No Added Pressure for Drivers in Contract Year

Photo of Will Power by Chris Jones, Indycar

Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay are beginning contract years in the NTT Indycar Series. Simon Pagenaud may be in a contract year, but he side-stepped the question last week. All three drivers plan to keep driving the way they always have and not worry about 2022. The consensus is that there is always pressure to perform, regardless of their contract status.

Ryan Hunter-Reay Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

Hunter-Reay had a frustrating year in 2020. It began with a car that wouldn’t fire on the grid at the opening race in Texas. The Andretti Autosport driver did manage a 10th place finish in the season standings, however. Hunter-Reay usually finds a way into the top 10 despite problems during a race. Last year was a bit more of a struggle than most years.

Looking ahead to 2021 Hunter-Reay said, “Yeah, definitely I’m looking forward to that kind of makeup,what feels like a makeup season almost. Hopefully we can do that, barring any variants of COVID that might derail that.”

As for extra pressure coming from a one year deal, Hunter-Reay said that he approaches every race as if it could be his last in the car.

“My whole career has been that way. It’s been, Hey, here is your opportunity. Get in the car, we’ll let you know if you’re going to be in the car the next race. That’s how it always has been for me. That’s why I’ve always had that grab-it-by-the-neck mentality. Even when I had a three-year deal, if I had a bad weekend, it was the end of the year. I have to make sure I’m performing next weekend, otherwise somebody with a big smile is getting ready to jump into my seat. It’s just part of my mentality, part of my makeup. No, that’s how I’ve been operating for 20 years, man. Right at home for me.”

Hunter-Reay has stiff competition from his own team. Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta should be fighting for the championship and possibly a win at the Indianapolis 500.

Power Hopes for Better Start

Will Power feels the need to have a better start to the season. 2019 and 2020 both began with a series of issues that hampered his run for the title. He has still managed to win twice in each of the past two years and add to his career pole mark. He is inching closer to Mario Andretti’s career pole total. Power goes into 2021 with same attitude he does every year.

“…same effort that I put in because I had put so much effort in every time. I so badly want to win. Yep, same fire, internal fire burning. Just do as I do, do obviously my best.”

Any extra pressure seems to come from the poor starts of the last two years.

“It actually does feel a little bit that way, youknow, considering we’ve started the last four seasons in a really bad way. It certainly isn’t speed that’s the issue. It’s our bad days are just too bad. Our bad days are DNFs and multiple laps down. They’re not like a 10th place or a seventh place, and that’s our problem. The speed is certainly not. Winning is certainly not. Consistently,whether it’s mistakes on pit lane or mistakes by me, you just — we have to have a solid beginning to the season.”

Like Hunter-Reay, Power will compete with Team Penske teammates-Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin, and Simon Pagenaud for points and podiums.

Pagenaud Looks for Better Qualifying, Race Results

Simon Pagenaud Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

Simon Pagenaud had a frustrating season in 2020. Poor qualifying forced him to play catch up during races. he did get a victory in Iowa race 1 after starting last, and his eighth place final standing seems like a decent year. It was not good enough for Pagenaud. What went wrong?

“…a combination of things that didn’t work out the way I wanted. Obviously the car change made a big difference. The lack of testing made a big impact on my season.”

Team Penske has been able to test this pre-season and that should make a big difference in Pagenaud’s year. As for pressure to keep his job in 2022?

“…my personal opinion is just go out there and do the best you can, race hard and be in the moment. The contracts will take care of themselves when they do.It’s too early to tell anyway. But yeah, I always race as hard as I can. My motto is having no regrets ever, so I work hard, and I want to have no regrets. So if I have no regrets, there’s no reason it shouldn’t continue.”

Hunter-Reay Returns to Andrettiwtih DHL

Photo: Chris Jones, Indycar

Ryan Hunter-Reay confirmed this morning that he will return to Andretti Autosport in the 28 car, continuing with DHL and Auto Nation sponsorship. 2021 will be Hunter-Reay’s 12th year with Andretti. The 2012 Series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner finished 10th in the 500 last season and 10th in the season standings.

Hunter-Reay is the third confirmed driver for Andretti, joining Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta. James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti are expected to have rides confirmed soon.

The full time grid is nearly full. In addition to the two expected to be claimed Andretti seats, there are two openings at Coyne, and confirmation of at least one car at Carlin.

Notes

Per Curt Cavin on Trackside Tuesday and a report from another highly reliable source, it appears former F1 driver Romain Grosjean will be in one of Dale Coyne’s cars for 2021. No driver is set for Coyne’s second car, but I hear Ed Jones might be the leading candidate.

Aldo’s Last Lap

Aldo Andretti, who died December 31, was taken for a lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Wednesday before his celebration of Life service. Mario’s twin brother had done just a few laps in a tire test at IMS, but never got to drive an Indycar in a race.


Back later this afternoon with a report on the Chili Bowl.

