Wednesday, July 19, 2017

2017 Formula One Midseason Review

We are just over halfway through the month of July and ten of 20 Formula One races have been complete this season. Hungary is just over a week away and after that will be the summer break. This season has seen a reintroduction of wider tires and greater downforce and it has brought the field closer together and has tightened the championship battle in the process.

How should we look back on the first half of the Formula One season? Let's answer these eleven questions:

Is Mercedes Winning Every Race?
No they are not but Mercedes is still at the front and are the team to beat. The German squad has won six of the first ten races and leads the Constructors' Championship by 330 points but despite that record, neither Lewis Hamilton nor Valtteri Bottas lead the World Drivers' Championship.

Sebastian Vettel leads the World Drivers' Championship with 177 points after three victories and four runner-up finishes in the first ten races. He is only one point ahead of the Lewis Hamilton, who picked up his fourth victory of the season at Silverstone last Sunday but Vettel's consistency has got him the championship lead while Hamilton has struggled to consistently be on the podium. Since starting the season with finishes of second, first and second, Hamilton's only other podium finishes this season have been his victories at Spain, Canada and Great Britain.

The blemishes on Hamilton's results have mostly been out of his control. He battled overheating issues at Sochi and could not advance beyond fourth position, he was caught out by an accident on his qualifying run in Q2 at Monaco and had to start 14th, he and Vettel got together at Azerbaijan and a loose headrest forced him to make an unscheduled stop and dropped him to fifth and he had to serve a five-spot grid penalty for Austria and went from eighth to fourth in the race.

While Vettel and Hamilton live up to their previous success, Valtteri Bottas gained his footing quickly at Mercedes and the Finnish driver trails Vettel by 23 points. Bottas picked up his first career victory at Sochi and he doubled his win total at Red Bull Ring. Bottas has stood on the podium more times in 2017 than his teammate (seven to Hamilton's six), he has four consecutive podium finishes and his only retirement was an engine failure at Barcelona.

Meanwhile, Kimi Räikkönen has had a respectable season. He was going to win at Monaco before team orders swapped him and Vettel and he got the better of Vettel at Silverstone last week prior to the pairs' dueling tire failures in the final two lap of the race that cost Räikkönen a podium and then gave it right back to him as Vettel had to nurse his car back to the pit lane.

Mercedes is still the Mercedes we have seen the last three seasons. When everything is clicking nobody can beat that squad but this year we have seen more minor trip ups in the first ten races of 2017 than we did in the previous 59 races over the last three years. Vettel and Hamilton will likely go at it over the final ten races and there will probably be one or two races where Bottas and Räikkönen will be carrying the flag for each manufacture.

Has Red Bull Been Competitive?
Red Bull has been getting better since the start of the European portion of the season. The Austrian team was the distant third manufacture but the team has clawed itself back into a competitive form. The team only qualified in the top four twice through the first ten races but after only two podium finishes in the first five races, Red Bull picked up four podium finishes in the second quarter of the season.

After the emergence of Max Verstappen last season, Daniel Ricciardo has regained hold of the top spot within the Red Bull team. The Australian had five consecutive podium finishes from Spain to Austria and he picked up the team's first win of the season at Azerbaijan. Ricciardo finds himself fourth in the championship, 60 points behind his former Red Bull teammate. Ricciardo's most notable performances this season have come despite poor starting positions. He won Azerbaijan after starting tenth and he finished fifth at Silverstone after starting 19th. Ricciardo has twice started sixth and finished third.

Verstappen on the other hand has not been able to avoid misfortune in 2017. The Dutch driver has retired from five of ten races in 2017, most because of things out of his control but his only podium finish remains a third-place finish at Shanghai in the second race of the season after starting 16th on the grid. He has had mechanical issues end his race on three occasions while a collision he was directly involved in took him out in Spain and another collision where he was collateral damage took him out in Austria.

Red Bull has slowly been rolling out updates to the RB13 and another set of updates are coming in Hungary but it is hard to remember a time when we have seen a midseason update boost a team from perpetually third-best on the grid to being the team to beat halfway through a season. Red Bull might get another win or two before 2017 is out but they appear to be too long gone to be a championship contender this year.

Has There Been Any Other Team That Should Have Won This Year But Shot Itself In The Foot?
Why yes, yes there has. Force India did not just shoot itself in the foot once but did it twice. First was the Canadian Grand Prix where Esteban Ocon had the pace to chase down Daniel Ricciardo for third only he was held up by his teammate Sergio Pérez and instead of Force India getting a car on the podium by invoking team orders and telling Pérez to get out of the way, both Pérez and Ocon were passed by Sebastian Vettel and Force India had to settle for fifth and sixth place finishes.

Two weeks later at Azerbaijan, Force India once again found both cars at the front but contact between the two punctured Ocon's tire and forced Pérez to retire from the race. After Hamilton was forced to stop to secure his headrest and Vettel forced to serve a ten-second penalty for contact with Hamilton during a safety car period, Ricciardo took the lead and went on to win the race. If Ocon and Pérez had not gotten into each other it would have been Force India 1-2 on track after the stops by Hamilton and Vettel. Instead, Ocon was the only points scorer for the team in sixth.

Pérez and Ocon are seventh and eighth in the championship respectively with Pérez nine points ahead of his teammate. The Frenchman has scored points in nine of ten races, one more points-paying result than his teammate. Force India rarely gets the chance to be on the podium and it blew two opportunities already this season and one was an opportunity for a victory. I am not sure they can count on a third podium opportunity coming.

Has Lance Stroll Been As Bad As Most Hoped He Would Be?
No, but most will not admit that is the case. Stroll has not been the greatest thing since sliced bread. He has made his mistake, most of them came in preseason testing, and a few things have happened to him that were out of his control (see him getting spun on lap one at Sochi by Nico Hülkenberg).

Stroll''s first home race of his Formula One career was as close to a dream as you could get, going from 17th to ninth at Montreal and while everyone ahead of him ran into each other at Baku, he avoided contact and found himself in second at the start of the final lap only to have Bottas beat him to the line by a tenth of a second but the Canadian got his first career podium in his eighth start. Stroll made it three consecutive points-paying finishes with a tenth in Austria.

Don't get me wrong; Stroll has not taken Formula One by storm. He trails his senior teammate Felipe Massa by five points and he has been out-qualified nine to one through ten races. Stroll has a way to go but he has not done anything boneheaded enough in a Formula One car to deserve the vitriol he has been getting every week regardless of how he does.

Which Pair of Teammates Are Not Getting Along The Most in 2017?
Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Daniil Kvyat and it is not getting any better any time soon. They nearly got into each other at Baku with Sainz, Jr. swerving to avoid the Russian rejoining the circuit. Kvyat has caused collisions the last two races and at Silverstone it was between him and Sainz, Jr. The Spaniard's race was over before the end of lap one, his third retirement in four races and Kvyat continued only to finish a lap down in 15th.

In 27 races as teammates, Sainz, Jr. has outscored Kvyat 79-8 and Kvyat's best finish since returning to Toro Rosso is ninth while Sainz, Jr. has finished better than ninth 12 times in those 27 races. Sainz, Jr. clearly is the superior driver, however he has had his own missteps in 2017 (see Bahrain and Montreal) but he wants a promotion from the Red Bull B squad. That is understandable but there is no room at the big team and both Ricciardo and Verstappen are being paid handsomely.

It is hard to see how these two will remain teammates through the rest of 2017 and we will get to that in a moment.

How is Haas Doing?
The American team is doing well. Haas has 29 points from the first ten races, matching their points total for the entire 2016 season. The team has eight points-scoring finishes, three more than it did during the entire 2016 season and the team picked up its first double points finish at Monaco with Romain Grosjean finishing eighth and Kevin Magnussen finishing tenth.

While Haas has matched or succeeded previous results, the team is still seventh in the Constructors' Championship. Grosjean was really competitive at Austria and he has made the final round of qualifying five times through ten races. Magnussen trails his teammate by seven points in the championship and has yet to make it to Q3 once in 2017.

The good news for Haas is Toro Rosso is on the verge of imploding and Haas only trails STR by four points in the Constructors' Championship. The bad news is Renault trails Haas by only three points and could be shaking things up in hopes of scoring more points. It is going to be a tough fight for Haas if it wants to improve on its final Constructors' Championship result from its debut season.

Is McLaren Making Strides In The Right Direction?
No. Not really. I mean... yes. Things are looking better and the car has its moments and the car is making it to the end of the race occasionally but McLaren is still lost and its future with Honda could not be any more uncertain and Fernando Alonso appears to be on his way out unless McLaren returns to Mercedes engines in 2017 and Stoffel Vandoorne is just along for the ride this year.

Alonso has been a stud this year. His impressive qualifying run at Barcelona to end up seventh on the grid is the stuff of legend. Unfortunately for Alonso, he has had the car die on him at least three times in the final five laps and it cost him points at least once. The small moral victory for Alonso is he got on the board with a ninth-place finish at Baku.

Vandoorne has finished the last four races and Silverstone was by far the Belgian's best race of the season as he made the final round of qualifying for the first time, qualifying ninth and starting eighth after Bottas served a five-spot grid penalty and he finished 11th.

I think McLaren will finish in the points again this season but how good of a result will it be? Will it be just surviving to a ninth or tenth place finish or can McLaren recreate Alonso's Barcelona glory or what Vandoorne did at Silverstone, start in the top ten, finish on the lead lap and potentially pick up a handful of points and could McLaren be able to do that three or four times in the final ten races?

Are Any Drivers' On The Verge Of Being Replaced Midseason?
Yes but Renault will keep saying it is not replacing Jolyon Palmer until they replace Jolyon Palmer. The British driver has yet to score a point this season while his teammate Nico Hülkenberg is responsible for all of Renault's 26 points and the German matched his season-best finish of sixth at Silverstone.

Palmer has been close to points. He had finished 11th in three of the four races prior to his car dying on the formation lap for his home race, a race where Palmer was going to start 11th.

The en vogue rumor is Renault wants to replace Palmer with Carlos Sainz, Jr. but it appears it would cost Renault $8 million to buyout the Spaniard. If Sainz, Jr. were to move, it appears Pierre Gasly, the defending GP2 Series champion and current Super Formula driver, would take over the open spot at Toro Rosso.

