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TSO Feature Blogger – J.R. Hildebrand – “That was a little more drama during qualifying weekend than we wanted !!”.

TSO would like to welcome J.R. Hildebrand as our guest blogger for the “Month of May.” The eight-time Indianapolis 500 starter is back with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for a second year with software as a service provider Salesforce.com returning to sponsor the Sausalito, Calif. native. We’re looking forward to Hildebrand’s insight on what goes on behind the scenes in Gasoline Alley between the driver, his crew and engineering staff.

“That was a little more drama during qualifying weekend than we wanted !!”

A relieved J.R. Hildebrand is interviewed by NBC Sports after safely making the field for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR – Chris Jones)

Hey there. It’s JR again. And I wanted to fill all of you in on how the qualifying weekend went for myself and my teammate Sage Karam in the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team. Well, all I can say is that qualifying wasn’t exactly how we had planned it but I’m happy that we are both in the 33-car field.

I’ll start 21st and Sage will start 31st after some very wild weather and track conditions on Saturday and Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We had good setups on Friday when Chevrolet gave us more horsepower for qualifying. But the weather changed significantly for Saturday.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a good draw number for qualifying and we had to wait until 2 p.m. in the heat of the day to make our first run. We saw the faster guys go out in the first hour before the heat and wind picked up around the track. And the winds were unpredictable too.

My engineer Erik Petersen and I worked on Friday night to develop a car that could handle a lot of the variables during qualifying. We started to take some downforce off the car late on Thursday’s practice, but we didn’t get serious on our qualifying setups until Friday with the added horsepower.

The biggest thing for Saturday’s qualifying setup was we didn’t have enough data points on that kind of heat (the high 80s). We don’t have a big history of that type of weather here. And you can’t just throw the kitchen sink at the setup. We knew we had another run for that day. We ran a 229 lap on my first qual lap and then the car fell off with the heat and the wind in the corners. We just couldn’t maintain that pace at that point in the day. Actually, the wind wasn’t that big of a factor in the first four-lap run. But we couldn’t maintain the mid-corner speed we wanted. That erodes the lap time.

The team decided to make the changes for the elements and we went right back in the qualifying line. Unfortunately, there was no one in the line and we didn’t allow enough the car to cool down. We probably needed an hour to sit for everything to sit and cool. The car was faster in the second qual run, but we lost a little horsepower for going out so quickly. We don’t use the cooling tubes as the NASCAR boys use with the stock cars. It runs cold water back in the systems and cools the engine and car faster.

Now with hindsight, we saw how the weather affects the car in those conditions. Had we cooled for another 45 minutes, we would have been better, but not as good as later in the day when everything cooled down.
We knew we could go quicker again if the conditions improved just slightly. And when we went out at the end of Saturday, the car was good with two 228 laps. On the third lap, I hit a wind gust entering turn three and that pushed the car towards the wall. I had to feather the throttle and it cost us some speed. That is why the last two laps were off a bit. I was happy we got a cloud cover for our final run. That definitely helped the conditions for a four-lap average.

We could have had another turn of the front wing for grip but the car was grippy immediately at the start of the final run just that a little gust on the third lap hurt us. But I knew we would be good for the top 30 after the first two laps. I would have like to have averaged over 228 on Saturday but we were close at 227.908.

We knew we had the speed for a qualifying performance, but the conditions were just so tough. And getting that late draw number put us in a tough spot from the start.

And Sage had to do the same on Sunday, but he drove an excellent qual run for the fastest of the Last Chance qualifying.

I am happy for the Salesforce crew because they work hard all week to get our No. 48 car prepared very well. And the runs we had earlier in the week were good in race setup too.

J.R. Hildebrand and the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing crew that helped him qualify for his ninth consecutive Indianapolis 500 (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR – John Cote)

The DRR team has always had good race setups. I knew that when I was at ECR. It was tough to stay with Sage in the race. So, we feel pretty confident going into Sunday now.

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TSO Feature Blogger – J.R. Hildebrand – “The first day of practice was a good, solid start towards our team’s overall Indy 500 program.”

TSO would like to welcome J.R. Hildebrand as our guest blogger for the “Month of May.” The eight-time Indianapolis 500 starter is back with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for a second year with software as a service provider Salesforce.com returning to sponsor the Sausalito, Calif. native. We’re looking forward to Hildebrand’s insight on what goes on behind the scenes in Gasoline Alley between the driver, his crew and engineering staff.

 

Hi, this is J. R. Hildebrand and thanks for keeping track with us this May. I returned to the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team for the 103rd Indy 500 and I’m excited to drive the No. 48 Salesforce Chevrolet. This year’s Salesforce machine is running the No. 48 in tribute to one of my heroes, the late and great Dan Gurney. Many of Dan’s Indy cars over the years campaigned the No. 48, so I thought it would be a great tribute to Dan. We are running the same script 48 as Dan’s All American Racers team.

J.R. Hildebrand get ready for the first day of practice in preparation for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR- Joe Skibinski)

Coming back to Indy is always special since it is the most significant auto race in the world and my passion to compete here is always strong. So, I thought I would give the TSO readership an idea of what goes on in the garages with our engineers and our crew.

Tuesday was the first practice on the famous 2.5-mile oval track, and I was excited to get back on the racing surface after we ran a few laps in the Indy 500 testing last month. After getting through our refresher laps at the test, I was able to run in the morning session with the NTT IndyCar Series regular and veterans.

We did a lot of running of the car Tuesday including 113 laps. There were a lot of new items on the cars with the various aero setups and we wanted to see how those pieces worked. Early on, we ran our laps alone and went through the list of changes with my engineer, Eric Petersen, and Sage’s engineer, Jeff Britton. Jeff has been at IMS for decades and knows this place. Eric is new to DRR but not IndyCars and racing in general. Jeff and Eric worked together back in the 2000s with the Rahal Letterman team. And I have the 2004 Indy 500 champion Buddy Rice as my turn one spotter, as well. Buddy brings a great perspective to the overall DRR team, from his past driving career as well as watching the action from high above turn one.

We ran a full range of aero pieces today and collected a lot of data. So, we ran many laps on Tuesday. We didn’t want to run in big packs until the end of the day. Once we had tested out what we had done with the new stuff on the car, we decided to get in the mix with some packs. And we ran with a full fuel load too. We ran a pretty decent number and the car felt good for the end of the first day of practice.

After 113 laps, I feel good in the car. Not tired. It always good to out and just run laps. The weather was a little warmer than predicted. And, with the new sealer on the track surface, it was a good chance to really see how the track would be throughout the day. With a longer day, it conditioned your vision and body to being back at IMS after not being in a car for some time. Especially when you are not fulltime.

The DRR guys have done an outstanding job with the race car. It looks great and I feel we are on a trajectory and direction that will keep us getting more out of the car. I feel comfortable in the car after the first day and that we have a grasp of what we need from it. Last year, at the end of the first day, we and everyone else had no idea what was going on right now with this new car. But this year, it feels pretty good.

