Arrow McLaren SP-How did things get so messed up?

You would have to be living under a rock (at least in the IndyCar world) to not know the latest news about Arrow McLaren SP and their new driver line up and how they completely screwed James Hinchcliffe. If you are living under a rock, or are new to IndyCar look up the articles by Marshall Pruett and Robin Miller. You can also check out the Trackside podcast with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee. Over the years I have found Marshall and Robin the most reliable for news and then love to hear Curt and Kevin’s thoughts on Trackside after the news has dropped. Of course my fellow bloggers are another great source.

So, in a nutshell, Arrow McLaren SP hired Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew for the 2020 season and left James Hinchcliffe out in the cold. I have so many thoughts on this and only one of them are good. Might as well start with the good so I can write about what I really want to share.

The Good-

Pato O’Ward is not a true rookie but he did not get a fair shake last season and showed some amazing talent when he was running. This kid deserves to be in IndyCar. Oliver Askew is last years Indy Lights champion and has shown great potential for the last couple years. This is the ladder series working and two up and coming rookies are being given a great chance to break into IndyCar. I’m thrilled to see them both with full time rides.

The Bad-

How in the world do you give two rookies a full time ride at the expense of a veteran, winner and Indy 500 pole sitter driver. Of course I’m speaking of James Hinchcliffe. James is not some old man past his prime. He is still competitive (although I will admit 2019 was a tough year), he is engaging, he is the driver that can grow IndyCar and he is an all around great personality. Does AMSP not realize that by firing James they are alienating the fans? Twitter is full of posts from people saying they now have someone to root against, that they can’t wait to boo them. I don’t disagree, except that it is not Pato and Oliver’s fault and I don’t plan to boo them as drivers.

When this new team first formed I had a strong feeling that Hinch would not be driving for them. It just didn’t make sense to me. Hinch is the face of Honda, he can’t drive a Chevy. I truly expected a statement from Hinch in the days/weeks following the newly formed team that Hinch would be driving for a different Honda team. What I didn’t expect was a team announcement saying that Hinch is out.

Just recently it was announced that Chip Ganassi Racing would be running a third car. Honestly, that alone is big news. I thought Chip was happy with two cars. That Marcus Erickson would be the third car was a bit surprising too. I’m glad Marcus found a landing spot but you can’t help but wonder now if that could have been James’ position had he known AMSP was giving him the boot.

Who is running this team? I loved Sam Schmidt’s team. He worked his way up developing drivers and skills as an owner in Indy Lights. Sam dominated there. Eventually he started winning in IndyCar. I love watching the underdog win. Then the Schmidt team moved up more, they were no longer considered the underdog but were moving closer to being a top team. So did Sam sell out? I would have loved to watch things continue as they had been. Schmidt Peterson was becoming a powerhouse in the IndyCar world and with the Arrow sponsorship they could really compete. Now everyone says Sam is still the boss I don’t know how true that is. Time will tell but I wonder who is really pulling the strings and making the big decisions.

I would have loved to have seen McLaren join IndyCar full time and start a new team and increase car number. I’m not happy with them taking over an existing team and changing so many things, engine manufacturer, drivers and who knows what else.

The Honda seats are gone. With the announcement that James is out coming so late it is much harder to find a ride. Marcus signed with Ganassi as previously stated and Santino Ferrucci may have been looking to move to Foyt but appears to be staying with Dale Coyne Racing. Andretti is bursting at the seams and while Rahal Letterman Lannigan would be the best fit, there doesn’t seem to be enough money in the mix to make that work. Another great spot would be a second car at Meyer Shank Racing but MSR has not run a full season with Jack Harvey yet. I don’t think they make the jump from partial season to running a full season with two drivers.

All in all it is just a bad move from AMSP. They are not gaining any new fans by this move and better have some PR plans in the works to smooth over the damage done by firing the driver most liked and most recognized in the paddock.

So what happens next? Does James find the funding to join a Honda team? Does he look at the Chevy teams? Does he take a “gap year” and do the Dan Wheldon thing- announcing and pit runs with Robin Miller. I guarantee we will see James at both the 500 and the Toronto race but he will be incredibly missed if he doesn’t find a full time ride. What does IndyCar do to make sure their most popular driver has a ride?

