Attention Indycar Paddock: The Power has been Turned Back On

The cars are different, but the results of the Indycar Grand Prix are the same.  Will Power won his second straight Indycar Grand Prix at IMS Saturday from the pole, although it wasn’t an easy task. Robert Wickens gave Power a great battle, making a great pass around Power, who returned the favor, and then nearly pulling off another great pass to retake the lead. In the end, Power has shaken off his rough start to the season.

This race was the best of the five road course events leading up to the Indianapolis 500. The new car performed as intended, allowing close battles and passing throughout the field.  In addition, high drama ensued toward the end as the race turned into a fuel derby. The two fuel masters, Power and Scott Dixon, finished 1-2.

Dixon had issues in qualifying and started an uncharacteristic 18th. The team found many answers overnight, and Dixon led the morning warmup. His first pit stop was on the first lap the pit window opened, allowing him to move up when everyone else stopped. He beat Sebastien Bourdais out of the pits on his final stop to get them runner-up spot.

The race began with the traditional turn 1 melee. Simon Pagenaud checked up and was hit from behind. He made contact with Jordan King who ended up in the sand trap. Pagenaud was able to keep running but his day was pretty much over. Later that lap, Spencer Pigot hit the curb and got airborne. He landed on all four wheels and continued.

The final yellow occurred on lap 56 when Josef Newgarden, who has had an error- free season, tried to pass Bourdais in turn 12, hit the curb, spun, and killed the engine. It was a few laps too early for final pit stops, but everyone came in as soon as the pits opened. When the race returned to green, the question was who could make it without needing a splash of fuel? Most people’s money was on Dixon, but Power is good at saving fuel as well. The race ended with out a challenge for the lead. Power’s victory was Team Penske’ 200th win in Indycar. Power has 30 of those Penske wins, plus three others in his career.

Notes

From the podium press conference

Wickens said after the race he had never been in a fuel saving situation before.

“It’s something I have to work on,” he admitted.

Dixon on his run toward the top noted, “The first stint we were running two seconds a lap faster.”than the rest of field. He said the crew changed many components.

Power admitted to not hydrating enough before the race and not using his in-car drink bottle during the event.

“Every lap was like qualifying,” he said.

On Wickens, he declared, ” He definitely ….will be a champion in Indycar. No doubt in my mind.”

On Penske’s 200th win Power said,  it is “..a real pleasure to drive for him (Penske).”

He is “Grateful to be able to drive for this team.”

Helio Returns, Keeps GP Streak Alive

Helio Castroneves returned to Indycar for the first time this season. He started tenth and finished sixth. He has placed in the top ten in all five Indycar Grand Prix.

Wickens fan base continues to grow. The fans on the turn two mounds cheered loudly for him. Those seeing him for the first time were impressed.

 

Andretti Engine Woes Again

Marco Andretti lost an engine in the morning warmup. The crew did a great job installing a new in about 2 hours.

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s engine began misfiring just before the midway point of the race. He finished 18th.

Let’s hope this is the end of the powerplant problems for the month.

 

Reminder, ” Bump Tales” returns Thursday. Also planning a qualifying preview for Friday and of course coverage of both Days of qualifying.

 

 

Bump Tales- Marlboro Snuffed; Team Penske Fails to Qualify

Nothing at the Indianapolis Motor4 Speedway is a given. A car, a team, or a driver cannot be penciled into the starting lineup because they just happen to be at the track in May. This point was never driven home as hard as it was in 1995 when Team Penske, winners of the previous two 500s and three of the previous four, failed to make the field for the 79th running of the Indianapolis 500.  Penske came to Indianapolis with a new chassis. The car was a handful from the first practice day. A switch to a Lola or Reynard chassis didn’t help.

The powerful Mercedes-Ilmor pushrod engine that dominated the field in 1994 was not available by rule. The engine wasn’t the issue, however. The car had handling issues. It couldn’t get through the turns well. By the first qualifying weekend, Al Unser, Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi, winners of the last two 500s, were running 10 mph slower than eventual pole sitter Scott Brayton. Penske hoped they could find a solution in the week following pole weekend and get the cars in the field on the second weekend. Pole weekend 1995  was the first time Team Penske did not qualify at least one car on opening weekend.

