Monday Crew Chief: IndyCar GP

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Roger Penske’s 200th triumph in IndyCar competition could not have come in a better scenario.

Will Power, minus a blip during the second stint when he lost the lead to Robert Wickens, was unstoppable in Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix, a victory that vaults him around Rick Mears for runner-up regarding career wins for the Captain.

The effort is not shocking; the Australian has been considered the premier road racer on the Verizon IndyCar Series circuit. The real concern was would there be missing any pieces to the puzzle. Aside from a runner-up placement last month in Long Beach, California, the 2018 campaign has been filled with mishaps and bad luck. At the World’s Greatest Race Course, the rivals, fortune, nor the weather could prevent the eventual result.

Behind the No. 12 Chevrolet-powered Dallara, others had their moments. The drive of the day, in some ways, was Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. Following an exit in the opening qualification round on Friday, the Iceman was stuck in 18th at the start. Using the skills honed from four IndyCar championships and the stellar work from the PNC Bank pit crew, the New Zealander was within a stone’s throw of Power at the checkered flags, settling for second. The output should only serve as further motivation, as the No. 9 Honda has been one of the fastest machines in each of the past three shows on the 2.5-mile rectangle, yet through various scenarios, has been absent from the head of the pack at the climax.

Saturday was another solid exhibition from Robert Wickens, a pilot fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe has been pushing for inclusion in the Verizon IndyCar Series. So far, it’s been a good thing that Sam Schmidt took up the Mayor on his request. The former touring car standout looked to be on the verge of breaking through the victory tape, only to be outclassed by the Penske star in the race-deciding third fuel run. A further newcomer blues moment dropped him back one final position to third, but despite the setback, the sky is the limit for the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year favorite over the two weeks to come.

Sebastien Bourdais is in a similar mode. While the time trial phase that ruined his month looms next weekend, the Dale Coyne Racing combatant ran a clean event to take fourth on Saturday. The factor which could destory the ex-Champ Car champion’s hopes, however, is outside of his control. The sister No. 19 Honda entry still has yet to confirm a wheelman for the Indy 500, and the other two entrants Pippa Mann and Conor Daly could also face a battle to make the field of 33.

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi is starting to learn a valuable lesson – the ability to achieve results when the vehicle is not in A-mode. A fifth-place effort certainly exceeds the target the former F-1 tester was shooting for following Friday’s failure to make the Firestone Fast Six. After the Californian, IMSA sports car regular Helio Castroneves dropped a friendly reminder that he has not forgotten how to drive an IndyCar. Although never making any attention-grabbing maneuvers on Saturday, the Brazilian kept his nose clean to earn sixth after 85 laps.

The month-opening test on the famous oval provided a few glimpses of what the new body design could offer in two weeks time. However, it is clear more exploring will be required not only to take the Verizon P1 Award, but also to maintain a stronghold in the pursuit of glory on Memorial Day weekend.


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Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad.

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