Thursday, April 19, 2018

Track Walk: Barber 2018

IndyCar makes a return to glorious Barber Motorsports Park
The fourth round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Barber Motorsports Park. This will be the ninth Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and it concludes three consecutive race weekends. This also marks the final race weekend before the start of the month of May. Team Penske has won five of eight Barber races including the last two years with Chevrolet having won five of six races during the DW12-era. American drivers have won four of the last five Barber races. Three of the last four seasons have had four different winners through the first four races.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 22nd with green flag scheduled for 3:42 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt, Marty Snider and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 12:10 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Second Practice: 3:50 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Third Practice: 11:50 a.m. ET (45-minute session)
Qualifying: 4:05 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have coverage of this session. Broadcast time to be determined)
Race: 3:42 p.m. ET (90 laps)

Americans On Top
After three races the top three drivers in the championship are all Americans and represent three different teams.

Alexander Rossi's Long Beach victory combined with a pair of third place finishes at St. Petersburg and Phoenix have the Andretti Autosport driver on top of the championship for the first time in his career. Rossi sits on 126 points and he heads to Barber, where last year he had an impressive drive from 18th on the grid to fifth. Rossi's three consecutive podium finishes is the longest stretch in his career and he has nearly doubled his number of total career podium finishes as he entered 2018 with four career podium finishes. Rossi has finished 15th in the fourth race of each his first two IndyCar seasons including a 15th at Barber in 2016 and a 15th last year at Phoenix.

Josef Newgarden lost the championship lead after his seventh place finish at Long Beach but the defending champion finds himself 22 points behind Rossi. Newgarden won last year's Barber race after Will Power had to make a late pit stop for a deflating tire. He has three consecutive podium finishes at Barber and five consecutive top ten finishes at this track. Newgarden also topped the Barber test in March. The Penske driver started the 2017 season with four consecutive top ten finishes and he looks to match that feat this year. Regardless of the result this is the fourth consecutive season Newgarden has started with at least three top ten finishes in the first four races.

Graham Rahal has yet to win a race this season but he is 33 points behind Rossi. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver has started his season with a second, ninth and fifth place finish through the first three races. This is the first time Rahal has started a season with three consecutive top ten finishes and it is the first time he has had at two top ten finishes from the first three races since 2009. Before his 13th place finish last year at Barber Rahal had finished runner-up at the track in 2015 and 2016. However, this has been a hit or miss track for him. He has finished outside the top fifteen in four of eight Barber starts.

Newgarden and Rossi have won the last two races and three different American drivers have not won three consecutive IndyCar races since 2005 when Sam Hornish, Jr., Bryan Herta and Scott Sharp won at Milwaukee, Michigan and Kentucky respectively. Three different American drivers have not won three consecutive races that all occurred on road/street course races since 1990-91 when Danny Sullivan won the 1990 finale at Laguna Seca with John Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. splitting the first two races in 1991 at Surfers Paradise and Long Beach respectively.

That Second Pack
Through three races the championship standings has kind of broken up into a few chunks with the top three followed by another pack of three drivers.

St. Petersburg winner Sébastien Bourdais has finished 13th in the last two races but despite the lack of results he is still fourth in the championship on 88 points. Bourdais is looking to avoid having three consecutive finishes outside the top ten since 2015-16 when he finished outside the top ten in the final three races of 2015 and in the 2016 season opener. Last year, he matched his career best Barber finish by coming home in eighth. In his Champ Car career, Bourdais won the fourth race of a season four times out of five and finished second in that other race. Since he returned to IndyCar competition he has only one top five finish in the fourth race of a season.

James Hinchcliffe's trio of top ten finishes puts the Canadian fifth in the championship, five points behind Bourdais. Hinchcliffe has four consecutive top ten finishes at Barber and five top ten finishes in seven starts at the track but he has never finished better than sixth in this race. Hinchcliffe has started in the top ten in six of seven Barber starts and he has made the Fast Six session on three occasions.

Scott Dixon had his streak of 13 consecutive top ten finishes snapped at Long Beach with an 11th place finish. The good news for Dixon is he sits sixth in the championship on 79 points and he heads to one of his most successful but frustrating racetracks. Dixon has an average finish of 3.2 at Barber, the best all-time at the track, but he has yet to win the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. He has seven podium finishes with his worst result being tenth in 2016. Last year was Dixon's fifth runner-up finish in this race and he has finished runner-up to four different drivers.

A Large Middle
After the top six, the next seven drivers are covered by 13 points after three races.

Ryan Hunter-Reay's pair of fifth place finishes have him on 73 points and seventh in the championship despite his 20th place result in a disastrous Long Beach race. Hunter-Reay has won twice at Barber but he has finished 11th the last two years in this race and he has only made it out of the first round of qualifying in four of eight Barber appearances.

Will Power is one point behind Hunter-Reay. Like the American, Power is a two-time Barber winner but the Australian has seven top five finishes in eight starts with his 14th place finish last year breaking up a remarkable run of results. Power has four pole positions here and he has started on the front row seven times but he won here from ninth in 2012. He should enter Barber on a confident note, not only because he finished second but because Power has won the race following a runner-up finish on the last four occasions. Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Power and Hélio Castroneves have all completed all 699 laps held in eight Barber races.

Ed Jones' third place finish has him ninth in the championship on 69 points and it was Jones' best finish on a road/street circuit in the Emirati driver's short career. He finished 16th last year in his first IndyCar race at Barber but Jones won at the track in Indy Lights in 2016 and he finished second in the other race that year. Last year, Jones started 11th in this race and it was the first time he made the second round of qualifying in his career. He has not advanced to round two in the last six road/street course races.

Marco Andretti rounds out the top ten on 68 points. He finished sixth at Long Beach after starting 20th for the second consecutive race. He has not started 20th or worse in three consecutive races since 2011 when he started 27th at Indianapolis and 23rd and 27th for the Texas doubleheader. Note that a draw determined the the grid for the second Texas race. Andretti had completed every single lap at Barber before last year's race where a gearbox issue prevented him from taking the green flag and by the time he joined the race was already two laps down and he would lose another lap before the race was over.

Tony Kanaan is a point outside the top ten but his worst finish this season was 11th at St. Petersburg with a pair of eighth place finishes in the last two races. Kanaan holds a dubious distinction with Hinchcliffe as both drivers are tied for most top ten finishes at Barber without a top five finish. Kanaan has five top ten finishes at this track, including a seventh place finish last year. He has never led a lap at Barber and has completed 698 of 699 laps in the eight races.

Despite being the talk of the season Robert Wickens finds himself 12th in the championship on 65 points after his accident at St. Petersburg and his gearbox issue at Long Beach cancel out his runner-up finish at Phoenix. This is another relatively new track for Wickens. He did test here in March but was 19th fastest that day however Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have made great leaps from testing pace at a race weekend. Wickens and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had poor results at the Phoenix test but had both cars run and finish in the top ten when it came time to race.

Zach Veach finds himself only five points behind Wickens for top rookie honors after he finished fourth at Long Beach. Veach had a good record in Indy Lights at Barber. He finished ninth in his first race at the track in 2013 but he won there in 2014 with a third place finish in the second race of that doubleheader. In 2016, he finished third and tenth at Barber and he was tenth fastest in the March test. Veach made his IndyCar debut at this track last year substituting for an injured J.R. Hildebrand at Ed Carpenter Racing. Veach would finish start and finish 19th and he did finish on the lead lap.

Bringing Up the Rear
Veach has some breathing room as the next closest drivers in the champion trail him by 16 points.

Takuma Sato and Spencer Pigot are tied on 46 points with Sato holding the tiebreaker. Both drivers are suffering a significant drought. Sato has not picked up a top ten finish in the last seven races and he has finished outside the top ten in ten of the last 11 races. Pigot has not finished in the top ten in his last nine starts. Sato picked up his first career top ten at Barber last year with a ninth place finish. Pigot had a good race going last year before a spin in turn six ended his race. Pigot swept the Indy Lights race at Barber in 2015.

Simon Pagenaud has only one top ten finish through three races and that was a tenth place finish at Phoenix. He sits 16th in the championship on 44 points. This is his worst championship position since he was 24th after the 2013 season opener at St. Petersburg. Pagenaud also had his streak of 22 consecutive lead lap finishes snapped at Long Beach. The good news for the Frenchman is he has won the fourth race of the season three of the last four years including the last two seasons, one of which was at Barber in 2016.

Charlie Kimball got Carlin its first top ten finish with a tenth place finish at Barber, a career best for Kimball at the famed street race. However, he sits on 43 points and is 17th in the championship. He has had some good results at Barber with one top five and four top ten finishes in seven starts.

Gabby Chaves is still looking for his first top ten finish of 2018. The Harding Racing driver is a point behind Kimball in the championship. Chaves won at Barber in Indy Lights in 2014 but he was 23rd fastest out of 24 cars at the test ahead of only René Binder, who will be back in the #32 Chevrolet for Juncos Racing.

Max Chilton has finished 19th, 18th and 17th in the first three races respectively and he has only picked up 36 points. He has made it to the second round of qualifying in each of his first two Barber appearances but he has finished 21st and 12th in those races respectively. Chilton was the best Carlin driver at the test in 14th with Kimball 20th quickest.

Matheus Leist got his first career lead lap finish last week at Long Beach but he was still on the wrong side of the law as he was forced to give up a position on the final lap for blocking Sébastien Bourdais and that dropped the Brazilian to 14th. Last year, Leist finished fourth and seventh in the Indy Lights races at Barber.

Jordan King returns for his third race of 2018. He had a good race going at Long Beach before brake issues cost him a lap and then a penalty for spinning Bourdais dropped him further down the order. King was 21st fastest in the March test but he was ahead of his teammate as Pigot was 22nd fastest.

