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IndyCar Open Wheel

Fantasy Hot Tip: Road America

Things have changed considerably for yours truly in the Firestone Fantasy Challenge.

After jumping to sixth in my local league following the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, things have gone downhill since. Using a similar strategy where I loaded my roster with road course and oval track specialists, suddenly those same drivers started to struggle. Will Power was unable to find the winner’s circle at Detroit and Indy champion Takuma Sato also stumbled at Texas.

The result: I have dropped to ninth in the standings, and if things do not change soon, the plunge down the order will continue. So for the four-mile layout known as Road America in Wisconsin, new names are featured.

Gone is Power, a mainstay for most fantasy teams when the Verizon IndyCar Series turns both left and right. Simon Pagenaud, an equally potent challenger on these types of circuits, is also missing. I have likewise passed up another Team Penske driver in Helio Castroneves, who is a serious contender for the championship, but is riding a 50-plus race streak without a victory.

Of course, there is a fourth driver on the Captain’s squad who I have snapped up. Josef Newgarden has not set the world on fire in his first year with the famed organization, but he won at Alabama and did place fourth and second respectively in both races at Belle Isle. For now, that’s enough for me to play him.

Another sure fire pick is Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who heads to Wisconsin holding a 13-point lead in the battle for the series title. While Dixon has suffered through two didnotfinish efforts in his last four events, his record on road courses is much more on target as opposed to Power’s. In six road races 2017, the New Zealander has finished no worse than sixth in any of them, and despite failing to place first, the multi-time IndyCar champion has three runner-up finishes. This is a much more convincing record than Power can provide, who has four runs of a tenth or worse in those same six rounds.

With Newgarden and Dixon snagged, pick number three for Road America takes another look at Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, a driver who has continued to move forward from his victory in last year’s Indy 500. The ex-Formula One pilot has already matched his two top-fives output from last year, and has placed tenth or better in four of the six road courses events. While his fellow Andretti Autosport teammates have taken a few steps backward over the last few months, Rossi is currently ninth on the points table and could threaten the podium if he can amass a solid grid position on Saturday.

Finally, with a majority of my 100 dollar team cap spent, I have rounded out another road course lineup with Ed Carpenter Racing’s ringer Spencer Pigot. While the sophomore’s results have been 50-50 regarding great and iffy, the former Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion always seems to get the most from a team that is not known for prowess on these type of venues. For the last driver on a four-member fantasy group, that’s a good thing.

So we will if this quartet is the spark to inject life back into my hopes for a championship in my Firestone Fantasy Challenge League, or whether it is back to the drawing board once again.

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: Texas

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.

Will Power’s second career win at Texas Motor Speedway, leaves some questions to be answered. Was this a legitimate win? The Australian dominated, but was that due to a superior car or high attrition? Also, is this a reversal toward Chevrolet as opposed to Honda, who was ruled the recent winner’s circle appearances?

For now, Power gets the nod on our newest driver’s list, as last year’s surge for the Team Penske road course ace began at this point of the campaign.

Accordingly, the team rankings favor the Captain’s quartet likewise, a position they have held for several weeks, based largely on early season prowess on the non-oval layouts.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Along with Will Power controlling the proceedings, Simon Pagenaud also made the podium in third-place. Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves fell victim to the SAFER barriers on Saturday night, but that’s not the stuff to move them off the number one line.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (No Change)

Not a friend-making performance Saturday night from Tony Kanaan, but a runner-up finish is not diminished in terms of championship points. Scott Dixon was on the verge of joining TK at the checkered, but settled for ninth after getting swept up in the race-ending incident. Disappointing performances for both Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball. The Englishman was not the front-running force he was at the Indianapolis 500 and placed eighth. Kimball meanwhile, looked solid after taking the Verizon P1 Award on Friday, only to drop-out soon after the start due to mechanical maladies.

3. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

Takuma Sato’s late-race collision prevented another possible podium finish, yet outside of that Texas was a “what might have been” effort. Marco Andretti did come home in sixth, but never made a serious impact. Ryan Hunter-Reay was eliminated in the big one, while Alexander Rossi’s three-wide foray early on led to him being the first arrival at the post-race party.

4. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (No Change)

Graham Rahal found a way to avoid the attrition that removed many from the Rainguard 600 on Saturday night, securing a fourth-place finish. Not quite the stuff to jump past Andretti in the poll, but if Rahal shows the pace from Detroit at Road America, that will change.

5. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

It is tough to say if James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin were contenders for the win on Saturday night, as of course the big mess ended the conversation. However, the glimpses of pace provides hope for the next few rounds.

6. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

No matter who drives the No. 18 Honda, it seems to be a factor. Unfortunately, accidents at both Indy and Texas prevented Sebastien Bourdais, James Davison, and Tristan Vautier from getting the coveted result. Not a strong run though from Ed Jones; that’s the reason they drop a notch on the list.

7. Harding Racing (+1)

This organization is gaining confidence following a fifth-place result for Gabby Chaves at Texas. Two starts, two top-tens. Whether success continues at the team’s next race at Pocono is anyone’s guess, but they could be dangerous if they do go full-time in 2018.

8. Ed Carpenter Racing (-1)

Even before getting caught up in the eight-car pileup at Texas, neither Ed Carpenter or J.R. Hildebrand showed any signs of being able to win the race. Road America is not the place for a triumphant moment for this team, unless something bizarre happens, like the Earth falling out of orbit for instance.

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

Sure, Conor Daly finished seventh, but based solely on survival. Once again, nothing positive shown by the Hoosier-native, nor from Carlos Munoz at Texas.

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (=)

Season’s over for DRR pending a surprise entry later this year. Still, its sister team Harding Racing is stealing the spotlight from some of the full-time regulars.

Dropped Out: None

Driver Rankings:

1. Will Power (+3)

Dixon has the better results to date, but intuition says the Aussie is ready to begin his championship challenge. Three of the next four events are road courses, and if Team Penske regains their muscle from a season ago, Power becomes a greater threat.

2. Scott Dixon (-1)

Time to temporarily drop the Kiwi down a rung this week. The momentum is not in the Iceman’s corner, at least not in Texas.

3. Josef Newgarden (No Change)

The big crashes have kept the Tennessean from snatching top-tens at both Indy and Texas, but the future projections put Newgarden ahead of both Castroneves and Pagenaud. Still, a ways to go reach Power, however.

4. Helio Castroneves (-2)

An early exit at Texas hurts, but the fact the Brazilian continues to squander front row starting positions on road circuits is a red flag. If he could not get the results consistently in the season’s first half, why would that change in the final eight? Based on that, Spider-Man loses two spots.

5. Takuma Sato (+2)

One false move near the finish at Texas cost the Japanese trailblazer a possible top-three effort. The big thing story though tells all; the Indy 500 victory was NOT a fluke. He goes up another two places on the list this week.

6. Simon Pagenaud (-1)

Third at Texas, second on the points table, but only sixth here? Pags has to improve his qualifying record on road courses to stay in the mix for back-to-back titles. Not only does the Frenchman give himself too much to do, but he puts himself in the line of fire in the mad mid-pack scrambles at the start. Sooner or later, smart money says an early exit based on that could result.

7. Graham Rahal (+2)

Rahal has an ability to finish the high-speed oval races in ways the rest of the IndyCar fleet cannot match, at least not over the past three seasons. If the No. 15 Honda matches the performance from Detroit, it could be a tough go for the field at Elkhart Lake.

8. Alexander Rossi (-2)

Rossi did not use good judgement going three-wide so early in the process at Texas, and was dealt a last-place finish as punishment. He should regain original placement if trouble does not follow to Wisconsin’s four-mile parkway.

9. Tony Kanaan (Unranked)

Far from a squeaky clean effort at Texas, yet TK made it to the finish and came away with a runner-up finish. The veteran though, is not a sign of strength on road courses and must re-invent himself next week to stay in the polls for more than one race.

