New Eras and Young Guns- The Future Begins at St. Petersburg

Race weekend is finally here. After a long, eventful off season, Indycar returns with a new series owner, a new advancement in safety, and some rule tweaks. Another great rookie class is waiting for their first round of competition. Several races will host expanded fields.

Two new eras begin tomorrow at 10:45 am when the NTT Indycar Series has its first practice session of the year. The 17th Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the first event with Roger Penske in charge of the series. It also will be the first official session in which the aeroscreen becomes a part of Indycar safety.

The Kids Are Alright

One of the things to watch over the weekend is the young drivers. Last year’s outstanding rookie group and this year’s equally talented first year drivers make up almost a third of the grid for Sunday’s race. The rookie battle between Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay should be fun to watch all season. Alex Palou is the mystery rookie. He is quick, but is he on a team that can get him to the front? Felipe Nasr is new to Indycar, but his F1 and sports car experience should help him find speed quickly. These rookies not only have to battle the veterans, but also the second year drivers who amassed some stellar statistics in 2019. These nine drivers could be considered a class to watch by themselves.

The Aeroscreen and Pit Stops

This weekend will be the first time the aeroscreen is tested under race conditions. How will it affect the car’s handling in traffic? Will passing be easier, more difficult , or about the same? Teams need a couple of races to get a handle on the effects of the new safety attachment.

An extra crew member will be allowed over the wall this season to exclusively tend to the aeroscreen. The crew member can only work on the screen when the rear wheels of the car are off the ground. The duties are limited to tear offs and cleaning the screen.  Since St. Pete is the first race with the aeroscreen, could we see some teams have pit stop issues? I’m sure the teams have practiced the new procedures, but in the heat of competition, things happen. I plan to watch pit stops closely Sunday.

Pit Strategy

The race distance has been shortened to 100 laps this year from the 110 it has been since 2013. 100 laps was the original distance beginning in 2005. I think it was probably done for television purposes. This shouldn’t change the need for three stops, but the timing of the final stop could depend on when the yellows fall. A team that pits late enough could end the race on red tires and have a speed advantage. Normally a team would want to be on blacks at the end of this race.

The Winner

If the recent trend holds, Josef Newgarden will win. His victory last year made him just the third winner since 2015. Juan Pablo Montoya won the first of back to back races in St. Pete then. Sebastien Bourdais went back to back in 2017 and 2018. Newgarden was just the fourth winner of this race to go on to win the series championship. Will Power was the last driver to win both in 2014.

Predictions

The race has had few caution periods for the most part in recent years. Qualifying position is the key to success. The pole winner doesn’t necessarily win, but with the exception of Bourdais’ two victories, starting near the front helps.

When we talk qualifying, we usually mean Will Power. He is the active leader in career poles and won the pole last year.  Look for him to repeat as the top qualifier, but I look for Scott Dixon to finally win at this track.

Schedule Changes

It is possible the schedule may be adjusted during the weekend. I will keep you posted on any changes that occur. If you’re coming to the race, stay safe and wash your hands.

Hinchcliffe Joins NBC Broadcast Team

James Hinchcliffe will be part of the NBC motorsports broadcast team this year, beginning with the NTT Indycar Series season opener in St. Pete. Hinchcliffe has what is now a three race deal with Andretti Autosport todrive in the GMR Grand Prix, the 104th Indianapolis 500, and the Genesys 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

He will serve as a driver analyst on pit road at St. Pete, Long Beach, Toronto, and Laguna Seca in addition to working as a part of NBC’s coverage in the week prior to the Indianapolis 500. Hinchclffe will also be part of the team covering select IMSA races beginning with the Sebring 12 hour March 20-21.

From Earlier: Season Preview Part I

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/90591962/posts/2604485664

Hinchcliffe will also work on the broadcast of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4th weekend. Additional duties include Indy Lights commentary on NBC Gold.

I think this can only enhance NBC’s coverage. Hinchcliffe was in the booth in 2015 while recovering from injuries in a practice accident at Indianapolis. He was a huge hit with the fans. He also had a few great experiences on Wind Tunnel.

It’s Rolex 24 Race Day

Photo: Oliver Jarvis in the 77 Mazda leads the field to the green flag at 1:40 today.

The 2020 racing season gets underway this afternoon as the 58th Rolex 24 begins.  A Mazda is on the pole and the question is can Mazda keep running for 24 hours.  I look for a strong challenge from Penske Acura. The 6 car looks especially strong. Wayne Taylor Racing, in their first race without either of t Taylor brothers driving, could be a factor also.

