Archive for March 2, 2020

Race fans, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson is embarking on another Indianapolis 500 Statewide Engagement tour, leading up to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Donald will be once again visiting cities and towns all over Indiana and the Midwest. These events will be open forum, Q&A based presentations, with Donald taking time to answer questions from the audience.

Donald is believed to be the only full-time race historian in the country, and his knowledge of the Indianapolis 500 is immense. He is the co-author of the Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500. His expertise has lent a helping hand to multiple national outlets covering the Indianapolis 500 over the years and his persona has become synonymous with radio coverage of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” In 2010, he was inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame, and recently, the Indianapolis Star declared Davidson as one of the 100 most influential people in the history of the Indianapolis 500.

Below you will find information about the upcoming tour. Please note that dates and times are subject to change, as well as the potential cost to attend the event. Additional dates through April and May to be announced. If you have any questions, please contact Mike Harmless at mikeharmless67@gmail.com

INDIANAPOLIS (March 2, 2020) – This is the first of a 12-part series of comprehensive team previews as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES prepares for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg set for March 13-15 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

The preview series features each of the full-time teams as well as teams running a partial schedule that includes the season-opening race. Today’s featured organization: Three teams and five athletes operating under the Andretti Autosport banner.

The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network on Sunday, March 15, with a green flag start of 3 p.m. ET.

Starting Lineup …

Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport); Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS / AutoNation Honda for Andretti Autosport); Zach Veach (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Autosport); Marco Andretti (No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco Andretti & Curb-Agajanian); Colton Herta (No. 88 Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport Honda).

2019 Recap …

Cars running under the Andretti Autosport banner generated race wins by Rossi at Long Beach and Road America. Both of those wins were dominant runs, with Rossi leading 134 of the 140 combined laps. Rossi also delivered an outstanding performance in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, losing a tight battle with Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud (the final margin was 0.2086 of a second). However, Rossi did not lead a lap in the final seven races of the season and finished third in the standings. Hunter-Reay finished on the podium with a third-place result in two races (Circuit of The Americas and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course), but he would have liked to have finished higher than eighth in the standings. A late-season engineering swap for Andretti and Veach primed the pair to come back strong in 2020 after finishing 16th and 18th, respectively, in the 2019 standings. Herta was connected to Michael Andretti’s organization through Andretti Technologies’ alliance with Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Herta won the COTA and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca races and three poles.

What’s New for 2020 …

Herta joins via an operational merger forming Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport, and Meyer Shank Racing takes on a technical alliance with Andretti Technologies. James Hinchcliffe will join Andretti Autosport for three races: the two at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (May 9 and 24) and the one at Texas Motor Speedway (June 6).

Keep An Eye On …

Rossi will be a popular pick to win his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship. His program showed incredible strength in the first half of the season last year, and if it can improve its performance in the second half, he figures to be squarely in the mix for the title at the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Season Outlook …

Hunter-Reay is due for a bounce-back season as he enters a new decade with long-time sponsor DHL and looks to earn a second ‘500’ win and championship. Rossi figures to win two or three races, and Herta could take the next step and find his way into championship contention at the season’s final race. It will be important for Andretti to build on veteran consistencies and climb up in the standings, while Veach looks to bounce back from a 2019 season that yielded just three top-10 finishes..

“A Different Breed” Notable: Rossi has proven to be one of the world’s most versatile drivers, and the recent offseason is an example of that. In addition to testing his Indy car, he competed in the Baja 1000, the Bathurst 1000 and the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Owner’s Take …

“The NTT INDYCAR SERIES continues to show great growth and is one of the most competitive paddocks out there. We’ll run our biggest effort to date in 2020 with five-full time entries – and six for three races – but we have a strong team, supportive partners and talented drivers, and we’re focused on the big picture more than ever. I have full confidence that our team will be in contention each weekend.” – Michael Andretti

ABOUT INDYCAR …

INDYCAR is the Indianapolis-based governing body for North America’s premier open-wheel auto racing series known as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The series features an international field of the world’s most versatile drivers – including five-time series champion Scott Dixon, reigning series champion Josef Newgarden and defending Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud – who compete on superspeedways, short ovals, street circuits and permanent road courses. The season, which runs from March to September, currently consists of 17 races in the United States and Canada and is highlighted by the historic Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge held annually in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IMS Productions are owned by Penske Corporation, a global transportation, automotive and motorsports leader. For more information on INDYCAR and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, please visit http://www.IndyCar.com

Coming Tuesday — Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Bobby Unser and the Norton Spirit in 1980. — Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

My new Bobby Unser shirt.

By: Jeff Majeske — Managing Editor – Speedway Sightings

First Published at Jeff’s Indy Talk

For the past few years, I’ve commissioned “throwback” T-shirts for various cars and drivers from my childhood. This year’s new additions include Bobby Unser’s 1980 Norton Spirit, a Penske PC-9 Cosworth. Unser started third and finished 19th, dropping out after 126 laps with a turbo problem.

