Saturday, August 23, 2014

Twelve Years of Development: A Chassis Final Ride

I'm not sure the current Indy Lights chassis ever had an official name. It came during a time in the CART-IRL War where naming chassis wasn't an IRL thing or at least it wasn't publicized. Like anything from that era that was even slightly connected to the rebellious IRL, it has been scrutinized, shamed and picked apart like a piece of fried haddock on a plate of fish and chips.

It didn't hit me until the first practice session that this would be the final race weekend for the nameless chassis. To be fair, I found in a Marshall Pruett article on where he referenced the chassis as the Dallara IPS, the initials of Infiniti Pro Series, the name of the series when it started in 2002 when the Nissan marque back the junior division. After four seasons, Infiniti dropped out and Indy Pro Series was used before reviving the name Indy Lights.

I spent part of yesterday going over the history of this red-headed stepchild of a car.

It's first race was July 7, 2002 at Kansas Speedway and featured twelve cars. A.J. Foyt IV was barely 18, victorious and appeared to be the future, carrying on a legendary name. Second place was and actor, best known for his role on Beverly Hills, 90210 Jason Priestley and Navajo Cory Witherill rounded out the podium. Mike Hoss was fourth and Ed Carpenter rounded out the top five. Marty Roth finished sixth with Gary Peterson in seventh. Roth best known for being the man with money who refused to step out, Peterson best known for his company Automatic Fire Sprinklers supporting many young drivers such as Raphael Matos, JR Hildebrand, Sebastián Saavedra on their way up the ladder and he currently sponsors Saavedra in IndyCar.

When the Sonoma weekend comes to a close and a champion is crowned, the near teenager of a chassis will have 169 races on it's résumé. Entering the weekend, 59 different drivers have won in the IPS chassis. The all-time leader in victories is Alex Lloyd with ten and he will go down as the only driver with double-digit wins in this chassis. Second all-time is Wade Cunningham, the only man to win the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway multiple times, with eight wins. The New Zealander has three Freedom 100 victories. Thiago Mederios, Mark Taylor and Jeff Simmons are all tied for third most wins in the IPS chassis-era with seven victories. If Gabby Chaves were to sweep this weekend at Sonoma, he would join the Brazilian, Brit and American with seven victories.

The 59 winners in the IPS chassis have come from 14 countries with the United States producing 58 victories from 25 drivers. Nine British drivers have won in Indy Lights for 32 combined victories. Brazil has 21 victories with seven drivers taking the checkered flag. Four Colombians have produced 18 victories while four Frenchman have combined for 11 victories. New Zealand's eight victories all came at the hands of Wade Cunningham. Argentina's six victories all at the hands of Esteban Guerrieri. James Hinchcliffe is the only Canadian to have won in the IPS chassis and he did it three times. Junior Strous won his first two starts in the IPS chassis with Arie Luyendyk, Jr. lone victory at Chicagoland combining for the Netherlands three wins. James Davison's two wins at Mid-Ohio are the only for Australia in the IPS-era. Hideki Mutoh is responsible for Japan's two victories in the IPS chassis. Chile, Ireland and Spain each have one victory in the IPS chassis coming at the hands of Pablo Donoso, Peter Dempsey and Victor García respectively.

Of the 219 drivers to race the IPS chassis, 46 have made starts at the top division of open-wheel racing. Of those 46, lets note Dan Clarke, Tyce Carlson, Willy T. Ribbs, Jan Heylen, Tõnis Kasemets, Jimmy Kite and Franck Perera all made their first start in IndyCar prior to their first start in the IPS chassis.

Of the 59 different drivers to win in the IPS chassis, 35 have come on to combine for 926 IndyCar start. Of the 39 drivers to make their first IndyCar start after their first start in the IPS chassis, only five have won an IndyCar race. Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe each have three IndyCar victories, Marco Andretti has two while Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal each sit on one.

Those numbers don't look good. Only five of 219 drivers to have raced the IPS chassis have won a combined nine times in IndyCar. That success rate is a dismal 2.28% for Indy Lights graduates.

I bet a lot will look at those numbers and label it as more proof how inferior the IRL was but let's remember drivers such as Lloyd, Cunningham, Hildebrand, Matos and Tristan Vautier all barely had a cup of coffee in IndyCar. Let's not forget to mention drivers such as Josef Newgarden, Jack Hawksworth, Sage Karam and Carlos Muñoz are just getting started in IndyCar and very well could be racking up victories soon and drivers such as Gabby Chaves, Zach Veach, Matthew Brabham, Jack Harvey and Luiz Razia have still yet to appear at the top level.

Arie Luyendyk, Jr. will go down as the most experienced driver in the IPS chassis with 66 starts. Wade Cunningham made 64 starts. The most starts in the IPS chassis without a victory is 46 by Chris Festa. The Georgia-native and once Ganassi development driver finished second three times. His first runner-up finish came in his second start at Phoenix in 2005 with his next two coming in 2007 when under the Ganassi umbrella at Homestead and the Freedom 100.

The IPS chassis wasn't revolutionary. It didn't turn motorsports on it's ear. It didn't inspire. It has been a motorsports equivalent of a cockroach as it appeared it would survive the test of time. Now the IL-15 chassis is on deck. In it's first tests at Mid-Ohio and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the IL-15 was blistering quick, beating the IPS times with ease.

