Tuesday, March 3, 2015

2015 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: A.J. Foyt Racing

After winning their first race in over a decade in 2013, A.J. Foyt Racing took a step back in their second season with Takuma Sato behind the wheel of the #14 ABC Supply Co. Honda. The team will expand to two cars as ABC Supply Co. expands their support and the Texas-based team will bring in sophomore Jack Hawksworth.

2014 AJ Foyt Racing Review:
Wins: 0.
Best Finish: 4th (Sonoma).
Poles: 2 (St. Petersburg, Belle Isle 2).
Final Championship Position: 18th (Takuma Sato), 34th (Martin Plowman).

2015 Drivers:

Takuma Sato
Sato started off 2014 on a bright note with pole position and had he worked pit strategy a little bitter, the Japanese driver might have had his second career victory but he had to settle for seventh. He had another season full of accidents. Five of his seven retirements were because of accidents and he was the first retirement in three consecutive races during the summer. The only bright spot in the middle of the season for Sato was pole position at Belle Isle. He made a slight rebound in California with back-to-back top ten finishes at Sonoma and Fontana, only the seventh time Sato scored consecutive top tens.

Numbers to Remember: 14. The amount of starts away Sato is from hitting the century mark in IndyCar. Mid-Ohio is tentatively the race where he would reach that milestone.

29. Amount of finishes outside the top twenty for Sato in his IndyCar career. That is just over a third of his career finishes (33.72%).

16.6. Sato's average finish in the IndyCar Championship Standings.

Predictions/Goals: Don't hold your breath on a big change from Sato. Expect the usual four to five races outside the top twenty. Sato will have a handful of races where he is quick and at the front of every practice and qualifying session and he will come through with a top five but those races will be few and far between. It's hard to imagine Sato getting a fourth year with Foyt if his third is anything like his first two.

Jack Hawksworth
The British driver moves over from Bryan Herta Autosport to A.J. Foyt Racing for his second season in IndyCar. Hawksworth's best finish in his rookie season was third in Houston 2. The 2012 Star Mazda champion had a great run at Long Beach end with contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay while he started second at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and led a bunch of laps before settling for seventh. He finished sixth in Houston 1 and Toronto 2. The Brit picked up his first career top ten on an oval at Milwaukee where he finished tenth. Hawksworth's did have a hiccup when he suffered a heart contusion after a practice accident Pocono forcing him to miss that race, however Hawksworth did not miss any other races.

Numbers to Remember: 4. Amount of Fast Twelve appearances for Hawksworth in 2014.

2. Hawksworth had two retirements in 2014.

11. Hawksworth was running at the finish of 11 consecutive race to end the season. Sato was running at the finish of 11 races all of 2014.

Predictions/Goals: Hawksworth finished a position ahead of Sato in 2014, 16 points clear and he missed a race. The goal should be to beat his teammate again in 2015. The introduction of aero kits will throws a monkey wrench in everything we saw the last three but the one thing we did learn is Foyt does have the equipment and personnel to compete with the best but they have lack a driver who can consistently bring the car home in one piece. Hawksworth might be that guy and, depending on who comes out on top in the aero kit battle, he could break into top fifteen of the championship.

The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons gets underway on Sunday March 29th. ABC's coverage will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Uniqueness

One day of March in the books and another few inches of snow on the ground in my neck of the woods. Spring will be here in a matter of weeks, as will Formula One and IndyCar but until then it's the final days of trudging through below freezing temperatures, bundled up in scarves and mittens. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Take Over Leap Day
Mark Miles keeps talking about how he wants the IndyCar season to end on Labor Day weekend and have the IndyCar season finale as synonymous with the September holiday as the Indianapolis 500 is with Memorial Day.

Why not try to own Leap Day? No one has ever tried to own Leap Day because it's only once every four years but that could play into IndyCar's favor with the right approach. It could be a quadrennial race with a big, seven-figure payout. Of course the series would have to find a sponsor who also sees the benefits and the uniqueness of a Leap Day race to fund the endeavor.

Location poises an issue for a Leap Day race. First off, it's still February and most of the United States hasn't started thawing out. Second, next year February 29th falls on a Monday. A Monday afternoon race would draw no spectators or television audience but a Monday night race has promise meaning the Leap Day race would have to be run on an oval. Road courses wouldn't be completely ruled out of hosting the Leap Day race. Leap Day 2020 falls on a Saturday meaning a road course would be possible but Leap Day 2024 is a Thursday, which would probably have to be an oval. In the likelihood the race falling on a weeknight, it would have to be run as a one-day show. A two-hour practice in the afternoon followed by qualifying around an hour before the race with green flag by 7:30 p.m. ET. When Leap Day falls on a weekend, it could be treated like a normal race weekend.

