Indycar Drivers’ Licenses and Thoughts on the Mad Silly Season

Catching up on a few items from Indycar over the past week:

Last week Indycar in conjunction with the five year plan for Indy Lights, introduced a procedure to obtain an Indycar driver’s license. The criteria grants automatic eligibility to drivers who race in Formula 1 or NASCAR or have a predetermined level of success and/or experience in other series.

Indy Lights drivers become automatically eligible by finishing in the top three in one full season or the top five over two full seasons. Drivers in other series can get a license by accumulating a set number of points over a two year period.

The license criteria allows for exceptions. Among this season’s drivers, Robert Wickens is an example of someone who would have needed an exception and most likely would receive one based on his experience. Santino Ferucci likely would not have gotten a license.

The point values  and criteria for exceptions have not been announced.

I like that Indycar is implementing this system. It should strengthen the grid. Will it prevent ride buying? Not necessarily. It might actually force owners who rely on ride buyers to hunt for sponsorship on their own. Another possible consequence is a case where an owner needs a driver to bring money, but that driver isn’t eligible for a license. How will that exception be handled? Could it cost the grid a car? Would that owner have to sit out?  Like the Road to Indy five year plan, this is still a work in progress, but it is a step in the right direction.

The Three Headed Silly Season- Drivers, Teams, Tracks

Usually Silly Season is all about drivers. This year it is about drivers, teams, and tracks. The one key driver is Scott Dixon, who is a free agent at the end of the season. Will he stay at Ganassi, take what’s rumored to be a gigantic offer from McLaren, or move to Team Penske, as Robin Miller mentioned on the NBCSN Mid-Ohio broadcast?  My guess is he sticks with Ganassi. The McLaren money is untouchable by anyone else, but there are a lot of unknowns with a new team. Dixon at Penske would sap a lot of the rivalry out of the series.

 

Which shade of orange will Scott Dixon wear next season?

Team Shuffles?

Andretti Autosport is planning on having McLaren bring two cars to Indycar next and assumes McLaren  will be in a technical partnership with AA. That would give Andretti eight drivers. Meanwhile, Harding Racing is looking for a technical partner, possibly with Andretti. Two Andretti cars could become a part of Harding’s stable along withe the potential two cars Harding plans to run next year. Got all that? This would give Andretti full or partial control of one third of the grid.

I admire Harding and Juncos Racing going alone this year. A partnership with an established team would help speed their development. However I think eight is too many cars for one owner to have a hand in. I have thought for years Andretti Autosport was spreading itself too thin, yet they keep producing results.

Belardi Racing is looking to expand its entry beyond the 500 next year. Belardi was affiliated with A.J. Foyt Racing for the 500 this year. the car was driven by James Davison. They are also looking to expand their Indy Lights program. This is what more Indycar owners need to do- have an Indy Lights program and develop a driver in their system. It would instantly give more value to a ride in Lights.

The Schedule

We know a little about the schedule from track announcements and an assist from the recently released IMSA schedule. It’s what we don’t know that is preventing a final announcement.

What replaces Phoenix in the Spring? I can’t imagine the series would go dark for five weeks from the St. Pete opener  March 10 to April 14 at Long Beach. The gap to Phoenix was too long at three weeks. With Iowa moving to July 20, does Mid Ohio keep its date the following weekend?

Speaking of Iowa, great news that this will be a Saturday night race again. The racing has always been better there at night.

While Belle Isle got the go ahead from the advisory committee, the race is not officially on until the Michigan department of Natural resources approves it. IMSA has their Belle Isle event listed as tentative on their schedule.

Is there another new track coming on board? Mark Miles has said there will be 17 races again.

The IMSA schedule shows the sports car series at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca the week before the Indycar finale there. I don’t understand how either event will draw much of a crowd. Two major events on back to back weekends cannot help a track’s bottom line. The only remedy would be a discounted combo ticket or a season pass. This sounds iffy for a good crowd at the Indycar finale.

Notes

Colton Herta had his first Indycar test at Portland  with Harding Racing.

Sportscar driver Colin Braun has expressed interest in getting an Indycar ride for next year. The announcers on the IMSA telecast said he would be testing a car. I don’t think he has one scheduled at the moment.

Another sportscar team, Dragonspeed (not Jay Penske’s outfit) is also interested in forming an Indycar team.

With all the expansion planned by current teams and all the possible new entries, the grid could be quite crowded next year. realistically, probably not all of these will pan out, but I do look for a larger grid and even more entries at Indianapolis in 2019.

