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IndyCar: Pocono Recap

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LONG POND, Pa. – Sunday’s ABC Supply 500, the 14th of 17 races this season, marked the fifth Verizon IndyCar Series event at the “Tricky Triangle” that is Pocono Raceway since the series made its return in 2013 after a 24-year hiatus.

Since returning to the schedule, it became evident very quickly that this would be a strong venue for IndyCar, and one that would produce great racing.

Sunday’s race was yet more evidence of that. Below is a recap of what was a wild Sunday in the Pocono mountains.

THE BEST RACE OF THE YEAR?

Different people will offer different opinions about what constitutes a great race. Some will say it’s about several drivers battling it out for the lead in a constant slip-streaming duel. Some will say you only need two drivers pushing each other to the very limit of performance for them and their cars to have an exciting show. Some will also say strategy needs to play role, as it involves everyone on the team playing a role and could result in a surprise winner.

Sunday’s race had all of those elements and more.

The racing was manic from the get-go, with the 22-car field going 7-wide on the initial start behind pole sitter Takuma Sato.

Helio Castroneves went from 20th to 10th on the opening lap. Josef Newgarden, too, was a big mover on the opening lap, jumping up to seventh after starting 14th. Ryan Hunter-Reay gained six spots in the first seven laps, up to 15th from 21st. By contrast, pole sitter Sato and eighth-starting Gabby Chaves dropped down the order to 13th and 22nd, respectively, by Lap 10.

Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal had maybe the best battle for the lead we’ve seen all year, as they swapped the lead multiple times before finishing fifth and ninth.

Even Esteban Gutierrez, in his first start on a 2.5-mile oval, was in the mix before dropping out after brushing the wall. As shown below, Gutierrez made a slick four-wide pass on the front straightaway in the early laps.

That trend of drivers moving up continued through the day, with Hunter-Reay going from 21st on the grid to eventually lead laps before finishing eighth. And eventual winner Will Power and runner-up Josef Newgarden each fell back in the field in the middle of the race, Power due to front wing and rear bumper pod damage and Newgarden due to a caution coming out before he pitted, only to work their way back forward.

That’s where the strategy gets in the mix. Power fell off the lead lap after a Lap 67 pit stop to change the front wing, dropping to 21st and last of the cars running at the time, but got back on the lead lap following a Lap 116 caution when Sebastien Saavedra hit the wall exiting Turn 1 and stopped on course. Power stayed out while the leaders pitted, taking a wave around to get his lap back.

While that incident helped Power, it hurt teammate Newgarden, as it occurred during a cycle of green flag stops and Newgarden was one of a handful of drivers who hadn’t pitted. He briefly fell back to 11th.

As a result, both drivers were at the back of the lead lap, but a Lap 125 caution for a crash involving James Hinchcliffe and JR Hildebrand opened the door for pit strategy to work in their favor. Both drivers topped up their fuel (on Lap 126) and then Power topped up twice more under the yellow (at Laps 129 and 131), using the caution to also change out the rear wing/bumper pod assembly, which was damaged in the aftermath of the Hinchcliffe/Hildebrand crash. The Penske duo then went significantly longer on their stints than anyone else, with Power especially churning out fast laps above 217 mph to eventually lead by over four seconds when the cycle of pit stops concluded.

Newgarden, too, used that strategy to move back toward the front, emerging from the second-to-last round of pit stops back in the top five. Newgarden then emerged in second after the final stops and ran down Power in a last-ditch effort for the win.

And while Power ultimately kept him and third-placed Alexander Rossi at bay, his aggressive, pre-emptive moves to defend the inside line entering Turn 3 were plenty hair-raising in their own right.

In short, the ABC Supply 500 was an absolute thrill ride, and the numbers back it up. The lead changed hands 42 times, an IndyCar record at Pocono, and 590 on-track passes, 524 for position, were recorded during the 500 miles.

