Updated- Pigot Out at Carpenter; Management Change at Laguna Seca

Photo: Spencer Pigot on Pole Day, 2018. Photo by Mike Silver

The 2019 Silly Season keeps spinning along. It seems as if it has been a decade  Alexander Rossi re-signed with Andretti and we all thought we were in for a boring off season. Today, two changes came to light. Neither is actually a surprise, but the reality always seems to hit hard.

After hearing rumblings all day, confirmation came that Spencer Pigot has lost his ride in the number 21 Ed Carpenter Racing car for 2020. The decision appears to be financial. Carpenter is looking for a driver who is bringing funding, which Pigot does not have. No replacement has been announced, but there are indications that 2019 Indy Lights runner-up Rinus VeeKay may be in line for that car.

Update

On Friday November 15 Rinus Veekay issued the following statement:

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Pigot won every step on the Road to Indy, but has not achieved much success in Indycar. his best finish was second at Iowa in 2018.  He may find an entry for the Indianapolis 500, but I think IMSA may be his best bet for steady employment next season. I have always thought Pigot had loads of talent, but he never consistently showed it in the NTT Indycar Series.

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Pigot practicing for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 in May

There is speculation as to who will drive the number 20 on the road and street courses. Ed Carpenter struck down the talk of F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg joining the team next year.

SCRAMP Out as Laguna Seca Management

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In an email from SCRAMP today:

“After 62 years of continuous management of the Laguna Seca Raceway, the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) has been advised via email by County of Monterey Assistant County Administrative Officer (ACAO) Dewayne Woods that “…the County is now in negotiations with another proposer for management services at Laguna Seca Recreational Area.”

According to the agenda for Tuesday, November 19 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, that proposal is centered on Monterey County’s direct management of the Raceway and Recreation Area.

“This news comes as a surprise to the SCRAMP organization,” said Tim McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and SCRAMP, who took over the position in June 2018. “We were starting to make real progress on getting the facility and the raceway operations turned around and poised for the future, but it appears at this time we may not have the opportunity to see these plans through,” continued McGrane.

“As the existing facility operator, we were stunned by the fact that we were not provided the opportunity to discuss our proposal with the ACAO. The entire process has been unconventional, ranging from the bypassing of the County’s usual Request For Proposal (RFP) process, the announcement in mid-October requesting proposals from any interested parties with only two weeks’ notice, and complaints that SCRAMP had not met deadlines to submit a proposal when in fact a submission date had been agreed upon in May, and subsequently met, has been challenging,” McGrane said.

This is not the first time that the County has sought an alternative to SCRAMP. “We have been in this position before with the County administration, but we, our fans, racing series and teams, do have to look at the possibility of the era of SCRAMP operating Laguna Seca Raceway coming to an end,” McGrane said.

In 2015, Monterey County began private talks with International Speedway Corporation (ISC) who, after a careful review of the operational parameters of the facility, determined not to submit a formal proposal for management of the track. In 2016, the Monterey County Administrators Office entered into negotiations with another group to replace SCRAMP for 2017 but were unable to agree to terms that were mutually acceptable. The County then reverted back to a three-year agreement with SCRAMP to continue running Laguna Seca.

In 2018, the SCRAMP-run Laguna Seca Raceway attracted 263,888 attendees and generated $84.4 million in direct spending generated by event attendees over 26 days of the seven major events. 2019 saw SCRAMP orchestrate the long-awaited and highly-successful return of IndyCars to Laguna Seca, with a larger than anticipated spectator count for the weekend.

“We’ve delivered an extensive, forward-looking proposal to the County for a new, long-term 20-year management and operating agreement that incorporates solid plans for revenue generation and expense reduction, expansion of the use of existing facilities, and development of Laguna Seca into a world-class destination,” said CEO McGrane. “We are building the right team, both paid staff and volunteers, with extensive motorsports experience, institutional knowledge, and the dedication to lead this important Monterey County asset into a successful future. We hope we still have the opportunity to present our plans directly to the County Board of Supervisors and we would be proud to continue SCRAMP’s 62-year stewardship of Laguna Seca on behalf of Monterey County.”

The Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, a 501(c)4 not-for-profit, was formed in 1957 by local business owners and civic leaders. SCRAMP’s goal was to raise the funds needed to construct a permanent motor racing circuit to maintain the tradition of sports car racing on the Monterey Peninsula which had begun in 1950 in the Del Monte Forest at Pebble Beach. SCRAMP is comprised of a Board of Governors, Race and Events Committees, and hundreds of loyal volunteers who donate thousands of hours each year to ensure the successful operation of events here.

