Monday, February 28, 2011

Six Quick Questions With Shannon McIntosh

Shannon McIntosh is a long-time USAC veteran already at the age of 21. She's making the move to the Mazda Road To Indy this year, signing with Wayne Taylor Racing as part of the Cooper Tires USF2000 National Championship. Shannon is also our most recent participant in our Six Quick Questions, where she discusses her racing background, her recent racing deal, USAC and INDYCAR working together, and more:

Thanks for your time, Shannon. So, off the bat, how did your deal for 2011 come together? Who’s on that thank you list?

SM: It came together so quick. We have been working since the end of last season to get it together. Talking and testing with different teams and seeking partners. I had my sponsor (Glass Hammer Racing) on board for 2011 and I got connected with Cape Motorsports at the same time I signed a deal with my most recent sponsor, Dale Pelfrey with Team Pelfrey Star Mazda team. I tested with Cape at the beginning of the month and really connected and felt it was a great place to be so we went forward. It's been a whirlwind. I can't thank my partner, Greg with and Dale enough for giving me this amazing opportunity. I can't wait for the season to start. I also have to thank Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing for opening the door and of course my amazing family for the eternal support and love they give me. A special thanks to my agent, Klint Briney at BRANDed as well, for the hard work and a great first year working together.

You’re a Midwesterner (originally from Ohio). Growing up, who were your heroes in racing and why?

SM: Tony Stewart has always been my idol. I grew up watching Sprint Car and Midget racing and wanting to be a USAC/World of Outlaw driver. I admire that Tony can drive anything from a Sprint Car/Midget to a Dirt Late Model to an open-wheel car to a stock car...and WIN in everything. I also love that he has stayed humble. He is one of the coolest top drivers I've met/know...despite a temper which may get out of line sometimes; he is competitive and passionate about what he does and isn't afraid to show it.

Shannon at Eldora. Her USAC cred is solid.
You’ve definitely had some challenges as you’ve followed your chosen path. What have been the hardest challenges you’ve faced, and how have you dealt with them?

SM: The hardest challenges I've had stem from the monetary issue. If you don't have money you can't race and if you can't race you can't prove yourself and show your talent...and if you're not on the track, sitting on the sidelines isn't making you better!

Not having an unlimited budget has been a blessing. I continuously am thankful for having to work hard to make thing happen. It makes it so much more worth it and I've been able to focus on finding partnerships/sponsorships from a business standpoint. Knowing what goes into racing and what it takes, brings more value to my sponsors.

You've got quite a solid history in USAC. With the changes to the Mazda Road to Indy, what are your thoughts on how USAC and the IndyCar series will progress in the future?

SM: I think it is so awesome that INDYCAR and USAC are working together to put programs in line for drivers like myself to move up the ranks. I think that providing a platform and essentially a tangible "place to go" gives drivers some incentive and direction. I think that we will continue to see more and more American drivers in INDYCAR and hope that the Mazda Road to Indy will provide some education for American companies that will motivate them to get involved.

What’s been your craziest moment in racing?

SM: Define 'craziest'. Haha... I don't know why this is the first thing that came to mind but when I was about 6 or 7, I was racing Quarter Midgets in Kokomo, Indiana. It was a 100 lapper and I got spun around in traffic at the beginning of the race. I ended up getting my rear end hooked on the rear end of the car in front of me-so my rear tires were lifted and I was being pulled around the track. It took about 20 seconds for me to figure out why I wasn't stopping while braking. This went on for a few laps while it was a caution and they tried to get the kid who was pulling me, stopped. I distinctly remember facing the kid who was following us who was waving at me. I was furious because I didn't think it was funny (yes, even at that age I was a spitfire). After the separation, I came back and won the race.

Lastly, if there’s any young ladies out there thinking about getting involved in racing, what would be your advice to them?

SM: Check out my partners website, Glass Hammer Racing is an organization that I've been involved with from the start (June 2010). We've built a program from the ground up that we created to encourage the interest and participation of motorsports for young women. We will be hosting our first Glass Hammer Racing Experience where I'll be coaching and working one on one with girls ages 10-16 at Fastimes in Indianapolis the first weekend of March. Any girls who are interested in getting involved please contact me or the owner, Greg Gaich through the website!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

IndyTube Weekend: First Lap, Kanaan-Style

It's a 2-for-1 IndyTube Weekend this week, as we pay homage to Tony Kanaan's awesome first-lap passes. Here's a double helping of TK coolness for you:

Have a great weekend, and best wishes to Tony Kanaan for finding a spot in 2011 to give us more of that.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hang In There

Late Monday night, my Twitter account and phone blew up with messages regarding the Tony Kanaan situation, and the frustration people felt because his ride at de Ferran Dragon Racing had fallen through. There was definitely a "sky is falling" reaction when the news first hit, which I think is tempering as folks calm down a bit and look at things a bit further.

