Thursday, June 23, 2016

Track Walk: Road America 2016

There will have been 3,241 days between IndyCar races at Road America
The nine-year wait is over. The ninth race of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Road America. The Kohler Grand Prix marks IndyCar's first race at the famed road course since 2007. After two days of rain in Texas, IndyCar will look to complete its first race in nearly three weeks. Simon Pagenaud enters another race with the championship lead. A driver change could occur at Road America. After suffering a fractured right clavicle and small fracture in his right hand at Texas, Josef Newgarden is on the entry list but J.R. Hildebrand will be on stand-by in case Newgarden is not fit enough to race.

Time: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday June 26th. Green flag at 1:15 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 12:00-1:15 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 show the session tape-delayed at 5:30 p.m. ET.
Warm-up- 9:00 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race- 1:15 p.m. ET (50 laps).

How Do Drivers Respond After Postponed Texas Round?
The postponed Texas round adds a new wrinkle to the 2016 IndyCar season. Most drivers can enter the next race weekend and reflect on a race just complete and search for what needs to be repeated or improved on. However, now teams enter Road America with another race hanging over their heads. Seventy-one laps were completed before the rain halted the Texas race and forced IndyCar and Texas Motor Speedway to reschedule the remaining 176 laps for August 27th. The delay could benefit a few drivers while hampering others.

James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay enter Road America knowing they are the de facto front row for the restart at Texas Motor Speedway. The two Honda drivers had started tenth and 11th initially at Texas and were somewhat behind the eight ball after staying out while other teams pitted under caution at Texas. However, the rain has erased the strategy and put everyone back in square one. Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay are now in control when IndyCar returns in August. Hunter-Reay believes he should be the leader after video replays showed he exited the pit lane before Hinchcliffe passed under caution but with it appearing 176 laps to be run, Hunter-Reay will have plenty of time to fight for the top position.

Will Power had qualified seventh at Texas but he had a dreadful opening stint, falling back to 21st position but stretching his first stint and pitting without losing a lap. Power ended up fourth, just behind Mikhail Aleshin when the red flag was waved. The Australian gets a mulligan but can he compartmentalize and put the uncertainty over Texas behind him and now focus on making up ground at Road America?

While some drivers find themselves in promising positions when they return to Texas, such as Gabby Chaves in sixth and Hélio Castroneves in seventh, others are going to have an uphill battle when the race is restarted, including the top two championship contenders. Scott Dixon ended up in 14th with Simon Pagenaud in 15th. Pagenaud is only one position behind Dixon and isn't in a dire situation to lose ground to him in the championship but Pagenaud can't bank on having an 80-point championship lead when IndyCar returns in August. The worst-case scenario for Pagenaud is Dixon, Castroneves or any other driver chipping away and then returning to Texas either leading by ten to 20 points or Pagenaud no longer in control.

Conor Daly's Texas race appeared to be over after his backend stepped out and the Dale Coyne Racing driver slid into Josef Newgarden but because of the postponement, Daly will be allowed to rejoin the Texas race, however 29 laps down to the leaders. Daly's standing at Texas could benefit him at Road America. While others will be running through changes they would like to make before going back in August, Daly knows at best he could make up two or three positions at Texas. The American can now focus solely on Road America and look for his four consecutive top ten finish on a road/street circuit.

A Known Unknown
While Road America is a historic venue and has a long history of hosting IndyCar, only nine of the 22 drivers have started an IndyCar race at the 4.048-mile road course and four of those nine drivers haven't raced an IndyCar at Road America since at least 2002.

Sébastien Bourdais is the only of the nine Road America-experienced drivers with a victory at the track. The Frenchman won the most recent IndyCar race there in 2007. In four starts, the Frenchman finished on the podium all four times, started on the front row all four times and led 92 of 186 laps.

Tony Kanaan has the most Road America starts among active drivers with five but his last start at the track was in 2002 driving for Mo Nunn Racing. He has four top ten finishes with his best finish being fourth, however Kanaan's best start at the track is tenth and he has never led a lap at Road America. 

Hélio Castroneves has four starts at Road America, the most recent being in 2001. Castroneves has improved his finish in each of his Road America starts having finished ninth and seventh in his last two starts after finishing 26th and 16th in his first two starts at the track. He started sixth in each of his last two Road America starts.

Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon all have two starts at Road America with the two Penske drivers having never finished in the top ten at Road America. Power and Montoya both have an average finish of 14.5 at Road America after finishes of 13th in their first starts and 16th in their second starts. While Montoya's results have been dreadful, he has led 57 of the 79 laps he completed in his two Road America starts. Hunter-Reay had finished tenth and fourth at Road America. Dixon finished fourth in his Road America debut in 2001 but retired in 17th after a fire in 2002.

Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud both made their Road America debuts in 2007. Rahal finished third while Pagenaud started 12th and finished 11th. Rahal has been in tremendous form on natural-terrain road courses since the start of last season. In the seven natural-terrain road course races, Rahal has a victory, four podiums, five top fives and six top tens and he was spun by Bourdais while running in the top ten last year at Sonoma before finishing 18th.

While nine drivers have IndyCar experience at Road America, many other drivers have raced at the track in other series. Alexander Rossi won four times at Road America between Formula BMW USA and the Skip Barber National Championship. Gabby Chaves made six starts at Road America in Formula BMW USA/Americas. In 2009, Chaves won twice with a second place finish at Road America in Formula BMW Americas.

James Hinchcliffe made four starts in the Atlantic Championship at Road America with his best finish being fifth. Hinchcliffe did win the Star Mazda race at Road America in 2005. That 2005 Star Mazda race is Marco Andretti's only Road America start. He retired after four laps. J.R. Hildebrand made two Atlantic Championship starts at Road America and his best finish was ninth. Hildebrand's ECR teammate Spencer Pigot won at Road America in U.S. F2000 in 2011 and has finished on the podium in four of his five U.S. F2000 starts. Josef Newgarden raced at Road America in the Skip Barber National Championship in 2008. He finished second to Conor Daly in one race. Charlie Kimball won the 2002 SCCA June Sprints Formula Ford at Road America.

