Barber Preview: Broken Record Edition

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More records are likely to be broken as IndyCar screeches into Alabama this weekend, the series’ third consecutive race since inexplicably skipping an entire month after the St. Pete opener. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but Team Penske’s success at Barber is nearly as unblemished as a mint condition Beatles vinyl still in the original packaging.

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Josef “new American hero” Newgarden (according to Robin Miller) has swiped two of the last three at the deep south’s premier motorbike track, an undeniably impressive album of work. Continue reading

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Long Beach Preview: Up in the Air

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IndyCar’s annual whiff of SoCal’s insalubrious smog arrives Sunday and the pending outcome is as up in the air as a juggler’s balls.

Hinch, Pags and Dixie have won the last three Grans Prix, by far the series’ most atmospheric street race. That’s three different teams represented atop the podium since 2015. Go back far enough and some rather wispy outfits indeed have triumphed by the shore, including Ed Carpenter Racing. On a street course. Twice. That’s certainly some rarefied air out west.

Bourdais is a three time winner, stratospherically taking three in a row during the most polluted days of the split. Understandably though, after Phoenix his pit crew may still be a bit sore at him this weekend. Even Will “hot air” Power vaporized the entire field twice at the Beach, though that was several years ago. Heck, Sato won there for Foyt in 2013. Tellingly, it was under caution and the tentative team‘s last win.

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Unassuming Ed Jones stole the show last year with a sixth place finish and second consecutive top ten to start his career. Continue reading

Phoenix Race Review: Take Cover! Edition

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American gunslinger Josef Newgarden obliterated his opposition outside Phoenix Saturday night, leaving a trail of IndyCar carnage stretching clear to Canada. As bad as it was for Robby Wickens, it was Coyne crew members who again got the worst of it.

The race started with an all day-glo – and all French – front row at what Townsend Bell called “this hot, nasty track.” Then again, it almost didn’t. Surprise pole sitter Sebastien Bourdais‘ car stopped dead on pit lane, requiring the help of Robert Wickens’ – or “Wiggins” as TBell calls him – crew to refire his Honda. It wouldn’t be the last issue SeBass had on pit road during the evening.

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RHR and Marco went high at the start and gained several spots while a now functioning Bourdais pulled away from Pags. Wickens gained a position and joined the top five as the Frenchmen at the front battled early traffic. A hard charging Rossi challenged Pags for the pass before nearly losing it on the apron and drifting high up the track. Narrowly avoiding disaster, he wasn’t done yet.

On lap 41 the first of only two yellows arrived when PFitti got high in turn four and rudely met the wall. Emo’s grandson was first out in his first ever race. During the initial round of pit stops SeBass slid wildly into his pit box, hitting his left front tire changer in an ugly scene. Continue reading

Phoenix Predictions and Prognostications: Critical Edition

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Following a decade long absence and two run of the mill races since its return, IndyCar’s upcoming foray to Phoenix could make or break the series there.

Fully swathed in the spirit of dazzling open wheel oval track racing – and knowing the series’ crucial need of more of it – here’s our interpretive soothsaying for the season’s first egg shaped track.

Critical – from the Latin criticus, referring to a disease related crisis.

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Our special prediction is when the Saturday night race finally does arrive, no matter how it goes, the racing will be criticized. If it isn’t the drivers apologizing all over themselves again, it’ll be the so-called writers. If not them, then the segment of fans who somehow find fault in Continue reading

Phoenix Preview: Casablanka Edition

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There’s so much construction taking place at dusty ISM Raceway at present, the facility’s practically a blank slate. Fitting, as so too is the young IndyCar season. No one quite knows how it’ll all end. Exciting possibilities – and temporary setbacks – exist for all involved in the upcoming Phoenix Grand Prix.

Pondering that great roulette wheel in the desert formerly known as PIR, we couldn’t help but think of the Bogey-Bergman gin joint classic Casablanca and that even the director didn’t know the ending. Like magnificent open wheel oval racing, the thoroughly entertaining movie from 1942 winds up to a thrilling crescendo. Similar to the beloved film, IndyCar on oval tracks is unsurpassed in its splendor. Plus, there’s such an intriguing international cast; and get a load of the gams on those new Dallaras! Here’s looking at you, Phoenix.

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IndyCar tested at the soon to be reconfigured ISM (Ingenuity Sun Media, in case you’re wondering) Raceway in February. Takuma Sato led an all Rahal Lanigan Letterman revue. The prospects of Sato on pole alone are enough to conjure the stuff parts bills nightmares are made of. Judging by St. PeteContinue reading

Silly Season ’17: A Succinct Synopsis

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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.

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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.

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Not one to be outdone when it comes to downsizing, the Chipster Continue reading

IndyCar Sonoma Season Finale Race Review: Ho-hum Edition

 

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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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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

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