If Sainz, Jr. does not switch to Renault and the French team wants to replace Palmer, who is plan B? Sergey Sirotkin is the team's reserve driver and the 21-year-old Russian, who will turn 22 years old the day of this year's Belgian Grand Prix, finished third back-to-back years in the GP2 Series championship and he finished in the points in his only two Formula Two races this year at Baku.

Am I Forgetting Anybody?
Yes! Sauber! The little Swiss team using Ferrari hand-me-downs is ahead of McLaren in the Constructors' Championship with five points.

Pascal Wehrlein has overcome missing the first two races of the season after a back injury suffered in the Race of Champions and he finished eighth at Barcelona and tenth at Baku with his only retirement coming at Monaco. Marcus Ericsson has not scored this season but he has finished 11th twice. Ericsson has not scored points in his last 38 starts.

Can Sauber hold on to finish ahead of McLaren? It could be closer than the team wants. McLaren just needs one eighth-place finish in the final ten races to regain control of the battle for ninth in the Constructors' Championship. Sauber has to hope its reliable year-old Ferrari engine package can hold off whatever Honda throw out there in the second half of the season and get a few more finishes in the points.

What Driver or Drivers Are Setting Themselves Up For a Formula One Seat in 2018?
Ferrari Driver Academy product Charles Leclerc is making it really hard for nobody to hire him in 2018. The Monégasque driver has won five Formula Two races this season and he has won pole position for all six feature races this year. Leclerc leads the Formula Two Championship by 67 points over Artem Markelov.

Where could Leclerc land in 2018? Ferrari has not given a driver a Formula One debut since Arturo Merzario in the 1972 British Grand Prix and the last driver whose first full season in Formula One was solely with Ferrari was Gilles Villeneuve in 1978. The good news for Leclerc is his career ascendance comes at a time where Ferrari is not solidly committed to two drivers for the long-term. Kimi Räikkönen will be 38 years old by the time the 2017 season comes to a close. Leclerc will only be 20 years old but if he is coming off back-to-back titles in GP3 and Formula Two then there will be no better time to put him in a Formula One car than 2018 and it would not make any sense for Ferrari to hire another driver for a few seasons and farm Leclerc out to Haas or Sauber.

Then there is the left field return of Robert Kubica. The Polish driver has not raced a Formula One car since the 2010 season after he suffered severe injuries in a rally accident in early 2011. Kubica tested a three-year old car for Renault at Circuito Ricardo Tormo in Valencia last month and he tested at Circuit Paul Ricard in France about two weeks ago. Kubica could participate in the Hungary test after the Hungarian Grand Prix later this month. There are a lot of hurdles in his way to getting a full-time seat besides his physical limitations but perhaps his outing at Hungary could cement a return come 2018.

What Will Happen In The Final Ten Races?
Your guess is as good as mine. I expect Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull all at least get one more victory. I expect the title to go back-and-forth between Vettel and Hamilton. I think Mercedes will minimize the errors that cost them through the first ten races of the season. I think Palmer will be ousted at Renault before the season is over but I don't expect Sainz, Jr. to be that replacement. I think we are more likely to see Gasly replace Kvyat at Toro Rosso than Sainz, Jr. leave. McLaren will announce its divorce from Honda and Honda will announce its withdrawal from Formula One entirely.



Monday, July 17, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Hate Kills

Team Penske did something it had never done before at Toronto. A young Canadian gave his home crowd something to cheer for and another young Canadian gave some Canadian expats in Britain something to cheer for. A second-generation French driver picked up his maiden victory. The rain didn't show up before the checkered flag at either Toronto or Silverstone. Jim Clark had someone join him at the table. Porsche picks up where it left off at Le Mans. Sebastian Vettel got dizzy. Sébastien Buemi kept the Formula E championship lead despite not even showing up for the Brooklyn race weekend. I didn't know the World Touring Car Championship was in competition this week. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Hate Kills
For the longest time, we were told hate is good. It didn't matter what series it was. Hate is good. People started tuning out and we were told these series needed hate, regardless if it was NASCAR or IndyCar. The belief was drivers were too chummy with one another and the solution was to go back to when drivers didn't get along and didn't socialize away from the track. All these series needed was a little hate to get people back through the doors and in front of the television screens.

This was really a concept that bloomed just over a decade ago. NASCAR was stilling flying high but had a slight descent in altitude and the turbulence shook enough people that they were spewing solutions. IndyCar was split and once reunification happened everyone was looking for a way to get the series back to the heights the series previously obtained before the split. Corporate sponsorship was cozy in both.

There have been rivalries each series has tried to push for years but none really stuck and none were really believable. In NASCAR, you had Kyle Busch vs. Carl Edwards but that was mostly for who was fifth best as Jimmie Johnson was winning championship after championship after championship. It was akin to the Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks in the NBA during the 1990s. It was fun but regardless of who came out on top in that matchup the Chicago Bulls ended up winning the title. There have been other clashes but most have been flashes in the pan. Kyle Busch vs. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano vs. Denny Hamlin, Logano vs. Tony Stewart.

IndyCar has an entire campaign devoted to promoting rivalries but none of them mean much. It tried to make any little moment into something more than it was. It tried to make contact between James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Muñoz into something but that was never going to stick. Other than Dario Franchitti and Will Power battling for the title for three consecutive seasons and having their dust ups, there is no rivalry of substance in IndyCar.

You can't just make people care about a rivalry and a rivalry has to be for something more than an occasional battle between drivers who are mostly in the middle of the pack. A rivalry needs to be a week in and week out occurrence at the front of the field. See Prost vs. Senna, Schumacher vs. Häkkinen, Hamilton vs. Rosberg and Bourdais vs. Tracy.

While the drivers don't seem to hate one another there is one group that takes the hate seriously. That happens to be the fans and it is killing the series in American motorsports.

The American fan base bought into hate is good and decided to hate everything. The Busch brothers became the black hats of NASCAR. People pick apart reasons to hate Kasey Kahne. In IndyCar, all the hate seems to be reserved for Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton, aero kits and ABC's coverage but the beloved is few and far between. Even in IMSA hate seems to win out whether it is about prototypes, BOP, driver ratings, you name it. Fans end up hating more than they love and it becomes a toxic environment that leaves people ready to get out and stops plenty from even bothering in the first place.

Beloved drivers are leaving soon. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is in his final full season of Cup competition. Hélio Castroneves appears to be in the same boat in IndyCar and Tony Kanaan doesn't have that much time left. All that is going to be left are drivers people hate just to hate them and the "ok crowd" of drivers that don't draw strong opinions out of most. Fans are partial to one driver and when that driver goes so do the supporters.

The Earnhardt, Jr. crowd isn't going to find a substitute. As much as people hope the 60% of the grandstand in Earnhardt, Jr. gear will flock to one of his disciples, whether it be Martin Truex, Jr. or Brad Keselowski, most won't and most don't want to. Most will see it as the final nail in the coffin for a series that hasn't had their best interest in mind for close to two decades and were only hanging on because of the man in the #88.

I am not sure it can be reversed. People love to hate. If you are a NASCAR fan and have hated Kyle and Kurt Busch or Jimmie Johnson for over a decade you aren't going to make a 180 on them now and become even modest supporters and maybe buy a hat and if people don't give youngsters a chance than series are going to die. More fans are leaving each year than are coming in despite NASCAR and IndyCar both having strong waves of young drivers already in place for the next 10-15 years. If a talented young driver pool isn't enough to keep people interested than I don't know what can be done.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix.

Sam Bird swept the New York ePrix.

The #2 Porsche of Neel Jani, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber won the 6 Hours of Nürburgring, the team's second consecutive victory. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Gibson of Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent won in LMP2, the team's second consecutive victory and third in four races this season. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi won in GTE-Pro. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Christian Ried, Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli won in GTE-Am.

Kyle Kaiser swept the Indy Lights races from Toronto. Parker Thompson swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Charles Leclerc and Nicholas Latifi split the Formula Two races from Silverstone. George Russell and Giuliano Alesi split the GP3 races.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR race from Loudon. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race.

Yann Ehrlacher and Norbert Michelisz split the WTCC races from Argentina.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Brickyard 400.
The NASCAR Truck Series runs the only race that matters all year, Eldora and it will be on Fox Business Channel.
IMSA takes GTLM and GTD to Lime Rock Park.
Red Bull Ring hosts the European Le Mans Series.
The DTM heads to Russia.
Super GT heads to Sportsland SUGO.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

First Impressions: Toronto 2017

1. Timing is everything and Josef Newgarden entered the pit lane at the right time, as Tony Kanaan slid into the tire barrier in turn one after locking it up after he had just made his pit stop. Newgarden went from fourth to first in a blink of an eye as the rest of the front-runners had yet to stop and no one who had stopped before the Tennessean leapfrogged him in the running order. Newgarden was also fortunate that Ed Jones and Charlie Kimball stayed out and created a buffer between himself and Alexander Rossi. Newgarden was never challenged once he got the lead. He didn't put a wheel wrong and it paid off with his second victory of the season and his second victory at Toronto.

2. Speaking of Alexander Rossi, he held on for a second-place finish. He had a good car but was stuck on the edge of the top five. He leapfrogged James Hinchcliffe on the first round of pit stops and he couldn't get by Jones after that restart, allowing Newgarden to pull away. It was a good day for Rossi after a rough stretch of races since the start of the summer.

3. Another year starting sixth at Toronto and another year finishing third at Toronto, as James Hinchcliffe stands on the podium again in his home race. He struggled on the first stint but, like Rossi, he benefitted when Kanaan put it in the tires. From that point on he was fine. He couldn't challenge Rossi for second but he wasn't challenged for third either. He ran much better on the primary tires and he got a good finish.

4. Marco Andretti picks up his first top five finish since Fontana in 2015. Andretti caught a break with the caution but he had a solid car and held his own at the front. He held off his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay and then he held off a late charge by Simon Pagenaud. This was a really good weekend as a whole for Andretti.

5. Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five. He didn't make the most of his pole position, as he was blown by at the start by his teammate Hélio Castroneves for the lead but Pagenaud got around the Brazilian during the middle stint of the race and was able to put some space between him and his teammate. This was a really good day for the Frenchman and he picked up fastest lap at 60.2357 seconds.

6. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished sixth after losing a tough battle with Pagenaud for fifth. He benefitted from the Kanaan caution but sometimes you catch a break. This is Hunter-Reay's first top ten finish at Toronto since he won the race in 2012. Hunter-Reay had some rotten luck at Toronto but he has also had some rotten luck in 2017 as a whole. He finished third at Iowa, he finished sixth today and maybe Hunter-Reay can put together some finishes at the end of the season to help him climb up the championship and maybe he steals a victory.

7. Max Chilton finished seventh in what was a quiet day. He didn't do anything flashy. He said he didn't overtake anybody on the race track all race. He benefitted from his teammate's misfortune, he kept his nose clean and he leapfrogged a few faster cars on the final pit stop. It might not be a performance to show off but it is a respectable result nonetheless.

8. Hélio Castroneves made a ballsy move on the inside of turn one from third on the grid to take the lead and led the first quarter of the race until the Kanaan caution shuffled him back in the running order. Once that happened, he never really had a shot at victory.

9. Graham Rahal was caught out by the Kanaan caution and he could only manage a ninth-place finish. He was running third at the time and he never really threatened Castroneves and Pagenaud for position. I am sure this is a frustrating result because the car was better than ninth but it is still a good day.

10. Scott Dixon may be the second winner of today because he was hit by Will Power in turn three on lap one, had to pit for a flat left rear tire and repairs to the brake duct and Dixon had to serve a penalty for pitting when the pit lane was closed and he still managed to finish tenth but even better than that he kept the championship lead with Dixon holding a three-point advantage over Castroneves. This day could have been much worse.

11. Sebastián Saavedra gets an 11th-place finish in a substitute role for Mikhail Aleshin. This was a good day for Saavedra. He kept his nose clean, he completed every lap and he was in contention for a top ten finish. I am not sure what this means for him. It seems like Aleshin was just benched for a race but if Aleshin puts a wheel wrong in another race or two before the season is out I wouldn't be surprised if Saavedra gets a call to do another race.

12. Charlie Kimball went off strategy at the start and could only manage a 12th-place finish.

13. J.R. Hildebrand had nothing all day and finished 13th.

14. Esteban Gutiérrez gets a 14th-place finish and finishes ahead of his teammate Ed Jones, who had a mechanical issue end his race ten laps early. Carlos Muñoz rounded out the top 15. Takuma Sato made contact with Spencer Pigot and both had to make unscheduled stops. It was a shame because Pigot was the darling of the first stint, driving from P13 to P5 by making audacious passes on the likes of Kanaan, Andretti and Hunter-Reay. Conor Daly had another long day.

15. Speaking of Kanaan, he lost two laps after getting into the tires and could only manage a 19th-place finish.

16. And now for Will Power. His race was over before turn four. Even worse is he won't even be credited with completing a lap because of where the pit lane is located. This is a tough blow to his championship hopes.

17. The rain somehow held off. It looked like it was going to start raining any time after lap 30 in this race. I still think this race should have started earlier. It started a half hour after the NASCAR race and that race started at 3:15 p.m. ET and both races were in the Eastern Time Zone. The weather was beautiful at noon in Toronto. The race could have started then and been completed with enough time for an hour pre-race show for the NASCAR race on NBCSN.

If the race started at noon, it would be over by 2:00 pm. If that was the case, since there would be so much time left in the day, IndyCar could put on a post-race party with driver appearances and a post-race autograph session while the Indy Lights race closed out the day. I understand why the race started as late as it did but I think there is an advantage to starting earlier and it could make for a fun event off the track for fans in attendance.

18. We get a week off before Mid-Ohio. It should be another good one.



Morning Warm-Up: Toronto 2017

Simon Pagenaud will lead the field to the green for the Honda Indy Toronto
Simon Pagenaud won his first pole position of the season with a time of 58.9124 seconds in the final round of qualifying for the Honda Indy Toronto. Pagenaud's most recent pole position had come in last season's finale at Sonoma, a race Pagenaud would win on his way to locking up the title. He has also won his last two starts from pole position as he won at Mid-Ohio last year after starting first. The French driver's previous best starting position on a street circuit this season was seventh at Belle Isle. Last week, Pagenaud led two laps during the final pit cycle at Iowa. Those were the first laps he had led since his victory at Phoenix in April. Graham Rahal starts on the front row for the second time this season. He won from pole position at Belle Isle in June. He also finished second to Pagenaud at Sonoma last year. This is the first time Rahal has started on the outside of the front row since Kentucky in 2011 and Rahal finished 12th that day.

Hélio Castroneves and Will Power will start on row two. This is the first time in 2017 that neither Castroneves nor Power is the top Team Penske qualifier. Power had the better record, qualifying on top six times to Castroneves' five times. Castroneves won last week after starting third on the grid. Castroneves has only won consecutive races twice in his career. He did it in 2006 at St. Petersburg and Motegi and he did it in 2010 at Kentucky and Motegi. Power won from fourth position last year at Toronto. Scott Dixon will start fifth. Dixon won from fifth position at Road America three weeks ago. He also won from fifth position in the first Toronto race of the 2013 doubleheader. James Hinchcliffe qualified in sixth position for the second consecutive year at his home race. This matches his career-best start at Toronto. He went on to pick up his career-best Toronto finish last year by coming home in third.

Josef Newgarden missed the final round of qualifying and he will start in seventh position. He started fourth of the four Penske drivers in seventh position at Barber and he went on to win that race. This is Newgarden's best starting position at Toronto. Newgarden has only finished in the top ten once at Exhibition Place. That was his victory in 2015. Alexander Rossi joins Josef Newgarden on row four. Rossi started eighth at St. Petersburg in March and he finished 11th. Max Chilton qualified ninth. This is the tenth top ten start of Chilton's career. He has yet to finish in the top ten on a street circuit with his best finish being 11th. Takuma Sato rounded out the top ten. This was only Sato's second time making it to the second round of qualifying in 2017. Every time Sato has started in the top ten at Toronto he has gone on to finish in the top ten in that race.

Marco Andretti will start 11th with J.R. Hildebrand next to him on row six. Despite completing 800 of 801 laps at Toronto since 2009, Andretti has never led a lap in the event. He led seven laps at Iowa last week. It was the first time Andretti had led since the 2015 season finale at Sonoma where Andretti led four laps. Hildebrand gets a career-best starting position for himself at Toronto but he hit the wall during his qualifying run. This was the first time Hildebrand advanced to the second round of qualifying since São Paulo in 2013. Spencer Pigot matches his career-best starting position by landing 13th on the grid. In the seven races they have been teammates, Pigot has qualified ahead of Hildebrand four times. Tony Kanaan joins Pigot on row seven. Kanaan had his chance of advancing to round two erased after Esteban Gutiérrez brought out the red flag in the final seconds of the group two session of round one. Kanaan has started outside the top ten in four of five street course races and his best street course finish this season was tenth in the second Belle Isle race.

Ed Jones qualified 15th for his first trip to Toronto in an IndyCar. Jones has three top ten finishes from the first four street course races and all three top ten finishes came after he did not make the second round of qualifying. Ryan Hunter-Reay will start 16th. This is the third consecutive year Hunter-Reay has started outside the top fifteen at Toronto after he had started seven consecutive Toronto races in the top ten. He has not finished in the top ten at Toronto since his 2012 victory. Charlie Kimball starts 17th for the second consecutive year at Toronto; he finished 11th last year. This is the eighth time he has started 17th in his career. He best finish in those previous seven races was tenth at São Paulo in 2013 and again at Barber in 2014. Conor Daly joins his fellow diabetic driver on row nine. This is the tenth time Daly has started outside the top fifteen this season.

Carlos Muñoz and Sebastián Saavedra will start on an all-Colombian row ten. Muñoz has been out-qualified by his teammate in four of the last five races. He has finished 17th four times at Toronto and 22nd in five starts at Exhibition Place. Saavedra starts 20th for the eighth time in his career. He has only finished on the lead lap once when starting 20th and his best finish is 15th. Esteban Gutiérrez was in position to advance to round two of qualifying when he slammed into the wall exiting the final corner of the circuit. Gutiérrez will roll off in 21st position. He has been cleared to drive by medical officials on Sunday morning after experiencing concussion-like symptoms on Saturday afternoon.

NBCSN's coverage of the Honda Indy Toronto begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:47 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 85 laps.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Track Walk: Toronto 2017

Fresh off a 150th Birthday, Canada hosts IndyCar
The 12th race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the lone international date on the calendar, the Honda Indy Toronto. For the 33rd time, IndyCar will race around Exhibition Place in Canada's largest city. We are getting down to the final third of the IndyCar season and championship eliminations have already begun. Twenty-nine drivers remain mathematically eligible for the title while the likes of Jay Howard, Zach Veach, Sage Karam, James Davison, Jack Harvey, Tristan Vautier and Buddy Lazier have been eliminated.

Coverage
Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 16th. Green flag will be at 3:47 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: CNBC.
Announcers: Kevin Lee is in the booth with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy in the booth with Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
Friday:
First Practice- 10:40 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Second Practice- 2:15 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Saturday: 
Third Practice- 10:00 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 2:15 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have tape-delayed coverage at 6:30 p.m. ET).
Sunday:
Warm-Up- 11:30 a.m. ET (30-miunte session).
Race- 3:47 p.m. ET (85 laps)

Aleshin Out For Toronto; Saavedra In
Just three weeks removed from nearly being prevented from taking part at the Road America round, Mikhail Aleshin has been taken out of the #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda for Toronto and Sebastián Saavedra will drive in place of the Russian driver. Saavedra brings AFS sponsorship with him to SPM.

Aleshin had an accident on lap 56 at Iowa last week and this season he has completed only 968 laps through 11 races. That is three laps fewer than Ed Carpenter, who has only made four starts this season. Aleshin is the only driver to have started every race this season and not have completed 1,000. Through 11 races, Aleshin had an average starting position of 12.393 and average finish of 13.818. His three retirements this year have all been due to accidents and have all come on ovals.

Saavedra returns to the cockpit for the first time since he finished 15th and completed all 200 laps in this year's Indianapolis 500 driving for Juncos Racing. This will be the Colombian's 63rd start of his career. He has four top ten finishes in his previous 62 starts, all of which came on street circuits, three coming at Long Beach. His most recent street circuit start was at Toronto in 2015 driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. He started 17th and finished 16th that day. In six Toronto starts, Saavedra's best starting position and finishing position is 15th.

