Pocono Race Review: Tragedy in Pennsylvania

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Ryan Hunter-Reay crossed the finish line first for Andretti Autosport at Pocono Sunday evening, but there were no celebrations and no confetti in a subdued victory lane. His team mate Justin Wilson had already been airlifted to the hospital and as yet no one at the track knew his status. It was the strangest scene after a race in memory as a pall hung heavily over the gathered crowd.

Wilson was hit in the head by debris from Sage Karam’s car, which disintegrated when he spun and hit the wall while leading the last portion of the race. Karam injured his right foot in the wreck, but he got off lightly compared to Justin. Slumped forward in the cockpit, Wilson was clearly already knocked unconscious as the car hit the inside wall and came to a stop. Today Wilson remains in a coma in critical condition. Sadly Justin passed away Monday night. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Englishman’s family.

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The incident isn’t dissimilar to the case of F-1 driver Jules Bianchi, Continue reading

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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: Seconds Edition

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Rahal’s Reeling ‘Em In: With his surprising hometown win at Mid-Ohio, Graham Rahal jumped to second pulling within nine points of the championship lead with two races to go. It’s been an incredible year for Rahal, who’s won twice, scored multiple podium finishes and an impressive eight top fives. At the same time, Montoya’s fading in the homestretch not even having appeared on the podium in months. JPM did win Pocono last year though, and can’t be counted out yet – no matter how much we might like to do so.

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Television Ratings Rise: For the fourth race in a row on NBCSN, viewership of IndyCar was up for Mid-Ohio. The combined numbers for the live showing on CNBC and the later re-air on NBCSN rivaled ABC races with nearly seven hundred thousand viewers. That’s the highest ever rated IndyCar race on the cable sports network, which now also shows NASCAR. For a sport where seconds count that’s an outstanding trend and one that could continue, though it’ll have to withstand a withering three week break before Pocono.

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Return of the Mad Russian: SPM announced Mikhail Aleshin Continue reading

Mid-Ohio Race Review: ‘Graham Being Graham’ Edition

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Finally Graham Rahal won a race on his home track after seven previous starts at Mid-Ohio and nary a podium to show for them. Inheriting the lead after pitting just as a caution flag came out, Rahal determinedly held on for his second win in what’s already his best ever season in IndyCar. Unfortunately Courtney Force wasn’t on hand for her fiance’s big day yesterday, as she brightens up any venue she attends. But who can blame her for skipping Mid-Ohio though, really?

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During the pre race show Katie Hargitt interviewed Graham Rahal about “growing up at Mid-Ohio.” Graham mentioned remembering camping there as a youth, seamlessly worked in his sponsor Steak ‘N Shake and spoke of generally “terrorizing the place.” We wonder why there are never any Maxim references from Rahal. His helmet for the race resembled the Ohio State Buckeyes football headgear, right down to the buckeye stickers awarded for good play. Graham mentioned he wanted to introduce helmet stickers to his pit crew for performance, citing “competition.” It must have worked, as his crew performed well all day long.

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Coming off an American sweep in Iowa, Mid-Ohio was packed in anticipation of a home town hero emerging and the fans weren’t disappointed. NBCSN’s competent coverage on CNBC included all the usual angles, as Katie Hargitt also interviewed Sage Karam, asking him about the recent dust-ups with Ed Carpenter and Graham. Sage first played the pity card before calling Rahal out.

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“I think a lot of people are picking on the rookie, to be honest. Continue reading

IndyCar News Week in Review: Derrick, We Hardly Knew Ye

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Walker Walks: Mark Miles announced Derrick Walker’s resignation as IndyCar President of Competition Thursday, effective at season’s end. Walker’s brief two year tenure leaves yet another void in series leadership, using the term loosely. His biggest challenge was overseeing the introduction of the costly and controversial aero kits this season in an effort to differentiate the look of the cars.

Mike Hull, Target Chip Ganassi Racing team manager

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Walker’s Wake: It’s become a freakin’ turnstile at 16th & Georgetown and speculation about a replacement for Walker has already begun. Curt Cavin pointed to Ganassi honcho Mike Hull as a likely replacement, but we just don’t see it. Hull has the knowledge and experience, but he’s an extremely odd duck and like Walker would struggle as a face of the series with the press. Walker’s impending departure at the end of August also means we’ve a lame duck in charge of race control for the final three races, so don’t expect an immediate uptick in rational calls or a more even application of penalties. Sadly such inconsistency will be Walker’s legacy as competition chief.

