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Pigot, Juncos Racing Reunite for Indianapolis 500

Spencer Pigot will be part of this year’s 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

After Ed Carpenter Racing had stated they would not be entering an entry for Pigot, it seemed as though he was left on the sidelines. However, it was announced that Pigot would drive the N. 11 Juncos Racing Dallara/Chevrolet on Tuesday.

“I am personally very happy to be able to formally announce that Spencer (Pigot) will be driving for Juncos Racing in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500,” said Juncos Racing owner Ricardo Juncos. “As most people know Spencer started with our team in 2003 driving Karts. We reunited in 2014 and won the Pro Mazda Series championship then Spencer helped us win the Indy Lights team championship in 2015. This is, hopefully, the next step in our successful relationship together.

“I want to thank Ed Carpenter for allowing Spencer to take advantage of this opportunity. I also have to thank Oceanfront Recovery and Rising Star Racing for their support as well as Chevrolet for supplying the power and durability that our team will need to successfully compete in the Indy 500.”

The 23-year-old previously drove for Juncos Racing, winning the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in 2014, followed by the Indy Lights Championship Presented by Cooper Tires a year later. Pigot ran 10 Verizon IndyCar Series events last year, including the Indianapolis 500, with a career-best seventh-place finish at Mid-Ohio. This year, he is scheduled to run all the road and street course events for Ed Carpenter Racing.

“First I want to thank Ricardo (Juncos) for this opportunity,” Pigot said. “We have had a long, successful relationship from karts to the Mazda Road to Indy series and hopefully we can repeat that success at Indy this month. I also want to thank my sponsors, Oceanfront Recovery, Rising Star Racing and P1 Management for making this possible. The Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world and to be able to drive in it again is fantastic. Last year was my first Indy 500, and I learned a lot. I am confident that I will be able to apply what I learned and a better result this time around.”

Juncos Racing announced earlier this year they would be expanding from the Mazda Road to Indy this season, running the Indianapolis 500 before a possible full slate in 2018.

Pigot’s effort will see sponsorship from Oceanfront Recovery through Rising Star Racing.

Bobby Hillis, Founder of Oceanfront Recovery, said, “Oceanfront Recovery is excited to join Juncos Racing through Rising Star Racing as the primary sponsor of Spencer Pigot’s No. 11 Chevy entry for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500. In his sophomore season, Spencer has proven that he has the pace to fight with Verizon IndyCar Series veterans. Through Spencer’s car, Oceanfront Recovery is raising awareness about the critical importance of essential health benefits to combat the opiate epidemic. On May 28th, we will be very honored to have our company and its vital mission displayed on a worldwide stage.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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

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Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY: Indy 500 Grid-a-tology, Second Edition

The purpose of Indianapolis 500 Grid-a-tology is to give an idea on who’s trending upward in the battle for being Firestone Fast Nine eligible. The first edition was published pre-Phoenix and can be found by clicking here.

The big question surrounding the second version of Indianapolis 500 Grid-a-tology was brought into focus at Phoenix International Raceway- is Chevrolet well ahead of Honda? Or will the Japanese marque once again find a way to reverse the trend?

For now, a few adjustments have been made, including J.R. Hildebrand joining the conversation for making the Firestone Fast Nine. A stout performance in the Diamond Desert Grand Prix, plus a quiet one from team boss Ed Carpenter has made the Californian as the best challenger for Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s semi-home team.

Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra have been added to the tote board, as their places with Juncos Racing are all but a lock. The second-year IndyCar driver re-unites with the same squad with which he won the 2015 Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires title. Saavedra also is back at the Brickyard with long-time supporter Gary Peterson.

Fernando Alonso was impressive in completing his rookie test, but how does that affect his value? For now, yours truly needs to see more to be convinced. Matt Embury’s first rule: One performance is never enough; it must be backed up.

NOTE: Drivers yet to be officially confirmed, are listed in parentheses.

 

FRONT ROW

Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing: The first Honda across the finish line at Phoenix. The effort more than validates the Iceman’s place as position number one heading to Indianapolis. He dominated time trials en route to securing the pole two years ago.

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske: He was only fourth among the Captain’s quartet at Phoenix, but due to a little bad luck late. Since that won’t influence qualifying, Jo Cool stays on the one line.

Helio Castroneves, Team Penske: Back-to-back front row efforts entering the Brickyard is a sign that the determination to succeed may be back for the four-time Indy pole king.

ROW 2

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport: If Honda Performance Development (HPD) is playing possum again, RHR is capable of joining the top three. If not, it will be a tough fight to hold this placing.

James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: The Mayor did well to reach top spot a year ago, but he also took advantage of Honda’s edge to get there. Certainly cannot do it solely on driving effort.

Will Power, Team Penske: The Aussie has been able to transfer strength in road course time trials to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Do not overlook that reality.

ROW 3

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

Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske: The 2016 series champion made the front row two years ago and could match that if Chevrolet can equalize last year’s deficit to Honda.

Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing: There’s a lot to like about TK in the Indianapolis 500-mile race, but not so much in qualifying since joining Ganassi. Will take some courage to break the current pattern.

ROW 4

Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport: Will be teetering on the cut line concerning the shootout right up to the six-o’clock gun Saturday.

J.R. Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing: Makes a big jump based on Phoenix in part, but I also recall the Californian advancing to the final nine in 2014.

Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Nothing at PIR to help or hurt the Russian. For now, he stays puts in P12.

ROW 5:

Fernando Alonso, Andretti Autosport: The private test at IMS went well. While a 222 MPH lap is impressive, how will it stack up against the rest of the challengers? Work to do here.

Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing: Never thought Hildebrand would be the primary source to qualifying success for ECR, but it sure seems that way after the boss’s lackluster run at Phoenix.

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

ROW 6:

Takuma Sato, Andretti Autosport: After starting impressively at St. Petersburg, the near- 2012 Indy 500 upset winner returns to familiar territory from when he was with A.J. Foyt Racing. Does not appear able to take advantage of a good car for qualifications.

Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing: The comments made by Craig Hampson pre-Phoenix are putting doubt in DCR’s mind at the worst possible moment. Something good must happen during practice. or it could be a disaster.

Carlos Munoz, A.J. Foyt Racing: The aggressive veteran does not have the resources to threaten the top nine as he did with Andretti. Dramatic turnaround required before Munoz improves his placing.

ROW 7

Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: RLLR is following ECR’s path. Their primary threat is being trumped by the other driver in the camp.

Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing: Three top-ten finishes at the Indy 500, but has yet to make an impact in qualifying mode. Should top Chilton to be third in CGR stable, but not much more than that.

Sage Karam, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: DRR’s focus has been more on the race than time trials; 2017 should be no different.

ROW 8

Jack Harvey, Andretti Autosport: If Alonso can make a move up the list, so can Harvey. Indy Lights veteran should have the same muscle that the Spaniard will have in his arsenal.

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Qualified seventh in his first try with the family-based organization, but has been nowhere near that zip code in the years since.

Max Chilton, Chip Ganassi Racing: Interesting to see how the Englishman fares this month after a Pole Day crash last year derailed the effort. Could see a surprise jump.

ROW 9

Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing: Could get closer to matching or exceeding the output from semi-teammate Karam in qualifications. Compliacted to say based on a new team, but Indy 500 experience is present in most categories.

Ed Jones, Dale Coyne Racing: Is in the same way Bourdais did at Phoenix. The situation is unlikely to improve this month.

Conor Daly, A.J. Foyt Racing: Topped Gateway speed chart, but may have only done so as pace may not have been the concern for most of his rivals.

ROW 10

Spencer Pigot, Juncos Racing: Reunion of the 2015 Indy Lights champions provides a thought-provoking pairing. Whether it equates to a satisfactory result in time trials and the race is unknown.

Zach Veach, A.J. Foyt Racing: Extra seat time at Barber could boost fortunes for the Ohio-based rookie. Could push Daly for second in the queue for Foyt behind Munoz.

(Sebastian Saavedra), Juncos Racing: Not a great track record at Indy for the Colombian, however Saavedra should be more competitive as opposed to original choice Kyle Kaiser.

ROW 11

Pippa Mann, Dale Coyne Racing: Expectations have lowered following the struggles of DCR at Phoenix last month. The veteran is deserving of better equipment.

Jay Howard, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Six-year layoff will prevent Howard from getting as much out of his car as Hinch and Aleshin will.

Buddy Lazier, Lazier Partners Racing: The Colorado-based group is always having to play catch-up, so topping anyone in qualifying would be a personal victory.

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Alabama

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

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

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

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

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

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

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

3. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

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

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (No Change)

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

5. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

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

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (No Change)

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

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (No Change)

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

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

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

Driver Rankings:

1. Sebastien Bourdais (No Change)

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

2. Scott Dixon (+1)

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

3. Josef Newgarden (+3)

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

4. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

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

5. Will Power (No Change)

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

6. Simon Pagenaud (-2)

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

7. Helio Castroneves (+1)

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

8. Alexander Rossi (Not Ranked)

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

9. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-2)

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

10. Spencer Pigot (-1)

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

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

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

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FANTASY HOT TIP: Alabama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Veach Replaces Injured Hildebrand At Alabama

Still recovering from surgery for an injured left hand suffered during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, J.R. Hildebrand will be absent from the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama this weekend.

In his place, however, will be a driver whose expected Verizon IndyCar Series debut has been moved up. Already tipped to drive a third car at the 101st Indianapolis 500 for A.J. Foyt Racing, Ohio-native Zach Veach will take over the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing this weekend. Veach is no stranger to success at Barber Motorsports Park, having finished third or better in three of his four Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires starts at the venue.

“My heart goes out to (Hildebrand) as I suffered a broken hand a couple years ago and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone,” Veach said. “This isn’t how any driver wants to get his first race, but with that said, I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to sub for J.R.”

The opportunity for Veach also reunites the young prospect with ECR. The three-year Indy Lights veteran tested for ECR this past September at Sonoma Raceway. Following the departure of Josef Newgarden to Team Penske, Veach was under consideration for a full-time ride, before the team chose to move forward with Hildebrand.

“Ed (Carpenter) gave me my first chance to test an Indy car a few months ago. It’s going to be very special for me to be back in that same car representing Fuzzy’s Vodka at Barber,” continued Veach. “It’s going to be a lot to take in in a short amount of time, but I’m really excited to do the best I can for the team, as well as J.R.”

While unable to compete this weekend, Hildebrand will be trackside to assist Veach and the ECR team in Alabama. The Californian remains hopeful to return for the Phoenix Grand Prix later this month.

“This obviously is not how I had hoped this would play out, but I’ve done everything there was to do since surgery last Tuesday with good results,” Hildebrand said. “It seems the risk is still too high given the initial extent of the injury. “The doctors I’ve worked with have been awesome to get my fractures sorted out and I trust their view of the situation.”

With Veach joined by Spencer Pigot in the sister No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Ed Carpenter Racing will feature a driver lineup that has earned three wins in Indy Lights competition at Barber Motorsports Park, but with neither having made an IndyCar Series start here.

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: Long Beach

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

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

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

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (+1)

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

2. Dale Coyne Racing (+2)

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

3. Chip Ganassi Racing (-2)

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

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

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

5. Andretti Autosport (-2)

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

6. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (No Change)

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

7. Ed Carpenter Racing (No Change)

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

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

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

Driver Rankings:

1. Sebastien Bourdais (+2)

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

2. James Hinchcliffe (+2)

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

3. Scott Dixon (-2)

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

4. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

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

5. Will Power (-3)

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

6. Josef Newgarden (+2)

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

7. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-1)

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

8. Helio Castroneves (-2)

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

9. Spencer Pigot (Not Ranked)

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

10. Ed Jones (Not Ranked)

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

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

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

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Indy 500 Silly Season Update

As rumors swirl, Ed Carpenter Racing confirmed they would only run two cars in the Indianapolis 500.

The team says the crash suffered last year by Josef Newgarden has left them with only four cars, a scenario putting them in a position where running three is not possible.    

The team wrote off a pair of cars during the month of May two years ago, and a repeat would force much more drastic action. The decision
unfortunately means Spencer Pigot is left without a ride for Indy.

Team boss Carpenter has given Pigot permission to look for another seat with a rival team. The only question is whether or not that chance to secure another opportunity is still available.

So, with new unknowns, here is an updated list of how the field could shape up for the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Team Penske: Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya

The Captain will enter five cars at the Speedway for the first time, and all drivers have been confirmed.

Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball

Four full-time runners on the Verizon IndyCar Series circuit and nothing is expected to change that for the Indy 500.

Andretti Autosport: Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, TBA

Andretti has yet to confirm its fifth driver for Indy at this point. However, the lead candidate may not be Townsend Bell. Insider information suggests Bell may put his annual one-off efforts at Indy on hold to focus solely on sports car racing and his NBCSN television duties.

