Well, that was a doozy wasn’t it? Time for another round of my three twin checkered flags and spin moments of the race.
Twin Checkered Flags
1: Simon Pagenaud fills the oval-shaped gap in his resume
It’s funny to think that in his dominance of last season, Pagenaud did not win on a single oval. A second at Phoenix, fourth at Iowa and Texas, eighteenth due to a crash at Pocono and a nineteenth but running at Indy were what he achieved so it wasn’t like he wasn’t doing well on them (he wouldn’t be the reigning champion then) but it was still a monkey on his back.
All four of the Penske cars were strong and while JR Hildebrand managed to keep up, no other team bar them lead a lap (though there were possibly other reasons for that). In the end it was Pagenaud that finished on top, showing that, yes, he really can succeed on ovals. To that one doubter that probably still exists: sorry for your loss.
2: Injured hands equal oval podiums at Ed Carpenter Racing
Last year it was Josef Newgarden with the hand injury that didn’t stop him taking one of the most dominating victories ever at Iowa, lapping nearly the entire field. This year it was Hildebrand, back after taking a race off and having the staples removed from his hand. Splitting the Penske squad in half with his third place qualifying position, the Californian kept a cool head as he stuck with them and finished third as well.
It was a good weekend overall for Ed Carpenter Racing with owner-driver Carpenter, stepping into the car in place of Spencer Pigot for the first oval of the season, recovering from an horrid last place starting position to seventh.
3: Words of wisdom from the Master of Salt
After being one of the victims of the lap one crash, we got the usual stream of how unfair the world is from Graham Rahal, a noise that, at this point, most people probably blank out.
Then, as the race progressed, we got a different side of Rahal on Twitter. A side that broke down the different strategies that teams were using and driving styles happening on track. It was fascinating to read and follow and definitely a different insight from former series drivers Townsend Bell and Paul Tracey up in the booth. Although I wouldn’t wish for him to have another DNF like this, I would definitely enjoy these takes during a race again.
1: The Best Aero Kit For an Oval is a Road Course One?
When it comes to oval racing less downforce is better. It allows for more passing. For road courses, more downforce is better. This is why IndyCar has several aero kits and, for reasons known only to the higher ups, a road course one was chosen for Phoenix. Really, when Will came out of qualifying saying that they needed to change the aero kit, it was a pretty big hint that this wasn’t going to go well.
Sure there were over takes but not as many as we’d normally see on ovals. By the time the safety car came out during the pit stop window, putting all bar a handful of cars at least a lap down, you kinda knew that was it. Not even Newgarden could recover after an unplanned pit stop despite how good the Penske/Chevy combo was for Phoenix. Here’s hoping they don’t bring it back for Iowa.
2: Lap One Knock Out
With Fernando Alonso taking part in the Indy 500, you’d have to imagine that there would be more eyeballs on the only oval race happening before it. Maybe not live as it was in the small hours in Europe but people were going to look at the highlight reels to try and get a sense of what was to come.
So it was only natural that the one thing that IndyCar wouldn’t want to happen did.
Mikhail Aleshin lost it as the pack headed into turn one, collecting Sebastien Bourdais. Bourdais, just before that, had taken the air from Marco Andretti’s which meant that, when he hit brakes, a wobble became a spin. Max Chilton, not wanting to miss out, decided to spin as well leaving Rahal, who had his spotter screaming to go low, no choice but to try and dive between him and Andretti, only to end up hitting both.
The result, all five out and a safety car period of over twenty laps.
Between this and lack of usual overtaking, it really wasn’t the best foot forward for the series.
3: The Death Star is Complete
Another win for Penske, Pagenaud now leading the championship with Scott Dixon second and Newgarden third. We knew it was going to happen at some point, that order would be restored, but, honestly, I was really hoping it would take a few more races than this.
At least Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe, in fourth and fifth, are still within a realistic chance at this point.