Attention Indycar Paddock: The Power has been Turned Back On

The cars are different, but the results of the Indycar Grand Prix are the same.  Will Power won his second straight Indycar Grand Prix at IMS Saturday from the pole, although it wasn’t an easy task. Robert Wickens gave Power a great battle, making a great pass around Power, who returned the favor, and then nearly pulling off another great pass to retake the lead. In the end, Power has shaken off his rough start to the season.

This race was the best of the five road course events leading up to the Indianapolis 500. The new car performed as intended, allowing close battles and passing throughout the field.  In addition, high drama ensued toward the end as the race turned into a fuel derby. The two fuel masters, Power and Scott Dixon, finished 1-2.

Dixon had issues in qualifying and started an uncharacteristic 18th. The team found many answers overnight, and Dixon led the morning warmup. His first pit stop was on the first lap the pit window opened, allowing him to move up when everyone else stopped. He beat Sebastien Bourdais out of the pits on his final stop to get them runner-up spot.

The race began with the traditional turn 1 melee. Simon Pagenaud checked up and was hit from behind. He made contact with Jordan King who ended up in the sand trap. Pagenaud was able to keep running but his day was pretty much over. Later that lap, Spencer Pigot hit the curb and got airborne. He landed on all four wheels and continued.

The final yellow occurred on lap 56 when Josef Newgarden, who has had an error- free season, tried to pass Bourdais in turn 12, hit the curb, spun, and killed the engine. It was a few laps too early for final pit stops, but everyone came in as soon as the pits opened. When the race returned to green, the question was who could make it without needing a splash of fuel? Most people’s money was on Dixon, but Power is good at saving fuel as well. The race ended with out a challenge for the lead. Power’s victory was Team Penske’ 200th win in Indycar. Power has 30 of those Penske wins, plus three others in his career.

Notes

From the podium press conference

Wickens said after the race he had never been in a fuel saving situation before.

“It’s something I have to work on,” he admitted.

Dixon on his run toward the top noted, “The first stint we were running two seconds a lap faster.”than the rest of field. He said the crew changed many components.

Power admitted to not hydrating enough before the race and not using his in-car drink bottle during the event.

“Every lap was like qualifying,” he said.

On Wickens, he declared, ” He definitely ….will be a champion in Indycar. No doubt in my mind.”

On Penske’s 200th win Power said,  it is “..a real pleasure to drive for him (Penske).”

He is “Grateful to be able to drive for this team.”

Helio Returns, Keeps GP Streak Alive

Helio Castroneves returned to Indycar for the first time this season. He started tenth and finished sixth. He has placed in the top ten in all five Indycar Grand Prix.

Wickens fan base continues to grow. The fans on the turn two mounds cheered loudly for him. Those seeing him for the first time were impressed.

 

Andretti Engine Woes Again

Marco Andretti lost an engine in the morning warmup. The crew did a great job installing a new in about 2 hours.

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s engine began misfiring just before the midway point of the race. He finished 18th.

Let’s hope this is the end of the powerplant problems for the month.

 

Reminder, ” Bump Tales” returns Thursday. Also planning a qualifying preview for Friday and of course coverage of both Days of qualifying.

 

 

Advertisements

Quick Thoughts -Indycar Grand Prix

This was a very entertaining race. There were battles for position, passing, and drama.If every Indycar race were like this one, I think fans would be happy.

Robert Wickens WILL win a race this year. I really thought it would be today. The pass he made to take the lead from Will Power was amazing. The pass he couldn’t quite pull off to regain the from Power was an equally incredible move. Yet, officially, we still have to call him a rookie.

Scott Dixon’s run from 18th to 2nd puts him back in the championship hunt. He jumps to 4th in the standings.

Power’s win is the 200th Indycar win for Roger Penske.

The cars seemed to race closer this year than in the past. Passing was not necessarily easier according to some drivers, cars were not strung out all over the track as in past races.

This race still has only two winners from two different teams.

I will have a full race report up tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King of Barber Knows a Good Tire Guy

Josef Newgarden needed help from his Tim Cindric to win the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Monday. For the second time in three races, Cindric made the correct call on when to switch tires. In Phoenix it was a fresh set for the final restart. Monday it was putting rain tires on several laps before anyone else. He had some assistance from the weather. Had it not started raining harder Sebastien Bourdais would have won staying on slicks.

The rain with about 15 minutes left turned what was an ordinary race into an intriguing finish. Newgarden was clearly the class of the field. Bourdais’s gamble didn’t work because the rain intensified. He might have had a better chance pitting when Newgarden did. Bourdais ended up fifth, beating Scott Dixon in a drag race to the line.

