Monday, September 1, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: The Summer's Dying Days

We crowned a champion, ran 1000km, went North of the Border and saw Marc Márquez win again this weekend. Labor Day signals the unofficial end to summer as kids start the dog days of school, the weather will start to get brisk, colors change and the next major holiday is Thanksgiving in three months. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Pass of the Year Nominee
Got to start by giving praise to Ryan Blaney and Germán Quiroga for their last lap battle at Mosport on Sunday. I have never seen a NASCAR road course race that close end so cleanly. Normally you see drivers banging into one another, ignoring track limits and it's just too overly aggressive. What Blaney and Quiroga did on the final lap at Mosport was a display of what great racing is. It is respecting your competitor and taking advantage of any opening they give you.

Blaney has been impressive the last three years. From winning in his third start in the Truck Series to a pair of victories in the Nationwide Series to landing the Wood Brothers' Cup ride in 2015. Hopefully Penske hangs on to him like a son of bitch because if he lets him go, he is letting go of a sure winner.

Back to Their Roots
NASCAR is going back to Darlington on Labor Day weekend. Why they ever left, I haven't a clue. No major changes to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. The traditional July off weekend moves to June. A few races flop dates. Other than that no major changes.

I want to give NASCAR credit though on the Nationwide Series schedule and not the good kind. They moved the standalone Chicagoland race to the Saturday night of the June off weekend. Road America moves to August when NASCAR takes another week off because there will be five Sundays in August 2015. I find it ironic they moved that race to what will likely be a week after IndyCar at Milwaukee and three weeks after IMSA goes to Road America. I've stated many times series need to have dialogue to avoid over scheduling a market. There is no reason why Wisconsin needs three major races in four weeks. It's disappointing NASCAR would choose to do this. This affects many other series including Pirelli World Challenge who raced at Road America weekend with NASCAR this year. In likelihood, IndyCar will be at Sonoma that weekend and PWC ran with IndyCar at Sonoma last week. So who do they choose to go with in 2015? It's disappointing they are forced to make a choice.

The Truck schedule will see the addition of a race at Atlanta. It's disappointed the Truck Series aren't at Richmond, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Darlington or any of the small, local short tracks such as Memphis, Mansfield, South Boston, etc. that was the backbone for the series for many years.

He's Back
He was hardly gone. Marc Márquez made it 11-for-12 in 2014 with a victory at Silverstone. Another great battle with Jorge Lorenzo while Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso battled for third. Honda's perfect season continues. Márquez and Lorenzo went at it hard. You had slight contact, guys running wide. It wasn't as great their battle last year at Silverstone or Mugello and Barcelona this year but it was still top notch.

Apparently this will be the last race at Silverstone as Circuit of Wales has a five-year contract with a five-year option. I don't see Wales hosting the British Grand Prix. I doubt the track will ever be built. After all, how is the Formula One racing doing at Donnington? Oh, that's right.

Sad News
V8 Supercars will not be returning to Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas in 2015. After running there in 2013, the series took a year over after a scheduling conflict with the X Games, which were held in Austin for the first time in the events history.

Sad to see V8SC go but I never thought the series was going to catch a big following in the United States. The races are held at rough hours for most of the United States (reasonable hours if you live in Hawai'i or Alaska). When the event was first announced, I thought it would be similar to the Surfers Paradise race which featured two 300km races with a slew of international drivers from IndyCar, sports cars and touring cars pairing with season regulars. I think if they had done that with the American series and had IndyCar, NASCAR and IMSA drivers pairing up, the events would have had a chance to be really successful but you'd have to run the V8SC races early in the year to avoid scheduling conflicts. Hopefully the series returns in the States in the near future. I think they would put on a great show at Laguna Seca.

Got To End On A Good Note
We can't end with a story like that. It's too depressing and it's a holiday. You can't be sad on holidays. To end on a positive, let's all wish former IndyCar driver and current Sauber reserve driver Simona de Silvestro who turns 26 years old today. She left IndyCar on a high note with five consecutive top fives including a career best second place finish at Houston and her first career top ten finish on an oval at Fontana. I think de Silvestro's birthday is enough of a reason to get some cake and schnapps for ourselves.

Happy Birthday Simona!
Winners From the Weekend
You know about Tony Kanaan and Will Power becoming IndyCar champion, Marc Márquez and Ryan Blaney but did you know...

Kasey Kahne won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta.

Esteve Rabat won his second consecutive Moto2 race at Silverstone. Álex Rins won his first race of the Moto3 season.

Kazuki Nakajima and James Rossiter won the Suzuka 1000km. It was Lexus' first victory in the event since 2009. The BMW Z4 GT3 of Akira Iida and Hiroki Yoshimoto won in GT300.

OAK Racing is 2-for-2 in the 2014 Asian Le Mans Series season. David Cheng, Ho-Pin Tung and Keiko Ihara were the overall winners at Fuji. In GT, the BMW Z4 of Team AAI of Jun San Chen, Tatsuya Tanigawa and Carlo van Dam were the winners. In the CN class, the Craft-Bamboo Racing Ligier JS 53 Evo of Mathias Beche, Kevin Tse and Samson Chan were the victors.

