Victory Lap Celebration: Hinchcliffe Keeps it Light

Photo: Scott Dixon accepts the Astor Cup, his sixth.

The NTT Indycar Series Victory Lap celebration last evening, hosted by James Hinchcliffe, honored Series champion Scott Dixon and others for their achievements during the just completed 2020 season. Hoinchcliffe created an oscar style atnosphere, with an opening monologue and lists of nominees for some awards. His best line came early, talking about the milestones some drivers met this season.

“Scott Dixon’s 50th win, Will Power’s 60th pole, Colton Herta shaving for the first time.” Hinchcliffe quipped.

Several recipients joined the host at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for one on one segments while others, notably Power and Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, accepted their awards via Zoom.

Noticing the unmade bed in the background as he talked with Power about his P1 Pole award for garnering the most poles, Hinchcliffe noted,

“I see you’re faster on the track than you are at making a bed.”

Mark Miles appeared and discussed the challenges of 2020. He said the biggest challenge was keeping everyone’s morale up. Miles praised Roger Penske for always staying,”positive, determined, and focused.”

Jay Frye said the series learned to be flexible and will keep many things they learned going forward. Frye indicated the double header qualifying format for ovals will remain. he hopes to not have to alter the schedule next year.

“It seems like we ran 50 races this year,” he said.

Doug Boles revealed the logo for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500after a short video explaining what each element of it represented.

I find this logo a little cold. It doesn’t have the dynamic feeling of the ,past few logos. if they just had a silhouette of the Pagoda I think it would be better. Once again, they failed to ask for my input.

Alexander Rossi won the Fan Favorite Award, and Marco Andretti won an award for the best on track moment for winning the pole for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Rookie of the Year Rinus VeeKay talked about his first year in the series. VeeKay had a pole, a podium, five top tens , and three top 5s in leading the first year class.

The program was an entertaining hour and a few minutes. If you didn’t get a chance to watch last night, the show is available on YouTube.

It was a nice way to end what was a difficult season. the entire series deserves an award just for getting a season in.

VeeKay Stays with ECR; Carpenter Still Running Ovals

202 Rookie of the Year rinus VeeKay has signed to continue with Ed Carpenter Racing for 2021.
The Release from ECR:

RINUS VEEKAY TO CONTINUE WITH ED CARPENTER RACING FOR 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SEASON

Young Dutch Talent Will Remain Driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet After Breakout Rookie Campaign

(ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.) October 25, 2020 – Ed Carpenter Racing announced today that Rinus VeeKay will remain the driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet for the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. VeeKay has spent his first year in the series as the full-time driver for the Indianapolis-based team and will continue in that role next season. When VeeKay takes the green flag in the final race of the year today, his debut season with ECR will culminate with the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year title.


“I am very happy to be back with Ed Carpenter Racing in 2021!” proclaimed VeeKay. “I feel like an entirely different driver than I was at the beginning of the year. The team has been so patient with me and given me every opportunity to learn as much as possible. I have a great group of guys around me and I can’t wait to have that same amazing support next year.”


The presumptive Rookie of the Year began racing in the United States just four years ago. Born in Hoofddorp, Netherlands, Rinus van Kalmthout began karting in 2009 at the age of 8. With sights set firmly on the pinnacle of North American open wheel racing, he transitioned to the Road to Indy in 2017 and launched his U.S. career driving as Rinus VeeKay. His rapid ascent through the RTI ranks included second place in the 2017 USF2000 standings, the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 title and a runner-up finish in the 2019 Indy Lights championship. Now 20 years old, VeeKay will begin his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season in 2021.


ECR team owner Ed Carpenter watched VeeKay’s progression through in the Road to Indy for two seasons and selected the rookie for his team after two successful tests in late 2019. “The 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES is one that we will never forget. With all the challenges that have been presented, limited track time and schedule changes, we have seen Rinus progress rapidly from the start of the season until now,” stated Carpenter. “It is clear to us that he has all of the tools to be a winner at this level and we look forward to climbing the podium together!”