Venue rotation might not be a bad thing though. All other quadrennial events such as the Olympics and World Cup rotate and maybe, just maybe IndyCar can grow to the point that they have tracks bidding to host the Leap Day Grand Prix. The real success of the event would come down to the purse. The winner's cut would have to be in the ballpark to what the Indianapolis 500 pays to win to make the race special. Once every four years the drivers and teams getting an extra shot at a special pay day could be intriguing.

Think about Leap Day. It's normally just that blip every four years that makes a year 366 days long but we always know it's going to come and went it is going to happen. If IndyCar tied an event to that date and always had a race on February 29th, it will eventually start to stand out. The uniqueness of the race would get make it as synonymous with the Leap Day as the Indianapolis 500 is to Memorial Day.

IndyCar has raced on Leap Day before. The 2004 IRL season opener from Homestead-Miami Speedway fell on Leap Day. Sam Hornish, Jr. won the race on his Team Penske debut with Hélio Castroneves finishing second and Dan Wheldon rounding out the top podium. Tora Takagi finished fourth with Tomas Scheckter rounding out the top five. The next time Leap Day is scheduled to fall on a Sunday is 2032.

Oh Mexico
Remember when NASCAR went to Mexico City? When the Grand National Series first went to Autodrómo Hermanos Rodríguez it quickly became my favorite race of the year because it was unique. After that first race in 2005 with Martin Truex, Jr. coming out on top but not before Jorge Goeters stole the show by stealing pole position in front of the home crowd, I honestly thought the Cup Series was going to be in Mexico the following year.

Flash forward ten years and not only is the Cup series not in Mexico, the Grand National series stopped going after four years before moving to Montreal where the race around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve lasted six years. Currently, the only national touring division race to occur outside of the United States is the Truck race at Mosport.

After seeing the weather in Atlanta this weekend, I wish NASCAR were going to Mexico. The NASCAR media talks about how good the NASCAR road courses races are, why not add another? There are plenty of tracks that could drop a race to make room for Mexico City. Pocono, Michigan, Dover, Loudon and Kansas don't all have to have two Cup races. Keep the ball rolling after Daytona and go to Mexico City. From restrictor plates to road course. It would fit in perfectly with NASCAR's western swing of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana. Plus, NASCAR has the emergence of Daniel Suárez and if he ends up being the next big thing at Joe Gibbs Racing, a race in Mexico City could be even bigger than that race in 2005.

NASCAR is never going to return to Mexico but they have nothing to lose by sending the Cup series south of the border for an additional road course race. If only they had seen that a decade ago.

Speaking of NASCAR
Bravo for shortening the Grand National race at Atlanta to 250 miles. It was completed in an hour and forty minutes. Almost every NASCAR race should be shortened. Other than the Daytona 500, Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 no Cup race should be longer than 350 miles.

Television time is precious and it's probably the main reason why each series has knockout qualifying. Knockout qualifying doesn't exist for the drama of cars not making the next round and multiple cars on track but because it can be packaged nicely in a one-hour TV window instead of dragging on for an hour and a half or two hours.

Major League Baseball games average over three hours and they are doing all they can to pick up the pace to take a half hour off the average length and NASCAR should be doing the same. Truck races should take 90 minutes to complete, Grand National races two hours and Cup races around two and a half hours. Less can be more and I think that is the case for NASCAR.

Winners From The Weekend
You know about Jimmie Johnson but did you know...

Jamie Whincup and Fabian Coulthard split the Saturday races at V8 Supercars season opener at Adelaide with James Courtney winning the Sunday race and leaving with the championship lead.

Jack Aitken and Weiron Tan split the Pro Mazda Winterfest round from Barber Motorsports Park. Aitken took the Winterfest title by a point over Tan.

Frenchman Nico Jamin won the U.S. F2000 Winterfest title after taking the final race at Barber. Victor Franzoni won the first race.

Ryan Dungey won the second Supercross race from Atlanta.

Kevin Harvick won the Grand National race from Atlanta. Matt Crafton won the Truck race.

Coming Up This Weekend
First, Daylight Savings begins next Sunday across most of the United States so don't forget to set your clocks forward.
The Pirelli World Challenge season opener takes place at Austin.
NASCAR makes their traditional late-winter visit to Las Vegas.
World Rally comes to North America for Rally México.
World Touring Car Championship season kicks off in Argentina.
Supercross heads to Daytona for Bike Week.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Three Years Away, Many Different Views

We are 1039 days away from the year of 2018 but IndyCar fans are keeping an eye on it like it's tomorrow. The next generation of IndyCar is tentatively set to appear in 2018 and this winter Racer.com has run "IndyCar 2018," a series from those within motorsports on what they think the series should look like.

