Former hotel GM recommended to lead Laguna Seca

Monterey assistant county administrative officer (ACAO) Dewayne Woods will put forward the name of A & D Narigi Consulting, LLC (A&D), as the new track manager to select for WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca during a board of supervisors meeting on Tuesday, November 19.

Former Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa general manager John Narigi is expected to take charge of the facility, under the direction and supervision of Woods, provided A&D receives approval by the board.

In a board report approved by the ACAO, the supervisors are urged to sign Narigi’s firm to a three-year contract: “It is recommended that the Board of Supervisors: a. Receive a presentation summarizing the proposals received for management of Laguna Seca Recreation Area; b. Approve a management agreement from January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2023 between the County of Monterey and A&D Narigi Consulting, LLC for management services at Laguna Seca Recreation Area; and c. Authorize the Chair of the Board to execute the Agreement.”

Proposals from three potential vendors are included in the materials prepared for the board, with the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP), the track’s one and only track manager since its inception in 1957, and Laguna Seca Management LLC (LSM), formed by Long Beach co-founder Chris Pook, positioned alongside A&D.

Of the three, only A&D has a contract prepared and ready for execution by the county.

In the comparative summary put forth by the ACAO, A&D’s bid is presented with favor, while numerous items, including a desire for managerial autonomy, are listed as negative aspects of SCRAMP’s proposal:

“In general A & D Consulting, LLC (A&D) and Laguna Seca Management, LLC (LSM) are similar in fiscal provisions and length of term. Major differences exist in LSM submittal to have a piggyback contract for Executive Oversight & Forward Planning at a cost of $108,000 annually for term of contract totaling $324,000, and LSM appears to be heavy on executive level support. Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) differs most from other proposers in overall costs to County and requirement for exclusive rights and autonomy which suggest more of a concessionaire type agreement with County holding all financial risk and investment responsibility without commensurate guarantee of return. SCRAMP additionally requires exclusion of substantial County costs from Net Operating Income related to items such as fleet maintenance, information technology services, safety services (i.e. sheriff staffing), and any agreements SCRAMP determines incur a negative financial position.”

Once the anticipated transition from SCRAMP to A&D is complete, additional hand-picked managers are expected to be confirmed.

Pigot out at ECR

Ed Carpenter Racing will move forward without Spencer Pigot as its lead driver. The 2015 Indy Lights champion, who joined the team in 2016 and went full-time in 2018, will not return to the No. 21 Chevy.

“I’m appreciative of the opportunity ECR gave me,” the Floridian, who finished fifth on two occasions last season, told RACER. “I understand the reasons they had to go in a different direction, and wish them all the best.”

Holland’s Rinus VeeKay, who finished second in the Indy Lights championship and has tested on two occasions for ECR, is tipped to replace Pigot. Carrying loyal support from Dutch sponsors, it’s believed the change was made based on a need for increased funding.

A call to Carpenter was not immediately returned.

Barring its owner/driver, ECR could field a line-up with no carryovers from the previous season for the first time since 2015.

The two-car program ended the 2019 season with Pigot as its full-time driver, Carpenter in the No. 20 car on ovals, and Ed Jones piloting the No. 20 on road and street courses as part of a co-entry between ECR and the Scuderia Corsa sports car team.

Turning to 2020, Jones is not expected to return, Scuderia Corsa’s ongoing participation is unclear, Pigot is searching for a new home, Conor Daly is believed to be the frame, and Formula 1 journeyman Nico Hulkenberg has been inserted into the conversation.

“No drivers, other than Ed, are currently under contract for next year,” a team representative told RACER.

The change with Pigot comes as a surprise. RACER’s Robin Miller spoke with Carpenter at the IndyCar season finale in Monterey, who said the promising 26-year-old would likely be returning for his third full season with the team.

Over the last week, multiple sources have said Pigot’s place at ECR was no longer guaranteed, which appears to indicate VeeKay’s role has been solidified.

Daly, whose support from the Air Force would be a perfect fit for Carpenter’s all-American outfit, has been mentioned as a candidate for the road and street course opportunity, and Hulkenberg has been added to the roster of hypothetical candidates for the No. 20 Chevy.

Despite a recent report stating Hulkenberg was headed to ECR, it’s believed the 10-year F1 veteran, who is unsigned for 2020, is not among the team’s primary options.

What are Penske’s plans for IndyCar?

