Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Sato Tops Mixed Day For Andretti Squad

In a plot that almost played out exactly like last year’s Indianapolis 500, Andretti Autosport has secured their second-straight win.

The team’s No. 26 entry, which finished second last year with Carlos Munoz at the controls, was able to grab the brass ring on Sunday as Takuma Sato held off a furious charge by Helio Castroneves to cross the finish line first.

“Unbelievable feeling. I cannot thank this whole team (enough),” said Sato in victory circle.

Beginning his quest for glory from the fourth position on the starting grid, the former Formula One veteran ran with his teammates upfront through the first 200 miles, only to drop back near the halfway point following a slow pit stop. Almost out of the top twenty, the Japanese veteran rejoined the fight during the final forty laps, eventually jumping to second place on lap 180.

When Castroneves was finally able to get past a persistent Max Chilton for the lead seven laps from the conclusion, Sato quickly jumped back to the runner-up position and then overtook the Brazilian with four laps to go. The three-time Indy 500 champion would take a final shot at Sato on the penultimate circuit in turn one, but came up short.

Even as triumph was close to reality the aggressive veteran was not taking success for granted.

“You really didn’t know (until the end),” said Sato. “Me and Helio went side-by-side (late in the race). You’ve got to go for it, and we did.”

The win for Sato is his second in Verizon IndyCar Series competition, ending a four-year run without a trip to victory lane.  His last triumph was at the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The performance also avenges a heartbreaking defeat suffered in the 2012 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, when Sato showed the way for most of the event’s second half before a lastlap pass for the win against Dario Franchitti resulted in contact with the turn one SAFER barrier.

His boss Michael Andretti also voiced his approval on his recruit’s showing.

“(Takuma) is awesome!” said Andretti afterwards. “We work really, really hard (on the Indy 500). (The team) got this win as well as Takuma.”

For the rest of the Andretti operation, Sunday was a day of missed opportunities. Defending race winner Alexander Rossi was among the top-three for the opening 130 laps, before a problem with fueling the car on his next-to-last pit stop dropped him to the back of the pack. Despite a major surge in the late stages, the NAPA Auto Parts Honda driver came home in seventh.

“Two years in a row to have fuel problems is pretty tough to swallow,” Rossi admitted following Sunday’s race. “Obviously, it worked last year, but you can’t rely on not fueling the car and getting results.”

Rossi was not alone in his pacesetting duties on Sunday, as two teammates contributed to the early control at the point. For the second straight year, Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared set to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The DHL Honda chauffeur climbed from tenth to first in just under eighty laps, looking to have the only car capable of breaking free from the main pack. However, scenarios out of his control would deny him once again. On Lap 140, the 2014 Indy victor pulled onto the turn three warm-up lane, with smoke trailing from his machine. Reliability concerns attached to the Honda engines in the days before the green flag proved correct as the veteran was tagged with a 27th-place result.

“It’s frustrating to end your day like that, especially when you have a good car like that,” Hunter-Reay relented after dropping out. “It’s two years in a row that Andretti Autosport has given me a car to win this race, and it’s two years in a row that circumstances outside our control have taken us out. ”

Malfunctioning power plants would also ruin an outstanding debut from ex-World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso. Showing a willingness to complete passes on the outside, the Spaniard was able to quiet any skeptics by running among the frontrunners, until becoming a victim of both iffy pit work and bad luck. The slow stop under caution mired the newcomer in traffic, where a low downforce strategy curbed his early muscle. Eventually the No. 29 Honda ground to a halt twenty laps from the full distance in  24th-place.

“It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500,” said Alonso. “One lap you put on the lead there, it was already a nice feeling. I was passing, watching the tower, saw the 29 on top of it.”

While the Andretti curse was not to blame for his shortcomings on Sunday, Marco Andretti failed to make a significant impact from beginning to end and settled for eighth.

“We definitely missed on it,” the younger Andretti explained. “I had a pretty lucky day; I got through some big wrecks. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the car (to challenge for the win).”

Jack Harvey’s first foray at the Brickyard came to a halt just before the 70-lap mark as he was collected in Conor Daly’s turn three crash and placed 31st.

“There was a whole bunch of debris on the track – I hit some of it and the car spun,” said Harvey. “Everyone is trying to slow down so quickly and trying to then dodge the debris. I was slowing down and trying to avoid everything, so I don’t know what else I could have done at that point.”

