The IndyCar Series season ended in mid-September with Scott Dixon earning his fifth national championship. The series, which now lacks a naming sponsor, is on hiatus until early March, but that hasn’t stopped the news as drivers and teams prepare for another season in 2019.
Of utmost importance to all fans of the sport is the condition of Canadian Robert Wickens, severely injured in a massive crash at Pocono in August. Wickens, now in recuperative care has acknowledged his current condition, which has him experiencing some sensation in his legs.
He remains unable to walk but is undergoing extreme therapies which could change that. Wickens’ will to succeed in this latest challenge is reminiscent of Alessandro Zanardi’s great successes since his own debilitating accident at Lausitzring in 2001. “I’ve never worked harder for anything,” Wickens has stated of his rehabilitation.
In the meantime, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) has made essential changes in the way they do business and has promoted from within to keep the core of their organization uniquely suited to those working on the two-car squad. And they’ve hired Swede Marcus Ericsson to drive their No. 7 racecar alongside Canadian James Hinchcliffe.
After driving the past four seasons in Formula 1 with Sauber, Ericsson is looking forward to the opportunity to find success in the American series, which will present the obstacles of oval racing and the possibility of scoring points and, perhaps, even winning a race, something he could not achieve with his current team.
Ericsson joins a stout 2019 INDYCAR rookie class of first-timer combatants Colton Herta, Patricio O’Ward at Harding Steinbrenner Racing, as well as Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist, a recent veteran of Formula E and a driver who’s been on Ganassi’s short list for a few years. “I think more and more drivers are looking towards INDYCAR because it seems, from the outside, like a great series where you can really show off your capabilities as a driver. That is very appealing for a lot of drivers in Europe,” Ericsson said.
Shortly after SPM announced it was parting ways with general manager Piers Phillips, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) announced it was acquiring the Brit’s services as their president, overseeing the team’s activities in INDYCAR, IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship and the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series.
In the IndyCar Series, RLLR has a two-car entry for team co-owner Bobby Rahal’s son Graham and for 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sao, both driving Honda-powered Indy cars. Phillips, who has a varied background in UK-based motorsports before joining SPM as its general manager three seasons ago.
This writer got to know Phillips at Le Mans in 2010, when he was working with Strakka Racing, and found his management style there endearing. RLLR really hasn’t had a central operative to draw the team together since the death of Scott Roembke several years ago; perhaps Piers Phillips can, through his engaging style of management, draw this team together as Roembke did back in the day.
In anticipation of a first competition at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) next season for INDYCAR, an initial Firestone tire test was held recently that included one-each runner from Chevrolet and Honda. Tony Kanaan and Alexander Rossi – the latter running this weekend’s grueling Baja 1000 race – took initial laps of the challenging and lengthy 20-turn, 3.427-mile circuit this week.
Andretti Autosport’s Rossi, the first American racer to compete at COTA in an F1 car understood the historical significance of his participation in this test. “To be an American driver associated with COTA and to be here, really, from Day 1 is something cool to have as part of my history.” Veteran Kanaan came to the first F1 race “and went up on the tower (observation deck) and watched the first [practice] session. “I’ve always wanted to test here. We finally made it,” said the A.J. Foyt Racing driver.
Out of his seat at Chip Ganassi Racing, Ed Jones has joined with Scuderia Corsa and Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) to be the “road course specialist” at ECR for 2019. Although Scuderia Corsa ran Catalan Oriol Servia at RLLR last year and looked ready to become a free-standing Indy car team next year, management felt they had a better fit joining ECR and Jones.
Just this week Andretti Autosport announced driver Marco Andretti is taking a partnership move with his team next year, investing in the No. 98 entry for 2019 and beyond. His team will now be known as Andretti Herta Autosport w/ Marco Andretti & Curb-Agajanian. “I’m happy and proud go invest back into the team I have been with for 13 seasons and counting,” the third-generation racer said. “I truly believe this is the best team out there and I’m looking forward go a fun, competitive future with the U.S. Concrete No. 98 family.”
To date it’s been a busy off-season for the IndyCar Series denizens. Be interesting to see how many changes occur between November and March.
By Anne Proffit