Sunday, June 23, 2013


I'm a little disappointed that I got too busy this past week to put out my Milwaukee wrap-up, so I'm jumping on this one right away.

For the third straight year, I went with Iowa! as my wrap-up title, because 1) I was born in Iowa, 2) Iowans are great peeps who show up and support the event and 3) as usual, IndyCar put on a great show. There apparently was a rumour that Iowa may not be on the schedule next year, which I hope is just someone talking out their rear ends, because it would be a HUGE mistake to leave this off the schedule. People support this race and IndyCar needs to reward that loyalty.

Anyhow, what a great race today! Not necessarily up front, where James Hinchcliffe led 226 laps on his way to his third win of the year, but all over the rest of the field as there was plenty of action. Although it wasn't like Hinch had an easy cruise because everyone was in traffic pretty much all day long so there was still plenty of work to be done.

On to the top 5!

Winner: James Hinchcliffe. Leaving Detroit three weeks ago, Hinch had been unable to put together two consistent weeks in a row...good or bad. But after going P9 at Texas, P5 at Milwaukee and now a P1 today it seems like he is finally finding his footing. Taking the lead from the green flag, Hinch picked up the first oval track win of his IndyCar career and his first on an oval since winning at Chicagoland in the Indy Lights series in 2010. Despite as many finishes of P21 and worse as wins, Hinch is now fourth in points, and a doubleheader in his hometown of Toronto lurks just three weeks away.

Runner-up: Ryan Hunter-Reay. While Hinch won the race, RHR might have had the best car, but was sent to the back of the field after needing his front wing replaced after contact with Graham Rahal. He was stalking Hinchcliffe in the closing laps before being pinned behind lapped traffic which ended his rally. Still, with five podiums in the last six events, is there a hotter racer on the planet right now? He is now just nine points behind Helio Castroneves in the standings, and that's only because Helio won the final heat race for the pole position and picked up those same number of points.

Third place: Tony Kanaan. Winning the 500 was a good kickstart for TK heading into the ovals, as he has gone P1, P3, P10 and P3. Like RHR, Kanaan had some adversity to deal with as his weight jacker was broken so he couldn't make any on-board adjustments, and he had to pit another time with an overheating issue.

Fourth place: Ed Carpenter. Carpenter has had some great stretches on each of the four oval races but hasn't had (at least in his mind I'm guessing) a lot to show for it. Sunday seemed like it might be going in that direction, because he was challenging Hinch for the lead prior to the first round of pit stops, then dropped back into the midfield before making a charge late in the race. The fact he hasn't had a podium on any of the ovals is a bit of a disappointment, but Pocono in two weeks is right up his alley.

Fifth place: Graham Rahal. Talk about a driver -- and team -- that needed this one badly. Rahal had a good weekend, winning a heat race and running as high as second before being passed by TK and Carpenter late. Still, it's hard not to feel good about the result given the P21 and P16 finishes the last two weeks at Texas and Milwaukee, not to mention the cluster that was his month of May. Hopefully they get their stuff together, because it's fun to see a Rahal up front, and his battles with Marco Andretti today was good theater.

A few other ideas:

Oriol Servia, stepping into the Panther Racing entry this weekend, looked good in both the heat races and the main event, and finished a solid seventh. Forget the "auditions", just put the Voice of God in the car permanently, please?...Helio Castroneves took an engine change and went from the pole to 11th starting position, but was never a factor in finishing P8. Still, it's his ninth Top 10 in 10 races...Marco Andretti was up front early but ended up P9 and is third in the points...What is going on with Target Chip Ganassi? Scott Dixon was three laps down in 16th and Dario Franchitt was four laps down in 20th. Sure, Honda has been behind the 8-ball on ovals all season, but these guys in the past have been good enough to work around it...Green was the name of the game, again, as 221 laps were run under green, including the last 91. As crazy as it sounds, that marks the first time in four oval races we didn't have a 100-lap green flag run. Hope that trend continues!

After six races in five weeks, the drivers and teams get a breather before reconvening at Pocono in two weeks. The Tricky Triangle will host IndyCar for the first time in 24 years and will be the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday At The Mile

After last week's slightly disappointing race at Texas, the IndyCar series headed to the Milwaukee Mile Friday, and after practice and qualifying it seems like things are getting back to normal.

