Wednesday, April 27, 2016

There Needs to be a Change in Etiquette

A week and a half ago, I ran the 10k portion of a 5k/10k run. The course was set up where at the end of lap one those participating in the 5k made a right hand turn to the finish line while the 10k runners made a left and did another lap of the course. Within a half-mile of the second lap, I and the rest of the 10k runner around me caught the tail end of runners as the starts were staggered by pace. It wasn't a problem. There were four lanes of roadway plus bike lanes. Plenty of room as the 10k runners stayed to the left. However, the second part of the lap funneled from four lanes to park trails that a Smart Car would have trouble driving along. Now the 10k runners were mixed in the 5k runners with nowhere to go. Eventually it widened enough that you could pass and the left hand side of the path was open to 10k runners.

A simple "on your left" or "excuse me" would be said to let slower runners know someone was coming and they would move out of the way and let you by. No one tried to intentionally cut a faster runner off. There was nothing to gain by being rude. It was a little difficult to have to navigate the crowd but it worked out.

A charity 5k/10k event isn't at the same level of a Verizon IndyCar Series race but the same difficulty of dealing with slower competitors came into play at Barber Motorsports Park last Sunday. Back markers played a significant role in the outcome of last Sunday's race. First, Conor Daly held up leader Simon Pagenaud allowing Will Power and Graham Rahal to catch the Frenchman. Then Sébastien Bourdais held up his countryman, which set the stage for the battle between Pagenaud and Rahal that eventually ended when the Ohioan clipped the back marker of Jack Hawksworth, damaging his wing and leaving him as a dead duck running four-plus seconds slower of Pagenaud per lap.

Many commented that back markers have a right to fight to stay on the lead lap and that it is a rule. However, the word "lapped" appears in the rulebook three times and once is in the glossary. No such rule exists. The "right to fight" rule is unwritten, just like kicking the ball out of play in soccer for an opponent that is down or not flipping your bat after hitting a home run in baseball.

I covered this a little bit after the race on Sunday but the "right to fight" belief is full of traps. First, it devalues leading and takes power away from the leader. The leader should always be the most powerful car on track especially when dealing with back markers. They are the leader after all. By allowing back markers the "right to fight," we saw the leader lose his advantage but the cars in second, third, fourth and so on do not have to face the same fight. The current etiquette is you have the "right to fight" but once you are a lap down you have to lie down like a dead dog for other cars on the lead. It is absurd that the leader has to struggle while second, third, fourth and so on get a free pass by the slower car.

Second, the whole idea of "right to fight" is absurd. You race what is ahead of you, not what is behind. If you are 20th, you aren't racing the leader; you are racing for 19th. The leader is the least of your concerns. You have a long way to go until you have to be dealing with the leader. Another way to think about it is if you are 20th and let the leader by and that etiquette is held by the entire field then eventually the leader will catch 19th and put that driver a lap down and so on. Either way, 20th isn't racing for the lead and shouldn't be racing the leader. Twentieth should focus on 19th

Third, Pandora's box is on the verge of exploding open if the current etiquette continues. The limits of "right to fight" is bound to be pushed by a back marker soon and there will come a race where a back marker has been emboldened to really fight the leader and might even hit them. A back marker should never be enabled to push the leader off course or bump them or take them out of the race but "right to fight" is on the verge of promoting it. Should a back marker take out a leader, especially later in the season and that leader be a championship contender, all hell will break loose. This needs to be nipped now so IndyCar doesn't have another pain-in-the-ass storyline that make the series appear even more incompetent.

Many who have been supporting "right to fight" say it made the finish exciting and while that is true that doesn't justify its existences. If having the flag man throw thumb tacks on the track at the start/finish line made the racing exciting, should IndyCar allow it? Hell no. If the back markers are allowed to hold up the leader and allow second and third place to catch the leader then why not adopt the "caution clock" NASCAR has implemented in the Truck Series? They both accomplish the same thing: Bunching the field back up and hopefully creating passing.

I bet some of you read that and thought, "The 'caution clock' is manipulative while 'right to fight' is natural and the leader should have to pass the back marker." The problem is IndyCar is closer than ever and with the cars being so aero dependent, even passing back markers is a challenge. This isn't Formula One where Mercedes is running 3-5 miles per hour faster a lap a third of the grid. A mile-and-a-half per hour covers the entire field in IndyCar. Even with push-to-pass, passing isn't a given and the leader shouldn't have to burn push-to-passes to lap cars.

I don't understand why people care if 20th stays on the lead lap. Lapping cars is a natural part of racing. Cars should finish a lap down. Not everyone should finish on the lead lap. I won't go as far as to say the culture of participation trophies is the reason why people want to see as many cars finish on the lead lap as possible but this "right to fight" idea seems to be relatively new.

Simon Pagenaud probably would have won Sunday's race by eight-ten seconds had it not been for back markers hindering his progress but should slower cars really be playing that significant of a role in deciding a race? The lead lap is a privilege and not a right. Some races will see one person dominate and there is nothing wrong with that. Enabling slower cars with a "right to fight" might have provided a thrilling finish at Barber but it gives back markers way too much power. Back markers will always exist but they shouldn't be the reason why a lead goes from over four seconds to less than a second in six laps. Knowing IndyCar, "right to fight" is only bound to lead to more trouble.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Busting Balls

There was a lot of traffic at Barber. The Eiffel Tower was in the background of the Formula E race. NASCAR raced in the daylight. WTCC raced in the rain. Someone went from last to first. There were first time winner in multiple series on multiple continents. New Zealanders won all over the place but none were the New Zealander you are thinking of. There was a usual face on the top step of the podium in Spain. Speaking of Spain, Oriol Servià landed a ride for the Indianapolis 500. Stefan Wilson is close to landing a ride. Stoffel Vandoorne made an impressive debut in Super Formula with a third place finish. Imagine what Vandoorne could do in IndyCar. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Busting Balls
We are pretty much at 33 entries for this year's Indianapolis 500. A 34th entry appears to be likely. Any more is a stretch but would not be unthinkable. Andretti Autosport will have five cars. A.J. Foyt Racing, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing will all run three cars. Coyne is partnered with Jonathan Byrd's Racing. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will have two cars. That's 17 Honda entries.

