Monday, March 27, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: What Are We Saving?

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Elli Tomac won his 50th Supercross main event, putting him in a tie with James Stewart for second all-time after Chase Sexton fell from a leading position again in Seattle. MotoGP had its first sprint race weekend. NASCAR learned that Jordan Taylor is quite good on road courses. Red Bull said it doesn't have any room for Lewis Hamilton possibly joining the operation. Formula E went somewhere familiar for IndyCar fans. The Road to Indy's lower two series had a race weekend at Sebring. IndyCar's video game will not be released in 2023, and I believe I had that, but there is something else on my mind...

What Are We Saving?
IndyCar loves to surprise you when you are least expecting it. 

Not many changes are announced with much fanfare. IndyCar isn't one for press conferences to announce a rule change or a race sponsorship. Many rule changes are spread over a period of time. There isn't a large scale announcement. Even when a big one comes, IndyCar doesn't make a big deal about it. It announces and then doesn't engage with it. The series more or less allows the masses to handle it without attempting to steer the conversation.

Race distances are a significant thing. The Indianapolis 500 matters partially because it is 500 miles. If in 1911 the race was only 100 miles or 250 miles in length, I am not sure it would have become the seminal event that it has been for over a century. Any changes to a race's length should probably be noted. Late last week, we received word of a race length changing, and it is a notable event. 

The second race of the Iowa doubleheader will be shortened to 250 laps this season after being 300 laps in 2022. 

Iowa has drawn a fair amount of attention since its return to the schedule was announced during the 2021-22 offseason. After a season off the calendar, its return in 2022 was highly anticipated, and Iowa transformed into something it had never been. Outside of 2020, when it became a doubleheader out of necessity due to the pandemic, Iowa's return would be a two-race affair, a 250-lapper on Saturday and a 300-lapper on Sunday. Along with the races, significant country and pop music acts were brought in to round out the weekend with a concert taking place before and after each race.

After long being one of IndyCar's favorite events, Iowa stepped up from being a single race to an entire weekend of festivities in 2022. More isn't always widely accepted. Use it as an example of "be careful what you wish for." Iowa was back, but a contingent didn't care for the inclusion of the musical acts, especially since ticket prices increased compared to previous Iowa races. 

Ticket prices went up again for 2023, as Ed Sheeran, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney and the Zac Brown Band will be the musical acts over the two days, ruffling more feathers. 

I am fine with the musical acts and the admission cost for such an event, but I wonder what are we saving trimming the Sunday race down by 50 laps?

In fairness to Iowa, 250 laps has long been the length of races at Iowa. It was the distance of eveery Iowa race from 2007 to 2013. Both races in the 2020 doubleheader were 250 laps, and there have been more 250-lap races at Iowa than 300-lap races, but 50 laps is nothing around the 0.875-mile oval. 

The 250-lap race last year lasted an hour, 39 minutes and 34 seconds. The 300-lap race the following day took an hour, 54 minutes and 23 seconds. Fifty laps is basically 15 minutes, not a lengthy period of time. 

It is one thing if a race was unfathomably long, dragging on, and was overflowing a television window. Most IndyCar races want to be completed in two hours. While last year's 300-lap race was close to the two-hour limit, the 300-lap race hardly ever goes over. Only twice in seven 300-lap Iowa races has it taken more than two hours to finish, the longest of which lasted only two hours, three minutes and 50 seconds. Over, but not too much to handle. 

IndyCar typically gets a two-hour and 30-minute television window. Factoring in a desire to have a pre-race show and a post-race show, the race itself cannot be two hours and 30 minutes, but a two-hour race, even a two-hour and 15-minute race, can fit. It is a matter what is done with the window. 

A 30-minute pre-race show is somewhat the norm, but it does make it difficult on the backend if the race is right on the two-hour mark. IndyCar could just come on air and have the race start within five minutes of the TV window starting, but there is some advantage to a build up. It is also smart to have a cushion in case the lead-in event is a sporting event and running long. Must I remind you what happened with the 2018 IndyCar finale at Sonoma with the NASCAR race from Las Vegas leading in or the 2021 French Open men's final and the Belle Isle race?

In the case of Iowa, it really feels like not much is gained by trimming off 50 laps. Iowa has had good races at both distances. I don't think IndyCar is stifling itself with a shorter race, but there are so few races in IndyCar. There are even fewer oval events. Shortening Iowa by 50 laps is a loss IndyCar shouldn't take. Trimming 15 minutes off a race that is usually always completed in under two hours isn't helping the series at all. I cannot imagine IndyCar is saving the teams that much money reducing a race by 50 laps or 43.75 miles. If IndyCar is penny-pinching over 43.75 miles, there are bigger problems at hand. 

Honestly, if IndyCar was going to change the length of the second Iowa race, it should have made both races of the doubleheader 275 laps. The total number of laps over the two days remains the same, except each race is the same distance. No one really loses. It is just evenly distributed. 

IndyCar should be conscious of its race length, but still look to maximize its races. Iowa isn't the only place that has seen a race shortened recently. Prior to the pandemic, St. Petersburg was 110 laps and Mid-Ohio was 90 laps. St. Petersburg went back down to 100 laps during the pandemic and has remained that length. St. Petersburg is already the longest street race of the season. Losing those ten laps does make it a more straightforward race on strategy, but the race remains grueling. 

Mid-Ohio has been 80 laps the last few seasons. The problem with that is Mid-Ohio becomes a two-stop race. Strategy is taken out of it. When it was 90 laps, it opened the door for either a two-stop or three-stop strategy coming out on top. We saw the variety of strategies play out in the 2019 race where two different routes brought Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist to the checkered flag only 0.0934 seconds apart. It was wonderful but also less likely to happen at an 80-lap distance. 

In the seven 90-lap Mid-Ohio races that took place from 2013 to 2019, none went over two hours in length. Only two exceeded an hour and 50 minutes in length. 

The strange thing is, as these few races have been shortened, a few others have gotten longer. Portland and Laguna Seca each added five laps when they returned in 2021. That same season Gateway became 12 laps longer compared to its pre-pandemic race length. Even Texas this year will be two laps longer. It is only two laps, but more is more! 

To make it even odder, both Laguna Seca races since increasing to 95 laps took more than two hours to complete. The 2021 Portland race took two hours and seven minutes. The series obviously is comfortable tip-toeing over the two-hour length, but for some reason is shortening races that haven't been excessively long to begin with. 

IndyCar is always financially conscious when making decisions, almost to a fault, but in a few recent examples the series should not be slashing away from races to save the teams money or to be cautious with a television window. Slashing can dull a race, especially when it sets up for only one usable strategy to make it to the finish. The series shouldn't be looking to save 15 minutes from races that are already short of two hours in length. They are still within the desired window without feeling excessively long. A few will go over and the post-race coverage may be lacking, but if the race is satisfying, fewer post-race interviews will be forgiven. 

It is too late for 2023, but in 2024, IndyCar should not be afraid to run 300 laps at Iowa or 90 laps at Mid-Ohio, especially when the series isn't adding any races any time soon. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Eli Tomac, but did you know...

Francesco Bagnaia won MotoGP's Portuguese Grand Prix. Bagnaia also won the inaugural sprint race. Pedro Acosta won the Moto2 race. Daniel Holgado won the Moto3 race, his first career grand prix victory.

Mitch Evans won the São Paulo ePrix.

Tyler Reddick won the NASCAR Cup race from Austin. A.J. Allmendinger won the Grand National Series race. Zane Smith won the Truck race.

Myles Rowe swept the USF Pro 2000 races from Sebring. Lochie Hughes and Simon Sikes split the U.S. F2000 races.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar's long-awaited second race of the season from Texas. 
Formula One is in Australia.
Supercars joins Formula One in Melbourne.
MotoGP flies from Portugal to Argentina. 
NASCAR has its first short track race of the season at Richmond.
GT World Challenge America opens its season at Sonoma.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

2023 MotoGP Season Preview

There will be a few notable changes in MotoGP this year. Suzuki is gone. Riders have changed teams. There are a few new races, but the biggest change will be in the weekend format. 

The 2023 season sees the introduction of sprint races, which will be held on the Saturday of each race weekend. There will be two practices on Friday before qualifying on Saturday morning. Qualifying will set the grid for both the sprint race and the grand prix on Sunday. 

Each sprint race will be 50% of the grand prix distance and the top nine riders will be awarded the following points: 12-9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. 

The maximum number of points that can be scored in 2023 is 777 points. The first batch of points will be awarded this weekend for the 75th season of grand prix motorcycle racing.

There will be a 21-race calendar, which includes two new venues this season. 

Portimão opens the season this weekend on March 26 and it is the first of six stretches with consecutive races. One week after opening in Portugal, round two will be in Argentina. The United States hosts the third round of the season on April 16 at Austin before Jerez closes out the month of April. 

The only race in May will be the French Grand Prix at Le Mans on May 14. In June, there will be three consecutive races. Mugello hosts the Italian Grand Prix on June 11, a week before the German Grand Prix from the Sachensenring and the Dutch TT from Assen rounds out that stretch on June 25. The first of two new races is the final race before the summer break. It is the Grand Prix of Kazakhstan on July 9 from Sokol International Raceway. 

After a month off, the British Grand Prix from Silverstone welcomes back MotoGP to competition on August 6. MotoGP hits the halfway point on August 20 at the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix. The summer European swing ends with a back-to-back, first with Barcelona on September 3 and then Misano on September 10. 

