Saturday, August 31, 2013

Scott Dixon Beats Will Power For Pole

Turn one, lap one of tomorrow's Grand Prix of Baltimore will be as interesting as a turn one, lap one could ever be. Scott Dixon beat Will Power by 0.0333 seconds and the two teams involved in the controversial pit penalty last week at Sonoma will be the two teams leading the field into the first corner tomorrow afternoon. Simon Pagenaud was third, over three tenths back of both Dixon and Power with Justin Wilson starting fourth. Josef Newgarden qualified fifth and will be joined by Tristan Vautier on row three.

Graham Rahal was set to move on to the Firestone Fast Six but got into the tires in turn eight and brought out the red flag. By bringing out the red flag, Rahal lost his two fastest laps and had to drop to twelfth. Tristan Vautier got into the back of the stationary Rahal but was not penalized and was allowed to advance to the Firestone Fast Six. The driver to advance to the Firestone Fast Six in place of Rahal was Scott Dixon.

Helio Castroneves will start seventh and missed the Firestone Fast Six by 0.0863 seconds. Ryan Hunter-Reay will join him on row four. Charlie Kimball will start in ninth with Takuma Sato tenth after what has been a rough summer for AJ Foyt Racing. James Hinchcliffe will start eleventh with Rahal in twelfth after losing his fastest times.

James Jakes was seventh in group one and would start thirteenth. However his RLLR team made an engine change before qualifying to his sixth engine of the year. Jakes will serve a ten spot grid penalty and start twenty-third. Luca Filippi will start thirteenth after missing the Fast 12 by 0.0407 seconds. Dario Franchitti will start fourteenth. Tony Kanaan starts fifteenth for what will be his 212th consecutive start, breaking the record set by Jimmy Vasser, with Oriol Servià in sixteenth. Marco Andretti starts seventeenth with Simona de Silvestro joining him on row nine. Ed Carpenter qualified nineteenth with Sebastián Saavedra in twentieth. EJ Viso got into the wall during qualifying and will start twenty-first with Stefan Wilson starting twenty-second on debut. Jakes will be twenty-third with Sébastien Bourdais in twenty-fourth after clipping the tires in the chicane and breaking his suspension.

Today's qualifying session can be seen at 6:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN. IndyCar will have a morning warm-up tomorrow at 10:15 a.m. ET. The Indy Lights race will take place at 12:35 p.m. ET but air on NBCSN after the IndyCar race. NBCSN's coverage of the Grand Prix of Baltimore will begin at 2:00 p.m. ET with green flag around 2:40 p.m. ET.

Pagenaud Paces Final Practice

Frenchman Simon Pagenaud paced final practice for the Izod IndyCar series at Baltimore, setting a time of 1:18.4391 seconds. He was a tenth faster than fellow Honda driver Scott Dixon. Will Power was third fastest. Dixon and Power had a incident during the final practice. Power got into the back of Dixon in turn twelve, resulting in a spin for Dixon and a red flag. Each driver had minor damage but continued. Sébastien Bourdais was fourth ahead of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan drivers of James Jakes and Graham Rahal in fifth and sixth.

Oriol Servià was seventh followed by the top Andretti Autosport driver, EJ Viso. Luca Filippi was ninth fastest with Justin Wilson rounding out the top ten. Championship points leader Helio Castroneves was eleventh only 0.0085 back of Wilson with Josef Newgarden just behind him. Dario Franchitti was thirteenth while Honda drivers Tristan Vautier and Franchitti's teammate Charlie Kimball rounded out the top fifteen.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was sixteenth fastest. He won last year at Baltimore from tenth on the grid. Sebastián Saavedra was seventeenth with Hunter-Reay's teammate James Hinchcliffe behind him in eighteenth. Chevrolet drivers and former teammates Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti rounded out the top twenty.

Takuma Sato was twenty-first with Simona de Silvestro twenty-second. She brought out a red flag for getting in the tires in turn eight. Ed Carpenter was twenty-third with debutant Stefan Wilson twenty-fourth. The top seventeen were covered by less than a second with the top nineteen covered by less than a second and a half. 2.7379 seconds covered the whole field. All drivers were within 105% of the fastest time.

James Jakes will receive a ten spot grid penalty this weekend. He exceeded the five engine limit this morning in practice and his result will no longer count toward the Manufacture's Championship, a new rule for 2013.

Should these practice times carry over to the first round of qualifying, the twelve drivers advancing to round two would look like this:

Group One: Dixon, Power, Jakes, Rahal, Servià, Franchitti. Not advancing: Hunter-Reay, Saavedra, Hinchcliffe, Sato, de Silvestro, S. Wilson.
Gorup Two: Pagenaud, Bourdais, Viso, Filippi, J. Wilson, Castroneves. Not advancing: Newgarden, Vautier, Kimball, Kanaan, Andretti, Carpenter.

IndyCar qualifying will take place at noon ET and will air at 6:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Vautier, Honda Dominate Second Session

Friday was a dominating day for Honda at Baltimore. Rookie Tristan Vautier was fastest in the second session setting a time of 1:19.4792 seconds. Vautier has won at Baltimore the last two years. In 2011, he won the Star Mazda race in the inaugural year of the Grand Prix of Balitmore and last year Vautier won the Indy Lights race. Vautier went on the win the championship each of those years after those Baltimore victories however that won't happen this year as Vautier has been mathematically eliminated from the IndyCar championship. Graham Rahal was second 0.0838 seconds back with Josef Newgarden third. Scott Dixon was fourth with Vautier's teammate Simon Pagenaud rounding out the top five. These were the only five Honda drivers in top ten of the first practice.

Will Power was sixth, 0.3964 back of Vautier. Power brought out a red flag at the end of the session when he got into the tire barriers at turn nine. He was able to drive his car back to the pit lane. Tony Kanaan was seventh ahead of Takuma Sato. Two four-time champions rounded out the top ten with Sébastien Bourdais ninth and Dario Franchitti tenth. Luca Filippi was eleventh fastest ahead of five consecutive Chevrolets, three of which are Andretti Autosport cars. Oriol Servià was twelfth with Helio Castroneves thirteenth. The Andretti Autosport guys of James Hinchcliffe, EJ Viso and Ryan Hunter-Reay took the next three spots on the time sheet. Justin Wilson was seventeenth ahead of Sebastián Saavedra and Charlie Kimball. James Jakes rounded out the top twenty.

Marco Andretti was twenty-first with Simona de Silvestro in twenty-second. Ed Carpenter was twenty-third and Stefan Wilson was twenty-fourth. The top thirteen were covered by less than a second with the top twenty covered by less than a second and a half. Neither Carpenter or Stefan Wilson were within 105% of the fastest time set by Vautier. Should any driver not be within 105% of the fastest time during qualifying, it is up to the race director to decide whether or not to enforce rule 7.8.1 which states: 
The Race Director may establish a performance standard which all Entries entered in an Event must achieve in order to participate in the Event. In general, Entries must perform with 105% of the Car posting the best time and demonstrate Car consistency, control/placement, and interaction with other Cars on Track to the satisfaction of the Race Director. In general, the standard will be announced to all Competitors prior to the start of the first practice session and will not be raised after practice has started. However, INDYCAR may delay announcement of the standard until a later time based on the physical condition of the Track, safety and other considerations.
Tomorrow, Indy Lights will be on track for final practice at 8:00 a.m. ET with their qualifying being held at 10:55 a.m. ET. IndyCar final practice will be at 9:05 a.m. ET with Firestone Fast Six qualifying taking place at noon ET. Tomorrow's qualifying session will air at 6:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Power Fastest in Baltimore First Practice

Penske Racing driver Will Power starts Baltimore right where he left Sonoma at the top of the scoring pylon. Power put down the fastest time of the first session with a lap of 1.20.8632 seconds, 0.2624 seconds ahead of EJ Viso. Oriol Servià was third fastest making it a clean sweep of the top three for Chevrolet. Honda took the next five spots on the time sheet. Graham Rahal laid down a flyer late in the session and was only 0.0157 back of Servià. Scott Dixon was on top for a fair share of the session but ultimately wound up fifth, 0.4615 back of Power and 0.0113 back of Rahal. Josef Newgarden was sixth with the Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Racing drivers of Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier seventh and eighth. Marco Andretti and Sébastien Bourdais rounded out the top ten.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver James Jakes was eleventh ahead of IndyCar championship leader Helio Castroneves. Defending champion and defending Baltimore race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was thirteenth only 0.0046 back of Castroneves. Second place from Sonoma, Justin Wilson was fourteenth quickest ahead of race winners in 2013 Takuma Sato, Charlie Kimball and James Hinchcliffe. Sebastián Saavedra was eighteenth ahead of the KV Racing Technology drivers Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro. Lucas Filippi was twenty-first to start his second race weekend of the 2013 season. He was ahead of Dario Franchitti, Ed Carpenter and Stefan Wilson who completed his first IndyCar practice session 4.4165 seconds off Power.

The top fifteen drivers were covered by less than a second with the top twenty covered by less than a second and a half. Six drivers ran a single digit amount of laps in the first session. Those drivers are Power, Dixon, Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe and Franchitti. The most laps run in the session were nineteen by Stefan Wilson.

Indy Lights will hit the track for their first practice session of the weekend at 1:25 p.m. ET with IndyCar second practice at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Track Walk: Baltimore 2013

For the first time since Pocono and Toronto, IndyCar runs back-to-back weeks with the series heading to the streets of Baltimore after a chaotic race at Sonoma. Will Power heads to Baltimore looking for his second win of the season and second on the streets of Baltimore. Ryan Hunter-Reay looks to go back-to-back at Baltimore and, just like last year, keep his championship hopes alive. After Sonoma, Helio Castroneves leads Scott Dixon by thirty-nine points with Hunter-Reay sixty-two back and Marco Andretti seventy back.

The Championship
After being penalized at Sonoma for contact with pit equipment, Scott Dixon saw a singe digit deficit more than quadruple as he went from the lead to fifteenth. Helio Castroneves held on for a top ten and only lost a handful of points to Ryan Hunter-Reay at Sonoma. The Brazilian is looking to win his first career championship. Scott Dixon meanwhile has to make up an average of 9.75 points to take the championship away for Castroneves and take it away from Penske Racing after being behind for the fifth consecutive year.

For the second consecutive year, Ryan Hunter-Reay sees himself trailing entering Baltimore. Last year, Hunter-Reay entered Baltimore thirty-six back of Will Power in what was the penultimate round of the championship. After qualifying in tenth, Hunter-Reay went on a charge to the front and with a key decision not to take wet weather tires when most the field did, Hunter-Reay stayed up front while Power had to fight from the back. A key pass for the lead on the the penultimate restart by Ryan Briscoe got the American ten more points and put him only seventeen back of Power heading into the season finale.

And then their is Marco Andretti. While Andretti has never been this high in the championship standings this late in the year, he has had a career year on road and street courses. In ten road and street course races to date, Andretti has nine top tens, five of which are top fives and two podiums. To add to Andretti chances for the championship, last year, Andretti won pole at Fontana and finished eighth after having to serve a drive through penalty while in the top five.

The Debutant and the Returnees, Week II
For the third consecutive week, IndyCar will see a new face on the grid with some familiar faces also returning. Stefan Wilson, younger brother of Justin Wilson, will make his debut as teammate to his older brother at Dale Coyne Racing driving the #18 Nirvana Tea Honda. The Englishman is a race winner in the Indy Lights series. He won two races in 2011 while driving for Andretti Autosport. In his only Lights start at Baltimore, Wilson finished fifth.

