Thursday, June 22, 2017

Track Walk: Road America 2017

The summer portion of the IndyCar season starts at Road America
The tenth round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the Kohler Grand Prix from Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Scott Dixon leads the IndyCar championship with 326 points despite having yet to win a race this season. Thirteen points behind Dixon is the defending IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud, who will be the famed Menards livery this weekend and this year's Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato is a point behind Pagenaud. Hélio Castroneves rounds out the top four in the championship, 21 points behind Dixon. This year's race will be five laps longer than last year's race at 55 laps in distance.

Coverage
Time: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday June 25th. Green flag will be at 1:17 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Kevin Lee is in the booth with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy in the booth with Jon Beekhuis, Marty Snider, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
Friday:
First Practice- 11:45 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Second Practice- 4:15 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Saturday: 
Third Practice- 12:00 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 4:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have taped coverage of this session at 5:00 p.m. ET).
Sunday:
Warm-Up- 9:00 a.m. ET (30-miunte session).
Race- 1:17 p.m. ET (55 laps)

Robert Wickens Subs in for France Stranded Mikhail Aleshin (Update: Or Not)
Mercedes-Benz DTM driver Robert Wickens will make his IndyCar debut this weekend in the #7 Lucas Oil Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, as Mikhail Aleshin has not been able to leave France due to immigration issues after he raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend. Aleshin will not make it to Road America in time for Friday's activities.

Wickens is in his sixth season in the DTM. He has won four races in 72 starts and finished fourth in the championship last year, the top Mercedes-Benz driver. This season he finished second and third in the two Lausitzring races and he finished eighth at the Hungaroring last week. Prior to his DTM career, the Canadian won the 2006 Formula BMW USA championship, finished third in the 2007 Atlantic Championship, second in the 2009 Formula 2 Championship, second in the 2010 GP3 Series championship and he won the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 Series championship over the likes of Jean-Éric Vergne and Alexander Rossi. Wickens drove in a free practice at the 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for Marussia Virgin Racing. He also won a A1GP sprint race on the streets of Durban in 2008.

This is not the first time Wickens and his fellow Canadian Hinchcliffe have been teammates. They shared time driving for Team Canada in A1GP in 2007-08. Wickens tested an IndyCar with SPM at Sebring on February 28th in a ride-swap with James Hinchcliffe, who in turned tested Wickens' DTM car at ACI Vallelunga Circuit just north of Rome on March 17th. Wickens made one start at Road America. He finished seventh at the track in the Atlantic Championship in 2007.

Update: Mikhail Aleshin has been approved to leave France and he is on his way back to the United States and Road America for this weekend's race. It appears Wickens will participate in the two Friday practice sessions but confirmation over who will be in the #7 Honda for the rest of the weekend is still to come.

Power and Rahal in Great Form Heading to Top Track
Few left Texas Motor Speedway in a happy mood but two drivers who are heading in the right direction as the IndyCar schedule turns to the final half of the season are Will Power and Graham Rahal.

Power sits fifth in the championship on 286 points, trailing Dixon by 40 points but Power is coming off his second victory of the season as he took victory at the Texas round and he finished third in the race before that at Belle Isle. Rahal is three points behind Power in the championship. He is the only other repeat winner this season after he swept the Belle Isle doubleheader and Rahal finished fourth at Texas. The good news for Power and Rahal is they look to continue their respective runs at a track both have had respectable success.

Last year, Power won in dominant fashion from pole position and led 46 of 50 laps in the first Road America race in nine years. The Australian's first two starts at Road America did not got to plan after having an off course excursion in 2006 and having a gearbox failure after starting second in 2007. Power could become the first driver to win consecutive Road America races since Jacques Villeneuve in 1994-95. Power has not won consecutive years at one track since 2012 when he won at Barber for the second consecutive year and he won at São Paulo for the third consecutive year.

Road America was at the start of a summer swing of success for Power in 2016. His Road America victory was his second consecutive after he won the second race of the Belle Isle doubleheader. After Road America, Power alternated runner-up finishes and victories from Iowa to Pocono. It was the best six-race stretch of Power's career with an average finish of 1.333.

Rahal finished third last year after starting sixth on the grid and he led two laps during a pit cycle. It was Rahal's second consecutive podium at Road America, as he finished third in the 2007, his only other IndyCar start at the track. Rahal is coming off three consecutive top five finishes and he is looking to match his career best streak of four consecutive top five finishes, which occurred in 2015.

Can Anyone Claw Back Into the Championship Picture?
This year's IndyCar season is much tighter than the year prior. Simon Pagenaud entered last year's Road America race with an 80-point lead over Dixon, and Hélio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden were the only other drivers within 100 points of the Frenchman. This year the top nine in the championship are covered by 72 points and 12 drivers are within 100 points of Dixon.

Josef Newgarden is only six points behind Rahal in the championship but he let valuable points slip through his hands at Texas after an ambitious move in turn four put him in the wall and the Tennessean has failed to finish in the top ten in three of the last five races after starting the season with four consecutive top ten finishes, including a victory at Barber.

Tony Kanaan is coming off an unpopular runner-up finish and he finished runner-up to Power last year at Road America, which was Kanaan's first podium on a natural-terrain road course since he finished third at Sonoma in 2008. Kanaan's last five runner-up finishes have come in the month of June. Only once has Kanaan won the race immediately after a runner-up finish. That was in 2004 when he won at Texas the race after he finished second in the Indianapolis 500. He sits eighth in the championship on 264 points.

Ten points behind Kanaan is Alexander Rossi. Rossi had a streak of four consecutive top ten finishes end at Texas after contact with Dixon and Kanaan caused Rossi to spin and hit the wall in turn four. That was Rossi's first finish outside the top twenty in his IndyCar career. Rossi had his first visit to Road America in an IndyCar hampered by a poor starting position after a red flag in his qualifying group and a front wing change during the race, leaving him with a 15th-place finish.

While Power and Rahal head to Road America on a high, James Hinchcliffe heads to Wisconsin on a slump. While he remains in the top ten in the championship, sitting on 232 points, he has fallen five spots since the Barber round and he has failed to finish in the top ten in five of the last six races with three retirements from the last four races. Before this stretch, Hinchcliffe had been running at the finish of 37 of the previous 38 races. He has never retired from three consecutive races in his IndyCar career.

Max Chilton and Ed Jones are just outside the top ten in the championship, three points and four points behind Hinchcliffe respectively. Chilton set fastest lap for last year's Road America race but he ran out of fuel at the end of one of his stints and finished two laps down in 20th. Jones ran in Indy Lights last year at Road America where he finished fourth and finished 13th after a collision with his then-Carlin teammate Félix Serrallés.

Road to Indy
While IndyCar was nose to the grind nose for the better part of two months, the three Road to Indy series have had an extended break but that all changes this weekend as for the first time since the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend all three series will be at the same race track.

Kyle Kaiser left the Freedom 100 with the Indy Lights championship lead on 151 points. The Juncos Racing driver had scored four consecutive podiums, including a victory on the IMS road course prior to a ninth-place finish in the Freedom 100. Tenth in the Freedom 100 and 14 points behind Kaiser is Andretti Autosports' Nico Jamin. Colton Herta had a May to forget with finishes of 12th, tenth and 13th after a turn two, lap one accident in the Freedom 100. Herta dropped to third in the championship, trailing Kaiser by 22 points.

Belardi's Aaron Telitz and Carlin's Neil Alberico are tied on 122 points but Telitz, a Wisconsin-native, holds the tiebreaker with a victory and Telitz finished second in the Freedom 100. Alberico has five top five finishes in seven races this year. A point behind the pair of Americans is the Freedom 100 winner and Carlin's Matheus Leist. The Brazilian driver has finished on the podium in the last two races. Belardi's Santiago Urrutia finished outside the top ten in three of the first four races but has recovered with three consecutive top ten finishes and he is on 105 points, three ahead of Carlin's Zachary Claman DeMelo.

Shelby Blackstock sits on 90 points, four ahead of third-place finisher at the Freedom 100, Dalton Kellett. Nicolas Dapero is two points behind Kellett and six points ahead of Ryan Norman. Juan Piedrahita and Garth Rickards are tied on 68 points.

Last year at Road America, Zach Veach and Urrutia split the Indy Lights races while Telitz swept the Pro Mazda races.

Race one of the Indy Lights weekend will take place at 1:00 p.m. ET on Saturday and the second race will be at 9:45 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Pro Mazda hasn't been on track since the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend in the middle of May and that weekend saw a change in the championship lead as Victor Franzoni swept the weekend and the Juncos Racing driver has 116 points, six ahead of Cape Motorsports' Anthony Martin, who finished second and fourth that weekend. Martin swept the U.S. F2000 races at Road America last year.

T.J. Fischer is the only driver other than Franzoni to stand on the podium in all four races this year but the Team Pelfrey driver sits on 91 points. Fischer's teammate Carlos Cunha Filho sits on 71 points and he finished third in the second race on the IMS road course, his first career podium finish. Nikita Lastochkin sits on 66 points, five ahead of Sting Ray Robb and Phillippe Denes.

Pro Mazda will race at 2:35 p.m. ET on Friday and at 3:05 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Oliver Askew has won five consecutive U.S. F2000 races and he finished second in the season opener, giving the Floridan 188 points and a 60-point lead over the Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, who has four podiums from the first six races. Kaylen Frederick has three podiums this season but a disqualification in the first IMS road course race cost him a second-place finish and he is 78 points behind Askew.

Parker Thompson sits on 100 points and he is still looking for his first victory this year. He had three victories at this time last year. Unfortunately, Dakota Dickerson, who is fifth in the championship, has had his season end prematurely with Newman Wachs Racing due to funding issues. Robert Megennis won the season opener at St. Petersburg but he has not stood on the podium since and he has 82 points.

The first U.S. F2000 race is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. ET on Friday with race two of the weekend scheduled for 2:10 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Pirelli World Challenge
After three consecutive SprintX rounds, two of which took place during the month of May, Pirelli World Challenge returns with its first traditional sprint round since Long Beach in April.

