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

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Toronto Race Review: ‘Get A Fu@&in’ Move On!’ Edition

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Living IndyCar legend Scott Dixon did indeed get a fu@&in’ move on as he so forcefully said Sunday in Toronto, cruising to his forty fourth career victory. It was his third of the season, padding his now comfortable championship lead, particularly with the regrettable Mid-Ohio in the offing and pole sitter Josef Newgarden’s brain fade, slamming the wall from the lead mid-race.

NBCSN’s pre-race included multiple mentions of the Alexander Rossi – Robert Wickens rivalry by Daffy Leigh Diffey, which didn’t play a role at all in the race. More telling was an interview with the eventual victor, who once again took the blame for his qualifying mistake on Saturday, the classy guy that he is, accepting responsibility for starting second rather than pole. Then came the obligatory interview by the ever expanding universe that is Paul Tracy with James Hinchcliffe and Wickens. There was plenty of talk about Canada and in Canadian, as best we could gather.

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Ryan Hunter-Reay jumped forward three spots during a wild, four wide start, although he’d ultimately have a difficult day. Newgarden led Dixon, RHR and Will “sour grapes” Power once things inevitably settled down with Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato soon getting around his fellow 500 winner Rossi into fifth. During that entertaining first lap the two Canuck teammates Hinch and the rookie made contact – as did others – with actual passing briefly appearing in the cobbled together concrete canyon.  Continue reading

Road America Race Review: Absolutely No Action Edition

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Photo from indycar.com

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden won from pole for the first time at Elkhart Lake on Sunday, scoring his tenth career triumph in a paltry parade round a track unworthy of hosting a major league race. So what does IndyCar do, hot on the heels of being dropped from Phoenix, one of a few, dwindling oval tracks left? They reward Road America with a three year extension. Great. Meanwhile, in the utter dumbing down of the sport, ovals are being systematically eliminated from the schedule.

Newkid led 53 of the almost agonizingly boring 55 laps, with what little engaging entertainment there was emerging deep in the field or, in reality, when the tipsy though not unattractive blonde crashed Josef’s champagne spraying party in victory lane. His patting her ass is epic, especially in this age of outrage assassins. Otherwise, the highest drama occurred when race control was reviewing several on track fracases, usually involving Rossi and in every single case – except those involving the pits – offering no action whatsoever. Just exactly like the racing.

The Penske front row didn’t last long as Power dropped like a stone once the green flag flew, shouting “engine!” into his mic. Turned out to be a header issue and  Continue reading

Texas Race Review: Honestly Edition

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Team Penske – the clear class of the field starting 1-2-3 – suffered from tire issues all evening, opening the door for Scott Dixon. The five second victory was his third at Texas Motor Speedway, the forty third of his career and put him in rarefied air in third place on the all time wins list. It couldn’t happen to a better guy, honestly.

NBCSN’s pre-race covered the gamut, from the Penske trio up front to Rossi’s 500 win as well as Power’s. Oddly, in the booth they featured three guys – two of them beefy – in powder blue t-shirts. The ever likable Dixon said he “loves driving IndyCars,” and when asked about his place on the list mentioned how cool it is that “AJ, Mario and Michael are all still at these races.” Presciently, he also mentioned “going for race wins.”‘

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Never to be out-trended, even IndyCar now has a cooking segment, for heaven’s sake. Don’t worry, we at IRR will never cook to camera. For some reason, it’s now Kelly Stavast doing pit coverage, and just when we getting used to the adorable Katie Hargitt. A Will Power feature had Robin Miller saying “ten years ago, Will Power hated oval racing.” He still does, Robin – you’ve been fooled. Daffy Leigh Diffey’s Aussie bias shone vividly through as a drone delivered the green flag and the engines were fired.

A clean start saw Newgarden leading with Ryan Hunter-Reay slicing high attempting to pass in a major theme of the evening. Cars were three wide early, as Alexander Rossi got around both TK and Dixon. Wickens moved around Power on the outside and into second by the lap 6. The first caution flew as AJ Foyt Racing’s Matheus Leist’s car became engulfed by fire in a scary moment. Leist threw steering wheel away and quickly jumped out as the flames encroached upon the cockpit.

