Monday, July 6, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: You've Got Options

The United States won the World Cup. It was also a holiday weekend in the United States. Lewis Hamilton won on home soil again in the English rain. NASCAR once again had rain follow them to Daytona. There were beautiful skies in Moscow. A German manufacture won in Poland. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

You've Got Options
Last week was not a great week for Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles. After putting the vice grip on owners and drivers about being critical after the Fontana race during a teleconference midweek, Miles turned his attention to the schedule and reality, facing the fact that ending by Labor Day may not be realistic.

Racing during American football season isn't a bad thing and we all know it's not impossible. NASCAR does it. IMSA does it. Pirelli World Challenge does it. NHRA does it and IndyCar did it for years. IndyCar executives have blown out of proportion racing during American football season. It's a problem that doesn't exist. They made a mountain out of a molehill. Racing during American football season isn't IndyCar problem in drawing in viewers. They are struggling to get viewers for every race but the Indianapolis 500. It's not like IndyCar would run a dozen races during American football season. If anything, IndyCar would run two races, maybe three at most during the season. If IndyCar can make those two or three races in to big deals, and they should because they would be the final few races of the season with the championship on the line, then racing during football season isn't a big deal.

I have been suggesting IndyCar run Road America on a Saturday in the middle of September with Pirelli World Challenge and Fontana on a Saturday at the end of the September or early October, depending on Petit Le Mans and hopefully IndyCar and IMSA could work together to make sure their season finales aren't on the same date like they were in 2013. If IndyCar could work with NBCSN and strategically place their races, they could make running during football season worth it. With NASCAR now back on NBCSN, the network can work with their two partners and use synergy to make it a win-win-win. Have the Road America IndyCar race lead-in to a NASCAR race and vice versa for the finale at Fontana. We have yet to see what the ratings were for the first NASCAR Grand National Series race on NBCSN and we will have to wait a few weeks to get a good idea how they numbers are but if they are on par with what they were getting for the last few years on ESPN and the first half of 2015 on Fox and Fox Sports 1, then IndyCar should be in NBCSN's ear about synergy and want to pair with the series in 2016 especially during football season.

Miles hoped to start the IndyCar season in February with international rounds in the United Arab Emirates bridging the gap before the first round in the United States at the end of March. However, with both events dead in the water and no other international event that could be run in February or early March on the horizon, he is going to have to find a few places with in North American to start the season and just like the end of the season, it's not like IndyCar is trying to run seven races in February and early March, the series just needs two or three events added to the start.

Miles keeps saying there aren't a lot of options in the United States to run in February and March due to weather and he isn't incorrect. The Northeast and Midwest were covered with snow for most of that time period but there were areas of the United States that were much warmer.

Phoenix is always a possibility and starting the season there in early February, just after the Super Bowl, could be a great season opener. However, NASCAR runs at Phoenix in the middle of March. For perspective, the week after the Super Bowl this year was February 8th and NASCAR was at Phoenix on March 15th. It's not impossible to hold two races in that time frame. The Pocono 500 will be three weeks after NASCAR this year and was four weeks after NASCAR the two years prior. However,, just because Pocono does it doesn't mean Phoenix will do it. I think Phoenix could work and I think Phoenix would be a great place to start the season but it is all up to the white men in suits.

Another possible location on the west coast to start the season is Laguna Seca. It's in Monterey County where the average temperature is in the mid-60s for the year, which is Heaven compared to the mid-20s of the Midwest and Northeast in the middle of February. Plus, it would be a great place to pair with the Road to Indy's Winterfest held that time of the year. Earlier this year, Pirelli World Challenge ran at Circuit of the Americas in Austin the same weekend IndyCar was suppose to race in Brasilia on March 8th. IndyCar should have joined that weekend next year.

IndyCar ran at Homestead in early March (once on Leap Day) and while the crowd dwindled, it's still an option but that may all depend on the future of Formula E in Miami, who visited in mid-March this year. I have harped that IndyCar should run at Daytona on the Friday night prior to the 24 Hours of Daytona and I will continue to harp on that. 1. Half the IndyCar grid is already there. 2. A night race to start the season would be great. 3. It's Daytona. IndyCar should want to go there, as it's a great motorsports venue with loads of history. 4. Imagine an IndyCar on the banking. It's the closest thing we get to running the combined circuit at Monza. IndyCar at Daytona would be fantastic and it would be outside the box.

Speaking of outside the box, Darlington Raceway hosted NASCAR in the middle of March and now the track has just one event, the Southern 500 on its rightful Labor Day weekend. Why not have IndyCar go there right around the start of spring? Temperatures can range from the mid-50s to the mid-70s and there is a chance for rain but it's practical in terms of weather. As for racing, it would be tight but it would be interesting. Another outside of the box option is Mexico. Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is being renovated for Formula One and the CART races there had some really nice crowds mostly because Adrián Fernandez, Luis Díaz, Mario Domínguez and Michel Jourdain, Jr were racing it wouldn't hurt IndyCar to have drivers from the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Although, like Miami, it sounds Formula E might have dips on Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez although it sounds like the track is pursuing a bunch of series and hopefully IndyCar will throw their hat into the ring.

There you go Mark Miles. Those are seven venues within North America that could host IndyCar races from late January to the middle of March. Once again, you aren't going to fit all seven into that time span but you just have to get two or three. It is possible.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton but did you know...

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won a severely postponed NASCAR Cup race from Daytona and led a Hendrick Motorsports 1-2-3-4 with Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon in toe.

Sergey Sirotkin and Rio Harayanto split the GP2 races from Silverstone. Marvin Kirchhöfer and Kevin Ceccon split the GP3 races.

Sébastien Ogier won Rally Poland and extended his championship to 78 points over Volkswagen teammate Andreas Mikkelsen.

The #88 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 R-EX of Nicky Catsburg and Albert von Thurn und Taxis won the Blancpain Sprint Seres Qualifying Race at Moscow Raceway. The #84 HTP Motorsport Bentley Continental GT3 of Maximilian Buhk and Vincent Abril won the Championship Race.

