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.

 

Quick Thoughts on Barber Day 1

Red flags continue to disrupt Indycar sessions. There were three in morning practice and one in this afternoon’s run. The red flags in the morning session were spaced far enough apart that no one was able to get a decent run.

Felix Rosenqvist led session 1 and James Hinccliffe was fastest this afternoon. The fastest time was on black tires.

It may have been because of the weather, but the crowd seemed less than the usual Friday attendance here.

At a press gathering this morning to introduce Mario Andretti as the Grand Marshall for Sunday”s race, track president Gene Hallman said Barber has sold tickets in 42 states and eight countries for this year’s event.

Hinchcliffe said in the press conference after practice that teams need to figure out why the blacks were faster and what to do if it rains. Hinchcliffe was the only driver faster on reds.

The track seems more slippery than usual this weekend.

From earlier today, a story about last night’s track walk. The link:

https://wordpress.com/post/thepitwindow.blog/9135

Back tomorrow with quick thoughts on qualifyimg. Will the red flag stay furled?

A Home Game for SPM Drivers- Honda Indy Toronto Preview

Photo above from Honda Indy Toronto website

The Verizon Indycar series makes its only trip outside the United States this weekend in Toronto. James Hinchcliffe gets to race at home coming off his victory in Iowa. Teammate Robert Wickens also can claim Toronto as his home track. Look for great results from this pair this weekend.  With Zachary Claman DeMelo also in the field, this is the first time in several years that three Canadian drivers have been in this race.

Indycar has had a long history at Exhibition Place beginning in 1986. The race was off the calendar in 2008, but returned the next year following the merger. This was one of the venues where double headers took place in 2013 and 2014.  Michael Andretti won at Toronto seven times, including three sets of back to back wins in 1991 and 92, 1994 and 95, and 2000 and 2001.

Active drivers who have won previously are Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, and  Scott Dixon. Power leads active drivers with three wins. Newgarden and Dixon each have won twice. Dixon swept the 2013 doubleheader for his two victories.

The event has the buzz of Indy about it, making it a fun race to attend. After track activity, there is Toronto to explore. This race is definitely worth a trip. Public transportation makes it easy to get to.

Does Honda Street Course Domination Continue?

Hondas have dominated on street circuits this season. Power has had the strongest Chevy on the streets with two seconds and a seventh place finish. He has qualified second twice and third once. Newgarden has not qualified well and although he has three top ten finishes, he hasn’t really been a factor in any of the street events.

Honda has won the pole for all four street races.  Alexander Rossi has won two poles.  This trend should continue. Hondas seem to like tracks with slow corners and short straightaways.

A Great Weekend for the Home Team?

The momentum SPM and Hinchcliffe have from winning Iowa and Honda’s strength on this type of track point to a great weekend for the team. Robert Wickens excelled at St. Pete and is one of the favorites to win his first career Indycar race Sunday.  Wickens has been in contention in most races this season and will be a factor on race day.

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Robert Wickens is one of the favorites for his hometown race. Photo: Mike Silver

Can Dixon Extend His Points Lead?

We are in the part of the season where points are as important as who wins the race. Dixon’s big lead suffered a slight drop last Sunday, but not enough to put his spot in jeopardy. It would be a shock if he had two bad races in a row. I’m not sure if he’ll extend his lead, but he may have a different runner-up chasing him to Mid-Ohio.

Is the Duel Back On?

My picks- Rossi on pole and Wickens winning the race. In a perfect world, they will both start on the front row. Rossi and Wickens could develop into a great rivalry with their different driving styles. Rossi has gained a reputation for his aggressive, unapologetic style on track, while Wickens drives steadily and doesn’t push the envelope.

Daly to drive for Harding

Conor Daly will drive the 88 Harding car this weekend, replacing Gabby Chaves. In a statement from Harding the team states they are looking to audition drivers for a second car next year and want some fresh input on the car. They are also looking at some Indy Lights drivers. Chaves will be back in the car at some point this season has a contract for 2019 with Harding.

Look for my Toronto recap on wildfirradiosports.com early next week. I will catch up on Indycar news in this space mid week, and I plan to have a feature story on a n historic turning point in 500 history.