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IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: IndyCar GP

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

Simon Pagenaud posted a top-five at the Brickyard last weekend, to go alongside his win last month in Phoenix. However, it was Team Penske teammate Will Power who dominated the proceedings to earn his second IndyCar Grand Prix victory.

Andretti Autosport showed signs of life ahead of the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi posting top-ten efforts in the GP. So where does this leave things ahead of the big show? Read on to find out.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Good stuff from Power, Pagenaud, and Helio Castroneves last weekend, but not so much concerning Josef Newgarden or Juan Pablo Montoya. Multiple speeding penalties ruined Newgarden’s performance, while growing pains with the new fifth entry held back Montoya.    

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (No Change)

Scott Dixon drove a flawless race, but still placed second behind Power. If Honda is indeed the engine to have on the 2.5mile oval as opposed to the road course, another sterling run in the Indy 500 and a second facial appearance on the Borg-Warner Trophy could be in order. Breakthrough effort from Max Chilton draws a little attention, at least more than what Tony Kanaan or Charlie Kimball could muster.

3. Andretti Autosport (+2)

OK, we are back in business. Ryan Hunter-Reay surged late to grab third-place at the checkered flag, and Alexander Rossi begins his Indy 500 title defense with a top-ten. Not great, but not bad. Early collision with TK kept Marco Andretti out of the mix, while Takuma Sato had too much to do from the last starting position, but did come home in 12th. Momentum is trending upward for the first time in weeks.

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (-1)

The IndyCar Grand Prix was a throwaway race for both James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin. Hinch placed 13th and the Russian took 18th. If Fast Friday is indeed a washout as weather forecasters currently believe, it could be tough to project their actual placing looking ahead to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing

5. Ed Carpenter Racing (+1)

Too bad Spencer Pigot is not in the plans for ECR at the big one. The 2015 Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion, drove his way to ninth-place in the IndyCar GP, a run that could have been much improved if an early stalling on the pit lane had been avoided. Not much from J.R. Hildebrand last weekend, but it is evident the Californian did not come to IMS for the road course event. Hopefully, the same focus is present from the team boss too.

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+1)

Graham Rahal has the IndyCar GP figured out. Three straight top-ten finishes attest to that statement. Conquering the Indy 500 is another story. I still think Oriol Servia is the key to grabbing something nice in the big dance.

7. Dale Coyne Racing (-3)

If DCR’s best chance to get something from the month of May was the IndyCar Grand Prix, they might leave the Indianapolis Motor Speedway empty-handed. An early retirement from Sebastien Bourdais and nothing special from Ed Jones last weekend. The news can’t be much better if you are a Pippa Mann-supporter at this junction.

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

The first half of the IndyCar GP was friendly to Conor Daly, but the second half was downright nasty. A 17th-place represents another bitter pill to swallow for the Hoosier State star. Carlos Munoz was also invisible last weekend.

9. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (No Change)

The combination of DRR and Sage Karam can cut it against the big boys. 31st to ninth in 2014 and a brief surge into the top-ten last year justifies their placement as the group most likely to rattle the full-timers club this month.

10. Juncos Racing (Unranked)

The presence of Pigot, plus a determined Sebastian Saavedra is enough to move Juncos onto the list over Harding Racing and their pilot Gabby Chaves.

Dropped Out: Harding Racing (was No. 10 after Phoenix)

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (No Change)

Five for five concerning top-tens and not Arby’s roast beef sandwiches. If he is not the favorite for the 101st Indy 500, something is off.

2. Will Power (+2)

Two good results and the train is back on track. Nearly won the big show in 2015 and should be in contention on Memorial Day weekend.

3. Simon Pagenaud (+2)

The Frenchman has avoided the No. 1 jinx so far. A win in two weeks, and placement at the top of the pyramid could be in order.

4. Josef Newgarden (-2)

Somehow, the Grand Prix of Alabama champion managed to get three pit road speeding tickets in one sitting Saturday. If he was clearing out the bad luck cabinet in advance of the Indy 500, it should be empty by now.

5. Helio Castroneves (+2)

A bad strategy call denied the Brazilian a well-deserved second-place on Saturday. Another near-miss at the Indy 500 will motivate the three-time champion to become a four-time winner even more.

6. Sebastien Bourdais (-3)

If Dale Coyne Racing has something up their sleeve for May 28th, an early teaser on the qualifying weekend would be a suggestion.

7. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

Hinch wrote a great comeback story by taking the pole position last year. A repeat showing will be tough to come by in 2017.

