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Nearly 10 years after series merger, Coyne is last Champ Car team left

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Verizon IndyCar Series fans of a certain age might remember the term “transition teams,” which was used in 2008 when Champ Car and IndyCar announced a merger that brought an end to a divisive and nasty, 12-year split that hurt North American open-wheel racing.

Champ Car teams partnered with IndyCar teams for technical support to ease in the transition process, before striking out on their own as the 2008 season progressed.

Not all of the teams from Champ Car made it over. Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, KV Racing Technology, HVM Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and Conquest Racing all acquired the base Dallara chassis with Honda engines, with Pacific Coast Motorsports joining from Long Beach.

Rocketsports Racing, Walker Racing and Forsythe/Pettit Racing raced only at the Champ Car finale at Long Beach and were not seen under IndyCar team auspices again, although Derrick Walker had stints with Vision Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing and INDYCAR itself in the coming years.

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 20: Will Power of Australia, driver of the #8 KV Racing Technology DP01 Ford Cosworth, leads the field at the start of the Champ Car World Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 20, 2008 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
LONG BEACH, CA – APRIL 20: Will Power of Australia, driver of the #8 KV Racing Technology DP01 Ford Cosworth, leads the field at the start of the Champ Car World Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 20, 2008 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Anyway, those five teams provided nine cars, with two cars each for all teams except HVM, which only ran one. Once Pacific Coast joined, that made it six teams and 10 cars.

But one-by-one, as part of a larger loss of teams over this 10-year period, the teams have faded.

PCM was the first to go. Mario Dominguez’s last-ditch shot to make the Indianapolis 500 ended in the Turn 1 wall, and killed the team’s financial hopes for the year. Although Tyler Tadevic’s team made it the rest of the year, PCM’s time as an IndyCar entrant was done at the end of 2008. Tadevic remains active in racing via his TruSpeed Autosport team, which has had success in sports car racing.

Mike Lanigan shifted his minor ownership stake to what was Rahal Letterman Racing at the end of 2010 and the team is now Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

The Newman/Haas name carried on for one more year into 2011 and Oriol Servia performed one of the best overachieving years in recent history when he finished fourth in the series, and James Hinchcliffe won rookie-of-the-year honors from a deep rookie class that also included JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Ana Beatriz, Sebastian Saavedra and James Jakes. With a lack of sponsorship and with new cars on the horizon for 2012, Newman/Haas folded over the winter, bringing to an end a near-30-year run of success.

Conquest, Eric Bachelart’s team, also failed to answer the 2012 bell despite a couple rumored drivers being linked to seats. Beatriz worked with Bachelart in an extra Andretti Autosport entry at selected 2012 races but the Conquest name was no more.

HVM, Keith Wiggins’ outfit, made it to 2012 but endured a nightmare season saddled with the uncompetitive Lotus engine. Simona de Silvestro did her best to press on and keep a brave face but it was for naught. She left for KV a year later and Wiggins’ time as a team owner ended, although like Bachelart, he was briefly involved with Andretti in one of its entries. Carlos Munoz’s car was entered under the Andretti-HVM banner a couple years ago.

This then brings us to KV, which went through various name changes over its history. Long story short, KV rose from PacWest’s ashes in 2003 and had numerous other co-owners beyond primary co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser. The team’s best success came in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 when Tony Kanaan scored his elusive first win there in the car co-owned by Kalkhoven, Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan.

But that win proved a false dawn longer-term and outside of a handful of wins the last few years, there’s not been a consistent championship challenge. KV’s equipment has moved elsewhere – expected to be utilized by Juncos Racing ahead of its possible step up to the Verizon IndyCar Series after plying its trade on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires (more via RACER.com on that) – and KV has now joined the list of teams that have left the grid.

“(With) that team that we won the biggest race of our lives together, and that’s the team that we struggled together, and I remember how we struggled to get where we got. And honestly, we only made it this far because of that win,” Kanaan told assembled reporters during the Phoenix test this weekend.

Pippa Mann at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

So, this brings us to Dale Coyne Racing. We’ve written quite a bit about how much of a survivor Coyne is, with a tenure in the sport third only to A.J. Foyt and Roger Penske – that’s pretty illustrious company.

