Sonoma Pack - IndyCar

Year after year, IndyCar has delivered championship thrillers

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For the last decade, NASCAR has utilized a playoff-style format – the Chase for the Sprint Cup – to determine the champion of its top-tier series. But INDYCAR has not done the same thing for its IZOD IndyCar Series.

The latter is all the better for it. Because while the Chase is designed to juice things up by resetting the field for the final 10 races of the Sprint Cup season, there’s something to be said about INDYCAR opting to let its competitors settle their title disputes on their own and without gimmicks.

In each of the last seven seasons, the IZOD IndyCar Series championship has come down to the final race of the year. And with the 2013 campaign winding down, it seems like a good time to take a quick look back on all of those thrilling battles from 2006-2012.

2006 – Sam Hornish Jr. over Dan Wheldon

The entire ’06 season was basically a duel between Team Penske’s Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves versus Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon. The foursome earned 12 wins in that year’s 14-race schedule, and they were the ones to duke it out for the title in the season finale at Chicagoland Speedway.

Castroneves entered the Windy City with a one-point edge on Hornish, but on race day, a speeding penalty on pit road forced him to rally from the back of the field. He made it back toward the front but problems with lapped traffic caused him to finish fourth. Wheldon and Dixon took a 1-2 finish for Ganassi, but Hornish’s third-place finish ensured that he would win the title on a tiebreaker – his four wins besting Wheldon’s two.

2007 – Dario Franchitti over Scott Dixon

Dixon started to set the stage for a dramatic ’07 finale against Franchitti with a second-place finish at Kentucky that pulled him within eight points of the Scotsman. Then he moved into the championship lead with a win at Sonoma that came about after Franchitti made late-race contact with Marco Andretti.

But things got even more heated at Detroit, when an incident on the penultimate lap involving Scott Dixon and Buddy Rice sent the former into a spin (and the latter into the tire barriers). Franchitti tried to go to the outside of the spinning Dixon, but Dixon’s car then moved across and blocked Franchitti.

Franchitti was still able to finish sixth and headed to Chicagoland with a three-point lead over Dixon. Fittingly enough, the two drivers fought each other over the final 50 laps for the win and the championship. But on the last lap, Dixon’s car ran out of fuel in Turn 3 while leading the race, enabling Franchitti to zip past and take the IndyCar title in dramatic fashion.

2008 – Scott Dixon over Helio Castroneves

Castroneves did his best to whittle down his deficit in the standings to Dixon late in the ’08 season. In Sonoma, Castroneves took the checkered flag and chopped the gap to 43 points with two races left. Detroit saw him penalized for blocking late in the race, but while it cost him the win, he still moved within 30 points of Dixon going to Chicagoland for the finale.

There, Castroneves did everything he could do right. Despite starting dead last after running below the white line during qualifying, Castroneves still managed to win the race by .0033 of a second. The only problem? Dixon, a six-time race winner in ’08, was there with him at the finish – netting a runner-up result that garnered him a second IndyCar title by 17 points over the Brazilian.

2009 – Dario Franchitti over Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe

Briscoe emerged as Team Penske’s lead driver over the winter and took a 25-point lead over Franchitti into the final two races after his third win of the season at Chicagoland, the third-to-last race of the year. That put him in position to beat the pair of Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates.

But an incident leaving pit lane at Motegi, the second-to-last race, left him 18th on the day and with a minimum 12 points achieved. The Target teammates went 1-2 there, led by Dixon. Then at the finale in Homestead, a fuel mileage derby, Franchitti ran slower but pitted one less time; DIxon and Briscoe needed a final splash of fuel in the last eight laps. That left Franchitti, back in IndyCar after a year’s sojourn to NASCAR, champion with 616 points to Dixon’s 605, and Briscoe’s 604.

2010 – Dario Franchitti over Will Power

On the strength of five victories, most in the field in 2010, Will Power was poised to capture his first championship in his first full season with Team Penske. It all went for naught though at the final race in Homestead, where Power entered with a 12-point lead over Franchitti.

There, Franchitti took pole and Power qualified third. Needing to at least shade Franchitti or hope the Scotsman didn’t win the race, Power made the first of his title-losing mistakes – with contact in the wall between Turn 3 and 4. His crew worked valiantly to get him back out but he retired after 143 laps with suspension damage. That left Franchitti firmly in the driver’s seat and with eighth place and Power 25th, Franchitti won the title by five, 602-597, over Power.

2011 – Dario Franchitti over Will Power

Power had six wins to Franchitti’s four entering what became, unfortunately, the season finale in Kentucky. The Australian led the Scotsman by 11 points going into Kentucky, 542-531. Power took pole at Kentucky and despite a dominant first half of the race, contact when Ana Beatriz hit Power’s left side sidepod put a dent in his chances. He raced the rest of the day with the aero deficiencies and finished 18th.

Franchitti, meanwhile, lost in a photo finish to Ed Carpenter in Carpenter’s first career win and the first for Sarah Fisher Racing. Franchitti carried an 18-point lead, 573-555, over Power into Las Vegas. The Las Vegas race, however, saw neither driver qualify well (Power 17th, Franchitti 18th in the 34-car field). Power was then caught up in the horrific, 16-car pileup through Turns 1 and 2 that claimed the life of two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon. The race was canceled and the points final as of Kentucky, with Franchitti claiming his third consecutive championship.

