Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Fantasy Hot Tip: Pocono

The question surrounding players in the Firestone Fantasy Challenge looking ahead to the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway is simple – will the action at the 2.5-mile triangular layout play similar to what occurred this past May in the 101st Indianapolis 500? If it does, it may become a final opportunity for the Honda-powered teams to snatch a win away from the juggernaut known as Chevrolet and its key disciple: Team Penske.

Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing led the assault in qualifications and despite multiple Honda runners being eliminated in the race by either engine trouble or accidents, Takuma Sato outpaced Penske’s Helio Castroneves to take the win. If this is the scenario of choice, Honda should make up most of the four-driver roster this weekend. However, the Japanese aggressor might not be the best option.

Of course, if Pocono plays in step with the Texas 600 – a race marred by high attrition, Chevrolet may be able to level the playing field. There’s also the champinonship battle to watch, as Pennsylvania’s big oval may provide Sato and four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon their best shot to cut into the lead currently held by Josef Newgarden.

While I have included the Kiwi in my quartet for this Sunday’s action, let the buyer beware. Dixon took the checkered flag in the 2013 event and had top-ten placements in the following three races at the venue. Unfortunately, the Iceman failed to finish at both the Indianapolis 500 and the Texas 600 in 2017.

Based on the eye test, I had to include Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay this week. In my opinion, there has not been a consistently faster driver on the big ovals than the 36-year-old American. His only issue recently has been bad luck. RHR won at Pocono in 2015 and finished third here a season ago. However, he was removed from contention at the 2016 Indy 500 by a pit road incident, and in May, the engine concerns forced an early retirement. If the good vibes are in gear on Sunday, the No. 28 DHL Honda should be the rabbit in race trim.

Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi failed to finish last year in Pennsylvania; however, his win at Indy in 2016 and a strong run to seventh in May merit his inclusion.

As for the GM entries, there is one inclusion. The Brickyard showed that Ed Carpenter Racing was able to overcome a deficiency in top end grunt. Of course, taking a driver from that camp is not advised on road courses, but that view is squashed at Pocono. Usually, I would take the team owner Ed Carpenter in a heartbeat; but with the boss struggling to salvage results, I think it is time to get behind J.R. Hildebrand one more time. While the 2011 Indy 500 runner-up has never turned a wheel at the “Tricky Triangle,” his ability to make the checkered flag at 16th and Georgetown backs his selection.

After being fulfilled grandly in the first two high-speed oval rounds in 2017, the final course should be equally grand if not a bit better with championship considerations included.

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

Your Ultimate Verizon IndyCar Series Silly Season Guide

It always seems as if the landscape adjusts itself in the world of auto racing every single year and looking ahead to 2018, the Verizon IndyCar Series appears to be no different.

The bank opened during Mid-Ohio action last week when questions were raised about the future engine choice at Andretti Autosport. Team owner Michael Andretti admitted that talks between Chevrolet exist, but did not go further in detail. The situation at AA is iffy at best. While their relationship with Honda has netted them three Indianapolis 500 victories in the past four years, the four-car squad is low on funding. At this point, only two cars have secure sponsorships. DHL is paired with Ryan Hunter-Reay, while NAPA Auto Parts backs Alexander Rossi for a majority of the 17 events. Beyond that, support for the entries of Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato is sketchy.

While an infusion of money is always a plus in today’s cash happy state of the sport, there are consequences to such a move. While Marco Andretti and Hunter-Reay are secure for the foreseeable years ahead, the presence of Honda is part of the tie-in for both Sato and Rossi. If Chevy is the future course, one seat if not two suddenly become available.

Outside of Andretti, things elsewhere are also on the somewhat unstable ground. Here is a look at the potential scenarios.

