Friday, July 20, 2018

Cutting the Dead Weight

IndyCar is in the midst of a calendar shift. Events are leaving but events are coming on... well one event is joining. We think there are venues ready to fill the gaps and there are still a few question marks that should leave us a little weary. Off the heels of IndyCar bringing back another historic venue with Laguna Seca being added for the 2019 season uncertainty hangs around whether this event can be a success.

There is part of me that thinks Laguna Seca is one of those venues people will go to regardless of whether or not the racing is good, kind of like Road America. People just go. It is a destination. People want to sit on the hillside. People want to stand at the top of the corkscrew. People want to make a weekend of it and either stay in a camper on the grounds or stay by the water and spend the day at the racetrack and in the evening walk the Pacific Coast and the sandy sidewalks of an oceanside town. And all of that is foolish to believe.

I have no proof that will be the case. I am hopeful. I hope Road America's success can be repeated; that a venue gone for more than a decade has a groundswell of support from a latent fan base that was lost for many years. There is no proof Road America's success will be repeated at Laguna Seca the same way we have no guarantee Portland will see a boom this year. It is all fingers crossed.

Laguna Seca will replace Sonoma. The two venues were welcomed to share space on the schedule but Sonoma felt it was no longer financially viable to host a race with the addition of Laguna Seca. Sonoma crowds have never been stellar other than a few years from 2008 to maybe 2010 after reunification where the crowds could be best described as good. Moving the season finale did not bring a wave of fans to wine country. The event is gone and it is fair to wonder if Laguna Seca, over 150 miles down the coast, will do any better.

The Sonoma struggles should cause you to ask if Laguna Seca should have been added at all. We have no reason to believe that Laguna Seca will be successful other then it was successful 25 years ago. It isn't 25 years ago. Many things have changed. All we know is IndyCar is getting paid by Laguna Seca and that is a part of the problem with motorsports in this country and maybe around the globe. Everything seems to be operating 25 years in the past. Research is not extensive enough. Money is thrown around hoping a race will be a success and then the event happens and everyone wonders where the people are. When the contract is up it becomes a Mexican standoff over why the track should pay less, why the series deserves more and who is at fault for the lack of attendees.

IndyCar has had this problem for years, even recent years when things have been much rosier. Phoenix was a one-and-done contract, three years and gone. Pocono has been on the fence every year. Texas has faded. Iowa is not the Iowa that is once was event at the start of the DW12-era. And yet every time a race is teetering, a venue from the past is thrown out there because it has to be better than a current venue. Laguna Seca has to be better. Cleveland has to be better. Portland has to be better. They all have to be better because they were better in the past.

But what about now? Basing the success of a venue off 25 years ago is absurd, even off ten years ago is ridiculous. The areas have changed. The mystique of a race coming to town died even if past attendees are still alive. The parents of the 90s might have children with only faint memories of heading to the racetrack or no memories at all. They might not have watched a race in a decade. They have no inclination of going back.

IndyCar is at a point where two venues are gone for 2019, another two could be out the door and we are only sure of this one addition. A handful of venues have been tossed out there as possible replacements: Homestead, Richmond, Circuit of the Americas, a street race in San Antonio but none of them are slam dunks to be an IndyCar date in 2019 let alone draw a respectable crowd.

While it would be crazy to ridicule the return of Laguna Seca maybe IndyCar should cut the dead weight on the schedule: Cut the venues with track owners that are not making money and are dissatisfied with its current IndyCar event. Maybe it would be better if IndyCar went from 17 races to 13 or 14 races and focused on the successful events and take a year or two or three to regroup and complete research where races could be successful.

Expansion has been a current trend in the National Hockey League but Las Vegas didn't just get a team because it sounded nice. An expansion fee had to be met and a ticket drive was held to see if people would put money down to see this team. Vegas got over 13,000 season-ticket deposits in a four-month drive. People did show up, the team had a phenomenal inaugural season and now Seattle is looking into an NHL franchise. Seattle had its own ticket drive. The goal was 10,000 deposits. It reached that in 12 minutes. It had 25,000 deposits in 75 minutes.

When it comes to IndyCar venues it would be smart to hold ticket drives for potential future venues and have a goal. The ticket drives for Las Vegas and Seattle were for season-tickets, which makes the number of people willing to make that financial investment quite impressive. An IndyCar ticket drive would be for one race and I think the series should set a minimum to pursue a race. If a race doesn't have 25,000 suitors then it isn't worth it. It would save our time and it would be disappointing. There would be venues we wish were back on the schedule only to find out 7,000 people put down deposits. But with that disappointment would come realistic expectations over what venues could be successful because if the goal is met you at least know a track has a base IndyCar is starting with.

I am not sure a ticket drive is possible for an IndyCar race or if it is a good measuring stick for a race and there are probably arguments why that is more suited for season tickets for a professional sports team than a two-day or three-day event but it has to be a more accurate predictor for an event's success than relying on nostalgia that the 1990s will return.

We have no clue how many people are willing to put money down for IndyCar at Laguna Seca. I am sure there are estimates that passed between the IndyCar offices and the officials operating Laguna Seca but are the estimates solid? Are there commitments from fans? It doesn't feel right that it will have been 15 years between IndyCar races at Laguna Seca but if only 10,000 people show up next year and it does not become solvent at the end of the contract was it worth it?

If IndyCar does lose more venues, if Texas and Pocono each exit and if Portland flames out after one year it would be a terrible blow for the series but maybe it would be the right time for IndyCar to take a breath with its black eye and instead of looking for a sanctuary at a racetrack with no guarantee that it will stick for more than a year or three years or five years the series should take the time to find one venue at a time where it knows people will show up and the track can be successful.

We are happy now with the return of Laguna Seca but we should be smarter tomorrow with new venues.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

2017-18 Formula E Season Review

The fourth season of Formula E came to a close this past weekend in Brooklyn, New York and back in November we previewed the pending 2017-18 season prior to the Hong Kong season opener. It is time to go back and look at what was said and see if preseason thoughts played out over the seven-month season or if everything we thought turned out to be incorrect.

Drivers' Championship
Jean-Éric Vergne: #25 Renault Z.E. 17 (198 points)
What did I write before the season: Vergne has been quick every year he has been in Formula E and with three different teams. Techeetah has the same powertrain as Renault e.Dams but I think the team will be off of its sister team and Vergne will be somewhere in the middle of the top ten in the championship.
How wrong was it: Vergne won four times, stood on the podium six times, finished in the top five 11 times and scored points in every race to take the championship with a race to spare, oh and one of the victories was the finale, which he could have skipped to celebrate France's World Cup victory with endless amounts champagne but instead he got in the car and held off Lucas di Grassi. You cannot ask of much more from a driver.

Lucas di Grassi: #1 Audi e-tron FE04 (144 points)
What did I write before the season: He has been a title contender all three seasons and I don't expect that to change. He will win a few races but di Grassi has been known for having a few races go against him even when he is the fastest one out there.
How wrong was it: This season was a disaster until spring and then di Grassi bloomed. His final seven results were second, second, second, second, first, first and second. It was too little too late but di Grassi is wasting his time in Formula E. Unfortunately he has drunk the Kool-Aid and this is his home now.

Sam Bird: #2 DS Virgin DSV-03 (143 points)
What did I write before the season: Bird remains consistently quick but not quick enough to win the championship. He will get a victory or two but he will have days where he can't crack the top five.
How wrong was it: Bird won twice but he was regularly in the top five. The only bad news is when Bird had to be at the front of the field he wasn't and it cost him in the closing rounds in Berlin and New York.

Sébastien Buemi: #9 Renault Z.E. 17 (125 points)
What did I write before the season: Buemi will go head-to-head with di Grassi for the championship because that is what those two do. He has an aggressive side and it will win a handful of races but it might beat him once or twice.
How wrong was it: Wrong! Buemi never really factored in the championship discussion and he didn't win a race and he didn't really put a wheel wrong. His lone retirement was an energy issue. It was still a really good season but not good enough. 

Daniel Abt: #66 Audi e-tron FE04 (120 points)
What did I write before the season: Abt has been consistent but has struggled to beat his teammate. He will continue to do a solid job but do nothing fancy.
How wrong was it: Abt won twice and carried Audi Sport Abt for the first half of the season. Two victories, four total podium finishes and eight points finishes is a stellar season and the best for the German yet.

Felix Rosenqvist: #19 Mahindra M4Electro (96 points)
What did I write before the season: The Swede will break up the Buemi-di Grassi party and Rosenqvist will win a few races. He could take the championship lead at some point and if he does it could be game over.
How wrong was it: He won twice and he did lead the championship but unfortunately he tossed away a few races and if it weren't for those bad days in Mexico City and Rome the championship might have locked entirely different at the top.

Mitch Evans: #20 Jaguar I-Type II (68 points)
What did I write before the season: Evans will be close to equal to his teammate and he too will have a few races where he ends up in contention for podium finishes.
How wrong was it: Well, Evans finished on the podium in the second race of the season and he was marginally better than his teammate all season.

André Lotterer: #18 Renault Z.E. 17 (64 points)
What did I write before the season: The German enters a new series and results will be hard to come by at the start but things will get better as the season goes on.
How wrong was it: After not scoring in the first three races and only scoring once in the first six races (albeit it a second in a Techeetah 1-2 finish at Santiago), he closed the season with six consecutive points finishes. I believe I had that.

Nelson Piquet, Jr.: #3 Jaguar I-Type II (51 points)
What did I write before the season: The Brazilian will get solid results and be in the back half of the top ten in the championship with Piquet, Jr., challenging for podium finishes every now and then.
How wrong was it: He finished ninth in the championship and finished fourth three times. That is back half of the top ten in the championship and that is challenging for podium finishes every now and then. 