10. James Hinchcliffe (No Change)

The Mayor showed glimpses of hope prior to his elimination at Texas; however, there are several candidates who could bump him out following Road America, including this week’s top-ten absentee Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Dropped Out: Ryan Hunter-Reay (Was No. 8 after Detroit)

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

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Commentary Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Detroit

 

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

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

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

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

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

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

3. Andretti Autosport (-1)

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

4. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+2)

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

5. Dale Coyne Racing (No Change)

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

6. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

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

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (-3)

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

8. Harding Racing (No Change)

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

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

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

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (=)

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

Dropped Out: None

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (No Change)

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

2. Helio Castroneves (No Change)

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

3. Josef Newgarden (+3)

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

4. Will Power (-1)

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

5. Simon Pagenaud (-1)

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

6. Alexander Rossi (+2)

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

7. Takuma Sato (+2)

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

8. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-3)

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

9. Graham Rahal (Unranked)

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

10. James Hinchcliffe (Unranked)

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

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

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

Penske Back On Its Wheels Following Motown

The 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 did not show what Team Penske’s potential.

Only one of the team’s five drivers managed to make the Firestone Fast Nine, and just two finished the 500-mile distance in the top-six. The efforts where not befitting of an organization that has won the Greatest Spectacle in Racing sixteen times. The view of possible weakness, however, has been squashed after Sunday’s second phase of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

Led by Josef Newgarden, the Captain’s quartet placed three in the top-five at the checkered flag, a bounce back to the dominant form shown when the team claimed three straight wins at Long Beach, Phoenix, and the IndyCar Grand Prix. Then came the 2.5-mile oval, where early it became clear that a lack of horsepower provided by Chevrolet was an issue. Although a dramatic charge from Helio Castroneves salvaged a runner-up finish, Indy was a struggle.

Things started to change positively on Saturday morning at the Raceway of Belle Isle, as Castroneves took the outside of the front row and then rode the wave of momentum to second behind Graham Rahal. Although the Brazilian faded to 11th in Sunday’s second phase, the three-time Indy 500 champion is well within the range of championship leader Scott Dixon as the Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway next weekend.

Castroneves’ performance so far in the 2017 campaign, shows that winning is sometimes an overrated statistic. Despite holding second in the championship standings, the Brazilian has yet to win a race. In fact, the veteran has gone 51 events since he ascended the top step of the podium in the second leg of the Detroit Grand Prix three years ago.

Defending Series champion Simon Pagenaud is next on the list entering Texas, on the strength of a victory and four other top-fives finishes to open the season. A 14th-place result in the Indy 500 derailed the run, but the Frenchman is back on the tracks following a fifth-place effort at Detroit on Sunday. Currently fourth on the points table, the pressure on the No. 1 Chevrolet pilot will be to make up ground as opposed to 2016, where he had to fend off pursuers.

Newgarden currently ranks sixth heading for the Lone Star State, a decent showing in his first year with Team Penske. The Tennessee-native has scored top-ten results in all but the two rounds at Indianapolis to date, where speeding penalties and a wreck hampered his efforts. Texas Motor Speedway, however, has not been kind to the young American. He has placed no better than eighth in five tries to date, including an injury-suffering shunt last year.

Amazingly, despite Will Power’s success in years past on road courses, he is behind his three full-time teammates in the eighth spot. The Australian has scored big results in 2017, including a third-place finish at Detroit on Sunday; however, he also has on his record five finishes of 13th or worse in the opening eight shows to date. While 70 points separate the former series champion from Dixon, a plethora of road course events could allow him to narrow the gap before the double-points finale at Sonoma Raceway.

The 2017 calendar has seen three cases of Team Penske control at the head of the grid and based on Sunday’s returns at Belle Isle, a return to the head table in the remaining rounds is certainly a plausible conclusion.

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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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.

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: 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

EMBURY: Indiana Jones And The Corner Of Doom?

