We’ve had four races, numerous controversies, and a fan base that is already stirred up. Yes. The 2019 INDYCAR Season is already on the move. Looking at the season, back in March (which you can read HERE), I had five things I was excited about. We’re not yet halfway through the season, and yes I’m still excited about those five things.
The season started out on the sunny streets of St. Petersburg. The race started with twenty-four cars. That right there is an amazing statistic and speaks towards the growth of the sport. The race ended with eighteen cars still running, and eleven on the lead lap. Florida was not happy with her local drivers. On Lap 11, Sebastian Bourdais just had his car decide to stop. He, masterfully, pulled the car off into a runoff. The next Floridian in the tracks crosshairs was RHR, Lap 19 and his engine blew. Large trails of smoke covered the front stretch of the track.
Josef Newgarden may have won the race, but rookie Felix Rosenqvist stepped up in the first race. Rosenqvist decided to pass Newgarden and challenge Will Power. Rosenqvist is here to tell the series that it’s no fluke, he’s here to get shit done. Rosenqvist made a great challenge on Will Power in Turn 1, a pass and a game of chicken. The Rookie would go on to lead thirty-one laps out of the race.
The series then stepped into uncharted territory with the inaugural INDYCAR Classic at the Circuit of the Americas. The weekend belonged to Colton Herta and the Harding Steinbrenner Racing team. During Practice Session 1 – the engine on that car blew. That crew got that together in a handful of hours. Colton was back out on the track during the “warm-up” practice on Friday. I cannot fail to mention that Will Power has decided that 2019 is the year he collects all of the poles. He nabbed his 56th pole and the Fast 6 was a dramatic event! With both sessions in Round 1 falling prey to red flags, the guys in the Fast 6 were playing chicken with themselves and fate.
We had track limits abused by eeeeveryone. Everyone. Most notably Zach Veach decided to get a new nickname AT-Veach, when he missed the turn and went off-roading in an INDYCAR. It was a lot of fun to watch the nosecone of that car just humming along on the grass until he found the track again. Santino Ferrucci got mixed up and got airborne. Everyone was just deciding that the end of the track was a guideline and to go where they want. It was a race where drivers were fighting and passing throughout the field. The rookie Colton Herta took the race. He made a climb through the field, battling with the more senior drivers. The back and forth between him and Rossi was beautiful to watch. Admittedly I enjoy watching Rossi line up to make passes. You hear the Jaws theme in your head. The yellow and the leaders pitting found Colton suddenly leading laps. It was the restart where we all watched holding our breath (because at the end of the day don’t we all want a rookie to win). He took that restart and held off Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Not only hold them off but gave himself breathing room. With some strategy, a yellow flag, and a beautiful restart Colton led the final fifteen laps and celebrated in victory circle. He now holds the record as youngest INDYCAR driver to win a race.
Last year the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama featured a rain delay, this year it was a tire kerfluffle. Somehow the alternate tires (red) provided were of an older compound. It ended up that drivers found the black tires much quicker in practice sessions. Those practice sessions were something of a mixed bag. Half the field couldn’t find the right balances, and the others seemed to find it. No matter if you found it or not, drivers were sliding off the track and right into the gravel (and by gravel, this is the big pieces of gravel) pits. Even more surprising and jaw-dropping was at the end of qualifying there was no Penske and no Andretti in the Firestone Fast Six.
The race started off hard for the whole field. The Push-to-Pass feature wasn’t properly working for any of the teams. It appears that the amount a driver had left wasn’t fully showing up on the timing and scoring screens of the teams. The #88 car ended up with a fuel cell issue and they had to pull it behind the wall. For most – it would mean time to pack it up and shut it down. They got the problem fixed and Colton finished the race. Of course, though, the victory goes to Takuma Sato! He achieved his first pole on a road course this weekend (but not his first victory on a road course – he won Portland just last year). It was his race, the track had chosen him as the winner. He suffered a spin on Turn 8 near the end of the race, but was able to keep the car and won the race.
Finally, just a few weeks ago, the series went Hollywood for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Honda dominated the practice sessions. Qualifications was again plagued by red flags. We had two red flags during the session. In Round 1 Group 1 Tony Kanaan hit the wall causing the red flag. He failed to advance, and the incident also caused both Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsport cars to not advance either. In Round 2 it was rookie Felix Rosenqvist who brought out the red flag. Qualifying though belonged to Alexander Rossi who earned pole position for the race.
It was a banner race for Rossi. He led eighty out of eighty-five laps. By the time the race ended he had a twenty-second lead over second place Josef Newgarden (Team Penske). It was a flawless race. During the first lap, Dixon attempted a pass, but Rossi kept the door shut. Dixon attempted the same move during the restart, and again the door was shut. Colton Herta had horrible luck. The beginning part of the race showed flashes of a brilliant battle between Herta and O’Ward. After Herta quickly got around O’Ward, he later had a pit stop issue where his team didn’t get the air gun moved in time. Herta (wisely) to avoid a penalty stopped the car, which caused it to stall. He later went on to smack the wall on Lap 50. The damage included a bent suspension ending his day. Lap 1 involved some cars getting tangled up in the Fountain turn. There was the contact between Spencer Pigot (Ed Carpenter Racing) and Matheius Leist. There also was a mix up between Marcus Ericsson (Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsport) and Jack Harvey (Meyer Shank Racing). Harvey ended up on the fountain itself. Both cars were able to get back into the race but failed to finish on the lead lap.
The races have been fantastic, but they’ve not been without controversy. The biggest controversy so far has been the red flag during qualifications. This has happened in three out of the first four races. It feels like there’s been a higher number than last year, but we’ve also only had street/road courses so far. Last year there was Phoenix to break up the road courses. The red flag, in most cases, effectively ends the qualification period. It’s caused some of the faster drivers to not advance. Everyone is acting as Race Director, and heck I’ve even offered some thoughts (you can read those HERE). It’ll be interesting to see if this continues at other road/street courses.
What is really exciting? We’ve had four races and four different winners. I think the series, through their technological requirements, has brought parity into the sport. They’ve done this without sacrificing the thrill of watching races. We’ve had established veterans win, some newer hot-shots win, and a rookie win. Plus the Rookie class is continuing to be exceptional to watch. Herta won a race. Rosenqvist is out there really riding the edge. O’Ward if driving to prove he deserves the spot he lost. Ericsson is showing progressive growth throughout the season. Shoot, I am even pleased about Ferrucci and you know I had misgivings about him! Of course, they haven’t experienced an oval yet. It’s baptism by fire – the Indianapolis 500 is looking (of course they get the road course first).
Going into May, it’s going to be interesting. We have the regulars atop the leader board. We have rookies showing up, and we have some drivers that should be doing better. May is it’s on beast. The series first hits the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, and Turn 1 is insane. Then it’s a new qualifying format to contend with. Finally, the race will involve a driver attempting to join the 4-Timer Club and another trying to win the Triple Crown.
2019: Let’s Go!