A Home Game for SPM Drivers- Honda Indy Toronto Preview

Photo above from Honda Indy Toronto website

The Verizon Indycar series makes its only trip outside the United States this weekend in Toronto. James Hinchcliffe gets to race at home coming off his victory in Iowa. Teammate Robert Wickens also can claim Toronto as his home track. Look for great results from this pair this weekend.  With Zachary Claman DeMelo also in the field, this is the first time in several years that three Canadian drivers have been in this race.

Indycar has had a long history at Exhibition Place beginning in 1986. The race was off the calendar in 2008, but returned the next year following the merger. This was one of the venues where double headers took place in 2013 and 2014.  Michael Andretti won at Toronto seven times, including three sets of back to back wins in 1991 and 92, 1994 and 95, and 2000 and 2001.

Active drivers who have won previously are Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, and  Scott Dixon. Power leads active drivers with three wins. Newgarden and Dixon each have won twice. Dixon swept the 2013 doubleheader for his two victories.

The event has the buzz of Indy about it, making it a fun race to attend. After track activity, there is Toronto to explore. This race is definitely worth a trip. Public transportation makes it easy to get to.

Does Honda Street Course Domination Continue?

Hondas have dominated on street circuits this season. Power has had the strongest Chevy on the streets with two seconds and a seventh place finish. He has qualified second twice and third once. Newgarden has not qualified well and although he has three top ten finishes, he hasn’t really been a factor in any of the street events.

Honda has won the pole for all four street races.  Alexander Rossi has won two poles.  This trend should continue. Hondas seem to like tracks with slow corners and short straightaways.

A Great Weekend for the Home Team?

The momentum SPM and Hinchcliffe have from winning Iowa and Honda’s strength on this type of track point to a great weekend for the team. Robert Wickens excelled at St. Pete and is one of the favorites to win his first career Indycar race Sunday.  Wickens has been in contention in most races this season and will be a factor on race day.

Indy 500 2018 190

Robert Wickens is one of the favorites for his hometown race. Photo: Mike Silver

Can Dixon Extend His Points Lead?

We are in the part of the season where points are as important as who wins the race. Dixon’s big lead suffered a slight drop last Sunday, but not enough to put his spot in jeopardy. It would be a shock if he had two bad races in a row. I’m not sure if he’ll extend his lead, but he may have a different runner-up chasing him to Mid-Ohio.

Is the Duel Back On?

My picks- Rossi on pole and Wickens winning the race. In a perfect world, they will both start on the front row. Rossi and Wickens could develop into a great rivalry with their different driving styles. Rossi has gained a reputation for his aggressive, unapologetic style on track, while Wickens drives steadily and doesn’t push the envelope.

Daly to drive for Harding

Conor Daly will drive the 88 Harding car this weekend, replacing Gabby Chaves. In a statement from Harding the team states they are looking to audition drivers for a second car next year and want some fresh input on the car. They are also looking at some Indy Lights drivers. Chaves will be back in the car at some point this season has a contract for 2019 with Harding.

Look for my Toronto recap on wildfirradiosports.com early next week. I will catch up on Indycar news in this space mid week, and I plan to have a feature story on a n historic turning point in 500 history.

Quick Thoughts on the Iowa Corn 300

This was the best oval race of the season, maybe the best race of the year to date. The lead was not safe, there were battles for position and lots of passing, both high and low. Cars were going different speeds allowing for separation. There were two on track passes for the lead, including one for the win. I don’t know what more anyone could want.

James Hinchcliffe could have done donuts for thirty minutes if he wanted to. He is the master of the comeback after being knocked down by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2016, the year after his near fatal crash, he won the pole for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. This year he gets bumped, but comes back to win a race.

It was evident early that Hinchcliffe had the fastest car. After the first pit stop, the car was not getting off turn 2 well, but the next stop corrected that problem. Josef Newgarden had a very fast car as well, but not as fast as Hinchcliffe’s. newgarden had the early advantage of track position. Once Hinchcliffe caught and passed him with 45 laps to go, it was game over.

Congratulations to Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot on his first career podium. Pigot drove a smooth race after starting 19th and fought with Hinchcliffe for second after the restart. I have expected great things from Pigot. It seemed something always kept him from getting a good result.

The Finish

I have no problem with the way the race finished. A caution with six laps to go on a larger track may not have been a problem to have a one or two lap shootout. A track the size of Iowa chews up laps quickly even under caution. Jay Frye and Ryan Novak explained their case after the race. They just ran out of time. No team was told that the race was going back to green. Those that pitted did so on their own hoping the race would resume.

Fans are not entitled to a green flag finish, Races end at the scheduled distance. I do not want to see this changed in Indycar.

