Thursday, August 16, 2018

Track Walk: Pocono 2018

IndyCar will fill the front straightaway at Pocono
The 14th round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Pocono Raceway and it is the second of two 500-mile races on the schedule. This will be the 173rd 500-mile race in IndyCar history and eight drivers in the field have won a 500-mile race before. Pocono marks the start of the final quarter of the IndyCar season and it is the first of three consecutive weeks of racing that sees the series go from Pocono to Gateway to Portland on Labor Day weekend. Last year's Pocono race featured 42 lead changes, a track record and the last three Pocono races have had the three most number of lead changes at the track.

Time: Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday August 19th with green flag scheduled for 2:05 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: 10:30 a.m. ET (60-minute session)
Qualifying: 1:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage of this session)
Second Practice: 4:45 p.m. ET (60-minute session)
Race: 2:05 p.m. ET (200 laps)

The Championship Picture
We have reached the final quarter of the IndyCar season. With four races remaining and 266 points left on the table, 14 drivers head to Pocono mathematically alive for the championship.

Scott Dixon has led the championship since he won at Texas in June and with 494 points he is 46 points clear of the most recent winner Alexander Rossi. This is the first time Dixon has been leading the championship with four races to go since 2009 when he led after Mid-Ohio. He would drop to third in the next race but retook the championship lead after the penultimate round at Motegi. He would then lose the championship by ten points to teammate Dario Franchitti. In 2008, Dixon led the championship with four races remaining in the season and won the championship. He led the championship after 15 of 18 races that year and was never lower than second in the championship.

Rossi's Mid-Ohio victory ended a brief skid of three consecutive finishes outside the top five. He and Dixon are tied for most podium finishes this season with each driver finishing on the podium six times in the first 13 races. Rossi won from pole position at Mid-Ohio, his second victory from pole position this season. The only other driver to win multiple times from pole position this season is Josef Newgarden, who is third in the championship, 60 points behind Dixon. Newgarden's only three podium finishes this season have been his victories at Phoenix, Barber and Road America.

Will Power won last year at Pocono and he is fourth in the championship, 87 points behind Dixon. Power's third place finish at Mid-Ohio was his first podium finish in four races and he has five podium finishes this season. Ryan Hunter-Reay is 95 points behind Dixon. Hunter-Reay has not finished in the top five in the last three races after five consecutive top five finishes and eight top five finishes in the first ten races.

One hundred and 14 points behind Dixon is the top rookie, Robert Wickens. The Canadian has four consecutive top five finishes including two consecutive podium finishes. Wickens has ten top ten finishes through 13 races. Simon Pagenaud trails Dixon by 150 points with the 2016 champion's only top five finishes this season being his runner-up performances at Texas and Toronto, both races won by Dixon. Graham Rahal is tied with Dixon for most top ten finishes this season with each driver having 11 but Rahal's only podium finish was second at the season opener in St. Petersburg and he has not had a top five finish since the second Belle Isle race. Rahal is 159 points behind Dixon.

James Hinchcliffe sits on 328 points and he is ninth in the championship with Sébastien Bourdais rounding out the top ten on 293 points. Marco Andretti is eight points outside the top ten with last year's Pocono pole-sitter Takuma Sato on 258 points. Ed Jones is three points behind Sato and has not had a top ten finish in the last three races. Spencer Pigot is the final driver with a shot at the championship but the Ed Carpenter Racing driver has a 255-point deficit to overcome.

Power's 500-Mile Dominance
Will Power heads to Pocono and could do something only the Al and Bobby Unser achieved.

Not only is Power going for his third consecutive Pocono victory but he could become the third driver to win three consecutive 500-mile races in IndyCar history. Al Unser won four consecutive 500-mile races when he won the 1977 California 500 and followed it by completing the Triple Crown in 1978 with victory at Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario. Bobby Unser won 500-mile races at Pocono and Ontario in 1980 and then won the Indianapolis 500 the following year.

Power has already joined the Unsers as the only drivers to have won a 500-mile race in three consecutive seasons with Bobby Unser having accomplished it twice. Uncle Bobby won at least one 500-mile race from 1974-1976 and he did it again from 1979-1981. Al Unser won at least one 500-mile race from 1976-1978.

The last time a driver won multiple 500-mile races in a year was Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000, who won the Indianapolis 500 and then won at Michigan. The last time a driver won multiple 500-mile races in the same season was Rick Mears in 1991, who won at Indianapolis and Michigan. Power could tie Mears for second most victories at Pocono. Power's Indianapolis 500 victory was his fourth 500-mile race victory and he is one of eight driver to have won four 500-mile races. Only A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford have won at least five 500-mile race victories.

Who could stop Power from joining the Unsers in IndyCar history?

Seven other drivers are entered with a 500-mile race victory. Two active driver have multiple 500-mile race victories. Tony Kanaan has three 500-mile victories and Ryan Hunter-Reay has won two 500-mile races, including a victory at Pocono in 2015. Alexander Rossi has five 500-mile starts and outside of a retirement in the 2016 Pocono race, his finishes have been first, seventh, third and fourth.

Takuma Sato started on pole position last year at Pocono but he finished 13th. Sato has retired and finished outside the top twenty in three of five Pocono starts. Graham Rahal won at Fontana in 2015 but he has finished outside the top ten in four of his last six 500-mile starts and his best finish in those six races was ninth last year at Pocono. Ed Carpenter finished second to Power this year at Indianapolis after he started from pole position but in five Pocono starts his best starting position is tenth in 2016 and his best finish was ninth in 2013 when the race was 400 miles.

Scott Dixon's only 500-mile race victory was his 2008 Indianapolis 500 victory. He won at Pocono in 2013 but that was a 400-mile race. In the 18 500-mile races since the 2008 Indianapolis 500, Dixon has four podium finishes, seven top five finishes and 15 top ten finishes.

Power's Penske teammates are two drivers who could possibly stop the Australian's dominance. Josef Newgarden's worst finish at Pocono is eighth and he has finished second two of the last three years including last year to Power. On top of that, Newgarden has led a lap four consecutive years at Pocono. Since 2015, Newgarden has six top ten finishes in eight 500-mile races. Simon Pagenaud picked up his first top five finish at Pocono last year when he finished fourth but he has four top ten finishes in five Pocono starts and he has started on the front row two of the last three years. Both Newgarden and Pagenaud are looking for their first 500-mile race victory.

Who is Running Out of Time for a Victory?
With only four races remaining, time is running out for drivers looking to get their first victory of the season. Through 13 races there have been seven different winners and there have been four different winners in the last four races.

Robert Wickens, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal are the three drivers in the top ten of the championship without a victory this season. Wickens could become the third driver to pick up a first career victory at Pocono. Mark Donohue won the inaugural Pocono and not only was its Donohue's first career victory but it was Team Penske's first IndyCar victory. Teo Fabi's first career victory was at Pocono in 1983.

While Pagenaud has had respectable results at Pocono, the track has not been as kind to Rahal. Last year's ninth place finish was his first top ten finish at the track in five starts. Last year, he started seventh and that was only the second time he had started in the top ten. His average finish in five Pocono appearances is 15.4. The only drivers with worst average finishes at Pocono with at least four starts since 2013 are James Hinchcliffe at 16.5 and Takuma Sato at 16.8. Ironically, Sato and Hinchcliffe rank second and third in average Pocono starting position of the drivers with at least four starts since 2013 at 4.8 and 6.5 respectively. Rahal's average starting position here is 10.6.

Marco Andretti heads to his home race on a 122-race drought and if he does not win at Pocono or Gateway he will at least match Graham Rahal's record for most starts between victories in IndyCar history. Andretti has had his fair share of heartbreak in his backyard. He started on pole position in 2013 and he led 88 laps but he was forced to conserve fuel to make it to the finish and he dropped to tenth. He started fifth and finished ninth in 2014 but the last three years Andretti has finished outside the top ten. Last year's race saw Andretti stretch his fuel and lead nine laps but a pit stop for a splash with ten laps to go relegated him to an 11th place finish. Andretti's 97 laps led at Pocono is the third most since the series returned to the track in 2013. His grandfather Mario won three 500-mile races with his final 500-mile race victory coming at Pocono in 1986. His father Michael's two 500-mile race victories were at Michigan in 1987 and 1989.

While Andretti is on a 122-race slump, Tony Kanaan has not won in his last 62 starts. His most recent victory was in a 500-mile race and that was the 2014 season finale at Fontana. It was Kanaan's only victory in four years with Chip Ganassi Racing. Kanaan has not finished in the top five since last year at Pocono when he finished fifth. Like Andretti, Kanaan has been snake bitten at Pocono as well. Kanaan has led every year at Pocono and he has started in the top ten four of five years but he has finished outside the top ten three times. His 147 laps led is the second most led at Pocono since IndyCar returned in 2013 with only Power's 175 laps led ahead of Kanaan in that category. A.J. Foyt won four times at Pocono and Foyt's 67th and final IndyCar victory came at the track on June 21, 1981.

Aero Adjustments and Weather
In response to the racing in the Indianapolis 500, IndyCar has introduced a front wing extension in hopes of increasing downforce to the front of the cars and decrease the aero push felt when cars are in traffic. The modification should help cars with understeer.

One other change from the Indianapolis 500 will be temperature. This year's 102nd running of the famed race occurred in sunny and near-record heat with the entirety of the race occurring with temperatures in the lows 90s. The forecast for Long Pond, Pennsylvania for Sunday is most cloudy conditions and highs in the low 70s.

