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Author: Mark W. Theisen
April 28th 2014 -
WEST BEND, WISCONSIN April 27, 2014:     The competitiveness of the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series has carried over to 2014 with three different winners in the first three races contested this year and sets up what will surely be a very exciting month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

     Will Power finished 2013 with two victories and was the odds on favorite to win the 2014 title based on his dominating first oval track win as the series concluded at Fontana last October and he did not disappoint as the series opened March 30th with the running of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the street race course in St. Petersburg, Florida making a strong statement with his Verizon sponsored Penske Racing Chevrolet Dallara leading the final 32 laps to post his third series win in a row and 22nd win in just 122 starts in the series.

     Power dueled with Ryan Hunter-Reay coming out of pit stops on lap 78 but never succumbed to the constant pressure applied by Hunter-Reay who finished second.

     Controversy arose after third place finisher Helio Castroneves, a teammate to Power on team Penske questioned his restarting technique but after review by series officials it was deemed that Power was within the scope of the rules and the finish stood.

     Defending series champion Scott Dixon finished fourth with Simon Pagenaud rounding out the top five.  Dixon and sixth place finished Tony Kanaan driving the Target sponsored cars for Ganassi racing were making their debut with Chevrolet power after using Honda engines the last nine years and it looks as through the transition has gone smoothly as the Ganassi cars were competitive right out of the box.

     Takuma Sato, driving for A. J. Foyt Racing,  won the pole for the race and led the first 26 laps before falling off the pace but still managed a seventh place finish.

     As predicted in my last writing 22 cars made the grid for the inaugural race under the sponsorship of Verizon and Power was thrilled to be the first winner under their title aegis,  even after giving them many wins as a sponsor of his car the past two years.
     The series moved to California on April 13th for the running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the premier street course event of the season and as usual the race on the tight and tricky street circuit produced tension at the end and also somewhat of a surprise winner in Mike Conway.

    Conway has won at Long Beach before and was familiar with nuances of the race course but the fact that he won the race for Ed Carpenter Racing, giving that team its first street or road course win was impressive.  For 2014 Carpenter stepped aside from his role as owner/driver on the non-oval races in favor of Conway and that decision proved to be the right one today after Conway had finished 16th at St. Petersburg.

     Hunter-Reay in his Andretti Autosports Honda Dallara won the pole for the race and dominated the race until he triggered an accident when he tried to overtake Josef Newgarden on lap 55.  Newgarden had led lap 54 after a series of pits stops and Hunter-Reay attempted an overtake on a narrow portion of the track that resulted in the accident that also took out one of Hunter-Reay’s teammates, James Hinchcliffe and that did not set well with team owner, Michael Andretti, who was quick to question Hunter-Reay’s judgment as to why he made the pass attempt at that point on the track when he was much faster at other points on the circuit.

     Newgarden and his team owner Sarah Fisher were also disappointed in the needless accident and damaged equipment not to mention Hinchcliffe who thought the decision to make an attempt at that point on the track was pointless and not team minded.

     This opened the door for Dixon to win his first race ever at Long Beach but he did not have enough fuel to make it to the end and had to stop two laps from the finish relegating him to a 12th place finish at the end.  Conway inherited the lead when Dixon dove into the pits and then had to watch his rear view mirror as Power was closing fast at the end trying to win for the fourth time in a row.

     Carlos Munoz finished third followed by Juan Pablo Montoya, making only his second start for Team Penske after returning to the Verizon IndyCar series from NASCAR.  Pagenaud finished 5th.

     Power left Long Beach with a 27 point lead over Conway with the consistent Pagenaud in third, 33 points behind the leader.

     23 cars made the grid at Long Beach, one up from St. Petersburg with Oriol Servia making his debut with the Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan Racing Team in a deal that will see him race for the team through the Indianapolis 500 as sponsorship is being sought for the car to finish the season.

     The third race in the 2014 season was contested today at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama and after a two and one half hour rain delay and the race reduced to a timed event of one hour and forty minutes down from its advertised 90 lap affair it was Hunter-Reay capitalizing on a lap 16 mistake by pole winner, Power, whose car slid off the racing surface in turn 5 to be in a position to overtake Sebastian Saavedra for the lead on lap 34 and this time their was no contact and Hunter-Reay cruised the rest of the distance to win for the second time in a row at Barber.

     Marco Andretti, yet another teammate to Hunter-Reay at Andretti Autosport finished second with Dixon taking third after being the runner-up in each of the previous races held at the track.

     Pagenaud finished fourth and is the only driver with top-five finishes in each of the first three races of the year, which is a very impressive start to 2014 for the driver of the Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car heading into the month of May in Indianapolis.

