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IndyCar Open Wheel

Ganassi, Penske Rule Kohler GP Weekend

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.

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: Road America

Things have changed considerably for yours truly in the Firestone Fantasy Challenge.

After jumping to sixth in my local league following the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, things have gone downhill since. Using a similar strategy where I loaded my roster with road course and oval track specialists, suddenly those same drivers started to struggle. Will Power was unable to find the winner’s circle at Detroit and Indy champion Takuma Sato also stumbled at Texas.

The result: I have dropped to ninth in the standings, and if things do not change soon, the plunge down the order will continue. So for the four-mile layout known as Road America in Wisconsin, new names are featured.

Gone is Power, a mainstay for most fantasy teams when the Verizon IndyCar Series turns both left and right. Simon Pagenaud, an equally potent challenger on these types of circuits, is also missing. I have likewise passed up another Team Penske driver in Helio Castroneves, who is a serious contender for the championship, but is riding a 50-plus race streak without a victory.

Of course, there is a fourth driver on the Captain’s squad who I have snapped up. Josef Newgarden has not set the world on fire in his first year with the famed organization, but he won at Alabama and did place fourth and second respectively in both races at Belle Isle. For now, that’s enough for me to play him.

Another sure fire pick is Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who heads to Wisconsin holding a 13-point lead in the battle for the series title. While Dixon has suffered through two didnotfinish efforts in his last four events, his record on road courses is much more on target as opposed to Power’s. In six road races 2017, the New Zealander has finished no worse than sixth in any of them, and despite failing to place first, the multi-time IndyCar champion has three runner-up finishes. This is a much more convincing record than Power can provide, who has four runs of a tenth or worse in those same six rounds.

With Newgarden and Dixon snagged, pick number three for Road America takes another look at Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, a driver who has continued to move forward from his victory in last year’s Indy 500. The ex-Formula One pilot has already matched his two top-fives output from last year, and has placed tenth or better in four of the six road courses events. While his fellow Andretti Autosport teammates have taken a few steps backward over the last few months, Rossi is currently ninth on the points table and could threaten the podium if he can amass a solid grid position on Saturday.

Finally, with a majority of my 100 dollar team cap spent, I have rounded out another road course lineup with Ed Carpenter Racing’s ringer Spencer Pigot. While the sophomore’s results have been 50-50 regarding great and iffy, the former Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion always seems to get the most from a team that is not known for prowess on these type of venues. For the last driver on a four-member fantasy group, that’s a good thing.

So we will if this quartet is the spark to inject life back into my hopes for a championship in my Firestone Fantasy Challenge League, or whether it is back to the drawing board once again.

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 Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Texas

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.

Will Power’s second career win at Texas Motor Speedway, leaves some questions to be answered. Was this a legitimate win? The Australian dominated, but was that due to a superior car or high attrition? Also, is this a reversal toward Chevrolet as opposed to Honda, who was ruled the recent winner’s circle appearances?

For now, Power gets the nod on our newest driver’s list, as last year’s surge for the Team Penske road course ace began at this point of the campaign.

Accordingly, the team rankings favor the Captain’s quartet likewise, a position they have held for several weeks, based largely on early season prowess on the non-oval layouts.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Along with Will Power controlling the proceedings, Simon Pagenaud also made the podium in third-place. Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves fell victim to the SAFER barriers on Saturday night, but that’s not the stuff to move them off the number one line.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (No Change)

Not a friend-making performance Saturday night from Tony Kanaan, but a runner-up finish is not diminished in terms of championship points. Scott Dixon was on the verge of joining TK at the checkered, but settled for ninth after getting swept up in the race-ending incident. Disappointing performances for both Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball. The Englishman was not the front-running force he was at the Indianapolis 500 and placed eighth. Kimball meanwhile, looked solid after taking the Verizon P1 Award on Friday, only to drop-out soon after the start due to mechanical maladies.

3. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

Takuma Sato’s late-race collision prevented another possible podium finish, yet outside of that Texas was a “what might have been” effort. Marco Andretti did come home in sixth, but never made a serious impact. Ryan Hunter-Reay was eliminated in the big one, while Alexander Rossi’s three-wide foray early on led to him being the first arrival at the post-race party.

4. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (No Change)

Graham Rahal found a way to avoid the attrition that removed many from the Rainguard 600 on Saturday night, securing a fourth-place finish. Not quite the stuff to jump past Andretti in the poll, but if Rahal shows the pace from Detroit at Road America, that will change.

5. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

It is tough to say if James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin were contenders for the win on Saturday night, as of course the big mess ended the conversation. However, the glimpses of pace provides hope for the next few rounds.

6. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

No matter who drives the No. 18 Honda, it seems to be a factor. Unfortunately, accidents at both Indy and Texas prevented Sebastien Bourdais, James Davison, and Tristan Vautier from getting the coveted result. Not a strong run though from Ed Jones; that’s the reason they drop a notch on the list.

7. Harding Racing (+1)

This organization is gaining confidence following a fifth-place result for Gabby Chaves at Texas. Two starts, two top-tens. Whether success continues at the team’s next race at Pocono is anyone’s guess, but they could be dangerous if they do go full-time in 2018.

8. Ed Carpenter Racing (-1)

Even before getting caught up in the eight-car pileup at Texas, neither Ed Carpenter or J.R. Hildebrand showed any signs of being able to win the race. Road America is not the place for a triumphant moment for this team, unless something bizarre happens, like the Earth falling out of orbit for instance.

9. A.J. Foyt Racing (No Change)

Sure, Conor Daly finished seventh, but based solely on survival. Once again, nothing positive shown by the Hoosier-native, nor from Carlos Munoz at Texas.

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (=)

Season’s over for DRR pending a surprise entry later this year. Still, its sister team Harding Racing is stealing the spotlight from some of the full-time regulars.

Dropped Out: None

Driver Rankings:

1. Will Power (+3)

Dixon has the better results to date, but intuition says the Aussie is ready to begin his championship challenge. Three of the next four events are road courses, and if Team Penske regains their muscle from a season ago, Power becomes a greater threat.

2. Scott Dixon (-1)

Time to temporarily drop the Kiwi down a rung this week. The momentum is not in the Iceman’s corner, at least not in Texas.

3. Josef Newgarden (No Change)

The big crashes have kept the Tennessean from snatching top-tens at both Indy and Texas, but the future projections put Newgarden ahead of both Castroneves and Pagenaud. Still, a ways to go reach Power, however.

4. Helio Castroneves (-2)

An early exit at Texas hurts, but the fact the Brazilian continues to squander front row starting positions on road circuits is a red flag. If he could not get the results consistently in the season’s first half, why would that change in the final eight? Based on that, Spider-Man loses two spots.

5. Takuma Sato (+2)

One false move near the finish at Texas cost the Japanese trailblazer a possible top-three effort. The big thing story though tells all; the Indy 500 victory was NOT a fluke. He goes up another two places on the list this week.

6. Simon Pagenaud (-1)

Third at Texas, second on the points table, but only sixth here? Pags has to improve his qualifying record on road courses to stay in the mix for back-to-back titles. Not only does the Frenchman give himself too much to do, but he puts himself in the line of fire in the mad mid-pack scrambles at the start. Sooner or later, smart money says an early exit based on that could result.

7. Graham Rahal (+2)

Rahal has an ability to finish the high-speed oval races in ways the rest of the IndyCar fleet cannot match, at least not over the past three seasons. If the No. 15 Honda matches the performance from Detroit, it could be a tough go for the field at Elkhart Lake.

8. Alexander Rossi (-2)

Rossi did not use good judgement going three-wide so early in the process at Texas, and was dealt a last-place finish as punishment. He should regain original placement if trouble does not follow to Wisconsin’s four-mile parkway.

9. Tony Kanaan (Unranked)

Far from a squeaky clean effort at Texas, yet TK made it to the finish and came away with a runner-up finish. The veteran though, is not a sign of strength on road courses and must re-invent himself next week to stay in the polls for more than one race.

10. James Hinchcliffe (No Change)

The Mayor showed glimpses of hope prior to his elimination at Texas; however, there are several candidates who could bump him out following Road America, including this week’s top-ten absentee Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Dropped Out: Ryan Hunter-Reay (Was No. 8 after Detroit)

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

Chaves Snatches Top-Five Result At Texas

For a team that only intended to compete in the 101st Indianapolis 500, Harding Racing is exceeding expectations.

