Monday, July 28, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: The Other Weekend at Indianapolis and Northern California

Wet to dry in Hungary, history at Indianapolis, endurance racing in the Ardennes, Miatas in the  corkscrew and more. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Super Weekend's 33
With the invention of Super Weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway featuring NASCAR's Brickyard 400, a Nationwide race, IMSA and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, many more drivers are getting the opportunity to race at 16th and Georgetown than ever before. I'm on the fence. I have previously stated I am glad Indianapolis Motor Speedway is becoming a great home for motorsports in the Untied States rather than American motorsports' Rockerfeller Center Christmas tree, being lit up for a month, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors before closing down and having to wait eleven months to see it again.

At the same time, selfishly, I hate the Super Weekend because it slightly diminishes the Indianapolis 500. Drivers settle with victories in the Brickyard 400 and Brickyard Grand Prix and the 250-mile race on Saturday and probably even the Grand Prix of Indianapolis as substitutes for not taking the step to try and race at the Speedway Memorial Day weekend. I realize the present isn't set up for all these drivers at Indianapolis this past weekend to show up in May. Chassis and engines are limited. Track time is limited. Money is tight and contracts are ironclad. If there was only the Indianapolis 500, 95% of these drivers would probably never get to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Looking at the entry lists for the four races that comprise Super Weekend, I found 50 names that I truly believe in another universe are at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, trying to make the "500." Let's start with the seven guys who ran the "500" this year alone, Jack Hawksworth, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sage Karam, Townsend Bell, James Davison, Martin Plowman and Kurt Busch. Add in the other drivers with Indianapolis 500 starts, from NASCAR's Tony Stewart, AJ Allmendinger, Danica Patrick and the forgettable J.J. Yeley to former IndyCar stars Bruno Junqueira, Christian Fittipaldi, Scott Pruett and Scott Sharp. That's fifteen down.

Then comes a long list of guys who were in IndyCar and have turned to sports cars. I bet Ryan Dalziel would turn some heads if he returned. Jan Heylen had some decent drives in Champ Car and if Bertand Baguette taught us anything, Belgians can succeed at Indianapolis. Dan Clarke also put together some decent drives in Champ Car.  Michael Valiante made only two starts in Champ Car, a real shame considering his success in Formula Atlantic. Same goes for Luis Díaz. John Edwards won a Star Mazda and Atlantic Championship and has never come close to jumping behind the wheel of an IndyCar. Jonathan Bomarito came close to winning an Atlantic's title and Dane Cameron won a Star Mazda title but like Edwards, both have never came close to IndyCar. David Ostella had a fluid career in junior formulas between Europe and North America but has been respectable in PC cars. Gustavo Yacamán would probably be more Sebastián Saavedra than Carlos Muñoz in IndyCar. How Patrick Long lost the Red Bull Driver Search to Scott Speed is the greatest fraud in American open-wheel racing history. What could have been a decent open-wheel career budded a respectably worldwide sports car career. That's twenty-six down.

A few other drivers with open-wheel roots but were smart enough to switch to sports cars before they reached the depressing point of coming so close to reaching the top of the ladder and never getting there. Joel Miller finished second to John Edwards by sixteen points in the 2008 Star Mazda championship. He made two Indy Lights starts in 2010 and that's the closest he got to IndyCar. Miller's Speedsource Mazda teammate Tristan Nunez didn't even come that close. Nunez won the Team USA Scholarship in 2012 but has yet to compete in a Mazda Road to Indy series and likely never will. Trent Hindman was racing against and beating on occasion the likes of Spencer Pigot, Zach Veach and Matthew Brabham in U.S. F2000 just a few years ago. Unlike those three, his open-wheel career is on hiatus in Continental Sports Car Challenge. Then there is Shelby Blackstock who is still in the Road to Indy and very well could be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a few years.

Finally from sports cars there are those who you think could hold their own in IndyCar. Biennially we hear the "Wayne Taylor Racing to IndyCar" rumor because it makes sense a sports car guy who has never been associated with IndyCar would abandon a sports car racing series his team is constantly a championship contender in for IndyCar. But we still wonder what his sons Ricky and Jordan would do in open-wheel. Colin Braun's career has covered all the bases but open-wheel. He made his 24 Hours of Daytona debut at 16, 24 Hours of Daytona debut at 18, won races in the NASCAR Truck Series and was competitive in a limited Nationwide Series ride and was back to sports car by the age of 23. He is 25 now, why not try IndyCar?

That's thirty-three drivers and we still got eighteen to go.

Former Formula One drivers are known for making Indianapolis 500 appearances late in their careers. Who wouldn't like to see Jan Magnussen and Giancarlo Fisichella try to qualify for the Indianapolis 500?

