IndyCar: 2014 sees mix of old guard, future generation set for battle

1 Comment

As the days begin to count down for IndyCar before its season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 30, most of the field is set and most will have gotten in anywhere from two to three offseason tests – some more so, depending on available budget.

What sets up is a fascinating battle between three distinct generations: the older guard, closer to the end of their careers than the beginnings, the veterans who all have substantial experience and are in the middle of their careers, and the younger generation, who have shown glimpses of brilliance but not contended for wins and championships on a weekly basis. Yet.

THE VETERAN TRIO: TONY KANAAN, HELIO CASTRONEVES, JUAN PABLO MONTOYA

The two Brazilians have been inextricably linked since they moved to America in the mid-1990s, coming up through Indy Lights and then into CART in 1998. Then in 1999, a then-unheralded Colombian named JPM stormed ashore and swept to the CART title as a rookie.

In 2014, their goals are different. “TK,” who at present would take over the series’ unofficial elder statesman role at 39, has a long-awaited chance with one of the best seats in IndyCar, taking over the No. 10 Target car from Dario Franchitti. He’s got a great chance to win his second championship, 10 years after his first.

For Penske’s pair of Castroneves and Montoya, both 38, the stories are different. Helio seeks that elusive first championship in what, like Kanaan, will be his 17th season of racing, and his now proving-to-be-elusive fourth Indianapolis 500. For Montoya? It’ll be about getting reacclimated to open-wheel after an eight-year layoff, and showcasing the sublime driving ability he showed from his two CART years in 1999 and 2000.

THE MID-CAREER VETERANS: TAKUMA SATO, JUSTIN WILSON, SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, SCOTT DIXON, RYAN HUNTER-REAY, RYAN BRISCOE, WILL POWER, ED CARPENTER, MIKE CONWAY

This group all ranges from age 30 (Conway) up to 36 (Sato), and you figure they have anywhere from maybe four to up to 10 years still to go. And all still have something to prove after their careers in top-level American open-wheel have stretched back as far as 2001 (Dixon’s rookie year in CART).

Dixon, 33, and the defending series champion, is undoubtedly at the peak of his powers … but so too is Power, also 33, who came on like wildfire at the tail end of the 2013 season. A proper Dixon vs. Power title battle would be the treat IndyCar fans have waited to see for years.

But don’t discount the Ryans. Hunter-Reay, 33, is keen to rebound from a 2013 mired with bad luck and recapture the title-winning form of 2012; Briscoe, 32, could stealthily slide under the radar, pick up a win or two and play himself into title contention in Ganassi’s fourth car.

Wilson, 35, remains criminally underrated, and will have to perform miracles once again to threaten the establishment with Dale Coyne Racing. But he should work well with new engineer Michael Cannon. Bourdais, also 35 and now at KV, is a championship dark horse. If he wins a race early in the year, he could play spoiler.

For Sato, it’s about establishing further consistency and building on the success of his first year at A.J. Foyt Racing, that included the popular Long Beach win and Houston Race 1 pole. Carpenter, 31 today, has established a team now that can contend for wins at every race, with his oval expertise in those six races and Conway’s road and street course prowess in the other 12.

THE NEW WAVE: SIMON PAGENAUD, CHARLIE KIMBALL, JAMES HINCHCLIFFE, MARCO ANDRETTI, MIKHAIL ALESHIN, GRAHAM RAHAL, SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA, JOSEF NEWGARDEN, CARLOS MUNOZ

The youngsters, all under 30. At 29, Pagenaud is just entering the peak of his powers and at 22, Munoz is the youngest current driver in the field. Between this group of 9 drivers, there are only 9 career victories (Pagenaud 2, Kimball 1, Hinchcliffe 3, Andretti 2, Rahal 1). But it feels like that number could grow substantially this year.

Pagenaud’s technical ability is renowned and after two years of consistent growth with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, nothing less than a championship challenge will suffice. For Aleshin, 26, proving better than Tristan Vautier over the course of the season should be his goal.

Andretti’s trio of Marco, 26, “Hinch,” 27, and Munoz set that team up best for long-term potential growth as a collective unit, while the Ganassi and Penske teams have opted more for veteran, sage experience (Kimball is the only one of their seven combined drivers under 30, and he’s 29). This is a big year for Marco in particular, who made a big step forward in 2013 with fifth in points, but needs to be winning races – plural – something he’s not done in his career dating to 2006.

