Pagenaud Strategy Leads to Motegi Win; Two Straight for 500 Winner

Some quick thoughts about today’s race:

Simon Pagenaud has the oval pit stop strategy figured out.

It’s too bad the NTT Indycar Series doesn’t still race at Motegi. I had forgotten what a great track that is.

That was a great race. There were passes for the lead, pit strategy, and on track drama which had a hand in the outcome.

Even though it was a sim race, I loved seeing Robert Wickens on pole and leading a lap or two. Even on this platform he has Will Power’s number in qualifying.

Oliver Askew has at least two fewer friends in the paddock this afternoon.

Two more podium spots for Team Penske gives them I believe seven of the twelve podium places through the four races.

Scott Dixon is not a regular on sim racing, but he seems to have figured it out rather quickly. He had a great drive today. I also liked his homage to former teammate Dario Franchitti’s flying finish at Kentucky in 2007.

Kyle Busch had a decent Indycar debut with a 13th place finish after starting in the back.

Dixon may have won with a better final pit stop.

Power did a great job hanging on for third without a right front end plate. I’m not sure how that would work out in a real race.

Jack Harvey had a decent day. He qualified well and led some laps.

I will post the final standings when they are available.

I hope to have a post up tomorrow. On Monday I begin the move to Summer Headquarters and I hope to be up and running again by next Thursday. This means there will be lots of big Indycar news Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Newgarden: Aeroscreen Will Affect Setups

In a teleconference this morning Josef Newgardenand Simon Pagenaud agree the 2020 season will be interesting as teams  look to figure out setups with  the aeroscreen. Newgarden said that it seems to affect setups differently at different tracks.  He said the first team that gets a handle on how to work with it best will have an advantage.

“… it’s very different, I would say. It’s reacting differently to different tracks so far. I’ve had a taste of it at Richmond, COTA and Sebring. Those are all pretty different places. So you get these small characteristic differences everywhere. Sebring was quite interesting. It was very fun I think for all three of us yesterday to sample that and see what it was all about. But the moral of the story is I think there will be definite differences with the car. It’s going to want certain things from a setup standpoint, certain things from a driving standpoint. We’re not the same as 2019. I think it always brings an opportunity for us to try to figure that out quicker than the rest of the pack. We’re working pretty hard as a team right now to make sure we come out of the gates the best with the new opportunity and try to get on top of it the quickest. It’s always fun to have that. As a driver you like change, the opportunity to try and shine at something new. Yeah, we just need to make sure we’re on top of it when we get to St. Pete next week.”

Simon Pagenaud, commenting on Scott McLaughlin, who may drive in as many as eight races for Team Penske this season:

“Scott got the first taste of it in 2020. I must say he did a really good job. He’s obviously a great champion. You don’t win the V8 Supercars champion twice without being an incredible driver. It’s expected for him to jump into anything and be fast and end up understanding the series. I’m as excited as you are. First of all, having champions come from other series for INDYCAR is really good. It just shows the interest. It just shows that the series is on the upward trend. I’m excited to see him come in, do a few races this year. I think he’s going to bring fresh for us blood, a new perspective. That could be very interesting for our development, as well. I’m looking forward to it. He’s a great guy, so far it’s been a great relationship starting. We’ll see how he goes. I hope he does well. I think it’s going to be awesome for us to gather more fans.”

Jimmie Johnson to Test for Arrow McLaren SP

Seven time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson had a sat fitting at the Arrow McLaren SP shop in Indianapolis today. He will test in the team’s Indycar next month at Barber Motorsports Park. There has been talk that Johnson would like to run some Indycar road and street course races in 2021 following his retirement from NASCAR after this season. He currently has made no commitments to running a race next year.

Johnson’s Tweet:

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I think it would be amazing if Johnson and Fernando Alonso drove in the same race next season.

On the Way!

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway began mailing tickets for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 today. Receiving the blue envelope is one of the most exciting days of the year.

