O’Ward Sets Practice 2 Pace

The kids took over in GMR Grand Prix practice in the second session. The top five drivers are all 25 years old or younger.

Pato O’Ward grabbed the fastest time late in the session from Alex Palou. The top four drivers recorded laps in the 1:09 bracket. The top 23 cars are within one second of O’Ward’s time. Practice had two red flag interruptions, both within the first seven minutes of the session.

Alex Palou was first in the morning practice and second in the afternoon.

Dalton Kellett spun off track into the sand trap and could move. David Malukas went off track to avoid Kellet’s car. Malukas was able to continue back to the pits.

Jimmie Johnson went off track min the same area a few minutes later. The rest of the practice was green.

As I expected, some drivers who were down nthe chart in the morning practice improved their times. Rinus VeeKay was fourth this afternoon after ending the morning session 21st. Veekay was the first driver to turn a lap under 1:10.

Callum Ilott dropped to 19th from second in the just completed round. Christian Lundgaard, fifth in the just completed practice, improved from14th this morning.

Notes

I noticed a few more new things around the speedway.

BMW has a new building in turn three. I am not sure what the building will be used for.

Recycling cans are prevalent throughout the grounds next to trash cans. It’s nice to see some tangible environmental commitment by IMS.

Results:

Quick Thoughts- Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Photo by Kyle McIness

Youth ruled the weekend. 21 year old Rinus VeeKay won the pole and dominated the first part of the race. 22 year old Pato O’Ward won the race, passing VeeKay in turn following the final pit stop. The average of the podium-22.7 years. The Fast Six yesterday had an average age of 26.6, thanks to old guys who are 30 years old.

Pato O’Ward

Alex Palou earned his 12th podium and has taken the p[oints lead by three over Scott McLaughlin.

There was no better driver on track today than Will Power. He started 19th and finished fourth. Power has finished in the top four in all four races.

Andretti Autosport had another good day spoiled. Alexander Rossi had a solid fourth place pretty much locked up until a slow second pit stop. Colton Herta charged to the top ten but spun attempting to make a pass.

The drivers trying a three stop strategy were thwarted by Callum Ilott’s untimely spin and the caution it brought. Josef Newgarden was hurt the most by the yellow flag.

Will the Chevy dominance continue through the end of May? The engine has won every race in 2022. Honda is close, but just enough behind to not get a win.

Not only did Team Penske not win a race for the first time this season, but the team missed the podium for the first time.

The rookies suffered their worst race of the season. Christian Lundgaard was the highest first year finisher in 15th.

Is Rossi returning to his villain role? There was a minor incident with Graham Rahal late in the race.

While the front of the field was basically static, there were some good battles deeper in the field. Herta did not pass cars easily. It was fun watching Power move forward.

Scott Dixon missed the podium at Barber for the first time in 12 races.

Felix Rosenqvist once again didn’t take advantage of a good qualifying, finishing 16th.

I will have more on the Barber weekend tomorrow. Thanks for following along this weekend.

Too Early for Silly Season

Image: Pato O’Ward

Before the first wheel turned at St. Pete 17 days, it was widely assumed that Alexander Rossi would leave Andretti Autosport at the end of this season. Rumors have him going to either Ganassi in the fourth car currently driven by Jimmie Johnson, or Will Power’s seat in car 12 at Penske. I am okay with this. The speculation has simmered since late 2021.

Yesterday, Racer magazine’s Marshall Pruett posted a piece about Pato O’Ward in which the AMSP driver says it is possible he will be in a different situation in 2023. he wasn’t clear whether that ride would be in Indycar with another team or in another slot within the McLaren organization.

Meanwhile, Michael Andretti continues to pursue his goal of F1 team ownership. His quest looks to widened. He still hopes that the current Formula 1 owners will accept his new team. There is also talk that he is speaking to Red Bull about buying the Alpha Tauri team. Should Andretti acquire an F1 component to his racing empire, Colton Herta will move to the European based circuit.

