Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Final Look Back

Photo credit: Tim Holle/Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi staged a thrilling duel in the closing
laps of last Sunday's 103rd Indianapolis 500.

Wrapping up the 103rd Indianapolis 500 …

Qualifying Worked … For the Most Part

If the intent was to jam as much action as possible into the two qualifying days as possible, then job well done. If the intent was to establish the fastest 33 cars, then a bit of a tweak of the format is needed. To recap, this year the first 30 spots and the Fast Nine were locked in after the first day, with the pole, the order of the Fast Nine and the last row decided on the second day.
My worksheet got quite a workout
on the first day of qualifying.
As it turned out, one car posted a speed on Sunday that was among the fastest 33. One way to avoid this is to fill all 33 spots the first day, then have bumping (and the Fast Nine) the next day.

I like the idea of one attempt for the Fast Nine contestants – no need to drag that out. The bumping part of the show can be a bit longer – maybe an hour or two.

Except for the practice periods on Saturday, which just about no one used, the track was active pretty much the whole day. It was so busy, I didn’t even have time to go grab a tenderloin, much to my chagrin.

McLaren’s Woes

Fernando Alonso of McLaren Racing was indeed one of the 33 fastest qualifiers. His failing was not posting that speed on the right day. Still, the two-time World Champion had SIX attempts overall to make the field, which seems more than ample opportunity.

The whys and wherefores of the McLaren debacle already have been debated endlessly, and likely will continue to be a hot topic the rest of the year and into next year, if McLaren decides to enter the NTT IndyCar Series full time.

If McLaren is intent on fielding a team on its own and without a substantial technical partner, as it did with Andretti in 2017, it needs to take a page from Penske Racing (who else?) in terms of being better prepared next time.

During the infamous split, Roger Penske took a measured approach in his return to Indianapolis. In his last appearance in 1995, both his cars, driven by Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi, failed to qualify. Penske couldn’t afford a similar embarrassment, especially against what was considered lesser or inferior competition in the Indy Racing League.

His first step was to be involved with Jason Leffler’s entry in 2000. This car technically came out of the Treadway Racing stable, but Penske provided sponsorship in the form of his United Auto Group entity. He also sent his top lieutenant, Tim Cindric, to oversee the program. This afforded Penske the opportunity to get the lay of the land and begin building a base of institutional knowledge as it pertained to operations, the equipment and so forth.
Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Helio Castroneves' climb to glory in May of 2001 started
at the IRL race in Phoenix, which Penske entered as
preparation for that year's Indianapolis 500.
The next year, Penske entered cars for Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran for the Indianapolis 500, and they dominated with a 1-2 finish. What’s forgotten, however, is that Castroneves and de Ferran competed in the IRL’s season-opening race at Phoenix that year. The results for each were poor – Castroneves finished 18th and de Ferran was 24th. But the knowledge gained from this race was invaluable to Penske’s team, as the crewmembers gained familiarity with the cars, how to work on them, procedures and so forth as the chassis and engines in the IRL were quite different from those in CART. All in all, those lessons flattened the learning curve considerably.

Once May rolled around, Castroneves and de Ferran took advantage of as much track time as possible, even flying in after the CART race at Nazareth, Pa., to participate in the first day of practice.

It should be noted that in 2001 there were nearly two full weeks of practice and four days of qualifying as opposed to four days of practice and two days of qualifying this year. This reduced track time, condensed further after Alonso’s crash, put McLaren in a bind quickly.

Like Penske, McLaren can rebound from this embarrassment, but the preparations need to begin soon. Enter a couple of races this year, select your team members and get to work.

Alonso can run up front, as proved in 2017, and potentially winning. As Penske might say, Effort Equals Results. But you need the right effort to get the desired results.

McLaren Backlash

One thing I didn’t understand was how some were almost giddy over this failure. I understand the David vs. Goliath aspect of Kyle Kaiser and the tiny Juncos team knocking out Alonso and McLaren made for a great story, and full credit to Kaiser and Juncos. Hopefully this becomes a springboard for success for them.
Photo credit: Matt Fraver/Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Hopefully McLaren returns next year with
better preparation, leading to much better results.
The Indianapolis 500, though, is enriched by participation of marques like McLaren, returning to Indianapolis as an entrant for the first time since 1979. In some ways, you can trace the design of today’s Indy car to the 1971 McLaren, which was the first to sprout large front and rear wings.