It’s no fun when your favorite or a favorite driver is hunting for a ride, or has an uncertain future. But on the positive side, Robin Miller on Indianapolis’ 1070 AM, as well as a couple other sources yesterday seemed to indicate things were not quite as dire as we were originally led to believe. We could see a number of scenarios, to include Kanaan running a partial season paired with another driver, or Kanaan running the first part of the season and hoping to find funds as they go for the rest.

There’s also a school of thought that thinks another team might make up the difference to have a driver such as Kanaan, but it’s also late in the game, with few full-time seats remaining.

The thing to remember is that we have 30 days until the start of the IZOD IndyCar Series season. As we’ve seen in years past, that’s a lifetime in terms of things that can happen. I’m not saying Tony Kanaan will be in a car more often than not in 2011, but I have faith. Think of Ryan Hunter-Reay last year. Think of guys like Tomas Scheckter, who never seem to have anything going at the start of the year, but mysteriously show up in half the races anyway.

There’s a whole lotta ballgame left to play. Hang in there.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

So, To Recap...

Normally, I’d do an article based on a single topic, but after yesterday’s blitz of news, I think we need to regroup. Whew! Let’s recap everything from Tuesday:

-Yes, the IZOD IndyCar Series finale will be in Las Vegas! It’s impressively named “IZOD IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas”. Randy Bernard also announced if you buy a ticket for any other IZOD IndyCar event during the season, you’ll also get a ticket for Las Vegas (limit first 80,000). I have a feeling more of us than originally expected should find our way to this finale.

-Not only will it be IndyCar’s season finale, but it will also be worth $5 million if a non-series regular can come in and win. Hear that sports car and stock car folks? The gauntlet’s down, whether or not you choose to pick it up. My bet is the series’ checkbook doesn’t need to worry, but it should definitely get some people talking.

-Andretti Autosport announces a major, multi-year sponsor in DHL, which will be co-sponsor on Ryan Hunter Reay’s car and will also be an associate on Mike Conway’s car at times during the season. I am really looking forward to the bright yellow livery on this one! Ryan Hunter-Reay is in line to have had two of the best-looking cars on the grid for two straight years. You’ll also be seeing Sun Drop as the other co-primary for RHR. Conway will be in livery for the first three races, with sponsorship after that still to be hashed out.

-Sarah Fisher Racing announced Allison Transmission as an associate sponsor for the Indy 500 (hey, every sponsor counts!). As always, love that Dollar General car:

Yellow cars rock.
That’s not even counting the Servia-to-Newman/Haas still to come this week, plus anything else waiting in the pipe!

Unfortunately, with all the good news, there was some bad: it sounds like the de Ferran Dragon/Tony Kanaan relationship is a dead end for now. Let's face it: that one hurts. Hang in there, TK. Teams and drivers don't make it to the grid regardless of era, but that doesn't make it any easier.

There should be a pretty good stream of news between now and the start of the season, and I think we’re all more than ready for it. Let's hope more of the good stuff is coming.

(Image courtesy of IndyCar Media)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Servia In At Newman/Haas?

Thanks to the joys of the old rumor mill, we know Newman/Haas should finally be announcing Oriol Servia this week as their full-time driver. We don’t have any ideas on sponsorship yet, but I remain convinced that Servia is a great move for this team.

The Reign From Spain?
I’ve mentioned Servia’s resume before; it isn’t heavy on wins, but he’s raced well on some teams that were not exactly upper echelon. He had some very good results in the series in 2008-2009, and there’s no reason to think he can’t do the same this time around. Oriol Servia will make the most of what he's given.

I think that most of us with a sense of appreciation for American Open Wheel history want to see Newman/Haas return to prime form. It won’t be easy, but if this team can hang on and Servia can reliably bring it home in good standing and in one piece, that’s a tremendous step forward.

