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IndyCar Open Wheel

Indy 500 Memories: No Ride To Victory Lane

The 1987 Indianapolis 500 was an upset win, but not concerning the talent the eventual winner possessed.

Sure, Al Unser, Sr. had won at the Brickyard three times, but 30 years ago things were different. Despite winning the CART Championship in 1985, Roger Penske released Big Al after the 1986 season. With Unser out, the Captain filled his seat with veteran Danny Ongais. In addition to the inclusion of the Flyin’ Hawaiian, the squad chose to run its own chassis, the Penske PC-16. The in-house design coupled with a developing Chevrolet-Ilmor engine were off the pace when practice open.

One driver that figured out the new GM power plant is Newman-Haas Racing’s Mario Andretti. The 1969 winner is fast during the opening week and easily snatched the pole position.

Unable to post a competitive time with his own car, Roger Penske reverts to the familiar March chassis. Rick Mears immediately joins the chase upfront and qualifies on the outside of the front row. After a slow four-lap average with the PC-16, Sullivan also moves to the March and posts a safer speed. Ongais however, is unable to join in the party. The veteran crashes two days before Pole Day and suffers a concussion with doctors not clearing him to participate for the rest of the month.

With one place in his operation open, Penske calls on Unser, who has been on the sidelines for the first week supporting his son’s effort at Shierson Racing.

“Penske called me if I would run the car and I said, Heck yes, Unser told IMS Productions. “I didn’t have to take a second guess about it because that is a team capable of winning.”

Even the team owner understood the reasoning behind the three-time champion’s decision to wait for the best opportunity.

“The thing about Unser was he wasn’t going to drive anything that was not a decent car,” said Penske. “He would certainly be the first guy you would call.”

With the deal in place, there was still a problem  what car would Unser drive? Ongais had destroyed the PC-16, and the organization was low on Chevy engines. Penske did have access to another year-old March chassis that was equipped with a Cosworth engine, which was being utilized as a show car, on display in the lobby of a Sheraton hotel in Pennsylvania. After retrieving the machine and bringing it to Indianapolis, Unser qualified solidly on the second weekend in 20th.

Unser’s shot to win his fourth Indy 500 still seemed like a long shot when the green flag flew on race day, especially with the way Andretti was running. The No. 5 Hanna Auto Wash Chevrolet crushed the competition through the first 450 miles, leading 170 circuits and building a one-lap advantage on second-place Roberto Guerrero. As attrition began to eliminate the rest of the field, Unser quietly became a factor running a solid third.

Suddenly, Andretti’s car slowed to a halt with electrical problems ending his quest for a second Indy win. Guerrero took over first, but the Colombian required a splash of fuel to make the finish. When the Vince Granatelli Racing pilot completed his pit stop, he stalled out. and for a moment the No. 4 True Value Cosworth laid stranded on the pit lane with his crew not realizing the situation.

The two mishaps in only four laps  vaulted Big Al to the number one position with just 18 laps to go. Even a late caution period could not prevent the No. 25 Hertz Special from reaching the checkered flag first. Guerrero recovered from his pit road malady to take runner-up honors, while Italian newcomer Fabrizio Barbazza finished third to secure Rookie of the Year.

The victory allowed Unser to join A.J. Foyt as a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, a feat that would be repeated in 1991 when his Penske teammate Rick Mears outlasted Michael Andretti to win from the pole position.

“It’s nice to be able to win four, and I’m very grateful (of that),” said Unser. “(Indy) is hard, it has a finesse to it to where there are many excuses for being unable to win it, you are lucky to be able to win it once.”

Stay tuned to POPULAR SPEED during the month of May for more memories on the road to the 101st Indianapolis 500.

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

Could 2017 Match Historic 1967 as One of Motorsport’s Greatest Years?

Fans that have watched auto racing all their life and have been alive long enough to remember might say 1967 was the most memorable year in motorsports history.

It was the year “The King” Richard Petty won 27 races and his second of seven championships in the NASCAR Grand National Series. That season, the sport consisted of 49 points events, meaning he won 55 percent of the races.

Racing legend Mario Andretti made his presence known in stock car racing by winning the Daytona 500 in the No. 11 Holman-Moody Ford. He started 12th and led 112 laps that day, and his victory is still considered one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history.

19-22 January, 2009, Concord, North Carolina USA Mario Andretti (c)2009, Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock
Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock

“At that point, I had not won Indy [500, won it in 1969] yet,” Andretti once said. “I was competitive with a couple of poles but had not won at Indy. So arguably the Daytona 500 win at that time was the biggest event of my career at that time and particularly satisfying to do it somewhere where it wasn’t my specialty.

