Categories
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.

Categories
Commentary Open Wheel

Indy One-Off Entries Pose Threat

In years past, it was typical for a competitor who raced in just the Indianapolis 500 to be able to challenge the full-time regulars.

Although the practice is few and far between recently, the Brickyard has witnessed a few drivers who have shown the potential to make the favorites sweat. While current Formula One regular Fernando Alonso has garnered most of the attention, there are others who appear capable of rattling the cages on race day.

One of them could be Sage Karam, who is looking to return to full-time status in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Last year, in a one-race deal with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, the Pennsylvanian had moved into the top-ten before contact with Townsend Bell put him into the turn one wall. Two years earlier as a rookie, Karam and DRR also joined forces to move from 31st to ninth at the finish. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veteran Kurt Busch won Rookie of the Race honors in 2014; however, many experts felt Karam was also worth a look for the award.

Sebastian Saavedra is also trying to reclaim a spot on the IndyCar circuit. The Colombian is competing for Juncos Racing this month, a regular fixture in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship. The Speedway, Indiana-based operation is looking to move up to IndyCar action full-time next year. A good result could add Saavedra to Ricardo Juncos’ list of potential pilots, maybe alongside Spencer Pigot, who will drive a second car for the Argentinian this month.

Unfortunately, Karam and Saavedra each have a reputation for overaggressive driving in the past. Both have been eliminated in a pair of Indy 500s due to accidents, and controlling the urge will be crucial for success.

This then leads us to the two drivers with F1 experience, Alonso and two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya. The Spaniard proved a quick study during a private at IMS on May 3 and could show legitimacy from the opening of practice. However, he faces the same set of unknowns that others have tackled, perhaps none better than Nigel Mansell, who came within 15 laps of winning in 1993 only to settle for third-place at the conclusion.

Montoya has proven effective at both ends of the grid. As a first-time competitor in 2000, he started second and led 167 laps to become the first newcomer to win the Indy 500 since Graham Hill in 1966. In 2015, he recovered from early contact with Simona de Silvestro to earn his second Indy win. However, the charges through the field are not always immune from trouble. Last year, Montoya crashed in turn two and wound up 33rd.

The table is stacked against these four men and the other one and done Indy 500 entrants; however, all it takes is a strong performance coupled with a little luck and just maybe one could add their face to 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.     

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Phoenix

Indycar_Power_Rankings_logo

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)

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.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

2017 INDYCAR Silly Season Update

With all of the major full-time spots filled up before the first of the year, the layout for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series fleet is pretty much a lock, pending the surprise last-minute entry.

Things almost skipped a beat last month, however, when questions about the personal money being provided by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports regular Mikhail Aleshin arose. However, it appears that those concerns have been put to rest and the Russian veteran should be trackside for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg next month.

The situation is also unchanged at KV Racing, where all signs to point to a return not happening. There was an outside look at possibly bringing in former Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado to cover a good chunk of the budget; however, an unwillingness to contest the oval races may have been a deal breaker. While a full season effort appears out of play, maybe the team could appear at the Indy 500 to make up the necessary numbers for a 33-car lineup.

Likewise for the 2017 Indianapolis 500, one notable seat has been secured in the form of Sage Karam joining forces with Dennis Reinbold’s squad for the third time in four years. A team that finished ninth in 2004 and ran in the top six last year before dropping out near the halfway point.

So with an early teaser given, here are the current scenarios with just over a month before the first green flag of 2017.

 

Team Penske: Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power (all full-time, all confirmed). Juan Pablo Montoya (Indy 500 confirmed)

The signing of Newgarden was the biggest free agent grab during silly season, and the team has assigned Tim Cindric to be his race strategist. With series champion Pagenaud, along with Power and Castroneves being retained, the focus shifts to the Indy-only effort for Montoya. 

The two-time Indy 500 champion has scaled back his participation for 2017, but has confirmed he will enter the Greatest Spectacle of Racing behind the wheel of a fifth entry for Penske. There are also rumors floating of Montoya possibly running a second date this year for Penske following a comment by Cindric last week. The most likely? The Indianapolis Grand Prix, which takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a couple of weeks before the big event. 

