Monday, July 25, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Throw Away Day/Exposed Rear

Kyle Busch led 231 of a possible 253 laps and swept the NASCAR races from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indianapolis wasn't the only place a Toyota was victorious. The FIA World Endurance Championship returned to competition for the first time since Le Mans and world champions finally put one in the win column. A famous American team hit the century mark. After three years of coming up short, a Frenchman is now raking in the victories. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Throw Away Day
This isn't going to be an intellectual post that makes you look at an aspect of motorsports in another light. This is a throw away, "I came up with this playing a round of golf and solving all the world's problems" post. This post pushes reality not to the point of completely insanity but falls within the boundaries of what is realistic.

The world could use a little less NASCAR. Thirty-six weeks, really 38 weeks with two exhibition races, is too much. The world has changed from twenty years ago when NASCAR started its ascension to the throne of American motorsports and NASCAR is beyond the point of saturation. This isn't some drastic, "cut 12 Cup races" solution. Their needs to be fewer Cup races and a reduction to 32 races would be enough to keep fans satisfied.

Unfortunately, reducing races mean tracks are going to be losing dates. It's just a nature of the beast. Loudon doesn't need two races and leaving it in the Chase would be sufficient. Dover keeps cutting back each year and should be only one race but it wouldn't be a Chase race. We don't need two races at Kansas. It keeps its May race. Pocono is good but not great. Maybe Pocono's only race could be extended to 500 miles to make up for the loss of a date. There is also only one race that matters at Bristol. The early spring race is a shell of what it once was and the night race in August is the only time NASCAR should go to Bristol.

That would be a five-race reduction but there would be replacement. Give Iowa Speedway a race. Just get it over with. Stop teasing Iowa. Give it a race. Who cares that at most track would hold 40,000. Give Iowa a race, allow the track to charge $150 a ticket and let a Cup race be the tracks cash cow.

The season would still start at Daytona with Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana following. If this were to happen in 2018, Easter would follow Fontana and after Easter would be Martinsville. Texas, Richmond, Kansas, Talladega and Dover would round out a six-week stretch before an off-week before Memorial Day weekend. Move the All-Star Race to Thursday night before the 600-miler at Charlotte to give the teams a proper week off at home and slot Iowa into the schedule the Saturday night after Charlotte. Michigan would follow Iowa and move Chicago after Michigan. Chicago has never been a great kickoff for the Chase and the weather rarely cooperates for that race. Chicago belongs in the early summer. Sonoma would be the final race of the first half of the season.

After an off-week would be the July Daytona race with Kentucky continuing to create a pair of Saturday night races. Pocono gets to be one of the final few races before the Chase with Indianapolis and Michigan occurring before the final off week in the season.

Just to clear up where we are, 21 races have been scheduled and we are still in the middle of August. I would rather not have a Chase but keep this within the boundaries of what is realistic, there is going to be a Chase and the Chase should begin in August. August a dead point in the American sports calendar. We are a few weeks away from football season, a few weeks away before people start investing in baseball and starting earlier would give NASCAR attention at the front end and have the champion crowned before the heart of football season.

The final 11 races would be run over 11 consecutive weeks, the longest stretch of the season. Watkins Glen would be the final race before the Chase and it should be. Name a more unpredictable race that Watkins Glen. It leaves the door open for an A.J. Allmendinger or some other driver between 21st and 30th in the championship to steal a Chase position. Isn't that what NASCAR wants from the final "regular season" race?

The Chase begins with Bristol, Darlington and Richmond. Talk about a murders row for an opening round. Five hundred laps at Bristol, 500 miles at Darlington and Richmond and all of them are night races. Loudon kicks off the second round followed by Talladega and Martinsville. Charlotte is the first 1.5-mile track in the Chase and the first race of the third round. Texas and Phoenix keep their positions as the antepenultimate and penultimate rounds. Homestead is the finale on the final Sunday in October.

The off weekends would be better spread throughout the season, the teams would get an extra month in the offseason and ending the season earlier could perhaps lessen the yearly hemorrhage of viewers that NASCAR experience every autumn. It won't happen but it's not too crazy to be reality.

Exposed Rear
J.R. Hildebrand and Tony Kanaan were testing aero kit options last week at Mid-Ohio and the American test driver for Ed Carpenter Racing shared this photo with the world.
Both drivers ran without the rear tire guards/pods/whatever you want to call it. The reaction from fans was praise and led many to say the remove of the rear bodywork improve the aesthetic to the car. While many have been critical about the bodywork, as it did not fall within the general idea of what an IndyCar should be, let's realize why the pieces were included in the first place.

When Dallara unveiled this chassis in May of 2011, IndyCar had been coming off of a slew of accident caused by wheel-to-wheel contact. Most notable was Mike Conway's accident in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 that sent the British driver into the catchfence and left him with a broken leg and fractured vertebrae. The year before that, Vitor Meira and Raphael Matos made wheel-to-wheel contact that left Meira with two broken vertebra. In 2007, Dario Franchitti got airborne twice in consecutive weeks from wheel-to-wheel contact and running into the rear wheel of Kosuke Matsuura. Of course the 2011 season would end with the fatal accident of Dan Wheldon, not solely caused by wheel-to-wheel contact but it played a role.

