Through Six Practice Days…Who Has What?!


97TH Indy500 LogoThrough six days of practice, the field for the Indianapolis 500 has left spectators with nothing to be disappointed about.  The weather has been cooperative allowing 9,000 some laps to be turned in six days with a full field of 33 cars all gracing the famed Brickyard with their presence.  Single car runs have dominated the early portions of the day while afternoons have seen packs of at least five cars running together.  The field in IndyCar for 2013 is so competitive that there is no clear favorite to win the Pole or the Race and the enigma that is the IZOD IndyCar Series grid in 2013 continues to grant no clarity.

Each weekend so far in the IZOD IndyCar Series has been a complete crap shoot of who will finish on top; a welcome problem for all of us fans who like to think that our favorite drivers have only a few other cars to worry about in a given race.  It used to be that though IndyCar Series races gridded at least twenty cars each weekend that only four or five drivers had a realistic opportunity to win the race.  Not so in 2013 as each member of the IndyCar grid has a realistic opportunity to find their way at the front and win the race.  The stats speak for themselves.

Go ahead and poll anyone who associates with INDYCAR and ask them if they predicted, going into the Indianapolis 500, that Takuma Sato would be leading the points standings and Will Power would be sitting in 18th position with only a single top ten finish in four races with left and right turns.  If they say they predicted such a situation they are lying their pants on fire.  The first four races of Power’s season are no indication of his competitive pace, but rather outside influences hindering his finishing positions.  This only further indicates that mistakes made in IZOD IndyCar Series races this season will cost you dearly because driving through the field is an order as tall as the Eiffel Tower.

Back to the Indianapolis 500, it seems that Chevrolet has the early jump on the speed chart but we’ve read this melodrama before.  Chevrolet easily had its way in qualifications snatching the Pole and eight of the top nine positions.  In fact, only Josef Newgarden was able to make the shootout at the end of Pole Day while the Ganassi operation was forced to start mid-pack.  While Chevrolet was basking in the Champagne of their gross outclassment of Honda in qualifying, their Japanese compatriots were licking no wounds as they had a plan in place when race engines were installed. Ganassi Hondas drove through the field taking it to Chevrolet in the race and captured INDYCAR’s crown jewel.

The bottom line is that through thirty hours of cars turning laps and practicing on track, we have no idea what anybody has stashed in the back of their DW12s for qualifying this weekend.  Teams get extra boost pressure in the turbo tomorrow so stay tuned as teams may, finally, show their hand in preparation for qualifying…but I doubt it.  Rest assured this will be the closest Pole Day qualifying show in the history of the Indianapolis 500 and Honda will certainly ensure they are not left out of the party as they were a year ago.

 

2013 Race Preview: Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg


StPete LogoTRACK LAYOUT:

GP St. Pete Track MapOn March 24, the IZOD IndyCar Series awakens from its offseason slumber with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the event’s ninth year of competition.  It is hard to believe that almost a decade has passed since the circuit hosted the IndyCar Series’ first right turn.  The course, a classic street circuit configuration, encompasses fourteen turns with the main straight normally an airport runway.

Now a staple on the IndyCar schedule, the event’s ninth edition has all the makings of the best race in the event’s history.  The IZOD IndyCar Series prepares to grid the most competitive field in history with everyone powered by the horsepower muscle of Chevrolet or Honda.

INDYCAR Spring TrainingTeam Penske’s record at the track is unmatched as the team looks to capture its sixth win at St. Pete and Will Power fired the first salvo winning the Verizon Pole Position recording a record breaking 105.87 mph. Teammate Helio Castroneves will be striving for his fourth St. Petersburg crown starting from the fifth position.

The positive surprise of the weekend is lone rookie driver Tristan Vautier who outqualified his veteran teammate by thirteen positions making the Firestone Fast Six.  Vautier, a graduate of Indy Lights, showed great speed in testing but it was unsure if it would translate to a competition weekend.  His speed is impressive, however, the verdict is out on whether he will be able to translate his speed into finishes that match.