Colton Herta

Last week Herta signed a development driver contract with McLaren, which gives him an opportunity to get more super license points to qualify to drive in F1.

The good news is that Andretti is not likely to have a Formula 1 team until 2024, and it is unlikely that McLaren will have an open F1 seat before then for O’Ward. Rossi apparently will stay in Indycar for the forseeable future.

We need to enjoy watching Herta and O’Ward this year and next. After that, who knows? It isn’t as if the cupboard of young talent is bare should the two young guns leave. Kyle Kirkwood, Christian Lundgaard, and Callum Ilott will easily take over the spotlight.

We are just one race into the 2022 season. Can’t we just enjoy the racing at this point and save all the musical chairs stuff until late July? Silly Season seems to arrive earlier every year, but three weeks after the first race is way too early.

My Texas coverage starts later today. I will be on site this weekend. Please follow along.

Herta’s F1 McLaren Test Deal-Step Toward His Future?

Saturdays don’t usually start with driver news, so to see a story about Colton Herta signing an F1 development deal with McLaren was a shock to wake up to.

First, let’s look at what the deal is NOT:

It will not affect his Indycar schedule.

Herta will not participate in the first free practice on Friday of a Grand Prix weekend as of now, but there are two opportunities in the United States- Miami in May and Austin in October- which might change that. It is unlikely.

The deal does not affect Pato O’Ward’s status with McLaren. O’Ward is still a long way from F1.

Herta is not in line for a McLaren Formula 1 ride. Lando Norris is locked for several years, Daniel Riccardo is believed to have a contract through 2023.

The deals allows Herta to test in a Formula 1 car. The program allows testing in a 2021 or older car. This program is to develop drivers, not equipment.

From what I have seen, McLaren CEO Zak Brown is helping Michael Andretti should Andretti’s bid to gain entry into Formula 1 for 2024 is successful. He will have a young American driver with some familiarity with F1 machinery.

I think this allows Herta fans the best of both worlds. He will be in Indycar for at least two more seasons, while getting time in an F1 car. After that we will see what happens. Herta will be a great story to follow in F1.

Perhaps we could look ahead to 2026. After a fierce battle between O’Ward and Herta for the Indycar championship, both end up in F1 on teams that are equal. They fight each other all year for points.

The bottom line is I would hate for either of them to leave Indycar, but to get to F1, they just have a couple years if they want to make the move.

Herta, O’Ward Focus on Indycar While Waiting for F1 Chance

Photo above: Colton Herta

Two of the top contenders for the 2022 NTT Indycar Series championship this year say they are focused on Indycar this season while hoping for a future opportunity to drive in Formula 1 someday.

Pato O’Ward finished third in the standings in 2021. The Arrow McLaren SP driver looks to improve that position this season. He did get to test a McLaren F1 car in Abu Dabi in December and still hopes one day to drive in that series. But not this year.

Indycar image by Chris Owens

“I mean, right now I have one focus, and
that one focus is in INDYCAR. I want to give these guys
their first championship. I’d love to give them their first 500. This is what my focus is right now,” O’Ward said during Indycar Content Day yesterday.

“Who knows if F1 will be an option or won’t be an option.
Obviously if it comes about, I will 100 percent take it and
every single driver in my position would do it because it’s
Formula 1. That’s what I grew up watching and that’s what
I grew up dreaming of. That same dream that you have as
a kid will never go away.

Right now, like I said, I have a challenge here, and I want
people to enjoy. I want people to enjoy me in INDYCAR. I
want them to know what INDYCAR has to offer, I want
them to enjoy me in INDYCAR, the racing.”

O’Ward said to move up in the standings, the team needs to find consistency.

