Monday, August 1, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Hold It For the Finale

Penske had a 1-2 finish at Mid-Ohio and five IndyCar drivers won on Family Feud. Formula One returned to Germany in front a respectable crowd that saw the local drivers not fair so well and a driver drink from his boot. British drivers had a very good day at Hockenheim. The Pirelli World Challenge GT championship was becoming a runaway until a McLaren overheated. There are two new championship leaders in Road to Indy series. There was a surprise winner in Finland. The Mercedes-Benzes fought back from penalties at the 24 Hours of Spa. Two riders won their second consecutive Suzuka 8 Hours. The NASCAR Cup race was rained out again at Pocono and hopefully the race will be run today. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Hold It For the Finale
With four races remaining, Simon Pagenaud heads to Pocono with a 58-point lead over Will Power. If Sonoma were the next race, only Pagenaud and Power would be mathematically eligible for the championship. However, the amount of championship eligible drivers is depended on how many cars start the season finale.

For most of the IndyCar season, 22 cars have been entered at each race with a few races that featured only 21 cars and then the two Indianapolis races, which saw fields of 25 and 33 cars. While grids are slightly down from the 2015 season, the quality of the fields has been stout and a few drivers are trying to breakthrough and run a few races before the end of the 2016 season. Jack Harvey, runner-up of the last two Indy Lights seasons, has been linked to a race at Watkins Glen with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Harvey has done enough to earn a shot in IndyCar but IndyCar should do all they can to make sure that if Harvey is only going to do one race in 2016, he competes at Sonoma and not Watkins Glen and IndyCar should make sure at least two other additional drivers join Harvey on the Sonoma grid.

The maximum points that could be scored at Sonoma is 104 points, 100 for victory, a point for pole position, a point for leading a lap and two bonus points for leading the most laps. If 22 cars enter Sonoma, the most points that can be made up at that race are 88 points. The fewest points that can be scored in an IndyCar race with double points is ten points but that can only be achieved if 25 cars are entered. If 25 cars enter Sonoma, the most points that can be made up are 94 points.

IndyCar should want as many drivers as possible to be championship eligible come Sonoma. Unlike other forms of motorsports where the number of championship eligible drivers isn't determined by how many drivers start a race, a driver's chance at history shouldn't depend on the grid size. You could also argue a driver's chance at history shouldn't depend on double points but that is another discussion. It wouldn't hurt IndyCar to have another driver or two in the championship fight.

The difficulty for IndyCar is how and where those extra few cars are going to come from. It is one thing to get 25 and 33 cars for the Indianapolis races but outside those two rounds, the other 14 IndyCar races are difficult sells. IndyCar TV ratings are up but aren't close to the level where a driver or team could pull money out of thin air and enter a race on a whim. Harvey is one guy that has been working on something and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports ran three cars last year a the Sonoma finale when Mikhail Aleshin returned but Harvey is one driver and IndyCar would need two more driver/team combinations to get to the largest spread of points.

Another possible option as an extra entry for Sonoma is Robin Frijns. Frijns tested for Andretti Autosport at Mid-Ohio a few weeks ago at the IndyCar young driver test and the Dutchman has expressed interest in IndyCar. Frijns competed in Formula E for Andretti Autosport and will return for the 2016-17 season. The 25th entry is difficult to come up with. Ganassi, Penske and Coyne aren't going to run an additional car at Sonoma. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ran a second car for three races with Spencer Pigot. Ed Carpenter Racing might need to run a third car if Josef Newgarden is in that bubble zone where a few extra entries would make him championship eligible and J.R. Hildebrand has earned that third seat for being the only test driver in IndyCar. A.J. Foyt Racing is a mess and should be barred from running a third-car until it figures out how to run two cars efficiently. KV Racing could be another one to run an additional car.

With the Indy Lights champion crowned the week prior to Sonoma at Laguna Seca, I would love to see Indy Lights and Mazda scrape together the funds to run the Indy Lights champion in the IndyCar season finale. It would be a great chance for the Indy Lights champion to get exposure and it would get the Indy Lights champion valuable seat time in the DW12. Another driver I would love to see be considered for an additional seat at Sonoma is Oriol Servià. The Catalan driver sits on 199 IndyCar starts and it would be nice to see him reach the 200-mark before this season is out. We could go on and on listing drivers we would like to see racing IndyCar instead of sitting on the sidelines; Sage Karam, Matthew Brabham, Gabby Chaves and so on. Regardless of who the drivers are, IndyCar should want 25 cars at the final race. Although, it might not matter considering how far Pagenaud is ahead and shows no sign of slowing up.

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

Lewis Hamilton won the German Grand Prix.

The #99 Rowe Racing BMW of Maxime Martin, Alexander Simms and Philipp Eng won the 24 Hours of Spa.

Álvaro Parente and Michael Cooper won the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Mid-Ohio. Lawson Aschenbach won the GTS race. The second GTS race was postponed due to rain and will be made up at Laguna Seca.

The #21 Yamaha of Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Pol Espargaró and Alex Lowes won the Suzuka 8 Hours.

Santiago Urrutia swept the Indy Lights races from Mid-Ohio and took the Indy Lights championship lead. Nico Jamin swept the Pro Mazda races. Anthony Martin won all three U.S. F2000 races.

Sergey Sirotkin and Alex Lynn split the GP2 races from Hockenheim. Antonio Fuoco and Jake Hughes were victorious in GP3.

William Byron won the Truck race at Pocono. Erik Jones won the Grand National Series race from Iowa.

Kris Meeke won Rally Finland. Meeke has won the last two rallies he has participated in.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR heads to one of the most dangerous race tracks in the world in Watkins Glen.
IMSA heads to another one of the most dangerous race tracks in the world in Road America.
Super GT will be at Fuji.
World Touring Car Championship returns to Argentina, home of twice defending WTCC champion José María López.