Coyne’s Short List

Three drivers appear to be in the running for the number 18 car in 2020. James Hinchcliffe, who lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP last month; Sergio Sette Camara, who drove in F2 in 2019 and had two wins and eight podiums; and Alex Palou, who scored one win and finished third in the season standings in Super Formula.

While Hinchcliffe would be the most popular choice with the fans, I think the ride will go to one of the other drivers. Palou is likely the front runner. He was impressive at a Coyne test at Mid Ohio. He is also a Honda driver. Sette Camara has done three seasons in Formula 2, and needs to move up. He is also talking with Carlin Racing.

Coyne has not set a deadline for a decision. There may also be a fourth driver in the mix.

Still Quiet at Foyt and Carlin

I’m not confident about hearing any news from Carlin or A. J. Foyt Racing before Christmas. There is simply no news from either camp. We could be in for some surprises from both teams.

Ganassi Out of IMSA for Now

Chip Ganassi Racing will not participate in the IMSA Weather tech Championship for the first time in 16 years. Their GTLM Ford program has ended. Ganassi cars have three overall wins and two class wins at the Rolex 24. The team has not ruled out returning to the series, possibly in the new prototype cars.  More on this story in my Wildfire Sports column tomorrow.

 

 

An Arrow Through the Heart

I just love it when I have an article in mind and have to do a 180 degree spin in the middle of a turn. As I began setting up my post on the current status of the 2020 NTT Indycar Series grid, the grid experienced a seismic change. James Hinchcliffe, one of the most popular drivers in the paddock, lost his seat at Arrow McLaren SP. The team will announce Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward as their drivers for next season. The news from Racer magazine’s Marshall Pruett and Robin Miller around 9:15 Monday night sent an earthquake of outrage through the Indycar fan community.

There have been whispers since Labor day that Hinchcliffe’s job was in jeopardy. The rumors persisted despite team owner Sam Schmidt saying at Portland that Hinch would be back with the team.  Everyone knew Marcus  Ericsson would not be back and that the team was interested in O’Ward. In the last month, Askew entered the picture.  My thought was they will pick one of the two rookies and keep Hinch for his experience.  Now, we have essentially a combined new team consisting of  McLaren, which didn’t qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 2019 and Arrow Schmidt Peterson, which barely squeaked in.

Hinchcliffe’s choices of a ride are very limited.  His Honda choices are cars that  currently don’t exist. Dale Coyne looks committed to Santino Ferrucci’s return in the 19. Coyne has said he will not run a third car and is not interested in an alliance. Ganassi has talked about a part time  fourth car. I’m not sure that interests Hinchcliffe. Rahal has third car in mind but is still looking for funding.  Hinchcliffe and Honda Canada probably don’t have enough money to pull that deal together. Will HPD help? Rahal seems like the best fit at this moment on the Honda side. Hinchcliffe needs to stay in a Honda car for a couple reasons I’ll discuss in a minute.

Chevy rides available are Carlin, Foyt, and the Ed Carpenter road course only car. None of these rides are great options for him other than keeping Hinchcliffe in the series.

The Honda Indy Toronto may take a bit of a hit without a Canadian driver on the grid. Hinchcliffe’s contract with Honda Canada and his Honda commercials in the United states are also on the line here. On a fan basis, Hinchcliffe is a good river who can races, he’s generous with is time, and ha a sense of humor the paddock and the fans enjoy. He has always taken time to talk to me and i appreciate his time.

Conor Daly may be squeezed out of the paddock again. He was looking to be the last driver left with a decent amount of experience.  Now there is a six time race winner on the market who has had a full time ride for several years.

I really like O’Ward and Askew. I hope they have  great seasons next year. . At the same time, I will  find it hard as a fan to root for Arrow McLaren SP as a team. McLaren has entered the team and from my view, they have been a PR disaster already. The new logo left me cold with its starkly corporate look and the exclusion of the SP from the official team name. While I understand the business side of choosing drivers, Hinchcliffe could have been told a month ago and had more time to put something together.

It is sad to see what looked to be a rising team that in 2018 seemed to have found its soul when Robert Wickens joined but  lost it in his’ horrific crash at Pocono that summer and never found it again.

