‘Tis The Season For Announcements

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It’s always amazing how quickly things start happening once the calendar flips to the new year. We are barely more than three weeks into 2019 and we’ve already seen announcements pertaining to NBC IndyCar schedule, NTT coming on board as the new title sponsor and most recently – announcements from individual IndyCar teams confirming their plans for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season.

That’s what I really like about this time of year, because when teams announce their plans – they are also generally showing off any changes in their livery.

Before the days of the internet, we were forced to wait on our racing magazines to be delivered before we could catch a glimpse of what new cars would look like. Of course back then, we were also finding out what each chassis would look like, as well.

In the early nineties, I subscribed to three magazines; AutoWeek, Racer and IndyCar Racing. At this time of year, I would anxiously check my mailbox to see what the new cars looked like. Each magazine would show shots from pre-season testing. Sometimes cars would be in their natural carbon-fiber state, with just white lettering on the sidepods. But we were trying to see the difference in the updated chassis. The updated liveries would come later. With the common body kits that were introduced last year – we already know what the car looks like. The only suspense these days is in the livery.

Last Friday, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports held an event at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Not only did they unveil their new livery, but they also announced that Arrow was stepping up their sponsorship to include primary sponsorship on both fulltime cars. It was also announced that the team will be re-branded as Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Since that is a lot to type with each team mention, I’ll probably use the more convenient “Arrow SPM”.

In a nice touch, not only did the event feature the fulltime cars of James Hinchcliffe (No.5) and Marcus Ericsson (No.7) – they also had the No.6 on-hand to send the message that as soon as Robert Wickens is able to drive again, he has a car waiting on him. Wickens was at the event and was interviewed by emcee Anders Krohn. He seemed upbeat and positive, but afterwards made it clear that he does not plan to be ready to drive the car at any point in 2019. Still, it was encouraging to see him there and it was good to see that the team is fully behind him.

With Arrow stepping up their role with Arrow SPM, they are sending a message that they intend to win…now. Not only do they have a proven winner with James Hinchcliffe, I expect rookie Marcus Ericsson to contend for wins like Wickens did last year in his shortened rookie campaign.

This was a well-choreographed event on Friday, with the three cars on the floor where the Colorado Avalanche and the Denver Nuggets play. But if you know me, you know there was a negative – the liveries.

Not only were all three cars identical, except for the numbers – but they took one of the better liveries on the grid and dulled it down. All three cars resembled the familiar gold and black scheme that the No.5 car has been carrying since May of 2015. But there were two major differences between the previous Hinch cars and these. First of all, the reflective chrome effect on the gold had been replaced with more of a dull old-gold look. Worst of all the sidepods, wings and rear cowling are now in the dreaded matte black finish.

If you’ve been a regular reader here, you know how much I dislike a matte finish. The first time I can recall seeing an Indy car with a matte finish was on the first William Rast car that had, what I thought was a hideous flat olive green finish. It had the sex-appeal of an M4 Sherman tank. When Charlie Kimball switched from a good-looking blue and orange car to the hideous matte black finish for the past few years – he had what I considered to be the ugliest car in the paddock.

In my opinion, race cars were meant to shine – the more glossy, the better. When the cars were under the lights at Gateway, most of them really popped to those of us in person. Then there was the matte back car of Charlie Kimball. You could barely see it as it rode stealthily under the lights like a B-2 bomber. I know that it is trendy these days to have a matte finish on cars and football helmets, but I think history will look back on this fad and laugh. This current trend in auto racing will be the equivalent of the leisure suits and pullover baseball jerseys from the seventies. In catching myself about to start a long rant, suffice it to say that I don’t care for flat or matte finishes on race cars.

Then on Monday, we finally got some confirmation of what’s going on at Carlin. What was no surprise at all was that Max Chilton will be returning to the team as well as his primary sponsor, Gallagher. This will be the fourth straight year that Chilton will be sponsored by Gallagher, which is no huge surprise since his father is one of the top executives there. His first two seasons were with Chip Ganassi Racing, then last season – he and Charlie Kimball migrated to Carlin as the successful motorsports team began their IndyCar operation from scratch.

The one slight surprise from Carlin is that veteran driver Charlie Kimball will only be a part-timer as he begins his ninth IndyCar season. Novo Nordisk will remain as his sponsor, but we learned last fall that they had planned to scale back their support. Apparently, Kimball was unable to secure any more funding so Carlin will have an unnamed second driver in the No.23 car during races when Kimball will not be in the cockpit. There were no liveries revealed for the Carlin teams, but don’t be surprised if the Novo Nordisk car is clad in that horrible matte black finish.

Then yesterday, Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) announced their plans. When they were not part of the Arrow SPM announcement on Friday, I wondered if they were still going to have an association with Sam Schmidt’s growing team. My concerns were put to rest when they announced they would still be with SPM. Last year, MSR and driver Jack Harvey ran a total of six races – St. Petersburg, Long Beach, the Indianapolis 500, Mid-Ohio, Portland and Sonoma.

