IndyCar: Penske pair edge ahead in points at end of Toronto weekend

Leave a comment

TORONTO – Neither Helio Castroneves nor Will Power won either of the Honda Indy Toronto races this weekend. But with a pair of podiums and their title rivals Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Juan Pablo Montoya all having at least one issue in one of the two races, Castroneves and Power have taken the momentum out of Toronto heading to the final four races of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Castroneves ended second and 12th; the former result increased his points lead as Power was only ninth. But the Australian’s third place finish in race two caught him back up.

Of course, Power’s weekend can’t be discussed without mentioning his race one spin on Saturday, when he looped it at Turn 11 and damaged the left rear suspension. A rapid effort by the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet crew got the car back together in less than a half hour and even gave him the chance to race, although he was eventually moved to the rear of the grid for race one when it eventually did race on Sunday.

Castroneves now leads Power by 13 points, 533-520, as the series heads for an off weekend before the final stretch of four races in five weekends in August.

It’s an intriguing situation for “The Captain,” Roger Penske, who could well see two of his own fight to win the 2014 title. Both drivers still seek their first championship while Penske seeks his first as an owner since 2006 (Sam Hornish Jr.).

Both drivers continue to focus on maximizing their own races, rather than worrying about their competitors.

“I don’t drive looking to the other guys.  I drive when I can push and make it happen, you know?” Castroneves said after his runner-up finish in race one.

Added Power following race two, “At the end of the day you’re always reminded about the championship by the media and your team on the radio.  I’ve been so many times in a massive points lead halfway through the season, you get into a points race, and it’s just no good.  You have to think of the task at hand.”

While these two now hold the edge leaving Toronto, it was a tough Sunday for the other three that needed good Sundays to get back within striking distance.

Hunter-Reay’s passing attempt on Tony Kanaan in race one ended in tears and left the three-time winner this year 21st. It didn’t get much better in race two with a 14th place finish. Hunter-Reay is still third in points, but after leaving Iowa down 32 to Castroneves, he’s now 69 back after Sunday.

Pagenaud rebounded to fourth in race one after he was contacted by rookie Luca Filippi on the opening lap, which blocked the track exiting Turn 4. But the driver of the No. 77 Oculus Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda ended 22nd in race two, retiring due to an ill-timed electronic issue. Pagenaud is fourth in points and a further two behind “RHR.”

JPM’s day was highlighted – unfortunately – by his nosing into the Turn 8 barrier in race two, then being wedged on top of Mikhail Aleshin who had nowhere to go on the slick surface. Finishes of 18th and 19th made for a miserable Sunday, and leaves Montoya 105 points behind Castroneves in fifth.

Sixth through 10th is a crapshoot, with only 29 points separating new sixth-place man Scott Dixon, defending series champion, from Sebastien Bourdais in 10th.

Although double points are on offer for the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on August 30, it’s still likely going to require drivers being within the 25-30 point range of the leaders to have a shot.

“It will be fun to have people up there at the end,” Power said. “The last race, double points, there will be – I’m going to say there will be four people in contention, I reckon.  A lot can happen … and man, it can turn so quickly, I don’t know.”

Here’s the top 10 following race two:

1.  Helio Castroneves, 533
2.  Will Power, 520
3.  Ryan Hunter-Reay, 464
4.  Simon Pagenaud, 462
5.  Juan Pablo Montoya, 428
6.  Scott Dixon, 387
7.  Carlos Munoz, 384
8.  Tony Kanaan, 380
9.  Marco Andretti, 375
10. Sebastien Bourdais, 358

With 200 IndyCar wins in the books, Penske looks for No. 201 at Indy

Leave a comment

The history of Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a storied one that features 16 Indy 500 wins, including a pair of four-time winners in Al Unser and Rick Mears, and number of utterly dominant performances.

Yet, they’ll head to this year’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 looking to avenge a pair of relatively subpar performances in each of the last two years.

Power was the only Penske driver to finish in the Top 10 in 2016, with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud finishing 11th and 19th after fuel strategy intervened late in the race. And last year, all the Penske cars were somewhat down on pace compared to other teams, notably the Honda cars.

Power was the only Penske driver to qualify for the Fast Nine Pole Shootout last year – he qualified ninth. Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves were 18th and 19th in the grid, while Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud were 22nd and 23rd.

