Monday, May 23, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: The Narratives

James Hinchcliffe won Indianapolis 500 pole position. The NASCAR All-Star Race was good on track but a mess. There was nothing but photo finishes at Mugello. The Formula E championship will come down to the final round in London again. Pirelli World Challenge has a familiar face in a new place and still ending up on the podium. BMW had a good weekend. V8 Supercars had a first time winner on Saturday and he decided to do it again on Sunday. World Rally returned to Europe and Sébastien Ogier did not win. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

The Narratives
Every year there are narratives entering the Indianapolis 500.

There are narratives of redemption and the most notable is James Hinchcliffe. As Dario Franchitti put it, from kebab to pole position. People were celebrating Hinchcliffe just getting back in the car and I think we all would have been satisfied with Hinchcliffe taking the green flag from 19th on the grid but to return and put the car on pole position is outstanding. He was seconds away from death and now he is 500 miles away from glory.

Then there is the return of Menards to the Speedway sponsoring Simon Pagenaud. Menards was on cars in the Indianapolis 500 for a while during the split but this year is twenty years removed from Scott Brayton's fatal accident. Menards partnering with Team Penske is like Ray Bourque being traded to the Colorado Avalanche, Menards is never going to have a better chance at winning the Indianapolis 500 than this year.

Speaking of Penske, Hélio Castroneves is going for his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory in the 100th Indianapolis 500, 25 years after Rick Mears won his fourth driving for Team Penske and this is Team Penske's 50th year of competition. The planets and stars could not be anymore aligned then they are for Castroneves and Penske. If there was ever a year for Castroneves to win his fourth, this is it. No one has won more at the Speedway than Roger Penske. Could he be the author for another chapter of history?

The Andretti narrative still hangs around and this year Marco Andretti will have to come from 14th on the grid to end his family's drought in the Indianapolis 500. The crazy thing is now might the right time for the fortunate to fall on the Andretti family. Three of the last four winners have started on row five or worse. Bill Sweikert is the only Indianapolis 500 to start 14th but other droughts have come to an end. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the first winner from 19th since Bill Vukovich 60 years prior. Juan Pablo Montoya's win last year from 15th was the first from that position since Graham Hill in 1966.

These are just the highlights but there are plenty of other stories out there. Graham Rahal looks to win on the 30th anniversary of his father Bobby's lone Indianapolis 500 victory. A preacher could win as a co-car owner with Oriol Servià as the driver. Townsend Bell has to be the sleepiest of sleepers. Mikhail Aleshin is becoming a cult hero at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with his driving style. Stefan Wilson follows in the footsteps of his brother. Formula One rejects (Alexander Rossi, Max Chilton) and ladder system write offs (J.R. Hildebrand, Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves) have a chance to etch their names in the history book after years of uncertainty and disrespect.

We enter with 33 narratives. Only one concludes in victory.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about James Hinchcliffe's Indianapolis 500 pole position but did you know...

Jorge Lorenzo won by 0.019 seconds over Marc Márquez in the MotoGP Italian Grand Prix. Johan Zarco won in Moto2 by 0.030 seconds over Lorenzo Baldassarri. Brad Binder won in Moto3 by 0.038 seconds over Fabio Di Giannantonio.

Sébastien Buemi won the Berlin ePrix and trails Lucas di Grassi by one point with the doubleheader in London ending the season July 2nd-3rd.

Patrick Long swept the Pirelli World Challenge weekend at Mosport in his first weekend with Wright Motorsports after EFFORT Racing withdrew from the championship earlier this month. Lawson Aschenbach and Canadian Max Riddle won in GTS.

Marco Wittmann and Timo Glock split the DTM races at Red Bull Ring.

Tim Slade swept the V8 Supercars weekend at Winton Motor Raceway, his first two victories in the series.

After missing the last two rounds, Kris Meeke won on his World Rally return at Rally de Portugal.

Joey Logano won the NASCAR All-Star Race. Matt Crafton won the Truck race.

Coming Up This Weekend
The 100th Indianapolis 500
Monaco Grand Prix
Coca-Cola 600
24 Hours Nürburgring with the WTCC support races.
Pirelli World Challenges return to Lime Rock Park.
Super Formula runs at Okayama.
World Superbikes heads to the land of its current masters: Donington Park.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

100th Indianapolis 500 Sunday Qualifying Preview


Thirty-two cars made qualifying attempts on Saturday. The grid will be set on Sunday.
The Fast Nine was set on Saturday and those nine drivers will each make one final qualifying attempt for pole position this afternoon while the remaining 24 drivers will each qualify again to set rows four through eleven. The surprise from Saturday was that not only did Honda have the top two times but also had five of the top nine while zero Ganassi drivers advanced to the Fast Nine session.

