Sonoma Season Finale Predictions & Prognostications: A Frenchman, A Kiwi & A Mexican Walk Into A Wine Bar . . .

bar scene sonoma IRR

With season’s end in sight, so too are the soon to be crowned champ, race winner, first to exit and – thanks to IRR’s amazing powers of prognostication – various other hilarity inducing outcomes.

The special prediction not only for the season finale but also for the last IndyCar race at Sonoma – at least for a while, considering this series’ schizophrenic schedule one never says never – is that the place won’t be missed. At all. Rather, the so-called racing there‘ll be about as sorely missed as a severe wine hangover.

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Our pick for pole is Will “not so super” Power, again. It’ll be his fifth of the season and fifty fifth pole of his career. He trails only Mario Andretti’s mark of 67 poles on the all-time list and could well break it in the future – especially if his competition continues their joke like qualifying efforts. Power topping Mario, A.J., or any of the other greats in IndyCar annals strikes us as being in incredibly bad taste.

First out of the finale will be one of Harding Racing’s multiple rookie entries. Our pick is Indy Lights champ Patricio O’Ward in what will be his first career start for the upstart outfit. The 19 year old Mexican impressed in the junior series, winning over half the races and poles he contested and finishing every one. With struggling Harding however, expect that run to come to a halt Sunday – quicker than a south of the border street burrito races through whomever’s dense enough to eat it.

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Biggest surprise to IndyCar fans Continue reading

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Season Finale Preview: Sayonara, Sonoma!

Sayonara Sonoma!

IRR’s preview of the 2018 finale illustrates how the sake’s about to hit the fan with a Japanese race winner, a Kiwi in the points lead and a long overdue kiss off for one particular track.

Following fourteen interminable years of visiting northern California – primarily because the Foyts and Andrettis own wineries there and most certainly not for the racing – the IndyCar party at Sonoma’s over at long last. Now the hellacious hangover begins, as the geniuses responsible for IndyCar’s schedule failed to replace it with a decent track, like the big, beautiful oval at Fontana, home of exquisite racing in years past.

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No, next season the series swaps one inferior road course finale at Sonoma for another one down the coast at Laguna Seca. The 2019 schedule Continue reading

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.

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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.

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Included in the carnage was championship leader Scott Dixon, who Continue reading

Gateway Race Review: Sour Grapes Power Edition

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Despite early domination by Scott Dixon, Team Penske’s oval-hating specialist Will “Sour Grapes” Power prevailed by 1.3 seconds over Alex Rossi before promptly calling out the competition in truly classless manner. Instead of celebrating in victory lane, Power pointedly tore into Dixon’s driving, gratuitously and repeatedly ripping his highly-regarded rival.

The best news in months arrived shortly before the green flag flew, as an update on Robert Wickens’ health status was released by his team. SPM’s bulletin revealed Wickens is now off the ventilator and breathing on his own for the first time since the accident at Pocono. The welcome news instantly lifted the spirits of the nice-sized crowd outside East St. Louis, as well as those of the drivers.

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Dixon and Rossi led the field to the green and immediately Rossi dropped back as cars went three wide into turn one. Power and Josef Newgarden simultaneously moved around him in a Penske sandwich as they chased down Dixie. Back in the pack Sebastien Bourdais’ car got loose in between two other cars, hitting the wall and bringing out yet another caution before the first lap was complete.

The restart came on lap 8 as drivers held their positions throughout the field. Continue reading

Gateway Preview: Awake and Alert Edition

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2018’s final oval track race will be held Saturday night outside St. Louis. With only three races remaining in the season and the title chase intensifying, the fast cars under the lights will be fascinating to watch, particularly coming less than a week after Robbie Wickens’ horrific, injury sustaining crash at Pocono.

IndyCar’s return to East St. Louis last season saw Tony “time to call it quits” Kanaan crash on the parade lap before the race had even begun. Then, on lap one, Will Power spun and crashed collecting Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato. It was yet another of those kind of starts. On his championship run, an alert Josef Newgarden bravely bump-passed his teammate Simon Pagenaud for the win with thirty laps remaining. Newkid’s victory in Illinois was his third out of the last four races, and Pags wasn’t pleased.

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Prior to last year, IndyCar hadn’t raced at Gateway Motorsports Park in fourteen years – a race IRR staff attended, but weren’t thrilled about. Continue reading

Mid-Ohio Race Review: This Frenchman’s On Fire!

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Pole sitter Alexander Rossi’s victory for Andretti Autosport was never really in any doubt, as is so often the case at Mid-Ohio, although NBCSN’s superb coverage (on CNBC) of Sebastien Bourdais’ Napoleonic battles from deep in the field made it at times almost seem like it. Demonstrating how Sunday really wasn’t his but rather SeBass’ day for swiping an amazing eighteen positions going from last to sixth, the Indy 500 winner celebrated his race win by embarrassingly high-siding and stalling his NAPA car on track’s edge while attempting, unsuccessfully, to cut donuts.

