Alexander Rossi led a strong showing by Andretti Autosport at Sebring on Tuesday with a quick lap of 52.27 seconds. Teammate Colton Herta was second, followed by Jack Harvey and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan duo of Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato were next in line.
Harvey, of Meyer Shank Racing had a technical alliance with Andretti last year. I look for a strong year from Harvey. The team has a full year under their belt, and having Helio Castroneves as a teammate for six races should help as well.
Dalton Kellett and A, J, Foyt Racing tested both days and seemed happy with the team’s progress.
Will Power won the pole for tomorrow’s GMR Grand Prix with a brilliant final lap in the Fast Six. he nipped Jack Harvey by 0.188 seconds. Old news. This was Power’s fourth pole in this race. He won the other three times he started on pole. The pole was the 58th of Power’s career, and he is just nine shy of tying Mario Andretti for the most career poles. He will creep even closer by year’s end.
What I want to focus this qualifying report on though is the younger drivers in the series. Overall, they had a great day. I will discuss them after a recap of qualifying.
Round 1, Group 1
The youngsters led the way, grabbing the first four spots to advance. Defending series champion Josef Newgarden struggled to squeeze into the final transfer spot.
Round 1, Group 2
This session had a more traditional look with Power leading and more drivers expected to advance filling the next round.
Round of 12
Half of the drivers in the second round have less than three full years of Indycar experience. It looked as if the fast Six would shape up to be another the great Power vs. Herta pole battles we had last season, but another youngster decided to spoil the fun.
Jack Harvey came within a whisker of his first career pole. Power nipped him on the final lap as time ran out. The result was Harvey’s second consecutive GMR Grand Prix Fast Six. In 2019 he started third and finished third.
Will Power 1:10.177
Jack Harvey 1:10.365
If you were keeping score, half of each of the last two rounds had drivers with less than three years experience. Oliver Askew in his first road course qualifying led two rounds of qualifying and had the fastest lap of 1:09.878 in the second round.
Conor Daly got a rare second round spot for Ed Carpenter Racing and will start 8th tomorrow.
Colton Herta showed last year that he will be a perennial contender.
Jack Harvey loves this track. if he can transfer his success at IMS to the rest of the series, he will be someone fun to watch.
Max Chilton advancing to the second round was nice to see.
Felix rosenqvist had an off day today, but could be a factor tomorrow.
We are witnessing a very quick generational change. These younger drivers are the sport’s future. The current stars have at most three years left. The series will be in very good hands when they leave. We could see a few more surprises this season. The kids are alright.
I’m very happy to see Meyer-Shank and Jack Harvey will run the entire season for the next two years.
Michael Shank has set a great example for other fledgling teams of how to build up to a full season. I admire his tireless work to get to this point.
Last year Harvey had good results in the first part of the season where they ran the majority of their schedule. After the team took a break, they seemed to struggle in the remaining races which were scattered through the last part of the year. I’m hoping the consistency of running every race will provide even better results.
With Meyer-Shank in an alliance with Andretti, this eliminates any chance of another full time car. i wouldn’t be surprised if there is an extra entry for May, though.
Their video is very cool. Welcome to a full season, MSR.
Photo: Josef Newgarden on his way to clinching the championship at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca. Photo by Kyle McInnes
In some ways 2019 was an unusual season for the NTT Indycar Series. In other ways, it was a typical season.
Some unusual items:
All three of the championship contenders heading to the final race had at least one finish of 15th or worse.
The seven race winners each won multiple times. I can’t recall that ever happening before. Seven winners seems like the lowest total in a few years as well.
None of the three contenders won a race after July 20.
Alexander Rossi did not lead a lap after his dominating win at Road America on June 23.
Typically, Team Penske drivers led more than 900 laps and won nine races. The team also enjoyed a 1-2 finish in the final standings.
Josef Newgarden combined consistency and some great pit strategy by Tim Cindric to jump to an early points lead which he held most of the season. Rossi climbed to within 16 points after Mid Ohio, but the lead expanded in the following race after Rossi’s involvement in the first lap incident at Pocono. Simon Pagenaud saved his job with his two brilliant victories in May. He had a 4.8 finishing average over the last six races and came up just 25 points short of his second title.