Bump Day arrived and still neither car had qualified. Bump Days during the era of two qualifying weekend followed an unwritten schedule. If the field hadn’t been filled by then, a handful of cars would go out early to grab the few reamaining slots. If weather interfered later in the day, those cars were guaranteed a spot in the race. Then, several hours of open track for practice occurred. No one seriously thought about qualifying until after 4 pm, when a cooling shadow appeared on the front straight.  1995 stuck to the pattern.

The day before, Fittipaldi made an attempt to qualify. He was averaging 225.5 but the crew waved off the run. It was a speed that would have put him in row 10. Unser, Jr. did not come close to a  speed that would get him in the field. The team put all their hopes into the final two hours of qualifying.

At 5:20 pm Fittipaldi completed a run at 224. 907 which placed him insecurely on the grid. With 12 minutes left in qualifying, Stefan Johanssen bumped Fittipaldi and Team Penske from the field of 33 for the 1995 race. The team that dominated the previous year did not come close to getting in the race.

To his credit, and one thing I have always respected Roger Penske for, he did not try to buy qualified cars to put his drivers in the race. Other owners have done that in this situation, as recently as 2011, when Michael Andretti bought one of A. J. Foyt’s qualified entries for Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Unser, Jr. was the first active defending champion to not make the race. It would be the first 500 without an Unser in the field since 1962. He and Bobby Rahal are the only defending series champions to fail to qualify. Rahal’s bump story is coming next week in this space.

Following the 1995 season, Tony George formed the IRL, which precipitated a 12 year war with CART. The competing open wheel series hurt the sport. It is slowly recovering, but will likely never regain the prominence it once held. Penske opted to stay in CART and didn’t return to IMS until 2001. His team won three consecutive races and his team has since won three more. Team Penske’s most recent victory was in 2015 with Juan Pablo Montoya.

As bizzare as qualifying was, the 1995 race was one of the strangest I’ve seen. It seemed as if every driver who led crashed. The strangest crash was Jimmy Vasser, who loked to be in complete control, crashed trying to pass a lapped car. Scott Goodyear took command and was well on his way to victory. On a restart with about 10 laps to go, Goodyear passed the pace car, which had not yet left the track. He ignored the black flag. Officials stopped scoring Goodyear’s laps after lap 195. Jacques Villeneuve, who had received a two lap penalty earlier in the day, inherited the lead and the win. Villeneuve drove 505 miles to win the 500.

Next week on Bump Tales, stories of two former winners who failed to qualify in different years.  Look for my Indycar Grand Prix stories Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

 

Indycar News and Notes- Coyne Again Searching for Drivers

With activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginninjg this Friday, Dale Coyne finds himself in a familiar position- looking for a driver or drivers to fill a seat vacated by an injured driver. Pietro Fittipaldi was slated to drive the number 19 car in both the Indycar Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. He was injured in a severe crash Saturday preparing for the 6 hours  WEC race at Spa. Fittpaldi injured both legs, including a complex fracture of the left leg. He underwent successful surgery and will be out at least eight weeks. Fittipaldi will also miss his scheduled start at Texas in June. The projected recovery time could allow him to drive his next assignment at mid Ohio in late July.

The scenario is a familiar one for Coyne. Last year Sebastien Bourdais fractured his pelvis in a qualifying crash at Indianapolis. James Davison filled in for Bourdais fort he 500. Coyne than had other drivers drive the number 18 until Bourdais returned for Watkins Glen. Tristan Vautier, one of last year’s subs, is under consideration to take Fittpaldi’s ride.

Other drivers thought to be in contention are Zachary Claman DeMelo, who shares the 19 with Fittipaldi and has ties to the car’s sponsor, Paysafe; and Ryan Briscoe. Practice and qualifying for the Indycar Grand Prix is Friday, so a decision should come quickly.

