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IndyCar: INDYCAR Grand Prix Recap

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The fifth INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course was perhaps the most intriguing and entertaining of the bunch. With varying tire and pit strategies, a number of big names moving forward and backward, and threatening weather moving in late in the race, this year’s event featured more than a few extra theatrics in comparison to previous years.

Add in the 200th Verizon IndyCar Series win for Team Penske, and you end up with a weekend that most certainly resonated very loud in the IndyCar paddock.

A look back at major stories to emerge from the weekend is below.

Power, Penske Perfect

Will Power takes the checkered flag at the 2018 INDYCAR Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

The phrase “Penske Perfect” has been a part of motorsports vernacular for a long time now. But over the weekend, you could’ve added “Power” to the phrase – as in, driver Will Power.

For both driver and team, the weekend was basically perfect. Power was fastest in both practices on Friday, captured the pole, and led the most laps during the race to the take win. In fact, the only session in which Power wasn’t first was the final warm-up prior to the race – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon was fastest then, with Power in second.

Further, it proved to be a milestone weekend for Power and Penske, as Power tied Helio Castroneves for the most Penske IndyCar wins (30) and Penske scored its 200th IndyCar win as a team.

Indeed, the weekend could not have gone much better for them.

“It’s been a slow start (to the 2018 season) for us, so it’s just fantastic to get the win. But 200 wins in IndyCar just shows Roger’s determination and the way his team works and his passion for winning,” Power said afterward. It’s a real pleasure to drive for him. You’re given equipment week in, week out to win, and yeah, I have to say it’s amazing to be a part of that history of Penske Racing because it’s such a deep history.”

It’s also appropriate that the milestone came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the track at which Penske has won the most times of any IndyCar track where the team has participated – including 16 Indianapolis 500 wins.

Roger Penske scored his 200th IndyCar win on Saturday. Photo: IndyCar

And Penske might be the favorite as preparations begin for the 102 Running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Josef Newgarden has two wins in 2018, including an oval triumph at the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway back in April.

Power’s victory on Saturday gives them yet more momentum heading into the “500,” and victory No. 17 at the marquee event could be reckoning.

Rest assured, Penske’s IndyCar triumphs will only continue to grow, and there’s no telling how far they’ll go.

Tire Strategy Had Drivers Seeing “Red”

The Firestone alternate “red” tires were the tires to have at the INDYCAR Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar.

Tire strategy has become the predominant factor in deciding a race winner at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, with Firestone’s alternate “red” tires ultimately proving to be the tire of choice during the race.

Take this past weekend as an example, as teams and drivers appeared almost desperate to spend as much of the race as possible on the red tires.

Scott Dixon started the race on blacks, and put on reds during his first pit stop on Lap 15. He spent the rest of the race on reds, which helped him to finish second.

Power started the race on reds, switched to the blacks early – in his second stint – to get them out of the way, and spent the second half on race reds.

Robert Wickens also started on reds, but he switched up his middle stints in comparison to Power. Wickens stayed on reds in his second stint, a move that helped him take the lead.

However, he switched to blacks for his third stint while Power went back to reds, and Power quickly closed in and retook the lead.

Indeed, tire strategy proved to be the ultimate factor in deciding the front runners. And even though fuel strategy played a role in the final stint, as everyone went into fuel-save mode to make the finish, the finishing order had been previously set up based on the tire strategies.

Misc.

  • In substitute duty, Zachary Claman de Melo had an impressive run in the No. 19 Paysafe Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. The 20-year-old, called in to sub for Pietro Fittipaldi, enjoyed a strong battle with veterans like Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, and he gave them all they could handle too. Claman de Melo even ran inside the Top 10 at stages. He ended up finishing 12th, but he gets better at every race and is progressing nicely in his rookie year.
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay deserves an “Atta boy” for battling through a persistent electrical issue to make the finish. Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda sounded hurt for much of the race, but he nursed it all the way home to finish 18th. “We were running seventh and eighth and then we had an electrical issue that caused a misfire. It cut power on the bottom and top ends,” Hunter-Reay explained. “We tried a couple on-track fixes, but they didn’t work and a fix in the pits would have taken too long. So, we were running all day about half of the horsepower and had to save fuel. It was pretty much a full nightmare scenario and certainly not what we hoped for today.”
  • Simon Pagenaud’s difficult 2018 also continued, as he got together with Ed Carpenter Racing’s Jordan King in Turn 2 right after the start, and both drivers ended up going through the Turn 2 gravel trap. However, Pagenaud did rebound to finish in seventh. Alas, he still languishes outside the Top 10 in the championship standings – he sits 12th, 15 points behind Marco Andretti in 10th.
  • Helio Castroneves had a solid, albeit surprisingly quiet return to IndyCar competition, finishing sixth in his first IndyCar race since last year’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Castroneves will now shift his focus to chasing a fourth Indianapolis 500 victory.
  • Despite finishing 11th after spinning, Josef Newgarden retained his championship lead, albeit by only two points over Alexander Rossi, who finished fifth. Sebastien Bourdais sits third, 26 points out of the lead, while Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe sit fourth and fifth, 31 and 34 markers out of the lead, respectively.

And with that, the focus shifts to Indy 500 prep. Opening practice for all Indy 500 entrants is on Tuesday, 5/15.

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IMSA: Sims, De Philippi deliver first win for BMW M8 GTE in Michelin GT Challenge at VIR

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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DANVILLE, Va. – After coming tantalizingly close two weeks ago at Road America, the BMW M8 GTE is a first-time winner.

Co-drivers Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi delivered the new-for-2018 race car’s first victory anywhere in the world in a strong and strategic performance aboard the No. 25 BMW Team RLL machine en route to the Michelin GT Challenge victory at VIRginia International Raceway.

