Saturday, June 4, 2016

First Impressions: Belle Isle 2016 Race One

1. This race looked like it was going to be a dud but then it turned into a spectacle as the likes of Simon Pagenaud, Hélio Castroneves and Will Power misjudged the pit strategy while Sébastien Bourdais worked it to perfection, ran all out for a two stints and won while many limped home and a few ran out of fuel and hemorrhaged many points. This is Sébastien Bourdais' 35th IndyCar victory. He hadn't won a race from starting outside the top ten until Milwaukee last year. He started 13th today. It is a whole new Sébastien Bourdais.

2. Conor Daly gets his first career podium after working out pit strategy just like Bourdais. He nearly had a shot at the victory after Bourdais was held up by traffic but second is a phenomenal result for Daly and Dale Coyne Racing. He likely won't win a race by flat out speed and he needs to work strategy in his favor. He did it at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and finished sixth. Maybe he could steal a win tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow. It is suppose to rain. 

3. Juan Pablo Montoya gets a third after going off strategy from his teammates. He seemed to be the third best of the Penske bunch but he comes out on top and claws his way back into the championship picture as he teammates suffered. 

4. Graham Rahal might have been the best Honda in this race and finishes fourth. He needed this after a rough Indianapolis 500. It gets him somewhat back into the championship picture but he will need another good run tomorrow. 

5. Hélio Castroneves limped to fifth. The top four were covered by 7.4 seconds. Castroneves finished 40.01 seconds back. It could have been a better result but he should be smiling because he gained a lot of ground in the championship today.

6. Carlos Muñoz finished sixth with his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay finished seventh. Muñoz was up front all race but Hunter-Reay had to fight for that seventh. The entire Andretti team needs to qualify better. All the Andretti cars make up a handful of positions from where they start. If they could start in the top ten for one race they might get another victory.

7. Charlie Kimball finished eighth with Tony Kanaan finished ninth. Both stopped when the rest of the field were running three seconds slower to save fuel. I think both were hoping to make up more positions but these are good results especially for Kimball, who has four consecutive top ten finishes, matching a career best for him.

8. Alexander Rossi had to save fuel for another week and he finished tenth. Not a victory but considering this time a month ago he had yet to finish in the top ten in an IndyCar race, the fact he has three consecutive top ten finishes and one of those is an Indianapolis 500 victory.

9. Takuma Sato finished 11th but wasn't a factor in this race. Gabby Chaves finished 12th after stopping when others tried to stretch their fuel. 

10. Here is the big story that isn't so big. Simon Pagenaud ran out of fuel on the final lap and went from seventh to 13th. It sounds awful but isn't so bad. He still leads the championship by 59 points so he is guaranteed to be the championship leader heading to Texas. That six-position hit could bite him in September. Last year, Montoya ran out of fuel on the fuel lap in race two at Belle Isle and went from fourth to tenth. We all know how he lost the title. Keep this in mind should Pagenaud be leading the championship into Sonoma. 

11. Pagenaud benefitted as Will Power had a loose wheel nut force him to retire after he went off course in turn three after his stop. Not to mention Scott Dixon had a gearbox issue after his final stop. Had Dixon not had his problem, he probably finishes in the top five and might have even stood on the podium. Things are going Pagenaud's way but he can't keep banking on competitors making mistakes. 

12. Round up of the rest of the field. Josef Newgarden could have had a top ten but had to conserve fuel and could only manage 14th. Mikhail Aleshin and Marco Andretti were non-factors in 15th and 16th. Spencer Pigot finished 17th after being penalized for hitting his own pit equipment after a pit stop. Which is funny because Will Power was only warned last week when he hit another teams pit equipment. Weird. Pigot did well in his first race for Ed Carpenter Racing. He may have got a top ten because he was on the same strategy as Bourdais and Daly. James Hinchcliffe was in the top five for much of the race before he got into the barriers. 

13. Not a great day for British drivers. Jack Hawksworth failed to make the start. Max Chilton had suspension break on him eight laps in and he was the first retirement from the race. 

14. Good News! Tomorrow is the final ABC race of the season. 

15. I like these doubleheaders. It's a lot of work but it is worth it. Belle Isle might not be the greatest track for doubleheaders. It is rough and difficult to pass. Rain is forecasted tomorrow. Let's see if it impacts the race.