IndyCar Recap: May 2017 – Indianapolis

The Month of May at Indianapolis

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2017 Verizon IndyCar Series

2015_Verizon_IndyCar_Series_logo

The famed “Month of May” at Indianapolis, the centrepiece of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

These days it constitutes two races, the Grand Prix on a version of the infield road course, followed by the Indy 500 and all that it entails, including a lot of practice.

2017 Grand Prix of Indianapolis

13th May 2017 – Race 5 of 17 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speedway, Indiana, USA
Configuration:  Grand Prix road course (2014 version)

Video: Full Race (1h49m)

 

The 4th running of this road course race looked the most successful yet in terms of crowd, which congregated all around the infield on a sunny Saturday.

The last few IndyCar GPs here have been rubbish:  a big crash at the start and then a couple of hours of boredom. This year it was different. There was no big crash at the start.

Tony Kanaan was hit by Marco Andretti on lap 1, for which Marco got a penalty. Seb Bourdais went out with engine failure. Around about laps 27-32 there were some good overtaking attempts on Mikhail Aleshin from various others, with very stout defending from him!

Otherwise I was so bored I barely noticed Castroneves, on a shorter fuel fill and different tyre strategy, get ahead of pole-sitter Power and lead for a stint. Power retook it back when the strategy unwound and Helio dropped to 5th by the flag.

Power at last got his first win of the year. Dixon yet again on the podium with Pagenaud 5th, both achieving 5th consecutive top 5 finishes. Hunter-Reay a good 3rd, best of the year so far for him. Josef Newgarden had a bad day with three penalties for pitlane speeding – and still finished 11th without the aid of a Safety Car.

Worth watching? Mmm, no. Scroll down to the 500.

  1. 12 Will Power (Team Penske Chevy);
  2. 9 Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Honda);
  3. 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport Honda);
  4. 1 Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske Chevy);
  5. 3 Helio Castroneves (Team Penske Chevy);
  6. 15 Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Honda);
  7. 8 Max Chilton (Chip Ganassi Honda);
  8. 98 Alexander Rossi (Andretti Herta Honda);
  9. 20 Spencer Pigot (Ed Carpenter Chevy);
  10. 22 Juan Pablo Montoya (Team Penske Chevy);

Not bad at all for JPM to step in for the first time in 9 months and score a top ten – and nice to see Pigot up there.

101st Indianapolis 500

28th May 2017 – Race 6 of 17 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speedway, Indiana, USA.
Configuration: Oval

The Fernando Alonso 500! Worth watching? Oh absolutely yes.

A lot of points are awarded for qualifying. Pole at this event is worth nearly as much as a race win elsewhere. Scott Dixon took the honours, from Ed Carpenter and Alexander Rossi alongside him on the first row of three. Takuma Sato and Fernando Alonso made it an F1-themed second row alongside JR Hildebrand on the outside.

Sadly, Sebastien Bourdais crashed heavily, said to be out for the rest of the season with pelvis injuries. [Publishing this in September, we know he managed to come back sooner!]

Video: Full race (4h15m including pre-race, the race is about 2h50m).

 

 

First a word about BT Sport:  the UK coverage this year was hosted from a studio and it totally ruined the build-up. Indy has a unique pre-race festival and BT Sport missed all of it in favour of an incredibly dry, stale, boring discussion in a London studio. The race deserved so much more and so did the viewers, many of whom tuned in for the first time to see Fernando Alonso. I could almost feel Mike Conway wanted to tell them himself!
I am very glad BT Sport are paying attention to IndyCar and the 500, but this is not how to do it. The way they do the rest of the season is better. Show colour. Show the anthem and the flyover and Back Home Again. Show the balloons. Show the giant US flag being towed on a pick-up truck. Show the classic Americana. That’s how to do it.

Action

Back to the race. What a race. What a… scrappy race.

For the last few years we’ve had relatively clean races, lots of green flag racing. The 2017 edition reminded me of the races about 8 or 9 years ago when we had lots of incidents, lots of Safety Cars periods in which a lot of the pitstops happened, a very disjointed race with the flow broken up a little too often for my taste. That said, the on track action was much better than it was 8 years ago, as it has been since 2012.

