Indycar at the Halfway Point- Good Racing, Tight Points Battle

It’s hard to believe the NTT Indycar Series is already at the halfway mark of the season. It has been one of the best first halves I remember. No one is running away with the points lead, the racing has been really good, and one team is in position to play spoiler in the second half. As usual, Team Penske is dominating the stats with five wins in eight races, but Marcus Ericsson from Chip Ganassi Racing leads the standings. Each race has had a different driver, representing five teams, on the pole, something that hasn’t happened since 1961. Here are a few of my thoughts on the season so far.

Team Penske: Strong Return to Form

The team which usually leads the series in wins and poles won just three races in 2021 and had five poles, four by Josef Newgarden. This season the team has won five times, three by Newgarden and one each for Will Power and Scott McLaughlin. The team already has three poles.

Power is second in points, Newgarden third, and McLaughlin has faded to ninth after a strong start.

Josef Newgarden is the only driver with multiple wins in 2022

Newgarden looks to be in a good position to win the championship, just 32 points behind Ericsson and with a lot of momentum following his win last Sunday at Road America. Newgarden is the only driver with more than one win this season.

Eight Interesting Races

In a set of eight races we can normally expect a clunker or two, but I think every race in 2022 has held my interest. There has been more passing than I expected, and plenty of twists and turns with collisions and mistakes to change the complexion of several races.

My two favorite races were the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course and the Detroit Grand Prix. The GMR GP was a wild affair in the rain with teams flipping strategies nearly every lap. This is a much better race when it rains.

The Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit was a beautiful mix of tire strategies. Each of the first four finishers were on a different path.

Andretti Poised for Second Half Run

Aside from Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport has been mostly invisible the past season and a half. Herta has won four races in the past season and a half, but there has not been much else from the team. The trend is beginning to change. Herta won the GMR Grand prix in May, and Alexander Rossi is beginning to return to his old form. Rossi has five top 10s this year, including top fives in the last three races. He won the pole at Road America last weekend, and he has finished on the podium the last two times out. Rossi entered the Indianapolis 500 18th in points and is now 7th.

Rossi on his way to the pole at Road America

The team finish last week of Rossi third, Romain Grosjean fourth, and Herta fifth was its best overall showing in a while. I look for Andretti drivers to be more of a factor in the second half of 2022.

Notes

Some other things to look for staring at Mid Ohio in two weeks:

Will Arrow McLaren SP develop the consistency they seem to be lacking? Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist each have a pole, and O’Ward won at Barber, but we never know which team will show up at any race.

O;’Ward is fourth in the standings, but it seems like he should second or third. Rosenqvist has improved to eighth place, and is driving well enough to save his job, but when they are off they are way off.

Kyle Kirkwood has raised the bar at A. J. Foyt Racing. He has a top 10 finish and has made the second round of qualifying twice. Some of the teams best tracks are on the second half of the schedule, and I look for a couple of decent results before the end of 2022.

Will Scott Dixon win again? The last win for the active career leader in victories was May 1, 2021, 21 races ago. Since that time his teammates Alex Palou and Ericsson have won six times. It has been 17 years since Dixon went through a year without winning at least one race. Mid Ohio or Toronto may be his best two chances. Dixonb has won three times at Toronto and five times at Mid Ohio.

1972: Donohue Spreads His Wings for Penske’s First 500 Win

The 56th Indianapolis 500 was a transformational year in 500 history. Bolt on front wings and rear wings came into widespread use. It would the 500’s last all American driver field. The Pacer light System to control the position of cars during caution periods debuted. Thankfully, it didn’t last long.

Race Day featured a last minute replacement singer for “(Back Home Again in) Indiana,” a television actor named Jim Nabors. He would return to sing it again a few times.

The front row had Bobby Unser on pole. Unser had destroyed the track record by 17 miles an hour thanks to the addition of the rear wing. Peter Revson, 1971 pole sitter, lined up in the middle of the row, and Mark Donohue started on the outside.

