IndyCar

IndyCar: Team Penske 2018 season review

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Editor’s note: MotorSportsTalk continues to review how each organization in the IndyCar Series performed in 2018 and also takes a look ahead to 2019.

Thus far we have featured Juncos RacingMeyer Shank RacingCarlin Racing, Harding Racing, AJ Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser SullivanDale Coyne Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Today we feature Team Penske (two more reviews remain after today: Andretti Autosport on Sunday and Chip Ganassi Racing on Monday).

TEAM PENSKE 2018 season review: Team Penske’s two-year run as the champs of IndyCar came to an end in 2018. Even though all of its three drivers fell short of earning another championship, Team Penske still had a strong season, capped off by Will Power’s win in the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500, Team Penske’s 17th win in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Team Penske also surpassed 200 lifetime Indy car wins during the season.

Team Penske’s three drivers all finished in the top-6 in the overall season standings: Power finished third, 2017 IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden finished fifth, and 2016 IndyCar champ Simon Pagenaud finished sixth. Had it not been for a few bad races here or there for each of the three drivers, the championship battle – and their overall season finishes – could have been much tighter and closer.

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WILL POWER

Team name: No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet

Years in IndyCar: 13 (11 in IndyCar, two in CART/Champ Car)

Career wins and podium finishes: 35 (33 in IndyCar, 2 in CART/Champ Car) and 70 (64 in IndyCar and 6 in CART/Champ Car)

Best career finish: champion of 2014 season

2018 final standing: Third

2018 final stats: 3 wins, 8 podiums, 4 poles

2018 best race finish: 1st (Indianapolis Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500, Gateway)

SEASON WRAPUP: Power enjoyed his typically strong campaign. He has become one of the most consistent drivers in IndyCar annals: since 2010, Power has finished first (2014), second 4 times (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016), third twice (2015 and 2018), fourth (2013) and fifth (2017). Of course, the highlight was winning the Indy 500 after 11 prior tries. The championship pretty much slipped away from Power in the early part of the second half of the season, when he finished 18th at Texas (crash) and Toronto and 23rd at Road America (engine). Add in a disappointing 21st place finish at Portland, and Power ultimately was just too far behind to catch points leaders Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: While winning the Indy 500 was the biggest victory of his career, Power was disappointed that the championship slipped through his hands late in the season. Look for an even stronger season from him in 2019. Now that he’s won Indy, he definitely wants to win it again – as well as a second career IndyCar championship.

QUOTE (after season-ending race at Sonoma): “It was a good year though. Roger (Penske) got his 500th win today (NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski won at Las Vegas on the same day as IndyCar’s finale at Sonoma). We won the Indy 500. We won the 200th IndyCar race for Team Penske. We won the Brickyard 400. Just couldn’t get the championship here. But overall, it was a good year for Team Penske.”

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JOSEF NEWGARDEN

Team name: No. 1 Hitachi/Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

Years in IndyCar: 7

Career wins and podium finishes: 10 and 22

Best career single season finish: 1st (2017)

2018 final standing: 5th

2018 final stats: 3 wins, 3 podiums, 3 poles

2018 best race finish: 1st (Phoenix, Alabama, Road America)

SEASON WRAPUP: It was a good year for Newgarden, but not as good as his championship-winning campaign in 2017. Sure, he earned 3 wins, but he had no other podium finishes (vs. 4 wins and 9 podiums in 2017). He did become a much better qualifier, earning four poles (vs. just two others in total over his previous six seasons).

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: Look for Newgarden to bounce back stronger in 2019. He admitted after this past season he was disappointed with his overall finish and he had hoped he would have finished higher and performed stronger. It’s not like Newgarden had a bad overall performance. Just a few things here or there, had they gone more in his favor, and he could have finished higher. Look for him to do just that in 2019 and be a strong contender for his second championship in three seasons.

QUOTE (following season-ending race at Sonoma): “It was a great season and a lot of great moments for the whole team and myself. We just have to work to be a little stronger next year and go for the championship and the Indy 500.”

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SIMON PAGENAUD

Team name: No. 22 Menards/DXC Technology/Verizon Chevrolet

Years in IndyCar: 9 (8 IndyCar, 1 Champ Car)

Career wins and podium finishes: 11 and 28 (all IndyCar)

Best career single-season finish: 1st (2016)

2018 final standing: 6th

2018 final stats: 0 wins, 2 podiums

2018 best race finish: 2nd (Texas, Toronto)

SEASON WRAPUP: It was not a typical season for Pagenaud. After winning the championship in 2016 and finishing second in 2017, he dipped to sixth in 2018. A significant contributing factor to that drop was the fact he failed to win a race and earned just two podiums. The last time he had similar numbers was 2015 (0 wins, 2 podiums), when he finished 11th. Another disappointing part of the season: after leading 406 laps in 2016 and 187 in 2017, he led just 31 laps in all of 2018, the worst single season mark of his career. The irony of this season is that Pagenaud only had three races where he failed to finish in the top-10. To finish sixth in the overall standings, it was a good season. It just wasn’t a good enough season by Pagenaud’s normal standards and performances.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: Pagenaud, who doesn’t turn 35 until May 18, is still in his prime as a driver. 2018 was not the kind of season that Pagenaud likely envisioned heading into the first race at St. Petersburg. There’s no need for any changes on the team, just hope for – and work for – better performance and luck going forward into 2019.

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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.