Pagenaud to Penske

The off-season just got a little more interesting today as Simon Pagenaud signed to race for Team Penske next year.

Though Robin Miller called this a couple weeks ago, this is still quite a surprise. Many assumed that since it was Miller, that it was him speculating and going out on a limb as he has done in the past. There were too many factors for this to be true. Well, Robin Miller knew precisely what he was talking about.

Word had that if Pagenaud went anywhere it would be to Andretti  Autosport where it’s been rumored for some time that there is a desire to add a fifth machine. It was either that or he’d replace James Hinchcliffe, whose contract with Andretti is up and who also  had a tough season.  Some said he’d stay put with Sam Schmidt, both of whom run Honda engines and with whom Pagenaud has close ties.

All of the bench racers and prognosticators (yours truly included) except Miller didn’t seriously think this would happen. Penske has never run four cars for a full season, he runs Chevrolet engines. But here we are.

Going into 2015, Penske has the strongest line-up of driver talent in the paddock. Pagenaud joins defending series champ Will Power, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2000 500 winner Juan Montoya.

The other big teams, Ganassi and Andretti don’t approach this consistently strong level of ability. This signing makes a Penske sweep of the 500 and the Astor Cup a strong possibility.

It also strengthens The Bow Tie’s chances to also get the Manufacturer’s Championship. Chevy powers Penske and Ganassi as well as the strong CFH (the consolidated Ed Carpenter/Sarah Fisher effort). Honda now is down to one driver who’s a consistent threat to win from race to race in the form of Ryan Hunter-Reay. That said even his consistency is inconsistent at times. Honda’s got a lot to figure out before the first race because never in my memory or knowledge has one engine supplier had so disproportionate an amount of talent as Chevy has now.

One question for Honda will be Pagenaud’s replacement. Gabby Chaves and Rocky Moran Jr. are scheduled to conduct testing for Sam Schmidt. Justin Wilson isn’t signed yet, which would be way too early for Dale Coyne’s liking. Wilson isn’t happy with Coyne and he is certainly talented enough to fill the seat Pagenaud has just vacated. Hinchcliffe is also available, but unless Andretti shows no interest in re-signing the personable Canadian I’d say his interest in signing with a team that isn’t the caliber of Andretti is slim. But I also didn’t really think Pagenaud would be driving for The Captain, so take this for what it’s worth.

Now before we give Penske and Chevy the victor’s laurels. There are some questions about this new juggernaut-in-waiting.

Penske has never run four cars over the course of a season. With all of his commitments to IndyCar, NASCAR and his nascent V8 SuperCar effort, will this spread Penske’s efforts too thin? Will it be a matter of too many cars spoiling the season? Can Simon and Will Power get  along? They had some run-ins and bad blood last year, can they put those contretemps behind them?

We’ll have to wait and see, those questions can only be answered over the course of a season. Time will tell, but right now this is the biggest news of the offseason and there’s now the potential for dominance unlike we’ve seen in some time.


Not Another (mostly) IndyCar Blog!

For sometime I’ve considered writing a blog that mostly pertains to my favorite sport, the Verizon IndyCar Series. I can already hear some of you saying,”there are a plethora of quality blogs on the series in existence, why another for a sport whose TV ratings compare with indoor women’s field hockey?”

To answer that question, I don’t propose to do anything earth shattering but just share the joys and frustrations of being a fan and to try to add historical context wherever I can. I am always after the truth, and I will try to approach that the best I can. If whatever person/sadist who takes over in race control does well, I’ll say so. If they pull a Brian Barnhart at New Hampshire in 2011 (known hereafter as a Barnhart) you better believe I’ll also acknowledge that too.

In addition to being a fervent follower of the present iteration of IndyCar, I am a student of the sport’s past. Names like Ralph DePalma and Rodger Ward are as likely to come up in my ramblings as are Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power.

This isn’t just to show off the fact that I can name-drop racers from the distant past, I mean that is impressive (to me at least), but there are lessons to be learned from the time before us and can be used to better explain the way things are today. I have a degree in history (though like 99.9 percent of all history majors I work in a field that has nothing to do with history) and that means the past is more than a mere recitation of people and events but the context of how the intersection of these places out and why that makes the here and now what it is. Both for events on and off the track.The catastrophic CART/IRL split of 1996 didn’t happen in the two or three years preceding it, you have to go back further to about 40 years previously with the establishment of the United States Auto Club to find the path where the troubles that manifested themselves in 1996 inaugurated. Of course it could be argued it goes still further with the weaknesses found in the AAA Contest Board.

I also want to direct fellow racing fans to quality books about the sport so that they may have the best possible materials to learn from. There are many valuable texts out there interspersed with books that don’t necessarily have the educational value I prize in books. If I can steer the handful of viewers who come here to quality works then I will pride myself on that.

This will mostly be an IndyCar/racing blog. But as I have a multitude of interests I’ll from time to time post about them. Baseball, the Civil War and other topics will occasionally pop up here. I would like to write a blog about The Civil War, but my knowledge doesn’t come close to some of the bloggers I follow such as Brooks Simpson or Kevin Levin. They are the people who are doing the real research, coming up with fresh ideas and takes on the war. I would just be wasting valuable bandwidth, but that doesn’t mean I won’t post a topic or two.

To begin about the bread and butter topic of this blog, to quote Dickens, this is the best of times and worst of times for IndyCar in my view. The racing is more competitive now than I can recall. The DW-12, though maligned for its looks and spec-ness is providing close quarters, exciting racing. There are fun and charismatic drivers all over the grid who have some of the most personality in all of sports. Where will Simon Pagenaud and James Hinchcliffe go? Can Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti fulfill the expectations of their surnames? What will the new Chevrolet and Honda aerokits look like? Who’ll add their name to the Borg-Warner and Astor Cup in 2015?

Unfortunately, most people in the country are unaware of the excitement and the questions. As a result, .3 shares on TV and 20,000 people trackside are considered successes. Events come and go and ovals not at 16th and Georgetown barely hang on to the schedule. Everyone has an opinion on what caused this, (I do too and I’ll share that). But more importantly what can be done to fix it? Can anything be done? Does it matter?

I’ll look into all of these questions and more in this blog. So buckle up, but the fireproof balaclava and helmet on and get ready to fire the engine. This blog is about ready to start!