IndyCar’s on-track stories to come over the final 3 races

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It might be – scratch that, is easier – to ask the questions yet to be determined in the IZOD IndyCar Series season, and silly season, over the next few weeks before the Shell Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader October 5-6.

It’s been a year for the series that has featured an excellent on-track product for the most part, save for a couple caution-infested wreck fests. Still, there’s a number of things on-and-off track to sort out here between now and Houston. We’ll just rattle them off, starting with the on-track in this post and the off-track in a separate one:

ON-TRACK

  • Can Helio Castroneves finally seal the deal for his first title? The Brazilian leads Scott Dixon by 49, Simon Pagenaud by 70, Marco Andretti by 71 and Ryan Hunter-Reay by 74. Realistically it will be just between the top two if Dixon can claw back the gap, and for any of third through fifth to have a shot, Castroneves must hit trouble in Houston. Thus far the model of consistency, Castroneves has completed all 2,003 laps this year.
  • Will IndyCar tie, or break, the different number of race winners? There’s been 10 so far and with three races left to go, talents such as Dario Franchitti, Justin Wilson and Andretti are among those who haven’t won yet. Consider Ed Carpenter is your defending champion at Fontana and there’s still a good five or six drivers who you could see breaking through to tie the record of 11 (set in 2000 and 2001, in CART), or set a new record of 12 or 13 this year.
  • There’s also a chance IndyCar could hit 20 podium finishers this year. Thus far 18 drivers have and some of the potentials who could but haven’t yet are Carpenter, E.J. Viso, JR Hildebrand, and Oriol Servia.
  • The Manufacturer’s Championship is also up for grabs. Honda and Chevrolet are square on eight wins apiece, and 120 points. Whoever wins two of the next three – first to 10 wins – takes the crown this year. Either Chevrolet defends or Honda has its first since the return of engine competition.
  • Will prior Houston experience pay dividends? Eight drivers projected to race next month have started at Houston in either Champ Car or Formula Atlantic (Sebastien Bourdais, Oriol Servia, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Simona de Silvestro, Justin Wilson, James Hinchcliffe, Will Power) and will likely have a leg up from the off. 

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “