Monday, August 31, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Throw Away the Cookie Cutters

The Astor Cup is Scott Dixon's
Scott Dixon won the IndyCar championship. Shocker! It rained at Silverstone. Germany hosted a sports car race. Someone won at home in Wisconsin and in Great Britain. A Brit made history in Japan. With all that happened last week, there were things that were left unsaid because it wasn't the right time and they could wait a week. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Throw Away the Cookie Cutters
Having attended Pocono Raceway for many years, I wonder why there aren't more tracks with different shapes. I want a rhombus-shaped track with the acute angled corners having 15º of banking and the obtuse angled corners having 9º of banking. I want a trapezoid-shaped track with base angle corners being high-banked and the other two corners being as flat as paper. 

And why aren't there more triangle shaped circuits? Remember Trenton? It had a right-handed kink! It was shaped like a kidney bean! We need more kinks on ovals. Pocono has gotten a bum-wrap the last few years because NASCAR races aren't that good there but the three corners with three different degrees of banking is a fantastic challenge for the teams and drivers. I would love to see an obtuse triangle racetrack. 

Racetrack designs got boring. Look at all the 1.5-mile racetracks that popped up around the United States. They all look similar. Kansas, Chicagoland and Las Vegas are practically triplets, as are Charlotte, Texas and Atlanta. Homestead is the only 1.5-mile track that stands out and even then, it's as boring of a racetrack as you can get. Two straightaways with equally banked corners. 

If I were building a racetrack, I would want it to be noticeable. I would want people to know the moment they see it on their television screens that it's my track and not mix it up for another circuit. Make every corner a different degree of banking. Making it with three, four, heck five or six straightaways. Make it unique. Throw away the cookie cutter designs and take a blank piece of paper just let you mind wander on what an oval racetrack can be. 

Speaking of Race Tracks
Miller Motorsports Park was bought and it looks as the track has been saved. I have always like Miller Motorsports Park and I wish more series went there. Pirelli World Challenge was the only major series that went to the track and the place use to host World Superbike, ALMS and Grand-Am. 

The track is plenty big enough and has a very nice paddock area. I would love to see IMSA return there. Whether they run the 4.48-mile full circuit or the 3.048-mile outer circuit doesn't matter, as there is enough room for all four classes to compete. I am sure IndyCar could put on a good race there but IndyCar has plenty of other scheduling issues to clear up so Miller is way down on the list. 

Miller Motorsports Park hosted one of the best season finales in American motorsports. The 2007 Grand-Am season finale took place at Miller for a few years and the race was a 1,000km race. Scott Pruett, Max Angelelli and the pairing of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty all entered with a shot of walking away with the championship and all three of those cars were at the front battling. Angelelli's championship hopes flamed out, literally. The Italian had a flat tire on his Wayne Taylor Racing Pontiac-Riley while leading and it caused a fire as he was trying to drive back to the pit lane.

That left it to be a Pruett vs. Gurney/Fogarty battle and Pruett and Fogarty made contact while battling for the lead, which left both cars with flat tires. Both were able to make it to the pit lane and continued but instead of battling for the victory, they were battling for eighth and only two points separated the teams in the standings. Fogarty was able to hold off Pruett and he and Gurney won the title by two points while Marc Goossens, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jim Mathews won the race overall in the #91 Pontiac-Riley. 

It was a nail-biter from start to finish. I hope the new era at Miller sees races like that return.

Who would have been IndyCar champion had the old Formula One points system of 9-6-4-3-2-1 been used? Well, here you go:

Graham Rahal- 43
Juan Pablo Montoya- 42
Scott Dixon- 40
Will Power- 33
Josef Newgarden- 32
Hélio Castroneves- 31
Ryan Hunter-Reay- 26
Tony Kanaan- 26
Sébastien Bourdais- 25
Marco Andretti- 15
Carlos Muñoz- 15
Simon Pagenaud- 13
Charlie Kimball- 10
James Hinchcliffe- 9
Takuma Sato- 7
Luca Filippi- 6
Sage Karam- 6
Justin Wilson- 6
James Jakes- 4
Tristan Vautier- 4
Simona de Silvestro- 3
Ryan Briscoe- 2
Conor Daly- 1
Ed Carpenter- 1

Graham Rahal would have been champion by one point over Montoya and three over Dixon. While having as many wins as Montoya and one fewer than Dixon, Rahal had six podiums this season, the most of any driver in IndyCar, one more than Montoya and two more than Dixon. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon and Valentino Rossi but did you know...

Kevin Éstre and Renger van der Zande split the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Sonoma. Andy Lee and Michael Cooper won in GTS.

The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brandon Hartley won the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Nürburgring. The #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan of Nick Tandy, Matthew Howson and Richard Bradley won in LMP2. The #91 Porsche 911 RSR of Michael Christensen and Richard Leitz won in GTE-Pro. The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Victor Shaytar, Andrea Bertolini and Aleksey Basov won in GTE-Am.

The #36 Petronas TOM's Lexas RC F of James Rossiter and Daisuke Ito won the Suzuka 1000km. It's Rossiter's second consecutive Suzuka 1000km victory. The #10 Gainer Nissan GT-R GT3 of André Couto, Katsumasa Chiyo and Ryuichiro Tomita won in GT300.

Pascal Wehrlein and Mike Rockenfeller won the DTM races from Moscow Raceway.

Johann Zarco won the Moto2 race from Silverstone. Danny Kent won on home soil in Moto3. 

Wisconsinite Paul Menard won the NASCAR Grand National race from Road America.

Erik Jones won the Trucks race from Mosport.

Coming Up This Weekend
For the first time since 2003, the Southern 500 is on Labor Day weekend. 
Monza plays host to the Italian Grand Prix. 
Blancpain Sprint Series head to Algarve, Portugal. 
The European Le Mans Series runs their penultimate race of 2015 at Circuit Paul Ricard. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

First Impressions: Sonoma 2015

Scott Dixon is a four-time IndyCar Champion
1. I am still a little stunned Scott Dixon pulled this off. Not that I didn't think he couldn't do it but that of how it happened. Every other championship contender faltered and he didn't. And that shouldn't surprise me as he rarely cracks under pressure. Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power made contact with one another. Hélio Castroneves couldn't overcome his poor qualifying run. Josef Newgarden stalls in the pits and has a small fire. Graham Rahal gets run over by Sébastien Bourdais, similar to what Castroneves did to Dixon on lap one at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Dixon drove to the front and everyone else found trouble on the worst possible day. By the way, Dixon's victory is the 100th victory for Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCar. That couldn't have come at a better time.

2. Great day for Ryan Hunter-Reay. Great end of his season. This is just like 2011 for him. Poor first half. Great second half and it carried over to 2012. And Hunter-Reay vaulted to sixth in the championship with that second place finish. If Andretti can stay on this wave of momentum into 2016, Hunter-Reay could be in the running for a second championship.

3. A good day for Charlie Kimball as he rounded out the podium. Kimball can put together some good finishes. He still needs to improve in qualifying but he has the talent to win more races and he can pass fellow competitors like crazy.

4. Tony Kanaan was aggressive and selected the right strategy today. He went from 11th to 4th and ran block for his teammate. He knew what he had to do to get Dixon the title and it paid off. No win for him this year but don't rule him out next year. Who knows, it could be his final season in IndyCar.

5. A top five for Ryan Briscoe. He did a great job in relief for James Hinchcliffe. Now come the dilemma for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Do they find a ride for him or do they let him walk? And if they let him walk, will someone pick up Briscoe? He was on the sidelines until Hinchcliffe's accident this year. He is too talented not to be in IndyCar. Someone, give this man a ride.

6. Juan Pablo Montoya is upset he lost the championship after leading from day one. I get it. He thinks it all came down to double points. Let's not forget that he won the Indianapolis 500, which was double points and when a title comes down to one point, any race could have been there reason why he finished second in the championship. What if his suspension didn't fail at Iowa? What if he had a better day at NOLA? What if he didn't let Ryan Hunter-Reay pass him on the restart at Pocono? It wasn't Sonoma that decided the title. Sixteen races decided the title. What you dwell on is up to you.

7. And Will Power blamed closing the pit lane under caution as deciding the title. Both Montoya and Power are incredible drivers. Montoya is an all-time great. But now isn't the time to come up with every reason in the book as to why Team Penske lost the title. How about not running into each other during this race? Or fading at Texas? Once again, Sonoma didn't decide the title. Sixteen races decided the title. What you dwell on is up to you.

8. Takuma Sato finished 8th but too be honest, he was not a factor at all in this one.

9. Rodolfo González finished ninth. I don't know how but he did. Still plenty of other drivers who deserve that ride more than he does.

10. What a comeback to Mikhail Aleshin as he finished tenth. It was nice to see him back in a car. He deserves to be full-time but he is one of about a dozen drivers who will be trying to fill one of the final six cars on the grid. That is the state of IndyCar: Plenty of talented drivers trying to fight to get in but not enough seats for everyone. It is a great problem to have and a terrible one at the same time.

11. Marco Andretti finished 11th. Not a bad year for Andretti. Lots of top ten finishes but can he turn those top tens into top five and then those top fives into victories? If he can do that, he will find himself in championship contention.