The No. 25 duo combined to lead a race-high total of 32 laps of 88 trips around the 3.27-mile road circuit that comprised the two-hour, 40-minute race. Sims led the final 31 laps and crossed the finish line 1.323 seconds ahead of Jan Magnussen to take the victory.

The VIR victory was redemption of sorts for the No. 25 team after the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase, when De Phillippi appeared on his way to victory only to be forced to pit lane for fuel with two laps to go.

Sunday, the team had to overcome a midrace incident in which Sims tangled with the GT Daytona (GTD) class car of David Heinemeier Hansson. Sims had to serve a drive-through penalty for incident responsibility.

“It’s fantastic,” Sims said. “The team’s done an awesome job. They’ve been working really hard all year. Some races haven’t really gone our way. But they haven’t given up. BMW and Rahal have done a mega job. It’s fantastic to get us this first win for the M8. Connor did a great job at the start of the race to get us up to third.

“He did a flawless stint, despite my mistake at the start of my first stint. I kind of held my hands up. That was my mistake. We deserved the drive through. We got back in the race after the safety car and had mega pace. I was really, really pleased.”

It was Sims’ fourth career WeatherTech Championship victory and the second for De Phillippi. Both drivers’ last victory came at Motul Petit Le Mans last season, Sims in the final race for the BMW M6 GTLM and De Phillippi with the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi team in GTD. De Phillippi became a BMW factory driver prior to this season.

“It was down to the last pit stop,” De Phillippi said. “Obviously, after the contact, we had to rethink what we were going to try to do. We went with a more aggressive strategy and we saw that if we stayed out longer we’d have a clear track and the others would be hitting the GTD traffic. We went forward with that strategy and with that we gained while they were stuck in traffic which was enough to keep us out front.

“The Michelin tires were hooked up and held up so well we didn’t have to put any on the last stop. Alex just drove the wheels off to it for the finish. This win feels amazing. This is a new program, and obviously when you switch to a new brand and a new family you always want to win the first year out. I got one at the Nürburgring, and now to do one with my full-time team in this series, it’s really special to me and feels really great.”

After winning the Michelin GT Challenge each of the past two years, Magnussen came up just shy of a three-peat in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R along with co-driver Antonio Garcia. It was the team’s seventh podium result of the season and sixth consecutive and it vaulted them into the GTLM championship lead by four points, 269-265, over No. 67 Ford GT co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe with three races to go.

John Edwards and Jesse Krohn made it two BMW M8s on the podium with a third-place run in the No. 24 BMW Team RLL entry. In addition to it being the first victory for the M8, it also was the first time two M8s finished on the podium in the same race.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing saw its GTLM winning streak stopped at four in the Michelin GT Challenge. No. 66 Ford GT co-drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller finished fourth, while the No. 67 entry of Briscoe and Westbrook was forced to retire early from the race with clutch problems. Westbrook started the race from the pole position and led the first 28 laps before pitting to turn the car over to Briscoe, and the problem reared its ugly head shortly thereafter.

No. 912 Porsche co-drivers Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor came back from an opening lap incident with the No. 4 Corvette to finish fifth.

Baumann In Right Place At Right Time As Lexus Wins Thriller At VIR

Dominik Baumann and 3GT Racing celebrate a GTD triumph. Photo courtesy of IMSA

It was an example of being in the right place at the right time for Dominik Baumann in a victorious effort alongside co-driver Kyle Marcelli in Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway.

Running in the fourth position with 30 minutes remaining, Baumann successfully navigated his No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 through a series of incidents involving the top three ahead of him. Once clear, he went on to lead the race’s final 17 laps, beating the No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Long to the stripe by 0.567 seconds in a thrilling last-lap battle for the GT Daytona (GTD) class win.

The race-winning sequence began when the No. 44 Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Andy Lally got a run on the race-leading No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 of Lawson Aschenbach. The two made slight contact allowing the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Jeroen Bleekemolen to pull alongside Lally for the lead. One corner later, Lally and Bleekemolen made side-to-side contact, sending the No. 33 into a spin with Baumann capitalizing to pass both for the lead.

“I saw the Audi and Mercedes fighting in front of me and going off,” said Baumann, who won earlier this year alongside Marcelli at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. “We just stayed out of trouble and just did our race.”

“Thanks to the Mercedes, and the Audi and the Acura coming together, it inherited us the lead, and those closing laps under pressure are tough to drive, and Dominic was a true professional today,” added Marcelli. “I think if you look up and down the grid, we’ve all made a few mistakes, but it’s just minimizing them. It’s a track that’s demanding physically and mentally and easy to make mistakes and drop wheels and fill the radiator full of grass. It was he who made the least mistakes who came out with a victory today.”

It certainly wasn’t easy for Baumann from there, however. In the closing minutes, Katherine Legge made up a nearly 10-second deficit in her No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing w/ Curb-Agajanian Acura NXS GT3 to get to the bumper of Baumann on the final lap.

The two raced side-by-side up the backstretch of the 3.27-mile circuit, but Baumann had the benefit of the inside line. Long took advantage of the battle ahead of him and was able to slip by Legge to finish second alongside co-driver Christina Nielsen.

Legge and co-driver Mario Farnbacher finished third, with Legge making up significant ground in the GTD points race with two races remaining. A midrace unscheduled pit stop for contact for the points-leading No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow relegated the team to a sixth-place finish. Sellers and Snow now lead Legge by 13 points, 275-262, heading to the penultimate race of the season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 of Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette finished fourth, with Bleekemolen and co-driver Ben Keating finishing fifth. Lally was hit with a stop and go penalty for his previous contact with Bleekemolen and finished seventh with co-driver John Potter.

Next up for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the penultimate round of the season, the America’s Tire 250 as part of the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 7-9.

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