Entry List for the 102nd Indianapolis 500

The official entry list is out. Thirty-five cars have entered to attempt to get one of the thirty-three spots for the race. Buddy Lazier is not one of the entries. The field includes six former winners. Four of the five past champions are entered. With Fittipaldi out there are now three rookies in the field: Robert Wickens, Matheus Leist, and Kyle Kaiser. Helio Castroneves will drive in both the Indycar grand Prix and the 500. These are scheduled to be his only Indycar appearances  this season. Danica Patrick returns to the 500 for the first time since 2011. The 500 will be the final race of her career. The entry list appears at the end of this post.

Donuts for Daly

Jack’s Donuts has signed on to support Conor Daly’s Indanapolis 500 ride with Thom Burns Racing. Look for promotions during the month @ConorDaly22, @ThomBurns Racing and @jacksdonuts. If Conor is involved, it should be fun.

Bump Tales

Thursday the second part of “Bump Tales” appears. It is a tale of just how humbling Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be.

Castroneves, Taylor win IMSA race at Mid Ohio

The Team Penske Acura driven by Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor won the IMSA race at Mid Ohio Sunday. The race marked the return of sportscar racing to the track. The former American LeMans Series used to run the same weekend as Indycar, making for a tremendous weekend of racing. The IMSA/Indycar is a doubleheader that needs to return.

This was Team Penske’s first victory in the Weather Tech Series.

Entry List

Here is a link to the Entry List for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

Indy 500 Entry List 5-

 

I will also be back with a preview of the Indycar Grand Prix on Friday.

King of Barber Knows a Good Tire Guy

Josef Newgarden needed help from his Tim Cindric to win the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Monday. For the second time in three races, Cindric made the correct call on when to switch tires. In Phoenix it was a fresh set for the final restart. Monday it was putting rain tires on several laps before anyone else. He had some assistance from the weather. Had it not started raining harder Sebastien Bourdais would have won staying on slicks.

The rain with about 15 minutes left turned what was an ordinary race into an intriguing finish. Newgarden was clearly the class of the field. Bourdais’s gamble didn’t work because the rain intensified. He might have had a better chance pitting when Newgarden did. Bourdais ended up fifth, beating Scott Dixon in a drag race to the line.

With the victory Newgarden takes the points lead back from Alexander Rossi, who finished eleventh. This is the first time this season Rossi has not been on the podium. Newgarden leads by 13 points. I expect these two to swap the lead back and forth a few more times before Sonoma. Meanwhile, don’t ignore Sebastien Bourdais or Graham Rahal. They are tied for third 39  points behind. Bourdais owns the tie breaker with his victory at St. Pete. Rahal is having a very consistent year and one of his best starts to a season. He is usually very strong in the second half. Bourdais has led laps in all four races this year.

Notes

Why weren’t the leader lights working at Barber? They were on during Friday’s first practice, but weren’t on the rest of the weekend.

SPM continues its resurgence with a third for James Hinchcliffe and fourth for Robert Wickens.

Matheus Leist finished 12th for his best result this season. It was a bit of  salvation for an otherwise horrendous weekend for the Foyt team.

Zachary Claman De Melo turned the fastest lap of the race, 1:09.8183. He made some great passes. Keep an eye on this rookie.

Three drivers have won at what they consider their home tracks this season.  Bourdais at St. Pete, Rossi at Long Beach, and Newgarden at Barber. Does this trend bode well for Ed Carpenter at the 500?

Newgarden has won three of the last four races at Barber. He now has nine career wins.

Marco Andretti earned his third top 10 of the season Monday. This is by far his best start in a long time.

The windscreen gets its second test at IMS next Monday after the open test. Josef Newgarden will test the the device. Dixon tested it at Phoenix.

“Bump Tales” Begins May 3

A four week series recounting some of the more dramatic Bump Days in the past begins May 3. Many former winners missed the race and there was once a tie for the last spot.

Check in each Thursday during the month for stories about who didn’t make the fastest 33.

