IndyCar – GP of Sonoma: One Little Mistake…

indycar-2014-sonoma-dixon-victory-laneIs unpredictability a bad thing? I’d imagine that this is a question that the higher-ups at IndyCar have to ask themselves every so often. After all, given his dominance at Sonoma heading into the weekend, a pole position on Saturday and a massive points lead heading into the race, Will Power winning the Grand Prix of Sonoma was a foregone conclusion.

However, all it took was one little mistake by Will Power to deny his chances at victory and almost turn the championship on its head. Then again, one little mistake ruined any chance Helio Castroneves had of capitalizing on Power’s issues.

Power’s pole put him in a great position to solidify his championship lead while rival Castroneves started 6th. However, starting mid-pack would be his undoing as a five-car tangle in Turn 2 immediately sent him to the back of the back and forced him to pit for repairs. He was never able to recover from that first lap incident and finished the day in 18th.

Upfront, Power stormed away from the field and only dropped the lead on the exchange of pit stops and alternate strategies early in the race. Unfortunately, it was those alternate strategies that doomed Power. A caution on Lap 36 saw him come off pit road second behind Scott Dixon. He also was mired mid-pack as other cars didn’t pit because they were on alternate strategy. As Power started climbing up through the field, he spun trying to pass Josef Newgarden which dropped him to 20th place but gave him a chance to recover.

That put him out of contention and opened up the race to a whole host of drivers trying to stretch fuel for the win. Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan ran up front but fell a few laps short on fuel. Mike Conway looked good to capitalize on the other two’s short fuel tanks but ran out of fuel within metres of the finish. When it comes to fuel mileage, one man does it better than everyone else. That man is Scott Dixon who stretched his fuel to score his second win of the season.

indycar-2014-sonoma-podiumAfter having an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, Dixon has won two of the last three races and is now 5th in the championship. With Power faltering, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud did their parts to stay in the title hunt. RHR finished 2nd and Pagenaud finished 3rd, though wins would have done much better.

Takuma Sato scored a season-best finish in 4th. Juan Montoya continued his strong IndyCar return in 5th. Josef Newgarden finishing in 6th. Mikhail Aleshin was the best rookie with a 7th. Marco Andretti scored an 8th. Justin Wilson and Will Power rounded out the top ten in 9th and 10th, respectively. They crossed the line in the inverse order but a local yellow for Conway’s out of fuel car meant that Power’s last dash pass was nullified. It looked like the yellow may have been a mistake but the fact that it was out meant it had to be obeyed.

There’s only one race left in the season but it’s also a double-points Triple Crown race which makes all the championship permutations a little different than usual. Under normal circumstances, all Power would have to do is start the race to win the championship thanks to his 51 point lead.

Now, he must finish 6th or better to clinch the title. If Helio scores the maximum 104 points, he’ll still fall one point short of Power. If Helio doesn’t win, Power only has to get to 13th with any Helio finish worse than 4th handing the title to Power. If Pagenaud scores maximum points, all Power has to do is finish 18th or higher to hold the points advantage over him. However, if he doesn’t win the race, he can’t win the championship. And poor RHR is out as soon as Power takes the green flag.

Not a lot of silly season news has come up since last week’s race but we’re learning a bit more about Andretti Autosport’s 2015 plans.

indycar-2014-sonoma-pagenaudAccording to Michael Andretti, the plan is for the team to go to five cars. Right now, Hunter-Reay, Marco and Carlos Munoz are all signed with sponsor deals secured for 2015. Hinchcliffe isn’t signed yet because there isn’t sufficient sponsorship for him to have a seat in 2015. The other free agent prize in 2015 is Simon Pagenaud who is Andretti’s other target. It seems as though the only thing that AA needs to sign both men is funding to actually get the cars on track.

Unfortunately, though, AA is planning to shut down their Indy Lights program. This is apparently a result of a lack of funding to buy the new IL-15 chassis and field a team in 2015. The team currently fields two teams on the 12-car Indy Lights grid so that would be a sizable dent to the field if more teams don’t sign up for Indy Lights in 2015. Considering that’s supposed to be the top feeder series for IndyCar, the low car count kind of highlights how IndyCar is becoming an international series where GP2 is just as much an IndyCar feeder series as Indy Lights. Whether that’s a good thing or not will be determined by the TV ratings.

