Grand Prix Of Baltimore - Day 3

Post-Baltimore, a look at Pagenaud’s win, second season, and title prospects

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I have to apologize in advance for the lateness of this post. There was so much controversy and drama in the aftermath of IndyCar’s Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT, and so many other surprises in the top five, that I didn’t do a proper look at winner Simon Pagenaud’s race, and for that matter, a detailed look at his 2013 season.

That’s an oversight that needs to be corrected.

For years, Pagenaud has been IndyCar’s star-in-waiting, a driver destined for greatness and championship contention if he hit the right opportunity with the right team. He’s coming close, now, with HP Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports in the No. 77 Honda and engineer Ben Bretzman.

As his second full season in the IZOD IndyCar Series nears a close (third overall, counting his 2007 Champ Car rookie campaign), now’s a good time to do an analysis of how the Frenchman occasionally known as “Jean Girard” has emerged as a title sleeper for the last three races.

OVERALL

  • 2012: 15 starts, 4 podiums, 6 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 63 laps led, 1 DNF, 11.2 qualifying average, 3 Firestone Fast Six appearances, 5th in points
  • 2013: 16 starts, 2 wins, 3 podiums, 4 top-fives, 11 top-10s, 39 laps led, 1 DNF, 12.5 qualifying average, 1 Firestone Fast Six appearance, 3rd in points

On a purely statistical breakdown, those numbers in year two fail to measure up to year one. But I’d expect with three races remaining he can eclipse his first-year stats because the Schmidt team appears to be hitting its stride from an engineering side in the last part of the season. Pagenaud called Baltimore the best combined weekend of the year between himself and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie teammate, Tristan Vautier.

“This weekend I think was probably our best weekend as a race team with two cars,” Pagenaud said right after Baltimore. “Allen (McDonald) was very experienced on Tristan’s car and Tristan was very fast straightaway here. So we started with same setup. We went different directions. One direction was better. We kept going in that direction and we improved both cars at the same time.”

More than outright pace, Pagenaud’s consistency and lack of mistakes has served him best in the first two years. Save for points leader Helio Castroneves, Pagenaud has secured the best finishing record with 15 of 16 races this year in the top-13; he’s always maximizing his result on days his car might not have the measure of a Ganassi, a Penske or an Andretti. And with two wins in the most chaotic races of the year, he’s seized the opportunity when it’s come to him.

Where they’re not quite there yet is qualifying. Entering Baltimore, Pagenaud, shockingly to my eyes, had not made a Fast Six appearance yet this year. He had only the 12th-best qualifying average of full-time drivers. With that now in the bank, and Pagenaud as one of only a handful of drivers with Houston experience (he raced there in both Formula Atlantic and Champ Car), I’d expect the No. 77 car in the top-five there all weekend.

OVALS

  • 2012: 5 starts, 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 16.8 qualifying average
  • 2013: 5 starts, 3 top-10s, 13.8 qualifying average

Pagenaud ranks third in road and street course points (311 to Scott Dixon’s 326 and Helio Castroneves’ 315) and a respectable ninth in oval points with 120 in only his second year ever racing ovals. Come the 500-mile finale in Fontana, Pagenaud is a sleeper for success as he’ll now have three 500-mile races under his belt and knows how to pace himself from his endurance racing background.

Qualifying on ovals isn’t imperative, but Pagenaud has improved on these disciplines this year. He’s also one of six drivers getting some laps in at a Firestone tire test on Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; IMS and Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway are far from identical layouts but additional track time never hurts.

BALTIMORE

source: Getty Images
Simon Pagenaud leads Justin Wilson – Getty Images

Simply, Pagenaud kept his head while others around him wilted. It was a controlled race with opportunistic moves at the right time.

Pagenaud’s Lap 69 will go down in history as one of the race laps of the year, if not the last several years. It began with a perfectly-timed maneuver on Marco Andretti into Turn 1, followed by holding off Andretti’s repass attempt in Turn 3, and then an excellent level of gamesmanship in forcing countryman to Sebastien Bourdais at the outside of Turn 8.

“I’m not going to open the door. I’m going for a race win. I need this for the championship,” he said about the Bourdais battle. “But always clean; I want to always say, he’s a good friend, he’s very clean, and we both race and we both race for different teams and when it’s time to go for the win, you go for the win.”