Penske and Ganassi will each have four. Ed Carpenter Racing will have three. KV Racing should have three if the Stefan Wilson deal is finalized. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will return with a car and it appears Buddy Lazier will give it another go with his family's team. That's 16 Chevrolet entries.

Missing from that list is Grace Autosport, the team that was announced more than 11 months ago and led by Beth Paretta to encourage young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Grace Autosport was supposed to be an all-female team and Katherine Legge was selected to be the driver. Grace Autosport has reportedly tried to partner with a current team such as KV Racing but that appears as if it will not come to fruition.

It is hard for me to believe that Grace Autosport will not be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway come the month of May considering how the program would be such a positive for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 but it speaks to the difficulties of any one who wants to enter the series. Engines are hoarded. Chassis are tough to come by. It makes IndyCar seem like a boy's club where the only way to get in is to know the right people. With each engine manufacture committing to 17 engine leases for the Indianapolis 500, pursuing the dream of competing in one of the greatest races in the world has gone from fighting for hundredths of a second on Bump Day to a game of boardroom musical chairs.

It's not like Grace Autosport could put a stock block engine or a school bus engine in a car and give it a go. Grace Autosport, just like any other team with aspirations to race in the Indianapolis 500, are at the mercy of the two engine manufactures. If all the leases are filled then you don't even get the opportunity. It is infuriating just thinking about it. The 17th Chevrolet entry, if it happens at all, appears will be Gary Petersen's AFS-sponsored entry for Sebastián Saavedra; just another man already in IndyCar's inner-circle benefitting from being able to rub the right elbows (UPDATE: AFS will run Saavedra). That's a great message to send.

I doubt Grace Autosport announced this program last May and then waited until the 11th hour to put the pieces together like a college student with a term paper. This team has the potential to put IndyCar in a positive spotlight and attract more female viewers to a series that needs to grow. Grace Autosport could open the door of opportunity to a segment of the population that is far unrepresented in motorsports in general, let alone IndyCar. I can't believe none of the established IndyCar teams and their sponsors and neither engine manufacture sees how positive Grace Autosport could be for the series and partner with them. I can't find a negative to a team partnering with Grace Autosport. It is a win-win situation and I can't believe everyone is passing it up.

IndyCar could get actual exposure from Grace Autosport and if the team could expand into a full-time operation from an Indianapolis 500 one-off, it could be a monumental gain for the series. Grace Autosport not being on the entry list for this year's Indianapolis 500 would be another loss for IndyCar and probably be a gain for another series. Unlike in IndyCar, Grace Autosport would probably have no issues getting a chassis or engine program for the DPi class in IMSA next year or start a GT3 program. Grace Autosport might be better off moving on from IndyCar and never looking back. At least Grace Autosport might have a chance of actually getting on the racetrack.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Simon Pagenaud but did you know...

Ed Jones and Santiago Urrutia split the Indy Lights races from Barber. Pato O'Ward swept the Pro Mazda races. Parker Thompson swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Álvaro Parente and Michael Cooper split the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Barber. Jade Buford swept the GTS races in the #45 SIN R1 GT4.

Valentino Rossi won MotoGP's Spanish Grand Prix from Jerez. Sam Lowes won the Moto2 race. Brad Binder won the Moto3 races from 35th, dead last on the grid.

Lucas di Grassi won the Paris ePrix.

The #59 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 of Shane Van Gisbergen, Rob Bell and Côme Ledogar won the Blancpain Endurance Series season opener from Monza.

Carl Edwards won the NASCAR Cup race at Richmond. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the NASCAR Grand National Series race.

Naoki Yamamoto won the Super Formula season opener from Suzuka.

New Zealander Hayden Paddon won Rally Argentina, his first WRC victory.

Ken Roczen won the AMA Supercross race from Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Mehdi Bennani and José María López split the WTCC races from Hungary.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One is already heading back to Russia.
NASCAR heads to Talladega.
IMSA will run split races at Laguna Seca. Prototypes and GTLM first followed by PC/GTD.
World Superbikes will be at Imola.
AMA Supercross remains on the east coast for the penultimate round in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

First Impressions: Barber 2016

1. The race was exciting but that isn't necessarily a good thing. If driving etiquette was different, Simon Pagenaud might have won by 13.7476 seconds anyway. Either way, he and Graham Rahal had a great battle and unfortunately the back marker of Jack Hawksworth made a cameo. Pagenaud is the 14th driver since 1946 to have four podiums from the first four races. He is in command of the championship through the first quarter of the season.

2. Graham Rahal worked his way to the front and nearly won. He and Pagenaud had to battle lap traffic and unfortunately Hawksworth choose Rahal's lane instead of Pagenaud's. Rahal breaks his front wing and runs laps three seconds slower than the Frenchman. He nursed it home to second, which is every impressive. It must suck to be that close and lose it in such a way.

3. Josef Newgarden snuck onto the podium. While Pagenaud and Rahal and back markers where banging into one another, Newgarden slid by Will Power as they were chasing the wounded duck of Rahal. Another good run for Newgarden heading into the month of May.

4. Remember when Will Power missed St. Petersburg and everyone thought it would kill his championship run? Third, seventh and fourth from Power in his three starts this season. He is fine. He is eighth in the championship He will be in contention for the championship. Of course, if Pagenaud keeps finishing on the podium, it won't matter what Power does.

