Road America First IndyCar Track to Welcome Fans

Good morning from Elkhart Lake.  Due to social distancing my seat in the media center  is five miles from the  track.  I can barely see the cars.

Today’s  Schedule: All times Central

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It will be a pleasant day at the track with a high of 81 predicted for mid afternoon. Rain chances drop to 20% at 8 am then are 15% or less the rest of the day. Last night we had some storms. Milwaukee was under a tornado warning early in the evening. The weekend still looks good.

I’m looking forward to seeing cars on track again.  I will also be observing track practices to see how Road America’s plans have worked out in real time. Look for my thoughts this evening.

Today is the day for the Road to Indy to have the track all to themselves. It’s nice when they get a full day on an Indycar weekend.

I will post short bulletins but look for updates on The Pit Window on Facebook and @PitWindowToo on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

Road America Weekend Schedule

The schedule with broadcast times. Reminder- all times are Eastern. If you are going to the race, times are an hour earlier. Saturday’s race is on NBCSN, the first race of the year on that channel. Sunday’s race is on NBC.

Qualifying will follow the format used for the Detroit races. Two groups get 30 minutes each. The fastest driver in each group gets a point and is guaranteed a front row start. the faster of the two is on the pole. the other cars line up behind the leader of their group.

Thursday is reserved solely for the Road to Indy. USF 2000 and IndyPro 2000 each have practice, qualifying, and two races.

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Rosenqvist Sets Pace in Practice 3; Qualifying Groups; Announcements

Photo: Kyle McInnes

Felix Rosenqvist led the final practice before qualifying this morning as qualifying groups were set. Team Penske cars of Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud took the next three spots. Title contenders Alexander Rossi 10th and Scott Dixon was eighth.

The session ran green the entire way. Takuma Sato led early in practice and ended fifth. Colton Herta, who led a practice yesterday, was seventh this morning.  Ryan Hunter-Reay, leader of Practice 2 Friday, was 18th.

The top 12:

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Qualifying begins at 1:35 Pacific time and can be viewed on NBCSN.

Notes

Rahal Letterman Lanigan officially confirmed that Takuma Sato will return to the team for 2020. Sato has won twice and earned two pole positions this year.

The Road to Indy announced that Exclusive Autosport will field teams on all three rungs of the development series in 2020. They plan to have two cars in Indy Lights. This team will be a great addition to Indy Lights and a much needed expansion to the field.

Back with Quick Thoughts after qualifying.

Jarrett Andretti Added to Freedom 100 Field

Jarrett Andretti will become the latest member of one of racing’s most famous families to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The son of John Andretti will drive an Andretti Autosport Indy Lights car in the Freedom 100 on  Carb Day,  May 24.

Andretti, 26, has won championships in karts, USAC midgets. an Indiana Sprint Car series.  He joins Andretti Indy Lights drivers Oliver Askew, Robert Megnnis, and Ryan Norman in the Andretti Indy Lights Field. Jarrett currently competes for Andretti Autosport in the Pirelli GT4 America program. He has also competed in the Pirelli World Challenge TCR class.

It is always great to have another Indy Lights car in the field, and adding another Andretti is big for the series. No plans for additional Indy Lights races were mentioned at this time, but Michael mentioned this could be first step to more participation in the series. It seems like a logical presumption  for someone with his last name.

Hunter-Reay leads Practice 1 Honda Parade

Hondas had the top seven times in this morning’s first practice, led by Ryan Hunter-Reay.

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Introducing Indy Pro 2000

The middle step on the Road to Indy has a new name. The former Pro Mazda Series is Indy Pro 2000. I like the name for a couple reasons. It retains part of the old name, and it includes the word Indy, which helps more closely identify the series to the goal of many of its drivers.  The official press release:

PALMETTO, Fla. – The middle step on the world-renowned Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel driver development ladder is being rebranded as the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in time for the 2019 season.

Fitting in between the entry-level Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – which provides the final stepping stone to the IndyCar Series – Indy Pro 2000 will continue to build on a strong foundation which was further strengthened this year following the introduction of the state-of-the-art Tatuus PM-18.

Originally debuting as Star Mazda in 1991, then reformed as Pro Mazda in 2013 when Andersen Promotions took over the helm after the previous administration ceased operations, the series has served as a vital training ground for many of today’s open-wheel stars during its 28-year history.

Current IndyCar drivers Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot and Graham Rahal all established their credentials in either Star Mazda or Pro Mazda, while recently crowned champion Rinus VeeKay is poised to move up one more step on the ladder when he enters the Indy Lights fray for 2019.

Indy Pro 2000 competitors next season will vie for a champion’s purse valued at $596,700 to progress to Indy Lights and follow in their footsteps, with the aim of graduating to the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

“We are indebted to the tremendous support of Mazda over the past nine years, but now, as the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires legacy continues to grow, we feel the time is right to introduce a new look as we head into a new season,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions.

