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Commentary Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Toronto

Indycar_Power_Rankings_logoThroughout the season, POPULAR SPEED will rank the top-10 drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series following each event. Feel free to comment on the story at the POPULAR SPEED Facebook page.

Scott Dixon’s extended stay at number one in the driver rankings has come to an end. Following the New Zealander’s second straight subpar outing in Toronto, a Team Penske pair have jumped ahead of him. Initially, the primary benefactor looked to be Helio Castroneves who heads to Mid-Ohio in just over one week only three points in the rears of the championship leader.

However, the Brazilian only placed eighth compared to the Iceman’s finish in tenth. Couple that with Josef Newgarden’s second win of 2017 and the Tennessee-native vaults past both of the long-time veterans. Although the No. 2 Chevrolet pilot ranks only fourth on the current table, he has the momentum lacking from Dixon, Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud.

Assuming we have not placed a jinx on Newgarden as we did to Will Power recently, “Jo Cool” could be here for a little while longer than the Aussie managed. 

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (Unchanged)

Newgarden’s Honda Indy Toronto win was being in the right place at the perfect moment. Pagenaud and Castroneves both scored in the top-ten’s, while Power’s nightmare tour in 2017 continued in Canada as he was ousted in an first lap shunt Sunday.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (Unchanged)

Far from a great outing in Canada for CGR’s quartet. Max Chilton did salvage a seventh-place finish, as Dixon languished back in tenth. Charlie Kimball (12th) and Tony Kanaan (19th) never threatened the top half of the order on Sunday.

3. Andretti Autosport (+1)

Great bounce back from Alexander Rossi after failing to post a top-ten since Detroit; he took advantage of the same full course caution that aided Newgarden and chased the Penske chauffeur all the way to the flag, settling for second. Marco Andretti also benefited to secure his first top-five effort in 32 events. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished sixth on Sunday, while the Indy 500 victory hangover continues for Takuma Sato, who came home in 16th.

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsport (+1)

Whether the home-court advantage was the reason or not, James Hinchcliffe’s third-place finish is his second-consecutive result in the top half of the field. Money issues cost Mikhail Aleshin his seat at Toronto, yet Sebastian Saavedra posted a respectable 11th-place.

5. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (-2)

Ninth-place is not a complete disaster, but it will not cut it in this rankings list, as podium finishes from those in pursuit drop RLLR down two notches.

6. Dale Coyne Racing (Unchanged)

An early exit from Ed Jones (20th), coupled with a not-so-great showing from Esteban Gutierrez (14th). DCR holds ranking as ECR and Foyt also failed to feature at Toronto.

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (Unchanged)

J.R. Hildebrand, unfortunately, reverted to his recent road racing form in Canada. Spencer Pigot was in the top ten, but once again got another taste of misfortune. Pocono cannot come soon for this operation.

8. Harding Racing (Unchanged)

Inactive until Pocono, but should feature in the top half of the final order assuming a clean trip.

9. A.J. Foyt Racing (Unchanged)

Carlos Munoz looked good early at Exhibition Place, but faded to 15th at the checkered flag. Conor Daly’s 17th-place effort continues his year of humiliation.

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (=)

Season’s over, but 2018 Indianapolis 500 could be promising if the team continues the same course with Sage Karam. The driver-squad pairing seems perfect for one-off outings.

Driver Rankings

1. Josef Newgarden (+2)

Sixth or better in five of the last seven races. The only setbacks were at the Indy 500 and Texas where accidents not of his own doing were the culprit. The resume says position number one, even if the points list claims otherwise.

2. Helio Castroneves (Unchanged)

P8 in Canada was enough to pass the Iceman, but gives way to Mr. Newgarden.

3. Scott Dixon (-2)

Eighth at Iowa and tenth in Toronto result in the Kiwi’s lowest placement in the power rankings this season.

4. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

Honestly, the Frenchman should have garnered better than a fifth-place at Toronto so he only jumps Will Power this week.

