Saturday, September 29, 2018

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: September 2018

Summer has ended and autumn means the end of championships. A handful of drivers have taken home hardware but there are still a few prizes left to be decided. Races are few and far in-between with days getting shorter in the Northern Hemisphere. We are in a transitional period. Some series are looking to the next season. Others have yet to reach the finish line but see not much will change in these final few rounds. A few are focused on the remaining races.

We will start with the end of the IndyCar season.

Why Scott Dixon is a five-time IndyCar champion
Because five times he has finished the season with the most points and if he has not had the most points he has won whatever tiebreaker IndyCar has set. Plain and simple. Nothing to see hear. Nothing special. Moving on.

Alonso says IndyCar test will not decide 2019 plans
Money will decide Alonso's 2019 plans.

McLaren: Ocon's Mercedes ties were "a tick in the wrong box"
You rarely hear about the "tick in the wrong box." But I do have to say, tick, one tick? That is all it takes to rule out a driver and it isn't something serious that is the one tick ruling Ocon out. It isn't some kind of crime or past misfeasances making him undesirable. It is a relationship with another manufacture, which happens but that shouldn't have gotten in the way.

McLaren did have its ducks in order with Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Lando Norris lined up but Ocon's Mercedes tie could have been overcome. If Mercedes cares about Ocon it will make sure the Frenchman is on the grid in 2019 and even if that meant a seat in a non-Mercedes powered car. Time is running out on Ocon and that is a shame.

Haas: Rivals protesting us because they can't beat us
Or because your cars are not following the technical regulations. One or the other I guess.

As an American, Haas makes it really difficult to pull for the American team. This team talks a lot and doesn't produce much. It has had its results but it seems like a weekly headline because Guenther Steiner opened his yap cancels out that the team is fifth in the Constructors' Championship and ahead of McLaren and Toro Rosso!

F1 needs "fairer" system to help young drivers, says Gasly
How? I would love for Formula One to have 14 teams and it not cost a half a billion dollars to be run a team and teams occasionally running a wild card entry and enough room for everyone but that isn't the case.

If there is one thing that needs to change is the culture, not the system. The culture is you enter and if you are not producing results you are gone and gone forever, regardless of age. You could be 21 years old but if you aren't getting the results you are cast out of the kingdom and never to return regardless of what is accomplished afterward.

World Endurance Drivers' Champion Sébastien Buemi? Never coming back.
Le Mans winner and Super Formula champion Kazuki Nakajima? Mind as well be dead.
Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi? Not if he was the last man on earth.
Formula E champion, sports car race winner Jean-Éric Vergne? Nobody is interested.
That is Formula One.

Everyone is moving forward and because we don't have cigarette money flowing through the paddock Formula One teams can rush through teenagers. One comes in and two years later a different pimply-faced punk is set up to fail. That is Formula One.

Singapore track length reduced by two meters
Nobody noticed. Although, Singapore needs to butcher the circuit. The entire back half of the circuit could be bypassed and instead of turn eight being a right-hander it could be a left-hander and shorten the lap by a mile and we would all be happy.

Does Leclerc deal mean Ferrari is losing faith in Vettel?
No. It means they are no longer going to put up with Kimi Räikkönen and found a driver that can produce competitive results without an attitude. To be fair to Räikkönen, he has been the third best driver this year and if it weren't for a few decisions he would likely have a victory this season.

The truth is Ferrari thinks it has found a driver that can replicate what Räikkönen is doing but for a fraction of the cost and if Leclerc is soon getting better results than Vettel then Ferrari has found a special driver and a champion at a discount. If Leclerc ends up winning races and wins a championship then Ferrari will have to pay him but it got him at a discount to start.

F1 shouldn't fear reduced downforce - Brawn
This is the most obvious thing that will never happen. Formula One could be greater than it is if it made the cars a handle to drive. When was the last time the car was a handful? Not saying the current cars are easy but when was the last time two-thirds of the field got out of the cars and were gassed?

A simple thing I would do is take DRS and leave it permanently open in the races. That would shake things up. Drivers would be dancing in every turn and braking earlier. There would be a few accidents and probably a major one but drivers would really have to change how they drive some of these circuits and we would see the talented drivers rise to the top while the timid would fall back.

Formula One doesn't have to reinvent the wheel to make it interesting but when will someone have the stones to make the call and flip the series on its head?

Charlotte Roval hopes to "bring flavor of the Formula 1 circuits"
By putting up sponsorship banners in the corners and painting sponsors in the runoff areas. That's it. The blandest of the Formula One flavors.

I am surprised it has taken this long. NASCAR doesn't run many road courses so mirroring Formula One was not going to be a weekly thing but this could be something that NASCAR could try at ovals.

IndyCar kind of does it at street courses with banners on catchfencing in corners but the handful of road course races are quite bare when it comes to sponsors. You do not see Barber or Road America or Mid-Ohio covered in banners or painted runoff areas. I know a lot of these tracks do not have paved runoffs but you could paint the grass. You could make the keyhole at Mid-Ohio one solid color for a company or paint the inside of the hill in turn five at Barber and have a notable sponsor in the background.

MotoGP prepared to enforce Monday races in future
I am surprised it has taken this longer for international series to adopted rain dates. We don't have canceled races often but the fact the possibility is still out there is a bit of an example in how these series are still behind in the times despite having more money than God.

These series do run a tight schedule. MotoGP runs Japan, Malaysia and Australia in three consecutive weeks and it cannot afford to spend an extra day at a track. NASCAR might be able to do it but there is a difference between traveling around the United States and traveling around the Pacific Rim.

I suggested after the Texas IndyCar race in 2016 that was moved from June to August that IndyCar should have a few rain date weekends to make up rained out races that way teams didn't have to stay until Monday and the series could return later in the year on a weekend and allow a crowd to show up and allow for a TV rating worth sharing.

The only problem with MotoGP is you can't set aside a weekend and just fly to Japan or Thailand or the United States. That might be possible for making up a European round but flyaway races would have to be completed on Monday. Or we extend the schedule and have rain dates after the scheduled finale. It wouldn't be ideal but it would allow races to take place. I am not sure you could run Silverstone in November but in some cases, a late-November date could solve the problem.

Viñales admits he has "zero motivation, zero expectations"
That is a real bummer for Yamaha. I once had a coach who had the following motto when it came to athletes: M.I.T. - Motivate. Isolate. Terminate.

If you can't get an athlete onboard with the plan then you got to at least try to motivate them. If that doesn't change anything then you have to isolate them from the rest of the team that way everyone else doesn't follow that person's lead. If isolating doesn't get them motivated to change and buy in then terminate them. That mindset isn't going to be tolerated.

It is stunning how in a season and half Viñales went from possible championship spoiler to a shell of a competitor.

Audi, BMW not interested in hiring Mercedes DTM drivers
Both manufactures already have full lineups but Mercedes currently has the top two drivers in the championship, both those drivers already have DTM championships and there are plenty of other talented Mercedes drivers in the series that would be a plus to have.

It would be smart to take either Gary Paffett or Paul di Resta. They are career DTM drivers. I am not sure where Mercedes-Benz is going to put them once they are out of the series. I cannot see those guys settling for full-time GT3 drives in Blancpain GT Series or in ADAC GT Masters or even IMSA and I doubt either will be considered for Formula E. On top of that, the manufacture already has its hands full when it comes to Formula One drivers, so they aren't going in that direction.

Looking over the other Mercedes DTM drivers, a few are set. Edoardo Mortara is in Formula E and Daniel Juncadella is set in the Blancpain GT Series. The only other available drivers are Pascal Wehrlein, a past DTM champion who made it to Formula One and could be heading to Toro Rosso; and Lucas Auer, who has won races but never been the brightest star in the DTM sky.

I am not sure where Wehrlein or Auer are going but Audi or BMW would be intelligent taking either Paffett or di Resta or both. Audi and BMW will be increasing to eight cars next year. I bet either or both will hire a current Mercedes-Benz DTM driver.

Bern favourite to replace Zürich on FE season five calendar
This is the beginning of the end. Everyone was nuts over Zürich and the historic nature of the race and being the future of motorsports in Switzerland and it is gone. It flopped. Yes, Bern is in Switzerland but if Zürich couldn't last more than a year why would Bern last any longer?

Formula E is starting to look more like a con artist. The question is when does that catch on? Montreal was the first to realize the crappy deal it was given and got out immediately. There are only so many cities Formula E can fool before it runs out of locations.

There you have it. A baker's dozen worth of headlines. We enter October. Seasons are ending and more questions are forming.



Friday, September 28, 2018

Friday Five: Russia, Roval, Rea, Raffaele and Red China

The first full weekend of autumn sees Formula One back in action, NASCAR doing something it has never done before, a championship that could be clinched, a pair of championships that will be decided and some touring car races.

Russian Grand Prix
Formula One makes one final trip to Europe (kind of) and Sochi returns to the autumnal part of the calendar. With six races to go, five drivers remain mathematically eligible for the championship.

Lewis Hamilton heads into Russia leading the championship with 281 points. Hamilton has won the last two races and he has won four of the last six races with an average finish of 1.333 over those six races. He has also won four pole positions during that period. Mercedes-Benz has won every Russian Grand Prix but has won the last three races with three different drivers. Hamilton is the only driver with multiple Russian Grand Prix victories.

Sebastien Vettel trails Hamilton by 40 points. Vettel has finished second in each Russian Grand Prix in an odd-numbered year. Vettel has not won the 16th race of a season since he clinched the 2013 World Drivers' Championship at India. That victory in India was his fourth consecutive year winning the 16th race on the calendar.

Kimi Räikkönen is third in the championship but he trails Hamilton by 107 points. Räikkönen is in position to get his best championship results since he finished third in 2012. He has finished third the last two years in Russia. Valtteri Bottas is three points behind his fellow countryman and last year's Sochi race was Bottas' first career victory. Bottas also finished on the podium in the 2014 race when he was third behind Hamilton and Nico Rosberg whilst driving for Williams.

Max Verstappen is the final driver alive for the championship. The Dutchman trails Hamilton by 133 points after he picked up his sixth podium finishes of the year with a runner-up result at Singapore. Red Bull Racing has never had a podium finish at Sochi, in fact all Sochi podium finishes have either been powered by Mercedes-Benz or Ferrari. The German power unit supplier has had eight of the 12 podium finishes in the four Sochi races and last year's race was the first time that two Mercedes-Benz powered cars did not end up on the podium.

The Russian Grand Prix will take place at 7:10 a.m. ET on Sunday September 30th.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course
NASCAR will run the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course for the first time in series history. The 2.28-mile, 17-turn road course is the final race of the first round of the Chase and three drivers have clinched a spot in the next round.

Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski have each advanced based on their victories at Richmond and Las Vegas respectively. Martin Truex, Jr. has clinched a spot based on points. Kevin Harvick is 57 points above the cut line and all Harvick needs to do is score three points in this race to assure himself a place in the next round.

After those four, the rest of the field is up in the air. Joey Logano is 25 points to the good with Aric Almirola two points behind Logano. Kyle Larson is three points behind Almirola on 2,073 points and Kurt Busch rounds out the top eight on 2,071 points.

Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon are both ten points to the good with 2,066 points. Alex Bowman sits on 2,061 points whilst Ryan Blaney is on the bubble with 2,060 points. Clint Bowyer is one of five drivers with multiple victories this season but he is four points behind Blaney with Jimmie Johnson two points behind Bowyer. Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin are 21 points and 29 points respectively on the outside.

Among active drivers, Elliott has the second-best average finish on road courses at 10.0. The Watkins Glen winner trails over Daniel Suárez, whose average finish is 9.5 on road courses. Jones and Bowyer are third and fourth best at 11.8 and 12.0 respectively. Johnson is one of ten drivers to have an average finish below 15 with Johnson averaging 14.7. Logano has averaged a finish of 14.8 in 20 road course starts and Kurt Busch has an average finish of 14.9 in 36 road course starts.

Larson has won the pole position the last two years at Sonoma and he has started in the top five in eight of ten road course starts and in the top ten in nine of ten road course starts. Despite Larson's qualifying record he has never finished in the top ten at Sonoma and at Watkins Glen he has finished fourth and sixth in 2014 and 2018 respectively. He has completed 998 of a possible 1,000 laps in his ten road course starts.

Blaney has an average finish of 17.5 on road courses but he has been running at the finish of all six of his road course starts. Hamlin has an average finish of 18.0 but the only Chase drivers with a worse average finish is Dillon at 22.6, Almirola at 22.8 and Bowman at 24.7, however, Bowman finished ninth at Sonoma and 14th at Watkins Glen this year. Dillon is the only Chase driver without a top ten finish on a road course in his Cup career.

The NASCAR Cup race from Charlotte will take place at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday September 30th.

World Superbikes at Magny-Cours
The final European round of the World Superbike season takes place at Circuit de Nevers-Magny Cours. The title could be decided this weekend.

Kawasaki rider Jonathan Rea enters with a 116-point lead over Ducati's Chaz Davies with 150 points left on the table.Yamaha's Michael van der Mark trails Rea by 284 points. Rea has won six consecutive races while van der Mark has three consecutive podium finishes. Davies has three consecutive fourth-place finishes after having three consecutive runner-up finishes before that stretch.

Rea is going for his fourth consecutive World Superbike championship and it would tie Carl Fogarty's record for most championships all-time in series history. Rea already broke the record for most World Superbike victories earlier this season at Laguna Seca in July.

To clinch the championship this weekend, Rea will need to score 34 points. If Davies were to sweep the races that would mean Rea would need to finish second and third this weekend. If Rea were to win the first race from Magny-Cours, he would clinch the championship with a seventh place finish in race two.

Rea swept the Magny-Cours races in 2015 and he won race one last year before retiring in race two last year. Davies swept the 2016 races at Magny-Cours and he won last year's second race.

World Superbikes will race at 7:00 a.m. ET on Saturday September 29th and at 9:15 a.m. ET on Sunday September 30th.

3 Hours of Barcelona
This weekend will be the final round for the Blancpain Endurance Series and the Blancpain GT Series.

Raffaele Marciello is looking to take home two championships. The Italian leads the Endurance championship with 48 points and he will be driving the #88 Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG with Tristan Vautier and Daniel Juncadella. Vautier and Juncadella won last year at Barcelona with Félix Serrallés. The #88 Mercedes-AMG has not won in endurance competition this season but has finished second at Silverstone, was third at the halfway point of the 24 Hours of Spa and finished sixth overall at Spa-Francorchamps.

One point behind Marciello is the #4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG of Maro Engel, Yelmer Buurman and Luca Stolz. The #4 Mercedes-AMG has not won an endurance race but it finish third at Monza and was in the top five at all three segments of the 24 Hours of Spa, ending with a fifth-place finish.

The #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Christopher Mies, Dries Vanthoor and Alex Riberas are on 37 points. The #1 Audi won at Monza. Kelvin van der Linde is on 36 points and he will drive the #66 Attempto Racing Audi with Steijn Schothorst and Pieter Schothorst. The #14 Emil Frey Lexus Racing Lexus of Christian Klien, Albert Costa and Marco Seefried won the 1000km Circuit Paul Ricard and are on 35 points. Sheldon van der Linde sits on 34 points and will be in the #17 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi with Stuart Leonard and Frédéric Vervisch.

In the Blancpain GT Series championship, it is Marciello vs. Mies/Riberas for the title. Marciello has 146 points in the overall championship and has a 18.5-point lead over the German-Spaniard duo. Marciello will clinch the Blancpain GT Series championship with a sixth place finish.

The 3 Hours of Barcelona will start at 9:00 a.m. ET on Sunday September 30th.

World Touring Car Cup at Ningbo
The World Touring Car Cup season has four rounds to go and all four rounds take place in Asia. This weekend's action from Ningbo is the first of two consecutive rounds to take place in China. With 348 points left on the table, nobody has been mathematically eliminated from championship contention.

Gabriele Tarquini leads the championship with 202 points. The Italian has won four races this season driving a Hyundai for BRC Racing Team. The 2009 WTCC champion has a three-point lead over four-time WTCC champion Yvan Muller. Muller has only won twice this season driving a Hyundai for his own team. Tarquini's teammate Norbert Michelisz makes it three Hyundais in the top three of the championship. The Hungarian drivers trails Tarquini by 26 points. Michelisz won the most recent race held at the Slovakiaring and it was his first victory of the season.

Yann Ehrlacher is fourth in the championship on 171 points and the Münnich Motorsports Honda driver has two victories this season. Jean-Karl Vernay rounds out the top five on 166 points. The defending TCR International Series champion has won twice for Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team WRT.

Last year, WTCC visited Ningbo for the first time. Argentine drivers Esteban Guerrieri and Néstor Girolami split the races. Guerrieri's only victory this season was the second race from the Nürburgring Nordschleife.

The first race will be at 3:30 a.m. ET on Saturday September 29th. Race two will be at 2:20 a.m. ET on Sunday September 30th with the final race following at 3:40 a.m. ET.

Over or Under?
This is a Roval Special! All five are focused on this weekend's NASCAR Cup race.

1. Over or Under: 1.5 red flag periods?
2. Over or Under: 8.5 cautions?
3. Over or Under: 22.5 lead lap finishers?
4. Over or Under: 24.5 laps being the longest green flag run?
5. Over or Under: 190.5 minutes in race length?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over or Under: 7.5 lead changes? (Over: The Grand National Series race had 11 lead changes).
2. Over or Under: 99.5 laps led for the race winner? (Under: Kyle Busch led 92 laps).
3. Over or Under: 2.5 point scorers in race one starting outside the top ten? (Under: Nico Müller and  Jamie Green were the only drivers that scored outside the top ten in race one and scored points).
4. Over or Under: 3.0 seconds being the margin of victory? (Under: The margin of victory between Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso was 0.648 seconds).
5. Over or Under: 5.5 nationalities represented in the three class winning entries? (Under: Four nationalities were represented; Portuguese, British, American, Australian and Italian).

Predictions
1. The driver that scores fastest lap at Sochi does finish on the podium.
2. Austin Dillon does not advance from the first round.
3. Tom Sykes gets at least one podium finish.
4. At least two Mercedes-AMG entries finish on the overall 3 Hours of Barcelona podium.
5. Three different teams win at Ningbo.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finishes behind at least two of his full-time drivers (Wrong! He finished fourth and was the best JR Motorsports car).
2. Fewer than three top five starters finish in the top five of the Cup race (Correct! Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr. were the only top five starters to finish in the top five).
3. Sébastien Ogier does not score a point at Red Bull Ring but has a better average finish than Mattias Ekström did at the Hockenheimring (Correct! Ogier did not score a point but his average finish was 14.5, two positions better than Ekström's).
4. At least two front row starters do not finish on the podium. (Wrong! Jorge Lorenzo was the only front row starter not to finish on the podium).
5. There will be at least one first-time class winner this season at Spa-Francorchamps. (Correct! The #2 United Autosport Ligier and the #80 EbiMotors Porsche were first time winners this year in the LMP3 and GTE classes respectively).
Overall: 3/5


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

IndyCar Wrap-Up: A.J. Foyt Racing's 2018 Season

The second IndyCar wrap-up of the 2018 offseason looks at A.J. Foyt Racing. The 2018 season saw A.J. Foyt Racing have three different drivers run for the team for the third consecutive season. The addition of Tony Kanaan brought the most experienced active IndyCar driver to the team and he was paired with the 19-year-old rookie Mathues Leist, the first full-time rookie hired by the team since A.J. Foyt IV ran in 2003.

This was one of Tony Kanaan's worst seasons yet in IndyCar

Tony Kanaan
After four years at Chip Ganassi Racing, the 2004 IndyCar champion moved to A.J. Foyt Racing, the seventh team of his IndyCar career and this was Kanaan's sixth season in the last seven that he drove a Chevrolet-powered car. During the season, Kanaan moved to third all-time in IndyCar starts and the Sonoma finale was his 300th consecutive start, extending the record he has held since Baltimore 2013.

What objectively was his best race?
Toronto! Toronto? Toronto, where a rash of accidents and pit strategy saw Kanaan go from 15th on the grid to sixth in the final results. Kanaan didn't do anything flashy but he led a lap through a pit cycle and he held his own and it was Kanaan's first top ten finish after three consecutive results outside the top ten. However, this would be Kanaan's final top ten of the season.

What subjectively was his best race?
Indianapolis. Despite having retired due to an accident in turn two late in the race and prior to that having to make an extra pit stop due to a tire puncture, which dropped him from the top ten, Kanaan was in contention for the first half of this race and it seemed like he would be in the top five late. He led 19 laps and the veteran was holding on in a car against the mighty Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing and Andretti Autosport.

What objectively was his worst race?
Indianapolis! That accident in turn two dropped him to a 25th place finish. It was one of two results outside the top twenty this season and his first of three retirements, but more on those in a moment.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I could say Indianapolis for the third consecutive time because at this point in Kanaan's career and with the team he is driving for a championship isn't realistic and the Indianapolis 500 is the only thing that can bolster his resume. For a guy who has won twice on road/street courses in his 21-year career and hasn't won on a road/street course since Belle Isle 2007, he isn't expecting to finish on the podium at almost two-thirds of the races but I will expand on this and say all the ovals were his worst races. Why? Because those races were the ones where things couldn't go wrong and they did.

