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IndyCar Open Wheel

Ultimate IndyCar 2018 Silly Season Guide (September Update)

One month into the 2018 silly season for the Verizon IndyCar Series and a couple of pieces of the puzzle have been connected.

First, Andretti Autosport will retain the services of 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi. At first, it was believed that a change to Chevrolet engines would signal a separation between parties as Honda was tagged as a key to the deal. However, unlike the complications involving Takuma Sato, the California ex-Formula One pilot has been confirmed. Rossi has shown his thanks to the renewal of faith from management by running up front in recent rounds, including his second career victory last weekend at Watkins Glen International.

The second domino to fall was the revelation that Tony Kanaan is on the move. After four seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, the Brazilian appears ready to join A.J. Foyt Racing for 2018, as the former Texas-based operation gets fully acclimated to its new headquarters in Indianapolis. While it seems that Conor Daly’s future with Super Tex is safe, his current teammate Carlos Munoz might be looking for an out. After nearly winning at the Brickyard last year with Andretti Autosport, the Colombian has placed no higher than seventh in any of the 16 races run to date and sits 16th on the points table.

Here is the breakdown, team-by-team, so far.

TEAM PENSKE: Josef Newgarden (CONFIRMED), Simon Pagenaud (CONFIRMED), Will Power (CONFIRMED), Helio Castroneves (Indy 500 only, Probable), Juan Pablo Montoya (Indy 500 only, Probable)

Despite reports claiming Helio Castroneves is trying to convince Roger Penske to let him attempt another full season in 2018, the Brazilian seems set to join Juan Pablo Montoya to co-drive the Captain’s new Daytona Prototype International entry in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. If that holds true, expect to see both drivers get cars for the Indianapolis 500. Otherwise, no other changes are expected as Penske downsizes to three runners full-time.

CHIP GANASSI RACING: Scott Dixon (CONFIRMED), Max Chilton (Possible), Charlie Kimball (Unlikely)

Tony Kanaan is expected to leave Chip Ganassi Racing and team up with A.J. Foyt Racing. The move comes with NTT Data unwilling to support two entries for all 17 races in 2018. A downscaling of the CGR operation could become a reality as a replacement for Target department stores, who left the squad after 2016 has yet to occur.

Unless extra funding comes into play, it does not appear likely that Ganassi will enter four cars in 2018. The most likely scenario has the squad down to three; however, some have even hinted at only a two-car plan for the new year.

With Dixon set for next season, the question looms on the future for CGR’s current third and fourth pilots. Chilton and his backing from Gallagher Investments have been linked to a potential new team under the direction of Trevor Carlin, with whom the Englishman drove for in the Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires circuit. With Novo Nordisk reportedly also peeling back a little on its support of Kimball, the American could join up with both Carlin and Chilton likewise. With talks between Ganassi and Kimball believed to be in iffy mode, the Carlin possibility may start to gain more steam.

While options are few and far between at this point, keep in mind that Esteban Gutierrez is out there. The Mexican ex-Formula One chauffeur is bankrolled by Carlos Slim, whose Telcel brand sponsored Ganassi for several seasons in the former Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series. Could a possible rejoin be in play? Stay tuned.

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: Ryan Hunter-Reay (CONFIRMED), Marco Andretti (CONFIRMED), Alexander Rossi (CONFIRMED), Fernando Alonso (Possible)

Announcements have already begun to come in regards to 2018 as Michael Andretti confirmed they will stick with Honda. Then before his successful weekend at Watkins Glen International, the 2016 Indy 500 champion was re-signed, placing him alongside both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti who are on multi-year deals.

With Takuma Sato likely out, Andretti could be forced to rely on a financially-backed pilot to fill the fourth seat. Looking ahead to next year, only Hunter-Reay is fully sponsored via DHL. Andretti has had a myriad of different names on his car in 2017, mainly forced by the collapse of original backer H-H Gregg.

The rumors linking Fernando Alonso to the ride, however, have also gained momentum over the last month. With the Spaniard languishing in Formula One with an uncompetitive McLaren ride, a move to the U.S. and IndyCar could make sense following a solid performance this past May in the Indy 500.

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING: Graham Rahal (CONFIRMED), Takuma Sato (Possible)

Bobby Rahal and his son Graham have desired to expand to two cars full-time. If Sato is out of luck, Honda will be quick to offer any of its other teams a shot at the Japanese veteran and RLLR might just step up. While Rahal personally has shown a preference for having Oriol Servia as a teammate, the addition of Taku to the fold offers more money in the till looking ahead for this operation.

