Friday, April 3, 2020

How Will the Revised IndyCar Schedule Feel?

Last week, IndyCar released its revised 2020 season with amendments after the covid-19 outbreak and, while it is still not set in concrete and races could still move around or be cancelled, it is something different that IndyCar has not experienced before. 

The IndyCar season has had the same pattern for almost its entirety. The season starts in spring, a few races are completed, then comes the Indianapolis 500 and then there is a summer full of races. It has a particular feel. 

Those first few races get the blood flowing. You get to see who has come out of the box strong and then who is going to be making up ground. After those first few races comes the Indianapolis 500. It is the first big test and it kind of sets the tone for the season. Success in May can launch a championship run throughout the season. By the time we get to the start of August we have an idea who the contenders are and you are out of it. When we reach Labor Day it is pretty much the homestretch. The title will be decided in a matter of a few races and then that is it. The season is over. 

This year will not have that same pattern.

We could be starting at Belle Isle, which is still on the fence and could be postponed but right now it is the tentative season opener. It is not odd to be starting at a street course but it will be odd to start with a doubleheader. It is a quick launch out of the gates and, instead of having one bad day that teams need to comeback from, a team could have two bad days and find itself in a massive hole after the first weekend. It could be a much harder blow than a typical opening weekend. 

The season is more condensed than IndyCar's most condensed seasons. The last few seasons have seen a spring break of sorts with either multiple weeks off between St. Petersburg and the second round of the season or last year between Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. This year will be a whirlwind in comparison. 

The Belle Isle doubleheader and Texas will be in consecutive weeks. After a week off, the teams will run Road America, Richmond, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Toronto and Iowa in five consecutive weeks and just like that seven of 14 scheduled races are in the bag in eight weeks. Last year, it took 13 weeks to complete the first seven races. 

The Indianapolis 500 shifting to August is a colossal change in its own right but with the race now being the tenth race of the season versus the fourth, fifth or sixth race heightens its influence on the championship. When the race is in May and it is in the first quarter or first third of the season. It is the first benchmark. Teams are still figuring it out, there is still plenty of time to right a bad start and it is the race where the championship starts to take shape. 

With the race being the tenth of 14th races, this year's Indianapolis 500 is likely going to be the decider over whether or not a driver is in the championship fight down to the wire. It will still be a double points race but only four races will come after it. 

Last year, entering the tenth race Josef Newgarden had a 25-point lead over Alexander Rossi, 48 points over Simon Pagenaud and 89 points over Scott Dixon. If Indianapolis is the race where Rossi has a lap one accident and Newgarden goes on to finish fourth that will pretty much ends Rossi's championship hopes right then and there. You would be looking at a case of Rossi leaving with ten points and Newgarden leaving with 65 points and increasing his gap to Rossi to 75 points with four races to go and no double points in the finale. Rossi would have to claw back at least 26 or 27 points in the following three races to have a mathematical shot at the title in the finale. 

Maybe we should transition into whether or not double points should have been dropped from the finale. I understand why IndyCar did it because we do not know when or where the finale will be. St. Petersburg is currently a to be determined date but the plan is for it to be the season finale. There is also a chance St. Petersburg will not be the finale. We are now looking at Belle Isle potentially being postponed and pushed to October with St. Petersburg. You cannot say the finale will be double points and then have the finale be cancelled or changed. In that case you cannot retroactively award double points to what became the season finale. It would just be too much of a mess.

However, IndyCar did lose three races but this season is not all that shorter than other seasons in the recent past. The 2012 season was only 15 races so 14 races is not some great abbreviation to the campaign. Last year, after 13 races, Newgarden had a 16-point lead over Rossi, 47-point lead over Pagenaud and 62-point lead over Dixon. If that scenario repeats in 2020, only Newgarden, Rossi and Pagenaud would have a shot at the title. If it were a double points finale though, only Dixon would be added to the drivers eligible for the title.

There would be a chance we could see six, seven or eight drivers alive for the title and that might not be a bad thing this year. With the finale likely taking place deeper into football season IndyCar might want seven drivers alive for the title. There would be plenty to tune in for in that case. In all likelihood we would only see four or five drivers and that is not different from what we have seen in reason years with double points finales. 

If IndyCar really cared about the championship and did not want double points to sway it the final results too much it should remove double points from the Indianapolis 500 as well, especially with it falling so late in the season. 

Stepping back for a moment, IndyCar could be looking at its first doubleheader to open a season since 1975 when USAC started its season with California 500 qualifying races, a pair of 100-mile races the week before the longer race. The last time an IndyCar season started with a doubleheader which featured a full-field in each race was 1971 when the season started with a pair of 152.322-mile races on the 2.874-mile oval in Rafaela, Argentina. This year would be the first time the season opened with a doubleheader on a road/street course since May 4, 1912, when the season started with three races on the 8.417-mile Santa Monica road course. 

If Belle Isle is postponed and Texas would be the season opener it would be the first time an oval hosted the opening round of a season since 2008 at Homestead, the first race after reunification. 

Regardless of whether St. Petersburg or Belle Isle is the finale, 2020 could be the first season to end on a street course since the 2003 CART season at Surfers Paradise after the Fontana finale was cancelled due to wildfires. If Belle Isle ends the season, it could be the first time the season ended with a doubleheader since October 12, 1927, when two races at the 1.25-mile Rockingham Speedway board track in Salem, New Hampshire closed the season.

We aren't sure if another revision will be necessary for the 2020 season. It seems likely but whatever happens this year will likely never be seen again. Some of it we hope never to see again. We hope we never had to cancel or postpone the first six races of the season and move the Indianapolis 500 to August. Not wanting to see that again is understandable but it might be a good thing to see a doubleheader start a season or end a season. It might be good to start at an oval or finish at a street course. Sometimes we get stuck in our patterns and we do not try something new. This is a chance to break the mold and see if something else works without fearing making a mistake. 

This is going to feel like a lost year but there is nothing wrong with making the most of it and taking chances. After all, what do we have to lose?


Thursday, April 2, 2020

Mending Schedules: NASCAR 2020

We are in April and this will be a tame month.

There is a great chance we will not see any motorsports this April. It is just going to be video games. The return date is a moving target. We have no clue when we are going to be back in action. Everyone is trying to plan for an uncertain future.

Some series have already laid out their contingency plans. Others have held off on revised schedules. It is going to be difficult to reschedule every race. Some series have accepted sacrifices. Others are holding out to saving every date. The problem is time is running out for every date to be saved and there are limits.

With free time and no races ahead of us in the foreseeable future I guess we should at least try and piece together the jigsaw puzzle that is 2020.

NASCAR has the most pieces scattered about, the least amount of wiggle room and it only appears it will get harder from here. At the start of the week, the Cup series had seven postponed events and was slating to pick up the season at Martinsville on May 9. On Monday, Virginia extended its stay-at-home order until June 10. Martinsville has not been officially postponed but it seems it will be added to the list.

Formula One's season opener is slated for Canada in the middle of June. IndyCar and IMSA are hoping to be back on track the final weekend of May. MotoGP is looking at the middle of May. These plans are all depended on local governments and what restrictions are in place over the next two or three months.

NASCAR has yet to announce any revision but time is tight for NASCAR. There are seven races to be made up with an eighth likely to be added. There has been no sense of flexibility over extending the schedule beyond its current end date or switching playoff races or cancelling races. NASCAR has said it plans on getting all 36 races in. That will only get tougher with more dates that are lost. Midweek races have been thrown out there as a solution to get to 36 races but let's really think this out for a second:

Is NASCAR really going to go from the middle of May to early November with no off weeks and possibly cases of four races in 14 days on multiple occasions?

That would lead to an incredible level of burnout and that has to be minimized.

