Red Flag Revision; Helio Back in May

The NTT Indycar Series will change its rule concerning work done on a car during a red flag period. The new rule calls for exclusion from the race if the crew attempts to make repairs while the race is stopped. The previous rule provided for a minimum two lap penalty for unapproved work while the race is under a red flag.

The revision is likely in response to Pocono last year. After the five car accident in turn 1 of the opening lap, the cars of Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and James Hinchcliffe were repaired while the race was stopped. All three were assessed a 10 lap penalty when they rejoined the race. Rossi was in a battle for the season championship and needed every point he could get. The accident and his 18th place finish still dealt a huge blow to his title chances.

I like this rule. It takes away any possible advantage a car could gain under a red flag. Part of the need to get a car back on track is the current points system. I’ve never liked the idea of every position earning points. If a team knows they are not going to get points for a race, there is not a need to work on the car under a red flag.

Castroneves Back for May

Three time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves will again drive for Team Penske in the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500. It will be his 20th time in the race. Castroneves will also drive in the GMR Grand Prix on the Speedway’s road course on May 9.

Castroneves has been driving full time in IMSA for Penske’s Acura DPi team since 2018. It is believed he had a three year agreement with Penske to drive at Indianapolis. 2020 is the third year of this agreement

The 44 year old Brazilian has finished 11th or better 15 times in his 19 previous races. He finished 27th in 2018 and 18th last year. He has a great career at IMS. In addition to his three wins, Castroneves has finished second twice and has a third place and a fourth place finish.

I’ll be back later today with a preview of the Roar Before the 24.

Team Penske News: XPEL Sponsorship for Newgarden; McLaughlin Gets Indycar Test

Photo from Team Penske

From the Team Penske news release yesterday:

“Team Penske and XPEL, Inc. (NASDAQ: XPEL) a leading provider of automotive paint protective film and window tint, today announced a multi-year partnership. XPEL will be the primary sponsor of the No. 1 Dallara/Chevrolet driven by reigning and two-time NTT IndyCar Series Champion Josef Newgarden for two races in 2020. XPEL will also serve as the “Official Protective Film Partner of Team Penske.

The partnership with Team Penske – the most successful team in motorsports history – represents the first racing sponsorship for the San Antonio, Texas-based company. Newgarden will race the No. 1 XPEL Dallara/Chevrolet in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 9 and in the Texas Indy 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) on June 6. XPEL will build on the partnership and become a primary sponsor for a third IndyCar Series race with Team Penske in 2021 and beyond.”

This is a nice looking car with hints of a Shell livery from a few years ago.

It’s always good to see another sponsor in Indycar. I am also glad to see the Newgarden will carry the No. 1 on his car. I think the series should require the champion to do so every year.

McLaughlin Will Test Indycar at Sebring

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Photo: Team Penske

Back to back Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will drive a Team Penske Indycar at a January 13 test at Sebring. McLaughlin drives for DJR Team Penske in Virgin Australia Supercars. He won a record 18 races this year.  Since joining the team in 2017, McLaughlin has won 35 times to go along with 44 poles in taking series title in 2018 and 2019.

I don’t expect an Indycar ride to happen from this test. Right now It is a reward for achievement in Supercars, but with of Penske’s current NTT Indycar Series drivers approaching retirement, maybe he’ll be in the series in a few years.

The link to the full story:

bit.ly/2qTrqPK

 

Indycar Season Review- Newgarden Reclaims Title and Rookies Shine

Photo: Josef Newgarden on his way to clinching the championship at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca. Photo by Kyle McInnes

In some ways 2019 was an unusual season for the NTT Indycar Series. In other ways, it was a typical season.

Some unusual items:

All three of the championship contenders heading to the final race had at least one finish of 15th or worse.

The seven race winners each won multiple times. I can’t recall that ever happening before. Seven winners seems like the lowest total in a few years as well.

None of the three contenders won a race after July 20.

Alexander Rossi did not lead a lap after his dominating win at Road America on June 23.

Typically, Team Penske drivers led more than 900 laps and won nine races. The team also enjoyed a 1-2 finish in the final standings.

Josef Newgarden combined  consistency and some great pit strategy by Tim Cindric to jump to an early points lead which he held most of the season. Rossi climbed to within 16 points after Mid Ohio, but the lead expanded in the following race after Rossi’s involvement in the first lap incident at Pocono. Simon Pagenaud saved his job with his two brilliant victories in May. He had a 4.8 finishing average over the last six races and came up just 25 points short of his second title.

Rossi was dominating at Long Beach and Road America. He finished second in the Indianapolis 500. The rest of the time he was good, but not great. I thought Rossi was more consistent in 2018. Since his Road America win, Rossi had an average finish of 7.7

Dixon’s Title Defense Stalls

Scott Dixon’s season was typical of his title defense years. He never got going. 2019 was just the second time he has finished outside the top three in the standings.