There were some big numbers put up on Tuesday and it didn’t really surprise me. These guys are pros. They are going to get out there and get with the program right away. For me, you have a few nerves wanting to get out there on the track. We got a little taste of what it was going to be like at the end of the test. And I felt there were some things we needed to improve to feel really racey.

The No. 48 DRR Salesforce on track during the first day of practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR – Chris Owens)

After the test, that sits with you for a few weeks and then you get antsy to want to work to make the car better. I feel better at the end of the day on Tuesday, then the end of the day yesterday when I was getting ready and thinking about practice runs.

Eric and I worked together well on Tuesday and we’ll continue to communicate. And I think we’ll get to understand each other’s language as we move along. But right now, it seems very good. We are on the same page.
I look forward to the rest of the practice week.

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Penske rediscovers their St. Pete mojo

By Brant James

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The driver lineup has expanded and contracted and morphed. The race car has evolved in a multitude of ways. The downtown streets and airport runway on which the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is contested has even been paved in the previous 14 iterations of the race.

But each spring when the IndyCar series reconvenes here, Team Penske establishes itself as the benchmark. And the latest installment suddenly appears much the same, despite Will Power’s and Josef Newgarden’s frustration over the first two days of the season-opener.

Will Power celebrates his first pole on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit in 2010 (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

It’s hard to argue otherwise too profusely after Power on Saturday won his eighth pole in 12 tries here – 11 with Penske – and has Newgarden starting beside him on the front row.

Power, whose best lap time of 1:00.4594 was best among his foils in the Fast Six – and the speediest IndyCar lap of the weekend – coyly attempted to credit his Saturday performance on a nap he snuck during the afternoon as his young son, Beau slept in his motor coach. But there had been no nap in the case in the previous seven, or his wins at the track in 2010 and 2014, or the two runner-up finishes. Granted, Power qualifies well broadly, as his 55th career moved him within 12 of Mario Andretti’s record.

Will Power celebrates the NTT P1 Award with his nap mate, Beau, and wife Liz. (INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens)

But the nap certainly had nothing to do with Helio Castroneves winning on the 1.8-mile circuit a series-best three times, Juan Pablo Montoya twice and Ryan Briscoe once.

“I was kind of fresh,” Power asserted. “It’s been a tough weekend. We were tenth in practice and we just slowly worked on the car and got it better and better and better and even in qualifying we were making some kind of big changes. By the time we got to the Fast 6 we had a reasonable car, a good car, obviously.

“I was over the moon. I really didn’t think I would get pole. I knew Josef had really good tires and he had a similar car to me. Just happy for the team. We were on the back foot starting this weekend.”

Penske resources certainly allow the team to work on numerous areas of improvement during the offseason, likely giving it an advantage no matter where the season starts. Its damper program is purported to have made much to do with its early success when St. Petersburg joined the schedule in 2005 and Castroneves won two of the first three races.

And resources also allow Penske nimbleness when flaws are discovered and improvements are needed in a race weekend. Such, Newgarden said, was this case by qualifying because he, Power, and teammate Simon Pagenaud were denizens of the mid-pack on Friday. In the process, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay went from dominating the speed charts to again chasing Team Penske.

“We got a good group. I mean it comes down to the people,” Newgarden said. “We didn’t have the best cars yesterday. We just didn’t. We were scrapping to get in the top ten yesterday. We made a big leap today, and it takes people to do that. You have to be able to put good people together, and you have to be able to work through it every weekend and I think we do that. I would say we do that the best. So that’s what made the difference today, going over everything last night and making the jump and that obviously includes Chevy.

“The way they integrate with us is a big part of it. But it’s people. Roger preaches it, but you have to have the right people around each other and you have to have the right mindset and I think that’s why we got good cars around here. I think that’s generally why we have good cars on qualifying day and we figure it out.”

Wickens seeking a little normalcy in his return to IndyCar paddock

TSO was very fortunate to be able to bring Brant James on to help us out on this super busy weekend. I (Steve) and Patrick will never pretend to be feature writers, but Brant is one of the best in the business. Exhibit A. is below.

By Brant James

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Robert Wickens rotated eagerly to his left and pulled in selfie-close with friend and teammate James Hinchcliffe. He was already smiling.

As the girl in the gray “Wickens 6” t-shirt snapped her souvenir and threaded the theater ropes to exit the IndyCar drivers autograph line on Friday, Wickens resumed scrawling his signature on anything placed on the table before him. Hero cards, t-shirts, hats.

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Robert Wickens takes part in the NTT IndyCar Series autograph session at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR- Joe Skibinski)

It might not have been a completely banal day at the office for any of the drivers assembled in the midway inside the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg circuit. A season-opener incites a certain eagerness, especially with such a welcoming throng. But Wickens seemed to smile more than most and relish this more than most. He was different because he was lone among them in not wearing a fire suit in preparation for practice in less than an hour.

And then there was the wheelchair.

Two hundred and one days since Wickens sustained a thoracic spinal fracture, spinal cord injury, neck fracture, tibia and fibula fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, fractured right forearm, fractured elbow, four fractured ribs and a pulmonary contusion after crashing into a catch fence at Pocono Raceway, the 29-year-old Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver was back at a race track for the first time. One year ago at this race course, Wickens had been a veteran rookie of sorts, given his breadth of experience in sports cars, who announced his intentions in IndyCar by winning the pole and battling Alexander Rossi for the win on the final lap. He was sixth in the driver standings before the crash with Ryan Hunter-Reay began a comeback from paralysis marked with surprising progress recently that he hopes will eventually allow him back into a race car.

This year, though buoyed by what has admittedly looked and felt like incredible progress – “sexy steps,” he calls them – Wickens’ race weekend activities included almost every normal item except driving. Hinchcliffe knew it could not be normal at all.

“I think coming into it he thought it was going to be a normal day,” he said of Friday. “I saw him [Thursday] night and I was like, ‘Man, you haven’t been out in public yet, really. And I know how often I get stopped just getting asked about you. The fact that you’re going to be there, this is not going to be a normal day at the race track for you.’”

A spate of inaccurate and unauthorized reporting about his condition prompted Wickens’ family to release the full extent of his injuries. He chose to document his recovery on social media, Hinchcliffe said, partly because so little was available online to guide him. In doing so, he became a rarity for athletes in general and race car drivers particularly in revealing such vulnerability. Wickens learned the result of that in very personal proximity after arriving at the track.

“He’s seen the messages online and the messages he’s gotten and all the rest of it, but to be in a big group, to be in public and really see that human connection is a special thing,” said Hinchcliffe, whose every move was mobbed at St. Petersburg in 2016 in his first race since a horrific crash practicing for the Indianapolis 500. “And it’s a bit overwhelming. You don’t realize how many people are paying attention, and in his case, especially, taking inspiration from what he’s done.

