Road America Thoughts and Other Musings

The race-

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A tight battle on lap 1 for fifth through ninth in Turn 5. Photo: Mike Silver

Not the best I’ve seen, but hardly the worst. I enjoyed watching Josef Newgarden turn in a flawless performance yesterday afternoon. He had pressure from Ryan Hunter-Reay all day long, but the Chevy was too strong on road America’s long straightaways. Alexander Rossi once again nearly stole the headlines from the winner, but not for the reason he usually does. More on the controversy later. Scott Dixon didn’t qualify as well as he hoped- he missed the Fast Six- but managed to be the only leader besides Newgarden to lead any laps. Dixon finished third and increased his points lead.

Best drama of the day happened just before the green flag when Will Power, who started second, was nowhere to be found as the field roared into turn one. An engine issue put him out of the race for his third DNF of the season. Outside of May, Power has really not had a great year. He drops from third to fifth in the title chase.

Tony Kanaan tried to use a four stop strategy to move up, but the caution free race didn’t allow that plan to work. Kanaan finished 14th.

Alexander Rossi- Series Villain?

Indycar has needed rivalries and villains to give the series some spark. Have they found them? The season began with hopes of a Rossi/Newgarden battle for the title. That hasn’t materialized, but a Rossi/Robert Wickens feud may be brewing. Wickens and Rossi collided in turn one at the start. After their collision on the white flag lap at St. Pete, the animosity seemed to have died down. It may be on again. Takuma Sato also took issue with Rossi’s driving in yesterday’s race. He and Rossi had contact in turn 5 later in the race.

Rossi had a suspension problem which dropped him to a 16th place finish. He is now tied with Hunter-Reay for second, 45 points behind Dixon.

I like Rossi’s style. He is bold and relentless and can pass anybody anytime it seems. He is also unapologetic. As long as he isn’t ruining other drivers’ races, I’m fine with his racing.

Road America Renews for Three More Years

Yesterday morning Road America President George Bruggentheis announced that Indycar will return to Elkhart Lake for three more years. This has been one of the more successful events on the calendar. Sunday’s crowd was equal to or may have topped the great attendance in 2016. The track instantly become my favorite road course the moment I entered the track.

On the Flip Side…

The not unexpected news that ISM Raceway in Phoenix would not return in 2019 became official over the weekend.  Crowds were virtually nonexistent and the racing was not great. There was little excitement or presence for the event the two times I went to the race.

It’s sad to lose such a classic track, but the newer cars don’t always perform well on the older tracks.

The series is looking for a replacement in that that calendar slot. Many fans have made many suggestions. It needs to be a warm weather locale, and preferably another oval.

I’m wondering if other schedule changes are in the offing for next season.

On to Iowa

Next up for Indycar is Iowa, the most fun oval on the schedule. You may have heard this before in this space, but I hope this the last daytime race and beginning in 2019 this is again a night race.

I have a couple features planned for later this week and next week. Enjoy the week off.

 

 

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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

Carb Day- Lots of Laps and a Great Indy Lights Race

I’m not sure we know any more about how the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 will go tomorrow after watching the Carb Day session. 1,273 laps of mostly strung out running should help drivers get a feel for Sunday’s similar weather conditions. The four fastest yesterday- Tony Kanaan 227.791, Scott Dixon 225.684, Marco Andretti 225.220, and Sebastien Bourdais 224.815, could be the group from which  the winner comes.  The race will come down to track position in the last40 laps and who makes the right tire calls on the last stop.

Danica Patrick had an electrical problem early in the session and only ran 15 laps. Her second lap was the eighth quickest. She did get on track during the final 10 minutes. The session was halted briefly for a track inspection. No cars had an on track incident.

Polesitter Ed Carpenter Ran 30 laps with a best time of 223.219, 14th fastest. Teammate Spencer Pigot had the 9th fastest time, 223.584. Overall, a decent day for the Carpenter team. Can they put it all together on race Day? That has been the one glitch in their 500 program.