 

Here It Is: The Ticket for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500

The ticket for the May 24 Indianapolis 500 was unveiled today by 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud. It is a nice, simple design with a photo of Pagenaud drinking the milk in Victory Lane. I’m glad it wasn’t a picture of him spilling milk on his head. That’s a “tradition” I can live without.

Of course, Simon did not leave his dog Norman out. He received his own ticket.

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I think I like this ticket better. Is it too late to make this one the actual ticket?

Revealing the ticket usually means tickets will be mailed soon, though today seems a bit early for that. Not that I wouldn’t mind receiving it now.

Back later with more on the Rolex 24.

Hybrids, Rumors, Trophies on Vacation

Just a few notes and comments today:

Reaction has been mixed, to put it mildly, about the new hybrid technology coming to Indycar in 2022. I still think it’s a good thing for the series. Eventually every racing series will employ some form of hybrid technology. From what I’ve seen, the Indycar version will not be full blown electricity. The engines will still be loud, and, I hope, faster. I’m hoping that the use of the KERS system for push to pass limits the ability of the lead driver to defend. I would rather have drivers pass on pure speed and ability. Those days may be gone for the most part.

We won’t know for several months what the new system will look like or what it will do on the cars. Let’s just wait and see what happens. If it opens the door to a third OEM, or even better, a second chassis, I’m all for it. As Paul Dalbey pointed out yesterday in his post on The Field of 33,  first year costs  may affect car counts, especially at the Indianapolis 500. You can read his post at https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/92400962.

The McLaren Puzzle

If you thought Silly season ended with Alexander Rossi and Honda staying with Andretti Autosport, think again. The latest talk is that McLaren is looking to join Arrow Schmidt Peterson. My understanding is that the team would switch to Chevy. This deal would not add cars to the grid. There are questions that make this deal iffy. ASPM has another year on its contract with Honda.  James Hinchcliffe’s contract runs through the end of 2020.  If Hinchcliffe drives a Chevy, he also loses the Honda commercials.

We know contracts can be bought out. As we’ve seen recently with drivers, contracts aren’t ironclad. Gabby Chaves and Pato O’Ward are two recent examples. There are lots of things in play here. Pop some popcorn, sit back and watch.

My opinion is that McLaren is cutting corners trying to enter Indycar. Rather than establishing a team through a technical alliance with another team, they are trying to buy a team instead. It seems the lessons of May have not gotten through to them. If they do become part of Schmidt organization, I hope they are willing to listen to the people there who know what they are doing this time.

There is also talk of Marcus Ericsson moving to Carlin and Felipe Nasr, who recently tested with ASPM replacing him. Nasr is a former F1 driver who is doing very well driving for Action Express in IMSA.

Pagenaud Reveals His Borg Warner Likeness…in France?

It appears another Indianapolis 500 tradition has gone by the wayside. In the past, the new 500 winner’s face on the Borg Warner trophy was unveiled at an early December ceremony at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Yesterday Simon Pagenaud’s image on the trophy was revealed in Paris.  I hope this is a one time occurrence.

The December event brought some attention to the race and the series in what is a slow news period for the NTT Indycar Series and the Speedway. I wonder if IMS is still planning something for December. The unveiling was the night before the PRI show opens at the Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis. It was a nice lead-in to the show.

 

I’ll be back in a couple days to look at the 1958 Indianapolis 500 program.

Pagenaud Continues Title Quest with Iowa Pole

Photo: Kyle McInnes

Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi can hear the footsteps louder now. They faded for a bit after May, but are now coming faster. Simon Pagenaud won the pole for tomorrow night’s Iowa 300, beating his Penske teammates who will start second and third. It is Pagenaud’s third pole of the season and second consecutive top staring spot.

Pagenaud snatched the pole from teammate Will Power, who posted a two, lap time of 35.8418 seconds. Pagenaud then completed his two laps in 35.7455 seconds. Newgarden was the last driver to attempt to qualify. He appeared to have trouble negotiating turn 4 and will start third Saturday.

