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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.

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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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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).

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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

Rahal Completes Impressive Weekend Victory Sweep at Detroit’s Belle Isle

DETROIT (Sunday, June 4, 2017) – Graham Rahal completed a near-perfect Verizon IndyCar Series weekend with another dominating performance today to finish off a sweep of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader.

Rahal, in the No. 15 SoldierStrong / TurnsForTroops.com Honda, survived a two-lap dash to the checkered flag, holding off Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden by 1.1772 seconds to back up his victory Saturday on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park’s temporary street course. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver becomes the first driver to sweep a Verizon IndyCar Series doubleheader weekend since Scott Dixon won both races on the streets of Toronto in 2013.

CHEVROLET DETROIT GRAND PRIX: Race 2 box score

“All around just a spectacular weekend for us,” said Rahal, whose win was the sixth of his 11-year Indy car career and the 25th for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. It’s the first time the team has won consecutive races since Kenny Brack accomplished the feat in 2001 at Twin Ring Motegi and the Milwaukee Mile.

With the two triumphs, Rahal vaulted nine spots in the championship standings, to sixth place after eight of 17 races. The 28-year-old Ohioan won from the third starting position and becomes the first driver to win two Verizon IndyCar Series races this season.

“I could run a really strong pace, better than most guys, while saving a ton of fuel,” Rahal said. “That’s why I say, these weekends, they just don’t happen that often. We’re the first one to win the double (at Belle Isle). It feels great. Any day you can beat a Penske driver, it means a lot.”

Rahal led 41 of the 70 laps on the 2.35-mile, 14-turn circuit that has hosted 24 Indy car races since 1992. The race ran caution-free until James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda stopped on course on Lap 66. As the remaining cars packed up behind the pace car, Spencer Pigot’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet pulled off with smoke trailing from the rear.

INDYCAR officials red-flagged the race, bringing all cars to a stop in the pits at the conclusion of Lap 67 to give track workers time to clean up both incident areas. Once engines were restarted, the green flag waved at the end of Lap 68 and Rahal pulled away from Newgarden, the driver of the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

“I think we were all just trying to get to the end there,” said Newgarden, who started 13th but took advantage of a three-pit-stop strategy to move forward. “It was two (laps) to go and we had marbles all over the tires. In that type of situation, there’s not much you can do, unfortunately. I was hoping Graham was going to make a big mistake because then I would try and capitalize.

“When it’s your weekend, it’s your weekend, and Rahal did a great job, him and his whole team,” Newgarden added. “Good bounce-back for us at Team Penske and the No. 2 Verizon hum car. I was trying to get Chevy that win, but not enough for today.”

Will Power finished third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to give team owner and Belle Isle race promoter Roger Penske two drivers on the podium.

Pole sitter and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, who set a track record in winning the Verizon P1 Award in morning qualifying, led 22 laps but finished fourth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda.

Scott Dixon placed sixth in the No. 9 Camping World Honda and the four-time series champion retained the points lead he grabbed Saturday. Dixon has 303 points, eight more than Helio Castroneves and 11 more than Sato.

Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix officials estimated the event’s three-day attendance at 100,000, up about 5,000 from 2016.

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Texas Motor Speedway for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 on June 10, where Rahal is the defending champion. Live coverage starts on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 8 p.m. ET.  

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Rahal Cleans House At Detroit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

Penske Back On Its Wheels Following Motown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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News Open Wheel

Rahal Dominates to Win First Race of Belle Isle Doubleheader

DETROIT – Graham Rahal said at the beginning of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear weekend that his team had uncovered a solid street-course car setup earlier this season. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver proved it today with a dominant victory in the first race of the Verizon IndyCar Series weekend doubleheader.

CHEVROLET DETROIT GRAND PRIX: Race 1 box score

Rahal led 55 of the 70 laps on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park’s 2.35-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit. The 28-year-old Ohioan crossed the finish line 6.1474 seconds ahead of Scott Dixon to become the seventh different driver to win in as many series races this season. The second race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix is scheduled for Sunday.

“Everything went according to plan today,” said Rahal, who started from the pole position after capturing the Verizon P1 Award with a track-record lap this morning. “We were pretty in control.

“We’ve shown some speed at times this year, but we haven’t had a lot of luck. Today, we had a combination of speed, the yellows didn’t come out at bad times for us and we certainly had the pace. Pretty pleased with that and hopefully tomorrow we can do the same.”

Driving the No. 15 SoldierStrong / TurnsforTroops.com Honda, Rahal collected the fifth win of his 11-year Indy car career. It is Rahal’s first triumph on a temporary street course since his maiden Verizon IndyCar Series victory at St. Petersburg in 2008, when he became the youngest winner in Indy car annals at 19 years, 3 months, 2 days.

