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Commentary Open Wheel

POWER RANKINGS: Pocono

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.

Josef Newgarden’s late surge to second-place in Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway has further solidified his number one ranking as the Verizon IndyCar Series closes out the oval section of its season this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis.

Only minor changes this week in the driver and team rankings, with Pocono race champion, Will Power and third-place finisher Alexander Rossi among those on the move upward.

 

Team Rankings:

  1. Team Penske (Unchanged)

Four in the top-seven at a venue where on paper, the Captain’s quartet looked to be at a disadvantage regarding horsepower. So much for those thoughts, and if the last three rounds follow the recent trend, expect another car owner’s trophy in the case at team headquarters after the Sonoma finale.

  1. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

Top-six placements were decent for Dixon and Kanaan, but an inability to make most of Honda engine prowess on high-speed ovals, could be the final nail in the Iceman’s championship hopes. Max Chilton’s DNF was the big disappointment as the Englishman was unable to back up his fourth-place finish at the Indy 500.

  1. Andretti Autosport (-1)

Rossi led the Honda assault at the Tricky Triangle, but the other three in the Andretti camp left a lot of change on the table. Ryan Hunter-Reay rebounded well from his qualifying crash to finish eighth, but he appeared to have a better car than the result would lead you to believe. Marco Andretti never factored and settled for 11th, while Takuma Sato’s pole-winning effort on Saturday was wasted in the opening stint. 13th at the checkered flag makes it only one top-ten in his last five starts.

  1. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Unchanged)

The team was only able to salvage ninth at the flag, despite running up front early. Stays put at number four, but only because of everyone else in the rear view mirror is even more undesirable.

  1. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (-1)

James Hinchcliffe managed to save his No. 5 Arrow Honda on one occasion, but was later eliminated by J.R. Hildebrand. Before that turn one incident, Hinch was mired in traffic and like at Indy, could not use the extra power from his Honda powerplant to his benefit. Sebastian Saavedra’s day also ended with turn one wall contact.

  1. Dale Coyne Racing (Unchanged)

Tough day for Ed Jones, who came home in 17th. Esteban Gutierrez’s first high-speed oval race did not last long as he was the first retirement. The return of Sebastien Bourdais cannot come soon enough.

  1. Ed Carpenter Racing (Unchanged)

Ed Carpenter’s 12th-place finish was much below expectations for a squad that is more equipped to challenge on ovals as opposed to road courses. Hildebrand was credited with 19th after his collision with Hinchcliffe.

  1. A.J. Foyt Racing (+1)

Carlos Munoz had a golden opportunity to challenge for a surprise victory due to the timing of the caution flags, but faded to tenth at the finish. Conor Daly also failed to feature, taking 14th.

  1. Harding Racing (-1)

Low attrition numbers made a top-ten result too tough to achieve for the newcomers. Still, a 15th-place finish as Gabby Chaves’ worst of 2017 is not a disaster for a relatively new operation.

  1. 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)

Sixth or better in the past five races, a fact made even more impressive that four of those were either first or second-place. If the Tennesseean can avoid the bad result at St. Louis, Watkins Glen and Sonoma return to his wheel house – the road courses.

  1. Simon Pagenaud (Unchanged)

The Frenchman also advanced in the final laps to take fourth-place at Pocono. Only fourth on the points table at present, but could be the biggest threat to Newgarden’s title pursuit.

  1. Will Power (+3)

Three wins, albeit two coming on oval tracks. Power must regain prowess on road courses if he is to claim his second series title. The Australian will look back at the first three rounds as the reason he does not raise the trophy at Sonoma.

  1. Helio Castroneves (-1)

Seventh-place for the second consecutive event. While top-tens are far from doomsday, the Brazilian continues to lose precious ground to teammate Newgarden.

  1. Scott Dixon (-1)

The Iceman held his own early at Pocono as was required to stay in the hunt for his fifth championship. However, he had to achieve more than sixth-place. The odds of success are now definitely against him in the final three races.

  1. Alexander Rossi (+1)

Third-place represents a solid performance from start to finish at Pocono. With his future at Andretti Autosport in question, he must finish the season with a flourish in case free agency run is necessary.

  1. Graham Rahal (-2)

Ninth as mentioned above was not where the Ohioan was trending in the opening 100 laps. Missed opportunity at Pocono.

  1. Ryan Hunter-Reay (Unchanged)

Recovered well from an ugly accident in Saturday’s qualifying session to take the lead at one point on Sunday. Still, considering how strong his high-speed oval rides have been since his 2014 Indy 500 win, eighth is still a bit of a letdown.

  1. Tony Kanaan (Unranked)

Fifth-place is not a bad finish, but again the No. 10 Honda showed much more potential in the first half of the 500-mile distance on race day.

