Ten with Townsend: Toronto debrief

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A chaotic and crazy pair of Verizon IndyCar Series races in Toronto – both on Sunday – makes for interesting analysis as always from our NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, who offers the latest edition of “Ten with Townsend” on MotorSportsTalk (archive).

Since Toronto, Bell raced in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (finished fourth in his GT Daytona class AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) and called the Red Bull Global Rallycross event at Charlotte. As always, we thank him for his time and insights:

-First of all, how challenging is it to fill air time during a rain delay when you don’t know how long it will be and whether or not the race will get going?

It gets a little tough when we head down the road of discussing the caloric value of beer!

-How bad do you think the conditions were Saturday?

It’s easy for all of us armchair quarterbacks to say, but I would have liked to see them attempt.

-Was it kind of a case of damned if they did, damned if they didn’t for racing then?

Possibly. Outside of that, I think a little civil engineering on Shoreline should be a priority before next year. Some minimum circuit standards should be a requirement at every venue we visit. That should start months before the event. Don’t get me started on catch fencing.

-On-track, was it refreshing to see your Indy teammate Sebastien Bourdais (at KV Racing Technology) get back into victory lane?

He drove a perfect race. Always nice to see any of the smaller teams win.

-Thoughts on Mike Conway’s second win?

He got there on strategy but when the green dropped he showed why ECR hired him. He flat drove away from the field. If they can sort out their qualifying issues, then there’s no reason why we can’t see more of that at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma.

-Are you liking what you saw out of Tony Kanaan this weekend given he hasn’t had such a good weekend on street courses in a long time?

He seems very strong, and the more I wonder what Dario Franchitti does on a race weekend, the more I realize how valuable he is as a coach to TK. I’m sure (Scott) Dixon is peering over their shoulders regularly now.

-Even though Helio Castroneves and Will Power have 69 points on the rest of the field, we can’t rule out Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud right?

No, clearly anything can happen like we saw at Toronto. I can’t wait to see what surprises are in store for us at Mid-Ohio.

-How do you think Helio and Will will hold up mentally? They’ve both been in this situation before of being in title contention late, but unable to close it out.

I think they’re both strong now. They’re battle tested in previous seasons and focused on learning from so many lessons. Nobody has more experience now battling down the stretch than those two. But cracks have been known to form… could this be the year where all goes right down the stretch for Penske? It has that feeling….

-Who really needs to prove themselves in these final four races as we head towards the end of the season?

Right now Sato, Rahal, Briscoe, Andretti, all seem to come to mind.

-More fun – riding shotgun with PT on the streets of Toronto? Or watching Toronto Mayor Rob Ford ride shotgun with PT?

I think we should have had PT room with Mayor Ford for the weekend. They seemed like fast friends and I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall with the rest of the viewers. Who knows what could’ve happened.

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.