Monday, August 31, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Throw Away the Cookie Cutters

The Astor Cup is Scott Dixon's
Scott Dixon won the IndyCar championship. Shocker! It rained at Silverstone. Germany hosted a sports car race. Someone won at home in Wisconsin and in Great Britain. A Brit made history in Japan. With all that happened last week, there were things that were left unsaid because it wasn't the right time and they could wait a week. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Throw Away the Cookie Cutters
Having attended Pocono Raceway for many years, I wonder why there aren't more tracks with different shapes. I want a rhombus-shaped track with the acute angled corners having 15º of banking and the obtuse angled corners having 9º of banking. I want a trapezoid-shaped track with base angle corners being high-banked and the other two corners being as flat as paper. 

And why aren't there more triangle shaped circuits? Remember Trenton? It had a right-handed kink! It was shaped like a kidney bean! We need more kinks on ovals. Pocono has gotten a bum-wrap the last few years because NASCAR races aren't that good there but the three corners with three different degrees of banking is a fantastic challenge for the teams and drivers. I would love to see an obtuse triangle racetrack. 

Racetrack designs got boring. Look at all the 1.5-mile racetracks that popped up around the United States. They all look similar. Kansas, Chicagoland and Las Vegas are practically triplets, as are Charlotte, Texas and Atlanta. Homestead is the only 1.5-mile track that stands out and even then, it's as boring of a racetrack as you can get. Two straightaways with equally banked corners. 

If I were building a racetrack, I would want it to be noticeable. I would want people to know the moment they see it on their television screens that it's my track and not mix it up for another circuit. Make every corner a different degree of banking. Making it with three, four, heck five or six straightaways. Make it unique. Throw away the cookie cutter designs and take a blank piece of paper just let you mind wander on what an oval racetrack can be. 

Speaking of Race Tracks
Miller Motorsports Park was bought and it looks as the track has been saved. I have always like Miller Motorsports Park and I wish more series went there. Pirelli World Challenge was the only major series that went to the track and the place use to host World Superbike, ALMS and Grand-Am. 

The track is plenty big enough and has a very nice paddock area. I would love to see IMSA return there. Whether they run the 4.48-mile full circuit or the 3.048-mile outer circuit doesn't matter, as there is enough room for all four classes to compete. I am sure IndyCar could put on a good race there but IndyCar has plenty of other scheduling issues to clear up so Miller is way down on the list. 

Miller Motorsports Park hosted one of the best season finales in American motorsports. The 2007 Grand-Am season finale took place at Miller for a few years and the race was a 1,000km race. Scott Pruett, Max Angelelli and the pairing of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty all entered with a shot of walking away with the championship and all three of those cars were at the front battling. Angelelli's championship hopes flamed out, literally. The Italian had a flat tire on his Wayne Taylor Racing Pontiac-Riley while leading and it caused a fire as he was trying to drive back to the pit lane.

That left it to be a Pruett vs. Gurney/Fogarty battle and Pruett and Fogarty made contact while battling for the lead, which left both cars with flat tires. Both were able to make it to the pit lane and continued but instead of battling for the victory, they were battling for eighth and only two points separated the teams in the standings. Fogarty was able to hold off Pruett and he and Gurney won the title by two points while Marc Goossens, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jim Mathews won the race overall in the #91 Pontiac-Riley. 

It was a nail-biter from start to finish. I hope the new era at Miller sees races like that return.

9-6-4-3-2-1
Who would have been IndyCar champion had the old Formula One points system of 9-6-4-3-2-1 been used? Well, here you go:

Graham Rahal- 43
Juan Pablo Montoya- 42
Scott Dixon- 40
Will Power- 33
Josef Newgarden- 32
Hélio Castroneves- 31
Ryan Hunter-Reay- 26
Tony Kanaan- 26
Sébastien Bourdais- 25
Marco Andretti- 15
Carlos Muñoz- 15
Simon Pagenaud- 13
Charlie Kimball- 10
James Hinchcliffe- 9
Takuma Sato- 7
Luca Filippi- 6
Sage Karam- 6
Justin Wilson- 6
James Jakes- 4
Tristan Vautier- 4
Simona de Silvestro- 3
Ryan Briscoe- 2
Conor Daly- 1
Ed Carpenter- 1

Graham Rahal would have been champion by one point over Montoya and three over Dixon. While having as many wins as Montoya and one fewer than Dixon, Rahal had six podiums this season, the most of any driver in IndyCar, one more than Montoya and two more than Dixon. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon and Valentino Rossi but did you know...

Kevin Éstre and Renger van der Zande split the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Sonoma. Andy Lee and Michael Cooper won in GTS.

The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brandon Hartley won the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Nürburgring. The #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan of Nick Tandy, Matthew Howson and Richard Bradley won in LMP2. The #91 Porsche 911 RSR of Michael Christensen and Richard Leitz won in GTE-Pro. The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Victor Shaytar, Andrea Bertolini and Aleksey Basov won in GTE-Am.

The #36 Petronas TOM's Lexas RC F of James Rossiter and Daisuke Ito won the Suzuka 1000km. It's Rossiter's second consecutive Suzuka 1000km victory. The #10 Gainer Nissan GT-R GT3 of André Couto, Katsumasa Chiyo and Ryuichiro Tomita won in GT300.

Pascal Wehrlein and Mike Rockenfeller won the DTM races from Moscow Raceway.

Johann Zarco won the Moto2 race from Silverstone. Danny Kent won on home soil in Moto3. 

Wisconsinite Paul Menard won the NASCAR Grand National race from Road America.

Erik Jones won the Trucks race from Mosport.

Coming Up This Weekend
For the first time since 2003, the Southern 500 is on Labor Day weekend. 
Monza plays host to the Italian Grand Prix. 
Blancpain Sprint Series head to Algarve, Portugal. 
The European Le Mans Series runs their penultimate race of 2015 at Circuit Paul Ricard. 


Sunday, August 30, 2015

First Impressions: Sonoma 2015

Scott Dixon is a four-time IndyCar Champion
1. I am still a little stunned Scott Dixon pulled this off. Not that I didn't think he couldn't do it but that of how it happened. Every other championship contender faltered and he didn't. And that shouldn't surprise me as he rarely cracks under pressure. Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power made contact with one another. Hélio Castroneves couldn't overcome his poor qualifying run. Josef Newgarden stalls in the pits and has a small fire. Graham Rahal gets run over by Sébastien Bourdais, similar to what Castroneves did to Dixon on lap one at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Dixon drove to the front and everyone else found trouble on the worst possible day. By the way, Dixon's victory is the 100th victory for Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCar. That couldn't have come at a better time.

2. Great day for Ryan Hunter-Reay. Great end of his season. This is just like 2011 for him. Poor first half. Great second half and it carried over to 2012. And Hunter-Reay vaulted to sixth in the championship with that second place finish. If Andretti can stay on this wave of momentum into 2016, Hunter-Reay could be in the running for a second championship.

3. A good day for Charlie Kimball as he rounded out the podium. Kimball can put together some good finishes. He still needs to improve in qualifying but he has the talent to win more races and he can pass fellow competitors like crazy.

4. Tony Kanaan was aggressive and selected the right strategy today. He went from 11th to 4th and ran block for his teammate. He knew what he had to do to get Dixon the title and it paid off. No win for him this year but don't rule him out next year. Who knows, it could be his final season in IndyCar.

5. A top five for Ryan Briscoe. He did a great job in relief for James Hinchcliffe. Now come the dilemma for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Do they find a ride for him or do they let him walk? And if they let him walk, will someone pick up Briscoe? He was on the sidelines until Hinchcliffe's accident this year. He is too talented not to be in IndyCar. Someone, give this man a ride.

6. Juan Pablo Montoya is upset he lost the championship after leading from day one. I get it. He thinks it all came down to double points. Let's not forget that he won the Indianapolis 500, which was double points and when a title comes down to one point, any race could have been there reason why he finished second in the championship. What if his suspension didn't fail at Iowa? What if he had a better day at NOLA? What if he didn't let Ryan Hunter-Reay pass him on the restart at Pocono? It wasn't Sonoma that decided the title. Sixteen races decided the title. What you dwell on is up to you.

7. And Will Power blamed closing the pit lane under caution as deciding the title. Both Montoya and Power are incredible drivers. Montoya is an all-time great. But now isn't the time to come up with every reason in the book as to why Team Penske lost the title. How about not running into each other during this race? Or fading at Texas? Once again, Sonoma didn't decide the title. Sixteen races decided the title. What you dwell on is up to you.

8. Takuma Sato finished 8th but too be honest, he was not a factor at all in this one.

9. Rodolfo González finished ninth. I don't know how but he did. Still plenty of other drivers who deserve that ride more than he does.

10. What a comeback to Mikhail Aleshin as he finished tenth. It was nice to see him back in a car. He deserves to be full-time but he is one of about a dozen drivers who will be trying to fill one of the final six cars on the grid. That is the state of IndyCar: Plenty of talented drivers trying to fight to get in but not enough seats for everyone. It is a great problem to have and a terrible one at the same time.

11. Marco Andretti finished 11th. Not a bad year for Andretti. Lots of top ten finishes but can he turn those top tens into top five and then those top fives into victories? If he can do that, he will find himself in championship contention.

12. Twelfth for Oriol Servià. What a race for him considering he wasn't in the best racing shape and he had the emotional task of replacing Justin Wilson. Great day for him.

13. Sebastián Saavedra finished 13th. I don't know what to make of it. Gabby Chaves finished 14th and surely won Rookie of the Year. Hélio Castroneves finished where he started and Simon Pagenaud
finished right behind him. Stefano Coletti finished 17th but was black flagged when running 5th, legitimately running fifth because he had a radio failure. Haven't they heard of the old school pit board with chalk? That is a gut-punch for him.

