Friday, March 27, 2015

What Will It Take to Be 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series Champion?

With the first practice session of 2015 in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series, I decided to do some number crunching. We always hear people ask, "What will it take to be champion?" Well, I decided to try and answer that question using past IndyCar results and mathematics.

I went back through every IndyCar championship from 1979, the beginning of the CART-era to last year's championship won by Will Power. I calculated the average of percentage of maximum points, wins, percentages of wins, podiums, percentage of podiums, top fives, percentage of top fives, top tens and percentage of top tens for every champion. These champions are taken from CART/CCWS 1979-2007, USAC 1979-1981/82, IRL 1996-2007 and every champion in the post-reunification-era 2008-present. 

Before diving into the numbers, let's look at what the 2015 season has to offer. There are 16 races on the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. For 14 of those 16 races, 54 are the maximum points a driver can score (50 for the win, a bonus point for pole, a bonus point for leading a lap and two bonus points for most laps led). That is 756 points offered from 14 races. At the Sonoma season finale, a driver could earn a maximum of 104 points (100 points for the win, point for pole, point for lap lead, two points for most laps led). That gets us to 860 points. Then there is the Indianapolis 500, where a driver could earn 145 points (100 for the win, 33 points for fastest on day one of qualifying, 9 points for winning pole, one point for lead a lap and two points for most laps led). The maximum amount of points a driver can score in 2015 is 1005.

What do the previous 35 years of IndyCar racing tell us? It tells us that the IndyCar champion averages 61.37% of maximum points. That means the 2015 champion would have to score 617 points. However, in the DW12-era (2012-present), the three champions have all failed to break 60% of maximum points. Ryan Hunter-Reay scored 57.849%, Scott Dixon scored 55.057% and Will Power scored 57.695%. Since reunification, the average percentage of maximum points is actually higher than the average from 1979 to present, at 62.706%. Comparing reunification to the era of IndyCar prior to the CART-IRL split (1982-1995), the average amount of maximum points for the champion was even lower than the last three years at 52.887%.

There is clearly a window the champion needs to fall in. Let's say the champion will need to score somewhere from 55% to 65% of maximum points, so the 2015 IndyCar champion will need to score anywhere from 553-653 points. 

On to victories. The average percentage of victories for IndyCar champions from 1979-present is 30.515%. However, since 2008, that average is down to 24.344% with only Scott Dixon in 2008 being the only champion in that time frame to win over 30% of the races (35.294%). In fact in the DW12-era, Hunter-Reay is the only champion to have won more than a quarter of the races (26.666%. Dixon won 21.052% in 2013 and Power won 16.666% last year). The average amount of victories for IndyCar champions since 1979 is 4.3, which fits perfectly in the 25-30% window it appears the 2015 champion will need to fall in. The 2015 champion will need to win 4-5 races. 

Like victories, the average percentage of podiums for IndyCar champions 1979-present is higher than the percentage since reunification at 54.845% to 49.394%. In fact, in the DW12-era, all three champions have failed to crack 50% podiums with Hunter-Reay leading the way at 40% to Dixon at 31.578% and Power at 38.888%. The average amount of podiums for champions 1979-present is 7.846. If the champion needs to finish on the podium in 40-55% of the races, the 2015 champion will need 6-9 podiums.

Top fives are closer to equal for champions from 1979-present and since reunification. The average over the whole time period is 66.368% and the average since 2008 is 65.072%. Once again though, the DW12-era champions are below average and fairly far below average. Only Dixon cracked over 50% in top fives (52.631%. Hunter-Reay was at 46.666% and Power at 44.444%). In the four previous seasons, the champion finished in the top five in over 75% of the races each year with Dixon actually finishing in the top five in 82.352% of the race in 2008. The average amount of top fives for every champion since 1979 is 9.557. If the 2015 champion needs to finish in the top five in 45%-66% of the races, there total will be from 7-11 top fives.

Top tens is the only category in which post-reunification-era averaged a higher percentage than the whole time period. Since 2008, the champion has averaged 80.03% total finishes in the top ten, compared to 78.377% since 1979. Will Power is the only champion in the DW12-era to be above average in percentage of top tens (83.333%. Hunter-Reay was at 66.666% and Dixon was at 63.157%). The average amount of top tens for every champion since 1979 is 11.269. There is much less margin of error in the case of top ten finish. The 2015 champion will need to finish in the top ten in 75-85% of the races, meaning they will need to score 12-14 top ten finishes. 

In conclusion, if a driver wants to win the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, they will need to win 4-5 races, score 6-9 podiums, 7-11 top fives, 12-14 top tens and score anywhere from 553-663 points. 

When the season ends on August 30th, we will come back and look to see how well the past predicted the present.