IndyCar’s heavy hitters are spread throughout the field which should mean for some serious excitement with some, historically, fast drivers needing to weave their way through the field using daring passing and pit strategy that could result in chaos on starts and restarts.  These factors are a breeding ground for exciting racing and unpredictable outcomes.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

  • Chevrolet locked down seven of the top ten starting grid positions, but will Honda find speed to challenge on race day?
  • Chip Ganassi Racing is having a tough time getting their cars to turn through the center of the corners inhibiting their speed
  • Sebastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott Dixon are starting outside the top-15 so there will be a long day ahead for these drivers
  • Firestone, at the drivers’ request, brought vastly different grip levels on the red tires and black tires so tire strategy will be important to the victor’s race
  • Lap 1, Turn 1…enough said

Enjoy the Race!

 

IZOD IndyCar Series Season Preview: A.J. Foyt Racing


a.j.-foyt-enterprises

Takuma Sato Foyt 2013

CAR NUMBERS: 14, 41 (INDIANAPOLIS ONLY)

2013 DRIVER: TAKUMA SATO, CHASE AUSTIN (INDIANAPOLIS ONLY)

2013 SPONSORS: ABC SUPPLY CO.

2013 ENGINE MANUFACTURER: HONDA

Overview:

Move over Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, we have a new odd couple in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2013.  After a season of mixed results in 2012 with Mike Conway culminated with Conway’s resignation from oval racing, AJ Foyt Racing was forced to find a new pilot for its Honda-powered Dallara sponsored by ABC Supply Company.  The free agent list in IndyCar was extensive but AJ Foyt dropped a bomb on the racing world by hiring Japanese driver Takuma Sato as the full-season participant for the team.  An odd couple it may seem, but Takuma Sato could be just the kind of driver needed to catapult Foyt’s operation to a consistent contender on a weekly basis.

The Upside:

Foyt’s team has always seemed to suffer from lack of pace, but if there is anything that Takuma Sato has proven in his three year tenure in INDYCAR that he is anything but slow.  Sato spend 2012 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing showing flashes of being the fastest driver in the Paddock and put his competition on notice.  A brilliant drive in the Indianapolis 500 that ended in the wall caught the attention of everyone on the grid.  Expect to see the No. 14 with consistent, competitive pace but whether they enjoy a breakout season is in the hands of the driver.

The Cause for Concern:

Nobody doubts Takuma Sato’s ability to push a car to its limits getting every ounce of speed but what is open to doubt is whether Sato can temper his aggressive tendencies that have so often resulted in contact with the barriers separating the racing surface from those in the grandstands.  Takuma Sato will, undoubtedly, crack the top echelon of the grid at points in every race this season, however, transferring his quick pace into points paying finishes will be what to watch for.  AJ Foyt is certainly hoping his roll of the dice in signing Sato will result in a major leap forward for his team which has, historically, been mired in the bottom third of the IZOD IndyCar Series grid.

PREDICTION:

Takuma Sato will breathe a shred of new life into AJ Foyt Racing giving them something to be excited about.  Qualifying towards the front of the grid on Road and Street Circuits should be a regularity but Sato will suffer from a lack of engineering expertise to qualify well on the ovals, but should make his way to the front.  Sato will have a difficult time finishing races resulting in a 15th place or lower finish in the final points but could climb higher if the finishes match the potential.

2013 IZOD IndyCar Series Primer


IZOD IndyCar SeriesAs teams begin testing for the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, it is time to get moving on some of the things to watch for as we move into February where testing will be ramping up.  The 2012 season for INDYCAR was a great success with closer and safer competition, solutions to keep oval track races that eliminate the insanity but still manage to bring you to the edge of your seat, and an Indianapolis 500 that could possibly be enshrined as the best in the 101 year history of the event.  But, 2013 is a new season with a lot of new and a lot of remaining the same.  Looking to the new season, here are some ‘hot buttons’ to watch for as another run for the Astor Cup and the Borg Warner trophy begin once again.

