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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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”