The Late Blooming Summer Flower- Rossi Has Arrived

There is always one flower in the garden that doesn’t bloom until nearly fall. You wait and wait, just knowing that when it blooms it will be amazing. This flower very much parallels the brief Indycar career of Alexander Rossi. before last year’s Indianapolis 500, no one gave him much thought. Following his win in the 100th running he had some very good runs the rest of the season. A likely podium at Pocono was lost when he was involved in a pit road accident. Coming into this year, Rossi was someone to watch. He would surely get at least one victory. The summer of waiting began.

A strong run at Long Beach was thwarted by an engine failure. Pit stop issues cost him positions at other races. Then a bud formed. Rossi began appearing on the podium. Finally,  on Sunday, the blossom opened. Rossi  has an average finish of 4.8 in his last 6 races. Beginning with Toronto, his worst finish is 6th. Sunday was his third podium in that span.

Rossi dominated a good race with lots of passing. His dominant win did not come without drama. A fuel hose problem on his first stop put him back in the field and cause him to need to stop out of sequence on lap 24. It was a long stop since the fuel hose had to be manually opened. He got help from a yellow three laps later and  was able to return to the front of the field as everyone else made their second stop. Rossi had enough of a gap to make his final stop and then blow past everyone else as they pitted. Fuel also played a bit of a role in his second career win again, but in a different way than it did in his first.

I expected the points battle to tighten, but not in such a dramatic way. Scottt Dixon finished second, gaining 28 points on Josef Newgarden, who had a problem on his last pit stop. While there was drama at the front of the field with Rossi’s fueling issues, points battle drama took a huge twist on the last stop. Josef Newgarden slid into the barrier leaving the pits and then was rammed by Sebastien Bourdais. The indcident reminded of Ryan Briscoe at Twin Ring Motegi who had a similar problem leaving the pits. Briscoe also was the points leader with just a couple races to go. He finished third in points.

Next season we could see two Americans, Newgarden and Rossi, fighting for the championship. Andretii Autosport seems to have finally figured something out and with everyone having the same aerokit next year, this team, with Rossi leading will be in the thick of the fight.

Notes:

The Indy Lights finale was one of the best races I have seen this year. The race was run in a heavy rainstorm, but the drivers raced and raced hard. The first five laps had close, intense battles, including a three wide run into turn 1 at the green flag. It was essentially a clean race.It would have been easy to just string out and run single file, yet they were going at it as if the weather were dry.  Hats off to these guys for a great show in difficult conditions. The race will be shown on NBCSN Wednesday evening at 6 pm. It is worth watching.

Congratulations to Mazda Road to Indy champions Oliver Askew, USF2000; Victor Franzoni, Pro Mazda; and Kyle Kaiser, Indy Lights.

Indy lights driver Zachary Claman De Melo will drive a second car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing at Sonoma. This could be an audition for a possible third car for the team in 2018.

Attendance at Watkins Glen was down significantly from last year, although there were more fans at the track Sunday than I expected with the weather.  Significantly fewer campsites were occupied.

I will return later in the week to begin discussing some championship scenarios. While there are many possibilities, it is still less complicated than nascar’s playoff format.

 

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Saturday at Watkins Glen- Rossi Wins His First Pole

Maybe Michael Andretti should renew engine, driver, and sponsor agreements every weekend. One day after renewing with NAPA and signing Alexander Rossi to a multi year deal, Rossi won his first Verizon IndyCar Series pole on a chilly day in upstate New York. He bear Scott Dixon on the final lap of the Fast Six. It was one of the best qualifying rounds of the season with P1 constantly changing hands. Rossi used the F1 strategy of being the last car on track.
The significance of this pole victory was not lost on many. It was a very popular win. I think we saw IndyCar’s next big star come to life today. The floodgates are open. I can see a great rivalry developing between Rossi and Josef Newgarden. Now that Rossi knows he can win poles, I think he will begin contending for poles and race wins. He may start with a victory today.
Rossi’s growth since winning the Indianapolis 500 last year is phenomenal. He has improved both on and off the track.
Rossi didn’t sound like he was at all happy or excited to be driving in IndyCar early last season. When he won the 500 things began to change. Rossi slowly began to embrace the series. At the post qualifying press conference we hear a driver who has found a .home.

Rain seems likely tomorrow for the start of the race.
Honda is having a dominant weekend over Chevy.

I had a great evening meeting new IndyCar fans at Seneca Lodge tonight. The racing talk helped the time waiting for a table go by quickly. This is one of the many reasons why I love IndyCar road trips.
Race wrap up and other news Tuesday.