It is also the first street-course victory by the Rahal team since co-owner Bobby Rahal won the inaugural Belle Isle race 25 years ago.

“It’s always wonderful to see your son win or your team win, frankly,” Bobby Rahal said. “To lead 55 out of 70 laps, that’s pretty special.

“If you give Graham the car, he’s going to be tough to beat. I think we saw that today. I don’t think he could have driven any better, I don’t think a statement could be made any stronger. This was our race.”

Dixon persevered to finish second despite a painful left ankle, the result of his spectacular crash during the May 28 running of the Indianapolis 500. It is the 93rd career podium for the four-time series champion, breaking a tie with retired teammate and friend Dario Franchitti for fifth all-time. It is also his 36th career second-place finish, moving Dixon within one of tying Bobby Rahal for third all-time.

“It was a tough race no matter what,” said Dixon, the driver of the No. 9 Camping World Honda who reclaimed the points lead by two over Helio Castroneves. “Physically for me it was tougher than normal. I think I was favoring a lot of things, but just so proud of the whole Camping World crew. They did an amazing job. The car was fast. I probably couldn’t get the most out of it but we were kind of there. But it’s great for points.”

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe recovered from a spin on the opening lap to go off strategy and finish third in the No. 5 Arrow Honda.

“Tires are the name of the game here,” Hinchcliffe said. “To be able to get off the (Firestone alternate) reds after the spin in the first turn there played to our advantage.

“Then we got that yellow at the right time right after our (Lap 25 pit) stop. It put us up where we belonged and I think we showed that the No. 5 Arrow car had a lot of pace. To come back from that; the boys were great in the pits and really happy to grab a podium here today.”

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden finished fourth and Alexander Rossi of Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian placed fifth, putting five different teams among the top five finishers for the first time in a race this season.

The 22nd Indy car race at Belle Isle tied a record for fewest full-course cautions (two) and set a new standard for fewest caution laps (six). Rahal’s winning average speed of 103.015 mph is a race record.

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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

Bourdais, Aleshin Among Drivers Caught in Lap 1 Crash

On Saturday night at Phoenix Raceway, five drivers saw their race over before it truly began following a wreck on the opening lap in Turn 1.

Going into the corner, Mikhail Aleshin lost control of his No. 7 Honda, spinning around which left nowhere to go for the competitors behind him.

“Unfortunately, when we got to Turn 1, I felt the rear of the car went, and I just couldn’t do anything,” he said. “I was (a) full lock, and I just understood that that was it. I feel sorry for the guys that hit as well, but that’s racing. Very sorry to my Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team and everyone that works on the No. 7 because I think the guys did a fantastic job. Sometimes situations like this happen, but we’ll keep moving forward.”

One of the drivers caught up in the incident was Sebastien Bourdais entered the event as the points leader, but now sits fourth in points following a 19th place finish.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “We work so hard and try to do things right. We had a good position at the start, being on the outside, and I could’ve probably picked up one or two positions because I had a good run going. But then all it takes is someone who takes a little bit too much risk to ruin your day. You can take risks when you’re on the outside all alone, but if you’re in the middle, in the gearbox of the car in front of you, there’s a good chance that you’ll lose the car. It’s disappointing to lose the points lead like this, I knew we would lose it this weekend, but we’re missing out on some precious points. Plus, there’s a lot of damage to the car, and we didn’t need that.”

Also collected in the aftermath was Marco Andretti, Max Chilton, and Graham Rahal. It continues their struggles as they each sit outside the top-15 in points following four races. Notably, Chilton has failed to post a top-10 finish in his sophomore campaign for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“There was just nowhere to go really,” Chilton said. “I was sort of tensing because I knew four-wide on the start on a short oval wasn’t good. It was just one of those things. I hate going out on Lap 1, but I just spun to avoid the accident and got collected. Hopefully, we can get a better result with the Gallagher car in Indy next month.”

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Commentary IndyCar Open Wheel

FANTASY HOT TIP: Phoenix

After a second straight disaster for yours truly at Barber Motorsports Park, my Firestone Fantasy Challenge team sees another revamp.

With the Verizon IndyCar Series heading to Phoenix International Raceway for Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Grand Prix, it is time to start a rally. As scenery changing from road course to high-speed oval, new players come into the mix. Unfortunately, for small operations like Dale Coyne Racing, the scenarios which aided their rise in the first three races, may turn against them.

Although DCR does have an oval track win on their resume (Justin Wilson, Texas 2012), the oval tracks have been dominated by better-funded outfits. Last year, however, did provide an exception. Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi won the Indianapolis 500, while Graham Rahal’s family-run squad edged out another small fry in Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe at Texas. The question now is focused on two trending factors.

