Ferrucci Quickest in First Practice

Photo: Kyle McInnes

Santino Ferrucci added to the outstanding resume of the 2019 rookie class as he led the pre qualification practice for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Ferrucci’ s best lap was  184.804 miles per hour. Rookie Marcus Ericsson was second quick at 184.527. Scott Dixon finished third.

The session began with all three Team Penske cars, led by Josef Newgarden, occupying the top three spots. Colton Herta briefly took the lead. Newgarden reclaimed first place a few minutes later.

The Penskes stopped getting faster and Hondas took over. Newgarden finished fourth, Will Power seventh, and Simon Pagenaud 14th. Newgarden and Power were the only Chevy’s in the top ten.

Next up is qualifying at 6:15 ET. Back with my Quick Thoughts afterwards.

Ferrucci, Chase Briscoe Promote Iowa with Habitat Project

From Iowa Speedway:

VIDEO NEWS RELEASE: NASCAR and INDYCAR Drivers Build Home with Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity

Drivers pitched in to help a future Habitat family to kick off Iowa Speedweek

NEWTON, Iowa (July 9, 2019) – NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Chase Briscoe and NTT IndyCar Series rookie sensation Santino Ferrucci joined Iowa Speedway staff and the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity for a day of rehabilitating a home on Des Moines’ northside. The Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, all-embracing Christian ministry committed to improving homes and facilities for disadvantaged families.

The drivers were in town to promote Iowa Speedway’s first ever back-to-back race weekends – Iowa Speedweek – featuring the NTT IndyCar Series Iowa 300 on July 20 and culminating with the NASCAR Xfinity Series U.S. Cellular 250 on July 27.

Download b-roll and interviews via direct video link courtesy of Luminary Creative – Des Moines, Iowa: http://bit.ly/HabitatIowa

 

 

Indycar at Mid Season Part 1- Surprises

The mid point of the NTT Indycar Series always seems to arrive too quickly. Wasn’t St. Pete just two weeks ago?   The crews and teams have a welcome break, which became even better for them as Wednesday’s scheduled test at Road America has already been cancelled for now due to weather. I don’t know why the test wasn’t scheduled for the Wednesday of race week.

As with every season, 2019 has had  some surprises and disappointments along with the predictability of the Big Three winning most of the time.. The top four in points are separated by just 89 points. All four have won at least one race.  Josef Newgarden leads Alexander Rossi by 25 points. I don’t think this fight is over by any means. Today I’ll talk about the surprises of the first half of 2019. Tomorrow I’ll discuss the first half disappointments.

Surprises- Rookies, Missing Names from Win Column

Will Power-

The biggest surprise of the season is that Power has not won a race yet. He has two third place finishes, one at St. Pete and last week at the second Detroit race, three other top ten finishes and is sixth in points.  Last place at COTA and an 18th place finish at Detroit in race one have hurt his standing. I expect him to win a race or two the second half of the season.

Keeping it Close-

Each of the top four drivers- Newgarden, Rossi, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott Dixon-have at least one finish below 15th place.  Last season  in Dixon’s march to the title he had a worst finish of twelfth. Newgarden’s three victories are allowing him to keep the lead.  Team Penske drivers generally have a tendency to fade the second half of the year. Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015 let a comfortable lead slip away and lost the championship to Dixon. Helio Castroneves lost a couple titles late in the season. Newgarden in 2017  and Pagenaud in 2016, however, won their titles with consistent runs and were strong throughout their title years.

Santino Ferrucci-

Where did this guy come from? He was nearly invisible at the beginning of the year, but has shown consistency of late with four top tens in the last five races. he has five top tens this year, including a career best fourth at Texas Saturday night. The Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year now leads the rookie standings by 12 points over Felix Rosenqvist.  Ferrucci has driven extremely well on the two ovals. There are three ovals in the second half of the season.

The Other Rookies-

Felix Rosenqvist

Rosenqvist got off to a great start at St. Pete where he led laps and finished fourth. He then won the pole for the Indycar GP at IMS. Rosenqvist has five top tens and two top fives. His two DNFs and 23rd place finish at COTA have put him behind Ferrucci.

Colton Herta

If Herta finished every race Rookie of the Year would not even be close. Four straight DNFs followed his win at COTA. The issues were mechanical. Saturday at Texas he was in a position for at least a podium when he and Dixon collided with less than 20 laps to go.  If Herta drives like he did for most of the race at Texas in the second half of 2019, he could win again or see the podium a couple of times.

Marcus Ericsson

Ericsson’s second at Detroit has been the highlight of a season filled with lots of frustration.  He has just three top tens,but two have come in the last two races. Ericsson has had some good days ruined by mistakes. He still could have a decent season.

Other Surprises

Alexander Rossi

The surprise is that Rossi has won just once this year. His car just doesn’t seem to have enough to get to first.  Rossi showed frustration after Texas, his third runner-up finish of the year. He is having a great year, but I expected just a bit more. I still think his consistency will get him to the top. Rossi  also has two race/season saving moves this season. He was able to keep his car going in Detroit last Sunday after the collision between Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe. Saturday night he narrowly avoided the spinning car of Herta on the apron.