  1. Takuma Sato (-1)

If not for a lackluster group of contenders in the bottom half of the full-time fleet at this point of the 2017 season, the Indy 500 champion would have dropped out this week. Faded badly from the pole and could do no better than 13th on Sunday.

Dropped Out: James Hinchcliffe (Was No. 10 after Mid-Ohio)

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

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Commentary Open Wheel

Newgarden Opens Path Toward First Championship At Pocono

Following an ill-timed caution flag with 85 laps to go in Sunday’s ABC Supply 500, Josef Newgarden’s Verizon IndyCar Series title hopes were on life support.

After jumping from 14th at the green flag to the top-five in the opening 115 laps, the No. 2 Fitzgerald Chevrolet had dropped to 15th place, stuck behind those who already made pit stops prior to the yellow caused by Sebastian Saavedra’s accident in turn one. Unable to advance his position on the following restart, the diagnosis appeared headed for a massive reversal in the points table, with Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon being the potential benefactor.

A window of opportunity however, opened for the Tennessean when an accident in turn one on Lap 125 eliminated both James Hinchcliffe and J.R. Hildebrand. Electing to go off sequence, Newgarden and his Team Penske teammate Will Power pitted to top off their fuel tanks, allowing them the chance to take less ethanol than their rivals, meaning a faster final pit stop and the possibility to advance up the order.

The strategy play by Roger Penske’s squad proved to be the winning move as both drivers entered the top-five with ten laps to go. With the Australian leading, Newgarden with less gas on board zoomed past Tony Kanaan and Alexander Rossi to take second and began to close on his in-squad opposer. Although the Chevrolet pilot failed to overtake Power before the checkered flag, a runner-up effort further solidifies his case to win a series championship in his inaugural season of driving for the Captain.

As I mentioned in my recent look at the title picture before Pocono, the 2.5 mile triangle was perhaps the final hurdle where Newgarden could be vulnerable. Following Chevrolet’s struggles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, Honda appeared to have a wheel up on the bow-tie backers with Dixon benefiting the most. Entering Sunday’s action only 12 markers behind the American prospect, the Iceman looked poised to jump from third to first on the table headed to Gateway Motorsports Park next week.

The early good fortune, unfortunately, was absent when it mattered at the finish as an inability to efficiently save fuel on Sunday may have cost Dixon extra time in the final pit shuffle. The New Zealander placed sixth, losing ground to the championship leader.

The same story held true likewise for another member of Team Penske on Sunday: Helio Castroneves. Despite starting at the back of the pack after issues during Saturday qualifying, the Brazilian was on a similar pit stop plan to Newgarden, but could not exploit it to the full. In what could be his final full season on the IndyCar circuit, Castroneves’ hopes to finally snag the championship trophy were hampered as he finished one spot behind Dixon in seventh-place.

The situation also is getting darker for Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato. Rahal was upfront at the midway mark, but also was handicapped by needing more gas on the last stop and settled for ninth. Sato meanwhile, looked primed to rejoin the title picture after taking the pole position on Saturday. The reigning Indy 500 champion would plummet toward the back of the order in the opening stint and never recovered. The Japanese veteran’s 13th-place output all but ends his hopes for a series crown and the same tag could be placed upon Rahal likewise.

Heading to St. Louis for its first IndyCar event since 2003, Josef Newgarden holds an 18-point edge on Scott Dixon, who may face the toughest route to the championship based in part on the dominant form Team Penske has showcased recently on road courses, which make up two of the final rounds of 2017. Castroneves drops to third, 22 out of first, with Simon Pagenaud, who charged late to finish fourth Sunday now within 26 points and race-winner Will Power 42 back in fifth.

With no other full-time competitors within 75 points of Newgarden at this point, smart thinking says that the above five names will provide the eventual champion, with the popular Tennessee chauffeur in a greater controlled placement regarding both position and momentum.

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 Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio 2017

The Big Picture:  It was back in 1983 when businessman Jim Trueman bought Mid-Ohio and about a nano second later when he began sinking funds to turn the facility into something world class. Of the major natural terrain road courses in the United States, this one has taken its place with Road America, Watkins Glen, and Laguna Seca since that year.

Event:  It’s a road racing festival in all the best senses of the word. There’s even time for two support series races!

Qualifying:  Will Power is one of the best road course qualifiers in Verizon IndyCar Series history, and so this competition was no great surprise to have him take his fifth P1 award of 2017. The Australian is now tied with Mid-Ohio icon Bobby Rahal in having 49 series poles to his credit. Starting next to Power will be his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, followed by Honda powered cars piloted by Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal.

Race:   Newgarden led 73 of 90 laps. What more can we say? There was only one caution for four circuits for a single car spin out by likely Rookie of the Year Ed Jones. It was a good clean event won by an American driver. (Yeah.)

Biggest Surprise:  Josef Newgarden’s back-to-back race victories, hard won because of the extreme competitiveness of the series.

