The Last of the Brazilians?

We are approaching the end of a great time in the history of the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT Indycar Series. Word today from Team Penske that Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will drive in the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis in May means Helio Castroneves will drive only in the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500. My feeling is this will be his last 500.

Earlier this month, Tony Kanaan announced 2020 will be his final year in Indycar as he runs only the ovals in the series. I could see him coming back for the Indianapolis 500, but I’m not sure for how long.  I think Kanaan may have a tough time getting funding for future rides.

The 104th Indianapolis 500 may be the last one for awhile with a driver from Brazil in it. Since Emerson Fittipaldi’s rookie year in 1984, I count 19 Brazilian drivers who have run in the race. I m ay be leaving a couple out.The early 2000s were the peak of the South American country’ s participation.  In 2003, Brazil finished first, second, and third. Gil DeFerran won, followed by Castroneves and Kanaan Four Brazilian drivers have compiled seven victories at Indianapolis. Castroneves has three and Fittipaldi has two. DeFerran and Kanaan each won once.

The high mark was in 2010 when seven Brazilian drivers started. Six starters were in the 2002 race .From 2003-2008, there were four drivers from Brazil in each race. Last year the contingent was just Castroneves, Kanaan, and Matheus Leist.

Among the other drivers from Brazil, I liked Raul Boesel, who I thought had a great chance at winning in 1993; Ana Beatriz, Vitor Meira, and Bruno Junqueira. Meira never won a race in his Indycar career, but came close several times. Junqueira has qualified several cars only to be displaced on race day.

The pendulum seems to be swinging back toward American drivers now. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Trends of certain nationalities dominating the Indycar paddock are cyclical. It just doesn’t seem as if the Brazilian pipeline has many drivers in it right now.

It would be fitting if 2020 were the last 500 for both Kanaan and Castroneves. They grew up racing against each other. I think seeing them retire from the Greatest Spectacle in Racing together, while sad to mark the end of an era, would be nice.

 

 

 

It’s Been a Great Ride for Tony Kanaan; Five Oval Races Will Close Indycar Career

Photo: Tony Kanaan at Texas Motor Speedway in 2019. Courtesy Indycar, Chris Owens

It happens to every driver in time. It’s Tony Kanaan’s turn to retire. Kanaan announced today he will run the five ovals on the NTT Indycar Series schedule to end his Indycar career.  It’s always a little sad to see champion and Indianapolis 500 winner hang it up, but I like when a driver can leave on his or her own terms.

His final race will be at World Wide Technology Raceway August 22. He finished third there in 2019.

“I have no regrets,” Kanaan told a press conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this morning.  “This place (IMS) made me.”

Kanaan has driven in 18 Indianapolis 500s, winning in 2013. He won the pole in 2005 and led in each of his first seven races. He has eight top 5s and qualified in the top 6 from 2002 through 2009 with three front row starts.

Kanaan completed every lap in the 2004 Indycar series and win the series championship. He is the first driver to complete every lap in a season. He has 17 wins and 15 poles in his career.  His best years were with Andretti Green Racing in the early 2000s. He won the 500 driving for KV Racing.

He has always been a fan favorite. He plans to be “a lot more engaged with the fans” at the races he isn’t running in 2020. Look for Kanaan at the autograph sessions at the road  and street course events as well as the ovals.

When the green flag waves at St. Pete, it will end Kanaan’s streak of 317 consecutive Indycar starts.  In a sport with such brief seasons, I find that an amazing statistic.IMG_7537

Kanaan at Laguna Seca last season. The season finale becomes his road race finale in the series. Photo: Mike Silver

Kanaan insists while he may be closing his Indycar career, but he’s not done racing.

“I don’t want anybody to think I’m retiring and I’m disappearing. First of all, I still can drive. We’ve been in talks. Five years or so in this room we started it; we’ve been in talks with IMSA and a bunch of other series. Even Formula-e, you talk about stock car in Brazil. People are like, so what are you doing, what are you doing next year, and I think this will open an opportunity for me to do — Tony Stewart is like, when are you coming back to Eldora. Now I think I can do all those things. ”

Indycar is approaching a point where several of the current big names will be closing out their careers in the next couple of seasons. We have five occasions to honor a driver who has reached the pinnacle of the sport. If you get to one of the ovals this year, make it a point to seek Kanaan out, and tell him how you appreciate what he’s done.

