Wednesday, October 16, 2019

IndyCar Wrap-Up: The Part-Timers' 2019 Seasons

We have reached the halfway point of the IndyCar team reviews and this one will look at the part-time teams, the teams that made cameos throughout 2019. Some of these part-timers showed great potential if they expand to full-time operations. Other teams leave 2019 with many questions.

Meyer Shank Racing
The Ohio-based team increased its IndyCar participation in 2019, running ten races, four more than 2018. The increase in races was not a mistake as the team had some stellar days and outperformed the expectations of many.

Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank Racing might be one of the happiest teams heading into 2019 offseason
Jack Harvey
Harvey's third partial season in IndyCar was his best yet. He and MSR were mixing it up with the big boys and brought home terrific results as a part-time outfit. This season makes full-time aspirations not only seem more likely but this team could be a notable player in IndyCar's future.

What objectively was his best race?
Harvey was third in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and it was a race where he was at the front for the entirety of the affair.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is hard to top third in any race but Harvey started third in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and he was keeping up with the big boys. For a portion of that race he was quicker than Scott Dixon and it appeared Harvey had what it took to win the race! It didn't work out that way and when the rain started late in the race Dixon got stronger and Simon Pagenaud got stronger as well. Not to mention the superiority of the likes of Penske and Ganassi was made clear through pit stops and that put Harvey behind. It was still a great outing and an encouraging sign from this team.

What objectively was his worst race?
It was 22nd at Long Beach after Harvey made contact with Marcus Ericsson into the fountain section and Harvey ended up in the flowerbed. Harvey was able to continue but he had already lost a pair of laps and he would lose another before he would see the checkered flag.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It was Portland because Harvey started fourth and was taken out from behind while running fourth after only 13 laps. Ryan Hunter-Reay completely missed the braking point and he bowled into Harvey and Harvey got the worst of it. Hunter-Reay was able to continue but Harvey lost the opportunity to at least match if not better his career best finish. It was completely out of Harvey's hand.

Jack Harvey's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 21st (186 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 14.5
Average Finish: 14.2

The American-owned sports car operation entered the single-seater fold and it brought Ben Hanley back to single-seater competition for the first time in a decade. Even facing low expectations, DragonSpeed out-kicked the coverage.

Ben Hanley was a new face in IndyCar circles
Ben Hanley
Hanley had been out of single-seater racing since 2010 but his return went much better than anyone could have planned. He might not have been the fastest driver out there but he got a surprise qualifying effort at St. Petersburg and made the Indianapolis 500, his first time on an oval, when most had penciled DragonSpeed as the team going home.

What objectively was his best race?
Hanley's best finish statistically was 18th at St. Petersburg and that came after a red flag in qualifying led to a surprise result. Hanley ended up advancing to the second round of qualifying on debut and he started 12th! The car wasn't close to that position on pure pace. It was a bit of beginner's luck for this lot but while Hanley wasn't lightning at St. Petersburg he had a respectable debut.

What subjectively was his best race?
It isn't a race but subjectively the best thing Ben Hanley and DragonSpeed did in 2019 was make the Indianapolis 500. This team didn't get in by the skin of the its teeth but Hanley qualified 27th ahead of Andretti Autosports' Zach Veach and Chip Ganassi Racing's Felix Rosenqvist.

Many had pegged Hanley and DragonSpeed to miss the race. It was a new team with a driver who had never raced on an oval before and a driver that had been out of single-seater racing for nine years. It was hard to see how this group could get in the race but Indianapolis is a place where if you focus on just having enough speed, not a blazing amount but just enough, you will make the race. DragonSpeed was never going to be competing for pole position or the Fast Nine but it shot to be in the mid-to-low 20s and the team got it with Hanley ending up 27th.

What objectively was his worst race?
It is Indianapolis because Hanley was classified in 32nd but that was after a differential problem led to the end of his race after 54 laps.

Hanley wasn't setting the world on fire but I wish he got more an opportunity to run the Indianapolis 500. He would have likely finished two or three laps down but it would have been a valuable experience for this team to run as many miles as it could and something completely out of the driver's hands failed. That is part of racing.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Hanley only ran three races in 2019 and since we talked about St. Petersburg and Indianapolis, let's mention Barber, where he started 24th and finished 21st, two laps down.

It is not something to wildly celebrate but I should also say it wasn't a terrible showing. Hanley was learning in his few starts this year and he wasn't a hazard. I only wish we had gotten to see more of DragonSpeed and Hanley. We will have to wait for 2020.

Ben Hanley's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 30th (31 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 21
Average Finish: 23.667

Juncos Racing
It was a year of highs and lows for Juncos Racing. The team did not run as many races as it in 2018 but it left a greater impression in two races than it did in 12 races in 2018.

Kyle Kaiser was the underdog that won over the masses in 2019
Kyle Kaiser
The 2017 Indy Lights champion returned for two races but what Kaiser left on the 2019 season was everything he did at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

What objectively was his best race?
Kaiser made two starts in 2019 and his best finish was 18th at Austin from 21st on the grid. Even better for Kaiser it was the first time he finished on the lead lap in his IndyCar career.

What subjectively was his best race?
Similar to Hanley, the best thing Kaiser and Juncos Racing did all year was qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and Kaiser did it with his back against the wall.

Practice was looking good for Kaiser and Juncos Racing. It seemed this car was going to make the field comfortably and then he had his accident on Fast Friday an hour into the practice session. The team's car that it dedicated to qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 was gone and the scramble was on to turn the backup car around into something that had previously raced at Austin to qualify at over 227 MPH and make the Indianapolis 500.

We have seen every story play out at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We have seen the little teams show up, fight as hard as they can but not come close or have an accident end the dream early. We have seen the little team pull it out of nowhere. Juncos Racing and Kaiser did something incredible.

The team made one qualifying attempt on Saturday but was not quick enough. It pushed all its chips to the center of the table for one final run on Sunday. It drew the final spot in the Last Row Shootout, on the bubble were McLaren with Fernando Alonso and Kaiser got in the field by 0.0129 seconds. McLaren being knocked out alone was a stunner but to have the minnow Juncos Racing do it after the drama of the previous 48 hours is the legendary story that will be told for years to come.

What objectively was his worst race?
The Indianapolis 500 itself was not as kind to Kaiser and Juncos Racing. Kaiser spun exiting turn three and his race was over after 71 laps, leaving him with a 31st place result.

What subjectively was his worst race?
No one wants to have an accident, especially in the Indianapolis 500.

If there is a bad thing about 2019 it is we did not get to see more of Juncos Racing after the team started 12 of 17 races in 2018. I would have been fine with the team getting a driver with a paycheck to fund 4-8 races.

Each team takes its own path to full-time competition and a reduction in races does not mean things are bleak for the future of Juncos Racing. I think we can all agree we are pulling for Juncos Racing. We want this team to make it because Ricardo Juncos has put his life into this operation and this team existing and competing in IndyCar is great for IndyCar. It shows what IndyCar can be. It can bring together the giants of Penske, Ganassi, Andretti and McLaren and those giants can fall to the humble Juncos.

Kyle Kaiser's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 32nd (22 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 27
Average Finish: 24.5

Last year, everyone thought McLaren would come into IndyCar and be a disruptor. Everyone thought McLaren could come in and take Scott Dixon away from Chip Ganassi Racing and pair him with Fernando Alonso. At the end of 2019, that could not seem more unconceivable.

