Tires, Heat, and Hondas after Sundown- Texas 2018

Remember a few years ago when Texas decided to have twin races on the same night? Last night’s one scheduled race at Texas was two races in one, as Scott Dixon and the other Honda teams came to life after the sun set . Team Penske Chevrolets had swept the first three spots in qualifying and led early, but tire issues affected all three cars. Pole sitter Josef Newgarden and teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud had to make early stops to replace blistered tires. Only Pagenaud would be contending at the end.

Dixon, Robert Wickens, and Alexander Rossi showed speed early, and when the Penske cars faded they went to the front. The cooling track favored the Hondas. Pagenaud came back to finish second, fighting off a strong challenge from Rossi. Newgarden faded to 13th, three laps down, and Power crashed into Zachary Claman de Melo just past the 200 lap mark and ended in 18th.

The results again shook up the point standings. Dixon now leads Rossi by 23 points and Power is 36 behind. The fight for the championship will continue until the end. This is a fun battle. Dixon is the third different leader since the 500.

Thoughts and Notes

The early part of the race was processional and not very interesting, but as the track cooled it became turned into a good show. I think the oval aero package needs a tweak or two, hopefully by Pocono.

I appreciate Indycar’s mandate that cars had to use scuffed tires on their first three stops. This is a much better plan than last year requiring a stop every 30 laps.

Rossi and Wickens can pass anyone, anytime, anywhere. These two continue to be the highlight of every race. Rossi had passed more than 50 cars halfway through the race. Wickens looked to have the fastest car of the night, but Ed Carpenter collided with him as Wickens tried to pass on the low side. I still think Wickens will catch a break and win a race this year. Hard to believe he hasn’t broken through yet.

Rossi apparently learned his lesson from Race 2 in Detroit as he conceded second to Pagenaud in the last few laps. Pagenaud came on strong after getting his last set of tires and Rossi’s car didn’t seem to work as well in the high groove as it did early in the race.

Tire wear seemed to affect the Penske cars more than it did the rest of the field.

The pack race many feared never developed. There was, however, some good close racing throughout the field.

Newgarden was the points leader after barber, but now is fifth in points with three finishes outside the top ten in the five races since May.

Good for Ed Carpenter and Will Power for admitting that their mistakes caused the crashes.

It was very cool to see Rossi go to Pagenaud after the race and shake his hand. That was a great battle for second.

Dixon, Power, and Newgarden have each won twice this year.

Pagenaud and James Hinchcliffe, who finished fourth, both needed good results. They had been struggling this season.

Scott Dixon now has 43 victories and now is third on the all time list behind Mario Andretti and A. J. Foyt. Enjoy watching this new legend race while you can. I think with another win or two this season, Dixon has a shot at passing Mario.

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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.

 

 

Pre Race Notes

Good morning from IMS. Some things to note heading into this afternoon’s race:

TV Coverage-

ABC 3:30 EDT Green flag at 3:50

Bonus Point Watch- through Barber

Josef Newgarden  6

Alexander Rossi    6

Sebastien Bourdais 5

Robert Wickens       5

Will Power                4

Ryan Hunter-Reay   3

Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Jordan King  tied at 1

It’s not surprising that the top three in points have the most bonus points. Power earned another point yesterday with his pole for today’s race.

Another charge to the front for Rahal and Dixon?

Rahal and Dixon have had to come back through the field in every race this year either due to poor qualifying, penalties, or track incidents. From their ninth row starting spots, they may have a tough time today. A different pit strategy might help them. This has not been a race with a lot of yellow flags the last three years.

The Schmidt-Peterson Factor

Keep an eye on Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe. This team started the season strong and has become a cohesive unit. Their top six starting spots bode well for good results today. A first win for Wickens is not out of the question.

Has Andretti Lost Their Momentum?

Andretti Autosport had a difficult day in qualifying. Perhaps most disappointing was Rossi not making the Fast Six. Is this a temporary hiccup in their season? I expect them to be very strong when 500 practice starts Tuesday.

Power Takes Indycar Grand Prix Pole

Call it equalizing. At St. Pete, Robert Wickens nipped Will Power for the pole. Today, Power just beat Wickens to take his second consecutive pole for tomorrow’s Indycar Grand Prix.

 Power led both practice sessions. His  best lap in the afternoon round was 1:09.8759. Jordan King was second quick, 0.3 tenths behind.  Rossi was third to go with his second place in the morning practice. Power, King, and Rossi were them only three to place in the top five in both session

In Group 1,  Wickens, James Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot , Jordan King, Josef Newgarden, and Helio Castroneves advanced. Castroneves was given a 5 minute hold at the start of tomorrow’s warmup for running an extra lap after the checkered flag.