Indy Lights veteran Zachary Claman de Melo will handle a second car for Rahal at the season finale next weekend at Sonoma; however, he does not appear to have the money required to take this seat in 2018.

SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS: James Hinchcliffe (Probable), Santiago Urrutia (Possible)

With Hinch possibly in the mix for a ride with Ganassi or even a return to his former home at Andretti, Schmidt may be forced to play a waiting game looking ahead to 2018. Though if the Canadian stays put, then the focus shifts to the team’s second seat. Financial issues have prevented Mikhail Aleshin from retaining the ride for next season.

With the Russian out of play, Arrow Electronics could sponsor both entries. If that is in the cards, Indy Lights veteran Santiago Urrutia, who is also supported by Arrow, could become a target. As could Takuma Sato as Honda has reportedly increased its support for the squad in 2018, with a multi-year deal announced on Friday that extends to 2020.

DALE COYNE RACING: Sebastien Bourdais (CONFIRMED), Ed Jones (Possible), Pippa Mann (Probable, Indy 500 only)

Although Bourdais has struggled in his first two races back from serious injuries suffered in May at Indianapolis, all signs point to the Frenchman continuing with the Chicago-based operation in 2018. The concern shifts to Jones, who’s had a decent rookie season with the team, but will be without the scholarship money he had in hand after the Indy Lights title in 2016. With his Dubai connections, however, funds to cover the expenses might not be too hard to come by. Of course, it could be tough to match the financials that Carlos Slim-supported pilot Esteban Gutierrez could provide.

If Coyne reverts to the ride goes to the highest bidder philosophy, he carried before this year, then Jones might be looking elsewhere for employment in 2018. Expect the team to once again have Pippa Mann at the Indianapolis 500. The English veteran and the Windy City runners have been attached at the hip for Indy since 2013.

ED CARPENTER RACING: Ed Carpenter (Ovals Only, CONFIRMED), Spencer Pigot (Road Courses Only, Possible), J.R. Hildebrand (Probable)

It’s been a tough year for the Speedway, Indiana club, that is if you discount their performance on oval tracks. Driving duties are not expected to change for 2018 unless Pigot heads elsewhere looking for full-time service.

HARDING RACING: Gabby Chaves (Probable)

The Indianapolis-based newcomers are expected to join the full-time roster next season with Gabby Chaves at the controls. No other changes are expected, but the team could require more funding to make their dream a reality.

A.J. FOYT RACING: Tony Kanaan (Probable), Conor Daly (Possible)

Tony Kanaan is all but a lock to join Super Tex’s operation, which will be fully online in Indianapolis by the start of the new year. With Foyt expected to remain at two cars in 2018, the question now is which 2017 returnee stays put.

The current campaign has been a frustrating one for both Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly, who each were expected to provide a boost. With neither placing better than fifth in any event to date, the question of which either driver stays is unknown. If anyone bolts, the most likely would be the Colombian, who just missed out on an Indy 500 victory in 2016. With no other options in play, the Indiana resident may stick with Foyt.

JUNCOS RACING: Kyle Kaiser (Possible), ???

Ricardo Juncos’ Indy Lights operation moved up to IndyCar competition to field two cars at this year’s Indianapolis 500. The ultimate goal is to run full-time with at least one car next season. Kyle Kaiser having wrapped up the 2017 Indy Lights championship last weekend, provides the scholarship advancement money needed to take one of those seats.

If Spencer Pigot is looking for a full-time ride in 2018, Juncos could be his lone opportunity. The American prospect drove for the squad in 2015, the same year he won the Indy Lights title. Juncos’ other Indy 500 pilot Sebastian Saavedra could also be sought here.

CARLIN RACING: Max Chilton (Possible), Charlie Kimball (Possible)

After backing out from possibly taking over the now defunct KV Racing team last year, Trevor Carlin is believed to be exploring entering the circuit on his own in 2018. The key cog here is Max Chilton and possibly a second driver with some money in hand. The number two pilot could be Charlie Kimball, who is reportedly not faring well in negotiations with Chip Ganassi Racing about a contract extension for next season. Although his support from sponsor Novo Nordisk is likely to be reduced, when coupled with the cash from Gallagher Investments that Chilton carries, it might be enough to tip the apple cart in his favor.

DREYER & REINBOLD RACING: Sage Karam (Indy 500 Only, Possible)

Unless things are dramatically altered, expect Dennis Reinbold to field an Indy 500 entry, possibly for Sage Karam or another driver in 2018.

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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

Claman DeMelo Ready for IndyCar Debut at Sonoma Raceway

After two full-time Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires seasons, Zachary Claman DeMelo is set for the next step of his open-wheel career. He will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut at Sonoma Raceway on September 17 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. 

