Drivers Branching Out- A Good Thing

Photo: James Davison at Indianpolis in 2018

What used to be routine is now causing a stir. Several drivers made  news last week when they announced deals to drive a few races in a series other than their main one. To me, this is not a big deal. Drivers used to be itinerant gypsies, driving several times a week in different kinds of cars.

It wasn’t unusual to see the winner of the Indianapolis 500 in a sprint or midget race three days after collecting his check at the Victory banquet, then heading to Milwaukee the next weekend for another Indycar race. I seem to recall a year when A. J. Foyt led the standings in Indycar, USAC sprints, and USAC midgets. Foyt also won the Daytona 500 and LeMans. Mario Andretti also won Daytona and the F1 world championship. Lloyd Ruby and Dan Gurney had success driving almost anything.

Those days are pretty much gone now, but it seems as if drivers are starting to look for rides in different series again. In the past 12 months, Alexander Rossi has driven in Indycar, the Baja 1,00, and the Bathurst 12 hour race. I like that racers are starting to fill gaps in their schedules with more races. Fans find a newseries they enjoy while their favorite competes inanoher form of racing.

Outside of Indycar, Fernando Alonso left his Formula 1 ride to drive in the World Endurance Championship full time. He also drove for the winning Wayne Taylor Racing entry in the 2019 Rolex 24. Alonso has one Indianapolis 500 start on his resume and will participate n the Dakar Rally.

The most fascinating announcement last week concerned James Davison, mainly because he will have the same sponsor in both the Daytona 500 and at Indy. I think we may be seeing the beginning of a sponsorship trend.

I would like to see more arrangements like this for these two races. It gives potential sponsors two races instead of one. Sponsors also get great exposure from the two largest U.S. events on the racing calendar.  We also get to see a driver run in both NASCAR and the NTT Indycar Series.

To recap last week’s announcements:

Indianapolis 500 veteran James Davison will attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. The effort is part of Jonathan Byrd’s Racing. Byrd’s, led by David Byrd, has paired with Davison the last two years at Indianapolis.  Oilfire Whiskey will be the primary sponsor at Daytona and an associate sponsor in May.

Davison has four start in NASCAR’s Xfinity series, all on road courses. The Daytona 500 will be his first drive in a Cup Series race. Davison has four starts in the Indianapolis 500. He had a career best finish of 12th in 2019.

Dixon Gets a Ride Near Home

Scott Dixon will drive in the Bathurst 12 hour in Australia. In 2019, Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe teamed up in this race. Dixon will drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT3 car sponsored by Castrol. The race is just a week after the 2008 500 winner participates in the Rolex 24 with Wayne Taylor Racing.

After the Indycar opener in St. Pete in March, Dixon will have driven in three different series in seven weeks.

Bourdais, Leist Focus on IMSA

As of now, Sebastien Bourdais will drive full time in IMSA. He may get an Indycar drive or two.

Matheus Leist, who drove for A. J. Foyt Racing the last two seasons, will join JDC-Miller car 85 as the extra driver for IMSA’a four endurance races- the Rolex 24, 12 Hours of Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit LeMans. Leist will not drive for Foyt. I don’t see him getting any Indycar rides except possibly in May. In two Indianaolis 500s, Leist finished 13th in 2018 and 15th in 2019.

Thoughts for Bill Simpson

Safety innovator Bill Simpson suffered a major stroke this weekend. Please keep him in your thoughts.

 

It’s Still the Penske Invitational

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.

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.

Notes

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Quick Thoughts- Indycar Grand Prix

What a great race. It was one of the two best of the year.

Jack Harvey had a great weekend. As I said yesterday, the secret’s out.  This was his third top 10 of the year. Hard to remember this is a part time team.

A great drive today from Matheus Leist was overshadowed by Harvey and Simon Pagenaud.

Ed Carpenter Racing had two cars in the top 10. On a road course.

Attendance was pretty good considering the forecast.

Pagenaud made two incredible passes in the last 6 laps to get by Harvey and Dixon. He said they weren’t planned.

This was a lost weekend for Andretti Autosport. Zach Veach in 12th was the highest finisher for the team. Today followed a poor qualifying yesterday.

Jack Harvey was a delight in the post race press conference. He could barely contain his excitement.

Colton Herta has had a tough go of it since his victory at COTA. Two last place finishes and next to last today. I hope the 500 will be where his luck changes.

A more detailed report will be out tomorrow. Thanks for following along this weekend.