Portland Finish Makes Monterey Grand Prix Key for Palou

The keys to the kingdom lie just beyond Alex Palou’s grasp. Another good result at Weather Tech Raceway this coming weekend could make Long Beach a little easier for the second year Spanish driver. There are some clinching scenarios for next Sunday, but they all involve Palou getting maximum points. I don’t think that is likely to happen. His main goal is just to finish ahead of his two main competitors.

Scott McLaughlin led the first laps of his Indycar career yesterday. Photo: Joe Skibinski, Indycar

The Rookie of the Year is still up for grabs. Scott McLaughlin finished ninth and lead five laps yesterday to increase his lead over Romain Grosjean to 38 points. Grosjean had closed to within seven points in August. Grosjean sat out the first three ovals of 2021. This race is much closer than it should be, since one of the races Grosjean missed was the double points Indianapolis 500. The French driver has looked forward to Laguna Seca all year, and I suspect he will do well there. The Rookie award will not be settled until after Long Beach.

Entrant Points- The Race for 22nd

Two full time entrants will miss receiving Leaders’ Circle money for 2022. Car 7, Felix Rosenqvist currently sits 23rd with 189 points, Followed by the 59 of Max Chilton at 144 points and the number 4 of Dalton Kellett.

A strong final three races by Felix Rosenqvist will secure the Leaders’ Circle for the 7 car

Car 45. driven by Santino Ferrucci, Christian Lundgaard, and Oliver Askew. in 2021, lost the 22nd spot yesterday with a 24th place finish. The car has 171 points, but my understanding is that it is not eligible for the Leaders’ Circle because it did not run the full season.

Final Thoughts on Portland

For a track with no elevation changes, yesterday’s race had quite a few ups and downs for several drivers. Credit to the top three starters, who fought back to finish where they started.

Alexander Rossi’s first podium of the season may give him the momentum to score well in the final two races. In 2018 and 2019 he dominated at Long Beach, winning the last race there by 20 seconds. I think he breaks his winless drought in the season finale.

Good results at last- Jack Harvey and Felix Rosenqvist ended a season of with top 10 finishes Sunday. Harvey finished fourth, finally having a trouble free race. Rosenqvist crossed the line sixth. He has struggled at times this season, and has been unable to give much help to teammate O’Ward in his battle for the championship.

Callum Ilott had a respectable debut. The 2020 F2 runner up qualified 19th but finished 25th due to a mechanical issue.

Chip Ganassi Racing has won six of the 14 races this year. Scott Dixon is third on the team in number of victories. I can’t believe I had to write that.

Engine count– Palou, O’Ward, and Newgarden have all reached or exceeded their engine allowance for 2021. Scott Dixon has one engine remaining.

Quick Thoughts- Portland Grand Prix- Invert, Reset

Alex Palou celebrates his third win of the year and retaking the points lead. Indycar photo by Chris Owens

Pit strategy and cautions can make or break your race. They hurt Graham Rahal, who arguably should have won the race, and Pato O’Ward, who lost the lead in the points standings They helped Alex Palou, Alexander Rossi, and Scott Dixon, who ended the day on the podium. Palou’s team waiting an extra lap to call him in on lap 44 was the winning move today.

The podium. Photo from my friend Brad Proctor

Why can’t Indycar drivers get through the first turn at Portland cleanly? Today’s melee wasn’t as destructive as the first two years after Indycar’s return, but it turned the race on its head, especially with the way Race Control reordered the field. It took a later caution to reverse what happened at the beginning.

Is Alex Palou the next Scott Dixon? Nothing seems to faze this kid-neither two consecutive finishes in the 20s, nor being shuffled to the back of the field after winning the pole. He just does what he needs to do in order to win the title. Today was a big step in that direction.

Palou not only leads O’Ward by 25 points, he now owns the first tiebreaker with his third win of the year. I really didn’t think we would see a driver win three times this season.

The points chase realistically is down to three-Palou, O’Ward, and Josef Newgarden. Dixon is 49 points behind, essentially a full race in arrears. Marcus Ericsson was barely hanging on, and losing 15 more points to the leader pretty much ends his title bid.

I hope in their new television deal that indycar has forbidden NBC from using the “Points as They Run” graphic. It is pointless and meaningless. Drivers don’t earn point as they run. They earn points when they finish. This graphic was displayed at least five times in the first 28 laps, a time in the race where it is totally not necessary.

Points as They Finished

It seems that the Team Penske drivers have had a lot of contact with each other during races this season.