The inaugural Indian Grand Prix will be on September 24 from the Buddh International Circuit, which hosted three Formula One races from 2011 to 2013. The Japanese Grand Prix will be on October 1 at Motegi. The South Pacific swing will be three consecutive races starting at Mandalika in Indonesia on October 15. MotoGP will go south to Phillip Island for the Australian Grand Prix on October 22 before running at Buriram on October 29. 

The final three races will be in three consecutive weekends in three distinctly different parts of the world. Malaysia hosts the antepenultimate round on November 12. The Qatar Grand Prix moves to the penultimate weekend of the season on November 19 before the season finale in Valencia on November 26.

Ducati Lenovo Team
Francesco Bagnaia: #1 Ducati Desmosedici GP23
What did he do in 2022: Win the world championship on 265 points with seven victories and ten podium finishes despite retiring from five of 20 races.

What to expect in 2023: Bagnaia topped the Portimão test and the Ducatis swarmed the top of the leaderboard. Bagnaia nearly took himself out of the championship picture last year, but the sheer pace and his ability got him out of the hole. He will not always be that lucky. He cannot have four retirements in the first ten races again and expect to win the world championship, especially if the other Ducati riders are on point. Bagnaia is going to win a handful of races, but he will see more competition from within the Ducati camp.

Enea Bastianini: #23 Ducati Desmosedici GP23
What did he do in 2022: Won three of the first seven races on a year old bike, but only won once more over the final 13 races and had a total of six podium finishes in 20 races, leaving him third in the championship on 219 points. 

What to expect in 2023: After the season Bastianini had on a year-old bike, moving to the factory team should make him an even greater threat. He was slower than Bagnaia on each day at Portimão. That will be his greatest obstacle this season. Though Bagnaia is prone to the occasional mistake, he is blindingly quick. If Bagnaia doesn't stumble, it will be difficult for Bastianini to keep up. 

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing
Brad Binder: #33 KTM RC16
What did he do in 2022: Binder was the top rider in the championship without a victory. The South African had three runner-up finishes, including bookending his season in the runner-up spot. Binder was sixth in the championship on 188 points, scoring points in 19 of 20 races including in 15 consecutive events.

What to expect in 2023: KTM appears to be as confusing as ever. In testing, the bike wouldn't look that threatening one session. The next it would have a rider in the top ten. It is tough to pinpoint where KTM will be this year. I expect a step back. The factory team will drop from second in the Teams' championship. Binder could fall out of the top ten in the championship. If he can finish in the points for all but one race again, he could get the top ten, but I think he will not match that hit rate and miss out.

Jack Miller: #43 KTM RC16
What did he do in 2022: Miller beat Binder for fifth in the championship by a point with Miller scoring one victory and seven podium finishes but finishing outside the points five times. 

What to expect in 2023: Miller moves from Ducati to KTM and a drop is imminent. He will not be on the podium as regularly as he was the previous two seasons. He isn't going to be in the top five in the championship. He will have the same fight as his teammate just to stay in the top ten. Miller also will ride the bike over the limit and cost himself points. Those incidents hurt more when a rider isn't finishing on the podium seven times a season. 

Aprilia Racing
Maverick Viñales: #12 Aprilia RS-GP
What did he do in 2022: Viñales took 11th in the championship on 122 points with three podium finishes but he failed to score points in five races and finished outside the top ten in five other events. 

What to expect in 2023: Aprilia showed good pace in comparison to the Ducatis in testing, and Viñales was much closer to his teammate Aleix Espargaró than what we saw over 2022. Not long ago it appeared Viñales was on the verge of being world champion before it all went sideways at Yamaha, and mostly at Viñales' own making. He has matured since getting booted out. His results should be better this year, he should push Espargaró for best in the organization, and a victory is not out of the question.

Aleix Espargaró: #41 Aprilia RS-GP
What did he do in 2022: Espargaró scored his first career MotoGP victory in Argentina and he had a four-race stretch where he finished third in all of them. He had ten top five finishes and was fourth in the championship on 212 points.

What to expect in 2023: Last year, Espargaró rode with remarkable consistency, but the pace faded in the second half of the season and it cost him at least one spot in the championship. I don't think he will have the same flying start that we saw in 2022. There will still be plenty of races where he is at the front, but Espargaró is going to face more pressure from within the Aprilia squad. He could fall out of the top five in the championship, but still have a handful of podium finishes and a victory or two.

Prima Pramac Racing
Johann Zarco: #5 Ducati Desmosedici GP23
What did he do in 2022: Take eighth in the championship on 166 points with four podium finishes, but that first MotoGP victory remains elusive.

What to expect in 2023: Zarco showed good pace in testing and he had good runs last season, but he just cannot find a way to get that first MotoGP victory. Everything is aligning for that to happen in 2023. He is on the right bike, riding for a team that is capable of winning races. He can have one of those races where it all clicks and he finishes on top, but it is not a guarantee. He should be around eighth in the championship again.

Jorge Martín: #89 Ducati Desmosedici GP23
What did he do in 2022: Won five pole positions, including three on the spin to close out 2022, but Martín did not win while standing on the podium four times, and he retired from five races. He was ninth in the championship on 152 points.

What to expect in 2023: The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of MotoGP, Martín is either not in the mix or right at the front. At any race weekend he could be competing for a victory or be 13th and forgotten about. Last year, he and Zarco were nearly identical in the championship. They both get there different ways. If Martín maximizes his best days, he should be the top Pramac rider and could pick up another victory.

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP
Fabio Quartararo: #20 Yamaha YZR-M1
What did he do in 2022: Fall 17 points of successfully defending his championship. He won three races but had three retirements while only standing on the podium eight times.

What to expect in 2023: Quartararo again was miles clear of his Yamaha teammate Franco Morbidelli in testing. Quartararo is going to be at the front and taking the fight to Bagnaia and the Ducatis as he hopes to reclaim the championship, but it will be a one-horse fight for Yamaha as its two riders are going to be at the opposite ends of the grid more times than not.

Franco Morbidelli: #21 Yamaha YZR-M1
What did he in 2022: Finish in the top ten in only two races with his best result being seventh in the second race of the season, a mixed weather race in Indonesia. This placed Morbidelli 19th in the championship on 42 points.

What to expect in 2023: It is difficult to imagine how the last two seasons could have been any worse for Morbidelli, and yet, it appears 2023 is going to be another step backward. I am not sure where the Morbidelli of 2020 went, but we are not going to see him at any point this year from the looks of it. If that is the case, he will likely not get another year in this organization.

Gresini Racing MotoGP
Fabio Di Giannantonio: #49 Ducati Desmosedici GP22
What did he do in 2022: Won pole position in Mugello but his best finish was eighth at the Sachensenring and failed to score points in 14 races. He was 20th on 24 points.

What to expect in 2023: Last year, Gresini performed above expectations with Bastianini, and that could be the case again. It is unlikely a Gresini rider will crack the top three in the championship, but it can score a healthy amount of points and be fighting for podium finishes, possibly be in the fight for a victory. Di Giannantonio should improve from 2022. He should be closer to the top ten in the championship and at least crack the top five in a few races.

Álex Márquez: #73 Ducati Desmosedici GP22
What did he do in 2022: Score points in 13 races with his best finish being seventh and he had four top ten finishes, but it only put Márquez 17th in the championship on 50 points. 

What to expect in 2023: Perhaps the most pleasing surprise from testing was Álex Márquez's pace. He was regularly quicker than Di Giannantonio. On occasions he was quicker than Bastianini on the factory bike. I don't think Márquez is going to win three races and be the sleeper for the championship, but in three MotoGP seasons he has two podium finishes and three top five finishes with championship finishes of 14th, 16th and 17th. I think he will get more than three top five finishes this season alone and sneak into the top ten in the championship. At worst, he will have his best MotoGP championship result. 

Mooney VR46 Racing Team
Luca Marini: #10 Ducati Desmosedici GP22
What did he do in 2022: After having no top ten finishes in the first six races, Marini had ten top ten finishes in the final 14 races, including three top five results, putting him 12th in the championship on 120 points.

What to expect in 2023: Both VR46 riders looked strong in testing, but they are on the year-old bike. Last year, the year-old Ducati had its days where it still was the best horse out there, but at the end of the season, the newer Ducati was clearly the better bike. Both VR46 riders should make leaps forward. The both should be competing for top ten in the championship. Marini should get on the podium at least one, possibly a few times. If there are multiple podium visits, one could see him on the highest step.

Marco Bezzecchi: #72 Ducati Desmosedici GP22
What did he do in 2022: Finish as the top rookie, 14th in the championship on 111 points with Bezzecchi's best finish being second in Assen. He had three other top five finishes, including a pair of fourth-place results in the final three races. 

What to expect in 2023: Bezzecchi looked better than Marini in testing, but they are close. Is there a world where they take points off of each other and neither looks that spectacular? Sure, but Bezzecchi could make a run for a victory this season. There is a good chance he leaps Marini for top VR46 rider in the championship. 

Repsol Honda Team
Joan Mir: #36 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2022: Riding for Suzuki, Mir was 15th in the championship and missed four races due to injuries sustained in the Austrian Grand Prix. He had three top five finishes over the entire season and only scored 87 points. Mir was on pace to finish 15th in the championship even with his missed races. 

What to expect in 2023: Mir had a rough 2022 season. Suzuki is gone and he is moving to a Honda team that is a bit lost. The bike doesn't look great. Marc Márquez is having trouble finding speed. The good news for Mir is he was right around Márquez throughout testing. However, it doesn't look like Honda will be competing for podium finishes. This could be a fight just to make it into the championship top ten.

