Alex Palou clinches historic first IndyCar title as Colton Herta wins at Long Beach

Alex Palou sealed the 2021 IndyCar championship with a measured and controlled race finishing in fourth for the final round at Long Beach, California which was won by Colton Herta. The Andretti Autosport driver finished the season in style with his third win of the season from 14th on the grid.

Colton Herta drove a magnificent race to take his sixth career victory. Photo Courtesy of James Black.

Josef Newgarden started on pole position ahead of Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves. Herta, who had been on the pace all weekend collided with the wall in qualifying meaning he started down in 14th, but it didn’t take long for the American to carve through the field – within a few laps he was already up to sixth with some incredible late-braking maneuvers on Romain Grosjean and Alex Palou.

Alex Palou started tenth and drove a tentative first half of the race as a Top 12 would be enough to seal the Spaniards first IndyCar title in his sophomore year. He made up a few places but largely remained in the upper half of the Top Ten.

The championship saw a dramatic turn as Palou’s primary rival, Patricio O’Ward was spun by Ed Jones and immediately fell to the rear of the field. However, he suffered further damage to the driveshaft and was forced to retire from the race effectively ending his title hopes to the delight of Alex Palou.

At this point, Newgarden was the only other contender, albeit a win and for Palou to retire would be the only perceivable permutation that would see the American seal his third championship – a long shot!

However, a long shot was all that Newgarden needed and he led the race up until shortly after the second caution of the race, brought out by the Chip Ganassi of Marcus Ericsson, who crashed into the wall after failing to pull off a move on Alexander Rossi. On the restart, Herta set about clearing Dixon and eventually passed Josef Newgarden for the net lead around Lap 35.

After clearing Newgarden, Herta pulled out almost a seven-second lead and putting the Penske driver effectively out of championship contention.

With O’Ward and Newgarden falling short,  Palou was in fifth and didn’t need to make up any more places in the race. But despite that, he continued pushing forward and putting the pressure on Hinchcliffe in front around Lap 37.

Alex Palou tried to take Hinchcliffe into Turn 1 but it was the Canadian who was later on the brakes to win out that fight, the Spaniard deciding to live to fight another day. In fact, soon after the second pit stop cycles got underway where Palou was able to jump Hinchcliffe in the pits.

Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean was in a title fight of his own, hunting down the prestigious ‘Rookie of the Year’ award. By Lap 37 he was up to seventh having gotten past Alexander Rossi around the outside of the fountain section. The Swiss-Frenchman only needed another 12 points to eclipse Scott McLaughlin.

Unfortunately, he would retire soon after with a rear-left suspension failure essentially gifting the ‘Rookie of the Year’ title to McLaughlin.

After the second set of pit stops, the overall situation at the front had not changed that much. A late caution brought out by a collision between Oliver Askew and Conor Daly threatened to shake things up with around 20 laps remaining.

On the restart, Colton Herta got a fantastic launch and was able to hold Newgarden off by just over a second ahead of Dixon, Palou, and Pagenaud. However, with five laps remaining Newgarden brought the gap down to less than half a second a put a great deal of pressure on Herta.

In the end, it was Herta who crossed the line to take his seventh career win ahead of Newgarden, Dixon, Palou, and Pagenaud. O’Ward briefly attempted to return to the track later in the race but fail to rescue any more points.

Rounding out the Top Ten was Alexander Rossi, Jack Harvey, Sebastien Bourdais, Takuma Sato, and Will Power. Helio Castroneves stayed out on a counter-strategy, refusing to pit after the first safety car, he was quickly swallowed up later in the race and finished down in 20th.

Both Rinus VeeKay, Marcus Ericsson, and Callum Ilott were the other three retirements from the race.

Palou, would be the new and deserving champion of IndyCar – the youngest since Scott Dixon at the age of 23 in 2003 finishing 38 points over new second-place man, Newgarden, as O’Ward slipped to third, just ahead of Dixon.

Ericsson’s retirement and Herta’s sixth career victory meant the Andretti Autosport driver moved up to fifth in the championship.

 

 

IndyCar Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Preview: The Final Showdown

IndyCar returns this weekend for the final time this season, as California’s Long Beach plays host to the championship showdown between Chip Ganassi’s Alex Palou and Arrow McLaren’s Patricio O’Ward.

Palou has a commanding lead with three wins and eight podiums to his name, the most out of any driver. This mix of consistency and speed has given him a sizable 35-point advantage over O’Ward with 54 points on offer for the season finale.

What this means is Palou can take the championship on Sunday as long as he finishes 11th or better This situation becomes even better if the Spaniard is able to seize pole position and lead the race into Turn One which would give him the extra two points to make 15th enough for the title.

