Thursday, July 30, 2015

Track Walk: Mid-Ohio 2015

Another IndyCar race means another full hillside at Mid-Ohio
Astor Cup August is here. The antepenultimate round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The most recent round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship was won by Ryan Hunter-Reay as the past IndyCar champion defeated Josef Newgarden, Sage Karam and Graham Rahal in an all-American top four. Americans took up six of the top seven with Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti finishing sixth and seventh. Carlos Muñoz rounded out the top five. This will be IndyCar's 31st visit to Mid-Ohio.

Time: Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday August 2nd. Green flag at 2:07 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: CNBC.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
Fourteen drivers enter Mid-Ohio mathematically eligible for the Astor Cup.

Juan Pablo Montoya enters with 445 points from 13 races. Forty-two points behind the Colombian is Graham Rahal. Six points back of Rahal is his former Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon. Hélio Castroneves is six points back of Dixon with Will Power rounding out the top five, a point behind Castroneves.

Sébastien Bourdais is sixth with 366 points, trailing Montoya by 79 points. Marco Andretti finds himself 87 points back of Montoya with Josef Newgarden 93 points back. Tony Kanaan trails by 121 points with Simon Pagenaud bookending the top ten for another week for Team Penske as the Frenchman sits 151 points back of his teammate.

Andretti drivers Carlos Muñoz and Ryan Hunter-Reay are 11th and 12th in the championship, trailing Montoya by 164 and 167 points respectively. Hunter-Reay is the most recent winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series after picking up his their career Iowa victory. Charlie Kimball is 13th, 170 points behind Montoya. Takuma Sato is the final driver mathematically eligible for the title, as he sits 205 points behind Montoya.

Scott Dixon is Going to Win This Race
The New Zealander is the all-time leader in IndyCar wins at Mid-Ohio with five victories on the 2.25-mile road course. Dixon won last year's race from 22nd on the grid. The previous worst starting position for a Mid-Ohio winner was eighth by Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999. Dixon's five Mid-Ohio victories all came from different positions having won from sixth, third, pole, fourth and 22nd.

Dixon leads all driver with an average finish of 3.7 at Mid-Ohio in ten starts. Dixon has six podiums, eight top fives, nine top tens and his worst Mid-Ohio finish is twelfth. He has led 201 laps at Mid-Ohio, however, every time he has led at Mid-Ohio, he has gone on to win the race. Dixon's average start at Mid-Ohio is 7.7 and he has started in the top six seven times at Mid-Ohio. Dixon has completed every lap of his ten Mid-Ohio starts.

The only other active drivers to win at Mid-Ohio are Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball. Castroneves is the only active driver with multiple Mid-Ohio victories having won back-to-back races in 2000 and 2001.

If it's not Scott Dixon on the top step of the podium, it will likely be a Ganassi driver as Chip Ganassi Racing has won ten of 30 Mid-Ohio races including the last six.

Driver Changes
Luca Filippi is back in the #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet after Ed Carpenter competed the last three oval races. Filippi finished second in his most recent start at Toronto, where CFH finished 1-2 with Josef Newgarden taking the checkered flag.

Rodolfo González returns in the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda after Pippa Mann contested the last three race rounds. González has made four starts this season with his most recent being at Toronto, where the Venezuelan led five laps during a pit stop cycle. His average finish in his four starts is 20.25 and his average starting position is 22nd.

Road to Indy
All three Mazda Road to Indy series enter their penultimate weekends of the 2015. Indy Lights have a dozen cars entered for Mid-Ohio. Jack Harvey continues to lead the championship as he returns to the site of his first career Indy Lights victory and pole position. The Schmidt Peterson driver has 278 points and leads Juncos Racing's Spencer Pigot by 18 points. Carlin's Ed Jones is two points behind Pigot in third. RC Enerson is 64 points back of his SPM teammate with Félix Serrallés rounding out the top five with 176 points.

Max Chilton is coming off his first career Indy Lights victory after winning at Milwaukee and he is three points behind Serrallés for fifth. Kyle Kaiser is a point behind Chilton with Juan Piedrahita and Scott Anderson a point back of Kaiser. Ethan Ringel rounds out the top ten with 154 points with Shelby Blackstock three points behind him. Sean Rayhall returns to competition with 8 Star Motorsports for the first time since the Freedom 100. Rayhall won on the IMS road course earlier this year and has 96 points from five starts.

Indy Lights will race at 1:55 p.m. ET on Saturday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Eighteen cars are entered for the Pro Mazda weekend. Santiago Urrutia leads the championship with 251 points. Weiron Tan jumped to second after winning at Iowa and trails the Uruguayan by 27 points. Neil Alberico finds himself third, trailing Urrutia by 33 points. Forty-one points back of Urrutia is Timothé Buret. Pato O'Ward rounds out the top five, trailing his Team Pelfrey teammate Urrutia by 48 points.

Garret Grist is sixth, eight points outside the top five. Florian Latorre is ten points behind Grist in seventh. Will Owen is eight, 13 points behind the Frenchman and Jose Gutierrez sits ninth on 164 points. Daniel Burkett rounds out the top ten on 135 points with Raoul Owens four points behind him and fellow Canadian Daniel Burkett a point behind Owens. Alessandro Latif has 108 points. Kyle Connery and Bobby Eberle round out the top five in the championship.

Rounding out the entry list are Victor Franzoni, Bob Kaminsky and Michael Johnson. This is Johnson's first appearance since suffering a fractured hip and pelvis at St. Petersburg.

Pro Mazda race one will be at 1:00 p.m. ET Saturday with race two Sunday at 8:50 am. ET.

