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IndyCar Open Wheel

Rahal Cleans House At Detroit

There have been dominant runs during the two-leg Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix format since it debuted in 2013, but none quite like what was witnessed this weekend.

Mired back in 15th-place on the Verizon IndyCar Series standings entering Friday practice in the Motor City, Graham Rahal reverted to the form that made him the top Honda points scorer the past two seasons. He dominated from the pole position to earn the first leg on Saturday, and on the following afternoon, the popular Buckeye state competitor used a rock solid opening stint to jump from third to the lead to complete only the second sweep of a doubleheader event in series history. Scott Dixon orchestrated the feat at Toronto’s Exhibition Place in 2013.

The performance in Motown is a stark reversal from Rahal’s thoughts entering the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The second-generation pilot claimed at the time that his single-car operation at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing could no longer compete against the multi-car operations from Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti. The view was understandable in a sense. Since edging out James Hinchcliffe to win the Texas 600 last fall, the United Rentals Honda chauffeur had opened the 2017 slate with only one top-ten finish, a tenth at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Flashes of his more successful form were present at the Brickyard last month. Despite a poor qualifying effort in the IndyCar Grand Prix, the No. 15 Honda was able to reach the sixth spot at the checkered flag. The run is notable considering the event went flag-to-flag without a full course caution to close up the pack. The 101st Indianapolis 500 two weeks later was also an effective exercise, as Rahal managed to reach the front of the field near the halfway mark, before settling for 12th.

Still, many raised eyebrows when the top American prospect secured the Verizon P1 Award on Saturday morning at Belle Isle Park. The doubters were silenced as Rahal outdueled Scott Dixon to take the win. Sunday was a more convincing performance, as the tenth-year veteran overcame Andretti Autosport front row qualifiers Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay to take the top spot at Lap 30. Not even a late caution caused by James Hinchcliffe and Spencer Pigot’s stalled machine could deny him. On the restart with two laps to run, Rahal pulled away from Josef Newgarden to secure the second event.

With the second of three double-points race weekends in the rear-view mirror, a third straight top-five point showing for Graham Rahal at season’s end is now within range. Headed back to Texas Motor Speedway next week, the Ohio-native is now ranked sixth in points, only 52 markers behind Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon.

Rahal’s outputs have in-part followed a similar reversal of fortune for Honda Performance Development this season likewise. Last season, HPD only found the winner’s circle twice in 16 attempts. Already this season, the Japanese manufacturer has won five of the opening eight rounds and has taken three consecutive Verizon P1 Awards.

However, the biggest benefactor of Rahal’s recent trend upward has been Turns For Troops, a program that donates $50 for every lap the No. 15 Honda leads this season. The charity supports the larger SoldierStrong organization, which seeks to aid the rehabilitation of military veterans injured in action overseas. The project has been featured on the RLLR entry for all three of the Ohioan’s top-ten finishes over the past four weeks.

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: Detroit

I may sound like a broken record, but a rewind to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is required for the Firestone Fantasy Challenge for rounds seven and eight.

Although there are two separate races when the Verizon  IndyCar Series fleet takes on the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, why mess with a good thing? While no driver has yet to sweep both halves of the doubleheader, the field will be hard pressed to deny Team Penske such a feat.

However, yours truly is not taking two of the Captain’s men as was done in the IndyCar Grand Prix. Based on recent momentum, Will Power gets the nod over Simon Pagenaud, while the consistent Scott Dixon from Chip Ganassi Racing is also featured.

The Honda horsepower advantage will not aid Dixon in the way it did last week in the Indianapolis 500, but it should keep him within a range of anything Chevrolet provides to Pagenaud and/or Power.

After earning a third-place finish behind Power and Dixon in the IndyCar GP, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay gets the nod at Michigan, despite the fact teammate Takuma Sato comes off a victory on Sunday. Spencer Pigot, who rejoins Ed Carpenter Racing after a  frustrating Greatest Spectacle in Racing for Ricardo Juncos’  new organization, rounds the roster for The Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

The same lineup applies for both races, so the chance of whiffing in both legs is limited.