After surviving a crash-influenced Rainguard 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, Gabby Chaves escaped with a fifth-place finish. The effort is notable considering the Colombian had to move up from 20th at the start of the 248-lap event and avoid the close quarters action that eliminated all but seven of the 22 starters.

Chaves was not immune from over-aggression on Saturday, as he was ordered by officials to give a position back to Graham Rahal on two occasions late in the event due to avoidable contact. Although things changed late, Chaves and the Harding Racing squad took a more careful approach to its second Verizon IndyCar Series start. Not having competed at the 1.5 mile Texas Motor Speedway before, the team only qualified 20th on Friday outrunning A.J. Foyt Racing teammates Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz.

However, Harding Racing has taken advantage of the consistent and steady approach, missing the major accidents last month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to move from 25th to place a respectable ninth after 500 miles. The plus-16 performance was the biggest improvement that any driver enjoyed in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. On Saturday night at Texas, Chaves gained 15 places from where he began the 600 kilometers, once again the largest advancement.

Despite featuring limited information on the 2017 version of the Dallara DW12, nor on the three circuits, it intends to compete at this season Harding Racing’s personnel are far from novices. 2017 is Gabby Chaves’ third season in IndyCar competition, after an advancement through the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. The 23-year old native of Bogota, Colombia ran the entire 2015 IndyCar circuit with Bryan Herta Autosport, earning two top-ten finishes at Detroit and Texas, whilst also placing 16th in his first Indy 500 start to pick up Rookie of the Race honors.

Chaves lost his ride at Herta in 2016, but still managed six appearances with Dale Coyne Racing, including a season’s best 12th-place result at Detroit. Unable to secure a full-time seat this year, Chaves joined forces with Harding and has already doubled his career top-tens output.

The key to Harding’s early success also points to the presence of Larry Curry, who serves as team manager. With 40 years of IndyCar experience under his belt, Curry has stood atop the pit box for several teams since the current sanctioning body’s debut in 1996, most notably Team Menard. The veteran’s most notable driver success story is Indiana-native Tony Stewart, who won the IndyCar championship in 1997 before moving to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 1999.

Harding Racing plans on making one final start in 2017 at the Pocono 500 on August 20th, before trying to run the full 2018 slate, pending on sponsorship.

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: Texas

This week’s Firestone Fantasy Challenge battle plan takes us back to the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Many of the key pieces to the puzzle are back for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 this Saturday night. Despite going airborne in an accident, not of his own doing, Scott Dixon returns as the main cog this weekend. Although the Kiwi faded back to eighth after starting from pole position, the effort posted by teammate Max Chilton showed what could have happened had Dixon been in play at the finish.

The same view can be taken for Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi. Both were fixing to get in the mix during the final 50 laps at the Brickyard, only to each hit trouble. Hunter-Reay was the first domino to fall, suffering the first of three engine failures suffered by Honda pilots on May 28th. Rossi was much more of a threat based on pace as opposed to strategy when he won in 2016. One poor pit stop, however, ruined any hopes of a repeat win, despite a desperate charge to salvage a top-ten output.

While the numbers favor a Honda-powered winner on Saturday night, some Chevrolet drivers still merit a selection. One that stands out is Ed Carpenter, a former winner at Texas Motor Speedway. The Speedway, Indiana-native must show more consistency and aggression if he is to repeat his 2014 triumph.

Among other solid picks, Graham Rahal makes sense. The winner of both legs of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix took the checkered flag first last year in Fort Worth. Of course, Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato is also a natural selection, along with runner-up Helio Castroneves who won at Texas in 2013.

Three more risky draftees are Ed Jones, Max Chilton, and Gabby Chaves. Jones placed third at Indianapolis, a result that could have been higher if not for the Dubai-resident running with a broken front nosecone during the final stint. Chilton led more laps than anyone at the Brickyard, but needed an off-sequence pit strategy to get into the picture. Chaves managed to claim a ninth-place effort for the brand new Harding Racing organization last month, and if attrition influences things on Saturday, the Colombian could pick up the pieces.

