MidOAnalysis

IndyCar: Mid-Ohio weekend analysis, musings, and observations

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – The first race in the “final four” for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is in the books. Round 15 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course featured some surprises and ultimately a rare performance for 2014: a Scott Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing victory. Here’s the weekend summation:

  • When do they rename the joint Mid-Ohio Scott Dixon Wins, Of Course? ‘Ol “Scotty Dog” has had a tough season in defense of his 2013 championship, not really through any fault of his own but more due to an ever so slight performance gap that the Chip Ganassi Racing team has spent the entirety of the year trying to catch up. But Sunday? Yeah, he needed strategy to get to the lead but once he got there, Dixon had the speed to burn to ultimately pull away from Sebastien Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe in the final stages. All while saving fuel. As Hinchcliffe said when asked what he thought of Mid-Ohio, it was, “Scott Dixon winning… Scott Dixon winning… Scott Dixon winning again… yep, Scott Dixon won again.” Sunday’s win was Dixon’s fifth in eight years (2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014), coming with the old car, the new car, and both engine manufacturers (Honda, Chevrolet) for the new car.
  • Could Dixon steal the title? The short answer is no. The longer answer is very slightly still possible. With his win and Helio Castroneves finishing 19th, Dixon gained 42 points on the Brazilian this race, and he also gained 25 on Will Power. So with three races remaining, Dixon is 108 points behind new leader Power, and with a double-points finale at Auto Club Speedway at Fontana he still has a mathematical chance (wins pay 100 points and a gain of 88 points from first to 22nd is possible). But in sixth, he’ll need to win the next two races and hope the five ahead of him have an avalanche of bad luck in order to have a realistic one.
  • Newgy’s bitter luck strikes again: What can you do when your team lets you down? Grin, bear it and take it like a pro, or break down and lose it. Fortunately Josef Newgarden chose the former after his bitter disappointment on Sunday.
  • Rain reigns… just like it has most of this year: Rain again made for an abnormal flow to the race weekend. It’s affected a wealth of races this year – Mid-Ohio was just the latest – and a funky qualifying session saw teams gamble depending on the weather conditions. The debate rages over Firestone’s new wet weather tire, which has been a subject of controversy in the paddock of late. There’s also a debate as to whether yours truly holds the “championship belt” for rain delays… actually there’s little debate on that (it’s an inside joke run amuck, that’s been particularly pertinent this season).
  • Championship fight on the back burner: Power took the lead from Castroneves, but none of the title contenders ended in the top five. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a miserable day and Simon Pagenaud was anonymous all weekend, surprisingly; the Frenchman started and finished ninth. Does anyone want this championship?
  • Underrated, great run from Graham Rahal: Perhaps overlooked but turning in one of his most impressive performances of the season was Graham Rahal in the No. 15 National Guard RLL Honda, at his home race. Rahal – who could have podiums at both Houston races and also ran well at Iowa and Toronto before falling back – qualified seventh, consistently ran within the top five all day and ended fifth. Believe it or not this was only Rahal’s second top-five of the season, but was a big confidence booster heading into the final three races.
  • Similar story for Carlos Munoz: The Colombian rookie made his first Firestone Fast Six in the No. 34 Cinsay/AndrettiTV.com Honda and posted his best result since Pocono with fourth place on Sunday. Munoz hadn’t finished in the top five on a road or street circuit since Houston Race 1, when he finished third behind countrymen Carlos Huertas and Juan Pablo Montoya.
  • Two cautions, thus two more than in the last two years: The first lap caution and the second caution for Hunter-Reay’s spin made it two cautions in Sunday’s race – which is two more than the Verizon IndyCar Series produced the last two years this race. Both the 2012 and 2013 races went caution-free.
  • Silly season, schedule on the back burner: In recent years you’d have figured silly season and schedule talk would be emerging, but not right now. The condensed schedule means most focus will be on the championship chase over this month, and then everything else – all the lingering questions – will be addressed later.
  • Coffee shortage: This one had nothing to do with the on-track action, but more the internals in the media center. Coffee was hard to find this weekend, unless you went by Honda, in which case the coffee was awesome as ever at its home race. Sadly, a win was as elusive for Honda as coffee was for the rest of us media folks outside their hospitality – Chevrolet won its third straight race at a Honda-sponsored event (Chevrolet swept the Honda Indy 2 in Toronto; this was the Honda Indy 200).

