Monday, January 21, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: When Could IndyCar Return to Japan?

Benito Guerra is the best driver in the world after winning the Champion of Champions competition at Race of Champions. Think about that: The best driver in the world is someone who has scored 14 points over a 13-year career in the World Rally Championship. How about that? Tom Kristensen and Johan Kristoffersson defeated the dominant Germans of Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher to win the Nations' Cup for Team Nordic. A driver who should be in the NASCAR Cup Series this year won the Chili Bowl. New Zealanders keep defending their home turf even if they needed an assist from Mother Nature. The Dakar Rally concluded. There was a first time winner in Supercross. IndyCar announced a new title sponsors and that is where we start. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

When Could IndyCar Return to Japan?
Relief fell upon the IndyCar community when a title sponsor was announced last week. Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, otherwise known as NTT, took over from Verizon after the American held the reins for five years.

With relief comes excitement. IndyCar is not wading into the future without a co-pilot. The Japanese company will be there and can help IndyCar when it comes to developing an app, at track experiences and I am sure the teams will benefit from the companies abilities when it comes to data as well.

This isn't a consumer company. Do not expect commercials during the Super Bowl, Saturday Night Live or on a random Tuesday afternoon on TBS. People aren't going to follow NTT to IndyCar. Most people likely never heard of NTT. It isn't Coca-Cola, Apple, Amazon or Snickers. We need to keep that in mind during the season. We should remember this company is not going to expose IndyCar to millions of people who did not come in contact with IndyCar prior to 2019.

But the excitement was not just because IndyCar has a new title sponsor or the possibilities that NTT bring to the series or this announcement added on top of the new broadcast partnership with NBC but the excitement stems from an international company tossing its weight behind IndyCar and a company from a location IndyCar is familiar with.

It should come to no surprise that a wave of optimism of IndyCar returning to Japan followed in the aftershock of NTT's announcement. IndyCar went to Twin Ring Motegi from 1998 to 2011 with the first 13 trips being on the oval and the final trip flipped to the road course after the oval suffered damage from the Tōhoku earthquake.

It is kind of fascinating that Japan and Twin Ring Motegi in particular have become such beloved places for IndyCar fans. I am trying to figure out why that is the case and what I can come up with is a trip Japan is a big step for IndyCar. It is a flyaway race to another world power. It shows that IndyCar is more than just a North American series. IndyCar goes from a regional series to an international series with that trip.

On top of that, IndyCar is in need of ovals and at a time when oval races in the United States struggle to stick, Twin Ring Motegi might be the one venue that could work. While oval racing is not native to Japan, the one saving grace for a race at Twin Ring Motegi is it would be IndyCar's only trip to the country, the one chance for fans to see these teams and drivers. If there are IndyCar fans in Japan, this is their race to attend regardless of the type of course it is on. It is better to get 30,000 people at Motegi and make that work than get 10,000 at any one of six ovals in the United States.

Japan becomes a bit of a solution for one of IndyCar's lingering issues but it also must be noted that Japan has left an imprint on the modern IndyCar landscape.

As much as we associate Canadians, Brazilians, Australians and British drivers with IndyCar, Japan has been just as represented in the series in the last three decades. Consider that a Japanese driver has made at least one IndyCar start in every year since 1990. The last time there was not a Japanese driver in a IRL/IndyCar Series race (excluding the 2008 Long Beach race) was Kentucky 2002. That is a span of 269 consecutive races with at least one Japanese driver on the grid.

The increase in Japanese participation coincided with the arrival of Honda and Toyota to CART and then the IRL but Honda has become a beloved partner. For a while I felt Honda was viewed as a bad guy because of the spec-era when it was the only engine in town in a Dallara, the only chassis in town. However, we have come to adore Honda for all that it has done for IndyCar. The narrative has shifted. Honda was not the bad guy but stuck with IndyCar through one of the lowest points. Better yet, Honda hasn't cut back since Chevrolet re-joined the series in 2012. It doesn't have to field the entire grid but Honda continues to include IndyCar in television commercials, has kept up the two-seater promotion and has sponsored multiple races on the calendar.

It only feels right to have a race in Japan. The country, its companies and its drivers, have become a part of the IndyCar fabric. A trip across the Pacific seems necessary.

There is no intention for IndyCar to return to Japan and a return was not a part of the deal. While it would be nice there is a good chance IndyCar goes through the entirety of this deal with NTT and never turns a lap at a track in the Land of the Rising Sun. The race has to make economic sense and the teams have to get something out of it. Honda footed the bill all those years IndyCar went to Motegi. Honda isn't going to do that this time around and I doubt NTT's investment in the series should be used to send everyone to Japan. The money would be better used if spread around the series than focused on one race. If teams and their sponsors are not interested or do not see the value, and if the sanctioning fee isn't there to cover the expenses then it will not happen.

But let's say it is on the radar for NTT. When could IndyCar return? And I am not talking about 2020 or 2021 or 2022 but when in terms of month?

The IndyCar schedule is clustered and it was always difficult to squeeze Motegi into the schedule during the CART and IRL years. CART's first trips were in late-March and early-April and cooler temperatures were in play. It was much warmer when IndyCar visited in the middle of September in the final few seasons but a September race would not fit now with the end of the season and the series is not going to end the year at Motegi now that Laguna Seca is back on the schedule.

A trip to Japan poses a logistical challenge. The best case would be to have the week before and the week after off. It would allow the teams a week to get everything across the Pacific and used to the time change and then have enough time to pack and get back on American time. But with the number of races and how tightly packed the schedule is that is not easy to grant.

During the final years when Motegi was held in April it was run on consecutive weeks with Kansas. April has two IndyCar races now but with the movement of Easter it is always a different schedule. This year, Barber and Long Beach will be on consecutive weeks before three weeks off. That seems like an opening but Easter is April 21st. You would think the race could take place on April 28th but Easter is April 12th in 2020 meaning Long Beach will likely be the week prior and Barber will have to move after the holiday. Then there is the month of May and the last thing the teams want before three consecutive weeks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway followed by a doubleheader at Belle Isle and a race at Texas the week after that is a trip to Japan.

The room isn't there in March or April. The month of May is off limits. June is not happening as it already has three races. July has three races. The one opening is at the beginning of August but it is two open weekends between Mid-Ohio and Pocono. That means the teams would either have to go from Mid-Ohio to Japan in back-to-back weeks or have a week off and then run four consecutive weeks from Japan to Pocono to Gateway to Portland. Neither is happening in that case.

That brings us back to September and we already said it doesn't fit and it doesn't make sense for it to be a non-championship event after the season in either October or November. The last thing the teams need is a trip across the Pacific for a race that doesn't matter. The cost needs to be justified and an exhibition does not do that.

The IndyCar calendar is just starting to settle down. The last thing it needs is a massive upheaval to try and make one race in Japan fit. The constant shifting of races to accommodate other venues is what got IndyCar in trouble in the early days of reunification and it should not be repeated in this new and brighter era of IndyCar.

I would love IndyCar to return to Motegi and run that oval but the race has to make sense for both the series and the country. There is no point in doing a race that only suits one of the parties involved. A race will only be successful if prosperity for both is kept in mind.

Right now, it doesn't make sense nor is the money there for a return to Japan but things change. IndyCar has returned to Road America and Portland, will be returning to Laguna Seca and Surfers Paradise is the latest tease. If these venues can all return after a decade away, let's not rule out the same being the case for Motegi down the road.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Benito Guerra, Tom Kristensen and Johan Kristoffersson but did you know...

Christopher Bell won the Chili Bowl for the third consecutive year.

Marcus Armstrong won the only Toyota Racing Series race from Teretonga Park. The second and third races of the weekend were cancelled due to high wind conditions.

Cooper Webb won the Supercross Triple Crown event from Anaheim, his first career victory. Webb won two of the three races and finished in third in the final race behind Eli Tomac and Marvin Musquin.

Nasser Al-Attiyah won the Dakar Rally for the third time in the car class. It was Toyota's first Dakar victory.

Toby Price won the Dakar Rally for the second time in the bike class and it was KTM's 18th consecutive Dakar victory.

Eduard Nikolaev won in the truck class for the third consecutive Dakar Rally and it was his fourth class victory.

Nicolas Cavigliasso won the quad class in the Dakar Rally, his first career victory.

Francesco "Chaleco" López won in the UTV class, his first Dakar Rally victory.

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg and Franck Lagorce split the Andros Trophy races from Serre Chevalier.

Coming Up This Weekend
24 Hours of Daytona
The World Rally Championship opens the 2019 season with Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Formula E heads to a new course in Santiago.
Supercross goes to Northern California and Oakland specifically.
Toyota Racing Series hopes to race more than once at Hampton Downs.


Friday, January 18, 2019

2019 Race of Champions Preview

The 30th Race of Champions takes place this weekend in Mexico City with Foro Sol, the stadium located inside Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, hosting the event. At least nine different countries will be represented in this competition with 20 different drivers set to participate. Two past Champion of Champions winners are in this competition, both of which have also won the Nations' Cup before with two additional Nations' Cup winners also in the field. At least eight drivers will be making their Race of Champions debut this year with two spots still to be decided.

An eight-driver competition will take place on Saturday to decide the winner of ROC Mexico and the winner will get to compete in the Nations' Cup and in the play-in round of the Champion of Champions competition. There will also be the eROC competition for sim racers with the winner also getting to compete in the Nations' Cup and play-in round of the Champion of Champions.

This year's Nations' Cup is split into three groups. Group A features four teams while Group B and Group C each have three teams. The top two from Group A advance to the knockout round while only the group winners of Group B and Group C will advance. The winners of Group A and Group B will meet in one semifinal and the Group C winner will face the Group A runner-up in the other. Each round of the knockout stage will be a best-of-three races.