U.S. F2000 returns to competition for the first time since Toronto with 18 cars entered for the Mid-Ohio triple-header. Nico Jamin enters as the most recent winner in U.S. F2000 and the championship leader with 292 points. Jamin leads Pabst Racing's Jake Eidson by 16 points. Fifty-seven points back of Jamin is his Cape Motorsports teammate Aaron Telitz. John Cummiskey Racing's Anthony Martin is fourth, 87 points behind Jamin. Canadian Parker Thompson rounds out the top five, 148 points behind Jamin.

Luke Gabin is five points behind Thompson. Yufeng Luo has 131 points with Garth Rickards and Nikta Lastochkin a point behind him. Rickards and Lastochkin are the final drivers mathematically eligible for the title. Ayla Årgen rounds out the top ten with 126 points. Keyvan Andres Soori is four points behind Årgen. Max Hanranty and James Dayson are also entered for Mid-Ohio.

Andrew List makes his first appearance in U.S. F2000 since St. Petersburg, where he finished 12th in both races. Four drivers will be making their first start of the 2015 U.S. F2000 season. Pennsylvanian Alex Mayer and Georgian Clint McMahon will both make their debuts with RJB Motorsports. Afterburner Autosport returns to U.S. F2000 competition with Sennan Fielding and Jake Mitchell. Fielding finished fourth in last year's BRDC Formula 4 Championship and is currently fifth in the MSA Formula championship. Jake Mitchell was one of two Team USA Scholarship winners in 2012 alongside Matthew Brabham. Mitchell finished fourth in the 2014 F1600 championship.

U.S. F2000 race one will be at 4:45 p.m. ET on Friday. Race two will be at 9:50 a.m. Saturday with race three later that day at 6:00 p.m. ET.

Pirelli World Challenge
Pirelli World Challenge returns to competition after just over a month since their last round at Road America. Fifty-seven cars are entered across the GT, GT Cup and GTS classes.

Olivier Beretta enters as the GT championship leader with 1125 points. EFFORT Porsche's Ryan Dalziel trails the R.Ferri Ferrari driver by 109 points. Dalziel has yet to win this year but has seven podiums in 12 starts this season. Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell is seven points behind Dalziel. K-PAX McLaren's Kevin Éstre has 972 points and is fourth in the championship. The most recent winner in PWC, James Davison rounds out the top five with 901 points.

Bentley driver Chris Dyson is sixth in the championship on 892 points. CRP Racing Audi's Mike Skeen is 50 points back of Dyson. Acura's Ryan Eversley has 805 points. Michael Lewis and Henrique Cisneros rounds out the top ten in the GT championship with Butch Leitzinger in 11th. Cisneros is the top GT-A competitor.

Other notable drivers competing in the GT class are Andy Pilgrim, Robert Thorne, Duncan Ende, Christina Nielsen, Bret Curtis and Frank Montecalvo. Austin Cindric will make his PWC GT class debut in the #25 Blancpain Racing Lamborghini.

In GT Cup, Colin Thompson has a commanding lead in the championship with nine wins from 11 starts. Lorenzo Trefethan trails Thompson by 442 points. Sloan Urry is a point back of Trefethan. Preston Calvert and Victor Gomez round out the top five in GT Cup.

Ford Mustang driver Andrew Aquilante leads the GTS championship with 911 points and is the most recent winner in GTS after picking up his first win of 2015 at Road America. His teammate Kurt Rezzetano is 13 points back of Aquilante. Dean Martin makes it a clean sweep of the top three for Ford Mustang drivers, as he is 87 points back of Aquilante. Jack Baldwin trails by 128 points and is fourth in the championship. Michael Cooper rounds out the top five, 148 points back.

Kia Racing's Mark Wilkins has 751 points and is three points ahead of his teammate Ben Clucas. Kris Wilson returns to competition after missing the previous two rounds. Wilson finds himself eighth in the championship with 661 points and has a GTS leading three wins. Jack Roush, Jr. is one point behind Wilson and Lou Gigliotti rounds out the top ten in GTS, 29 points behind Roush, Jr.

GTS will race at 5:40 p.m. on Friday and 11:45 a.m. on Saturday. The GT races will take place at 4:45 p.m. ET on Saturday and noon ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be fourth IndyCar race to take place on August 2nd. The previous three August 2nd race all took place at Michigan with Johnny Rutherford winning their in 1986, Michael Andretti winning there in 1987 and Scott Goodyear winning their in 1992.

Chevrolet has won nineteen consecutive pole positions. Chevrolet has won three consecutive Mid-Ohio pole positions.

Honda has won two of the last three Mid-Ohio races and has taken six of nine podium positions.

The average starting position of a Mid-Ohio winner is 3.466.

The average amount of lead changes at Mid-Ohio is 4.366. The most lead changes at Mid-Ohio is eight, which occurred in 1988 and 2007. The fewest lead changes at Mid-Ohio is one, which occurred in 1986 and 2000.

The average amount of cautions at Mid-Ohio is 1.9 for an average of 7.4 laps. The most cautions in a Mid-Ohio race are 5, which occurred in 2008 and 2010. Nineteen laps were run under caution in 2008.

Possible Milestones:
Should Takuma Sato take the green flag on Sunday, he will make his 100th IndyCar start.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 78 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 68 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 58 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 14 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon wins. A Honda finishes on the podium. Simon Pagenaud will be the top finishing Penske driver. There will be at least two incidents that race control decides to wait and review until after the race. At least five Chevrolets will make the Firestone Fast Six but two of those five will finish outside the top ten. A rookie finishes in the top ten. Sleeper: Charlie Kimball.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How Mid-Ohio Could Have Been On NBCSN

This weekend's Honda 200 from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will be on CNBC and not NBCSN because of the racing going head-to-head with the NASCAR Cup Series race from Pocono.

