Monday, May 25, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Looking a Year Into The Future

What A Weekend It Was
We had the fourth-closest Indianapolis 500. Mercedes made a strange call at Monaco. Results were changed after the fact in Berlin. The Brits defended their territory in World Superbike. McLaren did win this weekend, just not in Monaco and a Japanese veteran finally broke through for his first victory. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Looking a Year Into The Future
The 99th Indianapolis 500 is behind us. The 100th is just over a year away. What will be in store? Rather, what should be in store?

I think about the Borg-Warner Trophy. From what I have been told is the Speedway is pretty protective of the trophy, barely letting anyone touch it. I think they need to loosen up and take it on the road. It's just a trophy and I think of the Stanley Cup, which has been around the globe and been touch by thousands and thousands of people.

As much as the Indianapolis 500 is an American event, the Indianapolis 500 is also an international event. It has been an international event from day one when Italian Ralph DePalma and Swiss Arthur Chevrolet took the green flag while Fiat, Mercedes and Benz were just three of the many manufactures in the race. International names such as Peugeot, Mercedes, Maserati, Cosworth, Honda and Toyota have all been wheeled into victory lane as well as Offenhauser, Miller, Ford, Duesenberg and Marmon. And then there are the drivers. You have the national icons of Foyt, Unser and Mears etched on the same trophy as internationally adored names of Clark, Fittipaldi, Franchitti and Castroneves.

The 100th Indianapolis 500 should not be a celebration of a great American event but of a great world event and the Indianapolis 500 should be brought to the world. Twenty-eight different nations have been represented in the Indianapolis 500 from Russia, the largest country in terms of land area to the principality of Monaco, the second smallest nation in terms of land area. After all these years, I think the Indianapolis 500 should be brought to these nations.

When the calendar changes over to 2016, the Borg-Warner Trophy should leave it's humble abode at 16th and Georgetown and go on the world tour. Head to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela and Chile. Sixteen different European nations have been represented in the Indianapolis 500 and then there are Canada and Mexico. Take it to the major cities and let the people see it, touch it, take photos with it. Make it an experience they will share, show to others.

Think of the places it could go. Christ the Redeemer, Cape Town, Red Square, the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Sagrada Família, Sydney Opera House, Brandenburg Gate, Buckingham Palace. Take it to the Arctic Circle! And these are just the tourist destinations. Take it to other great racetracks of the world. Take it to Bathurst, Nürburgring, Le Mans, Spa, Monza, Suzuka, Interlagos. And bring out the drivers. When it's in Russia, have Mikhail Aleshin there. When it is in Finland, make sure Tero Palmroth is there. In Italy, bring out Max Papis, Teo Fabi, Fabrizio Barbazza. Get as many of the living British drivers together as possible. Imagine David Hobbs, Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell, Dario Franchitti, Darren Manning, Alex Lloyd, Justin Wilson, Pippa Mann, Katherine Legge, Mike Conway and Martin Plowman all in the same room.

And after a month or two trotting around the globe, have a tour of North America. Head to Times Square, the Grand Canyon, the French Quarter, the Golden Gate Bridge, the river walk in San Antonio, etc. Head to hometowns of past winners, Houston, Albuquerque, Wichita. Head to Defiance, Ohio! In my opinion, the Borg-Warner Trophy should not be in the state of Indiana from January 4 to April 30, 2016. Not everyone can get to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum but bring the trophy to the people, bring the history of the Indianapolis 500 to the people. Get people interested that way. You can't just hope people are going to bump into the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar and fall in love. You need to introduce them to both and perhaps they decide to tune in and maybe they stay for a long, long time.

The manufactures are also looking toward the 100th Indianapolis 500 and are already talking about entering more cars. My question is how many more? Are each go to enter one more? Are they go to enter two more? What about three? We saw this year that there are plenty of drivers who wanted to attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 but the problem is there are so few rides due to the clamp Chevrolet and Honda put on the amount of engine leases they were giving out. If both are willing to loosen their grip then great but it then becomes about whom you put in those cars.

You need to make sure the best drivers possible are getting these rides. Ryan Briscoe, an IndyCar race winner, now a 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring class winner and a former Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter didn't have a ride until James Hinchcliffe was hurt. A driver of his caliber should be in the field. A.J. Allmendinger wants to do the double, as does Kyle Larson. Those are two names that should be attempting to make the race. And Ganassi has to loosen his grip on Larson. Let the kid do the double. Let's get this out of the way. Instead of waiting and waiting and waiting for a championship that may never come, let the kid attempt the Indianapolis 500 because he is more likely to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 than win the NASCAR Cup championship. Perhaps give Buddy Rice one final Indianapolis 500 appearance.

There are a few other drivers I like to see at Indianapolis next year and we will get to those in a minute.

