Indy 500 Predictions and Prognostications: Humble Edition

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The Indy 500 remains the most preeminent event on the American racing calendar, whether most people know it or not. Indy represents the high point of the IndyCar season and will be watched by several hundred thousand people at IMS and millions more on television around the globe. Disturbingly, for the first time in many years there exists real doubt surrounding driver and fan safety in the world’s biggest race. It’s a humbling thought, isn’t it?

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We’re tempted to predict rain for the race on Sunday the way IndyCar’s year has gone so far. Let’s recap the first third of the season – a canceled opener in Brazil, an injured fan due to flying debris and a couple other races that nearly bored viewers to death. Now there’s the somersaulting car problem and most recently Hinch‘s serious injury, both troubling issues indeed. In reality a rain postponement – it’s in the forecast – which would bring out a smaller crowd and shrunken press coverage may be the safest outcome for a series in the midst of another crisis, humbled once again.

James Hinchcliffe, of Canada, hits the wall in the third turn during practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Monday, May 18, 2015.  (Jimmy Dawson/The Indianapolis Star via AP) ORG XMIT: ININS101

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Conventional  wisdom holds the 500 will be a crash-fest – particularly if practice has been any indication – and it could well be. But we think not. Continue reading

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Indy 500 Preview: Aero Fits

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Thoroughly entertaining, last year’s Indianapolis 500 ran caution-free for the first three quarters of the race and featured an absolutely thrilling finish. American Ryan Hunter-Reay amazingly edged out Brazilian three-time winner Helio Castro Neves by less than a car length after passing him through the infield grass for the lead. The race was run with spec Dallara chassis, evolutionary cousin to the DW12. Before turning to this year’s 500, we have a serious question to ask. Now that the crown jewel of the sport the Indianapolis 500 has been adversely affected by aero kit madness, why not admit your mistake and go back to the pre aero kit Dallaras of last year, IndyCar?

The car driven by Josef Newgarden slides down the track after hitting the wall in the first turn and going airborne during practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Thursday, May 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Joe Watts) ORG XMIT: NAA120

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Practice for this year’s 500 turned out to be a disaster, especially for a number of Chevys which couldn’t manage to keep tires on the track instead getting airborne. The number of Chevys is three, in case you’re wondering. As a result the cars were slowed significantly, everyone was made safe and qualifications went off with a whimper, though there’s no denying the 500 was compromised by the last minute rules changes. Then Monday practice happened and things suddenly took a turn toward the injurious. James Hinchcliffe’s Honda hit the wall in a hard impact, breaking the Canuck Mayor’s leg and eliminating him from the field (and rest of the season) in the painful process. One driver down in the aero kit era at Indy, thirty two to go.

James Hinchcliffe, of Canada, hits the wall in the third turn during practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Monday, May 18, 2015.  (Jimmy Dawson/The Indianapolis Star via AP) ORG XMIT: ININS101

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Interestingly there are only two rookies in the field this year – Gabby “Pat” Chavez and Stefano “faster than Andretti” Coletti. Both start at the rear of the field. There are plenty of former 500 winners in the field of thirty three, however. Here’s the rundown of the participating victors: Continue reading

Indy 500 Qualifications Instant Reaction: Exorcism Edition

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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An exceptionally odd weekend unfolded at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with weather, aero kit caused crashes and high level closed door meetings all playing large roles in the dada-esque Indianapolis 500 qualifications show. Somehow IndyCar pulled it off in a single afternoon without anyone getting hurt or too many thousands of fans growing irate. Qualifications Sunday were in fact uneventful and even boring, just as the series wanted after a harrowing few days of testing, rain forcing a compressed one day schedule and another scary crash in the final practice. Carpenter’s wreck damaged the wall, delayed proceedings past the television window and eventually changed the Indianapolis 500 mile race.

