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IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Phoenix

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

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

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

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

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

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

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

3. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

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

4. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

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

5. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

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

6. Ed Carpenter Racing (+1)

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

7. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (-1)

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

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

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

9. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Unranked)

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

10. Harding Racing (Unranked)

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

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (+1)

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

2. Josef Newgarden (+1)

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

3. Sebastien Bourdais (-2)

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

4. Will Power (+1)

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

5. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

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

6. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

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

7. Helio Castroneves (+1)

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

8. Tony Kanaan (Unranked)

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

9. Alexander Rossi (-1)

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

10. J.R. Hildebrand (Unranked)

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

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

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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: Will 2017 Indy 500 Mimic Last Year’s?

Four races into the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, the focus shifts to two big events this month – the IndyCar Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, followed by the Indianapolis 500 two weeks later.

With the Diamond Desert West Valley Grand Prix of Phoenix now complete, questions have arisen, including this will scenarios influencing last year reveal themselves in 2017?

As was evidenced last year, Chevrolet prevailed at Phoenix and Honda struggled to keep up. However, when the teams made their way to Indy, the tide changed. Honda won the pole position with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe and fellow manufacturer affiliate Andretti Autosport led a majority of the laps on race day, with Alexander Rossi taking the trophy. Let’s look at what could allow for a similar story.

Andretti Autosport has strength in numbers with six cars in their stable. One of them is driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who until suffering a pit road collision seemed primed to win the 1ooth Indianapolis 500. The team however, does have some hurdles to jump. They enter May just removed from frustrating results at Phoenix by all four full-time pilots. Also they are without Carlos Munoz, who joined A.J. Foyt Racing during silly season. Finally, there is the presence of current Formula One driver Fernando Alonso that could present a roadblock to their goal of victory. The Spaniard garners attention, but will his inclusion take away from the effectiveness of its regulars?

There are also questions raised from some of the other Honda teams. Chip Ganassi Racing returns to HPD’s camp for the first time since the 2013 Indy 500. CGR’s pairing with the engine option since IndyCar began using the Dallara DW12 chassis a year previous has been hot and cold. In 2012, CGR surged from mid-pack to grab a one-tw0 sweep for Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. The following year, Ganassi could not replicate the result as they fared no better than 14th.

Unknowns also surface around 2016 pole winners Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, who enter this May at a slight disadvantage. After being held out of a portion of the IndyCar oval test last month at Texas Motor Speedway due to an engine rule violation, SPM has less experience with the new aero package as opposed to some others who will be in Gasoline Alley.

Now things are not all rosy for the Chevrolet party either. Team Penske has momentum following back-to-back IndyCar wins, but early season triumphs were not backed up last year. The Captain’s quartet failed to make an impact on race day as contact and misfortune pushed them out of contention. Without GM’s top dog, Honda took center stage.

The question is who will step up to uphold the Bow Tie’s legacy if Penske cannot?  Although four Chevy runners placed in the first ten in 2016, two of those squads are absent this year. As mentioned, Ganassi Racing has crossed over to rival territory, and KV Racing ceased operations. The missing in action reports, leave Ed Carpenter Racing as GM’s second in command. While J.R. Hildebrand enters this month off an excellent effort at Phoenix, team boss Carpenter was stuck among the back markers all weekend.

So in summary, Embury’s Outlook sees how an Indianapolis 500 close to a year ago could occur. However, five major threats from Chevrolet will keep the big three sharks from HPD honest from day one of practice.

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: Alabama

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

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

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

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

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

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

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

3. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

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

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (No Change)

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

5. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

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

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (No Change)

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

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (No Change)

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

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

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

Driver Rankings:

1. Sebastien Bourdais (No Change)

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

2. Scott Dixon (+1)

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

3. Josef Newgarden (+3)

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

4. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

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

5. Will Power (No Change)

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

6. Simon Pagenaud (-2)

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

7. Helio Castroneves (+1)

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

8. Alexander Rossi (Not Ranked)

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

9. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-2)

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

10. Spencer Pigot (-1)

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

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

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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

Misfortunes Continue for Hunter-Reay and Andretti

As Alexander Rossi drove through the field to secure a top-five finish in the Grand Prix of Alabama, two of his Andretti Autosport teammates weren’t as lucky with misfortunes biting them.

