Damn, CEP listeners, it’s been awhile! I hope you’ve all been well, and I appreciate you all sticking with my cohosts and I as we come to grips with being more professional. But there’s no better way to return to the World of the HOT BLOG than with the annual Indianapolis 500 preview! It’s that time of year again: The greatest weekend on the calendar for gear heads. I want to jump right in with a look ahead to the world’s greatest race, but before we do that, we need to look back at the weekend that was.
Qualifying weekend at Indianapolis delivered in every way: There was weather to contend with, there were major upsets, there is a new pole winner and 3 drivers left disappointed after the Last Row Shootout (IndyCar’s new term for Bump Day qualifying). Talk about a pressure cooker: The 6 cars that didn’t make the top 30 on Saturday each had one chance to make the final 3 positions on Sunday. One solitary run; 4 laps, 10 miles, for the rest of your life. While there were a few smaller teams in danger, as expected, the real story was the big name drivers and teams fighting for their Indy dreams. Could people’s champ James Hinchcliffe actually miss the race 2 years in a row? He destroyed his primary car in Saturday qualifying, and had to jump in a backup car with very few practice laps and lay it all on the line. Or what about international mega-star Fernando Alonso? The McLaren team both looked and acted overmatched and out of place all month, but surely a team with pockets that deep and resources that profound would find a way to squeak in, right? Well, Hinch snuck in by the last hair on his chinny-chin-chin and will roll off 32nd out of 33, but Mr. Alonso will not be joining him on the last row, thanks to tiny little Juncos Racing.
Alonso was sitting in P33 when Kyle Kaiser went out as the final car to qualify in the Last Row Shootout. Kyle and his team had been through a hellacious month of May to that point. Right as practice opened, their major sponsors backed out. The team’s plan was to try and qualify, then worry about funding to actually contest the 500. Then, later in practice week, Kyle had a hard accident and destroyed the one car the team had prepared. The Juncos boys had to somehow pull a whole race car out of a hat just to get Kaiser in the qualifying line. They worked nonstop overnight to scrap, claw, and assemble an old borrowed race car. Team owner Ricardo Juncos, who immigrated to America as a go-kart mechanic and eventually started his own team, moving up the ladder from karts through junior open wheel to eventually a part-time IndyCar program, said he kept his team fueled with “pizza and Starbucks” as they slaved until 4am to make qualifying tech inspection. With no practice on this car, the 23-year-old Kaiser took to the track for his last ditch effort to make the show. The mission: knock out 2-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso and the mighty Team McLaren. The 4 lap average to beat? 227.353 mph. Kaiser’s first lap was faster than Alonso’s. Encouraging, but he still had three laps left. 2nd lap: faster than Alonso’s. You don’t think….3rd lap, right there, in line with the champ. This can’t be happening…Kaiser rips across the stripe to register a 4 lap average of 227.372 mph. By 0.019 mph over 4 laps, Juncos knocked out McLaren. Kaiser takes down Alonso! David defeats Goliath again! This is exactly what makes the month of May at Indianapolis so special, and one of the many reasons why I can’t WAIT for this weekend. What happened with McLaren? What’s next for Alonso? Don’t worry, that’ll be in my next blog. But for now, let’s focus on the 103rd Indianapolis 500, set to take place this weekend.
I just spent a lot of time focusing on the back of the grid, and that’s because the sharp end is pretty much status quo. The top 9 starting spots are dominated by juggernaut Team Penske and superspeedway specialists Ed Carpenter Racing. Ed is an Indianapolis native, who grew up racing the local dirt tracks, went to school at Butler University, and has started on pole for this race 3 times. He finished 2nd last year, and if he were to move up one more step on that podium, the entire grandstands might collapse from the pandemonium that’s sure to ensue. He’s got a fair shot, as do his two team cars driven by young American Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones, who finished 3rd here as a rookie in 2017. But to accomplish this, ECR needs to run through the buzzsaw that is Team Penske.
Penske also put 3 cars in the first three rows, led by first time Indy polesitter Simon Pagenaud. The Frenchman won a championship for Penske in 2016, but has struggled since. There were grumblings for the past year and a half that he was close to being dropped from his contract, but he has responded this year with a brilliant drive in the rain at the Indy GP two weeks ago, running down CEP favorite Scott Dixon from 7 seconds back in just 3 laps to pass for the win. He then qualified on the pole for the biggest race on the calendar, and has history on his side. Last year, Will Power won the Indy GP and followed it up by winning the 500. His team owner? Oh yeah, Roger Penske. Things are looking up for the one they call “The Professor.”