At this point, time could still be on NASCAR's side but it is running out of weeks. There is a chance to fit in the remaining 32 races but it is going to take some maneuvering and some sacrifices. Here is an attempt to mend 2020:

May 16: Talladega
This was supposed to be all-star weekend but all-star weekend is got to be sacrificed. There is no time for non-championship rounds taking up an entire weekend to itself. Championship races have to be made up. Either move the all-star race to the Thursday before the Coca-Cola 600 or bin it altogether for a year and donate that purse. The donation sounds like the best option this year.

May 24: Charlotte
Keeps its scheduled date.

May 31: Kansas
Keeps its scheduled date.

June 6/7: Michigan doubleheader
This is the first massive change but it will be done to open a race weekend later in the year for one of the postponed races. The second Michigan date moves to June. It will require shortened races, similar to what Pocono was scheduled to do this year. You are not running two 400-mile races. Pocono was going to be a 325-mile race and 350-mile race. The grid for the second race would be determined based on the first race results with lead lap cars being inverted with lapped cars starting where they finished the day before.

Michigan should be the first place to get a crack at it and with a condensed schedule the races may need to be a little shorter. I think we are looking at a pair of 300-mile races or a 300-mile race and a 350-mile race.

June 14: Sonoma
Keeps its scheduled date.

June 21: Chicagoland
Keeps its scheduled date.

June 27/28: Pocono
Keeps its scheduled date.

July 5: Indianapolis
Keeps its scheduled date.

July 11: Kentucky
Keeps its scheduled date.

July 19: Loudon
Keeps its scheduled date.

July 25: Texas 
This was originally the first scheduled off-weekend during the Olympics. It now becomes a Saturday night race. Is July in Texas ideal? No but none of the other postponed races really fit into this period. Do you think Atlanta, Homestead, Richmond or Talladega fit at the end of July? No. And Texas likely cannot be a doubleheader because of its place in the playoffs. This Saturday night in July is the best we can do.

August 1: Martinsville
Originally the second schedule Olympic off week becomes the first Saturday night Martinsville race.

August 8: Bristol
This was originally the second Michigan weekend but this becomes the first Bristol race and it is another Saturday night race. It is a quick turnaround to the second Bristol race but Bristol has the same problem as Texas in its position in the schedule does not allow it to be a doubleheader.

August 16: Watkins Glen
Keeps its scheduled date.

August 22: Dover doubleheader
This is a change in that this becomes a doubleheader and it moves up a day because of the Indianapolis 500 will be August 23. For television, NBC is not going to want the races to overlap. The solution could be a doubleheader on Saturday. Like Michigan, these would have to be two shorter races, let's say one 300-miler and one 350-miler.

August 29: Daytona
Keeps its scheduled date.

September 6: Darlington
Keeps its scheduled date but it is no longer the first race of the playoffs.

September 12: Richmond doubleheader
Like Dover, this becomes a doubleheader and these are the final two races of the regular season. These are going to have to be shorter races, perhaps one 300-lap race in the afternoon and a 350-lap race at night.

September 19: Bristol
Keeps its scheduled date, now race one of playoffs.

September 27: Las Vegas
Keeps its scheduled date, now race two of playoffs.

October 4: Talladega
Keeps its scheduled date, now race three of playoffs and end of round one.

October 11: Charlotte
Keeps its scheduled date, now race four of playoffs.

October 18: Kansas
Keeps its scheduled date, now race five of playoffs.

October 25: Atlanta
The playoffs will change a little bit and since Atlanta has one date let's put it in the schedule and it can be added to the playoffs. Bristol, Talladega, Richmond, Texas or Martinsville cannot be doubleheaders in the playoffs, at least it wouldn't feel right. Atlanta would keep it at ten different races at ten different tracks. This would be the end of round two.

November 1: Martinsville
Keeps its scheduled date, now race seven of playoffs.

November 8: Texas
It moves back to fit Atlanta in and Texas stays at race eight of playoffs.

November 15: Homestead
The NASCAR season can be extended by two weeks, which isn't that odd since the season has gone this deep into November for close to the last two decades. This race would end round three.

November 22: Phoenix
Phoenix keeps its season finale slot but it has to shift back two weeks. There would be no need for midweek races. The season is still over before Thanksgiving and everyone gets a much needed holiday break.

What does this all mean for the other two national touring division?

Fortunately, the Grand National Series and the Truck Series only have five races postponed and a likely postponement of Martinsville in May does not add another race to either series plates.

To make this simple, I am only going to note proposed differences to the schedules:

Grand National Series
May 15: Talladega
Just like the Cup series, this race is the first makeup.

June 7: Michigan
This race is slid back a day and will be before the Cup race on Sunday; more on that in a little bit.

July 24: Texas
The Friday night before the Cup Series makeup.

August 21/22: Dover
Just like Cup, this will have to be a doubleheader and I am thinking one race could be on Friday evening and be 200 laps with the other on Saturday between the two Cup races and be 150 laps.

September 18/19: Bristol
Bristol would not be in the playoffs, in fact the final regular season race would be September 26 at Las Vegas. However, Bristol could get a 250-lap race on Friday night and a 300-lap race on Saturday before the Cup race.

October 24: Atlanta
This goes with the Cup makeup race and this would be the final race of the first round of the playoffs after Charlotte and Kansas.

November 7: Texas
Moves back to make room for Atlanta and this is the second race of the second round after Martinsville.

November 14: Homestead
Slotted in as the penultimate round of the season and closes out round two.

November 21: Phoenix
Moves back with the Cup weekend and keeps its spot as the season finale.

Truck Series:
May 22: Charlotte
Moves back a week because the all-star weekend is gone and it will be the Friday night before the Coca-Cola 600.

June 6: Michigan
Since Michigan is moving its second Cup date to form a doubleheader the Truck day has to go with it. This is supposed to be the Texas weekend with IndyCar but that race will have to move and there is room.

July 23: Texas
Speaking of Texas moving, this is where the postponed race can fit in, the Thursday night before the Cup makeup.

August 21: Dover
The Truck race moves to Friday afternoon before the first Grand National Series race. This weekend was supposed to be the Gateway weekend with IndyCar but...

August 30: Gateway
The IndyCar race has moved to August 30. This race will be moved to Sunday because NASCAR is at Daytona on Friday and Saturday with the other two series. This will be a doubleheader with the IndyCar race on the same day. Obviously, this will no longer be the first race of the playoffs.

September 12: Richmond
This is the makeup race from the April postponed date and it will be between the two Cup races.

October 24: Atlanta
Makeup, it will be a doubleheader with the Grand National Series race on Saturday and it will be the final race of the first round of the playoffs with the first two races at Las Vegas and Talladega.

November 6: Texas
This is where the June race slides back to. It becomes the second race of round two after Martinsville and it is Friday night.

November 13: Homestead
It slides into the Friday night of the makeup weekend.

November 20: Phoenix
Season finale is still on a Friday night and at Phoenix.

There is still time for NASCAR to complete its seasons before Thanksgiving and without having to run any weeknight races for the Cup series but time is tight.

In all likelihood, this plan will not work out. We are probably going to lose the month of May. Some places might be good to go in June but there will not be a reset date when everything is back to normal. It is going to good in some places but bad in others at the same time for the next few months. We might see outbreaks throughout the year and cause other dates to be dropped.

NASCAR is going to have to be flexible on changes. Some races will have to become doubleheaders and slightly shortened. It is what has to be done during this time. The playoffs might have to take on some different races or dropped entirely. There is a good chance the Cup series will not get 36 races this year. We can have this ideal world but that is not the real world in 2020. A breaking point may come and a loss will have to be accepted.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: March 2020

March was a rough month. Right when the motorsport season seemed ready to get started everything came to a halt with the covid-19 outbreak. Formula One, MotoGP and IndyCar are all still in the starting gate. NASCAR is on hiatus. IMSA postponed the 12 Hours of Sebring to November. We have not only lost March but we can write off April and each day we lose a little more of May. It is completely gone for Formula One. IndyCar is hopeful of getting started in the final two days of May but the Indianapolis 500 has been kicked back to August. We are all waiting.

