IndyCar Round-Up for December 8, 2017

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Jack Harvey will run four races in 2018 IndyCar season

Good morning all!  With another week of the offseason in the books, Open-Wheels is taking this opportunity to look back at some of the key headlines in IndyCar since our last IndyCar Round-Up entry in late November.  From the recently announced Andretti Autosport number swap to the latest Danica Patrick news, there is a lot to discuss.  Check out our recaps of those subjects and more in this week’s IndyCar Round-Up.

Jack Harvey, Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announce multi-year IndyCar partnership

Announced at this morning’s PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis, Jack Harvey and Michael Shank Racing will begin a multi-year partnership with Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports that will place the British driver in the IndyCar field for at least four races in 2018, with additional events expected to be confirmed at a later date.

Building on its maiden IndyCar voyage at the 2017 Indianapolis 500 with Harvey, Shank will bring commercial sponsors SiriusXM and AutoNation to the program as primary sponsors.  The entry is slotted to compete in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 in May, as well as the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, Grand Prix of Portland, and the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.  Appearances at the KOHLER Grand Prix of Road America and the Honda Indy Toronto are events still on the table and not yet confirmed.

“I’m absolutely thrilled for this to come together and for everything to be moving forward,” said the 24-year-old Harvey.   “I had a very positive experience racing for Mike Shank in the Indianapolis 500, and it was great to build on that with SPM in the last two races of the year. Now to be racing for Mike and to also have the support of SPM for this program, it is the best of both worlds for me. I want to do as well as we possibly can for AutoNation and SiriusXM, and I cannot wait for St. Pete to get here.”

Working with Andretti Autosport for last May’s Indianapolis 500, an expanded partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports builds on the two races in which Harvey appeared for the team near the end of 2017.  It continues a steady line of development for Michael Shank Racing and positions the saavy Shank for possible full-time entry to the series at a later date.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports confirm failed Calmels Sport Indianapolis 500 deal

Yesterday, what had been suspected by many in the IndyCar community for weeks was finally confirmed. The deal between Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Calmels Sport to put former ChampCar driver Tristan Gommendy in one of the team’s cars for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 has been called off as SPM stated on social media that the two “mutually agreed to end their partnership”.

The departure of Calmels from the deal voids SPM of a great deal of controversy but also a driver for the race, as Gommendy’s status in the event was likely contingent on the funding he brought to the deal.

While today’s announcement of Jack Harvey and Michael Shank Racing joining Schmidt Peterson as technical partners may slightly reduce the chance that SPM runs three cars at Indianapolis, here are the drivers on the shortlist for an additional seat for the 500:

 

Danica Patrick at the 2017 Brickyard 400

The jury is still out on Danica Patrick’s 2018 Indianapolis 500 ride.

Danica Patrick
The most noteworthy name on the list, Patrick has been linked to several rides since announcing her intentions to run the 2018 Indianapolis 500 before retiring from driving competition.

Although Patrick has been associated with other rides such as Ganassi or Dreyer and Reinbold, the vacancy left by Gommendy opens the door for a potential run for Danica. With that being said, the recent comments from Chip Ganassi at this week’s PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis seem to indicate that CGR will not be a landing spot for the former IndyCar and NASCAR driver. Family connections at Dreyer and Reinbold and the team’s relative race success with Sage Karam leave DRR as a possible landing spot.

Patrick’s former boss, Tony Stewart, had his foundation’s name on the same #77 Schmidt Peterson entry in question last year with Jay Howard’s return to the Indianapolis 500.  Sponsorship is still somewhat of a gray area but with nothing set in stone for Patrick, the third SPM car could still be a prime spot for her IndyCar farewell.

Conor Daly
Following his departure from A.J. Foyt Racing after one season, Daly’s name has been linked to multiple full-time rides. Should one not be available, the opportunity for Daly to run at Indianapolis with his 2015 team could be feasible. A full-time ride would end any chances of a reunion, but Daly’s familiarity with SPM could be a bonus if both are left looking for the biggest race of the season.