After purchasing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Roger Penske’s first order of business involved touring the 110-year-old facility with his leadership team to compile a top-10 list of improvements. A similar process is about the begin with his other key acquisition, the NTT IndyCar Series, where fan input could shape the open-wheel series’ future.

“What we will do is try to put together a list of things in IndyCar… even ask the fans what they think they’d like to see, because this is just not us looking out,” Penske said. “We’ve got to see who’s looking in, and that would be the fans. I think the product on the racetrack has never been better.

“We need to attract more teams. And certainly, from a commercial standpoint, having NTT coming right off of Verizon is really, really, really important. Our TV partner with NBC – we want to do more with them. So, I think these are basic areas that we need to cover here.”

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles, who will remain in the position under new ownership, is keen to see the series filtered through Penske’s vision and business acumen.

“He gives us the ability to look at what we’ve got with fresh eyes, but not naive or uninitiated eyes,” Miles said. “It’s going to be a treat for us to go down this road together and sort out what are the best priorities, the smartest priorities, that we can tap into to grow these businesses. It’s not some kind of kid in the candy store thing; it’s something that he is so well-suited to develop.”

Penske played a pivotal role during the late 1970s in the establishment of CART, the Championship Auto Racing Teams IndyCar series, which was formed by team owners in reaction to their dissatisfaction with USAC, the sanctioning body chosen by the Hulman George family to run the Indy 500 and the season-long IndyCar championship.

Although some would point to the CART/Indy Racing League split in the early 1990s as the root cause of open-wheel racing’s decline in North America, Penske cites CART’s formation as the problem’s true genesis. Preventing fractures within IndyCar’s current ownership group is clearly a priority for The Captain.

“Well, number one, when I look back, the biggest mistake I made is when we decided to start Championship Auto Racing Teams,” he said. “We were in conflict. I think today, hopefully, smarter minds would have kept it together. But, you can’t bring history back and change it.”

Having skipped the Indy 500 from 1996-2000 as IRL teams dominated the entry list, he says a lesson was learned during Team Penske’s absence from the grand event as the CART/IRL split raged.

“What I like is when we came back, the impact it had for our company,” Penske added. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is really the foundation of our brand, and see how it’s grown just over the few years we’ve been back… you know, I think that everybody sees that.

“And that would be one of the things I would do if I was a steward – basically be sure that we didn’t fall into that kind of a trap. I’ve got scars all over me because I moved out on that. But I don’t know if you remember, I probably was the first one to come back and say, ‘Hey, I made a big mistake,’ and I would say that today.”

Now that he’s in an official position as the steward of IndyCar’s future, Penske is ready to get down to business with finding and making improvements in collaboration with the series’ leadership and staff.

“It’s a small, but I think very competent, group,” he said. “And in today’s day of media and what we have to offer, I think we’re in a driver’s seat. We’ve got a unique product. It’s the fastest product in the world. What I have to do as an individual along with our team what’s best for IndyCar and what’s best for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Put them in any order you want. And using that as a bar, I think that we’ll always do the right thing.”

MSR confirms full-time program for Harvey with Andretti support

Michael Shank and Jim Meyer will achieve their dream of becoming full-time entrants in the NTT IndyCar Series next season as Jack Harvey pilots the No. 60 Honda with assistance from Andretti Technologies.

The relationship between Andretti and Meyer Shank Racing took its first step in 2017 at the Indianapolis 500 where the Ohio-based team made its IndyCar debut in a car supplied by Andretti. After purchasing a chassis of its own, the MSR outfit appeared at six rounds in 2018 working in collaboration with the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports organization, which recently moved to Chevrolet as its engine supplier, expanded to 10 races last season, and in the reunion with Andretti’s Honda-powered team, MSR will finally embark on the full 17-race calendar.

“These last two years we have been taking the season in stride and really learning how to build our program to the point where we can run all 17 races,” Shank said. “This year has been great and Jack has produced some spectacular results for us and we, as a team, are proud to have him back next year. And of course, all of this would not be possible without AutoNation and SiriusXM who have worked side by side with us from the very beginning and they are a big factor in getting our program to where it is right now.”

Having won IMSA’s 2019 GT Daytona championship with the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3, MSR’s ties to the Japanese brand will continue to grow stronger as Honda returns for the team’s fourth IndyCar season.

“Of course, sticking by Honda was a very important decision to me,” Shank added. “We have stood by HPD and Honda for many years in both the sports car and IndyCar paddocks and to be able to continue to work with them in 2020 is something I am really grateful for.”