8. Ryan Hunter-Reay (Unranked)

RHR appears to have a bee, or a full hive to be exact, in his basket this month of May at IMS. Third-place in the IndyCar GP should threaten to top that output in two weeks.

9. Alexander Rossi (No Change)

Rossi made the top-ten last weekend, but a fall from contention in the second half leaves some unanswered questions.

10. Tony Kanaan (-2)

TK’s IndyCar GP effort was trashed on lap one for the second straight year. Will at least contend for a top-five finish in two weeks time.

Dropped Out: J.R. Hildebrand (Was No. 10 after Phoenix)

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Indiana Jones And The Corner Of Doom?

No folks, yours truly is not involved in a new movie, but just leaving a friendly reminder for the IndyCar Grand Prix.

While the first three editions of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road races have produced plenty of drama, they have one thing in common – first lap chaos wiping out key contenders.

The inaugural event provided the first, and last standing start in history. Pole winner Sebastian Saavedra’s shot at glory was extinguished when his car stalled on the grid. The scenario was only made worse when the Colombian was plowed into from behind by Mikhail Aleshin. Neither driver suffered injuries in the shunt, but it ended the desire for the Verizon IndyCar Series to employ the method used in Formula One.

Going with a traditional rolling green flag in 2015, early trouble still resulted with turn one contact between Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon; the Brazilian went off-course as the Iceman spun. The incident also wreaked havoc among mid-pack runners as Jack Hawksworth and Josef Newgarden were collected, among others. With Dixon and Castroneves out of contention, Will Power cruised to the victory.

Last year, saw another turn one melee as Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais made contact while looking to gain positions.

The biggest issue at the Speedway is the difference concerning room available on the front straightaway as opposed to turn one. While cars can go three and four-wide on the straight, all must find a way to funnel down to single-file to enter the infield section of the course without incident.

In 2017, things could work out more efficiently. Team Penske teammates Power and Castroneves will lineup on row one, with fellow compatriots Josef Newgarden and Juan Pablo Montoya in the top-five. Considering Roger Penske does not employ team orders, it is expected that those four, plus Simon Pagenaud in eighth, will have the green light to attempt to gain ground on the start. That comes with an asterisk though, as contact must be avoided.

With championship implications starting to show themselves, a first lap issue would be most detrimental for Power, who has suffered from bad breaks in each of the first three road courses. The Australian has also not been immune from an issue in the IndyCar Grand Prix, either. Last year’s performance was ruined via an early race spin trying to hold back Alexander Rossi.

While avoiding dramas on turn one does not ultimately equal a victory, any issue suffered could certainly deny at least one pilot a stab at finding the winner’s circle on Saturday.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

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Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY: Indy 500 Grid-a-tology, Second Edition

The purpose of Indianapolis 500 Grid-a-tology is to give an idea on who’s trending upward in the battle for being Firestone Fast Nine eligible. The first edition was published pre-Phoenix and can be found by clicking here.

The big question surrounding the second version of Indianapolis 500 Grid-a-tology was brought into focus at Phoenix International Raceway- is Chevrolet well ahead of Honda? Or will the Japanese marque once again find a way to reverse the trend?

For now, a few adjustments have been made, including J.R. Hildebrand joining the conversation for making the Firestone Fast Nine. A stout performance in the Diamond Desert Grand Prix, plus a quiet one from team boss Ed Carpenter has made the Californian as the best challenger for Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s semi-home team.

Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra have been added to the tote board, as their places with Juncos Racing are all but a lock. The second-year IndyCar driver re-unites with the same squad with which he won the 2015 Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires title. Saavedra also is back at the Brickyard with long-time supporter Gary Peterson.

Fernando Alonso was impressive in completing his rookie test, but how does that affect his value? For now, yours truly needs to see more to be convinced. Matt Embury’s first rule: One performance is never enough; it must be backed up.

NOTE: Drivers yet to be officially confirmed, are listed in parentheses.

 

FRONT ROW

Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing: The first Honda across the finish line at Phoenix. The effort more than validates the Iceman’s place as position number one heading to Indianapolis. He dominated time trials en route to securing the pole two years ago.

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske: He was only fourth among the Captain’s quartet at Phoenix, but due to a little bad luck late. Since that won’t influence qualifying, Jo Cool stays on the one line.

Helio Castroneves, Team Penske: Back-to-back front row efforts entering the Brickyard is a sign that the determination to succeed may be back for the four-time Indy pole king.