And with Coyne’s business savvy outside the track, but now a rare offseason of harmony where his program’s been set for months – not days – before the season opener at St. Petersburg, hopes are high the proverbial minnows will make inroads into the higher end of the top-10 on a more regular basis in 2017 with drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Jones, the latter of whom had a busy test.

It’s not a surprise that Coyne’s still here, nearly 10 years on from that merger. But as other teams from both the transition and IndyCar have dropped out, and the lack of new blood has entered, it’s left IndyCar requiring more from its existing owners to fill in the car count gaps.

Lest it seem that it’s just the Champ Car teams that have dropped out, the teams from the Indy Racing League arena haven’t all endured either. Since the 2008 regular season finale at Chicagoland Speedway, teams that were active then that aren’t now, full-time, are these: Panther Racing, Vision Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Roth Racing, Sarah Fisher Racing and Dragon Racing (then Luczo Dragon Racing).

Anyway, that 28-car field featured cars from 16 teams (Penske 2, Ganassi 2, Andretti 4, Foyt 2, Rahal 1, KV 2, Newman/Haas 2, Coyne 2, Conquest 2, HVM 1, Panther 1, Vision 2, DRR 2, Roth 1, Fisher 1, Dragon 1).

Nearly 10 years later, the expected season opener at St. Petersburg will feature 21 cars from eight teams, with three of those teams holding 12 of the 21 cars (Penske, Ganassi and Andretti all 4, Foyt 2, Coyne 2, Carpenter 2, SPM 2, Rahal 1).

So over 10 years, Penske and Ganassi have added cars, Foyt’s added a second full-time car, Carpenter was born from Vision’s ashes and absorbed what was Fisher’s team, Bryan Herta joined with his own team and then joined Andretti Autosport, and SPM came from FAZZT (Alex Tagliani’s team), which came from Roth. Rahal also spent three years part-time only in IndyCar after a sponsor loss and came back full-time in 2012. So the new teams have more or less been present in other guises first.

To be fair, the economic recession of 2008 was a big part of hurting car counts for 2009, and IndyCar opened the 2009 season with just 22 cars at St. Petersburg. In subsequent years, the season opener has featured 24, 25, 26, 25, 22, 24 and 22 cars.

Fortunately, IndyCar enters 2017 with a lack of serious concerns over management, scheduling or the lineup.

But it could do with its next transition – to finding a way to attract new full-time teams to bolster the existing eight teams that are left.

New 2018 IndyCar aero kit makes its formal test debut at IMS

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After months of buildup and following Monday’s reveal, Tuesday marked the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit’s official debut on track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

INDYCAR’s release, with a handful of social media posts embedded, is below:

If the first day of on-track testing is any indication, the new Verizon IndyCar Series car is well on its way to making Indy car racing in 2018 even better.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia turned more than 100 laps each on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in their respective Chevrolet- and Honda-powered Dallara IR-12s equipped with the universal aerodynamic bodywork kit making its public debut ahead of being used by all competitors next season.

Afterward, approval of the new car’s bolder, sleeker look and performance was unanimous from everyone involved. Buy-in from the two test drivers – among the most veteran and respected around – was essential and secured from the outset.

“From Lap 1, it just felt at home,” said the 43-year-old Servia, who has driven Indy cars since 2000. “The car felt great. I was flat on it out of the pits, which just says how good the car felt right away.

“I think it’s going to be a fast, good racer.”

INDYCAR, sanctioning body for the Verizon IndyCar Series, announced in April 2016 its intent to move away from aero kit competition to a universally supplied kit in 2018. Dallara, a series chassis supplier since 1997, was named to produce and supply the universal kit.

“It’s exciting because, for the first time in the car, it drives really, really well,” said Montoya, 41 and a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. “I think they addressed a lot of the things and the car looks great. I think having one aero kit for everybody is great for the sport. The car looks good and it drives really good.”