Luca Filippi and Oriol Servià return to the grid this weekend. Filippi made his first career start at Mid-Ohio a month ago and his back for what will be three consecutive races for the Italian as he will also drive for Barracuda Racing at Houston in a month. Servià returns for the first time since Mid-Ohio as well and he will run the remainder of the races for Panther Racing as Ryan Briscoe has a conflicting schedule for the rest of the season. Servià has a second and seventh in two starts at Baltimore.

Chasing a Record
While the Grand Prix of Baltimore should be Tony Kanaan's record breaking 212th consecutive start, the record for most different winners in an American open-wheel racing season could also be set in 2013 as well. With ten winners through fifteen races, the series is looking to break the record of eleven different winners set in the 2000 CART season and matched the following year by CART.

With four races to go, two winners will set the record and their are plenty of drivers capable of getting a win in 2013. Dario Franchitti is sixth in points, one behind Simon Pagenaud for fifth and has finished third in four of the last five races. The Scotsman has yet to win in 2013 and has won in every season since he returned to IndyCar in 2009. While Franchitti doesn't have a win a Baltimore, he did win the inaugural Grand Prix of Houston in 1998, won at Fontana in 2005 and finished second at Fontana last year after being passed by Ed Carpenter on the final lap. Speaking of Carpenter, while it would be a tremendous upset if he were to win at either Baltimore or Houston, he cannot be ruled out for the season finale at Fontana based off a track record two top fives, four top tens and a pole in the five oval races in 2013 and the fact he's the defending Fontana winner. Not to forget mentioning Carpenter has won the season finale the passed two season.

Justin Wilson is seventh in points and has three podiums this season, all on road and street courses including second at Sonoma last Sunday. He has three top tens on ovals including a fifth at Indianapolis and a seventh at Pocono. Wilson has an oval winner to his credit at Texas last year and the Englishman cannot be ruled out in any of the remaining four races this year. Marco Andretti has yet to win in 2013 and while most would pencil Fontana as his only real shot, Andretti's track record on road and street courses begs to differ. He has two podiums, four top fives and nine top tens in the ten road and street courses to date. Andretti's oval record is just as impressive, two top fives, four top tens and two poles in five oval races, making him just as likely a favorite to win in any of the four remaining race as Franchitti and Wilson are.

Other drivers capable of winning this year include Sébastien Bourdais. While he has never raced at Fontana, the Frenchman has started both Baltimore races and started fifth and third for each race respectively before having a mechanical failure end his day in each race. Bourdais has won his two and only starts at Houston in 2006 and 2007.

Other than the five drivers above, it's hard to see any other likely candidates to pick up a win. Graham Rahal has raced well at Baltimore and finished second in his only Houston start but has been inconsistent all year, although he has a podium in 2013 and last week at Sonoma was his best race weekend, from rolling off the truck Friday to the checkers Sunday, by far this season. The highest driver in the points without a win that has yet to be listed is EJ Viso who is twelfth in points. The Venezuelan's only podium came at Iowa in 2010 and while he has curbed his tendency to be an accident waiting to happen, he has yet to be fighting for wins. He does have two top fives and six top tens in 2013, both either most in a season or tying most in a season for Viso, but he has yet to put together a race weekend were he's a clear front runner. In two Baltimore starts, Viso has finished fifteenth and ninth, he has yet to start at Houston and last year at Fontana Viso finished twenty-fifth and was struggling to drive the car all weekend.

While Josef Newgarden nearly won São Paulo and has two top fives and top tens this season, the Tennessee native has fallen flat ever since Pocono, finishing twenty-third or worse in three of the last four races.  Simona de Silvestro has five top tens in 2013 but other than St. Petersburg she hasn't been at the front of the pack for any other race. After her, Oriol Servià and James Jakes are the only other drivers with multiple top tens in 2013 but Servià is driving for Panther Racing, who has only one top ten since firing JR Hildebrand and that was Servià at Iowa and Panther Racing has not won since Texas in 2005 when Tomas Scheckter was their driver not to forget mentioning the team has never won a road or street course race in IndyCar. Jakes' two top tens both came at Belle Isle, a tenth in race one and a second in race two. Other than that flash in the pan, Jakes has yet to have another serious look at a win in 2013.

Tristan Vautier is highly unlikely seeing as the Frenchman has one top ten in 2013 and the last driver to win a race in their first season in American open-wheel racing was Robert Doornbos in 2007 driving for Minardi Team USA. Sebastián Saavedra only has one top ten in 2013, JR Hildebrand is a one off at Fontana and while he led the second most laps in that race last year, I wouldn't put him as a favorite. Pippa Mann has yet to get a top ten in her IndyCar career. I wouldn't call her a favorite for Fontana either. Luca Filippi is making his second career start this weekend and if he shows the speed he had at Mid-Ohio in the next three races, who knows? He could sneak out a win. AJ Allmendinger is set to return for Fontana and while he did have a great Indianapolis 500 and could have been only a loose seatbelt away from winning, his next best finish in 2013 was nineteenth at Barber.

Baltimore Track Record
Last year, Will Power set the track record, setting a lap of 1:17.5921 seconds.

Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay have won the two previous Grand Prix of Baltimore. They started on pole and tenth respectively. Power finished sixth in 2012 while Hunter-Reay finished eighth in 2011. Helio Castroneves' two finishes at Baltimore have been seventeenth and tenth. Scott Dixon has finished fifth and fourth at Baltimore while Marco Andretti has finished twenty-fifth and fourteenth. Of the six podium finishers in the two Baltimore races, only one started in the top five, that was Power winning in 2011 and three have started outside the top ten.

This year is the first time there will be a race on September 1st since 1996 when Michael Andretti won at Vancouver. Michael Andretti also won on September 1st at Vancouver in 1991.

Simona de Silvestro looks to become the tenth driver and first woman to win an American open-wheel race on their birthday. She would join the following drivers to accomplish such a feat:

Dario Resta: August 19, 1916. Turned thirty-four years old and won at Chicago's Speedway Park.
Joe Boyer: May 30, 1924. Turned thirty-five years old and won the Indianapolis 500, splitting the ride with L.L. Corum.
Lou Moore: September 12, 1931. Turned twenty-seven and won at Syracuse.
Tony Bettenhausen: September 12, 1953. Turned thirty-seven years old and won at Syracuse.
Al Unser: May 29, 1971. Turned thirty-two years old and won the Indianapolis 500.
Nigel Mansell: August 8, 1993. Turned forty years old and won at New Hampshire.
Sam Hornish, Jr.: July 2, 2006. Turned twenty-seven years old and won at Kansas Speedway.
Scott Dixon: July 22, 2007. Turned twenty-seven years old and won at Mid-Ohio.
Dan Wheldon: June 22, 2008. Turned thirty years old and won at Iowa.

Indy Lights
Indy Lights returns to the track after a month off. Carlos Muñoz leads fellow Colombian Gabby Chaves by fifteen points and his Andretti Autosport teammate Sage Karam by sixteen points. Forty points back of Muñoz is Jack Hawksworth with Peter Dempsey fifth, forty-three points back.

Eleven cars will be on the grid this weekend. Venezuelan Giancarlo Serenelli and Canadian Matthew Di Leo return while Canadian Dalton Kellett will make his Indy Lights debut. Kellett has been competing in U.S. F2000 the past two seasons and he made his Pro Mazda debut earlier this year at Mosport. Kellett is currently fifteenth in U.S. F2000 points with his best finish being a sixth at Mid-Ohio.

Prediction
With this being the third Grand Prix of Baltimore, it is still wide open as to who could pick up the victory. While Penske Racing is coming off a win and Ganassi Racing has been on a tear since Pocono, it would be easy to pick the winner to come from either those teams and the winner very well could. Andretti Autosport has been fast every race weekend but now have to turn that speed into results. The last two races at Mid-Ohio Sonoma, Ryan Hunter-Reay and his team made a poor decision to go off pit strategy and had to fight from behind in each only to finish fifth and sixth. If he wants to win a second consecutive championship not only does he have to prevent this from happening up he has to win and make up handfuls of points at each race.

I feel this is Marco Andretti's weekend. But I have picked him four times in 2013 and have come up with naught each time. Give me Ryan Hunter-Reay this weekend. Scott Dixon will find a way onto the podium and Tony Kanaan will be on that third step. Dario Franchitti and Luca Filippi will be up front. Helio Castroneves hasn't put a wheel wrong all season, why would you expect him to put one wrong now? But Will Power will finish ahead of his teammate. Takuma Sato will continue to struggle and Stefan Wilson will get a top fifteen on debut but won't finish ahead of his older brother. Sleepers: Luca Filippi and Oriol Servià.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Seven Thoughts From the Racing Weekend

I guess this is going to be a regular feature here at For The Love of Indy. It really is a good way for me to clear my mind and allows me to cover other motorsports topics. If you, the readers, have any opinions on whether you enjoy this or any other features here at For The Love of Indy, let me know on Twitter. The account is @4TheLoveOfIndy.

1. Not going to spend too much time on IndyCar at Sonoma. Scott Dixon was penalized for hitting pit equipment. End of discussion. There is no rule saying pit crew members can cause a penalty to the team if they are perceived to be lackadaisical or for holding a tire a certain way. Deal with it.

2. We're heading to Labor Day weekend and I feel as if Darlington Raceway should be hosting a race.

3. Remember the Nations Cup from the CART days? Not suggesting IndyCar bring it back but with next year being a FIFA World Cup year and IndyCar will probably schedule Toronto the same day as the World Cup Final (July 13) but God if they do schedule it that day, I hope they talk to ABC and have Toronto as lead-in programming to the World Cup Final which drew 15,545,000 viewers in 2010 and I only expect that to go up in 2014. Anyway, what if IndyCar had their own World Cup for late June and July? What if Iowa, Pocono and the two Toronto races counted as Nations/World Cup events and the top finisher for each country represented in IndyCar are awarded points. After the first three races (so Iowa, Pocono and Toronto 1) the top four countries in the standings advance to the "Final" (Toronto 2) and are the only teams eligible for the Nations/World Cup, whatever you want to call it. Which ever country of the four finishes best Sunday is the World Champion. It only works if there is money on it and IndyCar has to find sponsorship dollars but that's nothing new with IndyCar.

4. Is 500 laps at Bristol really necessary? We saw a great battle between Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne but had to wait four hours for it. Meanwhile the Nationwide race, half the distance was nonstop action and though Kyle Busch dominated, it was the better race. Now if NASCAR was going to get creative with those 500 laps and split the field into three, 100 lap heats, two with fourteen driver, one with fifteen and had the top five from each transfer to the final. Then took the remaining twenty-eight drivers and put them in a seventy-five lap LCQ with the top five from that advancing to a one hundred and twenty-five lap A-Main, then the whole night is more interesting.

5. Is the Camping World Truck Series the red headed step child of NASCAR or what? They are going to Mosport this weekend and only 30 trucks are entered, six under the maximum and there are no interesting road course ringers. No Ron Fellows, no Boris Said, no Max Papis even though it was announced. Also, talk about poor scheduling. Same day Cup is in Atlanta, same time as IndyCar at Baltimore (not that NASCAR gives a f*** about IndyCar but once again, I am on a crusade for all motorsports and scheduling races head-to-head is one thing all series should avoid though I realize it is not alway possible and will have to happen on some occasions) and same weekend ALMS is at Baltimore so there are some road ringers that are unavailable. Part of me thinks that this was so poorly scheduled that it could be a one and done for the Truck Series but I doubt Ron Fellows (new owner of Mosport) will allow that to happen and the race will be scheduled better in 2014. If anything, put it the same weekend USCR is there, of course if USCR does go to Canada which it should.

And Mosport couldn't get a top notch Canadian for this race? Jacques Villeneuve and Alex Tagliani are that busy? Andrew Ranger couldn't get a ride? Hell get Patrick Carpentier out of retirement or Paul Tracy. No offense to Martin Roy and Alex Gaunette, the Canadians that will be racing but this race could of have a lot of big Canadian stars in it.

6. Speaking of Canadian's, Australian but born to a Canadian father, James Moffat won Nissan's first V8 Supercars race since 1992 last Saturday at Winton Motor Raceway. His teammate Michael Caruso finished second. Mark Winterbottom and James Courtney won the other two races at Winton. Jamie Whincup had two retirements and a thirteenth but still holds a fifty-five point lead over Will Davison, cousin of IndyCar driver James Davison. Winterbottom is third ahead of Craig Lowndes, who was penalized twenty-five points after the final race of the weekend for avoidable contact. Fabian Coulthard is fifth in points. Next round for V8 Supercars is the Sandown 500 in three weeks. The first of the three Endurance races.

7. MotoGP news: Marc Márquez won again and Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo joined him on the podium. It is Márquez's championship to lose after picking up his fourth consecutive victory. MotoGP heads to Silverstone this weekend.

Tribute To Tony Kanaan

It is only fitting Tony Kanaan is set to break the record for most consecutive starts at Baltimore. Nearly, eighteen years to the day Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2,131 consecutive game in Major League Baseball, breaking the record previously held by Lou Gehrig, Tony Kanaan is one start away from passing Jimmy Vasser and becoming American open-wheel racing's iron man.

It has taken Kanaan eleven years and driving for three different race teams to get to this point. When the streak started at Portland in 2001 (a race where Kanaan only completed lap one), Kanaan wasn't the best driver on the grid but he was in the top ten. He had a race win but it was going on two years since he got by a slowing Max Papis, who ran out of fuel and held off a charging Juan Pablo Montoya at Michigan. He had a dream partner at Mo Nunn Racing in Alex Zanardi, who returned after a season in Formula One and a year sabbatical. Zanardi would have his near fatal accident at Laustiz later that year and Kanaan was then teamed with a Mears. Casey Mears to be more specific. After another year with Mo Nunn, this time without a teammate, Kanaan made a change. A big change.

Kanaan was not only leaving Mo Nunn but leaving CART for the oval-only Indy Racing League and the new super team known as Andretti Green Racing. The switch took Kanaan to the next level. He won the first two pole positions of the 2003 season. He won the second race of the season at Phoenix, he had nine top fives, twelve top tens and finished a career best fourth in the standings behind Scott Dixon and fellow Brazilians and Indianapolis 500 winners Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves.

The following year, the super team that was AGR, flexed their muscle. Dario Franchitti returned after missing most of 2003 after a motorcycle accident. Bryan Herta was healthy. Dan Wheldon was the young gun who could keep up with his veteran teammates. In the first race at Homestead, Kanaan started eighth and finished eighth. That was his worst finish of the season. He would go on to win again at Phoenix and picked up back-to-back second place finishes at Motegi and Indianapolis. He won at Texas, finished fifth at Richmond, third at Kansas and won at Nashville. His second half of 2004, mirrored the first half in consistency: Fourth, second, fifth, fifth, second, third, second and second. Kanaan completed 3305 laps of a possible 3305 laps. Fifteen top fives in sixteen races. Sixteen top tens in sixteen races, not to forget mentioning two pole positions. Despite it happening during the ChampCar-IRL split, it has to go down as one of the best seasons in American open-wheel racing history.

It was a golden era for Andretti Green Racing. Wheldon would win the IndyCar title and Indianapolis 500 the following year. Franchitti would do the same in 2007 and Kanaan was still in the 2007 championship fight in the final race at Chicago thanks to a career high five wins in a season. And it wasn't just IndyCar. Kanaan, Franchitti and Herta won the first race for the Acura LMP2 program at the 12 Hours of Sebring. The team was on top but the changes would take their toll. After Wheldon and Franchitti left and Herta moved to Acura's LMP2 efforts, Kanaan and AGR took a step or two back. Penske and Ganassi took over as the dominate teams. Kanaan was the only senior member with young drivers Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick and Hideki Mutoh as teammates. It even led Kanaan to consider a switch to Ganassi Racing for 2009 but he stayed loyal to Michael Andretti, who took over sole control of the team and named it Andretti Autosport. 2009 was terrible. Kanaan didn't win a race for the first time in seven years. He had a big accident at Indianapolis end his day when he was in great position to get his first Indianapolis 500 win. Later that season at Edmonton, a pit fire ended his day and he escaped with only minor burns. Kanaan needed help. Enter Ryan Hunter-Reay. The veteran came to Andretti Autosport in a what was suppose to be a limited role in 2010. Thanks to a second at São Paulo and a win a Long Beach, the American was their to stay and work with Kanaan setting up the cars for Andretti and Patrick. The partnership got Kanaan back to victory lane at Iowa, a place where he was snake-bitten before. All was improving for Kanaan.

And then the rug was ripped out from underneath him. Kanaan's sponsor 7-11 was cutting back and would no longer be a primary sponsor for him or the team. Kanaan was out of a ride for 2011. It appeared Gil de Ferran and Dragon Racing was going to be his saving grace. That flamed out before the season started and it looked like Kanaan was out of a ride for good. Enter Jimmy Vasser. A week before the season opener at St. Petersburg, KV Racing Technology stepped up to field a car for Kanaan, painted in a Lotus livery and numbered 82 in honor of Jim Clark's 1965 Indianapolis 500 winning car. In the first race at St. Petersburg, Kanaan finished third. He had three top tens in the first four races and finished fourth at Indianapolis. Though 2011 started out great, it couldn't have ended any worse. Kanaan had only one top ten in the final five races. He went winless again and he lost his friend Dan Wheldon.

A change would occur it 2012. He got the opportunity to team with his lifelong friend Rubens Barrichello for the IndyCar season. He got his number 11 back and was hungry for that Indianapolis 500 win and to be next to Wheldon's face forever on the Borg-Warner Trophy. He came up short finishing third. 2012 saw Kanaan on the podium but not the top step for a second consecutive year. Barrichello left IndyCar after one season. Kanaan picked up a new teammate in Simona de Sivestro for 2013 and with time and money running out, Kanaan was running out of shots at the Indianapolis 500. A broken wrist at Long Beach didn't stop him. He didn't miss his home race in Brazil but retired after running up front all day. Entering Indianapolis, Kanaan was the emotional favorite but not the favorite. Andretti Autosport and Penske Racing were dominated. Ed Carpenter was on pole. Kanaan qualified twelfth. He wasn't even one of the ten fastest Chevrolets. But Kanaan got to the front of the pack early in the race and stayed their. His crew was spot on all day. He never faded. He traded the land with Hunter-Reay, Muñoz, Carpenter, Andretti and Allmendinger as it was impossible to pull away from the field. When the time came though, Kanaan went for it. He got the lead and was able to hold on as the caution came out with three laps to go, ending the race. Finally Tony Kanaan had won the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the changes and increased competition after reunification, Kanaan remains at the top. He has finished in the top ten in points for all but one season during this streak. He has won fifteen races during the streak and thirteen pole positions. Though the times are tough and Kanaan is still struggling with sponsorship despite his Indianapolis 500 victory, which probably kept this streak alive, his passion in the race car has never faded.

Kanaan, like Cal Ripken, Jr. has remained a fan favorite all these years. Fine one person who dislikes Kanaan? I dare you. However, just like Ripken, there is probably that 1.47% (the percent amount that kept Ripken from being a unanimous Hall of Fame inductee). Kanaan has been nothing but a great leader to all drivers in the paddock, a great driver to the fans and a great spirit for IndyCar as a whole.

Kanaan deserves the weekend to be dedicated to him. With all the crap that has gone down in IndyCar over the past few days, the series needs to blow this record out of proportion.

Why?

1. Kanaan deserves it.

2. IndyCar needs as much good publicity as it can get.

3. It would look fantastic for IndyCar if Cal Ripken, Jr. was the grand marshall and the B&O Warehouse, located behind pit lane had a banner with 211 on it that switched to 212 once the race becomes official (the same way they did when Ripken passed Gehrig) signifying Kanaan as starting more consecutive races than anyone else. Baltimore should be all about Kanaan, IndyCar's Iron Man.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sonoma 2013: First Impressions

1. I am going to start with what happened today at the Belgian Grand Prix. Greenpeace protesters had a field day protesting Shell's (the title sponsor for the Belgian Grand Prix) arctic oil drilling. I don't care what your stance is but if IndyCar is naïve enough to think this won't happen at Houston, another Shell sponsored event, they are dead wrong. Though IndyCar is not as big as Formula One and needs to gardner national attention, it shouldn't come from a protest that has nothing to due with IndyCar itself but a sponsor of an IndyCar event. You can't back out of Houston and you can't sever ties with a sponsor but IndyCar and the promoter Mike Lanigan have to do all they can to prevent their event from becoming a political demonstration.

2. After seeing what happened today, IndyCar has to make the pit lane safer and limit the amount of crew members over the wall. Time and time again we have seen either crew members or pit equipment being hit on the pit lane and the best way to avoid these incidents are limiting how many bodies go over the wall and what is over the wall before a car comes to a stop in a pit box.

Proposal: No more than three members over the wall. No more than four tires over the wall including the four on the car.

What does this mean?

Either two tire changers and the air jack man, one tire changer, air jack and fueler, whatever, no more than three.

What does four tires mean? When the car comes to a stop in the box, no tires can be over the wall. If tires are being changed, once the tires are removed from the car they have to go over the pit wall before new tires can go over the wall to be put on the car. It limits bodies, it limits equipment, it will make pit lane safer. Fast stops are great and looks amazing but I'd rather be safe than fast. All series, IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula One, have to make pit lane safer.

Oh by the way, who the f*** uses tape to mark off pit boxes? Either use the already painted pit stalls, they've got to be big enough for an IndyCar if a stock car can use them or paint their own lines down. Use green paint, yellow paint, blue paint, whatever it takes to clearly mark a pit box for IndyCar. I can easily move tape, I can't just pick up a painted line.

3. Good for Will Power. Sucks for Scott Dixon.

4. Justin Wilson had the drive of the race though as a few other drivers in the field had great drives. Nice podium for Dario Franchitti. His fourth, third place finish in five races.

5. Great day for Marco Andretti who picks up his first top ten at Sonoma since his win their in 2006. He has to be the most improved driver in 2013. Simon Pagenaud had a great day but an even better was Ryan Hunter-Reay who finished sixth after it looked like his day was shot before the first pit stop and he made up ground in the championship though it was only a few points.

6. Helio Castroneves is bound to win this title. Nothing goes wrong for him. The car never has a mechanical failure. He avoids all spinning cars. This is his to lose.

7. James Hinchcliffe had strategy work in his favor. Looked like he was going to have to pit late and fall deep in the field but Newgarden's caution allowed him to pit and finish eighth.

8. Great to see Simona de Silvestro in the top ten. She needed a great finish.

9. Sébastien Bourdais gets another top ten. Maybe he wins one of the next three races?

10. Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, James Davison and Sebastián Saavedra all deserved top tens but missed out.

11. Someone get James Davison a full-time ride.

12. JR Hildebrand finished sixteenth. Panther Racing finished seventeenth. You think he walked up to John Barnes and said, "scoreboard!?"

13. Not a bad debut for Lucas Luhr finishing twenty-second, four laps down. He didn't light the world on fire but give him and Pickett Racing more testing time and they will make progress if they choose to run IndyCar in 2014.

