Monday, April 15, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: There is Still a Month but Boy Has It Gone Quiet

Alexander Rossi dominated at Long Beach. Formula One had its 1000th race. Both global motorcycle series had weather cancel a session, however, rain only cancelled a MotoGP practice from Austin while snow cancelled all of Saturday for World Superbike for Assen and caused the Superpole race on Sunday to be dropped in favor of a doubleheader on Sunday. Marc Márquez's winning streak in the United States ended at 12 consecutive starts, the last ten all coming in MotoGP, after he fell in Austin. A local won in Supercross' first trip to the Centennial State in over two decades. Formula E had its seventh different winner from a seventh different team through the first seven races of the 2018-19 season and they will not let you forget it as it stakes its claim for most unpredictable/most competitive motorsports series in the world. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

There is Still a Month But Boy Has It Gone Quiet
Long Beach is a marker in the IndyCar season. It is mid-April. Most of the country is thawed out. Some are still getting snowstorms. Days are longer. Daylight Savings Time has settled in. There are days where you can break out the shorts you haven't seen since early October. Those things aside, something is getting closer. Long Beach is a precursor to the following month. One iconic event leads to another and from here we can start to look to Indianapolis.

It is more than the race itself. It is the start of the 11th hour. This is when the final deals are announced. Someone has put together a program, all the "i's" have been dotted and the "t's" have been crossed and the check cleared. A driver is closer to the dream becoming reality. But this year was different and we didn't have an Indianapolis 500 entry announced on Friday or Saturday or even Sunday morning from Long Beach. We didn't have new sets of hats and polo shirts to stare out. We didn't have ear-to-ear grins with sighs of relief sneaking through beaming smiles. Come to think of it, we haven't had many announcements regarding the month of May since the season started and that is interesting.

The good news is we are a month away from the first practice days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and we have 33 entries on paper but we have not had an Indianapolis 500 entry announced since James Davison confirmed his Dale Coyne-Jonathan Byrd's-Brian Belardi-Brad Hollinger entry on March 8th. The day prior to that Patricio O'Ward confirmed his plans with Carlin.

In early March, we were talking about 36, 37 and some people were going as far to project 38 or 39 entries. We have not been doing much counting since the IndyCar season started but with a month to go before first practice time is running out for entries to be finalized.

Of the 33 confirmed entries, it is as even as it can be, 17 Hondas and 16 Chevrolets. Looking down the entries and at the teams that have not announced a program, only three stick out for expansion: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Harding Steinbrenner Racing and Juncos Racing.

Juncos Racing hasn't even announced an entry yet but with as much as this team has put into its IndyCar program, despite not being a full-time team, you have to think it will be there and it seems likely that Kyle Kaiser will be the driver.

Dreyer & Reinbold ran two cars last year and we have not heard anything about that second entry coming back. We haven't heard anything about J.R. Hildebrand but the pair worked well last year and it would make sense if the two parties gave it another go in 2019.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing was set to be a two-car team this year until the bottom fell out and left Patricio O'Ward on the sidelines. Though Harding Steinbrenner Racing is a small team and is still tight on cash but as much as it is an independent operation, HSR is the offshoot of Andretti Autosport and it would not be a surprise if the likes of Carlos Muñoz found himself in a second HSR car partnering with Colton Herta.

Outside of those three teams, expansion is possible but it is unlikely.

Honda ran 19 cars last year but I am not sure it will have that many entries this year. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has run a third car the last few years but it seems the team is focused on two cars and it is still partnered with the Meyer Shank Racing entry for Jack Harvey. I don't think Meyer Shank Racing is going field an additional entry. The team is still figuring out its way in IndyCar. It seems to be a stretch that Meyer Shank Racing would field a second entry with say Katherine Legge as its driver. Chip Ganassi Racing would have announced its additional entry by now if it were running one. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is full. Dale Coyne Racing is full.

