Thursday, April 9, 2015

Track Walk: New Orleans 2015

IndyCar Makes History in Louisiana
The inaugural Grand Prix of Louisiana will take place from NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisiana. The track is 2.74 miles in length and features 13 corners, nine right-handers and four left-handers. The race is scheduled for 75 laps, 205.5 miles. Juan Pablo Montoya won the first race of the IndyCar season a fortnight ago at St. Petersburg. He leads the championship by seven points over Will Power and 16 points over Tony Kanaan.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 12th. Green flag at 3:37 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Brian Till (Leigh Diffey is on Formula One the next two weeks. He will make his season debut at Barber), Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy are in the booth with Kevin Lee, Robin Miller, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider working the pit lane.

Can Anyone Beat Penske?
Forget about the Chevrolet vs. Honda narrative. It's Penske vs. the field. The Captain's fleet qualified 1-2-3-4 at St. Petersburg and finished 1-2-4-5 with Tony Kanaan being the lone driver to break up the monopoly at the front of the field. Juan Pablo Montoya took victory at St. Petersburg after Will Power had a slow pit stop and failed to get by the Colombian in the closing stages. All four Penske drivers led a lap at St. Petersburg and combined to lead 105 of 110 circuits.

Besides the Ganassi duo of Scott Dixon and Kanaan, the next best team at St. Petersburg was A.J. Foyt Racing. Takuma Sato was quickest in round one group one and was the lone Honda to make it to the Firestone Fast Six. His teammate Jack Hawksworth started 21st but was sixth in first practice and over came early front wing damage to lead 5 laps. He dropped from contention for a podium because he was pitting off strategy but Hawksworth was able to come home in eighth in his first race for Foyt.

Sébastien Bourdais was another driver who was consistently quick at St. Petersburg. The four-time champion was in the top ten in every session and started and finished sixth.

The Andretti Autosport quartet lingered in the background at St. Petersburg. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simona de Silvestro and Marco Andretti all advanced to the second round of qualifying and Hunter-Reay and Andretti both finished in the top ten with Hunter-Reay overcoming dropping outside the top fifteen after running wide in turn one lap one to finish seventh. De Silvestro's IndyCar return was marred by contact with James Jakes but she will return for NOLA. Carlos Muñoz started and finished 14th at St. Petersburg and was bumped by Andretti from making the second round of qualifying.

Speaking of Honda
The Japanese manufacture has not seen the top step of the podium since Ryan Hunter-Reay's late charge on fresh tires at Iowa. Chevrolet has won the last seven races with four different teams and six different drivers. Chevrolet has also won nine consecutive pole positions with Honda's last pole being Simon Pagenaud for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at Houston 2.

Honda hasn't just struggled to get on the top step of the podium but on the podium in general. In the last seven races, Honda has only amassed three podiums (James Hinchcliffe at Mid-Ohio, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud at Sonoma). In the previous seven races before Chevrolet's winning streak, Honda had nine podiums.

St. Petersburg saw Chevrolet sweep the top six and only three Hondas in the top ten and only four of 12 Hondas made it through to the second round of qualifying.

A Chevrolet victory this weekend will give Honda their longest winless streak since 2003-2004 when Toyota and Chevrolet combined to win nine consecutive race, the final eight races of 2003 and the first race of 2004.

Despite the disappointing weekend at St. Petersburg, Honda leads the manufactures' championship after 11 of the 12 Chevrolet teams changed engines after a potentially faulty value spring was found. The lone Chevrolet not to change their engine was the #8 Ganassi Chevrolet of Sage Karam. Each engine change and minor repair to an engine component will result in a 20-point deduction for a manufacture; meaning Chevrolet was penalized 220 points for the 11 engine changes. Honda now leads with 72 points while Chevrolet sits on -92 heading to NOLA.

Road to Indy
Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 join IndyCar at NOLA as Indy Lights take a break before returning for Long Beach next. Both Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 had drivers sweep the weekend at St. Petersburg.

Neil Alberico won both Pro Mazda races and leads the championship by 20 points over Uruguayan Santiago Urrutia of Team Pelfey. Juncos Racing's Jose Gutierrez trails by 21 points with Alberico's Cape Motorsports w/ Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Canadian Daniel Burkett a distant fourth, 35 points back. JDC Motorsports' Kyle Connery and Andretti Autosport's Dalton Kellett are tied for fifth, 36 points behind Alberico.