Of course many of you will be quick to point out the accidents, such as Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal at Long Beach in 2012 and Takuma Sato and Dario Franchitti at Houston in 2013 where cars still got airborne despite the presence of the rear wheel guards/pods/whatever you want to call it. However, as then-IndyCar vice president of technology Will Phillips pointed out after the Andretti-Rahal incident, the rear wheel guards/pods/whatever you want to call it were never going to eliminate wheel-to-wheel contact but rather reduce it.

I think it is safe to say the amount of rear wheel contact has been reduced. Look at the most recent race at Toronto. Juan Pablo Montoya made contact with the rear tire guard/pod/whatever you want to call it of Josef Newgarden and both drivers were able to continue. Newgarden had to pit to replace damaged body part but had the bodywork not been there, Newgarden and Montoya's races could have ended in on the spot. The same can be said when Hildebrand made contact with HĂ©lio Castroneves during this year's Indianapolis 500. Without the pieces, Hildebrand likely would have punctured Castroneves' tire in the middle of the front straightaway and who knows how that would have ended with Castroneves entering turn one.

Before celebrating the end of rear wheel guards/pods/whatever you want to call it, consider the alternative. A perceived better looking car could mean a few more cautions each race and more races with driver's races ruined by sliced tires or worse, cars climbing over one another from wheel-to-wheel contact.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Kyle Busch but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Hungarian Grand Prix and took the championship lead.

Pierre Gasly won his second consecutive GP2 feature race and Sergey Sirotkin won the sprint race from Budapest. Matt Perry and Alexander Albon won in GP3.

The #1 Porsche of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley won the 6 Hours of Nürburgring. The #36 Signatech Alpine-Nissan of Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi won in LMP2, the third consecutive victory for the team. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado won in GTE-Pro. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won in GTE-Am.

Kyle Larson won the Truck race at Eldora last Wednesday night.

Shane Van Gisbergen won the Supercars Saturday race at Queensland Raceway. Craig Lowndes won the Sunday race, making it the second consecutive weekend sweep for Red Bull Racing Australia.

The #8 Starworks Oreca of Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow won the IMSA race from Lime Rock Park. The #4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won in GTLM, the 100th victory for the factory Corvette team. John Potter and Andy Lally won in GTD driving the #44 Magnus Racing Audi.

The #24 Kondo Racing Nissan GT-R of Daiki Sasaki and Masataka Yanagida won Super GT race from Sportsland SUGO. The #31 apr Toyota Prius of Koki Saga and Yuichi Nakayama won in GT300.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar has one final week before it takes a summer vacation. The series is at Mid-Ohio.
Pirelli World Challenge returns after a month off at Mid-Ohio.
All Road of Indy Series will be at Mid-Ohio
Formula One also has one final week before summer vacation. Hockenheim hosts that roadshow.
The 24 Hours of Spa will begin on Saturday.
NASCAR returns to Pocono.
Rally Finland will be the eighth round of the 2016 World Rally Championship season.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

An Itch That Maybe Should Remain Unscratched: Returning From Retirement

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s concussion-like symptoms sidelined him for last week's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the driver of the #88 Chevrolet will miss the next two races because of the symptoms. Alex Bowman, the 23-year-old Arizonan stepped up at Loudon to substitute for his NASCAR Xfinity Series car owner but Jeff Gordon returns to make his 798 NASCAR Cup start at Indianapolis this weekend and is scheduled to be at Pocono the following week.

Gordon retired from full-time competition after last season and the four-time NASCAR Cup champion and five-time winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway has not been in a car since he stepped out of the car and became a color commentator for Fox's NASCAR broadcast. Motorsports has seen its fair share of drivers coming out of retirement to either fill-in or because a driver can't stay away from where they made their living.

Gordon's return comes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; a place where arguably more drivers have hopped back behind the wheel after previously announcing their career was done. Danny Ongais had been out of IndyCar for almost nine years when he replaced Scott Brayton after the Michigan-native lost his life practicing for the Indianapolis 500 in 1996. Ongais started in the back of the field and went from 33rd to seventh in what would be his final Indianapolis 500. Gordon Johncock, Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser were all Indianapolis 500 winners who couldn't stay away in May even though full-time competition was long behind them. Michael Andretti stopped driving full-time when he became a team owner but still returned to run the Indianapolis 500 twice, with a third in 2006 and 13th in 2007 to cap off his career.

NASCAR has a slew of drivers, especially in the last decade and a half, who announced their retirements and then went on to start another couple dozen races. Mark Martin announced his farewell tour for the 2005 season and then went on to make another 244 NASCAR Cup starts, which included a dream 2009 season where Martin won five races and finished second in the championship and ironically ended with Martin substituting for an injured Tony Stewart and he substituted for an injured Denny Hamlin earlier that season. Bill Elliott retired in 2003 but made 97 more NASCAR Cup starts over the next decade. Terry Labonte retired after 2004 but made 73 Cup starts after that and his most recent start came in 2014. While Martin had respectable results even in his final season, arguably the only reason both Elliott's and Labonte's careers were extended was because of the past champions' provisional. Elliott and Labonte became a meal ticket for struggling, underfunded teams to get into a race and hopefully draw sponsors. Elliott's final top ten finish was in 2004, ironically at Indianapolis as a part-time driver, but his career would end with 93 consecutive races finishing outside the top ten. Labonte's final top ten finish was in 2006 and his 11th place finish in the 2014 July race at Daytona came in a rain-shortened race.

