Verizon IndyCar Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle in Detroit
A confident Rahal sweeps both halves of the weekend double-header
Sunday, June 4, 2017: Again this year, the IndyCar series organized a pair of 70-lap races to be run on the Belle Island park site near downtown Detroit on the Saturday-Sunday of an early weekend in June. After the qualifying session for the Saturday race, Graham Rahal declared that he felt confident of his chances of winning here. Other drivers may have scoffed at this bravado but, as it turned out, his confidence was proven to be justified after he swept the weekend, winning both the Saturday and the Sunday race in dominant fashion.
He won the pole in qualifying for Saturday’s race and he started from the front row alongside Penske driver Helio Castroneves. He immediately took command of the lead and when Castroneves pitted early to switch to the longer-lasting ‘black’ tires, Alexander Rossi inherited second place. Rahal pitted under green on lap 23 and Castroneves came out in the lead after this cycle of pit stops.
On lap 26, Connor Daly’s car stopped on course and it brought out the second and final caution period of the day. On the restart, Rahal soon disposed of Castroneves to regain the race lead. Rahal led until he made his second scheduled pit stop on lap 48. During this cycle of pit stops, James Hinchcliffe and then Scott Dixon took turns in the lead before they also pitted. Coming out at the end of this pit stop cycle, Rahal was back in command and he led the rest of the way to the checker at lap 70.
Scott Dixon, despite driving in some pain after his big crash at the Indy 500 a week before, ended up in second place, six seconds back. James Hinchcliffe had started the race in fifth place in the third row but, on the very first corner after the start, he spun on cold tires and he fell to the back of the field for the restart. After that he did not blot his copybook again and he was able to take the checker in a remarkable third place. Detroit is home base for the Penske business empire but his teams did not do so well here on Saturday. Josef Newgarden was the best-placed Penske driver, finishing fourth, while Castroneves was seventh, Simon Pagenauld 16th and Will Power 18th.
With Sebastien Bourdais’ injuries from Indianapolis putting him on the sidelines for quite a while, team owner Dale Coyne is trying to settle on a consistent long-term substitute driver. This week he had Estaban Gutierrez, the Mexican driver who drove an F1 car for Haas last year. Coyne and Gutierrez are both hopeful that he will be able to drive in every race on the schedule until Bourdais returns – even thought he has had no experience in this kind of car before the Detroit weekend and the next race is the daunting high-speed Texas oval. He finished 19th on both Saturday and Sunday.
A second qualifying session – for Sunday’s race – was held Sunday morning and Takuma Sato was fastest with Ryan Hunter-Reay second. Rahal qualified in third place alongside Will Power on the second row.
In the race, Sato took the lead and Rahal took over second place when some of the cars made an early pit stop to change off their soft tires early. This order continued until Sato made his first of two planned pit stops on lap 23 letting Rahal take the lead for a couple of laps until he also pitted. Now it was Newgarden’s turn to lead until he pitted but his race strategy would see him pit two more times before the end of the race making his mid-race lead misleading.
When Newgarden pitted on lap 30, Rahal regained the lead, now ahead of Sato, Power, Pagenauld and Newgarden – with a comfortable lead of 12 seconds over Sato. This order continued until the final round of pit stops. Pagenauld pitted and then the other three – Rahal, Sato and Power pitted on the next lap. This let Newgarden back into the lead by a margin of six seconds over Rahal.
But then Newgarden made his final pit stop and he came out of the pit lane 18 seconds behind the race leader. Rahal was held up a bit by slower traffic and Newgarden was able to reduce the margin to about six seconds by lap 66. Then fate intervened in the form of Hinchcliffe stopping on the track without power – and, almost simultaneously, Spencer Pigot’s car blew up in a big cloud of smoke.
With just three laps left in the race, IndyCar officials called for the red flag to allow time for a lengthy cleanup of the track. Of course, this allowed Newgarden to restart right up behind Rahal so he now had a shot at the win. On the restart, Rahal shot out into the lead and pulled away from Newgarden who was never able to challenge him over the final two laps before the checker flew.
This was the first time a single driver had swept both haves of the double-header event here at Detroit and it vaulted Rahal up the points standings from 15th with 144 points after the Indy 500 to sixth with 251 points after the Detroit double-header.
The next IndyCar race is a night race at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, June 10.