While the IL-15 is clearly quicker, will it be able to produce the same kind of hair raising racing the IPS did on ovals? I doubt it will be able to duplicate the Logan Gomez-Alex Lloyd 0.0005 seconds margin of victory at Chicagoland in 2007 or four-wide, Peter Dempsey on the outside by 0.0026 seconds.

The IL-15 will begin writing it's legacy shortly but the IPS chassis, despite it roots linked to a dark period for American open-wheel racing, despite it's dwindling grids in recent years, despite it's lack of producing winners in IndyCar, it was able to produce racing that had never been seen before and may never be seen again. That has to be worth something.

Friday, August 22, 2014

It's A Whole New Ballgame in U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda

Sonoma Raceway might be 390 miles from Hollywood but the scripts for the 2014 U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda championships feature plot twists only fit for golden awards and four stars from Roger Ebert.

Florian Latorre was on pole position and only had to finish ahead of championship rivals Jake Eidson and R.C. Enerson to clinch the title with Saturday's season finale becoming a de facto parade for the Frenchman. The green flag waved and in two turns a 31-point lead became five and after eight laps it dropped to four. Contact between Latorre and Enerson sent the championship leader into the barrier and Enerson went on to dominate race one, picking up his fifth victory of 2014. 

Behind Enerson, Aaron Telitz came home in second with other championship hopeful Jake Eidson finishing third, cutting twenty-one points out of the gap between and Latorre and sits ten points back with one race to go.

Eidson had to fight hard to hold off the hard charging Peter Portante, who picked up fastest lap in race one, his first fastest lap of the season. Jeoren Slaghekke rounded out the top five, his first top five since Indianapolis Raceway Park in May.

Brazilian Victor Franzoni finished sixth with American Coltan Herta in seventh, Norwegian Henrik Furuseth eighth and Frenchman Nico Jamin in ninth. Adrian Starrantino rounded out the top ten. 

At a glance, Latorre leads Enerson by four points and Eidson by ten points entering the final day of the season.

U.S. F2000 will have a morning warm-up tomorrow at 11:10 a.m. ET with green flag for the 2014 U.S. F2000 finale scheduled for 2:05 p.m. ET.

After the jaw dropping outcome in U.S. F2000 race one, Pro Mazda decided to reenact the dramatic, championship altering events. Second in the championship Scott Hargrove started on pole position, taking a point out of Spencer Pigot's eighteen point cushion with Pigot starting on the outside of row one. On lap four, the championship contenders made contact in turn two and like in U.S. F2000 race, the championship leader's day was done but this time the championship leader was dethroned. Pigot's lead in the championship standings entering race one was not enough to keep the American in the catbird seat for race two tomorrow. 

After the contact, Pigot's Juncos Racing teammate Kyle Kaiser snuck through to take the lead and Hargrove's Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Neil Alberico slotted into second with the Canadian Hargrove settling in third. Kaiser held off the Cape duo to take his first career Pro Mazda victory and led the most laps, keeping valuable points away from Hargrove. The Canadian got the last laugh as he will enter race two tomorrow with a two-point advantage over Pigot. A small silver lining for Pigot is he did pick up fastest lap, giving the American a possibly crucial point in the championship. It's Pigot's seventh fastest lap of the season. 

Nicolas Costa finished fourth with Andretti Autosport's Shelby Blackstock rounding out the top five. In his first race of 2014, Alex Keyes went from thirteenth to sixth. Dalton Kellett finished seventh ahead of Ryan Booth, Jack Aitken and Julia Ballario rounded out the top ten. 

At a glance, Hargrove leads Pigot by two points entering the final day of the season. 

Pro Mazda morning warm-up follows U.S. F2000 morning warm-up at 11:30 a.m. ET. The 2014 Pro Mazda finale is scheduled to take place at 6:40 p.m. ET.

Indy Lights qualified for their first race of the weekend this afternoon. Jack Harvey won his third pole of the season and takes a point out of Gabby Chaves' championship lead. The Brit will enter race one tomorrow twenty-two points behind the Colombian. Chaves will join Harvey on the outside of row one. Harvey's Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Luiz Razia will start third with Juan Piedrahita making it an all SPM row two. 

Matthew Brabham will start fifth with Juan Pablo García starting sixth. Zach Veach is seven points behind Chaves in the championship standings and he will have to work hard to shrink that margin and keep his championship hopes alive as the Ohio-native will start seventh. Ryan Phinny will start eighth and Scott Anderson and Zack Meyer comprise the fifth and final row. 

Indy Lights race one from Sonoma is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. ET tomorrow afternoon. 

Road to Indy First Practices Complete at Sonoma

The three Road to Indy series have completed their morning practices from Sonoma Raceway, the final weekend of the 2014 season for U.S. F2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights.

U.S. F2000 championship leader Florian Latorre started his day on top of the timesheet as the Frenchman hopes to clinch the championship later today in race one. His fastest lap was a 94.9773, nearly a quarter of a second faster than Aaron Telitz in second.

Since the creation of the Road to Indy ladder system in 2010, a Frenchman has won a title in one of the three development series in three of the four years. J.K Vernay won the Indy Lights title in 2010 with Tristan Vautier winning in then-Star Mazda in 2011 and Indy Lights in 2012. Latorre is looking to become the first Frenchman to ever win the U.S. F2000 title.