12. Twelfth for Oriol Servià. What a race for him considering he wasn't in the best racing shape and he had the emotional task of replacing Justin Wilson. Great day for him.

13. Sebastián Saavedra finished 13th. I don't know what to make of it. Gabby Chaves finished 14th and surely won Rookie of the Year. Hélio Castroneves finished where he started and Simon Pagenaud
finished right behind him. Stefano Coletti finished 17th but was black flagged when running 5th, legitimately running fifth because he had a radio failure. Haven't they heard of the old school pit board with chalk? That is a gut-punch for him.

14. Graham Rahal was punted by Sébastien Bourdais and he went from a top ten finish and at least third in the championship to outside the top fifteen in the race and fourth in the championship. What I didn't like is that it was a mirror image to what Castroneves did to Dixon lap one on the IMS road course. Castroneves wasn't given a drive thru despite the incident occurring on lap one, and wasn't punished until after the race when he had eight points deducted so he would have scored one fewer from that race than Dixon only to have that penalty reduced to three points reduce. Bourdais is given a drive thru despite it occurring in the final ten laps of the final race of the year. IndyCar's inconsistency with penalties needs to be addressed because it nearly decided the title. I don't believe Bourdais intentionally hit Rahal and I believe he is sorry for what he did but the bigger issue is IndyCar not dishing out penalties on a consistent basis.

15. Josef Newgarden finished 21st and fell to seventh in the final championship standings but that doesn't show how good of a year he had. Keep an eye out for him in 2016.

16. And that does it. The 2015 season is in the book. We have no idea when 2016 will begin. We have no idea how many races will make up the 2016 schedule. It isn't even September and the season is over. May this offseason not be as long as the last one. It was a rollercoaster season with the ultimate highs being great on track racing at Indianapolis, Fontana, Iowa, Pocono, Barber, Toronto and Mid-Ohio and the ultimate low being the death of Justin Wilson. This season will go down in the history books as thrilling, frustrating and heartbreaking and as we look to 2016, we have no idea what will come next. Congratulations Scott Dixon on his fourth IndyCar championship.

Morning Warm-Up: Sonoma 2015

The sun is setting on the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season
Will Power will lead the field to the green flag for the sixth time this year as he picked up his fifth career pole position at Sonoma and looks to retain the Astor Cup as IndyCar champion. The Australian shattered the previous track record, which he set in 2012, with a lap of 76.2597 seconds, almost a second faster than the record. Power leads all drivers with three victories at Sonoma. Penske has won five of 11 Sonoma races. Josef Newgarden will start on the outside of row one and next to Will Power for the second consecutive Sonoma race. Newgarden missed pole position by 0.1367 seconds. Newgarden has to win at Sonoma to have any hopes of claiming the Astor Cup.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will start a season-best third as he was just over a quarter of a second off Power's pole winning lap time. Hunter-Reay is not eligible for the championship but he could end this season with the most victories as he is tied with five drivers who have two victories this season. He was also fastest in the pre-qualifying practice on Saturday. Starting fourth will be Simon Pagenaud, who is looking to end this season with his first victory for Team Penske. The Frenchman has two podiums this year with both being thirds, which came at Belle Isle 2 and Mid-Ohio. Pagenaud has improved his finishing position in every one of his Sonoma starts. He has finished 15th, seventh, fifth and third in his four starts at the track. No Sonoma winner has ever started fourth.

The top two drivers in the championship, Juan Pablo Montoya and Graham Rahal will start on row three. Montoya starts fifth, which is the furthest back a Sonoma winner has come from in the previous 11 races at the track. Scott Dixon won from fifth in 2007. Rahal made the Firestone Fast Six for the first time since Motegi 2011. Last year, Montoya drove from 19th to fifth at Sonoma. Rahal's best Sonoma finish came in 2012, he finished fifth that day. Montoya will be champion, regardless of where everyone else finishes if he finishes third with at least one bonus point.

Charlie Kimball was the top Ganassi qualifier in seventh. It is the first time this season Kimabll was the top Ganassi qualifier. Kimball average finish at Sonoma is 22nd with his best finish being 20th in 2013. Marco Andretti starts eighth. He has finished in the top ten in the last two Sonoma races but he has not led a lap at the track since 2007 when he led two laps before being taken out of the race by his then-Andretti Green teammate Dario Franchitti. Car #9 will start ninth as Scott Dixon failed to make it to the second round of IndyCar qualifying on Saturday. Dixon has finished in the top ten in six of ten Sonoma starts. Sebastián Saavedra rounds out the top ten. This is the Colombian's fifth start of 2015. He is looking for his fifth career top ten finish, as he will be making his 61st IndyCar career start on Sunday.