 

 

 

 

Kanaan Leads Practice Session; ECR Struggles

Photo: Kyle McInnes

Tony Kanaan led this afternoon’s only track practice for tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500. Kanaan’s top lap of 216.354 was the only lap in the 216 range. Scott Dixon had the second best time with a 215. 761. Dixon’s lap came late  in the session. Simon Pagenaud in 5th and Charlie Kimball in eighth were the other Chevys  in the top ten. Alexander Rossi was fourth.

Rookie Santino Ferrucci led the session for a few minutes before settling for third quickest. Ferrucci was one of the few drivers who seemed to be able to pass cars  at will.

Ed Carpenter Racing struggled during the session. Spencer Pigot was 21st and Ed Carpenter was last. ECR usually does very well on super speedways. Points leader Josef Newgarden also had trouble finding speed, finishing 17th. Teammate Will Power ended 20th.

The Top Ten:

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Notes:

NBCSN did a nice job pointing out the different wickers teams were using. I’m glad the teams have options. Even thought the wickers configurations are difficult to see, it does give the cars some differentiation.

Rossi seemed to have the setup to be able to pull away from cars behind him.

Passing will be difficult tomorrow. Some of the attempted passes looked like what you see on a road course when a driver can get his nose up to the car but has to drop back. It looks like track position, fuel mileage, and good restarts will be keys to success Sunday.

I’ll be back to morrow with a quick morning preview and then post race coverage.

Race coverage begins at 2 pm on NBCSN. green flag around 2:45. Thanks for following along on this crazy, jumbled day.

 

Sonoma’s Final Finale

Indycar’s odd relationship with Sonoma comes to an end Sunday with the Verizon Indycar Series season finale. The 2019 schedule released two weeks ago does not have Sonoma on it. The final race next year will be at Weather Tech Raceway in Monterrey, on the other side of San Francisco.

Since 2015 Sonoma Raceway hosted the season finale and the track has done a great job presenting the new champion. The program has improved each year. The championship presentation is on the track’s front stretch with fans allowed to join the festivities.

Indycar first raced here in 1970 under USAC sanction. Dan Gurney won the 60 lap race. The series did not return to the track until 2005 as an IRL event. It has been on the schedule ever since.

I describe Sonoma as a great track for race cars, but not a great track for racing. The winner is usually determined by who wins the pole or whoever is in a position to take advantage of the pole winner’s misfortune. Attendance has not been great here, but there will be problems improving it at the new venue.

There has been some drama here, however. In 2006 Tony Kanaan held on to second place with a broken wing, taking points away from contenders chasing teammate Dario Franchitti, allowing Franchitti to gain valuable points on his way to the season title. In 2015, Juan Pablo Montoya came into the race with a sizable points lead and had the championship well in hand. A collision with teammate Will Power cost him enough positions to allow Scott Dixon to win the race and the Astor Cup.

I enjoy the track and the surrounding countryside.It’s a beautiful drive to Sonoma and Napa from the track viewing the hills and vineyards. I will miss breakfast at the Fremont Diner and having a drink at Ernie’s Tin Shed. I’m not sure that Weather Tech Raceway will see better racing, but the scenery should be at least as good.

On Wednesday look for my complete race and championship preview on Wildfire Sports.

Road America Thoughts and Other Musings

The race-

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A tight battle on lap 1 for fifth through ninth in Turn 5. Photo: Mike Silver

Not the best I’ve seen, but hardly the worst. I enjoyed watching Josef Newgarden turn in a flawless performance yesterday afternoon. He had pressure from Ryan Hunter-Reay all day long, but the Chevy was too strong on road America’s long straightaways. Alexander Rossi once again nearly stole the headlines from the winner, but not for the reason he usually does. More on the controversy later. Scott Dixon didn’t qualify as well as he hoped- he missed the Fast Six- but managed to be the only leader besides Newgarden to lead any laps. Dixon finished third and increased his points lead.

Best drama of the day happened just before the green flag when Will Power, who started second, was nowhere to be found as the field roared into turn one. An engine issue put him out of the race for his third DNF of the season. Outside of May, Power has really not had a great year. He drops from third to fifth in the title chase.