Using the strength in numbers plan successfully, Andretti leaves the corner of 16th and Georgetown with another assortment of stories but reached its goal: putting another visage from their team on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

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

EMBURY: Career Days For Chilton, Jones In 101st Indianapolis 500

Every so often the Indianapolis 500 produces a day to remember for one or more drivers who have yet to make an impact on the Verizon IndyCar Series trail.

In a race marred by ten caution flags and only 19 cars running at the conclusion, Dale Coyne Racing newcomer Ed Jones and Chip Ganassi sophomore Max Chilton were each within range at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of putting on the winner’s wreath and taking a sip of milk.

Jones’ Sunday output at the Brickyard was the continuation of a brilliant IndyCar Series debut year after earning a full-time ride following a championship-clinching effort in the Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires series a year ago. The Dubai-based pilot overcame early adversity to secure a third-place finish.

“It was a great race for us,” said Jones following the checkered flag. “The race was so up and down for us. Solid start. We were running in the top 10, 11, for most of the first half.”

Then came the potential roadblock. While trying to avoid Scott Dixon and Jay Howard’s massive accident on Lap 52, the Boy Scouts of America Honda pilot suffered damage, forcing his pit crew to replace the entire rear-wing assembly. Seemingly out of contention entering the second phase of the event, the DCR team used a clever strategy call to flip the order in their favor.

“We actually pitted right before (the eighth caution flag), so it put us near the front,” explained Jones. “I actually damaged my front wing (in the latter stages), had a big hole in it. My legs got pretty cold, to be honest. I had wind blowing into them like crazy. Also created a lot of drag.”

The one thing that saved the effort despite the new personal demon was the Honda power behind him. Even with fellow runners suffering from reliability woes late on Sunday, the rookie was able to avoid the same maladies to secure the podium performance. The result represents the third top-ten in 2017 for Jones, vaulting him to ninth on the current IndyCar points table.

For Chilton, he took on the role of potential winner at CGR that before the battle began seem destined for his Indy 500-winning teammates Dixon and Tony Kanaan. With the Iceman wrecked and TK unable to take the lead at any point during the 200 laps, a similar plan B tact taken by his former Indy Lights co-pilot at Carlin Racing. The decision suddenly propelled the second-year Indy starter into the conversation.

Taking advantage of the same caution flag that Jones utilized, the Gallagher Investments Honda chauffeur turned an improbable 40-lap fuel stint; into a pathway to the finish without a late-race splash for gas.

Thrust into the number one position for the next 30 laps, Chiton’s stay on top of the scoring pylon finally came to a halt, just seven laps from the end when three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves overtook him. Losing out also to eventual race winner Takuma Sato and Jones, the ex-Midland F1 team member settled for fourth at the conclusion.

“You don’t win this race without luck,” admitted Chilton. “I led (several) laps today, once my car was in front I was so unstoppable. But you don’t want to be leading with five or six laps to go because they can draft past (as Castroneves) did.”

The outcome is the best outing in 22 efforts for the 26-year old, improving on a seventh-place score earlier this month in the IndyCar Grand Prix.

While most spectators may forget their achievements on this day, the showings by both Jones and Chilton prove the Indianapolis 500 has a become a race capable of putting an unknown name into the spotlight.

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
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

EMBURY: Indianapolis 500 Advancement On The Line?

Remember the original edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Now recall when meek Charlie Bucket realizes he has found the last golden ticket.

Yours truly is not going to sing and dance a-la Charlie and Grandpa Joe, yet a lot is on the table for whoever takes the checkered flag first in Friday’s Freedom 100. The pinnacle event on the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship has often opened the window of opportunity to a future shot at the Indianapolis 500.

Nowhere was this proven more so than in the inaugural running of the support race in 2003. Starting from pole position, Indianapolis’s own Ed Carpenter led all but one of the event’s forty laps to take the historic triumph. Duesenberg Brothers Racing’s Jeff Simmons charged late to finish second, while Panther Racing’s Mark Taylor came home in third

Although no one could have predicted it at the time, but all three podium drivers would take three of the 33 spots in the 2004 Indy 500. A collision between Carpenter and Taylor at the 200-mile mark ultimately allowed Simmons to earn the best result of the trio in that edition, placing 11th.

In fact, each of the first five winners of the sprint race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway eventually qualified for the big dance, with the most notable being Wade Cunningham, the only competitor to date to win the Freedom 100 more than once.