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: Indianapolis 500

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.

Takuma Sato just won the Indianapolis 500, and with double points handed out, he is now second in the Verizon IndyCar Series points table heading to Detroit this weekend.

Of course, Helio Castroneves also made progress with another near-miss and now leads the championship. But remember, neither driver has been that impressive outside of the Brickyard. So yours truly has them in the driver rankings list this week, yet they have a lot more to prove before moving up.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Top-six runs from both Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya were enough to see them stay atop the big board, however not in the dominant form garnered after the IndyCar Grand Prix. They are vulnerable following a lackluster Indy 500 qualifying and race output – that is until you look at the calendar. Yeah, two road courses in one sitting, who knew?

2. Andretti Autosport (+1)

Taku stole the trophy and the kisses, yet four of his cohorts at Andretti were in the hunt for a good portion of the big dance Sunday. Blown motors knocked Ryan Hunter-Reay and Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Fernando Alonso out of the picture, while miscues erased Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti’s hopes. Another blockbuster performance in Motown and hello number one.

3. Chip Ganassi Racing (-1)

Everything went haywire for Scott Dixon following his pole day romp, ending with a flight into the catch fence on Sunday. Another top-five for Tony Kanaan was alright, but give credit to Max Chilton who has strung together the two best showings of his IndyCar career to date. One or two more bank deposits in first ten land and there is a place in the driver’s poll with the Englishman’s name on it. Too bad teammate Charlie Kimball’s engine did not last the distance. His DNF ended a three-race tenth or better streak at IMS.

4. Ed Carpenter Racing (+1)

Late errors ruined solid outings from both Ed Carpenter and J.R. Hildebrand on Sunday, but qualifying efforts from previous weekend merit jumping one spot forward. Will benefit from the return of Spencer Pigot heading to Belle Isle.

5. Dale Coyne Racing (+2)

Sebastien Bourdais’ qualifying crash may have further motivated the “Windy City Warriors” to achieve a result. Ed Jones had an outstanding showing to salvage third-place, while James Davison charged from last on the grid to contention before a collision with Oriol Servia extinguished the chance for an upset.

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+1)

Oriol Servia looked like a victory threat late, but never had the true pace required to get there. Multiple issues denied a realistic shot to win for Graham Rahal likewise. Both parties though get a redemption shot this week in Michigan.

7. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (-3)

How SPM did not feature upfront as several other Honda-powered squads did in the Indy 500 is puzzling. Late pileup aside, James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin were in also-ran category in both time trials and the race itself. Rankings judge is not happy either.

8. Harding Racing (Unranked)

New entity kept goals within range, stayed out of trouble, and managed to score a brilliant ninth-place at the Brickyard, via Colombian chauffeur Gabby Chaves. The team hopes to run again in 2017 and they have proven an excellent addition to the IndyCar club.

9. A.J. Foyt Racing (-1)

Drop in car potential made Carlos Munoz a non-factor throughout the month, while an over-zealous move by Conor Daly ended his Indy 500 earlier than planned. The hope for a turnaround has yet to manifest and may remain dormant for the rest of 2017.

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (-1)

Sage Karam could not capitalize on his impressive qualifying performance in the main course Sunday.  Electrical problems even before the start of the race derailed his efforts, eventually forcing retirement before the three-quarter mark.

Dropped Out: Juncos Racing (was No. 10 after IndyCar Grand Prix)

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (No Change)

Low-downforce plan of attack may have doomed the Kiwi and placed him in the position to suffer his wild ride. Stays number one as several of his fellow road course aces stumbled home on Sunday.

2. Helio Castroneves (+3)

Spider-Man fell short yet again in his quest for win number four, but can he ride the momentum wave into Detroit? If so, add him to the title contenders list alongside his three teammates.

3. Will Power (-1)

Team Penske speedster was making the most of a tough month and could have snagged a top-10 if not for getting swallowed up in late race mash-up in turn two. Opportunity knocks though this weekend in Detroit.