“I’m very excited and very thankful to Paysafe for making the opportunity possible,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I’m looking to seeing what else it leads to.”

Going into the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the Canadian admits there’s no particular result that he is aiming for, but rather seeing how he can progress from practice to the race. 

“Obviously, it’d be nice to be quick and jell well with Graham (Rahal), my teammate,” he said. “I’m just going to do the best that I can, and keep learning throughout the weekend in making gains towards next year.”

Like many Indy Lights competitors, Claman DeMelo has tested an IndyCar previously, with his opportunity coming earlier this year with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Despite his time on the track being cut short, his laps were equal to those run by the team’s full-time competitors.

 

“I think I adjusted it to it quick,” he said. “It’s not per say really different than the Indy Lights car, just a bit quicker. But overall, it wasn’t too bad.”

Driving for Carlin Racing this past season, Claman DeMelo put together a solid Indy Lights campaign, placing fifth in points after closing out the year with eight straight top-six finishes following his victory at Road America.

“It went very well,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, we didn’t get the results we should have due to some problems and some bad luck, but at the end of the season, it went really well. We showed that if we were like that the whole year, we would’ve been competing for the championship.”

Compared to 2016 where he failed to score a podium, Claman DeMelo said experience made the difference, as prior to competing in Indy Lights full-time in 2016, he only had a half season under his belt racing cars.

As of right, Claman DeMelo does not have any plans set in stone for 2018, but the 2017 season finale may serve as a preview for those.

 

“It depends on sponsorship and opportunities, but the goal is to be in IndyCar full-time next year,” he said.

 

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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POWER RANKINGS: Watkins Glen

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

Wrong time to have a clunker. Josef Newgarden has allowed at least three rivals to have a good chance to win the championship, with double points at stake in the GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway. While rain should not be a factor in the Wine Country, the momentum generated by the previous podium finishes could be non-existent.

A couple of notable drivers have moved up the list this week, including Scott Dixon. Before Newgarden jumped to the top last month, the Iceman had been a consistent number one for the first two-thirds of the season.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (Unchanged)
Only Helio Castroneves made the top-five at Watkins Glen, as the strategy calls backfired on other pilots in the Captain’s camp not named Josef Newgarden. Still, the complete body of work for 2017 merits their stay at the top of the heap.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (Unchanged)
Scott Dixon’s second-straight runner-up placing has him in control of his own destiny behind Josef Newgarden by only three points. Top-tens earned by Charlie Kimball (seventh) and Max Chilton (eighth) merit praise likewise.

3. Andretti Autosport (Unchanged)
Not only is Alexander Rossi’s future secured at Andretti in 2018, but he also returned the favor by crushing the competition at Watkins Glen. A solid drive, minus the bad luck that has plagued him throughout 2017, netted Ryan Hunter-Reay a strong third-place result.

4. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (+1)
Graham Rahal moves RLLR back to the number four spot on the list, thanks to a trouble-free, fifth-place output in upstate New York.

5. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (-1)
Respectable run from Jack Harvey earned 14th at the checkered flag. However, a second bad effort in the last three rounds by James Hinchcliffe drops SPM down a rung this week.

6. Dale Coyne Racing (Unchanged)
If not for sub par resumes from the Foyt and Carpenter squads, Coyne’s duo of Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Jones would have dropped a notch this week. A warning shot if season closes poorly at Sonoma, though.

7. A.J. Foyt Racing (Unchanged)
Difficult to overlook poor showings for most of the 2017 campaign, but Carlos Munoz (tenth) and Conor Daly (eleventh) have each netted two consecutive good results. A third to close out 2017 could jump them ahead of Coyne entering the off-season.

8. Ed Carpenter Racing (Unchanged)
2017 has been a year of missed opportunities for road-course specialist Spencer Pigot. The former Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion should have garnered better than a 12th-place effort at Watkins Glen. J.R. Hildebrand never made an impact and came home in 15th.

9. Harding Racing (=)
Assuming Harding does indeed go full-time in 2018, Gabby Chaves and company will face a steep learning curve. Still, the Larry Curry-managed squad could be a threat on the ovals at least.

10. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (=)
Season’s over, but 2018 Indianapolis 500 could be promising if the team continues the same course with Sage Karam. The driver-squad pairing seems perfect for one-off outings.

Driver Rankings:

1. Josef Newgarden (Unchanged)
Praying for rain that never came, the Tennessee-native faces a tougher task to win the title entering the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. We will learn quickly how short a memory the Penske pilot has.