Biggest Disappointment:  That Graham Rahal didn’t have the car to vie for the win at what is undisputedly his home track this year.

Best Team:  We must go with Team Penske again but an honorable mention to Andretti Autosports for continued improvement during the season so far. Penske took first, second, fourth, and seventh this week. That means a tremendous amount of quality work by the Penskes.

Sponsor of the Weekend:  Honda has remained loyal to this race as Title Sponsor since Indy Racing League days.

What We Learned:  That an American driver can lead the IndyCar points battle for the first time since Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014. (Yeah). That Penske driver Josef Newgarden is having an easier time adjusting to the premier team than his teammate, the very talented Simon Pagenaud, did.

Schedule:  In three weeks, the series travels to Pocono Raceway for the second 500-mile race of the season on August 20th.

Quotes of the Weekend:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’ve got an amazing crew. When they give me a car like this, I don’t want to say it’s easy, but it’s easier at least. I think we’ve been hitting on all cylinders, no pun intended. But these guys were awesome this weekend, had good stops. It was a really fast car. Reds (Firestone alternate tires), blacks (Firestone primary tires), it didn’t matter, the car was fast, so just tried to do my job. I think everyone’s going to want to drive this PPG car. I’m pretty sure it was lucky for (Simon) Pagenaud last year, think it’s lucky for us, so we’re probably going to be fighting over this car paint.” (About taking championship lead): “That’s great. We’ve just got to keep it up. No mistakes. If we don’t have any mistakes, we’ve got plenty enough to win this championship, so we’re going to keep giving what we got for the last four races.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda): “It was a good run and the Steak ‘n Shake boys did a good job in the pits. The strategy was fine. Our car had great pace today. We just could never quite get in clear air, but I’m really proud of everyone on the Steak ‘n Shake team. Obviously to be the only team in the top five other than a Penske speaks volumes to the quality of people we have in this organization. We’re going to keep our heads down, keep working hard. It was another good day for our United Rentals Turns for Troops program. We raised a lot of money to help the veterans today. We’ll be back strong in Pocono.”

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

Time Running Out For Honda Runners

While Team Penske has not dominated the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series as they did a year ago, things are starting to appear bleak for those in pursuit.

Despite being outclassed significantly on the high-speed ovals this season, the Captain’s quartet led by current championship leader Josef Newgarden, looks set to secure yet another No. 1 plate looking ahead to next season. The Tennessee-native has been stout in winning the last two events at Toronto and Mid-Ohio. However, any of his three teammates could jump in and snatch the crown from him.

For now, the biggest challenge could be from Helio Castroneves. Although the Brazilian has only one win in 2017 at Iowa Speedway, he has been the more consistent Firestone Fast Six qualifier among the super team. The incentives could also be higher for Castroneves, as rumors about a potential jump to a Honda-supported sports car program for 2018 continue to gain steam. It’s difficult to believe that since his debut in CART in 1998 and with his three Indianapolis 500 victories, the popular veteran has not won a series title.

Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud has offered a solid defense through 13 of 17 rounds, trading in many victories from 2016 for his trademark consistency. Amazingly, 2015 title holder Will Power is still in contention, despite six placements of 13th or worse in 2017. After an ugly open, the Australian has righted the ship placing fifth or better in six of the last seven. If Power can survive the two oval events at Pocono and St. Louis, his potential to secure a second title increases considerably on the two road courses to close out the campaign at Watkins Glen and Sonoma respectively. The latter of those two outings, of course, offering double points.

As witnessed above, the grip for Penske and Chevrolet is getting stronger; however, at the same time, Honda’s challenge since winning the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato is slipping. Although some would view the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as a bigger prize than the national title, the pursuit of a single target as opposed to the full slate, could be a roadblock for Sato, Scott Dixon, and Graham Rahal’s hopes to claim the No. 1 for next year.

For the Japanese star, the next two events at Pocono and St. Louis have almost entered the must-win territory. Outside of the 500, Sato has only four other top-fives, plus seven runs of tenth or worse. If Honda Performance Development still holds the trump card on Chevrolet in the power department, it is time for Taku to play it.

The same scenario holds true for Dixon and Rahal. While Rahal has been one of the hottest drivers since Indy, finishing ninth or higher in the events since the Brickyard, the Ohioan is not yet in control of his destiny being 58 points out of first heading to the Pocono
500. Dixon, meanwhile, was regularly at the head of the standings for much of the year until his slip backwards began at Iowa. Since then, the Kiwi has placed eighth, tenth, and ninth since. Not overly disastrous, but costly considering Newgarden, Castroneves, and Pagenaud outran him in each of those same three races.

