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Race Weekend Review – May 10-11-12, 2019

Race Weekend Review – May 10-11-12, 2019

NTT IndyCar Series INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
• Pagenaud uses his skills in the wet to overcome Dixon for the win

Speedway, IN, May 11/19 (GRW): The ‘Grand Prix” at Indianapolis is now an IndyCar race run on the road course as a prelude to the classic Indy 500. This year the race started under threat of rain and the rain did come. But for most of the race, the rain was light enough that it made the decision to choose between slicks and rain tires tricky - and most of the time, the slicks were the better option,

However, but the time the third caution had ended on lap 68 of the 85-lap race, the rain was coming down hard enough that everyone was on rain tires. Scott Dixon had taken the lead during this cycle of pit stops – ahead of Jack Harvey, Matheus Leist and Simon Pagenaud who was about seven seconds back of the race leader when the green flew again.

Pagenaud came to Indy car racing after a successful run in sports cars, racing at Le Mans and in North America – and he is reputed to have superior skills for racing in the wet. He demonstrated that here. He quickly disposed of Leist and closed in on Harvey, passing him for second with five laps to go. Continuing to lap significantly faster than Dixon, he reeled him in and passed him for the lead with two laps remaining – and he kept on going to take the win by a margin of two seconds ahead of Dixon. Harvey finished in third place with Leist in fourth and Spencer Pigot in fifth place.

PHOTO INDY GP PAGENAUDRace winner Pagenaud at IMS (photo: Chris Jones/IndyCar)

When asked afterward if that final run to catch Dixon had been his most intense five laps ever, Pagenaud said, “Oh, yeah, it was. It was amazing the whole race. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ I thought everyone was saving fuel; I was just so fast. Chevy did a fantastic job giving us the horsepower. Third time – I’m equal with Will (Power in Indy GP wins). That’s awesome; we kept it in the Penske family. I can’t believe it; it’s awesome. What a race! I want to thank Team Penske, everybody who supports me, obviously. This is the sweetest win I’ve ever had, I guess.”

In the six times this race has been run, Will Power has won three times and Pagenaud three times. Except for Pagenaud’s first win when he was driving for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton, this race has always been won by a Team Penske entry.

The rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who had won the pole for the race, finished in eighth place. The road course race did seem to bring a number of less-familiar names to the fore – but in two week’s time it will be the traditional Indy 500 and we can expect more of the well–known favourites to take centre stage.

I’m old enough to remember when this weekend was the first of two weekends of qualifying for the big ‘500' and in those days the time trials drew huge crowds. Unfortunately, this ‘Grand Prix’ of Indy cars does not seem to been able to catch the interest of the new generation of Hoosier race fans – the grandstands were only sparsely populated for this race which was run under the forecast of rain.

Click HERE for the results of the INDYCAR Grand Prix.

The next IndyCar race will be the Indianapolis 500 on May 26.

PHOTO F1 SPANISH GP PODIUMSpanish GP podium: Bottas, DR Z (Dieter Zetsche), Hamilton, Vestappen (photo Daimler AG)

Formula 1 Emirates Gran Premio De España at Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya
• Hamilton leads home another one-two win for Mercedes

Barcelona, Spain, May 12/19 (GRW): The Spanish Grand Prix was the fifth round of this year’s Formula One championship season and it marked the fifth time that the Mercedes drivers had finished one-two. This time Valtteri Bottas had started from the pole with his teammate Lewis Hamilton alongside but, in the race, Hamilton took the lead going into the first turn and he led every lap to the finish – and he set the fastest lap in the race. This restored Hamilton into the lead in the championship points race with a seven-point margin over his teammate.

This kind of dominance by the Mercedes team had not been predicted going into the season but here it is in the face of an unexpectedly weak showing from the Ferrari team once the racing began – in contrast to the promise they had shown here in Spain during pre-season testing. For my part, I just think back to when I first started following F1 in 1955 when the Mercedes team of the day was obliterating the competition with Fangio and Moss. And, going into that season, the pundits must have been expecting the potent Lancia D-50s to be ready to give the Mercedes cars a run for their money – a challenge that never materialized that year. I think that one can enjoy this kind of racing experience – simply taking delight in the excellence a dominant team displays – just as one can take pleasure in the excellence of a musical performance. It does not always have to be a close-fought competition to be enjoyable.

At the start of the race, Hamilton shot ahead as Bottas got off to a slow start. Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari went to the left and, for a moment, it looked like he might even shoot into the lead. But it was not to be, the gap closed and he jammed on his brakes, smoked a tire, and dropped back to fourth behind Max Verstappen in the Red Bull. Meanwhile Hamilton already had a solid lead over Bottas – a lead he never relinquished for the rest of the race.

