge, I would say, as
the Lights car is. You got so much more to play with here.
I think you’re extracting a lot of lap times if you’re having a
similar driver style in the Indy Lights car if you bring it to
INDYCAR.”

 

 

Chris Griffis Memorial Test Complete; Indycar Tests on Tap for Tomorrow

The annual Chris Griffis Memorial test completed a successful return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this afternoon. Each series on the Road to Indy had six 45 minute sessions, three yesterday and three today.

In USF2000 Jagger Jones, grandson of 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones, had the fastest time on Saturday and led two sessions today. I think it is exciting to see another third generation driver from a famous family take to the speedway. Other session leaders were Max Clark, Simon Sikes, and Thomas Nepveu.

In Indy Pro 2000, Reece Gold led today’s final two session, and louis Foster led the first Sunday session. Foster led two sessions on Saturday. Jack William Miller also led a round Saturday.

Indy Lights Begins a New Era

Indy Lights had its first sessions under Indycar control. The NTT Indycar Series took control of Indy lights last month. The six test rounds were competitive, with five different drivers leading sessions.

Benjamin Pedersen led Practices 2 and 3 Saturday. Jacob Abel topped Round 1. In Sunday’s test sessions the leaders were Rasmus Lindh, Hunter McElrea, and Kyffin Simpson.

Indy Lights expects fields of at least 15 cars in the 2022 season. The schedule may be out this coming week.

Indycar Tests and Robin Miller Blood Drive

2021 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas, and Linus Lundqvist will be testing Indycars at IMS tomorrow from 10 am until 2 pm Eastern.

While the cars are on track, the IMS Museum will host a blood drive in honor of the late Robin Miller. You can donate blood and watch race cars in one trip. Everyone wins.

This coming week we will look at the status of the 2022 Indycar grid, new engine testing.

Chris Griffis Memorial Test Entry Lists

Entry lists for each category participating in the tomorrow’s and Sunday’s Chris Griffis memorial test at IMS.

Notes– Sting Ray Robb signed with Andretti for the 2022 season; Matt Brabham returns to Lights after several years in Stadium Super Trucks. Ernie Francis, Jr. will be one to watch as he tries his hand at open wheel. Francis, Jr. has had success at every level so far.

Notes– Indy Pro is led by Kiko Porto, the 2021 USF 2000 champion. Porto is 9 years old.

Notes– Jagger Jones is the son of P. J. Jones and grandson of Parnelli Jones

Indy Lights will announce its schedule soon. I’m hearing that the series will run the ovals at Iowa and Gateway. Indy Lights will run just three double headers on select road courses. The season will be 14 races.

On Monday, November 1, Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas, and Linus Lundqvist will test an Indycar at IMS as a bonus for placing in the top three in Indy Lights in 2021. Kirkwood will drive the 26, Lundqvist the 29, and Malukas will drive the 3 car. Don’t read anything about driver placement for 2022 into these car assignments.

I will have updates throughout the weekend.

Penske and Boles to Give Keynote at PRI Show

IMS Photo

From IMS:



INDIANAPOLIS (Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021) – Roger Penske and Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles will kick off the 2021 Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show as the featured speakers at the Grand Opening Breakfast on Dec. 9, 2021. Taking place just before the PRI Show officially opens, the breakfast is an iconic staple of the trade show and signifies the start to the three biggest days in the motorsports industry. Both the breakfast and the trade show take place in Indianapolis – the Racing Capital of the World, where thousands of race parts manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and resellers, along with race teams and racers from every motorsports segment in the world, will gather in person for the first time since 2019.

With a focus on new products and technology that advance all aspects of motorsports, the PRI Show is the racing industry’s leading business-to-business event. As the featured speakers at the Grand Opening Breakfast, Penske and Boles will underscore the importance of innovation and technology in racing. Racing icon Penske is the founder and chairman of Penske Corporation, which includes Penske Entertainment Corp., owner of both IMS and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Earlier this year, IMS opened to 135,000 fans at the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge– which, at the time, marked a milestone as the world’s highest-attended sporting event since the start of the pandemic.

.“Penske is a trailblazer and an icon in the racing industry,” PRI President Dr. Jamie Meyer said. “He embodies the spirit of racing and maintains a winning mindset. Similarly, Boles is a fierce advocate for and promoter of IMS and Indianapolis and the world-class racing events hosted here. We’re honored to have them join us at the PRI Grand Opening Breakfast and are excited to have them kick off the Show.”
Penske and Boles will talk about the importance of uniting the motorsports industry and connecting at in-person events.

“As the motorsports world moves forward into 2022 and beyond, it’s more important than ever to work together across the industry,” Penske said. “I can’t think of a better place to gather than at the PRI Show in Indianapolis. This is the perfect setting to connect with race leaders and innovators and collaborate on issues such as technology, advocacy and opportunities.”

All those registered for the PRI Show on Dec. 9-11 are invited to attend the Grand Opening Breakfast. Attendees are admitted to the breakfast free of charge, but guests are advised to arrive early, as seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The 2021 PRI Trade Show floor opens immediately after the breakfast. The event features nearly 1,000 exhibitors showcasing the latest products, services, machinery, simulation and testing technologies, and trailers for the racing industry in a single location. PRI encompasses all forms of racing and attracts attendees from all 50 states and all over the world, including professional race teams, retail shops, warehouse distributors, engine builders, fabricators, dealers, installers, jobbers and media.



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.