Indycar Season Preview, Part II: Teams That Should Improve

Here are four teams I think should show improvement over their 2019 performance. They are presented in no particular order.

Meyer Shank Racing

Michael Shank has finally reached his dream of a full time entry in the NTT Indycar Series.  Jack Harvey did well early in 2019 when the team ran virtually every race, culminating in a podium at the Indycar Grand Prix. When the team had a gap before their next race, their performance dropped off. The consistency of a full season will help the team do well in 2020.

Not hurting their chances is the technical alliance with Andretti Autosport. Colton Herta had this same arrangement last year, and he did all right.  Harvey had three top 10s in his first six races. He was 13th in points after the Indianapolis 500. I think he may have moved up a spot or two had he run every race in 2019.

Arrow McLaren SP

On the surface, it appears this team is doing everything the wrong way. They signed a rookie driver and one with eight races of experience. In the process, they fired their most veteran driver. They are bringing in a new engineering staff. Even the ownership has seen a shakeup. In the team’s favor is that all of the new pieces have a lot of talent.

Rookie Oliver Askew is a steady driver. The 2019 Indy Lights champion is  focused and analytical behind the wheel. Pato O’Ward had a roller coaster season bouncing from series to series. I think he will show his appreciation for having a full time ride. Both drivers were in the top 10 at Spring Training.

The third element that will help AMSP is engineer Craig Hampson, who joined the team after working with Sebastien Bourdais. Hampson and Bourdais won several championships together, and the pair gave the Dale Coyne team some relevance. The team may need a race or two to get their footing, but I think they will have enough good results to call their season successful.

From Yesterday- https://thepitwindow.blog/2020/02/27/indycar-season-preview-part-i-coyne-foyt-carlin-look-to-improve/

Rahalk Letterman Lanigan

This group seems to always be looking for consistency. Graham Rahal said on Content Day, “When we were strong at a track, both of ttling battling tus were strong. When we struggled at a track, both of us struggled.”

Takuma Sato was ninth in the final standings and Rahal finished tenth. They are not that far off from moving up in the top 10. Sato won twice and earned two poles. Rahal started on the front row at Barber but was sidelined by mechanical problems. It was a steady season for two drivers who still weren’t satisfied.

RLL should have a few better race results, but moving up in the final standings may be difficult battling the three teams that make up half the grid. Both drivers can win a race and I could see that happening in 2020.

Ed Carpenter Racing

The oval program is solid, especially at Indianapolis. Two spots on the front row last year and three poles in the 500 are a great qualifying record. The team is still looking to improve their road and street course performance. I think they are on their way to doing just that.

The road/street team of Conor Daly and rookie Rinus VeeKay are capable of turning the  team’s fortunes around. Daly seems to make any car he drives better. With a full season at the same team ECR should improve as the year goes on. VeeKay, the Indy Lights runner-up needs to focus his energy and adapt quickly to the nuances of Indycar. He is a talented, consistent driver.

How many more seasons will Ed Carpenter drive the oval races? Only Ed knows that answer. His runner-up finish at Gateway last August shows he isn’t ready to step out of the car yet. I think in a couple of years he will cut back to Indy only, but for now there isn’t any good reason to stop.

A good season for this team on the road courses would be some second round qualifying results and a few top ten race finishes. The talent is there. I can see this team putting it together, especially after Indianapolis.

 

Monday I’ll preview the Big Three. Tomorrow- a summary of all the great news that happened this week in Indycar.

Update with Comments: Meyer-Shank, Harvey Set for Full Time Run

I’m very happy to see Meyer-Shank and Jack Harvey will run the entire season for the next two years.

Michael Shank has set a great example for other fledgling teams of how to build up to a full season. I admire his tireless work to get to this point.

Last year Harvey had good results in the first  part of the season where they ran the majority of their schedule. After the team took a break, they seemed to struggle in the remaining races which were scattered through the last part of the year. I’m hoping the consistency of running every race will provide even better results.

With Meyer-Shank in an alliance with Andretti, this eliminates any chance of another full time car. i wouldn’t be surprised if there is an extra entry for May, though.

Their video is very cool. Welcome to a full season, MSR.

There Is Some Other News

Good morning on the third consecutive day that Roger Penske hasn’t bought anything.  A few other news items actually happened.

Indy Autonomous Challenge

Universities will compete for a $1 million prize in a race for self-driving vehicles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway October 23, 2021. The contest was announced at the SEMA show in Las Vegas.  Teams will use the Indy Lights chassis and develop an autonomous car.

Read the full story here- https://www.indycar.com/News/2019/11/11-05-Autonomous-Car-Event-IMS

While this may be the future of road cars, i hope we never see the 500 become a race for either  autonomous or electric cars . While the race will be intriguing, I would n’t want to see an entire series with these vehicles.

Aeroscreen Cooling the Last Remaining Issue

The NTT Indycar Series Aeroscreen testing has encountered some fortuitous weather during the test sessions.  Barber provided a test of the new protection device in the rain. Tuesday’s test at Sebring allowed the drivers to see how heat will affect the car.