Cadillac's Michael Cooper leads the overall GT Drivers' championship on 145 points, ten ahead of Patrick Long of Wright Motorsports Porsche and K-PAX Racing McLaren's Álvaro Parente. Parente is the top driver in the Sprint Drivers' championship as he has won two of the first three sprint races this season. Cooper's only victory this season was the lone SprintX race at Mosport after rain cancelled the second race, which will be made up at Circuit of the Americas on Labor Day weekend. Long is the only driver to have won a Sprint and SprintX race this season. While Cooper leads the overall GT Drivers' championship, he is eighth in the Sprint championship.

Parente sits on 70 points in the Sprint championship, Long is on 69 points and Alex Riberas is third on 54 points but he will miss this race after he missed the last two SprintX rounds due to damage suffered to his R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari at Mosport. Parente's teammate Bryan Sellers sits on 50 points while Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell rounds out the top five on 43 points. GMG Racing Porsche driver Alec Udell is a surprise sixth in the championship on 41 points while TR3 Racing Ferrari's Daniel Mancinelli is tied with Cooper on 38 points but holds the tiebreaker with a fourth-place finish at Long Beach.

Ryan Dalziel and James Sofronas round out the top ten with the CRP Racing Mercedes driver Dalziel on 34 points and Sofronas on 26 points. Michael Schein is the top GT-A driver in the championship in 11th on 25 points. Ryan Eversley swept the Road America races last year and the Acura NSX GT3 driver is currently tied with Jon Fogarty of Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Porsche on 23 points.

The first GT race will be on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. ET and the Sunday race will take place at 10:55 a.m. ET.

This weekend features a unique sight for Pirelli World Challenge, as the GTS series will be joined by ten invited drivers from the TC series for two races this weekend.

Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4 driver Lawson Aschenbach leads the GTS championship with 173 points but he has yet to win this season. He has seven podium finishes from the first eight races with four runner-up finishes and his worst finish has been fifth. Forty-six points behind Aschenbach is another driver yet to win this season, Martin Barkey. The Mantella Autosport KTM driver hasn't even stood on the podium this year but he does have four top five finishes.

Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche's Rodrigo Baptista is coming off sweeping the Lime Rock Park weekend and he is now third in the championship on 117 points, 13 points ahead of his teammate Nate Stacy, who finished second and third at Lime Rock Park. Anthony Mantella rounds out the top five in the championship on 100 points but he will not be at the Road America round. Ian James is coming off a second-place finish in the first Lime Rock Park race and the Panoz driver sits on 82 points, one point ahead of Tony Gaples, the top GTS amateur driver.

ANSA Motorsport swept the Virginia International Raceway weekend with Nico Jamin and Austin Versteeg, last year's IMSA Prototype Lites vice-champion will drive the #13 KTM this weekend. Jade Buford swept the Mosport weekend in the #45 SIN R1 GT4 for Racers Edge Motorsports but Chris Beaufait will be in that car this weekend.

Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker return for the first time since the St. Petersburg weekend in Ginettas for Performance Motorsports Group. Wisconsin's own Jeff Courtney scored two runner-up finishes at VIR and he is back in a Maserati for JCR Motorsports.

The first combined GTS/TC race will follow the GT race on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. ET with the second race at 3:45 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be the tenth IndyCar race to occur on June 25th and first since Iowa in 2011, which is Marco Andretti's most recent victory.

Five previous Road America races went over 50 laps in length, most recently the 2007 race was 53 laps in length.

The longest Road America race in distance was in 2002, which was 60 laps and covered 242.88 miles. Cristiano da Matta won that race on his way to the championship.

Will Power's victory last year was Team Penske's and Chevrolet's first Road America victory since Paul Tracy won at the track in 1993.

Honda has not won at Road America since Paul Tracy won with Team Green in 2000.

The last six Road America races have been won by six different drivers (da Matta, Bruno Junqueira, Tagliani, A.J. Allmendinger, Sébastien Bourdais and Power). Power is the only driver in this year's field with a Road America IndyCar victory.

Esteban Gutiérrez returns to the #18 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing after skipping the Texas round. He won at Road America in Formula BMW USA in 2007. Alexander Rossi won the other Formula BMW USA race that weekend. Mexican Héctor Rebaque won the inaugural IndyCar race at Road America in 1982 for Forsythe Racing. It was Rebaque's final IndyCar start.

Canadians have won more at Road America than any other IndyCar track with six victories from four drivers (Uncle Jacques Villeneuve in 1985, Tracy in 1993 and 2000, Jacques Villeneuve in 1994-95 and Tagliani in 2004).

Mikhail Aleshin had finished in the top five in the tenth race of his prior two full-time seasons. He finished second in the second Houston race in 2014 and fifth last year at Iowa.

J.R. Hildebrand won at Road America in the 2006 U.S. F2000 season. It was the final race of the season that year and Hildebrand comfortably took the title over Dane Cameron.

Carlos Muñoz finished tenth last year at Road America. A.J. Foyt Racing entries' average a finish of 17.7 at Road America with the team having only two top ten finishes at the track. A.J. Foyt finished tenth at the track in 1988 and Mike Groff finished eighth in 1991.

Charlie Kimball enters Road America with his best finish this season being eighth. Kimball has had at least one top five finish in the first ten races of the season every year in the DW12-era.

Conor Daly finished seventh at Texas, his first top ten finish of the season and first career top ten finish on an oval. Daly's finishing position has improved over the last four races from 30th at Indianapolis to 22nd at Belle Isle to 12th in the second Belle Isle race to seventh at Belle Isle.

Spencer Pigot has not failed to finish in the top ten in consecutive starts this season.

The average starting position for a Road America winner is 3.69 with a median of third.

The pole-sitter has won the last two Road America races. Never has the pole-sitter won three consecutive Road America races.

Only five of the previous 26 Road America races have been won from outside the top five.

Only once has a Road America winner started outside the top ten. That was Alex Tagliani, who won from 13th starting position in 2004.

The average number of lead changes in a Road America race is 4.08 with a median of four.

The average number of cautions in a Road America race is 2.2 with a median of two.

Possible Milestones:
Ryan Hunter-Reay is one top ten finish away from his 100th career top ten finish.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 47 laps to reach the 5,000 laps led milestone.

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

Predictions
I am at the point where I am just going to pick Scott Dixon until he wins a race so Scott Dixon gets his first victory of the season, extends his championship lead but has Will Power on his coattails most of the race. Ryan Hunter-Reay finally has a good race. Spencer Pigot has another race where he works his way into the top ten after failing to advance from the first round of qualifying. At least one podium finisher uses a four-stop strategy. Dale Coyne Racing gets one car into the second round of qualifying. Sleeper: J.R. Hildebrand.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Growth or Spreading the Weight Around?

The final weekend of spring saw Porsche win at Le Mans in a come from behind fashion. Aston Martin capitalized on a Corvette flat tire. Elsewhere in the world of motorsports, there was a hectic finish in World Superbike at Misano and an Italian ended British dominance in his homeland. Team Penske's quest to take over the world continues. DTM saw a first time winner who also became a first time championship leader. There was a photo finish in Michigan. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Growth or Spreading the Weight Around?
There were a few new names at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this May. Juncos Racing made its IndyCar debut with two cars driven by Spencer Pigot and Sebastián Saavedra. Harding Racing, a team that came from nothing, made its debut and for its first race in any series the team finished ninth in the Indianapolis 500 with Gabby Chaves. Michael Shank Racing finally made it to the Speedway five years after being left out in the cold during the start of the DW12-era in a partnership with Andretti Autosport to run Jack Harvey.

The new life in this series has rejuvenated the IndyCar faithful and some believe things are starting to improve for the series after watching over a half-dozen teams shut their doors since the DW12-era started in 2012.  The series started 2017 down to eight team owners as KV Racing closed its doors after just over a decade of operation. Harding Racing has even come back for its second outing and it finished fifth at Texas. Juncos Racing has made its intention to be in IndyCar in the very near future. Shank has done the Indianapolis 500 and while his desire to run IndyCar to full-time may have waned since 2012, the man hasn't said no to full-time expansion.

However, in light of the number of IndyCar teams increasing, the question has to be asked if IndyCar will be growing with these additions or will the series be spreading the weight around?

On paper, it would be growth should everything else remain consistent. If all eight current teams stay on the grid and Juncos, Harding and Shank enter than eight would become 11 but motorsports is a little trickier than that. It isn't a sports league. It isn't the National Hockey League, which is seeing the Vegas Golden Knights become the 31st franchise after 16 seasons at 30 teams. Motorsports has to be more complicated than that.

It has been very difficult for the current IndyCar teams, as they have had to take on an increased burden just to keep the grid at a respectable size the last two or three seasons. Since the start of the DW12-era, Penske has added a car, Foyt has become a two-car team, Ed Carpenter Racing has become a two-car team and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has become a two-car team. While four teams have increased their operations, the grid size has shrunk since the first race of the DW12-era at St. Petersburg in 2012 from 26 entries to 21 at most races this season as the likes of Dragon Racing, Panther Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, HVM Racing and KV Racing have all left the series. Most of those teams died. Dragon Racing moved to Formula E. Dreyer & Reinbold are an Indianapolis 500-only operation. And let's not forget to mention that Bryan Herta Autosport merged with Andretti Autosport.

New teams coming into IndyCar doesn't necessarily mean bolstering the grid and giving a bunch of young faces chomping at the bit to be full-time an opportunity to show what they got. If anything, it will just ease the strain on the existing teams. This is also forgetting to mention that any grid expansion is limited to the amount of full-time engine leases Chevrolet and Honda want to give out. Chevrolet could give out a few more, as there are only eight full-time Chevrolets but Honda is pretty much tapped out at 13 full-time cars.