2. Scott Dixon (+3)
Back-to-back runner-up placings have the New Zealander well within the range of a fifth IndyCar championship. The results before Gateway were not so great, but unlike Newgarden he has, for the most part, avoided the DNFs.

3. Helio Castroneves (+2)
The Brazilian still has a chance at claiming his first title in what likely will be the last shot. While that scenario could bring about a big result, it could also lead to an ill-timed maneuver. He will need to do better than fourth-place at Watkins Glen when the circuit heads to Sonoma.

4. Alexander Rossi (+2)
Celebrated his short run on the free agent market, by blowing away the competition at New York’s Thunder Road. While he is too far back in points to challenge for a series crown, he could play the role of spoiler in the Wine Country.

5. Will Power (-2)
Sixth-place was nice at the Glen, but damage suffered early in the 2017 season appears to be too much to overcome.

6. Simon Pagenaud (-4)
Might of had a better shot to post a better showing if strategy did not go belly up. Inconsistency has plagued the Frenchman in his title defense.

7. Graham Rahal (+1)
Not been a bad year for Rahal and RLLR; the fifth-place effort was a good one in New York. The Ohioan however, will need a huge finish at Sonoma if he is to be in consideration for a higher end of year ranking.

8. Ryan Hunter-Reay (+1)
Another good performance at Watkins Glen continues to move the 2012 series champion up the list. Not the season we have come to expect from RHR in recent campaigns, but he should be a bigger threat in the new year.

9. James Hinchcliffe (-2)
Back to the drawing board for Hinch and the SPM squad after a rough go of it at Watkins Glen. Not having a consistent teammate may be a potential reason for the recent run of iffy showings.

10. Max Chilton (Unranked)
Time to re-insert the Englishman back into the rankings after a good top-ten at Watkins Glen. While teammate Charlie Kimball outran him by one position, Chilton has a more impressive resume, topped off with a career run to fourth at the Indy 500.

Dropped Out: Tony Kanaan (Was No. 10 after St. Louis)

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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

Title Battle Thickens Following Watkins Glen

Following Josef Newgarden’s bad early strategic move and an overzealous move to exit pit road late in Sunday’s IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen, the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship fight has changed drastically.

After starting on the inside of row two, he ran just outside the top-10 throughout the event. However, after the incident, the Tennessean’s 18th-place effort is the worst finish posted by the Team Penske pilot, since carding a 20th at the Indianapolis 500 in May.

With only the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma left on the slate, what seemed to be a comfortable 31-point lead when the green flag flew in upstate New York, is now reduced to only three. 

As Newgarden succumbed to adversity, four-time series champion Scott Dixon delivered the clutch performance Sunday that has earned him the nickname: the “Iceman.” After the New Zealander also lost ground early in the 60-lap distance at New York’s Thunder Road, Dixon recovered to secure runner-up honors at a venue where he has won on four previous occasions.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s team leader, however, was not the lone beneficiary on Sunday. Newgarden’s teammate Helio Castroneves moved to just 22 points out of first with a fourth-place finish. Simon Pagenaud, a victim of the winning pass completed by the Tennessee-prospect at St. Louis, also is back in play with the double points offering at Sonoma, after placing fourth.

Although the battle for the championship is essentially a four-man race, others a little further down the points table could also claim a top-three showing with a win or podium at Sonoma. One is perennial road course ace Will Power, who heads to Sonoma 72 out of first, but only 46 behind third. Another is Alexander Rossi, who returned the confidence shown by Andretti Autosport re-signing him for the 2018 campaign, by taking the checkered flag first at the Glen on Sunday.

As for what could happen at Sonoma, my views on Newgarden have changed considerably in seven days. The negative vibes that haunted Dixon in July and August are now squarely on his own shoulders. The No. 2 Chevrolet pilot, has finished no better than sixth in his any of his five attempts at the hilly, Wine Country-based layout, plus he has taken three placements of 20th or worse.

Dixon meanwhile, has shown the same muscle at Sonoma, that he has likewise at the Glen. Although he settled for 17th a season ago, the Iceman won the Go Pro Grand Prix in both 2015 and 2016. The former of those pair of triumphs earned him enough points to take his fourth series title.

While Newgarden looked like a sure-fire champion in the last few events, Dixon appears ready to take what would be a record fifth IndyCar championship.

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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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Rossi Wins at Watkins Glen as Championship Tightens

WATKINS GLEN, New York (Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017) – Alexander Rossi completed a dream weekend with a win in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen. Josef Newgarden endured a nightmare incident in the race that leaves the Verizon IndyCar Series championship battle wide open for the 12th straight year heading to the season finale.

