2017 IndyCar Season Review

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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.

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Photo from twitter.com

Lowlights involved beyond tedious racing at the usual suspects like Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen and the season finale at Sonoma. Even St. Pete was a stinker this year and as usual the Indy Grand Prix was nearly unwatchable. Iowa‘s daytime race – as opposed to the superior night races of years past – earned the biggest flop award, with Phoenix a close second in the balloting. Iowa Speedway already announced a Sunday date in early July, meaning it’ll be another day race next year.

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.

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Photo from indycar.com

The most shocking moment by far Continue reading

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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

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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Photo from indycar.com

Saying goodbye to all that, Continue reading

IndyCar Watkins Glen Race Review: ‘A Really Timely Caution’ or: T-Bell’s Faux Pas Edition

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Photo from indycar.com

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 Preview: Wit’s End Edition

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With the season’s end in sight, there’s still plenty of IRR wittiness left in the tank.

Sadly, summertime’s over and with it – even more unfortunately – the rousing oval portion of IndyCar’s schedule. Two wine region, cheesy road courses remain, Watkins Glen in upstate New York and the Sonoma finale in California. In the Glen’s case, the most memorable parts of last year’s race were the ubiquitous paid Verizon plugs. Expect neither venue to excite nearly as much as Pocono or Texas regularly do, as the season slinks toward a less than satisfactory conclusion. It all has us feeling at wit’s end.

Josef “teammate terminator” Newgarden has the championship all but wrapped up thanks to Power and Helio’s witlessness at Gateway. There’s no end to his predictable success this season, taking three of the last four races and holding a 31 point championship lead. Making it worse, Team Penske’s won the last five in row. This marks the first time in many years the IndyCar finale probably won’t hold any title significance whatsoever, even with the gimmicky double points paid in the NoCal conclusion.

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Similarly, the rookie of the year award has been settled for some time with only a single candidate and therefore no competition. The fact than Alonso was gifted the Indy 500 ROY remains a travesty, truly “The Great Hardware Robbery,” as we termed it. Ed Jones deserved the award finishing third to Fernando’s 24th, just as he deserves the season ROY. Lack of other contenders aside, Jones has been the most impressive newcomer to the series in recent memory. Thankfully a better ROY resolution’s in the offing.

Happily, the end of the awful aero kit era is also in sight. It’ll be good riddance to bad chassis soon, perhaps the most compelling reason to look forward to next season. Continue reading

IndyCar Bommarito 500 Race Review: Hood Vibrations

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Photo from indycar.com

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 ABC Supply 500 Predictions and Prognostications: Know Pocono

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Closely observing the last few decades of IndyCar racing has taught us much, including a) we’re already missing Mikhail Aleshin jokes and b) James “Canadian token” Hinchcliffe goes through teammates like Kim Jong Un burns through liquid oxygen. The Mayor – like the dictator – must be hard to get to know.

After weeks of summer slumbers, the series wisely roars back to life in eastern Pennsylvania. Our special prediction for Pocono is some rather unintelligent driving – and not just from the usual suspects, either. Such a salacious silly season can only bring out the worst in some drivers who, after all, will be racing for their jobs. Remember, some of these guys aren’t the brightest lights even under ideal circumstances.

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Photo from twitter.com

Due to the new red scare, we’ve been robbed of last year’s pole sitter and second place finisher. In fact,  Mikhail “not a good year to be a Russian in the US” Aleshin likely won’t be racing in the series again. We say nyet to that. Aged Helio Castro-Neves started out front the previous year – and came in sixteenth. Even Marco‘s been on pole in his home state, but in characteristic fashion finished only tenth. Part timer Juan Montoya managed the only recent win from pole at Pocono in 2014.

When you’re hot, you’re hot as the saying goes and the sagacious 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 Race Review: Newkid Wins Again

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American star Josef Newgarden won again at Mid-Ohio, his third victory of the season and second in a row. He utterly dominated the race, leading three quarters of the laps and winning by a margin of over five seconds. Penske’s Newkid now leads the championship points with only four races left in the season.

 

The race began promisingly enough, with polesitter Will Power leading Newgarden for the first fourteen laps and Ragin’ Graham Rahal improving a spot to third. Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato went backward after a solid qualifying effort, while his team mates and fellow 500 winners Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay advanced inside the top ten.

Then Newgarden made a beautiful double move, faking out Power and taking the lead. It’s the move that won him the race – and quite possibly the title.

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Photo from indycar.com

As soon as the portly Paul Tracy muttered something passive aggressive about “passing here,” all of a sudden there was no more passing. At all. Continue reading

Toronto IndyCar Race Review: Yellow is the New Orange Edition

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

A perfectly timed yellow flag handed the orange DeVilbiss car a victory on the walled streets of Toronto.

Josef Newgarden happened to be pitting when Tony “Time To Call It Quits” Kanaan committed his latest brain fade and careened into the Turn 1 tire barrier. As a result, Newgarden ran away with it for his second win out of the last three times north of the border.

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Photo from indycar.com

Scott Dixon was rudely hit by “Sour Grapes” Will Power – twice – during a first lap melee bringing out the first of only two cautions on the day. Power limped around the course failing to make it to his pit and would be a surprise first out. Dixon soldiered to a tenth place finish and as usual no infraction was called on the Penske pilot.

In front of all the banging, Helio grabbed the lead from Simon Pagenaud in a ballsy inside move at the start and TK managed to gain five spots, but it was Josef Newgarden’s jump of three positions to fourth that ultimately made all the difference. He’d soon find himself out front and, due to both timing and luck, in possession of another street course victory.

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Photo from indycar.com

The restart saw Indy 500 winners and Andretti Autosport teammates Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato make contact, as Rossi battled nearly everyone on his way to second. Continue reading