Honda Looks For Clean Sweep of Streets
Through four street course races in 2017, Honda is undefeated on temporary circuits and the manufacture gets a chance to sweep the street course races at the Honda Indy Toronto.

Scott Dixon enters the weekend as the championship leader with 403 points after an eighth-place finish at Iowa. Dixon has two podium finishes in the first four street course races and his worst finish on a street course this year was sixth. Dixon's most recent street course victory was Long Beach in 2015. He has two victories, six consecutive top ten finishes and ten top ten finishes at 12 starts in Exhibition Place. Dixon's sweep of the 2013 Toronto doubleheader is the only two victories for Honda North of the Border in the DW12-era.

Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato find themselves tied for fifth in the championship on 337 points with Rahal holding the tiebreaker after he swept the Belle Isle doubleheader. Rahal has five consecutive top ten finishes and a top ten at Toronto would give the Ohioan the longest streak of top ten finishes in his IndyCar career. Rahal has three top ten finishes in 11 Toronto starts with his best finish being fifth in 2010. Sato has finished fifth, tenth and fifth the last three years at Toronto and he finished ninth there in 2012 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. In his other five Toronto starts, Sato has finished 20th or worse.

Tony Kanaan, Alexander Rossi and Max Chilton round out the top ten of the championship. Kanaan has five top five finishes and six top ten finishes in the seven Toronto races during the DW12-era. Kanaan's best finish on a street circuit this year was tenth in the second Belle Isle race. Rossi enters off the back of three finishes outside the top ten after four consecutive top ten finishes between the Indianapolis races and Belle Isle. Chilton has yet to finish in the top ten on a street circuit in his IndyCar career. His average finish on a street circuit is 16.444.

Ed Jones finds himself two points behind Chilton for tenth in the championship. The Emirati driver finished fifth, third, sixth and fifth in his four Indy Lights starts at Toronto. Ryan Hunter-Reay has had rotten luck since he won at Toronto in 2012. His average finish in the last six Toronto races is 17.1667. The 36 laps he led in 2012 is the only time Hunter-Reay has led at Exhibition Place.

Chevrolet has won the last four Toronto races, including a sweep of the podium in three of those races and 16 of a possible 20 top five finishes in that timeframe.

Hinchcliffe's Homecoming
Success was hard for James Hinchcliffe to find at his home race before last year. The Torontonian had three finishes outside the top fifteen in six starts and his best finish was eighth. Last year's race saw Hinchcliffe finally breakthrough in his backyard.

Hinchcliffe stretched his fuel over the final 39 laps and he was able to hang on for a third-place finish, by far his best IndyCar result in Canada. Last year, Hinchcliffe headed home tied for 12th in the championship. Not much has changed in 2017. He is solely in possession of 12th in the championship and he is coming off a tenth-place finish at Iowa; he finished ninth at Iowa last year. Hinchcliffe has the same total of top ten finishes entering Toronto as he did last year with five of them. The big bump to this year's results is Hinchcliffe won at Long Beach in April and he finished third in the first Belle Isle race. He led 21 laps at St. Petersburg before a caution shuffled up the field and dropped him from contention for victory to ninth in the final results.

The good news for Hinchcliffe is Toronto is the 12th round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and the Canadian has finished in the top ten in his 12th start of a season every year of his career and three of those finishes are top five finishes.

Hinchcliffe could join Paul Tracy as the only Canadians to win at Exhibition Place and it would be the first time a Canadian won on home soil since Tracy won the final Molson Indy Vancouver in 2004. Hinchcliffe's last victory in Canada was in Indy Lights at Edmonton in 2010.

Penske Quartet on the Offensive
Hélio Castroneves' victory at Iowa means all four Team Penske drivers have won a race in the 2017 season and all four drivers sit second through fifth in the championship and all four are within 56 points of Dixon.

Castroneves' first victory in over three years puts him eight points behind Dixon in the championship. The Brazilian has stood on the podium in the last two races and like Dixon he has ten top ten finishes from the first 11 races of the season. He will be attempting to get three consecutive podium finishes for the first time since 2008 when he ended the season with seven consecutive trips to the podium. Castroneves has four podium finishes in the last five Toronto races but he has yet to win at Toronto.

Simon Pagenaud heads to Toronto third in the championship, trailing Dixon by 31 points. The Frenchman is the only driver to have completed all 1,563 laps this season. The closest driver to Pagenaud is Kanaan, who has completed 15 fewer laps. Pagenaud has yet to have a standout performance at Toronto. He has finished fourth twice and ninth twice but has only led 31 laps in eight starts. Pagenaud has not qualified well on the street courses this season. His best street course start so far was seventh at Belle Isle.

Will Power is the defending Toronto winner and he has five consecutive top five finishes. Power trails Dixon by 53 points in the championship. Power's victory last year put him in a tie for second-most Toronto victories with Dario Franchitti on three. Michael Andretti won at Toronto seven times. Power has led a lap in nine of his 12 Toronto starts and he has started on the front row at Toronto six times.

Josef Newgarden won at Toronto in 2015, however that remains his only top ten finish at Exhibition Place and he has only started in the top ten three times in seven starts. Newgarden has four top ten finishes in the last five races, including runner-up finishes at Belle Isle and Road America. Newgarden is one of five drivers with multiply podium finishes on street courses this season and he is the only Chevrolet driver with that honor. The other four drivers are Dixon, Rahal, Hinchcliffe and the sidelined Sébastien Bourdais.

Team Penske has never won back-to-back years at Toronto. The team has three Toronto victories.

Road to Indy
For the second consecutive week, Indy Lights and U.S. F2000 are on track with IndyCar.

Six races remain in the 2017 Indy Lights season and Kyle Kaiser's Indy Lights championship lead has been cut to 12 points after Matheus Leist picked up his third victory of the season last week at Iowa. Kaiser has finished third in three of his four Toronto Indy Lights starts. He has eight top five finishes this year while Leist has seven top five finishes, including top five finishes in the last six races. Kaiser finished sixth and fourth at St. Petersburg in March while Leist retired in the first race and finished 11th in race two.

Colton Herta finds himself third in the championship on 180 points, 36 points behind Kaiser after a fourth-place finish at Iowa. Nico Jamin trails Kaiser by 43 points and the Frenchman has not finished in the top five in the last four races. Santiago Urrutia has turned his season after with three runner-up finishes in the last five races but he has yet to win this year and he is 51 points behind Kaiser. His Belardi Auto Racing teammate Aaron Telitz is four points behind him in the championship. Last year, Belardi swept the Toronto weekend with Felix Rosenqvist and the Swede set the track record in the process.

Zachary Claman DeMelo is a point behind Telitz and a point ahead of his Carlin teammate Neil Alberico. The Canadian DeMelo finished 13th in both Toronto races last year. Dalton Kellett heads to his home Province coming off matching his career-best finish of third at Iowa last week. He has scored 133 points. Shelby Blackstock rounds out the top ten on 126 points, two points ahead of Ryan Norman. Juan Piedrahita sits on 114 points. Nicolas Dapero has finished outside the top ten in the last five races. Garth Rickards retired last week with a mechanical failure after 27 laps.

Indy Lights will race at 1:00 p.m. ET on Saturday and 12:15 p.m. ET on Sunday.

With five races left in the U.S. F2000 season, the championship will come down to one of seven drivers.

Oliver Askew extended his championship lead by winning his sixth race of the season last week at Iowa. The Cape Motorsports driver has 248 points and a 34-point lead over Rinus VeeKay of Pabst Racing. The Dutch driver finished second at Iowa and he has stood on the podium after five of nine races. Team Pelfrey's Kaylen Frederick is 89 points back with Canadian Parker Thompson, who won the second U.S. F2000 race at Toronto last year, trailing by 103 points. VeeKay's teammate Calvin Ming has finished on the podium in the last two races and trails Askew by 114 points. Robert Megennis has not stood on the podium since he won the first race of the season and he is 129 points behind Askew. Lucas Kohl is the final driver mathematically eligible for the title. The Brazilian has 93 points and his best finish was third in the first Road America race.

Alex Baron returns for his second consecutive race weekend with ArmsUp Motorsports. He won at Toronto in Indy Lights three years ago. David Malukas is back with BN Racing. Malukas started on pole position for the first Road America race and finished second.

Race one for U.S. F2000 will be at noon ET on Saturday and race two will be at 9:40 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be the seventh IndyCar race to take place on July 16th and first since Dario Franchitti won at Nashville in 2005.

Twice has a Toronto race taken place on July 16th. Those years were 1995 and 2000. Michael Andretti won both races.

This will be the 75th IndyCar race to take place in Canada. This is the 33rd time Exhibition Place has hosted a race. The other six Canadian venues to host races are Pacific Place in Vancouver (15 races), Edmonton City Centre Airport (8), Mosport (6), Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (5), Mont-Tremblant (5) and Saniar Super Speedway (3).

Marco Andretti has seven top ten finishes in ten Toronto starts despite having an average starting position of 16.4. Andretti has completed 800 of 801 laps in his ten starts. He finished a lap down in 2012.

J.R. Hildebrand has two top ten finishes in two Toronto starts. He finished eighth and seventh in 2011 and 2012 respectively despite starting 22nd and 15th in those respective races.

Last year, Mikhail Aleshin started tenth and finished sixth at Toronto. It is just one of five occasions where Aleshin has started and finished in the top ten. He has started in the top ten 16 times in his career.

Carlos Muñoz has finished 17th in four of his five Toronto starts. The exception was a 22nd-place in 2015.

Charlie Kimball's best starting position at Toronto is 13th. He has four top ten finishes in eight Toronto starts. His first career podium came at Toronto in 2012 when he finished second to Ryan Hunter-Reay.

This will be Conor Daly's third start at Toronto. His father Derek Daly made three starts at Toronto. Despite starting all three races in the top ten, Derek finished 16th, 23rd and 16th. Conor has finished 12th and 15th in his two Toronto starts.

Spencer Pigot has two top ten finishes and two retirements from the four street course races this season. His best career starting position came at St. Petersburg in March where he started 13th.

Esteban Gutiérrez has raced in Canada seven times, five of which came at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. He failed to score points in any of his three Canadian Grand Prix starts and he failed to finish in two of them. In 2007, he finished second and sixth at Montreal in Formula BMW USA. Later that season he finished 12th and second at Mosport.

The average starting position for a Toronto winner is 3.875 with a median of third.

