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IndyCar Open Wheel

Pagenaud Falls Short In Defense Of Crown

The odds were not in his favor entering the final chapter of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series on Sunday; however, Simon Pagenaud fought hard to keep his No. 1 plate for another year.

Going off-sequence with an aggressive, four-stop pit strategy to move from the second row of the grid to the top spot by the end of the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the Frenchman did what he had to do to win his second title. But, the needed luck unfortunately never came about. Despite driving the wheels off his DXC Chevrolet, even going off course on back-to-back laps at the challenging turn nine chicane, the veteran never gave way. Pagenaud managed to reach the checkered flag first, but his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden finished behind him in second, just enough to take his first series championship by 13 points.

“It was Kyle Moyer’s (race engineer) idea to go with four stops, it was a great call from and probably the only way we could win (today),” said Pagenaud to IndyCar Radio after the race. “We did everything we could do, but Josef did enough to hold us off, he deserves it.”

It is not that Pagenaud has had a bad season in 2017; it is just a step below what he achieved in 2016. In his championship-clinching campaign, the Chevrolet pilot opened the year with an astounding first five races where he either won the event or placed second. With the big surge, not even a two-race skid at Indy and Detroit, nor a similar dominant phase from Australia’s Will Power with six straight podiums could deny the French-based chauffeur from lifting the Astor Cup.

This year, the win count dropped from five a season ago, to just two including Sunday’s win at Sonoma; however, the Frenchman was much more consistent as a front-runner. After claiming 10 top-five’s in 2016, Pagenaud improved the count to 13 in 2017. Unfortunately, the same two rounds that hampered him a season ago, were prevalent in keeping his name off the championship trophy this time around. Despite having a goal to win the Indianapolis 500, the Frenchman struggled throughout May, only qualifying on the eighth row and settling for a 14th-place finish. The following weekend at The Raceway at Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan was equally challenging, and he was credited with a 16th in the first of two scheduled events.

While Newgarden also was a non-factor at the Brickyard, placing 19th after being collected in a late-race pile-up in llturn two, a similar run of wins and runner-ups in rounds 12 through 15 were enough to top Pagenaud’s results. The Frenchman was equally strong though, posting no finishes worse than ninth in Toronto.

“We won the race. It wasn’t enough,” explained Pagenaud after the race. “It’s a whole championship. You’ve got to be strong at every race and I guess Josef was a little stronger this year.”

Although the make-up of Team Penske next year is still in question with whether Helio Castroneves will return to contest the full season in 2018 or not, most of the key players are in place for Pagenaud, Newgarden, and Will Power should be back in full force. If the transition to a new look Dallara DW12 causes a few headaches, the experience should keep the Captain’s trio or quartet near the front of the proceedings, and if things work out, Simon Pagenaud may reclaim his title in 365 days time.

Still, when one looks back on his 2017 campaign, a runner-up placing is far from a failure.

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

Perfect Penske Day Ends with Pagenaud Race Win, Newgarden Championship

SONOMA, California (Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017) – For Team Penske, it was the perfect day at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Simon Pagenaud won the race to conclude the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Teammate Josef Newgarden finished second to wrap up the championship.

Pagenaud, the 2016 champion driving the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, beat Newgarden to the finish line by 1.0986 seconds to win the 85-lap race at Sonoma Raceway. It was the Frenchman’s 11th career victory and second straight on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn permanent road course. A year ago, Pagenaud won from the pole position at Sonoma to sew up his first championship.

GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Box score

This year, it was Newgarden who clinched his first title and the $1 million champion’s prize by finishing second in the race. The 26-year-old Tennessean held off Pagenaud by 13 points in the final standings to become the first American driver to win the championship since Ryan Hunter-Reay five years ago.

“I don’t even know what to say,” said Newgarden, the driver of the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet who made his 100th career start today. “It was all year and it took a lot to make it happen. Thank you to my teammates. They were giving me a lot of help to make sure we got this done. It’s a huge team effort at Team Penske.

“To finally get it done is a dream come true.”

The championship is the 15th for Team Penske, the most decorated team in Indy car history. Newgarden joins the likes of Tom Sneva, Rick Mears, Al Unser, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser Jr., Gil de Ferran, Sam Hornish Jr., Will Power and Pagenaud as Team Penske drivers to win an Indy car title.

