IndyCar notebook: Texas renewal close, McLaren/Alonso update, Dixon, Roval and more

Photo: IndyCar
2 Comments

Catching up on some of the most recent IndyCar news after a couple of vacation days off:

Texas Motor Speedway, IndyCar “getting closer” on new agreement

Adios, Circuit of the Americas (COTA), we hardly knew ‘ya.

Rumors of the Verizon IndyCar Series adding a race at COTA in Austin, Texas for the 2019 season appear to have hit a wall.

Texas Motor Speedway and the sanctioning body are reportedly closing in on a new agreement to keep IndyCar at the Fort Worth track for what is believed to be the next three years.

“We’re getting closer,” TMS president Eddie Gossage told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We should be finished soon (on a new contract). All is good.”

However, according to the S-T, Gossage’s hope of returning TMS’s annual IndyCar race date to the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 will not happen.

Rather, IndyCar will continue to race at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park on the weekend after the Indy 500. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources made that announcement earlier Friday.

It would appear that short of any last-minute obstacles that pop up, that TMS will continue to host the only IndyCar race in the state of Texas for the foreseeable future.

COTA has long been talked about as a possible venue to host the Verizon IndyCar Series, but TMS has held exclusive rights to IndyCar racing in Texas and will likely continue to do so.

Also, according to the S-T, TMS hopes to put tickets to its 2019 IndyCar race on sale by later this month (although no date has been announced yet).

With COTA now likely out of the picture, rumors persist that IndyCar will still add a short-track oval race at Richmond Raceway in 2019, essentially replacing another short track from 2018 that will not be on next season’s schedule, namely, Phoenix.

Rumors about IndyCar returning to Homestead-Miami Speedway appear to have faded.

**************************************

McLaren will likely be a later rather than sooner situation in IndyCar

While McLaren will likely still come to IndyCar at some point, with each passing day it appears it won’t happen in 2019.

McLaren boss Zak Brown continues to reiterate that his company will go IndyCar racing, but given that we’re nearly in the middle of August, not to mention McLaren’s floundering efforts in Formula One this season, it’s likely that expansion to IndyCar will have to be put on hold for at least one more year.

Just the due-diligence, not to mention hiring drivers and crew personnel, buying equipment, testing, etc., it appears McLaren will hold off until 2020 so that it can get its F1 house in better shape, which Brown has insisted is its No. 1 priority.

So where does that leave Fernando Alonso, whose contract with McLaren expires at the end of the current F1 season?

Initially, Alonso was expected to be the figurehead driver in the McLaren IndyCar program. But now it’s 50-50 he stays with McLaren going forward, even if it means one more year in F1 before a potential move to IndyCar.

But Alonso has other options, too.

Brown admits Alonso is frustrated at the lack of performance he and McLaren have had this season. Alonso is currently ninth in the F1 standings.

And that frustration could ultimately lead to a parting of the ways between Alonso and McLaren, something that Brown appeared to hint at in a recent interview with the Indianapolis Star.

“I think if we were more competitive, he’d definitely want to stay in Formula One,” Brown told The Star. “He’s talked about his frustrations about being in a Manufacturers’ Championship as opposed to a Drivers’ Championship.

“If you look at the race results, it’s probably a fairly fair statement (that Alonso could leave at season’s end).”

Some reports indicate that if Alonso does leave McLaren but elects to stay in F1, he may follow teammate Daniel Ricciardo to Red Bull for at least the 2019 season. However, if Red Bull is going to commit a big financial package to attract Alonso, the company would likely demand at least a two- or three-year commitment from Alonso to stay in F1.

There is another wild card that Alonso may have up his sleeve. He reportedly is so bound and determined to come to IndyCar, that he may do so with another team.

While McLaren has been linked as a potential partner with Andretti Autosport when it does come to IndyCar, that doesn’t necessarily mean Alonso couldn’t try to write his own deal sans McLaren.

If McLaren holds off until 2020 to come to the U.S., Alonso could still join Andretti Autosport as a driver for hire in 2019, much like he did when he raced for the Andretti camp in the 2017 Indy 500.

But with the Andretti camp already having Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach and Alexander Rossi, adding yet another team – without McLaren backing – could be difficult unless a major sponsor could be attracted to foot the bill for Alonso.

The Indy Star also hinted that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing may have an interest in the Spanish two-time F1 champ potentially joining the current driver lineup of Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato.

Chip Ganassi Racing, which cut its IndyCar program from four to just two drivers in 2018, may be another potential landing spot for Alonso if he cuts ties with McLaren.

Frankly, CGR could be the biggest dark horse of all in a potential bid to get Alonso.

************************************

No news may be good news when it comes to Scott Dixon

Speaking of CGR, there has been no news on the Scott Dixon front.

But that actually may be a very good thing.

Throughout Ganassi’s three-plus decade IndyCar ownership tenure, he’s made it a policy to not negotiate in the media with drivers.

Ganassi believes in keeping things behind closed doors when it comes to new contracts, and rightly so. The last thing a potential championship team or driver needs is to have a “he said/he said” back and forth about contracts when the more important business of winning the IndyCar title is at hand.

That being said, some might say this is the perfect time for Ganassi to re-sign Dixon, given the latter is leading the IndyCar Series championship and would have one less thing to worry about heading into the season finale at Sonoma next month.

Reports and/or rumors about Dixon going to F1, or Team Penske or even sports car racing in 2019 have slowly begun to fade, leaving pretty much just one remaining possibility: re-signing with CGR.

If true, look for an announcement to come before Sonoma.

**************************************

Oh, say, can you see a Roval in IndyCar’s future?

Will Power checked out Charlotte Motor Speedway’s “Roval” this week.

While Power liked what he saw, it’s unlikely IndyCar will take to the Roval any time soon.

Designed somewhat like the part-oval, part-road course layout at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the Roval will be part of a major racing series later this season for the annual fall NASCAR Cup race at CMS.

IndyCar has not raced at CMS since 1999. But Power would be interested to see the Roval on the IndyCar circuit at some point.

“That would be a total home race for me,” said Power, who lives about 15 miles away from CMS in suburban Charlotte. “I’d love to see that, that would be awesome. But, I have no clue if that would ever happen.”

A potential rule of thumb is this: let NASCAR run at least 2-3 races on the Roval and see what happens. If the attendance numbers are promising and TV ratings are strong, don’t be surprised if IndyCar may consider racing upon the Roval in maybe 2022 or so.

**************************************

IndyCar once again will not hold season-ending awards banquet

NASCAR does it, and so does the NHRA – holding end-of-season awards banquets, that is.

NASCAR hosts its banquet in Las Vegas two weeks after the season ends, while NHRA will once again host its annual pro classes driver awards banquet in Hollywood one day after the current season concludes in mid-November.

But not so for IndyCar.

MotorSportsTalk has learned from two high-ranking IndyCar series officials this week that once again, a post-season awards banquet will not take place this year.

The last formal IndyCar post-season banquet was held in San Francisco following the 2015 season.

2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud was feted at a dinner in Indianapolis after his title-winning season, but 2017 series champion Josef Newgarden was not honored until prior to this year’s season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Reports that a banquet would be held this year following the final race of the season were strong – until about three weeks ago, when it was announced that Laguna Seca would replace Sonoma Raceway on the IndyCar circuit in 2019.

Essentially, there went Sonoma from the future schedule, and there went the likelihood of the awards banquet, as well.

Somehow, it just doesn’t seem right that at the height of a season’s conclusion, those who worked the hardest and were the most successful, aren’t recognized for their efforts until nearly six months – and nearly 4,000 miles away — later.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
2 Comments

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”