As much as their has been a lack of USAC drivers in IndyCar, Ed Carpenter should provide anyone with an example that with support, the drivers that made the Indianapolis 500 what it was yesterday have a place in IndyCar's future. Of course, the list of USAC guys who went to NASCAR is like the list of players Mike Milbury traded away from the New York Islanders. We all know the list, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, even Mike Bliss won a Silver Crown title in 1993. Add to that list Cole Whitt, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson, Dakoda Armstrong, Kevin Swindell and Chad Boat.

Casey Mears made a few starts in CART and IndyCar with some success (finished fourth on debut) and who would be against the Mears name returning to the Indianapolis 500?  Brad Keselowski has the car owner (Roger Penske) and right attitude to make the double a reality. Brian Vickers was reportedly close to a deal for the 2012 Indianapolis 500 but the engine shortage killed that from happening. Then there is Jimmie Johnson. He came from off-road racing, as did Rick Mears and Robby Gordon. I think Johnson could find some Indianapolis 500 success. Forty-nine down, one to go.

Finally, I want to single out David Empringham. He is the Wade Cunningham of the previous generation. Empringham has the distinction to be the only driver to win championships in both Atlantics and Indy Lights. He beat Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier, Tony Kanaan, Hélio Castroneves, Cristiano da Matta, Greg Ray, Robbie Buhl and Jeff Ward. Not one, but two Atlantic championships, an Indy Lights title, winner of the fastest Indy Lights race, Empringham did it all but, unlike Cunnningham, Empringham has never made a start in IndyCar. I really would have liked to see what he could have done against a golden generation (Paul Tracy, Greg Moore, Scott Goodyear, Villeneuve, Carpentier) of Canadian drivers. He deserves more praise than he gets

Pirelli World Challenge-IndyCar Extravaganza
Remember when the V8 Supercars race at Surfers Paradise required each team to hire a driver from another series to pair with a regular for twin 300-kilometer races? It hit me this week that Pirelli World Challenge and IndyCar should do the same with the GT/GT-A class and it should be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I'm not sure it could fit into the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend. Maybe it could. I was thinking a pair of one hour races, one for the PWC full-times, one for the IndyCar guys with the average finishing position for each pair setting the grid for a final, two hour race.

Think of some of the pairings you could have. Johnny O'Connell paired with Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Kuno Wittmer in a Viper, Anthony Lazzaro and Tony Kanaan in a Ferrari, Pennsylvanians Butch Leitzinger and Marco Andretti in the Bentley, maybe even bring Nick Tandy back and have him and Mike Conway form an all-British assault in a Porsche. Why not do it? Pirelli World Challenge has produced some of the best racing in the nation, the series deserves a place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and it wouldn't hurt anyone and fans would love it.

Formula One-IndyCar August Challenge
Formula One is taking there three week summer break and to keep those drivers fresh, why doesn't IndyCar invite some over to run Mid-Ohio and Milwaukee? Put a small prize on the line for the driver who scores the most points over two races to increase the incentive to go for it.

You don't have to invite everyone but why not invite four or five? Daniel Ricciardo and his smile should keep up the momentum after winning the Hungarian Grand Prix. Seeing as McLaren is going to have Honda power in 2015, Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen should come over and get use to the Japanese power. Sergio Pérez could use his Telmex sponsor to his advantage and might draw some additional fans. And call over Nico Hülkenberg. He has put together some impressive runs and was ahead of Sebastian Vettel for a while in the championship standings.

Where would their rides come from? Rahal Letterman Lanigan has a second car that could be filled by Magnussen. Through the Telmex and Ganassi connections, Pérez could slot into the Dreyer & Reinbold chassis that has been vacant since Indianapolis. AJ Foyt could reunite the band and give Button a seat alongside his former BAR-Honda teammate Takuma Sato. Andretti Autosport loves running five cars and I think Ricciardo would slot in perfectly with that cast of characters. I was thinking Ricciardo could run with KV but he already has a teammate named Sebastian and giving him two more wouldn't seem right. But Hülkenberg would benefit from Sébastien Bourdais' experience and would make sense to land their.

It's a nice idea but reality dictates it won't happen. If it did, I'd call the two weekends the Jim Clark Memorial, in honor of the man who won at Milwaukee in 1963 and a time when drivers would come cross the pond to try something new every now and then. Trust me when I say motorsports needs that type of demeanor more now than ever before.

IndyCar Needs to Return to Laguna Seca
As some of you may know, I decided to head to California for IndyCar's off weekend. I drove along the Pacific Ocean and the salty breeze pushed my up into the hills where the marine layer was replaced by clear, blue sky.