North American drivers aren't the only one who couldn't stay away. Michael Schumacher retired after 2006 and nearly returned to Ferrari after Felipe Massa's accident at Hungary in 2009 but a neck injury kept him out of the seat. However, Schumacher would return to Formula One the following year when Mercedes bought Brawn GP. He could add to his 91 Grand Prix victories with a third in the 2012 European Grand Prix being his lone podium in his stint at Mercedes. Niki Lauda retired after the 1979 season and was out for two years before returning with McLaren in 1982 and he would add a world championship in 1984.

With Gordon's return this weekend, there is excitement and nervousness about Gordon's return. His career ended on a high in a fight for the championship. He went out swinging. While Gordon likely won't go down the path of Elliott, Labonte and Martin who arguably held on too long, this stint could be a glimpse of what it would have looked like had Michael Schumacher substituted for Felipe Massa in 2009. Schumacher wasn't race fit at that time and the Ferrari wasn't particular great that season. Gordon has been out of a car and hasn't been in a driver mindset since November. Gordon waltzing in and winning at Indianapolis is the fairytale many are imagining but history and logic sing a different tune. Perhaps Gordon could get a top ten finish but the Jeff Gordon of old will not be inside the #88 Chevrolet this weekend. These two starts won't ruin Gordon's career and put him in the category of those who retired too late but it just may be the final nail in the coffin anyone yearning for him return to full-time competition.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Cutting Out the Little Guys

There was a lot of contact in Toronto as the track deteriorated underneath the competitors. MotoGP had another wet race but it ended in the dry with a familiar winner. NASCAR raced at Loudon and Joe Gibbs Racing swept the two races. A Canadian won at home and another Canadian won in the Netherlands. A few drivers swept the weekend. There was some late drama in the European Le Mans Series race at Red Bull Ring. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Cutting Out the Little Guys
For 30 years, IndyCar has raced around Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The event seen the highs of the premier open-wheel series of North America, held strong during the split, slipped after hiatus because it couldn't be squeezed on to the 2008 schedule after reunification and has been holding its own since returning in 2009. The race moved to June for the first time last year because of the Pan American Games were hosted by Toronto and this year the race returned to its comfortable home in the middle of July, albeit with an altered course that features a tighter final three corners and a twisty pit lane. While Toronto is traditionally a race that drivers, teams and fans enjoy, it would be wrong to ignore that the fact the race isn't as celebrated as it once was.

Toronto still draws a respectable crowd but not the same size as it did in the 1990s and even the final years of Champ Car. The race weekend featured all three Road to Indy Series, Stadium Super Trucks, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada and NASCAR's Canadian series as undercards to the IndyCar race but that full plate of motorsports doesn't seem to be helping the issue. Editor-in-chief of RacingNorth Stephanie Wallcraft, formerly of More Front Wing fame, wrote early last week about an event at Shannonville Motorsport Park, three hours east of Toronto that featured Canadian Touring Car Championship, Toyo Tires F1600 Series, F1200 Series and a GT Invitational.

The Shannonville event drew many local racers, marshals and volunteers. The Canadian Touring Car Championship and the F1600 Series were once support series for the IndyCar Toronto weekend but as IndyCar has developed the Road to Indy ladder system, the local series have been bumped from the billing in favor for IndyCar-related series. Green Savoree Racing Promotions, the promoter of the Toronto race, has all the right in the world to choose what series it wants to fill the weekend but perhaps have a more local show would boost attendance.

Bringing in local racers, whether they are 16-year-old boys and girls starting their racing career with dreams of making it to the top or 36-year-old men doing it as a hobby, will draw out there local families to watch their son/daughter/husband/wife compete at a notable race weekend. Imagine the excitement if someone were to hear a family member would be racing the same weekend on the same track as the IndyCar race. It's like when a high school football teams makes it to the state championship game and it is at an NFL stadium. Family members will go the extra mile to make it to the title game. Consider there were ten cars entered for the Pro Mazda weekend and the F1600 Series had over two-dozen cars entered at Mosport in the spring and at the Canadian Grand Prix while at Shannonville there were 20 CTCC entries. How many more people would F1600 have drawn out compared to Pro Mazda?

I loved the Road to Indy ladder system and Pro Mazda is currently evolving before the introduction of the new car in 2018 but it is ok if Pro Mazda doesn't go to Toronto in favor for local series that may sell more tickets. Pro Mazda has plenty of other chances to race with IndyCar and next year the series will only have one street course race (likely St. Petersburg) as the series cuts back on race weekends in hopes of making the final season with the current chassis more affordable. Maybe 2017 will see CTCC and/or F1600 at Toronto and the Canadian motorsports community can avoid this split weekend with the locals going in one direction and the premier open-wheel series in North American going in the other.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Will Power but did you know...

Marc Márquez won the wet-to-dry MotoGP German Grand Prix. Johann Zarco won the Moto 2 race. Khairul Idham Pawi won the Moto3 race.

Matt Kenseth won the NASCAR Cup race at Loudon. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race on Saturday.

Felix Rosenqvist swept the Indy Lights races from Toronto. Aaron Telitz swept the Pro Mazda races and is tied with teammate Pato O'Ward for the championship lead. Victor Franzoni and Parker Thompson split the U.S. F2000 races.

The #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan of Pierre Thiriet, Mathias Beche and RyĹŤ Hirakawa won the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Red Bull Ring. The #2 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan of Alex Brundle, Christian England and Mike Guash won in LMP3 after the #18 Duquesne Engineering Ligier-Nissan of Dino Lunardi, David Hallyday and David Droux was penalized for not respecting minimum pit stop reference times. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Rory Butcher, Andrea Bertolini and Robert Smith won in GTE.

