The Early, Early Line

Happy New Year and welcome to another year of The Pit Window. Thanks to everyone for making 2018 a record year for this site.  Here are are some early predictions for the 2019 Indycar season. I may revise these after the Spring Training sessions at COTA next month.

2019 Champion– Alexander Rossi. Rossi made some mistakes that cost him the title last season. He seems to learn quickly and I don’t expect those errors to be repeated. Dixon has never won consecutive titles, which is why I am not picking him. Look for strong competition from Will Power and Josef Newgarden, as usual. Ryan Hunter-Reay rediscovered his groove and may gave his teammate a challenge as well.

Rookie of the Year- I’m  giving a slight edge to Felix Rosenqvist, mainly because of the team he drives for. Patricio O’Ward will present a strong challenge, especially with Harding Steinbrenner Racing receiving some technical support from Andretti, but Rosenqvist will provide strong support to Dixon in his title quest.

Indianapolis 500– Will Power. If any driver is gong to be the next back to back winner of the 500, Power is the one. He has become a master of ovals. Look for his dominance of May to continue. I can imagine the Victory Circle celebration if he returns there. Last year’s will seem tame.

Race Wins-  In 2018, four drivers each won three races. I think we will see a similar situation this season, although I look for Rossi to win a fourth race to give him the edge he needs for the title. Dixon will creep ever closer to the 50 win mark, but will need another year to get there and possibly two to pass Mario Andretti’s 52 victories.

A Brief Survey

I would like to hear from you. What stories did you enjoy the most last year? Which type of column did you not like?  Anything you would like to see more of, or less of? Please let me know.

The Roar

I will be heading to Daytona Saturday for The Roar Before the 24. Look for my coverage on Wildfire Sports. I may have some news regarding Wildfire soon.

2018- Passing Grade for New Aero; Close Points Battle; Talented Rookies

St.Pete set the tone. The racing was going to be better with the new kit. It was going to be a competitive season. A rookie star emerged and would captivate fans. 2018 was all that. That rookie, Robert Wickens, unfortunately didn’t get to complete the year.  Younger stars made a bold statement that they arrived, but the established stars rose to the top at the end, It was one of the most enjoyable seasons. I’ve seen.

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Robert Wickens at Mid Ohio. He finished second in what would be his last complete race of the year.

The Meteor

Robert Wickens stole the pole at the opening race in St. Pete and dominated the race until a lap 108 collision with Alexander Rossi knocked him out of the race. Indycar fans suddenly had a new star to root for. Wickens followed up with a second place finish  at Phoenix after leading the late stages of the race. Five consecutive top tens, including three top fives followed. Then everything came to a horrendous halt in the accident at Pocono. Whether Wickens gets back into a car again is still undetermined. He may miss the entire 2019 season. Despite missing the final three races, Wickens still finished tied for tenth in points and won Rookie of the Year. One of the highlights of last Sunday’s Sonoma finale was seeing a video of Wickens talking to the fans.

The New Aero Package

Two goals of the new aero package were to improve the racing and put the car back in the hands of the drivers. It definitely accomplished the second aim. There was better racing for the most part. Ovals definitely need some more work. Street courses showed the most improvement and road courses had more passing than last year. There is still an aero wash that needs to be tweaked. It’s fun seeing the cars slide through the corners.

A Tight Title Fight

Six different drivers swapped the lead eight times through the Texas race. Scott Dixon took the points lead with his win at Texas and led the rest of the way. His lead ballooned to 62 after Toronto but shrunk to 26 after Gateway. Alexander Rossi was third after Toronto, 70 points behind, but won two in a row at Mid Ohio and Pocono to cut into the lead. Rossi’s last chance to catch Dixon ended in the second turn at Sonoma when he clipped Marco Andretti, cutting a tire and damaging his front wing.

While Dixon’s 57 point final margin seems large, it was not an easy title to win. Dixon, Rossi, Josef Newgarden, and Will Power won three races each, and Ryan Hunter-Reay won twice. This concentration of big points days among a few drivers kept things close.

Dixon’s fifth title puts him into rarefied air. Only A. J. Foyt with seven championships has more than Dixon.

It was a strange route to the championship. Dixon did not win a pole and didn’t lead a lap until the first race in Detroit in June. He had the fewest bonus points of the four main contenders. Dixon dodged two bullets late in the season. He narrowly missed the spinning tub of Wickens’ car at Pocono. At the start of the Portland race, Dixon was involved in a scramble with four other cars, but he suffered no damage and fought back to a fifth place finish.

New teams

Carlin and Harding Racing joined the series full time. Meyer Shank Racing and Juncos Racing had part time entries. All four new teams will return next year with expanded programs. The biggest change for 2019 will be Harding, now Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Carlin is planning on adding a third car. Meyer Shank hopes to participate in ten races next season. Juncos bought a second car but is unsure if it will race during he season.

I will talk about the Harding Steinbrenner team in a post next week.

Rookies Impress

In addition to Wickens, Zach Veach had a string of four consecutive top tens at Toronto, Mid Ohio, Pocono, and Gateway. Veach had run well at times in other races but was plagued by mistakes. He was instrumental in setting up the Andretti cars in testing.