Third in U.S. F2000 practice was second in the championship Jake Eidson, who was 0.3587 seconds off of his championship rival. Dutch driver Jeroen Slaghekke was fourth with Peter Portnate rounding out the top five. R.C. Enerson is the only other driver eligible for the title and was sixth quickest, 0.6304 seconds back of Latorre.

Norwegian driver Henrick Furuseth was seventh ahead of Colton Herta and Adrian Starrantino with Victor Franzoni rounding out the top ten. The top ten was covered by 0.9179 seconds.

U.S. F2000 qualifying will take place at 2:45 p.m. ET with race one scheduled for 6:20 p.m. ET. Latorre leads Eidson by 30 points and Enerson by 33 points entering today's race.

In Pro Mazda, California's Neil Alberico was fastest with a time of 91.9191 seconds. Alberico is looking for his first victory in 2014 with two races to go. Second in the Pro Mazda championship Scott Hargrove was second fastest in the session, just over a half second behind his Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate. Just 0.0170 seconds behind Hargrove was Pro Mazda championship leader Spencer Pigot. Following Pigot was his Juncos Racing teammates Kyle Kaiser and Jose Gutierrez.

In his first appearance of 2014, Pittsburgh-native Alex Keyes was sixth fastest, 1.2518 seconds back of Alberico. Nicolas Costa was seventh fastest with Andretti Autosport driver Shelby Blackstock in eighth. Juncos Racing's Julia Ballario was ninth with Ryan Booth rounding out the top ten, 1.3968 seconds back.

Pro Mazda qualifiying will take place at 3:30 p.m. ET with race one scheduled for 7:20 p.m. ET. Pigot leads Hargrove by 19 points entering race one.

Indy Lights championship leader Gabby Chaves was fastest in practice with a lap of 88.2705 seconds. The Colombian was 0.1729 seconds fastest than his Belardi Auto Racing teammate Ryan Phinny, who will be making his fifth career Indy Lights start and fourth of the season. Third place in the championship Jack Harvey was third, 0.3652 seconds back with his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Luiz Razia in fourth. Zack Meyer jumped to fifth late in the session.

Andretti Autosport teammates Zach Veach and Matthew Brabahm were sixth and seventh, 0.5879 and 0.6576 seconds off of Chaves. Juan Piedrahita was eighth, Juan Pablo García was ninth, 1.0334 seconds and Scott Anderson rounded out the field, 1.5747 seconds back.

Indy Lights will qualify at 4:15 p.m. with the first Indy Lights race of the weekend scheduled for 3:15 p.m. ET. Chaves leads Veach by seven points with Harvey 23 points behind the Colombian.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Track Walk: Sonoma 2014

IndyCar heads to Northern California where the girls are warm.
The penultimate round and final road course of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Sonoma Raceway for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Will Power is the all-time leader in IndyCar wins at Sonoma with three. No other driver has more than once. The Australian enters as the defending Sonoma winner and leading the IndyCar championship by 39 points over his Team Penske teammate Hélio Castroneves. Team Penske has won four consecutive Sonoma races all by Australians.

Time: Coverage begins Sunday August 24 at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 4:40 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Brian Till, (Leigh Diffey is on Formula One duty), Paul Tracy and making his IndyCar booth debut, Sam Hornish, Jr. (Townsend Bell is on IMSA duty at Virginia International Raceway). Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast, Marty Snider and Robin Miller will be on the pit lane.

Championship Contenders at Sonoma
Will Power leads all drivers with three victories at Sonoma, all coming after an accident at the track with Nelson Phillipe fractured two vertebra in 2009. Outside of a 25th place finish in his first Sonoma start in 2008, Power's worst finish is second in 2012 to his then-teammate and fellow Australian Ryan Briscoe. Power's average starting position in five Sonoma starts is 1.8. He has led 217 laps at Sonoma. 

Hélio Castroneves won at Sonoma in 2008 and has three podiums, five top fives and seven top tens in ten Sonoma starts. The Brazilian has started in the top ten for every Sonoma race with an average starting position of 2.6. Amazingly, Castroneves has not led at Sonoma since taking the checkered flag in 2008 and all 51 laps he has led at Sonoma were in that 2008 victory. 

Simon Pagenaud will be making his fourth career start at Sonoma and he has improved each year. After fifteenth in 2011, substituting for Simona de Silvestro after visa issues kept her from re-entering the United States the Frenchman finished seventh in 2012 and fifth last year. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay is still looking for his first career top five at Sonoma. In seven starts, Hunter-Reay's best finish is sixth, which came last year and has three top tens. However, the 2012 IndyCar champion has finished eighteenth three times, each coming after starting on row four and his worst finish in Wine Country is nineteenth. 

Juan Pablo Montoya will be making his first career IndyCar start at Sonoma. Montoya's first career NASCAR Cup Series victory came at Sonoma in 2007. He had four top tens in seven NASCAR starts at Sonoma while he finished thirty-fourth in his final two appearances at the track. 

Scott Dixon is the final driver mathematically eligible for the title but has to win this weekend to stay alive. The New Zealander won in 2007 and led the most laps last year before being penalized for contact with a pit crew member from the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Dixon's average finish at Sonoma is eighth and his average starting position is 5.333.

The magic number is 88. If a driver wants to be mathematically eligible for the championship heading into the double points season finale at Fontana they are going to have to be within 88 points of the championship leader, barring additional entries for the season finale, which could increase the magic number. 

