Thursday, June 2, 2016

Track Walk: Belle Isle 2016

If the Indianapolis 500 wasn't enough, IndyCar runs two in Detroit
The month of May is behind the Verizon IndyCar Series and the halfway post of the 2016 season is in sight. Belle Isle, the only doubleheader on the IndyCar schedule, hosts the seventh and eighth round of the season. Despite a poor Indianapolis 500, Simon Pagenaud holds a 57-point lead over Scott Dixon in the championship. Hélio Castroneves trails his teammate by 68 points. Last year, rain struck both races with Carlos Muñoz scoring his maiden IndyCar victory in a shortened race and Sébastien Bourdais stretching the fuel to win a timed race.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday June 4th and June 5th. Green flag will be at 3:43 p.m. ET for both races.
TV Channel: ABC.
Announcers: Allen Bestwick, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever in the booth with Rick DeBruhl, Dr. Jerry Punch and Jon Beekhius working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
Practice: 10:45 a.m.–12:00 p.m. ET (75 minutes).
Race One Qualifying: 3:30 p.m. ET
Warm-Up: 10:05-10:35 a.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race: 3:43 p.m. ET (70 laps)
Race Two Qualifying: 10:45 a.m. ET
Race: 3:43 p.m. ET (70 laps)

Can Alexander Rossi Contend For the Championship?
Alexander Rossi entered Indianapolis 500 practice 17th in the championship on 79 points and 163 points back of Simon Pagenaud. Qualifying 11th and winning the 100th Indianapolis 500 elevated Rossi to sixth in the championship and trailing the Penske driver by 89 points.

Prior to his Indianapolis 500 triumph, Rossi scored his first top ten finish in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis with a tenth and he lost a top ten finish at Phoenix after being caught out on pit strategy and scrapping the wall exiting turn four. In the two prior street course races, Rossi finished a lap down in 12th at St. Petersburg and a lap down in 20th at Long Beach.

Rossi has raced on only one of the remaining nine tracks on the IndyCar scheduled. He raced at Road America nine times between Formula BMW and the Skip Barber National Championship and won at the track four times.

Rookies rarely find themselves in contention for a championship in any top series today let alone IndyCar. Simon Pagenaud was classified as a rookie in 2012 despite running a full-season in Champ Car five years prior and he finished fifth in the championship that year but finished 81 points behind Ryan Hunter-Reay and needed to score maximum points in the final two races with Will Power scoring the minimum amount of points in each race to win the title.

Rossi became the first rookie to win on an oval since Sébastien Bourdais won at Lausitzring in 2003. Bourdais finished fourth in the championship that season but, like his fellow Frenchman Pagenaud, was mathematically eliminated with two races to go in the season. For Rossi to contend for the championship he will need to win races and consistently finish in the top ten. It is a tall order for a driver who is a virgin on most of the remaining circuits but he already overcame the odds to win the Indianapolis 500. That could be the domino to start an IndyCar championship run not seen since the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Alex Zanardi and Nigel Mansell.

Who Turns It Around After a Rough "500"?
While Rossi cruised to victory, many favorites were not even in the discussion for victory in the final 25 miles of the Indianapolis 500.

Simon Pagenaud left with the championship lead but he was not a factor in the race after his pit lane penalty for unsafe release and a slight engine problem. The Frenchman entered the 2016 season having never finished on the podium in successive races. Five consecutive podiums to start 2016 created a large margin of error for Pagenaud but the next three races over two weekends could determine how much pressure will be on him for the final three months of the season. Three strong runs and he could be looking at taking the crown before getting to Sonoma. Three poor runs while a driver or two go on a tear and he could find himself in a toe-to-toe brawl.

On Mothers' Day, Juan Pablo Montoya was third in the championship, 82 points behind Pagenaud. On Memorial Day, Montoya tumbled to tenth in the championship but only 105 points back of his Penske teammate. After Montoya won last year's Indianapolis 500 he had only one podium in the final ten races. For the Colombian to find himself fighting for another second championship he will need to improve greatly from his 2015 form. Last year, he finished tenth in both Belle Isle race but started on pole in the second race after qualifying was washed out and ran out of fuel on the final lap, arguably costing him the title.

While Will Power dropped one position in the championship unlike Montoya, the Australian finds himself mired in 11th and stalling out on his charge to championship contention. Power closed the gap to Pagenaud after the Indianapolis 500. He entered 137 points back and now finds himself trailing by 114 points but Power has not won in 18 starts and has only two podiums despite winning five pole positions in that span. He also has six top five finishes in his last 18 starts but also has six finishes outside the top ten in that span.