That year, Mark Donohue was unofficially breaking the track record nearly every day in practice with Penske’s Sunoco McLaren before Peter Revson surprisingly topped Donohue in qualifying with his works McLaren. Part of the reason Revson was able to snatch the pole is because Penske insisted on complete transparency with McLaren. He valued the relationship so much that Donohue, who had qualified earlier, (unwittingly?) shared information with Teddy Mayer, then leading McLaren’s efforts, who applied the knowledge to Revson’s car.

During the final day of qualifying this year, with McLaren frantically trying to wring more speed out of Alonso’s car, I wondered if Penske would again provide the magic formula to McLaren.

I hope McLaren returns next year - with a fully Papaya Orange car and results befitting its heritage.

Pagenaud Dominates 103rd Indianapolis 500

Simon Pagenaud, who went from being potentially on the hot seat to being fitted for a king’s throne over the course of May, dominated Sunday’s 500. The affable Frenchman led 116 laps – the most since Dario Franchitti’s 155 in his 2010 victory – in becoming the first pole sitter to win since Helio Castroneves in 2009.

Pagenaud held off a determined charge by Alexander Rossi in the closing laps, edging the 2016 winner by 0.2086 of a second. It was the seventh-closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.

"It's amazing. It's another dream come true, and the biggest dream of my life come true," said Pagenaud, a 35-year-old native of Montmorillon, France. "It's hard to fathom, really. It's really hard to process it right now, but I'm just filled with a lot of joy."

Pagenaud and Rossi swapped the lead five times in the closing laps, the last when Pagenaud roared his yellow No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet outside of and past Rossi's No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda heading into Turn 3 on the 199th lap.

The victory was the 18th in the Indianapolis 500 for Penske. It's a total 13 more than the next nearest owner.

"Simon wasn't going to be beat today," said Penske, who naturally confirmed Pagenaud’s return for 2020. "He raced clean, and that's what I have to say about Rossi also. The two of them for the laps that they ran side by side was as good of racing as you've ever seen here."

Like last year, Rossi’s ability to charge through the pack had the fans buzzing.

The Andretti Autosport driver was in first place on the final race restart on Lap 187, following an incident involving six cars that included an 18-minute red-flag stoppage, but Pagenaud bolted ahead by the time they'd reached the iconic yard of bricks at the start/finish line to complete the lap.

The duo exchanged the lead twice on Lap 189 before Rossi swept back in front on Lap 198 heading into Turn 1. On the ensuing lap, Pagenaud made a similar outside pass, this time going into Turn 3, to take the lead for good. Rossi attempted several overtakes over the last one-plus laps but was thwarted each time. Still, his second-place finish marked the Californian's fourth top-seven Indy 500 result in as many tries.

"We were flat in that final lap coming to the flag - we just didn't have enough," Rossi said. "You can't take anything away from the (No.) 22 guys. They were on pole, they led a lot of laps, did a good job and had a fast race car.”

Saturday, May 25, 2019

30 Days in May

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

No. 25, Danny Ongais, 1978 Interscope Racing Parnelli/Cosworth. Some cars and drivers just sum up an era at Indianapolis and are indelibly linked. While not a legend of the Brickyard like, say, A.J. Foyt or Rick Mears, if you went to the track in the late 1970s to mid-1980s, you remember Ongais and the black Interscope No. 25. Danny On the Gas was fast, fearless and spectacular (in both good and bad ways). When Tom Carnegie or John Totten piped up on the PA system that Ongais was on the track, you paused from munching your Sno-Cone and gave the 2 ½-mile oval your undivided attention. In 1978, the Flying Hawaiian started second and led 71 laps before the engine blew. Ongais wound up 18th with 145 laps to his credit.  #ThisIsMay #Indy500 

Friday, May 24, 2019

This Year's "Fuson Form Chart"

The 1974 Souvenir Edition of the Indianapolis News, previewing the 1974 Indianapolis 500.

