Categories
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)

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.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Alabama

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.

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)

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.

Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Back Involved with Indy Lights

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports didn’t stay away from Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires for long, as the organization announced a driver development program partnership with Belardi Auto Racing on Thursday. Beginning this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, Santi Urrutia’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics entry will match James Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar entry.

“This new program with Belardi Auto Racing is all about assisting young talented drivers any way we can to get them to the Verizon IndyCar Series,” commented SPM co-owner Sam Schmidt. “Santi did a great job for us in 2016, coming just one point shy of becoming an IndyCar driver this year. Brian Belardi has a great history of doing everything possible with talented drivers, like Gabby Chaves and Zach Veach, so we think this is a great fit. Arrow Electronics and their guests will now have another car to cheer for this season.”

After 2016, Schmidt announced he would not field an Indy Lights car for the first time in 15 years to focus on his IndyCar team and SAM Project. SPM picked up their first win and championship in 2004, backing it up with six more championships in the years to follow. They currently field two full-time IndyCar entries, with Hinchcliffe second in points following his Long Beach victory.

Urrutia raced Indy Lights last season for SPM, placing second in points with 10 top-five finishes. He moved to Belardi Auto Racing for 2017, sitting sixth in the standings following St. Petersburg. 

“I’m very excited for this combined effort,” offered Brian Belardi. “I’m looking forward to the partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and having the Arrow Electronics name on our No. 5 car. I believe this new collaboration is a great step forward for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder program. I’m very proud with the fact that our former drivers like Gabby Chaves and Zach Veach will be in this year’s Indianapolis 500, and I know that this new driver development program will help graduate more of the Belardi family into the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

Belardi Auto Racing had a successful 2016 season with six race wins and finish fourth in points with Zach Veach. The Indiana-based team has had success in Indy Lights before, previously winning the championship in 2014. Thus far, Urruitia’s teammates Aaron Telitz and Shelby Blackstock sit second and fourth in points.

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.

Categories
Commentary Open Wheel

FANTASY HOT TIP: Alabama

The Firestone IndyCar Fantasy Challenge for round two at Long Beach was not a memorable for yours truly.

While Sebastien Bourdais earned the Verizon IndyCar Series’ points lead with a solid second-place finish, elsewhere things were far from perfect. As was the case at St. Petersburg as Team Penske’s Will Power struggled, creating a path to where he stood midway through 2016. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot provided decent support with a top-ten effort; however, Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato failed to factor and was out of contention from the start.

With the shortcomings at Long Beach, I have had to go counterattack mode for Barber Motorsports Park. My only returnee from Long Beach is Bourdais, who has exceeded all predictions before the 2017 IndyCar season began. As predicted, his value has increased forcing a change in strategy.

Although Will Power is always capable of a strong outing on a road course, the lack of pace from Chevrolet is cause for concern. So in his place for round three is another Honda driver: Ryan Hunter-Reay. Yes, RHR was part of the Andretti Autosport meltdown at Long Beach. Before the mechanical problems, however, he was in position to challenge for a top-three finish. The target for fantasy games is to look for drivers with upside. For now RHR shows signs of it while Power does not.

I admit guilt in believing that Takuma Sato had somehow been tamed by Andretti Autosport after opening with a top-five at St. Pete. Unfortunately, a return to a hit or miss habit that has prevented him from reaching his potential showed itself at Long Beach. While the Japanese veteran disappointed, one driver that has returned to his former race contending form is James Hinchcliffe. If not for a questionable caution flag in round one, the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver could be two for two entering Alabama. What looked to be more of a feelgood story when he won the 100th Indianapolis 500 pole appears to have some staying power and is enough to reel me in for now.

As for Spencer Pigot, it is not that he has done anything wrong in 2017. A freak suspension failure ended his day at St. Pete and Long Beach showed what is possible if he makes the finish. Of course, there is another pilot who has a little more successful track record.  Like his teammate at Dale Coyne Racing, Ed Jones has been a pleasant surprise among the top finishers in 2017, posting back-to-back top-tens. With the reigning Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion achieving success, it backs up improvement by the Chicago-based team is legit.

