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IndyCar Open Wheel

Chaves Snatches Top-Five Result At Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Fantasy Hot Tip: Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

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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.

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IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Phoenix

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.

Is Simon Pagenaud returning to his role as the rabbit of the Verizon IndyCar Series? Following his first win of 2017 at Phoenix, the Frenchman is headed toward recasting a sequel. However, coming into the fourth round sixth in the driver rankings, it is impossible to move all the way to the top.

Looking ahead to the 101st Indianapolis 500, POPULAR SPEED has extended our IndyCar team rankings to reflect those who will make their lone appearance at the Brickyard.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Phoenix showed the remainder of the IndyCar grid what a five-car Team Penske could do when the transporters reach Gasoline Alley. Pagenaud won at Phoenix and any of his four teammates, including two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, are capable of adding their face to the Borg-Warner Trophy on May 28th.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

Honda’s failure to figure out Phoenix derailed Ganassi’s performance in Arizona; however, if the pace the Japanese manufacturer showed last year at Indy can be replicated, good finishes from Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Charlie Kimball are possible. It is probably too early to add Max Chilton as a serious challenger though.

3. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

12th was the best SPM could manage from James Hinchcliffe; but, Mikhail Aleshin’s elimination on the lap puts a question mark on the table. It is tough to move them ahead of DCR based on last weekend, but on potential looking ahead to Indy, Schmidt in the words of former Price is Right host Bob Barker, “is the bigger bargain.”

4. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

Craig Hampson was right – DCR is not a serious contender on the ovals. Sebastien Bourdais was another victim of the lap one pileup but struggled for pace in practice. Ed Jones also failed to feature, managing an 11th-place finish based on attrition. Not the news Indy 500-only pilot Pippa Mann was hoping to hear.

5. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

Another quadruple retirement for Andretti at Phoenix. The good news is with six cars track side at IMS at least one car should make the finish in the 500. How the rest of the six-pack handles the attention that Fernando Alonso is guaranteed to get this month will guide them to their climax.

6. Ed Carpenter Racing (+1)

Ed Carpenter never made the impact that was hoped for at Phoenix, although J.R. Hildebrand certainly did. A solid qualifying run, coupled with a clean showing in the race netted a third-place finish for the Californian. While it is premature to tag the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet as an Indy 500 favorite, the car and its occupant should not be overlooked.

7. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (-1)

Confidence is dropping fast at RLLR, and Graham Rahal is not hiding that things look bleak. A good Indy 500 finish may depend on Oriol Servia at this point.

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

The offseason signings Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly continue to be mired among the rear guard. The addition of Zach Veach at the Indy 500 should help, but just when Foyt could not fall any further down the list, here comes the Indy-only invaders.

9. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Unranked)

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. Harding Racing (Unranked)

Team boss Larry Curry is the perfect choice to lead a new operation, and you cannot do much better than hiring Gabby Chaves as the wheelman. Alliance with DRR means perhaps an equal level of performance.

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (+1)

Four top-fives in four starts to open 2017. No doubt about it, the Iceman appears ready to challenge for a second Indianapolis 500 win.

2. Josef Newgarden (+1)

The Tennessee-native was not the best of the Penske bunch at Phoenix, but he should be effective when he sets foot at the corner of 16th and Georgetown in one week from now.

3. Sebastien Bourdais (-2)

Perhaps Dale Coyne Racing can salvage their month of May with a big push in the IndyCar Grand Prix. Once the scenery moves back to the 2.5-mile oval, the odds are not in the Frenchman’s favor.

4. Will Power (+1)

Power finally reached the finish of an 2017 IndyCar race without issue. A second-place finish behind Pagenaud was well earned and should make the Aussie a challenger in both May events.

5. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

Even without the yellow flag, Pagenaud was looming as a potential winner. Although a third IndyCar GP win in four tries is signficant; the 2016 IndyCar champion has made it clear that the Indy 500 is the one he wants the most.

6. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

Last year’s Indy 500 pole winner should bounce back to play a role in the drama on May 28; however, based on his Long Beach victory, his best shot at Brickyard glory could be in the IndyCar Grand Prix.

7. Helio Castroneves (+1)

Castroneves has been more effective in qualifying than on race day. The pressure to make history as a four-time Indy 500 champion exists, but expect the Brazilian to dig deep in his quest to get there.

8. Tony Kanaan (Unranked)

A quiet sixth-place last week sets the stage for TK’s best chances for victory this season. If Honda regains its muscle from 2016, watch out.

9. Alexander Rossi (-1)

Rossi and his Andretti teammates floundered at Phoenix, leaving their month of May prospects in doubt. Probably faces a higher mountain than any defending Indy 500 champion in history.

10. J.R. Hildebrand (Unranked)

Indy’s hard luck hero added his name to the contenders’ list with a podium finish at Phoenix. He was in the mix late in last year’s Indy 500 until he made contact with Helio Castroneves.

