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

101st Indy 500 Practice Three: Scaredy Penske Edition

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Windy conditions kept the Cap’n’s crew – quickest the previous practice, at least in the tow – largely off of Indy’s oval Wednesday. Only Newkid made an appearance, for eleven whole laps. Luckily other teams weren’t deterred by some mere gusts – not entirely.

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Early on Ed Carpenter Racing held the top two spots no matter the tow, with Ed and J.R. 1-2 in their respective Chevys, tops in both categories. Recall that Ed led the way with the highest non-tow speed Tuesday, with J.R. not far behind. By the end of the session, the series’ only owner/driver again owned the quickest lap at over 222.8 mph.

Dixon was second quick for Ganassi, his Honda doing nearly 222.6 mph, while J.R. was third. Fernando Alonso  turned in the fourth best speed – more on him later – and our man Conor Daly completed the top five, Tweeting he was “really happy with the changes overnight.” Way to go, Conor!

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A few questions occurred to us after three days of practice for the greatest spectacle in racing. Continue reading

101st Indy 500 Practice Two: A Slow Day at IMS

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Team Penske’s Will Power made a showing with the top speed of 224.6 mph in Tuesday’s Indy 500 practice, while Ed Carpenter and his eponymous team were in the dough with the fastest non tow speed of 222.8 mph.

Speeds were down even from Monday, as high temps and winds made conditions less than ideal on the famed two and half mile oval. With the weather expected to worsen this week every minute of practice becomes more and more crucial, particularly for the rookies.

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Helio, Gabby “Pat” Chaves (!), RHR and Sage Karam rounded out the top five tow speeds, while Charlie “pinball” Kimball, ECR’s J.R. Hildebrand, “Sour Grapes” Power and Dixon completed the top five on the no tow speed chart. Chevy took both categories Tuesday, while Honda did on Monday.

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Happily there were no incidents involving the wall, Continue reading

Phoenix Race Review: Single Handed

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J.R. Hildebrand gave fans someone to root for other than those paradoxical Penskes in a flawed though mildly entertaining show in the desert.

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Simon Pagenaud and the Penskes prevailed going away as the first oval and night race of the year looked like 2016 in microcosm. Thankfully there were other stories, or rather a single other story, on NBCSN. If we heard about it once, we heard it a thousand times. Hildebrand‘s comeback race from a broken hand at Long Beach – requiring “a plate and eight screws” as Paul Tracy read from a card – saw him finish an impressive third. It was Ed Carpenter Racing‘s best result in some time and a remarkable feat by the team’s shorthanded newcomer.

We couldn’t help but think of the sound of one hand clapping during the race, as the crowd looked sparse on television and the Saturday night time slot is challenging for ratings to begin with. After seeing the start though, maybe that’s not all bad.

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The race began embarrassingly with a first lap caution as Mikhail Aleshin lost it and spun in turn two collecting Marco, Rahal, Chilton and Bourdais – Hondas all. Continue reading

Phoenix Predictions and Prognostications: Sponsors Needed

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Several high profile drivers and teams remain without solid sponsorship for the season’s first oval race – a big deal around here – including the previous winner. As true IndyCar racing arrives with Saturday night’s fiesta of fast in Phoenix, it’s the lack of big, big money that rightfully has some fans concerned.

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Empty sidepods are less than desirable, especially when they adorn a super team that sometimes tends not to finish races and another that barely cracks the top ten (except for Dixon). Scott enjoyed the thirty ninth win of his storied career last year in the desert, yet three races in still hasn’t found a permanent replacement for the dearly departed Target. How 100th Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi’s car remains a blank slate is equally incomprehensible. In the spirit of ovular optimism, our special prediction is that this dearth of signage on quality competitors won’t last long.

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Speaking of money, Helio Castro-Neves Continue reading

St. Pete IndyCar Race Review: A Real Stinker

The Firestone Grand Prix at times smelled like a tire fire.

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Frenchmen swept the top two spots at St. Pete Sunday, as Sebastien Bourdais bested defending champ Simon Pagenaud in a result no one foresaw, much less foresmelled. Charging all the way from last place, it was Bourdais’ thirty sixth major open wheel victory of his storied career, and it smelled of feet. By all accounts, SeBass was able to avoid embarrassing himself by not dropping the trophy again from atop the podium. It was his first win since Detroit 1 last June and added to other recent renaissance wins including Milwaukee.

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While the racing on the newly repaved circuit had its moments, particularly during the start and restart, on the whole it still stunk like week old French cheese. St. Pete’s a ramshackle temporary street course, on top of which Mark “Stink” Schlereth acted as Grand Marshall, so what’d you expect?

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Bestwicke, Goodyear and Cheever provided their usual Mickey Mouse coverage, Continue reading

Prix View Open Test Review: Reverting To Form

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Prodigal pilot J.R. Hildebrand – who’d been out of a full time ride for years – shot to the top of the speed charts Saturday during IndyCar’s open test at Phoenix International Raceway. Reaching speeds of over 193 miles per hour on the 1.02 mile oval in the afternoon session, J.R.’s nineteen second lap held up as the quickest of the weekend. Hildebrand then reverted to form and crashed during the evening session after contacting Mad Will Power.

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Hildebrand’s ECR teammate and owner Ed Carpenter posted the second highest speed of the test at over 192 mph as Chevy swept the top five speeds overall. He was followed by the Penske trio of Josef Newgarden, Helio and Power. Recently featured Russian driver Mikhail Aleshin impressed as top Honda in sixth place with a lap of just over 191 mph. Clearly he wasn’t horsing around and no fake news was reported or influenced the results.

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While Chevy again dominated the speed charts, Continue reading

Mid-Ohio Preview: Middling At Best

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It’s time again for IndyCar’s annual trek to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the second rate road circuit known for middling racing, surface street speeds and paint-drying-level excitement. Consistently, we say meh to Mid-Ohio.

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Testing at the mediocre track last week yielded one positive development, at least. Actual open wheel IndyCars – or the closest we’ve come in five years – made a limited return. J.R. “wall banger” Hildebrand and the aged Tony “Curly” Kanaan tested their cars sans ass-pods, those unsightly rear bumpers introduced after Dan Wheldon’s tragic death at Las Vegas in 2011. Let’s hope the incompetents running the show at 16th and Georgetown show some common sense for once and get rid of ’em  – permanently.

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There isn’t much else to say about the racing at Mid-Ohio that we haven’t said previously. The track’s inferior, the racing’s sub-par and IndyCar’s artistry on wheels is utterly wasted there. Continue reading

Iowa Corn 300 Preview: AA’s Stompin’ Grounds

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Host of one of IndyCar’s most riveting races, Iowa Speedway has seen Andretti Autosport stomp the competition. Nevertheless, a return of the fast cars to an exhilarating short oval is a welcome event. It makes us want to jump with joy.

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Anticipate three wide oval-tastic fun on the 7/8s mile circuit with speeds exceeding a hundred and eighty miles per hour and plenty of passing. By comparison, NASCAR‘s junior league pole speed this year was in the hundred thirty range. Yawn. Speaking of NASCAR, the SAFER barrier’s certain to get a workout this weekend with Dallara Automobili making back some serious dough. Stomped upon stockholders demand it after an almost perfectly clean (and really boring) race at Road America.

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A quick, banked bull ring, Iowa Speedway’s one of the best tracks the series visits. The racing is routinely superior, Continue reading