Tony Kanaan tried to use a four stop strategy to move up, but the caution free race didn’t allow that plan to work. Kanaan finished 14th.

Alexander Rossi- Series Villain?

Indycar has needed rivalries and villains to give the series some spark. Have they found them? The season began with hopes of a Rossi/Newgarden battle for the title. That hasn’t materialized, but a Rossi/Robert Wickens feud may be brewing. Wickens and Rossi collided in turn one at the start. After their collision on the white flag lap at St. Pete, the animosity seemed to have died down. It may be on again. Takuma Sato also took issue with Rossi’s driving in yesterday’s race. He and Rossi had contact in turn 5 later in the race.

Rossi had a suspension problem which dropped him to a 16th place finish. He is now tied with Hunter-Reay for second, 45 points behind Dixon.

I like Rossi’s style. He is bold and relentless and can pass anybody anytime it seems. He is also unapologetic. As long as he isn’t ruining other drivers’ races, I’m fine with his racing.

Road America Renews for Three More Years

Yesterday morning Road America President George Bruggentheis announced that Indycar will return to Elkhart Lake for three more years. This has been one of the more successful events on the calendar. Sunday’s crowd was equal to or may have topped the great attendance in 2016. The track instantly become my favorite road course the moment I entered the track.

On the Flip Side…

The not unexpected news that ISM Raceway in Phoenix would not return in 2019 became official over the weekend.  Crowds were virtually nonexistent and the racing was not great. There was little excitement or presence for the event the two times I went to the race.

It’s sad to lose such a classic track, but the newer cars don’t always perform well on the older tracks.

The series is looking for a replacement in that that calendar slot. Many fans have made many suggestions. It needs to be a warm weather locale, and preferably another oval.

I’m wondering if other schedule changes are in the offing for next season.

On to Iowa

Next up for Indycar is Iowa, the most fun oval on the schedule. You may have heard this before in this space, but I hope this the last daytime race and beginning in 2019 this is again a night race.

I have a couple features planned for later this week and next week. Enjoy the week off.

 

 

The Positive Thinking of Power

“When you work hard at something it eventually comes to you,” Will Power said at his Sunday afternoon press conference. He credit this approach to his determination in the closing laps of the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500. Winning the 500 had run through his head more than ever over the last year, he said. It was. “The last box to check on his career, which includes an Indycar Series championship won after several close calls. Again working hard will eventually get you what you want.

The race was an intriguing event. It was difficult to pass, as expected, but drivers liked that the outcome was more in their hands. Some teams, Scott Dixon and Robert Wickens, tried alternate pit strategies which were hurt by the timing of the caution periods. Power, on a normal pit cycle, was in the right spot in the end to take advantage of those who gambled.

Ed Carpenter and Power had the strongest cars all day. Carpenter led 65 laps and Power led 59. No one else led more than 19. Tony Kanaan looked to be a third factor until a cut tire forced an extra stop. He had worked his way back to ninth, then crashed on lap 189, setting up the dramatic finish and near storybook ending.

Oriol Servia, Stefan Wilson, and Jack Harvey gambled there would be another yellow and they would be able to save enough fuel to go the distance. Servia led the field to the green on lap 193 and was quickly passed by Wilson and Harvey. Wilson led the next three laps, which sent a buzz through the crowd. The two leaders pulled into the pits for fuel on lap 196, hand Power the lead and the victory.

The usually stoic Power was one of the happiest winners in Victory Lane in many years. “I started screaming on the white flag lap,” he said. Tim Cindric corroborated that.

Notes

Power’s win was the first for a front row starter since Dario Franchitti won from third in 2010. It was Team Penske’s first 500 win since Juan Pablo Montoya won his third in 2015.

There were 30 lead changes, many on pit cycles. While we didn’t see constant passes for the lead, I thought it made each pass more genuine and a result of driving and not equipment packages.

Alexander Rossi had another march from the back of the field. His fourth place finish from a last row start was one of the highlights of the day. He also charged from the back to get a podium at Phoenix after a pit penalty. Rossi is now two points behind Power in the series championship.