Marco Andretti’s problems started right from the get-go as his No. 27 Honda Dallara was stuck in first gear, requiring a trip down pit road. He’d go down multiple laps, before being able to start the race, en route to finishing 21st. Andretti had hopes of a good finish as a result of leading Friday’s practice, and Sunday’s warm-up.

Ryan Hunter-Reay started the event up front but found trouble quickly as he and James Hinchcliffe made contact in Turn 2 on Lap 1, causing a piece of RHR’s front wing to rip off. A caution came out for debris a lap later, with Hunter-Reay pitting for repairs. He was able to rebound to an 11th-place finish.

For a pair of drivers who were hopeful for 2017 after top-seven finishes at St. Petersburg, the past couple races haven’t gone their way. Neither finished the Grand Prix of Long Beach as a result of mechanical problems in the late stages.

The problems are a continuation of 2016 it seems as both Andretti and Hunter-Reay struggled in 2016. Andretti only posted one top-10 finish all year as Hunter-Reay posted five top-fives along with four finishes outside the top-15.

Andretti Autosport posted only one top-10 last year at Phoenix Raceway, with Hunter-Reay 10th. Being able to have their cars up front this weekend could be crucial to carrying momentum into Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month when they enter six cars into the Indianapolis 500, including Fernando Alonso.

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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

FANTASY HOT TIP: Alabama

The Firestone IndyCar Fantasy Challenge for round two at Long Beach was not a memorable for yours truly.

While Sebastien Bourdais earned the Verizon IndyCar Series’ points lead with a solid second-place finish, elsewhere things were far from perfect. As was the case at St. Petersburg as Team Penske’s Will Power struggled, creating a path to where he stood midway through 2016. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot provided decent support with a top-ten effort; however, Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato failed to factor and was out of contention from the start.

With the shortcomings at Long Beach, I have had to go counterattack mode for Barber Motorsports Park. My only returnee from Long Beach is Bourdais, who has exceeded all predictions before the 2017 IndyCar season began. As predicted, his value has increased forcing a change in strategy.

Although Will Power is always capable of a strong outing on a road course, the lack of pace from Chevrolet is cause for concern. So in his place for round three is another Honda driver: Ryan Hunter-Reay. Yes, RHR was part of the Andretti Autosport meltdown at Long Beach. Before the mechanical problems, however, he was in position to challenge for a top-three finish. The target for fantasy games is to look for drivers with upside. For now RHR shows signs of it while Power does not.

I admit guilt in believing that Takuma Sato had somehow been tamed by Andretti Autosport after opening with a top-five at St. Pete. Unfortunately, a return to a hit or miss habit that has prevented him from reaching his potential showed itself at Long Beach. While the Japanese veteran disappointed, one driver that has returned to his former race contending form is James Hinchcliffe. If not for a questionable caution flag in round one, the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver could be two for two entering Alabama. What looked to be more of a feelgood story when he won the 100th Indianapolis 500 pole appears to have some staying power and is enough to reel me in for now.

As for Spencer Pigot, it is not that he has done anything wrong in 2017. A freak suspension failure ended his day at St. Pete and Long Beach showed what is possible if he makes the finish. Of course, there is another pilot who has a little more successful track record.  Like his teammate at Dale Coyne Racing, Ed Jones has been a pleasant surprise among the top finishers in 2017, posting back-to-back top-tens. With the reigning Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion achieving success, it backs up improvement by the Chicago-based team is legit.

While yours truly is likely to revamp the roster again when IndyCar confronts its first oval race of 2017, the quartet of Hunter-Reay, Bourdais, Hinchcliffe, and Jones should produce a solid output this weekend.

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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: Long Beach

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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.

Following James Hinchcliffe’s win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, there are noticeable ranking changes. It is time to say adios to Team Penske’s Will Power at number two, following a second bad finish. It is also farewell to Scott Dixon’s placement on top of the rankings after St. Petersburg last month.