Austin Dillon won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Daytona.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar could be making their final trip to Milwaukee.
MotoGP is at the Sachsenring.
NASCAR runs a second consecutive night race at Kentucky.
DTM are off to the dunes of Zandvoort.
V8 Supercars will be on the streets of Townsville.
IMSA head north to Mosport.
European Le Mans Series will be in Austria.
The World Touring Car Championship will be at Algarve.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why There Needs To Be A Drivers' Union

Driver unions are rare in motorsports. There is the Grand Prix Drivers' Association for Formula One drivers and that's pretty much it. Over here in the United States, none of the top three series (NASCAR, IndyCar and IMSA) have a formerly drivers' union. Perhaps there should be an overarching organization representing the interests of the drivers who compete full-time in American racing series.

While unions can focus on many things from getting sufficient compensation, pensions and improved working conditions to name a few, the biggest thing a drivers' union in the United States should focus on is driver safety, especially at racetracks. There isn't much drivers from NASCAR, IndyCar and IMSA share when it comes to money and sponsorship and television exposure but all these drivers run at the same racetracks. NASCAR and IndyCar both go to Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa, Fontana, Mid-Ohio, Pocono and Sonoma while NASCAR use to go to Milwaukee and IndyCar use to go to a plethora of tracks NASCAR currently goes to and IndyCar returns to places such as Road America, Phoenix and Michigan always remain alive. IMSA also runs at Road America and shares Daytona and Watkins Glen with NASCAR while going to Long Beach and Belle Isle with IndyCar. IMSA also went to Fontana, Homestead, Indianapolis, Kansas, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Texas, Phoenix, Iowa, Sonoma, Mid-Ohio, St. Petersburg and Barber back in the days of Grand-Am and ALMS and all those tracks are currently used by NASCAR and/or IndyCar.

The places they go is a major thing these three series have in common and improving safety at these tracks is in the best interest for all the drivers in all three series. Let's also not forget that these drivers will run in more than one series. IndyCar and NASCAR drivers run in IMSA, especially for the endurance races while IMSA competitors occasionally run NASCAR road course race and, though not as common, an IndyCar race but there is Sean Rayhall, who has competed regularly in both IMSA and Indy Lights this year. And every ten years a NASCAR driver will run an IndyCar race. 

The drivers of these series also share safety concerns. After Ryan Briscoe got airborne from spinning in the grass at Fontana last Saturday, Kyle Busch tweeted this:
When a car spins and slides on grass, speed is not scrubbed off as quickly compared to a car sliding on asphalt or even concrete and this allows for a greater chance of getting airborne or dig into the grass and barrel roll and this is as true for IndyCar as it is for NASCAR and probably IMSA. The entire back straightaway apron at Fontana is paved over most notably because of the accident that took the life of Greg Moore. Daytona paved over the back straightaway apron after accidents such as Michael Waltrip in the 2004 Daytona 500, where his car dug into the earth, causing him to roll. 

The other thing it appears all drivers seem to agree needs to be improved on in terms of safety are catch fences. When Dan Wheldon died, there was a loud uproar not just from the United States but also from the international racing community for improvements and approaching four years since Wheldon's accident nothing has been changed. To be fair, this type of change take time and there could be people working on an improved catch fence as we speak and it's been kept under the covers. Indianapolis Motor Speedway and University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineers started working on the SAFER barrier in 1998 and it wasn't installed until 2002. Unfortunately, between 1998 and 2002, Gonzalo Rodríguez, Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Jr., Blaise Alexander, Tony Roper and Dale Earnhardt all lost their lives in fatal accidents from hitting the wall.

We are approaching four years since Wheldon's accident but you would think we would at least here about steps in the right direction, however we have heard nothing. While many have cited cost-effectiveness as a reason why we haven't seen changes to catch fences, to be honest, that isn't good enough of a reason. Safety is expensive but it is worth it, especially for catch fences because catch fences aren't something just for drivers' safety, they are for fan safety. Any improvement to catch fences to reduce the amount of debris shredded from cars and flung into the air is reducing the chance of fans getting hurt.

Daytona International Speedway is spending $400 million to renovate the grandstands and amenities and that their choice but after having a driver suffer serious leg injuries due to the track's naiveness about an accident happening in a certain area of the track and just two year and a half after a car flew into the catch fence in the tri-oval, the folks at Daytona can not afford another serious accident this weekend. International Speedway Corporation could have and should have taken a fraction of that $400 million and along with Speedway Motorsports Inc., and Indianapolis Motor Speedway to come together and developed a better catch fence.

Developing a better catch fence won't make a track any money but having drivers and fans getting hurt because of a track's short comings won't make them any money either. With IndyCar failing to listen to teams amount the aero package at Fontana, IMSA failing to listen to teams about pit stop rules and a traveling safety crew and NASCAR having to scramble and react to Kyle Busch's accident and put up tire barriers at many tracks for driver safety, you only have to wonder how long drivers will put up with the lackadaisical attitudes of sanctioning bodies. If drivers really want their voice to be heard they must come together because the safety concerns for one apply for all competitors regardless of sanctioning body.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Driving That Train, High On Cocaine

California was busy hosting both IndyCar and NASCAR. Two of the United States' premier road courses hosted sports cars and it rained heavily at one of them. Valentino Rossi beat Marc Márquez in arguably one of the best races of 2015. The inaugural Formula E championship came to a close. Mercedes continued their domination but it wasn't in Formula One. France had a good weekend in WTCC. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Driving That Train, High On Cocaine
There is a phrase that is used in IndyCar circles that is vilely incorrect and I need to address it. Anytime someone mentions IndyCar possibly returning to Phoenix, Michigan, Road America, Laguna Seca, Richmond, wherever, the line "you better buy a ticket" is thrown out like a parent giving their child an ultimatum about dessert depending on their vegetable consumption.

It's not realistic to expect every IndyCar fan to buy a ticket to every race they want to see and I have mentioned this before. If you are like me and live on the east coast, it's not like Phoenix and Laguna Seca are 20-minute car rides away. The same can be said for fans in the Pacific Time Zone with Michigan, Richmond and Road America. IndyCar fans aren't genies who can snap their fingers and be at every race they want and then just snap their fingers and return home.

It's illogical to expect the microscopically small fan base that IndyCar has to follow the series around like it's the Grateful Dead and have every race be guaranteed at least 10,000 fans because you have convoys of people driving cross-country following IndyCar wherever the series goes. The fate of races cannot be put on the shoulders of the common fan. The multi-million dollar racetracks and IndyCar need to do a better job of drawing new people through the gates, not expecting the current lot of people to be good enough.