The Nations' Cup will be held on Saturday January 19th.

The Champion of Champions competition will have four groups of four drivers but the final spot in each group will be decided in a play-in, head-to-head race. The top two finishers from each group will advance to the knockout round. The top of the draw will have the Group A winner face the Group B runner-up and the Group B winner face the Group A runner-up in the quarterfinals. The bottom of the bracket has Group C winner facing the Group D runner-up and the Group D winner facing the Group C runner-up. The Grand Final will be a best-of-three races.

The Champion of Champions will be held on Sunday January 20th.

Nations' Cup
Group A
Germany
Best Result: 1st (2007-12, 2017-18)
Drivers:
Sebastian Vettel: 2018 Formula One vice-champion with five victories
Mick Schumacher: 2018 FIA European Formula 3 Championship champion

Mexico
Best Result: Group Stage (2018)
Drivers:
Esteban Gutiérrez: Mercedes-AMG Simulator driver
Patricio O'Ward: 2018 Indy Lights Series champion

Infinitum Mexico
Memo Rojas: Fourth in the European Le Mans Series LMP2 Drivers' champion
Benito Guerra: Made four starts in the World Rally Championship.

France
Best Result: 1st (2000, 2004)
Drivers:
Pierre Gasly: 15th in the Formula One World Drivers' Championship
Loïc Duval: 17th in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship and he finished third overall in the 2018 24 Hours of Daytona

Group Breakdown: This group seems to lean toward Germany and France. Vettel is remarkable in this competition and he has won seven Nations' Cups, including all by himself when he last competed in 2017. Schumacher is a rookie but junior formula drivers have done well before in Race of Champions. Both Mexican teams have a shout. O'Ward is coming off a fantastic year with a Indy Lights title and successful IndyCar debut but Gutiérrez was on the sidelines for all of 2018. Last year, Rojas went 0-6 in the Race of Champions between both competitions and Guerra went 2-1 when he ran the Nations' Cup in 2012 but he went 0-3 in the Champion of Champions. On paper, it seems Gasly and Duval will advance but I think the Gutiérrez/O'Ward is their biggest worry.

Group B
Brazil
Best Result: Semifinals (2004)
Drivers:
Hélio Castroneves: 7th in the IMSA Prototype championship with one victory
Lucas di Grassi: 2017-18 Formula E vice-champion

TELCEL Mexico
Daniel Suárez: 21st in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship
*ROC Mexico Winner

Sim Racing All-Stars
Best Result: Group Stage (2018)
Drivers:
Enzo Bonito: 2018 Sim Racing All-Stars representative
eROC winner*

Group Breakdown: This group leans toward Brazil. Castroneves has been here before and di Grassi is a rookie but experienced driver. Two of the teams still have undecided spots and we have not seen the late addition drivers fair well. Rudy van Buren represented the sim racers in the Champion of Champions and went 1-2. Bonito went 0-3 in the Nations' Cup and lost to van Buren in the play-in round for the Champion of Champions group stage.

ROC Mexico is a decent field. Last year's representative for Mexico, Abraham Calderón is in this competition with Pirelli World Challenge champion Martín Fuentes, NASCAR Mexico Series champion Rubén García, Jr., rally driver Ricardo Triviño, Nissan GT Academy's Ricarco Sánchez, rally driver Pancho Name, NASCAR Mexico Series driver Rubén Rovelo and rally driver Ricardo Cordero.

I think it is either Brazil or TELCEL Mexico but I think it easily goes to Brazil.

Group C
Team Nordic
Best Result: 1st (2005, 2014)
Drivers:
Tom Kristensen: 2018 Champion of Champions semifinalist
Johan Kristoffersson: 2018 World Rallycross Championship champion

Great Britain
Best Result: 2nd (2009, 2010, 2014)*
Drivers:
David Coulthard: 2018 Champion of Champions winner
Andy Priaulx: Currently eighth in the FIA World Endurance Championship World Endurance GT Drivers' Championship
* - England won in 2015 with Jason Plato and Andy Priaulx.

United States of America
Best Result: 1st (2002)
Drivers:
Josef Newgarden: 5th in the IndyCar Series championship with three victories
Ryan Hunter-Reay: 4th in the IndyCar Series championship with two victories

Group Breakdown: This is the toughest group to pick. Kristensen and Priaulx have each won the Nations' Cup before. Coulthard is the defending Champion of Champions winner. Kristoffersson had an impressive debut last year making the semifinals in the Champion of Champions competition and he missed out on the semifinals in the Nations' Cup on tiebreaker to Kristensen and Petter Solberg, who represented Team Nordic. Hunter-Reay has been shaky in this competition and he has advanced from the group stage of Nations' Cup in only one of his prior five appearances. History says this group goes to the Nordic team.

Knockout Round Breakdown: This sets up a Germany-Brazil semifinal and Team Nordic and France in the other semifinal.

The first semifinal goes to Germany. Vettel is not going to lose. Even if Schumacher loses his race it sets up for Vettel to run the rubber match and he will win it.

This France team is similar to last year's Germany team of Timo Bernhard and René Rast. Neither driver was the best for their country but they are damn good when compared to the rest of the field. I think this semifinal will need all three races and I give the edge to France.

Germany vs. France in the final and a rematch of the Group A matchup. Germany swept France in the 2012 Nations' Cup final with Vettel and Michael Schumacher knocking off Romain Grosjean and Sébastien Ogier respectively. I don't think that will be the case. I think this one goes all three races. Vettel gets a victory and as does the French driver that faces Schumacher.

I guess the question should be, who can beat Vettel? In the Nations' Cup, Vettel went 8-0 in 2017 in Miami, 5-0 in 2012, 5-1 in 2011, 2-3 in 2010, 5-1 in 2009, 2-1 in 2008 and 3-1 in 2007. His record in the Nations' Cup is 30-7! In chronological order, his losses have been to Travis Pastrana, Mattias Ekström, Andy Priaulx, Pastrana again, Tanner Foust and Priaulx again.

It is an odd bunch of drivers to lose to. Pastrana and Foust are far from the greatest in the world. Although Pastrana has Vettel's number. Pastrana beat Vettel in the group stage of the 2017 Champion of Champions. Ekström historically was great at Race of Champions and Priaulx is respectable.

This will be the second time Germany and France will have met in this competition. I am not sure Gasly can be the guy. Can Duval be the guy? Can Duval be the sports car guy to finally knock off Vettel?

No.

Vettel isn't going to be stopped. Germany gets its ninth title.

The Champion of Champions
Group A
David Coulthard
Best Result: 1st (2014, 2018)

Tom Kristensen
Best Result: Runner-up (2005, 2011-12, 2015, 2017)

Patricio O'Ward
Best Result: This is his debut.

Round 1A:
ROC Mexico winner

Andy Priaulx
Best Result: Semifinalist (2007-08, 2011)

Group Breakdown:  This is a bit of experience against a bit of youth. I think Kristensen edges out Coulthard and O'Ward gets the other spot. I have Priaulx getting out of the Round 1A. It is kind of forgotten how much success Priaulx has in this competition. It should not be a surprise if he makes a run to the semifinals or beyond. The ROC Mexico competitors that could do the most damage are García, Jr., Sánchez and Fuentes. Regardless who wins the round 1A matchup I think this group will be very competitive.

Group B
Johan Kristoffersson
Best Result: Semifinalist (2018)

Lucas di Grassi 
Best Result: This is his debut.

Josef Newgarden
Best Result: Quarterfinals (2018)

Round 1B:
Loïc Duval
Best Result: This is his debut.

Hélio Castroneves
Best Result: Quarterfinals (2017)

Group Breakdown: This is a tight group and I think Kristoffersson wins it. He won his group last year. It will be a tough fight for second. Newgarden advanced to the knockout round last year and lost to Kristoffersson in the quarterfinals after he collided with the barriers after three turns. Newgarden did advance from a weaker group that featured two Saudi drivers and those were the two drivers he beat. Newgarden could benefit from having two debut drivers in his group but neither are slouches. I think Duval wins Round 1B and I think Duval would be the second best driver in this group if he gets out. Give me the Frenchman advancing.

Group C
Sebastian Vettel
Best Result: 1st (2017)

Daniel Suárez
Best Result: This is his debut.

Benito Guerra
Best Result: Group Stage (2012)

Round 1C:
Memo Rojas
Best Result: Group Stage (2018)

Mick Schumacher
Best Result: This is a debut.

Group Breakdown: We will pencil Vettel into the next round. This could be an interesting group if Rojas advances from Round 1C. I don't think that is the case however and I think this group will only have Germans advancing to the knockout round.

Group D
Pierre Gasly
Best Result: This is his debut.

Esteban Gutiérrez
Best Result: This is his debut.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Best Result: Quarterfinals (2014)

Round 1D:
Enzo Bonito
Best Result: Play-In Round (2018).

eROC Winner

Group Breakdown: This is a hard group to call. Not one competitor stands above the others. What benefits Hunter-Reay is experience and he has advanced twice out of his five previous appearances. In 2014, he went 3-0 with victories over Kristensen, Pascal Wehrlein and Jolyon Palmer and last year, Hunter-Reay went 2-1 with victories over Castroneves and Rojas but lost to Juan Pablo Montoya. I think Gasly advances as well. Gutiérrez has been inactive for a year and the sim racers are too much of an unknown. You likely have to win twice to advance and last year van Buren won once. I am not sure lightning can strike twice.