I will admit it is hard to write this comical bit when it has been such a rough period. You cannot trivialize what is going on and much of the news has been able delays and uncertainty and in some cases we have had crew members test positive for the virus. That is all off limits. There is nothing to joke about during that time. There is one virus-related headline but you will see why that was included.

There was still some news and some of it can be joked about. I hope this can be a light-hearted relief during this down period.

Once again, this is just for fun. In case you are new, this is my gut reaction to headlines without reading the article. Of course, the gripes I have may be answered in the article.

We are going to start with the virus-related headline just to get it out of the way.

Bernie Ecclestone Says F1 was Too Slow in Reaction to Coronavirus Threat
Thanks Bernie! And your comment about how you would have already have called off the 2020 season is helping as well.

Let's be clear, if Bernie was still in charge not only would he have made sure Australia took place but he would have sent the teams to Bahrain. We would have two races in the bag and he would be upset that Vietnam could not take place and he would still be pushing for races to take place during these uncertain times. He would have pushed for races behind closed doors because the television viewership is what he cared about.

Also, has anyone heard what Jacques Villeneuve and Nico Rosberg had to say about Formula One's decisions regarding the covid-19 virus? They complete the Formula One knights of the round table. They must have something to say.

Would there be a worst podcast than Ecclestone, Villeneuve and Rosberg? I cannot imagine anyone could enjoy listening to those three have a conversation about anything.

Kevin Magnussen Says Haas F1 Team Could Leave Sport after 2020 if Results Don't Improve
New year, same story and while the bar was set low for 2020 because the 2019 season was such a mess it appears Haas will be heading out the door at the end of this season according to Magnussen.

Haas still committed to Formula 1, says Steiner
How did Haas bring back Magnussen? And this completely falls on the team.

If you watched the Drive to Survive series you saw how much Magnussen clashed with Guenther Steiner and you have to be amazed either Magnussen or Romain Grosjean completed 2019 and yet the team brought both back!

Haas kept a guy who is saying this team is on the verge of going under and keeping Magnussen might suggest that very well could be the case!

You can read deep into it but if Haas was committed to Formula One it would get at least one if not two new drivers into the team and hope to build for the future. Instead of getting new drivers, Haas kept Magnussen and Grosjean. Instead of spending for the future the team is keeping its lineup. It is easier to justify closing shop with two drivers who have been around for four seasons than closing a team down after hiring one or two new drivers at the start of the year. It seems a lot less heartbreaking to shutdown and end the careers of Magnussen and Grosjean than shutdown and put one or two guys who just got into Formula One back on the sidelines.

That is just how I am reading the tea leaves.

Moving from Formula One to a past world drivers' champion...

Button was interested in DTM move, says Berger
Ah, yes, another driver interested in a series but never setting foot in that series (bar for Button participating in the combination race at Hockenheim in a Super GT car).

In the subhead on Motorsport.com it said Button did not switch because he does not live in Europe. I know he lives in California and he lived there while competing in Super GT but California to Japan is still close to 12 hours on a plane. California to Germany is closer to 14 hours. I understand two hours is two hours and that adds up but it is not that much greater of a sacrifice. It is nine or ten race weekends. Button could make it work if he wanted to make it work.

Staying in the United States...

IndyCar 2020 hot topics: Can Richmond deliver a thriller?
Thriller is asking a lot for year one.

How about just a competitive race? Can we start with competitive, something that leaves people happy? Jumping all the way to thriller is asking for quite a bit.

Consider IndyCar's most recent stint in Phoenix. IndyCar would have taken competitive at Phoenix. IndyCar didn't need a thriller in Phoenix. It needed something that was solid to build on.

Vukovich – The greatest ever Indy 500 driver?
With the motorsports world on standstill we are going to see a lot of hypothetical questions and nostalgic headlines like this one until cars are getting back on track but this is one I will entertain because I think it is valid argument.

Bill Vukovich's Indianapolis 500 record, though brief, is staggering.

Five starts.

In 1951, an oil tank issue ended his race after 29 laps. Ok, not great, but everyone has mechanical issues at Indianapolis once or twice in a career.

1952: Started eighth, second-fastest qualifier, led 150 laps, steering broke with nine laps to go and he fell down the order to a 17th-place classification.

1953: Pole position and fastest qualifier. Led 195 of 200 laps in one of the hottest Indianapolis 500s on record and he did not have a relief driver at any point during the race on his way to his first Indianapolis 500 victory.

1954: Started 19th and was 15th fastest qualifier. Led 90 laps and became the third driver to win consecutive Indianapolis 500.

1955: Started fifth and was the third-fastest qualifier. Led 50 of the first 56 laps before his accident with Johnny Boyd that ended Vukovich's life.

Vukovich very well could have won three consecutive Indianapolis 500s. In terms of dominating the race, I am not sure anyone has dominated three consecutive races the way he did. If the steering holds in 1952 and fate goes a little differently in 1955, Vukovich is looking at four consecutive Indianapolis 500 victories and holding a lore in American motorsports that no driver is close to at this time. He would have been more heralded than A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti and he would be a mythical figure, the American answer to Juan Manuel Fangio.

With how the next two months are shaping up, perhaps this will be a good chance to re-visit the Greatest 33 concept and put together a grid based on the last 103 races.

Moving to the video game world...

Verstappen won't take part in Virtual Grand Prix series
Verstappen isn't running because he doesn't play that video game.

Come on, man! It is a video game. Throttle is on the right, brake is on the left, just play. You will figure it out.

It is his decision but could a person look more obtuse not participating in a video game exhibition simply because he does not play the game? It is not a matter that he doesn't have any of the equipment. The equipment is there and 99% of the time the game is the cheapest part.

Ego comes into play and some people do not want to do something if it will not look good for them. I get it but there is nothing wrong with looking human.

Why Are eSports and Video Games So Important to NASCAR Fans?
Because it allows fans a false equivalency that success in these video games means they could succeed in actual NASCAR and it is the only sporting endeavor where such a thought is taken seriously.

Kids do not play Madden and think they their success in that game means they could be a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. Kids do not play NBA 2K and think they are going to be averaging a triple-double in a season. One guy gets on iRacing and wins a handful of races and all we hear about is if he just had the money or if someone would take a chance on him he could be winning races in the Cup series in no time.

It blends delusion with reality.

That is it and April is unknown. There will be news but it seems unlikely there will be much competition, if any. Hopefully something comes up but for now we wait.


Monday, March 30, 2020

Musings From the Weekend: Three Weeks of Video Games

Things are not getting better but a few good things happened. Sage Karam was the winner of IndyCar's first iRacing event. IndyCar released a revised schedule, though Belle Isle appears to be on the fence. The Indianapolis 500 will be August 23. IMSA released a revised schedule. Laguna Seca is moving up a week, Mid-Ohio will be at the end of September and Road Atlanta moves back a week. MotoGP has delayed the Jerez round. Super GT is postponing races. Dario Franchitti has still got it. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Three Weeks of Video Games
We have been locked down for three weeks now. Outside of a couple of rallies in Mexico there has been no motorsports taking place. Super GT and Super Formula each got tests in but we have not seen races and the next time we see race cars at a track is still unclear but it does not feel like it will be that soon.

Filling the time has been plenty of video game races, from iRacing to Formula One's official video game and everything in-between, things have been organized quickly and has brought together drivers with nothing to do with people who are top of the virtual world.

This is a new but not entirely unfamiliar world to me. Life has evolved and Gran Turismo, the Formula One, NASCAR and one-time a long-time ago IndyCar games are not a regular outlet for free-time. This hobby never got to the level of iRacing. That was going to cost too much for a hobby.

It is one thing to play the games but it is another to watch it and if the time wasn't there for playing the games before it definitely wasn't there to watch it.

These are video games but they are races. It is not going to be that much of a shock to the system. The reaction to it will come down to the level of the competitors and what type of race is put on.