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Expected Engine Infractions: Several Honda teams, including Andretti Autosport, Continue reading

IndyCar News Week in Review: Rule 9.3.8 Edition

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Boob Tube Views News: Television viewership increased for the third straight race – that’s third straight oval race, thank you very much – on NBCSN. It’s welcome news for the series and network, although at roughly 500,000 it’s kinda like being voted prettiest woman who was formerly a male decathlete. [Rule 9.3.8 violation] Then the rule 9.3.8 controversy – which we had nothing to do with – sprang forth and sucked all the air out of IndyCar’s room. Oh well. We’re already looking forward to the last remaining oval contest at Pocono – the racing’s been superb on the circular tracks, particularly Fontana and Iowa – and predict that Mid-Ohio won’t have either the racing or the ratings IndyCar’s been enjoying. [Rule 9.3.8 violation]

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Iowa’s Intensity: Sage Karam violently burst onto the niche cable sports channel stage Saturday night for the few hundred thousand viewers who tuned in to see the show. Attendance at the track looked off a bit as Ryan Hunter-Reay won again which we’ve all seen before – three times now and twice in a row – but the race itself was outstanding. Bonus drama broke out with Ed “Macho Man” Carpenter getting into “Wild Man” Sage’s face and letting the f-bombs fly. And all completely penalty free, to boot. Finally, it looks like “Indy Rivals” may be starting to get some actual rivals for a change. [Rule 9.3.8 violation]

17-18 July, 2015, Newton, Iowa USA Sage Karam ©2015 Scott R LePage  LAT Photo USA

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Penalties Are Passe: As predicted no drivers were penalized for the mayhem in Iowa, 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

Milwaukee ‘IndyFest’ Preview: IndyCar’s History?!

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Prepare to watch fast on NBCSN this weekend for both qualifying and the IndyCar race will occur on Sunday within a few hours of one another, just like the good ol’ days. On a darker note, it may also be the last opportunity you ever have to see artistry on wheels at the historic track in Milwaukee. Ominously, it’ll mark the one hundred thirteenth IndyCar type race at America’s oldest remaining major sports venue – or what we at IRR affectionately refer to as the “Methuselah Mile” – opened way back in 1903.

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The Milwaukee “IndyFest” as it’s now known is an Andretti promoted event with a State Fair always nearby and even a Ferris wheel. Michael’s not only given us that merry moniker but also complaints about low attendance, lack of revenue and the like. It’s gotten to the point where Andretti’s threatening to pull out unless the bottom line improves. Sometimes lost in this is the fact that it’s his promotion company that’s responsible for the success of the event, which revolves largely around attendance. Considering the NOLA fiasco and now this, we’re beginning to question the efficacy of Andretti’s promotional abilities. If you’re a regular reader then you know we often wonder, “What’s Michael Andretti Thinking?

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In fairness we give credit to Andretti for saving the event at Milwaukee several years ago, but would similarly demote him if he were to pull the plug on America’s oldest IndyCar track. If that were to happen and Milwaukee were to disappear from the schedule like a lost city of gold, the loss of another oval – especially such an historic one –  would be beyond tragic. It’d be tantamount to Major League Baseball not visiting Wrigley Field, or the NFL by passing Lambeau. It’d be the end of history.

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Historically Ryan Hunter Reay‘s had success at Milwaukee, Continue reading

Toronto Race Review: Take That NASCAR

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While NASCAR was rain delayed several hours at MIS – a track they stole from IndyCar, thank you Roger Penske – another classic IndyCar street fight broke out in what two time race winner and authentic Canuck Paul Tracy called “one of the best races I’ve ever seen at Toronto.” American Josef Newgarden won his second race of the season and his career as team owner Sarah Fisher – who happens to be female – shed tears of joy after the newly merged team went 1-2 with Italian Lucca Filippi. After disappointing in qualifying, Newgarden won from an 11th place starting position taking his second win in the last seven races.

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Despite absolutely awful renditions of both national anthems by Canadian rock group The Trews – which saw drivers and WAGS trying not to laugh on camera – IndyCar put on a helluva race in Toronto. With collisions galore in the wet and then dry conditions there was hard racing, action and passing all afternoon and merely two yellows – half the recent race average and fewer than expected on the wet streets of Exhibition Place. All the gnashing of teeth about another timed race, NBCSN not showing the number of laps, and so forth was all for naught as the race went the full eighty five laps in the end.

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Team mates got thickly into the fight, with Filippi and Newgarden, Power and Pags, and Gonzalez and seemingly everyone else fighting it out on track. The banging began immediately when Stefano “double secret probation” Coletti hit Frenchman Tristan Vautier on the opening lap, spinning them both. Flaunting his probationary status, the Monacan tangled with others during the course of the event too, later making contact with Charlie Kimball. Fortunately none of those incidents drew a yellow, though further penalties will be forthcoming.

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Surprisingly there were only two cautions the entire race, Continue reading