“Can you imagine the same thing as if one of their drivers — Richard Petty or David Pearson -— had come to Indy and won the Indy 500? It had a special sound to it, and it still does, actually.”

“Super Tex” A.J. Foyt won his third of four career Indianapolis 500s in 1967. He also won the iconic sports car event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in France co-driving with Dan Gurney just two weeks later. Foyt went on to win his fifth USAC Champ Car Series title at season’s end.

Now, let’s jump ahead 50 years. Think about what the racing world is like today. It’s a lot different, wouldn’t you say?

2017 NASCAR Cup - Clash at Daytona Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 19 February 2017 Denny Hamlin, FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Daniel Suarez, ARRIS Toyota Camry, Kyle Busch, M&M's Toyota Camry and Matt Kenseth, Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry World Copyright: {Nigel Kinrade}/NKP
Nigel Kinrade / NKP

Today, NASCAR has three national series with its top division sponsored by the increasingly popular Monster Energy drink. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which it is now called, begins its 36-race season with its most historic race, the Daytona 500, often referred to as “The Great American Race.” Races are also divided into three stages and the final 10 events of the year make up the elimination-style NASCAR playoffs, which started in 2014.

Open-wheel racing has evolved exponentially over the years too. Both the Verizon IndyCar Series and Formula 1 have become exceptionally safer. In the 2013 Ron Howard film Rush, three-time F1 World Champion Niki Lauda says, “Twenty-five drivers start every season in Formula 1, and each year two of us die.”

Although the film took place in 1976, Lauda’s statement emphasizes the danger of being a racecar driver of more than 40 years ago. Deaths of both drivers and spectators were not as unusual as they are today.

In the last six years, two IndyCar drivers have died from accident-related injuries. The 2011 Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who lost his life in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the same year he won the 500, and Justin Wilson, who was struck in the head by a flying piece of debris from Sage Karam’s wrecked car at Pocono Raceway in 2015.

In 2014, Jules Bianchi died after an accident in the F1 Japanese Grand Prix — the European sport’s most recent death. It’s still three lives too many when you include the two IndyCar drivers, but racecars have been redesigned countless times to enhance safety for each competitor.

In NASCAR, following the death of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the sanctioning body mandated the use of the Hutchens system, which was the head and neck restraint system required until the end of the 2004 season.

jimmie HANS
Rainier Ehrhardt / NASCAR via Getty Images

In January 2005, NASCAR mandated the use of the HANS Device, which most drivers were already using, as the required safety system because it felt the Hutchens didn’t meet minimum safety standards.

The 2017 racing season is still just beginning, but many storylines could make this year another one for the history books.

The new three-stage format NASCAR created during the offseason made its debut at the 59th running of the Daytona 500. Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson embarks on his quest for a record-breaking eighth championship after winning No. 7 in 2016. And the “Monster” era of NASCAR began with a “Monster” win by 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch, who is sponsored by the drink, in the “Great American Race.”

2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup - Daytona 500 Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 26 February 2017 Kurt Busch celebrates his Daytona 500 Victory World Copyright: Rusty Jarrett/NKP
Rusty Jarrett / NKP

“The more I run this race, the more I’ve learned to throw caution to the wind and let it rip,” Busch, who had previously finished runner-up three times, said. “The performance of the [Stewart-Haas Racing] team has been incredible. My rearview mirror fell off with 30 to go, and I knew I had to drive defensively. I couldn’t even see the cars behind me, just heard my spotter in my ear, once we made that pass.

“It’s just unbelievable to have all this teamwork to get us in victory lane.”

Busch’s victory not only was a triumph for him but also for Tony Gibson, who won the race for the first time as a crew chief, and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, who ran the race 17 times in his racing career but never won it.

Now being retired from NASCAR racing and having won the 500 as a team owner, Stewart jokingly said, “If I knew all I had to do was retire to get it done, I would have retired a long time ago.”

In IndyCar, Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud will defend his 2016 title and look to become the first repeat titlist since Dario Franchitti, who claimed three consecutive championships from 2009 to 2011, and the first Penske driver to repeat since Gil de Ferran, who accomplished the feat in 2001.

Lisa Davidson wrote a POPULAR SPEED story about Pagenaud’s approach to the 2017 season in which he says he’ll be in more of an “attack” mode than a defensive one.