CAN HE WIN THE TITLE?

Pagenaud is 70 points back of Castroneves and, like fellow Honda driver Dixon, in a spot where he has absolutely nothing to lose over the last three races. But like Dixon, he needs Castroneves to fail to finish one if not both races at Houston to have a realistic chance.

Closing that number of points can be done, though. Dixon’s three-race win streak earlier this year from Pocono to Toronto vaulted him from 92 back of Castroneves to just 29 back (332-240 after Iowa to 425-396 after Toronto 2), a gain of 63 points. And that was with Castroneves finishing in the top-10 in all three races.

Add a sprinkle of bad luck for the Team Penske driver and it could well be a three-horse race for the 2013 IndyCar title, yet.

Meyrick, Price reunite with Bullitt Racing McLaren GT4

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Photo: Bullitt Racing
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Veteran sports car driver Andy Meyrick and legendary team manager David Price will reunite on Bullitt Racing’s entry into the GT4 European Series Northern Cup in 2017. Meyrick will share the team’s McLaren 570S GT4 with new co-driver Stephen Pattrick.

Meyrick and Price worked together with Don Panoz’s DeltaWing Racing Cars program from 2013 through 2014, in the program’s continuation with new components after initial technical partners left the operation.

Meyrick was recently at the Rolex 24 at Daytona supporting his protege, Seb Morris, who ran well in the Whelen Engineering-backed No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R for Action Express Racing.

“I’ve been keeping a very close eye on GT4 for the last couple of years now, I really admire the racing and the close competition,” Meyrick said.

“The team is well organized and I’m sure will be competitive very quickly, this was a key part of my decision to take the role.

“Led by David Price, the team has a great opportunity to challenge at the front of the pack this year. I’m excited to be a part of GT4.”

Price, who will be team principal, added: “We were looking for an experienced GT racer to lead our team and take the fight straight to the front, Andy is perfect for the role. We are delighted to have him onboard.”

The Northern Cup season begins at Misano on April 2, the first weekend of a six-race schedule (Brands Hatch May 7, Red Bull Ring June 11, Slovakia Ring July 16, Zandvoort August 20, Nürburgring September 17).

Michael Andretti: ‘We must be the best Honda team’

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 12:  Team owner Michael Andretti stands on the grid prior to the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 12, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedways)
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Andretti Autosport is banking on a couple of its offseason engineering changes and motivation throughout its four-car driver lineup to reassert itself within the Verizon IndyCar Series after a challenging 2016 season.

Outside of the month of May in Indianapolis, where Alexander Rossi won the 100th Indianapolis 500, Andretti Autosport struggled as a team last season, primarily on the road and street courses.

By the season finale at Sonoma Raceway though, the team had made some setup gains and was firmly in contention with all four cars.

Team principal Michael Andretti is setting his sights on being “best in class” first, as with 13 Hondas compared to only eight Chevrolets, there’s already a lot of other teams with the same aero kit and manufacturer to get ahead of before making an outright challenge to the Chevrolet teams.

Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport both field four cars, while Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing (two cars each) and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (one) make up the balance of the 13 Hondas.

“I think it’s going to come down to the race tracks. Certain tracks I think we can be more competitive than others. So it’s that,” Andretti told my colleague Luke Smith at this weekend’s FIA Formula E Buenos Aires ePrix, where the Amlin Andretti team competed in the third round of that season.

“But I think our goal as a team is that we must be the best Honda team, and get our licks in when we can with the rest of it.

“Still our goal is obviously we want to repeat at Indy again and win the championship. I think we still have the team to do it. But we have to have a trouble-free year.”

Andretti himself will move off the strategist’s box for the first time in 2017, which sees him and Marco Andretti separate from that standpoint after years together. This primarily frees up Michael Andretti to be at other series events where his team competes, whether in Formula E or Red Bull Global Rallycross, if there are conflict weekends between it and IndyCar (there are several).

With Eric Bretzman brought on board as technical director for Andretti Autosport, it also will free up Ryan Hunter-Reay’s engineer and race strategist, Ray Gosselin, to focus solely on the No. 28 DHL Honda instead of being the overall engineering head for the team.