While yours truly is likely to revamp the roster again when IndyCar confronts its first oval race of 2017, the quartet of Hunter-Reay, Bourdais, Hinchcliffe, and Jones should produce a solid output this weekend.

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.

 

Categories
Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY: Indy 500 Grid-a-tology Version 1.0

With 30 confirmations and at least two more likely soon, it is time to rate the 101st Indianapolis 500 field.
 
The purpose of Indianapolis 500 Grid-a-tology is to give an idea on who’s trending upward in the battle for being Firestone Fast Nine eligible.
 
One month out from opening weekend at Indy, there is an increasing bias toward anyone featuring a Honda engine and aero kit. Although Chevrolet has normally trumped Honda since Dallara’s DW12 debuted in 2012, Honda took pole position last year with James Hinchcliffe. Add to that, HPD has opened 2017’s Verizon IndyCar Series season with two victories.
 
So as you will notice, the upper half of list number one is full of Hondas. Chevrolet still could be heard from, yet most of the burden could be placed on Team Penske’s quintet, unless former back-to-back pole winners Ed Carpenter Racing make some progress at the Phoenix Grand Prix later this month.
 
NOTE: Drivers yet to be officially confirmed, are listed in parentheses.
 
FRONT ROW
 
Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing: It is almost laughable to consider that Dixon and CGR have failed to advance to Pole Day Shootout phase of qualifying at Indy in two of last three years. The Iceman did win the 500 pole two years ago, but remember that due to a safety concern, the cars were run in race trim. The resume does not release confidence, but Honda’s early wins are enough to place the New Zealander in P1 for now.
 
James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Hinch unleashed required pace when it mattered in 2016 and the gap between Honda and Chevrolet seems to be widening further from last year’s perceived edge. While odds are stacked against his teammates’ chances to join him in Firestone Fast Nine, the Mayor should play a role when the shootout begins.
 
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske: When practice opens, Newgarden will have had five starts with Penske under his belt, enough to remove nerves and gain a necessary focus. The Dallara he will use this year should be better than what ECR gave him a year ago when he qualified second. The key factor, will be whether Chevrolet can hold a candle to Honda.
 
ROW 2
 
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport: Hard to fathom how Andretti Autosport has been unable to earn a pole position at Indy since 2005. RHR has made front row twice during the DW12 era and probably rates as best chance to challenge for pole position.
 
Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing: TK was a regular front two rows qualifier for several years at Indy, but has struggled to regain his magic touch during the current decade. Could be projecting him a little high here, but we will see things play out during practice week.
 
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske: The most successful pole day among active drivers, yet three-time Indy 500 champion has struggled to make front row recently. Always a factor during qualifying weekend, so it is impossible to ignore him.
 
ROW 3
 
Alexander Rossi, Andretti Herta Autosport: Defending Indianapolis 500 champion should have made Firestone Fast Nine last year. Early fast run, plus an extension of Saturday qualifying by one hour knocked him out in final moments. Should be a greater threat with one year of experience.
 
Will Power, Team Penske: Lack of pace from Chevrolet, coupled with bad returns at Long Beach raise some concerns. Scratch latter issue and Power would be Penske’s best chance to win pole position next month.
 
Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport: 2006 Indy 500 runner-up fought hard to earn a Firestone Fast Nine spot last year but ultimately fell short. More muscle under cowling could be what is needed to make the shootout.
 
ROW 4
 
Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske: Pagenaud sneaked into final qualifying phase last year, but may not be as fortunate with Chevrolet more vulnerable in the speed department. Regardless, it is tough to get five or six cars from one team in the shootout.
 
Takuma Sato, Andretti Autosport: Few get as close to touching the wall as this Japanese veteran does. However, he now has a car capable of reaching Firestone Fast Nine. That at least puts him in range.
 
Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Last second run put him in position for the pole last year, but stronger challenges from both Ganassi and Andretti once again makes a first three rows appearance a long shot.
 
ROW 5:
 
Fernando Alonso, Andretti Autosport: It is unfair to expect a top-nine effort from someone who has never driven an IndyCar this close to pole day. Even though Nigel Mansell managed to qualify eighth as a 500 rookie in 1993, the British Lion had more oval track testing miles than Alonso will have. This is around where Kurt Busch ended up three years ago and should be a realistic target for the McLaren F1 pilot.
 
Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing: In 2013 and 2014, this guy was a top-nine lock. However, since his accident on pole day two years ago, Carpenter has failed to make an impact. While ECR gets most of its results on ovals, Chevrolet’s current handicap makes the task even tougher next month.
 
Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing: Unless Coyne makes a dent in qualifying for Phoenix, this is as good as it will get for Bourdais and DCR in time trial mode. If Bruno Junqueira and Justin Wilson could do no better than this, why will Bourdais?
 
ROW 6:
 
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske: Unlike his teammates, qualifying has been an oil and water exercise for the Colombian. Inconsistent pace dashed hopes to make Firestone Fast Nine last year, and that was before a trash bag messed up his decent run one day later.
 
Carlos Munoz, A.J. Foyt Racing: Qualifying was kryptonite for Super Tex and company during the DW12 era and despite a go for broke style of Munoz, pieces are missing to allow for a realistic chance to make the top-nine cut.
 
Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing: Has been a consistent top-ten finisher at Indy for CGR, but form has not transferred to qualifications. Despite featuring Honda power, a mid-field effort is expected.
 
ROW 7
 
Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: 2011 Indy 500 front row starter has consistently outpaced his full-time teammate in qualifying and stands a good chance of doing so next month.
 
J.R. Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing: Hand injury aside, it has been a rough return to full-time service for this Indy-specialist. Generally projects higher than here, but unknowns of Chevrolet’s pace are concerning.
 
Sage Karam, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Not a strong qualifier; however, Karam’s stock could rise with semi-teammate to compare information with. Would match qualifying run from 2015.
 
ROW 8
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: The son of 1986 Indy 500 champion has yet to master four-lap qualifying and has wound up in the bottom of the starting grid as a result. At this point, out-running his teammate Servia would be a success.
 
Jack Harvey, Andretti Autosport: Good to see 2015 Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires runner-up in a car this month. While Andretti is a solid car provider, Harvey’s limited race participation will make it difficult to reach the top half.
 
Ed Jones, Dale Coyne Racing: Situation for the Dubai-based rookie is similar to Bourdais’. If DCR shows potential at Phoenix, row eight will not be Jones’ likely home. A spot higher up will be.
 
ROW 9
 
Max Chilton, Chip Ganassi Racing: Pole day accident last year, prevented him a chance to experience the full qualifying weekend. That could negatively impact his output in 2017.
 
Conor Daly, A.J. Foyt Racing: Does not have momentum on his side as was present last year. Early struggles with Foyt may continue into Indy 500 festivities.
 
Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing: Alliance with DRR and presence of team manager Larry Curry are nice to have, but low expectations are reasonable for any new team.
 
ROW 10
 
Pippa Mann, Dale Coyne Racing: If indeed DCR has upped its game, 2017 could be Mann’s best chance to line up higher on the starting grid, than she ever has before. Phoenix efforts from Bourdais and Jones will significantly influence thinking here.
 
Zach Veach, A.J. Foyt Racing: Indy Lights veteran finally gets a chance to race in IndyCar. Foyt’s early performances predict a tough road ahead though.
 
Jay Howard, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Long layoff for Howard regarding Indy 500 participation means he will likely be playing catch-up once practice opens next month.
 
ROW 11
 
(Kyle Kaiser), Juncos Racing: New team, plus a young driver. Cannot be expected to be a winning combination right out of the starting gate.
 
Buddy Lazier, Lazier Partners Racing: Loss of Larry Curry makes mission impossible even harder for family-run operation. Will be tough to avoid back of starting grid.
 
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.
Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Long Beach

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.

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

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

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (+1)

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

2. Dale Coyne Racing (+2)

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

3. Chip Ganassi Racing (-2)

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

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

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

5. Andretti Autosport (-2)

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

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (No Change)

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

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (No Change)

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

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

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

Driver Rankings:

1. Sebastien Bourdais (+2)

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

2. James Hinchcliffe (+2)

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

3. Scott Dixon (-2)

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

4. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

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

5. Will Power (-3)

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

6. Josef Newgarden (+2)

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

7. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-1)

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

8. Helio Castroneves (-2)

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

9. Spencer Pigot (Not Ranked)

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

10. Ed Jones (Not Ranked)

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

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

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

Categories
News Open Wheel

Hinchcliffe Completes Comeback with Long Beach Victory

LONG BEACH, California (Sunday, April 9, 2017) – James Hinchcliffe is all the way back now.