ROW 2

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport: If Honda Performance Development (HPD) is playing possum again, RHR is capable of joining the top three. If not, it will be a tough fight to hold this placing.

James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: The Mayor did well to reach top spot a year ago, but he also took advantage of Honda’s edge to get there. Certainly cannot do it solely on driving effort.

Will Power, Team Penske: The Aussie has been able to transfer strength in road course time trials to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Do not overlook that reality.

ROW 3

Alexander Rossi, Andretti Herta Autosport: If only he had gotten a second run in pre-qualifying last year. Year two should offer a more friendlier result.

Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske: The 2016 series champion made the front row two years ago and could match that if Chevrolet can equalize last year’s deficit to Honda.

Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing: There’s a lot to like about TK in the Indianapolis 500-mile race, but not so much in qualifying since joining Ganassi. Will take some courage to break the current pattern.

ROW 4

Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport: Will be teetering on the cut line concerning the shootout right up to the six-o’clock gun Saturday.

J.R. Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing: Makes a big jump based on Phoenix in part, but I also recall the Californian advancing to the final nine in 2014.

Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Nothing at PIR to help or hurt the Russian. For now, he stays puts in P12.

ROW 5:

Fernando Alonso, Andretti Autosport: The private test at IMS went well. While a 222 MPH lap is impressive, how will it stack up against the rest of the challengers? Work to do here.

Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing: Never thought Hildebrand would be the primary source to qualifying success for ECR, but it sure seems that way after the boss’s lackluster run at Phoenix.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske: Qualifying has been kryptonite for the Colombian, he has been worst among the Captain’s runners in time trials each of the past three years.

ROW 6:

Takuma Sato, Andretti Autosport: After starting impressively at St. Petersburg, the near- 2012 Indy 500 upset winner returns to familiar territory from when he was with A.J. Foyt Racing. Does not appear able to take advantage of a good car for qualifications.

Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing: The comments made by Craig Hampson pre-Phoenix are putting doubt in DCR’s mind at the worst possible moment. Something good must happen during practice. or it could be a disaster.

Carlos Munoz, A.J. Foyt Racing: The aggressive veteran does not have the resources to threaten the top nine as he did with Andretti. Dramatic turnaround required before Munoz improves his placing.

ROW 7

Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: RLLR is following ECR’s path. Their primary threat is being trumped by the other driver in the camp.

Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing: Three top-ten finishes at the Indy 500, but has yet to make an impact in qualifying mode. Should top Chilton to be third in CGR stable, but not much more than that.

Sage Karam, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: DRR’s focus has been more on the race than time trials; 2017 should be no different.

ROW 8

Jack Harvey, Andretti Autosport: If Alonso can make a move up the list, so can Harvey. Indy Lights veteran should have the same muscle that the Spaniard will have in his arsenal.

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Qualified seventh in his first try with the family-based organization, but has been nowhere near that zip code in the years since.

Max Chilton, Chip Ganassi Racing: Interesting to see how the Englishman fares this month after a Pole Day crash last year derailed the effort. Could see a surprise jump.

ROW 9

Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing: Could get closer to matching or exceeding the output from semi-teammate Karam in qualifications. Compliacted to say based on a new team, but Indy 500 experience is present in most categories.

Ed Jones, Dale Coyne Racing: Is in the same way Bourdais did at Phoenix. The situation is unlikely to improve this month.

Conor Daly, A.J. Foyt Racing: Topped Gateway speed chart, but may have only done so as pace may not have been the concern for most of his rivals.

ROW 10

Spencer Pigot, Juncos Racing: Reunion of the 2015 Indy Lights champions provides a thought-provoking pairing. Whether it equates to a satisfactory result in time trials and the race is unknown.

Zach Veach, A.J. Foyt Racing: Extra seat time at Barber could boost fortunes for the Ohio-based rookie. Could push Daly for second in the queue for Foyt behind Munoz.

(Sebastian Saavedra), Juncos Racing: Not a great track record at Indy for the Colombian, however Saavedra should be more competitive as opposed to original choice Kyle Kaiser.

ROW 11

Pippa Mann, Dale Coyne Racing: Expectations have lowered following the struggles of DCR at Phoenix last month. The veteran is deserving of better equipment.

Jay Howard, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Six-year layoff will prevent Howard from getting as much out of his car as Hinch and Aleshin will.

