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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.

Red Bull signs new Renault deal, secures supply for Toro Rosso

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Red Bull Racing will continue to be powered by Renault until the end of 2018 after extending its contract with the French manufacturer.

In an announcement ahead of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, Red Bull confirmed that it would continue to work with Renault for the next two seasons.

As part of the deal, B-team Toro Rosso will once again get Renault power units from 2017, having switched to year-old Ferrari engines for this season.

Both teams will have the opportunity to rebadge the power units as they see fit, with Red Bull currently running with branding from watch company TAG Heuer.

“We are very pleased to partner with two such strong teams as Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso,” Renault Sport Racing president Jerome Stroll said.

“Having competitive partners demonstrates the confidence both have in the improved Renault power unit and in our organization as a whole.”

“We are delighted to extend our partnership which has proved very successful over time,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner added.

“After the reconstruction that Renault has undertaken, clear progress has been made which has made it logical to continue with the TAG Heuer badged engine.”

The extension of the deal marks a drastic change in fortunes for the Red Bull-Renault relationship after it almost ended in 2015 due to shortcomings with the power unit.

Red Bull sought supply from Ferrari, Mercedes and Honda, but was unable to strike a deal, forcing it to stick with Renault for 2016. The TAG Heuer rebranding came as part of the compromise.

However, Renault has made significant progress with its power unit over the winter, allowing Max Verstappen to claim Red Bull’s first win since 2014 two weeks ago in Spain.

Firestone: the tire that Indianapolis 500 and Verizon IndyCar Series ride upon

firestone indy 500 tires 2016
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More Indianapolis 500 winners have driven to Victory Lane on Firestone tires than all other tires combined.

The synergy and history between Firestone, parent company Bridgestone and Indianapolis Motor Speedway is nothing short of legendary.

MotorSportsTalk has compiled some very interesting facts about the relationship between Firestone, IMS and the Indy 500:

* Firestone has issued tires to all teams in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 that will carry names of all the drivers who have won the 500 on Firestone rubber inscribed on the sidewalls of the tires.

* Other names included in the sidewall inscriptions include Louis Meyer (the first driver to drink milk in Victory Lane), and Mario Andretti (Voted Driver of the Century).

firestone indy 500 tires 2016

* Firestone produced over 5,000 tires with the commemorative Indy 500 sidewalls to be used during the month of may for practice, qualifying and the historic race itself on Sunday.

* Firestone has accounted for exactly two-thirds of the wins at the Indy 500 – 66 of 99 races contested to date.

* Firestone has won the Indy 500 in 1911, 1913, 1920 through 1941, 1946-1966, 1969-1971, 1996 and 1997, and 2000-2015.

* Firestone has carried more drivers to Indy 500 wins than all other tire manufacturers combined. Goodyear has won 29 races, BFGoodrich won two, Michelin won one and Palmer Cord Tires won one.

* The first winner on Firestone rubber was also the first winner of the Indy 500 – Ray Harroun in 1911.

* Tires will also carry red and white Firestone “F shield” logos that are unique to the Indy 500 and indicate which tires will go on which side of each race car: red for right side and white for left side tires.

firestone racing logo* Firestone Racing joined the IndyCar Series in 1996 and has been at every race since. It competed vs. Goodyear for four years (1996-99) until becoming the exclusive tire provider for the 500 in 2000, a position it has held ever since.

* Firestone became the Official Tire of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 in 2002. The current contract for both of those roles runs through the 2018 season (originally extended in Dec. 2012).

* Firestone also sponsors the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. It is also the Official Tire of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

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Simon Pagenaud has tunnel vision about Indy 500 — but that’s a good thing

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(Photos: IndyCar)
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To say Simon Pagenaud is a thinking man’s driver is an understatement.

The French driver has one of the most analytical minds in the Verizon IndyCar Series. It seems like he’s always thinking, always figuring out different scenarios, trying to outthink his fellow competitors.

He’s certainly had a lot to think of recently. He’s riding a three-race winning streak. He’s part of Team Penske’s 50th anniversary celebration.

But right here, right now, Pagenaud has just one race on his mind. As far as he’s concerned, Belle Isle next week is 10 years away, while Texas the week after that is 20 years away.

And don’t even ask Pagenaud if he’s thinking about winning the IndyCar championship.

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To say Simon Pagenaud is pumped up for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 is an understatement.

The only thing on Pagenaud’s mind is winning Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Not only would it be the biggest win in the Frenchman’s career, it would also extend team owner Roger Penske’s record to 17 Indy 500 victories.

“I’m thinking about the race itself, statistics are after the race,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports. “It’s hard on the last lap if you think about it! I’m always focused on the task itself. Prepare the best we can and try to win.