Rarely has a power rankings list ever placed a Dale Coyne Racing pilot on top, but there is a first for everything.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (+1)

The efforts from both Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud are just enough to keep them ahead of an ever-improving Dale Coyne Racing. However, the inability for Helio Castroneves to back up his pace from qualifying, coupled with a second consecutive bad finish from Will Power, means the storyline is far from flawless.

2. Dale Coyne Racing (+2)

Bourdais now has two podiums to open his second foray with DCR, and Ed Jones managed to earn a top ten result after fading in the second half of last month’s season opener. Alabama should continue the trend upward; however, Phoenix remains the final exam in terms of whether this team permanently cements itself as a regular front runner.

3. Chip Ganassi Racing (-2)

Scott Dixon continues to provide the good vibes for Ganassi, but problems rest with the remainder of CGR’s foursome. Kanaan and Chilton were relatively quiet on Sunday, and Kimball suffered from another early race incident. Remember, one driver carrying a team is not always enough concerning their ranking.

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

Hinchcliffe was handcuffed by the full course caution at St. Pete. So essentially, he picked right off from that point and came away with a victory at Long Beach. Can’t quite move them ahead of Ganassi based on Mikhail Aleshin’s 12th-place finish though.

5. Andretti Autosport (-2)

Sunday was painful for Andretti. It was not that its team was severely outclassed as mechanical woes were to blame for the lack of results. With nightmares looming from a difficult 2016 season, they need to bounce back at Barber.

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (No Change)

A top ten earned by Graham Rahal was alright. but lackluster. Barber was the start of their big surge in 2016, so not a bad place to start another rally.

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (No Change)

Eighth-place deserved from Spencer Pigot, however late exit for J.R. Hildebrand keeps ECR behind Rahal. This is a team that maybe wishes Phoenix was next, rather than Barber.

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

Carlos Munoz was mid-pack for most of Sunday and took advantage of the late shuffling to finish seventh. Now for Conor Daly, still scratching head regarding sub-par results so far. While Munoz was the clearly forecasted higher for 2017, the gap between them should not be this large.

Driver Rankings:

1. Sebastien Bourdais (+2)

No kidding here friends, a DCR driver has reached the pinnacle of IndyCar driver rankings, and not by default either. The Frenchman overcame qualifying shortcomings for podium finishes in the opening two events. Bourdais sits on top of the points table and it is time to reward an early performance.

2. James Hinchcliffe (+2)

As previously mentioned, what happened after the controversial St. Pete caution flag can be omitted. The Long Beach victory simply backed up his opening round performance.

3. Scott Dixon (-2)

A pair of topfives is nice, but when compared to what Bourdais and Hinch have offered, no justification to keep Dixon in the top two. The Iceman could ultimately become a top driver, but not at this point.

4. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

Pagenaud sneaked up to secure another top-five on Sunday. Of course, one can imagine what he could have done with a better qualifying result. That part of the equation is still not adding up.

5. Will Power (-3)

Power is on the verge of joining the “Missing Drivers Club.” A 13th-place finish is an unusual territory for this road racing ace. Perhaps Phoenix could jump start his season.

6. Josef Newgarden (+2)

The podium finish may remove a heavy burden off of Newgarden’s shoulders. The next challenge is simple: when will victory number one with Penske occur?

7. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-1)

A second win at Long Beach appeared possible, until bad luck struck the Andretti Autosport driver.

8. Helio Castroneves (-2)

Spider-Man did well to take pole position, but could not back up the effort on Sunday. Still, a ninth-place result merits his ranking.

9. Spencer Pigot (Not Ranked)

Pigot may not have a ride for next month’s Indianapolis 500, yet he continues to show muscle in his road racing-only schedule for Ed Carpenter Racing. The top-ten at Long Beach merits his move onto the list.

10. Ed Jones (Not Ranked)

The defending Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion has taken to IndyCar competition well. Back-to-back top-ten’s are enough for his inclusion after Long Beach.

Dropped Out: Takuma Sato (No. 7 post- St. Petersburg), Tony Kanaan (No.8)

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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 Misfortune Reminds of 2016 Struggles

Andretti Autosport’s outputs in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach could be re-opening wounds from a season ago.