Oliver Turvey: #16 NextEV NIO Sport 003 (46 points)
What did I write before the season: Turvey is the sleeper pick. He was fastest at the Valencia test and perhaps he could create a four-way battle with Buemi, di Grassi and Rosenqvist. He will win a race and set a career-best championship finish but reliability issues could cost him a title opportunity.
How wrong was it: That testing pace never carrier over. Turvey had a good car but not a great car. He never was a threat for the championship. His best result was second in Mexico City.

Nick Heidfeld: #23 Mahindra M4Electro (42 points)
What did I write before the season: Heidfeld will be slower than his teammate but the German will pick up points and likely end up on the podium at least once. Will it be the top step? He is due.
How wrong was it: He finished third in the first race of the season, scored in half the races and was 54 points off his teammate. I got that one correct.

Maro Engel: #5 Venturi VM200-FE-03 (31 points)
What did I write before the season: Engel will be have a difficult second season and struggle to break a double-digit points total.
How wrong was it: He scored 31 points and scored in half the races. Wrong!

Edoardo Mortara: #4 Venturi VM200-FE-03 (29 points)
What did I write before the season: Mortara will challenge to be the best of the two Venturi drivers but he will not finish in the top half of the championship.
How wrong was it: Twenty-five drivers raced in Formula E this season and Mortara finished 13th, dead center, 12 above and 12 below. He didn't finish in the top half. I believe I had that.

Jérôme d'Ambrosio: #7 Penske EV-2 (27 points)
What did I write before the season: The Belgian does better than his teammate on a consistent basis but he does not make it back into the top ten of the championship.
How wrong was it: He scored nearly double the points of his teammates and he finished 14th in the championship. Nailed it.

António Félix da Costa: #28 Andretti ATEC-03 (20 points)
What did I write before the season: The Portuguese driver will not struggle as much as he did last year but he will miss out on the top ten in the championship.
How wrong was it: He scored in four races this season over once last season, he doubled the number of points he scored last season and finished 15th in the championship. I would say I got this spot on.

Alex Lynn: #36 DS Virgin DSV-03 (17 points)
What did I write before the season: Lynn will have a few good results but there will be days where DS Virgin Racing won't have the speed and he will be happy just to score points.
How wrong was it: He started out really well, scoring in five of the first six races but he ended the year with six consecutive finishes outside the points.

José María López: #6 Penske EV-2 (14 points)
What did I write before the season: Nothing... because he wasn't the original driver of the car.
How wrong was it: Though he did come in and run the final ten races of the season. Dragon Racing has taken multiple steps back as more manufactures have gotten involved and the restrictions loosened. 

Tom Dillmann: #4 Venturi VM200-FE-03 (12 points)
What did I write before the season: Nothing... because he wasn't the original driver and was substitute when Edoardo Mortara had DTM duty.
How wrong was it: He had a competitive first race in New York in what was a big improvement over previous seasons for Venturi.

Nicolas Prost: #8 Renault Z.E. 17 (8 points)
What did I write before the season: Like Abt, Prost has been solid but better than the German. Prost will consistently score points but always but on the periphery of the championship picture.
How wrong was it: This was wrong and surprisingly wrong. He scored points in only four races this season and his best finish was eighth in the second race of the season. Prost wasn't as good as Buemi but he could be competitive and with the Renault Z.E. 17 powertrain responsible for the champion's car and three drivers in the top ten it is surprising Prost wasn't one of them. 

Tom Blomqvist: #27 Andretti ATEC-03 (4 points)
What did I write before the season: Nothing... because he was replaced before the season opener by Kamui Kobayashi only to have that reversed before the second round of the season.
How wrong was it: He did eventually get in the car. He didn't set the world on fire. Let's see how the BMW partnership goes in 2018-19.

Luca Filippi: #68 NextEV NIO Sport 003 (1 point)
What did I write before the season: Filippi is one of the rookies and he will be off his teammate for the entire season. He will score points but on a semi-regular basis.
How wrong was it: He scored one point in the first race of the season and never scored again. He wasn't close to his teammate Turvey so that is right but the semi-regular points scorer was wrong. 

Stéphane Sarrazin: #27 Andretti ATEC-03 (0 points)
What did I write before the season: Nothing... because he replaced Blomqvist for the final three rounds.
How wrong was it: The Andretti Formula E program is bad. That is putting it nicely. Though the Frenchman had Formula E experience he could only do so much with the equipment given to him.

Ma Qing Hua: #68 NextEV NIO Sport 003/#16 NextEV NIO Sport 003 (0 points)
What did I write before the season: Nothing... because who could have seen him returning to Formula E?
How wrong was it: He replaced Filippi in Paris and substituted for an injured Turvey in the second New York race. He didn't do much. 

Kamui Kobayashi: #27 Andretti ATEC-03 (0 points)
What did I write before the season: Kobayashi is the newest addition to the grid as Tom Blomqvist was announced for this seat before sponsorship-related issues forced the switch to Kobayashi. He has a history of jumping into unfamiliar cars and finding results but Andretti has never produced a highly competitive powertrain.
How wrong was it: As covered above, he did one round, scored zero points and was gone before we noticed he was ever there.

Neel Jani: #6 Penske EV-2 (0 points)
What did I write before the season: The Swiss driver enters having last raced single-seaters in 2011 in Superleague Formula and I think he will score some points but will have more races where he does not score points than he does.
How wrong was it: His Formula E career ended after one round and scored no points.

Final Thoughts on the Season
It is kind of surprising a customer team won this championship when there are manufactures already in Formula E and many more about to enter. For three years we were used to Audi Sport Abt vs. Renault e.dams and for year four there appeared to be no reason to expect any different. Then di Grassi and Buemi got off to slow starts and here we are with Vergne on top.

Audi Sport Abt did end up winning the Teams' Championship over Techeetah but Techeetah took the Teams' Championship lead after the fourth race of the season and led until the closing laps of the final race of the season.

A Few Thoughts on the Future
The 2018-19 season will reflect a more traditional motorsports event. The cars swaps will be gone. Races will be 45 minutes plus one lap in length. BMW partners will Andretti Autosport, Mercedes-Benz starts its two-year transition into the series in partnership with Venturi and Nissan takes over for Renault.

Next season is tentatively expected to expand to 12 rounds and 13 races with Marrakesh, Mexico City, Hong Kong, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Zürich and New York all returning and Monaco returning with its biennial rotation with the Historic Grand Prix. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Sanya, China join the schedule with a to be announced event still on the schedule.

Through four years I am still processing Formula E. We all are. In year one I viewed the series and electric motorsports the same way I viewed motorsports at the dawn of the 20th century: As something new that would develop over time and should not be compared to its much older brother. Each year the cars got a bit faster and there have been good races. The race format might have been foreign but there were bits of familiarity and it wasn't too strange once you could accept the differences.

In this first era change it will be interesting to see if the elimination of the car swap turns Formula E races into sprints. Drivers only have so much power but as manufactures get more involved and start developing their own batteries and engines races should start to move away from efficiency and into speed. Cars should be able to go longer. Races should not be about if a car can complete the 45 minutes but how much mileage it can complete in 45 minutes.

That change from efficiency to distance could be the next hurdle the series has to clear to attract existing motorsports fans. At that point it will be a competition between the manufactures to produce the better car and while it is currently great that teams were able to complete 102 kilometers in an hour at Brooklyn last week that should not be good enough. It should become a competition where BMW can complete 125 kilometers in 45 minutes and know the car has enough life to go another 50 kilometers at that pace for another 15 minutes. And in turn Audi, Nissan and all the other manufactures should be striving to be completing more miles in the race time. Formula E could be onto something really exciting and intriguing but it has to shoot higher.

There is something that gnaws at me about Formula E. The best way I can describe it is the smugness of the series. That it is the only one that cares about the world and that it is inevitable that everyone will just start watching it. Even worse is it seems there is only one voice, Alejandro Agag's, and everyone else who speaks repeats what the Spaniard spews. Formula E needs a dissident. It needs somebody, a driver, a team principal, a reporter with clout in the series (which I doubt there are any because it is the 21st century and Formula E would not let its version of Robin Miller survive) to stir the pot and challenge the series to be better.

From the start I have said Formula E is a 21st century series but the deeper we get the more learn that the 21st century doesn't like anything. Except itself. The one thing that has spread is narcissism but narcissism isn't what this series can live on. It needs people and it needs fans that invest emotionally, not only financially in the series. The first four years were all about attracting investors and the series needs someone to foot the bills but how long can the series exist racing in front of a few thousand people standing along a fence in an urban setting?

It was only year four, the series is still a toddler but in ten years will there be 35-year-olds heading to races with seven-year-old sons and daughters? Will there be 18-year-olds who were hooked at the age of eight and can't miss a race? Formula E has a very impersonal feel to it. It shows up to a city for a day and leaves when it is over. None of the races have roots in the ground. While there will be eight carry over events next season the year after that could feature nine new venues and no one would shed a tear over the departing venues. The series comes and goes. It doesn't care about any of the markets it is in and it seems Formula E is fine with that.

I feel Formula E will one day have to get serious about making connection with the places it races and it will need go-to events. It was not practical to expect Formula E to have its Indianapolis 500, British Grand Prix, Bathurst 1000 or Southern 500 start to emerge but will any of the current events take hold and become events the series cannot live without and in turn will there be areas that cannot live without Formula E? It doesn't seem likely... at least not in this current environment with the current leadership. In ten years time it could be very different.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: 2018-19 IndyCar Silly Season Part One

France is world champion and that wasn't the only title success for the country this weekend. Scott Dixon continues to do Scott Dixon things. The Mazda Road to Indy series had many accidents in Toronto. Audi finally got on the scoreboard in DTM. Portland hosted a notable racing event. MotoGP held its final event before its summer break. NASCAR had another race in Kentucky and it is starting to think it could run a street course. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

2018-19 IndyCar Silly Season
We are always looking to next year and for a while 2019 appeared to be outstandingly beautiful, blinding if you will and it seemed it could not be that good. It appears that was the case and the first domino to fall hit nothing.