The average number of lead changes in a Toronto race is 4.096 with a median of four.

Since Cristiano da Matta and Paul Tracy led every lap at Toronto in consecutive years in 2002 and 2003, every race has had at least three lead changes.

The latest lead change for the victory at Toronto was with three laps to go by Alex Zanardi in 1998. Zanardi's three laps led is also the fewest laps led by a Toronto winner.

The average number of cautions in a Toronto race is 3.645 with a median of three. The average number of caution laps is 14.806 with a median of 13.

There has never been a caution-free race at Toronto. Six times has a Toronto race had only one caution and the most recent occurrence was in 1992.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon and Hélio Castroneves are both one top five finish away from tying Michael Andretti for fifth all-time at 139 top five finishes.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 23 laps to reach the 5,000 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 3 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 151 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Predictions
If Andretti Autosport is going to win another race in 2017 it is going to be this one and Alexander Rossi gets the victory. Ryan Hunter-Reay makes it two Andretti Autosport cars in the top five and all four Andretti Autosport cars finish in the top ten. Scott Dixon holds on to his championship lead. J.R. Hildebrand does not make it three top ten finishes in three Toronto starts. Graham Rahal finishes worse than he think he should and he will tell you about it in the post-race interview but it will still be a very respectable finish. Neither Will Power nor Hélio Castroneves are the top Penske qualifier. Rain does affect this race. Sleeper: Conor Daly.



Monday, July 10, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: 2018 IndyCar Schedule Talk

Hélio Castroneves ended a drought and there was a brief shower at Iowa. NASCAR had two rain delays in Kentucky and one race was pushed back a day. Drivers are bickering over jumped starts in the world of Formula One. A familiar face continues to win in Formula Two. World Superbikes were at Laguna Seca and American Jake Gagne scored a point in each race running in place of Nicky Hayden on the factory Honda. An Australian ended a drought. A past champion got back on the top step of the podium in Super Formula and held off a worldwide stud in the process. A car finished its race on its lid at Mosport. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

2018 IndyCar Schedule Talk
There are fewer days left in 2017 than days completed and IndyCar has completed almost two-thirds of its 2017 schedule with another race six days away. The IndyCar season will be over before we know it and unlike the last decade we aren't heading into an offseason uncertain what the schedule is going to look like next year.

The schedule is pretty set. A few dates may be hanging in the air but we know the outline of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

St. Petersburg is set for March 11th. Long Beach is set for April 15th. The Indianapolis 500 is tentatively set for May 27th but who knows. Maybe that will change. Maybe after 101 Memorial Day weekends they will try something else. If the Indianapolis 500 will be May 27th than I think we can pencil in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis for May 12th. Belle Isle is planning to be the weekend of June 1st-3rd. Road America is set for June 24th.

Those are six events and I am sure once a few more races are in the book we will start hearing the 2018 dates for these summer races. However, there are a few suggestions I would like to make.

Let's start with the front end of the schedule where Phoenix and Barber remain to be scheduled. April 1st is Easter. NASCAR heads to Phoenix on March 11th and the common thinking seems to be to pair Phoenix and Long Beach for a western swing of races. April 7th is an open date but that could be too close to the Cup date. Another issue is NASCAR goes to Talladega on April 29th, pretty much forcing Barber to be the weekend of April 22nd. Perhaps Barber could be April 8th and Phoenix could be April 21st. Either way, three consecutive weeks of racing seem inevitable next April. I would lean toward Phoenix-Long Beach-Barber and give the teams two weeks off before the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend.

When it comes to the July portion of the season, I would like to flip the Toronto and Iowa weekends. The main issue is Iowa occurs marginally too late for a Sunday race and Toronto is shown live on CNBC because it goes head-to-head with the NASCAR race. We all agree IndyCar should avoid going head-to-head with NASCAR but a problem next year is Daytona and Kentucky are a week later because July 4th falls on a Wednesday. As much as I would like Iowa to return to a Saturday night, that doesn't seem likely and it kind of works out. Iowa could be July 8th, the day after Daytona, but it would have to be at least three hours earlier than it was this year, and Toronto could be July 15th, the day after Kentucky and both could be live on NBCSN.

The one unavoidable clash seems to be Mid-Ohio and the NASCAR weekend at Pocono. It seems destined for those races to both fall on July 29th. The one solution I would suggest is running Mid-Ohio at noon Eastern and squeezing the race in prior to the NASCAR race. NASCAR start times are getting later and later. The Pocono race in June started closer to 3:30 p.m. than 3:00 p.m. IndyCar could easily start a race at noon and be off the air with enough time for an hour pre-race show for the NASCAR race.

After Mid-Ohio, August seems fine. Pocono should be August 19th, the day after NASCAR race at Bristol, and the following weekend is an off weekend for the Cup series. The NASCAR Xfinity Series is scheduled to be at Road America on Saturday August 25th but that could be a nice lead in for the Saturday night race at Gateway. I see no reason why Watkins Glen should move off of Labor Day weekend, September 2nd, next year.

An issue arises with the season finale. This year marks the second year Sonoma will take place on Sunday evening, after the opening race of the Chase from Chicagoland with coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. ET and green flag closer to 7:00 p.m. ET. Next year, the Chase doesn't open at Chicagoland but at Las Vegas. Why NASCAR would schedule the Chase opener for a Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas in September when it will be hotter than that time IndyCar raced at Fontana in late-June is beyond me but it is happening. That race will be on NBC, meaning it will likely still be a 3:00 p.m. ET start because they will want the race to lead in to Football Night in America at 7:00 p.m. ET.

NBCSN will be open but what if IndyCar waited a week for the season finale? The week after Las Vegas is Richmond, which is a Saturday night race. If IndyCar waited a week it could have an open Sunday with no NASCAR and the race wouldn't have to start so late. I understand why Sonoma starts as late as it does now because of NASCAR and the NFL schedule but 7:00 p.m. ET; 4:00 p.m. Sonoma time isn't ideal. It is hard on any NFL Sunday to try and get attention but a 5:15 or 5:30 p.m. ET start, which is around halftime for the late-afternoon NFL games, could be better.

There is one other suggestion I would make for the 2018 schedule. Expansion does not appear likely for 2018. The wind is no longer in Portland's sails. IndyCar might be heading to a 1.25-mile oval in Puebla, Mexico but that still seems to be in the air. Any flyaway race, whether it be China, Dubai or somewhere else in the world might be too late to schedule but there is one place I think IndyCar should go to in 2018.

New Hampshire International Speedway will not be hosting NASCAR next September, as its loss is Las Vegas' gain. What if Sonoma stayed the third weekend in September and remained at its 7:00 p.m. ET start after the NASCAR race at Las Vegas and Loudon hosted the season finale a week later on Sunday afternoon?

Hear me out on why Loudon makes sense seven years after IndyCar's one-off return to the one-mile oval:

First, Loudon is losing a race and there are plenty of race fans that are accustomed to heading to the track at the start of autumn. IndyCar could step in. It would be a chance to give these fans something when it appeared they were losing a date and IndyCar could work out some deal for fans that had tickets to this year's Loudon Chase race. It could offer a discount of some sort for those who had tickets to this year's autumn NASCAR race at Loudon and bought tickets for what would be an autumn IndyCar race.

Second, while Loudon isn't wine country, it could be a great weekend of racing. Loudon could not only be the site of the IndyCar finale but it could host the finales for the other three Road to Indy series, the NASCAR Modified Tour could join the weekend, this September's NASCAR date even has a late model stock car race. Even if only Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and NASCAR Modifieds joined IndyCar on the ticket it would be a great weekend.

Third, it would be another oval and the season finale would be on an oval. The one negative about Sonoma is it has never produced great racing. While the 2011 Loudon race will be forever remembered for Brian Barnhart being the only man to fail to see it was raining and deciding the race should go green, it was actually a pretty good race, even with a 32-lap caution for a drizzle, and hindsight shows it is quite unfortunate the race was killed without giving the DW12 chassis a chance to race there.

The positive thing for IndyCar is for the second consecutive year it appears the series will be able to retain 100% of its races. IndyCar needs stability to have any hope of growing and it needs long-term stability. Two years of stability is great but it is the furthest thing from success. Success comes after two decades of stability. IndyCar is a tenth of the way there.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Hélio Castroneves but did you know...

Valtteri Bottas won the Austrian Grand Prix.

Chaz Davies and Jonathan Rea split the World Superbike races from Laguna Seca.

The #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran won the IMSA race from Mosport. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of James French and Pato O'Ward won in Prototype Challenge for the sixth consecutive race. The #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of Alexander Sims and Bill Auberlen won for the second consecutive race in GTLM. The #57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi of Lawson Aschenbach and Andrew Davis won in GTD.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race from Kentucky. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race. Christopher Bell won the Truck race.

Matheus Leist won the Indy Lights race from Iowa. Oliver Askew won the U.S. F2000 race.

Charles Leclerc and Artem Markelov split the Formula Two races from Red Bull Ring. George Russell and Raoul Hyman split the GP3 races.

Hiroaki Ishiura won the Super Formula race from Fuji.

Scott McLaughlin and Jamie Whincup split the Supercars races from Townsville.

Gianni Morbidelli swept the TCR International Series races from Oschersleben.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar crosses the border to Toronto.
Formula One heads to a staple event: The British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Formula E finally gets to sleep, as they will be in Brooklyn.
FIA World Endurance Championship is back at the Nürburgring.
NASCAR will be at Loudon.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

First Impressions: Iowa 2017

1. It only took Hélio Castroneves three years and a month to get back to the top step of the podium and ironically it comes on the weekend when the reports start to leak out that the Brazilian's full-time IndyCar career is on its last legs and he will be heading to sports cars full-time with Team Penske and become an Indianapolis 500 one-off from 2018 going forward. It didn't seem like he led 200-plus laps today. It was a solid performance but after the last three years, it just felt like you were waiting for this one to slip away from Castroneves. It didn't, even though it appeared it was when he was third with just over 30 laps to go. He now finds himself second in championship, eight points behind Dixon. I don't think this is the floodgate opening. I think this is it. I think this is Castroneves' final IndyCar victory. Maybe he wins the championship if he can solidly finish fifth and sixth like he has become known for doing but that will require Scott Dixon slipping up and I don't see that happening.