The Front Row Bobby Unser (R), Peter Revson, and Mark Donohue (L)

Donohue was the lead driver of the relatively new Team Penske, which came to IMS for the first time in 1969. Donohue had been competitive in his first three races. He finished seventh in 1969, second in 1970, and started second but dropped out with gear issues in 1971.

Mark Donohue

Unser charged into the lead and built a big lead, but it only lasted 30 laps. Ignition problems put Unser out of the race. Seven laps earlier Revson had dropped out with gearbox issues.

The start of the 56th 500. Unser beats Revson to turn1. Donohue slots into third.

Gary Bettenhausen assumed the lead, leading 138 of the next 145 laps. Ignition failure ended his day on lap 182. Jerry grant took over the lead of the race. A deflating tire forced Grant to pit with 12 laps to go. Grant thought he would settle for second, except that he pitted in teammate Bobby Unser’s pit. Grant was later disqualified and was officially twelfth.

Mark Donohue inherited the lead from Grant and went on to take the checkered flag. Roger Penske had won his first Indianapolis 500. His team has won a few more since then.

I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more fanfare concerning the 50th anniversary of Team Penske’s first win. The team produced a team logo commemorating the occasion today. I thought the Speedway would do more to honor the milestone.

While the 1972 front row wasn’t the most tragic in history, fate was not kind to two of its members. Revson was killed in a fiery crash while practicing for the 1974 South African Grand Prix.

Donohue would lose his life the following year preparing for the Austrian Grand Prix. It was a strange accident. Donohue crashed into a catch fence. he seemed fine when he got out of the car, but developed a headache which became worse. a few days later Donohue lapsed into a coma and died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Mid Ohio- Finally Team Penske Finds Victory Circle

Photo by Matt Fraver, Indycar

Charlie Brown got to kick the football at last. On his third try to win a race from the pole, Josef Newgarden hung on despite rapidly fading tires to win the Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio. Marcus Ericsson made up much of the eight second gap he had with less than 10 laps to go to finish just 0.8 seconds behind.

Newgarden;s win ended a season of frustration for himself and Team Penske as both took their first victory of the year. In Detroit race 2, Newgarden lost to Pato O’Ward as his tires could not maintain pace in the final three laps. At Road America gearbox issue with two laps to go caused Newgarden to fade to 21st from the lead. Will Power had Detroit race 1 in hand until his car would not restart after a red flag.

The race was a decent one for Mid Ohio, with a nice battle for positions third through sixth in the middle of the race.

Some Thoughts

Marcus Ericsson once again stood ready to take advantage of a Team Penske misfortune, but Newgarden was able to hang on this time. Ericsson is becoming a great teammate to points leader Alex Palou and Scott Dixon, who is third in points. He sits 5th in points, 104 points behind Palou.

Palou did what he needed to do in what I thought was a championship drive yesterday. He got the most points he could, and he only lost points to the contending driver farthest away from him. Newgarden still trails Palou by 69 points with six races to go.

Pato O”Ward picked his way through the field from 20th to finish eighth and maintain second place in the standings. He trails Palou by 39 points.

Will Power’s season of frustration continues. Yesterday’s lap 4 crash ended what could have been a very strong day for the 2014 series champion. I’m not sure there is any blame to assess here. he and Dixon had a great duel through turns 4 and 5.

Santino Ferucci has driven in four races in 2021 and has four top ten finishes with a ninth place yesterday. Has Rahal found his third full time car? The sponsor, Hy Vee, has to like what they’re seeing. Ferrucci started 22nd.

Romain Grosjean continues to impress with a great save in the keyhole after being blocked by Sebastien Bourdais. His seventh place finish rom 18th on the grid was one of several great drives yesterday. Grosjean has four top tens in seven races.

