Watkins Glen IndyCar Postscript
When Josef Newgarden won at Mid-Ohio last month in dominant fashion, and took over the series championship lead, I wrote that the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season became at that moment about the 26-year-old Hendersonville, TN native.
A product of the Skip Barber junior program, who took a detour to Europe, before returning to win the 2011 Indy Lights Series championship, and then paying his dues with smaller teams, Newgarden joined the almighty Team Penske for the 2017 season.
And while the images of Sarah Fisher doting lovingly on her earnest, young, talented driver have long been replaced by the trademark all-black of IndyCar’s most unholy alliance, Newgarden has fundamentally maintained his Everyman appeal; a testament to talent being rewarded and good guys succeeding.
Another thing Newgarden has largely been through his first five seasons is a very cool customer. When he was caught up in an accident leading at Long Beach in 2014 that wasn’t his fault, Newgarden didn’t point fingers or show the slightest of bitterness. He chose instead to play the “tough break, we’ll get’em next time,” card.
When a pit failure at Mid-Ohio later that year cost Newgarden a win, he didn’t slam his crew. Again, he played the “tough break, we’ll get ‘em next time" card
Simply put, in five years I cannot recall Newgarden even uttering an angry word. All indications are, he is as cool and level headed as they come.
Where we are in totally uncharted territory going into Sonoma, is how Newgarden will respond in a high-pressure situation. While he was once again a cool customer in the aftermath of that could-be-so-costly-mistake at Watkins Glen, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet has put himself in the smack-dab in the eye of the storm. Furthermore, Sonoma will not merely be a case of Newgarden fending off other worthy title challengers. No, this is Newgarden having to fend off Team Penske’s greatest nemesis: the Scott Dixon/Mike Hull/Team Ganassi Alliance.
Yes, suffice to say, there is a little bit of history between these two teams – most of it recently favoring the Ganassi side:
In fairness to Team Penske, they have won championships during this time as well. However, during this century, Team Ganassi clearly holds the upper hand in IndyCar’s greatest rivalry.
Fair or unfair, Newgarden has inherited this history and the burden that comes along with it. Yes, there are others still in the championship hunt such as Simon Pagenad and Castroneves. However, with his mistake at The Glen, and a carefree Dixon a mere three points behind, make no mistake: ALL THE PRESSURE is on Josef Newgarden at Sonoma.
Does Newgarden’s “aw-shucks, it’s just racing, and we’ll get ‘em next time” persona shine through once again? Or will he like so many before him submit to the demons of Team Penske’s recent past, treating us all to another round of Chip Ganassi crowd-surfing?
That is the story headed into Sonoma next weekend; Newgarden’s mistake made it that way. All eyes will be on him.
The individual most likely to play spoiler at Sonoma is undoubtedly, Alexander Rossi.
I’ve written in recent weeks how Rossi has quietly emerged as the top driver within Andretti Autosport, something he validated with his win at Watkins Glen. The win capped off quite a week for Rossi who announced he would stay with Andretti Autosport and Honda and extended his relationship with Napa.
Look, I’m not going to rehash what I’ve already said. Rossi can qualify; Rossi can adapt to a changing battlefield during the course of a race as we saw last year at indy and this weekend at The Glen; Rossi is quick on ovals; Rossi is quick on road courses; Rossi has displayed the level-headedness of top drivers such as Dixon.
As someone who showed himself quite well in the cutthroat European junior formula, we knew it would be merely a matter of time before things began to click in IndyCar. That time has arrived.
With a leveling of the field aerodynamically coming in 2018, Andretti Autosport will have in Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay, a pair of aces they haven’t had since the Wheldon-Franchitti-Kanaan-Herta days.
It was a strange decision for INDYCAR to declare Sunday’s race a ‘wet start’ and I think it’s fair to ask: why??
For this section, I rely heavily on the timeline provided by Lucille Dust, who was at The Glen this weekend. And the track was dry at 9 a.m. when the cars left pit lane for the morning warm-up. It began misting at 9:12 a.m. when a number of the teams came to pit road for rain tires – something the teams welcomed this track time given the forecast of rain for that afternoon.
The mist would not last long and towards the end of the session many teams were experiencing heavy blistering on their rear tires. This blistering was accompanied by chunks of tire on the track, apparently a result of the excessive heat and lack of water on the track.
