Categories
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.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Andretti Autosport Bounces Back at IndyCar GP

They did not threaten Team Penske’s two rabbits on Saturday; however, Andretti Autosport has momentum entering the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Led by 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, they managed to place two of its entrants in the top-ten in the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

For RHR, Saturday’s third-place result was his best outing since placing fourth in the seasonopener at St. Petersburg.

“We’ve had a pretty tricky beginning of the year I guess you could say,” said Hunter-Reay after the checkered flag. “It’s been one thing or another, really. Some misfortune, bad luck. Some we brought upon ourselves, but it’s been one thing or another.”

Starting eighth, the DHL Honda pilot quietly ran among the top-ten throughout the 85 laps, but was able to avoid the errors that hampered others. Ultimately, the veteran was able to secure a place on the podium overtaking Penske’s Helio Castroneves.

“Helio’s strategy didn’t end up working out for him in the end because he was on primaries at the end; kind of a sitting duck for us that had pace on (optional tires),” explained Hunter-Reay.

Defending Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi also enjoyed a solid weekend at the Brickyard, running as high as sixth, before settling for eighth at the conclusion.

“We had a really good start, but we chose the wrong downforce level,” said Rossi. “We got it balanced out on the last stint, but it was too late to run up the (leaderboard).”

While the NAPA Auto Parts Honda driver was without any significant maladies during Saturday’s action, the former Formula One test driver struggled during the long green flag stints, eventually losing some spots.

Although the results for Hunter-Reay and Rossi were a far cry from the team’s massive breakdowns at Long Beach and Phoenix, Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato proved there are still some kinks in the armor.

Having to start at the back of the grid on Saturday, Sato never had a signficiant impact, but gained twelve positions to come home 12th.

“It was a tough race, but I think we fought back quite strongly,” said Sato. “We’ve got good momentum for the Indianapolis 500, and I’m looking forward to starting practice on Monday.”

Andretti’s hopes were dashed when he came into contact with Tony Kanaan on the opening lap, a move stewards judged as avoidable and the third-generation driver was issued a drive-through penalty. Mired near at the tail of the order from that point, Andretti posted a 16th-place result. The 2006 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, later apologized to Kanaan on Twitter for the shunt, claiming he was more focused on his rear-view mirrors, than he what was ahead of him.

“Wasn’t the way I would have liked to have started the race,” admitted Andretti. “I knocked into TK, and it was an uphill battle from there. I ruined both our races.”

Andretti Autosport’s effort expands from four cars to six when IMS converts to its traditional 2.5mile oval layout on Monday. Joining the regular drivers will be multi-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso and Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires veteran Jack Harvey.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

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

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.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Phoenix

Indycar_Power_Rankings_logo

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

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

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

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

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

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

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

3. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

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

4. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

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

5. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

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

6. Ed Carpenter Racing (+1)

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

7. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (-1)

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

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

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

9. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Unranked)

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

10. Harding Racing (Unranked)

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

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (+1)

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

2. Josef Newgarden (+1)

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

3. Sebastien Bourdais (-2)

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

4. Will Power (+1)

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

5. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

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

6. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

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

7. Helio Castroneves (+1)

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

8. Tony Kanaan (Unranked)

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

9. Alexander Rossi (-1)

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

10. J.R. Hildebrand (Unranked)

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

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

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

Categories
Commentary IndyCar Open Wheel

FANTASY HOT TIP: Phoenix

After a second straight disaster for yours truly at Barber Motorsports Park, my Firestone Fantasy Challenge team sees another revamp.

With the Verizon IndyCar Series heading to Phoenix International Raceway for Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Grand Prix, it is time to start a rally. As scenery changing from road course to high-speed oval, new players come into the mix. Unfortunately, for small operations like Dale Coyne Racing, the scenarios which aided their rise in the first three races, may turn against them.

Although DCR does have an oval track win on their resume (Justin Wilson, Texas 2012), the oval tracks have been dominated by better-funded outfits. Last year, however, did provide an exception. Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi won the Indianapolis 500, while Graham Rahal’s family-run squad edged out another small fry in Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe at Texas. The question now is focused on two trending factors.

One, will the smaller squads continue to threaten the tophalf of the field on ovals in 2017? Secondly, will Honda continue to thrive on its perceived horsepower advantage? Going by my four fantasy selections for Phoenix, my answers to those questions are NO. While Honda held serve on the fastest ovals last year, Chevrolet ruled on the short, tighter bull rings, such as Phoenix. The deck was stacked for GM in qualifying at least, as every Chevy-powered car outran the fastest Honda entrant. The Japanese manufacturer did bounce back some in the race itself, but not enough to challenge for victory.

