Good morning to all and hope you have having a fine Friday. Today we are revitalizing an old Open-Wheels.com feature called “Fab Five,” where we bring together five opinions on five topics in IndyCar and have a roundtable discussion. Making up the five voices are a fan opinion, an appearance from one of our contributors at Open-Wheels, a respected member of the broadcast media sector, a respected driver opinion, and a guest.
Our panel of experts includes:
Austin Espitee – Fan opinion; elite driver in iRacing Motorsport Simulations’ IndyCar ranks
Justin Reschke – Writer opinion; Open-Wheels.com contributor and Vice President of Business Operations for the Palm Springs POWER
Mark Jaynes – Broadcast media opinion; Lead announcer of the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network
Stefan Wilson – Driver opinion; Driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport entry for the 2018 Indianapolis 500
I will be guest appearing for this first edition of “Fab Five,” and will look to add to our panel moving forward. We are extremely excited to revive this program and hopefully you all enjoy it! The answers our experts produced this month were intriguing and should create a lot of conversation, so I can’t wait to share them with you. Without further ado, here is our December 2017 edition of Fab Five.
What storyline from this offseason has piqued your interest the most?
The one that was able to catch my eye right away was seeing Chip Ganassi Racing downsizing to only two full-time cars, while having the open possibility to fielding cars for the Month of May.
This was most intriguing because I wondered where the car count would be leading into St. Petersburg next season, which it won’t have much of a factor considering how many new teams are coming up and stepping up to the Verizon IndyCar Series.
This also led to me to think who I thought was fit to fill the seat of Tony Kanaan. Many drivers were rumored and Brendon Hartley was a done deal – until Toro Rosso took him. The question still remained: who was going to drive the 10? At last it was Ed Jones. This was huge for me to hear after following him throughout the Mazda Road to Indy. I knew he would be a great fit and hopefully be able to compete for wins throughout the season as well as the Indianapolis 500.
The storyline that has interested me the most this offseason has been the development of the universal aero kit. Aesthetically, the 2018 cars look much more aggressive and streamlined with the removal of the rear wheel bumper pods. The feedback from drivers thus far seems to point to a car that is a little looser which could allow a driver’s natural skill to shine through a little more.
With the new package creating less downforce, cars should be able to follow more closely which should make overtaking on road and street courses a little easier.
On the ovals, the first test of the new aero kit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yielded some positive feedback with James Hinchcliffe noting that it was much easier to close up on the car in front of him.
In addition, the new aero kit is less expensive for teams than its predecessors, and we all know how important cost reduction is when a series is trying to attract new teams and manufacturers. I am excited to see what types of changes the aero kit brings to what was already exciting IndyCar racing.
Hard to settle on one or two! A starting grid minus Helio Castroneves (except at Indianapolis); Tony Kanaan landing at A.J. Foyt Racing; Ed Jones surprise move to Chip Ganassi Racing; Can Graham Rahal start winning consistently now that he finally has a teammate in Takuma Sato? Plenty of others, I’m sure.
There’s a couple of really positive story lines for IndyCar this off-season. I think the introduction of the new aero kit has been overwhelmingly positive from drivers and fans alike, and the testing has shown to be really successful, which is great, it’s given the series momentum as we head towards 2018. Then there’s the addition of Zach Veach at Andretti Autosport with a 3 year contract. That’s such awesome news for a driver I really admire, and it shows all the drivers trying that it’s possible with hard work. Zach was able to bring a new sponsor to the series, (which is) very positive indeed.
IndyCar needs drivers like Zach to get this kind of break. Too often the drivers that really badly want to be here in IndyCar, that follow the ladder, persevere and stick around even when they don’t get an opportunity, fall by the wayside in favor of drivers that are just passing through. We need those drivers that are invested in the series in my opinion.
Other story lines that deserve a mention are the addition of Danica at the Indy 500 next year, Helio’s full time retirement, and the progress being made with the driver head protection. All in all, a busy off-season with more positive than negative news, which is nice.
It has been an exciting and eventful offseason, and the vast majority of news has been positive. As far as a leading headline or two, I think the rush of new teams into the series is certainly a story as well as Danica Patrick’s decision to run the Indianapolis 500 alongside the Daytona 500 in February.