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, seriously injured in an Indianapolis 500 practice crash nearly two years ago, recorded his first Verizon IndyCar Series win since the incident by taking the checkered flag at the prestigious Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Driving the No. 5 Arrow Honda, Hinchcliffe crossed the finish line 1.4940 seconds ahead of Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, the winner of last month’s season opener.

TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Box score

Hinchcliffe’s last win came at NOLA Motorsports Park in April 2015, a month before the crash caused when a suspension piece on the car broke at 220-plus mph on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Hinchcliffe returned to racing last season and captured the Indianapolis 500 pole position, but had yet to win another race until today.

“To finally do what was goal No. 1 when we set out at the start of the season, to get back into winner’s circle, to do so as early in the season as we have, as convincingly as we did, was great,” said Hinchcliffe, who recorded the fifth victory of his seven-year Verizon IndyCar Series career.

The Canadian and “Dancing with the Stars” Season 23 runner-up took the lead for good on the 63rd of 85 laps around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit that hosted Indy cars for the 34th consecutive year. A full-course caution on the same lap to tow in the disabled car of Alexander Rossi helped Hinchcliffe save enough Sunoco E85R fuel to make it to the end and he held off Bourdais in a three-lap dash to the finish following another yellow when Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had been running second, stopped on course with an electrical issue.

“After Indy and personally me for Toronto, this is the biggest one to win,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve had a lot of luck here. We’ve been really quick here in the past and to finally get to victory lane here is more than I can put into words.

“This place has a lot of history, that’s what drivers really care about. The greatest of the greats have won here. Toronto, Indy and this place were on my bucket list to win before I die, and it’s nice to check one off.”

Bourdais, driving the No. 18 Trench Shoring Honda, recovered from rear wing damage sustained from debris when the cars of Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball made contact on Lap 1. Coupled with his win March 12 in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it gave Bourdais a 19-point lead over Hinchcliffe in the championship after two of 17 races.

“The fuel saving we could achieve today with the performance we had on the Honda was amazing,” said Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion who won three straight Long Beach races from 2005-07. “I’ve always been pretty comfortable saving fuel and that one sort of came to us today.”

Josef Newgarden finished third in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet, earning his best Long Beach result and first top-three finish since joining Team Penske this season.

“It’s always good to get the first podium out of the way for the Captain,” Newgarden said of team owner Roger Penske. “It was a pleasure to drive this weekend. Verizon gives us great tools at Team Penske. It’s nice to get this one out of the way. Hopefully now we can hunt down some wins.”

Last year’s Long Beach winner and Verizon IndyCar Series champion, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, charged from last on the 21-car starting grid to finish fifth. Bourdais’ teammate at Dale Coyne Racing, Ed Jones, placed sixth to notch his second straight top-10 finish to start his rookie season.

Last-lap contact between Mikhail Aleshin and JR Hildebrand sent Hildebrand’s No. 21 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet into the Turn 1 tire barrier. According to INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows, the Ed Carpenter Racing driver sustained a broken bone in his left hand, was not cleared to drive and will be re-evaluated later this week. Aleshin was penalized by INDYCAR for blocking and moved back one position in the final results to 12th place.

“I was making a move on Mikhail Aleshin and I could tell he was struggling,” Hildebrand said. “I was out of push-to-pass so I was trying to make a proper, full-out pass down the front straightaway. He had been starting to move over, not a major blocking maneuver but enough to assert his line. He hit the brake a lot earlier than I was expecting and I ended up running into the back of him.

“In doing so, it ripped the steering wheel from my hand and I ended up tweaking (the hand). … Hopefully I can get back to it here before the next race.”