Daniel Serra and Ricardo Maurício split the Stock Car Brasil weekend at Curitiba.

Kevin Harvick won the Nationwide race at Atlanta.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One heads to Monza.
NASCAR has their final race before the Chase at Richmond.
Blancpain Spring Series is heading to Algarve, Portugal.
World Superbike is back in action at Jerez.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Second Impressions: Fontana and the 2014 IndyCar Season

The season that was IndyCar in 2014
After four hours of sleep, it is time to take another look at last night's MAVTV 500 and really take a look at the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season as a whole. We will take a look at each driver in championship order with Ed Carpenter Racing slipped in where they finished in the entrant's championship.

1.  I'm not sure you can find any complaints about with Will Power's season. Unlike previous seasons where Power would win five or six races but have three or four costly races, this year Power had three wins, led IndyCar in podiums, top tens, pole positions, races led, laps led and average finish. His one bad weekend was Houston but his worst finish all season was fourteenth. He began the season with eight consecutive top tens and ended it with six consecutive top tens. On the weekends Power struggled, his championship contenders also faltered, which is complete opposite from when Power was battling with Franchitti for the title and Franchitti would always capitalize if Power slipped. Despite a slew of penalties for pit lane violations or blocking, Power was able to recover when times got tough and finally took home a championship.

2. To peg where Hélio Castroneves lost the title, all you have to do is look at the final five races. He finished second in race one at Toronto and held a 28-point lead over Power going into race two. Since that podium, the Brazilian finished twelfth, nineteenth, eleventh, eighteenth and fourteenth. He lost the second-most positions from starting position in 2014, losing 66 positions. Only James Hinchcliffe lost more at -75. Add to the fact Castroneves only picked up one victory for the second consecutive year. Winning one race isn't going to be enough. The last driver to win a championship with one victory or fewer was Tony Stewart in 1997 and the last driver to win the title with two or fewer victories was Gil de Ferran in 2001. If you want to win the title, you are going to need at least three wins, something Castroneves hasn't done since 2006.

3. Nobody was on more of a roll at the end of 2014 than Scott Dixon. Eight consecutive top tens, seven of which were top fives. Even better for Dixon was out of his twelve top tens, he had eleven top fives, most in the 2014 IndyCar season. He had a terrible month of May and a terrible Houston weekend. If he corrects those two weak spots from 2014, he will be in contention for his fourth title in 2015.

4. Fourth is fantastic for Juan Pablo Montoya in his comeback season to IndyCar. He still struggles on street circuits. He entered 2014 with an career average finish of 15.5 on street circuits and his average street circuit finish in 2014 was 11.25 with a second at Houston 1 and fourth at Long Beach being his best finishes. Montoya won the 2014 oval championship. I know they don't hand out the trophy anymore but he scored the most points on ovals. Let's not forget to mention Castroneves and Power scored the second and third most points on ovals. Penske will have that going for them in 2015.

5. Simon Pagenaud rarely put a wheel wrong in 2014, which makes it surprising that he barely finished in the top five of the championship. He finished tied for second in top fives and top tens in 2014. The double points caught him out last night as he struggled with the car's handling all night. He scored the second most points on road/street circuits in 2014 but scored the eleventh most points on ovals, despite averaging a 10th place finish in the six races and scoring three top tens on ovals. He is a free agent and we know Andretti Autosport is reportedly going to try and sign the Frenchman away from Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports. If he does leave SPHM, will that be enough to get him the championship?

6. Does winning the Indianapolis 500 make sixth in the championship automatically feel like a secondary championship for Ryan Hunter-Reay? He missed out on fifth in the championship by two points after his spin while running third. Ultimately, if I offered fifth in the championship or winning the Indianapolis 500 and finishing sixth, I think we all know what we would take. If he didn't spin, I definitely think Hunter-Reay would have brought the fight to Kanaan for the victory. He won three races, including the Indianapolis 500 but you have to think Hunter-Reay left a lot on the table. He had six top fives but had six finishes of 18th or worse. Some of those poor finishes were of his doing (Long Beach, both Belle Isle race), others were mechanical (Texas, Pocono, Milwaukee) but if he can turn those dismal races that were of his own doing into top ten, he will be a championship contender in 2015.

7. Ending the season with a victory can sometimes erase all the previous let downs in a season and I think Tony Kanaan's victory does that in some sense. Outside of being caught up in an accident not of his doing at Long Beach, a gearbox issue in the "500" and a first turn spin at Mid-Ohio, Kanaan had a really good year. He had a few races get away from, Pocono and Iowa come to mind but overall, it was a really good year for Kanaan. Finishing seventh in the championship isn't that bad in this current era for IndyCar. This isn't 2005 or 2006 where there were 19 full-time cars. The field is full to the brim with talent, both young and old.

