Monday, February 15, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Roll Call

Cars are on track at Daytona. One season already ended in New Zealand. World Rally Championship nearly grounded to a halt in muddy Sweden. Valentine's Day came and went. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Starting this week, team-by-team previews for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season will be posted. At time of posting, we are 27 days until IndyCar's season opener at St. Petersburg. These previews will be rolled out over the next month. They will not come out one day after another so just keep an eye out for them in the coming weeks.

Roll Call
With team-by-team previews coming up, it would be good to look at the IndyCar grid at a glance.

Here are the confirmed drivers for the 2016 season. Let's start with Chevrolet.

Ganassi will have four cars. Scott Dixon is returning to defend his championship. Tony Kanaan is back. Charlie Kimball returns and it appears he will have a new livery. Max Chilton is set for his rookie season.

Penske is bringing back the same band from last year: Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud.

KV Racing will be a one-car team with all the chips on Sébastien Bourdais.

CFH Racing is now Ed Carpenter Racing with Josef Newgarden in the #21 Chevrolet and Ed Carpenter set to return in the #20 Chevrolet for the oval races. The road/street course driver for the #20 has yet to be announced.

That is 11 Chevrolets confirmed for 2016. On to Honda.

Andretti Autosport has three drivers confirmed: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Muñoz.

A.J. Foyt Racing is retaining Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin pairing up for 2016.

Graham Rahal is back at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Conor Daly will be at Dale Coyne Racing.

That is nine Hondas confirmed. What are we waiting on?

Bryan Herta Autosport appears likely to return but the team has yet to confirm the return. The team would like to bring back 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves.

Dale Coyne Racing will have a second car.

Those are two yet-to-be-confirmed-but-extremely-likely-to-happen Hondas. The full-time grid would be 22 cars.

There have been some rumblings about a fourth Andretti entry. Some signs have been pointing to Andretti's Formula E driver Robin Frijns being that driver. Some signs have pointed to that being a part-time car. Some signs point to that being a rotating cast of characters.

Defending Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot is scheduled to run three races for RLLR but that could be another possibility for a full-time entry.

The other concern is does the #20 ECR Chevrolet run the full season? It doesn't make much sense to run a car for only five races but things are tight in IndyCar and if ECR can't find a suitable second driver for the #20 car than it could only been seen at ovals.

It looks like there will be at least 21 full-time entries with as many as 24. It doesn't appear as if there will be anymore on the Chevrolet front. The size of the full-time IndyCar grid will be dependent on Honda.

While we are looking the full-time IndyCar grid, we mind as well look at the potential Indianapolis 500 entry list. Believe it or not, people are already crying that there won't be 33 cars for the 100th Indianapolis 500. It has become a topic that some use to highlight the inadequacies IndyCar fans feel about the series they love and they do it to make waves of fear.

But let's come down and let's use rationale to think this out. There will 33 entries. The series always finds a way to get 33 cars on the grid.

Let's take the 22 teams we have already looked at. They will all be there.

We know Spencer Pigot will be there. That's 23.

Matthew Brabham is scheduled to run both Indianapolis with PIRTEK Team Murray in partnership with KV Racing. That's 24.

Jonathan Byrd's Racing will return with Bryan Clauson and they have partnered with Dale Coyne Racing. That's 25.

Katherine Legge and Grace Autosport are working on a program for the Indianapolis 500. That's 26.

Sage Karam has been announced with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. That's 27.

So we are six away and the rest of these entries are pure speculation.

Pippa Mann seems likely to be back with Dale Coyne Racing and that would be 28 entries.

Buddy Lazier failed to qualify last year but he hasn't (at least publicly) thrown in the towel. Should Lazier and his family-run team return that would be 29 entries.

You have to think Andretti Autosport will run a fourth car. That would be 30. However, Andretti Autosport has entered five cars for the Indianapolis 500 every year since 2010. Should the team keep that streak going, that would be 31 entries.

You have to think Ganassi will run a fifth car, especially since Ryan Briscoe is on the team's books with the Ford GT program. That would be 32.

Just recently, Bryan Herta Autosport has made it know they are interested in running a second car for Indianapolis. That would be 33.

There. We made it. And we aren't done yet.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has run three cars the last three years. A fourth year with three SPM cars would make it 34 entries.

Last year, then-CFH Racing ran a third car for J.R. Hildebrand. Should ECR run a third car that would be 35.

The rumor has been Dreyer & Reinbold Racing could run two cars. That would be 36.

KV Racing ran four cars at Indianapolis just two years ago and last year ran two cars and partnered with Jonathan Byrd's Racing. With the PIRTEK Team Murray partnership, that could leave room for another KV entry. That would be 37.

A.J. Foyt Racing said they weren't going to run a third car last year and then they entered a car for Alex Tagliani. A third AJFR Honda would be 38.