Reports are conflicting. Will McLaren come to IndyCar or won't it? Many think that the manufacture has come to its sense. The manufacture is saying otherwise. I don't see it happening.

McLaren is a woman in an affair with plans of running away with her lover and leaving behind everything for a new and rosier life but a seismic life event occurred, a parent or child ended up in hospital, breaking the spell McLaren was under and it has come time for McLaren to face reality and leave behind the plans made in the throws of lust.

With the Formula One program in a near dire situation the IndyCar program has to be put on hold for the team from Woking. Scott Dixon will not be getting the payday it would take to get him out of Chip Ganassi Racing and in all likelihood Fernando Alonso will not be full-time in IndyCar. An Indianapolis 500 entry cannot be ruled out for the Spaniard but papaya will not be a regular color on the 2019 IndyCar grid.

Maybe it is better if McLaren does not come into IndyCar. It is a big name but one that does not have its house in order. The Formula One team's trouble has been somewhat self-induced through poor management decisions, lack of sponsorship and tense relationships with multiple engine manufactures. It was a team that believed it was too big to fail and it has not kept up with the changing dynamics of Formula One that has seen Mercedes and Red Bull dominate this decade. McLaren has been living off its wealth and not bringing in income. It is a team stuck in the middle of last decade. McLaren is a historic name, it is a notable name but so was Lotus when it entered IndyCar in 2012. You probably dismiss an McLaren IndyCar effort resembling anything of the ill-fated Lotus program in the first three words of this sentence but this is IndyCar. It is always too good to be true.

Despite McLaren coming to its senses IndyCar is in a bit of a fantasy world, one where Scuderia Corsa may bring Felix Rosenqvist to the series or perhaps Rosenqvist will be heading to Chip Ganassi Racing, Harding Racing is a two-car operation and the likes of Juncos Racing and Meyer Shank Racing are full-time teams.

Sitting here in the middle of July it seems not much will be changing despite all the excitement. Dixon isn't leaving Ganassi for anything but a larger check and McLaren was the only entity that could have enticed him to change his scenery. All four Andretti drivers do not appear to be heading anywhere. Team Penske doesn't appear to be changing anything despite Will Power and Simon Pagenaud both allegedly in contract years and both those drivers fall in the same boat as Dixon. Graham Rahal has locked up a five-year deal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and A.J. Foyt has confirmed it will retain the all-Brazilian lineup of Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist for another season. Sam Schmidt seems confident he will have Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe for another year if not further into the future.

And just like that we have 13 spots on the 2019 grid penciled in.

It doesn't appear Carlin will be shaking up its lineup of Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton. The second Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing seat could be in play but Takuma Sato brings a fair amount of funding from Honda. RLLR is also open to expanding to three cars.

However, this is IndyCar. The deck is always shuffled a bit. Someone will run out of money and be replaced by something with a load of cash. One driver will decide he needs a new home in hopes of improved results and the same will be the case for a team hoping to find a driver to take them to the next level. There will a few new faces that get opportunities through full-time and part-time efforts and there will be a face or two that will start to fade away.

The biggest domino could be Sébastien Bourdais but he has had quite a bit of success with Dale Coyne Racing and he has his team around him. It is tough to see him leave and the only destination I could see him leave for would be the second Chip Ganassi Racing seat, a move you cannot rule out and not because of the Frenchman's sports car ties to the team. This is Chip Ganassi Racing. Nobody is safe. Outside of a championship nothing Ed Jones does will be enough to guarantee he will remain in that seat for 2019. Jones could show with 2% milk instead of whole one morning at the shop and end up out of a job. Ganassi has fired more successful drivers than Jones.

But the second Ganassi seat might be neither for Jones nor Bourdais. Felix Rosenqvist has been the apple of Chip Ganassi's eye since he was in Indy Lights in 2016 and the driver has wrapped up another Formula E season with Mahindra. It seemed Rosenqvist was the desired driver for the #10 Honda for this season but he couldn't get out of his Formula E contract so the team went with Brendon Hartley. We know Toro Rosso came calling for Hartley and that is how Jones ended up in the seat. Let's face it: Ed Jones was "plan C" for Ganassi. Cutting him would not be hard to do and Rosenqvist could be the guy Jones makes way for.

The second Dale Coyne Racing seat will be open for a while. Three drivers have shared that car this year and none of them could be in that car for any part of next year. Zachary Claman De Melo did well while Pietro Fittipaldi and the Santino Ferrucci each only have had one round. Coyne might not be waiting to confirm drivers until minutes before the first practice session of the season but that seat might not be full for a while as many different name enter the discussion. We will have to wait and see how Fittipaldi does in the latter part of the season and with Ferrucci's debacle in Formula Two I think IndyCar teams will stay away for a while.

Ed Carpenter Racing has been silent but I think it is somewhat invested in Spencer Pigot and will want to give him another full season but Jordan King is a greater question mark with plenty of young drivers who would settle for a dozen IndyCar races. King has had a tendency of finding the barrier and it is starting to overshadow the speed he has expressed. While Harding Racing may have intentions of multiple cars in 2019, the saga of Gabby Chaves and the empty second seat will still have to play out.

It is difficult to predict who will be entering the series. While the Road to Indy has been successful the lack of entries in Indy Lights makes it difficult for more than one driver to get a promotion and you never know which drivers currently competing in Europe will make the move to the United States. It seems Colton Herta is destined for IndyCar in 2019 regardless if the 18-year-old wins the Indy Lights championship or not. If he doesn't win the Indy Lights championship it opens the door for Pato O'Ward, Santiago Urrutia or Victor Franzoni to join Herta in IndyCar next year.

The grid appears stable and on the verge of potential growth. Harding Racing is gaining its footing through what has been a rocky season. Carlin has done well and Juncos Racing has pieced together a 2018 season that has gotten the team on track more times than not as it learns the ropes. On top of all the new blood in the series Dreyer & Reinbold Racing is talking about a full-time comeback.

In recent years IndyCar has had a problem with a lot of names but not enough seats. Not everyone will end up in a seat but I think we will have more full-time drivers next year.

Champion From the Weekend
Jean-Éric Vergne clinched the Formula E Drivers' Championship with a fifth place finish in the first race of the New York ePrix.

Audi Sport ABT clinched the Formula E Teams' Championship.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon but did you know...

Patricio O'Ward and Santiago Urrutia split the Indy Lights races from Toronto. Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda races. Kyle Kirkwood swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Marc Márquez won MotoGP's German Grand Prix, his fifth victory of the season. Brad Binder won the Moto2 race his first career Moto2 victory. Jorge Martín won the Moto3 race, his second consecutive victory and his fifth of the season.

Lucas di Grassi and Jean-Éric Vergne split the Formula E New York ePrix.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race from Kentucky, his fourth victory of the season. Christopher Bell won the Grand National Series race, his second victory of the season. Ben Rhodes won the Truck series.

The #61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari of Toni Vilander and Miguel Molina and the #19 TruSpeed AutoSport Audi of Ryan Dalziel and Parker Chase split the Pirelli World Challenge GT SprintX races from Portland. The #50 Panoz of Ian James and Matt Keegan and the #69 Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 of Harry Gottsacker split the GTS SprintX races.

Gary Paffett and René Rast split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from Zandvoort.

Pepe Oriola, Gabriele Tarquini and Norbert Michelisz split the World Touring Car Cup races at Slovakiaring.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One makes its biennial trip to Germany.
NASCAR makes its only stop to Loudon this year.
IMSA's two GT divisions head to Lime Rock Park for a Saturday race.
European Le Mans Series has its first race in almost two months at Red Bull Ring.
Supercars will be at Queensland Raceway.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

First Impressions: Toronto 2018

1. It feels like the championship is over because while every title rival had an issue and hit a barrier or another driver, Scott Dixon kept his nose clean, picked up his third victory of the season, his third career victory at Toronto and the misfortune of everyone else has firmly placed the championship in Dixon's hand. And maybe it would be fitting if the one driver who can clinch a championship early even with double points in the finale is Dixon and maybe this is the year he should do it. He moved to third all-time in IndyCar victories this season, he surpassed 100 podium finishes this season and this finish has him tied with A.J. Foyt for second-most top five finishes in IndyCar history on 149. Number 150 is penciled in for Mid-Ohio in two weeks. He has dirtied the record book this season with eraser marks and scratched out and re-written names. He is going to win his fifth IndyCar championship this year and be second all-time in that category and two behind Foyt.

You may hate this. You may hate the idea of a championship being decided early and you might fear this will hurt IndyCar because the last thing the series needs is a few dead rubbers at the end of the season and give people no reason to watch but this is one of the greatest drivers of our generation slotting himself more comfortably into the discussion for greatest driver of all-time.

Maybe in this time period of immediate gratification and action the one thing IndyCar needs is a dominant driver to promote and have people watch to be in awe of a man accomplish things we will never see again. The title might be decided early but Dixon is the reason why you should continue to watch. He is Houdini in a Honda and you are left wondering how he is going to win his next race.

2. France won the World Cup and Simon Pagenaud did the best he could to match the soccer success but second will have to do. We have covered the Team Penske struggles and Pagenaud's good but not great results. This was Pagenaud's best race this season and better than his runner-up finish at Texas. He has yet to challenge for a victory this season, which is odd but not unprecedented because we saw the same thing in 2015 and the following year he whooped everybody on his way to the championship. He cannot be counted out in the final five races.