Dixon finished second three times and third once in the first five races. A 17th place in the Indianapolis 500 followed by a crash and 22nd place in the first Belle Isle race put Dixon  in a hole he could not climb out of. He did bounce back to win the second race at Belle Isle and also won at Mid Ohio. Dixon now has 46 career wins, just six short of Mario Andretti for second place all time.

Rookies Have Outstanding Year

The four rookies- Colton Herta, Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson, and Santino Ferrucci- collectively had a season that any rookie group would be thrilled with. The class earned  2 wins, 4 poles, and 6 podiums. Ferrucci had an average finish on ovals of 6.2. Rosenqvist’s street/road course average was a respectable 7.1. Herta took most of the headlines with his three poles and two victories, but mechanical issues and accidents suppressed his averages and kept him behind in the points standings.

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Felix Rosenqvist edged Colton Herta for Rookie of the Year. Photo: Kyle McInnes

Rosenqvist won the Rookie of the Year title with a fierce drive at Laguna Seca from 14th to fifth to edge Herta by five points. He served notice at St. Petersburg that the rookies meant business when he passed Will Power on a restart. With Rosenqvist staying at Ganassi and Herta moving to the main Andretti team, I see a future rivalry between these two in a couple years.

Surprises and Disappointments

The biggest surprise of the year was Takuma Sato winning two races and earning two pole positions. Sato had a big slump beginning at Texas and was blamed for the early accident at Pocono. It would be nice to see him put a full season together.

Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank racing deserve consideration for driver and team of the year. Harvey earned the team’s first podium at the Indycar Grand Prix. In just 10 races, Harvey had four top ten finishes, got into the Fast Six twice, and finished on the lead lap in seven races. They seemed to struggle after their long break following Road America. If their plan to be full time in 2020 works out, they should be even better.

Zach Veach was probably the most disappointing driver. After finishing 2018 strongly, I thought he would have a great year. He lingered in the back half of the field most weekends and finished 18th in points, ahead of only Matheus Leist and Ed Jones among the drivers who drove all 17 races.

The Best and Not So Best

Not every race can be great, and like most years a few races stood out.

For me, the best races were the Indycar Grand Prix, Mid Ohio, Iowa, and Gateway.

The worst races in my opinion were Pocono, Detroit 1, Toronto, and Portland.

 

 

 

 

A Weekend for the Little Guys

Above: Sage Karam celebrates making the race.

The Spirit of the Indianapolis 500 is the small teams who come here hoping to make the race in spite of huge odds. Ben Hanley and Dragonspeed comfortably made the field on Saturday. But today a new team with longer odds appeared and became the story of the week.

It was the last run for the last row. Kyle Kaiser, who had suffered a hard crash Thursday afternoon drove the rebuilt Juncos Racing car into the field, bumping two time world champion Fernando Alonso. Forty straight hours of work by the Juncos crew paid off as the backup car finally found the speed to make the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500.  The celebration on pit lane was pole winning, almost race winning worthy.

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Some of the crew who worked close to 30 straight hours to get the Juncos car ready after Kaiser put the car in the race.

Fernando Alonso could only watch as his chance to return to the 500 slipped away.

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Hinchcliffe first Out

Hinchcliffe went first in the Last Row shootout and had to watch as five other drivers tried to beat his time. James Hinchcliffe’s time stood up, and he returns to the field after being bumped last year.

Sage Karam was fastest of the six and will start 31st after a tense Saturday when the car just couldn’t find speed.

But today belonged to Kaiser and Juncos.  We’ll get to him in a minute. It is fitting that we’re spending more time talking about the last row than the pole winner. It has been that way since the entry list came out. The two biggest stories of the weekend involved the two smallest teams. That is how Indy should be.

Pagenaud Wins Pole; Penske’s 18th

Simon Pagenaud is quickly becoming another title contender. He backed up his win in the Indycar Grand Prix with three laps over 230 mph. Pagenaud is beginning to return to the type of driver he was when he won the season championship in 2016.

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Simon Pagenaud is the first driver from France to win the pole since Rene Thomas in 1919. Photo by Kyle McInnes

Ed Carpenter starts second. Carpente’r teammates, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones will line up third and fourth.  While it was a bit of a surprise not to see Carpenter on the pole, having his team starting together still shows a lot of strength. Carpenter did not seem too concerned about not winning the pole.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the fast Nine was Will Power.  The defending race winner  starts sixth after dropping four spots from his run on Saturday. Colton Herta is the fastest Honda in fifth. Sebastien Bourdais improved to seventh. Alexander Rossi dropped to ninth. I can’t recall this much movement in the Fast Nine in previous years.

Notes

As my friend George Phillips from Oilpressure pointed out, who made the race got more attention all week than who would win the pole. It was definitely like that today.

Gil de Ferran said McLaren will not be looking to buy their way into the race. “You have to earn it,” he stated. There were rumors floating today that McLaren had talked to some teams about that possibility. I will sign off for tonight with another of photo of Kyle Kaiser receiving congratulations after qualifying.