Zachary Claman De Melo is also back for his third race of the season. His Long Beach race ended in the turn nine barrier after completing 58 of 85 laps. Claman De Melo made four Indy Lights starts at Barber. In each of his two appearances he finished fifth in the first race but finished seventh and 14th in the second races in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Road to Indy
After a month off, Indy Lights and Pro Mazda will both be back in action at Barber with doubleheaders scheduled for this weekend.

Belardi Auto Racing's Santiago Urrutia heads to Barber with the Indy Lights championship lead after the Uruguayan finished second and first at the opening round at St. Petersburg. Andretti Autosport driver Patricio O'Ward won the first race at St. Petersburg but a collision with barrier in race two while leading cost him a sweep and he now find himself eight points behind Urrutia. Shelby Blackstock is the top American in the championship after attrition got him a second place finish in race two at St. Petersburg, his career best Indy Lights finish but he will not be at Barber as Team Pelfrey has not entered the race. Blackstock sits on 42 points. Victor Franzoni finished fourth in both St. Petersburg races with Juncos Racing and has 38 points.

Ryan Norman finished third in race two at St. Petersburg and he has 37 points, two point ahead of Andretti teammate Colton Herta, who retired from race two after an accident. Neil Alberico sits on 31 points but the absence of Team Pelfrey means he will not be competing. Dalton Kellett has 28 points and Aaron Telitz's weekend from hell has him on 19 points.

The bad news is Blackstock and Alberico will not be at Barber and there will be no cars from Team Pelfrey. The good news is Alfonso Celis, Jr. will make his Indy Lights debut after missing St. Petersburg in the #7 Mazda for Juncos Racing.

Andretti Autosport swept last year's Barber races with Nico Jamin and Herta each picking up a victory. Andretti Autosport has the most Indy Lights victories at Barber with four. Ten of 12 Indy Lights races at Barber have been won from pole position and the other two races were won from third position.

Indy Lights will race at 2:50 p.m. ET on Saturday April 21st and at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 22nd.

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend at St. Petersburg and he leads the championship on 62 points. Parker Thompson trails VeeKay by 19 points with VeeKay's Juncos Racing teammate Carlos Cunha 20 points back. Thompson finished second and fifth in the season opening weekend while Cunha finished fourth and third over the weekend. David Malukas is 23 points behind VeeKay and he finished second in the second St. Petersburg race. Team Pelfrey's Sting Ray Robb rounds out the top five on 35 points.

Oliver Askew started on pole position for the first race from St. Petersburg but a fifth and a sixth place finish have him on 33 points. Askew swept the Barber races last year in U.S. F2000. Robert Megennis finished third in the first race of the season but a 16th in race two has him tied on 27 points with Askew's Cape Motorsports teammate Nikita Lastochkin. RP Motorsport drivers Harrison Scott and Lodovico Laurini round out the top ten in the championship with both drivers on 21 points.

The first race of the Pro Mazda weekend will be at 1:50 p.m. ET on Saturday April 21st with race two scheduled for 10:45 a.m. ET on Sunday April 22nd.

Fast Facts
This will be the seventh IndyCar race to take place on April 22nd and the first since 2007 when Sébastien Bourdais won at Houston.

Bourdais holds the Barber track record after he ran a lap of 1:06.6001 during the second round of qualifying in 2016.

Graham Rahal finished second in that Houston race and it was his first career podium finish. Simon Pagenaud finished fifth and it was his first career top five finish.

Will Power is the only other driver on the grid who was in that Houston race and he finished 11th.

At least one American driver has finished on the podium at Barber in the last five races and three of the last four races have had two American drivers on the podium.

Josef Newgarden is the only driver to pick up a maiden IndyCar victory at Barber.

A.J. Foyt Racing has only one top ten finish at Barber Motorsports Park. Mike Conway finished seventh in the 2012 race.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has had at least one car finish in the top ten in the last six Barber races.

The average starting position for a Barber winner is 3.75 with a median of third.

The pole-sitter has won three times at Barber.

The worst starting position for a Barber winner was ninth (Will Power, 2012).

The driver that has led the most laps has won five times at Barber.

All three Barber winners that did not lead the most laps were Penske drivers (Hélio Castroneves 2010, Power 2012 and Newgarden 2017)

The average number of lead changes in a Barber race is 6.375 with a median of seven.

Outside of the 2011 race, where Will Power led all 90 laps, the fewest number of lead changes in a Barber race was four in 2016.

The average number of cautions in a Barber race is 2.625 with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is nine with a median of eight.

Six Barber races have had two cautions or fewer.

There has never been a caution-free race at Barber.

Possible Milestones:
Graham Rahal needs to lead 43 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Alexander Rossi needs to lead one lap to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon gets the victory because we are picking him at Barber until he wins one. He is beyond due. Nobody can have this many podium finishes at a track without a victory unless it is Scott Dixon. We will not have a fourth different championship lead in as many races. A Penske driver wins pole position but at least one Penske driver does not make it to the final round of qualifying. It will be a wet race but all 90 laps will be completed. At least one podium finisher will not have been on the podium in the last 25 races. René Binder will not wreck the car and neither will Zachary Claman De Melo. Sleeper: Marco Andretti.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Keeping the Lights On

Alexander Rossi bossed the Long Beach weekend. A handful of drivers had a weekend to forget. There were passes to remember from IndyCar to Pirelli World Challenge to European Le Mans Series to Formula One. Max Verstappen continues to allow people to question his maturity. Toro Rosso drivers got together. Formula E visited the Pope, got blessed and put on its best race of the season. Coincidence? World Superbike returned to Europe and was in Spain. NASCAR had another race rained out to a Monday. Neither Taylor brother get a victory at Long Beach but Cadillac keeps winning. Jason Anderson is another step closer to clinching the Supercross championship. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Keeping the Lights On
We all know about IndyCar's new television deal and many are excited about what it could mean for the future of the series. Most have viewed the move to NBC as the sole television partner as a positive for the series. However, this television not only impacts IndyCar but the Indy Lights series as well.

IndyCar will have eight races on network NBC next year while the remainder will be shown on NBCSN but it is unclear what Indy Lights' presence on television will be in 2019 and beyond. All we know is Indy Lights will be a part of the IndyCar package on NBC Sports Gold and purchasing that package will allow fans to see every Indy Lights race live. However, Indy Lights doesn't need to be put behind a pay wall. It needs the opposite.

The grid was down to nine cars for this year's season opener at St. Petersburg and we aren't sure two of those cars will be back for the second round of the season at Barber. The grid once thought to be growing with the introduction of a new chassis three years ago has fallen back to pre-Dallara IL-15 levels and once again we find ourselves wondering what is next for the series.

The series did see a boom as Carlin came over to the series, 8 Star Motorsports moved over from sports cars and Juncos Racing expanded its operation. The grid had 13 cars for the 2015 season opener and the following year saw more additions to the grid with 16 cars including the likes of Felix Rosenqvist and Dean Stoneman coming over from successful careers in the European junior series.

However, the last two seasons saw Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Carlin both withdraw from the series to focus on IndyCar operations. No other teams have entered the series since 2015. Andretti Autosport is propping up half the grid. It seems a series with a $1 million scholarship to move up to IndyCar should be doing better than this.

Everyone keeps saying IndyCar should incentivize IndyCar teams to field cars in Indy Lights but the problem is there is not enough for IndyCar to offer to change the minds of Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi and Bobby Rahal to enter the series or Sam Schmidt to return. Indy Lights isn't a cheap series. Mike Hull estimated on The Marshall Pruett Podcast it costs $1.8 million to run an Indy Lights program. Penske has a three-car IndyCar effort; Ganassi and Rahal both run two cars. An extra test day from IndyCar or an extra set of tires each race weekend isn't going get these guys to spend almost $2 million to run one Indy Lights car.

Making Indy Lights into a profitable series is what could draw some of these car owners to the series and with a new television deal and the chance that every race could be showed on television is a step in the right direction. It is not clear if it will be possible for Indy Lights to get a few races on network NBC next year along with IndyCar races but the series desperately needs that to become attractive to sponsors. I can't imagine more than five Indy Lights races being shown on NBC next year but five Indy Lights races on NBC would give a sponsor more possible exposure than the current predicament.

Indy Lights cannot completely control its television exposure but it can control the series and the costs and if the series is hoping to increase the grid maybe it could look to reducing the schedule as a cost-cutting measure. It was not that long ago where doubleheaders were rare. The 2013 season had 12 races and no doubleheaders and in 2014 the street course races were single-race events. The change would take something away from a weekend schedule and it would create a vacancy on either a Saturday or Sunday but it has to be considered and maybe in turn of doubleheaders Indy Lights could run slightly longer races. Instead of having a 35-lap race and a 40-lap race at St. Petersburg there could be one 50-lap race.

Cutting back on doubleheader races could allow Indy Lights to allow a few more oval races on the schedule. Currently, there are ten tracks that make up the Indy Lights calendar; five road courses, three ovals and two street courses. If each track had one race it could allow for two tracks to be added to the schedule and the current IndyCar weekend without Indy Lights races are Phoenix, Long Beach, Belle Isle, Texas, Pocono and Sonoma. Phoenix and Pocono would likely be the two tracks to benefit the most from an Indy Lights race.

It would be a change but a change is necessary if we want Indy Lights not only survive but become a thriving series. It might be difficult to pull off Indy Lights races on network television because time is precious. An Indy Lights race fits nicely into an hour television window but will NBC have an hour to offer before or after an IndyCar race? IndyCar isn't NBC's only sports property and every sports governing body holds events on weekends and is hoping for a big draw to impress sponsors. However, IndyCar doesn't need NBC to bend over backward to accommodate Indy Lights. A reduced schedule with a few network races could enough to turn the tide for Indy Lights and get the grid back up to 16 cars or more.

We have been so focused on IndyCar but we cannot forget about Indy Lights. The series was on the right foot not too long ago but now it has to redefine itself once again. The car is not the issue this time. Incentives are not going to get more teams into the series and incentives should not be what it takes for teams to join Indy Lights. The series needs to make more business sense for teams.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Alexander Rossi but did you know...