Robert Wickens and Jamie Green split the DTM races from Zandvoort.

JoĂŁo Paulo de Oliveira won the Super Formula race from Fuji.

Coming Up This Weekend
FIA World Endurance Championship returns to action at the NĂĽrburgring.
Formula One will be in Hungary.
NASCAR runs the Brickyard 400.
The Supercars head to Queensland Raceway.
IMSA takes Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona to Lime Rock Park.
Super GT returns to racing at Sportsland SUGO after a two and a half month hiatus.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

First Impressions: Toronto 2016

1. Will Power stole it and is now tied for the lead in IndyCar victories with three, all three coming in the last four races. He is on a championship-run with four consecutive podiums and took a big junk out of Simon Pagenaud's championship lead, now trailing his teammate by 47 points with five races remaining. It wasn't one of those typical Will Power victories where he starts on the front row and leads 75% of the laps. He pitted at what ended up being the right time as Josef Newgarden hit the wall in turn five. The rest of the leaders had to pit, Power didn't. Sometimes races play out that way. Last year Power arguably lost the race at Toronto because of a caution, today he won it because of a caution. What goes around comes around.

2. HĂ©lio Castroneves had a flat tire and had to go off strategy and the Brazilian benefitted just like his teammate. Castroneves can get good finishes but when was the last time he ransacked a race and was clearly the car to beat? He picks up good finishes but can he run down a championship? We know Will Power can. I question if Castroneves has that ability.

3. James Hinchcliffe rolled the dice, ran 39 laps on the final stint and gets on the podium for the first time in his career in IndyCar at Toronto. Hinchcliffe has never had good luck at home. He made his luck today. Maybe he can turn hometown success into a late season run up the championship standings.

4. Tony Kanaan had a 35-lap stint and had to pit in the final ten laps for fuel-only. He exited in fourth and finished there. I was a little surprised he couldn't get by Hinchcliffe but his tires were a half-dozen laps older than Hinchcliffe.

5. Takuma Sato had the same pit strategy as Hinchcliffe and finished fifth. He was never a factor in this race and sometimes top five finishes fall into your lap.

6. Mikhail Aleshin finishes sixth, his second consecutive top ten finish. Aleshin really raced Sato hard for fifth. I am shocked they didn't take each other out considering how aggressive they are.

7. SĂ©bastien Bourdais had a better car than seventh. I bet he could have ended up on the podium had the caution and pit stops not fallen the way they did. He was definitely better than the five drivers that finished ahead of him.

8. Scott Dixon dominated this race and then a caution bit him. He worked his way back to eighth but what looked to be Dixon's springboard race into the title fight was actually Will Power's springboard. I think everyone can understand if Dixon feels frustrated. He will put this behind him and know there are five races to go, four of which he could arguably win.

9. Simon Pagenaud finishes ninth and while he loses ground to Power, he doesn't lose much ground to Dixon. Once again, he didn't have a great day but other championship rivals had days just as bad, if not worse.

10. Marco Andretti benefited from the Newgarden caution and gets his second top ten of the season. It hasn't been a great month of July for Andretti Autosport. One car out of four in the top ten is disappointing. Perhaps they can turn it around in the final five races. They looked really good after Indianapolis. Where has that momentum gone?

11. Charlie Kimball finishes in a typical Charlie Kimball position of 11th. He is always somewhere between seventh and 12th.

12. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a bad day turned ok. Contact with Charlie Kimball on lap one, another wing change late in the race and he still finished 12th. Once again, Andretti Autosport needs to get out of the month of July.

13. Let's wrap up the rest of the field: Graham Rahal finished 13th and didn't do much all day. The Dale Coyne Racing entries of Luca Filippi and Conor Daly didn't do much with their starting positions in the top half of the field. Filippi finished 14th, his best of the season and Daly was 15th. Alexander Rossi was 16th and was mentioned much in this race. Carlos Muñoz had a flat tire and finished 17th. Max Chilton has finished 21st, 22nd, 20th, 19th and now 18th in the last five races. Spencer Pigot finished 19th and wasn't a factor. Juan Pablo Montoya hit Josef Newgarden, bumped Charlie Kimball, Conor Daly, Ryan Hunter-Reay and he hit the wall. Jack Hawksworth was in position for a top ten until he hit the turn five wall.

14. Josef Newgarden's title hopes may have been delivered an knockout punch. After two great showings at Road America and Iowa, his accident today was a big blow, especially since he will not restart the Texas race. Unless he wins three of the final four races he will be competing, 2016 will not be the year Newgarden lifts the Astor Cup.

15. Toronto needs to be rejuvenated and I am not taking about the fans because it was another really great Canadian crowd. However, curbs are coming apart. I don't mind the pit lane being in a unique position but that unique position is tight for crews and it is tight in the final few corners. I think the tight final corners hurt racing into turn one. There just seemed to be fewer passes into turn one compared to other Toronto races. Maybe IndyCar should move the start/finish line to Shoreline Drive (the straightaway leading to turn three) or maybe the pit lane should move to the other side of Shoreline Driver, which would give the crews more room and widen turns eight through 11 for the drivers. Something needs to be done at Toronto but I doubt it is going to get done at all let alone for 2017.