8. Rookie of the Year Carlos Muñoz finished eighth in the championship, the second best Andretti Autosport driver. I think the expectations were outstandingly higher for Muñoz entering this season than all the other rookies because of what he did in three cameos in 2013. He showed signs of being a rookie. There were a few races where he was just completely out of it (Texas and both Toronto races) and that will happen when you are 22 years old. Once again, he is 22 years old. I bet you thought he was older than that. Not a bad start for the Colombian. I think he will make a stride in the right direction in 2015.

8b. Ed Carpenter Racing finished eighth in the entrant's championship behind three combined victories from Ed Carpenter and Mike Conway. This is what I expected out of the British-American duo. Carpenter had four top tens in six races, including his victory at Texas while Conway picked up victories at Long Beach and Toronto 2. However, Conway's two victories were his only top tens of the season and his next best finish was thirteenth (Houston 2 and Mid-Ohio). Conway scored the eleventh most points on road courses while Carpenter scored ten more points than Conway in half of the amount of races. I am not sure if Conway could get away with checkers or wreckers but unless Carpenter wanted to go for the entrant's championship, I am sure he is happy with Conway's results. The question is will Conway return? He is a Toyota reserve driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship and with rumors current Toyota drivers Stéphane Sarrazin and Sébastien Buemi have been approached by Nissan for 2015, he might be in position to land a prime seat for a world championship and Le Mans victory. If Conway does leave, can Carpenter find a driver capable of duplicating his results in 2015?

9. I feel bad for Marco Andretti because unless he wins the Indianapolis 500 or the championship each year everyone will say he only has a ride because of his family. Let's ignore the fact he had as many top tens as Ryan Hunter-Reay and Juan Pablo Montoya this season and more than Muñoz, James Hinchcliffe, Sébastien Bourdais, Justin Wilson, Josef Newgarden and Jack Hawksworth. Don't get me wrong, winning races is crucial but let's recognize Andretti for his ability to be able to bring a car home in one piece toward the front of the field. He is 27 years old. When Will Power was 27 years old he had only two victories to his name and his best championship finish was fourth. Andretti has two victories to his name and his best championship finish is fifth. There is plenty of time left in Andretti's career. Plenty of time.

10. It took nearly seven years for Sébastien Bourdais to get his 32nd victory in IndyCar but he finally got it at Toronto 1. Looking at his results, you feel like Bourdais left a lot on table. Five top fives and seven top tens along with two pole positions but he had six finishes between eleventh and fifteenth. Got to give him and KV Racing credit though considering KV lost Kanaan, to bounce back with tenth in the driver's championship is respectable.

11. Ryan Briscoe's can be summed up like this: Good but not great. Ten top tens and the seventh best average finish but only one top five and led five laps. He finished tied with Bourdais for tenth in the championship but loses the tiebreaker on total victories (Bourdais' 1 to Briscoe's 0). Most races I would see Briscoe in the back half of the top ten but make nothing of it because he wasn't making waves and wasn't a threat to make waves. He is a talented driver but can he improve and become a factor in 2015?

12. James Hinchcliffe ended on a much needed high note with his fifth place finish at Fontana. This was a rough season for the Canadian. Third best average starting position but tied for the twelfth best average finish. If he can continue his qualifying success in 2015 and stay up front, he will be in up there with Power, Castroneves, Dixon, Montoya, Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay battling for a championship instead of on the edge of the back half of the field.

13. Josef Newgarden ended strong with three consecutive top tens to close out the 2014 season. The expectations should be to score a victory with the merged Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing in 2015. He started nine races in the top ten in 2014, seven of those were top five starts. He has the speed, he will be getting at least one, maybe two teammates and possibly will be moving over to Chevrolet, the manufacture that won the final six race in 2014 and twelve of eighteen.

14. This year was a step back for Justin Wilson. After finishing sixth in 2013, the Sheffield-native finished fourteenth this year. Only one top five and seven top tens, which is a respectable amount but he was never in contention for a victory, unlike last year. I am going to write this off as one bad year but if he can't turn it around in 2015, Wilson will officially be on the back nine of his career and the clock will be ticking before a full-time ride will no longer be available. It's a sad thought considering Wilson is one of the nicest and most respected drivers on the grid.

15. For someone who averaged a starting position of 16.411, it is a little surprising Charlie Kimball scored ten top ten finishes. He ended 2014 on a little slump with twelfth place last night at Fontana being his best finish in the final three races. If he can improve on qualifying, he will be in better position in races and should improve on his championship position.

16. Not a bad season for Jack Hawksworth. His highlights were really good runs at St. Petersburg and Long Beach but was taken out in accidents out of his control in each race. He ran really well on the IMS road course and at Houston. He struggled on ovals and that wasn't unexpected. On the bright side he did get a top ten on an oval with a tenth place finish at Milwaukee. I really hope he returns with Bryan Herta Autosport in 2015.