Who Can Knock Off The Big Three?
Since returning to the IndyCar schedule in 2005, Sonoma Raceway has been dominated by Team Penske, Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport. Each team has multiple wins at the track with Penske leading the way at five victories to two apiece for Ganassi and Andretti.

Simon Pagenaud should be near the top of the list of drivers that could dethrone the Big Three. As mentioned above, the Frenchman has improved each year he has gone to Sonoma. Currently, third in the championship and needing to keep his title hopes alive, Pagenaud has two victories this season, both coming on road/street courses at the IMS road course and Houston.

Mike Conway has won two races this season with Ed Carpenter's win at Texas making it a banner year for the team that bares his namesake. While Conway has two victories, he has no top ten finishes outside of those wins with his next best finish being thirteenth. Conway's first career podium came at Sonoma in 2009 but has finished fourteenth and sixteenth in his other two Sonoma starts.

Josef Newgarden has had great races in 2014 with a few respectable finishes but has had things out of his control hamper his third season in IndyCar. The Tennessee-native was in contention for victory at Long Beach before an accident with Ryan Hunter-Reay end their days along with James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan and Takuma Sato. He led late at Pocono before needing to pit for fuel while made the right call to get fresh tires late at Iowa vault him to second. Newgarden was in contention for another victory at Mid-Ohio before a poor pit stop ruined his teams afternoon. He is coming off a top five at Milwaukee but has finished twenty-third and twenty-fourth in his two Sonoma starts.

Justin Wilson finished second last year at Sonoma and has four top tens in five starts with his worst Sonoma finish being eleventh. After finishing on the cusp of a top five in the championship and racking up four podiums and seven top fives in 2013, the Sheffield-native is fourteenth in championship, has yet to stand on the podium with his fourth place finish at Belle Isle 1 being his lone top five of 2014 to date.

Road to Indy
If you would like to catch up on any of the Road to Indy championship battles, check out the championship previews as Sonoma marks the final weekend for U.S. F2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights.

At a glance, Indy Lights is a three-horse race between Gabby Chaves, Zach Veach and Jack Harvey. The Colombian leads by seven points and twenty-three over the American and Brit respectively. To remain eligible for the title going into the final race, a driver will have to be within 33 points of the leader. Chaves currently holds the tiebreaker over Veach and Harvey with four victories to three and two respectively.

In Pro Mazda, it is a two-horse race between Spencer Pigot and Scott Hargrove. The American Pigot leads the Canadian Hargrove by 19 points and owns the tiebreaker with six victories to Hargrove's three with two races remaining. To remain eligible for the title going into the final race, a driver will have to be within 32 points of the leader.

Finally, in U.S. F2000, Frenchman Florian Latorre is 30 points clear of American Jake Eidson and 33 clear of R.C. Enerson with two races remaining. Enerson has the most wins this season with four to the two for both Latorre and Eidson. Like in Pro Mazda, to remain eligible for the title going into the final race, a driver will have to be within 32 points of the leader.

The U.S. F2000 races will take place Friday at 6:20 p.m. ET and Saturday at 2:05 p.m. ET.

The Pro Mazda races will take place Friday at 7:20 p.m. ET and Saturday at 6:40 p.m. ET.

The Indy Lights races will take place Saturday at 3:15 p.m. ET and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Pirelli World Challenge
The penultimate round for the Pirelli World Challenge GT classes take place this weekend. The doubleheader will feature race one on Saturday at 5:35 p.m. ET and race two on Sunday at 7:40 p.m. ET.

In GT, Ryan Dalziel swept the weekend at Mid-Ohio three weeks ago. Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell leads Mike Skeen by 82 points as the Georgia-native is looking for his second consecutive title. Anthony Lazzaro and Andrew Palmer are tied for third in the championship, 189 points back of O'Connell with Cadillac bookending the top five with Andy Pilgrim trailing his teammate by 198 points.

Last year, Pilgrim won his first and only race in 2013 at Sonoma with Duncan Ende finishing second and James Sofronas in third. O'Connell finished twelfth.

Dyson Racing will run two Bentleys, one with Butch Leitzinger behind the wheel. Leitzinger has competed every round since Road America in June. Guy Smith will make his PWC debut in the second Bentley. Smith won the 2003 24 Hours of Le Mans driving for Bentley with Tom Kristensen and Rinadlo Capello as his co-drivers and won the 2011 American Le Mans Series LMP1 title with Chris Dyson. Alex Lloyd will return driving the #12 CRP Racing Corvette. Peter Cunningham returns for the second event in the Acura TLX-GT. The Racer's Group team owner Kevin Buckler was schedule to compete an Aston Martin GT3 at Sonoma this weekend but will be replaced by Dane Christina Nielsen.

Mark Wilkins continues to lead in GTS with a 143 advantage over his Kia teammate Nic Jönsson. Defending GTS champion Lawson Aschenbach is third, 164 back after sweeping the Mid-Ohio weekend. Dean Martin is fourth, 180 behind Wilkins with Jack Baldwin rounding out the top five, 294 points back. Last year, Brandon Davis won in an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 with the Camaro's of Andy Lee and Lawson Aschenbach rounding out the podium.

