IndyCar Texas Genesys300: Scott Dixon takes 51st career win. McLaughlin takes second on oval debut.

Scott Dixon dominated the Texas Motor Speedway, leading almost every lap to take victory at the Genesys300, while fellow compatriot Scott McLaughlin achieves a career-best second on his oval debut.

Saturday saw qualifying postponed due to wet weather, as moisture in the air made track-drying efforts increasingly difficult. The session was eventually canceled and the starting grid was formed based on championship positions with Chip Ganassi’s Alex Palou and Penske’s Will Power lining up alongside each other on the first row ahead of Scott Dixon, Colton Herta, Simon Pagenaud, and Britain’s Jack Harvey.

Alex Palou got off to a great start – leading a rather hesitant field who were wary of the darker shaded ‘PJ1’ tarmac which lined the higher portion of the track. This slippery surface, used for NASCAR racing, was highly treacherous and was mostly avoided by the field. This left a much narrower racing line and made overtaking around the outside increasingly difficult.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens. Dixon round the outside of Palou, Texas.

That being said, six-time champion Scott Dixon got to work early, picking off both Will Power and Alex Palou on Lap 4. The New Zealander came under pressure from various rivals but was largely untroubled throughout the race, who takes his 51st win in IndyCar, now one behind the all-time great Mario Andretti.

The common understanding was that the race could be done on a three stops strategy. With over 200 laps to complete many drivers went into tyre management mode – some choosing to come into the pits as early as Lap 25 – as they started vibrating due to wear rather than blisters.

Those that pitted early around Lap 50 included: Power, Ericsson, O’Ward, Pagenaud, Sato, Rahal, Carpenter, Hunter-Reay, and Daly.

Unfortunately, Sebastien Bourdais collided with the barrier on Lap 56, bringing out the first caution of the evening. Josef Newgarden was to blame for this incident, who was caught by surprise as Bourdais braked late in front. As a result, Newgarden was sent to the back of the grid, which left the two-time champion plenty to do for the remaining 150 laps.

Those that had not pitted, including Dixon, Palou, Harvey, Herta, Newgarden, and McLaughlin were allowed into the pits under caution on Lap 64. For those that already had, they found themselves shuffled down the grid. The most notable of which was Will Power who found himself loundering in 12th.

Dixon and Palou led the field on the restart ahead of Herta, Harvey, and Alexander Rossi. Tony Kanaan, who had started 23rd and pitted on Lap 25 was the biggest gainer, now in seventh. Australian Supercar Champion Scott McLaughlin was also benefited during this stage who found himself in the sixth,

Palou kept the pressure on Dixon but failed to make any significant moves on his Chip Ganassi teammate, who dived into the pits again on Lap 126. This left Palou in the lead ahead of Pietro Fittipaldi and Will Power as the rest of the leaders took their second pitstops. Power gave it just one more lap, Palou two more, and Fittipaldi three more.

While Dixon’s emerged clearly in the lead Felix Rosenqvist, who’d pitted on lap 118, was up to second for Arrow McLaren SP. Behind him ran McLaughlin while Palou had fallen down to fourth. The undercut strategy really paid off today.

Rosenqvist closed the gap to half a second on Dixon as they ran through heavy traffic. – the top three were separated by just two seconds.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens. Hinchcliffe. Texas.

However, Lap 160 saw Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe crash after getting out of shape in the ‘dirty air’ of Felix Rosenqvist who had just lapped him.

This triggered the final set of pit stops with Dixon, Rosenqvist, and McLaughlin pitting on Lap 172. Second place Rosenqvist lost out massively as Chip Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson left his pit box without his right rear tyre. The Swede had to take avoiding action onto the grass and lost out to McLaughlin falling down to 12th.

Scott Dixon and Scott McLaughlin led the field now ahead of Arrow McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward who had gambled on strategy in the middle portion of the race and gained many positions on new tyres. Behind them included: Alex Palou, Colton Herta, Jack Harvey, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, and Simon Pagenaud.

On the final restart, Dixon sprinted away from McLaughlin and O’Ward, while Newgarden and Rahal made light work of Meyer Shank’s Jack Harvey.

The drama wasn’t over yet as on Lap 191 Herta pulled into the pits – his right rear tyre bursting with flames. The St. Petersburg winner had been running high for most of the race but was done for today and ultimately retired.