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I will have my quick thoughts on the weekend tomorrow. I guess they won’t be so quick but watch for them anyway. Thanks to everyone who followed along this weekend. m

 

 

It’s Still the Penske Invitational

This was supposed to be the year the streaks ended. The race would have its third winning driver, and his last name wouldn’t begin with P.

Above: Simon Pagenaud made two brilliant passes in the last five laps to win the Indycar Grand Prix. Photo: Kyle McInnes

This was supposed to be the year the streaks ended. The race would have its third winning driver, and his last name wouldn’t  begin with P. A team other than Penske was supposed to celebrate in Victory Lane. It looked like the reign was over when Felix Rosenqvist won the pole and Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon grabbed the second spot on the grid. But in the end, a masterful drive by Simon Pagenaud kept the Indycar GP trophy with Team Penske. Pagenaud made two brilliant passes with five laps to go to win.

Pagenaud ended a 21 race winless streak. There were rumors about  job security  at Team Penske. He is now fourth in points. I wouldn’t overlook him when considering title contenders.

Dixon said after the race, “With 10 laps to go i knew i was in trouble. I had to stop the car to get it to turn.”  Dixon has finished second three straight years at the Indycar Grand Prix.  ” Simon was turning some amazing lap times,” Dixon added.

Pagenaud said that the tires of each podium car showed a different wear pattern. It was an indication of how varied car setups were for the race.  Pagenaud’s team his upon the one that worked best in the wet.

Tire strategy looked like it would be what decided the outcome of the race when Josef Newgarden pitted during the first caution and was able to cycle to the lead. He may have had to gamble on whether an extra would have been necessary, but he hit a tire leaving the pits on lap 68 and going to the rear of the field for the restart ended his day.  Newgarden finished 15th.

Tony Kanaan gambled on going to the rain tires early, but the move backfired when the rain came later than his team anticipated. Kanaan finished 20th.

Some Traditions End,Others Continue

For just the second time in the brief history of the Indycar Grand Prix, a Penske car was not on pole.  Will Power qualified sixth fastest and dropped back all day, but he recovered to finish 7th.

The traditional first lap incident made its annual appearance. Pato O’Ward collided with Alexander Rossi.  Rossi returned to the race four laps down and didn’t make up any ground all day.

The race still boasts just two winners, Pagenaud and Power. Team Penske has won five of the six Grand Prix.

Tough Day for Rookies

With Felix Rosenqvist on pole and Colton Herta staring fourth, it looked to be another great day for the rookies.  It didn’t turn out that way. Rosenqvist lost the lead to his teammate Dixon on the first restart.  Herta’s day ended when he got spun in turn 1 and then hit by Ryan Hunter-Reay.  Herta has had a rough string last or near last place finishes since winning at COTA.

Rosenqvist faded. He left the pits with his car on fire from a spill. The flames extinguished as he exited the pits. He finished 8th. The only other rookie in the top 10 was Santino  Ferrucci.

Pato O’Ward was involved in the Rossi incident and received a drive through penalty. the team had alternator all weekend. O’Ward made seven pit stops yesterday.

Dixon makes Up Ground in Championship

Scott Dixon is now within six points of Josef Newgarden for the series title. This puts Dixon ahead of where he was last year at this time. He didn’t lead a lap  or win a race until June in 2018 and won the title by a healthy margin.

Notes

How odd to be five races into the season and not have seen Will Power win a race. I’m sure that will change soon.

Pagenaud is the season’ fifth different winner. Four different team have won the first five races. I believe the record is seven different winners in the first seven races of a season.

I hope Andretti Autosport comes out of the box strong for the 500 starting Tuesday. This was a completely forgettable weekend for the team. The highlight was Marco Andretti improving 10 spots in the race.

This was by far the best of the six Grand Prix races.

I don’t usually talk about drive of the day, but htree drivers deserve mention. I will go with hockey’s system of award the three  stars of the race.

#3- Matheus Leist- started 21st, fished fourth. This is a huge boost for A. J. Foyt’s team.

#2- Jack Harvey- started and finished third.  Harvey has been driving under the radar with two top tens and nearly a third. He has gotten to second round qualifying more than once. His move to grab second at the start was incredible. The most amazing thing is Harvey and Meyer Shank Racing are a part time team.

#1- Simon Pagenaud- started 8th, finished 1st. Just a great drive all day. When is the last time you someone make up six seconds in five laps?

 

 

 

 

 

Sebring Update: Alonso Leads Early; Penske Takes 12 Hour Pole

Fernando Alonso and his Toyota Gazoo team have dominated the first 35 minutes of the 1,000 Miles of Sebring. The two car team occupied the front row and began lapping the field very quickly.

Cameron Wins Pole for Penske

The number 6 Penske Acura driven by Fane Cameron won the pole for tomorrow’s  12 Hours of Sebring. Team Joest car number 77 completes the front row.

In GTLM Porsche 911 won the pole and it’s teammate 912 starts second.In GTD Meyer Shank Racing number 86 will lead the group. The number 57 Shank car starts 6th in clasd.

Full qualifying story tomorrow along with a wrap up of the 1,000 mile race.