Fun Facts
This will be the first race on August 24th since 2008 when Hélio Castroneves won at Sonoma. Castroneves is tied with Rex Mays and Ted Horn for most wins on August 24th at two. Mays won at Springfield on August 24, 1940 and won at Milwaukee on August 24, 1941. Horn won on August 24, 1946 at Hamburg, New York and on August 24, 1947 he won at Milwaukee. Castroneves' other victory on August 24th was at Nazareth in 2003.

The pole-sitter has won at Sonoma on four occasions with the most recent being Will Power in 2011.

The furthest back on the grid a winner has from at Sonoma is fifth when Scott Dixon won in 2007.

In ten IndyCar races at Sonoma, the average amount of lead changes is 4.7.

Last year's IndyCar race set a Sonoma race record for most full course cautions at seven for 21 laps. The average amount of cautions at Sonoma is 2.7 for an average of 8.3 laps.

In nine Indy Lights races at Sonoma, there has only been two lead changes. Alex Lloyd went from fifth to first in nine laps and passed Bobby Wilson for the lead on way to victory in the first of two races in 2006. The other lead change was in the second race in 2007 when Richard Antinucci passed Ryan Justice to lead the final 12 laps. The second race in 2007 is the only caution-free Indy Lights race to occur at Sonoma.

Chevrolet has won four consecutive races, the longest streak for a manufacture this season.

If Carlos Muñoz outscores Mikhail Aleshin by two points at Sonoma and does not concede 15 points to Jack Hawksworth, he will clinch the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Rookie of the Year honor with one event to go.

More facts can always be found at the Telemetry Center.

Sonoma will serve as the preparation for a coronation ceremony for Will Power. A fourth victory for the Australian in Wine Country with Simon Pagenaud breathing down his neck. Ryan Hunter-Reay will recover after a poor Milwaukee weekend and get a podium. Ryan Briscoe will be the top finish Ganassi entry. Mike Conway will not get a top ten but Josef Newgarden will. Carlos Muñoz will be the top finishing rookie and lock up Rookie of the Year. Sleeper: Graham Rahal.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Road to Indy Championship Previews

Three coronation ceremonies are slated to take place for the three series that comprise the Mazda Road to Indy at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. Each championship is still up for grasp and three doubleheaders promote one final test to decide who will be a worthy champion and make the next step up the ladder.

We will start with the bottom of the ladder and work our way up.

U.S. F2000
Of the three series, U.S. F2000 features the largest gap between first and second in the championship. Frenchman Florian Latorre leads Jake Eidson by 30 points heading into the season finale, despite not winning until race two at Toronto two rounds ago. Despite leading the series with four victories, R.C. Enerson trails Latorre by 33 points entering Sonoma.

Enerson started the season on fire, winning three of the first four races and finishing second in the other. The Floridian Enerson struggled at the two weekends in Indianapolis. First on the IMS road course where he finished seventh and tenth and then at Indianapolis Raceway Park where he finished a lap down in sixteenth. Enerson appeared to be retake control of the championship at Toronto where he finished second in race one and was on his way to victory in race two before having a drivetrain failure while leading.

Latorre has finished on the podium seven times in twelve races and has finished in the top five in ten of twelve. Eidson meanwhile has six podiums but only eight top fives. Like Latorre, Enerson also has seven podiums but has failed to finish in the top five outside of his podium finishes. Latorre, Eidson and Enerson split the triple header at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago.

Outside of the championship battle, Aaron Telitz looking to cement himself as fourth in the championship. The Wisconsin-native won at Indianapolis Raceway Park and has finished on the podium in five consecutive rounds. Brazilian Victor Franzoni is in fifth as he looks for his first victory since the season opener at St. Petersburg.

Twenty points cover the back half of the top ten. Peter Portante is sixth, four points ahead of Canadian Daniel Burkett. Portante picked up his first podiums of the season at Mid-Ohio where he finished third and second in races one and three. Ohio-native Clark Toppe is eighth, two points ahead of Adrian Starrantino who won race two on the IMS road course. Toppe and Burkett are still looking for their first podiums of the season. France rounds out the top ten with Nico Jamin. He finished third in the season opener at St. Petersburg. Norwegian Henrik Furuseth is eleventh with winner of the first IMS road course race Will Owen in twelfth.

Latorre is looking to become the first Frenchman to win the U.S. F2000 title while Eidson and Enerson are looking to become the third American champion in the last five seasons.

Pro Mazda
Second year in Pro Mazda might the charm for Spencer Pigot. The California-native looks to make his homecoming a glorious one as he leads Canadian and defending U.S. F2000 champion Scott Hargrove by 18 points.

Pigot won the first four rounds of 2014 with Hargrove sweeping the weekend at the IMS road course while Pigot finished eighth in both races. Pigot and Hargrove split the Mid-Ohio weekend and Pigot beat Hargrove to the line last Saturday evening at Milwaukee for his sixth victory of 2014. Outside of Houston 2 where Hargrove retired after a lap two accident, the top two in the championship have driven flawlessly all season. Hargrove has nine podiums to Pigot's seven but Pigot has five pole positions to Hargrove's one.

Hargrove's Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Neil Alberico is third in the championship. He is still looking for his first victory in Pro Mazda as he heads home to California. Alberico finished second twice, first at IMS 2 and then in Houston 2. Shelby Blackstock is fourth in the championship, nine back of Alberico. Blackstock finished tied for third last year in Pro Mazda with Pigot. Garett Grist won at Indianapolis Raceway Park and Mid-Ohio to put him fifth in the championship. The Canadian struggled at the beginning of the year with two seventeenth place finishes at St. Petersburg.