Marc Márquez: #93 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2022: Missed eight races due to injuries, two because of a concussion and six due to arm surgery midseason. He was second at Phillip Island and he had five top five finishes in 12 starts with 11 top ten finishes and one retirement. He scored 120 points to finish 12th in the championship, averaging ten points per start, or on pace for fifth in the championship. 

What to expect in 2023: With Márquez, nobody knows. His results look good enough to be one of the top riders in the championship, but he has not stayed on the bike for an entire season since 2019. He misses a handful of races and it costs him about seven to ten spots in the championship. This year in testing, Márquez, and Honda in general, looked disappointing. This is the first time it feels like Márquez cannot work his magic and wind up at the top of the championship or at least be on pace for a top spot. It is Márquez. There will be one or two races he pulls out a podium finish, most likely if it rains, but it will be rare to see him fighting for victories this year.

LCR Honda Idemitsu/Castrol
Takaaki Nakagami: #30 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2022: Missed three races due to finger surgery, but he had four top ten finishes all season and had only 48 points, 18th in the championship. 

What to expect in 2023: Nakagami was at the bottom consistently in testing. His championship position has dropped the last two seasons. It seems likely to drop for a third consecutive season and it could fall off substantially from 2022 as well. 

Álex Rins: #42 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2022: Won two of the final three races and he had four total podium finishes. Despite a five-race stretch without scoring a point, he was still seventh in the championship on 173 points.

What to expect in 2023: Rins was running competitive times compared to the factory Hondas and he was close to his past Suzuki teammate Mir. Rins could have a good goal just to beat Mir in the championship and at least win himself some brownie points. If the factory Hondas are not going to be competing for victories, Rins isn't either. Top ten in the championship looks to be a stretch. 

RNF MotoGP Team
Raúl Fernández: #25 Aprilia RS-GP
What did he do in 2022: In his rookie season, Fernández scored 14 points putting his 22nd in the championship with two missed raced due to a hand injury, and his best finish was 12th in Germany and Valencia.

What to expect in 2023: It wasn't only the factory Aprilias that were competitive in testing. RNF's two riders kept up as the team switched from Yamaha in the offseason. I don't think either RNF Aprilia will be fighting for victories regularly, if at all in 2023, but the team should score more than the 37 points it had last season. Fernández should beat the 14 points he amassed, and he should have a few races where he is contending for the top five. 

Miguel Oliveira: #88 Aprilia RS-GP
What did he do in 2022: Oliveira won in mixed conditions in Mandilika and then won in Buriram, but he had three more top five finishes all season. He did score points in 13 consecutive seasons to close the season and it got him tenth in the standings on 149 points. 

What to expect in 2023: I just said RNF likely will not be competing for a race victory at any point in 2023, but it also has Oliveira, who for the past three seasons has made a name for himself winning races seemingly out of nowhere. We cannot rule it out, especially if there is a wet race. His consistency will help the team score points. Top ten in the championship is a stretch, but if Oliveira cracks the top fifteen, it will be a successful year for RNF.

GasGas Factory Racing Tech3
Augusto Fernández: #37 KTM RC16
What did he do in 2022: Fernández won the Moto2 championship with four victories, nine podium finishes, 15 top five finishes and 17 top ten finishes in a 20-race season with 271.5 points scored. 

What to expect in 2023: Tech3 has taken on new branding, but it is still a KTM bike. Fernández will be the lone rookie on the grid this season. I think it will be difficult to score points. Tech3 wasn't that far off the factory KTM team, but it wasn't consistently at the front. There is a good chance Fernández will top his veteran teammate.

Pol Espargaró: #44 KTM RC16
What did he do in 2022: Riding for Honda, Espargaró was third in the opening round, but then had one top ten finish in the final 19 races of the season. This left him 16th in the championship on 56 points. 

What to expect in 2023: Espargaró moves to Tech3 after a disappointing time with Honda. The results are not going to be better here. There will still be frustration. His best results will be cracking the top ten and not doing much better than that. 

Practice begins at 6:45 a.m. ET on Friday March 24 for MotoGP with the second session taking place at 11:00 a.m. ET. On Saturday, there will be a final practice at 6:10 a.m. before the first round of qualifying at 6:50 a.m. with the second round at 7:15 a.m. 

The inaugural sprint race take place at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday March 25. The Portuguese Grand Prix opens the 2023 season on Sunday March 26 at 9:00 a.m. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: Expanding the World Championship

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

It is now spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Sergio Pérez made it two victories in two races for Red Bull. Fastest lap kept Max Verstappen on top of the championship. Fernando Alonso was on the podium, lost a podium, and then back on the podium. McLaren is tenth of ten teams. The World Rally Championship will run a test event in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Atlanta was bad, and historical slow. Aaron Plessinger had a rough night. Sebring came down to an accident that resembled bowling more than a motor race. Scott McLaughlin, again, may be the best driver in the world. But it was the other series at Sebring that is on my mind…

Expanding the World Championship
Another FIA World Endurance Championship season commenced over the weekend, and as we are still in the early days of convergence with the Hypercar and LMDh spec cars competing against one another in the world championship while also having the possibility of competing against one another in IMSA, each championship is looking to make the most of this grand period. 

Manufacturer involvement is at its greatest level in quite some time. The top class in WEC has never looked this deep and with cross-pollination possible, the technological barrier for competition in the historic endurance races is no longer there. 

With this manufacturer growth, WEC is looking to capitalize on this period and it is working on returning to its pre-pandemic schedule length with eight or nine races. It has already been announced Qatar will be  a new round on the 2024 schedule. A new track could be hosting the series in the United States next year. But WEC is looking for more than those minor changes. However, there is a constriction to WEC's growth. 

It is the endurance part of the World Endurance Championship that is a difficult sell. 

Six-hour races have been a part of motorsports for decades. It is the basic endurance race. Not as big of a commitment as a 12 or 24-hour race. It is long enough that it cannot be considered a sprint. It gives everyone plenty of racing, but it is almost a full-day commitment, especially if you are attending. 

There is also greater financial cost in running six-hour races. 

As WEC looks to expand, it must ask how does it want to do it? 

The series has seven races for 2023. Qatar will be eight in 2024. The longest WEC schedule was nine races, but is adding one more race, one more country visited, really going to help increase the exposure and the audience for the series? If WEC wants a greater reach, it may have to consider slightly altering its format. 

WEC CEO Frédéric Laquien admitted that WEC has to adapt for television and make the series more accessible for normal viewers. 

A six-hour race is not friendly to viewers. It is difficult to get an average person to commit to watch anything for six hours let alone a sports car race. It is also not friendly for a broadcaster. No broadcaster wants to schedule six hours to an event where viewers will come and go, especially when there are shorter options and multiple events could fill that window while drawing more eyeballs. 

There is a way for WEC to maintain its endurance roots and also expand while becoming more accessible to the average viewer. 

Shorter races provide flexibility. WEC can keep its famed endurance races, but shorter events can allow for more races to take place in more countries and be friendlier to the television audience. 

The 24 Hours of Le Mans isn't going anywhere. Neither is Spa-Francorchamps nor Fuji, and if Sebring and the series can work out a deal, the 1,000-mile race will remain, but the schedule could be broken up where half are traditional endurance races and another half would be sprint races. 

Keep Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps, Fuji, Sebring and Bahrain, but the series could strategically expand and have sprint races in each of these regions. Qatar is joining the schedule, but it could be a three-hour race instead of a full six-hour event. Paired with Bahrain, these races could be done in one trip, two weeks apart or so. 

The same could happen with Fuji and another Asia-Pacific round. Fuji could take place and two weeks later WEC could run a three-hour race in Malaysia or South Korea or visit Australia for the first time. Sebring could be paired with a three-hour South American round in Brazil or Argentina. Monza and Portimão could each become three-hour races and, with the European base of the series, it could allow for another one or two three-hour races in other circuits such as Silverstone, Nürburgring, the Red Bull Ring or any of a number of circuits that haven't been in consideration. 

Because of race lengths, WEC is likely never going to be a 18 or 20-race championship, but it could at least have 12 rounds, maybe even 14 rounds, especially if a few events are only three hours in length. 

This can be more than an endurance championship but be a world sports car championship, like we saw in the 1970s and 1980s, which had a variety of race lengths. IMSA runs highly competitive two-hour and 45-minute races. WEC doesn't have to run exclusively six-hour races or longer to have an exciting series and showcase its highest level of competition. It can have both, and those three-hour races could be done in plenty of time that it doesn't dissuade a viewer from tuning in because of the length of the commitment. 

What is better for WEC? Eight endurance races, all greater than six hours in length but only bringing the series to eight countries, or five endurance races, with another seven to eight three-hour events and at least a dozen countries visited? 

Sprint races could fill the gaps that have long existed in the WEC schedule and create a better rhythm. When the 24 Hours of Le Mans ends on June 11 this year, there will be only three WEC races over the following 146 days. That is one race every 48.667 days! The entire seven-race calendar is spread over 233 days. That is a race every 33.285 days, basically one race a month. 

Instead of that spread, WEC could run a race in the Americas in late March after Sebring. Portimão and Spa-Francorchamps could be the sprint/endurance pairing in April with Le Mans in June. After that there could be a European sprint swing during the summer with three or four races, and it could fill Formula One's summer break, giving WEC a chance to get some attention. There could be another Asia-Pacific round in late-September or early-October after Fuji. Qatar could be two weeks before Bahrain at the end of the calendar. 