Ryan Norman had a respectable outing in his Indycar debut. Although he finished 20th, he had worked his way up to 15th at one point and seemed to be on a good pace.

I find it sad that Simon Pagenaud is not a in the conversation for agood finish anymore.

Are the hot seats getting hotter for Felix Rosenqvist, James Hinchcliffe, and Ryan Hunter-Reay? Sunday’s first lap incident involving all three drivers didn’t help their causes any.

Colton Herta’s race woes continue. Two bad pit stops knocked Herta out of contention yesterday. He qualifies well, but the team needs to work on the race setup.

Jack Harvey’s team needs to rethink their strategy. Once again, they chose an off strategy move which didn’t pay off. The Meyer Shank team seems too eager to try something different instead of seeing how the race will play out. They have been in a funk since winning the Indianapolis 500 with Helio Castroneves.

Side Bars

It was a profitable day for the Ohio State Troopers, who were busy all day, “welcoming” motorists to Ohio on Interstates 71 and 70.

The crowd was near the normal size for Mid Ohio. Indycar races on July 4th have not been well attended in the past. While I would prefer to celebrate the 4th in some other fashion, I was okay with the relatively short drive in the same day.

I liked the early start time. Even if Mid Ohio returns to its traditional date next year, I hope they retain the noon start,.

Mclaughlin in Pennzoil Car for 500

Scott Mclaughlin will drive the number 3 Pennzoil Car in the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500. He will use the paint scheme which Helio Castroneves used in his last race with Team Penske.

The three time Australian Supercars champion revealed the car in this video this morning.

I think.its time to retire the term yellow submarine. Just because the car is yellow and sponsored by Pennzoil doesn’t make it the yellow submarine. That was a special car driven by Johnny Rutherford. The chassis was unique. This is a spec Dallara.

IMS Mass Vaccination Clinics Resume Tomorrow

Thursday is the first day of three April weekends of mass COVID vaccination clinics at IMS. THE first clinic was a resounding success with more than 16,000 shots dispensed. The goal for the April clinics iss 96,000 vaccinations. Ad of today, Indiana residents age 16 and older are eligible for the vaccine.

Newgarden: Focus on 500 Win and Aiming for Another Championship

Photo: Chris Jones, Indycar

Don’t get Josef Newgarden wrong. He is focusing on winning the Indianapolis 500 this year. That doesn’t mean he is putting his desire for a third NTT Indycar series title aside. He would gladly take both in 2021. Since 2017, Newgarden’s titles have come every other year. This is one of those years. About his plans for the upcoming season, Newgarden says,

“Well, it’s definitely the same. It’s a little boring, but it doesn’t change. We want to win an Indy500. For me specifically, that’s a big goal. I’ve not won that race. Obviously as a team, we’ve had a lot of success there. They’d like to add to that.For me, I’d like to get my first. Then the championship as well, yeah, we’re looking for another one. Obviously I was hoping we were going to win our third championship last year and we could be working on the fourth. We’re going to have to go back to square one and try to knock the third off this season.”

Winning the 500 takes a lot of time and effort. Newgarden explains,

“Indy is a really tough track, not only because it’s the most important race but I think because it’s all about very small details, and those little details take a tremendous amount of time and effort to move the needle. It’s all these little things that add up at the end of the day when you show up in the month of May . It takes a tremendous amount of time to make large progress at Indianapolis, whereas at another track you may find a small difference or small change with something that you found that didn’t take nearly as much energy or money or resources.

We didn’t perform like we wanted to at the 500 from a qualifying standpoint and race standpoint. I think that’s why we’ve heavily leaned to get that right in the off-season.We haven’t left anything else behind. We’re still pushing forward on all the other fronts because we need to be strong across the season.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske crew was was not as strong at Indy as they have been in the past.

“Last year our qualifying form was not strong. We were all disappointed with our speed. That was first and foremost. How do we fix the speed of the cars from last season? There’s been a tremendous amount of work that’s been put in. We have the best of the best in my opinion when it comes to talent and personnel. There’s been no shortage of effort and time to make these Penske race cars as fast as possible. That was first and foremost.”

