Thursday, September 1, 2016

Track Walk: Watkins Glen 2016

Watkins Glen plays a crucial role in the 2016 IndyCar championship 
The penultimate round of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season will be the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen. This is IndyCar's first race at Watkins Glen International since 2010. Eight drivers entered for this year's race have IndyCar experience at Watkins Glen International. Eight drivers are still championship eligible entering the final two rounds and at least two drivers will be championship eligible for Sonoma. Indy Lights returns for its penultimate weekend of the 2016 season.

Time: Coverage begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday September 4th. Green flag at 2:37 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Kevin Lee (Leigh Diffey has Formula One duty), Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 11:00 a.m.-11:45 p.m. ET (45 minutes. NBCSN will have live coverage of this session).
Second Practice: 3:30-5:30 p.m. ET (120 minutes. NBCSN will have live coverage of this session).
Final Practice: 11:00-11:45 a.m. ET (45 minutes).
Qualifying: 3:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have taped-delayed coverage of this session at 6:00 p.m. ET).
Warm-Up: 10:30-11:00 a.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race: 2:37 p.m. ET (60 laps).

Eight Left Standing
Simon Pagenaud and Will Power are covered by 28 points entering the Watkins Glen round and both drivers will be fighting for the Astor Cup at Sonoma. The Penske drivers are the only two drivers have scored over 500 points this season with Pagenaud on 529 points and Power on 501 points. Pagenaud has led the championship since after the Phoenix round. Power was 12th in the championship after Phoenix and was as low as 12th after the first Belle Isle race. He went on to get six podium finishes on the trot and score four victories in that period.

With his third at Texas, Tony Kanaan launched himself from sixth in the championship to third, 113 points behind Pagenaud. This is the highest Kanaan has been in the championship since after last year's season opener at St. Petersburg, when Kanaan was third after finishing third in that race. Kanaan hasn't finished in the top five in the championship since fifth in 2011. He is one point ahead of Hélio Castroneves after Castroneves finished fifth at Texas. Castroneves is looking to finish in the top five in the championship for a sixth consecutive season. Josef Newgarden dropped to fifth in the championship, 123 points behind Pagenaud after finishing 22nd at Texas. It was Newgarden's third 22nd-place finish in 2016.

Scott Dixon is 132 points behind Pagenaud and he is in position to have his worst championship finish since the 2005 season when he finished 13th. Ironically, Dixon's only victory in the 2005 season was at Watkins Glen. Graham Rahal became the top Honda driver in the championship after his victory at Texas. He is 135 points behind Pagenaud and Carlos Muñoz is the last man standing in championship picture. He trails Pagenaud by 147 points. Muñoz will be eliminated from championship contention if Pagenaud starts at Watkins Glen.

James Hinchcliffe was alive for the championship after he finished second to Rahal at Texas but on Wednesday, he and his #5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team were docked 25 points for excessive wear to the domed-skid. This will be his debut at Watkins Glen in IndyCar. Hinchcliffe finished second in the 2010 Indy Lights race at Watkins Glen from pole position.

The Return
Eight drivers have IndyCar experience at Watkins Glen and three of those eight are race winners at the famed road course.

Scott Dixon won three consecutive races at Watkins Glen from 2005 to 2007 and his 11th-place finish in 2008 is the only time Dixon hasn't finished in the top ten at Watkins Glen and in that race, Dixon was running second until he made contact with Ryan Briscoe under caution, taking both drivers out of contention. That 2008 race was the only time Dixon didn't lead a lap at Watkins Glen. Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2008 race. It was Hunter-Reay's third career victory and first since he led all 250 laps at Milwaukee in 2004. In Hunter-Reay's other two starts at the track, he finished 21st and 7th, starting 16th in both races. Will Power only has two starts at the Glen but he won the most recent race held there in 2010 from pole position.

Tony Kanaan and Hélio Castroneves are tied with Scott Dixon for most starts at Watkins Glen among active drivers. Kanaan has two podiums, three top fives and four top tens in his six starts but has only led 11 laps in his six starts and last led in 2006. Castroneves won three consecutive pole positions at Watkins Glen from 2005 to 2007 but accidents took him out of two of those races. His best finish is fourth with three top tens. Marco Andretti has started in the top ten in all five of his starts at Watkins Glen and he finished fifth three consecutive years from 2007 to 2009. His only retirement came in 2006 after contact with Eddie Cheever. Graham Rahal made two starts at Watkins Glen and finished eighth and 13th. Takuma Sato's only Watkins Glen start came in 2010. He started fifth and finished 15th.