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Photo from motorsport.com

Following a quick cleanup, the restart came on lap 15 with Newgarden, Power, Pags, Wickens and Rossi the top five.  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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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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Image from youtube.com

Then the Townsend Bell blooper reel portion of the broadcast began. Continue reading

Texas IndyCar Preview: World Edition

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Texas Motor Speedway’s 20th anniversary promises to be memorable when IndyCar arrives at the fast, recently reconfigured mile and a half oval this weekend. Expect the racing to be worlds apart from what we saw in Detroit.

The series has held twenty eight races and counting since TMS opened, with almost all of them being extremely entertaining wheel to wheel wonderment. The repave and reconfiguration of the banking in turns 1 and 2 lessened it from 24 to 20 degrees and widened the track from 60 to 80 feet. Four time Texas winner Helio called it “completely new” and Pags called it “a different layout” after testing there in April. Honda teams were limited in their testing, with several not participating due to mileage concerns. We certainly hope all these changes didn’t screw up the track or the racing. That’d be earth shattering.

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Ragin’ Graham Rahal won a riveting race – weather disruptions aside – in the closest IndyCar finish at the track last year. That’s saying something.  Continue reading

Barber Race Review: PSI Edition

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Young gun Josef Newgarden turned what could have been another hum drum, Penske win from pole into a fairly memorable, exciting race – for a motorbike track.

It was Will “Sour Grapes” Power’s race to lose and he did, handing the newest teammate his first win for the Cap’n and failing to crack the top twelve for the fifth consecutive race. A cut Firestone was the culprit, or rather the hero of the day. Power slowed inexorably, giving PSI an entirely new meaning.

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Photo from indycar.com

Ryan Hunter-Reay (with the hyphen here to stay) and Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe tangled at the start, leading to a third lap caution as RHR’s damaged front wing littered the track. Dale Coyne’s rookie phenom Ed Jones suffered damage due to the debris ruining his day, as well.

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Photo from indycar.com

During the initial melee the aged Tony Kanaan gambled and lost, though his Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon advanced to third and remained firmly in contention all day. Continue reading

Scott Dixon’s Helmet, Or: A Tale of Two Pities

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An embarrassing equipment failure at Sonoma typified Scott Dixon‘s season with Chip Ganassi Racing.

IndyCar’s defending champion suffered mightily on Sunday, floundering at a track he’d won on multiple times. Already losing his primary sponsor immediately after the race, Dixon limped home to a seventeenth place finish. Equipment issues and slow pit service stemming from a faulty wire doomed his chances at the largely passing-free Sonoma Raceway. It was truly a pity.

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Photo from racedepartment.com

With a malfunctioning radio and no communication with his team, Dixon was forced to swap helmets on his second pit stop. Continue reading

Sonoma Finale Race Review: Egregious Ending Edition

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

Frenchman Simon Pagenaud won the whole kit ‘n caboodle at Sonoma’s so-called Raceway Sunday, leading all but nine laps in another regrettable road course runaway. Clinching a fourteenth IndyCar championship for the Cap’n in his 50th year in racing, it was Pags’ first IndyCar title in a decade in the sport. Yes and predictably, the season finale was truly that bad.

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

There were some redeeming moments. Second fiddle stable mate Will Power couldn’t even keep the title hunt mildly interesting beyond lap thirty eight, suffering a clutch failure and falling out of contention. “Power down,” we gleefully Tweeted. The awful Aussie finished twentieth, eight laps off the pace. Always entertaining Graham Rahal ran a strong second for Honda, followed by the mercurial Juan Montoya in a Penske kind of day. Interestingly, it sounds as though Montoya won’t be back with the super team in 2017.

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We plan to address the former Team Target‘s trials and tribulations in the forthcoming article “Scott Dixon‘s helmet,” Continue reading