Normal, as in, crazy and unpredictable.

Yeah, I know Andretti Autosport dominated qualifying by taking four of the first five spots, and Honda was again left in the dust as Josef Newgarden's eight-place starting spot is the best of any Honda team, but the top 20 cars were separated by roughly 1.3 seconds over two laps. Still, I think tomorrow's race will still be a battle because if you look at the field as a whole, there is still a lot of parity and some of the drivers who had less-than-stellar qualifying efforts have a history of going fast here.

Friday Andretti Autosport definitely had the field covered, as Marco Andretti took the pole and James Hinchcliffe shook off a brush with the wall in the morning practice to take the outside of the front row. Ryan Hunter-Reay goes off third, Will Power fourth and EJ Viso takes the inside of row three to cap AA's dominance.

While speeds topped out in the 167-168 mph range in practice, it really cooled down by the time qualifying started at 4:15, and while there was a bit more wind it was still ideal conditions to going fast.

Hinch was the first driver to crack 170 mph in his qualifying run and stood atop the pylon for quite some time before Marco came along and delivered his pole-winning speed of 170.515. In all the top 11 qualifiers went faster than Dario Franchitti's pole speed of a year ago.

All told those 11 drivers represent seven different teams (hence the parity). A couple of other highlights include Sebastien Saavedra qualifying a career-best P6, while Tristan Vautier will go off in P10 after winning the Indy Lights race here a year ago.

A few drivers will have some work to do Saturday, as Takuma Sato, Alex Tagliani, Franchitti and points leader Helio Castroneves will go off P15 through P18, respectively. Drivers talked about track position being so important, so it will be interesting to see this group do work.

This year is my second trip to the Mile, and the more time I spend here the more I am fascinated with the track. Historically, of course, the track has hosted racing for over 110 years (in fact it opened six years before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), meaning that any open wheel driver who has ever raced in this country has more than likely turned laps here.

I also like it because it takes a lot of technical skill to get around. In a Q&A session before qualifying, Viso said the radius and lack of banking to the turns means half of the track drives like a road course, and the other half (the straights) are like an oval. When you look at the list of drivers who have won here over the years it reads like a who's who of drivers who have a high level of technical skill.

That's why I'm not counting out a driver like a Franchitti or Castroneves working their way through the field to the front. It's one thing to post two fast laps, it's another to manage a car on this circuit through an entire stint. Indy and Texas both had green flag runs of over 130 laps, and while that would be tough to do here with the tight spaces the drivers are working in, they might stretch out a couple of runs, making the driver (and setups) even more important.

Patience comes in here as well. This isn't like Indy where you can jump in a draft and out-run a car down the straight before making a pass, instead it might take one lap to set up the car in front for a pass, and another one to actually complete it. When all of the cars were on the track for practice, I saw a good bit of passing, but it takes a little longer to get it done.

Predictions: So many choices! You know what? I'm taking the easy pick (at least to me) and going with Hunter-Reay to win for the second year in a row and the third time in his career. Since his win here a year ago he has gone P1 (Iowa), P4 (Fontana), P3 (Indy) and P2 (Texas) on the ovals. He's hooked up.

As for the rest of the podium, I think Hinch, Marco and Indy 500 champ Tony Kanaan (who starts seventh) as possibilities, and as I mentioned earlier, don't be surprised to see a guy like Helio in the mix at the end. This is the type of race Roger Penske likes, I bet they will do something like go off-cycle on pit stops for track position and do something creative to get him moved up.

So that gives Helio darkhorse status, and I'll throw Scott Dixon in that category too, because I think the Hondas will run better in the race. He's due a little luck as he was lost during the 500 had had that unfortunate gearbox issue last week at Texas.

Don't forget, this race is 250 laps, which makes it 25 miles longer than last year. Hopefully that takes the whole fuel-mileage thing out of the equation. Oh who am I kidding...but I hope it's not a big factor.

Now all we have to do is hope the weather cooperates! Like last year, there is a chance of rain in the forecast and with a 3:40 p.m. start local time there isn't a lot of wiggle room in terms of windows. Crossing fingers they get this one in as it should be a good show.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Just going with a one-word title this week because, really, what's bigger than Texas? So 'nuff said about that.