Besides Indianapolis, Kanaan brushed the wall at Texas within the first 31 laps after starting sixth. He was lost all weekend at Iowa and finished eight laps down in 17th. A throttle issue ended his day at Pocono after 16 laps and at Gateway he was never a threat for the top ten.

The one good oval races was Phoenix, where he started ninth and finished eighth but we all know how notoriously difficult it was for passing at that track.

We all hoped ovals would be where Kanaan shined and outside of the first 250 miles at Indianapolis, it never happened.

Tony Kanaan's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 16th (312 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 20
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 14.9375
Average Finish: 13.764

Matheus Leist had a trying rookie season in IndyCar

Matheus Leist
The 19-year-old made his IndyCar debut after one season in Indy Lights, which saw Leist finish fourth in the championship after three victories, including a Freedom 100 victory after leading every lap from pole position. At one point in Indy Lights, Leist had won three races and led 129 of 180 laps in a four-race stretch and he was up to second in the championship.

What objectively was his best race?
Pocono! He finished 11th and ran a fair share of that race in the top ten but a late pit stop knocked him to 11th.

What subjectively was his best race?
I will say Indianapolis because Leist was respectable all month. He qualified 11th, one position behind Kanaan and he didn't stand out but he was on the lead lap all race and seemed to stay in the top fifteen for most of this one. He finished 13th and completed all 500 miles, one of two rookies to go the distance with the other being Robert Wickens, who finished ninth.

What objectively was his worst race?
St. Petersburg when he slammed the wall exiting turn three after 16 laps and finished 24th. To add insult to injury, Leist qualified third in a damp qualifying session. There were a lot of eyes on him after that and he was one of three rookies starting in the top four.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I am going to say St. Petersburg but we are going to cover four races here. Leist also had an electrical glitch at the start of the season opening race that caused him to lose a handful of positions before his collision with the barrier. Things were unraveling quickly from the start for Leist.

Other races to note: Phoenix is where Leist will infamously be remembered for losing a tire on a pit stop and then spinning around on the pit lane with three wheels and he looked like a putz through all that. His Texas race was over after five laps due to a fire. I would also add Pocono because Leist's team screwed up the pit strategy and he had to make an extra pit stop with 14 laps to go. If he were on strategy from the start he would have had a top ten result.

Matheus Leist's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 18th (253 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 17.5625
Average Finish: 16.764

An Early Look Ahead
Before looking ahead, let's look back real quick. Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist finished 16th and 18th respectively in the championship with 312 points and 253 points respectively. This came one year after Carlos Muñoz and Conor Daly finished 16th and 18th respectively in the championship with 328 points and 305 points respectively.

What did Foyt gain by dropping both 2017 drivers? I am sure there was some extra funding going to the team by bringing in Leist with Kanaan but you have to think pairing Kanaan with one of either Muñoz or Daly would have been better for the team and the results would have been better.

But the truth is A.J. Foyt Racing has been terrible for a long time. The team hasn't had a driver finish in the top fifteen of the championship since Takuma Sato finished 14th in 2015 and that is the team's only top fifteen championship result in the DW12-era. If you expand that to since reunification, the only other top fifteen championship finishes for the team were Vitor Meira, who finished 12th in 2010; Darren Manning, who finished 14th in 2008; and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished 15th in the 2009 championship but he spent the first six races of that season with Vision Racing. The team hasn't had a top ten championship finish since Airton Daré finished ninth in 2002.

Kanaan and Leist will be retained for a second consecutive season in 2019 and I have to wonder how it can get better but also how can it get any worse? Leist didn't have a top ten in 2018, one tenth-place finish would be an improvement but outside of Pocono, where it took a third of the field being taken out, Leist was never a contender for the top ten on speed alone. His best two qualifying results on road/street courses were after sessions where rain took place. This feels like another case of A.J. Foyt Racing biting the bullet on a young driver and hoping they find a gem that no one else sees and the team got it wrong again.

The bar is low for this team and it is kind of depressing because this is the one team we seem to always write off at the start of the season and we are always right in doing so. The team has had a few false positives in recent years. It was leading the championship entering the 2013 Indianapolis 500! While newer teams such as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Ed Carpenter Racing have been race contenders in the DW12-era, the oldest teams on the grid still has not found a way to be competitive despite being one of the few teams to have paying seats. The constant funding makes the team's results, or lack thereof, even more disappointing.

The team has four podium finishes since 2012 and it has nine top five finishes since 2012. Why should we expect it to get better in 2019? We can probably put money on that it won't now and be collecting our winnings one year from today.



Monday, September 24, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: A Too Early Look Ahead to the 2019 IndyCar Season

Last week it was Team Penske's 500th victory, this week it was Kyle Busch's 50 NASCAR Cup Series victory and he became the 13th driver to reach the half-century mark in NASCAR Cup victories after he took top honors at Richmond. The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship fight tightened up after a pair of exciting races in Austria, including a first race that saw the leader black-flagged and a driver going from fourth to first on the final lap but in the most anti-climatic manner. Rain shortened an endurance race. There was another great MotoGP battle that most of the United States could not see. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

A Too Early Look Ahead to the 2019 IndyCar Season
The IndyCar season is over but eyes begin to drift to 2019 and there is a lot of enticing topics in the early days of the offseason. Here are five things to keep an eye on not only for this offseason but throughout the 2019 season.

1. Title Sponsorship
Verizon is stepping down from its title sponsorship role after five seasons and with the 2018 season over and the 2019 season slowly approaching we are sitting here waiting for a new title sponsor to be announced.

In the early days of the offseason the frontrunner to be the new title sponsor is... unknown. It isn't clear. This isn't like the final days of Izod where there was a secondary party waiting in the wings that we expected to take over. Like a mistress. Verizon was pretty much IndyCar's mistress for about three years.

There isn't a current sponsor that has expressed any interest in increasing its involvement in the series and it is hard to imagine one stepping up to the level of title sponsor. It is a big commitment.

Where will it come from? How much will be pumped into the series? What will that company do for the series?

Expectations should be low. There will not be a massive influx of cash allowing for drivers to make an average of $5 million a year. The series is looking for a company to keep the status quo; keep the leader circle fund going, keep the Indianapolis 500 purse where it is at and that is it.

Other expectation to keep in check is this sponsor WILL NOT flood IndyCar will new fans. Race attendance WILL NOT shoot up 100% at each event. Television ratings WILL NOT go up 400%. IndyCar WILL NOT become the talk of the country in 2019. At best, we should expect IndyCar to hold serve with a new title sponsor. We should expect maybe a commercial mentioning IndyCar and maybe including a driver (but not Scott Dixon because why would anyone use the defending championship, active leader in victories and who is third all-time in victories to be the face of the series? Why would we showcase a winner?)

This title sponsorship will not be a game changer. Keep your emotions in check.

2. Deadline for 2021 Engines/2022 Chassis
IndyCar has already laid out plans for the next regulations and plans for 2.4 litre, turbocharged V6 engines to be introduced in 2021 but the timeframe for manufactures to get started on developing new engines will have to start sometime in 2019 or at least commit to developing it during sometime during 2019.

Both Honda and Chevrolet have expressed interest in the new engine formula and both will likely continue in the series but IndyCar has not been able to attract a third engine manufacture since 2012 when the 2.2 L formula was introduced. Chevrolet and Lotus joined Honda in the series but Lotus flamed out spectacularly after one ill-fated season that tore at the fabric of IndyCar.

On-track testing for the 2.2 L formula and the DW12 chassis started in August of 2011 and there were a fair share of hiccups along the way. There was a point where the drivers thought the car was going to be an un-drivable disaster and look how things turned out but if any manufacture is to commit for 2021, it will likely have to get the ball rolling in 2019.

The best way to look at it is IndyCar needs to set up the timeline so the 2.4 L engine formula is ready to go in March 2021. The series will need to start setting deadlines, such as written commitments from manufactures to the formula, design homologations and on-track tests. It is a two-year process and I bet the series will want to know who is coming to play sometime before the end of 2019 that way it can have a more focused approach to development in 2020.

When will that deadline be set? Will it be at the end of the season, end of the year or earlier? If a new manufacture is to enter in 2021 then 2019 is the year when talks and meetings should be taking place.

While engines are where attention has been focused, the pending predecessor to the DW12 chassis is already being considered. The DW12 will last until at least 2020 but the introduction of the next generation of IndyCar is planned for either 2021 or 2022. There is not a set plan that Dallara remains the sole supplier or another company will be the sole chassis manufacture or if chassis competition could return to the series for the first time in over 15 years by the time the new regulations take affect.

Same with engines, will we hear about other manufactures meeting with IndyCar in 2019, especially if the chassis will be introduced in 2021 in a sensible move to have the introduction of a new engine formula and new chassis to occur simultaneously?

These conversations should start getting serious in 2019.

3. Race Title Sponsorship
It wasn't that long ago I wrote about the lack of race sponsorship in IndyCar and then immediately after that a handful of events got race sponsors and it really wasn't a worry anymore. A lot changes in a few years.

Long Beach no longer has a title sponsor. Iowa is without a sponsor for the first time in event history. Portland is still looking for a title sponsor after a successful return to the IndyCar schedule. Circuit of the Americas is joining the calendar and will need a title sponsor. Laguna Seca is joining the calendar and will need a title sponsor. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis has been without a title sponsors for the last two years.

Over a third of the IndyCar schedule does not have a title sponsor. That isn't a bad thing but it certainly isn't good. The same way the series needs a partner the races need partners that see value in IndyCar. Without a company pumping money into an event and helping a track cover cost as well as help with promotion and getting people to the track races will die. Too many events are sitting in the breeze naked.

Not only do these events need title sponsors but they can't have Honda or Firestone throwing money at them. IndyCar needs to be attractive to new companies that see IndyCar as worth the investment. It would be nice if Chevrolet/General Motors helped support one other event but that is about it. It shouldn't have to prop up three or four events.

We should keep an eye on whether these events attract new title sponsors, how early these deals are announced, how long these deals are for and what the hell the company is that will be supporting these events. It will also be interesting to see if any of these sponsor-less events will be network NBC races and if that helps at all. Laguna Seca is penciled in to be on network television but outside of that race and the Indianapolis 500 it isn't clear what events will be on NBC. That could be a big factor for the health of these races.