Brazilian Nicolas Costa and Kyle Kaiser are tied for sixth in the championship, both a point behind Grist. Costa won Mid-Ohio 1 and has three podiums while Kaiser has three podiums and is still looking for his first victory. Jose Gutierrez sits eighth in the championship with one podium and one pole to his name. Ryan Booth is ninth and his best finish is second in Mid-Ohio 1. Dalton Kellett rounds out the top ten with the Canadian's best finish being third in Houston 1.

Pigot's Juncos Racing is looking for their first title since Conor Daly won in 2010. Should Hargrove comeback and defeat Pigot, he would become the first Canadian to win the Pro Mazda title.

Indy Lights
Gabby Chaves enters with a seven points lead over Zach Veach after the Ohioan closed the gap with a win at Milwaukee. It was Veach's third victory of 2014, one behind Chaves. The other driver eligible for the championship is Jack Harvey. The Brit's two victory came from sweeping the weekend at Mid-Ohio and he find himself trailing Chaves by 23 points. Chaves has nine podiums in twelve races, including six consecutive podiums while Veach has eight podiums. Harvey has eight podiums as well but unlike Veach, Harvey has finished in the top five in every race this season.

Matthew Brabham is 100 points behind Chaves as he is coming off his fourth podium of the season at Milwaukee. Brabham has one victory to his name, coming back at IMS 1. Thirty points behind Brabham is Luiz Razia who's lone victory was the second race on the IMS road course. He has finished eighth or worse in four of the last five races.

Juan Pablo García is sixth with his lone top five coming at Pocono where he finished fourth. Juan Piedrahita also has one top five, which came in Mid-Ohio 2. Scott Anderson is coming off his best finish of the year at Milwaukee where he finished fourth. Alexandre Baron is ninth in the championship and won at Toronto. The Frenchman has missed four of the last five races after visa issues have prevented the Frenchman from participating in most of the second half of 2014.

This weekend marks the first Indy Lights race at Sonoma since 2010 when Frenchman J.K. Vernay won on his way to the Indy Lights championship.

Chaves is looking to become the first South American Indy Lights champion since Raphael Matos in 2008. Veach is looking to make it back-to-back Americans champions after Sage Karam won in 2013 while Jack Harvey could be the first Brit to win the title since Alex Lloyd in 2007. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is looking for their five consecutive Indy Lights title. SPM has won seven of the last ten Indy Lights titles. Andretti Autosport is looking for their first title since going back-to-back with Matos and JR Hildebrand in 2008 and 2009. Belardi Auto Racing is going for their first title and would become the first team not named Schmidt or Andretti to win the Indy Lights championship since 2005 when Wade Cunningham won for Brian Stewart Racing.

The weekend starts Thursday which each series getting two, 45-minute test sessions.

Friday will feature a 30-minute practice session for U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda with a 45-minute session for Indy Lights. U.S. F2000 qualifying will commence at 2:45 p.m. ET followed by Pro Mazda qualifying at 3:30 p.m. ET and Indy Lights qualifying at 4:15 p.m. ET. The first race for the U.S. F2000 will be at 6:20 p.m. ET with Pro Mazda at 7:20 p.m. ET Friday evening.

On Saturday, U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda will each get a 20-minute morning warm-up. The season finale for the U.S. F2000 season will go green at 2:05 p.m. ET. The first Indy Lights race will follow at 3:15 pm. ET with Pro Mazda closing out their season at 6:40 p.m. ET.

Indy Lights will get a 10-minute morning warm-up on Sunday with their final race scheduled for 2:00 p.m. ET.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: The Long and Winding Road

Summer enters it's final month while the IndyCar season dwindles down, NASCAR approaches their Chase, Formula One's summer break is nearing it's end and most series have championship pictures forming and plans for the new year being agreed upon. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Are You Kidding Me?
IndyCar has been reunified since 2008 but sometimes the bad blood of the split comes to the surface. IndyCar's PR sent out a tweet saying it was only the tenth IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile, 101 less than the actual amount of IndyCar races held at the short track. That tweet has since been deleted. 

But this gem is still there. 
Let's not forget to mention Sébastien Bourdais, Nigel Mansell, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Johnny Rutherford, A.J. Foyt on three occasions, Joe Leonard, Al Unser, Mario Andretti, Rodger Ward on two occasions, Jimmy Bryan, Chuck Stevenson, Tony Bettenhausen, Johnnie Parsons, Ted Horn and Rex Mays, all who won at Milwaukee and an IndyCar title in the same season.

I don't have an axe to grind with IndyCar PR and I don't think they were intentionally trying to stir the pot. I am sure they are all nice people, working hard and doing the best they can and a few slipped by the goalie but we got to throw out any fact that is that are misleading. IndyCar's history is long and vast and existed long before the current sanctioning body was ever thought of.

It would be like ignoring the Stanley Cup results prior to the NHL taking over the trophy in 1927 or saying Liverpool F.C. has never won a title just because they've yet to win one in the Premier League-era, ignoring their eighteen titles, good enough for second most League titles in England.