Tony Kanaan will start 11th behind his two Ganassi teammates. Kanaan won at Sonoma in 2005. It is one of just two road/street course victories for Kanaan. He won at Belle Isle in 2007. This year's Belle Isle 1 winner Carlos Muñoz will start 12th. It was the second time Muñoz made it to the second round of qualifying this year. He previous made it at Long Beach. Luca Filippi is making his Sonoma debut and he will start 13th. The Italian finished second at Toronto, giving CFH their first ever 1-2 finish and he has four top tens this year driving for the Chevrolet team. Mikhail Aleshin makes his IndyCar return at Sonoma and will start 14th. He started 12th last year at Sonoma and finished seventh.

Hélio Castroneves had started every one of his Sonoma starts within the first three rows. He will start 15th this year at the Northern California road course. He is the worst starting championship contender, as he, like Newgarden, also needs to win this race to have a shot at winning the title. Sébastien Bourdais joins the Brazilian on row eight. Like Hunter-Reay, Bourdais is not a championship eligible driver but he could end this season with the most victories as he won at Belle Isle 2 and Milwaukee. Like Castroneves, this is Bourdais' worst career start at Sonoma.

Former Sonoma winner Ryan Briscoe qualified 17th. The Australian has averaged a finish of 12.85 in the seven races he has run as substitute for James Hinchcliffe. Briscoe has finished 17th in his last two Sonoma starts. Takuma Sato will start next to Briscoe in 18th. Sato finished fourth last year at Sonoma, his only top ten finish and his only lead lap finish at the track. Oriol Servià starts 19th driving the #25 Andretti Autosport Honda in place of Justin Wilson. Servià best Sonoma finish was sixth in 2009. Stefano Coletti rounds out the top twenty as the Monegasque driver was the top rookie qualifier. Coletti has one top ten finish this year. He finished eighth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Gabby Chaves enters Sonoma as the top rookie in the championship. He is 72 points clear of Coletti in the race for the Rookie of the Year honors. Chaves will start 21st. He led 31 laps at Pocono last week, which were his first career laps led in IndyCar. Chaves is looking to become the fourth Colombian to win IndyCar Rookie of the Year, joining Roberto Guerrero, Montoya and Muñoz to earn that honor. James Jakes will start 22nd. Jakes has never finished on the lead lap at Sonoma with his best finish being 12th in 2012. Dale Coyne Racing sweeps row 12 with Tristan Vautier starting 23rd and Rodolfo González starting 24th. Jack Hawksworth rounds out the grid in 25th after having a mechanical failure in qualifying.

NBCSN's coverage of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma will begin at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 5:07 p.m. ET.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hunter-Reay Fastest in Pre-Qualifying Practice

Ryan Hunter-Reay is fresh off his second victory of 2015 and he was fastest in second practice for the Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma from Sonoma Raceway. The 2012 IndyCar champion ran a 76.8702-second lap, faster than the track record, a 77.2709 set by Will Power in 2012. Five championship contenders followed Hunter-Reay on the time sheet, all within 0.09 seconds of the American.

Graham Rahal was second fastest for a second consecutive practice session as he was 0.0287 seconds slower than Hunter-Reay. Josef Newgarden made it three Americans in the top three as he was 0.0567 seconds back. Championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth fastest, 0.599 seconds back of Hunter-Reay with Scott Dixon rounding out the top five, trailing Hunter-Reay by 0.0641 seconds. Hélio Castroneves was sixth, 0.0856 seconds back.

Carlos Muñoz was seventh and within a tenth of his Andretti Autosport teammate. Former Sonoma winners Tony Kanaan and Will Power were eighth and ninth. Kanaan was 0.1528 seconds off the fastest lap and Power was 0.2191 seconds back. Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top ten, just under a quarter of a second off Hunter-Reay.

Sebastián Saavedra was 11th in the session with his Ganassi teammate Charlie Kimball in 12th. They were 0.3828 and 0.4182 seconds back respectively. Saavedra caused the only red flag during the session when he ran out of fuel on a qualifying simulation. Mikhail Aleshin was 13th in this session with Marco Andretti in 14th. Aleshin and Andretti were the final two drivers within a half of a second of Hunter-Reay. The fastest rookie was Stefano Coletti, who was 15th, 0.573 seconds back.

Ryan Briscoe was 0.028 seconds behind the Monegasque driver with Coletti's teammate Sébastien Bourdais 0.8019 seconds behind Hunter-Reay. Gabby Chavees and Takuma Sato were 18th and 19th respectively, the final two drivers within a second of the fastest time. Luca Filippi rounded out the top twenty, 1.021 seconds back. Dale Coyne Racing teammates Rodolfo González and Tristan Vautier were 21st and 22nd respectively. Jack Hawksworth, Oriol Servià and James Jakes rounded out the timesheet.

