Getty Images

Even without racing, IndyCar has a busy 2017-’18 offseason ahead

Leave a comment

So, there’s been a full week now complete since the Verizon IndyCar Series season ended at Sonoma Raceway. The offseason is now underway.

Almost all the first round of pieces have been written or filmed in the wake of Josef Newgarden’s popular first championship, achieved in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Meanwhile official news has been sparse, but figures to intensify in the coming weeks as teams need to fill seats.

And with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit now set for its final test in INDYCAR’s hands on Tuesday at Sebring International Raceway’s short course – the closest thing IndyCar has to a street course simulation – testing the new car will be a major topic over the months ahead.

Here’s what’s on tap for IndyCar’s offseason ahead:

TESTING, TESTING, 1…2…3…

Juan Pablo Montoya in the new 2018 IndyCar. Photo: IndyCar

As noted above, tomorrow marks the final day INDYCAR will run the testing program of the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit at Sebring’s short course, before the new kits and cars are delivered to manufacturers Honda and Chevrolet for the next couple months of testing.

Team Penske (Chevrolet, Juan Pablo Montoya) and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (Honda, Oriol Servia) have operated the cars but with INDYCAR itself dictating the testing program through the first three tests done in July and August on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (super speedway), Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (road course) and Iowa Speedway (short oval).

From here, Chevrolet and Honda have six tests each with the car through mid-November, before team testing begins in January, 2018. Teams such as Chip Ganassi Racing (Honda) and Ed Carpenter Racing (Chevrolet) will be those running the cars as part of the manufacturer testing program.

Part of the reason Spencer Pigot was confirmed by ECR as early as he was for 2018 was so that he could be part of this degree of manufacturer testing, and that’s good news for him in his development process. Pigot has already excelled driving one new car when it was introduced – the Dallara IL-15 Mazda in its first season in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – and will now have his first full offseason to do IndyCar testing of its new car. Pigot has also helped to develop sports cars for Mazda in its prototype program the last couple years. Pigot, who turns 24 on Friday, will have a key role to play for Chevrolet’s testing in the coming weeks, starting on Tuesday at Sebring.

Ganassi has only formally confirmed Scott Dixon as part of its 2018 lineup so any new driver would be testing later, once confirmed. Ganassi managing director Mike Hull outlined the testing process over the coming months below.

2018 SCHEDULE RELEASE IMMINENT

The good news for Verizon IndyCar Series fans is that most of the 2018 IndyCar calendar is known already, via dates released either from tracks themselves or other series set to compete at said tracks.

The lone hold-up for the full release, which was expected out this week but NBC Sports now understands will be held a bit further, is whether Mexico will be added as an 18th race along with the 17 races set to return next year.

Given that country’s situation with its massive 7.1 earthquake on Sept. 19 and its associated aftershocks, it’s not a shock that the country has slightly bigger issues to press on with at the moment.

And the good news we’ve discovered in our talks with INDYCAR officials is that we’re heading into a schedule release without a large number of lingering questions. The schedule stability and date equity assembled over the last couple years has been a welcome contrast to the fluidity in years previous.

Along with the 2018 schedule, movement on IndyCar’s future TV direction and entitlement sponsorship are likely to be big items behind-the-scenes at the INDYCAR offices. The current TV contract with NBCSN and ABC ends after 2018, as does Verizon’s tenure as title sponsor.

OFFICIAL CONFIRMATIONS AT/OF CERTAIN TEAMS

Most of the Verizon IndyCar Series field is set for 2018 (silly season update one, post-Mid-Ohio and two, during Sonoma). There are 13 driver/team combinations made official thus far:

  • 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
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Tony Kanaan, driver of the #10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, speaks with James Hinchcliffe, driver of the #5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, during qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Beyond that, there are a wealth of “all but official” scenarios including:

  • James Hinchcliffe all but set to stay with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
  • Tony Kanaan set to move to Foyt
  • Ed Jones planning to re-up with Coyne
  • Max Chilton, Carlin announcing a likely step-up
  • Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing locking down its program
  • Brendon Hartley moving from sports cars into Ganassi
  • Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser confirming his team choice

What that means on Sept. 25 is that realistically there’s only three or four rides for 2018 yet to be determined if all those “all but official” scenarios become official in the coming weeks. Those would be the second seats at SPM and Foyt, the likely second seat at Carlin and the road/street course seat at Carpenter.