Jack Hawksworth and Conor Daly have both raced at Road America in IMSA's Prototype Challenge class. Last year, Daly led at the start of the final lap before spinning and finishing second in PC to Bruno Junqueira, whose first IndyCar victory came at Road America in 2001, and Chris Cumming. Daly also won at Road America in Star Mazda in 2010

Road to Indy
After a month since the Freedom 100, Indy Lights returns for a doubleheader at Road America. Ed Jones leads the championship with the Carlin driver sitting on 185 points from eight races with ten races remaining. Jones has started the last five races from pole position but Dean Stoneman has won the last two races on the trot. The Andretti Autosport driver trails Jones by 29 points with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' Santiago Urrutia ten points behind Stoneman.

After finishing on the podium in the first three races and leading the championship, Juncos Racing's Kyle Kaiser has one podium in the last five races and is 41 points behind Jones. Félix Serrallés is four points behind Kaiser while Belardi Auto Racing drivers Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach are sixth and seventh in the championship with 120 points and 114 points respectively but Rosenqvist will not be at Road America. James French will make his Indy Lights debut in place for the Swedish driver and defending FIA European Formula Three champion. French is a 23-year-old Wisconsin-native and has been a regular competitor in the IMSA Prototype Challenge since 2011. Rosenqvist had won at the opening weekend in St. Petersburg

RC Enerson is eight in the championship but he will not be at Road America with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Enerson reportedly will not return to Indy Lights in 2016 to focus on making the move to IndyCar in 2017. Emerson's best finish this season was third at Phoenix and he finished fourth in the championship last year. Shelby Blackstock and Andre Negrão round out the top ten in the championship.

There will be another driver change at Road America. Garret Grist has been promoted from Pro Mazda and will replace fellow Canadian Scott Hargrove at Team Pelfrey. Grist had three podiums and was third in the Pro Mazda championship through seven races for Juncos Racing. Grist is signed for the remaining road and street course races. Juan Piedrahita remains at Team Pelfrey and Canadians Dalton Kellett and Zachary Claman De Melo also return for Road America. Neil Alberico rounds out the entry list.

This will be the first Indy Lights race at Road America since 1990, when Paul Tracy won the race on his way to the championship that season.

The first Indy Lights race will be Saturday at 1:00 p.m. ET. Race two for Indy Lights will be at 9:45 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Pato O'Ward enters Road America having won four consecutive races and six of seven this season. O'Ward leads the championship by 22 points over Team Pelfrey teammate Aaron Telitz. O'Ward and Telitz have a new teammate this weekend as T.J. Fischer moves up from U.S. F2000. Fischer had three top tens in six starts this season for Team Pelfrey and will run the remainder of the Pro Mazda season.

Juncos Racing's Will Owen has 125 points and is five ahead of Cape Motorsports w/WTR's Nico Jamin. Jake Parsons sits on 109 points with Jake Eidson three points behind and Nicolas Dapero on 98 points.

Both Pro Mazda races will be on Saturday with race one at 9:55 a.m. ET and race two at 3:05 p.m. ET.

Cape Motorsports w/WTR teammates Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin have combined to win the last five races and the drivers are 1-2 in the championship. Thompson is top of the table with 178 points with Martin 26 points back. Australian Jordan Lloyd finished first and second at St. Petersburg but has not been on the podium since. However, the Pabst Racing driver is third in the championship, 19 points behind his fellow countryman Martin.

Victor Franzoni and Yufeng Luo round out the top five in the championship with 130 points and 122 respectively. Luke Gabin has 113 points and Robert Megennis is the top American in U.S. F2000 with 105 points. Ayla Årgen and Garth Rickards are eight and ninth in the championship on 83 points and 76 points respectively with Nikita Lastochkin rounding out the top ten with 68 points.

Like Pro Mazda, both U.S. F2000 races will be on Saturday. Race one is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. ET with race two at 2:10 p.m. ET.

Pirelli World Challenge
A month after Álvaro Parente swept the Lime Rock Park weekend and took the Pirelli World Challenge GT championship lead, the series returns to competition at Road America. The K-PAX Racing McLaren driver Parente has 995 points, 34 points ahead of Wright Motorsport Porsche's Patrick Long. Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell and Michael Cooper are third and fourth with 887 points and 867 points respectively. CRP Racing Audi's Kyle Marcelli has 806 points and 29 points ahead of Nissan's James Davison, a winner last year at Road America. Davison's teammate Bryan Heitkotter has 691 points.

Bentley Team Absolute has entered one car for Adderly Fong after Andrew Palmer suffered a head injury during the Lime Rock Park weekend. Acura will have two cars entered for Peter Cunningham and Ryan Eversley after Eversley was only entered at Lime Rock Park. Michael Lewis returns to competition with Calvert Dynamics Porsche, joining Andrew Davis. Lewis missed the last two rounds due to EFFORT Racing taking a hiatus.

K-PAX Racing will also have two McLarens entered for Austin Cindric and Colin Thompson. Jon Fogarty returns in the Gainsco/Bob Stalling Racing McLaren.

The first GT race will be at 5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. The second GT race will be Sunday at 10:55 a.m. ET.

Blackdog Speed Shop Camaro's Lawson Aschenbach leads the GTS championship with 884 points, 49 points clear of ANSA Motorsports KTM driver Brett Sandberg. Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta's Parker Chase trails Aschenbach by 56 points. Roush Racing Ford Mustang drivers Nate Stacy and Jack Roush, Jr. round out the top five of the championship with 738 points and 721 points respectively.

Despite missing St. Petersburg, SDR Motorsports Lotus driver Scott Dollahite is sixth in GTS with 657 points, ahead of Klenin Performance Racing Maserati's Mark Klenin and Blackdog Speed Shop's Tony Gables. Racers Edge Motorsports has two SIN R1 GT4s entered for Scott Heckert and Jade Buford and Chris Beaufait will share the other. Buford is tied with GTS championship leader Lawson Aschenbach for most victories with three but Buford has only made four starts this season.

TRG has three Aston Martins entered for George Kurtz, Max Riddle and Derek DeBoer. Riddle won at Mosport earlier this season. Jeff Courtney returns after missing the last two rounds with the JCR Motorsports Maserati.

GTS will race at 6:45 p.m. ET on Saturday and 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be the seventh eighth IndyCar race to take place on June 26th and the first since Paul Tracy won at Cleveland in 2005.

This will be the 26th time IndyCar has raced at Road America.

This will be the first time IndyCar has ever raced at Road America in June. IndyCar has raced at the track in July, August, September and October.

The track record at Road America is 99.866 seconds (145.923 MPH), set by Dario Franchitti in 2000.

Dallara has never won an IndyCar race at Road America.

Chevrolet has seven victories at Road America, the most recent being Paul Tracy in 1993. Tracy's victory in 1993 is also Team Penske's most recent Road America victory.

Honda has three victories at Road America, the most recent being Paul Tracy in 2000.

Of the 16 Road America winners, seven drivers scored their first career victory at Road America. Of those seven drivers, for four of them, it was their only IndyCar victory (Héctor Rebaque, Uncle Jacques Villeneuve, Christian Fittipaldi and Alex Tagliani). The other drivers to score their first IndyCar victory at Road America are Jacques Villeneuve, Dario Franchitti and Bruno Junqueira.

The average starting position for a Road America winner is 3.8 with a median of three.

The worst starting position for a Road America winner is 13th by Alex Tagliani in 2004. It is the only time a Road America winner started outside the top ten.

The average number of lead change at Road America is 4.08 with a median of four.

The average number of cautions at Road America is 2.2 with a median of two. The average number of cautions laps is 7.2 with a median of six.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon needs to lead 12 laps to reach the 4,800 laps led milestone and he needs to lead 76 laps to pass Bobby Unser for sixth all-time in laps led.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 22 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 47 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 47 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

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

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

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 49 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 96 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs one podium to reach 75 career IndyCar podiums.

Graham Rahal wins the race but will have four Chevrolets finishing behind him. There will be at least one caution period because of an incident in turn one. Scott Dixon will finish ahead of all four Penske drivers. Ed Carpenter Racing gets one top ten finisher. Chevrolet and Honda will equally split the top twelve in qualifying. The fastest lap in qualifying will be completed in less than 100 seconds. Sleeper: Marco Andretti.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Toyota's Le Mans Loss Another Motorsports Heartbreak

Three days have passed since Kazuki Nakajima pulled the #5 Toyota TS050 Hybrid to the side of the front straightaway on Circuit de la Sarthe with under four minutes to go in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and gifted Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Porsche victory in one of the greatest motorsports race in the world. We still don't know which part of the car cost Toyota but knowing will probably make the loss hurt even more.

Nearly every manufacture and driver imaginable has consoled Toyota because no one wants to experience that type of heartbreak on the lowest level of motorsports let alone at Le Mans. While some probably hit their knees on Sunday night and asked a higher power never to know the pain flowing through all the Toyota team member, there are a few probably who suffered flash backs after seeing the Toyota roll to a stop a lap from glory. 

Bob Varsha recalled the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix when Felipe Massa won the race in front of the home crowd and the World Drivers' Championship was his for all of 30 seconds until Lewis Hamilton passed Timo Glock and give him 98 points to Massa's 97 points. While heartbreaking, Massa did all that he had to and a lost championship can't be pinned on one race. Massa very well could have been champion had he not spun three times at the British Grand Prix or left the pit lane with the fuel hose still attached at Singapore. 

For a disaster on as grand a stage as Le Mans, the 2011 Indianapolis 500, the 100th anniversary, is remembered for J.R. Hildebrand's contact with the turn four wall while leading on lap 200. Hildebrand didn't have a large enough of a gap to slide to victory with two wheels mangled and carbon fiber shredding off the car and Dan Wheldon took a just as improbable victory as had Hildebrand was victorious. Hildebrand and Toyota each lost the biggest race in their respective form of motorsports but Toyota had led for hours at Le Mans. Hildebrand had a good race in 2011 but had led a smattering of laps during pit cycles before finding himself in position to win the Indianapolis 500 in his first running. 

Another Indianapolis 500 disaster came to mind when I saw the Toyota stop and the Porsche go by. I wasn't alive in 1912 and I bet the last person who was saw the second Indianapolis 500 left us many years ago but Ralph DePalma could probably relate to Toyota. The Italian took the lead on lap three and led the next 195 laps. He led by five-and-a-half laps and with two laps to go, his Mercedes came to a stop after a connecting rod broke. He and riding mechanic Rupert Jenkins pushed the car down the front straightaway but they would fall five miles short. Joe Dawson led the final two laps and won the race. To add insult to injury, nine more cars completed 200 laps over the next two and a half hours and DePalma ended up 11th despite at one point being five miles from victory with no prize money to show for it.

At the time, DePalma didn't know what the Indianapolis 500 was going to become. He didn't know what he lost other than just a race and $20,000 in prize money. Fortunately, DePalma would get redemption three years later, winning the fifth Indianapolis 500 and $22,600 in prize money. 

Not everyone gets redemption and sometimes redemption comes in other forms. Hildebrand hasn't had a full-time IndyCar ride since 2012. The 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix is Massa's most recent grand prix victory. Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Andy Wallace were 15 minutes from winning the 2004 24 Hours of Daytona before a suspension failure. Wallace had already won the event three times but Stewart and Earnhardt, Jr. never had, although Stewart and Earnhardt, Jr. have made up for it in NASCAR championship and Daytona 500 victories. Damon Hill was half-a-lap from winning the 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix in an Arrows over Jacques Villeneuve in a Williams but a hydraulics issue relegated Hill to second. Arrows never finished on the podium again but Hill would win the following year with Jordan. 

Nakajima, Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi have probably analyzed every lap, every gearshift, every turn of the wheel they made and wonder if they could have done something to prevent it. The best thing but likely most painful thing for them is to realize it was out of their hands and June 19th wasn't meant to be their day. What is haunting is never knowing if they will ever get that close again and if any future success can make up their Le Mans misery.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Same State, Different Buzz

France was a busy place where it appeared attrition wouldn't decide the 24 Hours of Le Mans and then it did. There was an American driver in three of the four Le Mans class winners. Curbs caused headaches at Azerbaijan. Two Brits could have been covered by a blanket in Italy. The NASCAR Cup Series took off but the other two national touring divisions rendezvous in Iowa. An Indianapolis 500 winner won a race that surpasses his Indianapolis 500 victory, according to Larry McReynolds. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Same State, Different Buzz
IndyCar's long awaited return to Road America comes this weekend, nearly nine years after Sébastien Bourdais won the 2007 Champ Car race at the famed four-mile road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. While IndyCar returns to one of the most historic road courses in North America, the series has been in Wisconsin for almost all of the last decade. Expect for 2010, IndyCar had been racing in the state of Wisconsin at the Milwaukee Mile.

