While several of the smaller organizations have made a good impression during the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, a friendly reminder was sent from the sport’s two mightiest clubs Sunday.
Since their initial foray into the current INDYCAR sanctioning body in 2002, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing have been the benchmark, and throughout this weekend’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America in Wisconsin, it was this duo that controlled the storylines. On Saturday, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves captured the Verizon P1 Award, with his teammates Will Power, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud lining up behind him.
Ganassi’s quartet also began Sunday’s action in a good position. Four-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon started fifth, with Max Chilton in seventh and Charlie Kimball in tenth. Tony Kanaan, meanwhile, started further back in 16th.
Castroneves held his position in the opening stint with Newgarden and Dixon in tow. The key moment of Sunday’s event may have between laps 13 and 14. While his two pursuers were able to go the extra four miles required at Elkhart Lake, the Brazilian came in on the former circuit. Whether it influenced later proceedings or not, Newgarden eventually overtook his teammate on the front straightaway with an impressive outside maneuver.
The second and ultimately deciding scenario occurred during the restart following the first full course caution when Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato ground to a halt at turn 11. The Tennessee-native seemed to miss a shift as racing resumed on Lap 31, allowing both Dixon and Castroneves to move into the top two positions. While Newgarden was able to re-pass Castroneves, he was unable to catch Dixon’s Honda during the final laps.
Although the New Zealander has been consistent on the road courses in 2017, placing no worse than sixth in the second half of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, Sunday’s result represents his first victory on the year. However, the Kiwi did not believe Elkhart Lake would be the site for his 41st career IndyCar triumph.
“I didn’t really think we would be in this situation,” admitted Dixon. “Huge credit to Honda. The engine’s very strong. To get the fuel mileage, as well, is always very difficult when you’re making so much power.”
Newgarden’s runner-up is his second of the current campaign, coupled win a victory at Alabama. The finish is his fifth top-four performance this year, all earned on road courses.
“It stings a bit that we didn’t get the win because of how good this car was all weekend,” said the No. 2 Chevrolet pilot. “We had the fastest lap which was pretty cool, and I am just proud of all our guys.”
Despite starting from the pole position three times this season, Castroneves’ third-place effort on Sunday is his best output on a road course in 2017. Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix also extends the Brazilian’s current winless streak to 53 events. He has not triumphed in an IndyCar event since the second race at Detroit in 2014. The heat of the competition and the atmosphere was a test for the veteran on Sunday; he was treated for dehydration symptoms after the race.
“The Rev Group Chevy was good, especially in the beginning,” explained Castroneves. “I was taking it easy and saving a lot of fuel. When we put the blacks on, I knew it was going to be rough, and Josef ended up getting the best (result).”
Coupled with Simon Pagenaud’s fourth-place and Will Power settling for fifth, Team Penske placed all of its cars in the top-five, the first time the feat has been accomplished in 2017.
Dixon was not alone in his success for Ganassi on Sunday however; as Kimball used a solid fuel strategy to finish sixth and Englishmen Chilton earned his fourth top-ten return in 2017 by placing ninth. The performance from the Tresiba Honda pilot is his best to date this year, eclipsing a pair of eighth-place runs at Phoenix and the second event at Detroit.
Overall, Penske and Ganassi accounted for seven of the top-ten spots at the drop of the checkered flag Sunday. The only pilot missing from the final placings was Tony Kanaan, who bounced back from a disappointing run in qualifying to reach the top-ten, when his race ended after a failed passing attempt on Alexander Rossi resulted in hard contact with the barriers at the high-speed “Kink” corner. The 2013 Indy 500 champion was assisted from his car by the Holmatro Safety Team and did not suffer serious injuries.
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