Like Harding and Carlin, Juncos Racing is also poised to run at least some IndyCar races, but whether it’s a full-season remains to be seen. And like Carlin and Juncos, there’s a wealth of Indy Lights drivers keen to make their way into IndyCar.

As it is, the fact most of the IndyCar grid is known or almost set before October 1 – even if many programs haven’t been officially announced – is both rare and awesome to see at the same time. Teams need as much time to test their drivers with the new kits in the offseason, and so there’s been a mad rush to get next year locked down ASAP.

It seems hard to believe, but the days of “TBA” appearing on an IndyCar entry list days before St. Petersburg may be at an end.

HELIO’S OFFICIALLY UNOFFICIAL SWAN SONG

What a couple weeks it’s been for Helio Castroneves. Despite yet another top-five finish in the championship, Castroneves’ Sonoma race felt like a goodbye to full-time competition in IndyCar, especially as he thanked members of the media in the race’s aftermath.

Still, reports emerged heading into the weekend a fourth car full-time with Team Penske was still on the table. And partners Hitachi and Pennzoil also tweeted about Castroneves and his excellent season, which Castroneves re-tweeted.

Castroneves has tested Team Penske’s new Acura ARX-05 sports car last week (video below) and his departure from full-time driving in IndyCar seems all but inevitable at this point.

Despite Castroneves’ best efforts, it appears as though he’s had his swan song. He’ll be an asset to the Penske Acura program provided he winds up there, but IndyCar would feel his loss on the full-time grid. He’s been someone to appreciate for 20 years, the last 18 at Team Penske.

This is VERY interesting!! Oia isso!!

A post shared by Helio Castroneves (@heliocastroneves) on

OTHER INDYCAR DRIVERS IN SPORTS CARS

With Motul Petit Le Mans set for October 7, at least three IndyCar drivers – Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay – will be in action at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Road Atlanta. Dixon and Bourdais will be third drivers in Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs while Hunter-Reay will be third driver in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, with the Taylor brothers.

Petit Le Mans and the Rolex 24 at Daytona always offer up a bevy of IndyCar drivers making guest appearances in sports car land. The latter event, with Team Penske premiering the aforementioned Acura ARX-05 there, figures to have a wealth of IndyCar interest – and quite likely IndyCar drivers – split among its two cars.

WHAT OFFSEASON FUN, ANTICS ARE IN STORE?

Last year, IndyCar had James Hinchcliffe on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” to carry it through the offseason.

Some of the other items IndyCar has released in recent years included Damien Power’s offbeat “Exclusive: Behind the Scenes” interview series with drivers in 2015 and “The Offseason” digital shorts as modeled after NBC’s “The Office.”

There’s usually some degree of entertainment, fun and games that emerges from the IndyCar offices over the offseason and what the creative minds there come up with will be interesting to see.

Or, there’s always more Visor Cam, which was utilized in-race this year starting at the Indianapolis 500 through to the Sonoma finale. Thanks to IMS Productions, this was one of racing’s coolest innovations in years. Considering how much testing is scheduled, some more Visor Cam would easily satisfy the appetite of the IndyCar fan base heading into the five or six-month period without IndyCar racing.

MRTI’S OFFSEASON PLANS

We’ll have more on this separately, but the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires also has a bit to look forward to this offseason. The two key items are the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test, the traditional event that takes place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course October 20-22, and the delivery and debut for teams with the new Tatuus PM-18 chassis in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series. Some teams have taken delivery of those now in anticipation of running next month.

Driver movement will also be afoot there as the next generation of IndyCar drivers seek to position themselves for 2019 and beyond.

Mazda Road to Indy 2018 schedules are released

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

A handful of minor tweaks have been made to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires schedules for the 2018 season, but they’re not too different than 2017 and largely mirror the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule that was put out last week.

The full details are below.

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires today unveiled its 2018 calendar of events. The most effective driver development program in the world with over $3.5M in scholarships and awards on offer will continue its momentum at premier road course, street circuit and oval venues in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The highly acclaimed platform – comprised of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – will enter the new season with a trio of state-of-the-art chassis on display including the much anticipated debut of the new Pro Mazda PM-18 which completes the revitalization of the entire ladder system.