2. J.R. Hildebrand has to be kicking himself. He has to be kicking himself. He stopped first for final pit stops and when things cycled around he leapfrogged four drivers and had a three-plus second gap on Castroneves and was set to take the lead. He then got caught behind the lapped car of Alexander Rossi and the leader, Marco Andretti, who was running about six to eight miles per hour slower than him and Castroneves blew past him. Hildebrand couldn't get by the lapped cars and he couldn't run the Brazilian down. Hildebrand missed the one golden opportunity at a victory possibly of his career let alone this season. The entire Ed Carpenter Racing team hasn't been there on road and street courses. The Chevrolet edge on the high downforce short ovals is gone when universal aero kits are introduced next year. He may get one final shot at Gateway but this was the day for Hildebrand to get that IndyCar victory that has eluded him for six-plus years and it didn't happen.

3. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third, in what I can only say was a surprising result. Honda has struggled on short ovals but Hunter-Reay earned this podium finish. He passed a dozen cars to get in that position. It appeared it would be another frustrating weekend for him and Andretti Autosport but the team took a swing at the set up and he had the speed over the long runs that could compete with the Chevrolets.

4. Will Power finishes fourth. It was a solid result but he could only ride the coattails of his teammate and then he dropped a few positions and found himself only fighting for a podium and not a victory. It was a good day but he has to be slightly bummed after seeing his teammate end up on top.

5. Graham Rahal finished fifth and like Hunter-Reay he earned this finish. It wasn't a case of a few Chevrolets having problems and opening the door for a few Honda drivers. Rahal was arguably the best Honda for majority of this race before Hunter-Reay passed him late. He now has five consecutive top ten finishes and four top five finishes in the last five races.

6. Josef Newgarden seemed a little lost for the first third of the race before he made up some ground. He went slightly off strategy and it got him in a great position for the final round of pit stops. He started 16th and sixth is a great result.

7. Simon Pagenaud didn't have the pace of the leaders for most of the race but like Newgarden he went slightly off strategy and he found the speed for that final run. He finished seventh, bottom of the four Penske drivers but it is still a really good day for the defending champion.

8. Scott Dixon was lost all day. He went off strategy like the two drivers that finished ahead of him and he was able to finally break into the top ten on the final stint. For most of this race it appeared he was going to finish 12th to 15th and lose the championship lead. He turned a mediocre day into a good day by finishing eighth and he will be the championship leader as IndyCar crosses the border.

9. Tony Kanaan was only slightly better than Dixon for most of this day. The only difference is he finished ninth, second best of the Ganassi cars. Kanaan didn't look like he could be any better than seventh in this one.

10. James Hinchcliffe finished tenth, which is actually a position worse than where he started, but this was a good day for him. He actually was on the edge of the top five for most of this race and was the third-best Honda behind Rahal and Hunter-Reay most of the day.

11. Alexander Rossi finished 11th, which seems about right for him because he wasn't great in this one but wasn't awful. While Hunter-Reay found something, the rest of the Andretti Autosport team was lost. Takuma Sato kept dropping like a rock and Marco Andretti never had the speed to run in the top fifteen.

12. Ed Carpenter finished 12th and this has to be another frustrating day for him. His teammate finished second but Carpenter was up there for most of the race and then he fell off a cliff in the final third of the race. He could have had a top five finish and the same could have been said for Indianapolis and Texas, both races he finished 11th. This is better than last year for Carpenter but it could be much better than the results show.

13. Esteban Gutiérrez makes his oval debut, completes 299 of 300 laps, actually led at least one or two laps during the final pit cycle and he finished 13th, ahead of his teammate Ed Jones. Oval racing is easy. Gutiérrez will improve as the season goes on.

14. Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball rounded out the top fifteen. They really didn't have it. This wasn't the greatest day for Chip Ganassi Racing.

15. A.J. Foyt Racing can't catch a break. Both cars brush the wall and were done before lap 200. Mikhail Aleshin does what Mikhail Aleshin does, qualify at the front and steps over the line too early in a race and ends up in the barrier.

16. This was a really good race but this was a late start time for a Sunday and it wasn't a holiday weekend with most people getting Monday off. The track said ticket sales were up 10% from last year on Sunday morning but the grandstands told another story. This race has had four different start times in the last four years. It couldn't be on a Saturday night this year because the NASCAR race was last night. I wrote something for tomorrow that makes a few scheduling suggestions. A lot of people want Iowa to return to a Saturday night but the track wants this Sunday date. I actually think Iowa is the perfect track to try a Thursday night race in July, preferably the Thursday night after the MLB All-Star Game when there is nothing going on. I doubt the track wants to take that kind of risk but I can't imagine it will continue to defend a Sunday evening race after this one.

17. IndyCar heads to Toronto next week. Honda has swept the street course races so far in 2017 and all those teams have to be feeling good after what was a much more competitive weekend at Iowa than they all were probably expecting.


Morning Warm-Up: Iowa 2017

For the seventh time in 2017, Team Penske has won pole position
Will Power took his fourth pole position of the season and the 48th pole position of his IndyCar career with a two-lap average at 185.210 MPH at Iowa Speedway. It was Power's third career pole position at Iowa Speedway. He finished fifth from pole position in 2010 and he finished three laps down in 17th despite starting on pole position in 2013. The Australian has won twice from pole position on an oval. He did it at Fontana in 2013 and at Milwaukee in 2014. Power won from pole position at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May. He hasn't won multiple races from pole position in a season since 2011 when he won four times from the first position on the grid. J.R. Hildebrand joins Power on the front row for what is the Californian's best career starting position in IndyCar. He previously set his career-best starting position at Phoenix in April when he started third. Hildebrand had started the last four races from 18th on the grid. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver was over a quarter of a second off the Penske driver. Last year, Ed Carpenter Racing won at Iowa after Josef Newgarden started second to a Penske driver.

Hélio Castroneves will be directly behind his teammate on row two of the grid as will be Ed Carpenter. Castroneves started third last year at Iowa and finished two laps down in 13th. The Brazilian's most recent victory at Belle Isle just over three years ago came from third on the grid. His only victory from third on a grid on an oval came at Texas in 2006. Fourth matches Carpenter's best career starting position at Iowa. He finished fourth from fourth on the grid in 2013. This is the first time Ed Carpenter Racing has had multiple qualifiers in the top five. Takuma Sato was the top Honda qualifier in fifth position. This is Sato's fifth top five start of the season and it has already surpassed the Japanese driver's previous most top five starts in a season. Mikhail Aleshin qualified sixth, matching his best starting position of the season. Aleshin has been the top Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver on all four ovals this season.

Tony Kanaan qualified in seventh position. He started seventh and finished fifth in the Indianapolis 500 in May and led 22 laps. Kanaan started seventh at Iowa in 2007 and 2009. Both races ended for Kanaan in turn two accidents. Ed Jones finally got his first career top ten starting position with the Emirati driver ending up eighth on the grid. Jones has yet to lead a lap in his IndyCar career. He led 69 laps at Iowa in two Indy Lights starts. James Hinchcliffe starts ninth for the second consecutive race. This will be Hinchcliffe's 100th IndyCar start. He started eight on his debut at Barber in 2011. In his previous seven starts from ninth position, Hinchcliffe finished fifth at Mid-Ohio last year and eighth at Sonoma in 2013 and he has finished a lap down in four of those starts. Graham Rahal rounds out the top ten. This is only Rahal's third time starting in the top ten at Iowa. The Ohioan has only led 19 laps in his career at the 7/8-mile oval.

Simon Pagenaud will start 11th in the #1 Menards Chevrolet. Pagenaud started 11th and finished 11th at Iowa in 2014. The Frenchman led 11 laps last year after starting on pole position. He started 11th and finished fifth at Belle Isle in June. Alexander Rossi joins Pagenaud on row six. Rossi finished sixth last year at Iowa after starting 17th. Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball make it an all-Ganassi row seven. Chilton heads to Iowa coming off back-to-back top ten finishes. Chilton led his first career laps last year at Iowa when he led two laps during a pit cycle. He wouldn't lead another lap until he led 50 laps in this year's Indianapolis 500. Chilton led eight laps at Texas last month. This is the third time Kimball has started 14th at Iowa. He finished 11th and 12th in 2012 and 2013 respectively from 14th in the grid.

Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified 15th for what will be his tenth Iowa start. Hunter-Reay has three victories at Iowa as well as three eighth-place finishes. He has failed to pick up a top ten finish in the last five races. Josef Newgarden joins Hunter-Reay on row eight. They finished 1-2 at Iowa in 2014 and 2015. Newgarden started 21st for that 2014 race. This is the first time Newgarden has started 16th since Long Beach 2013, he finished 13th that day. Scott Dixon will start 17th. The championship leader had started the previous 13 races in the top ten. Dixon won from 17th on the grid at Pocono in 2013. This is Dixon's second-worst starting position at Iowa. He went from 23rd on the grid to third in the 2011 race. Esteban Gutiérrez joins Dixon on row nine. The Mexican driver had started 19th, 19th and 17th in his previous three career starts.

Conor Daly and Marco Andretti will start on row ten. Daly has been the top A.J. Foyt Racing qualifier in four races, including the last two oval races. Daly has yet to finish on the lead lap on an oval in his IndyCar career. Andretti holds the record for furthest starting position back for an Iowa winner. He won from 17th on the grid in 2011. Carlos Muñoz will round out the field in 21st after the Colombian had a spin exiting turn two in qualifying. His starting position has progressively gotten worst at Iowa after starting fifth, 12th and 15th in his first three Iowa starts. Muñoz has finished 12th, fifth and 12th in those three Iowa starts. He has never led a lap at Iowa.

NBCSN's coverage of the Iowa Corn 300 begins at 5:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 5:44 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 300 laps.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Track Walk: Iowa 2017

IndyCar is back on an oval
Iowa Speedway marks the 11th round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and it is the 11th time IndyCar has visited the 7/8-mile oval. Scott Dixon got his first victory of the season two weeks ago at Road America and he extended his championship lead to 34 points over Simon Pagenaud with seven races remaining in the season. Chevrolet has won three of the five Iowa races in the DW12-era and American drivers have won five of the last six Iowa races.