5. Alexander Rossi (+2)

Superior strategy greatly aided Rossi, who snatched up his best result of 2017 in Canada.

6. Graham Rahal (Unchanged)

While the full course caution aided some, it hampered the Ohioan. Ninth-place was good considering the handicap.

7. Ryan Hunter-Reay (+1)

RHR is showing his superior self following a pair of top-six outings at Iowa and Toronto.

8. Will Power (-4)

The Australian just cannot avoid trouble this season. Unless he can run the table in the final five races, a second series championship must wait until 2018.

9. James Hinchcliffe (Unranked)

A third-place showing in Toronto reminds us of what the Mayor can achieve. Whether he can do it on a regular basis is now the major issue. 

10. Max Chilton (Unchanged)

Seventh-place in Toronto means Chilton stays at No. 10 for the third straight race.

Dropped Out: Tony Kanaan (Was No. 9 after Iowa)

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Andretti Earns “Refreshing” First Top-Five In 2017

Without question, Marco Andretti has struggled over the past two Verizon IndyCar Series seasons.

After failing to post a single top-five in his last 32 starts, the third-generation pilot took advantage of the same early pit strategy used by eventual winner Josef Newgarden in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto to move into contention following the second full course caution of the race caused by Tony Kanaan. While he was unable to catch Newgarden, his teammate Alexander Rossi, nor James Hinchcliffe in the remaining laps, Andretti held on to finish fourth.

“It’s just refreshing,” said Andretti to POPULAR SPEED on Sunday. “It would’ve been nice to get a trophy, but we’re one short of that.”

The previous two years have been a trying period for the 30-year old veteran. After placing in the top-ten on the championship points table in eight of his first ten seasons, including a career-best fifth in 2013, the Pennsylvania-native plummeted to 16th in 2016, ending up no better than eighth in any race. Entering Sunday’s action at Exhibition Place, Andretti’s top showing was a sixth at the conclusion of an attrition-influenced race at Texas Motor Speedway.

“It’s a start for me to put the fun back into the sport.” said the No. 26 Honda pilot. “I had a really good balanced car today, (it’s about) trying to get some podiums, get some wins, and put some more hardware in the trophy case.”

The sight for Andretti’s best performance to date is fitting that it is in Toronto. The famous racing family has greatly influenced the event since its debut in the CART championship back in 1986. Marco’s father Michael won at Exhibition Place a record seven times. Dad’s also played a role in maintaining the race, having served as a promoter when action returned following a hiatus in 2008 following the reunification of North American open-wheel competition. Although Andretti is no longer directly involved in overseeing the Honda Indy Toronto, the success enjoyed was not diminished on Sunday.

Ashley McCubbin contributed to this report.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News Open Wheel

Servia, Montoya To Handle Testing Of 2018 IndyCar Kit

The first on-track appearance of the all-new universal Dallara aerodynamic kit will occur later this month.

After allowing engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda to provide their own chassis additions since 2015, everybody will have the same aero kit, which will be supplied by Dallara. Consequently, the noticeable differentiation between the power plant rivals will be eliminated.

The first test is set for July 25-26 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya and race veteran Oriol Servia handling the driving duties. Team Penske will oversee the Chevrolet entry, while Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will provide the Honda machine. To prevent the two squads from gaining an advantage on the rest of the 2018 full-time fleet, IndyCar officials will controls the setting on the cars.

Three other venues will further aid the development of next year’s race vehicle with Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Iowa Speedway hosting the designs in August, and Sebring International Raceway’s short course being utilized in September.

With neither pilot among full-time competitors this season, the availability to participate was in play, similar to the scenario that allowed the late Dan Wheldon to test the original Dallara DW12 chassis in 2011. 

“If we can help in any small measure to have a great product in 2018, I’ll be honoured,” Servia said. “It’s great that IndyCar is doing it to make sure we have good racing. We want to help them accomplish what they want to accomplish.”

