Monday, November 2, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: The Narratives

November began. Champions were crowned in Asia, one for the first time, the other for the second time in as many. Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano had a coming together. The Mexican Grand Prix could have used some rain. There was plenty of rain in China. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

The Narratives
The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule was announced last week and a lot of narratives popped up just with the release of the calendar. You don't need races to be run to have narrative. With that said, let's just look at storylines for each race even though we are just beginning November 2015.

St. Petersburg: IndyCar history will be made at St. Petersburg. For the first time ever, an IndyCar race will take place on March 13th. There have been two races on March 14th (1976: Bobby Unser won at Phoenix. 2010: Will Power won at São Paulo). There has never been a race on March 12th but there have been two races on March 11th (1979: Gordon Johncock won at Phoenix. 2001: Cristiano da Matta won at Monterrey). There has never been a race on March 13th. If you are a fan of witnessing history, you will not want to miss this one. Also, March 13th is Marco Andretti's 29th birthday. He could become the tenth driver in IndyCar history to win on their birthday. Not to mention that if James Hinchcliffe returns for this race and takes the green flag, he will be making his 75th career start.

Phoenix: Not only will it be the first IndyCar race at the track in over 11 years, it will be the first IndyCar race on April 2nd since 2006 when Hélio Castroneves won at St. Petersburg. It will be the second Phoenix race to occur on April 2nd. In 1995, Robby Gordon scored his first career victory on the one-mile oval driving for Walker Racing. This race will also occur on what would have been Jack Brabham's 90th birthday. In the off chance Matthew Brabham is in the race, he could accomplish a tremendous feat on a special day for him and his family. It could also be a special day for Will Power, Ryan Briscoe or any other Australia in the field on that day. April 2nd will also be Fabrizio Barbazza's 53rd birthday.

Long Beach: It will be the fourth time the Grand Prix of Long Beach will fall on April 17th. The previous one was in 2011 and won by Mike Conway after the Brit drove passed Dario Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe. The other two were both won by Al Unser, Jr. in 1988 and 1994.

Barber: Scott Dixon has finished second, second, second, second, third and third in six starts at Barber Motorsports Park. Can the defending IndyCar champion finally stand on the top step in Alabama? Can he give Chip Ganassi Racing its first victory at Barber? The seventh Grand Prix of Alabama will be the first race on April 24th since 1966 when Rodger Ward won at Trenton. This will also be Sébastien Bourdais' 150th career start.

Grand Prix of Indianapolis: It is the start of the month of May. Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden and Gabby Chaves will all try to become the third drivers to win on both the oval and road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, joining Alex Lloyd and Jack Harvey. History will be made, not only because the race is occurring at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but also because, like St. Petersburg, it will be the first race on May 14th. Also, if Rodolfo González returns to IndyCar competition, the Venezuelan will have the opportunity to win a race on his 30th birthday.

Indianapolis 500: It is obvious. The 100th Indianapolis 500. You can't help but get goose bumps. That day will be spectacular. We don't know what will happen but it memorable. It will also be the eighth Indianapolis 500 to be run on May 29th. The previous two were won by Dan Wheldon. The first "500" on May 29th was in 1971 and won by Al Unser on his birthday. Unser turns 77th in 2016. In 1982, Gordon Johncock defeated Rick Mears by 0.16 seconds, the closest Indianapolis 500 finish for a decade. The following year, Tom Sneva won his first. Five years after Sneva, Rick Mears won his third. In 1994, the Penske PC-23 Mercedes-Benz 500I owned the day and Al Unser, Jr. took the victory after Emerson Fittipaldi slapped the wall.

You will have Hélio Castroneves going for his fourth. The 2016 race will mark the 25th anniversary of Rick Mears' fourth. It will be the 50th anniversary of Graham Hill's surprise victory as a rookie (I hope Damon Hill is invited for the grand occasion). It will be the 100th anniversary of Dario Resta's victory in the lone year the race was scheduled for 300 miles and it will be the 100th anniversary of Peugeot's last Indianapolis 500 victory (I hope Peugeot representatives are invited to the race).

In non-Indianapolis 500 related storylines: Should Graham Rahal take the green flag and have taken the green flag in the first five races, he would be making his 150th career start.

Belle Isle 1: The weekend after the Indianapolis 500 brings the pressure of doing it again. Only once has the Indianapolis 500 winner gone on to win the next race when it has fallen on June 4th and that Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000. It will also be ten years since the last time IndyCar raced on June 4th and there were two races that day in 2006. Ah, the days of the split. Sébastien Bourdais won at Milwaukee. Scott Dixon won at Watkins Glen.

Belle Isle 2: Twice has an Indianapolis 500 gone on to win on June 5th. Those were Rick Mears in 1988 and Al Unser, Jr. in 1994. Those seasons are the only seasons where the Indianapolis 500 has been on May 29th and there been an IndyCar race on June 5th. It seems as if the Indianapolis 500 will be a shoe-in to win this one. Will that be the base in 2016? Also, both Mears and Unser, Jr. drove for Penske in those seasons. Could 2016 turn out to be Penske's year? This will also make the halfway point of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. We will get a sense who will be fighting for the championship and who will be fighting for their jobs.

Texas: Since the introduction of the DW12 chassis, the racing at Texas has flipped on its head from pack racing to drivers having to fight their cars and tire degradation. Passing happens as cars fade and pit strategies vary wildly. Some stop within 40 laps. Some stretch it to nearly 60 laps a stint. It is the most fascinating race of the season.