Following a trio of topseven results last month at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, misfortunes that plagued the team in a winless 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season returned. While the quartet were not back markers, opportunities were missed.

The biggest disappointments were suffered by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi. RHR won at Long Beach in 2010 and appeared to be in a position to back up the result on Sunday. While running second, he slowed with six laps to go due to a mechanical issue, and finished 17th.

“We had a good showing for DHL and Honda today, but I don’t know what happened,” said Hunter-Reay. “It was something electrical. I tried cycling the car a few times and it didn’t fire.”

Rossi was also a challenger, only to grind to a halt on the front stretch on Lap 63 while in the top-five.

“I thought we had a really good shot at winning,” the 19th-place finisher said. “The pace of the car was really good, so it’s unfortunate.”

While bad breaks plagued it two front-runners,  Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato were never contenders for reaching the top ten. A mechanical gremlin ended Andretti’s hopes during hid first pit stop and he finished 20th. Sato’s team elected to use an off-sequence pit strategy, yet hit engine trouble and wound up 18th.

Although, Andretti Autosport is not the first team to witness all of its team members finish 17th or worse in a Verizon IndyCar Series race, it does cause one to look back at a team’s weaknesses.

For instance, the pressure surrounding Marco Andretti has to be at an all-time high. While frustrations from team owner Michael Andretti have never been made public, but the results say otherwiseThe third-generation driver has only two wins in 170 career IndyCar starts. The biggest negative has been a lack of aggression when in contention.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2013 IndyCar championship, but bad timing has been a common enemy. Whether mechanically-influenced  or via contact like the 100th Indianapolis 500, RHR has not been immune.

The same unlucky streak seems to be growing on Alexander Rossi also, who is becoming a greater threat for top ten finishes in his second IndyCar season. Although one mechanical failure is not necessarily the start of a mental barrier, it could over time.

Takuma Sato has been criticized for over-aggression. However, to a lesser extent, Sato is also a driver that can enter extended cold periods where impressive results have been limited. The difference between St. Pete and Long Beach seem to be a continuation of this roadblock.

A more competitive Honda package can aid some of the issues; unfortunately, not everything can be solved by the manufacturer. While Barber could quiet down all of the above concerns, another swing and miss will certainly increase the drama.

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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

Battle of the Manufacturers in the Hands of the Teams

Since 2012, when the Verizon IndyCar Series changed to a 2.2L, V-6, twin-turbocharged engine, Chevrolet has dominated over its sole competitor Honda, by winning five consecutive Manufacturer Titles. Its success can be partially attributed to how the American car company shares information and supports its teams.

When everyone ran the same Dallara chassis, Honda had four wins to Chevy’s 11 in 2012, nine wins in 2013 to Chevy’s ten, and six wins to Chevy’s 12 in 2014. Then the aero kits were introduced in 2015 – body work for five areas on the car (front and rear wings, side pods, and engine cover), which each engine manufacturer designed. Honda won six races to Chevy’s ten in 2015, but last year Honda earned only two victories to Chevy’s 14. That may just have been a wake-up call to the Honda camp.

IndyCar has frozen the aero kits, so there has been no development since the 2016 season began. For 2017, the areas of engine development are limited to pistons, valves, connecting rods, exhaust, spark plugs, and air filters. That does not leave a lot of options for Honda to improve its engine.

The changes Honda was allowed to make before the 2016 season began, allowed both engine and aero kit development, which included a unique opportunity for Honda to match the performance of the 2015 Chevy aero kit. Honda chose to focus most of those options on winning the Indianapolis 500. They succeeded with a package that was strong on the superspeedways, including good fuel mileage, but lacked a little in performance against the Chevies on the short ovals and road courses.

Asked mid-January if Honda shares information among its teams, Andretti Autosport driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, answered, “No, just very basic stuff. There’s not a whole lot of data sharing. The big-ticket items that we can find power gains, on power application – especially on street circuits, and maybe aero (are shared). But when you’re fine-tuning the car, the aero or power plant, those are usually kept to the individual team.”

