Firestone Extends Indycar Partnership Through 2025; Building Race Tire Facility

I never think of Indycar without envisioning a car with Firestone tires. Firestone tires have been synonymous with Indycar it seems like forever. The tire has been on the winning car at the Indianapolis 500 69 times, including the first race in 1911. That relationship remains with today’s news.

Firestone will continue as the sole tire supplier to the NTT Indycar Series through 2025. The announcement of the new deal came at the Dallara Factory in Speedway this morning. In addition, Firestone is building a new state of the art manufacturing facility for Indycar tires in Akron. The building, the Advanced Tire Production Center (ATPC) should produce its first tire in late 2020.

“Champions have relied on Firestone tires for more than a century, and racing has always been the ideal proving ground for new technologies that help us evolve and advance our company’s passenger tire offerings,” said Philip Dobbs, chief marketing officer, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations. “As the NTT IndyCar Series continues gaining momentum, we are introducing new fans to the Firestone brand and strengthening our relationship with the drivers who use our durable, dependable Firestone tires.”

 

Ralph Hubbard, Creator of the HANS Device

Hubbard and his brother-in-law, Jim Downing, created the device in an effort to save drivers’ lives by protecting their heads and necks from the violent jolting in accidents. Their research began in the early 80’s. Indycar was the first series to adopt the device and Formula 1 made it compulsory in 2003. The HANS Device was optional in NASCAR, but after Dale Earnhardt’s death in the Daytona 500, it soon became mandatory.

Drivers and fans are thankful to Dr. Hubbard for work and inventing what is now taken for granted as a part of a driver’s equipment. Many lives have been saved with this attachment.

Indy Qualifying Changes?

The Pit Window has learned that an official announcement about the qualifying format for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 will come either at the end of this week or early next week. Some tweaks to the current format are expected. I will share my thoughts on the new procedures next week. I hope more  changes may be on the way for 2020.

Testing Begins

Weather Tech Raceway hosts the first Indycar test of 2019 Friday. Most of the projected grid will be there. Official Spring training begins Tuesday at COTA. The Tuesday session will be live streamed on Indycar,com.

The entry list for Weather Tech Raceway:

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Indycar’s Pretty Good Week

I’m kidding. It was one of the best weeks the series has had since 2008 reunification. The announcement of NTT as series sponsor was the week’s biggest news, but three announcements followed, strengthening two events and one team. Friday’s news about the new ASPM team, in my opinion, is just as big as the NTT announcement. It could very well change the dynamic in the paddock.

The Road to the Title Begins and Ends with Firestone

Firestone has sponsored the opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for the last few years. The tire supplier now will also sponsor the season finale at Weather Tech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

Firestone and Indycar have been together virtually since the beginning of racing in America.  It is a relationship fans almost take for granted.  It’s great to see that they continue to increase their support of the NTT Indycar Series.

REV Group Helps Road America Keep it Local

REV Group has replaced Kohler as title sponsor the race at Road America. REV is a Milwaukee based company that manufactures RVs and emergency vehicles. REV Group plans to have a hospitality area to salute first responders who attend the event.

The new race sponsor replaces Kohler, who held title rights for the first three years of the race. It is one of the most popular events on the  schedule.

The REV Group Grand Prix is June 21-23, and is one the eight races televised on the NBC network.

 

Arrow Steps Up Commitment to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

Schmidt Peterson is now Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. In a Friday announcement in Denver, Arrow became a team partner and primary sponsor of both Schmidt Peterson cars.  James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson will drive in 2019. A third car will be ready for Robert Wickens when he is able to return.

The relationship between Schmidt and Arrow goes back to 2013 with the develoment of the SAM car, a semi- autonomous vehicle which has allowed Sam Schmidt to drive a street car again. That partnership led to Arrow sponsoring Hinchcliffe and ultimately to a stake in the team.

The new team structure brings a huge infusion of resources to Schmidt’s organization, which should see better results from the entire team. It might take a year for them to be really strong, so I’m looking at a great season in 202 for this outfit.

Arrow is one of the classiest sponsors in the paddock. They stood by the team when Hinchcliffe failed to qualify for the 500 this year, and they are supporting Wickens by holding a seat for him.

To me, this announcement is nearly as big as naming the series title sponsor. It is another large company investing heavily in Indycar.

Aero Tweaks Should Improve Racing at Indy, Pocono

In an effort to improve the superspeedway package the NTT Indycar Series is introducing aero options for both Indianapolis and Pocono. The new Universal Aero Kit introduced last year greatly improved the road and street course racing, but the speedway configuration didn’t produce the hoped for results.

Teams will have more aero tuning freedom on both the front and rear wing of the car.