Speaking of Fernando Alonso...
Fernando Alonso
I am not sure what else we can say about McLaren, Fernando Alonso and the combo's failed Indianapolis 500 effort for 2019 but let's go back and look at what I wrote in February and see how wrong it was:

What I Wrote:
McLaren is not going to be tripped up when it comes to the smaller stuff. McLaren did its homework. It has prepared for this race but there is always something that you cannot plan for and can only learn through experience. Those could be the things that catch this team out. 
I am not worried about Alonso. We have seen the Spaniard take on challenge after challenge the last two years and he has never been unprepared. He doesn't think he has got it and tries to figure it out on the fly. The dedication he put into his 2017 program was outstanding and that was with six weeks of preparation. He has been working on 2019 since he left the banquet on Memorial Day 2017. He stepped into sports cars and won Le Mans on debut and won the 24 Hours of Daytona in his second shot at it. He is not going to be a problem and after all, he is going to have the most to gain out of everybody in that race. This isn't some type of bucket list event for him. This is attempting to ascend to a higher level. 
Bob Fernley has been placed as head of McLaren's IndyCar effort. Fernley had previously worked as team principal at Force India. It would be more surprising if McLaren struggles than if McLaren succeeds. I don't think McLaren is going to come in and be 26th but I don't see the team replicating what it did in 2017 and, as I said before, that has nothing to do with Alonso. It is a new car, it is a new engine manufacture and it will be a new group working on the car. There are too many differences to expect Alonso to waltz back in and be back in the top five. I think he is going to have to work harder this time around and even if that is the case I think he can be competitive and be in the top ten.

Almost all of that is wrong.

McLaren did get tripped up on the small stuff. The team's backup car wasn't ready because it was the wrong shade of orange and was still in the paint shop.

The team couldn't make the top 33, let alone the top 26 or top ten.

We can talk about what would have happened if Alonso does not have his practice accident, if the team doesn't lose a day waiting for paint to dry and if the team wasn't scrambling for a setup to put the car in the field. If the practice accident never occurs, perhaps Alonso is 25th but that didn't happen in this universe.

It is hard to fault Alonso. Yes, he is the pilot and he was in control when the practice accident happened but he gave it his all and each day he was the first car on the outside. Each day he missed it by 0.02 MPH and 0.019 MPH. I am not sure any driver has come as close as he did to qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on multiple days and not made the field!

I think Alonso prepared as best as he could. There wasn't much else he could have done but it turned out the people around him were not on the same level of preparedness.

Fernando Alonso's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: Not Classified
Wins: Not Applicable
Podiums: Not Applicable
Top Fives: Not Applicable
Top Tens: Not Applicable
Laps Led: Not Applicable
Poles: Not Applicable
Fast Sixes: Not Applicable
Fast Twelves: Not Applicable
Average Start: Not Applicable
Average Finish: Not Applicable

An Early Look Ahead
Let's tackle these team's one at a time...

Meyer Shank Racing is on the cusp of full-time competition. The only races MSR did not run in 2019 were the four ovals that aren't Indianapolis, Belle Isle and Toronto. Ten races is a healthy schedule. The team has not committed to a full season in 2020 and if the team chooses to run ten races again in 2020 then that is good but this team could shake things up if it were to run full-time. Jack Harvey is a talented driver and this team could be on the cusp of the top ten in the championship if it were full-time. MSR will be back in 2020 but the question is for how long?

DragonSpeed withdrew from FIA World Endurance Championship competition to turn attention to its IndyCar effort and European Le Mans Series operation. The only reason the team was unable to run more in 2019 were team members were denied visas and the team could not compete at the final two rounds because of ELMS commitments. If DragonSpeed is going to run more or be full-time in 2020 it is going to have to expand. It is going to need a dedicated IndyCar team and probably a dedicated driver. I like Ben Hanley and I would love to see him get more of a shot but if he is split with the ELMS program then that is not going to be for the best of the IndyCar program. If Hanley is not going to be the dedicated IndyCar drive there are plenty of drivers out there that DragonSpeed could bring into the fold.

Juncos Racing had a successful Road to Indy operation in 2019 but the team's IndyCar effort took a step back and the team's expansion into IMSA's prototype class was going well until Victor Franzoni had a hard accident at Mosport. I just want to see Juncos Racing make a step forward from 2019. There is nothing to suggest that will be the case in 2020 and the team might not be so fortunate next year in the month of May.

McLaren is in bed with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and we touched upon that already but let's focus this on Fernando Alonso's future with the IndyCar program. Everything points to there being an Indianapolis 500 entry for him but how long will Alonso stick with McLaren? He cannot have another qualifying hiccup and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is a team with its own Indianapolis 500 qualifying struggles. Would Alonso give up on the Triple Crown if McLaren is not able to properly support him or would he move to another IndyCar operation? McLaren is the only one footing his salary and other than Penske, I am not sure any other IndyCar team could match his first offer.

There are a lot of questions surrounding McLaren and its increased presences in IndyCar and in typical McLaren fashion none of them are answered quickly nor clearly. Why would the same be different regarding Alonso?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' 2019 Season

The fifth team review will be the team that made the most noise in the 2019 preseason. It is the team that declared it would join the likes of Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport in an IndyCar "Big Four." The results didn't get to that level and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports did not taste victory.

The 2019 season began a very uncertain period for James Hinchcliffe
James Hinchcliffe
The 2019 season was one where Hinchcliffe could not find that next gear. He had good days but only good days. He did not have a top five finish through the first 11 races and with another tough end to the season the Canadian again found himself outside the top ten in the championship.

What objectively was his best race?
A third place finish at Iowa. Hinchcliffe spent majority of the race in the top five and this was his first top five finish of the season.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is Iowa. Hinchcliffe did not have many great races in 2019. He had a lot of races where he started near the front and dropped down the order. Iowa was the one race where Hinchcliffe started at the front and stayed at the front. Hinchcliffe started in the top ten in nine races, in those nine races he finished outside the top ten on five occasions.

The only other races worth mentioning are Barber, where Hinchcliffe started fourth and finished sixth, and Indianapolis, where he started 32nd and climbed up to 11th.

What objectively was his worst race?
Mid-Ohio, where Hinchcliffe was hit on lap one in the first corner of the race. Worst of all, it was his teammate Marcus Ericsson that made the contact. Now, Ericsson was hit at start by Takuma Sato and that forced him into Hinchcliffe but it was a tough blow for SPM and a race the team lost before it had even really started.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Can we say Pocono and Portland because in both races he was involved in a first lap incident for a second consecutive year? Add to it, Hinchcliffe again had another end of season slump and both these results didn't help. He was starting eighth at Portland. It could have been a momentum swing for him in the right direction.

The other race to mention is the second Belle Isle race. Hinchcliffe started fifth and he was in a tough battle with Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi for a top five finish. When Hinchcliffe exited pit lane he was in front of both Newgarden and Rossi but both cars had more speed and warmer tires. Hinchcliffe took the inside and Newgarden made a late move to the outside. Newgarden ended up in the tires, Hinchcliffe ended up running into the side of Newgarden and that took away a positive result for the Canadian.

James Hinchcliffe's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 12th (370 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 22
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 6
Average Start: 10.938
Average Finish: 12.294

Marcus Ericsson did well in his first IndyCar season but left room for improvement
Marcus Ericsson
After five seasons in Formula One, Ericsson came into IndyCar and showed promise. Some days it produced results but the Swede had growing pains and lost good results because of minor errors. His season was far from a travesty but he was a distant fourth among the four regular rookies.