VeeKay’s first year of NTT INDYCAR SERIES competition has been full of milestones. In only his second race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, he earned his first Top 5 finish. By starting 4th in the Indianapolis 500, he recorded the best qualifying result by a teenager in Indianapolis 500 history. The only Chevrolet-powered driver in the Fast Nine Shootout was also the fastest rookie in the field. The following week, he recorded his highest oval finish of the year at WWT Raceway with a 4th place. When VeeKay returned to the IMS road course for the Harvest GP, he won his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole position, led the first laps of his Indy car career and earned his first podium finish. VeeKay will be Chevrolet’s first Rookie of the Year since 1992.


“We have had amazing results and great achievements this year. There is even more possible next year when we get back to a normal schedule! I am really looking forward to doubling my knowledge and not being a rookie! However, there will still be a few new tracks for me with the street courses. I will give it my all and make next season as good as possible!” said VeeKay.
He continued, “I appreciate so much the trust Ed Carpenter, Tony George and Stuart Reed have in me and believing in what I can do. It’s not an easy decision to put someone in a full-time car and I am very happy with the chance they have given me. SONAX, Autogeek, Direct Supply and the entire team has given me their all for the whole season!” VeeKay is also grateful for the support of his home country. “I want to thank my personal sponsors Jumbo, La Place, KNAF TeamNL and Basic-Fit; my family; and everyone back home in the Netherlands cheering for me!”


Since its inception in 2012, ECR has raced exclusively in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and recently entered the eSports arena. The team has shown versatility by earning seven wins on each style of track the series competes on – street and road courses, short ovals and speedways. In 2020 alone, the team’s Top 5 finishes have come on a superspeedway, a short oval and a road course. ECR boasts 32 Top 5s to date, 21 of which have been podiums. An ECR Chevrolet qualified on the front row of six Indianapolis 500s, including three pole positions by Carpenter (2013, 2014 and 2018).


The 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season will see ECR continue to compete with two full-time entries, the No. 20 and No. 21. While the No. 21 will feature VeeKay for the full season, Carpenter will continue as oval driver of the No. 20 in his 19th season of Indy car competition. VeeKay’s first season will end in the same location that his second season begins. While the 2020 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will begin at 2:30 p.m. ET today, the 2021 season will open in the Streets of St. Petersburg on March 7, 2021.

Race Day at St. Pete- The Title and Money on the Line

Good morning. Today’s schedule: (All Times Eastern)

10:40-11:10 Warm up NBC Gold

2:32 Green Flag NBC 2:30-4:30 100 laps

A reminder – cars will be on the pace lap when the television broadcast begins.

Scott Dixon just needs to maintain his starting position to win his sixth championship. The window of possibilities for Josef Newgarden shrunk a bit when he didn’t win the pole yesterday. His eighth startoing spot will make it hard for Newgarden to get the 53 maximum points today. Both drivers need to get through turn 1 of lap 1 cleanly.

The leaders’ Circle final spot is still up for grabs. Marco Andretti will start 23. The 98 is seven points out of the Circle at the moment and will need to move up to have a chance. Sebastien Bourdais’ seventh starting spot should help the 14 car keep the final spot. Conor Daly starts 14th. The 20 car is six points ahead of the 14 in 20th.

Simon Pagenaud was headed for his best qualifying effort of the year until his late spin cost him his two best laps. Still he starts 12th, which is an improvement. Pagenaud has not let where he starts affect his racing. he could be a factor today.

Rookie of the Year

When the green flag flies, Rinus VeeKay will earn Rookie of the Year honors. VeeKay, dribving for Ed Carpenter Racing, got off to an awful start this season at Texas. He crashed in qualifying and crashed early in the race, also taking out rookie Alex Palou. The rest of the season VeeKay showed tremendous improvement, capturing a pole and a podium spot at the Harvest Grand Prix.

Notes from the Ground

I received several messages yesterday from friends at the track. My friend Ed Murray said there wer fewer vendors, which was to be expected.. he said people were complying with mask wearing.

I later saw a photo from the stands where several fans were not wearing masks. I later heard from others that track staff was reminding people about the policy.

The track claims that nearly all tickets have sold.

I wonder how much of the grandstands will remain standing for the March race.

I applaud the efforts of Indycar, Green Savoree, and the city of St. Petersburg to put this race together for a second time this year.

I’ll be back with a quick warm up recap and then my race quick toughts this afternoon.