14. Rough year for Takuma Sato. Started off gangbusters; has finished twentieth or worse the last six races.

15. Apparently there is a daily limit for tweets and I hit it during the race on my laptop.

16. They should have pushed James Jakes' car behind the wall when he stopped off course in turn nine instead of towing him back. Extended the caution much longer than it should have.

17. How about running Sonoma backward? Everyone goes on and on about the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca. I think turns one and two at Sonoma going down hill would be just as impressive as the Corkscrew.

18. For all those who rip Sonoma, it's a great course in a great place. Go if you ever can. It won't disappoint you. The DW12 puts on very good races at Sonoma and it should stay on the schedule at all costs.

19. On to Baltimore. Should be fun.

Morning Warm-Up: Sonoma 2013

Dario Franchitti starts on pole position today as the Scotsman looks for his first victory of the 2013 season. This is Franchitti's fourth pole of the season and his finishes after his three previous pole wins are fourth, sixth and third. On the way to his 2009 championship, Franchitti led flag-to-flag from pole at Sonoma. His teammate Scott Dixon will join him on row one. Dixon won at Sonoma from fifth on the grid in 2007, the furthest a winner has ever come from at Sonoma. The Kiwi trails championship rival Helio Castroneves by thirty-one points with five races to go.

Row two features the Chevrolet drivers Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Power is looking for his first win of 2013 as well and has two wins and a second place finish in three starts at Sonoma. The Australian has yet to score a podium on a road or street course in 2013 with fourth being his best finish two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio. Ryan Hunter-Reay starts fourth. While all Sonoma winners have come from the top five, a winner has never started in the fourth position. Hunter-Reay is third in the standings, sixty-five points back of Castroneves. Helio Castroneves starts fifth as he looks for his seventh top ten in nine starts at Sonoma. Most recent IndyCar winner Charlie Kimball starts sixth. In two starts at Sonoma, the Californian Kimball has never finished better than twenty-first. Sonoma has been dominated by Penske and Ganassi Racing. While Penske has won the last three races at the track, Ganassi and them have combined to take the last six races at Sonoma, fifteen of eighteen podium positions in that time frame, twenty-two of thirty top five positions in that time frame including taking fourteen of the last fifteen top five positions.

Justin Wilson starts seventh for the second consecutive race as he looks for his first win of the season and looks to better his position in the championship standings. Since reunification in 2008, Wilson's best finish in the points is ninth. He is currently ninth, five behind the tie between James Hinchcliffe and Charlie Kimball for seventh. Graham Rahal starts eighth, only his second top ten start in 2013. James Hinchcliffe starts ninth ahead of Simon Pagenaud in tenth. Marco Andretti starts eleventh. Since winning his first career race at Sonoma in 2006, Andretti's best finish at the track is twelfth and has finished twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth in his last two Sonoma starts. Sébastien Bourdais joins him on row six.

Takuma Sato starts thirteenth. After scoring three top tens in the first four races, including a win and a second and leading the points into Indianapolis, Sato has only managed one top ten in the last ten races and has dropped to thirteenth in the standings. Tristan Vautier starts fourteenth. His lone top ten this season came at Barber. EJ Viso starts sixteenth. He is having a career year with six top tens, a career high. Tony Kanaan starts sixteenth. He has finished twenty-fourth the last two races. Josef Newgarden starts seventeenth. Last year, Newgarden broke his wrist at Sonoma which caused him to miss Baltimore. JR Hildebrand starts eighteenth in his return to IndyCar. James Jakes starts nineteenth with Sebastián Saavedra joining him on row ten. James Davison was scheduled to starts twenty-first ahead of fellow Australian Ryan Briscoe but he will drop to the rear of the field after an engine change. Briscoe will start twenty-first. He won at Sonoma last year and has finished in no worse than fourth in his last five races at Sonoma. Simona de Silvestro starts twenty-second. Ed Carpenter and Lucas Luhr will start on row twelve. This is Luhr's IndyCar debut. Davison will start twenty-fifth after the penalty.

NBCSN's coverage of the Go Pro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma begins at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag around 4:40 p.m. ET.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Franchitti Wins Fourth Pole of 2013

Dario Franchitti will lead a Ganassi Racing 1-2 after posting the fastest lap in the Firestone Fast Six. The Scotsman ran a 1:17.5271 seconds, nearly two tenths ahead of his teammate Scott Dixon who will start second. Franchitti put down a flyer after saving a set of sticker alternate tires for the final session. Will Power will start third and was 0.4464 seconds back of Franchitti. Ryan Hunter-Reay will start fourth ahead of championship points leader Helio Castroneves and the most recent IndyCar winner Charlie Kimball.

Justin Wilson will start seventh after missing the Firestone Fast Six next to his former Newman Haas teammate Graham Rahal. James Hinchcliffe starts eighth after qualifying only 0.0084 seconds back of Rahal. Pagenaud will join Hinchcliffe on row five and start tenth. Chevrolet drivers Marco Andretti and Sébastien Bourdais will start on row six.

Takuma Sato will start thirteenth after failing to advance from group one. Next to him will Tristan Vautier who ran a time good enough for second in group one but only seventh in group two. Former KV Racing Technology teammates EJ Viso and Tony Kanaan will start on row eight. Americans Josef Newgarden and JR Hildebrand start on row nine. Row ten features two drivers whose teammates advanced to round two. James Jakes will start nineteenth with Sebastián Saavedra next to him. Australian rookie James Davison will start twenty-first ahead of Australian veteran Ryan Briscoe, the defending race winner at Sonoma. Simona de Silvestro starts twenty-third ahead of fellow Chevrolet driver Ed Carpenter. Lucas Luhr will start twenty-fifth for his IndyCar debut.

Qualifying will air later tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN. There will be a morning warm-up tomorrow at 1:05 p.m. ET. NBCSN's coverage of the Go Pro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma will begin at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag around 4:40 p.m.

Franchitti Fastest in Final Practice

Dario Franchitti ran the fastest lap of the weekend when he posted a 1:18.0988 second lap in final practice. The Scotsman is looking for his first victory of the 2013 IndyCar season and first since winning the 2012 Indianapolis 500. Franchitti has one career victory at Sonoma. He led flag-to-flag in 2009. Defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was second 0.2554 seconds back and ahead of Sébastien Bourdais in third. Scott Dixon was fourth, 0.4655 seconds off his teammate. Justin Wilson rounded out the top five in what has been a consistent weekend for the Englishman so far.

Helio Castroneves was sixth in the session with Marco Andretti just 0.0958 seconds back of him. Most recent IndyCar winner Charlie Kimball was 0.0053 off of Andretti with his former teammate Graham Rahal in ninth with Simona de Silvestro rounding out the top ten. Only 0.0511 seconds covered Andretti to de Silvestro. James Hinchcliffe was eleventh with James Jakes and rookie Tristan Vautier twelfth and thirteenth. Australians and the winners of the last three Sonoma IndyCar races Ryan Briscoe and Will Power were fourteenth and fifteenth.

Sebastián Saavedra was sixteenth ahead of the Hondas of Simon Pagenaud and Takuma Sato. EJ Viso was nineteenth with JR Hildebrand in twentieth. Tony Kanaan was twenty-first ahead of the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing duo of Josef Newgarden and Lucas Luhr. James Davison was twenty-fourth with Ed Carpenter rounding out the field in twenty-fifth.

The top eighteen were covered by less than a second with 2.8631 covering the whole field. Should these practice times carry over to the first round of qualifying, the twelve drivers that would advance to round two would look like this:

Group One: Wilson, Castroneves, Rahal, de Silvestro, Hinchcliffe and Jakes. Not advancing: Power, Pagenaud, Sato, Viso, Newgarden, Davison.
Group Two: Franchitti, Hunter-Reay, Bourdais, Dixon, Andretti and Kimball. Not advancing: Vautier, Briscoe, Saavedra, Hildebrand, Kanaan, Luhr and Carpenter.

IndyCar qualifying will take place at 5:30 p.m. ET with it airing on NBCSN at 9:00 p.m. ET.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Dixon Fastest in Second Practice

Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon was fastest in second practice with a time of 1:18.3145 seconds. Dixon was over three tenths faster than his championship rival Helio Castroneves who leads Dixon by thirty-one points in the championship standings. Will Power was third quick just 0.03612 seconds ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay. Justin Wilson was fifth just over a half second behind Dixon.

Graham Rahal was sixth fastest less than a tenth ahead of fellow Honda drivers Dario Franchitti and Simon Pagenaud. EJ Viso was ninth with Ryan Briscoe rounding out the top ten. Less than a tenth of a second covered eleventh through sixteenth. James Hinchcliffe was eleventh just a little over a second back of Dixon but only 0.0030 ahead of Tristan Vautier in twelfth. Charlie Kimball was thirteenth with Takuma Sato just 0.0031 seconds back of him. JR Hildebrand was fifteenth with Sébastien Saavedra in sixteenth, only 0.0965 seconds back of Hinchcliffe.

James Jakes was seventeenth with Sébastien Bourdais eighteenth only 0.0071 seconds back. Bourdais led a string of five consecutive Chevrolets. Tony Kanaan was nineteenth with Marco Andretti down in twentieth. Ed Carpenter was twenty-first ahead of Simona de Silvestro twenty-second. James Davison was twenty-third with Josef Newgarden just 0.0146 second back of him and 1.5470 seconds back of Dixon. Newgarden's teammate this weekend Lucas Luhr was twenty-fifth, 0.7844 seconds off of Newgarden.

IndyCar will have a practice session tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. ET with qualifying taking place at 5:30 p.m. ET. Qualifying will air later Saturday night at 9:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

2014 IndyCar Schedule Update #2

As the series heads to Sonoma, not a lot of Earth shattering information came out on the 2014 IndyCar schedule but minor inklings have come out. 

First and foremost, the possibility of an international IndyCar schedule. If that were to happen, all signs point to it happening in 2015 and would run during the winter. Derrick Walker would go on to say any international events are in the planning stages and there are no firm commitments at this point. 

In my opinion, I don't think there should be two separate championships. There should be one IndyCar season with one IndyCar champion. We don't need an IndyCar season and then an IndyCar International or Global or Intercontinental or whatever-they-call-it title. It's bad enough the oval and road/street course championships are nonexistent (though they do exist) and aren't worth anything. Another champion isn't needed.

The other issue with IndyCar's international plan is their North American scheduling. If they want the season to end by Labor Day, that not only kills autumn races at places such as Houston and Fontana but races in Europe. This year the final European Formula One round is the Italian Grand Prix on September 8th. In 2001, when CART made their trek to EuroSpeedway Laustiz and Rockingham, they raced September 15th and 22nd. The German race was the day before the Italian Grand Prix with Rockingham going unopposed. Ending the season so early and starting in January or February limits international races to the Mideast, Southeast Asia, South America, Mexico and Africa. 

However, what if IndyCar made a complete change to how they view the schedule? What if the season still ended by Labor Day in 2014 but the next season began the following month and the schedule wasn't just for 2015 but 2014-2015? What if right after a champion is crown, there is a month for teams to regroup before racing internationally to start the season? It would be the best way to keep racing through out autumn and not have the champion crowned at a foreign location, something Walker stressed as being unsatisfactory for the series. Many sports use a split calendar: In North America, hockey begins in October and stretches into June of the following year. Basketball begins November and ends in June as well. Most Football (soccer to some) leagues begin in August and end the following May. It's not unheard of but in racing terms, a split calendar is not the norm. The now defunct A1GP used it. They began in Europe, ran in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Pacific in the winter, returned and ended in Europe in spring.

