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

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

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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Photo from indycar.com

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

Everything’s Different! Or: That New Car Smell

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IndyCar finds itself in the midst of change not seen in a decade – welcome change, at that.

The 2018 season excitingly ushers in new cars, a multitude of rookie drivers and even several fledgling teams. There’s a first time reigning champ and let’s not forget new sponsors, either. Lots of ’em – on Graham Rahal’s car alone. Heck, there’s even sort of a new track on the schedule. That is, if you possess little memory and consider Portland a track in the first place.

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Photo from indycar.com

Easily the most striking of all the upgrades is the car itself, a real beauty to behold – especially compared to what fans have been subjected to the last three seasons. Continue reading