Thursday, August 31, 2017

Track Walk: Watkins Glen 2017

The final east coast stop for IndyCar in 2017 is Watkins Glen
The penultimate round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season is at Watkins Glen International and the good news is regardless of what happens this weekend, the championship will go to Sonoma.  Josef Newgarden cannot clinch the championship this weekend but he can set himself up for a California coronation ceremony. Team Penske has won the last five races and it looks to become the first team to win six consecutive races since Newman/Haas Racing in 2005. This is the longest winning streak for Team Penske since the team won seven consecutive races in 1994.

Coverage
Time: Coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday September 3rd. Green flag will be at 1:40 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey is back and Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy join him in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller are working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
Friday:
First Practice- 10:15 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Second Practice- 3:05 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Saturday: 
Third Practice- 10:30 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 3:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have tape-delayed coverage at 7:00 p.m. ET).
Sunday:
Warm-Up- 9:00 a.m. ET (30-miunte session).
Race- 1:40 p.m. ET (60 laps)

And Then There Were Eight
Mathematically, eight drivers remain alive for the Astor Cup.

Josef Newgarden has won three of the last four races and he has stood on one of the first two steps of the podium in five of the last six races. His worst finish since the start of summer was sixth at Iowa. Newgarden has led a lap in eight consecutive races and he has led 305 of the last 623 laps, 48.95% of the laps run in the last four races. Last year, Newgarden went from 12th to second at Watkins Glen by a timely pit stop before the caution for Mikhail Aleshin's spin and by stretching fuel mileage on the final stint. Newgarden has yet to be the top qualifying Penske driver this season despite starting on one of the first two rows six times this season.

Scott Dixon heads to Watkins Glen trailing Newgarden 31 points but Dixon has won four times in seven Watkins Glen starts. Dixon has stood on the podium on five occasions at Watkins Glen and he has six top ten finishes with his worst finish being 11th. Dixon has completed all 415 laps run at Watkins Glen since its return to the IndyCar schedule in 2005. Dixon has started on one of the first two rows six times with his worst starting position being seventh at Watkins Glen. He has led 118 laps at the track while the rest of the drivers on the IndyCar entry list have led a combined 136 laps.

Hélio Castroneves remained third in the championship after Gateway but he has fallen to 42 points behind his teammate. Castroneves has six consecutive top ten finishes and he is tied with Dixon for most top ten finishes this season at 14 top ten finishes. He finished third at last year's Watkins Glen race and he has three consecutive top ten finishes at Watkins Glen after only one top ten finish in his first four Watkins Glen starts. While he finished third at Watkins Glen last year and he finished third at Road America in June, Castroneves has not won on a natural-terrain road course since Barber in 2010.

Simon Pagenaud is coming off a tough second place finish at Gateway and he trails Newgarden by 43 points. Pagenaud has 12 top five finishes this season, three more than Newgarden who has the second-most top five finishes this season. Pagenaud has completed all 2,186 laps contested this season but he has dropped to fourth in the championship after being tied for second after the Indianapolis 500. Going back to last season, Pagenaud has completed 18 consecutive races, including last year at Watkins Glen, where he started and finished seventh.

Will Power's lap five accident at Gateway has dropped him to 83 points back of Newgarden and he is currently on the bubble of being eliminated from championship contention. Should 21 cars enter Sonoma, a driver will need to be within 86 points of the championship leader to have a shot at the title. If 22 cars enter, a driver will need to be within 88 points. While Power won the 2010 race at Watkins Glen, he finished 15th and 20th in his other two starts at the track. Power has finished outside the top fifteen in seven races this season, the most since he had eight finishes outside the top fifteen in 2013.

Graham Rahal is the first driver below the cut line for championship contention heading to Sonoma. The Ohioan trails Tennessean Newgarden by 111 points after Rahal's 12th place finish at Gateway, ending a streak of eight consecutive top ten finishes for Rahal. Rahal has completed every lap in the last 11 races. Rahal has not had much success at Watkins Glen. He finished eighth in his first start at the track but finished 13th and 21st in his last two starts and his three qualifying results there have been 18th, 15th and 20th.

Alexander Rossi has moved up to seventh in the championship on 422 points as he has another stretch of four consecutive top ten finishes, this one includes two podium finishes. He will need a victory and Newgarden to finish outside the top fifteen to stay alive for the championship. Rossi started 15th and finished eighth at Watkins Glen last year. Rossi has finished in the top ten in three of the four natural-terrain road course race this season and he was running in the top ten at Road America before front wing damage cost him a solid finish.

Takuma Sato is mathematically alive for the championship but his title hopes will vanish if Newgarden takes the green flag. If Sato were to win and score a maximum of 54 points and Newgarden finished last and scored the minimum of nine points, he would still trail him by 92 points. Sato could still be alive for the title at Sonoma even if trailing Newgarden by 92 points but he would need at least 25 cars to start the season finale. Since the start of the summer, Sato has finished outside the top fifteen four times with finishes of fifth at Mid-Ohio and 13th at Pocono being the exceptions.

Top Ten Battle
Forty-three points cover ninth to 13th in the championship and the battle to be on the first page of the championship table will likely be between these five drivers over the final two rounds.

Tony Kanaan sits in ninth on 365 points and the Brazilian is currently going through a contentious time at Chip Ganassi Racing. While he finished fifth at Pocono, Kanaan has finished outside the top fifteen in four of the last six races. His best finish on a road/street course this season was seventh at Barber and his only other top ten finish on a road/street course was tenth in the second Belle Isle race. He has not made it out of the first round of qualifying since the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and his only Fast Six appearance this season was at St. Petersburg. Kanaan has started in the top ten in six of his seven Watkins Glen starts and he has completed 413 of a possible 415 laps at the track.

James Hinchcliffe trails Kanaan by 14 points and the Canadian is coming off an eighth place finish at Gateway, his best oval finish of the season. Hinchcliffe's best finish on a natural-terrain road course this season was sixth at Barber but he did pick up a victory, three podium finishes and four top ten finishes from the five street course races this season. Hinchcliffe was in contention for a podium finish last year at Watkins Glen before he ran out of fuel on the final lap and stopped prior to the final corner. He was classified with an 18th-place finish.

Fourteen points behind Hinchcliffe is Ryan Hunter-Reay. While he retired from Gateway after hitting the wall while in the top ten, Hunter-Reay has been on a good run of form. He had four consecutive top ten finishes prior to Gateway, which was led off with a third place finish at Iowa, and he has gone from 15th to 11th in the championship since Road America. Hunter-Reay won at Watkins Glen in 2008, his first start at the track and he started third that day. In his three Watkins Glen starts since that victory he has started 16th twice and he started 19th last year. His finishes in those three races were 21st, seventh and 14th.

Max Chilton is a point behind Hunter-Reay in 12th. The British driver has finished outside the top ten in four of the last five races and he is coming off the back of two consecutive retirements, something that had only happened once prior in his career when he retired from both Belle Isle races last season. Three of Chilton's five top ten finishes this season have come on road/street course race with two of those being on natural-terrain road courses. Chilton's only top five finish this year remains his fourth in the Indianapolis 500. He finished tenth at Watkins Glen last year after starting sixth.

Like Chilton, Marco Andretti has finished outside the top ten in four of the last five races but Andretti has completed all but two laps in that five race stretch, both coming at Iowa and Andretti has finished 11th consecutive races since he was caught up in the turn one lap one accident at Phoenix. Also like Chilton, Andretti best finish this season is fourth and it came at Toronto for the American. Andretti has 322 points from the first 15 races. He had three consecutive fifth place finishes at Watkins Glen from 2007 to 2009. Andretti has completed 300 consecutive laps at Watkins Glen.

Harvey's Return
Jack Harvey returns for his second career IndyCar start and his road course debut as the British driver will be in the #7 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Harvey made his debut in the Indianapolis 500 just over three months ago in collaboration with Andretti Autosport and Michael Shank Racing.

Harvey ran two seasons with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in Indy Lights. He finished second in the Indy Lights championship both years. He lost the 2014 title on tiebreaker to Gabby Chaves. Both drivers had won four races but Chaves had five runner-up finishes while Harvey only had finished runner-up once. In 2015, Harvey won the Freedom 100 and the first race of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend and he had six runner-up finishes but he failed to finish on the podium in the final six races and lost the championship by 27 points to Spencer Pigot.

Prior to Harvey's move to the United States, he drove in the GP3 Series in 2013 with Carlin and he finished fifth in the championship behind Daniil Kvyat, teammates Facu Regalia and Conor Daly and Tio Ellinas. Harvey's two victories that season came at Silverstone and Monza. He won the 2012 British Formula Three championship over the likes of Jazeman Jaafar, Félix Serrallés, Alex Lynn, Harry Tincknell, Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Pipo Derani.

Harvey has never competed at Watkins Glen.

Bourdais' Best Shot Back
Sébastien Bourdais made his IndyCar return last Saturday night at Gateway Motorsports Park and the Frenchman was able to complete all 248 laps and he finished tenth. While Honda was expected to struggle at the 1.25-mile oval, the manufacture has shown better on road courses this season than the short ovals but the high downforce expected for Watkins Glen will favor the Chevrolets.

Bourdais finished in the top ten in three of his four road/street course starts this season with the lone exception being the Grand Prix of Indianapolis because his engine went sour after three laps. He did qualify sixth for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the second-best Honda on the grid.

Last year was Bourdais' first IndyCar start at Watkins Glen. He started third and he finished fifth. He did make three starts at Watkins Glen in Grand-Am competition. He finished third in the 2012 6 Hours of the Glen and he finished second in a two-hour race held on the short course during the NASCAR weekend later that season; both races were with Starworks. He finished eighth in the 2013 6 Hours of the Glen with 8 Star Motorsports.

Prior to Bourdais' injury, Dale Coyne Racing had five top ten finishes from the first five races, including double top ten finishes for the team in the first two races. During Bourdais' absence, the team scored three top ten finishes in nine races. Ed Jones and Esteban Gutiérrez each advanced to the second round of road/street course qualifying once during Bourdais' absence. Bourdais made it out of the first round of qualifying in three of his four road/street course starts but the one race he didn't advance from round one was St. Petersburg and he won that race from 21st on grid.

Last year, Dale Coyne Racing had the best finishing Honda at Watkins Glen with Conor Daly finishing fourth and the team had a double top ten finish with RC Enerson finishing ninth.

Fast Facts
This will be the 17th IndyCar race on September 3rd and first since 2000 when Paul Tracy won at Vancouver.

Watkins Glen is the site of A.J. Foyt Racing's most recent podium finish on a natural-terrain road course. Darren Manning finished second to Ryan Hunter-Reay in the 2008 Watkins Glen race.

Carlos Muñoz has finished tenth and ninth in the last two races. The last Foyt driver to finish three consecutive races in the top ten was Takuma Sato, who finished in the top ten in the final two races in 2015, at Pocono and Sonoma, and at the 2016 season opener at St. Petersburg.

