BY JIM MILLER WEEKLY INDYCAR WRITER
With nine races completed and seven remaining this past weekend was open for the drivers before they compete in the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway on Sunday, July 10. Now is a good time to review a few things that we’ve seen so far this season.
Honda vs Chevy
The ongoing and habitually contentious competition between Honda and Chevrolet has continued this year, but again Chevy seems to be coming out the leader. Of the races run thus far 8 of the 9 have been won by Chevrolet. The one win for Honda being the Indy 500. This is not to say Honda hasn’t improved, they have. Five drivers sporting Honda engines have been on the podium 7 times, but only Rossi has been able to bring it across the finish line first. The Hondas seem to be stronger on road courses, so the remainder of the season could see another win or two for them with 4 of the remaining races being on street/road courses.
Pagenaud has figured something out
Simon Pagenaud driving for Team Penske has been the story up to this point. In the 9 races run he has won three, come in second three times, and has started from the pole position four times. It’s obvious his strength is on road courses so with 4 still upcoming he should remain strong in the run for the season championship. He currently sits atop the championship points.
As a tenured Penske driver Helio Castroneves knows his boss looks for one thing – wins. To-date Penske’s drivers have won 6 of the 9 races, but the best finish Castroneves has been able to muster up is a third place finish in Long Beach back in April. He’s looked strong at times winning 2 poles, and he sits in second place behind Pagenaud by only 74 points, but he’s more than hungry for a win this season.
Strong field of rookies and young drivers
Alexander Rossi finally achieved his desire of international fame by winning the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 last month. Even though his yearning to race in Formula One seemingly remains intact, he’s demonstrating the abilities that IndyCar needs for future years as the seasoned veterans prepare to age out of the driver’s seat. Another rookie, Conor Daly is also showing his abilities to carry the torch. Driving for Dale Coyne Racing, Daly has posted three top-six finishes and a second place podium step in Detroit. And finally, toss Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, and Carlos Munoz into the mix and you’ll see IndyCar is in good hands.
The debacle known as the Grand Prix of Boston was doomed from the onset when the citizenry of that city railed against the idea of an IndyCar race around the streets of the South Boston Waterfront area. Negative rumors continued to grow until the race was cancelled in late April ultimately due to head-butting between the local event organizers and city officials. IndyCar scrambled to secure a last-minute Labor Day weekend replacement venue to salvage the 16-race season. Two possible tracks immediately rose to the top; Gateway Motorsports Park and Watkins Glen. Both are believed to be serious contenders to be added to the schedule in 2017, but apparently Watkins Glen was more prepared with such short notice, and it allows IndyCar their highly desired event in the Northeast U.S. IndyCar should take note of something obvious by now; stick with the classics. Phoenix International Raceway was a success. Road America was a success. Watkins Glen will surely be a great race. And hopefully next year Gateway will once again be noisy with IndyCars.
Season Championship still up for grabs
Last year at this time it was a foregone conclusion that Juan Pablo-Montoya would hold the Astor Cup at the end of the season. It didn’t happen. Heading into May it looked as if Simon Pagenaud was going to have his fingerprints on the championship trophy in September. But as Montoya learned nothing is given until the last lap of the year. With that, the standings as of now are Pagenaud leads the Season Championship with 375 points, followed by Helio Castroneves with 301, Will Power at 294, Scott Dixon with 285 and Josef Newgarden at 283. Pagenaud has his work cut out for him.
There are seven races remaining – one short oval (Iowa), two on big ovals (Texas, Pocono), one temporary street circuit (Toronto) and three on traditional permanent road courses (Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen, Sonoma). Veteran drivers (Dixon, Kanaan, Bourdais) are looking strong. Team Penske could have a team sweep with a Castroneves win. Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosports each have one win with their drivers consistently in the mix. Younger drivers and smaller teams are increasingly competitive. Newgarden is on an “I’ll do whatever it takes” mission to win this year. Honda is due for another victory. It’s going to be a fun eleven weeks.