“I’ve had so many great drivers, and as I said, I don’t have a favorite,” team owner Roger Penske said. “I can’t compare (Newgarden) to anyone exactly. He’s an American, which is special in this sport because many of the other drivers have come from overseas and different parts of the world. To see Josef kind of take this route and be at the top right now is pretty exciting.”

The race ran caution-free for the first time in Sonoma Raceway history, which now spans 14 Indy car events. Newgarden and Pagenaud each led 41 laps. Pagenaud opted for a four-stop strategy to Newgarden’s three pit stops, but the Frenchman made up the extra time in pit lane by turning faster laps on an open track.

The decisive race moment came when Pagenaud made his final stop from the lead for fuel and tires on Lap 64. He returned to the track just ahead of the charging Newgarden and held on to first place as the teammates battled around the track. From there, Pagenaud kept Newgarden in his mirrors to the finish.

Pagenaud completed all 2,331 laps this season, becoming just the second driver to finish every lap in a season. Tony Kanaan was the first, when he completed all 3,305 laps when he won the 2004 championship.

“We did what we had to do,” Pagenaud said. “We tried. We won the race; it wasn’t enough. It’s a whole championship. You’ve got to be strong in every race and I guess Josef was a little stronger this year, so we’ll come back. Thirteen points. Next year we’ll come back and give him a hell of a competition again.”

Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, gave Team Penske a race podium sweep by placing third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske. Scott Dixon finished fourth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing to clinch third in the standings, 23 points behind Newgarden. It is the 11th time in his 17-year career that Dixon, a four-time champion, has finished in the top three in points.

Helio Castroneves wrapped up fourth in the standings by finishing fifth in the race driving the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Completing his 20th year racing Indy cars, the 42-year-old Brazilian is still in search of his first series championship.

By finishing third in the race, Power – the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion – earned fifth place in the standings.

An hour-long special documenting the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and Newgarden’s championship will air at 7 p.m. ET Sept. 28 on NBCSN.  

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IndyCar Open Wheel

FANTASY HOT TIP: Sonoma

The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma means one final decision is in the way of Firestone Fantasy Challenge players for 2017.

In the previous 16 events of the Verizon IndyCar Series, most of the drivers were on the same agenda to win outright. However, in the California Wine Country, the scenarios are mixed. The quartet from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon are vying for a season championship. Others, such as J.R. Hildebrand and Carlos Munoz for instance, need a result to maintain employment for 2018. In the case of both, neither pilot has a ride in the cards for next year.

So while some in Sunday’s 22-car lineup may choose a more conservative tact, others will view the action as a nothing to lose offering and maybe take risks that one would otherwise opt against. With those matters at hand, picking a team capable of raking in a large sum of points to close out the fantasy year could be tough.

Yours truly has thrown caution to the wind for the 17th and final outing and features a quartet of participants who have each had their own moment in the sun during the current campaign. Heading the list is current championship leader Josef Newgarden, attempting to become the first American driver to win the title since Ryan Hunter-Reay did so in 2012. Although the Tennessean arrives at Sonoma Raceway off a bad race at Watkins Glen when he came home in 18th, his ability to top the speed charts in both sessions on Friday, shows to me that he is ready to fight all out for the required crown-earning result.

Also on a bit of a roll entering Northern California is home state native, Alexander Rossi. With a win in New York and four other top-six or better placements in the last five races, the NAPA Auto Parts Honda chauffeur has to be viewed as a legit challenger on Sunday. The second-year veteran finished fifth at Sonoma a season ago.

While he has yet to return to the form he presented before his horrific accident suffered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais is worth the risk of selecting this weekend, having finished sixth at this venue for the Windy City runners in 2011. Although the St. Petersburg, Florida street circuit he won upon to open this year, lacks the elevation changes present at Sonoma Raceway, the Frenchman’s talents on road courses are well documented in previous stints in both ChampCar and Formula One.

Rounding out my squad for race number seventeeen is Spencer Pigot for Ed Carpenter Racing. The 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion may have encountered the worst luck of any regular entrant in 2017. Mechanical failures have denied him chances at top-ten placements; however, the ECR group are in major need of a good result, in hopes of a significant boost in performance for 2018, when the American young gun will contest every event on the calendar.

Even though just one player in the hunt for a title is featured on Sunday’s lineup card, the group presented may take advantage of the overaggressive nature of others to close out 2017 with a better than expected climax.

