We’re going to try something new here this week. This weekend’s full schedule of racing was a breath of fresh air after months without our favorite motorsport series running at all. Formula One finally returned, IndyCar and NASCAR shared a track weekend for the first time in history, and IMSA shipped off back to Daytona. Every time you turned around, there was another great race to watch. Well, We’ve got a recap of all the action straight from the typing fingers of a bonafide racer. Without further ado, here’s all the racing action in the words of one Mr. Robb Holland. Enjoy!
It took a while for F1 to get back to racing but boy was it worth the wait! After continuing their dominating ways from last year in qualifying, Mercedes F1 took a bit of a knock when Lewis Hamilton was found not to have slowed for the yellow flags caused by teammate Valtteri Bottas’ last-lap spin during qualifying. For his offense the race stewards handed Hamilton a three place grid penalty which knocked him down to fifth.
The surprises in qualifying came from McLaren and Force India. The former continuing their progression towards the front from last season—with Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz in 3rd and 8th respectively—and the latter improving by running a virtual copy of last years championship winning Mercedes—with Sergio Perez in 6th and Lance Stroll in 9th. The other surprise was not a good one with Ferrari only managing to get one car, Charles Leclerc in seventh, through to the final round of qualifying. It looks like whatever tricks Ferrari had from last season for getting a bit of extra power out of the engine have been nullified.
The race started with a clean getaway by the entire field, which is hardly a given considering the long time away. First to succumb to the unusual wave of reliability issues was Red Bulls Max Verstappen went out in the early laps. Verstappen was quickly joined by Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll, and Kevin Magnussen before half-distance.
Magnussen’s retirement brought out the safety car allowing Lewis Hamilton to attach himself firmly to the back of his teammate’s gearbox. However once racing resumed the expected attacks for the lead never materialized. Both Mercedes drivers received warnings from the team about keeping off the curbing. The curbing at the Red Bull Ring was aggressive and the vibration from running it was causing massive sensor issues not just with the Mercedes but with other retired cars.
One of the craziest segments of the entire race was the now-customary spin by Sebastian Vettel who got it completely wrong in the brake zone trying to get past Carlos Sainz, the man who will be replacing him at Ferrari next year. Awkward! It wasn’t a good look for Vettel and will do him no favors in his search to find a new team next year.
However the real fireworks started shortly after the safety car came out to retrieve a three wheeled Kimi Räikkönen in the late going. In the resulting scrum for position Alex Albon tried a bold move around the outside of Hamilton and the two made contact with the Red Bull driver coming off worse, knocked into a spin to the back of the field. In fairness to Hamilton, Albon did the same thing, and at the same corner, to the #44 at the start of the race. Hamilton backed out of the move before contact was made.
Regardless, officials gave Hamilton a five second penalty for the contact. With Charles Leclerc less than two seconds behind Hamilton it look like the Merc man was destined for the last step on the podium. Until an inspired final lap by McLaren’s Lando Norris not only gave him the fastest lap of the race but also brought him to within five seconds of the Mercedes at the line knocking Hamilton off the podium and into 4th at the finish!
It was Bottas at the front for pretty much the entire race, Leclerc behind for an impressive second in the new slow Ferrari, and Norris third. What a great race!
Takeaway: It was a stunning first race of the season and due to the shortened schedule the series will remain at the Red Bull Ring for the next race. Can’t wait!
Next race: July 12 Red Bull Ring
IndyCar joined NASCAR at the Indianapolis motor Speedway for a long-awaited and much-talked-about triple series event. IndyCar and NASCAR Xfinity series would run the clockwise road course configuration of the track while the NASCAR cup series would run the oval in it’s traditional counter clockwise direction.
This was the first major race weekend for the Indianapolis motor Speedway since Roger Penske took over last year. In the intervening months Penske has put the speedway through a massive renovation project that included new video screens throughout the circuit a repainting of the entire facility and re-planting several acres with new grass turf. Ironically or not, the only team entered in all three races was Team Penske.
And it was Chevrolet-powered Team Penske’s Will Power who would take the pole, on his final lap in the Firestone Fast Six. With Jack Harvey, Graham Rahal, Colton Herta, Oliver Askew, and reigning series champion Josef Newgarden rounded out the top six.
Power dominated the race from the start. Opening a second and half lead which he held all the way through the first round of pitstops. After everyone cycled through, Power found himself with almost a three second lead over Newgarden. And that’s when it all went wrong.
On lap 36 Rookie Oliver Askew lost the rear end of his car coming onto the front straight and put it into the wall bringing out the only caution period of the race. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, had pitted two laps before and stayed out when the caution flew putting him in the lead group.
After getting past Graham Rahal on lap 48, Dixon—who had finished as runner-up on the Indy road course for the previous three years running—never looked back. Other than having the fresh air hose unplug from his helmet—The July Indiana heat behind the new windscreen was a common complaint throughout the field—Dixon had little problem dispatching the rest of the field, finishing 20 seconds up on Rahal. Simon Pagenaud followed in close order behind.
Takeaway: the IndyCar aero package did not draft as well as I would have expected on Indy’s long front straight, leading to less passing opportunities into Turn 1 than I would’ve liked to have seen. IndyCar has some work to do to handle all of the driver complaints about cockpit heat before we head into potentially even hotter circuits.
Next race: July 11-12 Rev Group Grand Prix at Road America (double header)
Next up at the road course was NASCAR’s Xfinity series who was scheduled for 62 laps of the circuit. And if I’m honest the Xfinity boys put on some of the best racing of the weekend. The trio of Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, and A.J. Allmendinger looked to be the dominant players as the final stage wore down.