Graduating teams from the Mazda Road to Indy ladder and from limited-event programs has turned out to be one of the best ways to draw part-time operations into expanded entries. It seems like the most logical and simple way to attract new teams, but the implementation and execution of this process could have been more challenging and IndyCar has done a fine job to this point.
What would make an event in Mexico, in any year, a success? Is it attendance, television ratings, all of the above or more?
I was excited when IndyCar first mentioned that they were going to get a race in Mexico City. However, as news broke a few weeks later saying they couldn’t get a date and won’t be racing there in 2018, I was quite bummed. I feel every racing event that is held in Mexico is an instant success due to the large passion for motorsports they have.
Also, with the thought of former Formula One driver Esteban Gutierrez having a ride for that race, it would without a doubt guarantee a sell out for the series, along with the great racing that track produces in all series. I am hoping in the future IndyCar decides to make a trip south of the Border.
I think that fan attendance will be the determining hallmark of success. Formula One claimed a 2017 weekend attendance of 337,043 for its October Grand Prix at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. While such a number would be quite a lofty goal for an IndyCar event at the same circuit, there is no reason that an IndyCar race in Mexico City should not be one of the highest attended of the 2018 season.
The issue remains, however, that at present there is no Mexican driver in IndyCar. Sergio Perez in Formula One is hugely popular in Mexico, as was Esteban Gutierrez during his stint. Still, a return to Mexico for IndyCar would help re-establish the series as a global brand and should be a goal to work towards in the future, especially if a Mexican driver like Gutierrez is able to secure an IndyCar ride.
I’m all for expansion and agree with the IndyCar execs who maintain they’ll do so only where and when it makes sense. I get the feeling that won’t be the only change to the schedule in 2019, perhaps a determining factor in delaying a race in Mexico. Doesn’t make sense to hold an inaugural event and then change the date.
100% the success will be measured by fan attendance, and to be honest, I think the attendance would be really good. We have several South American drivers that fans would travel to see, we could have a Mexican IndyCar driver next season, and in that part of the world they love their motorsport. Not to mention the track is very exciting as it combines high speed and some large brake zones that invite close racing and provide opportunities to overtake. The television rating doesn’t seem to change much venue to venue (outside of Indianapolis), and it largely depends on the weekend, the time slot and what its competition is on that day.
As much as anything, I feel it is the fan attendance. An event in Mexico needs to have strong local support, and with this particular case I don’t believe that would be a problem. Would IndyCar draw a similar number of fans on a race weekend such as Formula One? I don’t believe so, but if that number for F1 is in the low 300,000s, then I think IndyCar could approach 200,000 over the course of a race weekend and that would be an instant success.
What does Danica Patrick’s return to the Indianapolis 500 mean for the series and the event, and is there any way her appearance has a positive influence on fan involvement for the rest of the season?
Danica Patrick’s return to the Indianapolis 500, in my honest opinion, will not have much fan involvement past the Month of May. This is partly because she has raced before and has experience running the 500.
Overall I think it’s a success for the event because she does bring fans from all over who will come out to see her last race as a professional driver. I also believe they will be able to sell more tickets because of it. Unfortunately, to touch back on fan involvement, this won’t be a Fernando Alonso case where he brought fans and those fans stayed watching Indy car because they grew to love it. (This will be) only for the sheer factor that Danica raced in IndyCar before.
Danica’s return to the Indy 500 is obviously a hugely positive development for the series. She will be coming back to IndyCar following a NASCAR career which had some bright spots, including a Daytona 500 pole, even if it was ultimately mediocre.
There is no denying that Danica Patrick is one of the most popular drivers in any series of the last decade-plus, and hopefully her return to the Brickyard will bring some eyeballs from NASCAR. A solid performance at the Daytona 500 in February would be a great momentum builder heading into Danica’s last race at Indianapolis.
I feel that if her appearance does not translate to many new fans who continue to follow IndyCar throughout the 2018 season after the 500, it may lead to new sponsors recognizing that IndyCar allows for a more economical option when trying to reach customers.
Looks now as though this may not happen, (just as Mexico fell out). If it does, it will draw plenty of attention. Not sure how much of a bump it means for the IndyCar Series, but for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway it falls in line nicely after the 100th Indianapolis 500 and Fernando Alonso’s 500 effort.