4. New U.S. TV Deal and Pending International TV Deals
Speaking of NBC, things are going to change.

We aren't sure what it is going to look like. We aren't sure how the NBC Sports Gold package will work or how much it will cost. We aren't sure what we are going to lose. People will get mad. It is IndyCar after all. It might be an improved IndyCar but it is still an imperfect IndyCar. Somebody will be mad that practice isn't streamed for free online. Somebody will be upset over taped-delay practice sessions.

You might not like how the Indianapolis 500 will be covered. Are you prepared for that? It might be more but maybe you do not want more or maybe it isn't the more you dreamt of. Are you ready to set yourself up for disappointment?

The new television deal might not be good enough for you even though it could be more televised sessions, more time on network television and more coverage for IndyCar than the series has had in the last twenty years.

The U.S. television deal is set but the international deals are still waiting to be completed and part of the reason is Fernando Alonso's potential move to the series. It makes sense the series is holding out to maximize its value but the series also runs the risk of getting significantly less than it hopes for if Alonso does not come to the series or if it waits too long. These international television networks have deadlines and they need to know how much money they will be spending next year. It could come to a point where enough say no and force IndyCar to agree to a price that is less than desired for the series. The series is really taking a big gamble. It could make a killing or it could end up stubbing its toe.

The same way a title sponsor will not blowup the profile of the series the money from the NBC television deal and whatever new international television deals are agreed upon will not be changing the tax brackets for the drivers. This isn't the NBA or NFL or the Premier League or any other sport league where more television money means increased salaries for the players. Motorsport is not that kind. It seems it never has been. The new deals will merely keep the series afloat.

5. Who is entering the fray?
The 2018 season was a big step forward for IndyCar with teams entering the series after years of difficulty keeping teams in the series. Carlin, Juncos Racing, Meyer Shank Racing and Harding Racing all increased participation in the series. Throughout 2018 we heard rumblings of other interested parties looking toward IndyCar.

Notable teams looking to join the series are DragonSpeed, Scuderia Corsa and McLaren. Scuderia Corsa got a taste of IndyCar in 2018 when it ran Oriol Servià's car in the Indianapolis 500 in partnership with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. McLaren's entry into IndyCar has been a two-year tease. DragonSpeed is the one team without any prior tie to IndyCar.

Besides those three teams, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has talked about increasing its participation in IndyCar after scaling back to an Indianapolis 500-only effort in 2013. Juncos Racing is exploring growing from a part-time, single-car team to a multi-car, likely full-time effort.

New teams aren't the only thing to keep an eye on but the driver market keeps getting flooded with talented drivers. On top of already unemployed drivers such as Carlos Muñoz, Conor Daly, Sage Karam, J.R. Hildebrand and Oriol Servià, there are the handful of part-timers from 2018 looking for rides, which includes Pietro Fittipaldi, Jack Harvey, Kyle Kaiser, Santino Ferrucci, Zachary Claman De Melo, Alfonso Celis, Jr., René Binder and Jordan King. Then there are those likely out of full-time rides, Ed Jones and Gabby Chaves to name two and there are the new additions of Formula One drivers with nowhere to go, looking at you Esteban Ocon, Stoffel Vandoorne and Brendon Hartley and finally there is the cornucopia of drivers from other series that could be peaking in, which includes Pascal Wehrlein, Felix Rosenqvist, Santiago Urrutia and an unknown number of drivers from Formula Two and other series.

The paragraph above has 21 names specifically mentioned are there are tentatively 15 seats already filled for the 2019 IndyCar season. The average IndyCar grid in 2018 had 23.764 cars and with new teams looking to enter and current teams possibly expanding it seems there will be at least 24 cars entered on a regular basis with some projecting as many as 28 regular entries. Not everyone will end with a seat and it will be interesting to see who hires whom this offseason. A fully dedicated silly season catch up is called for at some point in the next few weeks.

Champions From the Weekend
The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Gibson of Andrea Pizzitola, Romain Rusinov and Jean-Éric Vergne clinched the LMP2 championship with an 11th place finish after starting from pole position.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Kyle Busch but did you know...

Marc Márquez won the Arágon Grand Prix, his sixth victory of the season. Brad Binder won the Moto2 race, his second victory of the season. Jorge Martin won the Moto3 race, his sixth victory of the season.

Christopher Bell won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Richmond, his fifth victory of the season.

René Rast swept the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from the Red Bull Ring.

The #22 United Autosport Ligier-Gibson of Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson won a rain-shortened European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. The #2 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of John Falb and late-substitute Scott Andrews won in the LMP3 class. The #80 EbiMotors Porsche of Riccardo Pera, Fabio Babini and Bret Curtis won in the GTE class.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR has its first race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.
Formula One returns to Russia.
World Superbikes has its final European round of the season at Magny-Cours.
Barcelona closes out the Blancpain Endurance Series.
The World Touring Car Cup has its first of two rounds from China at Ningbo.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Friday Five: End of Summer Edition

We're back! The end-of-year tradition of looking at a handful of racing series at the end of a work week has returned and we are back with all the usual features. We will look at every series from stock cars to touring cars, supersport to sports cars, endurance races to sprints. There will be a handful of championships from many continents competing from now until the motorsports season dwindles down around the end of November/start of December.

This one starts with the end of summer. Summer ends on Saturday and then we will be in glorious comfort of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. This weekend features championships that are getting to the point. A few championships could be wrapped up this weekend.

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Tonight is the first round of NASCAR's second division's Chase from Richmond and the championship contenders have been whittled down to 12 drivers.

Justin Allgaier enters as the championship leader. The JR Motorsports driver won five of the first 26 races and he holds a seven-point lead over Joe Gibbs Racing's Christopher Bell. Allgaier enters with 14 consecutive top ten finishes and he was as low as fifth in the championship at Mid-Ohio in August.  After winning three consecutive races in July, Bell's average finish has been 12.8 in the last seven races and he has only led 19 laps in that period, including having not led in the last four races. Bell won the Richmond race in April.

Elliott Sadler and Cole Custer are tied in the championship, 28 points behind Allgaier. Sadler has not won in 65 races. This will be his 31st Richmond start in this series. He has never won and he has five consecutive top ten finishes at the track. Custer won his series leading fifth pole position at Las Vegas last week. He has four top five finishes in the last five races.

Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain and Daniel Hemric are tied, 29 points off Allgaier. Chastain picked up his first career victory at Las Vegas and this is his final of three races with Chip Ganassi Racing. Reddick has finished outside the top ten in eight of the last 12 races; seven of those have been finishes outside the top twenty. Hermic's 29th place finish at Las Vegas last week matched his worst result of the season, which was a 29th place finish at Richmond in April.

Brendon Jones rounds out the top eight on 2,006 points, three ahead of Matt Tifft and Ryan Truex. Jones has not had a top five finish since Iowa in June. Tifft had five consecutive top ten finishes before his retirement at Las Vegas. Truex has seven top ten finishes in the first 13 races but since then he has only three top ten finishes in the last 13 races. Austin Cindric is five points behind Jones with Ryan Reed rounding out the top 12. Cindric had retired from three consecutive races before he finished ninth at Las Vegas. Reed has finished outside the top ten in five consecutive races.

This race will feature Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in his first race since his competitive race since last year's Cup season finale at Homestead. Katherine Legge will make her first oval start after running at Mid-Ohio and Road America.

The NASCAR Grand National Series race will take place at 7:30 p.m. ET and is scheduled for 250 laps.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
On Saturday night at Richmond, the NASCAR Cup Series will have its second race of what has already been a chaotic round one.

Brad Keselowski won his third consecutive race of the season at Las Vegas and clinched a spot to the next round while Martin Truex, Jr. finished third and took the points lead on 2,087 points. Truex, Jr. is two points ahead of Kyle Busch, who recovered to finish seventh after a spin at Las Vegas. If both drivers hold serve this weekend and do not drop points they should clinch a spot to the next round on points. Busch leads all active drivers with five Richmond victories.

Kevin Harvick dropped to fourth on 2,060 points after a tire failure ended his day. He is four points ahead of Joey Logano. Logano has three top five finishes in the last four races after not having a top five finish in the prior 11 races. Kurt Busch is ten points behind Logano with Ryan Blaney five points behind him and Kyle Larson a point off Blaney. Busch has the third best average starting position this season behind only his brother Kyle and Truex, Jr. Blaney has never finished in the top ten in five Richmond starts. Larson won last year's summer Richmond race and that is his most recent victory.

Ninth through 14th are covered by 15 points. Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon round out the top ten on 2,034 points and 2,031 points respectively. Almirola has finished 17th in three of the last four Richmond races. Dillon has never finished in the top ten in nine Richmond starts and he has finished off the lead lap in six Richmond starts. Clint Bowyer is one point behind Dillon and two points ahead of Alex Bowman. Bowyer led 45 laps in the April race, the first time he had led at Richmond since the infamous September 2013 race. Bowman has the worst average finish of the Chase drivers at Richmond at 30.6. His best finish was 18th in April.

Jimmie Johnson is the first driver in the drop zone and he is six points behind his teammate. After winning three of four Richmond races between 2007 and 2008, Johnson has not won at the track in ten years. In the last 19 Richmond races, Johnson has three top five finishes, all three were third place finishes, and he has led 92 laps. Chase Elliott is three points behind Johnson. Elliott's second place finish in April was his first top five finish at the track. Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin are 19 points and 20 points respectively below the cutline. All three of Hamlin's Richmond victories have been the summer race. He has six consecutive top ten finishes at Richmond.

Eight different drivers have won the last eight Richmond races. Kyle Busch's victory from 32nd on the grid in April is the only of the eight to come from outside the top five.

The 400-lap Cup race will take place at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday September 22nd.

Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters
With 112 points left on the table and four races remaining in the 2018 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season, eight drivers are alive for the championship as the series heads to the penultimate round of the year at Red Bull Ring.

Gary Paffett took the championship lead from fellow Brit and Mercedes-Benz driver Paul di Resta after di Resta was spun in race one of the Nürburgring weekend. Paffett holds the lead with 206 points to di Resta's 204 points. Both drivers have won three races this year and both drivers are going for their second DTM titles. Paffett's only title came in 2005 while he has finished vice-champion on three occasions since then including to di Resta in 2010.

Defending champion René Rast swept the Nürburgring races and he is 57 points behind Paffett. Rast won the second race at Red Bull Ring last year. Edoardo Mortara is 11 points behind Rast in fourth and he won at Red Bull Ring in 2012 and 2015. Marco Wittmann is a point off Mortara and he and Mortara are the only two active drivers with multiple Red Bull Ring victories. Wittmann won in 2014 and 2016.