14. Graham Rahal was punted by Sébastien Bourdais and he went from a top ten finish and at least third in the championship to outside the top fifteen in the race and fourth in the championship. What I didn't like is that it was a mirror image to what Castroneves did to Dixon lap one on the IMS road course. Castroneves wasn't given a drive thru despite the incident occurring on lap one, and wasn't punished until after the race when he had eight points deducted so he would have scored one fewer from that race than Dixon only to have that penalty reduced to three points reduce. Bourdais is given a drive thru despite it occurring in the final ten laps of the final race of the year. IndyCar's inconsistency with penalties needs to be addressed because it nearly decided the title. I don't believe Bourdais intentionally hit Rahal and I believe he is sorry for what he did but the bigger issue is IndyCar not dishing out penalties on a consistent basis.

15. Josef Newgarden finished 21st and fell to seventh in the final championship standings but that doesn't show how good of a year he had. Keep an eye out for him in 2016.

16. And that does it. The 2015 season is in the book. We have no idea when 2016 will begin. We have no idea how many races will make up the 2016 schedule. It isn't even September and the season is over. May this offseason not be as long as the last one. It was a rollercoaster season with the ultimate highs being great on track racing at Indianapolis, Fontana, Iowa, Pocono, Barber, Toronto and Mid-Ohio and the ultimate low being the death of Justin Wilson. This season will go down in the history books as thrilling, frustrating and heartbreaking and as we look to 2016, we have no idea what will come next. Congratulations Scott Dixon on his fourth IndyCar championship.


Morning Warm-Up: Sonoma 2015

The sun is setting on the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season
Will Power will lead the field to the green flag for the sixth time this year as he picked up his fifth career pole position at Sonoma and looks to retain the Astor Cup as IndyCar champion. The Australian shattered the previous track record, which he set in 2012, with a lap of 76.2597 seconds, almost a second faster than the record. Power leads all drivers with three victories at Sonoma. Penske has won five of 11 Sonoma races. Josef Newgarden will start on the outside of row one and next to Will Power for the second consecutive Sonoma race. Newgarden missed pole position by 0.1367 seconds. Newgarden has to win at Sonoma to have any hopes of claiming the Astor Cup.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will start a season-best third as he was just over a quarter of a second off Power's pole winning lap time. Hunter-Reay is not eligible for the championship but he could end this season with the most victories as he is tied with five drivers who have two victories this season. He was also fastest in the pre-qualifying practice on Saturday. Starting fourth will be Simon Pagenaud, who is looking to end this season with his first victory for Team Penske. The Frenchman has two podiums this year with both being thirds, which came at Belle Isle 2 and Mid-Ohio. Pagenaud has improved his finishing position in every one of his Sonoma starts. He has finished 15th, seventh, fifth and third in his four starts at the track. No Sonoma winner has ever started fourth.

The top two drivers in the championship, Juan Pablo Montoya and Graham Rahal will start on row three. Montoya starts fifth, which is the furthest back a Sonoma winner has come from in the previous 11 races at the track. Scott Dixon won from fifth in 2007. Rahal made the Firestone Fast Six for the first time since Motegi 2011. Last year, Montoya drove from 19th to fifth at Sonoma. Rahal's best Sonoma finish came in 2012, he finished fifth that day. Montoya will be champion, regardless of where everyone else finishes if he finishes third with at least one bonus point.

Charlie Kimball was the top Ganassi qualifier in seventh. It is the first time this season Kimabll was the top Ganassi qualifier. Kimball average finish at Sonoma is 22nd with his best finish being 20th in 2013. Marco Andretti starts eighth. He has finished in the top ten in the last two Sonoma races but he has not led a lap at the track since 2007 when he led two laps before being taken out of the race by his then-Andretti Green teammate Dario Franchitti. Car #9 will start ninth as Scott Dixon failed to make it to the second round of IndyCar qualifying on Saturday. Dixon has finished in the top ten in six of ten Sonoma starts. Sebastián Saavedra rounds out the top ten. This is the Colombian's fifth start of 2015. He is looking for his fifth career top ten finish, as he will be making his 61st IndyCar career start on Sunday.

Tony Kanaan will start 11th behind his two Ganassi teammates. Kanaan won at Sonoma in 2005. It is one of just two road/street course victories for Kanaan. He won at Belle Isle in 2007. This year's Belle Isle 1 winner Carlos Muñoz will start 12th. It was the second time Muñoz made it to the second round of qualifying this year. He previous made it at Long Beach. Luca Filippi is making his Sonoma debut and he will start 13th. The Italian finished second at Toronto, giving CFH their first ever 1-2 finish and he has four top tens this year driving for the Chevrolet team. Mikhail Aleshin makes his IndyCar return at Sonoma and will start 14th. He started 12th last year at Sonoma and finished seventh.

Hélio Castroneves had started every one of his Sonoma starts within the first three rows. He will start 15th this year at the Northern California road course. He is the worst starting championship contender, as he, like Newgarden, also needs to win this race to have a shot at winning the title. Sébastien Bourdais joins the Brazilian on row eight. Like Hunter-Reay, Bourdais is not a championship eligible driver but he could end this season with the most victories as he won at Belle Isle 2 and Milwaukee. Like Castroneves, this is Bourdais' worst career start at Sonoma.

Former Sonoma winner Ryan Briscoe qualified 17th. The Australian has averaged a finish of 12.85 in the seven races he has run as substitute for James Hinchcliffe. Briscoe has finished 17th in his last two Sonoma starts. Takuma Sato will start next to Briscoe in 18th. Sato finished fourth last year at Sonoma, his only top ten finish and his only lead lap finish at the track. Oriol Servià starts 19th driving the #25 Andretti Autosport Honda in place of Justin Wilson. Servià best Sonoma finish was sixth in 2009. Stefano Coletti rounds out the top twenty as the Monegasque driver was the top rookie qualifier. Coletti has one top ten finish this year. He finished eighth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Gabby Chaves enters Sonoma as the top rookie in the championship. He is 72 points clear of Coletti in the race for the Rookie of the Year honors. Chaves will start 21st. He led 31 laps at Pocono last week, which were his first career laps led in IndyCar. Chaves is looking to become the fourth Colombian to win IndyCar Rookie of the Year, joining Roberto Guerrero, Montoya and Muñoz to earn that honor. James Jakes will start 22nd. Jakes has never finished on the lead lap at Sonoma with his best finish being 12th in 2012. Dale Coyne Racing sweeps row 12 with Tristan Vautier starting 23rd and Rodolfo González starting 24th. Jack Hawksworth rounds out the grid in 25th after having a mechanical failure in qualifying.

NBCSN's coverage of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma will begin at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 5:07 p.m. ET.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hunter-Reay Fastest in Pre-Qualifying Practice



Ryan Hunter-Reay is fresh off his second victory of 2015 and he was fastest in second practice for the Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma from Sonoma Raceway. The 2012 IndyCar champion ran a 76.8702-second lap, faster than the track record, a 77.2709 set by Will Power in 2012. Five championship contenders followed Hunter-Reay on the time sheet, all within 0.09 seconds of the American.

Graham Rahal was second fastest for a second consecutive practice session as he was 0.0287 seconds slower than Hunter-Reay. Josef Newgarden made it three Americans in the top three as he was 0.0567 seconds back. Championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth fastest, 0.599 seconds back of Hunter-Reay with Scott Dixon rounding out the top five, trailing Hunter-Reay by 0.0641 seconds. Hélio Castroneves was sixth, 0.0856 seconds back.

Carlos Muñoz was seventh and within a tenth of his Andretti Autosport teammate. Former Sonoma winners Tony Kanaan and Will Power were eighth and ninth. Kanaan was 0.1528 seconds off the fastest lap and Power was 0.2191 seconds back. Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top ten, just under a quarter of a second off Hunter-Reay.

Sebastián Saavedra was 11th in the session with his Ganassi teammate Charlie Kimball in 12th. They were 0.3828 and 0.4182 seconds back respectively. Saavedra caused the only red flag during the session when he ran out of fuel on a qualifying simulation. Mikhail Aleshin was 13th in this session with Marco Andretti in 14th. Aleshin and Andretti were the final two drivers within a half of a second of Hunter-Reay. The fastest rookie was Stefano Coletti, who was 15th, 0.573 seconds back.

Ryan Briscoe was 0.028 seconds behind the Monegasque driver with Coletti's teammate Sébastien Bourdais 0.8019 seconds behind Hunter-Reay. Gabby Chavees and Takuma Sato were 18th and 19th respectively, the final two drivers within a second of the fastest time. Luca Filippi rounded out the top twenty, 1.021 seconds back. Dale Coyne Racing teammates Rodolfo González and Tristan Vautier were 21st and 22nd respectively. Jack Hawksworth, Oriol Servià and James Jakes rounded out the timesheet.

One group for qualifying will feature Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Carlos Muñoz, Will Power, Sebastián Saavedra, Mikhail Aleshin, Stefano Coletti, Sébastien Bourdais, Takuma Sato, Rodolfo González, Jack Hawksworth and James Jakes.

In the other qualifying group will be Graham Rahal, Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball, Marco Andretti, Ryan Briscoe, Gabby Chaves, Luca Filippi, Tristan Vautier and Oriol Servià.

Chevrolet has won the last 22 pole positions in IndyCar. Honda's last pole position came at Houston 1 last year when Simon Pagenaud won his first career pole position driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Power has five pole positions this year while Hélio Castroneves has won four. Scott Dixon has won two pole positions while Josef Newgarden has won one. Montoya has not won a pole this year and has only been the top Penske qualifier once. Rahal has yet to make it to the Firestone Fast Six this year. Only three times have Honda made the Fast Six this session. Takuma Sato has done it twice (St. Petersburg, Detroit) and Ryan Hunter-Reay did it once (Long Beach).