Graham Rahal ran the most laps, 51, as he still looks for a good pace. The rest of the top five in laps run were Carlos Munoz, 49; Jay Howard, Helio Castroneves, Stefan Wilson, and Sage Karam 48 each; Josef Newgarden, 47. Of the high laps run group, Karam was quickest with the 12th best lap at 223.278.

We will begin to get answers in 15 and half hours from the time I’m writing this.

Herta Wins Exciting Freedom 100

When engines fired for the Indy Lights Freedom 100, I joked to my friend Brad that the race starts in 38 laps. This race has produced extremely close, four wide finishes with great racing in the last two laps. I was wrong. The small field raced every lap as if it were the final lap.

Twenty lead changes in a 40 lap race is unprecedented. Dalton Kellett, the polesitter, had the longest stretch in the lead, from lap 21-25. Colton Herta, who started sixth, took the lead on lap 39 and held off Patricio O’Ward by 0,0281 seconds. Yes that was close, but it is not in top four closest margins in Freedom 100 history.

The Day in Photos

Here are some photos from yesterday. Remember to rest tonight (Ha) get to the track early, and drink lots of water. Enjoy the race.

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Colton Herta takes the lead during the Freedom 100.

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Danica Patrick returns to the track after a trip to the garage to repair electrical problems.

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Pit road is always busy on Carb Day.

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James Davison leads Takuma Sato in turn 1.

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Spencer Pigot leaves his pit box.

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Pit stop practice for Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter.

Update-Kanaan Starts 10th

Tony Kanaan had the fastest time in the 10-33 qualifying round. The big surprise was Alexander Rossi, whose first lap was 227, but slowed to a 221 on his last lap. He will start 32nd.

Rumors are still swirling about James Hinchcliffe replacing a qualified driver. There is one strong rumor out there. I do not report rumors. I will say it’s the one that makes the most sense for all parties involved.

The Fast Nine begins in a few minutes. I will have an up date afterwards. My full weekend wrap up will be posted on wildfireradiosports later tonight.IMG_3099

 

Test Day Wrap Up

Top Photo: Indycar

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway had its first look at the new speedway aerokit. today. Speeds were fast for an initial test day. The crowd was likely the largest crowd ever for a test. The new car looks beautiful.

Many fans took advantage of the nice weather to come out to watch. I arrived at 10 am. Normally on a test day, I pull into the museum parking lot in front of the museum. I was shocked to find no spaces open, and that I had to park in the overflow lot on the east side of the building. Did I mention this was a test day? I have never seen both mounds so filled for a non-official day. last year when Fernando Alonso had his test day, I thought the crowd was large. i never thought I’d see a bigger crowd than that for a test. Today threw that idea out the window. I left for lunch and when I returned, I had to park behind the museum. I am now a well rounded museum visitor.

Speeds were higher than I expected. I was thinking no one would go over 220 mph as they were testing out how the new package handled on the large oval. But Tony Kanaan had the fastest lap at more than 226 mph.

I did not get to stay for the aeroscreen test with Josef Newgarden. I understand there was an issue with glare. I will find out more tomorrow about how it went.

One other observation- If you are going to the track this May, get a spotters’ guide and learn the liveries. The tiny numbers on the tiny rear wings are impossible to see. The teams that run the same sponsors on their cars fortunately have reversed the color pattern on one of the cars to make them easier to tell apart. This year, go by paint, not numbers.

The t5op 5 from this afternoon:

Tony Kanaan A.J. Foyt (Chevy)     226.181

Simon Pagenaud Team Penske (Chevy) 225.910

Marco   Andretti  Andretti Autosport (Honda) 225.637

Gabby Chaves Harding Racing (Chevy)  225.630

Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing (Honda) 225.448

James Hinchcliffe was slowest with a 220.161.

Andretti, Dixon, and Chaves were also in the top 5 in the morning session.