Oriol Servia
The in-season representative for Schmidt Petersen during this year’s testing of the new aero kit, Servia also ran the team’s third car at the 2016 Indianapolis 500. The veteran brings a wealth of knowledge and a potential advantage for any team that would make the choice to sign him for Indy a great one. The two biggest questions that remain are Servia’s reported focus on an IMSA ride and any potential funding.

Esteban Gutierrez
Gutierrez, a former Formula 1 driver, took over for the injured Sebastien Bourdais at Detroit in June. Despite an unspectacular record in his stint at Dale Coyne Racing, Gutierrez has been linked to a few open rides this offseason and certainly has the funding should the right opportunity present itself.

Other or No Selection
Additional candidates that have recent IndyCar oval experience but no current ride in the series include James Davison, JR Hildebrand and Sebastian Saavedra. With more than five months until the teams head to Indianapolis, opportunities remain aplenty for these drivers or others to put together deals with SPM to run for the team, especially considering the race’s history last-minute deals for rides.  The possibility also remains that SPM could make the choice to not fill the seat and focus on the team’s full-time effort with James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens.

INDYCAR weighing tire reconstruction options for 2018

While a new universal aero kit was destined to bring a re-design of tire compounds in 2018 by Firestone, the official tire provider of INDYCAR has been working closely with the sanctioning body to revise its compound formulas to achieve greater tire degradation for the upcoming season.

Heavily involved in the 2018 universal aero kit testing process, Firestone has gathered data and opinions from various engineers, drivers and series officials to make the most out of this clean slate.  While rule changes such as tire allotment have been the topic of discussion in the paddock lately, the tire manufacturer has its sights set on tire performance in 2018.  IndyCar president of competition, Jay Frye, has sat in on those discussions and offered some insight to Firestone’s plans this week.

Firestone tires will get compound updates in 2018“We’ve discussed the differences between (the) alternate compound (Firestone red) and primary compound (Firestone black) because there were definitely times in the past where that gap wasn’t big enough,” said Frye.  “There has to be a penalty for being on reds too long.  That was not the intent of those tires, that they could last as long as the blacks.”

Considering the removal of nearly 2,000 pounds of downforce when comparing aerodynamic levels of the 2017 manufacture aero kits and the implementation of a new universal aero kit, tires will naturally experience more wear.  Getting that formula right and creating a compound that wears out with consistency while providing safe and competitive racing is the challenge for Firestone, Frye and IndyCar.

“I think we came up with a reset of how big that gap should be going forward,” remarked Frye.  “Firestone were actually already on it, because they had seen the 2018 car as a chance to make significant revisions.  They knew what we were trying to achieve with the new aero concepts so they had simulations going before we even hit the track with it.”

This proactive approach continues to display Firestone’s commitment to the series and is a reason why drivers, engineers and series executives alike give great praise during IndyCar race weekends.

In addition to the tire compound news, Frye confirmed that there will be an additional set of tires available for the following events in 2018: Phoenix, Long Beach, Detroit, Texas and Iowa.  This will give teams added options when considering both practice and race strategies, theoretically creating a better weekend show for fans.

Hinchcliffe suffers testing crash in 2018 universal aero kit at Phoenix

On Wednesday, Honda teams Chip Ganassi Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports continued the 2018 universal aero kit testing regimen by visiting Phoenix Raceway.  Taking part in the test were Ganassi’s four-time series champion, Scott Dixon, and Schmidt Peterson driver and birthday boy James Hinchcliffe.

During an afternoon run at the unique dogleg oval, Hinchcliffe was bringing the car up to speed when he suddenly lost control of the rear end of the car and made contact with the turn 3 wall.  At this point, the team and driver are unsure of what caused the accident.

“We were still getting up to speed on a run – not at full song yet – and hadn’t really been having any issues with the rear,” said Hinchcliffe.  “Then in turns 3/4, the rear just snapped on me.”

