Monday, June 30, 2014

Musings From The Weekend: Paint Me A Picture

Plenty of racing from Houston to Holland, Kentucky to Kruklanki, the Glen to Norisring and more. Endurance races to street course under the bright summer sun and the artificial Musco lights. Here is  a run down of what got me thinking.

Liveries
Simon Pagenaud won this weekend in the best looking livery this IndyCar season.

Pagenaud's Livery
In motorsports, we see liveries/paint schemes change week-to-week based on sponsorship however I think liveries should become like a kit for the top football/soccer clubs around the world. Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern München, A.C. Milan have the same kit every year regardless of what the shirt sponsor is blazoned across the chest. When Chevrolet takes over as shirt sponsor for Manchester United, their traditional red will remain just like when they were sponsored by Vodafone, AIG and AON prior. 

Motorsports should be the same way. Teams should be known by their own liveries with sponsors getting the rights to have their name put all over the car. It would make it easier for the fans to identify which car is which. It would eliminate the Ganassi tradition of the #10 car with five different liveries for five consecutive races and it might bring back originality and elegancy to liveries. Think about how British Racing Green has almost become an extinct color in motorsports. Petty blue has survived to a point but every now and then it is replaced by soulless corporate paint schemes. That could be righted. Instead of having five cars with the same yellow, blue or red livery, you could have a team express themselves and stand out. Want a maroon base with sky blue stripes? Go ahead. Why not run an all teal livery? 

Liveries should be a distinguishing mark for teams and sponsors should accept the publicity given to them on the side pods and engine cover. 

Fixing the Truck Series
Kyle Busch is 5-for-5 in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races in 2014. 

We know how I feel about the Truck Series and Cup drivers such as Kyle Busch competing but the Truck series needs to return to it's roots. Thursday nights race at Kentucky had a crowd so small, it made IndyCar's final appearance at the 1.5-mile oval seems like it was a packed house. 

The Truck series started as a short track series and maybe it is time to go back to those days. Twelve of the 21 oval races on the 2014 Truck series schedule are on tracks 1.5 miles and larger. In 2003, ten of 25 races were on tracks 1.5 miles and larger. Mesa Marin, South Boston, Memphis, Milwaukee and IRP once were stops but they have been replaced. The Truck series needs the identity of a short track series. 

The series is returning to New Hampshire for the first time since 2011 and should have never left. Richmond hasn't been on the schedule since 2005. Darlington has only hosted two races since 2005. Forget Chicagoland, Michigan, Kansas, Kentucky and Las Vegas and Texas doesn't need two races. Richmond should return. The series should have never left IRP and they should head to Milwaukee for IndyFest weekend. Give an unknown short track a shot. Imagine a race at Winchester Speedway or Salem Speedway. 

The current formula is not working and going back to the past wouldn't hurt the Truck series.

Fun Facts From The Weekend
I thought this weekend had a lot of interesting facts that deserve recognition.

Carlos Huertas was the first rookie to win an IndyCar race since Robert Doornbos won at Mont-Tremblant and San Jose in the 2007 ChampCar season. 

Carlos Muñoz and Jack Hawksworth both started last (23rd position) in the two IndyCar races and both finished 3rd. 

Robert Wickens won the DTM race at the Norisring. It is the 11th consecutive victory for Mercedes-Benz on the street circuit. No winner was awarded last year after Mattias Ekström was disqualified for having water poured into his pants in pard fermé and thought to be done so he didn't weigh in under the limit. Wickens finished second last year but was not promoted to the top step of the podium. 

Of the eleven consecutive Mercedes-Benz victories at the Norisring, the last ten of them have been won by a British or Canadian driver. 

Winners From The Weekend
You know about Carlos Huertas, Simon Pagenaud, Brad Keselowski and Robert Wickens but did you know...

Marc Márquez won the Dutch TT, his eighth consecutive victory of the season for the 2013 world champion. 

Sébastien Ogier won Rally Poland, extending his championship lead to fifty points over Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala.

The #90 Corvette DP of Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook won the Six Hours of the Glen. The #3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Antonio García won in GTLM. The #54 CORE Autosport of Colin Braun, Jon Bennett and James Gue won in PC. Dane Cameron and Markus Palttala won GTD in the #94 Turner Motorsport BMW.

The #7 M-Sport Bentley of Steven Kane, Guy Smith and Andy Meyrick won at Paul Ricard for their second consecutive victory in the Blancpain Endurance Series.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar runs the Pocono 500.
Formula One are at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix.
NASCAR is in Daytona.
Blancpain Sprint Series is at Zandvoort. 
World Superbike is at Portimão.
V8 Supercars are on the streets of Townsville.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

First Impressions: Houston 2014 Race Two

1. Simon Pagenaud bounced back from a disappointing race from his first career pole to a dominating drive. The Frenchman lost a lot of ground Saturday but made it up today. Drives like these today will keep his championship hopes alive as we kickoff the second half of the season.

2. A great team for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports as Mikhail Aleshin started and finished second. Had a little contact with Graham Rahal but it didn't disrupt his day. He did 40 laps on the final stint to finish second. Aleshin has been aggressive in his rookie season but not reckless and has landed at the right team to provide him a platform to show off his skills.

3. Jack Hawksworth rounded out the podium, the first of his career, and a great weekend for rookies. All four full-time rookies scored a podium this weekend. Lots of hidden talent in IndyCar. Carlos Huertas went from 19th to 1st yesterday. Both Carlos Muñoz and Hawksworth went from 23rd to 3rd in the two Houston races. What great drives by both.

4. Charlie Kimball has been a piss poor qualifier in 2014 but no one has passed more guys in 2014 than Kimball. From 19th to 4th today, the fourth time Kimball has made up double-digit positions from his starting position this season.

5. Sébastien Bourdais had a great weekend. Watch out for him at Toronto and the remaining road and street courses. And the big ovals. Bourdais has done well at the big ovals.

6. Ryan Hunter-Reay kept his nose clean this weekend and that's what he needed after two horrible weekends at Belle Isle and Texas. On to Pocono where he ran well before Takuma Sato kamaikzed him on the pit lane. This could be the turn around in the championship Hunter-Reay needed.

7. Juan Pablo Montoya was up front all day for the second consecutive day and has done well all season to this point. He has no problem getting back into the swing of things in open-wheel racing.

8. Ryan Briscoe had a quiet eighth place finish. That is all.

9. Marco Andretti had another back to the front to the back to the front drive today. His car showed a lot of speed but after contact that sent Justin Wilson into the tires, he lost a step and fell back. If Andretti can keep up these runs on road and street courses while picking up a win or two on ovals (especially the remaining legs of the Triple Crown) he could be in position for the championship.

10. Tony Kanaan had a late tire rub drop him out of contention for a top five but he was able to manage a top ten despite the late pit stop.

11. Just when it looked like another day proving everything is going to fall Will Power's way for the championship, it all went to hell. From 18th to 3rd, Power appeared to be the beneficiary to Hélio Castroneves' stupidity, an average day for Hunter-Reay and brake problems for Scott Dixon and only concede a little ground to Pagenaud but then the Aussie had a suspension issue drop him from 3rd to 11th in the final two laps. He still has a healthy grasp on the championship but he has had plenty of healthy leads vanish with fewer races remaining. It's not over yet.

12. Justin Wilson has a reason to be upset after contact with Andretti dropped him from a top ten to a lap down. Mike Conway and James Hinchcliffe both also finished a lap down but neither had impressive days. Luca Filippi was in position for a top ten before he lost it into the tires all on his own. This was a much better weekend for the Italian than the results will show. Same for his teammate Graham Rahal. Rahal ruined his own race Saturday but contact with Aleshin and gearbox issues today ended what was a promising run for Rahal.

13. Sebastián Saavedra had a typical Sebastián Saavedra-like day and finished in a typical Sebastián Saavedra 17th.

14. He made a second half comeback in 2013 but I am not sure Scott Dixon will be able to do the same this year after his weekend at Houston. Brake problems today hampered the Kiwi's day. He won at Pocono last year and it started a three race winning streak but the gap is much greater in 2014 and Power has barely put a foot wrong all year.

14. Takuma Sato finished 19th today and you have to wonder how much longer can he last? The accident yesterday with Aleshin may not have been his fault but Sato finds a way into those situations. He has all the speed in the world but rarely has the result. Imagine what Sage Karam, Conor Daly, J.R. Hildebrand, Oriol Servià or James Davison could do in that car.

15. Josef Newgarden can't catch a break, no pun intended as he had a brake failure today. We have seen plenty of races where the Tennessean has been up front, battling with the top teams but we have yet to see that at the end of races.

16. Hélio Castroneves should be suspended one race for bitching and two for blocking. He slide across Bourdais going into turn six, takes himself out and then has the gaul to say it was the Frenchman's fault. And Penske should be forced to hire an American to be Castroneves' replacement for the three races he is on the sidelines.

17. Saturday was a great day to Colombia. Sunday, not so much. Carlos Huertas' day ended after two laps and Carlos Muñoz tapped the wall just enough to ruin a top ten run.

18. I love Houston but I despise it. The on-track action was fantastic but the circuit makes me want to rip my hair out. With all the drivers blowing through turn two, just widen the turn. Widen the whole
circuit. It needs it. Or move the race to the best permanent road course in the United States just up the road in Austin. And maybe it shouldn't be a doubleheader. The drivers were beat after this race. Either move this race or give another place (say St. Petersburg or Barber or an oval) the doubleheader.

19. And now to Pocono, my home race. I will be there Sunday. Forecast calls for rain Sunday. Let's hope that can hold off. Look forward to more posts this week.


Morning Warm-Up: Houston 2014 Race Two

Carlos Huertas went from unknown to IndyCar winner overnight. Can he win in consecutive days?
After stunning the motorsports world Saturday, Carlos Huertas looks to sweep the weekend and the naysayers aside again this afternoon. The Colombian came from 19th on the grid Saturday, matching second furthest back a winner has come from on an IndyCar road/street course race. Al Unser Jr. started 19th at Miami in 1986. Little Al only led the final lap after Colombian Roberto Guerrero ran out of fuel after leading all 111 laps up to that point. Only Max Papis has started further back and won, when he started 25th at Laguna Seca in 2001. Huertas and Dale Coyne Racing used pit strategy to perfection to land in victory lane, leading a Colombian 1-2-3 with his idol Juan Pablo Montoya and the popular rookie Carlos Muñoz.

Sébastien Bourdais finished fourth Saturday as he looks for his first victory since Mexico City 2007. The Frenchman was up front all day, lost ground on his final pit stop but rallied back into the top five with some help from some incidents in front of him. James Hinchcliffe led the most laps on Saturday but had to settle with fifth. Jack Hawksworth started twenty-first but worked his way methodically to the sixth place.

Ryan Hunter-Reay kept his nose clean and like Bourdais, Hinchcliffe and Hawksworth, lost ground on the final pit stop and finished seventh. Marco Andretti recovered from being spun by his teammate, black flag for leader at the time Takuma Sato failing to get by the American and a late pit stop to finish eighth on Saturday. Hélio Castroneves finished ninth after starting second Saturday. Justin Wilson rounded out the top ten Saturday and laid down a 46-lap stint, by far the longest of the race before having to pit from the lead with a little over 10 minutes remaining.

Graham Rahal recovered from stalling on the start to be running fourth heading to the final restart before running into the back of Tony Kanaan, leading to a finish under caution and a 30-second penalty for the Ohioan, dropping him from 3rd to 11th in the final results. Ryan Briscoe also received a 30-second penalty for making contact with Sebastián Saavedra, dropping the Aussie from a solid top ten to 12th, right ahead of Kanaan.

Will Power may have finished a lap down and outside the top ten for the first time in 2014, but what appeared to be a day that would unravel his championship hopes, turned out to be a slight blip. Power lost only six points in the championship to second place Castroneves and holds a 33-point lead heading into the tenth round of the championship later this afternoon. Saavedra was battling for a top five position before the contact with Briscoe relegated the KV Racing driver to fifteenth.

