Barber Recap- Team Penske Still Rules Alabama Despite Another Power Lapse

0423171052bTwo things can be counted on at Barber Motorsports Park- rain at some time during the weekend and a member of Team Penske on the pole and in Victory Lane. The eighth edition of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama followed the script perfectly.  Josef Newgarden joined his three teammates as winners of the race, and Will Power won another pole. Penske drivers have won five of the eight races and seven of the eight poles.

The overnight rain lingered into the morning but was gone by race time. There were a few drops just before the start, but nothing that affected the racing.  The cool temperatures didn’t seem to help the Hondas as I though it might.  The results were about what were expected.

It was a typical Barber race, with some passing in the back, but the leaders staying mostly single file.  The top three stayed within sight of each other most of the way. Power clearly had the best car. Newgarden kept close, but was not able to catch him to challenge for the lead. Dixon had third all to himself with an occasional run on Newgarden.

The race turned on Power’s tire puncture. I haven’t heard how the tire was damaged, but Power stayed out until he absolutely could not drive on it anymore. Newgarden inherited the lead and sailed to the win.  Alexander Rossi had the best drive of the day, non-winning division, going from 18th at the start to a fifth place finish. Newgarden’s drive to second was equally stellar.

When he failed to make the Fast Six, The team was thrilled to have two sets of sticker reds to use during the race. The below normal temperatures changed their strategy, and only one stint was on reds.  He got to second and stayed there hoping something would happen to Power.

Rossi give Andretti Autosport a glimmer of hope for better days ahead. Marco Andretti had gearbox problems on the pace lap and was three laps down immediately. Ryan Hunter-Reay fought back to 11th after repairing his damaged front wing in contact with James Hinchcliffe.

Sebastien Bourdais clings to the points lead with four drivers  within 15 points as the series goes to the year’s first oval  next Saturday evening at Phoenix. In preseason testing there, Chevy was fastest during the day and Honda was quicker in the evening.   It looks like we have true parity between the two manufacturers now. One is better in high downforce situations, the other succeeds with low downforce. The year offers a mix of both types of tracks.

Mr. 50 500s’ Wild Ride

You may have heard a rumor somewhere that I had a 2-seater ride Sunday morning. I don’t know who started it, but it was not fake news.  I will risk life and limb to bring my readers the inside scoop (not really).

Thanks to Indycar Nation, I won the opportunity to take my first road course ride. I have ridden at IMS and Iowa, but was really looking forward to a road course experience. It was different.

The morning weather had me worried that the ride would be cancelled, but conditions improved enough to proceed.  The crews put rain tires on the cars as a precaution, but during the ride I didn’t think they were necessary. I thought the tires gave the car a heavier feel than I remembered from my other rides.

My friend @kissthebricks was the official photographer, and her friend Carl actually timed my run.  My excitement became even higher after I found out my driver would either be Gabby Chaves or Sara Fisher.  I was really hooping for Sara, but I would not have been upset if Gabby drove.  When we lined up, I was in Sara’s line.

The speed of the initial push-off always surprises me. we drove down pit road, over the crest to pit out, descended the hill, a very quick drop, and immediately whipped left for turn 1. I hoped we would get another lap so I could come back for my stomach. . The feeling disappeared quickly during the wide sweep through 2 and 3 and the climb up the hill.  Things were flying by until turn 5.  After a quick hard brake  which caused me to lurch forward slightly, we were right back on the gas toward the museum. Turn 8 felt very much like a banked oval turn, then a short tap of the brakes, and we zoomed off again. Turn 12 is a sharp left with another hard speed change, then we roared up the last hill to the pits.  As usual, it was over way too soon. The lap time was 1:45:47.  In the race, Power’s last lap with the cut tire was 1:10, so my time was pretty good in comparison. If she had listened to me about how to take turn 13, we could have saved a tenth.

I was amazed at how much I was able to notice on this lap. It took two laps on an oval to be able to pick things out. I was fascinated with the way the car hugged the curbing without running over it, and that I could see it. I was surprised that my body wasn’t thrown around more. My head tilted a bit from right to left, but the cockpit was tight enough that movement was minimal. There never can be enough respect afforded the Indycar Series drivers. Now that I have seen two types of ovals and a road course from the cockpit,  my admiration for them is even higher than it was before this experience. The versatility of the skills they need is incredible. If an offer for a 2 seater ride is presented to you, don’t turn it down. You will look at Indycar racing, and the track you rode on, in a new light.