17. Another guy I hope returns in 2015 is Mikhail Aleshin. His massive accident at Fontana aside, Aleshin impressed me the most out of all the rookie. I had seen Muñoz and Hawksworth run Indy Lights and knew what was coming but Aleshin was a little unknown. Other than his 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 title where he beat current Red Bull F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo and current Porsche LMP1 driver Brendon Hartley he really hadn't done much. He was stuck in the European ladder system and was having difficulty replicating the results of that 2010 season on a regular basis. He comes to IndyCar and scores a podium at Houston 2, along with seven top tens, three of which came on ovals, which he had never run before this year. He was immediately labelled a ride buyer or F1 reject but I think we unfairly label those from European backgrounds. There are plenty of talented drivers who don't catch a break. It doesn't mean they aren't good enough, it just means they are overlooked and Aleshin was one that that fell into IndyCar's lap at Formula One's expense.

18. Takuma Sato ended 2014 with consecutive top tens but does it erase the fact he had ten finishes of 18th or worse? He won two pole positions but we know he has the speed, he just lacks the consistency. Will AJ Foyt Racing put up with another year of three or four good finishes in return for a plethora of disappointing races? Honda has been loyal to Sato for years making sure he had a ride somewhere but if I was Foyt, I would want something more in return. Preferably funding for a second car to give a promising driver a shot in decent equipment.

19. After struggling to land the National Guard sponsorship at the start of 2014, Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing struggled all season and now will struggle even more as their $12 million budget is gone and the search is on for funding. A second place in Belle Isle 1 and fifth at their home race at Mid-Ohio as all they have to show for in 2014. You have to feel for all involved. You want to believe it can't get any worse but it continues to go downhill. I hate to say it but Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is the worst team on the IndyCar grid.

20. My jaw is still on the floor that Carlos Huertas won a race this year. Now sure he would have won had Graham Rahal not run over Tony Kanaan at the end of Houston 1 and the race gone green at the end or if Huertas had a legal fuel cell, but we'll never know. Huertas was never a moving chicane and other than this past weekend at Fontana, he never looked out of place on ovals. Three top tens is more than I expected out of him and I would like to see him get a second season to see if he can improve.

21. Sebastián Saavedra's career had so much promise five years ago. Now it will be head scratching if he remains on the grid in 2015. Why Gary Peterson supports Saavedra with his Automatic Fire Sprinklers sponsorship over JR Hildebrand or another young American such as Conor Daly or Sage Karam is beyond me. Saavedra has only 16 lead lap finishes in 56 starts, only one lead lap finish has been on an oval (this year's Indianapolis 500). One top ten is all Saavedra has to show for in 2014 with a pole position on the IMS road course that lasted all of less than a foot as he stalled on the grid and was then run over from behind.

Fun Facts From 2014
Will Power completed all but one of the 2395 laps run in 2014.

Carlos Muñoz and Charlie Kimball are the only full-time drivers who did not lead a lap in 2014.

There were 66 cautions for 323 of 2395 laps in 2014, meaning the pace car led 13.48% of all the laps run in 2014. On average there were 3.666 cautions for 17.94 laps a race in 2014.

There were eleven different winners in 2014, tying the 2000 and 2001 CART seasons for most different winners in a season.

Of the eleven different winners in 2014, three won in either or both 2000 or 2001. Juan Pablo Montoya won three races in 2000 (Milwaukee, Michigan and Gateway). Scott Dixon won one race in 2001, his first career victory his third start at Nazareth. Hélio Castroneves is the only won of the three to win in both 2000 and 2001. He picked up three victories in 2000 including his first career victory at Belle Isle followed by wins at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca. He would go on to win three races in 2001 (Long Beach, Belle Isle and Mid-Ohio).

The average starting position for a winner in 2014 was 8.444.

The average amount of lead change for a race in 2014 was 9.777.

The average amount of laps lead for a winner in 2014 was 46.388.

The pole-sitter won three times in 2014 (Juan Pablo Montoya at Pocono, Sébastien Bourdais at Toronto 1 and Will Power at Milwaukee).

The driver who led the most laps won seven times in 2014 (Will Power at St. Petersburg and Milwaukee, Ryan Hunter-Reay at Barber and Indianapolis, Hélio Castroneves at Belle Isle 2, Sébastien Bourdais at Toronto 1 and Scott Dixon at Mid-Ohio).

The driver who set fastest lap in race won twice in 2014 (Power at St. Petersburg and Simon Pagenaud at Houston 2).

A Few Thoughts to End On
Honda has to step up their game. Only six wins out of eighteen races? Not to mention Chevrolet ending on six consecutive victories and a third consecutive manufactures' championship. Let's not forget Honda ran 12 cars at every race while Chevrolet had 10. They are going to figure out a way to take down the Bowtie Brigade.

Time is now ticking for a third engine manufacture to enter for 2016. If it's going to happen it has to been announced a year in advance, so if we don't hear anything by March 2015, it probably won't happen. We've all heard Cosworth is working on something but until it happens it doesn't really matter.

Many rides are unknown. Will Pagenaud head to Andretti, stay with SPHM or leave IndyCar altogether? Will Hinchcliffe have his option picked up? Does Gabby Chaves pick up a ride? What other rookies could be on the 2015 grid? Does Aleshin return? A lot of balls still up in the air.