Knockout Round Breakdown: Here is what the bracket would look like:

Kristensen vs. Duval
Kristofferson vs. O'Ward
Vettel vs. Gasly
Hunter-Reay vs. Schumacher

These are all crapshoots. They are all best-of-one race competitions. One spin of the wheels at the starting line, one bobble in a corner, one brush of the barrier and you are done. Your opponent is not going to make a mistake. Newgarden learned last year that cold tires can catch you out and if that happens you are out. There is no mulligan. There is no do-over.

On gut, I think Kristensen, Kristoffersson, Vettel and Hunter-Reay all advance. All the group winners. How likely is that to happen?

It happened in 2009. In 2010 and 2011, three of four group winners advanced. Only one group winner advanced in 2012 and 2014. There was no competition in 2013 and 2015 was only a knockout competition. Two of the four group winners advanced in 2017 and last year had three of four group winners advance. It has happened once out of seven possible competitions. That means 17 out of 28 semifinalists were group winners.

What about finalists? How many finalists won a group?

Obvious both in 2009, but both were group winners in 2010, one made the final in 2011, Coulthard was the only group winner to advance in 2014 and won the entire competition, both were group winers in 2017 and both were group winners last year. Ten out of a possible 14 finalists won a group.

Sébastien Ogier and Romain Grosjean are the only Champion of Champions winners not to win a group when the drivers won in 2011 and 2012 respectively and 2012 is the only year when no group winners made the final. Grosjean defeated Kristensen that year.

Give me Kristensen and Vettel to make the finals and Kristensen finally gets his Champion of Champions victory over Vettel 2-1.

The Nations' Cup will be held at 2:00 p.m. ET on Saturday January 19th with the Champion of Champions competition beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday January 20th.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

2019 IndyCar Silly Season Catch-Up

We are in the middle of the first month of the year. The reviews and previews are behind us. A few races have come and gone but we have yet to really get into the season. Most are still bunkered down under blankets waiting for warmer days trackside to return.

It has been awhile since we took a look at IndyCar heading into the new season and now is the best time to assess where we are at two months out from the season opener.

The IndyCar offseason starts with a mad dash for seats, a long holiday lull and ends with an even paced game of musical chairs from preseason testing to the season opener at St. Petersburg. The game has become more calculated with at most a pair of full-time openings available and a dozen opponents continuing to circle the water. Others see the writing on the wall and know while they might not be well positioned in this game they start to lean out of one fight and prepare to dart to the security of an Indianapolis 500 one-off. If you can't run full-time at least make sure you will be at Indianapolis.

The truth is most of you already know the lay of the land. You know the Penske drivers, the Andretti drivers, what Coyne is doing; who is staying put and who is moving on.

It is best to break it down like this:

Where Are the Open Seats of Substance?
Carlin.

That's it for the most part. The team has been awfully quiet about its sophomore season. Neither Max Chilton nor Charlie Kimball have been confirmed as returning but neither have been dismissed from the team.

The only thing swirling around this team are rumors.

Some think Chilton will run a reduced scheduled, something similar to Ed Jones with all the road course races. Kimball isn't out of the discussion but when the season ended it seemed word on the street was Kimball's sponsorship would not be enough for a full season in 2019 but it would take care of a good chunk of the season.

The only other name linked to the team is RC Enerson, who tested with the team last year at Circuit of the Americas and the team was not vocal about that at all. Enerson has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the sidelines. The Floridian made three IndyCar starts in 2016 for Dale Coyne Racing with his best result being ninth at Watkins Glen. Enerson ran in U.S. F2000 in 2013 and 2014 with him taking vice-champion honors in the second season. He was fourth in the 2015 Indy Lights championship with a victory at Mid-Ohio and his 2016 Indy Lights season ended prematurely after eight races to focus his attention and save his money for an IndyCar opportunity.

So That's Pretty Much It For Full-Time Seats?
Yeah, pretty much. Every other full-time seat is accounted for two months before the season opener.

On the Honda side, Chip Ganassi Racing retains Scott Dixon and partners him with Felix Rosenqvist.

No changes to the Andretti Autosport lineup with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach returning and the same is true for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with both Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato staying put.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing each see one change. At SPM, Marcus Ericsson joins the team alongside James Hinchcliffe. Coyne keeps Bourdais and has added Santino Ferrucci.

Honda has added a new team with Harding Steinbrenner Racing switching over from Chevrolet. Patricio O'Ward and Colton Herta will be the team's two drivers.

Team Penske will continue to lead Chevrolet with Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. A.J. Foyt Racing continues at the rear and it has kept Matheus Leist and Tony Kanaan onboard. Ed Carpenter Racing keeps Spencer Pigot full-time while Carpenter will share the #20 Chevrolet with Ed Jones this season. And then there are the two unannounced Carlin entries and that is it when it comes to full-time entries.

We are looking at 14 Honda entries and nine Chevrolet entries, just shy of two-dozen with 23 full-time entries on the books.

What About Part-Time Teams? Are Any Of Those Expanding?
Yes!

Meyer Shank Racing will be back with Jack Harvey and it appears the team is set to run more in 2019. Last year, MSR ran six races, St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Indianapolis, Mid-Ohio, Portland and Sonoma. Ten races has been the stated goal for the 2019 season but those races have not been announced yet.

Juncos Racing made 12 appearances in 2018 with three different drivers and the team has yet to announce anything for 2019. The team has expanded its operations into IMSA's DPi class with a Cadillac entry. Marshall Pruett said on his podcast last week that the team plans on running two cars for the Indianapolis 500.

There will be a new team on the grid in 2019. DragonSpeed will run five races with Ben Hanley. Hanley has driven for the team the last few seasons in the European Le Mans Series and FIA World Endurance Championship with DragonSpeed. The team will contest at St. Petersburg, Barber, Indianapolis, Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team will use Chevrolet engines.

And then there is McLaren, which will field a Chevrolet-powered car for Fernando Alonso in the Indianapolis 500.

Should We Be Worried About Juncos Racing?
No.

Growth is not a straight line. It is not as easy as going from one race to 12 races to all the races. There are peaks and valleys and it takes time.

If the team is having more success putting together a sports car entry then that is fine. It is how the world works. There is demand for drivers looking for sports car opportunities and Juncos is meeting that demand. Good for Ricardo Juncos and his team.

And if the team never blossoms into a full-time IndyCar entry, do not panic, do not think there is something wrong with the system or IndyCar has to do more to drive down costs. For some teams it will work and for others it will not.

You are going to win some and you are going to lose some. I would love for Juncos Racing to field full-time entries in each IMSA and IndyCar but I would be just as happy if Juncos kept its doors open, kept up its successful Road to Indy program and was in a series that made financial sense for the team.

Indianapolis 500 Entries: Where Are We Now?
In a good spot.

We listed 23 full-time entries. Add Shank, Juncos' possible two, DragonSpeed, McLaren, Ed Jones running a third Ed Carpenter Racing entry in partnership with Scuderia Corsa, Jordan King has been confirmed in a third Rahal Letterman Lanigan entry and Hélio Castroneves will be back in the #3 Chevrolet for Team Penske and we are at 31 entries and two away from the promised land.

Andretti Autosport always runs at least one additional car. A.J. Foyt Racing runs an additional car even in years when Foyt himself says the team isn't running an additional car. Coyne has run an additional car frequently. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will likely field a car and last year the team fielded two. I wouldn't count out D&R doing the same in 2019. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has a history running an additional entry.

If all the entries in the paragraph above materialize, we are looking at 37 entries; two more than last year and that seems a tad high.

Some have speculated that we could see 38-40 entries with thoughts that McLaren could run two cars, Ganassi fielding an extra entry for someone of the likes of Kurt Busch and another team, such as Carlin, fielding an additional entry for Indianapolis.

I think we are going to see bumping this year and I think we are going to see more cars bumped than in 2018 but I have a hard time thinking Honda and Chevrolet are going to pony up enough engine leases to get over three-dozen entries.

Consider that of the 31 entries will have on paper the split is currently 16 to Honda and 15 to Chevrolet. If we are talking about 40 entries then in all likelihood it will have to be a 20-20 split and while that seems within touching distance at the current moment, those four and five extra entries are difficult to get to.

Last year, Honda topped Chevrolet in terms of entries at 19-16. If we take the proposed 37 entries from a few paragraphs above the split would be 19 Honda entries and 17 Chevrolet entries. Honda is maxed out. Pretty much every Honda team runs an additional entry. The only place to expand is with a third Ganassi entry and I am not sure that happens. Chevrolet is where there is room for expansion but event that is limited. Every full-time Chevrolet team but Carlin has plans to field an extra car then you have three more Chevrolet teams coming in for Indianapolis, two of which could run two entries. It is hard to see any more than 36-37 entries.

The crazy thing is we are hemming and hawing over the possible 37th, 38th, 39th and 40th entries for the Indianapolis 500 and it was not that long ago we were stretching just hoping to get to 34. Forget a good spot, the Indianapolis 500 is in a great position in January!

What Should We Expect?
In these final two months we should expect testing and possibly another few names entering the fold and those could be names that many in IndyCar circles are not familiar with.

Jordan King was announced as the road/street course driver for the #20 Chevrolet on January 4th last year. René Binder was confirmed for four races, which eventually expanded to six, with Juncos Racing the next day. Pietro Fittipaldi's part-time schedule with Dale Coyne Racing wasn't announced until February 6th. None of those three were really on the radar when the 2017 season ended.