If Juncos comes in with two cars and Harding and Shank are both single-car operations it could mean the three four-car armadas at Penske, Ganassi and Andretti each decreasing to three-car teams, Chevrolet increasing to 10 full-time entries and Honda decreasing to a dozen and the grid growing by one full-time entry despite three new teams joining IndyCar full-time.

Some are probably disheartened by the thought of three teams coming in meaning only one more car on the grid but the current economic state of the IndyCar doesn't allow for much than that. It is expensive to sponsor race cars and currently IndyCar isn't a playground companies want to play at. Plus, with the limited engine leases the grid isn't going to explode to 28 full-time cars overnight.

You are probably upset at the thought of IndyCar only having 22 full-time cars even if the number of teams goes from eight to 11 but I would argue small growth is what the series should be aiming for. You don't want rapid expansion and in two years have teams out of money and closing their doors and end up right back where the series is currently or perhaps in a worse shape. There were 26 cars from 15 teams on the grid for the first race of the DW12-era. You can't expect to get back to that number with 11 teams. IndyCar needs to add one or two teams at a time and get to 22 full-time entries first and stabilize the series to make it a more enticing place for teams to come race.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Le Mans but did you know...

Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Cup race at Michigan. Denny Hamlin won the Grand National series race by 0.012 seconds over William Byron. John Hunter Nemechek won the Truck race from Gateway.

René Rast won the DTM race from Hungaroring, his first career DTM victory and that victory gave him the championship lead. Paul di Resta won the qualifying race on Saturday.

Tom Sykes and Marco Melandri split the World Superbike races from Misano. Sykes started the final lap in fourth place before Melandri fell and Chaz Davies fell with three corners to go and fell right into the path of Jonathan Rea. Kenan Sofuoglu won the World Supersport race, his fourth consecutive victory and he now trails Lucas Mahias by five points in the championship despite Sofuoglu missing the first two races and retiring in his first start of the season.

Team Penske swept the Supercars races from Hidden Valley Raceway with Fabian Coulthard taking race one and Scott McLaughlin victorious in race two.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar returns to Road America for the second consecutive year.
All three Road to Indy series and Pirelli World Challenge join IndyCar at Road America.
MotoGP heads to its Mecca in the Dutch TT from Assen.
Formula One runs the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for the first time in Baku.
NASCAR runs its first road course race of the season at Sonoma.
The Blancpain Endurance Series runs a 1000km race at Circuit Paul Ricard.
The World Touring Car Championship run around some streets in Portugal.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

I Can't Come Up With a Word For the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans

You thought it couldn't get any crazier than 2016 at Le Mans. The overall leading Toyota dying on the penultimate lap and coming to a halt just after starting the final lap and being passed Porsche moments later.

This year somehow found a way to top that. All six LMP1 cars broke down at some point. Two Toyotas died within the span of 90 minutes in the middle of the night while most of Europe slept. The #1 Porsche was on top and it appeared it was another year of Porsche reliability proving to be enough. During breakfast, André Lotterer had a 13-lap lead over an LMP2 car, the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Gibson. There was room to breathe but it wouldn't be that simple.

The #1 Porsche died after 20 hours and just like that the top four cars overall were LMP2 entries with the two Rebellion Racing Orecas and a Signatech Alpine following the leading Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca and the #2 Porsche was two laps down, fifth overall.

It proved to be enough time but you could never be certain it would be enough. The #2 Porsche took the overall lead heading into the final hour and Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber would win overall by a lap, the 19th victory for Porsche and third consecutive overall victory for Porsche. Hartley was the only Porsche LMP1 driver without an overall Le Mans victory. Bernhard had won with Audi seven years ago. Bamber won two years ago. Bamber and Hartley become the first pair of New Zealanders to win overall since Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren won in the Ford GT in 1966.

The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Gibson of Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent were able to hang on and finish second overall and take the LMP2 class victory. It is a career-best overall Le Mans finish for Jarvis, who finished third overall three times as an Audi factory driver. The #13 Rebellion Racing Oreca-Gibson of Nelson Piquet, Jr., Mathias Beche and David Heinemeier Hansson finished third overall, second in class with the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Gibson of David Cheng, Tristan Gommendy and Alex Brundle finishing fourth overall and third in class.

Toyota would get a car to the finish with the #8 TS050 Hybrid of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima, the trio who had an overall victory slip away from them last year, coming home ninth overall.

If the LMP1 vs. LMP2 overall battle wasn't enough for you over than the GTE-Pro battle must have put you over the top. The #63 Corvette of Jordan Taylor and #97 Aston Martin of Jonathan Adam were covered by less than a second for most of the final 25 minutes. Adam made a lunge up the inside of Taylor at Arnage with just over five minutes to go but Adam went wide on exit and made contact with Taylor. Taylor started the penultimate lap with a 1.5 second lead and then he blew the second chicane on the Mulsanne straight and the left front tire was punctured.

Adam took the lead in the Ford chicane before the start of the final lap and the Scotsman would get the #97 Aston Martin home first in class giving Adam his first career Le Mans class victory, Daniel Serra a victory on his Le Mans debut and Darren Turner his first class victory since 2009. Taylor wasn't able to hold on to second. Harry Tincknell overtook Taylor on the final lap and while Ford doesn't go back-to-back, Tincknell, Andy Priaulx and Pipo Derani get second in class and the #67 Ford GT is looking good in the GT World Endurance Drivers' Championship. Taylor limped home in third in GTE-Pro. Jan Magnussen still hasn't won a class at Le Mans since 2009 and Antonio García since 2011.

The one class that seemed to never be in doubt was GTE-Am. The #84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari never put a wheel wrong. Robert Smith and Dries Vanthoor get Le Mans victories on both their Le Mans debuts. Will Stevens gets a class victory in his second Le Mans appearance, his first in a GT class. Stevens finished second in LMP2 last year. Two laps behind Smith, Stevens and Vanthoor was the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Aaron Scott and Marco Cioci. Scuderia Corsa made it a clean sweep of the GTE-Am podium for Ferrari with the #62 Ferrari of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Cooper MacNiel, the only all-American line-up in this year's race, finishing third. Bell and Sweedler have finished on the GTE-Am podium the last three consecutive years.

I wrote that I couldn't come up with a word for this year's race. I think this year's race could be revolutionary. Porsche won but the LMP1 class appearances to be dying. Porsche seems to be satisfied. Toyota seems to be worn out. Both seem to unwilling to spend any more money. While the two factory efforts appear willing to say goodbye, the LMP2 class was faster than ever. This year's class winner completed nine laps, 76.221 miles more than last year's class winner. Twenty-one of 25 LMP2 starters took the checkered flag.

I am not sure the LMP2 class is about to step up and take the baton as the leading class as LMP1 falls to pieces. Now that Porsche is at 19 overall Le Mans victories, they are likely going to want to get to 20. Should Porsche come back for 2018 and get its 20th victory, what will 2019 look like? The recent months have seen a slight boom in privateer interest in LMP1. ByKolles Racing appears will still be around and Ginetta, SMP Racing and KCMG have expressed interest in privateer LMP1 programs, the former two have programs in the works. If there is one thing 2017 has showed us is that winning Le Mans doesn't require spending an unfathomable amount of money and maybe it starts a trend for years to come.

The 86th 24 Hours of Le Mans is a year away but we exit the 85th edition with loads of uncertainty surrounding this race and the entire FIA World Endurance Championship. How different will this race look in a year's time?


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

2017 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Preview

Part two of this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans preview focuses on the two GTE classes, GTE-Pro and GTE-Am. Of the 60 Le Mans entries, 29 are GTE cars with the split being 13 in GTE-Pro and 16 in GTE-Am.

As with the prototypes preview, this preview goes entry by entry and gives you each driver with their Le Mans appearances, including this year in parentheses, followed by that entry's result on the Le Mans Test Day and a little additional information on each entry.

GTE-Pro
#51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: James Calado (3rd), Alessandro Pier Guidi (2nd), Lucas di Grassi (5th)
Test Day Results: 8th
About This Team: Calado and Pier Guidi have finished second in both GTE-Pro races this season while Calado has finished on the podium in eight consecutive GTE-Pro races but he hasn't won since Nürburgring last year and that is Calado's only victory in 26 WEC starts. Di Grassi's four previous Le Mans appearances were all with the Audi LMP1 program. He finished on the overall podium three times and his worst finish was fourth overall.

Update: Michele Rugolo will replace Lucas di Grassi as the Brazilian is dealing from an ankle injury that he suffered playing soccer. This will be the Italian's fifth Le Mans appearance but first since 2014. He finished third in GTE-Am in 2012 with Krohn Racing.

#63 Corvette Racing - GM Chevrolet Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Jan Magnussen (19th), Antonio García (12th), Jordan Taylor (6th)
Test Day Results: 4th
About This Team: Magnussen and García head to Le Mans having won two of four GT Le Mans races in the IMSA season this year. Taylor's unbeaten streak in the DPi has been well covered. Taylor has contested all five of his Le Mans appearances with Corvette. This is his first time with Magnussen and Garciá after two years with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner. Magnussen has not won at Le Mans since 2009. Magnussen and García won the 12 Hours of Sebring earlier this year with Mike Rockenfeller.

#64 Corvette Racing - GM Chevrolet Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Oliver Gavin (17th), Tommy Milner (9th), Marcel Fässler (12th)
Test Day Results: 1st
About This Team: While Corvette was fastest at the Le Mans test day, Corvette has been handed a 0.2 mm smaller air restrictor, which should decrease horsepower by five to ten horsepower. Corvette is the only manufacture to have been handed a balance of performance adjustment. Gavin and Milner won at Long Beach but their next best finish this season was seventh at Austin. Fässler returns to GTE for the first time since he drove with Corvette in 2009.