” I mean, in short, I just don’t think we’ve
had a very consistent car. Where we’ve been strong,
we’ve been very strong, but where we haven’t been strong,
we’ve been very weak, and that’s where we’ve lost a lot of
points. I feel like there’s no sugar coating it. It’s just not
good enough.
I have to try and maximize what I can control, and I know
the engineers are going to do their part. We’re not up to
where Penske, Andretti and Ganassi are. We sure as hell
are trying to and working hard for that, but they are
Penske, Ganassi and Andretti for a reason.
Yeah, I think we’re definitely on the way.”

Herta

Unlike O’Ward, Colton Herta sees F1 as another racing series he wants to try. He realizes he has a limited time frame to get an F1 ride, but thinks his age is in his favor.

“The time is right for me if I got the opportunity. I’d have to
have a good think about it, but I most likely would do it
because I want to run in Formula 1 at some point.
That’s not to say I think people forget that I’m 21 years old
and I can’t come back in five years and still run 15 years in
INDYCAR and be 40.
Yeah, I definitely want to give it a crack if I get the
opportunity. But definitely not disappointed at all in
INDYCAR. I like this series more than any series in the
world, and I enjoy racing in a it a lot. But yeah, there’s just
a lot of stuff that I’d like to try in my racing career outside of
INDYCAR, also.”

As far as pressure to win the championship this season, Herta isn’t feeling any. He has confidence in his Andretti Autosport team.

“No, because I’m 21, so I think I have
plenty of time. But I do want to win it earlier rather than later.
I don’t feel the pressure from that aspect. I don’t feel like I
need to get it done this year.
But that’s not to say I don’t want to get it done this year.
That’s kind of like my goal.”

Herta said he learned a valuable lesson about collecting points after crashing out of the Nashville race while running second.

“… it was a good learning experience, and it’s
probably in the grand scheme of things, it’s probably good
that it happened, because you just kind of learn from
repetition. That’s probably the best way to learn I feel.
That’s something I’ll keep in the back of my head, and I
think it’s something that next time it won’t be a problem.”

Right now I have Herta and O’Ward as the top two to win the title. At this point, I give a slight edge to Herta. Both drivers need to be more consistent than last year. With the uncertainty of how long they remain in Indycar, now is the time to enjoy these two young drivers.

Holiday Wishes for Indycar

As we begin the most festive week of the year, I have some holiday wishes for Indycar. The first practice at St. Pete is just two months from Christmas day. Knowing that should make the holiday better. Here are six things I wish for in 2022.

A Full 17 Race Schedule

Indycar has not run its complete, originally announced schedule in two years. 2021 looked promising, but Toronto again was cancelled due to COVID-19. The border has reopened, but will the Omicron variant close it again? If it does, for how long?

I hope by July that things will have settled down enough to allow the race to go on.

I am not concerned about St. Pete or Texas yet, but the situation warrants wartching.

The Unicorn

I wish for the elusive third OEM to be announced. An announcement in 2022 means the new engine will appear in 2024. With the growth in entries anticipated for next season and a number of other teams looking to join Indycar, a third engine is a necessity. Honda is maxed out for the season and the Indianapolis 500. Chevrolet is close to capacity as well.

A third engine opens the possibility for 30 cars at some tracks and 39 or more entries at the 500. I think one of the bigger teams will align with the new manufacturer.

A Sold Out Indianapolis 500

Conditions permitting, it would be great if the 106th running of the 500 would be a sell out. Local television might show the race live again if all tickets are sold. Many fans who skipped the 2021 race plan to return. The 135,00 or so at the 2021 race seemed larger than that to those who were there, but the partially empty grandstands did not look good on television.

I spoke briefly with Doug Boles at the PRI show. He said that ticket sales are looking good.

A Title Fight Between O’Ward and Herta

Just like 2021, 2022 will bring more of the younger kids contending for the championship. This coming season I would love to see a battle for Astor Cup between Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta. The youngsters had two the fastest cars last season. Herta was never really in title contention because of some early DNFs. He still tied for the most wins in the series with three, and he had four poles.