A split calendar would allow for international races and a champion to be crowned in the United States by Labor Day. A split calendar could also make three to five week breaks more acceptable. Hypothetically, let's say the season were to begin in early October, maybe the final weekend in September. Race for two or three weeks then a week or two off Another two weeks of racing to end the month and enter November. Another week or two off, race and then off for most of December so the teams get to be home for the holidays. Start back up again in mid-January, race at beginning of February and at this point the schedule can transition for international to domestic. 

The problem with a split calendar is you need enough interested events for it to work. If there are only two international places interested in hosting a race, they could be run in January and February and it doesn't work but if you were to get two or three races in Europe, two in the Asia-Pacific region, two in the Middle East and throw in São Paulo and any additional races in Brazil, other South American countries or Africa then it could work but you need at least six more races before it could even be considered. 

Another concern, though minor, is the balance between ovals and road/street courses. Internationally, there are just fewer ovals than in the United States but their are good ovals. Motegi recently hosted IndyCar. There are Rockingham and Lausitz but the problem with those two is the lack of SAFER barriers. Other than those three locations, there aren't any other ovals up to the standards to host an IndyCar race unless IndyCar can find someone in the Middle East willing to spend the money to build an oval or two. 

Ovals aside, there are many places IndyCar has been interested in going to and places interested in having IndyCar. Many want to return to Surfers Paradise. Qingdao, China was interested in having IndyCar as was Zhuhai for ChampCar and South Korea. Mugello, Italy expressed interested in hosting an IndyCar race and even had one on their schedule online for a while even though it wasn't going to happen. IndyCar is already in São Paulo and since São Paulo was added in 2010, there have been numerous rumors of a second Brazilian date. The one problem is while all these places have expressed interest the money hasn't been there and before IndyCar goes anywhere the check has to clear. 

Another plus to the split calendar is IndyCar would on the map nonstop. You would begin in October, race in November and maybe have one the first weekend December (come to think of it, that would be a good date for São Paulo. Gets it away from Carnival, puts it right at the end of spring in the Southern Hemisphere). Then you are off for the holidays but get back going before NASCAR and Formula One does by racing in January, throw another international race in February and you can transition into the domestic calendar going from late February through Labor Day weekend. 

But these are just ideas for the future and doesn't mean it will actually happen. IndyCar going around the world is fine by me but they have to do it right and make sure the series and it's team benefit from it.

Hunter-Reay Fastest in Sonoma First Practice

Defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest in first practice, setting a time of 1:18.6814 seconds. Directly behind him was championship points leader Helio Castroneves who was 0.0162 seconds back. Dario Franchitti was the fastest Honda in third just 0.1310 seconds off Hunter-Reay. Marco Andretti was fourth fastest. He picked up his first career IndyCar win at Sonoma in 2006. Defending race winner at Sonoma Ryan Briscoe was fifth quick. He has missed the last two races with a broken wrist.

Justin Wilson was sixth just ahead of Sébastien Bourdais. EJ Viso was eighth fastest ahead of JR Hildebrand who makes his first appearance in an IndyCar since Indianapolis this May. James Hinchcliffe rounded out the top ten just 0.5154 seconds back of his teammate. Josef Newgarden was eleventh fastest ahead of Will Power. Power has the most IndyCar wins at Sonoma with two. Graham Rahal was thirteenth just ahead of his teammate James Jakes in fourteenth. The two Rahal Letterman Lanigan cars were only 0.0025 seconds apart. Scott Dixon was fifteenth and spun on his final lap of practice. He was able to keep the car going and drive back to the pit lane.

Rookie Tristan Vautier was sixteenth ahead of Sebastián Saavedra and Simona de Silvestro. The top eighteen were covered by 0.9200 seconds. James Davison was nineteenth ahead of four race winners in 2013, Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, Long Beach winner Takuma Sato, Belle Isle Sunday race winner Simon Pagenaud and the most recent winner at Mid-Ohio Charlie Kimball. Ed Carpenter was twenty-fourth with German debutant Lucas Luhr rounding out the field, 2.2522 seconds back.

IndyCar second practice will take place later this afternoon at 5:00 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Track Walk: Sonoma 2013

After two weeks off IndyCar heads to Wine Country and Sonoma Raceway for the fifteenth round of the Izod IndyCar Series season. Californian Charlie Kimball heads to Sonoma the most recent winner in the Izod IndyCar Series. Helio Castroneves holds a thirty-one point lead over Scott Dixon and sixty-five point lead over defending Izod IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Five Races To Go
With five races to go, the IndyCar season is coming down the stretch. Last year, the fifteenth round of the championship was the season finale at Fontana. Now the series will have four races at three different tracks after Sonoma. With four extra races, it means the teams will have to stretch their supply of five engines just a little longer than last year. Prior to Mid-Ohio, IndyCar released an engine consumption update. Entering Mid-Ohio, the only team to already be over their fifth allotted engine is the #18 Dale Coyne Honda. Teams on their fifth engine were the #10 Ganassi Honda, #15 RLLR Honda, #16 RLLR Honda and #67 Fisher Hartman entries. Three teams were still on their third engine at Mid-Ohio, the #4 Panther Chevrolet, #6 Dragon Chevrolet and the #7 Dragon Chevrolet. The rest of the field was on their fourth engine. With not only four races after Sonoma but testing as well, teams will have to do all they can to make sure they get to the season finale on fifth engine but with as little wear and tear as possible.

AJ Foyt Oval Championship and Mario Andretti Road Course Championship
If you have no clue who is leading the AJ Foyt Oval Championship and the Mario Andretti Road Course Championship, don't worry, IndyCar hasn't done a good job letting you know. Luckily, each will be posted below.

AJ Foyt Oval Championship: Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves are tied with 186 points, with the tiebreaker belonging to Hunter-Reay for having more second place finishes. Tony Kanaan is third, twenty points back with Ed Carpenter fourth forty-one behind Hunter-Reay. Andretti is fifth, five back of Carpenter. Will Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Justin Wilson round out the top ten. Charlie Kimball is eleventh ahead of his teammate and 2010 AJ Foyt Oval champion Dario Franchitti. EJ Viso is thirteenth with Josef Newgarden and Takuma Sato rounding out the top fifteen. With one oval to go, only the top six have a shot at that title.

Mario Andretti Road Course Championship: With four road races to go, Scott Dixon leads Helio Castroneves by twenty-nine points. Marco Andretti is third, fifty-nine back. Dario Franchitti is fourth, three back of Andretti with Simon Pagenaud just four points behind him. Charlie Kimball is now sixth after his victory at Mid-Ohio. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Justin Wilson are tied for seventh but Hunter-Reay owns the tiebreaker with one win to Wilson's none. James Hinchcliffe and Sébastien Bourdais round out the top ten. Long Beach winner Takuma Sato is eleventh with Will Power, the only driver to have won the road course title in it's three years of existence, twelfth. EJ Viso, Simona de Silvestro and Graham Rahal round out the top fifteen with Brits James Jakes and Mike Conway sixteenth and seventeenth respectively. Josef Newgarden, Tony Kanaan and Tristan Vautier round out the top twenty with Alex Tagliani, Ed Carpenter, Oriol Servià and Sebastián Saavedra the remaining drivers mathematically eligible for the title.

The Debutant and The Returnees
One driver will be making their IndyCar debut at Sonoma and another will be making their first start since Indianapolis. German Lucas Luhr will debut driving for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, in partnership with RW Motorsports and Pickett Racing. Luhr currently drives for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing in the American Le Mans Series and leads the LMP1 class standings with four races to go. Luhr won in the ALMS GT class at Sonoma in 2000, 2002 and 2003. Meanwhile, JR Hildebrand returns to the Izod IndyCar Series driving for Barracuda Racing after missing the last nine rounds after being fired by Panther Racing. Hildebrand recorded his career best finish at his home track last year when he finished eighth but in his two other starts at the track he finished twenty-fourth and twenty-third respectively.

James Davison will return for his second career IndyCar start at Sonoma driving the #18 Dale Coyne Honda. Davison finished fifteenth on debut at Mid-Ohio earlier this month. In three Indy Lights starts at Sonoma, Davison's best finish is third. Stefan Wilson will make his IndyCar debut in the #18 at Baltimore with Mike Conway racing the doubleheader at Houston and Pippa Mann running the season finale at Fontana.

Wednesday Testing
An official IndyCar test took place Wednesday at Sonoma Raceway. James Hinchcliffe was the fastest in the morning session with a time of 1:18.9329 seconds, the only driver in the 1:18 bracket. Will Power was second with Ryan Hunter-Reay in third. Sébastien Bourdais was fourth, rounding out a sweep of the top four for Chevrolet. Dario Franchitti was fifth with Marco Andretti sixth and Helio Castroneves in seventh. Castroneves' championship rival Scott Dixon was eighth quickest ahead of defending Sonoma winner Ryan Briscoe in ninth. Justin Wilson rounded out the top ten.

James Jakes was eleventh quick with EJ Viso and Tony Kanaan twelfth and thirteenth. The top thirteen were within a second of Hinchcliffe. Josef Newgarden was fourteenth followed by Simon Pagenaud and his teammate for this weekend Lucas Luhr. The German was 1.2933 seconds off Hinchcliffe and 0.0192 seconds back of his teammate. Tristan Vautier was seventeenth with JR Hildebrand eighteenth in his first laps in an IndyCar since Indianapolis. Simona de Silvestro and Graham Rahal round out the top twenty. James Davison was twenty-first and Sebastián Saavedra was the slowest car to take time during the session making only one lap. Most recent winner and Californian Charlie Kimball and the last two winners of IndyCar races in California, Takuma Sato and Ed Carpenter did not take part in the morning session.

In the afternoon, Chip Ganassi Racing's two Target cars took hold posting the two fastest times of the day. Dario Franchitti was fastest with a time of 1:18.2945 seconds, with Scott Dixon less than a tenth behind him. Chevrolets took up the next seven spots on the time sheet from three different teams. Ryan Hunter-Reay was third quick just 0.1762 seconds off Franchitti. Will Power was fourth with his teammate Helio Castroneves in fifth. Marco Andretti was sixth and the last driver to break the 1:18 second bracket. James Hinchliffe was seventh followed by the Dragon Racing duo of Sébastien Bourdais and Sebastián Saavedra. Just as in the morning, Justin Wilson was tenth.

Simona de Silvestro was eleventh quick ahead of Charlie Kimball. EJ Viso was thirteenth ahead of Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan. James Jakes was sixteenth fastest followed by Ryan Briscoe , JR Hildebrand and his teammate Graham Rahal. Simon Pagenaud was twentieth and followed by his teammate Tristan Vautier. Takuma Sato was twenty-second ahead of Honda driver James Davison, Ed Carpenter and Lucas Luhr. Luhr was 2.0096 seconds back of Franchitti.

Sonoma Track Facts
This will be the tenth race ever held at Sonoma Raceway, the first being held in 1970 and won by Dan Gurney. In the eight races since the track returned to the IndyCar schedule in 2005, there have been seven different winners with Will Power the only driver to win their on multiple occasions. The pole sitter has won four of the nine previous races at the track with the winner twice coming from second or third on the grid. Fifth place is the furthest back on the grid a winner has come from. That was Scott Dixon in 2007. All podium finishers at Sonoma have started inside the top ten. Marco Andretti's win in 2006 is not only the last time an American has won at Sonoma but last time an American finished on the podium.

In seven starts at the track, Dario Franchitti has a win, five podiums, six top fives and seven top tens. His worst finish at the track is an eighth back in his first start at Sonoma in 2005. Since being injured at Sonoma in 2009, Will Power has two wins and a second place finish. In his last five starts at Sonoma, Ryan Briscoe has a win, four podiums and worst finish is fourth. Briscoe will return behind the wheel of the #4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet this weekend after missing the second race at Toronto and Mid-Ohio with a broken wrist.