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

Points Leader Newgarden Wins Sonoma Pole With Record Lap

SONOMA, California (Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017) – Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden withstood constant pressure from his nearest championship competitors, setting a track record to win the Verizon P1 Award in GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma qualifying.

Newgarden earned his first pole of the season and second of his six-year career with a scintillating last lap of 1 minute, 15.5205 seconds (113.691 mph) on Sonoma Raceway’s 2.385-mile, 12-turn permanent road course. The championship bonus point Newgarden collected for winning the pole stretched his advantage to four points over Scott Dixon heading into Sunday’s season finale that offers double race points.

GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Qualifying results

The pole-winning lap from Newgarden in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet edged teammate Will Power for qualifying honors. It was the 11th pole position won by a Team Penske driver this season and No. 256 in the team’s Indy car history.

“I was just hoping we could get one of these (Verizon P1 Awards) this year,” said Newgarden, whose only previous pole came at Milwaukee in 2015. “We’ve been close a couple times and a couple places I felt like we had the speed to do it and didn’t get it done.

“It’s cool because this is the Verizon P1 Award and I’ve been driving the hum by Verizon car many races this year, and I haven’t been able to get it in its place.”

Power, fifth in the standings and now 69 points behind Newgarden, ran a best lap of 1:15.5556 (113.638 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in the Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying. The lap fell less than four-hundredths of a second shy of giving Power his 51st career pole and seventh this season.

“You start going back through the lap in your head,” Power said. “I could have just hit the throttle a little earlier there, would have helped me braking actually, push back. It’s tight, it’s just like that sometimes. Gave it everything I got.”

Simon Pagenaud’s track record from 2016 (1:16.2530) was broken in the first round by Newgarden (1:15.7917), but Pagenaud reset the standard temporarily when he was fastest in the second round (1:15.7120) in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet.

It set up the dramatic run for the pole. Newgarden – the only Team Penske driver to use a new set of the Firestone alternate tires in the first round – was quickest in the Firestone Fast Six with another lap record completed on a used set of red-sidewall alternates despite his teammates each having a new set of the softer alternates at their disposal.

“We were behind the eight ball there, for sure, after the first round,” Newgarden said. “We made the best decision we could as a group. There was no way we couldn’t run the reds (in first-round qualifying) because we just had no idea what people were going to run.

“We knew we’d be on our back foot then in the Fast Six, but this car was phenomenal.”

Pagenaud, the reigning series champion, wound up third in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1:15.6356 (113.518 mph). Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske a sweep of the first four qualifying positions when he finished fourth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:15.8032, 113.267 mph). It is the third time this season that Penske drivers have owned the top four qualifying positions, also sweeping at Road America in June and Gateway Motorsports Park last month.

Castroneves is third in the championship, now 23 points behind Newgarden. Pagenaud is fourth, 35 points behind the leader.

Takuma Sato qualified fifth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:16.2208, 112.646 mph), just ahead of Dixon in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing (1:16.3978, 112.385 mph). Dixon was the only driver to reach the Firestone Fast Six at all nine road- and street-course events where it was conducted this season.

“The car was kind of decent to drive, but just couldn’t carry the speed through the corners,” said Dixon, seeking his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship. A win Sunday would accomplish the feat.

“Good to make it through to where we did,” Dixon added. “It was definitely hard work, a big credit to the team. Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there. I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race (and the championship). Definitely you’d want to be a little further up, but that’s the way it goes.”

A final 30-minute warmup practice at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com) will give the 22 competitors a final chance to hone in on race setups. A special pre-race program will stream live at 6 p.m. on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Live race coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. The race winner earns 100 points, with 80 points for second place, 70 for third and down to 16 points for 22nd place. A driver can earn one bonus point for leading a lap, with the driver leading the most laps getting two bonus points.

The 85-lap race on Sunday will mark the 12th straight year that the Verizon IndyCar Series championship is determined in the season’s last race.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

POWER RANKINGS: Watkins Glen

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.

Wrong time to have a clunker. Josef Newgarden has allowed at least three rivals to have a good chance to win the championship, with double points at stake in the GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway. While rain should not be a factor in the Wine Country, the momentum generated by the previous podium finishes could be non-existent.