“… I would say I really understood better what it all meant last year [his championship year],” Pagenaud said. “It’s about defending. Everything is back to zero. The counts are all back to zero. It’s all reset.

“Now it’s time to attack, attack a new championship, attack a new year. Last year, if I was so successful, it’s because we attacked and we didn’t look in the mirrors. The goal is to do the same thing, not defend, but attack a new season coming up.”

Pagenaud finished second in the season-opener in St. Petersburg behind fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, who won the race after starting from the back.

Across the pond in F1, a retirement announcement heard around the world shocked the entire auto racing industry. The most recent World Champion Nico Rosberg decided that 2016 would be his final season in the pinnacle of motorsports and left the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport team. It ended a rivalry — which had the potential to match the likes of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the late 1980s or Lauda and James Hunt in the mid-1970s — with teammate Lewis Hamilton.

skysports.com
Skysports.com

Hamilton, now paired with Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes, will look to be the fifth driver in F1 history to win a fourth title. He’s 32 years old and already has 53 career wins, 104 podiums, and 61 poles. By the end of his career, whenever that is, he’ll likely be considered one of the sport’s greatest, if he isn’t already.

During preseason testing, Hamilton said rather interesting comments about the Scuderia Ferrari team, which last won the championship with Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. Hamilton said, “I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing. They are very close, if not faster.

“It’s difficult right now to say who is quicker.”

If what Hamilton said proves to be true, it will be an intense competition for this year’s championship. Mercedes cars won all but two races in 2016, and Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen won none.

Red Bull Racing won the other two races, once with 19-year-old Max Verstappen in his Red Bull debut at the Grand Prix of Spain after Hamilton and Rosberg wrecked each other on the first lap, and the other at the Malaysia Grand Prix with Daniel Ricciardo after Hamilton suffered a catastrophic engine failure while leading.

The 2017 IndyCar and F1’s campaigns are just getting underway, and there will surely be plenty to pay attention to as their season’s progress. If there’s one thing that holds true about racing, it’s that the unpredictability factor is always predictable.

So my question to you, whether you were around in 1967 or not, can 2017 be just as memorable 50 years from now?

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Mario Andretti Talks Upcoming IndyCar Season at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Racing legend Mario Andretti visited Daytona International Speedway on Sunday for the 59th running of the Daytona 500.

Andretti, who won the “Great American Race” in 1967, was in attendance to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his only NASCAR win.

When he sat on the stage of the press conference room, a tribute video featuring his win started to play, allowing the retired Nazareth, Pennsylvania driver and media members a moment to reminisce about his historic victory in the No. 11 Holman-Moody Ford.

While the focus of his presser was about the notoriously loose racecar he brought to Victory Lane and the impact he had on the racing world with the 500 win, it also gave POPULAR SPEED an opportunity to ask about the upcoming Verizon IndyCar Series campaign.

Andretti Autosport made numerous engineering changes and added new team members in the offseason to prepare for the 2017 season.

Last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi has a new engineer for his No. 98 Honda. Jeremy Milless comes over from Ed Carpenter Racing to work with Rossi and Eric Bretzman, Chip Ganassi Racing’s former technical director, joins AA as the team’s new director. Notably, Bryan Herta, who was paired with Rossi, remains with the team and is now partnered with Marco Andretti.

It’s also worth noting Marco, Mario’s grandson, seemed remarkably enthusiastic for the upcoming IndyCar season as he smiled throughout the series’ “Prix-View” test at Phoenix International Raceway last month. Entering his 12th full season, the 29-year-old only has two career wins and is coming off a dismal 2016, where he finished 16th in the Championship standings and failed to earn a podium result.

“Alexander really came to life by winning the 100th running of the IndyCar race last year,” Mario said. “He’s a really strong member of the team. He says, ‘I hope that what we’ve done during the offseason, the engineering and some of the changes, some of the [new engineers] we’ve acquired, will make a difference.’

“You know, the hope is high. We have to be thinking positively,” he added.

AA’s only win last season came from Rossi’s shocking fuel-mileage victory at Indy. The team was a step behind Ganassi, and everyone was well behind the dominating Team Penske, but the Andretti organization believes they’ve made ground on the field’s top teams.

“There’s always somebody you think is going to be better than you, and that’s what raises your game,” the 77-year-old Andretti said. “The Penske team is always a team to contend with.

“They’ve always been a marquee team throughout their history. If you feel you’re good enough to beat them, then you’re in pretty good shape, and that hope is there.”