We aren't entirely sure what the Carlin lineup will look like, whether Chilton will be full-time and the second car will be split or whether both cars will be split amongst four or five drivers but let's expect a few drivers to be slipping in out of seats in the coming tests, whether those be at Sebring, Laguna Seca or Austin.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Dream Race of Champions

BMW ruined the bed in Morocco and it allowed Jérôme d'Ambrosio to get his first victory on track in his Formula E career and his first victory on track since the 2010 Monaco sprint race in GP2. There was a staggered restart and a first time winner in Supercross. German manufactures remain unbeaten in the Dubai 24 Hours. New Zealanders defended their house. Daniel Suárez got a new ride. IndyCar released its television schedule. The Dakar Rally continues on although one competitor was tossed after running over a spectator. The spectator has a broken femur but is still alive. That is a grim note to end on. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Dream Race of Champions
Coming up this weekend is one of my favorite events of the motorsports year. It is the Race of Champions. I still haven't figured out why I like it so much or why I take it as seriously as I do but it is what it is and it is that time of year again.

Mexico hosts this year's event and as with most Race of Champions we are less than a week away and we still do not have a full entry list announced. We will be getting driver announcements on a daily basis likely from now until the start of the competition on Saturday. It is disappointingly unprofessional. It is bad enough that we don't find out the location of the next Race of Champions until two months before the event.

Race of Champions could be a bigger event if people knew the date and location at least nine to ten months in advance and the lineup should be known at least a month or two out. The entire schedule should be known. We know the matches for a World Cup six months in advance. We should be going into Race of Champions knowing who is meeting whom in the group stages and knowing what the knockout round match ups could be.

The Race of Champions needs to take it to the next level and start taking itself seriously.

How great could this event be?

It should feature 32 countries, 32 pairs of drivers. It should be a three-day event. The first day should be just the group stage of the Nations Cup with two sessions, one in the day and one at night. Day two should be the knockout stage of the Nations Cup and day three should be a 64-driver single-elimination tournament to decide the Champion of Champions.

This is what it should look like (P.S. It is a lot harder to come up with 32 countries and driver pairings that I first thought it would be but I made it work):

Group A (The Alps Group)
Germany: Sebastian Vettel and René Rast
Why These Two Drivers: Vettel is one of the best drivers in this tournament and until someone regularly beats him Vettel should always represent Germany. Mick Schumacher has already been announced for Germany this year but Rast is an underrated driver. He won the Nations Cup last year with Timo Bernhard, a DTM title in 2017 and he ended 2018 with six consecutive victories and fell short in the championship. Plus, Rast is a strong sports car driver in prototypes and GT cars.
Notable Snubs: Bernhard, Nico Hülkenberg, André Lotterer

Austria: Richard Lietz and Lucas Auer
Why These Two Drivers: Lietz has been one of Porsche's best drivers with a world championship and three class victories at Le Mans to show for it. Austria doesn't have a deep lineup but Auer did well in DTM and he moves on to Super Formula.
Notable Snub: Philipp Eng

Switzerland: Sébastien Buemi and Neel Jani
Why These Two Drivers: Switzerland has never run at the Race of Champions and it should field a team. Buemi and Jani are World Endurance Drivers' Champions, both are Le Mans winners and both have been successful in single-seaters.
Notable Snubs: Marcel Fässler, Simona de Silvestro

France: Sébastien Ogier and Jean-Éric Vergne
Why These Two Drivers: Ogier has won the Champion of Champions competition before and he has won six consecutive World Rally titles. Vergne won the Formula E title and he has had plenty of success in LMP2 competition. They got championships to their names and that is why certain Formula One drivers are not in France's lineup.
Notable Snubs: Sébastien Bourdais, Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Loïc Duval, Simon Pagenaud

Group B (The North Sea Group)
England: Lewis Hamilton and Sam Bird
Why These Two Drivers: One is a five-time World Drivers' Champion and the other is regular winner in Formula E and GT competition. Also, England is lacking exciting young drivers. Norris and Russell aren't there yet.
Notable Snubs: Jenson Button, James Calado, Mike Conway, Lando Norris, George Russell

Scotland: David Coulthard and Paul di Resta
Why These Two Drivers: Coulthard is a two-time Champion of Champions winner and di Resta was vice-champion in DTM while having successful LMP2 outings with United Autosports. In a similar vain to England, not a lot of exciting young Scottish drivers coming up the pipe and it is more concerning that England.

Netherlands: Max Verstappen and Jeroen Bleekemolen
Why These Two Drivers: Verstappen won twice last year in Formula One. Bleekemolen is one of the best GT drivers in the world not with a factory program. Someone has to wake up and get him a sweet gig although it doesn't seem to matter where he goes. He is victorious everywhere.
Notable Snubs: Robin Frijns, Renger van der Zande

Belgium: Laurens Vanthoor and Thierry Neuville
Why These Two Drivers: Vanthoor has won a lot and he is a Porsche factory driver. Neuville let the World Rally Championship slip through his fingers but he is the next best Belgian driver and you want a diverse pairing. Rally drivers do well in this competition.
Notable Snubs: Jérôme d'Ambrosio, Dries Vanthoor, Bertrand Baguette

Group C (The Americas)
United States: Alexander Rossi and Colin Braun
Why These Two Drivers: Read This...
Notable Snubs: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Kyle Busch, Patrick Long, Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick

Canada: James Hinchcliffe and Bruno Spengler
Why These Two Drivers: Because Canada's most exciting driver is not able to compete. You know Robert Wickens would be the number one driver for Canada. Hinchcliffe is good, Spengler is a DTM champion and Lance Stroll isn't good enough.
Notable Snubs: Nicholas Latifi, Zachary Claman De Melo

Mexico: Sergio Pérez and Patricio O'Ward
Why These Two Drivers: I nearly had Daniel Suárez and O'Ward because Pérez slipped my mind but Pérez is the best Mexican driver in the world. Why O'Ward over Suárez? He is 20 years old, has won in Prototype Challenge, Indy Lights and was bad fast in his first IndyCar outing.
Notable Snubs: Suárez, Memo Rojas, Esteban Gutiérrez

Brazil: Hélio Castroneves and Lucas di Grassi
Why These Two Drivers: I stuck with the actually lineup for Brazil because Castroneves is sneaky good and di Grassi probably should be in Formula One. Brazil is in a place though where it could have three or four teams, however.
Notable Snubs: Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani, Tony Kanaan, Augusto Farfus, Pietro Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Jr.

Group D (Scandinavia)
Sweden: Felix Rosenqvist and Johan Kristoffersson
Why These Two Drivers: Because Rosenqvist should be in Formula One and has succeeded in everything he has every gotten behind the wheel of and Kristoffersson did well last year in the Race of Champions and he just won the World Rallycross title after winning 11 of 12 races. By the way, Scandinavia is too deep to just be Team Nordic. Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway should all have their own teams.
Notable Snub: Marcus Ericsson

Denmark: Tom Kristensen and Kevin Magnussen
Why These Two Drivers: Because Kristensen has been knocking on the door of winning Champion of Champions for year and he has won the Nations Cup. I nearly had both Magnussens as a team but Kevin is coming off his best season in Formula One.
Notable Snubs: Jan Magnussen, Nicki Thiim, Michael Christensen, Christian Nielsen, Marco Sœrensen

Finland: Toni Vilander and Valtteri Bottas
Why These Two Drivers: Because Kimi Räikkönen would never do it. Vilander is a Pirelli World Challenge champion and he has plenty of victories in GT competition. Bottas drive for Mercedes-Benz in Formula One. By the way, Finland hasn't had a participant in Race of Champions since Juho Hänninen in 2011!
Notable Snubs: Räikkönen, Jari-Matti Latvala, Esapekka Lappi.

Norway: Andreas Mikkelsen and Petter Solberg
Why These Two Drivers: Because Norway does not have much else to choose from. But Solberg has won the Nations Cup and does well in this event and Mikkelsen is the best Norway has got but shout out to Porsche driver Dennis Olsen. Maybe next year bud.

Group E (The Mediterranean Group)
Italy: Raffaele Marciello and Alessandro Pier Guidi
Why These Two Drivers: Because Antonio Giovinazzi isn't match fit, Marciello won a bunch last year in Blancpain GT Series and Pier Guidi is the defending World Endurance GT Drivers' champion.
Notable Snubs: Giovinazzi, Gianmaria Bruni, Mirko Bortolotti, Davide Rigon

Spain: Fernando Alonso and Antonio García
Why These Two Drivers: It is Alonso and García won the IMSA GT Le Mans title.
Notable Snubs: Miguel Molina

Portugal: Filipe Albuquerque and António Félix da Costa
Why These Two Drivers: Albuquerque has won Champion of Champions in 2010 and since then he has become a great sports car driver. Da Costa never got a shot at Formula One and he has become BMW's hidden gem and has won in Formula E and maybe should have two victories.

Monaco: Charles Leclerc and Stéphane Richelmi
Why These Two Drivers: Because I could form a pairing of Monegasque drivers and every pairing I could get was getting added to the competition but in all seriousness, Leclerc is at Ferrari and Richelmi has had a good career in sports cars after decent success in junior formula series.

Group F (The Rugby Championship)
South Africa: Kelvin van der Linde and Sheldon van der Linde
Why These Two Drivers: They were the only two South African drivers I could think of that are a decent age and moderately successful. Kelvin could be following the footsteps of Laurens Vanthoor.

Australia: Daniel Ricciardo and Will Power
Why These Two Drivers: Why not these two drivers? Australia has a lot of great drivers. These two are head and shoulders above the rest.
Notable Snubs: Jamie Whincup, Matt Campbell, Craig Lowndes

New Zealand: Scott Dixon and Nick Cassidy
Why These Two Drivers: One is Scott Dixon and Cassidy was vice-champion in Super GT and Super Formula. Cassidy is diverse and young and the best kept secret in Japan.
Notable Snubs: Scott McLaughlin, Shane van Gisbergen, Brendon Hartley, Mitch Evans

Argentina: José María López and Esteban Guerrieri
Why These Two Drivers: López turned touring car success into a Toyota LMP1 ride and Guerrieri is good in touring cars. Outside of that the pool is not deep for Argentina.