Gateway Promotion

Representatives of Gateway Motorsports Park came to IMS today to greet fans, sell tickets and continue their incredible race promotion efforts. According to trackm president Curtis Francois, they are doubling their concession offerings and have improved parking and camping. They are offering a bus trip on race day from IMS to Gateway. Cost is $149. It includes a race ticket and paddock pass. For more information, got their website, gatewaymsp.com

Some photos from the day.  Photos by Mike Silver

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Part of the large crowd at IMS today (Monday)
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Josef Newgarden holds a replica ticket for for the Bommarito 500 scheduled for August 25. Newgarden signed three of the the replica tickets which three fans won in a drawing.

Rossi Stars in Amazing Race Again

It was a home game for Alexander Rossi and he won convincingly. Rossi led 71 of the 85 laps in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and never faced a serious challenge for the lead. He pitted ahead of the mid race caution that caught out two of his biggest challengers, Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon. Rossi drove a perfect race, blasting ahead on restarts and executing flawless pit stops. While he was breezing along, there was quite a bit of drama behind him.

In turn 1 Graham Rahal bumped Simon Pagenaud, knocking him out of the race. Rahal served a drive through penalty but fought back to finish fifth.  Bourdais and Dixon engaged in a great battle for second. Bourdais made one of the greatest passes I’ve ever seen, darting between Dixon and backmarker Matheus Leist. Race control deemed the move illegal as Bourdais’s right side tires crossed the line marking the pit exit lane. Officials ordered him to relinquish the spot to Dixon. He did- for about half a lap.

Josef Newgarden went to a three stop strategy, which didn’t work out for him. He finished seventh. Teammate Will Power had the last shot at stealing the victory from Rossi on the last restart but could only get within 0.71 of a second at one point. Power had twice as many push to pass seconds as Rossi when the race resumed, but burned it quickly and still couldn’t catch him.

It was another good street race with the new aerokit. There was passing and strategy. the yellows fell at times that made for an entertaining event. The first two street races have been so good I’m tempted to make a return to Belle Isle this year.

Notes

Rossi has been on the podium all three races this year and four of the last five races. He has two wins and two thirds.

Robert Wickens, the star of the previous two races, struggled most of the weekend and had a gearbox issue. he finished 22nd.

Andretti Autosport had a great day with Zach Veach coming in fourth in just his third race and Marco Andretti getting his second top 10 of the season. Veach nearly caught Ed Jones for third after the final restart.

The only down part for the team was Ryan Hunter-Reay’s awful day. He got clipped by Dixon in turn 1 at the start, later had a flat tire, and then got stuck in the hairpin traffic jam that also ruined Bourdais’s comeback. He ended up 20th.

Tony Kanaan had his second straight top 10.

Is Matheus Leist in over his head? He seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time all day, interfering with the leaders. He has been the least impressive driver in the field this year.

500 Field at 35

Two announcements this week brought the field for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 to 35.

The worst kept secret in the paddock became official when J. R. Hildebrand got the ride in the second Dreyer and Reinbold car.

James Davison, who filled in last year for Bourdais in the 500, will drive a third car for A. J. Foyt Racing with sponsorship from David Byrd.

I’m planning a series on past Bump Days beginning the first week in May. I will highlight some of the more memorable moments of bumping.

Season Preview, Part 2- Smaller Teams Look for Bigger Results

First, some personal news:

Beginning this weekend I will be covering Indycar for Wildfire Sports, a sports site carrying podcasts and written content. I am very excited for this opportunity. Please give them a look at wildfireradiosports.com. I plan to continue this blog, probably with a slight change in content. Thanks to everyone who reads this blog. You helped make this happen.

 

The four smallest established teams in the paddock expect better results this year thanks to the new aero package. TheHonda teams are especially optimistic that equal aero with superior Honda power will yield higher finishes. Each of the teams featured today have at least one driver new to the team. All but one driver was not in Indycar last year.