What objectively was his best race?
On his teammate's worse day, Ericsson had his best day and finished second in the Sunday race from Belle Isle. It was a clean day from Ericsson. He avoided incidents and he had clean pit stops that put him in position to stand on the podium.

What subjectively was his best race?
Belle Isle will probably be top but I think Ericsson had a strong showing at Texas. Once again, Ericsson was clean for the entire race and he made up positions to get a seventh place finish. It was a performance he needed in his second oval start because in his first oval start at Indianapolis Ericsson was running well before he spun entering pit lane and undid his entire race.

This was a nice bounce back for Ericsson and to have it follow his podium finish at Belle Isle was a good sign for him.

I will also mention Laguna Seca because the team went to the three-stop strategy early and it got him ground early, placing him in the middle of the top ten. Unfortunately, at the end of his final stint his tires were gone and he fell to 11th, exactly where he started.

What objectively was his worst race?
It is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis where Ericsson spun in the final corner, hit the barrier on the exit of oval turn one and he finished 24th after completing only nine laps after he started ninth.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I think there are five candidates.

First is Austin because he was in the top ten for majority of that race after starting 16th and he lost it all because of a pit lane violation for unsafe release ahead of Spencer Pigot.

Second is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis because it was a wasted starting position.

Third is the Indianapolis 500 because he was running really well and he lost it entering pit lane. He may have finished in the top ten and may have been Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year had it not been because of this incident.

Fourth is Iowa because he was going to get a top ten finish if he did not get a penalty for improper pit lane entry.

Fifth is Mid-Ohio because he was taken out and only completed two laps.

Ericsson had a good season. He showed spurts of potential but he had these mistakes that cost him. He can learn from these mishaps. If he gets a second season I think Ericsson could make a significant improvement but that improvement will also depend on where he is driving.

Marcus Ericsson's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 17th (290 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 3
Laps Led: 6
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 14.667
Average Finish: 14.813

An Early Look Ahead
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will have a partnership with McLaren and switch to Chevrolet for the 2020 season and this marriage has surprised most of us and we are still unsure what the team will look like.

Ericsson is already gone, he is going to Chip Ganassi Racing, talk about an upgrade, but will Hinchcliffe stay? Who else will the team bring in?

It has been 50/50 on Hinchcliffe. Some people say he is staying. It seems like he staying. It sounds like he is staying from what McLaren CEO Zak Brown and team owner Sam Schmidt have said and Hinchcliffe himself has made it sound like he is moving with the team to Chevrolet and leaving his long-time partner Honda behind.

Like most things McLaren gets involved in nothing is clear.

What will this team look like in 2020?

The second driver is not going to be Fernando Alonso. Alonso has not shown an interest in anything in Indianapolis. We will see Alonso come May.

It would make sense to have a veteran and Hinchcliffe has the experience to fill the role. If the team keeps Hinchcliffe, who partners with him? It seems like the team is going an entirely different route than first expected. Instead of getting another IndyCar-experienced driver, such as Conor Daly, or pulling off a coup for Hélio Castroneves or Juan Pablo Montoya, or plucking a driver out of Europe and bringing him across the Atlantic, the leading driver to become the second driver is Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew.

Askew is a young driver and while he has been successful in the Road to Indy no one has been proclaiming him as the next great star. It is a low-risk move for this team to hire Askew. One, low salary, Askew will be happy just to be there. Two, if it works out then great. Three, if it doesn't work out the team can cut ties and not feel bad about it. If Askew is the driver it is a significant shift from the waves McLaren made over the last few seasons.

McLaren's entrance in IndyCar is taking a stoic approach and more than we anticipated over a year ago. In 2018, we thought McLaren would make a splash and could sign Scott Dixon away from Chip Ganassi Racing. That type of shakeup is unthinkable in the final quarter of 2019. The team has gone from having the ability to take whatever driver it wants to IndyCar to having drivers not even consider accepting the offer. All credibility was lost in Indianapolis. This isn't a giant entering the fray. The IndyCar teams are not scared of McLaren.

The team needs experience and preferably someone who knows the team to get the most out of 2020. It needs at least one driver that knows the circuits. Hinchcliffe is what the team has even if it seems like the team is not fully behind him. The 2020 season is the final year of Hinchcliffe's contract and I think he is going to have to accomplish quite a bit to save his ride. I honestly think unless Hinchcliffe wins the Indianapolis 500, wins the championship and/or at least finishes in the top five of the championship he is going to be a goner.

After watching SPM struggle for results in 2019 and fall massively short of its announced goal of forming a "Big Four" in IndyCar, the team partners with McLaren and will be expected to improve in competitiveness immediately.

There is nothing to suggest the inclusion of the McLaren name on the uniforms and transporters is going to somehow raise this team up the order and I fear after SPM was a disappointment in 2019 Arrow McLaren SP will be another disappointment in 2020.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Memorable Modern IndyCar Moments

It was a busy weekend of motorsports from Japan to Australia to Georgia, the state not the country. Five championships were claimed and one was notably captured early from a sunny Suzuka after waiting out the typhoon conditions on Saturday. Speaking of rain, the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega got a stage completed and then was pushed back to Monday. One race did get completed from Talladega and it was controversial. Speaking of controversy, the World Superbike grid is mad at each other over a half-hearted boycott of the Argentina round due to track conditions. To end with controversy, the Bathurst 1000 result is still provisional due to a team orders complaint. Like I said, it was a busy weekend and it carries on into the week. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Memorable Modern IndyCar Moments
I will admit this came at the IndyCar season finale in September and it was NBC Sports writer Daniel McFadin who brought it up on the eve of the Laguna Seca finale...

I think McFadin has a point.

First off, what does modern mean? What is modern IndyCar?

IndyCar has gone through multiple divorces and a lot of mess in the last 40 years. When talking about history or architecture or art, modernism is something that started at the end of the 19th and bridged into the 20th century. Motorsports didn't start until the late 19th/early 20th century. Not all of motorsports is modern.

Is 1979 modern? We could use the USAC/CART split as the delineation of modern IndyCar. The year 1979 is not that far away but is it too old to be considered modern? Forty years is not much but when you consider the boom of IndyCar coverage comes in the 1980s with ESPN and it continuing into the 1990s maybe modern IndyCar started later than 1979.

However, what is too late to be considered the start of modern IndyCar? The CART/IRL split is a delineation in time. Coverage and sponsorship is at an all-time high. Every race is packed and every driver was a somebody of sorts but 1996 cannot be consider the start of modern IndyCar when people grew up watching Nigel Mansell come to IndyCar, Al Unser and Rick Mears win fourth Indianapolis 500s, the rise of second generation stars like Michael Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. and the end of the careers for the aforementioned Unser, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, Tom Sneva and Emerson Fittipaldi.

Let's keep it to the last 40 years with 1979 being the start. It is the start of CART, the split from USAC, when teams start seeing a large influx of cash and 1979 is when we see the schedule evolve with an increase of road and street course races.

The problem with IndyCar is, outside of Indianapolis, there is not much lore, at least not much that is widely celebrated.

It is not like NASCAR where you could list the ten or 20 greatest moments and ten to 12 different tracks could be represented.

