Monday, September 7, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: How Did Scott Dixon Stack Up?

A traditional was restored and took forever to complete. The Italian Grand Prix was completed in an hour and 18 minutes. A championship contender had a major set back. An American won in Italy and Spain. A team lost a victory due to leaving a driver in the car too long. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

How Did Scott Dixon Stack Up?
Before the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season began from the streets of St. Petersburg, I did some calculations on what it was going to take to lift the Astor Cup at Sonoma. A week after Scott Dixon took etched his name on the Astor Cup for a fourth time, let's see how he compared to previous IndyCar champions.

Let's start off with points. At the start of the season, the maximum amount of points possible was 1,005. However, after the problems during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, the points were scrapped and not awarded so that meant a maximum 42 points were no longer available and it should be noted that Scott Dixon didn't even get the usually one point for pole position at Indianapolis. That means the maximum points total possible dropped to 963 points. The average amount of maximum points for every IndyCar champion over the previous 35 years of IndyCar racing was 61.37%. That means about 591 points would be the points total to aim for. As we know, Dixon finished tied with Juan Pablo Montoya on 556 points, 57.73% of the maximum. However, Dixon and Montoya's point total has kept up with the trend of IndyCar champions in the DW12-era failing to break 60% of the maximum and three of the four champions in the DW12-era have scored in the 57%-bracket of the maximum points total.

So on points, Dixon was below average.

Dixon ended the 2015 season with three victories, more than any other driver. Since 1979, the average winning percentage for the IndyCar champion was 30.515%. Dixon only won 18.75% of the races on the 2015 schedule, well below the average but it continues a trend since reunification. Since 2008, only once has the IndyCar champion won more than 30% of the races and that was Dixon in 2008 when he won 35.294% of the races. In the DW12-era, Ryan Hunter-Reay is the only champion to win more than a quarter of the races.

Once again, Dixon was below average.

Scott Dixon only finished on the podium four times in 2015. His lone podium that wasn't a victory was his third at Barber in April. The average amount of podiums for an IndyCar champion since 1979 was 54.845%. Dixon was on the podium in exactly one quarter of the races. It is the fewest amount of podiums for an IndyCar champions since 1998 when Kenny Bräck finished on the podium in four of 11 races. It is the lowest percentage of podiums since Tony Stewart's IndyCar championship when he finished on the podium in 20% of the races in the 1996-97 season.

Dixon was again, below average.

With seven top fives, Dixon finished 43.75% of the races in the top five, which is the lowest percentage of top fives since Gil de Ferran's championship in 2000 when he finished in the top five in 40% of the races. The average amount of top fives for IndyCar champions since 1979 was 66.36%. Dixon's percentage of top fives is the lowest since reunification.

Another category, another below average number.

In terms of top tens, Dixon had 12 top tens in 16 races, or he finished in the top ten 75% of the time in 2015. The average for champions entering this season was 78.37%. While Dixon finished with the same amount of top tens he had when he won the title in 2013, he had a much better percentage this season than 2013 as he had 12 top tens from 19 races that season. Since reunification, the only other champion to have finished in the top ten in less than 70% of the races was Hunter-Reay when he finished in the top ten in two-thirds of the races.

So five categories and five cases of Scott Dixon being below average. What does it mean? One, I think Dixon said it best himself in that no one dominated this season. Outside of Dixon with three victories, you had Montoya, Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Josef Newgarden and Sébastien Bourdais with two victories and James Hinchcliffe, Will Power and Carlos Muñoz each had one.

In terms of podiums, Rahal stood on the podium six times, more than any other driver but even that would have been below average if he had won the championship. Montoya had nine top fives, that would have been below average and Montoya had 13 top tens, which would have been above average.

I don't think Dixon being below average in these categories means IndyCar is in trouble or his championship is less impressive. Rather, I think we are in one of the most competitive periods for IndyCar. Sure, the big three of Ganassi, Penske and Andretti all won three races apiece but the little teams are challenging more than ever. CFH Racing won two races, as did KV Racing. The single-car team of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing won twice. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports got a victory. Before this year, Dale Coyne Racing was one of four teams to win at least one race in each season of the DW12-era.

There will come a season in the future where a driver is hands down the best and wins over 40% of the races and finishes over 90% of the races in the top ten but those seasons are rare. The drivers might not be putting up the big numbers like they once were but it is as difficult as ever to win the IndyCar title.

Some More IndyCar Stats
I went back and looked at the points breakdown between ovals and road/street circuits.

Juan Pablo Montoya scored the most points on ovals with 240 and Scott Dixon scored the second most, just 30 points fewer than the Colombian. Graham Rahal had the third most oval points on 205. Marco Andretti scored the fourth most points on ovals with 185. Josef Newgarden was fifth in the oval standings with five fewer than Andretti. Ryan Hunter-Reay scored 177 points on ovals with Will Power a point behind him. Hélio Castroneves had 174 oval points. Charlie Kimball and Sébastien Bourdais rounded out the top ten in oval points with 168 and 153 respectively.