One, will the smaller squads continue to threaten the tophalf of the field on ovals in 2017? Secondly, will Honda continue to thrive on its perceived horsepower advantage? Going by my four fantasy selections for Phoenix, my answers to those questions are NO. While Honda held serve on the fastest ovals last year, Chevrolet ruled on the short, tighter bull rings, such as Phoenix. The deck was stacked for GM in qualifying at least, as every Chevy-powered car outran the fastest Honda entrant. The Japanese manufacturer did bounce back some in the race itself, but not enough to challenge for victory.

Even if Chevrolet does not rule in terms of pace, Team Penske enters Arizona with momentum. The Captain’s quartet swept position one through three on the grid at Barber, and Josef Newgarden moved from seventh to victory lane. Each of the four pilots has had their moments on leftturn-only circuit; however. the salary cap prevents me from filling out my roster with all of them.

Despite that roadblock, I still have two good drivers from those four. Newgarden’s selection was a no-brainer as not only does he carry positive energy, he also won last year at Iowa Speedway. His teammate Helio Castroneves is known more for his success in the Indianapolis 500; however, he certainly is capable of a high placing likewise.

As for the other two spots, I went with oval track success as my focus. While Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan does not have many victories in his record book and lacks a Chevrolet engine, the eye-test recalls seeing the Brazilian in contention many times on ovals, making his inclusion worth it. The same gamble comes into play when assessing the potential of owner-driver Ed Carpenter, who makes his season debut at Phoenix. Like TK, the Indianapolis-native is a regular near the front at these types of tracks and with a surprisingly low fantasy value this week (15 dollars against a 100 cap), the risk does not exceed the reward.

For my sake, let’s hope the opening sentence for the next edition of Fantasy Hot Tip is a more positive one.

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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

Spotter 101: Breaking Down Their Role

Keeping drivers safe is paramount in motorsports. It is so easy to become numb of the danger faced every time he or she climbs in the cockpit. And that is why there are spotters located in a high vantage point above the track and in radio communication to warn of any hazards.    

The Verizon IndyCar Series mandates spotters for each driver on every oval track during all sessions. At the Phoenix one-mile oval, they are located on top of the grandstands and suites in Turn 1. For the 2.5-mile oval at Indianapolis, two spotters are required, perched at the top of Turn 1 and Turn 3, allowing each to see about half the track.

The driver cannot see outside the car right beside him, or what’s happening behind, even with rearview mirrors. Sitting low in the car, they cannot see who is overtaking them until that driver is ahead of their cockpit. Quite often you will hear on the radio, “inside,” “outside,” “clear,” “looking,” and “coming to you.” Those commands depict when a car is setting up for a pass, which side the pass is on, and when they are no longer close enough to be a concern.

“The spotter’s job is to let the driver know what’s going on around him,” said Rick Mears, who serves as Helio Castroneves’ spotter. “But a spotter is your backup, not your eyes. A good driver can get into spots where he judges quickly to avoid something and can’t always wait for the spotter. The original purpose of having a spotter was to tell the driver what was ahead. It’s important to have spotters who can warn a driver if something happens because the closing rate is so fast. But the driver should not rely 100% on his spotter.”

Spotters are also instrumental in warning a driver when there is an incident on the track. The driver should see that the caution light is on and immediately slow down; but he may not know where on the track the incident has taken place. That’s when the spotter lets the driver know what is happening, and can recommend which direction to go to avoid being caught up in the crash.

The driver still needs to steer the car and make decisions even without guidance. One track that is challenging for the spotters to keep their driver in view is at Pocono’s Tricky Triangle, the 2.5-mile tri-oval. With only three turns, the straightaway between Turns 1 and 2, that binoculars can be needed to distinguish the cars.

“Pocono is very challenging,” explained Graham Rahal’s spotter, Steve Turner. “The backstretch is one mile away so binoculars would be a huge help there. But then you lose your peripheral vision. It can take a few seconds to pick up a driver. So you really can’t do a good job of spotting with binoculars. You lose depth of field and aren’t always able to tell if a driver is moving to the inside or outside. When the cars are coming towards you or are going away from you, you lose depth perception.”

Turner unintentionally made a lot of points with Rahal’s sponsor, Steak ‘N Shake, when the TV broadcast aired his radio transmission congratulating the 2015 Auto Club Speedway winner when he said, “Steak burgers for everyone!”

Although not required, spotters can also be instrumental at road courses and can warm their driver at certain turns that are known to be trouble spots. Usually they have experience behind the wheel – whether now retired, or upcoming from another series.

And when two drivers have a misunderstanding on the track, they can pass a message through their spotters. If a competitor suddenly slows down in front, it could upset whoever is following. By spotters speaking to each other on the stand, they can clarify what happened, such as an electrical issue, to avoid conflict. That can keep tempers from escalating and prevent retaliation.

“I always trust my spotter,” stated Rahal. “His eyes are peeled on my exhaust. He is in constant communication. I’m thankful for those guys. They keep us safe.”

 

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.