For Bristol, you have Dale Earnhardt spinning Terry Labonte twice. For Darlington you have Bill Elliott or Jeff Gordon winning the Winston Million.

For Talladega you have Dale Earnhardt's late charge in 2000 and any one of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s memorable victories.

For Daytona there are at least five Daytona 500s from the first in 1959 to 1976 to 1979 to 1998 to 2007 and then you have memorable July races like 1984 with Richard Petty's 200th victory or 2001 with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s emotional victory.

Atlanta has the 1992 finale, one of the greatest races in NASCAR history with Alain Kulwicki winning the title over Bill Elliott basically because he led one lap more and this was after Davey Allison was taken out while in command of the championship in what was also Richard Petty's final start and Jeff Gordon's first.

For Richmond, there is Dale Earnhardt taking out Darrell Waltrip.

For Watkins Glen you have the end of the 2012 race with Marcos Ambrose against Brad Keselowski.

For Rockingham you have the final race where Matt Kenseth beat Kasey Kahne in a photo finish.

For Kansas there is the Carl Edwards-Jimmie Johnson battle in 2008 when Edwards made a banzai move only for it not to pay off with Johnson taking the victory.

For Chicagoland last year's finish between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson will be brought up for years to come.

NASCAR does a great job making lore and IndyCar does not do the same. That doesn't mean there aren't great IndyCar moments from Long Beach, Barber, Michigan, Pocono, Phoenix, Texas, St. Petersburg, Mid-Ohio, Road America, Milwaukee, Chicagoland or Toronto. The difference is IndyCar's top moments at all those tracks are always immediately put behind something that occurred at Indianapolis Motor Speedway,

However, the one moment that always stands out is Alex Zanardi's pass on Byran Herta at Laguna Seca in 1996.

Before getting into other finishes and racing moments we need to acknowledge when talking about memorable moments that memories are not always positive. Deaths are memorable. We remember the days Scott Brayton, Greg Moore, Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson were lost. We remember the days Davey Hamilton, Kenny Bräck, Ryan Briscoe and Robert Wickens were hurt. We remember when we are frightened. We remember pain.

Memorable does not mean celebrated but the painful days are seared into our minds the same way the most tragic moments in human history become those days we remember where we were when it happened. We wish it wasn't the case but life has a way for landing haymakers.

Some moments are undermined for one way or another and perhaps wrongly so.

You know what is a memorable modern IndyCar moment that nobody talks about? Danica Patrick's one and only victory. It was an unexpected event occurring at the time you least expected it. It was a rain-delayed Motegi race and she won it one fuel-mileage. It was a stunner and it was the first victory for a female driver in IndyCar history.

At that time, it took over the late-night SportsCenter. People woke up to the news. Many missed it but many memories are those that are missed or not seen live and finding out in amazement afterward. The United States defeating the Soviet Union in the Miracle on Ice was not live on television. The United States defeating England 1-0 in the 1950 World Cup was not broadcasted and most people thought the newspaper headline was a misprint.

Danica Patrick's victory is not the Miracle on Ice or even that United States upset over England but it does share some of the same qualities.

Modern IndyCar, especially hyper-modern IndyCar has kind of been dismissed. During the years of the split, no one was really happy and the moments were not as celebrated. People were focused on what IndyCar wasn't to take any pride in what IndyCar was producing at the time.

You may not remember the 2007 IRL season finale from Chicagoland but in the closing laps the two drivers battling for the championship were the only two cars on the lead lap coming to a restart with three laps to go and neither driver sure they could make it on fuel. It is NASCAR's wet dream for a championship decider but one that NASCAR has failed to create despite the increasingly contrived systems the series uses to decide the championship. Scott Dixon ran out of fuel in turn four of the final lap and Dario Franchitti made the pass and won the championship

If the 2007 finale were to repeat in 2020 I believe people would be lapping it up as one of the greatest championship finishes in motorsports history and not just IndyCar history.

Why does Zanardi's pass stand out amongst the thousands of other moments in IndyCar history not to happen at Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

Because it is folklore that is non-fiction. Time plays a role and with each passing second Zanardi's legacy becomes more mythical in a nature. Being a great race car driver is one thing but to lose both legs, nearly bleed to death, survive, return to a race car at a competitive level and then to become a Paralympic gold medalist in hand-cycling is beyond any imaginable storyline.

Take time, Zanardi's legend and then add the location, one of the most absurd corners in motorsports in Laguna Seca's corkscrew and a pass that used every inch of asphalt, some of the dirt and avoiding a barrier on exit. It was a man that had basically lost all control but came out of a situation clean and turned it into a victory and that is what makes it the pinnacle for memorable IndyCar moments.

What about the other moments? What about what will happen next? How do we give those moments their due?

It is the simple act of remembering and regularly remembering. I think too often IndyCar and the other parties involved in the series defer to Indianapolis 500 moments to celebrate because it is easy and it is the lowest common denominator. Casual fans know the Indianapolis 500 and remember some of these Indianapolis 500s. When celebrating IndyCar it is easy to play the hits. However, we should do more.

Each year, when listening to a practice session or a qualifying session on the radio, the IndyCar Radio Network will play its intro or outro and it is a compilation of Indianapolis 500 calls. That is nice but why limit it? Why have that for every race? IndyCar has been going to Long Beach, Toronto and Mid-Ohio for more than 30 years. IndyCar has been going to Road America, Texas, Laguna Seca, Belle Isle and Portland for more than 20 years. All these races have enough moments, enough calls to get their own dedicated intro and outro. I am sure the broadcast lives somewhere for most of these races. Each race should be a celebration of that race's past, not another chance to fawn over the glory of the Indianapolis 500.

Remembering takes work. It takes time to put together those packages but it is worth it and it should be done.

IndyCar has a vast history outside of every May for more than 100 years. Every race has its own history and the series should celebrate the history of each location it visits.

Champions From the Weekend
Mercedes-AMG clinched the World Constructors' Championship after scoring 41 points at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The #6 Acura Team Penske of Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya won the IMSA Prototype championship with a fourth place finish at Petit Le Mans.

Matt McMurry won the LMP2 championship simply by starting Petit Le Mans in the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports.

The #912 Porsche of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor won the GT Le Mans championship with a fifth place finish at Petit Le Mans.

The #86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura of Trent Hindman and Mario Farnbacher won the GT Daytona championship simply by starting Petit Le Mans.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Mercedes-AMG and the IMSA champions but did you know...

Valtteri Bottas won the Japanese Grand Prix, his third victory of the season and his first since Azerbaijan.

Scott McLaughlin and Alexandre Prémat won the 62nd Bathurst 1000. It is the first Bathurst 1000 victory for both McLaughlin and Prémat. It is McLaughlin's 18th victory of the season.

The #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Eric Curran won Petit Le Mans. LMP2 class. The #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra won the GTLM class. It is Risi Competizione's first IMSA victory since the 2016 Petit Le Mans. The #96 Turner Motorsport BMW of Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley and Dillon Machavern won the GTD class. It is Auberlen's 60th IMSA victory, tying him with Scott Pruett for the all-time record.

Spencer Boyd won the NASCAR Truck race from Talladega after Johnny Sauter was penalized for blocking Riley Herbst below the yellow line coming to the checkered flag. It is Boyd's first career victory.