The weather looks to be dry with moderate temperatures. After last year’s deluge., dry and mild is very welcome.

In GTLM, it  could be a battle between the Porsches. They traded the lead back and forth in qualifying. A Lamborghini will win the GTLM class.

I hope  to report every six hours.

The NBC network group has 16 hours of coverage. NBC shows the start and finish. Coverage is also on NBCSN and the NBC app. The app costs $19.95 for the entire IMSA season.

Indycar Modifies Push to Pass

Indycar has changed Push to Pass. The new system prevents other teams from knowing when a driver attempting to pass uses the system.

The details are in this article on Racer.com

https://racer.com/2019/12/27/indycar-tweaks-push-to-pass/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

I like this idea. Push to Pass has become Push to Defend more often than not. While I hope the new hybrid technology eliminates the use of this entirely this modification should make more passing possible.

Indycar’s Top Stories of 2019

Photo: Indycar

From the NTT Indycar Series:

Top INDYCAR Stories of 2019

INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 18, 2019) — While INDYCAR enjoyed several intriguing stories during this year’s NTT IndyCar Series season, the blockbuster came after the season when Roger Penske announced that Penske Corporation would be acquiring Indianapolis Motor Speedway, INDYCAR and additional Hulman & Company holdings.

The November announcement was no doubt the most captivating story of 2019 for INDYCAR, but it also ranked among the top stories in all of motorsports with its worldwide interest.

Tony Hulman purchased the Speedway in dilapidated condition in November 1945 and turned it into one of the world’s most iconic sporting venues. Over the past 75 years, Hulman and his family have reshaped the facility and hosted Indy cars, NASCAR, Formula One, MotoGP, major golf tournaments and concerts, among other events.

The official sale is scheduled for early January and most expect the impact Penske will have on the sport and the famed track in the future could be even greater than his record 18 Indianapolis 500 victories.

With the Penske acquisition news leading the way, here’s a look at INDYCAR’s top stories of the year:

