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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Will 2017 Indy 500 Mimic Last Year’s?

Four races into the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, the focus shifts to two big events this month – the IndyCar Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, followed by the Indianapolis 500 two weeks later.

With the Diamond Desert West Valley Grand Prix of Phoenix now complete, questions have arisen, including this will scenarios influencing last year reveal themselves in 2017?

As was evidenced last year, Chevrolet prevailed at Phoenix and Honda struggled to keep up. However, when the teams made their way to Indy, the tide changed. Honda won the pole position with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe and fellow manufacturer affiliate Andretti Autosport led a majority of the laps on race day, with Alexander Rossi taking the trophy. Let’s look at what could allow for a similar story.

Andretti Autosport has strength in numbers with six cars in their stable. One of them is driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who until suffering a pit road collision seemed primed to win the 1ooth Indianapolis 500. The team however, does have some hurdles to jump. They enter May just removed from frustrating results at Phoenix by all four full-time pilots. Also they are without Carlos Munoz, who joined A.J. Foyt Racing during silly season. Finally, there is the presence of current Formula One driver Fernando Alonso that could present a roadblock to their goal of victory. The Spaniard garners attention, but will his inclusion take away from the effectiveness of its regulars?

There are also questions raised from some of the other Honda teams. Chip Ganassi Racing returns to HPD’s camp for the first time since the 2013 Indy 500. CGR’s pairing with the engine option since IndyCar began using the Dallara DW12 chassis a year previous has been hot and cold. In 2012, CGR surged from mid-pack to grab a one-tw0 sweep for Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. The following year, Ganassi could not replicate the result as they fared no better than 14th.

Unknowns also surface around 2016 pole winners Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, who enter this May at a slight disadvantage. After being held out of a portion of the IndyCar oval test last month at Texas Motor Speedway due to an engine rule violation, SPM has less experience with the new aero package as opposed to some others who will be in Gasoline Alley.

Now things are not all rosy for the Chevrolet party either. Team Penske has momentum following back-to-back IndyCar wins, but early season triumphs were not backed up last year. The Captain’s quartet failed to make an impact on race day as contact and misfortune pushed them out of contention. Without GM’s top dog, Honda took center stage.

The question is who will step up to uphold the Bow Tie’s legacy if Penske cannot?  Although four Chevy runners placed in the first ten in 2016, two of those squads are absent this year. As mentioned, Ganassi Racing has crossed over to rival territory, and KV Racing ceased operations. The missing in action reports, leave Ed Carpenter Racing as GM’s second in command. While J.R. Hildebrand enters this month off an excellent effort at Phoenix, team boss Carpenter was stuck among the back markers all weekend.

So in summary, Embury’s Outlook sees how an Indianapolis 500 close to a year ago could occur. However, five major threats from Chevrolet will keep the big three sharks from HPD honest from day one of practice.

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

Team Penske Left Mark on Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – As reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud scored the victory, the crowd roared with excitement under the lights at Phoenix Raceway. After returning to the track last year after more than a decade, the open-wheel cars put together another spectacular run at the valley of the sun.

On Saturday night, the Arizona oval hosted its 63rd IndyCar race with the second running of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. The events not only ushered in larger audiences than the year before, but also rang the end of an era as the track prepares to make significant renovations. The revamp of the historic  facility is slated to be completed by November of next year.

“This track is old, in a sense, and even though there’s nothing wrong with the race track, the facility itself, to really to be able to continue to attract fans, you’ve got to really do more than just put on a show on the racetrack,” legendary IndyCar driver Lyn St. James said. “I think it’ll be great for Phoenix and great for the fans.”

Before it became a staple on the NASCAR circuit, PIR was opened in March of 1964 for open-wheel racing specifically. It’s inaugural event, a 100-mile United States Auto Club race with an average speed of 107mph, was won by A.J. Foyt. Due to this and his many other accomplishments in the sport, the winner on Saturday went home the A.J. Foyt Champions Trophy, a special award crafted with Grand Canyon Onyx and encrusted with a likeness of Foyt.

The competition for the victory was tense, but there was one team in particular which seemed unfazed: Team Penske.

The team’s success began early on in the weekend as Helio Castroneves won the pole on Friday night, winning the “Speed King” crown for the second year in a row at Phoenix. He was especially proud to reach this feat at a track he’s won at in the past.