Newgarden shares many other drivers’ optimisim that Roger Penske is the right man to leading Indycar during these difficult times.

“I think this year has strong potential to really go to the next phase of where we’re at in this pandemic, hopefully back to a newer normal and working towards what we love, and that’s having people at the track, putting on great shows,providing great entertainment.I’m really excited. As we get to this next phase, I think the best is still yet to come from Roger Penske and the entire organization. I think, like I said, we’re all very thankful that he’s in charge and that we’ve got a good direction in front of us.”

Newgarden summed up his 2020 season as one where the breaks didn’t fall his way.

“I feel like last year was one of those years. We were just inthe wrong place, wrong time, a little too often. You have that happen just one too many times, basically what happened to us is the result of it. I felt like our momentum was quite consistent throughout the year, at least from a performance standpoint. We could just not seem to catch enough breaks. That’s the nature of the beast.”

African American-Led Ownership Group To Compete in Road To Indy

From the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today. Follow up story later.
Team Penske to mentor new team as it launches competition in 2021 USF2000 Series INDIANAPOLIS (Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020) – African American business leader and former team manager Rod Reid has announced the formation of Force Indy, a race team set to compete in the 2021 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship. For 30 years, USF2000 has been the formative step of the popular Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system, which culminates in scholarship opportunities in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. This program has grown into a proven pipeline for open-wheel racing’s future stars. Force Indy Team Principal Reid brings years of karting and auto racing experience and a recently expanded relationship with NXG Youth Motorsports Inc., which has introduced more than 2,300 students from under-represented communities, ages 11 to 15, to the educational benefits of the sport. Force Indy’s race team will focus on hiring and developing Black American men and women mechanics, engineers, staffers and drivers.  “I started a race team in 1984, and I have always had a desire to have a team of talented individuals who look like me in the professional ranks of the sport,” Reid said. “I have been in and around the sport for 40 years, and this is just the culmination of years of hard work. I simply cannot wait to see this race team on the track this spring.” The Force Indy announcement includes a mentorship from the legendary Team Penske, winners of a record 18 Indianapolis 500’s and 16 NTT INDYCAR SERIES championships. During its first season, Force Indy will be based in Concord, North Carolina, as it receives guidance from Team Penske’s key personnel. “When the IMS and INDYCAR acquisition happened a year ago, I was pleased to learn of the work Rod Reid was doing,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairman Roger Penske said. “To lend our support to an effort like this is a natural. Together, we’ll work to not only get this new team off the ground but continue to support it and its mission as it continues down a path to compete at the top level.” Force Indy will make its debut at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, March 5-7, 2021. The team will use No. 99 on the car in honor of the late Dewey “Rajo Jack” Gatson, who drove a roadster with that number toward the end of his career in 1951. Gatson, one of the winningest African American drivers and mechanics in racing history, never received an opportunity to race in the Indianapolis 500.  Overall, the initiative is part of a broader picture in the INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway “Race for Equality & Change,” announced in July. The goals include recruiting and developing a diverse workforce throughout all levels of INDYCAR and IMS, ultimately creating a community that fundamentally transforms the sport. “Rod is a passionate leader and talented team builder who has demonstrated a fundamental commitment to equality and opportunity in our sport,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “IMS has been privileged to be a partner with Rod and NXG for more than a decade, and we know he’ll bring the same commitment and drive for excellence to Force Indy.” Sponsorship and driver for Force Indy’s inaugural season will be announced at a later date. “We are fortunate to have Team Penske offer guidance and race-winning experience,” Reid said. “Roger’s experience will be an invaluable resource in creating a successful organization. There’s no better time than now to start a team.” For additional information, please visit the team’s website: www.ForceIndy.com

A Title for Helio at Last

It appeared to be over almost before it had begun. Helio Castroneves watched helplessly from the pit stand as Ricky Taylor had trouble leaving the pits after the Penske Acura’s first pit stop 45 minutes into the 12 Hours of Sebring. A boost issue forced the car back to the garage and cost them 11 laps on track. They would need help to win the IMSA Weather Tech championship. The help came from an unlikely source.