Patricio O’Ward has everything to do this weekend and more. Without bonus points, the minimum target is third to stay with a shout of Palou’s points tally. But in reality, the Mexican needs to win and his nearest rival to be beset with issues.

The first thing on O’Ward’s mind will be to take pole position, putting himself in control of Sunday’s proceedings. He has the leading number of pole positions this year and has a good track record at street circuits, including a double podium at Detroit. But we have learned to expect the unexpected in IndyCar, and who knows what could happen to those in the mid-pack throughout a full race distance.

Of course, this provides Palou doesn’t qualify near the front – which unfortunately for O’Ward, he has – in four of the last five occasions, the Spaniard has qualified in the Top Six.

O’Ward has the slight advantage of having raced here once before in 2019, but how much that will favor the Mexican remains to be seen. In any case, it is set to be a thriller of a showdown with either driver set to take their first IndyCar title and become the youngest champion since Scott Dixon at age 23.

Patricio O’Ward, Josef Newgarden, and Scott Dixon arrive at Long Beach with an interesting subplot in the fight for runner-up. Photo Credit: James Black

Is the Runner-Up Position Up For Grabs?

The short answer is, yes.

While O’Ward remains in the hunt for the title, he is still within reach of a host of drivers who, until last week, were within championship contention.

Josef Newgarden is mathematically in with a chance of the title himself but is adrift by a whopping 48 points. The two-time champion’s hopes of a third are remote, but not impossible. Effectively, a win and for both O’Ward and Palou to retire will do.

Therefore, we must turn our attention to what is entirely realistic. He is only 13 points behind O’Ward and could sneak into the runner-up position in the standings by Sunday evening. Scott Dixon is 34 points behind the Mexican and has won at this track on two occasions, could he sweep in under the radar and make it a one-two for Chip Ganassi in the standings?

Romain Grosjean and Scott McLaughlin are the main protagonists in the Rookie of the Year battle. Photo Credit: Chris Owens.

Two-Way Rookie of the Year Fight

There are remarkably few names to watch out for this year as the two premier contenders for this award are between Penske’s Scott McLaughlin and Dayle Coyne’s Romain Grosjean.

McLaughlin holds a 20-point lead over the Swiss Frenchman, with one podium to his name versus three in Romain’s favor. In fact, the latter is coming off a magnificent showing at Leguna Seca where an electric final stint saw him climb up to third having started outside the Top Ten.

However, you may be remiss in forgetting that Grosjean has missed three races this season, due to agreeing not to take part in the first few ovals on the season including the Indianapolis 500 worth double points. Therefore, to be only 20 points behind heading into the final race is remarkably impressive and by all accounts should be considered the Rookie of the Year no matter where he finishes.

He has found a place to call home in the IndyCar series, with a new lease of life where he has pulled of some incredible qualifying performances and overtakes along the way. No doubt he is part of the IndyCar family and will likely earn himself a place at the highly sought-after Andretti team next year.

Colton Herta has taken two wins and three pole positions this season. Photo Credit: James Black.

Watch out for Herta and Rossi

Put simply, Herta is our most recent race winner and has been one of the most in-form drivers in the second half of the season. He took his seventh IndyCar victory and will likely want to finish the season in style.

Meanwhile, Alexander Rossi has taken the victory at Long Beach on the past two consecutive visits to the famous street course. He qualified on the front row at Leguna Seca and was pushing his teammate for the win until unfortunately spinning out of contention on Lap Two. Both will undoubtedly be the ones to watch to steal the limelight this weekend.

Colton Herta dominates, Palou closes in on title, and Grosjean steals the headlines at Leguna Seca

Colton Herta did what Colton Herta usually does, dominating from pole position to take his sixth career victory at Leguna Seca.

Herta led the field cleanly ahead of Alexander Rossi, Will Power, and Alex Palou. However, on Lap Two, it was Rossi who tried to capitalise on a brief mistake by Herta, diving down the inside of Turn Two. The Andretti drivrt understeered into Herta and spun out into the gravel bringing out the first caution of the day. Meanwhile, Arrow McLaren SP driver Felix Rosenqvist spun but was able to return to the track and get racing again.

After the first lap, the championship leaders were in fourth (Palou), fifth (Dixon), sixth (O’Ward), and 17th (Newgarden).

Patricio O’Ward was one of the only front runners to start on the primary tyres and would finish fourth. Photo credit James Black.

The restart got underway on Lap Four as O’Ward, who started in sixth and had already lost out to Dixon, started to fall down the order. He was soon swallowed up by Marcus Ericsson and Simon Pagenaud as he continued his season-long struggle on the primary sticker blacks. 