5. Juan Pablo Montoya went from 21st to fifth. He benefitted from Carlos Muñoz tapping Mikhail Aleshin and the Russian spinning into the path of Hawksworth before the green came out and then from Sébastien Bourdais tapping Scott Dixon. Still impressive from Montoya.

6. James Hinchcliffe finished sixth. Another strong race for Hinchcliffe as he was in the top ten all day. He battle with Montoya, Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan through out the race and held his own.

7. Hélio Castroneves started and finished seventh. He did nothing sexy in this race. He never appeared to be making strides to the front.

8. Tony Kanaan started ninth and finished eighth. If it weren't for Dixon being spun, he would have started ninth and finished ninth. He and Castroneves ran the same race.

9. Charlie Kimball finished ninth. He made a few really impressive moves at the start but faded a little bit. Kimball has finished tenth, 11th, 12th and ninth through four races. So what is next, an eighth or a 13th?

10. Scott Dixon's podium streak ends at Barber, as does Chip Ganassi Racing's podium streak. He did a great job to keep the car running after being spun and worked his way back to tenth. Perhaps he could have given Pagenaud and company a run for their money. We will never know.

11. Andretti Autosport looks better in this race but not great. Ryan Hunter-Reay got up to 11th. Marco Andretti got up to 12th. They are still a step off but this is better than Long Beach.

12. A.J. Foyt Racing should petition for IndyCar races to be held on Fridays. Takuma Sato finished 13th and Hawksworth was 19th but they were both in the top five on Friday. Something is a miss and that can't be blamed on Honda.

13. Speaking of Andretti Autosport, Carlos Muñoz finished 14th despite his contact prior to the green flag and Alexander Rossi finished 15th. Rossi had a great start but the Andretti cars weren't able to take advantage of strategy like Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

14. Quickly through the rest of the field: Sébastien Bourdais spun Dixon and was penalized and never recovered. Mikhail Aleshin was spun but never was a threat. Luca Filippi continues to have great qualifying runs and terrible races. We have talked so much about Jack Hawksworth already and he only finished 19th. Conor Daly and Max Chilton rounded out the field.

15. We need to talk about back marker etiquette. A driver should never race out his or her mirrors so when a car on the tail end of the lead lap sees the leader is approaching they should let the leader by. By saying a driver has "the right to fight to stay on the lead lap" gives a back marker more power than they should ever have. Does that mean they can run the leader wide or block or make contact with the leader? No. The power should always be in the hands of the leader. If the leader is reeling in a back marker, the leader should be allowed to go by because the back marker isn't racing the leader, the back marker is racing the driver ahead of them. Conor Daly was 20th and the leader Simon Pagenaud caught him. Daly isn't racing Pagenaud; he is racing the driver in 19th.

16. What if position in the championship determined how many push-to-passes a driver received? Watching James Hinchcliffe struggle behind Tony Kanaan and losing time to the leaders during the second stint got me thinking that a varying amount of push-to-passes could spice up a race. Give the drivers a base of ten pushes but give a few more to drivers lower in the championship. There were 21 drivers in the field. The top seven in the championship could get the base ten pushes with the next seven getting 18 pushes and the final third getting 15 pushes. Instead of playing with the aero kits, just balance it with pushes-to-pass. It could lead to more passing on track. I am sure it is something the engine manufactures could make possible.

17. We are one-fourth of the way through the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season and now the month of May and two races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I need a nap after this one. Luckily there are two weeks off until the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Sleep well my friends. And don't forget to be polite to faster traffic.

Morning Warm-Up: Barber 2016

Simon Pagenaud leads the champions and will lead the field to green tomorrow
The IndyCar championship leader Simon Pagenaud will start the fourth round of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season at Barber Motorsports Park from pole position. It is Pagenaud's third career pole position and first on a natural-terrain road course. The Frenchman ran a lap of 66.7262 seconds. He won pole for Houston 1 in 2014 and at Fontana last year. Pagenaud could become the first driver since Sébastien Bourdais in 2006 to start the season with four consecutive podiums. Bourdais had five consecutive podiums to open that season. Since 1946, a driver has scored four podiums to start a season thirteen times. The driver who has scored four podiums to open a season has won the championship ten times. Will Power will start second after qualifying over two-tenths behind his teammate. This is Power's sixth front row start in seven Barber appearances. Power's worst finish at Barber is fifth.

Josef Newgarden qualified third, a career-best for him at Barber. He won last year's race from fifth and led 46 of 90 laps. He has three top tens in four Barber starts and all of those top tens have come in his last three Barber starts. Last year, Newgarden entered Barber after two consecutive top ten finishes. Another top ten at Barber would match Newgarden's longest streak of consecutive top ten finishes at three. Scott Dixon starts fourth for the second consecutive year at Barber. No Barber winner has ever started fourth. Six of Dixon's 39 IndyCar victories have come from fourth, most recently Mid-Ohio 2012. Sébastien Bourdais will start fifth, a career best for the Frenchman at Barber. Last year, Bourdais had a career-best finish at Barber when he came home in eighth. Graham Rahal is the top Honda on the grid, as he will roll off from sixth, a career-best for him at Barber. This will be Rahal's 15th start from sixth. He has finished outside the top ten in eight of his previous 14 starts from sixth.

Hélio Castroneves failed to make the final round of qualifying and will start seventh, a career-worst for him at Barber. Castroneves has failed to finish in the top ten in the last two Barber races after finishing on the podium in three of the first four Barber races. James Hinchcliffe qualified eighth, his fifth time qualifying in the top ten in six Barber appearances. He has finished seventh the last two years at Barber. Tony Kanaan will start ninth in his seventh start at Barber. Kanaan has never led a lap at Barber and has never finished better than sixth. Kanaan is attempting to get five consecutive top ten finishes for the first time since 2010-11 when he had five top tens to close out 2010 and three consecutive to open 2011. Charlie Kimball rounds out an all-Ganassi row five. This is Kimball's second career top ten start at Barber. He started fifth in 2013.