“I wanted that crown so bad,” Castroneves said. “I’m not going to give up that crown, so I’m glad it’s still there. It was great, great teamwork.”

The entire Penske team was also able to make its permanent mark on the track on Friday night as all four of its drivers in the series were invited to sign a 30-foot steel beam that will make up part of the new grandstand.

As the race began Saturday evening, all of the Penske drivers managed to avoid getting caught up in the four-car collision on the very first lap of the race going into turn one.

The rest of the race ran relatively smoothly up until Lap 138 when Takuma Sato made contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4.  The caution worked out in Pagenaud’s favor as he was able to solidify his place in the top spot and hold off the other competitors all the way through the last lap.

“The car was so strong at the beginning of the race that we were able to save a lot of fuel in traffic you know, following Will [Power] and Helio [Castroneves], so we were able to lift a lot at the end of the straight and saved a lot of fuel so we could go longer,” Pagenaud said. “It paid off with that lucky yellow, I’ve got to say. We’ve had our fair share of bad luck this year too, so it doesn’t hurt sometimes to have a little break for yourself.”

Team Penske managed to take home a one-two finish with Pagenaud and Will Power. The rest of the Captain’s quartet – Castroneves and Josef Newgarden – finished fourth and ninth. Their dominance on the night shines through in laps led, as the foursome led all 250 laps en route to the team’s 189th series victory.

The victory also marked Pagenaud’s 10th career win and put him in the lead in this season’s points standings, with all four drivers in the top-seven.

For Pagenaud, the win was especially surprising being his first ever win on an oval track.

“Oval is not my specialty, I grew up in Europe racing go-karts, and I learned about oval only when I was, I believe 26 years old, 25,” he explained. “I had to re-learn the technique, the skill that I didn’t know. It’s incredible, what a win. That was phenomenal.”

With so many changes being made to the track before IndyCar returns next year, Will Power says he’s unsure of how these modifications, including the relocation of the start/finish line to the dog leg, will affect the racing.

“I’m not sure how they can make it how you can pass easier,” he explained. “It’s so difficult, even when you’ve got a strong car. You push like you wouldn’t believe and you just can’t get people.”

Even with the difficulties that Power mentioned when running at Phoenix, Castroneves summarized the weekend for Team Penske best, saying, “We have the moment with the pole position but Team Penske won with Simon [Pagenaud] and congrats to him. Josef [Newgarden] was right there in it as well. We showed that, even Honda looking a little bit strong, we still have a good car and today was proof.”

The next time Team Penske visits Phoenix Raceway, it will be met with a whole new set of challenges as well as fans. But one thing is for certain: Phoenix is a special place for Penske Racing.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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.

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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.

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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)

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 Barber Motorsport Park 2017

The Big Picture:  The Verizon IndyCar Series comes to the Deep South with its legendary hospitality and beautiful scenery. It arrived here in 2010 and looks like it’s a keeper.

Event: It’s a three-day event headlined by IndyCar and featuring its support series. The facility is beautiful and getting better each year. Its museum features the largest motorcycle collection in the world.

Qualifying: Team Penske’s Will Power won his 44th career pole, and the practice and qualifying sessions for the weekend could also be called “Return of the Penskes”. Teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, the reigning series champion, took the next two spots.  Also, worth noting is that Graham Rahal qualified last, the first time this has happened in his career.

Race:  A classic road race with enough lead changes to keep things interesting and enough surprises to give the crowd some suspense. For much of the event, it was Will Power versus Scott Dixon. To add some spice towards the end,there was rain. But the contest came down to one punctured tire for Power and Penske newcomer Josef Newgarden being able to capitalize on the leader’s misfortune to assume and maintain the lead for a win.

Biggest Surprise: The fifth-place finish of reigning Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi was certainly not expected and well-deserved  for Andretti Autosport. Another surprise was the Saturday arrival of Formula One champion Fernando Alonzo, who will join Andretti for the 101st Indianapolis 500 in May.

Biggest Disappointment: Without a doubt, Will Power’s tire puncture while leading late  was a huge disappointment after his dominating performance up until then.  The Australian finished 14th after having to quickly pit for new tires.

Best Team:  Team Penske came back strongly at Barber. They lead the  most sessions,  won the pole and the race. Josef Newgarden won his first race at Penske in only his third start with the team.