Using the second practice results as if they were race results would have Montoya as champion with 564 points and Rahal second, 20 points back. Dixon would be third with 513 points. Newgarden and Power would be tied for fourth with 483 points and the tiebreaker going to Newgarden. Castroneves would be sixth with 479 points.

IndyCar qualifying from Sonoma will begin at 6:00 p.m. ET. NBCSN is scheduled to show the session live after the NASCAR Xfinity Series race from Road America.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Power Tops Final Friday of IndyCar Season

The Champ won't go down without a fight
The final Friday practice session of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series was topped by Will Power as the defending champion looks to retain his crown. The Australian lapped Sonoma Raceway at 77.4858 seconds. Graham Rahal enters Sonoma second in the championship and he was second in the session, 0.1326 seconds behind Power. The most recent winner in IndyCar, Ryan Hunter-Reay was third, 0.1565 seconds back. Last year's winner at Sonoma and one of six championship contenders, Scott Dixon was fourth, trailing Power by 0.3079 seconds. Marco Andretti rounded out the top five, 0.3969 seconds back.

Simon Pagenaud was sixth, 0.5050 seconds behind his Penske teammate. He was the final driver to run a lap within the 77-second bracket. Hélio Castroneves was seventh, just 0.125 seconds behind Pagenaud. The Brazilian ran 59 laps in the session, more than any other driver. Charlie Kimball was eighth fastest as he was 0.602 seconds behind Castroneves. Championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya was ninth, 0.6043 seconds behind Power as Sébastien Bourdais rounded out the top ten, 0.6532 seconds back.

Carlos Muñoz was 11th in the session, 0.6671 seconds off the fastest time in the session. Tony Kanaan was 12th with Josef Newgarden the slowest championship contender in the session down in 13th. Former Sonoma winner Ryan Briscoe was 14th. Only 0.012 seconds covered Muñoz, Kanaan, Newgarden and Briscoe. Gabby Chaves was the top rookie in the session, 15th overall and just over three quarters of a second off Power.

Sebastián Saavedra followed his fellow Colombian on the time sheet as he was 16th, just over nine-tenths slower than Power. Mikhail Aleshin was 17th in his first IndyCar practice session since suffering his accident at Fontana one year ago. Foyt teammates Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato were 18th and 19th respectively. Tristan Vautier rounded out the top twenty and only completed a session-low 20 laps.

James Jakes was 21st as Rodolfo González was 22nd. Luca Filippi, Stefano Coletti and Oriol Servià rounded out the timesheet.

If the practice session results were used as mock race results, Graham Rahal would be champion with 546 points and Juan Pablo Montoya in second with 544 points. Will Power would jump up to third in the championship with 540 points. Scott Dixon would be fourth on 517 points. Hélio Castroneves would round out the top five on 475 points. Marco Andretti would jump Josef Newgarden was Andretti would have 450 points to Newgarden's 447.

Saturday will feature a practice session at 1:45 p.m. ET and be 45 minutes in length and will set the groups for round one of qualifying. Qualifying is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. ET and will be shown live on NBCSN after the NASCAR Xfinity Series race has concluded from Road America.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Track Walk: Sonoma 2015

We cannot move on to Sonoma without mentioning Justin Wilson. A lot has already been said this week but a few more words wouldn't hurt. I went back and found this podcast Wilson did with More Front Wing just over four years ago. Just weeks after his back injury at Mid-Ohio, Wilson spent nearly 50 minutes talking IndyCar, going over the New Hampshire race and giving insight on race control from a drivers point-of-view. He did it in such a conversational way that we rarely hear in any other interview with a professional athlete. And he did that podcast despite being short of breath from talking so much and not having talked that much since his accident. But he said it was fine, which seemed to be a phrase he used often as he did so much for so many people.

I am going to miss that voice and listening to that podcast made me feel as Wilson was still here. If you are feeling down, you are not alone and if you need something to pick yourself up, I encourage you all go back and listen to that podcast.

While Justin Wilson's presence at Sonoma will be in that of spirit and Sonoma was one of Wilson's better tracks. He completed 484 of 485 possible laps in six starts. He finished second after leading 10 laps in 2013 Sonoma race and had five top tens with his worst finish at the track being 11th. Since 2005, Wilson was tied with Scott Dixon for second-best average finish (7.3) at Sonoma among drivers with at least three starts behind only Will Power (6.7).

It all will be decided at Sonoma
Sonoma is the 2015 season finale for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Six drivers will compete for the Astor Cup and the honor of being the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. Three drivers are looking to add another championship to their résumés while three drivers look to break through and etch their name into the history books. It will all be decided after 90 laps, 196 miles.

Coverage:
Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday August 30th. Green flag at 5:07 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will all be in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt, Marty Snider and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
Juan Pablo Montoya enters leading the championship with 500 points. Graham Rahal is second, 34 points behind Montoya. Scott Dixon trails Montoya by 47 points with Montoya's Penske teammates Will Power and Hélio Castroneves 61 points and 77 points behind respectively. Josef Newgarden is the final challenger, 87 points behind Montoya.

Montoya will be guaranteed the championship if he finishes third and scores at least one bonus point.

The tiebreakers go as follows:

Juan Pablo Montoya has two victories but zero runner-ups and three third-place finishes.

Graham Rahal has two victories, two runner-ups and two third-place finishes.

Scott Dixon has two victories, zero runner-ups and one third-place finish.

Will Power has one victory, two runner-ups and zero third-place finishes.

Hélio Castroneves has zero victories, three runner-ups and two third-place finishes.

Josef Newgarden has two victories, two runner-ups and zero third-place finishes.

If anyone of Rahal, Dixon or Newgarden win at Sonoma and finish tied with any of the five championship contenders they will be champion based on amount of victories.

If Rahal finishes tied with Montoya, Rahal would win the championship based on runner-ups.

If Dixon finishes tied with Montoya and finishes second, Dixon would win the championship based on runner-ups.

If Dixon finishes tied with Montoya and finishes third or worse, Montoya would win the championship based on third-place finishes.

Will Power could join the four drivers with two victories but if he wins the race, he will not necessarily be champion.

If Power does win and finished tied with Montoya, he would hold the tiebreaker with two runner-ups to Montoya's zero.

If Power wins and finishes tied with Rahal, Rahal would win on tiebreaker based on third-place finishes.

If Power wins and finishes tied with Dixon, Power would win on tiebreaker based on runner-ups.

Hélio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden must win at Sonoma to be champion.

If Castroneves wins and finishes tied with Montoya, Rahal and/or Dixon, he will not be champion.

If Castroneves wins, it is not possible for him and Power to finish tied, regardless of where Power finishes and how many bonus points Power accumulates.

The most drivers that could finish level on points would be four and can happen on two occasions. The first is if Hélio Castroneves wins and does not score maximum bonus points, Scott Dixon finishes third with as many bonus points as the Brazilian, Graham Rahal finishes fifth or sixth with two or three bonus points and Juan Pablo Montoya finishes 17th with no 0-1 bonus points, 18th with 0-3 bonus points, 19th with 2-4 bonus points or 20th with maximum bonus points. In this four-way tie, Rahal would be champion, as he would have more victories than Castroneves and more runner-ups than Montoya and Dixon.

Newgarden has to win to be champion and if he scores the minimum 101 points then he would need Montoya to finish 23rd with no bonus points or 24th with no more than two bonus points, Rahal to finish 8th or worse with no bonus points and Dixon to finish 5th or worse with no more than one bonus point.

Here is a full chart of all the possible points totals for each of the championship drivers.


Driver Changes
There will be four driver changes and one additional driver on the grid at Sonoma.

Oriol Servià will replace Justin Wilson in the #25 Andretti Autosport Honda. Wilson had been contracted to run the final five races for Andretti Autosport after running the two Indianapolis rounds for the team. This will be Servià's fifth start at Sonoma. His average finish at Sonoma is 12.8 and his best finish was sixth in 2009.

Luca Filippi returns in the #20 Fuzzy Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet. This will be the Italian's 12th start of the season. He finished 21st in his most recent start at Mid-Ohio after running out of fuel on the final lap while running in the top ten. This will be Filippi's debut at Sonoma.

Sebastián Saavedra is back in the #8 AFS Racing Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. The Colombian has made fours starts this season and finished tenth at Long Beach. His last appearance was at Toronto in June. Saavedra has made four starts at Sonoma with his best finish being 14th in 2011. His average finish is 16.5 at the track.

Rodolfo González steps into the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, substituting for Pippa Mann. This will be González's sixth start of 2015. His best start this season was 21st at his first start at Barber and his best finish was 18th at Toronto.

Mikael Aleshin returns to IndyCar for the first time since last year's Sonoma race. Aleshin will drive the #77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. The Russian missed last year's season finale at Fontana after suffering multiple injuries in an accident that occurred during final practice at the 2-mile oval. Last year, Aleshin had one podium and seven top tens in 17 starts including a seventh at Sonoma. He finished runner-up at Houston to his then-SPM teammate Simon Pagenaud.

Pirelli World Challenge
The Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS classes will be at Sonoma for what will be the penultimate round of their 2015 season.

Ryan Dalziel leads the GT championship with 1,487 points but he will not be at Sonoma as he is racing for Extreme Speed Motorsports in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Dutchman Renger van der Zande will substitute for the Scotsman. Dalziel's lead had been cut to seven points after Johnny O'Connell swept the weekend at Miller Motorsports Park. Olivier Beretta is 65 points back of Dalziel. James Davison has vaulted up to fourth in the championship, 142 points back of the Scotsman. Kevin Éstre rounds out the top five, trailing Dalziel by 360 points. Chris Dyson is 6th with 1,060 points. Mike Skeen is nine points behind Dyson. Ryan Eversley and Michael Lewis are the final drivers with quadruple-point totals. Bryan Heitkotter rounds out the top ten on 859 points.

Last year, Mike Skeen and Anthony Lazzaro split the GT races at Sonoma.