Álvaro Bautista won the first World Superbike race from Argentina with Jonathan Rea taking the final two races from the weekend. Jules Cluzel won the World Supersport race, his third victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP will be at Motegi.
NASCAR ends its second round at Kansas.
The Blancpain GT World Challenge America season concludes in Las Vegas.

Friday, October 11, 2019

2019 Petit Le Mans Preview

Another season comes to an end this weekend. The 2019 IMSA season wraps up at what has become a traditional season finale at Road Atlanta for the ten-hour Petit Le Mans.

All four classes have something to play for between overall championships, manufactures' championships and the Endurance Cup competition.

There is a lot to keep an eye on this weekend and with that in mind and in honor of the ten-hour race, here are ten questions ahead of the season finale.

What Should We Know About Recent Petit Le Mans?
There have been six different manufactures to win the last six years at Petit Le Mans, dating back to when Rebellion Racing won with a Lola-Toyota with Neel Jani, Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost in 2013.

Since that victory, Wayne Taylor Racing won with a Corvette DP with Jordan Taylor, Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli. The Porsche GT program took the upset victory in the rain-shortened 2015 race with Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz. Michael Shank Racing won with a Ligier-Honda in 2016 with John Pew, Oswaldo Negri, Jr. and Olivier Pla. Nissan took a victory in 2017 with the Extreme Speed Motorsports group of Ryan Dalziel, Brendon Hartley and Scott Sharp. Last year, Wayne Taylor Racing won with the Cadillac DPi-V.R. with Jordan Taylor, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Renger van der Zande.

The last three years and four of the last five years have had an American winner after an American driver had not won in the first 16 editions of Petit Le Mans.

Jordan Taylor is the only active driver with multiple Petit Le Mans victories. If Taylor were to win he would join Emanuele Pirro, Frank Montagny and Stéphane Sarrazin as three-time winners and trail only Rinaldo Capello's five victories and Allan McNish's four victories in this event.

Last year, Hunter-Reay became the first Indianapolis 500 winner to win Petit Le Mans.

Is the Prototype Championship Wrapped Up?
Pretty much.

The #6 Acura Team Penske of Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya has 274 points and a 12-point lead over the #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani.

All the #6 Acura has to do to clinch the championship is finish seventh in class out of 11 cars. So far this season, the #6 Acura has finished on the podium in seven consecutive races with its other finishes being sixth at Daytona and ninth at Sebring.

General Motors teams have won the Prototype championship in all five seasons since the merger of Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series. Nasr is the defending champion in class and Action Express Racing has won four of the previous five seasons. Cameron won the 2016 Prototype championship with Action Express Racing.

What Prototype Team Needs to End 2019 on the Best Note?
The #5 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Filipe Albuquerque and João Barbosa will need a victory because this team will close down at the end of the season. Albuquerque has already been drafted in to be the third driver in the #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac. Barbosa's future, however, remains uncertain.

We have run nine races this season and Wayne Taylor Racing has not stood on the top step of the podium since the heavily rain-affected 24 Hours of Daytona. This also appears to be the final race for Jordan Taylor with his father's team, as Taylor is reportedly ready to move to Corvette Racing in 2020 to replace Jan Magnussen. Renger van der Zande has not been confirmed to be returning to the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac. Matthieu Vaxiviére will be the third driver in the #10 Cadillac this weekend.

CORE Autosport will pull out of Prototype competition at the conclusion of the 2019 season as Jon Bennett will retire from driving. The #54 Nissan of Bennett, Colin Braun and Romain Dumas has not been on the podium this season. Last year, Bennett and Braun won twice and had four podium finishes, including two podium finishes with Dumas.

How Does GT Le Mans Look?
The same as Prototype with the #912 Porsche of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor leading the #911 Porsche of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet by 12 points.

All Bamber and Vanthoor has to do is finish in the top seven in a nine-car GTLM class to clinch the title.

Mathieu Jaminet will be in the #912 Porsche this weekend alongside Bamber and Vanthoor and Frédéric Makowiecki will be in the #911 Porsche with Tandy and Pilet.

This will be Porsche's first championship since 2015 when Pilet took the title.

What About Corvette?
Corvette Racing had won three consecutive GTLM championships but at best will finish second in the championship with the #3 Corvette of Magnussen and Antonio García only three points behind the #911 Porsche but 15 points behind the #912 Porsche with the most points the #3 Corvette could make up in this race being 14 points.

Corvette has not won since Long Beach last year, 17 races ago. Magnussen and García, despite winning the championship last year, have not won since Virginia International Raceway in 2017, 23 races ago. Corvette has not won at Petit Le Mans since 2009 when Magnussen won with Oliver Gavin and Emmanuel Collard in the #4 Corvette.

Since Corvette last won at Petit Le Mans, Porsche has won this race four times to Ferrari's three and BMW's one Petit Le Mans victory.

Mike Rockenfeller joins Magnussen and García in the #3 Corvette and Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fässler will pilot the #4 Corvette.

This will be the final race for the Corvette C7.R with next year the mid-engine Corvette C8.R being introduced to the grid.

Any Words on Ford's Farewell?
The factory-backed Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT program will run its final race this weekend with Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais in the #66 Ford and Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon in the #67 Ford.

In 42 starts, the Ford GT has won 12 times in IMSA competition, including three of the last four races.

The #67 Ford of Briscoe and Westbrook won eight of those 12 races with the #66 Ford of Hand and Müller taking four victories, including the most recent race at Laguna Seca last month. Both cars won the 24 Hours of Daytona with Hand, Müller and Bourdais taking the victory in 2017 and Hand, Müller and Dixon following it up in 2018.

Hand, Müller and Bourdais also won the GTE-Pro class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016. Briscoe, Westbrook and Dixon were third-place finishers in class that year.

In 26 FIA World Endurance Championship races, the Ford GT won five races with the final victory being the 2018-19 season opener at Spa-Francorchamps with Olivier Pla, Stefan Mücke and Billy Johnson. The first victory was the Le Mans victory with Hand, Müller and Bourdais. Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell were responsible for the other three victories, having taken the top step of the podium at Fuji and Shanghai in 2016 and again at Shanghai in 2017.

Entering this weekend, the Ford GT won 17 of 68 races, 25% of the races.

Despite not winning the drivers' or teams' championship, Ford did win the 2018 manufactures' championship in IMSA, Hand and Müller won the Endurance Cup last year and Ford won the manufactures' Endurance Cup the last two years.

Is the GT Daytona Title Sealed?
Pretty much.

The #86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura of Trent Hindman and Mario Farnbacher has a 20-point lead over Zachary Robichon, driver of the #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche. All Hindman and Farnbacher have to do to clinch the title is start the race.

Are the Manufactures' Championship At Least More Compelling?
Why yes they are!

Acura has a comfortable lead in the Prototype class with an eight-point lead over Cadillac but a Cadillac victory forces one of the Acuras to finish in the top five. Cadillac won the first three races of 2019 but has not won one of the last six races.

Porsche has clinched the GTLM manufactures' championship with 332 points, 19 points clear of Ford and 30 points clear of Corvette.

GT Daytona is where it is interesting.

Lamborghini has 269 points, one point ahead of Acura, eight points ahead of Porsche and 15 points ahead of Lexus. Since the merger, there have been four different GT Daytona manufacture champions with Ferrari being the only repeat champion in 2015 and 2017. Porsche won in 2014, Audi won in 2016 and Lamborghini won last season.