“When you step into the car, you have to think about how to do the best job you can with your machine. It’s you and your machine, you and your team, let’s get the best strategy possible, make the best pit stops and make no mistakes.

“So you have to be clear-minded and focused on the task. It’s a tunnel vision thing. I’m not thinking of anything else. I’m not thinking about the 50th anniversary of Team Penske, or it being the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

“If I was, I tell you what, they wouldn’t work really well. It’s about being in the moment and not thinking about anything else.”

Even with his three-race winning streak (Long Beach, Birmingham Grand Prix of Indianapolis), preparations for the 500 have not gone as well as Pagenaud would like.

“It’s not as good as I wanted to be honest,” said Pagenaud, who will start in eighth position, the middle of Row 3 on the starting grid. “We’re not as dominant as we were last year. It’s been tough. It’s not been easy to get speed out of the car. We’ve done a good job of trying, but we haven’t found the speed of the Hondas.”

But as concerned as Pagenaud may seem, Penske is more confident than concerned.

“Obviously he’s a hot hand right now and he’s shown how good he is,” Penske said of Pagenaud. “That’s the reason we hired him a year ago.

“I think he wasn’t as happy with his performance in 2015. This is a different race. This race is wide open. It’s a long-distance race. It’s four different corners, lots of strategy.

“Certainly executing in the pits, you saw how good he was last year and bumped into a back marker when he was trying to make a pass there. So I think he’s going to have a great chance. He’s certainly excited.

“John Menard (Pagenaud’s primary sponsor of Menard’s Home Improvement Stores) coming on board is probably one of the great things of the month for us because John has spent a lot of time and a lot of money here over the years.

“(It was) great to see his car in the Winner Circle at the Angie’s road race here a couple of weeks ago. I think (Pagenaud’s) on his way to a championship. We’ve just got to continue to stay focused.”

Winning the biggest race in the world would also help Pagenaud’s countrymen.

“It’s great news that there’s a lot of interest (in France) in IndyCar,” Pagenaud said. “They’re showing races there. It’s big. There’s also half a large plane coming to the race from my hometown (Poitiers, France).

“I know it’s an American sport, but it’s a worldwide event. The last time a Frenchman won in Indy was 1920. It was Gaston Chevrolet, and I’m driving a Chevrolet! Hopefully, it’s my year.

“What would it mean (if he won)? I don’t know, to be honest. It wouldn’t be a bad time. We’re having a tough time in France right now, so a little bit of joy from the sport would be good.

“It’d be awesome to go back to France with that trophy and that ring on my finger.”

Tony DiZinno contributed to this report

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Honda bullish ahead of pivotal Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet,  drives  on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr feels bullish about the manufacturer’s chances in the 100th Indianapolis 500, believing all of its cars stand a serious chance of winning Sunday’s race.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe ended a long drought for Honda in qualifying last weekend, claiming its first pole position since Simon Pagenaud won the Verizon P1 Award at Houston in 2014.

Sunday’s ‘500 is a pivotal one for Honda given the occasion and its standing among its numerous motorsport programmes, and is made all the more crucial given its winless start to the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We weren’t expecting the outcome of the first few races that we got this year,” St. Cyr conceded.

“We thought we were going to be OK. But obviously when we first came out at St. Pete, especially Phoenix, we had to focus on those, as well.

“I wouldn’t say the beginning part of the season went according to plan. But we kind of know what we have right now and where we’re going with this one.

“We’re working and the other side is working as well to try to improve as much as you can.”

The Honda-powered cars impressed throughout practice and qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, appearing to make a significant step up in performance from the Angie’s List GP of Indianapolis two weeks ago.

Besides Hinchcliffe getting pole, the Andretti Autosport cars regularly ran quickest through the speed trap with Ryan Hunter-Reay qualifying third, while Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal has looked strong in race trim.

“The Indy 500 is a major focus for Honda. We really worked hard for 12 months on this particular race,” St. Cyr said.

“We used two of our three allocated boxes from an aerodynamic standpoint on this race. We have a pretty major upgrade of our engine specification for this race.

“As you’ve seen, it’s fairly competitive at this point. Really our whole goal is to get all of our teams with a package that is capable of winning this race.”

And providing such a package is something that St. Cyr believes Honda has achieved.

“It’s pretty great,” he said. “The Andretti guys, the whole Andretti team, all five of their cars, have been fast. They unloaded fast. They typically do really well here. We expect good things out of them.

“The Schmidt Peterson Racing group, all three of them have just had stellar months. You want to give some shouts out to Dale Coyne and those guys who have shown pretty good speed, with people that don’t have a lot of experience running around this track.

“A.J. Foyt and Takuma Sato showed something at the end of qualifying. They qualified third in the last group, right? Graham, we expect him to have a real good race, as well.

“All of our teams have legitimate contenders to win this race, so we’re actually really thrilled about that.”