Simon Pagenaud's first pole position was ruined by bad brakes in the race and finished sixteenth. Mike Conway had contact with the tires on a drying track in race one end his Saturday with a slight wrist injury. He will be reevaluated before qualifying today. Charlie Kimball finished eighteenth after being collateral damage after teammate Scott Dixon hit the wall a little past halfway through Saturday's race. Josef Newgarden was twentieth after slight contact with the front straightaway wall, the same place where Luca Filippi's first race of 2014 and with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ended after the Italian started fourth. Takuma Sato led early Saturday before he and the lapped car of Mikhail Aleshin got together entering turn six. Both started in the top ten for race one and look to recover from the incident today.

Qualifying for today's race will take place at 11:00 a.m. ET.

NBCSN's coverage of race two will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET. Green flag will be at 3:45 p.m. ET. The race will feature a rolling start.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

First Impressions: Houston 2014 Race One

1. I thought I was more likely to win an IndyCar race this season than Carlos Huertas. Nine races and he is an IndyCar winner. A guy who's lone victory in Formula Renault 3.5 came in a monsoon. A guy who was rumored to be the sugar daddy savior for Panther Racing over the winter and now he was more wins this season than the four Ganassi drivers combined. It may takes me six months to wrap my head around this victory.

2. And Colombians finished 1-2-3 with Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Muñoz rounding out the podium. They used strategy to perfection in this timed race. They stopped at the right time when they knew they could make it to the end while the leaders stayed out. Not to mention Colombia advancing to the quarterfinals in the World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Uruguay. They will play Brazil on the 4th of July while these three go at it again tomorrow.

3. Graham Rahal had a day that started out from hell, appeared to made it out alive, only to be dragged right back down after getting into the back of Tony Kanaan before going green. What else could go wrong for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing? Luca Filippi was running well before slapping the wall on a restart due to cold tires. They can make it all up tomorrow but it will be difficult to recover from the way today ended.

4. Any other day and Sébastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Jack Hawksworth, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Hélio Castroneves are the top six. Andretti of all people probably had the race of the day. From being spun by his teammate Muñoz to being black flagged for running competitive laps to then leader Takuma Sato and the Japanese driver failing to get by the American to recovering and being one of the half dozen caught out on pit strategy. Keep your eyes on all six tomorrow.

5. Justin Wilson finished tenth (at least I think he will after Graham Rahal and Ryan Briscoe are assessed their penalties) and did 46 laps on one stint. Huertas did 39 laps to make it to the checkered flag. I don't know what Dale Coyne Racing did to their cars over the break but it appears to have worked. Great job by the whole team.

6. This was a day that appeared to be one where Castroneves, Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud could catch up on Will Power as he started eighteenth and was a non-factor all day before sliding into the tires, ending his run of completing every lap in 2014. But, with the likes of Pagenaud, Mike Conway, Charlie Kimball, Scott Dixon, Luca Filippi and Takuma Sato having problems, Power finished fourteenth and only lost six points over Castroneves in the standings. Things are falling Power's way in 2014.

7. I hate to think that this race could have ended better. It was a timed race and I enjoyed it. They did the hour and fifty minutes like they said and I should take that. But after being so close to a green flag finish and having the Rahal-Kanaan contact deflate the balloon stinks. Who knows? Maybe Huertas would have won anyway but what could have been?

8. Tomorrow's race will be nothing like today's but what a race it was. My jaw is still on the floor. Everyone get some rest, rehydrate and we will dance again tomorrow. By the way, there are no Dutch, Mexican, Costa Rican or Greek drivers in the race, so no IndyCar/World Cup double like today.



Morning Warm-Up: Houston 2014 Race One

Simon Pagenaud was fastest on Friday. Can he turn his speed into victory today?
The ninth round of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes places at NRG Park in Houston, Texas. It is the second consecutive IndyCar race to take place in Texas after Ed Carpenter won at Texas Motor Speedway three weeks ago.

Simon Pagenaud was the fastest on Friday as he looks for his second victory of 2014. He also looks to close the 91-point gap between him and championship leader Will Power. Power was fastest in the first Friday practice session and second fastest in the combined session, just over three-tenths back of his former Team Australia teammate. Ryan Briscoe was third quickest in the combined session. It is Briscoe's first appearance on the NRG Park circuit. Luca Filippi was fourth fastest Friday, his first day driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Filippi scored his first career IndyCar top ten at Houston last year. Rounding out the top five from Friday was second in the championship standings Hélio Castroneves. 

The top rookie of the year candidate on Friday was Mikhail Aleshin, sixth overall. The Russian has led a lap in three of the last four races and has finished seventh in consecutive races. James Hinchcliffe was seventh fastest. The Canadian finished third in race two last year at Houston. He retired from race one after making contact with the stalled car of Ed Carpenter. Takuma Sato looks to get car owner AJ Foyt a home town victory. Sato started on pole position for race one last year at Houston but finished seventeenth in race one and fourteenth in race two. 

Sébastien Bourdais is a two-time Houston winner and was ninth fastest on Friday. The Frenchman finished eighth and fifth last year at Houston. Tony Kanaan was tenth quickest Friday with his Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon following him on the time sheet. Justin Wilson was twelfth ahead of Americans Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal. Carlos Muñoz was the final driver within one second of the fastest time set by Pagenaud Friday. Muñoz's Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti was sixteenth fastest Friday. 

Charlie Kimball was seventeenth fastest Friday. Kimball averages the worst starting position of all full-time driver with an average starting position of 20th. Colombians Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Huertas were eighteenth and nineteenth Friday. Josef Newgarden was twentieth with Jack Hawksworth twenty-first. Hawksworth suffered an accident after clipping a curve in second practice. Sebastián Saavedra was twenty-second. Ed Carpenter Racing looks for their third win of the season but will have some work to do. Mike Conway was twenty-second and twenty-third fastest in the two Friday practice session. The Brit finished sixteenth and ninth last year at Houston. 

Qualifying for race one will take place at 11:00 a.m. ET and will use the Firestone Fast Six format. The session will air at 2:00 p.m. ET Saturday afternoon on NBCSN.
Group one will feature Pagenaud, Briscoe, Castroneves, Hinchcliffe, Bourdais, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Muñoz, Kimball, Huertas, Hawksworth and Conway. 
Power leads group two followed by Filippi, Aleshin, Sato, Kanaan, Wilson, Rahal, Andretti, Montoya, Newgarden and Saavedra. 

Race one will feature a standing start.

NBCSN's coverage of race begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:45 p.m. ET.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Houston Practice Led by Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud ended Friday fastest overall with a time of 1:00.1415 minutes. The Frenchman was second in the first practice session Friday and was 0.5013 seconds ahead of Ryan Briscoe, who is making his first appearance at NRG Park. Briscoe was tenth in the first session Luca Filippi returned to IndyCar in third position Friday. The Italian was twelfth in the first session. Hélio Castroneves was fourth with Mikhail Aleshin bookending the top five for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports. Castroneves and Aleshin were sixth and eleventh respectively in first practice.

James Hinchcliffe was the top Andretti Autosport driver in each practice. He was sixth in the second session and seventh in the first. Takuma Sato was seventh in second practice, down from fourth but he picked up 0.03 seconds between sessions. Scott Dixon was eighth in both session with Will Power was ninth in the second session but was first in the first session, fourth-tenths quicker. Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top ten in the second session. The Texas-born driver picked it up from eighteenth in the first practice.

Graham Rahal was eleventh in the later session after being fifteenth in the morning. Carlos Muñoz was twelfth, the last driver within a second of Pagenaud in the second practice. Tony Kanaan was thirteenth. Kanaan was fifth in the first session. Marco Andretti was the slowest Andretti Autosport driver in fourteenth but picked up two-tenths from first practice. Charlie Kimball rounded out the top fifteen and was fourteenth in first practice.

Colombians Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Huertas were sixteenth and seventeenth in the second session. Josef Newgarden was eighteenth with two-time Houston winner Sébastien Bourdais in nineteenth. Jack Hawksworth rounded out the top twenty. Justin Wilson was twenty-first with Sebastián Saavedra and Mike Conway rounding out the field, 2.0777 back of Pagenaud.

Qualifying for race one will take place tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. ET.


Aleix Espargaró Slides Into Assen Pole Position

With the help of steady rainfall in the middle of Q2, Aleix Espargaró earned his first career MotoGP pole position for tomorrow's Dutch TT. It is the first pole position for an "open" class bike and the first for Forward Yamaha. The Spaniard laid his down his fastest lap, a 1:38.789, before rain soaked the track with about eight minutes remaining in the session. For the second consecutive race Marc Márquez will not start from pole position and will roll off in second position. Márquez is looking for his eighth consecutive victory. His Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa made it an all-Catalan front row in third position.

Andrea Iannone qualified fourth with Cal Crutchlow in fifth position, just over two seconds back of Espargaró. Crutchlow had to advance from Q1 to make the top twelve shootout. Fellow British rider Bradley Smith rounds out row two on his Tech3 Yamaha.

Andrea Dovizioso will start seventh with Stefan Brandl and Jorge Lorenzo joining him on row three. Álvaro Bautista, Pol Espargaró and Valentino Rossi round out the top twelve. Rossi won the 2007 Dutch TT from eleventh on the grid. Six of the last ten Dutch TT winners have come from pole position while seven of the last ten have come from the front row.

Karel Abraham will start thirteenth, his best start since the 2012 season finale at Valencia. Hiroshi Aoyama will start fourteenth with Yonny Hernández rounds out row five. Scott Redding will start sixteenth after come 0.003 seconds short of making row five. Danilo Petrucci will start seventeenth, his best starting position of the season. Colin Edwards starts eighteenth for his final Dutch TT.

Broc Parkes starts on the inside of row seven for the second consecutive race. Héctor Barberá and Michael Laverty join the Australian on the penultimate row. Nicky Hayden starts twenty-second, his worst career starting position at Assen. Mike Di Meglio rounds out the grid in twenty-third.

Coverage for tomorrow's Dutch TT begins at 7:00 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Aleix Espargaró Tops Thursday at Assen

The "open" entry Forward Yamaha of Aleix Espargaró topped Friday practice for the Dutch TT from TT Circuit Assen. The Spaniard ran a 1:33.653 minute lap in the second session. Espargaró is looking for his first career MotoGP podium. His career best finish is fourth, which came earlier this year at Qatar. Defending world champion Marc Márquez was second on Friday, 0.211 seconds off of his fellow Catalan rider. Márquez finished second to Valentino Rossi last year in his MotoGP debut at Assen. Prior to that Márquez had won three consecutive races in the Netherlands between the 125cc and Moto2 classes.

Dani Pedrosa followed his Honda teammate Márquez on the practice sheet in third. Two weeks ago at Barcelona, Pedrosa snapped Márquez's streak going back to last season of seven consecutive races starting from pole position. Pedrosa's lone win at Assen came in the 125cc class back in 2002. He has five second place finishes at Assen since that victory. Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo was fourth fastest with Andrea Iannone rounding out the top five on his Pramac Ducati.

Yamaha took the next three spots on the practice sheet with the Tech3 bikes of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaró sandwiching defending Dutch TT winner Valentino Rossi in seventh. Pol Espargaró was fastest in the first practice session Friday morning. Stefan Bradl was ninth with Ducati factory rider Andrea Dovizioso rounding out the top ten, 0.807 seconds off Aleix Espargaró.

The Gresini Hondas of Álvaro Bautista and Scott Redding were eleventh and twelfth. Bautista will race despite chest and ankle bruising suffered in qualifying at Barcelona. Cal Crutchlow was thirteenth ahead of Engery T.I. Pramac Ducati of Yonny Hernández in fourteenth. Forward Yamaha rider Colin Edwards was fifteenth, 1.937 seconds off his teammate in first. The Aspar Hondas of Hiroshi Aoyama and Nicky Hayden were sixteenth and seventeenth. Karel Abraham was eighteenth with Broc Parkes and Héctor Barberá rounded out the top twenty.

Michael Laverty, Danilo Petrucci and Mike Di Meglio rounded out the field with 3.071 seconds separating the top and the bottom of the field.

MotoGP third practice will be held tomorrow at 3:55 a.m. ET with fourth practice at 7:30 a.m., leading into qualifying at 8:10 a.m. ET.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Track Walk: Houston 2014

Scott Dixon Returns To Houston Looking to Springboard his Title Defense
After a two-week summer break, the Verizon IndyCar Series kicks off it's second half of 2014 at NRG Park for the Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader. Last year, Scott Dixon and Will Power split the weekend in what was then the penultimate weekend of the championship. Now, Houston finds it's self smack-dab in the middle of the summer as rounds nine and ten. Power enters as the points leader, 39 points ahead of Penske teammate Hélio Castroneves.