I heartbroken that James is in this position. All you have to do is read my previous posts to see how much we like and admire James. He has been a family favorite for forever. I’m disgusted with AMSP for allowing this to happen. If James chose to remain with Honda I expected AMSP to graciously release him from his contract, however when he chose to stay they should have been grateful and fulfilled their commitment to him. I’m also concerned about what this means for Robert Wickens in the future. AMSP continues to state that Robert will have a position in the team when he is able to drive again but I’d sincerely question it if I were Robert. I hope they honor it, just not holding my breath.

During the 2020 season I will be cheering for James in whatever role he has. I will also be following Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew and wishing the best for them while simultaneously wanting to see AMSP struggle. I understand I can’t have it both ways but that is how I feel. I have no ill will towards the drivers, just not thrilled with the team. This frustrates me beyond belief because I have always been a huge fan of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. They have read and retweeted my blog posts. I know crew members and always stop to say Hi at races. We’ve loved watching Sam race in the semi- autonomous car. The thought of not being a fan of the team would have been inconceivable to me a couple months ago and yet just like that everything changed.

James, my boys and I wish you the best. You are a class act and we are honored to know you. You are so great with the fans and I can’t imagine a season without you. I believe though that you will find a way to be driving full time and you will prove once again why you are the heart of IndyCar to so many fans.

https://twitter.com/hinchtown/status/1189904881458597888?s=21

Pocono, race review and track safety

I remember watching the 2015 Pocono race on the edge of my seat. That race was so fun and exciting, seven wide on the front straight, a fox running across the track and lots of entertaining racing. After Justin was hit by debris and killed my thoughts changed. As stated a million times before Justin was our favorite driver and losing him will always hurt. For that reason I always have mixed feelings when the IndyCars return to Pocono. Then in 2018, Robert Wickens was involved in a horrible crash that a year later he is still fighting to overcome. I prayed for the race and every driver by name before the green flag flew. I love watching racing at Pocono but it scares me.

One lap in and my heart jumps because we have a huge accident and cars are leaving the ground. Thankfully the cars stayed relatively low and didn’t see the disastrous results of hitting the catch fence full on. Takuma Sato on the high side, for reasons unknown, turned into Alexander Rossi, who had Ryan Hunter-Reay beneath him. All three lost control and Sato landed upside down on RHR’s car and one of the cars was on fire. James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist were also caught up in the accident. James had some scary moments but was fine. Rosenqvist caught some air and was dangerously close to the catch fence. Thankfully one wheel stayed down and he dragged along the wall without hitting the fence full on. The AMR safety team responded immediately but Felix was the last attended. He also was the only one who required further evaluation. We were told it was for non life threatening injuries but I am very curious to know what exactly happened to him.

The race was red flagged on lap four to fix the fence and clean the track. It was a solid 45 minutes later before we returned to green. During the red both Rossi and Hinch’s team decided to take the penalty and work on fixing their cars under the red. I think that was a wise move, especially for Rossi. A lot of work needed to be done and he would be several laps behind regardless, what was a few more. In hindsight it was the right call. Rossi did rejoin the race and had it not been called by rain he would have moved up a couple more positions than he did. Every point counts when you are trying to win the championship. Honestly, I don’t totally understand why Hinch went back out. He was 10th in the championship and so far out of the running that I didn’t really see the need to for him but that’s why I don’t get paid the big bucks to make decisions like that.

When we returned to green flag racing it was a bit processional for the next stint. Spencer Pigot made contact bringing out the yellow. The skies were darkening and rain looked like it might factor in after the halfway point. That would mean it could be an official race and be finished when the rain appeared. That made everyone a bit more competitive and we saw some fun racing. Power and Pagenaud battled for the lead. Santino Ferrucci made up several positions and is always exciting to watch. Tony Kanaan even had a great day finishing 8th when the race was called on lap 128 when lightning enter the vicinity. When the red flag flew it was Will Power in the lead. The race was eventually called and Power continued his streak of winning every season.

I think most are happy with Power winning. Josef remains the championship points leader and I think has a great chance of winning if he doesn’t dnf in the last three races. So the big question that remains is should IndyCars race at Pocono.

