Sunday, July 19, 2015

First Impression: Iowa 2015

1. Ryan Hunter-Reay gets out of the rut and picks up his first win of the season and third career victory at Iowa. Honda might not have qualifying pace but they have race pace and that's what really matters. He was up front all race and gave the top Chevrolet's a run for their money despite being a few miles per hour slower than them in practice and qualifying. Hunter-Reay likely won't win the title this year but he had an awful start to the 2011 season before winning at Loudon and ending strong and 2012 turned out to be his best season ever. It's never too soon to start looking toward the future and this might just be the cornerstone for a spectacular 2016 season for Hunter-Reay.

2. After having a great race at Milwaukee only to finish fifth, Josef Newgarden had another stellar drive, as he was able to keep up with the Ganassi and Penske entries. He has a great season and while there have been down spots for CFH Racing, Newgarden has been able to comeback from them. The negatives haven't piled up. The combined resources have done wonders for him and even Ed Carpenter and Luca Filippi.

3. Sage Karam gets his first career podium and pisses a bunch of people off in the process. He's 20. He arguably was over-aggressive at times (he was blocking Jack Hawksworth who was a lap down) and he needs to relax but you can't blame him for taking advantage of every chance he gets. He's only 20 but in the results driven world of IndyCar, especially driving for Ganassi, he can't take a year to just learn the tracks and car. He has to show results now. Ganassi isn't giving him two years to learn and that might hurt him. Look at Newgarden. He struggled his first two years. He made mistakes but Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman stood behind him and now look. Karam has a loaded gun to his head and has to get results now without tearing up equipment or else he will end up like Ganassi's other development drivers (see Alex Lloyd). It's a good run for Karam and I am sure he will have Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti talk to him about what he did right and what he can improve on.

4. Another top five for Graham Rahal as he overcame gearbox issues that put him a lap down at one point. He has overcome adversity a few times this year and he is having a career season. I think mental maturity is overlooked when it comes to racers. We just assume that when a driver starts at a young age such as Rahal that they will be as experienced with a 100 starts at 23 years old as a driver with a 100 starts at 29 years old and I don't think that is the case. You might have the same amount of starts but it's all about growing up as a person, not as a driver. I don't think it is a coincidence that Rahal's turn around in results occurs right after getting engaged. He has settled down a little. He has found someone he loves and perhaps that comfort outside the car translate to being more comfortable behind the wheel.

5. Two Andretti cars in the top five as Carlos Muñoz comes home fifth. Another good drive for him and watching Muñoz you can tell he is aggressive but in a different manner than Karam. Muñoz has been aggressive since his first start in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 but what separates his aggression to Karam is it comes out in the corners, not on the straights. Karam is aggressive on straightaways and that's what I think annoys drivers. Karam is going wheel-to-wheel with guys who are inches away from the wall and any slight nudge will lead to a hard impact. Muñoz will throw a car low and ride the razor's edge around a corner but on the straights he is polite and will let a driver go and fight to get them back in the next corner. It's interesting to think about because when drivers talk about Muñoz they admire him but Karam has rubbed one too many drivers the wrong way, no pun intended.

6. Ed Carpenter brings the car home in sixth and was most notably upset with Karam. This has been a nice rebound for Carpenter after his first three races. It's a shame he only get's one more start this season. He has to be the driver lobbying the hardest for IndyCar to add another two to four oval races. I wish we could see him more because six races aren't enough.

7. Marco Andretti made it three Andretti cars in the top seven and six Americans in the top seven. This is what Andretti does: He finishes in the top ten. While he isn't winning races at the pace of his father and grandfather, Marco brings the car home and gets results. And I would throw him into the same boat as Rahal. Sure, he got a lot of starts by a young age but as a person he matured at an average rate. Now as he approaches 30 he is a different driver than he was at 23 and that might have to do with him becoming more settled off the track. He is still very young and race victories and championships might still be in his future.

8. Let's stop for a second and realize that six Americans finished in the top seven. And yet all I can think about is that Penske is going to hire Josef Newgarden and move him and the Verizon sponsorship to the NASCAR Cup Series once Sprint leaves and Sage Karam will be moved to Cup as well by Ganassi as he expands to three cars. If only J.R. Hildebrand, Conor Daly and Matthew Brabham could get full-time rides and Bryan Clauson could get a shot at a short track. There are talented Americans out there and they deserve opportunities. IndyCar will never be 100% American drivers again and I am ok with that because IndyCar has always had international ties but IndyCar needs Americans to survive. Champ Car struggled for many reasons but having one American didn't help. I have always felt half of the full-time grid needs to be Americans but just over a quarter of the grid isn't bad either. This was a great night for American drivers and hopefully there are more to come.

9. Another solid run for Ryan Briscoe. He needs to be a full-time driver. He keeps driving from the back to the front and imagine what he and James Hinchcliffe could do if they were teammates.

10. Speaking of from the back to the front, Sébastien Bourdais went from 24th after brushing the wall in qualifying to ninth. He somewhat used pit strategy as he kept stopping under the first caution to top off to be able to go a handful of laps longer than the leaders and it worked out. He and KV Racing have meshed well and I hope their partnership continues for quite sometime.

11. Here we are, the 11th thought and we have yet to mention a Penske entry. That all changes now. Will Power finished tenth but he was never in contention. He started sixth but he just couldn't hang with those front-runners as the night wore on. Same with Hélio Castroneves, who came home 11th despite winning pole position. He led a fair amount of laps but faded. Simon Pagenaud faded once the green flag fell and he has done that a bunch this season. He qualifies well but he loses five to ten spots before the first stint is over. Then there was Juan Pablo Montoya, who had a suspension failure end his night before the sun even set on lap nine and now the championship is wide open. I was starting to wonder if Montoya was going to have the title locked up before Sonoma even with double points. Now that looks certainly unlikely. Three races to go and Montoya has led the championship from the start. Will he be able to go wire-to-wire as the championship leader?

12. Shoutout to Tristan Vautier coming home 12th and Jack Hawksworth in 13th. James Jakes finished 15th.

13. Let's get to the rest of the Ganassi drivers. Tony Kanaan is off like gangbusters at the start and then he has a mechanical issue end his night while in the top five. Scott Dixon has mechanical issues and his night is ruined but he was able to finish the race. Charlie Kimball had a spin off of turn two end his night. As much as it seems Penske and Ganassi have dominated this season, they haven't While Penske and Ganassi dominate qualifying, when it comes to the race, the other teams seem to be able to run with the big dogs. On a night when Dixon and Kanaan were given a free race to make up as many points as possible on Montoya, they were snake-bitten and they are probably ruing this night.

14. A week off before the start of Astor Cup August. Scott Dixon will be happy IndyCar is heading to his house, Mid-Ohio before Pocono and Sonoma. While it sucks the season ends so soon it has been a great battle and after this night I can't see this not being decided at Sonoma.