The SCRAMP organization acquired leased land from the US Army at Fort Ord on August 7, 1957, and the now-legendary track, built with funds raised by SCRAMP, held its first race, the 8th Annual Pebble Beach at Laguna Seca SCCA National Championship Sports Car Road Races, on November 9 & 10, 1957. In 1974 the site was transferred from the Army to Monterey County, who together with SCRAMP, have managed the facility through this year.

SCRAMP’s current three-year management and operating agreement with Monterey County ends on December 31, 2019. SCRAMP currently employs a full-time professional staff of just over 40 team members. “

I thought the season finale at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca was a well organized event. The media center was one of the best all year.  I know there has been some differences between SCRAMP and the county.

My hope is that this change does not jeopardize the Indycar event in the future. I always get nervous when track management changes.

Back later this weekend with a review of Ford vs. Ferrari.

 

 

 

 

Laguna Seca Postscript-An Improved Finale

Photo; Turn 2 of lap 1.

I went to Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca with low expectations. When the race was announced as the season finale replacement for Sonoma, I thought it was just a lateral move. We would see the same processional race on another narrow track. The only similarity between the two is they are both in northern California. I was wrong on all counts. I was very impressed with the track. The racing was great. I was not anticipating any kind of decent crowd, but again I was pleasantly surprised.

The Track

Not since my first time at Road America have I been so impressed with a track at first glance. The top of the mountain was daunting as I entered the track grounds. My jaw dropped at my first glimpse of the Corkscrew. As massive as the track seems, it is really rather easy to navigate. The layout is actually quite simple.  Walking to the top of the corkscrew is quite a hike. There is a path to walk down from there to turn 10. It’s an easier walk down than up.

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Turn 9, 170 feet down from the Corkscrew

There are several vantage points from which at least 80% of the track can be seen. From the top you can see all of the track except for turn 6 and part of the front stretch. I watched the race from the outside of turn 2. I could see up to turn 5, the run to turn 10, and a bit of turn 11.

Another difference from Sonoma is the greenery.  Sonoma is green in the spring, but when Indycar came in September the scenery was brown. Laguna Seca has lots of evergreen trees and green grass.

The Crowd

I questioned the wisdom of the Indycar scheduling the  finale at this track  a week after the IMSA race. I thought for sure it would hurt attendance.  It was a pleasant surprise to see a good crowd there. I talked to several local fans. One fan told me he had attended every Indycar race at the track and was very happy the series had returned. Several fans were wearing vintage shirts.

A younger couple in the RV camping area told me when they called to reserve a spot the first day tickets went on sale, they each called on their own phones and were on the phone for three hours before one of them got through.

I have seen estimates of 25,000 on race day. I believe that is a credible number. So many fans are hidden from view at the Corkscrew, that it is difficult to gauge the size of the crowd. Sunday’s attendance is a good baseline to grow this event from.

The Race

I was expecting Sonoma 2.0, a race where position changes came about because of pit strategy. Fortunately, it was a good race with challenges for the lead all day, passing through the field, and fights for position in the top ten. Felix Rosenqvist and Sebastien Bourdais carved their way into the top ten from mid-pack. Colton Herta had his hands full holding off Scott Dixon after pit stops.

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Colton Herta leads Will power in the closing stages of the race

The brief yellow in the middle of a stint didn’t allow for pitting, which kept the caution shorter.  I hope this yellow period can serve as a model for the future, where the caution time isn’t extended to allow drivers to pit. I’ve always thought cars should pit under caution at the risk of the green coming back out at any time. IMSA has short yellows. It is something I’d like to see Indycar adopt as well.

It’s Still Not the Finale I’d Like to See

While the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey was a major improvement over the recent finales at Sonoma, I would still prefer the NTT Indycar series end its season on an oval and without double points. An oval provides more chances for drivers behind in the standings to overtake the points leader. If a driver is far enough behind that their only chance to win the title is to dominate a double points race, he or she likely doesn’t deserve the championship.

I’ll be back next week with a full season review and coverage of the aeroscreen test at IMS.

Quick Thoughts- Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

I always wish that that there is still one more race after the season ending event. This year it seems I wish that even more. After a race like that, I’m really sad to see this year end.