James Hinchcliffe was fastest on Saturday with a four-lap average at 230.946 MPH. This will be Hinchcliffe's four consecutive Fast Nine appearance. He has qualified second for the Indianapolis 500 twice. Ryan Hunter-Reay was second fastest at 230.805 MPH. Hunter-Reay has qualified in the top nine twice for the Indianapolis 500, most recently seventh in 2013. Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver at 230.736 MPH with his Penske teammate Hélio Castroneves following him at 230.500 MPH. Power has started on the front row the last two years while Castroneves' last front row start was from pole position in 2010.

Townsend Bell was the fastest qualifier after the first run through the qualifying line at 230.452 MPH. Bell's lone Indianapolis 500 start in the top nine was fourth in 2011. Josef Newgarden will qualify in the first three rows for the fourth time in his five Indianapolis 500 appearances. He has never qualified better than the third row. The ECR driver was sixth on Saturday at 230.229 MPH. Mikhail Aleshin vaulted himself into the top nine on the final qualifying attempt yesterday with a four-lap average of 230.209 MPH.

Carlos Muñoz continues to shine at Indianapolis as the Colombian ran a 230.173 MPH average and he will start in the first three rows for the third time in four Indianapolis 500 appearances. Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top nine at 230.102 MPH. After starting on row seven and eight his first two years at the Speedway, the Frenchman will be making his third consecutive start on one of the first three rows.

Alexander Rossi was in the top nine until Aleshin knocked him out. The rookie's lone qualifying attempt was run at 230.048 MPH. Rossi bested his veteran teammate Marco Andretti, whose fastest run on Saturday was 230.037 MPH. Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya and defending Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter Scott Dixon were 12th and 13th respectively on Saturday, the first two drivers below 230 MPH. Dixon was the top Ganassi driver but no Ganassi drivers in the top nine should not be a surprise as no Ganassi driver has made the Fast Nine since 2011. Last year, the Fast Nine session was not held due to weather delays. Ed Carpenter was 14th with his teammate J.R. Hildebrand in 15th.

Takuma Sato was the top A.J. Foyt Racing driver in 16th; the only driver in the 228 MPH bracket while his former teammate and current Dale Coyne Racing drive Conor Daly was 17th. Sage Karam qualified in 18th, ahead of his former teammate and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan. Sébastien Bourdais rounded out the top twenty while Graham Rahal was 21st. Bryan Clauson and Spencer Pigot both ran four-lap averages at 227.100 MPH but Clauson gets 22nd because he was the first to put up the time.

Oriol Servià was in the top nine for a fair amount of the afternoon but after being relegated to tenth the Spaniard returned to the track only to fall down the order and end up 24th with a four lap average at 226.893 MPH. Charlie Kimball was 25th fastest on Saturday with rookies Matthew Brabham and Stefan Wilson behind him. A.J. Foyt Racing teammates Jack Hawksworth and Alex Tagliani were 28th and 29th. Buddy Lazier was the slowest posted time at 224.341 MPH.

Gabby Chaves made two qualifying attempts on Saturday. His first attempt was at 227.673 MPH but he withdrew that time only to wave his second attempt after one lap. Pippa Mann spun on her only qualifying attempt on Saturday exiting turn two and made light contact with outside and inside wall. She walked away from the car under her own power. Max Chilton did not make a qualifying run after his accident in turn two in pre-qualifying practice.

The track will open for practice at noon for cars 23-33rd from Saturday and last a half hour. Fifteen minutes later cars 10th-21st from Saturday will practice for a half hour. The Fast Nine will get a half hour practice at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Qualifying will resume at 2:45 p.m. ET to set rows four through eleven. The cars will go in reverse order of speeds from Saturday. ESPN3.com and WatchESPN will have coverage of the first hour and fifteen minutes of qualifying until ABC's coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET. The Fast Nine session for pole position will begin at 5:00 p.m. ET.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

100th Indianapolis 500 Saturday Qualifying Preview

After a surprising Fast Friday, intrigue hangs over Indianapolis 500 qualifying
The first day of Indianapolis 500 qualifying takes place on Saturday and the field will be set for the 100th Indianapolis 500. The top nine drivers from Saturday will advance to the Fast Nine session to be held at 5:00 p.m. ET on Sunday. The remaining drivers who are 10th-33rd on Saturday qualifying will re-qualify on Sunday with the slowest car going first and those 24 drivers will set the starting order from row four to 11.