Aero kits are coming. They should be unveiled this fall. At least we have that to look forward to.

Schedule news for 2015: No Houston, looks like Toronto will take place at Mosport for one year before heading back to Exhibition Place. Another thing to look forward to this autumn.

We also have the new Indy Lights car to look forward to.

I believe we already know the ABC races for 2015: Long Beach, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Indianapolis 500 and Belle Isle. Not to forget mentioning Indianapolis 500 qualifying will be covered by ABC.

Now on to the offseason. However long that may be.

First Impressions: Fontana 2014

1. Will Power has finally won the IndyCar championship. He did it by playing it smart in the final race. He didn't panic. He didn't try to stand the car on it's bloody ear. He drove an intelligent and safe race and methodically worked his way toward the front. Three victories, seven podiums, eight top fives, fifteen top tens and four pole positions for Power in 2014. After so much heart break, Power finally joins the ranks of Foyt, Andretti, Unser, Mears, Mansell, Zanardi, Hornish, Bourdais, Franchitti, Dixon and Hunter-Reay as IndyCar champion.

2. Tony Kanaan picked up his first victory with Ganassi Racing and his seventeenth career victory. It was an up and down year for Kanaan. He very well could have won three or four races in 2014 but at least he got one. He became the eleventh different winner in 2014 meaning this season ties 2000 and 2001 for most different winners in a season. IndyCar is in one of it's most competitive eras, now if only people can acknowledge that.

3. Second place vaulted Scott Dixon to third in the championship. After winning a title, anything but a repeat is a disappointed. Dixon ended 2014 strong, similar to Power ending 2013 on a very high note. Ganassi won three races in the month of August after not winning any from March through July. Let's see how they carry this momentum to 2015.

4. Ed Carpenter comes home in third and the #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet comes home 8th place in the entrant championship. A very great season for Carpenter and Mike Conway. With the team merging with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in 2014, you wonder if they can possibly better three victories and the Indianapolis 500 pole position. We'll have to wait and see.

5. Juan Pablo Montoya ends his return season in IndyCar in fourth place in the race and the championship. This is by far better than I thought Montoya would do. I expected him to be around tenth, a few top fives and that's it but he had a jaw-dropping comeback to open-wheel racing.

6. James Hinchcliffe got the result he needed to end 2014. A fifth-place finish. Hopefully the Canadian can take this result and turn it into momentum for 2015. After three victories last year, one podium is a big disappointment and he will finished twelfth in the championship.

7. At the beginning of the year I though Takuma Sato would be fired before we reached Fontana. He wasn't and finished sixth, a week after finishing fourth at Sonoma. I'm not sure if Sato is ever going to be the guy, especially since he is 37 years old. He ended 2014 with two really good results but come 2015 he could be back to a pair of 17th place finishes despite possibly being one of the fastest five drivers on the track.

8. Ryan Briscoe's season ends with a seventh place finish. Ten top tens for Briscoe but only one top five in 2014. Briscoe is a decent driver but he needs to take that next step, especially when Kanaan and Dixon are finishing first and second.

9. Carlos Muñoz captures the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year by finishing eighth in the championship with a eighth place finish in the race. He didn't win but he held his own with his veteran teammates. This wasn't unexpected considering what he did in one-offs last year and the team he is with.

10. A top ten for Josef Newgarden to round out the year. He will be entering his fourth season in 2015 and with SFHR merging with ECR, the expectations should go up for the Tennessean. He will have full-time teammates, more resources and possibly be driving a Chevrolet, which won the final six races in 2014. All the pieces are in place for him to break into victory lane in 2015, he just has to talk advantage and seize the day.

11. Marco Andretti misses out on a top ten in the race but finishes ninth in the championship. I am sure he expected more after finishing fifth in the championship last year. I think Andretti Autosport and Honda will all be going to the drawing board to figure out what they have to improve on after being outscored 12-6 in the win column.

12. Hélio Castroneves drove an Hélio Castroneves-type season. He's not going to win four or five races. He isn't going to dominant week in and week out. He is going to fourth, fifth or sixth and bring the car home in one piece. Will that be enough to ever get Castroneves a championship though? Let's not forget to mention he ended 2014 with five consecutive finishes outside the top ten.

13. It wasn't Simon Pagenaud's night. He dealt with handling issues all night and finished twentieth. It was a great season for Pagenaud, unfortunately he will finish fifth in the final championship standings. He is still a free agent. Will he stay or will he go. He has made Schmidt Peterson Hamitlon a formidable championship contender and if you throw in Ed Carpenter's team, those team each have shown they have what it takes to compete with the big three.

