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

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Toronto Preview: Canadian Goose Chase

Canadian Goose Chase IRR

It almost certainly won’t be a Canuck goosing the gas toward victory lane come Sunday, so who might it be? Let’s take a gander.

Of five street course races so far this year – as opposed to equally unwatchable, though slightly different natural terrain road courses – Josef Newgarden’s won two while Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud have a win apiece. The cobbled together, part concrete, part asphalt and all bad track in Toronto most closely resembles dilapidated Detroit, which would seem to favor both Dixie and Newkid. Occasionally some exciting racing breaks out north of the border though, or what passes for it on a street course, which also sometimes happens in St. Pete where Josef won to kick off the fledgling season.

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Photo from toronotograndprixtourist.com

Like Belle Isle, the race track itself is too narrow, winding and rough for much side by side racing, let alone passing. We unaffectionately refer to it as the Canuck concrete car crusher. 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

Photo from indycar.com

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

Detroit GP Preview: French Fried Edition

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With one Frenchman winning the 500 and another notorious for chewing up and spitting out the competition on the streets of Belle Isle, prepare yourselves for what may well feel like a weekend long foodie’s junket to France. Only with better options on television and the web.

Detroit was originally a French town. Judging by the area’s blight, it’s also a prime candidate to give back to them. Or Quebec. The track itself has been improved in recent years, but Belle Isle’s still a definite dump. Adding insult to injury for fans, an outstanding large oval track lies just to the southwest of Detroit called Michigan International Speedway. Tragically, it’s going unused again this season – at least by IndyCar.

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Fear not, for it’s not all overpriced wine, hairy pits and stinky cheese. 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

Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Race Review: Ridin’ Bitch Edition

Alexander Rossi on track Long Beacj

Photo from indycar.com

Alexander Rossi forced the rest of the field to ride bitch Sunday at Long Beach, winning his second consecutive grand prix by over ten seconds from pole. It was one of those sleep inducing street course races that we’re constantly railing against, one that would’ve been totally forgettable but for a bit of late race controversy over the low step on the podium between Scott “Forrest” Dixon and Ragin’ Graham Rahal. But in the end, even that was less than dramatic.

Rossi featured mightily on the pre-race show but hell, if you’d have read our predictions you could have saved yourself some time and already known all that. Sorry to Alex – and almost everyone else – but the GP is NOT a close second to the Indy 500. It’s only about a third as old, much less prestigious and it’s a frickin’ street course, to boot. A couple of positives from the pre-race pageantry were F-18s doing a flyover and the hottie Mickey Guyton singing the national anthem. Candidly, we were surprised the kooky Californios let her sing it at all. Additionally, there was a second consecutive audio connection with the two seater passenger – some gal from The Bachelor who, not surprisingly, could hardly contain her enthusiasm.

At Long Beach there are a whopping two passing zones, according to Townsend Bell and – whoopie! – it showed. The start saw Dixon immediately dart behind Rossi, with the only change being Ryan Hunter-Reay (with the hyphen here to stay) bumping and then getting around Frenchman Simon Pagenaud for fifth. 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