Mark Miles mentioned in his Thursday press conference, in which the 100th Indianapolis 500 logo was unveiled, that he is talking with the FIA about having them involved in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. For quite sometime, the Monaco Grand Prix has fallen on the same day as the Indianapolis 500 and it has made a great day of motorsports with Monaco leading into the 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 rounding out the night. However, for next year, I think Monaco should be pushed back a week. I know IndyCar and Formula One each have their own agenda but I think it would be nice if the centennial Indianapolis 500 was given the global spotlight. It would just be for next year and in return, IndyCar and the Speedway should make sure the Indianapolis 500 is not the day of the 100th Monaco Grand Prix. We can worry about if the Indianapolis 500 moves up to the Saturday or pushed to Monday in 2042 at a later date but I think it would be nice if each sanctioning body gave each other some respect.

Pushing the Monaco Grand Prix back a week would create a back-to-back with Monaco and the Canadian Grand Prix from Montreal. While it isn't ideal to have fly-away races on consecutive weeks, realize the leaked 2016 Formula One calendar has Melbourne and Shanghai back-to-back weeks and the distance between those two cities is greater than the distance from Monaco-to-Montreal (Melbourne-to-Shanghai: 5002 miles (8,050 km). Monaco-to-Montreal: 3,803 miles (6,121 km)).

Now you may click on the link to the leaked 2016 Formula One calendar and think, "Why not move Monaco up a week and create a back-to-back with the Spanish Grand Prix and give the teams two weeks off before the Canadian Grand Prix?" Because I have an idea and the big wigs at Honda need to be involved. IndyCar needs to convince Honda to get McLaren to return to the Speedway and when I say McLaren I mean the whole bunch of drivers they have. McLaren has won three Indianapolis 500s (Mark Donohue in 1972, Johnny Rutherford in 1974 and 1976). The Offenhauser name won't be in the 100th Indianapolis 500. The Marmon name won't be in the 100th Indianapolis 500. The almighty Cosworth name won't be in the 100th Indianapolis 500. McLaren is still active in motorsports and they wouldn't have to build a whole new chassis and the engines already exist and have been well tested. Perhaps you can get McLaren to develop an aero kit which wouldn't need much testing as we saw this year, as majority of the teams didn't get to run the oval aero kit until May 3rd. On the technical side, it is much easier for McLaren to show up and run the Indianapolis 500 than it was 20, 25 years ago. The difficult part is in terms of drivers. I'd want them to bring out the big guns. Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne. The big names coming over from Europe added to lure of Indianapolis and having two world champions and two very talented prospects come over would be a blast to the past.

But I am not just asking for McLaren to return I want an engine manufacture to return next year and I know what you are thinking, "There is no chance in hell a third engine manufacture will be able to develop a new engine in time for next year's race." And you are right. There is no chance in hell an engine manufacture will be able to develop a new engine by this time next year but I am not asking for an entirely new engine to be built and developed, I am asking for an engine that already exists be brought over for the Indianapolis 500. I want Toyota back at Indianapolis and I want IndyCar to allow their 2.0 L I4 Super Formula engine to race in the Indianapolis 500. I have been railing for this for quite sometime. Instead of forcing engine manufactures to conform to IndyCar regulations, why not open the door to the engines that already exist? Expand the eligible engines from only 2.2 L twin-turbo V6s to engines that are between two and three liters in displacement and have either four or six cylinders. Then the door is open to many other manufactures but let's focus on Toyota. In Super Formula, Toyota engines power three-time Le Mans winner André Lotterer, Super Formula champion and former Formula One driver Kazuki Nakajima and another former Formula One driver Kamui Kobayashi. Bring those three over. Perhaps Toyota could have an open car or two for drivers with the name Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards.

Let's say all 34 cars, 17 from each manufacture, return next year. Add on the McLaren foursome, three to five Toyotas, Larson and Allmendinger doing The Double and another car or two and you have 44-47 teams. You could have 11-14 cars fail to qualify, however, times have changed. The time of having a dozen cars failing to qualifying and just going home isn't best for teams and sponsors. If Indianapolis 500 qualifying drew 2.5 million viewers than teams may have a reasonable defense as to why a sponsor should stay despite failing to qualify for the biggest race of the year but that's not reality. If you get 44 or more entries, why not run a consolation race on Carb Day for these teams so they at least get some airtime for their sponsors and get their drivers more experience at Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Carb Day is one giant party and giving fans more on-track time would be a positive. Call the consolation race the Hulman Hundred after Tony Hulman and the former Silver Crown event at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. You might be thinking that Hulman would have been against this but you know what? Tony Hulman didn't promote races in 2015. He didn't experience this climate. The year 2015 is much different than 1965. There is much more competition and the ways things were done aren't necessarily the way things should be done now. As we have seen with the Freedom 100 (we will get to that in a moment), you can have a good race at the Speedway with a dozen cars.