Road America: The long awaited return of the best road course in the United States. Road America is back on the IndyCar schedule. As excited as we all are for this event, this has the feeling of being a race that will let us all down and then leave us questioning ourselves. We have no idea how the cars will race. We have no idea how long caution periods will be. Will the track record of 1:39.866 set by Dario Franchitti in 2000 be broken? Will passing be difficult?

Iowa: The popular short track race has moved to Sunday afternoon. Andretti Autosport enters having won six consecutive Iowa races. This will be the sixth IndyCar race to occur on July 10th, the first since 2011 at Toronto, when Dario Franchitti and Will Power infamously came together. This race will also fall 11 years to the day of Justin Wilson's first career victory, which came at Toronto.

Toronto: Back on its traditional July-date, Toronto marks the final race of the third quarter of the season. There will be four races left and when the teams head back to the States, we will have a clear pictures of who the contenders will be. We will see what the championship leader has to do to keep control of the championship battle. We will know what second, third, fourth, fifth, maybe even sixth have to do to run down the championship leader.

Mid-Ohio: July 31st is Justin Wilson's birthday. Mid-Ohio was the site of Justin Wilson's final podium in what would turn out to be the penultimate race of his career. I have never been a fan of organized memorials. I think they can go too far at times. I think they should be more organic and not turn into an event. However, I'd like to see something done at Mid-Ohio. If the Wilson family doesn't want to be there, that is fine but I would like to see IndyCar do something for this race. With Honda being the sponsor of the race and their relationship with Wilson, perhaps they could use the front straightaway bridge and turn it into a memorial for Wilson.

It will also be 11 years since the last IndyCar races on July 31st and, like June 5th, there were two races that day. Bryan Herta scored his fourth and final IndyCar victory at Michigan and Sébastien Bourdais won the inaugural Grand Prix of San Jose, which feature the first of IndyCar's too many battles with railroad tracks.

Pocono: The obvious narrative is the return to Pocono a year after the death of Justin Wilson. It is a weekend we all need. It was such a freak accident. The series needs it, the track needs it, the drivers need it and the fans need it. We all need to come face-to-face with that day and return to the place where it happened. It is going to be therapeutic and relieving. IndyCar hasn't done that with Las Vegas and it should have. It can't leave places with that being the final memory. It leaves the wrong impression. There was too much finger pointing after Las Vegas and that bridge has never been mended. Fingers should have never been point. The death of Dan Wheldon divided people when it shouldn't have. The death of Justin Wilson could have happened anywhere. It nearly happened at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2014. Pocono Raceway just happened to be the location and hopefully the return in 2016 will give the track a fantastic race and strengthen a relationship that will last a long, long, long time.

This will be the first race on August 21st since 2005 when Dan Wheldon won at Pikes Peak in what turned out to be the final IndyCar race at the track. Is that foreshadowing for the future of IndyCar at Pocono? I hope not. It will also be the second Pocono race to take place on August 21st. The first was in 1988 and won by Bobby Rahal. Can his son Graham repeat his father's feat?

Boston: Is it ironic that the first Grand Prix of Boston will occur four years to the day of the inaugural Grand Prix of Baltimore? Is this foreshadowing of the fate of this event? Baltimore had great crowds but was a disaster. The city never got behind it and it lasted three year. Boston is already against the event. This race isn't even a guarantee to happen. Some say it is. Others say it isn't. The reported deal was for five years but who knows if this race will even make it to year one.

Should Boston (or a replacement race, fingers crossed for Milwaukee) occur on this weekend, Ryan Hunter-Reay could be making his 200th career start and Simon Pagenaud could be making his 100th career start.

Sonoma: The season finale. There is no guarantee the championship will come down to the final race but if it does, the race will be a frantic event, following two, three, four or maybe even five drivers battle out for the Astor Cup.

Sonoma could mark the 100th career start for Charlie Kimball.

Champions From the Weekend
José María López clinched his second consecutive World Touring Car Championship title with a victory in race one from Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand. López finished fourth in race two as Tiago Monteiro took his third victory of the season.

André Couto clinched the Super GT GT300 championship with his second place finish at Autopolis in the #10 Gainer Nissan GT-R GT3 with Katsumasa Chiyo.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened in Thailand but did you know...

Nico Rosberg won the Mexican Grand Prix.

The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard won the 6 Hours of Shanghai, their fourth consecutive victory. The #36 Signatech Alpine-Nissan of Nelson Panciatici, Paul-Loup Chatin and Tom Dillmann won in LMP2. The #91 Porsche of championship leader Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen won in GTE-Pro. In GTE-Am, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas were victorious.

The #1 NISMO Nissan GT-R of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli won the Super GT race from Autopolis. It was a sweep for Nissan as the #3 NDDP Racing with B-MAX Nissan GT-R GT3 GT300 of Kazuki Hoshino and Mitsunori Takaboshi won in GT300.

Jeff Gordon won the NASCAR Cup race from Martinsville.

Matt Crafton won the NASCAR Truck race from Martinsville.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP season finale from Valencia. Valentino Rossi vs. Jorge Lorenzo for the title.
Super Formula season finale from Suzuka.
Formula E will be in Putrajaya.
V8 Supercars head east to Pukekohe Park Raceway.
NASCAR heads to Texas.
Asian Le Mans Series will run at Sepang.