As for James Hinchcliffe, my hope right now is we get to see him at least in a part-time capacity in 2011. I think Newman/Haas is going the right way if they take the solid veteran as their primary driver, but Hinch is personable, charming, and a dream for the right sponsor. If they can field both at some point this year, I’d sure like to see it.

Image courtesy IndyCar Media

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Happens In Vegas(?)

Tomorrow, the IZOD IndyCar Series will officially announce the season-ending finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We've all know it was coming, but the lack of official announcement meant we really didn't have anything concrete yet.

So what's the background there? Well, IndyCar (as the IRL) ran there multiple times between 1996-2000. Arie Luyendyk, Sam Schmidt, and Al Unser, Jr. all won there. ChampCar ran there twice in 2004-05, with Sebastien Bourdais winning both outings. It is worth noting that the track was altered five years ago, with the banking increased. This should be a fast, racy 1.5-mile oval. From all reports, expect side-by-side action not unlike Chicagoland.

For active IndyCar drivers, there's just a little direct history to go on for Las Vegas. Oriol Servia, whom we may see at Newman/Haas, has raced there once, finishing second to Bourdais. Davey Hamilton has raced there five times, with a best finish of 7th. He'll be at Vegas as part of his partial-season run at De Ferran Dragon. Alex Tagliani also has a best of 7th in his two tries there. Justin Wilson has a best of 8th; Ryan Hunter-Reay 10th. Paul Tracy's best was 17th. With the exception of Hamilton, all the other results were from the ChampCar years.

It sounds like Randy Bernard has big plans for Las Vegas, if not necessarily all this year. It'll be interesting to see how it goes over; the Champ Car event was not popular, and was removed from the schedule after 2005. Still, Bernard knows Vegas from his 15 years overseeing PBR, and thinks he can make it work as a big event and destination. The racing should be good; now we'll have to see what sort of promotion comes along with.

There is also the fact my wife really would like to go to Las Vegas, so I have to put my chances of attendance down as at least fair to middling. We'll see what else accompanies tomorrow's announcement.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

IndyTube Weekend: Wilson's Awesome Save

Do I think Justin Wilson will win a race this year? Yes, yes I do. Check out this save at Infineon:

How he only lost one position on that, I'll never know.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Six Quick Questions With Chris Miller

With the refocusing on the ladder series and the Mazda Road to Indy, I've been diving more and more into the various ladder series, from USF2000 to Star Mazda to Indy Lights. There are a number of interesting storylines to be had, and plenty of interesting drivers as well. I also think there's a certain joy in learning more about a series and group of drivers.

That brings us to today's installment of Six Quick Questions. Chris Miller is a Minnesota native who will be running his second season in Star Mazda for JDC Motorsports. His rookie season in Star Mazda saw five Top-10 finishes He'll be running part-time, because aside from racing, Miller is also pursuing an education. Oh, and did we mention he was the 2009 F2000 Championship Series champion? Here's the results of Chris' question-and-answer session:

Chris, as a driver involved in the Mazda Road to Indy through the ladder series, what are your opinions on the recent changes to the Road to Indy?

CM: I think the changes are only positive. Having a definitive path to Indy Car is simpler for everyone. As a driver you know that you want to be part of the Mazda Road to Indy and having Mazda step up and financially support the champions of each series makes the climb to Indy Car a lot more feasible.

You won the 2009 F2000 Championship. How well do you feel the F2000 platform does in preparing drivers for the next level?

CM: The F2000 platform is fantastic. The cars are real race cars and the tuning and setup that you learn on an F2000 car can truly be taken to the next level. The F2000 cars are also a lot of fun to drive and make for very competitive racing.

After running a full season with JDC Motorsport in 2010, you've decided to run part-time in 2010 to help focus on your schooling. What are you going to school for, and how do you see auto racing figuring into your future?

CM: I am hoping to go to law school this coming fall. Although it was a difficult decision to shift my focus a bit away from racing I am confident I will still be very involved in the sport. Auto racing has been such a large part of my life for so long that I don't ever see myself fully distancing myself from it. I will do my best to continue to pursue a career in racing and look for opportunities to continue to build my auto racing resume.

After your 2010 season, how would you gauge the process you've made as a driver?

CM: 2010 was a difficult season. To go from winning a championship the previous year to struggling like we did was discouraging at times but I think I took a lot of positive things away from it. I continue to develop as a driver and the experiences that I had, both positive and negative, I know have made me better.
Miller: A Future Racer and Lawyer?