The Milwaukee Mile's IndyCar history is tremendous from the days of A.J. Foyt vs. Jimmy Clark to Mike Mosley winning as a promoter's option to Ryan Hunter-Reay leading all 250 laps on his way to victory. After the one-year hiatus, IndyCar returned to the Milwaukee Mile but could never reignite the spark that was there in 2009. The race jumped from date-to-date throughout June, July and August and the crowd grew a little bit from 2011 but it wasn't substantial. The racing was really good but the Milwaukee Mile couldn't cement itself into the IndyCar schedule.

There has been nothing but positive news from Road America. Camping sites sold old, the drivers are in their glory and can't wait until the first official session. Many think a track record will be set and all expectations are for an event that will rival the buzz and crowds of Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Barber.

However, what has changed in a year? Is the crowd at Road America really going to be that much greater than that of Milwaukee? If so, what did IndyCar and Milwaukee promoters do wrong for five years? How could a track an hour outside of Milwaukee do what the track in the city's backyard failed to do?

We talk about promotion a lot when it comes to IndyCar and more notable the perceived lack of promotion. Not all of IndyCar's shortcoming and the shortcomings of IndyCar events are due to promotion. The races could be promoted the exact same amount and Road America ended up with a much larger crowd. The question then isn't promotion but the ability to pinpoint the target demographics. I don't know how to quantify Road America's promotion efforts and compare it to what was done by Milwaukee promoters for five years but it could simply come down to one group knowing the market better than the other.

The difference also can't conceivably be that road course racing is that much more popular than oval racing. IndyCar oval attendance isn't at NASCAR level but the common belief is that oval racing is king in the United States, regardless of what series is competing. Nothing suggests that ovals are now looked down upon in the American motorsports landscape. However, the one advantage road and street course races have over ovals is the nearly non-stop schedule of events for three days while ovals schedules have fewer series and longer gaps between sessions.

No offense to Pirelli World Challenge and the Road to Indy series but I doubt their presence on the bill is the difference between an event making or breaking it on the IndyCar schedule (consider that both Indy Lights and Pro Mazda raced at Milwaukee) but support series surely help draw people to the track. In 2016, where time is more precious than ever and more options vying for the attention of people, if people are going out to an event, they need to be kept busy. People aren't going to head to a race track to see two hours of actions and three hours of empty race track. They need something to fill the time, regardless of that being another racing series or another feature at the racetrack whether that is carnival rides or a concert.

Other than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, all other ovals on the IndyCar schedule are in same boat Milwaukee was in for five years. Texas and Pocono feature only IndyCar on race day. Iowa has Pro Mazda and Indy Lights and ARCA the day before but Iowa has bounced around on the schedule the last few years between June and July and between being a Saturday night race and a Sunday race. Phoenix is back on the IndyCar scene and while year one seemed to go over well, there were certain things that need to be improved on, including nearly four hours between the end of the Indy Lights race and the start of the IndyCar race.

As much as IndyCar oval racing is celebrated, the series and oval promoters needs to reevaluate drawing fans to the track, whether that means making sure more Road to Indy series are present or bringing in Stadium Super Trucks or other series or recreating the Snake Pit at each venue. Ovals need to find a way to replicate the buzz that road and street courses, even within the same states, are able to accomplish.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Le Mans but did you know...

Nico Rosberg won the European Grand Prix from Baku, Azerbaijan.

Jonathan Rea won both World Superbike races from Misano. Kenan Sofuoglu won the World Supersport race, his fourth victory in eight races.

Michael Caruso won his second career V8 Supercars race on Saturday at Hidden Valley Raceway in Darwin, Australia; nearly seven years after Caruso's first victory came at Hidden Valley Raceway. Shane Van Gisbergen won the Sunday race.

Antonio Giovinazzi swept the GP2 races from Baku. Giovinazzi is the first driver to sweep a GP2 weekend since fellow Italian Davide Valsecchi did it at Bahrain in 2012.

Sam Hornish, Jr. won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Iowa. William Byron won his second consecutive Truck Series race.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar returns to Road America. All Road to Indy series and Pirelli World Challenge join IndyCar.
MotoGP makes history and runs the Dutch TT on a Sunday.
DTM's lone street race occurs at the Norisring.
NASCAR heads to its first road course of the season in Sonoma.
After 24 Hours of Le Mans, Blancpain Endurance Series will run 1000km at Circuit Paul Ricard.
The World Touring Car Championship will be in Portugal.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Porsche Wins as Toyota Falters in Final Five Minutes at Le Mans

Porsche has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the 18th time as the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas took the victory after the #5 Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Kazuki Nakajima, Sébastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson with less than six minutes remaining. The #2 Porsche passed the #5 Toyota just after the car came to a stop on the front straightaway after starting the final lap. The #2 Porsche completed 384 laps as did the #5 Toyota with it taking Nakajima 11 minutes and 53.815 seconds to complete the final lap.

The #5 Toyota will not be classified because it took longer than the regulated amount of time to complete the final lap.

This is the second overall Le Mans victory for Dumas and first overall Le Mans victory for Lieb and Jani. Dumas's victory is the 43rd for a French driver, elevating France ahead of the United Kingdom in most overall Le Mans victories for a nation. Lieb becomes the 19th different German driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Jani joins Marcel Fässler as the only Swiss drivers to stand on the top step of the podium at Le Mans.

The #6 Toyota of Mike Conway, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi will be classified in second overall, three laps behind the #2 Porsche. The #6 Toyota led a fair portion of the night before having to go into the garage with a mechanical issue after a spin into a gravel trap. Just when it appeared Audi would fail to put a car on the overall podium, the #8 Audi R18 of Lucas di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis and Loïc Duval will be elevated to third overall, 14 laps down with the #7 Audi of André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler finishing fourth overall, 18 laps down.

The #36 Signatech Alpine-Nissan of Nicolas Lapierre, Gustavo Menezes and Stéphane Richelmi won in LMP2 and finished fifth overall completing 357 laps. Lapierre won last year in LMP2 with KCMG while Menezes and Richelmi both score a class victory in their Le Mans debuts. The #36 Signatech Alpine won the previous WEC round at Spa-Francorchamps. Menezes is the first American to win in LMP2 since William Binnie won in 2007 with his own team and co-drivers Chris Buncombe and Allen Timpany. The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan of Romain Rusinov, René Rast and Will Stevens finished second in LMP2, also completing 357 laps. G-Drive Racing finished third in class last year. The #37 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan of Vitaly Petrov, Viktor Shaitar and Kirill Ladygin rounded out the LMP2 podium, finishing four laps behind the top two in class.

