When It Rains, It Pours
As is usually the case, news has begun to pour out of the Verizon IndyCar Series now that the holidays are way behind us. Fortunately for Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee – our friends on Trackside – the news always pours out on Tuesday’s, the normal night for their weekly show to air so they can discuss the news items almost as soon as they happen. They always joke that it happens that way; but it is so frequent, I’m beginning to think there is some truth to it.
Every now and then, the news cycle to discuss on their Tuesday night show is something not so positive. That was not the case last night. Three stories broke within about two hours of each other yesterday and they were all good news, even though they were somewhat expected.
Spencer Pigot Returns to ECR: One of the worst kept secrets over that last week or so has been that Spencer Pigot would return to the No.20 car for the non-ovals. Ed Carpenter will continue to drive the car on ovals, but step out of it on the non-ovals. Last year was the first season with the two-driver arrangement in that car that did not produce a win or podium finish. Mike Conway won twice in 2014, while Luca Filippi earned a second-place finish at Toronto in 2015. Pigot’s best finish at Ed Carpenter Racing was a seventh at Mid-Ohio.
Pigot also ran three races for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the early part of the season, as part of his “scholarship” for winning the 2015 Indy Lights title. He debuted with a fourteenth place finish at St. Petersburg. He followed that up with an impressive eleventh-place finish in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He completed the tri of races as Graham Rahal’s teammate with an uneventful run in the Indianapolis 500 that saw him start twenty-ninth, run out of fuel during a caution and subsequently finish twenty-fifth, in the last car running. But he gained valuable experience and brought the car home, albeit five laps down.
There was no word on whether or not Pigot would run a third car in the “500” for ECR, alongside Carpenter and fulltime teammate JR Hildebrand. I have a good idea that when May rolls around, sponsorship dollars for a third car will have been found and we’ll see the young Californian at the Speedway.
I expect better things for Pigot in 2017. It’s not that his rookie campaign was a disaster, but stints at two teams doesn’t help when you are trying to manage the gap between Indy Lights and the Verizon IndyCar Series. To put things into perspective, Pigot started ten of the sixteen races last season and scored 165 points. Third-year driver Jack Hawksworth started all sixteen races last season and amassed only sixty-four points more. That makes what Pigot did as a rookie that much more impressive.
If ECR can field a third car for Pigot in the Indianapolis 500 and he can start all of the non-ovals this season, I think you will see some strong results from the young American driver on the All-American team of ECR.
Foyt and Chevrolet Make it Official: With Honda moving to Chip Ganassi racing, it was greatly assumed that AJ Foyt Enterprises would become a Chevrolet team to balance things out. But with the Honda to Ganassi confirmation coming in early October, we expected a similar announcement for Chevrolet to Foyt to follow in short order. It didn’t happen.
As the weeks turned into months, there was still no announcement or confirmation that Foyt would be running the bow-tie powered engines in 2017. It made no sense that Honda would expand to four more cars, while Chevy lost four without picking up a team. Foyt seemed like the logical choice since Andretti, Coyne, Rahal and Schmidt already had solid ties to Honda. Still we heard nothing, even though Foyt was active in signing Carlos Muñoz and Conor Daly to replace the departed Hawksworth and Takuma Sato.
Amid growing speculation that there was a problem getting a power plant settled for 2017, Larry Foyt finally made it official yesterday by sending out a press release and tweeting out they would be a Chevy team for 2017.
This completes the much-needed fresh start for this team. 2017 will mean new aero kits, new engines, new drivers and one of the teams based out of Indianapolis while the other stays housed in Houston. The jury is still out on how that last point will work out, but I see nothing but positives in the rest of those changes.
I’ve never hidden the fact that AJ Foyt is my favorite driver of all time. It would make sense that I would pull for his team to win, no matter how futile it seems. This team has teased us with overhauls in previous offseasons, only to disappoint us about halfway through each season. Let’s hope the momentum from these changes continue throughout the entire season this time.
Firestone Extends IndyCar Contract: If you are like me, this is the only announcement from yesterday that caught me by surprise. I wasn’t aware that the contract was up for renewal or perhaps Firestone just decided the time was right to extend the deal. Regardless, it is a good sign that one of the long-term partners has re-upped their commitment to the series. It is obvious that they see value in the series and have made the business decision to continue.
Most of us remember when Firestone threatened to leave about six ago. The thought of an inexperienced tire maker coming into the series scared most drivers half to death. As much as I believe in free enterprise and fair competition, I don’t feel that way about tires. I remember the tire war of the nineties. We were fortunate that there were no serious issues then – unlike the ones that NASCAR experienced when Hoosier tire tried to come into Winston Cup in 1994. Without going into accusatory specifics, the results were disastrous. Those that remember those days will know what I’m talking about. We need no such tire wars in IndyCar, nor does the series need a tire manufacture unfamiliar with the traits of these cars trying to design a safe and compatible tire.
Starting this year, there will be a bigger allotment of tires for each team. Plus for the first time, teams on non-ovals will be allowed to test with one set of the red alternate tire on Friday practices to get adjusted to them, rather than seeing them for the first time during the first round of knock-out qualifying.
There can be a lot of squabbles and divisions inside the IndyCar paddock. Fortunately, tire safety is not one of them. It is universally agreed that Firestone builds the best racing tire out there. The Verizon IndyCar Series is lucky to have Firestone back on board for the near future.
I anticipate a lot of news (mostly good) coming from the Verizon IndyCar Series in the coming days and weeks. We are now less than two months from the green flag dropping in St. Petersburg. It will be here before you know it.