Speaking of the what IndyCar is becoming, it seems more and more like IndyCar is becoming a series of street races. Considering that the DW12 chassis has given us a lot of great races on street courses, I won’t complain too much but there’s always that worry that they’ll produce dull parades.

That being said, IndyCar’s desire for a race in the northeast US continues despite the face that it hasn’t really worked so far. Troubles with ISC meant that Watkins Glen didn’t work out. Attendance killed the Loudon race and Pocono seems soon to follow. Providence, Rhode Island, has been plotting a race for years but hasn’t pulled the trigger on it. And while the Baltimore street race was popular, scheduling issues with IndyCar trying to end before Labour Day meant that it won’t be on the schedule any time soon.

But all this isn’t stopping the City of Boston from examining running an IndyCar street race in the city’s Seaport District starting in 2016. The big market is appealing to IndyCar and city officials have bought into the “street festival” pitch that IndyCar is bringing to sell street races to municipalities. In fact, City of Boston officials believe that a festival with an IndyCar race as the main event could draw up to 250,000 visitors to the Seaport District over the course of the weekend.

I’m all for the expansion of IndyCar but given the tight timelines of the schedule with the domestic schedule running from late March to Labour Day, they could quickly fall into the F1 track. In the pursuit of new markets and money, the 20-ish race limit on their season means that F1 is dropping historic venues and spectacular races in favour of the global and financial expansion. I’d worry about what IndyCar might do to expand the schedule while keeping in the relatively short time frame.

And speaking of scheduling matters, we could see a sizable overhaul of the schedule in 2015. Two thirds of the Triple Crown want new dates to help improve attendance and trying to squeeze everyone in could mean one gets left out off next season’s calendar.

indycar-2014-sonoma-mark-miles-ice-bucket-challengePocono wants to be moved off July 4th weekend and Fontana wants off Labour Day weekend. IndyCar CEO Mark Miles had been building his 2015 plan around a season finale on Labour Day weekend at Fontana so he’s got quite a bit of work to do. It was rumoured that the series was looking to put Fontana in June to run the Triple Crown in consecutive months and that may end up being the plan.

We could also see two doubleheaders leave the schedule next year. Houston appears to be off the calendar with the June date too hot to draw any fans and no other date seemed to be available for the race. Race promoter Mike Lanigan is looking for a new facility in Texas to host a race weekend starting in 2016 with the Circuit of the Americas and an airport race at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base among the likely stops.

The other issue is Toronto. City officials are offering a June weekend to temporarily replace the July weekend that will be occupied by the Pan-Am Games. Texas holds that weekend currently and isn’t willing to move. Either Mosport of Mont Tremblant, two of Canada’s greatest and most historic circuits, are on the short list to hold the Canadian Grand Prix but as road courses, they won’t be hosting doubleheaders.

Robin Miller thinks the result of all this will be a Canadian race in late June around Houston’s current weekend. Iowa will be the first race in July followed by the Pocono and Fontana races. The new events of Dubai and Brasilia would start the season in late February and early March, respectively, with New Orleans Motorsports Park ending the season around Labour Day.

indycar-2013-fontana-startAs I mentioned, we’ve reached the end of the 2014 IndyCar Series season. One more race for the championship will be contested in a 500-mile Triple Crown race at the 2.0-mile oval at Fontana, California. Saturday is the annual IndyCar World Championship 500.

It seems that it’s always Power’s championship to lose when we come to the final race of the season. Ovals tend not to agree with him but even WP would be hard pressed to throw this one away. He needs to bin it early and Helio needs to put in a great oval effort to win the title. Simon Pagenaud would need nothing short of a miracle to win the title as both Penske boys would have to run into trouble.

Not helping everyone is the fact that Power won this race last year and had a strong run at Pocono this year. Ed Carpenter will likely also have a strong run which won’t help the championship hopefuls. Maybe 2014 is finally the year for Will Power. He’s due after his born to runner-up finishes in 2010, 2011 and 2012.


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