Front Row Show Renewed for Third Straight Week

Photo of Josef Newgarden by Matt Fraver, Indycar

Indycar’s longest running show, Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta in the front row, has been renewed by the series for a third straight week. Newgarden edged Herta this time by just 0.004 seconds in a wild qualifying session that saw lots of sliding and dirt thrown around, it had a controversial ending to Group 1 in Round 1.

Jack Harvey looked to be safely the top six ubtil he spun and came to halt just ahead of the timing line. Alexander rossi and Simon Pagenaud sped by, but did not slow enough according to race control. At the checkered flag, Harvey and Pagenaud were in and Rossi was out. Harvey lost his best lap, and Pagenaud and Rossi lost their final lap. As a result, Harvey and Pagenaud did not advance, but Rossi did. Rossi would go on to make the Fast Six.

The question now is, can Newgarden win? His last two poles looked like dominating wins, but tire and gear issues cost him each of the last two races with just a few laps to go. Herta has finished fourth and second in the previous two races.

Some Thoughts

Rinus VeeKay had a nice return race from his injury. The second year driver advanced to round 2.

The Fast Six seemed like old times with two cars each from Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti.

Will Power had to scramble in Round 1 to get his car fired again. He finally got on track with just four minutes left. Power, the active leader in pole positions, made it to the Fast Six. Power still does not have a pole this year. This is not the first time the 12 car has had electrical issues.

I hope Jack Harvey has his bad luck for the weekend out of the way now and can get a decent finish tomorrow.

Points leader Alex Palou starts seventh, while Scott Dixon starts fifth. Pato O’Ward, second in points, starts 20th.

Results:

Final practice begins in just a few minutes. Enjoy.

How the Front Row Fares in the Race

The 2021 front row. Photo by Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Starting in the front row has been a great place to begin the Indianapolis 500 over the last three years. There is no reason to think 2021 will be any different. the cars are basically the same, passing will be difficult, and the front row starting teams have shown great reliability over the course of an entire season.

Forty-four of the 104 Indianapolis 500 Mile Races have been won from the front row. The pole winner has won the most times, 21. Simon Pagenaud is the most recent driver win from the pole in 2019. His win from pole was the first win from the top spot since Helio Castroneves won in 2009. Since 2006, when Sam Hornish, Jr. won at the line from Marco Andretti, the race winner has started on the pole just three more times. In addition to Pagenaud and Castroneves, Scott Dixon won from pole in 2008. Pagenaud’s victory saved the 2010 decade from being just the third decade without a race winner starting from pole. The first decade of the race, 1911-1920, and the 1940s did not see the pole winner in Victory Lane.

Starting second has produced the fewest winners among the the front row starters, 11. That number seems pretty good, but only once since 1970 has the winner come from the middle spot of row 1. Juan Pablo Montoya won from the second starting spot in 2000. The 21 year drought has a decent chance of ending this year with Colton Herta.

The outside of the front row is the preferred starting spot for many drivers. Some say it presents a better approach to the first turn. 12 winners have started third, including Takuma Sato last year

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A look at the chart below shows that starting places 1-7 have produced 68 of the 104 winners. The most wins further back than that come 15th, where four winners have emerged.

A 500 mile race is long, and many things happen. there have been pole winners who haven’t completed the first lap. Roberto Guerrero in 1992 spun into the the inside fence on the pace lap. Scott Sharp in 2001 crashed in turn 1 of the first lap. There are no guarantees, but if you are playing the odds, the pole and the third place starters are decent wagers.

Squeakers: Dixon Edges Herta for Pole; Simona Makes the Grid

Don’t play King of the Mountain with Scott Dixon. You will lose. Colton herta and Rinus VeeKay tried to knock Dixon off the pole for next Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. They came close, but couldn’t do it. Dixon won his fourth Indianapolis 500 pole by just 0,0197 seconds, 0.03 miles an hour. Just moments before, Herta had knocked Rinus Veekay off the pole by 0.0966 seconds, 0.1 miles an hour.

Scott dixon pulls in after his pole winning run. Photo by Tim Holle, Indycar

It was a history making front row. It is the youngest front row in history, despite Dixon’s advanced age of 40.. VeeKay is the youngest front row starter in history. Today’s pole is Dixon’s fourth at Indianapolis, tying him for second place all time with A. J. Foyt, Rex Mays, and Helio Castroneves. Dixon also won the pole for the 500 in 2008, 2015, and 2017.

The rest of the Fast nine saw several drivers change spots from yesterday. Helio Castroneves went from sixth to eighth, Tony Kanaan went from third to fifth. Alex Palou moved from seventh to sixth, and Ryan Hunter-Reay went from eighth to fifth.

VeeKay had a big wiggle in turn 1 on his lap, but he saved it to complete the lap. The bobble may have cost him the pole. VeeKay qualified fourth last year and now starts third. He is the fastest Chevy in the field again.