Buddy Lazier, Lazier Partners Racing: The Colorado-based group is always having to play catch-up, so topping anyone in qualifying would be a personal victory.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Phoenix

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

Is Simon Pagenaud returning to his role as the rabbit of the Verizon IndyCar Series? Following his first win of 2017 at Phoenix, the Frenchman is headed toward recasting a sequel. However, coming into the fourth round sixth in the driver rankings, it is impossible to move all the way to the top.

Looking ahead to the 101st Indianapolis 500, POPULAR SPEED has extended our IndyCar team rankings to reflect those who will make their lone appearance at the Brickyard.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Phoenix showed the remainder of the IndyCar grid what a five-car Team Penske could do when the transporters reach Gasoline Alley. Pagenaud won at Phoenix and any of his four teammates, including two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, are capable of adding their face to the Borg-Warner Trophy on May 28th.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

Honda’s failure to figure out Phoenix derailed Ganassi’s performance in Arizona; however, if the pace the Japanese manufacturer showed last year at Indy can be replicated, good finishes from Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Charlie Kimball are possible. It is probably too early to add Max Chilton as a serious challenger though.

3. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

12th was the best SPM could manage from James Hinchcliffe; but, Mikhail Aleshin’s elimination on the lap puts a question mark on the table. It is tough to move them ahead of DCR based on last weekend, but on potential looking ahead to Indy, Schmidt in the words of former Price is Right host Bob Barker, “is the bigger bargain.”

4. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

Craig Hampson was right – DCR is not a serious contender on the ovals. Sebastien Bourdais was another victim of the lap one pileup but struggled for pace in practice. Ed Jones also failed to feature, managing an 11th-place finish based on attrition. Not the news Indy 500-only pilot Pippa Mann was hoping to hear.

5. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

Another quadruple retirement for Andretti at Phoenix. The good news is with six cars track side at IMS at least one car should make the finish in the 500. How the rest of the six-pack handles the attention that Fernando Alonso is guaranteed to get this month will guide them to their climax.

6. Ed Carpenter Racing (+1)

Ed Carpenter never made the impact that was hoped for at Phoenix, although J.R. Hildebrand certainly did. A solid qualifying run, coupled with a clean showing in the race netted a third-place finish for the Californian. While it is premature to tag the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet as an Indy 500 favorite, the car and its occupant should not be overlooked.

7. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (-1)

Confidence is dropping fast at RLLR, and Graham Rahal is not hiding that things look bleak. A good Indy 500 finish may depend on Oriol Servia at this point.

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

The offseason signings Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly continue to be mired among the rear guard. The addition of Zach Veach at the Indy 500 should help, but just when Foyt could not fall any further down the list, here comes the Indy-only invaders.

9. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Unranked)

The combination of DRR and Sage Karam can cut it against the big boys. 31st to ninth in 2014 and a brief surge into the top-ten last year justifies their placement as the group most likely to rattle the full-timers club this month.

10. Harding Racing (Unranked)

Team boss Larry Curry is the perfect choice to lead a new operation, and you cannot do much better than hiring Gabby Chaves as the wheelman. Alliance with DRR means perhaps an equal level of performance.

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (+1)

Four top-fives in four starts to open 2017. No doubt about it, the Iceman appears ready to challenge for a second Indianapolis 500 win.

2. Josef Newgarden (+1)

The Tennessee-native was not the best of the Penske bunch at Phoenix, but he should be effective when he sets foot at the corner of 16th and Georgetown in one week from now.

3. Sebastien Bourdais (-2)

Perhaps Dale Coyne Racing can salvage their month of May with a big push in the IndyCar Grand Prix. Once the scenery moves back to the 2.5-mile oval, the odds are not in the Frenchman’s favor.

4. Will Power (+1)

Power finally reached the finish of an 2017 IndyCar race without issue. A second-place finish behind Pagenaud was well earned and should make the Aussie a challenger in both May events.

5. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

Even without the yellow flag, Pagenaud was looming as a potential winner. Although a third IndyCar GP win in four tries is signficant; the 2016 IndyCar champion has made it clear that the Indy 500 is the one he wants the most.

6. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

Last year’s Indy 500 pole winner should bounce back to play a role in the drama on May 28; however, based on his Long Beach victory, his best shot at Brickyard glory could be in the IndyCar Grand Prix.

7. Helio Castroneves (+1)

Castroneves has been more effective in qualifying than on race day. The pressure to make history as a four-time Indy 500 champion exists, but expect the Brazilian to dig deep in his quest to get there.

8. Tony Kanaan (Unranked)

A quiet sixth-place last week sets the stage for TK’s best chances for victory this season. If Honda regains its muscle from 2016, watch out.