A couple of notable drivers have moved up the list this week, including Scott Dixon. Before Newgarden jumped to the top last month, the Iceman had been a consistent number one for the first two-thirds of the season.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (Unchanged)
Only Helio Castroneves made the top-five at Watkins Glen, as the strategy calls backfired on other pilots in the Captain’s camp not named Josef Newgarden. Still, the complete body of work for 2017 merits their stay at the top of the heap.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (Unchanged)
Scott Dixon’s second-straight runner-up placing has him in control of his own destiny behind Josef Newgarden by only three points. Top-tens earned by Charlie Kimball (seventh) and Max Chilton (eighth) merit praise likewise.

3. Andretti Autosport (Unchanged)
Not only is Alexander Rossi’s future secured at Andretti in 2018, but he also returned the favor by crushing the competition at Watkins Glen. A solid drive, minus the bad luck that has plagued him throughout 2017, netted Ryan Hunter-Reay a strong third-place result.

4. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+1)
Graham Rahal moves RLLR back to the number four spot on the list, thanks to a trouble-free, fifth-place output in upstate New York.

5. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (-1)
Respectable run from Jack Harvey earned 14th at the checkered flag. However, a second bad effort in the last three rounds by James Hinchcliffe drops SPM down a rung this week.

6. Dale Coyne Racing (Unchanged)
If not for sub par resumes from the Foyt and Carpenter squads, Coyne’s duo of Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Jones would have dropped a notch this week. A warning shot if season closes poorly at Sonoma, though.

7. A.J. Foyt Racing (Unchanged)
Difficult to overlook poor showings for most of the 2017 campaign, but Carlos Munoz (tenth) and Conor Daly (eleventh) have each netted two consecutive good results. A third to close out 2017 could jump them ahead of Coyne entering the off-season.

8. Ed Carpenter Racing (Unchanged)
2017 has been a year of missed opportunities for road-course specialist Spencer Pigot. The former Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion should have garnered better than a 12th-place effort at Watkins Glen. J.R. Hildebrand never made an impact and came home in 15th.

9. Harding Racing (=)
Assuming Harding does indeed go full-time in 2018, Gabby Chaves and company will face a steep learning curve. Still, the Larry Curry-managed squad could be a threat on the ovals at least.

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. Josef Newgarden (Unchanged)
Praying for rain that never came, the Tennessee-native faces a tougher task to win the title entering the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. We will learn quickly how short a memory the Penske pilot has.

2. Scott Dixon (+3)
Back-to-back runner-up placings have the New Zealander well within the range of a fifth IndyCar championship. The results before Gateway were not so great, but unlike Newgarden he has, for the most part, avoided the DNFs.

3. Helio Castroneves (+2)
The Brazilian still has a chance at claiming his first title in what likely will be the last shot. While that scenario could bring about a big result, it could also lead to an ill-timed maneuver. He will need to do better than fourth-place at Watkins Glen when the circuit heads to Sonoma.

4. Alexander Rossi (+2)
Celebrated his short run on the free agent market, by blowing away the competition at New York’s Thunder Road. While he is too far back in points to challenge for a series crown, he could play the role of spoiler in the Wine Country.

5. Will Power (-2)
Sixth-place was nice at the Glen, but damage suffered early in the 2017 season appears to be too much to overcome.

6. Simon Pagenaud (-4)
Might of had a better shot to post a better showing if strategy did not go belly up. Inconsistency has plagued the Frenchman in his title defense.

7. Graham Rahal (+1)
Not been a bad year for Rahal and RLLR; the fifth-place effort was a good one in New York. The Ohioan however, will need a huge finish at Sonoma if he is to be in consideration for a higher end of year ranking.

8. Ryan Hunter-Reay (+1)
Another good performance at Watkins Glen continues to move the 2012 series champion up the list. Not the season we have come to expect from RHR in recent campaigns, but he should be a bigger threat in the new year.

9. James Hinchcliffe (-2)
Back to the drawing board for Hinch and the SPM squad after a rough go of it at Watkins Glen. Not having a consistent teammate may be a potential reason for the recent run of iffy showings.

10. Max Chilton (Unranked)
Time to re-insert the Englishman back into the rankings after a good top-ten at Watkins Glen. While teammate Charlie Kimball outran him by one position, Chilton has a more impressive resume, topped off with a career run to fourth at the Indy 500.