Indy Lights
After over a month off, Indy Lights return to competition for one race at Watkins Glen. With three races remaining in the 2016 season, seven drivers are still championship eligible.

Santiago Urrutia took the championship lead after sweeping the Mid-Ohio weekend at the end of July. The Uruguayan has six consecutive top five finishes going back to the second race at Road America. He has four victories and six podiums from 15 races this year. Sixteen points behind Urrutia is Ed Jones, who has finished outside the top five in four of the last six races and two of those finishes were outside the top ten. Dean Stoneman is third in the championship, trailing Urrutia by 25 points. He leads Indy Lights in podium finishes this season with seven.

Félix Serrallés has dropped to fourth in the championship, 42 points behind Urrutia after finishing tenth in two of the last three races. Kyle Kaiser and Zach Veach have had two of the more consistent seasons but are fifth and sixth in the championship. Kaiser has a victory, six podiums but also six sixth-place finishes and 13 top ten finishes in 15 races and trails by 49 points. Veach has a victory, five podiums, eight top five finishes and 14 top ten finishes from 15 races and is three points behind Kaiser. Veach's only non-top ten finish was the first race at St. Petersburg, where a mechanical failure ended his race while leading. André Negrão has three consecutive podium finishes and sits on 219 points.

Twelve cars are entered for the Watkins Glen race. Shelby Blackstock is coming off four consecutive top ten finishes, including a fifth at Mid-Ohio. Canadians Zachary Claman De Melo, Dalton Kellett and Garett Grist are all entered. Neil Alberico is still looking for his first top ten finish of the season.

The Indy Lights race will take place on Saturday September 3rd at 1:35 p.m. ET.

Fast Facts
This will be the first IndyCar race on September 4th since 2011 when Will Power won the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix.

Ryan Briscoe holds the Watkins Glen track record with a lap at 88.1322 seconds (137.657 MPH), which was set in in 2009.

This will be the tenth IndyCar race at Watkins Glen International. Other than Dixon, Bobby Unser is the only driver to win multiple times at the track, having won the first two races there in 1979 and 1980.

Simon Pagenaud will be making his first appearance at Watkins Glen in any series.

Charlie Kimball made two starts at Watkins Glen in Indy Lights. He finished fourth in 2009 and 11th in 2010.

Juan Pablo Montoya made seven starts at Watkins Glen in NASCAR, including a victory in 2010, three top five finishes and five top ten finishes.

Sébastien Bourdais has made three starts at Watkins Glen in Grand-Am competition. He finished on the podium twice.

Conor Daly's only appearance at Watkins Glen came in the 2015 Six Hours of the Glen. He finished last in the Prototype Challenge class driving for Performance Tech Motorsports.

Max Chilton's best finish on a road/street circuit is 14th at Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Jack Hawksworth has four lead lap finishes in 14 starts this season.

Spencer Pigot ran at Watkins Glen in this year's Six Hours of the Glen and finished eighth in the Prototype class driving for the factory Mazda.

RC Enerson returns to the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda and he will also drive the car at Sonoma.

The average starting position for a Watkins Glen winner is 2.667 with a median of three.

The worst starting position for a Watkins Glen winner is fourth. Will Power's victory in 2010 is the only time the pole-sitter has won the race.

The average number of lead chances in a Watkins Glen race is 5.444 with a median of five.

The fewest lead changes in a Watkins Glen race are four (1980 and 2009). The most lead changes are eight (2009).

The average number of cautions at Watkins Glen is 3.556 with a median of four. The average number of caution laps is 10.333 with a median of seven.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon needs to lead 16 laps to pass Bobby Unser for sixth all-time in laps led.

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

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 43 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

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

Should he take the green flag, Ryan Hunter-Reay will make his 200th IndyCar start.

Should he take the green flag, Simon Pagenaud will make his 100th IndyCar start.

Sébastien Bourdais is one top ten finish away from 100 IndyCar top ten finishes.

Will Power wins the race with Simon Pagenaud finishing on the podium and making the championship enthralling heading to Sonoma in a fortnight. Scott Dixon gains at least one position in the championship. Graham Rahal will be the third-best qualifying Honda but will be the top Honda finisher. There will be a banzai pass that no one sees coming but that will have all three commentators in awe. The number of cautions will be below average. There will be once incident that involves a blatant track limits violation. Sleeper: Charlie Kimball.