For the last three weeks I have watched a staggering amount of video game races and there are similarities across the board no matter the platform, the cars that are used and who is competing.

Between the competitions organized by The Race, Formula One, NASCAR, IMSA and IndyCar, a common thread is whoever starts at the front usually finishes there. That isn't a problem and that is typically how many races work out but it was not a case where someone could start 15th and drive up to the lead. It feels like the fields are pretty much tiered. Tier one starts in the top five and finishes in the top five. Those are the guys that have spent the most time on that platform. Fifth might be able to get to first, especially off the start. The pole-sitter could drop a few spots but the pole-sitter is still going to finish in the top five at worst.

The drivers that start between tenth and 15th, finish between those positions and so on.

That is fine but these events lack some type of shuffling, whether that is not having an alternate tire compound and pit strategy factor in or not having cautions or just having some guys who have a bad run in qualifying but has a better race car and can work to the front. It falls into the same problem some actually racing series struggle with, Formula One especially. If there is a consistent trend of the race results just mirroring the qualifying results than it is going to turn people off.

Part of it comes down to these races being sprint races. IMSA had a 90-minute race, which is a good length, and NASCAR had a 100-lap race at Homestead and 125-lap race at Texas, which are good lengths but not full races. The Formula One and The Race events have been more quarter-distance races and The Race has a few 10-lap heat races to set the main event. It is less time for things to happen and races need time to develop in some cases.

Race length aside, the level of competition has been a downer in some situations. Some guys are on iRacing regularly during the week to begin with. Other drivers never touch it. There is going to be disparity but in some cases it is a night and day difference. It some cases it was clear some big name drivers (Jimmie Johnson) should not be out there or at least not be locked into the main race.

NASCAR competitions the last few weeks have struggled with pace. Texas was better but the first two that were held had caution after caution for the first half of the race. It was one lap of green and then an accident and five caution laps. Then it was two laps of green, another accident and five caution laps. Then it was one lap of green, another accident and five caution laps. For those not doing the math at home that is four laps of green versus 15 laps of yellow. The Homestead race had nine cautions and 42 caution laps over a 100-lap race.

The one thing on NASCAR's side was each race was better in the final quarter of the race and had good finishes. The problem is it took over an hour to get there and it will be hard to keep people interested in watching when the first 75 minutes is nonsense. It is a lot like a basketball game where a lot of fouls are being called, no one is taking any shots from the field and it is a parade of free-throw after free-throw attempt.

This past weekend NASCAR had over 60 entries but the notable Cup drivers were locked into the field with the remainder competing in an LCQ for the final four spots. That is better than just having a qualifying session, but similar to when the top 35 cars in owners' points were locked in, you could get the case where faster drivers do not qualify while a handful of slower cars get to race.

Instead of locking Cup guys in, NASCAR could run three heat races, have those be ten laps in length, have a ten-lap LCQ follow and end with a 50-lap main event with the top twenty drivers. One, it would prevent the drivers not taking it seriously from getting in accidents and knowing it is fine because they have resets to burn. Two, it would allow everyone compete on television but hopefully prevent Jimmie Johnson from taking out the leaders. Three, there would be more urgency through out the broadcast and more on the line. Four, it would hopefully not take as long and feel like a better use of the time. The last two races broadcasted on FS1 went over its allotment of time. There is nothing it is delaying but it has been a finish and a hurried interview with the winner. I guess that is all you need but it would be nice not to be rushed out the door every once in a while.

If there is one thing I have learned from all this is the best thing to do is to do what is not done.

Dinner with Racers nailed how these events should be organized. They should be something we cannot see in the real world. The 12-hour Sebring race that it organized was a seven-class affair that featured IndyCars, the HPD LMP2 car, TCR Audis, Ford stock cars, spec-Miatas, Stadium Super Trucks and a sprint car. Who wouldn't want to watch that? You have no idea what could happen. Dinner with Racers returns on Thursday April 2 with Thursday Night Blunder.

We should suspend realism for a moment. We have seen NASCAR at Homestead and Texas plenty of times before. We don't need to see IndyCar at Phoenix or Watkins Glen. This is a chance to do something different and fun and not have to worry about sanctioning fees or safety. Give people a reason to tune in.

IndyCar is never going to race at Kokomo, Bathurst, Bristol, Monza or Talladega. NASCAR is never going to race at Knoxville, South Boston, Brands Hatch, Interlagos or Lime Rock Park. IMSA is never going to run the Pocono oval, Martinsville, Phillip Island or Darlington. Those are where the races should be held. It should be an off-the-wall event. It should be something that is mildly absurd but challenging. Every driver should be out of his or her comfort zone.

IndyCar is having some fun with it. It had a bracket decide this past weekend's race. Next week will be at Barber but after that it will be a "driver's choice" race and then a "random draw" before Austin when that race was supposed to be scheduled. The final race of the six-race series will be a non-IndyCar "dream" track. That is something!

I have taken away from this period of video game races that this could exist in some form regularly. I am not sure what the extent of it could be. I think the boom we are looking at now is mostly because of environmental factors. We are homebound and nothing else is going on in the sports world. This isn't some shift in the tide. Also, let's be clear that the numbers even during a shutdown when no sports are going on are not astronomical. This is not going to be weekly water cooler fodder when we get back to the water coolers.

It has a reach and a semi-regular series could add more exposure for a series. I am not sure it could be a weekly thing but perhaps it could be a monthly thing. Perhaps there is an appetite for a monthly IndyCar iRacing series where drivers from IndyCar, Indy Lights and the other Road to Indy series compete with a few invites and run a bunch of different places. The same is true for NASCAR.

These iRacing series will be held back because they need current drivers to compete. There are some people who are better at iRacing than the finest IndyCar and NASCAR drivers but 30 John and Jane Does are not going to draw flies. IndyCar needs Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta to show up. NASCAR needs Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch to show up. This basically has to be an extension of the real thing. Perhaps there could be two leagues, one for the iRacing regulars and the top three or five get included in this invitational league with the actual drivers.

This period of stagnation has forced us to adapt and that could turn out to be a good thing. This is a time to try things that have otherwise been put off or dismissed because there are no other options and races cannot be held. This is a chance to be innovative, explore new ways to reach people and give people something to enjoy. Motorsports will return and hopefully it will be soon but that does not mean what is practiced today should be completely abandoned when things return to normal. If it works it should be adopted into the routine when regular life resumes.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Sage Karam but did you know...

Timmy Hill won NASCAR's video game race from Texas.

Dario Franchitti won the Legends Trophy All-Star race at the Silverstone National circuit.

NOT Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar will not actually be at Barber.
The European Le Mans Series will not begin its 2020 season in Barcelona.
MotoGP is not returning to the United States and Austin.
Formula One will not be making its debut in Vietnam.
There will not be a Super Formula season opener at Suzuka.
NASCAR will not be at Bristol.
Formula E will not be in Rome.
Supercars is not happening to Symmons Plains.
Supercross is not visiting Denver.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar will have a video game race at Barber.
NASCAR will have a video game race.
Dinner with Racers has its first edition of Thursday Night Blunder.


Saturday, March 28, 2020

First Impressions: IndyCar iRacing Watkins Glen 2020

1. I wasn't sure if I would write about IndyCar's iRacing event at Watkins Glen. I had not done a Track Walk and Morning Warm-Up but this is something and while it is not a race weekend and does not have the same kind of build up from practice to qualifying to the race it is a race and let's talk about it...

2. Sage Karam won in a beat down and that should not be a surprise because of Karam's iRacing prowess. Karam is a regular in iRacing and sim racing platforms. This is second-nature to him.

I do think we should use this time to look back at Karam's time in IndyCar because despite his debut coming in the 2014 Indianapolis 500, his résumé is thin. He has only made 20 starts over six seasons. Three of his last four years has just been the Indianapolis 500.