4. Simon Pagenaud (-1)

Great run in the IndyCar Grand Prix, followed by a clunker in the Indy 500. Immediate reversal is the expectation in the Wolverine State.

5. Ryan Hunter-Reay (+3)

RHR had another taste of the misfortune soup on Sunday, as an engine detonation ended his shot at his second facial appearance on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Despite this, he is still making progress upwards on the list.

6. Josef Newgarden (-2)

It was a rough first month of May with Team Penske for the Tennessee-native. Efforts in Motown will indicate his realistic or mirage-like outlook toward a title run.

7. Tony Kanaan (+3)

The first fuel run Sunday was the peak of TK’s 2017 Indy 500. A fifth-place was solid, but had to be a disappointment, considering the day lesser-experienced teammate Max Chilton enjoyed.

8. Alexander Rossi (+1)

Was an Indy 500 contender due to pace as opposed to strategy in last year’s improbable victory. Fueling gaffe prevented a more serious effort to defend his crown.

9. Takuma Sato (Unranked)

Recovered successfully from early adversity to score an incredible victory on Sunday, avenging painful defeat in 2012. Now can he revert his road course form back to the season-opener in St. Petersburg? If so, his stay on this tote board could be an extended one.

10. Ed Jones (Unranked)

Third-place finish earned even after suffering damage on two occasions Sunday, the latter possibly preventing a real shot at getting involved in Sato and Castroneves’ final duel. Curious to see how he fares being DCR’s new number one pilot, following Sebastien Bourdais’ devastating qualifying crash.

Dropped Out: Sebastien Bourdais (Was No. 6 after IndyCar GP), James Hinchcliffe (Was No. 7 after IndyCar GP).

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: Sato Tops Mixed Day For Andretti Squad

In a plot that almost played out exactly like last year’s Indianapolis 500, Andretti Autosport has secured their second-straight win.

The team’s No. 26 entry, which finished second last year with Carlos Munoz at the controls, was able to grab the brass ring on Sunday as Takuma Sato held off a furious charge by Helio Castroneves to cross the finish line first.

“Unbelievable feeling. I cannot thank this whole team (enough),” said Sato in victory circle.

Beginning his quest for glory from the fourth position on the starting grid, the former Formula One veteran ran with his teammates upfront through the first 200 miles, only to drop back near the halfway point following a slow pit stop. Almost out of the top twenty, the Japanese veteran rejoined the fight during the final forty laps, eventually jumping to second place on lap 180.

When Castroneves was finally able to get past a persistent Max Chilton for the lead seven laps from the conclusion, Sato quickly jumped back to the runner-up position and then overtook the Brazilian with four laps to go. The three-time Indy 500 champion would take a final shot at Sato on the penultimate circuit in turn one, but came up short.

Even as triumph was close to reality the aggressive veteran was not taking success for granted.

“You really didn’t know (until the end),” said Sato. “Me and Helio went side-by-side (late in the race). You’ve got to go for it, and we did.”

The win for Sato is his second in Verizon IndyCar Series competition, ending a four-year run without a trip to victory lane.  His last triumph was at the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The performance also avenges a heartbreaking defeat suffered in the 2012 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, when Sato showed the way for most of the event’s second half before a lastlap pass for the win against Dario Franchitti resulted in contact with the turn one SAFER barrier.

His boss Michael Andretti also voiced his approval on his recruit’s showing.

“(Takuma) is awesome!” said Andretti afterwards. “We work really, really hard (on the Indy 500). (The team) got this win as well as Takuma.”

For the rest of the Andretti operation, Sunday was a day of missed opportunities. Defending race winner Alexander Rossi was among the top-three for the opening 130 laps, before a problem with fueling the car on his next-to-last pit stop dropped him to the back of the pack. Despite a major surge in the late stages, the NAPA Auto Parts Honda driver came home in seventh.