Ford's Le Mans return ends in style with the #68 Ford GT of Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais picking up the GTE-Pro victory. The #68 Ford GT completed 340 laps and finished 18th overall. It is the first Le Mans class victory for all three drivers. Hand and Müller had not raced at Le Mans since 2011, when they finished third in GTE-Pro driving for BMW while Bourdais' last Le Mans start was in 2012 driving a Dome-Judd in LMP1 for Pescarolo Sport. The Le Mans-native Bourdais had finished second overall on three occasions driving for Peugeot. Müller finished second in the GT class in 1999 driving

The #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Matteo Malucelli finished second in GTE-Pro, a minute back of the #68 Ford with the #69 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon rounding out the podium. All three GTE-Pro podium finishers are full-time IMSA SportsCar Championship entries. This is the third consecutive year Fisischella and Vilander has finished on the GTE-Pro podium after competing with AF Corse and Gianmaria Bruni the previous two years. This is the third time Malucelli has finished second in a class at Le Mans. He finished second in GT2 in 2008 and 2009. Briscoe and Dixon both score their first class podium at Le Mans while Westbrook gets his first Le Mans podium since 2010.

The #62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal are victorious in GTE-Am after completing 331 laps and finishing 26th overall. Last year, Bell, Sweedler and Segal finished third in GTE-Am and all were making their Le Mans debut. This is Ferrari's second consecutive year winning GTE-Am at Le Mans. Ferrari makes it a 1-2 in class as the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas finish second. Patrick Long finishes on the GTE-Am podium for the second consecutive year but this year he finishes third in class, driving the #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR with Khaled Al-Qubaisi and David Heinemeier Hansson.

Frédéric Sausset drove the #84 SRT41 by OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan across the finish line, completing 315 laps and finishing 38th overall. The quadruple amputee and co-drivers Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet become the first experimental invited team to finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The next round of the FIA World Endurance Championship will be on July 24th for the 6 Hours of the Nürburgring.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

2016 24 Hours of Le Mans Preview

For the 84th time, the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be contested on Circuit de la Sarthe. The race is the third round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season and will feature 60 entries across four classes with an invitational entry. Joining the full-time FIA WEC competitors are teams from the European Le Mans Series and IMSA SportsCar Championship. The race is scheduled to start at 9:00 a.m. ET on Saturday June 18th.

Nine cars are entered in the premier LMP1 class. Porsche looks to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans for a record-extending 18th time. The #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani lead the World Endurance Drivers' Championship after winning the season opener at Silverstone and finishing second at Spa-Francorchamps. The defending world champion #1 Porsche of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard has 1.5 points through the first two races of the season after a retirement at Silverstone and finishing 38 laps down at Spa-Francorchamps.

Second in the championship is the #13 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R-One of Dominik Kraihamer, Alexandre Imperatori and Mathéo Tuscher after the privateer LMP1 entry has finished third in the first two races. The #12 Rebellion Racing of Nick Heidfeld, Nicolas Prost and Nelson Piquet, Jr. is fourth in the championship after finishing fourth in the last two races.

Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loïc Duval won at Spa-Francorchamps in early May in the #8 Audi R18. It was the first WEC victory for Jarvis and di Grassi and Duval's first victory since he won the world championship in 2013 with Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen. André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer finished fifth in the #7 Audi at Spa-Francorchamps after being excluded at Silverstone and losing the victory for failing post-race technical inspection.

Toyota has never won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the #6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi leads the two-car effort after finishing second at Silverstone. The #5 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima has struggled in the first two races, scoring only one point from two races. Buemi and Davidson finished second at Le Mans in 2013 while Nakajima's best finish at Le Mans is fourth, which came in 2013.

ByKolles Racing Team is the only other privateer LMP1 entry. Simon Trummer, Oliver Webb and Pierre Kaffer will drive the #4 CLM P1/01. The team finished sixth at Spa-Francorchamps.

The largest class in this year's race is LMP2, which features 23 entries. Ten of the 23 entries are full-time FIA WEC entries with 11 from the European Le Mans Series, one from IMSA and one being an unattached entry.

The #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier-Nissan of Felipe Albuquerque, Bruno Senna and Ricardo González is tied with the #36 Signatech Alpine Alpine A460-Nissan of Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi for the lead in the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers after both have won the first two races, RGR Sport at Silverstone and Signatech at Spa-Francorchamps, and finished fourth in the other race. Lapierre won last year in LMP2 with KCMG. The other Alpine branded car in the field is the #35 Baxi DC Racing Alpine-Nissan of David Cheng, Ho-Pin Tung and Nelson Panciatici.

The #31 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier-Nissan of Pipo Derani, Chris Cumming and Ryan Dalziel has finished second in the first two rounds of the 2016 season, one point off the class championship lead. The #30 ESM entry of Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown has finished ninth and seventh in class in the first two races. ESM won overall in the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring earlier this season with Derani, Sharp, van Overbeek and Brown. The chassis used by ESM in its victories at Daytona and Sebring will be used by Michael Shank Racing as the IMSA team makes its Le Mans debut. Shank regulars Oswaldo Negri, Jr. and John Pew are joined by Blancpain GT Series front-runner Laurens Vanthoor in the #49 Ligier-Honda.

The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan of Romain Rusinov and René Rast will be joined by Will Stevens, who is on loan from Manor Racing. Nathanaël Berthon had run the first two races with G-Drive but has moved to the #41 Greaves Motorsport Ligier-Nissan with Memo Rojas and Julien Canal. The #38 G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan of Giedo van der Garde, Simon Dolan and Jack Dennis leads the ELMS championship after a victory at Silverstone and a second at Imola. Strakka Racing fields the only Gibson full-time in WEC. Nick Leventis, Jonny Kane and Danny Watts finished fifth in the #42 Gibson-Nissan at Silverstone.

Manor Racing will only have one car entered at Le Mans despite having two entered full-time in FIA WEC. Matt Rao and Roberto Merhi move to the #45 Oreca-Nissan and joined by Tor Graves. Defending LMP2 class winner Matthew Bradley returns to KCMG in the #47 Oreca-Nissan and joins his fellow co-winner Matthew Howson. Tsugio Matsuda will be the third driver in the KCMG entry after competing for Nissan last year in LMP1.