Takuma Sato

I saved the biggest surprise for last. Sato is driving better than he ever has this season. Two poles and a victory have Sato in fifth place in the standings. He has been on the podium three times, including at the Indianapolis 500 where he cam from way back. Sato’s only mistake this season came Saturday at Texas when he came into the pits too fast and hit a crewman. His stop and go penalty left him three laps down and in fifteenth place.  Sato will be a factor in the title fight all season.

Tomorrow- Disappointments

 

Quick Thoughts- DXC Technology 600k

That turned out to be a fun race at the end. It was a pretty tame race for Texas.

Josef Newgarden has three wins already this season. No one had more than three wins in 2018.  This puts Newgarden in a great position to win a tiebreaker, although should  Alexander Rossi tie him in wins, Rossi has three second places to date.

If Newgarden wins the championship, Tim Cindric should get a big share of the credit. Another brilliant call to pit on the first yellow worked out and brought the car home first. All three of Newgarden’s wins this year can attributed to pit/tire calls by Cindric.

Rossi had a great save to avoid the Herta-Dixon crash. It likely saved his title hopes.

The high line never came in tonight as it usually does. Rossi lost one of his strengths without that second groove.

Graham Rahal had a quiet race, but ends up third.  Glad to see him finally have a good result in what has been a frustrating season for his team.

Remember when crew members wore short sleeves and no helmets? A serious injury or worse didn’t happen on pit lane tonight because of the mandated safety equipment for crew members. That was a scary crash in Sato’s pit. Glad to see the crewman was okay.

Dixon has made race ending mistakes two straight weekends.

It’s a shame that James Hinchcliffe  crashed. He had the drive of the race going until then.

Colton Herta also had a great run going.   He made some incredible moves. A shame his day ended the way it did.

What can we say about Santino Ferrucci? His fourth place tonight  at Texas gives him  three top tens in the last four races. Ferrucci is now leading the Rookie of the Year standings. He has done this rather quietly.  Ferrucci has improved every week.

Zach Veach continues his disappointing season.

Look for my full race report on Wildfire Sports tomorrow.  Next week I take a look at the season at the halfway point.

 

Comings and Goings- The Indycar Grid Adds More Youth, and Other Notes

Chip Ganassi has never been known for his patience with drivers. Ask Darren Manning and Ed Jones. Jones was the latest one year and out at Ganassi as Felix Rosenqvist will drive the 10 car with continued support from NTT Data. To be fair, Jones did not have a bad season with eight Top tens and two podiums. It was just not as good a season as the team had hoped. He did not take many points away from Dixon’s championship rivals. 2019 will be the third consecutive season a new driver has been in car 10.

Rosenqvist won three races in 10 starts in Indy Lights in 2016, then spent 2018 in Formula E. He won twice and finished sixth in the standings. Rosenqvist does have talent and will be a strong contender for Rookie of the Year. The rookie class is quite deep with Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta already in the field.

C. J. O’Donnell to Leave at the End of the Year

C. J. O’Donnell,  Indycar’s chief marketing officer since November 2013, will leave his position at the end of the calendar year. In his five years with the series, O’Donnell and his team has grown the fan base, adding 1 million followers to Indycar social media platforms, increased television viewership by 23% and helped attendance at races grow. I had the good fortune to meet him at Long Beach a few years ago. I wish him well in his future endeavors. O’Donnell and Jay Frye are two of the best hires Indycar has made in recent years.

Coyne Fills Second Seat

Yes, it is October 1 as I write this. No, that is no a typo. Dale Coyne Racing announced today Santino Ferrucci will drive the number 19 car full time in 2019. He and Sebastien Bourdais in the 18 mean Coyne has both drivers signed about as early as I can remember. This should help with their off season testing.

Ferrucci drove four races for  Coyne in 2018, the double header at detroit and the final two races at Portland and Sonoma. He finished 11th at Sonoma. Ferrucci had been pursuing an F1 career in Europe but was suspended for on track incidents at a race in early July. There have been no issues during his brief time in Indycar.

I’m interested to see how he does over the course of a season. He has done fairly well as far as keeping the car on course. Ferrucci was hit from behind in the second Detroit race after a clean Race 1.

Seats Still Open

Three full time  rides from 2018 still need drivers. The 23 Carlin car, the Schmidt 7 (6 is reserved for Robert Wickens), and the Carpenter 20 road/street ride. Charlie Kimball, who drove the 23 for Carlin last season, reportedly does not have a full year budget and may drive the car part time. Schmidt has offered his open seat to a couple of drivers who have turned it down. Carpenter would like to re-sign Jordan King, but there has not been any news about that lately.

Carlin and Rahal Letterman Lanigan have talked about adding a third car, which could be good news for Ed Jones. Dreyer and Reinbold Racing may be close to running a part time schedule, including the Indianapolis 500. Sage Karam would likely drive.

Dragon Speed and Scuderia Corsa are still consdering their options.

Of course everyone is awaiting a decision from McLaren. I’m trying to keep my expectations low and hope to be pleasantly surprised. When they do announce their plans, I think I’ll be grateful that I gave up Track Forum a while ago.

Running the 1?

Unless sponsor PNC Bank insists on having the 1 on the car they back, look for Scott Dixon to carry the number 9 again next season. Ganassi and Dixon have been reluctant to put the number 1 on their cars following a championship. They did one year and that year did not go well.

I think the champion should not have an option and should be required to run the number 1. This is another point on which the series will not listen to me.