Head-to-head races happen from time to time and while they are avoidable, sometimes they aren't. Sometimes, two races are just going to have to go head-to-head and with IndyCar and NASCAR sharing a television partner, that will mean one of the two (most likely IndyCar, nine times out of ten) will have to draw the short straw and go to the less desirable destination, which in this case is CNBC.

However, the Mid-Ohio IndyCar race could have been shown on NBCSN if some schedule rearranging occurred.

First, let's look at the current schedule for this Sunday on NBCSN. NASCAR qualifying from Pocono will be re-aired at 10:30 a.m. ET and air until. NASCAR America Sunday will follow for one-hour with Countdown to Green beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET and running for a half hour. The actually Pocono race broadcast is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. ET with green flag occurring shortly after 1:30 p.m. ET. The Honda 200 will be aired on NBCSN immediately after the NASCAR race from Pocono.

Now, let's look at Mid-Ohio's schedule for Sunday. Pro Mazda leads off on Sunday at 8:50 a.m. The IndyCar warm-up session is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. ET. Indy Lights follows at 10:30 a.m. ET with Pirelli World Challenge occurring at 11:50 a.m. ET. The Honda 200 is set to go green at 2:07 p.m. ET.

So how could the Honda 200 been shown on NBCSN? Well, the schedule from Mid-Ohio could have been altered. The Pro Mazda race could still lead off the day but the first change would come in the second slot of on-track action. IndyCar could have decided to ditch the morning warm-up (which is an unnecessary session to begin with) and ran the Indy Lights race at 9:45 a.m. instead of 10:30 a.m. The Indy Lights race is scheduled in a hour and five minute window to complete. Last year's second Indy Lights race from Mid-Ohio took 53 minutes to complete. Instead of giving Indy Lights a window from 9:45-10:50 a.m. to complete their race, they could have given Indy Lights a 50-minute window and ensured the race would be over by 10:35 a.m. ET.

NBCSN could have rearranged their schedule and instead of re-airing NASCAR qualifying, they could have shown NASCAR America Sunday from 10:30-11:00 a.m. The IndyCar broadcast could then follow NASCAR America Sunday with the Honda 200 going green at 11:05 a.m. ET. The race would fall nicely in that brunch window. Since the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio increased to 90 laps in length in 2013, it has taken an hour and 43 minutes and an hour and 52 minutes to complete. Let's say it takes an hour and 47.5 minutes (the average of the last two Mid-Ohio races) to complete this year's Honda 200. With a green flag time of 11:05 a.m., the race would finish at 12:52 p.m. ET. NBCSN could give IndyCar until 1:00 p.m. but be open to give them a few more minutes to make sure the winner and the top three are interviewed before leading into NASCAR coverage. Worse case scenario would be IndyCar goes a little over and the NASCAR green flag occurs a little closer to 1:45 p.m. than 1:30 p.m.

The Pirelli World Challenge race could take the 2:00 p.m. spot originally set-aside for IndyCar and close out the Mid-Ohio weekend.

It would be a crowded schedule with one race leading into the next but I don't think that would be a bad thing for IndyCar, NASCAR or NBCSN. It would be non-stop action. One minute, a person could be watching a side-by-side battle between Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden into turn four at Mid-Ohio and a half hour later they could be watching Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski battling into turn one at Pocono. The good news would be everyone would get to be on NBCSN without having to be farmed out to CNBC.

But it's not going to happen. IndyCar will be on CNBC this weekend, head-to-head against NASCAR on NBCSN. It's not the end of the world. It was somewhat avoidable but it is understandable that these races are going to be head-to-head. This doesn't mean IndyCar should leave NBCSN for greener pastures. If anything, IndyCar should stay because sharing the same television partner as NASCAR means that NBCSN will have little interest having races go head-to-head and will do all they can to limit occasions of head-to-head races. This is just one race on CNBC. The good news is the final two races of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series will not have any competition and will be on NBCSN.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Hometown Heroes

The Brickyard 400 happened. The Hungarian Grand Prix happened. The Spa 24 Hours happened. The Trucks ran on dirt. The scenic Lime Rock Park hosted another race. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Hometown Heroes
This actually came to my mind when IndyCar raced at Iowa last week. IndyCar has raced nine times at Iowa and all the races have been somewhere between mid-June and mid-July. The race is pretty well attended and since joining the schedule in 2007, Iowa has arguably produced some of the best on-track action in IndyCar. The track out in the cornfield has really proven that a great event can happen anywhere despite preconceived notions.

However, when was the last time an Iowan started an IndyCar race?

It has been more recent than you are probably thinking. Twenty-four Iowa-born drivers have made an IndyCar start, the most recent being Alex Figge at Long Beach April 20, 2008. Before Figge was Paul Durant at Phoenix on March 22, 1998.

Why do Alex Figge and Paul Durant matter? I think Figge and Durant illustrate one of IndyCar's problems and that is a lack of hometown heroes. IndyCar runs 16 races on 15 different circuits in 14 different cities. The IndyCar grid will never be 100% Americans again and that's great because the series gets a mix of domestic and international talent but I have felt that Americans should be as close to 50% of the grid as possible. Currently, there are seven Americans who run regularly in IndyCar and they are all decent drivers with ties to different parts of the country.

