It’s been a crazy week for me with some of the projects and things going on in my life, but not as crazy as the amount of IndyCar news we’ve seen come our way over the last week.
Let me try to summarize.
Changes at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (Good ones)
SPM opened the news floodgates last week when they unveiled their cars and officially introduced their drivers for the 2019 season. Of course, we all know that James Hinchcliffe will be back behind the wheel of his trusty Mach 5 (Speed Racer reference) and Formula 1 veteran Marcus Ericsson will pilot the No. 7 machine for his IndyCar debut.
But the announcement went a bit further when it was announced that Arrow Electronics had made a huge commitment to the team, and moving forward the team will be known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
Arrow has been involved with SPM since 2013 and has developed a relationship that goes far beyond the track. It was Arrow that helped customize a Corvette that allowed Sam Schmidt to get back behind the wheel of a car, and they are still firmly behind Robert Wickens as he recovers from his injuries. So much so that it was Wickens’ No. 6 — and Robert himself — that were front and center on the stage, rather than Hinchcliffe and Ericsson.
It’s rare that you can put a sponsor and a team together and refer to them as “family”, but I think in this instance that term really fits. Barring anything unforeseen, this is a relationship that could last a really long time.
Chilton, Kimball back at Carlin Racing
It had really been a quiet off-season as we hadn’t heard much from Carlin, and its drivers Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball. In fact, there were rumors that Kimball wasn’t in Indianapolis with the rest of the drivers for medicals earlier this month.
Any speculation ended when it was announced that the duo would return to Carlin for its sophomore season in the IndyCar series. Chilton, with sponsorship from Gallagher, will be back on a full-time basis, while Kimball will return part-time in 2019 with longtime sponsor Novo Nordisk again on the side of the car.
Again, this is a decision beneficial for both parties. Chilton and Kimball are veteran drivers who can provide solid results while Carlin continues building the team, and they also bring big checks that help too.
Yes, I know that sounds harsh. In the end, though, I think both of them have shown us who they are. Yeah, I know, Chilton has just reached my self-described 50-race mark, the level where I think drivers settle in and begin to improve, but he jumped into a good ride right at the start of his career, and only has eight Top-10 finishes in his IndyCar career. He’s is a solid driver who doesn’t break equipment and on a good day can find the Top 10, and will likely have financial backing for his entire career. Nothing wrong with that.
Kimball is in the same situation. He’s got a win to his credit, runs well at Indy, and can be a Top 10 machine, with the occasional Top 5 finish. And, again, he has financial backing.
For what Carlin probably wants to accomplish this year, the two veterans are a perfect fit, although I think Year 3 in 2020 might see a different approach. Carlin has been successful at every level, and I have no doubts they will make a big jump forward this year and beyond. Will their driver lineup remain the same?
Pato O’Ward impresses at ROC
O’Ward, the reigning Indy Lights champion and driver of the No. 8 Harding Steinbrenner Racing car in 2019, opened a lot of eyes in his home country of Mexico when he had a good showing in last weekend’s Race of Champions.
O’Ward, who won’t turn 20 until May 6, advanced to the semifinal round of both the Nations Cup portion of the competition on Saturday and the individual Race of Champions on Sunday. Overall he won five races in the unique, head-to-head format, and showed why lots of people are excited to see what he will do making the jump to IndyCar.
Harvey, Meyer Shank in for 10 Races in 2019
The slow, steady growth of Meyer Shank Racing continues into 2019 as the team will run a total of 10 races this season, with Jack Harvey again the team’s driver.
MSR will still have a technical partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Harvey’s No. 60 will carry sponsorship from AutoNation and SiriusXM radio. SiriusXM CEO Jim Meyer is an investor in the team.
Michael Shank told Indycar.com:
“We’ve been on a very controlled growth platform, meaning we’re not committing to more than we can afford,” said Shank (at left in photo above). “Our partners are stepping up now to allow us to do 10 (races), which we’re really grateful for. We need to step up now and show we’re capable of running in the top 10. I think we’ve got everything in place to be able to do that.”
In five races last year, the team’s best finish was a 12th at Long Beach, but Harvey and MSR had a great Month of May, with the 25-year-old Brit racing from his 31st starting spot to second before having to pit for fuel with just four laps to go.
It’s really interesting to see how three of the newer teams (MSR, Carlin, Harding) have approached setting up and growing a team. Both Harding and MSR are going with young, talented drivers that it seems they want to build around, while Carlin is counting on established veterans to continue building momentum.
I think in five years all three teams will, to varying degrees, change the landscape somewhat in IndyCar in terms of success, but it will be interesting to see which approach gets there first.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the passing of two members of the motorsports community last week. Both in their own ways contributed greatly to the sport, as well as IndyCar itself.
Friday, NASCAR legend Glen Wood passed away at the age of 93. He helped form Wood Brothers Racing in 1953, and the team has gone on to win 99 races in its history while fielding drivers like Fireball Roberts, Fred Lorenzen, Parnelli Jones, Junior Johnson, A.J. Foyt and David Pearson among others. Glen Wood was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012.
So why am I pointing out a NASCAR guy? Because Glen Wood and the Wood Brothers have a part in Indianapolis 500 history too. In 1965, Ford brought them to Indy to crew for Jim Clark, and they put the pit innovations they developed in stock cars in action on Clark’s beautiful Lotus (one of my five all-time favorite Indy 500 winners).
Clark only pitted twice that day, but his two stops (fuel only) only lasted a combined 41 seconds. That helped Clark win the race by almost two minutes and revolutionized how pit work was done in open wheel racing.
Also passing over the weekend was Betty Rutherford, the wife of three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford. The two had been married for 55 years, after meeting at the Speedway infield hospital in May, 1963 (Rutherford’s rookie run) and marrying just a few weeks later. From all of the stories I read about Mrs. Rutherford, she was very kind and well-respected for the behind-the-scenes work she did for the racing community, especially her charity work.
I can’t say enough nice things about the gang at Pit Lane Parley and how they are nice enough to give me a space on their site. Have you listened to their latest podcast?
Topics covered include: Arrow Global, Robert Wickens and Silly Season, not to mention a discussion on who might be set up for a letdown in 2019?