Saturday, May 12, 2018

First Impressions: 5th Grand Prix of Indianapolis

1. Will Power had this covered. He was toying with us when he let Robert Wickens lead the second segment of the race. Sacrifice the lead in the second quarter of race on the primary tires to lead at the end. He did the same thing last year with Hélio Castroneves. And now he is a three-time winner in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. We have yet to see anyone turn a Grand Prix of Indianapolis victory into a great Indianapolis 500 performance but that is bound to change. Team Penske has now won 200 IndyCar races. Power has really only one standout Indianapolis 500 and that was in 2015. It is bound to be his time.

2. Eighteenth to second. It could only be Scott Dixon. It is tough to say the start of this season has been rough but he hasn't had it easy. He has had multiple poor qualifying performances. He has had multiple breaks go against him in races. And he still gets the finishes that make up a championship season. Championships are built on top tens that end up being top fives and top fives that end up being podium finishes. Most drivers would be happy with tenth from 18th on the grid. For Dixon anything less than sixth is disappointing. Don't worry that he hasn't led a lap this year. He will be there come Sonoma.

3. Robert Wickens didn't lose this race today. It wasn't an experience thing. The team got the tire strategy wrong. The third stint on primary tires was a mistake. Mostly because a large enough gap was not made in the second stint and it wasn't for a lack of trying. He led Power by five seconds. He is knocking on the door for the championship as a rookie. He is bound to have a bad day. The poor results he has had were not of his making. We know about St. Petersburg and his gearbox let him down at Long Beach. It might come in two weeks in his first Indianapolis 500 but he is head, neck, shoulders and waist above the rest of the rookies.

4. Sébastien Bourdais finished fourth and he is also building something. For Dale Coyne Racing consistently finishing in the top five is wonderful for this team. He is staying in the conversation and every week he is a threat to win. This is the underdog story IndyCar should be promoting. I hate to say it but it should exploit the size of Dale Coyne Racing. It is a fraction of Team Penske and it is on Team Penske's heels. It is ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing, the mega organization field race winning cars in four series on two different continents. This team should win over the hearts of causal fans. It should be the plucky team everyone roots for.

5. Alexander Rossi ran out of fuel late but only lost a position, coasting to another top five finish. He might be second in the championship but he has been the best driver this year. He had the best car at St. Petersburg and Phoenix and he won Long Beach. Barber was his one off race and he was competitive today. Fortunately, he was the one Andretti car not to have mechanical gremlins bite him this weekend.

6. Hélio Castroneves finished sixth because of course he did. That is what he does even after being out of the car for the first six races of the season. He was never a threat in this race and yet he finished sixth. Put money on him to finished sixth in the Indianapolis 500... or second... or first. It will likely be one of those three.

7. James Hinchcliffe finished seventh in what is kind of a disappointing day because he could have been in the top five. However, this is best Hinchcliffe has ever been in IndyCar... and he is still being beat by his teammate. It is great to see Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have two cars consistently in competitive positions.

8. Where do we start with Simon Pagenaud? Another opening lap incident but this team he kept going. He made up some ground early after the incident and fought for an eighth place finish. He has yet to pick up a top five finish. This is only the second time in his career he has not had a top five finish within in the first five races of a season. The other year was 2013. He ended up being a title contender that year but this year feels different. He seems slightly off.

9. Another year starting outside the top ten, another year finishing inside the top ten for Graham Rahal in this race. If he could just start eighth in this race he would win it by 25 seconds. He has slightly under performed this year but when you consider where he has started in each of these five races he has over performed.

10. And Takuma Sato rounded out the top ten. I will flat out say Takuma Sato has slightly under performed through the first five races but I don't know what I should have expected from him. I didn't think he would win but his finishes have been 12th, 11th, 21st, eighth and tenth... actually Sato is performing just as I expected he would be. He could be a tad better but he is doing fine.

11. Josef Newgarden had one moment of over aggression and it cost him. He didn't have to try and pass Bourdais into turn 12. He had better tires and could have set up a move into turn one. He went from possible podium to outside the top ten and either he has the championship lead by a few points or he is second a few points behind Rossi (According to Wikipedia he leads Rossi by two points). We all make mistakes. Newgarden doesn't make many. I think he will be solid from here on out.

12. Zachary Claman De Melo deserves his own line because he finished 12th, went from 19th to 11th in the first abbreviated lap, kept in on the cusp of the top ten all race and lost a tenth place finish after needing to save fuel. Let's calm down a bit about him though. People were floored with his performance when two laps down at Barber. I don't think he is going to be contending for top five finishes this year or podium finishes but his results should improved and he looked good today.