Coverage
Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday. Green flag is at 3:45 p.m. ET each day.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Paul Tracy, Steve Matchett (Townsend Bell is racing at the Watkins Glen 6 Hours), Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast, Jon Beekhuis and Robin Miller.

Race Notes
This weekend features two, 90-lap races around the 1.69-mile temporary circuit around NRG Park.
Twenty-three cars are entered. Luca Filippi returns to IndyCar for the first time since Houston last year. He will drive the #16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Filippi is scheduled to run the Toronto doubleheader next month as well for RLLR.
Race one of the weekend is scheduled to feature a standing start.

Easy-Bake Oven Weather
It will be hot and humid this weekend. Highs are forecasted to be 87° and 90° Fahrenheit this weekend with humidity around 74%, winds around 14-15 MPH and a 40% chance of precipitation for Saturday.

GREAT NEWS!
For the remainder of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, all practice sessions will be streamed live online. Great news for all of us.

Does Ganassi Get On The Scoreboard This Weekend?
It took Ganassi until race #11 to get their first victory in 2013. With the amount of races completed nearing double-digit figures, the defending IndyCar championship winning team is still in search for their first victory of 2014. The four Ganassi drivers sit 8th (Scott Dixon), 9th (Tony Kanaan), 13rd (Ryan Briscoe) and 14th (Charlie Kimball) in the championship standings with a total of three podiums between them through eight races.

Dixon won race one at Houston last year and finished second in race two. He provides the best shot for Ganassi this weekend. Kimball finished eleventh and eighth last year while Kanaan had a dismal weekend with finishes of twenty-first and twenty-fourth. Briscoe will be making his first appearance at Houston. Ganassi did recover from it's slow start to pick up five victories in 2013 but how many times can a team rebound after slow starts?

Doubleheaders Downers
While some have excelled at doubleheaders and taken advantage of two races in as many days, others have failed to be able to string together two consecutive successful results.

A week after winning the Indianapolis 500, Ryan Hunter-Reay had a weekend to forget at Belle Isle with two did-not-finishes. Going back to last year, Hunter-Reay has only one top ten in eight doubleheader races and seven finishes outside the top fifteen.

Just like his Andretti Autosport teammate, James Hinchcliffe had three bipolar doubleheaders in 2013. The Canadian had finishes of fifteenth and nineteenth at Belle Isle, eighth and twenty-first at Toronto and twenty-fourth and twenty-fourth and third at Houston. This year at Belle Isle, Hinchcliffe had came home in sixth and fifth.

Believe it or not, Will Power's doubleheader track record is less than something to write home about. His win and second-place finish at Belle Isle this year aside, Power failed to finish in the top ten for both doubleheader races in 2013. He finished twelfth in race one at Houston last year before winning race two.

Doubleheader Specialists
For those who struggle, there are those you succeed. Doubleheaders are some's cup of tea.

Mike Conway showed it 2013 doubleheaders were right up his alley when his won race one at Belle Isle and finished third in race two. At Toronto, Conway finished seventh in both races and finished ninth in race two at Houston after a sixteenth in race one. He had an accident in race one at Belle Isle this year and poor tire management in race two but don't overlook the Brit this weekend as Ed Carpenter Racing looks to continue their winning streak.

Sébastien Bourdais had a second and third at Toronto in 2013 and finished eighth and fifth at Houston last year. Bourdais has two Houston victories. They came in consecutive years in 2006 and 2007.

Justin Wilson has always been at the top at doubleheaders. Two podiums, four top fives and five top tens in eight doubleheader races for Wilson. Last year, he finished third and fourth at Houston.

Then there is Scott Dixon. Three victories, four podiums, seven top fives in eight doubleheader races. He is the doubleheader king by a landslide. This could be the weekend he vaults himself back into the thick of the championship picture.

Pro Mazda
After nearly a month off, Pro Mazda returns for rounds eight and nine of their 2014 championship. Spencer Pigot won the first four races but had a pair of eighth place finishes on the IMS road course allowing Scott Hargrove to claw his way to three-points behind. Pigot finished second and fifth last year at Houston in Pro Mazda while Hargrove finished third and twenty-first in U.S. F2000 last year at Houston.

Kyle Kaiser is third in the championship, fifty-three points back. Kaiser had a pair of eighths at Houston last year in Pro Mazda. Neil Alberico is tied with Kaiser for third in the championship. Alberico won race one and finished third in the two U.S. F2000 races at Houston last year. Shelby Blackstock rounds out the top five in the Pro Mazda standings, sixty-eight back of Pigot. He finished fourth and sixth at Houston in 2013.

Fun Facts
This will be the first race on June 28th since 2008 when Tony Kanaan won the penultimate race held at Richmond. Before that race, the last held on June 28th was at Richmond in 2003 and won by Scott Dixon.

Last race held on June 29th was Richmond 2002. Sam Hornish, Jr. took that victory.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 65 laps to become the twenty-seventh driver to join the 1,500 laps led club.

These will be the fifth and sixth race at Houston on the NRG Park configuration. All four previous races have been won from four different positions on the gird. Sébastien Bourdais is the lone winner from pole position. Bourdais won from fifth in 2006. Scott Dixon won from third and Will Power won from ninth last year.

Remember more facts can always be found at the Telemetry Center.

Predictions
Scott Dixon gets Ganassi on the scoreboard and James Hinchcliffe splits the weekend. Outside of Hinchcliffe, the rest of Andretti Autosport will be average. Sébastien Bourdais gets a podium this weekend. Will Power and Josef Newgarden will also get podiums this weekend. Juan Pablo Montoya will continue to struggle on street circuits but sneaks out a top ten for one of the races after his team works strategy to perfection. Mike Conway gets at least one top ten. Luca Filippi finishes ahead of Graham Rahal in both races. Sleeper: Jack Hawksworth.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: I Give the United States National Team A Pep Talk

We will get to motorsports in a moment but first the United States match and a little pep talk...

Heads up. Heads up. Heads up. It's ok. It's ok. Not the end of the world. It's in the past now. One to go. Everything is good. You are not down and not out. Stand strong. The results was not a bad thing. It's a difficult thing. Four hours ago, one point was sufficient. It still is. You held serve and you remains captain of your own ship in clear waters.

Heads up. That late with a one goal lead, everyone wants to win, regardless of what a draw would mean. It's human nature. Don't dwell on it. You played a great match. I can not stress that enough. Keep it up. You have one game to go and have played two great games already. Remember that. Remember what you have done for 179.8 minutes. You can not allow that minute amount of time bother you when you have played so positively. Get some rest. Tomorrow is a fresh piece of paper. Start with a deep breath of confidence.

I believe.

Breathe
It's 8:33 p.m. ET on Sunday June 22nd and I have no clue who won the NASCAR race. I have no idea where to start. I had so much on my mind this weekend and it was all washed away.

Let me think.

I had some IndyCar thoughts. What were they about? Let me scroll through my Twitter feed.

Oh! I understand why IndyCar doesn't run the esses and hairpin at Sonoma (not a lot of run off room at turn ten, a high speed section of the track/no run-off room at the hairpin) but I still want the series to run both sections. IndyCar needs a hair-raising, gut-check set of corners and the hairpin wouldn't be a bad passing zone.

Oh! If the FIA was officiating that NASCAR race, they would have penalized a driver every lap for putting four wheels off course at turn four. I mean honestly. Keep it on track. I understand why people like NASCAR road course races (physical races with a lot of banzai moves) but to me, it sloppy. That's not what road courses racing is about. It's about artfully timing a move. Not throwing into a braking zone hoping you come out on the other side and same to everyone else. It takes no talent to move someone out of the way or off track.

By the way, there needs to be a two-hour limit for NASCAR races that end up being wet weather. Daylight is precious and there is no need to turn it into a baby deer on ice. This only applies to the Nationwide Series but it come on. Your races are long enough in dry weather.

And Brendan Gaughan winning at Road America? Who saw that coming? I remember when he was a contender in the Truck Series and thought, this could be the next really good Cup driver. It didn't work out that way. He was rushed to Cup in my opinion and right when he started to show improvement at the end of his rookie season he was shown the door and has been bouncing between the Nationwide Series and Truck Series keeping his career going. There is nothing wrong with being a career-Nationwide or Truck driver (Ask Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Jason Keller, Jack Spargue, Ron Hornaday, Mike Skinner, David Green, Mike Bliss, Robert Pressley, Todd Bodine, Rick Crawford or Ted Musgrave). A lot of great drivers have done that and I wish the Road to Indy ladder system could evolve into that as well as develop young talent. Nice drive by Alex Tagliani by the way which leads me to wonder...

Sabotage
... why doesn't Roger Penske give Will Power or Hélio Castroneves a shot in a Cup or Nationwide car on a road course? Same for Ganassi with Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Charlie Kimball and for either one of them with any IndyCar driver? If Penske can run Montoya at Michigan and Indianapolis in Cup, why not run Montoya or any other IndyCar driver on a road course race? If Kurt Busch can run the Indianapolis 500 and get Kevin Harvick thinking, "he would win on a regular basis if he ran IndyCar full-time," why couldn't IndyCar's finest try to do the same thing at a NASCAR road course?

(Sidebar for a second: I have thought for the longest time IndyCar should support stuffing NASCAR road course race entry lists, whether it's Cup, Nationwide or Truck with IndyCar drivers and seeing if they can steal some limelight. Play havoc with the status quo! Have The Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" blaring through the garage area! Go absolutely mental!)

J.J. Yeley Gets Some Dap
Finished fifth at Road America in a Dodge. Dodge has been out of NASCAR for nearly two years. There were more Dodges in the top five at Road America than there were Toyotas. The former USAC Triple Crown winner doesn't get enough respect for his talent and here is a fist bump to you Christopher.

Winners From The Weekend
You know about Nico Rosberg and Brendan Gaughan (it's two minutes until 9:00 p.m. ET and I still have no clue who won at Sonoma) but did you know...

The #4 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra of René Rast, Christopher Haase, Christian Mamerow and Markus Winkelhock won the 24 Hours Nürburgring. They ran a race record 159 laps around the Nordschleife.

Mike Skeen swept the weekend in Pirelli World Challenge at Road America in an Audi R8 ultra (Great 8 days for Audi). Nic Jönsson swept in GTS.

Jaime Whincup won two and Mark Winterbottom won the third V8 Supercar race in Darwin.

Tom Sykes swept the World Superbike weekend at Misano. Jules Cluzel won in Supersport with Michael van der Mark in second and American P.J. Jacobsen in third having set fastest lap.

Yvan Muller and José María López split the WTCC weekend at Spa.

Update: 9:21 p.m. Still don't know who won at Sonoma.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar doubleheader at Houston.
MotoGP runs the Dutch TT at Assen.
World Rally Championship are in Poland.
NASCAR is at Kentucky.
IMSA is at Watkins Glen for their historic 6-hour endurance race.
DTM is at the Norisring.
Blancpain Endurance Series is at Paul Ricard.

I believe.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Road Courses Runneth Over

Oval tracks sit silent on this, the first weekend of summer in the Northern Hemisphere (winter in the Southern Hemisphere) as the top series from all around the globe take to some of the most historical circuits.

Felipe Massa and Williams Occupy Österreich Front Row
For the first time since the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, Felipe Massa starts on pole position, the sixteenth of the Brazilian's career. A 1:08.759 vaulted Massa ahead of his teammate Valterri Bottas. Bottas will start a career-best second. The last time Massa started on pole, he won. The last time a Williams started on pole, it won.

Almost a fortnight since having their undefeated season ended, Mercedes consecutive pole streak ends with the team having to settle with third for Nico Rosberg. Fernando Alonso joins the German on row two. Fresh off his win in Canada, Daniel Ricciardo starts fifth with Kevin Magnussen in sixth. Daniil Kvyat will start seventh. Kimi Räikkönen rounds out row four with Lewis Hamilton in ninth after his fastest lap was disallowed for exceeding track limits. Nico Hülkenberg rounded out the top ten.