With the victory Newgarden takes the points lead back from Alexander Rossi, who finished eleventh. This is the first time this season Rossi has not been on the podium. Newgarden leads by 13 points. I expect these two to swap the lead back and forth a few more times before Sonoma. Meanwhile, don’t ignore Sebastien Bourdais or Graham Rahal. They are tied for third 39  points behind. Bourdais owns the tie breaker with his victory at St. Pete. Rahal is having a very consistent year and one of his best starts to a season. He is usually very strong in the second half. Bourdais has led laps in all four races this year.

Notes

Why weren’t the leader lights working at Barber? They were on during Friday’s first practice, but weren’t on the rest of the weekend.

SPM continues its resurgence with a third for James Hinchcliffe and fourth for Robert Wickens.

Matheus Leist finished 12th for his best result this season. It was a bit of  salvation for an otherwise horrendous weekend for the Foyt team.

Zachary Claman De Melo turned the fastest lap of the race, 1:09.8183. He made some great passes. Keep an eye on this rookie.

Three drivers have won at what they consider their home tracks this season.  Bourdais at St. Pete, Rossi at Long Beach, and Newgarden at Barber. Does this trend bode well for Ed Carpenter at the 500?

Newgarden has won three of the last four races at Barber. He now has nine career wins.

Marco Andretti earned his third top 10 of the season Monday. This is by far his best start in a long time.

The windscreen gets its second test at IMS next Monday after the open test. Josef Newgarden will test the the device. Dixon tested it at Phoenix.

“Bump Tales” Begins May 3

A four week series recounting some of the more dramatic Bump Days in the past begins May 3. Many former winners missed the race and there was once a tie for the last spot.

Check in each Thursday during the month for stories about who didn’t make the fastest 33.

 

Sebring Recap= Mixed Day for Indycar Drivers; ABC out?

Cool nights and very hot days made the 66th 12 hour race at Sebring an endurance contest for the fans as well as the drivers. It turned out to be a great race with some late drama as usual. The final two and a half hours had some great battles for the lead. At one point after dark, both the Prototype and GTLM classes had three way fights for the lead. IMSA’s restart procedure in which the cars line up in groups helped. It made for exciting action.

Indycar drivers had a mixed day with a couple class podiums, some major disappointments, and some midpack finishes. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the top finisher with a second place overall in the Wayne Taylor car co-driven by Jordan Taylor and Renger Van Der Zande. Former Indycar driver Mike Conway  joined Hunter-Reay on the podium in the third place entry for Action Express. He teamed with Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran.

Other Indycar related finishes:

The Penske team did not fare well, retiring early in the contest. The car of Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud finished 40th overall. Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal dropped out first in 41st place. In general, the number 7 of Castroneves, Rahal, and Ricky Taylor has been the faster of the two. Taylor qualified third.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTLM machines did slightly better. Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, and Richard Westbrook finished 4th in class and 13th overall. Sebastien Bourdais dropped out in 39th place, last in class.

Car 55 with Spencer Pigot led late and was in contention for the win. On a pit stop with 41 minutes left, the car would not restart. They finished a lap down, 6th overall.

The best story of the weekend was Michael Shank Racing’s car 93. A brake failure and heavy wall contact in Thursday evening practice destroyed the car. The crew worked tirelessly to make repairsr and presented the car for Saturday’s pre-race warmup. From starting in last place the trio of Lawson Aschenbach, Mario Farnbacher, and Justin Marks led some laps and eventually finished seventh in class.

Next year Sebring will be interesting. After IMSA runs the traditional 12 hour race, the WEC will have its own 12 hour race about 90 minutes later, beginning at midnight. This sounds like a logistical nightmare to me. Exchanging pit equipment, podium ceremonies, pre-race for WEC, all in less than 90 minutes might make for a more interesting show than the race. The response from the fans will be interesting as well. I talked to several fans at the track about it. Most are not sure how this will work. There is a lot of skepticism about this idea.

ABC Out of Indycar?

A tweet sent out Saturday by a weatherman in Macon, Georgia, said that 2018 will be ABC’s final year covering the Verizon Indycar Series. The tweet was taken down and Mark Miles said it was a little premature. If true, it means that NBC will be the sole carrier for Indycar next year.

ABC has covered the Indianapolis 500 for 50 years. Since their new deal with Indycar that split the races between ABC and NBCSN, their coverage has been rather weak. There is no chemistry in the booth, they seem to always have the wrong camera shot on screen, and worse, it seems like they care very little about their product. Even their 500 broadcasts, which should be one of their crown jewels, has not been great.

I will have more to say after an official announcement. I’m thinking it will come just before or during the Phoenix race weekend.