Graham Rahal, like Montoya, fell seven positions in the championship, from fifth to 12th and he also lost ten points to Pagenaud, now 119 behind the Frenchman. Rahal has three top fives from six races but has also finished 14th, 15th and 16th. Last year, Rahal entered Belle Isle coming off three consecutive top five finishes and was sixth in the championship. He has finished on the podium each of the last two years at Belle Isle but he Ohioan has also finished outside the top twenty each of the last two years at Belle Isle.

Ryan Hunter-Reay might have been collateral damage after his teammate Townsend Bell made contact with Hélio Castroneves exiting the pit lane but that still dropped him from ninth to 13th in the championship but he is three points closer to Pagenaud than he was prior to the start of the Indianapolis 500. Hunter-Reay rebounded last year, going from 12th in the championship, 143 points off the championship leader after the Indianapolis 500 to finish sixth in the championship, 121 points behind champion Scott Dixon after winning two of the final four races and finishing second at Sonoma.

Will Honda Have a Hangover?
Honda ended its pole drought, scored a 1-2 in the Indianapolis 500 and led 129 laps after only leading seven laps the year prior. The first five races of 2016 saw Chevrolet go five-for-five on victories, five-for-five on pole positions, 12-for-15 on top five finishers and had gone four-for-fives on fastest laps.

How bad will the beer sweats be for Honda? Chevrolet still have the top four drivers in the championship but James Hinchcliffe enters fifth and has four consecutive top ten finishes, his longest stretch of top ten finishes since the end of 2011-2012 when he had six consecutive top tens. Rossi finds himself sixth in the championship while Carlos Muñoz returns to Belle Isle seventh in the championship.

Rahal and Hunter-Reay have both finished on the podium this season while Takuma Sato finished sixth at St. Petersburg and fifth at Long Beach but four Honda drivers are outside the top fifteen in the championship. Marco Andretti has finished all six races and like Rossi has completed all but two laps this season but his best finish is 12th. Mikhail Aleshin finished fifth at St. Petersburg but has finished outside the top ten in the last five races. Conor Daly stood out with a sixth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but his average starting position is 19th and average finish is 16.2. Jack Hawksworth went from 31st to 16th in the Indianapolis 500 but has finished a lap down in four of six races.

Indianapolis 500 success does not mean Honda is set for the rest of 2016 and the manufacture still has plenty of ground to make up with ten races to go.

Pigot Joins Ed Carpenter Racing for Road and Street Course Races
After running three of the first six races for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Spencer Pigot will drive the #20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet for the seven remaining road and street course races starting this weekend at Belle Isle. Ed Carpenter will run the three oval races remaining on the 2016 schedule.

Pigot's best finish with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was 11th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He finished 14th at St. Petersburg and finished 25th last week in the Indianapolis 500, five laps down after running out of fuel under caution.

Last season, Luca Filippi split the #20 Chevrolet with Carpenter. The Italian finished ninth and 17th at Belle Isle and Filippi's best finish was second at Toronto. Pigot has never raced at Belle Isle in any of the three Road to Indy series.

The fifth round of the IMSA SportsCar Championship takes place this weekend at Belle Isle and three of the four classes will be present.

Seven cars are entered in the Prototype class. The top three in the Prototypes championship have yet to win a race this season. Dane Cameron and Eric Curran lead the championship with 121 points and has finished on the podium in three consecutive races. The #31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP won last year at Belle Isle and the duo are three points ahead of their teammates, the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP João Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP of Marc Goossens has 117 points from four races. His co-driver Ryan Dalziel has 91 points after missing Long Beach because of his FIA World Endurance Championship duties with Extreme Speed Motorsports. Ricky and Jordan Taylor have 115 points and the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP duo won at Belle Isle two years ago.

Oswaldo Negri, Jr. and Michael Shank Racing will run the #60 Ligier-HPD at Belle Isle despite half the team being at Le Mans for the Test Day, including John Pew. Katherine Legge will join Negri, Jr. as the DeltaWing will not be running at Belle Isle. Negri, Jr. has 107 point while Legge sits on 94 points.

Mazda's Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez have 104 points in the #70 Mazda while #07 Mazda drivers Tom Long and Joel Miller have 96 points.

