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IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Long Beach

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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.

Following James Hinchcliffe’s win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, there are noticeable ranking changes. It is time to say adios to Team Penske’s Will Power at number two, following a second bad finish. It is also farewell to Scott Dixon’s placement on top of the rankings after St. Petersburg last month.

Rarely has a power rankings list ever placed a Dale Coyne Racing pilot on top, but there is a first for everything.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (+1)

The efforts from both Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud are just enough to keep them ahead of an ever-improving Dale Coyne Racing. However, the inability for Helio Castroneves to back up his pace from qualifying, coupled with a second consecutive bad finish from Will Power, means the storyline is far from flawless.

2. Dale Coyne Racing (+2)

Bourdais now has two podiums to open his second foray with DCR, and Ed Jones managed to earn a top ten result after fading in the second half of last month’s season opener. Alabama should continue the trend upward; however, Phoenix remains the final exam in terms of whether this team permanently cements itself as a regular front runner.

3. Chip Ganassi Racing (-2)

Scott Dixon continues to provide the good vibes for Ganassi, but problems rest with the remainder of CGR’s foursome. Kanaan and Chilton were relatively quiet on Sunday, and Kimball suffered from another early race incident. Remember, one driver carrying a team is not always enough concerning their ranking.

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

Hinchcliffe was handcuffed by the full course caution at St. Pete. So essentially, he picked right off from that point and came away with a victory at Long Beach. Can’t quite move them ahead of Ganassi based on Mikhail Aleshin’s 12th-place finish though.

5. Andretti Autosport (-2)

Sunday was painful for Andretti. It was not that its team was severely outclassed as mechanical woes were to blame for the lack of results. With nightmares looming from a difficult 2016 season, they need to bounce back at Barber.

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (No Change)

A top ten earned by Graham Rahal was alright. but lackluster. Barber was the start of their big surge in 2016, so not a bad place to start another rally.

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (No Change)

Eighth-place deserved from Spencer Pigot, however late exit for J.R. Hildebrand keeps ECR behind Rahal. This is a team that maybe wishes Phoenix was next, rather than Barber.

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

Carlos Munoz was mid-pack for most of Sunday and took advantage of the late shuffling to finish seventh. Now for Conor Daly, still scratching head regarding sub-par results so far. While Munoz was the clearly forecasted higher for 2017, the gap between them should not be this large.

Driver Rankings:

1. Sebastien Bourdais (+2)

No kidding here friends, a DCR driver has reached the pinnacle of IndyCar driver rankings, and not by default either. The Frenchman overcame qualifying shortcomings for podium finishes in the opening two events. Bourdais sits on top of the points table and it is time to reward an early performance.

2. James Hinchcliffe (+2)

As previously mentioned, what happened after the controversial St. Pete caution flag can be omitted. The Long Beach victory simply backed up his opening round performance.

3. Scott Dixon (-2)

A pair of topfives is nice, but when compared to what Bourdais and Hinch have offered, no justification to keep Dixon in the top two. The Iceman could ultimately become a top driver, but not at this point.

4. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

Pagenaud sneaked up to secure another top-five on Sunday. Of course, one can imagine what he could have done with a better qualifying result. That part of the equation is still not adding up.

5. Will Power (-3)

Power is on the verge of joining the “Missing Drivers Club.” A 13th-place finish is an unusual territory for this road racing ace. Perhaps Phoenix could jump start his season.

6. Josef Newgarden (+2)

The podium finish may remove a heavy burden off of Newgarden’s shoulders. The next challenge is simple: when will victory number one with Penske occur?

7. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-1)

A second win at Long Beach appeared possible, until bad luck struck the Andretti Autosport driver.

8. Helio Castroneves (-2)

Spider-Man did well to take pole position, but could not back up the effort on Sunday. Still, a ninth-place result merits his ranking.

9. Spencer Pigot (Not Ranked)

Pigot may not have a ride for next month’s Indianapolis 500, yet he continues to show muscle in his road racing-only schedule for Ed Carpenter Racing. The top-ten at Long Beach merits his move onto the list.

10. Ed Jones (Not Ranked)

The defending Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion has taken to IndyCar competition well. Back-to-back top-ten’s are enough for his inclusion after Long Beach.

Dropped Out: Takuma Sato (No. 7 post- St. Petersburg), Tony Kanaan (No.8)

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Coyne Raises Projections Following St. Pete

With one race in the books and sixteen more yet to come, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this past weekend has left varying opinions from most. While some teams and drivers reached or exceeded expectations, some others left a little bit to be desired. So here’s a brief look at the stock tips with the first checkered flag thrown in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

ON THE RISE:

Dale Coyne Racing: As you may recall, I had ranked the Chicago-based runners seventh out of the eight full-time teams on the IndyCar Series circuit this past week. While it was clear that Coyne had committed lots of money and personnel to improve its fortunes in 2017, there have been multiple scenarios of a similar form that have not yielded success. Although one race does not make a season, DCR is on the right track. The addition of Craig Hampson seems to have re-ignited the fire inside Sebastien Bourdais. In a similar manner, the remainder of the new personnel also allowed Ed Jones to be a factor for two-thirds of the race, impressive for a driver’s first ever IndyCar start.