14. Remember last year when nine cars finished and only five were on the lead lap? This year, 20 cars finished and ten were on the lead lap. The lone retirement was Carlos Huertas for driver illness (to be honest, I think he was out of his comfort zone, did 21 laps and ended his season early). Got to give Chevrolet, Honda and the teams credit after the attrition last year. Also note, one caution tonight for a simple spin by Ryan Hunter-Reay who did a great job keeping the car from hitting anything. Only 18 cautions on ovals in 2014

15. Look for a full recap of yesterday and the IndyCar season tomorrow. Look for team-by-team reviews in the days to come. It's nearly 2:00 a.m. ET. Congratulations Will Power. Congratulations Roger Penske. Congratulations IndyCar. It was a great season. I am sad it had to end so soon.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Morning Warm-Up: Fontana 2014

When I See Something Horrible, I Put My Foot Down. Hard! Because I Know That Everyone Else Is Lifting His.
 Yves Montand as Jean-Pierre Sarti in Grand Prix

This morning warm-up starts differently from all the rest with a personal admission that I am flawed individual and I should have made that known long ago.  We start with the good news that Mikhail Aleshin is stable after his accident last night during final practice sustaining a concussion, fractured ribs, broken right clavicle and chest injuries

My prayers go out to Mikhail Aleshin on a speedy recovery. 

The same way my prayers were with him immediately after the accident but I am flawed. The quote at the top perfectly defines how I reacted after seeing an accident such as Aleshin. I saw something horrible, mentally put my foot down hard and immediately thought, who can replace Aleshin tomorrow should he be unable to go? It's just who I am with my show must go on approach. Outside of a quiet prayer, what else can I do? I can't go to the car and try to assist. I wouldn't be much use and I would be more of a obstacle for the qualified IndyCar safety team to work around.

Remember I am flawed. I believe when you get into motorsports and start following on a regular basis you have to realize that if you stay around long enough you are going to watch someone die. There is no way around. All the safety innovations in the world will not make a driver or rider immortal, if it is their time to go, it is their time to go. The safety innovations have protected those men and women who are fortunate enough to compete on a regular basis better than previous generations and that is greatly appreciated but don't hold your breath on the day where it is guaranteed no one will die in a motorsports accident. That day is never going to come. 

I am flawed. As much as I want to see the turbo boost turned up and laps closer to the 230 MPH range than 220 MPH, I know that had Aleshin been going faster, it would have been worse, much worse. There is a lot that has to be fixed. Catchfences need to be improved, aprons should be widened and these aren't issues just for IndyCar or just for Auto Club Speedway or just for engineer students at any given university around the country, these are issues for all parties who decide to participate in motorsports. Catchfence improvement is an Auto Club Speedway and IndyCar and NASCAR and Texas Motor Speedway and USAC and Iowa Speedway and Eldora Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway issue. Catchfences should not be one party taking the baton all by themselves and trying to be a superstar. This should be a collective effort to find a solution for the better of all involved. 

This shouldn't be a case where the expense gets in the way of driver and spectator safety. NASCAR is making $8.2 billion over the next 10 years. You'd think they could budget some for further research and development in the safety department. Speedway Motorsports, Inc. made $260.4 million in the first half of 2014. International Speedway Corporation made $131.8 million in the first quarter of 2014 while Indianapolis Motor Speedway just received $100 million loan from the state of Indiana. There is plenty of money that can be used to improvement catchfences, now the individuals who make six-seven figures salaries have to take the initiative and actually do something. 

After watching Aleshin's accident I wonder what would have happened had their been no catchfence and in it's places was just a continuation of the concrete wall. The car wouldn't have been shredded to pieces but would he have sustained fewer injuries? I think he would of hit the wall and just continued to slide down, he may have even walked away under his own power but we will never know. As I went to bed last night after hearing Aleshin was awake and stable I thought of what the coverage would have been had he perished. All of sudden everyone would have become a motorsports expert, oval racing for open-wheel cars would get this misconception of reckless endangerment but what bothered me the most is someone who some media outlets never mentioned before and never considered giving him the time of day was now going to give him recognition only after he had passed on. Something about that strikes me the wrong way. It tells me that the only way some media outlets will acknowledge you is if you die. Average people would know how he died and nothing else. They would not know who he was or what he had accomplished and realized this was someone doing what he loved.

Yesterday afternoon I was looking through past Fontana races and came across the 1999 race and Greg Moore's fatal accident. It is approaching 15 years since his death and I wondered, 15 years later, if a driver were to be fatally injured would the race continue? We all remember Las Vegas 2011 but that accident caused extensive damage to the catchfence. Moore's accident didn't cause nearly as much structural damage to the track. Deep down, I always want the race to go on. Why? Cause as I said before what else can I do? If it is a driver's time to go, it is their time to go. I'd like to say the fallen driver would want the race to go on but we never know. Maybe drivers should write down at the start of a season and hand to the race officials a slip saying if they are fatally injured in a race, whether or not they would want the race to continue that way we truly know. I see nothing wrong with that but once again, I am flawed.

There is plenty of things that need to be worked on but the race should go on today because though there is the possibility of death we cannot let it cripple us from enjoying what we love and we should continue to ensure ourselves it is not going to happen, even though we can't guarantee it won't.