3. Robert Wickens keeps impressing us and he got another podium finish, this time at home. A victory was always going to be a stretch because he was starting on row five but every race it seems Wickens gets better as the race goes on and he is always moving forward. Damn if he doesn't win a race this season because he has been sensational. For the better part of a decade we had a feeling Wickens was one that got away during the dying days of a war that featured two losing sides. Now he is IndyCar and he is as great as we ever imagined.

4. James Hinchcliffe does not make it three consecutive third-place finishes at Toronto but he finished fourth and he continues his depressingly successful season. How are we going to put his Indianapolis 500 miss behind him and ourselves? It comes up regardless what he does. He wins Iowa... but he didn't qualify for the Indianapolis 500. He finished fourth today... but he didn't qualify for the Indianapolis 500. He has nine top ten finishes this season, the same number as Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Pagenaud and Wickens and he is only behind Dixon and Graham Rahal and yet we cannot let his worst day go and we should! Hinchcliffe has been excellent this year. Let his worst day go! Every other one has been fantastic.

5. Charlie Kimball got Carlin its first top five finish and he was pushing Hinchcliffe. I have said it before that Kimball isn't a popular driver but he can get the job done and he has been doing that. He is getting the results this team needs. Carlin needs these milestones and they are getting them out of the way. The team has gotten its first lead lap finishes, first top ten finish, first lead lap finish in the Indianapolis 500 and now the team has a top five finish. The number of cautions helped but other faded despite being in a positive position. Kimball didn't.

6. Tony Kanaan finished sixth in what has been a difficult year for him and like Kimball he benefitted from the cautions and the attrition. You can only hope this is a result A.J. Foyt Racing can use this as boost and this team can find the speed to be competitive in the final three road course races. I have no doubt that Kanaan can be contending at Pocono and I wouldn't be surprised if he did well at Gateway but the other three races are another story.

7. Zach Veach led what was another disappointing day for Andretti Autosport but Veach was a bright spot. He was making moves in the middle of the race and he gets off the snide with his seventh-place finish. It is the first time he is the top Andretti Autosport driver in a race and he got a break or three to get there but he stepped up when his three teammates struggled.

8. Alexander Rossi coughed up more points. He gets into the back of Will Power and had to make an extra pit stop and then gets caught in a turn one accident on a restart and had to make another pit stop but he fought back and got an eighth place finish. It could have been worse. It should have been much better.

9. Speaking of could have been worse and should have been much better... Josef Newgarden! He could be leading the championship today. But the mistimed pit stop at Iowa combined with him hitting the barrier coming to the green flag on the restart while leading cost him another boatload of points. He finished ninth but for the first stint of today it looked like he was going to dominate and get a victory. For the second consecutive week a minor hiccup cost him dearly.

10. Marco Andretti was in prime position for fourth but the car did not get filled on the final stop and he had to pit coming to the white flag for a splash of fuel and instead of fourth he finishes tenth. At least Andretti got a top ten out of it because he started 14th and he worked his way into the top ten. He made his fair share of passes and was going toe-to-toe with the big boys. It is a shame because it seems Andretti has fast cars and then loses the pace in qualifying but gets some of it back in the race. Other than Belle Isle he has not had really any weekend where everything has clicked for every session.

11. Jordan King hit the barrier again in the morning warm-up but came back to finish 11th. He needs a weekend where he gets a good result and doesn't hit anything.

12. Ed Jones was off-strategy all race and he finished 12th despite stalling on his first pit stop.

13. Quickly through the rest of the field: Conor Daly did respectable today and finished 13th. I don't know if Harding Racing will give him another race this season but he will likely get another call from Harding Racing. Zachary Claman De Melo stayed out of the trouble and finished 14th. This might be Claman De Melo's last race of the season as Pietro Fittipaldi is set on returning at Mid-Ohio. He has a lot of growing to do but he made important steps this year.

Matheus Leist tried to go off strategy but that didn't work and he finished 15th. René Binder finished 17th but backed into a safety worker and he will not get the benefit of the doubt of accidentally having the car in reverse. Spencer Pigot was in eighth and was on the move in the second stint but brushed the barrier exiting turn 11 and that ended his race. Takuma Sato also brushed the turn 11 barrier and it cost him a shot at a top five. Max Chilton was taken out in turn one and he was the first car out of this race.

14. Here is where we touch on some more notable names: Ryan Hunter-Reay is wilting again in summer. He was in position for a podium finish and locked it up entering turn three and that was his first blow. The second was getting caught in a turn one incident when Graham Rahal spun into his path and he had nowhere to go. Will Power clipped the turn 11 barrier and that took him out of having a shot for a top five finish. Sébastien Bourdais was the first driver to have an incident in this race and this season has turned into the wrong direction since Indianapolis for him and Dale Coyne Racing. This is the first time Bourdais did not finish in the top ten at Toronto. And then Graham Rahal, who we covered in the turn one spin after he locked up the tires and hit Chilton. Rahal didn't have it this weekend.

15. I want to talk about Toronto and maybe it is because of the current fluctuation of the IndyCar schedule I feel this but has IndyCar outgrown Toronto? The crowd was good but for the last four or five years the barriers are moving, the track is getting bumpier, the pit lane had to move to a less than ideal area and it feels hastily squeezed into the racetrack and I wonder is this the best IndyCar can do in Canada?

I love Toronto and Canada should have more than one IndyCar race but would IndyCar be better off at Mosport? Should it go to Montreal or Mont-Tremblant? Those are the only real options. Stop it with Calgary. We have been hearing Calgary for eight years now and where are we? Not Calgary. Remember when Quebec City was a rumored venue? How is that race doing? We aren't going back to Edmonton and we aren't going back to Vancouver.

Outside of Toronto and the two Quebec venues mentioned above there are no other Canadian racetracks ready to host IndyCar. You cannot bank on a street course. We have seen too many of those come and go in no time. I am sad because IndyCar has been in Toronto for over 30 years and I feel sooner rather than later this race will be pushed out of the city and I am not sure Mosport, Montreal or Mont-Tremblant would embrace IndyCar the way the Canadian fans embrace every form of motorsports. A few years ago we were scared Toronto would die because Paul Tracy was no longer full-time and Alex Tagliani was struggle to get a full-time ride. Then came James Hinchcliffe and now we have Robert Wickens and Zachary Claman De Melo holds his own.

IndyCar should have a big event in Canada and for some reason Toronto feels on the verge of being outdated but even worse is no one else in Canada is giving IndyCar a serious look.

16. Let's talk points because as mentioned above Scott Dixon could clinch this thing early if he keeps winning and everyone else keeps shooting off toes. With double points at Sonoma the most a driver can score is 104 points. There were 23 drivers in this race and we know Meyer Shank Racing is committed to Sonoma so we will have at least 23 cars in that race meaning 14 points will be the fewest a driver can score meaning the most a driver could make up is 90 points meaning that is the cut-off line drivers have to be shooting for and with four races before Sonoma a lot of drivers are on the bubble.

Dixon leads Newgarden by 62 points with Rossi 70 points back. After that Hunter-Reay is tentatively on the outside, 91 points behind Dixon and Power is 93 points back. Wickens has some work to do as he trails Dixon by 125 points and Pagenaud is the only other driver within 150 points with the Frenchman 144 points back.

Dixon isn't going to falter, which means it is on Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay and Power to keep themselves in the title fight. If Hunter-Reay and Power keep having every roll of the dice go against them then forget it. Rossi has to stop coughing up points and he needs to win at least another race and the same goes for Newgarden.

With double points, a gap of 60 or more is comfortable for Dixon because it would ensure a top ten finish would be enough to clinch the title. However, a gap around 35 to 40 points is more favorable to a trailing driver because in this case let's say Newgarden trails by 40 points entering Sonoma, Newgarden could win the race, score maximum points, Dixon could finish fifth and that would not be enough for Dixon to win the title. We saw that exact scenario play out with Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015.

Three of the next four weeks are off weeks for IndyCar but the key thing to keep in mind is can any of the four drivers behind Dixon claw points back or will Dixon keep padding his lead and may find himself collecting the trophy in Portland or only needing a top twenty finish at Sonoma to seal the deal?

17. I feel like 18 drivers had bad days today. This off-week came at the right time.

Morning Warm-Up: Toronto 2018

Josef Newgarden continues the championship charge in Canada
For the third time in four races Josef Newgarden will lead the field to the green flag as the American won pole position for this year's Honda Indy Toronto. Newgarden stole pole position on the final lap of the session with a time of 59.4956 seconds. He is attempting to become to the first defending series champion to win at Toronto since Dario Franchitti. Newgarden could become the first driver to win consecutive Toronto since Scott Dixon in 2013. The only other driver with consecutive Toronto victories is Michael Andretti, who did it on three separate occasions. Newgarden knocked off Scott Dixon, who will start on the front row for the second time this season. Dixon won from second on the grid in the first Belle Isle race last month. The New Zealander has won on July 15th once before in his career. He won at Nashville on this day in 2006. He has won multiple times on two different days. He won July 14th in 2007 and 2013 at Nashville and Toronto respectively and he won on August 9th in 2008 and 2009 at Kentucky and Mid-Ohio respectively.