Don't get me wrong, Fontana was screwed on their date after having a perfect spot in October but the track and series has to do something entirely different to draw people out into 90º F heat. People attend events in that type heat all the time, the only problem is if they aren't getting enough bang for their buck, such as Fontana, then they won't go out because it won't be worth.

When I say, "do something entirely different," I don't mean create ticket packages with free food and memorabilia, I mean do something that isn't associated with motorsports. I have always commented that races with Ferris wheels are normally highly attended. Rent one and a few other carnival rides. The Snake Pit at the Indianapolis 500 is popular and perhaps it's something that could be done at other tracks. The series doesn't have enough money to have Steve Aoki be at each race but a second Snake Pit at Fontana may have drawn more people, as it would have been a show followed by a race. Stadium Super Trucks would have been a nice inclusion and I wish they were going to be at Pocono because if none of the Road to Indy series are going to be with IndyCar at a race then some type of support series needs to help fill the bill. Have some type of festival (barbecue, wine, cheese, whatever) tied into the event. Have a flea market be apart of the event if you have to. Look outside the box and look for ways to get new people to the races and this goes for all races, not just Fontana.

It should not be on the shoulders of the current fans to attend seven races a year to prop the series up. If you can't get to a race, that's not a problem. Not everyone can afford to go to a race and it doesn't make you less of a fan. If you can get to race, then great but don't feel like you make cross-country trips multiple times a year. IndyCar doesn't give out a prize for most races attended. Go to the races you can and don't feel bad if you can't get to one. It's not a fan's job to attend all the races. It is the track owners and series job to draw as many people, diehards and curious first-timers, out regardless of the weather. If they aren't happy with the amount of people in the stands then it is on them, not you.

Formula E Year One Review
The inaugural Formula E championship wrapped up and Nelson Piquet, Jr. became it's Nino Farina, taking the title by one-point over Sébastien Buemi, despite the Swiss driving winning the Saturday race from London and holding off a second title challenger in Lucas di Grassi. It's eerie how the inaugural Formula One season in 1950 and the inaugural Formula E season 65 years later came down to the final race with three drivers fighting for the title. Is it a sign of what the future has in store? I don't know but Formula E happened and all those who didn't believe this series would even get started, let alone complete a full year and crown a champion can suck it.

Formula E isn't a perfect after year one. Like any series, it is constantly evolving and Formula E will probably look much different in the next few seasons. The car swapping will probably be replaced in a year or two. Will the technology to quickly swap out a battery be developed and used? Will cars be able to go a full 45 minutes on a single-charge? That remains to be seen. Will the series run permanent circuits? I hope so and it might happen next year at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City but I doubt they would run the full, 2.680-mile course considering the longest track Formula E raced on this year was the first race at Beijing's 2.14-mile Olympic Green Circuit. I'd love to see Formula E run a short oval such as Phoenix, Richmond, Loudon or Indianapolis Raceway Park because I think it would be a good test of longevity with the cars spending more time on the throttle and lifting in the corners.

The races weren't all that fast but neither were the first automobile races at the turn of the 20th century and then speed of races will increase and it did over the course of the season. The opening race in Beijing had an average speed of 61.2 MPH (98.492 KPH) while the season finale in London was the fastest race of the season with an average speed of 69.029 MPH (111.093 KPH). It's not setting the world on fire but next year, after some testing over the summer, perhaps the opening race will average at 75 MPH and at this time next year we could be seeing average speeds close to 90 MPH for a race. Once again, it's not mind-boggling speed but you can't look at Formula E with a mindset of over a century of development. Formula E is in its infancy stage and these are the baby steps it will make.

The one concern I have is where is this series going to race next year? Reportedly 180 cities are interested in hosting Formula E and the schedule is set to expand from ten to 12 cities but how many races return? It seems like Beijing was a success and will be the season opener again. London went well. Long Beach wasn't bad but it didn't help that it was Easter weekend. Can Formula E afford to have seven new venues while only returning to five? Perhaps Formula E is starting at the right time and has the right strategy. It feels like it doesn't matter where Formula E takes places. It feels like a 21st century series where television ratings matter more than amount of spectators and it doesn't matter where a race occurs because 100 million people from around the globe will be watching on TV. It sounds like Bernie Ecclestone's dream series.

I actually think Formula E is looking at attendance the right way. Most races only had 15-20,000 attendees but think about most sports leagues. A crowd of 15-20,000 is what most NBA and NHL teams get a night. Most soccer leagues from around globe get crowds slightly larger than that but not by much. I think most motorsports (NASCAR, IndyCar) series have been too focused on getting six-figure crowds that crowds of even 60,000 people aren't good enough but the only sports league in the world that averages over 60,000 is the NFL. I think most motorsports series (NASCAR, IndyCar) need perspective on average attendance and realize that averaging 40-50,000 actually isn't a bad thing.

Back to Formula E. The one thing I worried about Formula E was what was going to happen when it entered the traditional motorsports season in the spring? The season started in September but nearly a third of the round took place in November-January when they had no competition. During that time, drivers are eager to race and would love to escape the frozen Northern Hemisphere with the sunshine and beaches of Uruguay and Argentina. There was a lot of buzz but it did seem to taper off. Some of these drivers were moonlighting in Formula E and when winter turned into spring there was a feeling that drivers saw it as the end of a vacation and time to get back to their real jobs.

However, the series still had a lot of talented drivers run majority of the season and actually gained one or two for the second half. Buemi won the FIA WEC title and ran all the races. Di Grassi ran all the races. Both are with top-tier LMP1 programs and they made it work. Loïc Duval joined the series halfway through and did great. It did seem the back half of the grid was getting desperate toward the end of the season in filling seats. Aguri had Sakon Yamamoto, yes that Sakon Yamamoto who has 21 Formula One starts but hasn't won a race in a decade in Super GT and hadn't raced anything since 2010, in their car. TrulliGP put GP3's Alex Fontana in their car for the final round. Even Andretti Autosport had a revolving door in their #28 car.