#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT
Drivers: Stefan Mücke (11th), Olivier Pla (10th), Billy Johnson (2nd)
Test Day Results: 13th
About This Team: Mücke, Pla and Johnson were the top finishing WEC championship-eligible entry in GTE-Pro last year but were fourth in the class behind three IMSA entries, two of which were Ford GTs. Mücke and Pla finished second twice last year at Fuji and Shanghai. This team finished third at Spa-Francorchamps. Johnson is only confirmed through Le Mans.

#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT
Drivers: Andy Priaulx (4th), Harry Tincknell (4th), Pipo Derani (3rd)
Test Day Results: 11th
About This Team: Priaulx, Tincknell and Derani lead the GT World Endurance Drivers' Championship after a victory at Silverstone and a fourth-place finish at Spa-Francorchamps. Like Johnson in the #66 Ford, Derani is only confirmed for the first three rounds of the FIA WEC season. This will be the Brazilian's first appearance in a GT class after contesting the last two years in LMP2.

#68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT
Drivers: Joey Hand (3rd), Dirk Müller (6th), Tony Kanaan (1st)
Test Day Results: 12th
About This Team: Hand and Müller look to defend their Le Mans victory as well add to their 24 Hours of Daytona victory earlier this season. Kanaan will make his Le Mans debut substituting for the injured Sébastien Bourdais after the Frenchman was hurt in Indianapolis 500 qualifying. Hand, Müller and Bourdais also finished second in this year's 12 Hours of Sebring. Kanaan won the 24 Hours of Daytona overall in 2015 and he won in the LMP2 class at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2007.

#69 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT
Drivers: Ryan Briscoe (4th), Scott Dixon (2nd), Richard Westbrook (7th)
Test Day Results: 10th
About This Team: This trio finished third in GTE-Pro last year. It was the second time Westbrook finished third in class at Le Mans. Briscoe and Westbrook's best finish this year in IMSA was second at Long Beach. Dixon enters having not won yet in the IndyCar season.

#71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Davide Rigon (4th), Sam Bird (4th), Miguel Molina (1st)
Test Day Results: 7th
About This Team: Rigon and Bird are coming off of victory in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, their second consecutive victory in the Belgian race. Rigon finished second at Le Mans in GTE-Pro in 2015 while Bird finished third in LMP2 that year. Molina makes his Le Mans debut and steps up from his full-time ride with Spirit of Race in GTE-Am. Prior to his role with the Ferrari GT program, Molina made 87 starts over seven seasons in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, which saw him pick up two victories.

#82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Toni Vilander (9th), Giancarlo Fisichella (8th), Pierre Kaffer (11th)
Test Day Results: 9th
About This Team: Vilander and Fisichella have finished on the GTE-Pro podium five of the last six years, which includes two class victories. The one year Vilander and Fisichella didn't finish on the podium was the year they were split and neither driver finished on the podium. Vilander won the Bathurst 12 Hour earlier this year while he and Fisichella won Petit Le Mans last October with James Calado. Kaffer won in GT2 at Le Mans in 2009 with Risi Competizione and Mika Salo and Jaime Melo were his co-drivers.

#91 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Richard Lietz (11th), Frédéric Makowiecki (7th), Patrick Pilet (9th)
Test Day Results: 2nd
About This Team: Leitz and Makowiecki finished third and fifth in the first two rounds of the WEC season. Leitz is a three-time Le Mans class winner and this is his 11th consecutive year contesting Le Mans and all have been in a Porsche in a GT class. Makowiecki has failed to finish fourth of his six starts but he has finished second and third in class the two years he has finished. Pilet's best Le Mans finished was second in GTE-Pro in 2013.

#92 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Michael Christensen (3rd), Kévin Estre (3rd), Dirk Werner (3rd)
Test Day Results: 3rd
About This Team: Christensen heads to Le Mans after winning in the GT Daytona class at this year's 24 Hours of Daytona with Alegra Motorsports. Christensen and Estre finished sixth at Spa-Franchorchamps after retiring at Silverstone. This is Werner's first Le Mans appearance since 2011 when he drove for BMW. Werner failed to finish both of his prior Le Mans starts.

#95 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Drivers: Nicki Thiim (4th), Marco Sørensen (3rd), Richie Stanaway (3rd)
Test Day Results: 5th
About This Team: Thiim and Sørensen are the defending GT World Endurance Drivers' Champions but their best finish through the first two races this year was sixth. Thiim and Sørensen finished fifth in class last year, second of the WEC championship-eligble entries. Stanaway is confirmed only through Le Mans. Stanaway has finished sixth in class in both his Le Mans starts.

#97 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Drivers: Darren Turner (15th), Jonathan Adam (2nd), Daniel Serra (1st)
Test Day Results: 6th
About This Team: Turner and Adam are defending European Le Mans Series GTE champions. Turner has seven class podiums at Le Mans but he has not won in class since 2008. Like Stanaway, Serra is only confirmed through Le Mans. The #97 Aston Martin has finished seventh in the first two races of the WEC season. Serra competes full-time in the Stock Car Brasil series and he currently second in that championship.

GTE-Am
#50 Larbre Compétition Chevrolet Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Romain Brandela (3rd), Christian Philippon (1st), Fernando Rees (3rd)
Test Day Results: 2nd
About This Team: After competing at Le Mans the last two years with Aston Martin in GTE-Pro, Fernando Rees returns to GTE-Am and Larbre Compétition. He finished sixth in GTE-Pro the last two years. Brandela returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2014 and this will be his first time he is competing in a GT class after running in LMP2 in his first two appearances. Brandela ran at Shanghai last season with Larbre Compétition. Philippon ran the Michelin Le Mans Cup races last year at Le Mans with Larbre Compétition and he will also compete in both Michelin Le Mans Cup races this weekend as well.

#54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Thomas Flohr (1st), Francesco Castellacci (2nd), Olivier Beretta (21st)
Test Day Results: 13th
About This Team: Flohr and Castellacci won the Gulf 12 Hours Pro-Am class in December. They contested the Michelin Le Mans Cup race last year at Circuit de la Sarthe. Last year was the first time Beretta was not at Le Mans since 1995. Beretta is a six-time Le Mans class winner but he has not won since leaving Corvette after the 2011 season. He finished second in GTE-Pro in 2015 with AF Corse.

#55 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Duncan Cameron (3rd), Aaron Scott (2nd), Marco Cioci (6th)
Test Day Results: 5th
About This Team: This is a full-time ELMS entry with the exception of Marco Cioci, who steps in for Matt Griffin, who will be competing with Clearwater Racing. Cameron and Scott were the penultimate finishers in last year's race and the 11th and final finishers in the GTE-Am class having completed 289 laps. Cioci returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2014. He finished fourth in GTE-Pro in 2012 and third in GTE-Am in 2013 and 2014. In 2003, Cioci contested two Indy Lights races, the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis and Chicagoland, both for Sam Schmidt. He finished ninth at Indianapolis.

#60 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Richard Wee (1st), Álvaro Parente (2nd), Hiroki Katoh (7th)
Test Day Results: 16th
About This Team: Parente returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2014 when he competed in the GTE-Am class with AF Corse. He is the defending Pirelli World Challenge GT champion and he has won twice this year in PWC with five podiums from nine races. Wee's only major sports car race was the 2014 3 Hours of Sebring in the ALMS series and he, along with Weng Sun Mok and Hiroshi Hamaguchi won in the GT class that day. This is Katoh's first Le Mans appearance since 2008 and he will be making his first appearance in a GT class.

#61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Weng Sun Mok (2nd), Keita Sawa (2nd), Matt Griffin (6th)
Test Day Results: 9th
About This Team: Clearwater Racing won at Silverstone in the team's debut on the international stage after becoming a powerhouse in the Asian Le Mans Series. Mok and Sawa won the 2015-16 ALMS GT championship and they with Griffin finished fourth in the 2016-17 season. Mok and Sawa finished fourth in class last year in both their Le Mans debuts. Griffin finished third in GTE-Am at Le Mans in 2013.

#62 Scuderia Corse Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Cooper MacNeil (3rd), Bill Sweedler (3rd), Townsend Bell (3rd)
Test Day Results: 4th
About This Team: Sweedler and Bell are the defending GTE-Am winners and the duo finished third in class the year prior. This year, Cooper MacNeil replaces Jeff Segal in the driver line-up. This is MacNeil's first Le Mans appearance since 2014 when he and Jeroen Bleekemolen were a late change to the GTE-Pro class from GTE-Am after Bret Curtis was not cleared to driver after suffering a concussion and a replacement was not allowed. Despite being a man down and the late-class change, MacNeil and Bleekemolen finished fifth in class.

#65 Scuderia Corse Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Christina Nielsen (2nd), Alessandro Balzan (1st), Bret Curtis (2nd)
Test Day Results: 12th
About This Team: Nielsen and Balzan are the defending GT Daytona champions in IMSA and the duo has finished on the GTD podium in the last four races, including three runner-up finishes. Besides his near start in 2014, Curtis will hope to contest this year's race for the first time since 2012 when he drove for Prospeed Competition in a Porsche with the late-Sean Edwads and Abdulaziz al Faisal.

#77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Christian Ried (8th), Marvin Dienst (1st), Matteo Cairoli (1st)
Test Day Results: 3rd
About This Team: This entry has finished third and second in the first two rounds of the WEC season. Ried finished second in the GTE-Am class in 2014 with Proton Competition. Cairoli finished second in the Porsche Supercup championship last year after winning four races and standing on the podium six times in ten races. Dienst competed in the ADAC GT Masters series last year.

#83 DH Racing Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Tracy Krohn (12th), Niclas Jönsson (12th), Andrea Bertolini (6th)
Test Day Results: 8th
About This Team: DH Racing won the 2016-17 Asian Le Mans Series GT championship last year to earn this invitation to Le Mans. Krohn and Jönsson contest Le Mans together for the 12th consecutive year. Krohn and Jönsson has finished on the class podium three times. Bertolini won in the GTE-Am class in 2015 with SMP Racing.

