Andretti Rides the Wind to Capture the Pole- Quick Thoughts

The shifting winds brought part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s legends back today as Marco Andretti just edged Scott Dixon to win the pole for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The last time an Andretti won the pole was 1987 when Mario led the field to the green flag.

Andretti Autosport seemed to be floundering this season until the got to IMS. The team certainly has its act together here.

It appeared the wind shifting from turn 4 to turn 2 after Dixon’s run would help him stay in the top spot, but Marco found just enough speed to continue  his dominance of the week.

Marco’s dad Michael never won the pole at Indianapolis. Maybe victories skip a generation as well.

Marco is in good shape for the race with Brian Herta calling his race. Herta has now put a driver on the pole as well as bringing two other car 98s to victory lane (Wheldon 2011 and Rossi 2016).

Where would Alex Palou end up if he hadn’t had a problem with the weight jacker? He could be a sleeper in the race.

Rinus VeeKay in fourth is the fastest rookie in the field.  VeeKay could be another player next Sunday.

Graham Rahal had a couple of wild rides today. I hope they can balance the car better for the race.

Car 98 has now won four poles and four races. Just three drivers have won poles in the 98- Walt Faulkner, Parnelli Jones (twice), and Marco Andretti.

I don’t know if there were any poles won by a smaller margin, but 0.0113 seconds and 0.017 mph is pretty close.

Marco also started on the front row in 2013, when he started third.

It was frustrating when NBC didn’t immediately show the lap times because they were too busy playing with their graphics. Give the audience the information it needs at the time they need it.

No matter how the race ends, it will be great having an Andretti lead the field at the start.

Qualifying results, including all attempts from yesterday:

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 Thanks for following this weekend.

 

Pole Day-Will Marco Stay on Top?

Photo: Indycar, Walt Kuhn

Today’s schedule:

11-11:30 am – Fast 9 Practice NBC Gold

1:15-2:15 pm – Fast 9 Shootout NBC (1-3 pm coverage)

3:30-6 pm – Practice (NBCSN at 4 pm)

Good morning from the IMS northwest media center annex. This is an interesting and talented Fast Nine, and definitely one of the most unusual ones since the beginning of the pole shootout.  The field has four former race winners, two rookies, two former pole winners, and drivers from five different teams. Andretti Autosport has four drivers who advanced to today and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has two.

The odds of having a first time polesitter are good. Marco Andretti showed yesterday that he is fast regardless of the time of day and the track conditions. While Scott Dixon’s late run yesterday was simply a show of strength, he won’t be running with the shadows on the track.

Rinus VeeKay is a rookie driving for Ed Carpenter Racing. VeeKay loves to go fast. The ECR team  has been a perennial member of the Fast Nine.  I look for the only Chevy in the Fast Nine to be on the front row.

As for predictions, I hate to jinx someone, but this is Marco’s pole to lose.

Notes:

What’s missing from today’s shootout? Penske cars. Josef Newgarden was the fastes on the team in 13th. Will Power  is 22nd, Simon Pagenaud is 25th and Helio Castroneves is 28th.  Pagenaud has been a poor qualifier all season, but has come from the back to contend for the win.  I am puzzled by Chevrolet’s overall lack of speed.

Scott Dixon will increase his points lead today by at least 1 point and as many as 9. he currently leads Pagenaud by49 points and Newgarden by 51.

I think the fastest driver on Saturday should receive at least a point.

James Hinchcliffe’s mask is creepy.

I saw a lot of anger on social media toward Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon for their late day runs. While I wished they hadn’t done it and given drivers who needed a shot a chance, these late day qualifying games have been played for the last 70 years. Watch film of Bump Days in the past and see what went on in the last 90 minutes or so. You’ll see pretty much what you saw yesterday.  They were playing by the rules they were given.

Quick Thoughts- Qualifying

Photo: Indycar, Walt Kuhn

A Fast Nine with no Team Penske cars is something I never thought I would see.

Today was a complete rout for Honda. I’m pretty sure Chevy will be better in the race, but they have a lot of ground to make up.

