Verizon IndyCar Series 2016 midseason report

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As the Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), here’s a quick primer on where we sit heading into the start of the second half of the season:

PAGENAUD’S ROLL OF FORM

As we’ve chronicled, Simon Pagenaud is off to the best start of his IndyCar career. With three wins and three second-place finishes in eight races, Pagenaud has built up an 80-point lead in the standings. His No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, which has seen Hewlett Packard Enterprise, DeVilbiss, PPG Automotive Refinish and Menards adorning it any point this season, has been the class of the field.

Provided he and the team keep their foot on the gas and don’t fall into the trap of “points racing” too much, Pagenaud is the favorite to secure his first IndyCar title.

ROSSI’S SURPRISE INDY 500 WIN

The question preseason was how late signing Alexander Rossi would adapt to IndyCar, as Michael Andretti’s team brought in the personnel and strategic expertise of his past teammate Bryan Herta into the group. Consider it the most pleasant surprise of the season thus far.

The 100th Indianapolis 500 win, obviously, will stand out as the marquee moment of the season for this group. But just as impressive has been quite how well the melding of people has occurred and the expectation shift in terms of results. Where top-10s would have been welcomed in April, they’re now considered simply not good enough in June. Rossi has a firm grasp on the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors and will only look to add to his accolades as the year rolls on.

DESPITE AERO WOES, STILL GOOD VARIETY

The racing with this year’s aero kits was admittedly subpar for the first three and a half races. St. Petersburg, Phoenix and Long Beach saw limited passing, while Barber wasn’t brilliant until the final stint of the race.

However the last four events have been better. The Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis had a good mix of passing and strategy played out, the Indianapolis 500 was typically exciting and Detroit had enough of a mix to keep things interesting.

And aside of Pagenaud, there’s still been good variety up front. With six winners and 13 total podium finishers in the first eight races – all teams except A.J. Foyt Enterprises have at least one podium finish – it hasn’t been a whitewash in form too much up front from any one team.

PENSKE’S OTHER THREE DRIVER ROLLER COASTER

Besides Pagenaud, the other three drivers for Team Penske have lacked consistency. Here’s the results in order for Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Will Power:

  • Montoya: 1, 9, 4, 5, 8, 33, 3, 20
  • Castroneves: 4, 11, 3, 7, 2, 11, 5, 14
  • Power: DNS, 3, 7, 4, 19, 10, 20, 1

Seems hard to believe that Montoya, of those three, is the only driver with back-to-back top-five finishes at any point this year. Castroneves is third, Power seventh and Montoya ninth in points thus far owing to that roller coaster ride. Power is on the verge of finding his form again after a tough few events – he’s prone to going on hot streaks and with realistically nothing to lose at this point, he can go for it. Same for Montoya. Castroneves is due a win though as it’s been now two-plus years since his most recent triumph.

GANASSI’S QUARTET ON VERGE OF BIGGER THINGS

You feel that in one of the next few events – maybe Texas, maybe Iowa, maybe Mid-Ohio – that Chip Ganassi Racing Teams will have a monster weekend. Scott Dixon has done his usual consistency and pace play with eight top-10s in as many races – the only driver to do so this year. Second place, 80 points back of Pagenaud, has him positioned once again for a typical second half Scott Dixon surge.

Tony Kanaan has seven top-10s but no podiums. Charlie Kimball has seven top-12s but no podiums. Rookie Max Chilton was decent early but endured a nightmare Detroit double DNF weekend. Kanaan ranks eighth, Kimball 10th in points.

THE “YOUR RESULTS AREN’T AS GOOD AS YOUR DRIVING AWARD” GOES TO…

Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport. Hunter-Reay enters the second half of the season 13th in points and that might be the most misleading stat of the year.

He made arguably the pass of the race at St. Petersburg to end third. He was the only Honda with even a remote chance in Phoenix having driven his tail off of the No. 28 DHL Honda, but was caught out by two ill-timed yellow flags. He got collected with his teammate in pit lane at the Indianapolis 500 and ended 24th.