Qualifying Group 2 had the top three in points- Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi,  and Sebastien Bourdais.  As the cars were leaving the pits, Gabby Chaves stalled and his crew retrieved the car and restarted him. Advancing were Bourdais, Power, Simon Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, and Rossi. Rossi will start eigh

In Round 2 Wickens, Power, KIng, Hinchcliffe, Bourdais, and Newgarden made the Fast 6. Teams making the final round were Penske (2), Schmidt-Peterson (2), Ed Carpenter Racing. and Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan.

Power won the pole with a time 1:09.8182. Wickens was second, 0.007 seconds behind. This is Power’s 51st career pole, placing him third on the all time career pole list. It is his first pole this year.

In the Fast Six press conference, Wickens said he made a mistake on his first lap in the final round. His teammate Hinchcliffe had brake issues in the second practice. He gave “huge credit to the 6 guys (Wickens’ team) for helping to solve the problem.

King was glad he was able to test on the road course before the season, He said that it helped him get right to work on qualifying today.

 

A Better Race- Bourdais, Power, and Pagenaud Talk About the Indycar Grand Prix

Good morning from IMS. A brief summary of yesterday’s press conference and some other notes.

Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, and Will Power ( L to R above) agree that the new aero package will produce better racing in the Indycar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Saturday. The new package tightens the gaps and allows the drivers to race closer. At a late morning press conference Friday, the drivers  praised the IMS  road course as one of the best the series runs on. They like its smoothness.

Pagenaud thinks restarts here are exciting because of the speed on the front straight heading into turn 1. He believes having the Grand Prix as a prelude to the 500 is a good idea.

” It shows the true nature of the Verizon Indycar series,” he said. “Fans can see what the whole series is about.”

Power and Pagenaud agree that this is a very European style track, which is part of its appeal to them.

Bourdais likes the idea of having the Grand Prix. He said there is no need to have nine days of practice on the oval. He would rather have had a practice session Thursday afternoon than the 9:15 session Friday morning. Bourdais believes the early morning session will not reveal any useful information for qualifying or the race.

Notes

Conor Daly will announce plans for the remainder of 2018 at an 11:30 press conference today. Speculation is he will be driving in the NASCAR Xfinity Series road course races.Your intrepid reporter will be covering the conference and report on it later.

The LED panels that displayed car positions and pit stop times have been shut down for May. There were issues with the system at Barber and the series stopped using them Saturday. The series hopes to have the panels back for Belle Isle. Teams will replace the panels likely with carbon fiber. It would be great if they put the car number there to compensate for the small rear wing numerals.

Juncos Racing announced Alfonso Celis, Jr. will drive in Kohler Grand Prix at Road America. Celis debuted in Indy Lights at Barber. Celis’ entry in the Freedom 100 has withdrawn, shortening an already small field.

Back later today with a qualifying summary and other news.

Bump Tales- Marlboro Snuffed; Team Penske Fails to Qualify

Nothing at the Indianapolis Motor4 Speedway is a given. A car, a team, or a driver cannot be penciled into the starting lineup because they just happen to be at the track in May. This point was never driven home as hard as it was in 1995 when Team Penske, winners of the previous two 500s and three of the previous four, failed to make the field for the 79th running of the Indianapolis 500.  Penske came to Indianapolis with a new chassis. The car was a handful from the first practice day. A switch to a Lola or Reynard chassis didn’t help.

The powerful Mercedes-Ilmor pushrod engine that dominated the field in 1994 was not available by rule. The engine wasn’t the issue, however. The car had handling issues. It couldn’t get through the turns well. By the first qualifying weekend, Al Unser, Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi, winners of the last two 500s, were running 10 mph slower than eventual pole sitter Scott Brayton. Penske hoped they could find a solution in the week following pole weekend and get the cars in the field on the second weekend. Pole weekend 1995  was the first time Team Penske did not qualify at least one car on opening weekend.

Bump Day arrived and still neither car had qualified. Bump Days during the era of two qualifying weekend followed an unwritten schedule. If the field hadn’t been filled by then, a handful of cars would go out early to grab the few reamaining slots. If weather interfered later in the day, those cars were guaranteed a spot in the race. Then, several hours of open track for practice occurred. No one seriously thought about qualifying until after 4 pm, when a cooling shadow appeared on the front straight.  1995 stuck to the pattern.

The day before, Fittipaldi made an attempt to qualify. He was averaging 225.5 but the crew waved off the run. It was a speed that would have put him in row 10. Unser, Jr. did not come close to a  speed that would get him in the field. The team put all their hopes into the final two hours of qualifying.