With Penske adding Josef Newgarden to its four-driver lineup and Simon Pagenaud coming off the 2016 title, the consensus among IndyCar fans and media is that Penske is still the series’ top dog.

But with Ganassi switching from Chevrolet to Honda and a lack of sponsorship for Scott Dixon being a distraction for the team entering the season, AA might be able to capitalize on its issues.

Ganassi was second-tier to Penske in 2016, but after “stagnant” changes within the organization as Dixon put it, AA could visit the winner’s circle more often than Ganassi this year.

“That’s the skin we have in the game with my son Michael [AA team owner] and having four cars,” Andretti said. “Every team is doing their utmost, and they just hope that it’s enough.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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Commentary

MILNER: Daytona 500 Win Not Best Way to Start a Career

As we approach the 59th Daytona 500, several (relatively) new names are among those touted as potential winners of the race.

To date, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, and Daniel Suarez will be among those competitors who will take the green flag at Daytona without a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win. Each of them has a solid shot to pick up that first win in the biggest race of the 2017 season.

Dillon has found the plate tracks and drafting to his liking, as the only driver to finish in the top 10 in each of the four restrictor plate tracks last year. Elliott, for the second time in as many years, sits on the Daytona 500 pole, a year after a very successful rookie campaign where he seemed on the cusp of a win several times.  Suarez could use the momentum of his XFINITY championship and help from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates to propel him to victory.

While all three drivers would present a great story should they break into the win column with a Daytona 500 victory, the question might be “should they?” After all, getting the first career win in the Daytona 500 hasn’t always led to great career dividends for their predecessors.

Seven drivers had their first Cup Series win in the Daytona 500. With one exception, none of them went on to record more than a scattering of wins throughout their career. Trevor Bayne, the Cinderella Story of 2011 with a Daytona 500 win in just his second career start in the series knows that all too well. Bayne will be part of the field on Sunday still awaiting his second Cup win.

Elsewhere in the field, Michael Waltrip is another driver who got his first Cup win in the 2001 Daytona 500, albeit a little further along in his career than Bayne. After starting his career with 462 races without a win, Waltrip would win two Daytona 500s (2001 and 2003) but only four wins overall.

Derrike Cope, still active in the XFINITY Series and undertaking a limited Cup schedule in 2017, will be forever remembered for being in the right place at the right time. When Dale Earnhardt, Sr. blew a tire on the final lap of the 1990 Daytona 500, Cope went from potential runner-up to Daytona 500 winner. What is not as widely recalled is the Daytona 500 was one of only two wins in Cope’s Cup career (the other being at Dover later that same year).

1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton logged four career wins over six years while 1963 Daytona 500 winner Tiny Lund had five career wins over 20 years). Mario Andretti’s win at the 1967 Daytona 500 was his only NASCAR win, but then his racing resume isn’t exactly light on other accomplishments.

With two Daytona 500 wins serving as his first two career victories, Sterling Marlin is the exception to the rule. Marlin won back-to-back Daytona 500s in 1994 and 1995, the first of ten wins in a career that spanned 33 years between 1976 and 2009.

However, as stated, Marlin is the exception, not the rule. Perhaps, if you count Dillon, Elliott or Suarez (or Ryan Blaney, Danica Patrick or Austin’s brother, Ty Dillion to name just a few) among your favorites, perhaps you will want your driver to wait until Atlanta before getting that first win.

EMAIL: john.milner@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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IndyCar Open Wheel

A Career in Motorsports Journalism and PR

For more than 40 years, Michael Knight has been in the motorsports field as a journalist and public relations representative. He’s worked with a variety of people in the auto racing industry and has developed friendships with some racing legends along the way.

In the 1960s, he grew up rooting for his racing hero, Jimmy Clark, a two-time winner of the Formula One World Championship. He remembers watching Clark win the Indianapolis 500 with Team Lotus.

“At the time, what you did was go to major movie theaters, which showed the Indy 500 on a closed circuit TV,” Knight said. “So there I saw Jimmy Clark win the 1965 Indy 500.”

Later in the 1960s, Knight’s interest for motorsport grew from F1 and IndyCar and extended into other forms of racing.

“By this time, I was following Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, and sports car,” he recalled.

In 1974, he became a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He grew up in the city and got his degree in journalism at Temple University, so it was only fitting he would be a reporter there.

He covered motorsports for the newspaper and wrote many stories about a local racing champion from Nazareth, Pa. named Mario Andretti.