Group G (The Yeesh Group or the "I have built the table and have four extra parts" Group)
Colombia: Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Muñoz
Why These Two Drivers: Montoya is the best of our generation and a Champion of Champions winner. Muñoz is underrated and someone in IndyCar should give him a full-time ride.

Venezuela: Pastor Maldonado and EJ Viso
Why These Two Drivers: Because I was able to find two Venezuelan drivers and was stretching for 32 pairs. Plus, deep down you want to see what Maldonado could do in this competition and you know he could end up in the final eight or not win a race and lose each time in a different spectacular fashion.

Russia: Romain Rusinov and Mikhail Aleshin
Why These Two Drivers: Rusinov is the best driver who doesn't want to leave LMP2 competition and Aleshin is a fearless driver. Plus, I can't take Daniil Kvyat seriously.

Estonia: Ott Tänak and Ralf Aron
Why These Two Drivers: Tänak nearly won the World Rally title last year and he has developed nicely over the last few seasons. Aron has been respectable in Formula Three but it feels like he is going to end up like Tio Ellinas, Facu Regalia and Luca Ghiotto who are really good in Formula Three/GP3 and then stall out.

Group H (The Asia Group)
Japan: Naoki Yamamoto and Kazuki Nakajima
Why These Two Drivers: Yamamoto won both Super Formula and Super GT GT500 championships in 2018 and Nakajima is coming off a win at Le Mans and leads the World Endurances Drivers' Championship. Nakajima has had a great career for himself in Japan as well.
Notable Snubs: Takuma Sato, Kamui Kobayashi, Ryō Hirakawa

China: Ho-Pin Tung and Ye Yifei
Why These Two Drivers: Tung has done well in LMP2 competition. Yifei won the French F4 Championship a few years ago and he was third in Formula Renault Eurocup in 2018.

United Arab Emirates: Ed Jones and Khaled Al Qubaisi
Why These Two Drivers: Jones has shown promise in IndyCar and Al Qubaisi was in this competition last year.

Thailand: Alexander Albon and Sandy Stuvik
Why These Two Drivers: Albon is getting a Formula One drive and even if he wasn't he was set to be in Nissan's Formula E program. Albon was third in the Formula Two championship last year behind George Russell and Lando Norris. Stuvik won the Euroformula Open Championship in 2014, had two rough years in GP3 and then moved to GT3 competition where he has been slightly better.

The bracket for the knockout round held on day two would look like this:


It could set up a Germany-England meeting in the round of 16. The Americas would face Scandinavia in the first knockout round. The best of the Mediterranean would face the best of the Southern Hemisphere and a China vs. Russia match could happen in the round of 16. One other change I would make is every round would be a best-of-three with the final being best-of-five.

As for the Champion of Champions competition, how do you seed a 64-driver field?

The best thing I could come up with is super license points but even that is a bit tricky. Those with a super license do not have points and there are some drivers that participate in series that do not receive super license points, most notably the World Rally Championship. Then there are competitors that are not active or have not been active and have zero points but are clearly better than that, most notably Tom Kristensen and David Coulthard. Also, the most updated super license points I could find was prior to the 2018 season and I wasn't going to do the math and deduct the 2015 points and add in the 2018 totals so the 2017 numbers is what I use. Deal with it.

Here is what I did:

I gave all drivers with a super license 200 points, which means they are all top seeds.

I gave Sébastien Ogier 100 points, Kristensen 100 points, Coulthard 40 points and Thierry Neville, Petter Solberg and Andreas Mikkelsen all got five points.

The best way to explain this is to go seed-by-seed.

One Seeds: Lewis Hamilton, Sebastien Vettel, Max Verstappen, Lucas di Grassi
Why: The top three were no brainers and I included di Grassi, one, to make it different and reward a driver successful in something other than Formula One who still has a super license and, two, because the seeding really doesn't matter. One seeds and two seeds are about the same.

Two Seeds: Charles Leclerc, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso
Why: They all good. You put Leclerc in the same quarter as Hamilton, Bottas with Vettel, Ricciardo with Verstappen and Alonso with di Grassi. One seeds and two seeds are about the same.

Three Seeds: Sergio Pérez, Kevin Magnussen, Sébastien Buemi, Sébastien Ogier
Why: You get the super license drivers out of the way, Buemi has the most points amongst non-super licensed drivers and Ogier has won six consecutive World Rally titles.

Four Seeds: Tom Kristensen, Neel Jani, Scott Dixon, Kazuki Nakajima
Why: All these guys feel like four seeds. Kristensen and Ogier were tied on 100 points but I gave Ogier the advantage and the better seeding since he is active.

Five Seeds: Felix Rosenquvst, Sam Bird, Will Power, Nick Cassidy
Why: Like the four seeds, these all seem about right.

Six Seeds: David Coulthard, Laurens Vanthoor, Alexander Rossi, Hélio Castroneves
Why: Coulthard, Vanthoor and Cassidy were all tied and Cassidy's diversity got him in the better seed. It makes sense that Castroneves is a six-seed.

Seven Seeds: José María López, Romain Rusinov, Filipe Albuquerque, Juan Pablo Montoya
Why: Rusinov seems a bit high because he has only been an LMP2 driver and Montoya probably would have been higher if he remained active in IndyCar.

Eight Seeds: Alexander Albon, Raffaele Marciello, Ho-Pin Tung, René Rast
Why: Albon is this high from his Formula Two success and Marciello is living off his GP2 success. Tung is like Rusinov with a boost from LMP2 competition. Rast could be a bit higher.

Nine Seeds: Antonio García, Naoki Yamamoto, Stéphane Richelmi, Ralf Aron
Why: GT success is not worth that much but you would have to think Yamamoto's 2018 season would leap him up a few seeds. Aron is a bit high. When there are 64 drivers, somebody has to be in the back half and when you lay all the names out on paper you face that reality.

Ten Seeds: Richard Lietz, Jean-Éric Vergne, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Paul di Resta
Why: GT racing is not heavily weighed and Vergne slipped a bit but his Formula E title would likely have boosted him up into at least a six-seed if we had the most updated super license points. It at least sets up a high seed to make a run in the tournament.

Eleven Seeds: Thierry Neuville, Petter Solberg, Andreas Mikkelsen, Bruno Spengler
Why: Those five points gets these three rally drivers off the bottom. Spengler has been good but not as great as he once was in DTM.

Twelve Seeds: Ed Jones, António Félix da Costa, Lucas Auer, Mikhail Aleshin
Why: Because if we have learned anything from the NCAA tournament 12 seeds are dangerous and all four of these drivers could win a race.

Thirteen Seeds: Toni Vilander, Carlos Muñoz, Colin Braun, Pastor Maldonado
Why: Because Vilander and Muñoz were the final two drivers with points. Braun doesn't have any points and Maldonado has been out of Formula One for three years. No points for you.

Fourteen Seeds: Jeroen Bleekemolen, James Hinchcliffe, Patricio O'Ward, Johan Kristoffersson
Why: They all have no points but are better than the remaining drivers.

Fifteen Seeds: EJ Viso, Esteban Guerrieri, Ott Tänak, Kelvin van der Linde
Why: Tänak could be higher. The only reason I didn't give him five points was because his WRC success has not been as spread out as the other three. He is that sneaky 15-seed though and that is not a bad thing. The other three, Viso has been driving Stadium Super Trucks as his most recent gig, Guerrieri is only in touring cars and van der Linde is young.

Sixteen Seeds: Sheldon van der Linde, Ye Yifei, Khaled al Qubaisi, Sandy Stuvik
Why: These drivers are either silver-rated or only won in junior formula series. They are the sacrificial lambs for the top four.

Here is what the top half of the bracket looks like:

And the bottom half:


It seems pretty even. There isn't one quarter that is more stacked than another. But this is what Race of Champions should be. Fans should be looking ahead and seeing what the match ups could be and drivers should be thinking about this. There should be the nerves of a bracket and a top seed being caught out.

You have Verstappen and Ricciardo set up as a possible quarterfinal but Ricciardo has Tänak in the first round. If Tänak takes out Ricciardo early it opens up the bottom of that quarter. Verstappen isn't a lock for the quarterfinals. Power would be a possible round of 16 opponent and Power has a good road. He is in a trick 5v12 match but if he defeats da Costa, I think he knocks out either Jani or Braun in round two and then he has Verstappen. That is more of a toss up than most would think.

In the di Grassi quarter, you have Alonso, Montoya, Ogier and Rossi set to be chalk out of round one in the bottom of the quarter. How do you choose one of those four to make the quarterfinals? Cassidy/Jones is a 5v12 match and that could go either way but Kristensen would be waiting for either of those two and it could set up for a meeting of former Audi teammates in the round of 16 with di Grassi and Kristensen.

If there is one weak area it is the bottom of the Vettel quarter. While Vettel and Dixon could be a round of 16 match up with Yamamoto and Bird being sleepers, the bottom seems to line up perfectly for Bottas. Bottas has Guerrieri and then would face the winner of Rusinov/Pier Guidi. He seems a lock for the round of 16. As for his potential opponent, Vanthoor/Solberg is interesting but neither seems like a threat and then there is Magnussen/O'Ward, not something to be scared of either.

