IndyCar Recap: April 2017 – Long Beach, Barber, Phoenix

A busy month with Long Beach, Barber and Phoenix.

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2017 Verizon IndyCar Series

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There were 3 races in the month of April, starting with the iconic Long Beach Grand Prix, followed by the rolling hills of Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, then just a week later the first oval of the year with a return to Phoenix. I’m not sure who designs the schedule but Florida-California-Alabama-Arizona must give the logistics people a real headache, surely this can be swapped around next year.

9th April:  GP of Long Beach
23rd April:  GP of Alabama
30th April:  Phoenix GP

2017 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

9th April 2017 – Race 2 of 17 – Long Beach, California, USA

Should you watch this race?  Yes definitely! One of the best Long Beach IndyCar GP’s I’ve seen in a while, really worth a look.

Video: Full Race (2h16m)

If you’re a Formula 1 fan getting into IndyCar the 2017 Long Beach GP is a good one to watch. Plenty of overtaking by street course standards and a strategic battle between three stops and two.

It was a surprise to see Castroneves drop back on the start. Scott Dixon assumed the lead as Ryan Hunter-Reay made up places. The field only got past the fountain before Charlie Kimball and Will Power got into each other, it looked like Kimball already had the corner and Power was trying to go up the inside at what is not a passing place for these cars. Kimball was out.

Simon Pagenaud was at the back but at the restart made up 9 positions in a couple of laps, great performance! The rest of the race was a brilliant mix of strategy and driving flat out, which was the way to make the 3 stop strategy work.

As it turned out, James Hinchcliffe was the only one to make the 2 stop strategy work and he took a well deserved win, after earlier taking the lead by staying out longer and making the most of several late Safety Cars.

Andretti Autosport had a dreadful day, all four cars out with technical problems with Hunter-Reay going out from 2nd place with 6 laps to go.

Also the NBCSN coverage was top notch, really good information all race, presenting explanations to new viewers without being in the slightest bit condescending to existing fans, something that has troubled motorsport broadcasters for years.

  1. 5 James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Honda);
  2. 18 Sebastien Bourdais (Coyne Honda);
  3. 2 Josef Newgarden (Penske Chevy);
  4. 9 Scott Dixon (Ganassi Honda);
  5. 1 Simon Pagenaud (Penske Chevy);
  6. 19 Ed Jones (Coyne Honda);
  7. 14 Carlos Munoz (Foyt Chevy);
  8. 20 Spencer Pigot (Carpenter Chevy);
  9. 3 Helio Castroneves (Penske Chevy);
  10. 15 Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda);

Bourdais posted a second consecutive top 2 result. Ed Jones with a sensational run for a rookie. Munoz made up for a bad St Pete with 7th for Foyt, similarly Pigot 8th after second-last at the opener. Power couldn’t hang on to his wounded car and he wound up a lap down. All four Andretti cars in trouble early.

2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

23rd April 2017 – Race 3 of 17 – Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Alabama, USA

Should you watch this race?  Yes, really frantic action early on then it turns into a tyre strategy contest with some great individual performances. Even a car on its own at this rollercoaster of a track is something to be seen.

Video: Full race (2h17m).

Will Power started from pole and got clear of a frantic pack which was somehow two-abreast for half a lap, at this place! This caused debris to come off Hunter-Reay’s car, a piece large enough to prompt a Safety Car. Newgarden had great pace early on, passed several cars before the SC.

For a while it seemed Newgarden would drive through the field but at halfway Scott Dixon was the man on fire, catching Newgarden quickly.

One interested observer at the track was Fernando Alonso, the shock of the previous week being the announcement he’d compete at the Indy 500 with Andretti! NBC even got him into the commentary box for an extended stint.

The SC came out again for Pigot spinning off, his drive a one-off subbing for an injured Hildebrand. At the restart Newgarden made another great pass at the penultimate corner – seemingly the only one brave enough to try it there – to pass Dixon for 2nd.

Will Power led all the way (though being chased) until at 14 laps to go he pitted with a slow puncture. Awful luck in the first 3 races for Power. That meant Newgarden took the win, a deserved one with the pace and the moves he made, but I can’t help but feel gutted for Power (and Hunter-Reay too).

  1. 2 Josef Newgarden (Penske Chevy);
  2. 9 Scott Dixon (Ganassi Honda);
  3. 2 Simon Pagenaud (Penske Chevy);
  4. 3 Helio Castroneves (Penske Chevy);
  5. 28 Alexander Rossi (Andretti Honda);
  6. 5 James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Honda);
  7. 10 Tony Kanaan (Ganassi Honda);
  8. 18 Sebastien Bourdais (Coyne Honda);
  9. 26 Takuma Sato (Andretti Honda);
  10. 7 Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Honda);

Penske scored 3 in the top 4, oh so close to being 4 in the top 5. Hinchcliffe and Bourdais again in the top ten. Rossi finally got the Andretti team a result. Power ended up 14th.