The next event on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from the Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile permanent road course in Birmingham, Alabama. The April 23 race airs live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Battle of the Manufacturers in the Hands of the Teams

Since 2012, when the Verizon IndyCar Series changed to a 2.2L, V-6, twin-turbocharged engine, Chevrolet has dominated over its sole competitor Honda, by winning five consecutive Manufacturer Titles. Its success can be partially attributed to how the American car company shares information and supports its teams.

When everyone ran the same Dallara chassis, Honda had four wins to Chevy’s 11 in 2012, nine wins in 2013 to Chevy’s ten, and six wins to Chevy’s 12 in 2014. Then the aero kits were introduced in 2015 – body work for five areas on the car (front and rear wings, side pods, and engine cover), which each engine manufacturer designed. Honda won six races to Chevy’s ten in 2015, but last year Honda earned only two victories to Chevy’s 14. That may just have been a wake-up call to the Honda camp.

IndyCar has frozen the aero kits, so there has been no development since the 2016 season began. For 2017, the areas of engine development are limited to pistons, valves, connecting rods, exhaust, spark plugs, and air filters. That does not leave a lot of options for Honda to improve its engine.

The changes Honda was allowed to make before the 2016 season began, allowed both engine and aero kit development, which included a unique opportunity for Honda to match the performance of the 2015 Chevy aero kit. Honda chose to focus most of those options on winning the Indianapolis 500. They succeeded with a package that was strong on the superspeedways, including good fuel mileage, but lacked a little in performance against the Chevies on the short ovals and road courses.

Asked mid-January if Honda shares information among its teams, Andretti Autosport driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, answered, “No, just very basic stuff. There’s not a whole lot of data sharing. The big-ticket items that we can find power gains, on power application – especially on street circuits, and maybe aero (are shared). But when you’re fine-tuning the car, the aero or power plant, those are usually kept to the individual team.”

The Chevy teams have worked a lot better together with more support and shared information so that they all succeed. Chevy also managed to sign up the top teams (when they entered the series in 2012) like Penske and Ganassi, leaving Honda with its long-term relationship with Andretti Autosport.

With only two victories last season, Honda appears to have changed their philosophy and is now sharing much more information among its teams. During the offseason, the Ganassi team switched from Chevy to Honda power, and their engineers methodically went through every part in the Honda aero kit to determine its performance. The results can be seen in the first race of the season at St. Petersburg where not only did a Honda-powered driver win the race, but seven Honda’s finished in the top ten. And in qualifying, three Honda-powered teams made it to the Fast Six Shootout, Ganassi, Schmidt Peterson, and Andretti.

An indication of just how well the Honda teams are working together this season were the radio communications during the St. Pete race asking for courtesy from other Honda-powered drivers not to hold up the Honda-powered leader, Sebastien Bourdais. 

“We are always pushing and always trying to improve,” explained James Hinchcliffe, a Honda-powered driver at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. “Whenever you add good teams and good drivers to the stable, it’s going to elevate everybody. No doubt having Chip Ganassi Racing join the (Honda) stable helps elevate everybody. You’ve got four great drivers and a tremendously successful and resourceful team to kind of help push everybody forward. Huge credit to those guys for everything they have brought to the table. We’re all bearing the fruit from that now. Honda wouldn’t tell us if that’s where it came from; they’d probably just say we figured this out.”

Although both engine manufacturers have limited options for engine development for 2017, Honda certainly seems to have advanced their program. The noticeable improvement can be credited in part to its teams working much closer together. 

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 Power Rankings

IndyCar Power Rankings — St. Petersburg

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.

With the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg officially in the record books, it is time to update the team rankings from this past week. Recall, before the season, the rankings were released based on last year and off-season changes. Click here to refresh your memory.

It is also a chance to debut the top ten drivers on the circuit. Keep in mind, the rankings you will see here do not necessarily follow finishing positions from Sunday.

So buckle up folks, here are the results!

Team Rankings:

1. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)
2. Team Penske (-1)
3. Andretti Autosport (No Change)
4. Dale Coyne Racing (+3)
5. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (-1)
6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (-1)
7. Ed Carpenter Racing (-1)
8. A.J. Foyt Racing (No Change)

Dale Coyne Racing is no surprise the biggest mover, jumping from No. 7 to No. 4 in the run up to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske swap places at the top as CGR went beyond where they were expected to be in its return to the Honda engine and aerodynamic options. Team Penske and Andretti Autosport were a push this past weekend, so they line up in positions two and three.

