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.

The Pit Window Plays Santa

The big day approaches rapidly, and The Pit Window has gifts for Indycar. Before I pass them out, I want to thank everyone who has read the column this year. There has been a 300% increase in readership in 2018. I am humbled and appreciative. I hope everyone has a great holiday season no matter what or how you celebrate. On to the gifts.

For Indycar- An improved aero package for ovals. The street and road package is great. I hope you can find the answer to improve the oval racing. It seemed to improve as the year went on.

For IMS-

A tweak to the Indy 500 qualifying format to accomodate the larger entry list.

An IMSA race for 2020.

For A. J. Foyt Racing- Some top five finishes in 2019.

For Juncos Racing- A car on the grid for several races, including the 500.

For Zach Veach- Your first Indycar victory.

For Scott Dixon- Your first back to back championship.

For Will Power- Another Indy 500 win. The celebration was worth it.

For Robert Wickens- Continued progress toward full recovery. Watching you battle has been inspiring. You were a joy to watch on track, and you have shown that same spirit in therapy..

For McLaren- A successful Indy debut that leads to fuller participation in the series.

For NBC- Great coverage of all races and an outstanding Indy 500 broadcast.

For All Teams and Drivers- A safe, competitive 2019 season.

I will return mid week next week with a news roundup and a look at what you’ll see here in 2019.

Happy Holidays to all.

Born Racer: The Driver Is Not the Only Hero

Born Racer is a movie about heroes. Of course there is the driver, Scott Dixon, who knows the risks in his profession. But there is also his family, wife Emma and daughters Poppy and Tilly, who show outward strength while inside they are a bundle of nerves. The crew needs to get the car in perfect running condition and manage the race to achieve the best result possible. Sometimes things happen beyond their control, as in the 2017 Indianapolis 500.

Race Day 2017 begins at 5 am in two places. The garages at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway open and Ken Szymanski, the tire man for Scott Dixon’s car, begins checking tire pressures as he ponders what the next twelve hours will bring. In the Dixon motor home, Emma Davies-Dixon prepares breakfast for Scott, who is already focused on the day ahead. He sits quietly watching prerace coverage on a local television station. She sits with him, but doesn’t speak.

Activity at the track continues at an ever quickening pace as race time approaches. After the Ganassi team meets, Dixon and his family walk hand in hand to the grid. As Scott dons his helmet, Emma shares her thoughts about drivers who didn’t come back and the families they left behind.

” I don’t want it to be my turn,” she thinks as the race is about to start. She can only wait anxiously for three hours to know.

Shortly after the first pit stop, Dixon collided with Jay Howard in a horrific crash which sent his car flying into the inside catch fence and wall, destroying his car. Anxious moments are reflected on Emma’s face and the faces of the crew. Dixon gets out of the car on his own. there are more tense moments as Emma waits for him to come out of the infield hospital. somehow, Dixon has a broken ankle, but no other injuries.

One of the most riveting moments of the film is a look at the team on Dixon’s pit stand staring in stunned silence in the seconds just after the accident. The camera captures the dread and concern they feel watching the replay on the video board.

Later we see Dixon return to the motor home at the track being happily met by his daughters and Emma. She talks about how the car saved Scott’s life with relief and still some terror in her voice.

The season and the championship pursuit moves on. Kate Gundlach, a new assistant engineer with the team, talks about seeking perfection in her job to give Dixon the best car possible. Gundlach grew up in a racing family. She is passionate about the sport and her role. Winning the pole and having a chance to win the 500 was exciting, but the chance to win a championship really motivates her.

With just a single win at Road America and some frustrations at other races, there is still an outside shot at the title in the final race at Sonoma. The Penske team has a big advantage with their aero package and Josef Nnewgarden cruises to the title.

Emma and Scott stand together in pit lane. She tells him, “I’m really excited about next year.” As it turns out, that was a prescient statement.

The movie is a tribute to the best current driver in Indycar, who has already established his place among the all time greats of the sport.It also honors his family and team. We get an intimate behind the scenes look at his family and the crew. We see their single focus on one goal, the support they provide each other, and their resiliency when difficulties arise.

Some of my favorite scenes:

Dixon relaxing at home in the pool with his daughters on a rare day off.

Kate Gundlach preparing the steering wheeling with total focus, care, and love,

Emma’s tension while waiting to hear that Scott is okay after the wreck.

Ken Szymanski comparing Scott to Mario Andretti and Ayrton Senna, whom he also worked with. He says that three have that something extra which motivates him to work harder.

The home movies of Dixon’s karting days when he was a kid.

Ron Dixon, Scott’s father, talking of all the money he put into Scott’s racing. He worked extra hours and took out loans just to keep Scott’s career going. “It was all worth it,” he says.

Born Racer is available through Amazon. It can also be downloaded for viewing from iTunes.

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.

 

 

Quick Thoughts- Sonoma Grand Prix and Championship

 

The championship ended before the first lap was over.

Sounded like NBC fumbled the coverage. I hope this isn’t an indication of how next year will be.

Scott Dixon definitely has a place among racing’s legends. Only A. J. Foyt had more championships.

Patricio O’ Ward continued his amazing weekend with a top 10 finish.

Alexander Rossi can pass almost anyone on any track. He might won the title next year.

The race reflected the youth ve. veterans theme of the entire year.Look for my full race recap later this week on Wildfire Sports. I will also have a season review here on Friday.  Thanks for following along this  year.

Quick Thoughts on Sonoma Qualifying

Hunter- Reay may have won the pole but Pato O’Ward was the star of the show. What a great job in his first Indycar weekend.

A non title contender winning the pole helps Dixon and pretty much knocks Power and Newgarden out of contention.

This was Dixon’s best road course qualifying of the year and only his second Fast Six on a natural road course. He could win the championship without winning a pole.

Power regrets not running another lap.

Wind will be a significant factor in the race tomorrow.