Pocono seems to have a lot of bad luck but that is exactly what it is- bad luck and coincidence. Justin Wilson’s accident in 2015 had nothing to do with the track, he was hit by debris. A couple years ago every race ran at Pocono that particular season was delayed by rain. Last year Robert Wickens has his horrible crash. Again this crash was very early in the race. Was there really such a need to be pushing that hard so early. I’m not saying it was Robbie’s fault, it was an accident, but perhaps showing some restraint early in a 500 mile race might help. Then this year-more bad luck. Rain caused practice to not take place so race control decided to cancel qualifying and run an extra long practice. This is fine except we saw some cars we don’t normally see running faster times up front. Most noticeably was Tony Kanaan. TK was fastest in practice but because the starting grid is based on entrant points TK started in the back of the field. This is not how fans want to see a race begin. The back luck continued when the lap one accident took place. Thankfully everyone was fine but again for fans this is not how we grow our sport, now we have a 45 minute red flag. Add insult to injury and the race ends because of rain. So many things I just described are not in the tracks control. They are just a series of unfortunate events.

Most fans realize the dangers of racing and see no reason to take Pocono off the schedule. Social media has made it so easy for us to interact with the drivers that we come to know them on a more personal level. We know about their families, pets, likes and dislikes, hobbies and the list goes on. That makes us so much more invested and so much less willing to put them in harms way but the truth is every time they strap in at any track they take a chance that it could be their last time. Robert Wickens tweeted yesterday about the need to stop racing at Pocono but do you blame him. He is living every day with the injuries he suffered after his crash. I can’t imagine he will ever feel good about racing there. James Hinchcliffe had a very different reaction returning to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The track wasn’t blamed. Indy has the highest fatality rate and yet no one discusses taking it off the schedule.

I believe racing can continue to grow safer and safer. We saw it yesterday as a piece of debris was blocked by the new deflector piece (can’t recall its exact name) on James Hinchcliffe’s car. What might have caused a serious injury was deflected from the cockpit and did not hit James. IndyCar continues to make great improvements in safety. I think they can still look at some things at Pocono. Perhaps a different aero configuration, maybe single file starts, less horsepower or more? I won’t pretend I k ow what would help make the racing safer but I’m confident IndyCar continues to keep their racing as safe as possible at every track.

Pocono has seem some crazy years, some sad years but that is what the drivers signed up for, what they live for. I respect Max Chilton, and Mike Conway for admitting that oval racing is not something they desire to do. Ask Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly, Tony Kanaan, I think they get a little skip in their step when they are given a chance to race on an oval. It’s their passion. Let’s keep moving to make IndyCar safer but let’s not blame Pocono. I hope it remains on the schedule. I will say a few extra prayers and hold my breath during side by side racing but I know what happened at Pocono could have anywhere.

Great First Day at Road America

After camping at Road America last year we knew we would return. The race is so fun but being at the track all day and night is amazing.

We arrived around 1:00 and promptly set up the camper. It’s a perfect time to arrive, no one in the line before us and easy to pull into our site. The sites are tight but as we expect from IndyCar fans everyone is so polite and makes sure you have plenty of room and assists in any way they can. Randy backed the camper in perfect and we were set.

As we walked to the paddock we ran into George and Susan Phillips and proudly showed that we were sporting our new OilPressure backpack. Not much activity in the paddock as the teams and drivers were preparing for the afternoon practice. We found seats and watched both practice and the pit stop practice. A gentleman in front of us asked if pit positions would be changed if they qualified better. I explained that pit position was determined on how they qualified at the previous race. Another woman chimed in and further explained what I was saying. Randy thought it was funny that the females were explaining racing to the males.

After practiced we were back in the paddock. Ran into friends Dave and Kathy and saw a few drivers. We also saw Jim Ayello. Besides the fact that I love Jim’s work, he grew up in my current home town so I always love seeing him.

After dinner, our next door neighbor loaned us his golf cart. We went to visit our neighbors from last year. On the way we drove through the paddock and saw James Hinchcliffe. We stopped, and as we always do, showed him the checkered flag necklace and he recognized us. He laughed and said it’s funny that the necklace is the identifier. We talked for a couple minutes. I told him we saw Robbie at Indy and that Robbie told us James delivered the necklace to him. James responded, “I told you I would give it to him.” I said how much we appreciated Ryan Briscoe giving James his and then James giving one to Robbie. We asked how Robbie was and James said, “Great!” We asked how the car felt and thanked him for taking time to talk with us. It was a great visit with no one else in the paddock area so while we still didn’t want to take up his time we also didn’t have to rush out to give someone else a chance for a selfie or autograph.

Said it before and I will say it again– IndyCar drivers are the best!