#84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Robert Smith (1st), Will Stevens (2nd), Dries Vanthoor (1st)
Test Day Results: 14th
About This Team: Stevens ran last year with G-Drive Racing in LMP2 and finished second in class. He also won in LMP2 at Fuji and Shanghai last year and he is currently second in the Blancpain Sprint Series and just won the most recent round at Zolder. Vanthoor and Stevens both drive for Belgian Audi Club Team WRT in the Blancpain GT Series. Smith finished second in the ELMS GT Championship last year with JMW Motorsport and picked up three victories in six races.

#86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Michael Wainwright (3rd), Ben Barker (2nd), Nick Foster (1st)
Test Day Results: 11th
About This Team: Wainwright and Barker were the third-best WEC championship-eligible finisher at Le Mans last year in GTE-Am and Gulf Racing UK was fifth-best in GTE-Am as a whole. Gulf Racing UK has finished fourth in GTE-Am in five of the last seven races. Foster finished third in Class B at the 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour.

#88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Klaus Bachler (3rd), Stéphane Lémeret (1st), Khalid Al Qubaisi (5th)
Test Day Results: 10th
About This Team: Bachler finished second in the GTE-Am class on his Le Mans debut in 2014 with Al Qubaisi and Christian Reid as his co-drivers. Al Qubaisi finished third in GTE-Am last year and he is a two-time winner of the Dubai 24 Hours. Lémeret ran the final three races of the 2016-17 ALMS season with DH Racing and was apart of the winning team at Fuji.

#90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Drivers: Salih Yoluc (1st), Euan Hankey (1st), Rob Bell (9th)
Test Day Results: 7th
About This Team: This entry won the opening round of the ELMS season at Silverstone with Nicki Thiim driving in place of Rob Bell. Yoluc could become the first Turkish driver to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Yoluc and Hankey finished second in the Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup and won two races and finished fourth in the Le Mans round last year and they finished fifth in the International GT Open championship. Bell matched his career-best class finish last year when he finished fourth with Clearwater Racing.

#93 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Patrick Long (14th), Abdulaziz Al Faisal (6th), Mike Hedlund (1st)
Test Day Results: 15th
About This Team: Long has finished on the GTE-Am podium the last two years but he is ten years removed from his second and most recent Le Mans class victory, which came in GT2 with IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche with Richard Lietz and Raymond Narac as his co-drivers. Al Faisal has yet to finish better than seventh in class at Le Mans. Hedlund drives full-time for K-PAX Racing McLaren in Pirelli World Challenge. Last year, Hedlund finished fourth in the ELMS GT Championship with Wolf Henzler and they won the 4 Hours of Imola.

#98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana (5th), Pedro Lamy (18th), Mathias Lauda (3rd)
Test Day Results: 1st
About This Team: This entry leads the Endurance Trophy for GTE Am Drivers after finishing second at Silverstone and winning at Spa-Francorchamps. Dalla Lana and Lamy have failed to be classified three of the last four years. Since Dalla Lana became a full-time GTE-Am driver in 2014, he has won 12 of 27 GTE-Am races. Lamy has six class podiums at Le Mans with his only class victory being in 2012 in GTE-Am with Larbre Compétition.

#99 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Drivers: Andrew Howard (2nd), Ross Gunn (1st), Oliver Bryant (2nd)
Test Day Results: 6th
About This Team: Howard won the ELMS GT championship last year with Darren Turner and Alex MacDowell. Gunn won the 2015 GT4 championship in the British GT Championship with Jamie Chadwick. Howard and Gunn are full-time ELMS entries with Darren Turner. Bryant made his Le Mans debut in the GTE-Am class with Team AAI.

Practice begins today at 10:00 a.m. ET. After the four-hour practice session, a two-hour qualifying session will take place at 4:00 p.m. ET. A two-hour practice will be held at 1:00 p.m. ET on Thursday with one final two-hour qualifying session scheduled for 4:00 p.m. ET. A warm-up session will be held at 3:00 a.m. ET on Saturday with the start of the race taking place at 9:00 a.m. ET. 


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

2017 24 Hours of Le Mans Prototypes Preview

Another June has come and for the 85th time a 24-hour race will take place in the heart of France on Circuit de la Sarthe. Sixty cars are entered for this year's race, which doubles as the third round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship season.

This preview will focus on the two prototype classes of LMP1 and LMP2. Porsche has won the last two years at Le Mans and the German manufacture will look to increase its all-time record in Le Mans victories to 19. This will be the Le Mans debut for the new global LMP2 formula, which sees four chassis manufactures all fitted with 4.2 L V8 Gibson Technology engines. This preview goes entry by entry and gives you each driver with their Le Mans appearances, including this year in parentheses, followed by that entry's result on the Le Mans Test Day and a little additional information on each entry.

LMP1
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid
Drivers: Neel Jani (9th), Nick Tandy (5th), André Lotterer (9th)
Test Day Result: 5th
About This Team: Jani, Tandy and Lotterer each won overall at Le Mans the last three years. This is the only line-up in LMP1 with three former overall Le Mans winners. Last year, Jani joined Marcel Fässler as the second Swiss driver to win Le Mans overall. Tandy drove in GTE-Pro last year for Porsche. Last year was just the third time in eight Le Mans appearances Lotterer did not finish on the overall podium. Lotterer has never failed to finish on the podium in consecutive years.

#2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid
Drivers: Brendon Hartley (6th), Timo Bernhard (11th), Earl Bamber (3rd)
Test Day Result: 4th
About This Team: This is the fourth consecutive year Hartley and Bernhard have been teammate at Le  Mans and they have never been the top qualifying Porsche at Le Mans in their three previous appearances. Bamber has finished on the podium in three consecutive starts in an LMP1 car. Hartley and Bamber could be the first pair of New Zealanders to win overall at Le Mans since Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon in 1966.

#4 ByKolles Racing Team ENSO CLM P1/01 - NISMO
Drivers: Oliver Webb (4th), Dominik Kraihamer (7th), Marco Bonanomi (4th)
Test Day Result: 6th
About This Team: ByKolles has had a few different driver line-ups as Robert Kubica and James Rossiter both withdrew from the car prior to Le Mans. Webb is the only returning driver for ByKolles from last year while Kraihamer makes his fifth consecutive appearance in LMP1 as he moves over from Rebellion Racing. Bonanomi returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2015.

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid
Drivers: Mike Conway (4th), Kamui Kobayashi (3rd), Stéphane Sarrazin (16th)
Test Day Result: 1st
About This Team: This line-up finished second overall last year. Sarrazin switched over to the #7 Toyota from the #9 Toyota in place of José María López after he was injured at Silverstone and was forced to miss Spa-Francorchamps. Sarrazin has finished second overall on four occasions. This is the third-time Conway and Sarrazin have been co-drivers at Le Mans.

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid
Drivers: Sébastien Buemi (6th), Anthony Davidson (10th), Kazuki Nakajima (6th)
Test Day Result: 2nd
About This Team: This team remains unchanged from last year's catastrophic failure on the final lap while leading. They have won the first two rounds of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship season. Buemi also currently leads the Formula E championship. 

#9 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid
Drivers: José María López (1st), Yuji Kunimoto (1st), Nicolas Lapierre (10th)
Test Day Result: 3rd
About This Team: Toyota's third entry features two drivers making their Le Mans debut. Two years ago, Nico Hülkenberg and Earl Bamber both won on their Le Mans debut as co-drivers. If Toyota wins, regardless of entry, it will be the third time a Japanese driver has won Le Mans overall. José Frolián González is the only Argentine driver to win Le Mans overall. He did it in 1954 with Maurice Trintignant in a Ferrari 375 Plus. Lapierre has won the last two years at Le Mans in LMP2.

LMP2
#13 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Nelson Piquet, Jr. (3rd), Mathias Beche (5th), David Heinemeier Hansson (6th)
Test Day Result: 6th
About This Team: Heinemeier Hansson won in GTE-Am in 2014 with Aston Martin. He finished second in LMP2 at Le Mans in 2013. Prost technically has a Le Mans class victory as he was apart of the Rebellion Racing entry that took top honors in LMP1-L in 2014, a class that had only two participants. Piquet, Jr. made his Le Mans return last year a decade after he made his debut. 

#17 IDEC Sport Racing Ligier JSP217-Gibson
Drivers: Patrice Lafargue (2nd), Paul Lafargue (1st), David Zollinger (2nd)
Test Day Result: 21st
About This Team: Patrice Lafargue makes his first Le Mans appearance since 2011 while Zollinger returns for the first time since 2010. Paul and Patrice Lafargue raced at Circuit de la Sarthe last year in the Michelin Le Mans Cup race last year. 

#21 Dragonspeed - 10 Star Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Henrik Hedman (1st), Ben Hanley (1st), Felix Rosenqvist (1st)
Test Day Result: 12th
About This Team: This is the only prototype on the grid featuring three rookies. Hedman and Hanley are contesting the European Le Mans Series full-time but their regular third driver, Nicolas Lapierre, is busy with Toyota LMP1 duty. Rosenqvist has split his time this year between Formula E and Super Formula and the Swede picked up his first Formula E victory last week in Berlin. 

#22 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Memo Rojas (2nd), Ryō Hirakawa (2nd), Jose Gutiérrez (1st)
Test Day Result: 13th
About This Team: Rojas and Hirakawa won at Monza in ELMS and they lead the ELMS LMP2 championship. Gutiérrez has transitioned to sports cars the last two years after running in the Pro Mazda series. Gutiérrez won Petit Le Mans in the Prototype Challenge class last year with Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports. This car is run in partnership with Dragonspeed. 

#23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier JSP217-Gibson
Drivers: Fabien Barthez (3rd), Timothé Buret (2nd), Nathanaël Berthon (4th)
Test Day Result: 17th
About This Team: Barthez and Buret team up for the second consecutive year in an LMP2 entry. In 13 ELMS starts, Barthez has finished seventh-place in class six times. Berthon finished fifth and sixth in LMP2 the last two years at Le Mans. 