The cooler temperatures should allow for more grip, less cars sliding around and the conditions should be more optimal for passing.

Fast Facts
This will be the 13th IndyCar race to take place on August 19th and first since Bruno Junqueira won at Road America in 2001. It was Junqueira's first career victory. Michael Andretti finished second that day with Adrian Fernández rounding out the podium. Scott Dixon was the fourth-place finisher.

Danny Sullivan won at Pocono on August 19, 1984.

This year's race occurs on the 43rd anniversary of Mark Donohue's passing following an accident in practice for the Austrian Grand Prix.

Charlie Kimball finished second in the 2013 Pocono race and since then his average finish at the track is 15th. Last year was the first time Kimball finished on the lead lap at Pocono since 2013.

Zach Veach has yet to finish on the lead lap in the first five oval starts of his career.

Matheus Leist has retired from three of the last five races.

Max Chilton has finished outside the top twenty in the last two races. The only other time he has finished outside the top twenty in consecutive races was both Belle Isle races in 2016. Chilton has not finished on the lead lap in an oval race since last year's Indianapolis 500.

Pietro Fittipaldi's grandfather Emerson held the Pocono track record from 1989 to 2013 with a lap at 211.715 MPH that won him the pole position for the 1989 race. Emerson Fittipaldi's best finish at Pocono came in his first start at the track when he started and finished seventh in 1984. He would retire from his next four starts at the track.

Conor Daly will drive the #88 Harding Racing Chevrolet this weekend. This will be his third Pocono start. Last year, Daly finished 14th and on the lead lap. It is so far his only lead lap finish on an oval in his IndyCar career.

The Pocono winner has gone on to win the championship six times. Those drivers are Joe Leonard in 1972, A.J. Foyt in 1975, Tom Sneva in 1977, A.J. Foyt in 1979, Rick Mears in 1982 and Scott Dixon in 2013.

Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Will Power are the only three drivers to have completed all 960 laps since IndyCar returned to Pocono in 2013.

The average starting position for a Pocono winner is 5.333 with a median of 3.5.

Since 2013, the average starting position for a Pocono winner is 7.8 with a median of five.

Since 2013, the driver that has led the most laps has not won at Pocono. Dating back to the CART-era, the last time the driver who led the most laps won at Pocono was Rick Mears in 1987 when he led 80 laps.

Eleven laps is the fewest laps led by a Pocono winner and it A.J. Foyt did it in 1973.

That 1973 race is the only Pocono race to have a pass on the final lap. Roger McCluskey ran out of fuel while leading allowing Foyt to take the victory.

The average number of lead changes in a Pocono race is 19.52 with a median of 17.

The average number of cautions in a Pocono race is 6.826 with a median of seven. The average number of caution laps is 38.608 with a median of 36.

Possible Milestones:
Chip Ganassi Racing is one victory away from tying Newman-Haas Racing for second all-time in team victories in IndyCar with 107 victories.

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

Marco Andretti is one top ten finish away from 100 career top ten 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 64 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.

Alexander Rossi needs to lead 45 laps to reach the 300 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball needs to lead 37 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Alexander Rossi makes it two consecutive victories and Tony Kanaan finishes on the podium while Scott Dixon finishes in the top five. Rossi does not lead the most laps. A Penske car starts on pole position and both Ed Carpenter Racing entries start in the top ten. At least two drivers get their first top ten finishes of the season. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has both cars start outside the top ten but one will finish in the top eight. Zach Veach finishes on the lead lap. At least one rookie retires from the race. Sleeper: Spencer Pigot.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Third Quarter Report

I did one after the first quarter and I did one after the second quarter, I mind as well remain consistent and offer a third quarter report for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Time is running out and the championship is starting to come into focus. We can envision only a few drivers that will be lifting the Astor Cup at Sonoma in September while others are already fairy tale scenarios. In the third quarter, IndyCar had four different winners from four different teams in four races and while three teams and drivers were repeat winners we did get a fresh team on the top step of the podium.

As with the first quarter and first half report, this third quarter report will subjectively ranks the full-time teams through the first nine races of the season.

1. Andretti Autosport
We have a new team on top and, while it is a matter for debate, somebody new has to end up on top eventually and after Team Penske has arguably been number one for two-plus seasons, it is Andretti Autosport's time to wear the belt.

Nobody stood out in the third quarter of the season. No team won more than once. No team had more than three podium finishes. In fact, six different teams had a podium finish in the third quarter of the season but Andretti Autosport gets the nod and recency bias might come into play. Alexander Rossi smoked the field at Mid-Ohio. He had three top ten finishes in quarter three. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a few tough races but he finished second at Road America and he finished seventh at Mid-Ohio. Marco Andretti's best finish may have only been tenth but Zach Veach finished seventh and tenth in the last two races.

This team has been stout in 2018 and after a few rough years with the Honda aero kit it has shed the weight and is running with the big boys each week. The team has at least two drivers in the conversation for victory at every race and it deserves its moment in the sun.

2. Team Penske
Team Penske isn't falling that far. If it weren't for a lackadaisical race from Iowa, Josef Newgarden would have won two consecutive races but he has only one podium finish and Team Penske has only have three podium finishes to show for quarter three. Newgarden did have three top five finishes and he finished in the top ten in all four races in quarter three, as did Simon Pagenaud, whose best finish was second at Toronto but that was his only top five finish of the quarter. Will Power finished third at Mid-Ohio but his other three finishes were 23rd, sixth and 18th.

An argument could be made for Team Penske retaining the top spot, especially considering the team had three pole positions and swept the front row twice, but the team has had its missteps. Nobody can be on top forever and second isn't that bad.

3. Chip Ganassi Racing
It is hard to think the championship leading team is third best but that is how IndyCar is at this current moment.

The top three teams are close and Scott Dixon has Ganassi on the heels of Team Penske. He had one bad race at Iowa but he finished third, first and fifth at Road America, Toronto and Mid-Ohio respectively. Dixon doubled his championship lead in quarter three from 23 points to 46 points with four races to go. The championship is his to lose.

On the other hand, Ed Jones hit a summer slump. His best finish was ninth at Road America and he has finished outside the top ten in the last three races. He has dropped to 13th in the championship. He does have two podium finishes this season but he has only qualified in the top ten twice this season.

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
You win a race, you cement yourself in fourth and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports did that.

James Hinchcliffe drove to the front at Iowa, hunted down Newgarden and caught him napping on his way to victory. On top of Hinchcliffe's victory, he had three top ten finishes in quarter three, including a fourth at Toronto.

While Hinchcliffe won a race, Robert Wickens has been stellar. He had top five finishes in all four races of quarter three including a third at Toronto and a second at Mid-Ohio and he has started in the top ten in 12 of 13 races. Wickens is sixth in the championship, his highest championship position. He is knocking on the door for that first career victory.

5. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
There is a bit of a gulf from the top four to the rest of the field but if there is one team firmly in the middle it is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. It hasn't been quite as good as the top four but nobody is challenging the team for fifth.

Graham Rahal remains in the top ten of the championship and he had three top ten finishes in quarter three. His 11 top ten finishes are tied for most this season with Dixon. While Rahal had three top ten finishes, Takuma Sato had two top five finishes, including a third at Iowa.

However, Rahal has not had a top five since the second Belle Isle race and his only podium finish remains the season opener at St. Petersburg. The good news is the team has been righting its qualifying woes. Sato has started in the top ten in five consecutive races and Rahal started in the top ten twice in quarter three after having only three top ten starts in the first nine races.

6. Ed Carpenter Racing
It is amazing what one podium finish can do but Ed Carpenter Racing has jumped to sixth.

Spencer Pigot finished second at Iowa, he finished eighth at Road America and while the last two races weren't great, Pigot has been much better in quarter three than the first half of the season. Jordan King has yet to score a top ten finish but in quarter three his finishes were 12th, 11th and 12th and he started eighth at Toronto. Ed Carpenter picked up a top ten finish at Iowa despite brushing the wall and causing the final caution.

7. Dale Coyne Racing
It was a rough third quarter but it ended up a high note for Dale Coyne Racing.

Sébastien Bourdais had an impressive drive from 24th to sixth at Mid-Ohio but that was Bourdais' only top ten finish in the third quarter and his starting position progressively got worse over quarter three from sixth to 15th to 17th to 24th. He has gone from third in the championship after quarter one to tenth at the end of quarter three.

Zachary Claman De Melo's season with the team came to a close. His only top fifteen finish of the quarter was 14th at Toronto and his best starting position was 17th. Pietro Fittipaldi made his return at Mid-Ohio but a still battered Miami-born Brazilian could only manage 22nd on the grid and 23rd in the final results.

8. Carlin
Charlie Kimball finished fifth at Toronto and that vaults Carlin up a position. While Kimball only finished in the top fifteen one other time in quarter three, he did complete all but six laps. His qualifying record is still something that needs to improve with 15th at Mid-Ohio being his best starting position.

Max Chilton earned the team its first Fast Six appearance at Mid-Ohio but a penalty for spinning Sato ended any promising result. His prior best starting position in quarter three was 18th while his best finish was 15th at Iowa.

9. A.J. Foyt Racing
Things are still not looking good for the Texas-based team.

Tony Kanaan may have finished sixth at Toronto but that was his only lead lap finish of quarter three. He started outside the top ten in all four races. Rookie Matheus Leist best finish in quarter three was 15th and while he started 12th at Toronto, he started 20th or worse in the other three races.