One of the biggest disappointments for me in American sports is the failure to recognize the NFL Championships prior to the Super Bowl-era. We always hear how the Pittsburgh Steelers have the most Super Bowl titles at six but fail to recognize the Green Bay Packers have the most NFL Championships at thirteen or fail to recognize the Chicago Bears' nine titles or the New York Giants' eight titles or the Cleveland Browns dominance in the 1940s and 1950s with Otto Graham as quarterback, winning seven titles in ten seasons and an eighth coming two years prior to the first Super Bowl in 1964.

IndyCar has a long history that needs to be embraced. We're past the split. We're past the days of CART and the IRL. The series is simply IndyCar and it's history encompasses everything from the early days of American Automobile Association sanctioned races on board and dirt tracks to USAC and the introduction of the rear-engine roadster, two splits that forever altered American Open-Wheel racing to the present which has feature arguably some of the best racing ever produced.

Where Will the Drivers Come From?
A lot Indy Lights talks this past weekend and some optimistic predictions on what the 2015 grid will look like. Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin reported an Indy Lights team owner thinks there could be 16-20 cars on next year's grid.

A couple things:

1. Where will these teams find drivers if the Lights grid is going to double in 2015?
2. Who is going to pick up the slack now that Andretti Autosport may not continue with Lights?

I could see more drivers coming from Europe to fill the predicted additional entries but I don't see many, if any Americans or Canadians get the opportunities. We won't be seeing a kid from USAC getting a shot at Lights full-time. Maybe more drivers from Pro Mazda make the move to Indy Lights next year. Currently the top five in Pro Mazda is all American and Canadian with nine of the top ten being North American (5 Americans, 3 Canadians, 1 Mexican). Could the expanded Lights grid give second life to the careers of young drivers who were casted away a few years ago (i.e. Logan Gomez, Robbie Pecorari, Daniel Herrington, Jonathan Summerton, Carl Skerlong)? I'd like to see them all get a chance but I won't hold my breath, sadly.

Indy Lights should cater to drivers from across the globe but it also has to be a home for budding North American talent. Should Lights double in size next year, there are plenty young Americans and Canadians with talent but the real question is whether the funding is there to keep them going.

As for Andretti Autosport pulling out of the series, it could hang two young American drivers out to dry. Zach Veach is seven points back of Gabby Chaves heading into the season finale doubleheader at Sonoma while Matthew Brabham is looking to move to IndyCar in 2014 but could benefit from another year of Indy Lights. Andretti Autosport is looking to expand to five IndyCars in 2015 and winning the Lights title could be huge for Veach as the scholarship could help fund that entry although he could be competing with Simon Pagenaud for that ride.

I really hope Andretti continues to support Veach and Brabham and keep them as development drivers even if they pull out of Indy Lights and farm them out to another team that will be field Lights cars in 2015.

Everyone will have an eye on Indy Lights this winter as the new car develops and hopefully the series grows.

A Year Without SPEED
It has officially been one year since SPEED was reconfigured into Fox Sports 1. We've survived without but that doesn't mean it isn't missed. Sunday nights aren't the same without Wind Tunnel. All dirt racing, from USAC to World of Outlaws get next to no coverage on television. Last week was the Knoxville Nationals and does anyone know Donny Schatz won his eighth "Granddady of Them All?" CBS Sports Network has picked up the Blancpain Sprint and Endurance Series and DTM but have geo-blocked the United States and Canada from watching the races live online.

Fox Sports 1 has done a great job with MotoGP coverage. Sports cars needs some work as the amount of commercials make the races feel like infomercials. It will be interesting to see how much time they give Formula E when that season starts in a month time.

I still think there is a market for an all-motorsports network. MAVTV is on it's way to becoming what SPEED once was but I think it's only on Directv and Dish. An all-motorsports series has to be all-motorsports. No reality show junk and reruns that filled SPEED's programming during the week. It has to go all in on covering different series, showing what they can live during the weekends and showing taped coverage on weekdays and weekday nights.

Expanding on the IndyCar Young Drivers' Test
Remember the IndyCar Young Drivers' test idea I proposed in the middle of last week? The more I got to thinking about it, the more I wondered how can you make the teams field their cars for four days of testing, two on a road course and two on an oval? Then it hit me, make it apart of the Leaders Circle agreement. If a team wants the Leaders Circle funding, then each Leaders Circle team must participate in the Young Drivers' test. Twenty-one teams are apart of the Leaders Circle program and that would be plenty for the test.

Taking the top six from each championship would make the Road to Indy championships more interesting to follow. You'd have to focus on more than what is going on at the front. It's kind of like how in many soccer leagues around the world, the top two, three or four in each league qualify for Champions League the following season. The championship could be decided with a few weeks to go but the battle for say fourth could come down to the final season and gives fans another reason to stay tuned.

Just using this year, the top six in Indy Lights is pretty set with Gabby Chaves, Zach Veach, Matthew Brabham, Jack Harvey, Luiz Razia and Juan Pablo García. The Mexican García has a 37-point gap between him and Juan Piedrahita.

Pro Mazda is very tight at the top. Spencer Pigot has an 18-point cushion between him and Scott Hargrove with the Sonoma doubleheader remaining. Neil Alberico is nine points ahead of Shelby Blackstock in fourth while one point separate Garrett Grist, Nicolas Costa and Kyle Kaiser in fifth, sixth and seventh respectively. Imagine what the final weekend would mean for those three drivers with an IndyCar test on the line.

