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Andretti Autosport Sticks with Honda

After a myriad of rumors swirled throughout the past month, things are not changing at Andretti Autosport as they will once again be powered by Honda in 2018 and beyond, as part of a multi-year agreement.

The news was revealed on Thursday through a video on social media.

“It’s no secret that we’ve been weighing this decision for a while now,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “We’ve had strong relationships and have marked milestones with both manufacturers, but we’re pleased to continue our Honda partnership. We have a great history of success with Honda and I have no doubt that together, our collection of achievements will continue to grow.”

Last month, talks started that there was a possibility of the pair separating, despite winning three Verizon IndyCar Series championships and five Indianapolis 500s together. Discussion only picked up more once it was leaked that Takuma Sato may leave AA to drive a second-car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, as Sato has always been associated with Honda-only teams. 

The rumors are understandable with the organization failing to reach expectations, with only one victory in 15 races this year, and Alexander Rossi the highest-ranked driver in points, currently seventh. 

“We’re extremely happy to continue our successful partnership with Michael Andretti and Andretti Autosport,” said Art St. Cyr, President, Honda Performance Development. “As Michael stated, his team has played a major role in our success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including victories at three of the last four Indy 500s. In addition to success at Indianapolis, 47 of Honda’s 225 Indy car victories through the years have been scored by the Andretti Autosport. Together, we’re looking forward to adding to this already impressive total in the future.”

With only two races remaining in 2017, the team has signed Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti for next year, with confirmation forth coming surrounding the “remaining drivers in the coming weeks.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

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

Ryan Hunter-Reay Injured in Qualifying Crash at Pocono

After crashing in qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, Ryan Hunter-Reay has been released from Lehigh Valley Hospital.

On his warm-up lap, the No. 28 Honda for Andretti Autosport snapped around, hitting the wall. The past series champion climbed from his car and limped to the safety vehicle, before being taken to the hospital for further evaluation of his left hip and knee. 

“During qualifying today, out of nowhere, the car stepped out on me,” he said. “It was a bit of a wiggle, which I caught. The second time it happened, it came with no warning – which is a bit confusing. I hit my hip pretty bad as well as my knee, so the doctors thought it would be best to go in for further evaluation. After a CT scan and MRI, I am able to go and get a good night’s sleep. I’m sure I’ll wake up sore, but will hopefully be able to get back in the DHL machine tomorrow.

Although he was released from hospital, he has yet to be cleared to return to competition, pending a re-evaluation Sunday morning prior to the event.

“I know the entire Andretti Autosport team worked hard to get the car put back together and with 500 miles, there is still a chance to win from the back of the field,” he added. “I can’t thank the Holmatro Safety Team enough for their quick response along with the medical staff at INDYCAR, Pocono and Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest. Also, thank you to the fans for reaching out with their support.”

Hunter-Reay sits 12th in the standings entering the 14th event of 2017, with three top-five finishes.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

Fantasy Hot Tip: Pocono

The question surrounding players in the Firestone Fantasy Challenge looking ahead to the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway is simple – will the action at the 2.5-mile triangular layout play similar to what occurred this past May in the 101st Indianapolis 500? If it does, it may become a final opportunity for the Honda-powered teams to snatch a win away from the juggernaut known as Chevrolet and its key disciple: Team Penske.

Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing led the assault in qualifications and despite multiple Honda runners being eliminated in the race by either engine trouble or accidents, Takuma Sato outpaced Penske’s Helio Castroneves to take the win. If this is the scenario of choice, Honda should make up most of the four-driver roster this weekend. However, the Japanese aggressor might not be the best option.

Of course, if Pocono plays in step with the Texas 600 – a race marred by high attrition, Chevrolet may be able to level the playing field. There’s also the champinonship battle to watch, as Pennsylvania’s big oval may provide Sato and four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon their best shot to cut into the lead currently held by Josef Newgarden.

While I have included the Kiwi in my quartet for this Sunday’s action, let the buyer beware. Dixon took the checkered flag in the 2013 event and had top-ten placements in the following three races at the venue. Unfortunately, the Iceman failed to finish at both the Indianapolis 500 and the Texas 600 in 2017.

Based on the eye test, I had to include Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay this week. In my opinion, there has not been a consistently faster driver on the big ovals than the 36-year-old American. His only issue recently has been bad luck. RHR won at Pocono in 2015 and finished third here a season ago. However, he was removed from contention at the 2016 Indy 500 by a pit road incident, and in May, the engine concerns forced an early retirement. If the good vibes are in gear on Sunday, the No. 28 DHL Honda should be the rabbit in race trim.

Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi failed to finish last year in Pennsylvania; however, his win at Indy in 2016 and a strong run to seventh in May merit his inclusion.

As for the GM entries, there is one inclusion. The Brickyard showed that Ed Carpenter Racing was able to overcome a deficiency in top end grunt. Of course, taking a driver from that camp is not advised on road courses, but that view is squashed at Pocono. Usually, I would take the team owner Ed Carpenter in a heartbeat; but with the boss struggling to salvage results, I think it is time to get behind J.R. Hildebrand one more time. While the 2011 Indy 500 runner-up has never turned a wheel at the “Tricky Triangle,” his ability to make the checkered flag at 16th and Georgetown backs his selection.

After being fulfilled grandly in the first two high-speed oval rounds in 2017, the final course should be equally grand if not a bit better with championship considerations included.

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

Your Ultimate Verizon IndyCar Series Silly Season Guide

It always seems as if the landscape adjusts itself in the world of auto racing every single year and looking ahead to 2018, the Verizon IndyCar Series appears to be no different.

The bank opened during Mid-Ohio action last week when questions were raised about the future engine choice at Andretti Autosport. Team owner Michael Andretti admitted that talks between Chevrolet exist, but did not go further in detail. The situation at AA is iffy at best. While their relationship with Honda has netted them three Indianapolis 500 victories in the past four years, the four-car squad is low on funding. At this point, only two cars have secure sponsorships. DHL is paired with Ryan Hunter-Reay, while NAPA Auto Parts backs Alexander Rossi for a majority of the 17 events. Beyond that, support for the entries of Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato is sketchy.

While an infusion of money is always a plus in today’s cash happy state of the sport, there are consequences to such a move. While Marco Andretti and Hunter-Reay are secure for the foreseeable years ahead, the presence of Honda is part of the tie-in for both Sato and Rossi. If Chevy is the future course, one seat if not two suddenly become available.

Outside of Andretti, things elsewhere are also on the somewhat unstable ground. Here is a look at the potential scenarios.

 

TEAM PENSKE: Josef Newgarden (Probable), Simon Pagenaud (Probable), Will Power (Probable), Helio Castroneves (Indy 500 only, Probable), Juan Pablo Montoya (Indy 500 only, Probable)

No confirmations just yet on who will drive Penske’s IMSA program with Honda, but the pairing of Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya looks to be the ultimate climax at this point. With the Brazilian out of the picture, insider information suggests that the team will only enter three full-time entries for 2018, while still running five for the Indy 500, providing cars to both the Colombian and the popular veteran for as long as they wish.

 

CHIP GANASSI RACING: Scott Dixon (Probable), Max Chilton (Questionable), Charlie Kimball (Questionable), Tony Kanaan (Unlikely)

With NTT Data potentially scaling back its support for 2018, the severing of ties between Ganassi and Tony Kanaan may occur this off-season. Not only has the 2013 Indy 500 champion’s performance dropped off in 2017, but just managing to outpace Chilton and Kimball on a regular basis has also become a challenge.

With Dixon likely to continue, the question looms on the future for CGR’s third and fourth pilots. Chilton and his backing from Gallagher Investments have been linked to a potential new team under the direction of Trevor Carlin, with whom the Englishman drove for in the Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires circuit. With Novo Nordisk reportedly also peeling back a little on its support of Kimball, the American could join up with both Carlin and Chilton likewise.

If all these scenarios play out, Ganassi may scale back to three cars like his counterpart Penske likely will also. While options are few and far between at this point, keep in mind that Esteban Gutierrez is out there. The Mexican ex-Formula One chauffeur is bankrolled by Carlos Slim, whose Telcel brand sponsored Ganassi for several seasons in the former Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series. Could a possible rejoin be in play? Stay tuned.

 

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: Ryan Hunter-Reay (Probable), Marco Andretti (Probable), Alexander Rossi (Questionable), Takuma Sato (Questionable)

If the switch back to Chevrolet engines for 2018 is on, Takuma Sato is on the market looking ahead to the new season. Honda has provided backing to the reigning Indy 500 champion, dating back to his tenure in Formula One. The same story could also ring true for Alexander Rossi, who reportedly also enjoys some support from the manufacturer.