Nice to see Alexander Rossi finally get on the podium in 2021. I think he will win one of the next two races. Rossi dominated two years in a row at Long Beach.

Palou’s repeat win means the series can only tie the record for most different winners in a season with a maximum of 11.

I will be back tomorrow with more on today’s race. Thanks for following along this weekend.

Palou Puts Other Contenders on Notice with First Career Pole

Alex Palou celebrates his first career pole. Indycar photo by Joe Skibinskii

Anyone worried about Alex Palou fading out of the championship hunt can breathe easier now. Palou backed up his top speed in practice with his first career pole, nipping Alexander Rossi by 0.087 of a second.

The day did not start well for Palou with a spin and a light tap of a barrier about halfway through the practice session. He rebounded to finish with the fastest time in the practice and in Round 2 of qualifying.

The biggest surprise of the day was that title contenders Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward did not advance. Newgarden will start 18th and O’Ward will start 7th. Scott Dixon starts 3rd. The irony for O’Ward is that teammate Felix Rosenqvist knocked him out of the Fast Six as round 2 ended.

Takuma Sato took a six place grid penalty for an engine change and will start 24th. Ryan Hunter-Reay did not participate in qualifying as his team could not repair the car in time. Hunter-Reay had an unspecified electronics issue.

Notes

Graham Rahal had a great day making the Fast Six. i would not be surprised to see him on the podium tomorrow.

Max Chilton qualified a career best 11th.

Meyer Shank cars driven by Helio Castroneves and Jack Harvey were second and third in the morning practice, but had no pace in qualifying. Castroneves starts 17th and Harvey 20th.

Simon Pagenaud continues to not qualify well. He starts 26th.

Tomorrow is Alexander Rossi’s best chance for a win in 2021. The series still has a chance to set a record for the most different winners in a season, but it will take a different new winner in each of the last three races to accomplish it.

I believe this is the first all Alex front row in Indycar history.

Thanks for following along today. I’ll be back tomorrow with a race preview and a post race recap.

Palou Quickest in Morning Practice

Alex Palou led the only practice for the Grand Prix of Portland despite causing a red flag with a spin about halfway through a wild session. Palou is second in points and looking to rebound from consecutive finishes in the 20s.

Trailing Palou were the two Meyer Shank cars of Helio Castroneves and Jack Harvey.

The top 10:

Qualifying begins at 3:15 Eastern time on Peacock and re airs at 11: 30 Eastern on NBCSN.

Notes

A nice tribute to Robin Miller I’m the media center this morning.ore food was added later to make it more authentic.

Callum Ilott confirmed he is “in discussions” with Juncos Bollinger Racing about the ride in 2022.

Marcus Ericsson has signed a multi year deal to stay at Chip Ganassi Racing.

I hope that Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay can be ready for qualifying. Sato needs an engine change and RHR could not get the car to go through the gears.

I’ll be back after qualifying.

Palou Leads Practice; Herta Struggles

Points leader Alex Palou had the fastest lap in the only practice before qualifying begins tonight at 7 pm for the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix. Palou’s lap of 1:10.883 was 0.023 seconds faster than Rinus VeeKay, winner of May’s GMR Grand prix on the IMS road course. VeeKay also won the pole for race 1 of last fall’s Harvest Grand Prix.

Pato O’Ward, Jack Harvey, and Josef Newgarden rounded out the top five. Newgarden will have a ix place grid penalty for the race due to an unapproved engine change following the Music City Grand Prix.

The big surprise of the session was Christian Lundgaard, driving for Rahal Letterman Laniqan Racing. The Danish F2 driver was seventh in his first Indycar session, jus 0.030 seconds behind Will Power.

The practice round also saw Colton Herta, who has started on the front row for the last four races, struggle. He had a lockup, overshot turn one, aned had his car stall leaving the pits. Herta was 26th on the time chart, only completing 16 laps.

Qualifying this evening is the same format used in Detroit. The normal first round is followed bay a round of 12 to determine the pole. NBCSN will broadcast qualifying live

The top 12:

I’ll be back later tonight with a qualifying wrapup. Going out to buy spikes for my cooler. I want to look fashionable tomorrow.

Day 2 at Music City- More Speed with Reds? Palou Penalty

Photo: Jimmie Johnson enters turn three

Welcome to Qualifying Day at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. I am eager to see how much times drop on the alternate red tires today.