Timo Glock sits on 119 points and he is another past DTM winner at the Red Bull Ring. He won the second race in 2016. Glock has not stood on the podium since Hungary in June. He had four podium finishes in the first six races. Lucas Auer heads home to Austria on 110 points. Auer has only score points in his home race twice in six starts. He did have three podium finishes at Red Bull Ring in Formula Three. Pascal Wehrlein is the final driver alive for the championship on 100 points. The 2015 champion finished second in the second race at this track in 2015 to Mattias Ekström.

Including qualifying races, Mercedes-Benz won the first six races at this track from 2001-2003 with Bernd Schneider sweep in 2001 and Marcel Fässler sweeping the next two years. Since returning to the schedule in 2011, Audi has won six races while BMW has won the other four. Since returning to the doubleheader format in 2015, all three visits to Red Bull Ring have been sweeps for a manufacture with Audi sweep in 2015 and 2017 and BMW sweeping in 2016.

This year's race will include five-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier making his DTM debut. The Frenchman is driving as a guest driver in the #17 Mercedes-Benz. Ogier is currently third in the 2018 WRC standings and has three victories this season.

DTM will race at 6:10 a.m. ET on Saturday September 22nd and at 6:10 a.m. ET on Sunday September 23rd.

MotoGP
Six races remain in the MotoGP season and 11 riders are still alive for the championship.

Marc Márquez has finished on the podium in six consecutive races and has ten podium finishes from 12 races. With 221 points, he leads Andrea Dovizioso by 67 points. Valentino Rossi is three points behind Dovizioso in third despite not having finished on the podium in the last three races and not having won a race this season. Jorge Lorenzo has won three races this season but those are his only three top five finishes this season and he is fourth on 130 points. Maverick Viñales rounds out the top five on 124 points.

Cal Crutchlow is the only winner this season not named Márquez, Dovizioso or Lorenzo and he is sixth on 119 points and he is coming off his second podium finishes of the season after finishing third at Misano. Johann Zarco and Danilo Petrucci are tied on 110 points with Zarco holding the tiebreaker with two runner-up finishes to Petrucci's one runner-up finish. Andrea Iannone has 92 points with Álex Rins rounding out the top ten on 79 points. Dani Pedrosa is the final rider mathematically eligible for the title on 76 points. Pedrosa has not had a podium finish this season. This is the second time Pedrosa has not had a podium finish within the first 12 races of the season. The other was 2015 and he finished second in the 14th race at Arágron and he won the 15th race at Motegi.

This is the eighth visit to Motorland Arágon. Márquez has four victories at the track, including two consecutive MotoGP victories and three overall. Lorenzo won at Arágon in 2014 and 2015. Ducati has not won at Arágon since the inaugural race in 2010 with Casey Stoner. Stoner is the only non-Spaniard to win at Arágon. Besides his 2010 victory, the Australian won in 2011 with Honda. Honda leads all manufactures with five victories at the track.

The Arágon Grand Prix is scheduled for 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday September 23rd.

European Le Mans Series
Spa-Francorchamps host the penultimate round of the 2018 European Le Mans Series and the LMP2 championship could be clinched at the famed Belgian racetrack.

Andrea Pizzitola and Romain Rusinov and the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Gibson could take the championship with at least a second place finish. They lead the championship with 87 points and holds a 34-point lead over the #24 Racing Engineering Oreca of Norman Nato and Paul Petit. The #26 Oreca has won three consecutive races and Jean-Éric Vergne is back in his fourth consecutive race in the car. He was not at the season opener at Circuit Paul Ricard due to Formula E commitments. Olivier Pla will join Nato and Petit in the #24 Oreca.

Two other cars are mathematically alive for the LMP2 title. The #28 IDEC Sport Oreca of Paul-Loup Chatin, Paul Lafargue and Memo Rojas are on 50 points and has finished third in two of the four races. The #21 DragonSpeed Oreca of Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and Nicolas Lapierre finished second at Red Bull Ring in July and has 41 points.

In LMP3, the #15 RLR Msport Ligier of John Farano, Rob Garofall and Job van Uitert lead the championship with 58.5 points and 12.5 points back is the #3 United Autosport Ligier of Matt Bell, Garett Grist and Anthony Wells and the #11 EuroInternational Ligier of Giorio Mondini and Kay Van Berlo. The #15 Ligier has won twice, at Circuit Paul Ricard and Red Bull Ring. United Autosport won the most recent round at Silverstone and EuroInternational won at Monza.

A half-point back off of United Autosport and EuroInternational is the #6 360 Racing Ligier of Ross Kaiser, Lucas Swift and Terrence Woodward. The #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier of Martin Hippe and Jakub Smiechowski round out the top five on 45 points. The #7 Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen Ligier of Alex Kapadia, Chris Noble and Christian Stubbe Olsen has 39 points and has finished runner-up in the last two races.

The #88 Proton Competition Porsche of Gianluca Roda, Giorgio Roda and Matteo Cairoli lead the GTE championship with 72 points and has a nine-point lead over the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Liam Griffin, Alex MacDowell and Miguel Molina. The #88 Porsche won at Red Bull Ring and has finished on the podium in three of four races. The #66 Ferrari has victories at Circuit Paul Ricard and Silverstone. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott won at Monza and is third in the championship on 58 points.

The #77 Proton Competition Porsche sits on 53 points of Marvin Dienst, Christian Ried and Dennis Olsen. The #80 EbiMotors Porsche has finished third place three times this season and sits on 46 points. Bret Curtis joins Fabio Babini and Riccardo Pera in the #80 Porsche for his third race. Krohn Racing is sixth in the championship on 38 points with Tracy Krohn, Nic Jönsson and Andrea Bertolini in the #83 Ferrari.

The 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps will take place on Sunday September 23rd at 6:30 a.m. ET.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 7.5 lead changes?
2. Over or Under: 99.5 laps led for the race winner?
3. Over or Under: 2.5 point scorers in race one starting outside the top ten?
4. Over or Under: 3.0 seconds being the margin of victory?
5. Over or Under: 5.5 nationalities represented in the three class winning entries?

Predictions
1. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finishes behind at least two of his full-time drivers.
2. Fewer than three top five starters finish in the top five of the Cup race.
3. Sébastien Ogier does not score a point at Red Bull Ring but has a better average finish than Mattias Ekström did at the Hockenheimring.
4. At least two front row starters do not finish on the podium.
5. There will be at least one first-time class winner this season at Spa-Francorchamps.



Wednesday, September 19, 2018

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Harding Racing's 2018 Season

Another IndyCar season has come to an end and we are back to weekly reviews of each team's season. This year is going to be a bit different. Instead of rambling and going through each race for each driver and sounding dull, each driver's review will be broken in four parts: What objectively was that driver's best race? What subjectively was that driver's best race? What objectively was that driver's worst race? What subjectively was that driver's worst race? Another change from this year is if a driver ran for multiple teams that driver will be included in the team wrap-up that he or she drove the most for.

We start at the bottom and Harding Racing's first full season in IndyCar was not a bed of roses. The glorious day at Indianapolis and night at Texas in 2017 have long been forgotten and the team got a dose of the difficulty of IndyCar. A few changes were made in search for results as the team looked toward its sophomore season and things ended on a promising note.

Things likely did not go as planned for Gabby Chaves
Gabby Chaves
Chaves ran all three races for Harding Racing last year and he started 13 of 17 races before twice being sidelined.

What objectively was his best race?
Portland, where he finished 13th after starting 21st. He did benefit from a handful of front running drivers being taken out on lap one but Chaves held his own on this day and was keeping up with the middle of the field. Ironically, this was his final race of the season.

What subjectively was his best race?
He finished 14th twice but I will say 14th in the Indianapolis 500 is better than 14th at St. Petersburg, even though he started eighth at St. Petersburg. This team was born for the Indianapolis 500 and last year he benefitted from a load of cars retiring. This year was not much different but plenty of teams go to Indianapolis and struggle. I think some people were worried this team wasn't going to make the race after his string of results leading into May. He completely all 500 miles in a good showing for the young team.

What objectively was his worst race?
Iowa, his only retirement. It was a mechanical issue. It is only the second retirement of Chaves' IndyCar career and the other one was a retirement. His engine expired while running in the top five and after leading the most laps in the 2015 Pocono race.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I think Iowa fits this category but I think every race in a way was his worst race (very philosophical, I know).

Harding Racing wasn't expected to be competing for the championship or race victories but I don't think anyone thought it would be this tough. In his first 11 starts, Chaves only cracked the top fifteen once. Maybe the qualifying success in a drizzle at St. Petersburg was the worst possible thing for this team in its first street course race.

It never clicked but the team was working with scraps. At Pocono, it became public that the team was using eight-year-old springs and shocks. Chaves didn't have the greatest equipment underneath him and he was doing the best he could with equipment that the top team's stopped using almost a decade ago.

Gabby Chaves' 2018 Statistics
Championship Positions: 21st (187 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 18.333
Average Finish: 16.846

Conor Daly had a cameo role for Harding Racing
Conor Daly
The Hoosier ran the Indianapolis 500 for Dale Coyne Racing but he made three starts in a substitute role at Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Pocono.

What objectively was his best race?
He finished 13th in his first race with the team at Toronto. At the time it was the team's best result It also came after the team made it to the second round of qualifying for the second time in this season in a wet-to-dry qualifying session. He held his own and stayed in the middle of the field for most of the race.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is still Toronto. Daly's move to Harding Racing wasn't planned out. It was spur of the moment. Street courses are physically rough and Toronto is a place where the bumps knock the steering wheel out of your hands He likely wasn't in the best racing shape and it was a late change. Daly held his own again and it is the not first time he has been thrown into a street race and came out with people pleased.

What objectively was his worst race?
Mid-Ohio. He ran out of fuel late and finished 22nd. He started 14th in this one but he wasn't as competitive as he was at Toronto.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I think we have to go with the one race he wasn't at Harding Racing and that was the Indianapolis 500. He barely made it and it was the perfect nightmare of a one-off effort. Not enough money, not enough time and not enough speed. He openly said he was racing for nothing. It is terrible but it is the state of IndyCar and it isn't that uncommon. His result was respectable, 21st and one lap down after being on the fence and nearly watching his career end at a place he holds much fondness for. 

Conor Daly's 2018 Statistics
Championship Positions: 29th (58 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 20.0
Average Finish: 17.75

Patricio O'Ward has everyone's attention after Sonoma
Patricio O'Ward
The 2018 Indy Lights champion got his IndyCar debut a fortnight after taking the title. It was a pretty great outing.

