IndyCar 2015 Season Grades: Team Penske

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Tired of the Pope’s visit yet? Us too. Writing about the Pope of IndyCar proves difficult however without at least mentioning Roger Penske’s majestic reign. With more wins than any team owner and more money than God, Penske’s Papal presence in the sport and over a great many fans fortunately doesn’t affect us in the slightest. IRR is in fact unafraid to point out painful truths – even at the risk of heresy – and report that it wasn’t the best season for Pope Penske. His Holiness’ IndyCar efforts fell well short of infallible.

Wins: 3

Podiums:  12

Poles: 11

Penske’s supposedly sainted drivers gave the Pontiff even more reason to be ashamed this season, as if Will Power weren’t already enough. Power and Montoya’s utterances at Fontana were distasteful, unbecoming and wrong. There were also the bitter intra-faith squabbles, like when Helio and Power took each other out in Detroit‘s second race. In the season finale at Sonoma the expanded four car team couldn’t crack the top five, failing to attain another championship  – and their lofty goal.

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Juan Cardinal Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 before humbly screaming into his headset, “Yes! So Bad! That’s how you do it!” In the end however he failed Continue reading

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Sonoma IndyCar Finale Preview: Determined Joy Edition

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The show must go on as the old saying goes and in this case the race must take place. IndyCar’s season finale will occur on Sunday and as we move on from the tragic loss of Justin Wilson we do so saddened and humbled, yet also grateful and appreciative for the decade of racing we all had rooting for him. JWil was a true gentleman and talented racer who made the world a better place; it’ll be a poorer, less joyous world without him.

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We hate to say it but the trajectory IndyCar’s been on lately we wouldn’t be surprised if either massive wildfires engulf the entire track this weekend or – and also God forbid – the big one finally hits California and breaks the whole kit and caboodle off into the sea, or possibly both. One seriously wonders what the formerly Golden state did to deserve such luck, until remembering Hollywood, Simi Valley, Charlie Manson, Watts, Willie Brown, Napa Valley, Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown, The Gover-nator, Riverside, and on and on and on.

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But barring such calamities or the intervention of political villains, there’ll be a champion crowned at the end of it all – funnily the race winner almost always gets overshadowed by the champ at the conclusion of the finale –  and like him or not we’re starkly faced with the fact it’ll be the last IndyCar race until at least next spring. So by God we are resolutely determined to enjoy it. Justin would have wanted us to and as we were all rudely reminded this week, one never knows when it’ll be your last race.

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The Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma Continue reading

Pocono Qualifications: Instant Reaction

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Helio Castro Neves wrested the forty fifth pole of his decades long IndyCar career away from his team mate Simon Pagenaud Saturday at Pocono Raceway. He did so at over 220 miles per hour and then proceeded to hoot and giggle girlishly in the post qualifications interview. Team Penske swept the top three spots with “Mad” Will Power on the inside of row two in tomorrow’s five hundred mile race, while CFH Racing’s Josef Newgarden and championship contender Graham Rahal –  the quickest Honda – round out the top five.

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Fourth Penske entry and points leader Juan Pablo Montoya encountered a problem on his first lap, drifted up the track and lifted off the throttle. He qualified poorly as a result, starting nineteenth. When asked about his bobble in an interview Montoya replied, “It’s racing.” A big thanks to Paul Tracy, who guaranteed Montoya would be a contender tomorrow thereby jinxing him utterly. This along with Juan’s screw up in quals makes our prediction look better and better. Curiously, JPM declined interviews all day before qualifications, though not with IRR. We didn’t request one.

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Charlie Kimball who’d been quickest in practice spun and crashed during his qualifying run  Continue reading

IndyCar News Week in Review: Vacation Edition

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Andretti Sued By His Own Company: Only in IndyCar would a prominent owner and face of the sport be sued by his own company. Leave it to Curt Cavin to report that Andretti Sports Marketing is suing Andretti Autosport in Marion County Superior Court. In a statement Michael Andretti – the CEO of both outfits – singled out complainants President John Lopes and Treasurer Starke Taylor as “disingenuous and self serving” in their attempt “to impact our family name.” Sounds like recent cutbacks at ASM have led to disgruntled employees and hard feelings. Wonder if Michael wants to get away?

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Testing For The Centennial: Six cars from four teams are testing today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Marco and Helio will be testing Firestone tires while Carpenter, Kanaan, Pags and RHR will be doing some team testing on the historic oval. Looks like no vacation for these six drivers, or at least a slightly shorter one. It’s wise to test the cars, tires and aero kits earlier as opposed to later, as hopefully next year won’t see a rash of cars flying through the air at Indy.