Today’s schedule- All Times Central

From last night

Herta Leads Successful First Day for Music City Grand Prix

Herta Leads Successful First Day for Music City Grand Prix

Indycar gets on the track earlier today for a 45 minute practice at noon, followed by qualifying at 3:30. Both sessions are streamed on Peacock. Because of the Olympics, NBCSN will not re-air qualifying later tonight. It’s sad that this event does not get any wider media exposure than the race on NBCSN tomorrow. I hope this is an NBC race next year.

Points leader Alex Palou will have a six place grid penalty for an unapproved engine change after the Portland test. This is the second grid penalty this season for the NTT Data team. Palou also started six places lower than he qualified in Detroit Race 1. He finished 15th. Palou needs to qualify in the top three or four to have a chance of maintaining a healthy lead. He was sixth yesterday. Scott Dixon, third in the standings, was second.

I’ll be back later tonight with a qualfying wrap-up.

Indycar’s Second Half- More of the Same Would be Fine

Update- Marti is improving as the medical team works out a treatment plan. Thank you all again for your kind wishes and concerns. We will get through this.

Photo: Alex Palou leads Colton Herta at Road America. Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Indycar had itself one heck of a first half- seven different winners, including four first time winners; only two winners over the age of 30; dramatic finishes, and really good racing. Only two drivers have won more than once, and four of the top seven in points are under the age of 25.

Alex Palou holds the trophy for the REV Group Grand Prix. Photo by Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Road America traditionally marks the end of the first half of the season, but with the cancellation of Toronto, which will not be made up, last Sunday was the first race of the season’s second half. The loss of the race, which is not a shock, narrows the field for the championship to three drivers-Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward, and Scott Dixon.

I think the title fight comes down to a battle between Palou, the current points leader, and O’Ward. Only O’Ward and Palou have won more than one race. Palou has led seven of the nine races. Palou has been on the podium five times, O’Ward finished in the top three four times. The 28 point lead Palou enjoys is essentially the difference in points between the two drivers at the Indianapolis 500.

I think Palou will prevail this season. Here’s why.

O’Ward Oddities

Both of Pato’s wins came in the second race of the two double headers. He finished third in the first race of each double header, and he was on pole for the first race in Detroit. In both of his victories, O’Ward overtook Josef Newgarden late in the race.

There are no more double headers this season It seems the Arrow McLaren SP team needs a bit of a longer window to figure things out. I’m not sure O’Ward wins another race in 2021, and he may have trouble holding on to second place in the standings.

The Iceman Lurketh

Six time champion Scott Dixon sits on the verge of history on two fronts. His next win, which is very likely this season, will tie him with Mario Andretti for second place on the career win list with 52. Winning the title will tie him with A. J. Foyt with seven championships.

Dixon has been competitive, as always, but the car looks to be just a step behind the front runners. The Indianapolis 500, despite Dixon winning the pole, did not turn out well. Dixon is 53 points behind, and 49 points of that gap are from the 500. He has come from larger deficits to win take a couple of his titles, but I don’t see it happening this year. Still, dixon will continue an amazing string of finsihes in the top five in points.

More Winners

There will be more drivers winning a race this season. It is inveitable that Josef Newgarden and/or Will Power will win a race before the season ends. Newgarden has won the last two poles and has had victory in his grasp the last two races. He has lost the lead with three laps remaining in Detroit and with two laps left at Road America. Mechanical gremlins and tire strategy have kept Team Penske out of the winner’s circle so far in 2021, but I think we see that situation change in the next three months. It is hard yo believe we are nine races into the season and wondering when a Penske will win a race.

Look for another win by an Andretti Autosport driver as well. Either Colton Herta wins another time, or Alexander Rossi will finally break through. This team has been just as puzzling as Team Penske. Herta has been the only bright spot for the team.

Nice Surprises

The biggest surprise this year is the overall performance of Romain Grosjean. The former F1 driver has won a pole, took a podium spot, and has been overall competitive in his 6 races in 2021. Grosjean is an outstanding qualifier, starting in the top six three times and seventh twice. Missing the Indianapolis 500 and the two Texas races will probably cost him Rookie of the Year since the award is based solely on points. He would win it if the trophy were awarded based on his performance on track.

Quick Thoughts- REV Group Grand Prix

Update on Marti- she is vastly improved today. Thank you to everyone for all the good wishes. They mean a lot to us.

I have never seen a race at Road America that good. There were battles all through the field, the lead was in contention all day, yellows figured into the strategy, and another crazy dramatic finish. I don’t know what people want from a race or a series, but if Indycar isn’t it, I can’t think of what would be. This season has been outstanding so far.

