COTA Qualifying-Quick Thoughts

 

Will Power is trying to pass Mario Andretti’s pole record this season.

Another first round red flag cost Sebastien Bourdais a chance to advance. Has to be frustrating for him, especially since his teammate, Santino Ferrucci, advanced. The red flag to end group 2 may have cost Marco Andretti. Unlike St. Pete, the reds came with less than a minute left in each session, so no one can complain about not having a shot.

I’m not so sure now that the race will be caution free. Turn 19 could be an action packed spot tomorrow.

This rookie class is good. Four of the six advanced to the second round. Felix Rosenqvist was the only to get through to the Fast Six for the second race in a row. He has out-qualified Scott Dixon twice. Rosenqvist had the fastest qualifying lap, 1:45.5 in round 2.

It’s great to see the rookies contending for starting spots at the front every week.

Look for the Power-Rossi front row a lot this season, though not always in this order.

Cars are sliding a lot, which will make for some exciting racing.

Round 2 was one of the best qualifying rounds I’ve seen.

Thank goodness there are no track limits in turn 19. The series might want to move some Porta Potties around, however.

The cars of Pato O’ Ward and Kyle Kaiser look very similar. Doesn’t help that they are numbers 31 and 32.

The race could be 2 hours long at these speeds.

A full qualifying report will be on Wildfire Sports later this evening.

COTA Friday Impressions

Some thoughts from afar:

The track appears to be going all out to make Indycar feel welcome. The $100,000 bonus for winning the race from the pole is something more tracks should consider, perhaps not on that scale if they can’t afford it, but some kind of bonus would be good. COTA is definitely a track where winning from the pole is more likely.

What a great touch having the drivers’ names painted in front of their pit boxes. It’s a nice idea for those in the stands opposite the pits and might help for television.

More engine problems for Honda. I hope they can figure out the cause quickly. Three engines from three different teams shows it’s manufacturer problem.

Colton Herta could be a sleeper this weekend.

I can see the race getting strung out quickly with pit strategy determined by tire wear determining the outcome.

I’m glad race control decide to allow use of the turn 19 runoff area. We could see some crazy moves there.

I watched on NBC Gold for the first time today. I was impressed with the depth of the coverage, especially the shots inside the Harding Steinbrenner garage this afternoon as they threw the car back together.

Tomorrow- I will have Qualifying Quick Thoughts here and a full report on Wildfire Sports.

COTA- Journey to the Unknown

A new race on a new track  increases the intrigue of a race weekend. The NTT Indycar Series is at Circuit of the Americas in Austin this weekend for the inaugural Indycar Classic. I still wonder how a first race is already a classic, but I’m glad to see Indycar race here at last.  The 20 turn, 3.41 mile circuit is a composite of famous features of tracks around the world. Turns 19, 20 and the front straight reflect the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. F1 has raced at COTA since 2012.

Here are some things to look for, and one thing not to do, for this weekend.

First the don’t. Don’t compare this weekends times and speeds to F1. Each series has cars built for different purposes. Of course Indycars will be slower. Just accept it.

Will Rookies Continue to Impress?

Felix Rosenqvist led laps and finished fourth at St. Pete. Two other rookies finished in the top 10. Colton Herta led three of the four test sessions at COTA. Pato O’Ward makes his highly anticipated debut.  I look for another strong showing for this talented crop of rookies. One thing in their favor is that it’s the first race at this track for everyone. Marcus Ericsson has driven here in F1, although how that experience translates to this car remains to be seen.

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Pato O’Ward makes his highly anticipated season debut with Carlin Racing.

Honda Engine Issues Just a Fluke?

For Honda drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay, their engine issues at St. Pete has some concerned that the engine has lost the reliability it had last year. 2017 saw  several Honda engine failures. I’d be surprised if the first race signals a year long trend, but there is cause for concern at the moment.

Hunter-Reay and Bourdais both need a strong showing this weekend to return to the points chase. I think Hunter-Reay will be a factor. Bourdais may qualify well, and should run a steady race.

Will Penske Momentum Continue?

Will Power won the pole and Josef Newgarden won the race in the season opener. Simon Pagenaud finished seventh and feels better about his chances this year. While Penske was just so-so in the test here, don’t bet against this trio. The team will at least win the pole and barring issues during the race should see all three drivers in the top 10.

Andretti Rebound?

Andretti Autosport hoped for better results at St. Pete. Besides Hunter-Reay’s engine failure, Alexander Rossi seemed off pace all weekend, and Marco Andretti had a problem at the start of qualifying. The team tested well here with Rossi leading the final session. The team should have a very strong weekend. Hunter-Reay needs a good finish to stay in title contention, and Rossi should improve on his fifth place in race 1.