“It’s not just the casual fan. It’s the people who are injured and people who are sick that are really getting inspiration from Robby, and that’s an element that he didn’t realize. And I experienced some of that as well and that’s the most rewarding thing. You’re just trying to get yourself better but at the same time inspiring other people to get better and motivate them to stick with it in a bad situation, that’s something that’s a knock-on bonus of the whole thing.”

Hinchcliffe marveled at his friend’s schedule this weekend. He’d not been nearly as ambitious when he visited his hometown race in Toronto just a few months after his life-threatening internal injuries.

Friend and teammate James Hinchcliffe in his firesuit, interacts with Robert Wickens in his return to the NTT IndyCar Series paddock (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR- Joe Skibinski)

“I was still probably a bit premature. Robbie is Robbie and Robbie is happy and healthy in a lot of ways,” Hinchcliffe said. “I was still a little premature, probably to be at the track, so I did nothing. I walked from my bus to the grid and the only appearance I did was with Make-A-Wish and Honda Canada.

“I kind of kept my schedule clean. He has a busier schedule than any driver here this weekend. He’s really filled it up. He’s so appreciative of what he’s gotten from everyone he’s trying to give back now. He’s on a much more noble program than I was my first day back.”

Wickens said he “100 percent” intends to work hard enough to return as a driver, but he’s cognizant that at some point his progress will plateau. He is already contemplating a return using hand controls like Alex Zanardi, who lost both legs in a 2001 CART crash. He seems more bothered by the notion that however, not whenever, he returns, he’ll have to cope with the reality of not being the same driver who raced with such daring and success in 2018.
“Anything is possible,” Wickens said. “I know I’m a hard worker, analytical. I think I could get on top of hand controls. My only fear is that I always wanted to get back into racing as I left off, on the same level that I left off. I don’t want to be just a driver in the field. I want to be one competing to win the podiums like I was when I went out. That’s kind of the main thing for me.”

Robert Wickens address the IndyCar media for the first time since his incident at Pocono Raceway (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR- Joe Skibinski)

The autograph session over, Wickens whisked himself through the theater ropes and out into the midway, where his progress was stopped five times by well-wishers and autograph-seekers. A few related to Wickens how his attempt inspired them. Out of the bustle of the fan zone, the new routine continued in a secluded spot near where the race course curls right past Pioneer Park. After a pause, Wickens vaulted himself from his wheelchair into the passenger side of a waiting golf cart before his fiancée, Karli Woods, folded it as she has innumerable times and positioned it securely on the back.

A gate opened and Wickens was on to his next commitment, finding the new normal, still searching for the old one.

Reviewing Born Racer – the Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing film about commitment is available today

Getting ready to screen Born Racer at the IMAX Theatre at the Indiana State Museum. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Steve’s movie review:

A person who competes in races is the simplistic definition of racer that appears in the Oxford English Dictionary.

For those that compete in the high risk, high reward world of Indy car racing that simple five letter word has so much more meaning. And, adding the appellation born before racer, brings that level of reverence to another level.

Born Racer, a documentary film covering Kiwi Scott Dixon’s 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season from the Indianapolis 500 through the season finale at Sonoma Raceway, succeeds in ushering the viewer into the up and down world of Dixon as he pursues a fifth championship.

The film, produced and directed by fellow New Zealanders, Matthew Metcalfe and Bryn Evans, was born from a mutual admiration of the second generation race car driver. 

Metcalfe, who also produced the Bruce McLaren biography, McLaren, first heard of Dixon when his father raced against a then 14-year-old in a vintage race. Metcalfe reached out Evans, who he had been interested in working with for some years, and the director of the Hip Hop-eration was interested in making a film about autosport. It was “kismet” that Dixon was the subject that they both had in mind.

The glimpse into the roller coaster 2017 season of the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 9 team begins with a simple yet effective statement from team owner Chip Ganassi – “We live to race. There is nothing else.”

The documentary that clocks in at just over 90 minutes utilizes ten storytellers to piece together the central theme of the film, which in producer Metcalfe’s words is “when you commit to winning, you also commit to losing.”

When the film begins, Dixon is getting into his race car to qualify for the 101st Indianapolis 500, while his wife of ten years, Emma Davies Dixon, paces in the background and we hear her voice quiver with emotion while saying:

“We just don’t talk about the dangers, really. It’s like, we just don’t. I’d like to sometimes, but we don’t want to put that into his head either. I’ve married a guy that unless he’s going really fast, he doesn’t feel alive. He feels euphoric when he’s chancing death.”

Over the course of the seven hours from when the Gasoline Alley opens at 5 AM on Indianapolis 500 race day to the command to start the engines, we meet that other eight storytellers.

Team owner and former Indy car driver Chip Ganassi has won four Indianapolis 500 and 10 Indy car championship as an owner and is focused on winning the Indianapolis 500, the IndyCar Championship and IndyCar race wins only, in that order.

Mike Hull, a former Formula Ford racer and Jim Russel driving instructor, helped launch Chip Ganassi Racing in 1992 and is currently the managing director and Dixon’s race strategist.

Dixon’s race engineer since 2015, Chris Simmons was a second-generation racer before moving onto the timing stand and winning two Indianapolis 500s and three INDYCAR championships with Dario Franchitti.

Kate Gundlach, the new assistant engineer from a family of racers that began her career in racing as a volunteer mechanic in Pro Mazda.

Fellow Kiwi and crew chief on the No. 9 Blair Julian, who has been working on Dixon’s car for all 44 of his Indy car wins.

Kenny Szymanski is a legendary tire technician that has worked with Mario Andretti and Ayrton Senna.

Rounding out the list of raconteurs are former teammates and friends Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan.

With the help of these ten voices, unprecedented access within the Chip Ganassi Racing team and the Dixon’s own home, for the first time in history, the viewer becomes part of the team that experiences the highs and lows of the 2017 season.

Get ready to feel the same emotions as the team from the horrifying shunt on Lap 53 101st Indianapolis 500, to a remarkable drive at Road America and cumulating with disappointment in California Wine County.

Born Racer will officially be released on Tuesday, October 2nd. You order the DVD now on Amazon.
You can also rent it on: Amazon Prime Video –  iTunes – Google Play Store

On the red carpet

The Born Racer premiere was held at the IMAX Theatre at the Indiana State Museum.

A crowd gathers to at the Indiana State Museum to watch the Born Racer premier (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Producer Matthew Metcalfe

Metcalfe, who’s next film project is a biography of Australian MotoGP legend Wayne Gardner, is beginning to put together a stellar list of motorsport films. The Kiwi also produced the Bruce McLaren biography McLaren.

Here is Metcalfe’s full quote about commitment.

“What I really like about the film is that it really speaks to a really simple theme, which is; when you commit to winning, you also commit to losing. And, that’s a really cool life lesson for everyone. This idea that when you commit to winning, you can’t win all the time. So if you commit to winning, you’ve got to understand that sometimes you’ve got to lose. But, it’s how you deal with that loss that defines you as a winner.

