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Analysis: Reduction in teams means increase in partnerships to make 33 for Indy 500

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Racing partnerships make the world go ‘round.

A team doesn’t race without a tire and engine partner, and it doesn’t get to that stage without a primary and a wealth of associate sponsors helping to bankroll the projects.

Yet while partnerships for a team are nothing new, team-to-team partnerships appear to be on the rise this year to help the Verizon IndyCar Series make 33 cars at the Indianapolis 500.

Over the last three years, as the series has shifted from the previous Dallara chassis to the new Dallara DW12, the net car count in terms of total entries and total teams has gone down, which has meant more partnerships from existing teams have arisen to hit the number.

The 2011 Indianapolis 500, for instance, included these teams that have since gone away from full-time competition:

  • Panther Racing (JR Hildebrand, Buddy Rice)
  • Newman/Haas Racing (Oriol Servia, James Hinchcliffe)
  • Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Davey Hamilton, Justin Wilson, Paul Tracy, Ana Beatriz)
  • Conquest Racing (Pippa Mann, Sebastian Saavedra)
  • HVM Racing (Simona de Silvestro)
  • AFS Racing (Raphael Matos)
  • Dragon Racing (Scott Speed, Ho-Pin Tung, Patrick Carpentier)

Just there, that’s seven teams, and a total of 14 cars that have gone away from the Indianapolis 500 field. Those 14 coupled with the 25 or 26 full-time cars made for a ‘500 field of more than 40 attempting to qualify for the 33-car field.

The evolution after 2011 saw Newman/Haas shutter its operation altogether, Conquest fail to strike an engine lease deal when the new chassis and engine came together, and Dragon, HVM and DRR all get stuck with Lotus for the start of 2012.

Conquest and AFS partnered with Andretti Autosport for partial efforts for both Beatriz and Saavedra, respectively, in 2012. AFS is now with KV Racing for Saavedra’s car this year. But neither Eric Bachelart (Conquest) nor Gary Peterson (AFS) has existed as their own entity since.

HVM was the lone Lotus holdover after the month of May as DRR, Dragon and Bryan Herta Autosport were all able to get out of their contracts. But come the end of the year, HVM as its own entity ended and the Leaders’ Circle points, and Keith Wiggins’ minority ownership stake ventured to, you guessed it, Andretti Autosport for the team’s fourth full-time car for 2013 (EJ Viso then, Carlos Munoz now).

DRR temporarily closed after last year’s Indy 500 – the second team on this list Servia has been a part of where he ran its most recent list – but is now back this year, albeit in partnership mode. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Dragon and Panther withdrew in the offseason, with Dragon’s Leaders’ Circle entry going to Roger Penske’s third car (the Juan Pablo Montoya No. 2 Chevrolet is officially referred to as Penske Motorsports, not Team Penske, by INDYCAR); meanwhile Panther’s equipment is at KV, which also has the AFS partnership, this month of May.

What we have in this year’s 33 are these notable partnerships:

  • No. 2 Penske Motorsports (Team Penske’s car for Juan Pablo Montoya, but with the ex-Dragon Racing chassis, Leaders’ Circle position)
  • No. 11 KVSH Racing (KV mainly, with SH full season partnership, after part-time collaboration between the two in previous years)
  • No. 17 KV/AFS Racing (KV, and Gary Peterson’s AFS Racing group)
  • No. 22 DRR Kingdom Racing (Dreyer & Reinbold, with Davey Hamilton’s Kingdom Racing group, in a technical partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing to provide Sage Karam his debut)
  • No. 33 KV Racing Technology (partnership with Always Evolving Racing, and one that may feature support from TRG-AMR North America)
  • No. 34 Andretti-HVM (partnership with HVM’s Keith Wiggins)
  • No. 68 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (Wink Hartman is team co-owner, and this particular chassis is the Steve Weirich-owned Rotondo Weirich entry for Alex Tagliani)
  • No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports (Hamilton is a minority partner in the group led by Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson, which also fields the No. 5 and No. 7 cars)
  • No. 98 BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian (name speaks for itself re: the number of partners)

And we haven’t even gotten to sponsors yet.

But here’s two drivers as examples: rookie Karam’s No. 22 car is likely to be the Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records/Brantley Gilbert DRR Kingdom Racing with Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Bell’s KVRT entry could be the No. 6 Robert Graham/Royal Purple/Beneteau USA Chevrolet.

With nary a bump attempt in the last two years, and one unlikely at the moment in 2014, we’re left with a worrying prospect longer term about the number of teams within the series: a distinct lack of new blood.