Montoya, who finished in the top ten at Indy this past May, feels the new car kit will not only lower costs, but could aid in the expansion of the full-time fleet. Currently, only 21 car-driver combinations have taken the green flag in every event contested in 2017.

“I think going back to one aero kit for both manufacturers is good for the sport.” explained the Colombian. “It opens the door to other companies to get interested in IndyCar again.”

On paper, the new design is expected to be lighter than the current 2017 version of the Dallara IndyCar chassis and provide additional downforce. The latter fact could further aid the series hopes to challenge the current track records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which dates back to 1996.

The most noticeable change for fans will be the removal of the rear wheel guards at the back of the car, the first time they will not be on an IndyCar since the end of the 2011 season. Underneath the bodywork, the 2018 Dallara challenger will feature a heavier front half of the car, due to moving forward the radiators on the car and the addition of side-impact structures to further protect the driver.

It is unknown at this time when the new chassis will be delivered to teams for private testing in advance of the 2018 campaign.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary Open Wheel

FANTASY HOT TIP: Honda Indy Toronto

Another week, another triumph. After placing sixth in my Firestone Fantasy Challenge League for the Iowa Corn 300, I am trending a little differently this week for Toronto.

While the target of winning is still well within reach, I have for once parted ways with my main cog for most this season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Although he still leads the championship points table, I have not selected Scott Dixon this week.

Sure, the Kiwi swept both legs of the Honda Indy Toronto when it was a doubleheader event in 2013; however, he has fared no better than eighth in his last two efforts. Considering he is one of the most expensive options for a driver selection, that kind of finish does not merit the cost.

Last year, Team Penske’s Will Power crossed the finish line first, and despite more hit or miss results from the Australian in 2017, the veteran has regained attention following a recent string of four runs of seventh or better. A second member of the Captain’s quartet is featured in my foursome as Simon Pagenaud joins the party for the first time since the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Toronto is not the best track for the Frenchman, yet if Penske continues its trend of Firestone Fast Six domination, the move may work out in the grand scheme of things. Helio Castroneves, who won this past weekend and placed second behind Power last year, would have also made sense, but like Dixon, the price was not right in this case.

With the cream of the crop in IndyCar in the top half, the bottom half sees a couple of new faces. Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones joins the fleet for the second time this season, while Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton makes his debut for me.

Jones has scored a pair top-tens in his last three road course outings, better than most pilots available with his price tag, while his Englishman counterpart has two top-tens in the past four battles of twist and turn-type racing. For now, I have pushed aside the services of Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot who has placed no better than eighth in any output in 2017, a number bested by both the Dubai rookie and the ex-Formula One regular.

While a consistent lineup seems to net the greatest amount of success in fantasy sports gaming based on experience, let’s see if this new squad can net a similar amount of points to what I have amassed in the past two rounds.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY’S OUTLOOK: Penske Is Looking Toward The Future, Now.

There is a reason that Helio Castroneves may be leaving the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series fleet after this season.

It is not due to diminished skills, the Brazilian’s triumph Sunday at the Iowa Corn 300 and his high placing on the current championship points table disposes of that theory. Yours truly thinks this is a move to bolster not only a new entity (IMSA sports car team), but also maintain a solid foundation on the other (IndyCar).

Team Penske’s return to the prototype ranks for the first time in nine years with Acura and ORECA has the chance to show the same muscle flexed during a three-year run with Porsche from 2006 to 2008. Recall that span resulted in class titles and an overall win at the 12 Hours of Sebring in its final season.

The squad has one solid cog in the form of Juan Pablo Montoya, who in addition to winning the Indianapolis 500 twice, has done likewise at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Having already spent three years as a teammate to Castroneves, this increases the chances of a successful pairing in IMSA.

So what about the IndyCar operation? If Penske decreases its full season entry to just three cars, the organization enters 2018 still as a favorite. Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, and Josef Newgarden are all well within their prime years and should continue to contend for wins and a series crown next season. However, if the team remains at a quartet of participants, there is a bigger reason why the Captain may be making a move now.