The scariest was obviously Scott Dixon’s huge accident. For a moment I thought he had been really hurt, especially after the injuries Sebastien Bourdais suffered a few days earlier. Thankfully apart from some knocks and bruises, Dixon and Jay Howard were okay, it was incredible to see them get out of the cars. What with setting pole position and hours later being held up in an armed robbery, Scotty D had quite the month!

That incident brought out the red flag for a clear-up, the right decision.

When the race was green it was tense, far more than any Indy 500 I’ve seen before (albeit I’ve only watched them since 2006). Usually it is tense for the last 30 or 20 laps as everyone gets their elbows out and stops being friendly. 2014 was the best example, a good race that went absolutely wild at the end, in a good way. This time it felt like that all race long. It was weird. It was like the races at Texas.

More than that. It felt like what the old guard of Indy 500 fans say the race USED TO BE like. If we can get that every year, or even once in every five years, the event will be well on its way to rediscovering old glories as indeed it already is.

Fernando

Obviously the big news was Fernando Alonso. How would he get on? As it turned out, his sheer attention to detail and the work of the Andretti Autosport team meant he was up to speed immediately. Qualifying 5th and running fast all race, including leading laps, he looked like he belonged, which of course he did. Perhaps unfortunately, the good performances of drivers with less F1 success made it harder to sell to F1 fans that Indianapolis is bloody difficult, with Sato and Chilton running up front. But you must remember that a) Sato is a very good driver who has slowly ironed out his weak points, and b) Chilton has improved his game a lot and is with a top team. Karma meant the Honda in the back of Alonso’s car would cry enough, not long before race end, the irony.

The Finish

But Alonso wasn’t the whole story. So much else happened it is impossible to recap it here. Indianapolis always throws up some quirky results, too. Look at that top ten. There is no way anybody would have predicted all ten of those names! The Penske team were strangely off pace for a long while.

At 9 laps to go, Max Chilton held his foot in to hold off Takuma Sato. For a lap or two it looked like Max would win! Then Helio Castroneves put in two incredible passes into turn 3 on consecutive laps, first on Sato, then on Chilton to take the lead with 7 to go. Astonishingly close. Rookie Ed Jones then went by Chilton to hold a superb 3rd, what a run from him. But then came Sato, 5 laps to go with the slingshot on the front straight to take a lead he wouldn’t lose.

And that’s only a small part of the story. So much happened in that race. Do watch it.

  1. 26 Takuma Sato (Andretti Autosport Honda);
  2. 3 Helio Castroneves (Team Penske Honda);
  3. 19 Ed Jones (Dale Coyne Chevy);
  4. 8 Max Chilton (Chip Ganassi Honda);
  5. 10 Tony Kanaan (Chip Ganassi Honda);
  6. 22 Juan Pablo Montoya (Team Penske Chevy);
  7. 98 Alexander Rossi (Andretti Herta Honda);
  8. 27 Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport Honda);
  9. 88 Gabby Chaves (Harding Racing Chevy);
  10. 14 Carlos Munoz (AJ Foyt Chevy);

Good to see Marco Andretti secure a decent result. Gabby Chaves in the new Harding Racing entry a brilliant 9th. Carlos Munoz got a Foyt car 10th. Not bad when heavyweights Pagenaud, Rahal, Aleshin all finished the race on the lead lap, but outside the top ten.

Points Scored In May

IGP 500Q 500R MAY
Takuma Sato 18 36 101 155
Helio Castroneves 31 15 81 127
Alexander Rossi 24 38 53 115
Max Chilton 26 19 67 112
Ed Jones 11 23 70 104
Tony Kanaan 10 30 61 101
Will Power 54 26 15 95
Scott Dixon 40 42 11 93
Juan Pablo Montoya 20 16 57 93
Marco Andretti 14 28 48 90
Graham Rahal 28 20 37 85
Ed Carpenter 40 39 79
JR Hildebrand 16 32 29 77
Simon Pagenaud 32 11 32 75
Ryan Hunter-Reay 35 24 11 70
Mikhail Aleshin 12 21 34 67
Carlos Munoz 15 10 40 65
Josef Newgarden 19 12 22 53
Gabby Chaves 9 44 53
Spencer Pigot 22 5 24 51
James Hinchcliffe 17 17 16 50
Fernando Alonso   34 13 47
Oriol Servia 22 18 40
Charlie Kimball 9 18 11 38
Sebastian Saavedra 3 30 33
Pippa Mann 6 26 32
Conor Daly 13 8 10 31
Jay Howard 14 10 24
Sage Karam 13 10 23
James Davison 21 21
Jack Harvey 7 10 17
Buddy Lazier 4 10 14
Zach Veach 2 10 12
Sebastien Bourdais 8 8