Worst Team:  The other two Chevy teams, A.J. Foyt Racing and Ed Carpenter’s team, both had less than stellar finishes given the relative success of Penske and the relative mediocrity of their finishes.

Sponsor of the Weekend: Engine manufacturer Chevy/Ilmor came roaring back after a somewhat slow start to the 2017 season.

 Quotes of the Weekend:  JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet, Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race winner): “That was an awesome day. This is what we work for as an entire group. We always want to get one of these cars in victory lane. And, for (teammate) Will Power, I feel so bad for those boys on the 12 Verizon car – they were on it today and I feel like it would have been a great battle between Will, myself and Scott (Dixon). But it ended up just being Scott and myself. It’s a group effort here (at Team Penske) – all four of these guys work together. I’m thrilled for the (No.) 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevy guys but this is a team effort with all four cars. So whoever is in victory lane – we just want to get someone there with Team Penske.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): “What a great race here at Barber. Another second-place finish for the 9 car. I think that’s our fifth runner-up here. One of these days we’re going to win here. We had a great NTT Data car and we were right up in the mix for the win at the end. We just didn’t have enough there, but all in all a good points day for the team. I saw (Josef Newgarden) late coming into (Turn) 15 or 16 on the last restart and I tried to turn down but the car was just so neutral I just didn’t have the rear grip to pull it off. Kudos to Josef – he drove a hell of a race and the win was well deserved. The NTT Data car was strong in the race. I think we actually had the speed – I think if we would have had clean air in that race we would have checked out. I feel bad for Will Power too – I think maybe a flat tire there or something. It was definitely a good fight.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): “We’re moving in the right direction for sure. I think it goes without saying that I want to finish a lot higher than seventh, but I’ll take a top-10 after the way this season has started. We had a pretty clean race and our stops were good, we just couldn’t get up with the lead pack. I have a good track record at Phoenix, so hopefully we can come away with a good result next weekend.”

 What We Learned:  One of the big teams finally posted a win in the third race of the season. No matter how good you are, (Power) ill luck can still strike you unfairly.

Schedule: It’s less than a week until the next race, a nighttime contest at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona on Saturday April 29th.

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

Newgarden Adds To Penske’s Juggernaut

While some will consider Josef Newgarden’s victory in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama as “lucky,” that may be too simple a view.

Although his Team Penske teammate Will Power was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop with 14 laps remaining, Newgarden applied pressure to the road racing ace and the entire Verizon IndyCar Series field all race long. After qualifying seventh, the Tennessee-native quickly gained ground in the opening stint, moving to second-place after the initial pit cycle.

A sign of a potential win developed during the second stint, when Newgarden held off Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon on worn red tires. Even though Power dominated the laps led statistic at Barber Motorsports Park Sunday, the Australian never secured a comfortable advantage on his teammate.

Despite losing track position to Dixon during the final round of stops, Newgarden quickly regained second with a clever inside pass at Turn 16. Once Power was forced to give way, Newgarden once again dueled with the New Zealander, who despite holding a significant advantage in terms of push to pass time, was never able to mount a serious challenge to take away the top spot.

“This is a good one to have, I think we earned it,” said Newgarden, who won his first IndyCar race at Barber in 2015. “This was a great car this weekend. We were on it.

“I think it was shaping up to be a really great battle for me, Dixon and Will, and it ended just being between Dixon and me. I feel bad for Will. I wish he could have been in that with us, but sometimes that’s the way it rolls.”

With Newgarden securing his first IndyCar win with Team Penske in only his first third start, a feat defending series champion Simon Pagenaud could not achieve in 2015, the future outlook is intriguing.

“You certainly hope you can win early and win often,” said Newgarden. “I think my goal was to maximize our potential, my potential in the team as early as that could be.

“It’s not easy, you know, integrating into a new group. It’s been pretty fluid for me just because Team Penske is a very easy group to join, I find. They’re very open, welcoming, there’s so much information to look at, the teammates are so good, it helps you kind of get on pace pretty quick.”

With two of the next three IndyCar events on ovals, the driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet certainly has a chance to add to his four career wins. The opportunity to contend for a championship is also added to the mix; Sunday’s triumph moved the Tennessean to third in the series points standings. It is not to say that the first American IndyCar driver for Team Penske since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2007 is destined to match or exceed the achievements of the greatest pilots the Captain has ever employed. But, the early success certainly is a promising trend.