The Indianapolis 500 and Rainguard Water Sealers 600 from Texas Motor Speedway were both hair-raising as well, but sometimes for the wrong seasons as both were blighted by several frightening crashes. Sunday’s affair at Pocono, however, was hair-raising for all the right reasons.

PENSKE DOMINANCE OVERCOMES HONDA POWER

The battle between Chevrolet and Honda has been an intriguing one this year, with each manufacturer demonstrating strengths at certain tracks.

The prevailing thought among many entering the weekend was that Honda would have the upper hand, due to its speedway package and supposed advantage in the horsepower game.

And they were certainly strong, with Honda drivers Alexander Rossi, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, and James Hinchcliffe leading 160 of 200 laps.

Yet, it was Team Penske and Chevrolet going 1-2 at the end, with Power’s victory serving as Penske’s fourth win in a row in 2017, the first time they’ve done so since 2012.

Will Power crosses the start/finish line to win the ABC Supply 500 in what was a 1-2 for Team Penske and Chevrolet. Photo: IndyCar

While some may have been surprised that Chevrolet managed victory over Honda this weekend, Power was not one of them. Power even tipped his hand about an engine upgrade that the “bow tie brigade” brought this weekend, which may have paid dividends in the closing stanza of the race.

“You could tell like when we came up here, Chevys were definitely in the game,” Power said in the post-race press conference. “I had a new engine in, so we had a bit of an upgrade. I think the engine was better.”

Power also added that the aerodynamic package this weekend had an impact. “As you saw at Texas, same deal on the superspeedway, it’s a different configuration than Indy. We all have to run the Dallara rear wing, so that seems to even everything out there aerodynamically. But yeah, I think our cars were really good compared to the Honda.”

Power’s win gives Chevrolet eight wins on the year, all from Team Penske, compared to Honda’s six. And the next event, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park, appears to favor Chevrolet. However, as Pocono indicated, anything can happen, so Honda could certainly steal a win in the right circumstances.

MISC.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay may have had the drive of the day in getting up front, leading laps, and finishing eighth while nursing injuries from his qualifying crash. Though he did not suffer any serious injuries, Hunter-Reay was certainly in pain on Sunday and put in an ironman-like effort to run as well as he did.
  • Pole sitter Takuma Sato was mysteriously never a factor, and never actually led a lap as Tony Kanaan passed him to lead Lap 1. Sato then quickly dropped down the order and finished a lowly 13th.
  • Carlos Munoz finished tenth at Pocono, his fourth top ten of the year, which gives a nice jolt to an A.J. Foyt Enterprises team that has struggled to get both cars at the sharp end of the field on a regular basis.
  • Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing finished a quiet 15th on Sunday, their worst finish in three races this season. However, for a team that’s still very new to the racing business, simply finishing the race and running all the laps is a noteworthy accomplishment in and of itself. Though things are far from finalized, Chaves and Harding are hopeful to be full-time entrants next year.
  • In a bit of late-breaking news from earlier this morning, Jack Harvey will contest the final two races of 2017 in the No. 7 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Sebastian Saavedra filled in at Pocono, finishing 21st after early contact with the Turn 1 wall, and will also race at Gateway next weekend.

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Team Penske wins fourth straight race; first time since 2012

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When Will Power took the checkered flag in Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, he delivered Team Penske its fourth straight win in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season.

And although Penske has won three straight races multiple times in recent races, it hasn’t won four times in a row in more than five years.

Power’s win Sunday in Pocono followed Josef Newgarden’s wins at Mid-Ohio and Toronto, and Helio Castroneves’ win at Iowa, to give Penske eight total wins on the season (Power three, Newgarden three, Castroneves one, Simon Pagenaud one) – the same eight Chevrolet has achieved with one team, while Honda has won the other six races with all five of its teams.

The last time Penske pulled off four wins in a row in IndyCar was in the first four races of the 2012 season, the first four races when the base Dallara DW12 chassis was introduced.

Castroneves won the season opener at St. Petersburg, while Power won the next three races at Barber, Long Beach and Brazil.

