Because of IndyCar’s stupid scheduling, we’ve just ended our second back-to-back-to-back of the season, with yet another coming up.
With this relentless amount of racing and a three week break until Pocono, I thought this is a good time to look back at the last month or two.
Following wins for Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, coupled with Josef Newgarden’s momentary loss of brain power on Sunday, the top four are separated by 62 points, with 266 available because of the equally stupid double points. Close stuff.
Newgarden and Alex Rossi have been the class of the field. Newgarden is doing everything he didn’t do in 2018, when he convincingly won three races but didn’t finish on the podium otherwise. This year, he’s won four races and has three other podiums along with three other top fives. In fact, he’s only failed to finish in the top four twice all season. Rossi’s season has followed a similar pattern, finishing all but two races in the top six, though neither of those poor finishes were his fault. He got hosed by a yellow at COTA and was taken out in the first 100 metres at the Indy GP. Don’t ask me who’s the favourite because I know nothing.
Pagenaud and Dixon find themselves further back for two different reasons. For Pagenaud, he’s had three terrific performances for victories that have prevented him being at the job centre next year, but otherwise he’s only finished in the top five once. Dixon has been far more consistent with eight podiums but had a poor run at the Indy, losing a bunch of points because of the double points. Dixie could pose a serious threat because he’s Scott Dixon, but Simon needs to churn out a run of form like the first few races of his title winning year, when he won three races in a row.
A four-way fight would give us the closest championship since 2015. Again, I know nothing.
Some people have criticised Carlin for becoming like Dale Coyne a few years ago, for they’ve had six drivers drive for them this year. Whilst this is true, it’s hardly their fault that Red Bull stole Pato O’Ward or that Max Chilton has finally decided to reduce his already outstayed welcome in the series.
Losing Pato was a big blow, but they have reserves in Conor Daly and Sage Karam. These kids are two drivers who one hundred percent deserve a ride. Conor came up with Newgarden in the Team USA Scholarship, but has yet to find a permanent home in the States (quite literally, Alex Rossi and James Hinchcliffe are former landlords). He drove for Coyne in 2016 for free and did well, then got hired by Foyt and didn’t, although currently no driver appears to be able to fix that team. He did a couple of races for Harding last year and again showed well in a team with ancient parts. Then he got a shot at Indy with Andretti this year and ran up front all day only to slip back to 10th at race end. In his two races for Carlin at Texas and Iowa he’s finished 11th and 13th. Considering Chilton’s best finish is two 14th places having known the team and car for over a year, Trevor needs to take note, ditch the rich kid, hire this guy full-time and build around him.
As for Sage, he astonished everyone on his Indy debut in 2014, qualifying on the back row and finishing 9th. He was rewarded with a part-time schedule with Ganassi in 2015 and although he finished on the podium at Iowa, he was crashed a lot. He’s come back every year to Indy with Dreyer & Reinbold, the team that gave him his debut and then for Carlin at Toronto and Iowa. He hasn’t set the world alight with the results, but is too fast and too talented to be wasted to be missed. Trevor, get this kid in your team too.
Sunday’s race was very nearly decided by these. Scott Dixon had no tyres left and was slowing up, backing himself into a bunch of cars he’d already lapped. His teammate Felix Rosenqvist was trying to make his way through these cars to get to Dixie, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Unfortunately, because of IndyCar’s rules with blue flags we only got one lap of hard racing instead of five.
The rule is that you are not obliged to let the faster driver through, unlike in Formula 1. It’s a courtesy thing rather than an order. The reason for this is if there is a full course caution, the lapped drivers will close back up the rest of the pack, giving them a chance. That’s fine in principal, but there are problems.
Firstly, on Sunday, there were less than five laps left. Do the officials honestly think that a driver who is 20th will be able to make progress in five laps on a road course after a yellow? The answer should be no, because if you’ve not been able to make progress in the previous 85 laps, what chance do you have?
But the main reason is that although all the drivers are just as important… they aren’t really. A two-car race for the win is more important than a four-car scrap for 20th simply because the stakes are higher and the fans care about it more. I don’t give a damn about RC Enerson, Max Chilton and Marco Andretti battling, but I do care about genuine badasses Dixie and Felix going at it for victory. I get that backmarkers might not be able to let the leaders past in the corners, but on the straight just lift off and let them by. It’s easy! Of course, none of this makes a difference if IndyCar’s rules stay the same. Max Papis, Arie Luyendyk, get it sorted please.
Finally, as a footnote, Rossi has been confirmed at Andretti again next year. As I alluded to earlier, Pagenaud’s job was in danger until he won Indy, but Rossi still had an offer from The Captain. He’s turned it down though and I’m glad about that. If we’d had Rossi, Newgarden, Power and Pagenaud all in the same team, their only opposition currently would be Dixie and maybe RHR. Keeping Rossi at Andretti keeps the balance of power in a good place within IndyCar, because although I’d like other teams to win more, having the Big Three is better than having the Big One-Point-Five.
Talk to you soon.