Who's the toughest competition you've faced so far in Star Mazda? Who do you see really breaking through at the next levels of open wheel racing?

CM: There are so many great driver in Star Mazda every year and I think at times people don't realize how ultra competitive it is. Obviously Conor Daly had a very special season last year and was really the class of the field. I also think my teammate from last year, Connor DePhillipi, is very talented and is someone I could very well see running in the Indy 500 a couple years from now.

Finish this sentence. If I could change one thing about North American Open Wheel racing...

CM: I would increase the exposure and fan base. I think Indy Car is heading in a positive direction and Randy Bernard seems to be the right guy to revitalize the series but there is still a long ways to go.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hot Wheels, Wheldon, And The Upcoming Season

Last night, my oldest daughter and I watched Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 online. The reason, of course, being that Dan Wheldon was a guest star on the their most recent episode. I think Dan was a little taller in the cartoon than in real life, but that’s ok; that’s what cartoons are for. If we have talking bears and a sponge living in a pineapple under the sea, then by gum, Wheldon can be 5’10”.

It kept my kid entertained, which is good, and she wanted to know a little more about Dan Wheldon (and of course, her dad, starved for any sort of meaningful real-life IndyCar discussion in the cruel, cruel offseason, was more than happy to tell her more than she ever wanted to know). More to the point, though, Hot Wheels is a series sponsor. They’ve been tied to a big promotion this May (a life-size Hot Wheels track at the Indy 500). As a regular show on Cartoon Network, Battle Force 5 right now is their biggest media tie-in. Certainly the series wouldn’t push a driver they didn’t expect to be in a full-time ride this year, right? They must be considering it a good possibility we see Dan Wheldon in 2011, yeah?

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Regardless of all that, the cartoon was fun, and was very positive towards Wheldon, IndyCar, and the Indy 500. I hope we see more in that vein for the Hot Wheels/IndyCar partnership soon. An actively promoting sponsor such as Hot Wheels is great news for the series.

Say what you will, I like that aero kit.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wherein We Hold A Popularity Contest

Last week, I started a thread over at TrackForum (now the official IndyCar forum) to see who the fans frequenting that place had as their favorite active drivers (“active” defined as having driven an IndyCar in the past year, or having a reasonable chance to do so in 2011). Basically, everyone could list up to 5 drivers, with a mention worth 1 point. I waited a week and tallied the results. Here’s the Top 10, with vote totals in parentheses. (again, for a full list, go here).

Tie-9th) Ed Carpenter (26)
Tie-9th) Dario Franchitti (26)
8th) Justin Wilson (29)
7th) Paul Tracy (30)
6th) Helio Castroneves (32)
5th) Will Power (39)
Tie-3rd) Tony Kanaan (42)
Tie-3rd) Graham Rahal (42)
2nd) Ryan Hunter-Reay (43)
1st) Simona de Silvestro (54)

RHR: Mr. Popular?
Of course, TrackForum is not the home of your casual fan; there are a number of hardcore aficionados who call the place home. Clearly, Simona de Silvestro has struck a chord, because she ran away in the voting. It was also good to see Ryan Hunter-Reay finish a strong second; I had no idea he was quite that popular. Helio, TK, and Graham were all expected, though perhaps not quite in that order. You’ll note the absence of Danica Patrick (Tied-13th, with J.R. Hildebrand), who wins Most Popular Driver each year, but apparently finds little such love at TrackForum. Tomas Scheckter enjoys a pretty good following at TF, so I was a bit surprised he finished just outside the Top 10 (11th).

TrackForum is just one part of the pie that makes up IndyCar. But I found the results interesting nonetheless.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On Part-Timers

We’ve seen a lot of part-time deals for the 2011 IZOD IndyCar season, outside of the normal Indy 500 one-offs; Wade Cunningham and Townsend Bell for a few races each with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Pippa Mann and several other Lights drivers may be part-timers in the series for 2011. We suspect that teams such as Dreyer and Reinbold, Dale Coyne, and possibly Conquest will see some manner of ride sharing in one of their cars.

Part-Time Pippa In 2011?
A lot of people dislike the practice of “platooning” drivers, obvious preferring full-timers instead. It’s understandable; familiarity and consistency is a big part of being a fan and cheering on a team or driver. But this year’s rotation isn’t all bad; a part-time opportunity means we finally get to see Wade Cunningham, who has amply proved a dozen times over he deserved at shot in the big cars. Bell is a stone-cold assassin who’s exciting to watch. It also means getting to see popular veterans like Davey Hamilton a few more times.