A. J. Foyt Racing

Foyt turned over their driver lineup for the second year in a row. They now have former series champion and 2013 500 winner Tony Kanaan and rookie Matheus Leist. Kanaan has struggled the last few years with Ganassi. He is looking for a fresh starts. I’m not sure this is the best team to get better results with, but his talent may help improve the team’s standing.

Leist drove in Indy Lights in 2017 and won the Freedom 100 in dominating fashion. He also won at Iowa. Still, I think he could have benefitted from another season in Lights. Leist spun four times at the Phoenix test. He will have a challenging year.

Overall I don’t look for much improvement from Foyt Racing. The constant change of personnel makes it difficult to produce decent results. Kanaan may be able to get a few top 10s, but anything beyond that would be a major accomplishment.

Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan

This team has some unfinished business. Sebastien Bourdais was poised to be a championship contender last year, winning the St. Pete opener and on his way to the pole at Indy when the horrendous crash occurred. Bourdais was sidelined until Labor Day weekend.

2018 begins with a full time sponsor and a partnership with former team owners Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan. This may be the boost that Coyne needs to move his organization closer to the front consistently. Look for Bourdais to be in the thick of the title fight.

The second car will have two part time drivers, Zachary Claman DeMelo and Pietro Fittipaldi. DeMelo drove in Indy Lights last year and had an Indycar debut at Sonoma with Rahal :Letterman Lanigan. After a slow start to the weekend he showed a decent race pace. I thought he was one of the most improved Lights drivers last year, but I still think he could use another year’s experience. DeMelo will run at St. Pete, Long Beach, Barber, Detroit, Road America, Pocono, Toronto, and Gateway.

Fittipaldi is the grandson of former series, world, 2-time 500 champion Emerson Fittipaldi. He raced in Europe last season and did well. He performed well in testing, but he is still a rookie on a low budget team. I think he will be interesting to watch. Fittipaldi’s seven races are Phoenix, GP of Indy, the 500, Texas, Mid-Ohio, Portland, and Sonoma.

Ed Carpenter Racing

2018 sees some shuffling and one part time addition to the Fuzzy’s Vodka backed team. Owner Ed Carpenter will continue to drive the ovals in car 20 and rookie Jordan King, who comes from F3 and F2 with respectable credentials, will take over the car fro the road and street schedule.

The 21 car will have Spencer Pigot, last year’s road and street driver of the 20. Pigot is a major talent who should do well in a full time seat. Last year a series of mechanical issues cost him some great finishes. I anticipate fewer problems and some top 5s this season.

Carpenter always qualifies well at Indianapolis, but has very little good fortune in the race. Could this be the year their fortune changes?

The 20 and the 21 will have different liveries this year. Last year the two cars were a spotter’s nightmare as they were pretty much indistinguishable in the race. When both cars carry the Fuzzy’s sponsorship, the 21 will be green and the 20 will be black.

Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports

I always start the new season with high hopes for this team.  There are some flashes of brilliance but not a consistent result for the entire schedule. 2018 could be different. James Hinchcliffe returns and his teammate, Robert Wickens, is someone he grew up with. Wickens was headed for an open wheel career which got derailed and spent last year in DTM.  This is the strongest two car lineup SPM has had in a while.

Adding Leena Gade as lead engineer is a huge hire for SPM. She is one of the top engineers in the world. It will not take her long to get these cars competitive. Gade is also a strong, articulate  advocate for equal opportunities for women in sport. I am very glad she is in the Indycar paddock.

There were some issues with Hinchcliffe’s car at Phoenix, which hopefully will be resolved by the April race. Wickens showed good speed at the Sebring test. He has a smooth style.

The team has added several partners in the offseason. The biggest deal is with New Era as the team’s apparel provider.

I think Hinchcliffe will win a race this year as he did last year. Wickens will have several good runs and likely finish second in the season Rookie of the Year chase.

Tomorrow concludes my team previews with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Andretti Autosport. On Friday I will have a full season preview with predictions you can take to the bank, or anywhere else that has a trash can..