Upfront, McLaughlin got within 0.2s of Dixon on the final 5 laps, hoping lapped traffic would cause problems for the defending champion. But it was Dixon who came out on top to take his fifth win at the Texas Motor Speedway – and the lead of the championship.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens. Scott McLaughlin, Texas.

McLaughlin finishes second on his debut appearance at an oval. The Kiwi 1-2 made it an impressive weekend for New Zealand motorsport after Brendan Hartley’s success over in WEC’s new Hypercar entry. In only his fourth IndyCar appearance this was a seriously impressive driver and ended the day the highest placed Penske.

O’Ward finished 1.5s down to claim the first podium of the season for Arrow McLaren SP, and move up to fourth in the championship, ahead of Palou who scored his best oval finish and slipped to second in the points.

Newgarden salvaged sixth behind the charging Rahal while Britain’s Jack Harvey kept seventh who moves up to fifth in the points – to put this in perspective, his highest championship finish is 15th which he achieved in 2020.

The second race of the Texas doubleheader is the Xpel 375 on Sunday May 2nd. The 248-lap race will get underway just after 10:00pm (BST).

As Saturday’s canceled qualifying would have set the order for both races the grid will be based on the current championship standings following the Genesys300 (Dixon, Palou, Power, O’Ward,  Harvey, Newgarden, McLaughlin, Pagenaud, Rahal, and Herta).

RACE 1 CLASSIFICATION:

  1. Dixon
  2. McLaughlin
  3. O’Ward
  4. Palou
  5. Rahal
  6. Newgarden
  7. Harvey
  8. Rossi
  9. Sato
  10. Pagenaud
  11. Kanaan
  12. Ed Jones
  13. Rosenqvist
  14. Power
  15. Fittipaldi
  16. Hunter-Reay
  17. Carpenter
  18. Kellett
  19. Ericsson
  20. VeeKay
  21. Daly
  22. Herta
  23. Hinchcliffe
  24. Bourdais

 

Deep in the Heart of Texas: The Genesys 300 and Xpel 375 Grand Prix Preview

After opening the 2021 IndyCar season with races on a permanent track and street circuit, we head to our first oval races of the year at Texas Motor Speedway. With two different race winners at both St Pete and Barber alongside the added unpredictability that comes with oval racing, it is highly likely that there may be a different winner this weekend.

Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Alex Palou comes into this race with a narrow two-point lead over teammate Scott Dixon and Will Power in the drivers championship, with last time out race winner Colton Herta leading the charge to challenge the top three.

In addition, drivers like Tony Kanaan and Pietro Fittipaldi will be making their season debuts this weekend, substituting for drivers on road and street course races.

The history of IndyCar racing at the Texas Motor Speedway starts in 1997 – won by Dutch extraordinaire Arie Luyendyk. Since then the circuit has played host to 32 different races and 21 different race winners. Both Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon are the most successful drivers at Texas with four wins apiece.

If you’re a fan of racing, there’s going to be a lot of it! The 1..5-mile oval located in Fort Worth, Texas will host our first double-header of the season including both the Genesys 300 and the Xpel 375 – the first time Texas has hosted a double-header since 2011. It will be incredibly important to get this track right if a driver wishes to make a significant dent in the championship with 106 points available across both races. Yes, 106!

Unlike 2011, this weekend will be run over a full race distance (In 2011 two races were held on the same day and as a result, the race distance was reduced by half for both). The Genesys 300 will last 212 laps while the second race will be even longer at 248 laps.

Additionally, the qualifying format will see a small tweak. The first lap will determine the starting position for the first race while the second lap will determine the starting position for the second. Normally, when there is only one race your starting position is determined by the combined time for two consecutive timed laps. Got that?

DRIVER CHANGES

Texas Motor Speedway winner (2004) Tony Kanaan will make his return to the series this weekend for Chip Ganassi at both the Genesys 300 and the Xpel 375.

The 2004 series champion is sharing the entry this season with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who is focusing on the road courses and street circuits. This will form two out of the four races Kanaan will compete in this year alongside the Indy 500 and the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway, Illinois.

Courtesy of Chris Owens. Ed Carpenter at the Texas Pre Season Test

Joining alongside him is fellow Texas winner Ed Carpenter, who in recent years has opted to race only on ovals. He will take Conor Daly’s place in the Ed Carpenter Racing Air Force Chevrolet entry. Like last year, Daly will drive the Carlin Chevrolet in place of Max Chilton who will sit out for this weekend.