Ideally, some of the part-time deals will lead to full-time gigs in 2012 or beyond. Some perhaps won’t, and these partial programs might be the last time we see some of these folks in an IndyCar. But at least they’re getting the chance to do something most of us can only dream of.

We IndyCar fans exist in the moment, knowing that no race, no chance is guaranteed to come by again. I’m still hoping we see guys like Paul Tracy and Dan Wheldon get those full-time rides that are still potentially out there, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to enjoy seeing some of these guys get their shot. I think 2011 will see a solid full-time IndyCar field, plus a number of part-timers to round it out. Go get ‘em, ladies and gentlemen, and may you make the most of what’s granted.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

IndyTube Weekend: Tom Carnegie

Today's IndyTube Weekend clip could be nothing other than in regards to Tom Carnegie. Here's the local news retrospectives on his amazing life. Enjoy your weekend, enjoy your families--I'm going with mine to the Speedway today.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tom Carengie 1919-2011

We lost a friend today. Rest in peace, Tom Carnegie. You will never, never be forgotten so long as the story of the Indianapolis 500, the American dream of motorsport, and pure, beautiful eloquence are treasured.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why Not Pocono Raceway?

Many folks have already commented on 2011 being the last year IndyCar will be at Twin Ring Motegi. I'll let others more able than I dissect that move, but let me just say although I'm sorry for Japanese IndyCar fans, I never really felt the race made sense from a financial, logistical, or scheduling standpoint.

There's no shortage of ovals that folks would like to see IndyCar return to; of these, certainly tracks such as Nashville and Chicagoland are always going to be in people's thoughts. However, I have to say that Open Paddock's Spike Rogan has done a fine job of selling the virtues of Pocono Raceway as a replacement venue.

Al Unser, Jr. and Chet Fillip At Pocono, 1984.
Pocono's known as the "Tricky Triangle", and for good reason; teams will tell you it's definitely a challenge to set up for the separate turns there. In my opinion, I'd love to add another superspeedway to the IndyCar schedule, and Pocono is still pretty accessible to midwesterners as well as folks closer to the eastern seaboard. It might not be the only venue I'd like to see IndyCar return to, but with a history of names such as Foyt, Mears, and the Unsers taking turns of dominance at this track, I really appreciate the legacy of the place. Does the track need some work? By all accounts yes, but I don't think that's a deal-breaker, as improvements are already being made or are in the planning phase. We're talking about a unique track that's anything but cookie-cutter that I believe would provide some great racing. Maybe it isn't the next track IndyCar comes back to, and maybe you have another favorite in mind. There's always future expansion; I wouldn't count it out.

If a return to this historical venue sounds good to you, check out the contact info in Spike's article, or better yet, let Randy Bernard know ([email protected]). The squeaky wheel gets the grease! Fan input won't be the only factor in what ends up on the IndyCar schedule in the next few years, but never tell yourself it doesn't count. They're listening, and as a fan, you want to speak up for the changes you want to see.

Photo by Ted Van Pelt; licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

J Stand

Yesterday was a great day. Why? I had a small bit of financial luck, and was able to order my tickets for the 2011 Centennial Indianapolis 500.

For those following along at home: J Stand, Section 11, Row T, Seats 9-10.

I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to go to the 500 in what has been a difficult economic climate. Frankly, I was worried it wouldn’t happen this year. The 2011 IndyCar season feels a little bit closer now.

As for J Stand, what can I say about sitting there? You’ve got a video screen in front of you. You can see the entrance to the pits, down the main straight, and both Turns 3 and 4. There’s generally a ton of action during the race that unfolds right in front of you (I would cite seeing Ryan Hunter-Reay crash and spin into the pits like a damaged TIE Fighter in 2009 as a prime example of this). They’re a little bit cheaper than some of the other seats, which is going to be a factor for me so long as I can’t steal Dan Wheldon’s NOS Energy Drink sponsorship.

I won’t get my physical tickets until they’re mailed out in March, but that just means I get to have another great day when they arrive.

I’ve sat in a few different places at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but for the 500, J Stand just feels right to me.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No More Mutoh: A Look Back

With the news yesterday that Hideki Mutoh will be pursuing Super GT opportunities in Japan in 2011, it seemingly brings the curtain down on Hideki’s career in the IZOD IndyCar Series. I don’t think the funding was there for another run in 2011, and I don’t think he was precisely a hot commodity, either. Most folks had long since figured Mutoh wouldn't be returning, and this bit of news seems to be the final confirmation of that.