Paul Miller Racing won at Laguna Seca with Corey Lewis and Bryan Sellers in the #48 Lamborghini and it was the Italian manufacture's third victory of the season. Acura's only victory was with Hindman and Farnbacher at Watkins Glen. Lexus won back-to-back races at Mid-Ohio and Belle Isle, both victories with Jack Hawksworth and Richard Heistand.

Pfaff Motorsports won at Lime Rock Park and Road America with Dennis Olsen and Matt Campbell joining Robichon in the #9 Porsche for those respective races.

The #96 Turner Motorsport BMW of Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley won at Mosport and the #33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsport entry of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating won at Virginia International Raceway.

What About the Endurance Cup?
We are going to cover each class at a glance:

Taylor and van der Zande lead with 34 points, two ahead of Derani, Nasr and Eric Curran and nine points ahead of the #55 Mazda of Tincknell, Bomarito and Pla.

Cadillac has 41 points to Acura's 35 point.

GT Le Mans:
Tandy and Pilet lead with 31 points, Westbrook, Briscoe, Bamber and Vanthoor are all on 25 points, Magnussen and García have 24 points and Müller and Hand have 23 points.

Porsche has 34 points while Corvette and Ford are tied on 29 points and BMW sits on 24 points.

GT Daytona:
The Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsport drivers Bleekemolen, Keating and Felipe Fraga lead with 29 points. Scuderia Corsa's Toni Vilander, Cooper MacNeil and Jeff Westphal are second on 26 points. Hindman, Farnbacher and Justin Marks sit on 25 points.

The Montaplast by Land Motorsport #29 Audi of Christopher Mies, Daniel Morad and Ricky Feiler have 24 points. Three cars are tied on 21 points: The #96 Turner Motorsport BMW of Auberlen, Foley and Dillon Machavern, the #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche of Robichon, Scott Hargrove and Lars Kern and the #12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus of Townsend Bell, Frank Montecalvo and Aaron Telitz.

The #44 Magnus Racing Lamborghini of Andy Lally, John Potter and Spencer Pumpelly have 20 points.

Every manufacture in GT Daytona has a shot at the Endurance Cup title with Mercedes-AMG leading on 29 points with Ferrari two points back in second. Audi, Lamborghini and Acura are all tied on 26 points. Porsche has 22 points. Lexus and BMW are tied on 21 points.

Is the LMP2 Championship Worth Talking About?
Matthew McMurry has 235 points and an eight-point lead over Cameron Cassels. If McMurry starts the race, he will clinch the championship.

McMurry will be in the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca-Gibson with Dalton Kellett and Gabriel Aubry. Cassels will drive the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca-Gibson with Kyle Masson and Andrew Evans.

Cassels and Masson have 37 points in the Endurance Cup standings with McMurry and Aubry on 29 points.

The 22nd Petit Le Mans will start at 12:05 p.m. ET on Saturday October 12th.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Harding Steinbrenner Racing's 2019 Season

The fourth IndyCar team preview is the first team that won a race in 2019 and it actually won twice, it is Harding Steinbrenner Racing. The little team that had a meteoric rise in 2017 with a top ten finish on debut in the Indianapolis 500 and a top five in its second race ever saw a decline in 2018 but the injection of a new partner and one of IndyCar's brightest stars took the team to the top even if it did not cure all the financial ills.

Say hello to the future, his name is Colton Herta
Colton Herta
Magnificent. That is the only word for Herta's rookie season. He became the youngest winner in IndyCar history in the second race of the season, the third start of his career and he did it before he turned 19 years old. There were rough days but he won three pole positions, closed his rookie season with another victory and ended up seventh in the championship.

What objectively was his best race?
His two victories at Austin and Laguna Seca.

Herta's historic victory at Circuit of the Americas came through a bit of fortune and a bit of speed. Austin was a race Herta lucked into but he put himself in a position to capitalize on an opening. Herta was a distant third to Will Power and Alexander Rossi but he was on an island. He was third and was not challenged. For the first half of the race, he was keeping up with Power and Rossi and then those two pulled away.

Herta made a pit stop at the right time and it set him up to inherit the lead of an IndyCar race a week before his 19th birthday. The moment, in his third career start, could have seized him, especially with past champions Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden breathing down his neck for the restart but Herta left those two in his dust. The final stint showed no sign of nerves. It ended in glory.

At Laguna Seca, Herta started on pole position and ran away with it for the most part. He led 83 of 90 laps and he faced pressure in the first stint of the race from Scott Dixon and in the final stint of the race from Will Power. He had the two drivers with the most victories this decade breathing down his neck for at least 60 of 90 laps at Laguna Seca and Herta didn't buckle. He was clean and took a convincing victory.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is a toss up between Austin and Laguna Seca but let's talk about another race, Road America, because that was his most active race. Austin was one where Herta had speed and didn't have to use it. Road America was where Herta started on pole position, the first of his career.

He lost the lead immediately but remained in second and had to hold onto the car on degrading alternate tires. He lost time but bounced back on the second stint before the team shod his car with alternate tires again. Herta charged forward but started to fall behind and he found himself trying to fend off Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist and James Hinchcliffe in the closing laps. Herta held on as long as he could but he was cooked in the final two laps.

It was an eighth place finish and part of it should fall on his team. The alternate tires were done after ten laps on the first stint and yet the team chose those tires for the final 15-lap stint. Herta was always going to lose time but Herta wrestled his car and brought it to the line with a result he can be disappointed about but one he does not have to hang his head over.

What objectively was his worst race?
It is the Indianapolis 500 where his gearbox broke after three laps and what was a fifth place starting position on Indianapolis 500 debut turned into a 33rd-place finish before the kid could break a sweat.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Indianapolis sucked for Herta but the race Herta let get away from him was Texas. Herta was in the top five for most of the time and he was again running with the big boys. The problem was Herta got a little too aggressive at a time when he had to bring the car home in one piece and in a good finishing position. He entered Texas having not had a top ten result in six consecutive races and he had retired in four consecutive races from Barber through the Indianapolis 500.

Herta made a bold move on Scott Dixon into turn three and the two cars made contact. Was the contact solely on Herta's shoulders? No. Dixon didn't leave much room to someone who had already claimed the inside but it was a case where Herta could have waited until the door was a little more open. There were still 20 laps to go. If he had not gotten another opportunity fifth would have been fantastic for him. Herta had a chance to get out of the hole and he dug himself a little deeper that night.

Colton Herta's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 7th (420 points)
Wins: 2
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 3
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 144
Poles: 3
Fast Sixes: 5
Fast Twelves: 9
Average Start: 6.9375
Average Finish: 13.235

An Early Look Ahead
The good news is Harding Steinbrenner Racing is being absorbed into the Andretti Autosport stable and Herta will now be an official member of that team.

IndyCar is kind of losing a team in that it is losing an operation that independently ran a car but it is keeping a car on the grid and after seeing all that Herta accomplished this season with HSR, a team that struggled to make ends meet, you have to be excited about what he could accomplish in 2020.

If Herta can do all this with HSR what will he do with Andretti Autosport? He will turn 20 years old in between the first and second races next season and at 20 years old he is going to be a championship challenger. This could be a case of recency bias but I don't think it is because look at what Herta did for the entirety of 2019.