Servia Enters the 500

There was an announcement that slipped through the cracks St. Petersburg race weekend. Veteran Oriol Servia will enter the 500 in a car in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan stable run by Scuderia Corsa. Corsa has an association with Ferrari and runs sportscar programs in the US and Europe. I don’t see any interest beyond the 500. It’s nice to have some more international flavor to the race.

Sebring Preview- Penske, Ganassi Look to Recover from Difficult Rolex 24

The second part of the 36 Hours of Florida takes the green flag at 10:40 am Saturday morning. The 66th 12 Hours of Sebring is the second race in the IMSA Weather Tech Series. Like the Rolex 24, several current  Indycar drivers and a handful of former Indycar drivers will participate. Indyccar  team owners Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, and Michael Shank also have full time teams. This is Penske’s first full year in this series.

The Penske and Ganassi cars had a rough start to the season with various mechanical issues and a crash pushing them out of contention. Helio Castroneves nearly won the pole at Daytona and his number 7 Acura prototype was in the hunt for the first half of the race. Ganassi’s Ford GTLM machines had a variety of issues that kept them from challenging for the podium.

I’m looking for both teams to be among the top challengers this year. In the prototype class, Penske will have a tough battle with the Cadillacs of Wayne Taylor Racing and the  Action Express cars which dominated at Daytona.

In GTLM Ganassi’s Fords will have to fend off the Corvettes in a fight between American manufacturers. The Porsches and Ferrari also could be in the mix. GTLM is the most competitive class due to its smaller field.

The GTD race is wide open as always. Ferrari usually does well at Sebring. I’m looking for one of the Shank cars to be on the podium here.

A list of Indycar drivers, both current and former, and what car they’re driving this weekend. Current full time Indycar drivers in bold:

Prototype-

#6- Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud

#7- Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal

#10- Ryan Hunter-Reay

#31- Mike Conway

#38- Pato O’Ward (IndyLights)

#52- Sebastian Saavedra

#90- Tristan Vautier

GTLM-

#25- Connor De Phillippi

#66- Sebastien Bourdais

#67- Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe

GTD-

#64- Townsend Bell

#86- Katherine Legge

The race will be televised on FS1 and FS2. The finish is on FS2 from 6-11 pm.

Back with a wrap-up next week.

 

Season Preview Part 3- Big Teams Will Still Contend

This is likely the group from which your 2018 Indycar champion will emerge. It won’tbe easy. I see as many as seven contenders from this group, with two teams having multiple contenders. Graham Rahal, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud could stage one of the greatest title fights Indycar has seen. Each team won  at least one race last year. I expect that to be the case again.  A reminder- the order I talk about the teams does not indicate any prediction of season results.

Team Penske

Another year with this team in the championship hunt. Penske drivers should again dominate qualifying on the road/street courses and will probably do well at some ovals, too. Defending champion Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power will  each win races. I don’t think they will win as many combined as they did in 2017, but they should win nearly half of the events. The key is where thel finish in the others that will determine their title hopes.

Newgarden will not relinquish his title willingly. Pagenaud, who had a strong title defense in 2017, will be a threat to win at every road /street course. He showed huge improvement on ovals last year as well, winning Phoenix and nearly winning Gateway. Power lurked near the front all season but early DNFs doomed his chances. He has had to fight back from low finishes at St. Pete the last two years.

The new aero packages should favor the Penske cars. The question is, will the new package allow other teams to catch  them? I think there will be a closing of the gap.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

RLLR has been the best of the smaller teams the last three years. A single car team until now, they usually have one dominant weekend a season and have another race fall their way. In 2015 Rahal left Mid-Ohio just nine points behind leader Juan Pablo Montoya. This year could be even better.

Finally, Graham Rahal gets a teammate to help with setups. Not just any teammate, but defending Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, who is known to be very good at helping his team in that department. Rahal has been in the top 5 or just outside it for the last three years and has won races for three consecutive seasons.

Sato was fastest at the Phoenix Open test. Rahal also showed speed. The first part of the year is where this team has struggled. If Graham can have success early, he can make a real run toward his first Astor Cup. Sato won the 500 last year and a pole. He still needs to be more consistent and stay out of trouble.

I think Rahal will be in the top four at season’s end. I’m not picking him for fourth.

Chip Ganassi Racing

The addition of sponsor PNC full time on Scott Dixon’s car and downsizing to two cars put the Ganassi team in great shape for another title run. Dixon is the only driver holdover from 2017. Tony Kanaan is now with A. J. Foyt Racing, and Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton now are teammates at Carlin Racing. Ed Jones will be Dixon’s teammate in the NTT Data car.

The contracted operation allows more focus on Dixon and should help Jones as well. The main goal, however is putting the 9 car in victory lane more than once and bringing the title back to CGR. Their chances are good.

Jones will have a steady season and could help his teammate by taking points away from some of Dixon’s chief rivals.