“Two years in a row to have fuel problems is pretty tough to swallow,” Rossi admitted following Sunday’s race. “Obviously, it worked last year, but you can’t rely on not fueling the car and getting results.”

Rossi was not alone in his pacesetting duties on Sunday, as two teammates contributed to the early control at the point. For the second straight year, Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared set to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The DHL Honda chauffeur climbed from tenth to first in just under eighty laps, looking to have the only car capable of breaking free from the main pack. However, scenarios out of his control would deny him once again. On Lap 140, the 2014 Indy victor pulled onto the turn three warm-up lane, with smoke trailing from his machine. Reliability concerns attached to the Honda engines in the days before the green flag proved correct as the veteran was tagged with a 27th-place result.

“It’s frustrating to end your day like that, especially when you have a good car like that,” Hunter-Reay relented after dropping out. “It’s two years in a row that Andretti Autosport has given me a car to win this race, and it’s two years in a row that circumstances outside our control have taken us out. ”

Malfunctioning power plants would also ruin an outstanding debut from ex-World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso. Showing a willingness to complete passes on the outside, the Spaniard was able to quiet any skeptics by running among the frontrunners, until becoming a victim of both iffy pit work and bad luck. The slow stop under caution mired the newcomer in traffic, where a low downforce strategy curbed his early muscle. Eventually the No. 29 Honda ground to a halt twenty laps from the full distance in  24th-place.

“It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500,” said Alonso. “One lap you put on the lead there, it was already a nice feeling. I was passing, watching the tower, saw the 29 on top of it.”

While the Andretti curse was not to blame for his shortcomings on Sunday, Marco Andretti failed to make a significant impact from beginning to end and settled for eighth.

“We definitely missed on it,” the younger Andretti explained. “I had a pretty lucky day; I got through some big wrecks. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the car (to challenge for the win).”

Jack Harvey’s first foray at the Brickyard came to a halt just before the 70-lap mark as he was collected in Conor Daly’s turn three crash and placed 31st.

“There was a whole bunch of debris on the track – I hit some of it and the car spun,” said Harvey. “Everyone is trying to slow down so quickly and trying to then dodge the debris. I was slowing down and trying to avoid everything, so I don’t know what else I could have done at that point.”

Using the strength in numbers plan successfully, Andretti leaves the corner of 16th and Georgetown with another assortment of stories but reached its goal: putting another visage from their team on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

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: Indianapolis 500

As the Verizon IndyCar Series is primed for its cornerstone event the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented By PennGrade Motor Oil, the Firestone Fantasy Challenge has gone super-sized.

The race budget has jumped from the standard one hundred dollars to five hundred bucks and instead of drafting only four drivers, one must take a colossal ten for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

While going for the superstar caliber pilots would make the most sense, the values for all drivers has increased likewise. For example, Verizon P1 Award winner Scott Dixon costs 75 dollars to play, while Buddy Lazier is among the least expensive options at only twenty bucks. Looking ahead to how Sunday’s race could play out, the 2015 edition is primarily influencing my selection pattern. On that afternoon, Chevrolet-powered cars had the advantage, and the Hondas failed to get among them. My gut tells me the 2017 running at the Brickyard will see a complete reversal of fortune.

To the above concern, I have totaled ignored the five bow-tie backed cars from Team Penske. I know Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Josef Newgarden each have impressive resumes at Indy. However, driving ability is negated if the car beneath one is not at an equal level. So far this month of May, the Captain’s vehicles have not been up to snuff.

Now I have not entirely abandoned the GM camp. Three chefs-de-race were worth drafting against the seven Honda chauffeurs yours truly completed his ten-man squad with. Two come from perhaps the strongest team in the 15-car Chevy roster: Ed Carpenter Racing. The team boss may draw the biggest cheers from the 250,000 strong crowd, and that may motivate a result out of the 36-year old hometown hero. Equally strong is his secondin-command J.R. Hildebrand. The Californian had a great effort at Phoenix last month and has hovered around the top-ten often at IMS. With Chevrolet possibly at a power shortage on the long straightaways, it may take bravery to mix it with the Hondas. One guy that meets that qualification is ex-high school wrestler Sage Karam. The Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has a reputation of overly reckless steering, but such a tactic could be a requirement.