Of course, while the team proved itself on a road course there are questions left unanswered looking ahead to the 101st Indianapolis 500. But for now, let’s put those concerns on hold and honor the big score from round one.

Sebastien Bourdais: The qualifying crash suffered on Saturday could have ruined the Frenchman’s chances in what is essentially his home race. The St. Petersburg, Florida resident took the blow and despite starting 21st on Sunday, managed to step up when opportunity struck with the second full course caution period. Bourdais quickly dispatched of Simon Pagenaud on the restart and never looked back from that point to the end of the race.

While it is still premature to tag him as a title favorite, Bourdais is on the right track to return closest to the form he presented when he dominated the Champ Car World Series over a decade ago.

Ed Jones: Although he was plagued by a slow pit stop, the Dubai-based newcomer played a solid second fiddle to his veteran teammate.and could have claimed a top ten result, if not a top five. As the only rookie of the year candidate, Jones is almost a lock to earn the award. However, it appears it will be taken with a solid resume in 2017.

ON THE FALL:

Chevrolet: Although losing Chip Ganassi Racing from its payroll was hurtful, the fact that Team Penske was the only strong team from the GM giant is a concern. Although its results were hampered by DNFs suffered by both Spencer Pigot and Carlos Munoz, its remaining support staff failed to feature at St. Petersburg. Conor Daly and J.R. Hildebrand each stayed out of trouble on Sunday, but neither were able to make a serious impact in the top half of the running order.

Team Penske: This leads us to the Captain’s crew. Simon Pagenaud was able to salvage his weekend coming from 14th to second; however, a mix of bad luck and lack of pace plagued them overall on Sunday. The full course caution that benefitted Pagenaud, crippled the chances for both Josef Newgarden and Will Power. Although Power recovered to run third late, mechanical problems prevented him from making the finish. Newgarden placed eighth, while Helio Castroneves settled for sixth.

While not a significant drop in performance, this shows that Penske may not dominate the 2017 IndyCar Series season as they achieved a season ago. However, as the familiar favorites, they showed some vulnerability to open the year.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Ed Jones Pleased with Initial IndyCar Testing

While many drivers dream of being able to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series, that dream is coming true for Ed Jones this year as he will be driving for Dale Coyne Racing.

“I’m really looking forward to my first IndyCar season,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “There’s been a lot of work during the off-season by the team, as well, in taking in some new engineers, changes and having Sebastian on-board. The pre-season has gone testing really well so far. I feel really good going into St. Pete, feeling confident, that we can make a good first race. We know it’ll be tough as well, but we’re doing quite well, and Dale is putting in the work to keep improving.”

Last season, DCR was solid with Conor Daly scoring five top-10s, including a runner-up in Detroit, en route to finishing 16th in points. Since then, though, the team has been hard at working at improving the program to be stronger this season.

Coyne hired four-time CART Champion Sebastian Bourdais, who has scored eight career IndyCar victories through his career, as well as bringing in new engineers, including Craig Hampton and Oliver Boisson, which have both worked with Bourdais in the past. The decision was then made to hire Jones to drive the team’s second car.

Thus far, things have been going well between the teammates, with Jones noting how much of a help Bourdais has been already.

“I’m thankful for that, and it’s a great position to be in having someone with a lot of experience to learn from,” he said. “I think it’ll really show when we get to the race weekends. It’ll be important to have someone to talk about things, and help me move forward.”

The feeling is mutual between the teammates, as Bourdais expressed confidence in his young teammate while speaking with Popular Speed last month.

“He’s got the talent, not rushing through the series as he’s taken steps, and knows some about the ovals, so he’s not coming straight from Europe and having to learn tracks and rules,” Bourdais said. “So I think he’ll do a good job. For me, of course, it’s better to have an experienced teammate, but I knew all along that in Dale making the commitment on our side, there would have to be a compromise on the other side. I think a rookie can help you and the team in general. I think they picked a smart rookie who won’t do anything stupid and wreck stuff every weekend, so I’m happy with that.”

The discussion surrounding Jones’ move up to the IndyCar Series doesn’t just stop at Bourdais, either, as many people within the industry at expecting him to do well following the past two seasons in Indy Lights.

After becoming the European F3 Open Champion, Jones made his move to Indy Lights in 2015, winning three races and finishing third in points for Carlin Racing. Jones returned to Carlin this past season, putting together a very impressive run en route to his first career series championship.

