IndyCar Sonoma Season Finale Race Review: Ho-hum Edition

 

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Photo from indycar.com

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.

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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

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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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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).

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Saying goodbye to all that, Continue reading

IndyCar Sonoma Season Finale Preview: Bouquet Edition

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Not prone to flowery descriptions, a sometimes acidic tongued IRR stopped in Sonoma wine country to smell the season finale roses – or rosé, as it were. Instead we found a big, fat turd bouquet. Northern California wines may be fine, but unfortunately for fans of fast the racing there’s regularly near the bottom of IndyCar’s barrel.

“In vino, veritas” as the Romans said, but even from a clear-eyed, sober view of things the racing at Sonoma honestly stinks. Like other regrettable road courses on the schedule – Watkins Glen, Barber, Mid-Ohio – the twisted track’s an affront to the olfactory senses. Bouquet, indeed!

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Sonoma’s simply not suited to IndyCars and fails to provide anything approaching intoxicating action. In fact, the lack of passing, speeds and thrills is all rather dry and pedestrian. The series’ choice of venue for the season finale tends to leave an unpleasant, vinegary aftertaste.

Like the local produce, reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud comes across as fruity, often with a hint of bitterness. This was especially the case following his spicy encounter with Penske teammate Josef Newgarden at Gateway. Let it suffice to say Pags was less than vintage during the podium celebration.

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Photo from indycar.com

But the earthy Frenchman suddenly vaulted back into the title hunt after Newkid’s disastrous stumble at Watkins Glen, 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

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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Image from quotesgram.com

“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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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

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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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

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 Bommarito 500 Predictions and Prognostications: Nostalgic Edition

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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.

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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

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

IndyCar ABC Supply 500 Preview: Oh No, There Goes Pocono!

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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.

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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.

In a bittersweet victory, the fair haired Floridian won the accident marred 2015 race that tragically claimed Justin Wilson’s life. Continue reading

Mid-Ohio IndyCar Predictions and Prognostications: Perilous Edition

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IndyCar’s lucky thirteenth stop on the schedule happens to be the annual trip into the ditch that is Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Get ready for a fuel savin’ extravaganza featuring fewer passes than Columbus’ Corn Princess Parade . . . and menacingly, also a potentially lethal surprise.

This week’s special prediction involves the inherent danger of Sunday’s race. Anytime you tread into “Ganassi’s Paradise” you’re risking both life and limb, but Mid-Ohio holds an additional, less obvious risk. Be forewarned, as it’s a serious threat to viewing fans. The real danger during the race will be folks nodding off in haze of bloviating about pit stop strategy and fuel mileage. In some extreme instances, sleep can be dangerous.

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Photo from the Bettman archive

Pick for pole position is especially unimportant, as the pole sitter’s only won once out of the last five contests at Mid-Ohio. Frenchman Simon Pagenaud won from pole in his championship season last year, but that’s it. Ragin’ Graham Rahal won from thirteenth simply being himself in 2015, while rarely cautious Charlie Kimball triumphed from fifth in 2013. Scott Dixon’s always a threat there, starting fourth and incredibly even dead last in just his most recent victories in Ohio. Continue reading