Seven Prototype Challenge cars are entered. There is a tie atop the PC class. The #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca of Misha Goikhberg and Stephan Simpson and the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca of Robert Alon and Tom Kimber-Smith are tied on 128 points. Goikhberg and Simpson won at Daytona and Long Beach while Alon and Kimber-Smith won the most recent round at Long Beach. The #8 Starworks Oreca of Alex Popow and Renger van der Zande are two points off the championship leaders.

BAR1 Motorsports' #20 Oreca driver Johnny Mowlem sits on 112 points and will be joined by Tomy Drissi this weekend. Five-time PC champion CORE Autosport are struggling as drivers of the #54 Oreca Colin Braun and Jon Bennett are fifth in the championship on 93 points. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca James French and Kyle Marcelli sit on 88 points. Starworks will have Mark Kvamme and Ashley Freiberg in the #88 Oreca this weekend.

Fifteen cars are entered in GT Daytona. The #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Alessandro Balzan and Christian Nielsen lead with 95 points and won at Sebring and finished second at Laguna Seca to the #23 Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing Porsche of  Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas, who trail Balzan and Nielsen by six points. Andy Lally and John Potter are third with 86 points in the #44 Magnus Racing Audi. Twenty-three points back is the #97 Turner Motorsport BMW of Michael Marsal and Markus Palttala.

Stevenson Motorsports #6 Audi drivers Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis sit on 71 points, a point ahead of #96 Turner Motorsport BMW drivers Bret Curtis and Jens Klingman and #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche drivers Leh Keen and Cooper MacNeil. Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating have 69 points in the #33 Dodge Viper. The #540 Black Swan Racing Porsche drivers Tim Pappas and Nick Catsburg are tied with the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini drivers Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow on 67 points.

The all-American Stevenson Motorsports line-up of Lawson Aschenbach and Matt Bell have 57 points in the #9 Audi and are tied with #16 Change Racing Lamborghini's Spencer Pumpelly and Corey Lewis. Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey have yet to finish better than 11th in the #73 Park Place Porsche. Lawrence DeGeorge and Cedric Sbirrazzuoli round out the GTD entry list in the #27 Dream Racing Lamborghini.

The IMSA race will take place at 12:40 p.m. ET and is scheduled for a hour and 40 minutes.

Fun Facts
The Saturday race will be the tenth IndyCar race to take place on June 4th. In 2006, Champ Car and the IRL both ran on June 4th. Sébastien Bourdais won at Milwaukee and Scott Dixon won at Watkins Glen.

On June 4, 2000, Juan Pablo Montoya won at Milwaukee the week after winning the Indianapolis 500. Alexander Rossi will be attempting to become the first driver since Montoya to win his next start after winning the Indianapolis 500.

Sunday's race will be 11th IndyCar race to take place on June 5th, the first since Ryan Briscoe won at Texas in 2010.

IndyCar has raced in Detroit on June 5th before. Bob Carey won on the one-mile dirt Michigan State Fairgrounds.

Hélio Castroneves is the only active driver with multiple victories at Belle Isle. He has three victories.

Other Belle Isle winners entered this year are Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Carlos Muñoz and Sébastien Bourdais.

Josef Newgarden scored his eighth podium finish at Indianapolis last week. His finishes in races after finishing on the podium are fifth, 20th, 20th, 21st, 13th, 21st and 21st.

The average starting position for a Belle Isle winner is 5.63 with a median starting position of fourth. After all of the first fifteen Belle Isle winners starting inside the top ten, two of the last four winners have started 15th or worse.

The average number of lead change at Belle Isle is 3.894 with a median of four. There have been no lead changes at Belle Isle, most recently in 2012. The most lead changes at Belle Isle were 10 in the first race in 2014.

The average number of cautions at Belle Isle is 4.842 with a median of four. The average number of caution laps is 16.842 with a median of 17.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon needs to lead 12 laps to reach the 4,800 laps led milestone and he needs to 76 laps to pass Bobby Unser for sixth all-time in laps led.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 41 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 70 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

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

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 76 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs one podium to reach 75 career IndyCar podiums.

Will Power needs one podiums to reach 50 career IndyCar podiums.

Juan Pablo Montoya needs one podium to reach 25 career IndyCar podiums.

Chevrolet and Honda split everything this weekend. Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay each win a race. Two drivers get their first pole positions of the season. Josef Newgarden overcomes his poor performance after finishing on the podium and finishes in the top ten in both races. Charlie Kimball will be the top Ganassi finisher in one of the two races. Alexander Rossi finishes better in the second race than the first. Sleeper: Jack Hawksworth.