The qualifying draw was held after Friday practice. Tony Kanaan's primary car was drawn first with Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Simon Pagenaud's primary car being drawn second. Kanaan won the 2005 pole position and has three front row starts but has not been on the front row since 2007 when he started second. Nine times Kanaan has started within the first three rows. He was 20th fastest in Friday practice. Pagenaud has improved in Indianapolis 500 qualifying each year he has been at the Speedway. He has qualified 23rd, 21st, fifth and third in his four Indianapolis 500 appearances. Pagenaud could join Jean Chassagne and René Thomas as Frenchmen to win Indianapolis 500 pole position. Pagenaud was 13th yesterday.

Marco Andretti is third in the line of primary cars. The third generation driver was one of nine drivers to run a lap over 231 MPH on Friday as Andretti was fifth quickest. He has started within the first three rows in eight of his ten Indianapolis 500 starts but Andretti has only one front row start. He started third in 2013. His grandfather Mario won pole position for the Indianapolis 500 three times.  Rookie Alexander Rossi is the next of the primary cars. He was the top rookie in Friday practice as he rounded out the top ten. Rossi could become the first Californian to win Indianapolis 500 pole position since Joe Leonard in 1968.

Sébastien Bourdais' primary car is drawn fifth among the primary cars. Last year, Bourdais started a career best seventh in the Indianapolis 500. His previous best start was 15th. The Frenchman was 21st on Friday. Josef Newgarden was second quickest yesterday at 232.344 MPH. Newgarden has qualified on row three in three of his four Indianapolis 500 starts. He started ninth in 2012 and eighth and ninth the last two years.

Oriol Servià is drawn seventh among the primary cars and the Spaniard was a surprise 11th quickest in Friday practice. He qualified third in 2011 but his next best start is 13th, which occurred in 2013 and 2015. J.R. Hildebrand is the next after Servià. He was 14th in Friday practice. Hildebrand has qualified in the top ten for the last three Indianapolis 500s. Mikhail Aleshin will qualify after Hildebrand. The Russian was ninth latest in Friday practice.

Will Power was drawn as the tenth primary car to qualify. Power was fastest on Friday at 232.672 MPH. The Australian has qualified in the top nine the last seven years but has not won the pole position. He has qualified second twice including last year. Hélio Castroneves is drawn to be the car after his Penske teammate. The Brazilian could move into sole possession of second all-time in Indianapolis 500 pole positions. He is currently tied with Rex Mays and A.J. Foyt with four pole positions. Castroneves was 15th in Friday practice.

Bryan Clauson is drawn next. He has qualified on the final row in each of his first two Indianapolis 500 starts. Rookie Matthew Brabham is 13th in the order of the primary cars. His grandfather Jack qualified 13th on his Indianapolis 500 debut in 1961 and his father Geoff qualified 15th for his first Indianapolis 500 in 1981.

Scott Dixon could become the 12th driver to win successive Indianapolis 500 pole positions and could become the ninth driver to win at least three Indianapolis 500 pole positions. The New Zealander was 12th fastest on Friday. Dixon's teammate Max Chilton is drawn to go after him. Chilton was 23rd yesterday.

Buddy Lazier's primary car was drawn 16th among the primary cars. The 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner is attempting to make his 19th Indianapolis 500 start, the most among active driver. Lazier has started on the final row in his last three starts. His best Indianapolis 500 start was fifth in 1996. Lazier was the slowest driver on Friday at 225.683 MPH. Alex Tagliani is the first of three A.J. Foyt Racing drivers drawn to qualify. The Canadian was 29th on Friday. Takuma Sato will follow his teammate. He was 27th in Friday practice.

Townsend Bell is drawn 19th among the primary cars. He was sixth quickest on Friday but had the fastest no tow lap, a lap that came without assistance of a draft from another car, at 231.342 MPH. Bell is attempting to make his tenth Indianapolis 500 start. He has qualified outside the top twenty the last three years. His best start was fourth in 2011. Gabby Chaves drew to go after Bell. The Colombian was another surprise on Friday. He was one of the nine drivers to complete a lap at over 231 MPH.

