American Open-Wheel 2017 Championship Chances Book-Ended By Americans
|Penske Racing's Josef Newgarden after hitting the podium (P3 - Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach) for the first time in his first year with professional open-wheel racing's elite team. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2017)|
American Open-Wheel 2017 Championship Chances Book-Ended By Americans
One of the main reasons the Indy Racing League was formed was to bring along and develop more race car drivers who were born in America to race at the highest levels of professional open-wheel motorsports.
Thirty-one years later we have come to the point in the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship that, with one double-points paying race, six (possibly seven) drivers have a chance at winning the The Astor Cup ... named maintained after one of the first major trophies in American auto racing.
|Indy 500 winner, Alexander Rossi as he sits in the cockpit of his Andertti Autosport prepared Honda-powered Dallara in the pits at the second race of the 2017 season - the Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach. All four Andretti Autosport cars did not finish the race due to mechanical or electrical issues. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2017)|
The six drivers, after just 16 races, go into Sears Point area of San Francisco bay at Sonoma Raceway with a mathimatical shot at the end of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma are framed by the points leader who is driving in his first year for Penske Racing, Josef Newgarden and, at 84 points down driving in his second year for Andretti Autosport, Alexander Rossi. If one wished to be a bit more generous - at 94 points behind the points leader is another American born driver, Graham Rahal driving for a single car team formed by Bobby Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan.
But let's be very honest, with 100 points awarded for the first car over the Start/Finish line, the top four points-holding drivers would have to NOT finish very early on in the 85 lap, 12 corner, natural-terrain road course, almost 203 mile, Grand Prix.
|After 16 races of a 17 race season, the top six contenders who have an arguable mathematical chance at winning it all for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17. Image Credit: VICS|
The stack ranking by season points is as follows - listing with post race INDYCAR Grand Prix At The Glen quotations:
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet) - 560 points: "It was kind of an eventful day for the DeVilbiss Chevrolet team. I felt like we were in a good position until that final pit stop. No excuse for it. It was my fault. I saw Will (Power) leave right in front of us and I just locked it up and slid over into the wall. Then Sebastien (Bourdais) got into the back of me. It's unfortunate, but there's nothing I can do about it. We'll go to Sonoma in a couple of weeks and race for it."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda) - 557 points (-3): "It was definitely an exciting day for the No. 9 NTT Data car. I locked up the tires on the first stop and I don't think we got any fuel. We had to save fuel on the next stint as a result and battled our way back. I think we passed a lot of cars today and it was fun to contend with (Alexander) Rossi there for the win. Big congrats to him and good to see Honda run strong at Watkins Glen."
|Helio Castroneves, followed closely out of Turn 6 by Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe, on his way to securing the Verizon P1 Pole Award at the Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach. For the third consecutive year, Hélio Castroneves qualified on pole for the event, setting a new track record in the process with a lap of 1:06.2254, at an average speed of 106.98 mph (172.17 km/h). Scott Dixon qualified in second, while Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified third. Finishing the Fast Six were James Hinchcliffe, Alexander Rossi, and Graham Rahal. Image Credit:Edmund Jenks (2017)|
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) - 538 points (-22): "The Hitachi Chevy was so awesome today, and it was a great job by the No. 3 car guys. We were really fast out there - it's been a long time since I was able to go flat out through the carousel in the race, but we were doing that today. We had some issues on the black Firestone tires, but we were able to recover and really pushed hard there to finish fourth. I feel really bad for Josef (Newgarden) with his incident. It's unfortunate for the team, but it's mixed feelings for me because it tightens up the championship. We definitely have a good chance heading into Sonoma and I feel really good about our setup there. We'll be ready to go for it and finish strong."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) - 526 points (-34): "We fought for the best finish we could today in the Menards Chevrolet. We were really prepared for a wet race, and if it would have been run in the rain, I think we would have been tough to beat. But we just had too much downforce to run in the dry and make up the ground we needed to. Still, everyone on the team did a good job to finish ninth and we come out of Watkins Glen still in the hunt for the championship. We know what it takes to win at Sonoma and that's what we'll be fighting for (in Sonoma)."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) - 492 points (-68): "It was just an up and down day for the Verizon Chevrolet group. There were times the car was really fast, but that first set of tires didn't agree with the car at all. I thought the car was broken. It wouldn't do anything I wanted it to. After that, it was good. I can't be unhappy about sixth. I don't know what kind of legitimate chance at the championship I have, but stranger things have happened, I guess. We'll go to Sonoma and give it everything we have."
ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda) - 476 points (-84): "An amazing job by the whole team today. We had an issue in the beginning with some fuel, the fuel (probe), but whatever. It doesn't matter, the team recovered. We had the pace to do it, but it's pretty amazing. It's a huge team effort. I've talked so much about how much we've improved, I'm so happy we're finally able to win." (About battle with Scott Dixon at end of race): "We had a fast car. I knew we had a fast car because we were hitting a fuel number before the final stop and we had pace. I knew he was going to be pushing like hell at the end, and so it was really 12 qualifying laps, and I had the car to do it. We had time, we had the pace, the performance, the tire life, everything was going our way. A huge hats off to Andretti Autosport. Thank you to NAPA Auto Parts, thank you to Honda. We're coming really hard for 2018."
|American born driver, Graham Rahal as he bounces over the rumble strips in Turn 5 at the Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach. He qualified 6th in the Firestone Fast Six and went on to finish the second race of the season at P10. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2017)|
And bonus driver ...
