Indycar Grid Update and Other News

This is the post I was going to write earlier this week before something happened. I think this should be safe until next week or longer, I hope. The good news is the NTT Indycar Series grid for 2020 is nearly full. The bad news for drivers on the outside is the grid is nearly full. Here is a team by team look  at where things stand.

Chevrolet Teams

Penske– All set with the same lineup as last year- 2019 champion Josef Newgarden, 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power.

Carpenter- Nothing confirmed for either car except for Ed Carpenter running the ovals. I expect Spencer Pigot to return to the 21. The road course races for the 20 could go to Rinus Veekay, although he is seeking a full time seat. Would Carpenter consider a full time car for VeeKay and run the 20 just on ovals?

Carlin- Nothing solid at Carlin yet. Will Max Chilton be back for just the road/street courses?  Can Charlie Kimball get a full time budget? Who else might be in the mix? Ed Jones, Matheus Leist, and Conor Daly are some of the available talent.

Foyt- Tony Kanaan will be in the 14 for his final full time ride in Indycar. The seat in the 4 car is still open. It likely won’t be Leist again. Right now this ride is wide open.

AMSP- Plenty has been written about this team this week. Their lineup is set with Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew, the last two Indy Lights champions.  I expect expansion team type results from them next year.

Dragonspeed- The team is hoping to run 10 races next season, which may be optimistic. Ben Hanley is their main driver, although someone with money could drive in some races for them. The team is expanding their sports car program in both WEC and IMSA.

Honda Teams

Andretti Autosport- The armada returns with an expanded lineup. Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, and Zach Veach all return. They are joined by Colton Herta as Harding- Steinbrenner has been absorbed by Andretti.

Meyer-Shank – Jack Harvey hopes to run a full season in 2020. the team will have a technical alliance with Andretti.

Ganassi- The team has expanded to three full time entries. Scott Dixon and 2019 Rookie of the Year Felix Rosenqvist return. Marcus Ericsson will drive the third entry. Don’t look for a fourth car except maybe for the 500.

Coyne- Sebastien Bourdais stays in the 18. It appears the team is close to completing a deal with Santino Ferrucci to return to the 19. I don’t think the Hinchcliffe situation changes anything here.

Rahal- Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato are set. Everyone’s attention is focused on the third car which doesn’t yet exist. Will it come into being for James Hinchcliffe? I’m not sure enough money can be put together by the parties concerned.

As of today there are 20 solid full time cars. The question marks are Carlin and Meyer-Shank. I’m not counting the 4 car at Foyt, either.

Cara Adams Promoted at Bridgestone/Firestone

Congratulations to Cara Adams. In a press release from Bridgestone, Adams is now  “…director, race tire engineering & production, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO) and Firestone Racing. In this expanded leadership role, Adams will oversee the entire race tire production process – from product design and development through manufacturing and management – in support of the Firestone brand’s role as sole tire supplier of the NTT IndyCar® Series.”

Cara is one of the hardest working people in the paddock, but she always has time to answer a quick question.

Schmidt: “An Opportunity That We Couldn’t Pass Up.”

Sam Schmidt explained why the newly formed Arrow McLaren SP team decided to go with Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew  for 2020 and let James Hinchcliffe go.

“…it’s a gut-wrenching decision, but we were faced with an opportunity to pick up these two young guns coming out of Indy Lights that already have 13, 14, 15 years worth of experience…” Schmidt said.

Hinchcliffe is still under contract, which the team will honor. If Hinchcliffe needs a release to drive for another team, it will be granted. Schmidt has no doubt that he will find a ride somewhere.

Robert Wickens is still part of the team as a consultant and driver coach. The car number 6 is still reserved for him, and Schmidt expects him at the majority of races next season. AMSP still has rights to the numbers 5 and 7, but hasn’t determined which driver will will have which number. No decision has been made on who will drive in next week’s aeroscreen test at Sebring.

The drivers are looking forward to their opportunities.  O’Ward has run eight Indycar races and Askew debuts at St. Petersburg. O’Ward is excited to restart in Indycar with a newly organized team.

IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas

Pato O’Ward at Sonoma in his Indycar debut. Photo: Stephen King, Indycar

“I think we’re going to make a really good  team. We’re both hungry for all the success. I think at his point both the team and we are growing, we’re
starting a new chapter in our careers and I think thesky’s the limit. So we’re going to be pushing, pushing, pushing and I know that with hard work and really
dedicating lots of time and thinking into our future and into our season we should be, we should definitely be up there,” O’Ward said.
askew
Oliver Askew at Indianapolis. Photo from OliverAskew.com
Askew added, “I’m very excited to be partnering with Pato for 2020. I think we both get along very well and we have a very, like you said, a very similar driving background and very similar driving style coming from the Indy Lights car and working with Andretti Auto Sport as well. Our — we have the same drive to be successful, as does the team, and we plan on working very closely with one another to help each other grow and help each other get better in the series.”
The team plans to run a third car at the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 as they have done for the past 12 years. Fernando Alonso “remains an option” but nothing is confirmed.

My Thoughts

AMSP could be an exciting team to watch in 2020. We have an idea of what O’Ward can do, and I’m interested to see how Askew adapts to Indycar.

The team has a lot of PR work to do with the fans. I think they could have handled the Hinchcliffe situation better, but this is a business, and tough personnel decisions happen a lot.

McLaren especially needs to demonstrate that they can run an Indycar team properly after last year’s Indianapolis debacle.

While Schmidt seemed to be the team’s lead spokesman during the teleconference today, I still wonder how much he and Ric Peterson will be involved in 2020 and beyond. I’d feel better if their names were more a part of the the team name and logo.

An Arrow Through the Heart

I just love it when I have an article in mind and have to do a 180 degree spin in the middle of a turn. As I began setting up my post on the current status of the 2020 NTT Indycar Series grid, the grid experienced a seismic change. James Hinchcliffe, one of the most popular drivers in the paddock, lost his seat at Arrow McLaren SP. The team will announce Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward as their drivers for next season. The news from Racer magazine’s Marshall Pruett and Robin Miller around 9:15 Monday night sent an earthquake of outrage through the Indycar fan community.

There have been whispers since Labor day that Hinchcliffe’s job was in jeopardy. The rumors persisted despite team owner Sam Schmidt saying at Portland that Hinch would be back with the team.  Everyone knew Marcus  Ericsson would not be back and that the team was interested in O’Ward. In the last month, Askew entered the picture.  My thought was they will pick one of the two rookies and keep Hinch for his experience.  Now, we have essentially a combined new team consisting of  McLaren, which didn’t qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 2019 and Arrow Schmidt Peterson, which barely squeaked in.

Hinchcliffe’s choices of a ride are very limited.  His Honda choices are cars that  currently don’t exist. Dale Coyne looks committed to Santino Ferrucci’s return in the 19. Coyne has said he will not run a third car and is not interested in an alliance. Ganassi has talked about a part time  fourth car. I’m not sure that interests Hinchcliffe. Rahal has third car in mind but is still looking for funding.  Hinchcliffe and Honda Canada probably don’t have enough money to pull that deal together. Will HPD help? Rahal seems like the best fit at this moment on the Honda side. Hinchcliffe needs to stay in a Honda car for a couple reasons I’ll discuss in a minute.

Chevy rides available are Carlin, Foyt, and the Ed Carpenter road course only car. None of these rides are great options for him other than keeping Hinchcliffe in the series.

The Honda Indy Toronto may take a bit of a hit without a Canadian driver on the grid. Hinchcliffe’s contract with Honda Canada and his Honda commercials in the United states are also on the line here. On a fan basis, Hinchcliffe is a good river who can races, he’s generous with is time, and ha a sense of humor the paddock and the fans enjoy. He has always taken time to talk to me and i appreciate his time.

Conor Daly may be squeezed out of the paddock again. He was looking to be the last driver left with a decent amount of experience.  Now there is a six time race winner on the market who has had a full time ride for several years.

I really like O’Ward and Askew. I hope they have  great seasons next year. . At the same time, I will  find it hard as a fan to root for Arrow McLaren SP as a team. McLaren has entered the team and from my view, they have been a PR disaster already. The new logo left me cold with its starkly corporate look and the exclusion of the SP from the official team name. While I understand the business side of choosing drivers, Hinchcliffe could have been told a month ago and had more time to put something together.

It is sad to see what looked to be a rising team that in 2018 seemed to have found its soul when Robert Wickens joined but  lost it in his’ horrific crash at Pocono that summer and never found it again.