Dropped Out: Tony Kanaan (Was No. 10 after St. Louis)

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

Title Battle Thickens Following Watkins Glen

Following Josef Newgarden’s bad early strategic move and an overzealous move to exit pit road late in Sunday’s IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen, the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship fight has changed drastically.

After starting on the inside of row two, he ran just outside the top-10 throughout the event. However, after the incident, the Tennessean’s 18th-place effort is the worst finish posted by the Team Penske pilot, since carding a 20th at the Indianapolis 500 in May.

With only the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma left on the slate, what seemed to be a comfortable 31-point lead when the green flag flew in upstate New York, is now reduced to only three. 

As Newgarden succumbed to adversity, four-time series champion Scott Dixon delivered the clutch performance Sunday that has earned him the nickname: the “Iceman.” After the New Zealander also lost ground early in the 60-lap distance at New York’s Thunder Road, Dixon recovered to secure runner-up honors at a venue where he has won on four previous occasions.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s team leader, however, was not the lone beneficiary on Sunday. Newgarden’s teammate Helio Castroneves moved to just 22 points out of first with a fourth-place finish. Simon Pagenaud, a victim of the winning pass completed by the Tennessee-prospect at St. Louis, also is back in play with the double points offering at Sonoma, after placing fourth.

Although the battle for the championship is essentially a four-man race, others a little further down the points table could also claim a top-three showing with a win or podium at Sonoma. One is perennial road course ace Will Power, who heads to Sonoma 72 out of first, but only 46 behind third. Another is Alexander Rossi, who returned the confidence shown by Andretti Autosport re-signing him for the 2018 campaign, by taking the checkered flag first at the Glen on Sunday.

As for what could happen at Sonoma, my views on Newgarden have changed considerably in seven days. The negative vibes that haunted Dixon in July and August are now squarely on his own shoulders. The No. 2 Chevrolet pilot, has finished no better than sixth in his any of his five attempts at the hilly, Wine Country-based layout, plus he has taken three placements of 20th or worse.

Dixon meanwhile, has shown the same muscle at Sonoma, that he has likewise at the Glen. Although he settled for 17th a season ago, the Iceman won the Go Pro Grand Prix in both 2015 and 2016. The former of those pair of triumphs earned him enough points to take his fourth series title.

While Newgarden looked like a sure-fire champion in the last few events, Dixon appears ready to take what would be a record fifth IndyCar championship.

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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Fantasy Hot Tip: Watkins Glen

Two chances are left for Firestone Fantasy Challenge combatants to improve their placement in the 2017 edition of the IndyCar.com fan game.

Yours truly has not had much luck lately, but I still have a decent chance to secure a top-ten finish after Sonoma, assuming the points output is solid. For the Grand Prix at the Glen on Sunday, I have loaded my roster with road course warriors and championship contenders.

While a $33 price tag on championship leader Josef Newgarden is more than I care to spend for a four-member group that is capped at $100, the quartet chosen is still strong. At the head of the list is Scott Dixon, currently second in the title chase, trailing the Team Penske driver by only 31 points. The New Zealander has struggled to earn top-five results in recent weeks, yet the record book rates him highly in upstate New York. The Iceman has won at this venue four times and placed outside the first ten only once.

Even if Honda is a step or two behind the Penske Chevrolets concerning outright pace over a fuel stint, the talent should be able to override the handicap enough to remain in a role among the frontrunners.

Newgarden’s teammate Will Power has also been selected for this round. The Australian took the checkered flag first at New York’s Thunder Road in 2010; however, let the buyer beware when taking him. He has also placed 15th and 20th in his other two attempts. Despite the disclaimer, the No. 12 Chevrolet chauffeur has bounced back well from a bad result and will need to back-up that reality as a crash on Lap 1 last week in St. Louis cost him precious ground to his Tennessee-based colleague in the championship.

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi has had a good track record in his last four efforts on the IndyCar circuit. He has taken two podium finishes and was sixth in the other two rounds, including last week at Gateway. Despite a dry spell in the second half of last year’s slate, the NAPA Honda driver did manage to come home in eighth in New York in 2016.

To compensate for the heavy hitters in the first three seats this week, I have taken a flyer on Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Jack Harvey, who makes his series debut on a road course on Sunday. Although the British prospect has yet to run at Watkins Glen in his open-wheel career, five of his six wins on the second tier of the Mazda Road to Indy pyramid were on the twisty layouts, as opposed to ovals.