Simon Pagenaud will start third. Pagenaud has started on the front row in three races this season. Last year, Pagenaud did not start on the front row until the 12th race of the season when he won pole position at Toronto. This is his sixth consecutive year starting in one of the first two rows in this race. Will Power makes it an all-Penske row two. Power has not had much success in the 12th round of a season. He has never won the 12th race of the season and nine times he has finished outside the top ten in 13 starts in the 12th round of a season. He does have three runner-up finishes in the 12th round of a season but all three of those results came at Mid-Ohio. Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay make it an all-Andretti row three. Rossi has only had double-digit lap led totals in two races this season. He led 71 laps on his way to victory at Long Beach and he led 46 laps in the second Belle Isle race before a tire puncture after a lock up knocked him down to a 12th place finish. This is Hunter-Reay's first top ten start at Toronto in four years. He had started in the top six in five consecutive Toronto races prior to his stretch of three consecutive years starting outside the top ten in this race.

Takuma Sato qualified in seventh. This is Sato's fourth consecutive top ten start. He is attempting to achieve four consecutive top ten finishes for the second time in his IndyCar career. The first time he did it was last year when he finished in the top ten in the Indianapolis 500, the two Belle Isle races and Texas. Sato will be attempting to achieve three consecutive top five finishes for the first time in his IndyCar career. Toronto marks the eighth start of Jordan King's career and King will start in eighth position. Only five British drivers have had their first IndyCar victory occur within their first ten starts. Those drivers are Dario Resta, Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Nigel Mansell. All four of those drivers won either on their debut or in their second start.

James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens make it an all-Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, all-Canadian row five. Hinchcliffe has finished in the top ten in five of six times he has started the 12th race of a season, three of which are top five finishes. He lost his fastest lap after spinning exiting turn eight and causing a local yellow. Wickens could become the quickest Canadian to win their first career IndyCar race. This is only his 12th start and Jacques Villeneuve holds the current record with his first career victory coming in his 14th start.

Conor Daly will start 11th as he got Harding Racing out of round one of qualifying for the first time since St. Petersburg. This will be Daly's 15th street course start. He finished second in the first Belle Isle race in 2016 but a pair of sixth place finishes in the second Belle Isle race in 2015 and in 2016 are his only top ten finishes on street courses. Matheus Leist made it out of round one of the first time since St. Petersburg as well and the Brazilian will start 12th. Leist has finished behind his teammate Kanaan in every street course race this season and Kanaan has finished ahead of Leist by at least six positions in three of the four street course races. Graham Rahal was knocked out of round two by Daly and he will have to start 13th. Rahal 's only street course victory was his first career victory at St. Petersburg in 2008. Two of Rahal's six career victories have come after the month of June. Marco Andretti will start 14th. Andretti has finished on the lead lap in seven consecutive Toronto races. He has never led a lap at Toronto. His father Michael won this race from 13th on the grid 17 years ago today. If Marco were to win today he would break his father's record for worst starting position for a Toronto winner.

Tony Kanaan will start 15th. This is Kanaan's third consecutive year starting outside the top ten for this race. He has not had a top five finish in the last 14 races. This is his longest stretch without a top five finish since he went 27 races between top five finishes from his first career victory at Michigan in 1999 to his third place finish at Motegi in 2001 with 2000 being the only season in Kanaan's career where he did not have a top five finish. Spencer Pigot joins Kanaan on row eight. Pigot has top ten finishes in the last two races. It is the first time in his career he has top ten finishes in successive races. He has been the top Ed Carpenter Racing finisher seven times this season including in three consecutive races. He has been the top finisher in five of seven road/street course races. For the first time in his career, Sébastien Bourdais will not start in the top ten at Toronto as Bourdais qualified 17th. His best finish on street courses since his St. Petersburg victory was 13th at Long Beach and the first Belle Isle race. Bourdais has finished 13th four times this season. Max Chilton will start 18th, ending a string of three consecutive races starting outside the top twenty. Chilton finished seventh in last year's Toronto race.

René Binder qualified a career-best 19th. It is the first time Binder has started inside the top twenty in his IndyCar career. He will become the first Austrian driver to start an IndyCar race in a country other than the United States. This will be Binder's fifth start. He is already the most experienced Austrian in IndyCar history. Charlie Kimball rounds out the top twenty. Toronto is the site of Kimball's first career IndyCar podium finish, as he finished second in the 2012 race. His six podium finishes have come at six different tracks and he has made 44 starts since his most recent podium finish, a third at Sonoma in 2015.

Ed Jones caused a red flag in the first round of qualifying and he will have to start 21st. The two races where Jones was the top Ganassi finisher were street course races and both were third place finishes at Long Beach and in the second Belle Isle race. Zach Veach had his fastest lap deleted after he spun coming to the checkered for the end of group two's session in round one and he will start 22nd. Veach has been the worst Andretti Autosport finisher in eight consecutive races and in ten of 11 races. Zachary Claman De Melo makes his Toronto debut from 23rd on the grid. Claman De Melo could become the sixth Quebec-born to win an IndyCar race. No Canadian province has produced more IndyCar winners.

NBCSN's coverage of the Honda Indy Toronto begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:42 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 85 laps.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Track Walk: Toronto 2018

IndyCar is back in Canada
The 12th round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the final street course race of the season at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the lone international date on the calendar. Six different drivers representing five different teams have won a race this season with four different winners in as many races. Six different teams have a driver in the top ten of the championship. With this being IndyCar's only international race, ten different nationalities are represented on the entry list. Five different nationalities are represented in the top ten of the championship.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 15th 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, Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 10:40 a.m. ET (45-minute session)
Second Practice: 2:30 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Third Practice: 9:50 a.m. ET (45-minute session)
Qualifying: 1:55 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have tape-delayed coverage at 4:30 p.m. ET)
Warm-Up: 11:40 a.m. ET (30-minute session)
Race: 3:42 p.m. ET (85 laps)

Canadians Coming Home
This year's IndyCar season has been a successful one for Canadians and this year's Honda Indy Toronto is set to have three Canadians on the grid, the most in this event since 2011 when James Hinchcliffe made his Toronto debut with Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani also on the grid. This year James Hinchcliffe heads home on a wave of momentum. 

Hinchcliffe is coming off his sixth career victory after a stellar drive at Iowa to chase down the dominant Josef Newgarden and Hinchcliffe finds himself eighth in the championship. While this season bares the burden of a failed Indianapolis 500 attempt, Hinchcliffe has four top five finishes and eight top ten finishes from ten starts and he rolls into Toronto off the back of three consecutive top ten finishes. After years of hardship in his home race, Hinchcliffe has turned it around the last two years. In each race Hinchcliffe has started sixth and in each race he has stood on the third step of the podium. This is the only track where Hinchcliffe has scored successive podium finishes in his IndyCar career.

Hinchcliffe is not known for success in the races after victories. Only once has Hinchcliffe finished in the top ten in the race following a victory and that was last year at Barber when he finished sixth after his victory at Long Beach. 

While Hinchcliffe enters as a winner, Robert Wickens enters as the highest placed Canadian in the championship. A pair of fifth place finishes in the last two races has the rookie sixth in the championship and 107 points behind Scott Dixon in the championship. Through 11 races, Wickens' five top five finishes are the most for a rookie since Carlos Muñoz in 2014. The last time a rookie had six top five finishes in a season was Simon Pagenaud in 2012 but Wickens is trending better than the Frenchman did that season as Pagenaud had one fewer top five finish through 11 races than Wickens' current total.

This will be Wickens' first race in Canada since August 30, 2009 when he finished fourth in the Atlantics race at motorsport. This will only be his second start on the Exhibition Place circuit. He finished seventh in the 2007 Atlantics race held at Toronto. Wickens has won in his home country before. He won the second race of the 2005 Formula BMW USA weekend held in association with the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal. 

Zachary Claman De Melo makes his Toronto IndyCar debut this weekend. The French-Canadian raced the previous two years at Toronto in Indy Lights and after he finished 13th in both races in 2016 he finished second and third in the two 2017 races. While both Hinchcliffe and Wickens have stood on the podium this season, De Melo has yet to crack the top ten and his only lead lap finish this season occurred in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which coincidentally was Claman De Melo's best finish of the season of 12th. It is his only top fifteen finish this year. 

Paul Tracy is the only Canadian to win at Toronto with him doing it in 2003 and 2013. Tracy is also responsible for the most recent home victory for a Canadian when he won at Vancouver in 2004.

Is This the Time For a Sébastien Bourdais Turnaround?
The Frenchman started out the 2018 season in a better position than his dream start to the 2017 season but the last few weeks have been hard on Bourdais.

Bourdais' only top ten finish in the last six races was eighth at Texas and his average finish in the last six races is 15.667. He has started in the top six in three of the six races but he has started 15th or worse in the other three. He has not led a lap in the last five races after starting the season with leading at least one lap in the first six races. 

On the bright side for Bourdais he has made it to the Fast Six session on the last three occasions and he is one of the better active drivers at Toronto. He has an average finish of 5.307 at the track and he has finished in the top ten in 12 of 13 starts. Bourdais has started in the top ten every year he has been at Toronto and he has started in the top five on nine occasions. His four pole positions are second most all-time in this event behind only Dario Franchitti who had five Toronto pole positions. Bourdais has completed 1,065 of 1,072 laps in his 13 starts and he has six consecutive lead lap finishes in this event.

Bourdais finds himself tenth in the championship on 254 points and he is at a precarious position with the drivers ahead of him on the verge of pulling away and making it difficult for Bourdais to pick up a few more spots in the remaining six races. He is 25 points behind Simon Pagenaud in ninth with Hinchcliffe a point ahead of Pagenaud. Bourdais is 104 points outside the top five of the championship despite being in the top five after each of the first five races of the season. Since returning to full-time IndyCar competition in 2013, Bourdais has never finished better than tenth in the championship.