Will Power pitted on Lap Ten with an engine issue which kicked started the first stops for other drivers like O’Ward, who desperately needed track position. However, Josef Newgarden had pitted earlier and was able to jump O’Ward out of the pits.

Colton Herta would wait until Lap 19 before pitting, emerging out of the pits comfortably ahead of Alex Palou who had benefited from the misfortune of Rossi and Power. O’Ward would eventually pit again on Lap 40 while Herta would hold a 30 second lead over Palou. However, after both drivers pitted Palou was able to close up to within a second of the leader.

IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey Preview: Can Anyone Stop Palou?

IndyCar will take to the WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, California this weekend for Round 15, as we sprint towards the conclusion of the 2021 season.

The penultimate round will run from Friday to Sunday with a maximum of 54 points on offer before we bookend the championship with the final race at Long Beach, California.

This is always an incredibly popular destination, with the famous ‘Corkscrew’ section, and with plenty of fast sweeps and narrow apexes to navigate around the 2.2-mile circuit, as well as a tricky pit lane that could cause some chaos in the race.

The title fight has also taken an interesting turn following the events of Portland with only a handful of contenders still mathematically in contention.

Can Anyone Stop Alex Palou?

The Spaniard went into Portland ten points behind rival Patricio O’Ward and on the first lap, you would be remiss in thinking he may have lost his championship hopes.

However, after falling down the order a fantastic two-stop strategy, helped by a few cautions, allowed him to fight up the order and take his third win of the season.

A 35-point swing in Palou’s favor means he now leads O’Ward by 25 points. Newgarden is third in the standings, 34 points behind Palou. Dixon is 49 points behind in fourth, and Ericsson, now the last driver that is mathematically eligible to win the championship is fifth, and 75 points behind.

But should we really be surprised? He has shown remarkable speed, consistency, and maturity beyond his years, and had it not been for a run of misfortune he would have definitely been out of reach in the points standings.

For example, Palou was set for a Top Five finish at the recent outing at the IMS road course before a frustrating engine failure spelled the end of his race. He has also faced grid penalties due to engine changes resulting in a nine-grid place penalty and starting 21st at Gateway. But after carving through the over 60 Laps the Spaniard would be collecting in a three-car crash out of his control.

If you were to assume he would have finished fifth at IMS, disregard Gateway altogether, and take his average finishing position since Detroit Race Two it would be a remarkable third.

That consistency is what may seal the championship for Palou.

Concern for O’Ward?

The Mexican driver had no explanation for his lack of pace on Sunday, suggesting he lacked three-four mph on the straight as his race deteriorating after he switched on the black primary tyres.

It will be a concern that out of the previous three finishes outside the Top Ten this year, two of them were because of a lack of pace. He has struggled with consistency as of late and has only been able to complete three races in a row that he was happy with. This inconsistency could be the difference between being an IndyCar champion or not.

O’Ward definitely has the ability to pull it out of the bag on his day, evidenced with a series-leading four pole positions. Moreover, he set the pace during the pre-season test at Laguna Seca in March and has previously won here during his Pro Mazda Championship campaign in 2016.

Without a doubt, this is one of O’Ward’s most important races of his career.

Who Else Is In The Mix?

The three contenders that remain include Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, and Marcus Ericsson but realistically the first two are the ones that have a good chance.

Josef Newgarden is always on top form come to the tail end of the season, having had two wins and been inside the Top Ten at every race since Mid Ohio. His race at Portland saw him qualify near the back but was able to run a magnificent counter-strategy to finish inside the Top Five.

Scott Dixon remains without a win at Laguna Seca in his career and will be looking to steal a march on his high-flying teammate. A podium at Portland has rescued what has been a difficult few races for the New Zealander. However, the six-time world champion is accustomed to pressure and will now his objectives going into the final two rounds.

Colton Herta will be another one to watch out for after winning here in 2019 while Rinus VeeKay dominated the circuit during his Indy Lights campaign.

Alex Palou takes remarkable comeback victory at the IndyCar Grand Prix of Portland

You would be fooled into thinking this was a relatively easy win; a pole-to-win scenario for Chip Ganassi’s Alex Palou at the Grand Prix of Portland, right?

Well, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. After having to avoid contact at the start, the Spaniard was left to fight through a competitive field, fraught with danger and risks at every turn.

The start of the 110-lap race was somewhat chaotic. Pole sitter Palou got a brilliant start, with third-place Scott Dixon in hot pursuit. However, Felix Rosenqvist came upon them two at a frightening pace, clipping the rear-left of Dixon and as he avoided heavier contact he pushed both Alexander Rossi and pole-sitter Alex Palou into the Turn 1 runoff. In fact, all the front-runners missed Turn 1 as further mayhem ensued – James Hinchcliffe, Oliver Askew, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, and Romain Grosjean also ran wide.