O’Ward had some early issues with team strategies and setup problems. He finished third in the standings after being taken out of the finale early. His two wins in 2021 kept him in the hunt. I think he is ready for an even bigger season.

Some Top 5s for Kirkwood

First of all, I am happy that Kyle Kirkwood has a full time ride. Of course, I wish he were on a more competitive team. But I hope he can raise the bar at A. J. Foyt Racing and maybe squeeze a top 5 or two out of the car. It will be a challenge. His best chance for a good finish will be at World Wide Technology Raceway, where Foyt cars have a third and two fifth place finishes.

Kirkwood might sneak in a good finish at a road course somewhere as well. Realistically, I can see him getting some top 10s in 2022.

The Biggest Wish of All

Well, maybe the second biggest after the third OEM, but an announcement of a 2023 IMSA race at IMS would make me very happy. The odds are long as IMSA has established a May race at Mid Ohio. The sports car series seems happy with their schedule. I don’t think they are looking for new venues or to switch any dates around.

I have also heard IMSA is not happy with Indycar putting Texas on the schedule on March 20, the day after the Sebring 12 Hour race. Many Indycar drivers participate in the 12 hour as an extra driver. Some plan to do double duty that weekend.

All, or possibly none of my wishes may come true, but I hope that all of your holiday wishes do. I will have a post next week before moving to winter headquarters. Happy holidays, everyone.

Day 2 at Long Beach- Starting Spot Key to Race Success

Photo: Chris Owens, Indycar

Today’s schedule: Times Eastern

“Going into qualifying I think it’s
important to find a good package because this place is,
from my experience, I’ve only done one race here, if I
remember it was a lot of fuel save, not a lot of passing.
Just in the pit stop sequences. I feel like you need to focus
on that. Qualifying up front will probably pay off a lot more
than if you qualify in the back, unless it’s Portland .”

Pato O’Ward stated the importance of qualifying near the front today for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. The track for the final race of the NTT Indycar Series season is difficult to pass on, and pit strategy is crucial. Oddly, the race has only been won 10 times from the pole by just five different drivers.

Qualifying order could have an effect on who wins the championship Sunday. Points leader Alex Palou needs to finish 11thg or better Sunday to win the title. O’Ward needs to earn the maximum points available (54) to have a chance to take the Astor Cup. If O’Ward does not win the pole, Palou will just need a 12th place or better finish. Don’t look for Palou to aim for a result that low.

Notes

Olivier Boisson, will be going with Romain Grosjean to Andretti Autosport in 2022. Boisson has been Grosjean’s crew chief this season, and the pairing has clicked.

Palou said he has spent about 15 hours on the simulator preparing for Long Beach. This is his first time driving the track. Palou had not driven any of the three final tracks, Portland, Laguna Seca, or Long Beach. he has done okay at the first two.

I’ll be back after the noon practice to set up qualifying, and then have a qualifyinq wrap up tonight.

O’Ward Nips Power for Pole in Frantic, Tight Qualifying

Photo: Pato O’Ward by Matt Fraver, Indycar

So close. Will Power was so close to earning his first pole position of 2021, but Pato O’Ward nipped him at the line by 0.0067 of a second. O’Ward’s third pole of the year came at an opportune time for the driver third in the standings. Points leader Alex Palou qualified sixth and other title contenders Scott Dixon rolls off 26th and Josef Newgarden starts 20th. Dixon was penalized for spinning and affecting other drivers’ laps, and Newgarden has a six place penalty for an engine change to serve.

All three rounds of the shortened qualifying format produced drama as several drivers traded the top spot. But the star of the day was Christian Lundgaard, the Danish F2 driver in the RLL Hy Vee number 45 this weekend. Lundgaard impressed in the practice session, and he dazzled in qualifying, making it to the final round and leading the fast Twelve for a bit. He will start fourth. No matter how his race turns out, his weekend is already a success.