Rossi won the 60-lap race at iconic Watkins Glen International from the pole position on the same weekend it was announced he would return to Andretti Autosport next season in a multiyear deal along with sponsor NAPA Auto Parts. The 25-year-old Californian led a race-high 32 laps and drove the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda across the finish line 0.9514 of a second ahead of four-time Watkins Glen winner Scott Dixon.

INDYCAR GRAND PRIX AT THE GLEN: Box score

Points leader Josef Newgarden finished 18th after his car sustained damage in a collision leaving the pits. The Team Penske driver saw his championship lead slip to three points over Dixon with the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, offering double race points on Sept. 17, remaining. Seven drivers are still mathematically alive in the title hunt. The Verizon IndyCar Series champion has been determined in the season’s final race every year dating to 2006.

Rossi overcame a malfunctioning fuel probe on his second pit stop that left him short of Sunoco E85 ethanol and forced an earlier third stop than scheduled. From there, Rossi laid down laps at near-qualifying pace, regaining the lead on Lap 29 and building an advantage of more than 12 seconds. The full-course caution for Newgarden’s incident on Lap 46 bunched the field, but Rossi kept Dixon, in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, at bay over the 11-lap dash to the finish.

The victory was the second for Rossi in the Verizon IndyCar Series and first since his memorable triumph as a rookie in the 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“An amazing job by the whole team today,” Rossi said. “We had an issue in the beginning with the fuel thing, but whatever. It doesn’t matter, the team recovered. We had the pace to do it, but it’s pretty amazing.

“It’s a huge team effort. I’ve talked about so much how much we’ve improved, I’m so happy we’re finally able to win.”

Dixon, in search of a fifth season championship that would leave the 37-year-old New Zealander behind only A.J. Foyt (with seven) on the all-time list, had his own eventual day but was rewarded in points with the second-place finish.

“Definitely a good move in the points,” Dixon said. “I’m kind of shocked we ended up where we did.

“I locked up coming in on the first stop on the wet (tires) and it wouldn’t downshift, so almost stalled the car, got into the pits and we couldn’t fuel it. And then we had a fumble later – we lost another four or five spots – so we had to pass a lot of cars today. … Nice recovery by the team, ended up second.”

Newgarden had just assumed the lead in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet when he made his final stop on Lap 46 under green-flag conditions. Will Power – whose pit stall was directly in front of Newgarden’s – barely beat his teammate out of the pits and onto the narrow, curving, downhill pit exit lane.

Newgarden locked his brakes avoiding Power and slid into the guardrail separating the pit exit from the track in Turn 1 of the 3.37-mile, 11-turn permanent road course. Sebastien Bourdais, also leaving the pits in the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda, hit Newgarden from behind. Newgarden continued but sustained front wing and right rear tire ramp damage. The 26-year-old Tennessean finished two laps off the pace and saw 28 points shaved from his championship lead.

“I felt like we were in a good position until that final pit stop,” Newgarden said. “No excuse for it. It was my fault. I saw Will leave right in front of us and I just locked it up and slid over into the wall. Then (Bourdais) got into the back of me.

“It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing I can do about it. We’ll go to Sonoma in a couple of weeks and race for it.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third in the No. 28 DHL Honda to give Andretti Autosport two podium finishers. Helio Castroneves placed fourth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet and retained third in the championship, 22 points behind Newgarden.

Other drivers with a chance of winning the title at the Sonoma finale are: 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud, fourth in the standings (-34 points to Newgarden) after a ninth-place finish today in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet; Power, fifth in the standings (-68 points) after finishing sixth in the race in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; Rossi, sixth in the standings (-84 points); and Graham Rahal, seventh in the standings (-94 points) after a fifth-place race finish in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

The race at Sonoma Raceway offers 100 points to the winner, 80 for second place, 70 for third and down from there. Live race coverage of the epic finale begins at 6:30 p.m. ETSept. 17 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Rossi Speeds to First Career Pole With Late Glen Heroics

WATKINS GLEN, New York (Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017) – Alexander Rossi’s weekend of great news continued today when he won the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.

A day after it was announced he would return to Andretti Autosport next season in a multiyear deal along with sponsor NAPA Auto Parts, Rossi clocked a dramatic last lap of 1 minute, 22.4639 seconds (147.119 mph) on Watkins Glen International’s high-risk, high-reward permanent road course. It was the fastest lap in the Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying, to earn Rossi the first pole position in his 32-race Verizon IndyCar Series career.