Race 1 May Depend on Setup

Photo: Graham Rahal in fall colors. Indycar, Chris Owens

Good morning from the northwest media annex. Today’s schedule:

7:30 Gates open (Gates 1 and 9)

10:20-11;35 Indianapolis 8 Hour Practice

1:40-3:10 Indianapolis 8 hour Practice

3:30 Opening Ceremonies for Harvest Grand Prix Race 1

4: 00 Green flag (TV- USA Network beginning at 3:30)

Today’s race may hinge on who has the setup right. several drivers yesterday complained of loose cars. Today’s forecast is for a high of 59 degrees. Tire degradation may be lower than normal, which could negate an alternate pit strategy.

Rinus VeeKay on his way to his first career pole. Indycar photo by Chris Jones

It was a big day for rookies. Alex Palou led the practice session and Rinus VeeKay won the pole. Could we see a rookie win today? Josef Newgarden is my favorite to win right now, but I would not count out Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, or Jack Harvey. Why should this race be normal?

Yesterday proved a long held theory of mine. The air inside Indianapolis Motor Speedway is lighter and fresher than the air outside. I felt the weight of 2020 lift from my shoulders the moment I entered the gate. It was great to be back inside the track and to see cars running again.

The place is immaculate. The speedway is cleaner and brighter than it has been in many years. The museum building gleams in the sunlight.

It was a decent crowd for a Thursday afternoon. Everyone was smiling just because they were at the track. I have heard ticket sales have gone very well for the rest of the weekend.

I enjoyed the sports car races as well. Jarrett Andretti just missed a podium finish in the first race. In the second race, the Andretti Autosport entry recovered from an early penalty to finish fifth. I need to read up on this series more.

VeeKay on Pole, Newgarden Gains a Point on Dixon

Photo from Rinus VeeKay Twitter feed

Rinus VeeKay won the pole for Race 1 of the Harvest Grand Prix late this afternoon with a lap at the end of the session of 1:09.6903. Josef Newgarden lead Group 1 with a time of 1:10.4706 to earn the second starting spot on the grid. Newgarden did inch one point closer to Scott Dixon by leading his group.

The Dutch rookie’s first career pole is the fourth for Ed Carpenter Racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Ed Carpenter has won the pole for the Indianapolis 500 three times. ECR joins Team Penske as the only two teams who have poles in both the 500 and on the road course.

Group 1 never had the chance to run on red tires. With about four minutes left in the session Takuma Sato, the first driver of the group to come in to the pits to switch to the faster rubber, spun into the sand trap at the north end of the track as the other teams were changing tires. Time ran out under the red flag.

Group 2 ran incident free. Colton Herta led most of the way. His best lap on black tires was just 0.5 seconds slower than Newgarden’s fast time. It appeared he would easily beat Newgarden when he switched to the alternate tire. But his last lap was 0.0145 seconds than VeeKay’s final run.

Pagenaud’s Qualifying Woes Continue

Simon Pagenaud, who has had difficulty in qualifying all season, will start 22nd Friday. Pagenaud has not let hislow starting position affect his racing. He has won one race after starting last. Pagenaud is 8th in the standings.

Inauspicious Start for Returning Vets

The returning veterans-Sebastien Bourdais, Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe, and Sage Karam- struggled in practice and qualifying. Bourdais starts 16th, Castroneves 19th, Hinchcliffe 18th, and Karam 21st.

The lineup:

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Indycar Oval Season- Veterans Rule, Passing at a Premium

The NTT Indycar Series completed the oval portion of their abbreviated schedule Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway. It was quite a feat to get in six races of any kind in a season that was delayed until June. Some positive things came from the abbreviated, revised schedule. The double header qualifying format, the competitiveness of Carlin Racing with Conor Daly driving, and that fans were allowed to attend Iowa and Gateway. Sunday’s attendance at gateway is thought to be around 7,500, which would make it the largest oval crowd of the year.

Qualifying Format for Double Headers

The double header qualifying format in which the first lap set the Race 1 grid and the second lap set the Race 2 grid was fascinating and did scramble the lineup a bit for the second race. I was surprised no one swept both poles at an event. Four different drivers won poles at the doubleheaders- Conor Daly, Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Takuma Sato.