Even if Chevrolet does not rule in terms of pace, Team Penske enters Arizona with momentum. The Captain’s quartet swept position one through three on the grid at Barber, and Josef Newgarden moved from seventh to victory lane. Each of the four pilots has had their moments on leftturn-only circuit; however. the salary cap prevents me from filling out my roster with all of them.

Despite that roadblock, I still have two good drivers from those four. Newgarden’s selection was a no-brainer as not only does he carry positive energy, he also won last year at Iowa Speedway. His teammate Helio Castroneves is known more for his success in the Indianapolis 500; however, he certainly is capable of a high placing likewise.

As for the other two spots, I went with oval track success as my focus. While Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan does not have many victories in his record book and lacks a Chevrolet engine, the eye-test recalls seeing the Brazilian in contention many times on ovals, making his inclusion worth it. The same gamble comes into play when assessing the potential of owner-driver Ed Carpenter, who makes his season debut at Phoenix. Like TK, the Indianapolis-native is a regular near the front at these types of tracks and with a surprisingly low fantasy value this week (15 dollars against a 100 cap), the risk does not exceed the reward.

For my sake, let’s hope the opening sentence for the next edition of Fantasy Hot Tip is a more positive one.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Kanaan Could Be Favorite for IndyCar’s First Oval Race of 2017

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Two of the first three victories Tony Kanaan had in his career came at Phoenix Raceway, and when the desert oval regained its place on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in 2016, he had another strong performance with a fourth-place result.

But it’s been awhile since the Brazilian has visited the winner’s circle. His last win came at Auto Club Speedway in 2014.

The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran could break the drought at the mile oval, though. Statistically, Phoenix is one of his best tracks, and it’s the first oval race of the season.

“Historically, I’m pretty decent at ovals — it’s something I worked really hard at back in the Indy Lights days,” Kanaan told POPULAR SPEED in a press conference. “If you looks at my results in ‘98 and ‘99, I started dead last at every single oval, and I was told it’s probably not supposed to be my thing.

“I guess that got under my skin and I worked really hard to improve that. Whatever it is, it suits my driving style.”

Kanaan has established himself as one of the best oval racers in the field. Fourteen of his 17 career wins have come on ovals and has won half his starts at Phoenix.

“It’s always good to come back to a place that you know you do well,” he said. “We’ve won a couple of races here, so it’s a really good fitting. It’s up my alley … I love the mile ovals.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

Categories
Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY: Can Honda Challenge Chevrolet In 2017?

Following a busy one-day test this week at Sebring International Raceway in preparation for the season, Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan said he felt Honda was capable of improving greatly upon its lack of victories during the 2016 campaign.

Whether this was sugar-coating or over-exuberance with the St. Petersburg Grand Prix over two months away, is hard to say at this point. However, for a Chip Ganassi Racing team that moved from Chevrolet to Honda engines during the present off-season, one has to wonder whether such a massive reversal of fortune is indeed possible in the current climate of IndyCar racing.

With a brand-new Dallara chassis set to debut in 2018, IndyCar regulations involving the controversial aerodynamic kits offered by Honda and Chevrolet have led to the limited allowance of adjustments for 2017, something that could affect Honda’s ability to close the gap to Chevrolet. Although Honda runner Andretti Autosport went 1-2 in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 last May, last year was a domination by two entities – Chevrolet and Team Penske.

Team Penske won 10 out of a possible 16 races in 2016 and adding in its own Chevrolet rivals, the General Motors brand
only gave way to Honda in two races. Indy of course, and Graham Rahal’s last lap charge to victory at Texas Motor Speedway.

Although the addition of Chip Ganassi Racing to Honda’s account adds three race-winning drivers in Kanaan, Scott Dixon, and Charlie Kimball, one has to wonder if a weighing-down of weaker teams was Honda’s problem? For one, it is hard to pin Andretti Autosport’s four-car operation as “weak,” considering it has won several races and championships since the opening of the current IndyCar sanctioning body in 1996.

Add to that, while Honda has been bolstered with Ganassi’s addition, Chevrolet has also added several key cogs to its arsenal. Top prospect Josef Newgarden will enter his first full season with Team Penske, while GM has also corralled two ex-Honda prospects in Conor Daly and 2016 Indy 500 runner-up Carlos Munoz as A.J. Foyt Racing will run Chevrolet power in 2017.

Honda must enter with a realm of optimism entering St. Petersburg, Florida in March; however it seems hard to fathom a scenario that has its teams and drivers reversing the trending nature of success moving more towards Chevrolet over the last two years.
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Ganassi Teammates Join Ford Quartet For Rolex 24

After regular appearances in the battle for overall victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar teammates Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon’s efforts in January 2017 at the Daytona International Speedway road course will be in a different form.

