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IndyCar Rainguard Water Sealers 600 Preview

The field streams into Turn1 during the 2016 Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. [Chris Owens Photo]

The field streams into Turn 1 during the 2016 Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.  [Chris Owens Photo]

by Paul Gohde 

The Verizon IndyCar Series visits the ultra-fast Texas Motor Speedway Saturday, after competing last weekend at the ultra-tight Detroit Belle Isle Park street course. The Rainguard Water Sealers 600 will be the second night race and the third of six oval tracks on the schedule.

Texas Race Facts: The first Indy cars to climb the banking at TMS saw the Indy Racing League compete in June, 1997 with Arie Luyendyk beating Billy Boat and Davey Hamilton for the inaugural win. Over the years the IRL ran 21 events before IndyCar took over and presented the only Texas doubleheader in 2011; races won by Dario Franchetti and Will Power. Texas was also on the calendar for two events each season from 1998-2004. The all-time qualifying mark was set by Gil de Ferran in 2003 (222.864 mph). The two-lap record is held by Will Power (219. 192mph) recorded in 2013. The 1.5 or (1.455) mile high-banked quad-oval was re-profiled after the 2016 race and the Turn 1-2 banking is now 20-degrees. Though the race is labeled as a “600”. that is, 600 kilometers; either 360.8 miles or 357.12 depending on track measurement. IndyCar may still be determining this.

Texas 2016: Graham Rahal passed James Hinchcliffe coming out of the final turn to win the Firestone 600 by just 0.0080 seconds, the fifth-closest finish in all of Indy car race history. That pass for the win was the only lap Rahal led in a race that was stopped by rain after 71 laps in June and not completed until the evening of August 27th. Ironically the runner-up, Hinchcliffe, led the most laps (188). Rahal’s victory was his fourth-career IndyCar win.

2017 So Far: Last year’s Texas winner, Graham Rahal, was the latest winner (or double winner) in 2017 when he grabbed both ends of last week’s Duel in Detroit at Belle Isle Park. The double wins moved the Honda-powered winner into sixth place in the season’s point race, 52 behind new leader Scott Dixon (303). Helio Castroneves dropped to second (-8), Takuma Sato (-11), Simon Pagenaud (-25) and Josef Newgarden (-44), round out the top six. There have now been six different winners in the eight races contested so far, with Rahal being the only repeat victor. Honda now leads Chevrolet 5-3 in the manufactures’ championship battle.

The Field: Once again 22 drivers will take the green flag, but with a few different entrants than last week at Detroit. Dale Coyne was forced to replace Estaban Gutierrez with Tristan Vautier when IndyCar ruled that Gutierrez, the former Haas F1 driver, lacked oval track experience to compete at Texas, Vautier is a former Coyne driver. All of these moves by Dale Coyne are the result of his original driver of the #18, Sebastien Bourdais having been hurt at Indianapolis back in May… Harding Racing makes its second series appearance after its initial try at IndyCar racing during the Indy 500. Gabby Chaves returns to the Harding cockpit and will also suit up at Pocono. The team hopes to return to the track full time in 2018… Ed Carpenter, the oval meister and team owner, replaces Spencer Pigot who will return at Road America.

Notes: Castroneves has won here four times, the most of any entered driver. Other Texas winners in the field include: Dixon (2), Tony Kanaan, Power, Carpenter and Rahal…In 1997, qualifying here included a pit stop…TV: Qualifying, Friday, June 9, NBCSN- 3:30 pm ET. Race, Saturday, 8:00 pm ET…Next Series race, Road America, Sunday, July 25, 12:30 pm ET…Tony Stewart was the pole-winner here in the first two Indy car races in 1997-98…Tora Takagi ?? finished third in the 2003 IRL race at TMS.

Our Take: Rahal won here last year and won back-to-back races in Detroit last week. Honda had engine issues at Indy, and Texas is another high-speed oval, although quite different from IMS. Rahal seems to be finally living up to his family name, so if you need a Honda winner? Take Graham. Remember, anything can, and likely will occur at Texas, one very unpredictable track. Resurfacing and re-profiling the track’s surface and Turn 1-2 banking has some worried about tire wear over the course of the 600k. Buckle-up tight.

The Final Word: Tristan Vautier (No.18 Dale Coyne Honda): “I’m looking forward to getting back into an Indy car for Dale Coyne again. But before I talk about me stepping in, let’s all keep Sebastien Bourdais in our thoughts for a quick recovery. I was happy to see him at the track at Indy on race day…I really can’t wait to be in the car on Friday (practice and qualifying) and see how it feels the first lap around. It’s not the easiest place to step back in and practice time is very limited, but the team (Coyne) has been very competitive everywhere. It’s going to be cool working with (engineer) Craig Hampson who I met in LeMans when I was 16 and just getting started in racing.”

 

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”