 

 

New Name, New Logo – Thoughts

The name change is now official. 2019’s Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is now Arrow McLaren SP. The new logo above was published via twitter this morning.   I find the logo rather blah. It is simply a block A with the bar bent to resemble an M.

Sam Schmidt founded the team after his racing career ended after a practice crash in Texas left him a quadriplegic.  After success with his Indy Lights program, Schmidt has been a full time team in the NTT Indycar Seriessince 2011. I understand it’s a business deal, but I think Schmidt deserves  more recognition in the team name and logo.

The logo does not give any recognition to Sam Schmidt or Rick Peterson. Even the new team name gives the original team owners little recognition.  I would have thought companies like Arrow and McLaren together could have come up with a more dynamic looking symbol for their team. This just doesn’t say this is a racing organization to me.

Arrow McLaren SP has not announced the driver of its second car, although pato O’Ward is now the front runner for that seat. As of now James Hinchcliffe is still in the number 5 car.

Is O’Ward Now the Big Domino?

Oliver Askew’s time as the NTT Indycar Series top Silly season domino appears to have been short lived. With Friday’s announcement that Pato O’Ward was now free to pursue an Indycar ride, speculation revved up that he would sign with Arrow Mclaren SP. Askew had been considered as a possibility either for that seat as well as a possible part time ride with Chip Ganassi Racing .

Zak Brown, President of McLaren, has been interested in O’Ward for a while. I think it is highly unlikely both Askew and O’Ward would be hired by AMSP. I doubt if the team would want two rookie drivers. While I’m still not sure veteran James Hinchcliffe will return, despite what the team and Hinchcliffe have said, a veteran needs to be in the 5 car. Since the 7 car is looking pretty much to have a rookie in it, this makes a stronger case for Hinchcliffe staying.  This will be the third straight year Hinchcliffe will have a rookie teammate. In 2017 his good friend Robert Wickens joined the team. Last year Marcus Ericsson was in the second car.

Let’s presume O’Ward does join Arrow/McLaren and Askew goes to Ganassi on a part time basis. This scenario virtually assures O’Ward Rookie of the Year. In fact, O’Ward could be the only full time rookie driver in the series in 2020.  Rinus VeeKay may end up in the road course only car at Ed Carpenter Racing, which would limit his chances for top rookie honors for the season. VeeKay could also go to a third car at Dale Coyne Racing. I haven’t heard much about where he is in securing a ride.

For O’Ward, getting a full time Indycar ride would complete a wild roller coaster 2019 for him. He thought he had a full time drive for 2019 with Harding Steinbrenner racing, which fell through at the last minute. After a couple of drives with Carlin and failing to make the field for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500, O’Ward signed a contract with Red Bull. He an a few races in Japan Super Formula before his early release last week. Stay tuned.

Carlin Wants Limits on Bigger Teams

An article by David Malsher Sunday on motorsport.com discussed concerns  Trevor Carlin of Carlin Racing has of the Big Three (Penske, Ganassi, Andretti)  getting too big. Carlin fears there won’t be enough room for teams like his to post good results. Andretti and Ganassi are both planning on an extra car next season.

The link to the story: https://www.motorsport.com/indycar/news/carlin-warns-indycar-multi-car/4560809/

I understand his point, but the competition in Indycar is close and the Big Three don’t sweep every race. In 2018, 14 of 51 podium spots, 27% had drivers representing teams outside of the Big Three  The just completed season had similar results with 13 non Big Three podium spots. Last year Penske cars won 9 races, Ganassi 2 and Andretti 2. If you count Colton  Herta as an Andretti car, they won 4. Rahal won the other 2 races. 2019 also saw fewer different winners than the series has had in a while. Wins were limited as the seven winners in 2019 each won multiple races.

Of the four Andretti cars, most weekends Alexander Rossi was the only one in contention. Zach Veach and Marco Andretti  were not factors most places. Felix Rosenqvist had a few good races for Ganassi, but he wasn’t always fighting for a podium. Penske driver Will Power didn’t win a race until Pocono in  August.

Opportunities are there. A top ten finish against good competition is a decent result. A. J. Foyt Racing and Dale Coyne Racing show up every week knowing their chances are limited. I thi nk the more cars, the better. Every sport has its dominant teams. You don’t see the lesser teams folding.

There have been season when just two teams won all the races and there have been years where almost every team has won a race. Winning in Indycar isn’t easy. It takes time for newer teams to put everything together just to contend for a win.