Seventeen articles have been posted and more are sure to follow. Key figures such as Mario Andretti, Will Power, Rick Mears, Bobby Unser, Gordon Kimball, Randy Bernard and T.E. McHale have all weighed in. As a motorsports fan I want to see IndyCar succeed and have been reading each article posted in the series. Sometimes I agree with what others think, other times I don't. We all have our different opinions and none of them are necessarily wrong.

I've been wanting to post my responses to these articles for sometime and recently asked on Twitter if people were interested in reading what I thought. I don't have a large following but a few people said they were interested and since I didn't have anyone say I shouldn't waste my time, here we are. I am not going to cover all my thoughts from all 17 articles rather start with the most recent five and maybe down the line I will go back to some of the earlier articles.

I start with Jeremy Dale, former RuSport team manager.

I agree that the cars need anti-stall. There should never be a full-course caution for a driver who had a lazy spin, all by themselves. Dale says fewer full-course cautions would mean fewer distributions in racing. It doesn't look good when a race needs to be brought to a halt because a driver in 12th spun going into a corner and couldn't keep it going. Have you ever played a pick up basketball game and had that one guy constantly stop play to tie his shoes or get a drink of water or check his phone? That's what it feels like at times.

I also agree that IndyCar needs to take better advantage of race coverage online and use it as a "companion" to the traditional broadcast. Television is changing. There is no reason races should be geo-blocked from fans around the world. Make the product available to fans around the globe. The Bathurst 12 Hour did a stellar job earlier this month. IndyCar and their TV partners needs to stop trying to keep people from wanting to view IndyCar from doing so.

A few things I disagree with Dale on: First is abandoning all ovals except the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indianapolis 500. He is right that no oval is a model for success other than Indianapolis but I don't think that means give up on them. IndyCar and the tracks need to work together to get more people to show up. Iowa has experienced a rough patch the last few years but it wasn't too long ago they had full grandstands. The other four ovals: Texas, Milwaukee, Fontana and Pocono are on life support. Andretti Sports Marketing has done well with Milwaukee but it keeps moving dates and the start time will be 4:00 p.m. local time on a Sunday in 2015. Fontana also keeps bouncing around and has been run two of the past three years in temperatures that roasted spectators. Pocono had a good comeback year but Fourth of July traffic hurt the second year and now the race has moved to late August. I will cover more on what I think should be done with these ovals in a post for a later date.

I understand that most fans associate ovals with NASCAR but why let those lines define what IndyCar is? Why put the series in a corner even more and completely rule out an entire track discipline? It isn't set in stone that NASCAR is for ovals and IndyCar is for road and street courses. IndyCar needs to be themselves. IndyCar is ovals and road courses and street courses. One part of their identity might not be as known but instead of acting like it doesn't exist, get behind it more.

Dale is spot on that IndyCar needs to be at Road America, Laguna Seca and Austin. I would even throw in Watkins Glen. He is also right that most street courses don't last. Long Beach and Toronto are the only ones to last a step of time and St. Petersburg is developing into Long Beach and Toronto status. Cleveland, Surfers Paradise and Vancouver are also in the same air as Long Beach and Toronto but sadly they are no longer on the schedule. Other than those six street courses, most street courses last a handful of years: Baltimore, San Jose, Las Vegas twice, Denver twice, Miami three times, Houston three times, need I go on? IndyCar can't rely on street courses and bounce around from market to market until they have been everywhere. Road America, Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen have been around for over a half a century and aren't going anywhere anytime soon. They might not be in metropolitan areas but they are destinations that have stood the test of time. If fans make it a tradition of going to these tracks each year, it will become a habit.

On-track, IndyCar has six really good ovals and IndyCar really only needs 2-3 ovals to round out the schedule, preferably some mix of Phoenix, Michigan, Richmond, Loudon or Darlington. Why not go to a place such as Darlington? As Dale points out, Barber Motorsports Park is a half hour from Talladega and has drawn great crowds each year. Who is to say Darlington wouldn't work?

The schedule doesn't have to be exactly 50-50 in track disciplines. The current breakdown is 60-40 in favor of road/street courses but if you broke it down three ways, there are six ovals, five road courses and four street circuits. If IndyCar can keep their current slate of races and add Road America, Laguna Seca, Austin, Watkins Glen, Phoenix, Michigan and Richmond, I think that's a IndyCar schedule we can all be happy with.

