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 Preview: Wanted – For Wantonly Wasting Ovals

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If justice remains an issue of any importance, then the focus of the sporting world this week should be squarely upon IndyCar’s brass in Iowa. Specifically, how they handle oval tracks starting Sunday and going forward. If Phoenix – and a years’ long slide away from ovals and towards curvy courses – are any indications, then we truly tremble for the future of our beloved egg shaped circuits.

Racing’s routinely riveting at this rural redoubt, like all ovals the series doesn’t ruin with regrettable rules and regulations, then promptly abandon. At Iowa, three wide, edge of your seat action with near constant passing’s the norm. It used to be even better as a night race which it was until 2016, both for the racing and the fans. The move to a daytime race represents yet another major Mark Miles era schedule regression. Unfortunately, so too does Road America, where even more unfortunately that so called race was recently extended into the foreseeable future.

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Photo from foxsports.com

It’s imperative that Miles and other IndyCar scheduling geniuses do the same with Iowa, whose contract is also up, Continue reading

Wannabes and Wankers – IndyCar’s Sh!t List, Or: A Quarter Post Rundown

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A quarter of the way through the 2018 IndyCar season’s a terrific time to stop and assess who’s been exceeding expectations – by pointing out who hasn’t been. Besides, what else are you gonna do with yet another off putting three week gap in this joke of a schedule? Discover who’s about to get thrown under the Holmatro safety truck and – more importantly – who deserves to be.

Max “Paris” Chilton leads this ignominious group, part of the unimpressive new British outfit called Carlin Racing. Unable to make the cut with Ganassi during a couple of woeful seasons despite bringing money to the table, he’s doing no better this year. Chilton sits twentieth in points, last among drivers who’ve taken all four green flags.

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Occupying nineteenth in the championship is Charlie “pinball” Kimball, who clearly isn’t “Tresiba rea-dy!” after all. Also with Carlin – whose team oddly enjoys a sterling reputation across the pond – Charlie was supposed to provide veteran IndyCar leadership the group so badly needs. He hasn’t, and blaming competitors for one’s problems isn’t a sign of growth.   Continue reading

More Oval Tracks, Please!

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IRR renews its call for more rich, riveting oval track sweetness, as road races truly are the skim milk of IndyCar.

Why must the home of the world’s most famous sip of milk be in a distinct minority of race tracks? Considering two thirds of IndyCar’s races now take place on road courses – several of which are utterly unwatchable, like Mid-Ohio – the old Ovaltine ads suddenly leapt to mind, inspiring our call for ‘More oval tracks, please!’

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Longtime readers are no doubt accustomed to our overt oval track preferences. It’s significant to note however that recent seasons more than bear this out. Take last year, for example. Indy, Pocono, Texas and even East St. Louis (of all places) were easily the most entertaining races of the season.

By contrast, St. PeteToronto and Watkins Glen were terrible. Happily the latter’s no longer with us – one down, two to go. It’s really no surprise as high speed, circuitous venues routinely outshine their plodding, winding yet more numerous counterparts. That is unless your idea of compelling competition is Sonoma last September – talk about sour!

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As poltroonish politicians are always saying, ‘Think of the children!’ An entire generation of young race fans now exists to whom exquisite oval races are all but alien. Two hundred mile per hour plus thrills have become waaaay too few and far between, even if you get NBC Sports. Continue reading

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

IndyCar Sonoma Season Finale Predictions and Prognostications: Adios, Aero Kits!

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IRR sets forth its final predictions of the 2017 season – including a surprise champion – while bidding adieu to a crime against racing aesthetics.

Our special prediction for the GoPro Grand Prix is while Sonoma may not feature much passing on its twisted, narrow confines, at least it’s the last time we’ll ever have to watch those hideously fugly, dangerous aero kits in action. Their departure alone will make this nearly unwatchable finale held in a dustbowl almost palatable, raising our spirits markedly in the process. That, and the wine.

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Photo from racesonoma.com

Incidentally, since the cars become obsolete Sunday night – it’s about time – we’d love to see a non-points demolition derby held immediately following the podium celebrations. Charlie “pinball” Kimball, J.R. “hair today, gone next year” Hildebrand and Taku Sato would battle for an Andretti Winery gift certificate and Conor Daly’s domestic duties for a day. Which leads us to . . .