Romain Grosjean will also not be competing this weekend with his Dayle Coyne Racing with RWR entry taken by Peitro Fittipaldi. The Brazilian making his IndyCar comeback after his 2018 season was cut short by injuries suffered in the World Endurance Championship race at Spa, Belgium.

WHO TO LOOK OUT FOR

There are some incredibly talented drivers to watch out for that I could name almost half the field. Alex Palou was our race winner at Barber but suffered a pretty uneventful outing at St Pete finishing down in 17th. The Spaniard has fresh memories of the Speedway and will be hoping to avoid a repeat of his incident with Rinus VeeKay. Both drivers crashed out of the race on Lap 37 after the Dutchman lost control into turn two.

But while Palou retains his lead at the top of the championship, VeeKay will be looking to continue his consistent run of form after finishing twice in the top ten. The Dutchman qualified in the ‘Fast Six’ on both his oval debuts at the Indy 500 and Gateway with a maiden pole position at the Harvest Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – he may be one to watch to put in an impressive qualifying performance.

During IndyCar’s pre-season test back in March, it was Arrow McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward who was the fastest of everyone. Despite picking up a draft on his flying lap he was amongst the top five fastest on the solo runs. O’Ward has been a constant threat in both races of the season and still seeks his maiden victory.  O’Ward’s closest rival in that test was Alexander Rossi who still continues to struggle with poor performances this season.

Courtesy of Chris Owens. Herta at the Texas Pre Season Test

Colton Herta comes off the back of one of his strongest performances of his career with a win at St Pete. The young American is in imperious form, picking up where he left off finishing third in his sophomore IndyCar season and staking a claim as the team leader at Andretti versus the likes of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi. Last year,  Herta was incredibly consistent on ovals, finishing inside the top ten on six occasions. His best result that year on ovals came at the Harvest Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he finished second alongside an equally impressive qualifying performance.

And as always you can never count out six-time champion Scott Dixon. With his win record at the track, he will be a threat to win once more and could take the points lead by the end of the weekend.  He was last year’s winner at the Texas Motor Speedway and is coming off the back of two top-five finishes. Dixon is someone who is famous for knowing how best to execute a strategy on ovals and will most likely find his way to the top of the field even if he starts far down the order.

Texas will see qualifying take place on Saturday 1st May at 21:00 (BST) followed by the Genesys 300 at midnight, 00:00 (BST).

The Xpel 375 will take place on Sunday 2nd May at 22:00 (BST).

You can watch the race on SkySportF1 in the UK. Alternatively, you can read our post-race reports following each event. In solidarity, with fellow organisations ThePitCrewOnline will be taking part in a social media boycott across the weekend in protest of online hate.

IndyCar St. Petersburg Grand Prix: Herta fends off Newgarden in most dominant victory yet.

Colton Herta was the class of the field this weekend, leading from pole and fending off two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden to take victory at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Herta held off Newgarden on two late restarts to become the third local driver to win at this 14-turn street course. The late St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon won in 2005, while Sebastien Bourdais won in 2017.

Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski. Colton Herta.

Herta’s fourth career victory was his first with his father, Bryan, as his race strategist. His dad won the pole here in 2005. The win also tied his dad’s career total.

With five top-five finishes in his last six. Three podiums. Two race victories. Whatever way you look at it, Herta is making something of a name for himself and his battle with Newgarden is being labelled by some as IndyCar’s  ‘The Changing of the Guard’.

Newgarden finished his final remaining stint on sticker red (softer) tyres in contrast to Herta’s primary blacks (hards). On the restart, he was able to keep within one second of Herta for the majority of the final 20 laps. Unfortunately, his tyres started to drop off, leaving no option but to settle for second and bank important championship points after failing to finish at Barber Motorsports Park.

Newgarden was followed by Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, who finished 12th a week ago but drove a strong and faultless race to finish third.

Jack Harvey, who started on the front row, took fourth, followed by Scott Dixon in fifth for his second consecutive top-five. Takuma Sato and Marcus Ericsson both picked up nine spots from 15th and 16th to sixth and seventh, respectively, followed by Will Power’s surge up the field picking up 12 spots from 20th to eighth.

Rinus VeeKay struggled on the soft tyre early on and did well to take ninth from his sixth-place start given his early slip down the order and early first stop.

Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top-10, his second time in the top-10 in two weeks.

Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski. Jimmie Johnson.

Chip Ganassi’s Jimmie Johnson brought out the first caution of the race on Lap 15, locking up his tyres into Turn 13 and slid into the barrier. Luckily, Johnson was able to free his car and return to the track. This caution caused the likes of Power, McLaughlin and Grosjean, who were near the back of the grid to pit for alternative black (hard) tyres in anticipation of a caution.

The NASCAR champion would eventually finish 22nd, five laps down on the leaders, ahead of Max Chilton and Dalton Kellett who suffered from a mechanical failure and a spin respectively.

The next incident came on Lap 23 involving Takuma Sato and James Hinchcliffe. While battling inside the top-15, the two smacked front tyres, causing a flat front-right on the car of Hinchcliffe. This incident forced the Canadian to make an extra stop and would finish a lap down in 18th.

Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski. Alexander Rossi.

Lap 37 epitomised what was a calamitous race for Alexander Rossi. The American emerged from a slow pit stop ahead of Graham Rahal., both drivers looking sure on for top-five finishes. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver dived down the inside of Turn four as Rossi turned in, with the two slamming into each other twice before coming to a halt in the tyre barrier. The collision left Rossi with a flat right-front and struggled to reverse back on to the track. Soon after, Rossi pitted for a front wing change and eventually finished down in 21st with Rahal in 15th.

Jimmie Johnson caused havoc yet again on Lap 73, spinning out on cold tyres and bringing out the penultimate caution, the final one coming by way of Ed Jones who made contact with James Hinchcliffe before being spun around by Pato O’Ward on Lap 80.

Last week’s winner Alex Palou failed to make an impression and finished down in 17th. He still remains at the top of the championship with Will Power, Scott Dixon and Colton Herta behind separated by five points.

The good news is you don’t have to wait long till we go green again. IndyCar returns in just a week to the Texas Motor Speedway for the Genesys 300, the first oval of the year.

Colton Herta snatches pole from Jack Harvey at St. Petersburg

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta took his fourth career IndyCar pole position after narrowly edging out Britain’s Jack Harvey at St. Petersburg.

Herta snatched pole by a quarter of a second over Harvey on his final run and will be hoping he can convert his starting grid place into a win following his unfortunate 2020 St. Petersburg Grand Prix where he started on the second row and ended outside the top ten.

This is the first time Herta will start on pole at St. Petersburg since the 2017 IndyLights championship, where he took the race win in dominant style.

Jack Harvey can take some comfort in his best qualifying position since the 2020 Indianapolis 500. He starts in front of seasoned veterans such as Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud in third and fourth respectively.

Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski

Several teams struggled to set representative times on the Firestone alternate tyres through Q1 and Q2. Patricio O’Ward tried heading out on fresh primaries and opted to stay on them. The team believed his final lap would be faster than his rivals could manage on used softs that they’d already deployed in the earlier sessions. Unfortunately, this tactic did not pay off. He finished in sixth, 0.75s from pole position. Alongside him is two-time St. Petersburg winner and local resident Sebastien Bourdais – once again showing fine form around this track.

Rinus VeeKay, still driving with a broken finger and fresh after finishing sixth at Barber Motorsports Park was the first car to miss out on the ‘Fast Six’ so starts seventh

Scott Dixon had a disastrous qualifying session. The Kiwi spun going into turn 8 which in turn impeded another driver. The defending champion had his fastest time deleted as a result. His second fastest time was quick enough to earn him eighth position for tomorrow’s race.

Behind him was Graham Rahal while last weeks race winner Alex Palou was 10th.

Alexander Rossi had been the fastest in the first qualifying group but failed to make the Fast Six and starts 11th ahead of Andretti team-mate James Hinchcliffe.

Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski

Romain Grosjean who looked promising at times could not make it out of the first qualifying group and will start in 18th just behind Felix Rosenqvist in 17th who is experiencing a rather disappointing turn of form.

The biggest shock of qualifying came in the form of Will Power. The Australian, who has claimed nine out of the last 11 pole position at St. Pete struggled massively and spun out on his final lap. He will start down in 20th place.

Jimmie Johnson, who improved by over half a second on his personal best time of the weekend also could not make it out of the first qualifying round and will start in 23rd position.