With both players out, Andretti could be forced to rely on financially backed drivers to fill the openings. Looking ahead to next year, only Ryan Hunter-Reay is fully sponsored via DHL. Marco Andretti has had a myriad of different names on his car in 2017, mainly forced by the collapse of original backer H-H Gregg.

Crazy rumors have hinted that the team might make a run at current McLaren F1 pilot Fernando Alonso for a full-time seat, but it would likely take a massive injection of money from GM to make that even within a breath of reality. Of course, no one expected the Spaniard to take a stab at this year’s Indy 500, so maybe, maybe not.

 

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING: Graham Rahal (Probable), ?? (Possible)

Bobby Rahal and his son Graham have desired to expand to two cars full-time and ironically the Andretti engine change might allocate that opportunity. If Sato is out of luck, Honda will be quick to offer any of its other teams a shot at the Japanese veteran and RLLR might just step up. While Rahal personally has shown a preference for having Oriol Servia as a teammate, the addition of Taku to the fold offers more money in the till looking ahead for this operation.

 

SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS: James Hinchcliffe (Probable), Mikhail Aleshin (Unlikely)

With Hinch possibly in the mix for a possible ride with Ganassi or even a return to his former home at Andretti, Schmidt may be forced to play a waiting game looking ahead to 2018. Though if the Canadian stays put, then the focus shifts to the team’s second seat. Financial issues with backer SMP crept up on Mikhail Aleshin again in 2017, forcing him to miss the action at Toronto.

Assuming the Russian is not part of the plans for 2018, Arrow Electronics could be called upon to sponsor both entries. If that is in the cards, Indy Lights veteran Santiago Urrutia, who is also supported by Arrow, could become a target. As could Sato and/or Alexander Rossi with additional backing from Honda being added to the deal.

 

DALE COYNE RACING: Sebastien Bourdais (Probable), Ed Jones (Questionable)

With Bourdais back in the saddle testing a Coyne entry following the Mid-Ohio race weekend, all signs point to the Frenchman continuing on with the Chicago-based operation in 2018. The concern shifts to Jones, who’s had a decent rookie season with the team, but will be without the scholarship money he had in hand after the Indy Lights title in 2016. With his Dubai connections, however, money to cover the expenses might not be too hard to come by. Of course, it could be tough to match the financials that Carlos Slim-supported pilot Esteban Gutierrez could provide.

If Coyne reverts back to the ride goes to the highest bidder philosophy, he carried before this year, then Jones might be looking elsewhere for employment in 2018.

 

ED CARPENTER RACING: Ed Carpenter (Ovals Only, Probable), Spencer Pigot (Road Courses Only, Possible), J.R. Hildebrand (Probable)

It’s been a tough year for the Speedway, Indiana club, that is if you discount their performance on oval tracks. Driving duties are not expected to change for 2018 unless Pigot heads elsewhere looking for full-time service.

 

HARDING RACING: Gabby Chaves (Probable)

The Indianapolis-based newcomers are expected to join the full-time roster next season with Gabby Chaves at the controls. No other changes are expected, but the team could require more funding to make their dream a reality.

 

A.J. FOYT RACING: Carlos Munoz (Possible), Conor Daly (Possible)

2017 has been a frustrating season for both Munoz and Daly, who each were expected to provide a boost to Super Tex’s fortunes. With neither placing better than seventh in any event to date, the question of whether either driver stays is unknown. If anyone bolts, the most likely would be the Colombian who just missed out on an Indy 500 victory in 2016. With no other options in play, the Indiana resident may stick with Foyt as they fully relocate its operations to the Indianapolis area.

If Munoz leaves, Tony Kanaan could become a target if he is dropped by Ganassi.

 

JUNCOS RACING: ???

Ricardo Juncos’ Indy Lights operation moved up to IndyCar competition to field two cars at this year’s Indianapolis 500. The ultimate goal is to run full-time with at least one car next season. If Spencer Pigot is looking for a full-time ride in 2018, Juncos could be his lone opportunity. The American prospect drove for the squad in 2015, the same year he won the Indy Lights title. Juncos’ other Indy 500 pilot Sebastian Saavedra could also be sought here. 

Question now is  where will 2017 Indy Lights title contender Kyle Kaiser fits in? The young gun was a candidate for the Indy 500 seat as well until the team settled on Pigot and Saavedra. However, if Kaiser does win the Lights championship, the one million dollar advancement bonus that goes with it could shift momentum into his corner.