With Bell potentially out of play, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veterans Zach Veach and Dean Stoneman could move up on the Andretti shopping list. Stay tuned.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin, Jay Howard, TBA?

Three confirmations plus the possibility of a fourth to complete the 33-car field. That possibility is Will Marotti’s God Bless America Racing group. Marotti paired up with Schmidt last year to field Oriol Servia in the Indy 500 and is interested in returning for a second year with Schmidt being his preferred partner. More funding is needed to secure a deal with Schmidt at this point.

Dale Coyne Racing: Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Jones, Pippa Mann, TBA?

Pippa Mann was recently confirmed as its third driver. The team entered four cars in last year’s race and could do so again if Jonathan Byrd’s Racing or another group comes forward.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia

The Ohio-based runners are set for May with a two-car entry, as has often been the case since its return to the full IndyCar circuit
in 2012.

Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter, J.R. Hildebrand

As mentioned above, ECR will only enter two cars at Indy next month. Spencer Pigot has been given the okay to seek another ride for the
500, but the options may be limited.

A.J. Foyt Racing: Conor Daly, Carlos Munoz, TBA

The Foyt operation is in an unusual formation of having one team residing in its original home base of Texas and the other at its new shop in Indianapolis. This re-organization appeared to be a roadblock for entering a third car next month at Indy. That was until Foyt reportedly won an auction of the remaining KV Racing assets not claimed by Juncos Racing. With now four cars at its disposal, “Super Tex” may now be able to offer a third entry.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves?

The Indianapolis car dealership magnate will once again participate in the Indy 500 with Sage Karam behind the wheel. However, they may support a second entry put together by former Team Menard manager Larry Curry. If the deal materializes, 2015 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves has been tipped as a possible driver.

Juncos Racing: Kyle Kaiser?, TBA?

Ricardo Juncos recently announced his intention to enter the 101st Indy 500 in preparation for a possible full-time IndyCar Series effort in 2018. Juncos’ Indy Lights pilot Kyle Kaiser is expected to be one driver; however, the team has hinted in looking for a veteran driver to fill the seat.

Lazier Partners Racing: Buddy Lazier

Bob Lazier says plans are to return in some form at Indy this May. His son, 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier is likely to handle the driving duties once again.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

FANTASY CHALLENGE BREAKDOWN: Long Beach

With the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach less than a week away, the focus for Firestone Fantasy Challenge players has changed.

In direct variance to St. Petersburg, Florida, a case for having Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato as one of the drivers has improved. Although the jury is out on whether or not the Japanese veteran can manage to keep his nose out of trouble, his fifth-place finish earned him followers for Long Beach. According to IndyCar.com, Sato is currently a member of more fantasy teams than any other driver.

The St.Pete result is not the only reason to like Sato. His lone Verizon IndyCar Series victory came four years ago at Long Beach. He also finished fifth last year in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with a A.J. Foyt Racing team that on paper is lower in potential output than Andretti Autosport can provide. Finally, when you consider his current value of twenty dollars, represents only one-fifth of a maximum team budget, even yours truly has officially joined the bandwagon.

With Sato, my fantasy roster remains largely unchanged since St. Pete. The top spot once again goes to Team Penske’s Will Power, perhaps the best road racer in IndyCar since 2008. The Australian is deserving of a second chance after suffering mechanical issues.

Although teammate Simon Pagenaud seems to be a better fantasy option following his second-place effort at St. Pete and Long Beach win last year, the lower price tag for Power provides me more flexibility. That wiggle room allowed me to call upon St. Pete winner Sebastien Bourdais for the second straight event. While the fantasy price for the Dale Coyne Racing pilot has been upped to $27, he must gain a better place on the starting grid. Although a Firestone Fast Six advancement may not be required, Bourdais cannot solely rely on lucky breaks to secure victories as he did last month.

Rounding out this week is Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot, who was the most aggressive driver in the opening laps in March. He could have challenged for a top-ten result, if not for a fluke suspension failure suffered during his first pit stop. If Pigot can make the finish in the top half at Long Beach, chances are that his fantasy value will increase from $17. 

Stay tuned every IndyCar race week at PopularSpeed.com for my Firestone Fantasy Challenge picks.

