IndyCar could tie mark for most season winners, 11, at MAVTV 500

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Although two of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ most dominant teams, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, collide for the title this weekend at the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), they haven’t had it all their way this year when it comes to owning victory lane.

This year, Ganassi and Penske drivers have won just eight of 18 races. While that’s still a lot, it marks the pair’s first combined sub-.500 winning percentage since 2007 (eight of 17), and unsurprisingly, their lowest win total since.

We touched on it earlier this year, but the parity is statistically unmatched this year with 10 different winners from seven different teams. By contrast, NASCAR Sprint Cup has had 14 different winners, but in 31 races. Thus far, IndyCar’s 2013 race winners are:

  • Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon (4 season wins), Charlie Kimball (1)
  • Team Penske: Will Power (2), Helio Castroneves (1)
  • Andretti Autosport: James Hinchcliffe (3), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2)
  • Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports: Simon Pagenaud (2)
  • KV Racing Technology: Tony Kanaan (1)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises: Takuma Sato (1)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Mike Conway (1)

There are 16 drivers in this weekend’s race at Fontana who could tie the all-time IndyCar record of 11 different winners in the season, set in back-to-back years of 2000 and 2001 in the CART series. Those eligible to tie the record include:

  • Andretti Autosport: Marco Andretti (2 career wins), E.J. Viso (0)
  • Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Alex Tagliani (1)
  • Team Penske: AJ Allmendinger (5)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Justin Wilson (7), Pippa Mann (0)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal (1), James Jakes (0)
  • Dragon Racing: Sebastien Bourdais (31), Sebastian Saavedra (0)
  • Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter (2)
  • Panther Racing: Oriol Servia (1)
  • KV Racing Technology: Simona de Silvestro (0)
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: Josef Newgarden (0)
  • Barracuda Racing: JR Hildebrand (0)
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Tristan Vautier (0)

Of those 16, there’s five I think have a realistic shot to tie the mark this weekend. In no particular order…

  • Justin Wilson. His newfound confidence on ovals over the last two years and working relationship with engineer Bill Pappas has been an impressive transformation. He’s driven too well all year to have not scored a victory; at a track where managing his car, tires, and equipment over 500 miles is a challenge, he’s a contender.
  • Marco Andretti. He’s been too good on ovals this year – wins went begging at Milwaukee and Pocono – to have not gotten a win. His biggest issue will be managing fuel mileage.
  • Ed Carpenter. I mentioned it separately yesterday but Carpenter has to be included among the “big dogs” for the all-too-rare oval races. Really showed a lot of people something with his win at Fontana last year, proving Kentucky was no fluke, and will be a contender for all 500 miles.
  • Alex Tagliani. He’s been out of an IndyCar since Toronto in July but hasn’t lost his competitive spirit, racing sports cars with Ferrari. Provided the best opportunity of his career under less than ideal circumstances, Tagliani will seize his chance with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
  • JR Hildebrand. A tough call to include JR here but consider the factors. He probably could have won this race last year, the Barracuda Racing team also could have won last year with Tagliani, and there’s the added motivation of needing a huge result to gain entry into IndyCar’s Leaders Circle Top 22 in entrant points for 2014. Big weekend needed for team and driver as they sort out their respective futures; their only downside to me is missing the series’ open test here last month.

Of the remaining 11, Allmendinger has a good shot given his equipment but knows he will have to play gunner to Castroneves. Servia is probably better than his team over 500 miles, Rahal’s a sleeper if the team’s engineering improves on the oval as much as it has on the street courses of late, and Viso could surprise given the Andretti team’s pace. But they’re longer shots.

The championship is the main storyline heading into the race, but don’t be surprised if we’re looking at victory lane at night’s end with a record-tying mark achieved.

Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.