Including Carpenter, three other P1 catchers will be on the main straightaway waiting for Mari Hulman George’s command to start engines. Josef Newgarden comes into Sunday’s race after earning third-place in 2016. Gabby Chaves used his 2014 100-mile race success, to snag Rookie of the Race honors in the Indy 500 two years ago. And after winning the Indy Lights’ big race in 2015, Jack Harvey makes his debut in the Memorial Day battle on May 28th.

So who could join these graduates in 2017? While defending champion Dean Stoneman was unsuccessful in taking a ride for the Indy 500 this month, there is another driver who was also in the running for a spot that could be the favorite to win the 2017 Freedom 100.

Following the announcement of Juncos Racing’s participation in this year’s race, it was believed that their Indy Lights regular Kyle Kaiser would be one of the chauffeurs. The 21-year old from California placed third on last year’s points table with two wins. 2017 has continued the wave of momentum for the prospect; he enters Friday’s event as the championship leader and is the most recent winner taking the second leg of the Liberty Challenge on the  Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. With Ricardo Juncos attempting to promote his team to the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time in 2018, the Freedom 100 could be the boost required to earn the title and the bump up funding a ride next season.

Nico Jamin and Colton Herta are also possibilities from the Andretti Autosport junior squad. Both enter Friday on the heels of Kaiser with each taking a pair of victories in 2017. The French-based Jamin  has been a winning machine, earning successes in IMSA Prototype Challenge and Pirelli World Challenge action this year as well. Herta would join a long line of sons following their fathers into the Indy 500. Colton’s dad Bryan scored two top-fives at the Brickyard, and has won the big one twice as an owner.

Regardless of who joins the victory list on Friday, the chances are good that someone could fire it up against the big guys in the future.

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

FANTASY HOT TIP: Indianapolis 500

As the Verizon IndyCar Series is primed for its cornerstone event the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented By PennGrade Motor Oil, the Firestone Fantasy Challenge has gone super-sized.

The race budget has jumped from the standard one hundred dollars to five hundred bucks and instead of drafting only four drivers, one must take a colossal ten for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

While going for the superstar caliber pilots would make the most sense, the values for all drivers has increased likewise. For example, Verizon P1 Award winner Scott Dixon costs 75 dollars to play, while Buddy Lazier is among the least expensive options at only twenty bucks. Looking ahead to how Sunday’s race could play out, the 2015 edition is primarily influencing my selection pattern. On that afternoon, Chevrolet-powered cars had the advantage, and the Hondas failed to get among them. My gut tells me the 2017 running at the Brickyard will see a complete reversal of fortune.

To the above concern, I have totaled ignored the five bow-tie backed cars from Team Penske. I know Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Josef Newgarden each have impressive resumes at Indy. However, driving ability is negated if the car beneath one is not at an equal level. So far this month of May, the Captain’s vehicles have not been up to snuff.

Now I have not entirely abandoned the GM camp. Three chefs-de-race were worth drafting against the seven Honda chauffeurs yours truly completed his ten-man squad with. Two come from perhaps the strongest team in the 15-car Chevy roster: Ed Carpenter Racing. The team boss may draw the biggest cheers from the 250,000 strong crowd, and that may motivate a result out of the 36-year old hometown hero. Equally strong is his secondin-command J.R. Hildebrand. The Californian had a great effort at Phoenix last month and has hovered around the top-ten often at IMS. With Chevrolet possibly at a power shortage on the long straightaways, it may take bravery to mix it with the Hondas. One guy that meets that qualification is ex-high school wrestler Sage Karam. The Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has a reputation of overly reckless steering, but such a tactic could be a requirement.

Now onto the meat in my foot-long sandwich. I feel are three drivers who are the favorites entering race day. One is the Iceman mentioned above in Scott Dixon, the second is his partner-in-crime Tony Kanaan, and the third is the rabbit in last year’s event Ryan Hunter-Reay. With all three car-wranglers in the first four rows, none should have any issues getting to the point early. Using the same throw caution to the wind tag mentioned above with Karam, I am taking a chance on Takuma Sato. The Japanese driver has had trouble making the finish; however, he could be more willing to hold his fire with a stronger car and a better grid position.

A big pickup in time trials Sunday encouraged me to snap up Oriol Servia, a solid veteran who placed fourth in 2012. Spots nine and ten will be taken by two impressive rookies. Defending Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion Ed Jones takes one, while the aura of former World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso takes the final place. The Spaniard is having the kind of month that Nigel Mansell had in 1993 when he came within 15 laps of winning. He and his McLaren-Andretti Honda team have exceeded all expectations this month and should continue the trend to the point where a place on the train has my name on it.