Despite a few rotating seats, there was some good racing. Was it the greatest ever? No but it was respectable. Piquet, Jr., Buemi and di Grassi were the best three drivers. Sam Bird had a really good season as he picked up his second victory of the season in the season finale on home soil. E.dams was the top team but I got to give a shout out to Dragon Racing. They finished second in Teams' Championship, they had cars finish in the points 18 of a possible 22 times, the best success rate of any team and Jérôme d'Ambrosio was the surprise of the series. I liked him in GP2, his only Formula One experience was with Marussia but he showed he could hang with some of the best. I was sad to see Oriol Servià step out of the second Dragon entry after finishing the first four races in the points but, as I said before, Loïc Duval did great. It's still early but look for Dragon to challenge for the title in 2015-16.

First year of Formula E is now in the history books. The second chapter will be upon us this fall.

In case you are wondering, here is what the Formula E Championship would have looked like if they used the 9-6-4-3-2-1 points system:

2014-15 Formula E Drivers'
Sébastien Buemi- 42
Nelson Piquet, Jr.- 39
Lucas di Grassi- 39
Jérôme d'Ambrosio- 30
Sam Bird- 26
Nicolas Prost- 19
Jean-Éric Vergne- 14
António Félix da Costa- 10
Bruno Senna- 8
Loïc Duval- 8
Franck Montagny- 6
Scott Speed- 6
Daniel Abt- 6
Nick Heidfeld- 6
Jamie Alguersuari- 5
Charles Pic- 3
Jarno Trulli- 3
Karun Chandhok- 3
Stéphane Sarrazin- 1
Salvador Durán- 1

2014-15 Formula E Teams'
e.dams Renault- 61
Audi Sport ABT- 45
China Racing- 39
Dragon- 38
Virgin Racing- 31
Andretti Autosport- 29
Aguri- 11
Mahindra- 11
Venturi GP- 7
TrulliGP- 3

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Graham Rahal, Nelson Piquet, Jr.'s title, Sébastien Buemi, Sam Bird and Valentino Rossi but did you know...

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma in his fifth start of the season.

Pascal Wehrlein and Robert Wickens split the DTM races from the Norisring but they extended Mercedes' streak of victories on the Nürnberg street circuit to 11 of the last 12.

Johann Zarco won his second consecutive Moto2 race and third of the season at Assen. Miguel Oliveira won in Moto3.

Tomáš Enge, Chris Dyson and James Davison split the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Road America. There was a third race at Road America after the second Belle Isle race was cancelled due to rain. In GTS, Lou Gigliotti and Andrew Aquilante each picked up a victory.

Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook won a very wet 6 Hours of the Glen in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP. The #8 Starworks Oreca of Renger van der Zande, Mike Hedlund and Alex Popow won in PC. It was the second consecutive victory for the #8 Starworks entry. The #17 Team Falken Tires Porsche of Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers won in GTLM. Al Carter, Cameron Lawrence and Marc Goossens won in GTD in the #93 Viper.

Citroën swept their home WTCC races at Circuit Paul Ricard with Sébastien Loeb and José María López taking the victories.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One will run the British Grand Prix.
NASCAR takes their annual Fourth of July weekend trek back to Daytona.
World Rally will be in Poland.
Blancpain Sprint Series will be right next door to WRC in Russia at Moscow Raceway.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

First Impressions: Fontana 2015

1. Where to begin? I want to be respectful and start with the race winner but I want to start with the race itself. Here it goes. Graham Rahal won and it has been a long time coming. He went 124 starts between victories, breaking the record for most starts between victories, which was 97 and held by Johnny Rutherford. Rahal has been the best Honda this season and he could have won two races this year already. It just seemed it was bound to happen.

1b. With that said, Rahal had a few too many breaks. First, he left the pit lane with the fuel nozzle attached. Not his fault as the fuel man made a mistake but it's something that has to be penalized and penalized on the spot. IndyCar has to start making penalties on the spot. They can't wait for Wednesday at lunchtime to just fine teams and drivers a few thousand dollars and/or a handful of points. It should have been a drive-through penalty and instead it was a warning.

1c. Rahal also blocked a few drivers. Especially on that final run when he blocked Marco Andretti. He just plain blocked him. I know there were only two or three laps to go but it was a block and it has to be called. It can't be allowed.

1d. Rahal drove a great race but he pushed the envelope a few too many times today and the officials didn't do anything about it. He has talent but today wasn't his greatest day despite him winning a 500-mile race.

2. Before I get to the rest of the field, was this pack racing today?

As a whole, which is all 250 laps, I didn't think it was pack racing. The first 135 laps were run caution-free and the field had spread out and it was great racing. Cars didn't pull away from one another but they weren't constantly side-by-side. One car could run the other down, pass them and hold on to the position for a few laps before another driver made a challenge.

However, on the start and restarts, the cars were very close and it took 15-20 laps for the cars to spread out. Unfortunately, in the later stages, those long green flag runs didn't happen and there was an accident between Will Power and Takuma Sato with nine to go and it caused a red flag and then a restart with three to go. Of course it was going to be helter skelter.

And then there was an accident. Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay got together, they spun into the infield grass and Briscoe got airborne. Thankfully, both walked away. The accident occurred because the cars were packed together like sardines in a can and that could happen at any track with a restart with three to go, oval, road course or street circuit. Briscoe got airborne because of the grass. Grass doesn't scrub off speed. Remember, the first caution occurred when Hélio Castroneves spun off of turn two and slid on the asphalt apron on the back straightaway, which was put to prevent cars from getting airborne. It's why numerous of tracks have paved over the apron. And it's not just a safety improvement for IndyCar but NASCAR as well. Think Rusty Wallace at Talladega.

Had the front straightaway grass been asphalt I don't think Ryan Briscoe gets airborne and I don't think the reactions would be as strong for what we saw today.

2b. The officials have to start listening to the drivers. After the first practice, they came to the officials worried about pack racing. I don't think we saw pack racing but something should be done to allow the cars to spread out a little quicker and restarts. I don't understand why there was an aerodynamic change to the cars considering the last three Fontana races were all really good races. The last three years have seen 29, 28 and 18 lead changes and lots of green flag racing. Last year, only 12 laps were run under caution. Today we saw a record-breaking amount of lead changes. It was fun to see but was it necessary. This is a very deep conversation but I think if the downforce levels stayed the same as last year, the race would have been just as good. There has to be better communication between the teams and drivers.