 

 

Thoughts on McLaren

Silly Season was straightforward this year. Alexander Rossi stays with Andretti. Done. Wrap it up. Look to next year. Today, with McLaren’s announcement that they are joining Arrow Schmidt Peterson for 2020, the dam has burst. There are ripples throughout the paddock. Here are some of my thoughts about this development.

McLaren has a lot to prove after their debacle in May. Will partnering with Schmidt Peterson help them?

I’m disappointed that McLaren does not add to the car count. I’ve said before they are looking to come in the easy way, becoming part of an existing team instead of building their own team with  a technical alliance with an established team.

It’s a shame the way Honda’s hand was forced to make this deal happen. I can’t think of a Chevy team that would be a good match for McLaren. I’m not sure they even considered one.

My first concern was for James Hincliffe and Robert Wickens.  In Marshall Pruett’s story, he said that the commitment to Wickens will be honored. Later this morning, Hinchcliffe issued the following statement:

hinch statement

I hope he also  has a contract extension. Hinchcliffe’s current contract expires after the 2020 season. He also is losing his Honda commercial deal. I hope that he receives compensation for that.

Marcus Ericsson was likely going somewhere else anyway. he may be in a carlin car next year. Which brings up the question- who will drive the second car for the new team? Fernando Alonso said he is not interested in a full time Indycar ride.

Colton Herta may be available, but I think he will become the fifth driver at Andretti Autosport.  If he is, is Conor Daly once again out of a potential full time ride? It’s those paddock ripples splashing up.

With whom  does Meyer Shank now partner with as they prepare for a full schedule in 2020? The team is committed to Honda. An alliance with Andretti or Coyne seems most probable. I don’t think Ganassi is interested in being anyone’s partner.

The new team name is Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It bothers that mcLaren comes before Schmidt and Peterson and that the two founders names are reduced to initials. Since mcLaren is buying the team or acquiring the shares of either owner, I guess it’s a name recognition thing.

The biggest positive in today’s events is that Indycar now has a worldwide name in its paddock. it should help with recognition in Europe and may cause a bit of a bump in the United States.

I will keep updating as i learn more.  Everything I just wrote could be incorrect by now.

 

Quick, Well, Day After, Thoughts- Day 2 Qualifying

The format did provide drama. James Hinchcliffe and Fernando Alonso had to wait until the final two qualifiers ran to see if they made the race.

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James Hinchcliffe pauses as he gets out of the car his Sunday run. He seems to be wondering if the time will be good enough.

Some of the old Bump Day flavor was back with rumors swirling about deals and shared parts and information. the rain delay may have had something to do with it, but it was a fun atmosphere.

Every 100 years, a driver from France wins the pole. That’s not good news for Sebastien Bourdais.

Qualifying Weekend Tweaks

For next year I would like to see Bump Day  be a timed period, say 90 minutes, for cars not in the race to make a maximum of three attempts to make the field.

As far as the Fast Nine, it is a dinosaur concept intended to be filler when there were only 33 cars. It may be good for television, but I think an extended Bump Day as I proposed would be a better use of that brief network TV window. Let the pole winner be the fastest qualifier on Saturday. That’s your Saturday TV drama.

Limit cars to three attempts per day.  Several cars went out to use runs as practice time. If teams have exclusive use of the track, it should be for a serious run.

Other Thoughts

I was surprised that the track didn’t open for practice in the middle of Saturday afternoon.

Even in defeat, Fernando Alonso was gracious enough to come to the media center with Gil DeFerran to discuss their week.

Yesterday I think was the first time I nave ever seen Sage Karam smile. He was more at ease in interviews than I’ve seen him after his run. His best comment, referring to Hinchcliffe and the stress of the last two days, “I’m surprised James hasn’t had a heart attack yet going through this two years in a row.”

The new sealant seems to help dry the track quicker, which would be a good thing on Race Day. I just hope we never have to find out on that day.

I’ve seen some people say this year’s qualifying was a good argument for guaranteed spots. I  think it was a better argument against it. Would have great stories like Dragonspeed and Juncos with guaranteed spots? It would be hard if more full time teams join the series.

I have never seen so little attention paid to who wins the pole. I didn’t mind it. I think the pole should be decided first, like on Saturday. The true story of qualifying is in the smaller teams who make the field, sometimes at the expense of a bigger team or champion driver.