CLASSIFICATION:

  1. Colton Herta
  2. Jack Harvey
  3. Josef Newgarden
  4. Simon Pagenaud
  5. Sebastien Bourdais
  6. Patricio O’Ward
  7. Rinus VeeKay
  8. Scott Dixon
  9. Graham Rahal
  10. Alex Palou
  11. Alexander Rossi
  12. James Hinchcliffe
  13. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  14. Scott McLaughlin
  15. Takuma Sato
  16. Marcus Ericsson
  17. Felix Roseqnvist
  18. Romain Grosjean
  19. Conor Daly
  20. Will Power
  21. Ed Jones
  22. Max Chilton
  23. Jimmie Johnson
  24. Dalton Kellett

 

Long Time No See: The Firestone IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Preview

The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series kicked off with a bang last week as Chip Ganassi’s debutant Alex Palou took his maiden championship victory, holding off Penske’s Will Power in the process. As all eyes fall on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – they will also be Palou with high expectations for what this young Spaniard can do?

What is typically the opening race of the season, was moved last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 saw the Grand Prix host the season finale for the first time in the history of the series. Once more, because of the pandemic the race was rescheduled in 2021, initially set for 7th March to the 25th April.

The Firestone Grand Prix is a highlight for many IndyCar and motorsport fans alike. This 2.9 km, high-speed and technical street course features picturesque views of St. Petersburg waterfront and utilises parts of the nearby Albert Whitted Airport.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?

Last year saw the culmination of a season-long title battle between Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden. Newgarden had gradually chipped away at the New Zealander’s advantage over a five race period and had the oppurtunity to snatch the title at the final attempt. However, both drivers failed to make an impression in qualifying and started in eleventh and ninth respectively. Will Power went on to take his ninth pole at St. Petersburg and led into the first corner.

Courtesy of Chris Owens

Power’s lead didn’t last long, overtaken by Alexander Rossi who would dominate the race until lap 36, when Will Power brought out the first of a string of cautions by crashing out of the race.

Alexander Rossi’s race came to an end on lap 70, crashing from the lead and gifting the position to Andretti Autosport teammate Colton Herta. After a series of cautionary period due to the likes of Hinchcliffe, Harvey, Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato, Herta led with Alex Palou behind in second.

Newgarden and Dixon had been quietly navigating the chaos of the race, and found themselves in third and fifth respectively. With Palou and Herta in the lead, Newgarden took advantage when both drivers went wide on the next restart, gifting the American the lead while Dixon clambered up to third.

After an incident with Oliver Askew brought out the final caution of the race, the subsequent restart saw Josef Newgarden pull a significant gap, while McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward took Scott Dixon and Colton Herta for second place.  Herta would eventually catch the tyre barrier and fall out of the top ten, leaving Newgarden, O’Ward and Dixon as the final top three.

Despite having cut almost 100 points out of Dixon’s lead across the secons half of the season, it would not be enough. Dixon finished the season just 16 points ahead of Newgarden to take his sixth IndyCar title.

Courtesy of Chris Owens

WHAT TO EXPECT THIS WEEKEND?

Newgarden has won the last two consecutive races at St.Petersburg while Will Power holds an incredible nine pole positions, yet has failed to win since 2014. You wouldn’t look past any of these two drivers to be in the mix come qualifying. However, Newgarden will want to bounce back after a dissapointing showing last-time out at Barber Motorsports Park. After a terrifying crash on lap one, Newgarden needs a positive weekend to get his championship up and running.

Alexander Rossi’s race last time out epitomised his entire season, which was plagued with bad-luck, unfortunate circumstances, penalties and costly errors.  Rossi qualified impressively in second last year – he knows he has the pace around this circuit. Barring any unfortunate incidents look out for the American seeking redemption.

Also ending the 2020 St. Petersburg Grand Prix with a costly error was Patricio O’Ward. However, after coming tantalisingly close to his first career win at Barber, the Mexican will be doing whatever he can to finish in victory lane.

A resident of St. Petersburg. A.J Foyt Enterprises’ Sebastien Bourdais has a tremendous amount of success at his home race. He’s won here two times and is coming off the back of two consecutive top five finishes. If you’re looking for an outside contender, he’s the man.

And lastly, who could not forget Chip Ganassi’s debutant winner Alex Palou. Having qualified in second at Barber Motorsport, he impressively mastered the two-stop strategy to take his first IndyCar win. To finish ahead of his six-time champion teammate Scott Dixon, not to mention Will Power – he caught the eye of many in the motorsport world. With significant road course experience Palou, and having narrowly missed out on a podium last-time out at St. Pete – keep your eyes peeled on this impressive Spaniard.