“And, in the case of Scott, he had that terrible year last year, but he still kept driving forward, he still kept pushing forward. Fighting all the way to the end. All the way to Sonoma. He could have won his fifth championship a year ago. I respect that commitment, it’s incredible.”

Metcalfe also had some interesting things to say about the distribution of the modern film.

“Increasingly now in the movie business, we talk about eyeballs. The movie business as we used to know it, doesn’t really exist anymore. What we want to see is the greatest amount of eyeballs for this film. Universal are the masters of getting films in front of an audience. I hope come October 2nd, when it’s available on all of the multiple different mediums, that lots of people watch it. It’s a good watch, and even if you aren’t into IndyCar, it’s a great watch.”

Scott Dixon and Born Racer Producer Matthew Metcalfe at the movie’s premiere (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Chip Ganassi

TSO Ladder asked team owner Chip Ganassi if he put together a team of racers on purpose and he told us: “I don’t know if it’s done on purpose, but maybe that is just the kind of people we are attracted to. Racers love hanging around other racers.”

During the Q&A after the film ended, the former driver was asked what made him agree to allow the film crew such comprehensive access to the team. Ganassi was forthright and to the point, saying that they were desperately looking for a sponsor to replace Target.

His one regret about the film? That new partner PNC Bank didn’t get any screen time.

“The next one,” was Ganassi’s simple answer to what his favorite Dixon memory was.

The Dixons

When you watch the film, it becomes apparent that Scott and Emma have a unique bond that only two world-class athletes can have together. Davies-Dixon is a former Welsh and British 800m champion. TSO just had one question for them.

You are both very competitive, but which of the two of you is more competitive?

We got a fun answer to start and then got an interesting look into what makes the relationship between the pair racers so special.

Emma: I know, we are. In different things though. I’m not competitive in life in general (sideways look from Scott). Where with Scott, everything is a competition. Jenga – Monopoly – cleaning the house.

Scott: Ummmm… I don’t know. I feel like it’s more Emma on that side. Away from the motor racing, I’m more chill.

Emma: Sometimes.

Scott: If Emma loses Jenga, she’ll smash the whole set.

Emma: (Laughing) That’s not true!

Scott: Our kids are really competitive, which is pretty funny. Poppy and Tilly are probably the worst at some of those.

That was fun, but then it got a little more interesting.

Emma: When Scott has had days that I’ve felt that he hasn’t done his best. I know, obviously knowing him so well. I definitely let him know about it when he comes back to the motor-coach. I think that is because I always had three or for coaches with my career and I had a lot of influence that if I did let the team down, they’d let me know about it. Scott always does the best job. But, if he’s been staying up late at night, I let him know that’s not proper preparation and then he has a bad race day. That’s when I will…

Scott: Emma, with her career, she has an amazing understanding of competition on the performance of the body straight away. The tips and helping me and even mentally, she is such an inspirational person, but very sweet and understanding too. The combination has helped me immensely with the mind side of it. But, also the competition side too. If I have a bad day and I haven’t given my all, I don’t want to go home. I’m going to get an earful.

 

Other observations

The Dixons and the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that joined them for the Born Racer premier. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

  • Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly, Santino Ferrucci, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Jordan King, Spencer Pigot and Alexander Rossi were all on hand to support their fellow Verizon IndyCar Series driver.

Susie Wheldon, widow of Scott Dixon’s former Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dan Wheldon joined Scott and Emma at the Born Racer premier (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

  • Susie Wheldon, widow of Scott’s former teammate Dan Wheldon was in attendance. It was great to see her. Wheldon owns Verve Boutique in St. Petersburg, Fla. and Susie and Dan’s sons are, not surprisingly, competitive karters.

 

Opinion – The addition of Mike Harding and George Steinbrenner IV brings much needed ownership diversity to the IndyCar paddock

By Steve Wittich

The addition of racing outsiders Mike Harding and George Steinbrenner IV can be nothing but a good thing for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Before the year 2000, Indy car teams came from a relatively equal mix of former participants and entrepreneurs with little to no ties with racing.

Let us use the 1989 CART PPG Indy Car World Series season as an example.

Former Formula 1 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi won the title while driving for wildcat oil man Pat Patrick, who would win three Indianapolis 500s and two Indy car championships.

Rick Mears (2nd) and Danny Sullivan (7th) drove for former racer Roger Penske.

Carl Haas, a lifelong racing parts importer, teamed up with nine-time Oscar-nominated actor Paul Newman to field current IndyCar team owner Michael Andretti (3th) and his father, Mario Andretti (6th).

Italian Teo Fabi finished fourth and won a race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course driving for a factory Porsche team.

In fifth place was third generation driver Al Unser, Jr., who was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet powered Lola entered by New Mexico auto dealer Rick Galles.

Scott Pruett finished eighth while driving for Red Roof Inn owner Jim Trueman and his Colombus, Ohio based Truesports.

Right behind Pruett was former Truesports pilot Bob Rahal, who was driving a car sponsored by automotive aftermarket specialist KRACO and owned by that company founder Maurice Kraines.

In tenth place was Arie Luyendyk who was in the employ of former journeyman driver Dick Simon.

Quite a diverse mix of team owners and a far cry from the top ten in the final 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series standings, who are all employed by former drivers.

Take a look at the full-time teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018. Team owners A.J. Foyt, Michael Andretti, Bryan Herta, Michael Shank, Chip Ganassi, Dale Coyne, Ed Carpenter, Bob Rahal, Sam Schmidt, Roger Penske, Ricardo Juncos, and Trevor Carlin all have one thing in common. They were racers, or have been in racing their entire lives.

Harding Racing, who is led by team owner Mike Harding is the one outlier. Harding is the CEO of Indianapolis based asphalt, and concrete contractor Harding Group does not have a background in racing.

From Ted Field, the heir to the Marshall Field fortune and his Interscope Racing, to lumber and hardware mogul John Menard and his turbo V6 engines, to Treadway Racing founded by asbestos abatement specialist Fred Treadway, to fitness mogul Ron Hemelgarn and the 1996 Indianapolis 500, to energy billionaire Gerald Forsythe and his 28 Indy car wins. The team owners in the various iterations of Indy car racing came from diverse backgrounds.

Lifelong racers and team owners like AJ Foyt, Vince Granatelli, Dale Coyne and Tony Bettenhausen were regularly joined by outsiders like Tom Kelly (car dealerships), Aat Groenvelt (Veal), Bruce McCaw (cellular communication) and Dave Billes (Canadian Tire Stores) to make a successful patchwork of owners that hired drivers.

Harding and Steinbrenner IV should bring a fresh perspective to a paddock that has been chasing the same shrinking pool of sponsors for the past decade.

Earlier this spring Steinbrenner Racing hired Daniel Wale, a dedicated salesperson from outside of racing. More recently, Harding Racing added former Indianapolis Motor Speedway Productions President and COO, who has an extensive sales background, to their payroll. This duo combined with the contacts that Harding and Steinbrenner IV bring to the table has the chance to force more teams to up their sponsorship game.

