IndyCar Grand Prix heroes and zeroes

Will Power gave a masterclass in road course driving to win the 2017 Indy Grand Prix of Indianapolis from a hard charging Scott Dixon.

The former IndyCar series champion traded the lead with teammate Helio Castroneves before pulling away to win comfortably. Power’s first win of 2017 helped him jump to 5th place in the point standings.

2017 Indy Grand Prix heroes

Hero – Will Power

Power was the fastest driver throughout the compressed Indy Grand Prix weekend. The Australian converted that in to a win that has put him back in to contention for a second IndyCar championship.

Will Power Team Penske IndyCar
(c) Team Penske

Running the optimum 3-stop strategy Power was able to run the alternate red Firestone tyres in his last two stints. Despite leaving the pits behind Helio Castroneves, Power was able to extend a significant lead over the Brazilian who struggled on the slower primary tyre compound.

Power might be 56 points off championship leader Simon Pagenaud but with double-points at Indy, the 2014 champion is coming on strong.

Heroes – Team Penske/Chevrolet

After 2 races of the Verizon IndyCar season it looked like Honda had found big performance gains Chevy could not match. Wins for Bourdais and Hinchcliffe were ominous for Chevrolet teams. Excluding of course Team Penske.

The Penske juggernaut has taken Chevrolet to victory lane in the last 3 races. Whilst other bow tie wearing teams like AJ Foyt Racing are stuck at the back of the pack, Penske are just as competitive as they were in 2016 when Chevrolet was the aero/engine package of choice on road/street courses.

Hero – Ryan Hunter-Reay

2017 has been a stinker of a season for Hunter-Reay (and the American has had some awful seasons since his maiden championship in 2012). Starting 8th and finishing 3rd was equivalent to a win for the 2014 Indy 500 winner.

Despite the Honda resurgence Hunter-Reay and the Andretti Autosport team have failed to convert that in to wins or big points. Penske’s form suggests the advantage might have been short-lived. Hunter-Reay will be relieved to have got a confidence boosting result on the board before the Indy 500.

Hero – Graham Rahal

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing continue to be unable to capitalise on the performance gains made by Honda. Qualifying for the Indy Grand Prix was more of the same as Graham Rahal lined up 20th of 22 starters.

Displaying a maturity and calmness often lacking in previous seasons, Rahal climbed the order to finish 6th. Not the race winning form Rahal or RLL would have been expecting but in context, a significant step forward.

Graham Rahal IndyCar Honda
(c) Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Rahal is a confidence driver. Taking a solid top 10 from such a low starting position will be a big boost. Particularly given that the race finished without a single caution period. That in itself makes Rahal’s 14-place gain all the more impressive.

Hero – Scott Dixon

There was a flicker of excitement with 15 laps to go that Dixon might hunt down Will Power. Despite his best efforts the Kiwi had to ‘settle’ for his third top 3 finish this season.

The Indy road course rarely makes for good racing. Dixon set out to be the exception to the rule as he went toe-to-toe with Helio Castroneves. Admittedly Dixon had the advantage of running the quicker alternate red Firestone tyres. Castroneves was stuck on the primary black compound but the two of them put on the best racing of the day.

For a driver who typically does not get in to his groove until mid-season, Dixon is racking up an impressive tally of finishes. Plus with Honda power and aero for the month of May, Dixon is in great shape.

2017 Indy Grand Prix zeroes

Zero – Marco Andretti

Andretti – despite his actual results – has probably made his best start to an IndyCar season for several years. Part of that progress undoubtedly has been down to a more mature approach.

The third generation Andretti returned to type at the Indy Grand Prix running in to the back of Tony Kanaan on the opening lap. The resulting penalty dropped Andretti down the order and without any caution periods there was little chance of salvaging anything. Unsuspecting victim Kanaan was similarly banished to the back of the field following the resulting puncture.

Zero – the Indy road course

A big crowd can look tiny at the Brickyard thanks to its epic Indy 500 capacity. The audience on Saturday for the Grand Prix looked pretty poor despite a lot of heavy promotion of the race – where even the series’ drivers were posting and tweeting about tickets and special offers.

The current road course configuration just does not lend itself to good racing. Audiences and the quality of racing are unlikely to improve unless modification create more overtaking opportunities.

Zeroes – AJ Foyt Racing

At a race where Team Penske demonstrated that the Chevrolet package can take on and beat Honda, Foyt Racing’s grand revolution is still stuck in the garage.

Lowly qualifying spots were converted in to, well, lowly finishing spots on Saturday afternoon.  Spencer Pigot illustrated that a non-Penske driver on a part-time programme with a Chevrolet package can be competitive. Excuses for Foyt Racing and Munoz and Daly in particular are becoming increasingly thin on the ground.

Zero – Josef Newgarden

Newgarden played the usual game of chicken with the pit lane speed gun and lost. Badly.

Drivers do it at each and every race trying to shave a few tenths off their in or out laps. Youthful exuberance often gets the better of good judgement. That was the case for Newgarden who sped not once or twice but three times during the Indy Grand Prix.

After his maiden Penske win at Phoenix it looked like Newgarden was set to push on for more and a title challenge. Natural speed and talent was now matched with maturity and precision. But not just yet.

Given that Newgarden finished just outside the top 10 despite 3 penalties, this was an opportunity missed for the 4-time IndyCar winner. He lost ground to both points leading Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon as a result.

Race rating – 4 out of 10

The Indy Grand Prix is just not a race I can get excited about. Yes it takes place at the Brickyard. Yes it is a fortnight before the Indy 500. But the racing is usually pretty dull and the 2017 Indy Grand Prix was no exception.

Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal gave it their best to spice up the action. But overall this was not one to remember.

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