10. Harding Racing
Gabby Chaves and Conor Daly split the third quarter for Harding Racing. Chaves finished a lap down at Road America and he suffered the second retirement of his career at Iowa after handling issues.

Daly was a late substitute for Toronto and he qualified 11th and finished on the lead lap in 13th. He qualified 14th for Mid-Ohio but ran out of fuel late and finished 22nd.

Who Is Already Out?
It is easy to say who is still in and it seems like the Astor Cup will be going home with either Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Will Power or Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Since 1947, only twice has a champion not had a victory after 13 races in a season and those occurrences were with Al Unser in 1985, who did not win until the 15th race, and Gil de Ferran, who did not win until the 17th race in 2001. However, while it took those two drivers nearly the entire season to be victorious they were consistently on the podium and in the top five. Unser had five podium finishes, eight top five finishes and nine top ten finishes prior to his first victory while de Ferran also had five podium finishes, the Brazilian had seven top five finishes and ten top ten finishes prior to his first victory.

One other thing to consider is Unser was never outside the top five of the championship in the 1985 season. De Ferran was as low as seventh in 2001 but he was in the top five for the final ten races of the season including for the six races prior to his first victory. Unser took the championship lead with his first victory in 1985 while de Ferran was second in the championship but only five points behind Kenny Bräck after he won at Rockingham.

Who fits the Unser/de Ferran mold?

Robert Wickens is close. He has four podium finishes, seven top five finishes and ten top ten finishes. However, Wickens has not been better than sixth in the championship this season and he is currently sixth. Simon Pagenaud has only two podium finishes and his two runner-up finishes at Texas and Toronto are his only top five finishes this year. Graham Rahal fits in when it comes to top ten finishes but his lack of podium finishes and top five finishes takes him out of the discussion.

While Wickens, Pagenaud and Rahal might all be out because of the lack of a victory, current championship position could rule out another few drivers.

Since 1979, in 38 out of 52 seasons the driver leading the championship with four races to go has come on to win the title. Eight times has the champion been second with four races to and three times has the champion been third with four races to go. Only three times since 1979 has the champion been outside the top three with four races remaining and all three of those champions came with significantly shorter schedules. George Snider was sixth in the championship with four races to go in the 1981-82 USAC Gold Crown Championship but that was a much different circumstance than today. Kenny Bräck was fourth with four races to go in the 1998 Indy Racing League season, which only featured 11 races. The following season Greg Ray was sixth in the IRL with four races remaining in a ten-race schedule.

There is a hole in this argument as championship positions change between four to go and one to go. Dixon was second with four races to go in 2015 but he was third heading into the finale and still won the title. In fact, with four races to go he was second, 54 points behind Juan Pablo Montoya but he was 47 points back in third heading into the finale. In 2003, Dixon was third with four to go, 12 points behind Tony Kanaan but he dropped to fourth and 42 points behind Hélio Castroneves after the following race.

Looking at a smaller sample since reunification, only once has the champion been outside the top two with four races to go and that was Dario Franchitti in 2009. Five times has the championship leader with four races to go won the title while second in the championship with four races to go has won the title four times. Once again, this is not a perfect measuring stick. Ryan Hunter-Reay led the championship with four races to go in his championship season of 2012 but he dropped to second in the following race and entered the finale second to Will Power. The same goes for Dario Franchitti in 2011. He led with four races to go but dropped to second after Motegi and would re-take the championship lead at Kentucky, the final classified race of the season.

Of the five champions since 2008 who led the title race with four races to go only Dixon in 2008, Simon Pagenaud in 2016 and Josef Newgarden in 2017 did not lose the championship lead before the final checkered flag of the season.

It would be easy to cast aside Power and Hunter-Reay as being too far on the outside to win the championship and it is easy to say Dixon has this in the bag but recent IndyCar history tells us we should not be surprised if this things end up flipping at least once or twice in the final four rounds.

Where Do We Stand With the Universal Aero Kit?
I think everyone is happier than after quarter two when the Indianapolis 500 left people frustrated.

Road America might have been the worse of the four races but while the passing wasn't happening at the front the middle of the field saw Simon Pagenaud go from 14th to seventh and James Hinchcliffe went from 16th to tenth. Josef Newgarden appeared he was going to lap the field at Iowa and while only five cars finished on the lead lap the podium finishers Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot and Takuma Sato started 11th, tenth and 18th respectively. There were nearly 1,000 passes at Iowa. Nobody should be complaining.

Cautions may have allowed for strategy shake ups at Toronto but there was movement with Alexander Rossi and Newgarden both making up positions and getting back into the top ten after contact with Will Power and the barrier respectively. Pigot was also making up ground before a brush with the barrier ended his day. Another notable mover was Robert Wickens, who went from tenth to third.

Then there was Mid-Ohio, the race people are still talking about and many think it was the best IndyCar race held at the historic road course.

I think we are hopeful heading to Pocono and Gateway. Pocono should have much cooler conditions than the Indianapolis 500 and the front wing extensions should help the teams when it comes to the push cars were feeling in traffic. Gateway is kind of a toss up as it falls between Phoenix and Iowa in terms of size, shape and width. If it falls slightly more toward the direction of Iowa then the race could be really good but it would not take much for it to go in the other direction and more closely resemble Phoenix.

Portland will be an unknown while Sonoma is a lame duck event and if the original DW12 aero kit and the manufacture-specific aero kits didn't change much why should we expect the universal aero kit to produce a magnificent farewell to the track in wine country?

What To Watch For In The Final Quarter?
The championship! It is go time. It is a five-horse race. Can anyone beat Scott Dixon? Nobody thinks Scott Dixon is going to blow it, so who is going to win it? It will likely require a driver winning at least two races and likely having to finish in the top five in all four races.

Can Robert Wickens get a victory? He is by far the Rookie of the Year but he deserves a victory. I don't like saying a driver deserves anything, especially victories, but no other winless driver has come this close so many times this year.

What teams end on a high note? What teams end on a decline? It seems like Dale Coyne Racing picked the right time to get back on track but there were two weeks off between Mid-Ohio and Pocono and that easily could kill all the momentum. Ed Carpenter Racing seemed to be making strides and Pocono and Gateway are two great opportunities for the team to get results especially at Pocono when taking into consideration the team's pace at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Silly season is going to pick up. Scott Dixon is staying at Ganassi. We are waiting to hear if McLaren is coming. Who else will enter the series? We think Colton Herta is coming to IndyCar in 2019 regardless if he wins the Indy Lights championship this year but if he doesn't, will that allow current teammate Patricio O'Ward to make a promotion? Will Santiago Urrutia finally make that final step up? There is always a few names from outside the Road to Indy system that end up knocking on doors. You never know who will be looking to make a move Stateside.

Finally, can Honda close out the manufactures' championship? Honda has won eight of 13 races and it has had multiple cars on the podium in 12 of 13 races. This success has Honda holding nearly a 100-point lead over Chevrolet. Honda needs to win just one of the final four races to secure more victories in a season over Chevrolet for the first time since Chevrolet rejoined the series in 2012. The good news for Chevrolet is it won at Pocono, Gateway and Sonoma last year. With Team Penske in Chevrolet's corner, the manufactures' championship isn't over by a long shot.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Is IndyCar's Summer Not Busy Enough?

Brad Sweet won the Knoxville Nationals ahead of Donny Schatz and his future brother-in-law Kyle Larson. It appears Scott Dixon will remain at Chip Ganassi Racing. The truck race had an impressive last lap pass and a photo finish. Sunday's race from Michigan was a runaway. A Spaniard got a long awaited first career victory in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters but the Brits did not leave the home fans at Brands Hatch disappointed. Champions were decided in Utah. MotoGP continues to be lost in the airwaves for some American viewers. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Is IndyCar's Summer Not Busy Enough?
The last few years have seen IndyCar have a slight summer break at the start of August and it has been pretty well received.

The teams are pretty much working non-stop from the start of May through the middle of June with a doubleheader weekend in the middle of it all. July has three races. It is a pretty busy period until this two-week period and afterward comes a hectic end to the season, three consecutive weeks of racing from Pocono to Gateway to Portland with a week off before the Sonoma finale.

But is IndyCar's summer not busy enough?

When going back and watching previous Portland races the 2003 race was the second of nine races in 12 weeks. The 2007 Indy Racing League season had the final ten races take place over 12 weeks with a period of five consecutive weeks of racing to start that stretch and three consecutive weeks of racing to end it. The 2008 season was the year of reunification, which saw races squeezed into the few off weeks during the summer with final ten races occurring in 11 weeks. The following year had nine races in 11 weeks. In 2010, both July and August had three races while 2011 had ten races in 13 weeks thanks to the Twin 275s at Texas from the middle of June to Labor Day.

Things have been quite different since the start of the DW12-era. A race in China did not come off and the series had only five races from the Fourth of July to Labor Day. The following season had a busy period from Indianapolis to Toronto with nine races in eight weeks thanks to two doubleheaders but afterward the series had only five race weekends from August to the end of the season in the middle of October and that included a month off from Baltimore on September 1st to the first Houston race on October 5th.

IndyCar decided to attempt to end the season by Labor Day starting in 2014 and that created jam-packed schedules with three doubleheaders in eight weeks and a total of nine races in that period. The  last three seasons have seen the summer break fall in August and the seasons have ended two weeks after Labor Day.

It seems summer is full but with the series not thrilled to go beyond the middle of September when it comes to races and with unpredictable climates for venues across the country in spring, the only option for expansion would be the summer.