INDYCAR GRAND PRIX AT THE GLEN: Qualifying results

“It was a big lap we needed,” said Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner and driver of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda. “The lap before was pretty good, but they came on the radio and said, ‘You need at least a tenth (of a second quicker),’ so we went for it.

“It’s amazing to finally accomplish this, especially on the back of the announcement on Friday. I think it’s been a long time coming, so it’s just nice to finally get that. The whole team has been working so hard and they deserve this.”

Rossi was the last of the Firestone Fast Six drivers on the 3.37-mile, 11-turn circuit at the session’s end, crossing the timing line to win the pole as the others were in pit lane. The 25-year-old Californian’s best previous qualifying effort was third on two occasions, both on ovals this season at Indianapolis and Texas.

Rossi will lead the 21-car field to the green flag in Sunday’s 60-lap race (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). In winning the pole, he denied Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon the chance to edge closer to championship leader Josef Newgarden in the point standings.

Dixon settled for the second starting spot with a lap of 1:22.5168 (147.025 mph) in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda that nipped Newgarden by one ten-thousandth of a second.

“Front row is definitely decent,” said Dixon, the four-time series champion and four-time Watkins Glen race winner. “The frustrating part is that we had plenty in hand.

“We caught Helio (Castroneves on track) so quickly. I don’t know what he was doing out there, he was just sort of cruising around. We caught him way too fast with two laps to go. Maybe we should have backed off on the second-to-last lap (to open a gap). I think we had probably another three or four tenths (of a second) in the car. Definitely frustrating to lose it that way.”

Regardless, Dixon is the only driver to reach all eight Firestone Fast Six rounds contested this season and has earned a top-five starting position in each of his eight visits to Watkins Glen. Dixon also broke his year-old track record in the second round of qualifying with a lap of 1:22.4171 (147.202 mph).

Newgarden, holding a 31-point lead over Dixon heading into Sunday’s race, will start third in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet following a lap of 1:22.5169 (147.024 mph) in the Firestone Fast Six.

“I think I messed up a pole run, to be honest with you,” Newgarden said. “I lost two or three tenths (of a second) in the final corner.

“I just deuced it, totally messed it up, lost a couple tenths (in Turn 9). Great lap time, good starting position for us. I feel so silly for messing up what could have been a pole position.”

Takuma Sato, Rossi’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, qualified fourth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:22.5660, 146.937 mph). Charlie Kimball was fifth in the No. 83 Tresiba Honda (1:22.8081, 146.507 mph), with Castroneves sixth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:23.3350, 145.581 mph).

Newgarden, Dixon, Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud (who qualified 12th), Will Power (qualified eighth), Graham Rahal (qualified 10th), Rossi and Sato all remain mathematically alive for the championship. Drivers must be within 104 points of the leader following the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen – with only the double-points GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17 remaining on the schedule.

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Fantasy Hot Tip: Watkins Glen

Two chances are left for Firestone Fantasy Challenge combatants to improve their placement in the 2017 edition of the IndyCar.com fan game.

Yours truly has not had much luck lately, but I still have a decent chance to secure a top-ten finish after Sonoma, assuming the points output is solid. For the Grand Prix at the Glen on Sunday, I have loaded my roster with road course warriors and championship contenders.

While a $33 price tag on championship leader Josef Newgarden is more than I care to spend for a four-member group that is capped at $100, the quartet chosen is still strong. At the head of the list is Scott Dixon, currently second in the title chase, trailing the Team Penske driver by only 31 points. The New Zealander has struggled to earn top-five results in recent weeks, yet the record book rates him highly in upstate New York. The Iceman has won at this venue four times and placed outside the first ten only once.

Even if Honda is a step or two behind the Penske Chevrolets concerning outright pace over a fuel stint, the talent should be able to override the handicap enough to remain in a role among the frontrunners.

Newgarden’s teammate Will Power has also been selected for this round. The Australian took the checkered flag first at New York’s Thunder Road in 2010; however, let the buyer beware when taking him. He has also placed 15th and 20th in his other two attempts. Despite the disclaimer, the No. 12 Chevrolet chauffeur has bounced back well from a bad result and will need to back-up that reality as a crash on Lap 1 last week in St. Louis cost him precious ground to his Tennessee-based colleague in the championship.

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi has had a good track record in his last four efforts on the IndyCar circuit. He has taken two podium finishes and was sixth in the other two rounds, including last week at Gateway. Despite a dry spell in the second half of last year’s slate, the NAPA Honda driver did manage to come home in eighth in New York in 2016.