Graham Rahal is from Ohio, is a huge Ohio State fan and has a race in his backyard at Mid-Ohio. Marco Andretti and Sage Karam are both from Nazareth, Pa and have a race in their backyard at Pocono Raceway. Josef Newgarden hails from Tennessee. Ryan Hunter-Reay was born in Dallas, Texas but for the most part has called Florida home. Charlie Kimball was born in the United Kingdom while his father Gordon worked in Formula One but he was raised in Southern California. And Ed Carpenter was born in Illinois but became a Hoosier at a young age.

Of the seven Americans, only Newgarden doesn't have a race in their state of birth or state in which they grew up. You can say Barber is Newgarden's home race but just because it's the closest to where he is from doesn't mean it's home. That's like saying Sonoma is a home race for a driver from Alaska. And to be fair, Toronto, the lone Canadian round on the IndyCar schedule does have a local son in James Hinchcliffe but as we all know he missed this year's race due to injury. So a fair amount of the IndyCar schedule has at least one driver with local ties to the events.

I am not saying IndyCar has to go where the drivers are from but if IndyCar was truly making an impact on the communities they visit, you would think at least one driver from Iowa would have been inspired to become an IndyCar driver and either be on the Road to Indy or in IndyCar after nearly a decade of IndyCar visiting The Hawkeye State. One way to make new fans is give the people someone to cheer for and if there was an Iowan on the IndyCar grid, it would give someone the locals to cheer for and go to the track to support. It's not like Iowa isn't producing racecar drivers. They are. In the eight years since the first IndyCar race at Iowa, Iowans Landon Cassill, Michael Annett, Joey Gase and Brett Moffitt have all made NASCAR Cup Series debuts.

IndyCar sent James Jakes to Iowa to promote the race this year. No offense to James Jakes but what does he have in common with the people of Iowa? This isn't a Dan Wheldon/St. Petersburg-situation where Wheldon resided in St. Petersburg. The only times Jakes has probably been to Iowa is either for the race, a test sessions or to promote the race. What does he truly know about Iowa and what do the people of Iowa have in common with him that made him the dignitary to visit?

As much as we talk about how IndyCar should return to Phoenix, Michigan, Road America and so on, my question is which driver or drivers are you sending to those markets to promote the race? Who is the Arizonan? It's not Buddy Rice anymore. The 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner has been reduced to a spotter for Ed Carpenter. IndyCar already goes to Michigan and Wisconsin and don't have a local from those states. I am not saying hometown drivers for each IndyCar race is the answer to all of IndyCar's problems but it would help the series.

International drivers can become drivers that the American fan base connect with but it is just going to take longer than a true-blue local driver. Think about baseball and hockey. There are players from all around the globe in Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League and there are international players in both leagues who have become faces of the league. David Ortiz is beloved in Boston and he is from the Dominican Republic. Miguel Cabrera has been one of the best players for the last decade and he is from Venezuela. While Ichiro is nearing the end of his career, he took MLB by storm when he came over from Japan. As for hockey, Russian Alexander Ovechkin is one of the most known players in the NHL. Notable Swedes include Henrik Lundqvist, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Daniel Alfredsson, a recently retired Swede, is arguably the greatest player in the history of the Ottawa Senators, albeit its short history. And we haven't even touched on Zdeno Chara, Jaromir Jagr, Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsuyk.

The one difference as to why international players can go to the MLB or NHL and become local heroes is these players live in these cities and are playing for the people. If they succeed and bring home a title they are adopted as one of the cities' own. IndyCar doesn't have that. The teams aren't spread out around the country and aren't crucial in the communities they are in. Sure, Penske is located in North Carolina, Coyne is in Illinois and Rahal Letterman Lanigan is in Ohio but the rest are in the Indianapolis-area. The drivers don't go and live in Iowa or Detroit or Milwaukee. It is rare to have a Dan Wheldon/St. Petersburg-situation.

There is no quick and easy way for IndyCar to get more hometown heroes. USAC drivers are overlooked. IndyCar could start taking the top two or three drivers from karting from each state and put them in an extensive development academy but that would be an expensive adventure and IndyCar is cheap and doesn't have any interest in developing drivers.

The quickest and easiest way for IndyCar to have hometown drivers at races is to run one or two wild card entries at each round. For example, when IndyCar goes to Iowa, try to get one of the four Iowans mentioned above or get someone who is known in Iowa, such as eight-time Knoxville Nationals winner Donny Schatz. Who would be against Donny Schatz in an IndyCar and who knows? Maybe a couple thousand people who wouldn't have gone to the IndyCar race otherwise would go if Schatz was in the field. I would also like to see what Bryan Clauson could do at a short track and he would be another option for wild card entry at Iowa and Milwaukee. IndyCar already has drivers from the Sonoma-area in J.R. Hildebrand and Townsend Bell, so that would be an easy race for wild cards. Wild cards could also be used to give Indy Lights drivers a taste of IndyCar. It would give the likes of Jack Harvey, Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones and Max Chilton a chance to audition for future suitors.

Once again, IndyCar is cheap and has no interest in developing drivers but IndyCar could have a team that isn't full-time in IndyCar such as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing or Juncos Racing run the wild card programs.

What has made the Indianapolis 500 a great event is the local community getting behind the race. How many other IndyCar races get a fraction of that type of support? IndyCar fans want races at Milwaukee, Road America, Phoenix, Michigan, Richmond and so on but those races can only exist for an extended period of time once the local communities get embrace them. If these races can get strong local support then the series and track promoters do not have to rely on IndyCar fans becoming Deadheads with 10,000 people following the series to every race.