In summary, Pocono and St. Louis may be the last chance for a non-Penske pilot to take a significant stake in the hunt for the crown. Unless Honda’s big three can make a move, two of the three realities for the 2017 championship will be set in stone –  Roger Penske driver will win driving a Chevrolet. The only question then will be which one?

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

Newgarden: The 2010s Version of Al Unser Jr.?

Josef Newgarden has officially entered territory that not many Team Penske Verizon IndyCar Series drivers of the past have reached.

Following his victory in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, his third of the season, he is threatening to become the first pilot to win a series championship in his debut year with the Captain, since the legendary Al Unser, Jr. did so in 1994.

“I don’t know what we were going to get this year,” said Newgarden to the IndyCar Radio Network after the race. “It makes me emotional thinking about it, it’s awesome getting to drive for this team, and three wins is amazing.”

With the Tennessee-native now holding the points lead for the first time in his career, it is not too early to look at the comparisons between two American pilots who eventually joined IndyCar’s super team after several years of adversity, triumph, and struggle.

The second-generation member of the Unser family had to wait until his 12th year on the circuit to earn a ride for Penske. Before that, the New Mexico veteran won 19 races, the 1990 CART Series championship, and the 1992 Indianapolis 500 before the phone call was made to Albuquerque.

For Newgarden, the trials and tribulations were just as brutal. Although he has five years of IndyCar experience under his belt, his career nearly came to a halt following the removal of the financial backing from former driver Sarah Fisher and her business partner Wink Hartman after the 2015 campaign, when the Chevrolet chauffeur collected his first two event wins. Picked up by Ed Carpenter Racing for 2016, the 2011 Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion finished a career-high fourth on the final table and quickly became the focus of Silly Season, as several top squads sought out new drivers.

Looking for a winning hand to replace two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya on his full-time roster, Roger Penske snapped up Newgarden soon after 2016 concluded and the rest is history.

If indeed Josef Newgarden can claim the series title after IndyCar’s final four rounds, a further look at comparing the achievements from now to 1994, will be tough. Although Little Al’s eight-win in 16 races performance in his inaugural with the Captain was outstanding, one could say Newgarden’s task to match it is a bit tougher.

For instance, in 1994, Penske was still running his own cars in CART, which were the dominant force that year, with the three-car unit of Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Paul Tracy winning all but four races. The record also includes a performance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that was aided by a Mercedes-Benz engine that blew the competition into the weeds. While Unser, Jr.’s career outputs have earned him a place in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, was the 1994 run better when compared to what Newgarden has amassed in 2017?

Unlike 23 years ago, the car that Newgarden drives is being utilized by every other driver on the IndyCar circuit. So while Little Al had an edge at the Brickyard, the Tennessean was at a disadvantage at this year’s Indy 500 and most of the other oval tracks, running a Chevrolet V-6 motor that appeared to be a step behind the rival Honda power plant.

Of course, not everyone will agree 100 percent either way, but one thing is clear. At just 26 years of age, Roger Penske has a driver who should be a race-winning threat for at least the next decade of North American open-wheel racing, if not longer. If that’s the case, not only the marks of Al Unser, Jr. will be comparable, but also the marks set by the other legends to pilot a Penske entry, the Rick Mears, Unsers, Fittipaldis, etcetera.

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

Newgarden’s Second Straight Win Springs Him to Championship Lead

LEXINGTON, Ohio (Sunday, July 30, 2017) – Josef Newgarden finally completed what he started at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, bursting into the Verizon IndyCar Series championship lead after winning the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio in dominant fashion.

Newgarden led 73 of 90 laps on the 2.258-mile permanent road course, taking the checkered flag 5.1556 seconds ahead of Team Penske teammate Will Power. It gave the Tennessean back-to-back wins, following his triumph July 16 at the Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden also vaulted atop the season standings for the first time in his six-year Verizon IndyCar Series career. He is the first American-born driver to lead the championship since Ryan Hunter-Reay won the title in 2014 and holds a seven-point lead over another Team Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, after 13 of 17 races.

“I feel like no one can take anything away from this win,” Newgarden said. “With this team on the (No.) 2 car side, I feel like we really did a great job today. There was no luck involved in that. We went out and won the race.”

HONDA INDY 200 AT MID-OHIO: Box score

Driving the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden started second and made a daring pass of pole sitter Power for first place on Lap 13. He surrendered the lead for just four laps the rest of the way as pit stops cycled through.

Newgarden has contended for the win at Mid-Ohio each of the past three seasons, but various incidents prevented the rising INDYCAR star from sealing the deal. Today, in his first season with Team Penske, the 26-year-old did just that.

“We’ve been close before here,” he said. “I feel like we’ve always found speed. … It’s just nice to get something at a track I haven’t had a previous history of winning the race. That was nice.”

The second-place finish continued a frustrating run for Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. The 2014 series champion has started in the top four at Mid-Ohio for eight straight years – including pole positions in 2010, ’11 and this year – but he has yet to win at the track.