Race Day- Honda Indy 200

Good morning race fans. This afternoon’s race at Mid Ohio could be an action packed affair. If the trend of cars going off track that we saw in practice and qualifying continues, we could see several full course yellows.  Depending on when cautions occur, they could have a big effect on pit strategy. A yellow on lap 6 is different than one on lap 15, which would be the start of the first pit window.

Things to Watch For

How much if any will points positions two through five change? How big will  Scott Dixon’s lead be after the race? Dixon still has a chance to win from ninth.  Alexander Rossi looks to become the third multiple race winner this season.

If the race is caution free, who does that favor? Team Penske is known for their great pit work, and Tim Cindric has made some great calls getting Josef Newgarden in the pits at the proper time. however, there have been times at Mid-Ohio when Team Penske has stayed out too long and been caught by a  full course caution. We might see some teams playing it very close to the vest on pit windows.

How will Max Chilton perform from Carlin’s best starting spot? Charlie Kimball finished fifth for the team at Toronto. Can the team keep its momentum?

How will Pietro Fittipaldi do in his first race since his injury?

Can Graham Rahal move up and contend in his home race? His victory in 2015 was a very popular one.

Some Good Schedule News

Iowa will be a Saturday night race again in 2019.  The race is scheduled for July 20, two weeks later than the date it has held. I think we will see a lot of races with new dates next year.  I also heard Detroit may not be the week after the 500.

Quick Thoughts on Mid Ohio Qualifying

Alexander Rossi is the master of the banzai one lap qualifying run. Similar to his pole at Watkins Glen, Rossi waited until he last possible moment to get in one flying lap.

The red flag plague continued in qualifying. Hinchcliffe’s incident probably cost Scott Dixon and maybe one other driver a chance at the Fast Six.  My thought is if you see a trend developing, stay ahead of it. Bourdais’ accident in Round 1 should have served as a warning. get your laps in an don’t wait, especially on a weekend like this.

Great for Carlin and Max Chilton getting their first trip to the Fast Six. Chilton said that testing here helped. Carlin will test at every remaining track except Pocono.

Rossi has three poles this season. He won Long Beach from the pole and was in position to win at Detroit until Ryan Hunter-Reay forced him into a mistake. He should be strong tomorrow.

The red flag stoppages the last two days point to some full course cautions tomorrow. Pit strategy may decide the winner.

Rossi said he knew the tires had just one lap in them. I’m sure it was nerve wracking waiting considering the session could have been stopped before he went out.

A full qualifying story will be up later tonight on

wildfireradiosports.com

 

Mid Ohio Qualifying Day

Welcome to Day 2 at Mid Ohio. Indycar practices at 10 am and then qualifying begins at 1:35. The qualifying session will be carried live on NBCSN beginning at 1:30.

Drivers are hoping for an uninterrupted practice session this morning. Scott Dixon said last night that he was hampered by the red flags in really finding speed.in yesterday’s start and stop sessions.

The track has added some new features this year. First, the main entrance road up to the infield bridge has been repaved.  A new Victory podium has been built. There is a new digital scoring pylon located in turn 6, which doubles as a Verizon cell tower. See the photos below.

I will be back here later with some quick thoughts on qualifying. My full report on the day will appear on Wildrieradiosports.com later tonight. I also posted my Day 1 summary on wildfire last night. Check it out.

IMG_4007
The new Victory Lane Podium at Mid Ohio
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The scoring pylon and cell tower

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

 

A Home Game for SPM Drivers- Honda Indy Toronto Preview

Photo above from Honda Indy Toronto website

The Verizon Indycar series makes its only trip outside the United States this weekend in Toronto. James Hinchcliffe gets to race at home coming off his victory in Iowa. Teammate Robert Wickens also can claim Toronto as his home track. Look for great results from this pair this weekend.  With Zachary Claman DeMelo also in the field, this is the first time in several years that three Canadian drivers have been in this race.

Indycar has had a long history at Exhibition Place beginning in 1986. The race was off the calendar in 2008, but returned the next year following the merger. This was one of the venues where double headers took place in 2013 and 2014.  Michael Andretti won at Toronto seven times, including three sets of back to back wins in 1991 and 92, 1994 and 95, and 2000 and 2001.

Active drivers who have won previously are Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, and  Scott Dixon. Power leads active drivers with three wins. Newgarden and Dixon each have won twice. Dixon swept the 2013 doubleheader for his two victories.

The event has the buzz of Indy about it, making it a fun race to attend. After track activity, there is Toronto to explore. This race is definitely worth a trip. Public transportation makes it easy to get to.

Does Honda Street Course Domination Continue?