The question regarding how good Team Penske is with Newgarden added was also answered on Sunday. Despite securing the top-three starting positions, it was Newgarden who secured the victory. Considering the former Sarah Fisher Racing prospect did not make the Firestone Fast Six on Saturday has to be a concerning sign for the rest of IndyCar’s lineup.

While it is not a lock that Team Penske will win 12 races as it did in 2016, it could become possible if Chevrolet can bridge a gap Honda showed at both St. Petersburg and Long Beach. If this difference is lessened further or even flips in favor of the General Motors manufacturer by the Indianapolis 500, not only the 17th win for Roger Penske appears possible, it could be in the form this team showed in 1988 and 1994. In those years, victory was never in doubt; the only unknown was which driver would add his face to the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Next week’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix could ultimately set the course for next month’s festivities. Another triumph could raise the likelihood of the above occurring not just for Josef Newgarden, but the other four Team Penske members who will be present at the Brickyard.

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

Late Tire Puncture Removes Will Power From Contention

Will Power was set to turn his season around with a victory at Barber Motorsports Park until a pit stop with 14 laps to go removed him from contention.

Starting on pole, Power immediately put a gap between himself and his competitors, asserting dominance in the opening stages. Through the first half of the Grand Prix of Alabama, Power only relinquished first twice, when he made his way down pit road under green flag conditions before retaking the spot.

He led 58 of the first 63 laps before a caution came out for Spencer Pigot going off-track. Power led the majority of the field down pit road, handing first over to Charlie Kimball. Kimball, who had run in the back half all day, was hoping for some more yellows to stretch it and get a decent finish. Power knew of his rival’s strategy, settling in second behind him on the restart.

As Kimball inched closer to heading down pit road for his final stop, Power’s crew then radioed him that he needed to pit due to a tire sensor saying the left rear pressure was low. Power initially ignored the calls, telling his team that he was fine on the track.

After Kimball had made his final stop at Lap 75, Power took over the top spot, with Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden behind. Power ran two more laps fending off Newgarden, before ducking down pit road with 13 laps to go. He returned to the race in 17th, making up three spots to finish 14th.

“I could feel it starting to bottom and then started having issues in some fast corners,” he said. “I tried not to tell them for as long as I could that it was all right, but I knew it was going down. Like you could feel it. Yep, we’ll move on to the next one. I thank all my crew and Verizon and the whole team. They put a great effort in and that’s how racing goes sometimes.”

The Australian certainly hasn’t started off 2017 as he wanted, failing to post a top-10 in the first three races. After starting pole at St. Petersburg, he flat-spotted the right front on Lap 1, requiring an unscheduled pit stop, with his tire changer leaving the gun and hose laying on pit road for a pass-through penalty; he finished 19th. Then at Long Beach, he finished 13th following contact on Lap 1 with Kimball.

The struggles are a continuation from 2016, as he finished off last season with a pair of 20th place finishes at Watkin’s Glen and Sonoma Raceway.

“It was such a great effort all around,” he said. “But the car was awesome. It was so fast. I feel bad. It’s literally five races in a row; three of them were different mechanical issues. Yeah, I don’t know what to say.”

He will now hope to turn his luck around on Saturday at Phoenix Raceway, where he finished third last season.

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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IndyCar Open Wheel

Power Claims Fourth Verizon P1 Award for Pole Position at Barber

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Saturday, April 22, 2017) – Something about Will Power, Team Penske and Barber Motorsports Park go well together in Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying.

Power negotiated the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course in 1 minute, 6.9614 seconds (123.653 mph) in the Firestone Fast Six, the climactic round of knockout qualifying. It earned the 36-year-old Australian the Verizon P1 Award and his fourth pole position at the track for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First.

HONDA INDY GRAND PRIX OF ALABAMA: Qualifying results

Power, in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, edged a pair of teammates and past Barber pole winners for qualifying honors. Helio Castroneves was second in the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet (1:07.1429, 123.319 mph) and Simon Pagenaud third in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet (1:07.3817, 122.882 mph).

“Congratulation to Will,” said Pagenaud, the defending Barber race winner and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “That was great qualifying and phenomenal for the race team: 1-2-3.”