During the Indy Lights race, which began at 10:50 a.m., the light rain turned to heavy rain, which caused visibility issues and eventually a red flag, only to be resumed when the rain lightened.
For the two hours prior to the IndyCar race, there was no rain. The track dried with the exception of turn 9, yet the race declared a wet start. And this decision was made with the data from the morning warm-up that the tires needed water or they were going to blister. Of course, nearly all teams came to pit road on the first lap for dry tires.
Befuddling to say the least.
Also, is it just me or was there a quick trigger on the decision to go yellow for the lap 27 spin by Takuma Sato. Look, I get it, you error on the side of the caution, and I wonder if Race Control simply saw a big puff of smoke and went caution. Better to be safe than sorry, and I won’t kill them for that. However, the camera view at the exit of the turn showed it be an incredibly benign spin.
Some accused Sato of the timely spin right at the beginning of the pit window that helped Rossi, but that overlooks the fact the Andretti car of Hunter-Reay was in the lead. Why would Sato screw RHR to help Rossi?
Anyway, just another curious decision, for which I would love to hear an explanation.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. In the aforementioned Indy Lights race, conditions were treacherous, the Indy Lights field managed to run a 60-minute race with a mere one incident. They put on what was in my opinion, the race of the weekend.
Well done, boys!
I hear a lot about money when in the IndyCar paddock. And yes, we all know the financial constraints facing teams in this economically challenging era.
Well, I’ll give everyone a way to save money: don’t go testing at Sonoma this week. Yes, some teams were in Sonoma Wednesday for a test. Keep in mind, the cars have to be transported out to Sonoma, with the crews and drivers flown out, fed, housed, etc. The teams will head back to Indianapolis, Chicago or North Carolina, only to be back on the plane in less than a week’s time to go back to Sonoma for another test day Thursday before the race weekend.
Is Sonoma a track like Gateway where the teams don’t have much in way of miles and data? Uh, no – they’ve been racing there for 12 straight seasons.
Yes, teams will tell you any seat time offers the possibility of gathering valuable information exists. However, it is the job of the series to make sound economic decisions to prevent teams from spending one another into oblivion.
Now, some might note that with a change in car next year, the teams have little to lose should they destroy a car. That could be true, just remember it would also be equally true that the shelf-life of whatever information they do gather ends when the checkered flag falls at Sonoma.
Unless there’s something I’m missing, all I see coming out of this Sonoma testing squandering LOTS of money I’m regularly told teams don’t have. Seems pretty silly if you’re asking me.
Look, I’m not one to put too much stock in social media. I also wouldn’t put it past one Fernando Alonso to troll me and millions of others with cryptic Tweets and Instagram posts.
That said, the Twitter account @Alo_Official has been VERY ACTIVE and VERY CRYPTIC of late with Tweets referencing “No. 29,” his Indianapolis 500 car number and “Triple Crown”. While there is no official Triple Crown in motorsports, Alonso’s “Triple Crown” is apparently a reference to possibly winning Le Mans, Monaco and the Indianapolis 500.
Alonso, as I have written in the past is an endlessly fascinating figure, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what he’s up to. But here’s what we do know.
For one, his situation at McLaren is UNTENABLE going forward. Either Honda must elevate its performance, or the team must switch power units. While the latter seems possible, a switch to Renault, while an improvement, is no guarantee of the success Alonso craves.
He could switch teams, but the question becomes where? Is Williams really a viable option? That would be swapping his current mediocre situation for an average one, something I can’t really see Alonso doing.
Now, this would lead the optimistic thinker to IndyCar. However, we all know there would be a significant pay cut, and it’s hard to see Alonso going from $30 million to say $5 million (optimistically). While everyone knows he wants to run Indy, has anyone really pressed Alonso on whether he has the appetite for full-throttle at Texas before a gathering of dozens?
In short, there has been nothing stated – implicit or explicit – suggesting Alonso has the appetite for a full IndyCar season. And while Alonso-to-IndyCar rumors were the talk of the paddock a few weeks ago at Mid-Ohio, I will believe Fernando Alonso is running a 7/8-mile track in an Iowa cornfield, WHEN I see it.
Here’s what I think will happen: So long, as he is not in a championship-contending F1 car, Alonso will clear his calendar for the annual pilgrimage to central-Indiana in May and possibly Le Mans as well. Meanwhile, he will hope McLaren can somehow fall into a formula that allows him to at the very least contend for the occasional F1 win.
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