At Sonoma, Indy lights champion Patricio O’Ward got his first Indycar ride with Harding Racing. He got people’s attention with the third quickest lap in Friday’s second practice. He backed that up by qualifying fifth and finishing ninth in the race. O’Ward and Colton Herta will be full time next year for Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

Final Thoughts

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Alexander Rossi at St. Pete. He showed amazing ability to pass anywhere and also had some controversial moments.

Rossi put some spice into several races this year with his charges from the rear. He started 32nd at Indianapolis and finished fourth. At Phoenix he went to the back because of a penalty and came back for a third place finish. At Sonoma he used a timely caution to fight back to seventh and keep second place in the final standings.

Rossi also created some controversy with some moves where contact was involved. the most notorious was was his collision with Wickens at St. Pete. I liked the way he didn’t apologize and just went on driving. Rossi has an old school attitude I really enjoy.

I admire Mike Harding for fielding a team all season on a limited budget. Next year the team should be stronger with added resources.

Thanks to Verizon for their series sponsorship the last five years. I appreciate that unlike other series sponsors, they completed their entire contract length.

Finally, I will continue to send good healing thoughts to Robert Wickens. I hope to see him race again.

 

 

Quick Thoughts- Sonoma Grand Prix and Championship

 

The championship ended before the first lap was over.

Sounded like NBC fumbled the coverage. I hope this isn’t an indication of how next year will be.

Scott Dixon definitely has a place among racing’s legends. Only A. J. Foyt had more championships.

Patricio O’ Ward continued his amazing weekend with a top 10 finish.

Alexander Rossi can pass almost anyone on any track. He might won the title next year.

The race reflected the youth ve. veterans theme of the entire year.Look for my full race recap later this week on Wildfire Sports. I will also have a season review here on Friday.  Thanks for following along this  year.

Quick Thoughts on Sonoma Qualifying

Hunter- Reay may have won the pole but Pato O’Ward was the star of the show. What a great job in his first Indycar weekend.

A non title contender winning the pole helps Dixon and pretty much knocks Power and Newgarden out of contention.

This was Dixon’s best road course qualifying of the year and only his second Fast Six on a natural road course. He could win the championship without winning a pole.

Power regrets not running another lap.

Wind will be a significant factor in the race tomorrow.

 

 

 

Hunter-Reay, Newgarden Lead Day 1 at Sonoma

Ryan Hunter-Reay had the fastest time of the opening day of practice for the Grand Prix of Sonoma. He lead the first session with a lap of 1:17.5742. Josef Newgarden had the quick time in the afternoon session of 1:17.8156. Seven of the ten fastest times of the day were turned in the morning session.  This doesn’t happen often since the red tires are allowed in the afternoon. Newgarden did not turn a lap in the morning session due to a fuel system isdue.

Several drivers talked of high tire degradation, getting just two good laps out of their tires. Shifting winds also factored into the lap times.  No one was overly concerned about today’s times.

The biggest surprise of the day was rookie Patricio O’Ward with the third fastest time in session 2 of 1:18.0073. He set the time early in the session on black tires. It was the sixth best time overall.

Besides Newgarden, the other championship contenders ended the day on the combined charts third (Scott Dixon), fourth (Will Power), and eleventh (Alexander Rossi). Rossi was sixth and eighth in the two sessions.

Quick Thoughts on the Iowa Corn 300

This was the best oval race of the season, maybe the best race of the year to date. The lead was not safe, there were battles for position and lots of passing, both high and low. Cars were going different speeds allowing for separation. There were two on track passes for the lead, including one for the win. I don’t know what more anyone could want.

James Hinchcliffe could have done donuts for thirty minutes if he wanted to. He is the master of the comeback after being knocked down by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2016, the year after his near fatal crash, he won the pole for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. This year he gets bumped, but comes back to win a race.

It was evident early that Hinchcliffe had the fastest car. After the first pit stop, the car was not getting off turn 2 well, but the next stop corrected that problem. Josef Newgarden had a very fast car as well, but not as fast as Hinchcliffe’s. newgarden had the early advantage of track position. Once Hinchcliffe caught and passed him with 45 laps to go, it was game over.

Congratulations to Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot on his first career podium. Pigot drove a smooth race after starting 19th and fought with Hinchcliffe for second after the restart. I have expected great things from Pigot. It seemed something always kept him from getting a good result.

The Finish

I have no problem with the way the race finished. A caution with six laps to go on a larger track may not have been a problem to have a one or two lap shootout. A track the size of Iowa chews up laps quickly even under caution. Jay Frye and Ryan Novak explained their case after the race. They just ran out of time. No team was told that the race was going back to green. Those that pitted did so on their own hoping the race would resume.

Fans are not entitled to a green flag finish, Races end at the scheduled distance. I do not want to see this changed in Indycar.

Cutting Into Dixon’s Lead

Scott Dixon should put a table outside his hauler with a sign reading, “Please Put Your Points Here.”  Alexander Rossi and now Josef Newgarden have given back precious points. Rossi lost 22 points in Detroit Race 2 by trying to stay in front of Hunter-Reay. Newgarden lost the runner-up spot today with the late pit stop costing him eight points. Dixon now leads Newgarden by 33 points, but it could be closer.

None of the contenders  besides Newgarden had a good day.

The Crowd

Attendance seemed to be slightly better than the last two years, but still not great. The buzz is that there will be a race  next year and that it will be a night race. Moving today’s race up a couple hours helped, but I know a lot of people who still could not attend because of work Monday.

Watch for my full race recap on Wildfireradiosports.com on Tuesday.