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Decreased funding this year from Target helped Scott Dixon as the third driver on track put up the fastest speed of qualifications at 226.76 mph – over 3 miles per hour off last year’s pole. It’s the New Zealander’s second Indianapolis 500 pole – last time in 2008 he dominated the race and won. “I’m so damn happy – for this team,” he blurted after being forced to watch drivers target his speed all afternoon. Continue reading

IndyCar News Week in Review: “Talkin’ ‘Bout Practice” Edition

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Misleading Speeds: Andretti Autosport’s cat-like Colombian Carlos Munoz topped the speed charts at Indy this week with a lap of 230.1 miles per hour on Wednesday. It’s a misleading number, however. Without tows from other cars the speeds had been in the high 220s, compliments of Helio, Pags and Chevy’s special new aero pieces. We stand by our prediction that there’ll be no new track records at Indianapolis this year, at least not in qualifying. Possibly in the number of back-flips by a car down the straightaway, though.

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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Helio’s Bad Day: Wednesday’s practice got expensive and scary for Team Penske’s Helio Castro-Neves, who got sideways, hit the wall and then somersaulted down the straightaway ultimately landing upside down on track. Fortunately and thanks to the safety of the Dallara cars he was uninjured. All this after IndyCar slapped him with an iron fisted though admittedly tortoise-paced reprimand subtracting eight points. Talk about adding insult to injury. The penalty was for last Saturday’s punting of Dixie at the start of the Grand Prix of Indy and was deserved, if not obvious. It came four days later – now that’s some decisive decision making from race control for ya.  Continue reading

Grand Prix of Indy Predictions and Prognostications: Gavel Down Edition

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Amidst a hail storm of flying carbon fiber debris and to the surprise of many Simon Pagenaud won last year’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. SPM wasn’t considered an upper echelon team at the time, though Pags won two races for Schmidt last year and put the team on the map before going to Penske during the off season’s free agent signing of the year. Following Pags’ departure SPM signed Mayor James Hinchcliffe who’d parted ways with Andretti Autosport to fill the Frenchman’s former seat. Hinch was horrifyingly struck in the helmet by debris, concussed and briefly incapacitated during last year’s GP of Indy in an unsettling sequence of events. These two intertwined drivers and teams will figure largely at Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon.

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Our special prediction for this weekend’s event concerns the greatly increased signage at the Speedway this year. It’s crass commercialism on display. You’ll no doubt notice it immediately upon tuning in, with the gi-normous Angie’s List double banner stretched obstructively across the yard of bricks. We predict the Continue reading

IndyCar News Week in Review: Second Thoughts Edition

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Chevy’s Been Very, Very Naughty: The bow tie brand was slapped with penalties this week for switching out faulty valve springs on their engines following their sweep at St. Pete. Hundreds of points were deducted in the manufacturer’s championship for what amounts to a parts recall. As a result Chevy has negative points after one race despite dominating it. The IndyCar manufacturer’s championship rewards reliability as well as wins and the series requires 2500 miles before “non-minor” changes can be made to the power plants. In this case Chevy took the penalty for the early valve spring change rather than risk engine failure. The points deduction approach makes more sense than last year’s ten grid position penalty, which confused fans and those responsible for reporting the starting order alike.

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Already Aero Kit Updates: In the wake of the St. Pete embarrassment and serious injury to a spectator, IndyCar ordered first Honda and then Chevy to strengthen their flimsy aero kits with still more parts and pieces. Honda’s even strengthening their rear tire guards or “ass pods” in the temporary fix, as well. These remedies will supposedly strengthen the cars, though both drivers and manufacturers have pointed out that they aren’t designed for contact and should be driven accordingly especially with a price tag of $20,000. We’re not overly confident the bumping on the road courses in the IndyCar series is going away anytime soon – or the flying near lethal pieces – but we are glad IndyCar heeded our warning about the danger of the new kits.