The three Penske cars were the only cars in the 35 second range. Takuma Sato in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda was the only driver besides the top three to post a single lap less than 18 seconds. Sato had just taken the provisional  pole from James Hinchcliffe before the first Penske car took the track.

Hinchcliffe had claimed the top spot from his Arrow Schmidt Peterson teammate Marcus Ericsson. Seven drivers failed to top Ericsson before Hinchcliffe’s run. Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay eventually topped Ericsson’s time ahead of Sato qualified. Hinchcliffe, the defending race winner, starts fifth tomorrow.

Andretti Cars Lack Outright Speed

Alexander Rossi starts sixth and Ryan Hunter-Reay rolls off ninth tomorrow. Andretti Autosport has seven victories at Iowa but trail the Penske cars by half a second. The good news is the Hondas get better fuel mileage than the Chevys, although tire degradation may prevent them from taking advantage of that edge.

The caution periods will need to play out in Rossi’s favor for him to have a shot at his third win of the year.

Notes

Pagenaud said qualifying was “very intense… I’m still shaking, but that’s what Indycar is all about.”

He said he is “living in the moment” this year, focusing on the next task once the last one is finished.

The cars from Ed Carpenter Racing qualified a disappointing 17th ( Ed Carpenter) and 19th ( Spencer Pigot).

Indycar has a final practice session at 7 pm Eastern time tonight.

Qualifying Results

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Iowa 300 Qualifying- Quick Thoughts

Simon Pagenaud is definitely back in the title chase now. He now has three poles and three wins. The bonus points he is accumulating are helping him gain ground quickly.

The title could come down to whoever wins their fourth race of the year first.

Josef Newgarden missed turn 4 on his first qualifying lap. He seemed to brake and turn a hard right. That is the moment he lost a chance at the pole.

It was an interesting qualifying session with several drivers at the top throughout the session.

Carlin Racing had a respectable qualifying effort with Sage Karam in 14th and Conor Daly in 16th.

Pagenaud said tire degradation will be the key to the race tomorrow.

The polesitter has never won at Iowa. That is not a reason to discount Pagenaud’s chances tomorrow.

It was nice seeing the two Arrow Schmidt Peterson cars at the top of the pylon for a few minutes.

Team Penske looks formidable this weekend.

The next Chevy after the Penskes in the top three spots is Tony Kanaan in 13th.

The starters in fourth through ninth could win. Fuel strategy will be crucial for the Honda cars.

Several cars had lots of understeer.

A full story on qualifying will follow in a bit.

Final practice for the Iowa 300 is from 7-8 EDT.

 

Honda Indy Toronto- Quick Thoughts

Photo: Kyle McInnes

I don’t know what was the best part of Robert Wickens driving the parade lap- the smile on his face or Karli’s reactions. It was a great way to start the day. I’m glad my eyes cleared up for the start of the race.

Thank you, NBC, for showing just a few still photos of the beginning of Wickens’ crash.  It was just enough to get the idea across, although most of us didn’t really need the reminder.

Too much time was given to the Bourdais-Sato incident from yesterday.

The series is on a pace to have the fewest different race winners in a while. There have only been six so far, and I think the top contenders could win the remaining races. Josef Newgarden has won three times. Simon Pagenaud matched that total with today’s win. Alexander Rossi has won twice. Three other drivers, Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato, and Colton Herta have one victory each.

The lack of cautions made for a very straightforward race. The top five starters finished in the top five with just some minor shuffling of positions.

I’m now convinced Will Power will not win a race this season. He just doesn’t seem to have that edge which made him so successful.

The race started to get interesting the last 20 laps as Dixon closed in on Pagenaud, but overall it was the least interesting Toronto race in a few years.

While Ed Carpenter Racing has improved their road/street race qualifying, they still can’t seem to put a decent race together. Ed Jones and Spencer Pigot each finished six spots lower than they started. Banging wheels with your teammate and damaging your teammate’s wing does not help.