In GTS, Michael Cooper took the championship leader after winning a race at Miller Motorsports Park. Cooper has 1220 points and jumped Andrew Aquilante, who is second in the GTS title race, 32 points behind Cooper. Aquilante's teammate Kurt Rezzetano is two points behind him in third. Dean Martin is fourth, trailing Cooper by 47 points. Jack Baldwin rounds out the top five, 80 points behind Cooper. Mark Wilkins is sixth, 159 points back and his Kia teammate Ben Clucas is four points behind him. Kris Wilson is eighth with 891 points and has won three of his last starts but he has not competed in six of their last eight races. Wilson will be at Sonoma. Jack Roush, Jr. and Andy Lee round out the top ten.

Jack Baldwin and Lawson Aschenbach split the GTS races at Sonoma last year. Sonoma marks the long awaited debut of the Gainsco/Bob Stalling Racing Hyundai Genesis Coupe, which will be driven by Jeff Harrison.

The GTS races will take place Saturday at 4:45 p.m. ET and Sunday at 11:40 a.m. ET. The GT races will be run at 7:50 p.m. ET on Saturday and 1:55 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
For the second consecutive year, the season will end on August 30th. Last year, Tony Kanaan won at Fontana on August 30th. This will be the 14th IndyCar race to occur on August 30th.

The averaging starting position for a Sonoma winner is 2.27. Every Sonoma race has been won from within the top five. Scott Dixon won from 5th in 2007. The pole-sitter has won four times as has third position. Second has produced two winners.

Team Penske has won five of 11 Sonoma races. Chip Ganassi Racing has three Sonoma victories and Andretti Autosport has two.

Juan Pablo Montoya has one IndyCar start at Sonoma. He finished fifth last year. Montoya's first NASCAR Cup Series victory came at Sonoma.

Will Power leads all drivers with three victories at Sonoma. He has an average starting position of 1.7.

Scott Dixon has two Sonoma victories, including last year's race.

Hélio Castroneves has one victory, three podiums, five top fives and seven top tens at Sonoma and an average finish of 8.5.

Graham Rahal has an average finish of 11.7 at Sonoma with one top five and four top tens.

Josef Newgarden has one top ten in three Sonoma starts, which was a sixth last year. His prior two starts saw him finish 24th and 23rd respectively.

Josef Newgarden will end the season as the sole leader in laps led if Scott Dixon or Will Power lead less than 73 laps at Sonoma. If Newgarden does end the season as the lap led leader, he would be the first American to end the season as leader in that category since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2002.

Honda has not won at Sonoma in the DW12-era.

Last year's Sonoma race saw a record-breaking amount of lead changes with 10 occurring. The average amount of lead changes at Sonoma is 5.1818.

The average amount of cautions at Sonoma is 2.72 for an average of 8.45 laps. The 2013 race saw a record seven cautions for a record 27 laps.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon is going for his fourth championship. He would become the fifth driver to win at least four titles joining A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Sébastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti.

Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya are going for their second titles. If either one of them were to win the title, they would become the 26th driver to win multiple IndyCar championships.

Hélio Castroneves could become the fifth Brazilian to win an IndyCar championship joining Emerson Fittipaldi, Gil de Ferran, Cristiano da Matta and Tony Kanaan.

Graham Rahal or Josef Newgarden could become the 48th American to win an IndyCar championship.

Graham Rahal and Bobby Rahal could become the third father-son combo to each win an IndyCar championship. Mario and Michael Andretti and Al Unser and Al Unser, Jr. are the other pairs to each win a title.

Josef Newgarden could become the first IndyCar champion with a last name starting with the letter "N."

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 48 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 47 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 58 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 14 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Hélio Castroneves is one top ten away from 200 career IndyCar top tens.

Will Power is one top ten away from 100 career IndyCar top tens.

Predictions
Will Power wins the race. Juan Pablo Montoya holds on to win the championship but Graham Rahal finishes ahead of him in the race itself. At least one non-championship contender finishes on the podium. The winner starts within the first three rows on the grid. At least one championship contender does not finish inside the top half of the field. Sleeper: Mikhail Aleshin.



Monday, August 24, 2015

Goodbye Justin

Goodbye Justin Wilson. We already miss you.
We lost a great man. Justin Wilson didn't rewrite the record books. He didn't win multiple championships or an Indianapolis 500. Despite that, he was one of the most respected drivers in IndyCar. It always felt he was one phone call from Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi away from becoming the man to beat every week.

And despite never getting that call, he was still able to beat the big boys. He got Dale Coyne Racing its first ever win at Watkins Glen in 2009. He was the only non-Penske/non-Ganassi driver to win that season. Then-Andretti Green Racing with Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti didn't win. Newman-Haas Racing didn't win. The long-time cellar dweller Dale Coyne Racing usurped the powerhouses of Penske and Ganassi.

To put it another way, Justin Wilson is to the 2009 IndyCar season what Gerhard Berger is to the 1988 Formula One season.

If the British ever decide to embrace oval racing, they would challenge American prowess. Wilson struggled on ovals but like Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell, Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon, Wilson developed into a respectable oval driver. He only ever had one oval victory and he was fortunate that Graham Rahal brushed the wall that night at Texas but he did score a top five and three top tens in the Indianapolis 500. He got a podium at Milwaukee. He finished in the top ten multiple times at Chicagoland. He finished in the top ten at Richmond, Iowa and Homestead. This season he qualified in the top ten again for Indianapolis and qualified in the top ten at Pocono. His weakest link no longer existed.

I was at Pocono and as I said before, I didn't see the accident. My mother texted me afterward and asked if it was scary and it wasn't. I told her that I was more afraid the prior two years when she attended the race with me because I was worried about a piece of debris coming up into the grandstand and potentially striking her or someone around her. The accident happened so far away from the grandstand that you really couldn't tell what happened, nor were any spectators at risk of being hurt by debris. While it happened within my sightline, the whole scene was so distant that it felt as if it was happening in another world.

I have been scrolling through my camera looking to see if I got a picture of Justin Wilson and I just can't find one. I did catch him on track.


It's not the greatest photo but it's all I got. 

Wilson's career will forever look like this: seven IndyCar victories, include the most recent IndyCar race to take place in Europe and the final victory for Newman/Haas Racing, 2001 International Formula 3000 champion, 24 Hours of Daytona winner, one Formula One point, which came at the 2003 United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one Formula E point, which came on the streets of Moscow.

This has been a rough summer. From Jules Bianchi to Bernat Martinez and Daniel Rivas Fernandez to now Wilson. While motorsports are much safer and drivers aren't perishing at the rate they were in the 1960s, it's still emotionally draining. 

A few years, a video was posted of a karting race from the United Kingdom that featured many drivers that would become world-class drivers. You had Anthony Davidson (kart #8), Dan Wheldon (kart #1), Jenson Button (kart #14), Jay Howard (kart unidentified) and Justin Wilson (kart #10). To me, it is a motorsports artifact. How many karting races have that many drivers go on to have successful careers in the world of motorsports? 


I imagine that at the Great Racetrack in the Sky, Wilson is being greeted by Paul Newman and Dan Wheldon and they are heading off to the karting track.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Justin Wilson's parents, his wife Julia, his two daughters, his brother Stefan and all other members of the Wilson family.


Musings From the Weekend: Mishmash

The weekend ended on a less than positive note but a lot of other things happened around motorsports world this weekend. Stoffel Vandoorne and Alexander Rossi won at Spa. NASCAR ran under the lights. Miller Motorsports Park was saved. A German brand was victorious in Germany. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Mishmash
A little hectic this weekend after attending the Pocono race so this week will feature mostly quick comments about a few different topics. Note: All this was written on Friday and Saturday.

Penalty Revisited:
Remember at the start of the IndyCar season when Ryan Hunter-Reay was penalized three points at NOLA for the incident between himself, Simon Pagenaud and Sébastien Bourdais so the American left the event with fewer points scored than the two French drivers? Remember how at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis Hélio Castroneves ran into the back of Scott Dixon and was penalized eight points so he would leave the race with one fewer than Dixon but that penalty was decreased to three points so it would be "in line with a similar penalty issued earlier this season?"

To be fair, the original penalty to Castroneves was in line with Hunter-Reay's penalty as it gave him a points total that was one less than the driver wronged in the incident. While Castroneves lost more points than Hunter-Reay, it was in line and to be frank, eight points isn't even close to the greatest amount of points a driver lost. Back in 2003, Tora Takagi finished third at the June Texas race behind Al Unser, Jr. and Tony Kanaan. However, with ten laps to go, Takagi caused an accident that took out Scott Sharp and Felipe Giaffone. Takagi was not penalized on the track and after the race he was penalized 23 points, nearly triple of Castroneves' original penalty, which gave him 12 from the Texas race instead of 35 and was two fewer than Sharp's points total from Texas and one fewer than Giaffone's.

I said at the time and I stand by it that if IndyCar was going to be consistent and penalize drivers so they would score less points than a driver they took out on track, than I would support it. With the championship coming down to the final race, who knows if those five points that Castroneves were given back could play a significant role, not just for the Astor Cup but for any finishing position in the championship as there is a difference for what one teams makes finishing second, third, fourth or fifth. IndyCar should have stayed by their guns and not reduced the penalty. Now it may cost a team a significant difference of pay at the end of the season.

Bowyer to Foyt:
Could you imagine if Clint Bowyer joined A.J. Foyt Racing next year? They are pretty much cut from the same cloth. Bowyer cut his teeth on dirt in the Midwest and just seems to have a don't-give-a-damn type personality. He would be great for IndyCar and A.J. Foyt Racing seems like a naturally fit for him. Plus, it could be a great way for Foyt's team to expand back into NASCAR and allow Bowyer to run a handful of Cup races. And with NASCAR just giving out waivers to make the Chase, Bowyer could probably run 19 of the first 26 races and still make the Chase, seeing as how Kyle Busch only needed 15 races to be Chase eligible.