The rear wing will have a 3/8 inch tall Gurney flap. One option is 13.2 inches wide and adds 50 pounds of downforce. The other choice measures 24.5 inches across and adds 100 pounds of downforce. there is a third flap which covers the entire length of the wing and adds 200 pounds. The full wing flap will only be allowed at Texas.

Extra downforce should allow cars to pass easier.

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The top 2 wings will be available at Indianapolis.

The front wing has a 3/8 inch tall flap which is 5.5 inches wide. Teams may use this flap asymmetrically. One problem in the 500 last year was the front end washing out as cars attempted to pass.

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Glen Wood

Sad news today about the death of Glen Wood, of the famous Wood Brothers racing team. Wood, 93, drove until 1964 and began his race team with is brother Leonard.  His team also was Jim Clark’s pit crew in 1965 when he won the Indianapolis 500.  Their pit stop routine became the norm for Indycar.

The Wood Brothers team is the oldest team in NASCAR. They have won 99 races including 5 Daytona 500s

 

Sonoma’s Final Finale

Indycar’s odd relationship with Sonoma comes to an end Sunday with the Verizon Indycar Series season finale. The 2019 schedule released two weeks ago does not have Sonoma on it. The final race next year will be at Weather Tech Raceway in Monterrey, on the other side of San Francisco.

Since 2015 Sonoma Raceway hosted the season finale and the track has done a great job presenting the new champion. The program has improved each year. The championship presentation is on the track’s front stretch with fans allowed to join the festivities.

Indycar first raced here in 1970 under USAC sanction. Dan Gurney won the 60 lap race. The series did not return to the track until 2005 as an IRL event. It has been on the schedule ever since.

I describe Sonoma as a great track for race cars, but not a great track for racing. The winner is usually determined by who wins the pole or whoever is in a position to take advantage of the pole winner’s misfortune. Attendance has not been great here, but there will be problems improving it at the new venue.

There has been some drama here, however. In 2006 Tony Kanaan held on to second place with a broken wing, taking points away from contenders chasing teammate Dario Franchitti, allowing Franchitti to gain valuable points on his way to the season title. In 2015, Juan Pablo Montoya came into the race with a sizable points lead and had the championship well in hand. A collision with teammate Will Power cost him enough positions to allow Scott Dixon to win the race and the Astor Cup.

I enjoy the track and the surrounding countryside.It’s a beautiful drive to Sonoma and Napa from the track viewing the hills and vineyards. I will miss breakfast at the Fremont Diner and having a drink at Ernie’s Tin Shed. I’m not sure that Weather Tech Raceway will see better racing, but the scenery should be at least as good.

On Wednesday look for my complete race and championship preview on Wildfire Sports.

The 2019 Indycar Schedule; News and Comments

Some thoughts on the Indycar schedule released today:

I like that the huge gap between the first and second race is gone. Having three weeks between Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is probably more appropriate. It allows for testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at a time closer to the 500.

I hope the three weeks between Portland and the Laguna Seca final is just a one year arrangement. IMSA races at Laguna Seca September 15.

Team members have two three week stretches of races plus the four week grind of May and the Detroit doubleheader.

Will Barber return to its traditional date next year? Easter falls on the usual Barber weekend necessitating the change.

I’m excited that Indycar is going to Circuit of the Americas. My first though when I went there for the inaugural Formula 1 race was  that it would be a good track for Indycar.  My concern is attendance. COTA is a huge property. Like IMS, what would be a decent crowd at most places will make the track seem empty. F1 is the only series that has had good attendance in Austin.

While I’m sad to see one less oval on the schedule, I’m happy that Iowa will again be a Saturday night race. That track was made for Indycars on Saturday night.

Attendance at Laguna Seca could also be a concern with IMSA holding an event the weekend before. These two series need to work together and hold joint events.

Television Schedule Still to Come

We know all, the races will be on an NBC network. The question is, which race on which network? I will go out on a huge limb here and say the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Seven other races will appear on the big network. My guessses:

St. Pete- season opener; introduces audience to Indycar

Long Beach- historic track and event

Indycar Grand Prix- prelude to the 500; promotes the 500

The 500

Road America- another classic track; spectatcular scenery

Iowa- Saturday night racing showcases Indycar roots

Pocono- another 500 race; usually one of the best races of the year

Laguna Seca- season finale allows season recap and promotes 2020 season.

I’m sure I have one correct. I left off the Detroit doubleheader. With a limited number of network appearances, putting half of that schedule in a four week span creates a large gap until the next network race.

Harding’s Future?