Two years ago, the saga of Michael Shank, of GRAND-AM, trying to pursue a Honda or Chevrolet engine lease was well documented, including by this writer. Shank, who was on a high from winning that year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, did not want a Lotus citing its lack of competitiveness.

It was a new owner to the series, who was not an ex-driver (the series’ newest team owners are Ed Carpenter in 2012, Bryan Herta in 2010 and Sarah Fisher in 2008, along with Buddy Lazier’s family for Indy-only entries beginning last year), who had a chassis and an interest.

But the way the engine rules were written, manufacturers needed to supply up to 40 percent of the field, and Lotus was unable to hit that target. Chevrolet and Honda both went above and beyond to extend their month of May capacity, though it was still to the dismay of Shank and some drivers who sought opportunities to qualify.

Fast-forward two years. Shank’s team never started an IndyCar race, the aforementioned partnerships have come together out of the former small teams and the bigger teams, if anything, have grown.

The Penske (3 cars), Andretti (5 cars) and Ganassi (4 cars, plus the fifth DRR-affiliated entry) will make up 13 of the 33 entries, more than a third of the field. Add in KVRT’s 4 and suddenly that’s more than half spread between four teams – or 17 of the 33.

The reduction in full-season car count, as well, from 26 to 25 to 22 at the last three season-openers, has also meant that the 10 or so Indy-only entries isn’t enough to cover the bases for 33, or provide enough extras for bumping.

Bottom line is we’re at an interesting stage in IndyCar as it relates to the presence of teams, entries and, on another note, crews.

The crews that were available for full-time efforts, plus the Indy one-offs, have also gone down.

Part of the reason for the grind for 33 this year is to find enough crews for the entries. It’s being done, but there are plenty of individuals from the world of sports car racing being brought in to assist.

We’ll see how the series goes forward from here, but we have enough of a trend to see that something will probably need to change to help keep the car count at or above 33 for the month of May. As ever, cost of entry and cost of operation for the ROI and deliverables to partners remain a constant target for teams.

Sprint car shocker: Steve ‘The King’ Kinser announces retirement

The legendary Steve "The King" Kinser announced his retirement from Sprint car racing Monday night.
(Official Twitter page of Knoxville Raceway)
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Sprint car fans knew it was eventually coming, but the timing of it still likely surprised many when legendary driver Steve “The King” Kinser announced Monday night that he was retiring.

What will likely be the last race of Kinser’s storied career came at Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, New York, where he finished sixth in the main event.

In the following video, Kinser not only shocked the fans in attendance, but also clearly caught track public address announcer John Stanley completely off-guard with his revelation.

“We thought we’d make it one more time and I’m pretty sure this will be the last race I ever run right here tonight, the last race period,” Kinser said. “I hadn’t been running many (races) this year and was planning on quitting anyway.

“I’m never going to say never but I’m pretty positive I’m going to watch Kraig (his son, also a racer), go to races and have some fun.”

The 62-year-old resident of Bloomington, Indiana is a 20-time World of Outlaws champion (won a record 577 races in the series), as well as more recently a stalwart on the All Star Circuit of Champions sprint car series owned by NASCAR champion Tony Stewart.

It was a ASCoC event at Lebanon Valley where Kinser delivered his bombshell news, according to a report by National SpeedSport News.

The 12-time Knoxville Nationals champ, whose last full-time season in the WoO was in 2014, has been racing a limited schedule both last season and in 2016.

While his career has been primarily in Sprint cars, Kinser also raced in other series including five times in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, raced in the 1997 Indianapolis 500 (finished 14th) and in the IROC and USAC series.

Naturally, the social media world was all atwitter – no pun intended – about Kinser’s bombshell announcement:

 

 

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Can Dixon, Kanaan, Castroneves still catch Pagenaud, Power for IndyCar crown?

Can Phoenix winner and defending IndyCar champ Scott Dixon, middle, catch Simon Pagenaud or Will Power for the IndyCar championship?
(Photos courtesy IndyCar)
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In Major League Baseball, the 4-5-6 batters are typically the meat of the batting order. It’s those three players that play one of the biggest parts in determining which team becomes the ultimate champion each season.

Now, 4-5-6 in the standings of the Verizon IndyCar Series is a bit of a different matter.

Sure, fourth-ranked Scott Dixon is a four-time IndyCar champ and Indianapolis 500 winner, fifth-ranked Helio Castroneves is a three-time Indy 500 winner, and sixth-ranked Tony Kanaan is both a series champion and Indy 500 winner.