That would be 12 races over 233 days, a race every 19.41667 days. A more regular schedule would keep people's attention instead of disappearing for a month or more at a time, increasing the opportunity to be forgotten.

In terms of championship logistics and what to do with three-driver teams as two drivers will be more than enough for the sprint races, we can figure that out. Perhaps for Hypercar the sprint rounds would only count toward the manufacturers' championship that way the driver lineup doesn't really matter. For the pro-am categories, the championship are for the amateur anyway. The amateur competes in every round and then the professional can rotate. These things can be sorted in the wash.

Convergence has brought together one of the best sports car grids we have seen in decades. WEC has a chance to bring an exciting championship to many different people, but it will require slightly altering its format to make it happen. These changes are worth it for sports car racing, and it could bring this series to more people than it ever has in its first decade. WEC should not be afraid to change for the better.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Sergio Pérez, but did you know...

The #31 Whalen Engineering Cadillac of Pipo Derani, Alexander Sims and Jack Aitken won the 12 Hours of Sebring. The #8 Tower Motorsports Oreca-Gibson of Scott McLaughlin, Kyffin Simpson and John Farano won in LMP2. The #74 Riley Motorsports Ligier-Nissan of Felipe Fraga, Gar Robinson and Josh Burdon won in LMP3. The #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche of Klaus Bachler, Patrick Pilet and Laurens Vanthoor won in GTD Pro. The #1 Paul Miller Racing BMW of Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow and Corey Lewis won in GTD.

The #7 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and José María López won the 1,000 Miles of Sebring. The #48 Hertz Team JOTA Oreca-Gibson of Will Steven’s, Ye Yifei and David Beckmann won in LMP2. The #33 Corvette of Ben Keating, Nicky Catsburg and Nico Varrone won in GTE Am. 

Ayuma Iwasa (sprint) and Frederik Vesti (feature) split the Formula Two races from Jeddah. 

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup race from Atlanta. Austin Hill won the Grand National Series race, his third victory of the season. Christian Eckes won the Truck race.

Sébastien Ogier won Rally Mexico, his second victory of the season, a record seventh Rally Mexico victory, and Ogier’s 57th career victory.  

Chase Sexton won the Supercross race from Detroit, his second victory of the season, after Aaron Plessinger went down while leading on the penultimate lap. 

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP opens its season in Portimão. 
Formula E visits Brazil for the first time with a round in São Paulo.
NASCAR has an international contest in Austin. 
Supercross returns to Seattle.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

2023 FIA World Endurance Championship Season Preview

After a rough period for the FIA World Endurance Championship, the 2023 is set up to be one of its most exciting in its 12-year history. 

New manufactures, new cars and new drivers are in the series. The top class is larger than it has ever been with 13 Hypercar entries set for the full season and there are other manufacturers looking to join the series either sometime in 2023 or in 2024. 

While the Hypercar class is at a high point, the rest of WEC's grid is going through a transition. This will be the final season for GTE-spec cars, and there will only be a GTE Am class competing in 2023 while LMP2 is looking to be phased out as well due to the growth of Hypercar. GTE is set to be replaced by a pro-am GT3 class starting in 2024.

The distant future can wait, but we have a thrilling season awaiting us with 38 full-time entries set for the seven-race season.  

The WEC calendar has expanded to seven rounds after running only six races the previous two seasons. For the second consecutive year, Sebring hosts the season opener with a 1,000-mile race on Friday March 17. 

One month later, WEC has its first of four European rounds with the 6 Hours of Portimão returning to the calendar on April 16. Two weeks later, the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps will take place. 

The 24 Hours of Le Mans will be June 10-11 with the final European round occurring a month later at Monza, a six-hour race on July 9. 

There will be a two-month break before the 6 Hours of Fuji is held on September 10. Bahrain hosts the season finale with an eight-hour race on November 4.

Cadillac Racing
#2 Cadillac V-Series.R
Drivers: Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn, Richard Westbrook
What to expect: At the 24 Hours of Daytona, there was almost a sense that Acura had the outright speed over a single lap, but had the most questions about reliability. Porsche had the speed over the long run, but still had little things popping that halted its progress. In the middle was Cadillac, good speed, but the most reliable and it felt like Cadillac was positioned to win at Daytona. 

Acura was able to complete all 24 hours and that one-lap pace carried over an entire stint. Cadillac went 3-4 behind the Acura 1-2, but the top four were covered by 11.176 seconds. Cadillac should feel confident entering its first foray into WEC. It helps that the Cadillac only trailed the Toyotas in the Prologue test last weekend at Sebring. Bamber is a past champion. Lynn has experience from GTE and LMP2. Westbrook is a capable veteran. This could be a special season for Cadillac, but it will not be easy.

Floyd Vanwall Racing Team
#4 Vanwall Vandervell 680
Drivers: Tom Dillmann, Esteban Guerrieri, Jacques Villeneuve
What to expect: Possibly a name change, but we can tackle the legal issues another time. This is the ByKolles outfit in another name. The team is known for talking a big game and massively underdelivering. Villeneuve will turn 52 years old this April. He hasn't run a prototype since 2008 when he was second at Le Mans in the Peugeot 908. I am not sure what he has left. Guerrieri is coming up from touring car racing, where he had good success and he was once a promising Indy Lights driver, but this is a big step. Dillman has been hanging with the ByKolles group since 2018, and he did win the 2022 Le Mans Cup LMP3 championship with Alexander Mattschull. 

It is doubtful this car completes the entire season let alone accomplish anything remotely remarkable on track. This is such an odd combination of drivers. Compared to the other lineups, it is weak. However, it did top the Glickenhaus in testing, and was within two seconds of the fastest time at the Prologue.

Porsche Penske Motorsport
#5 Porsche 963
Drivers: Dane Cameron, Michael Christensen, Frédéric Makowiecki
What to expect: This biggest concern for Porsche is it is taking drivers accustomed to GT machinery and hoping they can succeed in prototype. Cameron is simultaneously the leader and the least experienced in this group in terms of the series. Christensen and Makowiecki know the series but neither have extensive prototype experience. A race car is a race car, but even professionals have a learning curve. 

This should be the second of the two factory Porsches, yet it was the faster of the two at the Prologue. Add to the concerns the gremlins that keep plaguing the Porsche 963. Porsche will figure those out. The car had promise at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Porsche will figure it out, but questions remain over this lineup leading the way over the entire season. 

#6 Porsche 963
Drivers: Kévin Estre, André Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor
What to expect: Lotterer is one of the best drivers of his generation. He is fine, but he even expressed some concerns after being away from top tier prototype racing for the last few seasons. Vanthoor was one of the best GT drivers in the 2010s and he has dabbled in LMP2 competition with some success, but he has never driven a prototype regularly. Estre is taking on something entirely new. 

This car feels the most set up for success in the Porsche camp. Estre was the fastest of the three drivers in the #6 Porsche at the Prologue. If Lotterer and Vanthoor pick up their pace, this is a scary lineup. With the Porsche's little problem, a championship is hard to imagine at this point. It has to get through a few races before that can feel possible.

Toyota Gazoo Racing
#7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid
Drivers: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, José María López
What to expect: This is the greatest test Toyota has seen since 2016 when Porsche and Audi were still field LMP1 teams. Toyota has the upper-hand in experience. This will be the third season of the Toyota GR010 Hybrid. This is Toyota's 12th season in WEC competition. It knows all the circuits. It has been through this gauntlet before. The biggest difference is will be facing the most competition ever in WEC. 

This is the sixth consecutive season for this lineup in the #7 Toyota. López topped the Prologue. It has won 11 races since the start of the 2018-19 season. Outside of a retirement at Sebring last year and a disqualification at Silverstone in 2018, this car has been on the podium in every race during that timeframe. It is the less celebrated of the two Toyota teams, but its quietly gets the job done. There should be tougher days for Toyota with all the manufacturers in Hypercar. The #7 Toyota will have its days though, and another world championship is possible.

#8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid
Drivers: Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryō Hirakawa
What to expect: While the #7 Toyota has won 11 times since 2018-19, the #8 Toyota has won 12 times in that time, but this team has seen three different driver lineups in that time span. Buemi has been the one consistent, and Hartley and Hirakawa took no time to get up to speed. The defending champions are the favorites at the start, but with new cars and seven races in the 2023 season, there is plenty of time for momentum to swing in someone else's favor. 

The #8 Toyota will win races, and likely be a contender for the championship, but this team will see its greatest challenge in quite some time. Buemi and Hartley have shown they are up for it with their past successes in WEC. Hirakawa will be facing it for the first time. There will likely be a race where Toyota is thoroughly beat and it will be an eye-opener for this group that is used to winning or only losing because of how Balance of Performance played out. There is going to be a race where Toyota doesn't have an answer. It will not necessarily be a regular occurrence. It could happen once and Toyota could be in control for the other six races. 

Hertz Team Jota
#38 Porsche 963
Drivers: António Félix da Costa, Will Stevens, Ye Yifei
What to expect: For starters, Jota will not have its Porsche 963 until Spa-Francorchamps at the earliest, but perhaps not even until the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At the first few rounds, Jota will field an extra LMP2 car for its Hypercar drivers. Yifei and Stevens will drive an LMP2 car at Sebring with David Beckmann while Yifei, da Costa and Beckmann will drive at Portimão. The three regulars have all found success in LMP2 competition. They should all be competitive moving up to a Hypercar, but will be playing catch-up and there should not be expectations for victories or podiums. 