“I know we started on the pole and finished second, and that could be viewed as coming up short in some way,” Power said, “but it was a very good finish for the Verizon Chevrolet.  We really weren’t on the pace all weekend and really got the most out of qualifying.

“So second (place), for the pace of my car, that was as good as we could get today. We’ve had too many seconds in this place, though.”

Local favorite Graham Rahal finished third in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda. It was the fourth top-five finish at Mid-Ohio in as many years for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver and New Albany, Ohio, native. Rahal was the last driver to win consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series races, sweeping both ends of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader weekend in early June.

“Our car had great pace today, we just could never quite get in clear air,” Rahal said. “I’m really proud of everyone on the Steak ‘n Shake team. … We’re going to keep our heads down, keep working hard.”

Castroneves finished seventh in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet to retain second place in the championship. Newgarden has scored 453 points to 446 for the Brazilian driving in his 20th Indy car season. Four-time series champion Scott Dixon finished ninth in the race and slipped from first to third in the season standings with 445 points. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud finished fourth in the race and is fourth in points with 436. Power is fifth with 401 points and Rahal sixth with 395.

The race ran caution-free until Dale Coyne Racing rookie Ed Jones spun into the grass in Turn 9 on Lap 67, bringing out the race’s only yellow flag after Newgarden had built a 10-second advantage. Newgarden quickly sped away on the Lap 71 restart and wasn’t challenged the rest of the way.

The next race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 20. The 500-mile race on the “Tricky Triangle” oval airs live at 2 p.m. ETon NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

What We Learned from Toronto Indy 2017

The Big Picture:  Back in the days of Champ Car, Toronto was one of the most fun stops on the calendar. It was the home race of “The Thrill of West Hill” Paul Tracy. With the open wheel racing merger of 2008, the Honda Indy Toronto went away for one year (sob) but came roaring back in 2009. The event is the second oldest street race in North America after Long Beach and the fourth oldest race currently on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

Event:  Like Long Beach, the Honda Indy Toronto is a festival that includes a variety of racing, rather than the other way around. The circuit is slightly under two miles in length and the speed record, has remained unbroken for nearly 20 years.

Qualifying:  Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud earned his first pole of the season and the tenth of his IndyCar career. Graham Rahal qualified second, with Pagenaud’s teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power rounding out the top four.

Race:   A routine street race favoring the fastest qualified entries of Pagenaud, Rahal, and Castroneves had a surprising twist when on Lap 23, Tony Kanaan nosed his Honda into a tire barrier at Turn 1. In a bit of luck, Josef Newgarden was entering the pits at the same time. This small mitzvah ended up winning the event for Newgarden. Other than this, it was pretty much street race usual with some overtaking but mostly just a parade of cars passing by. Pagenaud was able to fight his way back up to fifth, Castroneves to eighth, and Rahal to ninth. These finishes left Scott Dixon with a skinny lead of three points in the championship, followed by the Penske juggernaut of Castroneves, Pagenaud, Newgarden, and Power.

Biggest Surprise:  James Hinchcliffe’s third place (and podium) in his home race. As Hinch said, it was lots of pressure for him with only one Canadian event on the calendar, and he didn’t have the fastest car on the track.

Biggest Disappointment:  Will Power’s last place finish due to a Lap 1 tango with longtime rival Scott Dixon. Power is incredibly competitive on every kind of track, and it was a shame to miss out on his excellence at Toronto.

Best Team:  Andretti Autosport is our surprising choice this week due to the phenomenal finishes of Alexander Rossi (second), Marco Andretti (fourth) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (sixth). An Andretti victory would have been quite likely without the luck of the yellow. Good job.

Sponsor of the Weekend:  Honda, Honda, Honda. They’re the named sponsor of the Toronto contest. They’re the designated sponsor at Mid-Ohio. The manufacturer gets very little love in Formula One, but in IndyCar, they’re the bomb.

What We Learned:  That luck can be more important in determining a win than a talented driver (which Newgarden is) or a fast car (which his Team Penske vehicle is). That for some of us, a Toronto race without Paul Tracy is just…less fun.

Schedule:  In two weeks, on July 30th, comes the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Pack up the camper and let’s go!

