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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.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Castroneves Claims 50th Pole with Sizzling Lap at Road America

ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Helio Castroneves reached a level a select few have achieved in Indy car history by taking the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America.

Castroneves collected the landmark 50th pole position of his Indy car career by logging a lap of 1 minute, 41.3007 seconds (142.649 mph) in the Firestone Fast Six, the last of three rounds of knockout qualifying on the 4.014-mile, 14-turn permanent road course in east-central Wisconsin. The driver of the No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet broke a tie for third on the all-time list with Bobby Unser, leaving Castroneves behind only Mario Andretti (67) and A.J. Foyt (53) atop the Indy car career poles chart.

“Our REV Group car was really on rails, especially when we started laying down laps in the end with the new red Firestone (alternate) tires,” said Castroneves, 42. “The car was really, really good.

“When we saved the tires till the end, we made some adjustments that were just perfect, just perfect. … I was able to lay down a good lap.”

KOHLER GRAND PRIX: Qualifying results

Driving the No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet, Castroneves led a Team Penske sweep of the top four qualifying positions. Joining him on the front row in Sunday’s race will be Will Power, whose lap of 1:41.3611 (142.564 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet puts the defending Road America race winner on the first row for the third time in four career starts at the track.

“Really happy to be on the front row,” said Power, who led 46 of 50 laps to win from the pole a year ago at Road America. “Obviously to be clipped by the old guy (Castroneves) just there on the line, (by) six-hundredths (of a second) – he gets faster as he gets older, like wine, matured.”

Josef Newgarden qualified third in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet (1:41.6608, 142.143 mph), with reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud fourth in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet (1:42.0385, 141.617 mph). It marked the fourth time that Team Penske has swept the top four qualifying positions for an Indy car race, with Castroneves’ pole the 251st in team history.

“We’ve all been fast all weekend,” said Newgarden, who equaled his season-best qualifying performance. “We knew it was going to be tough to beat us top four. What is good, we’ve kind of had the top four spots with all of us all weekend. We wanted to make sure we continued that in qualifying and the race. Luckily, we didn’t really drop in performance, so that was good.”

Championship leader Scott Dixon remained the only Verizon IndyCar Series driver to reach the Firestone Fast Six at every event where it’s been held this season. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver qualified fifth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda (1:42.9308, 140.389 mph). Graham Rahal will start sixth in the No. 15 GEHL / D-A Lubricant Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1:45.0464, 137.562 mph).

Marco Andretti set a season-best qualifying performance on a road or street course and will start eighth in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:42.8614, 140.484 mph). Mikhail Aleshin, forced to miss practice Friday while settling visa issues to allow him to travel to the United States, was back in the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda today and qualified 19th (1:43.8891, 139.094 mph).

“I’m happy to be here,” said the Russian driver who had been stuck in France following last week’s 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. “I’m happy I got the visa. I’m happy to race for this team, in this series, in this country.”

A final 30-minute warmup practice starts at 9 a.m. ET Sunday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. The race distance has been extended five laps to 55 this year. Live race coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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

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.

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: 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.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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