I think it’s really special to have a driver with the caliber and draw of Danica, who left IndyCar to go to NASCAR, choose to end her driving career back at Indy. It goes to show the positive trajectory that IndyCar is on right now; we’ve been told for so long that the series is bouncing back, but this is honestly the first time I really believe it.
I think having Danica at the Indianapolis 500 will bring a lot of fresh eyeballs to the Indy 500, perhaps fans that went away when Danica left or fans of Danica that are too young to remember her in IndyCar. Either way, it’s an opportunity to win a lot of fans over and that can have a positive impact on the race’s television rating and the races that follow it in the year.
In trying to forecast what Danica Mania #2 will bring, I think her appearance at the Indianapolis 500 will be positive. In no way can this hurt the event if she shows up, as I feel it is better for her to be there and bring at least a couple eyeballs than her not being there and losing that small bit of interest.
Every ounce counts now and I think domestically it will be a much bigger deal than Alonso was in this particular country, and that could make for a slightly better television rating and attendance number than last year.
IndyCar is planning on testing an aeroscreen driver protection prototype on-track in early 2018. What are your thoughts on the device, how IndyCar has methodically tested and developed the device and how that process compares to Formula One implementing the halo?
I personally think a device like this is needed to protect all drivers in the future from life threatening head injuries, but more testing and development must go into it. I am hoping IndyCar doesn’t take the route Formula One took and have one team say they need to run the halo next season, so they are running it.
Many drivers said the halo reduces visibility, which (is) a big safety concern. IndyCar is doing it right by taking their time to test it to see what all drivers want in the future, which is the complete opposite the FIA took. Getting something that all drivers agree on and will make them feel safer will work for me.
IndyCar has gone about introducing cockpit protection in IndyCar very methodically and deliberately. The aeroscreen is more aesthetically pleasing than the halo and fits more into the concept of what open wheel race cars should look like in 2018, with a sort of sleekness and flow to their appearance. IndyCar fans seem to recognize that some form of head protection for drivers is needed, especially on ovals, and unfortunately 2018 is not soon enough for such a device.
The aeroscreen device likely would have prevented the tragic incident that took Justin Wilson from us and would have saved James Hinchcliffe from the concussion he suffered at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in 2014. In stark contrast, Formula One and its governing body, the FIA, have rushed ahead with development of a device that is not supported by the majority of drivers, fans, or teams with the halo.
The halo would not have saved Jules Bianchi from the head trauma that ultimately killed him and it likely would have done nothing to prevent the impact of a small spring to Felipe Massa’s helmet that nearly ended his racing career. The halo seems like it was designed to fix a problem that has not existed in Formula One for many years: wheels and large pieces of debris flying off of cars and impacting drivers. Formula One wheel tethers seem to be a fine solution and modern F1 cars are made entirely of carbon fiber, which breaks up into small , very light pieces upon impact.
An aeroscreen in Formula One would solve all of these problems. When an aeroscreen-like device was tested in F1, the feedback from Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel was bad enough considering vision distortion that the whole project was canceled and the series plodded on with the halo concept. The fact that IndyCar has selected a basic concept and quietly focused on refining it before rushing it into on-track testing leads me to believe that the end result will be a natural solution to a real problem.
IndyCar has a pretty enviable record when it comes to research and development. It has been, is, and always will be among the leaders in safety and innovation (with a determined emphasis on the former).
I am obviously a huge fan of Dr. Terry Trammel and Jeff Horton’s work. I think it’s vital to take this next step in driver safety, and I think what they are working on can eclipse the work that other series have done for this issue, can positively influence other series and it can even become a standard across open-wheel, open-cockpit racing. Above all, it’s going to save drivers lives.
While on this topic, I have to say, there’s a lot of (crap) that flies around when it comes to the subject of protecting the drivers heads. Some suggest that the drivers that are worried about their safety are less macho and should simply not participate if they’re ‘scared.’ It’s just absolute nonsense.
