Ten with Townsend: Fontana and 2014 IndyCar debrief

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After 500 miles of racing to cap off the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, we take a look back at the season finale and the season on the whole with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell for the final 2014 scheduled installment of “Ten with Townsend.” As always, we thank him for his time and insights. Here’s an archive.

-We know Will Power’s always battling his head, because his speed has never been in question. How do you measure his resolve and fortitude the second half of this season, to be able to get past the penalties, dominate Milwaukee, recover after Sonoma and finally capture this IndyCar championship?

I think the victory speech said it all and he readily admits there is a lot going on upstairs!  Luckily, when it comes to the driving part…he’s just that much better with raw speed.  And that helps balance the various issues.  I’m excited to see what he can accomplish the next several years with the championship box now ticked…  He could run up some even more impressive numbers with a clear head and some good sleep!

-How impressed were you with how Power ran his race Saturday night?

It was shockingly conservative at the start…became shockingly manic on that restart…. and ended about right.

-Was it refreshing to see Tony Kanaan finally break through given how strong he’s been both on ovals and the second half of the season?

It was a nice way to end the season.  There’s a nice 7 month glow in the offseason for that one.

-You noted it right towards the end of the race, but how surprising was it to see no crashes, and no reliability issues?

Never would have predicted that based on the 2013 race.  The drivers should be commended for handling a very challenging and intimidating set of conditions.

-We’ve had all three 500-mile races go 150+ laps this season before the first caution. Do you think that’s more down to the depth of talent throughout the field or are the cars fairly easy to drive? 

Well, having driven in 1 of the 3 I can say that it’s not that easy!  I just think the talent pool of drivers and teams is deeper than ever.  Reminds me of my rookie year in 2001 and 2002 CART.

-Looking back on the whole, who or what were your biggest surprises of the season?

I think Carlos Huertas.  He won a race but most impressive was that I can’t think of a single on-track driving error that sticks out.   Extremely rare for a rookie..  If not unheard of.

-JPM’s (Juan Pablo Montoya) first year back, from methodical at the start to P4 by the end, how do you rate his comeback?

JPM also exceeded expectations…  I think he’s very honest with himself and where he can focus this offseason, and that should lead to an even more impressive season in 2015.

-Where do you rate this year’s rookie class, with the year said and done?

I’d say the best I’ve ever seen. Hawksworth, Aleshin, Munoz were right there from the first session of the season.

-What were your favorite races to cover and favorite moments?

I really enjoyed Toronto because of all the chaos and unpredictability.  My favorite moment was when Will Power called me out from pit lane (Pocono).  Also when my 8 year old son asked Leigh Diffey, “Now what exactly do you do for my Dad?”

-Lastly, the schedule. Did you like the frenetic nature of the condensed schedule and what do you think IndyCar can do to enhance it for 2015? 

I liked it… Feels weird to be done so early but that’s what IndyCar used to do.  Laguna Seca was always early September as the season-ender.  Plus I love watching the NFL!

INDYCAR announces several rules and protocol changes for 2018 season

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The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series opener is still more than six weeks away (March 11, St. Petersburg, Florida).

But several rules and protocol changes that will impact much of the 17-race season were announced today by INDYCAR officials.

First is related to Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 19-20, one week prior to the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing:

* Driver and entrant points will be awarded to the top nine qualifiers for the race. The pole winner earns nine points and the second-fastest qualifier eight points, with awarded points decreasing by one point for each position down to one point earned by the ninth-fastest qualifier.

* Race points for the Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16, will still pay double the normal points for driver and entrant.

There are several other changes on tap for the season, as well.

Here’s a quick rundown of those changes (information courtesy of INDYCAR):

  • The qualifying order for all oval track events except the Indianapolis 500 will be determined by entrant points entering the event. The qualifying order will run in reverse order of entrant points, with the highest in entrant points qualifying last. A car without entrant points will be placed at the front of the qualifying line. If more than one car has no entrant points entering an event, a blind draw among those cars will determine their qualifying order at the front of the line. The qualifying order for the Indianapolis 500 will still be determined by a blind draw.
  • Times have been set for the series-wide open test at ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway), scheduled for Feb. 9-10. The track will be open to all cars from 3-6 p.m. and 8-11 p.m. ET both days. INDYCAR has also added four hours of track time on Feb. 8 (3-7 p.m. ET) for rookie drivers to complete their oval test assessments.
  • The series-wide open test at Portland International Raceway will be held Aug. 30, a day prior to the beginning of the Grand Prix of Portland race weekend. Indy car racing returns to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 11 years in 2018.
  • A schedule change for the month of May will see the INDYCAR garages closed on May 13 – the day after the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – to allow teams time off for Mother’s Day. The track will not be open to the public on this day. The garages will be open on May 14, but there will be no on-track activity.
  • Practice for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 begins Tuesday, May 15 on the IMS oval, with the first two hours open for rookie orientation and veteran refreshers, then to all cars. Practice continues May 16-18, ahead of qualifications weekend May 19-20.
  • INDYCAR is granting teams that did not participate in fall manufacturer testing with the universal aero kit an additional half day of private testing. The testing is limited to one car per team and must take place in conjunction with the team’s first on-track test of 2018. Each team is permitted five hours of track time and two sets of Firestone tires.
  • Working with Firestone, INDYCAR has increased the tire allotment at five events. The race weekends at ISM Raceway (Phoenix), the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Texas Motor Speedway, the streets of Toronto and Iowa Speedway will see teams receive an additional set of tires. In a related change, drivers outside the top 10 in the point standings will no longer have an extra set of tires available to them for the opening practice session of a race weekend.
  • The minimum car weight for 2018 has been increased by 10 pounds – to 1,620 pounds for road and street courses and short ovals, 1,590 pounds for superspeedways (both do not include fuel, drink bottle and its contents, driver and driver equivalency weight) – to accommodate for new parts and additional on-car cameras related to the universal aero kit all competitors will run in 2018.