While selecting Dixon is a must, you can afford to get creative to score big points. Good luck players!

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

What We Learned from Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway 2017

The Big Picture:  The story goes that the new owner of Gateway Motorsport Park, Curtis Francois, walked into Verizon IndyCar Series offices several years back, and told them he wanted to host an IndyCar race. Since then, the man has pretty much moved heaven and earth to bring back the track that was open-wheel-less from 2004 through 2016, after being was dropped originally due to small crowds.

Event:  Fast forward to 2016, and Francois and his sponsors have a sold out event. If there was a problem, they fixed it. IndyCar had several testings there, and when drivers said the track was bumpy, Curtis Francois had the whole thing repaved. The result is that everyone’s happy now except his accountant. Here’s to many more successful years!

Qualifying:  First, the good news. Will Power took his 50th series career pole with  a new track record of 189.709 miles per hour which has stood for over 20 years. Congratulations, Mr. Power. In what was probably bad news for the rest of the field, his teammates Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud qualified right behind him! So Chevy got the pole with extreme prejudice.

Race:   And it took the race, too. After a sloppy start as described elsewhere, Newgarden would lead 170 of 248 laps to a decisive victory at Gateway, his fourth win of the season. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon finished second, with the other two Penskes taking third and fourth. Five cars were lost to the inevitable carnage that comes with short track ovals. And so it goes for the ovals for IndyCar’s 2017 season.

Biggest Surprise:  Will Power spinning out of the lead on Lap 1 from pole position.

Biggest Disappointment:  The unfortunate season that Brazilian racer Tony Kanaan is having continued when he spun on the formation lap, going three laps down. When he finally retired after completing 168 of 248 laps, he refused to speak to the press. We have covered TK for 20 years and never have we known him to do this.

Best Team:  This has become very dull, but once again, it’s Team Penske.  CGR, who lost  some primary  sponsorship coming into the season, has done a great job to grab the points when they can with the leadership of Mike Hull and their veteran driver, Scott Dixon and thus deserves a mention.

Sponsor of the Weekend:  The Bommarito Auto Group, a local concern in the Midwest, stepped up to the plate as the named sponsor of the race, in its return to the series.

What We Learned:  That the gloves are off at Team Penske, which could have a significant impact on the championship, and that Scott Dixon remains a tenacious competitor. That Conor Daly may have that special something that makes a good driver.

Schedule:  Next weekend, the series travels to the legendary track at Watkins Glen, on Sunday, September 3rd.

Quotes of the Weekend:

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “We had a great race with the Menards Chevrolet. All of the adjustments left us with a great car at the end. When we needed to come up with a great pit stop, we did. Those guys really are the best. They always come through when they have to. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out there at the end. I can’t say that I’m overly pleased, but that’s racing. We still have the championship out there, so we’ll get ready for Watkins Glen.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet): 
“It was a great night. First off, we had an awesome crowd. It was amazing actually what was out here tonight. I felt like the energy for this event, it really spurred everyone on. You should have seen all the drivers. I felt like everyone was a little extra nervous tonight because of the energy in this place. I remember watching this race when I was younger. They stopped coming here, I think 2003 was the last race. It’s fun to have it back in 2017 and see it so well supported for the first year. It was a great night to go racing. I felt like the PPG Chevrolet was going to be good tonight. We had four good cars at Team Penske. Happy to get the win on the No. 2 car side because I felt like we had the car to beat. I didn’t want us to be denied tonight for sure. Simon (Pagenaud) gave me a lane to work with. I had a good tow on him, put my car inside in the opening, got about halfway alongside of him. One thing I didn’t want to do was touch him too hard. I think if I would have stayed too far left, I would have jumped the curb and that would have taken both of us out. I tried to get Simon to move over a little when we were coming to the opening of the corner. We both had to slow up. Fortunately worked out well for us. Pagenaud, didn’t get up into the wall or anything like that, so I would say it worked out okay for him, too.”

CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We had a good car all weekend. I was really upset with myself after qualifying, just had a big moment at the exit of (Turn) 1, but we redeemed ourselves. Then I tried to screw it up for myself again in the pits, but we were able to drive back. The car was just fantastic. I have to thank the team, I have to thank ABC Supply for sticking with us. I know it’s been a tough year, but I know we can do it. I know this team can do it. We’re just improving and it takes time. This is a hard sport.” (About close call with Charlie Kimball): “I won’t say anything bad about (Kimball), but it was just one of those really late moves that, being on an oval it’s not great to do. I mean everyone’s racing hard, it’s obviously tough on a short oval to make ground, but I mean that could have ruined my race right there. I thought the wing was gone going into the next corner, but it was still there. So thank you Chevy, for making strong pieces. But, yeah, I’m just happy to be here, and just hope I can be here for many more races.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): “I guess that’s the best we could have hoped for. It was definitely going to be a tough race for us, but the car was actually very good. I think we had a better mechanical grip than the group we were racing with, with the Penskes, and especially toward the end of the run. We could sort of come back towards them. We had so much drag. We could get to them, but we couldn’t pull out and pass them. Definitely pretty hard to defend right there at the end with Simon (Pagenaud). It was pretty exciting to watch Josef (Newgarden) and Simon with that pass into Turn 1, which was pretty interesting, pretty tight. I was hoping it went a little bit different than what it actually did and could have picked up two spots, but huge credit to everybody on the NTT Data No. 9 car. Strong tonight. Strong pit stops. And how about the fans, man? This was awesome to come back to St. Louis and see the fans and how excited they were for this race.”

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

POINTS OUTLOOK: Newgarden Continues Dominant Run At St. Louis

It was not without controversy, but Josef Newgarden has moved another step closer to securing his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

After taking the checkered flag first in Saturday night’s Bommarito Auto Group 500k at Gateway Motorsports Park, his third victory in the last four events, the Tennessee-native added another ten points to his lead in the standings. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who placed second behind Newgarden, heads into Watkins Glen International in upstate New York trailing by 28 points. In this case, that’s the difference between a victory and a ninth-place finish.

While the New Zealander’s result on Saturday keeps him within shouting distance of the Team Penske pilot, the tide seems to be moving away from the four-time IndyCar champion. While Newgarden has outclassed the competition in recent weeks, the St. Louis output was the Iceman’s first top-five effort, since his victory at the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America two months ago.

Dixon continues to represent Honda’s case for the championship, and although it remains a solid one after 15 of 17 races, the chances for success still favor the quartet from Team Penske. Despite that reality, the potential for the title going toward one of the other three members of the Captain’s trio not named Josef certainly took a hit at Gateway.

After winning the pole position on Friday, Will Power entered the proceedings Saturday as a bonafide threat to possibly enter the final two acts of the 2017 season at the top of the standings. However, things were altered substantially in just two corners. After losing out to Newgarden on the start, the Australian suddenly lost control of his No. 12 Chevrolet exiting turn two and made contact with the outside wall. The incident was made even worse when Ed Carpenter also spun and then launched over the top of Power.

Neither driver suffered injuries in the shunt, but the resulting 20th-place effort all but ends the road course ace’s hopes for a second IndyCar crown. Now 74 points adrift heading to New York next week, the Australian may need to not only win the final two races, but also have problems strike the other contenders to have any shot at a championship celebration.

With Power’s chances on life support, his fellow teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud may each look back on Saturday’s race as one that featured missed opportunities. The Brazilian looked poised to back up his win at Iowa Speedway last month, building a three-second advantage on Newgarden just past half-distance.

The chance to aid his case for the title suffered a setback, however; when the three-time Indy 500 champion stalled his engine on his second to last pit stop, dropping him from first to the fourth position, where he would end up at the checkered flag.

Pagenaud meanwhile, had run in the top-three all evening and then vaulted to first during the final round of pit stops, which took place under the yellow flag. The Frenchman appeared stout following the restart, but could not hold off a surging Newgarden, who cleared the Menards Chevy entering turn one with 30 laps to go. The two drivers made contact, forcing Pagenaud to chase his car up the banking. The close call allowed Dixon to overtake the Penske chauffeur and despite attempts to regain the second spot, Pagenaud would settle for third.

Looking ahead to the penultimate round of the 2017 IndyCar season, the pressure to control one’s own destiny at the finale in Sonoma, California will be paramount. Despite maintaining his second-place classification, Scott Dixon may have the toughest road to victory. While the New Zealander-based driver has four wins in the ten editions of the Grand Prix at the Glen, he does not have the better car and engine option in 2017.

As for the Penske quartet, Power must match his 2010 triumph in New York to stay in the running, while his three teammates must avoid the bad finish. Momentum is critical at this point of a title chase, and for now, Josef Newgarden has it. Now the question staring ahead of the visor-shielded eyes is simple: can he maintain it?