Richmond is one track floating around as a potential returning venue but it may have no option but to squeeze into a summer date. The weather of late-March is quite unpredictable. It could be in the 70s one weekend and 38º F and dreary the next. There is a Cup race in late-April and late-September with next year's September Richmond race scheduled for the day before the 2019 IndyCar season finale from Laguna Seca. With IndyCar's May taken care of and most of June accounted for, the most likely spot for Richmond would have to be July or August.

On top of Richmond, Watkins Glen president Michael Printup said he hopes to have IndyCar back by 2021. Watkins Glen is in the same boat as Richmond. A March race isn't happening and a race could be held in early Autumn but in all likelihood IndyCar would not want to end the season there and the series would probably not like to push Laguna Seca back further into the year. This leaves summer as the only option but once again there is limited real estate, not only for the series but for Watkins Glen as well with the track hosting the 6 Hours of the Glen at the end of June or early July and the NASCAR race in the middle of August.

If there is one positive to adding races to the summer would be more racing for IndyCar. There is a portion of the fan base that wouldn't mind 20 or 22 IndyCar races a year and it would mean more of everything, oval and road/street courses. It would mean more chances for people to tune into the series and more chances for people to follow along. A person could tune into a race and instead of having a week off or two before the next chance to see a race, IndyCar would be back on track the following week. It would become a weekly soap opera to see how the championship plays out. IndyCar isn't as close to the level of over-saturation of NASCAR. Even with 20 or 22 races there would be more down time than on track action, the length of the offseason would still be quite lengthy for teams and while there would be an increase chance of fan fatigue, a season would still fly by. However, while more sounds good, I am not sure the series can handle it.

IndyCar is not in a place where it should be racing every week during the summer, nor would it likely be the best thing for the series. These breaks are necessary. Everyone needs a recharge. Teams are beat and teams have tested at Road America, Iowa, Portland and Indianapolis during the summer between races. The new teams to IndyCar have entered with a 17-race schedule to budget for. The series is not at a place where teams can start budgeting for another three to five races. Maybe in three years after the first contract with NBC the series could be in that position but right now IndyCar cannot be NASCAR-lite. Heck, NASCAR can't be NASCAR anymore but it is in a position it cannot get out from.

Certain tracks coming onto the schedule may not be as simple as IndyCar having its cake and eating it too. It may require current events falling off the schedule for certain venues such as Richmond and Watkins Glen returning to the schedule. IndyCar cannot become a weekly circus touring the country and visiting all the places the series wants. The series might have a few difficult decisions to make in the near future.

Champions From the Weekend
The #61 R.Ferri Motorsport Ferrari of Toni Vilander and Miguel Molina won the Pirelli World Challenge SprintX GT championship after the team swept the weekend at Utah Motorsports Campus.

The #14 GMG Racing Audi of James Sofronas and Alex Welch won the SprintX GTS championship.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Brad Sweet, Toni Vilander and Miguel Molina but did you know...

Jorge Lorenzo won MotoGP's Austrian Grand Prix, his third victory of the season. Francesco Bagnaia won the Moto2 race, his fifth victory of the season and he retook the Moto2 championship lead. Marco Bezzecchi won the Moto3 race, his second victory of the season.

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race from Michigan. Justin Allgaier won the Grand National Series race from Mid-Ohio, his third victory of the season. Brett Moffitt won the Truck race from Michigan by 0.025 seconds over Johnny Sauter, Moffitt's fourth victory of the season.

The #50 Panoz of Ian James and Matthew Keegan and the #69 SIN R1 of Harry Gottascker split the Pirelli World Challenge SprintX GTS races from Utah Motorsports Campus.

Daniel Juncadella and Paul di Resta split the DTM races from Brands Hatch. It was Juncadella's first career victory in his 67th start. It was di Resta's second victory of the season and third DTM victory at Brands Hatch. Gary Paffett finished second to di Resta and he leads di Resta in the championship by 29 points.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar is back for 500 miles at Pocono.
NASCAR has its night event at Bristol.
The FIA World Endurance Championship has its first race in two months at Silverstone.
The European Le Mans Series will also be at Silverstone.
IMSA's GT classes will be at Virginia International Raceway.
Super Formula will be at Motegi.
The World Rally Championship holds Rallye Deutschland.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Look Back: IndyCar at Portland

We are less than a month away from the penultimate round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season and the return of Portland International Raceway. Last year, IndyCar returned to Gateway after 14 years away from the racetrack and while IndyCar's Portland absence has not been as long it has been a significant time since IndyCar competed at the track.

In eleven years, reunification happened, Dario Franchitti left and returned and added another three championships and two Indianapolis 500 victories, Juan Pablo Montoya returned after a 14-year hiatus and won another Indianapolis 500 while Jacques Villeneuve returned after 19 years away. The likes of Rubens Barrichello, Lucas Luhr, Ho-Pin Tung, Jean Alesi, Esteban Gutiérrez, Kurt Busch and Fernando Alonso have all made an IndyCar start. Carlos Huertas won a race. Lotus was a manufacture.

When approaching IndyCar's return to Gateway, we looked back at every prior IndyCar race at Gateway. Portland has a much longer history with IndyCar, 24 races to be specific. Two dozen races is quite a bit to watch and digest and while Gateway's early races were in a more contemporary time of the late 1990s, the 1980s and the early Portland races don't necessarily fit with the current state of IndyCar.

I watched 13 Portland races and I did go back to the first few races to get a sense of the origins of the events and how it changed from the first race in 1984 to the last time Champ Car raced there in 2007.

When IndyCar first went to the track in 1984, the front straightaway was 55 feet wide with most of the circuit tighter than that. The chicane was only 35 feet wide with the only other part of the circuit wider being the 40-foot wide back straightaway. On the broadcast, traffic was a problem and not on the track but on the roads leading to the circuit.

To show how times have changed, the field was side-by-side for the entirety of the pace laps before the green flag. Despite this, cars were clean at the start. It was not surprising seeing passing into the chicane but passes also occurred into turn four, the right-hander after the chicane when cars could keep up momentum. It was tougher to make passes into turn ten, the left-hander at the end of the back straightaway but it was possible.

In the race itself, Mario Andretti and Danny Sullivan each suffered mechanical retirements while Bobby Rahal ran out of fuel. On this day, Al Unser, Jr. picked up his first career IndyCar victory and celebrated with two hands off the steering wheel crossing the line. All eight lead changes occurred in the first 39 laps.

Unrelated Notes: The broadcast says the first championship points race in IndyCar history was at Portland in 1909. That isn't quite true as there were 11 races in 1905 but Portland did host three races on June 12, 1909 on a 14.6-mile road course. Howard Covey, Charlie Arnold and Bert Dingley were the three winners with Covey and Arnold each winning three-lap, 43.8-mile races while Dingley won a seven-lap, 102.2-mile race.

This was the first championship race on radial tires.

Gordon Johncock, Danny Ongais, Johnny Rutherford and Tom Sneva competed at the IROC race the day before at Michigan. Johncock was on crutches after an accident the prior month at Indianapolis and finished third in the IROC race.

Once again, the cars were double-file for the entire pace lap and once again everyone was clean into the chicane. Sullivan and Rahal were both early retirements for the second consecutive year this put Al Unser, Jr. in the lead and he looked well on his way to his second consecutive victory at the track with Mario Andretti at the front and staying in contact.

Roberto Guerrero was running well but collided with Pancho Carter and he called Carter out in the interview when he got back to the paddock. He said Carter should stick to ovals.

Unser, Jr. caught lapped traffic but had difficulty picking through the cars and this allowed Andretti to close. Andretti timed his pass into the chicane and made the move for the lead with 11 laps to go and pulled away from there.

Andretti's victory came on June 16th and it was the 50th anniversary of his arrival to the United States.

Unrelated Notes: Rick Mears was not in the race as he was still nursing feet injuries after his crash at Saniar the year before. Mears did drive the pace car though.

Every car was powered by a Cosworth engine. And IndyCar didn't die.

Pit window was around lap 35.

Geoff Brabham was apart of a feature on drivers and he said he was not into car and not interested.

Pat Patrick Racing ran out of fuel and Bruno Giacomelli fell five laps short and still finished tenth!

Al Unser needed to $8,000 to succeed $4 million career earnings. He finished fourth, earning $30,294.

The race had a feature where five drivers, Howdy Holmes, Josele Garza, Tom Sneva, Pete Halsmer and Roberto Guerrero did a pit stop.

The one thing noted from this year's race was cars were running side-by-side from turn four through turn six. It was tight but could be held. There were more moves in this race at turn ten than the prior two races.

Michael Andretti was dominant in this race but was conserving fuel and kept the turbo boost down. On top of that, lapped traffic again slowed the leader and in this case it kept Sullivan in the race. With 37 laps to go Andretti, Sullivan and Emerson Fittipaldi were the only cars on the lead lap and Sullivan jumped Andretti on the second pit stop.

Andretti was able to stay with Sullivan and were side-by-side with him through turn seven. Two corners later, contact between the two took Sullivan out and punctured Andretti's right front tire but he continued in the lead with no caution for the incident.

Mario Andretti spent most of the race outside the top five but Sullivan's retirement on top of Fittipaldi's engine expiring vaulted him into a position to win and his son's flat tire got him back on the lead lap.

In the closing laps, Michael turned the boost down some more with his father now in second. Mario was chasing his son with plenty of fuel to make it and coming to the line Michael ran out of fuel while Mario went full song and beat his son to the line by 0.07 seconds, the closest finish in IndyCar history at that time, with Al Unser, Jr. directly behind Mario to finish third.