They're Just Bricks
Kyle Busch did burn outs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and people went nuts. Listen. They are just bricks. They aren't holy bricks; they aren't hunger-ending bricks. They are just bricks. No different than the bricks that make up my front porch or are used in buildings across the United States. They are just bricks and Indianapolis Motor Speedway is just a racetrack. Realize that worst things have been done at Indianapolis Motor Speedway than burn outs across the start/finish line. Have you seen pictures of the snake pit?

To be honest, Kyle Busch's celebration, whether it be from Saturday or Sunday, isn't even close to the most disrespectful that happened at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year. This is:
Or maybe this is most disrespectful:
Bricks are inanimate objects. They have no feelings. They can't be offended. What if a driver has an engine failure on the front straightaway and they get oil on the bricks? Did the driver with an engine failure do something offensive? You realize people run across the bricks during the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon at the start of the month of May and there is a chance someone could hurl giving it there all in the event. Maybe we should stop having the Speedway be apart of the Mini-Marathon course in case someone loses their breakfast on the bricks. The Speedway hosts a dog walk in the spring. Who knows what a dog will do on the brick. And you know what, those bricks are exposed to nature 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day and perhaps a bird has a bowel movement and it lands on the bricks. Oh the humanity! We can't let that happen. Perhaps the bricks should be covered in tarp everyday the track isn't being used by racecars.

They are bricks people. No harm, no foul.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Kyle Busch and Sebastian Vettel but did you know...

The #46 Marc VDS BMW Z4 GT3 of Markus Palttala, Lucas Luhr and Nick Catsburg won the Spa 24 Hours. The #47 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Gianmaria Bruni, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Stephane Lemeret and Pasin Lathouras won the Pro-Am Class. The #24 Team Parker Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra of Benny Simonsen, Callum MacLeod, Julian Westwood and Ian Loggie won in the AM Cup class.

Pol Espargaró, Bradley Smith and Katsuyuki Nakasuga won the Suzuka 8 Hours.

Mike Guasch and Tom Kimber-Smith won the IMSA race at Lime Rock Park. Michael Marsal and Dane Cameron won in GTD.

Alex Lynn and Nobuharu Matsushita won in GP2 at the Hungaroring. In GP3, Luca Ghiotto and Kevin Ceccon were victorious.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Indianapolis.

Christopher Bell scored his first career NASCAR Truck Series victory at Eldora.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar begins Astor Cup August at Mid-Ohio.
All three Road to Indy Series and Pirelli World Challenge will also be at Mid-Ohio.
NASCAR heads back to Pocono.
DTM will be in Austria.
V8 Supercars goes to Queensland Raceway.
World Rally treks up to Finland.
World Superbike heads to Malaysia.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I Don't Know What To Make Of It

IndyCar has wrapped up three consecutive oval races. Each race was pretty exciting. Each race had decent amount of viewers on the tube. Attendance is debatable. Each race ended with a fair amount of buzz.

Has IndyCar found something? That question sounds like IndyCar has had a eureka-moment when really it isn't that simple. While some would love IndyCar to go all ovals and rid themselves of road and street courses, that isn't practical and isn't going to happen. But perhaps a few more oval races can help IndyCar grow. If fans are watching oval then maybe it would be smart to add a few more. I am not saying return to having 14 oval races because that was only practical in a short period of time when the series were split and a series was looking to survive against a much larger rival but IndyCar has room to expand their schedule. I know, easier said than done.

However, I think this recent summer surge for IndyCar isn't just because of ovals. Scheduling has it's own part. The same schedule we were ruing just a little over a month ago has evolved into something that is manageable for IndyCar teams. Three races in four weeks gives the teams regular work but isn't stretching them thin and it also allows IndyCar to be regularly available without being a week-in, week-out viewing regimen. After a decent Milwaukee race, fans were treated with a just as exciting if not more exciting Iowa race six days later. Three in four weeks isn't overkill for either the teams or fans and spreading the races out, especially at the start of the season, would be welcomed by all.

Another factor for IndyCar's stretch of growth is none of these races went head-to-head with NASCAR. It's not realistic to have every race avoid going head-to-head with NASCAR but having a fair share not head-to-head is possible and we are see it. Only five times were NASCAR and IndyCar races schedule simultaneously with a sixth occurring due to the NASCAR race at Richmond being postponed to Sunday, the same time as IndyCar at Barber. Last year, four times there were head-to-head races schedule with a fifth occurring when the July Daytona race was postponed to Sunday and went head-to-head with IndyCar at Pocono. In 2013, head-to-head races occurred nine times, or another way to put it, half the IndyCar schedule was head-to-head with NASCAR races.

While some feared the day NASCAR returned to NBC as it seemed like a death blow for IndyCar, it may turn out to be a blessing as it gives the series a common partner who has zero interest in scheduling races head-to-head. Yes, the Mid-Ohio IndyCar race and Pocono NASCAR race will go head-to-head, meaning IndyCar will be on CNBC but this will be the first time IndyCar has been farmed out to CNBC, something almost every other NBC Sports property has had to do at some point (Formula One is on CNBC this weekend, a few Premier League games each year are shown on CNBC, even NHL Playoff games are shown on CNBC). On the bright side, while Mid-Ohio will be on CNBC, the final two races of the IndyCar season at Pocono and Sonoma will not be head-to-head with NASCAR as NASCAR will run the Saturday night prior to Pocono at Bristol and the Cup Series is off the weekend of Sonoma.

