Overheard in St. Petersburg - Saturday
We hear that some of the Newman/Haas crew have moved to the Dale Coyne IndyCar team. As previously reported, Newman/Haas built the Dragon IndyCars because Dragon's new facility in southern California, will not be ready until later in the year. We hear the building will be a refurbished old boat works building and will be stunning. Newman/Haas race engineer, Craig Hampson, is being loaned out and is working with Dragon's Katherine Legge. And we hear some Newman/Haas team members were at a sports car test this past week, lending more credence to the rumor they will join another ex-IndyCar team in a ALMS.
And here is a surprise little statistic for you - of the 35 USF2000 entries this weekend in St. Petersburg, 29 are American. Maybe that bodes well for more Americans in IndyCar someday.
Forgot to mention we spotted ex-CART President Andrew Craig at the 12 Hours of Sebring. He was doing some work for the FIA and Jean Todt was there for the announcement we previously reported with the FIA and Audi.
Had the chance to meet incoming HPD President Art St. Cyr. Art is moving his wife and son to southern, California near HPD's Torrance headquarters. Art came from Northern, California and has been working at American Honda's headquarters in Marysville, Ohio. Ironically, Art replaces Erik Berkman who also came out of R&D in Marysville. Art takes over for Berkman on April 1st, which is the start of Honda's new fiscal year. Berkman has been promoted and will return to American Honda.
Marco Andretti recently celebrated his 25th birthday on March 13th and will be making his 100th IndyCar start this weekend and will be looking to add to his two wins to date at Infineon Raceway and Iowa Speedway.
As a result of Rubens Barrichello coming into IndyCar, there are more Brazilian media here this weekend than ever before.
It’s no big secret that Michele Jourdain is here at St. Pete, hanging around in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Word has it that he's close to putting together a deal to run the 2012 Indy 500 with RLLR.
It used to be a secret that Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing could actually enter a competitive car in a road or street course. But that looks to have changed. Team members all gushed in their praise of rookie driver Josef Newgarden. After Sebring, the team knew that it could be, and would be, competitive with the rookie driver. He finished the last practice session 8th on the speed charts, just behind Scott Dixon.
How is the new car? It depends on who you ask. If you ask the veterans on the older, better-established teams, it sucks. If you ask the newer teams and drivers, it's a great car. Some are hinting that the traction of the car in the street course configuration could handle considerably more horsepower, and based on the limited number of "offs" this weekend, such might be in store for the next race at Barber Motorsports Park. Certainly the turbo engine is different than the normally-aspirated "Honda" engine of the past, and everyone comments on that learning curve.
Katherine Legge admits that they're doing a test session this weekend. It's been 4 years since she last drove an Indy-style car, and a year since she's raced anything, so she's busy trying to shake off the rust. In addition, her Lotus engine was very late in arriving, basically depriving them of the "Spring training" sessions that the rest of the teams enjoyed. "We will get there, but probably not before Indy" she told AR1 after practice. "It's different than the CHAMP car, but the principles are the same. It still has 4 wheels and an engine."
Honda has chosen the Schmidt Hamilton Racing HP car in their ads. The team is one of the dwindling number that brings sponsorship with the team, not depending on drivers to bring their own sponsorship.
Spotted former CART drivers Mark Blundell, Stefan Johansson and Gil de Ferran, as well as former CART team owner John Penna in the paddock catching up with friends and showing added interest in the series.
Simon Pagenaud's Honda-powered car of Schmidt Hamilton Racing had an issue in Friday's second practice and the team changed engines. Because it was an unauthorized change, Pagenaud's car will start Sunday's race 10 positions behind where it qualifies today.
Although the Lotus engines have been reliable they still have some work to do on the software side we hear to maximize the performance of the engines. There was talk that Honda and Chevy would have to step up and replace Lotus if they did not get their act together. IndyCar CEO was quick to firmly defend Lotus. Bernard also addressed questions regarding the supply of Lotus engines for the IZOD IndyCar Series teams totaling five.
“We’ve been in deep discussions with all three engine manufacturers and Lotus has been very upfront and honest with us that they are eight weeks behind and they are fully committed,” he said. “One of the biggest issues we’ve seen is a transition in ownership and all bank accounts are frozen for more than a month and a half. It’s only fair that we give them the opportunity to work on it.