The first three rows have a mix of drivers that represent former series champions and 500 winners and the younger generation of drivers. Five of the first nine drivers are 40 or older and represent six 500 victories. Three are in their early twenties. Marcus Ericsson is 30.

The Last Row- Power’s Close Call

In the Last Chance Shootout, the biggest drama came on Will power’s qualifying run when his right rear tire hit the outside wall. It was a glancing blow and he completed the run to qualify for the middle of the last row. I heard that the tow link was broken, which meant he would have had to withdraw his time to repair it and possibly not have another chance to make the field. next Sunday will be Power’s worst career start will be Power’s worst career start.

Simona DeSilvestro made her qualifying run, then sat in her car for the remaining hour of the Last Chance period to see if she would need to go again. Neither Charlie Kimball nor R C Enerson had anything close to her speed. kimBall took two shots at her time, but didn’t come close.

Kimball had started the 500 for 10 consecutive years through 2020. Enerson, a rookie, and his new team, accomplished a lot just by putting a car together and having it run a qualifying set.

DeSilvestro’s team, Paretta Autosport, is a team consisting 75% or women on the crew, some of whom will be working the pits on race day. It is great to have a woman back in the field for the 500.

Beth Paretta, team owner, watches nervously as Simona DeSilvestro qualifies.Phot by James Black, Indycar
Simona DeSilvestro waves to the crowd after clinching the final starting spot. Photo by Joe Skibinski, Indycar

I will have some thoughts on the qualifying weekend tomorrow. I wish to thank everyone for following along this weekend, which set a viewership record. I appreciate all of you.

Quick Thoughts- Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Photo: Chris Owens, Indycar

I am officially old. I saw Bryan Herta win races as an adult and have now seen his son win races.

Colton Herta put on a master driving clinic today., He led all but three laps and pulled away from Josef Newgarden on two late restarts.

Herta has tied his father Bryan on the career victory list with his fourth win today. He will pass his dad later this season.

The tire choices to start the 4ace made for some interesting tactic. The field was split evenly between primary and alternates. Hearts said after the race he didn’t notice much difference.

Still waiting for Alexander Rossi to have a decent weekend. Rossi expected to fight for the title but is mired in 16th place after two frustrating weekends.

While their finishes at Barber may hurt their championship chances a bit, both Herta and Newgarden did what they needed to do to get back in the hunt.

Pato O’Ward struggled in the morning warmup and was never a factor in the race. Fortunately, it is still early in the season, but he needs good results at Texas next weekend.

Will Power and Scott Dixon have shown early season consistency. Dixon is the only driver with two Top 5s. Power is one of three drivers with two Top 10s. Dixon and Power are tied for second, two points behind Palou. Palou’s lead is two because he led two laps today.

Sebastien Bourdais has brought the Foyt car home in the top 10 the past three races, going back to the 2020 season finale. It was a bit of a tough day, but if they can have a decent showing on the ovals, atop 10 points finish is possible.

Despite Herta being way out front most of the day, there was some great action back in the pack, Takuma Sato moved up nine spots from where hje started, and Power improved 12 positions.

Turn one was a festival of cars banging together. Only a few times did the collisions affect someone’s race. James Hinchcliffe was hit hard by Sato and fell back.

Chip Ganassi Racing is more than Dixon in 2021. Last Week Alex Palou won the race. Today Marcus Ericsson came from 16th to finish seventh. Paired with Dixon’s fifth place finish, Ganasssi ahs put two cars in the top 10 in both races.

While the youngsters have had fun these past two weekends, the ovals is where the veterans take over. Ovals are a veterans’ game.

Notes

The crowd seemed bigger than the 20,000 limit.

The social distance seating plan was not adhered to. In Grandstand 10,several rows were completely filled an consecutive rows had fans in them. None of the stand attendants monitored the situation. I hope IMS will have stricter policies about the grandstands in May.

It was nice to be back at the St. Pete Grand Prix. This the first event I have been to since 2019 that had more of a normal feel to it.

Thanks to everyone who followed along this weekend.

Quick Thoughts- Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Photo: Chris Owens, Indycar

I am officially old. I saw Bryan Jetta win races as an adult and have now seen his son win races.

Colton Herta put on a master driving clinic today., He led all but three laps and pulled away from Josef Newgarden on two late restarts.

Herta has tied his father Bryan on the career victory list with his fourth win today. He will pass his dad later this season.

The tire choices to start the 4ace made for some interesting tactic. The field was split evenly between primary and alternates. Hearts said after the race he didn’t notice much difference.

Still waiting for Alexander Rossi to have a decent weekend. Rossi expected to fight for the title but is mired in 16th place after two frustrating weekends.

While their finishes at Barber may hurt their championship chances a bit, both Herta and Newgarden did what they needed to do to get back in the hunt.

Pato O’Ward struggled in the morning warmup and was never a factor in the race. Fortunately, it is still early in the season, but he needs good results at Texas next weekend.