Dixon had the most points from road/street races with 346. Power had the second most with 317 and Montoya had 316. Tony Kanaan was fourth in the road/street standings with 287 points, two more than Rahal, who rounded out the top five. Castroneves ended with 279 points from road/street races, 20 more than Hunter-Reay. Bourdais had 253 points while Newgarden and Andretti rounded out the top ten 251 and 244 points respectively.

I am surprised Kanaan was so high in the road/street course standings. He has only won two road/street races in his career and hasn't won on one since Belle Isle 2007. For the ovals, I am a little surprise Kimball finished in the top ten. He did finish third at Indianapolis, which was worth 70 points with double points so that helped him. One name missing from each of those lists: Simon Pagenaud. Eleventh in oval points, 11th in road/street points, 11th in the overall championship.

I liked when IndyCar gave out a title for the oval and the road/street champions. The only reason they didn't catch on was there was no reason for anyone to care about. The only thing the winner got was a trophy and while pride is nice, it doesn't pay the bills. If the top driver in each discipline got $500,000 with second in each getting $250,000 and third, fourth and fifth getting $125,000, $75,000 and $50,000 respectively, then it would be worth it. Of course, where would that money come from? IndyCar doesn't have blocks of cash falling out their backside. If IndyCar could have sold naming rights to them and were able to give the drivers a decent chunk of change, then drivers would care and they would be worth paying attention to.

If you followed CART, then you probably remember the Nations' Cup. The top finisher from each nationality from each race would have their points added together and the nation with the most points won the Nations' Cup. Here is what the Nations' Cup would have looked like for the 2015 season.

United States- 726
Colombia- 624
New Zealand- 556
Brazil- 550
Australia- 509
France- 497
United Kingdom- 354
Japan- 324
Monaco- 206
Italy- 183
Canada- 156
Venezuela- 94
Switzerland- 66
Spain- 46
Russia- 40

The United States would have come out on top with Colombian and New Zealand (Scott Dixon) rounding out the top three. Rahal had the most top American six times while Hunter-Reay was top four times. Montoya was top Colombian on 11 occasions while Muñoz was top four times and Gabby Chaves was the top Colombian once. Castroneves beat Kanaan as top Brazilian nine times to seven.

Should the Nations' Cup comeback? Does it really matter? It's not like the Nations' Cup will all of a sudden cause IndyCar's television ratings to skyrocket to 2.5 million per race and race attendance to jump to over 100,000 for each race.

If the Nations' Cup were to comeback, it would need some type of prize for the winning nation, which means it would need a title sponsor. A quarter of a million sounds like a good amount to award the winner. How would that money be split up? I would say the driver who contributed the most points to his or her nation's cause would get half of it and the other half would be split by the other drivers who contributed points to the Nations' Cup. So Rahal would get $125,000 and Hunter-Reay, Newgarden, Andretti and Kimball would split the other $125,000.

I think these awards would necessarily be a bad thing. The worry for IndyCar the last few years has been "what if the title doesn't go to the final race?" Well, if you had the Nations' Cup or a title for each discipline then there would be something to watch for on the final day of season. It wouldn't be the overall title but if there was money on the line, it would be worth watching and it would give the drivers something to fight for.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton and Carl Edwards but did you know...

The #41 Greaves Motorsport Gibson-Nissan of Gary Hirsch, Björn Wirdheim and Jon Lancaster won the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Le Castellet. The #38 Jota Sport Gibson-Nissan of Harry Tincknell, Filipe Albuquerque and Simon Dolan crossed the finish line first but received a time penalty for Albuquerque going off the maximum drive time. In GTE, the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari F458 Italia of Andrea Rizzoli, Mikkel Mac and Johnny Laursen took the victory. The #59 TDS Racing BMW Z4 GT3 of Franck Perera, Dino Lunardi and Eric Dermont won in GTC. In LMP3, the #3 Team LNT Ginetta-Nissan of Chris Hoy and Charlie Robertson took the victory and clinched the inaugural LMP3 championship.

Laurens Vanthoor and Robin Frijns won the Blancpain Sprint Series race at Algarve. The #84 Bentley Team HTP Bentley Continental GT3 of Maximilian Buhk and Vincent Abril won the Saturday qualifying race.

Alexander Rossi and Mitch Evans split the GP2 races from Monza. Emil Bernstorff and Marvin Kirchhöfer split the GP3 races.

Bernd Schneider, Hari Proczyk, Reinhold Renger, Reinhold Kofler and American Sean Johnston won the Barcelona 24 Hours in the #2 HP Racing Mercedes SLS AMG GT3.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Darlington.

Coming Up This Weekend
Season finales for all Road to Indy series and Pirelli World Challenge at Laguna Seca.
NASCAR sets the Chase at Richmond.
V8 Supercars run their first endurance race of 2015 at the Sandown 500.
Meanwhile, World Rally will also be in the Outback for Rally Australia.
Valentino Rossi leads the MotoGP to Misano.
DTM heads to Oschersleben.
Super Formula will be at Autopolis.
World Touring Car Championship returns after two months off at Motegi.