IndyCar – Dual in Detroit: A Penske Shootout

indycar-2014-detroit-helio-fence-climbLove ’em or hate ’em, these street course doubleheaders sure end up with some exciting racing. While we usually dread Formula One street course races, IndyCar street races tend to be the more exciting of the events that require right turns in addition to the left turns.

The one recurring theme this weekend was Penske. It’s Roger Penske’s event with the first race led from the pole by Helio Castroneves in a Penske car. Therefore, it was only fitting that Will Power and Castroneves drove to victory in Penske cars at Penske’s race.

The first of the two races had a bit of a choppy start as it went to a full-course caution on Lap 7. It’s probably a good thing that it did because Castroneves had far and away the fastest car on the day. Anytime there was a lengthy green flag run, Castroneves would drive away from anyone trying to catch him.

He wasn’t the only car that was on a flyer during the race. His Penske teammate, Will Power, also had a blisteringly fast car. Coming from 16th on the grid, he carved through the field trying to make his way up front.

What helped power and hurt many more drivers was a combination of cautions and pit strategies. While some drivers pitted early to get on a three-stop strategies, the cars running up front stuck with a more standard two-stop strategy.

However, the cautions weren’t with the two-stoppers. A caution flag wiped out Helio’s lead right before he came in for his final stop. Meanwhile, Power was able to use the seven laps between HCN’s pit stop and his to put in some absolute scorching laps. While Castroneves was warming up his tires and back in traffic, Power turned in qualifying pace laps to find his way to second after his pit stop.

indycar-2014-detroit-power-rahalPower’s work wasn’t done there. He quickly dispatched Ryan Briscoe, who had to make a pit stop anyway, but he wasn’t out of the woods. He had an epic duel with Graham Rahal. The younger Rahal spent ten laps right on Power’s gearbox, looking every which way to get by the Aussie but he just couldn’t quite close the gap enough to make that move.

The result saw Will Power win his first race since St. Pete which seems like a lengthy gap between wins by his standards. Rahal finished second for his first top ten of the season. The three-stop strategy employed by the first two allowed Tony Kanaan to score his first podium for Ganassi.

Justin Wilson showed that just because he’s in a Dale Coyne car, it doesn’t mean he still can’t run up front. He started in 19th and finished 4th. Helio rounded out the top five while James Hinchcliffe started and finished one place behind HCN with a finish of 6th. Carlos Munoz showed he isn’t just an oval driver with a 7th place finish. The other Coyne machine was piloted to an 8th place finish by Carlos Huertas. Charlie Kimball came from 20th to get to 9th by the end of the day. And Marco Andretti rounded out the top ten as the final of the three Andretti Autosport cars that were running at the finish.

On Sunday, the story risked going much the same way for Helio as cautions risked mixing the field up. Despite having the fastest car all weekend, Helio didn’t actually hold the lead until he cycled to the front during pit stops at the end of the first stint.

Leading from the drop of the green flag was Round 2 polesitter Takuma Sato, who was looking for a return to form after a slow start to the current season. He led for the first 10 laps before ceding the lead to James Hinchcliffe who also led for ten laps. Sato’s day was quickly ruined by unfortunate pit strategy that saw him stuck in the pack and getting spun into the wall to end his day.

It wasn’t until Lap 28 that HCN took the point but even then, he only led for five laps while making pit stops. When he regained the lead on Lap 35, he didn’t relinquish it again for the rest of the race. The result was complete and utter domination from Castroneves.

indycar-2014-detroit-castroneves-checkered-flagHelio’s win was his first of the year and the 19th of his career which ties him with Rick Mears for 11th on the all-time American Open-Wheel win rankings. Will Power completed the 1-2 for Penske and his own personal 1-2 by crossing the line behind his teammate. Charlie Kimball came from 20th to finish on the podium in 3rd.

Defending series champion Scott Dixon had an even better climb as he went from last to 4th during the race. James Hinchcliffe moved up one spot from Saturday to round out the top five. Simon Pagenaud came back from a poor Saturday run to run 6th to close the weekend. Mikhail Aleshin trailed his teammate in 7th. Carlos Munoz dropped a spot from Race One to 8th. Tony Kanaan scored another top ten in 9th. Ryan Briscoe rounded out the top ten but was still the lowest finishing Ganassi car. You know you had a good weekend when…

There wasn’t much news on the IndyCar front between Indy and Detroit. However, that doesn’t mean that Derrick Walker hasn’t said something that could end up being equal parts controversial and exciting for the sport.

indycar-2014-detroit-chevy-engineIn an interview, Walker mentioned that the series wouldn’t necessarily force new engine manufacturers entering the sport to use the 2.2-litre twinturbo V6 engine formula when entering the sport. Walker said that the series has talked to current engine partners Honda and Chevy and both have said that they’d be open to allowing an equivalency formula to be applied to new engines to keep things fair.

While it may not make much sense to outside observers, it actually makes some perfect sense when you look at the rule book. You see, the rules lock in the engine formula through the end of the 2016 season. If someone came in next season, there’s a chance that they would have to develop a new engine in two years’ time. So things like rally engines or P2 engines or even F1 engines that could fit in the DW-12 and be equalized can be run until everyone can agree on 2017 and later engines.

So while this would slightly defeat the purpose of having an engine formula, getting some more competition into the sport should help matters. Well, as long as they don’t cheap out like Lotus.

The next round of the 2014 IndyCar Series season is a return to the ovals. It’s 600 kilometres of left turns and high banks as the series returns to Texas for the first time this month for the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. Or, as I’ll call it in the recap post, the Texas 600.

There are 18 rounds on the IndyCar calendar and only six are on the ovals. I’d actually prefer there to be a couple of more. Right now, the schedule is split with eight street races, six ovals and four road course races. I wouldn’t be heartbroken to see a couple more ovals on that schedule. More of a mix would make life just a little more exciting and push the skill requirements up a little more too.

Given their track records, this one should be a shootout between the Penskes, the Andrettis and Ed Carpenter. Each team looked good at Indy and usually run well on ovals. If we had more than one race to go on, maybe a prediction could be made. Of course, that would be asking too much.


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