The Chevy teams have worked a lot better together with more support and shared information so that they all succeed. Chevy also managed to sign up the top teams (when they entered the series in 2012) like Penske and Ganassi, leaving Honda with its long-term relationship with Andretti Autosport.

With only two victories last season, Honda appears to have changed their philosophy and is now sharing much more information among its teams. During the offseason, the Ganassi team switched from Chevy to Honda power, and their engineers methodically went through every part in the Honda aero kit to determine its performance. The results can be seen in the first race of the season at St. Petersburg where not only did a Honda-powered driver win the race, but seven Honda’s finished in the top ten. And in qualifying, three Honda-powered teams made it to the Fast Six Shootout, Ganassi, Schmidt Peterson, and Andretti.

An indication of just how well the Honda teams are working together this season were the radio communications during the St. Pete race asking for courtesy from other Honda-powered drivers not to hold up the Honda-powered leader, Sebastien Bourdais. 

“We are always pushing and always trying to improve,” explained James Hinchcliffe, a Honda-powered driver at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. “Whenever you add good teams and good drivers to the stable, it’s going to elevate everybody. No doubt having Chip Ganassi Racing join the (Honda) stable helps elevate everybody. You’ve got four great drivers and a tremendously successful and resourceful team to kind of help push everybody forward. Huge credit to those guys for everything they have brought to the table. We’re all bearing the fruit from that now. Honda wouldn’t tell us if that’s where it came from; they’d probably just say we figured this out.”

Although both engine manufacturers have limited options for engine development for 2017, Honda certainly seems to have advanced their program. The noticeable improvement can be credited in part to its teams working much closer together. 

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

Hunter-Reay, Sato Give Andretti Solid Kick Off

Across the entire 2016 season, Andretti Autosport scored nine top-five finishes in the 16 races with their four drivers, meaning they were only in the top-five 14 percent of the time. Right now following St. Petersburg, it’s up to 50 percent as two of the four drivers scored a top-five in the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener.

The finishes didn’t come without their trials, though, as Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato both fought issues leading up to the event.

Hunter-Reay battled brake issues throughout the second practice, which carried over to the warm up this morning, causing him to make significant contact with the wall. The driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda fought back, as despite fighting engine calibration issues during the early portion, he was able to keep himself on the lead lap, fighting back through the field to finish fourth.

“To finish today fourth was just awesome,” Hunter-Reay said. “This No. 28 DHL Honda team has done a great job all day. To fight back like that, I had to keep coming spot after spot really earning it, then there at the end I got that spot back from my teammate Sato. We had a lot of fun out there driving every last drop out of the car, and it’s great to be back in the role and into the swing of things.

“Hopefully we can get the DHL Honda team back on the podium where we belong, but a fourth-place finish is a good start. This whole team has done a great job; Andretti Autosport has been working hard. We had some great pace, showed good promise and I’m looking forward to the next race.”

While Sato didn’t have an incident like his teammate, he also found some struggles in his first weekend with Andretti as both Friday practice sessions didn’t go well, with the Japanese driver calling it “one of the hardest Fridays” in his career. However, he ended up qualifying fifth and ran up front throughout the event en route to a fifth.

“I definitely think my teammates helped me and the whole engineering team,” he said. “Given the circumstances, I think we did the best we could in qualifying and I was extremely happy with the result. Today was a tough race, but I think a fourth and fifth finish for Andretti Autosport is a fantastic result, especially for my first race with the team.”

While only half of the group was in the top-five, the rest of the team ran solid as well. Marco Andretti posted a seventh place finish for his best finish since finishing seventh at Iowa Speedway in July of 2015.

“I would’ve liked to have seen a better pace,” Andretti admitted. “We were struggling overall with grip, not going one way or the other. We hung on to salvage a top 10 with seventh, and that’s what we needed to do on days like this. After qualifying where we did, you gotta take a top 10. We also got a yellow in our favor today, and that’s what it’s going to take to be just as lucky as good. Hopefully, we can be both all year and stay strong in points for the hhgregg team.”

Meanwhile, Alexander Rossi rounded out the team with an 11th place finish.