J.R. Hildebrand won at Watkins Glen in Indy Lights in 2009. Hildebrand is the only driver entered for this race to have won at Watkins Glen in Indy Lights.

Spencer Pigot has finished outside the top ten in his last four starts. The longest stretch without a top ten finish in Pigot's career is five races, the first five races of his career.

Charlie Kimball finished sixth at Watkins Glen last year and he finished in the top ten in the final three races last year.

The driver who has led the most laps has won 11 of the first 15 races this season. The previous most races won in a season by the driver who led the most laps in the DW12-era were ten in 2013.

Six of ten Watkins Glen races have been won by the driver who led the most laps including the last three races.

Honda has won five of ten Watkins Glen races. Last year's victory by Dixon was the first for Chevrolet at the track.

Dixon set the track record last year in the third round of qualifying with a time of 82.5259 seconds (147.008 MPH).

Dixon also set the record for widest margin of victory at Watkins Glen with a 16.5308-second gap over Josef Newgarden.

The average and median starting position for a Watkins Glen winner is 2.5.

All ten Watkins Glen races have been won from one of the first two rows.

The pole-sitter has won the last two Watkins Glen races.

Scott Dixon won from fourth at Watkins Glen in 2005 and 2006; the furthest back a Watkins Glen winner has started.

The average number of lead changes at Watkins Glen is 5.444 with a median of five.

Last year's race matched the record for most lead changes at Watkins Glen with eight lead changes.

The fewest number of lead changes at Watkins Glen is four.

The average number of cautions at Watkins Glen is 3.555 with a median of four. The average number of caution laps is 10.333 with a median of seven.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon and Hélio Castroneves are both one top five finish away from 140 top five finishes in their careers and breaking a tie with Michael Andretti for fifth all-time in top five finishes.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 36 laps to reach the 900 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 22 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Alexander Rossi needs to lead ten laps to reach the 100 laps led milestone.

Predictions
Chevrolet domination and more specifically the Team Penske domination continues. It will be another race with the top four in qualifying being swept by Team Penske. Simon Pagenaud wins the race. Will Power finishes second. Josef Newgarden comes home in the top five. At least two Hondas make the Fast Six and those two Hondas come from two different teams. The margin of victory will be less than five seconds. Jack Harvey is the top rookie finisher. Sleeper: Spencer Pigot.




Wednesday, August 30, 2017

2017 Road to Indy Season Finales Preview

This Labor Day weekend marks the final rounds for all three Road to Indy series and all three championships will be awarded at Watkins Glen International. Six drivers across the three series have a shot at winning a championship.

Indy Lights
The Indy Lights championship is all but settled. Kyle Kaiser will win the 2017 Indy Lights championship simply by starting this weekend's season finale from Watkins Glen. The Californian holds a 31-point lead over Belardi Auto Racing's Santiago Urrutia with 33 points left on the table. Should 14 cars enter for the season finale, Kaiser would be guaranteed seven points simply by taking the green flag.

Kaiser would be the fourth American to win the Indy Lights championship since the establishment of the Road to Indy system in 2010. He would also be the second Juncos Racing driver to win the Indy Lights title in the last three years after Spencer Pigot won the title in 2015. Kaiser has won three races this season. He won the second race of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend and he swept the weekend at Toronto. He has eight podium finishes from 15 races, 11 top five finish and 13 top ten finishes. Kaiser finished fourth in last year's Watkins Glen race.

Four drivers will be fighting for second in Indy Lights. Urrutia's Gateway victory was his second of the season, second in three races and put him in sole possession of second in the championship on 285 points. Urrutia has six podium finishes from the last eight races. He finished 12th in last year's Indy Lights race at Watkins Glen after starting on pole position after a left front tire failure.

The Uruguayan is eight points clear of Andretti Steinbrenner Racing's Colton Herta. Herta picked up his sixth podium of the season at Gateway. He won two of the first four races and finished on the podium in three of the first four races. Carlin's Matheus Leist trails Urrutia by 25 points. Leist has finished tenth or worst in four of the last five races after winning three of the four races before that and having six consecutive top five finishes. Leist's teammate Zachary Claman DeMelo is a point behind the Brazilian. DeMelo has finished in the top six in eight of the previous nine races.

Nico Jamin, at best, could finish fourth in the championship. He is currently sixth after he retired from the Gateway race. Aaron Telitz sits 13 points behind Jamin and 24 points ahead of Neil Alberico. Shelby Blackstock and Juan Piedrahita round out the top ten on 198 points and 195 points respectively. One point separate Andretti Autosport teammates Dalton Kellett and Ryan Norman and Kellett is six points outside the top ten. Nicolas Dapero is coming off his first career Indy Lights top five finish and he has 174 points. Garth Rickards rounds out the top fourteen on 139 points.

The Indy Lights season finale will take place at 10:50 a.m. ET on Sunday September 3rd.

Pro Mazda
It is a two-horse race in Pro Mazda and two points separate the two title contenders entering the doubleheader from Watkins Glen.

Juncos Racing's Victor Franzoni enters with 287 points while Cape Motorsports' Anthony Martin sits on 285 points. Through ten races, both drivers have won five races but Franzoni has finished second in every race Martin has won while Martin has four runner-up finishes and he finished fourth in the second race during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend. Martin has won six pole positions while Franzoni has three pole positions. Franzoni has five fastest laps to Martin's four and Martin has led the most laps in six races this season to Franzoni's four.

Franzoni could become the first Juncos Racing driver to take the Pro Mazda championship since Spencer Pigot in 2014 and the third Juncos Racing driver to win the title overall, as Conor Daly won the 2010 title with Juncos. Cape Motorsports has never won the Pro Mazda championship but a Cape Motorsports driver has finished runner-up in Pro Mazda twice with Scott Hargrove in 2014 and Neil Alberico in 2015.

TJ Fischer has finished fourth in the last three races and he is five points ahead of his Team Pelfrey teammate Carlos Cunha. Cunha has three consecutive third-place finishes. Fischer's best finish was second in the second race of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend. Nikita Lastochkin makes it three consecutive Team Pelfrey cars in the championship with the Russian trailing Fischer by 20 points.

The first race of the Pro Mazda weekend will be Saturday September 2nd at 11:30 a.m. ET and the final race of the season will be held at 7:55 a.m. ET on Sunday September 3rd.

U.S. F2000
Just like Indy Lights and Pro Mazda, two drivers are fighting for the title in U.S. F2000 and the series has one race remaining.

Oliver Askew leads the championship with 325 points, 13 points ahead of Pabst Racing Services Rinus VeeKay. Askew has won seven of 13 races this season while VeeKay has only won twice but the Dutchman has eight consecutive podium finishes, 11 total and his worst finish this season was sixth in the first race of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend, his only finish outside the top five this season. Askew has ten podium finishes this season but he has finished outside the top ten on two occasions and he was docked ten points after his victory at Mid-Ohio for jumping the start.

Askew has won seven pole positions this season while VeeKay has only one pole position. Askew has seven fastest laps while VeeKay has achieved fastest lap twice and Askew has led the most laps seven times while VeeKay's two occasions of leading the most laps were his two victories at Road America.

Askew can clinch the U.S. F2000 championship with a third-place finish. If VeeKay finishes second at Watkins Glen, all Askew would need to lock up the championship is a sixth-place finish. Cape Motorsports has won five consecutive U.S. F2000 championships while Pabst Racing Services is going for its first championship in the series.

The rest of the top five in U.S. F2000 championship is pretty much set. Parker Thompson cannot be caught in third as the Canadian has 264 points. Thompson has won three of the last four races and he finished second in the other race during that stretch. Kaylen Frederick sits on 221 points in fourth and Frederick has five podium finishes this season. Calvin Ming round out the top five on 185 points and the winner of the season opener from St. Petersburg, Robert Megennis, is sixth on 162 points.

The U.S. F2000 season finale will take place at 1:15 p.m. ET on Saturday September 2nd.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: 2018 IndyCar Schedule Talk Part Two

There is trouble brewing in the Team Penske stable. Two former IndyCar drivers won the final Suzuka 1000km in an upset. Jenson Button finished 12th in his Super GT debut and one car finished the Suzuka 1000km on its lid. Marc Márquez lost the MotoGP championship lead after suffering an engine failure. The 100th Moto3 race was contested. A pair of disqualifications shook up the FIA Formula Two feature race results. An American continues to put up respectable results in GP3. There was a first-time winner in IMSA competition and there was a first-time winner in NASCAR competition as well in what was a physical race. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

2018 IndyCar Schedule Talk Part Two
It has been a calm silly season in terms of IndyCar schedule speculation. I would argue that is a good thing considering how much turnover there had been from reunification to last season. The good news is we appear to have 100% retention rate for a second consecutive season, something that has not been heard of in IndyCar for almost two decades and there is a chance of schedule growth.

We already knew about St. Petersburg (March 11th), Long Beach (April 15th), the Indianapolis 500 (May 27th), Belle Isle (June 2-3rd) and Road America (June 24th). Since our last time pondering what the 2018 calendar will look like, it has all but been officially confirmed that Phoenix will return to the week prior to Long Beach on Saturday April 7th and with the release of the IMSA Prototype Challenge schedule we have learned that Barber will take place Sunday April 22nd. Texas is set for Saturday June 9th.

It appears the first half of the IndyCar season is pretty much set. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis has yet to be confirmed for its regular date of the second Saturday of May but it would seem that race is set to return to that date.

The second half of the season remains to be confirmed but we have yet to hear any news of any major date shifts. If the final seven race weekends do not change for 2018, the second half of the 2018 IndyCar schedule should look like this:

July 8th: Iowa
July 15th: Toronto:
July 29th: Mid-Ohio
August 19th: Pocono
August 25th: Gateway
September 2nd: Watkins Glen
September 16th: Sonoma

When looking at that theoretical second half of the schedule the first thing to notice is there are fewer clashes with NASCAR Cup races. Iowa would take place on the Sunday after the July Daytona race. Toronto would take place the day after Kentucky. Pocono would still occur on the Sunday after the Bristol night race and Gateway would still take place on a Cup off weekend. Watkins Glen would still fall the same day at the Southern 500 but Watkins Glen would be a day race while the Southern 500 would take place at night.

The two clashes would be Mid-Ohio with the second Pocono Cup race and Sonoma with the newly added Las Vegas Chase race, although Sonoma started after the Cup race at Chicagoland last year and it is scheduled to start after the Chicagoland race again this year.

The one possible addition to the IndyCar schedule could be a round in Mexico. Though original reports surrounding a trip south of the border were linking IndyCar to Autódromo Miguel E. Abed, a 1.25-mile oval located near Puebla, it now appears the potential Mexico race would take place at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City. While currently being the home of the Mexican Grand Prix, Autódrome Hermanos Rodríguez has hosted eight IndyCar races. It hosted CART in 1980 and 1981 with Rick Mears winning both races. The series returned in 2002 and continued until the final Champ Car season in 2007. Sébastien Bourdais won three of the final six Mexico City races with Kenny Bräck, Paul Tracy and Justin Wilson splitting the other three.