Now onto the meat in my foot-long sandwich. I feel are three drivers who are the favorites entering race day. One is the Iceman mentioned above in Scott Dixon, the second is his partner-in-crime Tony Kanaan, and the third is the rabbit in last year’s event Ryan Hunter-Reay. With all three car-wranglers in the first four rows, none should have any issues getting to the point early. Using the same throw caution to the wind tag mentioned above with Karam, I am taking a chance on Takuma Sato. The Japanese driver has had trouble making the finish; however, he could be more willing to hold his fire with a stronger car and a better grid position.

A big pickup in time trials Sunday encouraged me to snap up Oriol Servia, a solid veteran who placed fourth in 2012. Spots nine and ten will be taken by two impressive rookies. Defending Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion Ed Jones takes one, while the aura of former World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso takes the final place. The Spaniard is having the kind of month that Nigel Mansell had in 1993 when he came within 15 laps of winning. He and his McLaren-Andretti Honda team have exceeded all expectations this month and should continue the trend to the point where a place on the train has my name on it.

Indeed one super team is missing in action, however as witnessed by my roster, two megagroups will fill the vacancy without issue.

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: Pace Predictions Exceeded On Wild Pole Day

In what will be the final month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Dallara DW12 chassis in its present form, Sunday’s Pole Day for the 101st Indianapolis 500 saw many unique moments.

From all-out pace to white-knuckle moments near the SAFER barriers, several notable occurrences were laid down in both the consolation phase and the Firestone Fast Nine that followed. Among them were bizarre speed postings.

In the battle for the tenth position, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay recovered from a discouraging effort on Saturday to post at the time, the fastest four-lap attempt since Helio Castroneves’ 231.725 MPH output in 2003. With no one showing the ability to reach the high 231 range, the 2014 Indy 500 champion displayed the potential to be the first fast qualifier not to win the pole since Kenny Brack did so in 2005.

Although the sight was outstanding, the nine finalists for the Verizon P1 Award had many aces yet to put down. Defending Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi bested his Andretti teammate with a run just under 231.5 MPH. While the NAPA Auto Parts Honda pilot was stout, even the second-year IndyCar star had to do at least a double take when Chip Ganassi Racing entrant Scott Dixon took to the 2.5-mile oval.

Despite facing ever-increasing track temperatures and wind gusts, the Iceman managed to break into realms that had not even been considered for two decades. The two-time Indy pole-sitter ripped off an opening stanza at an unbelievable 232.595 MPH, the fastest single pass since 1996. He even pulled off three encore laps to average 232.164 MPH, also unheard of numbers dating back two decades. With the New Zealander all but assured his third $100,000 pole-winning payout, Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato and owner-driver Ed Carpenter took their shots.

While both performers put up one 232 MPH lap, neither could maintain the close margins that the Kiwi did. Still, with 2017 time trials at the Brickyard concluded, here are some notable facts from this remarkable day.

-The front row of Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, and Alexander Rossi is the second-fastest front row in race history. Only the 1996 qualified top-three of Scott Brayton, Tony Stewart, and Davy Jones was faster (Brayton was tragically killed in a practice a week after Pole Day, and Stewart started from P1 on race day).

-Dixon’s 232.164 MPH pole time is the third-fastest top spot earning run in history. Only Roberto Guerrero in 1992 (232.482) and Scott Brayton in 1996 (233.718) were quicker.

-Six of the 33 starters for the 101st edition of this event posted a four-lap run over 231 MPH, that is the most since the edition mentioned above when nine drivers eclipsed this barrier.

-Fifteen qualifiers posted 230 MPH averages, while four others also ran at least one lap over 230 on Pole Day, both are month of May records.

