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

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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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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

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

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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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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 Predictions and Prognostications: Glen Scotty Glen Boss

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Expect real estate – and points – to change hands fast this Sunday at the Glen.

Our special prediction for the race is so much fuel saving and strategizing that you’ll think methanol allotments are the good leads from “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Frankly, we’ve never understood why that film’s so highly regarded by some – and feel precisely the same way about Watkins Glen.

Like the movie, last year’s last minute return to upstate New York was a snoozer – and not just because of the steady stream of paid Verizon plugs uttered by drivers, either. Scott Dixon ran away with it – enjoying a 16 second margin of victory – at a road course so similar to Mid-Ohio it’s beyond redundant. Did we mention it’s very much like the worst course on the schedule yet?

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“Third prize is, you’re fired.”

Speaking of leads, pole sitter Will Power sure blew one last Saturday night, didn’t he? Oh well, at least he didn’t crash on the parade lap. Instead of picking Power again for his seventh pole of the campaign however, we’re going with Dixon. He won from pole last year over Josef Newgarden – sound familiar? – and excels on unwatchable permanent road courses like few others. It’ll only be Dixie’s second P1 award of the season, which with only a single win has been as disappointing as Alan Arkin’s paltry performance.

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“The leads are weak.”

First out of the race will be Continue reading

IndyCar Bommarito 500 Race Review: Hood Vibrations

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Josef Newgarden won his fourth race of the year Saturday night, making it three of the last four for the blonde American who somehow reminds us of a beach boy. He bested Scott Dixon by seven tenths of a second and was joined by peeved teammate Simon Pagenaud on the podium. Newkid’s late race pass around Pags for the lead was classic.

The race began comically, with the increasingly dangerous Tony Kanaan spinning and crashing on the final parade lap. It was a weird vibe to start a race. After some repairs, he eventually finished many laps down in sixteenth, then refused to do an interview. That’s some fan favorite, huh?

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After the Kanaan debacle was cleaned up, the field had just taken the green flag when pole sitter Will Power spun and crashed into the turn 2 wall. Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato were caught up in the melee, with Ed spectacularly going up and over Power’s car, their races ruined.

Sato posted that he was “hit from behind” in a subsequent Tweet. Ed mentioned the slick track and Lights rubber being a factor, and looked forward to next season. “This year just did not go well,” the owner/driver admitted. His employee J.R. Hildebrand later joined him in the pits after crashing out due to an apparent suspension failure. Power said “it was super slippery,” and that his teammate “Josef took my air” when passing. It’s “unfortunate,” the first to retire summed up, hinting at early dissension in the Penske ranks.

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Following the second brain fade in as many laps, Newgarden took command and pulled away from the field until the second round of pit stops. Continue reading

IndyCar ABC Supply 500 Race Review: ‘Clit Stop’ Edition

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IndyCar at Pocono pleasantly lived up to its exquisite oval racing reputation, as one of the most exciting races of the year unfolded Sunday afternoon. Will Power won his second 500 miler in a row at the thrilling triangle, impressively overcoming a lap deficit after his Penske crew were forced to change out a damaged nose. He bested his teammate Josef Newgarden by half a second, while Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi overcame adversity of his own to score a podium finish.

The race featured non-stop jaw dropping action with cars going six and seven wide right from the start. An incredible forty two lead changes took place among ten different drivers, including former winner Scott Dixon who led a quarter of the race. Indy 500 winner Rossi led forty four laps, but encountered a fuel knob issue in the closing stages. Power took the lead when Marco pitted on lap 191 and never relinquished it, swerving low and high to keep the white hot Newkid at bay.

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There were only three cautions all day, the first of which was brought out after Coyne rookie Esteban Gutierrez brushed the wall ending his day. Continue reading

Iowa IndyCar Race Review: ‘Like The First Time’ Edition

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For one driver, rumors of his series demise proved as motivational as his pre-race quote was prescient.

Forty two year old Helio Castro-Neves won his thirtieth IndyCar race Sunday at Iowa Speedway after being asked by Robin Miller if his remarkable twenty year career were coming to a close. “We just gotta make sure we not only win this race, but win the championship,” Helio answered with characteristic panache. It proved predictive, at least partially.

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J.R. Hildebrand matched his best career finish in second, recovering strongly from a Saturday practice crash for Ed Carpenter. Three time Iowa winner Ryan Hunter-Reay advanced a dozen spots to steal a podium for formerly dominant Andretti Autosport. Pole sitter Will Power and Graham Rahal, who disparaged other drivers’ “courtesy” as being “awful” afterward, rounded out the top five.

The Team Penske fixture led over two thirds of the race for his first triumph in fifty four races, or over three years of futility. Continue reading

101st Indy 500 Predictions and Prognostications: An American Tradition

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The Indianapolis 500 is an American tradition like no other. Now into its second century, the 500 remains one of America’s great contributions to the world, as millions of Spaniards are about to discover thanks to Fernando Alonso.

Our special prediction for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing concerns the show itself, the racing. Expect highly exhilarating, edge of your seat, 230 mph ecstasy on the ancient oval Sunday – the way all racing should be. Of course that’s assuming the weather cooperates. Pay particular attention to the truly unique start, with eleven glittering, growling rows of three cars. It’s among the very best moments in all of sport.

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First lap leader will come from the outside of row 1 and he’s led before, even recently. It’s 100th Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi. The American prevailed on strategy and fumes last year, was impressive in qualifications last weekend and is still young and inexperienced enough to go for it early. Prepare for a vocal crowd reaction when he shoots into the lead.

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The mid-race leader prediction sees the introduction of a villain into the story, a real heavy Continue reading