Spencer Pigot is next to do of the primary cars. The rookie suffered an accident on Wednesday and missed all of the Thursday session barring one install lap. He was 26th fastest yesterday. Charlie Kimball is drawn 22nd of the primary cars. Last year, Kimball matched his best Indianapolis 500 starting position in 14th. He has three top ten finishes in five Indianapolis 500 starts. His two finishes outside the top ten occurred when he qualified outside the first eight rows.

Ryan Hunter-Reay drew 23rd in the order of primary cars. He was the slowest Andretti Autosport entry for most of Friday before vaulting up to seventh late in the session. He has started outside the first five rows in six of his eight Indianapolis 500 starts. Stefan Wilson is attempting to make his Indianapolis 500 debut and is drawn after Hunter-Reay. Wilson made two Freedom 100 starts in 2010 and 2011. His best finish was fourth. Wilson was the slowest rookie on Friday, 32nd on the timesheet. Jack Hawksworth is drawn after his countryman Wilson. Hawksworth was the fastest of the Foyt drivers on Friday in 22nd.

Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya is scheduled to go out 26th. His starting position has regressed in his three Indianapolis 500 starts. After starting second as a rookie in 1999, he has started tenth and 15th in his last two starts. The last time the previous year's Indianapolis 500 winner won the pole position the following year was 2010 by Hélio Castroneves. Castroneves won pole position in 2009 as well. Montoya was the slowest of the Penske cars on Friday in 18th. James Hinchcliffe is set to go after Montoya. He was third fastest at 231.972 MPH. Hinchcliffe has started second in two of his four Indianapolis 500 starts.

Carlos Muñoz is 28th in the order of primary cars. He was fourth fastest on Friday. Like his countryman Montoya, Muñoz's starting position has regressed in his three Indianapolis 500 starts. After starting second as a rookie in 2013, he has started seventh and 11th the last two years. Sage Karam returns to the Speedway and is attempting to make his third Indianapolis 500 start. After starting on the final row as a rookie in 2014, Karam started 22nd last year. He was 30th fastest on Friday.

Pippa Mann drew 30th. She was 19th fastest yesterday in practice. Her best Indianapolis 500 starting position was 22nd in 2014. Ed Carpenter is set to go after Mann. All four of Carpenter's starts in the first three rows have come in the last six years. Carpenter was 16th in Friday practice. Conor Daly should be the penultimate primary car to go. He was 25th yesterday. Daly was slated to start 23rd in last year's race before an oil leak ended his race on the pace laps. Graham Rahal is the final of the primary cars in the qualifying order. His best Indianapolis 500 start was fourth in 2009 but he has started on row six or worse in four of the last five years. Rahal was 17th fastest on Friday.

Saturday begins with practice from 11:00 a.m. ET-12:00 p.m. ET. Qualifying begins at 12:45 p.m. ET and can be seen on ESPN3.com and WatchESPN. ABC picks up coverage of the final two hours of qualifying at 4:00 p.m. ET.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Shaving Days to Save Money

Let's get this out of the way: IndyCar teams are struggling for funding. Something needs to be done. This must be somewhere between the 3,746th and 6,215th idea how to stop the bleeding and increase the viability of teams.

There should be fewer days at racetracks. It sounds crazy but it's a simple way to save teams money. Teams would need fewer nights for hotel rooms, fewer tires and other resources would be used and it would decrease the chances of damaged equipment. 

While it would be simple to take a day off each weekend, it might be more difficult for some venues than others. Street circuits are one where three-day weekends would have to stay. At St. Petersburg, six series took to the track. Long Beach featured four series and a pro/celebrity race. You can't squeeze that all into two days. 

Road courses and ovals are a different animal. While just as many series go to road course events, a Friday could be used for support series to get practice and qualifying sessions completed while IndyCar would take to the track on Saturdays and Sundays. Ovals (besides the Indianapolis 500) should be one-day shows. IndyCar goes to Texas and Pocono by themselves. Indy Lights only runs Phoenix and Iowa and Pro Mazda's only other oval is Iowa. 

For this year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis, 22 of 25 drivers completed over 150 laps over the weekend and 17 drivers completed over 170 laps. The three drivers that didn't break the 150 laps threshold were Tony Kanaan and Sébastien Bourdais, who both retired in the race and Alex Tagliani, who was penalized in pretty much every session imaginable and lost track time on at least three occasions. Twenty-one drivers had completed more than 82 laps before the 82-lap Grand Prix of Indianapolis itself. 