Congratulations to Marco Andretti on an outstanding run.

Was Dixon just sending a warning shot for tomorrow?

Sato played some pretty good defense at the end of qualifying.

Dixon’s and Sato’s late runs really show the flaws of this qualifying format. Indycar needs to get rid of the keep your last time if you don’t beat it rule. If a car goes out to qualify it should withdraw its time.

Qualifying with no fans in the stands really took a lot of the excitement out of what was an interesting day.

Gusty northwest winds tomorrow could make fast nine qualifying interesting.

I wonder how many of the Fast Nine will actually use the practice time tomorrow morning? Today a total of six cars, all Chevys, practiced. All the cars were in group 2.

What outstanding debuts for Rinus VeeKay and Alex Palou. VeeKay has the only Chevy in the Fast Nine. Palou put a Dale Coyne entry in the Fast Nine.  After Sebastien Bourdais and Craig Hampson left the team, I wasn’t sure how well they would fare this year.

I wish NBC would stop those “Different Month, Same Feeling” spots. It’s not the same feeling at all.

I will be back tomorrow morning and then again after the Fast Nine. Have a great evening and thanks for following along.

 

 

Qualifying Update- Where’s Chevy?

Andretti Autospport backed up their strong practice times, with the top four spots on the provisional grid after the initial round of qualifying. Marco Andretti did not get hurt by his 28th spot in line , setting the day’s fastest single lap at 232.177 mph. His four lap average of 231.351 just clipped teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 231. 330. the top seven cars averaged more than 231 mph.

Chevys continued to struggle as Rinus Veekay is the only bowtie in the top nine. the next Chevy is Josef Newgarden in 13th.

The afternoon could be a scramble for the last four spots in the Fast Nine.

Notes

From head on, the aeroscreen looks like a cone that a dog wears after surgery.

It was a brilliant move by some teams to use a smaller air hose for qualifying to lessen the drag.  The hose and helmet need a redesign so that they are not protruding above the aeroscreen frame.

Helio Castroneves currently sits 28th, which would be his worst starting spot in his 20 500s.

The session was clean but there were several close calls in turn one.
Back after qualifying ends today.

 

Fast Friday Thoughts

Photo: Indycar, Walt Kuhn

We got the high speeds we expected. Marco Andretti’s 233.491 mph lap was the fastest lap turned since 1996. Will he back it up in qualifying tomorrow?

I was surprised to see the Penske cars struggle so much today. They seemed to find some speed late in the day, but still couldn’t crack the top ten.

Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves had some close calls with the walls late in the day.

Could we see an all Honda Fast Nine? Conor Daly was the only Chevy in the top ten, but was in the 20s with a four lap average. the next quickest Chevy was Will Power in 11th.

It’s a shame that the draw for qualifying order can put a fast driver in an unfavorable spot for qualifying. Tomorrow the first ten or twelve drivers to qualify should have a big advantage. Maybe it’s time to use Fast Friday speeds as the order of qualifying or maybe let the top ten choose their spots then draw for the rest.

The qualifying order

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I would like to see the fastest driver on Saturday get a point.

Today’s top speeds:

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Gateway- Therapy for the Indycar Community

The Bommarito 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park could not have come at a better time.  The entire Indycar community- fans, teams, drivers, crews- needs to get right back to a race after last Sunday.  When Dan Wheldon lost his life in Las Vegas in 2011, it was the season finale. That made the pain worse as we all had to wait until the following spring to get back to a track.

In 2015, after Justin Wilson’s accident, Sonoma was the following week.  It felt comforting to be back  at the track so quickly and to be with many Indycar friends. I remember the subdued tone to the paddock that Friday at Sonoma.  I’m keeping Robert Wickens in my thoughts still, but I will feel better when I get to the track Friday.

Friday the paddock again may not have its usual frenetic short weekend buzz, but by Saturday things should get back to normal. Once the green flag drops everyone will focus on the race. There is still a tremendous fight for the season championship going on. Scott Dixon will try to extend his shrinking lead over Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, and Will Power.