  1. Penske acquires IMS, INDYCAR: Tony George, Hulman & Company’s Chairman of the Board, said he first approached Roger Penske about buying the company’s assets on the final day of the NTT IndyCar Series season, which was Sept. 22 in Monterey, Calif., at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Private, highly confidential meetings were held over the next six weeks, with only a handful of executives included in the negotiations. Penske seemed genuinely pleased that one of the biggest secrets in motorsports history held until the deal was formally announced Monday, Nov. 4, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
  2. NBC airs its first Indianapolis 500, becomes exclusive home of the NTT IndyCar Series: The 500 had been on ABC since 1965, so that alone made the switch to NBC newsworthy. But NBC also significantly increased exposure for the NTT IndyCar Series through its first of a multiyear deal. Eight races were shown live on network television, three more than in 2018, and fans enjoyed action of all on-track activity via NBC Sports Gold, a leading direct-to-consumer product. Another positive was the inclusion of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in NBC’s “Championship Season” marketing campaign.
  3. NTT joins as the series’ title sponsor: The signing of a multiyear agreement with the global information technology and communications leader was executed in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The agreement affords INDYCAR the opportunity to benefit from NTT’s digital innovations, including the evolution of the INDYCAR Mobile App and integration of NTT’s proprietary Smart Platform.
  4. INDYCAR introduces Aeroscreen, hybrid technology: INDYCAR announced a partnership with Red Bull Advanced Technologies during the Indy 500 race weekend for the development and implementation of an Aeroscreen for enhanced driver cockpit protection. The safety innovation, which will make its competition debut at the outset of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, consists of a ballistic Aeroscreen anchored by titanium framework that encompasses the cockpit. The Aeroscreen had its first on-track test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Team Penske’s Will Power, who both considered the initial outing a success. Other tests followed at Barber Motorsports Park, Richmond Raceway and Sebring International Raceway. The Aeroscreen has been described by INDYCAR President Jay Frye as “a game-changer.” For 2022, INDYCAR, in partnership with Chevrolet and Honda, will implement a single-source hybrid system in its race cars. In keeping with INDYCAR’s history of integrating innovation into the sport, the hybrid powertrain will mark the first time that vehicles will depart from the traditional, manual hand-held electric starters to a hybrid component that can be activated by the driver from the cockpit. Additionally, engines are targeted to exceed 900 horsepower.
  5. Pagenaud has a history-making Month of May in Indianapolis: For the first time, the same driver won all three major Indianapolis Motor Speedway events in May: the INDYCAR Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 pole and the 500 itself. In the 500, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud led 116 of the 200 laps and outdueled Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport in the final laps to become the first Frenchman to win the race since Rene Thomas in 1914. Pagenaud also became the first pole winner to win the 500 since Helio Castroneves in 2009.
  6. Juncos/Kaiser bump McLaren/Alonso from Indianapolis 500 field: Who imagined Fernando Alonso, a two-time Formula One World Champion who ran so well in the 500 in 2017, failing to earn a spot in his return? Or revered McLaren, which came to Indy with its own program for the first time in this era of the sport, also going home early with Alonso? But the orange No. 66 Chevrolet was in a precarious position in the final minutes of qualifying, and Kyle Kaiser, driving for the small, part-time Juncos Racing team, ran four laps fast enough to make the show in a thrilling David-vs.-Goliath matchup.
  7. Newgarden wins four races, captures second series championship: Josef Newgarden won a season-high four races en route to his second series crown in three years with Team Penske. He also joined Sam Hornish Jr. as the only Americans to win multiple series crowns since Al Unser Jr. in 1994. Newgarden jumped to the top spot in the standings by winning the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and relinquished the position only once – after Simon Pagenaud won the 500 – to effectively go wire-to-wire against a strong field.
  8. History-setting Herta leads stout rookie class: Colton Herta of Harding Steinbrenner Racing made the first emphatic statement by winning the season’s second race, the inaugural INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas, to become the youngest race winner in INDYCAR history at 18 years, 11 months, 25 days. Herta added another victory in the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Felix Rosenqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing won the season’s Rookie-of-the-Year Award on the strength of two top-three and six top-five finishes while the Indianapolis 500’s top-finishing rookie, Santino Ferrucci of Dale Coyne Racing, produced three fourth-place finishes in addition to a seventh at Indy. Marcus Ericsson of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports finished second in the second Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix race while Carlin’s Pato O’Ward put on a show at COTA in finishing eighth. Ben Hanley of DragonSpeed, a part-time team making only its third INDYCAR start, delivered a strong effort at the 500, qualifying 27th.
  9. McLaren, SPM merge, hire O’Ward and Askew: McLaren, with its Formula One pedigree and rich history, announced in August its full-time return to Indy car competition in a partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The team was rebranded Arrow McLaren Racing SP and also announced a partnership with Chevrolet. More change followed with the 2019 driving tandem of James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson being replaced by Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, the two most recent series champions of Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires. At 23 and 20 years, respectively, Askew, the 2019 champion, and O’Ward, the ’18 champ, form the youngest pairing in the series.
  10. Rossi re-signs with Andretti Autosport: The 28-year-old Alexander Rossi could have become a highly sought-after free agent with a number of enticing options, but he decided to re-sign with Andretti Autosport in July. In addition to announcing a multi-year deal with Rossi, Andretti Autosport also announced a renewal with Honda. The Rossi-Honda tandem was strong in 2019, with the Californian finishing third in the NTT IndyCar Series championship, which was the top finish for the engine manufacturer. He also delivered dominating wins at Long Beach and Road America, leading an impressive 134 of the combined 140 laps, and a runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Thoughts

I have no argument that these afre the top stories. I would have put the Herta story 5th and moved the Pagenaud story to 7th. The others I think are appropriately ranked. Let’s face it. The top story should have been 1, 2,and 3.

Quick Thoughts- Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

I always wish that that there is still one more race after the season ending event. This year it seems I wish that even more. After a race like that, I’m really sad to see this year end.

If it’s September, a Herta is succeeding at Laguna Seca.

I’m not sure what the race looked on television, but here at the track there was lots of action and intrigue. There were great battles at the front of the field all day.

A masterful job by Colton Herta, who has learned how to manage tires. He should be in the conversation for the title next year. It was a nice way to end the season for  his current team.

Great rebound for Felix Rosenqvist after his qualifying penalty. His fifth place finish sealed Rookie of the Year.

Four poles and two wins is an outstanding record for this rookie class. More on the rookies next week.

All seven winners this year won multiple races.

I saw lots of action from my viewing spot in turn 2. It’s another spot here where most of the track can be seen.

Josef Newgarden has two titles in three years. Could he be the next Scott Dixon?

Simon Pagenaud said, “Do not repave the track. Leave it as it is. It creates the perfect racing. I hope nothing changes. It is the perfect format.”

I don’t remember a season when the contenders going into the final race had all had finishes below 15th at some point in the year.

It will be nice to see a car carrying the number 1 again next season. I think it should be mandatory for the champion to carry it on his car the following year.

 

I have lots of people to thank for making this season  a great one for The Pit Window. I will expand on that next week. But today I will thank everyone for reading all season. I still have some big things coming the next few months.

Some photos from today.

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