During pre-race both Rossi and Josef Newgarden mentioned the lack of a morning warm-up, highly unusual for IndyCar. Already putting everyone in the paddock on edge were a string of chaotic practice and qualification sessions, with umpteen incidents and cars leaving the terrible track. Under this foreboding atmosphere, of course the race proceeded under ninety straight green flag laps – though it wasn’t without its incidents.

Rossi and Will Power led the bunched up field to the start, with several drivers back in the pack nearly making and then, in fact, making contact. Rossi’s trudging pace from pole, or what Paul Tracy called a “dirty move,” was reviewed but Continue reading

Mid-Ohio Predictions and Prognostications: Pretty Vacant

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Scheduled during “Holidays in the Sun” season when no one’s looking, it’s appropriate that Mid-Ohio again will be broadcast on a cable channel no one’s watching. In a phrase, the race is “Pretty Vacant.”

Since this post is cutting into our own precious vacation time, we’ll get right to our special punk rock prediction for this sorry excuse of a race. There will be nothing memorable, much less special, about Sunday’s parade ’round a sports car course in the middle of nowhere. There never is about Mid-Ohio – it’s a nihilist’s dream date. We’ve been watching it closely – requiring no small amount of both endurance and patience, we can tell you – for decades now. It makes us wonder at times like these, where’s a Sid Vicious to wreak havoc when you need him?

Pole winner will probably be Will “Problems” Power, although any Team Penske member could well do it. Truth is, pole matters little this weekend, as usual. Power started P1 last year and finished second behind Josef Newgarden. Pags did win from pole in ’16, but he’s the only driver to do so in the last six years. One has to go back to 2011 when Scott Dixon won from pole – another of his record five victories at Mid-Ohio. He also triumphed after starting dead last in 2014, beating the field into utter “Submission.”

First out of this event inspiring absolutely “No Feelings” would likely be no one, were awful Austrian Rene “wrecking ball” Binder not back in a car. The rookie ride buyer’s season has been, well, regrettable. As for the race, there weren’t any DNFs last year and 2015 saw only one in Takuma Sato, though both 2016 and 2014 saw three apiece, thanks largely to first lap pileups. Tony “time to call it quits” Kanaan was the lone car off course in 2013 while Ryan Hunter-Reay with the hyphen-here-to-stay was the only DNF in 2012. His was mechanical – and wasn’t pretty.

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The biggest surprise of the whole sham affair will be if Continue reading

Mid-Ohio Preview: Mediocrity On Parade

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The third-rate though conveniently located sports car course makes for some dreadfully boring IndyCar racing and regrettably will do so again for the thirty fourth time next Sunday. Quite possibly the worst circuit the series visits, Mid-Ohio epitomizes a disturbing trend in modern society of willing, almost glad acceptance of the middling. It’s mediocrity on parade.

During the run of the mill track’s big league history, which began fitfully in 1980, both CART and later Champ Car had the good sense to drop it entirely – for years at a time. Yet since 2007 and to our continual chagrin, Mid-Ohio keeps reappearing year after year on IC’s wreck of a schedule, like a meddling, nosy neighbor knocking on your door.

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It’s not expecting too much if, as a race fan, one expects more from Mark Miles and crew than merely mundane Mid-Ohio. Meanwhile, perfectly decent oval tracks all across the country – and as nearby as northern Kentucky and Illinois – sit idle.

The past five races there have featured as many different winners including Josef Newgarden last year, Continue reading

Iowa Race Review: ‘How Is Hinch Ahead?!’ Edition

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In a baffling though entertaining affair at Iowa Speedway, SPM‘s James Hinchcliffe somehow overcame everyone who stood in the way of his first win of the season. It was the second of the Canuck’s career on the diminutive oval, his sixth overall. Taking the lead with less than fifty to go to the surprise of many – not least of which Josef Newgarden – it was a confusing, pro-Canadian conclusion under a Carpenter-induced caution. As usual, everything was the villainous Will Power‘s fault.

Newkid’s teammate was nearly a lap down and not surprisingly acted more like a spoiled schoolchild than a teammate, holding up the defending champ as “lap traffic” with only thirty odd laps to go, handing Hinch the lead and eventual victory. Immediately after being passed for position, an astonished Newgarden asked his crew incredulously over the radio, “How is Hinch ahead?!” Simultaneously, we wondered the exact same thing.

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NBCSN’s pre-race included Townsend Bell telling us day is night and Kevin Lee calling RHR – well over 37 – “young.” On the upside, the until recently MIA Katie Hargitt returned to air. Unfortunately, it was primarily whilst eating during the cooking segment, 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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Following a quick cleanup, the restart came on lap 15 with Newgarden, Power, Pags, Wickens and Rossi the top five.  Continue reading