If there are more double headers next season, I hope this format stays. This year it was put in to save time and expense on an improvised program, but it was fun to watch.

Oval Points

It seemed as if Scott Dixon dominated the ovals, but Newgarden was not far behind. Dixon’s 95 point margin is largely based on the road course races. Dixon accumulated 256 points on the ovals while Newgarden has 251. Takuma Sato and Pato O’Ward each have 205 points on the ovals. Sato’s win at the Indianapolis 500 made up for his missing the race at Texas.

Passing

The aeroscreen may be a factor. Less tire degradation might also be a culprit. It seems as if passing is more difficult this year than last year. This past weekend passing was non existent except for a few bold moves, especially Sunday.

The aero package works  very well on road courses. Adjustments need to be made for the oval package. I hope that after a season with the new aeroscreen, the series and teams can figure something out.

Yellows

 The seventeen caution periods this season on ovals is I think, about average. Seven were in the Indianapolis 500. While the timing of the yellows can’t be predicted, several drivers have been caught out by the yellow flags just after their pit stops.

 Conor Daly had just pitted in Iowa race 2 when the yellow flew for Ryan Hunter-Reay’s accident. The rain yellow at Gateway this past Saturday pushed Josef Newgarden back in the field.

Two races have ended under yellow because of accidents with four laps to go. I don’t have a problem with races finishing under yellow. A race has a scheduled distance and that’s when it should end. Baseball doesn’t add an inning when a game ends on a strikeout instead of a home run.

Carlin and Daly

Carlin Racing and Conor Daly have been a great match. Daly has made Carlin competitive on the ovals. His average finish with Carlin is 8.8 with four top tens and a pole. The one top ten he didn’t get was because he was caught by a yellow in Iowa Race 2.

I hope Daly continues his arrangement with Carlin next season.

Rookies

The rookies have looked great on the road courses, but have struggled some on the ovals. Rinus VeeKay, who had a disastrous start at Texas,  does appear to be improving. He had a 6th and a 4th this past weekend. Oliver Askew Had a 3rd and a 6th at Iowa, but hasn’t shown consistency at the other ovals. Alex Palou has a best oval finish of 11th.

VeeKay leads the rookie standings overal with 181 points, while Askew has the most oval points, 126.

I’m sad to see the oval portion end. there are five road or street courses left on the schedule. We are still waiting for final word about Mid Ohio and whether fans will be allowed. There is no word yet about fans viewing the Harvest classic races at IMS. St. Pete I still think is iffy to run and definitely sketchy for fans.

Quick Thoughts- Gateway Race 2

Photo: The race on the pit road exit lane decided the race.

Passing has always been difficult at World wide Technology Raceway, and yesterday was an extreme example of it. When leader Takuma Sato couldn’t lap Ed Carpenter or even get close to him, it set the tome for a very processional race. It was definitely a race that could ahve been helped by a yellow flag or two.

While pit work is very much appreciated, I would rather see races won on the track. The pit crews were on their game this weekend, but on track action is what the series needs to showcase.

Sato showed no signs of an Indy hangover this weekend with a second, a pole, and an eight place finish. He is still fourth in points.

Points for the weekend– Dixon 81, O’Ward 79, Newgarden 69, Sato 67

Congratulations to Rinus VeeKay for his career best fourth place finish Sunday. VeeKay finished sixth on Saturday. He has improved a lot this year after a shaky start at Texas. The rookie is carrying Ed Carpenter Racing this season.

Conor Daly and Carlin is a great pairing. This weekend he earned his third and fourth top tens from his five oval races with the team.

Last year at Gateway vintage cars dropped oil on the track just before qualifying. This year the first responders parade, which was great, also left some fluid on the track. I understand the need for prerace presentations, but Indycar might want to begin the festivities a little earlier to allow for these issues to be resolved.

Was yesterday the last race of 2020 where fans will be allowed? Jay Frye said he is 80-90% certain Mid Ohio will take place, but he said nothing about fans being able to attend.  The Harvest Classic is iffy for fans. and I am stoill skeptical about St. Pete running or running with fans.

The first through fourth finish for Chevy powered cars Sunday was a bit of redemption for their showing at Indianapolis.

