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IndyCar 2014 silly season update, round 1

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The championship is in the books for the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, and while my colleague Chris Estrada and I will have a bevy of postseason wrap-up content to come, it’s never too early to look ahead to 2014. And thus far, there’s been no shortage of announcements and already a healthy portion of the field confirmed.

Here’s what we know thus far:

CONFIRMED (14)

  • Chip Ganassi Racing (3 cars, Chevrolet): Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball. The champ is staying until 2015 as announced back in March, “TK” made his switch from KV and the team’s move from Honda to Chevy official at Houston and Kimball will seek to grow even further in his fourth season. We’ll touch on the fourth car in a moment.
  • Team Penske (3 cars, Chevrolet): Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Will Power. Castroneves and Power stay with Penske for their 15th and sixth seasons, respectively, while “JPM’s” shock move from NASCAR was revealed in September.
  • Andretti Autosport (3 cars, Honda): Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay. This trio continues on but Andretti may have a new livery in his Dr Pepper Snapple car, Hinchcliffe will for sure with new sponsor United Fiber & Data, and Hunter-Reay switches back from No. 1 to 28, the latter number he won the 2012 title. Honda switch also was announced at Fontana.
  • Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports (Honda): Simon Pagenaud. Team announced Honda at Sonoma and Pagenaud will drive his third consecutive season with Schmidt, but with a new primary sponsor yet to be determined.
  • KVSH Racing: Sebastien Bourdais. The two-year deal announced just prior to Fontana did not make mention of the team’s engine manufacturer or Bourdais’ teammate, but a switch to KV is an upgrade from Dragon for the four-time Champ Car champion.
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal. The first year of Graham’s homecoming wasn’t stellar so he’ll be looking for a turnaround in year two. A second full-time car is likely, and a third possible for at least selected races.
  • Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter. About as shocking as Rahal staying at Rahal and Andretti at Andretti, really…
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: Josef Newgarden. The American enters the third and final year of his rookie contract in 2014, and seeks his first career win after a much-improved sophomore season.

ALL BUT OFFICIAL (2)

  • Chip Ganassi Racing (fourth car, Chevrolet): Dario Franchitti. It’s all but a formality even though Franchitti was careful to say earlier this year he wanted to return but didn’t have anything official done. As he recovers from his Houston injuries, the team seems set to keep Fontana replacement Alex Tagliani on standby for offseason testing. But this is Dario’s car for 2014 unless he decides otherwise.
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Justin Wilson. Yes, it was announced back in March that the lanky, talented and personable Englishman had signed a contract extension with Coyne. That aside, nothing is ever official with Coyne until Practice 1 at St. Petersburg is underway. The biggest thing here is that like Franchitti, Wilson recovers from his late-season injuries and gets back to being a badass behind the wheel.

VERY LIKELY (2)

  • Andretti Autosport (fourth car, Honda): Carlos Munoz. Assuming the funding comes together, this car seems earmarked for the Colombian who’s paid his dues in Indy Lights, starred in his IndyCar cameos, and is ready to make the jump to IndyCar.
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises: The eponymous team owner said in a conference call prior to Houston that the returns of Takuma Sato and Honda were close, but not finalized. Sato’s ragged second half of the season didn’t help his cause and all weekend at Fontana, my sources were alternating between “yes, he’ll be back” and “no, he won’t” on a consistent basis. I’d lean toward the former at the moment for consistency’s sake, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they go a different direction, either.

LIKELY (2)

  • Barracuda Racing: Luca Filippi. From his three weekend outings, Houston in particular, Bryan Herta’s team was floored by Filippi’s pace, his candor, and his team interaction. JR Hildebrand gave it his best shot at Fontana, but given the higher volume of road and street course races, Filippi is a better full season candidate here.
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Tristan Vautier. Per team co-owner Rick Peterson at Sonoma, the intention and goal is for Vautier and SPM to carry through to a second season, where he can grow further and eliminate some of his mistakes. He’s a good kid with a lot of potential but a couple things work against him: he won’t have the Mazda scholarship support next year – that now goes to this year’s champion Sage Karam – and he had to make due with a consortium of backers on the No. 55 Honda this year. It might be a patchwork project again.