Hélio Castroneves starts on pole position as the Brazilian looks to take the championship fight to his Penske teammate Will Power. This is Castroneves' 41st career pole position, good enough for fourth all-time. To have any shot at the title, Castroneves has to finish at least fourth but his best Fontana finish entering today is fifth. Starting second will be Castroneves' Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. The Colombian finished fourth and tenth in his previous two IndyCar starts at Fontana. Josef Newgarden rounds out the first row. This is Newgarden's fourth front row start of the 2014 season.

On the inside of row two will be Takuma Sato. His previous best starting position at Fontana was twenty-first. Scott Dixon will be in the middle of row two. Dixon has finished in the top ten in all but one of his previous seven Fontana starts. Charlie Kimball is on the outside of row two. Kimball has finished tenth in each of his two Fontana appearances. 

Tony Kanaan will start seventh. Kanaan has never won a season finale in his seventeen year career. Mikhail Aleshin was scheduled to start eighth. He was the highest starting rookie. Ryan Hunter-Reay should move up to eighth position after Aleshin's accident. Hunter-Reay has finished in the top ten in each of his two Fontana starts. This is his best career Fontana start. Moving to the outside of row three will be Graham Rahal. This is the National Guard's final race as an IndyCar sponsor and final chance at victory as they have yet to be on a race winning car since entering the series in 2007. 

James Hinchcliffe will start tenth. He is twelfth in the championship and starting eleventh and eleventh in the championship is Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe was fastest in the abbreviated final practice last night and has finished in the top ten in four of five ovals to date in 2014. Simon Pagenaud starts on the outside of row four and is the final driver mathematically eligible for the championship. The Frenchman must win to have any shot at the title and his best Fontana finish entering today is thirteenth.

In thirteenth position will be Ed Carpenter. The furthest back on the grid a Fontana winner has come from is thirteenth when Adrián Fernández won in 1999. Sébastien Bourdais will be in the middle of row five. He started third and finished twelfth last year in his Fontana debut. Outside of his seventh place finish at Indianapolis, Bourdais' best oval finish in 2014 is twelfth at Milwaukee. Justin Wilson will start fifteenth. His average finish on ovals this season is 17.4 after averaging a 10.833 on ovals in 2013. 

Jack Hawksworth will be on the inside of row six. He missed the Pocono race after an accident but he scored his first career oval top ten at Milwaukee a fortnight ago when finishing tenth. He finished ninth out of a nine-car field last year in Indy Lights at Fontana. Marco Andretti starts in the middle of row six with his Andretti Autosport teammate Carlos Muñoz to his outside. With Aleshin unable to participate in tonight's race, Muñoz has clinched the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honor. Marco Andretti was the 2006 IndyCar Rookie of the Year.

The seventh row will feature two Colombians and the championship leader, Australian Will Power. Sebastián Saavedra will start on the inside while Power will start in the middle and rookie Carlos Huertas will be on the outside. 

Power entered the weekend with a 51-point lead over Castroneves and an 81-point over Pagenaud. Castroneves took the bonus point for pole position and when the green flag waves, Castroneves will hold a 30-point lead over his teammate with Pagenaud trailing by 95 points. 

In the unluckily case the #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda is repaired and the team runs a substitute driver, the car will start twenty-second. 

NBCSN's coverage of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, MAVTV 500 from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California will begin at 9:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 10:20 p.m. ET.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Final Practice of 2014 IndyCar Season Ends Prematurely Due to Aleshin Accident

Ryan Briscoe was fastest in the final practice session for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season after the session end prematurely due to an accident involving Mikhail Aleshin, Charlie Kimball, Sébastien Bourdais, Jack Hawksworth and Marco Andretti.

Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin providing a description of what happened in the accident. 

Aleshin has been put on a stretcher and been taken immediately to the hospital according to IMS Radio's Jake Query.

Update: 11:09 p.m. ET
From IndyCar, Mikhail Aleshin is awake and conscious. Complaining about injuries to right shoulder and right foot.

Briscoe was the fastest after running a lap at 32.9279 seconds (218.660 MPH). His Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon was second. Will Power was third fastest followed by Kimball. James Hinchcliffe was the top Honda in fifth. 

The pole-sitter for tomorrow's race Hélio Castroneves was sixth ahead of fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan. Andretti and Bourdais were eighth and ninth at the time of the accident and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top ten. 

Josef Newgarden was eleventh followed by fellow Honda drivers Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud. Aleshin was fourteenth fastest in the abbreviated session, 0.5134 seconds back of Briscoe. Ed Carpenter rounded out the top fifteen. 

Sebastián Saavedra was sixteenth with Justin Wilson in seventeenth followed by Takuma Sato, Jack Hawksworth and Juan Pablo Montoya rounding out the top twenty. Colombians Carlos Muñoz and Carlos Huertas rounded out the field. The field was covered by 1.7982 seconds in this session. 

NBCSN's coverage of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, the MAVTV 500 from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 10:20 p.m. 

Castroneves Takes Crucial Pole Position at Fontana

Hélio Castroneves (left) will take the fight to Will Power (right) for the championship from pole position
When the green flag waves to start the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California the championship lead will automatically change.