Hondas have dominated on street circuits this season. Power has had the strongest Chevy on the streets with two seconds and a seventh place finish. He has qualified second twice and third once. Newgarden has not qualified well and although he has three top ten finishes, he hasn’t really been a factor in any of the street events.

Honda has won the pole for all four street races.  Alexander Rossi has won two poles.  This trend should continue. Hondas seem to like tracks with slow corners and short straightaways.

A Great Weekend for the Home Team?

The momentum SPM and Hinchcliffe have from winning Iowa and Honda’s strength on this type of track point to a great weekend for the team. Robert Wickens excelled at St. Pete and is one of the favorites to win his first career Indycar race Sunday.  Wickens has been in contention in most races this season and will be a factor on race day.

Indy 500 2018 190

Robert Wickens is one of the favorites for his hometown race. Photo: Mike Silver

Can Dixon Extend His Points Lead?

We are in the part of the season where points are as important as who wins the race. Dixon’s big lead suffered a slight drop last Sunday, but not enough to put his spot in jeopardy. It would be a shock if he had two bad races in a row. I’m not sure if he’ll extend his lead, but he may have a different runner-up chasing him to Mid-Ohio.

Is the Duel Back On?

My picks- Rossi on pole and Wickens winning the race. In a perfect world, they will both start on the front row. Rossi and Wickens could develop into a great rivalry with their different driving styles. Rossi has gained a reputation for his aggressive, unapologetic style on track, while Wickens drives steadily and doesn’t push the envelope.

Daly to drive for Harding

Conor Daly will drive the 88 Harding car this weekend, replacing Gabby Chaves. In a statement from Harding the team states they are looking to audition drivers for a second car next year and want some fresh input on the car. They are also looking at some Indy Lights drivers. Chaves will be back in the car at some point this season has a contract for 2019 with Harding.

Look for my Toronto recap on wildfirradiosports.com early next week. I will catch up on Indycar news in this space mid week, and I plan to have a feature story on a n historic turning point in 500 history.

Tires, Heat, and Hondas after Sundown- Texas 2018

Remember a few years ago when Texas decided to have twin races on the same night? Last night’s one scheduled race at Texas was two races in one, as Scott Dixon and the other Honda teams came to life after the sun set . Team Penske Chevrolets had swept the first three spots in qualifying and led early, but tire issues affected all three cars. Pole sitter Josef Newgarden and teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud had to make early stops to replace blistered tires. Only Pagenaud would be contending at the end.

Dixon, Robert Wickens, and Alexander Rossi showed speed early, and when the Penske cars faded they went to the front. The cooling track favored the Hondas. Pagenaud came back to finish second, fighting off a strong challenge from Rossi. Newgarden faded to 13th, three laps down, and Power crashed into Zachary Claman de Melo just past the 200 lap mark and ended in 18th.

The results again shook up the point standings. Dixon now leads Rossi by 23 points and Power is 36 behind. The fight for the championship will continue until the end. This is a fun battle. Dixon is the third different leader since the 500.

Thoughts and Notes

The early part of the race was processional and not very interesting, but as the track cooled it became turned into a good show. I think the oval aero package needs a tweak or two, hopefully by Pocono.

I appreciate Indycar’s mandate that cars had to use scuffed tires on their first three stops. This is a much better plan than last year requiring a stop every 30 laps.

Rossi and Wickens can pass anyone, anytime, anywhere. These two continue to be the highlight of every race. Rossi had passed more than 50 cars halfway through the race. Wickens looked to have the fastest car of the night, but Ed Carpenter collided with him as Wickens tried to pass on the low side. I still think Wickens will catch a break and win a race this year. Hard to believe he hasn’t broken through yet.

Rossi apparently learned his lesson from Race 2 in Detroit as he conceded second to Pagenaud in the last few laps. Pagenaud came on strong after getting his last set of tires and Rossi’s car didn’t seem to work as well in the high groove as it did early in the race.

Tire wear seemed to affect the Penske cars more than it did the rest of the field.

The pack race many feared never developed. There was, however, some good close racing throughout the field.

Newgarden was the points leader after barber, but now is fifth in points with three finishes outside the top ten in the five races since May.

Good for Ed Carpenter and Will Power for admitting that their mistakes caused the crashes.

It was very cool to see Rossi go to Pagenaud after the race and shake his hand. That was a great battle for second.

Dixon, Power, and Newgarden have each won twice this year.

Pagenaud and James Hinchcliffe, who finished fourth, both needed good results. They had been struggling this season.

Scott Dixon now has 43 victories and now is third on the all time list behind Mario Andretti and A. J. Foyt. Enjoy watching this new legend race while you can. I think with another win or two this season, Dixon has a shot at passing Mario.