AND THEN THERE WERE TWO…

Chevy EngineThe experiment bringing Lotus to INDYCAR as an engine manufacturer lasted only one season as Lotus and INDYCAR negotiated an exit for the European engine marque leaving Honda and Chevrolet with the responsibility to power the grid for the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.  The 2012 season saw some of the most intense engine competition in motorsports history.  So intense, in fact, that it got entangled in legal litigation and threatening lawsuits between series officials and engine manufacturers.

Chevrolet may have won the manufacturers and overall championships, but there is unfinished business as Target Chip Ganassi Racing cars won the Indianapolis 500 as well as the revival of the Grand Prix of Detroit for which Chevrolet is largely responsible.  Chevrolet was caught a bit off guard by Honda’s newest generation engines debut for the Indianapolis 500 and were vastly out dueled on race day.  Chevrolet will look to repeat its success on the road and street courses while improving their overall large oval performance.

Honda, conversely, would undoubtedly regard 2012 as a mis-step in their storied history in auto racing and would probably admit that Chevrolet brought the battle and perhaps underestimated the Chevrolet commitment and resolve in their first year return.  The previously mentioned legal battle took place because Honda was allowed to change their turbo cover to equalize to the Chevrolet on the road courses.  Honda will look to develop their engine to chase down Chevrolet on the road and street courses whilst keeping their advantage on the ovals.

DE SILVESTRO GETS HER OPPORTUNITY AS KV RACING REBOOTS

2013 KV RacingThe casualty in the Lotus debacle was that Simona de Silvestro spent the entire 2012 season handcuffed by a massive horsepower deficiency that saw her parked early at the Indianapolis 500 due to insufficient pace.  For 2013, de Silvestro and sponsor Nuclear Clean Air Energy move to KV Racing to partner with veteran Tony Kanaan.  For the first time in de Silvestro’s IndyCar career she will have an opportunity with a proven winning team and a Chevrolet powerplant to allow her to push her limits higher and, hopefully, turn faster laps.  Also of note, de Silvestro will have a teammate for the first time in her career and couldn’t have chosen a better partner than Tony Kanaan.  This team, KV Racing Technology, has a real opportunity to contend for the front of the grid this upcoming season.

RAHALS UNITE

Rahals UniteGraham Rahal must have thought he had the opportunity of a lifetime when he signed on to drive for Chip Ganassi Racing’s satellite operation in late-2010 but the marriage between Ganassi’s outfit and Rahal was never a stable relationship resulting in Graham Rahal’s release from the team for 2013.  What resulted was a perfect opportunity for Graham to take his sponosorship and team up with his dad at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.  Finally, the Rahals unite with Honda power and look to threaten the top of the grid consistently.

PENSKE TRIMS THEIR GRID

Power CastronevesThe years of a full-time three car Team Penske juggernaut appear to be at an end.  Although unconfirmed, it appears that Team Penske moves forward in 2013 with two cars piloted by perennial championship runner-up Will Power and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves while Champ Car and NASCAR veteran A.J. Allmendinger looks to join the team starting at Barber Motorsports Park as well as Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500.  While at the expense of Ryan Briscoe, trimming the team could bring a less-is-more situation where Team Penske can focus on fielding two competitive cars and beating Dario Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi to the elusive fourth Indianapolis 500 victory.

GANASSI LOOKS FOR A REBOUND

IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 500The four years between 2008 and 2011 could only be described as domination by Target Chip Ganassi Racing encompassing four consecutive championships and two Indianapolis 500 victories.  2012 was a little different as Dario Franchitti had difficulty getting a handle on the DW12 while Scott Dixon suffered some tough luck at points in the season and both drivers entered the season finale at Auto Club Speedway unable to contend for the championship, a situation not seen since 2005.  Chip Ganassi’s team managed to bring home just three wins in 2012, but they did get the most important win at the Indianapolis 500 but all involved would certainly chalk the season as an overall disappointment and they will look to rebound in 2013.  No one in the paddock believes the three cars from Chip Ganassi Racing will suffer consecutive difficult seasons and nor should we.  Chip Ganassi Racing will, undoubtedly, be there until the end in 2013.