Saturday’s fight for pole position will take on special significance at the infamously tedious track, with the championship contenders – Team Penske and Ganassi’s Scott Dixon – vying for the extra point and tremendous advantage starting up front at Sonoma brings. Four of the last five Grands Prix have been won by drivers starting in the top 3, including fickle Frenchman Simon Pagenaud from pole last year and Dixon’s win in 2014 (his win in 2015 came from 9th).

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Saying goodbye to all that, Continue reading

IndyCar Sonoma Season Finale Preview: Bouquet Edition

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Not prone to flowery descriptions, a sometimes acidic tongued IRR stopped in Sonoma wine country to smell the season finale roses – or rosé, as it were. Instead we found a big, fat turd bouquet. Northern California wines may be fine, but unfortunately for fans of fast the racing there’s regularly near the bottom of IndyCar’s barrel.

“In vino, veritas” as the Romans said, but even from a clear-eyed, sober view of things the racing at Sonoma honestly stinks. Like other regrettable road courses on the schedule – Watkins Glen, Barber, Mid-Ohio – the twisted track’s an affront to the olfactory senses. Bouquet, indeed!

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Sonoma’s simply not suited to IndyCars and fails to provide anything approaching intoxicating action. In fact, the lack of passing, speeds and thrills is all rather dry and pedestrian. The series’ choice of venue for the season finale tends to leave an unpleasant, vinegary aftertaste.

Like the local produce, reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud comes across as fruity, often with a hint of bitterness. This was especially the case following his spicy encounter with Penske teammate Josef Newgarden at Gateway. Let it suffice to say Pags was less than vintage during the podium celebration.

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Photo from indycar.com

But the earthy Frenchman suddenly vaulted back into the title hunt after Newkid’s disastrous stumble at Watkins Glen, Continue reading

IndyCar Watkins Glen Race Review: ‘A Really Timely Caution’ or: T-Bell’s Faux Pas Edition

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Photo from indycar.com

Alexander Rossi owes a highly dubious second career win to his teammate and fellow Indy 500 winner Takuma “timing is everything” Sato, who committed the racing equivalent of hari kari at the Glen – twice. In NBCSN’s booth, apparently Townsend Bell was under the influence of enough meds to nearly forget his name, which makes us wonder about his urine test for the next race.

For Daffy Leigh Diffey‘s triumphant return to IndyCar there was the ridiculous wet start that wasn’t. That is to say, it wasn’t wet and it wasn’t much of a start. Thank goodness Tony Kanaan made it through the parade laps this time, though he would eventually find pit lane too difficult to navigate, hitting the wall at pit lane exit – right after the championship leader did the exact same thing.

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Photo from indycar.com

The start saw Josef Newgarden surging, Scott Dixon dropping and Helio going way wide with no track restrictions in place. After the first lap pit stops for slicks a reshuffle had Helio around Rossi for the lead and Ryan Hunter-Reay up to fourth. Spencer Pigot spun completely around on lap 4 but managed to keep it going and even lead some laps before finishing 12th.

On lap 5 Dixon got around RHR prior to the first of three cautions, as Hinchcliff’s gear box issue and a puff of smoke from his Honda ended his day. The race returned to green on lap nine and as usual Helio jumped the restart ahead of Rossi, Newgarden and Dixie. Dixon soon passed Newkid again and appeared to be on the way to another win at the Glen. However, it wasn’t to be and Helio opened up a sizable lead.

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Then the Townsend Bell blooper reel portion of the broadcast began. 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 Predictions and Prognostications: Nostalgic Edition

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Photo from indycar.com

What’s old is new again this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park as times gone by suddenly take on renewed relevance.

It’s been so long since IndyCar raced at Gateway more announcers have won there than drivers. The truly colorful Paul Tracy won the inaugural race in 1997 and talkative Townsend Bell took the checkers in the Indy Lights race in 2000. It’s just too bad Brian Till didn’t race – for more reasons than one. Helio Castro-Neves, who won the last race held there in 2003, is the only current driver to have done so. He did it in a Toyota.

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Photo from indycar.com

Juan Montoya won the race in 2000, but he’s only a test pilot at present. It’s interesting to note several current drivers were in diapers for PT’s win. Only two others apart from Helio have ever raced there: Scott Dixon and Tony “past expiration date” Kanaan. Interestingly, Dixie struggled in his only start there finishing 15th, while TK managed a second place showing in four starts.

Our special prediction is there’ll be lots of Sebastien Bourdais coverage as the Frenchman returns to the car for the first time since his injurious accident at Indy. His rapid recovery and return to racing is remarkable, but Continue reading