Graham Rahal continues his season of starting in the back and getting to the top 10. Yesterday he finished tenth from his 30th starting spot. I’m sure he’s looking forward to Detroit where he dominated the weekend last year.

Danica Patrick’s career ended with a crash on lap 68. It was the only the second time she has not finished the race. Patrick had always done well at the Speedway, including being the first woman to lead.

Helio Castroneves spun and crashed on lap 146. I’m not sure if he will return next year. If he does, 2019 may be his last time to try for win number 4

Power is the first driver to win the Indycar Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year.

What is Up with the Pre-Race?

For a couple of years now I have become annoyed with the pace of the pre race ceremonies. This year I thought they were longer and more drawn out than ever. It seemed as if parts were out of order as well. These ceremonies used to be compact, flowing and built the tension leading to the start. I don’t get that feeling or the goosebumps I used to get during this part of the day.

The Speedway has found its new singer for “(Back Home Again in) Indiana”. It was another great performance by Jim Cornelison. Please keep him.

The highlight was playing a recording of Jim Phiilipe’s homage to veterans which preceded taps. It was wonderful to hear that again, but the moment was ruined when instead of following it immediately with “Taps”, the invocation was next, followed by an ABC commercial break, then “Taps.” A solemn moment was ruined.

The last straw was Tony George giving the command, “Drivers, start your engines” for the second year in a row. I’m not sure if I heard the engines or if the sound was Tony Hulman spinning in his grave. Please, IMS, give the traditional (Ladies) and Gentlemen, start your engines command. Drivers, start your engines is fine for every other race on the schedule.

I will close with a couple more photos from yesterday. I have more stories of the month this week before the series moves to Detroit.

(Left) Will Power’s car om pit lane race morning.

(Right) Power waits to take questions from the press.

All photos: Mike Silver

Carb Day- Lots of Laps and a Great Indy Lights Race

I’m not sure we know any more about how the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 will go tomorrow after watching the Carb Day session. 1,273 laps of mostly strung out running should help drivers get a feel for Sunday’s similar weather conditions. The four fastest yesterday- Tony Kanaan 227.791, Scott Dixon 225.684, Marco Andretti 225.220, and Sebastien Bourdais 224.815, could be the group from which  the winner comes.  The race will come down to track position in the last40 laps and who makes the right tire calls on the last stop.

Danica Patrick had an electrical problem early in the session and only ran 15 laps. Her second lap was the eighth quickest. She did get on track during the final 10 minutes. The session was halted briefly for a track inspection. No cars had an on track incident.

Polesitter Ed Carpenter Ran 30 laps with a best time of 223.219, 14th fastest. Teammate Spencer Pigot had the 9th fastest time, 223.584. Overall, a decent day for the Carpenter team. Can they put it all together on race Day? That has been the one glitch in their 500 program.

Graham Rahal ran the most laps, 51, as he still looks for a good pace. The rest of the top five in laps run were Carlos Munoz, 49; Jay Howard, Helio Castroneves, Stefan Wilson, and Sage Karam 48 each; Josef Newgarden, 47. Of the high laps run group, Karam was quickest with the 12th best lap at 223.278.

We will begin to get answers in 15 and half hours from the time I’m writing this.

Herta Wins Exciting Freedom 100

When engines fired for the Indy Lights Freedom 100, I joked to my friend Brad that the race starts in 38 laps. This race has produced extremely close, four wide finishes with great racing in the last two laps. I was wrong. The small field raced every lap as if it were the final lap.

Twenty lead changes in a 40 lap race is unprecedented. Dalton Kellett, the polesitter, had the longest stretch in the lead, from lap 21-25. Colton Herta, who started sixth, took the lead on lap 39 and held off Patricio O’Ward by 0,0281 seconds. Yes that was close, but it is not in top four closest margins in Freedom 100 history.

The Day in Photos

Here are some photos from yesterday. Remember to rest tonight (Ha) get to the track early, and drink lots of water. Enjoy the race.

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Colton Herta takes the lead during the Freedom 100.

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Danica Patrick returns to the track after a trip to the garage to repair electrical problems.

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Pit road is always busy on Carb Day.

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James Davison leads Takuma Sato in turn 1.

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Spencer Pigot leaves his pit box.

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Pit stop practice for Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter.