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IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Alabama

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

If the Honda had an advantage over Chevrolet. it was refuted this weekend as Team Penske dominated the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. After taking the top three places in qualifying, their domination continued on Sunday. Although Will Power finished 14th after suffering a flat tire, his teammate Josef Newgarden was able to take the victory. The case supporting Team Penske is further solidified as Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves finished third and fourth, respectively.

While Team Penske retains the top spot for a second straight race, Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon maintain their placings in the Driver Rankings. Bourdais salvaged a difficult day in Alabama by finishing eighth, while Dixon chased Power and Newgarden from start to finish, to place second.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

After some doubts were raised after Long Beach, the Captain’s quartet was strong at Barber Motorsports Park. If Chevrolet continues to make progress in closing the edge shown by Honda in rounds one and two, a repeat of 2016 could be possible.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

Scott Dixon was unable to keep Newgarden behind him after gaining track position following the final round of pit stops. Despite the shortcoming, the Iceman moves closer Bourdais in the championship standings. Decent showing from Tony Kanaan nets the Brazilian a topten, while Max Chilton finished 12th. Questionable decision to stay out under the final caution did not payoff for Charlie Kimball, who had to pit under green and settled for 15th.

3. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

Both Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Jones advanced out of the first phase of qualifying on Saturday, but things went south afterward. Bourdais never got the strategy breaks required to move up from 12th and settled for an eighth-place finish. Jones did not show signs of a good run after the first round of pit stops and finished 16th. Comments from Craig Hampson looking ahead to Phoenix did not show confidence, either.

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (No Change)

Hinchcliffe was unable to keep pace with the Penske and Ganassi runners upfront and then lost out to a clever strategy play by Alexander Rossi. Still, a sixth-place finish does not cause much damage to the Mayor’s hopes to contend for a high placing in the championship. Mikhail Aleshin enjoyed his best run of the season to date with a tenth-place finish, albeit earned with an aggressive final lap pass of Ryan Hunter-Reay at the Charlotte’s Web hairpin.

5. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

Sunday started badly when Marco Andretti suffered mechanical woes before the start and finished 21st. Alexander Rossi was able to make the finish as opposed to Long Beach, coming home in fifth-place. Quiet runs from Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay netted ninth and eleventh-place finishes respectively. Not the disaster that Long Beach turned out to be, but still behind their fellow Honda runners.

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (No Change)

13th-place is all Graham Rahal could manage at Barber this past weekend. Interesting comments from the second-generation driver claiming in an interview with motorsport.com that his team cannot compete with the multi-car entrants. This view comes despite Rahal winning races in each of the past two seasons without the aid of teammates.

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (No Change)

Bad luck prevented Spencer Pigot from earning his second consecutive top-ten finish at Alabama. Zach Veach stayed out of trouble and despite finishing only 19th in his IndyCar debut, he should be better from it looking ahead to the 101st Indianapolis 500 next month.

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

Any momentum gained from Carlos Munoz’s top-ten effort at Long Beach, did not follow F0yt’s boys to Alabama. Neither the Colombian nor Conor Daly ran among the top half of the field, finishing 17th and 18th respectively.

Driver Rankings:

1. Sebastien Bourdais (No Change)

Alabama was a case of creating something out of nothing for the Frenchman. Unable to move up via pit strategy, Bourdais fought hard to secure an eighth-place finish. Not spectacular, but enough to remain on top.

2. Scott Dixon (+1)

A runner-up finish in Alabama is enough to jump the New Zealander ahead of Hinchcliffe this week. Not quite enough though to pass Bourdais. Phoenix could change that however.

3. Josef Newgarden (+3)

A removal of pressure after the Long Beach podium was evidenced at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday. Big charge from seventh to second in the first stint put him in contention and the Tenneseee-based pilot was present to take advantage of Will Power’s misfortune late. Third in the points standings and third in the power rankings heading to Phoenix.

4. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

Hinch started sixth and finished sixth. Considering the muscle shown by Team Penske, that’s not as bad as it sounds. Still, a drop in the rankings is needed.

5. Will Power (No Change)

Power did nothing wrong at Alabama and still suffered a flat tire, costing him a sure victory. The performance before the problem makes it impossible for me to move him further down the list.

6. Simon Pagenaud (-2)

Dropped two places after finishing third?!? I don’t agree with it either, however Pagenaud was unable to hold off Newgarden and never challenged for the lead from start to finish. So reluctantly, the defending series champion falls two spots.

7. Helio Castroneves (+1)

Spider-Man couldn’t match the pace he showed in qualifying, however a fourth-place finish is not means for condemnation. Therefore, he moves up one place in the rankings.

8. Alexander Rossi (Not Ranked)

Karma rewarded him Sunday after issues not of his own doing plagued him at Long Beach. Defending Indianapolis 500 champion joins the topten, as the Brickyard draws closer.

9. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-2)

Nothing special from the Andretti Autosport driver this weekend. 11th-place finish drops him two notches this week.

10. Spencer Pigot (-1)

Pigot is number two on the “Bad Luck Suffered” list behind Will Power. He was as running in the top-ten on Sunday when his Fuzzy’s Chevrolet stalled on the track, relegating him to a 20th-place finish. Effort has been there, luck has not.

Dropped Out: Ed Jones (No. 10 Post-Long Beach)

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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 Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Long Beach

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

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

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

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (+1)

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

2. Dale Coyne Racing (+2)

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

3. Chip Ganassi Racing (-2)

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

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

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

5. Andretti Autosport (-2)

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

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (No Change)

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

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (No Change)

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

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

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

Driver Rankings:

1. Sebastien Bourdais (+2)

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

2. James Hinchcliffe (+2)

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

3. Scott Dixon (-2)

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

4. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

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

5. Will Power (-3)

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

6. Josef Newgarden (+2)

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

7. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-1)

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

8. Helio Castroneves (-2)

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

9. Spencer Pigot (Not Ranked)

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

10. Ed Jones (Not Ranked)

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

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

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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

Castroneves Speeds to Track Record, 3rd Straight Long Beach Pole

LONG BEACH, California – On Sunday, Helio Castroneves will make his 12th start at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. For the third year in a row, the Brazilian will start from the pole position.

Castroneves’ track-record-breaking effort in the Firestone Fast Six today clocked him a lap of 1 minute, 6.2254 seconds (106.980 mph) and earned the Verizon P1 Award in the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet for Team Penske. In his 20th Indy car season, Castroneves will lead Scott Dixon (No. 9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field to the green flag.

TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Unofficial qualifying results

Five different teams were represented in the Firestone Fast Six, the last of three knockout qualifying rounds on the 1.968-mile temporary street course. Rounding out the top six starters were: Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Alexander Rossi in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian and Graham Rahal in the No. 15 PennGrade Motor Oil Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

After coming just two ten-thousandths of a second shy of leading Saturday morning’s practice, Hunter-Reay led Segment 1, Group 1 with a fast lap of 1:07.0176. Hunter-Reay was one of five Americans to transfer to Segment 2, followed by the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet of Josef Newgarden, Rossi, Rahal, Hinchliffe and Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Honda).

Group 2 featured significant drama when defending race winner Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) broke the track record with a fast lap of 1:06.5026, but was penalized for qualifying interference on Castroneves in Turn 11. The penalty cost Pagenaud his two fastest laps and removed him from the remainder of qualifying. The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion will start from last in the 21-car field Sunday.

Eleven of the 12 drivers in Segment 2 broke Castroneves’ track record of 1:06.6294 set in 2015, and all 11 were separated by less than four-tenths of a second. Dixon led all with a fast lap of 1:06.2285.

Not one to enjoy being beaten, Castroneves went out in the Firestone Fast Six and broke Dixon’s lap record with a lap of 1:06.2254, scoring his first Verizon P1 Award of 2017 and the 48th pole of his career. It moved the 41-year-old within one pole of tying Bobby Unser for third place on the all-time list.

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action Sunday at noon ET for the final 30-minute practice. Coverage is available at RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Sunday’s 85-lap race – the second of 17 on the 2017 schedule – airs live at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Castroneves Looks to Continue Setting the Bar High

When the 2016 season came to a close, Team Penske topped the grid with their drivers taking first through third in the standings. Though so in 2017, it may be a new story.

At St. Petersburg to kick off the year, only two of their drivers finished in the top-six – Simon Pagenaud second, with Helio Castroneves sixth.

“We had a lot of surprises,” Castroneves told Popular Speed. “One of them was Honda; they did a very good job in showing up with a strong package. To be honest, in my group, we had some issues. Simon finished second, which was tremendous. In my group, sixth – that’s we got. So that’s a pretty good result. In the end, we definitely I feel we could’ve done a little bit better, but we’ll try again.”

Though it’s only one race, and there’s no telling what could happen, especially with the fact Team Penske isn’t anywhere near giving up, either. Castroneves says the championship organization is using St. Petersburg as motivation to be stronger.

“I believe that’s going to happen now, whether through the aerodynamics or the engine – whatever we can within the rules,” he said. “We’re going to try and look around and work on it. I feel that’s a positive thing, and we just got work to do.”

Knowing they have four top-notch drivers, along with the same engineers in place, he feels they can keep the momentum rolling this year to repeat those results.

“I don’t see why we cannot do it,” he said. “As long as we keep ourselves on track, meaning observing everything possible that we can do to improve where we are weak. We do have four incredible fast cars. Why should it not continue? I don’t see that becoming problem. So we’re going to continue looking that way. As I said, we set the bar high. We came out and achieved that, and now we got to put ourselves in a different position to set ourselves up to continue to do better.”

The prospects look strong as last year, Pagenaud walked away as the champion with Will Power second and Castroneves third. Josef Newgarden finished fourth driving for Ed Carpenter Racing but is now part of the Team Penske line-up for 2017.

“I feel Josef is a young rising star,” he said. “He’s definitely has a phenomenal personality and has proven already that he’s a winner. The first race we were able to work really well together, and I feel that he’s definitely a great choice by Team Penske. He has a different style of driving, but I think that’s probably going to help us to continue moving forward.”

Castroneves and his mates will get another shot at it on April 9 when the series heads to Long Beach, California for the second street course of the season.

“Long Beach is a place that it’s concrete area in some straights, pavement in others – so there’s a mix of grip, which I believe could help us,” Castroneves said. “Long Beach is a place that we feel we have very good handling car and that could play favorable to us.”

Beyond dealing with two different surfaces, Castroneves says drivers also face a challenge in choosing what type of downforce to put in the car due to two long straightaways.

Outside of Long Beach, drivers also have their eyes on Indianapolis, having been testing there once during the early season break. Castroneves feels Team Penske tested well, having a productive day with each of four trying something different. They look to take advantage of a second test this coming Saturday.

“Anytime you have a moment to practice a whole day at Indianapolis – doesn’t matter when, it always important,” he said. “I’m glad that we’ve had a taste of it going there. It’s kind of like setting up your office before you get into it, and that’s what we’re doing. Hopefully, when we get there in the month of May, we’ll be ready to go.”

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.

 

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Year in Review: Helio Castroneves

Despite not winning a race last season, Helio Castroneves was consistent throughout the season en route to finishing third in points.

 

Points Finish: 3rd

Car No.: 3

Driver Name: Helio Castroneves

Team Name: Team Penske

Total Races: 16

Victories: 0

Podiums: 4

Top-Fives: 8

Top-10s: 10

Average Start: 4.2

Average Finish: 7.9

DNFs: 1

 

After a solid season last year, Castroneves started off the 2016 season on a strong note with a fourth place finish in the St. Petersburg season opener. However, his first bad race of the year came in race two, with an 11th place finish at Phoenix International Raceway. Helio Castroneves started on pole and led until a flat tire forced him to pit road on Lap 40. From there on, it was just a matter of trying to fight his way back to the front.

Like a true veteran, he didn’t let the bad night be the tale of his season as he rattled off three straight top-seven finishes to follow, including a runner-up finish in the Indianapolis Grand Prix. Unfortunately, the success there didn’t carry into the Indianapolis 500, as he finished 11th following a pit road incident. He looked to be back on the right road with a fifth in the first race on the streets of Detroit, but found more bad luck with a 14th in the second race due to an untimely caution during pit strategy.

It seems the rocky back and forth mode continued for Castroneves through the summer as he finished fifth at Road America, only to follow that up with a 13th at Iowa Speedway. He finished in the runner-up spot at the Honda Indy Toronto, only to finish 15th at Mid-Ohio following an early on-track incident. The problems there were only made worse by finishing 19th a week later at Pocono Raceway following an incident on pit road.

He was able to close out the season well, posting a pair of top-fives in the final three races, including a third at Watkins Glen.

Highlight of 2016 – The points finish, which was brought forth by posting some solid finishes despite the problems experienced.

Downfall of 2016 – Not reaching victory lane, marking the second season in a row Castroneves was unable to since winning in 2014 en route to a runner-up in points.

Road/Street Course Analysis – While he has been strong on both ovals and road/street courses, he really showed his strength on the road/street courses this season with seven top-fives and nine top-10s.

Oval Analysis – Surprisingly, Castroneves failed to post a top-10 in the first four oval races this season. However, he posted a fifth in the last oval event of the season at Texas Motor Speedway.

Notes for 2017 – Consistency is a key to finishing well, and a couple notches in avoiding incidents which seemed to come his way this past season could lead Castroneves back into being a solid championship contender so he can finally knock down his first series champion.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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