Happy Trails, Hideki...
At best, you can call his career in IndyCar a mixed bag. Hideki had a promising start in Indy Lights, but never really lived up to that early potential through three full seasons of IndyCar. He had a good rookie season in 2008, finishing 10th in points and claiming Rookie of the Year, but 2009 seemed to see him regress slightly, with maddening inconsistency being his apparent calling card. Last year’s season with Newman/Haas was even worse, with Mutoh’s car exiting early at Indy after qualifying well, and managing not a single Top 10 finish all year. Hideki was probably not the driver a struggling team needed to return to form.

On the plus side, Hideki ends up with two quality Top 10 finishes at Indy, and five Top 5 finishes in his career. You can say that when Mutoh was on, he was definitely on. Unfortunately, we never saw that enough or with any manner of consistency. Best of luck to him as he goes forth with this new opportunity. I always kinda liked this quiet, pleasant guy from Japan, who never quite put it all together.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Battle For TEAM Money Should Be Intense

There will be 22 slots available for TEAM money in 2011. The program, which pays roughly $1.2 million per qualified entrant, was limited to the Top 22 at the end of 2010 to create a sense of urgency to finish well. Though there are bonuses for top finishes in IndyCar, TEAM money comprises most of the payout teams will see for competition from the series.

There are years when being part of the Top 22 in IndyCar wouldn't have been as big a challenge. But in 2011, with a field that could be the strongest we've seen in some time, things should be a little different. I'm not sure as fans we've done much considering of just how tough this field could be. From top to bottom, the battle for that TEAM money should be a brutal, brutal fight.

Let's start with the entries that are a lock (barring catastrophe) to make the Top 22. We've got:

-3 from Penske
-4 from Ganssi (Kimball will have a learning curve, but should be ok)
-4 from Andretti
-1 from DeFerran Dragon
-1 from FAZZT
-1 from Foyt
-1 from HVM
-1 from Panther (I don't think it's a stretch for Hildebrand to finish in the Top 20)
-1 from Dreyer and Reinbold

That's 17 rock-solid entries right there, and we haven't touched the still-formalizing KV Racing folks (2-3), Conquest (1-2), Dale Coyne Racing, (1-2), Newman/Haas (at least 1) and the 2nd Dreyer and Reinbold seat (1).

That gets us to 25-26 entries, and that's without counting will they/won't they entries such as a 2nd HVM seat, the 2nd Newman/Haas entry, and Sarah Fisher Racing, who's already doing a majority of the races and might add more.
Get ready for full-field competition in 2011.

Last year Conquest Racing claimed the 22nd spot overall, in the shape of the ride piloted by Bertrand Baguette. Baguette clinched the spot despite missing two races. I don't see that happening this year--an entry missing even one race could be the kiss of death insofar as TEAM funding is concerned. Takuma Sato had DNFs (Did Not Finish) in over 50% of the races his rookie year, and managed to finish 21st. That won't happen in 2011. If KV Racing has a season like 2010 again (and I'm not sure it's even possible), at least one of their cars could be danger of finishing 23rd or lower. The same goes for any team that would have that sort of abysmal season for 2011.

The field is simply too deep already for there to be any pure field-fillers getting in on the TEAM money in 2011. Indeed, there's the very real possibility that a younger team or driver might be in danger of missing the money due to this field's depth. If veterans such as Paul Tracy, Dan Wheldon, and Oriol Servia are confirmed in rides, then that complicates things that much more for those teams hanging around the periphery.

I think the increased competition is good for the series, and I have no doubt in my mind that teams such as HVM Racing and Conquest can successfully fight their way up the standings (though I'm still waiting to see what Conquest's final roster looks like). But to the teams that saw too many missed opportunities and too many DNFs in 2010, that dog won't hunt in this new season.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

IndyTube Weekend: 1984 Pole Day

Here's some scenes from Pole Day at the Indy 500 in 1984. God bless Tom Carnegie:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Checking Out The New INDYCAR Nation

I was pleased to see IndyCar's fan club get its long-awaited relaunch this week. The revamped INDYCAR Nation features special articles, news, games, fantasy racing, multimedia, and, of course, the link for what will be Race Control when the season begins. Interestingly enough, the old IndyCar Fan Forums are gone, and TrackForum is now linked in their place. Did I mention registration is still free?