#24 CEFC Manor TRS Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Tor Graves (4th), Jonathan Hirschi (5th), Jean-Éric Vergne (1st)
Test Day Result: 2nd
About This Team: Graves has failed to finish Le Mans in his last two attempts. Hirschi has not competed at Le Mans since 2013. Vergne is in his first year of sports cars and he has spent the last three years in Formula E, where he has finished second on four occasions and is still looking for his first victory. Vergne's most recent victory was in Formula Renault 3.5 at Circuit Paul Ricard on September 17, 2011. 

#25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Roberto González (1st), Simon Trummer (3rd), Vitaly Petrov (3rd)
Test Day Result: 11th
About This Team: Trummer makes his LMP2 debut at Le Mans. Petrov finished third in class last year with SMP Racing. González's brother Ricardo won in LMP2 at Le Mans in 2013 and he went on to win the LMP2 title that year in WEC.

#26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Romain Rusinov (8th), Pierre Thiriet (7th), Alex Lynn (1st)
Test Day Result: 4th
About This Team: Despite G-Drive Racing's competitiveness at Le Mans the team has yet to win in LMP2 but the team has finished third and second the last two years and won pole position in class last year. TDS Racing is running this entry. Thiriet has twice finished runner-up in LMP2. Lynn attempts to become the first overall 12 Hours of Sebring winner to win a class at Le Mans since 2007 when Frank Biela, Marco Werner and Emanuele Pirro won both races overall with Audi.

#27 SMP Racing Dallara P217-Gibson
Drivers: Mikhail Aleshin (3rd), Sergey Sirotkin (1st), Viktor Shaitar (4th)
Test Day Result: 18th
About This Team: This is the third consecutive year Aleshin will run at Le Mans. He finished seventh in LMP2 last year. Shaitar won in GTE-Am two years ago at Le Mans and he finished third in LMP2 last year. Sirotkin finished third in the GP2 Series the last two years and he is currently a Renault F1 reserve driver.

#28 TDS Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Emmanuel Collard (23rd), François Perrodo (5th), Matthieu Vaxivière (1st)
Test Day Result: 7th
About This Team: For the 23rd consecutive year, Emmanuel Collard will participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He has two class victories including in LMP2 in 2009 with Team Essex driving a Porsche RS Spyder Evo to victory with Kristian Poulsen and Casper Elgaard. Perrodo and Collard have been co-drivers for the last four years and this is Perrodo's first year in LMP2. Vaxivière was six and a half months old when Collard made his Le Mans debut.

#29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara P217-Gibson
Drivers: Rubens Barrichello (1st), Frits van Eerd (1st), Jan Lammers (23rd)
Test Day Result: 16th
About This Team: The 45-year-old Brazilian and 50-year-old Dutchman van Eerd are each making their Le Mans debut. Lammers returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2011. His most recent class podium was in 1996 with Mario Andretti and Derek Warwick when they finished third in LMP1 in a Courage C36.

#31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Nicolas Prost (10th), Bruno Senna (5th), Julien Canal (8th)
Test Day Result: 10th
About This Team: After two consecutive second-place finishes to start the WEC season, this trio is third in the Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers. Canal is a three-time Le Mans class winner, including being apart of the final GT1 winning team driving a Saleen S7-R for Larbre Compétition. His other two class victories were in GTE-Am. Prost was apart of the Rebellion Racing entry that took top honors in LMP1-L in 2014, giving him a class victory at Le Mans. Senna has eighth consecutive podium finishes in LMP2. 

#32 United Autosports Ligier JSP217-Gibson
Drivers: William Owen (1st), Hugo de Sadeleer (1st), Filipe Albuquerque (4th)
Test Day Result: 14th
About This Team: This team won the season opener of the ELMS at Silverstone. Albuquerque has finished on the podium in his last six WEC starts. Owen makes his Le Mans debut after spending three years in the Pro Mazda series. De Sadeleer competed the last three years in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 Series.

#33 Eurasia Motorsport Ligier JSP217-Gibson
Drivers: Jacques Nicolet (9th), Pierre Nicolet (1st), Erik Maris (4th)
Test Day Result: 25th
About This Team: At 61 years old, Jacques Nicolet looks for his first career class victory at Le Mans and he will do it with his son Pierre. The Nicolets ran in the LMP3 class in ELMS last season for OAK Racing as did Maris. Maris has been running at the finish every year he has competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

#34 Tockwith Motorsports Ligier JSP217-Gibson
Drivers: Philip Hanson (1st), Nigel Moore (2nd), Karun Chandhok (5th)
Test Day Result: 19th
About This Team: Tockwith Motorsports surprisingly won the Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 championship to earn this entry. Hanson and Moore are contesting the European Le Mans Series full-time. This is Moore's first Le Mans appearance since 2009 when he drove a Ginetta-Zytek in LMP1 with Lawrence Tomlinson and Richard Dean. Chandhok has finished in the top six in class in three of his four previous Le Mans starts. Hanson makes his Le Mans debut at 17 years old and he turns 18 years old on July 5th.

#35 Signatech Alpine Matmut Alpine A470-Gibson
Drivers: Nelson Panciatici (6th), Pierre Ragues (11th), André Negrão (1st)
Test Day Result: 1st
About This Team: This car topped the time sheet on the test day. Ragues has failed to finish five of his previous ten starts. Panciatici's only WEC LMP2 victory was Shanghai 2015. Ragues has never won in WEC. Negrão finished sixth in the Indy Lights championship last year, which saw him finish on the podium five times.

#36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Alpine A470-Gibson
Drivers: Romain Dumas (17th), Gustavo Menezes (2nd), Matt Rao (2nd)
Test Day Result: 8th
About This Team: One of last year's overall winner Dumas pairs with one of last year's LMP2 winners Menezes as the Frenchman replaces Nicolas Lapierre. This is Dumas' first Le Mans appearance in LMP2. Besides his two overall victories Dumas won in GTE-Pro in 2013. Menezes also won the Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers last year with Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi. Rao competed at Le Mans last year with Manor. 

#37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: David Cheng (4th), Tristan Gommendy (8th), Alex Brundle (4th)
Test Day Result: 3rd
About This Team: Brundle returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2014. He finished second in LMP2 in 2013. Brundle won the final three LMP2 races in WEC last year with G-Drive Racing on top of his ELMS championship with United Autosports. Cheng's best finish at Le Mans was seventh in class in 2014. Gommendy finished second in class in 2014.

#38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Ho-Pin Tung (5th), Thomas Laurent (1st), Oliver Jarvis (7th)
Test Day Result: 5th
About This Team: This team currently leads the Endurance Trophy for LMP2 drivers in the WEC after a victory at Silverstone and third at Spa-Francorchamps. This is Jarvis' first Le Mans appearance in LMP2. Tung has never finished better than seventh in class in his previous four Le Mans starts. Laurent ran for M.Racing - YMR in LMP3 in ELMS last year and he won the season finale in class at Estoril.

#39 Graff Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Eric Trouillet (1st), Enzo Guibbert (1st), James Winslow (3rd)
Test Day Result: 20th
About This Team: Trouillet and Guibbert won twice in LMP3 in ELMS and they have moved up to the LMP2 class this year in ELMS. Winslow replaces the Paul Petit as the third driver. Winslow has been a regular in the Asian Le Mans Series the last two years.

#40 Graff Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: James Allen (1st), Richard Bradley (4th), Franck Matelli (1st)
Test Day Result: 9th
About This Team: Bradley won in LMP2 two years ago with KCMG. This team finished fourth and eighth in the first two rounds of the ELMS season.

#43 Keating Motorsports Riley MK30-Gibson
Drivers: Ben Keating (3rd), Jeroen Bleekemolen (12th), Ricky Taylor (4th)
Test Day Result: 23rd
About This Team: This is the lone Riley entered for this year's race. Keating and Bleekemolen will partner for the third consecutive year and Taylor becomes their third different partner. Bleekmolen won in LMP2 in 2008 with Van Merksteijn Motorsport in a Porsche RS Spyder Evo with Peter Van Merksteijn, Sr. and Jos Verstappen. Like Lynn, Taylor could become the first overall Sebring winner to win a class at Le Mans since 2007. Taylor enters having won five consecutive races in IMSA this year. 

#45 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP217-Gibson
Drivers: Mark Patterson (5th), Matt McMurry (2nd), Vincent Capillaire (4th)
Test Day Result: 22nd
About This Team: Patterson has been running at the finish of all four of his Le Mans starts. McMurry makes his second Le Mans appearance at 19 years old, three years after becoming the youngest driver to ever compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Capillaire finished fourth in LMP2 in 2014 with Sébastien Loeb Racing. Algarve Pro Racing earned this spot by winning the Asian Le Mans Series championship.

#47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara P217-Gibson
Drivers: Andrea Belicchi (9th), Roberto Lacorte (1st), Giorgio Sernagiotto (1st)
Test Day Result: 15th
About This Team: Belicchi returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2014. His previous five Le Mans starts came with Rebellion Racing. An Italian driver has never won the LMP2 class at Le Mans. Laporte and Sernagiotto ran in LMP3 last year in ELMS and they improved their finishing position in every race with the duo finishing eighth in the finale at Estoril. 

#49 ARC Bratislava Ligier JSP17-Gibson
Drivers: Miroslav Konôpka (3rd), Konstantīns Calko (1st), Rik Breukers (1st)
Test Day Result: 24th
About This Team: Calko could become the first Latvian driver to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Breukers is a regular competitor in the 24H Series. Konôpka returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2010 and this will be his first appearance in the LMP2 class.

Practice begins Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. ET. After the four-hour practice session, a two-hour qualifying session will take place at 4:00 p.m. ET. A two-hour practice will be held at 1:00 p.m. ET on Thursday with one final two-hour qualifying session scheduled for 4:00 p.m. ET. A warm-up session will be held at 3:00 a.m. ET on Saturday with the start of the race taking place at 9:00 a.m. ET. 