Watkins Glen- The Semi Final

Hard to believe there are just two races left in the Indycar season.  This weekend’s race at Watkins Glen will tell us what might happen in two weeks at Sonoma. It’s great that IndyCar can race at another historic track this late in the season and that it has meaning in the title pursuit.

The return to Watkins Glen last year as an emergency replacement for the failed Boston Grand Prix was a hit with the fans.  The picturesque setting rivals Road America in natural beauty. The track is fast and provides great viewing spots. Unlike last year, when Simon Pagenaud pretty much had the championship in hand, this year will set the stage for a possible title showdown at Sonoma.

This should be another strong track for Chevy, although Honda will not be at the disadvantage they were at Gateway last week. I think we will have as  good a race here as we did at Road America. Penske cars could dominate qualifying with the Hondas of Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal rounding out the Fast Six.

If Scott Dixon wins this race, as he did last year, the series goes to Sonoma with a major points battle to decide the champion. If Josef Newgarden finishes ahead of Dixon, he will be in very good shape barring a significantly bad finish in California to win his first Indycar title. Just 43 points separate the top four in the standings. Will Power is 83 points behind in fifth. Realistically, this race is between Newgarden and Dixon assuming both finish well this weekend.

Other things to watch this weekend- Will A. J. Foyt racing continue the momentum they gained at Gateway? Will Ganassi park another car? Can Ryan Hunter-Reay get one more good result? Alexander Rossi might be in for a very good weekend. He has shown great growth in driving Indycars and is becoming a fan favorite off the track as well.

How will the swirling rumors surrounding Andretti Autosport affect them this weekend? News reported yesterday I’m leaving in the unconfirmed column for the moment.. I think the only solid part as of now is that Takuma Sato is going to Rahal-Letterman -Lanigan Racing as a teammate to Graham Rahal.

Who shows up in Victory Circle? Scott Dixon will win and  tighten up the points race. The series will go to Sonoma with the championship very much up in the air.

I will be at Watkins Glen this weekend beginning Thursday. I plan to drive the original course on the public roads and will share my experience next week. I’m also planning on going to Ithaca for dinner one night. Hope it’s not too much of an odyssey to get there.

Notes

The Mazda Road to Indy season concludes this weekend. Kyle Kaiser wins the Indy Lights title simply by qualifying. Oliver Askew should win the USF 2000 crown. He has a 13 point lead over Rinus Veekay. The Pro Mazda champion  will be either Victor Franzoni or Anthony Martin. Franzoni leads Martin by just 2 points.

Final attendance figures for Gateway have yet to be announced, but it appears the total will exceed 40, 000.  Gateway is my nomination to host the Indycar season finale in the future. More on this next week.

I’m hopeful Andretti Autosport puts an end to all the speculation this weekend and declares which engine they will use this weekend. Manufacture testing starts soon after the end of the season, and they need to get a handle on the new package quickly.

Jack Harvey will drive the SPM number 7 car this weekend and at Sonoma. The two time Indy lights runner-up is the second driver in the car since Mikhail Aleshin left the program before Pocono. This could be part two of an audition for this car for 2018.

Josef Newgarden has three wins and a second place in the last four races.

 

Teammates Become Arch Rivals- Gateway Recap

First, congratulations to Curtis Francois and Bommarito Automotive Group for bringing Indycar back to Gateway Motorsports Park and for drawing the biggest oval crowd outside of Indianapolis in many years.  As with any new event, there were issues. My group encountered a couple of issues, but I heard from other fans and media members of significant issues that need to be improved.

Parking was poorly marked and there seemed to be no overall plan for entry or exit. It looks like the track could use a second entry.  Exiting the track we didn’t see anyone directing traffic until we got the exit drive. cars were pointed both east and west waiting to leave.

The track seemed understaffed. On Friday only one person was handling pit/paddock pass redemption. The line wasn’t too long, but it took a while. Two of my friends in the media told me only one person was distributing credentials and it took them nearly an hour to get their cards. Much of the staff didn’t seem to know where things were or what areas fans were or were not allowed into.

I also heard concession stands ran out of bottled water Saturday early evening.  A friend told me she couldn’t find any water Friday afternoon. She was told it wouldn’t be available until 4 pm, two hours after the gates opened, and only certain stands had water available.

These issues can all be fixed with planning, training, and additional staffing. I know the track will be hearing from fans about these and other problems.  I plan to be back next year. I just hope many who came decide not to because of their experience this time.

My first impression of the track was it reminded me of the Milwaukee Mile. It has the look and feel of a traditional short track. I liked it immediately.  This is the type of track Indycar needs to race on a couple more times a year. Two more ovals like this, for a total of five short tracks and the three larger ovals of Indy, Pocono, and Texas would be great.