That’s all from Mid-Ohio for me. My home race of Milwaukee occurs in two weeks, and you can bet we’ll have a wealth of coverage leading into the ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers on August 17 on MotorSportsTalk.

PWC: Parente back, Sellers, Hedlund join at K-PAX

Photo: PWC
Photo: PWC
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Defending Pirelli World Challenge GT champions K-PAX Racing have confirmed their lineup for this year’s season, which will see Alvaro Parente back to defend his crown in one of three McLaren 650S GT3s.

Parente will have two new teammates, in two talented Americans. Bryan Sellers will make his first run at a full-time PWC season in the team’s No. 6 McLaren, while Mike Hedlund, who’s driven off-and-on with K-PAX Racing technical partner Flying Lizard Motorsports, will run for a GTA title in the No. 98 McLaren.

Sellers and Hedlund replace Austin Cindric and Colin Thompson, respectively, as full-season drivers. Driver lineups for the SprintX races will be announced at a later date.

“With the addition of new teams, drivers and GT3 cars in the Pirelli World Challenge, 2017 is going to be tighter and more challenging than ever,” said Team Owner Jim Haughey. “So we are very pleased to have Alvaro, the returning Driver’s Champion, team up with the very competent Bryan Sellers in GT and Mike Hedlund in GTA.”

The full release is linked here.

These confirmations add to what’s shaping up to be, once again, a very good GT class field for the series.

Foyt confirms hire of Will Phillips as technical director

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Larry Foyt, Will Phillips and A.J. Foyt. Photo courtesy A.J. Foyt Racing
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A.J. Foyt Racing has confirmed the hire of ex-INDYCAR Vice President of Technology Will Phillips as the team’s new technical director. He’ll also serve as race engineer for Carlos Munoz this season. Trackside Online was first to report the hire.

Phillips was named as technical delegate for the Formula 4 United States Championship powered by Honda this past year, and now will be in a team role for the two-car Chevrolet outfit that Foyt has this season.

Munoz and Conor Daly will be in the pair of ABC Supply Co. Chevrolets this season, with Daniele Cucchiaroni continuing with the team as Daly’s race engineer. The duo tests this week at Sebring International Raceway’s short course.

He’s been a technical director/chief engineer, race engineer or design engineer at various teams, including but not limited to de Ferran Motorsports, Highcroft Racing, Rocketsports, and Reynard Motorsport.

“It is a privilege to join one of the most iconic teams in the IndyCar Series,” Phillips said in a release. “I have missed the competition and as such am looking forward to being back on the frontline. The depth of talent in the team is impressive and I look forward to working with them and helping create a cohesive engineering group to support Carlos and Conor.”

A.J. Foyt added, “I’m glad to have Will on our team. He’s smart and experienced and he was a close friend of “Ando’s” [the late John Anderson]. Ando worked for me and was a good friend of mine. I don’t know Will that well yet, but if Ando respected him, that’s good enough for me. I think Will can do a great job for us.”

Street in Nice renamed, unveiled in honor of Jules Bianchi

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 20:  Jules Bianchi of France and Marussia walks across the paddock prior to the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 20, 2014 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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A street has been renamed and unveiled on Monday in honor of the late Jules Bianchi in his hometown of Nice, France.

The former ‘rue du Sapin’ in Nice is now ‘rue Jules Bianchi,’ in the Frenchman’s honor. A ceremony took place Monday at that street at the intersection of ‘avenue Pierre de Coubertin.’

