Checkers for Hulman- George; Green for Penske- Some Thoughts

What has seemed surreal for the last 63 days is now real. The purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indycar, and IMS Productions is now complete. While my head has been spinning since November4, the rotations are much slower now. The sale is like losing that oldest relative you’ve known since birth. I have mixed feelings of optimism and trepidation about the Penske years ahead. There are things about both the Speedway and the series I would like to see done differently.

IMS

For the fans, better Wi-Fi, bigger and better video boards, and more and better concessions are my top priorities. I would love to get a clearer signal from my seat in G Stand and be able to view the video board without the sun causing a glare on it. I’m not a frequent purchaser of concessions at the track, partly for price, but also I don’t like the limited selection. A wider variety is needed, including some healthier choices.

I think it’s time for newer, more modern garages. The current garages are nearly 40 years old. They aren’t bad, but a touch up might be in order.

More suites are a possibility. They do enhance revenue. My concern is where to put them so that they don’t detract from the experience of the average fan. I don’t think it would be a good look for the track for it to be completely enclosed by suites and grandstands. There are some open areas between grandstands that are available.

What I don’t want to see is a ban on fans bringing coolers into the track. Roger Penske said he wanted to respect traditions of the place. This is one that would definitely hurt attendance.

Another concern I have is the track going to electronic tickets. I value my tickets from past races. I have one from every race I have attended and a few I did not attend. No, I do not have my 1911 ticket. Thanks for asking. These pieces of pasteboard are works of art. I would hate to see them discarded in favor of an image on a phone screen or a print at home generic looking paper with a bar code. Perhaps the Speedway could offer fans a choice.  I would opt for the traditional ticket. I would even pay a fee for it.

My biggest concern, though, is a possible reduction of on track time. I already think the schedule is too short. It’s barely the Fortnight of May anymore. Thank goodness for the grand prix. Without it, we have an extended weekend. Increasing the purse to make the teams’ time at IMS more worthwhile would help.

The Indycar Series

I like the new procedures that have come out in the last few days. I think they make sense. I hope Jay Frye continues to revise things to be as fair as possible to all competitors.

While the new rule about reordering the field should help shorten yellows, what would really help shorten a caution period is not giving everyone a chance to pit. Either pit or don’t. but be aware the race could go green at any time. Yellows almost seem staged at times.

I don’t want to see a guaranteed spot rule for the Indianapolis 500.  This is perhaps a topic to include in my qualifying discussion in May, but there are other ways to protect teams. First, get rid of double points. Missing the race will not be the huge points penalty it is now. Second, give full time teams that miss the race last place points minus 1 for every spot below 33rd that they qualified. Teams and drivers don’t walk away empty, even though they are not racing. Giving points for every place is another post.

Make it clear to fans at what point on the track the race begins. Many times it looks as if the drivers begin racing too soon. I think fans aren’t aware of the start zone. Just make sure there is good field alignment when the front row reaches that area.

 

This is an exciting time for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT Indycar Series, and the Indianapolis 500. I wish Roger Penske the best as he begins stewardship of these entities. Fans will like some changes and not like others. Like anything new, we must wait and see what develops.

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.

A Word of Thanks

I have  a few words of thanks to those who made 2019 such an amazing year.  While writing this column annually seems like a trite exercise, I enjoy expressing my appreciation for those who helped the sport and also those who helped me get through the season.

Thank you to:

The Hulman-George family for their 74 years of stewardship and building the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway into the great event and facility it is today. Thanks also for handing the track to someone intent on preserving the traditions of the place.

Roger Penske for buying IMS, The NTT Indycar Series, and IMS Productions. If the track had to be sold, I’m glad it was to someone who understands what this is all about

Fellow media members for their help and advice. In particular, Eric Smith of Race Review Online, George Phillips of Oilpressure, and Mike Joachim of Pit Lane Parley.

The communications staff at Indycar and IMS.

Track PR and communications directors for their assistance in facilitating onsite coverage.

Everyone on “Team Silver” headquartered in G Stand on Race Day.

The wonderful people in my writing class at the Life Enrichment Center in Tampa. They continue to be a huge inspiration in writing this humble column.

Finally, certainly not least, each one of you who take the time to read The Pit Window. I am humbled by your loyalty and very much appreciate it.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

 

Update: End of an Era

It has been 366 days since Mari Hulman George died and it is just a few weeks short of when Tony Hulman purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from Eddie Rickenbacker in 1945. I have a feeling Roger Penske will pay a little more than the $750,000 that Hulman paid.

This has been an emotional day for me. IMS has been in the Hulman/George family my entire life.

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From today’s Press Conference:

The key word was stewardship. Tony George said  “…we as a family all agreed we needed to have a conversation with Roger Penske. I approached him at the final race of the season, not wanting to distract from the task at hand, which was bringing home another championship, but I wanted to wish him well on the grid, and I just simply said, I’d like to meet with him and talk about stewardship.”

Roger Penske later added, “I’ve got a big commitment here to take over certainly as the steward of this great organization and what’s been done here in the past for so many decades. It’s my commitment to the Hulman family. The fact that you would select us is an opportunity to take on this investment, it’s amazing, and I just want to thank Tony and everyone else that’s been involved in this.”

I like that both George and Penske used this term. it was comforting that it didn’t sound like a huge corporate takeover.

As far as personnel at IMS, Penske said, “we have no intention of changing the management teams that are place today, and certainly we’ll have a board that we’ll announce at the time of the final closing ofthe transaction, and we hope to have a diverse group of people on there that know the business and can support the business, take us to the next step. That’s going to be part of our plan.And we also, just to put it in perspective, we’ve offered the Hulman family members if they’d like to have an interest in the company that we would look at that during between now and when we get to the end of the closing.”

