Richmond Raceway Excited for Indycar Return

Photo: Team Penske car ready for the aeroscreen  test at Richmond Raceway. Josef Newgarden drove the car in today’s sessions. The  aeroscreen looks much better painted. Photo from Team Penske

You could hear the excitement in track president Dennis Bickmeier’s voice as he talked about the NTT Indycar series returning to Richmond Raceway.

“…it’s really exciting to hear the sound of IndyCars going and Richmond Raceway again. A buzz around town, a luncheon around here with some of our invited guests, some of our partners, hopefully some of our potential new partners as well that are getting a glimpse of seeing IndyCars back on the track here at Richmond Raceway after a decade. Certainly exciting. Much quicker than even I anticipated. Again, given my previous history watching open cars around two-mile tracks, this is a different experience.”

“The track has sold tickets to fans in 26 states and two areas of Canada for the June 28 race. After the season ticket renewal period ends, more seats will be available for the Indycar race.

I asked Bickmeier to explain how Indycar’s return to the schedule happened. He  said discussions began in 2018.

“But really it was about trying to find an opportunity in
the schedule. We were open to a lot of different dates.
This June date is more along the traditional date where
IndyCar raced here before. We love this date. It works
well between our two NASCAR races. For us, it really
presents kind of a big cadence to our year as we’re
promoting all of our racing events here at Richmond
Raceway…
one of the most
asked questions I got in the time I’ve been at
Richmond is, When are the IndyCars coming back? I’m
happy to say we’re able to answer that question now.
It really wasn’t that complicated. These guys made it
easy, Jay and the team, to discuss the possibilities of
having IndyCar return. I’m just thankful we were able to
get it all together.”
It looks to be a promising successful event for the series.

Morning Testing Session Focuses on Tires

The morning part of the Richmond test was mainly  dedicated to Firestone tire testing. Today was Josef Newgarden’s first time in the car with red Bull Advanced Technologies Aeroscreen. He found the transition pretty seamless

“It was my first time with the screen. Just getting a feel
for that. It honestly was pretty seamless. Honestly
didn’t feel that different. Perception-wise it was a little
different when I got in. It took maybe 30, 40 laps, after
that you’re used to it. It feels kind of normal at this
point.”
Newgarden said the track was like “a smooth Iowa.”
“I’m hoping a second lane comes in. If it does, I could see it
racing very similar to that place.”
Scott Dixon said the car felt pretty much the way it did at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month. he thinks the oval configuration is fine. Dixon believes lap times may be slightly down because of the added weight, but thinks overal there will be a net zero effect on performance.
The final aeroscreen test will be at Sebring  November 5 with Sebastien Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe driving. The test there will be the closest the series can come to testing on a street course.

Harding Steinbrenner Releases Al Unser, Jr.

Al Unser, Jr. announced in a Tweet this morning that he has been released from Harding Steinbrenner racing. The release is part of the ongoing transition of the team as it becomes part of Andretti autosport. I wish Al well and hope he can find another team with a young driver to help.

 

 

 

Indycar Season Review- Newgarden Reclaims Title and Rookies Shine

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.

wp-15691661470052641739800814825054.png
Felix Rosenqvist edged Colton Herta for Rookie of the Year. Photo: Kyle McInnes

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.

 

 

 

 

Quick Thoughts- Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

I always wish that that there is still one more race after the season ending event. This year it seems I wish that even more. After a race like that, I’m really sad to see this year end.

If it’s September, a Herta is succeeding at Laguna Seca.

I’m not sure what the race looked on television, but here at the track there was lots of action and intrigue. There were great battles at the front of the field all day.

A masterful job by Colton Herta, who has learned how to manage tires. He should be in the conversation for the title next year. It was a nice way to end the season for  his current team.

Great rebound for Felix Rosenqvist after his qualifying penalty. His fifth place finish sealed Rookie of the Year.

Four poles and two wins is an outstanding record for this rookie class. More on the rookies next week.

All seven winners this year won multiple races.

I saw lots of action from my viewing spot in turn 2. It’s another spot here where most of the track can be seen.

Josef Newgarden has two titles in three years. Could he be the next Scott Dixon?

Simon Pagenaud said, “Do not repave the track. Leave it as it is. It creates the perfect racing. I hope nothing changes. It is the perfect format.”

I don’t remember a season when the contenders going into the final race had all had finishes below 15th at some point in the year.

It will be nice to see a car carrying the number 1 again next season. I think it should be mandatory for the champion to carry it on his car the following year.

 

I have lots of people to thank for making this season  a great one for The Pit Window. I will expand on that next week. But today I will thank everyone for reading all season. I still have some big things coming the next few months.

Some photos from today.

IMG_7744

IMG_7732IMG_7716

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

Newgarden: Title Hunt “Far from Over”

Josef Newgarden is glad he is leading the points going into next week’s final race of the NTT Indycar Series by a larger margin than he had before the 2016 finale, but he cautions that the points chase is “far from over with the double points situation.” In a teleconference this afternoon, Newgarden said he feels he controls his own destiny but that Weather Tech Raceway at Laguna Seca is “a wild card event with lots of unknowns.” Although his lead is bigger than it was two years, Newgarden feels the same pressure.