To compensate for the heavy hitters in the first three seats this week, I have taken a flyer on Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Jack Harvey, who makes his series debut on a road course on Sunday. Although the British prospect has yet to run at Watkins Glen in his open-wheel career, five of his six wins on the second tier of the Mazda Road to Indy pyramid were on the twisty layouts, as opposed to ovals.

While selecting Dixon is a must, you can afford to get creative to score big points. Good luck players!

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

What We Learned from Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway 2017

The Big Picture:  The story goes that the new owner of Gateway Motorsport Park, Curtis Francois, walked into Verizon IndyCar Series offices several years back, and told them he wanted to host an IndyCar race. Since then, the man has pretty much moved heaven and earth to bring back the track that was open-wheel-less from 2004 through 2016, after being was dropped originally due to small crowds.

Event:  Fast forward to 2016, and Francois and his sponsors have a sold out event. If there was a problem, they fixed it. IndyCar had several testings there, and when drivers said the track was bumpy, Curtis Francois had the whole thing repaved. The result is that everyone’s happy now except his accountant. Here’s to many more successful years!

Qualifying:  First, the good news. Will Power took his 50th series career pole with  a new track record of 189.709 miles per hour which has stood for over 20 years. Congratulations, Mr. Power. In what was probably bad news for the rest of the field, his teammates Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud qualified right behind him! So Chevy got the pole with extreme prejudice.

Race:   And it took the race, too. After a sloppy start as described elsewhere, Newgarden would lead 170 of 248 laps to a decisive victory at Gateway, his fourth win of the season. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon finished second, with the other two Penskes taking third and fourth. Five cars were lost to the inevitable carnage that comes with short track ovals. And so it goes for the ovals for IndyCar’s 2017 season.

Biggest Surprise:  Will Power spinning out of the lead on Lap 1 from pole position.

Biggest Disappointment:  The unfortunate season that Brazilian racer Tony Kanaan is having continued when he spun on the formation lap, going three laps down. When he finally retired after completing 168 of 248 laps, he refused to speak to the press. We have covered TK for 20 years and never have we known him to do this.

Best Team:  This has become very dull, but once again, it’s Team Penske.  CGR, who lost  some primary  sponsorship coming into the season, has done a great job to grab the points when they can with the leadership of Mike Hull and their veteran driver, Scott Dixon and thus deserves a mention.

Sponsor of the Weekend:  The Bommarito Auto Group, a local concern in the Midwest, stepped up to the plate as the named sponsor of the race, in its return to the series.

What We Learned:  That the gloves are off at Team Penske, which could have a significant impact on the championship, and that Scott Dixon remains a tenacious competitor. That Conor Daly may have that special something that makes a good driver.

Schedule:  Next weekend, the series travels to the legendary track at Watkins Glen, on Sunday, September 3rd.

Quotes of the Weekend:

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “We had a great race with the Menards Chevrolet. All of the adjustments left us with a great car at the end. When we needed to come up with a great pit stop, we did. Those guys really are the best. They always come through when they have to. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out there at the end. I can’t say that I’m overly pleased, but that’s racing. We still have the championship out there, so we’ll get ready for Watkins Glen.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet): 
“It was a great night. First off, we had an awesome crowd. It was amazing actually what was out here tonight. I felt like the energy for this event, it really spurred everyone on. You should have seen all the drivers. I felt like everyone was a little extra nervous tonight because of the energy in this place. I remember watching this race when I was younger. They stopped coming here, I think 2003 was the last race. It’s fun to have it back in 2017 and see it so well supported for the first year. It was a great night to go racing. I felt like the PPG Chevrolet was going to be good tonight. We had four good cars at Team Penske. Happy to get the win on the No. 2 car side because I felt like we had the car to beat. I didn’t want us to be denied tonight for sure. Simon (Pagenaud) gave me a lane to work with. I had a good tow on him, put my car inside in the opening, got about halfway alongside of him. One thing I didn’t want to do was touch him too hard. I think if I would have stayed too far left, I would have jumped the curb and that would have taken both of us out. I tried to get Simon to move over a little when we were coming to the opening of the corner. We both had to slow up. Fortunately worked out well for us. Pagenaud, didn’t get up into the wall or anything like that, so I would say it worked out okay for him, too.”

CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We had a good car all weekend. I was really upset with myself after qualifying, just had a big moment at the exit of (Turn) 1, but we redeemed ourselves. Then I tried to screw it up for myself again in the pits, but we were able to drive back. The car was just fantastic. I have to thank the team, I have to thank ABC Supply for sticking with us. I know it’s been a tough year, but I know we can do it. I know this team can do it. We’re just improving and it takes time. This is a hard sport.” (About close call with Charlie Kimball): “I won’t say anything bad about (Kimball), but it was just one of those really late moves that, being on an oval it’s not great to do. I mean everyone’s racing hard, it’s obviously tough on a short oval to make ground, but I mean that could have ruined my race right there. I thought the wing was gone going into the next corner, but it was still there. So thank you Chevy, for making strong pieces. But, yeah, I’m just happy to be here, and just hope I can be here for many more races.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): “I guess that’s the best we could have hoped for. It was definitely going to be a tough race for us, but the car was actually very good. I think we had a better mechanical grip than the group we were racing with, with the Penskes, and especially toward the end of the run. We could sort of come back towards them. We had so much drag. We could get to them, but we couldn’t pull out and pass them. Definitely pretty hard to defend right there at the end with Simon (Pagenaud). It was pretty exciting to watch Josef (Newgarden) and Simon with that pass into Turn 1, which was pretty interesting, pretty tight. I was hoping it went a little bit different than what it actually did and could have picked up two spots, but huge credit to everybody on the NTT Data No. 9 car. Strong tonight. Strong pit stops. And how about the fans, man? This was awesome to come back to St. Louis and see the fans and how excited they were for this race.”

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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News Open Wheel

Rossi Remains with Andretti Autosport

News continues to filter out of Andretti Autosport as the Verizon IndyCar Series team announced on Friday that Alexander Rossi will return to the team in 2018 as part of a multi-year agreement.

The partnership renewal comes after re-signing NAPA AUTO PARTS to be the primary sponsor for 10 events. 

“It’s great to have NAPA AUTO PARTS return in support of Alexander and the team. NAPA has been a fantastic partner, and we look forward to building on the success of the relationship,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “Alexander has been a great ambassador both on and off the track and, with only two years of IndyCar experience, he’s proven that he is a true competitor as well.”   

The 2018 campaign will be his third in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Entering Watkins Glen, Rossi has five top-five’s in 31 starts, including an Indianapolis 500 victory in 2015. He placed 11th in the standings last year, and looks to improve upon that in 2017, currently seventh with two races remaining. 

“As always, this silly season is a challenging one for everyone involved, but I am very thankful to have such incredible support from Andretti Autosport, NAPA AUTO PARTS and Honda, and to extend our deal through 2019,” said Rossi. “The improvements that we have made this year and the relationships that I have built within the team over the past two seasons created the foundation for a very exciting future.  

“On top of this, I’m very excited about the future of INDYCAR and where the whole series is headed. With the new car for next year, it is bound to be even more competitive and exciting than in years past and this is something that I am very proud to be a part of. It is an honor to race alongside such talented drivers and teams and I feel truly blessed in having the opportunity to showcase what I am capable of.” 

So far, Andretti Autosport has confirmed three drivers for their line-up next season, with Rossi joining Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti. Takuma Sato is rumored to be leaving the organization to drive a second entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

As for who will fill out the fourth seat at AA in 2018, Fernando Alonso has been mentioned following his series debut at the Indianapolis 500. 

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.

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News Open Wheel

Andretti Autosport Sticks with Honda

After a myriad of rumors swirled throughout the past month, things are not changing at Andretti Autosport as they will once again be powered by Honda in 2018 and beyond, as part of a multi-year agreement.

The news was revealed on Thursday through a video on social media.

“It’s no secret that we’ve been weighing this decision for a while now,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “We’ve had strong relationships and have marked milestones with both manufacturers, but we’re pleased to continue our Honda partnership. We have a great history of success with Honda and I have no doubt that together, our collection of achievements will continue to grow.”

Last month, talks started that there was a possibility of the pair separating, despite winning three Verizon IndyCar Series championships and five Indianapolis 500s together. Discussion only picked up more once it was leaked that Takuma Sato may leave AA to drive a second-car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, as Sato has always been associated with Honda-only teams. 

The rumors are understandable with the organization failing to reach expectations, with only one victory in 15 races this year, and Alexander Rossi the highest-ranked driver in points, currently seventh. 

“We’re extremely happy to continue our successful partnership with Michael Andretti and Andretti Autosport,” said Art St. Cyr, President, Honda Performance Development. “As Michael stated, his team has played a major role in our success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including victories at three of the last four Indy 500s. In addition to success at Indianapolis, 47 of Honda’s 225 Indy car victories through the years have been scored by the Andretti Autosport. Together, we’re looking forward to adding to this already impressive total in the future.”

With only two races remaining in 2017, the team has signed Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti for next year, with confirmation forth coming surrounding the “remaining drivers in the coming weeks.”

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.