And Bowyer could run the full Chase as the IndyCar season will probably be over by Labor Day because that's what Mark Miles wants and he wants the IndyCar season to end in Boston so badly that he killed Fontana like, a track that actually wanted to host an IndyCar race!

This could legitimately work. If 5-Hour Energy is going to stay with Bowyer, he could run all those Cup races as 5-Hour Energy is only sponsoring two dozen Cup races this year so the funding could be there for a Cup car with Foyt only needing to find Cup sponsorship for a few other races. If Foyt could partner with Penske to help on the Cup side, then Bowyer would definitely be a Chase contender. Foyt could also work out a deal where 5-Hour Energy sponsors their two dozen Cup races and then gets to sponsor Bowyer for 2/3 of the IndyCar season, including the Indianapolis 500, for free with an option to pay for the other third of the season or allow Bowyer's car to be sponsored by another company (i.e. ABC Supply). Heck, the Penske-Foyt Cup partnership could see Foyt become a Chevrolet team in IndyCar and in exchange, Honda gets CFH Racing and Takuma Sato could move to fill a Dale Coyne Racing seat.

IndyCar should get behind bringing Bowyer to IndyCar. Signing a driver with a following would not be a bad thing for a series that needs more eyeballs. Clint Bowyer wouldn't be a messiah that would all of a sudden cause attendance at every race to jump above 45,000 or the average television audience to increase to 2.5 million but he would add a familiar face and name to the series.

What Could Have Been Done to Keep Fontana:
You know I am upset that IndyCar will not returning to Fontana in 2016 and I am sure I am not alone. As you know, I don't believe finding the right time or date was the reason why Fontana fell off the schedule. I believe Mark Miles is muleheaded and wants to end by Labor Day and killing off Fontana was the only way he could get what he wants. But that's not what I am here to talk about.

Let's just say the date and the time the race started are the reasons why Fontana won't be returning next year. I think I could have come up with a way to solve the issue. The real issue was the start time because of sunset, which was too blinding for the drivers. While I think the series should have turned it into a sponsorship opportunity and formed a partnership with Sunglass Hut and given the drivers sunglasses so they could race, let's just say sunset was the issue. Looking into the future and looking at when sunset would be for the date I put Fontana at, sunset is scheduled to be at 6:45 p.m. PT on Saturday September 24, 2016. If the race would go green right at sunset, it would be 9:45 p.m. ET and if it's going to take three hours to complete 500-miles, than the race wouldn't end until nearly 1:00 a.m. ET, something that IndyCar wants to avoid and that is understandable.

While you would just think you could move the start time of the race up to 5:00 p.m. PT and just have the drivers through the sunset and deal with it, perhaps let's look at it another way. IndyCar could have used it to spread out its season finale. The ideas I came up with is either IndyCar split the races into two, 250-mile races with one on Friday night and the other on Saturday or instead of running twin 250s, the first half of the 500-miler could be run on Friday and on Saturday the field would line up as they were running when they hit the 250-mile mark on Friday night and resume the race with 125 laps to go. So for the second option, if a driver were to be one-lap down at the end of Friday's portion than they would start one-lap down on Saturday. It would kind be like the Gulf 12 Hours where they run a 6-hour race, have an intermission that lasts two hours and 45 minutes and then run the final 6-hour race.

The race(s) could start at 6:30 p.m. PT (9:30 p.m. ET) each day and since they would only be 250 miles in length, they would take around an hour and a half to complete, meaning the checkers would fly around 11:00 p.m. ET. Look at it this way, NBA Finals games start at 9:00 p.m. ET and go past 11:00 p.m. ET. World Series games go beyond 11:00 p.m. ET. 11:00 p.m. ET is late but it's not too late. Look at Iowa from earlier this year. That race ended at 10:53 p.m. ET and it was one of the best races in terms of TV audience this year.

The plus side would be IndyCar would get on two days and the racing could start as close to sunset in Fontana while not worrying about ending at 1:00 a.m. ET. Considering how long the IndyCar offseason is, racing on two nights would give everyone their fill before going into hibernation.

Depending on the race format, the points format varies. If the one race, split over two days format is chosen, the race could be worth double points but there could be bonuses for those who are at the front at the 250-mile mark. Say the leader at halfway gets 20 bonus points, second at halfway gets 10 points and third at halfway gets 5 points. If the twin-250s format is chosen, the races could be normal points payout with 50 for a win and so on but the drivers with the best average finish between the two races could get a bonus. Say 20 points for best average finish, 10 for second-best and 5 for third-best.

Having the season finale be spread across a Friday and Saturday has its risk. What if five drivers enter eligible for the title and on Friday night, four of them are taken out? It would make Saturday less interesting. While it would probably be highly unlikely 80% of the contenders would be taken out in the first half of the weekend, it's still a possibility but I think it would be a risk worth taking.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Ryan Hunter-Reay, Stoffel Vandoorne and Alexander Rossi but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Belgian Grand Prix.

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup Series night race from Bristol.

Johnny O'Connell swept the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Miller Motorsports Park. Mark Wilkins and Michael Cooper split the GTS races.

Chaz Mostert won the bookends of the V8 Supercars weekend from Sydney Motorsports Park. Jamie Whincup won the second race of the weekend.

The #911 Porsche of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet won the IMSA race from VIR. Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler won in GTD.

Hiroaki Ishiura won the Super Formula race from Motegi from pole position and extended his championship lead.

Sébastien Ogier led a VW 1-2-3 at Rallye Deutschland ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen.

Emil Bernstorff and Luca Ghiotto split the GP3 races from Spa.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Grand National race from Bristol. Ryan Blaney won the Truck race.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Astor Cup champion will be decided at the IndyCar finale at Sonoma.
Pirelli World Challenge will run their penultimate round of 2015 at Sonoma.
MotoGP heads to Silverstone with Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi tied for the championship lead.
The FIA World Endurance Championship returns to competition at the Nürburgring.
Super GT runs the 44th Suzuka 1000km.
DTM invades Russia.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

First Impressions: Pocono 2015

1. I am not sure where to begin. Let's just start with the accident. I didn't see Justin Wilson hit the debris. The crowd was so stunned Sage Karam, the hometown boy, had an accident while leading that by the time you completely missed that Wilson was involved. It felt terrible but at the same time, you just wanted the race to restart. You wanted to see this race end. You didn't want to leave on that note especially with the end in sight.

2. To be honest I just want to talk about Wilson. I don't have a perfect solution to the problem but enough drivers have been hit in the head by debris in recent years, from Henry Surtees to Felipe Massa to James Hinchcliffe to now Wilson that something should be done. The idea that I thought of was, if a closed-cockpit is not possible, to have a windshield that could go up and down like a visor on a helmet so the driver isn't totally enclosed but the only way for debris to hit the helmet would be from directly above. You could have it connected through the engine cover that way there would be enough room to lift it up to allow a driver in and out of the car. It's not perfect; I haven't spent that much time thinking about it but it's what I got in the heat of the moment. 

3. Wilson is in a coma and now we play the waiting game, praying and looking for a way to continue while a son, a father, a husband, a brother, a friend lies in a hospital bed, fighting for his life, fighting to make it to another morning. You can't help but feel helpless. Like a goalie facing a five-on-none and knowing divine intervention may be the only way you prevent a goal. It sucks but it's the situation we are entrenched in. 

4. I am going to move on to the race itself because it happened and deserves to be acknowledged.

5. It has to be bittersweet for Ryan Hunter-Reay. You win but your teammate left the track in a helicopter. Hunter-Reay drove really well in this race. He had a few poor pit stops but he was able to make his way back to the front and his crew came up big on the final stop. The lengthy final caution squashed all fears of him and a few others not having enough fuel. He made some really good passes on Juan Pablo Montoya, Takuma Sato and Gabby Chaves to get back to the front.

6. Josef Newgarden dominated the first 20%, was none existent for the next 70% and finished strong in the final 10%. And he kept himself championship eligible, though he will need to come up big and have some help at Sonoma if he wants to leave with the Astor Cup. Newgarden has had a fantastic breakout season and he is just getting started.

7. After seeing Juan Pablo Montoya was starting 19th, it appeared this would be the race he would lose his hold on the title. But while his other championship challengers faltered, he proved why is one of the best ever and got a podium. He truly deserves this title. 

8. Gabby Chaves had a really good day and it's a shame his engine expired with just three laps to go. This was his best race of the season by far.

9. Back to Sage Karam, this was his best race of the season. I wish he would get a chance to run at Sonoma but he, like Montoya, drove to the front and raced clean. 

10. As for the Graham Rahal-Tristan Vautier incident, the Frenchman was pretty ambitious with that move. Vautier has had a pretty good year but unfortunately the worst move he made all year took out a championship challenger. Rahal is still in it but it appeared he was going to overtake Montoya, make up ground to Montoya or remain right on the Colombian's backside in the championship as he started 14 positions ahead of him. Rahal still has a shot at the title but he pretty much needs to win. 

11. I don't know why there were so many accidents today. It was much cooler this year at Pocono than the previous two years but I am not sure if that is the sole cause. The racing was pretty good but we didn't get those long green flag periods this year like we saw in 2013 and 2014. 

12. I hope Pocono returns. The crowd was good. The paddock was packed. The weather was phenomenal. The start time was a little late for a Sunday but with NBCSN being packed today with live Formula One followed by live Premier League, followed by live IndyCar, there wasn't much that could be done. Perhaps, there didn't need to be an hour post-match show or the post-match show could have been shown after the IndyCar race. To be honest, if there aren't going to be support series at Pocono, just do everything on Saturday. Practice from 9:00-11:00 a.m. ET. Qualify at noon. Go green at 3:00 p.m. ET. 