Despite the power going out at the track, Hélio Castroneves picked up a crucial pole position as his teammate Will Power battled with understeer on his qualifying run, dropping the Australian to twenty-first, second-to-last. Power's 51-point lead will vanish as the difference between first and twenty-first is 83 points. The Brazilian ran a two-lap average of 218.540 MPH while Power could only manage 212.604 MPH. 

This was Chevrolet's 13th pole of 2014 and eighth consecutive to close out the season. This is Castroneves' third career Fontana pole position. His first two came in 2003 and 2004. He finished sixth and seventh in those race respectively.

Juan Pablo Montoya qualified second with a two-lap average of 217.621 MPH, a career best starting position for the Colombian at Fontana. Josef Newgarden was the top Honda qualifier as he rounds out  the front row. Remember, Triple Crown races feature rows of three. The Tennesseean was 0.021 MPH behind Montoya and this will be Newgarden's second consecutive front row start and fourth of the 2014 season.

Takuma Sato was on pace for pole but like many during the session lost time on his second lap and ended up fourth. Ganassi drivers were the next three on the timesheet with Scott Dixon leading the way. Following Dixon was Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan. 

Joining Kanaan on row three will be Mikhail Aleshin, the fastest rookie. This year's Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified ninth. Graham Rahal rounds out the top ten. James Hinchcliffe ended up qualifying eleventh ahead of Ryan Briscoe. Simon Pagenaud qualified thirteenth. The Frenchman is still mathematically eligible for the title but has to win tomorrow to have any shot of hoisting the Astor Cup. Ed Carpenter was on pace for pole position after his first qualifying lap but lost nearly seven miles per hour on his second lap and ended up fourteenth. Sébastien Bourdais rounded out the top fifteen. 

The Brits Justin Wilson and Jack Hawksworth ended sixteenth and seventeenth respectively. Marco Andretti qualified seventeenth, his worst qualifying position at Fontana. His previous worse was eighth. Carlos Muñoz leads the Rookie of the Year standings and qualified nineteenth ahead of fellow Colombian Sebastián Saavedra and the aforementioned Will Power in twenty-first. 

Carlos Huertas qualified twenty-second. The rookie Huertas was massively off the pace as he was the only driver to have a warm-up lap below 200 MPH and his two-lap average was 202.319 MPH, more than 10 MPH off Power in twenty-first. 

The final practice session of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season will take place at 10:15 p.m. ET and will be 30-minutes long. 

NBCSN's coverage of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, the MAVTV 500 will begin at 9:00 p.m. ET tomorrow with green flag at 10:20 p.m. ET

Power and Castroneves 1-2 in Penultimate Practice

Will Power was all smiles after first practice
If the penultimate practice of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is foreshadowing for what the season finale entails, look for the championship contenders duking it out at the front for the Astor Cup.

Will Power and Hélio Castroneves were separated by 0.0051 seconds in first practice as Power ran the fastest lap, 32.5220-second lap at 221.389 MPH. It wasn't just the championship contenders who were fast in first practice. Chevrolet had eighth of their ten entries in the top ten and took the top six times.

Ed Carpenter was third fastest, nearly three-tenths back of Power. He was followed by three Ganassi drivers. Scott Dixon was fourth with Tony Kanaan rounding out the top five and Charlie Kimball in sixth. The three teammates were covered by 0.0137 seconds. Chevrolet enters Fontana having won seven consecutive pole positions and five consecutive races.

The fastest Honda driver and fastest rookie in the session was Mikhail Aleshin. He has three top tens in five oval starts. Juan Pablo Montoya was eighth quickest followed by Josef Newgarden. Ganassi got all four cars in the top ten with Ryan Briscoe ending up tenth in the first session.

Ryan Hunter-Reay leads five consecutive Hondas on the time sheet in eleventh. The last driver mathematically eligible for the IndyCar championship, Simon Pagenaud was twelfth fastest, 0.4593 seconds behind Power. It was tic-tac-toe, three Andretti drivers in a row in thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth. James Hinchcliffe led Carlos Muñoz and Marco Andretti. The gap from Aleshin in seventh and Hinchcliffe in thirteenth was 0.1054 seconds.

Sébastien Bourdais was sixteenth quickest, just ahead of his former teammate Graham Rahal. Takuma Sato was eighteenth with the Brits Justin Wilson and Jack Hawksworth rounding out the top twenty. Colombians Sébastien Saavedra and Carlos Huertas round out the drivers on the timesheet with Huertas the lone driver not within a second of Power. Saavedra was 0.8660 second back while Huertas trailed Power by 1.5203 seconds. Huertas ran a session-high 49 laps while Penske duo of Power and Castroneves each completed only nine laps in the first session.

IndyCar qualifying will take place at 5:15 p.m. ET. Simon Pagenaud is the first of championship contenders to make a qualifying attempt as he is the eleventh driver scheduled to make a run. Will Power is scheduled to be the thirteenth driver on track and Hélio Castroneves is scheduled to be the last driver to make a qualifying attempt.

The final practice session of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is scheduled for 10:15 p.m. ET and will be a thirty-minute session.