2013 FULL-SEASON DRIVERS LOOKING TO LAND

  • Simona de Silvestro. De Silvestro will be somewhere in 2014 after her best season, and while a KV return is possible, her management team told me at Fontana they are exploring all their options.
  • James Jakes. In roughly the same boat. A RACER.com story earlier this year said Jakes would at least like to consider getting paid as opposed to paying his way via his family’s Acorn Stairlifts business. Still, was one of the year’s most improved drivers and a second year at RLL would give both driver and team a chance to grow further.
  • E.J. Viso. Perhaps hamstrung by the investigation into Venezuelan funding for race drivers, Viso’s a big question mark at the moment as to where he fits into the equation.
  • Sebastian Saavedra. Dragon hasn’t made overtones yet about an IndyCar return, and Bourdais has already bolted, but it has already announced a Formula E program. So, make of that what you will for Saavedra. 
  • Oriol Servia, Alex Tagliani, Mike Conway, JR Hildebrand, Ryan Briscoe, etc. Wait and see for all of these drivers, who ran part-time 2013 seasons and traditionally haven’t brought budgets to seats. In other words, just another offseason.

2013 TEAMS LOOKING FOR DRIVERS

  • Second cars at RLL Racing and KVSH Racing will be in play, with RLL’s potentially not requiring a paying driver, if the National Guard-to-RLL story Robin Miller wrote a couple weeks ago for RACER.com comes to pass.
  • The second Dale Coyne Racing car is likely to go to the highest bidder, the latest bidder, or a combination of drivers who come up with the budget to put the year together as was the case this year. Not worth even discussing until St. Petersburg, most likely.
  • Panther Racing has nothing for 2014 confirmed, with seasonal layoffs coming and the potential of losing its title sponsor per that aforementioned Miller report.

If you project maybe one or two full season car losses from 2013, but add the third Penske and fourth Ganassi full-time entries, respectively, the 2014 grid will look fairly similar in terms of overall car count (24-25). Second cars from single car teams are always “possible” but rarely bear fruit. It’s only the end of October, so things will change soon enough.

Firestone: the tire that Indianapolis 500 and Verizon IndyCar Series ride upon

firestone indy 500 tires 2016
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More Indianapolis 500 winners have driven to Victory Lane on Firestone tires than all other tires combined.

The synergy and history between Firestone, parent company Bridgestone and Indianapolis Motor Speedway is nothing short of legendary.

MotorSportsTalk has compiled some very interesting facts about the relationship between Firestone, IMS and the Indy 500:

* Firestone has issued tires to all teams in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 that will carry names of all the drivers who have won the 500 on Firestone rubber inscribed on the sidewalls of the tires.

* Other names included in the sidewall inscriptions include Louis Meyer (the first driver to drink milk in Victory Lane), and Mario Andretti (Voted Driver of the Century).

firestone indy 500 tires 2016

* Firestone produced over 5,000 tires with the commemorative Indy 500 sidewalls to be used during the month of may for practice, qualifying and the historic race itself on Sunday.

* Firestone has accounted for exactly two-thirds of the wins at the Indy 500 – 66 of 99 races contested to date.

* Firestone has won the Indy 500 in 1911, 1913, 1920 through 1941, 1946-1966, 1969-1971, 1996 and 1997, and 2000-2015.

* Firestone has carried more drivers to Indy 500 wins than all other tire manufacturers combined. Goodyear has won 29 races, BFGoodrich won two, Michelin won one and Palmer Cord Tires won one.

* The first winner on Firestone rubber was also the first winner of the Indy 500 – Ray Harroun in 1911.

* Tires will also carry red and white Firestone “F shield” logos that are unique to the Indy 500 and indicate which tires will go on which side of each race car: red for right side and white for left side tires.

firestone racing logo* Firestone Racing joined the IndyCar Series in 1996 and has been at every race since. It competed vs. Goodyear for four years (1996-99) until becoming the exclusive tire provider for the 500 in 2000, a position it has held ever since.