Last weekend at Portland Harding racing announced that 2018 Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward and Lights runner up Colton Herta will drive in the Indycar finale at Sonoma. Herta tested with Harding earlier this season and O’Ward will test with the team Thursday.

We might be seeing the future of Harding Racing begin. Gabby Chaves, who began the year with Harding and has a contract for next year, may be out of a ride.

Talk still is going on about MclAren taking over harding and some uinvolvement with Andretti Autosport. Both O’Ward and Herta drove for Andretti in Indy Lights.

However this situation turns out, I admire Mike Harding for putting a team together, hiring good experienced people, and running the entire season with older equipment. This was a low budget operation. Small teams like this are what the series needs more of.

Fred Watch

On Wednesday, weather permitting, Fernando Alonso is scheduled to test an Indycar at Barber Motorsports Park. He will drive an Andretti Autosport car, the one Carlos Munoz drove in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Alonso has not announced where he will drive next year. The Indycar schedule has no conflicts with his WEC commitments for 2018. The WEC opener for 2019 is the same weekend as Portland.

Indycar Drivers’ Licenses and Thoughts on the Mad Silly Season

Catching up on a few items from Indycar over the past week:

Last week Indycar in conjunction with the five year plan for Indy Lights, introduced a procedure to obtain an Indycar driver’s license. The criteria grants automatic eligibility to drivers who race in Formula 1 or NASCAR or have a predetermined level of success and/or experience in other series.

Indy Lights drivers become automatically eligible by finishing in the top three in one full season or the top five over two full seasons. Drivers in other series can get a license by accumulating a set number of points over a two year period.

The license criteria allows for exceptions. Among this season’s drivers, Robert Wickens is an example of someone who would have needed an exception and most likely would receive one based on his experience. Santino Ferucci likely would not have gotten a license.

The point values  and criteria for exceptions have not been announced.

I like that Indycar is implementing this system. It should strengthen the grid. Will it prevent ride buying? Not necessarily. It might actually force owners who rely on ride buyers to hunt for sponsorship on their own. Another possible consequence is a case where an owner needs a driver to bring money, but that driver isn’t eligible for a license. How will that exception be handled? Could it cost the grid a car? Would that owner have to sit out?  Like the Road to Indy five year plan, this is still a work in progress, but it is a step in the right direction.

The Three Headed Silly Season- Drivers, Teams, Tracks

Usually Silly Season is all about drivers. This year it is about drivers, teams, and tracks. The one key driver is Scott Dixon, who is a free agent at the end of the season. Will he stay at Ganassi, take what’s rumored to be a gigantic offer from McLaren, or move to Team Penske, as Robin Miller mentioned on the NBCSN Mid-Ohio broadcast?  My guess is he sticks with Ganassi. The McLaren money is untouchable by anyone else, but there are a lot of unknowns with a new team. Dixon at Penske would sap a lot of the rivalry out of the series.

 

Which shade of orange will Scott Dixon wear next season?

Team Shuffles?

Andretti Autosport is planning on having McLaren bring two cars to Indycar next and assumes McLaren  will be in a technical partnership with AA. That would give Andretti eight drivers. Meanwhile, Harding Racing is looking for a technical partner, possibly with Andretti. Two Andretti cars could become a part of Harding’s stable along withe the potential two cars Harding plans to run next year. Got all that? This would give Andretti full or partial control of one third of the grid.

I admire Harding and Juncos Racing going alone this year. A partnership with an established team would help speed their development. However I think eight is too many cars for one owner to have a hand in. I have thought for years Andretti Autosport was spreading itself too thin, yet they keep producing results.

Belardi Racing is looking to expand its entry beyond the 500 next year. Belardi was affiliated with A.J. Foyt Racing for the 500 this year. the car was driven by James Davison. They are also looking to expand their Indy Lights program. This is what more Indycar owners need to do- have an Indy Lights program and develop a driver in their system. It would instantly give more value to a ride in Lights.

The Schedule

We know a little about the schedule from track announcements and an assist from the recently released IMSA schedule. It’s what we don’t know that is preventing a final announcement.

What replaces Phoenix in the Spring? I can’t imagine the series would go dark for five weeks from the St. Pete opener  March 10 to April 14 at Long Beach. The gap to Phoenix was too long at three weeks. With Iowa moving to July 20, does Mid Ohio keep its date the following weekend?

Speaking of Iowa, great news that this will be a Saturday night race again. The racing has always been better there at night.

While Belle Isle got the go ahead from the advisory committee, the race is not officially on until the Michigan department of Natural resources approves it. IMSA has their Belle Isle event listed as tentative on their schedule.

Is there another new track coming on board? Mark Miles has said there will be 17 races again.