SMP Racing won at Le Mans last year in GTE-Am but this year will run two BR01 Engineering-Nissans. Maurizio Mediani and Nicholas Minassian are joined in the #27 BR01 by IndyCar's Mikhail Aleshin. Viktor Shaitar was apart of the GTE-Am winning team last year and will drive the #37 BR01 with Vitaly Petrov and Kirill Ladygin.

Thiriet by TDS Racing won the most recent round in ELMS at Imola and Pierre Thiriet, Mathias Beche and Ryō Hirakawa will drive the #46 Oreca-Nissan at Le Mans. Krohn Racing are fourth in the ELMS championship and Tracy Krohn and Nic Jönsson return for their 11th consecutive Le Mans together. João Barbosa comes over from IMSA to fill out the #40 Ligier-Nissan.

Two LMP2 entries have Judd engines and both come from ELMS. SO24! Lombard Racing has Vincent Capillaire, Erik Maris and Jonathan Coleman entered in the #22 Ligier-Judd while Race Performance has Nicolas Leutwiler, James Winslow and Shinji Nakano entered in the #34 Oreca-Judd.

World Cup winning goaltender Fabien Barthez makes his Le Mans debut with his own team, Panis-Barthez Compétition, a partnership with Olivier Panis. Barthez is joined by former Pro Mazda driver Timothé Buret and Paul-Loup Chatin in the #23 Ligier-Nissan. Six-time Olympic gold medalist Chris Hoy also makes his Le Mans debut in the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier-Nissan with Michael Munemann and Andrea Pizzitola.

The only woman in LMP2 is Inès Tattinger, who will drive the #29 Pegasus Racing Morgan-Nissan with Léo Roussel and Rémy Striebig. Tristan Gommendy leads the #33 Eurasia Motorsport Oreca-Nissan with Pun Jun Jin and Nick de Bruijn both making their Le Mans debut. Murphy Prototypes returns with the #48 Oreca-Nissan. Jeroen Bleekemolen won in LMP2 at Le Mans in 2008 and will be joined by Marc Goossens and Ben Keating in the #48 Oreca.

The invitational entry is the #84 SRT41 by OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan of Frédéric Sausset, Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet. Sausset lost all his limbs to a bacterial infection in 2012 and drives the car with pedal controls under his thighs and prosthetic limbs attached to his arms to steer. Tinseau finished second in LMP2 in his last Le Mans start in 2012.

Fourteen cars from five manufactures are entered in the GTE-Pro class.

Corvette won its eighth class at Le Mans last year with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor. All three drivers return in the #64 Corvette C7.R and Gavin and Milner enter after winning the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring in the GTLM class with Audi's Marcel Fässler. Jan Magnussen and Antonio García won the GTLM class at Daytona and Sebring last year only to have  an accident in qualifying keep the duo from attempting to score an Endurance Racing Triple Crown. Ricky Taylor joins Magnussen and García in the #63 Corvette. It is Ricky Taylor's first time at Le Mans with the factory Corvette team.

The return of Ford has been the largest story of the 2016 sports car season. Four Ford GTs are entered, as the two IMSA teams will join the two WEC entrants. Andy Priaulx, Marino Franchitti and Harry Tincknell finished second in GTE-Pro at Spa-Francorchamps driving the #67 Ford GT and they are second in the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers championship. Olivier Pla, Stefan Mücke and Billy Johnson drive the #66 Ford and their best finish was fifth at Silverstone. The #68 Ford features Joey Hand, Dirk Werner and Sébastien Bourdais. Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook won the most recent IMSA round in GTLM at Laguna Seca. Scott Dixon will make his Le Mans debut and joins Briscoe and Westbrook in the #69 Ford.

Two of the three 2015 overall winners are driving for Porsche this year in GTE-Pro after a reduction in LMP1 entries this season. Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber are split into the #91 and #92 Porsche 911 RSR respectively. French drivers Patrick Pilet and Kevin Éstre will be in the #91 Porsche. Frédéric Makowiecki and Jörg Bergmeister join Bamber in the #92 Porsche. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche is the only full-time Porsche in the WEC. Defending World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers champion Richard Leitz leads the #77 Porsche and is joined by Michael Christensen and Phillip Eng.

Sam Bird and Davide Rigon have won the first two WEC races in GTE-Pro in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE. Bird finished third in LMP2 with G-Drive Racing last year and Rigon was second in GTE-Pro. Andrea Bertolini will be the third driver in the #71 Ferrari and Bertolini was apart of the GTE-Am winning SMP Racing Ferrari. Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado drive the #51 AF Corse Ferrari and Alessandro Pier Guidi join the Italian and Brit for Le Mans. Bruni has finished on the GTE-Pro podium in four of the last five Le Mans. Risi Competizione heads to Le Mans from IMSA with full-time drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander being joined by Matteo Malucelli in the #82 Ferrari.

Aston Martin rounds out the GTE-Pro entry list with two Vantage GTEs. The #95 Aston Martin of Darren Turner, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen finished third in GTE-Pro at Silverstone while the #97 Aston Martin of Richie Stanaway, Jonny Adams and Fernando Rees finished third in GTE-Pro at Spa-Francorchamps.

Four manufactures make up the 13 GTE-Am entries.

Aston Martin's Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda lead the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers championship with 44 points after the #98 Aston Martin finished second at Silverstone and won the class from pole position at Spa-Francorchamps. Joining the #98 Aston Martin is the European Le Mans Series GTE championship leading #99 Aston Martin of Andrew Howard, Liam Griffin and Gary Hirsch. The #99 Aston Martin won at Silverstone in ELMS.

Ferrari has the most entries in GTE-Am with five, all are the older Ferrari 458 Italia GT2. AF Corse's #83 Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas trails the #98 Aston Martin by one point in the championship after winning at Silverstone and finishing second at Spa-Francorchamps. The only thing separating the two teams is the point award for pole position. The #55 AF Corse Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott come over from ELMS. The Danish Formula Racing also runs in ELMS and the all-Danish line-up of Mikkel Mac, Christian Nielsen and Johnny Laursen will drive the #60 Ferrari. The American Scuderia Corse finished third in class last year and Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal all return in the #62 Ferrari. Asian Le Mans Series regular Clearwater Racing will run the #61 Ferrari for Rob Bell, Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok.