Max Chilton will start 11th after he advanced to the second round of qualifying for the first time in his short IndyCar career. Chilton finished fifth and third last year at Barber in the two Indy Lights races. For the second consecutive race, Luca Filippi will start 12th. The Italian has failed to finish in the top ten in the last five races. Only twice in his career has Filippi finished in the top ten after starting outside the top ten and both times he started 19th and finished ninth (St. Petersburg and Belle Isle 1 last year). He finished 11th last year at Barber. Mikhail Aleshin qualified 13th and matched his best starting position of 2016. He had an accident end his only Barber start in 2014. Jack Hawksworth will start 14th, a career-best for him at Barber. His best finish at the track is 12th. Hawksworth has never gone more than five races between top ten finishes. His last top ten was five races to go, an eighth at Mid-Ohio.

Carlos Muñoz is the top Andretti Autosport starter in 15th position. Muñoz finished sixth last year at Barber from 22nd on the grid. He won at Barber in Indy Lights in 2013. Takuma Sato rounds out row eight. He entered this weekend with an average starting position of 13.2 at Barber and average finish of 18.2. Sato's best finish at the track is 13th. Conor Daly starts 17th for his Barber debut. This is Daly's first IndyCar start on a natural-terrain road course. He has six starts on street circuits and two on ovals. Ryan Hunter-Reay starts 18th. Last year at Barber, Hunter-Reay started 18th and finished fifth. Only three times in IndyCar history has a winner started 18th. Those three winner were Keith Andrews at the 1954 Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Jim McElreath at the 1970 California 500 at Ontario and Bobby Unser at the 1979 Twin 125 from Michigan.

Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi will start on an all-American, all-Andretti Autosport row ten. This is Andretti's career-worst start at Barber. His worst Barber finish was 11th in 2012. This is the fifth time Andretti has started 19th in his career. He has three top ten finishes from his four starts from 19th position. Rossi is still looking for his first career top ten finish. He has regressed with each finish this year. Juan Pablo Montoya will round out the grid in 21st position. This is the second time in Montoya's IndyCar career he has started outside the top twenty. He started 22nd at Toronto 1 in 2014 and finished 18th in that race. His only victory when starting outside the top ten was last year's Indianapolis 500, where he won from 15th. Montoya's best finish at Barber is 14th. Three IndyCar races have been won from 21st position: The 1924 Indianapolis 500 (won by L.L. Corum and Joe Boyer), Las Vegas 2000 (won by Al Unser, Jr.) and Michigan 2001 (won by Patrick Carpentier).

The 2016 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama can be seen at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN with green flag scheduled for 3:38 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 90 laps.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Track Walk: Barber 2016

IndyCar heads to Barber Motorsports Park for the seventh Grand Prix of Alabama
IndyCar is at the quarter post of the 2016 season and the fourth race of the championship is the Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park. After the blend line snafu at Long Beach, Simon Pagenaud enters fresh off his first victory with Team Penske and the Frenchman has built his championship lead to 14 points over Scott Dixon. Juan Pablo Montoya is the only other driver with over 100 points through three races and trails his Penske teammate by 28 points. Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan round out the top five in the championship. There have been three different winners through the first three races of 2016. The last two seasons have seen four different winners in the first four races and there were five different winners in the first five races last year.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 24th. Green flag at 3:38 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Rick Allen, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Kate Hargritt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 12:00-1:45 p.m. ET (75 minutes). NBCSN will have live coverage of this session.
Second Practice- 4:00-5:15 p.m. ET (75 minutes)
Third Practice- 12:00-12:45 p.m. ET (45 minutes).
Qualifying- 4:00 p.m. ET. NBCSN will have live coverage of this session.
Warm-up- 11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race- 3:38 p.m. ET (90 laps).

Can Scott Dixon Find The Top Step?
Only one driver has been on the podium in every Barber race but that driver has yet to ascend to the top step. Scott Dixon is six-for-six in terms of podiums at Barber Motorsports Park but Dixon is not one of the four drivers to have won at the track.

The New Zealander has actually regressed in the last two seasons. After four consecutive runner-up finishes from 2010 to 2013, Dixon has finished third in the last two Barber races. Dixon's consistency on the podium is matched on the starting grid. He has started third twice, fourth twice and fifth twice at Barber. He is one of five drivers to have completed every lap at Barber along with two-time Barber winner Will Power, another two-time Barber winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, winner of the inaugural Grand Prix of Alabama Hélio Castroneves and Marco Andretti, who has finished on the podium twice at Barber and has five top tens in six starts with his worst finish being 11th.

Dixon finished second in the 2010 race by just over a half of a second to Castroneves after a late restart put him into contention for the victory. In 2011, Dixon finished second but was no match to Power, who led all 90 laps from pole position. Arguably Dixon's best chance at victory came in 2012 where he led 32 of 90 laps but was beat by Power, who started ninth and used a mix of on-track passes and pit strategy to get to the front. In 2013, Dixon challenged Hunter-Reay but could not catch and overtake the American and finished just over six-tenths back in second. Dixon was running second to Josef Newgarden late in last year's race but a hard charging Graham Rahal on fresh tires passed Dixon, dropping him to third while Rahal ran out of laps and finished second to Newgarden by 2.2 seconds. Outside of the 2012 race, Dixon has only led three laps at Barber.

Who Can Enter the Month of May on a Strong Note?
Juan Pablo Montoya won last year's Indianapolis 500 and his 2016 results through three races are similar to his results through three races in 2015. Montoya's victory at St. Petersburg was followed by a ninth and Phoenix and a fourth at Long Beach. Last year, Montoya finished fifth at NOLA and third at Long Beach after he won St. Petersburg. His first two starts at Barber have been marred by a trip into the kitty litter in 2014 and a flat tire last year. He finished 21st in 2014 and 14th last year. He did lead a lap in last year's race.