 

Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton (all full-time, all confirmed)

There were some concerns whether Chilton would be retained for a second season; however, the former F-1 driver’s place is secure for 2017. Also, there were questions about Kanaan’s future while Newgarden was a free agent. All remains unaltered for CGR, except for the acquisition of Honda engines and the loss of long-time sponsor Target. As for Indy, Ganassi is unlikely to seek a fifth entry even if numbers are in question.

 

Andretti Autosport: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato (all full-time, all confirmed) Townsend Bell (possible, Indy-only effort)

Carlos Munoz was the highest placed Andretti driver on the final points table in 2016, yet the team elected to let him go to A.J. Foyt Racing for 2017. In his place is a big surprise in the form of former Foyt driver Takuma Sato. Although Sato did manage to find the winner’s circle in 2015 at Long Beach, he failed to ride the momentum for the rest of the year and struggled alongside Jack Hawksworth in 2016. However, Sato does hold a significant place for engine provider Honda, which may have contributed to his addition.

As for Indy, Townsend Bell was a major challenger for victory until he came into contact on pit road with teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, knocking both out of contention. Despite that shortcoming, Bell’s Indy-specialist tag might be enough to see Andretti give him a second chance at the Brickyard.

 

Ed Carpenter Racing: J.R. Hildebrand (Full-time, confirmed), Ed Carpenter (ovals only, confirmed), Spencer Pigot (road races only, confirmed, Indy 500 likely)

The team tried to retain the services of Josef Newgarden, but could not match the deal made by Team Penske. Still, ECR has a solid replacement in J.R. Hildebrand, who has enjoyed three impressive Indy-only rides at ECR. While he has not been a part of the full-time circuit since mid-2013, Hildebrand did provide the team with positive feedback during a Road America test when Newgarden was sidelined due to injuries suffered at Texas Motor Speedway.

Carpenter will once again share the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet with Pigot, who had a decent half year with ECR after opening with Rahal. A separate car for the Indy 500 will likely be added for the former Indy Lights champion, while even a fourth car could be possible to reach 33. Could Zach Veach re-enter the picture at ECR in an unexpected way? Keep that in mind as Indy draws closer, and car count becomes a concern.

 

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin (both full-time, both confirmed) Jay Howard (possible, Indy-only ride)

As mentioned above, Aleshin’s place looked to be in jeopardy only until the puzzle pieces came together to retain his role for a second year. The Russian made significant strides forward in 2016 and could crack the final top ten in 2017, with a better knowledge of the series slate. James Hinchcliffe made a strong comeback following a year of recuperating from his near fatal Indy crash in 2015. The only thing missing for SPM is a victory, which could be tougher to grab with a bolstered lower half of the full-time fleet.

As mentioned on Popular Speed, Tony Stewart has provided funding for Schmidt’s planned third car for the Indy 500, potentially clearing the way for the team’s former Indy Lights driver Santiago Urrutia to get the nod. However, recent reports have surfaced via Racer.com that Jay Howard is now the leading candidate for the ride. 

Again, this squad could be a four-car entrant for Indy, with possibly Carlos Slim-backed pilot Luis Michael Dorrbecker a potential target. Also, it is unknown as to whether Will Marotti will be involved with the team as he was a year ago at Indy.

 

A.J. Foyt Racing: Carlos Munoz, Conor Daly (both full-time, both confirmed) Alex Tagliani (possible, Indy-only ride)

After two difficult seasons, SuperTex and his son Larry have gone back to the drawing board for 2017. Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth
have been released for two drivers who each enjoyed flashes of brilliance in 2016. Carlos Munoz nearly won the Indy 500 and placed tenth on the points table, while Conor Daly had several solid road course results driving for Dale Coyne. The team has also acquired Chevrolet engines, perhaps the trick needed to boost performance to the contend for wins level.

Foyt usually steps forward to make up the numbers at Indy, which could allow a third straight effort for former pole winner Alex Tagliani, if not more if needed to reach 33.

 

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal (full-time, confirmed), Oriol Servia (part-time including Indy, confirmed)

After two solid seasons, RLLR has partially expanded to include a second team with Graham Rahal’s preferred choice Oriol Servia getting
the call. Rahal is not a likely source for Indy-only entries, even if desperately needed to make a full eleven rows of three.

