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.

Veach tops opening IndyCar practice at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa – After a delay of 30 minutes due to track drying – overnight rains hit Pocono Raceway and the surrounding area – opening practice for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (1:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) got underway at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach topped the speed charts in that opening practice, with a fastest speed of 217.393 mph. Veach also posted the best no-tow speed at 214.233 mph.

Behind Veach, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was second with quick lap of 217.016 mph – Veach and Newgarden were also the only drivers above the 217 mark in the first practice.

Veach’s teammate Alexander Rossi was third. Sebastien Bourdais was fourth for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan, while A.J. Foyt Racing’s Tony Kanaan rounded out the top five.

The lone interruption in the session came with just over 10 minutes remaining, with a yellow for a track inspection to check for debris. However, the session itself saw no on-track incidents.

Of note: Conor Daly and Harding Racing experienced a mechanical problem that limited their running during the session. Daly was able to complete 15 timed laps, but only with a best lap of 206.012 mph.

Results are below. Qualifying is scheduled for Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET.

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