Unrelated Notes: Rear wings were massive, similar to what we saw in the aero kit-epoch from 2015 to 2017.

Dale Coyne was a promoter's option and an earlier retirement.

This was the first IndyCar race with a Honda engine on the grid. Geoff Brabham drove a V8 Honda in his Galles Racing entry. It was the first of eight races for the Honda engine program and Brabham finished seventh albeit eight laps down and Honda would not return to IndyCar until 1994.

Team Penske had tire blankets.

Adrian Newey was working with Mario Andretti.

Roberto Guerrero had another good run ruined with a collision in traffic. This time Kevin Cogan lost power exiting the chicane and Guerrero had nowhere to go but over Cogan's car.

Randy Lanier finished the race in ninth and ran at least the final 30 laps without a rear wing.

There was a commercial with five laps to go.

We jump forward eight years to the famous year of the Penske PC-23 chassis and wouldn't you know it but the Penske cars dominated this race. Unser, Jr., Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy led all 102 laps, with Unser, Jr. leading 96 and winning from pole position on the tenth anniversary of his first career victory while it was a sweep of the podium for The Captain. Lapped traffic made it a much tighter fight between Unser, Jr. and Fittipaldi. The only other cars on the lead lap were Robby Gordon and Nigel Mansell.

The chicane, referenced as the festival curves, was the prime area for passing but not only on entrance to the corner. The corner was now concrete, which featured a transition from asphalt to concrete back to asphalt. If a car could hold the outside of the left hand part of the chicane they could complete the pass on exit as the were now on the inside of the track.

Turn ten was not as prolific in passing with the section much faster than the races in the mid 80s.

Unrelated Notes: Speculation had started about Mansell possibly returning to Formula One for Williams at the French Grand Prix and that turned out to be true.

Cars were averaging 1.47 miles per gallon during qualifying but teams need to average 1.8 MPG to have enough fuel to make it to the end of the race. We don't hear about teams running out of fuel as in the team has no more fuel to add to the car even if a car runs out on track any more.

Pit windows were 32-24 laps.

Barry Green was amazed at how rookie Jacques Villeneuve learned new racetracks. Does that sound familiar to a Canadian currently in IndyCar?

This race started under wet conditions and it featured a competition between Firestone and Goodyear for superior wet tire. There was an early caution for too much water but the race did go green. Scott Pruett was leading early but suffered a spin coming to the green for a restart and the race still went green but it ended Pruett's shot at a respectable result.

Maurício Gugelmin took the lead and was at the front for most of this one. This was a typical wet race with passing in areas drivers would never dare attempt a pass in the dry. The rain stopped and a drying track led to drivers switching to slicks. Paul Tracy was an early taker but had a spin early into that stint and would have another off a few laps later. Gugelmin switched to slicks but also had an off.  Mark Blundell started 11th but kept his nose clean and was at the front when he switched to slicks.

Gil de Ferran inherited the lead but with the race now a timed event he was going to stick to the wets and try and make it to the end even though slicks were eight seconds faster. On lap 69, de Ferran was 33 seconds ahead of Blundell. Four laps later, the gap was 16 seconds. With 3:45 to go, the gap was 11 seconds and with two minutes to go the gap was just over five seconds.

The concern was Blundell would have to leave the dry line to make a pass on de Ferran. He was on the Brazilian's rear wing at the start of the final lap but he did not dare make a pass until the final corner where it was a drag race that also had Raul Boesel join the mix. Blundell beat de Ferran to the line by 0.027 seconds with Boesel 0.055 seconds back.

Unrelated Notes: Alex Zanardi competed the day before in the IROC race at Fontana.

This was one of four races apart of the MCI Million along with Homestead, Vancouver and Fontana. Where did all this money come from that $1 million was always on the table?

Like 1985, this had an odd pit stop feature but this time the ESPN TV crew went head-to-head with the Brazilian TV crew with the Brazilians winning with a time of 12.91 seconds to 13.81 seconds.

Patrick Carpentier was driving for Bettenhausen Racing after beating out a Danish driver in preseason. That Dane was Tom Kristensen. He would win his first of nine 24 Hours of Le Mans overall the week prior to this race. I guess things worked out.

One thing I noticed was there were fans with umbrellas in the grandstands and I have to ask, what is the etiquette for that? There isn't a common rule that I know we universally go by. It seems like an obstruction to people behind you.

This race had Juan Pablo Montoya and Hélio Castroneves on the front row but Castroneves took the lead from the start. If drivers wanted to do this race on two stops they would have to make it to lap 32. De Ferran stopped on lap 28 with Castroneves in two laps later and Montoya the lap after that. Montoya blew the chicane on pit exit, allowing Castroneves to remain the lead. A few lap later Castroneves was out of the race after a header problem.

On the restart, Montoya spun coming to the green but was allowed to be second because the green flag had never come out and he would get the position back from de Ferran when the race restarted. The Brazilian started saving fuel with both stopping before a caution for P.J. Jones. De Ferran and Tracy would get out ahead of Montoya, who had a slow change on the left front.

De Ferran started running a second faster than Montoya as he tried to build a gap for a splash and go. Everyone was else was conversing. The expected pit delta necessary was 35 seconds and he had a 24.9-second margin over Montoya with ten to go. With nine to go he stopped and came out with Montoya still exiting the final corner as he spent only 22 seconds on pit lane for the splash and go.

Despite the splash, de Ferran was not running as quick as he had been and Montoya and Dario Franchitti were each picking away time from de Ferran but de Ferran held on to win.

Unrelated Notes: The top twenty in qualifying was covered by a second.

The turns were re-numbered to include the chicane. Prior to this, the right-hander after the chicane was referred to as turn one with the track only classified as having nine corners.

Gary Gerould referred to this as Montoya's eighth championship car race, which is kind of the best way to describe American open-wheel racing considering all the different series.

There were more locks ups into the first chicane than prior races.

The race was lengthened to 112 laps. Castroneves led from he start ahead of his teammate de Ferran. Christian Fittipaldi stopped on lap 18 for tires, forcing him to a three-stop strategy. A 32-lap stint length was expected for a three-stop strategy with teams needing to reach lap 37 for a two-stop strategy.

Michael Andretti was the next to stop of the three-stoppers with Kenny Bräck, Castroneves and de Ferran following. Roberto Moreno stayed out and made it to lap 37 but on his stop the fuel was not flowing to the car and it forced him to sit stationary for 20 seconds. He still came out in fifth instead of third.

De Ferran was in the lead after pit stops. With 32 laps to go, Fittipaldi made his final stop with de Ferran coming in with 23 laps to go and getting out ahead of the two-stopper Moreno. Castroneves, Cristiano da Matta and Andretti were all close together before their stops with Andretti the first to come in. De Ferran was running down da Matta and Castroneves and caught them with 14 laps to go. Da Matta stopped two laps later with Castroneves in with seven to go.

The order was de Ferran, Moreno, Fittipaldi, Castroneves, Andretti and da Matta. Lapped traffic was difficult, most notably from turns four to seven and it allowed Moreno to close on de Ferran. On the penultimate lap, de Ferran was able to clear Carpentier prior to turn ten while Moreno could not get pass and de Ferran won for the second consecutive year at Portland.

Castroneves ran out of fuel coming to the checkers and dropped to seventh.

Unrelated Notes: This race was fairly processional with the strategy mixing up the order but cars were closing on one another deeper into stints. On the start, cars were going four-wide into he chicane and somehow they made it through.

Passes into turn one were smooth and complete prior to the corner. There wasn't as much side-by-side racing into the right-hander and into the left-hander.

Roberto Moreno could not get out of his car after the race because his steering wheel was jammed. The team had to un-screw the wheel to free him.

Bryan Herta replaced an injured Tony Kanaan, who was out with a broken arm. The good news was Kanaan healing quicker than expected and he was angry he was not in the car.

The one nice sight was the snow-covered mountains in the background of the circuit. I don't know if we will see that this year because this race will be in September and this race was in June but I don't know if we would see it in June either in this day and age.

This race was scheduled for 98 laps but like 1997 this was a wet race, wet enough that de Ferran spun on the pace lap.

This race was painful because every other lap there was a spin. Let me basically cover the notes I wrote as the race wore on:

Lap One: Memo Gidley clips the grass and gets into Kanaan and Alex Zanardi is collected.
Helio Castroneves spins under yellow.

Tora Takagi and Shinji Nakano spin.

Adrian Fernández has a spin. Cristiano da Matta spins under yellow.

Bryan Herta had a spin.

Twelve cars go off in the first 17 laps.

If you think the above is lazy, watch that race because that is everything that happens.

Paul Tracy says he is taking it easy and not pushing in the conditions.

Takagi goes off course again while Michel Jourdain, Jr. spins. Fernández has his second spin.

Tracy gets into Bruno Junqueira on the pit lane.

Dario Franchitti spins into turn one while Kenny Bräck had an off.

Christian Fittipaldi is stretching fuel because as you can bet this will definitely be a timed-race. He doesn't stop until lap 42. Jourdain goes off again.

Tracy has a spin and collects Gugelmin forcing the ninth caution with only 43 laps completed.

It calms down from there with Max Papis comfortably in the lead ahead of Moreno and Max Wilson, who was in a year-old Lola for Arciero-Blair Racing and the team set up his car more for wet conditions.