 

Barber Preview- The UAK’s First Road Test Could Be a Wet One

The ninth edition of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama gives us our first look at the new aerokit on a natural road course. The car is great on street circuits- racier, harder to drive, better to attempt a pass with. Will it meet these standards on a road course? I think it should come close. The elevation changes, three straights, and slow curves should make this harder to drive car quite a handful. I will be spending a lot of time in turns 1, 2, and 3.

Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most beautiful tracks in the United States. The venue sits in a park with gorgeous landscape and whimsical pieces of art scattered throughout the property. The museum is one of the best motorsports museums anywhere. I’m interested to see if they’ve enhanced their Dan Gurney exhibit this year.

Barber  has become a more competitive track since the introduction of the DW12 chassis. The first two races, in 2010 and 2011, were rather tepid affairs with little passing. In 2012 Will Power won from ninth place on the grid. He did have the fastest car that weekend but was caught out by a red flag situation in qualifying. In 2016 Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal waged a spirited battle for the lead. Rahal took the lead briefly but made contact with a lapped car and soldiered home to his second straight runner-up finish.

Only five drivers have won this event, three of them twice each. Helio Castroneves won the inaugural race. Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Josef Newgarden, the defending champion, have a pair of victories here. Simon Pagenaud won in 2016. Power has won the most poles.

Scott Dixon has not won at Barber, but he has more podium finishes than anyone else here. He was second five times and third twice. 2016 was the only time he missed the podium. While he has been quick this year, he has spent a lot of time having to fight his way back through the field from an incident or penalty.

Points leader Alexander Rossi  does not have much of a record at Barber. This will only be his third race here. Based on the three events so far this year, he will likely make his presence known this weekend. His teammate, Hunter-Reay, has a great resume in Alabama. Andretti is a team to watch this weekend.

Team Penske has dominated this track with poles and they have five wins in the eight races to date. They have to be considered the favorites going into the weekend. This year, though, they will face the most competition they have had here in Andretti and possibly Coyne and Schmidt-Peterson.

All four of these teams have fought hard so far this season. Sunday will give us a big clue as to how the year might play out. I’m looking for a long multi-team battle through the end of the season.

My pick for Barber- Will Power. His race in Long Beach showed he has shaken off his issues from the first two races and he is at a track he usually dominates. I would not be shocked if he repeats Rossi’s Long Beach weekend.

Rossi will retain his points lead as the series heads to Indianapolis for May.

Race coverage begins at 3pm Eastern Sunday on NBCSN.

The latest weather forecast has Sunday as a very rainy day. It might be a race run completely on rain tires. This package has yet to run in the rain. If it is going to rain, I would rather see a dry start and then rain. My second preference would be a wet start and then a drying track with rain returning late in the race. The weather could make for some amazing strategy.

“Bump Tales” Begins May 4

A weekly feature, “Bump Tales,” starts Thursday, May 3. I will share stories of some of the more dramatic Bump Days of the past. Bonus editions will post on May 18 and 19. It will give you something to read during the rain (or possibly) snow delay on Saturday.

 

Sebring Recap= Mixed Day for Indycar Drivers; ABC out?

Cool nights and very hot days made the 66th 12 hour race at Sebring an endurance contest for the fans as well as the drivers. It turned out to be a great race with some late drama as usual. The final two and a half hours had some great battles for the lead. At one point after dark, both the Prototype and GTLM classes had three way fights for the lead. IMSA’s restart procedure in which the cars line up in groups helped. It made for exciting action.

Indycar drivers had a mixed day with a couple class podiums, some major disappointments, and some midpack finishes. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the top finisher with a second place overall in the Wayne Taylor car co-driven by Jordan Taylor and Renger Van Der Zande. Former Indycar driver Mike Conway  joined Hunter-Reay on the podium in the third place entry for Action Express. He teamed with Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran.

Other Indycar related finishes:

The Penske team did not fare well, retiring early in the contest. The car of Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud finished 40th overall. Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal dropped out first in 41st place. In general, the number 7 of Castroneves, Rahal, and Ricky Taylor has been the faster of the two. Taylor qualified third.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTLM machines did slightly better. Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, and Richard Westbrook finished 4th in class and 13th overall. Sebastien Bourdais dropped out in 39th place, last in class.