For comparison purposes for those familiar with the NFL, Roger Penske’s philosophy is very similar to that of former San Francisco 49ers head coach and general manager Bill Walsh. Walsh was not a guy that looked at the current scenario to influence his transactions. The Super Bowl-winning manager always glanced two to three years down the road, and that’s what I feel the Captain is doing with the future of his IndyCar team.

At this time, there are a couple of notable IndyCar prospects who could become hot property during the upcoming silly season, based first on the situation involving Castroneves at Penske, but also the future of Tony Kanaan at Chip Ganassi Racing. TK, like Helio, is on the other side of 40, and his ability and desire to continue another season is a question mark. If both Brazilians are out of full-time service, the timing of the Penske to IMSA announcement could give the Captain and Tim Cindric the first choice of a replacement.

The two big fish to snap up appear to be in the back half of the grid. One is Carlos Munoz, who has suffered through a horrendous year at A.J. Foyt Racing. Of course, the Colombian had success at Andretti Autosport, keeping his value high. The other target could be Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones, the likely winner of the 2017 Rookie of the Year award. The Dubai-based pilot finished third at this year’s Indianapolis 500, but has had a bit of a trial by fire period as the team leader following the month of May accident to teammate Sebastien Bourdais. Joining a bigger group could ease the pressure on the former Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion.

While replacing Castroneves may not be a favorable move in the short term, it could allow Penske to continue to dominate the IndyCar circuit for many years to come.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary Open Wheel

POWER RANKINGS: Iowa

Indycar_Power_Rankings_logoThroughout the season, POPULAR SPEED will rank the top-10 drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series following each event. Feel free to comment on the story at the POPULAR SPEED Facebook page.

Helio Castroneves’ first win in 54 races could be taken in one of two ways. It could be viewed as a serious title contender effort, or it might be looked upon as a desperate attempt to win a championship in the autumn of a career. While yours truly will be taking attention away from the latest Big Board, one fact is on the table. The Brazilian is just one of three other drivers in the Captain’s camp who appear to have top of the points table potential.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (Unchanged)

Castroneves’ first fence climb was a pleasure to see; however, solid drives from Will Power, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud were not overlooked. Hence the reason they stay at the top for another week.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (Unchanged)

Scott Dixon salvaged what was a watered down effort at Iowa by placing eighth, surprisingly ahead of his teammate Tony Kanaan, who via the eye test had the stronger performance.

3. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Unchanged)

Traffic trouble dropped Graham Rahal down the list late in the going Sunday, but another top-five means RLLR stays put as best of the rest behind Penske and Ganassi.

4. Andretti Autosport (Unchanged)

Ryan Hunter-Reay was in contention for a fourth Iowa Corn 300 triumph but was too far back to threaten either Castroneves or second-place finisher, J.R. Hildebrand. Beyond that, however, Iowa was a nightmare for the rest of the quartet. Alexander Rossi (11th), Takuma Sato (16th), and Marco Andretti (17th) were in M.I.A. mode on Sunday.

5. Schmidt Peterson Motorsport (+1)

Another early exit from Mikhail Aleshin on an oval track, yet James Hinchcliffe did manage to place tenth. Compared to DCR, enough to trade places heading to the Mayor’s home race in Toronto.

6. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

Esteban Gutierrez kept his nose clean and even managed to run among the top-ten in the latter stages before fading to 13th at the checkered flag. Ed Jones looked promising after qualifying fourth, but plummeted at the start and never recovered en route to settling for 18th. Judges dock the Windy City Boys one spot this week.

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (+2)

J.R. Hildebrand used on-track savvy and good pit luck to take runner-up honors on Sunday. While that’s the basis of ECR’s jump two rungs this week, the perils of team boss Ed Carpenter this season on ovals is a head scratcher. 12th at Iowa and only one top-ten in four tries have to be viewed as a major disappointment.