IndyCar insists that cars that make the chicane are given priority when it comes to reordering the pack, so all three (Palou, Dixon, and Rosenqvist) were relegated to the back while Arrow McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward was promoted to the race lead ahead of Graham Rahal, Ed Jones, Marcus Ericsson, and Sebastien Bourdais.

However, a cautionary period followed after contact between various cars including Helio Castroneves, Calum Ilott, and Romain Grosjean who took Andretti’s James Hinchcliffe out of the race.

O’Ward led from the restart on Lap 11, stretching a solid gap right ahead of Graham Rahal, while championship rivals Palou and Dixon were left floundering near the bottom, but having taken the initiative to go onto an alternative strategy and pitted early.

However, things turned when O’Ward pitted from the lead on Lap 29. Graham Rahal would stay out five more laps before pitting and would eventually assume the race lead after O’Ward struggled to make his new black tyres work.

On Lap 52, Dalton Kellett and Callum Ilott both stalled on the same lap which brought out the next caution.  Some drivers, such as O’Ward would take this opportunity to pit for their second out of three pit stops, while others such as Graham Rahal would stay out, opting to use the extra yellow time to make it to the end on just one stop.

Patricio O’Ward inherited the lead on Lap 1 but would eventually finish down in 14th. Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens.

O’Ward suddenly found himself down in 12th needing to pass 11 cars on track in order to retake the race lead. On the restart, the Mexican reported a loss of power due to being in the wrong fuel mode and was quickly swallowed up by a multitude of cars which would signal the beginning of the end of his race.

Meanwhile, Rahal had remained in the lead on the restart, however, his choice not to stop meant that he needed to excessively fuel save across his final two stints. He led heading into his final stop on Lap 75 followed by Ed Jones and Jack Harvey.

However, others on the two-stop began to use the overcut to good effect. Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, and Alex Palou all separately leapfrogged one another on overcuts, resulting in Palou taking the race lead ahead of Rossi before two separate spins brought out the final two cautions of the day.

The first was brought out on Lap 86 by Simon Pagenaud who spun coming out of the pits after coming into contact with teammate Will Power. The second on Lap 90 by Oliver Askew who would also, unfortunately, spin and stall the car.

Alex Palou won his third victory from pole position to retake the lead in the Drivers’ Championship. Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski.

Alex Palou led the final restart from Rossi, Dixon, and Harvey, and Newgarden but was able to masterfully hold off his American Andretti rival in impressive fashion. The gap was brought down to 0.3s with 10 laps remaining, but it would be the Spaniard who crossed the line victorious to take his third IndyCar victory of 2021.

Rossi, Dixon, Harvey, and Newgarden would complete the Top Five while Rosenqvist, Ericsson, Herta, McLaughlin, and Rahal would round out the Top Ten.

O’Ward eventually finished in 14th place after struggling to make any significant ground on the restarts.

It would be a massively important win for Alex Palou who retakes the lead of the Driver’s Championship with two races remaining at Leguna Seca and Long Beach. The Spaniard now holds a 25 point lead over the Mexican, with Josef Newgarden a further nine points behind and Dixon another 15.

Marcus Ericsson is still mathematically in with a shout of the title but would have to overcome a 75 point deficit to achieve what would be a ‘Deus Ex Machina’ type scenario at this point.

IndyCar Grand Prix of Portland Preview: Title Fight Intensifies

IndyCar will take to the Portland International Raceway this weekend, as the fourteenth round of the 2021 championship gets underway.

The action will run from Saturday to Sunday with a maximum of 54 points on offer as we approach the business end of the season. The Oregon road course forms part of the first of a triple-header of races that will see out the championship including Laguna Seca, and Long Beach.

As an incredibly close-fought championship approaches its finale, there are a number of stories to discuss as well as plenty of title hopefuls who will be looking to make their mark.

Patricio O’Ward leads the driver championship with three races remaining ahead of Alex Palou. Image courtesy of James Black.

TITLE FIGHT TIGHTENS

It’s been an incredible turnaround for championship leader Patricio O’Ward who until Nashville was over 40 points behind Alex Palou in the standings but has since enjoyed a whopping 60-point swing in his favour. They now sit on 435 and  425 points respectively.

O’Ward has been in electric form after finishing in the Top Five at the Indianapolis road course before a magnificent second-place at Gateway. And there’s nothing to say this momentum will not continue going into the triple-header after showing seriously strong pace at the mid-season test at Portland topping a field of ten cars.

He has achieved five podiums this season, two of which are victories taken at Texas and  Detroit, only one podium behind Palou’s tally this year. The Spaniard has endured a horrendous run of bad luck including an engine failure and a collision that has seen the Chip Ganassi driver collect a measly ten points over the past two races.