“One of the first names I became aware of was Mario’s,” he said. “Nazareth is an hour and a half to the northeast of Philadelphia. When I started at the Daily News, the coverage from a motorsport standpoint treated Mario as a local story.”

Over the years, he got to know Andretti as a friend and said he wrote many news pieces about him throughout his career.

“I spent a lot of time with Mario and wrote a lot of stories about him,” Knight said. “I was covering when he won the World Championship of Formula One in 1978 and wrote a lot of stories in that year, especially.”

When the CART Series formed after the split from USAC in late 1978, CART co-founder Roger Penske helped Knight get a prominent role in the newly-formed series.

Knight was hired to be the first ever director of communications for CART in 1980 and relocated to Bloomfield Hills, Mich. to accept the position.

In 1983, Andretti signed with Newman/Haas Racing and Knight became involved with the Anheuser-Busch brewing company, which sponsored Andretti’s car.

“At that time, Budweiser was a major sponsor in a variety of racing series and had primary sponsorship for Paul Newman and Carl Haas,” Knight said. “I was looking out for almost all the Budweiser racing involvements, and my primary responsibility became that program with Newman/Haas.

“It wasn’t just because of my background with IndyCar racing and CART but it was because it was Paul Newman and Mario.”

1985-paul-newman

(Knight and Newman at the 1985 Indianapolis 500)

Knight worked with the team through the 1980s into the 1990s. In the late ‘90s after Andretti’s retirement from racing, Knight took interest in the marketing boom that was occurring in NASCAR.

He felt it was the right time to leave American open-wheel racing and venture into stock car racing. Sponsorship was deemphasized in CART and thriving in NASCAR.

“I had the opportunity in 1999 to become the national motorsports media consultant of Valvoline so I was working on the NASCAR program with Roush Racing and Mark Martin as the driver,” Knight said. “That was a big deal … It was obvious to me the situation in IndyCar was on a decline.

“It was just a good time to get involved in another series on an active basis.”

Today, Knight lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. and does motorsports coverage for the state’s largest news publication, The Arizona Republic. In 2016, he wrote about all events happening at Phoenix International Raceway, including the two NASCAR race weekends, the return of the Verizon IndyCar Series after an 11-year hiatus, and the $178 million renovation plan for the track.

He is also the chairman for the Jim Chapman Award of Excellence in Motorsports Media Relations. The award honors a public relations person in motorsports annually and is considered the highest honor in racing PR.

Chapman was a journalist for The New York Times before serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He then became the PR director for Ford Motor Co. in 1946 and became a prominent PR figure in IndyCar racing starting in 1967. He created the award in 1991, five years before his death.

“Jim was a very dear friend of mine,” Knight said. “Some people have mistakenly characterized Jim as a second father to me or my mentor, but the best way to say it is that we were very close friends and I learned so much about the business of public relations not just from a motorsports standpoint but PR from an industry-wide basis.”

Originally, the award was given to people who worked specifically in CART, but it’s now eligible for anyone in racing PR. Knight won the first award in 1991.

He also unveiled a permanent Jim Chapman award in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center. A 30-pound, bronze-casted plaque is on display in the building.

“If you’re going to have something with Jim Chapman’s name on it, you couldn’t put a piece of junk up on the wall,” he said of the plaque. “Jim would’ve come down from heaven and smack me on the head for doing that.”

Knight hopes that it will be seen by all media people in the years to come, and one day hopes that other displays will be made so he can be honored at other tracks nationwide.

He believes excellence in public relations and journalism in racing is crucial to the sport, and it has served him well throughout his distinguished career.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: The Five Most Action Packed Corners in IndyCar

 Races at the highspeed ovals such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Texas Motor Speedway generally draw the most attention among those who follow the Verizon IndyCar Series. However, the road and street circuits which make up a larger portion of the current slate of events each have their own “action” hot spots where several memorable moments have occurred. Now some of these have been more tilted toward the positive side, while some have been not so good.

In this week’s commentary, I take a look at the five wildest corners currently in IndyCar and why each deserves its top billing.

 

5. St Petersburg Street Circuit’s Turn One:

The first braking zone of the season has often seen three and fourwide passing attempts work out great for some, yet poorly for others. Marco Andretti’s recent wild ride comes to mind here, among several others most commonly occurring at the opening of the new year. The off camber nature of this oddly angled righthander, plus its bumpy nature and the funnel down effect at the apex makes contact here sometimes unavoidable.

