Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar: INDYCAR Grand Prix Recap

Leave a comment

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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne

 

IndyCar: Which drivers need to start or continue comebacks in 2019?

IndyCar
Leave a comment

With the 2018 IndyCar Series season already far back in our rearview mirror, it’s not too soon to start looking ahead to the 2019 campaign, which begins on March 10 at St. Petersburg, Florida.

When you look at how 2018 ended up, several drivers either didn’t have the season they had hoped for and are looking to make big comebacks in 2019, or perhaps began comebacks in 2018 after prior difficult seasons.

Let’s take a look at who is due – or in some cases, overdue – for an even stronger season in 2019:

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: RHR isn’t overdue by any stretch, having started his “comeback” of sorts in 2018. His fourth-place season finish was his best in the series since winning the championship in 2012.

He also earned two wins – Belle Isle II and the season finale at Sonoma – his first visits to victory lane since winning twice in 2015.

Had it not been for three DNFs in the second half of the season, Hunter-Reay likely could have finished in the top 3 at season’s end.

It was good to see him come back into prominence after frustration the last two seasons (12th in 2016 and 9th in 2017).

Hunter-Reay still has several more good years in him and it would not be surprising to see him finish even higher in 2019 – and potentially once again being a championship contender.

SIMON PAGENAUD: After winning the championship in 2016 and finishing second in 2017, Pagenaud definitely had an off-season by his usual standards in 2018, finishing sixth in the IndyCar standings.

The French-born driver failed to win a race for the first time since 2015 and had just two podium finishes (also the most since 2015).

One of the most telling stats from what was a frustrating campaign is Pagenaud and the No. 22 led a total of just 31 laps across the 17-race 2018 season, the fewest laps led in a single season in his entire IndyCar career.

He also had the second-worst average per-race finish of his career (8.6), after having average finishes of 6.1 in his championship season and 5.3 in 2017.

Of course, looking at things from a glass half-full viewpoint, Pagenaud went from a winless and disappointing 11th place finish in 2015 to become champion in 2016. Could history repeat itself in 2019?

By all measures, 2018 was definitely an off season for Pagenaud. Look for him to make a significant comeback in 2019.

Or, to borrow a line Pagenaud said to teammate Josef Newgarden during their early 2018 season “autograph battle,” it’s your move, bro, for 2019.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: The French driver had perhaps the best comeback season of any driver in 2018.

When former CART champ Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan joined forces with Dale Coyne Racing just prior to the start of the 2018 season, Bourdais was the hand-picked driver to carry the DCR with Vasser-Sullivan banner.

Bourdais did not disappoint. He started the season with a win at St. Petersburg and enjoyed his best overall season finish – seventh – in an Indy car since capturing the fourth of four straight CART/Champ Car World Series championships in 2007.

It was also Bourdais’ best career IndyCar finish, topping his previous best season finishes of 10th in both 2014 and 2015.|

Bourdais, who turns 40 in late February, finished the season strong with two top 5 and two other top 10 finishes in four of the last five races. That’s a good harbinger of even better things to come in 2019.

GRAHAM RAHAL: It was a tough season at times for Rahal, who turns 30 in early January.

Not only did he have his worst season finish – eighth – since 2014 (19th), he failed to win even one race (also for the first time since 2014) and had just one podium finish (2nd at St. Petersburg).

As if to add insult to injury, Rahal had two of his three season DNFs in his final two races (4th lap crash at Portland and a battery issue at Sonoma).

Rahal is overdue for the kind of season he had in 2015, when he won two races, had six podiums and finished a career-best fourth in the overall standings.

While Rahal has the equipment and personnel to do better, something just didn’t click in 2018. Will things turn around in 2019?

MARCO ANDRETTI: The grandson of Mario and son of Michael Andretti continues to be a work in progress – with emphasis on the word “progress” when it came to his 2018 performance.

Although he remains winless since 2011 and hasn’t had a podium finish since 2015, Marco Andretti still showed overall improvement in 2018, including earning his first pole (Belle Isle I) since 2013.

With a fifth-place finish in the season-ending race at Sonoma, Andretti jumped from 12th in the standings to finish the season tied for eighth place with Graham Rahal, Andretti’s best overall showing since finishing fifth in 2013.

Andretti had a strong second half of the 2018 season, with a top 5 in the season finale at Sonoma, as well as three top 11 finishes in five of the last eight races.

Don’t be surprised if he closes in on a top 5 finish in 2019. Andretti Autosport continues to improve overall as a team, particularly with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and now Andretti, as well.

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It was a strange season for the Mayor of Hinchtown.

He failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, had just one win and two podium finishes, yet ended up with a 10th place overall finish in the standings, his best performance since finishing 8th in both 2012 and 2013.

The Canadian driver went on a hot streak early in the second half of the season, winning at Iowa and finishing fourth in his hometown race in Toronto.

But DNFs at Pocono and Portland, as well as three other finishes of 14th (Mid-Ohio) and 15th (Gateway and Sonoma) likely cost him a chance of potentially finishing as high as eighth.

There was also the emotional, gut-wrenching crash involving Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate and longtime best friend, Robert Wickens, at Pocono. While Hinchcliffe tried to put on a happy face and showed support to his fallen mate, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wickens’ injury constantly dwelled on Hinchcliffe’s mind.

With the Indianapolis 500 heartbreak, the firing of engineer Lena Gade (who lasted just five races before her ouster), the injury to Wickens, and the overall second-half season struggles, Hinchcliffe is to be commended for finishing as high as he did in the final standings given the overall circumstances he had to endure.

At the same time, it’s likely a season he wants to wipe away from his memory bank and turn a forgettable season in 2018 into what Hinchcliffe and his team hope is an unforgettable season in 2019.

TONY KANAAN: A new team, new outlook and racing for legendary A.J. Foyt offered a great deal of promise for Tony Kanaan in 2018.

Unfortunately, the Brazilian native suffered through the worst season ever in his IndyCar career, finishing 16th in the overall standings.

Prior to 2018, Kanaan had experienced just one other season outside the top 10 (11th in 2013, the same year he won the Indianapolis 500).

Admittedly, TK, who turns 44 on December 31, is the oldest full-time driver on the circuit. But it doesn’t look like he’s lost much with age.

Rather, three DNFs and a career single-season low of having led just 20 laps over 17 races took its toll on Kanaan.

He will return for 2019, driving a second season for Foyt. But things need to dramatically improve for Kanaan, who hasn’t won a race since 2014.

Follow @JerryBonkowski