The Hamilton quarter is really tight. Hamilton could have to face Nakajima or Rosenqvist in the round of 16 and then could have Leclerc, Pérez or Castroneves in the quarterfinals. Hamilton could have a difficult pair of match ups between Rosenqvist and Leclerc in consecutive rounds and it would shape up to be a changing of the guard type of meeting each time. Pérez wouldn't be safe in round one. Kristoffersson could knock him off and if Kristoffersson did I think he could beat either Castroneves or Neuville.

There are many things that stand in the way of this happening: Scheduling logistics, driver contracts, time, interest, fitness but one other reason is organization. Race of Champions is relaxed in terms of promotion but it could be much bigger. The event is only as big as the level of effort the organizers put into it. The organizers are playing small ball when they have two outs in the bottom of the ninth with no one on and down a run. It is time to start swinging for the fences.

Until that changes this elaborate competition with over five-dozen of the best drivers in the world will have to remain in the pillows.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Jérôme d'Ambrosio but did you know...

The #88 Car Collection Motorsport Audi of Christopher Haase, Frédéric Vervisch, Dimitri Parhofer and Rik Breukers won the Dubai 24 Hours.

Here are the Dakar Rally class leaders with four stages to go:

Bikes: Pablo Quintanilla leads American Ricky Brabec by four minutes and 38 seconds.
Quads: Nicolas Cavigliasso has over an hour lead.
Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah has a 37-minute lead over Sébastien Loeb and a 41-minute lead over Stéphane Peterhansel.
Trucks: Eduard Nikolaev leads Dmitry Sotnikov by ten minutes.
SxS: Gerard Farres Guell leads Sergei Kariakin by 13 minutes.

The #22 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan of Paul di Resta and Phil Hanson won the 4 Hours of Buriram. The #2 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan of Wayne Boyd, Chris Buncombe and Garett Grist won in LMP3. The #11 CarGuy Racing Ferrari of James Calado, Kei Cozzolino and Takeshi Kimura won in GT for the third consecutive race.

Liam Lawson won the bookends of the Toyota Racing Series races from Highlands Motorsports Park with Brendon Leitch winning the second race of the weekend.

Blake Baggett won the Supercross race from Glendale, his first career victory.

Olivier Panis and Andréa Dubourg split the Andros Trophy races from Isola 2000.

Coming Up This Weekend
You know about Race of Champions.
The Chili Bowl is an all-week affair.
Supercross returns to Anaheim.
Toyota Racing Series will be at Teretonga Park.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

2019 Dubai 24 Hour Preview

For the 14th time the Dubai 24 Hour takes place at the crack of a New Year and breaks the slumber of winter. This twice-around-the-clock endurance race features a variety of automobiles but this preview will focus on the top class of GT3 machinery, split between A6-PRO and A6-AM. Seventeen previous overall winners are in the top class for this year's race. Between A6-PRO and A6-AM there are 23 cars representing seven manufactures.

A6-PRO
#2 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Abdulaziz Al Faisal, Hubert Haupt, Yelmer Buurman, Saud Al Faisal, Adam Christodoulou
Why this car could win: This team won last year! Albeit it Saud Al Faisal replaces Gabriele Piana in the lineup. Al Faisal, Haupt and Buurman won this race together in 2015 and also had a third place finish in this race in 2017. Black Falcon has won this race four times in the last seven years. Chrisodoulou is a late addition to his car and he won four races last year in the A6-AM class running with Charlie Putman, Charles Espenlaub and Joe Foster.
Why this car won't win: Repeating is hard to do and while it has occurred twice in the short history of this event, including once with Black Falcon, it is easier said than done and there are plenty of equal competition, including its sister car.

#3 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Luca Stolz, Khlaed Al Qubaisi, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Manuel Metzger
Why this car could win: See above. It is Black Falcon. This team has won this race before. It seems likely one of these two cars will end up on the podium. This team has had a car on the overall podium in this race for eight consecutive years. Al Qubaisi and Bleekemolen have won this race twice. Bleekemolen, Keating and Stolz are all familiar with one another from the IMSA North American Endurance Championship races. Stolz also won the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup championship in 2018.
Why this car won't win: Its sister car. A few other cars could top this one but I think this is one of the top contenders for the overall victory.

#7 WRT Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Mohammed Saud Fahad Al Saud, Michael Vergers, Christopher Mies, Dries Vanthoor
Why this car could win: This team has won this race before. Mies has won many endurance races before. He is a two-time 24 Hours Nürburgring winner and a two-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner. Mies and Vanthoor were co-drivers in the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup last year.
Why this car won't win: It might be too top heavy with Mies and Vanthoor and I am not sure those two can carry the load.

#9 BWT Mücke Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Markus Winkelhock, Mike-David Ortmann, Andreas Weishaupt, Stefan Mücke, Ricardo Feller
Why this car could win: Winkelhock has won the Spa 24 Hours twice and the 24 Hours Nürburgring three times. Mücke has plenty of success with the factory Aston Martin and factory Ford program.
Why this car won't win: It is a good lineup but not a great lineup.

#11 Bohemia Energy racing with Scuderia Praha Ferrari 488 GT3
Drivers: Jirí Písarík, Josef Kral, Matteo Malucelli
Why this car could win: On paper, none of these drivers standout to you but Scuderia Praha won three 24H Series races in 2017 and three in 2018. The team has skipped the Dubai 24 Hours the last two years.
Why this car won't win: It would not be a surprise at all if this car won the race. It is a deep class.

#18 V8 Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6-ZR1
Drivers: Luc Braams, Wolf Nathan, Duncan Huisman, Nicky Pastorelli, Finlay Hutchison
Why this car could win: A pretty stable lineup that we see year in and year out with the same automobile.
Why this car won't win: This team has not had much success at Dubai and the Corvette just cannot compete with the German cars.

#23 KCMG Nissian GT-R Nismo GT3
Drivers: Alexandre Imperatori, Oliver Jarvis, Edoardo Liberati, Philipp Wlazik
Why this car could win: A semi-impressive driver lineup with endurance race tested Imperatori and Jarvis. Jarvis has won at Le Mans in the LMP2 class, he was an Audi factory driver and he won the Suzuka 1000km.
Why this car won't win: A semi-unknown driver lineup with Liberati and Wlazik. Liberati won the GT Asia championship in 2016 but he does not have much endurance race experience. Wlazik has had success in Lamborghini Super Trofeo but this is another animal.

#24 GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Frederic Fatien, Jean-Pierre Valentini, Jordan Grogor, Nicky Pastorelli, Stuart Hall
Why this car could win: All of these drivers are 24H Series experienced drivers and have run Dubai before. Hall has experience with the factory Aston Martin driver.
Why this car won't win: The competition is too strong. This car was re-classified from an A6-AM. I am not sure it would finish ahead of the top five A6-AM finishers.

#35 KCMG Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3
Drivers: Katsumasa Chiyo, Tsugio Matsuda, Joshua Burdon, Shaun Thong, Andrea Gagliardini
Why this car could win: Matsuda is a Super GT champion, Super Formula champion and he has won in an LMP2 car in the WEC for KCMG. Chiyo has won the Bathurst 12 Hour and he was a Blancpain Endurance Cup champion. Burdon won in the Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 class with KCMG.
Why this car won't win: Similar to the other KCMG entry, half the driver lineup you are impressed with and the other half is unknown and you are not sure what to expect. Thong did win a GT Asia GT3 Pro-Am title but like Liberati, his endurance racing experience is limited.

#63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen, Mark Ineichen
Why this car could win: GRT Grasser Racing Team has had plenty of endurance racing success. Bortolotti and Engelhart won the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup title in 2017 and Bortolotti and Rolf Ineichen won the GTD class last year at the 24 Hours of Daytona and last year this combination of drivers finished third overall at Dubai. Engelhart and the Ineichens won this race in 2014 driving for Stadler Motorsport.
Why this car won't win: A German manufacture has won every edition of the Dubai 24 Hour. This team could win the race. It is one of the favorites.

#66 Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Patrick Kujala, Adrian Amstutz, Kelvin van der Linde, Mattia Drudi, Stanislav Minsky
Why this car could win: Van der Linde is a rising young Audi driver with a 24 Hours Nürburgring victory and an ADAC GT Masters championship. Amstutz won the Dubai 24 Hour in 2014 with Stadler Motorsport and he and Kujala were champions together in Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe's Pro-AM class.
Why this car won't win: It is a missing a veteran. If Christopher Haase or Christopher Mies was in this car or if Audi brought René Rast or Robin Frijns and put either in this car it would be a contender for the overall victory. I think it will be up there but would not be surprised if it fell just shy.

#88 Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Dimitri Parhofer, Christopher Haase, Frédéric Vervisch, Rik Breukers
Why this car could win: Haase is one of Audi's best GT3 drivers and is coming off a victory in the California 8 Hours. He has two victories in the 24 Hours Nürburgring, a victory in the Spa 24 Hours and a victory in the Sepang 12 Hours. Vervisch has been good in GT3 competition but not great. He and Haase have experience together as co-drivers.
Why this car won't win: This isn't even the best Audi with a driver named Christopher.

#99 Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Stanislav Minsky, Klaus Bachler, Nicholas Foster, Steijn Schothorst, Marvin Dienst
Why this car could win: This is a young but successful team. Foster won the Australian Porsche Carrera Cup championship in 2015, has raced in the WEC and he is still only 25 years old. Dienst won twice last season in the WEC. Schothorst finished third in his first season of Blancpain GT Sprint Cup competition and he won at Zolder. Bachler has raced in the WEC and Porsche Supercup regularly.
Why this car won't win: This team is good on paper but I think it lacks the chemistry needed to win a 24-hour race.