Sergio Pérez just missed out on the top ten in qualifying in eleventh. It only gets worse for the Mexican driver as he will serve a five-spot grid penalty after his accident with Felipe Massa on the final lap of the Canadian Grand Prix a fortnight ago. Jenson Button will start eleventh after the penalty to his former McLaren teammate. Sebastian Vettel will make it two former world champions on row six after the Red Bull driver failed to make it to the final round of qualifying at Red Bull's home track. Pastor Maldonado will start thirteenth with Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Jean-Éric Vergne in fourteenth. Romain Grosjean will start directly behind his Lotus-Renault teammate in fifteenth with Pérez dropping to sixteenth after his penalty.

Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutiérrez will make up row nine. Jules Bianchi and Kamui Kobayashi round out row ten with Max Chilton and Marcus Ericsson rounding out the field.

Coverage of tomorrow's Austrian Grand Prix begins at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Whincup Sweeps Saturday at Darwin
Jaime Whincup had been winless since March 29th but the defending V8 Supercars champion swept the 100-kilometer races at Hidden Valley Raceway in Darwin, Australia. He started both races from pole position with his Red Bull Racing Australia teammate Craig Lowndes finishing second each time. In the first race, Shane van Gisbergen made it a Holden sweep of the podium with the Volvo of Scott McLaughlin in fourth. Garth Tander rounded out the top five. Championship leader Mark Winterbottom finished sixth, the lone Ford in the top ten. Holden's Jason Bright, James Courtney and Fabian Coulthard took the next three positions with Mercedes-Benz driver Lee Holdsworht rounding out the top ten. The Nissans of James Moffat and Michael Caruso finished eleventh and twelfth.

Joining Whincup and Lowndes on the podium in the second race from Darwin was Coulthard. Tander made it a Holden 1-2-3-4 with McLaughlin dropping to fifth. Winterbottom was the top Ford again with a sixth place finish. Van Gisbergen dropped to seventh with Tim Slade finishing eighth. David Reynolds made it two Fords in the top ten with a ninth place finish and Caruso put Nissan in the top ten with a tenth place finish. The top Mercedes-Benz was Will Davison in thirteenth.

Winterbottom maintains his points lead, 65 markers ahead of Lowndes. Coulthard is 136 back in third  with Whincup cutting his gap back to Winterbottom to 165 points. Courtney rounds out the top five, 292 points back.

Race three of the weekend will take place at 1:45 a.m. ET Sunday morning.

24 Hours Nürburgring
If Le Mans wasn't enough for you last week, another twice around the clock endurance race is on the docket, this one from the Green Hell. The famed Nordschleife hosts over 160 cars this weekend. The #66 Dörr Motorsport McLaren MP4-12C GT3 of Peter Kox, Kévin Estre, Tim Mullen and Sascha Bert start on pole with time of 8:10.921. The all-star #25 BMW Z4 GT3 was second featuring DTM drivers Maxime Martin and Marco Wittmann along with sport car aces Jörg Müller and Uwe Alzen. The #4 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra of René Rast, Markus Winkelhock, Christian Mamerow and Christopher Haase was third. Black Falcon Mercedes returns trying to defend the team's victory from last year. Adam Christodoulou, Yelmer Buurman, Hubert Haupt and Abdulaziz Al Faisal will start fourth in the #14 Mercedes SLS AMG.  The #19 BMW rounds out the top five with another all-star quartet of Dirk Werner, Dirk Müller, Lucas Luhr and Alexander Sims.

The #3 Phoenix Racing Audi starts sixth. Marcel Fässler looks to make it two 24-hour race wins in consecutive weekends. He is joined by Marc Basseng, Frank Stippler and Laurens Vanthoor in the #3 Audi. The #1 Black Falcon Mercedes with defending 24 Hours Nürburgring winner Jeroen Bleekemolen as one of the drivers starts seventh. He will be joined by Andreas Simonsen, Christian Menzel and Lance David Arnold. Legendary Audi drivers Frank Biela and Marco Werner are joined by Pierre Kaffer and Felix Baumgartner in the #502 Audi. They will start eighth. The #7 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Stefan Mücke, Darren Turner and Pedro Lamy starts ninth. Lamy is looking for his record-setting sixth 24 Hours Nürburgring victory. The #80 Nissan GT-R GT3 rounds out the top ten with Nick Heidfeld, Alex Buncombe, Lucas Ordóñez and Florian Strauss as it's drivers.

The German classic starts at 10:00 a.m. ET.

NASCAR at Sonoma and Elkhart Lake
Two of the United States picturesque road course host NASCAR this weekend. For the 25th consecutive year, the Cup series heads to Wine Country. The last nine visits have produced nine different winners. One of those winners, Clint Bowyer was fastest in final practice yesterday. Bowyer won at Sonoma in 2012. Paul Menard was second with Carl Edwards in third. Ford has not won at Sonoma since 2002 when Ricky Rudd won driving for Robert Yates Racing. Jaime McMurray was fourth with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounding out the top five. Kyle Larson was sixth quickest with this being his first visit to Sonoma. Defending Sonoma winner Martin Truex, Jr. was seventh. Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle rounded out the top ten.

Other notable drivers: Kyle Busch was 11th, AJ Allmendinger was 15th, Brad Keselowski was 16th, Jimmie Johnson was 23rd, Marcos Ambrose was 24th, Tony Stewart was 28th and Boris Said was 36th.

Cup qualifying will take place at 1:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

The Nationwide Series gads to Road America for the fifth consecutive year. Friday was shortened due to rain. Sam Hornish, Jr. was fastest in the wet session. Brian Scott was second with winner of the 2004 ChampCar race at Road America Alex Tagliani in third. Championship points leader Regan Smith was fourth with Brendan Gaughan rounding out the top five. Ty Dillon was sixth. Justin Marks was seventh ahead of rookies Chris Buescher and Dylan Kwasniewski. Elliott Sadler rounded out the top ten.

Other notables from Road America practice: Trevor Bayne was 13th, Andy Lally was 16th and Chase Elliott failed to complete a lap in the session. There will be a new winner at Road America as none of the four previous winners are entered in this year's race.

Qualifying from Road America will take place at 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Musings About The Second Half of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Season

Last week, we looked back. Today, we look forward. Ten races over eight races weekends remain in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season and there are plenty of pages left blank, waiting for the next driver, team, crew member or fan to write their verse.

1. The Championship Battle
Will Power leads teammate Hélio Castroneves by 39 points and Ryan Hunter-Reay by 60. The Australian has a 135-point gap over Marco Andretti in fifth and 188 ahead of Justin Wilson in tenth. While the Australian appears to be in control and appears destine to finally to top the championship, his past struggles down the stretch of championships creeps to the forefront. He has completed every lap to date and his worst finish is eighth. What could go wrong? Double points at the Triple Crown races could unravel Power's championship hopes. One bad finish could turn what would normally by a 36-point swing into a 71-point swing and if there is one thing that seems to fall into Power's lap, like a grenade in a fox hole, is a bad finish at the wrong time.

Hélio Castroneves finds himself where he finished last year in the championship, second. The aging Brazilian is running out of time for that first career championship. Does he have the ability to turn an average day into a great day? That what a championship run is made of. In 2013, he couldn't do that and he fell short. Does history repeat itself?

It's hard to believe the Indianapolis 500 winner needs a break but Ryan Hunter-Reay needs one badly. Costly mistakes and mechanical failures could plague him from a second title. The second half is in his wheelhouse, short ovals, two other big ovals, Toronto and Mid-Ohio. We know he has the speed and we know he has the team capable. Will the equipment hold up though?

Simon Pagenaud is consistently in the top ten but, like Castroneves, can he turn an average day into a great one? To win the title, the Frenchman is going to have to win at least two races but will probably need a third to be safe. Pagenaud has never had more than four podiums in a single season. Every champions since reunification has had at least six. Can he find that next level?

Marco Andretti sits fifth in the championship standings. As much as this might sounds as a knock to Andretti, to have any shot at the title he is going to have to win two or three of the remaining four oval races unless he is going to steal a road course or street race. He's improved immensely on road and street circuits but he needs to play to his strength. With two double points remaining, Andretti's hopes are alive if he remains consistently in the top ten on road and street circuits.

Defending champion Scott Dixon sits eighth in the championship. Last year he overcame a 92-point deficit to win the title. This year he is further back, trailing Power by 156 points but you can't rule him out from coming back again. Like Hunter-Reay, the second half plays to Dixon's wheelhouse. Mid-Ohio is his baby. He swept Toronto last year, won at Pocono last year and has finished in the top ten at Iowa in six of seven starts. Dixon might be the furthest back but he has the most to be confident about.

Outside of those six I don't see any other drivers capable of contending for the title. Carlos Muñoz will finish strong. Juan Pablo Montoya will show well on the ovals but his inconsistency on road and street courses will cost him. Tony Kanaan is a shadow of his former self and if Justin Wilson was driving for Penske, Ganassi, Andretti or Schmidt, maybe he'd have a shot. A championship isn't in James Hinchcliffe's cards for 2014 but if he can string together consistent finishes up front, maybe he will be able to set himself up for an assault in 2015.

2. Who Wins Next?
Scott Dixon won race one at Houston in 2013 and finished second in race two. Justin Wilson finished third and fourth. James Hinchcliffe recovered from an accident after stalling on the grid in race one to finish third in race two. Sébastien Bourdais has two Houston victories and finished eighth and fifth last year. All four drivers have good track records at Houston and are looking for their first win of 2014. Others still looking for win number one of 2014 include Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya to name a few. Last year saw ten different winners, one shy of the record for most different winners in a single season. Through eight races, six different drivers have been to victory lane.

3. Can A Rookie Breakthrough and Win?
The last rookie to win a race was Robert Doornbos in 2007 with victories at Mont-Tremblant and San Jose. The last rookie to win on an oval was Sébastien Bourdais at EuroSpeedway Lausitz in 2003. Carlos Muñoz is sixth in points with a third at Long Beach and a fourth at Indianapolis. The Colombian has shown that his strong oval runs from a year ago was no fluke and he can hold the mustard on road and street circuits. He has the team behind him to get the job done but can he cease an opportunity when it is given?

Jack Hawksworth was the class of the field in the first third of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and has had good runs at other races but the results haven't always fell his way. He has advanced to the second round of qualifying in four of five opportunities but has been collateral damage in a few races, ending promising runs. Should he continue his hot streak of qualifying, the results are bound to fall his way on a road or street circuit. Outside of a good showing in Indianapolis 500 qualifying, Hawksworth needs more track time on ovals before he can start challenging the likes of Carpenter, Dixon and Hunter-Reay.

Mikhail Aleshin has racked up three top tens in 2014 and has shown to have a knack for the ovals. The Russian has had a few bad runs but when he is hot, he could challenge anyone on the IndyCar grid. Road and street courses qualifying will need to improve. He has advanced to round two on only occasion. His teammate Simon Pagenaud already has a tally in the win column as Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Racing continues to try and knock the top three off their pedestal.

4. Who Can Turn It Around? Who Nose Dives?
Last year, Scott Dixon went from seventh to champion. Takuma Sato went from eighth to seventeenth. Sébastien Bourdais went from twenty-first to twelfth. Tony Kanaan went from sixth to eleventh. Will Power went from tenth to fourth. Simona de Silvestro went from eighteenth to thirteenth. Does the same thing occur in 2014? Could Josef Newgarden string results together to lift him from eighteenth to challenging for the top ten in the championship? Can Graham Rahal and the entire Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team pick themselves up off the floor? Who can keep their seasons going? Does Juan Pablo Montoya keep up his great IndyCar return? Can Marco Andretti make it two consecutive seasons in the top five of the championship? Does Carlos Muñoz continue his stranglehold on the rookie of the year honors?

5. Does the Grind Prove to be Too Much?
Three. That is the amount of weekends the Verizon IndyCar Series has off between now and the season finale at Fontana. The series will ran 10 races over 11 weekends after running 8 races over 11 weekends to start the season. Teams needed this break and they will be feeling the gauntlet before the end of July. After the Houston doubleheader is the Pocono 500 followed by Iowa with the Toronto doubleheader end capping a four consecutive week, six race cross-continent tour. After a week off is Mid-Ohio with another week to rest before facing the giant hill that the offseason sits atop which includes Milwaukee, Sonoma and Fontana.