Of course, in a 500 mile race like this we can expect more than just 2 teams to spend time at the front. Herta-mania is in full swing, as the now 19-year-old rookie Colton Herta - already with a race win to his credit in 2019 - was the quickest qualifying Honda-powered car and will roll off from row 2. Andretti Autosport brings a 5-car armada led by former champ Ryan Hunter-Reay and budding superstar Alexander Rossi, who is proving to be a straight up assassin. He doesn’t come to the track to win, he comes to embarrass the competition and does so with no remorse. Drivers like the aforementioned Dixon and Graham Rahal are too experienced, smart and talented to not have some say in how the final results play out. They may start further back in the field, but they’ll find their way to the front through speed, strategy or both. And what about Hinch?? He starts 32nd, but Rossi started there last year and finished in the top 3. After all that The Speedway has put him through in the past few years, I feel like the ol’ girl owes him one.
So, after ALL this talk, who is actually going to win the Indianapolis 500? Below are my 3 favorites, and a few dark horses to watch out for:
1 – Alexander Rossi
2 – Simon Pagenaud
3 – Ed Jones
1 – Connor Daly
2 – James Davison
3 – JR Hildebrand
This is going to be a weekend for the ages. I can feel it! So crack open a cold one, pick your favorite chip/dip combo, and settle in for the greatest show in the world of motor racing. I am fortunate enough to be able to attend once again, and I’ll be wearing my podcast shirt on Sunday, so feel free to say hello if we cross paths. Even if we don’t run into each other (or you avoid me on purpose), be sure to stop and see our friends at the Styled Aesthetic booth. Indiana is broiler-hot at the end of May, so you’ll need a CEP can coolie to keep those drinks cold! Shameless plugs aside, my one wish for any petrol-head out there is that they get as much joy as I do out of watching these 33 gladiators vie for the single greatest trophy in racing. It feels great to be blogging again, and it’ll feel even better to back in the Tower Terrace at Indy this weekend! Let’s GO!
If the rumors are true, the C8 Corvette will be king in a way that no other Corvette has ever been.
And that's me saying that.
If I were Acura, and had the NSX out right now as the quintessential modern American mid-engine supercar (Yeah, American, fight me in Marysville), I'd be scrambling. Because the C8 is coming. And after it launches, nothing will be the same.
At this point, there's little reason to doubt the leaks and rumors on the C8. Between Corvette forums, Reddit, and good-old fashioned journalism, basically every previous reasonable leak has been proven true. From the mid-engine layout, to the wiring issues, to the hybrid rumors, to the Cadillac coverup, to the engine options, it's all been rumors or leaks, and it's all turned out to be fact. Two months before the car's official debut, there's a new rumor, and it's about the price. According to Hagerty, the base-model C8 Corvette is slated to start between $60-70,000. We predicted that by the way. Or at least we asked "What if". But divorced from our awesomeness and objective right-and-righteousness in all things, remember: That Acura NSX, the Corvette's main American competition, starts at $157,000. Not twice the price, $100,00 more, almost three times more. Holy shit.
Imagine this: A Corvette C8 that costs $65,000 and matches the performance of the NSX. Not almost matches, not comes close, but matches it. That car would be king. Right now, the C7 Corvette ZR1 is just slightly faster than the NSX in pretty much every measurable test. But the ZR1 also matches the NSX when it comes to price, with the top trim coming in at around $155,000. Of course, the current ZR1 has that big Supercharged V8 in the front making over 600 HP, but the first C8s are expected to sit on lots with a 500-ish HP V8 in the middle. Okay, so maybe the 570 HP hybrid NSX beats the base C8 in a drag race, but doesn't the C8 need to match it around a track? It feels that way to me. After all, we know that Corvette loves racing, and we know they've been race-track testing the C8 since August of last year, all the while watching the NSX race across the class line in the Weathertech Championship. Corvette won't release an all-new mid-engined car that's a slouch on the track, it's not even possible. We also know that Corvette perennially has one eye on Ferrari. And with the C8, they have their other eye on hybrid technology. Ferrari is announcing their first-ever hybrid V8 any day now. Try to imagine a Corvette engineer who isn't quaking and frothing at the mouth to see the specs on that Ferrari, ready to rabidly work on how they can match the Ferrari on it's home layout turf for half the cost. Given what Corvette wants to have the top trim of the C8 compete with, and given how much the layout change has put at stake for Corvette, Chevy, and GM at large, I don't think it's strange to say that the base C8 needs to match the NSX. Actually, I believe it's fair to ask if Corvette can afford to not go directly at the NSX, a car that has its own cult following and launched to international acclaim. In fact, if Corvette can't make a huge international impression with the very first C8s, this whole mid-engine transition could fail before it even makes it off the ground.
