Verizon IndyCar GP of Indy Thursday notebook

Leave a comment

A few news and notes gathered from around the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock Thursday at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis…

  • From the aerial perspective of the media center, the speed of the cars going the opposite direction down the front straight doesn’t look that fast, especially compared to when you’re seeing 220-230 mph counter-clockwise on the oval. However, from the ground, the launch out of Turn 14 up to 190-plus mph does. Once you get past the initial “well, this looks weird” thought process, it’s decently cool.
  • On the other side, this being the first Thursday-Friday-Saturday event of the season, the rhythm and flow of the race weekend is different. Traditionally Thursday is a load-in day, yet with teams having been at the track for last week’s open test, plus ROP for some teams on Monday, it doesn’t feel like a standard setup day you’d see at a typical Friday-Saturday-Sunday road or street race weekend.
  • If there’s one thing I do find a bit weird, it’s the pit positioning. Consider Tony Kanaan, for instance, is in pit stall 23 for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. It’s third from pit in on the road course and one of the worst spots to be in. Yet if he was in that same position for the oval, he’d be third from pit out, and in one of the best spots. Pit positions will change after this race for Indianapolis 500 practice, and again once qualifying is complete for the race next weekend.
  • Livery update: all three Penske cars are in Verizon colors, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves basically inverting where the red and white are on their respective cars, Kanaan is in a multicolored blue and white Lexar scheme, Carlos Huertas has swapped red and white for blue and white on the Café de Colombia car, Josef Newgarden has the Klipsch Audio scheme and Franck Montagny and Martin Plowman premiere the SureTone and Alfe liveries, respectively.
  • Associate sponsor news! Butterball will be an associate on Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 Andretti Autosport entry this month; KECO Coatings has re-signed with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports; Robert Talbott will provide Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with co-branded sportswear for the team during the 2014 season; and Ed Carpenter Racing has confirmed cmcglobal and DMC Indy, consulting and logistical project management companies, for both the GP of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500.
  • KV Racing Technology is due to have several reveals in the next couple days. Townsend Bell, who will drive the team’s third car for the Indianapolis 500, is expected to have his livery revealed on Saturday. Meanwhile James Davison, who is targeted for a fourth, is anticipated to have his program officially confirmed on Friday. Davison will be the 33rd entrant into the 500-mile race, and will have to complete his Rookie Orientation Program once the program is finalized.
  • The new paved area at the north end of the track before the road course Turn 1, which houses the entire Mazda Road to Indy paddock, is a welcome addition to the circuit. Teams from all of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tire and the Cooper Tire USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda are setup in the area.

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.