Don't say that everything above is impossible. Nothing is impossible. It would be an uphill battle to make it happen but it is possible. It will take an open mind and just pure excitement for arguably the greatest race in the world. It can be done. Now are the people in charge going to open their minds and their eyes and see the possibilities of what the 100th Indianapolis 500 can be?

Indy Lights Midterm
The Freedom 100 was the midway point for the Indy Lights season and Jack Harvey took the victory and the championship lead. The first half of a season for the Dallara IL-15 chassis has been pretty good but not great. Through eight races there have been nine lead changes, six of those came in the Freedom 100. The pole-sitter has won five races.

There is definitely room for improvement for Indy Lights. Indy Lights runs on seven road/street courses; six of those host doubleheaders (Long Beach being the lone single-race weekend). Unlike GP2 and GP3, two development series that also run doubleheaders on a regular basis, Indy Lights does not invert the starting grid for race two and they should invert. Currently, the starting grid for race two is set by times from qualifying but if you can run a faster lap in the race that your fastest race lap can improve your position. However, unless it rains or a driver has a poor qualifying session, it's rare to see a driver run a faster lap in the race. If they do ran a faster lap in the race it is normally when a driver has fallen back in the race, is out of contention for the win but pits for tires and goes out and runs seven or eight qualifying laps at the end of a race. Even if a driver runs a faster lap in the race, it is rarely good enough for pole and at most you may see a driver improve two positions.

Instead of lining-up the cars in the same order in race two and hoping for a different results, line them up differently. Inverting the field would mix it up. It would get the faster guys in traffic and potentially create some passing. There are only a dozen cars in Indy Lights. You can either invert the entire field or just invert the top six or invert the top eight. Do something to make it a little more interesting.

Finally, halfway through the first season for the IL-15 chassis and grid size is still stuck at a dozen entries like it has been for the two and a half prior seasons. We were all hoping the new car would see new teams enter and new teams have entered (Juncos, Carlin, 8Star) but the grid hasn't grown as the additions have been balanced out with teams not returning. Team Moore is nowhere to be seen and use to run two cars. Andretti Autosport has cut down to one car after running two for pretty much their entire tenure in Lights. Bryan Herta Autosport is gone. The revolving door of five cars entering while five cars exit has left talented young drivers without rides. Matthew Brabham and Zach Veach won Indy Lights races last year but need a little more Indy Lights experience before moving up to IndyCar, the only problem is there is no room for them in Lights. Scott Hargrove nearly won the Pro Mazda title and is clearly ready for Indy Lights and did well in testing and at St. Petersburg for 8Star but he lost his ride due to funding. These are just three young names left outside in the cold and there are surely more.

Dan Andersen has called for more IndyCar teams to get involved in Indy Lights and none have answered. Meanwhile, Chip Ganassi expands his operation but not to Indy Lights, but to Global Rallycross. You know who else owns cars in Global RallyCross? Andretti Autosport, which enters two cars and Bryan Herta Autosport. Easily, these three rallycross operations could be four more cars on the Lights grid but these teams are businesses looking to make a profit and they see Global RallyCross as a better option than Indy Lights. Andersen and IndyCar management have to work to make Lights a more desirable option especially for IndyCar teams.

This is only year one of the IL-15 chassis and growth takes time but if Indy Lights is still stuck on a dozen cars this time next year, something has to be done.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Juan Pablo Montoya, Nico Rosberg, Jack Harvey, Stoffel Vandoorne and Richie Stanaway but did you know....

Carl Edwards won the Coca-Cola 600.

Jérôme d'Ambrosio won the Berlin ePrix after Lucas di Grassi was disqualified. It is his and the American Dragon Racing's first victories. Dragon Racing is owned by Jay Penske. Not a bad weekend for the Penske family.

Hiroki Ishiura scored his first Super Formula victory in his 45th career start at Okayama and he takes the championship lead after two races.

Tom Sykes swept the World Superbike weekend at Donington Park. British riders have won all 12 races this season. Kenan Sofuoglu won his fourth consecutive race in World Supersport. American P.J. Jacobsen finished fifth in the Supersport race.

Rob Bell, Shane van Gisbergen and Kevin Éstre won the Blancpain Endurance Series event from Silverstone. It is the first victory for the McLaren 650S GT3.

Jari-Matti Latvala scored his first victory of the World Rally Championship season as the Finn won Rally de Portugal.

Weiron Tan won the Pro Mazda Freedom 90 from Indianapolis Raceway Park on Saturday. Jake Eidson won the U.S. F2000 Freedom 75.

Austin Dillon won the NASCAR second division race from Charlotte.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads to their only doubleheader of the 2015 season at Belle Isle.
IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge will also be at Belle Isle.
MotoGP returns to Mugello.
DTM heads to Lausitzring.
NASCAR will head to Dover.
Le Mans Test Day takes place.