For Harvey, whose last full season of racing came in 2015 on the way to a runner-up finish in Indy Lights, the faith and opportunity provided by Shank, SiriusXM CEO and team co-owner Meyer, AutoNation CEO Marc Cannon, and others in his camp have the Briton ready for a breakout performance.

“This is the moment that we all work so extremely hard for,” he said. “I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to go racing with Meyer Shank Racing, AutoNation and SiriusXM full time. We have shown we can be competitive, and I can’t wait to build on that and get started on another multi-year program with this group. This is the first time in four years I’ll be competing full time, I owe that to Michael, Jim, Marc, my manager Bob , and my family for the support and belief. I’ve never been so excited to go racing.”

In addition to outfitting the No. 60 entry with dampers and other performance components supplied by Andretti Technologies, MSR will also have the services of Andretti’s Andy Listes, who rates among the most promising race engineers in the IndyCar paddock, to lead Harvey’s efforts from the timing stand.

The Week in IndyCar, Nov. 6, with Bobby Rahal

Racing legend Bobby Rahal joins us for The Week In IndyCar to discuss Roger Penske’s purchase of the NTT IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the options available to James Hinchcliffe in a third Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing IndyCar entry, memories of the Hulman George family, his days leading the Jaguar Formula 1 program, the Columbus 500 IMSA race, and more topics driven by questions submitted via social media.

Cooling issue the last hurdle for aeroscreen

Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais says improved cockpit cooling is the last significant hurdle to clear for IndyCar’s new-for-2020 aeroscreen.

Conducted under a sweltering Florida sun on Tuesday, the Frenchman was tasked with sampling the protection device designed by Red Bull Advanced Technologies for the first time while trying new pieces and ideas to increase airflow delivery into and out of the cockpit.

“It was typical Sebring humidity and 90 degrees,” Bourdais told RACER. “As expected, if you run the thing stock, with no vents open, it’s barely bearable, heat-wise.”

The tropical conditions that met Bourdais and IndyCar’s engineering team at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday presented a worst-case scenario to manage.

“We tried all the vent configurations, and really, what makes it bearable and usable for heat and body comfort is a vent on the side of the aeroscreen that plugs into the helmet,” he added.

The aeroscreen’s primary cockpit ducting system is found where the RBAT unit meets the revised shock cover, which funnels air below the screen and towards the driver’s upper torso and helmet. In prior tests conducted by Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Andretti Autosport, concerns over insufficient airflow strength through the main vent were noted, with the need for direct cooling to the helmet serving as the most common recommendation.

Determining the correct sizing of the NACA duct that will feed air to the helmets could be the last item for IndyCar to complete as RBAT moves towards mass aeroscreen production.

While working through the various cockpit cooling ideas presented at Sebring, Bourdais and fellow aeroscreen tester Patricio O’Ward from Arrow McLaren SP tried running with their visors open and closed, at high and low speeds, to observe the changes in airflow aimed at their helmets.

Inside the No. 18 DCR Honda, Bourdais watched in fascination as his cockpit became a miniature wind tunnel.

“The air would come in at the front, but then get sucked out from the top right away,” he said. “The air that comes in goes up and stays close to the screen, but then it stalls close to the driver, so it doesn’t really reach you.

“The air just kind of tumbles in front of your face, which makes it hard to run with the visor open at speed because there’s this ball of dust and debris that floats in front of your face and gets in your eyes. At low speed, like simulating a yellow flag situation behind the pace car, it’s fine, but at high speed, it isn’t.”

Bourdais enjoyed a few laps of science fiction taking place a few inches in front of his helmet during one test run.

“It was like a movie when they’re in outer space with no gravity,” he continued. “They wanted to try putting me up or down at different heights for me in the car to see how that affected things with the airflow, so they modified my seat. The seats are made from the little beads, and there were some of them that got loose and started floating in the car during that run.

“I did two laps with this little sphere of beads, like, perfectly levitating in front of my eyes in that dead zone of stalled air. It was a pretty crazy thing to watch!”

Having been impressed with the visibility offered by the aeroscreen, Bourdais is confident the steamy ambient conditions at Sebring gave IndyCar and RBAT all they need to finalize a range of cooling options for the new season when it commences in March.

“You aren’t going to see us race in something much hotter than what we had today,” he said. “I think they came away knowing what to do so we can handle worst-case situations. With a lot of heat, it isn’t as pleasant to drive as before without the screen, but it can be made better.”