9. Alexander Rossi (-1)

Rossi and his Andretti teammates floundered at Phoenix, leaving their month of May prospects in doubt. Probably faces a higher mountain than any defending Indy 500 champion in history.

10. J.R. Hildebrand (Unranked)

Indy’s hard luck hero added his name to the contenders’ list with a podium finish at Phoenix. He was in the mix late in last year’s Indy 500 until he made contact with Helio Castroneves.

Dropped Out: Ryan Hunter-Reay (9th last week), Spencer Pigot (10th last week)

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Team Penske Left Mark on Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – As reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud scored the victory, the crowd roared with excitement under the lights at Phoenix Raceway. After returning to the track last year after more than a decade, the open-wheel cars put together another spectacular run at the valley of the sun.

On Saturday night, the Arizona oval hosted its 63rd IndyCar race with the second running of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. The events not only ushered in larger audiences than the year before, but also rang the end of an era as the track prepares to make significant renovations. The revamp of the historic  facility is slated to be completed by November of next year.

“This track is old, in a sense, and even though there’s nothing wrong with the race track, the facility itself, to really to be able to continue to attract fans, you’ve got to really do more than just put on a show on the racetrack,” legendary IndyCar driver Lyn St. James said. “I think it’ll be great for Phoenix and great for the fans.”

Before it became a staple on the NASCAR circuit, PIR was opened in March of 1964 for open-wheel racing specifically. It’s inaugural event, a 100-mile United States Auto Club race with an average speed of 107mph, was won by A.J. Foyt. Due to this and his many other accomplishments in the sport, the winner on Saturday went home the A.J. Foyt Champions Trophy, a special award crafted with Grand Canyon Onyx and encrusted with a likeness of Foyt.

The competition for the victory was tense, but there was one team in particular which seemed unfazed: Team Penske.

The team’s success began early on in the weekend as Helio Castroneves won the pole on Friday night, winning the “Speed King” crown for the second year in a row at Phoenix. He was especially proud to reach this feat at a track he’s won at in the past.

“I wanted that crown so bad,” Castroneves said. “I’m not going to give up that crown, so I’m glad it’s still there. It was great, great teamwork.”

The entire Penske team was also able to make its permanent mark on the track on Friday night as all four of its drivers in the series were invited to sign a 30-foot steel beam that will make up part of the new grandstand.

As the race began Saturday evening, all of the Penske drivers managed to avoid getting caught up in the four-car collision on the very first lap of the race going into turn one.

The rest of the race ran relatively smoothly up until Lap 138 when Takuma Sato made contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4.  The caution worked out in Pagenaud’s favor as he was able to solidify his place in the top spot and hold off the other competitors all the way through the last lap.

“The car was so strong at the beginning of the race that we were able to save a lot of fuel in traffic you know, following Will [Power] and Helio [Castroneves], so we were able to lift a lot at the end of the straight and saved a lot of fuel so we could go longer,” Pagenaud said. “It paid off with that lucky yellow, I’ve got to say. We’ve had our fair share of bad luck this year too, so it doesn’t hurt sometimes to have a little break for yourself.”

Team Penske managed to take home a one-two finish with Pagenaud and Will Power. The rest of the Captain’s quartet – Castroneves and Josef Newgarden – finished fourth and ninth. Their dominance on the night shines through in laps led, as the foursome led all 250 laps en route to the team’s 189th series victory.

The victory also marked Pagenaud’s 10th career win and put him in the lead in this season’s points standings, with all four drivers in the top-seven.

For Pagenaud, the win was especially surprising being his first ever win on an oval track.

“Oval is not my specialty, I grew up in Europe racing go-karts, and I learned about oval only when I was, I believe 26 years old, 25,” he explained. “I had to re-learn the technique, the skill that I didn’t know. It’s incredible, what a win. That was phenomenal.”

With so many changes being made to the track before IndyCar returns next year, Will Power says he’s unsure of how these modifications, including the relocation of the start/finish line to the dog leg, will affect the racing.

“I’m not sure how they can make it how you can pass easier,” he explained. “It’s so difficult, even when you’ve got a strong car. You push like you wouldn’t believe and you just can’t get people.”

Even with the difficulties that Power mentioned when running at Phoenix, Castroneves summarized the weekend for Team Penske best, saying, “We have the moment with the pole position but Team Penske won with Simon [Pagenaud] and congrats to him. Josef [Newgarden] was right there in it as well. We showed that, even Honda looking a little bit strong, we still have a good car and today was proof.”