13. Last week, I wrote an article, "Am I Heading to a Funeral This Sunday?" That has been haunting me since the accident. A serious accident is always possible at a race but you don't go to a race expecting it. I was talking about saying goodbye to IndyCar racing at Pocono, not a driver but the wording seems wrong after today. Am I sorry I titled it that way? I don't know. Yes? No? It just seems wrong now but it's not. It's just unfortunate timing and it happens in life.

14. I am a big Queen fan and they are just one of the many musical groups I can listen to for comfort. The have a song called "The Show Must Go On" and while it may be tough, the show must go on. Six drivers have a shot at the title. Juan Pablo Montoya has 500 points. He leads Graham Rahal by 34 points. Scott Dixon trails by 47, Will Power by 61, Hélio Castroneves by 77 and Josef Newgarden by 87. Marco Andretti, Sébastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud have been eliminated from championship contention. The #25 Honda that Justin Wilson was slated to drive at Sonoma likely won't be there, meaning we are looking at 24 cars for the season finale. With a maximum of 104 points and a minimum of 12, the most points a driver can make up is 92 points. We can go more in-depth about Sonoma and the championship picture later but this is the Astor Cup battle at-a-glance.

15. Pray for Justin Wilson. And try to get some sleep. It will difficult but try. Good night. 


Morning Warm-Up: Pocono 2015

Hélio Castroneves looks to keep his title hopes alive from pole
For the fourth time in 2015, Hélio Castroneves will start from pole position. The Brazilian won pole position with a two-lap average of 220.530 MPH. This is Castroneves' 45th career pole and first at Pocono Raceway. Castroneves has not won a race from pole position since Motegi 2010. He finished second last year at Pocono and finished eighth at the 2.5-mile track the year before that. Simon Pagenaud made it an all-Penske front row with a two-lap average of 220.485 MPH. Pagenaud has finished sixth in the last two Pocono races. This is the eighth time in 2015 that Penske has swept the front row and third time this season on an oval.

Will Power made it a clean sweep of the top three for Penske as the Australian had a two-lap average of 220.393 MPH. He has finished fourth and tenth in his two Pocono starts. Josef Newgarden will start on the outside of row two. Like Newgarden, has one top five finish and two top tens in his career at Pocono. Newgarden has started in the top ten in four of six oval races this year. Graham Rahal rounds out the top five. This is Rahal's best starting position this season and his best starting position on an oval since he started third at Texas in 2012. In that Texas race, Rahal led as he started the final lap but brushed the wall coming to take the white flag and lost the lead on the final lap to Justin Wilson. Rahal was able to limb home to second. Carlos Muñoz rounds out row three. This will be only the second time Muñoz has started in the top ten. He started fourth at Texas.

Justin Wilson qualified seventh with Ryan Hunter-Reay making it an all-Andretti row four. Wilson finished seventh and 14th in his two Pocono appearances while Hunter-Reay has finished 20th and 18th. Takuma Sato qualified ninth, his fifth top ten start of the season and first since Fontana, where he started ninth. Sébastien Bourdais rounds out the top ten and he was the final driver to qualifying within the 219-MPH bracket at 219.521 MPH. This is Bourdais' best start on an oval since he started seventh at Indianapolis.

Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan comprise row six. The Ganassi duo qualified at 218.969 MPH and 218.816 MPH. This will be Dixon's best career start at Pocono. He went from 17th to victory in 2013 and 15th to fifth last year. Dixon enters tied with Al Unser, Jr. and Dan Wheldon for the most IndyCar victories from starting outside the top ten. Dixon has won four times in his career when starting outside the top ten. While Kanaan has led the most laps over the last two Pocono races, he has yet to finish in the top ten at the track as late pit stops due to wing damage and fuel have left him with only finishes of 13th and 11th. Tristan Vautier will start 13th. He started 10th in his lone Pocono start in 2013. He finished two laps down in 19th that day. Jack Hawksworth qualified 14th. Hawksworth did not start last year's Pocono race after suffering injuries in practice.

James Jakes and Gabby Chaves make up row eight. He finished 12th at Pocono in 2013. Chaves won last year's Indy Lights race at the track. Pippa Mann will start at career-best 17th. Her previous best was 19th, which occurred at Texas and Fontana in 2013. Ryan Briscoe will start on the outside of row eight. The Australian finished 14th at Pocono in 2013 and fourth last year. That fourth is Briscoe's last top five finish in IndyCar. His last top five before that fourth was second at Baltimore in 2012.

Championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya will start 19th and rounding out the top twenty will be Sage Karam. Both drivers were in the top five of pre-qualifying practice. Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti will start on row eleven. Andretti was sixth in the pre-qualifying practice and he had a mechanical failure before he'd even completed a lap in the post-qualifying practice. On the final row will be two drivers who did not complete a qualifying attempt.

Charlie Kimball will start 23rd after having an accident in turn three on his first qualifying lap. Kimball's car did brush the catch fence but he walked away with only a minor cut on his chin. Kimball was fastest in pre-qualifying practice. Stefano Coletti will start 24th. He did not make a qualifying attempt after he brushed the wall exiting turn three at the end of pre-qualifying practice and then hit the pit lane wall. Coletti was able to turn some laps in the post-qualifying practice.

NBCSN's coverage of the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway will begin at 2:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 2:46 p.m. ET.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Kimball Conquers Pocono Practice

American Charlie Kimball was the fastest driver in IndyCar first practice from Pocono Raceway in preparation for the ABC Supply 500. The Californian was the only driver to break into the 221-MPH bracket in the session as his fastest lap was clocked at 40.6554 seconds (221.373 MPH). Kimball led a Ganassi 1-2 as rookie teammate and fellow American Sage Karam was second quickest at his home track. The Nazareth, Pa-native was 0.1077 seconds behind Kimball. Karam completed the most laps in the session at 83. Karam and the other rookie were given an extra hour of practice. Simon Pagenaud was third fastest as he was just 0.137 seconds behind Kimball. Pagenaud's Penske teammate and championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth, 0.195 seconds behind Kimball. Takuma Sato was the fastest Honda as he was fifth in the session. Sato was 0.2141 seconds back.

The other driver who is racing at home this weekend is Marco Andretti and he was sixth quickest, 0.2172 seconds behind Kimball. Will Power made it three Penskes in the top seven, as the Australian was the last driver to break into the 220-MPH bracket in the session. Power was 0.2354 seconds back. Tony Kanaan made it three Ganassi's in the top eight as the Brazilian was just over a quarter of a second slower than his American teammate Kimball. Carlos Muñoz was ninth fastest, 0.3568 seconds behind Kimball. Muñoz is a past winner at Pocono having won in Indy Lights at the track two years ago. Jack Hawksworth rounded out the top ten, 0.3852 seconds behind Kimball. Hawksworth looks to make his Pocono-debut after missing last year's race due to injuries suffered in practice at the track.

Graham Rahal, the nearest challenger to Juan Pablo Montoya in the championship, was 11th fastest, 0.4091 seconds behind his former teammate Kimball. Hélio Castroneves was 12th, 0.4777 seconds back. Ryan Hunter-Reay was 13th, 0.4849 seconds slower. Tristan Vautier was 14th, just over a half a second slower than Kimball with Justin Wilson rounding out the top fifteen, 0.57 seconds back of Kimball. Scott Dixon was 16th, 0.5739 seconds behind his teammate.

Stefano Coletti was 17th fastest, 0.6414 seconds slower than Kimball but the Monegasque driver had the only accident during the session having brushed the pit lane wall. Coletti walked away from the incident. Former Indy Lights champions Josef Newgarden and Gabby Chaves were 18th and 19th, 0.6469 and 0.6807 seconds behind Kimball respectively. Ryan Briscoe rounded out the top twenty, 0.7217 behind his former teammate.

Sébastien Bourdais was 21st, 0.7796 seconds back. Pippa Mann was the final driver within a second of Kimball as she was 22nd, 0.9693 seconds back. James Jakes and Ed Carpenter rounded out the timesheet, 1.0294 and 1.0470 seconds back respectively.

IndyCar qualifying will take place at 2:00 p.m. ET. Ed Carpenter will be the first qualifier and will be followed by Will Power and Sage Karam. Charlie Kimball will be the 14th qualifier. Four of the top five in the championship are within the final eight qualifiers. Juan Pablo Montoya will be 17th in line, Hélio Castroneves will be 21st, Graham Rahal will be the 23rd qualifier and Scott Dixon will be the final qualifier.

IndyCar qualifying will be shown live at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Track Walk: Pocono 2015

Round Two of Astor Cup August is at Pocono Raceway
The second race of Astor Cup August, the final oval of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season and the penultimate round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Pocono Raceway. The ABC Supply 500 is the final leg of the IndyCar Triple Crown. Juan Pablo Montoya and Graham Rahal split the first two legs at Indianapolis and Fontana and those two drivers sit first and second in the championship. Rahal won the most recent round at his home track of Mid-Ohio with Justin Wilson and Simon Pagenaud rounding out the podium. This will be the 22nd IndyCar race to take place at Pocono Raceway.

Coverage:
Time: Coverage begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday August 23rd. Green flag at 2:46 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett (Townsend Bell is on IMSA duty) and Paul Tracy will be in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
Ten drivers enter Pocono mathematically eligible for the Astor Cup.

Juan Pablo Montoya leads with 465 points with Graham Rahal trailing him by nine points. Scott Dixon is third in the championship, 34 points behind the Colombian. Regardless of the results at Pocono, Montoya, Rahal and Dixon will be mathematically eligible for the title at Sonoma.

Hélio Castroneves is 58 points behind his Penske teammate Montoya with defending IndyCar champion Will Power 59 points back of Montoya. Eighty-six points behind Montoya is Sébastien Bourdais. Marco Andretti is seventh in the championship, one point behind Bourdais.