Daniel Ricciardo won the Chinese Grand Prix.

The #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac of Filipe Albuquerque and João Barbosa won the IMSA race from Long Beach. The #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin won in GTLM, their second consecutive class victory at Long Beach..

Daniel Mancinelli won the Pirelli World Challenge race at Long Beach.

The #24 Racing Engineering Oreca-Gibson of Oliver Pla, Norman Nato and Patrick Pilet won European Le Mans Series season opener from Circuit Paul Ricard, a victory on Racing Engineering's ELMS debut. The #15 RLR Msport Ligier-Nissan of John Farano, Rob Garofall and Job van Uitert won in LMP3. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Miguel Molina, Liam Griffin and Alex MacDonald won in GTE after Molina made a pass on the final lap on the #88 Proton Competition Porsche of Matteo Cairoli.

Sam Bird won the Rome ePrix.

Ryan Preece won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Bristol.

Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies split the World Superbike races from Aragón. Sandro Cortese won the World Supersport race, his first career victory in his third start and his victory since the Moto3 race at Phillip Island in 2012.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Minneapolis, the final triple crown race of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar ends its three-week stretch of races at Barber Motorsports Park with the Road to Indy back in play.
Marc Márquez looks for another MotoGP victory in the United States and in Austin, Texas.
World Superbike heads north to Assen.
NASCAR has its first night race of the season at Richmond.
Supercars will be at Phillip Island.
Super Formula opens its season at Suzuka.
The Blancpain Endurance Series opens its season at Monza.
Supercross will be in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

First Impressions: Long Beach 2018

1. Alexander Rossi. He good. He good. Three races, three podium finishes and the third race of his third IndyCar season sees him pick up his third career victory and his first victory on a street course. Not a bad list of racetrack to win at when looking at Rossi's CV: Indianapolis, Watkins Glen and Long Beach. The man was bad fast all weekend. Everyone was chasing him and nobody caught him. Everybody had plenty of chances to beat him with late cautions but he held off Scott Dixon on a restart (even though Dixon would have to serve a penalty a few laps after that) and he held off Will Power twice. At Watkins Glen, Rossi held off Dixon and didn't put a wheel wrong and the same occurred today. The guy isn't scared by anybody on this grid.

Rossi could have won at St. Petersburg. Arguably he had the best car at St. Petersburg and you could say the same thing for Phoenix considering he was responsible for over half the passes in that race and who knows what would have happened if he did not have the early penalty. We have a new championship leader. He was everyone's sleeper for 2018 before 2017 ended. Nobody is surprised now. There are plenty of races left. A lot can happen but I doubt Rossi is going anywhere.

2. I am not sure Will Power was the second best guy today. Top five? Sure. Second? He caught a break when Sébastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon could not get into the pit lane prior to the caution for Zachary Claman De Melo's accident in turn nine and Josef Newgarden was also caught out by that caution while a half-dozen drivers found themselves solidly in the top ten after being outside it for most of this race. It is a good bounce back after Phoenix and the last two years we have seen Power have terrible starts to a season only to have strong summers but it not be enough to make Power a title contender. A second today could go a long way in August.

3. Ed Jones was the biggest benefactor from the Claman De Melo accident. He went from perhaps a top ten finish to podium contender and after a podium slipped out of his fingers last week he gets one that probably should have gone to someone else. You take what you can get though. Jones has been good through three races with Ganassi but he is still off Dixon and that is something he will have to work on but this should be a confidence boost heading to Barber.

4. Zach Veach might not have deserved a fourth place finish in his fifth career start but he looked good today and this was definitely the best race of his IndyCar career. I think he was going to finish in the top ten but he caught a break and got a lot more than even he probably expected. He had one or two runs on Jones but really didn't have it to get some hardware. Last year, he was thrown into the deep end at Barber in a substitute role for an injured J.R. Hildebrand. It will be interesting to see what difference a year and an actual testing program makes.

5. Graham Rahal shot himself in the foot in turn one lap one, as he locked up the tires, spun Simon Pagenaud and was handed a drive-through penalty immediately. It appeared he was not going to get back into this one but the way the cautions fell and his pit strategy got him into the top ten. Rahal is sitting in an impressive position when you consider he had to start last at St. Petersburg in a car that could compete for the podium and had to go to back after three laps today and still finished fifth. If he can start at the front and not run over somebody early he can win races and he could be a championship challenger.

6. Marco Andretti benefitted from the late cautions but he had a good start to the race. He quickly went from 20th to 14th and was on the fringe of the top ten for a fair portion of the race. It seems he keeps stubbing his toe in qualifying and that keeps him for starting in the top ten. He even admitted that he is putting himself behind the eight ball with his qualifying performances. He has run well at Barber and I hope he can put together a solid weekend from start to finish.

7. Josef Newgarden loses the championship lead and it is hard to say he should be disappointed with a seventh place finish but he had a top five car and probably could have been on the podium. The key thing is he is finishing in the top ten and is racking up points. He is going to win another race or two this season and he going to be on the podium another five or six times. It is days like these where he finishes seventh instead of 15th that makes a difference in the championship picture.

8. Tony Kanaan finished eighth and normally this is where I would say he did nothing and finished eighth or wasn't a factor and he wasn't a factor but he was solidly in eighth all day and gave Newgarden a run for seventh. Kanaan has plateaued but if plateauing means picking up top ten finishes and likely being a contender for a victory or two on the ovals than I think most drivers would take it.

9. James Hinchcliffe picked up a ninth place finish and this seemed to be as good as it was going to get for him. His tires fell off really quickly in the first stint and it cost him a lot of positions and any chance of a top five finish. The good news for him is he has three top ten finishes from the first three races and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has made a big stride forward.

10. Charlie Kimball took nothing and turned it into a tenth place finish, the first top ten finish for Carlin. Kimball has been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde driver. He seems to piss off a lot of people but he has a tendency for getting top ten finishes and he is fan friendly. It has been a tough start for Carlin and I think the team really needed a boost. This should give it a shot in the arm but I still think results are going to be tough to pick up.

11. Where do we start with Scott Dixon? We already covered his pit lane woes and how it cost him a podium finish but he rallied after that penalty, charged to an 11th place finish and was just over three-tenths behind Kimball for tenth and you are probably more surprised that he didn't pull off a top ten finish because this is the man who went from 17th to fourth last week at Phoenix. He has been stellar at Barber and I think he will be the man to beat.

12. Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank Racing deserve praise because the birthday boy was on the cusp of a top ten finish all race. This team is punching above its weight considering it is a part-time team. I hold Harvey in high regard and think he is an underrated driver. This team isn't on track again until practice for the Indianapolis 500 and it is a shame because I think Harvey could be a rookie of the year challenger if he was full-time.

13. Matheus Leist finally avoided the gremlins and finished 13th and on the lead lap, ahead of Sébastien Bourdais, who deserved better for the second consecutive race.

14. Quickly through the rest of the field, Ed Carpenter Racing is more lost than last year. Jordan King had a good race going before his brakes faded and then his brain faded when he decided to make a move on two cars on the lead lap when he was a lap down and spun Bourdais, who was in the top ten. King had a good day going but another odd mechanical issue cost him. Then you have Spencer Pigot, who finished 15th but a lap down and he has not matched the drives he showed last season that got us really excited. Kyle Kaiser finished 16th in what was a good day for Juncos Racing. He kept his nose clean and completed 84 laps and René Binder will be back in the car next week. I am not sure what happened with Max Chilton but he has doing pretty well before he ended up a lap down. Gabby Chaves was not mentioned all day and finished 19th.

15. When it rains on Ryan Hunter-Reay it pours. Slight contact with Dixon into turn one on lap one damaged his right wing end plate and forced his to stop for a change. He charged up the order and found himself in contention for a top five finish. He had a bobble exiting turn five and kept it out of the barrier but Takuma Sato had nowhere to go and slight contact cut down Hunter-Reay's rear tire and he limped around and lost a lap. He got his lap back only to be impeded after Bourdais spun in the hairpin and then he slapped the barrier, broke his suspension and that ended his day. He should have had three consecutive top ten finishes to start the season. The bad thing is when he has fallen into this rut the previous two seasons he normally has stayed in it for six or seven races. He cannot afford to do that this year.

16. Robert Wickens had his first bad day in IndyCar and it was out of his control. He got stuck in gear on a pit stop while in the top ten. He is 12th in the championship and five points ahead of Veach for best rookie but has been miles ahead of all his fellow rookies.

17. We need to recognize Simon Pagenaud and his streak of 3,084 consecutive laps completed over 22 races dating back to 2016. It had been a while since we had a lap one turn one accident at Long Beach and it is unfortunate his day was done before you knew it. Even more disappointing is Pagenaud is 16th in the championship on 44 points, behind the likes of Veach, Sato and Pigot and only one point ahead of Kimball. This is a big hole he has gotten himself into.

18. I am going to blow off some steam real quick, and this is a personal thing so feel free to skip it. For the second time in three races Twitter has locked out my account during a race. I am not sure why. I tweet a lot during races. It is kind of my thing but each time Twitter locks me out it says it is because of a rules violation. I have to admit, considering all the garbage that is posted on Twitter and the cesspool it truly is but we choose to keep swimming in, tweeting constantly about an IndyCar race and intervals between the top five cars and pit windows shouldn't be close to breaking the rules.

Can it be annoying what I do? Sure, I can understand if people want me to shut up. I am conscious of what I am doing and I bet many don't want it cluttering their time lines even if they love IndyCar racing but for some this commentary has been helpful, whether it is someone in New Zealander who can't watch the race because they don't have access to it or someone at the race and is able to get context for what is going on. Don't get me wrong, I am no saint because of what I do. I am just a guy on Twitter. There is no honor in that but if this is going to be a weekly thing then I am going to be pissed.