Hunter-Reay Leads Practice

Ryan Hunter-Reay led the only practice session for the Honda Indy 200 with a time of 1:06.3034. The practice period was the strongest for Andretti Autosport fr vers since the Indianapolis 500. Will Power was second and Alexander Rossi finished third. Points leader Scott Dixon was fourth.

The top seven

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Hunter-Reay Leads Practice 2

Finally a veteran took charge. Ryan Hunter-Reay had the quickest time in Practice 2 for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey this afternoon. Two of the rookies who led the morning practice were right behind him. The morning practice was led by three rookies after Colton Herta led yesterday’s second test period. Felix Rosenqvist finished just 0.02 seconds behind Hunter-Reay and Herta was third, 0.001 seconds after Rosenqvist.

“It’s a very narrow window to get it right,” Hunter-Reay said, “I’m not resting on this one.”

The title contenders had mixed results. Simon Pagenaud finished 4th, Josef Newgarden 6th and Alexander Rossi was 23. Rossi had a software issue this morning.

The only red flag was for Scott Dixon who went off track and stalled between turns 10 and 11.

Rossi led the just completed pit stop/warm-up period.  Hunter-Reay was second, followed by Herta. Rossi still feels he will be okay for tomorrow and Sunday.

Notes

You can see almost the entire track from the top of hill near the Corkscrew. The cars carry a lot of speed into the top of the Corkscrew turn.

Hunter-Reay’s livery looks as if his nose was damaged and was replaced by one they just happened to have around. I love tribute liveries but this one has just gone halfway. It’s my least favorite livery this weekend.

Some Photos

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From Kyle McInnes

CHERTP1LS

Hunter-Reay Quickest in Practice 1

Ryan Hunter-Reay led the first practice for the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America this morning. The first session for the NTT Indycar Series was dominated by Honda cars with six drivers in the top ten. The three Chevy machiunes from Team Penske were all n the top along with Spencer Pigot of Ed Carpenter racing. Will Power was the fastest Chevy in fourth.

The top 5- Hunter-Reay 1:43.755; Takuma Sato 1:43.824; Scott Dixon 1:43.984; Power 1:444.039; and Newgarden 1:44.070. Alexander Rossi was sixth, still behind Newgarden.

The practice was stopped twice for incidents involving Jack Harvey. The second issue saw Harvey miss turn 12 and slide into the runoff area on the driver’s left. Harvey is okay.

I spent some time during practice exploring various parts of the back part of the track from turns 13 and working down the backstretch to turns 10 and 11. The speed the cars have heading to Canada Corner is amazing.  I drove back to the front stretch through the campgrounds. This track never ceases to amaze me with the skill set a driver needs to do a lap here.

Graham Rahal’s car sure looks Bobby’s MGD car when at speed. Very cool to see that look again.

Rehearsal’s Over; The Show Begins

All the practices are complete and the NTT Indycar Series cars are set for the first qualifying session of the season. As expected, Chevy made more inroads into the top 10. Four drivers, the Penske trio of Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud, were joined by Ed Jones of Ed Carpenter Racing. It did not shock anyone that these cars were the top Chevys.

Honda, meanwhile, continued to lead the session. Ryan Hunter-Reay led his second straight round with a lap at 1:00:8966. Newgarden was just 0.0039 seconds behind. Hunter-Reay seeks his second consecutive pole. The biggest surprise of the morning was Alexander Rossi in 18th.

Fast Six Could Look Familiar

I think we can expect the Penske cars, Hunter-Reay, and perhaps a Carpenter car in the Fast Six. The last car could be Takuma Sato. Sato has been quick all weekend. He was third this morning.

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Don’t count Sato out of a Fast Six appearance

Qualifying is live at 2:30 pm on NBCSN. Watch for my Quick Thoughts here later and my wrapup on Wildfire Sports.

The Early, Early Line

Happy New Year and welcome to another year of The Pit Window. Thanks to everyone for making 2018 a record year for this site.  Here are are some early predictions for the 2019 Indycar season. I may revise these after the Spring Training sessions at COTA next month.

2019 Champion– Alexander Rossi. Rossi made some mistakes that cost him the title last season. He seems to learn quickly and I don’t expect those errors to be repeated. Dixon has never won consecutive titles, which is why I am not picking him. Look for strong competition from Will Power and Josef Newgarden, as usual. Ryan Hunter-Reay rediscovered his groove and may gave his teammate a challenge as well.

Rookie of the Year- I’m  giving a slight edge to Felix Rosenqvist, mainly because of the team he drives for. Patricio O’Ward will present a strong challenge, especially with Harding Steinbrenner Racing receiving some technical support from Andretti, but Rosenqvist will provide strong support to Dixon in his title quest.

Indianapolis 500– Will Power. If any driver is gong to be the next back to back winner of the 500, Power is the one. He has become a master of ovals. Look for his dominance of May to continue. I can imagine the Victory Circle celebration if he returns there. Last year’s will seem tame.

Race Wins-  In 2018, four drivers each won three races. I think we will see a similar situation this season, although I look for Rossi to win a fourth race to give him the edge he needs for the title. Dixon will creep ever closer to the 50 win mark, but will need another year to get there and possibly two to pass Mario Andretti’s 52 victories.

