Portland Race Review: Cluster Edition

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Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing had quite the day at the Portland Grand Prix, with one driver in victory lane and the other ripping the racing, the stewards and the series. Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato scored another victory, while his teammate Ragin’ Graham Rahal was along with several others caught up in another frightening first lap pileup that for once was no fault of his own. However, his scathing criticisms of blatant incompetence in race control had us grinning from ear to ear.

After qualifications but prior to the race, two Andretti Autosport teammates who factored largely in the outcome poignantly diverged in their assessment of the place. And after eleven years away, why not? Ryan Hunter-Reay praised the braking zones as portending engaging racing, while his teammate Alexander Rossi said flatly, “we all know it’s hard to pass here.” In the long run, Rossi was the more correct – though less lucky – on the day.

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Once the green flag flew, Rossi sped around Josef Newgarden for second, with RHR gaining too, until trouble struck. In the back Simon Pagenaud initially encountered problems going off track, followed by fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais. Then the latest frightening first lap crash occurred due to contact between rookie phenom Zach Veach and James Hinchcliffe in turn 3. Hinch spun, causing a trailing Marco Andretti to spin and roll backwards over Hinch’s car, flipping upside down in the process. After Pocono, it was the last thing anyone wanted to see, although Portland’s configuration – specifically the chicane – invites it. Remarkably, and once he was turned right side up, Marco jumped out of the car unscathed, though covered in dirt. He spoke of being “really lucky,” and of his head being “on the ground,” thanks to Rahal hitting him from behind.

Ganassi’s potentially soon to be ex Ed Jones was victimized in the incident and out of the race, his helmet scarred from the crash. Hinch’s car was repaired and he was able to get back out, though many laps down. Another victim of course was the aforementioned Rahal, who made his feelings on the accident crystal clear. “It was a cluster. . . . Oh yeah, Veach – I mean come on now, give him some room. There’s no room there at all … So it’s just wrong, and then the officials take no action, which is typical of our officiating crew. It’s disappointing.”

Driver Marco Andretti was involved in a four-car crash Sunday at the start of the Portland Grand Prix at Portland International Raceway.

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Included in the carnage was championship leader Scott Dixon, who Continue reading

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Iowa Race Review: ‘How Is Hinch Ahead?!’ Edition

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In a baffling though entertaining affair at Iowa Speedway, SPM‘s James Hinchcliffe somehow overcame everyone who stood in the way of his first win of the season. It was the second of the Canuck’s career on the diminutive oval, his sixth overall. Taking the lead with less than fifty to go to the surprise of many – not least of which Josef Newgarden – it was a confusing, pro-Canadian conclusion under a Carpenter-induced caution. As usual, everything was the villainous Will Power‘s fault.

Newkid’s teammate was nearly a lap down and not surprisingly acted more like a spoiled schoolchild than a teammate, holding up the defending champ as “lap traffic” with only thirty odd laps to go, handing Hinch the lead and eventual victory. Immediately after being passed for position, an astonished Newgarden asked his crew incredulously over the radio, “How is Hinch ahead?!” Simultaneously, we wondered the exact same thing.

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NBCSN’s pre-race included Townsend Bell telling us day is night and Kevin Lee calling RHR – well over 37 – “young.” On the upside, the until recently MIA Katie Hargitt returned to air. Unfortunately, it was primarily whilst eating during the cooking segment, Continue reading

Detroit Race Review No. 2: ‘Penske’s GM Amateur Hour’ Edition

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Photo from twitter.com

It is entirely appropriate that ABC’s last ever IndyCar broadcast involved a pace car crash during the parade laps that they missed while away at commercial, utterly destroying a brand new Corvette and delaying the start by thirty seven minutes. It was less so that Honda absolutely schooled Chevy in their hometown yet again, sweeping both races rather easily and awarding AA’s Ryan Hunter-Reay the trophy Sunday. Despite a positive public face and Power’s podium, the Cap’n could not have been happy.

RHR earned the victory, for much of the race looked like a Rossi runaway, the 500 winner starting from pole after emerging from a drenched morning qualifications. Overcoming adversity after a podium finish Saturday, the victor spun into the tire barrier during quals Sunday morning and received a penalty for his trouble, losing his fastest two laps of the session. As a result Hunter-Reay started back in tenth position. He wouldn’t be deterred.