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

POWER RANKINGS: Detroit

 

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.

Graham Rahal’s clean sweep at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix last weekend has brought the No. 15 United Rentals Honda back into the top-ten of the driver rankings. Beyond that, however, only slight changes are present in both polls as the teams head to Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Josef Newgarden’s pair of top-four results keeps Team Penske on top of the list for another week. It’s not that they are dominating the competition; instead, the fact remains no other team has shown capable of eclipsing them to merit top line consideration.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

The Iceman has a short memory as the wild ride at the Indianapolis 500 was covered up by two top-six outings last weekend in Motown, good enough to Ganassi back ahead of Andretti Autosport this week.

3. Andretti Autosport (-1)

Takuma Sato backs up Indy 500 triumph, with two top-eight efforts, the second producing a Verizon P1 Award. Alexander Rossi also continues to cement his claim as a future title contender with a similar resume from the Motor City. However, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti were off the radar last weekend, forcing their drop behind Ganassi.

4. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+2)

Oriol Servia started the wheels rolling in the right direction at the Brickyard, and Graham Rahal just took it to a whole new level at Belle Isle. The broom run across the board is rewarded with its highest ranking in 2017 so far.

5. Dale Coyne Racing (No Change)

Ed Jones managed a ninth-place performance on Saturday but had a day to forget on Sunday. Decent debut run for Esteban Gutierrez, with most importantly no major mistakes. Curious to see if Coyne gives the Mexican F-1 refugee another chance at Texas.

6. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

A pair of top-six placings by James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin on Saturday is enough for us to ignore Sunday’s misfortunes and give SPM back one of the notches they lost at Indy.

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (-3)

Whether ECR has an allergic reaction to road racing or not, Detroit did not emit confidence. Spencer Pigot squeaked out a tenth-place run on Saturday, but J.R. Hildebrand was largely a non-factor all weekend. Must rebound at Texas.

8. Harding Racing (No Change)

The team returns to action this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. If attrition mimics last year’s race, Gabby Chaves and company could perhaps leave with another top-ten result.

9. A.J. Foyt Racing (No Change)

Same song, second verse at Detroit. Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly’s nightmare 2017 tour continues. Texas is not likely to improve things much in the right direction.

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (=)

Season’s over for DRR pending a surprise entry later this year. Still, it’s sister team Harding Racing is expected to make at least two more appearances.

Dropped Out: None

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (No Change)

A bum ankle and all, Dixon scores two solid finishes to regain the points lead, and more importantly, top our charts for another week.

2. Helio Castroneves (No Change)

A ho-hum showing for the Brazilian in Detroit, but at the same time, those behind him in the polls did not exude much regarding potential either. Based on that, Helio stays at number two.

3. Josef Newgarden (+3)

Leaving the Brickyard was the best medicine for the Tennessean, who puts himself back into the championship picture in Motown. Only Graham Rahal had a better week than this guy.

4. Will Power (-1)

A poor Saturday showing, was overshadowed by a solid Sunday effort that placed the Australian on the podium. Still, the writing is on the pit board; Power has underachieved in 2017.

5. Simon Pagenaud (-1)

Similar storyline to Power as Sunday improved significantly over Saturday’s output. Decent title defense so far, but grip seems to be weakening.

6. Alexander Rossi (+2)

Sophomore improvement continues to appear as opposed to a jinx. No. 98 NAPA Honda, producing a larger can of “Know How” every time it takes to the track.

7. Takuma Sato (+2)

Solid encore for the Japanese veteran at Belle Isle, with two more top-tens. Looking for another high finish in the Lone Star State.

8. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-3)

Detroit was a momentum crusher for RHR, who gives back the same three spots in the Motor City that he gained at the Indy 500.

9. Graham Rahal (Unranked)

Another second half surge for the popular Ohioan is definitely on the cards. Drove flawlessly to pull off the first double victory in the history of the Detroit Grand Prix.

10. James Hinchcliffe (Unranked)

Consistency is not yet where the Mayor would desire, but a podium showing on Saturday is enough to put the Canadian back on the list this week.

Dropped Out: Tony Kanaan  (Was No. 7 after Indy 500), Ed Jones (Was No. 10 after Indy 500).