No folks, yours truly is not involved in a new movie, but just leaving a friendly reminder for the IndyCar Grand Prix.

While the first three editions of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road races have produced plenty of drama, they have one thing in common – first lap chaos wiping out key contenders.

The inaugural event provided the first, and last standing start in history. Pole winner Sebastian Saavedra’s shot at glory was extinguished when his car stalled on the grid. The scenario was only made worse when the Colombian was plowed into from behind by Mikhail Aleshin. Neither driver suffered injuries in the shunt, but it ended the desire for the Verizon IndyCar Series to employ the method used in Formula One.

Going with a traditional rolling green flag in 2015, early trouble still resulted with turn one contact between Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon; the Brazilian went off-course as the Iceman spun. The incident also wreaked havoc among mid-pack runners as Jack Hawksworth and Josef Newgarden were collected, among others. With Dixon and Castroneves out of contention, Will Power cruised to the victory.

Last year, saw another turn one melee as Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais made contact while looking to gain positions.

The biggest issue at the Speedway is the difference concerning room available on the front straightaway as opposed to turn one. While cars can go three and four-wide on the straight, all must find a way to funnel down to single-file to enter the infield section of the course without incident.

In 2017, things could work out more efficiently. Team Penske teammates Power and Castroneves will lineup on row one, with fellow compatriots Josef Newgarden and Juan Pablo Montoya in the top-five. Considering Roger Penske does not employ team orders, it is expected that those four, plus Simon Pagenaud in eighth, will have the green light to attempt to gain ground on the start. That comes with an asterisk though, as contact must be avoided.

With championship implications starting to show themselves, a first lap issue would be most detrimental for Power, who has suffered from bad breaks in each of the first three road courses. The Australian has also not been immune from an issue in the IndyCar Grand Prix, either. Last year’s performance was ruined via an early race spin trying to hold back Alexander Rossi.

While avoiding dramas on turn one does not ultimately equal a victory, any issue suffered could certainly deny at least one pilot a stab at finding the winner’s circle on Saturday.

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

FANTASY HOT TIP: IndyCar GP

The strategy for this week’s IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is simple stick with those who have won.

In its three-year history, only two drivers have found victory lane on the road course, and yours truly has drafted both of them for this week’s Firestone Fantasy Challenge.

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud has a pair of wins in the first leg of the Brickyard doubleheader and enters with momentum following a victory at Phoenix International Raceway. Three years ago, the Frenchman used superior fuel strategy to win the inaugural event and last year called on pace to get around Conor Daly during the final round of pit stops.

Despite leading the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, Pagenaud is performing worse than he did a year ago. Four events into 2016, he placed no worse than second; this year, he has finished fifth or better in all action to date. While a harsh comparison, it shows when the driver of the No. 1 Menards Chevrolet has had to bounce back from a bad starting spot, strong results are present.

The second choice is a risky one, if ever taking Will Power was considered a questionable move. The Australian went flag-to-flag to win the IndyCar Grand Prix in 2015, but last year’s race was a challenge. Off-course excursions and mechanical headaches left him with a 19th-place finish. The opening three road races of 2017 have seen adversities hold him to a season-best outing of 13th at Long Beach. Of course, when the No. 12 Verizon Chevy is bulletproof, the skill of its pilot is the best IndyCar can offer.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot also knows the taste of misfortune in 2017. Two technical breakdowns have denied the 2015 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion from big points hauls in 2017. However, an eighth-place effort at Long Beach showed what the 23-year old could achieve when the roadblocks are not in the way. With Pigot’s fantasy value at only $15 this week, it is worth the risk to give him another chance.

The fourth seat was a problem for me. I had hoped to add Juan Pablo Montoya, who is driving a fifth car for Roger Penske. Unfortunately, with a big $25 price tag, a Plan B option was necessary. I think I have acquired a good alternative in Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi. His NAPA Auto Parts crew has shown the ability to create a result with strategy at Alabama and before stalling out at Long Beach, he hinted at having the speed needed to run up front.

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.