Toronto Race Review: Penske’s Pulled A Fast One

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The Penske’s pulled a fast one on the paying public Sunday.

With leader Frenchman Simon Pagenaud running low on fuel and fellow Penske pilot Josef Newgarden – the championship points leader – nursing home a damaged car in fourth after hitting the same stretch of wall for a second consecutive year, an uninteresting sleeping pill of a race looked like it might finally become eventful on the last lap. When suddenly third Penske teammate Will Power uncharacteristically – and all by himself – ran straight into a tire barrier, ending the race under caution and guaranteeing both a win for Pags and a continued grip on the points lead for Newkid. Coincidence? We think not. We believe the Penske’s pulled a fast one.

What sometimes saves the racing in Toronto – and in deed, its only redeeming quality – are multiple caution flags. Sunday’s affair had two and therefore technically qualified, but they were too few and far between to liven up the show. NBCSN’s pre-race coverage included the gobsmackingly dreadful condition of the supposed track in Toronto and, on a happier note, Robert Wickens’ return to IndyCar driving the specially configured pace car in his home country less than a year after his tragic accident at Pocono. During his pacing duties, which necessarily carried them close to the walls, his fiancee rode anxiously along screetching at one point, “Don’t be stupid!”

The green flag flew and fans were at least treated to a clean first turn as pole sitter Simon Pagenaud led Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi. But problems quickly began with hometown boy James Hinchcliffe bumping into Marco and getting by him. Continue reading

Road America Race Review: Caution Needed Edition

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In the most lop-sided IndyCar contest in a decade, Alexander Rossi won going away for Andretti Autosport in a typical Road America laugher. In the annals of racing, perhaps never was a caution, a rain storm, or a Sato desperation banzai move more needed to liven up the show.

Sunday’s pre-race coverage was lengthy, featuring Rossi, Jean Girard lookalike Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and the legendary Scott Dixon, whose dreadful luck of late was chronicled – and would continue. The start of the race saw polesitter Colton Herta lead Rossi toward turn 1, although it wouldn’t last. Rossi skillfully passed him on the outside of the corner for P1 and never looked back. Whinin’ Will Power immediately was all over the 19 year old rookie for second, a spot he’d eventually take. Herta would finish eighth.

Then Dixon spun ’round after going wide into a turn and being rudely hit from behind by Ryan Hunter-Reay (with the hyphen here to stay), dropping to last. In typical Gumpian fashion, he’d fight his way all the way back to fifth by the checkered flag. Continue reading

Texas Race Review: Brain Fade Edition

Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi on track Texas

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On a night chock full of miscues and head scratchers, the driver and team who made the least mistakes in Texas won.

Widely known for brain fades, Takuma Sato sat on pole alongside Scott Dixon as they led the field to the green flag with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Frenchmen Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud making up the top five. Josef Newgarden battled with Spencer Pigot for eighth, the two black cars menacingly swapping positions. In other nearly identical looking cars, rookie Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi began a battle that’d last nearly all night. Still another Andretti Autosporter, Zach Veach, charged forward, going high around Graham Rahal for eleventh. Son of Dracula ran decently, but a late race screw up sent his car into the wall and spinning, relegating him to a twentieth place showing.

Pitting from a comfortable lead, Taku’s brain fade fully engulfed the proceedings. He slid hot into his pit box, recklessly slamming into a crewman and sending him flying through the air. Continue reading

Detroit 2 Race Review: Rear Ended Edition

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If an IndyCar driver wasn’t involved in a rear end collision Sunday at Detroit, he probably won.

NBC’s rather amateurish broadcast was delayed this time by tennis from France, which after the Indy 500 was appropriate enough. While the weather proved much better than Saturday, the perfunctory Pagenaud platitudes didn’t. Qualifying was also missed due to a water delay – not from rain, but from a tire barrier – even though the recording was set for an extra half hour in case of such eventualities. Nevertheless we did get to hear “O’Canada” sung out loud as well as STP’s new front man do the US national anthem, which was superlative. Scott Dixon said he felt “very, very, very lucky” to be recognized by the Queen with an Order of Merit listing for his racing skills. Certainly no rear ending there.

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Josef Newgarden and Alex Rossi made up the first row, and Colton “Joaquin” Herta and Zach “Son of Dracula” Veach the second with Conor Daly driving . . . the two seater. Continue reading

Detroit 1 Race Review: Rain Delay Edition

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Following a lengthy rain delay, Rossi’s typical smugness and a whole lotta Frenchman in the pre-race, festivities finally got underway over an hour and twenty minutes late. It’s what NBC’s Daffy Leigh Diffey called “a slight delay.” For sitting through the wait, fans were treated to a single file start and a timed race. Really?! Either the track’s good to go racing or it isn’t. We’ve long been on record arguing the latter.

Zach “son of Dracula” Veach spun during the parade laps, soon followed by Canuck James Hinchcliffe, both suffering no apparent damage and thankfully only added a lap’s delay. Now with merely seventy two minutes left, Santino Ferrucci narrowly avoided AJ Foyt’s Matt Leist who spun out on a wet patch of concrete. Then Whinin’ Will Power pinched one of the way too many blue cars as they went three wide through the turn. The yellow flag flew by lap 2, with Takuma Sato getting into Pato O’Ward on a track clearly too wet to start a race.