Where it appears Heaven and Earth blend into one I bumped into something so beautiful, God himself had to of molded it from the sand with His own hands.

Laguna Seca
The National Auto Sport Association (NASA) were at Laguna Seca Saturday and Sunday which provided the perfect opportunity to explore one of the most picturesque road courses in the United States. You name it, it was at the track. From Radicals to GT3 Porsches, Miatas to pick ups, Kia Rios to Legends cars. There were no corporate sponsors, no long lines for autographs, no restrictions. It was paradise. Walking around the grounds, from into the garages that housed World Superbike teams just a fortnight ago to the top of the hill and everywhere in between.

The Corkscrew
The corkscrew goes against all logic. I must have seen cars go through it more than a hundred times this weekend and each time I saw a car dive down like a seagull for a fish, my heart stopped, I held my breathe and as they headed to Rainey, I exhaled. Then thinking about what Alex Zanardi did to Bryan Herta, makes your head spin like a philosophical question.

Laguna Seca is more than the corkscrew though. Rainey is a fast corner on the way back down the hill to the front straightaway. Turn six is a hairy corner where one misstep a car is going into the sand or spinning into the inside wall. Walking around the grounds is not for the faint of heart with all the elevation changes. Make sure you are prepared for a physically grueling trek if you want the reward of an 80% view of the circuit.

IndyCar needs to return to Laguna Seca. I love Sonoma and would like to believe there is enough room for both on the schedule. Laguna Seca could open the season in early March for all I care but IndyCar has to get back there whenever they can make it fit. The track doesn't need any changes. The DW12-era has turned a motorcycle circuit in Barber into one of IndyCar's favorite spots and made street courses that were processional into city brawls where you don't know where to look due to all the action. The DW12 can do the same with Laguna Seca. Not to fail to mention the immediate connection with the Mazda Road to Indy and Cooper Tires, who supply all three ladder series and are a predominant sponsor at the track.

It has been almost ten years since North America's premier open-wheel series has turned a racing lap at Laguna Seca and that has to change. It's bad enough the series is missing out on a crown jewel in Road America but this is one IndyCar can't neglect anymore.

Tweet of the Week
Let me start by saying, I like Clint Bowyer. Putting the incident at Richmond last September aside I like Clint Bowyer. I wish he (and Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman) were at Eldora for the Truck race but I like Clint Bowyer. After yesterday's race, he send out this tweet


First thing I thought when I saw this was, "Jokes on you, IndyCar doesn't use push to pass on oval." I understand it if Bowyer doesn't closely keep an eye on the technical regulations of other forms of motorsports. I just thought it was a fun but a little uninformed tweet.


Winners From the Weekend
You know about Daniel Ricciardo and Jeff Gordon winning his fifth Brickyard 400 but did you know...

René Rast, Laurens Vanthoor and Markus Winkelhock won the Spa 24 Hours driving the #1 Audi R8 LMS Ultra of Belgian Audi Club Team WRT. The #53 AF Corse Ferrari 458 GT3 of Niek Hommerson, Louis Machiels, Andrea Bertolini and Marco Cioci won in Pro-Am while the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 GT3 of Peter Mann, Francisco Guedes, Cedric Mezard and Alexander Talkanitsa won in the Gentlemen Trophy class.

Arthur Pic and Stoffel Vandoorne split the GP2 weekend at Hungary. Richie Stanaway and Patric Niederhauser split GT3.

Ty Dillon won the Nationwide race at Indianapolis and Darrell Wallace, Jr. won the Truck race at Eldora midweek.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads to Mid-Ohio with the whole Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge in tow.
NASCAR is at Pocono.
V8 Supercars are at Queensland Raceway.
DTM heads to the Red Bull Ring in Austria.
World Rally Championship heads to Finland for eighth round of 2014.
WTCC heads to Argentina before two months off before heading to China for two rounds in October.
Stock Car Brasil returns after two months off (thank you World Cup) at Goiânia.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Barbosa, Fittipaldi Stretch Fuel For Brickyard Victory

João Barbosa was able to stretch fuel further than anyone else on his way to taking the checkered flag in the third Brickyard Grand Prix. It is Barbosa's and his Action Express Racing co-driver Christian Fittipaldi's first career victories at Indianapolis. Action Express Racing's only other victory in 2014 was the season opener 24 Hours of Daytona. With the victory Barbosa and Fittipaldi retake the Prototype championship lead by two points from the Taylor brothers, Jordan and Ricky who finished fourth.

LMP2 cars dominated Thursday, qualifying 1-2-3 but the DPs owned Friday taking the top four. Ganassi Racing's Ford-Riley driven by Scott Pruett and Sage Karam finished second with the #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP of Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante rounded out the podium. The pole-sitting #1 HPD ARX-03b of Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp finished fifth.