-Dixon’s P1 effort also puts him second behind Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves among active Indy 500 drivers in total top starting spots claimed. The Brazilian has four, while Rick Mears leads the list all-time with six.

-With the tremendous speed explosion, the outer walls managed to snatch multiple drivers on Sunday. Despite the warning shot fired followed Sebastien Bourdais’ massive shunt in turn two during pre-qualifying, at least seven hit or brushed the barriers on Sunday, yet all were able to complete their attempts in full.

Following Sunday’s closest surge to Arie Luyendyk’s track record runs, the anticipation toward 2018 and the new car designs may be at an all-time summit.

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: Indianapolis 500 Grid-a-tology, Final 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. 

Fast Friday is now in the record books, and changes in the final field projection are rampant. Among those trending upward, Ed Carpenter Racing appears to be regaining the form shown during back-to-back pole position efforts in 2013 and 2014. Entering the opening week of practice, J.R. Hildebrand seemed to be the biggest threat; however, team boss Ed Carpenter was regularly the fastest in laps completed without a draft before the increase in speeds on Friday.

Another team that has unexpectedly made a jump into the conversation is Dale Coyne Racing – the same squad who claimed last month that they could not challenge for high finishes. Fast forward to Friday and out of nowhere, Sebastien Bourdais fired off a draft-aided run over 233 MPH and backed it up with an assist-free lap over 231 MPH. While making the Firestone Fast Nine is still a tall order, the Frenchman at least has flashed what it would take to get there.

As for the rest of the contenders, Penske and Ganassi are still well within range of position number one, while any of the six-member Andretti Autosport club can get there likewise. Meanwhile, the pole position title defense for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is entering long-shot status.

FRONT ROW

Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing: Consistent pace from both the New Zealander and Tony Kanaan have solidified the Iceman’s spot on the top line. If the weather does limit action to a Sunday-only affair, it just makes the odds that much more favorable.

Helio Castroneves, Team Penske: Four Indy 500 poles are on his resume, but it has been seven years since Spider Man’s last hurrah. May represent the Captain’s best chance following Newgarden’s accident on Thursday.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport: Honda has the pace to give RHR an edge over most of the Chevrolet runners, but that may not be enough to catch Dixon for first.

ROW 2

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske: Getting used to the spare car was why the Tennessee-native did not make an impact on Fast Friday. Should still find himself somewhere on the first three rows on Sunday.

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.

Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing: Qualifying in the first two rows was the standard form for TK early in his Indy 500 career, but not so much over past few editions. Second-fastest clean lap posting Friday entices me to say a return to the previous outputs is in order.

ROW 3

Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing: Two-time pole award earner has quickly climbed the grid based on high placing on draft-free speed charts before Fast Friday. Still, he needs to show more to be a real pole position challenger but should get to the shootout.

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

Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske: The 2016 series champion could face stiff opposition to make shootout if Honda continues to outperform GM-powered cars.

ROW 4

James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Last year’s pole winner has suddenly gotten lost in the shuffle. Will be a battle to reach the final session this time around.

Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing: The comments previously made by Craig Hampson, seem like a smokescreen after what the former Champ Car World Series champion put on the board Friday. Will be hard pressed to back that up when it counts, however.

J.R. Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing: Can join his boss in the top-nine, but the number of real threats to get there is getting bigger too.

ROW 5:

Fernando Alonso, Andretti Autosport: Has quietly gone about his business this week and was in the 230 MPH club without a draft on Friday. If luck shines on him, he could maybe get into the shootout conversation.

Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport: Is starting to fall behind his teammates regarding getting to the Firestone Fast Nine. This list now includes Alonso.

Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: The Russian continues to stay in the top half of the speed list, but a big boost is necessary to get a realistic look at making the first three rows as he managed in 2016.

 

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.

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

Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Servia has been the better of the two RLLR entrants this past week. Nothing on Friday indicates a reversal is in prospect.

ROW 7

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.

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 8

Ed Jones, Dale Coyne Racing: Issues with car and weather prevented the Dubai-resident from testing out qualifying setup on Friday. He could still get near Bourdais at the close of Sunday action, but it will be a more difficult ask.