In contrast to Alexander Rossi, who yesterday said qualifying up front will be very crucial for a good result,  Newgarden doesn’t know how important qualifying will be because no one knows how the track will race. He thinks the test day on the Thursday before the race will be telling. Most drivers have not raced at this track.

I asked Newgarden if having a teammate also going for the championship would cause him to change the way he approaches next weekend.  he said, “It would be a mistake to change the way we approach it.” Newga5rden said he and Simon Pagenaud have tried to be fair with each other on the track.

Reflecting on his spin out at Mid-Ohio, Newgarden said, ” I can’t help myself sometimes. My nature is always to go for the higher position.”

While it would be nice for an American to win the title, it is not something Newgarden puts emphasis on. “I’ve always like the great mix of talent from around the world,” he said. He is happy to see young American drivers like Colton Herta enter the series.

The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey is Sunday, September 22 on NBC.

Quick Thoughts- Bommarito 500 Qualifying

Photo: Kyle McInnes

That was a very exciting qualifying session. Any time the pole is decided on the last lap adds drama to the day.

It must have been a great moment for Dale Coyne’s team to have both his cars on the front row for a few minutes.

Disappointed that the NTT IndyCar Series didn’t delay qualifying. and completely clean up the oil dry. The first ten cars to qualify were at a distinct disadvantage. I’m not saying one of them would have won the pole, but a fairer run might have helped them gain a spot or two.

Sanction Ferrucci qualified sixth after leading the early practice session. He was P 1 during qualifying for a few minutes until teammate Sebastien  Bourdais nipped him.

The top ten is a surprise outside of the expected Penskes’s top positions. Both Coyne cars, both Ganassi cars and only one from Andretti fill half of the top of the grid.

Josef Newgarden is in a position to take firm control of the championship tomorrow night. Alexander Rossi needs to get through the first lap cleanly.  Pit strategy will be an important factor in tomorrow’s outcome.

The way today’s action played out is why I prefer a draw or order based on practice speeds for oval qualifying. The series says the order system is part of the consistency they seek. Road and street course groups are based on practice speeds. Wouldn’t it be more consistent to base oval qualifying order on practice speeds as well?

If a title contender were to be one of the first to go out, that could make the race more interesting. Would the series let Newgarden or Rossi or one of the other contenders go out wit oil dry not completely cleaned up?

 

 

 

Newgarden Tops Practice 3

Josef  Newgarden laid down the quickest lap of the weekend in the last few minutes of practice 3 this morning with a time of 1:42.882.  Coton Herta was second 0.35 seconds behind. Will Power had the third best time 0. 38 seconds off Newgarden’ s lap. NTT  Indycar  Series qualifying for the REV Group Grand Prix is at 3:0 pm Central Time.

Yesterday’s session leaders, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, were fourth and fifth respectively. Four rookies finished in the top ten. In addition to Herta, Felix Rosenqvist was seventh, Santino Ferrucci eighth, and Patricio O’Ward tenth.

I am not surprised by the results of this session. Penske cars have been pretty dominant here, and Newgarden and Power were the front row last year. We could see a repeat of that lineup.

I did some more exploring this morning and found two great viewing spots. One is at the top of the inside of turn seven. There is a large bleacher from where you can see turns six and seven plus the beginning of the carousel after the Speedville bridge.

The other location is somewhat secluded with few spectators. I will just say it is an amazing spot to watch from, but I’m not divulging where it is.

Back after qualifying with Quick Thoughts.  Watch for my full report on Wildfire Sports later tonight.

Quick Thoughts- DXC Technology 600k

That turned out to be a fun race at the end. It was a pretty tame race for Texas.

Josef Newgarden has three wins already this season. No one had more than three wins in 2018.  This puts Newgarden in a great position to win a tiebreaker, although should  Alexander Rossi tie him in wins, Rossi has three second places to date.

If Newgarden wins the championship, Tim Cindric should get a big share of the credit. Another brilliant call to pit on the first yellow worked out and brought the car home first. All three of Newgarden’s wins this year can attributed to pit/tire calls by Cindric.

Rossi had a great save to avoid the Herta-Dixon crash. It likely saved his title hopes.

The high line never came in tonight as it usually does. Rossi lost one of his strengths without that second groove.

Graham Rahal had a quiet race, but ends up third.  Glad to see him finally have a good result in what has been a frustrating season for his team.

Remember when crew members wore short sleeves and no helmets? A serious injury or worse didn’t happen on pit lane tonight because of the mandated safety equipment for crew members. That was a scary crash in Sato’s pit. Glad to see the crewman was okay.

Dixon has made race ending mistakes two straight weekends.

It’s a shame that James Hinchcliffe  crashed. He had the drive of the race going until then.

Colton Herta also had a great run going.   He made some incredible moves. A shame his day ended the way it did.

What can we say about Santino Ferrucci? His fourth place tonight  at Texas gives him  three top tens in the last four races. Ferrucci is now leading the Rookie of the Year standings. He has done this rather quietly.  Ferrucci has improved every week.

Zach Veach continues his disappointing season.

Look for my full race report on Wildfire Sports tomorrow.  Next week I take a look at the season at the halfway point.