Drivers in the Middle, Where Now?

I honestly don’t know how so much time has gone by since I last blogged. I had wanted to get a new post out with the drivers that fell in 11th-20th position in the championship points. A week and a half later I am finally getting to it. Good new is a lot has happened so it will be more fact than speculation. Of course, I will give my thoughts on if I’m happy or not with the decision. Let’s start

Takuma Sato only had on top 5 but several top 10 finishes. As one of the older guys in the paddock there was plenty of speculation on where he might be for the 2022 season. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has announced that Takuma will not be driving for them next year. Honestly, because we know Honda supports him and he won the Indianapolis 500 for RLL in 2020, I was surprised he didn’t have one more year with RLL. Most believe he will drive for Dale Coyne Racing in 2022. Sato is not my favorite but I’ve always liked him. I’d like to watch him race another season or two.

Rinus VeeKay, this young kid is so much fun to watch both on and off the track. On the track he had a great start to the season and won on the road course at Indianapolis. Off the track, he has a signature spin he does for driver introductions and wears a cowboy hat to “fit in” while in Nashville. He is just energetic and fun. Rinus will continue driving for Ed Carpenter Racing and I am thrilled.

Jack Harvey has been so close to getting his first win. Driving for Meyer Shank Racing, Jack is that driver and team that you root for. However, Jack will not be returning to MSR and instead will fill the 45 car at Rahal. I see this as kinda a lateral move. While RLL has more career wins both teams seem pretty even to me. I am glad Jack will be continuing in the IndyCar series.

Scott McLaughlin – I wasn’t sure what I thought of him when he came into the series but I’ve enjoyed having him in the series. Scott won Rookie of the Year and showed plenty of talent. Racing for Penske I think he has a good chance of getting a win next season.

Romain Grosjean – What a fun guy to watch race. He pulls daring moves but can pull them off without too much carnage. He works his way up the field and is incredibly competitive. He had a pole and a couple podium finishes and the smile he had never went away. Romain loves driving for IndyCar and IndyCar loves him. That said, I desperately wished he would have stayed with Dale Coyne Racing. They were doing great and Dale’s team can win. I liked that combination. Romain most likely made the wiser decision to move to Andretti Autosport. He will be driving the No. 28 DHL car that Ryan Hunter-Reay has driven the last several years. I personally think it is one of the ugliest cars and driver suits. It’s a car I’ve rooted against every race in the past so now I will have to readjust because I will definitely be cheering for Romain to have a great season.

Sebastien Bourdais is a super talented driver that drives for the struggling AJ Foyt Racing. We’ve seen small glimmers of hope as Bourdais had two top five finishes but the team still needs to work on getting those race wins. I hope Bourdais continues with Foyt because I think the consistency will help. I don’t think there is confirmation on whether or not he will drive for Foyt.

Ryan Hunter-Reay – I’ve never been a fan so I am not sorry that Ryan will not be driving in IndyCar next season. He doesn’t bring anything to the sport and hasn’t won in a couple years. I won’t miss him.

Conor Daly – Conor is that good driver that just can’t catch a break. He seems to have the worst luck on the track and often seems to be involved in the accidents through no fault of his own. He managed to place 18th in the points while switching between Carpenter and Carlin racing so honestly he did better than drivers with permanent and established teams. I’d love to see Daly full time with Ed and if Ed still wants to drive the ovals then Ed can be the third car for those races. There are so few ovals these days and he already runs the third for Indy so I think that makes perfect sense. Perhaps then with the stability of a full time gig, Conor could get some podiums and maybe even a win. Conor failed to even get a top 10 in 2021.

Ed Jones– I honestly don’t even know what to say about Jones. He isn’t impressive on the track and his personality doesn’t grab you either. I really don’t expect to see him back in IndyCar next year. I have not heard where he might end up and don’t believe he brings any sponsorship money to make himself marketable.

James Hinchcliffe It breaks my heart that James will not be full time in IndyCar next year. After being let go by Arrow at the end of 2019, putting together some races in 2020 and then landing a full time ride at Andretti Autosport in 2021, James IndyCar career has fizzled out. James had a ridiculously bad year with Andretti and it wasn’t a big surprise to learn he wouldn’t be back. He will be driving in the IMSA weather tech championship in 2022. I haven’t heard if there is any chance he might also be helping out on the IndyCar NBC broadcast team. James does wonderful in the booth and the pits and would be a marvelous addition to the broadcast team. I really hope that happens because IndyCar won’t be the same without James.

So that got us through most of the full time drivers. We have a few more to cover and some part timers looking to break into the series full time. Hopefully, it won’t take me as long to get to those. If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts and where you agree or disagree.

A Sweltering Race Day in St. Louis

Years from now when you ask me what I remember from this race I will tell you it was a hot day. It was probably the hottest race that I have personally attended. We had paddock passes and usually enjoy just walking up and down the paddock but this year we sought shade in the hottest part of the day and eventually a cooling station. Qualifying was at 4:00 so during the time we had between qualifying and green flag we were able to enjoy the paddock without the immense heat from the mid afternoon. Due to the heat and the condensed day, with practice, qualifying and race all on Saturday we did not have as many opportunities to see drivers and teams, however the drivers were out and talking with fans so much more than I expected given the heat and busy day. They really are the best.

