Claman De Melo Returns to Indy Lights with Belardi

Above: Zachary Claman De Melo practicing for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500

Zachary Claman De Melo has signe3d with Belardi Racing for the 2019 Indy lights season. DeMelo drove in Indy Lights in 2017 and also had one Indycar race that year at Sonoma. In 2018 he drove nine Indycar races for Dale Coyne. He had several more races than anticipated as he substituted for the injured Pietro Fittipaldi. De Melo’s best finish was 12th at the Indycar Grand Prix on the IMS road course.

Zach Veach returned to Indy Lights in 2017 in hopes of garnering enough attention to land a full time Indycar ride. His efforts paid off with a three year deal with Andretti Autosport.  De Melo has potential. For the Indianapolis 500 he qualified 13th and finished 19th.

More Lights drivers need to consider a return to the series to at least gain some more open wheel experience to prepare for Indycar.

IMS Museum Plans Major Renovations- Some Thoughts

The Indianapolis Business Journal reported last week on renovation plans for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. The full article can be read here:

https://www.ibj.com/articles/71234-getting-up-to-speed?v=preview

Highlights of the project, which at this time has no definite timeline or cost projection, include many interactive displays, virtual reality activities, a 3-D theater, and a racing simulator. Costs could run into the 10s of millions of dollars.The building will be double its current size with two wings and a partial third floor. There is talk of  some glass flooring offering a peek into part of the mysterious basement, which only a few outsiders have been privileged to see. For most race fans, the museum basement has been the IMS equivalent of a pharaoh’s tomb.

I think the museum is long overdue for a change. Up until a few years ago, displays rarely changed. The space had remained pretty much as it was when the first museum opened in the building at the corner of 16th and Georgetown. Even with their new approach of special exhibits and the additional display space in the north part of the building, the museum still is far behind other museums. The additional display space has added some improved experience, but they are still limited in what can be done.

I hope that keeping the current winning cars on display  is still part of the plan. I have always found comfort in seeing the cars when I first enter the museum proper. Several of my favorite cars of all time live there. It’s like visiting old friends. Yes, the museum needs to attract new and hopefully repeat repeat visitors. At the same time, they need to remember their older, frequent visitors like me.

On a snowy, rainy day like Indianapolis is having today, I like to go to the museum just to look at the cars. I’m not sure I’d be as tempted to go out to the new version just to hang out. A peaceful, meditative walk through history suits me just fine.

I celebrate the renovation plans, but I ask the people in charge to please consider retaining some of the current place’s charm.

The Pit Window and Wildfire Sports Going to PRI

The Pit Window and Wildfire Sports will be attending the PRI show the first week in December. Look for daily reports on Wildfire Sports and for commentary on the event here at the end of the week.  I’m excited to finally get to this show.

Bondurant School Closes; Tracks Begin Ticket Renewals; Return to Surfer’s Paradise? Wickens News

Autosport reports this afternoon the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving has shut its doors.  Bondurant began a school for race drivers in the early 60’s after an injury during a race ended his driving career. Bill Shaw, Wilbur’s son, was an instructor at the school.

Celebrities like Clint Eastwood, Tom Cruise Tim Allen, and Nicholas Cage attended the driving school.  A huge number of racing drivers also took instruction there. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Rick Mears were some of the many racing starts who honed their craft at the Bondurant School.

The Chandler, Arizona, site was also the venue for the Road to Indy shootout, which now needs to find another location soon. The shootout is scheduled for December 8 and 9.

Portland, St. Pete Ticket Renewal Periods Begin

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and The Grand Prix of Portland have opened ticket renewal periods. Fans who purchased tickets last year can renew or change seat locations before the general public sale begins.

Contact:

tickets@gpstpete.com

pir@portlanoregon.gov

Miles Flying to Australia

Mark Miles is flying to Australia to investigate the possibility of Indycar returning to Surfer’s Paradise. The premiere of Queensland, Annasacia Palaszaczuk,  expressed interest in hosting an  Indycar race during Will Power’s trip to his homeland.  Power referred her to Miles.

Surfer’s Paradise was always a fun race to watch, especially when it was the season opener.