And of course, I agree with Dale on the schedule being way too short. Eight months of racing from the weekend after the Super Bowl to the middle of October would be a great.

Next is Ryan Kowalewski, a 29-year old engineer, business student and fan.

He pushes being active on social media and I can't disagree. I do think IndyCar has done a good job in the past on their social media activities but where could they improve? IndyCar's Twitter account is professional and it should be professional but maybe it would be better as business causal. The Los Angeles Kings have one of the best Twitter accounts in team sports. It's edgy and it's had it's slip ups but to stand out on social media you can't just be Tweeting every time a new article is posted on the IndyCar website or when drivers are at Mardi Gras. Provide commentary on things whether it's during a race and someone makes a bone head move. Don't say, "Caution for contact between Sato and Jakes." Try "Sato went for a gap that never existed and has ended his day as well as Jakes." Show that there is a real person with emotions and whit behind the IndyCar Twitter account and it might get noticed by other media platforms.

Kowalewski is spot on again on not showing races tape-delayed. If people find out the result before seeing the race, most likely they aren't going to watch the race. You can use the example of the Indianapolis 500 in the Indianapolis market but that is one city for one race and that has become an Indianapolis tradition and is not a predictor for how other major American markets want to watch IndyCar.

I disagree that the current generation won't be captivated by innovation. Yes, more and more people are less dependent on cars but I think a race with a variety of cars, from hybrid to hydrogen, diesel to ethanol might turn some heads. I am also not sure a canopy is a must for the next car. If an aero kit manufacture wants to include a canopy in their design, fine with me. I do agree with electronic screens on the car but not for sponsors or pictures but for race position. Take IMSA's Leader Lights System for example. And even better, what if the car numbers were outlined with lights so they stood out on the cars. I bet they would look good at the night races but I am not sure if they would be noticeable at day races but that would be something to work on.

Next is everyone former driver and current agent Stefan Johansson.

Let's just start off the bat with Johansson's idea for having a huge prize for winning the Triple Crown. It's sounds nice but you can't just pull $15-20 million out of your backside. I am sure a large purse would grab the attention of top drivers but that money has to come from somewhere and IndyCar isn't landing those big NFL or NASCAR-sized TV contracts.

He brings up an interesting point about there not being enough Americans competing regularly for victories. He's not wrong. Americans do like to watch Americans. The problem with IndyCar is they are being too particular in where the Americans are coming from. If you take all the Americans that participated in Road to Indy's Winterfest at NOLA and added in all the Americans with IndyCar seats for 2015, that's only 22 drivers and that's not including Indianapolis 500 one-offs Bryan Clauson, Buddy Lazier and maybe Ryan Phinny; drivers currently unattached such as Zach Veach, Matthew Brabham, Austin Cindric, Ryan Booth, Peter Portante, Adrian Starrantino and Clark Toppe or those who have rides but just didn't compete in Winterfest such as Neil Alberico and Kyle Connery. That's 34 drivers, more than an Indianapolis 500 grid but spread across four divisions. It's not the 1960s but that doesn't mean a USAC driver doesn't have what it takes. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have turned out to be mighty fine road course drivers and so was some guy named A.J. Foyt and they all started on dirt. IndyCar officials and team owners just need to give any potential prospect from USAC time. Patience is a virtue IndyCar must have if they want the amount of Americans participating to grow.

The Swede mentions adding 200-300 horsepower and I think we all want to see a more oomph on track. I don't agree with him that if the entire field is covered by 1.3 seconds, the product is dumbed down. What if you raise the horsepower and everyone is still covered by 1.3 seconds? And what is the correct interval that the field should be covered to show the field isn't dumbed down? Two seconds? Two and a half? You can't say there should be a certain margin that covers first to last on the timesheet and if it's lower than that then it is too easy. IndyCar has some talented drivers and maybe they deserve a little more appreciation.

Johansson and I are also in the same boat when it comes to drifting. I don't get it either.

Finally, he hits the nail on the head when he questions the leadership of IndyCar. He cites the leaders in NASCAR and Formula One as being racing enthusiast and questions how much IndyCar's brass cares when they look to Gene Simmons and Boston Consulting Group for help. Sure, every now and then it's good to get a fresh pair of eyes on things (see Randy Bernard) but more times than not it's not going to work out and IndyCar keeps bringing new people in but they don't know the series or motorsports in general. How is that going to help you?