IMSA Weathertech Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Belle Isle in Detroit
The Taylor brothers start from the back but continue their sweep of wins
Saturday, June 3, 2017: Coming into this Detroit round of the IMSA Weathertech series, the Taylor brothers, Ricky and Jordan, had won every one of the previous four rounds this year. Here at Detroit, things looked bad after qualifying. Ricky was on a run that looked certain to clinch the pole for the race when he collided with the wall bringing out the red flag. Despite having already set the fastest lap of all the qualifiers, the team lost their times under a rule that penalized them for causing the red flag. As a result, the No. 10 Cadillac DPi car had to start in12th place, behind the nine other prototype cars starting up front.
Despite this handicap, Ricky worked his way forward and he was up to fifth place by the time he handed over to his brother before mid-race. Jordan took over and continued the run towards the front. This was a 90-minute timed race. Every prototype was going to have to make a second pit stop for fuel. As soon as the ‘window’ opened the cars started to come in for fuel. Jordan Taylor came in at about the 48 minute mark and when he came back out he was third behind the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac of Dane Cameron and the No. 70 Mazda DPi of Joel Miller.
When Miller made his pit stop a few moments later Taylor was now second only to the Cameron in the No. 31 car but he was over 30 seconds behind. All the observers seemed to agree that the No. 31 car should have pitted immediately in hopes of being able to get back out ahead of Taylor and then hold him off for the win – but instead his team opted to keep Cameron out as long as possible. Taylor was able to match Cameron’s speed or better it and when the red No. 31 finally pitted, he re-emerged from the pits 100 metres back of Taylor and, lacking superior speed, all he could do was to follow Taylor home the rest of the distance, finishing five seconds adrift in second place.
Given the tight confines of the Belle Isle course, the GTLM cars were not included in this race so the other action was in the GTD ('Daytona’) class which now has a big and an interesting entry. The Lawson Aschenbach/Andrew Davis Audi R8 qualified quickest with the Katherine Legge/Andy Lally Acura NSX second fastest. In the race, the Acura scored its first win since entering this GTD class this year with the Ferrari 488 of Christina Nielsen/Alessandro Balzan finishing second in class.
Daniel Morad of Toronto was sharing a GTD Porsche 911 with Mathieu Jaminet which had qualified sixth in class. Morad said that the Porsche was not well suited to the Belle Isle course but that he had been encouraged by their performance in the first half of the race. Unfortunately, they were given a penalty for driving over an air hose and this knocked them out of contention.
The next IMSA Weathertech race is the Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen at Watkins Glen on Sunday, July 2.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway
Johnson pips Larson for the win in overtime
Sunday, June 4, 2017: In the end, the Dover MENCS race was Kyle Larson’s to lose, He led 238 of the scheduled 400 laps – and he had been leading since lap 361 and he had a 2.5-second margin over Jimmie Johnson when the final caution came out with two laps to go. This set up one last restart five laps into ‘overtime’ and Johnson was able to line up alongside Larson for the restart. It might have been a mistake for Larson to pick the high line for the restart because he ended up driving behind the pace car through the oil-dry powder that had been put down – and that may have compromised the grip of his tires. Whatever, when the green flag flew, Larson spun his tires and he a had a bad restart giving Johnson the advantage into the first turn. Larson might have been able to claw back the lead in the two laps scheduled until the checker but the two of them had no sooner crossed the ‘overtime line’ than all hell broke loose behind them involving several cars – NASCAR called it nine cars but it looked like a lot more than that. NASCAR threw the yellow but, given that Johnson had already crossed the overtime line ahead of Larson, it signaled the win for Johnson.
Johnson winning like this over Larson might have been a disappointing result, but that is the way it sometimes works out in NASCAR. In this circumstance, no matter how the race played out, someone would have been unhappy.
Larson had started from the third row on the grid while Johnson had to start from the back of the field after changing the gear in the car’s rear end. In the early stages, the battle was between Larson and Martin Truex trading the lead back and forth. As had been the case in the Xfinity race the day before, there were a number of instances of tire failure and they contributed to the very high number of caution periods during the race – 15 in all. And, given the large number of cautions and the limited supply of tires in each team’s inventory, the crew chiefs had to create a strategy based on not changing tires every time the yellow waved. Given that different teams played this out differently, this had the effect of scrambling the race order, especially when the front runners pitted and those farther back did not.
Even though Larson was in the lead more often than he was not, Truex managed to be in the lead to win both the first and second Stages. At the start of the third and final stage Larson beat Truex out of the pits and he led for the next 83 laps. That ended when he pitted on lap 327 and, almost immediately, another yellow flag flew and he was trapped a lap down – but he would be able to take the ‘wave around’ and be in position to take the restart behind all the other lead lap cars. In fact, he came out ahead of all the other lap-down cars and earned the ‘lucky dog’ pass which saw him taking the restart in tenth place.