That sounds like an IndyCar equivalent of baseball’s Murderer’s Row, right?

But following Monday’s weather-rescheduled ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, the 4-5-6 drivers in the IndyCar Series rankings have three races left to hit nothing but home runs if they hope to throw a curveball into Simon Pagenaud’s and Will Power’s championship plans.

Six points separate the trio: Dixon has 386 points, 111 points short of Pagenaud (497 points, with Power a close second at 477 points). Castroneves has 384 (-113) and Kanaan has 380 (-117).

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Scott Dixon

And let’s not forget about Josef Newgarden, sitting third at 397 points, exactly 100 markers behind Pagenaud and 80 points in arrears to Power. But Newgarden will almost certainly drop out of realistic contention with a last-place finish looming at Texas Motor Speedway after he crashed out in June, and won’t be able to restart.

The respective finishes of Dixon (sixth), Kanaan (ninth) and Castroneves (19th) at Pocono also didn’t help their championship chances, because Power won. Pagenaud failed to finish but still looms far ahead.

Right now, a maximum of 211 points is up for grabs in the remaining three races. That breaks down to 50 points each to the winner at Texas and Watkins Glen, and double points (100) to the winner of the season finale at Sonoma.

There’s also one point for the pole winner in each of the final three races, although Carlos Munoz will get that point at Texas since he got the pole there back in June.

In addition, each of the three remaining races – as all others – awards one point if a driver leads at least one lap and two points to the driver who leads the most laps.

With his win Monday, Power earned almost the maximum amount of points at Pocono, capturing 51 of a possible 54. Pagenaud, who finished 18th, earned just 13 points, allowing Power to cut Pagenaud’s lead in the standings by 38 points, more than half of what it was coming into the race (58 points).

Dixon climbed one position, from fifth to fourth, with his Pocono finish. But he knows time is running to defend last year’s championship – particularly with this being the last year for him with Target sponsorship.

Here’s what Dixon had to say after Pocono:

“We started in the rear of the field and that didn’t help our cause with the Target team. We got held up in the second to last restart and some lapped cars didn’t go when they should have and that really cost us in terms of track position for sure. We clawed our way back into the mix but with so many good cars out there it was hard to get all the way to the front to contend.”

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Tony Kanaan

Kanaan slipped slightly in the standings from fifth to sixth after his Pocono finish.

Here’s what Kanaan had to say afterwards:

“We just couldn’t catch a break during the race. Every time we’d make a run toward the front, something would go wrong. We had a mechanical issue that was affecting the fuel system and that caused a lot of problems for us. Then we lost a piece of our rear bumper pod that caused that last yellow. It just wasn’t our day.”

Lastly, Castroneves had a performance Monday that he’d rather forget. While he started strong (fourth), he was involved in a scary pit road crash not of his doing when Alexander Rossi and Charlie Kimball made contact.

Rossi, this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, bounced off Kimball’s car and ran over the top of Castroneves’ car as he was trying to leave his pit stall.

The tires on Rossi’s car made visible marks on the top of the cockpit of Castroneves’ car and then the car continued until it had climbed over and landed back on the pavement on all four wheels. Castroneves suffered a slight bruise to his right hand but was otherwise uninjured in the scary mishap.

But his hand isn’t the thing that really hurt. Castroneves’ resulting 19th place finish saw him drop from third to fifth in the standings. Given that he’s 117 points behind Pagenaud and 97 behind Power, his Team Penske teammate, Castroneves’ hopes for his elusive first career IndyCar championship are slim, indeed – unless perhaps he wins each of the next three races.

And that still may not be enough to win it all if Pagenaud and/or Power have strong finishes in at least two of those last three.

One thing’s for certain: neither Castroneves nor Dixon or Kanaan are giving up.

Here’s what Castroneves had to say about Monday’s race, the pit road incident, as well as moving on to Texas:

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Helio Castroneves

“Inside the car, I was actually more protected than what it looked like. Sometime people don’t realize the Verizon IndyCar Series are so much about safety and today is the proof of that.

“Very glad that nobody got hurt. It’s just a shame. The Hitachi Chevy was really having a good day and we just had another good pit stop when I was coming out of the pits.

“All of a sudden there was a car on top of me. It was a little strange to be honest. The Team Penske guys worked really hard to try and fix the car but there was a lot of damage.