Honda's Hopes
Chevrolet has won seven of the last nine Toronto races and Honda has been the title sponsor for all of those races. The good news is Honda heads into one of its marquee events leading in victories with a 6-5 edge over Chevrolet thanks to Hinchcliffe at Iowa and Honda has had at least two cars on the podium in ten of the first 11 races. Iowa was only the second race this season where Chevrolet had two cars finish in the top five but through the first four street course races this season, Chevrolet has only one top five finish, a second in the second Belle Isle race at the hands of Will Power. Honda leads the Manufactures' Championship with 922 points to Chevrolet's 820 points.

Honda looks to sweep the street course races this season. The manufacture enters four-for-four after Bourdais won at St. Petersburg, Alexander Rossi won at Long Beach and Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay split the Belle Isle weekend. All five Honda teams have won a street course race in the last two seasons. 

Scott Dixon is the man responsible for the two Honda victories at Toronto in the DW12-era and both came during his memorable sweep of the 2013 doubleheader. It also capped a streak of three consecutive victories that launched the New Zealander into the championship fight. Five years later, Dixon leads the championship by 33 points over Josef Newgarden with 53 points covering the top five. Those two victories started a streak of seven consecutive top ten finishes at Toronto but Dixon has not finished in the top five the last four years. In 13 Toronto starts Dixon has never started outside the top ten, he has seven top five finishes and 11 top ten finishes.

Andretti Autosport will look to shake off a horrendous Iowa weekend in Canada and it has been a kind place to the Andretti drivers. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti have each completed 885 of 886 laps run at Toronto since the event returned to the schedule in 2009. Hunter-Reay won the 2012 race but last year's sixth place finish was his first top ten finish since that victory after six consecutive finishes outside the top ten, four of which were finishes outside the top fifteen. Hunter-Reay has started outside the top fifteen in the last three Toronto races. Andretti finished fourth in last year's race and he has three top five finishes and eight top ten finishes in 11 starts. Like Hunter-Reay, Andretti has started outside the top ten in the last three Toronto races and he has never started better than eighth in this race.

Alexander Rossi finished second in last year's race after starting eighth and he has completed all 170 laps in his two Toronto starts. Zach Veach has six starts at Exhibition Place in the Road to Indy series.  He finished second in the first Star Mazda race held in 2012 but in four Indy Lights races his best finish was fifth in 2014.

Graham Rahal qualified second in last year's race but he was shuffled back when a caution came out prior to his first pit stop. While Rahal finished ninth last year and he has three top ten finishes in the last five Toronto races, his lone top five finish remains fifth in the 2010 race. He has ten top ten finishes this season, leading all drivers in IndyCar but he has only three top five finishes and his runner-up finish at St. Petersburg remains his only podium finish. His teammate Takuma Sato enters off a third-place finish at Iowa, three consecutive top ten finishes and four top ten finishes in the last five races. While Sato has three top ten finishes in the last four Toronto races, he has finished 20th or worse five times in ten Toronto starts.

Ed Jones had his streak of four consecutive top ten finishes snapped last week at Iowa. Last year, he retired from the Toronto race after 75 laps due to a mechanical failure.

Penske and Carpenter Look to Keep the Streak Going
Team Penske has won the last two years at Toronto and Ed Carpenter Racing won the two races prior to that with the 2015 victory coming under CFH Racing branding.

Josef Newgarden has won two of the last three years at Toronto and his victory last year came with a bit of fortunate timing with the Tennessean being on the pit lane when the first caution came out. The break aside Newgarden went on to win the race with an average speed of 95.79 MPH, the fastest Toronto race since Paul Tracy won in 2003 with an average speed of 96.189 MPH. The only driver to win three Toronto races within four years is Michael Andretti.

Will Power heads into Toronto with three victories, tied with Dario Franchitti for second most victories in this event's history. Last year, Power suffered his first career lap one retirement after contact in turn three with Scott Dixon broke his rear suspension. Power has only started outside the top ten twice in 13 Toronto appearances and he has started in the top five in ten of the last 11 Toronto races with six front row starts in that time period.

Simon Pagenaud's solid season of eight top ten finishes in 11 races only has the Frenchman ninth in the championship with one podium finish to show for it and he is on the outside of the championship fight with time running out. The Frenchman has yet to have a breakthrough at Toronto. He started on pole position last year, his fifth consecutive time starting on one of the first two races at Toronto, and after being shuffled back during the first pit cycle he roared to a fifth place finish. However, he has never finished on the podium in this race. Pagenaud has never failed to make it out of the first round of qualifying at this event. This has been a rough year on street course for Pagenaud. His best finish is tenth and he has started outside in two of the four races. Last year, he had four top five finishes on street courses. This will be the first time in Pagenaud's IndyCar career he does not have at least two top five finishes on street courses in a season.

Spencer Pigot is coming off his career best finish of second at Iowa and he has three top ten finishes in the last five races after not having a top ten finish in his prior 12 starts. Last year, Pigot had a great first stint at Toronto to drive to eighth passing past champions Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan along the way. An extra pit stop after contact with Takuma Sato derailed Pigot's hopes of a respectable result. While he has finished 19th and 18th in his two Toronto IndyCar starts, he swept the Indy Lights races at Toronto in 2015. Pigot has made it out of round one of qualifying on the last two occasions at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Road America.

Jordan King will make his Toronto debut. It has been a shaky season for the Englishman. While King has been fast and has had respectable qualifying results, he has been frequently in the barriers. King is coming off his best finish this season, a 12th at Road America and it was his second lead lap finish in seven starts. King will look to end his first round of IndyCar street courses on a high note. His best finish in the previous four street course races was 16th in the first Belle Isle race, his only other lead lap finish this season.

Daly In, Chaves Out at Harding
Harding Racing is a making a substitution for the Honda Indy Toronto and the team is bringing in Conor Daly in place of Gabby Chaves for the Canadian round.

Chaves remains employed with the team but Harding Racing is using the remainder of the season to try out other drivers as the team is looking to expand to a two-car operation next season. Chaves has not put up spectacular results this season but he has been consistently bring the car home and keeping all four wheels intact. Prior to Iowa, Chaves had been running at the finish of every race this season with his retirement at Iowa due to handling issues being his first of the season. His best finish this season was 14th, which occurred at St. Petersburg and the Indianapolis 500.

This will be Daly's fourth Toronto race. His best finish was 12th in 2015 substituting for the injured James Hinchcliffe and he qualified seventh the following year. His average starting position and average finishing position is 14.7. Daly has finished on the lead lap in all three of his Toronto starts.

Road to Indy
All three Road to Indy series are in the second half of their seasons and championship pictures are tightening up.

Colton Herta's championship lead shrunk to eight points over Patricio O'Ward after the Mexican driver took his fourth victory of the season and his first victory since Barber. Herta has 283 points to O'Ward's 275 points. The American has eighth consecutive podium finishes and he has been on the podium in nine of ten races. Last year, Herta finished fourth in the first Toronto race and he started on pole for the second race but contact with the barrier while leading ended his hopes of winning that day. O'Ward finished on the podium in three of four Pro Mazda races at Toronto.

Santiago Urrutia trails Herta by 49 points and he finished third and 11th last year at Toronto. Victor Franzoni won at Toronto in U.S. F2000 in 2016 and he is 67 points behind Herta. Ryan Norman has 189 points with Aaron Telitz on 181 points. Telitz swept the 2016 Pro Mazda races at Toronto and he finished fifth and second last year in Indy Lights. Canadian Dalton Kellett heads to Toronto on 177 points. In seven Road to Indy starts at Toronto, Kellett's best finish was seventh in U.S. F2000 in 2013.

The first Indy Lights race will be at 12:40 p.m. ET on Saturday July 14th. The second Indy Lights race will take place at 12:25 p.m. ET on Sunday July 15th.

Canadian Parker Thompson comes home with 237 points in the Pro Mazda championship and he holds a 46-point lead over Rinus VeeKay. Thompson has finished in the top five of every race this season and he leads the series with three victories. Thompson has won his last three starts in Toronto as he won the second U.S. F2000 race in 2016 and he swept the U.S. F2000 races last year. VeeKay finished third and second in last year's U.S. F2000 races and he has not had a podium finish in the last four races. Carlos Cunha is four points behind VeeKay and he is still looking for his first U.S. F2000 victories after 21 career starts.

David Malukas is coming off his first two career victories after he swept the Road America weekend and he is fourth on 179 points. He is five points ahead of Harrison Scott, who has two victories, a runner-up finish and a pair of third place finishes. Oliver Askew round out the top six on 150 points. Askew has three pole positions but his only podium finish was second in the first IMS road course race. Sting Ray Robb is seventh on 138 points with Robert Megennis on 126 points.

Pro Mazda will race at 10:50 a.m. ET on Saturday July 14th with the second race scheduled for 10:40 a.m. ET on Sunday July 15th.

Kyle Kirkwood has won four consecutive races in U.S. F2000 and the American has 217 points from seven races. Kirkwood holds a 95-point championship lead over Alexandre Baron. Baron won back-to-back races at St. Petersburg and Barber and he had a runner-up finish in the second Barber race but since then Baron's best finish is seventh. Baron won at Toronto in 2014 driving in Indy Lights. Kaylen Frederick has finished runner-up in three consecutive races and he is third in the championship on 112 points, 11 points behind Baron.

Igor Fraga is fourth on the championship on 102 points and the Brazilian's only podium finish was second to Baron at St. Petersburg. José Sierra is three points behind Fraga and while Sierra has five top ten finishes this season he has finished outside the top twenty twice. Lucas Kohl and Rasmus Lindh are tied on 98 points with Kohl holding the tiebreaker with a seventh place finish as both drivers are tied with two third-place finishes and one fourth-place finish. Kohl finished third in the most recent race at Road America. Lindh won pole position for both Road America races.