“I think his mental bandwidth will be freed up for the 28,” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports at the Phoenix test.

Michael Andretti, who hailed the team chemistry preseason last year, said things are better within the operation this year as it looks ahead to the season.

Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti are motivated to bounce back from tough years, Alexander Rossi now has a year of experience under his belt and a good relationship with both his new strategist (Rob Edwards) and engineer (Jeremy Milless) and Takuma Sato joins from A.J. Foyt Enterprises looking to impress in a big team.

“I feel really good. We’ve made changes in our team but I think we’ve made really positive changes that I think have strengthened our team,” Michael Andretti said. “I’m very excited where that’s at. It’s going to come down to execution.”

The team will again run five cars at the Indianapolis 500, with the fifth car the subject of much interest from a mix of both ‘500 veterans and up-and-coming younger talents who’ve made some splashes in IndyCar.

While nothing is settled on that front, Andretti is confident a deal can be reached sooner rather than later.

“It’s coming together. We have about four or five different options that we’re working on. Hopefully in the next couple we’ll have something,” he said.

Happy 80th birthday to ‘The Captain,’ Roger Penske

SONOMA, CA - AUGUST 23: Team owner Roger Penske watches from pit road during the Verizon IndyCar Series GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma practice at Sonoma Raceway on August 23, 2014 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
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Roger Penske turns 80 today, and there’s no sign of the racing team owner and automotive magnate slowing down at all.

Penske’s team is fresh off its 50th anniversary season of competition in 2016, where its Verizon IndyCar Series program went 1-2-3 in points with 10 wins from 16 races, its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team won seven races with its two drivers, and Penske also achieved wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and podiums in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.

All the while, Penske continues to rack up the miles on the road for all his hundreds of dealerships, continuing with his daily mantra of “effort equals results.”

You could roll through the accolades from his and the team’s history but another Penske classic mantra is that the team can’t be distracted by its own press clippings; instead, it keeps on pushing to be even better.

To most he’s known as Mr. Penske, to a select few Roger, and to an even more select few “RP.”

But he is known to all as “The Captain,” and at 80, we’re thankful for his eternal service to racing.

Three spectators injured at Volusia Speedway as car leaves track

BARBERVILLE, FL - FEBRUARY 07:  Joey Saldana, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, and Donny Schatz, driver of the #15 Armor All, race during the World of Outlaws 39th Annual DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH at Volusia Speedway Park on February 7, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for Kasey Kahne Racing)
Volusia Speedway in 2010. Photo: Getty Images
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Three spectators were injured and transported to a local hospital following an accident at Volusia Speedway Park just east of Barberville, Fla. on Sunday night, although as of Monday one spectator has been released.

The incident occurred as Dale Blaney’s winged sprint car flipped over a fence at Turn 2 and into a spectator area, after being involved with Rico Abreu and Jason Sides. This week features the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia, for the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint series.

Via DirtRacingReport.com, Volusia has released an update on the three spectators injured. That statement is below:

Three participants in the pit area were injured in an incident at a DIRTcar Nationals World of Outlaws event at Volusia Speedway Park Sunday night when a car went through the fence in turn two. All patients were treated by emergency personnel immediately according to safety protocol and transported to Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla.

UPDATE:

We would like to extend a thank you for everyone’s thoughts and prayers for the three participants injured in the pit area Sunday night during the 46th running of the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park.

Two of the three individuals remain in the care of medical staff at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla. Each have family present at the hospital and have requested privacy at this time.

Michael Brooks, 69, of Kalamazoo, Mich., is one of the individuals involved. His family and friends are at Halifax Health Medical Center and have requested privacy.

Meanwhile, Gary Streek, of the United Kingdom, has been discharged. His uncle, Alan Wardel, was admitted after experiencing some discomfort while visiting Streek at Halifax, but has since been discharged as well.

While a video of the crash had circulated on social media, it has since been deleted. According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, accident witness Amber Janney Cox of Orange City said she watched Blaney’s car “bounce up on the grass area and then bounce up over the fence.” The full report from the News-Journal is here.

This is the second such incident at Volusia in three days, although the first on Friday night when Joey Saldana’s car flipped over the backstraight featured no injuries.