HUNTER-REAY, ANDRETTI LOOK TO BUILD ON AMAZING 2012

RYAN HUNTER-REAY IOWA 2012Anybody remember in 2011 when Andretti Autosport spent the month of May at Indianapolis searching like detectives for enough speed to make the show much less contend on race day?  Fast forward to 2012, and my how they turned things around as they, along with Team Penske, held down the first two rows at Indianapolis and Hunter-Reay outdueled Will Power for the championship.  Even with their rapid turnaround, Andretti Autosport will look to put all three cars in Victory Lane and near the top in the points standings.

RACE CONTROL

Beaux BarfieldThe best hire in sports in 2012 was the installment of Beaux Barfield in INDYCAR Race Control replacing Brian Barnhart.  Barfield’s rules package simplified previously ambiguous and judgement-call rules such as blocking and avoidable contact by providing concrete lines in the rules that drivers could not cross.  Barfield made, perhaps, the gutsiest call in sports when he red flagged the season finale at Auto Club Speedway with five laps to facilitating a finish under the green flag.  For 2013, Barfield has further modified the rules to make the series easier to follow and instituted the possibility of standing starts on the double header weekends at Detroit, Toronto, and Houston.  Barfield will be looked to to maintain his resolve from 2012 and police the series’ drivers accordingly.

NEW LEADERSHIP

Jeff BelskusThe final hot button for 2013 is regarding new leadership at the top of INDYCAR.  Regardless of where you fall on Randy Bernard resignation debate, the fact of the matter is that Jeff Belskus is now the CEO of INDYCAR and the IZOD IndyCar Series.  Bernard’s departure was not handle correctly.  In fact, it was downright ugly how the Indianaplis Motor Speedway Corporation proceeded with the leadership change.  Belskus may be the CEO, however, Bernard’s fingerprints will be all over this season of INDYCAR Racing with the schedule and the movie ‘Turbo’ coming out later this summer, which, if handled correctly, could be a huge boost for the INDYCAR brand.  Belskus has been given the foundation to have a great season of competition and only needs to facilitate what Randy Bernard has left right in front of him.  What is desperately needed in INDYCAR is a liaison from the governing body of INDYCAR to its drivers and team owners.  The driver liaison has been, at least partially, fulfilled as Barfield has good relationship with the series’ drivers, but Belskus must institute a bridge between his office at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the team owners in the Paddock every weekend if history will record him as a successful leader.

The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Season At-A-Glance


The 2011 season closed with tragedy and questions instead of excitement and anticipation.  The death of Dan Wheldon cast a dark cloud over INDYCAR as they moved toward a new car and engine formula and safety going forward was going to be of paramount importance.  The show, as always, must go on and the drivers, once again, prepared for their season-long campaigns for the Astor Cup signifying him or her the champion.

The 2012 season was always going to be of great importance to the future of open wheel racing in North America due to the debut of the new car and engine formula instituted to create closer competition, faster laps, and more excitement.  We will delve into the particulars of the DW12 IndyCar’s performance in a different article very soon, but it is time to look at the IZOD IndyCar Series 2012 season in generalities.

SEGMENT 1: ST. PETERSBURG – SAO PAULO

The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season began in St. Petersburg in an emotional weekend battle on the grounds that Dan Wheldon called his home in the United States.  This was the important debut of the DW12 in competition as well as Chevrolet and Lotus engine package.  With exception to a few electrical gremlins the race came off as an incredible show capped by Helio Castroneves returning to victory lane, but not until after celebrating with a fence climb on Dan Wheldon Way to cap the weekend’s festivities.

A street course is one thing with its own quirks and drama, but the first real test for the IZOD IndyCar Series came at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.  Originally built for motorcycle racing, Barber is notorious for follow-the-leader parades with periodic ill-advised attempts at advancement often resulting in torn up equipment and hot tempers, but 2012 was a completely different story.  The DW12’s competitive ability coupled with new blocking rules resulted in the best race at the track in IndyCar history with Will Power coming from 9th starting position to win the race.

