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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Silver Lining From Recent Pole Day Washouts

Although qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 was delayed due to rain and thunderstorms activity, one should not immediately view this as a doom and gloom situation.

In reality, some of the most unpredictable battles for the pole position at the Brickyard have occurred in years where rain has interrupted the proceedings.

The most recent wipeout scenario took place two years ago. After inclement weather shut down action after only two drivers had made attempts on Saturday, Scott Dixon took over late on Sunday afternoon to score his second Indianapolis 500 pole position. Despite the advantage in horsepower shown by Chevrolet in 2015, the stoppage benefited Andretti Autosport’s Justin Wilson as he surprised most by qualifying sixth, the best among the Japanese manufacturer’s entrants.

2006 qualifying action was pushed back an entire week as rain prevented on-track activity. The delay gave a chance for several one-off teams to qualify higher than they could have done otherwise. Up front, the biggest beneficiaries were Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing. With Honda supplying engines for all 33 cars in the field, Roger Penske was able to find other ways to gain an edge. One route was introducing a more aerodynamic side mirror mount. Once time trials began, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Helio Castroneves were unchallenged, taking the top two spots on the front row. The former IndyCar and NASCAR veteran from Defiance, Ohio, qualified nearly a full mile per hour faster than the rest of the grid, posting a 228.9 MPH average. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon would take the next two positions.

2005 Pole Day was moved to Sunday of week one. Expectations soared in the morning as rookie Danica Patrick posted the fastest lap of the early preparation at 229.880 MPH. Unfortunately, Patrick could not back the effort up, as she got loose in turn one on her opening qualifying lap. The mistake relegated her to the fourth starting position on race day. With “Danica-Mania” temporarily on hiatus, another Brickyard fan favorite stepped forward. Going out early in the initial order, Tony Kanaan fired off four consistent at over 227 MPH to take his first and only Indy 500 pole award to date. Sam Hornish, Jr. rebounded from a poor first try to claim second, while Scott Sharp also took advantage of an early draw to complete the front row.

2003 was one of the messiest Pole Days ever. Adverse conditions engulfed the Indianapolis area following the morning practice, even causing the announcement of two Tornado Warnings from the National Weather Service. Although the rain exited the 2.5mile oval a day later, track conditions were still treacherous with gusty winds a common foe. Andretti Autosport teammates Tony Kanaan and Robby Gordon ran the best four-lap averages early in the qualifying period, only to be ousted late by an incredible performance from Helio Castroneves. Braving the below average weather, the Brazilian posted an amazing 231.725 MPH speed to snatch his first of four pole position earned at the Speedway. Only Rick Mears has more in the Indy 500 with six.

So, as you can see the saying, “The best things come to those who wait,” could very apply to the action in store this weekend.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

 

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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.