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TSO Feature by Bruce Martin – INDYCAR Trolley Tour of San Francisco with the four championship contenders

BY BRUCE MARTIN
 
SAN FRANCISCO – The four contenders for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship got to this position by racing fast, winning races and scoring points. But on Wednesday against the backdrop of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, these drivers traded in their high-speed race cars to ride a Trolley Car.
 
The INDYCAR “Trolley Tour of San Francisco” came on an open-air trolley that looked similar to the famed Cable Cars that start on Hyde Street near Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. The motorized trolley cars are able to provide much more flexibility in terms of giving tours while keeping the unique feel of the Cable Car.
 
Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing, second-place in the standings Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske and 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden took the tour along with a few members of the media.
 
For the media members that took part, the trolley cars picked up the group outside of McCormick & Kuleto on North Point Street and made the stunning and picturesque trip across the Golden Gate Bridge. With the trolley being open on the side, the force of the wind that comes from the Golden Gate area makes for quite an experience. 
 
From the side of the Trolley, one can get a brilliant view of the city of San Francisco and Alcatraz Island, home of one of the most infamous prisons in history. Alcatraz was a maximum-security federal penitentiary from August 11, 1934, until March 21, 1963, and housed some of the most infamous prisoners of all time.
 
The Trolley stopped on the Marin County side of San Francisco Bay, which is home to the North Vista Point. 

The quartet of Verizon IndyCar Series championship contenders pose with Astor Cup with San Francisco as the backdrop. (Photo Courtesy of Bruce Martin)

 
Shortly after arriving, the four championship contenders arrived. They posed with the Astor Cup that goes to the winning driver of the Verizon IndyCar Series with San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. After a variety of different shots, poses and combinations of championship contenders, the four drivers took the front of the trolley for the ride back into the city.
 
All four drivers faced East toward the city on the drive back home. A convertible driven by INDYCAR Chief Marketing Officer C.J. O’Donnell and members of the INDYCAR Photo Staff shot pictures from the convertible of the drivers, some taking part in the open-air experience.
 
From there, it was off to Pier 39, the famed tourist destination on the San Francisco Bay that features many shops, restaurants, arcades and candy stores. There is even a Carousel in the midway portion of Pier 39. 
 
While the Trolley drove down a narrow alleyway, Power took control of the public address microphone on the Trolley to give instructions to the pedestrians who were in the way.
 
“Please make way, you have some very important IndyCar drivers on this Trolley, so please step aside,” Power joked. 
 
He briefly played tour guide before the Trolley stopped so the drivers and media could see the many Seals and Sea Lions that lounge in the water on several rafts. The drivers were suddenly the tourists as they took Selfies and made movies and photos of the Seal and Sea Lion experience.
 
“Wow, those are really cool,” Power said to Dixon. 
 
“It’s amazing to see that many of them in one place in a city like this,” Dixon said.

Alexander Rossi poses for his caricature at Pier 39 in San Francisco (Photo Courtesy of Bruce Martin)

 
After that, each driver posed with an artist for a caricature. First up was Dixon, followed by Power, Newgarden and Rossi. Some of the drivers liked their caricature while others scratched their heads noticing the exaggerated feature that comes out in the artist’s cartoon.
 
Many visitors to Pier 39 were curious as to what was going on and some in the crowd recognized them as IndyCar Series drivers. They mingled with the fans and signed a few autographs.
 
The next stop was at one of the Crab Stands on Fisherman’s Wharf. It was time to teach the four drivers the proper way to crack steamed Dungeness Crabs at the Grotto. This is a long-time dining spot on Fisherman’s Wharf and each driver put on the rubber gloves, were given the mallets and were taught the art of cracking the crab.

Championship contender Scott Dixon and his new friend (Photo Courtesy of Bruce Martin)

 
The more crabs they cracked, the better they became. And the biggest reward of all was when all four drivers got a chance to eat what they cracked, feasting on the shellfish delicacy that is native to the San Francisco Bay Area.
 
Power, Newgarden, Dixon and Rossi liked the crab so much, they didn’t want to leave while there were still crabs available in the pile that they had cracked.
 
Once on board the bus, Newgarden lamented the fact that he didn’t get a chance to eat a hot dog at one of the hot dog stands at Pier 39. But a full-scale lunch awaited, and the Trolley headed up Bay Street and came to a stop in front of the famed Ghirardelli Square. That is when some friendly faces from Ghirardelli Chocolates met the drivers and gave each one special bags filled with the famed chocolate.

The four Astor Cup combatants hanging around (Photo Courtesy of Bruce Martin)

 
And, the media were given some bags of the tasty chocolate creations, too.
 
The group then made its way across Ghirardelli Square to McCormick and Kuleto, where they took part in a 5-10-minute program and were asked questions by INDYCAR’s Kate Guerra. The two Team Penske drivers realize their odds are very slim on winning the championship, so they will just try to win the race and see what happens from there.
 
As for Dixon and Rossi, if Dixon finishes third or higher, he wins the championship. But at a tough track like Sonoma Raceway, that’s not a guarantee.
 
As the four drivers and the media ate in one of the banquet rooms overlooking San Francisco Bay, out in the main dining area was Power’s wife, Liz, their young son, Beau, and Liz’s mother. Dixon left before dessert was served and when an extra plate of steaming hot Pecan Pie with Ice Cream was served, I decided to present it to Liz’s and Beau’s table.
 
Father Will approved of that move.
 
The long morning and afternoon of the “Trolley Tour” concluded.
 
It was a day of fun for the drivers, who greatly respect one another and are friendly off the track. Now, let’s see how fierce they race each other in Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon enjoy a fun day before hitting the track to determine the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series champion (Photo Courtesy of Bruce Martin)

Special memories abound as Firestone’s Cara Adams returns to site of her first race

Cara Adams. (INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski)

Cara Adams’ return to Portland International Raceway this weekend brings back a mountain’s worth of memories.

It was here, in 2007, where a one-off volunteering effort served as the starting point of a career that has ultimately led her to become the Chief Engineer, Bridgestone Americas Motorsports.

Adams had family connections that provided a window of opportunity for her to make the voyage to Portland.

She was a Firestone engineer of tire and vehicle dynamics at the time, but hadn’t ventured yet into the world of motorsports. As is often the case in racing, the timing was right for this venue to serve as her debut race on pit road.

“So this was a fun one. I’d already talked to my manager at the time, and told him a couple years before I was interested in racing and wanted to work in it at some stage,” Adams told TrackSide Online.

“I worked on tire and vehicle dynamics, and I really liked what I did there. But let’s be honest – I felt INDYCAR was more my calling!

“I knew the series was coming to Portland, and my sister had just moved out to Seattle. She took a job as a development engineer for Boeing. So, I decided to invite myself to her race.”