In the weeks following the race at Barber, Chevrolet found an issue with their engine that required all Chevrolet powered teams to change engines and suffer 10-position grid penalties making Pole Winner Ryan Briscoe start 11th in the race.  Teammate Will Power started 12th and raced his way through the field to record his second straight win of 2012.  Power would revisit Victory Lane in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

SEGMENT 2: THE OVALS (INDANAPOLIS 500 – IOWA CORN INDY)

When the IZOD IndyCar Series returned from Brazil, it was off to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Series’ Crown Jewel, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.  IndyCar fans had been treated to some of the best road and street course racing ever seen in the IZOD IndyCar Series, but concerns mounted in testing about the car’s performance on ovals.  We’ll get to the particulars of the car’s oval gremlins in a later post, but, in short, the technical department of INDYCAR developed a new wing package for the Speedway and Auto Club Speedway to correct imbalance in the car.  They hit this package right on the spot resulting in, possibly, the best Indianapolis 500 in history.

After a street race in Detroit, IndyCar teams loaded into the most feared race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway.  When the 2012 IndyCar calendar was released, nearly everyone was pointing at this race as the event with the most apprehension from drivers.  In the wake of the death of Dan Wheldon, IndyCar drivers expressed their distaste for the ludicrous pack racing on high banked oval tracks that was a prime contributing factor to the crash that claimed Wheldon.  Testing at the track revealed that the DW12 was capable of producing this type of racing that the drivers would no longer tolerate or participate.  IndyCar’s technical department developed a package with minimal downforce in order to put the driver back into the equation and it worked.

Short tracks at the resurrected Milwaukee Mile and Iowa Speedway rounded out the early summer oval schedule highlighted by the Iowa Corn Indy 250 all the exciting IndyCar racing that we have all come to know and love.

The streets of Toronto marked return to road and street courses and would be followed by Edmonton, Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, and Baltimore.  Toronto began this stretch with Hunter-Reay capturing his third consecutive win of the season soldifying his place as a top contender for the championship.  Edmonton saw Helio Castroneves capture is elusive victory at the track while Dixon continued his dominance at Mid-Ohio.

The scope of the championship began to change in Sonoma which became a game changer on the first lap when third in points Helio Castroneves’ attempted pass on Scott Dixon on the first lap resulted in Dixon’s car turned around against traffic and a drive-through penalty for Team Penske’s Brazilian driver.  The race commenced as normal with Will Power maintaining a healthy lead over teammate Ryan Briscoe until a late-race pit stop by Power followed by an untimely caution flag allowing Briscoe to take the lead.  On the ensuing restart Ryan Hunter-Reay was spun by Alex Tagilani seemingly dashing the American’s title hopes.  Roger Penske’s standard of ‘no team orders’ allowed Briscoe to capture the victory instead of surrendering the podium’s top step to championship contender Will Power.

The streets of Baltimore became the real game changer as the season raced toward its conclusion.  IndyCar elected to remove a chicane on the main straightaway that hindered the entertainment factor of restarts during the 2011 race.  It became very apparent that the chicane needed re-installation when the cars were dangerously leaving the track surface.  Race day was the biggest wild card as mother nature presented herself as the wild card.  In a huge gamble, Ryan Hunter-Reay, needing a win, remained out on the track on slick tires as ran began to fall on the course while Will Power, who dominated the race’s early stages, and other contenders ducked to pit road for rain tires.  The track dried quickly and a coupled with a miscommunication from the Verizon Team Penske crew, Ryan Hunter-Reay found himself with a huge trackposition advantage over his championship rivals.  The final restart was controversial as Hunter-Reay, running second to Power’s teammate Ryan Briscoe, jumped the Team Penske driver on the restart and set sail for the checkered flag capturing the race win setting up a two driver showdown in the season finale.

It all came down, as always, to the season finale for the championship.  The 2012 IZOD IndyCar World Championships was contested at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California and was the first 500 mile race outside of Indianapolis in over a decade.  This race was going to be a marathon that the two championship contenders, Hunter-Reay and Power, would have to navigate.  Power entered the race with a 17 point lead on Hunter-Reay and by starting eliminated Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves from title contention.  INDYCAR selected a downforce level comparable to the one used in Texas making the cars very difficult to dial in comfortably.  The scope of the championship changed drastically on lap 55.