On his prototype challenge debut, Jack Hawksworth made a late pass on his Rocketsports teammate Bruno Junqueira, giving the IndyCar rookie a class win on debut and Chris Cumming his first victory since last year's Petit Le Mans. Hawksworth was substituting for the suspended Alex Tagliani after the Canadian reentered the race track unsafely during practice at Watkins Glen a month ago. Duncan Ende was Junqueira's co-driver in the PC second place finishing car. It is Rocketsports first victory of 2014. PC championship leading CORE Autosport pair of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett finished third in class. CORE Autosport has won four of six PC races in 2014.

Jonathan Bomartio and Kuno Wittmer got Viper their first win of 2014 in the GTLM class and ended Corvette's four race winning streak in the process. Wittmer also won the second Pirelli World Challenge race at Toronto earlier in the week on Sunday. Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer finished second in the #62 Ferrari 458 Italia with the #912 Porsche 911 RSR of Patrick Long and Michael Christensen rounding out the GTLM podium. Winners of the previous four events, Jan Magnussen and Antonio García finished fourth. The Dane and Spaniard retained the GTLM championship lead.

Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Westphal won in the GTD class driving the #63 Scuderia Corse Ferrari 458 GT3. It is their second victory of 2014 after winning at Belle Isle on the final day of May. The #48 Audi R8 LMS of Christopher Haase and Bryce Miller matched their best finish of 2014 by finishing second. The most recent winners in GTD, the #33 Viper GT3 of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating finished third after a late pass on class championship leaders Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell.

The next round for the IMSA United SportsCar Championship takes place at Road America on August 10th. All four classes will be competing.




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The One-Day Show Conundrum

Show up, practice, qualify, race, go home.

Plain and simple. From local short tracks to major NASCAR touring divisions, the one-day show format is used frequently to save teams and tracks costs. For fans the pro of having every session within hours of each other is balanced by the con of only one chance of seeing on track action and if it doesn't fit into your schedule, then there is always next year.

For IndyCar, oval events are at a crossroads. Great racing but difficulty filling seats. Ticket prices and timing play a role into at attendance but more has to be done at oval events for fans to feel they are getting enough bang for their buck.

Iowa for example had no on-track action before the IndyCar race started close to 8:00 p.m. local time.  Instead of spreading practice and qualifying over two days, condense it to one, with practice sessions and qualifying spread out throughout the afternoon with a support series leading into the race.

An argument against one-day shows is a local newspaper would not have qualifying results to use to promote the race. The general thinking being a two-day show gives a race two days in the paper and gives the race more publicity in the local market. The news world has changed as the paper is declining and the web has taken over the throne of where people go for their news.

For races to succeed in today's IndyCar, the series and race promoters can't rely on old school ways like the paper and hoping someone's interest is piqued by a short blurb on qualifying. Getting people to buy tickets and through the gates needs a more hands-on approach. Instead of a day or two of practice, disperse the entire field of IndyCar drivers around the local market the day or two prior to a race, shaking hands, kissing babies and interacting with people. Hit local hot spots. Have a few drivers signing autographs at a local mall, have a couple do events in association with local radio stations, go to local colleges with some free t-shirts, free tickets and free paddock passes. College kids like free stuff, trust me.

It's about getting fans of all ages. About a year ago, the animated-movie Turbo premiered. It's great to be shooting at a younger fan base but that is a long-term process. Reaping the benefits from Turbo won't come to fruition until the child is much older. A package for a family of four is a great start though. Back to the college kid idea. Offer a student ticket for college kids and try to bring that snake-pit party like atmosphere to each race. As a college kid, I speak for most of us saying we are not rich but always looking for a good time if the price is right.

IndyCar should make sure the series is as interested in the local market as they would like the local market to be interested with IndyCar. If the drivers can create a connection with the local people, the people will become interested. You can wave ads for a race all in someones face but that won't do nearly as well of job drawing people as someone getting a chance to have conversation with Simon Pagenaud or seeing the energetic personality of Josef Newgarden.

Other series make the one-day shows work. Tonight, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series runs at Eldora with practice, qualifying, heats and the main event all in one night and will have a crowd similar to one IndyCar draws at Texas about six weeks ago. AMA Supercross is coming off an all-time high year for attendance, packing Major League Baseball and National Football League stadiums and every AMA Supercross event is a one-day show with practice, heats and main events for both the 250cc and 450cc classes. Supercross is doing something right and IndyCar should took notes.