The IndyCar GP was a normal points-scoring round. The Indianapolis 500 scored double points for the race (500R) and had a separate, quite generous points system for qualifying (500Q) which is quite unlike the rest of the year.

  • Takuma Sato took home an Indy 500 win after qualifying 4th, and 12th in the Indy GP to lead the month’s tally.
  • Castroneves had the best month among expected title contenders at 127. Power and Dixon also scored well, Pagenaud a bit further back. Newgarden down on 53 will have work to do later in the year.
  • Ed Jones and Max Chilton were jointly the revelations of the month. Jones, a rookie from Indy Lights, a superb 3rd in the 500. Chilton, struggling for speed in the last year or two, was 7th in the GP and 4th in the 500. Good to see both.
  • Fernando Alonso won 47 points, mostly from qualifying 5th.
  • Good to see Pippa Mann score her best result at Indy, outperforming some supposedly better-rated drivers.
  • James Davison took over the car of Sebastien Bourdais, so he didn’t score for qualifying but does pick up race points for himself.

Again, 33 entrants and 33 stories each worth telling, no time to talk about them all here.

Points Total To 31st May

Pos Pre +/- Name Pre May Total Wins
1 6 5 Helio Castroneves 118 127 245  
2 1 -1 Simon Pagenaud 159 75 234 1
= 2 -1 Scott Dixon 141 93 234  
= 11 7 Takuma Sato 79 155 234 1
5 12 7 Alexander Rossi 75 115 190  
6 8 2 Tony Kanaan 87 101 188  
7 3 -4 Josef Newgarden 133 53 186 1
= 7 -1 Will Power 91 95 186 1
9 10 1 Ed Jones 81 104 185  
10 5 -5 James Hinchcliffe 120 50 170 1
= 18 7 Max Chilton 58 112 170  
12 9 -3 Ryan Hunter-Reay 82 70 152  
13 13 0 JR Hildebrand 71 77 148  
14 19 5 Marco Andretti 57 90 147  
15 17 2 Graham Rahal 59 85 144  
16 4 -12 Sebastien Bourdais 128 8 136 1
17 15 -2 Mikhail Aleshin 67 67 134  
18 14 -4 Carlos Munoz 68 65 133  
19 22 3 Ed Carpenter 26 79 105  
20 16 -4 Charlie Kimball 61 38 99  
21 21 0 Spencer Pigot 44 51 95  
22 24 2 Juan Pablo Montoya 93 93  
23 20 -3 Conor Daly 57 31 88  
24 24 0 Gabby Chaves 53 53  
25 24 -1 Fernando Alonso   47 47  
26 24 -2 Oriol Servia   40 40  
27 24 -3 Sebastian Saavedra   33 33  
28 24 -4 Pippa Mann   32 32  
29 24 -5 Jay Howard   24 24  
30 23 -7 Zach Veach 11 12 23  
= 24 -7 Sage Karam 23 23  
32 24 -8 James Davison 21 21  
33 24 -9 Jack Harvey 17 17  
34 24 -10 Buddy Lazier 14 14
  • Helio Castroneves takes a 12 point lead, moving up from 6th place at the end of April
  • Remarkably we have three drivers tied in 2nd! Pagenaud, Dixon and Sato. Both Taku and Alexander Rossi leap up the standings, as does Max Chilton a little further back.
  • Newgarden is down 4 spots to 7th, tied with team-mate Power in the middle of a big group.

Perhaps it is best expressed as a graph of the top 16 drivers [click to open].

IndyCar 2017 May

Next Month

Come back next week for my recap of the Dual In Detroit at Belle Isle which featured a full length Grand Prix on Saturday and another one on Sunday!

There are actually four races in June, I hope on Monday to recap Belle Isle with the second part of June to follow on Tuesday.

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