St. Pete will see quliafying take place on Saturday 24th April at 18:45 (BST) while the race will get under way on Sunday 25th April at 17:00 (BST).

You can watch the race on SkySportF1 in the UK. Alternatively, you can find live-text updates on ThePitCrewOnline Twitter account during the race.

Alex Palou wins on IndyCar debut with Chip Ganassi at Barber Motorsports Park

IndyCar fans were treated to a new race winner on Sunday, as Alex Palou stormed to victory at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama season opener. The Spaniard managed to hold off the late-charging Will Power by half a second to take his first career win on his debut for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Photo Courtesy of: Joe Skibinski

The race started in dramatic fashion with Arrow McLaren SP pole winner Patricio O’Ward leading Alexander Rossi, Alex Palou, and Will Power off the line. They didn’t even get to finish a full lap before Josef Newgarden brought out the first full course yellow after colliding with Colton Herta, Hunter-Reay, Felix Rosenqvist, Max Chilton, and Rinus VeeKay. The two-time IndyCar champion subsequently retired from the race followed by Herta and Chilton.

After the restart, O’Ward led with an incredibly difficult and tail-happy car until pitting on lap 18 of 90, opting to switch from his fresh set of red tyres for a used set of blacks and committing to a three-stop strategy. The drivers who committed to a two-stop strategy stayed out for 14 laps, during which O’Ward lost time in traffic. Alex Palou was the main benefactor who gained the ned lead from both O’Ward and Rossi.

Palou made his first put stop on lap 31, also choosing to go for used blacks and emerging ahead of Pato O’Ward. However, Palou struggled to get heat into the tyres and was promptly passed by the Mexican in turn five.

After the other two-stoppers including Power, Dixon and Ericsson pitted, O’Ward retook the lead looking far more comfortable on the black compound tyres. On lap 45, O’Ward made his second pit stop, swapping back onto the softer red compounds. This time, it was the Mexican who struggled with tyre temperatures and was passed by both Sebastian Bourdais and Rinus VeeKay.

This left the victory in the hands of those on the two-stop strategy. Marcus Ericsson was the first of those to take their final pit stop on lap 60, choosing to go for another set of blacks.  This worked to the Swede’s advantage who passed O’Ward with ease before the McLaren driver made his final pit stop on lap 6, just four laps after Palou and Dixon.

After all the remaining pit stops this left Alex Palou with a sizeable margin ahead of Will Power, Scott Dixon and Pato O’Ward, separated by just ten seconds. However, with almost all of his push-to-pass still to use. Power set about chasing down Palou for the lead.

On the final lap of the race, Power used almost all of his push-to-pass and made it to within half a second of the leader. But it was one lap too late as Alex Palou crossed the line to take his first career win, holding off two series champions in the process.

Scott Dixon finished in third while Pato O’Ward had to settle for fourth, less than one second away from the podium position.

Bourdais, VeeKay were next, followed by Graham Rahal who passed Marcus Ericsson with a few laps to go. Ericsson only just made the chequered flag before running out of fuel.

Former F1 driver Romain Grosjean was the highest placed rookie. He was one of those who attempted the two-stop strategy and was able to round out the top ten.

Penske’s Scott McLaughlin finished in 14th, while seven-times NASCAR Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson struggled to adapt to his new machinery. He spun after the first few laps which brought out a full course yellow. He eventually finished several laps down from the leaders.

Pato O’Ward secures pole ahead of Alexander Rossi in IndyCar season opener

Arrow McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward kicked off his 2021 IndyCar campaign in style – taking pole position for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The Mexican extraordinaire looked extremely quick throughout the day, topping all the sessions he featured in throughout qualifying. He narrowly edged out Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi by nearly seven-hundredths of a second on route to securing his second career pole.

Third fastest and quickest of the Chip Ganassi drivers went to series sophomore Alex Palou in his first qualifying run for Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda, while four-time Barber polesitter Will Power was top Team Penske driver in fourth.

Six-time and reigning champion Scott Dixon, who is seeking his first Barber win, will line up fifth, alongside teammate Marcus Ericsson, making it three Ganassi cars in the first three rows.