Two Corvettes are entered in GTE-Am. The full-time WEC entry of Labre Compétition has finished third in the first two races but there will be a driver change in the #50 Corvette. Paolo Ruberti will miss Le Mans after an injury suffered driver coaching at Hockenheimring. Jean-Phillipe Belloc replaces Ruberti and joins Pierre Ragues and Yukata Yamagishi in the #50 Corvette. Team AAI is another Asian Le Mans Series regular and the team has entered the #57 Corvette for Johnny O'Connell, Mark Patterson and Oliver Bryant. O'Connell is a four-time class winner at Le Mans and this is his first Le Mans appearance since 2010.

Four Porsches round out the GTE-Am entry list. The #78 KCMG Porsche of Wolf Henzler, Christian Reid and Joël Camathias has finished fourth in class in both WEC races this season. Patrick Long finished second in class last year and will drive the #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche with Khaled Al Qubaisi and David Heinemeier Hansson. The #89 Proton Competition Porsche from ELMS is entered with Alex Job Racing drivers Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen from IMSA and another regular IMSA competitor, Marc Miller. The #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche of Adam Carroll, Michael Wainwright and Ben Barker is a full-time WEC competitor and finished fifth at Spa-Francorchamps.

Free practice is at 10:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday with the first qualifying session following at 4:00 p.m. ET. The two Thursday qualifying sessions will be at 1:00 p.m. ET and 4:00 p.m. ET. A warm up session will take place at 3:00 a.m. ET on Saturday with the 24 Hours of Le Mans starting at 9:00 a.m. ET.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Fool's Gold

Rain and weepers delayed the IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway until August 27th. Drivers invaded the grandstand with hero cards in hand. Lewis Hamilton won again in Montreal and took another chunk out of Nico Rosberg's championship lead. There were first-time winners in Michigan and Moscow. A 52-year old man won a race. A new manufacture won on a world stage. Formula One teams have to pack up and fly halfway across the world. Two drivers are late to Le Mans. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Fool's Gold
The 100th Indianapolis 500 didn't just feature a who's who of drivers and personalities on the grid but also brought out key motorsports dignitaries, including FIA World Endurance Championship CEO Gerard Neveu and ACO CEO Pierre Fillon. The visit of two of the most important men for world sports car racing increased talks of a potential round of the World Endurance Championship taking place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the near future. However, I feel it would only be right to warn Mr. Neveu and Mr. Fillon. They may think they have just struck gold but likely haven't.

While the crowd of around 350,000 people looks spectacular, it is a mirage. The WEC thinks they have found its opening to the American fan base, despite having a capable home at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The Austin event has not been growing at the rate the series would like and Circuit of the Americas has run into some financial difficult in the past year, most notable a reduction in spending that nearly cost it the United States Grand Prix.

The 6 Hours of the Circuit of the Americas has only been on the calendar for three years with the fourth edition scheduled for this September 17th. Last year's attendance over the two-day weekend was reportedly 58,400 spectators, an increase from 2014. For comparison, this year's WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps had a crowd of 56,000 people for race day. It doesn't appear Austin is that far off the other events on the WEC calendar but the track and the series appear not be seeing eye-to-eye with one another.

Austin might be shaky but the WEC should not expect their answer to be racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While 350,000 people show up for the Indianapolis 500, most other crowds at the Speedway are immediate dismissed as not good enough even when the turn out is respectable. The Brickyard 400 no longer draws a crowd that rivals the Indianapolis 500 but it still draws 80,000-100,000 and is one of the best-attended NASCAR races each season. Carb Day gets a massive crowd but the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, held just two weeks prior, may get 20,000-25,000 people. The MotoGP Indianapolis Grand Prix saw over 67,000 people show up for the race and over 145,000 people over the entire weekend last year and the race did not return in 2016. When Grand-Am and then IMSA raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the crowds were poor but to be fair the race was held on Friday afternoon of the NASCAR weekend.

If the WEC is expecting that just because 350,000 people showed up for the Indianapolis 500, they will easily get 50,000 on race day alone is foolish. Indianapolis maybe one of the arteries for motorsports in the United States but it isn't anything but a motorsports haven where the community shuts down anytime the Speedway has an event. The crowd at Austin might be less than spectacular but the crowd at Shanghai was dreadful at the start and it has continued to grow each year. Even Spa-Francorchamps has grown to over 50,000 in attendance from a merger beginning. Circuit of the Americas might have more problems than just attendance but it is still a new circuit. It is still becoming apart of the fabric of the community.

It has yet to set in that Austin, Texas is a destination for motorsports in the United States. Unlike Indianapolis, Daytona, Watkins Glen, Sebring and Long Beach, Austin doesn't have decades of motorsports history that draws people out. It takes time. Consider Petit Le Mans. At first, it was just another endurance race in the United States and now it arguably could be the largest attendance motorsports event in the state of Georgia. Think about that for a second. Georgia. The state that use to have two NASCAR races, including the season finale for the Cup series and is home to Bill Elliott. Do you really think in the early years of Petit Le Mans anyone imagine it would grow to what it is today? Austin may be struggling but it should not be abandoned. Growth takes time and the market is still getting use to having a major international motorsports facility in its backyard.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn't necessarily going to be the solution for the FIA WEC. Many events have gone to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway only to leave a few years later wondering what went wrong. Neveu and Fillon should be warned that a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway very well could have the same size crowd as Circuit of the Americas. Should the nugget of gold they think they have stumbled on turn out to be a nugget of disappointment, the only people they will have to blame are themselves.

Thoughts on Texas
Unfortunately, IndyCar will have to wait until August to complete its race at Texas Motor Speedway but I think it could be a positive for the race. First, the crowd looked really good on Saturday night but the weepers kept the race from starting. Sunday afternoon, with the threat of rain lingering, some made the trek out, others didn't. Weepers delayed the start again but 71 laps were complete.

IndyCar could have tried again today and raced in front of a couple hundred people and for a television audience around 100,000 but it decided to push it back and this allows many who bought a ticket and went on Saturday to return and could open the door for other people to purchase a ticket to watch the final 177 laps.