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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News Open Wheel

Newgarden Pulls Off Another Bold Maneuver to Win at Gateway

MADISON, Illinois (Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017) – Josef Newgarden’s latest bold move led the Team Penske driver to win in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ thrilling return to Gateway Motorsports Park and extend his championship lead.

Newgarden completed a daring pass of teammate Simon Pagenaud on the 218th of 248 laps on the 1.25-mile oval and he went on to win the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline by 0.6850 of a second over Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. The triumph – Newgarden’s third win in the past four races and his fourth victory this season – allowed the 26-year-old Tennessean to push his points lead to 31 over Dixon with two races remaining.

BOMMARITO AUTOMOTIVE GROUP 500: Box score

The race marked the Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to the St. Louis region for the first time in 14 years. A packed main grandstand roared when Newgarden, in the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, slipped inside of Pagenaud, driving the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, heading into Turn 1. The cars touched mid-corner, forcing Pagenaud to slow as he moved up the track.

“Simon gave me a lane to work with,” said Newgarden, who used an impressive crossover move to pass teammate Will Power and win the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on July 30. “I had a good tow on him, put my car inside in the opening, got about halfway alongside of him.

“One thing I didn’t want to do was touch him too hard. I think if I would have stayed too far left, I would have jumped the curb and that would have taken both of us out,” added Newgarden, chasing his first series championship in his sixth season and first with Team Penske. “I tried to get Simon to move over a little when we were coming to the opening of the corner. We both had to slow up. Fortunately, (it) worked out well for us on the (No.) 2 car side.”

Pagenaud’s loss of momentum on the decisive pass opened the door for Dixon, in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda, to get past for second place. Pagenaud, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, was understandably upset after finishing in third place.

“I think on a road course, that was a beautiful pass,” Pagenaud said. “But we’re not on a road course. There, we are going 40-50 mph (slower). Here, we’re doing 190 (mph). It’s completely different story.

“Obviously, I wanted to win. We all want to win. Sometimes, you know, it is what it is.”

Newgarden led 170 laps in collecting his seventh career win, delivering Team Penske its fifth straight victory and 10th this season. It was also the 196th Indy car win for the renowned team.

Dixon felt fortunate to finish second, considering he started seventh and Team Penske had secured the first four spots in qualifying.

“I’ll be honest, we didn’t expect to finish on the podium,” said Dixon, the four-time series champion. “But I think we saw in the warmup (Friday night practice) that the gap had closed significantly with the trim level that we were able to achieve. I think mechanically our car was very good.

“Then also we had some misfortunes (for other drivers) that played in to help us out, especially with Simon and Josef in Turn 1.”

Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske three of the top four finishers when he placed fourth in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet. Castroneves led 52 laps to become the fourth driver in Indy car history to surpass 6,000 laps led in a career.

Conor Daly finished fifth in the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet, the AJ Foyt Racing driver’s best finish in his first season with the team and his best showing since placing fourth last year at Watkins Glen.

The start of the race was slowed by a pair of incidents. Tony Kanaan of Chip Ganassi Racing spun in Turn 2 on the pace lap and backed his No. 10 NTT Data Honda into the SAFER Barrier. Kanaan went three laps down while the car was repaired and eventually finished 16th.

When the green flag did wave, pole sitter Power spun in nearly the same place as Kanaan and hit the wall in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet on Lap 6. The cars of Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato touched as they slowed to avoid Power, sending both into the wall as well. None of the drivers was injured but their races were over before the night had barely begun.

“It wasn’t a fun ride,” Power said. “Josef went around the outside (to pass for the lead) and (I) got some of his dirty air and just lost it. Unfortunate. Very frustrating, unbelievably frustrating. … It was just slippery, super slippery.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series standings show Newgarden in the lead with 547 points, Dixon second with 516, Castroneves third at 505, Pagenaud fourth at 504 and Power fifth with 464. Graham Rahal (436 points), Alexander Rossi (422) and Sato (410) remain mathematically alive for the championship as well.

By finishing 13th tonight, Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones clinched Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors for the season.

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action with the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, from the road course at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York. The race airs live at 1 p.m. ET Sept. 3 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

The season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17 at Sonoma Raceway in California, is worth double the normal race points.