Monday, June 12, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: 2017 IndyCar Midseason Review

IndyCar tore up a lot of equipment in Texas. Some blinking lights caused some confusion on Friday night in Texas. Force India perhaps dropped the ball in Montreal. The Formula E championship looked like it was getting enticing on Saturday and then it went back to status quo on Sunday. MotoGP had another great race in Barcelona. There was a first time winner in the World Rally Championship and it was a long time coming. There was also a first time winner in the Cup series at Pocono and there were a lot of brake issues. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

2017 IndyCar Midseason Review
IndyCar finally gets a week off after five consecutive weekends at a race track and while some head to Le Mans on the off weeks, others will get some relaxation. We are 9/17ths through the IndyCar season and eight race weekends remain. In honor of the midway point to the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, let's look back team-by-team at the first four months.

Chip Ganassi Racing
You wouldn't guess that Chip Ganassi Racing switched manufactures midseason. Scott Dixon leads the championship and Tony Kanaan is eighth in the championship but in a sense Dixon has been carrying the load. He has been the top Ganassi finisher in seven races and he was the top Ganassi qualifier in seven of the first nine races. Kanaan has two top five finishes this year. Max Chilton has made a big step forward from 2016 but he still isn't regularly challenging at the front and Charlie Kimball has taken a massive step back from his consistent top ten form of last year. This hasn't been bad this season but it has been far from a great season for Ganassi despite having a legitimate championship contender once again. 

Team Penske
Let's see, Penske drivers are second in the championship, fourth in the championship, fifth in the championship and seventh in the championship. Team Penske is where Team Penske should be. Four wins from three different drivers and you could argue this is a down year for Penske. Simon Pagenaud has struggled in qualifying but has turned poor starting positions into results. Will Power finished outside the top ten in three races and he has since won twice and stood on the podium a total of four times. Josef Newgarden has proven this isn't too big of a spotlight for him and Hélio Castroneves had finished in the top ten of every race this season before his tire failure at Texas. This might not have been the Penske walkover some of us were expecting but the team is in a great position for a second consecutive championship.

Andretti Autosport
This has been an odd two years for Andretti Autosport. It has won the Indianapolis 500 the last two years but last year that was the team's only victory. The team has two of its four drivers in the top ten in the championship, which is the same amount it had in the top ten at this point last year but the team has looked much more competitive. Takuma Sato and Alexander Rossi have picked up the ball while Ryan Hunter-Reay lingers outside the top ten in the championship and has been dealt a cruel hand twice this season with mechanical failures while in positions for victory. Marco Andretti has also been bitten by mechanical gremlins a few times this year and while he has looked more competitive he still has some room for improvement. 

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
The season didn't start well for the only single-car team on the IndyCar grid but it has rebounded ever since the Indianapolis 500. Graham Rahal finished 12th in the Indianapolis 500 but he had worked his way into the top five before a flat tire dropped him to the back late in the race. Last year, all eight of Rahal's top ten finishes were top five finishes and five of those were in the six natural-terrain road course races. He hasn't had that same pace at the front, his best finish on a natural-terrain road course was sixth, but it is getting there, he has three consecutive top five finishes and there are four natural-terrain road courses in the remaining eight races.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
The best way to describe 2017 for SPM is good but not great. James Hinchcliffe did win at Long Beach and he had three top ten finishes from the first three races but he has finished outside the top ten in four of the last five races with the exception being a third in Belle Isle I. Mikhail Aleshin has been aggressive but the results haven't been there with two top ten finishes. The team wasn't able to replicate the pace it had at the big ovals last year. Hinchcliffe is tenth in the championship and Aleshin is 15th. It is going to be a uphill battle to get both those drivers in better championship positions by the end of the season.

Dale Coyne Racing
This has been the most improved team through the halfway point and this is after a heaping dose of adversity. Dale Coyne Racing won the first race of the year with Sébastien Bourdais and he was seventh in the championship and on his way to topping Indianapolis 500 qualifying before his accident. However, Ed Jones was in the Frenchman's footsteps for the first five races and he has done well in the absence of his champion teammate. The second Belle Isle race is Jones' only bad race this season, he was collateral damage at Texas and he has been to five of the final eight tracks previously in Indy Lights. It appears the team wants Esteban Gutiérrez to be the driver of the #18 Honda for the rest of the year but he will still need to pass an oval test for that to become reality and Tristan Vautier made a great audition at Texas. Unfortunately for Dale Coyne Racing is the team has had a lot of race cars torn up through the first half of the season and he will likely be on pins and needles until September.

Ed Carpenter Racing
In year one of the post-Josef Newgarden-era, Ed Carpenter Racing has had good moments but it has also clearly taken a step back. Spencer Pigot has been a wonder for this team with three top ten finishes from six starts and he could have had five top tens in that period. J.R. Hildebrand finished third at Phoenix but he is still off pace on road and street circuits although he has had a few respectable finishes taken from him because of contact or penalties. Ed Carpenter has been respectable on the ovals after a few years of tearing up his own equipment. 

A.J. Foyt Racing
New manufacture, new drivers, same results for A.J. Foyt Racing. The split team with Carlos Muñoz being run out of Houston, Texas and Conor Daly being run out of Indianapolis hasn't shown to benefit the team. Daly was the only full-time driver without a top ten finish prior to Texas and Daly more or less finished seventh at Texas because he was off the pace and avoided the big accident. Muñoz has three top ten finishes but all of those have been high attrition races. Even more difficult for A.J. Foyt Racing is it doesn't even have one track style where the team has shown some muscle. It has struggled everywhere.

The Rest of the Grid
Harding Racing has entered two races this year and the team didn't exist when the calendar changed over to 2017. It finished ninth in the Indianapolis 500 with Gabby Chaves in the team's maiden voyage by avoiding the melees and working strategy to their advantage and then this combination finished fifth at Texas. The team has it sights set for full-time in 2018. That seems a bit of a bold move for such a new team and considering how established teams have struggled to find funding but the team has looked good in its early days. The team has stated it intend to run at Pocono later this year.

Sage Karam was competitive in the Indianapolis 500 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing before a battery failure ended the race while he was on the cusp of the top ten with 75 laps to go. 

Juncos Racing got both its cars to the finish of the Indianapolis 500 on the team's first IndyCar race. Neither car got to a competitive pace and Spencer Pigot was struggling with speed throughout the race but Sebastián Saavedra did finish on the lead lap. The team might return for Pocono later this year.

Buddy Lazier returned for the Indianapolis 500 with his own team for the fifth consecutive year and while he got off the final row of the grid for the first time in five starts, his race ended in the turn two barrier after 118 laps.

What to Look Forward to?
Through nine races last year, Pagenaud led the championship by 74 points over Castroneves. This year, after nine races 72 points cover nine drivers and 98 points cover 12 drivers and the leader of the championship still hasn't won a race this season. After last year when it appears Pagenaud could have locked the title up a race early, we are potentially looking at four to six drivers being alive for the championship entering Sonoma. You have Dixon and Pagenaud, the last two championships ahead of Sato, a 40-year-old driver who has finally found consistency, and Castroneves, a 42-year-old driver who has finished runner-up in the championship four times.

Behind the top four drivers are Power and Rahal, the only drivers with multiple victories but Power has finished outside the top ten five times this year and Rahal has finished outside the top ten four times. Then there is Newgarden in seventh, 49 points behind Dixon. With seven different winners through nine races it appears unlikely anyone is going to runaway with the championship in the second half of the season.

Four natural-terrain road courses, three ovals and a street course make up the second half of the season. Two of those ovals are short ovals, which Chevrolet has dominated but Gateway could be a different animal. The tires were significantly wearing at the open test at Gateway in May and drivers seemed to think the extra quarter-mile in length compared to Phoenix made passing possible. Honda has won all four street course races this year. Road America and Watkins Glen could be toss-ups as Honda has the power advantage while Chevrolet has the edge on downforce. 

Another thing to keep an eye on is the upcoming testing of the 2018 universal Dallara aero kit. It will be first tested on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on July 25-26th. The first road course test for the universal kit will be at Mid-Ohio on August 1st. Additional tests will be held on August 28th at Iowa with one postseason test scheduled for September 26th at Sebring.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Will Power but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Canadian Grand Prix. 

Andrea Dovizioso won MotoGP's Catalan Grand Prix, his second consecutive victory. Álex Márquez won in Moto2, his second career Moto2 victory and he has won both Moto2 races in Spain. Joan Mir won in Moto3, his fourth victory of the season.

Felix Rosenqvist and Sébastien Buemi split the races at the Berlin ePrix.

Ryan Blaney won the NASCAR Cup race from Pocono. Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity race. Christopher Bell won the Truck race from Texas on Friday night.

Ott Tänak won Rally d'Italia Sardegna, his first career World Rally Championship victories in his 73rd rally. 

Dušan Borkovic and Roberto Colciago split the TCR International Series races from Salzburgring.

Coming Up This Weekend
The 24 Hours of Le Mans. 
NASCAR head to another large race track, this time it is Michigan International Speedway.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters heads east to the Hungaroring. 
World Superbikes will be at Misano, the series second stop in Italy. 
Supercars treks to the Northern Territory and Hidden Valley Raceway. 


Sunday, June 11, 2017

First Impressions: Texas 2017

1. Where to start? Let's just get the results out of the way and we will start with Will Power, who won but I am not sure if he had the best car or if he was the best survivor. Tonight, being the best survivor was all you needed to be. I feel like Will Power led 150 laps. I have no clue. He may have only led 50 laps. This race was chaotic. He gets a big boost for his championship hopes.

2. Tony Kanaan finished second. We will talk about Tony Kanaan in a moment.

3. Simon Pagenaud finished third. He seemed to be in third all night.

4. Nobody passed more cars tonight than Graham Rahal. He went ninth to fourth at least three times in the final dozen laps.

5. Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing survived and for the second consecutive race they get a phenomenal finish. Tonight was fifth-place, a career best for Chaves and Harding Racing in the team's second race.