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The pre-race consisted of a replay of Hinch’s lap from yesterday and a very subdued command to start engines by Mark Reuss – a senior VP at GM – who then proceeded to crash the pace car on the parade lap, stopping the race before it’d even begun. IndyCar should demand that  Continue reading

102nd Indy 500 Race Review: It’s A Vegemite Sandwich and We All Gotta Take A Bite

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Team Penske’s – and all IndyCar’s – least likable driver won the series’ biggest race, sadly. For the Cap’n, it was his seventeenth 500 triumph – a towering record never to be surpassed. AA’s Englishman Stefan Wilson, brother of the late driver Justin, led until the final stages before being forced to pit for fuel.

With seven cautions in all, the race – and particularly the start and restarts – were thrilling, right up until the end when Wilson pulled into the pits with only four to go. This handed Will “sour grapes” Power the event, to every single thinking race fan’s chagrin. It’s one race at long last that he can’t complain about.

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Photo from dailytelegraph.com.au

ABC’s pre-race coverage of course featured a lengthy Danica interview, followed by some yahoo named Marty Smith with a NASCAR accent screaming into a mike from the snakepit. Thanks for the memories, ABC.

From the green flag, Danica dropped five spots as predicted, then embarrassingly lifted completely off the throttle in turns during early in-car camera coverage. Her owner Fast Eddy Carpenter led from the pole, while ragin’ Graham Rahal jumped seven spots almost immediately from his dismal starting spot. He’d wind up tenth.

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Photo from indystar.com

Driving AJ Foyt Racing‘s always tenuous third car, James Davison was waaaay loose and waaaay slow, and finally on lap 47 Taku’d had enough and simply Satoed him. The defending 500 winner closed quickly and smacked him from behind in between turns 3 and 4, nearly going airborne and bringing out the first of seven cautions.

Only a few laps following the restart, Continue reading

102nd Indy 500 Preview: Fast Eddy and the Achievers – Featuring Danica

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Considering a hellacious crash by a Canuck, three wide action and sizzlin’ Sage Karam showing the rest of the 33 car field the way – and that’s all from Monday’s penultimate practice session – Memorial Day weekend should prove to be an entertaining Indy 500 show. And not some mere one-outfit lounge act, either.

In a controversy-free weekend of qualifications, Fast Eddy Carpenter won pole for the third time while his teammates surprisingly secured sixth and seventh. In a stellar showing, ECR out-shined even Team Penske on Sunday. An exhilarating bump day included a couple of fan favorites rudely excluded from the field, namely James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann. Honda, the series’ suits in their suites and the entire Twitterverse broke down in an absolute tizzy, Lil’ Al style. We say snowflakes, welcome to Indy.

Now it’s time to look ahead to the race or, if you’re SPM, maybe you should think about taking it one day at a time. In addition to hopefully edge of your seat racing, expect Continue reading

IndyCar Grand Prix Race Review: Bush League Stuff

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Image from youtube

When winner Will Power’s accent degenerates to the point where it’s more affectation than Aussie, you know you’ve landed in IndyCar’s outback. The predictable and unpalatable Penske win from pole was the Cap’n’s 200th in the sport. It was also, to quote Quintana, “bush league stuff.”

During ABC’s unremarkable, out-the-door-and-it-shows pre-race show, Scott Goodyear pontificated that he wasn’t sure his fellow Canuck Robert Wickens “is a rookie.” Well Mr. also-ran, we’re positive that he is. Next, Power predicted a good race with “lots of passing,” all merely proving that he’s a better driver than prognosticator.

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The GP’s Great Leader Tony George gave the command to start engines while in the booth they droned on about the perils of turn 1. Upon taking the green they went at least four wide in what’s hopefully a harbinger of things to come in the 500, going hard into the sharp right hander that is the GP’s first turn. By turn 2 there was the predictable trouble on track.

Upon first glance and according to the booth, ECR’s rookie Jordan King hit Pags, sending both off course and into the gravel pit. After starting seventh, Pags was able to keep it going and bring it home to a respectable eighth place showing. On the same opening lap, Pigot also ran off course after hitting a curb and wildly flying through the air, hitting an unfortunate Sato after landing and bouncing. Poor Spencer was penalized for the avoidable contact, but soldiered on to finish 15th. Meanwhile, his teammate King got stuck in the gravel trap, bringing out the first caution of the day.