INDIANAPOLIS – Something I always looked forward to each May was the Fuson Form Chart. This page of analysis was penned by Wayne Fuson, sports editor of the Indianapolis News, which was the afternoon paper in Indianapolis.

Wayne Fuson, Indianapolis News Sports Editor, went with
A.J. Foyt in 1974. Foyt led much of the race, but dropped out.
It came in the souvenir preview section and was a staple of pre-race coverage. Fuson had an engaging, unique style patterned off horse racing forms that was eminently readable and entertaining. It rated the jockey (driver), horse (car), stable (team) and sometimes even the groom (chief mechanic or crew chief then; now it would be lead engineer or strategist, I suppose), advising readers how much to bet in a good-natured, humorous manner.

Mr. Fuson died in 1996. So consider the following a bit of a tribute to him leading into this year’s race:

Car 22 Simon Pagenaud 2-1

Jockey has had a magnificent May, winning the IndyCar Grand Prix two weeks ago and now the pole for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. Proven mount from the Team Penske stable, which already has 17 Indy wins. Bet a bundle and you may be sitting pretty.

Car 20 Ed Carpenter 3-1

Just edged out of fourth Indy pole and second straight, jockey itching for that first 500 win. After leading 65 laps last year and finishing second to Will Power, Carpenter showed he has the mettle to get it done. Dig deep for a big bet.

Car 12 Will Power 3-1

Another top-notch entry out of the Team Penske stable, last year’s winning jockey is primed to win two straight. That doesn’t happen often in the 500, but if you have some extra cash, use it here.

Car 9 Scott Dixon 4-1

It’s been a low-key week for this proven jockey, who won it all in 2008. Goes to the post just 18th, but Chip Ganassi stable always provides a first-class mount and groom Mike Hull is one of the smartest around. Visit your friendly PNC Bank for a sizable withdrawal.

Car 27 Alexander Rossi 5-1

Miserly fuel consumption and deliberate pace lifted jockey to Indy glory as a rookie in 2016. He’s continued to impress since, and mount looked very racy in Monday’s practice session. Dig up that coffee can in the backyard.

Car 88 Colton Herta 7-1

Rookie jockey has been smooth, fast and impressive. He’s already cracked the win column this year, the youngest ever in IndyCar competition (at 18; he’s now 19). If you feel youth will be served, dip into your rainy-day fund.

Car 2 Josef Newgarden 7-1

Jockey leads the IndyCar points chase and is another of the younger set seeking first Indy win. He fell just short in 2016, taking third, and now he’s in his third season with Team Penske. Isn’t it time that so-called friend finally paid you back? Use that cash and a little more at the betting window.

Car 98 Marco Andretti 9-1

Day-glo red mount is a tribute to grandfather Mario’s lone Indy victory 50 years ago. Third-generation jockey has had some strong runs at the Brickyard, including getting nipped at the wire by Sam Hornish Jr. in rookie year back in 2006. He’s worth at least a little something for old time’s sake, if nothing else.

Car 3 Helio Castroneves 9-1

He and his team know the way to Victory Lane as jockey has contributed three of Team Penske’s 17 victories in the Indianapolis 500. Now a full-time driver on the twisties, Castroneves remains a bona fide threat on the Indy oval. Dance on up to the betting window.

Car 30 Takuma Sato 9-1

Jockey is one of the bravest and he’s an Indy winner, too – just two years ago. Mount from Rahal Letterman Lanigan stable should run all day. Use the money you would’ve used for a couple of trips to the concession stand and you might be eating well the rest of the week.

Car 15 Graham Rahal 9-1

Second-generation jockey would love to join dad Bobby on the Borg-Warner. Indy has been rather unkind to him, with an average finish of about 18th and two last-place finishes in 11 previous starts. Worth a bet, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Car 18 Sebastien Bourdais 10-1

Jockey came back last year after a vicious crash in qualifying for the 2017 race. Smooth, smart and savvy, he’s more than capable of winning. Groom Dale Coyne often a clever strategist. If you’re looking for an underdog to bet big, you could do worse.

Car 63 Ed Jones 10-1

After an outstanding debut two years ago with a marvelous third-place finish, jockey now trying to restart his Indy career after disappointing season in 2018. Mount out of the Ed Carpenter Racing stable has been fast all month. Dip into the butter-and-egg money.