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

Rahal Cleans House At Detroit

There have been dominant runs during the two-leg Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix format since it debuted in 2013, but none quite like what was witnessed this weekend.

Mired back in 15th-place on the Verizon IndyCar Series standings entering Friday practice in the Motor City, Graham Rahal reverted to the form that made him the top Honda points scorer the past two seasons. He dominated from the pole position to earn the first leg on Saturday, and on the following afternoon, the popular Buckeye state competitor used a rock solid opening stint to jump from third to the lead to complete only the second sweep of a doubleheader event in series history. Scott Dixon orchestrated the feat at Toronto’s Exhibition Place in 2013.

The performance in Motown is a stark reversal from Rahal’s thoughts entering the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The second-generation pilot claimed at the time that his single-car operation at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing could no longer compete against the multi-car operations from Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti. The view was understandable in a sense. Since edging out James Hinchcliffe to win the Texas 600 last fall, the United Rentals Honda chauffeur had opened the 2017 slate with only one top-ten finish, a tenth at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Flashes of his more successful form were present at the Brickyard last month. Despite a poor qualifying effort in the IndyCar Grand Prix, the No. 15 Honda was able to reach the sixth spot at the checkered flag. The run is notable considering the event went flag-to-flag without a full course caution to close up the pack. The 101st Indianapolis 500 two weeks later was also an effective exercise, as Rahal managed to reach the front of the field near the halfway mark, before settling for 12th.

Still, many raised eyebrows when the top American prospect secured the Verizon P1 Award on Saturday morning at Belle Isle Park. The doubters were silenced as Rahal outdueled Scott Dixon to take the win. Sunday was a more convincing performance, as the tenth-year veteran overcame Andretti Autosport front row qualifiers Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay to take the top spot at Lap 30. Not even a late caution caused by James Hinchcliffe and Spencer Pigot’s stalled machine could deny him. On the restart with two laps to run, Rahal pulled away from Josef Newgarden to secure the second event.

With the second of three double-points race weekends in the rear-view mirror, a third straight top-five point showing for Graham Rahal at season’s end is now within range. Headed back to Texas Motor Speedway next week, the Ohio-native is now ranked sixth in points, only 52 markers behind Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon.

Rahal’s outputs have in-part followed a similar reversal of fortune for Honda Performance Development this season likewise. Last season, HPD only found the winner’s circle twice in 16 attempts. Already this season, the Japanese manufacturer has won five of the opening eight rounds and has taken three consecutive Verizon P1 Awards.

However, the biggest benefactor of Rahal’s recent trend upward has been Turns For Troops, a program that donates $50 for every lap the No. 15 Honda leads this season. The charity supports the larger SoldierStrong organization, which seeks to aid the rehabilitation of military veterans injured in action overseas. The project has been featured on the RLLR entry for all three of the Ohioan’s top-ten finishes over the past four weeks.

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

Penske Back On Its Wheels Following Motown

The 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 did not show what Team Penske’s potential.

Only one of the team’s five drivers managed to make the Firestone Fast Nine, and just two finished the 500-mile distance in the top-six. The efforts where not befitting of an organization that has won the Greatest Spectacle in Racing sixteen times. The view of possible weakness, however, has been squashed after Sunday’s second phase of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

Led by Josef Newgarden, the Captain’s quartet placed three in the top-five at the checkered flag, a bounce back to the dominant form shown when the team claimed three straight wins at Long Beach, Phoenix, and the IndyCar Grand Prix. Then came the 2.5-mile oval, where early it became clear that a lack of horsepower provided by Chevrolet was an issue. Although a dramatic charge from Helio Castroneves salvaged a runner-up finish, Indy was a struggle.

Things started to change positively on Saturday morning at the Raceway of Belle Isle, as Castroneves took the outside of the front row and then rode the wave of momentum to second behind Graham Rahal. Although the Brazilian faded to 11th in Sunday’s second phase, the three-time Indy 500 champion is well within the range of championship leader Scott Dixon as the Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway next weekend.

Castroneves’ performance so far in the 2017 campaign, shows that winning is sometimes an overrated statistic. Despite holding second in the championship standings, the Brazilian has yet to win a race. In fact, the veteran has gone 51 events since he ascended the top step of the podium in the second leg of the Detroit Grand Prix three years ago.