And only Castroneves was in winning contention in the final laps as he battled eventual winner Takuma Sato – Montoya was sixth, while Pagenaud was 14th and the only other Penske running at the end. Both Newgarden and Power crashed out on Lap 183.

This year, however, could see a return to the dominant form we’re used to seeing from the Penske outfit. All four cars entered – Pagenaud, Power, Newgarden, and Castroneves – qualified inside the top nine, with Pagenaud and Power on the front row.

They have all been near the front of the time sheets, especially in laps without a tow from another car, and the indication is that the Penske cars may be the fastest ones in the field.

All told, it leads to very high expectations for a team that already expects highly of itself.

Leading the way for Penske is current points leader and defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. Newgarden’s best Indy 500 finish is third in 2016, but he only has one other Top 10 there – ninth in 2015.

But, with an IndyCar title now under his belt, Newgarden has his eyes set on an Indy 500 win.

Josef Newgarden looks to add an Indy 500 crown to his 2017 championship. Photo: IndyCar

“I think Indianapolis…is certainly next on the list for me,” he detailed in a press conference ahead of qualifying. “It’s not next on the list for the team, they’ve won it many times. The good thing is we have four great opportunities, especially having Helio back. I think we have one of the best opportunities in the entire field to win this race.”

Pagenaud, like Newgarden, is also looking for his first Indy triumph, though his record there isn’t quite as good. He has been fast at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but only has two Top 10s to show for it – eighth in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and tenth in 2015 in his first year with Penske.

And a Pagenaud win would be somewhat historic – it would be only the fourth time a French driver has won the “500,” and the first since 1920 (Gaston Chevrolet).

Pagenaud explained that this race always holds a place as a top priority, and that success at Indy is all about preparation.

Simon Pagenaud looks to become only the first French driver to win an Indy 500 since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920. Photo: IndyCar

“It really is our number one goal. In Roger and Tim’s heart, it’s the most important one,” Pagenaud declared. “We prepare really hard. The team does a fantastic job at just understanding every bit and component of this new aero kit, trying to extract the best out of the equipment.”

Pagenaud added, “On the driver side, there’s a lot you can do obviously to review the past races, try to focus yourself, try to put yourself into the race before it happens, try to just improve. That’s what we try to do every day. That’s the goal. That’s why this group is so good. We push each other so hard that you always try to push the limits away.”

Power, the man who delivered Penske his 200th IndyCar win, is no stranger to success at IMS, having won the Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course three times. But, he is yet to find Victory Lane on the oval, and that leaves a void in an otherwise stellar career.

Will Power has won the INDYCAR Grand Prix three times, and looks for his first win at the “500” this weekend. Photo: IndyCar

Power spotlighted the opportunity in front of him, and detailed that running in traffic has been a strength thus far through practice.

“It’s fantastic to have that opportunity. Obviously very focused on (trying to win),” he revealed. “I feel like we have a really good opportunity to win this year. I mean, I think Chevrolet has brought a really good engine. I feel like we’re really fast. Running in traffic and such, I felt like we’ve been pretty strong, especially when you get to the front.”

Castroneves is the only Penske driver with Indy 500 wins on his resume. But, with three wins to his name, Castroneves is more than familiar with IMS glory.

Now a part-time IndyCar driver who races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship with the Acura Team Penske outfit, Castroneves’ sole focus is on getting that elusive fourth win.

Helio Castroneves looks to join the four-time winners club at the Indy 500. Photo: IndyCar

And he has momentum on his side too, coming off a debut IMSA win for the Acura Penske outfit at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. A fourth Indy 500 win would put an exclamation point on the month for Castroneves.

“I think about it every day,” he said when asked about how often he ponders getting that fourth win. “It was one of those incredible ones, I have phenomenal car, the Pennzoil car was really strong last year. Obviously coming back here, first of all, I want to thank Roger and (team president Tim Cindric) for giving me the opportunity to be back at the Indy 500. It’s such a special place for so many people. Just to be back and able to continue our goal and pursue for the number four, it’s incredible.”

Pagenaud and Power will flank pole sitter Ed Carpenter on the front, starting second and third respectively. Newgarden starts fourth, while Castroneves will start eighth.

Follow@KyleMLavigne