The key to mastering this section is getting off the final hairpin cleanly to maximize the airport runway front straight. Any slip or slide will make one vulnerable to any Push to Pass aided overtake at turn one, unless one defends the inside lane and forces the trailing car to take a long way around.

4.Watkins Glen International’s Inner Loop Chicane:

While New York’s Thunder Road features several great corners, the Inner Loop chicane has been the scene of many out braking duels in both IndyCar and NASCAR. Created in 1992 to slow down cars on the fast back straightaway, the section inadvertently created probably the most opportune chance to gain positions on the circuit. Being able to complete a maneuver before entering the first part of the Inner Loop to finish off a pass successfully is required, as the curbs at all parts of this section will launch a car off the ground. As a result, a full out of control scenario where a trip to the outside gravel trap is certainly possible.

Being able to hold the accelerator wide open through the uphill Esses and turn four will open up any the door of opportunity to gain ground with Push to Pass activation most effectively done just entering the chute before the run to the braking zone.

3. Exhibition Place Street Circuit’s (Toronto) Turn 3:

Although the narrow nature of the Exhibition Place design has made passing famously difficult over the years, the run down Lake Shore Boulevard to the tight, turn three righthander serves as the area where overtaking most commonly is attempted. Although several successful passes come to mind, one of most infamous challenges gone wrong came in 1989 when Mario Andretti tried to pass Teo Fabi. Andretti moved alongside Fabi, only to find the abandoned Alfa Romeo of Roberto Guererro parked in the same area. Although Andretti managed to escape the nasty impact without suffering injury, the incident would significantly change the way the series would handle stopped cars on the track.

Minus Andretti’s unfortunate situation, the majority of incidents occurring at turn three have been much less wild. The key to gaining or holding position here is getting the braking zone right and being positioned correctly entering the corner. The closer one applies the brakes in relation to the pedestrian bridge on Lake Shore Blvd., makes one more likely to lock up or miss the sweet spot of the corner. This can result in contact with the outside tire barrier and/or position loss since the turn’s narrow nature makes side by side racing next to impossible. You also do not want to get caught on the outside line entering the corner as it is not the most efficient way to hit the entry. An approach using the middle of the road or just left of center should allow for a dive to the inside of the car in front.

2. Streets of Long Beach’s Turn One:

The braking area at the end of Shoreline Drive in its current and previous configurations has been witness to many great moments over the years. Although the infamous turn 11 hairpin draws a majority of attention, getting out of this section cleanly is the goal to make any overtaking maneuver at the conclusion of Shoreline possible. One great example came in 1999 when then CART rookie Juan Pablo Montoya made a pair of successful overtakes at turn one on the way to his first career North American openwheel victory. The section was also a controversial corner in 2016 as Simon Pagenaud appeared to cut off the pit lane exit entering turn one to maintain the lead over Scott Dixon.

Although gaining ground is certainly possible at the 90-degree lefthander, the consequences for getting the turn wrong can be nasty. The tire barrier and runoff roads have caught many drivers who elected to be too cavalier at attempting a late out braking charge and sometimes the impacts with the tires have been so wild that cars have even rolled over as a result. Even before the 1999 track reconfiguration around the city’s aquarium, the former turn one was equally memorable as a 90-degree righthander with many successful overtakes and several unsuccessful moments, including Scott Pruett’s wild shunt in practice for the 1992 race.

1. Barber Motorsports Park’s Charlotte’s Web Hairpin (Turn Three):

Although the quick turn nature of the Birmingham, Alabama layout makes most of the corners here a follow the leader exercise, the story is different when the IndyCar fleet enters the tight and tricky downhill hairpin, named for the spider statue beyond the left side barriers. The tougher braking zone makes missing the apex common here and drivers can be punished for trying to get out of the hairpin too soon. Recall earlier this year when Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal were battling, which eventually resulted in contact and the Team Penske pilot going off course, before finally reeling in and overtaking the damaged car of Rahal to secure the race win.

Getting off of the uphill turn two without spinning the tires and coupled with a pressing of the Push to Pass button on the steering wheel should allow for a passing attempt to occur at Charlotte’s Web, whether a driver takes the inside lane or even the outside lane. Unlike the other facets of the Barber circuit, the hairpin is wide enough to account for side by side racing and does offer decent grip using the longer, outside route.

Although every road and street circuit currently in the Verizon IndyCar Series has its own character and has its own signature section, the five challenges mentioned above currently provide the most excitement that open wheel racing has to offer.

Agree with my list? Believe there is another corner(s) worth a mention? Post your comment below or leave a comment on Twitter.

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.