Defending Series champion Simon Pagenaud is next on the list entering Texas, on the strength of a victory and four other top-fives finishes to open the season. A 14th-place result in the Indy 500 derailed the run, but the Frenchman is back on the tracks following a fifth-place effort at Detroit on Sunday. Currently fourth on the points table, the pressure on the No. 1 Chevrolet pilot will be to make up ground as opposed to 2016, where he had to fend off pursuers.

Newgarden currently ranks sixth heading for the Lone Star State, a decent showing in his first year with Team Penske. The Tennessee-native has scored top-ten results in all but the two rounds at Indianapolis to date, where speeding penalties and a wreck hampered his efforts. Texas Motor Speedway, however, has not been kind to the young American. He has placed no better than eighth in five tries to date, including an injury-suffering shunt last year.

Amazingly, despite Will Power’s success in years past on road courses, he is behind his three full-time teammates in the eighth spot. The Australian has scored big results in 2017, including a third-place finish at Detroit on Sunday; however, he also has on his record five finishes of 13th or worse in the opening eight shows to date. While 70 points separate the former series champion from Dixon, a plethora of road course events could allow him to narrow the gap before the double-points finale at Sonoma Raceway.

The 2017 calendar has seen three cases of Team Penske control at the head of the grid and based on Sunday’s returns at Belle Isle, a return to the head table in the remaining rounds is certainly a plausible conclusion.

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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

Fantasy Hot Tip: Detroit

I may sound like a broken record, but a rewind to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is required for the Firestone Fantasy Challenge for rounds seven and eight.

Although there are two separate races when the Verizon  IndyCar Series fleet takes on the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, why mess with a good thing? While no driver has yet to sweep both halves of the doubleheader, the field will be hard pressed to deny Team Penske such a feat.

However, yours truly is not taking two of the Captain’s men as was done in the IndyCar Grand Prix. Based on recent momentum, Will Power gets the nod over Simon Pagenaud, while the consistent Scott Dixon from Chip Ganassi Racing is also featured.

The Honda horsepower advantage will not aid Dixon in the way it did last week in the Indianapolis 500, but it should keep him within a range of anything Chevrolet provides to Pagenaud and/or Power.

After earning a third-place finish behind Power and Dixon in the IndyCar GP, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay gets the nod at Michigan, despite the fact teammate Takuma Sato comes off a victory on Sunday. Spencer Pigot, who rejoins Ed Carpenter Racing after a  frustrating Greatest Spectacle in Racing for Ricardo Juncos’  new organization, rounds the roster for The Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

The same lineup applies for both races, so the chance of whiffing in both legs is limited.

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 Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Indianapolis 500

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.

Takuma Sato just won the Indianapolis 500, and with double points handed out, he is now second in the Verizon IndyCar Series points table heading to Detroit this weekend.

Of course, Helio Castroneves also made progress with another near-miss and now leads the championship. But remember, neither driver has been that impressive outside of the Brickyard. So yours truly has them in the driver rankings list this week, yet they have a lot more to prove before moving up.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Top-six runs from both Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya were enough to see them stay atop the big board, however not in the dominant form garnered after the IndyCar Grand Prix. They are vulnerable following a lackluster Indy 500 qualifying and race output – that is until you look at the calendar. Yeah, two road courses in one sitting, who knew?

2. Andretti Autosport (+1)

Taku stole the trophy and the kisses, yet four of his cohorts at Andretti were in the hunt for a good portion of the big dance Sunday. Blown motors knocked Ryan Hunter-Reay and Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Fernando Alonso out of the picture, while miscues erased Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti’s hopes. Another blockbuster performance in Motown and hello number one.

3. Chip Ganassi Racing (-1)

Everything went haywire for Scott Dixon following his pole day romp, ending with a flight into the catch fence on Sunday. Another top-five for Tony Kanaan was alright, but give credit to Max Chilton who has strung together the two best showings of his IndyCar career to date. One or two more bank deposits in first ten land and there is a place in the driver’s poll with the Englishman’s name on it. Too bad teammate Charlie Kimball’s engine did not last the distance. His DNF ended a three-race tenth or better streak at IMS.