2012 – Ryan Hunter-Reay over Will Power

Sensing a theme here? Power came second yet again in the title chase after entering the season finale with a lead for the third straight year. After flops at Homestead and Kentucky, the 2012 season finale was held at Auto Club Speedway at Fontana (Power led by 17 points over the resilient Ryan Hunter-Reay).

Again, while neither driver started well (Power 13th, Hunter-Reay 22nd in the 26-car field), they ran in tandem for the first portion of the race. On lap 55, it happened again – Power hit a bump between Turns 1 and 2 and lost control, spinning out, hitting the wall and narrowly avoiding Hunter-Reay. “RHR” prevailed with fourth place – even despite Power’s crew again performing a heroic effort to get him back out and gain two more points – and the American duly captured his first championship by three points over Power (468-465).

CHASE COMPARISONS

Jimmie Johnson’s run of titles from 2006 through 2010 removed some drama from NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup in those years. The 2010 showdown versus Denny Hamlin was perhaps the most memorable, when Johnson overcame a deficit in the last two races. But in the last two years, battles between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (2011) and Brad Keselowski and Johnson (2012) have come down to the wire. The 2011 season ended in a tie, with Stewart beating Edwards thanks to winning more races.

Force India releases driver runout schedule for testing

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 11:  Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 11, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sahara Force India is next up to reveal its 2017 challenger – the VJM10 premieres tomorrow – but it has come out today and released its plans for who will run when in said challenger.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon will have one full day apiece at the first test and then split the last day, with Alfonso Celis Jr. continuing his role with the team and set to run on day three of the opening test.

Ocon and Perez will then alternate for the second test, with Ocon on days one and three and Perez days two and four.

Ocon’s tested for Force India before but this will mark his first running as an official Force India driver. The impressive French driver shifts to the Mercedes-powered Force India entry after a successful second half of the year with Manor.

Perez, meanwhile, helped spearhead Force India’s climb to fourth in the Constructor’s Championship last year, the team’s best result since its 2008 debut.

Sahara Force India – Barcelona Test Schedule

Test 1
February 27 – Sergio Perez
February 28 – Esteban Ocon
March 1 – Alfonso Celis Jr.
March 2 – Sergio Perez/Esteban Ocon

Test 2
March 7 – Esteban Ocon
March 8 – Sergio Perez
March 9 – Esteban Ocon
March 10 – Sergio Perez

Alain Prost: F1 ‘needs to have more of a human side’

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 2: In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Alain Prost with Nicolas Prost (FRA), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 during the Long Beach Formula E race at Long Beach Street Circuit on April 2, 2016 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Andrew Ferraro/LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
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Four-time Formula 1 World Champion Alain Prost was confirmed today as a special advisor to Renault Sport Racing, but his comments about the sport’s future were more important than his newly announced role with the team.

Prost, who’s spent a lot of time in the FIA Formula E world with the Renault e.dams team and son Nico, one of that team’s two drivers, said F1 has to work harder to attract younger fans as it heads into its new dawn under the new ownership group from Liberty Media Corporation.

“I think the vision is difficult to tell today,” Prost said during Renault’s launch today in London. “We have a new buyer. CVC isn’t there anymore; Liberty is. With the teams having Ross Brawn to work with, that’s a good asset.

“We need more than a vision. We need two goals. We need to bring spectators and young guys, and talking more about interactivity is more or less what we do in Formula E. That would be obvious.

“We need to have more of a human side. More people are interested in the drivers than the technology and performance.”

That dig comes a bit at F1’s hybrid technical regulations that have come into play the last few years, which has seen Mercedes AMG Petronas firmly at the head of the development curve and having won all but eight races since the start of 2014 (Red Bull with five wins, Ferrari with three).

Prost did say the reset for 2017, which features the new wider tires and wider bodies and wings, could help in that pursuit of bringing in new fans.

“I think it’s very positive for Formula 1. You needed a new cycle. These cars will be very impressive. I hope it brings new and young spectators,” he said.

Prost confirmed he won’t have a day-to-day role with Renault but will be part of the team’s executive committee.

“I must say what is important is that Renault is competitive and can win as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s not the first time I’ve been involved! But I won’t have a day-to-day role. It will be a bit more from behind.

“Together with Jerome and Cyril, my role is to give the input to give the best strategy possible to be good for the future.”

Renault targeting step up to fifth place in standings

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Jolyon Palmer (C) of Great Britain and Renault Sport, Nico Hulkenberg (L) of Germany and Renault Sport and Sergey Sirotkin of Russia and Renault Sport pose with the Renault Sport Formula One team's 2017 car, the RS17, on February 21, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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At the launch of the new Renault R.S.17 today in London, Renault Sport F1 Team senior management expressed a goal of leaping to the top-five in the Constructor’s Championship for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Jerome Stoll, president of Renault Sport Racing and Cyril Abiteboul, the team’s managing director, said with the offseason reset and having had a proper amount of time to fully become Renault they can go from ninth up to fifth in this year’s standings.