However, they may have to look over their shoulder as another rival looks set to pounce if either one falters. Penske’s Josef Newgarden seems to have kicked off his second-half of the season charge, just as he did in 2020 where he took four podiums (two wins) in the final six races only to fall short of the title to Dixon.

The American has taken two wins since Road America and has lept up the standings sitting only 12 points behind Palou. His record at Portland leaves a lot to be desired – but Penske has shown themselves to be strong qualifiers on road courses this year so watch out for the Nashville-born racer this weekend.

Colton Herta led the race from Will Power at Gateway until a driveshaft issue forced him to retire. Photo courtesy of Joe Skibinski.

WHO ELSE TO WATCH OUT FOR?

Our picks for this weekend go to Colton Herta and Will Power who have shown evidence of incredible pace around this track and alongside their current form, stand them in good stead this weekend.

Herta could well have won three races consecutively going into this weekend if not for an array of issues. He led most of the race at Nashville before crashing under pressure while trying to overtake Ericsson for the lead. He fell just short at the Indianapolis road course but would have a potential victory taken away at Gateway following a driveshaft issue. Meanwhile, Will Power comes off the back of two podiums, one of which is a win, and a pole position.

Importantly, this was the site of a fantastic race last year which saw Colton Herta take pole position but would end with Will Power taking the win. As both drivers head into this weekend in-form, we could be in store for an incredible rematch between the experienced champion and the rising star of the future.

Callum Ilott makes his IndyCar debut with Juncos. Having once been touted for an Alfa Romeo F1 drive he has rumoured between IndyCar and Ferrari’s WEC LMP-h program. Photo courtesy of James Black.

AN EXCITING DEBUT AMIDST A RANGE OF DRIVER CHANGES

Callum Ilott makes his IndyCar debut this weekend with the newly formed Juncos Holinger Racing team. The British Ferrari Academy prospect was runner-up in the 2020 F2 season. and has spent this season as test driver for the Scuderia Ferrari F1 team and the test and reserve driver for Alfa-Romeo F1.

The highly-rated youngster follows Christian Lundgaard as the second F2 academy driver to be given an opportunity in IndyCar as a potential option for a full-time seat in 2022.

He took part in a test with the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course on Thursday 2nd September and will be looking to hit the ground running after Lundgaard’s impressive debut earlier this year.

Alongside him are a number of drivers changes including Oliver Askew who will feature for Rahal Letterman Lanigan for the remaining three races of the season.

Helio Castroneves returns to Meyer Shank Racing after missing Gateway while Ed Carpenter steps back to allow Conor Daly to pilot the no.20 Ed Carpenter Racing entry while Max Chilton takes his spot back at Carlin.

Also returning is Jimmie Johnson who replaces Tony Kanaan in the no.48 car and will remain there for the final three races.

 

Josef Newgarden wins the IndyCar Bommarito 500 as title hunt tightens

The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway did not fail to disappoint in a race filled with plenty of drama with massive permutations for the championship standings.

Josef Newgarden took a magnificent victory at Gateway, his third at the circuit, and his second of the 2021 season to bring him firmly into title contention. Meanwhile, Patricio O’Ward took advantage of misfortune from those behind to take second place and now leaves with the lead of the IndyCar championship.

Newgarden takes his second win of 2021 to bring himself firmly into the championship fight. Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski.

Newgarden initially started in third but assumed the lead after long-time leader Colton Herta suffered a mechanical issue after having led the majority of the race.

The Penske driver was able to fight his way to the front after leapfrogging teammate Will Power and Herta out of the pits during the third safety car period, caused by Ed Carpenter.

However, Herta with incredible pace in the middle stint was able to take the lead from Newgarden until a driveshaft failure ended the Andretti driver’s hopes. This is the second race in three that Herta has retired from a race-winning position after crashing out at Nashville two weeks ago.

Newgarden came under a late challenge from Alexander Rossi for the lead, but it was misfortune for the Andretti driver who made contact with the wall with 60 laps remaining.

On the restart, Newgarden spent the final 50 laps fending off Patricio O’Ward who qualified in fifth place. The gap was reduced to less than half a second on the final few laps, but it was the Penske driver who came out victorious.

O’Ward drove a calm and measured race to take the lead of the drivers championship with a magnificent second place. Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski.

Second place for O’Ward now puts him on 435 points with Alex Palou 10 points behind. The win for Newgarden puts him third, a further 12 points behind after Chip Ganassi Scott Dixon’s incident with Palou and Rinus VeeKay.

Immediately after the restart following the fourth caution period, VeeKay charged into the back of the Spaniard, collecting Dixon in the process.