Indeed one super team is missing in action, however as witnessed by my roster, two megagroups will fill the vacancy without issue.

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

EMBURY: Pace Predictions Exceeded On Wild Pole Day

In what will be the final month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Dallara DW12 chassis in its present form, Sunday’s Pole Day for the 101st Indianapolis 500 saw many unique moments.

From all-out pace to white-knuckle moments near the SAFER barriers, several notable occurrences were laid down in both the consolation phase and the Firestone Fast Nine that followed. Among them were bizarre speed postings.

In the battle for the tenth position, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay recovered from a discouraging effort on Saturday to post at the time, the fastest four-lap attempt since Helio Castroneves’ 231.725 MPH output in 2003. With no one showing the ability to reach the high 231 range, the 2014 Indy 500 champion displayed the potential to be the first fast qualifier not to win the pole since Kenny Brack did so in 2005.

Although the sight was outstanding, the nine finalists for the Verizon P1 Award had many aces yet to put down. Defending Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi bested his Andretti teammate with a run just under 231.5 MPH. While the NAPA Auto Parts Honda pilot was stout, even the second-year IndyCar star had to do at least a double take when Chip Ganassi Racing entrant Scott Dixon took to the 2.5-mile oval.

Despite facing ever-increasing track temperatures and wind gusts, the Iceman managed to break into realms that had not even been considered for two decades. The two-time Indy pole-sitter ripped off an opening stanza at an unbelievable 232.595 MPH, the fastest single pass since 1996. He even pulled off three encore laps to average 232.164 MPH, also unheard of numbers dating back two decades. With the New Zealander all but assured his third $100,000 pole-winning payout, Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato and owner-driver Ed Carpenter took their shots.

While both performers put up one 232 MPH lap, neither could maintain the close margins that the Kiwi did. Still, with 2017 time trials at the Brickyard concluded, here are some notable facts from this remarkable day.

-The front row of Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, and Alexander Rossi is the second-fastest front row in race history. Only the 1996 qualified top-three of Scott Brayton, Tony Stewart, and Davy Jones was faster (Brayton was tragically killed in a practice a week after Pole Day, and Stewart started from P1 on race day).

-Dixon’s 232.164 MPH pole time is the third-fastest top spot earning run in history. Only Roberto Guerrero in 1992 (232.482) and Scott Brayton in 1996 (233.718) were quicker.

-Six of the 33 starters for the 101st edition of this event posted a four-lap run over 231 MPH, that is the most since the edition mentioned above when nine drivers eclipsed this barrier.

-Fifteen qualifiers posted 230 MPH averages, while four others also ran at least one lap over 230 on Pole Day, both are month of May records.

-Dixon’s P1 effort also puts him second behind Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves among active Indy 500 drivers in total top starting spots claimed. The Brazilian has four, while Rick Mears leads the list all-time with six.

-With the tremendous speed explosion, the outer walls managed to snatch multiple drivers on Sunday. Despite the warning shot fired followed Sebastien Bourdais’ massive shunt in turn two during pre-qualifying, at least seven hit or brushed the barriers on Sunday, yet all were able to complete their attempts in full.

Following Sunday’s closest surge to Arie Luyendyk’s track record runs, the anticipation toward 2018 and the new car designs may be at an all-time summit.

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

EMBURY: Silver Lining From Recent Pole Day Washouts

Although qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 was delayed due to rain and thunderstorms activity, one should not immediately view this as a doom and gloom situation.

In reality, some of the most unpredictable battles for the pole position at the Brickyard have occurred in years where rain has interrupted the proceedings.

The most recent wipeout scenario took place two years ago. After inclement weather shut down action after only two drivers had made attempts on Saturday, Scott Dixon took over late on Sunday afternoon to score his second Indianapolis 500 pole position. Despite the advantage in horsepower shown by Chevrolet in 2015, the stoppage benefited Andretti Autosport’s Justin Wilson as he surprised most by qualifying sixth, the best among the Japanese manufacturer’s entrants.

2006 qualifying action was pushed back an entire week as rain prevented on-track activity. The delay gave a chance for several one-off teams to qualify higher than they could have done otherwise. Up front, the biggest beneficiaries were Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing. With Honda supplying engines for all 33 cars in the field, Roger Penske was able to find other ways to gain an edge. One route was introducing a more aerodynamic side mirror mount. Once time trials began, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Helio Castroneves were unchallenged, taking the top two spots on the front row. The former IndyCar and NASCAR veteran from Defiance, Ohio, qualified nearly a full mile per hour faster than the rest of the grid, posting a 228.9 MPH average. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon would take the next two positions.