It appears some helmet modifications will occur to get more air to the drivers.

From indycar. com: https://www.indycar.com/News/2019/11/11-05-Aeroscreen-Sebring

From the photos I saw from  Sebring, the aeroscreen is barely noticeable at speed. It will probably stick out more during the pace laps and caution periods.

Open-Wheels 500

An iracing event, the Open Wheels 500, has begun practice. 104 entries will vie for 33 spots in this weekend’s qualifying for next weekend’s race. The Pit Window sponsors next Saturday’s Pit Stop Competition. I will post reports every other day on activities relating to the event.

From race director and Open-Wheels owner Tanner John Watkins:

Open-Wheels.com is hosting a 500-mile race (at Indianapolis) on the popular iRacing Motorsports Simulation. Individuals from around the world (104 in total on this year’s entry list) will attempt to qualify for a spot in the field of 33 this weekend, and those 33 will run a full 500-mile race at iRacing’s scanned Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, November 17.

iRacing has long been considered the most authentic motorsports simulation (not video game) available to the public – primarily due to their laser scanning process that replicates every bump, crack, and characteristic of racing surfaces for our favorite tracks… from Indy, all the way to the Nürburgring.

You can find more information at Open-Wheels.com. Click the OpenWheels 500 tab at the top.

There was some confusion about my post yesterday. I hope this clears things up.

Meyer Shank Announcement Tomorrow

Meyer-Shank racing will announce their 2020 plans tomorrow. Jack harvey should be driving for the team again, which is expected to have an alliance with Andretti Autosport. Meyer Shank planned to run the full season. We’ll find out tomorrow.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Meyer Shank Racing Expands Program to 10 Races with Eye Toward Full Time Schedule

Meyer Shank Racing confirmed Jack Harvey will drive in 10 NTT Indycar series races in 2019 after a  six race program in 2018. Harvey will continue to carry Sirius XM sponsorship. The eam hopes to expand to a full time program at some point.

Harvey will drive in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, his only oval race, and nine street/road course events. The rest of his schedule begins at the opener in St. Pete, followed by COTA, Barber, Long Beach and the Indycar Grand Prix at IMS. Following the 500, The last four he wil run are Road America, Mid Ohio, and the two season ending races at Portland and Laguna Seca.

Shank has purchased a new chassis specifically for use in the 500. The team will once again partner with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“We are extremely excited to be extending our program,” said Harvey “That has always been the goal for 2019 and it is amazing to achieve that and continue to grow what we are doing. I have to thank Michael [Shank], he has put in an immense amount of work and of course thanks to Jim Meyer for his continued support. Without either of those guys, in their own way, I wouldn’t have received the opportunity.”

Harvey’s best finishes last season were 16th at both Indianapolis and Portland.

Juncos Racing, which ran a partial schedule last year, is the only team that has not announced its 2019 Indycar plans.  They are debuting their IMSA program this weekend at Daytona, so new on the Indycar front may not be for awhile.

Carlin Announces Chilton Full Time; Kimball Will Run Partial Schedule

Carlin Racing today confirmed Max Chilton will return as driver of the number 59 car for the 2019 NTT Indycar Series.  The announcement had been expected for quite a while. This will be Chilton’s fourth year driving the Gallagher car. He raced out of the Chip Ganassi Racing team in 2016 and 2017 before moving with teammate Charlie Kimball to Carl;in’s new entry last year.

“I couldn’t be happier to formally announce that Gallagher will be back for the 2019 season partnering with myself and Carlin. Gallagher and Carlin are like family to me and I’m excited to see what we can do together building on both partnerships,” said Chilton. “Our first year together as an IndyCar team had its ups and downs, but the potential and growth that we showed as a team was obvious to everyone. I want to say a massive thank you to Gallagher for their continuing support of me. To have the opportunity to represent the nearly 30,000 employees of Gallagher, a brand that focuses so heavily on teamwork and innovation, is a true privilege.”

Kimball, meanwhile will be back with long time sponsor Novo Nordisk on a part time schedule. His races weren’t confirmed yet. My guess is his schedule will include the Indianapolis 500, Laguna Seca, Mid Ohio, and  one of the March/ April races.  I’m not sure how many Kimball will run. I had heard he had a 70% budget, which would mean he would run about 12 events.

Carlin will have another driver fill in for the remaining to complete the entire schedule. R. C Enerson has tested with the team.

I thought last year it was a bold move for Carlin to plunge into Indycar full time with two cars. They did manage a couple of top 10s. They should see improved resulkts this season.

Tomorrow morning Meyer Shank Racing will announce Jack Harvey’s 10 race schedule for the Indycar season. Watch this spot for news of that announcement tomorrow afternoon.

Quick Thoughts on A Day at the Roar

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.

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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.

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Black is the new black

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.

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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.

Back tomorrow with some photos.

 

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.

 

 

Indycar News and Notes

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

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:

https://oilpressure.wordpress.com/

Mid Ohio Features Return of Three Drivers

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