Monday, February 16, 2015

Musings From The Weekend: Give the Ball to Anderson

NASCAR is back, World Rally was in Sweden, and coming up this week is a Road to Indy tradition that should become an IndyCar tradition as well. We will also talk about New Zealand. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

It has no TV coverage, won't be talked about at any great length but the 2015 Mazda Road to Indy Winterfest begins this Wednesday at NOLA Motorsports Park with Indy Lights testing Wednesday and Thursday and Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 racing Thursday and Friday. The second leg of Winterfest will take place February 24-26 from Barber Motorsports Park.

Dan Anderson has come up with a lot of great idea since taking over coverage of the Road to Indy ladder system and here is one that he and IndyCar should capitalize on and make their own. While Winterfest is currently just test days for Lights and a preseason series for Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000, IndyCar and the Road to Indy should use it as the kick off to their season. The same way NASCAR has Speedweeks at Daytona and Daytona Bike Week was the kick off to the AMA schedule, IndyCar needs their own kick off event. 

We all know IndyCar needs to start it's season earlier and Winterfest could be back-to-back weekends with all four series racing in warmer climates is the way to kick off the season. NOLA and Barber already have their own set race weekends in April but this could allow for an addition or two to the schedule. Laguna Seca has lovely weather all year and the highs this past Saturday and yesterday were in the 80s! And instead of running Fontana at the end of June, run it the weekend after the Super Bowl. The weather is as close as possible to perfection. A 500-miler would be a great way to start the season and running the second weekend in February would be about six weeks before Fontana's NASCAR race. That is a fair amount of time between events. 

Winterfest could become open-wheel racings' California vacation. An escape from the frigid and snow covered midwest to the green fields of Northern and Southern California. IndyCar has been so set on international events in places such as the United Arab Emirates and Brazil filling in the winter months but realistically all they have to do is rearrange the races here at home. After the disaster that was Brasilia, IndyCar has to be much more selective when deciding to race abroad. Brasilia might have offered a massive paycheck but one problem, the track was in worse condition than an abandon K-Mart parking lot just outside Detroit. If IndyCar is going abroad, I'd rather IndyCar take less money from a European venue that actually exists such as Mugello than go for the jackpot with incompetent politicians.

You can't go to most Europe tracks this time of year but you can go to California. Go west old men in suits who run these series. 

Duel Races
I mentioned it last year and I will mention it again. I love the Daytona 500 qualifying races but I think the races should mean more. The only drivers that should be locked in after pole position qualifying is the front row and any six of the remaining 47 drivers should be at risk of going home. Get rid of locking in the four fastest drivers on speed from qualifying. Get rid of provisionals and for the love of all that is holy, get rid of the past champions' provisional. The top twenty finishers in each qualifying race not including the front row starters should fill in the 3rd-42nd on the grid with the 43rd and final spot being determined by a 10-lap LCQ. 

This year's LCQ would only feature seven drivers but if there had been an LCQ in 2014 six drivers would have battled for the final spot, including past Cup champion Brad Keselowski and the man who would end up winning the 2014 title, Kevin Harvick after he was disqualified from race one for failing post-race inspection. The other four drivers would have been Joe Nemechek, Reed Sorenson, Morgan Shepherd and Eric McClure. You are probably thinking that the LCQ would be predictable and it would have been either Keselowski or Harvick that would have advanced but we don't know that. Who is to say they wouldn't have taken each other out, opening the door for say Reed Sorenson to race his way in?

Seven cars isn't a lot but you don't need many to make it interesting at Daytona. A Daytona 500 LCQ would give NASCAR exactly what it wants. More drama. At least a Daytona 500 LCQ would be more organic drama than the contrived Chase to determine the champion.

Toyota Racing Series
I have been meaning to talk about the Toyota Racing Series for the last month and just never got it in. The New Zealand-based series runs what are pretty much Formula Three spec cars and just wrapped up their five week series on Sunday. 

Ferrari Driver Academy's Canadian Lance Stroll won the championship after winning four of 16 races and finishing on the podium in ten of 16 races. Stroll is the son of billionaire owner of Circuit Mont-Tremblant and once rumored potential buyer Sauber F1 Lawrence Stroll. Ferrari Driver Academy's Frenchman Brandon Maïsano finished second with five victories and finishing on the podium in half the races while 16-year old American Santino Ferrucci finished third with a victory and six podiums. 

Ferrucci will compete in European Formula Three this year for Mücke Motorsport. He ran part of the European F3 last year as well as a few rounds in German and British Formula Three. The Connecticut native won two of the three races he contested at Brand Hatch late in the British F3 season. Ferrucci finished eighth in last year's Macau Grand Prix, directly behind current Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen.

I don't know what Ferrucci's future holds. Hindsight says his Formula One dream will have a depressing end and he will probably be heading toward IndyCar by 2020 but he has talent and he is only going to continue to develop. He beat Artem Markelov, who raced in GP2 last year and ahead of Alfonso Celis, Jr. who raced in GP3 last year, will run GP3 this year along with Formula Renault 3.5.

The most interesting driver (to me at least) from Toyota Racing Series was Ferdinand Habsburg. Yes, from that Habsburg family. His grandfather, Otto von Habsburg was the last Crown-Prince of Austria-Hungary and his great-grandfather, Charles I of Austria was the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  

Winners From The Weekend
You know about Jeff Gordon's pole position but did you know...

Matt Kenseth won the Sprint Unlimited.

Sébastien Ogier came from behind entering the final stage to win Rally Sweden.

Ryan Dungey won the Supercross race from Arlington, Texas.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Budweiser Duels are Thursday night with the 57th Daytona 500 on Sunday.
World Superbike kicks off their season from Phillip Island. 
AMA Supercross heads to Atlanta for back-to-back rounds at the Georgia Dome.