Coverage
Time: Coverage begins at 5:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 9th. Green flag will be at 5:30 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, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller are working the pit lane as well as Anders Krohn, who will make his debut as an IndyCar pit reporter.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
Saturday: 
First Practice- 11:00 a.m. ET (75-minute session).
Qualifying- 3:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage of this session).
Final Practice- 7:15 p.m. ET (30-minute session).
Sunday:
Race- 5:30 p.m. ET (300 laps)

Penske Waiting for First Iowa Triumph
Through the first ten trips to Iowa for IndyCar, Team Penske has come out on top in none of them and the team hasn't been particularly close on a consistent basis. Last year's runner-up finish for Will Power was only Team Penske's third podium finish in ten Iowa races and the first time a Penske driver stood on an Iowa podium in the DW12-era.

Simon Pagenaud enters Iowa as the top Penske driver in the championship. Last year, Pagenaud picked up a career-best finish at Iowa by coming home fourth after starting on pole position and leading 11 laps. Pagenaud has eight top five finishes from the first ten races and he picked up his first career oval victory at Phoenix in April after leading 114 laps from fifth on the grid. Pagenaud is the only driver to have completed all 1,263 laps contested this season.

Hélio Castroneves is three points behind Pagenaud, third in championship and he is coming off a third-place finish at Road America after starting on pole position for the third time in 2017. Castroneves has seven top ten finishes and he has started on one of the first two rows eight times at Iowa but his only top five finish was a runner-up finish in 2010 and he has finished outside the top ten the last two years. The Brazilian finished fourth after starting on pole position and leading 73 laps at Phoenix and he finished second in the Indianapolis 500. An accident exiting turn two ended his race early at Texas.

Josef Newgarden is the defending Iowa race winner and he has finished on the podium at Iowa the last three years. Newgarden has led 393 of the 600 laps run at Iowa the last two years. The Tennessean has already matched his career-high of four podium finishes in a season through the first ten races of 2017. He has had at least one runner-up finish in the final seven races of the season for the last four seasons. He has yet to finish on the lead lap this year on an oval. He finished two laps down in ninth at Phoenix, 14 laps down at Indianapolis in 19th and he retired at Texas after an accident in turn four.

Power returns to Iowa as the bottom of the Penske quartet in the championship but he is two points behind Newgarden in the championship, sixth overall. Iowa has been a bipolar track for Power. In eight starts, he has four top ten finishes and three finishes outside the top fifteen with two of those finishes being retirements before lap 100. He has started on pole position twice and in the top ten in seven consecutive Iowa starts with his career-worst starting position being 11th but he has only led 34 laps out of 2,150 laps completed and he has only led two laps in the DW12-era at Iowa.

Team Penske's 191 IndyCar victories have come at 50 different race tracks.

Can Ed Carpenter Racing Repeat?
While Penske looks for its first win at Iowa, Ed Carpenter Racing looks to defend its victory at the 7/8-mile oval. This time the team won't have Josef Newgarden behind the wheel to lead 282 of 300 laps from second on the grid. Instead, one driver continues to chase his first career victory while the other hasn't had a top five finish in two and a half years.

J.R. Hildebrand had a stellar performance at Phoenix by breaking up the Penske logjam at the front and finishing third, his first podium finish since his heartbreaking runner-up finish in the 2011 Indianapolis 500. However, Phoenix remains Hildebrand's only top ten finish this season and he has started the last four consecutive races from 18th on the grid. Hildebrand finished fourth at Iowa in 2011 after leading four laps from fourth on the grid and he had his race end after 97 laps because of an accident in 2012.

Ed Carpenter finished seventh at Phoenix but has finished 11th in his other two starts this season. Last year, Iowa was the only race Carpenter was running at the finish of and that was after he lost 16 laps to repair a gearbox issue that took him out of contention for a top five finish. In nine Iowa starts, Carpenter has two top five finishes and six top ten finishes but he has only led 18 laps and those all came in the 2013 race. Six of Carpenter's 13 top ten finishes on short tracks have come at Iowa.

How Can Honda Get Anything Out of Iowa?
The short tracks have been dominated by Chevrolet the last two seasons because of Chevrolet's superior high downforce aero package compared to the Honda entries. Chevrolet has won the last three short track races and has swept the top four in all three races while leading 796 of 800 laps contested.

Andretti Autosport had won six consecutive Iowa races and seven of the first nine races before last year. Alexander Rossi was the one bright spot for the team last year, as he led four laps during a pit cycle and he was able to get a sixth-place finish out of 17th on the grid. Ryan Hunter-Reay has three Iowa victories, the most all-time but he has failed to score a top ten finish in the last five races and his best oval result this season was 13th at Phoenix. He has not been running at the finish of any oval race this year. Iowa is the site of Marco Andretti's most recent IndyCar victory, which came just over six years ago. He has two top ten finishes from the first three oval races. The one blemish was being caught up in the turn one lap one accident at Phoenix. Takuma Sato has never finished in the top ten at Iowa but he did score his best finish at the track last year by coming home in 11th.

Chip Ganassi Racing is the only team besides Andretti Autosport with multiple Iowa victories but its most recent victory came in 2009. Dixon leads the championship and Iowa is another track where victory has found a way to elude him. The New Zealander has six top five finishes, eight top ten finishes in ten starts and three pole positions at the track but his best finish is third. Tony Kanaan won in 2010 at Iowa, which started a streak of five consecutive podium finishes at the track. He finished seventh last year. Max Chilton started fourth last year but he had a spin exiting turn two and he finished 19th. Charlie Kimball matched his career-best Iowa finish last year with a tenth-place finish.

Graham Rahal finds himself seventh in the championship and he has four consecutive top ten finishes. Iowa has been a track where Rahal has not qualified well, he has only started in the top ten twice at the track, but he has six top ten finishes from nine starts including four top ten finishes in the DW12-era. Last year's 16th-place finish was his worst result at the track but he has never retired from an Iowa race.

James Hinchcliffe won the 2013 Iowa race and outside of a 17th-place result because of an accident in 2012, the Canadian has four top ten finishes in five Iowa starts. Hinchcliffe hasn't led at Iowa since leading 226 of 250 laps in that 2013 race. Should he take the green flag, this will be the 100th start of Hinchcliffe's IndyCar career. Mikhail Aleshin was the top Honda finisher last year with a fifth-place finish. Aleshin was the only Honda to start in the top ten last year, he started ninth.

Ed Jones rounds out the top ten in the championship and the Emirati driver has had a fair amount of success at Iowa. He finished second and third there in Indy Lights, having led 69 of 200 laps and he won pole position for last year's race. Esteban Gutiérrez will make his oval debut this weekend. He tested at Iowa after the Road America race to be clear for this weekend.

Road to Indy
Indy Lights and U.S. F2000 join IndyCar at Iowa Speedway this weekend.

Kyle Kaiser nearly doubled his championship lead after a third-place finish and second-place finish at Road America. The Juncos Racing driver has 199 points and he holds a 27-point lead over Carlin's Matheus Leist. Kaiser has finished fourth and sixth the last two years at Iowa. Leist won the Freedom 100, his first career oval race in May. Kaiser has four podium finishes in the last five races and Leist has five consecutive top five finishes.

Colton Herta got off the snide in race two at Road America with a third-place finish. While having four podium finishes, Herta has finished tenth or worse in the other five races. He trails Kaiser by 38 points in the championship. Herta's Andretti Autosport teammate Nico Jamin is ten points behind him in fourth. Jamin has only one top five finish since his victory on the IMS road course.

Belardi's Aaron Telitz and Carlin's Neil Alberico are tied on 149 points. Telitz and Alberico each won at Indianapolis Raceway Park in U.S. F2000. This is Telitz's first appearance at Iowa. Zachary Claman DeMelo is coming off his first career Indy Lights victory and he is four points behind Telitz and Alberico. Santiago Urrutia finds himself eighth in the championship on 140 points.

Shelby Blackstock and Ryan Norman round out the top ten on 118 points and 111 points respectively. Dalton Kellett is a point behind Norman. Juan Piedrahita has four consecutive top ten finishes. Nicolas Dapero is still looking for his first career top five finish. Garth Rickards has two top ten finishes from nine races.

Chad Boat will make his Indy Lights debut in the #84 Mazda for Belardi Auto Racing. He will also run at Gateway in August. Boat made 17 NASCAR Grand National Series starts from 2014-15 and four Truck series starts in 2015. Boat has made seven starts at Iowa between the NASCAR Grand National Series, Truck series, NASCAR East and West series and ARCA. He finished third in both his ARCA starts at the track.

Carlin is undefeated at Iowa. The team will try to get its third consecutive Iowa victory at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 9th.

U.S. F2000 returns to Iowa for the first time since 2010. Indianapolis Raceway Park had been the only U.S. F2000 oval race since 2012 and the series went to Milwaukee in 2011 as well as IRP.

Oliver Askew's winning streak ended at Road America after Rinus VeeKay swept the weekend but the Cape Motorsports driver continues to lead the championship with 215 points while Pabst Racing's VeeKay sits on 191 points. Team Pelfrey's Kaylen Frederick trails Askew by 71 points while Parker Thompson is a further ten points back. Calvin Ming rounds out the top five in the championship on 112 points. Robert Megennis rounds sits on 102 points with Lucas Kohl on 79 points.

Only 13 cars are entered for Iowa. Alexandre Baron returns to Road to Indy competition for the first time since 2014 when he raced in Indy Lights for Belardi Auto Racing. Baron will race with ArmsUp Motorsports. In 2013, Baron started the final four races of the U.S. F2000 season and won on his debut at Laguna Seca and he won at Houston. He won his final Indy Lights start in 2014 at Toronto. Devin Wojcik will be Baron's teammate. Kory Enders and Moises de la Vara both drive for DEForce Racing. Cape Motorsports' Ricky Donison makes his first oval start. Exclusive Autosport's Dev Grove is still looking for his first career top ten finish.

The U.S.  F2000 race will be at 2:05 p.m. ET on Sunday July 9th.

Fast Facts
This will be the fourth IndyCar race to take place on July 9th and the first since 2006 when A.J. Allmendinger won at Toronto.

The average starting position for an Iowa winner is 3.875 with a median of third.

The pole-sitter has never won at Iowa and a pole-sitter has never stood on the podium at Iowa. Last year, Simon Pagenaud finished fourth after starting on pole position. It was the third time an Iowa pole-sitter had finished fourth. The previous two times Scott Dixon was the pole-sitter and those occurred in 2008 and 2014.