Common sense says reduce the amount of practice session and costs should go down. IndyCar could run a 90-minute practice session and qualifying on Saturday with a race on Sunday for road courses with a two-hour practice on ovals followed by qualifying followed by the race. The one way IndyCar could make up for less on track action is by having a preliminary race that was slightly longer than a fuel window on Saturdays at road courses and could fit nicely into a one-hour or 90-minute television window.  

Indianapolis 500 prep would have to change as well. Give the teams the Monday and Tuesday after the Grand Prix of Indianapolis off and open the track on Wednesday with Rookie Orientation and practice splitting the day. Thursday and Friday would be normal practice days, Pole Day and the Fast Nine session returns to Saturday with Bump Day on Sunday. Indianapolis 500 qualifying should change because there is no reason to make teams qualify for the race and then run again to set their starting position. Qualifying once for the Indianapolis 500 is stressful enough. There is no reason to force the teams to risk damaging a car more than once. Keep it simple and have everyone qualify once and not have to qualify again unless they want to try to make the top nine or need to bump their way back into the field. 

I am sure some of you are wondering how less track time could benefit the series and how could the series draw more people to the track with less track time. IndyCar could hold events in the markets they are heading to. The drivers could still head out on Friday and every driver could do media appearances. IndyCar could hold meet-and-greets around that week's destination for different demographics. Conor Daly, Josef Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe could be at an event for Millennials that features electric dance music and high alcohol consumption. The Penske drivers could do something boring for old white men. A few drivers could go to a local dirt track to promote the race. If there is a local karting facility, drivers could race younger kids. The goal should be to connect with many facets of the communities IndyCar races in. 

In 2012, European Le Mans Series had 13 cars show up to Donington Park for a race and had to cancel three races. The following season ELMS cut race weekends to two days and the series has returned to three-day weekends this year. ELMS has also more inclusive than IndyCar and has tweaked the regulations to draw more teams to the series but in the first season with two-day weekends, the average grid size in ELMS was 25.6 cars. 

The IndyCar grid won't go from 21 full-time cars to over 40 entries at every race by reducing two-thirds of the race weekends by a day but IndyCar needs to help the teams save money or help the teams make more money. Saving money is the easier option and something the series can control. 


Monday, May 16, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Getting in on the Cheap

Max Verstappen made history. Simon Pagenaud is making history. Formula One is better without Mercedes. The Kentucky Kid still has it and in the wet nonetheless. A man named Ayrton was victorious. There were a few first time winners at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It rained at Imola. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Getting in on the Cheap
Indianapolis 500 practice begins today and we are on 33 entries. A 34th needs a Hail Mary. IndyCar president of competition Jay Frye doesn't think it is a problem. He is wrong.

The 33 cars on the entry might be of high quality but when has motorsports been about quality? When has the Indianapolis 500 been about quality? This is a race where the teams would put together programs on a whim and end up in the field. This is a race where drivers with Formula One and Le Mans experience fail to qualify and guys who aren't even known in their own hometown add their story to the more than a century of lore.

Competition isn't about quality. Some of the best Bump Days are when things go wrong. When teams are throwing it at the wall and hoping it sticks. When teams stop thinking scientifically and roll the dice. If it was all about quality then Buddy Lazier's team wouldn't be allowed into Gasoline Alley and Dale Coyne Racing and another ten cars would be asked to leave and people could live with only 20 cars starting the Indianapolis 500.

When there have been at least a half a dozen drivers who have reportedly been working on Indianapolis 500 deals not showing up to the race track to attempt to qualify, that's when regulations have to change. No one will be upset if a car attempts to qualify with something other than the 2.2 L twin-turbo V6s of Chevrolet and Honda or in a chassis that wasn't the DW12. Chevrolet and Honda would probably welcome the relief of not having to support sixteen-plus cars.

Remember those engine summits IndyCar held prior to the ICONIC committee that featured Honda and Chevrolet but also FIAT and Volkswagen and a few other manufactures? IndyCar should do that again but instead of trying to come up with a formula the manufactures want the series should inquire about allowing existing engines produced by the manufactures and getting them into the series. With LMP2 regulations changing, the 4.5 L V8 Nissan engine that has proliferated FIA World Endurance Championship and the European Le Mans Series will be deemed obsolete next year. IndyCar could benefit from allowing the Nissan engine into the championship. Chevrolet and Honda would get some relief, it would be another option for one-off teams and it would add another manufacture to the series.