Tony Kanaan is one of four drivers with top tens in each of the first three races this year but is the only one of the four not in the top four of the championship. Currently fifth, 50 points back, Kanaan has finished ninth at St. Petersburg, fourth at Phoenix and sixth at Long Beach. He has never started nor finished in the top five at Barber. He has started sixth twice and finished sixth in 2011. Kanaan has also finished eighth and ninth. Kanaan has completed all but one lap at Barber.

Takuma Sato enters Barber coming off a fifth place finish at Long Beach and he finished sixth at St. Petersburg with his 15th at Phoenix being the one blemish on Sato's record this year. He has been one of the quickest Hondas at both street circuits this season. Sato is one of eight drivers to have started every Barber race and he is the only one to never finish in the top ten. His best finish was 13th in 2014. He started sixth in the inaugural Barber race but his next best start at the track is 11th.

Last year, Graham Rahal charged from eighth to finish second to Josef Newgarden. Outside of that second and a fourth in 2012 (ironically from eighth on the grid), Rahal has never finished in the top fifteen at Barber. His average starting position at Barber 13.2 and his average finish is 13.3. While Rahal is ninth in the championship, his lone top five was a fifth at Phoenix with a 16th and 15th at the two street circuits.

Charlie Kimball rounds out the top ten in championship and has been consistent this season. After a tenth and 12th at St. Petersburg and Phoenix, Kimball finished 11th at Long Beach, a career best for him in that event. Barber has been one of Kimball's better tracks. He finished fourth there in 2013 and finished tenth in 2011 and 2014. He finished 12th last year at Barber. Kimball also finished second in his only Indy Lights start at Barber in 2010 to JK Vernay.

Mikhail Aleshin finished fifth in the St. Petersburg season opener but in the last two races Aleshin has been down in the order. At Phoenix, the Russian finished 17th after a spin entering the pit lane under caution took him out of contention for a top ten. At Long Beach, Aleshin started and finished 16th. In Alehsin's lone Barber appearance, he spun in turn after contact with Sébastien Bourdais and then has his race end with an accident four laps from the finish.

Who Needs to Enter the Month of May on a Strong Note?
With the month of May approaching, drivers are running out chances for a good finish before heading to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Through the first three IndyCar, eleven full-time drivers have yet to finish in the top five and five have yet to finish in the top ten.

Thirty-nine of the last fifty Indianapolis 500 winners have had at least one top ten finish entering that season's Indianapolis 500 and thirty-six of those had at least one top five finish. Sixteen of the last fifty Indianapolis 500 winners had already won a race that season, including the last two Indianapolis 500 winners.

Off the 11 Indianapolis 500 winners who failed to score a top ten before their Memorial Day weekend triumph, three had yet to make a start that season. Graham Hill won the 1966 race on his IndyCar debut while the story of Al Unser winning in a year-old car in 1987 is fresh in our mind and we all know about Dan Wheldon's dramatic victory in 2011.

The last eight Indianapolis 500 winners who had failed to have a top ten finish entering the race were Mark Donohue, Tom Sneva, Rick Mears in 1984, Bobby Rahal, Buddy Lazier, Arie Luyendyk, Eddie Cheever and Kenny Bräck.

Josef Newgarden enters Barber off consecutive top tens for the second consecutive season. He finished sixth at Phoenix and tenth at Long Beach but has yet to really take it to the top teams through the first three races.

Top rookie Max Chilton had an impressive seventh at Phoenix but has been in the back half of the field in both street circuit races. He qualified seventh for last year's Freedom 100 but a mechanical failure prevented him from starting the race. Phoenix is the largest oval he has raced on.

After failing to finish in the top ten in four consecutive races dating back to last season, Sébastien Bourdais has consecutive top ten finishes. Last year, Bourdais entered the Indianapolis 500 with three consecutive top tens and finished 11th in the race.

Carlos Muñoz's eighth place finish at St. Petersburg has been marred by the contact he made with Graham Rahal that ruined Rahal's and a handful of other drivers' races. While Muñoz was handed a drive through penalty, he still managed a top ten. However, an accident at Phoenix and a less stellar 12th at Long Beach have negated the top ten performance from most people's minds.

James Hinchcliffe's eighth at Long Beach was his first since returning to competition. The Canadian entered the 2012 Indianapolis 500 with four consecutive top tens and when on to finish sixth in that race but outside of 2012, he has never had more than two top tens entering the Indianapolis 500.

The top driver without a top five is Conor Daly, who is two points ahead of Hinchcliffe, 16th in the championship. Daly has finished all three races this year but he has only been able to manage a 13th at both street circuits. He made one start at Barber in Indy Lights. He finished 11th after front wing damage.

Alexander Rossi is ahead of his teammate Marco Andretti by a point in the championship but they are 18th and 19th in the championship table. Both have had top tens slip through their grasps. Rossi lost one at Phoenix while Andretti lost his at St. Petersburg. Neither driver has started in the top ten through the first three races.

Jack Hawksworth just missed out on a top ten at St. Petersburg with an 11th place finish. The British driver has been quick in practice sessions but that speed has not been translated to race pace. Hawksworth won at Barber in Pro Mazda in 2012 and finished second there in Indy Lights in 2013. His best IndyCar finish at Barber is 12th.

Luca Filippi has been oddly consistent. He started 16th in the first two races and finished 20th in the first two races. He improved at Long Beach but continued to be one step forward two steps back, as he started 12th but finished 17th. He finished 11th in his Barber debut last year.

Road to Indy
All three Road to Indy Series return to competition at Barber Motorsports Park. Barber is the site of races four and five for Indy Lights. Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 last competed at St. Petersburg and each series will run its third and fourth races of 2016.