Helio Castroneves has six top tens in eight starts at Sonoma, including a win and two second place finishes. Scott Dixon has five top tens in eight Sonoma starts, including a win and a second place finish. Ryan Hunter-Reay has two top tens in six Sonoma starts but his best finish is eighth with three eighteenth place finishes and has never started better than seventh. Since his win in 2006, Marco Andretti's best finish at Sonoma is a twelfth in 2010. This could be a good weekend for Graham Rahal. He has four top tens in five starts at Sonoma.

Last year, Will Power set the fastest time on the remodeled IndyCar course layout at Sonoma with a lap of 1:17.2709 seconds.

This year's Sonoma race will be the first race on August 25th since 2002 when there was a CART and IRL race on the same day. Gil de Ferran won the penultimate race held at Gateway International Raceway with Helio Castroneves and Alex Barron rounding out the podium while Dario Franchitti won the inaugural CART race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with Cristiano da Matta and Tony Kanaan finishing second and third.

Tony Kanaan looks to tie his team owner Jimmy Vasser for the most consecutive starts in American open-wheel racing. Should Kanaan take the green flag Sunday, he will make a record tying, two hundred and eleventh consecutive start dating back to Portland 2001, a CART event. Kanaan's last race missed was Belle Isle the week prior to Portland after suffering a concussion during qualifying for that event.

Prediction
Honda is on their longest win streak since Chevrolet rejoined the series last year. Ganassi Racing has won four in a row and will be racing with heavy hearts this weekend as Floyd Ganassi, father of Chip Ganassi passed away Monday at age 87. Dario Franchitti has yet to win in 2013 but has won a race every year he has competed in since 2007 and won at Sonoma in 2009. Scott Dixon has won three of the last four and won at Sonoma in 2007.

Give me James Hinchcliffe this weekend and it isn't because he was fastest this morning but he's facing a trying time with uncertain over whether or not he will return to Andretti Autosport and whether or not  Go Daddy returns for 2014 as well. Despite his season of checkers or wreckers, I'll take Hinchcliffe. I think Ryan Hunter-Reay gets a top five and keeps his championship hopes alive and I think this is the weekend Helio Castroneves has his first sign of adversity in IndyCar in 2013. Scott Dixon will get a top five and I think Lucas Luhr will get a top ten on debut. Justin Wilson will run consistently up front as well as Ryan Briscoe. Sleepers: Sébastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

USAC Update

As the summer is nearing it's end, the championship battle for the big four USAC titles are heating up.

Silver Crown
AJ Fike won the Tony Bettenhausen 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Saturday. Fike led the first seven laps but was passed by Chris Windom who would go on and lead the next eighty-five laps but Fike would regain the lead on lap 93 and hold on for the victory. It was Fike's first Silver Crown victory of the year. Windom would finish second ahead of Jerry Coons, Jr., Tracy Hines and Shane Cockrum. Brian Tyler finished sixth with Kody Swanson in seventh, Pikes Peak winner Bobby East finished eight with Robert Ballou and Taylor Ferns rounding out the top ten. Chris Urish finished eleventh ahead of Jarett Andretti, son of John Andretti and Dave Darland.

Through six Silver Crown races in 2013, there have now been six different winners. The now retired Levi Jones won the first race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in May with Bobby Santos winning at Gateway the following week. East won at Pikes Peak at the end of June with Tanner Swanson winning at the former Indianapolis Raceway Park at the end of July. Tracy Hines won on the Belleville High Banks at the beginning of August and Fike's win on Saturday makes him the sixth different winner.

Tracy Hines leads Jerry Coons, Jr. by nine with two races to go. Bobby East is third, sixteen back. Tanner Swanson is one point behind East for third with Chris Windom rounding out the top five. The Silver Crown Series returns to the track on September 1st at DuQuoin Speedway before wrapping up their season September 21st at the Four-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway.

Sprint Cars
Jon Stanbrough won the most recent event at Southern Iowa Speedway on August 6th. The main event was shortened to 20 laps due to rain. Kyle Larson finished second that night with Brady Bacon, Chase Stockton and Jerry Coons, Jr. rounding out the top five. The top two in the championship, Dave Darland and Bryan Clauson finished fourteenth and twentieth respectively that night.

Darland leads Clauson by five points as the series heads to Kokomo for Sprint Car Smackdown II, August 22 through the 24th. Bacon is third in the standings, twenty back. Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Stockton round out the top five in the Sprint Car standings.

National Midget Dirt
Bryan Clauson won Sunday night at Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. He took the lead from Andrew Felker on lap five and never looked back as he picked up his third Midget win of the year. Tracy Hines, Darren Hagen, Jerry Coons, Jr. and Zach Daum rounded out the top five with Felker finishing sixth. Christopher Bell finished seventh and retains his points lead.

The rookie Bell has four wins in 2013 and leads Clauson by fifty-eight points with Hines, Coons, Jr. and Hagen rounding out the top five. The next race for the midget cars will be the Four-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway on September 21st.

National Midget Pavement
Christopher Bell and Kyle Hamilton took the Battle on the Border races at Illiana Motor Speedway and Grundy County Speedway on August 9th and 10th. Bell led flag-to-flag at Illiana with Darren Hagen, Hamilton, Dalton Armstrong and Kyle O'Gara rounding out the top five. It was Bell's first win of the pavement season.

Hamilton took the lead on lap eleven from Jim Anderson at Grundy County and held on for his first win of the pavement season. Bobby Santos finished second with Dalton Armstrong finishing third. Bell and Brad Greenup rounded out the top five. Anderson finished eighteenth after leading the first ten laps.

Tracy Hines and Darren Hagan are tied for the pavement points lead as the series heads to it's final event at Columbus Motor Speedway on October 12th. Hines has two pavement wins at Pikes Peak and IRP in July while Hagan's lone win came at the Night Before the 500 in May. Santos is third in the standings, twenty-four back of Hines and Hagan. Kyle O'Gara is fourth in points with Kyle Hamilton's victory elevating him to fifth in points.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nine Thoughts From The Racing Weekend

1. No SpeedCenter or Wind Tunnel Sunday night and it sucked.

2. MotoGP is returning to Indianapolis for one more year in 2014 but after that, who knows? I really enjoy the event. If that race were not to return in 2015, where else in the United States could the series go? Road Atlanta probably needs some work, as would Road America. Miller Motorsports Park hosted World Superbikes for a few years but don't any more and the track has been trouble keeping events. It put on great ALMS and Grand-Am races but neither has gone to the track since 2010. The track has never done a great job drawing people from Salt Lake City, which is only forty-five minutes away.

Barber is a nice course and was built for motorcycles but I am pretty sure it isn't big enough. Yet again, Indianapolis is only about two-tenths of a mile longer, so you couldn't rule it out. The other problem with Barber is scheduling. It would make sense to run that race back-to-back with Austin but the IndyCar race at Barber was only scheduled two weeks prior to MotoGP at Austin. It would be too warm to run Barber during the summer. The fall would be difficult because MotoGP goes to Pacific and NASCAR goes to Talladega in October. For Barber to end up on the MotoGP calendar there would have to be a few alterations made to either the MotoGP calendar, the Barber calendar or both.

3. NASCAR season is in full swing and we are getting closer to the Chase. The wild card race is interesting with Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex, Jr. and Joey Logano all with at least a victory and all within twenty points of tenth place. And Greg Biffle is on the bubble, with a win. Not to forget mentioning Ryan Newman is lurking with a win to his name. Tony Stewart still has a slim shot. He's got a win and is fifty-nine back of the second wild card. Now I am pretty sure Stewart doesn't return before the Chase, he probably doesn't return in 2013. But imagine him missing next week at Bristol, returning and starting Atlanta and Richmond, being substituted for each and having someone else finish the races and said-substitute pulls off a win in one of the two and gets Stewart into the Chase? Wouldn't that be something?

4. Grand-Am put on a decent show at Kansas Speedway. Who would have thought Saturday night road racing was a good idea? The Daytona Prototype championship picture has been interesting. Alex Popow/Ryan Dalziel lost the points lead to the Alex Gurney/Jon Fogerty pairing who then proceeded to lose the points lead when Gurney got caught up in a three car accident with Sébastien Bourdais and Stéphane Sarrazin. Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli will take a two point lead into Laguna Seca over Christian Fittipaldi after their victory. Popow and Dalziel are three back, Gurney, Fogerty and João Barbosa are four back, Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett are five back. It is anyone's championship. Meanwhile in GT, Alessandro Balzan leads John Potter and Andy Lally by one point and with Balzan's victory Saturday, the top two in the championship have now combined for one victory. Third in the standings John Edwards and Robin Liddell have four wins and are three back.

5. Speaking of Kansas, it wasn't a terrible race for a roval but count me as one who would be disappointed if it ends up on the USCR schedule while Road America, Mosport, Mid-Ohio, heck even Barber and Long Beach do not. I have done some thinking about the USCR calendar and here is an idea: What if there were weekends with all categories at the same track either running one race together or split prototypes, GT races and then a few GT only and Prototype only events?

So the weekends with all classes could be: Daytona, Sebring, Long Beach (split races), Watkins Glen, Lime Rock Park (split races), Indianapolis, Road America, Austin, Laguna Seca and Petit Le Mans.
GT only: Kansas, Barber and Belle Isle.
Prototype only: Mosport, Baltimore and Mid-Ohio.
What would this cover? A. Tracks that currently have a sports car date, get to keep one. B. More races. C. Sports cars season isn't as spread thin over ten months. It's just a thought.

6. Great to see Robert Wickens officially get his first DTM win. The kids is talented enough for Formula One. There is a full grid of drivers out their 31 years old or under who have yet to get a shot at Formula One and deserve one. Wickens is one of them. Throw in Bertrand Baguette, Neel Jani, Adam Carroll, Álvaro Parente, Luca Filippi, Davide Valsecchi, Andy Soucek, Loïc Duval, Filipe Alburquerque, Miguel Molina, Jonathan Summerton, James Rossiter, Nicolas Lapierre, Sam Bird, Edoardo Mortara, Mike Conway, Oliver Turvey and Ryan Briscoe and you have a pretty great array of drivers. Throw some older drivers: Dario Franchitti, Tom Kristensen, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Gary Paffett and André Lotterer and your set.

7. With DTM having an American series in a couple of years, think about the possible events that could be on their calendar: Austin, Laguna Seca, Road America, Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio, Lime Rock Park, Mosport, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Long Beach, maybe even Daytona and Indianapolis?

8. Speaking of Daytona, seeing as how I am on a crusade for the benefit of motorsport, here is are two crazy ideas that will probably never happen: A combined DTM/ATM/Super GT race the Friday night prior to the 24 Hours of Daytona and an IndyCar doubleheader on the road course the Saturday evening before the shootout (excuse me Sprint Unlimited) and after Daytona 500 pole qualifying the following day. I don't see how either would hurt anyone. Rather help all involved.

9. Have you ever realized how proud Audi is of their accomplishments in motorsports? Find an Audi commercial that doesn't have historic rally footage or an Audi R18. I dare you. They are proud. I am so glad their is an automobile manufacture proud of their motorsports accomplishments. Regardless whether they happened yesterday or thirty years ago. And it seems they don't give a damn if the general public knows exactly what the R18 is or what it won. They are going to show it to you. God forbid Ford, Chevrolet, Honda, Toyota or BMW were to do the same.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Márquez Wins Indianapolis Grand Prix, Wickens Officially Gets First Career DTM Win, Logano Wins at Michigan

For the third consecutive year Spaniard Marc Márquez is a winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The rookie held on from pole position to pick up his fourth win this year and extend his points lead over teammate Dani Pedroda. Márquez won the inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas at Circuit of the Americas in Austin this April, won the United States Grand Prix at Laguna Seca last month and with his win today has swept all three United States races. This is his third consecutive MotoGP win dating back to the German Grand Prix on July 14th.