Cara Adams recalls her 2007 debut. (Photo courtesy @Cara_Adams on Twitter)

And so, the journey began from Ohio to Oregon. Of course the key for Adams was justifying the need to take vacation that oh-so-perfectly-happened to correspond with the Portland Champ Car race, and then figure out a way to pay for it.

Adams pushed ahead with the vacation request and paid her own way to get to Portland. Her engineering mindset immediately kicked in from a preparation standpoint to get acclimated.

“I talked to the manager I was currently working with to see if I could take vacation, and to take off Thursday, Friday and Monday to mimic the travel,” she explained. “So I did; I took vacation and paid my own travel.

“I said, ‘Hey I’ll be at track, I’m in Portland, and if you need anyone on pit lane, I’d be more than happy to help.’”

Adams proved a quick study. Firestone’s two senior leaders of its motorsports program from the 1990s into the early 2000s were Al Speyer and Joe Barbieri. At the time, Bridgestone branding appeared for Champ Car races while Firestone branding appeared at IRL IndyCar Series races.

“The team at Portland said, ‘We’ll put you to work.’ So I did and borrowed someone’s firesuit! I quickly had learned a lot from the Firestone team and yes, both Al and Joe were key in that. I don’t think they were used to someone who invited themselves!”

A Firestone Firehawk tire. (INDYCAR Photo by Matt Fraver)

Adams worked with PKV Racing that weekend. PKV Racing grew out of the former PacWest Racing Group operation, and launched in 2003 as PK Racing before Jimmy Vasser joined the ownership group in 2004. The team was renamed as KV Racing Technology in 2008 once the merger of IndyCar and Champ Car occurred, and the team continued under several other names through the 2016 IndyCar season. The Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan names have returned to the grid in 2018 with Sebastien Bourdais’ Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan entry.

That PKV team that year featured a pair of rookie drivers in Neel Jani and Tristan Gommendy. It featured Tom Brown, now an engineer at Juncos Racing’s IndyCar program, as one of the team’s race engineers.

Adams worked with Craig Ross, a Firestone technician who helps train new people in the program.

“I wasn’t involved in the development of tires at the time but was here to learn and work,” Adams said. “It was very interesting to hear the driver comments, and I worked with Craig to talk to them. I listened to the engineers who designed (the tires). It was a more observational weekend.”

The practice and preparation of race weekend led to an exciting moment on Sunday. Adams’ first race on pit lane would witness Champ Car’s first standing start of that season with its new Panoz DP01 chassis. The anticipation built to ensure everyone got away safely.

“It was neat. I totally remember that! Everyone on pit lane was nervous. People stood on pit boxes to watch,” she recalled.

“From a tire perspective, there’s not much difference in that type of start. We tried it again a few years ago at Toronto. It’s not much different. You just have to make sure you get heat on your tires. There’s a lot of warming up beforehand.”

It was the first race in Champ Car’s ultimate final season. Firestone, was, of course, a constant that carried through the open-wheel merger into 2008. It’s been a stalwart of the championship for more than 25 years, and Adams is in her second year as the Chief Engineer after taking over the position from her predecessor, Dale Harrigle.

Cara Adams with Graham Rahal. (INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones)

But at Portland, 2007? Adams knew she wanted to make her dream of working with race tires a reality. She just had no idea how far it would go.

“I always have a game plan!” she said. “I knew this is where and what I wanted to be. Of course back then I didn’t think, ‘Sure, one day I’ll be leading the program.’

“But I hoped I could be paid for this and do a good job for the company.”

Part 1 of a conversation with Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations – more about the Wickens’ crash

By Steve Wittich

TSO (along with a few other media outlets) were given a chance to catch up with Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations on a rainy Friday morning. It was a wide-ranging conversation, so we are going to break it up into to parts. The first part will deal with the Lap 6, Turn 2, five car incident at Pocono Raceway during the 2018 ABC Supply 500. The second part will deal with fencing, the aero screen and the “racing” on superspeedways.

“Our biggest concern is with Rob and his family, and as we always do, we’ll do everything we can to support them, said Frye to start the conversation. “To help him with his recovery and everything that is going on.”

The incident was a big one, and the series is not done gathering all of the data.

Frye explained that they are just beginning to go through a multi-week process of investigation that began at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, moved to Indianapolis and that involves multiple departments.

On the first inspection though, Frye is encouraged by how the car did its job, and gave “huge kudos” to Dallara for “building a great race car,” saying:

“We are very encouraged by how the car held up. We’re certainly not satisfied. The reason we’re not satisfied is that a driver was injured. We’ll never be satisfied until we get to the point where that doesn’t happen.

“It’ll still be weeks, and we’re going to go through this thing (Wickens No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda) with a fine tooth comb. The initial review of all the parts and pieces that we could get, it did what it was supposed to do. This new for 2018 universal aero kit has the driver’s side impact piece that we think was an important element to how the car held up.

“The in-season updates we have done to the car, all seemed to do their job. We’re very encouraged by how it performed, but not satisfied. We’ll never be satisfied, and safety will always be our #1 concern.”

The improved side pod crash structure included adding a pair of bulkheads, moving the radiator forward and moving other internals to the bottom of the car.

Frye explained a few changes came because of a significant incident the No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda during a windy test on March 15, 2018, at Texas Motor Speedway.

After the No. 30’s crash, multiple holes were drilled in one of the beams on one of the bulkheads that make up the crush structure because the data obtained during that impact determined the crash structure was too rigid. That structural change was applied before any car took to the 2.5-mile oval for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations during a press conference at ISM Raceway (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

During the NBCSN broadcast audio between Sebastien Bourdais’ race engineer and his crew chief Todd Phillips that made it apparent, the Frenchman was concerned with the fence repair.

Frye told us that he had not heard complaints from any other drivers but that they took the Bourdais comments very seriously.

“The biggest determining factor (in how they determined if the fence was safe) are the guys who fixed it. Our staff was there working on it with the Pocono people. Kudos to them. Their people are phenomenal.

“Our safety guys, who do this for a living every week, which is very important. They follow us around. They said we were good to go, so we’re good to go.

“Our guys are very good, and they take the driver’s safety as seriously as anyone. We rely on them and they were all out there.”

There was some concern voiced from fans and media about how long it took for the first medical update to be delivered.

Frye explained that the first point of concern is the taking care of the drivers and the then taking care of the families. The magnitude of the incident with five injured drivers, including one driver who was injured enough to be transferred meant that took just under an hour.

Frye did admit that the process of informing the media of an injured drivers condition could be shortened by 10-15 minutes, saying they will do better next time.

Frye explained that the processes surrounding an incident like Wicken’s are always evolving, saying “I’ll never be satisfied.”

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Final Post Race Notes from Iowa Speedway

By Patrick Stephan and Steve Wittich

From Steve regarding the finish:

When we talked to Robert Wickens after the race he told TSO:

“The series said there was going to be a green/white checkered, so we pit for new tires because we know how big the advantage is We honestly thought we could make things happen. We thought we were going for the win or at least P2, and it didn’t work out. Obviously, there is a lot of explaining to do, and I wish I knew more before I talked to you guys. I’m kind of lost for words at what happened and why it happened.”

