Team Penske’s Will Power had the fastest lap of the first day of practice for the Indianapolis 500 today. His speed of 229.745 was just slightly quicker than teammate Simon Pagenaud’s best lap of 229,703. Power said that the speeds were the result of a huge tow and no one really knows their true speed yet.
Nine drivers were in the 228 or above range in near perfect running conditions.
The only incident of the day was Colton Herta spinning as he exited pit lane. Herta said he accelerated too quickly on cold tires. The only damage was a punctured tire.
Zach Veach exited the pits and immediately went to the high side of the track causing Josef Newgarden to check up quickly. There was no contact.
Pato O’Ward did not complete his rookie test and will have an opportunity tomorrow at 10:20. The track will open for the second practice day at 11:00.
Will Power is trying to pass Mario Andretti’s pole record this season.
Another first round red flag cost Sebastien Bourdais a chance to advance. Has to be frustrating for him, especially since his teammate, Santino Ferrucci, advanced. The red flag to end group 2 may have cost Marco Andretti. Unlike St. Pete, the reds came with less than a minute left in each session, so no one can complain about not having a shot.
I’m not so sure now that the race will be caution free. Turn 19 could be an action packed spot tomorrow.
This rookie class is good. Four of the six advanced to the second round. Felix Rosenqvist was the only to get through to the Fast Six for the second race in a row. He has out-qualified Scott Dixon twice. Rosenqvist had the fastest qualifying lap, 1:45.5 in round 2.
It’s great to see the rookies contending for starting spots at the front every week.
Look for the Power-Rossi front row a lot this season, though not always in this order.
Cars are sliding a lot, which will make for some exciting racing.
Round 2 was one of the best qualifying rounds I’ve seen.
Thank goodness there are no track limits in turn 19. The series might want to move some Porta Potties around, however.
The cars of Pato O’ Ward and Kyle Kaiser look very similar. Doesn’t help that they are numbers 31 and 32.
The race could be 2 hours long at these speeds.
A full qualifying report will be on Wildfire Sports later this evening.
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.
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 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.
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.
ForRobert 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..
ForMcLaren- A successful Indy debut that leads to fuller participation in the series.
ForNBC- 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.
Wednesday evening at the IMS Museum 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power got the first look at his face on the Borg Warner Trophy. Power’s image is the 105th likeness on the trophy.
Sculptor Will Behrends created the image, his 15th face for the trophy that was first awarded in 1936. He works from photos to to create a largeclay sculpture then reduces it to the image cast in silver.
Power said he was relieved to finally win the 500. “As you get closer to retirement yourchances of winning are just overwhelming.”
Power said the emotion he showed in Victory Lane was “…built up on n me slowly over 11 years.”
Doug Boles IMS president, said Will was upset that the speedway put the penetrant sealer on the surface. He wanted the track exactly the way it was last May. After the test this fall, Power said the track was fine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.