Some photos.  All taken by @kissthebricks

0423171052b
Uber’s taking forever today
0423171059f.jpg
To the Museum and back, please
0423171102a
I think I had more hair when I started

Barber Preview- A Toss Up

0422160815It’s time for Indycar to race at one of my favorite venues- Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.  This is one of the most beautiful tracks in the country, and the event is always great.  The last two races have been very good.

After two street races, Barber will seem like the wide open spaces of Wyoming.  There are run off areas with lots of room, so full course yellows should be kept to a minimum.

The grounds are immaculately landscaped and interspersed with whimsical statues and other pieces of art. The track features elevation changes, long straights, and some tight turns.  For first timers, I recommend spending some time in the turns 1-3 area (second photo above). Cars go downhill, around a sweeping turn, and then uphill.  I’ve seen 3 car battles going up the hill.   It’s a great track to move around.  You can see a lot of the track from several viewpoints.

A trip to the museum is also a must. This will be my first time there since the expansion, and I’m looking forward to viewing the new version.  While its mainly about motorcycles, there is a large collection of Lotus race cars, including Dan Gurney’s 1962 Indianapolis 500 car.

What will we see on track this weekend?  The last two years Honda and Chevy have been somewhat equal in the race.  Graham Rahal has finished second the last two years, behind Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud. Scott Dixon has been on the podium every year except last year, when he was involved in a first lap collision in turn 5. Dixon has never won here.  I think he will have a good chance this time.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has won this race twice. I would not dismiss his chances. Hopefully the electrical/engine problems that destroyed the entire Andretti team’s chances at 2 podiums at Long Beach are resolved.

Team Penske is usually strong here as well. Will Power, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud have all won this race. Helio Castroneves and Power have won the pole. Castroneves has been on the podium.  They will qualify strongly. They do have poles in both races to date. One of them could score Chevy’s first win of the season.

So, I think this race is a toss-up.   I think Scott Dixon will break through for his first win of the year.  The likely lack of yellows will help him since the team seems reluctant to change their pit strategy during a race.

News:

Zach Veach will substitute for J. R. Hildebrand in car 21. Hildebrand had surgery on his injured hand, broken at Long Beach.

NTT Data returns to Scott Dixon’s car and continues on Tony Kanaan’s car.

Josef Newgarden’ has a new sponsor for Barber, Fitzgerald Glider Kits.

And the most significant news – Your intrepid reporter will have a two seater ride Sunday morning.  This my first time on a road course. I cannot tell you how excited I am to do this. Thanks to Indycar Nation for the opportunity.  I’m still negotiating the media rights.

 

Greatest 33 Non- Winners

Please get your grids to me by May 2. Thanks.

 

The Head and the Heart- Another Fan’s Greatest 33 Non-Winners Grid

Tuesday afternoon I received a grid from Patti Nolen.  Patti blogs on wordpress under the name ikissedthebricks. She recently wrote a book review of Chris Workman’s The Spectacle. Check out her blog.  Patti put a lot of research into creating her grid.

Here’s how Patti approached building her grid:

” I first ranked the drivers I knew. Then I researched everyone on the list.- not extensively but looked up everyone. Then I ranked them… Most of it was from my heart and then checked the statistics to see how they matched up.Finally I waited to see if I changed my mind and after all the interviews with Dan Gurney the past week I did change my mind and moved him up.  Mostly I had a ton of fun and learned something.” (bold mine)

Here is Patti’s grid:
1 Michael Andretti
2 Harry Hartz
3 Scott Goodyear
4 Lloyd Ruby
5 Gary Bettenhausen
6 Rex Mays
7 Ted Horn
8 Eddie Sachs
9 Marco Andretti
10 Robby Gordon
11Carlos Munoz
12 Tony Stewart
13 Roberto Guerrero
14 Vitor Meira
15 Tony Bettenhausen
16 Dan Gurney
17 Danica Patrick
18 Will Power
19 Ed Carpenter
20 Ralph Hepburn
21 Mel Kenyon
22 Paul Tracy
23 Joe Leonard
24 Pancho Carter
25 Eddie Hearne
26 Johnny Thomson
27 Jack McGrath
28 Duke Nalon
29 Tomas Scheckter
30 Danny Ongais
31 Kevin Cogan
32 Teo Fabi
33 Johnny Boyd

 

Please have your grids in by May 2. I would like to put out the final grid on the first day of practice for the 500, May 15.  Thanks.

