While the month of February begins to wind down, the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener is right on the horizon with March just around the corner. With only 20 days until the green flag at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, teams are relatively quiet at the moment (compared to the chaos seen this offseason) while they prepare for the 2018 championship.
This weekend, Danica Patrick was able to close the book on her NASCAR Cup Series career with one final Daytona 500 appearance. Unfortunately, she would depart the race just past the midpoint when being involved in a lap 101 crash that ended her day.
With Patrick’s slip of the tongue last week that she would formally join Ed Carpenter Racing for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 in May, the Indy 500 picture begins to clarify a bit more as the field takes shape quicker than in years past. There is even a possibility of qualifications bumping, but we will wait and see on that topic.
Including these stories and more, here is our latest IndyCar Round-Up as we get ready for the real thing in just three short weeks!
Patrick shifts focus to Indianapolis finale
On lap 102 of Sunday’s Daytona 500, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott tangled entering turn 3, triggering a multiple-car crash. Included in the wreck was Danica Patrick, making her final NASCAR start in a one-race deal with Premium Motorsports.
The 2013 Daytona 500 polesitter would exit the race with heavy damage to her Chevrolet Camaro. After being released from the infield care center, Patrick expressed disappointment with the outcome at Daytona.
“I’ve still got one more,” Patrick expressed to Fox’s Jamie Little after leaving the infield care center. “It’s not a stock car, but I’ve still got one more.
That race would be the 102nd Indianapolis 500 on May 27. Last November, Patrick announced her deal to run one final time before stepping away from racing for good.
On February 14, despite earlier statements that an announcement was not imminent, the 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year inadvertently revealed plans to run with Ed Carpenter Racing in her return to the series.
Patrick will team with Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot in a Dallara-Chevrolet that will carry sponsorship from GoDaddy for Indianapolis. The last of her previous seven starts at the speedway occurred in 2011, when she started 25th and finished 10th. Her best start was fourth in 2005 and her best finish was third in 2009, with the Rahal and Andretti teams respectively.
The 2018 Indianapolis 500 will also be the first superspeedway race with the new Universal Aero Kit, a wrinkle that Carpenter has previously noted will help Patrick because of its similarities to the IR-05 chassis she drove from 2005-2011.
With the first part of the “Danica Double” completed, the racing world will now shift focus as one of IndyCar’s biggest stars in recent memory makes her return to the biggest race, one final time.
With Danica Patrick’s “oops” on February 14 that revealed she would run the 102nd Indianapolis 500 with Ed Carpenter Racing, yet another piece fell into place as this May’s field begins to take shape.
Bolstered by six cars from Andretti Autosport, four entries from the Team Penske camp and the three-car program from Ed Carpenter Racing, the field has come together quickly this offseason. Currently Open-Wheels.com can confirm 31 entries for the Indianapolis 500. The field has come together quickly this offseason and that is a testament to the progress made by Jay Frye, Mark Miles and the development team that brought a new universal aero kit to life.
The series has legitimate momentum currently and that is being reflected in its biggest race. Two and a half months from the first day in May, there are just a couple open spots remaining before the field reaches its traditional 33 cars. With that being said, there are still a handful of possible teams and entries that could show up in May that would result in some qualifications bumping – something that the fans would certainly enjoy.
The February 8-10 open test at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona marked a monumental day for the Verizon IndyCar Series, as the first open test for the universal aero kit took place on the 1.022-mile oval.
The first day was reserved primarily for rookie and refresher tests for the newest crop of drivers to enter the series. A.J. Foyt Racing’s Matheus Leist led the way early, posting a top speed of 184.236 MPH.
The day was also highlighted by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon testing the new deflector screen on his car during separate daylight, dusk and nighttime sessions. Despite concerns about a lack of cooling, Dixon’s reviews for the enhancement were positive.
Friday saw the full field take the track for separate three-hour sessions during the day and at night. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing duo of Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal led the way, with Sato pacing the daytime session (187.022 MPH) and Rahal posting the top speed at night (189.090 MPH).
Saturday was more of the same, as Sato’s Dallara-Honda was again quickest in the daytime session, the 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner posted a top speed of 189.728 MPH.
The dominance from Sato would continue into the evening, as he again posted a top speed 189.855 MPH.
Although there is still some concern about whether or not the new aero kit will lead to a better on-track product when the series returns for the race of April 7, early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive after the only open preseason test of 2018.
In a banner winter for INDYCAR teams and their respective partnerships, the series continues with positive momentum as many organizations announced new sponsorship agreements.
Announced in the last month, drivers from Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing each received either new sponsors or were fortunate to have strengthened their relationships with existing partners.
From Andretti Autosport, the satellite No. 98 team led by car owner Bryan Herta and driver Marco Andretti locked in a six-race deal with U.S. Concrete. The deal includes April’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the entire month of May including the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 102nd Indianapolis 500, the Texas Indy 600 in June, Pocono Raceway’s ABC Supply 500 in August and the season finale Grand Prix of Sonoma in September.
For Chip Ganassi Racing, they scored by big securing PNC Bank to primary sponsor four-time series champion Scott Dixon and his No. 9 entry for 2018.
A Pittsburgh connection through and through, team owner Chip Ganassi stated at the February 6 press conference that his first checking account as a youth was with PNC Bank. The company, then a regional banking chain, has now blossomed into a global institution with more than 2,500 branches nationwide.
After the team was left to scrap together any possible sponsorship they could in 2017, Dixon and his No. 9 crew will have the full support of PNC in 2018.
With a creatively-designed blue, orange and white paint scheme, this particular UAK-18 IndyCar is sure to pop at the race track and on television screens in 2018.
Image courtesy of NASCAR.