Posts from the unveil are linked below. Charles Leclerc, Bianchi’s countryman and Ferrari Driver Academy member who participated in a couple first F1 free practice sessions with Haas F1 Team last year, posted “You’ll never ever be forgotten.”

Bianchi died in 2015 following a coma sustained after his accident in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, where he suffered a diffuse axonal injury. Not long afterwards, his No. 17 was retired from active competition in Formula 1.

Bianchi scored the first points and to date, the best career finish for the Manor F1 team, when he finished ninth in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix.

MRTI: Thompson, Castro announce 2017 USF2000 programs

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Parker Thompson. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda has received a shot in the arm with a pair of announcements in recent days.

Parker Thompson, who came up a hard-luck second in last year’s championship to teammate Anthony Martin, will be firmly entrenched as a title contender once more in 2017 with a switch to Exclusive Autosport in the team’s No. 90 Tatuus USF-17 Mazda.

The Red Deer, Alberta native raced for JDC Motorsports in 2015 before moving to Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing last season. The move reunites Thompson with fellow Canadian and EA team owner Michael Duncalfe.

“This was easily one of the hardest off seasons I have had in my motorsport career thus far,” Thompson admitted. “I honestly didn’t know if I was going to get behind the wheel of a racecar in 2017, so when the opportunity arose to become a part of the EA organization, I was ecstatic.

“This is a dream team fit for myself, in a number of different ways. I met Michael when I was just 11-years-old racing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at the Western Canadian Karting Championships. It just goes to show you what relationship building can do for your career down the road! Since then, I actually raced for Michael in his decorated FF1600 program, and claimed my first two formula car wins with him. There’s not many team owners in the paddock who I have had such a great history and relationship with over the years.”

More on the announcement is linked here via the USF2000 website, and Thompson also released a video that is linked below.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Andre Castro, an 18-year-old born in New York but with Colombian heritage, is the second confirmed driver at Newman/Wachs Racing ahead of its return to full-time racing. He’ll be in the team’s No. 37 entry alongside the previously announced Dakota Dickerson in the No. 36 car, with the series sophomore expected to improve this year.

“We ran Andre in our first test at Indy last October, and we had some success with him right from the start,”said team manager, Brian Halahan. “He was fast and he worked well with the team, so I feel we can build on that and have him running strong as soon as he is back in the Newman Wachs car. I think Andre and Dakota will make good teammates and push each other to the front.”

Castro is a go-kart veteran with limited car racing experience, but was nominated as a finalist for last year’s Team USA Scholarship.

“I am thrilled to be a part of Newman Wachs’ return to open-wheel racing, said Castro. After working with the team closely in the weeks leading up to the Chris Griffis Memorial test at Indy last fall, I saw that the team was incredibly serious about coming back and winning straight out of the gate. At the test itself, I was able to work with engineer Alan O’Leary extremely well, and by the end of the final day, me, a rookie driver and a returning team, together, we managed to be on top of the time sheets.”

While these two are in the USF2000 field this year, one driver who won’t be back for a second go-’round is Cameron Das, who raced his debut season with JAY Motorsports. The Baltimore teenager has stretched his wings not just in USF2000, but also in SCCA’s new U.S. F4 Championship, which he won.

Das, 16, will shift to Europe this year and will be one to watch along with new Red Bull Junior driver Neil Verhagen. Das has been confirmed with Carlin for its BRDC British F3 team, along with previously confirmed drivers James Pull and Enaam Ahmed.

“British Formula Three feels like the natural next step in my racing development,” said Das, who’s already tested for the team. “I’ve already had a chance to see Carlin in action and I couldn’t be more excited to spend the 2017 season with them. I really appreciate the support from my sponsor Autobahn Indoor Speedway and other partners for allowing me to embark on this incredible opportunity. I cannot wait for the first race weekend.”

The signing did bring up a good point – Das is unquestionably the racing driver with the name closest in spelling to actress Cameron Diaz.