Cutting Into Dixon’s Lead

Scott Dixon should put a table outside his hauler with a sign reading, “Please Put Your Points Here.”  Alexander Rossi and now Josef Newgarden have given back precious points. Rossi lost 22 points in Detroit Race 2 by trying to stay in front of Hunter-Reay. Newgarden lost the runner-up spot today with the late pit stop costing him eight points. Dixon now leads Newgarden by 33 points, but it could be closer.

None of the contenders  besides Newgarden had a good day.

The Crowd

Attendance seemed to be slightly better than the last two years, but still not great. The buzz is that there will be a race  next year and that it will be a night race. Moving today’s race up a couple hours helped, but I know a lot of people who still could not attend because of work Monday.

Watch for my full race recap on Wildfireradiosports.com on Tuesday.

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 Drama Everyone Hoped For; The Results Nobody Wanted

Fans hoped that the return of bumping would bring drama back to qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There was plenty to go around. As the gun sounded, however, many were not happy with the results. Two perennial favorites, Pippa Mann and James Hinchcliffe, were out of the field for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500, while another favorite, Conor Daly, fought his way onto the grid-twice.

James Davison, who had a hard crash Friday afternoon. sat for the last hour waiting to see if he would be bumped. His crew completed repairs around 2 am. Bob Lazier loaned the team  parts to rebuild the gearbox.

Davison was in a difficult position. He couldn’t withdraw his time until he was bumped. He had a spot and had to keep it. Mann wasn’t fast enough, and Hinchcliffe didn’t get another chance.

Conor Daly”s first attempt of the day ended with a 22.684 average. He was eventually bumped. His second effort put him back in the field. Oriol Servia, who was having a difficult day himself, bumped Daly on his third attempt of the day. Daly went out a third time and bumped Hinchcliffe out.

Servia had a problem on his first run and it was called off after laps of 201, 196, and 194. His second had two respectable laps in the low 220 range, but after he dropped to 217 on the third, the crew stopped the effort. He finally bumped his way in near the end of the day’.

In what would be Hinchcliffe’s final attempt of the day, he felt a vibration as he pulled out of pit lane. It went way, but it returned in turn 3 and he decided to pull in. The problem was a tire sensor broke and was rattling around inside the wheel. Hinchcliffe got back in line, but time ran out before he could get another try.

Press Conferences- Highs and Lows

The post qualifying press conferences ranged from silly to emotional. Foutr members of the Fast Nine- Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Ed Carpenter, and Danica Patrick- spoke. They mostly joked around and all expected to be on the pole tomorrow.

IMG_3246

IMG_3247

James Davison talked about how hard his crew worked to get the car ready after the crash on Friday.

“The only way to repay them (the crew) was  to make the race,” he said, “We owe them immensely.”

He sees no point in running hard Sunday to improve his position.

IMG_3248 (2)

 

Pippa Man and James Hinchcliffe also spoke in separate appearances. they both came from several rounds of on air interviews and team discussions. They both looked emotionally drained. I admire them both for making one last stop to talk to the media.

IMG_3249 (2)

In her brief emotional remarks, Mann said she knew Friday they might be in trouble when the car, which had performed well Wednesday and Thursday was not fast yesterday morning. Everything on the car was changed.

“We tried everything, obviously it wasn’t fast enough. It’s the worst feeling in the world.”

IMG_3250 (2)

Hinchcliffe was subdued and direct. ” This was our fault. Nobody failed us We failed us,” he told the media. His comments seemed pointed at those on social media blaming ABC, the drivers who went out just before him, and anyone else they could think of for his not getting into the race.

“This track has done worse to me in the past and we came back swinging,” he said, referring to his crash in 2015 followed by winning the pole the following year.

As to speculation that he might replace Jay Howard in the race, “I will do what Sam (Schmidt) and Rick (Peterson tell me to do, ” he answered.

 

As I said in a previous piece, the current qualifying format was designed for a field of 33 entries only. The rules need to be changed when there are more entries. We knew two cars were going home. We can’t be angry at the system because our favorite drivers are the ones left out. Sad for them, yes; disappointed, absolutely. More on this topic tomorrow.

I will post an update when I get to the track. The weather this afternoon looks iffy.

 

Thursday at IMS- Some Photos to Start the Day

Good morning, Race Fans!  Here are some more photos from yesterday to start off the day.

Later on I will have a story about the Dreyer and Reinbold team with owner Dennis Reinbold and drivers Sage Karam and J. R. Hildebrand. Look for a piece about Cara Adams from Firestone in the late afternoon. Tonight my daily wrapup will be on Wildfireradiosports.com.

Pit Lane Parley will be doing a podcast bat the track tomorrow night. More details to come. Catch up on earlier episodes at wildfireradiosports.com or Podbean.

Enjoy the photos.

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.