IndyCar: Detroit Dual 1 Notebook

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It was just another one of those days for Justin Wilson. One of those ‘come out of nowhere and finish toward the front’ days.

The Dale Coyne Racing driver started 19th on the grid this afternoon, but ultimately charged 15 spots to finish fourth in the first race of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

That tied Team Penske’s Will Power for the biggest position jump on Saturday; Power started 16th but was still able to capture his second win of the season.

“We just had to be quick where we needed to be, save fuel when we needed to save fuel,” Wilson said. “Tough day, but you’ve got to play it how you’ve got to play it. From 19th to 4th, something was going on in that race.

“We were up and back and then up and back. The guys did great pit stops. We did quite a few of them. That gives us something to work with and we’ll come back tomorrow and try and qualify a little bit better and start close to the front.”

Also adding good vibes for DCR today was their Colombian rookie, Carlos Huertas, who netted an eighth-place finish for a new personal best in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

As we’ve written before, Huertas has been largely anonymous but still reliable. How reliable? Following today’s race, Nick Yeoman of IndyCar Radio pulled out a statistic that might surprise you:

Usually, when you’re in that sort of company, that’s a very good thing.

“The end was really tough because I had to save fuel and defend positions,” Huertas said. “I had to keep turning the engine down all of the time for less power and more fuel mileage and I was still not getting the numbers.

“It was difficult because I was running in the top five but that is what it is. I am hopeful we can improve on eighth place tomorrow.”

After starting 14th, Josef Newgarden was putting together a Top-5 run at the halfway point of today’s race. But on Lap 37, he found the barriers in Turn 7 and was knocked out of the race with a 20th-place result.

The Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver took full blame for the incident, saying that he simply locked up the rear brakes before crashing.

“It’s a silly mistake that cost us today,” he said. “We had a great car and were doing a great job. We didn’t really have any complications so days like that you want to finish strong and do a good job overall. I feel like I let everyone down, I feel bad for everyone on our team.

“They’ve done a great job this weekend, especially coming off of Indy with the long stretch that they’ve had. They’ve been working flat out. I hope we have a good day tomorrow. We get another chance to qualify and race so hopefully we can do a better job there and I’ll try and do better for the boys.”

Another competitor that had a strong day derailed was Jack Hawksworth, but instead of a wreck, it was a left-front brake rotor failure that relegated him to a 19th-place finish.

Hawksworth started third, but on the opening lap, he took second from James Hinchcliffe on the inside at Turn 3. He quickly pulled a gap on the Canadian while setting his sights on pole sitter and early race leader Helio Castroneves.

But as the yellow flew at Lap 15 for Mike Conway’s single-car crash, the aforementioned rotor broke on Hawksworth’s No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda.

The rookie was able to get the car back to the pits for repairs, but those ultimately knocked him four laps off the pace.

“Unfortunately, the front left brake exploded, so that was basically our day gone,” he said. “We did a few more laps of running and got a bit more of a feel for the track so we can have a better day tomorrow.”

Herta said he had never seen a “carbon disc failure” like what occurred on Saturday, and he hoped Sunday would bring a result more representative of their efforts.

“I feel bad for Jack and all the guys because yet again, they did not make any mistakes but somehow we still did not get a result,” he said. “I’m glad we have another race tomorrow and another shot.

“We’ve got a great car, great team, great driver. We’re ready for round two.”

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.