Monday, April 25, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Busting Balls

There was a lot of traffic at Barber. The Eiffel Tower was in the background of the Formula E race. NASCAR raced in the daylight. WTCC raced in the rain. Someone went from last to first. There were first time winner in multiple series on multiple continents. New Zealanders won all over the place but none were the New Zealander you are thinking of. There was a usual face on the top step of the podium in Spain. Speaking of Spain, Oriol Servià landed a ride for the Indianapolis 500. Stefan Wilson is close to landing a ride. Stoffel Vandoorne made an impressive debut in Super Formula with a third place finish. Imagine what Vandoorne could do in IndyCar. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Busting Balls
We are pretty much at 33 entries for this year's Indianapolis 500. A 34th entry appears to be likely. Any more is a stretch but would not be unthinkable. Andretti Autosport will have five cars. A.J. Foyt Racing, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing will all run three cars. Coyne is partnered with Jonathan Byrd's Racing. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will have two cars. That's 17 Honda entries.

Penske and Ganassi will each have four. Ed Carpenter Racing will have three. KV Racing should have three if the Stefan Wilson deal is finalized. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will return with a car and it appears Buddy Lazier will give it another go with his family's team. That's 16 Chevrolet entries.

Missing from that list is Grace Autosport, the team that was announced more than 11 months ago and led by Beth Paretta to encourage young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Grace Autosport was supposed to be an all-female team and Katherine Legge was selected to be the driver. Grace Autosport has reportedly tried to partner with a current team such as KV Racing but that appears as if it will not come to fruition.

It is hard for me to believe that Grace Autosport will not be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway come the month of May considering how the program would be such a positive for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 but it speaks to the difficulties of any one who wants to enter the series. Engines are hoarded. Chassis are tough to come by. It makes IndyCar seem like a boy's club where the only way to get in is to know the right people. With each engine manufacture committing to 17 engine leases for the Indianapolis 500, pursuing the dream of competing in one of the greatest races in the world has gone from fighting for hundredths of a second on Bump Day to a game of boardroom musical chairs.

It's not like Grace Autosport could put a stock block engine or a school bus engine in a car and give it a go. Grace Autosport, just like any other team with aspirations to race in the Indianapolis 500, are at the mercy of the two engine manufactures. If all the leases are filled then you don't even get the opportunity. It is infuriating just thinking about it. The 17th Chevrolet entry, if it happens at all, appears will be Gary Petersen's AFS-sponsored entry for Sebastián Saavedra; just another man already in IndyCar's inner-circle benefitting from being able to rub the right elbows (UPDATE: AFS will run Saavedra). That's a great message to send.

I doubt Grace Autosport announced this program last May and then waited until the 11th hour to put the pieces together like a college student with a term paper. This team has the potential to put IndyCar in a positive spotlight and attract more female viewers to a series that needs to grow. Grace Autosport could open the door of opportunity to a segment of the population that is far unrepresented in motorsports in general, let alone IndyCar. I can't believe none of the established IndyCar teams and their sponsors and neither engine manufacture sees how positive Grace Autosport could be for the series and partner with them. I can't find a negative to a team partnering with Grace Autosport. It is a win-win situation and I can't believe everyone is passing it up.

IndyCar could get actual exposure from Grace Autosport and if the team could expand into a full-time operation from an Indianapolis 500 one-off, it could be a monumental gain for the series. Grace Autosport not being on the entry list for this year's Indianapolis 500 would be another loss for IndyCar and probably be a gain for another series. Unlike in IndyCar, Grace Autosport would probably have no issues getting a chassis or engine program for the DPi class in IMSA next year or start a GT3 program. Grace Autosport might be better off moving on from IndyCar and never looking back. At least Grace Autosport might have a chance of actually getting on the racetrack.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Simon Pagenaud but did you know...

Ed Jones and Santiago Urrutia split the Indy Lights races from Barber. Pato O'Ward swept the Pro Mazda races. Parker Thompson swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Álvaro Parente and Michael Cooper split the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Barber. Jade Buford swept the GTS races in the #45 SIN R1 GT4.

Valentino Rossi won MotoGP's Spanish Grand Prix from Jerez. Sam Lowes won the Moto2 race. Brad Binder won the Moto3 races from 35th, dead last on the grid.

Lucas di Grassi won the Paris ePrix.

The #59 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 of Shane Van Gisbergen, Rob Bell and Côme Ledogar won the Blancpain Endurance Series season opener from Monza.

Carl Edwards won the NASCAR Cup race at Richmond. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the NASCAR Grand National Series race.

Naoki Yamamoto won the Super Formula season opener from Suzuka.

New Zealander Hayden Paddon won Rally Argentina, his first WRC victory.

Ken Roczen won the AMA Supercross race from Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Mehdi Bennani and José María López split the WTCC races from Hungary.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One is already heading back to Russia.
NASCAR heads to Talladega.
IMSA will run split races at Laguna Seca. Prototypes and GTLM first followed by PC/GTD.
World Superbikes will be at Imola.
AMA Supercross remains on the east coast for the penultimate round in East Rutherford, New Jersey.