2005 Pole Day was moved to Sunday of week one. Expectations soared in the morning as rookie Danica Patrick posted the fastest lap of the early preparation at 229.880 MPH. Unfortunately, Patrick could not back the effort up, as she got loose in turn one on her opening qualifying lap. The mistake relegated her to the fourth starting position on race day. With “Danica-Mania” temporarily on hiatus, another Brickyard fan favorite stepped forward. Going out early in the initial order, Tony Kanaan fired off four consistent at over 227 MPH to take his first and only Indy 500 pole award to date. Sam Hornish, Jr. rebounded from a poor first try to claim second, while Scott Sharp also took advantage of an early draw to complete the front row.

2003 was one of the messiest Pole Days ever. Adverse conditions engulfed the Indianapolis area following the morning practice, even causing the announcement of two Tornado Warnings from the National Weather Service. Although the rain exited the 2.5mile oval a day later, track conditions were still treacherous with gusty winds a common foe. Andretti Autosport teammates Tony Kanaan and Robby Gordon ran the best four-lap averages early in the qualifying period, only to be ousted late by an incredible performance from Helio Castroneves. Braving the below average weather, the Brazilian posted an amazing 231.725 MPH speed to snatch his first of four pole position earned at the Speedway. Only Rick Mears has more in the Indy 500 with six.

So, as you can see the saying, “The best things come to those who wait,” could very apply to the action in store this 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.

 

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Surprises Among Firestone Fast Nine Advancees

In a day preceded by thunderstorms, Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway produced several surprises.

For instance, all three members of last year’s Indianapolis 500 front row, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, failed to make the Firestone Fast Nine. Four-time pole winner Helio Castroneves was also not fast enough. In their place, was a plethora of Honda-powered entries and some unexpected Chevrolets.

Regaining the form he showed in winning Indy 500 pole awards in 2013 and 2014, Indianapolis-native Ed Carpenter topped the pole shootout list with an impressive four-lap average of 230468 MPH. The local hero will be joined in the final qualifying round by teammate J.R. Hildebrand, who also posted a strong 230 plus effort.

Amazingly, despite entering five cars this month, Team Penske will feature only one entrant in Sunday’s showdown. Will Power, who was the only member of the Captain’s quintet to post a 230 MPH lap this week without a draft, backed up the early returns to make the cut. The rest though, faded, as conditions changed. Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud only managed a 228, as did Josef Newgarden. Juan Pablo Montoya was likewise stuck at 228, while Castroneves’ 229.3 MPH run also was not among the fast nine.

Beyond ECR, the other big winners Saturday were Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.

Two-thirds of the way through the original order, Ganassi had four cars in the final phase. Despite Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball getting bumped, the team has two excellent shots at the top spot in veterans Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon, who have earned a combined three poles at the Brickyard.

Meanwhile, Andretti Autosport stands at an equal level of opportunity with former Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso leading the charge. The Spanish newcomer to IndyCar racing will be joined by reigning Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato, and Marco Andretti, who secured the final spot to advance to the Firestone Fast Nine.

Unfortunately, the shootout will be missing one notable driver as Sebastien Bourdais suffered a serious accident in turn two during his attempt. After running two laps above 231 MPH, the Frenchman made heavy contact with the SAFER barrier sending his Dale Coyne Racing Honda into a flip before coming to a stop right side up. The veteran was transferred to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis where he was awake and alert.

The surprises were not limited to the nine finalists. On a layout where an early draw is viewed as an advantage, the late runners vaulted forward as Saturday’s action went beyond the usual 6 p.m. track closing to allow everyone a chance to perform. Also with only a limited number of drivers taking the track during the Saturday morning warm-up, many competitors were forced to take to the circuit and run at their maximum for the first time in about 24 hours, placing an even greater set of unknowns to the common stack during time trials weekend.

With many curveballs thrown on Saturday, expect more of them to come on Sunday.

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
Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY: Indianapolis 500 Grid-a-tology, Final Edition

The purpose of Indianapolis 500 Grid-a-tology is to give an idea on who’s trending upward in the battle for being Firestone Fast Nine eligible. 

Fast Friday is now in the record books, and changes in the final field projection are rampant. Among those trending upward, Ed Carpenter Racing appears to be regaining the form shown during back-to-back pole position efforts in 2013 and 2014. Entering the opening week of practice, J.R. Hildebrand seemed to be the biggest threat; however, team boss Ed Carpenter was regularly the fastest in laps completed without a draft before the increase in speeds on Friday.