Attendance

The track is projecting a race day crowd of at least 30, 000. While that is a decent attendance for an Indycar event,  especially a first time race, the audience will look very sparse inside that huge track.   I hope for tight crowd shots, but the overhead views will show lots of empty places. Despite how the crowd may look, I think 30,000 is a decent number to start from.

Look for my Quick Thoughts here after qualifying and the race. My full qualifying and race reports will be on Wildfire Sports Sunday and Monday.

Qualifying is live on NBCSN at 3 pm ET Saturday.

Race coverage begins at 1 pm ET Sunday on NBCSN. Engines fire at 1:37.

Bold yet inaccurate predictions:

Pole- Rossi

Winner- Rossi

Cautions- 0

Top Rookie finisher- Herta

 

COTA Entry List-O’Ward Debuts

Patricio O’ Ward begins his rookie season at Circuit of the Americas as the NTT Indycar Series visits Austin for the first time.

O’Ward will join the 24 car field for his initial race of the year for Carlin Racing. Kyle Kaiser drives for Juncos in what is to date their only confirmed event. Juncos is expected to enter the Indianapolis 500.

The entry list:

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Watch for a race preview later this week.

Sebring 2019 – A Two World Show

It’s called Super Sebring. The 67th running of the oldest sportscar race in the United States will also feature a 1,000 mile race featuring the World Endurance Championship series. The WEC cars look similar to the IMSA machines with a similar class structure. Most of the drivers who ran at the Rolex 24 will participate this weekend, although some will be in different cars.

The prime example of a driver switching to not only a different car, but the other series, is Fernando Alonso. Alonso was part of the winning Wayne Taylor Racing entry at Daytona. This weekend he drives for Toyota Gazoo in the WEC, his regular job. Toyota Gazoo is the top team in the WEC.

Indycar newcomer Ben Hanley’s Dragonspeed car will race in the WEC series Friday. Teams are not allowed to participate in both races. Jordan King, who drove the road course schedule for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018 and will enter the 500 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, will also drive the WEC event in LMP2 car 37.

Chip Ganassi’s LMGTE Ford entry for Friday has two driver slots listed TBA. There is speculation Ford may leave the GT program at the end of this season.

Indycar Drivers Return to Rolex Teams

Five Indycar regulars who drove in the Rolex 24 return to the same teams for the 67th 12 hours of Sebring. Alexander Rossi will drive car 7 and Simon Pagenaud car 6 for Roger Penske’s Acura team.

Sebastien Bourdais in car 66 and Scott Dixon in 67 again join Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTLM squad.

Colton Herta will again co drive car 25 for the Rahal BMW team.

Kyle Kaiser again drives for Juncos in car 50.

The Meyer Shank car 57 continues its all female lineup with Katherine Legge, Christina Neilsen, and Ana Beatriz. The team was disappointed this week to learn they did not receive an invitation to Le Mans.

The Disappearing Class

There are just two LMP2 entrants for the 12 hour. The class had just four cars at Daytona. As I wondered then, why does this class exist as a separate group? They qualify with the DPi cars and receive little recognition during the race. IMSA very much wants four classes, but they need to have a plan in place to develop the fourth class.

I am eager to see how this double header weekend works out. It will be interesting to compare the cars of the two series. I expect the WEC cars to be faster, but the IMSA racing to be better.

Watch for Updates Here

I will be posting updates all weekend, beginning with WEC qualifying tomorrow. Some will be quite brief.  I will have my Quick Thoughts column after each race. The WEC race ends at midnight, so look for that column Saturday morning (not early).

On Monday my full weekend wrap-u will be on Wildfire Sports.

Quick Thoughts – Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

A typical St. Pete race- action early then strung out the second half.  That’s not to say there weren’t some interesting things to watch. There was some good racing throughout the pack. It was fun to track the rookies, who did quite well.

Another huge crowd here. I talked to someone who has been to every St. Pete race who said this was the biggest crowd he’d seen.

What a great move by Rosenqvist to pass Power on the restart. He was a thorn in Power’s side all day.

Pit strategy once again determined the winner. Tim Cindric made the right call  by saving the new reds. Early in 2018, he made a couple of good calls on tires as well.

There were fewer cautions than I expected. One more could have changed the results.

Three rookies, Rosenqvist, Colton Herta, and Santino Ferrucci finished in the top 10. Marcus Ericsson ran in the top 10 a while before dropping out with mechanical problems. At COTA, Pato O’Ward joins the rookie crop. The battle for Rookie of the Year could be just as good as the championship fight.

Great drive by Jack Harvey to finish 10th.

Given the engine issues Bourdais and Hunter-Reay had, I hope we’re not seeing the Honda engine of 2017 return.

About a fourth of the cars had non functioning LED panels. I hope this is fixable.

It was great having Robert Wickens at the track. his presence electrified the atmosphere for the paddock and the fans. His absence on the track gives the series one less contender.

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Look for my full race wrap-up on Wildfire Sports tomorrow.