 

TEAM PENSKE: Josef Newgarden (Probable), Simon Pagenaud (Probable), Will Power (Probable), Helio Castroneves (Indy 500 only, Probable), Juan Pablo Montoya (Indy 500 only, Probable)

No confirmations just yet on who will drive Penske’s IMSA program with Honda, but the pairing of Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya looks to be the ultimate climax at this point. With the Brazilian out of the picture, insider information suggests that the team will only enter three full-time entries for 2018, while still running five for the Indy 500, providing cars to both the Colombian and the popular veteran for as long as they wish.

 

CHIP GANASSI RACING: Scott Dixon (Probable), Max Chilton (Questionable), Charlie Kimball (Questionable), Tony Kanaan (Unlikely)

With NTT Data potentially scaling back its support for 2018, the severing of ties between Ganassi and Tony Kanaan may occur this off-season. Not only has the 2013 Indy 500 champion’s performance dropped off in 2017, but just managing to outpace Chilton and Kimball on a regular basis has also become a challenge.

With Dixon likely to continue, the question looms on the future for CGR’s third and fourth pilots. Chilton and his backing from Gallagher Investments have been linked to a potential new team under the direction of Trevor Carlin, with whom the Englishman drove for in the Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires circuit. With Novo Nordisk reportedly also peeling back a little on its support of Kimball, the American could join up with both Carlin and Chilton likewise.

If all these scenarios play out, Ganassi may scale back to three cars like his counterpart Penske likely will also. While options are few and far between at this point, keep in mind that Esteban Gutierrez is out there. The Mexican ex-Formula One chauffeur is bankrolled by Carlos Slim, whose Telcel brand sponsored Ganassi for several seasons in the former Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series. Could a possible rejoin be in play? Stay tuned.

 

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: Ryan Hunter-Reay (Probable), Marco Andretti (Probable), Alexander Rossi (Questionable), Takuma Sato (Questionable)

If the switch back to Chevrolet engines for 2018 is on, Takuma Sato is on the market looking ahead to the new season. Honda has provided backing to the reigning Indy 500 champion, dating back to his tenure in Formula One. The same story could also ring true for Alexander Rossi, who reportedly also enjoys some support from the manufacturer.

With both players out, Andretti could be forced to rely on financially backed drivers to fill the openings. Looking ahead to next year, only Ryan Hunter-Reay is fully sponsored via DHL. Marco Andretti has had a myriad of different names on his car in 2017, mainly forced by the collapse of original backer H-H Gregg.

Crazy rumors have hinted that the team might make a run at current McLaren F1 pilot Fernando Alonso for a full-time seat, but it would likely take a massive injection of money from GM to make that even within a breath of reality. Of course, no one expected the Spaniard to take a stab at this year’s Indy 500, so maybe, maybe not.

 

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING: Graham Rahal (Probable), ?? (Possible)

Bobby Rahal and his son Graham have desired to expand to two cars full-time and ironically the Andretti engine change might allocate that opportunity. If Sato is out of luck, Honda will be quick to offer any of its other teams a shot at the Japanese veteran and RLLR might just step up. While Rahal personally has shown a preference for having Oriol Servia as a teammate, the addition of Taku to the fold offers more money in the till looking ahead for this operation.

 

SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS: James Hinchcliffe (Probable), Mikhail Aleshin (Unlikely)

With Hinch possibly in the mix for a possible ride with Ganassi or even a return to his former home at Andretti, Schmidt may be forced to play a waiting game looking ahead to 2018. Though if the Canadian stays put, then the focus shifts to the team’s second seat. Financial issues with backer SMP crept up on Mikhail Aleshin again in 2017, forcing him to miss the action at Toronto.

Assuming the Russian is not part of the plans for 2018, Arrow Electronics could be called upon to sponsor both entries. If that is in the cards, Indy Lights veteran Santiago Urrutia, who is also supported by Arrow, could become a target. As could Sato and/or Alexander Rossi with additional backing from Honda being added to the deal.

