Detroit Preview- Points Battle Get Serious; McLaren Talks; Racier Event?

With May finished, the Verizon Indycar gets back to the business of deciding a series champion. The first stop as the second third of the season begins is Detroit for two races.  Just ten points separate the top three. Will Power leads Alexander Rossi by two points and Josef Newgarden is ten points behind. Scott Dixon is 25 behind in fourth. Surprisingly, James Hinchcliffe is still in the top ten despite missing the 500. Sebastien Bourdais also lost a lot of ground by crashing in last Sunday’s race, dropping to eighth. The standings will scramble again after this weekend.

The points leader after this Sunday will be the one of the top three who has the best average finish of the two races. I like Rossi’s chances. Honda and Chevy are more equal on road and street courses. Honda and Chevy have each won two non oval events this year. Honda has dominated the street circuits and Chevy has been slightly stronger than Honda at the road courses.

Saturday’s race looks to be dry, but there is now the threat of a wet race on Sunday. I have been to wet races here. They are chaotic, but there are a lot of different strategies employed. This type of race usually produces a surprise winner. If it rains, look for Sebatien Bourdais to regain some of the ground he lost last week. Alexander Rossi will win one of the races, likely Saturday when the track is dry.

McLaren Visiting Detroit

Zak Brown, head of McLaren, will be in Detroit to talk with teams about a partnership as a full time Indycar team next year. Fernando Alonso’s manager is also attending the meetings. Andretti is said to have the inside track since they partnered to field Alonso in last year’s 500. Rahal Letterman Lanigan is also interested in working with McLaren.

2019 Indy 500 Field Already Beginning to Form

Team Penske announced earlier this week that Helio Castroneves will return for another shot at winning his fourth Indianapolis 500 next May.

Scuderia Corsa, whose entry with Oriol Servia led 16 laps at the 500 this year, also confirmed they will return to Indianapolis in 2019. They are still considering entering Indycar full time.

At this pace, it appears likely there will be bumping again.

Pit Lane Parley

This week’s episode of Pit Lane Parley features Indy lights Driver Aaron Telitz. Telitz currently sits  seventh in Indy Lights points. He had a difficult start to the season, not completing a lap until the fourth race of the season.  Pit Lane Parley airs at 3:15 EDT on Wildfireradiosports.com and is available on Podbean and other apps.

Notes

Hard to believe Scott Dixon has not led a lap this season. This weekend may end that drought.

I am interested to see the new aerokit perform at Texas. I think that will be the true test of how this new superspeedway package works. Jay Frye said this week they will look at possible tweaks to the Indianapolis package.

I will be onsite at Detroit beginning Saturday morning. Look for updates throughout the weekend.

Thanks for reading this month. It was a lot of fun producing stories.

 

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The Positive Thinking of Power

“When you work hard at something it eventually comes to you,” Will Power said at his Sunday afternoon press conference. He credit this approach to his determination in the closing laps of the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500. Winning the 500 had run through his head more than ever over the last year, he said. It was. “The last box to check on his career, which includes an Indycar Series championship won after several close calls. Again working hard will eventually get you what you want.

The race was an intriguing event. It was difficult to pass, as expected, but drivers liked that the outcome was more in their hands. Some teams, Scott Dixon and Robert Wickens, tried alternate pit strategies which were hurt by the timing of the caution periods. Power, on a normal pit cycle, was in the right spot in the end to take advantage of those who gambled.

Ed Carpenter and Power had the strongest cars all day. Carpenter led 65 laps and Power led 59. No one else led more than 19. Tony Kanaan looked to be a third factor until a cut tire forced an extra stop. He had worked his way back to ninth, then crashed on lap 189, setting up the dramatic finish and near storybook ending.

Oriol Servia, Stefan Wilson, and Jack Harvey gambled there would be another yellow and they would be able to save enough fuel to go the distance. Servia led the field to the green on lap 193 and was quickly passed by Wilson and Harvey. Wilson led the next three laps, which sent a buzz through the crowd. The two leaders pulled into the pits for fuel on lap 196, hand Power the lead and the victory.

The usually stoic Power was one of the happiest winners in Victory Lane in many years. “I started screaming on the white flag lap,” he said. Tim Cindric corroborated that.

Notes

Power’s win was the first for a front row starter since Dario Franchitti won from third in 2010. It was Team Penske’s first 500 win since Juan Pablo Montoya won his third in 2015.

There were 30 lead changes, many on pit cycles. While we didn’t see constant passes for the lead, I thought it made each pass more genuine and a result of driving and not equipment packages.

Alexander Rossi had another march from the back of the field. His fourth place finish from a last row start was one of the highlights of the day. He also charged from the back to get a podium at Phoenix after a pit penalty. Rossi is now two points behind Power in the series championship.

Graham Rahal continues his season of starting in the back and getting to the top 10. Yesterday he finished tenth from his 30th starting spot. I’m sure he’s looking forward to Detroit where he dominated the weekend last year.

Danica Patrick’s career ended with a crash on lap 68. It was the only the second time she has not finished the race. Patrick had always done well at the Speedway, including being the first woman to lead.

Helio Castroneves spun and crashed on lap 146. I’m not sure if he will return next year. If he does, 2019 may be his last time to try for win number 4

Power is the first driver to win the Indycar Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year.

What is Up with the Pre-Race?

For a couple of years now I have become annoyed with the pace of the pre race ceremonies. This year I thought they were longer and more drawn out than ever. It seemed as if parts were out of order as well. These ceremonies used to be compact, flowing and built the tension leading to the start. I don’t get that feeling or the goosebumps I used to get during this part of the day.

The Speedway has found its new singer for “(Back Home Again in) Indiana”. It was another great performance by Jim Cornelison. Please keep him.

The highlight was playing a recording of Jim Phiilipe’s homage to veterans which preceded taps. It was wonderful to hear that again, but the moment was ruined when instead of following it immediately with “Taps”, the invocation was next, followed by an ABC commercial break, then “Taps.” A solemn moment was ruined.

The last straw was Tony George giving the command, “Drivers, start your engines” for the second year in a row. I’m not sure if I heard the engines or if the sound was Tony Hulman spinning in his grave. Please, IMS, give the traditional (Ladies) and Gentlemen, start your engines command. Drivers, start your engines is fine for every other race on the schedule.

I will close with a couple more photos from yesterday. I have more stories of the month this week before the series moves to Detroit.

(Left) Will Power’s car om pit lane race morning.

(Right) Power waits to take questions from the press.

All photos: Mike Silver

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.