Montoya’s car was prepared by Team Penske and Servia’s by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, though INDYCAR is retaining control of the cars until testing is complete in late September. INDYCAR officials watched with nervous excitement as the two cars took to the track for the first time shortly after 9 a.m. ET and methodically worked through the test checklist. By 5 p.m., the checklist had been completed and a potential second day of testing Wednesday was deemed unnecessary.

“We were pleased,” said Bill Pappas, INDYCAR’s vice president of competition/race engineering who headed up the technical development of the universal kit. “It matched up with our numbers that we predicted in the wind tunnel and CFD (computational fluid dynamics), so we were very happy for that.”

Pappas said the test list included short runs by each car to “ensure that there weren’t any surprises,” followed by longer runs on the 2.5-mile oval to check for durability issues. Everyone at INDYCAR and Dallara felt confident the test would be a success, but there are never givens in racing.

“This is my first experience being part of a car being designed,” Pappas said. “Obviously, Dallara did a great job helping us, but you hold your breath until the first competitive laps are run.”

Love this place. @indianapolismotorspeedway is sooo much fun in an @indycar @teamchevy @team_penske @fitzgeraldgliderkits

A post shared by Juan Pablo Montoya (@jpmonty2) on

Old Boys. @indycar #2018 #shapingthefuture #future #racing #indy500

A post shared by Oriol Servia (@oriolservia) on

Mission accomplished, at least for the first phase of testing. Additional tests for the two cars are scheduled for Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Aug. 1), Iowa Speedway (Aug. 10) and Sebring International Raceway (Sept. 26). But the fact that this opening test was completed in half the allotted time is reason to celebrate, if only for a short time.

“Everything we had planned to do in two days, we already accomplished in the first day,” Servia said. “We did lots of laps, long runs, and the car feels good. The car feels very benign.

“It just feels right and we’re not having any issues or moments out there. Very consistent. My second long run, I think, was one of my most consistent runs I’ve done at this track in all of my years.”

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season resumes this weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Live race coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with an encore telecast at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.

Ryan Norman set to take next ‘Journey’ in debut Indy Lights season

Photo: Andretti Autosport
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One of the more unheralded drivers entering this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires campaign has been Ryan Norman, the 19-year-old out of Cleveland who has made strides in his rookie campaign.

Norman was the only one of Andretti Autosport’s Indy Lights quartet new to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires this year. Teammates Nico Jamin, Dalton Kellett and Colton Herta have all been in the MRTI before, while Norman has undergone a significant learning process of taking on new tracks and a new championship.

But Norman’s been one of the year’s more pleasant surprises with methodical growth and improvement over the course of the season.

Through 12 races, Norman has improved his starting position by the end of the race in nine of them, and scored 10 top-10 finishes overall – a number that is tied for second in the series with Zachary Claman De Melo, behind only season points leader Kyle Kaiser who has been in the top-10 in all 12. He’s also won multiple Tilton Hard Charger awards for advancing the most positions in a race from his grid position, and additional Staubli Awards.

Norman ranks 10th in the points standings, ahead of two three-year veterans and two rookies.

Incidentally, it’s been the few races where Norman has qualified in the top five – fourth at the Freedom 100, third at Elkhart Lake race one and fourth in Iowa – where his results haven’t measured up to his starting position. A first lap accident took he and Herta out at the Freedom, while he still banked solid fourth and eighth place finishes in the other two races.

Norman heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend for the next step of his journey on his rookie season – literally.

After running in a vibrant orange-and-black livery the first 12 races, Norman will now step aboard the No. 48 Journey Mazda for Andretti Autosport this weekend, as the legendary rock band formed in 1973 comes onto the car, and the livery changes along with it for the balance of the season.

Not far from Norman’s hometown of Cleveland, the same city of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Lexington, Ohio course will see Norman debut the new livery. ORACAL’s new 970 Premium Special Effect Cast in Sunset Shift, a color-changing wrap like Norman’s Red Bull Global Rallycross teammate Scott Speed’s race car. The new design echoes Journey’s iconic logo, featuring giant wings on the side pod and nose cone of Norman’s Dallara IL-15.

