Monday, February 27, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Form is Fallacy

Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500 and led just the final lap. Now he could join Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt as the only drivers to win the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. His boss Tony Stewart is already sponsoring a car with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports but let's just wait and see what happens. It was a mess of a race in Daytona. Actually, all three races in Daytona were a mess. Away from Daytona, there were three photo finishes in Australia, a farewell in Atlanta and Formula One teams unveiled there 2017 machines as testing begins today. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Form is Fallacy
Besides motorsports, I have a fond love for soccer and if you follow the game here in the United States you know who Alexi Lalas is. The Greek-American who represented the United States in two World Cups and now commentates on Fox Sports' soccer coverage is known to have strong opinions that ruffle the feathers of many fan bases. One of Lalas' frequent points that sticks with me is "form is fallacy."

A rough definition of "form is fallacy" is just because someone is playing well in one situation doesn't mean he or she will continue at the same level in another situation. The easiest example is let's say Player A is doing well at the club level and is scoring a lot of goals but that doesn't necessary mean Player A will continue that production should he or she get called up for a national team. Player A could go from someone who is benefitting from playing a certain formation at a club and could be forced into another formation on the national team and even if the national team uses the same formation as Player A's club if the pieces aren't providing the same support around Player A than Player A's production won't necessarily match that of Player A's production at the club level.

So what does this theory from a retired American soccer player have to do with motorsports?

In the last few days a few drivers have tested or been announced to be testing an IndyCar and while some have been met with praise, others have been met with scorn. Let's start with Ricky Taylor, who drove Simon Pagenaud's car at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Thursday. The recent 24 Hours of Daytona winner's day with Penske was met with a fair amount of excitement and Robin Miller even said on The Marshall Pruett Podcast that Taylor is a driver IndyCar needs.

A few days prior to Taylor's test, it became official that Pipo Derani, winner of the 2016 24 Hours of Daytona and 2016 12 Hours of Sebring would be testing a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at Sebring on March 1st and the news of his test wasn't met with the same fanfare. While some, including myself, were excited to see the Brazilian get a shot at an IndyCar, other unearthed Derani's past results in open-wheel cars and scrutinized his lack of success in a limited Pro Mazda season and how he finished eighth in the 2012 British F3 Championship, a season that only saw 11 drivers contest the full season.

It is easy to dismiss a driver on his or her past results but just because a driver is successful in one category doesn't mean he or she will be in the next and nor does a driver's lack of success mean he or she couldn't succeed in the next step up.

Take Simon Pagenaud. The defending IndyCar champion doesn't have fans dismissing he success because he finished 16th in the 2005 Formula Renault 3.5 Series while the likes of Adrián Vallés, Tristan Gommendy, Félix Porteiro and Andreas Zuber all finished in the top six of the championship that season or the fact that Pagenaud finished second in the 2004 Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup season to Scott Speed.

It would have been easy to dismiss Pagenaud come 2006 when he entered the Formula Atlantic championship and even after winning the title that season it would have been easy to dismiss him as he was driving for Walker Racing and had only won once that season while vice-champion Graham Rahal won five times. However, a decade later and after a respectable season in Champ Car, a Peugeot factory ride and a return to IndyCar five years ago, no one with common sense would try to argue that Vallés, Gommendy, Porteiro, Zuber and Speed are better than Pagenaud today and all those drivers finished ahead of him in support series. Scott Speed even had decent results in GP2 and made it to Formula One but even then no one would say Scott Speed is the better driver than the Frenchman.

Does this mean junior formula series results don't matter? No. There are plenty of drivers who won at every level of the ladder system and ended up becoming top drivers at the highest levels but if we see a driver with Sakon Yamamoto-like results getting a Formula One seat and hasn't scored points in a few years in multiple junior formula series, we probably have an idea of how that driver is going to do. However, in-between the protégés the likes of Lewis Hamilton and head scratchers the likes of Yamamoto, there are drivers who develop at different rates and just because those drivers aren't winning every championship from the age of six years old doesn't mean IndyCar or NASCAR or even Formula One should be out of reach.

We should still look at the results but we shouldn't cherry-pick the seasons when a driver is likely still a teenager and wasn't at the front of the pack as the clear evidence that a driver won't cut it at a certain level and therefore be deemed unworthy of an opportunity.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Kurt Busch but did you know....

Jonathan Rea swept the Superbike races from Phillip Island. Rea defeated Chaz Davies by 0.042 seconds in race one and 0.025 seconds in race two. Italian Roberto Rolfo won the World Supersport race by 0.001 seconds over Lucas Mahias.

Ryan Dungey won the final Supercross race from the Georgia Dome.

Ryan Reed won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Daytona. Kaz Grala won the Truck race, his first career victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One continues testing this week from Barcelona.
NASCAR heads north to Atlanta.
The Supercars season begins in Adelaide.
Supercross crosses the border and will race under a roof in Toronto.
The Road to Indy series will be testing this week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.