The Bommarito Group is expecting another huge crowd this year. To address some issues from last year’s event, they have undertaken a $1.1 million project. A new entrance, wider roadways inside, and more parking are just some of the items added to help fans have an easier time at the track.

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Part of the tremendous crowd at Gateway Motorsports Park last year. Photo: Mike Silver

 

Iowa or Phoenix?

The big question is will we see a race like we saw at Phoenix with no passing or an action packed race like Iowa? The Gateway track sits between those two distance wise. The banking more resembles Phoenix, as does the narrowness of the racing surface. Perhaps the shorter distance and the aero tweaks since Phoenix will make for a better race. After Sebastien Bourdais tested here, he said he thought a pass could be made one on one, but passing would be difficult in a group of cars. That could prevent the leader from getting away from whomever is chasing him if he has trouble getting through lapped traffic. Rossi is the only driver who has consistently been able to pass cars on difficult tracks this year. Bourdais has also shown the ability to pass to a lesser degree.

Chevy or Honda?

Honda cars have won the last three oval events despite a Chevy winning the pole. I suspect that is what will happen Saturday. The Chevy cars have not been great in traffic on ovals, while some  Hondas seem to be able to work around slower cars easier. Hondas also appear to be getting better fuel mileage. In a normal year, which this hasn’t been, I wold this should be a Chevy track. But then,  Pocono and Texas should have been also.

Can Dixon Hang On?

This will be the week Dixon extends his lead. I don’t think it will grow by much, but he will finish ahead of the three drivers chasing him. I’m not sure one of the contenders will win Saturday’s race. I think Dixon will leave St. Louis with a lead big enough to hold through Portland next weekend and be the man to catch going to the Sonoma finale.

Will Veach Continue His Late Season Run?

Zach Veach has finished in the top ten the last three races and should make it four at Gateway. Veach also had a fourth place at Long Beach. He sounds very confident and is someone to watch for the rest of the year. Veach has shown some flashes of good driving which have been spoiled either by on track missteps or pit fires.

Notes

Gabby Chaves returns to the number 88 Harding racing entry this weekend. Chaves began the season as Harding’s regular driver, but Conor Daly stepped into the car in Toronto. Daly gave the team its best qualifying spot and finish there and also drove at Mid Ohio and Pocono as the team looks for developmental help.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will James Hinchcliffe as their only entry this weekend. The #6 car of Robert Wickens will return at Portland with a driver to be named.

Winner?

This is a tough one to call, but I’m going to say Marco Andretti breaks his long drought. I have a perfect record this year (all wrong), so don’t bet the house on this.

 

 

 

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.

Dixon Ties Michael Andretti on Career Victory List; Quick Thoughts on Race 1

It was a day of firsts. Marco Andretti won his first pole in five years. Scott Dixon won his first race in nearly a year and he led his first laps of the season. Dixon used quick and well timed pit stops to get and build a substantial lead.  The only thing that slowed Dixon were two late cautions.

Graham Rahal jumped the curb and hit the wall in turn 13 on lap 47. Four laps after the restart, Santino Ferrucci was punted into the tire barrier at turn 7 by Charlie Kimball. Kimball received a stop and go penalty for his avoidable contact.

Ferrucci, in his first Indycar race, had done a respectable job all weekend, He was on pace and pretty much staying out of the way.

The victory ties Dixon with Michael Andretti on the career win list with 42.

Quick Thoughts

The new aero package did not help the racing at Belle Isle. We had the same processional race we always get here.

Indycar needs to follow the Indianapolis 500 with a better race. The event itself is great, but the racing leaves a lot to be desired. A different weekend would be okay, but another oval to follow Indy would be ideal.

Indycar needs to address Charlie Kimball’s driving after his latest on track involvement in an incident  If Ferrucci had hit a wall instead of the tire barrier, the accident would have had more serious consequences.

Mike Hull’s great calls on pitting helped Dixon get to the lead.

The timing of the rain tomorrow looks like it might affect qualifying and maybe the start of the race. The new rain tires might get used just after their introduction.

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.