LONG BEACH, CA – APRIL 15: Will Power of Australia drives the #12 Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet during the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the streets of Long Beach on April 15, 2012 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Twice last year, Penske won three in a row, when Pagenaud won at Long Beach, Barber and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then Power (Toronto), Pagenaud (Mid-Ohio) and Power (Pocono) completed a same three in a row run later in the year.

The last IndyCar team to win four races in a row in a season was Chip Ganassi Racing in 2013, when Scott Dixon went three-in-a-row at Pocono and Toronto’s two races, then Charlie Kimball won at Mid-Ohio.

Power is also the first driver in 24 Pocono IndyCar races to win back-to-back races at the track, and it’s also impressive considering how much better he’s gotten on ovals over the years.

“It seriously means a lot. I love racing on ovals. Every oval win I get, I really, really enjoy because we don’t have many of them,” he said. “Yeah, to come back and win it again in a very different way this year, it was a crazy race, exciting to me, but yeah, feels fantastic to go back-to-back.”

Castroneves (3), Newgarden (2) and Pagenaud (1). Photo: IndyCar

Penske will head to Gateway Motorsports Park for this weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) with a chance to win its fifth straight race.

The last time the team did that was in the team’s record-setting 1994 CART season, when Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr. and Paul Tracy won an incredible seven races in a row from Round 2 that year in Phoenix through Round 8 in Cleveland.

Fittipaldi won Phoenix, Unser won three in a row at Long Beach, Indianapolis and Milwaukee, Tracy won in Detroit and Unser won in Portland and Cleveland.

Newgarden extends IndyCar points lead as Power shrinks top-5 gap

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Entering the day 52 points back of Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden in fifth place in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, Will Power was actually six points closer to the lead than he was at the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway last year compared to when he was second in points behind Simon Pagenaud, 58 points back.

Power won, Pagenaud crashed, and the gap was 20 points after this race last year between the two of them.

Fast forward 12 months and Power won again, but this time, his Penske teammate that was leading the points didn’t have a nightmare day and instead nailed down a critical result for his own title hopes.

Courtesy of a rally from several early race issues, Power leapfrogged to a surprise second straight Pocono win while Newgarden finished second.

What was a seven-point lead for Newgarden over the fourth Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, turned into an 18-point lead over new second place man Scott Dixon in today’s race.

Newgarden was understandably disappointed to lose his third straight win, but very happy with the result in the big picture standpoint.

“Will deserves the win. He had the car to beat. He was the class of the field the second half of the race,” Newgarden told NBCSN’s Robin Miller post-race.

“I did everything I could to beat him. But I’m second, Dixon’s behind us, Helio’s behind us, Simon… you don’t want to wreck your teammate or give up where you’re at. It’s a 1-2 for all of us. I’m disappointed for all of us but I can’t be disappointed for where we are.”

Power’s win, meanwhile, saw him close the gap down to just 42 points behind Newgarden, albeit still fifth in points.

Dixon moved into second with a sixth place finish and is now 18 points back. He started the day eight behind Newgarden.

Castroneves advanced from 20th on the grid up to seventh and is third in points, 22 back, yet still lost 15 points to Newgarden.

The incredibly consistent Pagenaud nailed down his 11th top-five finish of the season in 14 starts, yet somehow still ranks fourth in points, 26 back, having lost nine points on the day.

With ninth, Graham Rahal saw his slim title hopes fade – he’s not mathematically out of it but at 76 points back he’s in a tough spot after starting 58 behind. Similarly Takuma Sato, who started 71 out after winning the pole position, fell to 95 back in seventh – just five points ahead of Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi, who finished third.

Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe remain ninth and 10th in points.

With three races to play, after Pocono, it is now clearly a five-horse race for the championship with each of the top five within one race’s worth of maximum points (54).

Will Power overcomes adversity to win Pocono thriller (VIDEO)

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LONG POND, Pa. – Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 was a record-setting day for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Pocono Raceway, as they set a race record for lead changes in an IndyCar race at the 2.5-mile triangular oval, with 42 passes for the lead and over 500 on-track passes in total over the 500-mile race.