What objectively was his best race?
Ninth at Sonoma after qualifying fifth on debut.

What subjectively was his best race?
Once again, Sonoma.

What objectively was his worst race?
Sonoma but he finished ninth, so it wasn't that bad.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Sonoma but to be specific and not to be a goof, he fell back during that first stint and after the first pit stop he settled into the race. It was a bit of an eye-opener. He didn't keep up with the likes of Hunter-Reay, Dixon and Power, which was not expected but the bottom didn't fall out. The first stint was tough but he rebounded a bit and kept it in the top ten. Bravo. 

Patricio O'Ward's 2018 Statistics
Championship Positions: 31st (44 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 1
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 5.0
Average Finish: 9.0

IndyCar has another second generation driver in Colton Herta
Colton Herta
Like O'Ward, Herta made his IndyCar debut a fortnight after finishing second in the Indy Lights championship.

What objectively was his best race?
He only had the one race and he finished 20th at Sonoma.

What subjectively was his best race?
Sonoma.

What objectively was his worst race?
Sonoma

What subjectively was his worst race?
Sonoma. He is 18 years old. When the 2019 season starts he will still be 18 years old. Just because O'Ward was the darling of the finale does not mean Herta is a bum and he isn't good enough and he is the waste of a seat. He is 18 years old. Everyone develops at their own pace. Remember, we inflate the expectations of a driver and we set ourselves up to be let down.

Colton Herta's 2018 Statistics
Championship Positions: 37th (20 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 19.0
Average Finish: 20.0

An Early Look Ahead
It seems like this will be the Andretti Autosport Junior Team with O'Ward and Herta in 2019. We are still awaiting confirmation and somehow this is going to happen and Andretti will straddle the Honda/Chevrolet line. This seems like it could be a problem that boils over and could be a bad thing for IndyCar... but we will deal with that later.

O'Ward and Herta arrived to Harding Racing with Andretti dampers and all of a sudden the team went from unlikely to making it out of the first round to a car making the Fast Six on pace. If Andretti's dampers are that good then send me a big box of that. If that is all it took to take this team to the next level then I think 2019 will be a much better season than 2018.

O'Ward and Herta seems ready for IndyCar. They are both teenagers and will be teenagers at the 2019 season opener. Motorsports is at a bad place where kids are rushed and quickly tossed aside if they aren't lighting the world on fire at the age of 22. IndyCar has had a few of those and the series has also had those who came in young, did well, struggle for eight years and are still here (looking at you Rahal and Andretti). I would rather see these two still developing and not having to race out of Indy Lights but the business doesn't allow for such a thing to take place.

On a side note, where will this leave Gabby Chaves? He went from Harding Racing's guy and will be around for at least two years to completely out of the picture. He has never had time to take root anywhere. He was good in his rookie season but Bryan Herta Autosport was dealing with the same kind of financial difficulties that Harding Racing had this season. He can bring a car home and that is an underrated trait of his. Where would Chaves fit in? Full-time seats are hard to find but wherever he goes he would get pleasing results and if he had a senior teammate to work with he could be cracking the top ten on a regular basis.

Finally, what about Conor Daly? Daly had a respectable full season with Dale Coyne Racing. He went to A.J. Foyt Racing and struggled a bit but who hasn't struggled at A.J. Foyt Racing? Daly started to get results at the end of 2017 and then was tossed to the curb. We have seen him do really well with little preparation. He likely isn't in the cards at Harding Racing and I don't know if any other team with an open full-time seat is considering him either.


Monday, September 17, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: 2018 IndyCar Predictions: Revisited

Scott Dixon took his fifth IndyCar championship while Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 18th race of his IndyCar career. Brad Keselowski won Team Penske's 500th race as an organization and Keselowski tied Mark Donohue for most Team Penske victories at 59 in the process. There was a popular first time winner in Las Vegas. IndyCar wasn't the only series crowning a champion this weekend. There was a podium sweep in an endurance race. A famous Formula One face won in Japan. World Supersport had a strangely dramatic final lap in Portugal with Lucas Mahias trying to make it back to the pit lane on a flat rear tire to claim his victory after a red flag came out. Unfortunately for him, he did not make it back in time. An Estonian is on fire in the World Rally Championship. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

2018 IndyCar Predictions: Revisited
Each December we start predicting the upcoming year and now it is time to look back and see how wrong we were during the Christmas season. How did the 2018 IndyCar predictions turn out?

1. Andretti Autosport has at least one driver finish in the top five of the championship
Correct! The team had two drivers in the top five with Alexander Rossi coming in second and Ryan Hunter-Reay in fourth. This is the season the team needed. Andretti Autosport had not had a driver finish in the top five of the championship since Marco Andretti finished fifth in 2013. The team didn't fall that far off. It was unfortunate Hunter-Reay didn't finish in the top five in 2014. He was going to until a late spin at Fontana season finale. The team had some rough years during the aero kit epoch and it seemed it got the worst of Honda's wave of engine failures last year.

Though it didn't take the drivers' championship I think Andretti Autosport was the best Honda team in 2018 and you could make a case that Andretti Autosport topped Team Penske this year.

2. Ed Jones wins a race
Wrong! This was after buying the hype Chip Ganassi Racing was spewing in the preseason and seven months later the team's rhetoric hasn't aged well. We kept hearing Chip likes winners; Chip hires winners. I don't think this team was confident in Ed Jones' ability from the start but thought if they said it long enough they could convince themselves he would be the guy and the results would come. Jones was at best Ganassi's third option for this seat and it doesn't look like this is going to be a happy breakup.

This is old Chip Ganassi Racing coming to light. It is hidden under another Scott Dixon championship but after fallouts last year with Tony Kanaan and Max Chilton and Jones this year you have to worry when this team loses Scott Dixon to either retirement or McLaren or somebody else. This feels like we are on the verge of a post-Montoya/post-Vasser Chip Ganassi Racing where Nicolas Minassian didn't work out, Memo Gidley did well but not well enough, Kenny Bräck was a one-and-done, Tomas Scheckter was a one-and-done, Darren Manning got in at the wrong time when the Toyota engine was horrible and Ryan Briscoe had the same fate as Manning.

When is Ganassi going to make a smart hire? If you have had eyes for the last six years you know Felix Rosenqvist is a talent but Ganassi is a big enough team that he should have been able to grab a top IndyCar free agent. Why isn't Sébastien Bourdais on that time if he likes winners so much? Ganassi could have the top two active drivers in victories! That is the obvious move to make!

Dixon keeps winning but I think Ganassi could be facing difficult times in the near future.

3. Takuma Sato has more top ten finishes than he did in his first season with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Correct! Sato had eight top ten finishes this season, three more than he had with RLLR in 2012! On top of all that, Sato got his third career victory at Portland in a surprising turn of events where he started 20th and timely cautions got him to the front.

It wasn't a stellar year from Sato. He actually had more top ten finishes seasons than last year when he had seven top ten finishes but it is hard to say this year is better when he dropped ... positions in the championship and last year he won the Indianapolis 500. It was a respectable year for Sato.

For the longest time I said Sato wasn't going to change. We knew who he was, a driver who was quick but would overstep the line but he has been running at the finish of at least 75% of the races the last four seasons. He has had an average finish below 15th for the last four seasons. Two of his three retirements this season were out of his hands when he got into James Davison at Indianapolis and he was an innocent bystander in the lap seven Pocono incident in turn two. He has honed it in at the age of 41. He might not be a championship contender but he has become a respected member of the grid and we know he is a sleeper in every race.

4. No rookie finishes in the top 13 of the championship
Wrong! Robert Wickens was outstanding in 2018 and he should have been better than 11th in the championship, 11th on tiebreaker nonetheless after his teammate James Hinchcliffe gets the nod because of his victory at Iowa.

Wickens was better than Hinchcliffe this year and that was before Hinchcliffe's horrendous end to the season. Wickens had 391 points from 14 starts. If we game him last place points for the final three races, which would have been eight at Gateway, five at Portland and ten at Sonoma, that would have given him 414 points and put him eighth in the championship ahead of Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti and Hinchcliffe. Wickens was better than Rahal this year. He was better than Andretti as well. He would have been 11 points behind Bourdais in this scenario and he was better than Bourdais this year.

Wickens was averaging 27.9 points a race. Even if you rounded down to 27 points and then made that 54 points for the Sonoma season finale he would have ended up on 499 points and ahead of Simon Pagenaud and Wickens was better than Pagenaud this year. It doesn't work that way but it shows the flaws to a points system that rewards every position because it makes participation too much of a factor in deciding who is best.

If the Formula One points system from 1961-1991 had been used, the 9-6-4-3-2-1 system, Wickens would have finished sixth and that is probably where he rightfully belonged. Let's just go over the entire 9-6-4-3-2-1 results... yes this is going off on a tangent:

Dixon would still be champion with 67 points. Power and Rossi would have tied on 54 points and second would go to Power because they were equal on three victories but Power had more runner-up finishes. Ryan Hunter-Reay would be fourth on 50 points followed by Josef Newgarden on 35 points and Wickens on 28 points. Hinchcliffe and Bourdais would be tied on 23 points, tied with one victory, tied with a third-place finish but Hinchcliffe had finished fourth on three occasions to Bourdais' two times finishing fourth. Pagenaud would have been ninth while Sato would round out the top ten on 18 points ahead of his teammate Rahal on 12 points. Spencer Pigot would have been the final driver in double figures with ten points.

The remainder of the championship would have been Jones on nine points, Ed Carpenter on six points, all from his runner-up finish at Indianapolis, then Andretti with six points over Zach Veach with six points because Andretti would have had a seventh-place finish and Veach did not. Charlie Kimball would end on two points and Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan would have each had a point.

That's it. Nineteen drivers would have scored and while it isn't that different from the actual championship results I think that championship is more representative of who was the best this season and Wickens would have been more properly placed in the final standings.

5. There is at least one driver who wins his or her first 500-mile race
Wrong! Will Power won his fourth 500-mile race when he took his first Indianapolis 500 victory in May and Alexander Rossi mopped the floor with the field at Pocono, leading 450 of 500 miles on his way to his second 500-mile race victory.

This was a bit of a surprise but not entirely shocking. There is still an impressive list of drivers without a 500-mile victory: Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Sébastien Bourdais and Ed Carpenter. Carpenter was actually the one who came closest to a long awaited 500-mile race victory when he led the most laps and finished second at Indianapolis.

6. At least two part-time drivers (except Ed Carpenter) finish in the top ten in the Indianapolis 500
Wrong! Carlos Muñoz finished seventh and Ed Carpenter finished second. That was it for the part-timers. J.R. Hildebrand finished 11th, one position outside the top ten in what was another one-off performance for the Californian. But, there were not two part-timers not named Ed Carpenter in the top ten of the Indianapolis 500.