Today’s Schedule

Practice -12-2

Bronze badge holders have pit access today.

I will have a summary of the session later today.

 

 

Hinchcliffe Leads Rain Shortened Practice

James Hinchcliffe led a rain shortened practice session for the six cars still looking for a spot in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. Hinchcliffe had a lap of 228.125. Sage Karam was next at 228.083.  Fernando Alonso was slowest of the five cars that were on track. at 220.009′

Kyle Kaiser did not turn any laps in the session that lasted just 20 minutes before the rain began.  The rain just returned as the track was nearly dry.

McLaren Options?

Should Alonso and McLaren not qualify, might they try to buy a ride?  There are rumors they are considering it.  I have never been a fan of drivers who don’t qualify buying their way into the field, as Michael Andretti did for Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2011.  Stay tuned.

Dragonspeed, Hanley to Focus on Indycar in 2020

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Ben Hanley (L) and Elton Julian talk about qualifying and the future of Dragonspeed

Team owner Elton Julian said plans are do as many or more races in Indycar next year.

“Commercially no other series is as viable as this one,” he said. “I’ve always been quick to step up to the next formula.”

Dragonspeed will stay involved in sports car racing, but cut back a bit’

Hanley on his first week here:

“The Rookie Orientation is amazing. It’s hard to not go over 205 but the program makes you stop and think about what you’re doing.”

Rain continues to fall and the schedule is on hold. I’m not optimistic about any running today. Should the rain stop now and not return, it will be at best 3 pm before the track dries.  I would look for the last row qualifying tomorrow before the final practice from 12-2.

I will keep everyone posted via @PitWindow on twitter and The Pit Window on Facebook for immediate weather updates and back here for any extended news.

 

 

 

Last Chance for Hinch and Alonso; Weather May Determine Pole

Today is the last chance  for popular drivers James Hinchcliffe and Frenando Alonso to get into the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500.  Both have had massive crashes this week.  Hinchcliffe’s crash yesterday could not have come at a worse time. The 2016 pole winner is on the verge of missing his second straight 500 and third since 2015. he also missed a week of practice in 2014 recovering from a concussion he suffered in the first Indycar Grand Prix.

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Will they make the race?

Alonso and McLaren have struggled since he crashed on Tuesday. Electrical issues have plagued the team. Yesterday each of Alonso’s five attempts followed the same pattern- two good laps followed by a significant drop in speed on the last two.  I think McLaren came here with the attitude that they would easily get into the field. They wanted to mostly do Indy on their own. The way the series is now, that is difficult. I would have thought with their budget that they would have had a better performance despite the accident.

Other drivers looking for one of the three open grid spots are Pato O’Ward, Kyle Kaiser, Sage Karam, and Max Chilton. If Alonso and Hinchcliffe succeed in qualifying for the race, only one of these four gets in.  I think Karam makes the race. He had a difficult day yesterday. J. R. Hildebrand drove his car Friday to make sure it was okay.

The forecast isn’t looking promising at the moment. Steady rain appears to be moving in around 10 am and may last most of the day.  In that event, the last row will be determined tomorrow and the Spencer Pigot will have won the pole.

It seems that each time the Speedway os series changes the qualifying format, an important day gets rained out. It would also be a shame to have a rainout of the NBC broadcast.

Back later this morning with an update on the weather and any time adjustments.

 

 

Hinchcliffe, Herta Top Practice 3

For the second straight session, James Hinchcliffe and Colton Herta finished 1-2 on the speed chart. Hinchcliffe improved his time from yesterday afternoon to 1:08.7351, about two tenths quicker than his Practice 2 time. Herta was 0.27 seconds behind him. Spencer Pigot was once again the fastest Chevrolet with the seventh fastest time.

The session was interrupted by three red flags.  The first was Zach Veach, who locked up the brakes and slid into the gravel trap in turn 5.  When action resumed, Jack Harvey put his right side wheels into the dirt in turn 2, throwing grass and dirt onto the track. Ryan Hinter-Reay was the next car through and went off track in turn 3 but continued. Marcus Ericsson followed but was not as fortunate. He slid into the ARMCO in turn 2. The car suffered front wing damage. Following a restart, Graham Rahal also locked up and slid into the turn 5 gravel trap.

The session timed out but Indycar allowed the field one flying lap.