The next time Team Penske visits Phoenix Raceway, it will be met with a whole new set of challenges as well as fans. But one thing is for certain: Phoenix is a special place for Penske Racing.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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

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Commentary IndyCar Open Wheel

FANTASY HOT TIP: Phoenix

After a second straight disaster for yours truly at Barber Motorsports Park, my Firestone Fantasy Challenge team sees another revamp.

With the Verizon IndyCar Series heading to Phoenix International Raceway for Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Grand Prix, it is time to start a rally. As scenery changing from road course to high-speed oval, new players come into the mix. Unfortunately, for small operations like Dale Coyne Racing, the scenarios which aided their rise in the first three races, may turn against them.

Although DCR does have an oval track win on their resume (Justin Wilson, Texas 2012), the oval tracks have been dominated by better-funded outfits. Last year, however, did provide an exception. Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi won the Indianapolis 500, while Graham Rahal’s family-run squad edged out another small fry in Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe at Texas. The question now is focused on two trending factors.

One, will the smaller squads continue to threaten the tophalf of the field on ovals in 2017? Secondly, will Honda continue to thrive on its perceived horsepower advantage? Going by my four fantasy selections for Phoenix, my answers to those questions are NO. While Honda held serve on the fastest ovals last year, Chevrolet ruled on the short, tighter bull rings, such as Phoenix. The deck was stacked for GM in qualifying at least, as every Chevy-powered car outran the fastest Honda entrant. The Japanese manufacturer did bounce back some in the race itself, but not enough to challenge for victory.

Even if Chevrolet does not rule in terms of pace, Team Penske enters Arizona with momentum. The Captain’s quartet swept position one through three on the grid at Barber, and Josef Newgarden moved from seventh to victory lane. Each of the four pilots has had their moments on leftturn-only circuit; however. the salary cap prevents me from filling out my roster with all of them.

Despite that roadblock, I still have two good drivers from those four. Newgarden’s selection was a no-brainer as not only does he carry positive energy, he also won last year at Iowa Speedway. His teammate Helio Castroneves is known more for his success in the Indianapolis 500; however, he certainly is capable of a high placing likewise.

As for the other two spots, I went with oval track success as my focus. While Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan does not have many victories in his record book and lacks a Chevrolet engine, the eye-test recalls seeing the Brazilian in contention many times on ovals, making his inclusion worth it. The same gamble comes into play when assessing the potential of owner-driver Ed Carpenter, who makes his season debut at Phoenix. Like TK, the Indianapolis-native is a regular near the front at these types of tracks and with a surprisingly low fantasy value this week (15 dollars against a 100 cap), the risk does not exceed the reward.

For my sake, let’s hope the opening sentence for the next edition of Fantasy Hot Tip is a more positive 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.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Alabama

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

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

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

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

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

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

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

3. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

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

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (No Change)

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

5. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

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

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (No Change)

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

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (No Change)

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

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

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

Driver Rankings:

1. Sebastien Bourdais (No Change)

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

2. Scott Dixon (+1)

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

3. Josef Newgarden (+3)

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

4. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

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

5. Will Power (No Change)

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

6. Simon Pagenaud (-2)

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

7. Helio Castroneves (+1)

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

8. Alexander Rossi (Not Ranked)

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

9. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-2)

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

10. Spencer Pigot (-1)

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

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

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 Barber Motorsport Park 2017

The Big Picture:  The Verizon IndyCar Series comes to the Deep South with its legendary hospitality and beautiful scenery. It arrived here in 2010 and looks like it’s a keeper.

Event: It’s a three-day event headlined by IndyCar and featuring its support series. The facility is beautiful and getting better each year. Its museum features the largest motorcycle collection in the world.

Qualifying: Team Penske’s Will Power won his 44th career pole, and the practice and qualifying sessions for the weekend could also be called “Return of the Penskes”. Teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, the reigning series champion, took the next two spots.  Also, worth noting is that Graham Rahal qualified last, the first time this has happened in his career.

Race:  A classic road race with enough lead changes to keep things interesting and enough surprises to give the crowd some suspense. For much of the event, it was Will Power versus Scott Dixon. To add some spice towards the end,there was rain. But the contest came down to one punctured tire for Power and Penske newcomer Josef Newgarden being able to capitalize on the leader’s misfortune to assume and maintain the lead for a win.

Biggest Surprise: The fifth-place finish of reigning Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi was certainly not expected and well-deserved  for Andretti Autosport. Another surprise was the Saturday arrival of Formula One champion Fernando Alonzo, who will join Andretti for the 101st Indianapolis 500 in May.