Despite earning multiple overall wins over the past decade, Chip Ganassi Racing’s focus in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship has shifted from the purpose-built racing designs to the grand touring muscle car wars. With the latest announcement, two former Indianapolis 500 champions will represent one-sixth of a twelve driver, four-car lineup as Ganassi begins his second season with the relatively new Ford GT challenger in the GT Le Mans division.

After entering just two cars in its debut effort in 2016, Ford and Ganassi have doubled its attack to a full quartet for 2017, matching its output posed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this past June when Ford won the GT division in its first effort in France in over a decade.

New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, was a part of Ford’s Le Mans effort, finishing third alongside former IndyCar regular Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook. The Iceman is also no stranger to contending for victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, having taken the overall win with Ganassi on two occasions in 2006 and 2015.

The 2017 Ganassi Ford GT program at Daytona will represent Tony Kanaan’s third effort in the grand touring divisions at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with his best finish coming in his debut run in 1998 with Tom Gloy Racing’s Ford Mustang squad when he finished third. Like his IndyCar teammate Dixon, TK was a part of Ganassi’s overall victory in 2015 and also nearly won the 2007 12 Hours of Sebring with Andretti Autosport, finishing second overall.

In addition to the Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar teammates, the four-car Ganassi Ford effort will also feature the services of Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais. Bourdais won the Rolex 24 at Daytona overall for Action Express Racing in 2014 and finished second the following year. The Frenchman was also part of Ganassi’s Ford GT debut effort last January, and alongside co-drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Muller earned the GT class win this past June at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The three confirmations increases the number of full-time Verizon IndyCar Series regulars in the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona to five as both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal were announced as drivers for Michael Shank Racing’s Acura NSX squad in the GT Daytona class earlier in December.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Year in Review: Tony Kanaan

For Tony Kanaan, the theme of the past couple years continued as he once again found himself finishing in the mid-pack of the season standings.

 

Points Finish: 7th

Car No.: 10

Driver Name: Tony Kanaan

Team Name: Chip Ganassi Racing

Total Races: 16

Victories: 0

Podiums: 2

Top-Fives: 5

Top-10s: 12

Average Start: 8.8

Average Finish: 8.8

DNFs: 1

When the season started, Kanaan was able to put together a solid streak to start the year with four straight top-nine finishes, including a fourth at Phoenix International Raceway. However, the early string of success was broke with the Indianapolis Grand Prix as a crash resulted in a 25th place finish. He didn’t let it get him down, though, returning back to the front and finishing fourth in the Indianapolis 500.

Even though Chip Ganassi Racing struggled for speed at times, Kanaan was able to return back to his solid string of consistency by posting five straight top-nine finishes after his fourth in Indianapolis, including another pair of top-fives.

As the year finished off, the consistency faded off with only two of the last five resulting in top-10 finishes.

Highlight of 2016 – Despite not reaching victory lane, Kanaan was able to post some solid top-five finishes throughout the year, and led 16 laps in the Honda Indy Toronto.

Downfall of 2016 – The rocky consistency, which ultimately saw Kanaan miss the top-five in points come the end of season. However, it’s partially the team’s fault as a look at Dixon’s results reveals the same rocky consistency with a notable 3 DNFs due to mechanical issues. For a team like Chip Ganassi Racing known for competing for championships and race wins on a weekly basis in IndyCar competition, it marked a surprise for all fans to see their main drivers fail to finish in the top-five.

Road/Street Course Analysis – The results don’t say much with only two top-fives in 11 races, but he showed some strength and there were some positives in the seven top-10s in which he scored.

Oval Analysis – In the five oval races, Kanaan picked up three top-five finishes, with no finishes outside of the top-nine. If Ganassi can get their program in line, Kanaan could easily return to victory lane at an oval.

Notes for 2017 – While the lack of performance puzzled many, there are even more questions now entering the year with other decisions made by CGR executives. Shortly after the season ended, it was announced that CGR was switching from Chevrolet to Honda. Honda’s performance has been questionable the past couple of years as outside of Graham Rahal’s stand-out performances and some strong runs out of Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, the brand has seemed to struggle. It’s worth noting they’ve made gains as they’re closer now compared to a couple years ago, so perhaps adding a major team to their line-up may be the last ticket needed.

With the unknowns, it’s questionable as to how Kanaan will do this season. Never known as a standout driver, it could be another year of mid-pack running for the series veteran.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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.