13. Quickly through the rest of the field: Marco Andretti was off at the start after his teammate had to hurry to change an engine before the race and 13th is respectable for him. Tony Kanaan faded. I will tackle Spencer Pigot and Ed Carpenter Racing in a moment. Max Chilton did ok but it wasn't enough. I think Gabby Chaves led a lap through pit cycle and that was it. Ryan Hunter-Reay was misfiring for the final two-thirds of the race and I bet he is crossing his fingers that that was it for mechanical problems this month because he can't have a repeat of last year. Kyle Kaiser led a lap through pit cycle but that was it. Charlie Kimball had a shot at a top ten but had to make a late pit stop. Matheus Leist did nothing. Ed Jones had to stop for a puncture. Zach Veach had some mechanical issue.

14. Ok... Ed Carpenter Racing... what the fuck is going on? Who do I start with? Spencer Pigot finished 15th and add that to his finishes of 15th, 14th, 15th and 15th. He started ninth, jumped the curb in turn five and spun after contact with Sato. Before all that, Jordan King start fifth, punted Pagenaud in turn two and beached the car, putting himself a lap down and he would never recover. This team is lost. And I can't help but feel the lack of a veteran presence isn't helping. The toothpaste is out of the tube for this season and King has been quick but has had lapses cost him this year. I think this team needs to get serious and either keep King or Pigot, bring in a veteran for the #20 Chevrolet full-time and Ed Carpenter either needs to run a third car for all the oval races if he wants or limit himself to just the Indianapolis 500. This team was contending for the championship three years ago. It was not a surprise to see the team in contention for race victory. Now this team couldn't get a top ten finish if it hit them in the face.

15. You may have noticed the lack of LED panels for this race as IndyCar is working out some electrical issues with those this month. A lot of teams put the car number there in place of the LED panel. One, I think IndyCar is doing the right thing to get the LED panel corrected instead of having it possibly causing issues that ruin a team's race. Second, I want them to return. Fans love them. They love being able to follow along and the extra information it gives when it comes to pit stop times. Third, I also liked the number on the roll hoop and when you look at how microscopic the number will be on the rear wing of the low downforce aero kit it will be in a good position for the Indianapolis 500.

However, you can't have both the LED panel and the number. IndyCar needs to solve the number issue for the low downforce aero kit. You can't get away with numbers that are less than three inches in height. Find an alternative spot. On the engine cover, on the top of the side pod, on the ramp in front of the rear tire. There is plenty of unused real estate on the race car and if a sponsor isn't there now then put a number in its place so people can pick these cars out, which leads me too...

16. Team Penske! You are sponsored by Menards! Get Menards to supply red paint and black paint. Paint Newgarden's car red and Castroneves' car black. There is no reason for three cars to be identical Verizon silver with the only difference being number color and roll hoop color. Get creative. Why wouldn't a team not want its car to stand out? Be something that gets you noticed. It will get your sponsor noticed. Imagination will only help you. Three silver cars are boring and it is fucking lazy. And this is partly on IndyCar. The series shouldn't let it happen and it should encourage teams to take chances. Taking chances it what gets you noticed, not blending it.

17. I want to address the consistent theme through all of IndyCar. From Trackside to the radio broadcast to the ABC broadcast, they all do the same thing. There is this idea that the championship pauses and the Indianapolis 500 takes over from the rest of the season. If you want people who watch the Indianapolis 500 in person or on television to watch the rest of the season don't act like the Indianapolis 500 is all that matters.

Talk about the championship you twits! If all people hear is this is the biggest race of the year and people who cover the sport say the championship doesn't matter why will they bother watching Belle Isle or Texas or Road America or Portland or Sonoma? Fucking hell, how would talking about the championship during the Indianapolis 500 hurt the series? We have the Indianapolis 500 crammed down our throats for an entire month. Make room for the championship. ABC didn't even show the championship standings after today's race! It should have been talked about today. It should be talked about during qualifying. It should be talked about pre-race, during the Indianapolis 500 and after the Indianapolis 500.

There is a bigger picture. We love the Indianapolis 500. It is a great event but IndyCar shoots itself in the foot every time the championship is ignored this month.

18. To end on a brighter note, the crowd looked good today.

19. And now practice begins Tuesday. Indianapolis 500 qualifying is a week away and yet there is still so much that has yet to happen.