What could be delaying any announcement of a race in Mexico is whether or not Esteban Gutiérrez has a full-time ride in IndyCar for next season. The general consensus is for any race to succeed in Mexico you need a regular Mexican driver, something IndyCar had been lacking before Gutiérrez stepped in as a substitute for the injured Sébastien Bourdais however with the return of the Frenchman, Gutiérrez is back on the unemployment line. What is on Gutiérrez's side is his connection with billionaire Carlos Slim, who has helped fund a slew of Mexican drivers over the years and whose company Telmex sponsored Chip Ganassi Racing's Daytona Prototype for years with Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett as drivers.

Gutiérrez's future in IndyCar aside for a moment, the timing of a Mexico race is in the air. It appears the race would be slotted into one of the two open weekends between Mid-Ohio and Pocono in August. Though I am sure there are good reasons for slotting Mexico in August, I believe it would be better to head to Mexico in late-March. There is tentatively a three-week gap between the season open at St. Petersburg and the second round of the season at Phoenix. The third week of that gap is Easter Sunday but putting a Mexico race on March 25th would create a flowing start to the season with St. Petersburg followed by an off week then Mexico, then the Easter off week and then Phoenix.

Adding Mexico to August would get rid of a two-week break but it would crowd an already crowded part of the schedule. It would either create a back-to-back situation where teams would have to go from Mid-Ohio on Sunday and have to be in Puebla or Mexico City for practice the following Friday or it would create a four-week stretch of races with Mexico leading off before a 500-mile race at Pocono, Gateway and Watkins Glen.

In my mind, it makes more sense to make sure to have an off-week before and after a race in Mexico to give the teams enough time and not wear the crews out. It doesn't appear there is any reason why Puebla couldn't host IndyCar in March. The issue with March for Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is the track hosts Formula E on the first weekend of March in 2018. I don't know how long circuit turnaround takes but it could prevent IndyCar from heading there the final weekend of that month, plus two major motorsports events in one month could be oversaturate the market. However, the FIA World Endurance Championship heads to Mexico City the first weekend in September. Unless the FIA WEC does not return to Mexico City in 2018 or has a different date next year, it appears IndyCar and FIA WEC could fall a month a part and could oversaturate the demand for motorsports in Mexico City late in the summer.

All is quiet on any other venues joining the IndyCar schedule. All talks of Portland returning have gone silent. Even if IndyCar doesn't add a new track in 2018, two consecutive years of 100% retention of races is a big step for IndyCar and consistency will only help the series grow.

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

Lewis Hamilton won the Belgian Grand Prix from pole position. Hamilton equaled Michael Schumacher's record for most career pole positions at 68. Sunday's race was also Hamilton's 200th Formula One start.

The #64 Epson Nakajima Racing Honda NSX of Bertrand Baguette and Kosuke Matsuura won the Suzuka 1000km. The #65 LEON Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 of Naoya Gamou and Haruki Kurosawa won in GT300.

Andrea Dovizioso won MotoGP's British Grand Prix, his second consecutive victory and he took the championship lead by nine points over Marc Márquez. Takaaki Nakagami won the Moto2 race. Arón Canet won the red-flag shortened Moto3 race. It was Canet's third victory of the season.

Santiago Urrutia won the Indy Lights race from Gateway. Victor Franzoni won the Pro Mazda race.

Artem Markelov won the Formula Two feature race from Spa-Francorchamps after Charles Leclerc and Oliver Rowland were disqualified for technical infractions. Sérgio Sette Câmara won the Formula Two sprint race. George Russell and Giuliano Alesi split the GP3 races. Alesi has won three consecutive GP3 sprint races. American Ryan Tveter finished sixth and third in the two GP3 races. He now has four consecutive points finishes and two consecutive podium finishes in sprint races.

The #27 SMP Racing Dallara-Gibson of Matevos Isaakyan and Egor Orduzhev won the 4 Hours of Le Castellet. The #2 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of Sean Rayhall and John Falb won in LMP3. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott won in GTE, the team's second consecutive victory.

The #3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Antonio García won the IMSA race from Virginia International Raceway. It was the third victory of the season for Magnussen and García. The #16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Corey Lewis and Jeroen Mul won in GTD, the first victory for Change Racing.

Jeremy Clements won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Road America. It was his first career victory in his 256th start, the most starts before a first career victory.

Marcel Fässler and Dries Vanthoor swept the Blancpain Sprint Series weekend from the Hungaroring in the #5 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar has its penultimate round of the season at Watkins Glen.
All three Road to Indy champions will be crowd at Watkins Glen.
Formula One returns to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, the final European round of the season.
NASCAR runs the 68th Southern 500.
The Pirelli World Challenge ends the SprintX season with a triple-header at Circuit of the Americas.
The FIA World Endurance Championship trudges on to Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez for the 6 Hours of Mexico.
The TCR International Series has its first round in almost two months in Buriram, Thailand.




Sunday, August 27, 2017

First Impressions: Gateway 2017

1. Josef Newgarden grabbed the championship by the scruff of the neck tonight. He took hold of the race after Will Power spun on the first green flag lap of the night. He would relinquish the lead to Hélio Castroneves but a stall by the Brazilian allowed Newgarden to regain the advantage. Then he lost the lead on the final pit stop to Simon Pagenaud. He didn't settle for second. He didn't settle for being second in another Penske 1-2. He threw it up the inside of Pagenaud into turn one, made contact with the Frenchman and he made the one lead change that was worth a damn well worth it. He isn't scared. No first year jitters, no easing his way into the fray. Newgarden is taking the crown at Team Penske.

2. Scott Dixon didn't give up tonight and he kept himself in the right position throughout the race. He couldn't keep up with the Penske drivers at the start but he stayed in their tracks. He was in the right position and made up a position, passing Castroneves on the final round of pit stops and he was able to keep the Brazilian behind him and he was able to slide underneath Pagenaud as the Frenchman walked up the race track after Newgarden took the lead. Dixon held on and on a night where he thought he had no shot at victory he finished a just as improbable second. He kept his title hopes alive and the final two races, Watkins Glen and Sonoma, are right in his wheelhouse.

3. Simon Pagenaud is upset and it is understandable. There is something about being bumped out of the way. All control is taken away from you and Pagenaud was just along for the ride trying to keep the car out of the wall after Newgarden went by. But I feel if roles were reversed, Pagenaud would have done nothing different from the move Newgarden made. It is frustrating but Pagenaud is still alive. He leaves St. Louis with another top five.

4. Hélio Castroneves could have had more. He took the lead and it appeared the second half of the race would be his. Then he stalled on exit of his penultimate pit stop and from there on he didn't have a shot at the victory. He is upset. He still has a shot at the championship but he could have swung momentum back into his favor heading to Watkins Glen. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung away from Castroneves.

5. Conor Daly had his best career race in IndyCar. I know he has finished second before but a fifth place finish tonight after starting 11th and having to battle the likes of Graham Rahal, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Muñoz, Charlie Kimball and Alexander Rossi is a top-notch drive. He might have secured himself a seat with A.J. Foyt Racing for 2018 with this drive tonight. He is coming on strong at the right time.

6. Alexander Rossi ran in the top ten all day and he finished sixth. He didn't really have what it took to break up the Penske drivers but he was running in fifth and sixth most of the race. This is another solid finish for Rossi. I can't believe Michael Andretti would let him walk, especially considering he could finish as the top Andretti Autosport driver in the championship.

7. Charlie Kimball had a slightly dirty night. Passing was difficult enough entering this race and Kimball didn't make it any easier with his borderline blocking. Kimball doesn't back down but he walks a tightrope and he has had one too many close calls.

8. James Hinchcliffe had a solid night and finished eight. There really isn't much more to say than that. He didn't put a wheel wrong.

9. Carlos Muñoz finished ninth and gave A.J. Foyt Racing its first double top ten finish since the second Belle Isle race in 2015. Muñoz looked strong at the start but fell back after the first stint. I thought he could have challenged for a top five tonight. Ninth is really good and like Daly I think Muñoz should be back next year with A.J. Foyt Racing.

10. Sébastien Bourdais finished tenth in his IndyCar return. He led a few laps during a pit cycle. He kept his nose clean and he completed all 248 laps. I am not sure he could have wanted more out of this race especially after being out of a car for three months. It is a great showing and I think he will only be stronger at Watkins Glen and Sonoma.

11. Sebastián Saavedra benefitted from attrition and finished 11th. He didn't put a wheel wrong. He looked good in his four starts this season. He probably didn't change anybody's opinion about him overall but he did well.

12. Graham Rahal left his pit stall with the fuel hose still connected and it cost him a shot at a top five finish and he had to settle for 12th. It probably also killed his championship hopes. He trails Newgarden by 111 points with two races to go. He could win out and even that probably won't be enough to win the title. It has still been a good season.

13. Ed Jones completed all 248 laps and finished 13th and he is the 2017 IndyCar Rookie of the Year. Congratulations!

14. Marco Andretti couldn't get off the bottom and finished 14th

15. Quickly through the field: Ryan Hunter-Reay's brief brush with the wall killed his top ten finish streak. Tony Kanaan is angry. Max Chilton and J.R. Hildebrand both got caught out by turn four. Takuma Sato, Ed Carpenter and Will Power all want that initial start back. Power is 83 points behind Newgarden. He isn't out of it but he has to win at Watkins Glen just to give himself a shot at a Hail Mary.

16. I was really nervous at the start of this race. Not for driver safety after seeing Carpenter leapfrog over Power's car but because the first 20 laps were run under caution and the first incident came before the green flag was even waved. First impressions are important and with the second-best oval crowd of the season at a track IndyCar had not visited in 14 years I thought IndyCar was ruining its chance of long-term success in the St. Louis spotlight and before the first pit stops most people would decide not to return next year.

The racing wasn't great. It was Phoenix-ish but slightly better. Newgarden's lunge into turn one for the lead might have saved the night. I am disappointed IndyCar didn't try something different. After all, this is the one and only time these aero kits would be used at Gateway. I wished after the test the series would have decided to try the low downforce package in hopes of preventing drivers from being flat out all the way around the track. The aero kit will be different next year but IndyCar has to realize next year has to be exponentially greater than the race we just saw tonight.

I hope most people had a good time and I hope they are willing to come back for year two. Gateway Motorsports Park and the Bommarito Automotive Group did an amazing job. Both parties wanted an IndyCar race in the St. Louis-area and they have shown us what is possible when you really want something to succeed.

17. On to Watkins Glen and the good news is it appears at least four drivers will be battling for the championship regardless of what happens next week. Newgarden leads Dixon by 31 points, Castroneves by 42 points and Pagenaud by 43 points. It isn't over yet and I am going to bed. Good night.