8. Harding Racing (-1)

Inactive until Pocono, but could not keep them at seven, based on what was achieved by Hildebrand at Iowa.

9. A.J. Foyt Racing (Unchanged)

Cannot say many good things after Iowa. Two cars in the fence and another large repair as the team makes its way to Canada.

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (=)

Season’s over, but 2018 Indianapolis 500 could be promising if the team continues the same course with Sage Karam. The driver-squad pairing seems perfect for one-off outings.

Driver Rankings

1. Scott Dixon (+1)

Overcame a sub-par effort in time trials Saturday, to escape with another top-ten finish. Reluctantly, the Kiwi remains on the number one line, but watch out for Spider-Man.

2. Helio Castroneves (+2)

If this is indeed his final campaign as a full-time IndyCar participant, he is going out with his best output in years, which is not a bad way to go out.

3. Josef Newgarden (-1)

Saturday’s sub-par outing in time trials put the squeeze on the Tennessee-native a bit, yet he still managed to make an impact, coming home in sixth. A former winner at Toronto, so he could be a major player next weekend.

5. Simon Pagenaud (-1)

Qualified well, but rarely made much progress toward the front at Iowa. As a result, seventh was the number at the finish.

4. Will Power (+1)

Another Verizon P1 Award, but was outclassed by his teammate Castroneves from the start of the 300-lap distance on Sunday. Still, a fourth is a good effort for a driver not known for oval track prowess.

6. Graham Rahal (Unchanged)

The Buckeye Blaster posts a top-five at Iowa. One more and he should turn up in the first five of the driver poll too.

7. Alexander Rossi (+1)

11th was the best Rossi could manage on Sunday as he was never happy with the handling at any point.

8. Ryan Hunter-Reay (Unranked)

RHR is NOT the 14th-best driver in IndyCar. Ignore the points standings placing and scratch the DNFs when comparing the DHL Honda pilot to the remainder of the IndyCar field. Third at Iowa is closer to what is the norm for this guy.

9. Tony Kanaan (Unranked)

Deserved better than a ninth-place finish at Iowa, so we made amends and placed him back in the top ten this week.

10. Max Chilton (Unchanged)

We have given the Englishman another chance after dropping back to 14th late at Iowa. Should bounce back in Toronto.

Dropped Out: Takuma Sato (Was No. 7 after Road America), Ed Jones (Was No. 9 after Road America)

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Hildebrand Scores Second Top-Five Of 2017

J.R. Hildebrand during the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season has been unable to shake the tag of being an oval track specialist.

While the 2011 Indianapolis 500 runner-up has finished no better than 11th on a road course to date, the Californian has done damage to the competition on the short ovals. The first major score came at Phoenix International Raceway in April where he chased Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Will Power to the finish to place third. On Sunday, Hildebrand would exceed that performance with a runner-up showing at the Iowa Corn 300.

Earlier this weekend at Iowa Speedway, the returns were not as pleasant. A practice crash on Saturday cost him valuable track time, but the Ed Carpenter Racing pilot absorbed the blow with style in time trials, placing the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet on the outside of the front row for Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300.

After dropping back early, the 29-year old surged late in the first fuel stint, eventually taking the lead from pole winner Helio Castroneves on Lap 97. While maintaining position in the top-five for most of the distance, the major issue for the ECR team on Sunday was pit stops. During three of the four rounds of crew action, Hildebrand lost positions.

“The (ECR) guys did a good job today, (today) became more about track position than (Iowa) usually is,” said Hildebrand after the race on the IndyCar Radio Network. “We got pushed back to about fifth or sixth position (at the halfway point), it was really tough to run on the bottom (line).”

However, it would be the final round of stops under the green flag, that would allow the Californian a shot to earn his first IndyCar win. Electing to gamble by pitting earlier than others, Hildebrand was able to run several quick laps on new tires. The result of the successful bet vaulted the No. 21 Chevrolet into contention; however, the early call-in came with a price. With the new tire advantage shifting late to those in pursuit, Hildebrand succumbed to eventual race winner Castroneves with 35 laps to go. Unable to keep pace, the ECR chauffeur settled for second. 

