Sonoma Finale Race Review: ‘Damn It, Man!’ Championship Edition

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In a result few outside of Chip Ganassi‘s Star Wars bar scene inner circle saw coming, Kiwi Scott Dixon won both the Sonoma GoPro Grand Prix and the IndyCar championship Sunday, his third win of the year and fourth title of Dixie’s storied career. It was thanks in large part to Team Penske and Juan Montoya‘s monumental collapse. Leading since St. Pete it was Montoya’s title to lose, and he did so in spectacular fashion. Banging into and spinning team mate Will Power who was leading the race on the first restart, Montoya damaged the nose of his own car and threw the championship away in a single turn. JPM had enjoyed a substantial points lead going into the finale – thirty four over Rahal and forty seven over Dixon – but thanks to this epic brain fade finished second in a tie breaker on wins.

Aug 30, 2015; Sonoma, CA, USA; Pit crew for IndyCar Series driver Juan Pablo Montoya bring the car to the grid before the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

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The first half of the contest was fairly humdrum and typical of a Sonoma race as Leigh Diffey himself admitted in the latter stages. From pole Power sped away from the field and dominated the race until Montoya foolishly punted him. It being a Penske affair, of course no penalty was forthcoming. The first caution was a questionable flag for Filippi who hit  nothing but was supposedly slow on course. This was the beginning of race control rearing its ugly heads though, and unfortunately it would have an effect on the outcome. For the first time in months they penalized drivers during the contest with drive through penalties including one for Sebastien Bourdais who hit Graham Rahal from behind, spinning him out and costing him any chance at the title. Rahal angrily confronted Bourdais afterwards on pit lane, saying “Good job . . . you knew exactly where I was going and you drove like a f___ing d__k! ”

Graham Rahal, right, and Charlie Kimball (83) compete during the IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma auto race Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Sonoma, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) ORG XMIT: CAER108

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Josef Newgarden ran well in second but Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud parked it on pit road obstructing the young American’s exit from his pit box. 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

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

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

(That Was) Qualifications? Instant Reaction

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Either IndyCar’s qualifying rules need to be clarified in the event of rain or NBCSN’s Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Steve “Whoa!” Matchett need to do a better job of communicating them. By the way, we’d also appreciate more screen time for Kelly Stavast and less for Marty Snider. As usual, race control was fighting last week’s war, overly concerned with cars impeding traffic when that wasn’t the issue at Barber Saturday.

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For the second time in four races rain affected qualifications – or maybe it didn’t, we’re still not quite sure. Lots of live radar shots set the discombobulated tone for the session and conflicting, confusing messages from the commentators about rain, lightning and new procedures didn’t help matters. Capturing the atmosphere as well as possible Marty actually said late in round two, “Yeah, it’s definitely almost raining at this point.”

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Championship leader Juan Montoya struggled mightily, failing to advance to the second round and as a result will start fifteenth. Continue reading

Race Review, Long Beach: Quite a Reach

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New Zealand’s Scott Dixon triumphed for the first time in nine tries in his storied career at the Long Beach Grand Prix. Surprisingly, the Target driver’s best previous finish and only top ten at the track nearest his homeland was a 4th place in 2010. It’s the “Ice Man’s” thirty sixth IndyCar win putting him fifth all time behind Al Unser and Michael Andretti, whose records are both well within reach. Dixon passed Castro-Neves during pit stops as Helio hesitated waiting for Tony Kanaan to enter his pit box directly in front, and then opened up an insurmountable lead.

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The Penskes swept positions two through four with Helio, Montoya and Pagenaud, the former two battling it out to the very end. TCGR’s Kanaan took fifth, followed by KV’s Sebastian Bourdais and CFHR’s Josef Newgarden in 7th. Marco Andretti rebounded at Long Beach with an 8th place finish and top Honda after starting 10th. His team mate Carlos Munoz finished ninth while Sebastian Saavedra came in 10th in his first race back since a disappointing 2014. Penske’s 2014 Champion Will Power struggled all weekend, starting 18th and finishing twentieth after stalling on pit road. Hoosier Conor Daly jumped into the Coyne car as a late substitute and raced from 21st to 17th, making the biggest gain of the race.

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Fan reaction was split in regard to Long Beach, which is an improvement compared to the overwhelmingly negative reception the first two races enjoyed. Continue reading

IndyCar News Week in Review: Burgers, Cars & Money

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Money, Money: IndyCar announced an increase to Leader’s Circle monies to be paid out by about a quarter million dollars plus other larger “bonuses.” The hike brings the total paid per entrant to $1.25 million, reflecting both higher costs and revenues. These funds are paid by IndyCar to full time teams in lieu of decent race purses aside from the ever present Indy 500 exception.

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The 2015 Leader’s Circle includes twenty one entrants, but Simona de Silvestro in Andretti Autosport’s fourth car, Simon Pagenaud in Penske’s fourth car and Jack Hawksworth in AJ Foyt’s second car aren’t covered. These drivers in particular need to perform well for their sponsors and owners, who’ve risked something to provide their rides.

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Questioning the Kits: Will the new aero kits be quicker than the old Dallaras and will track records begin to fall? Continue reading