Saturday, August 26, 2017

Morning Warm-Up: Gateway 2017

New track, another new track record for Will Power
Will Power picked up his 50th career IndyCar pole position and the Australian did it in style by setting the Gateway track record. He ran a two-lap average of 189.642 MPH, over a mile and a half per hour faster than the previous track record held by Raul Boesel. Power also set the single-lap track record with a time of 23.7206 seconds on lap one. This is Power's sixth pole position of the season and he is tied with his teammate Hélio Castroneves for third-most pole positions all-time in IndyCar history. This is Power's ninth pole position on an oval. He has won twice from pole position on an oval and has four top five finishes from his nine prior oval pole positions. Josef Newgarden makes it an all-Penske row one. Newgarden started second to Power at Mid-Ohio last month. This will be the 12th front row start of Newgarden's career. He has finished in the top five in five of his previous 11 front row starts but has finished outside the top ten four times after starting on row one.

Hélio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud make it a clean sweep of the top four for Team Penske. It is the second time this season Team Penske has swept the top four. The other time Team Penske did it was at Road America. Castroneves has started in the top ten in every one of his six Gateway appearances. He is looking for his sixth top ten finish in six Gateway starts. Pagenaud has been the bottom Penske qualifier seven times this season but he has only been the bottom Penske finish once. That was when he finished seventh at Iowa. Ed Carpenter rounded out the top five. It is Carpenter's third top five starting position of the season, a career-high for top five starts in a season for Carpenter. He has finished seventh, 11th, 11th, 12th and 12th in his first five starts this season. He has not had a top five finish in his last 16 starts and during that period he has led seven laps. Takuma Sato was the top Honda qualifier in sixth. Sato has been the top Andretti Autosport qualifier in seven races this season including three oval races.

Scott Dixon will start in seventh position. The New Zealander's only top five finish on an oval this season was fifth at Phoenix. Dixon has started in the top ten in 14 of 15 races this season. Dixon has been running at the finish of his last 14 races where he has started seventh. His last retirement after starting seventh was at Michigan in 2007. Carlos Muñoz joins Dixon on row four. This is Muñoz's first top ten starting position of the season and his first top ten starting position since he won pole position for Texas last year. This will be the first time Muñoz has started eighth in his IndyCar career. Alexander Rossi starts ninth for the second time in three races and third time this season. Rossi's worst finish when starting ninth was 11th at Texas last year. Rossi has also finished on the podium in two of the last three races. James Hinchcliffe rounds out the top ten. It is Hinchcliffe's 11th top ten starting position of the season. Hinchcliffe has had an accident in three of the five previous oval races this season.

Conor Daly qualified 11th, his career-best start on an oval. Daly picked up his first career lead lap finish on an oval last weekend at Pocono. He has finished equal or better than his starting position in the last six races. The furthest back a Gateway winner has started is 11th. Ed Jones joins Daly on row six. This is the ninth time this season Jones has been the top Dale Coyne Racing qualifier. Jones has been running at the finish of four of five oval races this season with the lone exception being Texas. Jones is still looking for his first career lap led. Graham Rahal starts outside the top ten for the first time since Texas in June as the Ohioan starts in 13th position. Rahal starts 13th ten years to the day of the first time he started 13th in his career. He started 13th at Zolder in 2007 and finished third in that race. He has twice won from 13th in his career but he has also finished outside the top twenty on three occasions when starting 13th. Ryan Hunter-Reay will start 14th, his fifth start outside the top ten on an oval this season.

J.R. Hildebrand starts 15th. This is the tenth time this season Hildebrand has started on row eight or worse. In his six previous starts from 15th on the grid, Hildebrand has three top ten finishes, two 11th place finishes and a 13th place finish. Max Chilton leads a trio of Ganassi cars on the grid, as the British driver starts 16th with Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball occupying row nine of the grid. This is Chilton's worst career starting position on a short oval. His best finish when starting outside the top fifteen came at Pocono last year when he finished 13th. Kanaan matches his worst starting position of the season. He started 17th at Mid-Ohio and he would go on to finish 16th in that race. Kanaan's only top ten finish this season after starting outside the top ten was tenth in the second Belle Isle race after he started 15th. Kimball has finished on the lead lap in the last three races after having only three lead lap finishes from the first 11 races of the season.

Sébastien Bourdais makes his IndyCar return in 19th position on the grid. This is Bourdais' worst start on an oval since he started 19th in last year's Indianapolis 500. He would go on to finish ninth in that race. This is the third time Bourdais has started 19th in his IndyCar career and all three starts have come on ovals. Marco Andretti rounds out the top twenty. This is Andretti's fifth consecutive start outside the top ten. He started 20th at Iowa last month and finished 17th, two laps down but led seven laps. He led nine laps at Pocono last week. Sebastián Saavedra rounds out the grid in 21st position. Saavedra's best finish from 21st on the grid was 15th at Toronto in the second race of the 2013 doubleheader.

NBCSN's coverage Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline begins at 9:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 9:40 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 248 laps.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Track Walk: Gateway 2017

IndyCar heads to its final oval race of the 2017
For the first time since 2003, IndyCar races at Gateway Motorsports Park and the 1.25-mile oval marks the final oval race and the final night race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Fifteen drivers are still mathematically alive for the championship with three races to go but it remains tight at the top of the championship. Josef Newgarden extended his lead to 18 points over second in the championship, Scott Dixon. Hélio Castroneves is 22 points back. Simon Pagenaud is 26 points back. Will Power's Pocono victory has narrowed the gap between the top five to 42 points. Graham Rahal still has a shot at the championship, trailing Newgarden by 76 points with Takuma Sato 95 points back and Alexander Rossi rounding out the top eight an even 100 points off his fellow American.

Coverage
Time: Coverage begins at 9:00 p.m. ET on Saturday August 26th. Green flag will be at 9:40 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Kevin Lee will be in the booth with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller will be working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
Friday:
First Practice- 5:00 p.m. ET (60-minute session).
Qualifying- 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have taped coverage at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday).
Final Practice- 10:00 p.m. ET (60-minute session).
Saturday: 
Race- 9:40 p.m. ET (248 laps).

Fight For Top Oval Honors
Though IndyCar no longer recognizes the top driver from each discipline, seven drivers have a shot of being the best driver on ovals after Gateway.

It should come to no surprise that Will Power, the only driver with multiple oval victories this season, has scored the most points on ovals. The Australian has scored 220 points from the five oval races. Besides his victories at Texas and Pocono, Power finished second at Phoenix and finished fourth at Iowa after starting on pole position. The Indianapolis 500 has been the only blemish for Power on ovals, where he was caught up in an accident in turn two late in the race.

A point behind Power is his teammate Hélio Castroneves. The Brazilian won at Iowa and finished second in the Indianapolis 500. He scored 96 points at Indianapolis thanks to a second place finish and qualifying 19th in the race. Castroneves finished fourth from pole position at Phoenix and seventh last Sunday at Pocono. Like Power, Castroneves has one blemish on an oval this season. That was his accident exiting turn two at Texas, which classified him in 20th. Castroneves has finished in the top ten in all five of his Gateway starts. He won the most recent Gateway race in 2003 from pole position and his first career IndyCar podium came at Gateway when he finished second to Michael Andretti in 1999.

Tony Kanaan's season has been saved by ovals. The Brazilian's only three top five finishes have come on ovals this season. He finished fourth at Indianapolis, second in a controversial race at Texas and he finished fifth at Pocono. He did manage to come home in sixth at Phoenix, a race where the Hondas were significantly disadvantaged and he finished ninth at Iowa, a race where the Hondas were much more competitive. Kanaan has made four Gateway starts and he finished second to Castroneves in 2003 after starting third.

Takuma Sato is fourth in the de facto oval championship but 137 of Sato's 203 points, over two-thirds of his oval points, came thanks to his Indianapolis 500 victory and fourth place qualifying effort. In the other four oval races, Sato's best finish was tenth at Texas, a race where he did not finish after an accident with Scott Dixon in the final ten laps while battle for second place and a shot at victory.

Simon Pagenaud trails his teammate Power by 30 points. Pagenaud picked up his first career oval victory at Phoenix in April. He led 116 laps that night at Phoenix and won from fifth on the grid. He finished third at Texas and fourth at Pocono. He finished seventh at Iowa and 14th in the Indianapolis 500.

Alexander Rossi and J.R. Hildebrand have a mathematical shot at being the top oval driver but they will need Power, Castroneves and Kanaan to all fail to start at Gateway. Rossi and Hildebrand have scored 169 and 167 points respectively. Rossi finished third at Pocono and seventh at Indianapolis while Hildebrand stood on the podium twice on the ovals with a second at Iowa and third at Phoenix.

Can Newgarden Continue Success?
Josef Newgarden extended his championship lead to 18 points over Scott Dixon but ovals have not gone his way this season.

Newgarden has only scored 145 points on ovals this season, that is 14th among all drivers and behind the likes of Ed Carpenter, Max Chilton, Marco Andretti and Ed Jones. He finished ninth at Phoenix but that was after two brushes with the wall dropped him out of contention for a victory. He had accidents end his day at both Indianapolis and Texas with the Texas accident coming because of an audacious move on the outside turn four while in contention for the victory. He came home sixth at Iowa but was not really a factor and he finished second at Pocono after a late battle for the victory with his teammate Power.

While the results have started going Newgarden's way in the last few oval races, he has not had much success in oval qualifying this year. He started fourth at Phoenix but that is his only top ten start on an oval this season with three starts outside the top fifteen. Newgarden has finished better than his starting position in every oval race since Phoenix.

Newgarden heads to Gateway with five podium finishes in the last seven races and five consecutive top ten finishes and he has led a lap in each of the last seven races. He has led a lap in every oval race but Indianapolis this season.

Can Honda Slow The Bleeding?
Honda has been behind the eight ball on short ovals during the aero kit-era and this could deride the championship hopes of Sato, Rossi, Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal

Dixon has finished in the top ten in every race this season but the Indianapolis 500. However, in the last seven races Dixon has only one top five finish, his victory at Road America, after four podium finishes and six top five finishes from the first seven races. Dixon is one of three drivers on the grid with Gateway experience. He started fifth and led 78 laps before a gearbox issue caused him to retire from the 2003 race.

Rahal heads to Gateway with eight consecutive top ten finishes and he has completed every lap in the last ten races. He has three consecutive top ten finishes on ovals and the longest streak of top ten finish on ovals in his career is four, which has occurred on two occasions, most recently in 2012. His father Bobby made two starts at Gateway with his best finish being eight in 1998 after he retired from the inaugural Gateway race in 1997 due to an electrical issue. His wife Courtney Force won at Gateway in the NHRA's funny car class in 2014.