I really want to call Twitter and get an explanation from a living and breathing human being beyond I tweet too much. I really wonder if they look at the substance because this isn't harmful. It is excessive but it is innocent when considering some of the shit that Twitter allows to happen and turns away from.

19. With all that said, there is a race next week and it is at the beautiful Barber Motorsports Park. We are getting into the swing of things.

Morning Warm-Up: Long Beach 2018

Alexander Rossi has been the man of the weekend through the first two days at Long Beach
Alexander Rossi picked up his second career pole position with a lap at 66.5528 seconds in the final round of qualifying yesterday for the 44th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It is Rossi's second pole position in the last four races and it is his first pole position on a street circuit. He won from pole position at Watkins Glen last season. This is the first time a California-born driver has started on pole position at Long Beach since Jimmy Vasser did it in 2002. This is only the fourth time since 1996 that an American has started on pole position at Long Beach with Bryan Herta in 1998, Vasser in 2002 and Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014 being the prior three occurrences. Honda has won the first three pole positions this season with three different drivers from three different teams. This is the first time Team Penske has been shut out in pole positions in the first three races since 2005 when Panther Racing's Tomas Scheckter and Andretti Green Racing's Bryan Herta split the pole positions with one to Scheckter and two to Herta.

Rossi won pole position by 0.3526 seconds over Will Power, who joins Rossi on the front row. This is the first time Power has started on the front row at Long Beach since 2011. Power has finished outside the top ten in three of six Long Beach races during the DW12-era but he also has a victory and a runner-up finish in that span.

Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon will start on row two. Pagenaud won from third on the grid at Long Beach in 2016. He has finished in the top ten in six consecutive Long Beach races, including four consecutive top five finishes in this race with his worst finish since 2012 being eighth. This is Dixon's ninth top ten start in the last ten Long Beach races. Dixon has three consecutive top five finishes in this race. Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden will start on row three. This is Rahal's best career Long Beach start since he started fourth in his first Long Beach appearance in 2007. Rahal has only three top ten finishes in 11 Long Beach appearances with a fourth in 2007, second in 2013 and tenth last year. Newgarden was on a pole position-caliber lap before he brushed the wall exiting turn eight. This is Newgarden's sixth top ten start in seven Long Beach appearance and Newgarden has three consecutive top ten finishes in this race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay missed out on the final round of qualifying by 0.0512 seconds and he will start seventh. This is his fifth consecutive top ten start and none of those have been inside the top five.  James Hinchcliffe starts beside his former teammate on row four. This is the ninth time Hinchcliffe has started eighth in his career and in his previous eight starts he has finished on the podium twice and he has five top ten finishes. Sébastien Bourdais will start ninth. Bourdais has finished in the top ten the last three years at Long Beach. Robert Wickens will start tenth, the worst starting position in his career. Tony Kanaan will start 11th and Kanaan's previous three starts were 12th, tenth and ninth. Jordan King joins Kanaan on row six. King had another incident with a tire barrier in the third practice session but still advanced to the second round of qualifying.

Ed Jones missed out on the second round of qualifying by 0.0911 seconds in the first group in round one and he will start 13th. This is the ninth consecutive race Jones has started outside the top ten but this is the first time he has started on row seven in that span. Matheus Leist starts 14th for his second career start on a street course. Leist is looking for this first career lead lap finish. Max Chilton will have his career-best starting position at Long Beach from 15th on the grid and it is the best starting position for Carlin in its short time in IndyCar. Chilton has finished 14th in his first two Long Beach appearances. He has finished off the lead lap in four of the last six races. Zach Veach joins Chilton on row eight. Veach has finished 16th in the last two races. The worst starting position for a Grand Prix of Long Beac winner in the IndyCar-era is 17th by Paul Tracy in 2000 and Mike Conway in 2014. John Watson won the final Formula One race at Long Beach in 1983 from 22nd on the grid.

Jack Harvey will be on the inside of row nine. Harvey turns 24 years old today and he could become the tenth driver to win a IndyCar race on his birthday. The most recent driver with a birthday victory was Dan Wheldon on June 22, 2008 at Iowa. A third of the birthday winners were British drivers with Dario Resta being the first to have accomplished doing it on August 19, 1916 at Speedway Park in Chicago and Nigel Mansell won on his 40th birthday, August 8th, 1993 at Loudon. Spencer Pigot will start 18th and he is still looking for his first appearance in the second round of IndyCar road/street course qualifying. Gabby Chaves starts 19th for the second consecutive week with Marco Andretti joining him on row ten in 20th position for the second consecutive week. Andretti had an off in turn on his final qualifying line end his chances of advancing to round two. The incident cost Andretti his fastest lap.

Zachary Claman De Melo starts 21st, a position better than he did at the season opener in St. Petersburg. Claman De Melo has finished 17th in the first two starts of his career. Takuma Sato will start on the outside of row 11, matching his worst career start at Long Beach. This is Sato's worst start on a street circuit since he started 22nd at Toronto in 2014 but he finished fifth in that race. Charlie Kimball will start 23rd. In the last two races Kimball has started one position worst than the prior race this season. Kimball has finished outside the top twenty in four of seven Long Beach starts. Kyle Kasier rounds out the grid from 24th position in what will be his IndyCar street course debut. Kaiser made contact with the barrier exiting turn nine during the first round of qualifying and it ended his session prematurely. To add insult to injury, Kaiser was penalized for interference, lost his two fastest laps and was barred from advancing from round two anyway.

NBCSN's coverage of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach begins at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 85 laps.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Track Walk: Long Beach 2018

Another April and another Grand Prix of Long Beach is upon us
The third race of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the 44th Grand Prix of Long Beach. Five different teams have won the last five years at Long Beach and Team Penske enters fresh off its 198th IndyCar win at Phoenix. Team Penske is tied with Newman-Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing for most Long Beach victories as all three team have won the event six times. Andretti Autosport is the only other active team to have multiple Long Beach victories. Twenty-four cars are entered for this year's race, the most entries since 27 cars entered the 2013 Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 15th with green flag scheduled for 4:40 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt, Marty Snider and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 1:00 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Second Practice: 5:00 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Third Practice: 1:45 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Qualifying: 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage of this session)
Warm-Up: 12:00 p.m. ET (30-minute session)
Race: 4:40 p.m. ET (85 laps)

Will Wickens Wilt?
Through two races the driver that has drawn the most attention is rookie Robert Wickens. He took a surprise pole position at the St. Petersburg season opener during a session that feature slippery conditions. Wickens backed it up in the race with the Canadian leading 69 laps, the most in the race but contact with Alexander Rossi at the start of the penultimate lap put Wickens into the barrier and left him with an 18th-place classification.

Race two saw Wickens make his oval debut and despite the lack of experience and lack of pace in February testing he qualified sixth for the 250-mile race. He did not fade in the race and spent most of the night in the top ten before pit strategy cycled him into contention for the race victory. Wickens was responsible for one of the two lead changes that did not occur during a pit cycle when teammate James Hinchcliffe walked up the racetrack. Wickens was running third at the time of the final caution and the decision not to take tires put him into the lead. He held off Josef Newgarden for a few laps before the American took control and the lead with a pass on the outside turn one with seven laps to go. Despite the worn tires Wickens would pick up his first career podium finish as he crossed the line in second position.

After two races, Wickens sits eighth in the championship on 57 points, twenty behind championship leader Josef Newgarden. Wickens heads to one of the few tracks he has experience on this weekend as he made one start at Long Beach during the 2007 Atlantic Championship season. He finished third that day behind Raphael Matos and Jonathan Bomarito.

The good news for Wickens is Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is heading to a favorable racetrack for the team. James Hinchcliffe won last year's race and in the seven previous years at Long Beach the team has put a car on the podium twice and has had a car finish in the top five on four occasions. Hinchcliffe sits two positions and four points ahead of his teammate in the championship after Hinchcliffe finished fourth and sixth in the first two races. Last year, Hinchcliffe started the season with three consecutive top ten finishes and if he gets a podium finish this weekend he will at least match his best career start through three races. Hinchcliffe is attempting to become the first driver to win successive Long Beach races since reunification.

Newgarden Back on Top
It only took two races but the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion is back on top. Josef Newgarden's victory at Phoenix vaulted him from seventh in the championship to first with the Tennessean holding a five-point lead over Alexander Rossi. Last year, Newgarden did not take the championship lead until Mid-Ohio and he led through the final five races of the season.

Newgarden won the third race of the 2017 season but that race took place at Barber Motorsports Park. He finished third last year at Long Beach, which was the second race of the season, and not only was it Newgarden's first Long Beach podium finish but it was his first top five finish at the famed street circuit. His Long Beach results have been improving since his first Long Beach started ended in the turn one barrier despite starting second on the grid. He has three consecutive top ten finishes at Long Beach.

Not only is Newgarden on top of the IndyCar championship but he has distanced himself from his Team Penske teammates. Simon Pagenaud is the closest to Newgarden and the 2016 champion trails him by 39 points in 11th. Will Power's retirement dropped the Australian to 14th in the championship and 46 points behind Newgarden. Pagenaud and Power are both past Long Beach winners with Power being one of eight drivers with multiple victories on Shoreline Drive and he is only one of two active drivers to have accomplished that feat.

Since Power's 2012 Long Beach victory he has only one podium finish and three finishes outside the top ten in five Long Beach starts. Pagenaud has six consecutive top ten finishes at Long Beach and five of those have been top five finishes including the last four.

Andretti Autosport Looks to Make Up For Mechanical Mishaps
All four Andretti Autosport cars retired from last year's Grand Prix of Long Beach due to mechanical issues including two who were contending for the race victory. It has been a rough spell for Andretti Autosport at Long Beach during the DW12-era. The team has two podium finishes, a third with James Hinchcliffe in 2012 and a third with Carlos Muñoz in 2014. Those are the team's only top five finishes at the track in the last six years while the team has had nine retirements in the same time period.