Josef Newgarden is eighth, 95 points behind Montoya. Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud are the final two mathematically eligible for the title and round out the top ten in the championship. Kanaan is 111 points behind Montoya and Pagenaud is 136 points back.

Numbers to Remember
The most points that can be scored at Pocono are 54 and the most points that can be scored at Sonoma are 104. If Montoya starts at Pocono, the most ground a driver could make up to him is 48 points as 24 cars are entered at Pocono and the least amount of points available is six points. All 24 cars entered for Pocono are tentatively scheduled to be entered at Sonoma as well as Mikhail Aleshin, who will make his IndyCar return for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. With 25 cars tentatively entered for Sonoma the least amount of points available for the season finale would be ten points meaning the most ground that could be made to the championship leader at Sonoma is 94 points.

To be mathematically championship eligible heading to Sonoma, a driver will need to be within 104 points of whomever the championship leader is after Pocono. However, in the very likely case the championship leader will start at Sonoma, a driver will need to be within 94 points.

Currently, only six drivers are within 94 points of the championship leader Montoya (Rahal, Dixon, Castroneves, Power, Bourdais, Andretti). Newgarden needs to score one more point that Montoya at Pocono to remain championship eligible heading to the season finale. Kanaan will need to score 17 points more than Montoya and Pagenaud will need to score 48 points to remain championship eligible. Since 48 points is not a possible point total, Pagenaud will have to win at Pocono. Should Pagenaud win, depending on how many bonus points he picks up, Montoya will have to score fewer than 9-12 points for Pagenaud to remain championship eligible. If Pagenaud scores the maximum 54 points, than Montoya needs to score less than 12 points. If Pagenaud scores 51 points, than Montoya needs to score less than nine points.

For the front-runners, a number to remember is 17 because if a driver is within 17 points of the championship leader after Pocono, a win at Sonoma will guarantee them the championship regardless of where the championship leader finishes. For example, if Rahal exits Pocono 16 points back of Montoya and Rahal wins at Sonoma with the minimum points for a victory (101) and Montoya finishes second with maximum bonus points (84), then Rahal would win the title by a point.

How Will The Championship Eligible Drivers Race?
Knowing all the numbers, it will be interesting to see how drivers in championship contention race at Pocono.

Graham Rahal was very aggressive at Fontana and arguably could have been penalized at least twice for blocking. If Rahal is as aggressive as he was at Fontana and knowing the unpredictability of IndyCar race control, a move that Rahal made at Fontana and wasn't penalized for might be a penalty at Pocono and that could ruin his championship hopes. Should Rahal and Scott Dixon be a little more conservative and race for Sonoma? Rahal could lose ten points to Montoya at Pocono but that would still leave him in a great position for the championship. Dixon is 34 points behind Montoya and while he isn't nearly as close as he would probably like to be, he could lose a little ground to the Colombian and could still be in a good position heading west to the season finale.

Outside of Rahal and Dixon, the other seven championship eligible drivers are probably looking to make up big chunks of Montoya's championship lead. Hélio Castroneves and Will Power are within 60 of their teammate and 60 points covers the difference between victory and the ten-place finisher but they can't enter Sonoma hoping that Montoya will have a bad race. While both Sébastien Bourdais and Marco Andretti would be championship eligible if they hold serve to Montoya after Pocono, they need to make up some ground so they don't need to win with a finish in the bottom three at Sonoma for Montoya.

Josef Newgarden, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud all need to make up points on Montoya to be championship eligible at Sonoma so they pretty much have to be all-in for the final two races if they want to win the title.

But what about Juan Pablo Montoya? Having watched him race for nearly two decades, Montoya is going to be all offense. He doesn't play defense and he knows that if he is running at the front, he is going to force his rivals to try and beat him and perhaps drive harder than they want to and make them uncomfortable. While his championship lead is down to nine points and despite coming off two poor results, the ball is still in Montoya's court. If anyone wants to take the championship from the Colombian, they are going to have to beat him on the track and not rely on a third bad result.

Driver Changes
There will be two driver changes for Pocono.

Ed Carpenter is back in the #20 Fuzzy Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as he will make his final start of the 2015 season before Luca Filippi closes out the season at Sonoma. This will be Carpenter's sixth start in 2015. He has improved in each race this year as he is coming off a sixth at Iowa, his best finish of the season. The race before that at Milwaukee, Carpenter finished tenth. In Carpenter's previous two Pocono starts, he has finished ninth and 13th.

Pippa Mann returns in the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. This will be Mann's sixth start this season. Her best finish this year was 13th at Fontana, which was also the first lead lap finish in her career. Mann's lone Pocono start came in 2013 when she finished 15th, one lap down.

Fast Facts
This will be the tenth IndyCar race to occur on August 23rd and the first since 2009 when Dario Franchitti won at Sonoma.

This will be the ninth IndyCar race to occur at Pocono during the month of August. The final CART race at Pocono in 1989 was run in the month of August. Danny Sullivan took the victory in a Penske 1-2 with Rick Mears finishing second. Michael Andretti rounded out the podium.

Team Penske has the most victories at Pocono with eight. Penske won the first IndyCar race at the track in 1971 with Mark Donohue.

Americans have won 18 of 21 Pocono races. The three international drivers to win at Pocono are Teo Fabi, Scott Dixon and Scott Dixon.

Juan Pablo Montoya or Graham Rahal could win two 500-mile races in one season for the seventh time in IndyCar history. Montoya is the last driver to win two 500-mile races in one year. He won at Indianapolis and Michigan in 2000.

A.J. Foyt has the most victories at Pocono with four. Rick Mears won at Pocono three times. Al Unser and Danny Sullivan each won at the track twice.

Chevrolet has three victories at Pocono while Honda only has one.

Chevrolet has won the last 20 pole positions in IndyCar.

The average starting position for a Pocono winner is 5.09. The furthest back a Pocono winner has started is 17th, which occurred in 2013 by Scott Dixon. The pole-sitter has won at Pocono seven times, including last year by Juan Pablo Montoya.

The average starting position for a winner this IndyCar season is 10.214. Half of the first fourteen races have been won from outside the top ten. The only winner to come from the first row was Will Power, who won from pole position at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The average starting position for oval winners is 12.2 and three of the first five ovals were won from outside the top ten. The best starting position for an oval winner this year was seventh when Scott Dixon won at Texas.

The average amount of cautions in the previous 20 IndyCar races is 6.333 for an average of 35.904 laps. The most cautions in a Pocono race were 11 in 1988. The most caution laps were 68 during 10 caution periods in 1984. The last two IndyCar races have had two caution periods for 12 laps and one caution for six laps.

The average amount of lead changes at Pocono is 17.52. The most lead changes in a Pocono race is 29 was in 1973. The fewest lead changes in a Pocono race were seven in 1986. The last two IndyCar races have each had 16 lead changes.

Possible Milestones:
Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 72 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 68 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 98 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 58 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 14 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 96 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 18 laps to reach the 300 laps led milestone.

Predictions
Tony Kanaan keeps his championship hopes alive with a victory and if Kanaan doesn't win than Marco Andretti gets a long awaited victory in his backyard. The winner will start inside the top ten. There will be at least 20 lead changes. Fewer than three Hondas will qualify in the top ten. A Penske driver will qualify in the top four but finish outside the top ten. At least one driver will have their race ruined by a pit lane speeding penalty. A rookie leads at least one lap. Sleeper: Ryan Briscoe.



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Am I Heading to a Funeral This Sunday?

Is the future of IndyCar at Pocono hanging in the balance?
I have never felt this way heading to a race before. As I look forward to attending the IndyCar race from Pocono I can't help but feel as if I am preparing to go to a funeral and pay my last respects to a race that hasn't been around that long but will be sadly missed if this Sunday marks the final time IndyCar heads to Pocono Raceway. 

Three years isn't that long. Three years fly by like Thanksgiving weekend. It comes, it is full of family, it is full of headaches, it goes and you are left that following Monday morning wondering what the hell happened, as you are a few pounds heavier. It takes most college students three years to figure out what they are doing and even then they aren't sure. Heck I know couples that have been together for three years and are no closer to getting married than they were when they first started dating. And yet, the future of IndyCar at Pocono will be based off three years. 

It's not a lot of time but it's all the time the current business model has to give an event to grow and wedge itself into the public's conscience. God forbid a race was given five years or eight years or a whole decade to become something that people get use to as an event. It probably took some people three years into a Barack Obama's first term to realize that he was the president and yet we expect people in the surrounding area of Pocono Raceway to become accustomed to an IndyCar race being at the track in that timeframe? 

There is no changing it though. The third year is here and the future of IndyCar at Pocono, the future of another 500-mile race, the future of the IndyCar schedule rests on this weekend. 

Using hindsight, the Fourth of July weekend sounded great on paper. It was a holiday weekend. You will get more people out at the track. It will become a tradition. The one negative thing with that weekend was that a lot of people head to the Poconos on the Fourth of July weekend for other events and destinations that aren't the racetrack. I-80 was already a parking lot at 4:00 p.m. on the Sunday of Fourth of July weekend and adding another 25-30,000 race fans wasn't going to make traffic go any quicker. The on-track action isn't what caused less people to show up to Pocono in 2014. The traffic, something completely out of IndyCar's and the track's control, is what probably soured plenty people to not return. 
 
Either common sense or foolishness is telling me that traffic will be much better on the penultimate Sunday in August than the Sunday of Fourth of July weekend but we will find out around 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. 

I am optimistic that there will be a nice crowd and that afterward the track will want IndyCar back in 2016 and for many, many, many, many years to come. I hope this late-August date, after the two NASCAR weekends instead of sandwiched between them, is a little more attractive for fans. I am concerned about the lack of on-track action. There is no Indy Lights, no Pro Mazda, no U.S. F2000, no Stadium Super Trucks. There is a SVRA vintage event being held during the IndyCar weekend but that's not a competitive series. This isn't just a Pocono problem. This was the problem at Fontana as well. IndyCar weekends need competitive support series to fill the bill so there aren't hours of empty track. It's just another hurdle IndyCar has to get over to make their events more desirable for people to attend. 