The track starts drying out but with the time limit teams are hoping to stretch fuel to make it to the end. Papis, Moreno, Wilson, Carpentier and Scott Dixon were the top five with Papis, Moreno and Dixon being the only three drivers to have won a race and all had one victory at that point of their careers.

Fittipaldi was on the charge with enough fuel to make it to the end and he quickly got by Dixon and Carpentier. Fittipaldi pulled off a nice over-under move on Wilson into the chicane with less than eight minutes to go.

Papis and Moreno would have enough fuel and finish 1-2 with Fittipaldi finishing third and Wilson finished fourth, the only time he finished in the points in his brief IndyCar career, 15 starts to be specific.

Unrelated Notes: Watching this race made me think that the first chicane needs a camera on the outside of the exit and higher in the air that way the action in the right-hander and the left-hander can be seen simultaneously.

The flagman had a camera on him. Why did we think everything needed a camera on it?

Kenny Bräck was on David Letterman's show and played in the band and they did a bit where Biff Henderson was at a race. He was leading the championship entering and exiting this race.

Jon Beekhuis did a feature where he showed digital and analog channels. Do teams still use digital radios for encrypted messages?

This was the first race of Tony Kanaan's current streak of 296 consecutive starts.

This race occurred under a changing time for CART. Team Penske was gone and the series had announced Cosworth would be the sole engine supplier for the next two seasons. On top of that, there were maximum stint lengths! Teams could not do more than 30 laps a stint.

The start was waved off three teams because of poor alignment. The fourth time wasn't much better but the race went green and Bräck went from the outside to the inside before the chicane to take the lead from da Matta. Takagi, Dixon and Fernández got together in the chicane and forced a caution at the start.

Bräck and da Matta pulled away from the field once back green and when Bräck caught the tail end of the field it allowed Bruno Junqueira back into the race. Under the second pit stop, Bräck's left rear tire comes off and ends his day after leading 54 of the first 59 laps.

This set up a da Matta vs. Junqueira battle with Townsend Bell in third. On the third stop, Bell stalls and drops to fourth behind Franchitti. Junqueira closed in on da Matta but da Matta held on to take the victory with Franchitti and Bell third and fourth respectively.

Unrelated Notes: This was a processional race. The maximum stint length made teams go all out but it didn't make the racing better and I was surprised no one decided to stop a lap early and try to jump someone. At the same time, I am surprised no one stopped with 30 to go when they knew they could make it to the end and force the hands of everyone else.

Emerson Fittipaldi was at the race and said CART was going back to Brazil in 2004, which was news to CART. How did that race turn out?

Max Papis was not able to race as Sigma Autosport was late paying Cosworth. He was sixth in the championship at the time and finished third twice. Chris Pook said the series would not help Papis get on the grid and it was a "delicate issue" and would send the wrong message in the future to help certain drivers and he wanted CART to be a balance playing field.

Chip Ganassi was not at this race. He was at Michigan at the Cup race. Paul Newman was not at the race. He was doing a play in Connecticut.

This race marked the first of nine races in a 12-week stretch for CART and Michel Jourdain, Jr. entered with the championship lead ahead of Paul Tracy but Tracy started on pole position with Jourdain in second. Tracy had better body language entering the race but Jourdain took the lead from the start, though the start was waved off three times.

This race was 100 laps or two hours and ten minutes and maximum stint length was decreased to 28 laps. Sébastien Bourdais was forced to stop on lap 13 with a tire puncture and he was outside the window to do the race in three stops but a caution for Geoff Boss spinning allowed him to get back on sequence.

The race was processional and there was next to no passing outside of Bourdais picking off slower cars at the back. Tracy took the lead exiting the pit lane on the second stop ahead Jourdain but the next lap Jourdain made a move on the inside of the second. In the left-hander, him and Tracy tangled and Jourdain spun, stalled and went a lap down while Tracy continued.

Bourdais was able to pit before the caution and it would vaulted him to sixth.

After returning to green flag conditions, Tracy was handed a five-second hold penalty on his next pit stop for it was deemed he impended Jourdain when he exited the pit lane. Tracy led Adrian Fernández by 3.6 seconds on lap 66, 4.8 seconds on lap 70 and when he made his stop on lap 72 he had enough of a gap to stop and come out ahead of the Mexican.

A pair of cautions bunched the field and on lap 86 Fernández passed Tracy into the chicane and he ran away with it. Tracy finished second and he took the championship lead. Bourdais was running third but rear wing damaged forced his retirement and elevated Alex Tagliani to the podium.

Unrelated Notes: During the broadcast, there was a piece on Vanport, Oregon, a town on which the Portland circuit was built on. A town flooded on Memorial Day 1948 and afterward the town was bulldozed and the land was given to the city of Portland. I never knew that. It is kind of dark.

The good news is this year's race went green immediately without any wave offs and Justin Wilson led from the start. Paul Tracy jumped up to second in the chicane ahead of A.J. Allmendinger. There was not much passing after that.

Cristiano da Matta started tenth but dropped to 13th after a poor start and he went off strategy, stopping at lap 14. Wilson pulled away from Tracy and was comfortably in the lead. Da Matta was up to sixth on his alternate strategy and he made his second stop on lap 44. A lap later, Wilson broke down in the chicane, his race was over and he brought out a caution.

This allowed da Matta to vault to the lead while Tracy and Bourdais made their second stops. With less fuel onboard, da Matta pulled away and opened an 11-second gap before his final stop on lap 75. Bourdais got ahead of Tracy in what was the only notable on-track pass in the chicane with help from lapped traffic. Da Matta would take the lead after the final round of pit stops was completed and da Matta would go on to take the victory ahead of Bourdais and Tracy. It was his first victory as he returned to the series after spending two years driving for Toyota's Formula One program. It was PKV Racing's first victory.

Unrelated Notes: There was a camera high up behind turn four and looking down the front straightaway, providing a full shot of the chicane.

There was a minor controversy after da Matta's second pit stop over a blend line issue. The rule said a car could not merge until the second line perpendicular to pit exit was crossed and he started his merge before then. However, since his merge was not reactionary to prevent a car on track from overtaking, no penalty was given.

There was Fantasy Champ Car. Who knew?

The 105-lap race saw Bruno Junqueira and A.J. Allmendinger on the front row. It was Allmendinger's first of a two-race trial with Forsythe Racing after the American had been fired by RuSPORT after four races and being fourth in the championship. The initial start was waved off and on the second attempt the green flag was shown and Allmendinger took the lead into the chicane. Justin Wilson moved up to second.

Will Power was the first car to stop on lap 12 in a race where every car was going to have to make three stops and it was projected the furthest a car could go was 30 laps. Allmendinger went to lap 33 and Sébastien Bourdais stopped a lap later and jumped Junqueira and Paul Tracy up to third.

Allmendinger and Wilson were on split strategy for the second stint with Allmendinger on the alternate compound tire and Wilson on the primary. Wilson made his second stop while Allmendinger caught the rear of the field. Allmendinger went another three laps before he made his second stop and he came out of Junqueira, who had yet to stop, and Wilson.

Wilson closed on Allmendinger but locked up into the chicane on one run and flat spotted his right front tire. This allowed Allmendinger to pull away and Wilson was forced to stop with 27 laps to go while Allmendinger went another six laps.

It was smooth sailing for Allmendinger from there and he picked up his first career victory ahead of Wilson and Bourdais.

Unrelated Notes: It is quite hilly off course, especially on the inside of the straightaway from the chicane to turn four. Nicky Pastorelli spun off and he went up and downhill on that ride.

Champ Car put a cone down at pit exit and cars could not start merging before the cone.

Charles Zwolsman, Jr. cut the chicane at the start.

Champ Car had a "Chase" graphic, which broke the track into five sections and timed the gap at each one. I found it quite informational.

In victory lane, Allmendinger thanked Carl Russo and in a sincere way. Wilson congratulated mid-interview. I miss Justin Wilson.

Champ Car President and CEO Steve Johnson mentioned that talks were on-going with the Indy Racing League over a merger. It has been a decade since reunification and it is getting hard to see how anyone thought the split was a good thing and nobody can claim they won. There were no winners.

This was a timed race, an hour and 45 minutes to be exact. Heading into the race, the first three races of the season were won by the driver to reach turn one first and this was the first race with a standing start. The start was clean and pole-sitter Justin Wilson took an early lead and was two seconds clear within three laps.

Wilson continued to pull away but second to seventh were tight with Robert Doornbos ahead of Will Power, Sébastien Bourdais, Alex Tagliani, Tristan Gommendy and Dan Clarke. Graham Rahal was closing on those cars in eighth. While these cars were tight, none could complete a move. Many took a look to the inside of another driver, especially into turn one but none could overtake even with two tire compounds and push-to-pass.

The Panoz DP01 had a smaller fuel cell at 32 gallons, meaning the longest stint was expected to be around 28 laps. Wilson came in on lap 27 with Doornbos and Power stopping the next lap. Power jumped Doornbos on the stop. Bourdais came in on lap 29 and had jumped to second place behind Wilson. The Brit had a 16-second lead but Bourdais was flying and cut the gap to seven seconds by lap 48.

Bourdais stopped early for his second pit stop on lap 53 and he forced Wilson to come in the next lap. Three laps after Wilson's stop Bourdais got pass him entering the chicane and took the lead. Bourdais pulled away, went on to complete 103 laps and picked up Newman Haas Racing's 100th victory, 13.5 seconds ahead of Wilson and Doornbos.

Unrelated Notes: The one thing I noticed were at least three drivers blew the chicane after making pit stops.