Rossi was dominating at Long Beach and Road America. He finished second in the Indianapolis 500. The rest of the time he was good, but not great. I thought Rossi was more consistent in 2018. Since his Road America win, Rossi had an average finish of 7.7
Dixon’s Title Defense Stalls
Scott Dixon’s season was typical of his title defense years. He never got going. 2019 was just the second time he has finished outside the top three in the standings.
Dixon finished second three times and third once in the first five races. A 17th place in the Indianapolis 500 followed by a crash and 22nd place in the first Belle Isle race put Dixon in a hole he could not climb out of. He did bounce back to win the second race at Belle Isle and also won at Mid Ohio. Dixon now has 46 career wins, just six short of Mario Andretti for second place all time.
Rookies Have Outstanding Year
The four rookies- Colton Herta, Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson, and Santino Ferrucci- collectively had a season that any rookie group would be thrilled with. The class earned 2 wins, 4 poles, and 6 podiums. Ferrucci had an average finish on ovals of 6.2. Rosenqvist’s street/road course average was a respectable 7.1. Herta took most of the headlines with his three poles and two victories, but mechanical issues and accidents suppressed his averages and kept him behind in the points standings.
Rosenqvist won the Rookie of the Year title with a fierce drive at Laguna Seca from 14th to fifth to edge Herta by five points. He served notice at St. Petersburg that the rookies meant business when he passed Will Power on a restart. With Rosenqvist staying at Ganassi and Herta moving to the main Andretti team, I see a future rivalry between these two in a couple years.
Surprises and Disappointments
The biggest surprise of the year was Takuma Sato winning two races and earning two pole positions. Sato had a big slump beginning at Texas and was blamed for the early accident at Pocono. It would be nice to see him put a full season together.
Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank racing deserve consideration for driver and team of the year. Harvey earned the team’s first podium at the Indycar Grand Prix. In just 10 races, Harvey had four top ten finishes, got into the Fast Six twice, and finished on the lead lap in seven races. They seemed to struggle after their long break following Road America. If their plan to be full time in 2020 works out, they should be even better.
Zach Veach was probably the most disappointing driver. After finishing 2018 strongly, I thought he would have a great year. He lingered in the back half of the field most weekends and finished 18th in points, ahead of only Matheus Leist and Ed Jones among the drivers who drove all 17 races.
The Best and Not So Best
Not every race can be great, and like most years a few races stood out.
For me, the best races were the Indycar Grand Prix, Mid Ohio, Iowa, and Gateway.
The worst races in my opinion were Pocono, Detroit 1, Toronto, and Portland.
Photo: Pato O’Ward will again drive car 31 as he did in Detroit.
Pato O’Ward returns to Carlin Racing for this weekend’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America. O’Ward, who originally was thought to have a full season ride at Harding Steinbrenner Racing, signed a 12 race deal with Carlin after St. Pete. It has since been announced that he will not run Gateway or Iowa. O’Ward is looking for funding to complete the NTT Indycar season.
His new contract with the Red Bull Junior program is awaiting approval of his super license. He may not be fully eligible for it at this time.
Also returning to the paddock is Jack harvey in the number 60 MSR entry. This race race is the seventh of Harvey’s 10 race program in 2019. He will also race at Mid Ohio, Portland, and Laguna Seca. Harvey had a career best third place finish at the Indycar Grand Prix in May.
Twenty three cars are on the entry list for the fourth race at Elkhart Lake since Indycar returned.
Above: Simon Pagenaud made two brilliant passes in the last five laps to win the Indycar Grand Prix. Photo: Kyle McInnes
This was supposed to be the year the streaks ended. The race would have its third winning driver, and his last name wouldn’t begin with P. A team other than Penske was supposed to celebrate in Victory Lane. It looked like the reign was over when Felix Rosenqvist won the pole and Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon grabbed the second spot on the grid. But in the end, a masterful drive by Simon Pagenaud kept the Indycar GP trophy with Team Penske. Pagenaud made two brilliant passes with five laps to go to win.
Pagenaud ended a 21 race winless streak. There were rumors about job security at Team Penske. He is now fourth in points. I wouldn’t overlook him when considering title contenders.
Dixon said after the race, “With 10 laps to go i knew i was in trouble. I had to stop the car to get it to turn.” Dixon has finished second three straight years at the Indycar Grand Prix. ” Simon was turning some amazing lap times,” Dixon added.