IndyCar isn't NASCAR where they race 38 out of 52 weeks and there is no room to reschedule a race and will occasionally have to wait until a Tuesday to complete a race if necessary. IndyCar has some room in case a race needs to be moved to a later date. Texas Motor Speedway gets a chance to promote this race again and the race now plays more heavily into the championship picture, as it is the antepenultimate round of the 2016 season. The final four races of the IndyCar season will now be run over five weeks. It will be a great way to build momentum heading to Sonoma, barring Simon Pagenaud doesn't clinch it at Texas or Watkins Glen, although Pagenaud clinching the title gives Eddie Gossage the chance to promote a potential coronation ceremony at his palace.

Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly will be allowed to restart the Texas race but both drivers will be significantly behind the eight-ball after their accident caused the final 30 laps run on Sunday to be behind the safety car. Newgarden suffered a fractured right clavicle and a small fractured in his right hand. Newgarden is already looking at surrendering a lot of points when the Texas race resumes but with two weeks until Road America, he might not be back in time and that would be a shame for him. I could see Ed Carpenter Racing just run one car until Newgarden returns considering how tight budgets are and how ECR has lost another car.

The amazing thing out of all this is, after the accident, IndyCar has jumped all-in to running aeroscreens for 2017. It's pretty progressive of IndyCar to basically say, "We're doing this." The FIA and Formula One seems to be hemming and hawing halo devices and aeroscreens. I figured IndyCar would just sit back and wait until the FIA figured something out but good on IndyCar for deciding what is best for the series. Hopefully we see IndyCar test one soon. I would hope the series would get into bed with Red Bull on this one and work in tandem. Yes, there will be plenty of people angry about this decision and saying it is the worst thing to ever happen to IndyCar and it will hurt racing and it will make the drivers less safe. People said all that about the domed skid and it all turned out to be bullshit. IndyCar will test aeroscreens and get driver feedback and all will be fine come the start of 2017.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton but did you know...

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup race at Michigan. Daniel Suárez became the first Mexican driver to win a Grand National Series race. William Byron won the Truck race at Texas.

Thierry Neuville won Rally d'Italia Sardegna, his first World Rally victory since the 2014 Rallye Deutschland.

Gabriele Tarquini and Nick Castsburg won the WTCC races from Moscow Raceway and sweeping the weekend for the home manufacture Lada.

Coming Up This Weekend
The 84th 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Formula One makes its maiden voyage to the coastal capital Baku, Azerbaijan for the European Grand Prix.
World Superbikes will be at Misano.
V8 Supercars head to Hidden Valley Raceway in Darwin.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Morning Warm-Up: Texas 2016

Carlos Muñoz starts on his first career IndyCar pole position
After going nearly two years without winning a pole position, Honda has won two pole positions in the last four races. Both pole positions have come on an oval and both pole positions were the first of a driver's career. Carlos Muñoz will start on pole position for the Firestone 600 from Texas Motor Speedway. The Colombian had a two-lap average at 217.137 MPH, the only driver to average over 217 MPH in qualifying. Muñoz's previous best start was second in his IndyCar debut in the 97th Indianapolis 500 in 2013. His previous best start at Texas was fourth last year. Muñoz won six pole positions in Indy Lights and he won from pole position on three occasions. Scott Dixon joins Muñoz on the outside of row one. Dixon's best start this season was second at Long Beach, where he finished second. He won last year at Texas from seventh on the grid. Dixon has won from second on the grid four times in his career, most recently at Homestead in 2010.

Hélio Castroneves entered Texas third in the championship and he will start third in the race. This is the sixth time this season Castroneves has started within the first two rows. Through eight races, Castroneves is the only driver to have completed all 952 laps run. He won from third at Texas in 2006 after leading eight laps. Takuma Sato matches his career best starting position at Texas in fourth. He started the first Twin-275 in 2011 from fourth. He finished fifth in that race. Josef Newgarden qualified fifth, his third top five start of the season. In Newgarden's two other top five starts this season, he finished on the podium. Newgarden hasn't finished better than his starting position in his previous three starts at Texas. Championship leader Simon Pagenaud will start on the outside of row three. This is Pagenaud's fourth top ten start in five Texas starts.

Will Power's consecutive pole position streak at Texas ended at three after the Australian qualified in seventh position. This is Power's second worst starting position at Texas. He started eighth in his Texas debut in 2008. Tony Kanaan qualified eighth, the third time he has started eighth at Texas. He has finished second each time he has started eighth at Texas. Alexander Rossi qualified a career best ninth. Rossi has finished better than his starting position in the last five races. He has qualified better in each oval race after starting 14th at Phoenix and 11th at Indianapolis. James Hinchcliffe will round out the top ten on the grid. It is Hinchcliffe's seventh top ten start this season. He started ninth and finished 14th in his last start at Texas in 2014.

Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti make it an all-Andretti Autosport row six. Hunter-Reay has only finished in the top ten after starting outside the top ten once at Texas. He went from 24th to seventh in 2010. Andretti will start 12th in his 12th Texas start. He finished fifth last year after starting 11th. Graham Rahal will start 13th, the sixth time he has started outside the top ten at Texas. Rahal won from 13th at Mid-Ohio last season. Rahal's only other time starting 13th on an oval was in his Indianapolis 500 debut in 2008. Rahal would have an accident and finish 33rd. Ed Carpenter will start to the outside of Rahal. Since leading 90 laps on his way to victory at Texas in 2014, Carpenter has led seven lap in his last twelve starts.

Charlie Kimball will start on the inside of row eight. He started 15th at Texas in 2014 and finished tenth. He has finished in the top ten the last two years at Texas and has improved on his finishing position every year at Texas. Mikhail Aleshin joins Kimball on row two. The Russian started 11th and finished seventh in his Texas debut in 2014. Juan Pablo Montoya will start 17th after starting fourth and fifth in his first two Texas starts. Sébastien Bourdais qualified in 18th position. The Frenchman's best finish at Texas is 14th. Bourdais has finished in the top ten in his last two oval starts.

Max Chilton and Jack Hawksworth will start on an all-British row ten. Chilton is making his debut at Texas. After completing all but two laps in the first six races, Chilton completed only eight of 140 laps at Belle Isle. Hawksworth retired in last year's race after a suspension failure and finished in last place. Conor Daly and Gabby Chaves make it an all-Dale Coyne Racing row eleven. Like Chilton, Daly is making his Texas debut. Chaves had an accident in practice prevent him from making a qualifying attempt.

NBCSN's coverage of the Firestone 600 from Texas Motor Speedway will begin at 2:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 2:15 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 248 laps.