Don’t even get me started on NASCAR. Saw a post today that the social media team for NASCRAP photoshopped the Justin Wilson tribute on the Golden Gate Bridge. They deleted the IndyCars and put the stock cars in their place. Ridiculous even if it was a memorial but infuriating because it was. Get some class NASCAR.

We spoke to no less than three people this weekend who have said how polite and considerate the IndyCar crowd is and that when NASCAR is at the track the facility is trashed with garbage everywhere. That is just sad. You want to see real racing and have an enjoyable sporting event- nothing beats IndyCar.

IndyCar Drivers are the Best- Part Two

Every time we attend a race I wonder how it can come close to the fun of the previous race. We have had so many cherished interactions with drivers and I feel that this can’t be the norm and yet somehow every time we have something wonderful happen that makes the race special. We had several cool experiences this year and I hope to blog about them and submit a race review soon. For now though I have to go back to a story I love to tell about a checkered flag necklace. You can read the original post here but I will also give a quick review.

My boys have made checkered flag necklaces at the track for years. We gave a bracelet to James Hinchcliffe the week before his horrible accident in 2015. That year at the 500 we gave Ryan Briscoe a necklace to give to Hinch. Ryan gave it to Hinch in the hospital and over the years when Hinch sees us wearing ours he remembers us.

After Robert Wickens horrible crash at the 2018 Pocono race we made shirts to wear to the Gateway race and made Robert a necklace similar to the one we gave James. We saw James at the Gateway race, gave him the necklace and he said he would give it to Robbie. It wasn’t much but just wanted a way to show our support to Robert.

Today after the race we were in the garage area. We saw a few drivers and before we left, we made one last stop at the Schmidt Peterson garages. James Hinchcliffe came out and I held up my necklace and said to James, “Remember us? Can we get a picture.” James face shows that yes he does recognize us- or at least the necklace. We took the picture and told him how glad we were he made the race. As we started to leave we saw that Robert Wickens was coming towards us. I’m never timid when I see a driver, I start moving towards them and speaking before I even think about it. This is so out of my character in other areas of my life. I went right up to Robbie and started talking. I said something about how happy I was to meet him and also how I knew he would be racing again. I also said we gave James a checkered flag necklace to give to him. He looked at mine and said, “Oh yeah, I got it.” I thanked him for the picture and said again how great it was to meet him.

It blows my mind. The drivers are amazing. I gave the necklace to Hinch at Gateway in August. He recognized me and said he was flying to see Robbie after the race and he would give it to him. So he put it somewhere safe, packed it in a bag and brought it to Robbie. Why? James doesn’t know me, Robbie doesn’t know me, but a fan asked and the driver delivered. IndyCar Drivers Are The Best! The way they interact with the fans is just so impressive. I can’t thank them enough for taking the time to deliver a small handmade gift from a stranger.

As fans who really don’t know the drivers it is so hard when a driver has an accident or a struggle of some type. You want to reach out and let the driver know you are thinking of them, praying for them and are concerned, wishing you could help. When they respond on social media or go the extra step and deliver a checkered flag necklace it means so much. Hopefully, the sentiment is felt on both sides because all we wanted Robert Wickens to know is that we were so concerned for him and praying that he would be able to walk, drive and race again. I’m so grateful to James Hinchcliffe for delivering that necklace and message to Robbie, just as I’m forever grateful to Ryan Briscoe for delivering one to James Hinchcliffe.

So often I am asked why I like IndyCar, it’s just a bunch of cars driving in circles. Well we know it’s so much more than that. But what really makes me a fan is the people in the sport. The drivers are the face of IndyCar and they go above and beyond, but it’s also the team personnel and owners. I can’t tell you how many times Mario Andretti or Roger Penske have stopped and taken a minute to talk with us. Curt Cavin has given me garage passes. Scott on the Arrow Schmidt Peterson team always takes time to say hello at a race and let me know how James and Robert are doing.

I’m so grateful to all the drivers for allowing us into their personal lives. Robert doesn’t need to post his progress on Social Media and yet every week or so we are given an update and allowed to see how he is doing. James was also very open on his recovery. They don’t need to deliver checkered flag necklaces, they could be thrown in the garbage and not thought of again but instead time was taken to deliver a message that the fans love and care for the drivers. It’s a two way street, we love the drivers because they are great with the fans, they love the fans because so many of us respect and care for them. I love IndyCar because IndyCar Drivers are the Best!