Norton, which produced abrasive products (as in for grinding and sanding), had been a Penske sponsor since 1974.

Usually the cars were sky blue; this is the first and only time they had a dark or royal blue finish.

Mike Hiss put the Norton Spirit on the front row in 1974 — Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Mike Hiss drove the Norton Spirit in 1974, a McLaren Offenhauser. The sky blue and bright yellow made for a striking combination. This entry originally was intended for Peter Revson, but he perished in a testing crash ahead of the South African Grand Prix in March.

Hiss had driven for Penske earlier in his career, subbing for Mark Donohue in 1972 after Donohue was badly hurt in a Can-Am crash at Road Atlanta. So from that standpoint, Hiss was a natural fit. Interestingly, in an article in the Sunday, May 26, 1974 edition of the Indianapolis Star (race day), Hiss said he was in the picture to run a third car for Penske before the Revson tragedy.

That’s conceivable. Penske did have three entries the year before, with Donohue and Gary Bettenhausen as the regulars and NASCAR star Bobby Allison in a third machine. And the 1974 program lists a No. 66 entry for Penske Racing, though that could have been intended all along as a spare car for Hiss and Bettenhausen.

Tom Sneva joined Penske Racing in 1975 — Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Tom Sneva’s car as seen in the 1976 program.

Tom Sneva joined Penske for 1975. The yellow trim was confined to the front wings. This car was demolished in a horrifying crash when Sneva touched wheels with Eldon Rasmussen in the south end of the track during the race. Fortunately, Sneva came away from the wreck relatively unscathed (although he did suffer some burns).

Norton switched up the paint scheme to celebrate the bicentennial in 1976. Sneva grabbed the first of his five front-row starting spots by qualifying third. He wound up sixth in a race shortened to just 102 laps because of rain.

The sky blue returned in 1977, and Sneva stormed to the pole, becoming the first driver to officially record a lap in excess of 200 mph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sneva’s performance was a bit of a surprise as A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock (who reportedly eclipsed 200 mph during tire tests in March) and teammate Mario Andretti (first over 200 mph in practice) all were considered the top contenders for the pole.

Tom Sneva set the track record in the Norton Spirit in both  1977 (top) and 1978 (above) — Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The next year, 1978, saw a radical change as all Penske cars were red, white and blue. Sneva and Andretti were still with Penske, which added someone named Rick Mears to drive in the 500-mile races and sub for Andretti when he had Formula One commitments. Sneva broke his track record in winning the pole again, this time with an average of over 202 mph. He finished second to Al Unser, who in those days was just Al Unser as his son was not yet an Indy competitor.

Bobby Unser replaced Tom Sneva in 1979.

Speaking of Unsers, Bobby took over for Sneva in the Norton Spirit for 1979, which was blue and white. Al drove the radical Pennzoil Chaparral and looked to be long gone before mechanical gremlins sidelined him. Bobby took over and appeared poised to take the checkered flag before losing top gear – something that almost never happens. Together the Unsers led for 174 of the 200 laps, but it was Mears who snagged the victory.

Bobby Unser won from the pole in 1981.

Bobby’s performance in 1980 is recounted above, so aside from noting that the bright yellow trim returned, we’ll move ahead to 1981. This is just a beautiful car, striking yet understated. A lot’s been written about the controversial 1981 Indianapolis 500, so we won’t go into all that here. In sum, Bobby started on the pole and won in what turned out to be his final Indianapolis 500.

Interestingly, Bobby Unser was last in his first 500 and first in his last 500. He also became the first to win the 500 in three different decades, a feat that Mears accomplished as well.

Kevin Cogan momentarily held the track record in 1982 after qualifying his backup car. It all went wrong on Race Day — Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

With Unser gone, Kevin Cogan joined Penske for the 1982 season in what was to be Norton’s final appearance as a primary sponsor. Cogan broke the track record in qualifying, only to see Mears top him minutes later. On race day, “Coogan,” starting second, managed to torpedo both Foyt and Andretti as the field came down for the green. The why and how of this unfortunate incident continues to be discussed today. Was it a mechanical failure? A turbo kick-in that caught Cogan by surprise? Was the field going too slow to begin with? Driver error?

Whatever the reason, the mishap derailed the hopes of the two greatest drivers in history. Andretti’s car was too badly damaged to continue. Foyt, being equal parts great driver, mechanically gifted and highly competitive (or stubborn), literally pounded his damaged suspension back into place (more or less), then proceeded to lead the first 22 laps after the restart. Of all the great moments that he had at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to me, that was the A.J. Foytiest.

Cogan, though he had some success later in his career, never quite lived down the 1982 500. He was even booed at some races during the 1982 season, which was rather cruel.

And so ended Norton’s involvement with Penske Racing – one win, three poles and seven front-row starts overall. Pretty impressive.

Norton still exists, though it was purchased in 1990 by Saint-Gobain of France. Since its Indy days, the company has backed the U.S. luge teams – another form of racing.