The race? Weeeeellll, it was...OK. There were some great moments to the race and some great stuff on the track, and I especially liked how the cars would fall off during stints and the lap times were absolutely all over the place. The drivers wanted to drive and, well, they got it.

Still, there just seemed to be something missing, which is all right. I'm enough of a realist (and race fan) that I don't need a pin-my-ears-back race every weekend. It was still an enjoyable race to watch, it's just that I didn't enjoy it as much as I did last year's race.

So anyway, on with it. Here's the Top 5 and a few notes:

Winner -- Helio Castroneves. Someone on Twitter said that this seemed like a mid-90s type of race, and I agree, especially given the fact that a Penske driver absolutely dominated the race. It just never seemed like Helio had the same struggles everyone else had, and when he had the lead he never let anyone get close to challenging him. This was vintage Penske...everyone was absolutely locked in yesterday, and the cream truly rose to the top.

We are two races away from the halfway point of the season, and Helio is doing what he does well, running consistent races and staying out of trouble. Three podiums and four Top 5 finishes, and in the 17 races since Texas last year he has finished outside of the Top 10 just twice. And on a historical note, it was the 28th win of his career, breaking a tie with Johnny Rutherford for 12th all-time. He has been solid in every discipline so far this season, is he on the way to his first title?

Runner-up -- Ryan Hunter-Reay. RHR spent 35 laps in front of the field Saturday night and has to love where he is at this point of the season. Sitting in third place and just 27 points behind Castroneves (and five behind teammate Marco Andretti) in the points, he's had three finishes of 18th or worse -- but four podiums balances that out fairly well. He's now heading to Milwaukee, a track that he loves and his win there a year ago kickstarted his championship push.

Third place -- Tony Kanaan. TK had an interesting night as he was pretty much everywhere in the field, starting 13th and at one point falling a lap down. But at the end of the race he was the fastest car on the track and moved past Andretti late in the race to make it 2-for-2 in podium finishes on the ovals. Oh and look, there are three ovals coming up on the schedule!

Fourth place -- Ed Carpenter. Another guy who had an interesting night as he had to pit twice early under yellow when a crew member's glove got stuck on one of the pins used to adjust the front wings. Like Kanaan, Ed came on late and notched his best finish of the season. He is another guy who has to be crazy excited at the next three weeks.

Fifth place -- Marco Andretti. After just killing the field through the first 50-plus laps of the race, Bad Marco showed up and he had his first emotional meltdown of the season. Still, I'll give him a lot of props for holding it together and grinding out a Top 5, because I'm wondering if in the past he would've kept his head in it enough to post a finish like that. Like Castroneves, he's been hella consistent all season, with six finishes of P7 or better.

Look, consistency is what is going to win a championship. If the first seven races are any indication (and I think they are), no one is going to win a boatload of races. This isn't going to be a season where someone wins five, six or seven times. In fact I wonder when we may see that again with the depth this series has now. And if it does, it sure isn't going to happen this year.

So the driver holding up the big trophy and taking home the big check at Fontana in October will be the one who can make the most of every weekend and come home with solid finishes.

Other notes -- Actually, I could've highlighted all the way through eighth place as I was impressed with the next three finishers. At the beginning of the race I was thinking Dario Franchitti was just running a replay of a year ago, where he looked spooked and uncomfortable the whole day. Dario dropped like a stone at the drop of the green but rallied back for a sixth-place finish. Will Power, who started on the pole, led four laps and finished seventh, which means while he lost more ground on the points leaders he still put together a good run on an oval.

Josef Newgarden game home in eighth place and now has four Top 10 finishes on the season. A couple of things are significant: 1) he is finishing races and 2) he is competitive on a more consistent basis.

I was also impressed with James Jakes coming home in 12th. If you had to give a Most Improved award at this point of the season, Jakes would certainly be a finalist. He's got four finishes of P12 or better and stands 14th in points, and given the quagmire that is teammate Graham Rahal's season, it's a pretty admirable effort.

The oval portion of the schedule continues next week at the historic Milwaukee Mile. Kevin and I will be there again this year, and while I'm not part of the credentialed media, I will be on the ground and blogging on the festivities. If you are going to be there, hopefully we will run into each other!