“We got a couple of good restarts and (my team) made a great call to pit early, go out and really hustle to get the lead,” explained Hildebrand. “At that point, it was all about holding everyone off as long as we could. If we had a couple more laps left (I may not have finished second).”

With the IndyCar fleet headed north to the streets of Toronto, Canada next weekend, Hildebrand and the Ed Carpenter Racing figure to revert to their usual placing in mid-pack. However, the No. 21 entry could rejoin victory contention in August as the circuit heads to Pocono Raceway, followed by Gateway Motorsports Park the week after.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Fantasy Hot Tip: Iowa

Things have changed for the better. After back-to-back frustrating weeks at Detroit and Texas, my driver picks for the Firestone Fantasy Challenge delivered at Road America two weeks ago.

Thanks to a one-two finish from Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden, yours truly was head of the class at the Kohler Grand Prix. The win rebuilds the safety net that I had lost in the previous two rounds. So with ninth-place on the points table much more secure, the focus shifts to moving forward in rankings on Sunday afternoon.

The Iowa Corn 300 roster remains unaltered on top but does change in the bottom half, where 12th and 13th-place finishes were the end game. Enough to take P1 in Wisconsin, but may be as fortunate at the high banked bowl of Iowa Speedway.

As mentioned, my dynamic duo of Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon remain intact this weekend. The selection of Newgarden has two facts in his corner. Earlier this season at Phoenix International Raceway, Team Penske ruled the action in qualifying and then posted a top-two punch with Simon Pagenaud and Will Power at the forefront. So why the Tennessee-native then over the Arizona rabbits? Last year’s domination at Iowa by the first-year Penske pilot is hard to ignore. If one can control a race with a lesser team on paper, just imagine what could happen when the squad’s potential is further enhanced.

Regarding Dixon, not only is he leading the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, he can turn potentially bad results into good ones. The Iceman has overcome qualifying days where Penske’s men outpaced him, and if it should occur yet again on Saturday, the New Zealander has a history of overcoming it. That’s why despite the muscle displayed at Phoenix by Power and Pagenaud, I still went with the Ganassi Racing veteran.

Seats three and four were trickier to setup. Gone are Alexander Rossi and Spencer Pigot, as the former Indy 500 champion has yet to prove himself on a short oval, while Pigot gives way to team boss Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet. In their place, however, are two solid alternatives. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay would seem like an odd choice considering he’s failed to finish all three oval
events to date in 2017. Of course, those events were not at Iowa Speedway, where the Californian has scored three triumphs since 2012. That reminder is enough reason to dismiss the DNFs suffered recently.

As for the final seat, I have stayed with Ed Carpenter Racing tapping their oval track specialist J.R. Hildebrand. 2017 has been a trial by fire return to full-time service for the former Indy 500 runner-up, but he did place a strong third at Phoenix, raising his value against other options, including the ever-improving Chip Ganassi Racing chauffeur Max Chilton and Dale Coyne Racing rookie Ed Jones.

With the Hawkeye State’s roster now set, let’s see if I am on the right track again in selecting gangbuster foursomes.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily
reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any
links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Road America

Indycar_Power_Rankings_logoThroughout the season, POPULAR SPEED will rank the top-10 drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series following each event. Feel free to comment on the story at the POPULAR SPEED Facebook page.

Whether Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America represented a shift in favor of the bigger, betterfunded organizations or not, one thing is for certain. Outside of two bad finishes on high-speed ovals, Scott Dixon has been the rabbit of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season to date. It is also apparent that our continued disrespect of Simon Pagenaud must end immediately. While the rankings committee has looked more at the end game scenarios, the Frenchman seems to be reverting to the form that bagged him the title in 2016.