* Firestone became the Official Tire of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 in 2002. The current contract for both of those roles runs through the 2018 season (originally extended in Dec. 2012).

* Firestone also sponsors the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. It is also the Official Tire of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

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Simon Pagenaud has tunnel vision about Indy 500 — but that’s a good thing

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(Photos: IndyCar)
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To say Simon Pagenaud is a thinking man’s driver is an understatement.

The French driver has one of the most analytical minds in the Verizon IndyCar Series. It seems like he’s always thinking, always figuring out different scenarios, trying to outthink his fellow competitors.

He’s certainly had a lot to think of recently. He’s riding a three-race winning streak. He’s part of Team Penske’s 50th anniversary celebration.

But right here, right now, Pagenaud has just one race on his mind. As far as he’s concerned, Belle Isle next week is 10 years away, while Texas the week after that is 20 years away.

And don’t even ask Pagenaud if he’s thinking about winning the IndyCar championship.

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To say Simon Pagenaud is pumped up for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 is an understatement.

The only thing on Pagenaud’s mind is winning Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Not only would it be the biggest win in the Frenchman’s career, it would also extend team owner Roger Penske’s record to 17 Indy 500 victories.

“I’m thinking about the race itself, statistics are after the race,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports. “It’s hard on the last lap if you think about it! I’m always focused on the task itself. Prepare the best we can and try to win.

“When you step into the car, you have to think about how to do the best job you can with your machine. It’s you and your machine, you and your team, let’s get the best strategy possible, make the best pit stops and make no mistakes.

“So you have to be clear-minded and focused on the task. It’s a tunnel vision thing. I’m not thinking of anything else. I’m not thinking about the 50th anniversary of Team Penske, or it being the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

“If I was, I tell you what, they wouldn’t work really well. It’s about being in the moment and not thinking about anything else.”

Even with his three-race winning streak (Long Beach, Birmingham Grand Prix of Indianapolis), preparations for the 500 have not gone as well as Pagenaud would like.

“It’s not as good as I wanted to be honest,” said Pagenaud, who will start in eighth position, the middle of Row 3 on the starting grid. “We’re not as dominant as we were last year. It’s been tough. It’s not been easy to get speed out of the car. We’ve done a good job of trying, but we haven’t found the speed of the Hondas.”

But as concerned as Pagenaud may seem, Penske is more confident than concerned.

“Obviously he’s a hot hand right now and he’s shown how good he is,” Penske said of Pagenaud. “That’s the reason we hired him a year ago.

“I think he wasn’t as happy with his performance in 2015. This is a different race. This race is wide open. It’s a long-distance race. It’s four different corners, lots of strategy.

“Certainly executing in the pits, you saw how good he was last year and bumped into a back marker when he was trying to make a pass there. So I think he’s going to have a great chance. He’s certainly excited.

“John Menard (Pagenaud’s primary sponsor of Menard’s Home Improvement Stores) coming on board is probably one of the great things of the month for us because John has spent a lot of time and a lot of money here over the years.

“(It was) great to see his car in the Winner Circle at the Angie’s road race here a couple of weeks ago. I think (Pagenaud’s) on his way to a championship. We’ve just got to continue to stay focused.”

Winning the biggest race in the world would also help Pagenaud’s countrymen.

“It’s great news that there’s a lot of interest (in France) in IndyCar,” Pagenaud said. “They’re showing races there. It’s big. There’s also half a large plane coming to the race from my hometown (Poitiers, France).

“I know it’s an American sport, but it’s a worldwide event. The last time a Frenchman won in Indy was 1920. It was Gaston Chevrolet, and I’m driving a Chevrolet! Hopefully, it’s my year.

“What would it mean (if he won)? I don’t know, to be honest. It wouldn’t be a bad time. We’re having a tough time in France right now, so a little bit of joy from the sport would be good.

“It’d be awesome to go back to France with that trophy and that ring on my finger.”