So what can IndyCar do to show that the last month hasn't been just been a blip of success but rather the start of something for an extended period of time? Promotion is key but it is how they promote it. You can put the drivers out there but they need a reason to watch these drivers. For example, I have been calling the final three races "Astor Cup August" because this is it. August is the final month of the season. The champion, the driver who will be hoisting the Astor Cup, will be decided in August. Promote that. Promote that with three races to go, mathematically there are fourteen drivers still eligible for the title. IndyCar doesn't need to follow NASCAR's path and make a structural change to promote the final handful of races that will decide the champion. All they have to do is promote the races that already exist. The same way baseball in October is special; IndyCar should make the most of ending the season in August despite it being the worst time to end the season.

Going back to ovals: I think IndyCar has six strong ovals in terms of what occurs on the race track and the series really only needs two to three ovals more with a fourth to get to an even ten ovals being nice but not necessary. IndyCar puts on really good racing on short tracks and in recent years IndyCar has left some good ones such as Richmond and Loudon. It would be nice to see Phoenix and Michigan return with another short track or two being added as well.

For the last decade, we have heard people around IndyCar and NASCAR talk about weeknight races, more specifically, running on one of the two days after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which are labeled as some of the slowest days in North America for sports. However, a decade later and no series has decided to bite the bullet and take a shot on a race the Wednesday or Thursday after the MLB All-Star Game. Why? No track wants it because of the difficulty to get a crowd to come to a racetrack on a weeknight and probably a little fear from the series that running a race during one of the slowest sports days of the year would not provide the bump in viewership that is expected.

But picture this though: IndyCar resurrects Thursday Night Thursday and run at Indianapolis Raceway Park.  I've heard plenty of people say IRP is too small for IndyCar, which I disagree with, but I think IRP is big enough to have a dozen IndyCars race on it at the same time. IndyCar could split the field in half, run two 75-lap heat races with the top four from each advancing to a 125-lap A-Main and the drivers who fail to advance from the heats heading to a 40-lap LCQ with the top four from that rounding out the field. It would be a throwback to short track roots in IndyCar's backyard. Keep the tickets at an affordable price of $15-$20 and you might get a respectable crowd without having 40,000 empty seats saying otherwise.

Ultimately, whether it is an oval, road course or street course, IndyCar needs to do a mix of improving their promotional efforts and rolling the dice. IndyCar needs to differentiate themselves from other series, whether that's running on a Thursday, doubleheaders or one-day shows. Being different isn't a bad thing and IndyCar should embrace it.

I don't know what to make of the last month for IndyCar. The racing has been really good and numbers are up but I don't want to get too excited. It's kind of like being a Philadelphia Phillies fan this season and if they go on an eight-game winning streak. That's nice but they are currently 19 games out of the division lead and 18.5 games out of the second wild card spot. Winning eight straight is nice but to make the playoffs Philadelphia needs an 18 game winning straight and then end the season just as strong. Maybe if the numbers continue to increase over the next season and a half I will start to get excited but for now it's just a drop in the bucket. When that bucket gets closer to half-full then I might start to believe the last month has been something substantially positive for IndyCar.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Jules Bianchi

We lost a good one this weekend. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Jules Bianchi
Jules Bianchi passed away very early Saturday morning in Nice, France, succumbing to injuries suffered at last year's Japanese Grand Prix.

There is so much I want to say and yet I can't. Nearly two days have passed since finding out Bianchi went up to that Great Racetrack in the Sky as I type this and I can't fully form what I want to say.

I recommend reading Motorsports Talk's Tony DiZinno's piece on the passing of Jules Bianchi. He nails it on the head.

I don't want to say Jules Bianchi would have been world championship. There is no way to know if he was going to be world champion. But I will say this: We didn't see his best. Ninth in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix wasn't going to be the top item on Jules Bianchi's résumé had he raced for another two decades. Jules Bianchi was going to be do great things. Whether it was winning the World Drivers' Championship, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, winning the Indianapolis 500 or hell becoming the first European-born NASCAR Cup champion, Bianchi was going to doing something great. Unfortunately, we will never know exactly what he would have accomplished. We are left grasping, trying to find the right words to capture the career of a man who did not get a sufficient amount of time to accomplish anything.

I hoped he was going to wake up. I hoped he was going to regain all physical and cognitive functions. I hoped he was going to get behind the wheel of a car. I hoped for the Hail Mary pass. I hoped to see Jules Bianchi define the odds and become the example for never giving up no matter how bad things were going to get.

While he never woke up, while he never got back behind the wheel of a car while, Jules Bianchi left us, he still is an example to never give up. Two hundred eighty-five days. Jules Bianchi fought for 285 days. Jules Bianchi did not lose. He gave it his all. He set an example we should all live by.

I don't think the #17, the number Jules Bianchi selected to use in his final year of Formula One, should be retired. I don't believe in retiring numbers. Right now, there is probably a young person in France who is starting karting and admired Jules Bianchi. Her name could be Sophie or Emma or it could be a gentleman named Paul or Thierry and from this day forward will have the #17 on their kart and who knows? Ten years from now they could be entering Formula One and will want to continue to honor the man who inspired her or him to become drivers and follow their dreams and want to use the #17. I wouldn't want to rob them or anyone of that opportunity to honor their hero.

This world proved once again that while another young soul was lost, it is all ok. Max Chilton, Bianchi's teammate at Marussia last year, scored his first career Indy Lights victory at Iowa Speedway of all places. What would Jules Bianchi have thought seeing his former teammate driving an oval? Would it have piqued his interest to try them? Would he think Chilton was nuts for trying ovals in the first place? Regardless of what he would have thought, I am sure Jules Bianchi had a front row seat to Chilton's victory and I am sure Jules Bianchi will have an eye on many future races, whether they are Formula One or Max Chilton competing in Indy Lights, FIA WEC or IndyCar down the road.

