2017 IndyCar Season Review

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The series’ recently concluded campaign proved predictable – at least to us – and lacked both a sense of rhythm and any real rivalries. While having its moments, overall 2017 missed out on the excitement and drama of previous years.

This season’s highlights included breathtaking oval racing at Pocono and – to a lesser extent, thank you Tony Kanaan – Texas. Even the racing at Gateway was much improved over the last time they visited a decade ago and an additional oval on the schedule – no matter how inadequate its layout – is welcome change.

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Photo from twitter.com

Lowlights involved beyond tedious racing at the usual suspects like Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen and the season finale at Sonoma. Even St. Pete was a stinker this year and as usual the Indy Grand Prix was nearly unwatchable. Iowa‘s daytime race – as opposed to the superior night races of years past – earned the biggest flop award, with Phoenix a close second in the balloting. Iowa Speedway already announced a Sunday date in early July, meaning it’ll be another day race next year.

Easily the most absurd moment of the year was f-ing F1 invader Fernando Alonso being gifted the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year award over Ed Jones, or “The Great Hardware Robbery,” as we termed it. This was closely followed by Alo’s team owner Michael Andretti’s brief flirtation with Chevy after winning the last two 500s with Honda and Sam Schmidt beginning to mimic Andretti’s dumb Indy 500 decisions.

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The most shocking moment by far Continue reading

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IndyCar Watkins Glen Predictions and Prognostications: Glen Scotty Glen Boss

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Expect real estate – and points – to change hands fast this Sunday at the Glen.

Our special prediction for the race is so much fuel saving and strategizing that you’ll think methanol allotments are the good leads from “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Frankly, we’ve never understood why that film’s so highly regarded by some – and feel precisely the same way about Watkins Glen.

Like the movie, last year’s last minute return to upstate New York was a snoozer – and not just because of the steady stream of paid Verizon plugs uttered by drivers, either. Scott Dixon ran away with it – enjoying a 16 second margin of victory – at a road course so similar to Mid-Ohio it’s beyond redundant. Did we mention it’s very much like the worst course on the schedule yet?

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“Third prize is, you’re fired.”

Speaking of leads, pole sitter Will Power sure blew one last Saturday night, didn’t he? Oh well, at least he didn’t crash on the parade lap. Instead of picking Power again for his seventh pole of the campaign however, we’re going with Dixon. He won from pole last year over Josef Newgarden – sound familiar? – and excels on unwatchable permanent road courses like few others. It’ll only be Dixie’s second P1 award of the season, which with only a single win has been as disappointing as Alan Arkin’s paltry performance.

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Image from quotesgram.com

“The leads are weak.”

First out of the race will be Continue reading

IndyCar Watkins Glen Preview: Wit’s End Edition

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With the season’s end in sight, there’s still plenty of IRR wittiness left in the tank.

Sadly, summertime’s over and with it – even more unfortunately – the rousing oval portion of IndyCar’s schedule. Two wine region, cheesy road courses remain, Watkins Glen in upstate New York and the Sonoma finale in California. In the Glen’s case, the most memorable parts of last year’s race were the ubiquitous paid Verizon plugs. Expect neither venue to excite nearly as much as Pocono or Texas regularly do, as the season slinks toward a less than satisfactory conclusion. It all has us feeling at wit’s end.

Josef “teammate terminator” Newgarden has the championship all but wrapped up thanks to Power and Helio’s witlessness at Gateway. There’s no end to his predictable success this season, taking three of the last four races and holding a 31 point championship lead. Making it worse, Team Penske’s won the last five in row. This marks the first time in many years the IndyCar finale probably won’t hold any title significance whatsoever, even with the gimmicky double points paid in the NoCal conclusion.