Kyle Kaiser took the Indy Lights championship lead with his first career victory at Phoenix. The Californian has 81 points and is 18 points clear of St. Petersburg 1 winner Félix Serrallés. Kaiser looks to duplicate the performance of his former Juncos Racing teammate Spencer Pigot, who swept the Barber races last year. Felix Rosenqvist won St. Petersburg 2 but a 15th at Phoenix has the Swede 28 points behind Kaiser. Ed Jones' second at Phoenix puts him fourth in the championship with 50 points, two ahead of RC Enerson, who finished third at Phoenix.

A point behind Enerson is his teammate André Negrão, who is a point ahead of another Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, Santiago Urrutia. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has only one victory at Barber and that was the first race in 2010. Andretti Autosport's Dean Stoneman trails Urrutia by a point and is three points clear of former Barber winner Zach Veach. Andretti Autosport leads all teams with three Indy Lights victories at Barber. Scott Hargrove rounds out the top ten with 40 points. The Canadian Hargrove is not scheduled to compete in any races after Barber and he finished second in the first race of the season.

Juan Piedrahita is six points behind his Team Pelfrey teammate Hargrove. Dalton Kellett has 28 points with Neil Alberico on 27 points. Alberico won at Barber last year in Pro Mazda. Zachary Claman DeMelo has 25 points and is one ahead of Shelby Blackstock. Scott Anderson returns with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after Heamin Choi drove at Phoenix. Anderson scored 20 points at St. Petersburg.

There has not be a lead change in the last seven Indy Lights race at Barber. The only lead change was on lap two of the 2010 race when JK Vernay passed Charlie Kimball. Indy Lights race one from Barber will be at 1:00 p.m. ET on Saturday with race two Sunday at 1:20 p.m. ET.

Pato O'Ward and Aaron Teltiz both had a victory and a second at Pro Mazda's opening weekend from St. Petersburg but the Mexican O'Ward has 59 points to Telitz' 57 points because O'Ward took fastest lap in each race. Team Pelfrey has the top three in the championship as Weiron Tan sits on 39 points. Defending U.S. F2000 champion Nico Jamin is a point behind Tan with his Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Jake Eidson two points behind Jamin.

Juncos Racing drivers are the next three drivers in the championship. Jake Parsons is on 30 points with Garret Grist two points behind the Australian and Will Owen a point behind the Canadian. Mexican Jorge Cevallos has 26 points with Nicolas Dapero and Bobby Eberle rounding out the championship with 22 points and 20 points respectively.

Pro Mazda will race at 5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and 12:15 p.m. ET on Sunday from Barber.

Pabst Racing Services swept the U.S. F2000 St. Petersburg races with Jordan Lloyd and Yufeng Luo each winning a race and finishing second. Lloyd has 58 points and leads Luo by two points. Luke Gabin trails his fellow Australian by 22 points in the championship. Robert Megennis is the top American and he is a point behind Gabin. Anthony Martin rounds out the top five with 29 points.

Cape Motorsports teammates Parker Thompson and Nikita Lastochkin are tied on 26 points with Victor Franzoni two points behind them. Jordan Cane finished third in race two after an accident in race one. Cane has 23 points with Ayla Ågren rounding out the top ten with 19 points. Garth Rickards has 16 points. Clint McMahan, Dakota Dickerson, TJ Fischer and Tazio Ottis are all tied on 15 points.

U.S. F2000 will race at 5:30 p.m. ET on Friday and 6:35 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Pirelli World Challenge
Like IndyCar, the Pirelli World Challenge also heads to Barber Motorsports Park fresh off of a weekend at Long Beach.

The GT category enters after a bit of a controversy. Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell won Long Beach on the road but was handed a ten-second penalty for overboost. This promoted K-PAX Racing McLaren's Álvaro Parente to victory, the first for the Portuguese driver in only his fifth start in the series. O'Connell finished second. EFFORT Racing Porsche's Patrick Long finished third at Long Beach with Nissan's James Davison in fourth and CRP Racing Audi's Kyle Marcelli rounding out the top five.

EFFORT Racing's Michael Lewis finished sixth with Acura's Ryan Eversley in seventh. Martin Fuentes won in GT-A with an eighth for Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. Adderly Fong finished ahead of his Bentley teammate Andrew Palmer for the first time in 2016 at Long Beach with Fong in ninth and Palmer in tenth.

Michael Cooper entered Long Beach as the championship leader but his 15th dropped him in the championship standings to third, 51 points behind his Cadillac teammate O'Connell with Lewis 41 points back in second. Parente trails O'Connell by 60 points with Long trailing by 95 points in fifth. Davison is 112 points back in sixth and Marcelli is 127 points back in seventh. Eversley is eighth on 322 points, nine behind Marcelli. Palmer and Thompson round out the top ten on 314 points and 298 points respectively. Fuentes is 11th with 289 points, a point ahead of Bryan Heitkotter. Jon Fogarty withdrew from Long Beach after a practice accident and Bob Stallings Racing hopes to have that McLaren repaired for Barber. He has 259 points and is 14th in the championship.

The GT races will be at 2:45 p.m. ET Saturday and 10:15 a.m. ET Sunday.

After not running at Long Beach, the GTS class will compete at Barber Motorsports Park. Brett Sandberg has a victory and two second place finishes from four races and the KTM X-Bow driver leads the GTS championship with 396 points. Two-time GTS champions Lawson Aschenbach trails by 32 points in his Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro. Twenty points behind Aschenbach is Ginetta driver Parker Chase. Ford Mustang driver Nathan Stacey trails Sandberg by 64 points. Jack Roush, Jr. swept the St. Petersburg races and is fifth on 272 points. 

Maserati driver Jeff Courtney is four points behind Roush, Jr. Sandberg's teammate Dore Chaponick, Jr. is seventh in the championship on 260 points. Blackdog Speed Shop's Tony Gaples has 230 points. Scott Dollahite skipped the St. Petersburg round but the Lotus driver is still ninth in the championship with 181 points. Maserati driver Mark Klenin rounds out the top ten on 176 points.