This left him with just 61 laps to catch and pass the nine cars ahead of him. By the time the next caution flew seven laps later, Larson was up to fifth place for this restart. The teams’ alternate pit stop strategies saw an unlikely group ahead of him – Ty Dillon, Randy Newman, Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon. His chances of regaining the lead in the few laps that remained looked good – save for Jimmie Johnson. It took him ten laps to get past Johnson into second place, Almost immediately both of them – Larson and Johnson –swept past Ty Dillon for first and second.
For a number of laps Larson had the slimmest of leads over Johnson who had won here ten times before but Johnson brushed the wall and he fell back slightly. Larson’s lead grew tenth by tenth over the final 25 laps and it looked like he was going to be able to hold off Johnson handily and win the race and make it a sweep of the weekend.
But then that end-of-race caution flew and everything changed. Johnson was now back in a position to challenge Larson for the win and he made it pay off on that final overtime restart.
Truex finished third, Ryan Newman fourth and Chase Elliott fifth. With the way the cars were careening around and crashing into each other and forming tangled heaps of sheet metal, I don’t know how NASCAR was able to figure out the rest of the order (as given in the attached results box score for the race).
This was Johnson’s 83rd win in the Cup series, a number matching Cale Yarborough’s career-long number of wins. He was wearing a special helmet celebrating Yarborough’s 83 wins – and now Johnson has equaled that achievement. NASCAR recognizes two drivers as having won 84 times – Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip - although Allison does not accept that number as correct , claiming (with good evidence) that he actually won one more NASCAR race than they give him credit for – so, if Johnson wins another Cup race, there may be some controversy.
I mentioned the sparse crowd for Saturday’s Xfinity race below. The crowd for Sunday’s cup race was better but I would call it ‘spotty’ – my estimate is that fewer that 50 percent of the available seats were occupied.
The next MENCS race is at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, June 11.
NASCAR Xfinity Series OneMain Financial 200 at Dover International Speedway
A dominant Larson makes it three Xfinity wins so far this year
Saturday, June 3, 2017: In the eleven Xfinity races run so far this year, nine of them have been won by NASCAR Cup carpetbaggers and Cup driver Kyle Larson has won three of them. Here at Dover he dominated the race, starting from the pole and leading 137 of the race’s 200 laps, including the final 54 laps of the race.
Two other Cup regulars finished second and third – Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suárez – giving each of Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota a top-three finishing position. The highest finishing Xfinity regulars were Cole Custer, Ryan Reed and William Byron in fourth, fifth and sixth.
At the start, Larson took command ahead of Blaney, Erik Jones and Suárez. In the rash of yellows that came early in the race, last week’s winner, Austin Dillon, brought out the third caution when he went into the wall doing considerable damage to his car. His crew managed to patch up the car and Dillon kept going for most of the race until his engine failed with 25 laps to go.
Suárez’ race was spoiled when on lap 53, just before the end of the first Stage, he pitted under green with a tire problem. This dropped him to the back of the field and he spent the rest of the race working his way back up towards the front where, in the end, he managed to finish in third place
It was not just Suárez who had tire worries, many of the other cars – including Larson’s – were having tire problems as well – the tread starting to delaminate.
After the sixth caution, which ended on lap 80, Blaney started to make a charge on Larson and he passed him for the lead on lap 88. After the next caution Darrell Wallace came to the fore, passing Larson for second place and then, off the eight caution which ended on lap 115 just before the end of Stage 2, Wallace took the lead on the restart. After the Stage 2 reboot he was left taking that restart in11th place behind the cars that had stayed out this time. But Larson, who had also started back there started moving ahead while Wallace was losing ground.
The final caution came a few laps later when Blake Koch spun collecting a couple of other cars. When they lined up for what was to be the final restart, Larson was in sixth place, but when the green flag dropped he shot ahead and was almost immediately up to second place behind Suárez. He soon made quick work of him taking the lead again on lap 147. After that it was clear sailing for Larson while Blaney took over second place behind him dropping Suárez to third – the order in which they finished the race. Meanwhile Wallace was struggling to find pace and he kept dropping back, eventually finishing in eighth place.
The Saturday crowd for this Xfinity race was probably double what it had been for the trucks the day before, but it was still sparse – perhaps fewer than ten percent of the available seats were occupied. This has become a commonplace occurrence at these support race days.
The next Xfinity series race is at Pocono Raceway on Saturday, June 10.