 

CARLIN RACING: ???

After backing out from possibly taking over the now defunct KV Racing team last year, Trevor Carlin is believed to be exploring entering the circuit on his own in 2018. The key cog here is Max Chilton and possibly a second driver with some money in hand.

 

DREYER & REINBOLD RACING: Sage Karam (Indy 500 Only, Possible)

Unless things are dramatically altered, expect Dennis Reinbold to field an Indy 500 entry, possibly for Sage Karam or another driver in 2018.

 

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

Fantasy Hot Tip: Mid-Ohio

Well, things did not go as planned at Toronto for yours truly.

Following Will Power’s first lap exit and a did not finish from Ed Jones, not even decent showings from Simon Pagenaud and Max Chilton were enough to save me from dropping in the standings. Now tenth on the table heading to the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, another bounce back is required to keep the chances for a high placing following the season finale at Sonoma in play.

With several drivers enjoying breakthroughs at Toronto that were not part of my team, the roster for Lexington, Ohio has been altered. Only the services of Chilton, who has fared well since his solid performance at the Indianapolis 500 is back from the Canadian experiment that went awry.

I have not completely abandoned Team Penske’s options. The fact that Helio Castroneves has yet to disappear from the championship chase is very appealing. While the Brazilian has not fared great the past three years in this event (15th or worse), he has reached the podium on three of his previous voyages in the Buckeye State.

Of course, the home court advantage factor comes into play here. Mid-Ohio is the Rahal family’s territory. The first generation Bobby Rahal has won here in multiple disciplines (sports cars, IROC, and IndyCar), while his son Graham took the checkered flag here in 2015. In addition to the victory lap, the son of the 1986 Indy 500 champion has placed no worse than fifth at Lexington since 2013.

With Rahal and Chilton’s inclusion giving me an extra room with the salary cap, I was able to use my final pick to grab Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay. While the 2012 IndyCar Series champion has endured a painful 2017 year (he enters Mid-Ohio 13th on the points list), the Californian has only suffered two bad results at this venue in 11 starts. Outside of those, he has earned a top-ten or better, more than acceptable assuming the other members of my trio hold their own.

Before you select your team for Mid-Ohio, keep in mind how things have not followed the script so far in 2017. What may have worked in seasons past, may not be successful as odd as this campaign has played out to date.

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

PAGENAUD: “I’m Glad We Made for a Good Show”

TORONTO, Ontario — For the most part, the Honda Indy Toronto was a single-file affair with drivers finding it difficult to pass throughout the tight street circuit. Though for awhile, the fans in the stands were certainly entertained by the race for fifth.

Simon Pagenaud had the quicker car, easily catching Ryan Hunter-Reay for the position. However, the latter was not ready to lean over and hand over the lead with ease, countering each move made by the Team Penske driver.

The pair would go back and forth for a good bit – Laps 70 to 75 – with Pagenaud continuing to look for a way around Hunter-Reay. Their battle included Hunter-Reay running Pagenaud wide in one corner, followed by Pagenaud returning the favor later on with 10 circuits to go.

Out of the pair, Pagenaud was able to come out on top, finishing fifth with Hunter-Reay placing sixth.

“I’m glad we made for a good show,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I thought it made for really good racing. It was tight, and a good time. I enjoyed it. I managed to get my way through so that’s the satisfying part.”

While noting it was a good point day with Scott Dixon placing 10th, Pagenaud felt he could have won the race, if he was not caught out by the yellow flag at Lap 23 when Tony Kanaan got into the turn one wall. He will enter Mid-Ohio Sports Course on June 30 sitting third in the standings, 19 markers behind Dixon.

“I’m happy for Josef (Newgarden) to win the race. He played a good strategy,” Pagenaud said. “I thought we had the fastest car today in the No. 1 team, but got caught by a yellow and didn’t win the race. It’s a bit of a shame, but we gained a lot of points. We’re right there, but it’s going to be a tight finish for sure.”

For Hunter-Reay, the sixth-place finished marked a significant improvement after ending up 16th in qualifying, due to not getting his flyer lap in with Esteban Guiterrez’s accident.

“It was alright,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I’m just bummed that we didn’t come home fifth. Just lost the rear of the car there fighting Pagenaud and gave up the spot. All in all, not a bad day as a good day for Andretti Autosport with two, four, six.”