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) - 466 points (-94): "It was a good day. There was a lot of passing because a lot of us expected rain and with the downforce levels being all over the board, there were some guys that were really draggy and some guys a little more rimmed. I was right in the middle. There was a lot of passing going on all over the place. We're going to fight on here. I didn't have anything to lose (in the championship fight) coming here but as we saw today with (Josef) Newgarden, things can happen so fast. We're out of winning the championship, but we're certainly not out of finishing the top three or four. We're seventh in the points. The way I look at it is, we didn't score points in the first four races of the year, but we were the hottest team through the middle of the season and it got us back in contention. We didn't score as many points as we would have liked, but we have a lot to be proud of. We're going to be in attack mode for sure. It's a shame the last two races didn't go our way when they should have because we would have been right in the middle of the title fight, but that's the way it goes. That's racing."
|All things considered, Penske Racing's Simon Pagenaud had a good outing at the Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach. Defending race winner and 2016 VICS champion Pagenaud was penalized for interfering with one of his teammate Castroneves' laps and was stripped of his two fastest laps in the session, relegating him to last place (P21) on the grid. Simon went on to finish the only other West Coast race of the 2017 season at P5. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2017)|
The realistic gaming on all of this would give the highest probability at grabbing the championship to just the top three points holders at this time in the season. Newgarden, Dixon or Castroneves are all the odds on favorites ... but recent history of this double-points paying race places simple and realistic gaming at risk.
Two years ago, the top six drivers that had a shot at winning the title were Penske Racing's Juan Pablo Montoya, Rahal Letterman Lanigan's Graham Rahal (-34 points), Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon (-47 points), Penske Racing's Helio Castroneves (-58 points), Penske Racing's Will Power (-59 points), and Ed Carpenter Racing's Josef Newgarden (-95 points).
|Justin Bell and Scott Dixon share an early season conversation at the Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach media luncheon atop the parking structure just East of the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center South of E. Seaside Way. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2017) |
This excerpted and edited from Motorsports Journal -
Dixon/Ganassi Triple-Down & Double-Up To Wrest Control At The GoPro GP of Sonoma
By Edmund Jenks - Motorsports Journal - Wednesday, September 02, 2015
In the media room, around the paddocks, and campgrounds around Sonoma Raceway at Sears Point, there were speculations as to who would win the Verizon IndyCar Series 2015 season finale race and, due to a double-points award, potentially win the season championship.
At no point in the lead up to this final race was there a story line that included Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, who sat at P3, 47 points behind Penske's Juan Pablo Montoya (JPM), not just winning the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma ... but further, the 2015 American open-wheel racing championship.
Almost all of the pre-race chatter centered on "just who" had what it would take to get the most points through qualifications, bonus points, and win the race (obviously, Will Power) ... or who had the charge to grab the championship and maybe the race from Penske Racing and JPM (obviously, Graham Rahal).
Scott Dixon, and the PR Department of Target Chip Ganassi Racing were the consummate ghosts. Little was being speculated about in pre-race press releases and interviews from this organization about their chances at the Sonoma Raceway finale and the IndyCar season.
However, at race's end and at post-race press conferences - the floodgates of strategic possibility thinking opened up ... and a few folks were surprised at the final tie-breaking results.
|Penske Racing's Will Power would have been higher in the points race if he had been able to turn his 50th pole winning position into a full race performance. After a 14-year absence, the Verizon IndyCar Series returned to Gateway Motorsports Park paperclip style oval, outside of St. Louis, for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. On a lap 5 Green Flag restart, Will Power slid into the wall after being passed for the lead by teammate and eventual race winner (who qualified at P2), Josef Newgarden. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2017)|
Book-ended by Americans, you say?
Well, as it turns out, the other drivers have spent so much of their professional career in the United States that they are accepted as our kindred sons in American motor culture.
Scott Dixon will be hoping to get his 5th IndyCar championship making him second only to AJ Foyt (7).
Helio Castroneves who has three Indy 500 titles - placed second in the season standings four times, third two times and fourth four times ... but still has not won the championship.
Simon Pagenaud won the Verizon IndyCar Series last year and has been racing in sports cars and IndyCar for the last eleven years with another series championship in ChampCar Atlantics.
Lastly, Will Power, a staple in American racing series since 2005, was the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion - this year saw him eclipse Dario Franchiti in total races won in the series and added to his Verizon P1 Pole awards total to 50 which tied him with Castroneves for third on the all-time IndyCar pole list.
Looks as though we all will be treated to an All-American top seven drivers competing for the Astor Cup at Sonoma during the Verizon IndyCar Series finale.
Que the band for a stirring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, shaped by the sound of 2.2-liter (134.35 cubic inches) V-6, twin-turbocharged, Max. bore diameter 95 millimeters engines.
... notes from The EDJE
TAGS: GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, Sonoma Raceway, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal, Penske Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Andretti Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, The EDJE