James Hinchcliffe sits tenth in the championship and is five points ahead of fellow Honda drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Max Chilton. Hinchcliffe has only scored 98 points from the five oval races, the same total as Gabby Chaves, who has only contested three oval races this season. Hunter-Reay enters Gateway with four top ten finishes on the trot and the once dominator of short ovals looks to get back to his winning ways on the short tracks. He finished third at Iowa in last month, his first top five finish on a short oval in almost two seasons. Chilton had led a lap in the last three oval races prior to Pocono. Pocono was the second retirement of the season for Chilton, as he exited the race due to mechanical issues after completing 129 laps.

Rookie of the Year to be Crowned
While the championship will likely go to the wire, the 2017 IndyCar Rookie of the Year will be clinched at Gateway thanks to the return of Sébastien Bourdais.

Bourdais' IndyCar return comes 98 days after his hip fracturing accident on the first day of Indianapolis 500 qualifying. Bourdais won the season opener at St. Petersburg and finished second at Long Beach before making it three top ten finishes from the first three races with an eighth place finish at Barber. He led the championship until being caught up in the turn one lap one accident at Phoenix and he started sixth for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis before his engine expired after three laps. Before his accident at Phoenix, Bourdais had three consecutive top ten finishes on short ovals.

Dale Coyne Racing teammates Ed Jones and Esteban Gutiérrez were the final two rookies vying for the honor of Rookie of the Year but with only 212 points left on the table for the final three races and Jones holding a 207-point advantage over his Mexican teammate, Jones would have clinch the Rookie of the Year honors simply by starting at Gateway had Gutiérrez been in the #18 Honda.

Jones has five top ten finishes this season but the second half of his season has not been as successful as his first half. The Emirati driver's lead lap finish at Pocono was only his second lead lap finish in the last seven races and he has only one top ten finish in that period, a seventh at Road America. Jones was seventh in the championship after the first Belle Isle race. He know sits 14th in the championship.

Gutiérrez made seven starts this season. Gutiérrez finished ahead of Jones in four of seven starts this season and qualified ahead of Jones twice. Pocono was the first retirement of the season for Gutiérrez after he brushed the wall exiting turn three. He completed 23 laps. His best finish was at Iowa in 13th position, one lap down, after starting 18th.

Road to Indy
Two Road to Indy series join IndyCar at Gateway. One title could be wrapped up on Saturday night while the other appears headed to Watkins Glen.

Kyle Kaiser leads the Indy Lights championship with 297 points and he is 42 points clear of Colton Herta and Santiago Urrutia. Kaiser will clinch the Indy Lights championship if he leaves Gateway with a 34-point lead. A second place finish will clinch the title for Kaiser. His first Indy Lights victory came at the short oval of Phoenix last season but his other oval finishes have not been of that quality. He had an accident in last year's Freedom 100 and he finished sixth at Iowa later that season. He finished ninth in this year's Freedom 100 and finished fifth at Iowa in July. Kaiser is coming off the worst weekend of his season after a pair of 12th place finishes at Mid-Ohio after sweeping the weekend at Toronto.

A total of seven drivers have a mathematical shot at the Indy Lights title. Herta and Urrutia are tied on 255 points with Herta holding the tiebreaker with two victories to Urrutia's one but Herta has not won since Barber in April and Urrutia won race one at Mid-Ohio and finished second in race two. Matheus Leist has won the first two oval races this season and he is tied with Kaiser and Nico Jamin for most victories this season at three but the Brazilian trails Kaiser by 48 points after finishes of tenth or worse in three of the last four races. Carlin has won three of the five short oval races it has participated in since joining Indy Lights in 2015 with three different drivers. Max Chilton won at Iowa in 2015, Félix Serrallés won at Iowa in 2016 and Leist won at Iowa this season.

Zachary Claman DeMelo is 54 points back and the Canadian has four consecutive top five finishes. He finished sixth in both oval races this season. Nico Jamin's third place finish and victory at Mid-Ohio has him 55 points off Kaiser. Jamin has not won on an oval in any of his first three seasons in the Road to Indy system between two years in U.S. F2000 and a year in Pro Mazda. His best oval result was second at Indianapolis Raceway Park in U.S. F2000 in 2015 to Jake Eidson. Aaron Telitz has a shot on paper at the title but he needs Kaiser to miss the final two rounds while taking victory in each race. Telitz has eight top five finishes this season.

Fifteen cars are entered for Gateway, including Chad Boat, who makes a delayed Indy Lights debut with Belardi Auto Racing. Boat was entered for Iowa but had to miss the race due to an injury.

The 75-lap Indy Lights race will take place at 7:00 p.m. ET on Saturday August 26th.

Pro Mazda has three races remaining and Gateway is the only oval race on the 2017 calendar.

Anthony Martin took the championship lead from Victor Franzoni after winning two of the three Mid-Ohio races and the Australian holds a four-point advantage. Franzoni won the other Mid-Ohio race with Martin finishing second in that race. Franzoni finished second to Martin in the other two Mid-Ohio races. Through nine races Martin has won five races to Franzoni's four. Martin has made two oval starts in his Road to Indy career, both at Indianapolis Raceway Park in U.S. F2000. He finished fourth at the track in 2015 and he won there last year. Franzoni has three oval starts in his Road to Indy career and like Martin all his oval starts have come at IRP. Franzoni finished third in the U.S. F2000 races at IRP in 2014 and 2016 and he finished sixth at the Pro Mazda race at the track in 2015.

Team Pelfrey drivers TJ Fischer and Carlos Cunha are both mathematically eligible for the championship. They trail Martin by 84 points and 92 points respectively. Fischer has five podium finishes this season while Cunha has stood on the podium three times. Ten cars are entered for the Gateway round.

The 55-lap Pro Mazda race will take place at 5:55 p.m. ET on Saturday August 26th.

Fast Facts
This will be the 15th IndyCar race to take place on August 26th and the first since Ryan Briscoe won at Sonoma in 2012.

This year's race occurs 16 years to the day of the first IRL race at Gateway, which was won by Al Unser, Jr.

This year's race occurs 10 years to the day Sébastien Bourdais won at Zolder and Scott Dixon won at Sonoma.

Seven different drivers have won the seven Gateway races.

Team Penske leads all teams with three Gateway victories. Chip Ganassi Racing is the only other active team to have won at Gateway and the team has won twice at Gateway.

Chevrolet and Honda have each won once at Gateway. Honda's victory came at the hands of Chip Ganassi Racing and Chevrolet's victory came at the hands of Team Penske.

Six different manufactures have won at Gateway (Mercedes-Benz-Illmor, Honda, Ford-Cosworth, Toyota, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet).

Toyota leads all manufactures with two Gateway victories.

Team Penske has won the last four races. The last team to win five consecutive races was Newman/Haas Racing in 2005 when the team won six consecutive Champ Car races. Bourdais won at Edmonton, San Jose and Denver and then Oriol Servià picked up his one and so far only victory at Montreal and Bourdais followed that up by winning the following two races at Las Vegas and Surfers Paradise.

Ed Carpenter made two starts at Gateway in Indy Lights. He finished third in the 2002 race and fourth in 2003.

In the ten short oval races in the DW12-era, Marco Andretti has finished outside of the top ten in six of those with an average finish of 12.2. He finished second in the first short oval race of the DW12-era at Iowa in 2012.

Carlos Muñoz picked up his second career top ten finish on a short oval earlier this year at Phoenix when he finished tenth. He finished fifth at Iowa in 2015.

Conor Daly was the fastest driver in the May test at Gateway prior to the repave with a lap at 25.4371 seconds and unofficially he was second fastest at the post-repave test earlier this month, behind Hélio Castroneves, who was running around 24.4 seconds.

Sebastián Saavedra's retirement at Pocono was his 22nd retirement in 64 IndyCar starts.

The average starting position for a Gateway winner is fifth with a median of 3.5.

The pole-sitter has won at Gateway three times, including the two most recent Gateway races.

The Gateway winner has started 11th on two occasions, Alex Zanardi in 1998 and Michael Andretti in 1999. This is the furthest back a Gateway winner has started on grid.

The average number of lead changes in a Gateway race is eight with a median of ten.

Four Gateway races have featured ten lead changes.

The fewest number of lead changes at Gateway was three in 1998.

The average number of cautions in a Gateway race is five with a median of four. The average number of caution laps is 46.285 with a median of 35 laps.

The fewest number of cautions at Gateway is one, which occurred in 2000 and the most is eight, which occurred in 1997 and 1999.

The last three Gateway races have featured four cautions.

The fewest number of caution laps at Gateway is five, which occurred in 2000 and the most is 88, which occurred in 1997.

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.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 28 laps to reach the 6,000 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 149 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

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

Predictions
Third time is the charm and J.R. Hildebrand takes the victory after holding off Josef Newgarden and Will Power. A Honda finishes in the top five but no Hondas start in the top five. At least one Penske retires before the halfway point in this race. Scott Dixon will remain second in the championship. At least two drivers starting outside the top fifteen finish in the top seven. There will be at least two rounds of green flag pit stops. Sleeper: Conor Daly.



Monday, August 21, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: A Commentary of a Commentary

I went to Pocono and despite spending hours in the sun got next to no color. Team Penske's march for world domination continues. The same man won all three NASCAR national touring series races at Bristol. The Lausitzring hosted its final major motorsports event. World Supersport had a late red flag that left a few angry. The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters went to the Netherlands. The World Rally Championship was in Deutschland. Rain hampered the Super Formula weekend from Motegi but a future Formula One driver took a maiden victory. People are losing their minds over a total solar eclipse. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

A Commentary of a Commentary
IndyCar has a lot of good writers following the series. Robin Miller, Marshall Pruett, David Malsher and John Oreovicz are just a few names. They all bring different perspectives to the table. Miller is the man who has seen it all. Pruett is the former mechanic who is the go-to when it comes to anything on the technical side. Malsher fell in love with IndyCar from abroad. Oreovicz is the Generation X-er who lived through the split. Some of the times you agree with them, other times you won't but they are knowledgeable and put thought into their work. They aren't "hot take artists" trying to stir the pot.

David Malsher wrote a commentary prior to the Pocono race weekend titles Why IndyCar Needs Proactive Fans to Revive Its Mass Appeal. Some of what he wrote I agree with. Other parts I disagree with and have written about previously.

Let's start with a very valid point from Malsher. He starts by writing about the moments when he got hooked to motorsports and how the fanfare at races made him wish to be there. In the current state of IndyCar, there aren't many venues that have that kind of state of fanfare where grandstands are filled to the brim with fans louder than the cars and cheering every pass for position. With that lack of raw excitement it is hard to attract people and make them want to be a part of the crowd. In turn, IndyCar in this case won't grow.

"If hardly anyone bothers to show up in person, then that too is transmitted via media, the event's perceived value as a sporting spectacle is shredded and so the compulsion to watch on TV rapidly dissipates, too," Malsher wrote. I agree with what he is saying. I remember last year during the Olympics visiting my parents on putting on a soccer game that took place in a stadium that wasn't even close to half-filled. My mother wondered why I was watching it based only on the amount of people in the stands.

