Michael Andretti hopes to keep Milwaukee “on the map”

2 Comments

Michael Andretti had a lot to be proud of on Saturday, as his Andretti Autosport team scored the win and three Top-5 finishes in the Milwaukee IndyFest and his Andretti Sports Marketing team put on a second successful event at the historic Milwaukee Mile. A glance at the crowd that saw yesterday’s 250-lap race seemed to show that attendance was again in the 25,000 range like it was for last year’s race in Milwaukee.

“I’m excited about how today went obviously with the win, but also with the people that showed up to support the race,” said Andretti, who won five times at the Mile as a driver. “I think it’s a great day. I think a lot of people had a lot of fun out there with the [IndyFest]. Hopefully, we can get this figured out and get this thing to stay on the map.”

Last year, Andretti Sports Marketing announced to the post-race crowd that a second IndyFest would be in the cards. But that didn’t happen this year and Andretti has admitted that his event is going to need more backing.

“In the end, it’s going to come down to sponsorship. We need more,” Andretti said according to the Chicago Tribune. “We can’t lose this race.”

Adding to the uncertainty is reported interest in staging IndyCar events from nearby 1.5-mile oval Chicagoland Speedway and venerable Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The IZOD IndyCar Series has not raced at the ISC-owned Chicagoland oval since 2010, and Road America hasn’t seen major-league open-wheel racing since 2007.

The good news for Milwaukee race fans is that INDYCAR CEO Jeff Belskus appears to be appreciative of the Andretti group’s efforts to keep racing alive at the Mile, the oldest operating motor speedway in the world.

“We feel we have a lot of good options, and we’re glad to be in that situation and position,” Belskus told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this past week. “But on the other hand, we recognize the folks that have helped get us to this point, and certainly the Andretti team and this event in Milwaukee have been a very positive part of our schedule.

“It’s good racing here in Milwaukee, and if they continue to make progress, that will be helpful in putting this deal together for a longer-term future.”

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.