It is all hindsight but I feel like Karam may have gotten too short of a leash at Chip Ganassi Racing in 2015. He was 20 years old, still very young and still with a lot of maturing to do. He made mistakes, he had a few accidents but he also had some strong races. Ever since then he has been a one-off and didn't get another shot out of Indianapolis until Carlin had an opening for Toronto and Iowa last year.

I do not think that because Karam dominated today if you put him in a Penske car he will win eight races a season and re-write the IndyCar record book but I think he would be an asset to the grid and in the right stuff could be competitive on a weekly basis.

It was nice to see Dreyer & Reinbold Racing get a victory. It's only IndyCar victory was its first race on January 43, 2000 at Orlando with Robbie Buhl, the first race of the 21st century. This has been a long-time coming.

2. Felix Rosenqvist was second and he is another driver with a lot of sim racing experience. On the broadcast it was said Rosenqvist does 6-8 hours of sim racing a day during the offseason. That is a crazy. I do not know what it means or if it will make a difference when the season starts but I already thought Rosenqvist would be a race winner this season and it sounds like he is more than prepared.

3. Will Power rounded out the podium and he is another iRacing regular. Power's teammate Scott McLaughlin was fourth and that was after McLaughlin, Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden were all caught in an accident after running for top five positions. Talk about breaking the first rule of never wrecking your teammate. Granted, none of the Penske drivers took each other out, it was more of one car spun and collected the other two. Pagenaud and Newgarden both recovered to finish sixth and seventh respectively.

4. Oliver Askew ran well in fifth. He was never one of the guys mixing it up for a podium position but he was in the top five for pretty much this entire race and really didn't have any pressure from behind after the first few laps.

5. Santino Ferrucci, Kyle Kirkwood and Conor Daly rounded out the top ten. None of these three were all that threatening. Kirkwood ran the #28 DHL Honda in place of Ryan Hunter-Reay. I think Kirkwood is set up for great things in Indy Lights this year. He did well but had a few moments, including a spin exiting the penultimate corner in front of Karam.

Daly passed Dalton Kellett, who was in the #41 Chevrolet for A.J. Foyt Racing, for tenth late in the race and I think this will be the high point of Kellett's season.

6. I am not going to go all that deep on the rest of the field. I will just pick out a few drivers:

Alexander Rossi, Tony Kanaan, Marcus Ericsson, Zach Veach and Sébastien Bourdais were all in lap one accidents and were non-factors. Apparently Kanaan could not get his car repaired, which I am ok with because some guys get in an accident on lap one and there race is over, but this is an exhibition and a video game. Rossi, Ericsson and Veach continued and it would have been nice if Kanaan and Bourdais could have done the same.

Scott Speed qualified in the top five running in place of Marco Andretti in the #98 U.S. Concrete Honda. Speed was running third when he spun on his own exiting the boot and that was it. His day was over.

Jimmie Johnson was better than he was in the NASCAR event last week but he had his incidents and was far from setting the world on fire. However, 16th and two laps down is a good day for him.

7. IndyCar didn't throw cautions for these incidents and that was good and bad. It was good because it is a video game, there is no driver safety we have to worry about and nobody is going to stick around for watching a video game under caution. It was bad because it was not a thrilling race every lap. That is ok. No race is going to be a thriller on every lap. There were some good battles throughout the field but it was mostly spread out and that seems to be the theme across these sim races that have been taking place on the different platforms.

8. Watkins Glen was selected through a fan vote and I just wonder if anyone regrets that and would go back and vote for Michigan. I will be honest, I thought Michigan was going to win but I thought any of the ovals would win because it seems to be the predictable behavior of the fan base to shout for more ovals and this was a case where the fans could have selected an oval and didn't. Watkins Glen was the one-seed on the road course side of the bracket and it was the only option out of Sonoma, Sebring and Montreal that could have a prayer against an oval and it won. I just wonder how many fans have buyer's remorse after today.

9. Going forward I will be interested in seeing what tracks fill in the three other unscheduled tracks. Next week will be Barber and Austin will be on April 24 but between those two races is a drivers' choice and a random track and after Austin will be a non-IndyCar "dream" track.

I have plenty of questions:

Do the drivers' choice and random tracks have to be tracks IndyCar visits?

Could those be non-IndyCar tracks?

What does random mean?

Who is choosing the random track?

How is the random track chosen?

Are we asking Robin Miller for the random track?

Are we pulling tracks out of a hat and filling a bracket and then having a vote?

Is it really random if there is a vote?

When are drivers finding out about the random track?

Will they have a day of practice or will we show up that Saturday and find out when the event begins?

If those two weeks in April are non-IndyCar tracks will those tracks be out of the running for the "dream" track?

I think all three tracks should be non-IndyCar tracks. I do not think IndyCar needs to race at Iowa, Texas, Richmond, Road America or Laguna Seca on iRacing. I think we want to see different stuff. I think after watching today there could be a knee-jerk for those three dates to be ovals. None of these weekends are scheduled to be ovals. This entire competition could be six road course events. That is fine with me but there is a going to be a fraction of people who will not like that.

I am looking forward to the next five races regardless where they take place but I am interested in seeing if today factors into any decisions made down the road.

10. It was great to see Johnson out there. James Hinchcliffe had a connection issue and could not compete but it will be nice to see him get to compete along with Scott Dixon and Robert Wickens, two people who were waiting for their simulator rigs to show up and could not compete this weekend. I would love to see a few other guests, whether that is Fernando Alonso, Lando Norris, Denny Hamlin and/or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. There should be two or three or five different faces each week. The barrier for entry is low. We should see drivers that spice it up.

These are supposed to be fun events and today was pretty fun. Let's keep it light and not take it too seriously. We need a distraction and today succeeded.


Friday, March 27, 2020

2020 IndyCar Schedule Revision: Where Are We Now?

IndyCar released a revision of the 2020 schedule yesterday after numerous of postponements and cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The most notable change in yesterday's release was the Indianapolis 500 moving from Memorial Day weekend, May 24 to August 23. We will cover that but we need to go over the new schedule in its entirety.

Where Are We Starting?
As of now, Belle Isle will be the season opening round with its doubleheader on May 30 and May 31. Texas will be round two on June 6 with Road America hosting the first summer race on June 21 and IndyCar will return to Richmond on June 27.

The First Change
The Grand Prix of Indianapolis has moved to July 4 and it will be apart of the Brickyard 400 weekend. The NASCAR Grand National Series race was already scheduled to be on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on July 4 with the Brickyard 400 scheduled for July 5 on the oval.

Back As Intended
Toronto will remain July 12 and Iowa will remain July 18.

Second Change
IndyCar will take two weeks off before going to Mid-Ohio on August 9, one week earlier than originally scheduled and this was done to make room for the 104th Indianapolis 500.

The Indianapolis 500
Practice will begin on Wednesday August 12 and go through Friday August 14. Qualifying will take place the weekend of August 15-16th. Carb Day will return August 21 with the 104th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for August 23.

Fourth Change
To fit Indianapolis on August 23, Gateway has been pushed back a week to Sunday August 30. The race will be Sunday because NASCAR is at Daytona on Saturday August 29.

Labor Day Change
With Indianapolis being slotted into August and creating four consecutive weekends at a racetrack from Mid-Ohio to Gateway, IndyCar has moved Portland back a week from Labor Day weekend to Sunday September 13.

Laguna Seca will remain Sunday September 20.

St. Petersburg's Revival... hopefully?
St. Petersburg has been included on the revised schedule and it will be the season finale but with a to be announced date.

Where Should We Begin?
It was probably best to shift the Indianapolis 500 from Memorial Day weekend.

It was getting tight on whether or not the Indianapolis 500 could take place and with too much uncertainty IndyCar could not risk starting practice only to have an outbreak in the paddock or in the greater Indianapolis-area shut everything down.