A full course caution with nine laps to go saw almost the entire field come in for fresh rubber. And that’s when all hell broke loose.
Briscoe and Allmendinger went door to door with 5 to go. The two of them put on a how to attack and defend without punting the other driver off track clinic. However their hard nose battling allowed Cindric to regain contact with the leaders.
One lap later Briscoe went too deep on the brakes allowing both A.J. and Austin to get by. Chase was able to battle back regaining the lead with 3 to go. Then it was A.J.’s turn to get it wrong going too deep ion the brakes relinquishing 2nd to Noah Gragson. Eventually both Allmendinger and Cindric would fall to 4 and 5th respectively after Gargson and Justin Haley were able to take advantage of the slower pace cause by all the fighting up front and mount late charges.
Takeaway: Some of the best hard nosed wheel-to-wheel racing of the weekend. These cars take a lot of punishment and can still run hard. As much as I enjoy open wheel racing, watching these guys wheel 3500 pound stock cars around the IMS road course made my weekend.
Next race: July 9 - Shady Rays 200 Kentucky Speedway
The only major US series not at Indianapolis this weekend was IMSA, which has now run two consecutive races at the famed Daytona international road course. Unlike other series, the start of the race was held in damp but drying conditions with several teams opting to roll the dice and start the race on slicks.
The enforced break in racing due to the coronavirus ended up being somewhat of a blessing in disguise for Team Mazda. Prior to the shut down Mazda had run the first race of the year under Team Joest stewardship (where they finished second at the 24 Hours of Daytona). That control was due to change mid-season to Multimatic, the Canadian shop which actually builds the cars. The in-season switch could have been messy and awkward but with the five-month shut down that change happened fairly seamlessly as evidenced by Mazda’s 1-2 results at Daytona. Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell co-drove the winning entry, which finished 10.1 seconds ahead of their teammates Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez. Sebastien Bourdais battled through in his Cadillac Dpi to take third from the Team Penske Acura of Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron.
The other Penske car had started up front, but blew its engine in spectacular fashion.
In the GT Le Mans class the No. 4 Corvette (co-driven by Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor) took Corvettes 100th win ever in IMSA competition in a great duel with the 912 Porsche driven by Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. The Porsche and the Corvette were very equally matched throughout the Indianapolis Daytona circuit but a small mistake by Bamber heading up onto the banking with 31 minutes to go gave Garcia the opening he needed to power passed. Once in the lead he was able to open up a nearly 2 second gap to hold on for the win. Not only was this Corvettes hundredth win but it was also the first victory for the new C8.R
On the GTD side it was all Lexus all the time. The No. 14 Lexus RCF GT3 of Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth took a dominant win over their teammates Frankie Montalvo in Townsend Bell by over a lap at the finish. The pair were so dominant that they lead every lap bar six during the two pitstop cycles.
Takeaways: You can tell the difference between the teams that were able to put in work during the break and racing and the teams that weren’t. Any of the teams that haven’t been progressing during the break are really going to have to step up their game over the next few races otherwise the season championships will be a foregone conclusion by August.
Next race: Cadillac Grand Prix at Sebring July 18.
The third and final race at Indianapolis for the weekend NASCAR’s cup series would take to the famed oval. While the series has been running there for over a quarter of a century tire manufacturers have still not figured out how to make a tire last on the speedways grooved 90° corners (the teams haven’t helped much either by pushing the boundaries of the Goodyear’s recommended minimum tire pressure) Tire problems have pretty much played a prominent role determining the outcome of many races over the years here.
This year was no different starting with Roush Fenway’s Ryan Newman after just 10 laps. Followed by Eric Jones, William Byron and Alex Bowman. However the big-name to go out was Denny Hamlin who had been running up front all day long. Leading with only seven laps to go Hamlin lost a tire and made hard contact with the wall killing his chance of a first win at Indy.
However the big drama of the day came early on during a competition caution on lot 12. Miscommunication among the teams (possibly due to a combination of teams needing to have multiple spotters in multiple locations due to social distancing requirements and the narrowness of Indy’s pit lane) caused a huge pile up at the entrance to pit Lane that led to a Penske crew member Zach Price being pinned between two cars. Price was hospitalized and seemed to be in good spirits as he was driven away in the ambulance.
At the end of the day it was Kevin Harvick coming home with the checkered flag. Harvick was so dominant all day long that none of the tires issues suffered by other teams had a major factor in his win. Harvick looks to be on pace to be one of the main contenders in the championship this year if he can continue his form through to the end of the season.
Takeaway: With Penske’s new ownership of (and increased spending at) the Indianapolis motor Speedway one of his next big investments should be to the pit lane. The pit lane is one of the narrowest in either NASCAR or IndyCar and leaves almost no margin for error. In an era of safety consciousness for the drivers, crew safety seems to be largely overlooked. Tire changers in both series remain completely exposed. Even with a 35 mph pit speed limit getting hit by a 3500 pound car could easily be fatal.
Next race: Quaker State 400 Kentucky Speedway July 12
Controversial take: Sebastian Vettel is done. After seeing his less than stellar qualifying efforts and his mistakes during the Grand Prix I can’t imagine there is any team that would want to pay a hefty salary of a former four-time champion over bringing in someone like a seemingly eager to return Fernando Alonso or an out of work Nico Hulkenburg.
Vettel was brilliant during the blown diffuser era but I think a lot of that was due to that car fitting his driving style perfectly. Now that that era has passed Sebastian has looked far more ordinary and has consistently under performed his car. I think Ferrari can be confident that it made the right move letting Seb go and bringing in Carlos Sainz.