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Who Got JR?: Famous 500 wall banger J.R. Hildebrand will drive the third car for CFH Racing in both Indianapolis races in May. Continue reading

IndyCar’s Chopping Block: A Gory Recent History

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It’s a bloody business ending people’s careers, although not so long ago it was a good deal worse when one’s fate literally rested in the executioner’s hands. At the risk of sounding unsympathetic or even – gasp! – ‘mean spirited,’ IndyCar’s a business and personnel changes are a grim but necessary aspect of the sport. Besides these folks get paid handsomely to ‘work’ in IndyCar, which would be a dream job for millions. Sentimentality aside, let’s cut to the chase and review the recent terminations and potential axing of some of IndyCar’s more recognizable faces.

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Living the dream until lately, Sebastian Saavedra made fifty seven big league starts and has absolutely no results. Never coming close to a win, the quirky Colombian failed to crack the top five and only recorded three top tens in the equivalent of four seasons. He’s finished at the very bottom of the field with KVSH two years running now. You may recall his one highlight turned out to be a disaster, as pole position at the inaugural Indy Grand Prix led to a stall and spectacularly expensive carbon fiber shower. In SeSaav’s case as in others it was high time a quick cut was made.

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Ryan Briscoe had a decent IndyCar career over the last decade with seven wins, but it appears to be in the past tense.   Continue reading

An Interview with Brian Carroccio Previewing IndyCar’s 2015 Season

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Widely read AutoRacing1 columnist and one of IRR’s favorites is Brian Carroccio, a thirty eight year old family man who hails from Rockville, Maryland near our nation’s crime and politician ridden capital. Charmingly Brian or BC as we call him doesn’t know how many Twitter followers he has – it’s in excess of a thousand – though he does know good racing, has attended the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and plans to do so again. Interestingly, he said the most surprising country in which his readership can be found is the Ukraine.

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BC loves his family, the Washington Redskins and racing, and we say two out of three ain’t bad. He grew up a Newman-Haas IndyCar fan in a racing household with his dad doing duty in sports car pits on weekends. Brian began watching IndyCar in its latter day hey day with superstars Mears, Unsers, Andrettis, Sullivan, Rahal and Foyt battling it out on track. His favorite drivers growing up were Al Unser, Sr. and Paul Tracy. He also admits to following soccer – some club called Man U – but we’re willing to overlook that. Rooting for the Redskins however is unpardonable.

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We began the interview by asking BC about the Andrettis and their legacy in IndyCar. His response was rather surprising.

BC: “Mario’s Mario, a legendary winner. What can you say? As far as Michael, he was a vastly under-appreciated driver who had an epic career. To have raced and won against the level of competition that Michael did is amazing, and that was with the Andretti name and all its expectations. But as good as he was as a driver, he’s an even better owner. What he does for the sport, from team building to promotion to resurrecting Milwaukee, exceeds what the other owners have done.”  Continue reading

Will The New CFH Racing Marriage Last?

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The amalgamation of Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing officially occurred in late 2014, forging the fabled new CFH Racing. Perhaps not since Ferdinand and Isabella’s marriage unifying Spain in the 15th century has a union been so momentous. On the surface the IndyCar marriage makes sense, as both capital deprived single car teams could use a team mate’s help, data and support. The thinking was that two marginally to mildly successful groups would join forces and become greater than the sum of their parts – like medieval Spain, a new force to be reckoned with. Scratch the surface on that shiny new IndyCar edifice however, and the crucial process of integration has a ways to go.

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IndyCar News Week in Review: The New And Unimproved Edition

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Rule Book Revisions:  A number of changes to IndyCar’s rule book were announced Tuesday amidst the usual outcry from fans. Double points will be awarded for the Indianapolis 500 and the Sonoma finale only, causing a torrent of upset and gnashing of teeth on Twitter. This is a reflection of displeasure with the finale’s location as much as the attempt to manufacture championship drama. It means the triple crown for 500 mile events sadly is gone. Mercifully there will be no standing starts in 2015, as the “fastest drivers on the planet” couldn’t seem to master them despite numerous, often aborted attempts. Then there was the inaugural Indy Grand Prix start, which spelt the end of both standing starts and quite possibly Sebastian Saavedra’s brief IndyCar career.

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