Quotes of the Weekend:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think that is twice I have had good calls and got into the pits at the right time. Thank you to the guys and thank you to Tim (Cindric) for making that call. We got it right, but it was all about managing the race after that. I thought we had a very fast car, we got a pretty good start, and stayed out of the mayhem. Very, very happy for all of Team Penske, and this DeVilbiss Chevy was pretty bright, but it was pretty fast too.  I am pumped for all the No. 2 car guys today, they did an amazing job for Team Penske today.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): (About his pass for the lead at the start): “In 1997 I did a move in the No. 3 Hitachi Chevy like that in Indy Lights when I was driving here. It was really funny – because I’m like, ‘Man, I’m going to go for it.’ As soon as we were braking, we had the reds (Firestone alternate tires) and the car was really good. I didn’t lock (the brakes) or anything – it was a clean pass. I told the guys, ‘Listen, I’m going to be fair, but if there is an opportunity I’ll take it.’ Great job – great job to everybody at Team Penske and to Josef (Newgarden). Obviously, the yellow there was a little tough, but I’ll tell you what, our cars are good and this place is always like that. Whoever is in the lead sometimes gets caught with the yellow and gets the bad side of it.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “The yellow just came at the right time, but we had the pace at the end there. We were catching Alexander (Rossi) and Josef (Newgarden) in that last stint. The car really came alive on the blacks, so big thanks to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, all the guys – great stops – and all the fans in Toronto. I mean the support that we feel each and every year is amazing. You guys are the best. You came even when the weather wasn’t looking awesome and hung out with us and we appreciate it. So thanks to all of you guys. Next year, maybe a couple of spots better.”

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “I feel like that is a very successful weekend in the books. I’m very appreciative of the whole Schmidt Peterson Motorsports organization for taking me in and just making me feel like I’m home. I felt the same throughout the race and had a pretty solid car. We kept clean for the first stint, just tried to stay away from trouble, and when I started pushing, the car was there for me. Great strategy from the SPM guys and getting me out of those reds (Firestone alternate tires) and getting me some free time for me to do my thing. It played off perfectly with those yellows, and we managed to get in with the guys up front, which changed the speed of the race for us. We had the car to do it. We’re proud of the pit stops, proud of the strategy and of course having a good car makes my life as a driver a lot easier.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was a really disappointing day for the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team. We had a strong car all weekend and I know it could have been really fast during the race. We had bad luck on the first lap and it ruined the rest of the race since we could not get it repaired to go back out. We’ve performed really well at Toronto in the past, so we’re just disappointed we couldn’t give the fans at Toronto the show we knew we could put on.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Not the race we wanted really. We were lucky on the first yellow, but after that, nothing came our way with the other yellows. There’s nothing to do but just keep working hard.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Rousseau Metal Honda): “I got the call after we passed pit in. (Josef) Newgarden was just lucky because he was falling off the train of the three of us (Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and me). He was 2.5 seconds behind us, or just enough to get the call. When they said to me ‘Pit, pit’ I was turning into Turn 9. Obviously, I can’t see what’s going on in Turn 1. We played it right today, but got unlucky. The three best cars didn’t win the race or finish 1-2-3. There was nobody that was a match for the three of us all day. It’s a shame, but sometimes luck plays a role in these things. Congrats to Josef (Newgarden), he still brought it home, but you could see in the first stint that Simon, Helio and myself were taking off and I felt that was a pretty easy pace for us to maintain and go from there. Obviously, I’m disappointed for the Rousseau team. I’m happy for our United Rentals Turns for Troops (lap completed) program. We raised another several thousand dollars to help our veterans. But I’m frustrated because today was a day we should have easily gained a lot of points on (Scott) Dixon, Newgarden and everybody else, but unfortunately the way the officials have decided to close the pits these days, luck plays a huge factor  and today it bit us. We got it home and got another top 10, but I’m disappointed, and rightly so, and our guys are too. They know the car that we put on the track today was a car that was capable of winning this race. The guys did a great job in the pits, and I think we have proven that the No. 15 is one of the cars to beat each and every single weekend and probably legitimately one of the few that can take it to Penske every weekend. I’m just extremely proud of this organization.”

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

 

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Commentary Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Toronto

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.

Scott Dixon’s extended stay at number one in the driver rankings has come to an end. Following the New Zealander’s second straight subpar outing in Toronto, a Team Penske pair have jumped ahead of him. Initially, the primary benefactor looked to be Helio Castroneves who heads to Mid-Ohio in just over one week only three points in the rears of the championship leader.

However, the Brazilian only placed eighth compared to the Iceman’s finish in tenth. Couple that with Josef Newgarden’s second win of 2017 and the Tennessee-native vaults past both of the long-time veterans. Although the No. 2 Chevrolet pilot ranks only fourth on the current table, he has the momentum lacking from Dixon, Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud.

Assuming we have not placed a jinx on Newgarden as we did to Will Power recently, “Jo Cool” could be here for a little while longer than the Aussie managed. 

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (Unchanged)

Newgarden’s Honda Indy Toronto win was being in the right place at the perfect moment. Pagenaud and Castroneves both scored in the top-ten’s, while Power’s nightmare tour in 2017 continued in Canada as he was ousted in an first lap shunt Sunday.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (Unchanged)

Far from a great outing in Canada for CGR’s quartet. Max Chilton did salvage a seventh-place finish, as Dixon languished back in tenth. Charlie Kimball (12th) and Tony Kanaan (19th) never threatened the top half of the order on Sunday.

