More testing for eight IndyCar teams at Pocono

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The final stretch in the “no rest for the weary” portion of this 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule came Tuesday at Pocono Raceway for the second round of testing at “the tricky triangle.” Four drivers participated in a Firestone test at Pocono in April, eight teams tested today, and a full field open test is scheduled for the 4th of July.

In April, unofficial times from Firestone were estimated in the high-41 to low-42 second range (average speeds roughly from 211 to 214 mph). Unofficial times issued from this test on Tuesday are listed below by IndyCar PR. Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s fastest laps are unofficially 217.3 and 217.1 mph.

For most drivers testing, it marked their first opportunity to tackle the 2.5-mile oval. The IndyCar series has its first Pocono race since 1989 on July 7, with the Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco.

“Pocono is pretty incredible,” said Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden, who wasn’t even born the last time IndyCar raced at Pocono. “I’ve never been to an oval like this. It’s a challenge and unlike anywhere we’ve been. It almost combines a bunch of ovals. You have one corner that’s like Milwaukee. Another corner that’s like Kentucky and one like Road America with a kink-like corner. It’s very unique and very difficult to get right.”

From Ed Carpenter, whose sponsor Fuzzy’s is the presenting sponsor of the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown, of which Pocono is the second leg: “Turn 1 (at Pocono) is a beast in the IndyCar. It’s going to be a fun corner to drive in the race and I think the fans will enjoy watching it. It’s definitely different than any place I’ve ever been to. We were trying to compare it to places we’ve been in the past and it reminds me of Phoenix a little bit. It’s its own animal.”

The only other Hondas testing besides Newgarden were Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s pair of entries (Graham Rahal, James Jakes).

Meanwhile the Chevrolet contingent included Carpenter, all four Andretti Autosport entries (Ryan Hunter-Reay, E.J. Viso, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, with Mario Andretti also on hand), Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Will Power, Dragon Racing’s pair of Sebs (Saavedra and Bourdais, the latter of whom didn’t run), KV Racing Technology’s Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro and Panther Racing’s Ryan Briscoe.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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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.