Only at Long Beach, a track he usually thrives, was Hunter-Reay truly off pace after starting 11th and ending 18th. But put more of that down to Andretti Autosport’s then-mechanical grip issues as to why the team struggled so badly.

He won at Iowa and Pocono last year and he’s also done well in Toronto and Mid-Ohio before. I’d be shocked if “RHR” isn’t in top-five contention in points from here; consider just 67 points separate second from 14th.

HONORABLE MENTION GOES TO RLL RACING HERE

Like Hunter-Reay, fellow American Graham Rahal has been similarly unlucky from a results standpoint thus far. It’s strange that with four top-fives he’s 12th in points. But getting speared at St. Petersburg, then losing a grid spot at the Indy GP, then having to avoid multiple accidents at the Indianapolis 500, then brake line issues and an ill-timed yellow in Detroit, means that Rahal has been far better than 12th best this year.

NEWGARDEN’S IN TITLE CONTENTION

Fourth thus far for Josef Newgarden and the Ed Carpenter Racing team have positioned the likable young American, like points leader Simon Pagenaud, up for what is truly his first run at an IndyCar title. Like last year, the question may be how well can they carry the momentum while also worrying about Newgarden’s future with the team – his contract with ECR expires at the end of the year.

OTHER NOTES OF THE FIELD THUS FAR

  • It was cool to see Sebastien Bourdais and KVSH Racing win in Detroit. Few know how close that team came to not even making the grid this year, but after the team’s reshuffling in the offseason, they’re now poised for a big second half.
  • Carlos Munoz remains IndyCar’s enigma at Andretti Autosport. He’s driving incredibly well at the moment, but made those notable mistakes in the early races. Can he package the consistency to balance his undoubted and improving speed?
  • The improvement from James Hinchcliffe and the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda has been evident. Now it’s time to see whether the popular Canadian can keep it up through his first tour of duty with SPM in the second half of the year, since he was injured last year.
  • Conor Daly has overachieved more often than not at Dale Coyne Racing and combined with newish teammate Gabby Chaves, can IndyCar’s perennial underdog continue to punch above their weight?
  • The two “MAs” couldn’t be more polar opposites. Mikhail Aleshin has been exciting to watch but erratic and inconsistent in his IndyCar return. Marco Andretti meanwhile has flown under the radar nearly all year. He’s finished each of the eight races, yet none higher than ninth.
  • Can either Takuma Sato or Jack Hawksworth deliver a result for the likable Larry Foyt-led A.J. Foyt Enterprises team?

STATS OF NOTE

  • Six winners, seven other podium finishers thus far. Total of 17 drivers with one top-five, 20 with one top-10.
  • First to second in points gap: 80 points. Second to 14th: 67 points.
  • DNFs: 8 in the Indianapolis 500. The remaining seven races? 14 total.
  • 14 different drivers have made at least one Firestone Fast Six (Montoya, Castroneves, Power, Pagenaud, Hinchcliffe, Dixon, Kanaan, Kimball, Bourdais, Rahal, Newgarden, Munoz, Hunter-Reay, Hawksworth) and Pagenaud is the only driver to have made all five Fast Six sessions.
  • Laps Led: Pagenaud 292, Dixon 158, Castroneves 127 and Montoya 113 – 690 of 952 total laps (72.48 percent).
  • Laps Led by Manufacturers: Chevrolet 777, Honda 175.

REMAINING SCHEDULE

  • June 11, Texas, NBCSN 8pm
  • June 26, Road America, NBCSN 12:30pm
  • July 10, Iowa, NBCSN 5pm
  • July 17, Toronto, CNBC 3pm
  • July 31, Mid-Ohio, CNBC 2pm
  • August 21, Pocono, NBCSN 3pm
  • Sept. 4, Watkins Glen, NBCSN TBD
  • Sept. 18, Sonoma, NBCSN 7pm

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told NBCSports.com.

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”


Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.


Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500