James HinchcliffeThe Canadian driver alluded to a possible sign in the telemetry signaling some sort of mechanical malfunction, but was hesitant to detail a cause of the problem just yet.

“I don’t want to speculate but the team found something in the data that was a little questionable so we’ll look into that a bit more and hopefully have a real explanation later.”

Speaking to the differences between 2017’s Honda aero kit and the universal kit to be debut in 2018, the former Dancing with the Stars contestant confirmed there are contrasting handling characteristics with some questions yet to be answered.

“You can feel a pretty big difference,” Hinchcliffe explained.  “You have to drive the car a lot more, that’s for sure…  It’s still to be seen how the cars behave in a pack creating dirty air, but the (tire) degradation should ensure the show is better than in previous years.”

With those adjustments in downforce and the introduction of brand new tire compounds, Hinchcliffe notes that teams will have to engineer completely different setups from the one’s currently in their DW-12 notebook.

“Between the aero changes and weight distribution changes, most of our setups have gone out the door.  We’re starting from scratch.”

Teams will be able to answer more questions following the first of the year, as Firestone is expected to have updated tire compounds available to teams by February’s Phoenix test, at the latest.

Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi swap numbers for 2018

One widely known rumor of the IndyCar offseason was finally unveiled Thursday, as Andretti Autosport announced drivers Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti will switch numbers for the 2018 season.

Rossi will take over the number 27 car and bring his ten-race NAPA Auto Parts sponsorship with him, with Marco Andretti running the 98 car and bringing the number back to its owner, Bryan Herta. Herta, who served as Andretti’s race strategist in 2017, has utilized the number since the 2011 Indianapolis 500, when the late Dan Wheldon took the number to victory lane in his final victory.

After a year away and seeing Rossi take the 98 car to victory in September at Watkins Glen, Herta will be reunited with the car that has cemented his legacy as an owner. With Andretti motivated to shake off the recent struggles and build on the flashes of promise seen during 2017, the hope is that the fourth car number of Marco’s career will be his most successful.

Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner, proved his shocking 500 victory of the previous year was no fluke. His win at Watkins Glen was supplemented by 4 additional top-five finishes and 10 total top-tens. Rossi also started third and led 23 laps in his second Indianapolis 500.

His third season and the new number will bring with it an added successful past. Winning drivers with the number 27 have included Herta, James Hinchcliffe, Jacques Villeneuve and Dario Franchitti, the last two being Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Champions during their time driving with the number.

Mentioned in the Andretti Autosport press release, Rossi will carry NAPA Auto Parts as a primary sponsor in 10 races in 2018.

Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi to be featured in CBS’ Amazing Race, starting January 3

Keeping with Alexander Rossi news, on Thursday the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner announced he will star in the 30th season of CBS’ reality show The Amazing Race.  Joining Rossi in the competition will be his roommate and fellow IndyCar driver Conor Daly.

Competing as “Team INDYCAR,” the duo battled 10 additional two-person teams in a fight for a $1 million prize.  The season premiere of the show is January 3 at 8:00 p.m. eastern.

“It was a pretty crazy experience, definitely different than what I thought it would be – but totally worth it,” said Daly.  “It was fun to meet a lot of different people from different sport, different avenues of life.  The case really was one of the best parts of the show.”

Rossi offered similar sentiments, but conceded that the competition looks much more fierce on television than in person.  “It was different in the sense that it’s not as fast-paced as it appears in the show,” recalled the northern California native.  “It was better than I expected because in the gaps between legs of the race, they actually put you in a hotel and fed you and everything.  So it wasn’t kind of extreme like a ‘Survivor’ (another reality show on CBS) type of process.”

While their tour included visits to 11 different countries in all, it remains to be seen how the duo performed.  While it won’t pay for a 2018 full-time seat, a share of the $1 million prize would certainly help Daly’s Indianapolis 500 efforts.  Or to simply pay rent.

 

Photos courtesy of INDYCAR, Alexander Rossi’s Twitter (@Alexander Rossi), Conor Daly’s Twitter (@ConorDaly22)

Spencer Neff

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