Doornbos was commuting from Monaco for the Champ Car season. How many other drivers in recent seasons or this season are commuting from Europe or any other continent?

What Should We Expect This Year?
This year's race will be 105 laps and I think it could be done on two stops. We have seen cars getting better fuel efficiency this season than any other during the DW12-era because the universal aero kit has less drag than its predecessors. If a car can do 35 laps on a stint than that driver should be good to make it on two stops. This season has shown that there is no definitively successful option. Ryan Hunter-Reay was a force on three stops in the second Belle Isle race and he ran down Alexander Rossi. Rossi took his time on two stops at Mid-Ohio and won by over 12 seconds as Robert Wickens got caught in traffic.

Because of the tight nature of Portland I think two stops might be the way to go. Watching the last few Champ Car races makes me think the only place to pass will be into the chicane. They were processional races in the later years and the only hope is we see the universal aero kit work its magic like we saw at Mid-Ohio, Long Beach and St. Petersburg.

Turn ten could be a passing zone but I think it is too quick and too tight for anyone to make a move. I am not sure how Portland works because it is owned by the city but my one hope would be before the 2019 race (if there is a 2019 race) the back straightaway be extended and turn ten made into a tighter left hander and forcing drivers to break heavily before a right at turn eleven to lead to the right-handed turn twelve to the front straightaway.

I think we will see a few drivers blow the chicane whether it be on the start or exiting the pit lane. Could there be an incident? Yeah. It will likely happen. I am not sure if there will be a pile up on lap one or two drivers hook each other battling for 12th but something will happen.

As for the crowd, I don't know. The crowd wasn't that bad after the split and in the later years of Champ Car. The city really supported the event regardless of the quality of the competitors. The crowd was down in those final years from the glory days of CART but it looked fine. To put it this way, if the 2007 crowd showed up for this year's race I think everyone would be ecstatic. I think this race could be respectable. That doesn't mean it will look or feel like Gateway but I think IndyCar will feel welcomed.

We are still a month from Portland. Portland was never a destination on the calendar. It was kind of one of those races that was always around. You just knew come June IndyCar went to the Pacific Northwest. It is hard to say it was missed because for 11 years there were at least ten other venues people were naming as more desired venues for IndyCar than Portland. But it is good to be heading back. There is nothing in the Pacific Northwest outside of NHRA heading to Seattle. Maybe this is an untapped market after all and maybe IndyCar has found the Labor Day event it struggled to secure in Detroit, Baltimore and Watkins Glen. Maybe it wasn't what IndyCar wanted but what the series needed.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Looking at the Ladder

Chase Elliott won his third Cup race that paid points toward the championship but it only counted as his first career victory. NASCAR ran part of the Grand National Series race in the wet and A.J. Allmendinger won the first wet stage in NASCAR history but he did not win the race. He had a heck of a charge to finish second on Saturday though. Comcast and Verizon Fios dropped BeIN Sport, which means no MotoGP or World Superbike for many in the United States, which means many did not get to see three really good races from the Czech Republic yesterday. It was a fuel mileage battle at Road America. Super GT had an endurance race at Fuji. Team Penske is five victories away from 500 victories as an organization. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Looking at the Ladder
The Road to Indy was in the news last week and for the reason we probably all wished would never come.

Mazda will withdraw its funding for the Road to Indy scholarship program after the 2018 season. The 2019 champions in Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 will not be slated to have a budget awarded to them to move up to the next level of the ladder system.

Nothing lasts forever and for the last two years I held my breathe knowing one day this would come and we would be in this situation, hanging in the sky after the magic carpet was ripped out from beneath us a mile in the air. The free fall begins with no certainty something will swoop in and save the day or something with cushion our impact.

I remember when the Road to Indy system was announced prior to the 2010 season and there was a lot of skepticism because for the longest time the junior series in the United States were disorganized. It was more likely the Indy Lights or Atlantics champion were not going to end up in IndyCar or Champ Car. Star Mazda drivers weren't guaranteed anything. U.S. F2000 died! Barber Pro Series died. In the shadows of reunification what was scoffed at turned into a productive system.

The first year gave Conor Daly and Sage Karam promotions to Indy Lights and Pro Mazda respectively. Year two is why Josef Newgarden is in IndyCar and now driving for Team Penske today. Tristan Vautier did the double, winning the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights titles in consecutive seasons and put him in IndyCar. Karam and Gabby Chaves each turned Indy Lights titles into IndyCar rides. Spencer Pigot did the double like Vautier. Ed Jones made it to IndyCar and in his sophomore season ended up at Chip Ganassi Racing.

The Road to Indy has not been perfect. While rewarding champions, plenty of careers stalled out. Matthew Brabham won U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda titles in consecutive seasons, his Pro Mazda title was a record-setting year but he could only afford to do one season of Indy Lights and now he is resigned to Stadium Super Trucks as his full-time gig. Nico Jamin won the U.S. F2000 title, won races in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights but could not afford to comeback for a second year in Indy Lights. Anthony Martin won the U.S. F2000 title and lost the Pro Mazda title last year with his worst finish being fourth and he is out of the Road to Indy system. Scott Hargove lost the Pro Mazda title by ten points to Pigot and he could never get the breakthrough to the Indy Lights ride that he deserved and this has robbed us of a promising young Canadian.

Jack Harvey finished vice-champion in back-to-back Indy Lights seasons, losing to Chaves on the second tiebreaker and he is still struggling to break into IndyCar full-time. Santiago Urrutia was championship runner-up the last two Indy Lights seasons and got nothing for it and is back for a third year but that appears will end up just as fruitless as the first two. The likes of Daly, Vautier, Karam and Chaves have struggled to find opportunities in IndyCar and are competing in the series on an inconsistent basis.

It was better than nothing even in recent years where the Indy Lights champion was only guaranteed three races plus the Indianapolis 500. The Road to Indy was a beacon of hope in the motorsports world. Formula One doesn't have it. NASCAR doesn't have it. This was the one place where a young driver could come and know that if he or she won the championship there was another level they would be able to achieve. Right now, Road to Indy falls back into the shady world of lower single-seater series with no clear way out.

IndyCar has been proactive in the days following the departure Mazda and announced a five-year plan to bring the two series closer together. Indy Lights will have reduce costs and pay $1.1 million to the 2019 Indy Lights champion. Rewards for the rest of the Road to Indy system will be announced at a later date. IndyCar is trying to not only keep the link to Indy Lights but also grow the second-tier series grid from seven cars. It is taking a bolder step than ever before.

There will now be a licensing system for IndyCar drivers with greater emphasis on drivers competing in Indy Lights and Road to Indy series. In some cases drivers who were allowed to enter IndyCar this year may have been forced to run in Indy Lights before he or she could enter the top division under these conditions.

Formula One drivers and NASCAR Cup drivers will be automatically eligible for IndyCar competition while a driver that finished in the top three of a year of Indy Lights or in the top five in two seasons in the series will be allowed to move to IndyCar. Outside of that, drivers from other series will have to accumulate a certain number of points over two years to qualify for IndyCar or receive special dispensation to compete. The system could prove to be problematic.

The best rookie in IndyCar, Robert Wickens, may have needed special dispensation to compete in IndyCar this year. Wickens ran in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters for six years and it is not clear how many points will be awarded to each series or what series will be rewarded but Wickens finished fourth and ninth the last two years in the DTM championship. Other rookies whose eligibility would have been questionable include Jordan King, René Binder, Zachary Claman De Melo, Matheus Leist and Pietro Fittipaldi. The only regular competing rookie that would have been clear from the get-go would have been Zach Veach.

While IndyCar needs to keep the Road to Indy alive, bolster the grid and make sure scholarships still promote drivers up to the next level, I am not sure picking with who can and cannot race in IndyCar is the way to do it.

My biggest issue is how do you decide who deserves special dispensation and who does not? And if special dispensation exists, what is the point of the system to begin with? Where does IndyCar draw the line? If we were to use this year as a precedent, Wickens finished fourth and ninth in DTM the last two seasons and in the future the drivers who finish in the top nine of the DTM championship should be go to good. Gary Paffett and Lucas Auer should be able to get into IndyCar without any question in that case.

IndyCar really isn't in a position to be turning drivers away. Wickens has proven great drivers are everywhere and just because a driver is competing in a certain series does not mean he or she is not ready for IndyCar. André Lotterer has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times, he is a champion in the World Endurance Championship, Super GT and Super Formula. Would IndyCar turn him away? What about Le Mans winners Sébastien Buemi? How long does someone's Formula One history carry over and how many starts would a driver need to make? Is Lotterer's one start in the Belgian Grand Prix good enough? Would Alexander Rossi's five Formula One starts been good enough? Where would Colin Braun fall as he is reportedly interested in getting an IndyCar test?

This is where it gets tricky and it is really a headache IndyCar doesn't need to impose on itself. I understand IndyCar wanting to make sure the best drivers are on the grid and I understand IndyCar wanting to funnel IndyCar-interested drivers to Indy Lights and inflating that grid from seven cars to 17 but there is a backside to it. If IndyCar makes it too difficult for a driver to breakthrough, drivers will go elsewhere. Drivers do not have the time or money to spend three or four years in Indy Lights. If they can't get to IndyCar they will go to sports cars and what could provide a short-term bump to the Indy Lights grid could put the series back into the dire state it currently rests in after three or four years. We saw it with the IL-15 chassis. It was introduced, the grid size went up but four years later grids are back to where they were with the old chassis.