I thought Indycar threw the yellow awfully fast when Sato hit the wall. He kept going and maybe should have been black flagged. I don’t think O’Ward would have caught or passed newgarden in any case.

I’m glad that Tony Kanaan had one top ten finish this weekend in what may have been his final Indycar race outside of the Indianapolis 500. He has been a great driver and very popular with the fans. I know many fans who became interestd in Indycar because of him. Sponsorship may prevent him from running more races. If that is the case, I want to say thank you, Tony. You have been a great ambassador for the sport.

Andretti Rides the Wind to Capture the Pole- Quick Thoughts

The shifting winds brought part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s legends back today as Marco Andretti just edged Scott Dixon to win the pole for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The last time an Andretti won the pole was 1987 when Mario led the field to the green flag.

Andretti Autosport seemed to be floundering this season until the got to IMS. The team certainly has its act together here.

It appeared the wind shifting from turn 4 to turn 2 after Dixon’s run would help him stay in the top spot, but Marco found just enough speed to continue  his dominance of the week.

Marco’s dad Michael never won the pole at Indianapolis. Maybe victories skip a generation as well.

Marco is in good shape for the race with Brian Herta calling his race. Herta has now put a driver on the pole as well as bringing two other car 98s to victory lane (Wheldon 2011 and Rossi 2016).

Where would Alex Palou end up if he hadn’t had a problem with the weight jacker? He could be a sleeper in the race.

Rinus VeeKay in fourth is the fastest rookie in the field.  VeeKay could be another player next Sunday.

Graham Rahal had a couple of wild rides today. I hope they can balance the car better for the race.

Car 98 has now won four poles and four races. Just three drivers have won poles in the 98- Walt Faulkner, Parnelli Jones (twice), and Marco Andretti.

I don’t know if there were any poles won by a smaller margin, but 0.0113 seconds and 0.017 mph is pretty close.

Marco also started on the front row in 2013, when he started third.

It was frustrating when NBC didn’t immediately show the lap times because they were too busy playing with their graphics. Give the audience the information it needs at the time they need it.

No matter how the race ends, it will be great having an Andretti lead the field at the start.

Qualifying results, including all attempts from yesterday:

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 Thanks for following this weekend.

 

Pole Day-Will Marco Stay on Top?

Photo: Indycar, Walt Kuhn

Today’s schedule:

11-11:30 am – Fast 9 Practice NBC Gold

1:15-2:15 pm – Fast 9 Shootout NBC (1-3 pm coverage)

3:30-6 pm – Practice (NBCSN at 4 pm)

Good morning from the IMS northwest media center annex. This is an interesting and talented Fast Nine, and definitely one of the most unusual ones since the beginning of the pole shootout.  The field has four former race winners, two rookies, two former pole winners, and drivers from five different teams. Andretti Autosport has four drivers who advanced to today and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has two.

The odds of having a first time polesitter are good. Marco Andretti showed yesterday that he is fast regardless of the time of day and the track conditions. While Scott Dixon’s late run yesterday was simply a show of strength, he won’t be running with the shadows on the track.

Rinus VeeKay is a rookie driving for Ed Carpenter Racing. VeeKay loves to go fast. The ECR team  has been a perennial member of the Fast Nine.  I look for the only Chevy in the Fast Nine to be on the front row.

As for predictions, I hate to jinx someone, but this is Marco’s pole to lose.

Notes:

What’s missing from today’s shootout? Penske cars. Josef Newgarden was the fastes on the team in 13th. Will Power  is 22nd, Simon Pagenaud is 25th and Helio Castroneves is 28th.  Pagenaud has been a poor qualifier all season, but has come from the back to contend for the win.  I am puzzled by Chevrolet’s overall lack of speed.

Scott Dixon will increase his points lead today by at least 1 point and as many as 9. he currently leads Pagenaud by49 points and Newgarden by 51.

I think the fastest driver on Saturday should receive at least a point.

James Hinchcliffe’s mask is creepy.

I saw a lot of anger on social media toward Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon for their late day runs. While I wished they hadn’t done it and given drivers who needed a shot a chance, these late day qualifying games have been played for the last 70 years. Watch film of Bump Days in the past and see what went on in the last 90 minutes or so. You’ll see pretty much what you saw yesterday.  They were playing by the rules they were given.