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.

1976: New Buildings, a Very Short Race, and an End to a Rainy Era

The modern face of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway began to take shape in America’s Bicentennial year. The current IMS Museum building opened, allowing for more old cars to be displayed. The building at the corner of 16th and Georgetown would become office space for IMS administration. The Speedway honored the new building with a rendition on the cover of the program.  A photo (below) in the program shows a much different space than we see now.

wp-15510553945525167816063197217686.jpg

Also new in the infield just west of the new Museum is the Louis Chevrolet memorial. The project had an estimated cost of $40,000. It would cost at least five times that today.

I believe this program was one of the last to have a memorial page, honoring drivers and others associated with the track and the race who had died since the last race. Three former winners grace the page, two who died early. Rene Thomas, winner of the 1914 500, died the previous September and at age 89. Other winners on the page are  1966 champion Graham Hill, killed in a plane crash in November 1975; and 1972 winner Mark Donohue, who died of injuries suffered in a testing crash in Austria.

USAC has what seems like a larger than usual presence in the program. There is an ad inviting fans to join the club and a feature by Donald Davidson recognizing the USAC’s 21st year. The article  includes the 1976 schedule:

wp-15510554131545127155326271206613.jpg

Other stories are a nice tribute to Mary “Mom” Unser, mother of Bobby, Al,  Louis, and Jerry, Jr., who died of a heart attack the previous December.  Mary was popular for her famous chili, which she cooked every May for the paddock.

I always enjoy looking through the old programs for the ads for products no longer in use. Champion spark plugs, Monroe shock absorbers, CAM2 racing oil, and Standard oil are immortalized in print.

The score sheet insert is one I had never seen before. It is a pamphlet which includes thumbnail biographies of the drivers, a brief history of IMS, and the current USAC Championship point standings, plus a brief explanation of the points system. Going into Memorial Day, Gordon Johncock led the standings with 530 points. Johnny Rutherford was second with 400 points.

The winner of the 500 received 1,000 points and the 12th place finisher took home 50. Points were not awarded outside the top 12.

 

wp-15510554270039079659877841013571.jpg

The race itself turned out to be the shortest in history. Rain stopped the event after 102 laps, 255 miles. The field completed just one lap more than the required distance to make it an official race. Johnny Rutherford won from the pole, leading 48 laps. It was Rutherford’s second win in three years. It was the last race won by a four cylinder engine.

1976 was the third rain shortened race in a four year period. The 1973 race was postponed two days and ran only 133 laps, and in 1975, rain halted the race after 174 circuits.  An odd statistic- the back to back rain curtailments  gave each winner- Bobby Unser won in 1975-  their second 500 title. There have been just two rain shortened races since then, in 2004 and 2007.

Some races have had starts delayed because of weather and then run to completion the same day.   Others have had postponements of a day or two. The longest postponement was in 1986, when the race ran the Saturday following its original Sunday date.

Later this week, my season previews will be on Wildfire Sports. The Pit Window will share news and commentary on the week’s Indycar happenings as well.

 

Latest Wickens Video

Have tissues handy

 

 

Indycar Introduces New Safety Device- Some Thoughts

Yesterday Indycar introduced a new safety device which will debut at the Indianapolis 500. It is a small deflector in front of the cockpit between the rearview mirrors. The device, called the Advanced Frontal Protection Device (AFP),  is supposed to deflect low flying small debris.   The three inch high, 0.75 inch wide titanium piece is built b Dallara. The windscreen still needs more development, which is continuing. It might surprise you, but probably doesn’t , that I have some thoughts about this device.

In fairness, the AFP has not appeared out of the blue. It has bee discussed and studied for a few years. I’m positive the series would not put something on the car that has not been researched.

First, I have to trust Jay Frye and his team on this one. The never ending quest to make the cars safer is always at the front of his mind. I applaud his effort to implement some sort of safety deflector as an alternative to the windscreen. The screen had some issues. It added heat to the cockpits. Drivers who tested it complained of distortion and limited vision. I like that they are still working on it. The AFP does not appear to affect the driver’s sightline.

“Safety is a never-ending pursuit, and this is INDYCAR’s latest step in the evolution,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “There are more details to come about the phases to follow.”

I’m glad that the NTT Indycar Seeries is not proceeding with the windscreen because they don’t feel it is ready.

My concern is the AFP appears to be limited in what it can prevent from entering the cockpit and striking the driver. I’m not an engineer, but it appears that debris must come at a specific angle on a low trajectory for it to be effective.  The device seems designed to stop smaller objects.

Before commenting further, I would like to see a view of this from the front of the car.

I hope this is a stopgap feature leading to the windscreen. The AFP looks like it is a transitional device which will give way to a more comprehensive cockpit protector.

While the 500 will be the first race for the cars to use the AFP, it will be on all cars for the April 24 test at the  Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Like many safety devices, I hope it is never tested in a race. Sadly, needing it is the only to know if it works as intended.

A close-up of the deflector highlighted in green:

wp-15506263205104841224816522310609.png

Image by Indycar

Again, I need to see this in person and learn more about what it is designed to do before I pass a definite judgment.

 

You can read the complete release at Indycar.com

 

Spring Training Begins at COTA; 25 Entries Set to Run

Today, at last, is the official opening day of the 2019 NTT Indycar Series season. Spring training begins at 11 am ET at Circuit of the Americas, the newest track on the schedule. Cars have 5 hours of track time available today and 6 hours tomorrow. Today’s action will be streamed on Indycar’s Facebook page, Twitter, and YouTube.