As much as people think IndyCar's oval schedule is teetering on extinction, take a moment to stop and think how many ovals are on the IndyCar schedule? Now, think how many street courses (not street course race, just street courses) are on the IndyCar schedule? Finally, think how many road courses are on the IndyCar schedule? If you break it down into the three categories, ovals lead the way at six followed by five street courses and four road courses. Doubleheaders balloon the amount of street course races to eight but realize there are more ovals than street courses on the IndyCar schedule. IndyCar needs to keep their six oval races alive while trying to grow to eight or nine with another short track or two and a return to a bigger track such as Michigan or Kentucky. Easier said than done, I know.

One-day shows might help oval events. Nothing is a guarantee but IndyCar is in the position where they at least have to give it a shot.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: The More the Merrier

A busy Sunday was jam-packed with Asian Le Mans, Super GT, Formula One, Indy Lights, IndyCar, Pirelli World Challenge and another IndyCar race. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Doubleheaders Revisited
Two seasons worth of doubleheaders are behind us and we have faced different scenarios at each one. From rained out qualifying sessions to rained out races, rough tracks to poor drainage, doubleheaders have experienced an gauntlet of challenges.

I liked yesterday with the two races split. It had a World Superbike feel and I think IndyCar should investigate the twin 80-minute double feature on Sunday with say the Indy Lights race in the middle. I like the Saturday-Sunday format as well. Maybe the twin-80 if you will, should be used at other road/street courses, while Belle Isle, Houston and Toronto keep the Saturday-Sunday format.

The twin-80 could pose a problem if IndyCar don't go racing due to inclement weather like they did Saturday. I thought the two, 80-minute races provided just as much excitement and just as much drama as the full distance, 85-lap races would have. The races were one stoppers and in race one you didn't have to worry about the tire designation rule getting in the way. It was simple.

Maybe the twin-80 should be used on the road courses. One race early at say noon, with Indy Lights at 1:45 p.m. and race two at 3:15 p.m. I think it is worth consideration.

While the postponement on Saturday caused a very shaken up Sunday, I don't think we need to abandon doubleheaders. One, because once you gave fans doubleheaders, you can't take them away. That would kill an event. Two, doubleheaders puts IndyCar on television an extra day three weekends during the season. IndyCar needs more television exposure if they want any hope of attracting sponsors.

Expand PWC
Pirelli World Challenge joined IndyCar at Toronto and had to excellent races. In race one, IMSA GTLM drivers Nick Tandy and Kuno Wittmer went 1-2 with Tandy's Porsche holding off Wittmer's Viper by just over a half second. In GTS, Dean Martin held off defending GTS champion Lawson Aschenbach by three quarters of a second. Race two saw two Canadians on top. Wittmer won by over a second to Anthony Lazzaro's Ferrari. Kia Racing's Mark Wilkins held off the Mustang of Alec Udell by 0.039 seconds for the GTS win.

PWC has put on some of the best racing in 2014. It is MotoGP on four wheels. Forty minutes of non-stop, close quarters action. No pit stops, no full course cautions for a car stopped on the side of the course and as far as I have heard, no bitching from the drivers, manufactures or teams. It sounds like racing heaven.

The one wish I have to PWC is for it to grow in fans but grow with drivers. Toronto had 42 entries. That's more than enough for a street course but I'd love to see some drivers who can't land a ride in IndyCar look to PWC as an option between opportunities and gives them something else to do beside run just the Indianapolis 500 and I like to see more top level sports car drivers moonlight in PWC.

This is nothing against the current crop of drivers. Johnny O'Connell and Andy Pilgrim are great veterans. Anthony Lazzaro has run everything and anything in his career, from IndyCar to NASCAR to sports car. Not to much PWC has a few good young drivers in Andrew Palmer, Nick Mancuso and Mike Skeen. But I'd love to see field grow with the likes of J.R. Hildebrand, Dane Cameron, James Davison, John Edwards, Tommy Milner and Jonathan Bomarito running most of the races.

Keep It Simple Stupid Points
Many times I have advocated for the return of the 9-6-4-3-2-1 point system Formula One used for nearly thirty seasons from the 1961 to 1990 in every motorsports series. It is simple to follow, no bonus points and makes a driver earn a championship by needing to finish up front and not pussyfoot for top tens. Here is a look at how a few series would stand if it used the format above.

