Monday, April 13, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Bump, Set, Spike

It was a weekend full of racing from the wet in New Orleans to the wind of Silverstone. Texas hosted three major series in three major cities and a champion was crowned. Meanwhile, a man ran across the track in China. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Bump, Set, Spike
The good news: A plethora of drivers want to run the Indianapolis 500.
The bad news: The manufactures have a stranglehold on IndyCar and neither wants to supply more than 17 entries.

All 24 cars that ran at NOLA and 22 of the 24 drivers are scheduled to attempt to make the Indianapolis 500. The lone drivers not going to Speedway are Luca Filippi, who is splitting the #20 with Ed Carpenter and Francesco Dracone. Add to those 23 drivers the already confirmed Bryan Clauson, Jay Howard, Justin Wilson, Buddy Lazier, J.R. Hildebrand and driver to be named for the #19 Dale Coyne entry (which I think will be Rodolfo González seeing as he was spending time in the Dale Coyne Racing pits at St. Petersburg). That is 29 entries, 15 Chevrolets and 14 Hondas.

Coyne will probably enter a third car for Pippa Mann, Oriol Servià reportedly is working on a deal to return with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports ran a third car last year and is consider likely to enter a third again this year. That would bring the entry list to 32, 17 Hondas, 15 Chevrolets.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in partnership with Davey Hamilton's Kingdom Racing look likely to return with Chevrolet power and Townsend Bell as their driver and that would get the field to 33.

This is where it gets depressing. Ryan Briscoe, Conor Daly, Gary Peterson's unofficial adopted son Sebastián Saavedra, James Davison, Katherine Legge, Stefan Wilson and Alex Tagliani are all reportedly working on rides or are interested in attempting the 99th Indianapolis 500. The bad news is the only seats remaining are the second Coyne (which will probably be González), the possible third Schmidt Peterson entry and possibly a fourth KV Racing Technology entry. You can't squeeze seven drivers into three seats.

Let's not forget to mention Ryan Phinny, who reported was working on a deal to attempt the Indianapolis 500 with KV or A.J. Allmendinger, who wants to attempt The Double but I think he is shooting to do that next year at this point. Then there is Guy Cosmo, who wants to fulfill his lifelong dream of competing in IndyCar. And let's just throw Zach Veach in the mix considering the Indy Lights race winner is currently unemployed and wanted to make his Indianapolis 500 debut last year.

You have 42 drivers who have openly expressed they are working on an Indianapolis 500 ride or are reportedly working on one and at best 8 won't get the opportunity to make a qualifying run, at worst 9 won't get a chance.

It is soul crushing. And I bet there are another handful of drivers we aren't talking about who would love to head to the Speedway in the month of May but know they have a better chance seeing God than getting a ride to attempt to make the Indianapolis 500. Bumping was a great part of the Indianapolis 500 and now the only bumping that takes place is in backrooms with paychecks, not on the racetrack with stopwatches. We are in the fourth year of the DW12 chassis. At this point there should surely be enough chassis to get 36-38 entries for the month of May. The new aero kits are hard to come by but the Dallara aero kit is still available and while it might not be as quick, I bet you could still put a car in the field with the Dallara kit. After all, I don't see all 33 qualifiers for this year's race topping Ed Carpenter's four-lap average of 231.067 MPH so I bet a few Dallara kit could sneak their way in and that wouldn't be a bad thing.

The only downside is the new floor doesn't mesh well with the Dallara kit but why couldn't teams with the Dallara kit be allowed to run the 2014 floor and those with the new kits run the new floor? Would it really matter, especially if qualifying is dramatic and you have four or five teams fighting to make it in the field? Would fans really be upset if the floors were different? Would fans really even notice?

The engines are the difficult part. It's getting Chevrolet and Honda to open up and run more than 17. The manufactures need to watch their wallets but they can't make the on-track action and talented drivers suffer because of it.