The early elimination of Graham Rahal and the bad luck with the second full course caution hampering early race leader James Hinchcliffe means both Rahal and Schmidt drop a place on the list. And while Spencer Pigot made noise early in the race for ECR, they fall to No. 7 following the opening round. Foyt rounds out the list after disappointing outputs from both Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly.

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon

Following my views on the teams’ list, Scott Dixon moves to the top with his solid third-place effort at St. Petersburg, a performance hurt by the debris caution that shuffled the running order. The Iceman’s performance also puts the 2008 Indy 500 champion as my early favorite for the 101st edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, as he has shown impressive oval savvy in recent runnings.

2. Will Power

St. Pete was a throwaway race for Power, who also was negatively affected by the caution and then sidelined by mechanical failure late. Before his eventual elimination, Power showed enough in both qualifying and the race to merit the number two spot ahead of race winner Sebastien Bourdais.

3. Sebastien Bourdais

While DCR showed the potential to be a consistent frontrunner on at least the road courses, a back-up of its first showing at Long Beach is necessary before Bourdais challenges for the top two spots.

4. James Hinchcliffe

The Mayor of Hinchtown also deserves a second chance at Long Beach after a solid effort to make the Firestone Fast Six and two strong early race moves to vault from the second row at the start to the early lead. Hinch could also be primed for a further jump after the Toyota GP if Honda continues to show superiority over Chevrolet in the power and handling department.

5. Simon Pagenaud

Pagenaud did well to salvage his weekend with a runner-up finish; however, the yellow flag aid, plus a lackluster qualifying performance drop him to fifth in the rankings.

6. Ryan Hunter-Reay

Andretti Autosport had a decent opening act for 2017 as Hunter-Reay finished best for the team with a fourth-place result.

7. Takuma Sato

Sato finished fifth in his debut with AA. He also qualified fifth — solid first day at the office for the Japanese racer.

8. Josef Newgarden

Newgarden’s much-anticipated first race with Penske wasn’t spectacular, but not terrible either. He finished eighth after starting the race fourth.

9. Tony Kanaan

Kanaan opened the 2017 campaign with a 12th-place result after qualifying sixth.

10.Helio Castroneves

Castroneves started 16th and picked up 10 positions in the 110-lap event to end up sixth on the day.

I also give honorable mention honors to Spencer Pigot, who before his suspension failure entering the pit lane, was perhaps the most aggressive driver with the eye test. If he can make the checkered flag at Long Beach, Pigot could join the top ten after two events.

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.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Hinchcliffe: DWTS Created “Whole New Demographic of Fans”

AVONDALE, Ariz. — During the offseason, James Hinchcliffe’s celebrity status grew from racecar driver to dancer — and a good one, at that.

The 2011 Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year finished runner-up on the popular ABC television series Dancing with the Stars. He was paired with Sharna Burgess, who has been a part of the show since 2013, for its 23rd season.

Now that the dancing season is over and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver’s focus turns to the upcoming IndyCar campaign, he discussed how he created a new fanbase for himself.

“Yeah, I’m everybody’s grandmother’s favorite,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s bringing a whole new demographic of fans to IndyCar, which was a huge motivator for doing it in the first place.

“When you’re on a program that draws 10 to 11 million people a week, it’s a pretty big number to get recognized a little more.”

Hinchcliffe wasn’t the first racecar driver to appear on the show. Fellow IndyCar competitor Hélio Castroneves competed with Julianne Hough and won first place in the reality series’ fifth season in 2007. Also, NASCAR’s Michael Waltrip partnered with Emma Slater for Season 19 in 2014 but was eliminated seventh.

With IndyCar’s second-tier standing behind NASCAR, the industry wanted to gain some ground on the more mainstream stock car series. Social media helped Hinchcliffe and IndyCar get more exposure, which benefits the racing community as a whole.

“A big reason to want to do it was to increase the visibility of the sport,” Hinchcliffe added. “I think we did that and hopefully we see some Dancing fans in the grandstands this year.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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