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The caution dragged on and the track continued to dry when, with just over an hour of racing left, Power Continue reading

Indy 500 Race Review: The Pagenaud Show

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Simon Pagenaud became the first Frenchman in ninety nine years to win the Indy 500 on Sunday, retaking the lead from Andretti Autosport’s former 500 winner Alex Rossi with two laps to go. In his 50 years at IMS, Roger Penske now owns eighteen 500 victories, winning 36% of all he’s entered.

Mike Tirico actually mentioned the word patriotism during the pre-race show, which was nice to hear on Memorial Day weekend, though frankly we could have done without Dale, Jr.’s dim-witted drawling. Same goes for Danica – and Lance Armstrong, for goodness’ sake. At times during the broadcast it seemed almost like the NASCAR Indy 500.

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The crowd was decent making for fairly full stands, but with noticable tarpaulins and swaths of empty seats the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 was definitely not a sellout. Happily the weather held and the over two hundred thousand fans in attendance enjoyed an action packed race.

Rookie phenom and race winner Colton “Joaquin” Herta was first out of the contest, Continue reading

Indy 500 Preview: Hasta La Vista, Alonso!

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A soggy, disjointed weekend of qualifying for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing sent one of F1’s biggest stars packing after he failed to produce the speed needed to make the show.

Fernando Alonso and his McLaren team suffered devastating disappointment, unable to qualify for the world’s greatest race after lots of hype and hoopla. This shocking development came despite his team receiving last minute help from both Andretti Autosport and Team Penske, heavyweights of the sport. To Alonso’s undying credit though he handled the blow well, even refusing an offer from McLaren to buy him a ride for the 500. Every crisis presents opportunities however, and young American drivers Kyle Kaiser and Sage Karam seized them in Sunday’s final session, setting the last row and sealing Alonso’s fickle fate.

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Simon Pagenaud put Penske’s Chevy powered day glow Menard’s car on pole by the slightest of margins, but he didn’t detract from Ed Carpenter Racing’s efforts in taking three of the top four starting positions for Sunday’s race. Continue reading

IndyCar Grand Prix Race Review: Empty Seats Edition

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Empty suited Frenchman Simon Pagenaud passed Scott Dixon with two laps to go to win the rain soaked IndyCar Grand Prix, coming from eighth starting position to take his third victory – and Team Penske’s sixth – out of six so-called races ’round the infield of IMS. It was a race held before a nearly empty – though admittedly cavernous – racetrack. Dixon’s discernible disappointment at finishing second after leading much of the race was plainly palpable.

The crowd of hangers-on flooding pit road during the pre-race was nearly as large as those poor, drenched paying customers in the sparsely populated stands. Chairman George gave the command to fire engines and the cars were quickly underway. The green flag gave way to the usual first lap problems with Alex Rossi getting rudely run into by Pato O’Ward, sending the 500 winner into the wall, his right rear suspension grievously wounded, ruining his day. The Coyne-ster was penalized for avoidable contact, though came back for a strong – if unjust – showing until the end. Rossi’s teammate Zach Veach got hit by Tony “time to call it quits” Kanaan, knocking the youthful, son of Dracula looking American out of the way and into the curb. The aged TK of course faced no such sanction.

Meanhile up front, Jack Harvey went to second around Dixon as rookie Felix Rosenqvist quickly lept out to a comfortable, albeit short-lived, lead. Continue reading

IndyCar Grand Prix Preview: What’s New Edition

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After an astonishingly absurd month long layoff – talk about a buzz kill – IndyCar finally stirs back to life at the world’s most awe inspiring racetrack. Too bad it’s not on the actual racing surface, or at least not much of it, but instead on the flat, pusillanimously pedestrian infield access roads. With each passing year, our contempt for this supposed “race” – exactly like our feelings for Mark Miles – continues to sink to new depths.

In the wake of such an interminable hiatus, it seems almost like a new season – and in some respects it is. For oval track racing enthusiasts such as ourselves – who’ve only waited nine months since the last oval race – the promise of a fresh oval season, however abbreviated, isn’t far off now with the glorious 500 up next. Still, when only a third of the series’ races – in a sport built on and by oval track racing, mind you – are on ovals, it’s cold comfort. This Tony George spawn of a slot filler typifies what an unprecedentedly lousy schedule the egg heads at 16th and Georgetown have been providing the last several years – and, in a relatively new twist, how they’re all about the money, not the racing.

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The “advanced frontal protection” pieces debuting on the cars are also something new starting with the race ’round IMS’ infield. That’s a fancy, techo-babble term for Continue reading

Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Preview: Weather Or Not

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This weekend the sexy fast cars vector toward a land known for its knock-out weather – and women – if nothing else.

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Following a tsunami-like stunning result at the conclusion of an uneventfully dry race down south, IndyCar heads out west for its annual visit to the concrete canyon course just upwind of la-la land. It’s one date on the racing calendar that consistently yields greater atmosphere than actual agreeable racing; though what do you expect from a race on a temporary street circuit? Much less one in a state where mud slides, wildfires, earthquakes and wicked winds named for a bandito are the norm.

Speaking of which, did anybody else catch Ryan Hunter-Reay’s appearance on TWC with Steph Abrams last week? It was one occasion – at least for us – when racing definitely took a back seat to the scenery. Talk about high temps! [Although, believe it or not, our girlfriend’s waaaay hotter.]

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The last four winners at the Beach – representing four different teams – are Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon. They were the first ever wins at the smoggy, supposed track for each driver and part of multi-win seasons for all of them except Continue reading