After chatting with Wickens, we went in search of more answers and found Schmidt Peterson Motorsports General Manager Piers Phillips waiting to talk to the officials at the series trailer.

After Phillips left the trailer, Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations and race director Kyle Novak graciously took the time to walk TSO through what happened after the yellow flag came out.

Frye started out by saying:

“We’re going to do everything we possibly can to end the race under green. That’s 100%. We’re not going to go to overtime, but we want to end under green.”

The lap 294 cautions came at an inopportune time as far as timing, with Frye telling us:

“We have a general red flag window that we utilize. The red flag window closed when that incident happened. So it’s the perfect time. Perfect in a bad way.

“We saw a piece of debris from race control, and it looked like it was just a big piece that we could just go pick up quickly and get going. Open the pits, and restart the race with two to go. So you would restart the race with on (Lap) 298. The debris was much more than we thought it was, and we just ran out of time.”

Race director Novak went into further detail, saying:

“We’re always looking to stay green. The (No.) 20 (of Ed Carpenter) gets sideways, and we see it in race control, He gets it going in the right direction, what a save. At that moment in time I’m thinking let’s, let’s stay, let’s stay, let’s stay. Flashback to the incident and we see endplate pieces there. Yellow, Yellow, Yellow. No choice.”

Regarding the team telling Wickens that they were going to go green, Novak went on to explain that:

“There is never a timetable given to the teams because that timetable is uncertain. What we have is a process that has benchmarks to that process. There are many of them (benchmarks) in our complete yellow procedure – even the truncated version is a page and a half – from the moment the yellow is called until the moment we call green, green, green. All those benchmarks may happen instantaneously, or one benchmark may take a lap and a half.”

The way that Novak explained those benchmarks to TSO makes them sounds a lot like a checklist that pilots would go through before taking off. Getting the cars slowed down to pace car speed, opening the pits, running the lapped cars through the pits and reordering the cars, among other things, are all factors that play into the length of a yellow.

Before leaving the trailer, Frye and Novak reiterated to TSO that they would never give the teams a precise timeframe for a yellow, only that they would do everything possible to go green without utilizing overtime.

Steve’s opinion:

INDYCAR officials followed their process and simply ran out of time to go back to green. With lives on the line, shortcutting that process should never be an option. Kudos to Frye, Novak and the rest of race control for not circumnavigating that for “the show.”

Phillips and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (and Tim Cindric and Brain Campe from Team Penske) timing stand made the same decision I would have made. Wickens would have had a chance to win and would have finished no worse than second if there would have been two green flag laps. Hinchcliffe, Pigot, and Sato would have been sitting ducks to Newgarden and Wickens as the difference between fresh Firestone Firehawks, and 50+ lap rubber would have been significant. Both teams rolled the dice for a win, and unfortunately, it came up snake eyes.

Patrick’s opinion on the last yellow and some thoughts from the podium drivers

On the finish under yellow. On principle, I am ok with finishes under yellow – or more specifically I am against changes to the race distance. But, at a place like this where the yellow flag laps only take 30 seconds, it can be hard to get everything organized. Perhaps if race control had gone to a red flag immediately and never even tried to let people pit, then we might have gotten a 2-3 lap shoot-out.

And the more I’ve thought about it since the yellow and checkered flag flew, the less it bothers me that the race didn’t get back to green. Sometimes races just end under yellow. I’d be far more bothered had INDYCAR done something extraordinary and we got a last lap demo derby and a different winner. Hinch was the fastest car coming to the end, and I remember a long time ago Tony Kanaan telling me that you should never get too upset when the fastest car wins.

What did the Top 3 driver’s think about getting back to green?

Hinchcliffe said of a green – white – checkered rule for the finish, “If the track is clean with two laps to go, then yeah, I’m all for them. I’m not a big fan of like doctoring the length of a race just to make sure it ends under green. I get it. I get why it’s done in NASCAR, but it just — it complicates things. For me there’s too many races that are fuel mileage races for us that we have guys that — I mean, they sweat, they lose five years off their life making sure that we hit the right numbers and we run out of fuel crossing the line, and if all of a sudden a yellow flag comes out with two to go and it ends up becoming a green-white-checkered, your race is done, and I don’t think that’s fair. We go into it knowing how long it’s going to be, and that’s what we plan for, so that’s what I want to run.”

But, did the race winner think we’d get back to green today? “When we were doing the math in our head, I mean, there was still only a couple laps to go. We still had to get the lapped cars back through pit lane, and we’re just doing the math, thinking!”

“I don’t even know if we have time to go green, and if we do, it might be like a green-white-checkered kind of deal, and I don’t hate my odds if it’s a lap, if it’s two laps.”

“It was a tough call. It really was, because we’ve seen it go the other way so many times, but ultimately the right call was made, and man, if we had pitted from the lead and it didn’t go green again, I wouldn’t have slept for a week. This is a bad week to not sleep going into Toronto because I’m very busy this week!”

(Note, he made some off mic jokes that he is already missing a flight and possibly an appearance because winning the race has delayed his departure to Toronto!)

On getting the race getting back to green flag conditions, Pigot said, “I didn’t even know what was going on to be honest! I saw people diving off in front of me, and I thought they were guys that were laps down, and I thought I kind of saw Josef’s car and was a little confused there for a second. And when I crossed the line, I didn’t really know where I was, and I was talking with the guys seeing if they wanted me to pit or not, and they said stay out, and obviously it was the right decision!”

“If it had gone green again, it would have been really tricky to hang on at that point because I think we probably pitted on the early end on the last stop to try and jump Takuma and James, but yeah, it would have been tough. I’m glad it didn’t go green again.”

Finally, what did Sato think of that late situation, which he was actually directly a part of, “I think I must send him a big check not to be in the spin!”

“It was a big moment with Ed, and it was already closing stages…I thought I was going through it, but he basically snapped it and was coming back towards me. We clipped him a little bit and had really gentle contact, which got him back going straight, and I had a little bit of body damage, but the car was absolutely fine.”

“If it becomes a restart closing the race for two laps, I would be able to compete with these guys!”


More random and disjointed thoughts from a whirlwind of a race. Really felt like I was watching a bunch of toy cars fly around a salad bowl – whew! (I also had a tornado analogy – but haven’t gotten that one all put together in my little brain yet)!

James Hinchcliffe celebrates his Iowa Speedway win with some donuts. INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Unofficial Points:

Scott Dixon 411
Josef Newgarden 378
Alexander Rossi 370
Ryan Hunter-Reay 359
Will Power 358

The difference between 4th and 2nd in the INDYCAR point system is 8 (40 to 32). So pitting at the end didn’t cost Newgarden a chance to take over the point lead today, but that could be important when we get to Sonoma!