After starting off the season with a 10th and a seventh, Ed Jones turned up the heat with four straight top-tw0 finishes to take over the points lead following the sixth race of the season. From there, he continued to put in the top-five performances, only slipping up on a couple of occasions. Though while the season was full of great moments, it’ll all be remembered by Jones’ teammate Felix Serellas letting him by on the last lap at Laguna Seca to clinch the championship ahead of Santiago Urruita.

By winning the championship, he picked up the $1 million Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires scholarship, which locked him in for three Verizon IndyCar Series races with any team he could make a deal with, including the Indianapolis 500. The award, combined with other sponsors, will allow Jones to run the No. 18 Honda on a full-time basis in 2017.

While there may be expectations on him based on these performances, Jones isn’t setting anything concrete till he sees how he and the team stack up against the competition in the series opener at St. Petersburg. However, he notes one of the keys will be learning as much as he can this year.

“They’ll be a lot more going on than I’m used to – pit stop strategies, fuel saving,” he said. “But I think we should be able to be on the podium towards the end of the season.”

He’s gotten the chance to test out the IndyCar thus far, taking part in the series open test at Phoenix International Raceway, where he felt he was able to get comfortable behind the wheel “quicker than expected.”

“I feel I’m jelling with the team real well,” he said. “I think Phoenix is one of the toughest ovals with how it is with the speed into the corners. The biggest surprise was the aerodynamics and how much it affects when you’re following another car. I had that in Indy Lights, but IndyCar is a much higher level.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

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

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Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY: Can Coyne Challenge The Big Boys?

A lot of INDYCAR experts (myself included) raised eyebrows this off-season when four-time ChampCar World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais announced he was joining Dale Coyne Racing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

And why not? Bourdais and his former employer KV Racing had posted a victory the previous year at Detroit and had collected ten top 10 finishes in 16 events. Once the evidence of an iffy situation at KV was revealed, as mentioned previously on Embury’s Outlook, it appeared the Frenchman was moving quickly to simply secure a full-time seat for the future. The evidence behind Bourdais’ reasoning was then further divulged in a recent interview with Popular Speed’s Ashley McCubbin.

However, now with everything on the table, perhaps the questions are being erased. After all, the off-season has witnessed the Chicago-based operation loosen the purse strings a little bit to bring in top line personnel. Craig Hampson, who was Bourdais’ engineer at Newman-Haas Racing during his four-year championship run has been added to brain trust, while Bourdais’ engineer at KV last year Olivier Boisson, has also been hired. The moves have given the veteran wheelman the belief a team known more for simply perservering in both CART and INDYCAR is now capable of mixing it up with the best of the bunch on the North American open-wheel racing tour.

In this edition of Embury’s Outlook, we will look at what it will take for Bourdais and his new teammate Ed Jones, the reigning Cooper Tires Indy Lights Champion, to become contenders not solely for race wins, but to have an outside chance to win the 2017 championship.

If there is one thing from last year adding to the optimism, it is the fact Coyne’s squad certainly made some steps forward on the road courses, especially in the case of Conor Daly’s efforts. The second-generation driver was within a quicker pit stop away from possibly pulling off an upset win at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, settling for sixth at the finish. The Indiana-native then finished second to Bourdais in the first leg of the Chevrolet Duel in Detroit and placed sixth in the second leg the following day. Daly went on to post two more top six results before taking his services to A.J. Foyt Racing for 2017.

While the road and street circuit half of the equation appear stout, the team must improve its efforts on ovals to become a full-fledged title contender. While Honda’s two 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series wins came on the high-speed circuits, DCR placed no better than 14th in any oval track round this past season.

The team must also qualify higher up on the starting grid. While Daly did post results, a majority of those efforts had to be gained through aggressive driving or clever strategy to make up for lackluster efforts in time trials.

Of course, the other barrier Coyne must clear is a plethora of strong teams that are part of the Honda engine camp. Not only does the addition of Chip Ganassi Racing make the situation more difficult, but when you consider the resumes of Andretti Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, you will witness four operations which all have shown few weaknesses despite the limited number of victories a year ago.

So while it may be tough to jump from worst to first in one season, a 2017 campaign that sees either Bourdais, Jones, or both pilots reach the top ten on the final points table, should be considered a victory for this operation. After all, they’ve been able to tough it out and continue to battle, while other more successful operations have either regressed or left the sport entirely.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Indy Lights Champion Ed Jones Set for Full IndyCar Schedule

The 2016 Indy Lights Champion will have the opportunity to run the full schedule Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in 2017. Ed Jones announced he would race for Dale Coyne Racing in 2017 as a teammate to Sebastien Bourdais.