A6-AM
#10 Hofor-Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Michael Kroll, Chantal Prinz, Alexander Prinz, Kenneth Heyer, Christiaan Frankenhout
Why this car could win: Hofor-Racing is a perennial 24H Series AM class race winner. It has won plenty of races. It has won its class at Dubai before.
Why this car won't win: The Pro class is too deep to win overall but it would not be surprising if this car ended up in the top five overall and won the A6-AM class.

#12 Target Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Dennis Lind, Giacomo Altoé, Timur Boguslavskiy, Stefano Costantini, Alex Autumn
Why this car could win: Lamborghini has produced a lot of successful GT3 entries.
Why this car won't win: This is a team of relative unknowns and it will not finish in the top five of the A6-AM class let alone on the top step of the overall podium.

#19 MP Motorpsort Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Daniël de Jong, Bert de Heus, Henk de Jong
Why this car could win: It is a Mercedes-AMG, which has success at Dubai. Daniël de Jong had minor success in single-seaters.
Why this car won't win: It isn't a deep lineup compared to the rest of the grid.

#25 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Alexander Hrachowina, Martin Konrad, Bernd Schneider, Indy Dontje, Brice Bosi
Why this car could win: Schneider has won this race overall and he has won in almost everything he has drive. Dontje has been a quick, young driver for some time. HTP Motorsport has won in many different series across GT3 racing. Hrachowina and Konrad ran together in the International GT Open.
Why this car won't win: Hrachowina and Konrad are an amateur pair without much success against a grid of this capability.

#26 SAINTELOC Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Christian Kelders, Pierre-Yves Paque, Daniel Desbrueres, Nyls Stivenart, Simon Gachet
Why this car could win: Stivenart won the Blancpain GT Series Pro-Am title with Markus Winkelhock last year and Gachet finished 11th in the overall Blancpain GT Series with Christopher Haase as his co-driver for every race but the Spa 24 Hours.
Why this car won't win: Mostly amateurs that have not had success on their own.

#33 Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Simon Reicher, Murad Sultanov, Martin Berry, Klaus Koch, Philipp Sager
Why this car could win: It is a team that has 24H Series experience.
Why this car won't win: Here...

#34 Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Johannes Dr. Kirchhoff, Gustav Edelhoff, Elmar Grimm, Ingo Vogler
Why this car could win: Edelhoff, Grimm and Vogler won twice in the A6-Am class during the 2018 season.
Why this car won't win: The field is too deep for this entry to win.

#85 CP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub, Joe Foster, Shane Lewis
Why this car could win: Putman, Espenlaub and Foster have had success in many different classes across the 24H Series. Those three won four races last year in the A6-AM class. Lewis is the one change from the line-up, in for Adam Christodoulou.
Why this car won't win: It would not be crazy if this car won in class. If this entry does not win the class it is because there are three or four better cars in this given race.

#91 Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer, Alfred Renauer
Why this car could win: This team won at Dubai in 2017 and that year it won four of seven 24H Series races. Last year, the team took a slight step back and only won two of eight 24H Series races.
Why this car won't win: It doesn't have Brendon Hartley like it did in 2017.

#92 Team Porsche Centre Hong Kong Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Frank Yu, Jonathan Hui, Antares Au, Kevin Wing Kin Tse
Why this car could win: It is on the grid and there is a chance all the other cars break down.
Why this car won't win: There are 22 other cars on the entry list.

Porsche leads all manufactures with five victories in this event. Last year was Mercedes-Benz's fourth victory. BMW has three victories but does not have a car entered in the A6 class this year. BMW has not won this event since 2011. Audi's only victory was in 2016.

Last year's race saw the winning Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG complete 606 laps, the third most in the history of the event. Second most was done in 2010 when IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche completed 608 laps. Black Falcon set the record for most laps completed in 2012 with 628.

Fifteen different nationalities have won this event overall. No driver has won this race more than twice. Al Faisal, Haupt, Buurman, Al Qubaisi and Bleekemolen are all two-time winners entered in this year's race and all drive for Black Falcon.

The 14th Dubai 24 Hour starts at 6:00 a.m. ET on Friday January 11th.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

When Does the Nostalgia Wear Off?

When you hear that Indianapolis Motor Speedway has an announcement at 1:00 p.m. ET and IndyCar has an announcement at 1:30 p.m. ET, you are at attention. What could it be? It has to be something big.

Is it good news or bad?

It could be the new title sponsor. We are still waiting on that. It could be a new title sponsor and perhaps a title sponsor for the Indianapolis 500. That would be massive news and it would make sense that both were announced simultaneously especially if it was the same company or two related companies. 

Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon are going to be there. This could be bad. What if it is announcing a championship format change where the top two drivers are going to be guaranteed a shot at the title in the finale but be some odd hybrid winner-take-all/points event where the top two are tied, third is ten points back and fourth in 20 points back and guarantees at least four drivers fighting for the title but isn't boiled down to one race and leave the door open for a driver to win on points? 

Those were all things that ran through my head this morning and early afternoon. 

None of that was the case. Mario Andretti is getting a commemorative logo in honor of the 50th anniversary of his Indianapolis 500 victory and the television schedule was announced. Dixon and Rossi were there for meetings and were tacked on to the press conference. Not that it is a bad thing to have the two championship contenders from 2018 on stage. Those are the guys who want out front. Remember, people are looking for a bandwagon to jump on. 

There is something that got me though when watching the Mario Andretti portion of the announcements. IndyCar has been doing a lot of commemorating the last decade and more than I can ever remember. It might be the way of the 21st century. After all, everything is done with business in mind. Every retiring superstar in baseball, basketball, hockey and motorsports gets a farewell tour. It is the same old shtick. Player announces retirement. Each city gives a gift/shows a video on the jumbotron. That player causes a spike in ticket sales for that game or games because he or she has set a finish line to his or her career and we can countdown to the day this person will never play again. A logo/badge/emblem/patch is made, emblazoned on t-shirts, hats, hoodies, backpacks, scarves, beach towels and key chains and sold as limited edition. 

It only makes sense IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway would jump on the same train as every other sports property but it is not just the logo. This is different. The last decade has been different. 

The previous decade was not a time for celebration. It was during the split. People were not in the mood for celebration. People were angry. There was a bit of hypocrisy to celebrate IndyCar's past when the series in charge of the Indianapolis 500 had split itself off from the existing series to create something new out of entirely different with a different cast of character. 

While it was not a time for celebration it could also be argued there was nothing to celebrate. That of course is not true but there is some truth in it. None of the winners from the 1950s lived to the golden anniversary of their Indianapolis 500 victory. Only two lived to see their 40th anniversary. IndyCar's golden era was too fresh. A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser and Rick Mears all retired in the 1990s and the achievements of those drivers belonged to a series separate from the one sanctioning the famed race. 

Fortunately, IndyCar reunified in 2008 and it could not have come at a better time. It was the same year as A.J. Foyt's 50th anniversary of his Indianapolis 500 debut. 

Looking back at the last decade it is interesting to see how IndyCar's resurgence has coincided with the golden anniversary of IndyCar's golden era. IndyCar and the Speedway have been able to sell nostalgia for the better part of the decade. The Centennial Era celebrated started in 2009, the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Indianapolis 500, and lasted through 2011, the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500 but 2011 was not only a celebration of this century old race but it was also the 50th anniversary of Foyt's first victory, a victory that occurred during a culturally changing American. 

Baby boomer grew up with the names Foyt, Andretti and Unser and had STP decals adoring bicycles, gas station windows and toolboxes and workbenches in garages across this country. The consumer era was born. Kids could buy the matchbox versions of the Indianapolis 500 winner and play with them in the sandbox or on the living room floor at the feet of their parents. Television brought the image of the race into the homes of millions even if it was hours after the checkered flag had been waved. The Indianapolis 500 was the premier sporting events of the baby boomer generation. The Super Bowl came later but it was a time when the World Series, Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500 and Rose Bowl were king. 

The last decade has been a reminder of that great era. For the elder statesmen it is a look back to their childhoods. The days when the race was heard live over the radio in the backyard while dad stood at the grill and the kids rode bicycles in packs of a dozen strong. While the race was shown that night the alternatives were watching fireflies and listening to the cricket sing from the front porch. 

For the youths, it is about falling more in awe of these living legends that would by myths if they were not in our midst. It is about recoding every word these men speak because it is all we will eventually have of an era that took place in some cases before our parents were born. 

The wind has not let up after the 100th Indianapolis 500 nearly three yeas ago. Many though the 100th anniversary would be the end of IndyCar, a culmination that was great but fraught after watching the series go devolve from multi-million dollar, technological advance machinery to shoestring budgets with one engine and one chassis in town. Others thought the 100th Indianapolis 500 would be it. Where else could the race go? No other race has gone on this long with the level of popularity. It seemed 100 was the finish line. Once you reached it there was nowhere else to go and the masses would file out, say their final goodbyes and most would never return.

But there was more. The series and the track were sitting on a golden egg and it paid off big time.  Forgotten in the mix of these centennial marks were other great things about IndyCar. The arrival of Lotus, Parnelli Jones' victory, the 1964 race, which stands as a pivotal point for racing safety. 

After the 100th race there was the 50th anniversary of the 1967 race, the turbine and Jones' dominance fell victim to a $5 piece. Jones' loss was our gain, adding to the folklore of this event and how speed was only worth celebrating if reliability could take you 500 miles. The breakdown led the way to Foyt's third victory and put him level with Wilbur Shaw and Louis Meyer for most Indianapolis 500 victory. 

We weren't done yet. Last year was the 50th anniversary of Bobby Unser's first victory and it turned into a celebration of the entire Unser family history, which dated back to his brother Jerry's first start in 1958. 

Last year was also the 50th anniversary of the filming of Winning, the preeminent motion picture about the Indianapolis 500 and, incredibly, the film that gave us something bigger than a time capsule of the beloved era but one of IndyCar's greatest team owners, Paul Newman. 

