Neither Hildebrand nor Taylor will be in same place in 2018. Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar set for an engineer, strategist silly season, as well

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The Verizon IndyCar Series silly season shakeup usually focuses on driver, team and manufacturer movement but there’s a number of questions in the engineering department as well as some of the quality people there move around too. And with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit to sort, getting engineering set up is going to be key to success.

When Tony Kanaan was confirmed at A.J. Foyt Enterprises last week, that meant his longtime engineer, Eric Cowdin, was too as the team’s technical director. Cowdin is one of a number of engineers at Chip Ganassi Racing on or potentially on the market. With Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball yet to officially announce their programs for 2018, it means Brandon Fry and/or Todd Malloy could be on the move as well.

Allen McDonald and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have parted ways, and the veteran engineer known as “Squirrel” within the paddock has, per IndyCar.com, landed at Ed Carpenter Racing. He should fill the void as full-time engineer for Spencer Pigot, who steps up into a full-season role in 2018 and has already completed two tests with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit at the Sebring short course and this week, at Road America. McDonald will work alongside Matt Barnes and Brent Harvey in ECR’s engineering and strategy departments, as that team prepares to switch shops this offseason.

That will mean James Hinchcliffe will have yet another new engineer, having gone through Craig Hampson, Tino Belli, Nathan O’Rourke and McDonald over the course of his seven-year IndyCar career.

McDonald replaces Justin Taylor, who returns to his sports car roots and will be on one of the two Mazda RT24-Ps for Mazda Team Joest. The likable Taylor and JR Hildebrand tried a number of setups this year that didn’t entirely go down the right path, and he’d welcome an opportunity to come back to IndyCar some day. Linking up with Joest brings Taylor back to the outfit that ran the Audi LMP1 program, where he came from.

Team Penske’s engineering strength of Jonathan Diuguid and Raul Prados, who were race engineers for Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya this year, will go with Castroneves and Montoya to the Acura Team Penske ARX-05 sports car program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Diuguid will then come back to IndyCar to support Castroneves’ month of May run in a fourth Penske IndyCar at the IndyCar Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500. Roger Penske called Castroneves’ races as strategist this year.

With Takuma Sato moving away from Andretti Autosport to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, it remains to be seen whether Andretti will be able to hang on to Sato’s engineer Garrett Mothershead as well. Sato has enjoyed his best years in the championship with Mothershead on his box; RLL though has significant strength in depth engineering-wise between Eddie Jones, Mike Talbott, Martin Pare and Tom German all on its roster this year.

Bryan Herta is expected to stay on the strategy box with Marco Andretti into 2018, as he’ll continue his relationship with the Andretti Autosport into a third season. “We aren’t letting him go!” Michael Andretti told NBC Sports at Sonoma.

Darren Crouser is known to be leaving Dale Coyne Racing and while he wasn’t an engineer, he was that team’s team manager and one of its race strategists. Coyne’s engineering strength was evident this year with Craig Hampson and Olivier Boission coming with Sebastien Bourdais, and with the always excellent Michael Cannon helping aid rookie Ed Jones in his first year.

Those changes or tweaks are known already, and that’s before you look down the rest of the grid to see what else shakes out over the coming months.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.