Thirty-eight is the off-the-wall, IndyCar hits the lottery twice, buying ocean front property in Arizona scenario. All 38 entries aren't impossible. They are all plausible. It's just a matter of the manufactures and how many engine leases they want to release. Above, there are 19 Honda programs, 18 Chevrolet programs and the one unknown being Grace Autosport.

If Honda and Chevrolet are going to go all out for the 100th Indianapolis 500, then 19 apiece would be something but I am not sure either manufacture would go that far. Eighteen apiece, maybe. Last year, both fielded 17 programs. Each adding one for the 100th would hardly be earth shattering.

Now, who would be the drivers for these remaining entries? Well we came up with 29 driver-team combinations and the following drivers are still free agents: Townsend Bell, J.R. Hildebrand, Ryan Briscoe, Tristan Vautier, Jack Harvey, James Davison, Sebastián Saavedra, Simona de Silvestro, Stefan Wilson, Oriol Servià and Alex Tagliani. That is 11 drivers and who knows if there are other drivers who want a shot at Indianapolis and want to be in the 100th running. Sam Hornish, Jr. is unemployed. Who is to say he couldn't return for the 100th and 10th anniversary of his victory? (Hornish will not be at Indianapolis. He doesn't care and it isn't worth his time. But just remember that Michael Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls so never say never).

At ease everyone. There will be 33 and there will likely be more than 33. Will there be more than 34? That's the real question.

Average Age
I have been writing these team-by-team previews for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season and the amount of older drivers caught my eye. Tony Kanaan, Hélio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya are all over 40. Takuma Sato is 39. Heck, Sébastien Bourdais is 37 and Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay are 35. I thought I would look at the average age of a few series to see how they compare.

For IndyCar, I took the 21 drivers with confirmed seats for at least three races and the have the average age of 31.19 years.

For Formula One, I took the 21 confirmed drivers for 2016 and the average age for them is 26.9 years.

The average age of the Daytona 500 entry list is 32.72 years.

The average age for last week's Formula E race from Buenos Aires was 29.833 years.

Mercedes-Benz just announced their drivers for the 2016 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season and the average age of the two dozen DTM drivers will be 28.79 years when the 2016 season starts on May 7th.

The 18 LMP1 factory drivers from Porsche, Toyota and Audi will average 33.777 years of age when the season starts at Silverstone.

I am not surprised the LMP1 factory drivers are the oldest but I am surprised NASCAR is just above IndyCar considering all the youth that has entered the series in the last two-three seasons. However, NASCAR has two drivers over 50 (Bobby Labonte and Michael Waltrip) but even if you take them out, the average age is still older than IndyCar but is only 31.833.

No surprise that Formula One is the youngest with Kimi Räikkonen being the oldest at 36. Jenson Button is also 36 but Räikkonen is three months older. It's interesting to see that the two other "European based" series in DTM and Formula E are the next youngest. Both are full of drivers who are talented enough for Formula One but didn't have the funding and are under 30 (Bird, Buemi, Vergne, da Costa, Wickens, di Resta). DTM also has a handful of development drivers. The 19-year-old Esteban Ocon heads to DTM fresh off his GP3 championship. Lucas Auer is 21, Tom Blomqvist is 22, Nico Müller is 24 and Adrien Tambay is 25.

To be honest, I was hypothesizing that the reason why a series like IndyCar is struggling to attract younger fans is because of the age difference of the drivers. I was wondering if the grid is too old for younger fans to relate to. While that may be true, Formula One is struggling with declining television ratings around the globe and the Formula One grid is significantly younger. FIA WEC and Formula E are experiencing a lot of positive buzz and FIA WEC are the oldest of all while Formula E is in the middle.

A confounding variable: Manufacture involvement. FIA WEC has it. Formula E is getting it. Maybe that is the reason. I don't know. Then I think about race distance. We hear about short attention spans and how the length of races hurt growth for some series. But it's ironic because while Formula E races are all under an hour in length, eight of nine FIA WEC races are six hours long and the other is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But what about schedule length? FIA WEC and Formula E have the fewest amounts of races. Maybe the less is more approach is a reason.

Champion From the Weekend
With his victory in the New Zealand Grand Prix, Lando Norris won the 2016 Toyota Racing Series championship. Norris is the first British driver to win the New Zealand Grand Prix since Jackie Stewart won the race in the 1967 Tasman Series season.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Chase Elliott winning Daytona 500 pole position but did you know.

Denny Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited, his third victory in the event.

Sébastien Ogier won Rally Sweden. It's his second consecutive Rally Sweden victory and his third consecutive rally victory dating back to last season.

Ryan Dungey won the AMA Supercross from San Diego; his fourth victory of the season.

Ferdinand Habsburg and Brendon Leitch won the first two races of the final round of the Toyota Racing Series season from Manfeild Autocourse.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Daytona 500 qualifying races on Thursday.
The Daytona 500.
NASCAR's other two national touring series will be at Daytona.
AMA Supercross will be in Arlington, Texas.