Andretti Autosport

The armada is coming. Look out for these guys. Two strong title contenders, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi will be frequent visitors to the podium, including the top step. Promising rookie Zach Veach will lead a strong rookie class. Marco Andretti has renewed hope to improve his results with the new aero package.

Hunter-Reay should return to winning after a drought that seemed to begin with the manufacturer’s aerokit.  He is one of the early favorites to win his second Indianapolis 500. Huner-Reay sounds very enthusiastic about the new configuration.

Rossi is on the verge of a very special year. He came on strong at the end of last season, capped by a strong performance at Watkins Glen. He will win well before Labor Day this year, and likely more than once. Fans will need to pay attention to where he will finish at Sonoma. This could be his championship.

Veach has waited a very long time for his chance to be in Indycar, and I expect him to take full advantage of it. He is more ready than any rookie ever has been. Veach should have many top 10s and possibly a couple of top 5s.

Marco and his crew chief Bryan Herta have displayed a lot of excitement about the coming year. We have heard this before from Marco, but the results have never matched his preseason optimism. Will this year be different? I think they might, but what is the bar? What will constitute improvement? I would like to see better qualifying performances- 2nd round on road/street courses consistently with an occasion Fast 6 for starters, and more race presence with results in the top 10 becoming routine.

This will be a very good year for Andretti Autosport. Rossi will rival Josef Newgarden for attention and points.

Tomorrow, a season preview with my rock solid predictions. That means my picks will be dropping like rocks by Long Beach. Thanks for reading this week. Look for my posts on Wildfire Sports in a day or two. I will let you know when they are up.

 

 

 

 

A Bumpy Saturday?

Has it only been seven years? 2011 was the last year there was bumping at the Speedway for the 500. On Bump Day that year Marco Andretti bumped teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay out of the race as time ran out. Mike Conway, another Andretti driver, also failed to qualify. Hunter-Reay still drove in the race when Andretti bought the A. J. Foyt car qualified by Bruno Junqueira.

It  appears likely there will be at least 34 entries, maybe a couple more for  this year’s race.  If things work out and there are more than 33, the format of the last few years will need some adjustments. I’m not talking a major overhaul, just a couple things to attempt to restore the drama of Bump Day. The current format, though lacking a lot of drama,  is fine if every entry is going to make the race. I think that was its purpose. But with more cars than spots, some changes are in order.

First, limit each car to no more than three attempts instead of an unlimited number. This will allow all entrants a fairer shot at making the race. Second, If you want more than one attempt, you must withdraw your previous time.  I never liked the rule where a car could keep its time when it went out for a second run and then keep the better one. This is the year to ditch that rule. Third, have a 4:30 deadline to set the Fast Nine for Sunday, leaving the last 90 minutes for bumping. These changes will bring back the  drama that has been lacking under the current format. We knew everyone was going to be in. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat hoping a driver would improve from 17th to 16th.  Seven of the top nine were pretty much a given, though there might be some drama there this year with the depth of the field. I’m looking forward to the most exciting Saturday qualifying in quite some time.

Now, my favorite part where I get to spend other people’s money. The cars that  make a qualifying run but do not make the race should get something for their efforts. Cars that put up a qualifying run but failed to qualify used to get a token amount from the Speedway. A minimum today should probably be around $25,000, which not cover much of the team’s expenses.

Where are the extra cars coming from? To get to 36, as some people think will happen, Honda would likely need to supply 19 engines and Chevrolet 17. I think those numbers are a stretch for both companies. If there is that much interest in entering the race, the urgency to find a third OEM becomes that much stronger.

Here are the entries as of Thursday evening. * -unconfirmed entries

Penske  -4- Castroneves, Power, Newgarden, Pagenaud

Andretti 6- Munoz, Wilson, Veach, Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Rossi

Ganassi  2- Jones, Dixon

Rahal  2- Sato, Rahal

Foyt    2- Leist, Kanaan

Schmidt  3- Howard*, Wickens, Hinchcliffe

Carlin  2- Jones, Kimball

Harding 1- Chaves

Shank 1- Harvey

Coyne Vasser Sullivan 3- Mann* Fittipaldi, Bourdais

Carpenter 3- Patrick, Pigot, Carpenter

DRR  2*- Karam* Hilderbrand*

Lazier 1*- Lazier*

Juncos 1- Kaiser

This is 33. There are rumors of a fourth car at Coyne, possibly for Conor Daly, and a possible second Harding car. The other possibility is a third Rahal car for Oriol Servia. I think the Lazier entry is shaky and that would probably be one of the cars not making the race. I am confident of 34. Time will tell.

There is lots of news to discuss next week, including interest in Indycar from another tire company. Have a great weekend. I’ll be back Tuesday.