IndyCar should welcome teams getting in on the cheap. The Indianapolis 500 shouldn't be about completing a checklist of getting one of two engine manufactures and the sole chassis. The regulations should allow teams wiggle room. Put a limit on engine displacement and a limit on cylinders and let the teams play within those boundaries.

Fans want to see competition and they want to see bumping. We want to see the Katherine Legges, James Davisons and Brian Vickers of the world attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. If it takes allowing teams to select the Nissan LMP2 engine and other engines currently outside IndyCar to make that happen then allow it, especially if it makes more financial sense for the teams. Unpredictability is one reason why people watch sports. A hand full more of entries would leave people on the edge of their seats.

More Thoughts on the Grand Prix
I had a few more thoughts after the Grand Prix of Indianapolis that I didn't get in after Saturday's race. I was against the race at the start because it seemed like an easy way to get another race on the schedule while the likes of Road America, Phoenix, Circuit of the Americas and Michigan were not pursued. However, I think it is a great way for IndyCar to get attention on the series prior to the Indianapolis 500 and if IndyCar was racing at Kentucky or Chicagoland or anywhere else a fortnight prior to the Indianapolis 500, it would not create the same buzz.

It's not the race but the venue. Indianapolis Motor Speedway raises hairs and withdraws breaths. If IndyCar were racing anywhere else, it would just be another race. Even though 250,000 people don't show up for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, there is something about the venue that makes me want to watch. It's like a baseball game at Wrigley Field or a soccer match at Wembley Stadium; I am going to watch regardless if there is a trophy on the line or a game where half the seats are empty.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis draws a respectable crowd in terms of an IndyCar event. Don't compare it to the Indianapolis 500. Saturday was a chilly day but if 20,000-25,000 people were there then it was a success. Compare that to past opening days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, its probably four to five times larger. Should the Grand Prix of Indianapolis be another time of the year? I don't think it would do any better. The race does compete with the Indianapolis 500 for fans. Many people have dropped $300 to $600 on Indianapolis 500 tickets. Do you really think they want to spend or can spend another $50 to $60 to go to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis? Moving the race to September could make it possible for more to go but will they? There is something about heading to the Speedway in the month of May. People are not conditioned to head to 16th and Georgetown in September.

The Speedway hasn't stated displeasure in Grand Prix of Indianapolis attendance but what can be done to entice people to the track for another day in May? What if a Bronze Badge raffle was created for those who purchase Grand Prix of Indianapolis race day tickets prior to the start of April? If you buy a ticket you earn a chance to earn two Bronze Badges and the Speedway could give out five pairs of Bronze Badges. What if grid passes for the Indianapolis 500 were raffled?

It's an event that has grown on me but, just like every other event on the IndyCar calendar, I don't want to see it struggle and I want to see it be a healthy event with a long future.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Simon Pagenaud and Max Verstappen but did you know...

Ed Jones and Dean Stoneman split the Indy Lights races on the IMS road course. Pato O'Ward swept the weekend in Pro Mazda. Anthony Martin and Parker Thompson won the U.S. F2000 races.

Norman Nato and Alex Lynn shared the opening weekend of the GP2 weekend from Barcelona. Charles Leclerc and Alexander Albon were victorious in GP3.

Tom Sykes and Nicky Hayden split the World Superbike races from Sepang. Ayrton Badovini scored his first World Supersport victory.

The #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan of Mathias Beche, Ryō Hirakawa and Pierre Thiriet won the European Le Mans Seres 4 Hours of Imola. The #77 Proton Competition Porsche of Mike Hedlund, Wolf Henzler and Robert Renauer won in GTE. The #2 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of Alex Brundle, Mike Guasch and Christian England won in LMP3 for the second consecutive race.

The #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Maximilian Buhk, Dominik Baumann and Jazeman Jaafar won the Blancpain Endurance Series 3 Hours of Silverstone.

Matt Kenseth won the NASCAR Cup race from Dover. Erik Jones won the Grand National Series race. Matt Crafton won the Truck race.

Coming Up This Weekend
Indianapolis 500 qualifying.
MotoGP will be at Mugello.
Formula E's penultimate round of the season takes place in Berlin.
Pirelli World Challenge heads north to Mosport.
DTM heads east to Austria.
V8 Supercars will race at Winton Motor Raceway.
World Rally returns to Europe and more specifically Portugal.
NASCAR runs its meaningless All-Star Race.