There is an upgrade available, of course; for $34.95 a year, you can gain Champion Status, which offers extra discounts, special swag, exclusive meet n' greets through the year, and more. We'll have to wait and see what sort of giveaways and redeemables they might offer, but it sounds like they'll be doing weekly giveaways for all members.

I'm also happy to announce my article "Can Anyone Catch Power?", which looks at competition on the road/street courses for 2011, can also be found over there. You have to be a member (which, again, is free) to read it, so sign up and check it out! Don't worry, I'll still be providing the same regular content over here, but you'll want to sign up for ICN all the same.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My IndyCar Offseason Report Card

A few days after the last checkered flag dropped to end the 2010 IZOD IndyCar season, I made a short list of things I would like to see on the offseason. Call it a wish list, but I really had some definite ideas about the sort of progress and developments I wanted to see before the 2011 season opened.

We're a bit less than two months away from the season opener, and I thought it would be a good idea to revisit that checklist to where IndyCar is at in regards to it all. And yes,  I understand IndyCar doesn't have control over all of these things; some will or won't happen independent of anything the series does. Most items are still a work in progress, so these grades could change dramatically between now and the Streets of St. Petersburg.

1) Secure the future of promising young talent like Graham Rahal and Simona de Silvestro.
Grade: A+

We'll start with the home run. Graham and Simona were two young drivers I definitely wanted to see confirmed full-time early on, and both have found solid sponsorships that should keep them active in the series.

2) Resolve the cloudy future of at-risk vets such as Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon.
Grade: C

Both Kanaan and Wheldon faced grim scenarios at the end of last season, and for a while it wasn't a sure thing we'd see either one regularly in 2011. Fortunately, Tony Kanaan found a place with De Ferran Dragon Racing. Wheldon, however, is still up in the air, but seems to think he's got something going for this year. I hope he's right.

3) Have rides found for part-time veterans such as Paul Tracy, Tomas Scheckter, and Oriol Servia.
Grade: Incomplete

Tracy and Servia are at least in talks for full-time seats at Conquest and Newman/Haas, respectively, and that's more than I would have expected last fall. Scheckter, as always, is an enigma wrapped inside a riddle bottled inside a bottle of Laverstoke Ale. Perhaps there aren't enough seats for every veteran out there, especially when you get me started on my big driver wish list, but if we could get 3 out of 3 or even 2.5 out of 3 on this one, I'd be pretty happy. The possibility of Bourdais driving with Dale Coyne Racing adds a new element to this one.

4) Have the 2011 schedule tied up and clearly set.
Grade: Incomplete

I'd really, really like to check this one off, but I can't, not yet. Edmonton's been resolved, but the season finale at Las Vegas is still not officially on the schedule. The series knows it's happening. We know it's happening. Randy Bernard knows it's happening. But it still isn't on there.

5) Hear lots of good news about special events for the Centennial Indianapolis 500.
Grade: A

Between the website to vote on the 33 best Indy drivers, the special promotion with Hot Wheels, the promise of an amazing flyover, the display of 70+ Indy 500-winning vehicles at the IMS Museum this May, the world's biggest autograph session and plenty of other extras, I'm pretty happy with this one.

6) See Milka Duno elsewhere for 2011.
Grade: A+

By all accounts, she won't be back. She's an incredibly sweet person, and I feel bad even having put this on my list. But it needed to be done. Best of luck to her in ARCA. Moving on.

7) See the question marks at Andretti Autosport cleared up.
Grade: B

I won't lie, until this past Tuesday this was at best a D. There were some missing sponsors, the question over who would end up in the 4th seat, and a general sense of uncertainty about this team. We're still waiting on the sponsor info for the 4th car, but the signing of Mike Conway was a solid move that very people saw coming. Now I'm interested to see who's on those sidepods--I'll feel better when we see that.

8) Have an increased, quality car count in the field for 2011.
Grade: A-

I hoped for 26 or 27, and I think we'll get them, with solid talent across the field. We're waiting on word at Newman/Haas, the Conquest seats, Dale Coyne, the 2nd seat at Dreyer & Reinbold, and that final lineup at KV. Even with that all up in the air, this is looking to be a very good field. Give me a revitalized, strong Newman/Haas team, and I'll be happy as a clam.