May Jules Bianchi rest comfortably for eternity.

Unfortunately, They Come In Threes
Bernat Martinez and Daniel Rivas Fernandez lost their lives competing in the MotoAmerica race, a support race to the World Superbikes weekend, at Laguna Seca. Martinez was 35 and Fernandez was 27. Both riders hailed from Spain. Martinez was fifth in the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Ryan Hunter-Reay and Max Chilton but did you know...

Chaz Davies swept the World Superbike races from Laguna Seca.

Kyle Busch picked up his third NASCAR Cup win in four races as he won at Loudon.

João Paulo de Oliveira won the Super Formula race from Fuji.

Weiron Tan won the Pro Mazda race from Iowa.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Loudon.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Spa 24 Hours.
Formula One heads to the Hungaroring.
NASCAR runs the Brickyard 400.
The Trucks will be at Eldora on Wednesday.
The Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona classes head to Lime Rock Park.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

First Impression: Iowa 2015

1. Ryan Hunter-Reay gets out of the rut and picks up his first win of the season and third career victory at Iowa. Honda might not have qualifying pace but they have race pace and that's what really matters. He was up front all race and gave the top Chevrolet's a run for their money despite being a few miles per hour slower than them in practice and qualifying. Hunter-Reay likely won't win the title this year but he had an awful start to the 2011 season before winning at Loudon and ending strong and 2012 turned out to be his best season ever. It's never too soon to start looking toward the future and this might just be the cornerstone for a spectacular 2016 season for Hunter-Reay.

2. After having a great race at Milwaukee only to finish fifth, Josef Newgarden had another stellar drive, as he was able to keep up with the Ganassi and Penske entries. He has a great season and while there have been down spots for CFH Racing, Newgarden has been able to comeback from them. The negatives haven't piled up. The combined resources have done wonders for him and even Ed Carpenter and Luca Filippi.

3. Sage Karam gets his first career podium and pisses a bunch of people off in the process. He's 20. He arguably was over-aggressive at times (he was blocking Jack Hawksworth who was a lap down) and he needs to relax but you can't blame him for taking advantage of every chance he gets. He's only 20 but in the results driven world of IndyCar, especially driving for Ganassi, he can't take a year to just learn the tracks and car. He has to show results now. Ganassi isn't giving him two years to learn and that might hurt him. Look at Newgarden. He struggled his first two years. He made mistakes but Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman stood behind him and now look. Karam has a loaded gun to his head and has to get results now without tearing up equipment or else he will end up like Ganassi's other development drivers (see Alex Lloyd). It's a good run for Karam and I am sure he will have Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti talk to him about what he did right and what he can improve on.

4. Another top five for Graham Rahal as he overcame gearbox issues that put him a lap down at one point. He has overcome adversity a few times this year and he is having a career season. I think mental maturity is overlooked when it comes to racers. We just assume that when a driver starts at a young age such as Rahal that they will be as experienced with a 100 starts at 23 years old as a driver with a 100 starts at 29 years old and I don't think that is the case. You might have the same amount of starts but it's all about growing up as a person, not as a driver. I don't think it is a coincidence that Rahal's turn around in results occurs right after getting engaged. He has settled down a little. He has found someone he loves and perhaps that comfort outside the car translate to being more comfortable behind the wheel.

5. Two Andretti cars in the top five as Carlos Muñoz comes home fifth. Another good drive for him and watching Muñoz you can tell he is aggressive but in a different manner than Karam. Muñoz has been aggressive since his first start in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 but what separates his aggression to Karam is it comes out in the corners, not on the straights. Karam is aggressive on straightaways and that's what I think annoys drivers. Karam is going wheel-to-wheel with guys who are inches away from the wall and any slight nudge will lead to a hard impact. Muñoz will throw a car low and ride the razor's edge around a corner but on the straights he is polite and will let a driver go and fight to get them back in the next corner. It's interesting to think about because when drivers talk about Muñoz they admire him but Karam has rubbed one too many drivers the wrong way, no pun intended.

6. Ed Carpenter brings the car home in sixth and was most notably upset with Karam. This has been a nice rebound for Carpenter after his first three races. It's a shame he only get's one more start this season. He has to be the driver lobbying the hardest for IndyCar to add another two to four oval races. I wish we could see him more because six races aren't enough.

7. Marco Andretti made it three Andretti cars in the top seven and six Americans in the top seven. This is what Andretti does: He finishes in the top ten. While he isn't winning races at the pace of his father and grandfather, Marco brings the car home and gets results. And I would throw him into the same boat as Rahal. Sure, he got a lot of starts by a young age but as a person he matured at an average rate. Now as he approaches 30 he is a different driver than he was at 23 and that might have to do with him becoming more settled off the track. He is still very young and race victories and championships might still be in his future.

8. Let's stop for a second and realize that six Americans finished in the top seven. And yet all I can think about is that Penske is going to hire Josef Newgarden and move him and the Verizon sponsorship to the NASCAR Cup Series once Sprint leaves and Sage Karam will be moved to Cup as well by Ganassi as he expands to three cars. If only J.R. Hildebrand, Conor Daly and Matthew Brabham could get full-time rides and Bryan Clauson could get a shot at a short track. There are talented Americans out there and they deserve opportunities. IndyCar will never be 100% American drivers again and I am ok with that because IndyCar has always had international ties but IndyCar needs Americans to survive. Champ Car struggled for many reasons but having one American didn't help. I have always felt half of the full-time grid needs to be Americans but just over a quarter of the grid isn't bad either. This was a great night for American drivers and hopefully there are more to come.