Here is my proposal: Incentivize having more cars in the Indianapolis 500 by awarding manufacture championship points. The manufactures' championship is so important to Honda and Chevrolet and the Indianapolis 500 is the backbone of the IndyCar season, why not have a lot of points on the line? Even better, have it on a sliding scale. The more cars you put in, the more points you get. The beauty of the Indianapolis 500 and there only being two manufactures is they can't be equal. Someone will have one more car than the other.

Here is what I envision: If a manufacture puts 17 cars in the field, they get 500 bonus points. If a manufacture puts 18 cars in the field, 700 bonus points. Nineteen cars, 900 bonus points. Twenty cars, 1000 bonus points. Limit it at 1000 points though. If a team puts in 21 in the field, they would still only get 1000 points.

Now it's a game of cat and mouse. If Honda enters 17, Chevrolet has to enter 17. They aren't going to give away 500 points to Honda. This means someone will be bumped. What if Chevrolet decides to enter 18? Honda can't run the risk of conceding 700 points and if Honda believes their super speedway aero kit is better than Chevrolet, then why not call the Bowtie Brigade's bluff and match their 18. Now you have 36 cars entered and at least three teams going home.

And what about the possibility of a team buying their way into the race à la Scott Goodyear in 1992 or Alex Tagliani in 2009 or Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2011? Make a regulation that if a team sells their seat their manufacture forfeits all manufacture points they accumulate for the Indianapolis 500 and that includes the bonus points. Does a team really want to get on a manufacture's bad side by being the reason why they lost 500-1000 points? I don't think so. To be fair, you will need to make an exception if a driver can't compete due to injury or worse and you can't punish a manufacture if that happens. Bring back the first alternate or if a driver replacement is made due to injury or worse, then no forfeiture of points.

Throw the gentleman's agreement out the window and have an all out war on qualifying weekend. I'd love to see Pole Day return to Saturday and Bump Day on Sunday but IndyCar brass seems set on setting pole position on Sunday. I will make a concession. Fill the field and set the Fast Nine on Saturday. Run the Fast Nine session at noon ET Sunday and put it on ABC. Once the Fast Nine is over, start Bump Day at 1:00 p.m. and go until 6:00 p.m. ET with coverage split over ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3. Maybe show 1:00-4:00 p.m. on ESPN3, then 4:00-5:00 p.m. on ESPN2 with the final hour on ESPN as a lead in to SportsCenter.

We have seen the Snake Pit return to the Indianapolis 500 and qualifying averages are back above 230 MPH and are expected to go up again this year. Let's bring the drama of bumping back as well.

Hindsight: New Orleans
1. Had IndyCar decided to postpone yesterday's race, you know that majority of the fans would be upset and make comments about the series ineptitude to run a road course race in the rain just like Toronto 1 last year. Then fans would be upset that the race would be moved to a Monday afternoon and they would be unable to watch it live. Ultimately, IndyCar was in a lose-lose yesterday and it wasn't their fault.

2. Notice that everything started going haywire when the teams switched to slick tires. The first 15 laps were fine and drivers started slipping off course when they got into the puddles or just off the dry line. Stefano Coletti wasn't at fault for his accident. He hit puddle. I am sure we all would have lost control if we were in his situation. If anything, the teams made the wrong choice to switch to slicks. The track might have been drier than when they started but it wasn't dry enough for slicks.

3. As for the man who pushed Gabby Chaves out of the grass, I just wonder how fast the cars were going around that corner? I know it was a "hot track" but how fast were the cars going? Forty-five MPH? Maybe 50 MPH? He wasn't any closer to the cars than if you or I are walking down the street to get a doughnut. If we are crucifying him for being in harms way than we are in harms way every day of our lives and should never leave our house because we are in constant danger. Come on people! Gabby Chaves was even praising him. Instead of making him into a bad guy, maybe the series should use this as a way to increase the presence of corner workers and use of local yellows. After all, that full-course caution took four laps and if that caution never happens, perhaps we see an entirely different race.