Cutting through the ABC crew’s confusion, replays showed Pags only went wide after being hit by his teammate Helio, who is as you may have heard fresh off retirement. Only then, and after checking up, Continue reading

Long Beach Race Review: Nose-cam Slam Edition

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Photo from twitter.com

On an AA kinda day Californian Alexander Rossi won in utterly jack booted fashion, but the advent, added entertainment value and absurd level of abuse meted out to NBCSN’s nose-cam stole the show at Long Beach.

An above average four caution flags fell at just the right times helping out the racing immensely. Without them, Rossi might’ve lapped the entire field. Twice. One of the pole sitter’s biggest competitors was knocked out prior to the first turn, sadly along with a cherished nose-cam. Thank God they had plenty of the tiny cameras in reserve to significantly enhance the coverage.

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Photo from indycar.com

Ragin’ Graham Rahal ran into Simon Pagenaud from behind on the first lap, sending him spinning into the wall and ending his day. Ryan Hunter-Reay also got caught up in the fracas banging into Dixon, suffering some front wing damage and more importantly destroying the first nose-cam of the day, though happily not before it provided excellent views of the action. Rahal was rightly slapped by race control with a drive through penalty, later apologizing to Pags after battling all the way back to finish fifth.

The restart on lap five set a pattern of Rossi opening up a lead and pulling away. Continue reading

Long Beach Preview: Up in the Air

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IndyCar’s annual whiff of SoCal’s insalubrious smog arrives Sunday and the pending outcome is as up in the air as a juggler’s balls.

Hinch, Pags and Dixie have won the last three Grans Prix, by far the series’ most atmospheric street race. That’s three different teams represented atop the podium since 2015. Go back far enough and some rather wispy outfits indeed have triumphed by the shore, including Ed Carpenter Racing. On a street course. Twice. That’s certainly some rarefied air out west.

Bourdais is a three time winner, stratospherically taking three in a row during the most polluted days of the split. Understandably though, after Phoenix his pit crew may still be a bit sore at him this weekend. Even Will “hot air” Power vaporized the entire field twice at the Beach, though that was several years ago. Heck, Sato won there for Foyt in 2013. Tellingly, it was under caution and the tentative team‘s last win.

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Photo from racer.com

Unassuming Ed Jones stole the show last year with a sixth place finish and second consecutive top ten to start his career. Continue reading

Handicapping The Rookies: Greenhorns Galore, Part 2

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Previewing the 2018 IndyCar season from the perspective of those nine drivers with a combined experience of the average couch sitting race fan. Tellingly, the mean age of our final five rookies is a ripe 24.8 years old.

This slate of newbies enjoys slightly more experience than those covered in part 1 and also have the distinct advantage of landing with established teams – in a couple cases, even decent ones. Just not in our first instance . . .

AJ Foyt Racing‘s Matheus Leist – only 19 – hails from Brazil like his curmudgeonly, over the hill teammate. His initial IndyCar foray at the Phoenix test wasn’t fortuitous. Leist brushed the wall at least three separate times, and possibly more. On a less expensive note, Matt did manage three wins last year in Indy Lights, including the Freedom 100 at IMS. That’s no doubt a major reason he’s driving for A.J. Matt also scored an impressive nine top fives and two poles in his sole Lights season. Why the 43 year old TK landed A.J.’s other seat is totally inexplicable.

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Zach Veach will have the benefit of top notch equipment driving for Andretti Autosport, if not the most sensible boss. The baby faced 23 year old Ohioan already had two big league starts in 2017, with a best finish of 19th at Barber for ECR (as a stand in for the injured and now unemployed J.R. Hildebrand). Also, he finished 26th in the 101st Indy 500 for AJ Foyt Racing. Zach’s the author of a book for teens and apparently a good friend of Oprah, so watch out.

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Yet another Canuck – just what the series needs – Robert Wickens Continue reading

Danica + Ed at Indy: Extremely Strange Bedfellows

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IRR unearthed some highly disparaging comments Carpenter made about the female phenom when they were erstwhile competitors in the Indy Racing League.

By now everyone’s heard that Danica has landed at Ed Carpenter Racing for her swan song 500 in May. Lots and lots of niceties have been written about Danica‘s long overdue departure from motor racing, mostly centering on her solitary win at Japan in 2008 and more recently her accidental “slip” team reveal regarding Indy. Oopsie daisy!

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None of the innumerable articles written recently dared to mention this beauty we came across in our exhaustive research, though. The quote is from July 2006 and sprang forth fully formed from the mouth of Danica’s new owner, Ed Carpenter. It was in response to a question about her potential in NASCAR, still years in the future at that point.  Continue reading