Car 55 with Spencer Pigot led late and was in contention for the win. On a pit stop with 41 minutes left, the car would not restart. They finished a lap down, 6th overall.

The best story of the weekend was Michael Shank Racing’s car 93. A brake failure and heavy wall contact in Thursday evening practice destroyed the car. The crew worked tirelessly to make repairsr and presented the car for Saturday’s pre-race warmup. From starting in last place the trio of Lawson Aschenbach, Mario Farnbacher, and Justin Marks led some laps and eventually finished seventh in class.

Next year Sebring will be interesting. After IMSA runs the traditional 12 hour race, the WEC will have its own 12 hour race about 90 minutes later, beginning at midnight. This sounds like a logistical nightmare to me. Exchanging pit equipment, podium ceremonies, pre-race for WEC, all in less than 90 minutes might make for a more interesting show than the race. The response from the fans will be interesting as well. I talked to several fans at the track about it. Most are not sure how this will work. There is a lot of skepticism about this idea.

ABC Out of Indycar?

A tweet sent out Saturday by a weatherman in Macon, Georgia, said that 2018 will be ABC’s final year covering the Verizon Indycar Series. The tweet was taken down and Mark Miles said it was a little premature. If true, it means that NBC will be the sole carrier for Indycar next year.

ABC has covered the Indianapolis 500 for 50 years. Since their new deal with Indycar that split the races between ABC and NBCSN, their coverage has been rather weak. There is no chemistry in the booth, they seem to always have the wrong camera shot on screen, and worse, it seems like they care very little about their product. Even their 500 broadcasts, which should be one of their crown jewels, has not been great.

I will have more to say after an official announcement. I’m thinking it will come just before or during the Phoenix race weekend.

Servia Enters the 500

There was an announcement that slipped through the cracks St. Petersburg race weekend. Veteran Oriol Servia will enter the 500 in a car in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan stable run by Scuderia Corsa. Corsa has an association with Ferrari and runs sportscar programs in the US and Europe. I don’t see any interest beyond the 500. It’s nice to have some more international flavor to the race.

Sebring Preview- Penske, Ganassi Look to Recover from Difficult Rolex 24

The second part of the 36 Hours of Florida takes the green flag at 10:40 am Saturday morning. The 66th 12 Hours of Sebring is the second race in the IMSA Weather Tech Series. Like the Rolex 24, several current  Indycar drivers and a handful of former Indycar drivers will participate. Indyccar  team owners Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, and Michael Shank also have full time teams. This is Penske’s first full year in this series.

The Penske and Ganassi cars had a rough start to the season with various mechanical issues and a crash pushing them out of contention. Helio Castroneves nearly won the pole at Daytona and his number 7 Acura prototype was in the hunt for the first half of the race. Ganassi’s Ford GTLM machines had a variety of issues that kept them from challenging for the podium.

I’m looking for both teams to be among the top challengers this year. In the prototype class, Penske will have a tough battle with the Cadillacs of Wayne Taylor Racing and the  Action Express cars which dominated at Daytona.

In GTLM Ganassi’s Fords will have to fend off the Corvettes in a fight between American manufacturers. The Porsches and Ferrari also could be in the mix. GTLM is the most competitive class due to its smaller field.

The GTD race is wide open as always. Ferrari usually does well at Sebring. I’m looking for one of the Shank cars to be on the podium here.

A list of Indycar drivers, both current and former, and what car they’re driving this weekend. Current full time Indycar drivers in bold:

Prototype-

#6- Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud

#7- Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal

#10- Ryan Hunter-Reay

#31- Mike Conway

#38- Pato O’Ward (IndyLights)

#52- Sebastian Saavedra

#90- Tristan Vautier

GTLM-

#25- Connor De Phillippi

#66- Sebastien Bourdais

#67- Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe

GTD-

#64- Townsend Bell

#86- Katherine Legge

The race will be televised on FS1 and FS2. The finish is on FS2 from 6-11 pm.

Back with a wrap-up next week.