I am going to quickly breeze over Derek Daly's piece because it's so all over the place that it makes Milka Duno at Chicagoland look good.

Yes, there is no quick fix to IndyCar. Yes, IndyCar needs more American (Let me quickly clarify what I mean by more American. I've always felt that IndyCar needs about half of its full-time grid, about 11-12 drivers, and 2/3 of the Indianapolis 500 to be Americans. It's strength in numbers. The current crop of Americans is good but there is room to add a few more. Foreign drivers are great. I think foreign drivers can be popular with American fans and they should have a presence as well. But IndyCar can't go the Champ Car route and have only one or two Americans on the grid. IndyCar needs a healthy portion of their grid to be American with a healthy portion waiting in the wings in the Road to Indy).

Also, I think Daly has a point with incentivizing teams hiring Americans. The series needs to do all they can to encourage teams to hire American talent. However, you can't keep giving out the incentive if a team keeps an American on board. For example, I don't think Andretti Autosport should keep getting incentives for keeping Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay year in and year out. I do think Andretti Autosport should get some type of bonus if they promote Zach Veach or Matthew Brabham or KV should get some type of bonus if they hire someone such as Conor Daly or Townsend Bell. Limit how a team gets a bonus. It should be a bonus for teams to hire young Americans and for teams to hire American veterans.

Now to where it's fall off its rocker:
Let's not worry about rebranding the Road to Indy series.

I am not sure you can tell the crews they can't have sponsorship on their uniforms.

The idea to not use the term "grand prix" for IndyCar events because it's a "Formula One term" is absurd and Daly contradicts himself five paragraphs later saying "blatantly copy" Formula One's podium celebrations. How does that make any sense?

And you can't say only the Indianapolis 500 winner is allowed to kiss the yard of bricks and every other winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can't. One, because it sounds childish and two it was started by Dale Jarrett and his crew after they won the Brickyard. Let it go and allow everybody to kiss the yard of bricks if they want to.

I don't think every road/street course race should feature a standing start. I think standings starts should be used where necessary (Long Beach, Toronto, IMS road course).

To end on a positive from Daly's article, IndyCar need cranes at all there road and street course races. IndyCar should have an "official crane of IndyCar" sponsor that gets signage around the track and is mentioned anytime a car needs to be moved to behind the barrier.

Finally, the most recent IndyCar 2018 article was from IUPUI students.

They are spot on that IndyCar should have worked to fix the standings start issues and not just given up on them.

I think a new track record at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would generate some attention. Speed is awesome and if we have two or three drivers going out and keep putting down jaw-dropping numbers, it will turn some heads. Imagine if ESPN had a week to promote the Indianapolis 500 fresh off a new track record and kept reshowing the clip of someone running four-lap average at say 237.3 MPH?

I don't necessarily agree that IndyCar has to have a women driver on the grid. IndyCar should have the best drivers possible and if that includes one woman or two or three women than great but there shouldn't be a women driver to be on the grid just to say, "hey, we have a women driver on the grid." Do I think Simona de Silvestro should be in IndyCar? Yes. Do I think IndyCar should have a development program for young female drivers? Yes. I think they dropped the ball with True Car because they were interested in developing female drivers and supported Katherine Legge, Ashley Freiberg and Shannon McIntosh in IndyCar, Star Mazda and U.S. F2000 respectively. Having a women driver open the door for IndyCar to an important demographic and IndyCar needs all the fans they can get, whether they are men or women.

The single-day doubleheader is a good idea. World Superbike has a good format with a race one and two being split by World Supersport. IndyCar could do the same with an Indy Lights in the middle and it could all be packaged into one television window. You could have an 80-minute IndyCar race than a 10-minute intermission followed by a 35-minute Indy Lights race than a 10-minute intermission and another 80-minute IndyCar race in a four-hour TV window. It would get Indy Lights on live television and make that series most enticing to sponsors. I don't think every IndyCar road/street course race should be a doubleheader but if you keep Belle Isle as it is and made Toronto a single-day doubleheader next year as well as Mid-Ohio, I think it would be worth it.

I love the idea of heat races but the heats have to mean something. You can't just have heat races to set the field, you need them to have consequences as in, if you don't finish high enough you don't make the main event and won't score championship points. IndyCar currently isn't large enough for heat races. NASCAR is the perfect size for heat races. I have been a proponent for NASCAR to use heat races, especially at short tracks. But it doesn't work if IndyCar only has two dozen cars showing up to each race. Iowa tried them and there isn't enough congestion with 8-10 cars on track to make the races interesting. If IndyCar had 30-40 cars attempting oval races than I think heats would be a great option.