“It’s certainly unfortunate because this will hurt us in the championship battle but our team will never give up. We’ll move on to Texas where, fortunately, we’ve had a lot of success.”

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Carpenter’s hope for oval resurgence once again goes round in circles

04CJ2318 (1)
(Photo courtesy of Chris Jones/IndyCar)
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Just when he was hoping for a dramatic improvement, Ed Carpenter’s season of discontent behind the wheel continues.

The owner of Ed Carpenter Racing had high hopes for a strong finish in Monday’s weather-rescheduled ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

Running his usual schedule of ovals only, Carpenter qualified a respectable 10th at Pocono and had a car that in practice looked like it could be a top-10 finisher in the actual race itself.

But for the third time in his four oval races this season (Phoenix, Indianapolis, Iowa and Pocono), Carpenter and his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet came up short due to an unspecified mechanical issue that knocked him out of the race just 57 laps into the 200-lap event.

At Phoenix, Carpenter had his best qualifying effort of the season (fifth) and managed to complete 195 of 200 laps before crashing and finishing 21st.

In the Indianapolis 500, he started 20th and finished 31st in the 33-car field when an oxygen sensor went bad just two laps from the midpoint of the 200-lap race.

Carpenter had his best outing of the year at Iowa, finishing 18th. However, he finished just 284 of the race’s 300 laps with another mechanical issue occurring on a pit stop and a bunch of time lost. The gear cluster needed to be changed.

And then came Pocono on Monday, another outcome that left Carpenter disappointed.

“Ed Carpenter Racing has performed so awesome this year and the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka car can’t catch a break,” Carpenter said after Monday’s race. “I haven’t finished a full race this season.

“I made one mistake at Phoenix, but other than that we’ve just had things happen. Some of it shouldn’t have happened and could have been avoided, so there’s just a lot of frustration.”

Carpenter has one more oval race left on his schedule: this Saturday’s resumption of the rain-delayed race at Texas Motor Speedway.

“This is one of my last two races this year and I felt really good coming into (Monday),” Carpenter said of Pocono. “I’m not going to comment on what happened specifically, it won’t do any good to talk about it out in the open. It’s just frustrating.”

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Pocono is best superspeedway finish for Bourdais since IndyCar return

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Since returning to the Verizon IndyCar Series part-time in 2011 and full-time in 2013, French driver Sebastien Bourdais has four wins in 87 starts and eight podium finishes.

But in all of those starts, Bourdais had never scored a top-five on a superspeedway.

His best finish at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was seventh in 2014. His best finish on Fontana’s 2-miler was 12th in 2013.

And prior to Monday, his best finish at Pocono Raceway’s 2.5-mile “tricky triangle” was 16th (2013 and 2014).

But in Monday’s weather-delayed ABC Supply 500, Bourdais achieved a career-best performance on a superspeedway, as his No. 11 Team Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet finished fifth.

Bourdais qualified 18th but was fourth-quickest in race trim in the final practice before Monday’s rescheduled race. While he started slow, he methodically worked his way up through the field until he cracked the top-10 on Lap 91 of the 200-lap, 500-mile event.

On Lap 177, Bourdais and his team gambled on their final pit stop. Instead of a full service stop, the team went with only fuel and not tires.

That moved Bourdais up to second place from seventh and his second win of 2016 (first was Belle Isle 1) appeared a strong possibility.

While the gamble worked in theory, it was foiled by a glitch in the computer blend line software, which erroneously placed Bourdais in third on the ensuing restart.

When the green flag fell, Bourdais had a slow restart and fell back two more spots to fifth. He briefly climbed back to forth, but eventual third-place finisher Ryan Hunter-Reay passed him, relegating Bourdais to where he’d ultimately finish: in fifth.

“It was a pretty good day for the Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing Team,” Bourdais said after the race. “We took some penalties with long pit stops to set the car up early on, but even though we were marginal on front grip we were running a pretty solid race.

“We passed Dixie (Scott Dixon), passed Kanaan (Tony), passed some Penskes, not the top one, but when you do that, things are going pretty good. Then you end up finishing fifth after there was some computer confusion about our position on the restart.”

Bourdais remains 14th in the IndyCar point standings, but Monday’s finish was his eighth top-10 showing in the first 13 races of the season.

“Overall, you have to consider that it was a great day,” Bourdais said of Pocono. “It was definitely our strongest showing on a super speedway.

“We learned something this weekend, something we have been missing. The crew did a really good job and the Hydroxycut Chevy machine was really strong. So I am really happy with the result.”

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