GTS will race at 2:15 p.m. ET Friday and 10:45 a.m. ET Saturday.

Fast Facts
This will be the first time IndyCar has raced on April 24th in fifty years. Rodger Ward won at Trenton on April 24, 1966. It was Ward's 26th and final IndyCar victory and in his penultimate start. He would retire after finishing 15th at the Indianapolis 500 a month later. The only other IndyCar race to take place on April 24th was in 1949 at Arlington Downs Raceway in Arlington, Texas. Johnnie Parsons was victorious. It was the final IndyCar championship race held at the track.

Scott Dixon holds the track record with a lap of 66.7750 seconds. He set it in qualifying in 2013.

Honda and Chevrolet each have three victories at Barber but Chevrolet has won three of the four Barber races since returning to the series in 2012.

After winning the first three Barber races, Team Penske has only had one podium finish at the track in the last three Barber races. Hélio Castroneves finished third in 2013.

Chip Ganassi Racing has taken eight of 18 podium spots in the six Barber races and has at least one car on the podium in every Barber race.

Chevrolet has won the last 23 pole positions in IndyCar. The last Honda pole position was Simon Pagenaud at Houston 1 in 2014.

The average starting position for a Barber winner is 3.667 with a median starting position of third. Every Barber winner has started in the top ten with five of six starting in the top ten.

The average number of lead changes at Barber is 6.5 with a median of seven.

The fewest lead changes at Barber were zero in 2011. The next fewest lead changes were six in 2013. Last year, a record ten lead changes occurred.

The average number of cautions at Barer is three with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is 10.667 with a median of 9.5.

Possible Milestones:
Should Hélio Castroneves start the Grand Prix of Alabama, he will tie Johnny Rutherford for sixth all-time in IndyCar starts at 315 starts.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 41 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 70 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 76 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs one podiums to reach 50 career IndyCar podiums.

Scott Dixon finally gets that elusive Barber victory. A caution will occur in this race and at least one caution will be for an incident in turn five. Honda has at least one car finish in the top five. Andretti Autosport recovers from Long Beach and has at least three of its cars finish ahead of the best Dale Coyne Racing driver. Chevrolet will not sweep the top six positions in qualifying. At least two drivers lead their first laps of 2016 this weekend. Sleeper: James Hinchcliffe.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Does Anyone Know the Rules?

A few days have passed since the Grand Prix of Long Beach and I sit here wondering if anyone knows what IndyCar's rules are. From the blend line to track limits to qualifying, the rules were constantly being tested at Long Beach and either not enforced or not enforced to the extend everyone thought they should have been.

Let's start in chronological order and with what has already been forgotten: The extension of the final qualifying session to allow each driver one more lap. Will Power went off course at turn nine and brought out the red flag. While corner workers restarted Power's car, the clock for the final round of qualifying timed out. By the letter of the law, the session must have at least five minutes of green flag and it did on Saturday. The clock expired and the session should have ended. However, everyone was allow one more lap and it altered the starting grid as Juan Pablo Montoya dropped from third to fifth because everyone was allowed one more lap. 

I can understand IndyCar's decision for allowing everyone to run one more lap. Nobody wants to see a session end prematurely and have the clock just run out with the cars in the pit lane but when all the facets of the rules have been met, people want to see rules followed. When a football game ends with a kneel down, the officials don't give the opposing team one more chance for victory. The game went to completion, one team was on top when the clock hit zero, the games is over, regardless if the final play was a kneel down, sack, Hail Mary or field goal. 

On the to race where you had Max Chilton cutting the inside of turn five. He was the only one to do it all race and only did it three or four times but he still did it. The only punishment for the Brit was a warning. 

After the race, Chilton shared his understanding of the rules:
Since when has the inside of curbing been fair game? And if it is fair game, why do the curbs exist at all?

Now lets get back to what everyone remembers from Sunday: The blend line.

Matt Archuleta (@indy44 on Twitter) put together this video of Scott Dixon's pit lane exit and Simon Pagenaud's pit lane exit.

As you can see, Dixon's left-side tires are over the blend line but the right-side tires don't cross the line while Pagenaud crosses the line with all four tires.

But what is the rule? Are the left sides allowed over? In Formula One, zero tires are allowed over the blend line. The car can't rejoin the racing surface until after that line. Crossing the line at any point is improper blending and subject to a penalty. But IndyCar isn't Formula One and the rules are rarely consistently enforced in IndyCar. Even worse is IndyCar is using the lines of the roadway to be the blend line. It's like when I was a kid and the lamppost and a tree were foul poles for kickball. I understand that IndyCar can't necessarily paint more lines on the roadways but look how deep into turn one that double-yellow line goes. The drivers would be making almost more that a 90-degree turn should they go completely pass the yellow line before reentering the racing surface.

Pagenaud only got a warning, the only other driver penalized for the same infraction was Carlos Muñoz and he also only received a warning. Blending properly back into racing line is important because it is a safety issue. You don't want drivers just swinging right into the middle of the racing line when going 20 MPH slower than the cars on track because it is dangerous. However, by only giving Pagenaud a warning for just tip-toeing over the line, that now means everyone gets one free improper blend per race and that could embolden a driver to push the limits on what they can get away with and that should never be the case. The officials should penalize all dissident behavior to make sure it doesn't happen again, whether it is by the perpetrator or any other driver in the field.

What would have been proper punishment for Pagenaud? It seems most think a warning is good enough. Some think Pagenaud should have given the position to Dixon but I don't think that is severe enough. He would have lost the lead but would have had over 20 laps to try and retake the lead. How is putting him on Dixon's gearbox a punishment? The punishment should have been something to take him out of contention for the race victory. It should have been at least a drive-through penalty. It would have ruined Pagenaud's race but it would have been a lesson for him and the rest of the field not to take liberties with the rules.