It’s an orange livery with yellow and blue stripes. Needless to say Norman is ready to rock out on home turf this weekend and look to continue his rapid growth in his first season this weekend.

“I am very excited to have Journey on board for the rest of my 2017 season,” Norman said in a release. “It’s unique to have a rock band sponsoring a race car. Journey was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which is my hometown, so it makes the next race at Mid-Ohio very special to me. I love Journey’s music and having “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the side of my car is very fitting. This song has inspired a lot people including athletes like myself.”

Norman isn’t the only Andretti Autosport driver with a story this weekend at Mid-Ohio; teammate Jamin looks to snap a rough patch of results and extend his own personal winning streak at Mid-Ohio from its current run of five races between USF2000 (three races in 2015) and Pro Mazda (two in 2016) while Herta looks to keep his championship hopes alive. Kellett has had the opposite bit of luck as Norman this year; he’s qualified significantly better but had a rough run of results in the races themselves that haven’t matched his potential.

Indy Lights race coverage from Mid-Ohio airs Sunday, July 30, at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Luca Ghiotto joins Hungary test list for Williams

Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
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Formula 2 front-runner Luca Ghiotto is the latest young driver to be confirmed for the post-Hungarian Grand Prix test, with the Italian set to run on one of the two days for Williams Martini Racing.

Ghiotto battled Esteban Ocon for the GP3 title in 2015 but lost out to the Frenchman, and has since moved up a category on his own.

Ghiotto and Felipe Massa will split the two days of running between Tuesday and Wednesday after the Grand Prix.

“A big thanks to Williams for this opportunity. I think the first F1 test for any driver is a special moment, and to do it with such an historic team is even better so I’m really excited. Of course, I also need to focus on the F2 weekend beforehand, but I’m really looking forward to the test and I really hope it goes well,” Ghiotto said of his first F1 test.

Claire Williams, deputy team principal added, “This will be Luca’s first opportunity of a Formula One outing. Our team has a strong track record for developing young talent, and we always enjoy seeing young drivers getting opportunities to demonstrate their ability. I look forward to seeing how he performs in the car next month.”

Magnus brings in ‘hired gun’ Spencer Pumpelly for Mid-Ohio

Photo: Magnus Racing
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With Mansfield, Ohio the home of the prison in The Shawshank Redemption in the Ohio State Reformatory (also known as the Mansfield Reformatory) and with Magnus Racing PR ace and “Dinner with Racers” co-creator Sean Heckman one of two who’ve coined the inside joke that Spencer Pumpelly allegedly tried to kill a guy, it was only natural that Pumpelly will play the role of Magnus Racing’s “hired gun” near the prison at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Pirelli World Challenge competition this weekend.

The joke stems from the first season of “DWR” and was a running joke throughout the season. The “hired gun” play-on-words riffs on the fact Pumpelly will be substituting for Pierre Kaffer in the team’s No. 4 Audi R8 LMS this weekend, with Kaffer on duty at the Total 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps for Audi Sport.

Pumpelly has raced alongside Kaffer and Dane Cameron in PWC SprintX competition this season – Pumpelly and Cameron actually won the second race of the weekend at Lime Rock Park – and now the veteran sports car driver and Atlanta native will make his first PWC Sprint starts of the year, and first since his similar fill-in role with Heckman’s “DWR” co-creator, Ryan Eversley, at RealTime Racing last year… which also started at Mid-Ohio.

“It’s great to have Spencer back in the team,” stated Magnus Racing team owner and driver John Potter, who is in the team’s No. 44 Audi in GTA. “Spencer has always fit right in with us, but driving the team to our first series victory of course sealed a very special place for his legacy with us. We’re hoping Mid-Ohio suits both Spencer and the No. 4, and hopefully we can repeat the same feat.”

“It’s great to return to the team,” stated Pumpelly. “Obviously our last race together went extraordinarily well, and we’re hoping that same momentum can continue in to Mid Ohio. It’s always tough to say what to expect, especially in these very frantic sprint races, but we’re optimistic that the circuit should suit us. The entire team at Magnus has done a great job putting this effort together, and we look forward to pushing for additional results.”