Malsher believe the lack of atmosphere has hurt several IndyCar races, most notably ovals. He isn't wrong. I love going to Pocono each year and I actually like the atmosphere. The one thing I have always enjoyed about Pocono is the fan-friendly nature of the race track. All those working at the track always greet you with a smile and are accommodating if you have a question but the atmosphere isn't a raucous crowd. There aren't 100,000 screaming fans with every 20-something woman wanting a piece of Josef Newgarden. It is more of a causal get together of speed junkies quietly moseying around, looking at the cars, lining up for autographs and then taking their seats for a 500-mile race. I love of it but if you are a 22-year-old, recently out of college, looking for a good time on the weekend that won't break the budget because you still live at home, have yet to find a job and you want to drink in the sun it probably isn't enough to get you interested.

Now to the part where I start to disagree with Malsher: "What's most worrying now is that luring even the hardcore IndyCar fans to "driver into the middle of nowhere" appears to be an uphill battle. For years we've read comments from a sizable section of series loyalists about how oval racing is vastly superior to street course racing because it's faster, there's more passing and you can see far more of the track – valid reasons, all. But are those critics actually prepared to make an effort to attend their nearest oval IndyCar race?"

Malsher continues by saying 50,000 people shouldn't be too much to expect for Gateway because it is only three hours from the Indianapolis-area and if 20% of the Indianapolis 500 crowd showed up to Gateway, it would easily break that 50,000 mark.

Some people want more ovals on the IndyCar schedule, I would like to see a few more, but I wrote about this before and you can't expect a Grateful Dead-esque crowd of the same 15,000 people going to every oval race around the country and then hoping about 20,000 locals show up to each race. It isn't on the fans for IndyCar to succeed. The tracks need to make it worth it for the locals to come and support the events. Forget 50,000 Hoosiers heading west for a Saturday night on the banks of the Mississippi. St. Louis has a population just north of 311,000 people. Why not try and get 20% of St. Louisans instead of relying on 50,000 people to make a three-hour drive.

The same goes for Pocono, Texas and Phoenix. Pocono isn't in the middle of a metropolis but it is within shouting distance of Philadelphia and New York and you have all of northern New Jersey to pick from. New York is the largest city in the United States and Philadelphia is the sixth-largest city. You have 10 million people between those two cities alone; drawing 1% of the combined population of those two cities would be enough to be the second-highest attended IndyCar race. Phoenix is the fifth-largest city at over 1.6 million people and Dallas is ninth largest at 1.3 million.

Instead of putting the weight of IndyCar's success on the already small fan base, why not look to the tracks and work on creating events that attract people out? I look at the success of the Snake Pit during the Indianapolis 500 and wonder why that can't be replicated at all the oval races? Why couldn't each oval race have an EDM concert going on in the infield? The Snake Pit for the Indianapolis 500 already draws about 30,000 people. The same could be done for these other oval races and all of a sudden you go from drawing 15,000-20,000 to 45,000-50,000. Races should be something a community embraces and look forward to each year. That is what has made the Indianapolis 500 as successful as it has been.

Fans should still drive long distances if they want to go to a race. If you live in Indiana and want to drive three hours for Gateway, do it. I would love to make the four-hour drive to Watkins Glen in two weeks time but it isn't feasible this year with work. Fans should not feel it is their responsibility to go to races to make IndyCar look good. That responsibility is on IndyCar and on the tracks that host IndyCar. For the series to truly succeed those two facets need to start attracting different people for the surrounding areas of the race tracks and not rely on the same group of people traveling multiple hours.

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

Kyle Busch swept the NASCAR races at Bristol as he won all three national touring division races.

Chaz Davies swept the World Superbike races from Lausitzring. Sheridan Morais picked up his first career World Supersport victory after a red flag for an accident between Yamaha teammates Lucas Mahias and Federico Caricasulo led to the race to be reverted to the results at the end of lap 17.

Timo Glock and Mike Rockenfeller split the DTM races from Zandvoort.

Fabian Coulthard and Jamie Whincup split the Supercars races from Sydney Motorsports Park.

Pierre Gasly won the Super Formula race from Motegi, his first career Super Formula victory and the first Super Formula victory of the season for Honda.

Ott Tänak won Rally Deutschland.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar makes its return to Gateway Motorsports Park.
Formula One is back from summer vacation and will be at Spa-Francorchamps.
Super GT runs the Suzuka 1000km for the final time and Jenson Button and Kamui Kobayashi will be there!
MotoGP heads to Silverstone.
IMSA's two GT divisions head to Virginia International Raceway.
NASCAR's second division head to Road America.
European Le Mans Series heads to the future home of the French Grand Prix, Circuit Paul Ricard.
Blancpain Sprint Series will be in Hungary.



Sunday, August 20, 2017

First Impressions: Pocono 2017

1. Alright, it is a few minutes after 8:00 p.m. ET, I have been home for about a half hour and now I look back on the race I just attended after having about 100 minutes in the car. Will Power stole it again and that is what makes Team Penske the greatest team perhaps in motorsports history. It isn't that Power didn't have the speed to compete in the front but nine times out of ten when a team needs to make an unscheduled pit stop or front wing change it is game over and if you can get a top ten finish than it is considered a day salvaged. Not Team Penske and not Will Power. That team stopped when there was no way to make it on one more stop and ran hard enough to cycle out with a sizable lead and then short stint to maintain the advantage.

2. It didn't come easy for Power. Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi ran him down and they were breathing down his neck for the final ten laps. Newgarden couldn't maintain his runs into turn three. Power took away the inside lap each lap and Newgarden could keep the momentum up through turn three and down the front straightaway. It isn't a win but it is a great day in the championship for Newgarden. He needed a solid run and he only had Power gain ground on him. It is far from over but Newgarden held onto the advantage, which didn't appear likely at the start of today.

3. Alexander Rossi might have been the best driver out there today and this feels like a second consecutive year of Honda being the best for the first 350 miles and then lost it in the final 150 miles. Rossi was on the back of Newgarden the whole way but he couldn't get by and challenge Power. It is a good day and this is a bit of redemption after how he race ended last year but he probably feels like he should have won this one. Honda has to be slightly disappointed not to win this one. It had the top four cars consistently in this race and its best finisher was in third.

4. I will be honest, the entire drive home I thought Tony Kanaan finished fourth. I didn't realize it was Simon Pagenaud. He had a good day. He seemed to stop on the first lap or two of a fuel window and then would come out three or four positions better than he was only to lose those positions after a few laps. The streak continues for Pagenaud. He will head to Gateway having completed every lap this season.

5. Tony Kanaan finished fifth and he was the best guy on restarts all race. I think he went third to first into turn one at least twice. He had a really good car at the start of runs but he didn't have it over long stints and that is where the likes of Rossi, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay had Kanaan beat but Kanaan got a solid result out of this one.

6. Scott Dixon finished sixth and like Rossi, this probably should have been a better result. Dixon led a fair share of this race and he was consistently in the top five. He trails Newgarden by 18 points and while Newgarden might have the edge at Gateway, Dixon is arguably the man to beat at Watkins Glen and Sonoma. Next week might be about making sure the bleeding isn't too bad and giving himself a good shot at it in the final two.

7. Hélio Castroneves finished seventh and that was probably the best he could have asked for. He got to the fringe of the top ten but never really challenged for the top five. This is a good recovery after yesterday's qualifying accident.

8. Ryan Hunter-Reay started a position behind Castroneves and finished a position behind Castroneves but he had a far better day than Castroneves. Hunter-Reay definitely deserved a top five, if not a podium finish. For a good portion of this race it looked like either Rossi or Hunter-Reay were going to win this one. He got shuffled back during the last pit cycle when someone came out and he got caught behind him and lost all momentum.

9. Speaking of drivers that deserved a better finish, Graham Rahal was much better than ninth. He and Kanaan traded the lead for every lap for almost a dozen laps. I don't think Rahal could have won it but he should have been ahead of at least three of the four Penskes. During that never-ending position swap between him and Kanaan, I was trying to figure out why and what I noticed was the wind was blowing head on toward the exit of turn two and the only thing I can think of was the leader was slowed on exit, the trailing car didn't have that disadvantage and could use the leader as a pick into turn three.

10. Carlos Muñoz rounded out the top ten. He had a good day but he wasn't a factor. It is still a good showing in what has been a difficult year for him and A.J Foyt Racing.

11. One final driver that should have finished better than he did: Marco Andretti. He led a handful of laps during the pit cycle and he had to pit for a splash of gas and that didn't go as smoothly as it could have. Even if that splash and go was to perfection, at best I think Andretti would have come out in sixth or seventh, which is kind of where he should have been. He seemed to be ahead of Newgarden for most of the day and he was running with Hunter-Reay for a bit in this one.

12. Ed Carpenter finished 12th. Who knew?

13. Takuma Sato went directly to the back when the green flag fell, which is disappointing considering how positive his pole position was yesterday. Thirteenth can't be spun as a positive.

14. Conor Daly gets his first lead lap finish on an oval, and his third consecutive lead lap finish, in finished 14th. He was running with Muñoz for a good portion of today. I don't know if he could have cracked the top ten but I think Muñoz finished about four spots better than he should have and had the cautions gone differently, Daly could have finished ahead of his teammate.

15. Quickly through the rest of the field: Gabby Chaves was another car that dropped through the field like a rock at the start. Fifteenth is still good considering this is the team's third race ever and it is the team's worst result but I am sure they were really hopeful after starting eighth. Charlie Kimball had to change his front wing early and never got back into this one. Ed Jones spent a good portion of the race around 11th but finished 17th. Max Chilton had mechanical issues hamper his day. J.R. Hildebrand and James Hinchcliffe got together. Hinchcliffe let his botched pit stop get the better of him and he never recovered, although he made the save of the decade, perhaps the century exiting turn one on one lap. Sebastián Saavedra did nothing spectacular before brushing the wall. Esteban Gutiérrez had a really good start and his race was over after completing just over 50 miles.

16. I have gone to every Pocono race since the series returned. This had to be the biggest crowd in that period and it felt bigger. This isn't some wishful bullshit of thinking it looks bigger because of rose tinted glasses. It looked like there were more heads to my left when I looked toward turn three and more to my right when I looked toward turn one. It wasn't a sellout and I am not going to pretend it was a sellout but if you said 35,000 to 40,000 people were there, I would buy it and I could even buy about 45,000.

Whatever Pocono did, they have to do it again. I think they have found a great date in late August. It was another comfortable day, which only helps attract people to the track and they saw a top-notch race today. My only request would be to start the race an hour earlier. A 2:40 p.m. start time was good but I think a 1:30 p.m. would be better.

A few years ago I was worried about IndyCar's future at Pocono. I am hopefully now but races are delicate. A track could try to do too much and ruin all the progress made. One increase in ticket prices could be a death sentence and I am afraid that will happen. I can understand why a track would want to do it but greediness can bite.

