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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Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”