As a college student, I can vouch that we are broke. Honest to God, being a college student is just above being homeless. You know about my scholarship idea for IndyCar but there should be discounted tickets for college students. You can't just let college kids in for free. We might be broke but dropping $20 on an IndyCar ticket isn't the end of the world.

I look forward to what is next from Racer's IndyCar 2018 series. Let me know what you think about the IndyCar 2018 articles and this post on Twitter.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

2015 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

After a difficult 2014 season which has seen a lot of personnel changes as well as the lost of National Guard sponsorship after one season, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing can only go up in 2015. After running one car for majority of 2014, the team will continue to do the same in 2015.

2014 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Belle Isle 1).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 2nd (Belle Isle 2).
Final Championship Position: 19th (Graham Rahal), 24th (Oriol Servià), 28th (Luca Filippi)

2015 Driver:

Graham Rahal
Graham Rahal returns for his third season with his father's team. At 26 years old, Rahal's career has already experienced the highest of high and lowest of lows. Outside of his second place finished at Belle Isle 1 last year, the Ohioan massed a total of four top tens through 18 races with his a fifth at Mid-Ohio, his home race being the only other bright spot in his season. His average finish last year was 15th and Rahal finished a career worst 19th in the championship when running a full-season.

Numbers to Remember: 113. Rahal has made 113 starts since his victory in the wet at St. Petersburg in 2008. If he ever wins another race, he will break Johnny Rutherford's record for most starts between victories. Lone Star JR went 97 starts between victories at Atlanta in 1965 and Ontario in 1973.

3. The number of Fast Twelve appearances for Rahal in 2014.

0. The number of Firestone Fast Six appearances Rahal made in 2014.

3. Since 2008, the most consecutive top ten finishes for Rahal is three and it's happened three times (Edmonton, Kentucky, Mid-Ohio 2009; Sao Paulo, Indianapolis, Texas 1 2011 and Texas, Milwaukee, Iowa 2012).

4. Rahal has had at least one runner-up finish in four consecutive season (Sao Paulo and Milwaukee 2011, Texas 2012, Long Beach 2013 and Belle Isle 1 2014).

17.166. Rahal's average finish on ovals in 2014.

Predictions/Goals: Rahal's goal should be to string together four or more consecutive top ten finishes. If you want to be a top tier driver it's about consistently being in the top half of the field. Look at Hélio Castroneves. The last two seasons he has found himself in championship contention entering the final race and it's not because he has won a half a dozen races it's because he will put together long stretches of top ten finishes. Qualifying is another area Rahal needs to improve. During his days with Newman-Haas, Rahal was consistently starting at the front of races especially in 2009 when his average start was 5.88, started in the top ten in 15 of 17 races and made the Firestone Fast Six in five of seven road/street course races and started in the top ten in six of seven. Things will improve for Rahal in 2015 but he won't finish in the top five in the championship. The goal right now should be to be on the cusp of the top ten in the championship.

The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons gets underway on Sunday March 29th. ABC's coverage will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2015 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Bryan Herta Autosport

After flirting with possibly not returning as a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series team, Bryan Herta Autosport will return for 2015 but with their third different driver for the season opener in as many years and for the second consecutive year, the team will field a rookie. This year the defending Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves will be behind the wheel of the #98 Honda for 2015.

2014 Bryan Herta Autosport Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 3rd (Houston 2).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 2nd (IMS road course).
Final Championship Position: 17th (Jack Hawksworth)

2015 Drivers:

Gabby Chaves
The Colombian won the 2014 Indy Lights championship on tiebreaker over Jack Harvey and it has landed him a full-time IndyCar ride. Chaves spent the last three seasons in the Road to Indy system. He finished second to Jack Hawksworth for the 2012 Star Mazda championship and finished second to Sage Karam for the 2013 Indy Lights crown before his breakthrough last year. Last year, Chaves won four races, including the Freedom 100 and had 11 podiums in 14 races including a string of eight consecutive podiums to end the season. Chaves has raced on 12 tracks of the 15 tracks on the IndyCar schedule and he has finished on the podium on 11 of the 12 with the sole exception being the IMS road course. The three tracks Chaves has not been to are NOLA (which will be hosting their inaugural race in 2015), Belle Isle and Texas. His average finish in two Indy Lights season was 3.076.

Numbers to Remember: 0. The number of combined IndyCar victories from the previous 12 Indy Lights champions

3. The number of combined top five finishes by the previous 12 Indy Lights champions in their rookie IndyCar seasons. Alex Lloyd finished fourth in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 and J.R. Hildebrand had his unforgettable second place finish in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 and he finished fourth at Iowa later that season.