17. On to Gateway. IndyCar's final races come thick and fast and the title is going to Sonoma. Forty-two points cover the top five; 100 points cover the top eight. It should be a good one.



Morning Warm-Up: Pocono 2017

Takuma Sato looks to sweep IndyCar's 500-mile races
Takuma Sato picked up his second pole position of the season, seventh career pole position and his first pole position on an oval since Iowa 2011 with a two-lap average of 219.639 MPH. The defending Indianapolis 500 winner was the only driver to run a sub-41 second lap in qualifying and he did it on the first lap of his run. This will be Sato's seventh top five start of the season. He scored his best finish from starting on pole position earlier this season at Belle Isle when he finished fourth. He has finished outside the top fifteen four times after starting on pole position. Sato is attempting to become the first driver to win multiple 500-mile races in a season since Juan Pablo Montoya did it in 2000. On two occasions has the Indianapolis 500 winner gone on to win the Pocono 500, Johnny Rutherford in 1974 and Al Unser in his Triple Crown season of 1978. Simon Pagenaud joins Sato on row one as the Frenchman had a two-lap average of 219.395 MPH. This is Pagenaud's best start on an oval this season and this is the second time Pagenaud has been the top Penske qualifier this season. Pagenaud started second in the 2015 Pocono race and he finished seventh that day after leading 30 laps.

Charlie Kimball missed out on the front row by 0.026 MPH. This is Kimball's best starting position at Pocono. His previous best came in 2013 when he started 12th. This is the first time Kimball has started third in his IndyCar career. In his eight previous top five starts, Kimball has finished in the top ten six times. Tony Kanaan makes it an all-Ganassi row two. Kanaan matches his best starting position of the season, which occurred at Texas. This is the fourth time in five years Kanaan has started in the top ten at Pocono. Kanaan is attempting to become the eighth driver to win four 500-miles in a career. Will Power will start fifth. He won last year's Pocono race from eighth on the grid. Power could become the first driver to win consecutive years at Pocono. The only time Power won the 14th race of a season was at Sonoma in 2011. Alexander Rossi rounded out the top six. This is the third consecutive top ten start for Rossi. He led four laps in last year's race after starting seventh

Graham Rahal will start seventh. This is the sixth time Rahal has started seventh in his career. Only twice has Rahal finished in the top ten after starting seventh. He finished fourth in Mexico City in 2007 and he finished fifth at Mid-Ohio in 2014. Gabby Chaves will start eighth, a career-best for Chaves. This is the best qualifying effort for the Harding Racing team. His previous two starting positions this season were 25th at Indianapolis and 20th at Texas. Chaves could becoming the first driver to win with car #88 since Al Keller did it in a NASCAR Speedway Division race at Lakewood Speedway near Atlanta on June 8, 1952. Scott Dixon and Max Chilton make it an all-Ganassi row five. This is the first time Dixon has qualified in the top ten at Pocono. Dixon finished ninth at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago. Only once has Dixon won from ninth position. That was Sonoma 2015, where he took the title from Juan Pablo Montoya on tiebreaker. Chilton makes his tenth top ten start of the season. He had three all of his rookie year.

Ed Jones qualified 11th, the same position where he started in the Indianapolis 500 in May before finishing third. While having five top ten finishes this season, Jones has finished outside the top fifteen on seven occasions including the last three races. James Hinchcliffe joins Jones on the outside of row six. This is the fourth of five oval races in which Hinchcliffe has started outside the top ten. The only other two times Hinchcliffe started 12th in his career were in 2013 at Texas and Mid-Ohio, he finished ninth and tenth respectively in those two races. Esteban Gutiérrez starts 13th for the first 500-mile race of his IndyCar career. The only 500-mile IndyCar race won by a Mexican driver was the 1999 Motorola 500 held at Fontana. Adrián Fernández won that day from 13th on the grid. Josef Newgarden starts 14th. The only time Pocono has been won from 14th was in 1973 by A.J. Foyt after Roger McCluskey ran out of fuel while leading on the final lap.

Sebastián Saavedra's second start for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will come from 15th on the grid. This is Saavedra's best starting position at Pocono and the 19th time top fifteen start of his IndyCar career while he has started outside the top twenty on 27 occasions. Marco Andretti will start 16th, the furthest back a Pocono winner has come from. Scott Dixon won from 16th in 2013. Andretti's most recent IndyCar victory came from 17th on the grid at Iowa in 2011. His grandfather Mario won the 1969 Pikes Peak Hill Climb after being the 16th starter. The furthest his father Michael won from was 15th at Long Beach in 2002, the final victory of his career. Conor Daly and Carlos Muñoz start on an all-Foyt row nine. Daly has qualified ahead of Muñoz in the last four races and the two drivers are now level as the top Foyt qualifier in seven races apiece. Both drivers have the same average starting position of 17.928. Muñoz has finished 15th in his previous two occasions starting 18th. It occurred at Milwaukee in 2015 and earlier this year in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

J.R. Hildebrand qualified 19th. This is the first time Hildebrand has started 19th on an oval. His best finish from 19th on the grid was seventh at Motegi in 2011. Hélio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay both had accidents in qualifying and will start 20th and 21st respectively. Ed Carpenter had an accident at the end of the first practice session and did not participate in qualifying and he will start 22nd. Castroneves and Carpenter each participated in the final practice session and they were fifth and 16th-fastest respectively. Hunter-Reay did not participate in the final practice as he was taken to Leigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest for X-rays. He has a torn muscle and has yet to be cleared to drive but it appears he will be good to go for the race.

NBCSN's coverage of the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway begins at 2:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 2:40 p.m. The race is scheduled for 200 laps.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Track Walk: Pocono 2017

IndyCar hopes to only see blues skies and sunshine at Pocono
IndyCar is back after a two-week summer vacation and it returns to Pocono Raceway for the ABC Supply 500. Pocono is the start of three consecutive weekends of racing for IndyCar and it is the penultimate oval race of the season. With four races remaining, 17 points cover the top four in the championship and 58 points cover the top six drivers. Chevrolet has won four of the last five races and has surpassed Honda in total victories with seven victories from the first 13 races. Chevrolet has won three of the four oval races this season.

Coverage
Time: Coverage begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday August 20th. Green flag will be at 2:40 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Kevin Lee, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy are in the booth with Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
Saturday: 
First Practice- 9:00 a.m. ET (75-minute session).
Qualifying- 1:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage).
Final Practice- 5:00 p.m. ET (30-minute session).
Sunday:
Race- 2:40 p.m. ET (200 laps)

Penske Power Surge
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the hottest team in IndyCar is Team Penske. The IndyCar juggernaut has won four of the last five races after winning only three of the first eight races of the season. Team Penske is the only team to have multiple drivers win this season and it is only one of two teams to have stood on the top step of the podium multiple times in 2017 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing being the other thanks to Graham Rahal's sweep at Belle Isle.

Josef Newgarden's back-to-back victories have him sitting atop the championship for the first time in his IndyCar career and his Mid-Ohio victory occurred at a track where the Tennessean had struggled to find results. His previous best finish in his first five Mid-Ohio visits was tenth. Now Newgarden heads to a track where he has been constantly at the front of the pack. His worst finish in four Pocono starts is eighth, he has three top five finishes at the 2.5-mile oval, his fifth-place finish in the 2013 race was his first top five finish on an oval and he has led at least a lap in three consecutive Pocono races. He could become the first driver to win three consecutive races on a road course, street course and an oval since Cristiano da Matta did it in 2002. Da Matta won at the permanent road courses of Laguna Seca and Portland, then at the slightly larger than a mile of an oval that was Chicago Motor Speedway and he capped it off with a victory at Toronto.

Seven points behind Newgarden is Hélio Castroneves. After finishing eighth and second in his first two Pocono starts, the Brazilian has had his last two Pocono starts end in accidents, last year's race being the infamous pit lane collision with Alexander Rossi and Charlie Kimball. Like Newgarden, Castroneves enters Pocono on the back of four consecutive top ten finishes and while Castroneves has 12 top ten finishes to Newgarden's ten, the American driver has double the number of podium finishes as Castroneves with six to Castroneves' three. However, Castroneves has won at Iowa, finished second at Indianapolis and fourth at Phoenix while Newgarden's best oval finish this season was sixth at Iowa.

Simon Pagenaud leads all drivers this season with ten top five finishes but the defending IndyCar champion finds himself fourth in the championship. Pagenaud won at Phoenix, the first oval victory of his career, and he finished third at Texas but a 14th-place finish in the double points-paying Indianapolis 500 has him fighting an uphill battle. Last year, Pagenaud's accident in turn one at Pocono ended a streak of 23 consecutive finishes for the Frenchman. Pagenaud has finished 16 consecutive races entering this year's Pocono race. Pagenaud is the only driver to have completed all 1,738 laps run in 2017.

Will Power is the bottom of the Penske quartet but he rounds out the top five in the championship. Power won last year's Pocono race from eighth on the grid. Like his teammate Newgarden, Power has three top five finishes and four top ten finishes from four Pocono starts. Power has led at least a lap in every Pocono race since IndyCar returned to the track in 2013. Outside his retirement at the Indianapolis 500, Power finished second at Phoenix, won at Texas and finished fourth at Iowa. If Power finishes in the top five in the final two oval races this season he will match his career-high for top five oval finishes in a season, which occurred in 2011.

Ganassi's Need to Fight Back 
While Penske has been on a roll, Chip Ganassi Racing has been struggling to stay on its own two feet since the start of July. The team's best finish since Scott Dixon's victory at Road America was seventh at Toronto by Max Chilton.

Dixon still finds himself third in the championship on 445 points, eight points behind Newgarden and he has seven consecutive top ten finishes but his last three finishes have been eighth, tenth and ninth and he had been leading the championship by 34 points after his victory at Road America. Like Newgarden and Power, Dixon is the only driver to have finished in the top ten in all four IndyCar races at Pocono. Ironically, Dixon's best career starting position at Pocono is 11th and the three laps he led in last year's race was the first time he led at Pocono since his 2013 victory.

Tony Kanaan finds himself ninth in the championship but the Brazilian has been far from contending for a victory this season. Since the Indianapolis 500, Kanaan has finished 15th or worse in four of the last seven races. Kanaan has led every year at Pocono but last year was the first time Kanaan finished in the top ten there. He finished ninth after starting ninth.

Max Chilton sits on 310 points, only ten points behind Kanaan, and 11th in the championship. Chilton completed all 200 laps in last year's Pocono race and finished 13th. He has led a lap in the last three oval races with the lone oval race he did not lead in being Phoenix because he was involved in the first lap accident after Mikhail Aleshin spun exiting turn two.

Charlie Kimball has only three top ten finishes all season with eighth at Phoenix being his best result on an oval. Kimball started on pole position at Texas and he led 42 laps before he suffered an engine failure. Since finishing second in his Pocono debut in 2013, Kimball has failed to finish on the lead lap in three consecutive Pocono 500s with his best finish being 12th. He has been involved in an accident the last two years at Pocono.

