IndyCar: The road to winning in Texas goes through Penske, Ganassi

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We wrote after Detroit how rare it has been since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis and new engine formula in 2012 that entries from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing have swept the top four positions in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Sunday’s Dual 2 in Detroit was only the third time it happened in the last three years.

But if history is any indication, we could potentially be in for back-to-back type performances here this weekend at the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Aside of Tomas Scheckter’s 2005 win for Panther Racing, the last win in that team’s history, and Justin Wilson’s surprise triumph for Dale Coyne Racing in 2012 (his most recent victory), drivers from Penske and Ganassi have won every IndyCar race at Texas since fall 2004.

In fact, Tony Kanaan’s triumph for Andretti Green Racing in the 2004 spring race was AGR’s last triumph at this circuit.

Here’s a breakdown of the Penske/Ganassi domination, in the top-5, since 2006 (two different cars, but still):

  • 2006: 1. Helio Castroneves (Penske), 2. Scott Dixon (Ganassi), 3. Dan Wheldon (Ganassi), 4. Sam Hornish Jr. (Penske), 5. Scott Sharp (Delphi Fernandez)
  • 2007: 1. Hornish (Penske), 2. Tony Kanaan (Andretti Green), 3. Danica Patrick (Andretti Green), 4. Dario Franchitti (Andretti Green), 5. Vitor Meira (Panther)
  • 2008: 1. Dixon (Ganassi), 2. Castroneves (Penske), 3. Ryan Briscoe (Penske), 4. Wheldon (Ganassi), 5. Kanaan (Andretti Green)
  • 2009: 1. Castroneves (Penske), 2. Briscoe (Penske), 3. Dixon (Ganassi), 4. Marco Andretti (Andretti Green),  5. Franchitti (Ganassi)
  • 2010: 1. Briscoe (Penske), 2. Patrick (Andretti), 3. Andretti (Andretti), 4. Dixon (Ganassi), 5. Franchitti (Ganassi)
  • 2011 Race 1: 1. Franchitti (Ganassi), 2. Dixon (Ganassi), 3. Will Power (Penske), 4. Alex Tagliani (Schmidt), 5. Takuma Sato (KV)
  • 2011 Race 2: 1. Power (Penske), 2. Dixon (Ganassi), 3. Briscoe (Penske), 4. Castroneves (Penske), 5. Kanaan (KV)

NEW CAR INTRODUCED

  • 2012: 1. Justin Wilson (Coyne), 2. Graham Rahal (Ganassi), 3. Briscoe (Penske), 4. James Hinchcliffe (Andretti), 5. Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Hamilton)
  • 2013: 1. Castroneves (Penske), 2. Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti), 3. Kanaan (KV), 4. Ed Carpenter (Carpenter), 5. Andretti (Andretti)

So as you can see, the introduction of the new chassis and different aero formulas have brought other teams into the equation and combined, Penske and Ganassi only have three of the 10 top-5 finishes over the last two years (30%). Add in three other Andretti Autosport top-fives and that number between the established “big three” jumps to 60%.

But from 2006 through 2011, Penske and Ganassi captured all seven race wins, and 23 of 35 possible top-5 finishes – a staggering 65.71%! Add in seven more from Andretti Green/Andretti Autosport and those three teams took home 30 of 35, or 85.71%.

There were only five top-5 finishes achieved by teams outside the big three in that stretch. Meanwhile there have been four just in the last two years, with the Coyne, Schmidt Hamilton, KV and Carpenter teams all grabbing one top-5 apiece.

But in a series that’s still so wide open at most races, Texas is one place where you’ve gotta beat the big dogs first. History bears that out, and it’s still hard to bet against any of the seven cars entered this year from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.

F1 Preview: 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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The third trip to the Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix comes slightly earlier in 2018 for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Contested in June each of its first two years, the event was moved to April for 2018.

Although the circuit was initially criticized for its close quarters, its mix of tight corners and high-speed sections has produced quite a lot of action.

Last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was particularly eventful. Sebastian Vettel intentionally hit Lewis Hamilton under a Safety Car after he thought Hamilton brake-checked him, and Vettel was given a 10-second stop and go penalty. Later, the headrest of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG Petronas W08 came loose, forcing him to make a late pit stop.