16. IndyCar gets a week off before heading to Scott Dixon's backyard of Mid-Ohio. Five races remain and the final four occur over four consecutive weekends. Oh the season is ending so quickly.

Morning Warm-Up: Toronto 2016

Scott Dixon tries to get back in the title fight at Toronto
Scott Dixon won pole position on the final lap of qualifying with a lap at 59.9073 seconds. It is Dixon's first pole position since last year at Mid-Ohio. Dixon's previous best starting position this season was second at Long Beach and Road America. He finished second at Long Beach and 22nd at Road America after he suffered an engine problem seven laps into the race. Dixon won from pole position at Toronto in the 2013. That is Dixon's most recent victory from pole position.  It was his second victory of the weekend as he swept the doubleheader. HĂ©lio Castroneves will start second after being knocked off by Dixon. The Brazilian ran a lap of 59.9425 seconds in the final round of qualifying. Castroneves has finished on the podium in three of the last four Toronto races, including a second to Dixon in 2013 but he hasn't won a race from second starting position since Richmond 2005. Castroneves has led a lap in the last four Toronto races.

Simon Pagenaud and Will Power start on an all-Team Penske row four. This is Pagenaud's fifth consecutive race starting in the top five. His average starting position this season is 3.416. The Frenchman's average finish on road and street circuits this season is 4.71 and he has led a lap in every race this season except for Phoenix and the Indianapolis 500. Power trails Pagenaud by 75 points after the Australian finished second at Iowa, two positions ahead the Frenchman and has finished on the podium in three consecutive races. SĂ©bastien Bourdais qualified fifth for his 13th race at Exhibition Place. He has started in the top five eight times at Toronto and has finished in the top ten there 12 times. The hometown boy James Hinchcliffe will start a career best sixth at Toronto. His previous best at his home race was eighth. His best Toronto finish is eighth.

Conor Daly will start a career best seventh at Toronto. Daly has finished 21st in the last two races after his accident at Road America and his retirement at Iowa for handling issues. Daly finished 12th last year from 19th on the grid at Toronto substituting for James Hinchcliffe. Josef Newgarden joins Daly on row four. Newgarden won last year at Toronto from 11th on the grid and led 30 laps, tied with Will Power for the most led. Juan Pablo Montoya qualified ninth despite an accident on Friday and mechanical issues in the practice session before qualifying on Saturday. Last year, Montoya finished seventh, his first top ten finish at Toronto. Rounding out the top ten will be Mikhail Aleshin. The Russian is coming off his second top five finish of the season last week at Iowa. Aleshin's only retirement this season was his accident in the Indianapolis 500.

Luca Filippi returns to IndyCar and will start 11th in his fifth start of the 2016 season. Filippi has made the second round of qualifying 11 times in 14 opportunities. His best finish this season was 17th at Long Beach. Tony Kanaan joins Filippi on row six. This is the third time this season Kanaan has started outside the top ten. He started 19th at St. Petersburg and finished ninth and he started 18th in the Indianapolis 500 and finished fourth. Jack Hawksworth and Max Chilton comprise an all-British row seven. Hawksworth started and finished 14th last year at Toronto. His last top ten finish was an eighth at Mid-Ohio 12 races ago. Chilton's average finish from the last four races is 20.5 and he has not finished on the lead lap since the Indianapolis 500.

Carlos Muñoz is the top qualifying Andretti Autosport entry for the second consecutive race in the 15th position. Muñoz remains eighth in the championship but the Colombian has never finished better than 17th at Toronto. Graham Rahal joins Muñoz on row eight. Rahal is ninth in the championship, five points behind Muñoz. He finished 16th last week at Iowa and he is looking to avoid successive finishes outside the top ten since the final two races of last season. Charlie Kimball and Ryan Hunter-Reay will be on row nine. Hunter-Reay and Kimball finished 1-2 at Toronto in 2012. It was Kimball's first career podium finish. Kimball has four top ten finishes and three finishes of 20th or worse at Toronto. Hunter-Reay has finished outside the top ten in five consecutive Toronto races and the American looks to avoid consecutive finishes outside the top twenty for the first time in his career.

Alexander Rossi qualified 19th for his Toronto debut. Rossi has been the top Honda driver in the championship since Belle Isle. He currently is seventh in the championship on 286 points, 123 points behind Pagenaud. This is Rossi's second worst starting position in his career. He started 20th at Barber and finished 15th. Takuma Sato rounds out the top twenty. Sato has retired from four of his eight Toronto races but he has three top ten finishes at the track. Spencer Pigot and Marco Andretti make up the final row. Pigot won both Indy Lights races last year at Toronto. Andretti has started on the 11th row in three of the last four races. He finished ninth from 22nd on the grid at Belle Isle 2.

CNBC will have live coverage of the Honda Indy Toronto tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:08 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 85 laps.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Track Walk: Toronto 2016

IndyCar and Toronto celebrate an anniversary
IndyCar and Toronto hits a milestone this year as 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the legendary street race. There have been for different winners in the last four Toronto races. Josef Newgarden won last year at Toronto and heads to Exhibition Place coming off a victory at Iowa, which has elevated him to second in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship, 73 points behind Team Penske's Simon Pagenaud. Newgarden could become the first driver to win consecutive races at Toronto since Scott Dixon swept the 2013 doubleheader. This is the final street circuit race of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Time: Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday July 17th. Green flag at 3:08 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: CNBC.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 10:00 a.m.-10:45 p.m. ET (45 minutes).
Second Practice: 2:30-3:15 p.m. ET (45 minutes).
Final Practice: 9:30-10:45 a.m. ET (45 minutes).
Qualifying: 1:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage of this session).
Warm-Up: 10:30-11:00 a.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race: 3:08 p.m. ET (85 laps).

