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INDYCAR Preview – DXC Technology 600

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As hard as it is to believe, the Verizon IndyCar Series is about to enter the second half of the 2018 season. And the back half of 2018 kicks off with the annual visit to the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway for the DXC Technology 600.

Last year’s Texas outing was a demolition derby of sorts. Nine cautions were flown, seven of which were for on-track incidents, and only six cars ended the race without any damage – seventh and eighth place finishers Conor Daly and Max Chilton were running at the end, but suffered damage in a late crash with Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato. Ed Carpenter and JR Hildebrand were also running at the end, but several laps down after getting caught up in a Lap 152 crash.

Texas always has a habit of being the most frantic and frenetic event of the year, and some are thankful it is the only high-banked 1.5-mile oval remaining on the schedule.

Talking points ahead of Saturday night’s 600-kilometer outing in Texas are below.

High-Speed Oval Gives Chevrolet a Chance to Bounce Back

The 2018 universal aero kits mean that the manufacturer battle between Honda and Chevrolet is entirely down to engine performance. And the race winners for each indicate a pretty even fight – Honda and Chevy have four winners apiece.

However, Honda currently holds a fairly decisive advantage – 103 points to be exact – in the manufacturer’s championship. This is in thanks to races like the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where Honda swept the top six, and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where they had five of the top six, and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, where they also had five of the six (though Chevy driver Josef Newgarden won that day).

Some are of the belief that Honda has a little better torque, and point to last weekend’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit as evidence of that advantage. Hondas swept the top six in Saturday’s Race 1, and had five of the top six in Race 2, with race winners Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay completing a dominant weekend for the Japanese manufacturer.

Yet, Chevy appeared to have a top-end speed advantage at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, evidenced by seven of the top nine qualifiers coming from the Chevy camp, and 150 of the 200 laps were led by Chevy drivers – Will Power and Ed Carpenter also completed a Chevy 1-2.

If such an advantage exists, Texas presents the Chevy teams with a golden opportunity to rebound from Honda’s domination of them in Detroit.

Will Texas Be a Pack Race, or Will Indy-Style Handling Be the Priority?

Last year’s carnage-filled night in Texas was in part a product of a pack race that saw the 22-car field unable to effectively gap each other. Hence, the close quarters caused a number of accidents, and when a crash happened – such as the contact between James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan that sparked the Lap 152 crash – it left drivers with little time to react.

If the Indianapolis 500 was any indication, however, a pack race may not be likely, as handling was paramount that day, especially because of the conditions – the Indy 500 saw a near-record high ambient temperature of 91 degrees.

And Texas figures to be another scorcher, with the predicted highs nearing 100 degrees.

As such, the effect of the aero kits is a complete unknown ahead of the weekend. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal discussed as much, asserting that the package’s performance in Texas may not necessarily have much in common with its performance in Indy.

“I think the new aero kit is going to behave quite differently than it did at Indy, but I also think that when we show up it’s going to be a real work in progress,” Rahal explained. “I’m sure that from an aerodynamic perspective, INDYCAR is going to have to keep doing some work to get it right. If you look at the way the aero package is set up currently, I think that it’s going to be very difficult to run together but I did not test there so I’m not a great judge of that because I haven’t had any laps there yet. But I definitely think it’s going to be a work in progress and the folks at INDYCAR are ready, willing and able to adjust if we need to, to make the show great.”

Between 2012 and 2015, Texas did not produce pack racing, but rather put a premium on mechanical grip and managing tire wear – this was a result of the DW-12 and manufacturer aero kit packages. Though the 2016 and 2017 outings saw pack-racing return, it stands within reason to think that mechanical grip and tire wear will again be the priorities this time around.

Misc.

  • Zachary Claman De Melo returns to the No. 19 Paysafe Honda for Dale Coyne Racing, and this will be his first ever start at Texas Motor Speedway – the Firestone Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship does not run at Texas.
  • Masked by last year’s race of carnage was a dominant performance by Team Penske’s Will Power, who led 180 of 248 laps. Given his recent prowess on ovals, the 2018 Indy 500 winner may enter Texas as the man to beat.
  • Detroit winners Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon look to reverse a recent run of misfortune at Texas. Dixon won in 2015, but has been crashed out in the last two Texas races – in 2016 and 2017. Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, has not finished in the top 10 at Texas since a second-place effort in 2013. Both have the speed to reverse such fortune, and if luck is on their side, they’ll be contenders on Saturday night.

The Final Word…

From defending race winner, Will Power:

“I’m really looking forward to going back to Texas. The team has really been on a roll with a lot of success in the past month and we are ready to keep doing that. The No. 12 Verizon Chevy team brought home a win last year at Texas and we feel strongly that we have another good shot at it. The fans are always a lot of fun there and really seem to enjoy the type of racing we get to do there. I’m really excited to go back there.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):
Friday, June 8
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. (12:30 to 2:00 p.m. ET): Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. ET): Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single car/cumulative time of two laps), Live on NBCSN
6:15. – 7:15 p.m. (7:15 to 8:15 p.m. ET): Verizon IndyCar Series final practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, June 9
7:00p.m. (8:00 p.m. ET) – NBCSN broadcast window begins
7:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m. ET) – DXC Technology 600 (248 laps/357.12 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10: 

1. Will Power
2. Tony Kanaan
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Graham Rahal
5. Gabby Chaves
6. Marco Andretti
7. Conor Daly
8. Max Chilton
9. Scott Dixon
10. Takuma Sato

 

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IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.