Simona Seeks Series Return, Ride Rumors Revving Up

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The silly season rumor mill has been working overtime lately as IndyCar’s game of musical seats cranks back to life. Since saying a week ago she’d made a mistake in leaving and wanted to come back to IndyCar with all forgiven, Simona de Silvestro’s been a hot um, topic. Speculation has swirled as many wondered where the twenty six year old from Thun, Switzerland might end up if indeed the jilted series were to take her back with open arms.

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IndyCar News Week in Review

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SPECIAL UPDATE: Series Sponsor Verizon settled a damaging lawsuit late this week, agreeing to pay out millions of dollars to customers the communications company overcharged for years. This affected not only millions of Verizon subscribers, but also the rest of us as apparently the entire internet was impacted by Verizon’s shenanigans. Ripping off your customers certainly isn’t the sort of sleazy corporate behavior IndyCar wants or needs to be associated with one would think, nor is slowing down the whole of the web in the nation that invented it, although in light of the 2015 schedule perhaps Verizon’s the perfect sponsor for Miles’ new tennis racket approach to racing.

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The Hawk Has Landed: AJ Foyt Racing announced this week it’s expanding to a two car operation, and we don’t just mean at Indy. Inexplicably, Takuma Sato is back with the team and will be joined as co-recipient of AJ’s wrath by upstart northern Englishman Jack Hawksworth. Hawk is formerly of Bryan Herta Autosport, who formerly drove for AJ Foyt Racing. IndyCar’s a bit like the Hapsburgs of Europe and many modern day workplaces – an incestuous little circle.

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Schedule Announced and Many Pounced: The IndyCar Series unveiled its thinly veiled schedule for 2015 and there wasn’t an abundance to be excited about and even fewer surprises. Initial reaction to it is here and it hasn’t changed much. More ovals, please. Brasilia and NOLA will be new road courses, hurray. We hope everyone makes it back safely from these exotic, crime-ridden third world destinations. Dubai didn’t make the cut, although it appears to remain under consideration for the future. Why? We have no idea. As trumpeted by Curt Cavin and others, “Dollar Dale” Coyne’s driver and race winner Carlos Huertas posted “Dubai Feb 22” on his website earlier in the week. Perhaps he meant in 2016.

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Testing, Testing: Also according to the ever accurate Twitter, Rahal Letterman Lanigan failed to show at the test at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on Monday, possibly significant of larger problems for the floundering team.  Maybe Graham was just hung over, or all loved up by Courtney Force. Graham, Bobby, Dave and company had a horrible year as documented in IndyCar Season Grades and missing off season tests isn’t a positive sign. Apparently the late night talk show business isn’t what it once was, but then again what is?

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Flipping Formula 1: Lesser known F-1 Teams are dropping like bribery charges against Billionaire Bernie Ecclestone lately. First Marussia went bankrupt, then Caterham bowed out of the next two races, also reportedly belly up and entering receivership. Respected British newspaper The Telegraph called F-1 a sport “no one can afford” and described it as being very much “in crisis.” Maybe IndyCar doesn’t look quite so bad in comparison after all.

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Odds, Ends & Tweets: At Monday’s test, unemployed driver/Indy 500 crasher J.R. Hildebrand drove the Fuzzy’s number 20 car normally reserved for Ed Carpenter of newly merged CFH Racing. No grand theft charges have been filed to date, so evidently J.R.’s joy ride was legit. Curiously Kentish Mike Conway was no where to be seen and rumors have him out. In a Tweet from Barber Motorsports Park, Carp’s teammate Josef Newgarden called it “the most consistent track” they race. Perhaps surprisingly to our readers we at IRR wholeheartedly agree. Barber is consistent – consistently tedious and boring. Finally, the flow chart at CFH Racing seems to be taking shape as another official Tweet referred to “Team Manager Andy O’Gara.” Andy is of course Sarah Fisher’s husband. We wonder if Ed knows of the news yet? Incestuous little circles.

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IndyCar News Week in Review

Lights Show Resurgence: Indy Lights suffered mightily in 2014 from low participation – only eight or ten cars in some races  – and accompanying lack of interest, but appears to be making a comeback with a new car! and an uptick in involvement from teams according to a piece from Mazda Road to Indy on indycar.com. The new Dallara chassis’ appearance is definitely an improvement over the old, dated cars and the upgrade was long overdue. The story states that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is the latest team to order multiple new Dallaras for the upcoming campaign. SPM is always a solid contender in the Lights series, having won more championships than any other team  – seven – in their last decade racing, and was expected to buy in – the big news would have been if they didn’t.