3. Of the last 12 Indy Lights champions, only three won IndyCar Rookie of the Year (Raphael Matos 2009, Alex Lloyd 2010 and Tristan Vautier 2013).

Prediction/Goals: I will be honest that it is hard to make any predictions considering we don't know how the aero kit will perform and if one will be head and shoulders above the other. Honda could come out with a far superior aero kit and Chaves could be consistently around the top ten or the Chevrolet aero kit could end up wiping the floor with Honda's body work and Chaves could end up struggling to crack the top twenty. Chaves enters IndyCar with more experience than Hawksworth did last year and his goal should be to finish ahead of where Hawksworth ended up last year (17th in the championship, average start of 15.647 and average finish of 13.611).

Jay Howard
The 2006 Indy Pro Series champion has lined himself up a ride for the Indianapolis 500. Howard will drive the #97 Green1 Honda as a partnership between BHA and CuttersRT. Howard will be making his fifth attempt at the Indianapolis 500. The Brit has only qualified for the race once. In 2008, he was replaced by John Andretti after passing rookie orientation for Roth Racing. In 2010, Howard failed to qualify for Sarah Fisher Racing after withdrawing his qualifying time, a time that would have been good enough to make the field. He would make his Indianapolis 500 debut in 2011 driving in partnership with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He started 20th but finished 30th after completing only 60 laps. In 2012, Howard tried to return to the Speedway with Michael Shank Racing but due to a lack of engines in the first year of the DW12-era, they did not even turn a lap that May.

Numbers to Remember: 12. Jay Howard has made 12 IndyCar starts.

75. As in 75% of Howard's IndyCar starts have come on ovals.

13. As in Howard's best career starting position and best finish. Howard finished 13th in consecutive races at Motegi and Kansas in 2008. He started 13th for the second race of the lone doubleheader at Texas in 2011. The starting line-up for that race was set by random draw.

Predictions/Goals: The goals should be to make the field. If there are more than 33 entries, Howard will be one of the drivers battling not to be bumped from the 99th Indianapolis 500.

The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons gets underway on Sunday March 29th. ABC's coverage will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: To Lighten the Mood

From the suspension of Kurt Busch to Kyle Busch's accident which left him with a compound fracture in his right leg and fractured left foot to Fernando Alonso's accident that send him to hospital but fortunately left the two-time world champion with only a concussion, we got to lighten the mood. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Pace/Safety Car Driver Race
While under caution during the second qualifying race on Thursday night, it was mentioned that Brett Bodine was the driver of the pace car in NASCAR and it hit me: What if there was a race featuring pace/safety car drivers from different series around the globe?

Most have some type of racing experience. Brett Bodine had a victory in the NASCAR Cup Series and he nearly won the inaugural Brickyard 400. It wasn't a stellar career but it was respectable. Formula One safety car driver Bernd Mayländer won one DTM race in his six year career but prior to that was Porsche Carrera Cup Germany champion and won the 24 Hours Nürburgring. Mayländer also finished second in the GT class at the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans. Johnny Rutherford and Arie Luyendyk split time as IndyCar safety car driver. I think you already know a fair amount about those two. Either one of those two could represent IndyCar. Rutherford is much older so I think Luyendyk would be more likely to participate and would be more competitive.

Other safety car drivers from around the world include Jason Routley, who appears to still be the V8 Supercars safety car driver. Jürgen Kastenholz is DTM safety car driver. Portuguese Bruno Correia is the WTCC safety car driver and he was the safety car driver for the inaugural Formula E race from Beijing.

Unfortunately, I don't know the safety car drivers for FIA World Endurance Championship, IMSA, European Le Mans or Blancpain GT Series but they could also compete. And while we are at it, throw in the safety car drivers from Super GT and Super Formula. If you know who the safety car drivers for any of the six series listed above, please let me know on Twitter at @4TheLoveofIndy.

That would be twelve drivers, just like IROC from many years gone by. Unlike IROC, I think this would just be one race, most likely on a road course with a neutral car. Perhaps something like spec-Miatas would be suitable. It would a great race to have in a warm climate at the beginning of December when every season has ended and it could be used to raise money for charity.

The days of IROC are dead but a fun, 45-minute race featuring safety car drivers might be a good alternative. Now we just need a proper acronym. IROP/SCD (International Race of Pace/Safety Car Drivers) doesn't really roll off the tongue. Maybe RPGP (Race Pacers Grand Prix).