Saturday, May 14, 2016

First Impressions: 3rd Grand Prix of Indianapolis

1. Simon Pagenaud is on a roll and the bounces keep going his way. He was third when the final round of pit stops started. He exited with a three-second lead. Pagenaud has been great and fortunate. Had the officials been properly penalizing drivers for blend line penalties, he doesn't win at Long Beach. Had Jack Hawksworth picked the outside line in turn five, he doesn't win at Barber. Had Conor Daly and Hélio Castroneves not exited into lap traffic, he probably doesn't win today. Pagenaud is having a historic season but will it continue into the Indianapolis 500? Can this run continue for a sixth race? All we know is Pagenaud is the championship leader and comfortably in control.

2. Hélio Castroneves did not have a great weekend and he still finished second. A timely caution put him on the podium. This is what Castroneves does. He rarely has the fastest car but he methodically works his way to the front and gets top five finishes.

3. James Hinchcliffe had a great weekend from start to finish. Quietly Hinchcliffe has put together an impressive start to the season and he finally has had a good result at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It is coming at the right time.

4. Two years ago, had Graham Rahal lost a second row starting position due to his car being underweight in qualifying, he would have been fortunate to finish in the top fifteen. Rahal has changed and he worked his way to a fourth place finish. Another year where it appears Rahal will be hanging around for sometime.

5. Charlie Kimball finished another Grand Prix of Indianapolis in fifth. Could he be a sleeper in the Indianapolis 500? He was competitive. He gave James Hinchcliffe a real run early in the race. Kimball keeps his nose clean but taking that next step and becoming a contender week in and week out will require taking risks.

6. Conor Daly was just a fortunate as Castroneves and for about 15 laps, it appeared Daly was headed for an emotional victory. Daly abused his rear tires more than anyone else and he faded but sixth for a struggling Dale Coyne Racing is a wonderful result and he held off Scott Dixon.

7. Speaking of Scott Dixon, he wasn't hit by a Penske driver this year in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Seventh isn't good enough though especially as Pagenaud makes the podium his weekend vacation home.

8. Juan Pablo Montoya overcame a blend line penalty to finish eighth. Race control started handing out drive-through penalties for blend line violations. Good. Was that so hard to do from the start?

9. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport finally got off the mat. He went from 15th to 7th in the first turn and finished ninth. This was a race Andretti Autosport needed.

10. Alexander Rossi gets his first career top ten. He had an impressive race as he made Will Power blink and stayed in the top ten almost all race.

11. Spencer Pigot finished 11th. This kid deserves more races beyond the Indianapolis 500. Hopefully he gets it but this is IndyCar and rarely is young talent rewarded properly.

12. Quickly round outing the top 18: Carlos Muñoz kept his nose clean except for a lazy spin in turn ten and he finished 12th. Mikhail Aleshin was in the top ten for the first stint but faded. Max Chilton did nothing and finished 14th. Marco Andretti made a few good passes but could only managed 15th. Matthew Brabham had a really good debut and finished 16th. Gabby Chaves held his own in his return and finished 17th. Takuma Sato had a blend line violation and finished 18th.

13. The rest of the field: Will Power had a rough two days and finished 19th. Just when it appeared Jack Hawksworth was taking a step in the right direction, he dropped like a rock and finished 20th. Josef Newgarden was doing better than Graham Rahal on the first stint but he could get passed 15th and a blend line violation cost him a top twenty finish. J.R. Hildebrand's race was ruined when it appeared he ran out of fuel under caution. Alex Tagliani was penalized after each practice session and was speeding on the pit lane in today's race. This was the best Foyt could do? Sébastien Bourdais and Tony Kanaan had their days ruined in turn one. No more to say on that.

14. This was a good race. You had drivers moving up from deep in the field. A few top dogs stubbed their toes. It wasn't delayed by many cautions. What else can you ask for?

15. Tagliani's livery should become Hawksworth's or Sato's livery for the rest of the season so we can tell the two full-time Foyt drivers apart.

16. And now we move our attention to the Indianapolis 500. Do you have goose bumps? Sleep well and enjoy your Sunday. Practice begins Monday.