Things are going smoothly for the above two options, but the same cannot be said for Will Power. There is no question that in a perfect world, the Australian is the best of the bunch on any road course one could face. The problem in 2017 is consistency. Team Penske swept the first two rows in qualifying; but in race trim, he suddenly found himself behind his three teammates.

So while the team rankings stay mostly untouched, the drivers top ten has seen some movement.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (Unchanged)

The Captain’s quartet did not grab the brass ring in Wisconsin, however placing four in the top-five is nothing to sneeze about. As noted earlier, Power’s hit or miss practices in 2017 is a head scratcher. If anything, Josef Newgarden should be the one doing that being in his first year with Penske, not the Aussie. As for Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, we are starting to get an idea that their title challenges are legit after all.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (Unchanged)

Difficult to fathom that Dixon was minus a victory before Sunday, yet his consistency put him on top of the points table. One has to be getting nervous that the Kiwi now is adding P1s to his long line of top-fives. The Iceman was not alone though in the laurels of success. Charlie Kimball enjoyed his best effort of 2017 with a sixth-place finish, while Indy 500 top lap leader Max Chilton scored a ninth.

3. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+1)

Yes, one is the loneliest number – unless you are referring to RLLR and Graham Rahal. For the third straight year, the No. 15 Steak N’ Shake Honda is shaming most of the giant fish in the IndyCar pond and once again is joining the conversation for another top-five result at season’s end.

4. Andretti Autosport (-1)

The weekend started bad and ended worse. Marco Andretti was unable to make the most of a good grid position and placed 18th. Contact with Tony Kanaan may have hampered Alexander Rossi’s 13th-place effort, while Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato were mired in the bottom half of the order throughout the proceedings. They are no longer a 1-A to Ganassi’s number official number one placement in the Honda camp. Thanks to RLLR they may not be the second in the queue either.

5. Dale Coyne Racing (+1)

If Road America form continues onward to Iowa and beyond, Ed Jones looks set to lead DCR back into the victory conversation started by Sebastien Bourdais at St. Petersburg. While winning one of the remaining events is not a lock, it would be far from a shocker for more or less the 2017 IndyCar Rookie of the Year.

6. Schmidt Peterson Motorsport (-1)

A top-ten finish for Mikhail Aleshin was well earned considering the Russian suffered from a lack of track time due to a visa snafu. James Hinchcliffe meanwhile, has undergone a complete reversal of fortune. After opening 2017 with three straight top-tens, the Canadian has just one of those placements since. With Honda starting to close in on trumping Chevrolet, Schmidt Peterson appears to have missed the depart time and has been left at the gate so far.

7. Harding Racing (Unchanged)

Inactive until Pocono, yet nothing from Carpenter or Foyt merits dropping them down the list.

8. A.J. Foyt Racing (+1)

Carlos Munoz deserved better than an eleventh-place output at Road America, but that pretty much explains the lack of competitive drive shown from this team and its pilots. 2018 cannot come soon enough.

9. Ed Carpenter Racing (-1)

Road course ace Spencer Pigot could not save the sinking ship and after multiple issues on Sunday, settling for 12th. Once again, J.R. Hildebrand made zero impact and came home 18th. If Iowa does not provide comfort, painful outcomes seem stuck to Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s home team for the remainder of 2017.

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (=)

Season’s over, but 2018 Indianapolis 500 could be promising if the team continues the same course with Sage Karam. The driver-squad pairing seems perfect for one-off outings.

Driver Rankings

1. Scott Dixon (+1)

People of New Zealand, we sincerely apologize. If there were any questions about the Kiwi’s ability to maintain his solid pace, those worries were silenced on Sunday. On to Iowa.

2. Josef Newgarden (+1)

Right now the pronunciation should be NEW-GUARD. The Tennessee-native has fit in well with Team Penske and appears capable of challenging for a championship in year one, much like Al Unser, Jr. did with success in 1994. Another Iowa tour de force will make his effort official.