A Brief Survey

I would like to hear from you. What stories did you enjoy the most last year? Which type of column did you not like?  Anything you would like to see more of, or less of? Please let me know.

The Roar

I will be heading to Daytona Saturday for The Roar Before the 24. Look for my coverage on Wildfire Sports. I may have some news regarding Wildfire soon.

2018- Passing Grade for New Aero; Close Points Battle; Talented Rookies

St.Pete set the tone. The racing was going to be better with the new kit. It was going to be a competitive season. A rookie star emerged and would captivate fans. 2018 was all that. That rookie, Robert Wickens, unfortunately didn’t get to complete the year.  Younger stars made a bold statement that they arrived, but the established stars rose to the top at the end, It was one of the most enjoyable seasons. I’ve seen.

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Robert Wickens at Mid Ohio. He finished second in what would be his last complete race of the year.

The Meteor

Robert Wickens stole the pole at the opening race in St. Pete and dominated the race until a lap 108 collision with Alexander Rossi knocked him out of the race. Indycar fans suddenly had a new star to root for. Wickens followed up with a second place finish  at Phoenix after leading the late stages of the race. Five consecutive top tens, including three top fives followed. Then everything came to a horrendous halt in the accident at Pocono. Whether Wickens gets back into a car again is still undetermined. He may miss the entire 2019 season. Despite missing the final three races, Wickens still finished tied for tenth in points and won Rookie of the Year. One of the highlights of last Sunday’s Sonoma finale was seeing a video of Wickens talking to the fans.

The New Aero Package

Two goals of the new aero package were to improve the racing and put the car back in the hands of the drivers. It definitely accomplished the second aim. There was better racing for the most part. Ovals definitely need some more work. Street courses showed the most improvement and road courses had more passing than last year. There is still an aero wash that needs to be tweaked. It’s fun seeing the cars slide through the corners.

A Tight Title Fight

Six different drivers swapped the lead eight times through the Texas race. Scott Dixon took the points lead with his win at Texas and led the rest of the way. His lead ballooned to 62 after Toronto but shrunk to 26 after Gateway. Alexander Rossi was third after Toronto, 70 points behind, but won two in a row at Mid Ohio and Pocono to cut into the lead. Rossi’s last chance to catch Dixon ended in the second turn at Sonoma when he clipped Marco Andretti, cutting a tire and damaging his front wing.

While Dixon’s 57 point final margin seems large, it was not an easy title to win. Dixon, Rossi, Josef Newgarden, and Will Power won three races each, and Ryan Hunter-Reay won twice. This concentration of big points days among a few drivers kept things close.

Dixon’s fifth title puts him into rarefied air. Only A. J. Foyt with seven championships has more than Dixon.

It was a strange route to the championship. Dixon did not win a pole and didn’t lead a lap until the first race in Detroit in June. He had the fewest bonus points of the four main contenders. Dixon dodged two bullets late in the season. He narrowly missed the spinning tub of Wickens’ car at Pocono. At the start of the Portland race, Dixon was involved in a scramble with four other cars, but he suffered no damage and fought back to a fifth place finish.

New teams

Carlin and Harding Racing joined the series full time. Meyer Shank Racing and Juncos Racing had part time entries. All four new teams will return next year with expanded programs. The biggest change for 2019 will be Harding, now Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Carlin is planning on adding a third car. Meyer Shank hopes to participate in ten races next season. Juncos bought a second car but is unsure if it will race during he season.

I will talk about the Harding Steinbrenner team in a post next week.

Rookies Impress

In addition to Wickens, Zach Veach had a string of four consecutive top tens at Toronto, Mid Ohio, Pocono, and Gateway. Veach had run well at times in other races but was plagued by mistakes. He was instrumental in setting up the Andretti cars in testing.

At Sonoma, Indy lights champion Patricio O’Ward got his first Indycar ride with Harding Racing. He got people’s attention with the third quickest lap in Friday’s second practice. He backed that up by qualifying fifth and finishing ninth in the race. O’Ward and Colton Herta will be full time next year for Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

Final Thoughts

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Alexander Rossi at St. Pete. He showed amazing ability to pass anywhere and also had some controversial moments.

Rossi put some spice into several races this year with his charges from the rear. He started 32nd at Indianapolis and finished fourth. At Phoenix he went to the back because of a penalty and came back for a third place finish. At Sonoma he used a timely caution to fight back to seventh and keep second place in the final standings.

Rossi also created some controversy with some moves where contact was involved. the most notorious was was his collision with Wickens at St. Pete. I liked the way he didn’t apologize and just went on driving. Rossi has an old school attitude I really enjoy.

I admire Mike Harding for fielding a team all season on a limited budget. Next year the team should be stronger with added resources.

Thanks to Verizon for their series sponsorship the last five years. I appreciate that unlike other series sponsors, they completed their entire contract length.

Finally, I will continue to send good healing thoughts to Robert Wickens. I hope to see him race again.