Alexander Rossi heads to Long Beach off the back of two consecutive third place finishes and it has him second in the championship on 72 points. Prior to the first two races of 2018, Rossi had never had successive podium finishes in IndyCar and he has stood on the podium after five of the last eight races dating back to last season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has had a strong start to the season as well with the 2011 Long Beach winner having finished fifth in each of the first two races. It is the first time Hunter-Reay has started a season with two consecutive top ten finishes since 2004 and it is the first time he has had two top five finishes from the first two races. Hunter-Reay opened the 2004 season with three consecutive top ten finishes with the third race being a victory at Milwaukee. Since his Long Beach victory in 2011, Hunter-Reay's best finish in this race was sixth in 2012 and he has finished outside the top ten in the last five races with four of those finishes being outside the top fifteen.

Marco Andretti rounds out the top ten in the championship on 40 points after his season started with a ninth place finish at St. Petersburg and a 12th place finish at Phoenix. Andretti has only started a season with two top ten finishes from the first three races four times in his career. While having four top ten finishes at Long Beach he has finished outside the top ten five times including the last two seasons.

Lack of American Long Beach Winners
Long Beach became an IndyCar race in 1984 and 12 of the first 13 races were won by American drivers with six different winners in that timeframe. In the last 21 Long Beach races, only twice has an American taken victory with a total of 14 different winners.

The American victories came with Michael Andretti in 2002 and Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2011. Excluding the United States, nine different nations have won at Long Beach in the last 21 races including six different nationalities in the last six races.

Americans have even struggled to get on the Long Beach podium with Hunter-Reay's 2011 victory, Graham Rahal's runner-up performance in 2014 and Josef Newgarden's third place finish last year being the only podium finishes for Americans in the last 15 Long Beach races. The last time multiple Americans stood on the podium was in 2002 when Andretti won and Jimmy Vasser finished second. American drivers have not swept a Long Beach podium since 1996 when Vasser took the victory, Parker Johnstone finished second and Al Unser, Jr. finished third.

For Which Driver Will Long Beach be Third Times the Charm?
Seven drivers enter Long Beach without a top ten finish through the first two races. Long Beach has been a place where a driver has gotten a surprise top ten in recent seasons.

Mario Moraes finished sixth in the 2010 race from 15th on the grid after the Brazilian's best finish through the first three races of that season was 13th. In 2011, Mike Conway not only had a surprise top ten but was the surprise winner despite finishing outside the top twenty in the first two races of that season. The 2013 race had five of the top ten finishes start outside the top fifteen including third place finisher Justin Wilson from 24th, Oriol Servià go from 18th to sixth and Marco Andretti finish seventh after starting 25th. Two drivers picked up their first career top ten finishes at Long Beach in 2014 with Mikhail Aleshin finishing sixth and Carlos Huertas finishing tenth and those two started 20th and 21st respectively for that race.

Takuma Sato is the top driver in the championship without a top ten finish but the 2013 Long Beach winner is trending in the right direction as he has finished 12th and 11th in the first two races of the season and he sits on 37 points, 12th in the championship.

Gabby Chaves and Spencer Pigot are tied on 31 points as each driver has a 14th and 15th place finish this season. Chaves is a past Indy Lights winner at Long Beach while Pigot finished second in the 2015 Indy Lights race. Pigot finished eighth last year in Long Beach while Chaves has not raced here since his rookie season in 2015 and he finished 16th that day. Chaves' best street course finish was ninth in the second race of the 2015 Belle Isle doubleheader. Pigot has not had a top ten finish in his last eight starts.

Zach Veach has been consistent in his first two races with Andretti Autosport. The Ohioan has finished both races in 16th position. However, his pair of 16th place finishes has him 17th in the championship on 28 points. Veach has not raced at Long Beach since 2014 in Indy Lights. His first Indy Lights start at Long Beach ended just before the start/finish line after a three-car incident coming to the green flag. The following year would see Veach start on pole position and pick up fastest lap but he would finish second to Chaves, who led all 45 laps.

The first two races have been rough for Carlin. Charlie Kimball has finished 20th and 17th with Max Chilton finishing 19th and 18th and neither driver has a lead lap finish. Both drivers are tied on 23 points and neither driver has a great track record at Long Beach. Kimball's best finish in seven Long Beach starts is 11th and he has finished outside the top twenty four times, all of which were retirements, including last year. Kimball has only completed 426 of 575 laps or 74.1% of laps since 2011. Chilton has finished 14th in both his Long Beach starts but he has also started on row ten each year.

Matheus Leist makes his Long Beach debut after what has been another challenging start to a season for a A.J. Foyt Racing driver. His two retirements have him on 17 points and 21st in the championship, the lowest driver to have run the first two races. The good news for Leist is Foyt has had at least one top ten finisher in three of the last five Long Beach races including the last two years.

This weekend sees IndyCar and IMSA paired together for the first of two street course rounds. This is the third race of the IMSA season and only the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes will participate this weekend. A total of 22 cars, 14 Prototypes and eight GTLM cars, are entered.

The #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac of Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran lead the Prototype championship on 62 points after finishing second and third at Daytona and Sebring respectively. The #31 Cadillac is the only car to have finished on the podium in the first two races. The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett trail by four points after finishing third and fourth in the two endurance races with 24 Hours of Daytona winners Filipe Albuquerque and João Barbosa rounding out the top three and six points behind its teammate.

Sebring winners Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek sit fourth in the championship with the #22 Nissan on 48 points. Jordan Taylor has won three consecutive years with his brother Ricky but only one of those two could make it four consecutive victories as Renger van der Zande joins Jordan in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac while Ricky shares the #7 Team Penske Acura with Hélio Castroneves. Team Penske and Acura had some teething problems in the two Florida races. The best finish for the team was ninth at Daytona with the #7 Acura while the #6 Acura of Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron finished tenth in that race.

JDC-Miller Motorsports is off to another good start with the #99 Oreca of Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg tied with the #22 Nissan and #10 Cadillac on 48 points and the sister car, the #85 Oreca of Simon Trummer and Robert Alon is one point back.

The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of James French and Kyle Masson sit on 41 points, one point ahead of the #55 Mazda of Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell. Sebastián Saavedra and Gustavo Yacamán form an all-Colombian pairing in the #52 AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier and sit on 39 points. The #77 Mazda of Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez has 37 points while the #2 Nissan of Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel bring up the rear on 27 points.

In GT Le Mans, Daytona winners Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook lead on 63 points in the #67 Ford GT with Sebring winners Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy second in the championship on 58 points in the #911 Porsche. The #912 Porsche of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor sit on 55 points, one point ahead of the #66 Ford GT of Joey Hand and Dirk Müller and the #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi.

The #3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Antonio García and the #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin are tied on 53 points with the #24 BMW of Jesse Krohn and John Edwards on 48 points.

As stated above, Wayne Taylor Racing has won the last three years overall while Milner and Gavin won last year in GTLM. Nissan and Mazda did give the WTR Cadillac a run for its money in last year's race Pilet and Tandy won in GTLM in 2016.

The BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach will take place at 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday April 14th.

Pirelli World Challenge
Twenty cars across three classes are entered for this year's Pirelli World Challenge race at Long Beach.

Scott Hargrove leads the sprint and overall GT championship after he swept the St. Petersburg weekend in the #96 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche and finished fourth and third in the Sprint-X races at Austin. Toni Vilander swept the Austin weekend in the #61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari and he trails Hargrove by seven points entering Long Beach. Daniel Morad finished on the podium in the first three races of the season and finished fifth in the second Austin race. Those results have the driver of the #2 CRP Racing Mercedes third in the championship on 82 points. Michael Christensen rounds out the top four on 63 points in the #28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche.

Álvaro Parente looks to bounce back after two rough weekends were the driver of the #9 K-PAX Racing Bentley's best finish was sixth. Daniel Mancinelli returns in the #31 TR3 Racing Ferrari after withdrawing from St. Petersburg and skipping the opening round. Alex Udell is back in the #41 GMG Racing Audi.

Martin Fuentes leads the GTA championship on 50 points after sweeping the class at St. Petersburg in the #07 Scuderia Corse Ferrari. Rodrigo Baptista finished second in both St. Petersburg races in the #3 K-PAX Racing Bentley and he trails Fuentes by four points. Yuki Harata is third in the championship on 40 points in the #55 Dream Racing Motorsport Lamborghini while Parker Chase sits on 21 points in the #19 TruSpeed Autosport Audi.

Black Swan Racing has entered two Porsches for Long Beach. David Calvert-Jones will be in the #12 Porsche with Tim Pappas in the #54 Porsche. Rocky Moran, Jr. was a late addition to the entry list and he will drive an Audi for TruSpeed Autosport.

There will be six GTS invitational entries to boost the grid and the most notable entry is former IndyCar driver Jeff Ward in the #7 Black Swan Racing Porsche. Spencer Pumpelly is in the other Porsche in class as he will drive the #66 Porsche for TRG. Racers Edge Motorsports has entered two SIN R1s with Harry Gottsacker in the #69 SIN and Bob Michaelian in the #45 SIN. Paul Horton will drive the #78 McLaren for Compass Racing and George Kurtz rounds out the class in the #07 GMG Racing Audi. GTS entries will not be scoring points in this race.

The PWC race will take place at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 15th.

Fast Facts
This will be the eighth IndyCar race to take place on April 15th and first since 2012 when Will Power won at Long Beach. The 2007 Grand Prix of Long Beach also took place on April 15th and was won by Sébastien Bourdais.

Four of seven Long Beach races in the DW12-era have had at least seven different teams finish in the top ten including ten different teams represented in the top ten in 2013.

There are six rookies entered for this year's race. Juan Pablo Montoya is the only driver to win at Long Beach as a rookie.

Montoya is one of five drivers whose first career IndyCar victory has come at Long Beach. The others are Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Mike Conway and Takuma Sato.