With Monday’s news about the change in plans at Harding Steinbrenner Racing, Colton Herta will test the lone car for the team.  Kyle Kaiser will likely test for Juncos. The team announced yesterday that Kaiser will drive the number 32 at COTA in the March 24 race.

IndyCar sessions are scheduled from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3:30-6:30 p.m. ET on the 12th, and 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2:00-6:00 p.m. ET on the 13th.

Expected to test :

A.J. Foyt Racing Chevy (2): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist

Andretti Autosport Honda (4): Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda (2): James Hinchcliffe, Marcus Ericsson

Carlin Racing Chevy (2): Max Chilton, RC Enerson

Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (2): Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist

Dale Coyne Racing Honda (2): Sebastien Bourdais, Santino Ferrucci

Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy (2): Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones

Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda (1): Colton Herta/Patricio O’Ward

Juncos Racing Chevy (1): TBA

Meyer Shank Racing Honda (1): Jack Harvey

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda (2): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato

Team Penske Chevy (4): Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves

Tickets for Spring Training can be purchased at http://www.circuitoftheamericas.com/indycar-spring-training.

O’Ward, Harding Steinbrenner Split; Pato has Limited Options for 2019

Above:  Pato O’Ward speaks to the media at Sonoma last September

In a statement released this morning Harding Steinbrenner Racing announced that the team and driver Pato O’Ward have agreed to part company. O’Ward’s statement:

“The Harding Steinbrenner Racing team supported my decision to seek a new opportunity by releasing me from my contract and allowing me the opportunity to find a new team before the start of the 2019 season,” said O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion who strongly impressed in his IndyCar debut with HSR late last season. “Now, I am fully focused on finding the right opportunity and how I will use my scholarship from Indy Lights for 2019.”

O’ Ward raced for then Harding Racing in the 2018 Indycar finale at Sonoma. He qualified fifth and finished  ninth in a spectacular debut.  O’Ward was projected to team with Colton Herta in a two car effort for the merged Harding Steinbrenner Racing this upcoming season. Herta will be the sole full time entry for the team, which switched to Honda power in December.

The 2018 Indy lights champion has $1 million in scholarship money to put toward a ride. Rumors about financial woes at Harding Steinbrenner have been circulating for a while. This close to the beginning of the season it may be difficult to find a ride. There are some part time possibilities, however. I’m pretty confident a seat for the Indianapolis 500 will be available to him. O’Ward was projected as one of the top candidates for Rookie of the Year this season.

Possible landing spots-  This is strictly conjecture on my part. I have no idea what talks are going on, but I am looking at what little is available right now.

Juncos?- As of now, Kyle Kaiser will drive in the 500, but nothing else is confirmed. The team is looking for a driver with funding.

Carlin 2nd car?- Charlie Kimball has just 5 races set and R. C. Enerson has been testing with the team. There is speculation that he will fill in when Kimball isn’t driving, but I’m not sure he can run all 12 of the other races.

Coyne 3rd car?- Dale Coyne has brought out a third car from time to time. This may not be the best option for O’Ward to showcase his talent.

6th Andretti car for Indy?- O’Ward won the Indy Lights title in 2018 driving for Andretti and Andretti was giving some assistance to Harding Steinbrenner. Michael said at the Conor Daly announcement that a 6th car didn’t look good, but the cash infusion might change things.

Additional track time for Dragonspeed- Ben Hanley has a 5 race schedule planned as the team dips its toe in the Indycar pool this year. O’Ward could allow them more time to develop.

Meyer Shank more races? Jack Harvey will be in 10 races as the team expands a bit from last year. Could O’ Ward get them closer to a full time schedule?

It would be a pity if O’Ward doesn’t race this season. He is a great talent whom I was looking to seeing on track.

 

More Indycar News: NBC Gold Sets Price; Indycar Marketing Gets an Upgrade

NBC announced pricing for the Indycar Pass on NBC Sports Gold app. Until March 10,  the cost is $49.95. After March 10, the price increases to $54.95. Indycar Nation Premiere members can get a $10 discount off the $54.95 price.  More than 200 hours of coverage includes 50 plus hours of the 103rd running the Indianapolis 500.

Coverage includes livestreams of NTT practice and qualifying sessions, full broadcast, same day replays of NTT Indycar Series races, and livestreams of Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races.  Also available will be edited cutdowns of Indycar and Indy Lights races, plus additional content.

May coverage will include Miller Lite Carb Day, the 500 festival parade, and the Victory Celebration.\Indycar pass will also house Indycar archival and library content.

I like this package. Fans at an event might find it a good way to keep track of the action, especially on road or street courses, especially the ones with areas where scoring pylons or video boards are not in easy view. The schedule for Indycar Pass on NBC Sports Gold:

wp-15495561532978869426926022966034.png

 

Indycar Boosts Marketing Department

The NTT Indycar Series added two experienced people to aid in marketing the series.

SJ Luedtke was a Nike sports marketing executive for the past 10 years. She is now Indycar’s Vic e President, Marketing. Prior to working at Nike, Luedtke led client services at Team Green and Andretti Green Racing , and also headed  Goodyear;s agency team leveraging strategic partnerships across NASCAR, NHRA, and off-road racing. She spent 14 years in motorsports.

Mike Zizzo has been retained as a communications consultant. He was Vice President of communications for Texas Motor Speedway the past 13 years. Before that, Zizzo was Vice President of Competition Public Relations for Championship Auto Racing Teams and also Senior Public Relations Manager for NASCAR.

The series has hired two quality people with a wealth of experience in motorsports.