At 5:20 pm Fittipaldi completed a run at 224. 907 which placed him insecurely on the grid. With 12 minutes left in qualifying, Stefan Johanssen bumped Fittipaldi and Team Penske from the field of 33 for the 1995 race. The team that dominated the previous year did not come close to getting in the race.

To his credit, and one thing I have always respected Roger Penske for, he did not try to buy qualified cars to put his drivers in the race. Other owners have done that in this situation, as recently as 2011, when Michael Andretti bought one of A. J. Foyt’s qualified entries for Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Unser, Jr. was the first active defending champion to not make the race. It would be the first 500 without an Unser in the field since 1962. He and Bobby Rahal are the only defending series champions to fail to qualify. Rahal’s bump story is coming next week in this space.

Following the 1995 season, Tony George formed the IRL, which precipitated a 12 year war with CART. The competing open wheel series hurt the sport. It is slowly recovering, but will likely never regain the prominence it once held. Penske opted to stay in CART and didn’t return to IMS until 2001. His team won three consecutive races and his team has since won three more. Team Penske’s most recent victory was in 2015 with Juan Pablo Montoya.

As bizzare as qualifying was, the 1995 race was one of the strangest I’ve seen. It seemed as if every driver who led crashed. The strangest crash was Jimmy Vasser, who loked to be in complete control, crashed trying to pass a lapped car. Scott Goodyear took command and was well on his way to victory. On a restart with about 10 laps to go, Goodyear passed the pace car, which had not yet left the track. He ignored the black flag. Officials stopped scoring Goodyear’s laps after lap 195. Jacques Villeneuve, who had received a two lap penalty earlier in the day, inherited the lead and the win. Villeneuve drove 505 miles to win the 500.

Next week on Bump Tales, stories of two former winners who failed to qualify in different years.  Look for my Indycar Grand Prix stories Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

 

Indycar News and Notes- Coyne Again Searching for Drivers

With activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginninjg this Friday, Dale Coyne finds himself in a familiar position- looking for a driver or drivers to fill a seat vacated by an injured driver. Pietro Fittipaldi was slated to drive the number 19 car in both the Indycar Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. He was injured in a severe crash Saturday preparing for the 6 hours  WEC race at Spa. Fittpaldi injured both legs, including a complex fracture of the left leg. He underwent successful surgery and will be out at least eight weeks. Fittipaldi will also miss his scheduled start at Texas in June. The projected recovery time could allow him to drive his next assignment at mid Ohio in late July.

The scenario is a familiar one for Coyne. Last year Sebastien Bourdais fractured his pelvis in a qualifying crash at Indianapolis. James Davison filled in for Bourdais fort he 500. Coyne than had other drivers drive the number 18 until Bourdais returned for Watkins Glen. Tristan Vautier, one of last year’s subs, is under consideration to take Fittpaldi’s ride.

Other drivers thought to be in contention are Zachary Claman DeMelo, who shares the 19 with Fittipaldi and has ties to the car’s sponsor, Paysafe; and Ryan Briscoe. Practice and qualifying for the Indycar Grand Prix is Friday, so a decision should come quickly.

Entry List for the 102nd Indianapolis 500

The official entry list is out. Thirty-five cars have entered to attempt to get one of the thirty-three spots for the race. Buddy Lazier is not one of the entries. The field includes six former winners. Four of the five past champions are entered. With Fittipaldi out there are now three rookies in the field: Robert Wickens, Matheus Leist, and Kyle Kaiser. Helio Castroneves will drive in both the Indycar grand Prix and the 500. These are scheduled to be his only Indycar appearances  this season. Danica Patrick returns to the 500 for the first time since 2011. The 500 will be the final race of her career. The entry list appears at the end of this post.

Donuts for Daly

Jack’s Donuts has signed on to support Conor Daly’s Indanapolis 500 ride with Thom Burns Racing. Look for promotions during the month @ConorDaly22, @ThomBurns Racing and @jacksdonuts. If Conor is involved, it should be fun.

Bump Tales

Thursday the second part of “Bump Tales” appears. It is a tale of just how humbling Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be.

Castroneves, Taylor win IMSA race at Mid Ohio

The Team Penske Acura driven by Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor won the IMSA race at Mid Ohio Sunday. The race marked the return of sportscar racing to the track. The former American LeMans Series used to run the same weekend as Indycar, making for a tremendous weekend of racing. The IMSA/Indycar is a doubleheader that needs to return.

This was Team Penske’s first victory in the Weather Tech Series.

Entry List

Here is a link to the Entry List for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

Indy 500 Entry List 5-

 

I will also be back with a preview of the Indycar Grand Prix on Friday.