Biggest Disappointment: Without a doubt, Will Power’s tire puncture while leading late  was a huge disappointment after his dominating performance up until then.  The Australian finished 14th after having to quickly pit for new tires.

Best Team:  Team Penske came back strongly at Barber. They lead the  most sessions,  won the pole and the race. Josef Newgarden won his first race at Penske in only his third start with the team.

Worst Team:  The other two Chevy teams, A.J. Foyt Racing and Ed Carpenter’s team, both had less than stellar finishes given the relative success of Penske and the relative mediocrity of their finishes.

Sponsor of the Weekend: Engine manufacturer Chevy/Ilmor came roaring back after a somewhat slow start to the 2017 season.

 Quotes of the Weekend:  JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet, Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race winner): “That was an awesome day. This is what we work for as an entire group. We always want to get one of these cars in victory lane. And, for (teammate) Will Power, I feel so bad for those boys on the 12 Verizon car – they were on it today and I feel like it would have been a great battle between Will, myself and Scott (Dixon). But it ended up just being Scott and myself. It’s a group effort here (at Team Penske) – all four of these guys work together. I’m thrilled for the (No.) 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevy guys but this is a team effort with all four cars. So whoever is in victory lane – we just want to get someone there with Team Penske.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): “What a great race here at Barber. Another second-place finish for the 9 car. I think that’s our fifth runner-up here. One of these days we’re going to win here. We had a great NTT Data car and we were right up in the mix for the win at the end. We just didn’t have enough there, but all in all a good points day for the team. I saw (Josef Newgarden) late coming into (Turn) 15 or 16 on the last restart and I tried to turn down but the car was just so neutral I just didn’t have the rear grip to pull it off. Kudos to Josef – he drove a hell of a race and the win was well deserved. The NTT Data car was strong in the race. I think we actually had the speed – I think if we would have had clean air in that race we would have checked out. I feel bad for Will Power too – I think maybe a flat tire there or something. It was definitely a good fight.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): “We’re moving in the right direction for sure. I think it goes without saying that I want to finish a lot higher than seventh, but I’ll take a top-10 after the way this season has started. We had a pretty clean race and our stops were good, we just couldn’t get up with the lead pack. I have a good track record at Phoenix, so hopefully we can come away with a good result next weekend.”

 What We Learned:  One of the big teams finally posted a win in the third race of the season. No matter how good you are, (Power) ill luck can still strike you unfairly.

Schedule: It’s less than a week until the next race, a nighttime contest at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona on Saturday April 29th.

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 Adds To Penske’s Juggernaut

While some will consider Josef Newgarden’s victory in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama as “lucky,” that may be too simple a view.

Although his Team Penske teammate Will Power was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop with 14 laps remaining, Newgarden applied pressure to the road racing ace and the entire Verizon IndyCar Series field all race long. After qualifying seventh, the Tennessee-native quickly gained ground in the opening stint, moving to second-place after the initial pit cycle.

A sign of a potential win developed during the second stint, when Newgarden held off Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon on worn red tires. Even though Power dominated the laps led statistic at Barber Motorsports Park Sunday, the Australian never secured a comfortable advantage on his teammate.

Despite losing track position to Dixon during the final round of stops, Newgarden quickly regained second with a clever inside pass at Turn 16. Once Power was forced to give way, Newgarden once again dueled with the New Zealander, who despite holding a significant advantage in terms of push to pass time, was never able to mount a serious challenge to take away the top spot.

“This is a good one to have, I think we earned it,” said Newgarden, who won his first IndyCar race at Barber in 2015. “This was a great car this weekend. We were on it.

“I think it was shaping up to be a really great battle for me, Dixon and Will, and it ended just being between Dixon and me. I feel bad for Will. I wish he could have been in that with us, but sometimes that’s the way it rolls.”

With Newgarden securing his first IndyCar win with Team Penske in only his first third start, a feat defending series champion Simon Pagenaud could not achieve in 2015, the future outlook is intriguing.

“You certainly hope you can win early and win often,” said Newgarden. “I think my goal was to maximize our potential, my potential in the team as early as that could be.

“It’s not easy, you know, integrating into a new group. It’s been pretty fluid for me just because Team Penske is a very easy group to join, I find. They’re very open, welcoming, there’s so much information to look at, the teammates are so good, it helps you kind of get on pace pretty quick.”