We have a three , possibly four, driver points battle now. Rossi has closed to within four of Newgarden, and Pagenaud is now just 39 behind. Dixon is 86 points down, but could make up more ground in Iowa. The yellow on the last lap helped Newgarden keep fourth place. Rosenqvist was closing quickly on Newgarden’s damaged car.

NBC Can Do Better

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad NBC is the exclusive home of the NTT Indycar Series. There are some things they can do, or in this case stop doing, to improve the broadcasts.

First, please dump the Danger Zone phrase. We get it. The situation doesn’t even come up that often.

We don’t need weekly speculation on where Rossi will drive next year.  He is driving this year and fighting for a championship. Let us just enjoy that.

fewer NASCAR inserts would be great. I don’t watch that series, so i don’t know if there are as many Indycar inserts in those broadcasts. If there are, that’s fair.

It seems as if each race broadcast we see fewer laps and more periphery shots of the area where the race is held. Yes, the Toronto skyline is beautiful. Show it in the prerace.

Look for my full race report on Wildfire Sports tomorrow. Thanks for following this weekend. I will be on site at both Iowa and Mid Ohio.

Pagenaud Fastest in Practice 3; Qualifying Groups Set

Simon Pagenaud led the final practice before qualifying with a lap of 59. 365 seconds. He will lead Group 2 in Round 1 of qualifying this afternoon.  Pagenaud also led yesterday’s second practice session. Felix Rosenqvist had the next best time at 59. 4 seconds. Rosenqvist has finished each practice period in the top three.

The session was green until Ryan Hunter-Reay slid into the tires just before pit in with 12 minutes left. the session resumed with eight minutes and ten seconds remaining. Graham Rahal slid into the tires in turn 1 with four minutes left. Time expired but Indycar allowed one more flying lap.

Qualifying begins at 2pm EDT on NBCSN.

Tentative Qualifying Groups

Group 1

Rosenqvist

Ferrucci

Andretti

Bourdais

Pigot

Rahal

Power

Chilton

Sato

Leist

Karam

Group 2

Pagenaud

Hunter-Reay

Herta

Rossi

Hinchcliffe

Ericsson

Newgarden

Dixon

Jones

Kanaan

Veach

Back after qualifying with Quick Thoughts. Going to try to write some during qualifying.

 

Pagenaud Fastest In P2; Three Drivers Break 60 Second Mark

Turn 11 continued to be tricky in the afternoon session as Simon Pagenaud led Practice 2. The winner of the 103rd Indianapolis 500 had the day’s first sub-60 second lap with a best time of 59. 871. Felix Rosenqvist was second quickest 0.06 seconds behind. Sebastien Bourdais ended the period third 0.116 seconds slower than Pagenaud.

Turn 11 again was a busy spot with contact by Takuma Sato,  Marcus Ericsson, and Alexander Rossi.  Ericsson had another contact incident in turn 5.  Rossi hit the turn 9 wall and damaged the left front tire.There was no suspension damage and he returned to the track, but finished 14th.

Pagenaud, Bourdais, and Rosenqvist looked strong in both sessions. Scott Dixon, who led the morning practice, was fifth this afternoon. The Ganassi pair of Dixon and Rosenqvist join Pagenaud as the only three drivers in the top five of both sessions.

Notes

Spencer Pigot was fourth in practice 2 as he continues to seek a breakout race performance.

The cars of Marco Andretti and Colton Herta look a lot alike from a distance. It will be good to know their starting positions to help watching them in the race. I hope they don’t end up in the same row.

Both of Rossi’s wall contacts happened in the first 20 minutes of the session. The car looks like it needs some work overnight.

Tomorrow’s practice session is at 10: 20 am ET. Qualifying begins  at 2 pm ET. The practice is on NBC Gold. Qualifying is live on NBCSN.