One group for qualifying will feature Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Carlos Muñoz, Will Power, Sebastián Saavedra, Mikhail Aleshin, Stefano Coletti, Sébastien Bourdais, Takuma Sato, Rodolfo González, Jack Hawksworth and James Jakes.

In the other qualifying group will be Graham Rahal, Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball, Marco Andretti, Ryan Briscoe, Gabby Chaves, Luca Filippi, Tristan Vautier and Oriol Servià.

Chevrolet has won the last 22 pole positions in IndyCar. Honda's last pole position came at Houston 1 last year when Simon Pagenaud won his first career pole position driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Power has five pole positions this year while Hélio Castroneves has won four. Scott Dixon has won two pole positions while Josef Newgarden has won one. Montoya has not won a pole this year and has only been the top Penske qualifier once. Rahal has yet to make it to the Firestone Fast Six this year. Only three times have Honda made the Fast Six this session. Takuma Sato has done it twice (St. Petersburg, Detroit) and Ryan Hunter-Reay did it once (Long Beach).

Using the second practice results as if they were race results would have Montoya as champion with 564 points and Rahal second, 20 points back. Dixon would be third with 513 points. Newgarden and Power would be tied for fourth with 483 points and the tiebreaker going to Newgarden. Castroneves would be sixth with 479 points.

IndyCar qualifying from Sonoma will begin at 6:00 p.m. ET. NBCSN is scheduled to show the session live after the NASCAR Xfinity Series race from Road America.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Power Tops Final Friday of IndyCar Season

The Champ won't go down without a fight
The final Friday practice session of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series was topped by Will Power as the defending champion looks to retain his crown. The Australian lapped Sonoma Raceway at 77.4858 seconds. Graham Rahal enters Sonoma second in the championship and he was second in the session, 0.1326 seconds behind Power. The most recent winner in IndyCar, Ryan Hunter-Reay was third, 0.1565 seconds back. Last year's winner at Sonoma and one of six championship contenders, Scott Dixon was fourth, trailing Power by 0.3079 seconds. Marco Andretti rounded out the top five, 0.3969 seconds back.

Simon Pagenaud was sixth, 0.5050 seconds behind his Penske teammate. He was the final driver to run a lap within the 77-second bracket. Hélio Castroneves was seventh, just 0.125 seconds behind Pagenaud. The Brazilian ran 59 laps in the session, more than any other driver. Charlie Kimball was eighth fastest as he was 0.602 seconds behind Castroneves. Championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya was ninth, 0.6043 seconds behind Power as Sébastien Bourdais rounded out the top ten, 0.6532 seconds back.

Carlos Muñoz was 11th in the session, 0.6671 seconds off the fastest time in the session. Tony Kanaan was 12th with Josef Newgarden the slowest championship contender in the session down in 13th. Former Sonoma winner Ryan Briscoe was 14th. Only 0.012 seconds covered Muñoz, Kanaan, Newgarden and Briscoe. Gabby Chaves was the top rookie in the session, 15th overall and just over three quarters of a second off Power.

Sebastián Saavedra followed his fellow Colombian on the time sheet as he was 16th, just over nine-tenths slower than Power. Mikhail Aleshin was 17th in his first IndyCar practice session since suffering his accident at Fontana one year ago. Foyt teammates Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato were 18th and 19th respectively. Tristan Vautier rounded out the top twenty and only completed a session-low 20 laps.

James Jakes was 21st as Rodolfo González was 22nd. Luca Filippi, Stefano Coletti and Oriol Servià rounded out the timesheet.

If the practice session results were used as mock race results, Graham Rahal would be champion with 546 points and Juan Pablo Montoya in second with 544 points. Will Power would jump up to third in the championship with 540 points. Scott Dixon would be fourth on 517 points. Hélio Castroneves would round out the top five on 475 points. Marco Andretti would jump Josef Newgarden was Andretti would have 450 points to Newgarden's 447.

Saturday will feature a practice session at 1:45 p.m. ET and be 45 minutes in length and will set the groups for round one of qualifying. Qualifying is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. ET and will be shown live on NBCSN after the NASCAR Xfinity Series race has concluded from Road America.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Track Walk: Sonoma 2015

We cannot move on to Sonoma without mentioning Justin Wilson. A lot has already been said this week but a few more words wouldn't hurt. I went back and found this podcast Wilson did with More Front Wing just over four years ago. Just weeks after his back injury at Mid-Ohio, Wilson spent nearly 50 minutes talking IndyCar, going over the New Hampshire race and giving insight on race control from a drivers point-of-view. He did it in such a conversational way that we rarely hear in any other interview with a professional athlete. And he did that podcast despite being short of breath from talking so much and not having talked that much since his accident. But he said it was fine, which seemed to be a phrase he used often as he did so much for so many people.