“I’m hugely excited about stepping up to the Verizon IndyCar Series next year with Dale Coyne Racing,” the 21-year-old said. “To reach an agreement as early as we have done is great news as it gives me plenty of time to settle into the team and get to know everybody properly so we can prepare as well as possible for the season ahead.”

With Bourdais and Jones lined up for DCR in 2017, it’ll be an entirely new driver line-up for the Plainfield, Ill team.

“He’s one of the best teammates I could ask for during my rookie season as I get used to everything,” Jones said of Bourdais. “He has a wealth of experience in the sport that I can draw upon, and he seems like a really open and approachable guy. Not only that, but he will be an excellent benchmark, too, as he is still clearly one of the fastest drivers in the series. So for me, it’s the ideal scenario, and I’m sure we’ll establish a strong working relationship to really drive the team forward.”

After becoming the European F3 Open Champion, Jones made his move to Indy Lights in 2015, winning three races and finishing third in points for Carlin Racing. Jones returned to Carlin this past season, putting together a very impressive run en route to his first career series championship.

After starting off the season with a 10th and a seventh, Ed Jones turned up the heat with four straight top-tw0 finishes to take over the points lead following the sixth race of the season. From there, he continued to put in the top-five performances, only slipping up on a couple of occasions. Though while the season was full of great moments, it’ll all be remembered by Jones’ teammate Felix Serellas letting him by on the last lap at Laguna Seca to clinch the championship ahead of Santiago Urruita.

By winning the championship, he picked up the $1 million Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires scholarship, which locked him in for three Verizon IndyCar Series races with any team he could make a deal with, including the Indianapolis 500. The award, combined with other sponsors, will allow Jones to run the No. 18 Honda on a full-time basis in 2017.

“INDYCAR has been my goal ever since I left Europe to come and race in America,” Jones said, “and it’s crazy to think I’ll be joining the grid just two years after moving Stateside. Together with my management team and sponsors, I’ve worked so hard for this opportunity, and I fully intend to grab it by the scruff of the neck and make the most of it.

“Although we spoke to a few teams, Dale Coyne Racing always stood out as the best option and Dale worked hard to make the deal happen.”

Dale Coyne said he was impressed by the native of the United Arab Emirates of English descent and is very excited to have him on board for 2017.

“I attended the season finale at Laguna Seca and Ed demonstrated a lot of poise, maturity, and determination while under pressure, knowing that the championship was on the line,” Coyne said. “Those are all qualities that will serve him well in INDYCAR. I was very impressed with what I saw.”

DCR also announced that Jones would be paired veteran race engineer Michael Cannon and Coyne will serve as his race strategist. The team hopes to run at the front of the field after an impressive campaign last year with Conor Daly which saw them contend for race wins.

“While I’m aware I have a big learning curve ahead of me, my plan is to absorb as much information as I can and get onto the pace as quickly as possible,” Jones added. “And as a former driver himself, Dale understands what it’s like inside the cockpit, which will be hugely beneficial when it comes to talking about set-up and discussing feedback.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

2016 Indy Lights Series Year in Review: Ed Jones

This past season, Ed Jones had one of the best seasons of his career, en route to picking up his first career Indy Lights championship.

 

Points Finish: 1st

Car No.: 11

Driver Name: Ed Jones

Team Name: Carlin Racing

Total Races: 18

Victories: 2 – Barber Race No. 1, Indianapolis GP Race No. 1

Podiums: 8

Top-Fives: 13

Top-10s: 16

Average Start: 3.5

Average Finish: 4.7

DNFs: 1

 

After starting off the season with a 10th and a seventh, Ed Jones turned up the heat with four straight top-tw0 finishes to take over the points lead following the sixth race of the season. From there, he continued to put in the top-five performances, only slipping up on a couple occasions. Though while the season was full of great moments, it’ll all be remembered by Jones’ teammate Felix Serellas letting him by on the last lap at Laguna Seca to clinch the championship ahead of Santiago Urruita.

Highlight of 2016 – Obviously winning the championship as a whole was a highlight for this year, but winning two races almost back-to-back isn’t too shabby either.

Downfall of 2016 – The fact the championship will be remembered and tainted by what happened on the last lap at Laguna Seca.

Road/Street Course Analysis – In 15 races, Jones posted 10 top-five finishes – including both his wins. It’s safe to say he knows how to turn both left and right.

Oval Analysis – While he was unable to reach victory lane, he finished in the top-five in each of the three events, including a pair of runner-ups.

Notes for 2017 – It is unclear yet where Jones will race as he takes a scholarship which enables him to run three Verizon IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500, forward with him. There are a couple open seats across the series in which he could fill the void in, while rumors spread of a possible partnership between KVSH Racing and Carlin Racing. Either way, no matter where he lands, he should impress fans with his talent.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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.