But just for a moment, let's say that all my prophesies come true. Let's say that the base C8 gets fabulous reviews, that it matches the NSX, and that the top-tier C8 is a twin-turbo, hybrid, Ferrari-mashing, scalpel-wielding track lunatic from Bowling Green. And let's imagine the C8 comes in a color called Bowling Green, because it really helps the imagery. All of that still might not matter. Because of Nick.
Not Nick specifically, but Nick too. Reading the C8 rumor threads in Corvette forums is an awful, awful time. So many FRAM-brained layout truthers pop in to talk about how the C8 isn't...whatever, or how it doesn't...uh...how it...Okay, I honestly don't know what they're talking about, because I get really bad synesthesia when I read something fundamentally at odds with reality, and all I hear is this song. I said this about the Charger all the way back in the Mustang blog, and I'll say it again now: Any given modern car is so different from any of its progenitor's roots that a layout change cannot even matter. Oh wow, the first Corvette was front-engined! Y'all sure cracked that case. It also was also so ugly it caused an Anthrax outbreak in Manchester, New Hampshire. The C3 was a trash fire. The C4 was so 80s you still can't legally be seen in public next to one. The C5 was a fantastic race car...as long as it had its entire own class. But they didn't keep any of those parts for the C7 just because they were tradition! They didn't even keep the appalling chrome wheels from the C6. Does anyone truly believe that the C7 should be compared to the C1? Of course not, nobody wants those problems. The C8 doesn't need that comparison either.
The truth is that if you look at the entire history of Corvette with an objective eye, not only are they one of most changeable cars in all of car history, but they also are notable trend-followers who lead from the front. Meaning, Corvette is rarely the first one to do anything new, but they are regularly the first ones to do anything new successfully. That's not damning with faint praise, it's just praise. Between the C1 and the C8 lie four dozen rusted hulks of lost, failed, and abandoned American supercars. The Corvette has outlasted the Mustang. It outlasted the Camaro. It outlasted the Panoz Esperante, the Delorean, the Firebird, the Thunderbird, Vector, Mosler, AMC, Callaway, the Cobra, Consulier, Plymouth, SSZ, the Charger, the Falcon F7, the Saleen, the GNX, the Viper, every single weak attempt from Cadillac, the GTO, Mercury, Glickenhaus, the Challenger, the Ford GT40, the Ford GT, the Ford GT, the Roisson, everything from SSC, the Venom, the G8, the SS, and every single other car that has challenged it for its entire existence. Yet people who stanned the Corvette would dare to threaten to leave over an engine layout change? Pure nonsense. Utter foolery!
But of course, some old fans will leave. Some, like Nick, already have. Former Corvette fans taking their nonsense and leaving could be damaging enough to kill the brand, potentially. But staying where they've been since 1953 would kill the brand with absolute certainty. When we initially talked about the mid-engine Corvette rumors, we postulated that maybe - just maybe - the Camaro division had fired a ZL1-shaped bullet directly through the heart of the Front/Rear Corvette by making a car that could, with a hobbled engine, race on track in a class with the ZR1...for the price of a Grand Sport. Now, there's no doubt in my mind that was the final straw. That fact - added to the ever-mounting staleness of a C7 that was an on-track winner and off-track media darling, but has been utterly humiliated by the Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger in sales for the C7's entire existence - makes it clear to me that Corvette had no choice but to swing as hard as they could with the C8 and hope for the best. No matter what The Olde Guard might think about it. Corvette was in the Harley dilemma. But they chose to act, instead of gracelessly sliding into a grave of their very own American design and manufacture.
And so, Corvette is taking on almost endless risk with the C8, specifically because of the fans: new, old, and prospective. That's why I titled this post Scary Hours. Not just because I like Drake, but because the Hours be Scary. Acura has to be scared. Ford has to be scared. Ferrari better be scared. Corvette stans have been scared, scared enough to run away. GM must be scared. We all know Chevy is scared. Corvette themselves have to be scared too, because it's all on them. Right now, every major development in the world of the supercar is entirely focused on the C8. If they execute, none of this Corvette fan grandstanding will matter or even be remembered. If they waver, or if they fail, then how long will it really take for a GM on the desperate hunt for cash savings above all else to shutter the Corvette division in total and let the resurgent Camaro reign? It's already the face of the brand in NASCAR, and their sports car volume-seller, and they could easily make a more plush, GT-style trim to grab the older Corvette buyers, and it could definitely be homologated to race in IMSA. It even has that precious Front/Rear layout that brings all the old men to the yard. I don't think it's a far-flung imagining to say that should everything break wrong, Corvette could be two or three years from disappearing out of car history. GM has killed better-selling brands for less.
Fortunately, all of this imagining and prophecy and guesswork ends soon. Because 7/8/19 is almost here. Right now it's scary hours, but a new king is coming. And after that - come hell or high water - nothing will be the same.