The average number of lead changes is 10.6 with a median of ten

Only once has the final lead change in an Iowa race happened in the final ten laps. Ryan Hunter-Reay took the lead from Tony Kanaan in 2014 with two laps to go.

The average number of cautions is 5.1 with a median of 5.5. The average number of caution laps is 56.9 with a median of 60.

Last year's Iowa race matched the track record for fewest cautions in a race with three.

Last year's Iowa race was the fastest since the race was extended to 300 laps. It had an average speed of 143.330 MPH.

Last year's Iowa race matched the inaugural Iowa race for second-fewest lead lap finishers at the track with five lead lap finishers. The 2009 race had only four cars finish on the lead lap.

Only once has an Iowa race finished under caution. That was the 2012 race.

Josef Newgarden is the only driver to win at Iowa in IndyCar and Indy Lights.

Conor Daly won at Iowa in Star Mazda in 2010.

Carlos Muñoz finished 12th at Iowa in 2014 and 2016 and he finished fifth in 2015.

Seven of ten Iowa races have had at least one podium finisher start outside the top ten. The last two Iowa races have had all podium finishers start inside the top ten.

Only three times has the driver that has led the most laps at Iowa won the race (Dario Franchitti in 2008, James Hinchcliffe in 2013 and Newgarden last year).

The last six Iowa races have had at least one driver lead at least 100 laps. It never occurred in the first four Iowa races.

Three of the last four Iowa races have had a driver lead at least 200 laps. Hinchcliffe led 226 laps on his way to victory in 2013 and Tony Kanaan led 247 laps before finishing third. Newgarden led 282 laps on his way to victory last year.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon is one top five finish away from tying Michael Andretti for fifth all-time at 139 top five finishes.

Should he take the green flag this weekend, Dixon will tie Paul Tracy for ninth all-time in starts at 281 starts.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 71 laps to surpass Al Unser for fourth most laps led in IndyCar history.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 23 laps to reach the 5,000 laps led milestone.

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

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 153 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 90 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Predictions
J.R. Hildebrand keeps Team Penske off the scoreboard at Iowa and makes it back-to-back victories for Ed Carpenter Racing at Iowa. Ed Carpenter gets a top five finish. Chevrolet will sweep the top four for the fourth consecutive short track race but a Honda will finish fifth. An A.J. Foyt Racing car will get a top ten finish. There will not be an accident on the first lap of the race. The car that leads the most laps leads more than 125 laps but fewer than 200 laps. Sleeper: Mikhail Aleshin.


Monday, July 3, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Long Beach's Future

Canada celebrated its 150th birthday and a Canadian won on the joyous day. Unfortunately, Canadians couldn't sweep the weekend in Germany. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., driver of the #17 Ford won the 17th race of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season on the first day of the seventh month of 2017. A German came close to winning in Germany in MotoGP. There was a photo finish in Moto2. Wayne Taylor Racing did not win the 6 Hours of the Glen but an undefeated season is still alive in IMSA. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Long Beach's Future
I hold off on talking about future schedules, IndyCar in particular, until the calendar switches to July. We got to get halfway through a year before we can consider talking about next year. The 2018 IndyCar schedule seems pretty solid. Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles has already said IndyCar has agreements with all 16 existing events to return for next year. Most events probably aren't thinking about 2019 just yet. However, one event's future is being fought over.

Since 1984, the Grand Prix of Long Beach has been a staple on the IndyCar schedule. The famed event hosted Formula One for eight years before switching to CART. After over three decades and five other U.S. venues visited, Formula One is the closest it has ever been to returning to the street of Long Beach. Last October, the city of Long Beach requested proposals on how to increase revenue and media exposure for the race while among other things minimizing cost.

While Kevin Kalkhoven, who along with Gerry Forsythe runs the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach and holds the contract for the Grand Prix of Long Beach through 2018 with options to extend the deal to 2020, dismissed the rumors of Formula One bumping IndyCar off the ticket, there is an opposition waving the Formula One flag. The World Automobile Championship of California, led by founder of the Grand Prix of Long Beach Chris Pook, believes it would be best for the city to bring Formula One back.

Both sides had editorials published by the Press-Telegram, Long Beach's daily newspaper. Jim Michaelian, president/CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, stressed that the event is healthier than ever with IndyCar and provides a fan-friendly event at an affordable price that is community-driven. He warned of the possible costs it would take to upgrade the facilities and alter the race track to host a Formula One race, as well as the significant increase in sanctioning fee switching from IndyCar to Formula One.

In Pook's editorial, written with WACC legal counselor Richard J. Foster, he argued the race has lost its luster and IndyCar does not provide the same economic bump for the city as a Formula One race would. Pook wrote that Formula One would sell more hotel rooms and increase restaurant patronage around the city while hosting a Formula One race wouldn't cost anymore than hosting an IndyCar race, the facilities and race track wouldn't need to be altered and tickets would cost "between $75 and $150 per day."

Both Michaelian and Pook have an argument but both have their flaws. While Michaelian is happy with the fan-friendly event, the city needs to make money and do all it can to fill its coffers. Pook slyly suggests that tickets would be reasonably priced by throwing out figures such as $75 and $150 and even saying that is on par with a day at Disneyland or a Taylor Swift concert but when you are shelling out $75 to $150 per day over a three-day race weekend the ticket prices actually range from $225 to $450, which Pook kindly admits because presenting the numbers that way doesn't really help him win the debate.

From the way I see it, there are three scenarios for the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The first one has the quickest explanation and that is IndyCar continues as the series of choice for the event and everything remains unchanged.

The second is Formula One replaces IndyCar at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, which leads us down another path lined with hurdles. The first hurdle is would the Grand Prix of Long Beach adapt to the Formula One schedule or would Formula One adapt to the event's traditional date? Thirty-eight of 43 editions of Grand Prix of Long Beach have taken place during the month of April, including every year since 1985. The 2018 Formula One schedule tentatively has races in China, Bahrain and Azerbaijan during the month of April with Canada scheduled in June and the other two North American rounds in Austin and Mexico City scheduled for October. Azerbaijan wants to return to June in 2019 but its date has been taken by the returning French Grand Prix. Barring some seismic shift in the Formula One calendar, Long Beach would have to find a new date because I am not sure teams would want three separate trips to North America. The race would either have to be paired with Canada in June or moved to autumn with Austin and Mexico City.

Then there comes the issue of the track and facilities. The current track layout is 1.968 miles (3.167 km) in length while the FIA states that to host a grand prix event a circuit must be at least 3.5 km (2.17 miles) in length. Monaco, of course, is grandfathered in at 3.337 km (2.074 miles). Although two-tenths of a mile doesn't sound like much when increasing the track length, it would extend the disruption of the race further into the surrounding area as more streets would have to be closed and it would force even more people to take detours not only during race week but in the weeks leading up to the race because of track construction.

The third scenario is what if IndyCar and Formula One could both run at Long Beach? What if IndyCar ran the traditional date in April and Formula One ran in October? It seems like a lot to close down the streets twice a year and having a race hassle Long Beach residents not only for mid-March to mid-April but for all of October as well but what if the potential revenue from two race weekends about six months apart proved to be too much for the city to say no?

Two weekends seems very unlikely because it is going to disrupt the city too much but could IndyCar and Formula One run on the same weekend? An issue could be deciding how the weekend would be scheduled. Unlike my suggestion of IndyCar running on Saturday of Canadian Grand Prix and United States Grand Prix weekends and joining existing Formula One events, this would be the opposite, as Formula One would join IndyCar. Then comes the issue of time zones. The IndyCar race starts at 4:00 p.m. ET, which is 10:00 p.m. in Central Europe. Perhaps something could be worked out where the Formula One race could be held at 11:00 a.m. in Long Beach, which would be 8:00 p.m. in Central Europe and the IndyCar race could follow 30 minutes or an hour after the Formula One race was finished.

Lost in the muddle of IndyCar or Formula One being the future of the Grand Prix of Long Beach is the futures of IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge at the race as well. As it currently stands, Long Beach gives spectators a diverse weekend of action and a mixture of some of the best drivers North America has to offer. If Formula One takes over the Long Beach race, I can't see IMSA and PWC continuing as support races. For Montreal, Porsche GT3 Cup Canada, Ferrari Challenge, Formula 1600 and historic racing were on the undercard. For Austin, the only support series currently lined up is Formula 4 United States Championship... and a Justin Timberlake concert but that's not the point. In its current iteration, Long Beach provides three top U.S.-based series. If Formula One takes over, it would turn into a weekend with Formula One and maybe one or two single-make series with not much to get excited about.

We know there will be another year of IndyCar on Shoreline Drive but what happens come 2019 should be decided relatively soon. If you are wondering can IndyCar live without Long Beach, the answer is yes. IndyCar has found a way to live without Langhorne, Trenton, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Michigan, Laguna Seca, Springfield, Syracuse and Surfers Paradise. Losing Long Beach would be a tough pill to swallow but even through the toughest times in IndyCar it has found new locations to plant its roots.

Regardless of what is decided and what it means for the futures of IndyCar, IMSA, Formula One and Long Beach, it will work itself out and we will all be able to carry on.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. but did you know...

Marc Márquez won MotoGP's German Grand Prix. Franco Morbidelli won the Moto2 race by 0.066 seconds over Miguel Oliveira. Joan Mir won the Moto3 race, his fifth victory of the season.

William Byron won the Grand National Series race at Daytona, his second consecutive victory of the season.

The #5 Action Express Racing Cadillac of João Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Felipe Albuquerque won the 6 Hours of the Glen. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of James French, Pato O'Ward and Kyle Masson won in Prototype Challenge, the team's fifth consecutive class victory. The #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of Alexander Sims and Bill Auberlen won in GTLM. The #93 Michael Shank Racing Acura of Andy Lally and Katherine Legge won in GTD, the team's second consecutive victory.

Bruno Spengler and Maxime Martin split the DTM races from the Norisring.

Thierry Neuville won Rally Poland.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads to Iowa with Indy Lights and U.S. F2000.
World Superbikes comes to the United States, specifically Laguna Seca.
Formula One returns to Austria.
NASCAR runs another Saturday night race, this time at Kentucky.
IMSA turns around and crosses the border for a round at Mosport.
Super Formula runs the third round of the season at Fuji Speedway.
Supercars will be at Townsville.
TCR International Series will be at Oschersleben.