Another team that has unexpectedly made a jump into the conversation is Dale Coyne Racing – the same squad who claimed last month that they could not challenge for high finishes. Fast forward to Friday and out of nowhere, Sebastien Bourdais fired off a draft-aided run over 233 MPH and backed it up with an assist-free lap over 231 MPH. While making the Firestone Fast Nine is still a tall order, the Frenchman at least has flashed what it would take to get there.

As for the rest of the contenders, Penske and Ganassi are still well within range of position number one, while any of the six-member Andretti Autosport club can get there likewise. Meanwhile, the pole position title defense for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is entering long-shot status.

FRONT ROW

Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing: Consistent pace from both the New Zealander and Tony Kanaan have solidified the Iceman’s spot on the top line. If the weather does limit action to a Sunday-only affair, it just makes the odds that much more favorable.

Helio Castroneves, Team Penske: Four Indy 500 poles are on his resume, but it has been seven years since Spider Man’s last hurrah. May represent the Captain’s best chance following Newgarden’s accident on Thursday.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport: Honda has the pace to give RHR an edge over most of the Chevrolet runners, but that may not be enough to catch Dixon for first.

ROW 2

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske: Getting used to the spare car was why the Tennessee-native did not make an impact on Fast Friday. Should still find himself somewhere on the first three rows on Sunday.

Will Power, Team Penske: The Aussie has been able to transfer strength in road course time trials to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Do not overlook that reality.

Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing: Qualifying in the first two rows was the standard form for TK early in his Indy 500 career, but not so much over past few editions. Second-fastest clean lap posting Friday entices me to say a return to the previous outputs is in order.

ROW 3

Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing: Two-time pole award earner has quickly climbed the grid based on high placing on draft-free speed charts before Fast Friday. Still, he needs to show more to be a real pole position challenger but should get to the shootout.

Alexander Rossi, Andretti Herta Autosport: If only he had gotten a second run in pre-qualifying last year. Year two should offer a friendlier result.

Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske: The 2016 series champion could face stiff opposition to make shootout if Honda continues to outperform GM-powered cars.

ROW 4

James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Last year’s pole winner has suddenly gotten lost in the shuffle. Will be a battle to reach the final session this time around.

Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing: The comments previously made by Craig Hampson, seem like a smokescreen after what the former Champ Car World Series champion put on the board Friday. Will be hard pressed to back that up when it counts, however.

J.R. Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing: Can join his boss in the top-nine, but the number of real threats to get there is getting bigger too.

ROW 5:

Fernando Alonso, Andretti Autosport: Has quietly gone about his business this week and was in the 230 MPH club without a draft on Friday. If luck shines on him, he could maybe get into the shootout conversation.

Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport: Is starting to fall behind his teammates regarding getting to the Firestone Fast Nine. This list now includes Alonso.

Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: The Russian continues to stay in the top half of the speed list, but a big boost is necessary to get a realistic look at making the first three rows as he managed in 2016.

 

ROW 6:

Takuma Sato, Andretti Autosport: After starting impressively at St. Petersburg, the near- 2012 Indy 500 upset winner returns to familiar territory from when he was with A.J. Foyt Racing. Does not appear able to take advantage of a good car for qualifications.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske: Time trials has been kryptonite for the Colombian, he has been worst among the Captain’s runners each of the past three years.

Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Servia has been the better of the two RLLR entrants this past week. Nothing on Friday indicates a reversal is in prospect.

ROW 7

Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing: Three top-ten finishes at the Indy 500, but has yet to make an impact in qualifying mode. Should top Chilton to be third in CGR stable, but not much more than that.

Sage Karam, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: DRR’s focus has been more on the race than time trials; 2017 should be no different.

Carlos Munoz, A.J. Foyt Racing: The aggressive veteran does not have the resources to threaten the top nine as he did with Andretti. Dramatic turnaround required before Munoz improves his placing.

ROW 8

Ed Jones, Dale Coyne Racing: Issues with car and weather prevented the Dubai-resident from testing out qualifying setup on Friday. He could still get near Bourdais at the close of Sunday action, but it will be a more difficult ask.

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Qualified seventh in his first try with the family-based organization, but has been nowhere near that zip code in the years since.

Max Chilton, Chip Ganassi Racing: Interesting to see how the Englishman fares this month after a Pole Day crash last year derailed the effort. Could see a surprise jump.