I was and still am for IndyCar racing on a more consistent basis but wanted nothing like this. Of course ending the season by Labor Day and not starting any sooner kind of force the five-mile run up hill but that is IndyCar's stubbornness, not mine. Could fatigue cost a driver a shot at a title? Will equipment wear and rebuilds cause headaches for teams? We will have to wait and see.

6. Aero Kits
I don't want to hear teams complaining about a lack of time to develop aero kits. They were delayed on at least three occasions and there is at least five months to get test miles under the body parts. Sebring is always open to hold a test (outside of the week of the 12 Hours of Sebring). Barber is always a second option. Texas, Fontana and Homestead are all ovals in warm enough climates to hold a test the week before Thanksgiving if you have to. If team owners start to waver again, it is time for IndyCar to smack them and tell them "we're doing this."

There are still wrinkles to be ironed out. It appears Chevrolet and Honda are the only ones making aero kits. Dallara is not making aero kits but to me, I don't see why you would stop a team from running a grandfathered Dallara aero kit. God forbid IndyCar makes it easy for an Indianapolis 500 one-off and not twist their arm to try and get an aero kit that is either A. Out of their price range or B. Not being made for them because Chevrolet and/or Honda are tapped out and we are left with teams on the sidelines not because they weren't fast enough or totaled a chassis but basically because they were told there wasn't a baseball glove for them and can't play today.

7. Road To Indy
Gabby Chaves and Zach Veach are engaged in what is setting up to be a championship battle for the ages. One point separates the two drivers with Chaves leading in victories, 3 to 2. Eight points back is Luiz Razia with Jack Harvey twenty-eight points and Matthew Brabham thirty-one points back. Four drivers have won so far this season. Five different drivers won in 2012 and 2013.

Out of these five, I am not sure any have to jump into IndyCar immediately. Chaves turns 21 July 7th. Harvey turned 21 in April. Veach doesn't turn 20 until December. Brabham turned 20 in February. Razia is the only driver I could see having to make the jump. The Brazilian is 25, won in GP2, was a Formula One test driver and for a few months was a Formula One driver with Marussia before the cash didn't come through. The other four have lots of time. There is no need to throw a 20 or 21 year old into IndyCar. Drivers need time to develop. Plenty of drivers don't start winning on a regular basis until their late 20s or early 30s. Take another year or two to develop. Razia, however, has plenty of experience that it's time for him to move to a major top division or consider a career change.

Spencer Pigot is holding on to the Pro Mazda championship lead. Pigot reminds me a lot of Connor De Phillippi. Great in the then-Star Mazda Series. He appeared to be a future star in IndyCar but never got the opportunity in Indy Lights. De Phillippi moved to sports cars, thanks to Porsche, and has won a race in the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland and leads that championship as I write this. I'd hate to see Pigot not get the shot but he is going to have to fight to hold off Scott Hargrove if he wants to avoid a third season in Pro Mazda. The young Canadian Hargrove was fantastic in U.S. F2000, has two wins in Pro Mazda this year and swept the opening Porsche GT3 Cup Canada weekend at Mosport on a cameo appearance. Pigot finished fourteenth and third in the two Mosport races. Hargrove's future is bright and hopefully we see him and Pigot battle for decades to come.

Besides Pigot and Hargrove, Kyle Kaiser, Neil Alberico and Garret Grist have done well but don't expect them to move to Indy Lights immediately.

In U.S. F2000, R.C. Enerson will have to hold off at least Florian Latorre, Jake Eidson and Victor Franzoni if he hopes to move to win the Pro Mazda scholarship for 2015. Enerson has three wins but a tough race at Indianapolis Raceway Park took a decent chunk out of his championship lead. Aaron Telitz took victory at IRP. Other winners in 2014 include Will Owen and Adrian Starrantino while drivers Daniel Burkett, Clarke Toppe and Austin Cindric have shown an improvement in their second seasons.

8. Who Else Gets Behind the Wheel in 2014?
Luca Filippi will run Houston and Toronto for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing begging the question, who else get behind the wheel (or back behind the wheel) of a car in 2014? Oriol Servia had a good four races for RLLR before the well dried up after Indianapolis. JR Hildebrand and Sage Karam had great races at Indianapolis. More opportunities should be on their three respective horizons. Maybe Pippa Mann gets another race or two for Dale Coyne Racing. It would be great to see Buddy Lazier run another oval or two or Lazier Partners Racing run a car for someone else if Lazier decides otherwise on driving. Does someone else make their IndyCar debut? I said last week that their are plenty talented drivers interested in IndyCar but not enough seat. Let's see if anyone gets another opportunity to shine.

9. Schedule
I hate talking about the schedule. It leads to nostalgia about races that are never coming back barring miracles. Cleveland is gone. Surfers Paradise is happy with V8 Supercars being the main event. Portland isn't happening anytime soon. Michigan and Phoenix and Road America are only ever on the horizon. IndyCar can't get in bed with Austin because they are in bed with Eddie Gossage and Texas Motor Speedway. NOLA Motorsports Park doesn't have the infrastructure for a race in 2015 but who knows. After all, they want a June date. Let's see how many heat strokes there are at Houston and then we will shoot that idea down.

I made a rule about schedule talk (it can't start until halfway through a calendar year) but to quickly touch on what has been orbiting around the planet that is IndyCar news: I can live with international races. Dubai and Brasilia appear to be the only options and would lead off the 2015 season. Brasilia is a permanent facility that is getting a face lift as we speak. It is the same circuit MotoGP was scheduled to go this year before those plans were squashed but not ruled out for 2015. Dubai reportedly will be a street circuit. Meanwhile, the 3.3411-mile Dubai Autodrome, which hosts the Dubai 24 Hours, is more than suitable for IndyCar. I'd rather see the Autodrome than another street circuit, but that's just me.

10. Houston Doubleheader
Late-June and racing in Houston, Texas. What could go wrong? If the heat caused Honda engines to expire early at Texas Motor Speedway on a Saturday night, how are they going to last not just Saturday afternoon but Sunday as well. Of course, let's not forget the fans. Hydrate people. HYDRATE! Wear a Camelbak if you have to. Then there is the rough surface that is suppose to be taken care of going into this year's race.

I said it last year and stand by it, any facility hosting a major motorsports event has to be up to par. There is nothing stopping Mike Lanigan and Shell from moving their event to the world-class Circuit of the Americas. I understand Houston is Shell's backyard but IndyCar must have a backbone if the facility is not good enough. To be fair, Reliant Park may have corrected all the ills of 2013 and despite the bumpy surface there were two good races in the parking lot. As for whether or not this race stays in June could depend on it become a night event. Sounds good in theory but NASCAR races the same Saturday night IndyCar is at Houston. Of course that conflict could be avoided down the road.

There will be more on Houston coming up next week in the Track Walk column posted the Thursday of race weekend.



Monday, June 16, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: Exhaustion

A terrific Le Mans weekend was cameoed with another MotoGP thriller and NASCAR. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Le Mans
One of these days fortune will have me in France in June. After watching nearly 20 hours followed by a busy Father's Day with family, sleep deprivation is seeping in. It was worth it. Had I slept like a normal person I would have missed the #7 Toyota breaking down while comfortably leading, the battle between the #97 Aston Martin and #51 AF Corse Ferrari for the GTE-Pro lead, the turbo failure on the #2 Audi and the sun rise over the French countryside. Of course, I would have also missed Justin Bell's annual walk around the grounds, bumping into every inebriated individual with Grand Marnier pancakes and dressed up as if it was October 31st. 

It's hard to say the Indianapolis 500 is better than the 24 Hours of Le Mans or vice versa. Each one is uniquely great but share similarities that putting one ahead of another would be a complete disservice to each races' histories. Fortunately, we aren't forced to pick one over the other. We can enjoy both and sit the following day wondering what will be in store the following year. 

Code 60
The first time I saw the use of Code 60 was at the Dubai 24 Hours earlier this year. For those who do not know what Code 60 is, it pretty much a local yellow where cars are limited to 60 km/h (37.28 MPH) between the first double yellow (or purple flag, which has been used for Code 60s at other events) and the last double yellow (or purple flag) in that section of the race track. Once a driver has exited the Code 60 zone, they may continue at race speed before reaching the Code 60 zone on the following lap where they must once again drop to 60 km/h. Code 60s are used to prevent full-course cautions from slowing down a race while safely slowing cars down in the section of a track where an accident must be cleared. 

Could Code 60 be brought to other forms of motorsports besides sports cars? Why couldn't open-wheel series such as IndyCar and Formula One or touring car series such as DTM or even NASCAR adopt Code 60? Obviously for IndyCar and NASCAR, it wouldn't make much sense on ovals but for road/street circuits it would be feasible. My biggest gripe in IndyCar is the full-course cautions for something as simple as a car in the gravel trap or stalled in a run-off area. Instead of bringing the race to the stand still, slow the cars through the particular section and let them race elsewhere. 

Take this year's Barber race. When Takuma Sato had a lazy spin and stalled off course on the outside of turn ten or when Juan Pablo Montoya beached it in the same section of the track, instead of wasting even as little as two laps under caution, they could have place the part of the track between the exit of turn eight and the middle of the straightaway after turn 10 under a Code 60 and allow the cars to race outside of that zone while the car is either restarted or pushed further off course to a safer location. 

Code 60s will not totally eliminated full-course cautions. When Mikhail Aleshin's late accident caused damage to the tire barrier, a full-course caution must be thrown to fix the problem. But even after watching that incident again and thinking about it, couldn't a Code 60 have been used to push the car off track and get the barrier repaired? I guess a better example of where a full-course caution would be the only choice would be the start of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis where the track filled with debris after Sebastián Saavedra was run into by Carlos Muñoz and Aleshin.

Now for those wondering if this sounds like an evolution of the pacer lights system once used in the Indianapolis 500, it kind of does but unlike the 1970s where Bobby Unser could work the system to his favor and make up time, monitoring devices such as GPS are being looked into by the VLN (the German equivalent of SCCA) to keep teams honest as well as harsh penalties, such as those used at Le Mans, for those caught violating the Code 60. If a car was caught speeding in a Code 60, a team would've been penalized five seconds for each km/p over. So if a team was caught doing 100 km/p (62.13 MPH) in the Code 60, it would've been a 200 second penalty or 3 minutes and 20 seconds. If a team was doing 200 km/p (124.27 MPH), it would've been a 700 second penalty or 11 minutes and 40 seconds. To me, that seems like a fair enough penalty for the violation.

If Code 60s means keeping on-track action going while an minor accident can be taken care of at another part of the circuit, a series should consider using Code 60 for it's own benefit. It wouldn't hurt to try something new.

One Race Le Mans Weekend
When Le Mans weekend comes around each June, the French classic should be the only professional motorsports race on the planet taking place. I love MotoGP and this weekend's race between Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo was spectacular, easily a potential Race of the Year nominee, but the two races should not be finishing within ten minutes of one another. Same thing with NASCAR at Michigan. If there is any track that should have one NASCAR race, it is Michigan. Take the weekend off. For years I've heard Jeff Gordon say he wants to run Le Mans. Take the week off and allow the few drivers who want to participate to do so.

I understand each series has to look out for themselves and shouldn't necessarily cater to other series but if it is one weekend a year, it shouldn't be a problem. Formula One has a gentleman's agreement not to run Le Mans weekend, IndyCar took off Le Mans weekend this year, others should follow their leads. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Audi, Marc Márquez and Jimmie Johnson, but did you know...

Esteve Rabat won in Moto2 and Álex Márquez won in Moto3.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. won in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series return to Gateway.

Paul Menard picked up his second career Nationwide victory at Michigan, 2912 days after his first career Nationwide victory at the Milwaukee Mile in 2006.


Coming Up This Weekend:
Formula One returns to Austria.
For all those who want more sleep deprivation, 24 Hours Nürburgring.
NASCAR at Sonoma.
Pirelli World Challenge at Road America.
V8 Supercars at Hidden Valley Raceway in Darwin.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Audi Wins Lucky 13th at Le Mans

The 82nd 24 Hours of Le Mans could have gone of three ways. It was Toyotas from the time Fernando Alonso waved the tricolour until around 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning Le Mans time when the #7 with Kazuki Nakajima behind the wheel came to a halt due to an electrical problem. The #2 Audi took the lead but had a turbo problem and had to make a change, handing the lead to the defending Le Mans winners, the #1 Audi.