Rahal Right In It
While Penske holds four of the top five and Scott Dixon once again finds himself in contention, Graham Rahal lurks sixth in the championship, trailing Newgarden by 58 points.

Rahal has seven consecutive top ten finishes, the longest streak of his career, five of those seven finish have been top five finishes and his third-place finish at Mid-Ohio was his third podium finish of the season. Not only has Rahal been getting good finishes but he has been starting at the front of the grid as well. He has started in the top ten for six of the last seven races with his worst starting position in that period being 11th at Texas. His average starting position in the last seven races is 5.285 after being 14.667 through the first six races. Rahal has completed every lap since being caught up in the turn one lap one accident at Phoenix.

Rahal will need a strong showing a Pocono, something that has escaped him in his previous four appearances, if he hopes to be in title contention come Sonoma. He has never finished in the top ten at Pocono with his 11th-place finish last year being his best outing and his only lead lap finish. He has started in the top ten only once at Pocono. That was fifth in 2015 and that race ended in a turn three accident after being hit by Tristan Vautier.

Another Home Race For Andretti
Pocono Raceway is in the backyard for the Nazareth-based Andretti family and the team is looking to get its second victory at the 2.5-mile oval.

Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato leads all Andretti Autosport drivers in the championship. He sits seventh on 381 points. Sato had a rough start to summer after four consecutive top ten finishes from the Indianapolis 500 to Texas. He finished 19th, 16th and 16th at Road America, Iowa and Toronto respectively but he picked up a fifth-place finish at Mid-Ohio, his fourth top five finish of the season, the most Sato has had in a season since joining IndyCar. Pocono has not been a great place for Sato. He finished sixth there in 2015 but he has retired in his other three races, including two accidents, one of which occurred on lap two last year.

Alexander Rossi had a promising day last year at Pocono before his pit lane collision with Charlie Kimball. He started seventh last year and led four laps before the incident. Rossi heads to Pocono coming off back-to-back top ten finishes after finishing second at Toronto and sixth at Mid-Ohio. Rossi finished outside the top ten at those tracks the year before. He trails Sato by 23 points in the championship.

Ryan Hunter-Reay still finds himself 12th in the championship on 297 points but the 2015 Pocono winner has finally strung together some top ten finishes. He finished third at Iowa, sixth at Toronto and eighth at Mid-Ohio, the longest streak of consecutive top ten finishes for Hunter-Reay this season. Hunter-Reay has not been in the top ten in the championship since he was eighth after the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Last year, Hunter-Reay picked up his second consecutive podium finish at Pocono with a marvelous comeback drive to third after having his car shut off on him while leading and costing him a lap in the final 100 miles of the race.

Marco Andretti is looking to win at his home track for the first time in his career. He started on pole position for the 2013 race but it has all been downhill from there. He finished tenth in the 2013 race after having to conserve fuel and coast home. He finished ninth the following year, had an accident while running at the front in 2015 and he was a non-factor last year and finished 12th. His grandfather Mario won at Pocono in 1986 and his uncle Jeff won the Indy Lights race the day prior to Mario's victory. His father Michael's best finish at Pocono was third in the 1989 race.

Schmidt Peterson Look to Replicate Last Year's Pocono Success
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had a great showing last year at Pocono. Unfortunately, the man who carried the SPM flag will not be there this year.

Mikhail Aleshin has been released from SPM to focus on SMP Racing's LMP1 privateer development. Aleshin started on pole position for last year's race and led a race-high 87 laps before finishing second to Power, the second podium finish of Aleshin's career. He also finished seventh in his first Pocono start in 2014.

Sebastián Saavedra returns to the #7 Honda for the second time this season after he replaced Aleshin at Toronto. The Colombian driver has also been confirmed for the Gateway race. Saavedra finished 15th earlier this year in the Indianapolis 500 and he completed all 500 miles. It was only the second time he has finished on the lead lap in an oval race in his career. Saavedra has two starts at Pocono. He completed two laps in the 2013 race before retiring due to a throttle issue and he finished 13th, one lap down in the 2014 race, the best oval finish of his career.

James Hinchcliffe finished tenth at Pocono last year after starting sixth; it was his first top ten finish at Pocono. Hinchcliffe has started third, sixth and sixth in his three Pocono starts. Hinchcliffe has not had much fortune on the ovals this year. His best finish was tenth at Iowa and he had two accidents at Indianapolis and Texas. Despite starting six of the last seven races in the top ten, the Canadian has only three top ten finishes but two of those were podium finishes at Belle Isle and Toronto. Aleshin had qualified ahead of Hinchcliffe at all four oval races this season.

Can Ed Carpenter Racing Find More Big Oval Success?
Ed Carpenter Racing had the top two Chevrolet qualifiers at the Indianapolis 500 in May and the team will be looking to replicate that at Pocono.

J.R. Hildebrand seems to only have things go his way at ovals and even then he has his bad days. While he stood on the podium at Phoenix and Iowa, he had a penalty for jumping the restart at Indianapolis 500 cost him a top five finish and he was involved in the massive accident in turn three and four that took out over a third of the field at Texas. Hildebrand has never raced at Pocono before in IndyCar. Panther Racing fired him before IndyCar returned to the track in 2013.

Ed Carpenter has been running at the finish of three of four oval races this year but even his one retirement at Texas saw him classified in 11th. Iowa was his worst finish of the season in 12th. Carpenter has failed to finish the last two years at Pocono due to mechanical reasons. He started tenth in last year's race, his best starting position at Pocono. His ninth-place finish in the 2013 race is his best Pocono finish. Carpenter has never led a lap at Pocono.

Can Coyne Keep Up Big Oval Speed?
The stunner this year at Indianapolis and Texas was the speed Dale Coyne Racing has shown with Sébastien Bourdais on his way to the top time of the month before his accident and Tristan Vautier qualifying fifth at Texas after being out of a car for over a year.

Ed Jones finished third in the Indianapolis 500 and he was in the top ten at Texas before being caught up in the massive accident in turn three and four. Jones has come back to earth since Indianapolis. He has only two top ten finishes in the last seven races and after completing all but four laps in the first seven races, his only lead lap finish in the last six races was at Road America.

Jones could clinch the 2017 IndyCar Rookie of the Years honor this weekend at Pocono as his only challenger, his teammate Esteban Gutiérrez, trails him by 202 points and there are 266 points left on the table. Like Jones, this will be Gutiérrez's first time at Pocono. Gutiérrez has finished ahead of Jones in four of his six starts, including in the last three races. The best finish for a Mexican driver at Pocono was seventh by Josele Garza in the 1986.

And Then There is A.J. Foyt Racing
A.J. Foyt Racing has not had a good year and the team once was a stalwart at Pocono Raceway. The good news for the team is it has one driver who has been quite impressive at the 2.5-mile oval.

Carlos Muñoz has finished third, fifth and seventh in his three Pocono starts and his three starting positions in those three races were third, sixth and fifth. Muñoz also won the 2013 Indy Lights race at Pocono. Despite Muñoz's success and completed all 600 laps contested at Pocono, he has yet to lead a lap at the track. The Colombian driver is looking for a good result. He has not finished in the top ten in the last seven races since finishing tenth in the Indianapolis 500. Muñoz has yet to start a race in the top ten this season.

Conor Daly made his Pocono debut last year and finished two laps down in 16th. Daly did pick up his first career top ten finish on an oval at Texas when he came home in seventh. However, he is still looking for his first lead lap finish on an oval. He is coming off a tenth-place finish at Mid-Ohio and he has finished on the lead lap in the last two races. Daly has never had three consecutive lead lap finishes in his IndyCar career.

Harding Racing is Back!
For the third time this season and first time since Texas, Harding Racing has entered a car and Gabby Chaves returns behind the wheel of the #88 Chevrolet.

The team had two stellar performances in its first two races ever with Chaves bringing the car home to a ninth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 and then avoiding all the accidents to finish fifth at Texas. To put the success of Harding Racing and Chaves into perspective, Chaves is tied on points with Esteban Gutiérrez with each driver on 83 points. While double points and qualifying points were awarded for the Indianapolis 500, if you look at percentage of points earned, Chaves earned 41.5% of a possible 200 points from the two races he started while Gutiérrez has earned 25.617% of a possible 324 points from his six starts.

This will be Chaves' first Pocono appearance since 2015. He started 16th in that race but led 31 laps, the most in the race and he was in contention for the victory before his engine quit on him with three laps to go. Despite the engine failure, Chaves finished 11th.

Fast Facts
This will be the 15th IndyCar race to take place on August 20th and the first since Paul Tracy won at Road America in 2000.

This year's Pocono race takes place 28 years to the day of the final Pocono race of the initial run of CART races at Pocono, which was won by Danny Sullivan.

Eight different drivers have won the last eight Pocono races.

Of the last nine Pocono races, Team Penske has won every other race.

No team has ever won consecutive Pocono races. In turn, no driver has ever won consecutive Pocono races.

Team Penske leads all teams with nine Pocono victories.

The only other teams with multiple Pocono victories are A.J. Foyt Racing with four and Vel's Parenlli Jones Racing with two.

The driver who has led the most laps has won the last seven races. It is the longest streak for winners leading the most laps since the first eight Champ Car races in 2004.

The average starting position for a Pocono winner is 5.347 with a median position of third.

The pole-sitter has won seven times at Pocono.

A driver starting in the top ten have won 12 consecutive IndyCar races. That is tied for the longest streak of winners starting in the top ten during the DW12-era. That other 12-race streak started at Milwaukee in 2012 and ended at São Paulo in 2013.

Teo Fabi is the only European driver to win at Pocono.

Fourteen of 23 Pocono races have been won from inside the top five.

Three of the four Pocono races since the return of IndyCar in 2013 have been won from outside the top five.

Three of the four Pocono races since the return of IndyCar in 2013 have had an average speed over 180 MPH.

Honda and Chevrolet have split the last four Pocono races. Chevrolet has four victories all-time at Pocono.

The average number of lead changes for a Pocono race is 18.583 with a median of 16.5.

The last two Pocono races had 33 lead changes and 29 lead changes respectively, the most and second-most lead changes to occur in a Pocono race.

The average number of cautions for a Pocono race is seven with a median of seven. The average number of caution laps is 39.59 with a median of 37.5.

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.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 28 laps to reach the 6,000 laps led milestone.

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 149 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

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

Predictions
Ryan Hunter-Reay gets the victory but it is another tough fight with Team Penske despite two of the Penske cars starting outside the top ten. Harding Racing gets its worst finish in the team's history. Simon Pagenaud completes all 200 laps. Conor Daly gets his first career lead lap finish on an oval. James Hinchcliffe qualifies ahead of Sebastián Saavedra. Chip Ganassi Racing gets back into the top five. Ed Jones clinches the Rookie of the Year. Sleeper: Marco Andretti.