Hondy Indy 200 Practice

IndyCar: Filippi looks to spoil the regulars’ party once again in Houston

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One of my favorite parts of this or any Verizon IndyCar Series season is when one-off or part-time entries appear in the field, and see where they stack up against the regulars.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has Luca Filippi on board its second car, the No. 16 Honda, for two weekends, the two remaining doubleheaders at Houston and Toronto.

He’s got experience at Houston, where last year he scored his first career series top-10 finish in Race 1 and also set the fastest lap in Race 2.

“For me it was a great event because I was competitive all the time, especially Race 1 where I was fighting for the podium and we were caught by a yellow and the pits closed at the wrong moment,” Filippi said in the team’s advance release, heading into the weekend. “But the pace was good and I finished in the top-10 for the first time in an Indy car.

“In Race 2, I had to start from the back of the grid because qualifying was cancelled and it went by entrant points. My pace was strong but maybe I was a little too fired up because I had already finished in the top-10 and I made a little mistake after running as high as 12th and I was probably one of the fastest cars on the circuit. I lost a lap and the race as basically over for me but still I managed to run the fastest lap of the race. I have good memories of Houston which is probably the best place for me to get back in an Indy car.”

Filippi actually praised the back half of the M.D Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at NRG Park circuit, where there’s a transition between surfaces.

“I like the section (of the track) after the back straight where you have a changing of direction and changes of surface. Where you go from concrete, to tarmac and back to concrete. It’s nice and challenging and probably where you can make up the most time from your lap time,” he said.

Additionally, he comes into doubleheader weekends knowing it’s similar to his GP2 history.

“I’m used to doubleheaders from racing in GP2,” he said. “It’s the normal format there although there is only one qualifying session and the race on Sunday is shorter. I like this format better because you have two big events and once you race Saturday you have another chance the day after. It’s challenging, especially for me since I obviously have to get used to the team and the car.”

For Filippi, although expectations will probably be modest since this is his first time back in an IndyCar since this weekend last October, there’s still two targets he could achieve.

If he beats teammate Graham Rahal in either qualifying or the race, he’ll raise his stock once again.

“I think Luca will be very fast and should be right up front,” Rahal said. “I hope he can bring as much to the table as Oriol (Servia)has for us.”

Additionally, Filippi has his first head-to-head shot against Jack Hawksworth, the rookie who’s starred on the road and street courses in the No. 98 Integrity Energee Drink BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian Honda entry. Filippi was presumptive favorite for the seat in the offseason before Hawksworth ultimately was named to that ride.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden
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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2015. Next up on the heels of another breakout year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently re-signed with CFH Racing for 2016.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

Josef Newgarden’s fourth year in the Verizon IndyCar Series was firmly, and without question, the year he arrived as the series’ biggest rising star. It followed on nicely after three prior years where he seemed to hit almost all the high points at various stages, but didn’t put together a fully complete season.

Perhaps some of that was due to having a teammate for the first time in his career, although it was not the same driver throughout the year – it was split between Luca Filippi and Ed Carpenter depending on the circuit. Still, there was always a second set of data to study and analyze. Even better, there was a Chevrolet in the back of his car for the first time, and that likely helped matters a bit. And retaining Jeremy Milless as his engineer continued to pay dividends; you can’t teach chemistry and it’s apparent these two have it.

It spoke volumes that in qualifying, Newgarden was the single fastest driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps all season. An average starting position of 8.4 was not only a career best, but best in the field behind six combined drivers from the two established “super teams.” Only at Detroit, where he had a nightmare weekend and at Texas, where Carpenter admitted the team missed the setup, did he start outside the top 12.

Yet it was in the races where again, he shone brightest. The Barber win was as dominant as it was overdue and deserved. The Toronto win – if a bit lucky due to when the cautions and pit stop cycle fell – was also well executed. Then the drives on the ovals at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono were excellent.

Far too often though, still, pit stops proved Newgarden’s undoing. Mid-Ohio was a sore spot again, and Sonoma in particular was the nadir. The other tough results races, notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Fontana, came through mistakes not of his own doing. Really only Detroit was a weekend he’d like to have back.

But he led the most laps in the field, he finally broke through to win, and firmly lived up to the hype and potential that’s been building for years. If you’ve been paying attention more than just this year though, Newgarden’s 2015 season will have come as no surprise.