IndyCar: Gaps grow, but few major changes in points over last month

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The last month of the Verizon IndyCar Series season was nothing short of a grind for its teams, crews, and drivers. Six races, Rounds 9-14, took place over four weekends, at Houston (two races), Pocono (500 miles), Iowa (300 laps) and Toronto (two same-day races).

It was a challenge unlike many have faced before given the way some of the weekend schedules shook out.

As it was, none of the six races really shook up the points that much. Some gaps grew between the leaders and the rest of the top 10, but no single driver gained more than two positions in the championship from the end of Texas June 7 to the end of Toronto on Sunday.

Here’s how the points were scored over the last six races. A bold number indicates the driver finished on the podium. Round 11, Pocono, was a double-points race for the 500-miler.

POINTS
# Driver E 9 10 11 12 13 14
2 Montoya C 40 26 102 14 12 11 205
3 Castroneves C 22 13 80 25 41 21 202
10 Kanaan C 17 20 41 38 35 40 191
77 Pagenaud H 16 51 56 19 33 8 183
11 Bourdais C 32 30 29 11 54 22 178
9 Dixon C 11 12 60 34 30 26 173
8 Briscoe C 18 24 64 22 18 19 165
34 Munoz H 35 8 70 18 13 13 157
28 Hunter-Reay H 26 28 24 51 9 16 154
12 Power C 16 19 41 16 22 36 150
27 Hinchcliffe H 33 16 36 28 24 12 149
83 Kimball C 12 32 26 20 26 32 148
25 Andretti H 24 22 44 12 14 24 140
67 Newgarden H 10 10 49 40 10 18 137
7 Aleshin H 7 41 52 9 19 7 135
98 Hawksworth H 28 35 8 15 17 28 131
19 J.Wilson H 21 18 32 17 20 21 129
15 Rahal H 19 14 22 26 28 10 119
18 Huertas H 51 7 20 10 16 15 119
20 Conway C 13 17 15 51 96
17 Saavedra C 15 13 30 13 11 9 91
14 Sato H 9 11 18 8 7 30 83
20 Carpenter C 34 30 64
16 Filippi H 9 15 8 14 46

From that, you can see Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves accumulated the most points; we chronicled Montoya’s rise after his Pocono win. But Montoya’s subsequent Iowa crash, post-race interview and awful Sunday in Toronto have put pause to his projected championship challenge – he’s now more than 100 points back with just four races to go.

Note too that the third member of the Team Penske trio, Will Power, has lost 52 points to Castroneves over the last six races. But he’s only 13 behind overall, thanks to his 39-point gap he had entering this stretch of six races in four weekends.

On that note, here’s how the points have shifted since Texas Motor Speedway, June 7:

POINTS
# Driver  E TMS L6 Total TMS Chg
3 Castroneves C 331 202 533 2 +1
12 Power C 370 150 520 1 -1
28 Hunter-Reay H 310 154 464 3
77 Pagenaud H 279 183 462 4
2 Montoya C 223 205 428 7 +2
9 Dixon C 214 173 387 8 +2
34 Munoz H 227 157 384 6 -1
10 Kanaan C 189 191 380 9 +1
25 Andretti H 235 140 375 5 -4
11 Bourdais C 180 178 358 12 +2
8 Briscoe C 179 165 344 13 +2
27 Hinchcliffe H 181 149 330 11 -1
83 Kimball C 169 148 317 14 +1
19 J.Wilson H 182 129 311 10 -4
7 Aleshin H 163 135 298 15
67 Newgarden H 151 137 288 17 +1
98 Hawksworth H 156 131 287 16 -1
15 Rahal H 147 119 266 19 +1
18 Huertas H 146 119 265 20 +1
14 Sato H 151 83 234 18 -2
17 Saavedra C 138 91 229 21
20 Conway C 122 96 218 22
20 Carpenter C 104 64 168 23
16 Filippi H 46 46

Points position under the “TMS” tab is where the driver sat after TMS, and the change is to the right since. Montoya, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Briscoe have all gained two positions, while Marco Andretti and Justin Wilson have each lost four.

The six doubleheader races are now in the books as well for 2014, with Rounds 6 and 7 at Detroit coming before Houston (Rounds 9 and 10) and Toronto (Rounds 13 and 14).

Unlike a year ago, when Dixon’s run of dominance on those three race weekends helped propel him toward the championship, no one driver stood out. Still, the top five drivers on the doubleheader weekends drove Chevrolets, and you can see for Montoya and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the doubleheaders have hurt their title chances:

POINTS
# Driver E 6 7 9 10 13 14
12 Power C 51 41 16 19 22 36 185
3 Castroneves C 34 53 22 13 41 21 184
10 Kanaan C 35 22 17 20 35 40 169
11 Bourdais C 17 10 32 30 54 22 165
83 Kimball C 22 35 12 32 26 32 159
27 Hinchcliffe H 28 32 33 16 24 12 145
77 Pagenaud H 8 28 16 51 33 8 144
98 Hawksworth H 11 17 28 35 17 28 136
9 Dixon C 20 32 11 12 30 26 131
19 J.Wilson H 32 18 21 18 20 21 130
18 Huertas H 24 15 51 7 16 15 128
20 Conway C 9 20 13 17 15 51 125
2 Montoya C 18 17 40 26 12 11 124
15 Rahal H 41 9 19 14 28 10 121
25 Andretti H 21 14 24 22 14 24 119
34 Munoz H 26 24 35 8 13 13 119
7 Aleshin H 14 27 7 41 19 7 115
8 Briscoe C 16 20 18 24 18 19 115
28 Hunter-Reay H 14 11 26 28 9 16 104
14 Sato H 12 14 9 11 7 30 83
17 Saavedra C 16 8 15 13 11 9 72
67 Newgarden H 10 13 10 10 10 18 71
16 Filippi H 9 15 8 14 46

After an off weekend this weekend, three “standard” race weekends – a single full-length race following a single qualifying session with standard points – are on tap at Mid-Ohio, Milwaukee and Sonoma, before the double points season finale at Fontana, which could drastically shake things up.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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