2c. To wrap this up, a collection of things can be improved.

A. I don't think this was pack racing but if IndyCar can figure out a way so the cars are spread out in 5-8 laps instead of 15-20 laps than that would be great because this was great racing today.

B. IndyCar has to start calling penalties in race. No more waiting for midweek. Jon Beekhuis was mad about it and called out race control on the broadcast. I don't know Jon Beekhuis from Adam but he seems like a very intelligent guy who doesn't lose his cool easily and if he is calling out race control during the broadcast then something has to change. IndyCar needs to get more qualified people in race control and people the drivers respect. And don't say you can't find anybody. They are people out there. Emanuele Pirro is the race steward for Formula Three and he is cracking down on driver. IndyCar needs him. He is a six-time Le Mans winner, he made 37 Formula One starts and he would have every drivers respect and attention. And if they can't get Pirro, get someone like him. Get Allan McNish, get Scott Pruett, get Buddy Rice or Justin Wilson. If Justin Wilson can't be in a car then I would want him in race control because he has driven these cars, driven with these drivers and is respected.

C.  If removing the infield grass would decrease the chance of a car, whether it is IndyCar or NASCAR, getting airborne, then it should be done.

3. Back to the drivers. Tony Kanaan had a great race and finished second. He was up front all day and I thought in the closing stages he would find a way to finish first today. He is great on ovals and he didn't disappoint today.

4. Great day for Marco Andretti. He was up at the front at the start, faded but came back and made a smart choice to take tires before the final restart. If it wasn't for Rahal's block, he might have won instead of finishing third.

5. Juan Pablo Montoya came home fourth but to be honest, it didn't seem like he was a threat all day. He hung around in the top ten but was never making runs for the lead. He would get the Triple Crown but he still has a shot for the double and the championship lead.

6. Sage Karam scored his first career top five. This was the race he needed. It could be a confidence booster for him. He had a similar day to Andretti. They both faded at the same time and made their comebacks at the same time and both took tires prior to the final restart. Not to forget mentioning he led his first career laps today.

7. Scott Dixon finished sixth but like Montoya, it didn't seem like he was scraping for the lead much. He was up in the top ten all day though and he got a solid finish.

8. Hats off to James Jakes in seventh. Kept him nose clean and it paid off. He has had some good oval finishes. He isn't a threat on them but he can put together a good finish.

9. Charlie Kimball in eighth makes it perfect attendance for the Ganassi drivers in the top ten.

10. Simon Pagenaud started on pole but finished ninth. He faded from the start and was never a factor. It hasn't been a great first year for Pagenaud at Penske but it hasn't been dreadful. He will likely be back in 2016 and I think he will make big strides.

11. Jack Hawksworth finished tenth mostly because a half a dozen drivers ahead of him retired but you got to take what you can get and he got his second career top-ten on an oval.

12. To wrap up, Stefano Coletti finished 11th despite being a lap down at one point. Carlos Muñoz faded to 12th but after everything that happened I don't remember how. Pippa Mann finished a career-best 13th despite being a lap down at one point. Sébastien Bourdais did nothing and finished 14th.

13. Once again, I am unbelievably happy Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay walked away. I am unbelievably happy Takuma Sato and Will Power walked away from their accident and the same for Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden. All had great day, all could have finished in the top ten.

14. IndyCar needs Fontana. Despite all that happened, all the crappy things that happened and all the things that need to be fixed, this was a great race. IndyCar needs to work with Fontana. Move it back to October so people will actually show up, work with Fontana about paving over the grass and IndyCar should work on an oval package that produce what we saw in the first 135 laps without the helter skelter first 15 laps after going green. IndyCar can't afford to lose this race. The flips, the closeness of the cars that can be fixed. It's going to take time and it's going to take money (everything takes money) but it's worth. Don't leave Fontana again. The track was built for IndyCar. Don't leave. Fix the problem and return. It's a diamond; just keep polishing.

15. After a week off, I am glad there is another off week. I understand we are all passionate about it but I think we need to find common ground and be respectful. It's ok to have differing positions but it's not ok to be rude because someone has a differing opinion. Take some time off and cool down. Happy Canada Day. Happy Independence Day. Enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate and for those of you who don't have a holiday to celebrate, enjoy the start of July and the fact we halfway through another year. Whether IndyCar at Fontana was pack racing or not is so irrelevant to everyday life. It's ok to be passionate about it but it's not the be-all and end-all of life. Take a break. Milwaukee is in a fortnight.


Morning Warm-Up: Fontana 2015

Simon Pagenaud and Hélio Castroneves start 1-2 Saturday at Fontana
Simon Pagenaud won his second career pole position a year after his first as the French driver will lead the field to the green flag for the MAVTV 500 from Fontana. This is his first career oval pole position. Last year, he start on pole in Houston 1 but an accident took him out of contention for the victory. Pagenaud won the pole with a two-lap average of 218.952 MPH. Today's race occurs 48 years and two days after the last win for car #22 in IndyCar when Wes Vandervoort won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. It would be Vandervoort's only IndyCar win in five starts, all occurring at Pikes Peak.  Hélio Castroneves made it another Team Penske 1-2 as the Brazilian qualified with a two-lap average at 218.734 MPH. Marco Andretti starts a season-best third. The Pennsylvania-native qualified nearly a mile per hour off of Castroneves at 217.797 MPH. Ed Carpenter will start a season-best fourth as he was just 0.131 MPH slower than Andretti. Championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya rounds out the top five at 217.250 MPH. Montoya is looking to keep his Triple Crown hopes alive after winning the Indianapolis 500 last month.

Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon finished 1-2 last year at Fontana and they will start sixth and seventh after running identical times in qualifying. Each posted two-lap averages at 217.184 MPH. Kanaan starts ahead of Dixon as he qualified before Dixon. Chip Ganassi Racing could score their 100th IndyCar victory this weekend. Will Power starts eighth. The defending IndyCar champion won at Fontana in 2013 and he qualified 0.008 seconds behind the Ganassi duo. Takuma Sato will start ninth and Sage Karam will round out the top ten. Sato and Karam were the final two drivers to qualify above 217 MPH at 217.109 MPH and 217.060 MPH respectively. Sato and Karam got together in turn one, lap one of the Indianapolis 500. Karam's day ended while Sato continued and would manage to finish 13th.