Eleven drivers are looking for their first career IndyCar victory.

Alexander Rossi, Spencer Pigot and Kyle Kaiser were all born in California. Jimmy Vasser is the only California-born driver to win at Long Beach.

Scott Dixon has seven consecutive top ten finishes at street course races dating back to the second Belle Isle race in 2016. Sébastien Bourdais has seven consecutive top ten finishes at street course races in his last seven street course starts. Josef Newgarden has six consecutive top ten finishes at street course races dating back to last year at St. Petersburg Graham Rahal has five consecutive top ten finishes at street course races dating back to last year at Long Beach.

Tony Kanaan has 14 starts at Long Beach. The only driver with more Long Beach starts not to win the race is Bobby Rahal, who made 15 Long Beach starts. Alex Tagliani also has made 14 Long Beach starts without a victory.

Ed Jones has four top ten finishes in six street course starts in his IndyCar career. He has yet to score a top five finish on a street course with his best finish being sixth last year at Long Beach.

Jack Harvey made two starts at Long Beach in Indy Lights with finishes of fourth and tenth in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Zachary Claman De Melo has finished 17th in his first two IndyCar Starts.

Jordan King made 19 starts on street courses between his Formula Three and GP2/Formula Two careers. His two street course podium finishes came in the 2014 European Formula Three season at the Norisring when he finished second and third in the second and third races of the weekend. Max Verstappen swept that weekend and Esteban Ocon finished second in the third race. King had a total of three top five finishes and nine top ten finishes on street courses.

Toyota has never won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The average starting position for a Long Beach winner is 4.32 with a median of three.

The last three Long Beach races have been won from the second row on the grid.

The last time a Long Beach winner started on the front row was 2010 and last time the pole sitter won at Long Beach was Bourdais in 2007.

The average number of lead changes in a Long Beach race is 4.9 with a median of five.

Seven of the last eight Long Beach races have had five lead changes or more with the fewest in that time frame being four in 2014.

A Long Beach winner has led every lap twice. Mario Andretti did it in 1984 and 1987.

The average number of cautions in a Long Beach race is 2.82 with a median of three. The average number of caution laps is 11.47 with a median of 12.

Possible Milestones:
Josef Newgarden needs to lead one lap to reach the 1,100 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 23 laps to reach the 800 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 43 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball is one top ten finish away from 50 career top ten finishes.

Josef Newgarden is one top ten finish away from 50 career top ten finishes.

Alexander Rossi wins the race with at least one other American driver on the podium. Andretti Autosport will have zero cars retire because of a mechanical issue. Robert Wickens will be the top finishing rookie but does not finish in the top ten. Matheus Leist finishes this race. At least two of the seven drivers not to have a top ten finish in the first two races finish in the top ten. Carlin has at least one car finish in the top fifteen. Six different teams are represented in the top ten at the end of the race. There will be at least 100 more passes than last year's Long Beach race. Sleeper: Tony Kanaan.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Why IndyCar Fans Should Watch the European Le Mans Series

The Road to Indy has been a successful ladder system for IndyCar but since the ladder system was officially established in 2010 IndyCar has not been the only series to benefit from the Road to Indy. The European Le Mans Series is littered with drivers from the Road to Indy. From Indy Lights race winners to occasional U.S. F2000 race starters with a few former IndyCar drivers also on the grid there are plenty of names IndyCar faces and those diehards who follow the development series would know.

With the European Le Mans Series season opener scheduled for this weekend I thought I would answer some questions about why an IndyCar fan should watch the European Le Mans Series this season.

Is There An American Who Raced in Pro Mazda and is Now a Great American Hope in LMP1 For the First Time in a Long Time?
Yes and while LMP1 does not participate in the European Le Mans Series, Rebellion Racing's Gustavo Menezes will moonlight in the team's LMP2 effort this ELMS season. Menezes made 28 starts in then-Star Mazda in 2011 and 2012 with his best finish being third at Iowa in 2011 behind Sage Karam and João Victor Horto. He finished eighth in the championship that year and ninth in 2012, one position ahead of Zach Veach.

Menezes had moderate success in Formula Three before he made the move to sports cars in 2016 and in his first year he won the FIA World Endurance Championship Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers with Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi driving for Signatech Alpine. He won four races that year including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Last year, he finished fourth in the championship but won at Austin and had five podium finishes with the team's worst class finish being fifth.

Menezes will drive the #3 Rebellion R13 in LMP1 with Mathias Beche and Thomas Laurent in the WEC this season but in ELMS he will drive the #31 APR-Rebellion Racing Oreca-Gibson with Harrison Newey and Ryan Cullen. Newey won the 2017-18 Asian Le Mans Series LMP2 title driving for Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA with Laurent and Richelmi as his co-drivers. Newly is also the son of Red Bull Racing chief technical officer Adrian Newey. Cullen spent two years in GP3 before switching to Porsche Supercup in 2015 where he has competed the last three years.

Is There An American Who Won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Could Have a Future in LMP1?
Yes there is. Will Owen won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a wet race during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend in 2014. He moved up to Pro Mazda the following year and had three podium finishes before he finished fourth in the 2016 championship with eight podium finishes.

In 2017, Owen moved to European and to sports cars with United Autosports and he won on his ELMS debut at Silverstone. He would add another victory at Red Bull Ring and finish second at Algarve but finished second in the championship. On top of his ELMS success, Owen finished fourth in class in his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut.

Owen returns for a second season with United Autosports in the #32 Ligier-Gibson.

Does Will Owen Have a Co-Driver Who Won in U.S. F2000 and Finished Ahead of a Current IndyCar Rookie in that Championship?
Why yes he does! Wayne Boyd might be a name you recall. The Northern Irish driver ran the 2011 U.S. F2000 season with Belardi Auto Racing and he won twice that year, once at Milwaukee and once at Baltimore. Boyd finished third in the championship behind Petri Suvanto and Spencer Pigot but he finished six points ahead of Zach Veach. Boyd ran the final two rounds of the 2012 U.S. F2000 season with Belardi at Baltimore and Virginia International Raceway and he finished third and second in the two VIR races.

Boyd's career hit a bit of a snag but in 2014 he won the Walter Hayes Trophy and won the Formula Ford Festival the following year and he got his second break in ELMS driving in LMP3 for United Autosports in 2016 where he had three podium finishes. In 2017, Boyd returned to United Autosports LMP3 line-up and he won the finale at Algarve with Christian England and Mark Paterson.

The third driver in the #32 Ligier-Gibson also has a tie to the Road to Indy. Hugo de Sadeleer participated in the 2016 Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a U.S. F2000 car for Pabst Racing. Hailing from Switzerland, de Sadeleer was Owen's co-driver last year in both ELMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Is There an American That is Inexplicably in an LMP3 Car Despite Winning in Indy Lights and Won in IMSA's Prototype Challenge Class?
Is the Pope Catholic? Sean Rayhall should either be in an IndyCar or a DPi considering all that he has accomplished but the Georgia-native still finds himself in LMP3 but he will be defending a championship. He and John Falb took the ELMS LMP3 title last year as the all-American duo won twice in the #2 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan and stood on the podium in five of six races.

Does the Grid Have a Driver Who Previously Won a Pole Position in His IndyCar Career and Had an Indianapolis 500 Ride For This Year Only to Lose it Over a Controversial Partner Who Once Murdered Someone?
Would you believe that it does? Tristan Gommendy was set to attempt the Indianapolis 500 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in partnership with former Larrousse F1 founder Didier Calmels. However, that deal fell apart and Gommendy is left with an LMP2 ride in the #39 Oreca-Gibson for Graff with co-drivers Alexander Cougnard and Jonathan Hirschi.

Gommendy has been a sports car regular since his one year in Champ Car in 2007. He has two ELMS overall victories and he has twice finished second in the LMP2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, including last year.

Is There an Indy Lights Winner Who Should Still be in Indy Lights on the Grid?
Damn straight and it is a shame Nico Jamin has left the North American ladder system. Jamin finished seventh last year in the Indy Lights championship after having a wishy-washy year. He won three races and had five podium finishes but those were canceled out with Jamin having five results outside the top ten. Outside of Indy Lights, Jamin swept the IMSA Prototype Challenge Series LMP3 weekend at Sebring last year and then swept the Pirelli World Challenge GTS races at VIR in a KTM X-Bow.

The 2015 U.S. F2000 champion will drive the #29 Oreca-Gibson with Nelson Panciatici and Pierre Ragues in an all-French driver line-up for the French team Duqueine Engineering. Panciatici and Ragues were co-drivers last year in three WEC races for Signatech Alpine in LMP2 and they finished third in class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Is There a Frenchman Who Won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the Grid and Is He Driving for a World Cup Winning Goalkeeper and Monaco Grand Prix Winner?
Amazingly, yes! Timothé Buret competed in the 2015 Pro Mazda season for Juncos Racing and finished fifth in the championship. His lone victory was during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend but he had eight podium finishes from 16 races and finished ahead of current Indy Lights driver Patricio O'Ward and Will Owen finished two positions behind Buret.

After one year in Pro Mazda, Buret jumped up to Panis Barthez Competition's LMP2 program in ELMS. Buret raced with the 1998 World Cup winner Fabien Barthez and Paul-Loup Chatin in 2016. The trio started on pole position at Red Bull Ring but their best finish was seventh on four occasions. Last year, Buret and Barthez had Nathanaël Berthon as a co-driver for five of six races and had two top five finishes and started on pole position in the finale at Algarve.

Buret has two new co-drivers in the #23 Ligier-Gibson and they are notable names. Julien Canal and Will Stevens will join Buret at Panis Barthez Competition. Canal has three class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and he was the 2015 Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers champion. Stevens competed in 18 Formula One grand prix with Caterham and Marussia. In 2016, Stevens won twice in the LMP2 class in the WEC races at Fuji and Shanghai for G-Drive Racing. He also finished second in class at Le Mans that year. Stevens won in the GTE-Am class at Le Mans last year with JMW Motorsport.