Doing the math, every driver that straps in has roughly a 1/1700 chance of losing his life in IndyCar currently. While better odds than in the past, it’s still not great odds. Every driver addresses the danger in their own way. Some drivers ignore the odds, some drivers think they’re invincible and it won’t happen to them, and some acknowledge the risks and weigh them against the benefits of the sport and choose to strap in anyway.
I used to ignore the danger, the risk, and pretend like it’s not going to happen to me, but I’ve seen too much now. I’ve seen exactly what can happen and I have no choice other than to acknowledge the danger, and I choose to strap in regardless.
I advocate for this safety device not because I’m worried about my own safety. For the time being, the risk versus reward checks out and I accept what can happen to me, but this safety device can save countless drivers lives in the future. It’s never going to remove the risk entirely, and that’s okay, but I think it places the control of that risk back into the driver’s hands as it eliminates the randomness of being killed by another driver’s debris.
The work that IndyCar, Jeff Horton and Dr Terry Trammel are doing should be met with nothing but praise and gratitude from all.
In nearly every aspect of motorsport, I am a traditionalist. I don’t like for things to change very much from what has worked in the past, and at times I think we should go back in time to solve some modern racing problems. This is not one of those times.
There is no longer an excuse for open-wheel racing to not have some sort of driver head protection system, and I am very pleased with IndyCar and the path they have taken in development of an aeroscreen. At the same time, I feel there is a right and a wrong way to do this and Formula One is the best example. The halo is a disaster and it is difficult to exclude an expletive when describing its appearance.
I am very pleased that IndyCar is pursuing an aeroscreen look because it not only looks much better aesthetically, but it should provide better coverage for drivers. One must remember, as well, that there used to be similar head protection screens on some of the IndyCar’s of the 1970’s and 80’s, and that worked just fine (left).
With the introduction of the new UAK-18 universal aero kit, do you expect the traditional powerhouses such as Penske and Ganassi to dominate early on, or does this really level the playing field as many have suggested?
With the introduction of the UAK-18, I believe the playing field will be level and will come down to the driver, in which the cars will be closer on ovals but on road courses I believe we will see a bit of disparity. (This is because) the drivers have said you will need to drive the car.
I (do) expect drivers from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing to do well throughout the season because of how good they are and what background they come from before entering IndyCar. My statement contradicts each other because, honestly I have no idea how each will perform until I see video from testing and will be able to determine who looks like they have a feel for the car.
I think the new aero kit will test the drivers at all teams, big or small, early on in the season. Teams will struggle to extract more mechanical grip out of the chassis and while larger teams will have an edge in that regard due to research, simulations, and the number of cars they run.
The easiest and quickest way to make changes that will have a positive result is to listen to driver feedback. I feel that veteran drivers who have driven a variety of open wheel cars with varying levels of downforce will have an advantage early in the season.
Alternatively, rookies who have limited, if any, experience with the outgoing aero kits may benefit as well if their driving ability allows them to feel the car as it is and not as they expect it to be. Either way, I am confident that the new aero kit will shake up the field at least for the first few races of the season.
History has shown it may take a year or two to, “level the playing field.” I’m very interested to see what impact the changes at Chip Ganassi Racing will have – losing Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimble, Max Chilton and adding Ed Jones. That’s a lot of laps, experience, and knowledge to lose and some may think, “the mighty have fallen.” Don’t count me among those skeptics! I can sum it up in two words: Scott Dixon.
It’s tough to say for sure, but the power house teams are power houses for a reason. They have more resources, bigger budgets and more staff, so in theory they should be able to extract more from the car quicker than other teams.
At the same time, the engineering talent is spread around IndyCar today and there’s several great engineers on small budget teams that I think can throw a few wrenches in the works of the power houses teams and shine on any given weekend.
Then there is the manufacturer influence to factor in, and I don’t think anyone really knows yet how Honda and Chevrolet will stack up against each other. Believe me, we are all anxious to find out!
I am in the boat that while it will generate some surprise finishes throughout 2018, I don’t think that the new universal aero kit will completely level the playing field.
Introducing a new car with varying levels of downforce compared to its predecessor will certainly shake up the practice and qualification sessions this year as teams scramble to learn more about setting this edition of the DW-12 up, but during races the best teams usually sift to the top and I don’t see that being a whole lot different in 2018.
Images courtesy of IndyCar, Formula One, and Autosport