Pro Mazda has raced at NOLA twice before during their Winterfest series. In 2014, Spencer Pigot and Garett Grist split the races. Pigot has since graduated to Indy Lights while Grist competes this weekend for Juncos Racing. This year Jack Aitken won two of the three races at NOLA with Andretti Autosport's Weiron Tan winning the other. Aitken decided to focus on European competition this season and will not be at NOLA this weekend.

Pabst Racing's Jake Eidson swept the U.S. F2000 races at St. Petersburg. The Floridan holds a 13-point advantage over Wisconsinite Aaron Telitz driving for Cape Motorsports w/WTR. Telitz's teammate, Frenchman Nico Jamin is third, 20 points behind Eidson. Australian Anthony Martin trails Eidson by 26 points while Martin's John Cummiskey Racing teammate and fellow Australian Jordan Lloyd rounds out the top five, 34 points back.

Like Pro Mazda, U.S. F2000 has run at NOLA twice for Winterfest. Victor Franzoni, R.C. Enerson and Clark Toppe split the weekend in 2014. Enerson has graduated to Indy Lights while Toppe is competing in IMSA Prototype Lites, which will also be competing at NOLA this weekend. Earlier this year Eidson won two of three Winterfest races while Franzoni won the other. Franzoni is tied for tenth in the U.S. F2000 championship on 20 points.

Both series will run doubleheaders again this weekend. U.S. F2000's first race will be at 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday with their second race at 11:15 a.m. ET on Sunday. Race one for Pro Mazda will follow IndyCar qualifying on Saturday at 6:50 p.m. ET. Their second race will be at 1:50 p.m. ET Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be the first IndyCar race at NOLA Motorsports Park and first IndyCar race in the state of Louisiana.

Louisiana will become the 39th state to host an IndyCar race. Can you name the 11 states yet to host an IndyCar race?

Two Louisianan drivers have made IndyCar starts. On July 30, 1914, T.C. Jones finished sixth at Galveston, Texas on Denver Beach, a 5-mile beach course. The race was 50 miles in length and was won by Ralph Mulford, the runner-up in the inaugural Indianapolis 500. It was the only start of T.C. Jones' career. Just under 12 years later, Tony Gulotta would make his debut in the 1926 Indianapolis 500, starting 12th and finishing 11th, completing all 200 laps. In 1927, Gulotta would finish third at Indianapolis behind rookie winner George Souders and Earl Devore and just ahead of rookie and future three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Wilbur Shaw. He would finish third in his next start that season at Altoona. Third was the Gulotta's best finish in his career. He amassed 17 starts from 1926-1939. Gulotta started all but one Indianapolis 500 in that time frame. He didn't start the 1936 race but did drive in relief for Cliff Bergere in the #42 Bowes Seal Fast Miller. Herb Ardinger also drove relief in the #42.

Team Penske has won three of the four inaugural races in the post-reunification-era. Will Power won the inaugural races at São Paulo and Baltimore. Hélio Castroneves won the inaugural Barber race. The lone inaugural event not won by Penske since 2008 was last year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which was won by current Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud and Schmidt Peterson Motorsport.

This will be the third race to take place on April 12th. The first was at Phoenix and won by Roberto Guerrero. It was Guerrero's first career victory in his 48th start and he won from the 22nd and final spot on the grid. Despite starting 22nd, Guerrero led the most laps in that race at 96. Dale Coyne failed to qualify for the race. The most recent race on April 12th was Long Beach 1992. Danny Sullivan won the race after contact with his teammate Al Unser, Jr. (Notice how Unser, Jr. spins, the car doesn't stall and there is no full-course caution. The race steward waits for him to find a gap, spin it back around and get back going. Current IndyCar race stewards, take note of how it's done). It was the penultimate victory in Sullivan's career.

Possible Milestones at NOLA:

Marco Andretti needs to lead 70 laps to join the 1,000 laps led club.

Takuma Sato needs to lead ten laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 18 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 50 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs one podium to reach 50 career IndyCar podiums.

Will Power makes it back-to-back victories for Team Penske. However, Power is the only Penske on the podium. A Honda finishes in the top five. Rain tires are used at least once this weekend. A rookie finishes in the top ten. Francesco Dracone fails to be within 105% of the fastest time in every dry session. There are less than four safety car periods and at least 85% of the laps will be under green flag conditions. Sleeper: Stefano Coletti.