We left Friday afternoon and our drive seemed to take forever. Somewhere south of Springfield, IL our GPS rerouted us saying our previous route would have added 90 minutes to our drive. Not sure if it was construction or an accident but thankful we didn’t get stuck in that mess. We arrived in St. Louis around 8:00 p.m. and went directly to the Spaghetti Factory for dinner. We walked over the the Gateway Arch after, seeing the Arch lit up at night is a sight we never grow tired of. We stayed in a cabin about 30 minutes out of town so we headed there.

Saturday morning we went to Scott Air Force Base for a quick tour with my son, Matthew. Matthew enlisting with the Air National Guard in November and is waiting for his Basic Training dates. We then made our way to World Wide Technology Raceway, formerly Gateway Motorsports Park. Upon entrance the first tent we saw was the Air National Guard so of course we had to stop.

We saw several drivers and friends in the paddock and stands. It is always so fun to catch up with everyone. I had purchased a shirt for race day in hopes of seeing Arie Luyendyk. Arie always comments on which driver I have on my shirt. I purchased a Luyendyk shirt to see if he noticed. Well it was a black shirt and I switched it out to a tank top because of the heat. When I did run into Arie I pulled it out and told him my story. He laughed and then pointed out that he wasn’t on the shirt. The shirt has his Domino’s car and his autograph but not a picture of him. Haha, he is vain. Anyone know where I can get an Arie Luyendyk shirt with his picture?

Qualifying ran smooth with no one hitting the wall. Will Power won the pole and after his win at Indy last week he seemed to be on a roll so I chose him for my fantasy league. Let’s just say I’m no longer leading my league. Power was still able to make the podium but Penske teammate, Josef Newgarden won that top spot, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Pre race show

WWT Raceway president, Curtis Francois along with the Bommarito Automotive Group but on a great event and that includes the pre race ceremonies. Curtis announced that he and Jay Frye signed a five year deal with IndyCar. He then announced that the Bommarito group would also continue to sponsor the race for the next five years. Then there was a tribute to First Responders, which included more police cars than you could count. They did a lap around the track, followed by a second lap with lights and sirens on. Of course there was the invocation, the singing of the National Anthem and a flyover. The flyover consisted of the Lima Lima Flight Team and a KC-135 refueling tanker. Matthew loved that part as he will be working on the KC-135 with the Air National Guard. He had the biggest smile on his face as it flew over. After the command to start engines the cars pay tribute to the Indianapolis 500 but lining up three wide for a lap. They then go to the traditional two wide for the green flag. I love all the extras in the pre race show.

The race went green but quickly went to yellow. Cars made it fine around the first lap so it appeared we would have a good, clean start but by lap two Ed Jones was racing Graham Rahal and ended up taking them both out of the race. So frustrating for Graham who finally qualified well and looked to maybe have a good race.

Before the green flag flew again Dalton Kellett and Ed Carpenter touched and the yellow remained. Takuma Sato was the reason the green flag was waved off a bit later and then when the race finally returned to green, Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden made contact. Debris was on the track so once again the yellow came out. It appeared it would be a quick yellow but a problem with the track lights not turning off caused confusion as the flag man waved green but the track stayed yellow. Finally around lap 25, after 21 laps under yellow we got the race going. Later, Ed Carpenter made contact with the wall and they most frustrating incident of the night was when Rinus VeeKay made contact with Scott Dixon and Alex Palou. Palou had been the points leader but this sadly dropped him down to second. Dixon was able to return later, I heard he was 80 laps down but turning the fastest laps. VeeKay was also done for the night. Alexander Rossi hit the wall, ending a promising race for him. Colton Herta also had a heartbreaking night when he pitted but broke the half-shaft. He went out on track but it was obvious something was wrong, he immediately pitted and we learned the problem soon after, his night was done. Josef Newgarden had a strong race all night and it the end he took the checkered flag.

WWT Raceway opens up the track to spectators shortly after the checkered flag. It would be nice if they had more ways to enter and could wait for the fans before announcing the winners on the podium but it is still a fun opportunity to walk on the track after the race. We usually go out and walk a little bit but this year we walked the entire track. This helps with leaving the parking lot as the crowds are long gone.

The race in St. Louis is always a favorite. A race on an oval is also always a favorite. Having so many things to do in and around St. Louis also makes this a fun race weekend. We look forward to returning.

A couple things to note

Romain Grosjean made his oval debut and it was something to see. While watching a race in person I’m not always aware of what is going on farther back in the field but every time Grosjean would make a pass the crowd went nuts. Grosjean kept passing cars and made the race very entertaining. I’m not sure what happened that eventually put him a lap down but he spent a portion of the race running in the top ten. I think it’s safe to say we will see in on more ovals. After the race Romain walked across the track to the fence to great fans, many of whom were wearing purple Grosjean shirts. I love having him in IndyCar.