Same story for Rahal, 25, who should finally have the necessary ingredients to put it all together and recapture the heights he achieved at times in 2008 and 2009. He has the engineering depth, the primary sponsor of the National Guard, and for now at least doesn’t have the distraction or burden of a second car. He’s the sole focus for RLL’s 2014 full-season effort.

Newgarden and Saavedra, both 23, will likely find the road toughest in 2014, primarily because of extenuating circumstances more than their own ability levels. Newgarden’s Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team will need to dig deep and emerge stronger from offseason personnel shakeups, but in year three, he should make a leap close to the one Hinchcliffe and Kimball did a year ago.

As for Saavedra, the KV equipment at his disposal should provide an increase over where he was with Dragon Racing last year, but the field is so deep and tight that it will take some phenomenal efforts to emerge even in the top-10 on a regular basis.

THE WILD CARDS: THE TBAS

Dale Coyne’s second car and Bryan Herta Autosport’s sole entry are yet to be confirmed. At least initially, the drivers of these two will probably find the road toughest because of the lack of testing time by comparison to the field this winter.

But as the field sets out in St. Petersburg later this month, the generation battle on display will be as interesting to watch as the battle between the teams. Last year, it was Hinchcliffe taking one from Castroneves. We’ll see who breaks through in only a few more weeks.

Newgarden extends IndyCar points lead as Power shrinks top-5 gap

Leave a comment

Entering the day 52 points back of Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden in fifth place in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, Will Power was actually six points closer to the lead than he was at the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway last year compared to when he was second in points behind Simon Pagenaud, 58 points back.

Power won, Pagenaud crashed, and the gap was 20 points after this race last year between the two of them.

Fast forward 12 months and Power won again, but this time, his Penske teammate that was leading the points didn’t have a nightmare day and instead nailed down a critical result for his own title hopes.

Courtesy of a rally from several early race issues, Power leapfrogged to a surprise second straight Pocono win while Newgarden finished second.

What was a seven-point lead for Newgarden over the fourth Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, turned into an 18-point lead over new second place man Scott Dixon in today’s race.

Newgarden was understandably disappointed to lose his third straight win, but very happy with the result in the big picture standpoint.

“Will deserves the win. He had the car to beat. He was the class of the field the second half of the race,” Newgarden told NBCSN’s Robin Miller post-race.

“I did everything I could to beat him. But I’m second, Dixon’s behind us, Helio’s behind us, Simon… you don’t want to wreck your teammate or give up where you’re at. It’s a 1-2 for all of us. I’m disappointed for all of us but I can’t be disappointed for where we are.”

Power’s win, meanwhile, saw him close the gap down to just 42 points behind Newgarden, albeit still fifth in points.

Dixon moved into second with a sixth place finish and is now 18 points back. He started the day eight behind Newgarden.

Castroneves advanced from 20th on the grid up to seventh and is third in points, 22 back, yet still lost 15 points to Newgarden.

The incredibly consistent Pagenaud nailed down his 11th top-five finish of the season in 14 starts, yet somehow still ranks fourth in points, 26 back, having lost nine points on the day.

With ninth, Graham Rahal saw his slim title hopes fade – he’s not mathematically out of it but at 76 points back he’s in a tough spot after starting 58 behind. Similarly Takuma Sato, who started 71 out after winning the pole position, fell to 95 back in seventh – just five points ahead of Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi, who finished third.

Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe remain ninth and 10th in points.

With three races to play, after Pocono, it is now clearly a five-horse race for the championship with each of the top five within one race’s worth of maximum points (54).

Will Power overcomes adversity to win Pocono thriller (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

LONG POND, Pa. – Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 was a record-setting day for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Pocono Raceway, as they set a race record for lead changes in an IndyCar race at the 2.5-mile triangular oval, with 42 passes for the lead over the 500-mile race.

Ultimately, it was Team Penske’s Will Power who overcame damage to the front and back of No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, went a lap down, and made an unscheduled pit stop early in the race (part of 10 pit stops total) to come back and claim his third victory of the season, and his second straight at Pocono Raceway.

“What a day, what a day. Dramatic day. Lot of fun,” an exhausted Power told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis in Victory Lane. “(I had to) hang in there. I saw Hunter-Reay got his lap back last year. I was so cautious on the restarts. You can never give up in IndyCar. Got a lap back and made it to the front.”

Power fell off the lead lap after an unscheduled pit stop on lap 67 for a new front wing, which also saw the team struggle to get the tires on in what was a lengthy pit stop. However, a lap 112 caution, when Sebastian Saavedra clouted the wall exiting turn 1 and stopped on track, allowed Power a chance to get back on the lead lap.