Car 21 Spencer Pigot 10-1

Young jockey surprised everyone with front-row qualifying effort for the Ed Carpenter Racing stable. Boss has an eye for talent, though, as Newgarden came through Carpenter’s team. Throw a few old presidents the young American’s way.

Car 14 Tony Kanaan 15-1

He’s a former winner (2013) and back driving for the legend himself, A.J. Foyt. The combination showed excellent pace last year, leading 19 laps. No harm putting a little on TK’s, uh, nose.

Car 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 15-1

2014 winner has been a step behind his Andretti Autosport teammates this month, but definitely has the ability to bring his mount forward. Use that leftover birthday money your aunt gave you.

Car 5 James Hinchliffe 15-1

Popular jockey knows well the exhilarating highs and the cruel punishment the Speedway can dish out – horribly injured in a crash in 2015, pole-winner in 2016, failed to qualify in 2018. Had to sweat it out this year but came through with stout qualifying run on last day in backup car after trashing primary mount. Talk to your rich uncle and get a race-day loan.

Car 25 Conor Daly 18-1

Jockey has been waiting for a mount like this his whole career, and he’s done well this month with the Andretti Autosport entry. He’s sponsored by the U.S. Air Force and it’s Memorial Day Weekend, so drop a little green for the red, white and blue.

Car 77 Oriol Servia 18-1

Quietly does a professional job each May, and this year is no exception. Some rumors said his mount would be given to fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso, but that was just talk. If you can get a bet for the Top 10, take it.

Car 23 Charlie Kimball 18-1

Only Carlin-affiliated mount to make the race as Fernando Alonso, Max Chilton and Patricio O’Ward are the three left in the barn this year. An Indy win would lessen that sting considerably. If you believe the team is due for redemption right away, here’s your chance.

Car 48 JR Hildebrand 18-1

Speaking of redemption, jockey came within one turn of winning Indy as a rookie in 2011. He’s back for a second go-round with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, sporting the No. 48 made famous by Dan Gurney. That alone is worth a few dollars, right?

Car 26 Zach Veach 20-1

Goes to the post much deeper than expected (28th) for an Andretti Autosport mount. The great Louis Meyer won from there once, but that was a long, long time ago (1936). Jockey is capable and his time is coming, but probably not this year.

Car 10 Felix Rosenqvist 20-1

Rookie jockey has a class mount from the Chip Ganassi stable. He’s been a winner in other series, but this is his first time on a high-speed oval. Maybe next year.

Car 7 Marcus Ericcson 30-1

Another rookie, he showed well in qualifying with a fine run (13th), second only to Colton Herta among the first-year jockeys. Like Rosenqvist, he’s from Sweden. And like Rosenqvist, let’s wait a year or two.

Car 19 Santino Ferucci 30-1

Teammate to Sebastien Bourdais, the 20-year-old American has quietly done a solid job this month. Best bet would be if he can upset Colton Herta for Rookie of the Year.

Car 4 Matheus Leist 30-1

Second-year jockey again teamed with Tony Kanaan out of A.J. Foyt’s stable. Has shown promise from time to time. Advance cautiously to the betting window, though.

Car 60 Jack Harvey 30-1

Third-year jockey rides perhaps the most colorful mount in the field. Tried a fuel-economy run last year, and it nearly paid off. Seems to have a bright future, but that future probably isn’t now.

Car 24 Sage Karam 30-1

Jockey delivered a thrilling last-day qualifying performance to secure his spot in the field. The outpouring of emotion afterward was touching and underscored how badly these drivers want to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Best hope and bet would be a Top 10 finish.

Car 81 Ben Hanley 33-1

Rookie jockey drives for DragonSpeed, and believe it or not, it has nothing to do with “Game of Thrones.” Expected to be among those battling for a spot in the last row, he instead safely secured a spot on the first day of qualifying and goes to the post 27th. If he can move into the top 20 by race’s end, that would be a good day.

