Sonoma Season Finale Race Review: S&M Edition

Racing at Sonoma through the years has often been painful to watch, and the season finale was no different. Admittedly, there were a few moments of pleasure along with hours of punishment.

Scott Dixon clinched his fifth championship Sunday in dominant fashion, totally overshadowing Ryan Hunter-Reay who abused the competition from pole in IndyCar’s final race at the dungeon like track. In a curious move by the series’ sole broadcast partner, NBCSN viewers missed an eventful start due to preemption by a NASCAR crash and delay at Vegas. Of course it proved to be one of few interesting segments of the day, and for fans it really hurt.

As Hunter-Reay led the field to the green his teammate Alexander Rossi suffered a brain fade typical of his youth and inexperience. Entering turn 1 the championship contender inexplicably ran into the back of teammate Marco Andretti, damaging his front wing and right front tire and all but eliminating his title hopes. Rossi would battle back and almost make it interesting by the end, but couldn’t surpass Dixon’s maturity and experience.

Cars quickly strung out single file as normalcy returned to Sonoma. Continue reading

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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.

Photo from indycar.com

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.

Image from oregonlive.com

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

Gateway Preview: Awake and Alert Edition

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

2018’s final oval track race will be held Saturday night outside St. Louis. With only three races remaining in the season and the title chase intensifying, the fast cars under the lights will be fascinating to watch, particularly coming less than a week after Robbie Wickens’ horrific, injury sustaining crash at Pocono.

IndyCar’s return to East St. Louis last season saw Tony “time to call it quits” Kanaan crash on the parade lap before the race had even begun. Then, on lap one, Will Power spun and crashed collecting Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato. It was yet another of those kind of starts. On his championship run, an alert Josef Newgarden bravely bump-passed his teammate Simon Pagenaud for the win with thirty laps remaining. Newkid’s victory in Illinois was his third out of the last four races, and Pags wasn’t pleased.

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Photo from indycar.com

Prior to last year, IndyCar hadn’t raced at Gateway Motorsports Park in fourteen years – a race IRR staff attended, but weren’t thrilled about. Continue reading

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

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Photo from indycar.com

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

Iowa Predictions and Prognostications: The Big Four

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Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300 could be the race to end all races – it’s often that entertaining. Hopefully it isn’t the end of IndyCar races at Iowa Speedway, but that’s only if “Bismarck” Miles doesn’t declare war on any more oval tracks. Where’s an ace leader like Eddie Rickenbacker when your series needs him?

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One fact about Iowa that’s likely to blow you away is three different winners in as many years, with the (usually) retired Helio, Newgarden and Hunter-Reay the victors. Make it four of the last five if you throw in Hinchcliffe’s devastating win in 2013. Taken together, they’re who we call The Big Four of Iowa.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has won an impressive three battles on Iowa’s plains, including back to back in 2014-15. Incredibly, his record’s less gaudy than that of his team’s smashing performance overall. Andretti Autosport’s enjoyed an unrestricted seven wins – out of only eleven races in the track’s history – sinking the competition as effectively as a u-boat wolf pack. Hinch’s win was with AA, too and even Marco managed top of the podium for his dad’s outfit, somehow. It was his last win, now seven years ago. Seems like a century, doesn’t it?

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Photo from foxsports.com

Our special prognostication for Sunday is related, though far from neutral. Continue reading

Texas Race Review: Honestly Edition

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Photo from indycar.com

Team Penske – the clear class of the field starting 1-2-3 – suffered from tire issues all evening, opening the door for Scott Dixon. The five second victory was his third at Texas Motor Speedway, the forty third of his career and put him in rarefied air in third place on the all time wins list. It couldn’t happen to a better guy, honestly.

NBCSN’s pre-race covered the gamut, from the Penske trio up front to Rossi’s 500 win as well as Power’s. Oddly, in the booth they featured three guys – two of them beefy – in powder blue t-shirts. The ever likable Dixon said he “loves driving IndyCars,” and when asked about his place on the list mentioned how cool it is that “AJ, Mario and Michael are all still at these races.” Presciently, he also mentioned “going for race wins.”‘

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Never to be out-trended, even IndyCar now has a cooking segment, for heaven’s sake. Don’t worry, we at IRR will never cook to camera. For some reason, it’s now Kelly Stavast doing pit coverage, and just when we getting used to the adorable Katie Hargitt. A Will Power feature had Robin Miller saying “ten years ago, Will Power hated oval racing.” He still does, Robin – you’ve been fooled. Daffy Leigh Diffey’s Aussie bias shone vividly through as a drone delivered the green flag and the engines were fired.

A clean start saw Newgarden leading with Ryan Hunter-Reay slicing high attempting to pass in a major theme of the evening. Cars were three wide early, as Alexander Rossi got around both TK and Dixon. Wickens moved around Power on the outside and into second by the lap 6. The first caution flew as AJ Foyt Racing’s Matheus Leist’s car became engulfed by fire in a scary moment. Leist threw steering wheel away and quickly jumped out as the flames encroached upon the cockpit.

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Photo from motorsport.com

Following a quick cleanup, the restart came on lap 15 with Newgarden, Power, Pags, Wickens and Rossi the top five.  Continue reading

Texas Preview: Thank God For Eddie Gossage

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Photo from foxsports.com

In wake of the Detroit debacle, where a pace car crash by a VP typified GM’s weekend, IndyCar heads to a real racetrack, one where the stage is grand, speeds are eye popping and the racing’s never dull. Eddie Gossage’s Texas Motor Speedway hosts one of the yearly joys of existence, and does so magnificently.

For twenty one consecutive seasons and still more races, Texas Motor Speedway has exhibited some of the most exciting side by side racing IndyCar has to offer. Its gargantuan size, dizzying speeds and close quarters racing all make for a uniquely Texas IndyCar experience – and one of the very best. The race also enjoys the best promoter in the business, one TMS President Gossage.

Photo from Getty images

Recent changes to the racing surface, including decreasing banking slightly in the first two turns and widening it by twenty feet, didn’t Continue reading

Detroit Grand Prix Predictions and Prognostications: A Lot To Like

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At the conclusion of the annual pilgrimage to Motor City, ABC’s long and strained relationship with IndyCar comes to a merciful close, as does the weak early part of the series’ schedule. We’re fans of seeing both go and look forward to a brighter, more productive portion of the season ahead. Starting with, like, our ever popular predictions!

We’ve several prognostications for this weekend, full of open wheel racing as it is and coming off what was frankly a rough 500 in this department. But come on, who did have sour grapes Power winning it? Besides his few hard-cores, we mean?

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So without further adieu, we confidently predict a widespread outbreak of spontaneous celebrations marking the conclusion of ABC’s coverage of IndyCar, arriving after this weekend’s dual Disney displeasure. There’s nothing not to like about the new network partner NBC – at least for the foreseeable future, that is.

Not only does the slipshod coverage conclude after Sunday, but also – finally! – the schedule starts to pick up. Continue reading

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

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Photo from foxsports.com.au

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