Just when it looked like Tom Kristensen was going to stand on the top step for an incredible 10th time, the same turbo gremlin bit the Dane and Le Mans glory appeared to be falling into Porsche's lap. The #20 of Timo Bernhard was leading when Mark Webber took over. Then the all-time leaders in overall victories at Le Mans got the same taste of medicine that befell Toyota and Audi. The Porsche pulled into the garage and the lead cycled back to the #2 Audi and of Benoît Tréluyer, Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer never looked back. The trio with names full of accent marks took overall Le Mans victory for the third time in four years, completing 379 laps.

The #1 Audi of Tom Kristensen, Lucas di Grassi and Marc Gené finish second, three laps back of their teammates. The #8 Toyota of Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi, which suffered a massive accident in the early stages recovered to finish third overall, five laps back. Nicolas Prost, Nick Heidfeld and Mathias Beche finish fourth in the #12 Rebellion R-One-Toyota, 19 laps back of the #2 Audi.

Midweek, Oliver Turvey was not at Le Mans, he was in the gym. End of the week he drove the #38 Jota Sport Zytek-Nissan under the checkered flag to take the LMP2 victory in the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans. Simon Dolan and Harry Tincknell made it an all-British victory with 356 laps completed. Second place, one lap back was the all-French driver line-up of the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Ligier-Nissan of Pierre Thiriet, Ludovic Bdaey and Tristan Gommendy. The #36 Signatech-Alpine Nissan of Nelson Panciatici, Paul-Loup Chatin and Oliver Webb rounded out the LMP2 podium. The #24 Sébastien Loeb Racing Oreca-Nissan of René Rast, Jan Charouz and Vincent Capillaire finished fourth in class with the #35 OAK Racing Ligier-Nissan of Mark Shulzhitskiy, Jann Mardenborough and Alex Brundle come home fifth having engine related issues.

For the second time in three years, the AF Corse Ferrari trio of Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella took the GTE-Pro victory. It's is Bruni's third career class victory at Le Mans and Vilander's and Fisichella's second. The #51 Ferrari completed 339 laps. The #73 Corvette of Antonio Garía, Jan Magnussen and Jordan Taylor finished second in class, a lap back of the #51 Ferrari. The defending GTE-Pro class winning #92 Porsche of Frédéric Makowiecki, Richard Lietz and Marco Holzer round out the GTE-Pro podium. The #74 Corvette of Tommy Milner, Richard Westbrook and Oliver Gavin finished fourth. The late GTE-Pro edition, #79 WeatherTech ProSpeed Competition duo of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNiel finished fifth in class.

One year after the fatal accident of Allan Simonsen, the all-Danish trio of David Heinemeier Hansson, Kristian Poulsen and Nicki Thiim won GTE-Am in the #95 Aston Martin with 334 laps under it's belt. The #88 ProSpeed Competition Porsche of Klaus Bachler, Christian Ried and Khaled al Qubaisi finished second in GTE-Am with the #61 AF Corse Ferrari of Luíz Pérez Companc, Marco Cioci and Mirko Venturi finishing third in class. Two American teams rounded out the top five in GTE-Am class. The #90 8Star Motorsports Ferrari finished fourth with drivers Paolo Ruberti, Gianluca Roda and Frankie Montecalvo. The #77 Dempsey Racing-Proton of Patrick Long, Patrick Dempsey and Joe Foster finished fifth.

Other notable finishers:
The #42 Caterham Racing Zytek-Nissan of Tom Kimber-Smith, Chris Dyson and 16-year old Mattheew McMurry finished 23rd overall, 10th in LMP2 having completed 329 laps.

The #58 Team Sofrev ASP Ferrari of Soheil Ayari, Anthony Pons and 1998 FIFA World Cup winning goalkeeper Fabien Barthez finished 9th in GTE-Am having completed 325 laps.

The #97 Aston Martin of Stefan Mücke, Darren Turner and Bruno Senna finished sixth in GTE-Pro, completing 310 laps after overheating issues cost the team a shot at victory.

The next round of the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship will take place September 20th at Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas.


Three-Quarters Down, One To Go From Le Mans

Six hours, a typical FIA World Endurance Championship race remains from Le Mans.

Audi has the overall lead. The #1 of Marc Gené has completed 279 laps and had a bit of good fortune go his and Tom Kristensen and Lucas di Grassi's way. The #7 Toyota was the class of the field before an electrical problem forced the car to stop a little after 11:37 p.m. ET Saturday night. The #2 Audi inherited the lead but around 1:00 a.m. ET Sunday Marcel Fässler went into the garage as the team had to replace a turbo charger. Mark Webber in the #20 Porsche jumped to second at the #2 Audi dropped the third, two laps back of the lead Audi. Nicolas Lapierre and the #8 Toyota has worked their way back to fourth after the early spin in the wet nearly took them out of the race, as it did with the #3 Audi of Marco Bonanomi and #81 GTE-Am AF Corse Ferrari of Sam Bird. Romain Dumas rounds out the top five, 10 laps back of the leader.

Jann Mardenbrough continues to hold the lead for the #35 OAK Racing Ligier having run 263 laps. Paul-Loup Chatin continues to run second in the #36 Signatech Alpine with the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Ligier of Ludovic Badey in third, a lap back of the first two in class. The #38 Jota Sport Zytek of Oliver Turvey runs fourth in class, three back of the #35 OAK with René Rast another lap back, fifth in class driving the #24 Sébastien Loeb Racing Oreca.

The #97 Aston Martin of Bruno Senna and #51 Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni battle for the GTE-Pro lead. Bruni passed Senna shortly prior to the start of the 19th hour. The two teams are the only GTE-Pro lead lap, having completed 250 laps. Marco Holzer is a lap down, third in class driving the #92 Porsche. The #73 and #74 Corvettes round out the top five in GTE-Pro with drivers Antonio García and Richard Westbrook respectively behind the wheel of each car. They are one lap and eight laps back of the #51 Ferrari respectively.

David Heinemeier Hansson continues to hold a two lap lead in GTE-Am in the #95 Aston Martin with 246 laps under the all-Danish team's belt. Klaus Bachler is second in the #88 Proton Competition Porsche. #61 AF Corse Ferrari is third with Marco Cioci behind the wheel, three laps back. Patrick Long is fourth in the #77 Demspey Racing-Proton Porsche with Nic Jönsson rounding out the top five in the #57 Krohn Racing Ferrari.

Stay tuned as sun rise lurks on the U.S. Eastern seaboard.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Half Way At 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans

The #7 Toyota continues to lead with Stéphane Sarrazin behind the wheel. The Frenchman has completed 187 laps. Sarrazin is followed by the #2 and #1 Audis driven respectively by André Lotterer and Tom Kristensen. Timo Bernhard is fourth, two lap down in the #20 Porsche. His teammate the #14 Porsche driven by fellow German Marc Lieb rounds out the top five, six laps back after suffering a minor mechanical issue early in the race.

The #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi is sixth, 12 laps back of it's teammate. The #8 was involved in an accident with the #3 Audi of Marco Bonanomi and the GTE-Am leader at the time #81 AF Corse Ferrari of Sam Bird early in the race. Both the #3 Audi and #81 Ferrari retired from the race after that accident.

Alex Brundle leads in the LMP2 having completed 173 laps in the #35 OAK Racing Ligier. Paul-Loup Chapin is second in the #36 Alpine-Nissan with Pierre Thiriet in third in the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Ligier. Jon Lancester is fourth in LMP2 driving the #34 Race Performance Oreca-Judd. The #38 Jota Sport Zytek of Simon Dolan rounds out the top five in LMP2.

Bruno Senna leads in GTE-Pro driving the #97 Aston Martin having completed 165 laps. Second third and fourth place of Giancarlo Fisichella (#51 AF Corse Ferrari), Richard Westbrook (#74 Corvette) and Richard Lietz (#92 Porsche) all on the same lap. Jordan Taylor in the #73 Corvette is fifth in class, one lap down.

Aston Martin is sweeping the GT classes with the #95 of David Heinemeier Hansson leading having completed 163 laps. He leads the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Alexsey Basov sand #88 ProSpeed Porsche of Christian Ried by a lap. Luíz Pérez Companc is fourth in class in the #671 AF Corse Ferrari. The #90 8Star Ferrari of Frankie Montecalvo rounds out the top five in GTE-Am.

Stay tuned...


Friday, June 13, 2014

Toyota and Porsche Lead Audi, Ferrari Sweeps GT Poles at Le Mans

While the #8 Toyota has been on it's A-Game in 2014, having swept both FIA World Endurance Championship races to date but leading the field to the green flag tomorrow will be it's sister #7 TS040 Hybrid. Alexander Wurz looks for his third Le Mans victory while Stéphane Sarrazin looks for his elusive first and Kazuki Nakajima looks to join Masanori Sekiya and Seiji Ara as the third Japanese driver to win overall at Le Mans. The #7 set the fastest time in the third qualifying session with a lap of 3:21.789.

The #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid shared by Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb will start second after falling 0.357 seconds short of pole. The #8 Toyota of FIA WEC points leaders Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi will start third. Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley start fourth driving the #20 Porsche.

The Audis will start in reverse numerical order in positions 5-7. The trio with the least Le Mans experience, Felipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and Oliver Jarvis will start fifth with two-time Le Mans winners Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer in sixth. The #1 Audi saw a driver change midweek after an accident forced Loïc Duval to step out of the car. Marc Gené will move out of the #38 Jota Sport Zytek-Nissan in LMP2 to join Tom Kristensen and Lucas di Grassi. They will start seventh. The two non-hybrid Rebellion LMP1 entries with start 8th and 9th with the #12 of Nicolas Prost, Nick Heidfeld and Mathias Beche leading the #13 of Dominik Kraihamer, Andrea Belicchi and Fabio Leimer.

European Le Mans Series points leaders Thiriet by TDS Racing won pole in LMP2 with a time of 3:42.730. Drivers of the #46 Ligier-Nissan Pierre Thiriet, Ludovic Badey and Tristan Gommendy will start tenth overall. Despite losing their senior statesman, Jota Sport qualified second in LMP2 with former GP2 driver and McLaren test driver Oliver Turvey take over for Gené and joining Simon Dolan and Harry Tincknell. Jota Sport missed LMP2 pole by 0.065 seconds. The #35 Ligier-Nissan of OAK Racing driven by Alex Brundle, Jann Mardenborough and Mark Shulzhitskiy will start third in class. The #26 G-Drive Morgan-Nissan of Romain Rusinov, Olivier Pla and Julien Canal start four in LMP2 with Oliver Webb, Nelson Panciatici and Paul-Loup Chatin rounding out the top five in LMP2 in the #36 Alpine-Nissan of Signatech Alpine.

AF Corse swept the poles in GTE-Pro and GTE-Am. The #51 Ferrari of defending world champion Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella set the fastest time at 3:54.754 and will start 28th overall. Immediately behind them was the GTE-Am pole winners, the #81 Ferrari of Sam Bird, Michele Rugolo and Stephen Wyatt, 0.965 seconds back.

The #73 Corvette of four-time Le Mans class winner Jan Magnussen, three-time Le Mans class winner Antonio García and Jordan Taylor was second in GTE-Pro with the #97 Aston Martin of Darren Turner, Stefan Mücke and Bruno Senna split the #73 from it's sister #74 and drivers Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook.

The #52 Ram Racing Ferrari rounded out the top five in GTE-Pro with drivers Matt Griffin, Álvaro Parente and Federico Leo. The defending GTE-Pro winner at Le Mans, the #92 Porsche of Richard Lietz, Marco Holzer and Frédéric Makowiecki starts sixth in GTE-Pro ahead of the #91 Porsche of Patrick Pilet, Jörg Bergmeister and Nick Tandy. Davide Rigon, Olivier Berreta and Pierre Kaffer round out the GTE-Pro field in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari. Kaffer replaces James Calado after the Brit was not cleared after an accident. The #99 Aston Martin of Alexander MacDowell, Darryl O'Young and Fernando Rees was slated to start eighth in GTE-Pro but was withdrawn after an accident in Wednesday qualifying.

