IndyCar

IndyCar: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 2018 season review

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Editor’s note: MotorSportsTalk continues to review how each organization in the IndyCar Series performed in 2018 and also takes a look ahead to 2019.

Thus far we have featured Juncos RacingMeyer Shank RacingCarlin Racing, Harding Racing, AJ Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser SullivanDale Coyne Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Today we feature Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (three more reviews remain after today: Team Penske on Saturday, Andretti Autosport on Sunday and Chip Ganassi Racing on Monday).

SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS 2018 season review:

What began as a season of promise ended as a season of disappointment and sadness for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. James Hinchcliffe finished 10th, earning the organization’s lone win of the season at Iowa. But the Canadian native also suffered the biggest disappointment of his racing career when he failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

Then,Hinchcliffe’s  longtime friend and IndyCar rookie Robert Wickens got off to a strong start, only to be seriously injured in a season-ending crash at Pocono Raceway on August 19. Still, it’s a testament to Wickens’ success in his first IndyCar season before the crash that he ended the 2018 campaign in 11th place in the final standings despite missing the last four races (including Pocono).

There also was conflict as the team parted ways with Le Mans-winning team engineer Leena Gade less than six months into her tenure with Hinchcliffe’s team.

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JAMES HINCHCLIFFE

Team name: No. 5 Arrow Electronics/Lucas Oil Honda

Years in IndyCar: 8

Career wins and podium finishes: 6 and 16

Best career season finish: 8th in both 2012 and 2013

2018 final standing: 10th

2018 final stats: 1 win, 2 podiums, 0 poles

2018 best race finish: 1st (Iowa)

SEASON WRAPUP: Hinchcliffe began 2018 strongly with two top-5s and three other top-10s. But after the debacle at Indy, and even with the Iowa win, just never seemed to build any sustaining momentum, particularly after Iowa, when he ended the season with five consecutive finishes outside the top-10. What should have been a better year ultimately wasn’t, but it’s still a testament to his team and the Mayor of Hinchtown’s talent that he still earned his best overall season finish since 2013.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: Hinchcliffe is a much better driver than the majority of his season finishes have shown. More than anything, he needs a real breakout campaign. The potential, personnel and equipment is there for Hinch to do just that in 2019.

QUOTE (following the season finale at Sonoma): “At the end of the day, the 2019 season started the second the checkered flag fell and we’re already all eyes forward and focused on hitting the ground running in St. Petersburg. Thanks to the SPM team for all the hard work all year. Thanks to Arrow Electronics and all our partners. It’s been an up-and-down year, but we’ve won as a team, we’ve lost as a team, and we’ll come back stronger next year.”

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ROBERT WICKENS

Team name: No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda

Years in IndyCar: 1

Career wins and podium finishes: 0 and 4

Best career finish: 11th in 2018 season standings

2018 final standing: 11th

2018 final stats: 0 wins, 4 podiums, 1 pole

2018 best race finish: 2nd at both Phoenix and Mid-Ohio

SEASON WRAPUP: Wickens set the series on fire with his outstanding ability. He may have been an IndyCar rookie, but he certainly didn’t drive like one. He was on track to win the season-opening race at St. Petersburg (after starting from the pole), but late contact with Alexander Rossi relegated Wickens to a disappointing 18th place finish. He would go on to earn four overall podium finishes and it appeared it was just a matter of time before he’d break through with a win. But his horrible crash at Pocono ended any chance of that happening.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: It’s uncertain whether Wickens will be able to return for the start of the season, given he is still undergoing extensive rehabilitation and recovery from his injuries and the numerous resulting surgeries he’s undergone. No matter how long his recovery takes, one thing is very clear, though: the entire sport – from fellow drivers to opposing teams to media to fans – can’t wait to see Wickens back behind the wheel of the No. 6 SPM Honda.

QUOTE (from a tweet he posted prior to the start of the Sept. 16 season-ending race at Sonoma): “I just want to say that all your kind words and positivity have meant the world to me and my family. I’m in rehab now, trying to get back to 100 percent as quickly as possible. I don’t know what the future holds for me. It’s going to be a very long road to recovery. All I can say is I can promise you guys that I’m going to work as hard as possible, and train as hard as possible, to make sure I’m back in a race car as quickly as possible.”

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CARLOS MUNOZ

Team name: No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda for 2 races (Portland and Sonoma), also the No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda in Indianapolis 500

Years in IndyCar: 6 (4 full-time)

Career wins and podium finishes: 1 and 7

Best career season finish: 8th in 2014

2018 final standing: 25th (competed in just 3 races)

2018 final stats: 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 poles

2018 best race finish: 7th (Indianapolis 500)

SEASON WRAPUP: Munoz filled in the last two races of the season for the injured Robert Wickens. Given that the entire team was new to him, with new personnel and equipment, he performed as best as could be expected, finishing 12th at Portland and 16th at Sonoma.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: It remains to be seen whether Munoz will return to SPM. Much hinges on the recovery of Robert Wickens, as well as whether SPM decides to keep Munoz or goes with another driver. If Wickens is unable to return for the start of the season, Munoz is an option to once again fill-in for Wickens, essentially picking up where he left off after Sonoma. In a sense, the team has the luxury of at least four months to decide if it will need to have a replacement driver once again for Wickens. At the same time, those four months could go a long way toward determining Wickens’ ability to return to racing and when. While Munoz would continue to be a good fill-in for Wickens, if an opportunity arises with another team, especially if it’s a full-time ride, he’d likely have to take it.

QUOTE (following 2018 season finale at Sonoma): “Really thankful to everyone at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – the mechanics, the engineers, everyone on the team have been so great to me. Wishing a quick recovery to Robert (Wickens) and hopefully, he’ll be back at it in no time.”

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IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.