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

Juncos Racing to Enter Indianapolis 500

Last week came the long-rumored news that KV Racing was closing its doors after 14 years in the Champ Car World Series and the IndyCar Series. However, this week was time for happier news.

Juncos Racing, who purchased the equipment from KV, announced they’re planning an entry for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.

“I am so happy to officially announce our participation in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said team owner Ricardo Juncos. “This is a dream come true for me and my team. It’s been only two months since our grand opening of the new Juncos Technical Center, which was a huge moment for us. Now we are becoming a new team in the Verizon IndyCar Series and will run in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ the Indianapolis 500. This is definitely one of the biggest moments in my life.”

Juncos, an Argentinian who came to the United States in 2002, is also running two cars in the Indy Lights Series. At press time, no driver or sponsor for the Indy 500 entry has been announced.

Two guesses on the driver would be Kyle Kaiser and Spencer Pigot who has won championships in several rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy with Juncos. Kaiser is set to run the full Indy Lights schedule this year for Juncos along with Nicolas Dapero, while Pigot is scheduled for the road and street courses with Ed Carpenter Racing. While ECR hasn’t confirmed the 500 yet for Pigot, it is highly likely based on their program has been set-up in the past. Kaiser, seeming more likely of the two right now, enters his second year of Indy Lights competition after finishing third in points with two wins and nine podiums.

“It’s always hard to identify the right moment and right time to make a big move and make big decisions in motor racing, but I am confident the timing is right and that we will succeed as we did in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series,” Juncos said. “I want to thank Mark Miles (Hulman & Co. CEO) and Jay Frye (INDYCAR president of competition and operations) from the Verizon IndyCar Series for all of their help and confidence they have had in me and my team. I also want to thank Mr. Kevin Kalkhoven from KV Racing Technology. He has been extremely helpful during this transition and, with his continued support and help with all of his experience in racing, we are confident going into this next level. Thank you to my family and my team for giving me massive support throughout the years, and to all of the fans, thank you!”

Fans and friends of Kevin Kalkhoven will be delighted to hear that the enthusiastic Aussie may be on board to help Ricardo Juncos develop an Indy Car team in a matter of months. Kalkhoven, the KV Racing Technology co-owner, is eager to lend his support to the Juncos Racing effort for the Indianapolis 500.

“We are delighted Ricardo is developing a program to progress to the Indy 500 and beyond,” Kalkhoven said. “We are committed to helping him and his team with our experience, equipment and data to best ensure a successful entry.”

KV Racing Technology posted an Indy 500 win in 2013 with Tony Kanaan driving, Jimmy Vasser as a team co-owner and calling the race for his friend TK. So, an alliance with Kevin, Jimmy and their team members who are otherwise not committed may give Juncos Racing a distinct advantage for the May classic.

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: Year Two For Pigot

Despite some questions raised during the early phases of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series silly season as to his prospects on the circuit, 2015 Cooper Tires Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot will indeed return to relieve team boss Ed Carpenter in the road and street circuit rounds this season.

Although Pigot started the 2016 campaign with only the guarantee of three races thanks to the bonus money he earned for winning the Indy Lights title, everything worked out. The Pasadena, California-native fared well enough in his trial effort for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to jump over to Ed Carpenter’s operation, allowing him to participate in 11 of the 16 Verizon IndyCar Series events.              

While the returns in year one were far from earth shattering, Pigot did manage to make the finish in all but one of his appearances, while securing two top-ten efforts at Road America and Mid-Ohio respectively. The question now is whether Pigot can avoid the infamous sophomore slump and work towards his goal of becoming a full-time participant in the future.

The task on paper appears harsh at first glance, as for one he will not have the feedback from fellow young gun Josef Newgarden, who has joined Team Penske for 2017. He will also face a stiff challenge from teammate J.R. Hildebrand, who returns to the full circuit for the first time since 2013. Finally, in addition to ECR’s rivals in the Chevrolet camp, the expectation of a stiffer challenge from Honda’s fleet will further increase the degree of difficulty.

However, one must not forget the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet has shown potential on more than just the oval tracks. Team boss Carpenter drove to fourth at Toronto with this entry in 2013 and the following year, road racing ace Mike Conway drove into the winner’s circle at both Long Beach and Baltimore.

For Spencer Pigot, year two on the premiere North American open-wheel circuit represents a chance to make a breakthrough effort and cement himself as one of the top American driving prospects in the years to come.

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.