Toronto Race Review: Penske’s Pulled A Fast One

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Photo from twitter.com

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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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

Indy 500 Preview: Hasta La Vista, Alonso!

Photo from twitter.com

A soggy, disjointed weekend of qualifying for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing sent one of F1’s biggest stars packing after he failed to produce the speed needed to make the show.

Fernando Alonso and his McLaren team suffered devastating disappointment, unable to qualify for the world’s greatest race after lots of hype and hoopla. This shocking development came despite his team receiving last minute help from both Andretti Autosport and Team Penske, heavyweights of the sport. To Alonso’s undying credit though he handled the blow well, even refusing an offer from McLaren to buy him a ride for the 500. Every crisis presents opportunities however, and young American drivers Kyle Kaiser and Sage Karam seized them in Sunday’s final session, setting the last row and sealing Alonso’s fickle fate.

Photo from twitter.com

Simon Pagenaud put Penske’s Chevy powered day glow Menard’s car on pole by the slightest of margins, but he didn’t detract from Ed Carpenter Racing’s efforts in taking three of the top four starting positions for Sunday’s race. 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

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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

Barber Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Race Review: Inverted Edition

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Pole sitter(!) Takuma Sato’s lead was seldom in doubt – except when he ran completely off course and nearly flipped in characteristic fashion with five to go – as the 500 winner cruised to only his fourth career IndyCar victory in a truly inverted race in Alabama. The previous run-on sentence is not a joke. He credited his Rahal Lanigan Letterman team for a “fantastic effort,” despite an incredibly slow first pit stop due to a lethargic left rear tire changer. Equally incredibly, Scott Dixon claimed his sixth 2nd place finish at Barber – out of ten races – as Honda swept its own podium with Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais coming home in third.

An inadvertently inverted starting grid with the Penskes oddly bringing up the rear led to a decidedly upside down result. One of the few highlights of the weekend occured when a street sweeper rolled over onto its side while at speed in between practices, nearly inverting itself. The accident was a good thing, as NBCSN’s abbreviated pre-race show had little to offer, although they did manage a real rarity in connecting on air with the two seater passenger. Oh, and Continue reading

IndyCar Classic Race Review: All Hail Emperor Herta!

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The record books were rewritten Sunday in Texas, as the youngest driver in IndyCar history – 18 year old American legacy pilot Colton “Joaquin” Herta – incredibly won only the third start of his career. It was a popular finish throughout the paddock, as Bryan Herta’s son and Brian Barnhart’s team, Harding Steinbrenner Racing (partnered with Andretti) took their first ever series victory.

Swedish love dished out during pre-race proved badly misplaced, as Felix Rosenqvist was crashed out by James Hinchcliffe in the only full course caution of the day – after earlier spinning on his own. Fellow Scandinavian Marcus Ericsson earned a late penalty in the pits for contacting another car, dropping him to the rear of the field and sealing a fifteenth place finish. The start was clean except for Zach “son of Dracula” Veach, who made contact with Graham Rahal and ran off course, falling to last place as he was forced through and around COTA’s gravel traps.

Scott Dixon made it three wide through turn one, which is allowed under the no limits policy, followed wide right by Rahal who was then contacted by Veach. Herta split Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay (with the hyphen here to stay) to move up a position to third for a taste of things to come. Meanwhile Ganassi’s Rosenqvist dropped back two positions to eighth. Alexander Rossi challenged Will Power for the lead briefly but remained in second with Herta, Hunter-Reay and Dixon making up the top five.

Single file racing rapidly set in, with Power comfortably out front. 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.

Photo from indycar.com

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.

Image from oregonlive.com

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

Pocono Race Review: A Speedy Recovery

Considering another comically amateurish start followed by a devastating, injurious crash on lap seven, the fact that the remaining able-bodied drivers somehow managed to put on a decent show at all is remarkable. Particularly in light of Robert Wickens’ unknown medical circumstances, which remained a complete mystery for a full hour before his consciousness was announced. The full extent of his wounds still isn’t known.

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Photo from cbc.ca

After a two hour delay for cleanup of the massive debris field plus repairs to the fence, Alexander Rossi drove his NAPA car right up to the wall and to its limits, proving himself yet again the swiftest over 500 miles.

NBCSN’s pre-race included shots of Marco’s Palace and lots of Robin Miller. In other words, it was gaudy and odd. Another laboriously slow, bunched up start to the race from pole sitter Will Power saw Ragin’ Graham Rahal immediately run into Spencer Pigot’s right rear at the back of the field and bring out a caution. Along with the winner we predicted a crash-fest, and it sure started out that way. Power typically blamed Scott Dixon – who was deep in the field! – flashing graphs and pleading that he only did what he was told. Rahal was penalized for the first lap incident and it’s clear he needs to work on his starts, his qualifying – or both.

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Photo from indycar.com

Rossi quickly passed Power for the lead on the lap seven restart. Behind them Wickens tried to get around Ryan Hunter-Reay in turn two Continue reading