Dropped Out: Ryan Hunter-Reay (9th last week), Spencer Pigot (10th last week)

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Indy 500 Silly Season Update

The path toward a 33-car field for the 101st Indianapolis 500 has continued to provide interesting storylines.

However, the biggest one to date came on Wednesday morning, when Andretti Autosport confirmed their sixth entry. In partnership with McLaren F1. Fernando Alonso will skip the Monaco Grand Prix to participate. The former world champion becomes the first active Formula 1 driver to try his luck at Indy since Mario Andretti in 1981.

This move is also notable since it represents an 18th Honda-powered entry in the field. The manufacturer reportedly will not provide any more lease deals, a bad sign for a possible partnership that could have involved Sam Schmidt and Will Marotti. It does not remove Marotti completely from rumors, but if God Bless America Racing wants a place on the grid, their hopes now rest with Chevrolet.

Here is the current projection of how things could shape up for the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Team Penske: Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya

The Captain will enter five cars at the Speedway for the first time, and all drivers have been confirmed.

Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball

Four full-time runners on the Verizon IndyCar Series circuit and nothing is expected to change for one race.

Andretti Autosport: Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Jack Harvey, Fernando Alonso

Harvey’s deal involving Michael Shank Racing appeared to be the final piece for Andretti’s Indy 500 efforts. That is until McLaren decided to join the fun, giving Fernando Alonso a shot at Indy. The six-car team is the largest at the Brickyard since Andy Evans’ Team Scandia provided seven in 1996.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin, Jay Howard

The Alonso to Andretti deal probably ends any chance of Will Marotti partnering with Sam Schmidt for a second consecutive year. Still, Schmidt features a strong three-car lineup.

Dale Coyne Racing: Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Jones, Pippa Mann

Three-car entry pretty much set in stone, unless additional Honda engine leases pop up.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia

The Ohio-based runners are set for May with a two-car entry, as has often been the case since its return to the full IndyCar circuit in 2012.

Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter, J.R. Hildebrand

As mentioned above, ECR will only enter two cars at Indy next month. Spencer Pigot has been given the okay to seek another ride for the 500, but could be on standby if J.R. Hildebrand is not cleared to compete. The 2011 runner-up suffered a broken hand last weekend at Long Beach.

A.J. Foyt Racing: Conor Daly, Carlos Munoz, Zach Veach, TBA?

Zach Veach was confirmed as Foyt’s third driver last weekend at Long Beach. They could also add a fourth car to complete the field if needed

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves

Harding Racing confirmed its formation and technical alliance with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing earlier this week. 2015 Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves will drive with Larry Curry managing the operation.

Juncos Racing: Kyle Kaiser?, TBA?

If Kyle Kaiser is indeed one of the team’s two drivers, a confirmation should come soon. The Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway takes place later this month, and participation is mandatory. The team has also been considering a veteran driver with Sebastian Saavedra’s name being mentioned from a few inside sources.

Lazier Partners Racing: Buddy Lazier

Bob Lazier says plans are to return in some form at Indy this May. His son, 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier is likely to handle the driving duties once again.

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

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News Open Wheel

Harding Racing, Gabby Chaves Enter Indianapolis 500

The Indianapolis 500 confirmations continue rolling in as Gabby Chaves announced Monday that he will run race for Harding Racing.

The 2014 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Champion will drive the No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet. The 23-year-old has won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before, winning the Freedom 100. The 2015 Sunoco Rookie of the Year has made 23 previous Verizon IndyCar Series starts, including two previous Indy 500s.

“I’m extremely delighted to have the opportunity to get to challenge for my third Indy 500,” Chaves said. “I am very excited to be joining a new team with our new owner, Mike Harding, and everyone involved, including Larry Curry, who has been instrumental in getting the team together and guiding it.”

Harding Racing came together through a partnership between Mike Harding and Dennis Reinbold of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing forming a technical alliance. The Harding Group is not new to Indianapolis, taking part in paving projects and client hospitality. Larry Curry will serve as the team manager and competition director, with Al Unser Jr. as driving instructor. 

“I’m excited to be working with car owner Mike Harding on forming his new Indy car team and we are very lucky to have driver Gabby Chaves, along with Chevrolet,” Curry said. “We have assembled a great team and are looking forward to our shakedown test in Texas on Wednesday.”

Harding Racing also confirmed Matt Curry will be the lead engineer after spending time at KV Racing Techology and AJ Foyt Racing.

“I have complete faith and confidence that our engine partner Chevy will give us the best package and support to give our Harding Racing machine a chance to challenge for the win,” Chaves said. “I’ve had good races at IMS, although the result has never come together. But I think this is the year that I really have to put it together to get the result. That’s my main focus, and I definitely think I’m going to have one of the best programs out there among those focused on Indy only.

“Again, I’m just extremely happy and grateful for the opportunity I have, and I can’t wait to get the month started.”

The team will get their first test of on-track action as part of Texas Motor Speedway’s open test on Wednesday.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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