What About Canadians? Are There Any Canadians We Should Know Mostly From Pro Mazda Success?
Of course there is something for those North of the Border. Garett Grist won six races between U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda from 2013 to 2015. Grist finished third in the 2015 Pro Mazda championship behind Santiago Urrutia and Neil Alberico. In 2016, he started in Pro Mazda with Juncos Racing before taking a midseason promotion to Indy Lights with Team Pelfrey. In nine Indy Lights starts Grist's best finish was seventh on three occasions.

Grist made a transition to sports cars last year and ran three IMSA races in the Prototype Challenge class. He finished second at Sebring and third at Mosport. Grist will forever be a part of the final PC winning team as he won at Petit Le Mans with Tomy Drissi and John Falb in the #26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca.

Grist will be in LMP3 driving the #3 Ligier-Nissan for United Autosports with Matthew Bell and Anthony Wells.

If There is a Canadian, Is There a Mexican Driver Who Won in Pro Mazda in ELMS?
There is something for all of North America as José Gutiérrez will be in the #40 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Gibson with James Allen and Enzo Guibbert.

Gutiérrez won one race in two Pro Mazda season with Juncos Racing. He won the 2014 season finale at Sonoma while his teammate Spencer Pigot took the championship that year. In 2015, Gutiérrez's best finish was second at St. Petersburg and he had six top five finishes. Ironically, Gutiérrez's teammates at Juncos Racing in 2015 were Garett Grist, Timothé Buret and Will Owen.

Gutiérrez ran seven races in IMSA's Prototype Challenge class in 2016 and won in class at Petit Le Mans. He competed in IMSA's prototype class last year with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and he made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut driving for G-Drive Racing in LMP2 but the car finished 17th in class.

Allen won the final two ELMS races last year driving for Graff. Guibbert won twice in LMP3 driving for Graff in 2016 and he had two podium finishes driving in Graff's sister LMP2 car to the one Allen's contested.

Is There Something for Indy Racing League Nostalgics? Maybe a Driver Who Made Three IRL Starts But Never the Indianapolis 500?
There actually is! Niclas Jönsson raced at Las Vegas in 1999 and in the first two races in 2000 a Walt Disney World Speedway and Phoenix. However, Jönsson has become more known for his sports car exploits and his time with Krohn Racing and once again Jönsson will drive for Krohn Racing in the #83 Ferrari with Tracy Krohn and Andrea Bertolini.

Is There Anyone Else We Should Know Who Has Ties to the Road To Indy?
Yes! André Negrão ran in Indy Lights two years ago and had five podium finishes on his way to finish seventh in the championship that year with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He raced in the WEC last year in the LMP2 class with Signatech Alpine and he won at Austin. Negrão remains with Signatech Alpine and Pierre Thiriet will be his co-driver in the #36 Alpine A470-Gibson.

One Final Question Most IndyCar Fans Are Wondering... Where is Francesco Dracone? 
He is here! The lovable Italian back marker has found his footing in an LMP3 entry. He will share the #18 Ligier-Nissan for BHK Motorsport with fellow Italian Jacopo Baratto.

Who Else Should I Be Watching For?
There a lot of other notable names on the ELMS grid.

Bruno Senna will share the #22 United Autosports Ligier-Gibson in LMP2 with Phillip Hanson as Filipe Albuquerque has IMSA duties but the Portuguese driver will be Hanson's co-driver for the final five ELMS races. DragonSpeed will field the #21 Oreca-Gibson for Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedson and Nicolas Lapierre. Both teams are American teams.

Le Mans winner Loïc Duval leads an all-French line-up featuring François Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxivière in the #33 TDS Racing Oreca-Gibson. Memo Rojas continues in ELMS driving for IDEC Sport in the #28 Oreca-Gibson alongside Paul-Loup Chatin and Paul Lafargue.

Racing Engineering, the team that Alexander Rossi drove for when he finished second in the GP2 Series championship behind Stoffel Vandoorne in 2015, moves from Formula Two to the European Le Mans Series and it will field the #24 Oreca-Gibson for Olivier Pla, Norman Nato and Paul Petit.

Will The European Le Mans Series Clash With My IndyCar Viewing?
It shouldn't.

Both series race this Sunday April 15th but the European Le Mans Series season opener from Circuit Paul Ricard starts at 6:00 a.m. ET while the IndyCar race from Long Beach will not start until 4:30 p.m. ET.

The good news is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis takes place on Saturday May 12th while the second round of the ELMS season takes place the following morning on Sunday May 13th at 8:00 a.m. ET from Monza.

IndyCar is off on Sunday July 22nd meaning you can invest your full attention into the third round of the ELMS season from the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria and that race is at 8:00 a.m. ET.

Another clash is avoided in August as the Silverstone race will be on Saturday August 18th at 9:00 a.m. ET, the day before the IndyCar race from Pocono.

The final two ELMS races take place after the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma. Spa-Francorchamps hosts the penultimate round of the season on Sunday September 23rd at 8:00 a.m. ET with Algarve hosting the season finale on Sunday October 28th at 9:00 a.m. ET.

If you are an IndyCar fan and want to branch out into other forms of motorsports but are afraid of not knowing enough to follow along the European Le Mans Series is for you. There are plenty of notable names and the series goes from one phenomenal track to another. Give it a shot.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Let Them Go

IndyCar had a record night at Phoenix and that still wasn't good enough to make up for mildly disappointing race. Red Bull Racing's night was over before either driver broke a sweat. Kimi Räikkönen broke a man's leg. MotoGP had difficult getting a race started and the chaotic start was only topped by the race itself. NASCAR raced in the cold. Everyone's favorite Formula Two driver won on debut. Supercross raced in sloppy Seattle. Jenson Button finished second in his second career Super GT race. World Touring Car Cup had its first race weekend. Sebastién Loeb's return to Tour de Corse did not go as planned. A drought for a legend ended in Supercars. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Let Them Go
Two races into the IndyCar season and the face America has seen the most isn't Sébastien Bourdais, winner of the season opener for the second consecutive year with his return from a broken pelvis still fresh in our minds nor is it rookie sensation Robert Wickens who dominated the season opener and finished second in his second car starts and it isn't defending champion and Phoenix race winner Josef Newgarden from Hendersonville, Tennessee.

The IndyCar face America has seen the most this season has been Canada'a James Hinchcliffe. Even better is most probably don't realize the bearded man in the national Honda advertisement is a IndyCar who was shish-kebabed less than three years ago.

However, the commercial gives America a face, someone to look out for and perhaps someone America is already familiar with considering he was runner-up on Dancing with the Stars within the last two years. Hinchcliffe makes sense for the spot even if he isn't an American driver. To be honest, there is not much difference between us Americans and Canadians and American culture is littered with Canadians. People have been watching Alex Trebek on Jeopardy! for over 30 years and I don't think his Canadian roots have stopped people from watching the show. Hinchcliffe might not be a champion or an Indianapolis 500 winner but Hinchcliffe is the Honda driver with the best personality for television. The lines flow effortlessly and he comes off as an actor, not a race car driver doing a commercial.

This commercial does not mean Hinchcliffe will draw a million people to each IndyCar race broadcast nor does it mean 100,000 people will be at each race with most adorning apparel branded with the #5 but it is something we have not seen a lot of in recent motorsports: an active driver being a spokesman.

Retired drivers get the nod for commercials on to frequent a basis. Mario Andretti might be the greatest race car driver to ever walk the earth but the man has not competed in an IndyCar in almost 25 years. It might makes sense to put him in the commercial for the Honda two-seater or Firestone to use his likeness but it overlooks a dozen of drivers worthy of spot. Andretti is still a great ambassador for all of motorsports but series will continue to struggle if it current crop of competitors remain unknown.

It isn't just an IndyCar problem. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is fresh in his retirement but he cannot be the face associated with NASCAR for long into his retirement. Earnhardt, Jr. is in commercials notably for Goodyear and Mountain Dew and these could have been used to introduce viewers to the next driver. However, the Goodyear commercial is a sentimental tail using a cover of Jim Croce to remind people that while he is gone Earnhardt, Jr. isn't gone because he will now be in the booth. The Mountain Dew commercial is an admonition and tries to convince us Danny McBride is a race car driver. Hey, its Mountain Dew's call. If they think McBride is going to sell more of its garbage drink than say Chase Elliott, go ahead and use him but Mountain Dew can't get irritated when its NASCAR marketing arm tanks out. Hell, even Jeff Gordon was in a Super Bowl commercial this year. The two most prominently promoted NASCAR drivers will make a combined zero Cup starts this season. To be fair, Martin Truex, Jr. is in a 5-Hour Energy commercial and Kevin Harvick does have a regular Mobil 1 ad but there is definitely a different level between a Super Bowl commercial and the spots Truex, Jr. and Harvick currently have.

Even Formula One has this problem of being too tied to the past. Heineken came out with a nice advertisement with Jackie Stewart and I love Jackie Stewart but wouldn't Formula One be better off putting an active driver in the spot? I know Formula One deals are stingy and perhaps teams have too many sponsorship conflicts for say the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel or Daniel Ricciardo to be the face international face for Heineken but either of those three would make sense in that role.

We hear about how drivers have to be polished from a young age and seem older than most people their age because they have to attract sponsors when they are teenagers to try and make a career possible but in exchange for maturity it appears most drivers sacrifice personality and become less likely to become a featured spokesperson for a company and it deprives drivers a chance to be on billboards across the world and become an international superstar.