Ultimately, it was Team Penske’s Will Power who overcame damage to the front and back of No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, went a lap down, and made an unscheduled pit stop early in the race (part of 10 pit stops total) to come back and claim his third victory of the season, and his second straight at Pocono Raceway.

“What a day, what a day. Dramatic day. Lot of fun,” an exhausted Power told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis in Victory Lane. “(I had to) hang in there. I saw Hunter-Reay got his lap back last year. I was so cautious on the restarts. You can never give up in IndyCar. Got a lap back and made it to the front.”

Power fell off the lead lap after an unscheduled pit stop on lap 67 for a new front wing, which also saw the team struggle to get the tires on in what was a lengthy pit stop. However, a lap 112 caution, when Sebastian Saavedra clouted the wall exiting turn 1 and stopped on track, allowed Power a chance to get back on the lead lap.

Another caution, this one on lap 124 as James Hinchcliffe and JR Hildebrand crashed together in Turn 1, allowed Power a chance to go off strategy and top off the fuel as well change out the rear wing and bumper pod assembly, which had also been damaged earlier in the race. Hinchcliffe’s accident came following a save earlier in the race, just past half distance, which was incredible.

Power then charged to front through the following sequence of green flag stops, his fuel strategy allowing him to go longer and put in some of the fastest laps of the race before pitting. He emerged from the pit stop sequence, the second-to-last of the race, with a four second over the rest of the field.

Power held the lead through the final sequence of pit stops, though teammate Josef Newgarden and Andretti’s Autosport’s Alexander Rossi made late charges on Power at the end. Newgarden in particular mounted a big challenge on Power, forcing the Australian driver to play significant defense, taking the far inside line entering turn 3 for several laps in a row.

However, Power was able to keep all advances at bay, outlasting both Newgarden and Rossi to the line for the victory.

Newgarden revealed to NBCSN’s Robin Miller afterward that, even though he was able to catch Power at the end, he didn’t think he had enough to pass him.

“Will deserves the win. He had the car to beat. He was class the second half of the field,” Newgarden admitted. “I did everything I could to beat him. But I’m second, (Scott) Dixon’s behind us, (Helio Castroneves) is behind us, Simon (Pagenaud)… you don’t want to wreck your teammate or give up where you’re at. 1-2 for all of us. I’m disappointed for all of us but I can’t be disappointed for where we are.”

Rossi, too, admitted that he didn’t have the speed to really make a bid for the win, though his was down to a fuel mixture problem, the adjuster having broken earlier in the race. “We didn’t have full power at the end,” Rossi explained to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “The car was great all day. Stellar all day. When you come so close to the win it’s difficult to swallow. Last year we didn’t finish. To be on podium is a testament to Andretti Autosport.”

Simon Pagenaud came through the field after the final stops to finish fourth, making a late pass on Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan, making it three Team Penske cars in the top four. Kanaan held on for fifth.

Scott Dixon ended up sixth ahead of Helio Castroneves while Ryan Hunter-Reay had a strong run and led a handful of laps after a brutal crash in qualifying, but faded to eighth at the end. Graham Rahal, too, had a strong run and swapped the lead with Kanaan several times during the race, but he also faded over the final two stints and ended up ninth. Carlos Munoz had a quiet, but solid day for A.J. Foyt Racing to finish tenth.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Power, obviously rallied in a big way. But Newgarden (14th to second), Castroneves (20th to seventh) and Hunter-Reay (21st to eighth) all made huge strides. … Beyond the top eight, Rahal and Munoz were the two drivers outside the Penske, Ganassi and Andretti teams in the top-10.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Polesitter Takuma Sato fell from first to 13th. … Harding Racing’s Gabby Chaves fought the balance in traffic all day and ended 15th after starting eighth, but it says something about the small team in its third race that that was its first finish outside the top-10. … Needing to impress, Sebastian Saavedra made contact in Turn 1 to cost a potential top-15 result. … Dale Coyne Racing was again unlucky to fall back from promising qualifying runs, Ed Jones stuck in 17th again to continue his results rut while Esteban Gutierrez’s early 11th place running came undone with contact in Turn 3.