Ferrari AF Corse
#50 Ferrari 499P
Drivers: Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen
What to expect: Ferrari's long-awaited return to top-tier sports car racing has arrived, and it is bringing fairly unexperienced prototype drivers into the top class. Fuoco was a promising single-seater driver. Molina doesn't really to struggle anywhere he has been. Nielsen is an up-and-coming getting tossed into the deep end. 

Ferrari has been known for its poor decisions in Formula One over the last few seasons, and it has had questionable car development. Testing showed a Ferrari that could at least be competition. AF Corse running this program is the best thing that could happen. It knows how to handle endurance races. It will not be thrown through a loop in a 1000-mile or 24-hour race. The team is set up right. The car should be good, but if there is any manufacture you expect to have mechanical failures derail races, it is Ferrari.

#51 Ferrari 499P
Drivers: Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi
What to expect: Pier Guidi and Calado have won almost everything together in GT racing. They know the WEC schedule and the only thing that is different is the car. Calado did well in the Formula One ladder series, but never really got a sniff at it. The prototype is new for him and Pier Guidi while Giovinazzi is coming over after a lackluster time in Formula One. 

Giovinazzi turned some heads when he ran in LMP2 competition prior to his time in Formula One. He will be comfortable in endurance races and bolsters this lineup. The #51 Ferrari should finish better in the championship than the #50 Ferrari. If there is any Ferrari that should win this season, it is the #51 Ferrari, but all three of the #50 Ferrari drivers were faster than the #51 drivers at the Prologue. 

Peugeot TotalEnergies
#93 Peugeot 9X8
Drivers: Paul di Resta, Mikkel Jensen, Jean-Éric Vergne
What to expect: Peugeot arrived in the middle of last season and was fine. In three races, it failed to get on the podium once with its two cars. Twice did the #93 Peugeot retire. The pace was getting closer at the end of the season, but Peugeot has a long way to go. 

It hasn't done a 24-hour test yet. This will be its first time at Sebring. Though it has a half-season head start of the LMDh cars and Ferrari, Peugeot was slower than all of them at the Prologue, and the LMDh cars have run a 24-hour race already. This should be a frustrating season. The lineup is good, but if the car is not reliable, the drivers can only do so much.

#94 Peugeot 9X8
Drivers: Loïc Duval, Gustavo Menezes, Nico Müller
What to expect: The #94 Peugeot made it to the finish of every WEC race it entered last season, but it still had its share of mechanical problems. The closest it got to the lead lap was six laps down. It had good pace at the end of last season, but that could not be carried over a full race, and the Peugeot was fighting just to be ahead of the LMP2 winner. 

Of the five big manufacturers, Peugeot is a clear fifth. Its best results will have to come down to finding reliability while others struggle, and that isn't something you can bank on with the French manufacturer at this time. 

Proton Competition
#99 Porsche 963
Drivers: Gianmaria Bruni
What to expect: Proton's Porsche likely will not be available until Monza. It is not entered for Le Mans. Bruni is the only announced driver at this point. 

Glickenhaus Racing
#708 Glickenhaus 007
Drivers: Romain Dumas, Ryan Briscoe, Olivier Pla.
What to expect: Glickenhaus showed speed last year, but this is a tough field than it raced against in 2022, and it was 2.965 seconds off the top time Toyota set. Glickenhaus will have two cars at Le Mans and it is believed it will rotate its drivers through the one full-time car over 2023. Pipo Derani and Franck Mailleux drove for Glickenhaus last year and do not have WEC rides for 2023. Mailleux is assigned to the second Glickenhaus for Le Mans. 

Prema Racing
#9 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Juan Manuel Correa, Filip Ugran, Bent Viscaal, Andrea Caldarelli
What to expect: This is a young lineup of drivers who were recently in junior formula racing in European. Correa is still competing in Formula Two. Ugran ran in Formula Three two seasons ago but didn't score any points. Viscaal won in Formula Three, had a pair of podiums in Formula Two and he ran in the European Le Mans Series in LMP2 last year. This could be a blindly quick group that turns some heads or an inexperienced group that makes some mistakes. Caldarelli will only race at Sebring as Correa has Formula Two responsibilities in Saudi Arabia. 

#63 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Mirko Bortolotti, Daniil Kvyat, Doriane Pin
What to expect: This should be the best Prema team. Bortolotti had a successful career in GT3 competition in many different series. He made his LMP2 debut last year at Le Mans. Kvyat brings Formula One experience. He should have a handle on the car. Pin is 19 years old and showed great speed last year in GTE. She is new to an LMP2 car, and she was third fastest at the Prologue. She should improve over the entire season, but she is already starting on a good note. Prema has produced race winners before. This car could do it. 

Vector Sport
#10 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Ryan Cullen, Gabriel Aubry, Matthias Kaiser
What to expect: Vector got a podium result last year, but finished ninth or worse in the remaining five races. Aubry won in LMP2 driving for Jackie Chan DC Racing over 2018 to 2020. Kaiser is relatively new to LMP2. Results should be better than last year. There should be more than one finish better than ninth. 

United Autosports
#22 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Filipe Albuquerque, Philip Hanson, Frederick Lubin, Ben Hanley
What to expect: Either of the United Autosport cars could win the championship. Hanson and Albuquerque have great experience together. There are two races that clash with IMSA, meaning Albuquerque will not be in WEC, but Hanley is an incredible substitute to call in. Lubin is moving from Euroformula Open. He is in good hands. Lubin is the question mark, but this team should still be at the front. 

#23 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Tom Blomqvist, Oliver Jarvis, Josh Pierson, Giedo van der Garde
What to expect: This might be the best team in class. Blomqvist and Jarvis won the IMSA Daytona Prototype international championship last year with Meyer Shank Racing. Pierson had a stellar rookie season in 2022. Like Albuquerque, Blomqvist has two IMSA rounds that take priority, but van der Garde will not miss a beat. Both United cars should win.  

#28 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Pietro Fittipaldi, David Heinemeier Hansson, Oliver Rasmussen
What to expect: Fittipaldi is joining a regular LMP2 contender in Jota. He and Heinemeier Hansson raced together in ELMS last year. Rasmussen had a good rookie season in WEC with Jota last year. I wouldn't be surprised if this team found a way to win a race or two. I am concerned with this program as Jota expands to Hypercar. Divided attention could see a downward turn in results. 

Team WRT
#31 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Robin Frijns, Sean Gelael, Ferdinand Habsburg
What to expect: Frijns and Gelael were second in the championship last year with three victories. Frijns and Habsburg won the LMP2 title two years ago. This will be a tough group to beat. Multiple victories feel highly likely. They should be in the championship discussion to the very end of the season. 

#41 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Rui Andrade, Louis Delétraz, Robert Kubica
What to expect: Delétraz has won the ELMS LMP2 championship the last two seasons. In 2021, he won it with Kubica. Kubica had good results last year in WEC, and Andrade won a race while finishing on the podium three times. Andrade also won Petit Le Mans while finishing second in the IMSA Endurance Cup for the LMP2 class. It will be tough to beat the sister car, but the #41 Team WRT entry should get a win or two. 

Inter Europol Competition
#34 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Albert Costa, Fabio Scherer, Jakub Śmiechowski
What to expect: Costa has found success in GT3 competition, but LMP2 is completely new to him. Scherer and Śmiechowski have each spent the last few seasons in LMP2. Scherer has shown promise. Results have been more spotty for Śmiechowski. This class is going to be difficult. Any top five finishes will be a victory for this group. 

Alpine Elf Team
#35 Alpine A470-Gibson
Drivers: Olli Caldwell, André Negrão, Memo Rojas
What to expect: This is a sleeper in a strong LMP2 class. Negrão won the LMP2 title in 2018-19 and is stepping down from Hypercar as Alpine prepares an LMDh car. Rojas is a veteran from IMSA and ELMS, but this will be his first WEC season. Caldwell has some good results in Formula Three. This could be the group that surprises folks this season. 

#36 Alpine A470-Gibson
Drivers: Julien Canal, Charles Milesi, Matthieu Vaxivière
What to expect: Both Alpine entries are sleepers. Canal has won this championship twice and he has been exceptional in ELMS. Vaxivière is another driver coming down from Hypercar. There is no need to worry about him. Milesi won this championship in 2021. There are eight cars in this class that could conceivably win the championship. There are only seven races. Somebody is going to end this season disappointed. It could be the #36 Alpine or the #36 Alpine could be spoiling the party. Both are equally likely outcomes. 

AF Corse
#21 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Simon Mann, Stefano Costantini, Ulysse de Pauw
What to expect: Ferrari was shutout in GTE Am last year. Aston Martin and Porsche split all of the races. Mann's best finish was seventh last season with Christoph Ulrich and Toni Vilander as his co-drivers. This lineup isn't better on paper. I don't see this team making a leap forward in the championship.

#54 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Francesco Castellacci, Thomas Flohr, Davide Rigon
What to expect: With GTE Pro dissolving, Castellacci and Flohr gain a stunning boast in Rigon joining the lineup. This car has what it takes to win races with the inclusion of Rigon. A championship could be a stretch, but you cannot rule it out. 

#83 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Luis Pérez Companc, Alessio Rovera, Lilou Wadoux
What to expect: Rovera returns after winning the 2021 GTE Am championship. He spent 2022 in LMP2. Pérez Companc is returning to WEC competition. He did the IMSA endurance races last year. Wadoux had a taste of WEC in LMP2 last year. This will be a new challenge for her. This team will not be regularly pushing for podium results. 