For Spencer Pigot, even if he had not picked up 2 spots as Wickens and Newgarden pitted, this would still be his best career finish, besting a 7th at Mid-Ohio in 2016. And don’t forget, he started 18th.

In fact, none of the Top-3 had a single digit starting spot. Hinchcliffe qualified 11th, Sato 10th and again Pigot 18th. And it’s not like they worked timely yellows to make it to the front.

On some cars making such big position moves, Hinchcliffe said, “In terms of being surprised at guys coming from further back, it doesn’t really surprise me a ton. I’m surprised that some of the guys that qualified really well didn’t finish as well as I thought they might have. But in a race that’s all about managing your tires, we’ve seen it at Texas, we’ve seen it other places, you can qualify anywhere, and if your car is hooked up, you can work your way to the front.”

Unofficially, Hinch passed 83 cars, Pigot 65 and Sato 54. Newgarden made 63 passes and Wickens was very impressive out there today in making 64 passes – a huge number considering he’s a rookie here. Hinch’s 69 was tops for the entire field, followed by Ed Jones 69 and Zach Veach’s 67. And yet there were still only 2 yellow flags!

Said Hinchcliffe, “It’s funny, we had that conversation before the race, you know, what did we think the caution frequency was going to be. And it’s so funny because we’ve seen it — in practice — if you just like went on how the car felt in practice, you’d be like, yeah, there’s going to be tons of cautions; guys are going to be crashing all over the place because these things are really hard to drive right now.”

“But what happens when tires start falling off and that starts happening is guys really start taking care of themselves and each other a lot more. You don’t have as much confidence to throw it down the inside and make a stupid move, and it’s contact that usually leads to accidents and the cautions. We thought it was going to go one of two ways; it was either going to be a crash-fest, or it was actually going to be a pretty clean race, and obviously ,it was the latter. We were glad to see that. I think that’s better for the fans. I think it was a good ebb and flow with the different tire strategies.”


In race changes to the cars were crucial, and certainly helped get Hinchcliffe to victory lane.

Said Hinch after the race, “In the first stint, the car was really good. We just made a tiny change to try and dial in a little more understeer. It was pretty free in that first stint. We overshot it and had way too much understeer in the second stint. So as we tried to go back on it, we went too far, and we were really loose in the third stint.”

“That’s what allowed Sato to get by us was I think I caught somebody, wrong place, wrong time, got a big wiggle, went up the track, and he went by.”

“That was when I was starting to panic a little bit because we still had about 30 laps left in the stint and I was maxed right on the weight jacker, max on the front bar. It was kind of dire straits for a bit. We were surprised how far the balance went for a relatively small change.”

“So I just said, hey, look, the first stint was the best stint; let’s go back to whatever we did there, and that’s what we did, and the thing just came alive. We were able to run both lanes, and that really what helps you when you come up on lap traffic, and it’s all about lap traffic at a short track like this.”

Spencer Pigot sounded like he was pretty happy with his car and a little afraid to make any big changes that might mess it up, “Honestly the only changes we made were new tires. Never touched the wings. I think we might have done a little tire pressure. But they were asking me what I wanted, and I just said, leave it alone. It felt good.”

“I think we’re probably one of the few people out there that didn’t touch the front wing throughout the whole race, and maybe that was a good thing, maybe it was a bad thing. Definitely at the end there it seemed like James and Josef had a little bit more pace than us, but I was comfortable with the car and didn’t really want it to do anything different.”

After the race, Pigot passed along some funny news about his family trying to celebrate his first podium with him, “The first time I saw my mom after I got out of the car, she was screaming and running around, and she didn’t even know I was there. I was like, ‘Mom, I’m right here.'”

“She’s in the back (of the press conference). I think she’s a little embarrassed. But you know, it’s a huge family effort. They’ve been supporting me, my parents, since I started racing when I was nine years old, and it’s always been a family dream and a family goal to be racing IndyCars.”

But, now he’ll need to put in another big finish because his dad missed this one, “This is the first IndyCar race my dad hasn’t been here for, so he’s missing out, but he’ll be there in Toronto and looking forward to seeing him, and yeah, it’s just — it means a lot to everyone in the family.”

The start of the Iowa Corn Indy 300. Note the bright green car almost last in line (and last in the frame) – that’s Spencer Pigot who would finish 2nd! INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

On the driving conditions overall for the race, Sato told TSO that it was a “Tough race out there, but I really enjoyed it. It was a tough field, but all the driver’s have to deal with it. It’s all relative. No one was able to run any corners flat today and I think I used the brake 20 times. Certainly, it was more challenging, but again, I really enjoyed it. I just wish I had one more stint.”


To pay off a few more driver’s stories. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay was forced to pit road and eventually retire when he had camber shims come loose. The same thing (different wheel) that beset his teammate Alexander Rossi at Road America. 

Sebastien Bourdais told us after the race that they were not going to try a two-stop race. They so badly missed the Center of Pressure (COP) on that opening stint that team owner Dale Coyne took a flyer to try and catch a caution. He was actually fairly happy with his 11th place finish considering how bad his car was in his opening stint. 

We checked with the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda crew about his unscheduled late pit stop and were told that they had an issue with that particular set of tires. 

TSO also caught up with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ed Jones after the race. Jones was happy with his car early in the first stint, running a solid eighth until his car “fell off a cliff” and picked up unmanageable understeer, forcing him to pit early. The sophomore told TSO that they added too much front wing during that stop and for the rest of the race the oversteer was significant. 


Before I finish this, just another travel type note from Patrick!

I haven’t been to Iowa Speedway in several years as it always seemed to be easier for either Joe or Steve to cover, but now that I’ve been back, I want to make sure to get back again. The racing was great, and the people were even better. I had a lot of fun even though we got really busy away from the keyboard with some tours and stuff. As I’ve noted a bunch of times I have a lot of fun talking about racing, so talking to a bunch of people about racing – well, that’s even better!!!

I also had a ton of fun driving around Iowa. I still don’t know why I booked a hotel so far from the track in Ottumwa last night – probably didn’t think that through very well, but it all worked out. Running from Knoxville to Ottumwa in the dark took me through a bunch of small towns with old school small town squares. If I had more time I would like to explore the area in more depth.

BUT, the drive in this morning was probably more fun than allowed. The GPS said it would take like an hour and 16 minutes to get to the track. I looked and picked a route that was supposedly slower by two minutes but more direct. I elected to go that way and got treated to some rock and or dirt roads through amazingly beautiful farm country. I was also able to make up considerable time and remind myself what it must feel like to get an IndyCar ‘in the marbles’. Oh and I made up 11 minutes over the initially “suggested” arrival time. Actually went from rock covered road to the race track’s paved outer loop and then straight to the infield in about 2 minutes. Truly a “Field of Dreams” type appearance of the track. Way more fun than coming in off the Interstate!

As always, thanks for reading! We’ll be back quickly this week as Steve and I both have a quick turnaround and head up to Toronto for the next race weekend!

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