Carlos Muñoz will start 11th at 216.878 MPH with IndyCar's most recent winner Josef Newgarden starting 12th at 216.490 MPH. Californian Charlie Kimball will start 13th, which is the furthest back a Fontana winner has started from. Adrián Fernández won from 13th in 1999. Kimball finished third at Indianapolis last month, his best finish in a 500-mile race. Fernández's victory is the only time a Fontana winner has started outside the top ten. Ryan Hunter-Reay will start 14th after posting an average of 215.983 MPH. Hunter-Reay is one of seven drivers on the grid to win a 500-mile race along with Montoya, Castroneves, Kanaan, Carpenter, Dixon and Power. Sébastien Bourdais rounds out the top fifteen at 215.719 MPH.

Ryan Briscoe will start 16th and leads a train of five consecutive Hondas on the grid. Jack Hawksworth will start 17th with his successor at Bryan Herta Autosport Gabby Chaves starting 18th. Hawskworth qualified at 215.346 MPH while Chaves qualified at 213.720 MPH. Graham Rahal starts a season-worst 19th as Tristan Vautier will round out the top twenty. Stefano Coletti will start 21st with Brits Pippa Mann and James Jakes rounding out the grid. Jakes did not make a qualifying attempt after having an engine failure at the end of second practice and not having enough time to change it prior to qualifying.

NBCSN's coverage of the MAVTV 500 will begin at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 4:36 p.m. ET.


Friday, June 26, 2015

The History of 500-Milers

IndyCar and 500-mile races have a long history beyond the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500.

With this weekend's race from Fontana being the second 500-mile race, I decided to look into the history of 500-milers. I have long been wondering more about the history of 500-mile races in IndyCar. How many have there been? Who has won the most 500-mile races? What other places have hosted 500-milers?

After counting, there have been 162 500-mile races in the history of IndyCar and the track to host the most is unsurprisingly Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The famed 2.5-mile over has hosted 98 500-mile races. And I bet you just did a double take. And I bet you are saying that is wrong. And I bet you are saying Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted 99 500-mile races. And you would be wrong. The 1916 running of the race traditionally held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend was scheduled for 300 miles. While counted it is an "Indianapolis 500"it wasn't scheduled for 500 miles, therefore it can't be counted as a 500-mile race. The 162 races I have counted do count races that were scheduled for 500 miles but did not reach the full-distance. So it includes the 1950, 1973, 1975, 1976, 2004 and 2007 runnings of the Indianapolis 500, the 1975 and 1981 runnings of the Pocono 500 and the 2001 running of the California 500 from Fontana.

As you know, this weekend's race is the second leg of the Triple Crown. You may have saw the fact sheet Racer.com has posted. It says there has been 21 years of the Triple Crown and the first occurred in 1971. However, 1971 wasn't the first year that featured three 500-mile IndyCar races in one year. In fact, it was 100 years ago. In 1915, there were three 500-mile races. The first was the Indianapolis 500. The next happened 100 years ago today; June 26, 1915 at Speedway Park, a 2-mile board track outside Chicago in Maywood, Illinois. The third 500-miler occurred at Twin City Motor Speedway, a 2-mile concrete oval in Fort Snelling, Minnesota on September 4, 1915. Ralph DePalma won the Indianapolis 500, Dario Resta won at Speedway Park and Earl Cooper and Johnny Aitken won in Minnesota.

It would be 55 years and 2 days before IndyCar ran another 500-mile race at track other than Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Ontario Motor Speedway hosted the inaugural California 500 on September 6, 1970. Jim McElreath won from 18th on the grid and it would be his fifth and final IndyCar victory. If you though McElreath from 18th winning was a surprise, Art Pollard finished 2nd and started 32nd and Dick Simon finished 3rd from 27th! It was Simon's first career podium and his first finish on the lead lap in ten starts. Gordon Johncock and Peter Revson were the only other two drivers to finish on the lead lap.

The following year, Pocono Raceway opened its doors and the Triple Crown was born or at least revived (got to give 1915 some type of recognition). The Triple Crown would be Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario for ten years. Only once was it accomplished. Al Unser 1978. The same year Affirmed won the American thoroughbred racing Triple Crown. Other came close from 1971-1980. Johnny Rutherford won two of three but the latter two (Indianapolis and Pocono). A.J. Foyt won the bookends the following year (Ontario and Pocono) and Bobby Unser would win the latter two (Pocono and Ontario) in 1980.

Ontario Motor Speedway would host 11 California 500s with the last one coming in 1980. Bobby Unser won the California 500 four times while his brother Al won it twice. Joining McElreath as one-time winners of the California 500 at Ontario were Joe Leonard, Roger McCluskey, Wally Dallenbach and A.J. Foyt.

In 1981, Michigan stepped up and filled the gap for Ontario. Michigan had been on the IndyCar schedule since 1968 but the longest race it held prior to 1981 was 250 miles. Pancho Carter would win the first Michigan 500. It was Carter's only IndyCar victory and it took him 78 starts to get it. Gordon Johncock won the first two legs in 1982 at Indianapolis and Michigan but finished sixth at Pocono after a gearbox failure ended his race after completing only 193 laps. Rick Mears would go on to win.

According to the Racer fact sheet, Johncock is the last driver to win two Triple Crown legs in one year and that after 1989, the Triple Crown would go dormant in IndyCar as the series did not return to Pocono after an 18-year run. However, 1989 would not be the final year to feature multiple 500-mile races in the same year. Indianapolis and Michigan still each hosted a 500-mile race. In 1991, Rick Mears accomplished The Double as he won his fourth Indianapolis 500 and the Marlboro 500 at Michigan. The Marlboro 500 victory would be Mears' 29th and final IndyCar victory. There would be two 500-mile races until 1995. And then things got messy.

We all know about the split. We all know about how dirty 1996 was. We all know there were two 500-mile races held on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend that year. The Indianapolis 500 vs. the U.S. 500. Buddy Lazier won with a broken back and Jimmy Vasser won his fourth race of the year on his way to a championship. Later that year, CART returned to Michigan for the Marlboro 500 and André Ribeiro scored his third and final IndyCar victory. The following year, the Marlboro 500 moved to the newly opened California Speedway in Fontana, California. From 1996-2001 there were three 500-mile IndyCar races a year, they were just split across two series, making the Triple Crown a near impossible task due to politics.