IndyCar was able to move Indianapolis and get to include three practice days and a full qualifying weekend. It is not going to be a rushed three-day weekend of practice, qualifying and race. Hopefully come August we are not worrying about 300,000 people gathering. IndyCar could not ensure everything would be safe in May and moving was the correct move.

Let's Talk Doubleheader
We finally get that IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader that was speculated about for the better part of a year and it only took a global pandemic to make it happen.

Joking aside, it made the most sense when looking at the schedule. Indianapolis Motor Speedway would already be up and operational, the road course is being used that weekend, it is a holiday weekend and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis gets about the same size crowd as the Brickyard 400 so it shouldn't be that crazy of a crowd, not more than the Speedway could handle.

It brings up a few interesting questions.

First, all Road to Indy series are going to be there. Where are they going to get the garage space and how are they going to fit all these sessions in? I think Indianapolis was supposed to be a two-day show for NASCAR's second division and a two-day show for Cup with the Grand National Series being at the track on the 3rd and 4th and Cup there on the 4th and 5th. The Road to Indy will be there July 2-3rd. I guess July 2 could be all IndyCar and the junior series. On July 3, the Grand National Series cars come in for practice while IndyCar has qualifying and the Road to Indy series conclude.

The schedule gets interesting for the July 4 because Cup is going to start practice and it takes a little bit of time for the track to change configurations from road course to oval and vice versa. A few barriers have to be moved and safety vehicles have to be re-arranged. Indianapolis has done it before when it hosted Grand-Am and IMSA during the Super Weekend with NASCAR for those few years but how do you do it with Cup practice and likely qualifying, Grand National Series activities and possibly an IndyCar warm-up and race?

The Grand National Series race was already scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET but that is subject to change.

The good news is there should be plenty of daylight. It is just a matter of what makes sense in terms of deciding what is the main event of the day. Do you want Cup qualifying to close the day or the IndyCar race? Do you start Saturday with oval practice, switch the track to road course configuration for those races, switch it back to oval configuration for qualifying and create more work? Do you leave it in road course configuration after Friday, run all the road course festivities and then switch it once for the oval stuff beginning late Saturday afternoon and go into the evening?

I am going to break it to IndyCar fans now that the Grand Prix of Indianapolis will probably not be the final thing of the day, held in the coolness of evening. Most likely, Cup qualifying will close the day and IndyCar is likely going to be run in the heat of the afternoon. Let's see how everyone feels about IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheaders after that.

August Rearrangement
Some necessary changes were made. It is good Mid-Ohio was able to move up a week and Gateway was able to move back a week. The one thing about Gateway is with it being on a Sunday, will it be a day race or can it still be at night? Part of Gateway's success is it has been a Saturday night race and it has avoided the heat of the afternoon.

I am not sure Gateway can draw close to the same crowd on a Sunday, regardless of if it is in the afternoon or at night. That time of the year is when most schools are back in session. It is not going to be as flexible for families. This is a one-off. I do not think a day race or a Sunday night race is going to kill the event. Everyone is adjusting and making sacrifices. Gateway will be fine.

Rose City Delayed
Speaking of sacrifices, Portland moves from Labor Day weekend and will now be run on the first Sunday of the NFL season. IndyCar could not consciously make the teams run five consecutive weeks hence why Portland was moved back a week. It is a loss but the good news is Portland could lead into Sunday Night Football and that could help out on what will be a difficult afternoon.

A New Finale
The St. Petersburg inclusion is surprising and I feel like it shouldn't have been done unless it had a date set. I get announcing it as a TBD and letting everyone know it is out there instead of six weeks from now announcing an addition but there is still a chance it doesn't happen and after the blowback from St. Petersburg's refund policy I am not sure it will look good if the race cannot get off the ground with an autumnal date.

When could St. Petersburg fall?

September 27 is Ryder Cup weekend and I am not sure NBC could squeeze it then. After that every Sunday has a NASCAR race in the afternoon. However, perhaps IndyCar could end on a Saturday. October 3 is an open Saturday with only a Truck race from Talladega.

How late does IndyCar want to end the season?

I am sure the series wants to end as close to Laguna Seca as possible. I am sure the series doesn't want to wait until the weekend of October 17-18th for the finale but if St. Petersburg is that hellbent on having a race in 2020 IndyCar has to be flexible and take what it can get.

Other Thoughts
This is as good as it gets for IndyCar.

This year has already be upended enough. There is not going to be a perfect schedule and you cannot be upset over anything that happens this year. It is ok to be concerned but everyone is making sacrifices. Everyone is losing out in someway. There is no point in feeling too bad about whatever you have lost.

It was interested seeing the Road to Indy announce its revised schedules and all three series will still have 18-race calendars.

Indy Lights will have a triple-header at Road America, a doubleheader at the IMS road course and Toronto, a triple-header at Mid-Ohio, run the Freedom 100 on Carb Day, run at Gateway and conclude with doubleheaders at Portland, Laguna Seca and St. Petersburg.

Indy Pro 2000 will also have a Road America triple-header followed by doubleheaders at the IMS road course and Toronto. It will also have a triple-header at Mid-Ohio, run the Freedom 90 at Indianapolis Raceway Park on August 22 before running at Gateway. It seasons will conclude with doubleheaders at Portland, Laguna Seca and St. Petersburg.

U.S. F2000 will start with two triple-headers, first at Road America and then at the IMS road course. It will have a doubleheader in Toronto before a triple-header at Mid-Ohio. The only U.S. F2000 oval races will be the Freedom 75 from IRP on August 22. The season will conclude with doubleheaders at Portland, Laguna Seca and St. Petersburg.

I was wondering if IndyCar could make one or two rounds doubleheaders just to get the schedule to 15 or 16 races but I think that ship has set sail and it would be too much to ask for these teams.

I think it could only be done at the natural-terrain road courses but it couldn't be done at Road America because that is the first week of five consecutive weekends of racing. Mid-Ohio is the week before Indianapolis and the start of another four consecutive weeks at the track so that isn't happening.

That leaves Portland and Laguna Seca but NASCAR has races scheduled for Saturday night both those weekends so those are kind of ruled out. I am not sure you want to end the season with a doubleheader at St. Petersburg. You are just hoping to get one St. Petersburg race. Let's not ask for too much and try to get two.

The one thing I would like to see IndyCar try for 2021 is having doubleheaders at Barber and Austin. I do not think IndyCar owes us anything but it would be a nice gesture for these two tracks who lost dates and it would give the fans a little bit more. Barber always has great crowds and it is one of the best road courses in the country. This was only supposed to be year two for Austin and that event did well in year one but with all that Austin has gone through it is going to need something big to make sure people come out should IndyCar return.

I am sure the teams will push back again additional doubleheaders. It is not cheap and it is not easy but if it is just a one-year thing I think it could be manageable.

If there is one note we have to end on it is this revised schedule is far from concrete. We could lose Belle Isle. Texas could be pushed back. The season could start at Road America and even that could be the optimistic projection. The next few weeks have to be better in terms of COVID-19 cases. Until things start to get better we need to get comfortable that the entire season could be called off.

Indianapolis was pushed far enough back to hope things can calm down over the additional two months but if we start losing dates in June and run the risk of losing dates in July it might reach the point where the entire season will be lost. It could be a season that is just the Indianapolis 500 plus two or three races. We have no clue what will happen.

We are hopeful this revised schedule will be it but we must remain aware that this might not be the final schedule and more changes are possible.


Thursday, March 26, 2020

2020 Super Formula Preview

Everything is on stand still but I am going to keep up part of the original schedule and that means getting out a Super Formula season preview. The Japanese single-seater season was supposed to start on the first weekend of April but its 2020 season has been delayed until at least the middle of May.

The series was able to get in a preseason test from Fuji on Tuesday and Wednesday. With that first look at the 2020 grid we mind as well take a look at the field and see how everyone stacked up in the first serious on-track action since the 2019 season concluded last October.