     Power finished fifth after his off-course excursion and heads to Indianapolis with the point lead still in his pocket.

     With the rain today all 23 cars started the race on rain tires and it was a very harrowing experience the first several laps as impressive "rooster-tails” of water were splaying the cars and making vision almost impossible, yet there was only one accident with contact that involved rookie Mikhail Aleshin sliding into the wall on lap 63, well after the water had disappeared from the track.  With the timed event status the race ended with 69 laps run out of the scheduled 90 before the rain shortened the day.

     The Verizon IndyCar series now moves to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a month of May unlike any of the previous 98.

     Sunday May 10th will feature the inaugural running of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the revised and revamped road course that runs through the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  This will be fourth point’s race of 2014 but it will be a first for the Verizon IndyCars on the course that had been used in the past by Formula One and in the recent years by the Grand Prix Motorcycle series.

     Indianapolis Motor Speedway management wanted a return to a "full month” of activity at the venerable racing facility something that has been hard to do with the smaller car counts of the past so it was determined that the cars would contest on the road course to kick off the month.

     Actually the month of May will kick off on Thursday May 8th when the road course will be open for practice with qualifications to come on Friday and the race on Saturday so as not to affect Mother’s Day for many race fans.

     Rookie orientation for first time Indy 500 drivers will be worked into the schedule and perhaps will happen this week on the oval before the track is reconfigured for the street course, other wise it will happen after the Grand Prix.

     It looks as though 25 cars will contest the Grand Prix with previously announced Martin Plowman driving for Foyt with veteran road racer Frank Montagny  driving the number 26 Dallara Honda for Andretti Autosport.  Montagny is a veteran of a dozen 24 hours of LeMans and five Formula One seasons.  He raced for Andretti in 2009 at Sonoma Raceway and will be in the entry that Kurt Busch will drive in the 500.

 Andretti stated that his team is geared to handle five cars at Indianapolis so it was logical to have that car in the Grand Prix as well.

     The Indianapolis 500 entry list stands at 30 right now with 13 Chevrolet powered cars and 17 Honda entries confirmed with still several possibilities, but time is running out.


Ed Carpenter Racing:  Ed Carpenter and J.R. Hildebrand

Ganassi Racing:  Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball

Team Penske:  Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya

KV Racing Technology:  Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastian Saavedra & Townsend Bell

Lazier Racing Partners:  Buddy Lazier


Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing:  Josef Newgarden & Alex Tagliani

Andretti Autosport:  Kurt Busch, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports:  Jacques Villeneuve, Mikhail Aleshin, and Simon Pagenaud

A.J. Foyt Racing:  Takuma Sato and Martin Plowman

Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan Racing:  Graham Rahal and Oriol Servia
Dale Coyne Racing:  Justin Wilson plus a second confirmed car with driver to be announced

Bryan Herta Racing:  Jacks Hawksworth

     To get to the coveted 33 will now take some doing.  Panther Racing has shut down so they are no longer an option.  Coyne could have a third car, Ganassi has been trying to put a deal together to get Sage Karam into a fifth entry but the on again off again deal is now shaky.  Justin Wilson’s brother Stefan is working hard to find a seat.  Dreyer and Reinbold Racing and the Herta group are just too small to add a second car.  Lazier is trying to find support for a second car for his brother Jacques.  33 is still a "possibility” and it would be tragic if that tradition is broken.

     The "People’s Race Car” program through Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing got off to a late start and is not an option for this year but through the support of American Legion Posts around the country the effort should materialize next year.

     In order to try and make the burden of two complete days of qualifying for the 500 this year worth something the Verizon IndyCar series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have come out with a special point structure for not only the race but for qualifying that will see the pole winner on day one win 33 championship points on down to 1 for 33rd.  Those cars making the fast nine shootout on Sunday May 18th will gain additional bonus points from 9 down to one.  Again all cars qualify on Saturday May 17th to earn a spot in the race then re-qualify on Sunday to determine their starting position for the 500.  That is why 33 cars or more is so important, otherwise it is just qualifying with points that they would not normally earn.  

     In addition the 500 mile races at Indy, Pocono and Fontana will carry double championship points to enhance their stature on the series.

     The Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced that this year would be the final year for Jim Nabors to sing "Back Home Again” as part of the pre-race ceremonies for the 500.Beginning in 1972 Nabors has belted out the traditional tune nearly every year since but at 83 years old he is finding the travel to stressful from his home in Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawaii and wants to spend his remaining years their.  His health has prevented a few recent visits but he is up to this year’s effort but alas, it will be his last.  Track officials will begin a search for a replacement but not until after the final effort this year.  A true fan favorite at Indy, his rendition will be missed.

     May is almost here; keep checking back for updates from the track all month long.