NASCAR Camping World Trucks Bar Harbor 200 at Dover International Speedway
Sauter’s pit strategy fuels his way to the win
Friday, June 2, 2017: Johnny Sauter may have started in 11th place and he may not have led until lap 168 of the 200-lap race but a better pit stop strategy paid off in a win here. Sauter’s alternate pit stop schedule saw him stopping for fuel under yellow on lap 118 while the other challengers had made their pit stops under a previous caution. As the laps wound down, the others had to come in for more fuel and, as this cycle came around, Sauter inherited the lead, Despite the others being faster on fresher tires, he was able to hold on and take the checker by a mere 0.3 seconds ahead of his Gallagher teammate Kaz Grala.
Grant Enfinger in a Thorsports entry was third ahead of his teammate Ben Rhodes. The young Rhodes had looked like becoming a winner after he led 71 laps mid-race before handing over the lead briefly to Chase Briscoe on lap 165 – but soon Briscoe also had to pit for fuel letting Sauter assume the lead – a lead he held to the end of the race. Austin Cindric, the Brad Keselowski (BKR) protégé, finished fifth.
The race saw eight cautions, including two for the Stage turn-arounds. The first came on lap 23 after Wendell Chavous lost control and collected three other trucks. The St. Catharines driver Stewart Friesen was eliminated in this wreck. On lap 37, Christopher Bell, a Kyle Busch protégé and one of the drivers tipped to be a challenger for the series championship this year, had a wheel failure and crashed out of the race. This brought out the yellow eight laps before the scheduled end of the first stage and, when several trucks pitted early in hopes of gaining track position after the end of the first stage turn-around, this was the start of the alternate fueling timing sequences which eventually saw Sauter winning the race.
Chase Briscoe, another BKR driver, had won the pole in qualifying but only led those three laps mid-race. After a late-race pit stop he lost a wheel when a pit stop miscue saw him leaving the pits with no lug nuts on the left front wheel. After that, he fell two laps down and he was never a factor again. Don’t dismiss this guy, he had an amazing winning season in ARCA last year and he promises to become a NASCAR star before long – along with Bell.
Last week, Tom Deloach, who fielded the Red Horse Racing trucks announced that, due to insufficient sponsorship, he was shutting down the team immediately. This cost two good drivers, Timothy Peters and Brett Moffitt, their rides. This had looked like being a breakthrough year for Moffitt after winning at Michigan last August in a part-time deal with Deloach. Despite the loss of these two competitive trucks (and Deloach had actually entered three trucks at times) 33 trucks were entered for Dover to vie for the 32 available starting spots in the race.
The next truck race is at the Texas Motor Speedway on Friday, June 9.
NASCAR Pinty’s Series Choko/Fast Eddy 250 at Delaware Speedway (Ontario)
Labbé wins after barging past Tagliani
Saturday, June 3, 2017: The last time Alex Labbé won was last June at Autodrome Chaudière in Quebec. This time he started in fourth place but he was able to push Alex Tagliani aside on lap 214 of the 250-lap race to take the lead and go onto win the race by a two-second margin over Tagliani.
Andrew Ranger had won the pole in qualifying with points leader Kevin Lacroix alongside but Lacroix led the race for the first 99 laps before the series’ defending champion Cayden Lapcevich took his turn at the front for six laps. After that Labbé, Tagliani and Lacroix took turns leading the race until Labbé took over from Tagliani for the final 35 laps.
D.J. Kennington was third, L.P. Dumoulin was fourth, Lacroix fifth and Ranger sixth. At about lap 200, Steve Mathews tangled with Lapcevich. This knocked Mathews out of the race but Lapcevich was able to continue and finish the race in 12th place, albeit 47 laps down.
After this race, the second round in the 13 race championship series, Lacroix continues to lead with 89 points, a three point advantage over Labbé with Ranger another five points behind.
The next round in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series is at Autodrome Chaudière on Saturday, June 17.
Results Box Scores:
Results of Saturday’s IndyCar race at Detroit
Results of Sunday’s IndyCar race at Detroit
Results of the IMSA WeatherTech race at Detroit
Results of the NASCAR MENCS race at Dover
Results of the NXS race at Dover
Results of the NCWTS race at Dover
Results of the NASCAR Pinty’s race at Delaware, Ontario
IndyCar Detroit: Chris Owens/IndyCar
IMSA: Michael L. Levitt/LAT Images/IMSA
NASCAR MENCS: Sean Gardner/Getty Images/NASCAR
NXS: Chris Trotman/Getty Images/NASCAR
NCWTS: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images/NASCAR
NASCAR Pinty’s: Matt Manor/NASCAR