Dani Pedrosa finished second ahead of Jorge Lorenzo but has fallen twenty-one points behind his teammate with Lorenzo thirty-five back. Valentino Rossi finished fourth after a last lap pass by Tech3 Yamaha rider Cal Crutchlow. Gresini Honda rider Álvaro Bautista finished sixth ahead of LCR Honda's Stefan Brandl. Bradley Smith snuck by Ducati teammates Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso for eighth coming to the checkered flag after Hayden and Dovizioso got into each other in the final corner causing both to run wide. Pramac Ducati rider Andrea Iannone finished eleventh with Aleix Espargaró in twelfth, the top CRT bike. American Colin Edwards finished thirteenth. Blake Young retired on lap one.

It was a clean sweep by Spaniards today with Álex Rinz and Esteve Rabat winning the Moto3 and Moto2 races respectively prior to the MotoGP race. Álex Márquez, Marc's seventeen year old brother finished second in the Moto3 race with another Spaniard Maverick Viñales finishing third, making it two podium sweeps for Spain today.

MotoGP heads to Brno, Czech Republic next week with Silverstone and the British Grand Prix the week after that.

Wickens Officially Gets First Career DTM Win
One month after everyone thought he won at the Norisring after the disqualification of Mattias Ekström, Robert Wickens is officially a DTM winner. The Canadian won a wet race at the Nürburgring earlier this morning ahead of the pole sitting BMW of Augusto Farfus and fellow Mercedes-Benz driver Christian Vietoris. Wickens made a bold move on lap nineteen, going from fourth to second on the outside in turn two on a wet race track to get by Adrien Tambay and Farfus and would prove to be crucial in the Canadians drive to victory.

Mike Rockenfeller finished fourth and extended his points lead to thirty-five points over Vietoris. Martin Tomczyk finished fifth and scored his first points of the season. Tambay came home in sixth making it back-to-back races in the points, Marco Wittmann finished seventh with Miguel Molina in eighth, another driver who scored his first points of the season at Nürburg. Jamie Green and Pascal Wehrlein rounded out the points.

Wickens is now third in points, thirty-six back of Rockenfeller and ahead of fellow Canadian, BMW driver Bruno Spengler who is fourth in the standings, thirty-nine back. Augusto Farfus is forty back of Rockenfeller in fifth, Gary Paffett is sixth with rookie Macro Wittmann seventh. Mattias Ekström, Dirk Werner and American Joey Hand round out the top ten in points.

DTM has one month off before returning to the track at Oschersleben September 15th.

Logano Wins at Michigan
Penske Racing's Joey Logano picked up his first win of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season at Michigan International Speedway, his third career win, second from pole position and first Cup win driving for Roger Penske. He scored maximum points as he led a race high fifty-one laps. Mark Martin was leading with four to go before running out of fuel, handing the lead to Logano. Kevin Harvick finished second with Kurt Busch finishing third.

Paul Menard picked up his first top five of the season finishing fourth ahead of Clint Bowyer. Marcos Ambrose picked up a sixth place finish, a day after finishing seventh at Mid-Ohio. Kasey Kahne finished seventh with Jeff Burton, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards rounding out the top ten. Juan Pablo Montoya finished eleventh with Brad Keselowski behind him in twelfth. Ryan Newman finished thirteenth, one position ahead of his teammate Austin Dillon, substituting for the injured Tony Stewart. Matt Kenseth rounded out the top fifteen. Martin Truex, Jr. finished sixteenth and falls out of the top ten in points.

Other notable finishers include Jeff Gordon seventeenth, Mark Martin twenty-seventh, Kyle Busch thirty-first, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. thirty-sixth and Jimmie Johnson fortieth.

Johnson remains the points leader and is locked into the Chase. He is forty-one ahead of Clint Bowyer and fifty-one ahead of Carl Edwards. Kevin Harvick is fourth in points with Kyle Busch fifth. Matt Kenseth is sixth ahead of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Brad Keselowski is eighth with Kurt Busch jumping into the top ten, from eleventh to ninth. Greg Biffle is tenth.

Kasey Kahne and Truex, Jr. are eleventh and twelfth and currently the two wild cards. Logano is thirteenth, seven points behind Truex for the final wild card. Other wild card eligible drivers in the top twenty are Ryan Newman in fifteenth, seventeen back of Truex and Tony Stewart in eighteenth, fifty-nine points back of Truex. Drivers eleventh through twentieth in points without wins are Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Aric Almirola and Jeff Burton.

NASCAR heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for their annual Saturday night race next week.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Márquez Sets New Track Record, Allmendinger Wins at Mid-Ohio

MotoGP points leader, rookie Marc Márquez has won two consecutive Moto2 races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and he looks to pick up his third straight win at the famed track as he will start from pole position in a record setting performance. The Spaniard broke the track record with a time of 1:37.958 seconds, well over a second faster than the previous track record set by his factory Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa last year. Jorge Lorenzo starts second with Pedrosa third. Pedrosa trails his teammate by sixteen points, with Lorenzo third in the standings twenty-six back. 

Cal Crutchlow will start fourth. The British rider is looking for his first career MotoGP win but his track record at Indianapolis has been nothing to write home about. An eleventh in 2011 and a retirement following an accident last year after only nine laps. Álvaro Bautista starts fifth for Gresini Honda. He is coming off his season best finish of fourth at Laguna Seca a month ago and finished third in the 250cc race at Indianapolis in 2009. Nicky Hayden starts sixth in what will be his final race for Ducati at Indianapolis. The American is looking for his first win since the 2006 United States Grand Prix and first podium since the 2011 Spanish Grand Prix. Hayden has two podiums at Indianapolis but the last two years have not gone as planned, a fourteenth place finish, two laps down in 2011 and a did not start in 2012 after being sidelined with an injury. Hayden's best finish in 2013 is a fifth at France. 

Bradley Smith starts seventh ahead of the German of Stefan Brandl. Brandl scored his first career pole and first career podium at Laguna Seca. Valentino Rossi will start ninth, his worst starting position of the season. Andrea Dovizioso rounds out the top ten ahead of fellow Ducati rider and Italian Andrea Iannone with American Colin Edwards starting twelfth, the top CRT bike.

Aleix Espargaró starts thirteenth ahead of Danilo Petrucci and Randy de Puniet. Claudio Corti, Héctor Barberá and Michael Laverty will start on row six. Hiroshi Aoyama starts nineteen ahead of Bryan Staring and Yonny Hernández. Czech riders Lukáš Pešek and Karel Abraham start twenty-second and twenty-third with American Blake Young rounding out the field. American Ben Spies suffered a dislocated collarbone in Saturday practice and will miss his eighth consecutive round. 

Moto3 and Moto2 races can be seen live at 11:00 a.m. ET and noon ET respectively on Fox Sports 1, leading into the Indianapolis Grand Prix at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Allmendinger Wins at Mid-Ohio
Second Nationwide Series start of 2013, second Nationwide Series win of the year for AJ Allmendinger as he took the victory in the inaugural NASCAR race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Allmendinger held off pole sitter Michael McDowell and his Penske teammate Sam Hornish, Jr. Allmendinger led seventy-three laps on his way to victory.

Max Papis finished fourth, his fourth career top five in Nationwide Series competition. Brian Vickers rounded out the top five ahead of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Elliott Sadler. Marcos Ambrose finished seventh after having to start at the rear of the field due to Ryan Truex qualifying his car. Justin Allgaier, Trevor Bayne and Jeremy Clements round out the top ten. It was Clements first career top ten finish on a road course. 

Championship contenders Regan Smith and Austin Dillon both had disappointing days finishing fifteenth and twenty-first respectively. Other notable finishers include Kyle Larson fourteenth, Owen Kelly twenty-third, Ron Fellows twenty-fifth, Nelson Piquet, Jr. twenty-seventh and Travis Pastrana thirty-first. 

Sam Hornish, Jr. takes a thirteen point lead into Bristol Motor Speedway. Elliott Sadler is now second in the standings with Regan Smith and Austin Dillon tied for third, fifteen behind Hornish. Smith holds the tiebreaker over Dillon with two wins to none. Brian Vickers is fifth in points, eighteen back. Justin Allgaier is sixth in points forty-seven back. Brian Scott is seventh with Trevor Bayne in eighth, one point ahead of top rookie Kyle Larson. Parker Kligerman rounds out the top ten. 

MotoGP at Indianapolis, NASCAR at Michigan and Ohio, Grand-Am at Kansas, DTM at Nürburg

The top riders in the world are at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend for the fifth Indianapolis Grand Prix.

Honda factory rider Marc Márquez was fastest Friday with a time of 1:39.502 seconds. Márquez is going for his third straight win at Indianapolis. He has won the Moto2 race the last two years. His teammate, two-time Indianapolis Grand Prix winner Dani Pedrosa was right behind him in second. LCR Honda rider, German Stefan Brandl was third. The German scored his first career MotoGP pole and podium at Laguna Seca a month ago. 2009 Indianapolis Grand Prix winner, Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo was fourth ahead of Tech3 Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow and his fellow factory Yamaha rider, winner of the inaugural Indianapolis Grand Prix Valentino Rossi. Gresini Honda rider Álvaro Bautista was seventh with Tech3 Yamaha's Bradley Smith eighth with factory Ducati riders 2006 World Champion, American Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso rounding out the top ten. 

Ben Spies returned after missing the previous seven rounds. He was thirteenth fastest Friday, ahead of his Pramac Ducati teammate Andrea Iannone. There are two other Americans competing this weekend in MotoGP. Colin Edwards was sixteenth with Blake Young twenty-fifth on Friday. 

In Saturday practice, Márquez was fastest again at 1:39.339 seconds ahead of Brandl. Crutchlow was third ahead of Bautista with Pedrosa rounding out the top five. Lorenzo was sixth ahead of his teammate Rossi and fellow Yamaha rider Smith. Dovizioso and Hayden rounded out the top ten. Spies was fourteenth before had a high side during the session. Whether the American will race this weekend is still to be determined. Edwards was sixteenth and Young twenty-fifth. Qualifying is later today and can be seen on Fox Sports 2 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

The Moto3 and Moto2 races can be seen live tomorrow on Fox Sports 1 at 11 a.m. ET and noon ET respectively with the Indianapolis Grand Prix airing live at 2 p.m. ET.

NASCAR at Michigan
The Sprint Cup Series returns to Michigan and Penske Racing's Joey Logano took pole position for tomorrow's race with a time of 35.303 seconds (203.949 MPH), a NASCAR record at the track. Second will be Kurt Busch with Jimmie Johnson starting in third. Mark Martin was the fastest Toyota in fourth. Jeff Burton rounded out the top five. 

Juan Pablo Montoya was sixth fastest. It was announced earlier this week Montoya would not return to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in 2014. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will start seventh ahead of Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. Kyle Busch rounds out the top ten. 

Other notable drivers starting positions are Matt Kenseth in twelfth, Jeff Gordon thirteenth, June Michigan winner Greg Biffle sixteenth, Carl Edwards nineteenth, Ryan Newman twenty-first, Austin twenty-seventh substituting for Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne in thirty-first. 