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Indycar.com’s Incompetence: There’s the unpleasant matter of more disappointing errors on indycar.com, most recently in the aforementioned press release from Mazda Road to Indy. The author wrongly implied that Schmidt has won eight Lights championships, when in fact he’s won seven.  He also incorrectly cited “stanch” support for the series rather than the correct word, staunch. On the upside, one figure quoted – presumably accurately – in the article predicted between fifteen and twenty cars on the Lights grid in 2015. Testing of the new chassis resumes in December.

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DCR’s Long Over Due Maturation: Dale Coyne gave an interview to racer.com and showed off the continuing renovations to the team’s Chicago shop. The mercurial owner also announced the team’s embarking on an “aggressive” shock program to make the team “better and stronger,” according to Coyne.  He also said the team’s not only kept the staff on for the busy off season, but also added employees to the effort. It’s about time you upgraded your IndyCar operation, Dale.

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“Dollar Dale” divulged some “news” as well, hinting at more change – as usual – to his driver lineup. He referred to post-season testing already done with Venezuelan Rodolfo Gonzalez and another rookie or two slated to test with the team prior to Christmas. This begs the question, which of his current winning drivers may be seeking a new ride, veteran Justin Wilson who’s won seven races in his career or rookie Carlos Huertas who won a race in Houston in 2014? Our prediction: whomever brings the least amount of sponsorship money with them.

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Sinking Feeling SeSaav: Sebastian Saavedra was featured on indycar.com, which ran the usual puff-piece by Dave Lewandowski praising the young driver’s skills and so forth. For obvious reasons the site doesn’t publish frank, honest assessments of drivers, though there’s enough of that on this site, at least. So, the positive spin wasn’t totally unexpected. A straightforward take on his performance such as in Horsepower Rankings – Drivers would be far too brutal for indycar.com.

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Searching harder for highlights than a reviewer of a James Franco movie, Lewandowski ill-advisedly mentioned Saavedra’s pole position at the inaugural Indy Grand Prix. He didn’t mention that Saavedra’s brightly colored KVSH car stalled out on the standing start, leading to a spectacularly catastrophic crash where Mikhail Aleshin slammed into him from behind after others narrowly missed him. If this is the pinnacle of one’s second full season in the series, then standards have sunk even lower than before in 2014. If Saavedra – who’s finished at the very bottom for two years running – has a ride in 2015 and Huertas doesn’t, then sadly that sinking trend continues into the foreseeable future.

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IndyCar Driver Test: Jack Hawksworth

Likeable IndyCar rookie Jack Hawksworth who hails from Bradford, England faces our first ever driver exam, a new series of features at IRR. Hawksworth drove the number ninety eight car during the 2014 campaign for underfunded Bryan Herta Autosport with backing from Curb-Agajanian. He made headlines during the season and already again this off season, winning an award and answering some questions in a softball interview for indycar.com. The hardball question we’re asking is, did the twenty three year old Englishman pass the driver test?

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Young Jack finished 17th in IndyCar standings in his inaugural campaign, out of twenty two full time cars. The highlight of his season came in the second race at the now defunct Houston parking lot “track,” where he stormed forward from twenty third and last starting place to finish third, taking his first and only podium of the year. Above him that day on the podium were Simon Pagenaud and his Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports teammate Mikhail Aleshin, Hawksworth’s fellow European rookie rival.

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Photo from indystar.com

Jack was awarded the Tony Renna Rising Star Award for 2014 even though the mad Russian Aleshin finished ahead of him in the championship, despite missing the double points finale 500 in Fontana due to an accident in the final practice. Nonetheless, Hawksworth impressed several in and out of the paddock, scoring five top ten finishes in seventeen races while also suffering several encounters with walls, particularly on the ovals. In July Hawk himself missed the double points Pocono 500 after a nasty practice accident.

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He’s already announced that he’s left BHA behind thank you very much and currently isn’t under contract for next season. Recent rumors have linked him to AJ Foyt Racing as well as other possibilities and he doesn’t seem too concerned about landing a ride in the series for next year. HIs driving skills seem solid enough while there’s definitely room for improvement, although that’s not the sole component of the IndyCar driver exam.

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A secondary yet still crucial aspect of this exam is the driver’s savvy in interactions with the media – his PR capabilities. As with most rookies, Hawksworth needs some serious study and improvement in this area. In a recent interview on indycar.com, the northern Englishman came off sounding superior and at times cocky. Interestingly, England is the opposite of the US in its internal biases, where northerners like Hawk have the “accent” and are looked down upon, often considered backward hicks.

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He said in answer to a question about his rookie year results: “I think this has probably been the best season I’ve ever put together and I’m very pleased with my performance.” Depending upon one’s perspective, Jack’s statement ranges anywhere from the typical professional driver’s supreme confidence to a touch overly self-congratulatory, particularly considering his rather scurvy on track results. Remember, Marco, Graham and as recently as this June in Houston Carlos Huertas all actually won races in their rookie seasons. Since Hawk’s a seemingly congenial bloke, we’re willing to over look that comment.

