IndyCar Open Wheel


The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma means one final decision is in the way of Firestone Fantasy Challenge players for 2017.

In the previous 16 events of the Verizon IndyCar Series, most of the drivers were on the same agenda to win outright. However, in the California Wine Country, the scenarios are mixed. The quartet from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon are vying for a season championship. Others, such as J.R. Hildebrand and Carlos Munoz for instance, need a result to maintain employment for 2018. In the case of both, neither pilot has a ride in the cards for next year.

So while some in Sunday’s 22-car lineup may choose a more conservative tact, others will view the action as a nothing to lose offering and maybe take risks that one would otherwise opt against. With those matters at hand, picking a team capable of raking in a large sum of points to close out the fantasy year could be tough.

Yours truly has thrown caution to the wind for the 17th and final outing and features a quartet of participants who have each had their own moment in the sun during the current campaign. Heading the list is current championship leader Josef Newgarden, attempting to become the first American driver to win the title since Ryan Hunter-Reay did so in 2012. Although the Tennessean arrives at Sonoma Raceway off a bad race at Watkins Glen when he came home in 18th, his ability to top the speed charts in both sessions on Friday, shows to me that he is ready to fight all out for the required crown-earning result.

Also on a bit of a roll entering Northern California is home state native, Alexander Rossi. With a win in New York and four other top-six or better placements in the last five races, the NAPA Auto Parts Honda chauffeur has to be viewed as a legit challenger on Sunday. The second-year veteran finished fifth at Sonoma a season ago.

While he has yet to return to the form he presented before his horrific accident suffered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais is worth the risk of selecting this weekend, having finished sixth at this venue for the Windy City runners in 2011. Although the St. Petersburg, Florida street circuit he won upon to open this year, lacks the elevation changes present at Sonoma Raceway, the Frenchman’s talents on road courses are well documented in previous stints in both ChampCar and Formula One.

Rounding out my squad for race number seventeeen is Spencer Pigot for Ed Carpenter Racing. The 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion may have encountered the worst luck of any regular entrant in 2017. Mechanical failures have denied him chances at top-ten placements; however, the ECR group are in major need of a good result, in hopes of a significant boost in performance for 2018, when the American young gun will contest every event on the calendar.

Even though just one player in the hunt for a title is featured on Sunday’s lineup card, the group presented may take advantage of the overaggressive nature of others to close out 2017 with a better than expected climax.


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


IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: 2018 Driver Change Analysis

Since the posting of my latest Ultimate Silly Season update last week, several suggested moves have turned heads.

If beliefs about other deals being inked are indeed on target, there could be as many as four new pilots joining the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series fleet in 2018. Interestingly, however, is the chance of two of the circuit’s most dominant teams being destinations.

The addition of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Zach Veach at Andretti Autosport was a move that was a long time coming, for perhaps the most patient prospect in recent memory. Since the 2016 silly season, the Ohioan has been a realistic target for multiple rides, but was minus the funding and the experience desired to be able to sign on the dotted line.

While the inclusion at an organization that has won the last two Indianapolis 500s will provide a fair deal of expectations in the long term, the pressure to succeed will be a reduced rate next season. With Michael Andretti’s quartet featuring a pair of championship contenders in Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the goal for year one may be to at worst match the outputs from Marco Andretti, who has endured a difficult 2017 campaign.

Veach had two chances to gain IndyCar familiarity in 2017, and he fared well on short notice at Barber Motorsports Park, one of the series’ most demanding layouts. He also made his Indy 500 debut for A.J. Foyt, and while he suffered a crash before qualifying, he mostly kept his nose clean on race day, when mechanical failure sidelined him at the three-quarter mark.

Spencer Pigot’s promotion to full-time service at Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018 was based on the potential shown, if not by the results sheet. While the 23-year old showed solid pace in several road races in 2017, he was often plagued by car trouble or being in the wrong place at an inopportune moment. Still, if the former Indy Lights champion did not get the bump up at ECR, other suitors may have snapped up the Pasadena, California resident.

The move gives the Speedway, Indiana squad its most strong driving cast for non-oval track competition since when Mike Conway was at the controls in 2014. With several potent road racing prospects on the free agent market, pairing another talented shoe with Pigot will show a desire from Ed Carpenter to improve his product in all events, rather than banking on solely the high speed runs.

With the 2017 Indy Lights championship now in the bank, expect Kyle Kaiser to use the advancement scholarship money earned to compete in at least three events, if not a full-run for Juncos Racing. The title promotes not only the number one driver, but also the best Mazda Road to Indy entrant into the IndyCar Series. Ricardo Juncos made his top tier debut at this year’s Indy 500, fielding two Chevrolet-powered entries for Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra.

Kaiser was initially pointed toward taking one of the Indy rides this past May; however, Juncos elected to hold off on moving the 21-year old forward in favor of gaining further experience. The decision has returned positively as the Californian has won three times and placed in the top-three in six of 16 Indy Lights races this year.

The final newcomer is still in the yet to be confirmed at the time POPULAR SPEED went to press, however if reports are accurate, the addition of Brendon Hartley as a teammate to fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon at Chip Ganassi is the ultimate boom or bust scenario. The former Formula One test driver and Porsche LMP-1 Hybrid competitor has a boat load of experience and a ton of speed, but the 27-year old does come with a “buyer beware” message. Hartley also has shown a case of over-aggressiveness during his time in the FIA World Endurance Championship, and while he may show incredible pace in IndyCar, he also could run up a substantial accident bill for Ganassi if confirmed for next season.