The crowd at the fence to meet Grosjean

I can’t let this day pass without a word about Justin Wilson. Six years ago today we lost him after a tragic accident at Pocono Raceway. Justin was our families favorite driver and we still miss him terribly. We had the pleasure of meeting him several times and every time was special. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

Justin at Milwaukee 2015

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.

Long Beach

  Race Notes

Finally watching live

Roger Penske to drive pace car at Indy

Conor Daly is becoming my favorite. Starting 13th. Not bad. Has some experience. 

Hate that Marco starts last. 

Hinch hopefully has a good weekend. 
Hubby bought a boat so I’m no longer live. 
Chilton- jumping curb. Race control finally says no. 

Lap 40- no yellows
Smart move for Dixon lap 52 pit when stuck in traffic. 

And just like that Dixon won the race. 

Pagenaud just in front of Dixon. Tires just on blend line coming off pit lane. Wow. Race control reviewing. Simon given a warning. Wow. Race winning move was actually a violation. Kinda sucks. 

Dixon told no penalty and Dixon is on it. The race is on!

Sato is 6th. Many push to pass left. Looking good. 
Rahal biggest mover. 

Sato passes TK. Cmon Sato!

Hinch so close to Power

New system would be no warnings. Mike Hull upset. 

Not a lot of passing so the line crossing played a huge role in Pagenauds win  

Sato 6 push to pass left. 

Montoya blocks Sato- I’m not a Montoya fan so yes he should be penalized. Regardless Sato proves to be a threat to Montoya. No action taken. 

Cmon Pagenaud 

Sweet!  

5th for Sato

Hinch in 8th, Daly-13th

Didn’t need another Penske win but glad for Pagenaud. 

Feel for Dixon but I know how this win is for Pagenaud after going winless last year. 

5th win for Pags continues to lead in championship 

I decided to leave my race notes in my post. I just jot down a few things during the race to help me write after.

 I was very excited to finally be watching a race live. The first two races we had commitments so I watched St. Pete on the DVR and listened live to Phoenix on IndyCar radio. Both were enjoyable but I prefer watching live. Then Long Beach turned out to be just a ho hum race until we get to the move Simon Pagenaud made cutting over the blend line. 

Helio Castrineves won the pole and Chevy’s dominated as we have seen in the past. The race got off clean except for a little bit of debris but I never heard or saw who damaged their bodywork so it must not have been too bad. The entire race stayed green and wasn’t very exciting. Max Chilton continually took a short cut, not going around a curb. I loved that. He found a shorter way- why didn’t everyone use it? Finally race control told him to stop but he had done it quite a few times. The race continued on without too much excitement. Well at least not in the race. Here at home I got a text from Steve saying he bought a boat. My husband usually does not just make big purchases on the spur of the moment so that was a surprise. I paused the tv and got some details. Looks like our summer just got a bit more exciting. 

I returned to the race. The leaders were being held up by race traffic and Dixon pitted. I thought for sure that was the race winning move and that we would see another win for Dixon. We probably would have too except that when Simon Pagenaud exited pit lane he crossed over the blend line placing himself in front of Scott Dixon and took over the race lead. The TV coverage immediately showed that Pagenaud made an error and would most likely be penalized. Early in the coverage it was explained that any car exiting pit lane must keep the right side tires from crossing the yellow line. Pagenaud was oh so close but the replay clearly shows all four tires crossing the line and it was a move that put him in the race lead. I can only imagine that Dixon was not overly aggressive because he assumed Pagenaud would be given a penalty and that the minimum penalty would be giving up the spot. That was what I thought anyway. Turns out Pagenaud was only given a warning and was able to keep the race lead. Once Dixon learned this you could see him push harder to get passed but was never able to and Simon Pagenaud won the race, his first win with Team Penske. 

I didn’t want a Penske win not did I want a second win for Dixon. I did want a new winner for the season so I guess I should be thankful for that. I always root for the smaller teams so while I am glad Simon finally won again I am also disappointed. Dixon winning two races in a row would have been a disappointment too. Of course regardless of the winner the biggest disappointment was the non call from Race Control. I understand a warning if a car went over the line but did not gain positions however that was not the case.  I don’t believe Pagenaud purposely cheated so I think a drive through would have been harsh but I did expect him to have to give up the position and let Scott Dixon pass. So I leave the race with mixed emotions. Glad Pagenaud won, yet disappointed in how it happened. I expected more from the new steward system. 

Let’s talk Honda’s. Clearly they are not the preferred engine/aero kit but Takuma Sato finished fifth and I swear he would have passed Montoya if we had a couple more laps. Loved seeing AJ Foyt racing having such a good weekend. Hinch did well too after two not so good races. As I said in my race notes- Conor Daly is becoming a favorite of mine. He started and finished 13th. I would have loved to see him in the top ten but he held his own and I’m looking forward to watching him improve as the season continues. 

Less than a week until the race at Barber.  Personally, I’m hoping it’s the week we see a team other than Penske or Ganassi win.