I am going to miss that voice and listening to that podcast made me feel as Wilson was still here. If you are feeling down, you are not alone and if you need something to pick yourself up, I encourage you all go back and listen to that podcast.

While Justin Wilson's presence at Sonoma will be in that of spirit and Sonoma was one of Wilson's better tracks. He completed 484 of 485 possible laps in six starts. He finished second after leading 10 laps in 2013 Sonoma race and had five top tens with his worst finish at the track being 11th. Since 2005, Wilson was tied with Scott Dixon for second-best average finish (7.3) at Sonoma among drivers with at least three starts behind only Will Power (6.7).

It all will be decided at Sonoma
Sonoma is the 2015 season finale for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Six drivers will compete for the Astor Cup and the honor of being the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. Three drivers are looking to add another championship to their résumés while three drivers look to break through and etch their name into the history books. It will all be decided after 90 laps, 196 miles.

Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday August 30th. Green flag at 5:07 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will all be in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt, Marty Snider and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
Juan Pablo Montoya enters leading the championship with 500 points. Graham Rahal is second, 34 points behind Montoya. Scott Dixon trails Montoya by 47 points with Montoya's Penske teammates Will Power and Hélio Castroneves 61 points and 77 points behind respectively. Josef Newgarden is the final challenger, 87 points behind Montoya.

Montoya will be guaranteed the championship if he finishes third and scores at least one bonus point.

The tiebreakers go as follows:

Juan Pablo Montoya has two victories but zero runner-ups and three third-place finishes.

Graham Rahal has two victories, two runner-ups and two third-place finishes.

Scott Dixon has two victories, zero runner-ups and one third-place finish.

Will Power has one victory, two runner-ups and zero third-place finishes.

Hélio Castroneves has zero victories, three runner-ups and two third-place finishes.

Josef Newgarden has two victories, two runner-ups and zero third-place finishes.

If anyone of Rahal, Dixon or Newgarden win at Sonoma and finish tied with any of the five championship contenders they will be champion based on amount of victories.

If Rahal finishes tied with Montoya, Rahal would win the championship based on runner-ups.

If Dixon finishes tied with Montoya and finishes second, Dixon would win the championship based on runner-ups.

If Dixon finishes tied with Montoya and finishes third or worse, Montoya would win the championship based on third-place finishes.

Will Power could join the four drivers with two victories but if he wins the race, he will not necessarily be champion.

If Power does win and finished tied with Montoya, he would hold the tiebreaker with two runner-ups to Montoya's zero.

If Power wins and finishes tied with Rahal, Rahal would win on tiebreaker based on third-place finishes.

If Power wins and finishes tied with Dixon, Power would win on tiebreaker based on runner-ups.

Hélio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden must win at Sonoma to be champion.

If Castroneves wins and finishes tied with Montoya, Rahal and/or Dixon, he will not be champion.

If Castroneves wins, it is not possible for him and Power to finish tied, regardless of where Power finishes and how many bonus points Power accumulates.

The most drivers that could finish level on points would be four and can happen on two occasions. The first is if Hélio Castroneves wins and does not score maximum bonus points, Scott Dixon finishes third with as many bonus points as the Brazilian, Graham Rahal finishes fifth or sixth with two or three bonus points and Juan Pablo Montoya finishes 17th with no 0-1 bonus points, 18th with 0-3 bonus points, 19th with 2-4 bonus points or 20th with maximum bonus points. In this four-way tie, Rahal would be champion, as he would have more victories than Castroneves and more runner-ups than Montoya and Dixon.

Newgarden has to win to be champion and if he scores the minimum 101 points then he would need Montoya to finish 23rd with no bonus points or 24th with no more than two bonus points, Rahal to finish 8th or worse with no bonus points and Dixon to finish 5th or worse with no more than one bonus point.

Here is a full chart of all the possible points totals for each of the championship drivers.

Driver Changes
There will be four driver changes and one additional driver on the grid at Sonoma.

Oriol Servià will replace Justin Wilson in the #25 Andretti Autosport Honda. Wilson had been contracted to run the final five races for Andretti Autosport after running the two Indianapolis rounds for the team. This will be Servià's fifth start at Sonoma. His average finish at Sonoma is 12.8 and his best finish was sixth in 2009.