#25 Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Ahmad Al Harthy, Michael Dinan, Charlie Eastwood
What to expect: TF Sport won the championship last year with Ben Keating and Marco Sørensen. It doesn't have a top notch Aston Martin factory driver this year. Al Harthy has a lot of time driving Aston Martins, and he won last year in the European Le Mans Series. Eastwood has spent the last few years in LMP2, but he nearly won the GTE Am title in 2019-20 driving an Aston Martin. Dinan is new to WEC and international competition. It is good car, but I think results will be scattered all over the place.

Corvette Racing
#33 Corvette C8.R
Drivers: Ben Keating, Nicky Catsburg, Nicolás Varrone
What to expect: Keating just won the championship last year in an Aston Martin. He has found success in many different types of machine. The Corvette should not be much more of a challenge, especially with Corvette factory driver Nicky Catsburg paired with him. Varrone is a young up-and-comer. He won on his European Le Mans Series debut last year and he won in his IMSA debut this past January in the LMP3 class at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Keating will have a good push for defending his title. 

Project 1 - AO
#56 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Matteo Cairoli, P.J. Hyett, Gunnar Jeannette
What to expect: Hyett and Jeannette may have surprised themselves last year, finishing second in the Bahrain finale, their first race in WEC. I don't think the results will come that easy in 2023, even with the likes of Cairoli as their co-driver. Not to diminish it to beginner's luck, but any podium finishes will be a impressive result. 

Kessel Racing
#57 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Scott Huffaker, Takeshi Kimura, Daniel Serra
What to expect: Kimura has made a handful of WEC appearances while remaining a Asian Le Mans Series regular. Huffaker has won in IMSA driving in LMP2. Serra has a good record in GTE Pro competition. Serra can only do so much and his co-drivers are going to be learning these circuits. 

Iron Lynx
#60 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Matteo Cressoni, Alessio Picariello, Claudio Schiavoni
What to expect: Cressoni and Schiavoni return for another season together. Their best finish last year was fourth, but they were eighth or worse in their other races. The move to Porsche means Picariello joins the lineup. Picariello has won an ELMS championship. This group could see a marginal improvement. 

Dempsey-Proton Racing
#77 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Julien Andlauer, Christian Ried, Mikkel O. Pedersen
What to expect: Reid won twice last year. Pedersen won once with Team Project 1. Andlauer has been an emerging driver for the last few years. Ried has never won an WEC championship. Twice he was runner-up in this class. He has won 11 times in his career. This could be the team that gets him that elusive championship.

Iron Dames
#85 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting
What to expect: This team has spent the better part of the last two years together. They were on the podium in the final three races last season in WEC and they were third in the ELMS GT championship. The group is changing cars from a Ferrari to a Porsche. It could take a moment to get used to the cars, but Gatting was second at the Prologue and Frey was eighth. This is a tougher field. A slight dip in results would not be surprising, but would not be the end of the world. 

GR Racing
#86 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Ben Barker, Riccardo Pera, Michael Wainwright 
What to expect: Since 2016, GR Racing has only five podium finishes in 45 WEC starts. It has never won in WEC. I don't see that changing in 2023. It may get one podium finish. If it gets two, it will be an outstanding year for this group.

Proton Competition
#88 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Ryan Hardwick, Zachary Robichon, Harry Tincknell
What to expect: Hardwick is stepping into WEC competition as he has been a top amateur driver in IMSA's GTD class for many years. Robichon has won IMSA's GTD championship and Tincknell was fourth in the GTE-AM championship last year and he knows all of these tracks. This is a sneaky strong team though two drivers are unfamiliar with WEC. Hardwick is not commitment beyond the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but they could be set for big things. 

Northwest AMR
#98 Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana, Nicki Thiim, Axcil Jefferies
What to expect: Dalla Lana and Thiim opened 2022 with three podium finishes, and then didn't finish better than fifth the rest of the season. They are both past champions. Aston Martin has had at least one car finish in the top two of the GTE Am championship the last three seasons. However, the top Aston Martin driver ranked 24th out of 43 in GTE Am at the Prologue. Thiim was 28th. Jefferies has only one WEC start and will be learning most of these tracks. 

D'station Racing
#777 Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Tomonobu Fujii, Satoshi Hoshino, Casper Stevenson
What to expect: Fujii and Hoshino got a podium finish last season and they had a podium finish last season. Their points total dropped from 51 points to 35 points from 2021 to 2022. This car should be somewhere in the middle of 35 to 51 points. The podium will be tougher to get on in 2023.

On-track action begins Wednesday March 15 at 10:55 a.m. ET with second practice later that day at 4:35 p.m. On Thursday March 16, there will be a third practice session at 11:55 a.m. ET. Qualifying will consist of three separate sessions, one dedicated for each class. Each session will last 15 minutes and qualifying will begin at 6:30 p.m. ET on Thursday. 

The 1,000 Miles of Sebring will begin at 12:00 p.m. ET on Friday March 17. There is an eight-hour time limit on this race. In the first two editions of the 1,000 Miles of Sebring, only 946.23 miles and 725.56 miles were completed. Last year's race saw a red flag for an accident by the #7 Toyota and a second red flag for lightning and heavy rain, which ended the event 45 minutes before reaching the time limit. 

Monday, March 13, 2023

Musing From the Weekend: Take the Win Away

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Josh Herrin won the 81st Daytona 200 by 0.070 seconds over Josh Hayes. Herrin's victory was 13 years after his first Daytona 200 victory. However, this race ended up being 217.62 miles due to a late red flag and a provision in the rulebook stating any the race shall not be less than ten laps after a restart. There is a lot of college basketball going on. IndyCar and Formula One are already on break. Mercedes is having communication issues. The NASCAR race from Austin will be more of an all-star race than NASCAR's all-star race. Alexander Rossi and Patricio O'Ward will be in Austin, but not doing anything on a racetrack. Supercars returned to competition, and there were already complaints. The FIA World Endurance Championship had its prolouge test at Sebring over the weekend, but it was some IMSA news that was on my mind.

Take the Win Away
IMSA's paddock was rocked in the buildup to the 12 Hours of Sebring when it was announced last week that Meyer Shank Racing had manipulated the tire pressure data at the 24 Hours of Daytona. 

MSR's punishment for such an infraction? 

The team and its drivers lost 200 of the 350 points it earned for the race victory. It also lost all points in the Endurance Cup championship, lost all the prize money for winning the 24 Hours of Daytona and was handed an additional $50,000 fine. Race engineer Ryan McCarthy was also placed on indefinite suspension and stripped of his IMSA credential. MSR fired McCarthy after IMSA's penalties were announced. 

However, while MSR lost quite a bit, it will get to keep the race victory, remaining in the record as the winners of the 2023 edition of the famed endurance race, and the drivers keep their Rolex watches. 

This penalty wasn't close to enough, and Meyer Shank Racing should not remain the winners of the 2023 24 Hours of Daytona. 

The penalty is appalling. The team loses 200 points earned in the race, but keeps all 35 points for pole position, because there is no way manipulated tire pressures could play a role in the #60 Acura setting the fastest lap in qualifying. Even if you look at the 200-point penalty as covering the entire total Meyer Shank Racing scored for Daytona and 35 of those points being losing pole position, that means only 165 point deducted are from the race finish, meaning MSR still scored points that would fall between 12th and 13th in the IMSA points structure. 

MSR should have nothing to show for this year's Daytona race. It should be on zero, in a deep pit when it comes to the championship, and it shouldn't have the race victory either.

This was not a small infraction, being underweight by a tenth of a pound or a rear wing endplate being 1/64th of an inch too thin or a driver falling a second shy of the minimum drive time or going over the maximum drive time by a second. This required deliberate circumvention of the rules. A team employee knew it was breaking the rules when developing "intentional software offsets" to get away with violating the sporting regulations. This wasn't an accident. This wasn't a minor transgression or slight miscalculation. This was a complete lack of respect to sportsmanship and fairness in competition. Believing it was one employee acting out of turn is naïve at best.

There is an aversion in American motorsports to change the results once the checkered flag is wave. The belief is the fans deserve to leave a track knowing who won the race. Once the winner is declared over the loudspeaker, that is it. That is the winner. Everyone saw it. Everyone can go home happy. For decades the practice has been if said winner has been found to do something wrong afterward... well, that can be handled with a points penalty, fine and/or suspension (usually just to a crew member, never the driver or entire team) afterward. But the win stands and what everyone saw and all the photos that were taken will remain accurate to what the record book says for years to come. 

That mindset has to go in all forms of American motorsports. 

If the belief is retroactively changing the results only makes a bad situation worse, well I have news for you, doing nothing is rock-bottom. MSR isn't pleased about all those points its lost or the money it had to return, but it will still promote the team as a three-time 24 Hours of Daytona winner. It will be on the side of it hauler, on merchandise and used in team press releases from now until the team closes shop. It isn't quite a lose-lose. There is definitely a loss, but the win stands, both literally and metaphorically.

The trained eyes and future readers will see the 2023 24 Hours of Daytona results and either know it isn't kosher or will find out that the winners broke the rule and, frankly, got away with it even if there was a punishment. Is that any worse than taking the victory away from the #60 Acura and giving it to the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura? The counterargument is it would be a hollow victory for Wayne Taylor Racing, therefore the result should remain unchanged. Well, it was a hollow victory the moment Meyer Shank Racing broke the rules to win the race. We are never going to have a 100% satisfying result from this year's 2023 24 Hours of Daytona, but we can at least have one that everyone can stomach. 