“When the lights went out, my initial getaway was quite good and we were very close all the way down into Turn 1,” said Hamilton. “I think the Ferrari was alongside us at one point too, so it was a great battle and also a decisive moment in the race. After that I just had to keep my head down and focus on trying to deliver each lap.”

Vettel’s skirmish at the start had flat-spotted a tire and this was to hobble him until he eventually pitted for new tires. This set up a situation in which the Ferrari pit had to decide whether to order Vettel to allow his teammate Charles Leclerc to go past him to take up the chase of the three cars in front. They seemed to dither as the two red cars battled with each other and the gap back from Verstappen grew larger. Eventually, the word came through and Vettel pulled aside to let Leclerc move on.

Now Vettel was asking his team to call him in to replace the flat-spotted tire but they wanted him to struggle on for a while more until he reached a point at which he would be able to complete the rest of the race distance according to their pit stop plan. Finally he was called in on lap 19 of the 66-lap race. Verstappen came in a lap later, letting Leclerc up into third for a while until he pitted, restoring the race order at the front. Hamilton and Bottas pitted but, by then they had a big enough gap over the others that they both retained their places at the front of the field.

Vettel had been able to close up on Leclerc after his pit stop and he was starting to pressure him. Perhaps it was now time for Ferrari management to repay him and ask Leclerc to let him go past to try to chase down Verstappen. Eventually, the order came through – perhaps a bit late – and Vettel took off in pursuit of the Dutchman – but he was ten seconds back by now.

That changed when Lando Norris clipped Lance Stroll’s rear tire sending them both spinning off into a gravel trap and out of the race – bringing out the Safety Car. Of course this closed up the ranks. Despite this, when the track went green again, Vettel could not get past Verstappen; indeed the gap started to grow larger again. With just a few laps left to the finish, the order remained stabilised and the Ferrari drivers had to settled for fourth (Vettel) and fifth (Leclerc) – a disappointing result for the team given the high expectations for them following spring testing here.

Pierre Gasly, in the second Red Bull was sixth. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) was seventh ahead of Carlos Sainz (McLaren), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) with Romain Grosjean (Haas) in tenth place earning the final championship point.

Click HERE for the results of the Spanish Grand Prix.

The next F1 Grand Prix will be held at Monaco on Sunday, May 26.

PHOTO MENCS Kansas1 Celebration1 05112019Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, does a burn out after winning the Digital Ally 400 (photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images/NASCAR)

NASCAR MENCS Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway
• Keselowski emerges as the late-blooming winner

Kansas City, KS, May 11/19 (GRW): Brad Keselowski only led 12 laps in the race which, with an overtime finish, ran to 271 laps or 407 miles. But he led the final 11 laps to take the checker and (with Pagenaud’s win at Indianapolis) to make it a two-win weekend for Roger Penske. Alex Bowman finished second, his third week in a row to be the runner-up, while Erik Jones was third with Chase Elliott fourth and Clint Bowyer fifth.

Kevin Harvick had qualified his Stewart-Haas Ford on the pole and for the first half of the race it looked like he had a lock on the win. There had been a lot of rain overnight so NASCAR added a ‘competition caution’ at 30 laps to let the teams check their setups and their tire wear situation given the changed track surface. NASCAR had gone to high drag, low power car for this track and that meant for a lot of lead changes, 23 in all for the race – but Harvick was the common thread. He led the most laps, 104, in command for most of the race.

Harvick won the first Stage at lap 80. Near the end of the second Stage there was a round of green-flag pit stops which stirred things up. Chase Elliott managed to gain the lead ahead of Harvick and he was credited with winning the second Stage. Then fate intervened for Harvick. On lap 179, he slowed and came into the pits believing that he had a loose wheel or a puncture. The right-side wheels were changed and a big piece of plastic was pulled off the front air intake – but the team never found evidence of a wheel or tire problem. Nevertheless, Harvick’s car had lost its dominant form and he was relegated back into the mid-field.

Bowman was the beneficiary of Harvick’s woes and he took the lead for the next 50 laps until another cycle of green-flag pit stops began. The fifth yellow came out when only seven cars which had not yet pitted were still on the lead lap. They pitted under yellow and Kyle Busch, who had been struggling back a ways beat everyone else out of the pits to take the lead. Unfortunately for him, he had driven through too many pit stalls on the way in and he was sent to the back of the field for the restart – restoring Bowman back into the lead.

When the field went green again, Elliott got past Bowman for the lead. Thirteen laps later another yellow flew (for debris). Ricky Stenhouse grabbed the lead on the restart – but soon Bowman was back in front and, as the laps counted down to the end, he led the next 12 laps.