Another caution, this one on lap 124 as James Hinchcliffe and JR Hildebrand crashed together in Turn 1, allowed Power a chance to go off strategy and top off the fuel as well change out the rear wing and bumper pod assembly, which had also been damaged earlier in the race. Hinchcliffe’s accident came following a save earlier in the race, just past half distance, which was incredible.

Power then charged to front through the following sequence of green flag stops, his fuel strategy allowing him to go longer and put in some of the fastest laps of the race before pitting. He emerged from the pit stop sequence, the second-to-last of the race, with a four second over the rest of the field.

Power held the lead through the final sequence of pit stops, though teammate Josef Newgarden and Andretti’s Autosport’s Alexander Rossi made late charges on Power at the end. Newgarden in particular mounted a big challenge on Power, forcing the Australian driver to play significant defense, taking the far inside line entering turn 3 for several laps in a row.

However, Power was able to keep all advances at bay, outlasting both Newgarden and Rossi to the line for the victory.

Newgarden revealed to NBCSN’s Robin Miller afterward that, even though he was able to catch Power at the end, he didn’t think he had enough to pass him.

“Will deserves the win. He had the car to beat. He was class the second half of the field,” Newgarden admitted. “I did everything I could to beat him. But I’m second, (Scott) Dixon’s behind us, (Helio Castroneves) is behind us, Simon (Pagenaud)… you don’t want to wreck your teammate or give up where you’re at. 1-2 for all of us. I’m disappointed for all of us but I can’t be disappointed for where we are.”

Rossi, too, admitted that he didn’t have the speed to really make a bid for the win, though his was down to a fuel mixture problem, the adjuster having broken earlier in the race. “We didn’t have full power at the end,” Rossi explained to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “The car was great all day. Stellar all day. When you come so close to the win it’s difficult to swallow. Last year we didn’t finish. To be on podium is a testament to Andretti Autosport.”

Simon Pagenaud came through the field after the final stops to finish fourth, making a late pass on Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan, making it three Team Penske cars in the top four. Kanaan held on for fifth.

Scott Dixon ended up sixth ahead of Helio Castroneves while Ryan Hunter-Reay had a strong run and led a handful of laps after a brutal crash in qualifying, but faded to eighth at the end. Graham Rahal, too, had a strong run and swapped the lead with Kanaan several times during the race, but he also faded over the final two stints and ended up ninth. Carlos Munoz had a quiet, but solid day for A.J. Foyt Racing to finish tenth.

Unofficial results are below.

 

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

WATCH LIVE: ABC Supply 500 at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Photo: IndyCar
1 Comment

The Verizon IndyCar Series’ run of different types of tracks continues with today’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway, as the final superspeedway race of the year to kick off the final four-race stretch of the 2017 season comes after a July where the series raced once apiece on a short oval, a street course and permanent road course.

You can watch the 200-lap, 500-mile race from Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. live on NBCSN (stream link here); the series is back live on NBCSN for the duration of the season after the last two races were live on CNBC, with an NBCSN same day encore.

Kevin Lee is on the call from Pocono along with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, with Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller in the pits.

IndyCar coverage will run from 2 through 6 p.m. ET.

After qualifying, here’s some of the questions to consider in Pocono:

  • How will the championship picture shake out after today’s race?
  • Might a new or surprise winner enter the mix?
  • Can Honda get back to winning and stop Team Penske and Chevrolet’s three-race win streak?
  • How might temperature, wind and downforce levels change the game?

My colleague Kyle Lavigne is on site in Pocono this weekend and may have some additional thoughts going into today’s race.


Tanak wins Rally Germany, Ogier retakes WRC points lead

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ott Tänak flew to his second victory of the FIA World Rally Championship season in Germany on Sunday as Sebastien Ogier moved back into the lead of the drivers’ standings with three rounds to go.

Tänak led from Friday through to the final power stage to give M-Sport Ford team victory, marking his first tarmac win alongside co-driver Martin Järveoja.

“It’s a great feeling. The start to the rally went perfectly, after that it was just about controlling our lead,” Tänak said.

“Winning our first tarmac event feels cool. With 25 points here I don’t see any reason why we can’t fight for the championship. We will keep fighting; we need to keep winning if we’re going to win the championship.”

Tänak sits 33 points back from Ogier, whose bid for a fifth straight title was boosted with a run to third in Germany as chief championship rival Thierry Neuville retired with suspension damage on Saturday.

Neuville is now 17 points off the lead, with the WRC now embarking on a six-week break before returning in Spain on October 6.