IndyCar: Lotus Regroups After Releasing Two Teams

Over the past year, Lotus has greatly expanded its motorsports commitments, from Formula 1 to sports cars to the IndyCar Series. But as US Race Report’s Chris Leone explains, the latter has been an exercise in frustration, as Bryan Herta Autosport and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing have left the engine manufacturer for uncertain futures.


IndyCar: Brazilian Drivers Look To Carry Momentum Into Sao Paulo

The Sao Paulo Indy 300 is one of the most popular IndyCar races on the schedule, and a point of pride for the series’ Brazilian drivers. US Race Report’s Chris Leone looks at how IndyCar’s Brazilian stars – Helio Castroneves, Rubens Barrichello, Tony Kanaan, and Ana Beatriz – have started the 2012 season, as they each hope to win their home race.

IndyCar: Pagenaud Making Most Of IndyCar Opportunity

Simon Pagenaud’s open-wheel career was put on hold when the Champ Car World Series disappeared before the 2008 season. After four years in sports cars, US Race Report’s Chris Leone explains, Pagenaud has returned to the single-seaters with a vengeance, taking IndyCar by storm in 2012.

NASCAR: Pastrana Prepares To Make Long-Awaited Nationwide Debut

US Race Report’s Chris Leone breaks down action sport superstar Travis Pastrana’s transition from the world of X Games to the world of NASCAR. Pastrana will make his Nationwide Series debut tonight at Richmond International Raceway after an injury-induced delay of nearly a year.

INDYCAR: Honda Fails To Capitalize On Advantage At Long Beach

When Chevrolet changed engines in all 11 of its IndyCar entries before the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, it opened up an opportunity for Honda to score its first win of the season. But as US Race Report’s Chris Leone explains, tough luck befell the top Honda teams one by one until their final shot at a win finally drifted away.

NASCAR: Can Anybody Catch Greg Biffle?

Through the first seven races of the Sprint Cup season, Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle leads the point standings. US Race Report’s Chris Leone breaks down Biffle’s hot start and predicts more strong finishes in the upcoming weeks.

US Race Report – YouTube Channel Intro

We’ve got a YouTube channel now! We’ll be updating as frequently as we can during the racing season. Check back tomorrow (April 20) for fresh news segments.

– Chris Leone

Chevrolet Power, Economy Embarrasses Honda In Long Beach

Photo credit: Ned Leone

After accruing 10-spot grid penalties for each of its teams by virtue of voluntary engine changes, Chevrolet left the door wide open for Honda to avenge losses in the first two races of the season at the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Hondas would fill the first nine spots of the grid, giving them a prime opportunity to re-establish themselves as the sport’s top dog.

Consider it an opportunity missed.

Will Power won his second consecutive race at Long Beach, holding off the Honda of Simon Pagenaud after a frantic charge in the last few laps. Worse, seven of the top 10 spots in the field were occupied by Chevys, and a sure podium for Takuma Sato was swept away after he was spun on the last lap by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Pagenaud, Sato (who fell to eighth), and tenth-place Justin Wilson (promoted after a penalty to Helio Castroneves for avoidable contact) were the only Honda-powered drivers to crack the top 10.

In the end, Honda drivers led 61 of 85 laps, and for the third race in a row, a Honda led the most laps (Pagenaud was the top driver this time with 26). But Hondas suffered a series of issues during the race, especially in the Chip Ganassi Racing camp: Dario Franchitti had a lack of power on most restarts, eventually sinking to 15th place in the running order, while Scott Dixon had a mechanical issue with 27 laps in that ended his race. Meanwhile, Mike Conway had an issue with fourth gear that ended his day, and early incidents ended the days of Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal.

Photo credit: Ned Leone

But Chevrolets posted five of the top six qualifying times, including Ryan Briscoe’s pole time, before falling to the middle of the grid, and they worked their way up through the field in the first third of the race. The first Chevrolet to lead was Hunter-Reay’s under caution on lap 28, but he pitted to hand the lead to Briscoe. Hondas would lead most of the rest of the way, but when Power took the lead for the first time on lap 71, he wouldn’t relinquish it.

It was then that the Ilmor-built, 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 would showcase its superior fuel economy. Power had pushed by Sato despite his Penske Racing Chevrolet having less fuel than the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, and when Pagenaud pit, he opened up a significant lead. While Power saved fuel in the closing laps, Pagenaud pushed as hard as he could to catch last year’s road course champion, and even had the advantage of Power running into lapped traffic in the final few laps.

But with two laps to go, Power strategist Tim Cindric told his driver that their fuel situation was under control, and with permission to push the car as hard as possible, the Chevrolet had more than enough power to retain the lead. The result was, once again, a Chevrolet victory with a Honda bridesmaid, and a serious moral blow to the folks at HPD.

Changes may be on the way for the Honda engine, as the manufacturer looks to change its turbocharger configuration for the Brazil race and beyond. Meanwhile, Chevrolet can look back and gloat about stealing Sunday’s victory despite spotting Honda ten starting spots. With the bowtie engine clearly established as the best in the sport right now, Honda will have to go back to the drawing board to add a touch of horsepower and a dash of better fuel economy. Until then, the top step of the podium may remain just out of reach for the series’ longest-tenured engine manufacturer.

– Chris Leone

In The Spotlight: 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series, Edition 1

It’s only been two races, but already, the front-runners and backmarkers of this IZOD IndyCar Series season have started to reveal themselves. With the majority of the season taking place on road and street courses, the drivers who normally excel outside of the ovals, as well as those who adapt well to the new Dallara DW12 and 2.2-liter turbocharged V6 engines, will likely dominate this year’s championship.