Tony DiZinno contributed to this report

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Honda bullish ahead of pivotal Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet,  drives  on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr feels bullish about the manufacturer’s chances in the 100th Indianapolis 500, believing all of its cars stand a serious chance of winning Sunday’s race.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe ended a long drought for Honda in qualifying last weekend, claiming its first pole position since Simon Pagenaud won the Verizon P1 Award at Houston in 2014.

Sunday’s ‘500 is a pivotal one for Honda given the occasion and its standing among its numerous motorsport programmes, and is made all the more crucial given its winless start to the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We weren’t expecting the outcome of the first few races that we got this year,” St. Cyr conceded.

“We thought we were going to be OK. But obviously when we first came out at St. Pete, especially Phoenix, we had to focus on those, as well.

“I wouldn’t say the beginning part of the season went according to plan. But we kind of know what we have right now and where we’re going with this one.

“We’re working and the other side is working as well to try to improve as much as you can.”

The Honda-powered cars impressed throughout practice and qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, appearing to make a significant step up in performance from the Angie’s List GP of Indianapolis two weeks ago.

Besides Hinchcliffe getting pole, the Andretti Autosport cars regularly ran quickest through the speed trap with Ryan Hunter-Reay qualifying third, while Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal has looked strong in race trim.

“The Indy 500 is a major focus for Honda. We really worked hard for 12 months on this particular race,” St. Cyr said.

“We used two of our three allocated boxes from an aerodynamic standpoint on this race. We have a pretty major upgrade of our engine specification for this race.

“As you’ve seen, it’s fairly competitive at this point. Really our whole goal is to get all of our teams with a package that is capable of winning this race.”

And providing such a package is something that St. Cyr believes Honda has achieved.

“It’s pretty great,” he said. “The Andretti guys, the whole Andretti team, all five of their cars, have been fast. They unloaded fast. They typically do really well here. We expect good things out of them.

“The Schmidt Peterson Racing group, all three of them have just had stellar months. You want to give some shouts out to Dale Coyne and those guys who have shown pretty good speed, with people that don’t have a lot of experience running around this track.

“A.J. Foyt and Takuma Sato showed something at the end of qualifying. They qualified third in the last group, right? Graham, we expect him to have a real good race, as well.

“All of our teams have legitimate contenders to win this race, so we’re actually really thrilled about that.”

PWC: Bentley confirms Andrew Palmer sustains head injury

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Photo: Bentley Team Absolute
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Following an accident in practice ahead of today’s Pirelli World Challenge race at Lime Rock Park, Bentley Team Absolute driver Andrew Palmer has sustained a head injury following contact with another car, an Aston Martin driven by Jorge de la Torre.

Just after 6:30 p.m. ET, Bentley released the following statement:

“Bentley Motorsport can confirm that Bentley Team Absolute driver Andrew Palmer will remain in hospital following an incident at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut earlier today. He has sustained a head injury and is being closely monitored after treatment by specialists.

“Bentley’s Director of Motorsport, Brian Gush, comments: “Everyone at Bentley Motorsport is thinking of Andrew and we all send him our best wishes. We are a close-knit community and we have team members at the hospital with him and his family. We will continue to offer our support to them at this difficult time. Our thanks go to the trackside team at Lime Rock Park and the medical professionals who have helped Andrew so far.”

“No further update is expected today. Bentley Motorsport will release another statement in due course.”

An additional statement came from WC Vision just before 10 p.m. ET:

“As an update to the earlier released news on Andrew Palmer and Jorge De La Torre:

“Both drivers remain under treatment at Hartford Hospital. Bentley has provided the statement below regarding Andrew Palmer. WC Vision will release further information on the condition of both drivers when Hartford Hospital provides any updates.

That came after the first update issued by World Challenge officials which read as follows, and was released after 1 p.m. ET:

“Both Andrew Palmer and Jorge De La Torre were transported to Sharon Hospital where they were stabilized for transportation to Hartford Hospital.  That is all we know at this time.”

K-PAX Racing driver Alvaro Parente won his second race of the weekend in his No. 9 McLaren 650S GT3 in the afternoon, although the results of which matter little in the face of Palmer’s accident and injuries.

Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the drivers and their families affected at this time.