Will Power started on pole position and was in search of his second consecutive win but would eventually settle for the final podium position, with Scott McLaughlin close behind in a fantastic fourth place.

Sebastien Bourdais’s brave strategy call allowed the A.J.Foyt driver to finish in fifth position ahead of Takuma Sato who ran a similar race to the Frenchman. With fresh-tyres they were able to push aggressively on the final restart to take a few extra positions.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was finished in seventh just 5.8s off the Japanese driver while Simon Pagenaud managed to claim eighth after coming back from contact with Newgarden on Lap 16 where he lost a portion of his front wing and was relegated to the back after coming into the pits.

Marcus Ericsson and Jack Harvey rounded out the Top Ten in a remarkable race where only 13 cars crossed the finish line on the lead lap, something we haven’t seen outside of the Indy 500 in years.

Romain Grosjean made his oval debut in impressive fashion, making some aggressive overtakes to find his way into the Top Ten. Unfortunately, after missing a wave-around he would finish a lap down from the leader in 14th.

It was a promising start for Graham Rahal who had qualified within the Top Ten, that was until a collision with Ed Jones on Lap 3 promptly retired both from the race.

IndyCar Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Preview: Back in The Praire State

IndyCar will take to World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois this weekend, as the thirteenth round of the 2021 championship gets underway.

The action will run from Friday to Saturday. Instead of the race taking place on Sunday, it will take place on Saturday just as it did for last weekend’s Big Machine Grand Prix due to NASCAR being staged the day after.

The last of an incredible triple-header culminates with the Bommarito Automotive Group 500, with plenty of drama to look forward to.

Alex Palou will take a six-place grid penalty at Gateway. Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski.

PALOU SET FOR ENGINE PENALTY

Alex Palou’s engine failure at Indianapolis is a serious setback for the Spanish driver’s aspirations for the IndyCar title. He still leads the championship but would have preferred to have left Indianapolis with 50 points over Patricio O’Ward rather than the current tally of 21 with Scott Dixon a further 13 behind. That may seem like a big buffer, but with a race win worth 50 points, a single retirement could eliminate the Spaniard’s championship position.

Further to Palou’s misery will be the six-grid place penalty he is set to take for his second extra engine following the mechanical failure at Indianapolis. Incredibly, engines have been something of a recurring problem for Palou. He broke his first in a preseason test and was left with only three engines – the limit being four. He had to start with a new engine at Indy, which cost him six grid spots at Detroit and had to change the engine again for Nashville – yet another six places.

However, he can take some comfort in the fact that it has happened at a circuit where it is possibly the least difficult to overtake out of those that remain in the calendar – or is it?

In theory, it is easier to overtake on an oval than on road courses. But Gateway is almost an exception to the rule. It is a short, ‘egg’ shaped circuit that is barely two kilometres in length. Therefore, the straights are shorter than on average ovals meaning traffic may become a big problem.

Patricio O’Ward comes into Gateway with a massive opportunity. Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski

O’WARD TO SEIZE OPPORTUNITY?

Patricio O’Ward wouldn’t have believed his luck when he saw championship rival Palou retire in the closing stages last weekend. He started on pole position and was in an incredibly advantageous position to capitalise in the points standings. Unfortunately, starting on the red ‘soft-wall’ tyres seemed to hamper his progress, slowly falling down the order and eventually *behind* Palou, who had started sixth.

The Mexican has the opportunity to further capitalise at Gateway – a circuit where he performed extremely well in 2020. He finished third and second at the double-header weekend and was only outscored on points by Scott Dixon (himself finishing first and fifth).

Moreover, O’Ward has performed extremely well at the other oval tracks this year where a fourth-place at the Indianapolis 500 was arguably eclipsed by a magnificent double-header weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway, finishing third before on his way to achieving his first career IndyCar victory.

Despite that, it has been Honda that has had the advantage over Chevrolet across both ovals this year so it is obviously not a clear cut as to who will come out on top this weekend.

Romain Grosjean makes his oval debut. Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski

ROMAIN GROSJEAN MAKES HIS OVAL DEBUT 

Dayle Coyne Racing with Rick Ware driver Romain Grosjean will make his IndyCar oval debut at Gateway, following on from a successful test at the same venue last month.

The French-Swiss driver has been a hit in the championship since leaving Formula 1 and embarking on a part-time IndyCar schedule, in which he is contesting the road and street circuits.

He scored a Top 10 on his debut at Barber while the highlight of his season came with a pole position and runner-up finishes on the Indianapolis road course in both May and last weekend’s running.

He showed encouraging signs during a test at Gateway earlier this year where he clocked in less than half a second off the fastest time that day.