9. Another solid run for Ryan Briscoe. He needs to be a full-time driver. He keeps driving from the back to the front and imagine what he and James Hinchcliffe could do if they were teammates.

10. Speaking of from the back to the front, Sébastien Bourdais went from 24th after brushing the wall in qualifying to ninth. He somewhat used pit strategy as he kept stopping under the first caution to top off to be able to go a handful of laps longer than the leaders and it worked out. He and KV Racing have meshed well and I hope their partnership continues for quite sometime.

11. Here we are, the 11th thought and we have yet to mention a Penske entry. That all changes now. Will Power finished tenth but he was never in contention. He started sixth but he just couldn't hang with those front-runners as the night wore on. Same with Hélio Castroneves, who came home 11th despite winning pole position. He led a fair amount of laps but faded. Simon Pagenaud faded once the green flag fell and he has done that a bunch this season. He qualifies well but he loses five to ten spots before the first stint is over. Then there was Juan Pablo Montoya, who had a suspension failure end his night before the sun even set on lap nine and now the championship is wide open. I was starting to wonder if Montoya was going to have the title locked up before Sonoma even with double points. Now that looks certainly unlikely. Three races to go and Montoya has led the championship from the start. Will he be able to go wire-to-wire as the championship leader?

12. Shoutout to Tristan Vautier coming home 12th and Jack Hawksworth in 13th. James Jakes finished 15th.

13. Let's get to the rest of the Ganassi drivers. Tony Kanaan is off like gangbusters at the start and then he has a mechanical issue end his night while in the top five. Scott Dixon has mechanical issues and his night is ruined but he was able to finish the race. Charlie Kimball had a spin off of turn two end his night. As much as it seems Penske and Ganassi have dominated this season, they haven't While Penske and Ganassi dominate qualifying, when it comes to the race, the other teams seem to be able to run with the big dogs. On a night when Dixon and Kanaan were given a free race to make up as many points as possible on Montoya, they were snake-bitten and they are probably ruing this night.

14. A week off before the start of Astor Cup August. Scott Dixon will be happy IndyCar is heading to his house, Mid-Ohio before Pocono and Sonoma. While it sucks the season ends so soon it has been a great battle and after this night I can't see this not being decided at Sonoma.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Morning Warm-Up: Iowa 2015

Tony Kanaan led the way on Friday at Iowa
As with Milwaukee last week, both qualifying and the race will occur on the same day at Iowa, meaning two practice sessions were completed on Friday in preparation for the 13th round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Tony Kanaan was fastest in both sessions with his top lap coming in the second session at 17.7544 seconds (181.273 MPH). Kanaan is looking for his second career Iowa victory and the Brazilian has finished on the podium in the last five Iowa races. Scott Dixon made it a 1-2 for Ganassi on Friday. He was 0.0043 seconds behind Kanaan. Last year, Kanaan and Dixon led a combined 264 of 300 laps before being passed late by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden and having to settle for third and fourth. Will Power was third quickest in practice. While Power averages a starting position of 5.5 at Iowa, his average finish is 14.8 in six starts. Simon Pagenaud was fourth on Friday as the Frenchman looks for his second podium of the season. He finished third at Belle Isle 1. Pagenaud has never finished on the podium in an oval race. He has two top five finishes on ovals. He finished fifth at Iowa in 2012 and fourth at Texas last year. Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top five. The top five were covered by 0.0786 seconds.

Charlie Kimball was sixth. Last year, Kimball finished a career-best tenth at Iowa. His average finish at Iowa is 13.8. The most recent winner in IndyCar, Sébastien Bourdais, was seventh fastest as he looks for his second consecutive victory and third on the season. His best finish in two Iowa starts is 14th. Hélio Castroneves was eight fastest as he searches for his first victory of 2015 and tries to stay in the championship hunt. Ed Carpenter is looking for consecutive top ten finishes after starting the season with three consecutive finishes outside the top twenty. Carpenter has two consecutive top fives at Iowa. Sage Karam bookended the top ten for Ganassi. The rookie was 0.174 seconds back of his elder teammate.

Josef Newgarden made it a clean sweep of the top eleven for Chevrolet. The top Honda was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was 12th fastest, 0.2769 seconds back of Kanaan. No Honda was able to run a lap in the 17-second bracket during practice. Justin Wilson and Marco Andretti followed their teammate Hunter-Reay on the timesheet. Graham Rahal rounded out the top fifteen, 0.3331 seconds back. Rahal has consecutive podium finishes. He has never had three consecutive podiums in his career.

Stefano Coletti was the slowest Chevrolet in 16th, as he was 0.0019 seconds back of Rahal. Carlos Muñoz was 17th followed by James Jakes. Takuma Sato was 19th with rookie Gabby Chaves rounding out the top twenty and sandwiched between AJ Foyt Racing cars, as Jack Hawksworth was 21st. The Dale Coyne Racing entries of Tristan Vautier and Pippa Mann were 22nd and 23rd respectively. Ryan Briscoe rounded out the timesheet, as the Australian was 0.9396 seconds back of his former Ganassi teammate.

Qualifying for the Iowa Corn Indy 300 will take place at 4:00 p.m. ET. NBCSN's coverage of the race will begin at 8:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 8:50 p.m. ET.