2017 Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix

30th April 2017 – Race 4 of 17 – Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, Arizona, USA

Should you watch this race?  Your call. The speeds are incredible on-screen let alone how it must be trackside, so you need to see that, though there was very little overtaking. It is amazing how such a spectacle becomes routine when little is happening.

Video: Full race (2h17m):

Yes it is called a Grand Prix, yes it is on an oval, no I don’t know why.

The return to Phoenix after a decade away promising much but it wasn’t a race full of action, many blaming the high downforce package resulting in super-high cornering speeds. The speeds though were mind-blowing, just incredible to watch. Perhaps if they’d run low downforce, with higher top speeds and lower corner speeds, it would’ve promoted passing opportunities and a race would’ve broken out. Hopefully the 2018 aero package will solve this.

Not much more to say other than the Chevrolet swept the top 4. How much of that was Team Penske (3 in the top 4) and how much down to the engine, I don’t know. Really good to see Simon Pagenaud take an oval win, one which gave him the points lead.

  1. 1 Simon Pagenaud (Penske Chevy);
  2. 12 Will Power (Penske Chevy);
  3. 21 JR Hildebrand (Carpenter Chevy);
  4. 3 Helio Castroneves (Penske Chevy);
  5. Scott Dixon (Ganassi Honda);
  6. 10 Tony Kanaan (Ganassi Honda);
  7. 20 Ed Carpenter (Carpender Chevy);
  8. 83 Charlie Kimball (Ganassi Honda);
  9. 2 Josef Newgarden (Penske Chevy);
  10. 14 Carlos Munoz (Foyt Chevy);

Power finally secured a podium finish which leapt him up the standings. Hildebrand was up there after a week out. And there’s Dixon again, 5th his worst result from 4 races.

Points Scored In April’s Races

LB ALA PHO APRIL
Simon Pagenaud 30 35 53 118
Josef Newgarden 35 51 23 109
Scott Dixon 35 41 30 106
James Hinchcliffe 51 28 18 97
Helio Castroneves 23 33 34 90
Will Power 17 20 41 78
Sebastien Bourdais 40 24 11 75
Tony Kanaan 15 26 28 69
Ed Jones 28 14 19 61
Carlos Munoz 26 13 20 59
Alexander Rossi 11 30 15 56
JR Hildebrand 19 35 54
Mikhail Aleshin 18 20 13 51
Ryan Hunter-Reay 14 19 17 50
Charlie Kimball 9 16 24 49
Takuma Sato 12 22 14 48
Graham Rahal 20 17 9 46
Max Chilton 16 18 10 44
Conor Daly 14 12 16 42
Spencer Pigot 24 10 34
Marco Andretti 10 9 12 31
Ed Carpenter 26 26
Zach Veach 11 11

The above table shows points scored during the three races held in April.

Pagenaud, Newgarden, Dixon all in three digits. Hinchcliffe and Castroneves scoring well.  Dixon and Castroneves the two not to win a race this month.

Further back, Hildebrand out-scored some notable names even though he missed a race! Hunter-Reay and Rahal are people you’d consider championship contenders but not with a start to the year like this.

The table below shows the championship positions after the four races held this year, including St. Pete.

Points Total To 30th April

Pos Pre +/- Name Pre APR Total Wins
1 2 1 Simon Pagenaud 41 118 159 1
2 3 1 Scott Dixon 35 106 141  
3 8 5 Josef Newgarden 24 109 133 1
4 1 -3 Sebastien Bourdais 53 75 128 1
5 9 4 James Hinchcliffe 23 97 120 1
6 6 0 Helio Castroneves 28 90 118  
7 17 10 Will Power 13 78 91  
8 12 4 Tony Kanaan 18 69 87  
9 4 -5 Ryan Hunter-Reay 32 50 82  
10 10 0 Ed Jones 20 61 81  
11 5 -6 Takuma Sato 31 48 79  
12 11 -1 Alexander Rossi 19 56 75  
13 13 0 JR Hildebrand 17 54 71  
14 21 7 Carlos Munoz 9 59 68  
15 14 -1 Mikhail Aleshin 16 51 67  
16 19 3 Charlie Kimball 12 49 61  
17 18 1 Graham Rahal 13 46 59  
18 16 -2 Max Chilton 14 44 58  
19 7 -12 Marco Andretti 26 31 57  
= 15 -5 Conor Daly 15 42 57  
21 20 -1 Spencer Pigot 10 34 44  
22  22 0 Ed Carpenter 0 26 26  
23  22 -1 Zach Veach 0 11 11

The ‘Pre’ column on the right is ‘Previous Score’, in this case the points from St. Pete.

There is a long way to go but already the protagonists for the 2017 title are sorting themselves from the rest. Simon Pagenaud leaps to an early lead.

Here is a go at making a graph, excuse the cheap graphics, I’m using LibreOffice.

IndyCar 2017 April

Next Month

Come back in a few days for my recap of the famous Month of May with the Indy Grand Prix on the road course followed by the double-points Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

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