Monday, October 10, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Compound Interest

Nico Rosberg extended his championship lead to 33 points over Lewis Hamilton after he won the Japanese Grand Prix and Hamilton had to charge from eighth to third after a disastrous start. Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell had the Bathurst 1000 snatched from them because of a questionable penalty, which is being appealed. It set up a dramatic battle for the victory between Will Davison and Shane Van Gisbergen with Davison coming out on top and his co-driver Jonathon Webb becoming the first driver to win the Bathurst 12 Hour and Bathurst 1000 in the same year. NASCAR had its second Sunday doubleheader in as many weeks, this one as caused by a hurricane. Formula E returned to competition. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Compounding Interest
Tires are fascinating. To me, I love watching a race, whether it is Formula One or IndyCar or MotoGP and watching the mind games and second guessing what rubber should be sported. I love watching three riders pull away at the start of a MotoGP race and by around halfway seeing another rider or two run them down because of the difference. It adds another level of intrigue to a race. Daniel Ricciardo's chase of Nico Rosberg at Singapore to me is the equivalent of watching a cyclist or runner running out of gas down the stretch after grabbing the race by the throat. The drama of can the leader hold on or will the pursuer prevail accelerates the heart rate at any time of day.

Not every race has this drama. Some series have one compound of tire for all cars and when there aren't any pit stops and downforce makes it difficult to pass, the races can be dull. Most races in the Road to Indy are dull. Ten of 18 Indy Lights races held this year didn't feature a lead change. Only three races had multiple lead changes. It is a development series and it isn't meant to put on spectacular races but there comes a point where you need to do something to spice things up.

Indy Lights does need to make the races more interesting because if the races can draw more fans viewing races on live streams or on TV than ratings go up and it is more appealing to sponsors and it could help young drivers find sponsors and continue their career and dream of making it to IndyCar. I think one gripe on Indy Lights is it isn't a good training ground because drivers don't get enough passing opportunities. Unlike a GP2 where you can't avoid passing with pit stops and differing tire compounds and the inversion of the top eight of grid from the feature race for the sprint race, Indy Lights is rather pedestrian. It is the only series where Felix Rosenqvist can start on pole position for both races at Toronto and lead all 80 laps over two races. Unless someone botches the start badly or there is a safety car, there won't be much passing.

The same could be said for Pirelli World Challenge. I felt most of the races in 2016 weren't great. Granted, most races won't be great races with the battle for the lead coming down to the final corner but when nearly half the races were won from pole position, more could be done.

I think when it comes to series that don't feature pit stops, MotoGP has the right layout and Indy Lights, Pirelli World Challenge and the rest of the Road to Indy should follow suit. Have two compounds and let teams choose what they want to race. Have the grid mixed and let the mystery of whether softer tires can do a full race and stay on top or if the harder compounds will come in and take the fight at the end play out on the race track.

One other thing I think MotoGP gets right is it allows teams to mix up the compounds on the bike. A rider can have a harder front tire with a softer tire on the rear or vice versa. Not only could this be done in Indy Lights, Pirelli World Challenge and other series that don't feature pit stops but in Formula One and IndyCar as well. Why not allow Lewis Hamilton to run soft tires on the front and medium rear tires? Why not allow Graham Rahal to have alternate compounds on the front and the primary compounds on the rear? What is the worse that could happen? Producing better racing?

With both Formula One and IndyCar being very aero-dependent cars, mixing on the compounds might be one way to alleviate some of issues with on-track action today. It is actually a very simple solution that costs nothing extra to the teams and wouldn't be a drastic change that would throw race fans off. Sure, some will label it as a gimmick but I disagree. It would be another wrinkle to a race to test the drivers, strategists and teams and those who can figure it out will come out on top. It is merely another evolution to a race, the same way football has evolved to a pass happy game and baseball has evolved to Sabremetrics viewing a strikeout as just another out and bullpen specialization in late innings. With any evolution the fittest will survive and motorsports should be the same even when the evolution comes to tires.

Heck, maybe Formula One should go all out and bring all five tire compounds to every race and make the drivers use each compounds. That will surely spice up the races and there would be no way Mercedes would finished 1-2 four times out of five with those regulations.

Champions From the Weekend
Álvaro Parente won the Pirelli World Challenge GT championship with a second-place finish at Laguna Seca.

Brett Sandberg clinched the Pirelli World Challenge GTS championship a race early with a second-place finish in the first race of the weekend from Laguna Seca.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Will Davison and Jonathon Webb and Nico Rosberg but did you know...

Sébastien Buemi started his Formula E championship defense with victory in the Hong Kong ePrix.

Johnny O'Connell crossed the finish line first in the Pirelli World Challenge GT finale from Laguna Seca but was penalized for contact with Patrick Long, dropping the Cadillac driver to fifth. Álvaro Parente will be credited with the race victory. Martin Barkey and Scott Heckert split the GTS finale.

Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Cup race from Charlotte. Joey Logano won Grand National Series race.

The #19 Lexus of Yuji Kunimoto and Yuki Sekiguchi won the Super GT race from Buriram. The #25 Totoya of Takamitsu Matsui and Takeshi Tsuchiya won in GT300.

Coming Up This Weekend
Japan will be busy with FIA World Endurance Championship at Fuji and MotoGP at Motegi.
DTM ends its season at Hockenheim.
NASCAR will be at Kansas.
Spain will also be busy with Word Rally Championship in Catalunya and World Superbike in Jerez.