Calvin Ming is eighth in the championship on 88 points with Darren Keane on 83 points. Keith Donegan and Kory Enders tied for tenth on 79 points. Dakota Dickerson is back for his second consecutive U.S. F2000 round. Dickerson is the current championship leader in the Formula 4 United States Championship. 

U.S. F2000's first race will be at 11:45 a.m. ET on Saturday July 14th with the second race at 9:45 a.m. ET on Sunday July 15th.

Fast Facts
This will be the 11th IndyCar race to take place on July 15th and first since 2006 when Scott Dixon won at Nashville.

This race occurs 17 years to the day Michael Andretti won his seventh and final Toronto race. He won from 13th on the grid, the furthest back a Toronto winner has started.

Newman-Haas Racing has the most Toronto victories with seven. Chip Ganassi Racing has the second most with six victories.

Spencer Pigot could join Paul Tracy as the only drivers to have won at Toronto in IndyCar and Indy Lights.

A.J. Allmendinger is the only driver to win at Toronto in IndyCar and Atlantics.

Only two drivers have scored their first career victory at Toronto: Adrián Fernández in 1996 and Justin Wilson in 2005.

The last time there was a Canadian 1-2 finish was August 10, 2003 at Mid-Ohio with Paul Tracy ahead of Patrick Carpentier.

There have been a total of six Canadian 1-2 finishes in IndyCar history. Those 1-2 finishes are...
Michigan 1992: Scott Goodyear over Paul Tracy.
Homestead 1995: Jacques Villeneuve over Paul Tracy.
Road America 1995: Jacques Villeneuve over Paul Tracy.
Rio de Janeiro 1997: Paul Tracy over Greg Moore.
Gateway 1997: Paul Tracy over Greg Moore.
Mid-Ohio 2003: Paul Tracy over Patrick Carpentier.

There has never been a Canadian 1-2-3 finish.

Since Toronto returned to the schedule in 2009, A.J. Foyt Racing has had at least one car finish in the top ten in six of 11 races.

A.J. Foyt Racing's only victory in Canada occurred on July 3, 1977 with A.J. Foyt winning at Mosport.

This will be the 76th IndyCar race to take place in Canada and it is the 34th time Exhibition Place has hosted IndyCar.

Of the previous 75 IndyCar races in Canada, only six have been won by Brazilians. Emerson Fittipaldi won at Toronto in 1987, Mauricio Gugelmin won at Vancouver in 1997, Roberto Moreno won at Vancouver in 2001, Cristiano da Matta won at Toronto in 2003, Bruno Junqueira won at Montreal in 2004 and Hélio Castroneves won at Edmonton in 2012.

Nine different nationalities have won at Toronto (American, Brazilian, Canadian, Mexican, British, Italian, French, Australian, New Zealander).

The average starting position for a Toronto winner is 3.969 with a median of third.

Three of the last four Toronto races have been won from outside the top five. Only three of the prior 13 Toronto races were won from outside the top five.

The average number of lead changes in a Toronto race is 4.09375 with a median of four.

The average number of cautions in a Toronto race is 3.59375 with a median of three. The average number of caution laps is 14.625 with a median of 12.5.

Three of the last four Toronto races have had fewer than ten caution laps after only one of the prior 13 Toronto races had fewer than ten caution laps.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon is one top five finish away from tying A.J. Foyt for second all-time on 149 top five finishes.

Sébastien Bourdais is one top five finish away from 75 career top five finishes.

Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead eight laps to surpass Tomas Scheckter for 31st all-time in laps led.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 65 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 23 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball needs to lead 38 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Robert Wickens wins in his first IndyCar race in Toronto with a Honda sweep of the podium ahead of Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal. There will be more lead changes in this race than Iowa last week. At least one Team Penske driver does not make it to the second round of qualifying. There will not be a caution between lap 20 and lap 35 of this race. Other than Wickens, no other rookie finishes in the top ten. Every driver will complete at least 50 laps. Sleeper: Takuma Sato.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Let's Talk Ovals

IndyCar had a race with 955 passes at Iowa and James Hinchcliffe took the victory on a day where Josef Newgarden wiped the floor with everyone for an hour and a half. We have reached the point of the IndyCar season where drivers are being mathematically eliminated from the championship. The British Grand Prix gave us the Mercedes vs. Ferrari battle we have been waiting for. A notable last name won at Silverstone. IMSA had another great battle in Canada. You know who won the World Superbike races as that series now takes over two months off before its final four rounds. There was a first time winner in the NASCAR Cup series. Something happened in Japan for the first time in 32 years. Craig Lowndes announced his retirement from full-time Supercars competition. Santino Ferrucci may have ended his own career. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Let's Talk Ovals
In pondering the 2019 IndyCar schedule it is hard to avoid the topic of ovals and IndyCar's long drawn struggle to attract more oval races and more importantly keep them.

In 2011, the original IndyCar schedule had 17 venues, eight of which were ovals and then earthquake damage forced the Motegi round to be run on the road course instead of the 1.5-mile oval. Since the start of the DW12-era no schedule has had more than six ovals and every time a breakthrough appears to be coming another setback occurs. In 2015, IndyCar had six ovals and when Phoenix was about to enter Fontana and Milwaukee left. After another year at five ovals, the schedule was back up to six ovals for 2017 when Gateway returned and it remained consistent for 2018 but with Phoenix on the way outs IndyCar is on the verge of another step back.

The good news is Homestead quickly emerged as a possible filler for the loss of Phoenix but there is a Band-Aid feeling to Homestead: A temporary fix to a greater issue.

IndyCar isn't new to Homestead. CART and the IRL went there from 1996 to 2010 and like all venues in the 1990s there was a promising start and a decline coinciding with reunification. It has been difficult for IndyCar to gain traction in certain parts of the country. Its heart is in the Midwest and that is fine. You have to be rooted somewhere and its Mecca of Indianapolis is surrounded by venues such as Belle Isle, Road America, Mid-Ohio and Gateway. Long Beach has long been the western capital for IndyCar and while since the turn of the Millennium two southern venues of St. Petersburg and Barber have become favorite spring stops other venues have struggled to spark.

Last year, Gateway returned and it was a hit immediately. Close to 40,000 people attended the first race at the 1.25-mile oval since 2003. Gateway isn't one of the bigger ovals. It isn't apart of the mega-ownership groups of International Speedway Corporation or Speedway Motorsports, Inc. It is an independent track owned by a former driver turned real estate developed based in the area. It didn't have a multi-million dollar renovation. It is nothing special but it put on a heck of an event because the track knew its community, it knew how to draw people out and for the first time in a long time IndyCar appears to have found a place where it is wanted.

Does the Homestead-Miami-area want IndyCar? Does anywhere want IndyCar? IndyCar can go to all these markets but if nobody cares if IndyCar is there then the race is likely going to fail.

There are plenty of ovals in this country and we are in an odd period where it seems 95% of them are struggling. Our expectations have to change. NASCAR races aren't drawing 100,000 people on a weekly basis. Some integral events to NASCAR are drawing closer to NFL size crowds. We can't expect IndyCar oval races, which has been a fraction of NASCAR attendance from the start, to draw 100,000 people but where can IndyCar draw a respectable crowd? Instead of going to a venue and hoping it works IndyCar needs has to be strategic.

Motorsports might not be as popular as it once was in this country but there are race fans in this country. You just have to find them and make them feel wanted. There was a missed opportunity this year for IndyCar with New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Loudon was one of the ovals on the 2011 schedule and it disappeared after one year when the crowd wasn't as great as expected but the track lost a NASCAR race this year and it left an opening at the end of summer and early autumn. It might not have been as big of a crowd as it once was but that Loudon NASCAR race probably still drew 75,000 people and they all lost a race. It might not have worked in 2011 but the conditions have changed and IndyCar can give the New England-area a major event to make up for one lost. It could be one place where the fan base feels a bit of neglect after having two NASCAR races for 21 years. IndyCar should have stepped up and filled that late-September date. There are race fans there. IndyCar needs to connect with them.

Barber Motorsports Park has become a seminal spring event for IndyCar and ten years ago I doubt anyone would have guessed a race in Alabama would be so well supported but it is because there are race fans in the South. Darlington lost a NASCAR race just over a decade ago after having a spring race for over 50 years. NASCAR is still beloved at Darlington and the Southern 500 being moved to its rightful place Labor Day weekend was met with great enthusiasm but it is an underserved market.

If IndyCar can work in Alabama why couldn't it work in South Carolina? I don't know if the racing would work at Darlington but it would be different and IndyCar gets viewers in the Carolinas. We cannot let preconceived notions take over. It might not be the stereotypical IndyCar market but the South has race fans, not just NASCAR fans and the biggest way to get people interest is show interest in the market. If you embrace the fans that exist they will show the love back.

I understand why drivers do promotional events in cities and throw out first pitches at Major League Baseball games and sign autographs at local grocery stores, hardware stores and so on but there are many people that have been left behind at local short tracks across the country. That first pitch at Wrigley Field is nice but most people forget who threw out the first pitch by the time the first batter has stepped into the batter's box.

Where drivers will be received with a warm welcome is a racetrack. Loudon could work but while you think first pitch at Fenway Park is what will promote the race the actual answer might be going to a modified race and talking racing with race fans. The same is true in the South. Take two or three drivers to a late model stock car race and talk racing. Show you are interested. And maybe have the drivers compete now and then. Tony Stewart was a fan favorite because he kept going back to where he started. While he made millions he didn't forget those he met along the way.

After a race like yesterday's, maybe IndyCar needs more short tracks and maybe it needs to go to forgotten short tracks. Richmond would be great and not too long ago Baltimore drew 60,000 people so there is a fan base in the Mid-Atlantic area. Memphis has a short track, a damn good 3/4-mile oval and the Nashville Fairgrounds needs a little love and safer barriers but IndyCar would be very popular if it went to once was a gem. Maybe Indianapolis Raceway Park isn't too small and maybe that is where the season finale should be and it could be run the Saturday night of Brickyard weekend.