He should have made the Fast Six at St. Petersburg but got a penalty. He won Austin and Laguna Seca. He had three pole positions, tied with Will Power and Simon Pagenaud for most of the season. He made it to the second round of qualifying on nine of ten occasions. He made the Fast Six five times, only Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Felix Rosenqvist and Josef Newgarden had more. His average starting position was fifth best behind only Dixon, Rossi, Newgarden and Power.

What cost Herta in 2019 were mechanical issues. Fuel pressure issues cost him at Barber. The gearbox broke on him three laps into the Indianapolis 500. He had another mechanical issue bite him late at Iowa while he was in the top ten. Add to it that James Hinchcliffe drove into him at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the only results you can lay at the feet of Herta are Long Beach, when he hit the barrier while in the top ten and Pocono, where he had an accident while in the top ten.

Herta did not make many mistakes in his rookie year. Hopefully, the integration into the Andretti stable means those gremlins pop up less. If those mechanical issues do not come up and he continues what he was doing in 2019, it feels like he will be in the championship conversation.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Ed Carpenter Racing's 2019 Season

The third IndyCar team review will be Ed Carpenter Racing. There were few good days and a handful of nondescript days for the organization. The team continues to search for an identity post-Josef Newgarden and the search will continue into 2020.

Things remained the same for Spencer Pigot in 2019
Spencer Pigot
Pigot got his second full season in 2019 and things remained kind of the same. For a moment, it was looking like Pigot would be Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter only for him to start on the front row. Outside of that, Pigot had the same number of top five finishes as 2018, the same number of top ten finishes as 2018 and he finished in the same championship position.

What objectively was his best race?
Pigot had a pair of fifth place finishes this season, the first coming in the wet-to-dry-to-wet Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the rain-delayed, Saturday-into-Sunday race at Iowa. Let's just say if it rains it is going to be a good day for Pigot.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is Iowa because Pigot was heading forward in each stint. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis was more a thing of good fortune with timing of pit stops, cautions and the weather but he restarted second on the final restart and fell back. Pigot kept going forward at Iowa and if he had started 15th instead of 19th he may have won. That is a stretch but in the last two Iowa races he had gone from 18th to second and 19th to fifth. It is bound to click for him at that track.

What objectively was his worst race?
Pigot had two finishes of 21st, in the second Belle Isle race and at Gateway, both crashes. At Belle Isle, it was out of Pigot's hand as he was hit from behind entering the pit lane when Sébastien Bourdais was trying to make a pass on another car. At Gateway, he lost on his own in turn four.

What subjectively was his worst race?
The second Belle Isle race was a bit of bummer because Pigot started in the top ten but I am going to list two other races: Barber and the Indianapolis 500.

At Barber, Pigot started sixth, it was the first time he made it to the Fast Six in his IndyCar career. He was in contention for a top ten finish and he lost it because of an unsafe release penalty on his final pit stop. This dropped him to a 17th place finish.

At Indianapolis, Pigot started on the front row and he spent much of the race in the top ten. He never appeared to be a threat to Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi or Josef Newgarden but he was looking to be the best ECR finisher. Instead, he had yet to make his final pit stop before the Graham Rahal-Sébastien Bourdais caution. He made his final stop under yellow and was shuffled down the order. He went from a top ten to a 14th place finish. Not a bad day, in fact it is Pigot's best finish in the Indianapolis 500 and it was the first time he completed all 500 miles but it could have been better.

Spencer Pigot's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 14th (335 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 4
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 12.438
Average Finish: 14.118

Through three seasons, Ed Jones is still looking for a permanent place to land
Ed Jones
This was Jones' third team in three seasons and it did not have the same luster as when he was a rookie with Dale Coyne Racing nor in his sophomore season with Chip Ganassi Racing.

What objectively was his best race?
Like his teammate Pigot, Jones' best finish came in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and it was a day where Jones spent majority of the race in the top ten and came home with a sixth place finish. He lost fifth place late to Pigot.

What subjectively was his best race?
I am going to say the Grand Prix of Indianapolis because no other races stand out. I will mention the Indianapolis 500 because Jones entered the ECR fold and showed this team has speed regardless of the driver. Jones qualified fourth but he didn't have the pace over 500 miles and faded to a 13th place finish.

What objectively was his worst race?
Jones' worst result was 23rd at Laguna Seca. The Santino Ferrucci incident with Takuma Sato forced Jones off course and into the dirt. He returned to the circuit but he had to make a pit stop. Jones ran a few more laps but the suspension damage was too great for him to make the finish and his season ended early.

Two other races should be noted: Jones was 22nd at Road America. Contact sent Jones off course early and sent him down the order. He could not regain the time and he finished a lap down. To add insult to injury, Jones started the race in 11th.

He did retire at St. Petersburg after hitting the barrier exiting turn seven and it classified him in 21st.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I want to say the Indianapolis 500 because Jones show great pace throughout practice and qualifying only to fade and not be a factor. I expected that to happen. We see plenty of drivers at Indianapolis be able to put together great qualifying pace but not have it over 500 miles.

There were a lot of disappointing races for Jones this year and I don't think it was all on him. He and Pigot were both in position for top ten finishes at Toronto and then the two cars made contact in turn four and neither finished in the top ten. He could not find the qualifying pace and it put him behind the eight ball on most occasions.

Ed Jones's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 20th (217 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 1
Laps Led:
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 14.077
Average Finish: 15.923

Ed Carpenter was solid but the season feels unfulfilled
Ed Carpenter
It was the sixth time Carpenter ran only the oval races on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series calendar and it was a good year, on standard with last year's results. However, when you are only running five races a year, you need to be better than good.

What objectively was his best race?
Carpenter was runner-up at Gateway in a photo finish was Takuma Sato. Carpenter benefitted from not making his final pit stop before Sébastien Bourdais brought out the caution for a spin exiting turn four. He restarted third and he had great pace over the long run. It allowed him to get pass Tony Kanaan and he was chasing Sato in the closing laps. If the race was 249 laps and 248 laps, Carpenter would have likely won his first race in five years.

What subjectively was his best race?
The Indianapolis 500. Carpenter was at the front for most of this race but unlike 2018 where Carpenter led and lost it to Power, he paced himself and ran behind the leaders. He didn't want to take the point and burn more fuel. He was conserving his fuel in the draft but he lost ground to Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden and didn't have anything to challenge Simon Pagenaud.

What objectively was his worst race?
Nineteen at Iowa after a spin exiting turn two.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It is Iowa because he was going to the front with Pigot. He was fighting for a top five result at the time of that spin.

Carpenter had a strong year, finishes of second, sixth and sixth at Gateway, Indianapolis and Pocono respectively. He seemed to be lost at Texas but this incident at Iowa was the one blemish on his season.

Ed Carpenter's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 23rd (161)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 3
Laps Led: 7
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 12.25
Average Finish: 9.2

An Early Look Ahead
It is not clear whether or not Pigot will return or if Jones will remain in the #20 Chevrolet on road and street courses.

This team has taken a step back from the years of Josef Newgarden carrying the team into the championship fight. It still has the potential on ovals but it has been five years since Ed Carpenter won on an oval. The team has lost road course pace.

I cannot see Pigot leaving although his seat is not necessarily secure because of sponsorship. ECR is not working with Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka money like it once did. Autogeek has picked up the slack but this is IndyCar, sponsors come and go and drivers go with them. We have not seen Pigot have that breakthrough that we saw with Newgarden in the third and fourth year of his career. He has good days but he has yet to have a great day. This is the team in need of a great day.