The Sahara Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon saw their budding rivalry come to blows, as they made contact while battling inside the Top 5.

Valtteri Bottas finished second after early-race contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and Bottas pipped Lance Stroll for second at the finish line. Stroll, for his part, scored his first career podium.

And, Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from an unscheduled pit stop early in the race – Red Bull Racing had to clear debris out of the brake scoops due to overheating – to take a stunning victory that featured a remarkable three-wide pass on Stroll, Felipe Massa, and Nico Hulkenberg. Highlights of last year’s race can be seen here.

Will this year’s race produce as many thrills? Talking points ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix are below.

Hamilton Seeks First Baku Podium, and First Win of 2018

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The first two trips to Baku have not been kind to four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. His 2016 outing was fairly unremarkable by his standards, as he finished fifth after qualifying tenth.

The 2017 event might have been a victory for him if not for the aforementioned problems with Vettel and a loose headrest. Alas, he again finished fifth.

It’s hard to believe that Hamilton does not have a victory through the first three races of 2018. Combine that with his desire to erase the bad memories of Baku from 2016 and 2017, and the Briton will be extra motivated to stand on the top step of the podium.

Red Bull Looks to Keep Momentum

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Red Bull Racing is riding high after the Chinese Grand Prix, when Daniel Ricciardo took a shock win due to tire strategy following a Safety Car.

And the Baku circuit is one that Ricciardo likes, and not just because of last year’s victory, but also because it presents a lot of chances for overtaking.

“Baku is different to other street circuits – because there are places where you can pass,” Ricciardo asserted in a preview on Formula1.com. “Actually, lots of places where you can pass. As opposed to Monaco and Singapore where there’s not many places to overtake really.”

He added that the track’s combination of high-speeds and tight corners put a premium on getting your braking points exactly right, otherwise the track will bite you.

“The trickiest thing in Baku is braking. There’s so many braking points where you have to commit and you have to brake as late as you can – but there’s no room for error,” he detailed. “Once you’ve committed to that braking point, if you’ve locked a wheel, you’re in the wall. I’d say the hardest part about Baku is finding the limit with braking, and just having that confidence.”

Teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, looks to rebound after again catching the ire of many rivals and onlookers for his contact with Sebastian Vettel in China. Further, Verstappen looks to avenge last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which he dropped out following a power unit failure.

“Last year was a very unfortunate weekend for me. It was a shame because the car felt really good but I encountered a lot of problems which ultimately meant I missed out on a potential podium, perhaps even a win. I’m hoping this year I can make up for that lost opportunity,” said Verstappen in the aforementioned preview piece.

Ferrari Looks to Reclaim Dominance After China Hiccup

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

After winning the opening rounds at Australia and Bahrain with Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari had their first hiccup of 2018 in China, when a Safety Car butchered their tire strategy and left them vulnerable when others, chiefly Ricciardo and Verstappen, pitted for new tires.

Vettel was relegated to eighth after spinning following contact with Verstappen, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished third, his second podium in three races to start 2018.

Baku was one of the races from 2017 in which Vettel drew criticism for his on-track antics – see the aforementioned collision with Hamilton – and he’ll hope to get back on the podium to avenge both his struggles from China and from last year’s Baku outing.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, will look to get back to his winning ways for the first time since 2013.

Misc.

  • McLaren F1 Team sits a much-improved fourth in the constructor’s championship on the strength of two double-points finishes, with Fernando Alonso leading the way. Alonso has finishes of fifth, seventh, and seventh after three races, while Stoffel Vandoorne has points finishes of ninth and eighth to his name so far.
  • Sahara Force India still only has one points finish in 2018 – Esteban Ocon’s tenth in Bahrain. It’s hard to believe how far this team has fallen, even if the midfield is jammed with ultra competitive teams. That they have been off the pace to start 2018 is genuinely surprising.
  • Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team have been the strongest of the midfield teams so far, along with McLaren, and they should contend once again for points this weekend.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix rolls off at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.

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