Will Power with a 17-point championship lead only needed to keep Ryan Hunter-Reay in his sights all night to win the championship, but, inexplicably, attempted to get past the DHL/SunDrop car, lost control and hit the wall in between turns 1 and 2 mangling the Verizon sponsored machine and, seemingly, dashing Power’s hopes for the title for the third straight season.  Team Penske would thrash together to repair the car and Power returned to the track allowing him to make up one position in the final running order.  The battle was far from over as Hunter-Reay still had to finish sixth or better to win the title.  Eventually Hunter-Reay would prevail to win the championship while Ed Carpenter won one of the most exciting and drama filled races in the sport’s history.

OVERALL GRADE: As a Series, IndyCar gets a solid B grade.  In terms of the racing product, there was no other series worldwide that produced better racing week in and week out.  The championship was, again, extremely close without any “Chase” or “Countdown” system which speaks volumes for the talent depth of the IndyCar Paddock.  The new race officiating system, and Beaux Barfield in particular, created some intense competition and each race was officiated consistently and fairly.  There was productive and respectful dialogue between drivers and the technical department that allowed for an acceptable downforce package for high speed ovals.  Track product aside, IndyCar faltered in a few areas.  The degradation of the track in Detroit was difficult to foresee but, with the race being on ABC, it goes down as a black eye for the sport.  The entry of Chevrolet had great benefit to the competition level, but the Lotus engine never got up to speed and was parked swiftly at all oval races due to lack of acceptable pace.  Randy Bernard posting on Twitter that people wanted him fired was also ill advised publicity for a sport that just ran one of its best Indianapolis 500 races in history.

LOOKING AHEAD: Looking to 2013, IndyCar is in a great position to move foreward.  The first season with the DW12 was a resounding success and 2013 should have high expectations as the teams get more and more into developing the car and further unlocking its performance abilities.  It can be expected that the 2013 season will be second to none in terms of excitement and competition, however, the biggest hurdle to jump is getting viewers on television to see the amazing motorsport product that IndyCar has to offer.  Formula 1 will join IndyCar on NBC Sports Network starting in 2013 which could give a boost to the television ratings.  2013 will also have the storyline of Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti both going for their fourth Indianapolis 500 victory putting them right next to the names AJ Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears.  Everybody tune in starting in late March 2013 to see how the next chapter in IndyCar history is written!

RACE RECAP: IOWA CORN INDY 250


The IZOD IndyCar Series returned to the Iowa Speedway June 22nd for some old fashioned Saturday night short track racing.  Racing at Iowa is uniquely challenging for the IndyCar Paddock as the track surface is only 7/8 of a mile in length, but progressive banking gives the track the characteristics of a superspeedway and lightning fast lap times under 18 seconds.  IZOD IndyCar drivers requested a low downforce setup similar to that run at Texas Motor Speedway earlier in the month.  The result was a race that the drivers had to drive instead of mashing the gas pedal and hoping for the best.  The hope was the race would be much like Texas with competitive side-by-side racing but with the driver a big part of the winning equation.  Iowa Speedway delivered!

Over recent years, the IZOD IndyCar Series has not shied away from trying new formats to spice up their schedule and encourage new fans to pay attention.  In Iowa, they tried a new twist to the race weekend which was qualifying determined by three heat races as opposed to single car qualifying averaging the speed of two green flag laps.  Practice times determined the field for the three heat races with odd numbered cars from 11th on back fighting for the inside lane and even numbered cars fighting for 10th on back for the outside lane.  The top-9 practice times were the only cars able to contend for the Pole Position ultimately won by Dario Franchitti.  The format was interesting and worth exploring, but the contention for most drivers was that every heat race should have meaning for the winner.  A transfer spot to the final heat race for the Pole would remedy that situation.