There isn't a Zlatan Ibrahimovic in motorsports, a confident specimen who took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times saying, "Dear Los Angeles, You're Welcome" before he ever appeared in a game for the LA Galaxy. My mom called asking me who this man was because of the move. Zlatan Ibrahimović isn't one of the most recognizable faces in world of soccer because he was buttoned up, polished and knew what to say since the age of 12. He openly refers to himself in the third person. No driver in the world has the stones to consider doing such a thing and if a driver did fans would crucify that driver. Think about how much scorn Sage Karam got for being himself and he is tame compared to Zlatan Ibrahimović.

Hinchcliffe is one of the few who hasn't had his personality sucked out of him but IndyCar will need more than him if it wants the series to take that next step. The next generation for IndyCar is here. Josef Newgarden is a champion, Alexander Rossi is contending for victories on a regular basis, is already an Indianapolis 500 and seems primed to be a champion and Robert Wickens has come out of nowhere and become a fan-favorite overnight. Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti are still going to be around for another ten years. There is still room for the likes of Scott Dixon, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud and if they are the drivers winning races and championships than the spotlight should be shined on them.

IndyCar has got its new television deal and next up is a new title sponsor. The series should not be pitching someone who was a driver but rather show the potential spokesmen and spokeswomen who will be behind a wheel for the next 15 to 20 years.

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

Sebastian Vettel won the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Lando Norris and Artem Markelov split the Formula Two races from Bahrain.

Cal Crutchlow won the Argentine Grand Prix. Mattia Pasini won the Moto2 race. Marco Bezzecchi won the Moto3 race, the first career victory for the 19-year-old.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Cup race from Texas. Ryan Blaney won the Grand National Series race.

The #63 GRT Gasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart won the first Blancpain Sprint Series race from Zolder. The #66 Attempto Racing Audi of Kelvin van der Linde and Steijn Schothorst won race two.

The #17 Real Racing Honda NSX-GT of Koudai Tsukakoshi and Takashi Kogure won the Super GT season opener from Okayama. The #18 Team UpGarage Toyota 86 MC of Yuhki Nakayama and Takashi Kobayashi won in GT300.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Seattle, his sixth victory of the season but Jason Anderson finished second and extended his championship lead over Marvin Musquin, who finished third.

Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes split the Supercars races from Symmons Plains in a sweep for Red Bull Racing Australia.

Sébastien Ogier won Tour de Corse, his third victory in four races this WRC season.

Gabriele Tarquini won the first World Touring Car Cup race from Marrakesh. Jean-Karl Vernay won the second race and Tarquini took the third race.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar will be at Long Beach.
IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge will also be at Long Beach.
Formula One is on its way to China.
The European Le Mans Series opens its 2018 from Circuit Paul Ricard.
NASCAR will be at Bristol.
World Superbike has its first European round of the season from Aragón.
Formula E will be in Rome this week.
Supercross will be in Minneapolis.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

First Impressions: Phoenix 2018

1. Penske finds a way to win races and Josef Newgarden has been something special in his two seasons with Team Penske. This is the third time in two seasons he has won from seventh on the grid despite being the worst Penske qualifier. He did it at Barber and Toronto last year and he did it at Phoenix. He has done it on a road course, a street course and an oval. Who else can do that? Will Power was labeled at the start of his Penske career as a guy who could only succeed if he started at the front. Newgarden isn't winning from the back but he isn't dominating races from the point. He has not be fazed by the change of scenery nor by the shoes he filled.

He has had some breaks. In that Barber race, Power had to make an unscheduled stop for a tire puncture and he caught a timely yellow at Toronto. Tonight he made a pit stop at the right time and leapfrogged the leaders. Then he made the right call to get tires before the final restart and on a tricky track for passing he made a move to the outside of Robert Wickens to get the victory. Last year, he won in the third race of the season. This year he won the second race of the season and he already has the championship lead. He isn't going to relinquish the crown easily.

2. Second career start and first career podium finish as Robert Wickens finishes second in what was a bit of a stunning race for him. I expected him to be off a bit. He had been out of single-seater racing for over six and a half years. That hasn't stopped him from competing with the big boys of IndyCar. He should have had a podium in the first race of the season and probably should have won it. He deserved a podium tonight. When is he going to have an off day? And the next race is at Long Beach, one of the tracks Wickens has experience at.

3. Alexander Rossi hit a pit crew member on a pit stop, restarted outside the top twenty, was then handed a drive-through penalty, fell a lap down, got his lap back under green flag conditions, made two passes for position in the successive laps after getting back on the lead lap and within three minutes was within nine-seconds of the leader. This was a hell of a drive and third is incredible considering where he was after his first stop. He was the one guy who could make passes tonight and he was balls out for the entire race. Two races, two podium finishes and he was in contention for the podium last year at Long Beach. Look out for Rossi.

4. Scott Dixon started 17th and finished fourth as his crew had a great first pit stop to get him into top ten. From there he waited and waited and made his pit stops at the right time to leapfrog drivers. You cannot be surprised when Dixon does this because he does it once a season.

5. Ryan Hunter-Reay did what he does on starts and restarts and made up at least two positions each time on the outside and he ran in the top five for most of the race and he finished fifth. He stayed out probably five laps too long before the second round of green flag pit stops and that cost him a lot of track position. He might have deserved a podium finish but this is only the second time in his career he has started a season with two consecutive top ten finishes and this year starts with a pair of fifth place finishes. He should take the result and run with it.

6. James Hinchcliffe restarted in second with seven laps to go and he was the only one to fall like a rock on the older tires. Despite that, it was a good day for Hinchcliffe. He probably deserved a top five but sixth is respectable. The good news is he has a teammate that will keep him honest. No longer does Hinchcliffe have a teammate that is lagging behind in 15th most race weekends. Or so it appears. This was only Wickens' second race.

7. Ed Carpenter did next to nothing all night and finished seventh, matching his career-best finish at Phoenix, which he set last year. This is what Carpenter needed, a night where he kept his nose clean, completed all the laps and got a top ten finish. Ed Carpenter Racing didn't look competitive this weekend. The team has to make up ground to return to contending for race victories.

8. Tony Kanaan finished eighth and that seems right. He really didn't factor in this one.

9. Graham Rahal finished ninth and that has to be a bit disappointing consider how good Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was in the test. It could have been worse but the team knows this weekend could have been much better.

10. Simon Pagenaud had a slow first pit stop, it dropped him to the middle of the field and he couldn't get out of that rut and the same thing happened at St. Petersburg. The difference is he gets a top ten finish this week. This could have been a much better night for the Frenchman.

11. Takuma Sato finished 11th, kept his nose clean, completed all 250 laps but like his teammate Sato should be ticked off a bit because this team was on top of Phoenix in February.

12. Marco Andretti had a fuel issue and handling issues before qualifying and he started 20th but like Hunter-Reay he made up four spots right at the start. He ran well but one of these races he has to qualify near the front to get a respectable result.

13. Sébastien Bourdais stalled before rolling off for the pace laps. Fortunately, he got the car fired and led comfortably. Then he slid into a crew member on the first pit stop. He didn't lose as much ground as Rossi but still had to serve a penalty. He didn't have the car Rossi did but he did get to the front of the lapped cars. He lacked that extra bit to get back on the lead lap.

14. Quickly through the field: Spencer Pigot was off all night. Gabby Chaves was 15th. Zach Veach was stuck in at the back. Carlin has a long way to go. Matheus Leist has already been poisoned by A.J. Foyt Racing.

15. Four retirements in this one: Ed Jones was second after the third round of pit stops and he was trailing Newgarden but got into the marbles when behind the lapped car of Pigot. Ganassi doesn't like wrecked race cars in general but to tear one up while running in a podium position is an extra mark against Jones. Kyle Kaiser was doing well and then brushed the wall in turn four. He completed 174 laps so it is a good start to a career. Will Power got caught in the marble when Rossi blew pass him. Power was upset by the move but what else could Rossi do? Pietro Fittipaldi's debut ended after 40 laps. He was running 11th when it happened. Not sure we can take much away from this one for Fittipaldi.

16. The first 150 laps were a dud but the final 100 laps made it interesting. IndyCar was saved by Rossi and the game of cat and mouse over fresh tires. I am disappointed in how IndyCar has handled Phoenix. The first year was acceptable. It was the first time the series had been to the track since 2005 and you are not sure how it is going to race but after year one it was clear something had to be done to improve the racing. Nothing was done in year two and while the introduction of the universal aero kit was a massive overhaul compared to the previous two years IndyCar still had to take a swing and try something different.

IndyCar has two different boost levels for road/street course races and oval races but half of the ovals run the same high downforce aero package as the road/street course races. It would make sense to me if instead of assigning boost levels based on track configuration the series would pair it with aero packages or IndyCar should make the low downforce package mandated at all ovals instead of Indianapolis, Texas and Pocono.

The series also tried to lay down rubber in the top groove in the corners but when you look at what it used and compare the results to NASCAR at Texas it is disappointing how far IndyCar was off. Texas used the tire dragon and before Friday practice the turns were black even the back straightaway was rubbered in. At Phoenix, you couldn't tell anything had been done to the track at all. I understand there needs to be a preseason test but next to nothing can be taken from an afternoon session in February. Would it make more sense for IndyCar not to have the February test but give the teams all the tires they need to run for four consecutive hours starting at 5:00 p.m. local time the Thursday before the race to rubber in the racetrack? Something has to be done in year four because it is frustrating to watch the top three be covered by a second or a second and a half for 50 consecutive laps but nobody attempting to make a pass.

Even after tonight, I am not sure IndyCar gets a year four at Phoenix. IndyCar needs Phoenix more than Phoenix needs IndyCar and the track says it wants IndyCar but is it really worth it after the initial three-year deal was wasted? IndyCar's future at Phoenix will not be decided tonight, tomorrow or by the end of April but if things are quiet in August and September then I think it will be safe to say there will be an opening in the 2019 calendar.

17. Remember how everyone was peeved about the off time between St. Petersburg and Phoenix? Well there is a race in a week from Long Beach and the week after that is Barber. You are going to be tired of IndyCar before you know it. Sweet dreams.