Monday, October 3, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Clearing the Log Jam

Lewis Hamilton was in control of the Malaysia Grand Prix and was about to regain grasp of the World Drivers' Championship and then his engine failed and Daniel Ricciardo swooped in for victory leading a Red Bull Racing 1-2. The IMSA season ended but it was hard to tell through the pixels and delays in the Fox Sports Go feed. There was a doubleheader at Dover on Sunday. Martin Truex, Jr. won again in the Chase and again at Dover. Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Chris Buescher are eliminated from championship contention. A Frenchman won in France. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Clearing the Log Jam
For the last handful of years, IndyCar has had 30-35 drivers at the end of each offseason jockeying for at most two-dozen full-time seats in the IndyCar series. A mix of drivers end up on the sidelines. You have veterans such as Ryan Briscoe, J.R. Hildebrand and Oriol Servià on the outside. You have drivers with limited experience such as Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves, Luca Filippi and Pippa Mann. You have drivers hoping to breakthrough from Indy Lights such as Matthew Brabham, Jack Harvey and Zach Veach. Then you have a handful of other drivers from Europe who appear across the Atlantic and are tempted to take the jump (Pastor Maldonado).

For some drivers, it works out. Briscoe is a Ford factory driver. Chaves and Filippi got a handful of races. Karam, Hildebrand, Servià, Mann and Brabham all got to run the Indianapolis 500. Veach returned to Indy Lights. For others, it doesn't. Harvey has yet to race anything in 2016 despite back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Indy Lights championship. Maldonado kept his name floating in the water and visited KV Racing at Iowa.

Robin Miller listed the drivers waiting for their opportunity. IndyCar has a history of drivers who waited and waited and then left. Jon Fogarty won the Atlantic Championship twice and never got a call from Champ Car or the IRL. Michael Valiante and Alex Gurney both had successful Atlantic careers and only Valiante got a taste of IndyCar and that taste was just two starts in Champ Car. Jonathan Bomarito, Jonathan Summerton and John Edwards all won races in Atlantics. Wade Cunningham won eight Indy Lights races, including three Freedom 100s and a championship and all he got was five IndyCar starts. JK Vernay won the Indy Lights title and IndyCar never called. Other drivers who have finished in the top five of the Indy Lights championship and have five IndyCar starts or less are James Davison, Martin Plowman and Stefan Wilson.

Not everyone gets their fair shake and there will always be a handful of drivers who we will always wonder about but more should be done to get these drivers into the series. Whether it is a veteran looking to keep a career going or a 20-year-old hoping to grab somebody's attention, something needs to be done. I think we all want more cars on the grid and going back to 2012 I was a proponent to grandfathering in the IR07 chassis to help teams who couldn't afford the DW12 chassis or couldn't get one of the engine leases. We are heading into year six of the DW12 chassis so I think the time has passed for the IR07 and whenever a new IndyCar chassis is introduced, the DW12 should be grandfathered for four-five seasons to keep car counts up, especially for the Indianapolis 500.

I suggested a while back of IndyCar having one or two cars for wild card entries where interesting drivers could be brought in for a one-off or a young driver is given a taste of IndyCar. However, especially for young drivers, one race isn't enough. A driver needs consistent seat time and needs to be consistently working with an engineer to learn. Spencer Pigot jumped into the #20 Chevrolet late in the going and seven races on top of his three races with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing isn't enough but it is a start.

One thing that could be done is a team, such as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and/or maybe an Indy Lights team such as Carlin or Juncos Racing could field a car for the IndyCar season but at the start of the season it is known three drivers will share the car. Even an established IndyCar team could do this.

For example, before the start of preseason testing it could be announced Zach Veach, Luca Filippi and Jack Harvey will split an entry with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Each driver could get a sample of each type of race track. Looking at the 2017 schedule there are six ovals, six road courses and four street circuits. Each driver could get two ovals, two road courses and one driver could get two street circuits while another gets the Belle Isle doubleheader and the final driver would get one street circuit. If another team did the same thing for the likes of Matthew Brabham, Kyle Kaiser and Oriol Servià you could get another two young drivers IndyCar experience and get a veteran to help with their development. These entries could almost be used as a mentorship program if young drivers are paired with a veteran.

Basically what I am proposing is for teams to do what Dale Coyne has done with the #19 car the last few seasons except have it spelled out who the drivers are before the season starts and have the intention be for young drivers to get experience.

The one positive to this would be the drivers that aren't racing that weekend could still go to observe and learn and get feedback from their teammates and crew. Another positive would be it would help those drivers who don't have enough money for a full IndyCar season but don't want to spend it on another year of Indy Lights.

An issue would be, and this is surmountable, is who would drive the Indianapolis 500? I am sure if Veach gets the seat for the Indianapolis 500 the likes of Harvey and/or Filippi could find another ride for the race as a one-off but that won't always be the case. It could cause some head butting in the team but I am sure teams can work out. Another issue is while each driver would get five or six races, how do you balance it? Would a driver be able to develop if he or she races at St. Petersburg and then isn't in the car again until Texas and then doesn't run again until Toronto? It's not just getting a driver seat but getting them consistent seat time.

Programs like this would get drivers IndyCar seat experience and help alleviate the log jam there is for young drivers trying to enter the series. The best way to clear it up were for three to five teams join IndyCar and grow the grid by a half a dozen entries or more but the current state of IndyCar does not allow for that to happen. However, that doesn't mean teams and drivers can't look for new ways to get on the race track.

Champions From the Weekend
The #31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran won the IMSA Prototype championship with a fourth-place finish at Petit Le Mans.

The #4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won the GT Le Mans title with a third-place finished at Petit Le Mans.

The #8 Starworks Oreca of Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow won the Prototype Challenge championship on tiebreaker over the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca of Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon as the #8 entry had four victories during the season to the #52's three victories.

The #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan won the GT Daytona championship.

Enzo Ide won the Blancpain Sprint Series championship while Maximilian Buhk and Dominik Baumann took the Blancpain GT Series championship at Barcelona.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Daniel Ricciardo and Martin Truex, J. but did you know....

The #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier-HPD of Olivier Pla, Oswaldo Negri, Jr. and John Pew won Petit Le Mans. The #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca of Tom Kimber-Smith, Robert Alon and Jose Gutierrez won in PC. The #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and James Calado won in GTLM. The #33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Marc Miller won in GTD after the #44 Magnus Racing Audi was disqualified after John Potter did not complete the minimum drive time.

The #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes of Tristan Vautier and Felix Rosenqvist won the Blancpain Sprint Series finale from Barcelona. The #33 Belgian Audi Club Team Audi of Robin Frijns and Enzo Ide won the qualifying race.

Sébastien Ogier won Tour de Corse for the first time in his career.

Chaz Davies swept the World Superbikes races at Magny-Cours. Jules Cluzel won the World Supersport race.

Italians Antonio Giovanazzi and Luca Ghiotto split the GP2 weekend from Sepang and Giovanazzi holds a seven-point lead over teammate Pierre Gasly heading to the season finale at Yas Marina. Alexander Albon and Jake Dennis were victorious in GP3.

Daniel Suarez won the rain-delayed NASCAR Grand National Series race from Dover. Tyler Reddick won the Truck race from Las Vegas.

Coming Up This Weekend
Big weekend for motorsports.
Bathurst 1000.
Japanese Grand Prix.
Hong Kong ePrix kicks off the Formula E season.
Pirelli World Challenge ends its season at Laguna Seca.
Charlotte kicks off the second round of the Chase.
Super GT heads to Buriram.