Saturday, June 3, 2017

First Impressions: Belle Isle 2017 Race One

1. Graham Rahal had yet to boss a race in his IndyCar career. Entering today, the most laps he had ever led in a race was 27 lap. He obliterated that today from pole position. It was never in much doubt. He ran the near-perfect two-stop strategy and none of the teams that tried a three-stop strategy really challenged him. No one challenged him actually. He is the seventh different winner from the first seven races and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is the fifth different team to win this season. RLLR has really looked good over the last two races and the addition of Oriol Servià has surely helped.

2. Scott Dixon, bad ankle and all, finished second and he re-takes the championship lead in the middle of the weekend. He ran some impressive laps at the end of the race but he was never close enough to challenge Rahal. This was his third runner-up finish this season. He is knocking on the door for a victory.

3. James Hinchcliffe's race was ruined in turn two. He just lost the back end all on his own and nearly fell a lap down. He stopped immediately after that spin under the caution and was fortunate to be on the pit lane when Charlie Kimball spun. He may have been able to salvage a top ten finish but timing vaulted him into podium contention and he got the most of it and swept the podium for Honda.

4. Josef Newgarden worked the three-lap strategy the best. He came in for his second pit stop under the Kimball caution and ran some explosive laps as he picked his way through the field. He set fastest lap at 74.2062 seconds. It was a good day for him in fourth.

5. Alexander Rossi was second to Rahal for a good portion of the race but a distant second. Unfortunately, he had a slow final stop and didn't have the speed on the final stint and finished fifth. Still a good day but could have been much better.

6. Like his teammate, Mikhail Aleshin came in under that first caution within the early laps and was on the pit lane when Kimball spun. Aleshin had the pace but causing a local yellow in qualifying cost him a top ten start. It turned out to be a much better day than he probably thought it would with a sixth-place finish.

7. Hélio Castroneves finished seventh and he got burned not stopping under the Kimball caution. He stayed out, pitted under green and got caught in slower traffic and lost a lot of time. He could have been on the podium if he matched Newgarden's strategy.

8. Takuma Sato did a three-stop strategy but he too stayed out under the Kimball caution but he stretched the fuel much longer than Castroneves. He had to stop for a splash of fuel with five laps to go. It cost him a few positions but he still finished eighth.

9. Ed Jones got another top ten and he started 21st. He ran out of fuel on the cool down lap but this has been an impressive rookie season for Jones. His fourth top ten of the season and he is seventh in the championship.

10. Speaking of young drivers, Spencer Pigot finished tenth after starting 17th. He wasn't much of a factor but it was a great day. This is his third top ten finish of the season and if his brakes didn't explode at St. Petersburg and if he didn't lose the car in turn five at Barber, he would probably have five top ten finishes from six starts. He might be the prized free agent this autumn.

11. Max Chilton had a good day but like Sato had to stop for a splash of fuel and came home 11th.

12. Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Muñoz and Tony Kanaan all stopped early on three-stop strategies but they would have been better suited had they come in under that first caution instead of waiting about a half-dozen laps after that caution to stop.

13. This was a bad day for Simon Pagenaud and Will Power. They just didn't have it and seemed to be lost. Pagenaud struggled on the first stint on the alternate tire.

14. Sandwiched between Pagenaud and Power in 17th was J.R. Hildebrand, who for the second consecutive race had a late penalty cost him a good finish. He could have finished in the top ten or at least 11th if it wasn't for that penalty.

15. Esteban Gutiérrez made his IndyCar debut and finished a lap down in 19th. I wonder what Lewis Hamilton has to think about that? He did finish ahead of Oriol Servià but the Spaniard did back off as Rahal was lapping them.

16. This has been a rough season for Charlie Kimball and Conor Daly. Last year, Kimball found a way to finish in the top ten. This time last year he had five top ten finishes in seven races and his worst finish was 12th. This year, Kimball has one top ten finishes and his other six finishes have been 15th or worse and this was his third finish outside the top twenty. The car just died on Daly today and Barber remains his only lead lap finish this season.

17. We get to do it all again tomorrow from Belle Isle and rain is in the forecast. Will it allow IndyCar to play or will it flood the island?