A Positive
We need some good news or just a positive thought to end on. J.R. Hildebrand and Justin Wilson are not only entered for the Indianapolis 500, they are entered for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis as well. It's nice to see one-offs for other races beside the Indianapolis 500 and I think this race being on ABC (as well as being at Indianapolis) has something to do with it. For their next television deal, the word exclusivity should not be used at all unless a network is paying IndyCar over $1 billion. IndyCar can't afford to have an exclusive network partner and exclusive cable partner. They need partners that are going to work together both on network and cable TV. That means NBCSN and NBC showing races as well as ABC and ESPN.

A little more network exposure could go a long way in terms of growth and attracting sponsors. Four-to-five ABC races with four-to-five NBC races with ESPN and NBCSN splitting the remaining races is what the goal should be and seeing how the series wants around 20 races, that would work perfectly. Half your races on network, half your races on cable with each channel getting a quarter of the schedule.

Back to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis: It's grown on me. It's nice to have a race a fortnight before the Indianapolis 500 and it drew a decent crowd last year, much larger than opening day for Indianapolis 500 practice. It's not so bad. With that said, I still think IndyCar should ran Indianapolis Raceway Park the Friday night of Brickyard weekend.

Champion From the Weekend
Ryan Dungey clinched his second career AMA Supercross championship with a second-place finish at Houston. There are three races left in the 2015 AMA Supercross season (Santa Clara, New Jersey and Las Vegas).

Winners From the Weekend
You know about James Hinchcliffe but did you know...

The #7 Audi of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer won the FIA WEC season opener from Silverstone. The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Sam Bird, Romain Rusinov and Julien Canal won in LMP2. Defending world champions Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander won in GTE-Pro in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. Aston Martin extended their GTE-Am winning streak to seven consecutive races as the #98 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda were victorious.

Marc Márquez is undefeated at Circuit of the Americas as he won his third consecutive Grand Prix of the Americas.

Lewis Hamilton won the Chinese Grand Prix, his second victory of 2015.

The #41 Greaves Motorsport Gibson-Nissan of Jon Lancaster, Björn Wirdheim and Gary Hirsch won the European Le Mans Series season opener from Silverstone. The #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche of Adam Carroll, Phil Keen and Micahel Wainwright won in GTE. The #59 TDS Racing BMW of Franck Perera, Dino Lunardi and Eric Dermont won in GTC. Olympic gold medalist Chris Hoy and Charlie Robinson made history as the first winners in LMP3 in the #3 Team LNT Ginetta-Nissan.

Andrew Palmer, Jeroen Mul and Fabio Babini crossed the finish line first in the Blancpain Endurance Series season opener at Monza in the #19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán. However, the team was excluded after using an illegal fuel restrictor. It was the debut race for the Huracán and Palmer. Palmer would have been the first American to win a Blancpain GT race before being excluded. The exclusion promoted the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Rinat Salikhov and Norbert Siedler to victory.

Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Cup race from Texas, his second victory of the year and he is now in the Chase.

Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies split the World Superbike weekend at Aragón. Kenan Sofuoglu won the World Supersport race while American P.J. Jacobsen made it a Kawasaki 1-2. Sofuoglu now leads the WSS championship by 13 points over Jacobsen.

Sam Lowes won the Moto2 race from Austin and Danny Kent won the Moto3 race.

Santiago Urrutia won the Pro Mazda race from New Oreleans. The second race was cancelled due to rain. In U.S. F2000, Nico Jamin and Victor Franzoni split the doubleheader.

Cole Seely scored his first career AMA Supercross victory at Houston.

Erik Jones scored his first career NASCAR Grand National Series victory at Texas on Friday night.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar runs the 41st Grand Prix of Long Beach.
IMSA, Pirelli World Challenge and Indy Lights joins IndyCar at Long Beach.
Formula One runs their first night race at Bahrain.
MotoGP heads south to Argentina.
Super Formula starts their season at Suzuka.
NASCAR heads to Bristol.
World Superbike goes to Assen.
World Touring Car Championship makes it six different continents with major series in competition as WTCC heads to Morocco.