Q: Just read the Harding Steinbrenner announcement on RACER.com and am very excited at the continual momentum gains IndyCar keeps making. Happy to see this new team getting great support to start the 2019 season. If Harding Steinbrenner is the Andretti satellite team and Marco re-signed with Michael, where does that leave Alonso? I read in the Mailbag last week that Fred’s plans might have stalled a little bit, but does this close the door on his possibly being with Andretti? Herta and Pato at the satellite team. Marco, Hunter-Reay, Rossi, and Veach at Michael’s team. Does he run a fifth car for Alonso?
Rob Pobiega, Lemont, IL
RM: Nobody seems to know where Fred is going to be racing in 2019 (aside from WEC), but again, if it’s McLaren bringing Alonso to the IndyCar party it cannot be a Honda (at least, not if it has any McLaren signage). Regardless, I think Michael would run a car for him at Indy because he could likely raise sponsorship, but I also think there’s a plan in place where Andretti could field eight cars full-time if everything fell just right.
Q: As excellent as the Harding/Steinbrenner/Andretti collaboration is for IndyCar, I have to think both Chevy and Honda had some concerns and demands regarding the security of their technology? Any insights?
RM: As I said in an earlier answer, we were informed that Chevrolet was careful about sharing any proprietary information with the Andretti/Harding team at Sonoma. Of course both manufacturers hate the idea of one team using both engines, and I hear IndyCar might even be looking at making a rule to prevent it. So stay tuned.
Q: We are all praying for Robert Wickens’ full recovery, but in reality I do not think 2019 will be an option for him. If Andretti can’t make it happen, what do you think about Alonso as Hinchcliffe’s teammate?
PS: I would love to see Conor get the ride also.
RM: I don’t want to comment because I don’t know the extent of Robby’s injuries, but he’s in therapy every day and fighting (as you could see in his video). I think Alonso is a logical choice, and Honda would have no problem providing an engine for him at SPM. I think Daly has a plan and a sponsor, but it’s not quite cinched up.
Q: Great news with Herta and O’Ward joining Harding Steinbrenner Racing next season. Two great up-and-comers. Does this announcement change anything concerning McLaren to IndyCar?
Ralph Power, Indianapolis
RM: No, it has no bearing on McLaren’s situation.
Q: Have you heard or can substantiate the rumors that NASCAR is dangling a big fat carrot in the shape of a COO or CEO executive position to Jay Frye? And in all honesty, career-wise, is that a position too big to pass up?
Victor M., San Jose, CA.
RM: Jay enjoyed his NASCAR days running the Red Bull team and I’ve been hearing this rumor that NASCAR wants him for about a month. It would probably be tough to pass up (financially), and his wife Danielle hails from Alabama and loves the south so that’s another component, but Jay says he loves what he’s doing at IndyCar. It appears Mark Miles wisely lets Frye run the racing side without much interference, and not sure that would be the case in NASCAR. Jay also hired Bill Pappas and Tino Belli and they’ve made a good technical team. But know this, it would be a major loss to IndyCar if Frye left because between his communication skills, openness with everyone in the paddock, ability to think ahead with common sense and five-year plan, he’s been the best thing to happen to IndyCar in a long time.
Q: You mentioned in the Mailbag that Scott Dixon might want to test a F1 car someday. He tested a Williams in 2004. In fact, I think he had two tests. I believe the tests were deemed successful, but he didn’t get the call when Montoya or Ralf Schumacher left. Maybe he was hurt by Zanardi not doing well in his return to F1, or the fact the IRL was really an oval series. Al Unser Jr. tested at Williams one time as well. I think he was faster than Ricardo Patrese, but Patrick Head didn’t like that he smoked and didn’t have a fitness program. Any idea what Dixie’s times looked like from those tests, or why they passed on him?
Brian Henris, Fort Mill, SC
RM: I think I said in response to a question (would Dixon want to try F1?) that he might like to test one of today’s F1 cars, but had no interest in looking for a ride. His three-day Williams test back in 2003 was blighted by rain and a driveshaft failure that cost him a whole day, but he still wound up quicker than Williams’ driver Ralf Schumacher and just behind McLaren’s David Coulthard. The unofficial sheet said he was ninth overall of 18 drivers that tested.
Q: What is the outlook for the starting grid for 2019? I would suspect that all of the 2018 full-season entrants come back for 2019, and that would start the car count at 21. Now that Harding is expanding to two cars with O’Ward and Herta, that makes 22. RLL sounds like it is close to third car, and if McLaren does come to the table with a two-car team, that would take the count to 25. Then there is still Shank with six-10 races, Juncos with a handful of races, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing maybe with a part-time car, DragonSpeed Racing maybe doing six races as well, which could add four part-time teams. Do you see any differences to the above? Any new teams potentially coming into IndyCar? If McLaren does come to IndyCar, will it still partner with Andretti?
Rod, San Jose, CA
RM: There are a couple other teams lurking but we won’t name them just yet, so I expect 24-25 full-timers and several races to have 26-28. Be nice to see Indy with 40 cars going for 33 spots. McLaren and Andretti would appear to be a package, but anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen is guessing, and it could well be another team when all is said and done. Zak Brown told me it might be November before anything happens, and now Fred is talking about running the Daytona 500, so who knows what he wants to do besides Indianapolis?