I am going to use this space to remind you Muñoz should be a full-time IndyCar driver. His average finish in the Indianapolis 500 is 7.5, the sixth best all-time amongst drivers with at least five Indianapolis 500 starts. He is behind only Bill Holland, Ted Horn, Jimmy Murphy, Harry Hartz and Dan Wheldon. There is more to IndyCar than the Indianapolis 500. He twice finished in the top ten of the championship twice, including an eighth place finish as a rookie. As a rookie he had podium finishes at Long Beach, Houston and Pocono. In his first road course race of 2018 in a car where he had one test session prior to the race weekend he ends up with fastest lap.

7. Honda wins at two tracks that it has won at once or fewer in the DW12-era (excluding Portland and Gateway)
Correct! And this one went to the wire. Honda had to win Sonoma for this prediction to be correct and Hunter-Reay came through. The other victory that fulfilled this prediction was Bourdais' victory at St. Petersburg.

8. The total number of caution laps is up by at least 4.5%
Wrong! I am surprised by this one. It seemed like at the start of the season people were concerned that a new car with larger braking zones and less aero turbulence would mean more attempted passes, more chances of a driver getting into another entering a corner and races would be slowed more often. That wasn't the case. Not only did the total number of caution laps not go up by at least 4.5%, the total number went down!

The 2017 season had 13.34% of all laps under caution. This season had only 10.515%. That is a difference of 2.825%! Six of the final eight races had less than 7% of the total laps under caution. The race with the highest percentage of caution laps was St. Petersburg at 22.72%. The only other races above 15% were Long Beach (18.82%), Barber (17.07%), the Indianapolis 500 (20.5%) and Portland (17.142%).

I am a bit surprised. We had some pretty clean races and on top of that there weren't as many cautions for slow cars as in previous years. This is one I am happy to get wrong.

9. No more than three new track records are set
Correct! This one came down to the wire. Three track records were broken this season.

At St. Petersburg, Jordan King ran a lap at 107.914 MPH in the first group of round one, besting Will Power's record of 107.561 MPH. The Toronto track record is a bit misleading because the track has been reconfigured since the pit lane moved but either way Scott Dixon ran a 109.805 MPH lap in round two, topping Simon Pagenaud's 109.138 MPH from the year before. Will Power broke the Portland track record with a lap at 123.577 MPH in group two of round one. Justin Wilson held the prior track record at 122.756 MPH.

10. At least three teams have multiple race winners
Wrong! This prediction was really leaning on the Ed Jones prediction because if Jones was going to win a race then Dixon was definitely going to win a race and Team Penske was always going to have at least two drivers win a race and I think most of us thought Rossi would win a few and Hunter-Reay could get a victory. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing did get a victory, which isn't a surprise and even if Sato and Rahal had each won I don't think anyone would be flabbergasted.

It is difficult to win in IndyCar. Penske and Andretti Autosport came up big for this prediction and the likes of Ganassi, RLLR and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports were good but not good enough.

11. At least three races are won by drivers starting outside the top ten
Correct! There were three races won from outside the top ten. For the second consecutive year, Sébastien Bourdais won at St. Petersburg from outside the top ten, this time from 14th. James Hinchcliffe had a hard charge from 11th and took a victory out of Josef Newgarden's hands after it appeared the American would lap the field. Takuma Sato won from 20th at Portland after a handful of cautions shuffled the field and got the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver to the front of the field and ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay.

12. A new title sponsor is not announced prior to the Sonoma finale
Correct! And now we wait.

Six-for-twelve, batting .500. That's not great but it could have been worse.

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

The #88 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello and Michael Meadows won the Blancpain Sprint Series championship with finishes of fourth and first at the Nürburgring.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Ryan Hunter-Reay, Brad Keselowski, Raffaele Marciello and Michael Meadows but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Singapore Grand Prix, the 69th grand prix victory of his Formula One career.

Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell won the Sandown 500 in a sweep of the podium for Triple Eight Race Engineering ahead of Shane Van Gisbergen and Earl Bamber and Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards.

Ross Chastain won the Grand National Series race from Las Vegas, his first career victory. Grant Enfinger won the Truck race.

Jonathan Rea swept the World Superbike races from Portimão for the third consecutive visit to the track. Federico Caricasulo won the World Supersport race, his second consecutive victory.

The #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas won the first Blancpain Sprint Series race from the Nürburgring.

The #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda of Jenson Button and Naoki Yamamoto won the Super GT race from Sportsland SUGO and took the GT500 championship lead. The #61 R&D Sport Subaru of Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi won in GT300.

Ott Tänak won Rally of Turkey, his third consecutive victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP has its penultimate European round (and penultimate Spanish round) of the season from Aragón.
NASCAR has its penultimate race of round one from Richmond and it is the final Saturday night race of the season.
European Le Mans Series has its penultimate round from Spa-Francorchamps.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters has its penultimate round from the Red Bull Ring.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

First Impressions: Sonoma 2018

1. We start with the champion and for the fifth time Scott Dixon has claimed the IndyCar championship. It was a Scott Dixon day. He didn't have to push and second was good enough. He won three races, stood on the podium nine times, finished every race and his worst result was 12th. He never had a bad day. We know that. We knew the man was teflon at Portland. Once he escaped the lap one accident in Oregon the title was destined to be his.

Only two men have won more IndyCar races than Scott Dixon. Only one man has more IndyCar championships than Dixon. This year has washed out any skepticism that could possibly remain that he isn't one of the greatest drivers we have ever seen. He move up the record book in multiple categories passing the names Andretti and Unser and Foyt along the way. Any argument against him was squashed. The man will talked about for generations to come in the United States and New Zealand.

There is one thing I have noticed with Scott Dixon's historic success and that is the lack of push back. Jimmie Johnson's run to seven NASCAR Cup championships was met with resistance. Many didn't want to see him do it. Plenty have laid blame at his feet for NASCAR's decline. Lewis Hamilton is experiencing the same kind of hatred in Formula One. History has not been embraced. It has been ridiculed.

Dixon has become more of a fan favorite the more he has raced and won. He is making a way into folklore. He might not be John Henry or Paul Bunyan but there is a sense of myth behind the man from New Zealand. He can go further on fuel then anybody else in the field. He can start 22nd at Mid-Ohio and win. Two weeks ago at Portland, his ability to be engulfed in an accident and emerge from the dust with all four wheels intact, engine running and a scuffed nose added to the legend. Other drivers have gotten their brakes but few have a list of absurd survivals as Dixon. A.J. Foyt might be the only other driver that comes close.  

I don't know why Dixon, through the string of championships and dominating race victories, has become popular when every other driver of his caliber in other series has become a villain. Dixon wasn't beloved from the start. There was a bit of resentment against Dixon for a long time. His IndyCar career started during a period of resentment. Nobody could find a reason to be happy because the kingdom had been set ablaze. The palaces were gone. The streets were in ruin. We were pissed. The stature had been lost and we knew it was never coming back. 

It took us, the IndyCar fan base, a long time to reach acceptance but in the last six years we not only made it there but we have come to appreciate what we have. The lost USAC talents of Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, the blunted careers of Alex Zanardi and Greg Moore, the historic events that died and the home runs that died on the warning tracks do not occupy the IndyCar mindset. We have reached a point where we are happy with what we have and that includes Scott Dixon. 

He stuck around. Should that be enough? Well... it is. Just before Dixon's prime IndyCar was not the fashionable place. It is hard to fault a driver for chasing money and bouncing to NASCAR but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of a fan base. Dixon didn't abandon ship and we know he could have at any time. He has the talent to succeed anywhere. He choses to be here. 

IndyCar lost a lot over the last twenty years. In Scott Dixon, the series has found the 21st century legend and somebody that can be embraced.

2. It didn't quite work out today for Alexander Rossi. It was a day from hell but he rose from it. It would have been easy to roll over after the turn one incident where he ran into the back of Marco Andretti, breaking his front wing and deflating his right front tire. The man was dead last for far longer than he ever imagined. He was a lap down. The day was over. 

Then he got a break, made a pit stop and came out on the lead lap. The charge was on and he went from 15th to sixth in one stint. He rolled the dice and stopped early and forced Dixon's hand. Time had run out but he put himself back in a position to take the title had Dixon faltered. He did run out of fuel coming to the line, ironically the same thing happened in his first Sonoma start. Seventh is what he wanted. 

Hindsight is a bitch. He pretty much got back where he started. What would his race have looked like had he gotten through turn one? All races are long races. The first step is getting through the first lap. Rossi arguably had the best season of the year. He left a lot of points on the table. I am not sure they would have all added up to get him the title over Dixon but Rossi is young. This was only his 50th start. This was his third season. There is always next year. 

Alexander Rossi's was everybody's sleeper for 2018 at the end of last season. This wasn't some bullshit young driver with a bit of success but no results and elevated because of a load of hope. Rossi wasn't messing around. He was quick and mixing it with the big boys early in his career. He had his stumbling blocks but it didn't take long for him to cement himself as a driver to keep an eye on at every race weekend.  

The days leading up to the finale were spent looking at the three-year arc of Rossi's IndyCar career. The resentment Dixon had Rossi also fought. He wasn't invested enough. He wasn't passionate enough. He wasn't open enough. To some, despite being born in California, he probably wasn't American enough. All that counterbalanced the talent, the driver who was holding his own in Europe, finished second in the GP2 Series to a McLaren development driver and made it to Formula One. Rossi has probably been the best American driver in single-seater racing for the last five years but the European junior series do not get any attention in the United States. Rossi mind as well have been driving a forklift at Costco. It would have earned him more respect. 

But it is funny what success can do in three years. Rossi wasn't floundering around at the back. He wasn't someone IndyCar fans could poo-poo as just another inflated talent who spent years in Europe and around the Formula One landscape and thought they were the shit. Rossi backed it up. He stepped on toes along the way. He has never cared. 

Rossi is the American driver we wanted. He doesn't give an inch. He isn't polite. He doesn't let anyone else push him around. It doesn't matter how many races or championships a competitor has won, Rossi doesn't let it faze him. The accolades aren't in mind when he behind the wheel. He doesn't see championships and race victories in his mirrors. It is just another driver and one he is beating. 

Dixon and Rossi both fall in a boat of drivers who we wonder what they could do if given a shot at Formula One. Rossi got there but we knew his time would be brief and results were not going to be impressive. Dixon may be fine with never getting that shot but Rossi is young enough for a second go. Rossi might be content with IndyCar but his ruthlessness and swagger could lead him to take another swing at it and he would know IndyCar is always there to return to. 

