Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar focus shifts to Detroit, and remainder of 2017

Leave a comment

With the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil now in everyone’s rearview mirror, the Verizon IndyCar Series shifts its focus to the remainder of the season. And while every race is vital in the championship picture, the next several races, starting with this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader, mark a pivotal point in the calendar for a driver looking to make a championship push.

Consider last year. Simon Pagenaud left the Indianapolis 500 leading the championship with 292 points to his name. Teammate Will Power was mired down in 11th at the time, sitting on 178 points, 114 away from the championship lead.

Power’s finishes over the next seven races went as follows: 20, 1, 1, 2, 1,2, 1. After a weird first race in Detroit, Power then went on a surreal run of four wins and two second-place finishes in the next six races. At the end of the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, the seventh race in that stretch, Power had vaulted all the way up to second in the standings with 477 points. Teammate Pagenaud was still in the championship lead, but with 497 points, he only led Power by 20. In summary, Power made up 94 points over those seven races to put himself within reach of the championship lead.

Heading into this year’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear, it’s another Team Penske driver atop the standings. Helio Castroneves currently sits on 245 points, 11 ahead of a three-way tie for second between Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, and Scott Dixon. Any one of those four could emerge from Race 1 as the championship leader.

Helio Castroneves currently leads the Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Photo: IndyCar

Behind them sit Alexander Rossi (190 points), Tony Kanaan (188 points), Will Power and Josef Newgarden (186 points apiece), Ed Jones (185 points) and James Hinchcliffe and Max Chilton (170 points apiece). Even Ryan Hunter-Reay, 11th with 152 points, is within the 94 points Power made up last year.

Quite simply, this championship is still up for the taking, and Detroit’s unique challenge of two races in one weekend can easily flip the tables, as Scott Dixon detailed.

“You put so much time and effort into Indianapolis, but you have to also keep your attention on the bigger picture in terms of the championship, and that continues right away in Detroit this weekend,” he explained. “Two races in two days and two qualifiers in two days can really affect the championship race, and we’re hoping we can take advantage of the points on the table this weekend.”

And of course, as a street circuit, Detroit is infamous for its bumpy surface, perhaps the bumpiest of any street circuit the series visits. Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato highlighted the bumps in talking about the challenges of the event.

“Detroit will be completely different from the Indy 500,” he asserted. “It’s going back to a street course – very bumpy track, a lot of braking and tight corners. Usually Detroit is a very exciting track and quite challenging. I personally have a good memory (finishing second in Race 2 in 2015) as well as the team has a strong record, so I’m looking forward to going back to the street course.”

Sato will be looking to avoid the now seemingly traditional post-Indianapolis 500 winner slump in the Detroit doubleheader.

Since the race was introduced as a doubleheader in 2013, here’s been the ‘500 winner’s results in Detroit:

  • 2013: Tony Kanaan: Race 1, Started 19th, Finished 13th; Race 2, Started 19th, Finished 12th
  • 2014: Ryan Hunter-Reay: Race 1, 21st/16th (Accident); Race 2, 21st/19th (Electrical)
  • 2015: Juan Pablo Montoya: Race 1, 3rd/10th; Race 2, 1st/10th
  • 2016: Alexander Rossi, Race 1, 17th/10th; Race 2, 18th/12th

Practice for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix begins on Friday June 2 at 10:20 a.m. ET.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

Follow@KyleMLavigne