Car 39 Pippa Mann 33-1

Before the month, she was on everyone’s “going to be bumped” list, but, man, did Mann do a great job in qualifying. Ousted last year in gut-wrenching fashion, she vowed to come back stronger and did just that. Jockey has snuck her way up front on occasion in previous races. This would be the ultimate Cinderella story, so to speak, so if you’re so inclined …

Car 33 James Davison 33-1

Another fine under-the-radar performance, jockey goes to the post 15th. From there, he’ll look back on three former winners (Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay). If he can maintain that spot at the end of the race, that would be a nice accomplishment for this little team.

Car 42 Jordan King 33-1

Young Englishman drove the twisties for Ed Carpenter Racing last year before joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan stable this season. A rookie starting deep in the pack (26th) isn’t a great combination.

Car 32 Kyle Kaiser 33-1

Second-year jockey thrilling run sent two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso to the barn in one of the biggest qualifying shockers in 500 history. Don’t expect this feel-great story to continue, though. Give Kaiser a salute on race day, but skip the betting window.

30 Days in May

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

No. 24, Robbie Buhl, 2001 Purex G Force/Infiniti. Buhl was one of the drivers who benefited from the infamous split in open-wheel racing. The former Indy Lights champion (1992) had trouble finding a good ride in CART, but the arrival of the Indy Racing League in 1996 provided an opportunity.  He had success with both John Menard and Dreyer & Reinbold, winning a race for each. Buhl’s Purex machine was one of the more striking liveries of that era. In 2001, he started ninth and finished 15th in the 500. #ThisIsMay #Indy500 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

30 Days in May Bonus

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

No. 48, Mike Mosley, 1981 Pepsi Challenger Eagle/Chevrolet. Stunning, fast and loud, 1981 was the only appearance of the Pepsi Challenger at Indianapolis. Always an innovator, Dan Gurney was trying to bring stock-block engines to Indy racing as a lower-cost alternative to the Cosworth engines, which were used by the overwhelming majority of teams. In terms of speed, this car proved his point as Mosley put it in the middle of the front row. The sound of this screaming Eagle is almost impossible to describe. It had a distinctive roar – in some ways, perhaps, it was the Novi of its generation. In other words, if you heard it, you never forgot it. The distinctive shape and color of the Eagle made it look like a dart hurtling down the straightaway. Consistent with the lousy luck Mosley endured at Indianapolis, some mechanical issues cropped up before race day and the car placed 33rd, going out after 16 laps with radiator problems. At Milwaukee a couple of weeks later, using the engine intended for the 500, Mosley won, going from last to first in an incredible driving display. It was the last of his five wins in Indy cars and the last for Gurney in Indy-car competition as well. #ThisIsMay #Indy500

30 Days In May

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway 

No. 23, Floyd Roberts, 1938 Burd Piston Ring Special Wetteroth/Miller. The first Indianapolis 500 program I got was from the 1973 race. I would spend time poring over its contents, absorbing various facts and figures about the race – sort of a 5-year-old Donald Davidson. Of particular interest to me was Wilbur Shaw’s success from 1937-40. (The summary for each of these races was listed on one page.) I noticed that had it not been for Floyd Roberts winning in 1938 that Shaw would’ve won the 500 four times in a row. At this time, A.J. Foyt was trying to become the first four-time winner, a feat he finally achieved in 1977. Anyway, Roberts beat Shaw by a wide margin (more than four minutes), but Shaw, so vital in helping the Speedway survive after World War II, won in 1939 and 1940 to become the first back-to-back winner. #ThisIsMay #Indy500 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

30 Days in May Bonus

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

No. 86, Al Loquasto, 1976 Frostie Root Beer McLaren/Offy. After several years of trying, Al Loquasto finally qualified for the Indianapolis 500, earning the 24th starting spot for the 1976 event. He was still running when the race was red-flagged because of rain and considered complete after 102 laps. The year before, I got a sticker of his car from his team as I roamed the fence by the pits, seeking autographs. Unfortunately, Loquasto suffered a sort of dubious distinction that year. He was the first qualifier for 1975, then began to be pushed down the order as faster cars qualified. Eventually, Loquasto was bumped all the way out, so it was nice that he finally got in the field the next year. He also drove in the 1977 race and finished 28th. Helping Loquasto’s effort was legendary mechanic Clint Brawner, the wrench on Mario Andretti’s 1969 winner. #ThisIsMay #Indy500