“We have a car developed by us, and we expect to be fifth in the championship,” Stoll said during the team’s launch. “We have the team, we have the drivers, we have the partners. We are completely managed by Renault now.

Abiteboul added, “We’ve been investing more than any of the top teams. We lead everyone else in looking where the regulations are. Last year was about putting together the building blocks of the mid-term to the long-term in the back office. This year, I will be spending more time at the track.”

Abiteboul introduced the drivers who he hopes will do the task. He hailed Jolyon Palmer’s improvement in the latter stages of the season and said Nico Hulkenberg’s record speaks for itself.

“We’re happy to continue the journey with Jolyon,” Abiteboul said. “Like all rookies, he’s had difficult and challenging moments, but we stay together as a group and continue to perform.

“He’s been keeping his head down and got through the difficult part of the year. He had a remarkable last third of the year with great races in Malaysia and Japan.

“Nico, I’m not going to introduce him. You should know what he can do. He set a pole in his rookie season with Williams. He won Le Mans his first year with Porsche. He’s secured fourth in the standings with Force India last year. He will be an example for all of us.”

Team technical director Bob Bell said there “should be an overall significant improvement in car performance.” With the higher downforce though, he said whether there will be a lot of overtaking remains the biggest question mark going into the year.

“The truth is none of us will know until Melbourne. The jury’s still out, but we’re hopeful.”

Juncos Racing confirms its arrival into IndyCar, Indy 500

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Photo: Juncos Racing
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Ricardo Juncos’ near-15-year dream to make it to the Verizon IndyCar Series with his team, Juncos Racing, is now officially a reality.

The team has grown from karting, progressed into a championship-winning outfit in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and will now make its debut in IndyCar this season, having confirmed an entry into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Driver and manufacturer announcements are expected at a later date. Kyle Kaiser and Nico Dapero have already been confirmed for Juncos’ full season in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

In December, the team relocated and opened a new 40,000-square foot building in Speedway, Ind., right in the shadows of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A plan to move into IndyCar has been percolating and developing for a bit of time, and is now formalized.

“I am so happy to officially announce our participation in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” Juncos said in a release. “This is a dream come true for me and my team. It’s been only two months since our grand opening of the new Juncos Technical Center, which was a huge moment for us. Now we are becoming a new team in the Verizon IndyCar Series and will run in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ the Indianapolis 500. This is definitely one of the biggest moments in my life.

Indianapolis, Indiana (February 21, 2017) – Juncos Racing announced today its intention to enter the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Juncos Racing, founded by Argentinean Ricardo Juncos, is a highly successful team running in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires development ladder competition. The team currently fields two cars in the Indy Lights Series. Juncos Racing captured the 2015 Indy Lights driver championship with current Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot and has also claimed multiple driver and team championships in the Pro Mazda Series.

“I am so happy to officially announce our participation in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said Juncos. “This is a dream come true for me and my team. It’s been only two months since our grand opening of the new Juncos Technical Center, which was a huge moment for us. Now we are becoming a new team in the Verizon IndyCar Series and will run in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ the Indianapolis 500. This is definitely one of the biggest moments in my life.”

Juncos Racing relocated its headquarters in November 2016 to a new, state-of-art facility in Speedway, Indiana. The 40,000-square-foot building hosts multiple office spaces, eight car bays, paint booth, simulator room and machine shop, along with parking for multiple transporters.

This May will mark the first appearance for Juncos Racing in the Indianapolis 500 as it expands its program to include the Verizon IndyCar Series. Driver and manufacturer announcements will come at a later date.

“It’s always hard to identify the right moment and right time to make a big move and make big decisions in motor racing, but I am confident the timing is right and that we will succeed as we did in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series. I want to thank Mark Miles (Hulman & Co. CEO) and Jay Frye (INDYCAR president of competition and operations) from the Verizon IndyCar Series for all of their help and confidence they have had in me and my team. I also want to thank Mr. Kevin Kalkhoven from KV Racing Technology. He has been extremely helpful during this transition and, with his continued support and help with all of his experience in racing, we are confident going into this next level. Thank you to my family and my team for giving me massive support throughout the years, and to all of the fans, thank you!”

Both Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, and Kevin Kalkhoven, co-owner of the now defunct KV Racing Technology, have helped instrumentally in the process and welcome Juncos with open arms.

“INDYCAR has been fortunate to have many drivers graduate from the Mazda Road to Indy program to the Verizon IndyCar Series, and those drivers have done a phenomenal job over the years,” Frye said. “Another goal of the Mazda Road to Indy program is to graduate teams and INDYCAR is working hard to help create opportunities for those teams to move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series. Ricardo and Juncos Racing have a great history of success, and we are proud to have them become a part of the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

“We are delighted Ricardo is developing a program to progress to the Indy 500 and beyond,” Kalkhoven added. “We are committed to helping him and his team with our experience, equipment and data to best ensure a successful entry.”

An introductory video to Ricardo Juncos and the team is linked below (main page at Juncos Racing website, linked here).