There are going to be a few changes in Super Formula for 2020. The series has changed its points system, going away from the 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 system, similar to what Formula One used from 2003 to 2009, to a 20-15-11-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 system Super GT uses. There will be more points offered in qualifying. The pole-sitter will get three points, up from one, while second and third in qualifying will get two points and one point respectively.

Super Formula has also adopted a full course yellow system for the 2020 season.

Schedule
The first scheduled round of the 2020 Super Formula season is Autopolis on May 17. Sportsland SUGO will be the first summer round on June 21 before a two-plus month before a race at Motegi on August 30. The series was taking an extended break for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo but those games have been postponed until 2021 and potentially this time could be used to make-up races.

Okayama is scheduled for September 27 with Suzuka scheduled as the finale on November 15.

Two rounds have been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, one at Suzuka and one at Fuji, both races were scheduled for April. No makeup dates have been announced yet.

Teams:

Vantelin Team TOM'S
Nick Cassidy: #1 Vantelin Team TOM'S SF19-Toyota
What did Cassidy do in 2019: Cassidy won the Super Formula championship with 36 points, one victory and four podium finishes. He was second in the Super GT GT500 championship on 83 points with one victory and four podium finishes. He also won the first Super GT x DTM Dream Race at Fuji.
What to expect for 2020: Cassidy had one foot out the door and was one of the last drivers confirmed for the 2020 season. He has had plenty of success in Japan over the last four years but he is ready for more. The problem is he is not in the mix for Toyota's LMP1 program and outside of that there are not many other Toyota options internationally. It doesn't seem like he is on the radar for any Formula One teams. This is going to be an audition season for Cassidy. He is going to be competitive and be in the title discussion. He has already done enough but another strong Super Formula season will raise his stock further.

Kazuki Nakajima: #36 Vantelin Team TOM'S SF19-Toyota
What did Nakajima do in 2019: Nakajima picked up his first World Endurance Drivers' Championship and picked up his second consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans victory with Fernando Alonso and Sébastien Buemi. He has started the 2019-20 season with one victory and five podium finishes. In Super Formula, he was 12th in the championship on 12 points with a runner-up finish at Okayama and fifth at Fuji. In Super GT, he was seventh in the GT500 championship on 38 points with a victory at Suzuka and third at Motegi.
What to expect for 2020: Things should be much better for Nakajima. The last four years have been down compared to the first half of his Super Formula career where he won two titles and was vice-champion twice. Nakajima's testing pace was competitive and I think he will score above 20 points and get multiple podium finishes.

DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing
Naoki Yamamoto: #5 DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing SF19-Honda
What did Yamamoto do in 2019: Yamamoto was second in the Super Formula championship with 33 points with one victory and three podium finishes. In Super GT, he was eighth in the championship on 37 points with two podium finishes. He also ran in Friday first practice at the Japanese Grand Prix for Toro Rosso.
What to expect for 2020: Yamamoto is going to be at the front again, he is going to be in the championship fight and win multiple races. Similar to Cassidy, Yamamoto has put feelers out abroad, even though he was kind of pushing back on it early last year. He went from a driver with no interest in Formula One to testing a Toro Rosso at the Japanese Grand Prix. Another strong season and Yamamoto will have a great case for a shot at Formula One in 2021. If not, he is happy in Japan and can have a long career at home.

Nirei Fukuzumi: #6 DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing SF19-Honda
What did Fukuzumi do in 2019: Fukuzumi was seventh in the Super Formula championship with 18 points and one podium finish. In Super GT, he won the GT300 championship with Shinichi Takagi on 69.5 points from one victory three podium finishes and scoring points in all eight races.
What to expect for 2020: Slightly better than last year. Fukuzumi had a few rough results in 2019, including spinning over early at Okayama but he put together a respectable season. Fukuzumi was strong in testing and had a slight edge over Yamamoto. It will be difficult to beat his teammate over an entire season but the car is there and top five in the championship is not too ambitious.

TCS Nakajima Racing
Tadasuke Makino: #64 TCS Nakajima Racing SF19-Honda
What did Makino do in 2019: Makino was 16th in the Super Formula championship on six points with a fourth place finish at Autopolis and a pole position in the season opener at Suzuka. In Super GT, he was 12th in the GT500 championship on 23.5 points with a runner-up finish at Sportsland SUGO and he scored points in six of eight races.
What to expect for 2020: Better than 2019. Makino had pace but could not string together the results and he was handily beat in the championship in the Nakajima Racing battle with Álex Palou. Palou is now in IndyCar and this is Makino's chance to shine. Testing results were encouraging. He could get on the podium but the bigger goal should be to score points more times than not.

Toshiki Oyu: #65 TCS Nakajima Racing SF19-Honda
What did Oyu do in 2019: Oyu was fourth in the Japanese Formula Three championship on 60 points with one victory and six podium finishes from 20 races. He also won his only two starts in Euroformula Open at Silverstone.
What to expect for 2020: Oyu was the surprise of testing, immediately ending up in the top three on day one, being in the top five in three of four sessions and his worst outing was sixth in the final session. His Formula Three results were not jaw-dropping but they were encouraging. Something is there and out of the gate it appears he could mirror Palou's rookie campaign. That is asking a lot. I think reasonable goal is top eight in the championship, one or two podium finishes and finishing best in the team.

Itochu Enex Team Impul
Yuhi Sekiguchi: #19 Itochu Enex Team Impul SF19-Honda
What did Sekiguchi do in 2019: Sekiguchi was eighth in the Super Formula championship on 16 points with a victory at Sportsland SUGO. He was also seventh in the Super GT GT500 championship on 38 points with a victory at Suzuka and third at Motegi.
What to expect for 2020: Sekiguchi should be somewhere between fourth and ninth in the championship, which is a pretty large window but it is a matter of two or three races going differently. He won the second race of the season and then couldn't get back to that same level. Give him six more points and he is fifth in the championship. That is how tight it is in Super Formula. The problem is Sekiguchi's testing results were not great and he has a really quick teammate that is making it hard seeing how Sekiguchi will be leading the team in 2020.

Ryō Hirakawa: #20 Itochu Enex Team Impul SF19-Honda
What did Hirakawa do in 2019: Hirakawa was tenth in the Super Formula championship on 12 points with a victory in Motegi. He was second in the Super GT GT500 championship on 83 points with one victory and four podium finishes.
What to expect for 2020: Hirakawa led the first day of testing from Fuji, had the fastest time over the two days, was third and second in the two Wednesday test sessions and it feels like 2020 could be the year he is a title contender. He got his elusive first Super Formula victory last year and if it weren't for a funky Okayama race he would have ended up right next to Sekiguchi in the championship and perhaps a position ahead of him. This could be a big year for him and if he does not win the championship it should be his highest championship finish yet. His previous best championship result is fifth.

Team Mugen
Jüri Vips: #15 Red Bull SF19-Honda
What did Vips do in 2019: Vips was fourth in the FIA Formula Three Championship on 141 points with three victories and four podium finishes. Vips was also runner-up in the Macau Grand Prix from pole position. He made his Super Formula debut last year in the Suzuka finale and finished 18th.
What to expect for 2020: Red Bull has experienced both polar ends when it comes to development drivers in Super Formula. Pierre Gasly nearly won the championship and Red Bull gave up on Dan Ticktum almost immediately. Enter Vips and perhaps third time will be the charm. Testing pace was good but all these tracks will be new to him. I expect a few good results but there will be at least one race where he doesn't have it and that could easily cost him five spots in the championship. It will be a good year and he will be somewhere in the top ten of the championship.

Tomoki Nojiri: #16 Team Mugen SF19-Honda
What did Nojiri do in 2019: Nojiri was fourth in the Super Formula championship with 24 points after a victory in the Suzuka finale. He was also tenth in Super GT's GT500 championship on 31 points after a victory at Okayama.
What to expect for 2020: Nojiri's season finale victory saw a him take a big leap from 12th in the championship to fourth in the final standings. Before that he had a good year but he had a few rough results knock him back a few pegs. He was consistently ahead of Vips in testing but they were close in each session. Both drivers should be competing for the top ten in the championship but I am not convinced either could be in the top five.