IndyCar:
Ryan Hunter-Reay- 46
Will Power- 42
Hélio Castroneves- 37
Simon Pagenaud- 33
Juan Pablo Montoya- 24
Ed Carpenter- 20
Tony Kanaan- 20
Scott Dixon- 19
Mike Conway- 18
Sébastien Bourdais- 17

Carlos Muñoz- 15
Charlie Kimball- 12
Marco Andretti- 10
Carlos Huertas- 9
Mikhail Aleshin- 7
Graham Rahal- 7
Josef Newgarden- 6
Jack Hawksworth- 6
James Hinchcliffe- 6
Ryan Briscoe- 4

Justin Wilson- 4
Takuma Sato- 2
Kurt Busch- 1

The biggest shakeup in IndyCar would be both Ed Carpenter and Mike Conway would be in the top ten of the championship. Ryan Hunter-Reay would be leading instead of third and Hélio Castroneves would be third instead of leading. James Hinchcliffe's bad season is really put into perspective with the 9-6-4-3-2-1 system. Takuma Sato would have just gotten on the board with his fifth at Toronto 2 and Kurt Busch would have a point which would really show how good of a run he had at Indianapolis.

Formula One
Nico Rosberg- 66
Lewis Hamilton- 61
Daniel Ricciardo- 28
Valtteri Bottas- 20
Fernando Alonso- 20
Sebastian Vettel-19
Jenson Button- 12
Nico Hülkenberg- 10
Kevin Magnussen- 6
Sergio Pérez- 5

Felipe Massa- 3

No big changes in Formula One. Mercedes are still dominating except Hamilton is much closer to Rosberg. Kimi Räikkönen would be points-less as would be Jean-Éric Vergne, Romain Grosjean, Daniil Kvyat and Jules Bianchi.

NASCAR
Brad Keselowski- 54
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.- 50
Jimmie Johnson- 42
Kevin Harvick- 36
Jeff Gordon- 34
Joey Logano- 30
Kyle Busch- 30
Carls Edwards- 24
Matt Kenseth- 24
Denny Hamlin- 22

Kurt Busch- 21
Kyle Larson- 14
Aric Almirola- 13
Brian Vickers- 13
Paul Menard- 10
Greg Biffle- 8
Clint Bowyer- 8
Kasey Kahne- 7
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.- 6
Ryan Newman- 6

Jamie McMurray- 6
Tony Stewart- 5
Marcos Ambrose- 4
Casey Mears- 3
AJ Allmendinger- 3
Austin Dillon- 2
Martin Truex, Jr.- 1

A few shake ups in NASCAR. Keselowski and Earnhardt, Jr. are the top two. Jeff Gordon drops to fifth. Kevin Harvick would jump from thirteenth to fourth. The biggest drop would be Ryan Newman, from seventh to twentieth.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Sébastien Bourdais, Mike Conway, Nico Rosberg, Nick Tandy, Kuno Wittmer, Dean Martin and Mark Wilkins but did you know...

Alex Baron won his first career Indy Lights race at Toronto. Jake Eidson and Florian Latorre split the U.S. F2000 races. Latorre took the points lead after R.C. Enerson finished seventeenth in race two.

Mitch Evans and Stefano Coletti won in GP2 at Hockenheim. Marvin Kirchhöfer and Jann Mardenborough won in GP3.

The Signatech Alpine of Paul-Loup Chatin, Nelson Panciatici and Oliver Webb won the ELMS race in Austria. The AF Corse Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Duncan Cameron and Michele Rugolo won in GTE. The SMP Racing Ferrari of Kiril Ladygin, Aleksey Basov and Luca Persiani won in GTC.

David Cheng and Ho-Pin Tung won the ALMS season opener from Inje in the #1 OAK Racing Morgan-Judd. The Ligier-Honda of Mathias Beche, Kevin Tse and Frank Yu won in CN and BMW Z4 GT3 of Morris Chen, Marco Seefried and Ryohei Sakaguchi won GT.

In Super GT from Sugo, the Lexus of Yuji Tachikawa and Kohei Hirate won in GT500 and the Lamborghini of Takayuki Aoki and Manabu Orido won in GT300.

Chase Elliott won the Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One heads east to Hungary.
NASCAR and IMSA are at Indianapolis.
Another Blancpain Endurance Series race as it is time for the 24 Hours of Spa.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

First Impressions: Toronto 2014 Race Two

Mike Conway switched to slick at the right time and came out victorious
1. Mike Conway pulled another one out of nowhere and has two wins in 2014. He's had a terrible season though. Outside of his two wins, his best finish is 11th. Ed Carpenter Racing though has had a great season. Three wins while Ganassi is still winless. Great call going to slick tires when they did.

2. Speaking of Ganassi, Tony Kanaan went from stalled on lap one to finish second. A great day for him but I bet he and his team are itching for a win. Good news, the next race is at Scott Dixon's house, Mid-Ohio.

3. Will Power took a healthy chunk out of Hélio Castroneves' point lead in race two. Third for Power, 12th for this teammate. The Australian is thirteen back of the Brazilian.