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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

No Vacation Spent as Teams Work Through Off Season

With the current schedule, the Verizon IndyCar Series runs from mid-March to mid-September, therefore leaving half a year is without competition. So what happens during the off-season?

While it may appear that they’ve taken a six-month vacation, teams are still hard at work trying to find an edge over their competitors. 

Teams methodically go back through all the information they’ve collected during the racing season, analyze and dissect it, trying to discover how they can be better. Race weekends offer little chance to make corrections other than small tweaks for a given track. If the car rolls off the transporter with the wrong set up, there is little track time to make corrections and still fine tune the car. 

“During the off season, teams typically take the car apart trying to get it back to its minimum weight,” explained Bill Pappas, IndyCar’s VP of Competition – Race Engineering, a former team engineer. “Every time something is added, such as a safety feature, it causes the car to gain weight. As the team tries to rebalance the car, they look at the drive line components, the shafts and joints. While they can’t change the gear box, they may improve performance with coatings and by polishing parts. Teams also work on their uprights (wheel assembly) to have the lowest drag as possible for ovals.”

The off season can actually be very busy as teams bench test as much as possible and take advantage of computer-aided simulations. Making use of these tools is at a premium since IndyCar has limited private team testing to only four days (from the Sonoma finale to mid-April) due to the aero kit development freeze (body work consisting of front and rear wings, side pods, and engine cover).

“This is the first year we are using the same aero (kits),” said Kyle Moyer, Team Penske’s Competition Director. “In the past, we had to learn how to run the new car. Sometimes we test using the seven poster rig or use a wind tunnel. The car isn’t changing for 2017 so we still have that data. IndyCar has opened up some rules that allow us to make refinements such as changes to the roll bars (driver cockpit adjustment).

“Everyone is changing over to Performance Friction Corporation (PFC) brakes. We’ve only had one day to try them out. You have to learn their characteristics as the PFC brakes are different than the previous brakes we’ve used (Brembo). They run at different temperatures and the brake bias is different. We can now modify the brake pedal with the rules opening up with a mixation system, which hasn’t been allowed since 2012.

“We have spent the off season at Team Penske expanding to a fifth entry for the Indianapolis 500 (for driver Juan Pablo Montoya). Both Tim (Cindric) and Roger (Penske) have told us that effort needs to have everything the other four cars have, including pit equipment and fuel tanks.”

Some teams are better at figuring out which aero kit parts to use and in what combination for a particular track. It’s not until the fastest driver demonstrates what is achievable that a team can know that they haven’t succeeded in finding the optimum performance.  

“Our mechanical package really suited the DW12 (2012 chassis with universal body work),” said Andretti Autosport driver and 2013 IndyCar champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay. “We figured it out, we nailed it, and we were fast on street courses. With the new aero load, the different package with the aero kits, it rendered some of our street course set ups useless. We had to start reinventing the wheel all over again. That’s been a process where we’ve been a few steps behind.”

With Chip Ganassi Racing changing from Chevy to Honda power this season, their engineering staff has carefully studied the performance of every Honda aero kit part.

“You can pick up on things quite quickly using segment times and overlays, looking at statistics and the data you have every weekend at these tracks,” described Scott Dixon, four-time IndyCar champion (2003, 2008, 2013, 2015). “You discover exactly where the deficits are. Over the winter, we’ve found some good gains. Whether it’s enough at some places, or maybe not, we know where the weaknesses are.”

Moving to Dale Coyne Racing for 2017, Sebastien Bourdais recalls how far behind his 2016 season effort was after losing all his team members during the off season. Only his engineer returned at KVSH Racing. That uncertainty alone would reduce driver confidence. Bourdais cited that his right front tire man had never changed a tire before the first race.

“You just can’t go backwards for five months out of the year,” explained four- time Champ Car titlist (2004 – 2007), Bourdais. “You are only as good as the team and the team is only as good as its people. Dale (Coyne) has an effort that runs from January 1 to Dec. 31. While the resources and personnel are limited, it’s not all about the means but more about the consistency.”

With aero kits frozen for 2017, results will depend on engine performance and how well teams fine-tune their use of available parts to suit each track after their off season homework.

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.