 

DALE COYNE RACING: Sebastien Bourdais (Probable), Ed Jones (Questionable)

With Bourdais back in the saddle testing a Coyne entry following the Mid-Ohio race weekend, all signs point to the Frenchman continuing on with the Chicago-based operation in 2018. The concern shifts to Jones, who’s had a decent rookie season with the team, but will be without the scholarship money he had in hand after the Indy Lights title in 2016. With his Dubai connections, however, money to cover the expenses might not be too hard to come by. Of course, it could be tough to match the financials that Carlos Slim-supported pilot Esteban Gutierrez could provide.

If Coyne reverts back to the ride goes to the highest bidder philosophy, he carried before this year, then Jones might be looking elsewhere for employment in 2018.

 

ED CARPENTER RACING: Ed Carpenter (Ovals Only, Probable), Spencer Pigot (Road Courses Only, Possible), J.R. Hildebrand (Probable)

It’s been a tough year for the Speedway, Indiana club, that is if you discount their performance on oval tracks. Driving duties are not expected to change for 2018 unless Pigot heads elsewhere looking for full-time service.

 

HARDING RACING: Gabby Chaves (Probable)

The Indianapolis-based newcomers are expected to join the full-time roster next season with Gabby Chaves at the controls. No other changes are expected, but the team could require more funding to make their dream a reality.

 

A.J. FOYT RACING: Carlos Munoz (Possible), Conor Daly (Possible)

2017 has been a frustrating season for both Munoz and Daly, who each were expected to provide a boost to Super Tex’s fortunes. With neither placing better than seventh in any event to date, the question of whether either driver stays is unknown. If anyone bolts, the most likely would be the Colombian who just missed out on an Indy 500 victory in 2016. With no other options in play, the Indiana resident may stick with Foyt as they fully relocate its operations to the Indianapolis area.

If Munoz leaves, Tony Kanaan could become a target if he is dropped by Ganassi.

 

JUNCOS RACING: ???

Ricardo Juncos’ Indy Lights operation moved up to IndyCar competition to field two cars at this year’s Indianapolis 500. The ultimate goal is to run full-time with at least one car next season. If Spencer Pigot is looking for a full-time ride in 2018, Juncos could be his lone opportunity. The American prospect drove for the squad in 2015, the same year he won the Indy Lights title. Juncos’ other Indy 500 pilot Sebastian Saavedra could also be sought here. 

Question now is  where will 2017 Indy Lights title contender Kyle Kaiser fits in? The young gun was a candidate for the Indy 500 seat as well until the team settled on Pigot and Saavedra. However, if Kaiser does win the Lights championship, the one million dollar advancement bonus that goes with it could shift momentum into his corner.

 

CARLIN RACING: ???

After backing out from possibly taking over the now defunct KV Racing team last year, Trevor Carlin is believed to be exploring entering the circuit on his own in 2018. The key cog here is Max Chilton and possibly a second driver with some money in hand.

 

DREYER & REINBOLD RACING: Sage Karam (Indy 500 Only, Possible)

Unless things are dramatically altered, expect Dennis Reinbold to field an Indy 500 entry, possibly for Sage Karam or another driver in 2018.

 

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: Road America

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

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

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

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

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (Unchanged)

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

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (Unchanged)

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

3. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+1)

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

4. Andretti Autosport (-1)

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

5. Dale Coyne Racing (+1)

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

6. Schmidt Peterson Motorsport (-1)

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

7. Harding Racing (Unchanged)

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

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

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

9. Ed Carpenter Racing (-1)

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

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (=)

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

Driver Rankings

1. Scott Dixon (+1)

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

2. Josef Newgarden (+1)

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

3. Simon Pagenaud (+3)

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

4. Helio Castroneves (Unchanged)

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

5. Will Power (-4)

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

6. Graham Rahal (+1)

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

7. Takuma Sato (-2)

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

8. Alexander Rossi (Unchanged)

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

9. Ed Jones (Unranked)

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

10. Max Chilton (Unranked)

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

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

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

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: 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.