Pagenaud said that the tires of each podium car showed a different wear pattern. It was an indication of how varied car setups were for the race. Pagenaud’s team his upon the one that worked best in the wet.
Tire strategy looked like it would be what decided the outcome of the race when Josef Newgarden pitted during the first caution and was able to cycle to the lead. He may have had to gamble on whether an extra would have been necessary, but he hit a tire leaving the pits on lap 68 and going to the rear of the field for the restart ended his day. Newgarden finished 15th.
Tony Kanaan gambled on going to the rain tires early, but the move backfired when the rain came later than his team anticipated. Kanaan finished 20th.
Some Traditions End,Others Continue
For just the second time in the brief history of the Indycar Grand Prix, a Penske car was not on pole. Will Power qualified sixth fastest and dropped back all day, but he recovered to finish 7th.
The traditional first lap incident made its annual appearance. Pato O’Ward collided with Alexander Rossi. Rossi returned to the race four laps down and didn’t make up any ground all day.
The race still boasts just two winners, Pagenaud and Power. Team Penske has won five of the six Grand Prix.
Tough Day for Rookies
With Felix Rosenqvist on pole and Colton Herta staring fourth, it looked to be another great day for the rookies. It didn’t turn out that way. Rosenqvist lost the lead to his teammate Dixon on the first restart. Herta’s day ended when he got spun in turn 1 and then hit by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Herta has had a rough string last or near last place finishes since winning at COTA.
Rosenqvist faded. He left the pits with his car on fire from a spill. The flames extinguished as he exited the pits. He finished 8th. The only other rookie in the top 10 was Santino Ferrucci.
Pato O’Ward was involved in the Rossi incident and received a drive through penalty. the team had alternator all weekend. O’Ward made seven pit stops yesterday.
Dixon makes Up Ground in Championship
Scott Dixon is now within six points of Josef Newgarden for the series title. This puts Dixon ahead of where he was last year at this time. He didn’t lead a lap or win a race until June in 2018 and won the title by a healthy margin.
How odd to be five races into the season and not have seen Will Power win a race. I’m sure that will change soon.
Pagenaud is the season’ fifth different winner. Four different team have won the first five races. I believe the record is seven different winners in the first seven races of a season.
I hope Andretti Autosport comes out of the box strong for the 500 starting Tuesday. This was a completely forgettable weekend for the team. The highlight was Marco Andretti improving 10 spots in the race.
This was by far the best of the six Grand Prix races.
I don’t usually talk about drive of the day, but htree drivers deserve mention. I will go with hockey’s system of award the three stars of the race.
#3- Matheus Leist- started 21st, fished fourth. This is a huge boost for A. J. Foyt’s team.
#2- Jack Harvey- started and finished third. Harvey has been driving under the radar with two top tens and nearly a third. He has gotten to second round qualifying more than once. His move to grab second at the start was incredible. The most amazing thing is Harvey and Meyer Shank Racing are a part time team.
#1- Simon Pagenaud- started 8th, finished 1st. Just a great drive all day. When is the last time you someone make up six seconds in five laps?
Meyer Shank Racing confirmed Jack Harvey will drive in 10 NTT Indycar series races in 2019 after a six race program in 2018. Harvey will continue to carry Sirius XM sponsorship. The eam hopes to expand to a full time program at some point.
Harvey will drive in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, his only oval race, and nine street/road course events. The rest of his schedule begins at the opener in St. Pete, followed by COTA, Barber, Long Beach and the Indycar Grand Prix at IMS. Following the 500, The last four he wil run are Road America, Mid Ohio, and the two season ending races at Portland and Laguna Seca.
Shank has purchased a new chassis specifically for use in the 500. The team will once again partner with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“We are extremely excited to be extending our program,” said Harvey “That has always been the goal for 2019 and it is amazing to achieve that and continue to grow what we are doing. I have to thank Michael [Shank], he has put in an immense amount of work and of course thanks to Jim Meyer for his continued support. Without either of those guys, in their own way, I wouldn’t have received the opportunity.”
Harvey’s best finishes last season were 16th at both Indianapolis and Portland.
Juncos Racing, which ran a partial schedule last year, is the only team that has not announced its 2019 Indycar plans. They are debuting their IMSA program this weekend at Daytona, so new on the Indycar front may not be for awhile.