The race’s already late start time was delayed by over an hour due to heavy rains earlier in the day.  Props to NBC Sports Network’s broadcast team as they navigated the rain delay by offering compelling interviews with just about every driver in the Paddock.  The Iowa Speedway crew completed the track drying procedure and drivers were called to their cars.  Polesitter Dario Franchitti saw his night come to an end before it started as his Honda engine gave out on the warm-up laps ending his day.  The race restarted and Helio Castroneves of Team Penske benefitted from Franchitti’s engine troubles to take the early lead being chased by James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay while all three drivers navigated early lap traffic.  The early laps provided exactly what the drivers were hoping for…competitive side-by-side racing but the cars were a handful to drive.

Will Power suffered another night to forget in Iowa when, early in the race, Power navigated his Verizon Team Penske car to the low side of the racetrack in turn 2.  The problem was that the No. 5 CITGO KV Racing Technology car piloted by EJ Viso was closing on Power and was inside the Team Penske driver at the time.  The two cars made contact sending both cars into the SAFER barrier ending the race for both drivers.  Power later admitted to his mistake and patched up any ill feelings with Viso.

As happens frequently in auto racing, strategy became paramount storyline in the race and Roger Penske looked to have given Ryan Briscoe an opportunity to win the race on a great fuel strategy.  At the end of a previous caution, Penske called Briscoe to bring the No. 2 Transitions Adaptive Lenses Dallara Chevrolet to the pits to top off the fuel in the car to go a little bit longer on the next stint than every other driver on the track.  As the next round of green flag stops cycled through, Briscoe found himself on a lap all on his own and was looking to be in a great position if a caution came out.  The caution came out, but, unfortunately, Briscoe was the driver in the wall bringing out the yellow.  Briscoe maintained the low lane as he was going to pit the next lap when he was dive bombed by Josef Newgarden who was just off pit lane with fresh tires.  The incident resulted in an end to the race for Briscoe and Newgarden.

The cars from Andretti Autosport, as in the 2011 race, appeared to be the strongest horses in the race with only Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon able to offer consistent challenges to Michael Andretti’s stable.  However, the race turned sour for another championship contender as James Hinchcliffe had his GoDaddy.com Chevrolet snap loose and get into the fence leaving Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay left to duke it out for the win.  Katherine Legge spun in turn 2 with two laps to go ending the race under caution giving Ryan Hunter-Reay his second win in a row.  With Power and Hinchcliffe having issues in the race and the late fade by Scott Dixon, the points were shaken up greatly in after Iowa.  Power maintaned the points lead by three points over Ryan Hunter-Reay with Dixon maintaining third and Helio Castroneves leapfrogging Hinchcliffe to 4th in points.

CONGRATULATIONS TO RYAN HUNTER-REAY AND ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: WINNERS OF THE IOWA CORN INDY 250

  R.I.P. DAN WHELDON

Race Recap: Firestone 550K


This is the one that everybody was talking about whether it was 24 degrees of banking, pack racing, or location of posts in the catch fence.  For the first time since the death of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the IZOD IndyCar Series haulers loaded into a high-banked 1.5 Mile oval track to compete in the Firestone 550k at Texas Motor Speedway.  The oval track just north of Fort Worth has been regarded as IndyCar’s second home for years hosting more races under INDYCAR sanction than any other facility.  Track President Eddie Gossage is given substantial credit for saving IndyCar racing during the darkest days of the split by providing solid promotion for his IndyCar events coupled with the amazing racing that has been produced at his track over the years.  Texas had become synonymous with side-by-side pack racing while exciting for the fans, the drivers will no longer tolerate.  The aftermath of Wheldon’s death saw drivers calling into question the viability and safety of racing on tracks like Texas as well as safety at these facilities since the fence posts are inside the mesh on the catch fence.  Wheldon’s cause of death was determined as blunt force trauma to the head after he struck one of the posts.  Driver concerns aside, the race remained on the 2012 IndyCar schedule while the similarly configured Las Vegas Motor Speedway was removed.  The week prior to the race at Texas, drivers held a meeting with technical director Will Phillips and race director Beaux Barfield in an attempt to develop an aerodynamic package with the DW12 IndyCar that would eliminate the pack racing.  The solution offered by the drivers, and employed by the series, was to run the cars with very low downforce making it impossible to run flat around the racetrack.  The question was would it work?