The only question is who would be the safety car driver for the safety car drivers race? We would probably have to get an active driver behind the wheel. Jeff Gordon is retiring and looking for work. I am sure he would be a competent safety car driver.

2015 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Previews
Starting this week our first batch of 2015 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Previews will be posted. We are still just over a month away from the start of the IndyCar season but it will be here fast. If Brasilia wasn't cancelled, we would be just under a fortnight but thanks to the Brazilians dropping the ball and IndyCar deciding not to tag along with Pirelli World Challenge at Austin that weekend as a replacement race, we have to wait just a little longer.

At least Two teams will be previewed each week starting tomorrow until the week leading up to the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. We will also have previews for the upcoming Road to Indy seasons as well as other IndyCar-related posts that I hope you find interesting.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the first preview tomorrow. I will give you a hint of which team you can prepare for tomorrow to read about tomorrow: They have won the Indianapolis 500. That narrows it down... barely considering only three teams haven't won the Indianapolis 500.

Winners From The Weekend
You know about Joey Logano, Ryan Reed and what happened in the qualifying races but did you know...

Chad Reed won the Supercross race from Atlanta.

Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam split the World Superbike opening round from Phillip Island. Jules Cluzel won the World Supersport opener.

Jack Aitken won two of three Pro Mazda races at NOLA Motorsports Park for the first of two Winterfest rounds. Weiron Tan won the other race. Jake Eidson won two of three U.S. F2000 races with Victor Franzoni taking the other.

Tyler Reddick won the Truck race from Daytona, his first career victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
V8 Supercars kick off their season on the streets of Adelaide.
All three NASCAR series head to Atlanta.
AMA Supercross remains in Atlanta for another race.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Joey Logano Wins 57th Daytona 500

Joey Logano won his first career Daytona 500 after leading 31 laps under the yellow flag for a last lap accident. Logano held off defending champion Kevin Harvick, defending Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson on the first and only green-white-checkered attempt for the victory.

Casey Mears finished sixth, his third career top ten finish in the Daytona 500 and the second consecutive year the nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears has finished in the top ten in The Great American Race. Clint Bowyer finished seventh with his former teammate Martin Truex finishing eighth. Washingtonians Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle rounded out the top ten.

David Gilliland came home 11th for Front Row Motorsports with Sam Hornish, Jr. in 12th, a career best finish for the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner in the Daytona 500. Michael Annett finished 13th in his first race for HScott Motorsports. Austin Dillon finished 14th and Aric Almirola rounded out the top fifteen in the #43 Ford.

Regan Smith finished 16th after stepping into the #41 Chevrolet on short notice substituting for the suspended Kurt Busch. David Ragan finished 17th with Truck Series regulars and ThorSport teammates Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton 18th and 19th respectively. Crafton made his Cup series debut substituting for an injured Kyle Busch. A.J. Allmendinger rounded out the top twenty.

Danica Patrich finished 21st with Cole Whitt in 22nd. Jamie McMurray overcame right side damage to finish 23rd. Carl Edwards finished 24th in his first race with Joe Gibbs Racing. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip finished 25th. Former Cup champion Bobby Labonte finished 26th. Paul Menard finished 27th in the #27 Chevrolet. Menard's Richard Childress Racing teammate Ty Dillon came home in 28th. Roush Fenway Racing teammates Ricky Stenhouse, Jr and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top thirty.

Michael McDowell, Reed Sorenson, and Jeff Gordon were the final cars on the lead lap after get together on the back straightaway, drawing the caution that ended the race. Kyle Larson was also involved and finished one lap down.

Matt Kenseth couldn't overcome early damage after getting into the back of Ryan Blaney and finished a lap down in 35th. Mike Wallace finished 36th in his first Daytona 500 since 2007. Justin Allgaier retired from the race after being involved in an accident with Ty Dillon. Allgaier's caution was the one that forced the green-white-checkered finish. Ryan Newman finished 38th. Ryan Blaney's engine failed on his Daytona 500 debut and he finished 39th.

J.J. Yeley, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Landon Cassill round out the top field. Keselowski and Cassill each had engine failures while Stewart suffered suspension damage after cotntact with the outside wall in the first quarter of the race.

This is Team Penske's second Daytona 500 victory. Ryan Newman won for the team in 2008. This is Ford's 14th Daytona 500 victory. Ford becomes the first manufacture to sweep the three national touring division races at Daytona with Logano's victory. Tyler Reddick won the Truck race Friday night and Ryan Reed won the Grand National race Saturday.

The second round of the NASCAR Cup season will be held at Atlanta next Sunday.