I take some comfort that there may still be some family involvement in the Speedway.

IMG_20191104_121818

How My Day Started

I got a text from a friend as I was having breakfast with some friends.  “What’s up with the sale of the track to Penske? ” I read it twice. Then I looked it up. My first impression was shock. Not only the track, but the series and other properties were sold. Here are my initial thoughts. I will update this story after the 11 am press conference.

IMS

I have never in my lifetime known the Speedway to be owned by anyone except Tony Hulman or the Hulman -George family. It makes me to sad to think that the Hulman name will no longer be a part of the Speedway going forward.

I had a feeling when Mari Hulman George died  that her death started the track on an inevitable path to today’s announcement. According to Tony George, the family has been searching for a buyer for the last ten years.

There may not be many changes for 2020 because much is already locked in, but there could be some big differences in 2021.

I’m glad the Speedway was sold to someone who has respect for the track and the Indianapolis 500. Penske’s love of racing began at his first 500:

“I really have to wind back to 1951 when my dad
brought me here when I was 14 years old, and I guess
at that point the bug of motor racing got in my blood I’d
have to say, and to think about what it’s meant to our
company, the brand that we’ve been able to build — it’s
interesting, I talked to Mario Andretti today and AJ
Foyt, and we all agreed what the Indianapolis 500 has
meant to us as individuals and as a company, and
certainly our company.”

My concern is Penske’s history of track ownership.  I hope eventually the track isn’t sold to NASCAR.

I have many other concerns, such as track personnel, new spectator policies, and physical changes to the track. I’m not sure if any will be answered at the press conference.

Penske talked of stronger promotion for the Brickyard 400 and the possibility of a 24 hour race. I’m not sure the track or community is ready for a 24 hour event.  A shorter endurance race might work.

Indycar

More tracks could open up to Indycar races with Penske’s influence.

The double header with NASCAR could moire easily become a reality.

I have a concern about conflict of interest with a race team owned by the owner of the series. This concern also extends to the 500, but the Speedway ownership has fielded cars in the past.

Will Penske leadership help Indycar obtain a third OEM? With Honda looking at NASCAR, another OEM takes on  more urgency. A fourth one wouldn’t be a bad idea either. I can’t see Chevy  covering the entire grid by themselves.

If you had hopes of Detroit moving to a different date to get an oval the week after the 500, those dreams are gone. Also, the Belle Isle races will stay on NBC. I hope NBC adds a couple more races then.

As with IMS, 2020 is probably not changing, but after that, especially when current agreements expire, everything is wide open to change. I don’t see this change affecting the 2022 new car and engine  plans.

My head is still spinning.

 

 

 

Detroit Preview- Points Battle Get Serious; McLaren Talks; Racier Event?

With May finished, the Verizon Indycar gets back to the business of deciding a series champion. The first stop as the second third of the season begins is Detroit for two races.  Just ten points separate the top three. Will Power leads Alexander Rossi by two points and Josef Newgarden is ten points behind. Scott Dixon is 25 behind in fourth. Surprisingly, James Hinchcliffe is still in the top ten despite missing the 500. Sebastien Bourdais also lost a lot of ground by crashing in last Sunday’s race, dropping to eighth. The standings will scramble again after this weekend.

The points leader after this Sunday will be the one of the top three who has the best average finish of the two races. I like Rossi’s chances. Honda and Chevy are more equal on road and street courses. Honda and Chevy have each won two non oval events this year. Honda has dominated the street circuits and Chevy has been slightly stronger than Honda at the road courses.

Saturday’s race looks to be dry, but there is now the threat of a wet race on Sunday. I have been to wet races here. They are chaotic, but there are a lot of different strategies employed. This type of race usually produces a surprise winner. If it rains, look for Sebatien Bourdais to regain some of the ground he lost last week. Alexander Rossi will win one of the races, likely Saturday when the track is dry.

McLaren Visiting Detroit

Zak Brown, head of McLaren, will be in Detroit to talk with teams about a partnership as a full time Indycar team next year. Fernando Alonso’s manager is also attending the meetings. Andretti is said to have the inside track since they partnered to field Alonso in last year’s 500. Rahal Letterman Lanigan is also interested in working with McLaren.

2019 Indy 500 Field Already Beginning to Form

Team Penske announced earlier this week that Helio Castroneves will return for another shot at winning his fourth Indianapolis 500 next May.

Scuderia Corsa, whose entry with Oriol Servia led 16 laps at the 500 this year, also confirmed they will return to Indianapolis in 2019. They are still considering entering Indycar full time.

At this pace, it appears likely there will be bumping again.

Pit Lane Parley

This week’s episode of Pit Lane Parley features Indy lights Driver Aaron Telitz. Telitz currently sits  seventh in Indy Lights points. He had a difficult start to the season, not completing a lap until the fourth race of the season.  Pit Lane Parley airs at 3:15 EDT on Wildfireradiosports.com and is available on Podbean and other apps.

Notes

Hard to believe Scott Dixon has not led a lap this season. This weekend may end that drought.

I am interested to see the new aerokit perform at Texas. I think that will be the true test of how this new superspeedway package works. Jay Frye said this week they will look at possible tweaks to the Indianapolis package.

I will be onsite at Detroit beginning Saturday morning. Look for updates throughout the weekend.

Thanks for reading this month. It was a lot of fun producing stories.