New liveries, All Star drivers, and of course sportscar drama all happened today at the Roar Before the 24. Seeing Alex Zanardi and Fernando Alonso at the same track was thrilling. Hearing Alonso along with his Wayne Taylor Racing teammates talk was another highlight of the day.
The Ganassi GTLM Fords were white, a departure from their red, white, and blue scheme of the past few years. While it made finding the cars difficult at first, the engines still have that distinctive sound. I like the clean look of the car in white.
Team Penske, on the other chose to leave their cars in unpainted carbon fiber. Could a throwback livery be coming for the Rolex? A Mark Donohue Sunoco car would look nice.
Shank’s All Female Lineup Leads Qualifying
GT Daytona had their pit/garage qualifying this afternoon. The 57 Meyer Shank Racing entry with Ana Beatriz driving, ended the session as the fastest driver. Car 71 had the fastest session time but was disqualified for using a Gold rated driver. Only Silver and Bronze rated drivers may participate in the GTD class.
It was great to have a chance to say hello to Simona this afternoon. Nice to get a chance too watch her race again.
An Improvement – Almost
IMSA has changed the class color system this year. I like 75% of it. In previous years both the prototypes and the GTLM cars had numbers on a red field, while the PC and GTD classes had green behind their numbers. Last year with just three classes, both the prototypes and GTLM carried fields and GTD kept the green. I thought that was confusing for the casual viewer/fan. This each class has its own color.
DPi numbers are on a black background, LMP2 digits have blue, GTLM keeps the red, and GTD remains green. While it’s great that each class has a distinct color, I’m not a fan of the black. There are sweven colors in the spectrum. I think IMSA could have made a better choice for DPi.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Programming note- Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will be televised live on CNBC at 3 pm ET and re-aired on NBCSN at 6:30 pm Sunday.
It seems as if Indycar has a news item or two every day lately. Here are a few tidbits.
Mo Nunn died last Wednesday after battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Nunn was the engineer who helped Chip Ganassi’s team first taste success with Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Mike Hul credits Nunn for his current success Ganassi has.
A former Formula 1 driver and team owner, Nunn also owned teams in CART and the IRL. Tony Kanaaan drove for Nunn in CART before going to Andretti Green in 2003.
My friend George Phillips wrote a nice tribute to Nunn on Monday. you can read it here:
The Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will see the return of Jack Harvey in the number 60 Meyer-Shank racing entry. This is a home race for Michael Shank, who is looking to eventually become a full time Indycar team.
Pietro Fittipaldi, recovered from fracturing both legs in a practice accident at Spa two months ago, returns to the 19 car for Dale Coyne Racing. His absence allowed Zachary Claman De Melo toget more time in the car. DeMelo did a nice job. I’d like to see him in a full time ride.
Conor Daly will again be driving for Harding Racing. He took Gabby Chaves’ place in Toronto, giving the team its best qualifying and finishing position of the year. Chaves is still under contract with the team through 2019. He will be back in the car at some point. The team is pleased with the technical information Daly is providing. Harding is hopeful of having a two car team next season.
Rahal Says Steak n Shake May Return
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing owner Bobby Rahal said that Steak n Shake may return as a sponsor of Graham Rahal’s car in the future. The company withdrew this year to redirect funds elsewhere. It would be great to see them back. Steak n Shake did a lot of activation with signs and prerace weekend appearances by Rahal at their restaurants.
Wildfire Sports is My Home for Mid Ohio
I will be reporting for Wildfire Sports this weekend Friday through Sunday. You can find my columns at wildfireradiosports.com.
I will post quick thoughts here and live tweet during the weekend. Follow along on the blog’s Twitter account @PitWindow.
Mid Ohio usually produces some big announcements about the next season. Stay tuned