Wayne Taylor Racing, starting the day two points behind the Team Penske duo, looked to be in a solid position to overtake the season leaders. A collision between Scott Dixon, in the Taylor Cadillac and Oliver Jarvis in one of the Mazdas, forced dixon to pit. The team needed to replace the radiator, putting them five laps behind. While still ahead of the Penske car, the Taylor entry couldn’t make up enough positions to gain the three points they needed for the lead.

With the focus on the two cars, the Action Express entry was now in a position to jump into the series championship. hey were well underway until the 10th hour, when Pipo Derani tangled with Juan Pablo Montoya in the other Team Penske car. Derani received a drive through penalty, ending the title hopes for Action Express.

Thus Helio Castroneves, in his final race for team Penske, finally won a title for the Captain. Castroneves had finished second seven times in Indycar for Penske despite three Indianapolis 500 victories and 30 race wins overall. Castroneves begins a new Indycar chapter in 2021 when he drives in six races for Meyer Shank Racing.

Helio’s perseverance in pursuing a championship is admirable. he put in a lot of hard work. It took a little longer than he hoped to finally realize one of his goals.

Indycar Well Represented at Sebring

Indycar drivers and team owners had a good day and night at Sebring. In addition to Castroneves winning the season championship for team Penske, Ryan Hunter-Reay drove for the winning Mazda entry, and Simon Pagenaud was a part of the Team Penske Acura entry which finished second. Two time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya also drove the runner-up car.

Meyer Shank Racing won the season championship in the GTD class with drivers Mario Farnbacher and Matt McMurry, edging Wright Motorsports by two points. meyer Shank will move to the DPi class next season, taking over one of the Acura entries. Will Castroneves be a part of this venture too?

The Michael Shank Acura, winner of the IMSA Weather Tech GTD title

Other Indycar drivers- Sebastien Bourdais finished fifth overall in his final full time ride. Bourdais will pilot the number14 for A. J. Foyt racing in Indycar in 2021.

Colton Herta ended the night fourth in class driving for RLL.

Indycar Works in Qualifying Amid Big News Days

Good morning from the northern annex of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg media center. I hope that those of you at the track are following COVIS protocols and are staying safe.

Today’s schedule, all times Eastern:

Practice- 10:55-12:25 NBC Gold

Qualifying 3:05-4:20 NBC Gold

8:00-9:00 (tape delay) NBCSN

I will have a spoiler alert report after qualifying. The pole winner will not be in the headline.

There were several bits of news yesterday, and I understand some more news is coming around 2 pm today.

Firestone has extended its sponsorship agreement for this race through 2023. Should St. Pete remain as the opening race of the season, this venue will be our first look at the new 2.4 liter engine with a hybrid system. the news is also encouraging in that a company in these uncertain times is willing to make a commitment for that length of time.

Last night Team Penske made it official that three time VA Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will drivea fourth entry for the team in the NTT Indycar Series in 2021. McLaughlin makes his Indycar debut this weekend. A link to the announcement can be found here:

https://thepitwindow.blog/2020/10/23/team-penske-adds-mclaughlin-to-indycar-for-2021/

Scott McLaughlin addresses the media in Austin in February

Per Adam Stern, Chip Ganassi Racing has secured sponsorship for Jimmie Johnson to the road and street courses in 2021. An announcement is expected soon. This may be the 2 pm announcement,scheduled for today.

Last, best wishes for a speedy recovery to my friend Jake Query, who is recovering from a heart attack, and resting comfortably in Indianapolis.

Back after practice