With two of the next three IndyCar events on ovals, the driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet certainly has a chance to add to his four career wins. The opportunity to contend for a championship is also added to the mix; Sunday’s triumph moved the Tennessean to third in the series points standings. It is not to say that the first American IndyCar driver for Team Penske since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2007 is destined to match or exceed the achievements of the greatest pilots the Captain has ever employed. But, the early success certainly is a promising trend.

The question regarding how good Team Penske is with Newgarden added was also answered on Sunday. Despite securing the top-three starting positions, it was Newgarden who secured the victory. Considering the former Sarah Fisher Racing prospect did not make the Firestone Fast Six on Saturday has to be a concerning sign for the rest of IndyCar’s lineup.

While it is not a lock that Team Penske will win 12 races as it did in 2016, it could become possible if Chevrolet can bridge a gap Honda showed at both St. Petersburg and Long Beach. If this difference is lessened further or even flips in favor of the General Motors manufacturer by the Indianapolis 500, not only the 17th win for Roger Penske appears possible, it could be in the form this team showed in 1988 and 1994. In those years, victory was never in doubt; the only unknown was which driver would add his face to the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Next week’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix could ultimately set the course for next month’s festivities. Another triumph could raise the likelihood of the above occurring not just for Josef Newgarden, but the other four Team Penske members who will be present at the Brickyard.

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 Drives to Second Barber Win, First Victory with Penske

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Josef Newgarden added to the growing bank of fond memories he is accumulating at Barber Motorsports Park, driving to victory today in the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First.

Newgarden’s win by 1.0495 seconds over Scott Dixon is his second on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course and comes two years after he secured his first career Verizon IndyCar Series victory at the same track. It also is the 26-year-old American’s first win since joining Team Penske, which took three of the top four finishing positions in the 90-lap race.

HONDA INDY GRAND PRIX OF ALABAMA: Unofficial results

Driving the No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden took the lead for the first and only time on Lap 77 when teammate Will Power was forced to pit in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske with a punctured left rear tire.

“This is a good one to have, I think we earned it,” said Newgarden, who started the race seventh. “This was a great car this weekend. We were on it.

“I think it was shaping up to be a really great battle for me, Dixon and Will, and it ended just being between Dixon and me. I feel bad for Will. I wish he could have been in that with us, but sometimes that’s the way it rolls.”

Dixon finished second for the fifth time at Barber and for the 34th time in his Indy car career, tying Michael Andretti for fourth all time. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has reached the podium seven times in the eight races on the Alabama track but never won.

Dixon jumped two spots in the season standings to second place and is within six points of the championship lead after the third of 17 races this season. But the driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda lamented the pass Newgarden made on him for second place on a Lap 69 restart.

“I saw him late coming into (Turn) 15 or 16 on the last restart and I tried to turn down, but the car was just so neutral I just didn’t have the rear grip to pull it off,” Dixon said. “Kudos to Josef; he drove a hell of a race and the win was well deserved. The NTT Data car was strong in the race. I think we actually had the speed. I think if we would have had clean air in that race, we would have checked out.”

Simon Pagenaud, last year’s Barber race winner and Verizon IndyCar Series champion, placed third in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, just ahead of teammate Helio Castroneves in the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet. Alexander Rossi, winner of last year’s historic 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, gained the most positions from start to finish of any driver, going from 18th on the grid to wind up fifth in the No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda.

Power, bidding for his third win at Barber, led 60 laps but wound up finishing in 14th place.

“I held on as long as I could, but I knew (the tire) was going down – you could feel it,” he said. “We’ll move on to the next one. I’m thankful to my crew, Verizon, the whole team. They put a great effort in and that’s how racing goes sometimes.”

Newgarden, in his sixth Verizon IndyCar Series season, collected his first win for Team Penske in just his third race with the prolific organization whose 188 Indy car wins are the most in history. By comparison, it took Power five races, Castroneves seven and Pagenaud 19 to get their first wins for the team.

“It’s a group effort (at Team Penske) – all four of these guys work together,” Newgarden said. “I’m thrilled for the (No.) 2 car guys, but this is a team effort with all four cars. So whoever is in victory lane, we just want to get someone there with Team Penske.”

Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, in the No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda, finished eighth in the race to retain the championship lead. Bourdais has accumulated 117 points, with Dixon second at 111, Newgarden third with 110, Pagenaud fourth with 106 and James Hinchcliffe fifth at 102.

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to the iconic 1.022-mile Phoenix Raceway oval April 29 for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix under the lights. Race coverage begins at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.