Penske Dominating 2016; Needs a Breakthrough at Toronto
Through ten races, Team Penske has six victories, nine pole positions and 14 podiums and while Simon Pagenaud leads the championship, Will Power is third and HĂ©lio Castroneves is fifth. Team Penske is having the season in 2016 everyone expected in 2015 but now the team heads to a track they have only one victory at since 2009 and has won only two of 32 previous Toronto.

Will Power has won at Toronto twice and won driving for Penske in 2010 but the Australian has had a teeter-totter relationship with Exhibition Place. While having two victories, four podiums and five top fives in 11 Toronto starts, he has four finishes of 15th or worse. He has started in the top five in eight times at Toronto and he has led a lap in eight Toronto starts.

HĂ©lio Castroneves has also made 11 starts at Toronto but success has come in recent years. After his best finish being tenth in his first seven Toronto starts, the Brazilian has two podiums and five top tens in his last six Toronto races. He has started no worse than seven at Toronto since 2012.

Simon Pagenaud has been all over the place at Toronto. His best finish is fourth, which has occurred on two occasions but his next best finish is ninth while he has an 11th and two 12th place finishes. He has started fourth, third and second in his last three Toronto starts but he has only led 30 laps at Toronto and hasn't led since the first race in 2014.

Iowa hasn't been kind to Juan Pablo Montoya and the Colombian heads to another thorn in his side in Toronto. Montoya's seventh last year was his first top ten at Toronto in five starts. His previous finishes at Toronto were 22nd, 24th, 18th and 19th and he has never led a lap at the track. His average starting position at Toronto is 8.4 but with a 22nd starting position in the first race in 2014 skewing the numbers. Removing that 22nd, his average starting position is 5.0.

Honda Needs "Homefield" Advantage
Honda has one victory from the first ten races and while it was the Indianapolis 500, it will only be an anomaly. The manufacture needs to start racking up victories to at least make 2016 appear competitive in the history books. If Honda is going to win a race, it mind as well be the race it sponsors.

Graham Rahal nearly won the other race Honda sponsors at Barber. Had it not been for the back marker of Jack Hawksworth, Rahal would have won that day and not had to nurse a car home to a second place finish with the left portion of his front wing missing. Rahal finished ninth last year but his average Toronto finish is 14.0 in tenth starts and his best finish is fifth and his average starting position isn't much better at 12.4.

James Hinchcliffe will be the lone Canadian in the lone Canadian race on the IndyCar schedule. While the race is in his backyard, Hinchcliffe's best finish is eighth on two occasions and ironically both those came in the second half of Toronto's lone two doubleheaders in 2013 and 2014. His best start at Toronto is eighth and that came in the second race in 2014 after the field was set by points. He has never led a lap at home and has one lead lap finish.

It may be surprising to some to find out the Honda driver with the best average finish at Toronto is Marco Andretti. Andretti's average finish of 9.6 is behind only Sébastien Bourdais (5.7) and Scott Dixon (8.1) among active drivers. He has two top fives and six top tens in nine starts despite having an average starting position of 15.6. Ryan Hunter-Reay won at Toronto in 2012 but in the five races since his victory his finishes at Toronto have been 18th, 19th, 21st, 21st, 14th and 19th. Carlos Muñoz has the worst average finish among active drivers at 18.2 after three 17th place finishes and a 22nd in four starts.

Road to Indy
All three Road to Indy Series will be in action at Toronto.

Indy Lights is fresh off of a race at Iowa won by Félix Serrallés after the Puerto Rican passed Zach Veach late in the race while navigating lapped traffic. Ed Jones finished third at Iowa and extended his championship lead to 23 points over Dean Stoneman, who finished fourth at Iowa. Santiago Urrutia finished fifth at Iowa but trails Jones by 29 points. Serrallés is 36 points behind Jones with Veach in fifth, 40 points behind the Carlin driver.

Kyle Kaiser finished sixth for the third consecutive race and for the fifth time in the last seven races. Fittingly enough Kaiser is sixth in the championship, 46 points behind Jones. Shelby Blackstock is seventh in the championship on 138 points, 97 points behind Jones. André Negrão is a point behind Blackstock with Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo returning home ninth in the championship on 130 points. Felix Rosenqvist has missed the last three races due to Mercedes commitments but he is still tenth in the championship on 120 points and is a point ahead of Juan Piedrahita, who hasn't missed a race this season. Canadian Dalton Kellett is three points behind Piedrahita. Neil Alberico sits on 116 points. Garret Grist returns for his second Indy Lights weekend. He finished seventh and tenth at his debut weekend at Road America.

Indy Lights will race at 12:25 p.m. ET on Saturday and at 11:15 a.m. ET on Sunday.

After winning five consecutive races and six of the first seven Pro Mazda races this season, Pato O'Ward still comfortably leads the championship despite finishing fourth in both Road America races and Aaron Telitz sweeping the weekend. Telitz is 28 points behind his Team Pelfrey teammate. Will Owen has four podiums in five races and is 90 points behind O'Ward. Nico Jamin trails O'Ward by 99 points with Nicolas Dapero 119 points back of the Mexican driver. Jake Parsons is two points behind Dapero. TJ Fischer finished fifth and sixth in his Pro Mazda debut weekend at Road America.