Politics may have made the Triple Crown a near impossible task but it was still possible and it nearly happened at the turn of the millennium. Chip Ganassi Racing went to Indianapolis for the first time since the split and Juan Montoya won the Indianapolis 500. Two months later at Michigan, Montoya won the Michigan 500. The Colombian headed into his final IndyCar race before heading to Williams F1 with a chance of being the second driver to accomplish the IndyCar Triple Crown. However, just like Johncock in 1982, it wasn't meant to be. Montoya led 33 laps and his engine failed after completing 219 laps. He would finish tenth. Christian Fittipaldi scored his second and final IndyCar victory.

After 2001, Michigan left CART to host the IRL and at that time the IRL was keen on the Indianapolis 500 being the only 500-mile race on the schedule and Michigan as shortened to 400 miles. Fontana still hosted a 500-miler though and in 2002, both the IRL and CART went to Fontana with IRL racing a 400-miler in March and CART running 500 miles in the fall. Sam Hornish, Jr. won one, Jimmy Vasser won the other. It would be the final victory of Vasser's career. CART was scheduled to run another 500-miler at Fontana in 2003 but wildfires in the San Bernardino caused what was suppose to be the CART season finale to be cancelled. The Indianapolis 500 would be the lone 500-mile race for nearly a decade.

The IRL would run 400-milers at Fontana until 2005. IndyCar would return to the track and 500-mile races places other than Indianapolis in 2012. Pocono returned in 2013 and so did the Triple Crown, however that year's race at Pocono was a 400-miler. In 2014, another 100 miles were added to the distance at Pocono. Just when thinks looked to be going up for IndyCar and 500-mile races, it appears everything is falling apart at the seams. After just two years of three 500-mile races, this year could mark the end for Fontana and Pocono. Fontana is on its fourth different date in four years and Pocono is in the final year of its deal and moved to the end of August after racing on July 4th weekend proved to be only good on paper. As someone who attended both Pocono races on July 4th weekend I am sure the mess on I-80 that the track funneled all the traffic to when the race ended turned off a few people from returning. Hopefully late August proves to be a better date and Pocono returns not just for 2016 but for many years in the future and the same goes for Fontana. Hopefully the 2-mile Southern California track is on the IndyCar schedule for a long, long time.

It is no surprise that A.J. Foyt has the most 500-mile race wins with nine (Indianapolis- 4, Pocono 4, Ontario 1). Al Unser, Rick Mears and Bobby Unser all have eight 500-mile race wins. Johnny Rutherford has five; Juan Pablo Montoya and Danny Sullivan each have four. Ninety-three different drivers have won a 500-mile IndyCar race. Nine drivers have won 500-mile races on three different tracks (Foyt, Mears, A. Unser, B. Unser, Rutherford, Montoya, Sullivan, Mario Andretti and Tony Kanaan). If Montoya were to win at Fontana this weekend, he would become the first driver to win 500-mile races at four different tracks. If Montoya doesn't win this weekend and if Tony Kanaan were to win a Pocono later this year, Kanaan would become the first driver to win 500-mile races at four different tracks. Jimmy Vasser has the most 500-mile victories to not win the Indianapolis 500 at three. The only other drivers with multiple 500-mile victories and to not win at Indianapolis are Joe Leonard, Michael Andretti and Scott Goodyear. Leonard won at Pocono and Ontario while Andretti and Goodyear both won two 500-milers at Michigan.

No surprise that the United States has produced the most 500-mile winners with 64. Brazil and the United Kingdom have each had seven drivers win a 500-miler. Four Canadians, three Italians, two Frenchmen, a Mexican, Colombian, Dutchman, Swede, New Zealander and Australian have all won a 500-mile race.

Will a 94th driver add their name to the list of 500-mile race winners? Will Montoya make history and keep his Triple Crown hopes alive? The 163rd 500-mile race in IndyCar history features a lot of interesting storylines.

List of 500-mile Race Winners
A.J. Foyt- 9
Al Unser- 8
Rick Mears- 8
Bobby Unser- 8
Johnny Rutherford- 5
Juan Pablo Montoya- 4
Danny Sullivan- 4
Louis Meyer- 3
Mauri Rose- 3
Wilbur Shaw- 3
Hélio Castroneves- 3
Dario Franchitti- 3
Mario Andretti- 3
Jimmy Vasser- 3
Al Unser, Jr.- 3
Gordon Johncock- 3
Tony Kanaan- 3
Emerson Fittipaldi- 3
Tommy Milton- 2
Bill Vukovich- 2
Rodger Ward- 2
Arie Luyendyk- 2
Dan Wheldon- 2
Mark Donohue- 2
Joe Leonard- 2
Michael Andretti- 2
Scott Goodyear- 2
Bobby Rahal- 2
Tom Sneva- 2
Ray Harroun- 1
Joe Dawson- 1
Jules Goux- 1
René Thomas- 1
Ralph DePalma- 1
Dario Resta- 1
Howdy Wilcox- 1
Gaston Chevrolet- 1
Jimmy Murphy- 1
L.L. Corum- 1
Joe Boyer- 1
Pete DePaolo- 1
Frank Lockhart- 1
George Souders- 1
Ray Keech- 1
Billy Arnold- 1
Louis Schneider- 1
Fred Frame- 1
Bill Cummings- 1
Kelly Petillo- 1
Floyd Roberts- 1
Floyd Davis- 1
George Robson- 1
Bill Holland- 1
Johnnie Parsons- 1
Lee Wallard- 1
Troy Ruttman- 1
Bill Sweikert- 1
Pat Flaherty- 1
Sam Hanks- 1
Jimmy Bryan- 1
Jim Rathmann- 1
Parnelli Jones- 1
Jim Clark- 1
Graham Hill- 1
Jacques Villeneuve- 1
Buddy Lazier- 1
Eddie Cheever- 1
Kenny Bräck- 1
Buddy Rice- 1
Gil de Ferran- 1
Sam Hornish, Jr.- 1
Scott Dixon- 1
Ryan Hunter-Reay- 1
Mark Blundell- 1
Adrián Fernández- 1
Christian Fittipaldi- 1
Cristiano da Matta- 1
Patrick Carpentier- 1
Ed Carpenter- 1
Will Power- 1
Teo Fabi- 1
Pancho Carter- 1
John Paul, Jr.- 1
Nigel Mansell- 1
Scott Pruett- 1
André Ribeiro- 1
Alex Zanardi- 1
Greg Moore- 1
Jim McElreath- 1
Roger McCluskey- 1
Wally Dallenbach- 1
Earl Cooper- 1
Johnny Aitken- 1


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Track Walk: Fontana 2015

IndyCar returns to sunny Southern California
After a week off, IndyCar is back in action as the eleventh round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The MAVTV 500 is the second leg of the IndyCar Triple Crown. Juan Pablo Montoya enters as the championship leader and having won the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Indianapolis 500 make in May. This will be the 14th IndyCar race to take place at Fontana and first to take place in the month of June. This could be the final IndyCar race at Fontana.