The race is also starting later than the previous two years as green flag is scheduled for after 2:30 p.m. ET. This is because of television as the Premier League has a match on NBCSN from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET and there is an hour post match show. While IndyCar oval races go at a fast pace, anything after 2:30 p.m. is pretty late to start a 500-mile race. I would be ok if there was 10 minutes of pre-race coverage and the race went green at 2:12 p.m. ET. The race is going to take nearly three hours to complete and even if it ends by 5:15 p.m. ET, it might take people a half hour to get out of the parking lot and then another two hours to drive home. They will get home before sunset but it's going to be later than previous years and that might discourage a few people from going. 

I think the fact that this is IndyCar's penultimate race of the season could be helping with attendance despite the lack of support series and later start time. The championship is coming down to the wire, anywhere from 3-7 drivers could win the title and this race will set up who will have a shot at Sonoma and who will not and people are dying to see what will happen.

Will Juan Pablo Montoya keep up his success in 500-mile races and grab this championship by the scruff of the neck? Will Graham Rahal keep his dream season going and land another big blow to the powerhouses of Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing? Will Scott Dixon keep up his consistency and duplicate his 2013 championship run where it all turned on its head in the penultimate round of the season? Can Hélio Castroneves use Pocono as a launchpad to a championship assault and finally claim that elusive championship? Can Will Power redeem himself after having a block on his teammate cost him a shot at Pocono victory last year? Can Sébastien Bourdais play spoiler? Can Marco Andretti win at home and keep his championship hopes alive? Can Josef Newgarden continue to show he is a star of the future? Will the third time be the charm for Tony Kanaan at Pocono? And can Simon Pagenaud end his first season with Penske on a high note and perhaps make it four Penske drivers eligible for the title at Sonoma? 

There are more storylines entering this Pocono race than six seasons of any current television drama series. We have no idea what will happen. Will the old guard flex their muscles or will David slay Goliath? 

The storylines are there but lurking are dark clouds that could dump rain on the parade. The weather forecast started out as very nice. Low 80s, mostly sunny for race day. But over the last few days, that forecast has taken a turn for the worst and the forecast is calling for slightly cooler temperatures but a 60% chance of precipitation and scattered thunderstorms and the forecast isn't any better for Monday. Is the weather forecast foreshadowing the future of IndyCar at Pocono? Is all this optimism I am feeling going to be left standing in the rain like a heartbroken character on a television sitcom? Will the end of this race not be a quick execution but possibly three days of torture with the funeral being held on a Tuesday and having the turn out equivalent to that of when Jay Gatsby was put in the ground? This rain might force the start time to be pushed up and it might be green by 2:12 p.m. ET anyway. 

I am excited and yet I am melancholy about this weekend. Should I show up in shorts and a t-shirt or should I wear black, head-to-toe? Do I bring a cooler or a bouquet of flowers? When I leave will I be saying see you next year or goodbye old sport? 


Monday, August 17, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: I Don't Have Any Answers

MotoGP was back in action in the Czech Republic a week after competing at Indianapolis. There was a first-time winner at Brno. The golden rule of do unto others as you would want have them do unto you should be applied more in motorsports. Toyota had a good weekend in Michigan. It was more of meet the new boss, same as the old boss at the Knoxville Nationals. Other than that, there was not much motorsports action to talk about from this weekend. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

I Don't Have Any Answers
If you are a moderate IndyCar, you know about the lawsuit filed by former Andretti Sports Marketing employees John Lopes and Starke Taylor against Andretti Autosport, in which Lopes and Taylor claim the championship winning team is near insolvent.

If losing Fontana was a gut punch, this news was a sucker punch from behind that no one saw coming.

The lawsuit claims that Andretti Autosport is "$7 million in debt and has less than $2 million in unencumbered assets." While some point out that Lopes and Taylor were both fired and might be filing this lawsuit out of spite towards Michael Andretti, it can't all be false. Could it be somewhat exaggerated? Absolutely. Could Andretti Autosport not be in debt and are just breaking even? Possibly. We don't know. I certain don't know but Lopes and Taylor are more likely to know due to their association with Andretti.

Michael Andretti gave a quote to the Indianapolis Business Journal's Anthony Schoettle stating, "Neither Lopes nor Taylor are owners of Andretti Autosport, and as such they do not have access to the financial information concerning Andretti Autosport." Lopes and Taylor might not be owners of the race team but that doesn't mean there was no possible way they could have found out Andretti Autosport's financial record. Perhaps they found out after meeting with Andretti and Andretti left something up on his computer monitor that was viewable or he left a document on his desk that could easily be read or they heard an angry conversation Andretti was having on the telephone while sitting outside his office or they had lunch with another important figure at Andretti Autosport and they spilled the beans. Or they went the dirty and illegal route and hired hackers to get Andretti's financial records. There are plenty of ways Lopes and Taylor could have found out the information.

However, these issue Andretti Autosport are having, if you have been following IndyCar for a while are not surprising. But what is surprising is these are claims against one of the top teams in IndyCar. These claims wouldn't be shocking if they were against Bryan Herta Autosport or Dale Coyne Racing but since it is happening to one of the IndyCar teams that are at the top of the mountain, it just leaves an uneasy feeling that no team in IndyCar is safe.

And I don't have any answers how to fix it. I think I have more questions than answers. For starters, how could things have not improved since reunification? It appears everything was better when there were two series as there were more total cars, more races and more chassis and just as many engines as we have now.

Second, why has Andretti just let companies get away with sponsoring his cars without paying (Suretone, which sponsored Kurt Busch in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and United Fiber and Data) especially if those account for $5-7 million of the alleged debt? To be fair, Andretti might be pursuing legal action against those companies but over a year has passed since the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and it's been nearly a year since the last time UFD appeared on a car. You would have thought we would have heard something by now if Andretti was pursuing legal action.

Third, how can this be prevented? Or another way to word it, how can IndyCar become more desirable? If a company such as UFD can put its logo on a car for a year and get away with not paying for it, than why should a big corporation that IndyCar really needs, such as Apple or Coca-Cola, feel like they should have to pay to be on a car? Let's be clear, the likelihood of a team joining IndyCar in the next three years is next to zero as there are probably teams hearing this news and are thinking, "if one of the top IndyCar teams are in this much trouble, why should I expect it to go better for me?"

And this isn't Mark Miles fault. I will rip Mark Miles for screwing over Fontana and for his stupid rules such as 9.3.8 but this type of issue has been following IndyCar for multiple administrations. From the originally television deal with Versus (now known as NBCSN) that took IndyCar season's from a mainstream television networks such as ESPN and ABC to a station that was on the outer edge of the television solar system with an occasional appearance on ABC to remind everyone that the series still existed or to the ICONIC committee that introduced a new chassis but has been a costly endeavor for the teams, IndyCar's problems have been rolling in like a Tsunami wave on the coast since reunification and it has just been building and building and now the wave is towering over the series and all involved like a tourist standing in front of the Empire States Building. The only question now is when is it going to crash and how much destruction will it cause?

To be fair, some good has come out of the things that have hurt the series. The move to what is now NBCSN got IndyCar a professional announce team, something that ABC didn't have until Allen Bestwick joined the booth and even then, Bestwick is the only one-third of the announce team. Two-thirds of the problem is still there. It has also put IndyCar squarely in the home for motorsports in the United States with NASCAR and Formula One as roommates and ratings are slightly up but still have a very long way to go. The ICONIC committee did produce a new chassis, initially had IndyCar at three engine manufactures but is now at two and we are in the first year of aero kits and while they have been costly, the competition on-track is just as competitive as when the DW-12 was first introduced and the addition of aero kits has opened the door for more companies to get involved than when IndyCar was truly a spec series.

I guess if there if I had to take a crack at an answer for IndyCar is keep things stable. I think that's why people were so upset after the announcement Fontana would not be returning. Not only was a great race lost but it's another year where the series can't keep a schedule together for consecutive years. It's why people are frustrated when the news that Derrick Walker was resigning. It's another upper management change at IndyCar and they feel like they come yearly. It's difficult for the series to move forward when it is constantly looking in the mirror and trying to rearrange the things it sees in their reflection.

While concerned, there is part of me that those it will be all right. IndyCar has stubbed its toes so many times but always finds a way to keep going. It is tiring to see and hear these problems continue to pop up around the series and at times it is hard to not let the politics get in the way of what is really good racing but ultimately, there is very little I or any other fan can do. Whether we like it or not, if we choose to tag along and be passengers all we can do is watch. To get involved and try to steer the ship in right direction costs more than any passenger can spend. Whether we like it or not, the wheel is in the hands of a few individuals. Let's just hope they all turn in the same direction.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Jorge Lorenzo but did you know...

Donny Schatz won the 55th Knoxville Nationals. It is Schatz's ninth Knoxville Nationals victory and fifth consecutive.

Matt Kenseth won the NASCAR Cup race at Michigan.

Johann Zarco won in Moto2 from Brno, extending his championship lead. It's Zarco's fourth victory of 2015. Niccolò Antonelli won in Moto3, his first career victory.

Regan Smith won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Mid-Ohio. Kyle Busch won at Michigan, his second consecutive Truck series victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
The second round of Astor Cup August is at Pocono for the final leg of the IndyCar Triple Crown.
Formula One returns from summer break at Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix.
NASCAR will run under the lights at Bristol.
Pirelli World Challenges heads to Miller Motorsports Park for the final time.
V8 Supercars will be at Sydney Motorsports Park.
Virginia International Raceway plays hosts to the IMSA GTLM and GTD classes.
WRC hits the tarmac for Rally Deutschland.
Super Formula heads to Twin Ring Motegi.