Overheard at St. Petersburg GP Friday

James Davison and Dale Coyne
James Davison and Dale Coyne

The 2019 IndyCar season is underway and Friday all the teams were in full force preparing for the opening race in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Some big news for James Davison who, with backing from Jonathan Byrd and Brian Belardi, was announced as Dale Coyne Racing's third entry for this year's Indy 500. We hear Dale Coyne has decided he will run just the three cars – Davison, Ferrucci and Bourdais.

Did you know how the team decided Davison would run the #33? In his four starts in the Indy 500, twice (2015 and 2017) he started 33rd and once (2018) he finished 33rd and this year they are the 33rd entry for the Indy 500. 33 and the Indy 500 just seems to be a natural fit for Davison. Can he defy destiny and pull off a shock win?

It was interesting to learn how Zach Veach landed the Gainbridge sponsorship. He was having trouble finding sponsorship to make it to IndyCar so he spoke to his church pastor who he thought he should talk to. His pastor passed along a single email and it turned into a full-time sponsorship by Gainbridge with Andretti Autosport as well as a presenting sponsorship of the Indy 500.

We hear that IndyCar is seriously considering some form of use of electric addition to the new 2021 IndyCar engine. It's likely to be a form of KERS system that harvests kinetic energy under braking on street and road courses into a battery and then is used as additional HP via a small electric motor to pass on straights. F1 has used it for years as have hybrid passenger cars. With the automotive world going 100% electric eventually, it would be negligent of IndyCar to do nothing.

In addition to a new engine in 2021, a new car tub is required because a Halo system cannot be bolted onto the current Tub – there is no place to do it behind the driver. With the windscreen not really viable, the Halo has proven by all other open wheel series around the world to be the best system to protect a driver.

Bryan Herta takes a hands-off approach with his son Colton. He guided him to Carlin Racing in Europe so he participated in a team big on teaching and grooming young drivers to be their best, he guided him to Mike Harding and Brian Barnhart at Harding Steinbrenner Racing knowing they have a good engineering staff from Andretti Technologies, but let's him develop as a driver with the team without much direct involvement. This is likely why Colton is not driving for Andretti and Bryan Herta, but Harding-Steinbrenner instead. It may prove to be a good strategy.

Hearing more talk about a possible return to Japan for IndyCar not that NTT Data is the primary sponsor, but give us time to dig into this one a bit more. Since Honda already has the Motegi oval, and IndyCar needs more oval races on the calendar after so many have failed, and since logistically it would be much easier for IndyCar to race at Motegi than Surfers, this rumor may indeed have some legs.

We hear that Honda America was quite ok with supplying engines to McLaren and Alonso for the Indy 500, the plan was nixed by Honda Japan who were badmouthed by Alonso and McLaren many times in F1. Ironically the Honda powered Red Bulls are now faster than the backmarker McLaren Renaults in F1.

We hear drivers are predicting very little passing at IndyCar's Grand Finale at Laguna Seca. With the tracks short straights coupled with push-to-pass being able to be used as a defense mechanism, we're likely to see an F1 style parade unless Firestone brings really soft tires that degradate so much drivers will stumble down the order when their tires go off. What a way to race.

Patricio O'Ward will test with his new Carlin team next week at Barber and then head right to COTA, which is the next race on the schedule and which will be O'Ward's first race.

Roger Penske got a kidney transplant in the fall of 2017.

The 82-year-old team owner revealed that fact to the Associated Press in St. Petersburg on Friday. Penske received a kidney from his son Greg not long after his driver Josef Newgarden had won the 2017 IndyCar title.

The transplant was done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

“When I did that transplant, we were up at the end of the day. They said ‘Would you get up and walk over to the window?’" Penske told the AP. “Next day, I’m over in my son’s room. They get you going. It’s amazing. It’s a good spot, good spot."

Ryan Hunter-Reay may have turned the fastest lap in practice today, but he told us the car was a real handful at the limit and that more setup changes are planned for Friday night. Everyone feels the Penske team were sandbagging on Friday given they usually find a way to win the pole here in St. Pete.

The Swedes – Rosenqvist and Ericsson – looked strong today. Keep your eyes on the #7 and #10 this weekend. All the drivers who have come over from Europe say IndyCar require much more driver talent than F1 where the car is 99% of the equation.

Canadian fans are in full revolt against IndyCar after learning they have to pay over $200 a year to watch IndyCar races now. Most say they are done and will walk away from the sport. That's still better than Latin America and most of South America – they get nothing.

For the first time since his horrific incident in Turn 2 at Pocono Raceway last season, Robert Wickens returned to the NTT INDYCAR Series paddock Friday during opening practice on the streets of St. Petersburg.

“I was expecting a lot of support, but it’s already kind of gone way out of what I expected it would be," Wickens stated. “I mean, heading to the pit lane for the first session, I thought the fans would kind of be more focused on the racecars, like I would have been when I was a fan attending a race. All they seemed to care about was kind of me. Everyone was cheering my name.

“It’s really cool to see team personnel from other teams just saying it’s great to see me. People, never even seen them before. Competitor team uniforms, all being really supportive. It goes to show how great the INDYCAR community is, how close it is, but then the fans are just fantastic, as well. Everyone is just giving me such an outpour of support. It’s been fantastic."

Although being at the track is a nice feeling, Wickens recovery still has a way to go, especially with the spinal cord injury. Although Wickens has the determination to fully recover, doctors have been telling him to rest and making no guarantees that he will ever fully recover.

“The doctors know I’m working too hard, they’re telling me to rest," he said. “On the same token, they’re kind of telling me to keep doing what I’m doing because it’s working. It’s kind of that fine balance of I am doing four to six hours a day six days a week.

“It’s tough. I enjoy my day off on Sunday. Besides that, I mean, there’s no real reason I’m getting the results I’m getting, or if I did more or less it would change the results. No one really knows."

At the end of the day, Wickens has two goals in mind: 1. A return to the NTT INDYCAR Series (perhaps even with hand controls) and 2. Be able to dance at his wedding later this year.

FORBES' Dave Caldwell noted NBC is "pushing open-wheel racing across all of its platforms." The net is "promoting its IndyCar product on not just its other sports coverage like hockey and horse racing," but also on shows like “American Ninja Warrior" and “The Tonight Show."

NBC has "included IndyCar drivers on other network shows and will feature the drivers in an extensive social-media campaign."

There will be "more than 20 television spots." Local affiliates "will get more involved." Announcers from other NBC sports "will be used on telecasts." It is an "unprecedented exercise in synergy"

Mark C. reporting for AutoRacing1 from St. Petersburg

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