4. If Charlie Kimball could qualify in the top five, he'd have eight wins and be walking away with the championship. Started 16th today, finished 4th. Great day for him. Great day for Chevrolet, sweeping the top four.

5. Takuma Sato finished fifth, first top ten since the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, first top five since second at São Paulo last year. A much need result for AJ Foyt Racing.

6. Jack Hawksworth snuck into a sixth place finish. Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti came home where they started in seventh and eighth. Sébastien Bourdais couldn't match his success in race one but came home ninth after it could have been much worse.

7. Justin Wilson nearly pulled out a podium but came home tenth after being a sitting duck on wet tires when everyone else was on slicks.

8. We need to set rules on when and when not a red flag can be used at the end of race. There has to be a standard and not just willy nilly using it when race control feels like it. Indianapolis, late caution, red flag is used. Texas, late caution, no red flag, race did finish under green. Houston 1, late caution, no red flag, race ended under caution. Iowa, late caution, no red flag, race did finish under green. Today, a timed race, red flag, race finishes under green. There needs to be, carved in stone, a step-by-step process for when and when not a red flag can be used at the end of a race.

9. Firestone needs to develop a better wet weather tire. That is their homework for the long offseason IndyCar has given them.

10. Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell did a great job on the broadcast commentating on the driver's running a wider line, off the concrete patches in the corners and to be honest, I doubt the ABC broadcast would have given that much insight.

11. This was the last race of July and there are only four races to go. It is hard to wrap my head around that. It's not even August but there are only four races left. In six weeks the season will be over. After today it appears to be a two horse, Penske race. Castroneves vs. Power. Ryan Hunter-Reay had two poor races. He is only 69 points out but he's going to need some help if he wants a second title. Simon Pagenaud had an electrical gremlin ruin his race early. He fall back to fourth in the championship, 71 back. Amazingly, 18 drivers are still mathematically eligible for the championship. Unless someone goes on a tear winning three of the final four or sweeping the final four, it looks like Roger Penske will get his first champion since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006 and either Will Power or Hélio Castronves will get that elusive first title.

12. IndyCar gets a week off after six races in four weeks. I think I'll go to California.


First Impressions: Toronto 2014 Race One

Sébastien Bourdais picked up his second Toronto victory ten years after his first at Exhibition Place
1. What a race by Sébastien Bourdais. It's been a long journey back to the top step of the podium for Bourdais. From a rough year and a half in Formula One, to a fair amount of success in sports cars, Bourdais has picked up his thirty-second IndyCar victory nearly seven years after his thirty-first. Fun fact, eighteen of Bourdais' thirty-two victories have come from pole position. 

2. Hélio Castroneves finish second while championship contenders Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay struggled. Power finished ninth, Hunter-Reay retired after contact with the wall while trying to passing Tony Kanaan, who finished third. Power had a good run but was never close to challenging his teammate and Hunter-Reay put himself in a position he didn't need to be in. There is still another race today but things are appearing to fall Castroneves' way

3. Simon Pagenaud nearly had his day end on lap one after contact with Luca Filippi spun the Frenchman and blocked the track but Pagenaud recovered and came home in a hard fought fourth. He also kept his championship hopes alive by not giving up.

4. Scott Dixon rounded out the top five, Graham Rahal finished sixth, Charlie Kimball had a Charlie Kimball-like day, starting on one of the last three rows but finishing in the top ten and James Hinchcliffe matched his career best finish at his home race with another eighth place finish.

5. Who would have thought KV Racing would have won a race before Tony Kanaan and Ganassi Racing won at the beginning of 2014? Nine different winners in 2014 and by the end of today, there very well could be ten different winners.

6. Not a bad first race. No one had a massive shunt and will be fighting to make the start of race two. That is good news. Today has a World Superbike race day feel. One race, followed by some support races in the middle and then another race to close out the day. Maybe IndyCar should consider this format going forward for doubleheaders.

7. Nice to see IndyCar get a back bone and move Ryan Briscoe, Juan Pablo Montoya and Power to the rear of the field but what took so long? They had announced they weren't going to lose their positions at the end of Saturday and all of a sudden Sunday they are at the back. You got to make a call and stick by it, not flip flop back and forth.

8. One more point of inconsistency. Last year at Houston, race two was lined up by entrant points from before the race weekend, not after race one at Houston. This year, race two at Toronto is lined up by entrant points after race one at Toronto. What will the ruling be going forward if needed again? Who knows!