As the first practice approached, the tension was apparent through the Paddock.  Would our aerodynamic changes work, or will we be forced to endure pack racing that we said was intolerable?  The answer came very early in the session.  With the low downforce, the DW12s were a handful for drivers and they had to lift in the turns which is what the drivers wanted all along.  Some drivers were happy with the setups and rose to the top of the pylon while others struggled through practice.  Dario Franchitti topped the chart.  A short turn-around from practice to qualifying put tremendous pressure on the crews as they sifted through the mountain of data to determine a qualifying setup.  When was all said and done the first four qualifying positions fell to Honda powered teams with Chip Ganassi Racing capturing three of the top-four.  Will Power and James Hinchcliffe occupied row three as the highest qualifiers for Chevrolet.  Alex Tagliani pulled the huge upset capturing the Pole from Chip Ganassi Racing.

Qualifying was in the books and all was left was to run the 500 kilometer distance of the race.  The race turned out to be a fantastic show with the side-by-side racing that has become IndyCar’s signature on these oval tracks but the field was strung out thus eliminating the pack racing.  The handling characteristics of the cars caught out the likes of Charlie Kimball and Takuma Sato as they both hit the wall early in the race ending their day.  The first half of the race was dominated by Scott Dixon who led over 100 laps in the race, but his day came to an end when he touched the apron trying to navigate traffic sending the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda into the turn four wall.

The race restarted with about 50 laps to the finish with Will Power leading followed by Ryan Briscoe, Tony Kanaan, and Helio Castroneves.  The green flag flew and Briscoe immediately moved to the outside to make a pass on his teammate for the lead when Kanaan moved to the inside to make it three wide.  Power made a reactive blocking move causing Kanaan’s front wing to hit the rear wheel guard of the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet.  The result was Kanaan having to pit for a new front wing, his second wing change of the night, and Power serving a drive-through penalty for blocking removing both drivers from contention for the race win. Meanwhile, the other two Team Penske cars fell off opening the door for Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson to claim the top-2 positions.  Rahal looked to have the race locked up until he grazed the turn 4 wall with two laps to go giving the win to Justin Wilson.  The win is Wilson’s third since the open wheel unification in 2008 and his first on an oval.

This race was a huge win for IndyCar as they worked with their drivers and technical officials to create a package that would provide the side-by-side racing action that made IndyCar racing on ovals famous while eliminating the outragous and dangerous pack racing.  There were only three incidents in the race and they were all single car crashes with the safety measures of the DW12 performing outstandingly.  The race at Texas, in a single evening, changed from being a race that the drivers were happy to leave to a race that they want to do again.  The chatter about fence posts and high banks is likely over now that IndyCar has put the driver back into the equation and cars flying into the catch fence is a less likely happenstance that way.  This Texas race also opens up the possibility of a return trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2013 to honor the final year of that contract although IndyCar will want to test at the facility before committing to a 2013 IZOD IndyCar World Championship race there.  Hopefully, Texas remains on the schedule as well giving IndyCar two high-banked 1.5 Mile ovals next season because they are as good as it gets in IndyCar racing.

Also of note, Rubens Barrichello and Simona de Silvestro’s days ended before they began as their cars did not fire after the ‘Boys and Girls Start Your Engines’.  de Silvestro suffered a fuel pressure problem while Barrichello had problems with the ECU unit in the engine.  Both did not start the race.

UP NEXT:

The IZOD IndyCar Series returns to the historic Milwaukee Mile on Father’s Day weekend.  The race is being promoted by Michael Andretti and is the last chance for the foreseeable future for the track to remain on the IndyCar schedule.  The 2011 race drew an abysmal 15,000 people.  Hopefully it’s well attended because IndyCar’s are great there.

CONGRATULATIONS TO JUSTIN WILSON AND DALE COYNE RACING:

WINNERS OF THE FIRESTONE 550K AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

R.I.P. DAN WHELDON