9) See clear progression from Indy Lights to IndyCar for deserving talent.
Grade: B

I obviously am a fan of the Indy Lights scholarship as part of the Mazda Road To Indy, and it seems like plenty of 2010 Lights drivers are at least in talks to appear in the big cars for 2011. Charlie Kimball's confirmed. Martin Plowman and James Hinchcliffe are strong possibilities. I think we'll see Pippa Mann at some point. Dan Clarke has an outside chance. Champion and scholarship J.K. Vernay will likely be at least part-time, but his situation is still a little more uncertain than I'd like for a Lights champ.

10) See Belgium's Favorite Son, Bertrand Baguette, return on 2011.
Grade: Woefully Incomplete

As the president, founder, and general secretary of the Bertrand Baguette Fan Club, America Chapter, Indiana Branch (BBFCACIB), I demand that someone hire the Belgian ace. He beat Schumacher! What more do you people want?!

Baguette's still a possibility at a couple of teams, but even while I'm waiting on that, I have to admit the IndyCar offseason is headed in the right direction. Is there work still to be done? Always, but let's keep the good news coming!

Image courtesy of IndyCar Media

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Conway to Andretti: What It Means

Most of us were blindsided yesterday about the news of Mike Conway being signed to Andretti Autosport for 2011. I know that like many people, I fully expected him to be either part-time or full-time at Dreyer and Reinbold Racing. Congratulations to Andretti Autosport and Mike Conway for playing it close to the vest and surprising almost all of us.

So what does it all mean?

Conway led 15 laps at Indy before his accident last year.
Well, for one, it means one of the biggest names for the second Dreyer and Reinbold seat is now out of the picture. Do we see Ana Beatriz in there full-time? Tomas Scheckter? Let's not forget Dan Wheldon is still out there. The move for Tracy to Conquest seems a bit more plausible today than it did a week ago (though I can't count him out at DRR quite yet), so now we're looking at a somewhat smaller potential pool for that team.

For Andretti, they have a driver who's coming off an epic season-ending crash in 2010, but who was also showing vast improvement in his second campaign before that happened. He had placed three Top 10s on road/street circuits, and was absolutely gangbusters at Indy before his big crash. It also means we likely won't be seeing much of Andy Soucek, whom I believe went from "practically signed" to an afterthought in pretty rapid progression.

For those looking for Conway in the familiar and distinct Dad's Root Beer colors, I wouldn't hold my breath. Dad's is a Dreyer and Reinbold sponsor (Buddy Rice used to run those colors), and unless they follow him over, he'll be in new livery for 2011. Perhaps we'll be seeing Dr. Pepper or Snapple step up and get some prime sidepod real estate?

This is the part of Silly Season where I start to feel like Charlie Bucket probably did in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory after four of the Golden Tickets had been found (no, I am not comparing Mike Conway to Mike Teevee). We know someone we want in the series will not make it in, but precisely who that will be is still up in the air. In any case, congratulations again to Mike Conway and Andretti Autosport for the big signing. Mike's recovery from 2010 is going to be one of the most interesting early stories of 2011. And the quality of the field for 2011 continues to increase with every bit of news that trickles in.

(Photos courtesy of IndyCar Media)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What About Bryan Clauson?

I received a couple of instant messages and emails yesterday after our Conor Daly interview to ask why we hadn't interviewed Bryan Clauson yet. Well, I don't like to comment on what we have coming up as far as interviews until it's imminent, but I'll just say I'd love to have Bryan go through the Six Quick Questions process.

Speaking of Clauson, it's hard not to be impressed by the guy. If you read the diary of his Indy Lights test, it would seem to reveal a talented, thoughtful driver. By all accounts we're hearing, his test went very well indeed. I'm not saying Clauson is needed as a Great American Hope or anything, but he does represent a link to part of American racing that it greatly behooves the series to nurture. But above all, he has raw, proven talent and experience. He will average a race roughly every three days in 2011. He's won on dirt, he's won on pavement, and he's done it at multiple levels. He doesn't need IndyCar's validation, but he'll be great to have around. His six ovals are going to be some of the most interesting Lights storylines of 2011.

So, will he be with a championship team in Sam Schmidt Motorsports? It doesn't sound like a lock yet, but I'd love to see what he could do with a top-tier team like that. I hope his shot in Lights is done well, and done right.

The Indy Lights series in 2011 will feature champions from many different levels of racing. On the ovals, at least, they'll have to contend with one more hardcore champion in Clauson.
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