 

Dale Coyne Racing: Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Jones (both full-time, both confirmed), Pippa Mann (Likely Indy-only ride)

After some strong outings from Conor Daly in 2016, Coyne seems to have loosened the purse strings to become a bonafide contender, rather than merely surviving. Bourdais joined the Chicago-based effort from KV, and the squad also reeled in reigning Lights Champ Ed Jones. Several key additions in the engineering staff also could improve DCR’s fortunes.

Expect Pippa Mann to return to the team for the Indy 500, with backing from Susan G. Komen. No word if team will align with Jonathan Byrd’s Racing in 2017 following the death of Bryan Clauson, or who the team may target as a replacement. Either way, with or without Byrd’s backing there is a decent chance at a fourth car for the Indy 500.

 

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Sage Karam (Indy-only, confirmed)

As reported by Popular Speed, Sage Karam will return with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for the 2017 Indianapolis 500, marking the team and driver combination’s third appearance in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Although only appearing once a year, the team has been more than just a field filler since leaving the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series ranks following the 2013 race.

 

Lazier Partners Racing: Buddy Lazier (Indy-only, possible)

The family-run team from Vail, Colorado teamed up with Thomas Burns to field a car for the 1996 Indy 500 champion last year and could join forces with Burns or another entity for 2017. With Lazier’s son not ready to take the wheel just yet, expect the veteran to handle the driving duties once again. 

 

KV Racing: (Indy-only deal?)

With Bourdais leaving and a potential partnership with Trevor Carlin never coming to fruition, it appears Kevin Kalkhoven’s team will be absent from the grid in St. Petersburg and for most of the 2017 season. Still, they could revert to the role DRR has held the past three years and field a car for the Indy 500 to ensure a full field. Beyond that, however, unless something drastic occurs soon, KV is done. 

 

Stay tuned to Popular Speed for continued team and driver confirmations on the road to the start of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

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.

Categories
News Open Wheel

Karam, DDR Team Up Again For 101st Indy 500

Despite being unable to find a full-time seat on the Verizon IndyCar Series tour for the second consecutive off-season, former Indy Lights champion Sage Karam will once again join forces with the team that gave him his first shot at making the 33-car field three years ago.

For the third time, Indianapolis car dealership owner Dennis Reinbold will put Karam behind the wheel of the No. 24 Chevrolet for the 101st running of the Indianpolis 500.  

“We are very pleased to have Sage back with our Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team for the 2017 Indy 500,” said team owner Dennis Reinbold. “We have had two sensational showings at the 500 with Sage in 2014 and 2016. His impressive runs give the team great confidence in returning to the 500 this year. Sage has worked well with the engineering staff and the crew and his approach to the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway setups have been outstanding as his speed has shown.”

The Nazareth, Pennsylvania native made an impressive debut at the Brickyard as a 19-year old rookie in 2014, coming from the 31st starting position to finish ninth. Karam however, is looking to bounce back in the 2017 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing after suffering race-ending accidents in his last two appearances.

Driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2015, Karam finished 33rd after coming into contact on the opening lap with Takuma Sato. Last year, after starting 23rd Karam marched his way to fifth just before the halfway point of the race before colliding with Townsend Bell and finding the turn one wall. Karam was credited with a 32nd-place finish.

“I’m really excited to be back with Dennis and the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team for the Indianapolis 500 this May,” said Karam, 21. “Trying to win the 500 as a one-off team is certainly a big challenge, but I’m confident in this team and their ability to field a race car that can win this race.

“I’ll be working with the same engineers and the same pit crew from the last two races at Indy with DRR,” added Karam, “and I trust that we can build upon that continuity and ride that momentum to the double checkers and into Victory Lane.”

Although Karam is not a full-time member of the IndyCar Series circuit, his current focus is on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Daytona, driving a factory-support Lexus RCF GT3 for Paul Gentilozzi. The team made its debut last weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and returns to action in March at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

INDYCAR team boss Dennis Reinbold has successfully placed a car in every Indianapolis 500 since the year 2000 and qualified four cars into the 2010 event. Oriol Servia earned the team’s best Indy 500 race result with a fourth place in 2012, while former driver and co-owner Robbie Buhl qualified for the center of the front row for Reinbold in 2002.

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.