Starting second in GTE-Am behind the #81 AF Corse Ferrari will be the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Christoffer Nygaard. The three Danes David Heinemeier Hansson, Kristian Poulsen and Nicki Thiim start third in class in the #95 Aston Martin. Luíz Pérez Companc, Marco Cioci and Mirko Venturi start fourth in the #61 AF Corse Ferrari. Rounding out the top five in GTE-Am is the Russian #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Victor Shaitar and Aleksey Basov.

Other notables from qualifying, the #0 Nissan ZEOD RC will start 27th, 28.396 seconds back of the overall pole winning #7 Toyota and 3.515 seconds ahead of the #51 AF Corse Ferrari, the fastest GT car.

The #42 Caterham Racing Zytek Nissan of three-time Le Mans class winner Tom Kimber-Smith, Chris Dyson and 16-year old Matthew McMurry will start tenth in LMP2. The #77 GTE-Am Porsche of Dempsey Racing and drivers Patrick Dempsey, Joe Foster and Patrick Long starts seventh in class and 41st overall. Defending GTE-Am class winners at Le Mans, IMSA Performance Matmut starts 12th in class, 48th overall with drivers Raymond Narac, Nicolas Armindo and David Hallyday.

In what could only be one of the most intriguing stories in recent Le Mans history, the #79 WeatherTech ProSpeed Competition Porsche of Cooper MacNeil and Jeroen Bleekemolen will compete as a GTE-Pro car, not a GTE-Am car as it was originally entered as. Bret Curtis suffered an accident in Thursday qualifying, destroying the car and ending Curtis' weekend due to a concussion. The team was unable to find another bronze rated driver, a requirement for each team competing in and amateur class. The #79 Porsche will start ninth in GTE-Pro

With the withdrawal of the #99 Aston Martin, fifty-four cars are scheduled to take the Tricolour when the 82nd edition of the French classic begins at 9:00 a.m. ET.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Musings From the First Half of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Season

Seven of eight race weekends and eight of eighteen races of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season have been completed. With two weekends off as a midseason break for the teams and drivers, we will take a look at what has happened up to this point in the season and then we will take a look at what is still to come in 2014 and a little further in the near future.

Today will recap 2014 to date. We will go through the points and take a look at each driver's season through Texas. We will see what has gone right, what has gone wrong and we will touch on some other points along the way.

1. Will Power
The Australian leads the championship with 370 points but he is setting up for a historic season. His worst finish to date is eighth (both at Indianapolis on the road course and oval). He has two victories and five podiums along with two poles and his average finish to date is 3.625. He has led a season high 279 laps and is the only driver to have completed all 929 laps in 2014. Tony Kanaan is the only driver to complete 100% of the laps run in a season. That occur in his 2004 championship season and his worst finish that year was eighth.

While having a dominant car all season, Power has dodged bullets. From avoiding penalties for causing accidents at Long Beach and Belle Isle 1 to overcoming penalties of his own doing at Indianapolis (twice), Belle Isle 2 and Texas. If he keeps making careless mistakes such as speeding on the pit lane, it will ruin what appears to be his best season to date. If he keeps finding a way to put his nose in the wrong place on a road or street circuit, he is bound to end one of his days prematurely and lose valuable points sitting on the sidelines.

The second half of 2014 have a few tracks that balance out for Power. Iowa and Toronto have snake-bitten Power on multiple occasions but Sonoma, Mid-Ohio and Milwauke are tracks he has found success at. At this point, it is Power's championship to lose.

2. Hélio Castroneves
It's been an Hélio Castroneves type of season for Hélio Castroneves. He hasn't been flashy. He hasn't been sitting the world on fire but he finds himself at the top. Before Texas, he had completed every lap in 2014 before finishing a lap back of Ed Carpenter. The Brazilian has a victory and four podiums and trails his teammate by 39 points.

I was critical at the end of 2013 that Castroneves played it too safe and pussyfooting cost him the title. He is behind in the championship and I don't know if he has enough to catch and pass Power in the championship standings. Castroneves has five top fives so far in 2014, he had six in all of 2013. An omen for what could be Castroneves' season to come is of the remaining eight tracks, Castroneves has won on two of them, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma but his last victories at those tracks were in 2001 and 2008 respectively.

3. Ryan Hunter-Reay
What looked to be a second championship waiting to happen after Indianapolis has become another second half of the season come back for Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport. This year's Indianapolis 500 winner trails Power by 60 points. He also has the victory a Barber and a total of four podiums but those are counterbalanced with four finishes outside the top fifteen.

Mechanical gremlins seem to be a theme at Andretti Autosport, having popped up in both 2012 and 2013 for Hunter-Reay. That is the one hurdle the team has to overcome to give Hunter-Reay and any other Andretti Autosport driver a shot at the title. Andretti Autosport has dominated the short ovals, having won the last six races on tracks a mile or shorter and seven of the eight short track races this decade. Hunter-Reay also has a victory at Toronto on his résumé and was running well last year before mechanical problems plagued the 2012 IndyCar champion.

The key thing for Hunter-Reay is having a car that can finish races. If the team can provide him that, he will surely be a contender come Fontana.

4. Simon Pagenaud
Five top fives in eight races have Simon Pagenaud 91 points back of his former Team Australia teammate Will Power. Pagenaud took the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and had he not had blistering tires during the Indianapolis 500 and if Will Power had not run him into the wall at Belle Isle 1, the Frenchman surely would have eight top ten finishes from eight races.

Pagenaud will have to put himself in better positions for victories as the Frenchman's lone race he has led in is his lone victory in 2014.

The second half looks promising for Pagenaud as he has a top five finish on five of the eight remaining tracks and has a top ten finish on six of the eigh, Milwaukee and Fontana are the exception where he has finished 12th in both his Milwaukee starts and his best Fontana finish was 13th in 2012.

5. Marco Andretti
Marco Andretti rounds out the top five in points, 135 back of Power. I think we should note double points at Indianapolis being the primary reason for wider margins in the championship this early in the season. Pocono and Fontana (the other legs of the Triple Crown, also worth double points) should balance out the standings. Andretti has two podiums and four top tens in 2014. Had he not been caught up in a restart accident at St. Petersburg or had his engine not expired after three laps at Texas, Andretti could be look at six top tens.

It feels as if it is a matter of when, not if, Andretti gets his next victory. He has made 50 starts since his last victory at Iowa in 2011. Before that, Andretti went 77 races between his maiden victory at Sonoma in 2006 and Iowa. Ovals are still Andretti's best shot at a victory. He won pole position at Milwaukee and Pocono last year before an engine failure and poor fuel mileage cost him chances at victory.

6. Carlos Muñoz
Carlos Muñoz leads the rookie of the year standings by a healthy 64-point margin over Mikhail Aleshin but trails Power by 143 markers. The Colombian has picked up where he left off after three starts in 2013. A second at Indianapolis, 17th in a last-minute substitution for Ryan Briscoe at Toronto 2 and a 23rd place finish at Fontana after charging to the front running a line lower than anyone else would imagine. A rookie has not won an IndyCar race since 2007 when Robert Doornbos in ChampCar won two races (Mont-Trembland and San Jose). A rookie has not won an IndyCar oval race since 2003 when Sébastien Bourdais in CART won at Lausitzring.

Muñoz has four top tens in 2014. Muñoz has been to seven of the remaining eight tracks in Indy Lights. He will be racing for the first time at Sonoma later this year. Muñoz has Indy Lights victories at Pocono and two at Fontana.

7. Mike Conway/Ed Carpenter
The IndyCar match made in heaven each have a victory in 2014 and are seventh in the teams' championship. Mike Conway has 122 points while Ed Carpenter has amassed 102 points, aggregating to 226 points, 144 back of the #12 Team Penske Chevrolet. Had Mike Conway not had miscommunication over when to pit at St. Petersburg and Ed Carpenter not been caught on that lap 175 accident at Indianapolis, the #20 could be much higher in the championship and could have another win under it's belt.

Despite the Long Beach victory, Conway has a lot to improve on in 2014. That Long Beach victory is his lone top ten in 2014. He has made it out of the first round of road/street course qualifying on only two of five occasions. Amazingly, his average finish and average starting position is the same, at 13.6667.

Carpenter is slated to be one of the favorite at the remaining four ovals in 2014, having already won at Fontana as well as having top ten finishes at the other three ovals.

8. Juan Pablo Montoya
In his return to open-wheel racing, Montoya's championship position appears to be quite good, but dig away a little and wonder how long it will last. He has a podium and three top fives, leaving him seventh in the championship, 147 points back of Power but has an average finish of 13.5 on road and street courses in 2014 with six road/street events to go. Montoya clear has what it takes on ovals having the capability to stretch fuel longer than anyone else in 2014. He recovered from a pit lane speeding penalty at Indianapolis to finish fifth and was up front all day at Texas.

Montoya has shown that he hasn't lost a step since exiting open-wheel racing in July 2006. He has some room to improve but has not lost the fire that drove him to a championship as a rookie, an Indianapolis 500 winner as a rookie and to the top of the podium at Monaco, Monza, Interlagos and Silverstone.

9. Scott Dixon
The defending IndyCar champion finds himself in a familiar place: Winless. Scott Dixon enters the second half of a season with a bagel in the win column but that isn't the end of the world for the Kiwi. He didn't win until race 10 of 17 in 2007 and lost the championship by about a gallon of fuel. Last year, he didn't win until race 11 of 19 and won the championship with plenty of fuel in the tank.

Dixon has a history of slow starts to a season. This was his third consecutive season with four finishes outside the top ten in the first eight races. The good news for Dixon is the second half of 2014 appears to be his bread and butter. He has won on six of the remaining eight tracks, Iowa and Fontana being the exceptions.

At the halfway point last year, Dixon was 7th in the championship, 92 points back of Castroneves. This year he is 156 points back, 8th in the championship. Can he repeat his 2013 efforts? Only time will tell.

10. Tony Kanaan
Six top tens but only one top five has Tony Kanaan 9th in the championship. He sits 181 points back of Power. Kanaan's 2014 season has been consistent but noting to jump for joy about. As he has aged, the results fade. He is coming off finishing 11th in the 2013 championship, the first time he has failed to finish in the top ten of the championship since 2002 in CART.

He's led one lap in 2014. Since reunification he has only three victories. He can bring the car home in one piece but just like his fellow Brazilian Castroneves, does he have enough to scratch and claw his way to finishes higher up the pylon?

11. Justin Wilson
Rounding out the top ten of the drivers' championship is the ever reliable Justin Wilson. One hundred and eighty-eight points back of Power, Wilson has a top five and three top tens in eight races. Considering Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing lost their two wizards in engineers Bill Pappas and John Dick, top ten at the halfway point is a pretty promising result.

Wilson has a top ten finish on seven of the remaining tracks and Toronto was the sight of his first career victory in 2005. He ended 2013 with four top fives in the final five races and a surprise 6th in the championship.

12. James Hinchcliffe
The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of IndyCar in 2014, just like in 2013, has been James Hinchcliffe. Of the full-time drivers, he has the best average starting position at 6.125 but his average finish is 15.125. He loses on average nine positions from his spot on the starting grid to taking the checkered flag. He finds himself eleventh in the championship, 189 back of Power. One top five and three top tens in 2014 aren't that different from his first eight races of 2013, when he had three top tens, two of which were victories but were cancelled out by three finishes outside the top twenty.

Hinchcliffe's second half in 2013 started with a turn one, lap one accident at Pocono and his season never lived up to winning two of the first four races. He excels on the short ovals but has struggled in his homeland. If Hinchcliffe can turn his starts up front to finish there, he should shoot up the standings but if his finish remain bipolar, it will be another off season of scratching his head wondering what he has to do differently.

13. Sébastien Bourdais
A point behind Hinchcliffe, twelfth in the championship is Sébastien Bourdais. The Frenchman finished twelfth in the championship in 2013 but 2014 has started off better than last year. He didn't score a top ten until Toronto last year and already has two tens, both coming at Indianapolis. Bourdais has advanced from round one of road/street course qualifying four of five times but has only made the Fast Six on one occasion.

Most of the tracks on the second half of the schedule are new to Bourdais as 2013 was his first full-season in IndyCar since the final ChampCar season in 2007. Toronto should be the four-time champions best shot at victory having finish second and third there last year, boosting his stat line at Exhibition Place to one win, four podiums, six top five and eight top tens in nine starts.