The first Pro Mazda race will be at 5:20 p.m. ET on Saturday with race two at 9:25 a.m. ET on Sunday.

There is a tied atop the U.S. F2000 championship Anthony Martin has won three consecutive races and is level with Canadian Parker Thompson on 217 points. Thompson has also won three races this season. Thompson owns the tiebreaker with two second place finishes to Martin's none. Victor Franzoni is 43 points behind Martin and Thompson and the Brazilian five podiums this season but has yet to win a race. Jordan Lloyd sits fourth in the championship on 160 points with Luke Gabin rounding out the top five on 149 points. Yufeng Luo is sixth in the championship with 135 points. Robert Mengennis is the top American in the championship, sitting in seventh with 129 points.

U.S. F2000 will race at 11:30 a.m. ET on Saturday and 8:25 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be the 13th IndyCar race to take place on July 17th and first since 2005 when SĂ©bastien Bourdais won the inaugural Grand Prix of Edmonton.

Toronto has been run on July 17th twice before. Al Unser, Jr. won there in 1988 and Michael Andretti won there in 1994.

Honda has not won at Toronto since Scott Dixon swept the 2013 doubleheader.

SĂ©bastien Bourdais has two victories, five podiums, eight top fives and 11 top tens in 12 Toronto starts. Bourdais has never started worse than tenth at Toronto.

Alexander Rossi and Max Chilton will be making their Toronto debuts. Chilton did not run at Toronto last year in Indy Lights because he was racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Nissan.

Luca Filippi returns to the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda after Gabby Chaves ran the last six races for the team. Filippi finished second last year at Toronto. His best finish in his first four races with Dale Coyne Racing was 17th at Long Beach.

Takuma Sato has finished 20th or worse in five of eight Toronto starts but he has finished fifth and tenth in his last two races at Exhibition Place. Last year, Sato qualified a career best eighth at Toronto.

Jack Hawksworth has completed 206 laps out of 206 laps in his three Toronto starts. His best finish at the track is sixth.

Spencer Pigot swept last year's Indy Lights races.

The Toronto track record is 57.143 seconds set by Gil de Ferran in 1999.

The average starting position for a Toronto winner is 3.87 with a median of three.

The last two Toronto races have been won from 11th on the grid.

Toronto could join Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the only active IndyCar track with three consecutive winners starting outside the top ten ten. Mid-Ohio could also join Indianapolis Motor Speedway with that feat.

The Milwaukee Mile had three consecutive winners from outside the top ten from 1959-1960. Rodger Ward won from 19th in the August 1959 race. Ward then won from 11th on the grid the following June. Len Sutton would win the August 1960 race from 11th on the grid.

The furthest back a Toronto winner has come from is 13th (Michael Andretti 2001).

The average number of lead changes at Toronto is 4.09 with a median of four.

The average number of cautions at Toronto is 3.645 with a median of three. The average number of caution laps is 14.806 with a median of 13.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 4,800 laps led milestone and he needs to lead 75 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 1 lap to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

SĂ©bastien Bourdais needs to lead 47 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

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

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

Takuma Sato needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon takes the victory over SĂ©bastien Bourdais and Will Power. A Honda will finish in the top five and Andretti Autosport has at least two cars finish in the top ten. One driver in the top seven of the championship finishes 18th or worse. One driver 15th or worse in the championship finishes eighth or better. Team Penske does not win pole position this weekend and at least one Penske driver starts outside the top ten. One driver jumps three positions forward or falls three positions back in the championship after this race. Sleeper: Marco Andretti.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Consistency is Good When Scheduling

Josef Newgarden dominated the IndyCar race at Iowa. Lapped traffic decided the Indy Lights race. Drivers behaved themselves at Silverstone. Nico Rosberg and company violated the radio regulations and it only cost him 10 seconds. A few drivers won for the second consecutive weekend. World Superbike put on two good races from Laguna Seca. Teammates swept a weekend in Australia. Someone won for the first time in nearly three years. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Consistency is Good When Scheduling
Scheduling became a major topic in the NASCAR world heading to Daytona after Brian France was asked about possible scheduling changes and the potential for a Cup race to be run on a weeknight. France dismissed any changes and weeknight races being attempted.

Changes will be tougher as each track now has a five-year contract with NASCAR. Any new tracks added to the schedule will have to wait until 2020 at the earliest but a deal can always be made in the business world. Races are equivalent to the charters NASCAR issued to teams. If you want one, buy one. I am sure if a track not on the NASCAR schedule or a track wants a second Cup race, it could write a large check and buy one but as for a track losing dates at NASCAR's discretion, that won't happen.

People complain about the NASCAR schedule being stagnant and boring. Predictability is a good thing when it comes to scheduling in all forms of motorsports. Unlike team sports where schedule change every year because it's not realistic to schedule 82 games or 162 games in the same order year after year, NASCAR is a motorsports series that tours around country and needs to have date consistency for its events to be successful.