“I’ve learned about racing that everyone gets very excited very quickly and my job now is to bring everyone under control and say ‘Here’s the issue and let’s take it to the next step.’ Two weeks ago there were rumors that Jay Penske wouldn’t have any engines and that happened. We have to continue to work with Lotus.
“They are the little engine that is trying. They’re competing against two gorillas in this sport. Let’s try to give them every opportunity to go out there and win.”
Word is that all teams are not happy that they have to buy all their parts from Dallara and pay more money than if replacement parts could be manufactured locally. The good part of that is the cars are 100% locked down in terms of aero and suspension development so the teams with more money can't gain an advantage from that perspective. One team member said "it would be cheaper to buy an entire new car from Dallara and use it for parts then to buy individual parts from Dallara."
Perhaps the teams should think about buying insurance from ex-IndyCar driver Steve Chassey who is an agent for Wells Fargo. Chassey sells all race insurance including event insurance, car insurance and more.
We have heard that the new car is tail heavy and now we have some hard numbers. The old car weight distribution was 43% front and 57% rear. The new car, even after the suspension change to help, is 39% front and 61% rear. Ouch.
Dale Coyne is still on crutches, his right foot in a soft cast and his right arm in a sling. He was at the shop alone on a Saturday in early November trying to reach something and had climbed on a forklift to reach. When he fell his right ankle got caught in the fork lift and broke his ankle in 7 places, all compound fractures (bone protruding out from the skin). He also tore his rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
"Luckily I had charged my cell phone that morning and was able to call 911," said Coyne. "And luckily I had left the front door unlocked so the paramedics could get in. I was in severe pain. It has been a long recovery and some of the exit wounds are still not healing correctly. That is the biggest concern right now. And I am full of plates and screws.
"The break was so bad that the doctors said if it had happened years ago they would have had to amputate my foot above the ankle. This is the first time I have flown anywhere since the accident."
We hear that Mike Lanigan will again be the promoter of the Houston GP race and look for Shell Oil to be announced as the sponsor. Shell is not new to IndyCar and they used to sponsor Kenny Brack. However, Randy Bernard said "the race is not a done deal yet. We had a good meeting this morning and we made good progress, but there are still some issues to iron out before we have a contract." Hopefully that will get done by Wednesday.
Bernard said that "we are very engaged in the 2013 schedule and major markets are important to us. Houston fits that bill." As for the proximity of the rumored Ft. Lauderdale race and whether it would hurt the St. Pete race Bernard said, "we have 120 mile separation and 90-day window clauses on either side of any race." Ft. Lauderdale is more than 120 miles away and is rumored to be in the autumn starting in 2013.
Speaking about the Surfers Paradise, Australia race coming about Bernard said, "I was caught off guard by that story getting out. I got a call from Surfers and it was just a hypothetical discussion. Would we like to go back to Surfers? Sure, it was a big event and now that we have a race in China it would make sense to do China and a race in Australia back-to-back to save both race promoters money."
Still no announcement coming out of China on the exact location of the street race in Qingdao. Everyone is in the dark as to the exact circuit layout and no one is selling tickets yet even though the race is in August. IndyCar's silence is deafening leading to some to wonder if the race will happen at all. When asked why no details have been announced about the China race and whether it was in trouble, Bernard responded, "absolutely not. A new Mayor is being sworn in tomorrow and the announcement was waiting for that."
Roger Penske apparently made another one of his statements that IndyCar should not be racing outside of North America and Bernard was questioned about whether IndyCar should have an international strategy at all. "We are focused 90% on adding more North American races."
When asked about adding more ovals, in particular Phoenix, Bernard said, "I have had some good honest conversations with Bryan Sperber at Phoenix. We still talk. Every race we add has to be a strategic one."
As for adding more South America races, Bernard indicated he didn't think so.
When asked about moving on from the Dan Wheldon tragedy, Bernard said, "I reached a low in December. We had lost Dan, the media was criticizing the new car, we were be challenged about car count. But like any cowboy that gets bucked off the bronco, we had to get back on. We have made so many changes in the offseason and the fact it has all come together successfully this weekend in nothing short of a miracle."
Bernard was asked about the loss of Danica Patrick and did not seem too worried. "We like Danica and would love to have her back. She is a star and brings a lot of energy to any series she is in. But just like Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, etc, fans want winners. We want the focus on our winners. We have to let the cream rise to the top - you cannot make chicken soup out of chicken crap," not referring to Danica, just in general. Mark C. and Tim Wohlford reporting from St. Pete