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

IndyCar Open Wheel

Pigot to Race Full-Time for Carpenter in 2018

Spencer Pigot just received a status upgrade at Ed Carpenter Racing. No longer will he just race the road and street courses, as he is set for the full Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in 2018 behind the wheel of the No. 21 Fuzzy Vodka entry. The team announced the news on Wednesday morning.

“To say I am excited about 2018 would be an understatement. I have really enjoyed my time so far with Ed Carpenter Racing and this is the next step in what I hope is a long, successful partnership with the team in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said Pigot. “I am very thankful to Ed Carpenter, Tony George, Stuart Reed and everyone at ECR for their confidence in me to deliver the results the team deserves. It is a privilege to represent Fuzzy’s Vodka, Preferred Freezer Services, Direct Supply and all of the other partners of ECR in 2018.”

Pigot collected multiple Mazda Road to Indy championships before making the move up to IndyCar in 2016, running three events with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Following the Indianapolis 500, he moved over to ECR to split the rest of that year’s schedule with team owner Ed Carpenter. He was then re-signed for 2017 to run the road and street courses, while Carpenter runs the ovals.

“I will still have a lot to learn as 2018 will be my first full season in Indy car, but I know I have the team and teammate with Ed to help me as I get used to regularly racing on ovals again.” 

Pigot has shown speed in his sophomore season, running up front, with bad luck and mechanical failures limiting him to three top-10’s to date. 

“It is very exciting to be announcing that Spencer will be competing in a full-time role for ECR in 2018. Spencer made significant strides from his rookie season into his sophomore year and we see much more potential in his ability,” stated Ed Carpenter, the only owner/driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Carpenter continued, “Spencer has worked very hard to improve in all areas of his driving and we feel the time has come to give him a chance to compete for the championship. I look forward to his continued development and reaching the top step of the podium in 2018.”

ECR does once again plan to field the No. 20 at the ovals with Carpenter behind the wheel, with their road/street course program “still under consideration.”

This past season, JR Hildebrand piloted the No. 21 entry full-time, currently ranked 15th in the standings with two podiums. His plans for 2018 have yet to be announced.


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

Commentary Open Wheel

FANTASY HOT TIP: Honda Indy Toronto

Another week, another triumph. After placing sixth in my Firestone Fantasy Challenge League for the Iowa Corn 300, I am trending a little differently this week for Toronto.

While the target of winning is still well within reach, I have for once parted ways with my main cog for most this season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Although he still leads the championship points table, I have not selected Scott Dixon this week.

Sure, the Kiwi swept both legs of the Honda Indy Toronto when it was a doubleheader event in 2013; however, he has fared no better than eighth in his last two efforts. Considering he is one of the most expensive options for a driver selection, that kind of finish does not merit the cost.

Last year, Team Penske’s Will Power crossed the finish line first, and despite more hit or miss results from the Australian in 2017, the veteran has regained attention following a recent string of four runs of seventh or better. A second member of the Captain’s quartet is featured in my foursome as Simon Pagenaud joins the party for the first time since the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Toronto is not the best track for the Frenchman, yet if Penske continues its trend of Firestone Fast Six domination, the move may work out in the grand scheme of things. Helio Castroneves, who won this past weekend and placed second behind Power last year, would have also made sense, but like Dixon, the price was not right in this case.

With the cream of the crop in IndyCar in the top half, the bottom half sees a couple of new faces. Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones joins the fleet for the second time this season, while Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton makes his debut for me.

Jones has scored a pair top-tens in his last three road course outings, better than most pilots available with his price tag, while his Englishman counterpart has two top-tens in the past four battles of twist and turn-type racing. For now, I have pushed aside the services of Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot who has placed no better than eighth in any output in 2017, a number bested by both the Dubai rookie and the ex-Formula One regular.

While a consistent lineup seems to net the greatest amount of success in fantasy sports gaming based on experience, let’s see if this new squad can net a similar amount of points to what I have amassed in the past two rounds.


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

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.


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

IndyCar Open Wheel

Rahal Cleans House At Detroit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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.


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

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.


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

IndyCar Open Wheel

Pigot Overcomes Issues To Post Top-Ten

The Verizon IndyCar Series results do not always tell the whole story for some drivers.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s road-course specialist Spencer Pigot can attest to this, having run competitively in each of the four events he has contested in 2017. Unfortunately, misfortune has stunted his outputs. A suspension failure on a pit stop ended his day in St. Petersburg and a mechanical malady brought his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet to a halt in Alabama.

However, the racing gods were more accepting toward the 2015 Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion, as despite suffering from pit trouble early, he rebounded to finish Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix in ninth place.

Initial charges through the field have been standard for the second-year IndyCar pilot. Pigot has qualified no better than 13th in any of his four efforts to date, Beginning Saturday’s race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the ECR driver needed only three laps to jump into the topten. The California-native was able to take advantage of the dangerous turn one and gained further ground when Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti collided at the end of the Hulman Boulevard straight.

Entering the opening pit sequence, Pigot was looking like a threat to earn a top-five possibly. Then came the stall out, and the road course ace fell to 12th-place. Forced into aggressive mode for the remainder of the 85 laps, the Fuzzy’s-backed runner charged back into the upper half of the field during the remaining stints. One of the highlights was a forceful pass on James Hinchcliffe on the Hulman straight.

With a pair of top-tens on his resume, Pigot switches over to Juncos Racing for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. The change of teams, reunites both halves of the 2015 Indy Lights championship winners. The Californian made his IndyCar oval debut last year at the Brickyard, finishing 25th.


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

Commentary Open Wheel


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.


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