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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Honda Sweeps Doubleheader; Race 2 and Weekend Thoughts

Above: Ryan Hunter-Reay just after taking the checkered flag to end his three year winless streak. Photo: Mike Silver

Another drought ended yesterday as Ryan Hunter-Reay chased down teammate Alexander Rossi, forced him to make a mistake, and won for the first time in 42 races. On Saturday, Marco Andretti ended his five year pole drought and Scott Dixon won his first race in nearly a year. Honda won both poles and both races in the home games for Chevy in Detroit.

Unlike Saturday, drama started in turn 3 of the first parade lap, when GM Vice President Mark Reuss spun the Corvette ZR-1, slammed head first into the wall, and bounced back in front of the field. Pole sitter Rossi was the only car able to get past wounded pace car. The others later returned to pit lane after the car was cleared. Rene Binder stalled the engine and needed a tow back to the pits. After a 30 minute delay, Oriol Servia, in a backup pace car, led the field to the green flag.

Sunday’s race looked a lot like Saturday’s event. teams used  different pit strategies with some cars opting for a three stop race. Ryan Hunter-Reay was one of the first to pit. meanwhile, Rossi was running away from the field. Rossi and Hunter-Reay exchanged the lead on pit stops. Rossi, on a two stop schedule, took the lead when Hunter-Reay pitted on lap 53. A 63. second stop put the deficit to Rossi at 10 seconds. Hunter-Reay’s DHL car had a lot of speed on fresher tires. Rossi had made his last stop six laps earlier. The lead gap slowly closed until on lap 64, Rossi missed the turn with a huge brake lockup. Hunter-Reay zipped past and took the checkered first. Rossi shredded a tire and after a quick replacement, he ended up twelfth. The mistake not only cost Rossi the victory, it also cost him the point lead that he had just gained on Saturday. Rossi is now third in points behind Will Power and Scott Dixon.

Overall, Sunday’s race was a better than average Detroit race. There were battles for position throughout the field and a fight for the win at the end. Belle Isle will return to the schedule next year.

Notes

I hope Sunday’s pace car incident leads to the end of celebrity pace car drivers. While Reuss does have experience driving high performance cars, he does not drive professionally. The drivers in this series deserve professional in all phases of the race. I have opposed this practice for a long time. I feel the same way about celebrity flag wavers. Professionals should controla race from the command to start engines on.

Sunday changed my mind about the new car racing at Detroit. It was amuch more competitive show than Saturday. This package needs a little tweaking. Texas next weekend will show how much adjusting needs to be done.

Zak Brown, principal at McLaren, and Gil De Ferran were at Belle Isle this weekend talking to teams about entering the season next year. DeFerran is helping facilitate McLaren’s entry into the series. Nothing has been confirmed.

Will Power’s runner-up finish yesterday was the only Chevy on the podium all weekend. Andretti had three of the six spots and Ganassi had two.

ABC/ESPN televised its final Indycar race for the foreseeable future. NBC Sports takes over television duties next weekend at Texas and all of the next three years. ABC at one time was the go to network for Indycar, but at the corporate level seemed to have had a waning interest in the sport the last few years. I appreciate the hard work of all the people I’ve met who work for ABC and hope many can catch on with NBC next year.  Some great people may not be back next year.

What is the Ceiling for Dixon?

Now that Scott Dixon has tied Michael Andretti with 42 career wins, how many more can he get before he retires? Someone asked me Saturday if I thought he could get to 50. I think that may be a stretch given his age and how difficult it is to win in today’s Indycar series. On the other hand, I wouldn’t completely dismiss the idea that he can reach the 50 mark.

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.

 

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

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.

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.

Barber Preview- The UAK’s First Road Test Could Be a Wet One

The ninth edition of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama gives us our first look at the new aerokit on a natural road course. The car is great on street circuits- racier, harder to drive, better to attempt a pass with. Will it meet these standards on a road course? I think it should come close. The elevation changes, three straights, and slow curves should make this harder to drive car quite a handful. I will be spending a lot of time in turns 1, 2, and 3.

Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most beautiful tracks in the United States. The venue sits in a park with gorgeous landscape and whimsical pieces of art scattered throughout the property. The museum is one of the best motorsports museums anywhere. I’m interested to see if they’ve enhanced their Dan Gurney exhibit this year.

Barber  has become a more competitive track since the introduction of the DW12 chassis. The first two races, in 2010 and 2011, were rather tepid affairs with little passing. In 2012 Will Power won from ninth place on the grid. He did have the fastest car that weekend but was caught out by a red flag situation in qualifying. In 2016 Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal waged a spirited battle for the lead. Rahal took the lead briefly but made contact with a lapped car and soldiered home to his second straight runner-up finish.

Only five drivers have won this event, three of them twice each. Helio Castroneves won the inaugural race. Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Josef Newgarden, the defending champion, have a pair of victories here. Simon Pagenaud won in 2016. Power has won the most poles.

Scott Dixon has not won at Barber, but he has more podium finishes than anyone else here. He was second five times and third twice. 2016 was the only time he missed the podium. While he has been quick this year, he has spent a lot of time having to fight his way back through the field from an incident or penalty.

Points leader Alexander Rossi  does not have much of a record at Barber. This will only be his third race here. Based on the three events so far this year, he will likely make his presence known this weekend. His teammate, Hunter-Reay, has a great resume in Alabama. Andretti is a team to watch this weekend.

Team Penske has dominated this track with poles and they have five wins in the eight races to date. They have to be considered the favorites going into the weekend. This year, though, they will face the most competition they have had here in Andretti and possibly Coyne and Schmidt-Peterson.

All four of these teams have fought hard so far this season. Sunday will give us a big clue as to how the year might play out. I’m looking for a long multi-team battle through the end of the season.

My pick for Barber- Will Power. His race in Long Beach showed he has shaken off his issues from the first two races and he is at a track he usually dominates. I would not be shocked if he repeats Rossi’s Long Beach weekend.

Rossi will retain his points lead as the series heads to Indianapolis for May.

Race coverage begins at 3pm Eastern Sunday on NBCSN.

The latest weather forecast has Sunday as a very rainy day. It might be a race run completely on rain tires. This package has yet to run in the rain. If it is going to rain, I would rather see a dry start and then rain. My second preference would be a wet start and then a drying track with rain returning late in the race. The weather could make for some amazing strategy.

“Bump Tales” Begins May 4

A weekly feature, “Bump Tales,” starts Thursday, May 3. I will share stories of some of the more dramatic Bump Days of the past. Bonus editions will post on May 18 and 19. It will give you something to read during the rain (or possibly) snow delay on Saturday.