The car driven by Helio Castroneves, of Brazil, is airborne after hitting the wall in the first turn during practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Wednesday, May 13, 2015.  (AP Photo/Joe Watts) ORG XMIT: NAA107

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USF2000, Pro Mazda To Get NEW CARS!: Continue reading

Iowa Race Review: Sage Gone Wild

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Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay won Iowa for the third time Saturday night, but twenty year old rookie Sage Karam stole the show, swerving and chopping his way to third for his first IndyCar podium finish. Clearly on a roll the last several races, in short Sage went wild. Josef Newgarden led much of the latter stages of the frantic race only to finish second while Graham Rahal led another charge from seventeenth to fourth making it an American sweep in the heartland. Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz rounded out the top five in a favorable night for Andretti‘s team.

Jul 18, 2015; Newton, IA, USA; IndyCar Series driver Ryan Hunter-Reay (28) reacts after winning the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-230374 ORIG FILE ID:  20150718_lbm_ad1_319.JPG

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Sparks flew throughout the last half of the race as intense racing and hectic traffic around the tiny oval led to drivers being either exhausted or enraged or both. Karam enjoyed another rocket ride to the front in the number eight car. Were it not for a slow right front tire change during his last pit stop he might have fared even better. At one point Sage simultaneously showed his immaturity and fearlessness, screaming about Jack Hawksworth on the radio. “Dude, I’m alongside him and he won’t back out!” Ed Carpenter appeared high on the list of drivers Karam managed to offend on his charismatic, choppy charge as the veteran gestured repeatedly from the car and then confronted the Ganassi driver immediately after the race.

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Ambling angrily down pit lane with cameras following, IndyCar’s only owner-driver animatedly got in the youngster’s face and loudly lectured him about “respect.” Continue reading

Milwaukee Race Review: ‘Because He Got High’ Edition

Jul 12, 2015; West Allis, WI, USA; Verizon IndyCar Series driver Sebastien Bourdais (11) during practice for the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee Mile Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-230510 ORIG FILE ID:  20150712_ads_bv1_019.JPG

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First time pole sitter Josef Newgarden could have won the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 after leading over a hundred laps Sunday, but faded in the middle portion of the race due to pit stops and traffic, ultimately finishing fifth because he got high. The same could be said for other drivers in the highly entertaining show, though none reached the heights of Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais who took his thirty fourth career IndyCar win at the Milwaukee Mile. Helio Castro Neves started dead last – behind even Pippa Mann – then steadily sped through the field to a highly surprising second place finish for the Cap’n‘s best result. Helio also could have won the race, but he got high. Third place was as high as Graham Rahal could hold on to, but Bobby’s boy continued his strong 2015 season with another highly satisfying podium finish.

On the other end of the blunt, Ed Carpenter‘s horrid year continued at the Milwaukee Mile. Early in the contest he held up the race leader and his team mate JoNew for several laps before finally letting him – and  those pursuing him – past. They got around him, high. It was reported during the race that Ed fired his spotter after crashing both his team’s cars and then calling the spotter out at Fontana, replacing him with former 500 winner Buddy Rice. Apparently the spotter wasn’t the problem at Milwaukee, as Carpenter eventually struggled home in tenth. That’s his highest result of the year, as the Fuzzy’s Vodka car hadn’t completed an oval race until Sunday.

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Getting high on the flat oval seemed to be the key to speed for those running up front as many cars experienced ill handling most of the day. Race control in its infinite wisdom slowed the competitors down to a snail’s pace of fifty miles per hour on pit lane in the ever tiresome interest of safety, and for a change none of Dale Coyne’s drivers hit a crewman. Not surprisingly there was a pit lane speed violation by Juan Montoya, however. His speed was judged to be too high.  Continue reading

IndyCar 2015 Mid Season Grades

The car driven by Helio Castroneves, of Brazil, is airborne after hitting the wall in the first turn during practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Wednesday, May 13, 2015.  (AP Photo/Joe Watts) ORG XMIT: NAA107

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IndyCar’s had an interesting season from a dangerous start with flying aero kit pieces to the emergence of a certified new American star. Although we at IRR admittedly tend to bitch a lot we’ve enjoyed the year thus far for the most part, though a rain-marred race at NOLA and cars flipping in practice at Indy were highly forgettable moments.

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How’s ten races into a fifteen race schedule in any way mid season, you ask? The schedule‘s simply too short and we feel cheated out of several races – Brazil and Toronto #2 to name a couple. Don’t get us started on the lack of ovals. Plus, in college the timing of midterms varies widely and since the IndyCar Series sometimes resembles a frat house, we find the break in the schedule to be a good time to assess individual teams’ performances this season.