Power’s 46th career pole – fifth all time – was the seventh for Team Penske in eight events at Barber Motorsports Park. It was also the 248th in Indy car history for the team, which Power said is where it all starts.

“First, it’s having a very good team and car, definitely working well this weekend,” said Power, the 2014 series champion who has Barber race wins in 2011 and ’12. “Kind of focusing very well and making sure I’m looking at the right things. Felt like I had a much better car on used tires; I think that’s kind of where we’ve been going wrong. Yeah, just very good result.”

Scott Dixon qualified fourth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing (1:07.5817, 122.518 mph). Ryan Hunter-Reay, the only non-Penske driver to ever win a pole at Barber, was fifth in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport (1:07.6851, 122.331 mph).

“This weekend, we struggled with just keeping up with the car,” said Dixon, a six-time podium finisher at Barber but never a race winner at the track. “It’s been tough in the conditions out here, but I think that was kind of the best we could hope for in qualifying. Pretty happy with that. Penskes have been strong all weekend and I think we’re in a good starting position.”

James Hinchcliffe, winner of the most recent Verizon IndyCar Series race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, qualified sixth in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda (1:07.8710, 121.996 mph).

Championship points leader Sebastien Bourdais qualified 12th in the No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda, one position behind his Dale Coyne Racing teammate, rookie Ed Jones. It’s the best qualifying effort for Jones, the driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, in his three Verizon IndyCar Series races thus far.

A final 30-minute warmup practice is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. ET Sunday (streamed onRaceControl.IndyCar.com). Live coverage of the 90-lap race starts at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

10 Questions with Team Penske’s Will Power

Just 10 years ago this month, Australia’s Will Power won his first Champ Car race on the streets of Las Vegas, also taking pole, and setting fast lap of the event.  In the years since, Power has finished no lower than fourth place in points in all but two seasons. By anyone’s reckoning, this driver who is also the first Australian to win a Verizon IndyCar Series event, is someone to beat each week.

But, as we head into the third race of 2017, Power sits 17th in the driver points, with only a pole at St Petersburg to show for it. Just what is going on? We decided to ask him before this weekend’s race at Barber Motorsport Park.

 

Popular Speed: Penske has had a slower than usual start this season. Do you think this is due to the resurgence of Honda’s engine program or are there other factors at play that you can tell us about?

Will Power: How strong Honda has become this year in comparison to Chevy is definitely the reason for the results being what they are. We worked hard in the offseason to get ready for this one but Honda’s speed came as a surprise.

PS: Dave Faustino, your race engineer, recently said that Chevy’s problem this year is speed, which was prioritized less than reliability?

Power: Chevy’s always been a very reliable engine and in general a very competitive engine, more competitive than Honda. This year, we got taken by surprise a little bit. Chevy reacts very quickly and they are working away right now to close the deficit.

PS: Have your team members for this year changed or do you have the same guys?

Power: Same engineer and Crew Chief as last year and a couple of crew guys. One of our mechanics, a young guy, was in a nasty accident, and could not come back. He was only 26 years old, and he lost a leg.

PS: What is your overall strategy there going to be this weekend?

Power: Qualifying well is going to be critical.

PS: You recently became a father for the first time. Tell us a little bit about that.

Power: It’s fantastic, an amazing experience to be a father. Very absorbing. Elizabeth (his wife) is doing well and is finally getting around. It’s great having him around and I really enjoy coming home to him.

PS: How it has effected your racing?

Power: To be quite honest, I don’t think about the fact I’m a father when I get into my race car.

PS: What are your favorite tracks and why?

Power: It’s interesting, your favorite tracks change all the time according to where you win. Barber is a great one, Indy Road Course I love, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway is unique track, like nothing else in the world.

PS: Could this be your year at Indy and if so how do you feel about it?

Power: We’re hoping it will be this year; we have very strong cars. It’s just a matter do we have enough time to close that gap to Honda? I know Chevy and Ilmor will do that, it’s just when.

PS: What should our readers look out for at the Barber race?

Power: The main things are qualifying well, you’ve got to do that, pit strategy, which is critical.

PS: And, what else?

Power: If it rains, it will make it an interesting race. We shall see, it could be a mixed up and unusual race. And I hope to run at the front, that’s very important.

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

Categories
Commentary Open Wheel

FANTASY HOT TIP: 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.