ROW 9

Jay Howard, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Has shaken off some of the rust formed by six years of IndyCar inactivity; however, qualifying is a bigger pressure cooker than the run up to it.

Pippa Mann, Dale Coyne Racing: Made history by becoming the first woman to post a lap over 230 MPH at the Brickyard on Friday. Could surprise several this weekend.

Conor Daly, A.J. Foyt Racing: Topped Gateway speed chart, but may have only done so as pace may not have been the concern for most of his rivals.

ROW 10

Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing: The Colombian was third-fastest earlier this week, but has steadily dropped down the charts.

Zach Veach, A.J. Foyt Racing: Has been in step with both of his A.J. Foyt Racing teammates this week, but mainly because all three have lacked speed.

Jack Harvey, Andretti Autosport: English rookie has yet to show the pace of his five teammates. Challenge now is to avoid losing out to a majority of the other one-off entries.

ROW 11

Sebastian Saavedra, Juncos Racing: Pace for the Colombian has been lacking so far in practice. Not expected to make a significant impact in qualifications.

Spencer Pigot, Juncos Racing: Friday accident puts the sophomore behind the eight-ball looking ahead to this weekend. Avoiding the back row is now the chief concern.

Buddy Lazier, Lazier Partners Racing: Playing catch-up after taking his first laps this month on Friday. Avoiding 33rd on the starting grid would be a personal victory for the 1996 Indy 500 winner and the team.

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 Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: IndyCar GP

Indycar_Power_Rankings_logo

Throughout 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.

Simon Pagenaud posted a top-five at the Brickyard last weekend, to go alongside his win last month in Phoenix. However, it was Team Penske teammate Will Power who dominated the proceedings to earn his second IndyCar Grand Prix victory.

Andretti Autosport showed signs of life ahead of the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi posting top-ten efforts in the GP. So where does this leave things ahead of the big show? Read on to find out.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Good stuff from Power, Pagenaud, and Helio Castroneves last weekend, but not so much concerning Josef Newgarden or Juan Pablo Montoya. Multiple speeding penalties ruined Newgarden’s performance, while growing pains with the new fifth entry held back Montoya.    

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (No Change)

Scott Dixon drove a flawless race, but still placed second behind Power. If Honda is indeed the engine to have on the 2.5mile oval as opposed to the road course, another sterling run in the Indy 500 and a second facial appearance on the Borg-Warner Trophy could be in order. Breakthrough effort from Max Chilton draws a little attention, at least more than what Tony Kanaan or Charlie Kimball could muster.

3. Andretti Autosport (+2)

OK, we are back in business. Ryan Hunter-Reay surged late to grab third-place at the checkered flag, and Alexander Rossi begins his Indy 500 title defense with a top-ten. Not great, but not bad. Early collision with TK kept Marco Andretti out of the mix, while Takuma Sato had too much to do from the last starting position, but did come home in 12th. Momentum is trending upward for the first time in weeks.

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (-1)

The IndyCar Grand Prix was a throwaway race for both James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin. Hinch placed 13th and the Russian took 18th. If Fast Friday is indeed a washout as weather forecasters currently believe, it could be tough to project their actual placing looking ahead to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing

5. Ed Carpenter Racing (+1)

Too bad Spencer Pigot is not in the plans for ECR at the big one. The 2015 Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion, drove his way to ninth-place in the IndyCar GP, a run that could have been much improved if an early stalling on the pit lane had been avoided. Not much from J.R. Hildebrand last weekend, but it is evident the Californian did not come to IMS for the road course event. Hopefully, the same focus is present from the team boss too.

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+1)

Graham Rahal has the IndyCar GP figured out. Three straight top-ten finishes attest to that statement. Conquering the Indy 500 is another story. I still think Oriol Servia is the key to grabbing something nice in the big dance.

7. Dale Coyne Racing (-3)

If DCR’s best chance to get something from the month of May was the IndyCar Grand Prix, they might leave the Indianapolis Motor Speedway empty-handed. An early retirement from Sebastien Bourdais and nothing special from Ed Jones last weekend. The news can’t be much better if you are a Pippa Mann-supporter at this junction.

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

The first half of the IndyCar GP was friendly to Conor Daly, but the second half was downright nasty. A 17th-place represents another bitter pill to swallow for the Hoosier State star. Carlos Munoz was also invisible last weekend.

9. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (No Change)

The combination of DRR and Sage Karam can cut it against the big boys. 31st to ninth in 2014 and a brief surge into the top-ten last year justifies their placement as the group most likely to rattle the full-timers club this month.

10. Juncos Racing (Unranked)

The presence of Pigot, plus a determined Sebastian Saavedra is enough to move Juncos onto the list over Harding Racing and their pilot Gabby Chaves.

Dropped Out: Harding Racing (was No. 10 after Phoenix)

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (No Change)

Five for five concerning top-tens and not Arby’s roast beef sandwiches. If he is not the favorite for the 101st Indy 500, something is off.

2. Will Power (+2)

Two good results and the train is back on track. Nearly won the big show in 2015 and should be in contention on Memorial Day weekend.

3. Simon Pagenaud (+2)

The Frenchman has avoided the No. 1 jinx so far. A win in two weeks, and placement at the top of the pyramid could be in order.

4. Josef Newgarden (-2)

Somehow, the Grand Prix of Alabama champion managed to get three pit road speeding tickets in one sitting Saturday. If he was clearing out the bad luck cabinet in advance of the Indy 500, it should be empty by now.

5. Helio Castroneves (+2)

A bad strategy call denied the Brazilian a well-deserved second-place on Saturday. Another near-miss at the Indy 500 will motivate the three-time champion to become a four-time winner even more.

6. Sebastien Bourdais (-3)

If Dale Coyne Racing has something up their sleeve for May 28th, an early teaser on the qualifying weekend would be a suggestion.

7. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

Hinch wrote a great comeback story by taking the pole position last year. A repeat showing will be tough to come by in 2017.

8. Ryan Hunter-Reay (Unranked)

RHR appears to have a bee, or a full hive to be exact, in his basket this month of May at IMS. Third-place in the IndyCar GP should threaten to top that output in two weeks.

9. Alexander Rossi (No Change)

Rossi made the top-ten last weekend, but a fall from contention in the second half leaves some unanswered questions.

10. Tony Kanaan (-2)

TK’s IndyCar GP effort was trashed on lap one for the second straight year. Will at least contend for a top-five finish in two weeks time.

Dropped Out: J.R. Hildebrand (Was No. 10 after Phoenix)

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
Commentary Open Wheel

Indy One-Off Entries Pose Threat

In years past, it was typical for a competitor who raced in just the Indianapolis 500 to be able to challenge the full-time regulars.

Although the practice is few and far between recently, the Brickyard has witnessed a few drivers who have shown the potential to make the favorites sweat. While current Formula One regular Fernando Alonso has garnered most of the attention, there are others who appear capable of rattling the cages on race day.

One of them could be Sage Karam, who is looking to return to full-time status in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Last year, in a one-race deal with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, the Pennsylvanian had moved into the top-ten before contact with Townsend Bell put him into the turn one wall. Two years earlier as a rookie, Karam and DRR also joined forces to move from 31st to ninth at the finish. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veteran Kurt Busch won Rookie of the Race honors in 2014; however, many experts felt Karam was also worth a look for the award.

Sebastian Saavedra is also trying to reclaim a spot on the IndyCar circuit. The Colombian is competing for Juncos Racing this month, a regular fixture in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship. The Speedway, Indiana-based operation is looking to move up to IndyCar action full-time next year. A good result could add Saavedra to Ricardo Juncos’ list of potential pilots, maybe alongside Spencer Pigot, who will drive a second car for the Argentinian this month.

Unfortunately, Karam and Saavedra each have a reputation for overaggressive driving in the past. Both have been eliminated in a pair of Indy 500s due to accidents, and controlling the urge will be crucial for success.

This then leads us to the two drivers with F1 experience, Alonso and two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya. The Spaniard proved a quick study during a private at IMS on May 3 and could show legitimacy from the opening of practice. However, he faces the same set of unknowns that others have tackled, perhaps none better than Nigel Mansell, who came within 15 laps of winning in 1993 only to settle for third-place at the conclusion.

Montoya has proven effective at both ends of the grid. As a first-time competitor in 2000, he started second and led 167 laps to become the first newcomer to win the Indy 500 since Graham Hill in 1966. In 2015, he recovered from early contact with Simona de Silvestro to earn his second Indy win. However, the charges through the field are not always immune from trouble. Last year, Montoya crashed in turn two and wound up 33rd.

The table is stacked against these four men and the other one and done Indy 500 entrants; however, all it takes is a strong performance coupled with a little luck and just maybe one could add their face to the Borg-Warner Trophy.

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.