Kondō Racing
Kenta Yamashita: #3 Kondō Racing SF19-Toyota
What did Yamashita do in 2019: Yamashita was fifth in the Super Formula championship with 21 points with a victory at Okayama and a third at the Suzuka season opener. In Super GT, he won the GT500 championship on 85 points with two victories and four podium finishes. He is competing the LMP2 class in the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship season with High Class Racing and that team has 41 points from the first five races.
What to expect for 2020: Yamashita was down the order in testing and 2019 was a tail of two seasons. He scored points in the first three races and then failed to score in three of the final four. His lone victory was smushed in the middle of that slump and that came after a poor qualifying effort but a bit of strategy elevated him to a victory. I think he is going to slide back a bit from fifth in the championship and perhaps he could fall out of the top ten.

Sacha Fenestraz: #4 Kondō Racing SF19-Toyota
What did Fenestraz do in 2019: Fenestraz won the Japanese Formula Three championship on 162 points with eight victories and 18 podium finishes from 20 races. He was sixth in the Super GT GT300 championship on 46 points with a runner-up finish in Buriram.
What to expect for 2020: Fenestraz dominated last year in Japanese Formula Three, not quite the level of dominance Sho Tsuboi had the year before that but Fenestraz had a tough battle with Ritomo Miyata. That rivalry could turn into a good thing for Fenestraz because had someone who pushed him to the max over the entire season and that level of pressure is going to be there in every Super Formula race all throughout the field. I think he will be close to his Kondō teammate and maybe even finish ahead of him in the championship. I do not anticipate podium finishes this year.

JMS P.mu/Cerumo INGING
Hiroaki Ishiura: #38 JMS P.mu/Cerumo INGING SF19-Toyota
What did Ishiura do in 2019: Ishiura was 13th in the Super Formula championship on ten points after scoring points in four of seven races with his best finish being sixth on two occasions. In Super GT, he was fourth in the GT500 championship on 46.5 points with a victory in the first Fuji race.
What to expect for 2020: Last year was Ishiura's worst in Super Formula since his rookie year in 2008. I do not think it is going to get better. INGING was middle of the road in testing. I think 2020 could look a lot like 2019.

Sho Tsuboi: #39 JMS P.mu/Cerumo INGING SF19-Toyota
What did Tsuboi do in 2019: Tsuboi was 11th in the Super Formula championship with 12 points after a runner-up finish at Fuji and a fifth place finish at the Suzuka season opener. In Super GT, he was 11th in the GT500 championship on 27.5 points with his best finish being third at Buriram.
What to expect for 2020: Tsuboi had some good runs that did not turn into points last year. His runner-up finish did come with a bit of fortune in a monsoon. I expect he will be ahead of Ishiura again but I do not see a big leap in the championship.

B-MAX Racing with Motopark
Sérgio Sette Câmara: #50 B-MAX Racing with Motopark SF19-Honda
What did Câmara do in 2019: Câmara was fourth in the Formula Two championship on 204 points with two victories and eight podium finishes.
What to expect for 2020: Câmara is back in the Red Bull junior program and he is heading to Japan after an encouraging Formula Two season. The problem is he is the second of Red Bull junior drivers in Super Formula and while B-MAX Racing with Motopark had a good 2019 it was still toward the bottom of the table. Câmara was a late addition to the grid, replacing Pietro Fittipaldi, who had an interestingly late sponsor conflict knock him out of this seat. He was much better on Wednesday in testing than Tuesday but I think it will be a rough start to the season and perhaps he scores a handful of points later in the season.

Charles Milesi: #51 B-MAX Racing with Motopark SF19-Honda
What did Milesi do in 2019: Milesi was ninth in the Japanese Formula Three championship on 13 points with six top five finishes in 14 starts.
What to expect for 2020: Milesi knows the tracks but his results last year were not spectacular and his testing pace was not inspiring. If he gets a few points this season it will be a good year for him.

carrozzeria Team KCMG
Kamui Kobayashi: #7 carrozzeria Team KCMG SF19-Toyota
What did Kobayashi do in 2019: Kobayashi was sixth in the Super Formula championship with 19 points after a pair of runner-up finishes at Sportsland SUGO and Motegi and a sixth at Fuji. In the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship season he was second in the championship after a pair of victories and four runner-up finishes. In the 2019-20 season, he leads the championship with Mike Conway and José María López with two victories, a runner-up finishes and two third place finishes. Kobayashi has also won the last two 24 Hours of Daytona, both with Wayne Taylor Racing.
What to expect for 2020: Kobayashi is still looking for his first career Super Formula victory. He came very close last year only to fall short on a few occasions. This is a big year for KCMG, as it expands to two cars. That means more data but that could mean more resources spread too thin. Testing was not great for the team with both cars stuck in the middle of the pack. Kobayashi is gunning for a WEC title and that season has been expanded into September because of the postponement of Le Mans. I think he could have his eye on a bigger prize in sports cars and it could hurt him. However, with Le Mans not until September, Kobayashi could give Super Formula plenty of attention and have a better year than 2019.

Yuji Kunimoto: #18 carrozzeria Team KCMG SF19-Toyota
What did Kunimoto do in 2019: Kunimoto was 17th in the Super Formula championship on five points with a sixth in the Suzuka season opener, a pole position at Autopolis and an eighth at Sportsland SUGO. In Super GT, he was 11th in the GT500 championship on 27.5 points with his best finish being third at Buriram.
What to expect for 2020: Kunimoto moves over from Kondō and he should be better than last year. He scored points in the first three races and then didn't score again for the rest of the season. I am not sure KCMG can put two cars at the front of the field immediately. Kunimoto could double his points total and still be outside the top ten of the championship. I think that is a likely result for 2020.

ROOKIE Racing
Kazuya Oshima: #14 ROOKIE Racing SF19-Toyota
What did Oshima do in 2019: Oshima was 14th in the Super Formula championship with seven points after a third at Autopolis and an eighth at Okayama. In Super GT, he won the GT500 championship on 85 points with two victories and four podium finishes.
What to expect for 2020: Oshima moves to the new team after Team LeMans withdrew from Super Formula. Oshima scored all the points for Team LeMans in 2019. I am not sure he can do much more than seven points in 2020. He was in the bottom quarter of the field at the test.

Drago Corse with ThreeBond
Tatiana Calderón: #12 Drago Corse with ThreeBond SF19-Honda
What did Calderón do in 2019: Calderón scored zero points in Formula Two driving for BWT Arden. She competed in three rounds of the 2019-20 F3 Asian Championship and she scored 31 points from nine races with her best finish being fourth.
What to expect for 2020: Calderón was bringing up the rear in testing in every session and there was a notable gap between her and the next driver each time. Drago Corse is back in Super Formula after three years away but in its first stint it scored 10.5 points over two seasons. I think there is a chance Calderón does not complete a full season.

Other Notes:
There has been four different champions over the last four Super Formula seasons. The last time the series had at least five different champions in five seasons was from 2008 to 2013.

Cassidy's title last year ended a streak of seven consecutive seasons with a Japanese driver winning the championship. It was the longest stretch since 1984-1991.

Cassidy could become the first driver to win consecutive championships since Tsugio Matsuda in 2007 and 2008. A driver has won consecutive championships three other times in this series, Kazuyoshi Hoshino in 1977-78, Satoru Nakajima in 1981-82 and Satoru Nakajima in 1984-86.

Yamamoto was the only Honda driver to win the drivers' championship in the 2010s. He took the title in 2013 and 2018. The only other Honda driver to win the championship since Toyota joined the series in 2006 was Loïc Duval in 2009.

Last year saw seven different winners in all seven races. It was the most since the 1993 season, which had seven winners from nine races.