Christian Lundgaard. Photo by Chris Jones, Indycar

Notes

Colton Herta’s string of front row starts ends at four. He qualified fifth.

Romain Grosjean missed his second consecutive pole on the IMS Road course by just 27 thousandths of a second. He starts third.

.Ed Carpenter Racing had its best road course qualifying in a while. Conor Daly starts eighth and Rinus VeeKay ninth.

Newgarden and Dixon start in a part of the grid where there is usually trouble in the first turn. If they get through that, it will be interesting to see how far they advance wht strategy they use.

.

Indycar’s Second Half- More of the Same Would be Fine

Update- Marti is improving as the medical team works out a treatment plan. Thank you all again for your kind wishes and concerns. We will get through this.

Photo: Alex Palou leads Colton Herta at Road America. Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Indycar had itself one heck of a first half- seven different winners, including four first time winners; only two winners over the age of 30; dramatic finishes, and really good racing. Only two drivers have won more than once, and four of the top seven in points are under the age of 25.

Alex Palou holds the trophy for the REV Group Grand Prix. Photo by Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Road America traditionally marks the end of the first half of the season, but with the cancellation of Toronto, which will not be made up, last Sunday was the first race of the season’s second half. The loss of the race, which is not a shock, narrows the field for the championship to three drivers-Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward, and Scott Dixon.

I think the title fight comes down to a battle between Palou, the current points leader, and O’Ward. Only O’Ward and Palou have won more than one race. Palou has led seven of the nine races. Palou has been on the podium five times, O’Ward finished in the top three four times. The 28 point lead Palou enjoys is essentially the difference in points between the two drivers at the Indianapolis 500.

I think Palou will prevail this season. Here’s why.

O’Ward Oddities

Both of Pato’s wins came in the second race of the two double headers. He finished third in the first race of each double header, and he was on pole for the first race in Detroit. In both of his victories, O’Ward overtook Josef Newgarden late in the race.

There are no more double headers this season It seems the Arrow McLaren SP team needs a bit of a longer window to figure things out. I’m not sure O’Ward wins another race in 2021, and he may have trouble holding on to second place in the standings.

The Iceman Lurketh

Six time champion Scott Dixon sits on the verge of history on two fronts. His next win, which is very likely this season, will tie him with Mario Andretti for second place on the career win list with 52. Winning the title will tie him with A. J. Foyt with seven championships.

Dixon has been competitive, as always, but the car looks to be just a step behind the front runners. The Indianapolis 500, despite Dixon winning the pole, did not turn out well. Dixon is 53 points behind, and 49 points of that gap are from the 500. He has come from larger deficits to win take a couple of his titles, but I don’t see it happening this year. Still, dixon will continue an amazing string of finsihes in the top five in points.

More Winners

There will be more drivers winning a race this season. It is inveitable that Josef Newgarden and/or Will Power will win a race before the season ends. Newgarden has won the last two poles and has had victory in his grasp the last two races. He has lost the lead with three laps remaining in Detroit and with two laps left at Road America. Mechanical gremlins and tire strategy have kept Team Penske out of the winner’s circle so far in 2021, but I think we see that situation change in the next three months. It is hard yo believe we are nine races into the season and wondering when a Penske will win a race.

Look for another win by an Andretti Autosport driver as well. Either Colton Herta wins another time, or Alexander Rossi will finally break through. This team has been just as puzzling as Team Penske. Herta has been the only bright spot for the team.

Nice Surprises

The biggest surprise this year is the overall performance of Romain Grosjean. The former F1 driver has won a pole, took a podium spot, and has been overall competitive in his 6 races in 2021. Grosjean is an outstanding qualifier, starting in the top six three times and seventh twice. Missing the Indianapolis 500 and the two Texas races will probably cost him Rookie of the Year since the award is based solely on points. He would win it if the trophy were awarded based on his performance on track.