I don't want to throw the new trio in race control under the bus after three races but this was race control's chance to show the drivers who are boss and that minor transgressions would not be tolerated and they failed to capitalize on the opportunity. IndyCar now heads to another race weekend with drivers, teams, media and fans confused over what is allowed and what is not allowed and confused wondering whether race control knows what the hell it is doing.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Is This Year's Indianapolis 500 Really That Important?

There were a host of disqualifications this weekend, a penalty and a punishment that wasn't severe enough and Nico Rosberg practically clinched the World Drivers' Championship with his victory in China. A Porsche spun a Corvette. It snowed at Silverstone. It rained at Assen. NASCAR ran heat races. A winner was disqualified. Supercross ran during the daylight but in a dome. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Is This Year's Indianapolis 500 Really That Important?
I think people have convinced themselves that if they keep saying this year's Indianapolis 500 will be the most watched, most important and whatever superlative you can add to it then it will be. What makes people think that is the case?

While this year's race is the 100th Indianapolis 500 and that is a big deal to all those who follow IndyCar, the excitement within doesn't necessarily transfer to the multitude outside the circle. Sam Schmidt thinks it will be the largest viewership in person and on television. So does James Hinchcliffe. Writer Lewis Franck was on the radio broadcast during Saturday practice from Long Beach and said everyone around the world will be watching this race.

I appreciate the spirit of all three but I doubt any of their prophecies will come to fruition.

Everyone is talking about the 100th Indianapolis 500 as if it is IndyCar's "messiah moment." As if this is the race that will finally turn the tides. After years of trying and having a little gain here and a little gain there, the 100th Indianapolis 500 will be the floodgates opening with millions of people taking the bait and going along with the IndyCar ride for decades to come. Since many think the 100th Indianapolis 500 will finally be IndyCar's day, everyone wants it to be perfect and that is partly what the fight over the domed skids have been about. If it's not perfect, the masses will not bite.

I doubt this will be the most watched Indianapolis 500. What evidence suggests that more people are going to tune in? Just because it is the 100th? There are plenty of people who haven't seen any of the previous 99 Indianapolis 500s. What makes anyone think all of a sudden they are going to tune in for the 100th? It's kind of like Star Wars. My older brother has not seen one of the now seven Star Wars films and when I asked if he wanted to see the seventh installment of that series with me he said no and he had no desire to see it or any of the previous six films. There are plenty of people probably in that boat in terms of the Indianapolis 500.

What if isn't as great as many are expecting? What if the television rating is in line with recent Indianapolis 500? What if the television rating goes does compared to previous years? What if the television rating goes up but the remaining 10 races in the 2016 IndyCar schedule continue to flounder with a few drawing more people but others seeing decreases in viewership?

There is a sense that many think this is IndyCar's last stand. If the 100th Indianapolis 500 doesn't get people to tune in nothing will. There could be a real sense of defeat come over the series sometime after May 29th. It could come immediately when the television rating is release and it is an average Indianapolis 500 rating. It could come in the middle of July when television ratings are stagnant from 2015 and there are reports that Pocono isn't happy with ticket sales and the Boston race has hit a snag. It could come in September when another season ends and another champion is crowned and IndyCar once again disappears into another six-month offseason.

I am not telling people to expect the worst but people should be practical. The 100th Indianapolis 500 won't make it more affordable for team owners. It won't add a third manufacture, which would relieve the pressure on Chevrolet and Honda to support a full season worth of cars and the Indianapolis 500 field. It won't make corporations dumped hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars into the series. IndyCar's issues won't be solved by one race. The problems will only be solved with cooperation between series officials, team owners, drivers, race promoters and track owners to make the series more attractive to sponsors, manufactures, teams and fans and that is going to take more than 500 miles.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Simon Pagenaud and Nico Rosberg but did you know...

The #2 Porsche of Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Neel Jani won the FIA WEC Six Hours of Silverstone after the #7 Audi of André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer was disqualified for being under the 20mm minimum on the front skid block. The #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier-Nissan of Felipe Albuquerque, Bruno Senna and Ricardo González won in LMP2. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird won in GTE-Pro. The #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas won in GTE-Am.

The #38 G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan of Giedo van der Garde, Harry Tincknell and Simon Dolan won the ELMS season opening race from Silverstone. The #2 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of Alex Brundle, Christian England and Mike Guasch won in LMP3. Andrew Howard, Darren Turner and Alex MacDowall won GTE in the #99 Aston Martin. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Rory Butcher and Robert Smith had finished first in GTE but were excluded because of an illegal splitter.

Jordan and Ricky Taylor won their second consecutive IMSA race from Long Beach in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP. Mikhail Goikhberg and Stephen Simpson won in the PC class in the #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca. The #911 Porsche of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet won in GTLM.

Álvaro Parente won the Pirelli World Challenge race from Long Beach after Johnny O'Connell was disqualified for overboost.

Jonathan Rea won both World Superbike races from Assen. Kyle Smith won the World Supersport race.

Scott McLaughlin swept the V8 Supercars races from Phillip Island and became the first multiple race winner in 2016.

Carl Edwards won the NASCAR Cup race from Bristol. Erik Jones won the Grand National series race.

Tiago Monteiro and José María López split the WTCC races from Slovakiaring.

Ryan Dungey won his eighth AMA Supercross race of 2016 at St. Louis.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads south to Barber Motorsports Park.
All three Road to Indy series and Pirelli World Challenge will join IndyCar at Barber.
MotoGP starts its European season at Jerez.
Formula E will run in Paris for the first time.
The Blancpain Endurance Series opens its season at Monza.
NASCAR will be in Richmond for a Sunday race.
Super Formula opens its season at Suzuka.
World Rally will be in Argentina.
Supercross will be in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
WTCC heads to Hungary.