Norman Returns to Andretti Indy Lights Ride

Ryan Norman has re-signed with Andretti Autosport for a third season in Indy Lights. Norman showed marked improvement last year. He won the pole for the Freedom 10 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and won the race at Gateway Motorsports Park after a spirited duel with Colton Herta.

Wickens Loses the Back Brace

In a new Instagram video from Robert Wickens, he discards the back brace he has worn virtually since he was injured. Here is the link to the video:

 

 

 

Indycar Developments and Non Developments

Some Indycar developments this week have sharpened the 2019 picture a bit, but the big announcements are still to come.

International Media  Rights In House

Indycar has created Indycar Media, a new organization in house distribution of the series’ global media rights. Indycar media plans to make deals with more than 24 licensees representing more than 100 countries. This gives Indycar flexibility to tailor content to specific needs, Sweden might want more features on Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson, Should a certain Spanish driver enter the Indianapolis 500, Spain and a lot of Europe would want more stories about him.

This is a good deal for the series. There is potential for good income growth here.

 

Road to Indy Prize Packages

The Road to Indy and Andersen Promotions revealed their scholarship and cash awards for 2019. A combined total of $2 million is available to the champions of the three series.

The Indy Lights champion receives $1.1 million which goes toward three Indycar races in 2020, including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. Winning the Pro Mazda title nets $596,700. $500,00 of the prize is scholarship money for Indy Lights, and the rest is for entry fees and Cooper tires at the next level.

USF2000’s top driver will have $305,600- a $250,000 scholarship and $55,600 for tires and entry fees in Pro Mazda.

My spending other people’s money segment today-

I think the top three drivers in points should get some scholarship award, even if it means they spend another year at the same level.

Juncos- 2 Cars, No Drivers

Juncos Racing has purchased a second Dallara chassis. They plan to use the second car to enhance their test days. As far as the race schedule, Juncos will again be a part time team. They may run more races with just one car or fewer races with two cars. It’s great to see teams buying extra cars.

Juncos has not signed any drivers fort he season or for testing as of today.

South America?

A video from Brazil today announced an Indycar race will take place on the streets of Rio de Janeiro in2020. The video showed the track layout and an  animated Indycar in Verizon livery driving the circuit. Signage included Verizon, Toyota, and DHL.  There is a slight glitch to this plan. Neither Mark Miles nor Jay Frye have signed an agreement for this race. Indycar says there no plans in motion to hold this event.

Speculation about a race in Uruguay also has been discussed. I can’t envision two Indycar races in South America in a season. They would have to be run either on consecutive weekends, or within a span of three weeks.  That is a long time away from home for all involved. Compensation needs to be well worth everyone’s effort.

My guess – one of the two is likely, no earlier than 2020. Waiting until 2021 and the new engine and possibly chassis package might be a better idea.

Title Sponsor?

Still no word on a title sponsor for Indycar.  I was hoping we would know something by Thanksgiving, but that may be optimistic.

 

 

Some Off Season Thoughts

The first week of the off season brought the exciting news that Harding racing will partner with Steinbrenner Racing in 2019. The new Harding Steinbrenner Racing team has signed rookies Pato O’Ward, 2018 Indy Lights champion, and Indy lights runner-up Colton Herta. Very few details other than the driver announcements are known at this time. There is a technical partnership with Andretti Autosport which will provide shocks, dampers, and engineering help.

The big question is which engine will Harding Steinbrenner use? Harding had Chevrolet power in 2018, and Andretti is a Honda team. For these teams to work together, the engine needs to be the same. If HSR goes with Honda, would that rule out a possible third car at Rahal letterman Lanigan Racing?

One of the greatest things about this new team is that the two team owners come from outside of racing. My friend Steve Wittich wrote an excellent article for Trackside Online about how Indycar needs diversity in its ownership. I hope we see more owners from outside racing. they should provide a fresh perspective on the business of racing.  You can find his article on Trackside Online.com. It is a site worth subscribing to.

New Title Sponsor?

There has been no word on a new series title sponsor. Things have gone rather quiet about who it will be. That could mean it’s wrapped up ready to be announced, or Indycar is still searching. It would have been good to have an announcement at Sonoma, and have some sort of handing over ceremony to thank Verizon for their sponsorship.

The Mysterious Third OEM

Is there someone ready to jump in for 2021? There has been some talk of one or two manufacturers, with one name mentioned more than others, but again, things seem very quiet on the new engine front right now.