The IMSA schedule shows the sports car series at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca the week before the Indycar finale there. I don’t understand how either event will draw much of a crowd. Two major events on back to back weekends cannot help a track’s bottom line. The only remedy would be a discounted combo ticket or a season pass. This sounds iffy for a good crowd at the Indycar finale.

Notes

Colton Herta had his first Indycar test at Portland  with Harding Racing.

Sportscar driver Colin Braun has expressed interest in getting an Indycar ride for next year. The announcers on the IMSA telecast said he would be testing a car. I don’t think he has one scheduled at the moment.

Another sportscar team, Dragonspeed (not Jay Penske’s outfit) is also interested in forming an Indycar team.

With all the expansion planned by current teams and all the possible new entries, the grid could be quite crowded next year. realistically, probably not all of these will pan out, but I do look for a larger grid and even more entries at Indianapolis in 2019.

Indycar News and Notes

Programming note- Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will be televised live on CNBC at 3 pm ET and re-aired on NBCSN at 6:30 pm Sunday.

It seems as if Indycar has a news item or two every day lately. Here are a few tidbits.

Mo Nunn

Mo Nunn died last Wednesday after battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Nunn was the engineer who helped Chip Ganassi’s team first taste success with Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Mike Hul credits Nunn for his current success Ganassi has.

A former Formula 1 driver and team owner, Nunn also owned teams in CART and the IRL. Tony Kanaaan drove for Nunn in CART before going to Andretti Green in 2003.

My friend George Phillips wrote a nice tribute to Nunn on Monday. you can read it here:

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Mid Ohio Features Return of Three Drivers

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will see the return of Jack Harvey in the number 60 Meyer-Shank racing entry. This is a home race for Michael Shank, who is looking to eventually become a full time Indycar team.

Pietro Fittipaldi, recovered from fracturing both legs in a practice accident at Spa two months ago, returns to the 19 car for Dale Coyne Racing. His absence allowed Zachary Claman De Melo toget more time in the car. DeMelo did a nice job. I’d like to see him in a full time ride.

Conor Daly will again be driving for Harding Racing. He took Gabby Chaves’ place in Toronto, giving the team its best qualifying and finishing position of the year. Chaves is still under contract with the team through 2019. He will be back in the car at some point. The team is pleased with the technical information Daly is providing. Harding is hopeful of having a two car team next season.

Rahal Says Steak n Shake May Return

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing owner Bobby Rahal said that Steak n Shake may return as a sponsor of Graham Rahal’s car in the future. The company withdrew this year to redirect funds elsewhere. It would be great to see them back. Steak n Shake did a lot of activation with signs and prerace weekend appearances by Rahal at their restaurants.

Wildfire Sports is My Home for Mid Ohio

I will be reporting for Wildfire Sports this weekend Friday through Sunday. You can find my columns at wildfireradiosports.com.

I will post quick thoughts here and live tweet during the weekend. Follow along on the blog’s Twitter account @PitWindow.

Mid Ohio usually produces some big announcements about the next season.  Stay tuned

 

2019 Indycar Finale at Laguna Seca

The Verizon Indycar Series announced today that Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca will host the Indycar season finale in 2019. The event is scheduled for September 20-22  Indycar raced at the northern California track from1983- to 2003 under CART sanction. Champ Car sanctioned the last race in 2004.

The announcement most likely means that Sonoma will not return to the schedule. Remarks by Sonoma Raceway president Steven Page indicated that Sonoma would “seek other opportunities” if the finale moved.  I think it would be difficult for that area to support two Indycar races, even though they would be at opposite ends of the calendar.

Pros and Cons of the Move

Pros

Sonoma’s attendance has been flat the last four years. I have attended since 2014, and didn’t notice an appreciable difference from year to year. Weather Tech Raceway Laguna  Seca has a chance to build a crowd at an historic venue for Indycar. I’m not saying the racing will be better, but the opportunity to build an audience over the next three years is there. The track will be another chance to see how the new aerokit works. Sonoma this year may give us a clue.

Monterey has a larger, closer population base to draw from. The Monterey area is as beautiful as Sonoma, and is closer to more potential fans.

The track has fourteen months to promote. The management should be on the phone to Gateway to find out how to promote a race.

The race is a week later than the finale is later. Keep pushing the season toward October.

Cons

The finale is still on a road course. A road course gives the points leader heading into the event a big advantage. An oval would give the drivers behind more of a chance.

The race will finish late on a Sunday afternoon or early evening in the East, meaning less recognition for the series champion.

If Portland is still the next to last race on labor Day weekend, there will be a three week gap until the final. That is too long to build momentum for the race that could determine the championship.

 

I’m always willing to give tracks a chance. It will be fun watching how this event turns out.