14. Ryan Briscoe
I am going to give you two stat lines:

Stat line A: Finishes of 6th, 18th, 9th, 8th, 17th, 16th, 24th and 16th.
Stat line B: Finishes of 10th, 17th, 11th, 6th, 18th, 15th, 10th and 9th.

Now think about which one you were preferred to have.

Briscoe's 2014 season is B, Simona de Silvestro's 2013 season is A. My question is, couldn't de Silvestro have been 14th, 191 points back of Power, the exact same position Briscoe is at so far in 2014? Briscoe has been average. Other than leading a few laps at Belle Isle, Briscoe has been a non factor in 2014. I don't mean to take shots at Briscoe, he is a talented driver who doesn't get enough credit. However, something deep down in me sees the results and thinks this is what a Ganassi-quality driver is made of and de Silvestro wasn't considered Ganassi-quality? I hate the ideas of drivers fitting molds. Whether is be a Penske mold, Ganassi mold and so throughout motorsports. Hire the best driver, whether they are male or female, have a Grizzly Adams beard or are baby face, extroverted or introverted. Three of the final eight tracks Briscoe has won at but he has never won at a track multiple times.

15. Charlie Kimball
Kimball has had an awful season qualifying. He has an average starting position of 20th but has picked up on average 6.375 positions a race. He has five top tens but his thirty-first finish at Indianapolis has been a much worse blow to his season with the event being worth double points.

Kimball was able to score two podiums in the second half of 2013, one of which was his first career victory at Mid-Ohio. Should he continue to string together top tens, he will find himself gaining ground in the standings. The Californian finds himself fourteenth after eight races, 201 back of Power.

16. Mikhail Aleshin
He may be a distance second in the Rookie of the Year standings and an even more fifteenth in the championship but Mikhail Aleshin has been a hidden gem. Trailing Power by 207 points, Aleshin has three top tens and has led in three races of 2014, including the Indianapolis 500. He had the major shunt with Sebastián Saavedra at the start of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and a rough weekend at Belle Isle are the lowlights of his rookie season.

The Russian has plenty of room to improve but he has the right teammate in Simon Pagenaud to help him find speed at places that are unfamiliar to him. He has looked really good on the higher speed ovals. Let's see how he looks at the short ovals.

17. Jack Hawksworth
Jack Hawksworth started 2014 with great races that ended with him being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His lone top ten was at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but Hawksworth has advanced from the first round of road/street course qualifying on four of five occasions with three Fast Six appearances.

Sixteenth, 214 back Hawksworth still needs some work on ovals after finishing twentieth and fifteenth at Indianapolis and Texas.

18. Takuma Sato
Hear that? It's the clock ticking on Takuma Sato's career at A.J. Foyt Racing. Two poles but only two top tens with three consecutive finishes of eighteenth heading into this two week break. Sato average finish is just outside the top fifteen. Inconsistency has been the word forever etched next to Sato's name in the history books. If his second half in 2014 is anything like his second half in 2013, where the Japanese driver's best finish was fourteenth with five finishes outside the top twenty, expect changes come 2015.

19. Josef Newgarden
The Tennessean might be the most snake bitten driver in 2014. Average starting position has been 9.875 for Josef Newgarden but his average finish has been 16.375. He could of had a podium at Long Beach had he and Hunter-Reay not collided. Running out of fuel and then being punted by Martin Plowman ended a good day at Indianapolis. Then there was Will Power hip checking him in turn three, lap one at Belle Isle 2.

Just like Hinchcliffe, if Newgarden turns those top ten starts into top ten finishes, he will climb many positions in the championship standings. He had a top five at Pocono last year while five of his nine career top ten finishes have come on street courses. There are four street courses remaining in 2014.

20. Graham Rahal
This was not the season Grahal Rahal could have been hoping for. A $12 million sponsorship pick up and Rahal has only one top ten to show for it. He has the worst average finish of all full-time driver at 16.625. He was beaten by his teammate Oriol Servià in the four races they shared the grid together. And he doesn't even have the luxury of saying the speed has been there because Rahal has the second worst average starting position of full-time drivers at 17.25, ahead of only Kimball.

I start this next point by saying I love Pippa Mann. She has been great in the radio booth with Paul Page. She has been the change that deserves more recognition than it has gotten so far in 2014. She is a fan favorite for engaging with fans on social media, signing autographs at the track and so on. She hasn't had many opportunities in IndyCar and has had a few good runs but nothing that has left you with your jaw on the floor.

The last two seasons Graham Rahal has been the male equivalent of Pippa Mann. You can do all the Twitter giveaways you want, sign every autograph request but ultimately you have to get it done on the race track. At this point of his career, he gets more attention for who he is dating than how he does behind the wheel of the car. He is only 25. Most drivers don't win championships until their 30s. Ryan Hunter-Reay was 31 when he finally won a title and 33 when he won his first Indianapolis 500. Dario Franchitti and Bobby Unser were both 34 when they won their first Indianapolis 500s and titles. Johnny Rutherford went 97 starts, over 8 years between his first and second victories, didn't win the Indianapolis 500 until he was 36 and first title until he was 42.

There is plenty of time for Rahal to reach the mountain top but it is disappointing seeing the struggles for him and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

21. Carlos Huertas
Two top tens. Who would have thought Carlos Huertas would have two top tens and have made two oval starts this time six months ago? The Colombian hasn't been as impressive as Mikhail Aleshin but has been competent. He completed every lap entering Texas. Will Power and Hélio Castroneves were the only two other drivers who could have said that.

Huertas isn't the next IndyCar superstar but he has been good. If he just keeps doing what he has been doing so far in 2014, Huertas could capture another top ten or two.

22. Sebastián Saavedra
The Colombian has had a rough first 46 starts of his IndyCar career and a just as rough 2014. An 11th and 9th to begin the season at St. Petersburg and Long Beach and pole for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis appeared to be a turn in the Sebastián Saavedra's career. That all changed when he stalled from pole and was run over by Carlos Muñoz and Mikhail Aleshin.

Like Rahal, Saavedra is still young (24) but unlike Rahal, Saavedra has yet to have that flash in the pan moment. Granted, driving for teams such as Conquest and Dragon haven't helped him but the Colombian continues to languish at the back of the championship table. He averages a starting position of 15th and his average finish is 15.875. All he can hope for a is few breaks. He has shown speed on a few occasions but not frequently enough to be a factor.

23. Drivers Yet to Be Named
Look at all the drivers I have named above and realize I have yet to mention the exploits of Townsend Bell, JR Hildebrand, Sage Karam, Oriol Servià and so on. I brought this up on Twitter prior to the Texas race. The amount of talent drivers out of rides is disappointing but there are only so many seats. Someone is going to be on the sidelines. I'd love to see the four listed above along with the likes of Luca Filippi (who will drive from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at Houston and Toronto), Bryan Clauson, James Davison, Buddy Lazier, Buddy Rice, Alex Tagliani, even Jacques Villeneuve out there each and every week but that's unrealistic. It's a great problem for IndyCar to have but a terrible one at the same time. It's just the nature of motorsports.

24. Kurt Busch
Sixth place at Indianapolis earned Kurt Busch Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors. I'd love to see him in an IndyCar some more but not just every May. For NASCAR's mid-July off weekend IndyCar is on the streets of Toronto. I'd love to see what he could do on a street circuit. It would be a whole nother challenge for him. Why not try it? You can't be afraid of failing. As Wayne Gretzky said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Why not take a shot? If he is in the "Ed Carpenter-zone," it's ok. It's not for everyone. If he's respectable, then why be upset with that?

25. Doubleheaders
Still a fan of doubleheaders but after the V8 Supercars announced their changes to how a race weekend would be held and watching Belle Isle, I think IndyCar should alter the format a little. Instead of two races at the same distance, maybe the first should be 100 miles with the second race being 150 miles. It would be less wear and tear on equipment and it would change up race strategy so we don't see two similar races like we did this year at Belle Isle. I personally don't mind two qualifying sessions to set the field for each race but another idea I had was to have one qualifying session on Friday. That sets the grid for race one. Then, the results from race one and the qualifying position is added together and the field is set by lowest aggregate score.

For example: Hélio Castroneves won pole for race one and finished fifth. That is six points. James Hinchcliffe qualified second and finished sixth, that's eight points.  All it all the front row would stay the same with Castroneves and Hinchcliffe but Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan would be on row two, each with 11 points, tiebreaker is better finish in race one. Will Power came from 16th to win, that's 17 points and Carlos Muñoz would've rounded out row three. Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Huertas would've be row four with Sébastien Bourdais and Ryan Briscoe rounding out the top ten. Scott Dixon and Jack Hawksworth would have been row six, Justin Wilson and Mike Conway on row seven, Sebastián Saavedra and Marco Andretti on row eight, Charlie Kimball and Takuma Sato on row nine, Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay on row ten with teammates Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin rounding out the field.

The order was altered a slightly. I think with the first race being a sprint though it would encourage some teams gambling and see a shake up in the running order. Just throwing something at the wall and seeing if it will stick.

26. Winners
Through eight races, we have seen six different winners. At halfway last year, there were seven different winners. Like last year, Ganassi Racing has still yet to win as Dixon, Kimball and Kanaan look to extend their streaks of consecutive seasons with a victory. The other winners from 2013 yet to cruise into victory lane are James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato. Ten different drivers won in 2013, one behind tying the record for most winners in a season which was accomplished in 2000 and 2001. There were four first time winners in 2013. So far, we have yet to see a new face on the top step of the podium in 2014.

27. Road to Indy
Gabby Chaves and Zach Veach are engaged in dogfight in Indy Lights. One point separate the two after Chaves won the Freedom 100. Chaves has three wins to Veach's two. Luiz Razia is eight points back in third with one victory. Jack Harvey is 28 points back in fourth while Matthew Brabham rounds out the top five, trailing Chaves by 31 points.

Spencer Pigot won the first four races of the Pro Mazda season but Canadian Scott Hargrove has won two of the last three and trails Pigot by three points. Kyle Kaiser and Neil Alberico are tied for third, fifty-three back of Pigot as Shelby Blackstock rounds out the top five, 68 markers back. Garret Grist won the most recent race at the Night Before the 500 and is 79 points back of Pigot.

R.C. Enerson won three of the first four races in U.S. F2000 but has struggled the last three races. Frenchman Florian Latorre has closed Enerson's point lead down to 9. Jake Eidson has yet to win in 2014 but is third in the championship, 21 points behind his fellow American Enerson. Brazilian Victor Franzoni won the season opener and is fourth, 36 back with Aaron Telitz, the most recent winner at the Night Before the 500 fifth in the championship, 38 points back.

28. Recap
I think we have to realize IndyCar and American open-wheel racing would see one major influx of fans save the day. It isn't realistic. Each race won't see attendance balloon with 100,000 more people streaming through the gates race day. Television ratings for the seventeen races outside of the Indianapolis 500 won't all of a sudden go from 0.4s to 4.4s.

Put the numbers aside and realize the on-track action is more than desirable, whether it be a road course, street course or oval. The field oozes talent like a freshly over filled jelly doughnut from all over the globe. Most road/street courses have seen a little over a second cover nearly two dozen cars. If that isn't good enough, then I don't know what will be.

Motorsports is evolving. Evolving isn't suppose to feel good or be easy. It challenges our core beliefs and scares us of what tomorrow will bring. It forces us to reevaluate who we are, who we want to be, whether we are happy where we are at or whether we are happy where we are going. The world around motorsports is evolving as well. How corporations view their expenditure on motorsports sponsorship is changing. How said corporations view television ratings is changing. How tracks sell tickets is changing and it is all happening at a pace faster than ever imagined. The old ways of drawing people through the gate and to the television screen aren't guaranteed success. Everyone, from motorsports to concert halls, amusement parks to television channels, are competing for survival. It has become cut throat.

IndyCar will survive. It found it's way through the Great Depression, two World Wars, an era where death was nearly a weekly occurrence at tracks, an oil embargo, it's own civil unrest twice and reunification during another time economic hardship. It has pulled it's way through not by sulking on what it isn't but by keeping it's wheels churning forward through those difficult times, realizing continuing on and not waving the white flag is worth it.

Happiness is a destination that is hard to find. Whether it be for you in your personal life or for IndyCar trying to survive in the 21st century. Patience is the best advice I can give to those demanding an upswing. Maybe being a little secret on the world landscape is the perfect place to be. Only time will tell.