NOTABLE: The win is Power’s 32nd of his career, which breaks a three-way tie between himself, our NBCSN IndyCar analyst Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti for ninth all-time. … The win is Team Penske’s 10th at Pocono and eighth this season (Power 3, Newgarden 3, Pagenaud 1, Castroneves 1). … Pagenaud’s fourth place is his 11th top-five finish of the year. No one else has more than eight.

QUOTABLE: Power, describing his comeback once he got back on the lead lap: “Once I got my lap back, I was like, all right, it’s game on, I can definitely get back up there. I was thinking like top 5, but when I was pumping out like 217 laps, I’m like, okay, we’re going to make some serious hay here.”

RESULTS

LONG POND, Pennsylvania – Results Sunday of the ABC Supply 500 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (5) Will Power, Chevrolet, 200, Running
2. (14) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running
3. (6) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, Running
4. (2) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 200, Running
5. (4) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 200, Running
6. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 200, Running
7. (20) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 200, Running
8. (21) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 200, Running
9. (7) Graham Rahal, Honda, 200, Running
10. (18) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 200, Running
11. (16) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running
12. (22) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 200, Running
13. (1) Takuma Sato, Honda, 200, Running
14. (17) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 200, Running
15. (8) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 200, Running
16. (3) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 200, Running
17. (11) Ed Jones, Honda, 200, Running
18. (10) Max Chilton, Honda, 129, Mechanical
19. (19) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 124, Contact
20. (12) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 124, Contact
21. (15) Sebastian Saavedra, Honda, 114, Contact
22. (13) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 23, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 183.737 mph
Time of Race: 2:43:16.6005
Margin of victory: 0.5268 of a second
Cautions: 3 for 17 laps
Lead changes: 42 among 10 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Kanaan 1-11
Rossi 12-27
Kanaan 28-29
Dixon 30-53
Rossi 54-55
Power 56
Hildebrand 57-58
Dixon 59
Rossi 60-65
Dixon 66-81
Rossi 82-83
Hinchcliffe 84
Rossi 85
Hinchcliffe 86-87
Dixon 88-97
Rossi 98-99
Hunter-Reay 100-103
Rossi 104-114
Newgarden 115-117
Hunter-Reay 118-122
Rahal 123
Kanaan 124-133
Rahal 134
Kanaan 135
Rahal 136
Kanaan 137
Rahal 138
Kanaan 139
Rahal 140
Kanaan 141
Rahal 142
Kanaan 143
Rahal 144
Kanaan 145-146
Rahal 147
Kanaan 148-149
Rahal 150
Hunter-Reay 151-153
Power 154-176
Rossi 177-180
Newgarden 181
Andretti 182-190
Power 191-200

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 494, Dixon 476, Castroneves 472, Pagenaud 468, Power 452, Rahal 418, Sato 399, Rossi 394, Kanaan 351 and Hinchcliffe 327.

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Power tops final practice at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – Team Penske’s Will Power topped final practice for tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. Power’s best lap of 216.294 mph was turned late in the session and pipped teammate Simon Pagenaud for the top spot, making it a Team Penske 1-2 in final practice. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan were third and fourth, the best of the Honda teams, while Helio Castroneves rebounded from his earlier qualifying crash to end the session in fifth, putting three Penske cars in the top five.

Of note: pole sitter Takuma Sato was 11th quickest and Ed Carpenter was 16th, Carpenter having missed qualifying as Ed Carpenter Racing made repairs to his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and missed the lineup time for pre-qualifying inspection by only a few minutes.

Also: Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 DHL Honda, usually piloted by Ryan Hunter-Reay, did not venture onto the track for final practice, with Hunter-Reay currently being evaluated at a local hospital following a qualifying crash.

Times are below. Tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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