Finally, Florian Latorre has a comfortable 30-point lead over Jake Eidson with R.C. Enerson 33 points back. Aaron Telitz and Victor Franzoni are fourth and fifth while four points separate Peter Portante in sixth and Daniel Burkett in seventh.

Seeing as their would be 21 Leaders Circle cars for the test and 18 positions being filled by Road to Indy drivers, I say open up those three spots as invitations to top drivers from other series around the globe. For example, last year's GP2 champion Fabio Leimer never came close to Formula One. Why not invite him over to show IndyCar is interested in having a top young driver like himself in the series? Invite Jolyon Palmer or Carlos Sainz, Jr. or Felipe Nasr or Alex Lynn over to test. What's the worse that could happen? Or invite a driver with limited IndyCar experience but is looking to breakthourgh such as Conor Daly, James Davison, Martin Plowman or Luca Filippi.

It wouldn't hurt IndyCar to explore and try to get talented drivers from all over the world open to the series as an alternative to Formula One.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Will Power and Dani Pedrosa ending Marc Márquez's winning streak but did you know...

Jeff Gordon won at Michigan, his 91st NASCAR Cup Series victory.

Marco Wittmann won at Nürburgrung, his fourth win of the DTM season. All Wittmann needs is a top four finish at EuroSpeedway Lausitz next month to clinch the DTM title. He has a 64 point lead over Audi drivers Mattias Ekström and Edoardo Mortara.

Esteve Rabat won in Moto2 at Brno and Alexis Masbou won his first career Moto3 race.

Rubens Barrichello won his second consecutive race in Stock Car Brasil as he won race one at Cascavel. Marco Gomes won race two at Cascavel.

Chris Buescher won the Nationwide Series race at Mid-Ohio.

Johnny Sauter won the Truck Series race at Michigan.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar is at Sonoma with the Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge.
Formula One returns from their summer vacation at Spa-Francorchamps.
NASCAR heads to Bristol.
World Rally is off to Deutschland.
Blancpain Sprint Series will be at the Slovakia Ring.
V8 Supercars heads to Sydney Motorsport Park.
IMSA goes to Virginia International Raceway with PC running two, 45-minutes races and a full blown GTLM/GTD extravaganza.
Super Formula is at Twin Ring Motegi.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

First Impressions: Milwaukee 2014

1. Will Power put on a drive of a lifetime and the championship is his to lose. Dominated from pole position and worked strategy perfectly. It's hard to imagine anyone but Power winning this title, especially as the series heads to the track Power owns, Sonoma.

2. Juan Pablo Montoya made it a Penske 1-2. To think at one time we all though Montoya would never even consider stepping into an IndyCar ever again and here he is and he seems different. Every time you hear him in an interview he sound happier than when he was in CART or Formula One or NASCAR. He's still Montoya though but he sounds relaxed and enjoying this season.

3. Another great day for the Target Ganassi pairing of Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon. The second half has been much better for these two but still only one win for the team with two races remaining. Another great day for Chevrolet taking the top four and they nearly swept the top five...

4. But Josef Newgarden rallied after a late stop for fuel. On fresh tires he flew from twelfth to fifth and made up his lap on his own. Maybe the merger of Ed Carpenter's team with Sarah Fisher's will benefit Newgarden as he has shown the speed all year only to have strategy not fall in his favor.

5. Ryan Briscoe came home in sixth but he hasn't made any waves this season despite getting good finishes. That is kind of the story of his career. Other than his championship run in 2009, Briscoe's career has been a bunch of really good results and solid runs only to be overlooked.

6. Really good run for Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin in seventh and eighth. Pagenaud jumps Ryan Hunter-Reay as he had a suspension problem end his day despite driving up to fifth from nineteenth on the grid. Schmidt Peterson Hamilton has cemented themselves as a top team in IndyCar and keeping Pagenaud is crucial.

7. Ed Carpenter has always struggled at Milwaukee and coming home in ninth was what he needed. He will be a factor at Fontana in a fortnight. It's a shame there are only six ovals because Carpenter is a really good driver and his talent isn't showcased enough. He's also a really good interview and isn't afraid to speak his mind.

8. I thought no rookies would finish in the top ten and I was wrong as two did. Jack Hawksworth came home in tenth ahead of Hélio Castroneves. Great run for Hawksworth. After last year in Indy Lights I felt he was ready for IndyCar on road and street courses but still needed work on ovals. He has been improving all season on oval and should be ready to take that next step in 2015.

9. Attention Eddie Gossage and Brandon Igdalsky: That's how you bring fans out for a race. Call Michael Andretti and listen. Don't say a word, just let Michael talk because he has raised Milwaukee from the ashes.

10. Also, races with ferris wheel always tend to draw crowds. Take note.

11. As for Michael Andretti's team, not a day to remember. Marco Andretti was the top finisher in thirteenth, James Hinchcliffe was never the same after his practice accident, Hunter-Reay was doing great but then had the suspension problem and Carlos Muñoz retired after an accident. Bittersweet day for Michael Andretti.

12. There is no place like home for watching a race. I learned that today.

13. Looking forward to Sonoma. I will do a Mazda Road to Indy championship special as Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 each have a doubleheader to close out their seasons. Power has a chance to take a command on the championship as the series heads to Wine Country.