4. Ed Carpenter Racing (+1)

Late errors ruined solid outings from both Ed Carpenter and J.R. Hildebrand on Sunday, but qualifying efforts from previous weekend merit jumping one spot forward. Will benefit from the return of Spencer Pigot heading to Belle Isle.

5. Dale Coyne Racing (+2)

Sebastien Bourdais’ qualifying crash may have further motivated the “Windy City Warriors” to achieve a result. Ed Jones had an outstanding showing to salvage third-place, while James Davison charged from last on the grid to contention before a collision with Oriol Servia extinguished the chance for an upset.

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+1)

Oriol Servia looked like a victory threat late, but never had the true pace required to get there. Multiple issues denied a realistic shot to win for Graham Rahal likewise. Both parties though get a redemption shot this week in Michigan.

7. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (-3)

How SPM did not feature upfront as several other Honda-powered squads did in the Indy 500 is puzzling. Late pileup aside, James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin were in also-ran category in both time trials and the race itself. Rankings judge is not happy either.

8. Harding Racing (Unranked)

New entity kept goals within range, stayed out of trouble, and managed to score a brilliant ninth-place at the Brickyard, via Colombian chauffeur Gabby Chaves. The team hopes to run again in 2017 and they have proven an excellent addition to the IndyCar club.

9. A.J. Foyt Racing (-1)

Drop in car potential made Carlos Munoz a non-factor throughout the month, while an over-zealous move by Conor Daly ended his Indy 500 earlier than planned. The hope for a turnaround has yet to manifest and may remain dormant for the rest of 2017.

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (-1)

Sage Karam could not capitalize on his impressive qualifying performance in the main course Sunday.  Electrical problems even before the start of the race derailed his efforts, eventually forcing retirement before the three-quarter mark.

Dropped Out: Juncos Racing (was No. 10 after IndyCar Grand Prix)

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (No Change)

Low-downforce plan of attack may have doomed the Kiwi and placed him in the position to suffer his wild ride. Stays number one as several of his fellow road course aces stumbled home on Sunday.

2. Helio Castroneves (+3)

Spider-Man fell short yet again in his quest for win number four, but can he ride the momentum wave into Detroit? If so, add him to the title contenders list alongside his three teammates.

3. Will Power (-1)

Team Penske speedster was making the most of a tough month and could have snagged a top-10 if not for getting swallowed up in late race mash-up in turn two. Opportunity knocks though this weekend in Detroit.

4. Simon Pagenaud (-1)

Great run in the IndyCar Grand Prix, followed by a clunker in the Indy 500. Immediate reversal is the expectation in the Wolverine State.

5. Ryan Hunter-Reay (+3)

RHR had another taste of the misfortune soup on Sunday, as an engine detonation ended his shot at his second facial appearance on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Despite this, he is still making progress upwards on the list.

6. Josef Newgarden (-2)

It was a rough first month of May with Team Penske for the Tennessee-native. Efforts in Motown will indicate his realistic or mirage-like outlook toward a title run.

7. Tony Kanaan (+3)

The first fuel run Sunday was the peak of TK’s 2017 Indy 500. A fifth-place was solid, but had to be a disappointment, considering the day lesser-experienced teammate Max Chilton enjoyed.

8. Alexander Rossi (+1)

Was an Indy 500 contender due to pace as opposed to strategy in last year’s improbable victory. Fueling gaffe prevented a more serious effort to defend his crown.

9. Takuma Sato (Unranked)

Recovered successfully from early adversity to score an incredible victory on Sunday, avenging painful defeat in 2012. Now can he revert his road course form back to the season-opener in St. Petersburg? If so, his stay on this tote board could be an extended one.

10. Ed Jones (Unranked)

Third-place finish earned even after suffering damage on two occasions Sunday, the latter possibly preventing a real shot at getting involved in Sato and Castroneves’ final duel. Curious to see how he fares being DCR’s new number one pilot, following Sebastien Bourdais’ devastating qualifying crash.

Dropped Out: Sebastien Bourdais (Was No. 6 after IndyCar GP), James Hinchcliffe (Was No. 7 after IndyCar GP).

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.