Although known as a championship contender, Hunter-Reay has struggled this season, with Toronto only marking his fourth top-10 of 2017. Moving forward to Mid-Ohio, he says it’s not simple to carry the momentum forward.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Every track is different, so it’s almost like you’re starting from a fresh sheet of paper each time you go to the track, but we’ll try and carry it over.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

Honda Indy Toronto Notes: Saavedra Learning; RHR and Rahal Search for More

TORONTO, Ontario — While Team Penske continues to show speed this season, sweeping all three Honda Indy Toronto practices, their competitors are battling hard and trying to figure out the rough bumps of the street course.

Following the three sessions of practice, here are some storylines to keep an eye on leading into the event.

Saavedra The Substitute

Mikhail Aleshin, who typically drives the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry, is instead on the sidelines this week watching as the Honda-team made a driver switch just before the event, stating “no further comment” on the situation.

Sebastian Saavedra will be behind the wheel, reuniting with race engineer Blair Perschbacher, for his 63rd career Verizon IndyCar Series start. Notably, the Columbian’s last appearance on the streets of Toronto came in 2015 with a 16th-place finish.

Saavedra was able to complete 78 laps across the three practices, posting the 15th-quickest lap in Saturday morning’s session. He told POPULAR SPEED afterward that the practices were “very productive.”

“I wouldn’t say good or bad because I was realistic,” he added. “These guys are good at what they do, that’s why they get the paychecks, so I came here with an open mind and here we are. We’re using every lap to get to know the team, the engine, the new aero kit – it’s been three years since my last time here, so it’s going to take awhile.”

Going into the event, he admits that he hasn’t set any goals in stone, but rather focused on helping teammate and hometown driver James Hinchcliffe do as well as possible, and bringing his own entry home cleanly. Notably, Hinchcliffe was fourth quickest in the Saturday session.

Hunting for Success

Following a third-place finish at Iowa Speedway, Ryan Hunter-Reay hopes to keep the momentum going this weekend in Toronto after starting off the year on a rough note. While known for being a front runner, the Andretti Autosport driver only posted two top-10’s in the first 10 races of 2017.

Hunter-Reay commented on Friday that he felt they were “decent,” but knew they had “a lot of work to do tomorrow to be more competitive.” It seems the homework paid off, though, as he was fifth-quickest on Saturday morning.

The American has been successful in Toronto in the past, visiting victory lane in 2012.

Rahal is Confident

After sweeping both events on the street of Detroit, Graham Rahal entered Toronto with confidence as he felt his single-car team could compete for the victory again. Those expectations have been on par so far, as he was sixth quickest on Saturday morning.

“We are pretty competitive here – obviously, we’d like to be a little stronger,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “But we’re in the hunt. Just gotta keep working hard, put our heads down and focus on the end goal which is to qualify and race up front.”

When it comes to catching Team Penske, he says they could be better “a little bit everywhere.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

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

Fantasy Hot Tip: Iowa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Fantasy Hot Tip: Texas

This week’s Firestone Fantasy Challenge battle plan takes us back to the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Many of the key pieces to the puzzle are back for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 this Saturday night. Despite going airborne in an accident, not of his own doing, Scott Dixon returns as the main cog this weekend. Although the Kiwi faded back to eighth after starting from pole position, the effort posted by teammate Max Chilton showed what could have happened had Dixon been in play at the finish.

The same view can be taken for Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi. Both were fixing to get in the mix during the final 50 laps at the Brickyard, only to each hit trouble. Hunter-Reay was the first domino to fall, suffering the first of three engine failures suffered by Honda pilots on May 28th. Rossi was much more of a threat based on pace as opposed to strategy when he won in 2016. One poor pit stop, however, ruined any hopes of a repeat win, despite a desperate charge to salvage a top-ten output.

While the numbers favor a Honda-powered winner on Saturday night, some Chevrolet drivers still merit a selection. One that stands out is Ed Carpenter, a former winner at Texas Motor Speedway. The Speedway, Indiana-native must show more consistency and aggression if he is to repeat his 2014 triumph.

Among other solid picks, Graham Rahal makes sense. The winner of both legs of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix took the checkered flag first last year in Fort Worth. Of course, Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato is also a natural selection, along with runner-up Helio Castroneves who won at Texas in 2013.