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Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing: B+

Josef Newgarden’s breakthrough wins at Barber and Toronto have made the team’s merger look brilliant and established a genuine American star – a non-legacy star, at that. The team’s 1-2 finish in Ontario almost made up for a string of bad luck that stretched from Indy to Texas. Newgarden’s success is no fluke and this new team’s best days lie ahead.

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Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: B  Continue reading

Toronto Predictions & Prognostications: Double Secret Probation Edition

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First let’s predict who won’t win – it’s not going to be a Honda team, Dale Coyne freshman “un-Speedy” Gonzalez, Sebastien Saavedra or a certain reckless rookie from Monaco. Stefano “faster than Andretti” Coletti now finds himself on IndyCar’s version of double secret probation after speeding and ignoring lanes in the pits at Texas. Already on probation having racked up numerous crashes – sometimes multiple accidents in one weekend – and a penumbra of penalties and fines to boot, for KV’s Coletti it was the Dean Wormer speech. “One more slip up, one more mistake and you’re finished at Farber!” When IndyCar has taken to showing a close up of your car and number above the penalties announcement, you know you’re on thin ice.

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Our specialty prediction for the concrete car crusher known as Toronto is widespread confusion and disappointment amongst the gathered throngs of Molson-fogged Canucks in attendance. When they finally figure out that there’s only one race this year, the only Canadian in the series is sidelined due to injury AND they’ve only two Brits in the entire field to root for, the War of 1812 may break out again on the bicentennial of its conclusion. Our advice for Americans making the trek to the great white north? Prepare for a hasty though not re-enacted retreat south and be super polite to those border guards.

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Our pick for pole is Penske’s Will Power and not because we’re a fan of the champ. Continue reading

Texas Race Review: Dixie Does Dallas

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New Zealander Scott Dixon won going away Saturday night in Texas during a nearly entirely green flag race, shattering the track record with a race average of 191.9 mph. His margin of victory was almost eight seconds over Ganassi team mate Tony Kanaan in a race that lacked a dramatic conclusion but included plenty of close racing and passing if not outright speed. It was Dixon’s second win at Texas – the other back in 2008 – and he led ninety seven laps out of two hundred and forty eight.

Scott Dixon (9), of New Zealand, leads Tony Kanaan (10), of Brazil, out of Turn 4 late in the Firestone 600 IndyCar auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday June 6, 2015. Dixon won the race and Kanaan finished in second. (AP Photo/Larry Papke) ORG XMIT: TXTG135

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Chevy’s dominance continued, taking their seventh race out of nine. Oddly there were no crashes and only a single caution for debris all night long north of Dallas, resulting in only four cars on the lead lap at the conclusion. That said, the caution was too long as usual dragging out for over a dozen laps. The one restart saw exciting three wide racing break out on track again, though it was short lived. Dixon and Kanaan showed no team sympathies in their intra-TCGR battle for supremacy at TMS.

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The NBCSN pre-race coverage had some interesting segments. There were several morbid moments during a Robin Miller interview with the ornery octogenarian legend A.J. Foyt. Repeatedly referring to death as well as age and longevity, Miller missed in keeping it either light or informative in his talk with AJ. The four time Indy 500 winner did manage to say “Whoever you go with, you gotta stand up with ’em, good or bad. I’m not happy on their [Honda’s] air package . . ., as far as the body I think they’re out to lunch.”

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After talking to AJ, Miller then went on to do an abbreviated “grid run” of little worth. Continue reading

IndyCar Texas Predictions & Prognostications: Probation Edition

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Texas Motor Speedway routinely provides some of the most intense, fast and exciting racing on the IndyCar calendar. Thank you Eddie Gossage. And thank you IndyCar for not screwing it up. Its thrills and spills guarantee fans and viewers an action packed night of fun, year in and year out with few exceptions. We at IRR are absolutely delighted to behold another night race on the big, high banked, high speed oval and confidently predict that it won’t disappoint.

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That is unless the series meddles too much with the rules – again. The surprise of the weekend will be if IndyCar’s last minute fiddling with aero kits and ass pods and allowing teams little testing in the haphazard process – see spectacular practice crashes from Indianapolis – doesn’t foul up the racing again this year. Those are really the only races that ever disappoint at Texas, when the series tries to make the racing “more safe” – read as buzz killing – and end up turning Denton’s diamond into dino dung.

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Like IndyCar in general when at its best, the enticement of TMS is the passing, the close side by side or “pack” racing AND its inherent dangers. Continue reading