Update: The Rest of the Story Bulletin: Fernando Alonso to Drive McLaren Backed Car in Indianapolis 500

 

Update from this morning- As in most things, Alonso driving a Indy comes at the expense of Stefan Wilson relinquishing his seat.  Indycar has promised him financial support for his ride for next year’s race. Wilson agreed to yield for the greater good of the 500 and the series. It is a wonderful gesture on Stefan’s part. It is the same thing his brother Justin would have done.  Apparently, this was the last Honda engine available.  It would be nice if Andretti gets Wilson a ride at Pocono this year. Nicer still would be allowing him to drive for a Chevy team in the 500 this year. Juncos #2 perhaps?  The best scenario is Sato retires at the end of the year and Wilson takes his seat full time as Honda’s factory driver.

The lack of a third engine in the series contributed to this issue. Chevy and Honda have only so many engines for the 500. There is no flexibility for situations like this.

If today’s news leads to McLaren coming to Indycar full time and a third engine manufacturer, this is a great day. If it is a one-off, then Stefan’s graciousness is for naught.

Later this morning as everyone’s head was still spinning with the Alonso news, Andretti made another announcement. Michael Shank will partner with them on Jack Harvey’s entry.  Heads not only spun, they then exploded.

 

Bear with me.  It’s been years since I’ve been this excited about a single entry in the 500.  Two time World Champion Fernando Alonso will drive in the Indianapolis 500 in a McLaren backed car as a sixth entry in the Andretti Autosport stable.  The car will carry the traditional  McLaren papaya orange livery.

Alonso drives for McLaren-Honda in Formula 1 and will miss the Grand Prix of Monaco, an event he has won twice.  It is his goal to win the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans as well.

McLaren has been in the 500 before in the late 60s and early 70s when several Formula 1 drivers participated in the race as well.

My Thoughts :

This announcement is another step on the road to rebuilding the prestige of the Indianapolis 500, but Formula 1 could also use the boost they’ll get from this as well . Formula 1 has been dull and hard to watch the last few years with Mercedes winning everything and the lack of passing in races.  The McLaren Formula 1 team has suffered reliability problems this season.  Allowing Fernando to race at Indy may be an attempt to keep him happy and at McLare

Small Teams Keep Rolling- Long Beach Recap

The start should have told us this would be an interesting race.  The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach presented one of the best races in its 34 year Indycar history.  In the end, another small team won, the large teams had various issues, and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais increased his point lead. Do not adjust your screen.  That last statement is correct. The race breakdown:

What happened to pole sitter Helio Castroneves at the green? He usually gets a good jump when he’s on pole for a race, but it appeared he was surprised they threw the green flag and was sixth going into the first turn. I can’t remember the last time the pole winner didn’t lead a lap.  His day got worse with two speeding penalties on his last pit stop.

I knew trouble was coming when I saw Charlie Kimball and Will Power side by side going into turn 4. Kimball seems to be involved whenever there’s a crash lately. I keep going back and forth on who was at fault, but I think Will should have backed off knowing who he was next to.  He would have passed him later.  Kimball this season has taken out Graham Rahal early at St. Pete and now Will Power at Long Beach. Last year at Watkins Glen, Kimball clashed with both drivers, ending their day.

The early yellow changed strategies. Five laps were added to the race distance to make this a three stop race and allow the drivers to race without saving fuel.  The first lap caution effectively ended that idea. Some teams opted to stick with three stops, others went with two. James Hinchcliffe only stopped twice and won. Ryan Hunter-Reay also \ made only two stops and was in position for a runner-up spot when electrical issues with six laps to go took him out of the race. More on the Andretti team woes in a minute.

Simon Pagenaud had the drive of the day. Forced to start last because of a qualifying penalty, the defending series champion drove to a fifth place finish. Passing people in the pits doesn’t account for all the position improvements. He found his way around cars on the track.

The podium was Hinchcliffe, Bourdais, and Josef Newgarden, getting his first podium as a Team Penske driver.  Bourdais now has a win and a second place in the young season. He needs to extend his lead some more at Barber with two ovals coming up after the Alabama race.

Notes:

All four Andretti cars failed to finish. Marco Andretti had an engine failure; Takuma Sato, Alexander Rossi, and Ryan Hunter-Reay all had electrical failures.  Electronic issues seem to plague this team a lot. Last year at Pocono Hunter-Reay was on his way to victory when a power hiccup caused a momentary stall on the backstretch.

This is the first time since 2013 that neither  a Penske nor a Ganassi car won the first two races of the season, and the first time since 2008 that an Andretti, Penske, or Ganassi hasn’t won either of the first two.

Honda still waiting to win a road course pole. It may happen at Barber.

Zach Veach will drive car 40 for A. J. Foyt in the Indianapolis 500.

Jack Harvey secured a ride for the 500 with Andretti Autosport in car 50.

The car count for the Indianapolis 500 is now 29.