3. Simon Pagenaud (+3)

We continued to doubt the staying power of the reigning IndyCar king and the Frenchman has continued to admonish us for doing so. Second in points and deservedly so.

4. Helio Castroneves (Unchanged)

The Brazilian squandered yet another front row start and settled for third at the checkered flag. While the results continue to keep him in the conversation, SpiderMan must find a way to end a 53-race losing skid.

5. Will Power (-4)

Well, our crystal ball premonition did not mean all that much. A fifth-place result is alright, but iffy when all his Penske counterparts finished ahead of him. Iowa on paper is not the place for a bounce back.

6. Graham Rahal (+1)

The Ohioan proves that a single-car team can still prosper, even when this same performer questioned whether that was still possible earlier this season. Four top-tens in a row headed to Corn City.

7. Takuma Sato (-2)

Just when the Japanese hero looked set to be a mainstay at the front of the IndyCar lineup, along came Elkhart Lake. The Kohler Grand Prix was a complete clunker for Sato, who never made a positive impact in qualifying or the race. Skeptics are returning to this conversation.

8. Alexander Rossi (Unchanged)

Unlike his Andretti compatriots, Rossi showed promise until his meeting with Tony Kanaan. While TK found the fence, the 2016 Indy 500 champion must have damaged his car as he faded outside the top ten in the final laps. Only a sub-par bottom half of the rankings keeps him in the top ten this week.

9. Ed Jones (Unranked)

The on the list, off the list syndrome for the Dubai-based entrant would come to a head if more consistency were present. Just a friendly suggestion while looking ahead to Iowa Speedway.

10. Max Chilton (Unranked)

We have a new customer! While the ex-Formula One racer has not set the IndyCar world on fire in 2017, he does have four top-tens in the past seven races. That’s something most in the full-time fleet cannot claim.

Dropped Out: Tony Kanaan (Was No. 9 after Texas), James Hinchcliffe (Was No. 10 after Texas)

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Jones, Rahal Manage Top-Tens At Road America

While the two biggest teams controlled the roost during Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America, a couple of the smaller squads did steal some of the thunder.

A group that has overcome the underdog tag for decades has been the Chicago-based Dale Coyne Racing group. Honoring former Chicago Bears running back the late Walter Payton on Sunday, the team’s lead entry with Dubai’s Ed Jones at the controls improved four places from the green flag to finish seventh.

In addition to his exploits on the football field, Payton was a part of auto racing, spending several years as a driver in the rough and tumble SCCA Trans-Am Series. Also from 1994 to his passing in 1999, he was a co-owner of the Coyne Racing team.

As for Jones, Sunday’s output is the highest placing for the Verizon IndyCar Series rookie, since he placed third at the 101st Indianapolis 500 last month. In both the event at the Brickyard and on Sunday, Jones advanced from the 11th starting position. The result is also the former Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion’s third top-ten finish since his teammate Sebastien Bourdais was injured in a qualifying crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month.

According to the newcomer, today’s race was far from a joyride.

“It was a really tough race, the car was really loose,” said Jones. “I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops, and we were able to move up.”

Another team/driver duo that has taken on that tag with much success over the past three seasons has been the D-A Lubricants Honda team for Ohio’s Graham Rahal. Although teams such as Andretti Autosport have the most potential among the Honda-powered rides on paper, it has been Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing who have produced the strongest outputs.

With Andretti’s quartet non-existent in the first twelve places on Sunday, it was the popular No. 15 Honda chauffeur who made an appearance in the top half of the order in eighth-place at the checkered flag.

“Eighth is about as good as we could do today,” admitted Rahal. “We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem.”

After making it into the Firestone Fast Six shootout in qualifying on Saturday, Rahal slid backwards at the start after being penalized for blocking by IndyCar officials. Falling back to 13th in the initial fuel stint, the Ohioan upped his pace in the remaining phases of the 55-lap event to capture his sixth top-ten result of 2017, including a two-race sweep of the Detroit event weekend.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.