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Similarly, the rookie of the year award has been settled for some time with only a single candidate and therefore no competition. The fact than Alonso was gifted the Indy 500 ROY remains a travesty, truly “The Great Hardware Robbery,” as we termed it. Ed Jones deserved the award finishing third to Fernando’s 24th, just as he deserves the season ROY. Lack of other contenders aside, Jones has been the most impressive newcomer to the series in recent memory. Thankfully a better ROY resolution’s in the offing.

Happily, the end of the awful aero kit era is also in sight. It’ll be good riddance to bad chassis soon, perhaps the most compelling reason to look forward to next season. Continue reading

IndyCar Bommarito 500 Preview: Escape From East St. Louis

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Little known fact about John Carpenter’s classic 1981 “Escape From New York” – it was filmed in East St. Louis. Turns out the burned out husk of a city had the perfect post-apocalyptic look for the director’s dark, dystopian vision of a future big apple/prison. That, and of course it was cheaper than filming in NYC. Now IndyCar’s set to return to a place that made even Snake Pliskin demur.

It’s been a decade and a half since the series graced the greater East St. Louis area, and with good reason. IRR staff attended the last race held there in 2003 and it was so off puttingly boring that by three quarters through we felt an overwhelming urge to escape. Indeed, it was so bad that we vowed never to return – unless substantial track improvements were made.

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Photo from gatewaymsp.com

During the race long lull, the bizarre all male musical number from “Escape” sprang to mind for some reason. This could be explained by the fact that the thrilling Tomas Scheckter was on track that day. He finished fourth.

Surrounded by land fill mountains of garbage, Gateway Speedway’s environment isn’t exactly Barber-esque in its beauty. Then again, scenery doesn’t make the racing, tracks do – which leads us to Gateway’s biggest problem. [Insert repetitive thumping synthesizer bass line here.]

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The mile and a quarter track’s situated Continue reading

Iowa IndyCar Race Review: ‘Like The First Time’ Edition

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

For one driver, rumors of his series demise proved as motivational as his pre-race quote was prescient.

Forty two year old Helio Castro-Neves won his thirtieth IndyCar race Sunday at Iowa Speedway after being asked by Robin Miller if his remarkable twenty year career were coming to a close. “We just gotta make sure we not only win this race, but win the championship,” Helio answered with characteristic panache. It proved predictive, at least partially.

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J.R. Hildebrand matched his best career finish in second, recovering strongly from a Saturday practice crash for Ed Carpenter. Three time Iowa winner Ryan Hunter-Reay advanced a dozen spots to steal a podium for formerly dominant Andretti Autosport. Pole sitter Will Power and Graham Rahal, who disparaged other drivers’ “courtesy” as being “awful” afterward, rounded out the top five.

The Team Penske fixture led over two thirds of the race for his first triumph in fifty four races, or over three years of futility. Continue reading

Iowa IndyCar Preview: A 7/8s Mile Slice of Heaven

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Photo from iowaspeedway.com

Among the dwindling oval tracks remaining on the schedule, Iowa Speedway routinely puts on some of the most riveting racing of the entire year. You could say it’s the nearest thing to IndyCar bliss outside Circle City and Texas.

The Iowa Corn 300 has witnessed some unforgettable moments in a decade of IndyCar racing. Ed Carpenter and Sage Karam’s confrontations in 2015 – both on track and post race – top our list. We termed the race at the time “Sage Gone Wild,” seemingly a breakout moment for the young Pennsylvanian. Perhaps it was his angelic features that drew us in, if not his devilish driving.

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. Now Sage is relegated to one off status at Indy, and unfortunately won’t be racing at Iowa after finishing 28th in the 500 this year. At least the other half of the duelin’ duo, owner/driver Carpenter, will be driving (as if that’s any consolation). We do have an idea for a new arch enemy for Ed to do battle with, however.