3. On to the race winner and Ryan Hunter-Reay finally gets a top five championship finish. He hadn't finished in the top five of the championship since he took the 2012 title. Every year Hunter-Reay has at least three races where things go against him and they are usually mechanical failures while he is in the top five. It happened this year at Gateway. Before that there was Pocono where he and Robert Wickens got together. He lost it into the turn three tires at Toronto and he had no radio at Iowa before suspension issues derailed his day. And everybody seemed to hit him at Long Beach. If there were only 12 races a season Hunter-Reay might win the title every year. 

All joking aside, after two years where Hunter-Reay couldn't get back to the top step of the podium he ends 2018 with two victories and six podium finishes. All ten of Hunter-Reay's top ten finishes were top five finishes. This was a "he's still got it year" for Hunter-Reay. There is no shame in not winning a race in an IndyCar season. It is difficult. There are only 17 races. Plenty of top names do not win a race. But when you don't win a race for two consecutive years you start to ask questions. Hunter-Reay's career was left for dead 12 years ago. He has come a long way. He is getting older. He has 18 victories. The only full-time active drivers with more are Dixon, Sébastien Bourdais and Will Power. He isn't as celebrated as those three but he has had a stellar career. 

4. Will Power got another podium finish and it was a year where Power could have won the title but the last three years Power has won a bunch and then piled up retirements. This year was an un-Penske year. The things that went wrong always seemed to bite Power and they were little things. Power is no longer the skittish driver when it comes to crunch time. If the team can sure up the things under the body work Power will win another title.

5. Simon Pagenaud will end the year with ten consecutive top ten finishes after he finished fourth today and 2018 was a disappointment. I am not sure there is a driver who was as close to the front as he was and not a contender. Other than Texas there wasn't a race where Pagenaud was fighting for the victory. He was quick but didn't have that last bit to get him over the top. This year is already being compared to 2015 where Pagenaud's first year with Penske was also the first year of the aero kit. The results didn't come but then he came out like gangbusters in 2016. I think Pagenaud will win a race next year but the field is too deep for him to dominate like that again.

6. Marco Andretti rounded out the top five and finished in the top ten of the championship despite entering the day in 12th! You cannot say this was a bad year for Andretti. He was solid. He isn't a flashy driver but he can hold his own. He had eight top ten finishes this year. It just doesn't seem to click for Andretti. He will be fast on Friday and be in the top five in both practice sessions and then in qualifying not make it out of round one. If he can find that consistency I think he can win a race or two. A championship is a stretch but Andretti could still have a breakout year despite being around for more than a decade. 

7. Sébastien Bourdais nipped Rossi at the line for sixth. Bourdais was all over the board this year. He seemed to have it at the start of the year but then things hit the fan and he couldn't get a result. He ended strong with four top ten finishes in the final five races. I think this team could put together an underdog championship run but Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing have to be on it every week and can never had a day of misfortune. I am excited for what this pairing can do next year.

8. Josef Newgarden does not defend his title and for the first time he does not improve his championship position. That streak was bound to end. After all, you can't do better than champion. He won three races but didn't stand on the podium in any other races. He only had three other top five finishes this year. He still finished fifth in the championship. There is no need to be concerned. He will be fine next year.

9. Patricio O'Ward is going to have a full-time ride this year. He started fifth and finished ninth on debut. That is pretty good for a kid who had not driven an IndyCar until one test day last week. It is easy to hype a rookie. It seems like we do it every three years and pronounce a driver as the next great young star and about one in ten of those live up to the hype. I think O'Ward will be fun to watch next year.

10. Ed Jones likely ends his Chip Ganassi Racing tenure with a tenth place finish. I think Jones is quick and could become a decent driver but I think he was rushed into the Ganassi seat. I think Ganassi took a flier and it ended up not going as the team had hoped. At the same time, I don't think Ganassi was that invested in Jones. The Felix Rosenqvist talks all summer kind of confirm that. But this is the second consecutive year Ganassi has had a poor falling out with drivers. Last year, Tony Kanaan and Max Chilton were disappointed in team decisions to retire cars when they wanted to compete. I wonder what the culture is like in that team. Dixon deserves all that he gets but one day Dixon will not be there and how will the team handle its drivers then? Let's keep an eye on this.

11. Santino Ferrucci's brief IndyCar rookie season ends with an 11th place finish. He wasn't that far off his teammates in the final two races. I will be honest and say I think he is a bit of a punk and he is trying to be the victim after the Formula Two incident. If he is full-time next year there will be rough patches and let's see how he handles it. There is a room for somebody that is not liked.

12. Tony Kanaan's 300th consecutive start ends with a 12th place finish. This was not the dream season he and A.J. Foyt Racing had in mind. I think it will be an uphill battle next year. 

13. We are going to speed through the rest of the field. Jordan King went from 25th to 13th, which is good. King's rookie year was good. He showed pace but never got a top ten. I think he will stick around.

14. Zach Veach's rookie year didn't end as planned but he showed he is game for IndyCar and I expect him to pick it up in his sophomore year.

15. James Hinchcliffe struggles to end a season on a good note. He holds onto a top ten championship position on tiebreaker over teammate Robert Wickens, the guy that missed the final three races. That seems fitting. A lot happened to this team but the final results are disappointing.

16. I am going to cover a few part-time drivers in one go: Pietro Fittipaldi held his own in his few starts. I want to see what he can do with more time and when he is healthy. Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank Racing had moments this year, Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500 to be specific but the team didn't leave a mark. I think they could and we will have to see what 2019 brings. Carlos Muñoz's second race as substitute for Robert Wickens wasn't great. I think Muñoz should be a full-time competitor.

17. Matheus Leist wasn't great in his rookie year and outside of his first qualifying run at St. Petersburg and a respectable showing in Indianapolis 500 qualifying, he was non-existent. It makes you wonder if Foyt made the right decision going out on a limb for a teenager over keeping one of Muñoz or Conor Daly. 

18. Colton Herta's debut wasn't as great as his teammate's but he is 18 years old. He is the first driver born in the 21st century to start an IndyCar race. Give him some time.

19. Carlin's first IndyCar season ends with Max Chilton in 21st and Charlie Kimball in 22nd. Hilton's one good day was qualifying at Mid-Ohio. I think everyone expected it to be a rough year but Chilton never had a good day. Kimball got top ten finishes for the team. I think the team should be pleased but know it has to do better in 2019 and it should expect to build and do better.

20. Spencer Pigot's finale ended prematurely again. He will be back with Ed Carpenter Racing next year. It would make sense to keep King as the road/street course driver but I think Pigot would benefit from another veteran teammate at road/street courses. He needs someone to lean on and I think that would be much better for his development.

21. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's year ended with double retirements. Graham Rahal didn't win a race but he was in the top ten more than he wasn't. Takuma Sato won a race and had pace. The team was just a bit off this year and it may have been because of the expansion to two cars but I think the team can get back to where it was and retaining both drivers for 2019 is a positive

22. Finally, let's cover the start of this race and the clash with NASCAR. Live television folks, you got to love it. It was unfortunate. It was hysterical as well but sometimes this happens and it sucks the race had to start on CNBC and then be simulcasted on NBCSN during the red flag for the NASCAR race and then go back to CNBC only and then wait for the NASCAR race victory lane interview. 

It will not happen next year with the Laguna Seca finale likely on network NBC and with the NASCAR Cup race the night before at Richmond. Everything worked out though. It was a pain and a buzzkill. I am not sure IndyCar could have held off the start any longer. There are people at the track and they showed up for a scheduled start time. There are a lot of people that have to be pleased and in this scenario somebody has to lose out. 

In the end, it worked out. The race ended on NBCSN, Rossi's charge through the field was on NBCSN and we got to see Scott Dixon and his family be handed the Astor Cup on NBCSN. Everything was fine.

23. This was the final race with Verizon as title sponsor of IndyCar and it is tough to see Verizon go. It is odd any time a title sponsor or any sponsor is leaving. Everyone thanks the company for its support, whether it was for one season or 21 seasons but at the same time it is understandable to feel angry. The partnership is deemed no longer viable for business. The money is gone and the series, teams, drivers and crews are left wondering where the money is going to come from. 

Verizon did a really good job for five years. We shouldn't expect companies to commit for anything longer than that. We were fooled during the days of tobacco money. We thought everyone had a pot that large and deep. In the last 15 years we have learned that isn't the case. After all Coca-Cola doesn't need to spend $25 million dollars to sell soda. Mars doesn't need to spend $25 million to sell M&Ms. The return on investment isn't practical when it comes to consumer products. 

The next title sponsor for IndyCar will likely have the same shelf life. In five years we will be back here again. The truth is there isn't that wonder company that will dump money down the IndyCar drain. The Amazons/Apples/Microsofts of the world don't have to go crazy with promotional dollars and motorsports makes no sense. What company will see it as worth it?

24. This was the final race for Sonoma. It is tough to see it go. I went in 2009. Sonoma is a lovely venue and not far from San Francisco. Sonoma was on the schedule for 14 consecutive years. That is quite impressive considering IndyCar's recent history and that is part of the reason why it will be missed. It was one of the venues we got used to when racetracks were skeptical about IndyCar. 

On the flip side, Sonoma never got the racetrack layout correct. The esses were deemed too fast with not enough runoff room for IndyCar, so the series ran the turn nine section. The hairpin was deemed not to have enough runoff from so the series ran the motorcycle hairpin before having an intermediate hairpin for the latter years. 

I wish Sonoma had tried something. I wrote about this before. I was open to anything. Sonoma doesn't have an iconic layout. The track has been altered so much over the last two decades and IndyCar didn't have a long history with the track. No one was partial to any layout. 

The race moved to mid-September three years ago and that move didn't help. The attendance was sparse in late August and moving the race back and moving the start time back to after 3:30 p.m. local time didn't make it better. 

Sonoma was in an odd spot at the end: Not drawing a large enough crowd to turn heads but beloved within the paddock because sponsors loved the location. It became a holiday week to end the season. It has been a corporate weekend, not a fan weekend. 

A lot of people wish for Sonoma to return soon but with Laguna Seca set to host the finale for the next three years I am not sure that will happen. Sonoma could be run in February when it is green but that isn't going to happen. It may return one day but it is likely further away than most wish for.

25. Another late night. It is ironic the best Sonoma race was the final Sonoma race. Not every finale is going to be a thriller. This race lost some of its luster in turn one. It happens. Now the offseason is here and we have a lot of review. But that is for tomorrow. Enjoy the night.