Penske pared back, Ganassi got leaner, Rahal redoubled and Foyt became even less relevant. Perhaps the greatest concern – apart from the second rate schedule – is the car count for 2018.
After yet another IndyCar title thanks to Josef Newgarden’s pivotal piloting, Penske’s crew will consist of only three cars for the first time since 2014. At 42 the ever popular Helio Castro-Neves finally has been put out to pasture, where presumably he can climb all the fences he wishes. The formidable trio of Pags, Power and Newkid will carry the Cap’n’s colors in the upcoming campaign, easily remaining the odds on favorites nearly every weekend.
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.
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.
Frenchman Simon Pagenaud won the GoPro Grand Prix again on Sunday, while his teammate Josef Newgarden secured his first championship by finishing second in the hum sponsored car. Starting from pole and leading in points, it was Newgarden’s title and race to lose. Unsurprisingly, the first American champion in half a decade brought it home safely for an all Penske podium in a rather ho-hum contest.
The season’s ultimate race proved a mundane affair and went off largely as we’d predicted with no cautions, little passing or on track action and only three leaders – and that’s counting Conor Daly’s three laps led. SPM’s James Hinchcliffe provided some comic relief right from the start, getting hit by Spencer Pigot and spinning off course. He restarted the 5 machine but eventually became the first to retire with an electrical issue. Hinch’s early exit was indicative of his year and provided a prime example of poetic justice for the controversial team.
Photo from indycar.com
Not to be outdone, Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato drove off the dusty track and dropped back on the first lap too, ruining a fifth place start. Tony Kanaan was forced to pit after another collision caused a flat tire that also sent him off track. He’d go on to finish sixteenth in his last race for Chip Ganassi. As Townsend Bell pointed out, it was TK’s third race in a row with a first lap issue going back to Gateway. It’s becoming painfully obvious that it’s time to call it quits, Tony.
The only other remarkable moment of the finale came during the final pit stop cycle. Continue reading →
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.
Photo from racesonoma.com
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).
This time it’s a well-liked relative newcomer to IndyCar ownership instead of a loose cannon legacy owner who has us seriously wondering.
It was reported this week Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is teaming up with former F1 owner Didier Calmels to run fellow Frenchman Tristan Gommendy in next year’s Indy 500. Why is he a former F1 owner, you ask? Because when he was convicted of shooting his wife in cold blood in 1990 and sent to prison, the wiser F1 heads understood spousal homicide isn’t exactly a positive image for a racing series. That’s regardless of whether it was a crime of passion or not – and the fact that he somehow served less than two years for his heinous crime.
Photo from Getty Images
Nearly three decades later, apparently SPM hasn’t gotten the memo. Or perhaps they’re merely joining in our national obsession with ignoring history when not defacing it. The team’s statement read in part, “Didier has fulfilled his obligations and gone on to become a successful businessman and team owner in European motor sport.” Translation: he’s paid his debt to society and is a fine, upstanding citizen now who’s bringing us lots and lots of cash.
While the last part is certainly true, it’s the “fulfilled his obligations” bit with which we take exception. Continue reading →
What’s old is new again this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park as times gone by suddenly take on renewed relevance.
It’s been so long since IndyCar raced at Gateway more announcers have won there than drivers. The truly colorful Paul Tracy won the inaugural race in 1997 and talkative Townsend Bell took the checkers in the Indy Lights race in 2000. It’s just too bad Brian Till didn’t race – for more reasons than one. Helio Castro-Neves, who won the last race held there in 2003, is the only current driver to have done so. He did it in a Toyota.
Photo from indycar.com
Juan Montoya won the race in 2000, but he’s only a test pilot at present. It’s interesting to note several current drivers were in diapers for PT’s win. Only two others apart from Helio have ever raced there: Scott Dixon and Tony “past expiration date” Kanaan. Interestingly, Dixie struggled in his only start there finishing 15th, while TK managed a second place showing in four starts.
Our special prediction is there’ll be lots of Sebastien Bourdais coverage as the Frenchman returns to the car for the first time since his injurious accident at Indy. His rapid recovery and return to racing is remarkable, but Continue reading →
With all the loose talk about the threat of nuclear annihilation lately – Guam, Chicago, why never Mid-Ohio? we wonder – IRR lights off a fifty mega-tonner in advance of the impending ABC Supply 500. With all due respect to Honda, forget about frickin’ Tokyo – there goes Pocono! Here comes Indy-zilla.
Compared to NASCAR’s Pocono show, IndyCar’s visit to the “Tricky Triangle” promises to be earth shatteringly entertaining for fans. With speeds of over 200 mph, kilotons more passing and edge of your seat, side by side racing to be expected Sunday, fans of fast will go ballistic for the season’s final 500 miler.
Will “oval hating specialist” Power won last year’s rain postponed Monday affair for Penske, though Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay (with the hyphen here to stay) turned in the drive of the race, advancing from last all the way to a podium finish.
The racing was breathtaking Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway – as usual – when they weren’t screwing it up. Cautions breed cautions the saying goes, but apparently the same isn’t true for red flags. Instead, the thrilling race petered out under yellow with Will Power anticlimactically taking his second win at Texas.
Photo from indycar.com
There were accidents galore, with a dozen cars retiring due to contact. By contrast, the race saw only one mechanical when pole sitter Charlie Kimball’s Honda expired. Nine cautions flew for 66 laps including the red flag stoppage. There were no fewer than seven crashes including James Hinchcliffe’s pit lane fiasco as well as six on track incidents. The race had it all. Ed Carpenter even did a 360 on a lap 102 restart, spinning on the front straight before amazingly saving his car and avoiding everyone else.
Image from twitter.com
Alexander Rossi was first out, the victim of a Ganassi sandwich as he got bounced like a basketball between the blue cars and into the wall. It wouldn’t be the last time Tony Kanaan was involved in an on track fracas. Continue reading →
Indy 500 one off and Englishman with two first names Jay Howard topped the speed charts at 226.7 mph Thursday. The SPM pilot was followed by Ryan-Hunter Reay, the reappearing Marco, one off Fernando, Newkid – more on those two later – and yet another one off Sage “wild man” Karam. That’s three one offs in the top six!
Photo from usatoday.com
The non tow leaders included some equally surprising names like Sato, who ran 224.7 mph, and Charlie “pinball” Kimball at 224.6 mph. Rahal, Hunter-Reay, Carpenter and Dixon rounded out the top six as sanity returned further down the list. It seems Hondas had a decent day at the Brickyard.
Sometimes sympathy is an appropriate response – when it can be convincingly summoned.
A certain uneasy feeling shot through IndyCar teams this week faster than Ganassi flees a bar tab. Those paradoxical Penskes provoke paranoia in the paddock – with good reason – as it’s presumed they’ll probably prevail once the pageantry’s concluded. So should fans expect yet another pitiable GP weekend they’ve seen before, one which merely adds to Roger’s riches?
Our special prediction is yes, the Cap’n’s embarrassment of wealth will grow even more mortifying this month. Penske practically owns the joint, with sixteen Indy 500 triumphs dating back to the early 1970s. Plus, Pagenaud excels on the ramshackle road course, winning two thirds of the time. If you’re a fan of Team Penske, get ready for a fun few weeks – just have sympathy for the rest of us.
Image from youtube.com
Pole position will be no different, as both Helio and Power have been superior in qualifying. Penske’s pilots have won ’em all so far this season, taking a decidedly unfeeling approach to the rest of the field. Continue reading →