Coverage:
Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday June 26th. Green flag at 4:36 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett (Townsend Bell is racing at Watkins Glen) and Paul Tracy are in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kelli Stavast and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
Juan Pablo Montoya has 374 points and holds a 27 points lead over Will Power. Montoya is one of three drivers with two victories this season. The Australian Power has won five pole positions including the last two. Scott Dixon is 45 points behind Montoya and won the most recent oval race at Texas. Dixon also won pole position for the Indianapolis 500 earlier this season. Hélio Castroneves makes it three Penske drivers in the top four of the championship as he sits 52 points behind Montoya. Graham Rahal is the top Honda driver, fifth in the standings with 283 points.

Sébastien Bourdais is sixth in the championship, nine points behind his former Newman-Haas teammate and 100 points behind Montoya. Marco Andretti trails the Frenchman by two points while the most recent winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Josef Newgarden is eighth on 268 points.  Tony Kanaan won last year at Fontana and returns with himself ninth in the championship on 244 points. Simon Pagenaud rounds out the top ten, 142 points back of his Penske teammate who is leading the championship.

Charlie Kimball is eight points outside the top ten in the championship. Carlos Muñoz is a further eight points behind Kimball. Takuma Sato is thirteenth with an even 200 points. Ryan Hunter-Reay is six points behind Sato. Gabby Chaves founds out the top fifteen with 168 points. James Jakes is four points behind Chaves.

Driver Changes
There are four driver changes heading to Fontana.

Ed Carpenter steps into the #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet. Carpenter has finished on the podium in the last three Fontana races having won in 2012, finished second in 2013 and finished third last year. Carpenter has had two retirements in his two starts this season. Luca Filippi finished second in the #20 at Toronto, giving CFH Racing their first 1-2 finish.

Ryan Briscoe will be back behind the wheel of the #5 Arrow Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Briscoe will be making his third start of 2015. He finished 12th in the Indianapolis 500 from 33rd on the grid and finished 8th at Texas from 19th. The Australian will be making his third start at Fontana. He finished 17th in 2012 and seventh in 2014. Conor Daly drove the car at Toronto and finished 12th.

Sage Karam is back in the #8 Big Machine Records Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. Karam has made seven starts this season and has finished 12th in his last two starts. This will be Karam's first career start at Fontana. His lone Fontana appearance in Indy Lights came in 2013 where he finished 3rd, good enough for him to clinch the title. Sebastián Saavedra finished 16th at Toronto in the #8.

Pippa Mann will make her third start of 2015 as she will replace Rodolfo González in the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Mann finished 22nd at Indianapolis and 17th at Texas. This will be her second start at Fontana. She finished 25th in 2013.

Fast Facts
Juan Pablo Montoya has won four of nine 500-mile IndyCar races he has started.

Al Unser is the only drive to win the IndyCar Triple Crown having done it in 1978. That same year, Affirmed won the American Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. On June 6th, American Pharoah became the first horse since Affirmed to win the Triple Crown.

Chevrolet has won the last 16 pole positions dating back to last year. In that time frame, three races had the starting grid set by owners' points. The last Honda pole position came for Houston 1 where Simon Pagenaud won his first career pole position.

This will be the eight IndyCar race to take place on June 27th. The most recent race to take place on June 27th was in 2009 at Richmond and Scott Dixon won that race. That has been the most recent IndyCar race at Richmond.

Jimmy Vasser, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Adrián Fernandez each have two race victories at Fontana. Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Tony Kanaan are the only active drivers with victories at Fontana.

Chevrolet has won the last three Fontana races and five of the last eight. Honda has three victories at Fontana. Ford also has three victories at Fontana. Mercedes and Toyota each have one Fontana victory.

Only two of the previous 13 Fontana races have been won from pole position. Dario Franchitti (2005) and Will Power (2012) are the two drivers to accomplish that.

Only once has a Fontana winner started outside the top ten. Adrián Fernandez won from 13th in 1999.

Chevrolet has swept the top four positions in the last two Fontana races.

The least amount of lead changes in a Fontana race is 13, which occurred in the inaugural Fontana race in 1997, won by Mark Blundell. The average amount of lead changes in Fontana races is 30.769.

This will be the third IndyCar race of 2015 in which Steve Matchett will be a color commentator. Matchett was in the booth at Barber and Toronto. Josef Newgarden won both of those races.

Possible Milestones:
Should Will Power take the green flag, he will make his 150 IndyCar races.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 164 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 162 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 65 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led club.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 45 laps to join the 1,000 laps led club.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 97 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 300 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 24 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball needs to lead 5 laps to reach the 100 laps led milestone.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 3 laps to reach the 100 laps led milestone.

Hélio Castroneves is one second place finish away from passing Bobby Rahal for second all-time in second place finishes. Rahal and Castroneves are tied with 37 runner-up finishes.

Dan Wheldon would have turned 37 years old on Monday. Can you name the drivers who finished runner-up to Dan Wheldon in his 16 IndyCar victories?

Predictions
Juan Pablo Montoya keeps his Triple Crown hopes alive and wins his fifth 500-mile race. Less than three Honda cars qualify in the top ten. One Honda will finish in the top five. There will be at least 22 lead changes. At least one driver will lead their first laps of the season during a pit stop cycle. At least one driver will either gain two positions in the championship standings or lose two positions in the championship standings after this race. Sleeper: Takuma Sato.