“The Tatuus USF-17 has been hugely successful from the time it was introduced in USF2000 two years ago, and since the same chassis – along with some considerable enhancements – forms the basis for the PM-18, it makes sense to incorporate this into the name evolution while also strengthening our ties to INDYCAR. We are excited to roll-out the new Indy Pro 2000 branding over the course of the next few months.”

The rebranding will go into effect immediately on the Indy Pro 2000 website (indypro2000.com) and social media platforms with the new handle of @IndyPro2000 on both Twitter and Facebook. Instagram will feature all three series under Road To Indy Official.

The Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires slate of 16 races at nine venues will kick off March 9/10 on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., where all three levels of the Road to Indy will be in action. The Road to Indy annual Spring Training will take place one week prior on March 2/3 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Coverage of Indy Pro 2000 will continue to include global live streaming of all practice, qualifying and race events on indypro2000.com, indycar.com, RoadToIndy.TV and the Road to Indy TV App. In 2016, Road to Indy became the first American racing series with a dedicated broadcast channel on demand. The channel is available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku in addition to an official App on Xbox One.

Indycar Developments and Non Developments

Some Indycar developments this week have sharpened the 2019 picture a bit, but the big announcements are still to come.

International Media  Rights In House

Indycar has created Indycar Media, a new organization in house distribution of the series’ global media rights. Indycar media plans to make deals with more than 24 licensees representing more than 100 countries. This gives Indycar flexibility to tailor content to specific needs, Sweden might want more features on Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson, Should a certain Spanish driver enter the Indianapolis 500, Spain and a lot of Europe would want more stories about him.

This is a good deal for the series. There is potential for good income growth here.

 

Road to Indy Prize Packages

The Road to Indy and Andersen Promotions revealed their scholarship and cash awards for 2019. A combined total of $2 million is available to the champions of the three series.

The Indy Lights champion receives $1.1 million which goes toward three Indycar races in 2020, including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. Winning the Pro Mazda title nets $596,700. $500,00 of the prize is scholarship money for Indy Lights, and the rest is for entry fees and Cooper tires at the next level.

USF2000’s top driver will have $305,600- a $250,000 scholarship and $55,600 for tires and entry fees in Pro Mazda.

My spending other people’s money segment today-

I think the top three drivers in points should get some scholarship award, even if it means they spend another year at the same level.

Juncos- 2 Cars, No Drivers

Juncos Racing has purchased a second Dallara chassis. They plan to use the second car to enhance their test days. As far as the race schedule, Juncos will again be a part time team. They may run more races with just one car or fewer races with two cars. It’s great to see teams buying extra cars.

Juncos has not signed any drivers fort he season or for testing as of today.

South America?

A video from Brazil today announced an Indycar race will take place on the streets of Rio de Janeiro in2020. The video showed the track layout and an  animated Indycar in Verizon livery driving the circuit. Signage included Verizon, Toyota, and DHL.  There is a slight glitch to this plan. Neither Mark Miles nor Jay Frye have signed an agreement for this race. Indycar says there no plans in motion to hold this event.

Speculation about a race in Uruguay also has been discussed. I can’t envision two Indycar races in South America in a season. They would have to be run either on consecutive weekends, or within a span of three weeks.  That is a long time away from home for all involved. Compensation needs to be well worth everyone’s effort.

My guess – one of the two is likely, no earlier than 2020. Waiting until 2021 and the new engine and possibly chassis package might be a better idea.

Title Sponsor?

Still no word on a title sponsor for Indycar.  I was hoping we would know something by Thanksgiving, but that may be optimistic.

 

 

A New Indy Lights Plan- Financial Incentives for New Teams; More Prize Money Among Enhancements

On the heels of Mazda’s announcement yesterday that they are ending their sponsorship of the Road to Indy after 2018, Indycar and Andersen Promotions unveiled a five year plan to strengthen Indy Lights. The plan includes budget reductions, discounts for new teams, more prize money, and a revised Indycar licensing program.

The financial incentives include reduced tire costs, $100 less per set of Cooper Tires; a reduced engine lease with the engine locked in to 4,500 miles. The  engine will be the same AER powerplant, just not badged by Mazda. The chassis is guaranteed to be in use for three more seasons and possibly one more after that. The reductions should reduce a team’s budget to less than a million dollars.

Prize money increases include $1.1 million to the season champion, $50,00 to the winner of the Freedom 100, and a per race prize increases to the top three finishers. Cash awards were the main concern after yesterday’s announcement.

The plan also includes a revised licensing plan for Indy Lights drivers. The top three finishers in a season are eligible to obtain an Indycar license. A driver com- peting in two full seasons of Indy Lights and finishing in the top five is also eligible.

New teams have added incentives. They will receive six free sets of tires, free entry to a two day test at Mid Ohio, and a free set of Motegi wheels.

This is a big step in the right direction. Indycar and Andersen Promotions worked together to devise this plan. What it doesn’t do is give any incentive to an existing Indycar team to start an Indy Lights team. That is the one thing that would solidify the future of Indy Lights.