An apt comparison would be to tennis or golf. Like NASCAR, the ATP, WTA and PGA schedules are pretty much the same every year and they have their schedules organized to minimize travel and maximize on weather. Imagine if in tennis the Australian Open moved from January to August and Wimbledon moved from July to February and the US Open went from early-September to the middle of March. Those changes wouldn't just screw up those events but events leading up to the grand slam tournaments. All the events in Asia-Pacific preceding the Australian Open would have to move. The grass court events in Germany and the Netherlands would have to move if Wimbledon moved. It would be a massive headache for the players if the schedule were completely jumbled up every year.

That doesn't mean NASCAR shouldn't visit new venues but it has to be realistic. How many tracks currently not hosting a NASCAR Cup race could host one today? Other than Iowa, which it seems like everyone and their brother have been yelling for NASCAR to go to for the past five years, there aren't that many. Many racetracks built during the boom in racetrack construction that occurred from the late-1990s to the early-2000s lost out. They built tracks hoping a NASCAR Cup race would come and it never happened. Nashville Superspeedway opened the same year as Chicagoland and Kansas but after a decade without a Cup race and despite being regularly feed Grand National Series and Truck races, the doors were closed. Pikes Peak International Raceway opened the same year as Fontana and was closed within a decade without ever being close to getting a Cup race. Add to the list Gateway (which lost everything and has since gotten a Truck race back) and Memphis along with tracks such as Milwaukee, Nazareth, Mexico City and Montreal, which all had long histories prior to getting NASCAR's lower two national touring divisions but never were in contention for Cup races.

Other than Iowa, maybe Road America is the only other venue that could host a NASCAR Cup race today. Circuit of the Americas has the infrastructure but the finances likely aren't there. It isn't practical for NASCAR to add a new track every three seasons. NASCAR created an environment where tracks fought fortune but ended up eating themselves and getting nothing out of it.

Adding new venues doesn't solve NASCAR's problem of having too many races and its races being too long. NASCAR could live with cutting back the schedule by a couple races. It doesn't need to drop ten races but could live if it cut four to six races. As long as the Chase exists, and it looks like it is going to be here for the rest of eternity, NASCAR should want to end the season a few weeks earlier. The Chase now begins the second week of the NFL season. It is consistently head-to-head with the NFL on Sundays. NASCAR could absolutely benefit from starting the Chase in the middle of August when there is less competition from North American sports.

Maybe a new way of thinking is realizing the schedule is fine the way it is, there really aren't that many options in terms of new tracks for NASCAR and you shouldn't be looking for scheduling changes to create excitement.

A Couple Extra Thoughts From Iowa
Josef Newgarden might have dominated Iowa but he gave a lot of credit to J.R. Hildebrand, who has been testing for Newgarden since Newgarden suffered his injuries at Texas. I have to think Hildebrand is making himself look really good within the IndyCar paddock and as a cheap option in free agency next year. While Newgarden and even Conor Daly are making themselves look really good, Hildebrand is hanging around and finishes in the top ten each year in the Indianapolis 500. With Hildebrand's technological background, I would think he would be a great fit for Team Penske. The guy lectures at Stanford. He seems like the perfect fit for Penske. HĂ©lio Castroneves might not like him after what happened at Indianapolis this year but with the ages of Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske could replace both those drivers with Hildebrand and Newgarden. That probably won't happen but Hildebrand deserves at full-time ride somewhere.

Perhaps Indy Lights oval races need to be a little bit longer. The one gripe with IndyCar oval weekends are the lack of on-track activities and the Pro Mazda Iowa race being cancelled due to low car counts didn't help solve that problem. If IndyCar and the tracks can't add more on-track products, then maybe the simplest solution is giving more of what is already there. The IndyCar race is already 300 laps and it took an hour and 52 minutes to complete. That is a fair amount of track time. The Indy Lights race was 100 laps and took just under 35 minutes to complete. There are some hurdles to extending Indy Lights races. First, Indy Lights don't do live pit stops. I can't imagine these cars could go much longer than 100 laps on one tank of fuel and one set of tires. The series would either have to introduce live pit stops for a few races or the series could run doubleheaders at ovals. There could have been twin-100s at Iowa. There are logistical issues. Rain early on Sunday cancelled Indy Lights qualifying and fortunately the Indy Lights could be raced as scheduled. Had it been a doubleheader, one race likely would have been moved to after the IndyCar race or cancelled altogether and canceling a race wouldn't solve IndyCar's problem of lack of on-track activities at ovals.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix.

Tom Sykes won both World Superbike races from Laguna Seca.

Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Cup race at Kentucky, his second consecutive victory. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race and William Byron won the Truck race.

Félix Serrallés won the Indy Lights race at Iowa.

Pierre Gasly won the GP2 feature race from Silverstone. It was his first victory since September 28, 2013 when he won at Circuit Paul Ricard in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0. Jordan King won his second consecutive sprint race. Alexander Albon and Antonio Fuoco split the GP3 races.

Dane Cameron and Eric Curran won the IMSA race at Mosport in the #31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP. The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett won in PC. The #67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook won their third consecutive race in GTLM. The #96 Turner Motorsport BMW of Jens Klingmann and Bret Curtis won their first race of the season in GTD.

Red Bull Racing Australia teammates Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Gisbergen swept the Supercars races from Townsville, Australia.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar makes its summer trek to Toronto.
MotoGP heads to Germany.
NASCAR will race at Loudon for the first time this season.
Just two weeks after hosting the Austrian Grand Prix, the Red Bull Ring hosts European Le Mans Series.
DTM will be at Zandvoort.
Super Formula will be at Fuji.