Romain Grosjean, who drove with a custom helmet designed by his children, drove superbly to secure seventh on his debut. He will start ahead of two-time series champion Josef Newgarden in eighth and young superstar Colton Herta in ninth with Conor Daly rounding out the top ten.

Courtesy of Chris Owens

The qualifying session was not without its drama. The second group session was first disrupted by James Hinchcliffe understeering off the track into the tire wall at Turn 5, bringing out the red flag. Pato O’Ward himself narrowly saved a huge moment at the top of the crest between Turns 13 and 14 on his way to topping the session.

However, his teammate Felix Rosenqvist was not so lucky. The Swede dropped it at the final turn which brought out the second red flag of the session. Despite crossing the line, the lap-time was deleted.

Other notable mentions include our other two star rookies, Australian Supercar Champion Scott McLaughlin and multiple-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson who will start 12th and 22nd respectively.

CLASSIFICATION:

  1. Patricio O’Ward
  2. Alexander Rossi
  3. Alex Palou
  4. Will Power
  5. Scott Dixon
  6. Marcus Ericsson
  7. Romain Grosjean
  8. Josef Newgarden
  9. Colton Herta
  10. Conor Daly
  11. Jack Harvey
  12. Scott McLaughlin
  13. Ed Jones
  14. Rinus VeeKay
  15. Simon Pagenaud
  16. Sebastien Bourdais
  17. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  18. Graham Rahal
  19. Takuma Sato
  20. Max Chilton
  21. Jimmie Johnson
  22. Felix Rosenqvist
  23. Dalton Kelett
  24. James Hinchcliffe

 

Sweet Home Alabama: The Honda IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama Preview

Here we go. This is the 2021 IndyCar Preview from yours truly. A new season is upon us meaning another enthralling few months of exciting and dramatic wheel-to-wheel action from some of the best drivers on the planet.

We kick off with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (which has opened the IndyCar slate in 10 of 11 seasons before becoming the 2020 season finale) was delayed to April 25. It is the first time in IndyCar history that the season has opened on a permanent road course and the first at Alabama since the 2020 iteration was postponed due to COVID-19.

Now, this article was rather difficult to put together as there is so much to cover. So, if you are tuning in to IndyCar for the first time, we will do our best to hit all the important beats. Yes – you are going to have the usual players, meaning Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon and Penske’s Josef Newgarden are almost certain to be fighting for another championship. Scott Dixon will be chasing his seventh title in his bid to become the most successful IndyCar driver of all time. Only A.J Foyt sits on seven titles while Mario Andretti sits second on the all time wins record on 52 – only two more than Dixon.

Josef Newgarden will be looking to avenge his previous championship campaign, narrowly missing out on the title after a titanic second half of the season winning three out of the final six races. The American two-time champion ended the 2020 season on a high winning the Firestone St Petersburg Grand Prix and will look to continue that momentum this weekend.

Now, you also must consider his Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power into the equation. Moreover, can Takuma Sato put a full season of top finishes together? He is the defending Indianapolis 500 winner and had one of his best campaigns to date with an impressive stint during the middle third of the season.

Takuma Sato sat on pole and dominated last time IndyCar visited the road course. Could he repeat the feat? Can teammate Graham Rahal mount a challenge? There are so many scenarios that could happen!

Takuma Sato on the top step at Barber 2019. Courtesy of Joe Skibinski

Spaniard Alex Palou is now driving for Chip Ganassi racing. He will be looking to make a statement of intent right from the get-go. Speaking of Ganassi drivers, he will have exquisite company in the form of former F1 driver Marcus Ericsson and a star-studded rookie who we will discuss later. The Arrow McLaren SP team could also return to the top step of the podium with Felix Rosenqvist and Pato O’Ward. They finished one-two at Road America last year and will undoubtedly be the dark horses for the championship.

Andretti Autosport will likely return in emphatic style with one of the strongest line-ups on the grid. Alexander Rossi was winless last year as was Ryan Hunter-Reay. However, a myriad of misfortune plagued both of their seasons and should not be underestimated. Moreover, James Hinchliffe has the ability to steal a win or two as does Marco Andretti, last years Indy 500 pole sitter.

However, if there is anyone to watch out for this year it will be Colton Herta who improved on his impressive debut season to finish third in the championship. His incredible qualifying pace and relentless race craft proved to be a successful combination finishing in the top five on seven occasions. Herta has won at Barber in the Indy Lights junior category and will be looking to stamp his mark on the Andretti team.