If it’s September, a Herta is succeeding at Laguna Seca.

I’m not sure what the race looked on television, but here at the track there was lots of action and intrigue. There were great battles at the front of the field all day.

A masterful job by Colton Herta, who has learned how to manage tires. He should be in the conversation for the title next year. It was a nice way to end the season for  his current team.

Great rebound for Felix Rosenqvist after his qualifying penalty. His fifth place finish sealed Rookie of the Year.

Four poles and two wins is an outstanding record for this rookie class. More on the rookies next week.

All seven winners this year won multiple races.

I saw lots of action from my viewing spot in turn 2. It’s another spot here where most of the track can be seen.

Josef Newgarden has two titles in three years. Could he be the next Scott Dixon?

Simon Pagenaud said, “Do not repave the track. Leave it as it is. It creates the perfect racing. I hope nothing changes. It is the perfect format.”

I don’t remember a season when the contenders going into the final race had all had finishes below 15th at some point in the year.

It will be nice to see a car carrying the number 1 again next season. I think it should be mandatory for the champion to carry it on his car the following year.

 

I have lots of people to thank for making this season  a great one for The Pit Window. I will expand on that next week. But today I will thank everyone for reading all season. I still have some big things coming the next few months.

Some photos from today.

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For the Last Time- Race Day

Good morning from Laguna Seca on the  NTT Indycar Series’ final race day of 2019.  It was a foggy drive in this morning, but the sky was clear by the time I got to the track. A decent line of cars was at the gate. The track is expecting around 20,000 fans today. I’m not sure if the attendance would be better if this race wasn’t a week after the IMSA event. I’m hoping attendance can grow from here.

The race is on NBC. Coverage starts at 2:30 Eastern Time.

I talked to Mike Hull this morning. He said that while the math says two stops, he thinks that is unrealistic with the tire fall off. he said reds and blacks are falling off equally. Hull expects a good race because of the tire fall off.

Tire choices for the start are at the end of this post. Only three drivers are staring the race on primary tires.

Here are a couple more photos from yesterday. The first one gives you an idea of the drop from the too of the Corkscrew to turn 9.

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Tire Designations

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Barring any breaking news, I will be back after the race with Quick Thoughts. My full race report will be on Wildfire Sports tomorrow. Enjoy the race.

 

Quick Thoughts- Laguna Seca Qualifying

Photo: Kyle McInnes

It was a strange grouping to have all the title contenders in Group 1. They all advanced.

Felix Rosenqvist may have thrown the pole away with his incident. He had the fastest lap but was not allowed to advance. We may have missed a great battle between two rookies for the pole.

Herta’s pole is to Newgarden’s advantage since none of the drivers chasing him earned the bonus point.

If Herta can win poles with his current team, imagine what he can do with the full force of Andretti behind him next year.

It was nice to see Max Chilton make the second round.

Newgarden just needs to hold his starting position tomorrow to win the championship.

Will Power missed the Fast Six by just 0.0055 seconds.

Herta’s pole continues the family history of poles at Weather tech Raceway Laguna Seca. His fATHER bRYn won the pole in 1997, 1998, and 1999, Bryan also won the race in 1997 and 1998.

Rookies now have four poles this season.

I look for Newgarden to be a bit conservative tomorrow at the start. he doesn’t necessarily have to finish ahead of Rossi to wrap up the title.

Save your liver- don’t make your drinking game word iconic.

Back tomorrow morning with a quick preview. Thanks for following along this weekend.

 

Qualifying Groups

In my haste to publish my qualifying report, I forgot to include the qualifying groups. Here they are, plus another couple of shots from Practice.

Group 1                                                                                         Group 2

Josef Newgarden                                                                          Felix Rosenqvist

Simon Pagenaud                                                                          Will Power

Max Chilton                                                                                    Takuma Sato

Scott Dixon                                                                                     Colton Herta

Alexander Rossi                                                                             Graham Rahal

Conor Daly                                                                                      Marco Andretti

Sebastien Bourdais                                                                       Charlie Kimball

Zach Veach                                                                                      Santino Ferrucci

Ryan Hunter-Reay                                                                           Marcus Ericsson

Matheus Leist                                                                                    Jack Harvey

Spencer Pigot                                                                                    James Hinchcliffe

Tony Kanaan                                                                                     Ed Jones

A couple of my photos from P3

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