It really is a team that is set up for drivers entering the series. A young driver can jump into the #20 Chevrolet and get a dozen races. The #20 Chevrolet has had five different drivers split that car with Ed Carpenter over the six seasons Carpenter has focused on ovals. It started with Mike Conway and since the car has had Luca Filippi, Pigot for two seasons, Jordan King and Jones share the seat.

History points to a new driver being in that seat for 2020. It is not that Jones did a poor job but Jones may want more after having run full-time in the first two years of his career. Carpenter might want new talent and use the #20 seat as an audition for a potential replacement for Pigot in the #21 Chevrolet. It may come down to funding and the driver with the biggest check and competency will be the man or woman chosen.

Out of the four full-time Chevrolet teams, ECR is still number two. The problem is the team has fallen off significantly to Team Penske and Carlin is poised to jump up from third. I think we all want ECR to succeed because we want every IndyCar team to be a contender. It was not long ago this team was fighting with the big boys every week and produced a championship contender in the season finale. It is far from where it once was and the team has yet to find what it takes to get back to the front.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Pay Up or Shut Up

Marc Márquez clinched his fourth consecutive MotoGP championship, his sixth career MotoGP championship and his eighth world championship after Márquez won his ninth race of the 2019 season at Buriram with another final lap pass on Fabio Quartararo. Jenson Button made his Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters debut at a wet Hockenheimring. The FIA World Endurance Championship had its second race of the 2019-20 season and the success ballast didn't go as planned. A driver not named Sébastien is on the verge of capturing the World Rally Championship. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Pay Up or Shut Up
IndyCar's latest addition to the schedule could bring a bonus payday for one of the drivers on the grid.

With the inclusion of Richmond there has been a rumor that a short track challenge could be held with Iowa and Gateway. The exact details are not clear but if IndyCar is to have any type of bonus/incentive program it must do one thing: Pay the drivers!

For a few seasons, back when Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana all had 500-mile races on the schedule IndyCar had the Triple Crown prize, $1 million to anyone who could win all three and $250,000 to any driver who could win two of the three. Nobody won two of the three or all three; therefore no one got paid.

I doubt this short track challenge would have a $1 million prize if someone were to sweep the races but IndyCar has to give out some actual money to make it worth a damn.

It is a challenge and winning three races is difficult but some challenges become so difficult that it is not worth getting excited about. After all, after Richmond next year only one driver will have the opportunity to sweep the races. After Iowa next year either one driver will be going for the sweep or two drivers will be looking to live up to Meat Loaf's "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad."

The NASCAR Truck Series introduced a similar concept this year with three Truck races, Texas, Iowa and Gateway, all paying an extra $50,000 to the winner. The money was for anyone who entered. If you won one race you could win $150,000 if you took two of three. A sweep paid $500,000. It led to Greg Biffle stepping into a Kyle Busch Motorsports truck at Texas, his first truck start in almost 15 years and he won it! Biffle stepped in and took $50,000 as a one-off. If it weren't for NASCAR's fickle entry list rules that prevented Biffle from being eligible for the money at Iowa it may have been a bigger story in June and Biffle would have brought more people to the television to see if he could sweep the races.

The challenge got people interested in three standalone Truck races in the early portion of the summer that would have otherwise been overlooked. There were stakes for every driver in the field and increased stakes for previous winners. No matter what someone was getting paid at the checkered flag. It was worth tuning in to see.

IndyCar can't cap this bonus to only one or two drivers. People want to see others get rewarded. They want to see every driver fighting for something, not one or two drivers. The stakes need to be increased for everyone and IndyCar has to put the money on the table before hand. There has to be a prize for each race and a larger bonus for each other winner.

To be honest, the Truck payout is probably in line with what IndyCar can pony up. As much as we love IndyCar it is pinching pennies. It doesn't have an extra two or three million dollars laying around to toss at the drivers but perhaps in the light of public perception IndyCar might be forced to toss some more cash out there. Remember, NASCAR's second division has the "Dash 4 Cash" program, which pays $100,000 to one of four drivers win if he or she wins that race.

I would love to see $100,000 for each race with an additional $250,000 if a driver wins two of three races and another $500,000 if someone sweeps all three races.

What is realistic for IndyCar?

The champion only gets $1 million and it could be argued would IndyCar be better off paying any money for a short track challenge out for more than just three races. Would it make more sense to take the $300,000 for the three race winners and adding it to the champion's prize or spreading it throughout the championship results and giving more money for eighth through 15th in the championship? Would it be better if the money were used for a prize to the road/street course champion and the oval champion so the prize was based on five oval races and a dozen road/street course races?

Once again, IndyCar is not in a position to throw money out at random but any bonus money would likely go to a Penske, Ganassi or Andretti entry. The three largest teams on the grid. Do those three teams need the money the most? No, but it is not as easy as spreading the wealth around.

It makes sense to spread the crumbs around and make sure the smaller teams are able to get by but at the same time spreading the crumbs around doesn't draw attention. It is noble but not noteworthy. Every now and then you have to have a few more glittery events. You need a race where you can sell a payday, even if it means the rich are getting richer.

Not to forget mentioning, this short track program benefits these three races. Richmond is returning for the first time in a decade. It gives people an extra reason to come out. Iowa needs a pick me up and it has been a great race for sometime now. Adding a six-figure winning bonus would be a plus. Gateway gets about 40,000 people and if it is not going to be the season finale then make it jackpot night where someone will leave with either $100,000, $250,000 or $500,000.

These three races would, in theory, be events that could draw one-off entries, something that has not been common at oval races other than the Indianapolis 500. A driver like Sage Karam or Carlos Muñoz would have something sell to sponsors. J.R. Hildebrand could put together a schedule beyond Indianapolis and it could get Dreyer & Reinbold Racing at more races. If there were three races for Oliver Askew to put his Road to Indy scholarship toward it should be these races. He could take his scholarship money and turn it into more money. That would be a smart move. IndyCar would benefit from having four to seven more cars entered for these races.

There are plenty of pluses as to why IndyCar should do this short track challenge but IndyCar has to pay. If it is going to bring up money then it better be willing to open its wallet. IndyCar should not be hoping it will not have to give out a dime. It has to have the cash ready to hand over. If IndyCar isn't willing to fork the money over then it is better off keeping its mouth shut.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Marc Márquez but did you know...

Luca Marini Moto2 race from Buriram, his first victory since Malaysia last year. Albert Arenas won the Moto3 race, his first victory since Australia last year.

Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Cup race from Dover, his first victory in 75 starts. Cole Custer won the Grand National Series race, his seventh victory of 2019.

The #8 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, Sébastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley won the 6 Hours of Fuji. The #29 Racing Team Nederland Oreca-Gibson of Nyck de Vries, Giedo van der Garde and Fritz van Eerd won in LMP2. The #95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørenson won the GTE-Pro class. The #90 TF Sport Aston Martin of Salih Yoluç, Charlie Eastwood and Jonny Adam won in GTE-Am.

René Rast and Nico Müller split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from Hockenheim.

Ott Tänak won Wales Rally GB, his sixth victory of 2019.

Coming Up This Weekend
IMSA concludes another season with Petit Le Mans.
Supercars has its first endurance race with the Bathurst 1000.
Formula One returns to Suzuka.
NASCAR will be in Talladega.
World Superbike has its penultimate round of 2019 in Argentina.