A Team Penske driver has lost a race in the closing laps in three consecutive races. I can’t recall that ever happening. All tough self inflicted losses too. Hard to believe this team has just two poles and just eight podium spots this season. In a year with so many different winners,it is hard to believe a driver from this team isn’t one of them.

Romain Grosjean has qualified well all year, but his racing has been a bit overlooked. He is aggressive but clean, and not afraid to mix it up with the established drivers. I really like the way he drives. It is a shame that he will not win Rookie of the Year because of the three races he sat out. He deserves it on performance.

Josef Newgarden sits fourth in the standings, but at 88 points behind he will have a difficult time winning the championship.

Once again, Scott Dixon manages a decent finish. He ends up fourth and is third in points, just 53 behind his teammate Alex Palou.

Palou has led seven of the nine races this season. He is back n top of the standings after a one week stay in second.

Kevin Magnussen and Cody Ware had good debuts. Magnussen did a great job maintaining the lead after the restart until his engine issue. Ware drove around quietly and stayed out of trouble all day. I hope we get to see more of him now that he has had a taste of Indycar.

It is hard to believe a Chip Ganassi Racing driver not named Scott Dixon is tied for the most victories this season and is leading the points.

Oliver Askew did a great job subbing for Rinus VeeKay in the 21 Ed Carpenter car. Askew finished 12th in only his second race of the year. He had more time in the car this week than the 10 minutes he had driving for Arrow last week. the extra time seems to have paid off.

Colton Herta looked like a championship, contender early in the year, but he has faded late in races. Today was a nice comeback to finish second, where he started.

Now, about NBC- a 90 minute pre race show is a bit much, but a five minute post race show is shameful, all because you had to rush to a nascar race at a new venue for them? In a city that Indycar will return to in August? The cut away is especially infuriating after a race as great as this one. We needed to see an interview with Josef Newgarden at the very least.

Today’s post race cutaway by NBC was another slap in the face by the network which claims to love Indycar. After missing the beginning of both races last week, the shabby treatment continues. They are likely the leading contender to keep Indycar because no one else is interested. That is another story and is sad. But if NBC wants to keep the Indianapolis 500, they need to step up their game for the entire season.

Thanks for following along this weekend, and again many thanks for all the good wishes. I will have a follow up tomorrow.

Palou Welcomes Detroit Challenge as He Fights to Keep Points Lead

Photo by Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Alex Palou isn’t afraid of a challenge. He proved that at the Indianapolis 500 when he dueled four time winner Helio Castroneves over the last seven laps of the race. Going to Detroit, a track he has never seen in person, will be another step for the current Indycar points leader.

“…it’s going to be challenging for sure. I’ve never been to Detroit. It looks — the track looks awesome. Looks really bumpy. But yeah, I think the layout, it’s super nice as a street course. I’m looking forward,” Palou told the media earlier this week.

“I’ve been preparing a lot on the sim, the track, just for myself, not setup related. I’ve been doing it at home, just because it’s super important on a street course to really know the bumps, to really get some references. And then aside, as well, we’ve been working with the team doing the setup stuff so we don’t have to work that much during the race weekend.And then during free practice, it’s going to be tough. I’m going to be able to — I’m going to have to be able to get up to speed really quick, and yeah, I just need to focus on everything. I need to focus on all the bumps. I need to see how the car rides the bumps. That’s super important. And then braking zones. I think it’s super important on street courses to really nail and attack the braking zones. Hopefully we are able to do that soon enough so we can start developing our car during free practice,” he continued.

On his near miss at Indianapolis, Palou said,

“I think it all came down to traffic, so I think I would just have waited for the last pass a little bit more. But at that point we had Rosenqvist in front, and that helped me. I actually pulled, and if Rosenqvist kept himself out, I think we would have had a chance to just go or maybe to fight again, but yeah, he went, and I was alone there, and he got traffic.Maybe just wait, but it’s super easy to say it now. Maybe a yellow comes out and you are waiting there second and you are like, why did I wait?”

Palou is fighting with teammate Scott Dixon for the championship right now. Some see that as an advantage, but Palou disagrees,.

“No, that’s the opposite because I know he’s going to compete with the same car as me, so I know he’s going to compete with a really good car, and it’s going to be up to us. I would prefer him to be on another team so I could know that I have the best team around me. But no, joking aside, it’s cool. It’s super good to be able to do what he’s doing, to know the strategies they are doing,to know how he’s approaching the weekends. It’s been really helpful for me so far, and it’s going to still be really helpful.”

Palou has a six place grid penalty for Race 1, which puts his record of leading every race this year in jeopardy. Qualifying will be extremely important to his chances of remaining on top of the points standings.