Luca Filippi returns in the #20 Fuzzy Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet. This will be the Italian's 12th start of the season. He finished 21st in his most recent start at Mid-Ohio after running out of fuel on the final lap while running in the top ten. This will be Filippi's debut at Sonoma.

Sebastián Saavedra is back in the #8 AFS Racing Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. The Colombian has made fours starts this season and finished tenth at Long Beach. His last appearance was at Toronto in June. Saavedra has made four starts at Sonoma with his best finish being 14th in 2011. His average finish is 16.5 at the track.

Rodolfo González steps into the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, substituting for Pippa Mann. This will be González's sixth start of 2015. His best start this season was 21st at his first start at Barber and his best finish was 18th at Toronto.

Mikael Aleshin returns to IndyCar for the first time since last year's Sonoma race. Aleshin will drive the #77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. The Russian missed last year's season finale at Fontana after suffering multiple injuries in an accident that occurred during final practice at the 2-mile oval. Last year, Aleshin had one podium and seven top tens in 17 starts including a seventh at Sonoma. He finished runner-up at Houston to his then-SPM teammate Simon Pagenaud.

Pirelli World Challenge
The Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS classes will be at Sonoma for what will be the penultimate round of their 2015 season.

Ryan Dalziel leads the GT championship with 1,487 points but he will not be at Sonoma as he is racing for Extreme Speed Motorsports in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Dutchman Renger van der Zande will substitute for the Scotsman. Dalziel's lead had been cut to seven points after Johnny O'Connell swept the weekend at Miller Motorsports Park. Olivier Beretta is 65 points back of Dalziel. James Davison has vaulted up to fourth in the championship, 142 points back of the Scotsman. Kevin Éstre rounds out the top five, trailing Dalziel by 360 points. Chris Dyson is 6th with 1,060 points. Mike Skeen is nine points behind Dyson. Ryan Eversley and Michael Lewis are the final drivers with quadruple-point totals. Bryan Heitkotter rounds out the top ten on 859 points.

Last year, Mike Skeen and Anthony Lazzaro split the GT races at Sonoma.

In GTS, Michael Cooper took the championship leader after winning a race at Miller Motorsports Park. Cooper has 1220 points and jumped Andrew Aquilante, who is second in the GTS title race, 32 points behind Cooper. Aquilante's teammate Kurt Rezzetano is two points behind him in third. Dean Martin is fourth, trailing Cooper by 47 points. Jack Baldwin rounds out the top five, 80 points behind Cooper. Mark Wilkins is sixth, 159 points back and his Kia teammate Ben Clucas is four points behind him. Kris Wilson is eighth with 891 points and has won three of his last starts but he has not competed in six of their last eight races. Wilson will be at Sonoma. Jack Roush, Jr. and Andy Lee round out the top ten.

Jack Baldwin and Lawson Aschenbach split the GTS races at Sonoma last year. Sonoma marks the long awaited debut of the Gainsco/Bob Stalling Racing Hyundai Genesis Coupe, which will be driven by Jeff Harrison.

The GTS races will take place Saturday at 4:45 p.m. ET and Sunday at 11:40 a.m. ET. The GT races will be run at 7:50 p.m. ET on Saturday and 1:55 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
For the second consecutive year, the season will end on August 30th. Last year, Tony Kanaan won at Fontana on August 30th. This will be the 14th IndyCar race to occur on August 30th.

The averaging starting position for a Sonoma winner is 2.27. Every Sonoma race has been won from within the top five. Scott Dixon won from 5th in 2007. The pole-sitter has won four times as has third position. Second has produced two winners.

Team Penske has won five of 11 Sonoma races. Chip Ganassi Racing has three Sonoma victories and Andretti Autosport has two.

Juan Pablo Montoya has one IndyCar start at Sonoma. He finished fifth last year. Montoya's first NASCAR Cup Series victory came at Sonoma.

Will Power leads all drivers with three victories at Sonoma. He has an average starting position of 1.7.

Scott Dixon has two Sonoma victories, including last year's race.

Hélio Castroneves has one victory, three podiums, five top fives and seven top tens at Sonoma and an average finish of 8.5.

Graham Rahal has an average finish of 11.7 at Sonoma with one top five and four top tens.

Josef Newgarden has one top ten in three Sonoma starts, which was a sixth last year. His prior two starts saw him finish 24th and 23rd respectively.

Josef Newgarden will end the season as the sole leader in laps led if Scott Dixon or Will Power lead less than 73 laps at Sonoma. If Newgarden does end the season as the lap led leader, he would be the first American to end the season as leader in that category since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2002.

Honda has not won at Sonoma in the DW12-era.

Last year's Sonoma race saw a record-breaking amount of lead changes with 10 occurring. The average amount of lead changes at Sonoma is 5.1818.