Morning Warm-Up: 3rd Grand Prix of Indianapolis

The championship lead starts on pole position again.
For the second consecutive race, Simon Pagenaud will start from pole position. The Frenchman ran a lap of 68.6868 seconds to win his fourth pole position of his IndyCar career and first in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Pagenaud attempts to become the first driver to win successive races from pole position since 2011. Will Power won Sonoma and Baltimore from pole position that year. Pagenaud could become the 11th driver in IndyCar history to finish on the podium in five consecutive races to start a season. The last driver to do it was Sébastien Bourdais in 2006. Charlie Kimball qualified second. It is Kimball's first career front row start. The Ganassi driver was 0.2948 seconds behind Pagenaud in the final round of qualifying. Kimball finished fifth in the two previous Grand Prix of Indianapolis. His two previous starts in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis were 23rd and 14th.

Hondas swept row two. James Hinchcliffe will start third. It is Hinchcliffe's best start he started second for the second Belle Isle race in 2014. Hinchcliffe has never started nor finished in the top ten in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. His 2014 race ended prematurely after he was hit by debris, giving the Canadian a concussion. Last year, Hinchcliffe finished 12th from 13th on the grid. Jack Hawksworth qualified fourth. It is the British drivers best start since starting third in the first Belle Isle race in 2014. Hawksworth's lone front row start was the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Of Hawksworth's six top ten starts, his seventh on the IMS road course in 2014 is his only top ten finish in those six starts. Tony Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya will start on row three. Kanaan's best finish in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis was seventh last year. Montoya finished third in last year's race.

Scott Dixon qualified seventh, his worst start in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. A Penske driver has spun Dixon in each Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Will Power spun him in 2014 and Hélio Castroneves tapped him last year. Sébastien Bourdais will start eighth in his third Grand Prix of Indianapolis start after qualifying seventh in the previous two editions. Bourdais has finished fourth each year on the IMS road course. Mikhail Aleshin has his first top ten start since qualifying second for the second Houston race in 2014. He qualified eighth for Fontana in 2014 but his pre-race accident prevented him from taking the green flag. Will Power rounds out the top ten. Should Power repeat as Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner, it would be the third-worst starting position he has won from. He won from 12th after qualifying second at Long Beach in 2012 and 16th at Belle Isle I in 2014. Power set the track record in the first round of qualifying with a lap of 68.6746 seconds.

Rookies Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi will start on row six. Chilton and Rossi both have two starts on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Chilton finished fourth and third in last year's Indy Lights races and Rossi finished fourth and sixth in Formula BMW USA races during the 2007 United States Grand Prix weekend. Daniel Morad and current Haas F1 Team driver Esteban Gutiérrez won those Formula BMW USA races. Hélio Castroneves will start 13th, his worst starting position in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Since the start of 2014, this is the fifth time Castroneves will start outside the top ten. Matthew Brabham will make his IndyCar debut from 14th. The Brabham family will join the Andretti and Vukovich families as families to have three generations of drivers start an IndyCar race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will start 15th. Last year, Hunter-Reay went from 19th to 11th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. J.R. Hildebrand makes his season debut this weekend and will start 16th. Last year, Hildebrand started 15th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Carlos Muñoz and Spencer Pigot will start on row nine. Muñoz has failed to finish in the top ten in the last three races and has never gone four consecutive races without a top ten. Pigot finished 14th on his IndyCar debut at St. Petersburg in March. Marco Andretti will start 19th for the second consecutive race. Andretti has yet to start in the top ten this season. Takuma Sato rounds out the top twenty. Sato has started 16th and 22nd in his two Grand Prix of Indianapolis starts and has finished ninth both times.

Alex Tagliani makes his first IndyCar starts of 2016 and will start 21st. Tagliani has finished in the top ten twice in 12 IndyCar starts coming from outside the top twenty. He finished sixth from 24th at Michigan in 2001 and finished tenth from 21st at Barber in 2010. Dale Coyne Racing's Conor Daly and Gabby Chaves will start 22nd and 23rd. Daly and Chaves both match their second-worst starting position of their careers. Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden round out the starting grid. Both drivers had their cars fail post-qualifying technical inspection for being underweight. Rahal had qualified third and Newgarden had qualified fifth. This is the 18th time in Rahal's career he has started outside the top twenty. Newgarden matches the worst starting position of his career. He has started 25th on three previous occasions. He finished fifth from 25th at São Paulo in 2013.

The 3rd Grand Prix of Indianapolis can be seen at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC with green flag scheduled for 3:50 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 82 laps.