The NASCAR Sprint Cup series race from Michigan International Speedway can be seen tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Nationwide at Mid-Ohio
A NASCAR national touring division makes their first appearance at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course later this afternoon. The race can be seen at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Michael McDowell will be on pole position driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Next to him on row one will be Road America winner AJ Allmendinger. Australian Owen Kelly starts third driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. In two career Nationwide Series starts, Kelly has finishes of fifth and fourth. Both his starts came at Road America. Kyle Larson starts fourth with Nelson Piquet, Jr. in fifth. Regan Smith starts fifth ahead of Brian Vickers and Ohioan Sam Hornish, Jr. Parker Kligerman and Max Papis round out the top ten.

Points leader Austin Dillon will have to start at the rear of the field. Jason Bowles qualified his car as Dillon was in Michigan practicing for the Sprint Cup race. Marcos Ambrose will also start at the rear of the field. Ambrose's Ford was qualified by Ryan Truex while the Australian was in Michigan.

Grand-Am at Kansas
The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series makes their debut under the lights at Kansas Speedway on Fox Sports 2 live at 8:00 p.m. ET. Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett start on pole position with a time of 1:09.883 seconds. IndyCar driver Justin Wilson and Gustavo Yacaman start second for Michael Shank Racing. Corvette DPs took the next five positions with the Action Express cars of João Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi and Burt and Brian Frisselle third and fourth and the Wayne Taylor duo of Max Angelelli and Jordan Taylor in fifth. Jordan's brother Ricky starts sixth with Richard Westbrook for Spirit of Daytona. Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing's pair of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogerty start seventh. 

Daytona Prototype points leaders Ryan Dalziel and Alex Popow start eighth ahead of Team Sahlen's Dane Cameron and Wayne Nonnamaker with Michael Shank's second car of John Pew and Oswaldo Negri rounding out the top ten. Overall winners at Road America last week, Brandon Hartley and Scott Mayer start thirteenth with German Pierre Kaffer joining them this weekend. 

Alex Tagliani took GT pole for AIM Autosport in his season debut. The French-Canadian is driving this weekend in place of Max Papis who is competing in the Nationwide race at Mid-Ohio. His co-driver is Jeff Segal. Ferrari 458s took the top three positions in GT with Leh Keen/Alessandro Balzan in second and Emil Assentato/Anthony Lazzaro in third. Stevenson Motorsports Robin Liddell/John Edwards start fourth with GT points leaders Andy Lally and John Potter eighth in class. 

DTM at Nürburg
Brazilian BMW driver Augusto Farfus won his third career pole position this morning with a time of 1:23.296 seconds. He held off fellow BMW driver, rookie Marco Wittmann who will start second. The rookie finished second in Austria earlier this year. Audi drivers rounded out the top four. Miguel Molina starts third. The Spaniard has not scored a DTM point since Brands Hatch in 2012. Italian Edoardo Mortara starts fourth. He finished second at the Nürburgring last year. Gary Paffett is the top Mercedes driver in fifth followed by three Mercedes drivers, Daniel Juncadella, Robert Wickens and Christian Vietoris. Audi driver Mattias Ekström is ninth with defending Nürburgring DTM winner Bruno Spengler rounding out the top ten.

DTM points leader, Audi driver Mike Rockenfeller starts eleventh. Other notable drivers starting position: Timo Glock thirteenth, Joey Hand sixteenth, Timo Scheider eighteenth and Martin Tomczyk twentieth. Tomorrow's race from the Nürburgring can be seen live online at 7:15 a.m. ET in all territories expect Germany, Brazil, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Romania, Hungary, Thailand, Israel, Malaysia, Brunei and Portugal.

Friday, August 16, 2013

2014 IndyCar Schedule Update #1

It took two days for there to be the first update on the 2014 IndyCar schedule and it came from Racer's Robin Miller. In the article, Miller hits on the following main points:

1. No new events in 2014 (so no Road America, Chicagoland, Austin, Michigan, Phoenix, Fort Lauderdale, Watkins Glen, Kansas, Laguna Seca, European road trips, Australian vacations, sugar daddy races in the Mideast or India) but a total of 20-21 race, up from 2013.
2. Season ending by Labor Day.
3. Road course race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the beginning of May looking more and more likely.
4. São Paulo has not been completely killed off but, if it does happen, it will move to a new date.
5. With the season ending in September, Fontana could move to June so the Triple Crown races are three consecutive months. Houston to August. Nothing reported for the Labor Day weekend, especially  important now that it is open because the Baltimore race has to move due to a conflict in scheduling.
6. St. Petersburg requested to become a doubleheader and will still be the season opener.
7. Pocono likely to become five hundred miles.
8. Milwaukee looks likely to return despite reports.

After reading Miller's article and thinking about it and sleeping on it and going for a six mile run before sun rise, I feel now is the perfect time to respond to each point above.

1. It sucks but as I have said before, the goal for 2014 should be to retain all races from 2013. Miller says Mark Miles is still interested in adding dates for 2015. I feel like this is a broken record. Well "Track X" couldn't be added to the 2008 schedule because of reunification but there is interest in 2009. Well "Track X" couldn't be added to the 2009 schedule due to (insert problem here) but there is interest in 2010 and so on and so on. It's another year of, "we'll get them next year." Now, would I rather the series rush and sloppily get three or four more tracks for 2014 or wait and work out the finer points for 2015? My answer would be wait but IndyCar has to be talking with tracks now to tie up all loose ends for 2015.

2. I get ending the season by Labor Day. I am not necessarily for it but I get it. My question is, is if the season opener remains in late March, is a season that last a little over five months a good thing? Now if the season opener moves to the weekend after the Super Bowl in February or even January, than the season expands and covers a larger period of time and all is fine. Ending the season earlier unfortunately take dates away from the nice autumn weather but the series does not want to go head to head with American Football, which in my opinion is ridiculous but that's another story.

3. I am not for an IMS road course race. That's been stated before. Like I said before, it's wrong and not to the point it feels right. It's wrong. Now, I am all for Indianapolis Motor Speedway becoming a better home to all forms of motorsport. I like the MotoGP race at Indianapolis because A. They can race anywhere and put on a good show. B. They have great personalities that everyone can love. C. Motorcycles were a staple at the Speedway when the track first opened. D. It's another race in the United States. E. You get to see Valentino Rossi watching the AMA Flat Track race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. I am ok with the NASCAR race at the Brickyard. It will never hold a candle to the Indianapolis 500. Nationwide Series I am less thrilled about because it took away a great race at Raceway Park and I am ok with sports cars.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a race track. Not an IndyCar track. A race track. Race tracks can be universal for all forms of racing, whether they be two-wheels or four but a second IndyCar race, regardless if it's on the road course or oval is not necessary and overkill. Apparently the owners are for it but it's wrong because IndyCar should have one and only one race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and that's the Indianapolis 500. I don't see how this race would make money for the Speedway. The track should be looking for ways they can make money through events that aren't racing related. Even Dario Franchitti has his opinion on it.

4. If São Paulo is to happen, it's going to have to move. I can only see it being earlier but the reason it was moved to May was so it did not interfere with Carnival, the festival held the Friday through Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday. Carnival changes from year to year and having the race in February or March was difficult because of it possibly falling the weekend of Carnival, which the Sambadrome (the front straightaway) was purposely built for and requires time for preparations for the festivities. This year Carnival was February 9-12th. Next year it's February 28-March 4th. The year after that February 13-17th. They could find time after Carnival for the event. March 16th is open but that will lead to a conflict which you can see in point six.

5. I get moving Fontana to June so the Triple Crown races can all be close together. The Triple Crown of  Thoroughbred Racing takes place over six weeks and there is a lot of buzz. But moving Fontana to June? Weren't teams just asking for time off during that month? Where are you going to put Fontana. Should dates hold serve, you have Belle Isle June 1st, Texas June 7th, Milwaukee June 14th, Iowa June 22nd. So June 29 for Fontana, a week before Pocono and extending a five consecutive weeks of racing to eight straight, from Indianapolis to Toronto including two doubleheaders. And seeing as how Fontana has to be a night race if it's going to be in June, it would make sense for it to be a Saturday night race but that open weekend in June, is the same weekend NASCAR ran a Saturday night race at Kentucky this year. Well why doesn't Fontana flip with Iowa? Well, NASCAR is at Sonoma that weekend. Fantastic.

To be honest, I think Miller will be wrong on that one (watch he'll be right). Fontana as the season finale Labor Day weekend makes more sense. What's going to be the season finale if it's not Fontana?

Houston is going to be just as hot and probably more humid in August than Fontana would be in June but Houston was run under the lights in 2006 and it would make sense if the race to be night races in August. Almost too much sense to happen.

My problem is, I think IndyCar is digging themselves into a hole by trying to end the season by Labor Day. With Baltimore moving to be in August and Houston potentially moving to August, that leaves no room for an IndyCar race at Road America, especially one during the same weekend as sports cars. Could Road America moved to July, which still has two weeks open? Sure but look at how jam-packed the schedule would be. Fort Lauderdale would be beautiful in late September but couldn't happen unless Labor Day moves (it isn't) and Fort Lauderdale in February, in my opinion, puts it too close to the Daytona 500 and the St. Petersburg race, which leads me to point six.

6. As I said in point #4, São Paulo moving up creates a conflict and a scenario of St. Petersburg moving up as well. Miller said St. Petersburg is going to be the season opener but São Paulo (if it ends up happening) has to be earlier. Should the St. Petersburg date hold serve in 2014, it would be March 23rd, the weekend after the date I threw out for São Paulo. Could St. Petersburg move up? Maybe but what works for St. Petersburg is it being held during spring break for most universities across the United States. Moving it from it's current date could hurt ticket sales.

As for the doubleheader format, great. I am all for it. I would be open to doubleheaders at all races except the Triple Crown races and any races that are run with sports cars san Belle Isle (so Long Beach and potentially Road America if it ever gets added to the schedule and Barber is they somehow get a USCR date).

7. Great news.

8. More good news.

With all these points covered, let's remember, Miller and others covering IndyCar can be wrong. Remember last year when people said Sonoma was going to be a doubleheader and Providence was going to happen? There is no doubleheader in a little over a week and how was that Providence race last Sunday? See my point.

But just to take a crack at it, what would the IndyCar schedule look like if Miller is accurate:

São Paulo March 16th (if at all.)
St. Petersburg March 22-23.
Barber April 6th.
Long Beach April 13th.
IMS road course May 4th.
Indianapolis 500 May 25.
Belle Isle May 31-June 1st.
Texas June 7th.
Milwaukee June 14th.
Iowa June 22nd.
Fontana June 28 or 29th.
Pocono July 6th.
Toronto July 12-13th.
Mid-Ohio August 3rd.
Baltimore August 10th.
Houston August 15-16th or 16-17th.
Sonoma August 24th.

I don't see Sonoma being the season finale, though it is in a great part of the country and a little under an hour from San Francisco. I think Fontana will be Labor Day weekend. Now, whether the race is a day race or Saturday, Sunday or Monday is beyond me. Saturday night makes sense. With that taken into account:


São Paulo March 16th (if at all.)
St. Petersburg March 22-23.
Barber April 6th.
Long Beach April 13th.
IMS road course May 4th.
Indianapolis 500 May 25.
Belle Isle May 31-June 1st.
Texas June 7th.
Milwaukee June 14th.
Iowa June 22nd.
Pocono July 6th.
Toronto July 12-13th.
Mid-Ohio August 3rd.
Baltimore August 10th.
Houston August 15-16th or 16-17th.
Sonoma August 24th.
Fontana August 30th.

And there you go. The season takes place across six months with at least another four months before the 2015 season opener. It's not pretty at all but maybe IndyCar has to take a flyer on yet another year in hopes the one following with materialize to something truly great.