Will Power and Scott Dixon have shown early season consistency. Dixon is the only driver with two Top 5s. Power is one of three drivers with two Top 10s. Dixon and Power are tied for second, two points behind Palou. Palou’s lead is two because he led two laps today.

Sebastien Bourdais has brought the Foyt car home in the top 10 the past three races, going back to the 2020 season finale. It was a bit of a tough day, but if they can have a decent showing on the ovals, atop 10 points finish is possible.

Despite Herta being way out front most of the day, there was some great action back in the pack, Takuma Sato moved up nine spots from where hje started, and Power improved 12 positions.

Turn one was a festival of cars banging together. Only a few times did the collisions affect someone’s race. James Hinchcliffe was hit hard by Sato and fell back.

Chip Ganassi Racing is more than Dixon in 2021. Last Week Alex Palou won the race. Today Marcus Ericsson came from 16th to finish seventh. Paired with Dixon’s fifth place finish, Ganasssi ahs put two cars in the top 10 in both races.

While the youngsters have had fun these past two weekends, the ovals is where the veterans take over. Ovals are a veterans’ game.

Notes

The crowd seemed bigger than the 20,000 limit.

The social distance seating plan was not adhered to. In Grandstand 10,several rows were completely filled an consecutive rows had fans in them. None of the stand attendants monitored the situation. I hope IMS will have stricter policies about the grandstands in May.

It was nice to be back at the St. Pete Grand Prix. This the first event I have been to since 2019 that had more of a normal feel to it.

Thanks to everyone who followed along this weekend.

Herta Expects to Contend Again; Hopes Father Knows Best

Photo: Chris Owens, Indycar

No one on the Indycar Content day zoom conference was surprised to hear Colton Herta make his intentions to be in position to win the series championship this year.

“I wouldn’t be in INDYCAR if I didn’t have the confidence in myself to perform. Yes, I believe I can. I think we showed it last year of what could have been. If I didn’t have that slip up at Iowa, mess that up for us, we could have been really good in the championship hunt going into the last round,” he responded when asked if he could win the championship this season.

Herta exuded his usual confidence during the conference. He seemed more focused and calmer than he has the last two years. . He knows he has the driving talent to win and the team to help him get there. What does he need to go from third to first in the title chase?

“… cutting out the mistakes, changing kind of those top fives, fourth and fifth places that we had last year, we had a bunch of them, into podiums, and some of those podiums we had into wins. We need to win a little bit more and we need a little bit more podiums, a tiny bit more consistency to really make a true championship run.”

One thing that will change on Herta’s team will be his race strategist. Bryan Herta, Colton’s father, will be in his ear during races. The elder Herta is one of the best strategists in the paddock. He managed fuel strategy for Alexander Rossi in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Fathers as their son’s strategist has not worked well in the past. Michael Andretti was Marco’s strategist, which didn’t pan out. Bobby Rahal was on the radio for Graham one year. That was not a good situation Why will this arrangement work out better than the previous ones?

Colton explained, “I think you can tell by now that we’re both pretty mellow. We don’t get excited and we don’t get upset or very sad. We stay pretty even. Our emotions don’t really get the better of us. I think in that aspect, I think the other personalities will get heated at each other, where I don’t think it would happen with us because of how mellow we are.”

Winning more races and eliminating mistakes are what Herta believes will bring him the championship. He hopes he can bring his dad along for the ride to the top.


Herta Moves to the 26 and Other Notes

Image from Andretti Autosport Twitter

Colton Herta is moving his office down the hall at Andretti Autosport, moving from the Hardin Steinbrenner Andretti number 88 to the Gainbridge number 26 of Andretti Autosport. Herta essentially replaces Zach Veach, who brought Gainbridge sponsorship to Andretti in 2017. Gainbridge also is the presenting sponsor of the Indianapolis 500.

The multi year deal gives the three time winner beginning his third Indycar season the sponsor stability he has lacked his first two seasons. The number 26 was Herta’s number in his karting days, and it was also his father Bryan’s number when he drove the Andretti Green Acura LMP2.

The number 88’s driver will be named at a later date. Mike Harding and George Steinbrenner continue their association with that car. I’m expecting James Hinchcliffe to get that ride, and it is possible the car may carry a different number.

Ferrari-In or Out?

Conflicting stories abound about whether ferrari is still in talks with Indycar regarding their involvement as a third OEM. Saturday a published report said they were no longer involved. Penske immediately responded with a statement saying Indycar was still in discussion with the italian manufacturer. A report today seems to indicate that conversations are still ongoing.

No matter the status of the talks, I don’t ever expect to see a Ferrari in any form running in an Indycar race. Ferrari is known to tease companies an organizations to use as leverage for something more.

Ferrucci to XFinity?

Santino Ferrucci reportedly has signed a deal to run 20 races in the NASCAR XFinity Series in 2021. Ferrucci, who drove for Dale Coyne racing with Vasser Sullivan the last two years, has not resigned with the team. This deal might make a full Indycar season difficult.

Ferrucci was Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 2018. He finished 13th in the standings in 2020.