Other drivers who could steal a win this year are Jack Harvey with Meyer/Shank and Ed Jones at Dale Coyne.  Sebastian Bourdais, in the newly sponsored Rockit A.J.Foyt entry, has shown promise in early testing.  There is no doubt we could see the Foyt team snatch victory.

And who could forget the Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly who races alongside 2020 Rookie of the Year Rinus VeeKay.  After a solid campaign which saw Rinus feature in the final qualifying shootout at the Indianapolis 500, can he take the next step in his sophomore season?

Now, let us get on to the rookies. Never have we seen such a roster of rookies who paradoxically come with pedigree, experience and titles. Formula One refugee Romain Grosjean joins Dayle Coyne Racing looking to cause a stir after a difficult campaign at Haas and a disastrous accident saw him leave the sport with certainly something to prove. His experience on road courses could prove vital this weekend.

Courtesy of Joe Skibinski

Seven-time NASCAR Jimmie Johnson will have one of the biggest uphill battles who joins none other than Chip Ganassi Racing alongside Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou.

The former Australian V-8 Supercar Champion Scott McLaughlin joins Penske but stands a decent chance at putting something together this weekend. Unlike Grosjean and Johnson who are forgoing the ovals, McLaughlin is also looking forward to running the ovals and the Indianapolis 500.  Penske has an eye for drivers. In addition, Rick Mears will no doubt come into play as a huge help to the Australian as an advisor.

Rick Mears and Scott McLaughlin. Courtesy of Chris Jones

In a tweak to race weekend schedule Barber will be a two-day event which will see Saturday feature two practice sessions totalling 90 minutes and a qualifying session. Sunday will include a 30-minute warmup before the race goes green at around 7:40/7:45pm (BST).

There is so much to look forward to this weekend. A highly rated trio of rookies. Seasoned veterans going for glory. Young superstars looking to make a name for themselves. What is there not to love?

You can watch the 2021 IndyCar season opener on SkySportF1 in the UK. Alternatively, you can find live-text updates on ThePitCrewOnline Twitter account during the race.

IndyCar iRacing Challenge returns with a bang

In preparation for the upcoming NTT IndyCar Season, the series is giving fans and participants a pre-season reason to be excited in the upcoming months as it revives the IndyCar iRacing Challenge.

As it did when the pandemic began, the series expects to play host to many of the current crop of IndyCar drivers which starts Thursday 18th March. The iRacing Challenge will be streamed live on INDYCAR.com, the series’ Youtube channel and Facebook page while you can also find exclusive content via the drivers personal social media and Twitch accounts.

This three-race series, will kick off March 18th on the (VIRTUAL) Circuit Giles Villeneuve circuit of Montreal, followed a week later at Homestead Miami Speedway. The series will culminate on April 1st on a soon-to-be announced circuit which will be decided by fan-vote.

Drivers expected to take part will be IndyCar rookie and Australian Supercar Champion Scott McLauglhin,as well as his Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. Joining them is expected to be Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Felix Rosenqvist, Graham Rahal, Ed Carpenter, Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou, Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly and ex-Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean.

Each driver’s strategists and engineers are invited to participate in the event to help their drivers.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MAY 02: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) (Editors note: This image was computer generated in-game) Scott McLaughlin, driver of the #40 PIRTEK Team Penske Dallara, races during the IndyCar iRacing Challenge First Responder 175 at virtual Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 02, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Romain Grosjean spoke with great excitement about the opportunity to race against his future competitors in the virtual world.

“I love the circuit. It’s one of the best,” he said. “Actually, it could be a circuit that fits the real IndyCar Series. (iRacing) did such a nice job and taking it to the next level. It is tough to go fast. It takes hours of practice, and we get so competitive. You think it’s just a video game, and then we spend eight, nine, 10 hours of practice for a short race. We are competitors, and we want to win. We are going to push it and try as hard as we can. It’s going to be great fun.”

The 2020 iRacing Challenge went down fantastically with motorsport fans around the world, praising it for its star-studded driver line-up, competitiveness, and realism. Scott McLaughlin took last years’ championship following a chaotic and infamous race at the Indianapolis International Speedway. You may remember it involving a certain Lando Norris and Simon Pagenaud.

Each race will begin streaming at 6:30pm (ET) / 10:30pm (GMT) – If you need something to ‘wet the whistle’ before the first IndyCar race at Birmingham, Alabama April 18th – be sure not to miss.

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