Without that film, who knows if Newman ever gets into IndyCar at the level he does. What would IndyCar look like if Newman had never taken the role of Frank Capua? And we are talking about something greater than a man, a film and a role that turned people into fans. We are talking about what happened on track. 

Winning was released May 22, 1969 and eight days later Mario Andretti won the Indianapolis 500. Who would have thought that Memorial Day in 1969 that Newman and Andretti would ascend to the heights in terms of IndyCar importance together? 

There I am getting nostalgic thinking about the incredible weaving of humanity. But when it end? When does the nostalgia no longer become a selling point?

This year is Andretti's 50th anniversary. Next year is the 50th anniversary of Al Unser's first Indianapolis 500 and the year after that is the 50th anniversary of his second. In three year we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Team Penske's first Indianapolis 500 victory with Mark Donohue. 

The 1973 race will be tough to celebrate but the year after that is not only the 50th anniversary of Johnny Rutherford's first victory but McLaren's first victory as a team at Indianapolis. How timely that McLaren is looking to get back into IndyCar full-time? Let's hope it hangs in there until 2024. Then it will be the 50th anniversary of Uncle Bobby's second, Rutherford's second, Janet Guthrie becoming the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and in a sense it culminates with the 50th anniversary of Foyt's fourth victory. 

We have enough nostalgia to get us through 2027. If you want to get a bit further, 2028 will be the 50th anniversary of Al Unser's third and 2029 will be the golden anniversary of Rick Mears' first. 

When will it end though? Can IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 keep selling nostalgia into 2030? We take these walks down memory lane but eventually we will come to the bits of history that are less than savory. We will one day reach the darker days of the split. Will the fever still be there?

Of course, the late 90s do not have to be celebrated but we cannot keep celebrating the same moments. They will become old. On top of that eventually the living legends will pass. Our parents will pass and we will fall into the same problem with the 2000s when the legends are gone. It is hard to get up the excitement to celebrate people when they are no longer with us. We will be left with our past and the days we can recall will be those of conflict, two 500-mile races taking place simultaneously. It will be about who wasn't there. It will be the lost years when Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, Zanardi and Moore were not at Indianapolis. 

If IndyCar's wave of positivity over the last decade has been aided with the golden anniversary of IndyCar's golden era, what will IndyCar look like when we reach the golden anniversary for one of the most divisive periods in its history? 

This isn't about the next two years or five years or ten years. It is a concern that we harp too much on the past and what happens when selling the past co no longer prop up the present?

These anniversaries are wonderful celebrations and reminders of where the series was and how much has changed. At the same time, we need to start living in the present and celebrating what we have. 

The good news is I think IndyCar is at a better point to sell what it has than at any other point in the 21st century. The racing is great. At times the beauty brings me to the verge of tears from exhaustion over the excitement from green flag to checkered. We have come to appreciate Scott Dixon and Will Power and those Antipodeans are going to stick around in IndyCar for plenty more seasons. There are plenty of exciting millennial drivers: Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot. Those names will hopefully all be around for the next decade and give the fan base and global audience a core group of drivers to embrace. 

There is a lot to celebrate in the final year of this decade but we should remember it is not only the past. The present is grand and many of us are ready to charge into the future. 



Monday, January 7, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Does a NASCAR Team Have to be Based in North Carolina?

The first weekend of the New Year had Supercross in action from Anaheim. It turned out to be a sloppy event and a few early season favorites got off to a rough start but it with a slight surprise winner. Elsewhere around the world, the Dakar Rally is preparing to get underway in Peru. Testing commenced from Daytona in preparations for the 24 Hours of Daytona at the end of the month. Wayne Taylor Racing was strong as was Mazda, CORE Autosport with Nissan topped the final session and the outright lap records appears it will be shattered come qualifying in a few weeks. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Does a NASCAR Team Have to be Based in North Carolina?
One of the biggest stories at the end of the NASCAR season was the closure of Furniture Row Racing.

One year after winning a popular Cup Series championship, the team was shutting down due to lack of funding and the fairy tale ended. The team's popularity came from its unlikely rise against the behemoths of Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing. It did it with a likable driver and crew chief in Martin Truex, Jr. and Cole Pearn and a quiet owner in Barney Visser.

What added to the team's mystique was its location: Denver, Colorado, two time zones from NASCAR country.

Other than the Wood Brothers out of Virginia, most NASCAR teams called North Carolina home and these teams have clustered around Mooresville, North Carolina. For a team to be based outside that vicinity let alone West of the Mississippi and in the Rocky Mountains seemed absurd. It seemed like an operation destined to languish behind the rest of the field.

Of course, that wasn't the case. Furniture Row Racing did have its early day struggles with Kenny Wallace and Joe Nemechek but almost like an expansion team that brought in a few veterans to get off the ground, the team found its identity. Younger talent came to the team and improved results followed. Regan Smith was its first youthful hire and within three years he won the Southern 500 for Furniture Row Racing. After Smith was Kurt Busch, who finished tenth in the championship with the team. Then came Truex, Jr. and we all know where the story goes from there.

In a little over a decade, Furniture Row Racing proved a team could be the best in NASCAR and come from a foreign land. The closing of the team resurrected questions about if such an accomplishment could ever be achieved again.

Why couldn't it?

NASCAR is a more national sport than 25 years ago. There are races all over the country. It is not like the 1970s and 1980s when Rockingham had two races, as did North Wilkesboro, Darlington, Charlotte, Richmond, Martinsville, Bristol and Nashville. At that time it made sense to be based in North Carolina. Most of the races were a day trip away and I didn't even include Atlanta's two races. The treks to Riverside, Texas World, Michigan and Pocono were rare.

The schedule is much different. NASCAR is as much a Midwestern sport as its is a Southern sport in the 21st Century. Indianapolis has a race. Kentucky is closer to Indianapolis than Charlotte. There is a race in Kansas. The series goes up to New Hampshire and has a trip to Watkins Glen. There are plenty of Western races. Las Vegas has two races now. Phoenix has two. The series goes to Sonoma.

Does a NASCAR team have to be based in North Carolina?

There are benefits as everything is there. There is a wind tunnel, manufactures have shops there; a whole industry has cropped up in that part of the country. It is definitely advantageous but does a team have to be based there?

Of course not. The Charlotte-area isn't the only one where motorsports has taken hold in the United States. Indianapolis is just as big of a motorsports hub. There are IndyCar teams, sports car teams and drag racing teams all based around the capital of the Hoosier State. The infrastructure is there. Location-wise, Indianapolis is a lot further from Daytona, Homestead, Atlanta and venues in the Carolinas but it would be better suited in terms of getting to races such as Michigan, Kentucky, Chicagoland and Kansas and it would cut a junk of time out of the long haul rides to California, Nevada and Arizona.

If Indianapolis is too far outside the bubble for a team, then there has to be another alternative that would be more suitable in terms of travel and one place I looked up that might fit the mold is Hilliard, Ohio. If Hilliard, Ohio sounds familiar to you then don't be surprise when you find out that is where Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's BMW program is based.

Hilliard is a bit further east than Indianapolis and it is more centrally located for certain events. Unlike Indianapolis, Hilliard is closer to Pocono, Watkins Glen and Loudon than Charlotte and it is closer to Daytona, Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond, Dover, Michigan and Homestead than Indianapolis. In fact, using Google Maps, the total mileage of the round trips for all 36 NASCAR Cup races from Hilliard, Ohio is only 144 miles more than the total mileage of the rounds trips from Charlotte.

The one thing Hilliard has against it is, while being better in terms of driving a trailer than Indianapolis, it is not a hub. There aren't teams all around and crew people around. There are simulators and wind tunnels and shops around every other corner. The infrastructure is slightly lacking. Not that it stopped Furniture Row Racing from succeeding from Colorado but there are things that nine times out of ten you would like more at your disposal and are more easily accessible in Indianapolis.

Many mourned the loss of Furniture Row Racing and its story, the little based out of the mountains and relished getting to see a team from Colorado win the championship because they think it will not happen again. But why couldn't it happen again and happen soon? When looking at NASCAR all three national touring series are thinning out in terms of number of teams. Eventually it will turn around. Eventually NASCAR will make changes and work to make it more appealing to teams. Where will those teams come from? How many are already going to be based in North Carolina? How many are going to relocate?

I think NASCAR should want it to be possible for teams to succeed from many places around the country. The series needs to grow and it should not take relocation for a team to be able to compete. If an IndyCar team or sports car team based out of Indianapolis wanted to expand to NASCAR it should be able to do it from Indianapolis. There are going to be places that are always going to be an uphill battle if you are going to based your team from there. It is going to be difficult if you are based out of Seattle or Boise or Omaha but it should be possible from more areas.

Whether it is Indianapolis, Hilliard, Lexington, Kentucky, Nashville, Tennessee or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it is possible to succeed in NASCAR while based out of these locations. Furniture Row Racing should not be the last outsider to run at the top of NASCAR and it should not be considered the exception to the rule. It would only benefit NASCAR if it branched out with more teams from more locations entering the series.

Winner From the Weekend

Justin Barcia won the Supercross race from Anaheim. It was Barcia's first Supercross victory since Seattle 2013. It was Yamaha's first Supercross victory since Daytona 2012.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Dakar Rally continues.
The Dubai 24 Hour.
The Toyota Racing Series begins its 2019 season from Highlands Motorsports Park.
Round two of the Supercross season takes place from Glendale.
Formula E has round two from Marrakesh.
Asian Le Mans Series has its popular race from Buriram and it is the penultimate race of the season.