IndyCar: Servia and RLL nearly win GP of Indy, stake case for more races

Leave a comment

As I wrote pre-season, some Oriol Servia is better than no Oriol Servia, and that some Oriol Servia damn near pulled off the upset in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in the No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

As the second half of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ fourth round of the season commenced, the race finally got into a rhythm after a spate of yellow flags interrupted the middle of the race.

Servia, who had last pitted on the same lap as eventual winner Simon Pagenaud and runner-up Ryan Hunter-Reay (Lap 53 of 82), did not have the full fuel mileage available to make the finish despite leading for seven laps from Laps 71 to 77.

It was a toss-up for the RLL team, which is only committed to four races with Servia (this was the third of four planned this season), as to whether to pit the Catalan for a splash or attempt to stay out, go for it and hope for a yellow that would have left him P1.

But the stop relegated him to 12th, which wasn’t representative of how well he ran after coming from 22nd on the grid.

“We were not super quick but at the end we knew that we either had to save a lot of fuel like some of the guys which meant we couldn’t attack and finish seventh or eighth or try to win,” he said. “If there was just one more yellow, we could easily get to the end. We only needed one yellow. It was a chance to win and when we were leading, that’s all we needed was one yellow but it didn’t happen but it was defi­nitely fun. From starting where we started, I think we came back really strong. We’re ready to attack the month of May very aggressively.”

Adding to the frustration for the RLL squad was the fact Graham Rahal turned in by far his best race of the season in the No. 15 National Guard Honda, running with the potential of a top-five finish before contact with Juan Pablo Montoya took him out following a restart on Lap 52.

“I got punted. Montoya was a lap down. He almost hit me actu­ally on the restart before. He tried to dive-bombed me into Turn 7. He was a lap down and I don’t know what he was trying to do playing with the leaders but he just ruined our day,” he said.

Servia only has the rest of the month of May scheduled, but the team is working hard on pursuing additional sponsorship opportunities to add to that.

As one of the series’ – and paddock’s – most popular drivers, it would be a welcome continuation for the rest of 2014.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • 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 (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.