3. Andretti Autosport (+1)

Great bounce back from Alexander Rossi after failing to post a top-ten since Detroit; he took advantage of the same full course caution that aided Newgarden and chased the Penske chauffeur all the way to the flag, settling for second. Marco Andretti also benefited to secure his first top-five effort in 32 events. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished sixth on Sunday, while the Indy 500 victory hangover continues for Takuma Sato, who came home in 16th.

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsport (+1)

Whether the home-court advantage was the reason or not, James Hinchcliffe’s third-place finish is his second-consecutive result in the top half of the field. Money issues cost Mikhail Aleshin his seat at Toronto, yet Sebastian Saavedra posted a respectable 11th-place.

5. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (-2)

Ninth-place is not a complete disaster, but it will not cut it in this rankings list, as podium finishes from those in pursuit drop RLLR down two notches.

6. Dale Coyne Racing (Unchanged)

An early exit from Ed Jones (20th), coupled with a not-so-great showing from Esteban Gutierrez (14th). DCR holds ranking as ECR and Foyt also failed to feature at Toronto.

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (Unchanged)

J.R. Hildebrand, unfortunately, reverted to his recent road racing form in Canada. Spencer Pigot was in the top ten, but once again got another taste of misfortune. Pocono cannot come soon for this operation.

8. Harding Racing (Unchanged)

Inactive until Pocono, but should feature in the top half of the final order assuming a clean trip.

9. A.J. Foyt Racing (Unchanged)

Carlos Munoz looked good early at Exhibition Place, but faded to 15th at the checkered flag. Conor Daly’s 17th-place effort continues his year of humiliation.

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 (+2)

Sixth or better in five of the last seven races. The only setbacks were at the Indy 500 and Texas where accidents not of his own doing were the culprit. The resume says position number one, even if the points list claims otherwise.

2. Helio Castroneves (Unchanged)

P8 in Canada was enough to pass the Iceman, but gives way to Mr. Newgarden.

3. Scott Dixon (-2)

Eighth at Iowa and tenth in Toronto result in the Kiwi’s lowest placement in the power rankings this season.

4. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

Honestly, the Frenchman should have garnered better than a fifth-place at Toronto so he only jumps Will Power this week.

5. Alexander Rossi (+2)

Superior strategy greatly aided Rossi, who snatched up his best result of 2017 in Canada.

6. Graham Rahal (Unchanged)

While the full course caution aided some, it hampered the Ohioan. Ninth-place was good considering the handicap.

7. Ryan Hunter-Reay (+1)

RHR is showing his superior self following a pair of top-six outings at Iowa and Toronto.

8. Will Power (-4)

The Australian just cannot avoid trouble this season. Unless he can run the table in the final five races, a second series championship must wait until 2018.

9. James Hinchcliffe (Unranked)

A third-place showing in Toronto reminds us of what the Mayor can achieve. Whether he can do it on a regular basis is now the major issue. 

10. Max Chilton (Unchanged)

Seventh-place in Toronto means Chilton stays at No. 10 for the third straight race.

Dropped Out: Tony Kanaan (Was No. 9 after Iowa)

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

Newgarden Follows Familiar Path to Honda Indy Toronto Victory

TORONTO (Sunday, July 16, 2017) – For the second time in three years, Josef Newgarden was the winning beneficiary of fortunate pit stop timing at the Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden seized the lead by making his first stop just before a full-course caution flag waved on the streets course at Exhibition Place. The Team Penske driver led 58 of the last 61 laps to win the Verizon IndyCar Series race by 1.8704 seconds over Alexander Rossi.

HONDA INDY TORONTO: Box score

It is Newgarden’s second win of the 2017 season – following his April victory at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama – and his second Toronto win in three years. Like today, Newgarden’s 2015 Toronto triumph was also set up by a timely pit stop made prior to a full-course caution.

“That is twice I have had good calls and got into the pits at the right time,” Newgarden said. “Thank you to the guys and thank you to Tim (Cindric, race strategist) for making that call. We got it right, but it was all about managing the race after that. 

“I thought we had a very fast car, we got a pretty good start and stayed out of the mayhem. Very, very happy for all of Team Penske, and this DeVilbiss Chevy was pretty bright, but it was pretty fast, too.”

Newgarden’s win today in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet also tightened the season championship chase after 12 of 17 races. Points leader Scott Dixon finished 10th after making first-lap contact with Will Power, whose three Team Penske teammates now lurk within 23 points of first place.

Helio Castroneves trails Dixon by three points after finishing eighth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Simon Pagenaud is 19 points behind Dixon after finishing fifth in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet and Newgarden is 23 points behind. The Verizon IndyCar Series championship has been decided in the final race of the season every year since 2006.