The average amount of cautions at Sonoma is 2.72 for an average of 8.45 laps. The 2013 race saw a record seven cautions for a record 27 laps.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon is going for his fourth championship. He would become the fifth driver to win at least four titles joining A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Sébastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti.

Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya are going for their second titles. If either one of them were to win the title, they would become the 26th driver to win multiple IndyCar championships.

Hélio Castroneves could become the fifth Brazilian to win an IndyCar championship joining Emerson Fittipaldi, Gil de Ferran, Cristiano da Matta and Tony Kanaan.

Graham Rahal or Josef Newgarden could become the 48th American to win an IndyCar championship.

Graham Rahal and Bobby Rahal could become the third father-son combo to each win an IndyCar championship. Mario and Michael Andretti and Al Unser and Al Unser, Jr. are the other pairs to each win a title.

Josef Newgarden could become the first IndyCar champion with a last name starting with the letter "N."

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 48 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 47 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

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

Marco Andretti needs to lead 14 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Hélio Castroneves is one top ten away from 200 career IndyCar top tens.

Will Power is one top ten away from 100 career IndyCar top tens.

Will Power wins the race. Juan Pablo Montoya holds on to win the championship but Graham Rahal finishes ahead of him in the race itself. At least one non-championship contender finishes on the podium. The winner starts within the first three rows on the grid. At least one championship contender does not finish inside the top half of the field. Sleeper: Mikhail Aleshin.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Goodbye Justin

Goodbye Justin Wilson. We already miss you.
We lost a great man. Justin Wilson didn't rewrite the record books. He didn't win multiple championships or an Indianapolis 500. Despite that, he was one of the most respected drivers in IndyCar. It always felt he was one phone call from Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi away from becoming the man to beat every week.

And despite never getting that call, he was still able to beat the big boys. He got Dale Coyne Racing their first ever win at Watkins Glen in 2009. He was the only non-Penske/non-Ganassi driver to win that season. Then-Andretti Green Racing with Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti didn't win. Newman-Haas didn't win. The long-time cellar dweller Dale Coyne Racing usurped the powerhouses of Penske and Ganassi.

To put it another way, Justin Wilson is to the 2009 IndyCar season what Gerhard Berger is to the 1988 Formula One season.

If the British ever decide to embrace oval racing, they would challenge American prowess. Wilson struggled on ovals but like Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell, Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon, Wilson developed into a respectable oval driver. He only ever had one oval victory and he was fortunate that Graham Rahal brushed the wall that night at Texas but he did score a top five and three top tens in the Indianapolis 500. He got a podium at Milwaukee. He finished in the top ten multiple times at Chicagoland. He finished in the top ten at Richmond, Iowa and Homestead. This season he qualified in the top ten again for Indianapolis and qualified in the top ten at Pocono. His weakest link no longer existed.

I was at Pocono and as I said before, I didn't see the accident. My mother texted me afterward and asked if it was scary and it wasn't. I told her that I was more afraid the prior two years when she attended the race with me because I was worried about a piece of debris coming up into the grandstand and potentially striking her or someone around her. The accident happened so far away from the grandstand that you really couldn't tell what happened, nor were anyone spectators at risk of being hurt by debris. While it happened within my sightline, the whole scene was so distant that it felt as if it was happening in another world.

I have been scrolling through my camera looking to see if I got a picture of Justin Wilson and I just can't find one. I did catch him on track.

It's not the greatest photo but it's all I got. 

Wilson's career will forever look like this: seven IndyCar victories, include the most recent IndyCar race to take place in Europe and the final victory for Newman/Haas Racing, 2001 International Formula 3000 champion, 24 Hours of Daytona winner, one Formula One point, which came at the 2003 United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one Formula E point, which came on the streets of Moscow.

This has been a rough summer. From Jules Bianchi to Bernat Martinez and Daniel Rivas Fernandez to now Wilson. While motorsports are much safer and drivers aren't perishing at the rate they were in the 1960s, it's still emotionally draining. 

A few years, a video was posted of a karting race from the United Kingdom that featured many drivers that would become world-class drivers. You had Anthony Davidson (kart #8), Dan Wheldon (kart #1), Jenson Button (kart #14), Jay Howard (kart unidentified) and Justin Wilson (kart #10). To me, it is a motorsports artifact. How many karting races have that many drivers go on to have successful careers in the world of motorsports? 

I imagine that at the Great Racetrack in the Sky, Wilson is being greeted by Paul Newman and Dan Wheldon and they are heading off to the karting track.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Justin Wilson's parents, his wife Julia, his two daughters, his brother Stefan and all other members of the Wilson family.