This year, Harvey returns to the cockpit of the No.60 car as well as sponsors AutoNation and SiriusXM; and they are increasing their program to ten races. They will run every event as 2018 (substituting Laguna Seca for Sonoma), while adding COTA, Barber, the IndyCar GP and Road America.

This is the right way to build a successful program. While we were all happy to have two brand-new full-time teams from Carlin; some figured they were biting off too much at the beginning. I’m figuring Michael Shank has an eye on going fulltime in 2020, after two part-time seasons. The patience will pay off.

Except for the Indianapolis 500, we’ve pretty well heard from all of the full and part-time NTT IndyCar Series teams, save one – Juncos. I’m not sure anyone knows what their plans are, but hopefully they can find their footing after a very shaky part-time 2018 season. They have yet to announce their plans and/or sponsors and Carlin still needs to announce their driver for the non-Kimball races.

The announcement season is now pretty much over. There haven’t been many offseason surprises this time, other than Arrow stepping up their sponsorship. But now that we’ve heard from just about every team what their respective plans are – we are less than a month away from Spring Training at COTA. Once that’s over, we’ll be less than four weeks from the drop of the green flag in St. Petersburg. Believe it or not, it’s almost time to go racing!

George Phillips

11 Responses to “‘Tis The Season For Announcements”

  1. George, I was on a shop tour this past Fall through the IMS at ASPM, and the spokesman said they had ditched the “body wraps” that all the teams were using and going back to painting the cars. See, all the body parts are the same, but they aren’t the same when it comes to individual fittings, which made the wraps not look that great close up, with small wrinkles and such, and the sponsors hated that. The hardest part for ASPM was trying to duplicate that gold color we all love, but sadly they could not, so they had to go in a different direction. The Dallara “factory” on Main St. in Speedway has a dedicated paint shop now, and more and more teams are ditching the wraps and going back to paint. Sad to see the gold go, but love the idea of going back to painting like in the olden days we both love so much!

    Phil Kaiser
    Indianapolis

  2. that’s interesting Phil. I suppose the wraps made it easier, but I like the idea of sticking with paint. As far as the matte finish, I don’t mind it used in conjunction with gloss, but not a fan of entire matte finish.

    • They told us the wraps were a pain in the rear. Hard to use. The had a whole roll of the beautiful gold wrap sitting there they said they were going to discard but I didn’t have the guts to ask for it, lol!

  3. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Curious to see what Ericsson will do this year. In F1 he was always in poor equipment so it was impossible to judge him, but I hope he does well and maybe even scores a victory this season.

    Mark me as one that’s a fan of the matte colors. It makes them look stealthy and evil, they may not “pop” under the lights but that’s because they’re sneaking up in the shadows ready to pounce! I’ve always felt you could see the lines and curves of the body better with matte colors because the gloss/glare can sometimes obscure those features. I liked the SPM liveries. I’m also a fan of dri-fit shirts. I understand if we can’t be friends anymore…but I do enjoy yelling at kids when they get in my yard, so at least we still share a common interest. 🙂

    • Good Lord! I suppose next you’ll be telling me that you’re a fan of winning drivers pouring milk over their head in Victory Lane. To quote a famous Slim Pickens line…”I am depressed!”

      • Pouring milk over your head and kissing g the bricks can stop anytime.

      • BrandonWright77 Says:

        More of an orange juice man myself. 😉

        KIDDING! Every drop should be cherished and not just poured out all willy-nilly like that! That is one thing that does bother me and a tradition I wish would go away, I almost find it offensive they would disrespect The Milk like that. Would you not want to savor every single drop??

        Not to mention the firesuit they’re wearing usually goes right into a display and I’ve heard they often stink of rancid milk. Who wants that?!? Give them champagne if they want to pour something over their head….after they drink the milk and share it with their crew, of course.

  4. Bruce Waine Says:

    From an engineering perspective, I wonder if matte surfaces are as fast as gloss surfaces when tested in a wind tunnel?

    • billytheskink Says:

      I recall hearing on a NASCAR broadcast some years back that matte was lighter but less aerodynamic (quite slightly in both cases). This was when Martin Truex Jr. began running a glossy paint job at Furniture Row racing for the first time at Daytona and I recall the broadcasters state that Truex’s engineers were very happy that team owner Barney Visser finally allowed a gloss finish over his preferred matte because they believed the gloss should make them faster at tracks like Daytona and Talladega.

  5. Mark J Wick Says:

    George, for many years in the 60s and early 70s, I built scale models of cars as they ran in the 500. Some I built almost completely from scratch. And I paid very close attention to detail, making sure every paint detail and every decal were exactly as the cars ran in the race, which is usually not the same as how the cars were for practice and qualifying. I share that to preface saying there the three cars displayed at the Arrow SPM announcement were not identical. Yes, they were similar, but all three were different. The easiest difference to spot was the front wing end plates.

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