IndyCar's ties to American short track racing have been frayed for 30 years and let's not pretend that reconnecting is the answer that will turn every oval race into a sea of 100,000 people with two million watching on television but the little things that should be done are connecting with the local tracks and let them know they aren't forgotten. If you remember the people they will remember you back.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about James Hinchcliffe but did you know...

Patricio O'Ward won the Indy Lights race from Iowa, his fourth victory of the season.

Sebastian Vettel won the British Grand Prix, his first victory in the event since 2009.

Alexander Albon and Maximilian Günther split the Formula Two races at Silverstone. Anthonie Hubert and Pedro Piquet split the GP3 races.

Erik Jones won the NASCAR Cup race at Daytona, his career victory. Kyle Larson won the Grand National Series race.

The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca-Gibson of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett won the IMSA race at Mosport. The #67 Ford GT of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe won in GTLM. The #33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating won in GTD.

Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen split the Supercars races at Townsville.

Jonathan Rea swept the World Superbike races at Misano. Federico Caricasulo won the World Supersport race.

Nick Cassidy won the Super Formula race at Fuji, his first career victory and the first victory for a New Zealander in the series since Mike Thackwell won at Fuji on August 10, 1986.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar makes it one trip to Canada and specifically the streets of Toronto.
All three Road to Indy series join IndyCar in Toronto.
MotoGP has to get a race in hours prior to the World Cup Final at the Sachsenring.
The Formula E season ends in Brooklyn.
Portland hosts its first major motorsports series in over a decade with Pirelli World Challenge heading to Oregon.
NASCAR has another night race at Kentucky.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters will be near the beaches in Zandvoort.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

First Impressions: Iowa 2018

1. Wow. I don't know where to begin after that finish but let's start with James Hinchcliffe being consistent all day. He was passing cars on the first stint and went from 11th to the top three before his first stop. He was stellar and he kept up the pace throughout the race. He never faded while other cars did and he stalked Josef Newgarden, who dominated this race, but in the final stages Hinchcliffe was aggressive while Newgarden was conservative. Hinchcliffe blew pass Newgarden and after being caught with his pants down it was too late for Newgarden to chase down the Canadian. Hinchcliffe deserved this victory. He kept his foot on it all day and Newgarden let his guard down. It was surprising to see but James Hinchcliffe pulled a victory out of nowhere when everyone thought this race was over before we even reached lap 200. He deserved it. It is a big boost for him and the team and it is a great wave of momentum to ride into his home race.

We need to get to the finish.

2. IndyCar ran out of time. Ed Carpenter clipped the wall with six laps to go. By the time the pace car was released and picked up the field there were four laps to go. The pits opened with three laps to go. By the time the field was bunched back up there were two laps to go. When coming to the white flag lapped cars were still mixed between lead lap cars and they could not be moved out of the way and the next time by was the checkered flag.

Caution laps go by so fast at Iowa. The only way it could have been prevented was a red flag but even that would have caused problems and taken a lot of time. It would have been even greater of a mess to sort. There could have been a red flag immediately but a lap would have still been lost because the cars have to get bunched behind the pace car. The earliest they could have had everyone behind the pace car was four laps to go. Let's say they stopped on pit lane with four laps to go. There wasn't enough time. The next time they could have opened the pit lane for stops but you would have had a bunch of cars exiting the pit lane with the coming to two laps to go and you would have had to still organize the cars as they exited pit lane and by the time that was sorted out it would have been the white flag lap and there wasn't enough time.

It is unfortunate but it was an extraordinary circumstance. It is the nature of Iowa and we may never see this again but it a consequence of the procedures needed for an organized race. IndyCar could have said we are going green with two laps to go no matter what but that would have ignored the rulebook in place in terms of opening the pit lane and moving lapped cars to the back of the pack. Somebody would have ended up screwed either way. Would you rather have been screwed because the rules were followed or been screwed because the rules were ignored? Either way you are screwed but I guess you rather be screwed and know the procedure was followed.

IndyCar didn't have enough time and it was no one's fault. It was just the circumstances. It stinks but let's not loose our cool and demand table to be flipped over. This was a great race. We had 284 green flag laps of racing and we saw nearly 1,000 passes, 955 passes to be exact. The ending was anti-climatic but the entire race was great.

Now we can get back to the rest of the field.

3. Spencer Pigot finished second, his first career podium finish, his first career top ten finish on an oval and he was great today. He was in the top five for most of it and was really pushing Newgarden and Hinchcliffe. He deserved this podium finish. It is one good result in what has been a rough year for him and Ed Carpenter Racing and he might be back on the back foot next week but you have to take the positives when you can get them. Hopefully there are more days and results like these for Pigot.

4. Takuma Sato finished third! He worked his way to front with Hinchcliffe and he stayed there all day. He wasn't flashy but he kept his nose clean and he has his first top ten finish at Iowa. It has been a good year for Sato. He hasn't been in contention for victories but he has been solid and he brings the car home with good results.

5. Josef Newgarden thought the race was going to be restarted and took tires and instead of finishing second he was dropped to fourth. He rolled the dice on a restart and it never came. He sacrificed nine points with the decision. But it probably shouldn't have been a decision he and his team were forced to make. Newgarden stomped the field today and all I can say is he thought he had this in the bag and was caught out when Hinchcliffe caught and passed him. He and Tim Cindric were caught napping. That was very un-Penske of this team and they are going to get chewed out. These guys will be on their toes for the remainder of the season and it will not happen again. Despite coughing up as many points as he did, Newgarden has gotten back into the championship conversation. He trails Scott Dixon by 33 points, a healthy gap but one that can easily be overcome.

6. Robert Wickens followed Newgarden down pit lane and instead of finishing third he finished fifth. At Phoenix, Wickens didn't take tires and it cost him a victory. Today he took tires in hopes of a shot at victory and he never got the opportunity but once again it was a stellar day for Wickens. The race came to him. He lost some positions early but worked through it and made up positions. He was in the top five and worked his way onto the podium but... I can't call it a bad decision but a bad break has him settling for fifth.

7. Will Power finished sixth and that was as good as he was today despite starting on pole position and leading laps early. He didn't have it but he was good. He got a top ten. What else can you ask for? This is another year where the Iowa pole-sitter was really in contention for the victory and I can't figure out why Iowa is such a crapshoot for the pole-sitter.

8. Graham Rahal was lost at the start of this one and he busted his butt to finish seventh. He just worked at it and it paid off. This has been a good year for Rahal but he needs that little bit more.

9. Simon Pagenaud finished ninth and through 11 races Team Penske has yet to have multiple cars finish in the top five this season. It is another odd fact of this season.

10. Ed Carpenter caused the final caution but he kept running and he finished ninth. Carpenter wasn't really going to do better than ninth today but Ed Carpenter Racing needed this team were both cars ended up in the top ten.

11. Alexander Rossi and Andretti Autosport had the day from hell but he finished tenth and gained ground in the championship. Maybe Rossi would have finished sixth or seventh if he didn't stall on his first pit stop but he wasn't going to win this one.

12. Sébastien Bourdais did 95 laps on his first stint and he finished 11th. That was the best he was going to do today.

13. Scott Dixon had a bad day. It was bound to happen and he is still the championship leader. He lost some ground but he is still sitting pretty.

14. Let's run through the rest of the field: Ed Jones stopped early on the first stint for tires and nobody else followed causing Jones only to lose positions and never challenge again for the top ten. Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton just kept running and finished 14th and 15th respectively. I will get to Marco Andretti and the other three Andretti Autosport cars in a moment. Tony Kanaan was lost this weekend and finished 17th. Zachary Claman De Melo was in this race? He was 18th. Gabby Chaves and Matheus Leist were the only retirements.

15. Andretti Autosport had a complete 180º turn from ten days ago when IndyCar tested at Iowa. It went from top four times at the test to all four cars or three of the four cars in the top ten in practice to two cars starting in the top five to every little thing going wrong. Marco Andretti didn't have it after first practice. We covered Rossi stalling in the pit lane. Ryan Hunter-Reay could not talk to his crew and ran the first 220 laps with no way to tell his crew how to fix his car. He was in the top ten through all of it and then the left rear chamber shims fell out causing the car to be unbearable to drive and that ended his day. Zach Veach was in the top ten, had a tank slapper exiting turn four and his shot at a top ten was over. Somehow through all of it Rossi gained four points on Dixon and remained third and while Hunter-Reay lost two spots in the championship and is now fourth he only lost seven points to Dixon. Rossi and Hunter-Reay aren't out of it.

16. Why doesn't IndyCar have more short tracks? Sneak preview for tomorrow but I am writing about IndyCar and oval racing and the difficult the series is having to find successful venues but why can't this racing take place at Richmond or Memphis or the Nashville Fairgrounds? Why can't the series make Loudon work or why couldn't Milwaukee draw a crowd but Road America an hour north gets 50,000 people for race day? Could IndyCar make Darlington work? What other short track could be an option? How about Bristol even though a crowd of 60,000 would look like a ghost town?

This was a great race today and I know Josef Newgarden nearly won by a lap but a race is more than the leader. There was passing everywhere for positions and then a race happened at the front and we got a surprise winner. Yeah, the ending was unfortunate but sometimes you have back-and-forth football games end on ten-second runoffs. It sucks, it happens, we live and we cannot overlook everything that happened before it.

17. Next week we have Toronto as a post-World Cup Final dessert. Will you be too stuff and drained or will you have enough energy for the race?