On my pace car ride Saturday, I noticed turn one is downhill on the approach and the track sweeps uphill into turn two, making the track more like a road course. After riding around the track, the downhill became very noticeable from the stands. Oh yes. There was a race Saturday night. Let’s talk about it.

A rather ordinary race got very interesting the last 50 laps Saturday night at Gateway Motorsports Park. Helio Castroneves had an extended pit stop, dropping him to fourth place after leading with a car good enough to win. Josef Newgarden lost the last pit stop round to teammate Simon Pagenaud, setting up The Pass.

With 30 laps to go Newgarden saw an opening low in turn one and squeezed into it. The slight contact with Pagenaud caused the defending champion to slide up the track, allowing Scott Dixon to grab second place.  Pagenaud was not happy with the move, talking after the race about losing trust and respect for Newgarden. My seat was in turn one, and Ihadve no problem with the move or the pass. It wasn’t a nascar-like move as some have suggested. He didn’t bump him from behind to push him out of the way.  It was a clean move from my vantage point.

The race got off to an awkward start with Tony Kanaan spinning on the pace lap then Will Power spinning on the first attempt to go green following another great pass by Newgarden.  It was his second great pass of Power in three weeks. Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato also spun, with Carpenter’s landing on top of Power’s.

The race officially went green on lap 18. As I feared, it was a Phoenix type affair for the most part, with passing extremely difficult. The leaders had a tough time getting past the end of the field. Friday’s night practice had given me hope that passing would be easier, but we didn’t see that in the race.

Conor Daly had the best drive of the night, finishing fifth after starting 11th. He challenged Castroneves for fourth but could not get past him. The Foyt team was encouraged after testing here, and their optimism held to a great result.   Carlos Munoz finished tenth giving ABC Supply cars their best finish as a team this year.

Notes

The three wide fan salute on the parade lap was a great gesture for the fans.

Newgarden solidified his lead in the points with two races to go, but Scott Dixon continues to lurk in the shadows. Dixon though this would be a throw  away race with a poor result, but his runner-up finish keeps him within striking distance of the lead with the series finishing on two of his best tracks.

It appears Sato is headed for Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing next year as graham Rahal’s teammate. If true, it likely means Andretti Autosport is switching to Chevy.

What is happening at Ganassi? Saturday was the second consecutive race they parked a car that was capable of continuing. Could Ganassi be a one car team next year?

Gateway Preview- Racing by the River

Indycar returns to Gateway Motorsports Park after a 14 year absence.  CART ran here from 1997-1999 the day before the Indianapolis 500 then moved to a September date in 200. The IRL raced at Gateway from 2001-2003.  The 2017 date corresponds to the date when the IRl raced here.  This weekend’s weather is going to be unusually pleasant for St. Louis at this time of year. It’s the last oval race of the year and the newest event on the Indycar schedule.

St. Louis is a market I’ve always wondered why Indycar in any of its iterations never paid more attention to. I remember on Pole Day at Indy in the 60s and 70s a large group sitting in the upper paddock just north of the start/finish line. They displayed a banner, “St. Louis Auto Race Fans”. There were a lot of fans in this area. I hope there still are. Seeing that group was a Pole Day tradition for me.

Indications are this will be a triumphant return. The track has gone all out promoting the race, getting lots of community involvement, including the St. Louis Cardinals. Ed Carpenter threw out the first pitch before Tuesday night’s game, and tonight there is an Indycar FanFest at Ballpark Village, a gathering place across the street from Busch stadium.This past week has had several community activities leading up to the race. Word is ticket sales are going very well.

After an initial Indycar test, the track was completely repaved after drivers were concerned about the surface. Another test on the newly paved track brought rave reviews from the drivers. The drivers think passing will be possible. I hope that’s the case. The series doesn’t need another Phoenix-like parade this season.

Honda drivers are pretty much conceding Chevy has a huge advantage one the 1.25 mile oval. The track probably works more like a road course than an oval due to the odd configuration of turns 1 and 2.  The shape of the track should produce better racing than Phoenix.

Who will win? Helio Castroneves won the 2003 race  and Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are the only other active drivers who have raced at Gateway. Dixon does not expect to have a car capable of a top 3 finish. I’m looking for a penske sweep of the podium, with Will Power getting his second straight win in his march toward the title.  Josef Newgarden will retain his points lead, but there will be some shuffling behind him.  This  race will be decided by when the yellows fall and as a result, fuel saving could play a part in the final result.