With that in mind, we’ll periodically visit the biggest names in IndyCar with these pieces, establishing who’s on top, who’s overachieving, and who’s disappointing over the course of the season. Through the first two races, held on back-to-back weekends on the streets of St. Petersburg and at Barber Motorsports Park, here are some of the drivers to watch:

Photo credit: Ned Leone

STAR: Helio Castroneves. After failing to win a race in 2011, Castroneves opened this season with a win at St. Petersburg and a third place finish at Barber after winning the pole. A hard-fought battle with Graham Rahal at the end of the race ensured his second podium finish in a row and a two-point lead on Scott Dixon going into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, a race that Castroneves won in 2001.

DARK HORSE: Sebastien Bourdais. There’s a reason why Honda was courting the four-time Champ Car champion heavily in the offseason: he can drive the wheels off a car. Bourdais set some of the fastest sector times at St. Petersburg before having a motor issue, and sliced his way to a ninth place finish at Barber with a series of impressive moves. Bourdais is only 14th in points, but has shown plenty of why he has 31 career victories (all in Champ Car), and if the Lotus engine ever catches up to Honda and Chevrolet, he’ll win at least one more.

UNDERRATED: Simon Pagenaud. The Frenchman has yet to attempt any oval runs, with his first test coming at Texas next week, but his road course prowess should give Schmidt/Hamilton racing reason to smile most of the year. Despite a 10-place grid penalty dropping him to P16 at the start at St. Petersburg, he finished sixth; he followed it up at Barber with a fifth place run. Bourdais’ performances may be stealing the attention from his countryman, which is who so few will notice that he currently ranks fifth in points.

IMPROVING: Rubens Barrichello. The 19-year Formula 1 vet is still petitioning IndyCar to restore his rookie status for 2012, but a respectable run at Barber showed that he may lose that battle. Barrichello took eighth place late in the race after starting 14th, thanks to an impressive late race pass of Marco Andretti. He’s now 10th in points – not tearing up the series like Nigel Mansell in 1993, but as the top KV Racing Technology driver in the standings, not failing to make the transition well by any means.

Photo credit: Ned Leone

ALBATROSS: Dario Franchitti. It seems clear that the DW12 doesn’t entirely suit Franchitti’s driving style, which is drastically different from teammate Scott Dixon’s. While Dixon has managed two second place finishes in two races, Franchitti could only manage a 13th place finish at St. Petersburg and barely squeaked into the top 10 at Barber. He’s now 11th in points. While things aren’t as bad yet as Dixon’s title-defending 2004 season, where the Kiwi followed up a strong 2003 with an absolute stinker due to a weak Toyota engine, Franchitti still has some serious work to do.

– Chris Leone

Reutimann Gets The Wrong Kind Of Break At Martinsville

Photo credit: Tommy Baldwin Racing (via Facebook)

David Reutimann has to be the unluckiest driver in the Sprint Cup garage these days. The poor guy just can’t seem to catch a break.

Remember where he was a couple of years ago? The Florida native was flying high, coming off of his first career win in the 2009 Coca-Cola 600 for Michael Waltrip Racing. He won again the next season, after chasing down and passing Jeff Gordon at Chicagoland, and Waltrip was so impressed that he gave Reutimann a juicy contract extension.

That’s when the wheels began to come off. Last season was a disaster for Reutimann and MWR, as he fell to 28th in points with only one top five finish and a wild DNF at Watkins Glen that say his car flip violently. When Mark Martin became available for a partial season, Reutimann was let go; the move came so late in the offseason that any good rides were already long gone.

Reutimann managed to piece together a full schedule between BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, but running for a pair of lower-tier teams does not a competitive season make. Reutimann crashed out at Daytona for BK, blew an engine at Phoenix with Baldwin, and finished the first five races of the schedule just barely holding onto a spot in the top 35 in Baldwin’s #10 car.

Forget the fact that Reutimann is trying to relaunch his career. If that car falls out of the top 35, then its other, higher-profile driver – Danica Patrick – may have to qualify for her first Sprint Cup races on speed. A once-secure future has deteriorated to racing from week to week, praying for just one swatch of good luck to replenish the frayed fabric of a career tattered by one bad season.

Then, as if on cue, Stallgate happened.

Photo credit: John Trainor (CC BY 2.0)

The incident saw Reutimann stop entering the first turn at Martinsville yesterday with only three laps to go. Understandably so: the resulting caution broke up an intense battle for the lead between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, and the chaos on the resulting restart eliminated both from winning contention.

Many who watched the end of the race in disbelief criticized Reutimann heavily for the mistake. The motor had been skipping for the last few laps of the race, but Reutimann attempted keep driving around the track in an ill-fated attempt to gain one more position and remain in the top 35.

He failed on both accounts.

To his credit, Reutimann has been more than conciliatory in his explanation. He’s accepted every word of criticism thrown his way, from Clint Bowyer’s frustration (“That was ridiculous”) to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s confusion (“I don’t know what he was thinking, driving around there at 15 miles per hour”). He’s even accepted the harshest criticism of all, delivered by Brad Keselowski, who thinks that NASCAR should park him for a week.

In numerous interviews, the hurt and frustration has sliced through his apologies, as he explains away the broken part that failed and caused the motor to quit. He’s been almost inconsolable in adamantly telling anybody who will listen that he never would have stopped on the race track. More than once, the exasperated driver has pleaded with his critics to give him a break.

For the first time in a while, he got one on Sunday. Unfortunately, it was the wrong kind. And, if Keselowski gets his way, it may go from a mechanical break to a forced break of a different kind.

– Chris Leone