9. A little less than four hours until race two, rest up everybody.



Morning Warm-Up: Toronto 2014 Race Two

Sébastien Bourdais and Will Power will lead the field to the green in race one Sunday morning
After a rained out Saturday race, Sunday will feature two, 65-lap or 80-minute races. The grid for race one will be set by the qualifying times set Saturday with race two being set by entrant points entering the weekend. Race one will feature an initial rolling start while race two will feature an initial standing start.

Sébastien Bourdais will start on pole position for race one. It is his first pole position since Assen in 2007. Seventeen of the Frenchman's thirty-one victories have come from pole position. Will Power will start second despite an accident on the parade laps on Saturday. Had the race gone green on Saturday, Power would have had to start from the back of the grid. Third place will be Hélio Castroneves. The Brazilian has a nine point lead over his Penske teammate Power in the championship. Ryan Hunter-Reay will start fourth. He won at Toronto from sixth on the grid in 2012.

Simon Pagenaud starts fifth despite an accident in the Firestone Fast Six session on Saturday. Next to him will be Tony Kanaan. Kanaan's last road/street course victory was Belle Isle in 2007. Luca Filippi qualified seventh for his first career start at Toronto next to Justin Wilson. Twice has the winner come from row four at Toronto. Will Power won from seventh in 2007 and Al Unser, Jr. won from eighth in 1990. James Hinchcliffe starts ninth for the first race in his home town. Ryan Briscoe rounds out the top ten. Briscoe had an accident on the parade laps yesterday but will keep his grid position.

Juan Pablo Montoya will start eleventh despite an electrical issue that nearly sent the Colombian to the back of the grid on Saturday. Scott Dixon rolls off from twelve. Only once has the winner come from outside the top ten at Toronto. That was Michael Andretti in 2001 who started thirteenth. Josef Newgarden starts thirteenth in race one with fellow American and Honda driver Graham Rahal in fourteenth. Takuma Sato rounds out the top fifteen with Mike Conway joining him on row eight.

Rookies Carlos Muñoz and Jack Hawksworth make up row nine. Sebastián Saavedra and Charlie Kimball round out the top twenty. Carlos Huertas and Mikhail Aleshin make up another all-rookie row on row eleven with Marco Andretti rounding out the field in twenty-third.

Race one coverage will start at 10:30 a.m. ET on CNBC after the broadcast of the Formula One German Grand Prix from the Hockenheimring.

Three thoughts heading into this unique day for IndyCar:

1. Survive race one! You don't want to wad a car up in race one to the point it can't start race two. That could be the death blow for a championships run.

2. Time! Race one will probably begin almost immediately, which means green around 10:35 a.m., race is limited to 80 minutes, so the race will be over by 11:55 a.m. at the latest. That will give the teams about four hours and twenty minutes between the checkered flag for race one and the lights going out for race two. If there is any crash damage, there is the time frame the teams have to work in. If there is an engine failure, there is the time frame the teams have to work in. It will be helter skelter in the paddock between races.

3. Fuel Strategy! Today is Dale Coyne's Christmas. He has mastered the timed race format more than anyone else in the paddock. The question is can teams stretch these races to be one stoppers? If so, Carlos Huertas very well could pass Graham Rahal on the all-time win list this afternoon.

A few fun facts due to revisionist history and clarifications:

First time there are two IndyCar races on the same day since June 11, 2011 when Texas Motor Speedway hosted the Firestone Twin 275s. Dario Franchitti and Will Power won that night.

First time there are two full points-paying IndyCar races on the same day since June 28, 1981 when Atlanta Motor Speedway hosted the Kraco Twins 125s. Rick Mears won both races.

First time there are two full points-paying road/street course IndyCar races on the same day since October 19, 1969 when Pacific Raceways hosted the Dan Gurney 200. Mario Andretti and Al Unser split that day.

Once again, race one coverage begins at 10:30 a.m. ET on CNBC, immediately after the Formula One German Grand Prix. Race two coverage will be at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will feature an initial standing start.

Update 1:58 p.m. ET
For race two, coverage will start at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Hélio Castroneves will start first on virtue of driving the entrant points leading entry. His teammate Will Power makes it an all-Penske front row. Honda drivers Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay will start on row two. Colombians Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Muñoz start on row three. Scott Dixon  will start seventh ahead of Marco Andretti in eighth. Tony Kanaan and race one winner Sébastien Bourdais.

Mike Conway and Ryan Briscoe will start on row six. James Hinchcliffe will be joined by Mikhail Aleshin on row seven. Justin Wilson will start fifteenth with Charlie Kimball sixteenth. Josef Newgarden and Jack Hawksworth comprise row nine for race two. Graham Rahal and Carlos Huertas will start nineteenth and twentieth respectively. Sebastián Saavedra, Takuma Sato and Luca Filippi will round out the grid for race two.