Notes:

In a surprise announcement last evening,   Sebastien Bourdais will return to the number 18 for the last three races of the season starting this weekend at Gateway.  This is just 14 weeks after his horrific 118 g crash at Indy. It never ceases to amaze me how resilient Indycar drivers are after crashes like that.  There will not be a third car for Esteban Gutierrez . Just when I learned how to spell his last name.

Sebastien Saavedra likely needs a strong showing to make up for his crash at Pocono if he wants any consideration for a job at Schmidt next year.

Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing did very well in their 3 races this year. Two top 10s and strong qualifying effort at Pococno is a fine debut for the team looking to go full time next year. They also completed every lap in the three races.

This will be another baseball/racing weekend. I’m going to the Cardinals-Padres game Thursday night and possibly the Cardinals-Rays game Sunday.

Team Silver, my Indy 500 group will be well represented at Gateway.

 

Pocono Quick Recap; News

As expected, Pocono was the best race of the year. Minimal yellows, no fuel saving, lots passing, battles for the lead made for great racing. The drivers were the stars of the show.

Highlights:

James Hinchcliffe’s dirt track save was an incredible display of hand and arm work.

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s resiliency in racing after his hard crash Saturday and coming from the back of the grid to lead the race.

The duel for the lead between Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal mid race.  That was probably the most fun part of the day for me.

Will Power-what can I say? Roaring back from a lap down and changing both front and rear wings to pull away for the win was arguably the best drive of his career. I think he can still win the championship.  His move going into turn 3 to protect the inside line was brilliant.

News

Only 42 points separate the top 5 in the standings. Graham Rahal has a mathematical chance in 6th, but proabably is too far behind to win.

Jack Harvey will drive the number 7 SPM entry at Watkins Glen and Sonoma.

There is a rumor going around that has Kanaan going to Schmidt next year. Not sure how much stock to put in it.

Is this the week we learn Andretti’s engine plans for next year? Inquiring Spaniards may want to know.

Back tomorrow with a Gateway preview.

 

True Racer- McLaren Movie Review

Just one more lap before lunch. Bruce McLaren, always looking for more from himself and his car, wanted to try a different downforce level.. He left the pits but didn’t return that day in June 1970, ending a meteoric rise from champion driver to successful car builder. A view of the accident scene comes at the end of the documentary, McLaren, a film making sporadic appearances in the United States. I had the good fortune to see it Thursday night.

The film chronicles McLaren’s life in chronological order from his humble beginnings in New Zealand. Bruce knew he wanted to be a race car driver by the time he was 5 years old. When he was nine, he developed Perthes disease, a disease that causes the head of the femur to lose blood flow and die. As a result his left leg was shorter than his right one. McLaren was bedridden for nearly 2 years as doctors tried to strengthen the hip and lengthen his left  leg.  While the hip got stronger, his leg did not get longer. Mclaren walked with a permanent limp.

He went to Europe to drive F2 in 1958 and won his first Formula 1 race the following year, the U.S. GP at Sebring. At the time McLaren was the youngest F1 winner in history, a distinction he held for 44 years. He drove as a teammate to Jack Brabham for Cooper.  Brabham won the World Championship the following year and McLaren finished second.   Both drivers  left Cooper and eventually each built their own Formula 1 cars.

McLaren’s greatest success came in the Can Am series.  In 1969, McLaren-built cars won every race on the Can Am schedule. The three McLaren  cars swept the podium twice that year.  Dennnis Hulme and Mark Donohue were McLaren’s teammates that year.

The movie contains interviews with many racing greats including Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, and Chris Amon. McLaren’s family also appears, lending a personal view of the man. We also hear from several engineers and mechanics, mainly Robin Heard, who came to work for McLaren after helping design the Concorde supersonic airplane.  Many of the airplane’s aerodynamic principles, and some of the same materials, were applied to the cars.

My favorite segments were the vintage racing footage. The race films contain shots of Graham Hill, James Hunt, Jack Brabham, and many other drivers of that era.  We see Le Mans in 1966, Monaco in 1958, Sebring in 1959, and Spa in 1968.  Several things in the films stood out. Grand prix races used to start 3 wide and both F1 and F2  raced at the same time just as sports cars race today. It was great to see the traditional Le Mans start again, with drivers sprinting across the track to their cars. How would that work today?

Several McLaren home movies brought a personal touch to McLaren’s life. He would send film of his European races home and the family and their friends gathered to watch. I also enjoyed the movies of Bruce with his wife and young daughter.

McLaren is one of the best documentaries I have seen on any subject. It is a new, important contribution to preserving racing history. I’m hoping the movie returns in general release. Had there been a second showing last night, I might have stayed for it.  Look for its return, and go see it.