On the Chevrolet side, A.J. Foyt Racing has not announced an additional entry of its own but it will be helping with the Clauson-Marshall Racing entry for Pippa Mann. Ed Carpenter Racing, Team Penske and Carlin have all announced additional entries. DragonSpeed is taking on a lot just running one car. McLaren is focused on its one entry for Fernando Alonso.

If there is a chance of an entry materializing from a team other than the three speculated above it is Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and working out a deal with Oriol Servià. The team has recent history with Servià. Not long ago Servià was rumored to be working with Éric Bachelart, who was trying to resurrect the Conquest Racing name from the ashes and I think if there is one place that could happen is its SPM. Besides familiarity between Servià and the team the Catalan driver would bring veteran expertise that could come in handy after SPM's qualifying issues last year.

And of course there are more drivers on the outside than seats remaining. Besides the aforementioned Kaiser, Hildebrand, Muñoz and Servià there are Jay Howard, Stefan Wilson, Gabby Chaves, Aaron Telitz and Matthew Brabham are just a few names on the outside and most of them will not even get behind a wheel next month.

Add to the lack of entry discussion is the lack of driver discussion. We really have had heard anything from drivers working on programs, at least nothing more than a few drivers saying they feel good about getting a ride. During yesterday's race broadcast, Robin Miller said J.R. Hildebrand and Oriol Servià have rides and that was it. No speculation on anyone else, no news on a driver scrapping to put funding together, not even some bananas speculation about a driver out of the series for more than nine years trying to mount a comeback. We are at a point where you can't get started on an entry now. Matthew Brabham's name came up this weekend out of the blue from an Australian story. When you are hearing names for the first time in April it usually doesn't happen and it is more a driver hoping a sponsor will jump onboard or there is a team with money that is hiring and that is almost never the case at this time of year.

We are going to get a few more entries. We are going to have bumping but we are getting tight on time. While IndyCar does not have a race in the next three weekends I expect plenty of excitement away from the racetrack as the Indianapolis 500 entry list is finalized. Who will get a deal done? Who will not? What is the quality of those entries? Who is signing up to be sweating bullets during bumping?

We still have a month. It is quiet but is going to get noisy and the month will be gone in a flash.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Alexander Rossi but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Chinese Grand Prix, his 75th Formula One victory.

Álex Rins won MotoGP's Grand Prix of the Americas, his first career IndyCar victory. It is Suzuki's first grand prix victory in the United States since Ernest Denger and Hugh Anderson won in the 50cc and 125cc classes respective in 1965 at Daytona. Thomas Lüthi won the Moto2 race, his first victory since returning to Moto2 after spending 2018 in MotoGP. Aròn Canet won the Moto3 race, his first victory since Silverstone 2017.

The #5 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Filipe Albuquerque and João Barbosa won the IMSA race from Long Beach. The #912 Porsche of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor won in GTLM.

Spencer Pumpelly won the GT4 America race from Long Beach.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race from Richmond. Cole Custer won the Grand National Series race.

Álvaro Bautista swept the two World Superbike races from Assen. Federico Caricasulo won the World Supersport race, the fourth different winner in the first four races.

Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard split the Supercars races from Phillip Island.

Mitch Evans won the Rome ePrix, Jaguar's first Formula E victory.

Colorado's Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Denver, his fifth victory of the season.

The #21 DragonSpeed Oreca-Gibson of Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and James Allen won the European Le Mans Series race from Circuit Paul Ricard. The #17 Ultimate Norma-Nissan of Matthieu Lahaye, Jean-Baptiste Lahaye and François Heriau won in LMP3. The #51 Luzich Racing Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Nicklas Nielsen and Fabien Laverne won in GTE.

The #54 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche of Klaus Bachler, Andrea Rizzoli and Zaid Ashkanani won the Blancpain Endurance Series race from Monza.

The #8 ARTA Honda NSX of Tomoki Nojiri and Takuya Izawa won the rain-shortened Super GT season opener from Okayama. The #96 K-Tunes Racing Lexus RC F of Sena Sakaguchi and Morio Nitta won in GT300.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Super Formula season opens at Suzuka and that is pretty much it because it is Easter weekend.