“Overall, it was a good weekend for us,” said Pagenaud, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “We made up some ground in points and it’s always great to visit Toronto. Congratulations to the No. 2 team and all of Team Penske.”

Castroneves, who started third, jumped pole sitter Pagenaud and Graham Rahal for the lead with a brilliant inside pass in Turn 1 on the first of 85 laps around the 11-turn, 1.786-mile street circuit. Newgarden was running fourth when he made his first stop for fuel and tires on Lap 23, seconds before Tony Kanaan ran into the Turn 1 tire barrier to bring out the caution flag and pit lane was closed.

Once the pits were reopened under yellow, Newgarden inherited the lead when the other front-runners made their stops and he never looked back in collecting the fifth win of his six-year Verizon IndyCar Series career. It is the sixth win for Team Penske in 2017 and No. 193 for the organization in its Indy car history – the most of any team.

Rossi climbed from the eighth starting position to place second, the best showing for the driver of the No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda since his memorable win in the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Rossi led an Andretti Autosport renewal with Marco Andretti finishing a season-best fourth and Ryan Hunter-Reay sixth.

“If you look at where we were last year,” Rossi said, “the last four cars in qualifying, to having three cars in the top 10 (in the race), really having something to fight for today, it’s a testament not only to this weekend and the strength the team has shown, but also this offseason and how much better 2017 has been for us, has been for Honda.

“I think things are starting to finally come together. We’ve been looking for a breakthrough this year. I think this is it.”

For the second straight year, Toronto-area native James Hinchcliffe started sixth and finished third to the delight of the hometown fans. Hinchcliffe, in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, also benefited from making his first stop the lap prior to Newgarden.

“The yellow just came at the right time, but we had the pace at the end there,” Hinchcliffe said. “We were catching Alex and Josef in that last stint. The car really came alive on the (Firestone primary) blacks, so big thanks to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, all the guys – great stops – and all the fans in Toronto. The support that we feel each and every year is amazing.”

Honda Indy Toronto event promoter Green Savoree Promotions announced today that it has extended its agreement with Honda Canada Inc. to continue sponsoring the Verizon IndyCar Series event through 2020.

The next Verizon IndyCar Series race is the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 30. It airs live at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network with a re-air on NBCSN at 7 p.m. the same day.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Fantasy Hot Tip: Iowa

Things have changed for the better. After back-to-back frustrating weeks at Detroit and Texas, my driver picks for the Firestone Fantasy Challenge delivered at Road America two weeks ago.

Thanks to a one-two finish from Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden, yours truly was head of the class at the Kohler Grand Prix. The win rebuilds the safety net that I had lost in the previous two rounds. So with ninth-place on the points table much more secure, the focus shifts to moving forward in rankings on Sunday afternoon.

The Iowa Corn 300 roster remains unaltered on top but does change in the bottom half, where 12th and 13th-place finishes were the end game. Enough to take P1 in Wisconsin, but may be as fortunate at the high banked bowl of Iowa Speedway.

As mentioned, my dynamic duo of Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon remain intact this weekend. The selection of Newgarden has two facts in his corner. Earlier this season at Phoenix International Raceway, Team Penske ruled the action in qualifying and then posted a top-two punch with Simon Pagenaud and Will Power at the forefront. So why the Tennessee-native then over the Arizona rabbits? Last year’s domination at Iowa by the first-year Penske pilot is hard to ignore. If one can control a race with a lesser team on paper, just imagine what could happen when the squad’s potential is further enhanced.

Regarding Dixon, not only is he leading the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, he can turn potentially bad results into good ones. The Iceman has overcome qualifying days where Penske’s men outpaced him, and if it should occur yet again on Saturday, the New Zealander has a history of overcoming it. That’s why despite the muscle displayed at Phoenix by Power and Pagenaud, I still went with the Ganassi Racing veteran.

Seats three and four were trickier to setup. Gone are Alexander Rossi and Spencer Pigot, as the former Indy 500 champion has yet to prove himself on a short oval, while Pigot gives way to team boss Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet. In their place, however, are two solid alternatives. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay would seem like an odd choice considering he’s failed to finish all three oval
events to date in 2017. Of course, those events were not at Iowa Speedway, where the Californian has scored three triumphs since 2012. That reminder is enough reason to dismiss the DNFs suffered recently.

As for the final seat, I have stayed with Ed Carpenter Racing tapping their oval track specialist J.R. Hildebrand. 2017 has been a trial by fire return to full-time service for the former Indy 500 runner-up, but he did place a strong third at Phoenix, raising his value against other options, including the ever-improving Chip Ganassi Racing chauffeur Max Chilton and Dale Coyne Racing rookie Ed Jones.

With the Hawkeye State’s roster now set, let’s see if I am on the right track again in selecting gangbuster foursomes.

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.