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

Jay Howard, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Has shaken off some of the rust formed by six years of IndyCar inactivity; however, qualifying is a bigger pressure cooker than the run up to it.

Pippa Mann, Dale Coyne Racing: Made history by becoming the first woman to post a lap over 230 MPH at the Brickyard on Friday. Could surprise several this weekend.

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

Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing: The Colombian was third-fastest earlier this week, but has steadily dropped down the charts.

Zach Veach, A.J. Foyt Racing: Has been in step with both of his A.J. Foyt Racing teammates this week, but mainly because all three have lacked speed.

Jack Harvey, Andretti Autosport: English rookie has yet to show the pace of his five teammates. Challenge now is to avoid losing out to a majority of the other one-off entries.

ROW 11

Sebastian Saavedra, Juncos Racing: Pace for the Colombian has been lacking so far in practice. Not expected to make a significant impact in qualifications.

Spencer Pigot, Juncos Racing: Friday accident puts the sophomore behind the eight-ball looking ahead to this weekend. Avoiding the back row is now the chief concern.

Buddy Lazier, Lazier Partners Racing: Playing catch-up after taking his first laps this month on Friday. Avoiding 33rd on the starting grid would be a personal victory for the 1996 Indy 500 winner and the team.

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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

Andretti Autosport Bounces Back at IndyCar GP

They did not threaten Team Penske’s two rabbits on Saturday; however, Andretti Autosport has momentum entering the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Led by 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, they managed to place two of its entrants in the top-ten in the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

For RHR, Saturday’s third-place result was his best outing since placing fourth in the seasonopener at St. Petersburg.

“We’ve had a pretty tricky beginning of the year I guess you could say,” said Hunter-Reay after the checkered flag. “It’s been one thing or another, really. Some misfortune, bad luck. Some we brought upon ourselves, but it’s been one thing or another.”

Starting eighth, the DHL Honda pilot quietly ran among the top-ten throughout the 85 laps, but was able to avoid the errors that hampered others. Ultimately, the veteran was able to secure a place on the podium overtaking Penske’s Helio Castroneves.

“Helio’s strategy didn’t end up working out for him in the end because he was on primaries at the end; kind of a sitting duck for us that had pace on (optional tires),” explained Hunter-Reay.

Defending Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi also enjoyed a solid weekend at the Brickyard, running as high as sixth, before settling for eighth at the conclusion.

“We had a really good start, but we chose the wrong downforce level,” said Rossi. “We got it balanced out on the last stint, but it was too late to run up the (leaderboard).”

While the NAPA Auto Parts Honda driver was without any significant maladies during Saturday’s action, the former Formula One test driver struggled during the long green flag stints, eventually losing some spots.

Although the results for Hunter-Reay and Rossi were a far cry from the team’s massive breakdowns at Long Beach and Phoenix, Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato proved there are still some kinks in the armor.

Having to start at the back of the grid on Saturday, Sato never had a signficiant impact, but gained twelve positions to come home 12th.

“It was a tough race, but I think we fought back quite strongly,” said Sato. “We’ve got good momentum for the Indianapolis 500, and I’m looking forward to starting practice on Monday.”

Andretti’s hopes were dashed when he came into contact with Tony Kanaan on the opening lap, a move stewards judged as avoidable and the third-generation driver was issued a drive-through penalty. Mired near at the tail of the order from that point, Andretti posted a 16th-place result. The 2006 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, later apologized to Kanaan on Twitter for the shunt, claiming he was more focused on his rear-view mirrors, than he what was ahead of him.

“Wasn’t the way I would have liked to have started the race,” admitted Andretti. “I knocked into TK, and it was an uphill battle from there. I ruined both our races.”

Andretti Autosport’s effort expands from four cars to six when IMS converts to its traditional 2.5mile oval layout on Monday. Joining the regular drivers will be multi-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso and Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires veteran Jack Harvey.

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.