On deck for 2018 is a return to the Pacific Northwest and Portland International Raceway (PIR) in Portland, Ore. The 1.967-mile, 12-turn permanent road course will host the season finale for all three series. Indy Lights last raced at PIR in 2001, and Pro Mazda and USF2000 in 2006. The last IndyCar race took place in 2007.

The month of May will bring several new additions. Pro Mazda and USF2000 will return to Lucas Oil Raceway for the Carb Night Classic “The Race Before the 500” after a year’s hiatus. Mere hours after the conclusion of Carb Day activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 – including the Freedom 100, the crown jewel on the Indy Lights schedule – the two series will make their appearance on the .686-mile oval.

Additionally, the three Indianapolis oval races will see an increase in points for all series for the first time, and an increase in prize money.

In Pro Mazda, the National Class will be replaced by the Pro Mazda Classic (PMC) Series – a six-weekend, 12-race championship within the Pro Mazda Championship utilizing the older Pro Mazda rotary-powered cars from 2002 to 2017. The series will see a separate points chart, prize money and year-end awards.

While there is no limitation on PMC Series testing, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 will see amended testing rules. Indy Lights in-season testing is restricted to two days per team with two additional days available for use with current Pro Mazda and USF2000 drivers. Pro Mazda and USF2000 teams are permitted four days of in-season testing per driver but not at tracks yet to hold an event. Each series will continue with open tests at select venues.

The annual Mazda Road to Indy Spring Training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 23- 26. Indy Lights will test on the 1.5-mile oval on February 23 and the 2.21-mile road course on February 26. Pro Mazda and USF2000 will run on the weekend – February 24 and 25 – to assist young drivers juggling their schedules alongside school commitments.

The Mazda Road to Indy Summit program – providing valuable education on a variety of topics including marketing/business, media training, career growth and development, fitness, social media and a comprehensive oval clinic – will continue to be in place next season.

“We’ve put a lot of thought into our schedule and I am pleased with the balance we have in place to properly train drivers to move up the ladder,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “We are excited to have Portland on the schedule, which will be a great circuit for our season finales in the three series, and to return to Lucas Oil Raceway on Carb Day for a great night of racing. The Freedom 100 is obviously the biggest race on our calendar and to be able to bring Pro Mazda and USF2000 back into the excitement surrounding the Indianapolis 500 was key. Increasing both the points awarded and the prize money gives these events the weight they deserve.

“The Mazda Road to Indy will take on new life next year with the competition debut of the PM-18. This completes the process we began several years ago to provide the best for our competitors with state-of-the-art race cars. We have a great program in place and it’s working. As always, I am looking forward to seeing many of our drivers take their next steps up the ladder including our recently crowned champions.”

Indy Lights will feature a 17-race schedule at 10 venues comprised of three oval, five road course and two street circuit events. In addition to hour-long race broadcasts on NBCSN, Indy Lights will also be featured on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on indylights.com and indycar.com.

Coverage of all Indy Lights sessions is available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network with broadcasts on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course*
April 20-22 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course*
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
May 25 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course*
July 7-8 Iowa Speedway .894-mile oval
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course*
August 24-25 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course*

*Doubleheader events

Open tests are scheduled at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 23 (oval) and 26 (road course), Barber Motorsports Park on March 5, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10 (road course) and 21 (oval), Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18 for a total of nine test days.

Pro Mazda will expand to a nine-event, 16-race schedule which includes two ovals, five road course and two street course venues. Pro Mazda will be featured on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on promazda.com and indycar.com.

Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course* + PMC
April 20-22 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course* + PMC
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course* + PMC
May 25 Lucas Oil Raceway .686-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course* + PMC
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course* + PMC
August 24-25 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course* + PMC

*Doubleheader events
+ Pro Mazda Classic Series

A total of 10 open test days are scheduled at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 24/25, Barber Motorsports Park on March 3/4, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24, Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18.

The USF2000 series will continue with a 14-race format held at seven venues featuring one oval, four road course and two street circuit events. Coverage will be available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on usf2000.com and indycar.com.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course*
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
May 25 Lucas Oil Raceway .686-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course*
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course**
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course*

*Doubleheader events
**Tripleheader event

Open tests are schedule at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 24/25, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24, Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18 for a total of eight test days.

Two events still remain on the 2017 calendar – the seventh annual Chris Griffis Memorial Open Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 21/22 and the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout on December 9/10 at the Bondurant Racing School near Phoenix, Ariz.