McLaren News in November?

We may not know Mclaren’s plans until November. It would be great to have McLaren in Indycar, but this is turning into racing’s version of General Hospital. First Honda says they will not help Mclaren, then reports have come out saying yes they still might. Alonso has not made a decision. My guess he is in for the 500 only. Stoffel Vandoorne, considered a candidate for the seat when Alonso doesn’t drive, is rumored to be close to having a contract in Formula E. That could mean McLaren will be here for the 500 only as well.   Stay tuned.

Coyne’s Car 19

Dale Coyne has talked to some former Formula 1 drivers about driving the 19 car next year. he continues his quest to have one driver for the entire season in that ride. Apparently neither Zachary Claman De Melo or Pietro Fittipaldi will return. Too bad. They both have some potential to be decent drivers.

October Coming Attractions

Next month I have several columns planned for here and on Wildfire Sports.

A review of Born Racer.

A book review of Gentleman, Start Your Engines.

Look for  another month of May review via the official program for that year.

Commentary on off season news and the big announcements that could be coming will be posted as needed. In addition to a title sponsor, I am most interested to see which races will be on NBC network. I’m guessing there will be a lot in May and very early June. They didn’t ask me (again) but I think one Detroit race would be enough.

Look for a column on things Indycar might want to change for 2019.

The 2019 Indycar Schedule; News and Comments

Some thoughts on the Indycar schedule released today:

I like that the huge gap between the first and second race is gone. Having three weeks between Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is probably more appropriate. It allows for testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at a time closer to the 500.

I hope the three weeks between Portland and the Laguna Seca final is just a one year arrangement. IMSA races at Laguna Seca September 15.

Team members have two three week stretches of races plus the four week grind of May and the Detroit doubleheader.

Will Barber return to its traditional date next year? Easter falls on the usual Barber weekend necessitating the change.

I’m excited that Indycar is going to Circuit of the Americas. My first though when I went there for the inaugural Formula 1 race was  that it would be a good track for Indycar.  My concern is attendance. COTA is a huge property. Like IMS, what would be a decent crowd at most places will make the track seem empty. F1 is the only series that has had good attendance in Austin.

While I’m sad to see one less oval on the schedule, I’m happy that Iowa will again be a Saturday night race. That track was made for Indycars on Saturday night.

Attendance at Laguna Seca could also be a concern with IMSA holding an event the weekend before. These two series need to work together and hold joint events.

Television Schedule Still to Come

We know all, the races will be on an NBC network. The question is, which race on which network? I will go out on a huge limb here and say the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Seven other races will appear on the big network. My guessses:

St. Pete- season opener; introduces audience to Indycar

Long Beach- historic track and event

Indycar Grand Prix- prelude to the 500; promotes the 500

The 500

Road America- another classic track; spectatcular scenery

Iowa- Saturday night racing showcases Indycar roots

Pocono- another 500 race; usually one of the best races of the year

Laguna Seca- season finale allows season recap and promotes 2020 season.

I’m sure I have one correct. I left off the Detroit doubleheader. With a limited number of network appearances, putting half of that schedule in a four week span creates a large gap until the next network race.

Harding’s Future?

Last weekend at Portland Harding racing announced that 2018 Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward and Lights runner up Colton Herta will drive in the Indycar finale at Sonoma. Herta tested with Harding earlier this season and O’Ward will test with the team Thursday.

We might be seeing the future of Harding Racing begin. Gabby Chaves, who began the year with Harding and has a contract for next year, may be out of a ride.

Talk still is going on about MclAren taking over harding and some uinvolvement with Andretti Autosport. Both O’Ward and Herta drove for Andretti in Indy Lights.

However this situation turns out, I admire Mike Harding for putting a team together, hiring good experienced people, and running the entire season with older equipment. This was a low budget operation. Small teams like this are what the series needs more of.

Fred Watch

On Wednesday, weather permitting, Fernando Alonso is scheduled to test an Indycar at Barber Motorsports Park. He will drive an Andretti Autosport car, the one Carlos Munoz drove in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Alonso has not announced where he will drive next year. The Indycar schedule has no conflicts with his WEC commitments for 2018. The WEC opener for 2019 is the same weekend as Portland.

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.