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Speaking of which, could Iowa turn into another TK induced crash fest like Texas? Tempers still smolder in the wake of Wisconsin, where Tony “time to call it quits” Kanaan characteristically blamed Alex Rossi for his most recent crash. Continue reading

101st Indy 500 Practice Three: Scaredy Penske Edition

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Windy conditions kept the Cap’n’s crew – quickest the previous practice, at least in the tow – largely off of Indy’s oval Wednesday. Only Newkid made an appearance, for eleven whole laps. Luckily other teams weren’t deterred by some mere gusts – not entirely.

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Photo from twitter.com

Early on Ed Carpenter Racing held the top two spots no matter the tow, with Ed and J.R. 1-2 in their respective Chevys, tops in both categories. Recall that Ed led the way with the highest non-tow speed Tuesday, with J.R. not far behind. By the end of the session, the series’ only owner/driver again owned the quickest lap at over 222.8 mph.

Dixon was second quick for Ganassi, his Honda doing nearly 222.6 mph, while J.R. was third. Fernando Alonso  turned in the fourth best speed – more on him later – and our man Conor Daly completed the top five, Tweeting he was “really happy with the changes overnight.” Way to go, Conor!

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A few questions occurred to us after three days of practice for the greatest spectacle in racing. Continue reading

101st Indy 500 Practice Two: A Slow Day at IMS

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Team Penske’s Will Power made a showing with the top speed of 224.6 mph in Tuesday’s Indy 500 practice, while Ed Carpenter and his eponymous team were in the dough with the fastest non tow speed of 222.8 mph.

Speeds were down even from Monday, as high temps and winds made conditions less than ideal on the famed two and half mile oval. With the weather expected to worsen this week every minute of practice becomes more and more crucial, particularly for the rookies.

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Photo from indystar.com

Helio, Gabby “Pat” Chaves (!), RHR and Sage Karam rounded out the top five tow speeds, while Charlie “pinball” Kimball, ECR’s J.R. Hildebrand, “Sour Grapes” Power and Dixon completed the top five on the no tow speed chart. Chevy took both categories Tuesday, while Honda did on Monday.

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Happily there were no incidents involving the wall, Continue reading

Phoenix Race Review: Single Handed

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Photo from twitter.com

J.R. Hildebrand gave fans someone to root for other than those paradoxical Penskes in a flawed though mildly entertaining show in the desert.

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Photo from edcarpenterracing.com

Simon Pagenaud and the Penskes prevailed going away as the first oval and night race of the year looked like 2016 in microcosm. Thankfully there were other stories, or rather a single other story, on NBCSN. If we heard about it once, we heard it a thousand times. Hildebrand‘s comeback race from a broken hand at Long Beach – requiring “a plate and eight screws” as Paul Tracy read from a card – saw him finish an impressive third. It was Ed Carpenter Racing‘s best result in some time and a remarkable feat by the team’s shorthanded newcomer.

We couldn’t help but think of the sound of one hand clapping during the race, as the crowd looked sparse on television and the Saturday night time slot is challenging for ratings to begin with. After seeing the start though, maybe that’s not all bad.

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The race began embarrassingly with a first lap caution as Mikhail Aleshin lost it and spun in turn two collecting Marco, Rahal, Chilton and Bourdais – Hondas all. Continue reading

Phoenix Predictions and Prognostications: Sponsors Needed

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Several high profile drivers and teams remain without solid sponsorship for the season’s first oval race – a big deal around here – including the previous winner. As true IndyCar racing arrives with Saturday night’s fiesta of fast in Phoenix, it’s the lack of big, big money that rightfully has some fans concerned.

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Image from digital journal.com

Empty sidepods are less than desirable, especially when they adorn a super team that sometimes tends not to finish races and another that barely cracks the top ten (except for Dixon). Scott enjoyed the thirty ninth win of his storied career last year in the desert, yet three races in still hasn’t found a permanent replacement for the dearly departed Target. How 100th Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi’s car remains a blank slate is equally incomprehensible. In the spirit of ovular optimism, our special prediction is that this dearth of signage on quality competitors won’t last long.

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Speaking of money, Helio Castro-Neves Continue reading