Wayne Taylor and its drivers would not get a victory lane celebration, and nothing would be fulfilling, but there is no way Jim Meyer and Mike Shank are feeling any joy with this victory. This isn't a victory Tom Blomqvist, Colin Braun, Hélio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud are going to be bragging about for years to come. There really is no winner in this case, but at the same time, IMSA isn't going to strip this result and have no winner for this year's race. 

The best of these unideal situations is to have a winner who at least followed the rules. Meyer Shank Racing should not keep the victory. It should not be kept in the record book for decades to come, and the Rolex watches should be returned. That should be the custom moving forward. 

Viewers are not going to be turned off from motorsports if a team is found to have broken the rules and had a victory taken away. It actually shows great accountability. It will feel like a waste to some in attendance if the results are amended, but most functional adults will understand it and appreciate it more than allowing a team get away with an infraction. 

For decades, teams have known the punishment is worth the crime in the long run. No series is going to hand down anything too catastrophic to harm a team, because that could mean a shrinking grid, crew members losing jobs and sponsors being soured on the series and never returning, but if a series isn't going to do the bare minimum of taking a victory away, teams will still feel compelled to cross the line knowing they will always remain the winners in the annals of history. 

No team should feel that comfortable to break the rules. IMSA had a chance to send a message. It blew it. Next time it must do better. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josh Herrin, but did you know...

William Byron won the NASCAR Cup race from Phoenix, his second consecutive victory. Sammy Smith won the Grand National Series race, his first career victory.

Cam Waters and Shane van Gisbergen split the Supercars races from Newcastle. Van Gisbergen was first on the road in the first race, but was disqualified after Tickford Racing and Walkinshaw Andretti United filed a complaint over Triple Eight Race Engineering using dry ice in a specific banned location.

Ken Roczen won the Supercross race from Indianapolis, his first victory since the 2022 season opener at Anaheim and Suzuki's first victory since the Meadowlands in 2016, 112 races ago.

Coming Up This Weekend
Super Sebring... the 1,000-mile FIA World Endurance Championship race on Friday and the 12-Hour IMSA race on Saturday.
The third Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. 
NASCAR will be in Atlanta. 
World Rally Championship moves to Mexico.
Supercross motors into Detroit.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Early March Catch-Up: New Rules, Experimentation and an End

It has been a busy last few weeks. 

Between the NASCAR season starting, Formula One and IndyCar each starting, plenty of previews and then the opening weekends themselves, there hasn't been much time to look at some of the little things that are going on around these series, IndyCar in particular. 

With the first race behind us, and a month until the next one, there is some time to catch-up on what has happened away from the racetrack and ponder what certain changes will mean for the future.

IndyCar Rule Changes
Prior to the St. Petersburg weekend, IndyCar announced a handful of rule changes. Most of them, if not all of them, make sense on paper and contribute positively for the competitors. 

The big one we saw at St. Petersburg in qualifying. The first red flag in each qualifying round will result in the clock stopping. This is to maximize the opportunities for teams to set a representative lap and not have teams caught out when on a flyer or getting up to speed. If there are any additional red flags in a round, the clock will continue to run. 

This was a fair change. Occasionally, there would be a qualifying session where an early red flag would come out, very few teams had set a true flyer, five minutes would be lost, the teams would then be scrambling to get a lap in, another red flag would happen in the scramble, and that would effectively end the session, and the likes of Ben Hanley or Dalton Kellett would advance to the second round and start no worse than 12th despite never being faster than 21st in any of the practice sessions leading up to qualifying.

Pausing the clock once should buy the teams enough time. Will that occasional absurd qualifying round happen where someone backs into the second round? Probably, but it will be more of an exception than in the past. 

Also changed in qualifying is the clock no longer starts when race control declares the cars may leave pit lane and begin out laps. The clock will start when the first car crosses the alternate start/finish line to begin the first qualifying lap of that round. 

I have always thought it was odd that the clock would start but for the first 90 seconds it would just be cars getting up to speed. It does kind of make sense, but also steals a lap or maybe even two depending on the circuit from the drivers. This should again allow for qualifying results to more accurately depict who is fast and who is not. 

IndyCar deserves credit on this one. 

Alternates at Gateway
Along with the announced changes to qualifying (as well as some technical adjustments that give the teams more downforce options at the superspeedways), IndyCar announced that the series would experiment with an alternate tire compound at Gateway.

Like it does with road and street courses, Gateway will require the teams to run at least one set of the primary tire compound and alternate tire compound during the race. 

I love this decision, and I am fascinated in how it turns out. 

We saw in St. Petersburg the alternate tires last about 15 laps less than the primary tires. That isn't a bad thing, and at a place like Gateway, it could significantly shift the strategy of that race. 

As the surface has aged, Gateway has become a more lively event than its first few years on the calendar. Last year had 520 passes, the most in a Gateway race since it returned to the calendar in 2017. It is still a tough place to pass at, and introducing an alternate tire compound could force the teams to adopt wildly different strategies. 

Looking at it in percentages, if the alternate tires are only in their sweet spot for 40% less than the primary tire, the teams are going to have change how they run Gateway. Theoretically, it should erase fuel saving because if the alternate tires can only go about 35-40 laps and the fuel stint is about 60-70 laps. If a driver is running two seconds off the pace over 25-30 laps at Gateway, he will be nearly three laps down by the time he gets to the end of the tank. That strategy isn't going to work. It should also be noted that Gateway will be a day race in 2023. If it is brutally hot, the tire fall off could be substantially greater, meaning the alternate stint could be worse.

And that's a good thing! We aren't sure how the alternate tire will perform, but it should not last as long as the primary tire. If everyone has to run one short stint, between 20 and 30 laps shorter than a full stint, Gateway will be mixed up. Some teams are going to suffer that alternate stint immediately at the start of the race and look to be out of it only to come back as other teams have to take on the alternate tires. There could be teams that save the alternate tires for the end of the race and then be praying to have enough for the final laps. 

The only other qualm on Gateway and the alternate tire compound is what happens if it rains?

For road and street courses, if it rains during the race and at least three teams put on wet tires, the requirement to run both the primary and alternate tire compound is waved. For ovals, there is no wet tire compound. Rain can end the race prior to a team putting on the alternate tire compound. 

What happens then? It isn't inconceivable. It rained last year at Gateway, and for a moment it looked like the race have ended in that moment. If we get to lap 180 at Gateway and a rainstorm moves in that will last 15 hours and the leader has yet to use the alternate tire, what is the call? Is a rainstorm going to be a get-out-of-jail-free card? That's not going to be fair to the rest of the teams and not in the spirit of the rules. Weather shouldn't get a team a pass. 

Then what? In the rulebook, rule states any car that fails to comply with using each compound in the race will be a one-lap penalty. Nowhere under article, which covers Gateway race tire rules, does it mention rain, what happens if the races is shortened and if that prevents a team from using the alternate compound. Based on the current interpretation of the rulebook, if rain ends the race and a team hasn't used the alternate tire that team should receive a one-lap penalty. There are no provisions for rain. If a team hasn't used the alternate tire compound, not matter what, it should get a penalty.

If it comes to that it will be one controversial conclusion to the final oval race of the IndyCar season. There is still six months until that race. IndyCar will probably look over those rules and set the final regulations as Gateway approaches, but the series cannot ignore this and must address it accordingly. 

Indianapolis 500 Entries
One IndyCar race down, and all eyes are on the Indianapolis 500. Not really, but before one IndyCar race was run in 2023, 32 Indianapolis 500 entries were accounted for. 

Along with the 27 cars that ran in St. Petersburg, the 15 Hondas and 12 Chevrolets, there will be Marco Andretti in a fifth Andretti Autosport car, Tony Kanaan making his final IndyCar start in a fourth McLaren entry, Stefan Wilson as a one-off for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Ed Carpenter back as an oval-only driver for his own team, and the most recent addition to the entry list was Katherine Legge in a fourth Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry. 

With 17 Hondas and 15 Chevrolets accounted for, we are one away from a full field, and it gets tougher to see where that final entry will come from. 

In all likelihood, Chevrolet will field one more car, but where? Team Penske has said it is not expanding, as has A.J. Foyt Racing. McLaren is maxed out. Ed Carpenter Racing has said it is maxed out. It is unlikely Juncos Hollinger Racing will go to three cars. That leaves Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, which has run two cars four of the last five years at Indianapolis. 

D&R very well could do it again in 2023, though its regular driver Sage Karam said he would not return with D&R if he were to do Indianapolis this year, and its other driver from 2022, Santino Ferrucci, is full-time with Foyt.

As for Honda teams, they are nearly all fully subscribed as well. Andretti isn't going to run a sixth car. RLLR isn't going to leap up to five when it just committed to four for the first time. Chip Ganassi Racing is highly unlikely to run a fifth car. Meyer Shank Racing does not do anything knee-jerk, and it will not add a third car this late in the game. That leaves Dale Coyne Racing, which has run three cars at Indianapolis previous. 

Coyne had been looking to get 2022 Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist on the IndyCar grid. Lundqvist has his scholarship money for the championship, but it is greatly reduced compared to past Indy Lights champions. It would be the start to an Indianapolis 500 entry, but that would likely be the only race Lundqvist would get this season. 

At most, if D&R runs two and Coyne materializes a third, we could see 34 cars and one car going home. Two car or more going home just isn't going to happen. It is most likely we will only see 33 entries.

Fontana's End
For two and a half years we had been preparing for the final race around the two-mile oval in Fontana, California after plans were announced to convert the track into a short track back in September 2020. The final race finally came last month with NASCAR's weekend. 

As for the short track project, the timeline is very much undetermined. When the Clash was being held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at the start of February, NASCAR confirmed Fontana would not host a race in 2024 due to the reconstruction, and 2025 sounded unlikely. 

If 2025 is unlikely, but has a slim hope, that means the track isn't going to be ready for February 2025, but at best be ready for October or November 2025. However, I have a hard time envisioning NASCAR giving Fontana a playoff race as its return to the calendar as a short track if it is uncertain the track will be ready in time for such a date. At best, 2026 is when Fontana is back on the calendar.

There is also a world where Fontana does not return. NASCAR sold over 80% of the property to developers, leaving only 89 acres for the short track project. 

Fontana represented the last superspeedway. Opened in 1997, it was the last two-mile oval constructed in the United States during the racetrack boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since 2002, new racetracks, especially paved ovals, have not be sprouting around the country. Outside of Iowa Speedway, opened in 2006, there hasn't been a paved oval opened with any national prominence in nearly 20 years. It is unlikely we are going to see any built anytime soon, especially those the size of Fontana. 

Bulldozing Fontana is bulldozing a one-of-a-kind track. It is losing a circuit with its own personality. For a series like NASCAR that wants different venues and different track characteristics, Fontana is exactly what it should want on its schedule, but now it is disappearing for a proposed short track that is sounding more like a myth than reality. 

It is hard to knock NASCAR when it made over a half-billion dollars on the sale. If any of us were sitting on a half-billion worth of property, we would definitely take the money and run, but in NASCAR's hopes of getting its cake and eating it too it could fall short. NASCAR is hoping to construct another short track and increase the number of short tracks on the its schedule, but if the Fontana rebuild becomes too bogged down and abandoned, it will be a colossal failure. 

There was likely never a world where Fontana could remain untouched as a two-mile oval, but for the last three seasons NASCAR could have easily added a short track race or two and let Fontana be. NASCAR has owned Iowa Speedway for nearly a decade. It hosted multiple races for NASCAR's lower divisions from 2007 through 2019. It is more than ready to host a Cup race, and could have been on the schedule at any point over the previous three seasons without Fontana ever having to be carved up. 

If NASCAR is willing to return to North Wilkesboro, a track that was abandoned and decrepit for nearly 25 years and still has dated facilities, Iowa is more than qualified to host a race tomorrow, and Iowa could do it for a fraction of the cost. It wouldn't require any refurbishment that is for sure. 

Business decisions aside, Fontana was built as a speed palace meant to dazzle us, and as the surface aged, it became a gritty track, showcasing the best of car control especially as drivers fanned out four and five wide into a corner. That racing cannot be found anywhere else. It will never be recreated either. A true loss.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: And Now We Wait

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Chase Elliott broke his leg on a snowboard. Many pit crew members were delayed getting to Las Vegas, and went right from the airport to the racetrack for the Truck race. More history was made in Daytona. A lengthy wait ended. Esteban Ocon had about every penalty imaginable in Bahrain. McLaren needed a lot of air to complete this race. Indy Lights made a mess of its season opener, and then IndyCar doubled down and made a bigger mess, and the IndyCar season opener is on my mind. 

And Now We Wait
IndyCar was back on track this weekend in St. Petersburg. After 174 days without a race, 27 drivers took to the waterfront streets for a 180-mile race and after two hours, five minutes and 30 seconds, Marcus Ericsson won the 20th Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and Ericsson begins the 2023 season as the championship leader. 

And now we wait. After 174 days of waiting for race one, we will wait 27 days until race number two. In 201 days, IndyCar will have raced once. In that same 201-day time frame, the NASCAR Cup Series will have raced 14 times, Formula One will have run nine races, MotoGP will have completed seven grand prix, the World Rally Championship will have run six rallies, hell, even IMSA will have run three races in that timeframe!

This is old news, but each year it cannot be ignored. IndyCar inevitably stumbles into a month break. 

For the better part of the last decade, this month break has been inescapable. It was once late in the season, as the 2013 season had a month between Baltimore on Labor Day weekend and the Houston doubleheader the first weekend in October after no race could be organized in the middle of September. A round in Mugello, Italy was floated as an option but it never even made a draft of the schedule.

After a few rather condensed schedules, the 2016 season saw St. Petersburg move earlier into March and it created three weeks between it and Phoenix. That gap between round one and round two grew by a week the following season, as Phoenix moved to late April while Long Beach remained mid-April. There was also a three-week break between Mid-Ohio and Pocono at the start of August that year. That month gap between races one and two remained in 2018, even as Phoenix moved back to the second round of the season. There was still a three-week break between Mid-Ohio and Pocono. 

IndyCar got a break in 2019 when Austin joined the schedule at the end of March, but that month break shifted deeper into spring, between Long Beach in April and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May. There were still three weeks between Mid-Ohio and Pocono as well. 

Throw out 2020 due to the pandemic and let's be thankful we had any IndyCar races at all. In 2021, even after a delayed start due to pandemic concerns, there was over a month between Mid-Ohio on July 4th and Nashville on August 8, mostly because the Toronto round was cancelled due to travel restrictions, but a year after IndyCar organizing races on the fly, the series decided not to fill an open window in its schedule, even though the television time had already been set aside. Last season, when St. Petersburg returned to the opening round and was held on February 27, but Texas was three weeks later and then there were another three weeks until Long Beach after that. 

This hasn't been a new problem, and everyone knows it must be resolved. 

A month break doesn't have to be the end of the world. Formula One schedules a month off every summer and that hasn't stopped it from growing globally, and most notbaly in IndyCar's backyard, the United States. But it is a bad thing to have a month off after the first race of the season. It is quite baffling that IndyCar would allow itself to immediately step out of the spotlight after it was in hibernation for nearly six months. 

Drivers are even voicing displeasure with the long offseason. They cannot be much happier to have a month off after one race.

IndyCar does have itself confined to a column of North America. The furthest race to the East is Toronto and 12 of 17 races are East of the Mississippi. Three of 16 race weekends are at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

If this is supposed to be a serious national series, it must find a way to have at least one race on the East Coast. It should probably figure out a way to have at least two. There are over 350 million people in the United States. The audience is there. Baltimore drew around 70,000 people on race day. We are nearly a decade removed from the last Baltimore race, but all those people in the Mid-Atlantic region didn't die in the last ten years. Many are still there, and there are many more the series could attract for the first time. 

Between Loudon, Watkins Glen, Pocono, Dover, Richmond, Virginia International Raceway, Charlotte, Darlington, Atlanta, Road Atlanta, Homestead and now North Wilkesboro, there are a dozen tracks on the Eastern Seaboard hosting major series. They aren't all suited for IndyCar, but there are at least two IndyCar could make work. Three were on an IndyCar schedule at some point in the last six years. 

The series has confined itself to the Midwest, but it must expand beyond that section of the country. Everyone involved knows it, but IndyCar cannot keep putting itself in a corner. When the problem has existed for the better part of a decade, IndyCar has been choosing to live with it rather than fix it. It cannot be ignored any longer. 

Laguna Seca is beloved but it doesn't draw a crowd worthy of a season finale. Move it to two weeks after St. Petersburg and then flip Portland and Gateway so the season ends Labor Day weekend, before the start of the NFL season, on an oval. That would be step one toward fixing the problem, eradicating the one-month gap without having to do much heavy lifting. It would be a start. Once that is addressed, we can get into schedule expansion and decreasing the offseason by at least a month. 

Many series are taking chances. NASCAR has added a dirt race, runs a race in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, is constructing a street course in Chicago and is reviving North Wilkesboro after it was abandoned for nearly a quarter century. Formula One is running its most races ever in a season and there are now three races in the United States, which will include a race on the Las Vegas Strip. The bare minimum IndyCar can do is fill the gaps that already exist to create a basic rhythm for its calendar. 

That shouldn't even be considered taking a chance. It is basic common sense. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Marcus Ericsson, but did you know...

Max Verstappen won the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Ralph Boschung and Théo Pourchaire split the Formula Two races from Bahrain. It was Boschung's first victory in 96 starts after competing in seven Formula Two seasons. Pepe Martí and Gabriel Bortoleto split the Formula Three races.

Danial Frost won the Indy Lights race from St. Petersburg. Christian Brooks and Myles Rowe split the USF Pro 2000 races. Lochie Hughes and Nikita Johnson split the U.S. F2000 races.

James Daskalos and Memo Gidley split the GT America races from St. Petersburg. Ross Chouest and Jason Bell split the races in the GT4 class.

William Byron won the NASCAR Cup race from Las Vegas. Austin Hill won the Grand National Series race, his second victory in three races this season. Kyle Busch won the Truck race, his 63rd Truck victory.

Álvaro Bautista (race one and race two) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (SuperPole) split the World Superbike races from Mandalika. Can Öncü and Federico Caricasulo split the World Supersport races.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Daytona, his fifth victory of the season, his seventh Daytona victory and his 49th career victory, breaking a tie with Ricky Carmichael for third all-time.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR moves down to Phoenix.
There will be the Daytona 200.
Supercars opens its season with a return to Newcastle. 
Supercross moves north to Indianapolis.