But now Keselowski, who had not been a factor up to now, had worked his way up from taking the last restart in ninth place, to catching and passing Bowman for the lead on lap 261 – just six more laps from the finish. But it was not over yet. On lap 264, Matt DiBenedetto’s car started smoking and NASCAR threw a final yellow flag. This was so close the lap 267 finish, that it sent the race into overtime.

The front four cars stayed out while those behind pitted and took on fresher tires – but, on the restart, Keselowski jumped out ahead into the lead and he distanced himself from the pack behind over those final two laps to take the checker.

“What a great day,” said Keselowski. “On the (last) restart, I just got a great launch and Alex Bowman – he’s going to win a race – he did a great job today. We had a little bit of fresher tires than he did, and we were able to make the move on the outside there and caught everything perfect.”

Click HERE for the results of the MENCS race from Kansas City.

The next MENCS race will be the non-points All-Star race at Charlotte next Saturday, May 18.

PHOTO NGOTS Kansas1 CheckeredFlag 05102019Ross Chastain, driver of the #45 TruNorth/Paul Jr. Designs Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the Digital Ally 250 (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images/NASCAR)

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Digital Ally 250, Kansas Speedway
• Friesen’s misstep costs him the win; Chastain takes the spoils

Kansas City, KS, May 10/19 (GRW): This was the race Stewart Friesen should have won but a tragic mis-communication on his final pit stop saw him throw it away – and in the end he finished down in 15th place, out of fuel. (See my thoughts on this in the Commentary section). This opened the door to the often underrated Ross Chastain, who had troubles of his own – almost crashing in the latter stages of the race – to come home the winner.

Chastain has been a prolific entrant in all three of the NASCAR National series, starting a total of 263 of these races to date. But, so far he had only won once before – when he won the Las Vegas Xfinity race in the Ganassi car last year. This impressive result had produced a deal for a season-long ride in the No. 42 Ganassi Xfinity car this season but it fell through when the car’s sponsor had financial troubles and dropped out. So Chastain had to fall back on his former practice of running all three series in less-than-the-best machinery. His win in the Al Niece truck here had to give him another boost towards the kind of top-rank ride he deserves. So it was bad luck for Friesen, good luck for Chastain.

Matt Crafton started from the pole but Friesen had moved up from his tenth-place staring position into the lead by lap nine. Defending series champion Brett Moffitt showed himself to be contender and he traded the lead with Friesen a couple of times before Friesen won the first Stage which ended on lap 40 of the 167-lap race.

This first Stage round of pit stops shuffled the field when four trucks took on either two tires or none to leapfrog the others out of the pits. Of the four-tire contingent, Friesen came out behind Grant Enfinger and Moffitt – a reminder that his pit stops sometimes see him losing positions.

Friesen regained the lead on lap 52 and held on to win the second Stage. But Moffitt and Enfinger were still able to keep him in their sights. Coming back to green Enfinger, starting from the lower groove, passed him for the lead and Moffitt dove under him to take second a lap later. This was a reminder that Friesen sometimes has a bit of trouble with his restarts. But he immediately started working his way back to the front and after Enfinger had led for 36 laps, he regained the lead on lap 125 when Enfinger pitted under green. This was set to be the final round of pit stops.

Friesen pitted a lap later but, in due to mis-communication between crew chief and driver, he gunned it out of the pits prematurely after only two tires had been changed – and, more importantly, only half a tank of gas.

For the moment, Friesen was able to hold the lead on just two fresh tires with Enfinger and Moffitt in hot pursuit four seconds back. Then they brought out the next yellow when Moffitt’s truck did a half spin and hit Enfinger’s rear tire bringing out the yellow. They both pitted and were able to resume - albeit down in ninth and 11th place; they were never again a threat to win in the final 24 laps.

This should have left Friesen in the cat bird’s seat now that his principal opposition had been removed. But there was the uncertainty about whether he would be able to save enough gas to go the distance. Another caution gave him yet another change to save gas and raised his crew chief’s hopes that he could make it all the way, but it was not to be. With three laps to go his truck coughed – out of gas – his day was done.

Chastain who had been running another four seconds back of the Enfinger-Moffitt duo before they had their problems, had just now made a half-spin but he collected it and held onto second place – so, when Friesen pooped out, he took over the lead and went on to win.
Ben Rhodes was second, half a second back, while Todd Gilliland was third.

“Aw, man, this is what sports is all about,” Chastain said. “We had the world by the tail last fall, and everything got taken away from us. We didn’t quit, though … I’m going to celebrate this one a lot more than I did the last one. I thought, after the last one (NXS win in Las Vegas), they were going to come a lot more easy. But it’s not easy … I hate to see Stewie lose one like that. I know he’s been trying to win, but, yes — we got it!”

Click HERE for the results of the NGOTS race in Kansas.

The next NGOTS race will be held at Charlotte Motor speedway next Friday, May 17.

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