Greatest 33 Non-Winners

I’ll be back later this week with an update on the project. If you’re doing a grid, please send them to me by April 30.

Counting Blue Cars- Long Beach Preview: Will Honda Stay Strong?

Round 2 of the Verizon IndyCar Series starts Friday in Long Beach.  This is my favorite street event on the circuit.  The entire community embraces the race, the fans are knowledgeable, and the amount of activities and displays are unsurpassed at any street event.  This race has a 40 year plus history, and it shows. They know how to do this event properly.  Every Indycar fan needs to go to Long Beach at least once.

The best advice for watching this year is get a spotter’s guide. Sponsor and livery changes abound.  Ed Carpenter Racing has Spencer Pigot sponsored by Loki the Wolf Dog and J. R. Hildebrand is in the Preferred Freezer Services livery this week. Scott Dixon’s car will look like Tony Kanaan’s carrying both carrying NTT Data colors.  Helio Castroneves is in the AAA car this week.  Simon Pagenaud has Menard’s livery and Josef Newgarden is wearing the Hum colors.  Graham Rahal’s car is sponsored by Mi-Jack this week. Last, Marco Andretti has switched to UFD, which will be his sponsor for 7 races this year, as H. H. Gregg is out as a sponsor.

If you like blue and white cars, don’t miss this race.  Eleven cars carry this combination in some form.   I can’t remember such a large change in two consecutive races.

This race will tell us more about Honda this year. Was St. Pete a fluke? Is Honda for real? I think the latter is true.  Do they have enough for the pole? Probably, but Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have to be the favorites.  For the race itself, there is an even more motivated Will Power after his race debacle at St. Pete, and Scott Dixon, hoping to build on his third place finish  in Florida. Dixon also wants to correct his qualifying error that cost him the pole.

Drivers to watch closely this weekend are Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal, and Josef Newgarden.  After his convincing win at St. Pete, a good Long Beach result could put Bourdais in the thick of the title hunt. Rahal typically starts the season slowly, but could use a top 5 in the race after his collision in St. Pete. Newgarden, in his second race for Penske, looks to improve on his 8th place at St. Pete.  He has qualified on the front row at Long Beach before, so a crucial good starting spot is possible.

Passing is challenging here, so pit strategy is crucial. Only two drivers, Mike Conway, who started 17th in 2014, and Will Power,12th on the grid in 2012,  have won from outside the top 5 in qualifying..  I see this coming down to a race between Pagenaud and Dixon, like last year, with Dixon prevailing this time.

Bonus Coverage:  NBCSN is airing practice live tomorrow at 5 pm . The network did this several times last year.  Qualifying is at 6:30 pm Saturday, and race coverage begins at 4 pm Sunday.  Practice sessions not on TV are streamed.

Notes:

Remember the good old days when Penske and Ganassi were known collectively as the red cars?  The only red left are the numbers on the 2 and 12.

I can’t remember the last time Fuzzy’s Vodka was not a primary sponsor on an ECR car.

This is the 34th Indycar event at Long Beach.  Mario Andretti won the first event in 1984.  Before Indycar ran here this was the venue for the Formula 1 US Grand Prix.

IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge also are racing this weekend.

 

First Grid of Non-Winners: A Statistical Approach; Some Indycar News

First, a few Indycar tidbits:

Spencer Pigot’s  car has a new sponsor for Long Beach. Loki the Wolf Dog, an Instagram star, will be on the 20 car this weekend. I am not familiar with this character, so will not comment.

NTT Data, sponsor of Tony Kanaan’s car for Chip Ganassi Racing, will also be the sponsor for Scott Dixon at Long Beach.  Is there an issue getting a full season sponsor for Dixon? I though Ganassi had someone close to a deal.

Off track- The IMS Museum opens an exhibit of cars driven by A. J Foyt April 14. 36 cars, including his 4 500 winners and other memorabilia, will be on display until the fall.

Greatest 33 Non- Winners- One Way to Rank

Lincoln Turner, a friend of mine from high school, used a statistical approach to create his grid. He assigned values to each category, and separated top 5s and top 10s. He also divided laps lead by races and used the average led per race.  He also ranked all 50 drivers.  Changing the values changes the standings slightly.  Michael Andretti is clearly on the pole.  You might want to use his method, or switch values to see if a driver’s position improves.  Some of you, like me, will probably rank a few drivers with your heart. This your ideal grid.  Rank them however you’re comfortable.

Here is Lincoln’ grid and the results of ranking:

Lincolns ranking

If possible, please send in your grids by April 30. The next two days I’m traveling back to Indy and I want to post results on the Tuesday after qualifying.

Back Thursday with my Long Beach Preview