His best time was 25.3625 seconds, only marginally slower than the fastest race lap set last year by Takuma Sato with a 25.3039s.

Pietro Fittipaldi returns for Dayle Coyne Racing. Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski.

DRIVER CHANGES

This race kicks off a number of driver changes as is customary on oval circuits. Those that drop out include RC Enerson, Christian Lundgaard, and Helio Castroneves.

Additionally, Max Chilton will step aside leaving Conor Daly to take up his seat while Ed Carpenter moves into the vacant seat at Ed Carpenter Racing.

Pietro Fittipaldi has been substituted in place of Grosjean for the ovals circuits this year. However, he will return to the team again, this time in place of Cody Ware.

Lastly, Tony Kanaan returns to pilot the 48′ Chip Ganassi instead of Jimmie Johnson.

Will Power ends winless IndyCar drought with fifth victory on IMS road course. Points leader Palou retires.

Will Power withstood late pressure to take victory at the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix, his first of the season. The win is his fifth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course and extends his winning streak across 14 seasons, having taken his first in 2007.

Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta rounded out the podium, with Alexander Rossi fourth, and Patricio O’Ward fifth after late drama with Championship leader Alex Palou.

Pole-sitter O’Ward led Power off the line. Photo Courtesy of Karl Zemlin

O’Ward started on pole position having edged out Power by an incredible margin of 0.06s. He led the field away strongly able to pull out a two-second advantage over the Australian, having started on sticker red ‘alternative’ tyres. He tried to use them to an early benefit, pulling a gap on the rest of the field knowing that he would be on slower rubber in the middle stint.

However, it was Will Power, who also started on sticker ‘reds’, who pitted before O’Ward. The undercut worked wonders as the Arrow McLaren SP driver emerged less than one second ahead of Power. Unfortunately, on cold tyres there was little O’Ward could do. He fought bravely but it was Power who triumphed, diving down the inside at the penultimate corner on Lap 18 to take the race lead.

The day went from bad to worse for O’Ward, now on primary ‘blacks’, was now vulnerable to those on fresh ‘reds’. Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean made light work of the Mexican who found himself in fourth by Lap 30.

Conversely, it was ‘easy-street’ for Power who was able to pull out an eight-second gap on the rest of the field. He would eventually pit on Lap 38 for his second stop and emerge comfortably in the lead.

Meanwhile, Championship leader Alex Palou had emerged from the pits behind both Alexander Rossi and Jack Harvey in seventh. After his first pit-stop, he would make light work of them find himself immediately behind points rival O’Ward.

Danish Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver Christian Lundgaard did extremely well to qualify fourth on his IndyCar debut. However, it was a difficult day as he lost a position to Herta off the start and then lost out to those who had perfected the undercut on their first stop. He found himself down in tenth after the first cycle but would eventually slip further down the order.

Will Power had an eight-second advantage over Colton Herta on Lap 40. That was, he did until he encountered traffic in the form of James Hinchcliffe who was fighting to stay on the lead lap. What played out was an intriguing position where Herta’s teammate could help slow down the race leader, as there are no blue flags in IndyCar. An eight-second advantage fell to four within a few laps.

The final pit stops took place around Lap 60 with Power emerging ahead of Herta, now under immediate pressure from Romain Grosjean. This would prove to be Herta’s undoing as he proceeded to use up his remaining ‘Push-to-Pass’ to defend. Yet, the gap to Power continued to fall down to two seconds.

Alex Palou retired as Championship rival O’Ward finished in fifth. Photo Courtesy of Karl Zemlin

That was until Championship leader Alex Palou stopped on Lap 68 with a mechanical issue bringing out the first caution of the day. Luckily for Power, the safety car would bring Hinchcliffe out of his way and would have clean air with a significant ‘Push-to-Pass’ advantage over his rivals.

On the restart, Power got away cleanly while Grosjean courageously overtook Herta into Turn One for second place. The French-Swiss racer found himself fending off the American for the final laps having used up his ‘Push-to-Pass’ while attacking Herta.

Rinus VeeKay brought out the final caution following contact with Penske’s Scott McLaughlin which sent the Dutchman into a spin. On the restart, it was a good getaway again for Power who used up his remaining 70s of ‘Push-to Pass’ to cruise home to the chequered flag.

The victory is a huge relief for the Australian who came so agonizingly close to a win at Detroit before he was forced to retire following a late red flag where his ECU overheated.

Romain Grosjean would take his second podium of the season. Photo Courtesy of James Black

It would be a second podium of the season for Grosjean who still continues to impress in his rookie IndyCar season while Jack Harvey, Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden, and Marcus Ericsson rounded out the Top 10.

Christian Lundgaard impressed on his debut with a late-recovery to finish 12th, pulling off a sensational overtake on Dixon into Turn One.