6. Marco Andretti just survived and finished sixth.

7. Even when Conor Daly finishes seventh he gets taken out. A career-best for him on an oval and he still hasn't finished on the lead lap on an oval.

8. Max Chilton nearly finished this race without a front wing in eighth.

9. Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato got together with five laps to go. It cost both of them a shot at the victory. I would say it hurt both of their championship hopes but everyone was taken out tonight so it really didn't hurt either of their hopes tonight as they rounded out the top ten.

10. Bravo to Ed Carpenter Racing for repairing its cars and getting back out on track and finishing 11th and 12th with Ed Carpenter and J.R. Hildebrand respectively. Both deserved better than that though.

11. Josef Newgarden was just a bit too ambitious tonight and he ended up in the wall. He still finished 13th.

12. This was a pretty good race for the first 150 laps and then it hit the fan. Let's start with the accident. Tony Kanaan came up on James Hinchcliffe entering turn three; Hinchcliffe was pinched into Mikhail Aleshin, Hinchcliffe and Aleshin spun across the race track and collected Ed Jones, Tristan Vautier, Carlos Muñoz, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carpenter and Hildebrand.

Kanaan was handed a stop and hold penalty for 20 seconds and it put him two laps down. I thought he should have been parked. It was a dangerous move and he may have not intended to take out seven cars but he did. And Kanaan has a history of over-aggressive moves at Texas. Last year, he walked the line. He has been penalized for blocking before at Texas. He is a veteran and one of the most respected guys on the grid but he has this tendency on ovals.

13. I don't know what to go to next. Let's go to what transpired after the red flag for the lap 152 accident. Firestone did not have a great weekend. The tires were blistering at the test in April and Firestone didn't have enough time to come up with a solution. And I won't peg this one on Firestone. They get it right 9,999 times out of 10,000 and this was the one time in 10,000 they got it wrong and there were tire failures, most notably to Hélio Castroneves. It was bound to go wrong once but I am sure there are plenty of Firestone workers annoyed after this one.

It was a mixture of things that led to tonight: not enough time for testing, Texas Motor Speedway putting down a chemical compound for the NASCAR race, IndyCar being in the gut of its season and not allowing additional testing. It was a combination of things going wrong.

With the tire issues in mind, IndyCar threw two competition cautions within the final 90 laps of the race over concerns about the tires. I understand that but never in motorsports history has the decision to implement competition cautions mid-race been successful. Fans don't applaud competition cautions being added to the race especially mid-race. I understand IndyCar did it on the grounds of safety but I would have rather IndyCar not thrown the caution and rather told the teams they had to pit under green every 30 laps just to keep the race going. Competition cautions come off as the race being too controlled by the officials. People don't like an over-officiated game in any sport. Motorsports is no different.

Amazingly, because IndyCar only held Tony Kanaan for 20 seconds and because there were two competition cautions it allowed him to cycle back onto the lead lap and finish second. That is just dump luck for the series. If they held him for an addition ten to 15 seconds he is three laps down and he still finishes in the top ten but not second.

14. Let's get to the racing on the night and for the first 150 laps, it was really good but I hesitate to say it was great. To me, the entire field shouldn't be covered by five seconds the entire night and that was the case. Maybe that would have changed if we had an extended green flag run and had two or three green flag pit stops but that didn't seem it would ever be the case.

I liked the racing Texas had the last few years because drivers really had to drive the cars and fight when tires were falling off. You really got to separate the field and the cream rose to the top. You don't get that when everyone is within five seconds of each other. It is a tough balance to find but I think IndyCar went too far in the direction of the IRL-era racing we had at Texas. I don't know what next year will bring but if Firestone figures out the tire issues and I am sure Firestone will fix it and if IndyCar runs less downforce (and not add push to pass on ovals but that is another story but does anyone think after this race that it needed more passing?), I think the racing can get back to that happy medium.

15. I got to say, this felt like IndyCar circa 2005-2011 where everything was done on the fly and everyone wasn't sure what was going on or what would happen next and any sliver of great racing was soiled by uncertainty in the procedure and that sucked tonight because it seemed like a fair amount of the motorsports world was watching and enjoying the first third of the race and then it all went to hell. Hell, Fernando Alonso called into the race and Kevin Lee got a "why not" out of him when asked if he would ever consider joining IndyCar full-time. Do you really think after what happened in this race after he hung up the phone he is seriously considering it?

16. I will say that IndyCar did a great job under the red flag getting all the drivers interviewed not just on TV but on radio as well and it filled the time nicely. This wasn't IndyCar's greatest night but there were a lot of people working hard at their jobs and they deserve praise because they stepped up in a bad situation and made the series look good despite everything that was happening on the race track.

17. And one final one, I almost forgot to mention Dale Coyne Racing, which had a great night and saw both its cars in contention for the victory and it was led by Tristan Vautier, who had been out of a IndyCar since August 2015. Vautier made it very tough on Coyne on whether or not Esteban Gutiérrez should be the full-time substitute for Sébastien Bourdais.

18. Let's take a week off, watch Le Mans and get back to it at Road America in a fortnight.





Saturday, June 10, 2017

Morning Warm-Up: Texas 2017

Charlie Kimball is the sixth different pole-sitter in the last six IndyCar races
Charlie Kimball won his first career IndyCar pole position at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 from Texas Motor Speedway. Kimball ran a two-lap average of 222.556 MPH, the fastest pole position at Texas Motor Speedway since Gil de Ferran took pole position for the autumn race in 2003. Kimball's only other front row start came last year in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and he finished fifth in that race. Kimball's previous best starting position on an oval was fourth at Fontana in 2013 and at Phoenix last year. In his seven previous top five starts, Kimball has finished in the top ten in six of them. Kimball could become the first driver to win from his first career pole position since Ryan Hunter-Reay did it at Milwaukee in 2004. Scott Dixon makes it an all-Ganassi row one, the first time the team has shut out a front row since Iowa 2014. Kimball was 0.0083 seconds faster than Dixon in qualifying. Dixon started second last year at Texas and he led 97 laps. This is only the second time Dixon has not been the top Ganassi qualifier this season. Tony Kanaan started sixth at Phoenix while Dixon started eighth.

For the second consecutive oval race, Alexander Rossi will start third. This is Rossi's sixth top ten start of the season through nine races. He had three top ten starts all of his rookie season. Texas has been won four times from third position on the grid, most recently by Will Power in the second Twin 275 in 2011. Tony Kanaan joins Rossi on row two. Only once has Texas been won from fourth position and that was by Hélio Castroneves in 2009. The surprise of the qualifying session was Tristan Vautier ending up fifth in his IndyCar return with Dale Coyne Racing. His previous best starting position on an oval was tenth at Milwaukee and Pocono in 2013. Vautier's best career starting position was third at Barber in 2013. Max Chilton made it four Ganassi cars in the top six and this is his fourth top ten start of the season. Chilton had four top ten starts all of last year.

Mikhail Aleshin qualified seventh in the #7 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Aleshin has been the top qualifying SPM car on all the ovals this season. He started seventh at Phoenix in April and failed to complete a lap. Takuma Sato made it a clean sweep of the top eight for Honda. This is Sato's fourth consecutive race starting in the top ten, the longest streak of his IndyCar career. He will be aiming to get four consecutive top ten finishes for the first time in his IndyCar career tonight. Will Power and Hélio Castroneves swept the fifth row for Team Penske. This is Power's worst starting position at Texas. Power has twice won from ninth on the grid, 2012 at Barber and 2013 in the second Houston race. Castroneves has never won from the tenth position and his only victory from the fifth row of the grid was the 2002 Indianapolis 500 when he started 13th.

Last week's double winner Graham Rahal will start 11th next to his 2006 Atlantic Championship rival Simon Pagenaud. Rahal won last year's Texas race from 13th and he led only one lap. Arie Luyendyk won the inaugural Texas race from 11th on the grid in 1997. This is the fifth time in 2017 Pagenaud has started outside the top ten. In the previous two seasons Pagenaud had only started outside the top ten on three occasions. Ryan Hunter-Reay will start from the lucky 13th starting position. This is the fourth consecutive Texas race Hunter-Reay has started outside the top ten. Hunter-Reay started 13th the last time Chip Ganassi Racing swept the front row and Hunter-Reay went on to win that race from Iowa. Ed Carpenter qualified 14th for the second consecutive year at Texas. This is the 16th time Carpenter has started 14th in his career. He has five top ten finishes from 14th on the grid and his best finish was second at Kentucky in 2009.

Former teammates Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe will start on row eight. Like his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, this is Andretti's fourth consecutive year starting outside the top ten at Texas. In his five previous times starting 15th, Andretti has finished better than his starting position, including at St. Petersburg earlier this year when he went from 15th to seventh. Hinchcliffe has twice finished on the podium from 16th on the grid, third at Long Beach in 2012 and he won from 16th at NOLA Motorsports Park in 2015. Josef Newgarden will start 17th and this will be the third time he is the worst starting Penske driver this season. The other two races were Barber, which he won from seventh on the grid and the second Belle Isle race, where he finished second from 13th. J.R. Hildebrand rounds out row nine and this will be the third consecutive race Hildebrand has started 18th.

Ed Jones will make his Texas debut from 19th on the grid in the #19 Honda. A Dale Coyne Racing entry has started 19th in three consecutive races. Gabby Chaves returns with Harding Racing for the second time in 2017 and the team will start 20th. Chaves started 20th at Texas in 2015 and he finished tenth that night. A.J. Foyt Racing swept the final row of the grid for the team's home race. Conor Daly will start 21st for the second consecutive year. Daly has the worst average finish of drivers to have run every race this season at 18.333. Carlos Muñoz will start 22nd after his team failed to get the car through inspection before qualifying. Muñoz starts last one year after he picked up his first career pole position at Texas.

NBCSN's coverage of the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 begins at 8:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 8:45 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 248 laps.