But the naive northerner wasn’t finished. As per indycar.com, Hawksworth continued his lofty praise for himself. “I think I did a very good job. I made mistakes but also got the most out of the car and look back on the year pretty happy without sounding arrogant.” Oh really, young Jack? To some, it does come across arrogantly, especially for a seventeenth place points finisher. He continued, describing his desires for the future. “It’s given me solid ground to go out next year and win races, which is what I want to do.” He concluded “I don’t just want to be an IndyCar driver – I want to win races.”

Obviously the upstart Brit needs some media coaching although that’s not uncommon amongst rookie racers, who are after all death defying daredevils who pilot jet cars for a living. In fact, several aforementioned veteran drivers have had their own notable, recurring lapses in the realm of public relations. One major difference between them and our British subject however is that they all have wins in IndyCar, while Bradford’s favorite son hasn’t any as of yet.

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Photo from indycar.com

The rookie’s result in the driver test? We recommend working on your driving skills as well as management of your mouth whilst with the media. Study your fellow northern countryman Justin Wilson’s career and his model handling of media in IndyCar’s spotlight, then come back next season for another attempt at passing the driver exam.

Interesting Ideas for International IndyCar Races

While the 2015 IndyCar schedule hasn’t been formally announced yet and several questions remain, the idea of an international portion of the schedule has existed for years coming out of the Boston Consulting Group’s recommendations to improve IndyCar. Overseas races are nothing new, as CART in particular made several foreign forays going back to the 1980s and 1990s. On the whole, these haven’t tended to be successful events. Nevertheless, IndyCar is rumored to be considering places like Dubai in the Middle East and yet another new venue in Brazil. Ugh.

Since the current leadership at 16th and Georgetown is taking their sweet time in announcing where the racing will occur next year, we thought it would be helpful to propose some interesting ideas for international IndyCar races for Mssrs. Miles, Walker and Cotman to consider. Besides, it’s about time to dust off the passport and continue filling it up with stamps – 18 and counting!

South America:

IndyCar trips traditionally have been to Brazil, but it may be time for a change. Brazilian drivers have been an important part of the series for decades now going back to Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi. However, the interest in IndyCar seems to be moving north away from Brazil and toward Colombia. Well it should. 

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Photo from seecolombia.travel

This very year Colombians Huertas, Munoz and Montoya swept the podium at a race in Houston and they now outnumber the Brazilian drivers in the series. With that in mind IndyCar brass should consider a race in Colombia, which has advanced far beyond the drug cartel and FARC violence of the 1980s and is now a welcoming destination for American tourists. From beaches to mountains, Colombia has much to offer with the added benefit of being a shorter trip than Brazil. Crowds will throng to see their fellow Colombians race – can you imagine the reception Montoya would receive?

Europe:

When it comes to racing on the Continent it’s a far more complex proposition due to a variety of factors. Drivers from Britain, France, Italy and even Russia currently compete in the IndyCar series. Obviously F-1 races primarily in Europe along with some foreign dates as well, so saturation becomes a consideration. Some countries like Switzerland have even outlawed motor racing, adding another layer of complexity. With the number of British drivers and the common culture, a race in the UK makes imminent sense. It could be held either at Brand’s Hatch or another existing circuit, unless ol’ David Cameron’s willing to build a nice short oval in the southeast in Kent.

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One area of exciting potential lies in central and eastern Europe. Other than the Austria Grand Prix and Hungary Grand Prix, there aren’t any big league races in this portion of the old world providing an opening for IndyCar. Eastern Europeans absolutely adore Americans (unlike some other western Europeans) and would welcome the economic and cultural exchange. From personal experience Bratislava, Prague and Vienna are all historic, beautiful and pleasant cities to visit and the people are lovely. The beer, wine and food are outstanding. This area would be a rewarding choice for drivers and fans alike.

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Austral-Asia:

Due to the distances involved, visits to Australia and Asia obviously would be combined. Start off at the established track on Australia’s east coast with the streets of Surfer’s Paradise. The event has history and has done decently in the past, not to mention all the Aussies and New Zealanders in the series including the champ. There’s also the common language for the most part, and good beer. From there, it’s on to Asia – with a twist.

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IndyCar already lacks oval tracks on the schedule and this is exacerbated by overseas racing where oval tracks are even rarer. So make an offer to nations from India to South Korea – build a state of the art mile and a half to two mile oval track with the necessary infrastructure and amenities and IndyCar will guarantee races there for the next decade. That offer in addition to the positive publicity and tourism potential may well attract some interest on mainland Asia and be the start of a long term racing relationship with the highest bidder. It’s a win-win-win as more exciting oval racing would be added along with an exotic foreign destination, plus reaching the millions of potential race fans there.