If anything, the rookie season of Robert Wickens shows teams can find talent and if the best driver available is in DTM or Super GT or WEC, an IndyCar team will find them. Chip Ganassi Racing was going to hire Brandon Hartley, the deal was done and then Toro Rosso came calling. This licensing system will be for naught if teams decide not to follow it and I am not sure IndyCar has the power to make sure it succeeds. You can only force so many teams to hire from Indy Lights but the likes of Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske or Michael Andretti will not take no as an answer.

We have seen how infuriating driver ratings have been in sports cars and IndyCar does not need the same debates over qualifications nor will ruling which drivers are good enough and which ones are not make the series more appealing to follow. The one way to make Indy Lights more appealing is to make it not only more affordable for teams but potentially profitable and hopefully this new television deal has something in mind. Indy Lights would benefit from having three or four races on NBC as lead-in to IndyCar races. The series would become significantly more enticing to sponsors with that kind of increased exposure.

The Road to Indy had a great nine-year run. Mazda's partnership was bound to come to an end and the system would be forced to evolve. Next year we will start the second era of Road to Indy and we will see how the system evolves and devolves from the first era and we will see whether that leaves IndyCar in a better place or a worse one.

Winner From the Weekend 
You know about Chase Elliott but did you know...

Andrea Dovizioso won MotoGP's Czech Republic Grand Prix, his second victory of the season. Miguel Oliveira won the Moto2 race, his second victory of the season. Fabio Di Giannantonio won the Moto3 race, his first career victory.

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Watkins Glen.

The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca-Gibson of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett won the IMSA race from Road America, their second consecutive victory. The #67 Ford GT of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe won in GTLM, their second consecutive victory and third of the season and Ford's fourth consecutive victory and fifth of the season. The #58 Wright Motorsport Porsche of Patrick Long and Christina Nielsen won in GTD.

Shane Van Gisbergen won the Supercars night race from Sydney Motorsports Park, his fifth victory of the season.

The #36 Lexus Team au Tom's Lexus of Kazuki Nakajima and Yuhi Sekiguchi won the 500-mile Super GT race from Fuji. The #55 ARTA BMW of Shinchi Takagi and Sean Walkinshaw won in GT300.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP has a race in Austria.
NASCAR returns to Michigan but the Grand National Series heads to Mid-Ohio.
Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters makes it return to Brands Hatch and will run the grand prix circuit.
Pirelli World Challenge's SprintX season ends at Utah Motorsports Campus.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The 2019 IndyCar Schedule: What Do We Know So Far?

August is here and we are heading into the final quarter of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. With a championship battle to keep an eye on we also have to pay attention to what is happening off the racetrack and one topic we are fixated on is the 2019 schedule.

What do we know so far?

We know Phoenix is leaving.

Sonoma is gone.

We know St. Petersburg will be March 10th.

We know Long Beach will be April 14th.

Easter will be April 21st.

The Indianapolis 500 will likely be May 26th, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend again.

Road America has announced a June 23rd date.

Iowa will shift back a few weeks and return to a Saturday night race in 2019 on July 20th

Laguna Seca will return to the schedule for the first time since 2004 and host the season finale on September 22nd.

All signs point to Barber, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Gateway returning in 2019 though dates have not been announced.

Portland has a contract through 2020 and if it were to return on Labor Day weekend the race will occur on September 1st.

There has been no word on whether Pocono will be back but there has been no word that Pocono is moving on from the series.

Texas is bashful over whether it will return and though it gives the impression it will be back it has not dismissed it will not be back.

Belle Isle seems likely to return but the organizers are fighting with protesters over the event.

There are a couple key things to keep in mind when looking at the openings in the current skeleton of a schedule. First, at the start of the season the loss of Phoenix has increased the gap from the season opener at St. Petersburg and what would be the second race of the season at Long Beach. There is a possibility that a race is found to fill the late-March/early-April gap but nothing has been announced. There is one current option that could fill the void.

Barber has been late-April for the last five years but the first four editions were held in the early part of the month. The race could be forced to move back to the start of the month. With Easter falling on April 21st the only other late-April date is April 28th, however NASCAR is at Talladega that weekend. The Barber race could fall to the first weekend in May but that would increase an already chaotic part of the schedule with the possibility of teams being at a racetrack for six consecutive weeks if Barber fell in May.

It would make the most sense for Barber to move to April 7th, the week prior to Long Beach. It would create a three-week gap from Long Beach to the likely date of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but it would give teams a nice breather before the hectic second quarter of the season. But Barber falling on April 7th would only maintain the current three-week gap from St. Petersburg to the second race of the season. It is a catch-22 situation for the series with no quick solution nor long-term solution.

If Belle Isle and Texas return to the first two weekends of June then the first half of the season will be the same except for the absence of Phoenix and Barber moving up a few weeks. After Road America is where it gets interesting.

Iowa's move back to a Saturday night race sees Iowa fall between the Toronto and Mid-Ohio races and could create three consecutive weeks of racing with a two-week break between Road America and Toronto and a two-week break from Mid-Ohio to Pocono. One way this could be relieved is if Mid-Ohio shifts back a week to the first weekend of August. It would move the two-week break from August to the start of July but it would spread out the races for the teams. Another issue for Mid-Ohio is the NASCAR Xfinity Series race is scheduled for August 10th and moving the IndyCar race back a week would create back-to-back weekends of major competitions and arguably the tracks two biggest events.

If Pocono returns, the end of the season should remain the same with Pocono followed by a Saturday night race at Gateway and Portland on Labor Day weekend. The one change would be the season finale would fall a week later than 2018.

The schedule shifts are good for IndyCar from a television point of view. While IndyCar might not race the first two weeks of July it would allow IndyCar to race without going head-to-head with a NASCAR Cup race. Toronto would be held the Sunday after the Cup race at Kentucky on a Saturday night and Iowa would be the Saturday night before the Loudon Cup race. An extra week between the penultimate round and the season finale might seem like a possible momentum killer, especially since Laguna Seca will be a week deeper into the NFL season but the Laguna Seca race will take place on a Sunday, the day after the Cup series will run at Richmond.

The one hiccup IndyCar can't seem to avoid is Mid-Ohio. This year it was run simultaneously as the Cup race at Pocono. Even if it were to shift to the first weekend of August it would be head-to-head with the Cup race at Watkins Glen. There aren't many options for Mid-Ohio and it would not be smart for the race to have a seismic shift. The one hope might be for the Mid-Ohio race to start earlier in the day and get the race in before the Cup race starts and instead of showing live on CNBC with an encore after the Cup race on NBCSN, the race would be the opening act of the afternoon. This year's IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio took an hour and 44 minutes to complete and the Cup race did not start until after 2:30 p.m. ET. It would not be crazy to think the IndyCar race could start at 12:15 p.m. ET and the NASCAR race could start closer to 2:45 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. ET and provide a day of wall-to-wall motorsports coverage.

There could be a saving grace for Mid-Ohio in that it could go head-to-head with the NASCAR Cup race but not have to take place on CNBC because network NBC will show eight races next season.

It seems like the current network races of St. Petersburg, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis 500 and the two Belle Isle races will stay the same with the only known addition being the Laguna Seca season finale. None of that has been confirmed other than the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC but if it were to play out this way that would mean two network spots would still be open.

I do not know what the network strategy would be but it could be a simple move to have Mid-Ohio be on NBC and avoid a race having to move to CNBC but I think NBC will want to maximize the potential audience and going head-to-head with a Cup race on the sister channel NBCSN is robbing Peter to pay Paul for the company.

I think Pocono could be a likely network event, should it return to the schedule in 2019, and the reason being that Pocono has fallen the day after the Cup race from Bristol the last few years. It would allow the race to get promoted during one of the most popular Cup races of the season and it would have no competition that afternoon. After last year's Pocono race with 42 lead changes I think NBC will want to show another oval race and Pocono would be a great show. Once again, we aren't sure how the Pocono race will do with the universal aero kit and we are all skeptical after this year's race at Indianapolis but IndyCar has been trying to figure it out with aero changes and a 500-mile race might be better for a network window because it would be at least a three-and-a-half or four-hour window for the sponsors. I think sponsors would want to be on network NBC as long as possible and a road/street course race such as Toronto or Mid-Ohio might not even be a three-hour window.

If the five current network races, Pocono and Laguna Seca all end up on NBC, what could be that final network event?

I think Portland is a good shout because if Pocono were also a network race it would mean three of the final four races would be on network NBC and could set up nicely the championship fight before the finale. On top of that, Portland could be the lead in for the Southern 500 and provide a full day of motorsports on network television. I think Road America is another event that would be a good showcase on network television.

Outside of those two, I do not think Texas, Iowa or Gateway would get the spot because none would draw a respectable number to justify a primetime Saturday night window. Barber and Long Beach will have to compete with the end of the NHL season and the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs so I do not think there is space for either to squeeze into a network window but Long Beach has history and the picturesque California city might be fit to be showcased on network television.

It is a paradoxical situation. There is a lot of time left and yet time is running out. We aren't sure what other venues could come onto the schedule and fill the vacancy for Phoenix. Homestead and Richmond have gone quiet. Austin could mean the end of Texas Motor Speedway and be one step forward, two steps back. Outside of those three venues there hasn't been another track in the conversation for hosting IndyCar in 2019 but like I said, there are still a lot of time left. A venue could come up in the next two weeks and come the Sonoma weekend could be ready to sign a deal and be announced.

The key thing is to breathe during this uncertain period. It will work itself out. It always does.