Three more risky draftees are Ed Jones, Max Chilton, and Gabby Chaves. Jones placed third at Indianapolis, a result that could have been higher if not for the Dubai-resident running with a broken front nosecone during the final stint. Chilton led more laps than anyone at the Brickyard, but needed an off-sequence pit strategy to get into the picture. Chaves managed to claim a ninth-place effort for the brand new Harding Racing organization last month, and if attrition influences things on Saturday, the Colombian could pick up the pieces.

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 Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Detroit

 

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

Graham Rahal’s clean sweep at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix last weekend has brought the No. 15 United Rentals Honda back into the top-ten of the driver rankings. Beyond that, however, only slight changes are present in both polls as the teams head to Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Josef Newgarden’s pair of top-four results keeps Team Penske on top of the list for another week. It’s not that they are dominating the competition; instead, the fact remains no other team has shown capable of eclipsing them to merit top line consideration.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

The Iceman has a short memory as the wild ride at the Indianapolis 500 was covered up by two top-six outings last weekend in Motown, good enough to Ganassi back ahead of Andretti Autosport this week.

3. Andretti Autosport (-1)

Takuma Sato backs up Indy 500 triumph, with two top-eight efforts, the second producing a Verizon P1 Award. Alexander Rossi also continues to cement his claim as a future title contender with a similar resume from the Motor City. However, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti were off the radar last weekend, forcing their drop behind Ganassi.

4. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+2)

Oriol Servia started the wheels rolling in the right direction at the Brickyard, and Graham Rahal just took it to a whole new level at Belle Isle. The broom run across the board is rewarded with its highest ranking in 2017 so far.

5. Dale Coyne Racing (No Change)

Ed Jones managed a ninth-place performance on Saturday but had a day to forget on Sunday. Decent debut run for Esteban Gutierrez, with most importantly no major mistakes. Curious to see if Coyne gives the Mexican F-1 refugee another chance at Texas.

6. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

A pair of top-six placings by James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin on Saturday is enough for us to ignore Sunday’s misfortunes and give SPM back one of the notches they lost at Indy.

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (-3)

Whether ECR has an allergic reaction to road racing or not, Detroit did not emit confidence. Spencer Pigot squeaked out a tenth-place run on Saturday, but J.R. Hildebrand was largely a non-factor all weekend. Must rebound at Texas.

8. Harding Racing (No Change)

The team returns to action this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. If attrition mimics last year’s race, Gabby Chaves and company could perhaps leave with another top-ten result.

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

Same song, second verse at Detroit. Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly’s nightmare 2017 tour continues. Texas is not likely to improve things much in the right direction.

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (=)

Season’s over for DRR pending a surprise entry later this year. Still, it’s sister team Harding Racing is expected to make at least two more appearances.

Dropped Out: None

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (No Change)

A bum ankle and all, Dixon scores two solid finishes to regain the points lead, and more importantly, top our charts for another week.

2. Helio Castroneves (No Change)

A ho-hum showing for the Brazilian in Detroit, but at the same time, those behind him in the polls did not exude much regarding potential either. Based on that, Helio stays at number two.

3. Josef Newgarden (+3)

Leaving the Brickyard was the best medicine for the Tennessean, who puts himself back into the championship picture in Motown. Only Graham Rahal had a better week than this guy.

4. Will Power (-1)

A poor Saturday showing, was overshadowed by a solid Sunday effort that placed the Australian on the podium. Still, the writing is on the pit board; Power has underachieved in 2017.

5. Simon Pagenaud (-1)

Similar storyline to Power as Sunday improved significantly over Saturday’s output. Decent title defense so far, but grip seems to be weakening.

6. Alexander Rossi (+2)

Sophomore improvement continues to appear as opposed to a jinx. No. 98 NAPA Honda, producing a larger can of “Know How” every time it takes to the track.

7. Takuma Sato (+2)

Solid encore for the Japanese veteran at Belle Isle, with two more top-tens. Looking for another high finish in the Lone Star State.

8. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-3)

Detroit was a momentum crusher for RHR, who gives back the same three spots in the Motor City that he gained at the Indy 500.

9. Graham Rahal (Unranked)

Another second half surge for the popular Ohioan is definitely on the cards. Drove flawlessly to pull off the first double victory in the history of the Detroit Grand Prix.

10. James Hinchcliffe (Unranked)

Consistency is not yet where the Mayor would desire, but a podium showing on Saturday is enough to put the Canadian back on the list this week.

Dropped Out: Tony Kanaan  (Was No. 7 after Indy 500), Ed Jones (Was No. 10 after Indy 500).

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