Palou had entered the race with a 42-point lead over Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon and by 48 points over O’Ward. Going off sequence with an early pit stop, Dixon finished 13th and at least salvaged some points from starting 26th.

Palou’s advantage at the top of the championship has now been slashed to 21 points over O’Ward who moves into second place in the standings. The Spaniard will likely take a penalty for the next race at Gateway due to his need to change his engine due to his retirement.

IndyCar Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix Preview

We didn’t have to wait long for IndyCar as we prepare for the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

This 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course will play host to the eleventh round of the championship. Since its inception, the road course has always been seen as the ‘warm-up’ act on the lead-up to Indianapolis 500, traditionally on a Saturday two weeks prior. However, the 2021 calendar included a *second* Indy GP to replace the cancellations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The inaugural Nashville Music City Grand Prix gave us an IndyCar spectacular like no other. Nine cautions and two red flags were enough to make any keen viewer dumbfounded as the chequered flag dropped.

Ericsson and Chip Ganassi Resurgence?

Chip Ganassi teammates Marcus Ericsson and Scott Dixon share the podium in Nashville. Photo Courtesy of James Black.

Nevertheless, Marcus Ericsson left Nashville a two-time IndyCar race winner and added a fascinating twist to the title fight. Who would have thought that before the start of the season?

In fact,  he was unfortunate not to win at Mid-Ohio as he chased down Josef Newgarden to the line. Since his first win in Detroit Ericsson has been a revelation, justifying Chip Ganassi’s decision to sign him and perhaps unleashing a level of performance that has always been there.

Importantly, he has finished ahead of his six-time champion teammate Scott Dixon 4 out of the last 6 times of asking and in doing so has thrown himself into championship contention.

Alex Palou sits comfortably in the lead on 410 points with his next closest competitor Scott Dixon trailing by 42 points. Patricio O’Ward is a further 6 behind. However, Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson are only a couple of wins away from leapfrogging many of their aforementioned rivals, both on 335 and 331 respectively.

Three out of the top five in the championship are Chip Ganassi Racing, which underlines the impressive level of performance and consistency they have reached.  However, it remains to be seen how the team will be able to manage the driver battles as we draw closer to the business end of the season.

Christian Lundgaard Makes His Debut With Rahal Letterman

Christian Ludgaard will make his IndyCar debut with RLL at the IMS. Photo Courtesy of Alpine F1.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan announced on Monday that the team will enter FIA Formula 2 driver Christian Lundgaard into the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix. The 20-year-old Danish driver recently tested with the team at Barber Motorsports Park and is a member of the Alpine Driver Academy, a program originally known as the Renault F1 Academy set up in 2002 to nurture and develop young drivers through their careers.

The news comes as RLL prepares to evaluate drivers in anticipation of expanding to a third entry.

Son of European Rally champion Henrik Lundgaard, Christian is no short of success, having claimed the SMP F4 Championship and F4 Spanish Championship. The following year he was the runner-up in the Formula Renault Eurocup.

Lundgaard is currently in his second full season of Formula 2 with two race wins and a pole position to his name.

McLaren Acquires Majority Stake in IndyCar Team

McLaren Group set to acquire a majority stake in Arrow McLaren SP. Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens.

In a surprise announcement earlier this week, the McLaren Racing Group announced that it would be acquiring a majority stake in the Arrow McLaren SP team.

The partnership, which saw McLaren partner with the former Arrow Schmidt Peterson team has seen remarkable success in their short time together. They were able to build on their five podiums in only their first season to achieve two wins in 2021 while sitting third in the drivers’ championship.

It is believed that they will acquire a 75% majority stake in the team which would give them complete control over drivers and whether to expand to a third car entry, something they are widely expected to do.

As part of the agreement, the Arrow McLaren team will be headed by a new management structure which will be comprised of, team founder Sam Schmidt, co-owner Ric Peterson, McLaren Racing chief executive Zak Brown and Taylor Kiel, the president of Arrow McLaren.

Who To Watch Out For?

Colton Herta was unfortunate not to win at Nashville, having dominated the whole weekend and being within touching distance of victory.

Having found himself in fourth after the penultimate caution, he made light work of James Hinchcliffe and Scott Dixon before hunting down Marcus Ericsson. However, his race ended with five laps to go as he locked up and went straight into the wall at Turn 9.

A victory at Nashville would have propelled Herta into the championship fight and will be looking to bounce back in spectacular fashion. He is no stranger to success at the IMS, finishing twice in the Top Five at the 2020 Harvest Grand Prix.

Rinus VeeKay won last time out at the IMS after usurping pole-sitter Romain Grosjean in the closing stages. Could they be a factor again this weekend?