Thursday, May 31, 2012

Track Walk: Belle Isle 2012

After an exciting Indianapolis 500, the Izod IndyCar Series heads to Belle Isle for the first time since 2008. This is the sixth round of the championship and the last road or street course until Toronto on July 8th. Justin Wilson's win at Belle Isle in 2008 turned out to be the final win for Newman-Haas Racing and what would turn out to be the final win before Paul Newman's death 26 days later. Lots of big news after Indianapolis. Let's start at the top.

Randy Bernard
According to Randy Bernard himself and other reports, a few car owners have been trying to remove Randy Bernard from CEO of IndyCar. Robin Miller went on the Indianapolis radio station WFNI 1070 on Tuesday and said that "full-time Chevrolet team owners, except Dennis Reinbold" were the ones trying to remove Bernard. Late Tuesday night Bernard said on Twitter that Roger Penske was not one of the car owners trying to remove him but did confirm other car owners were after his job. On Wednesday, Miller wrote in his column on SPEED's website that the movement was led by Panther Racing owner John Barnes and former CEO Tony George with a "silent endorsement" from Kevin Kalkhoven of KV Racing Technology.

My take: Like Miller said, Reinbold and even Jay Penske have no reason to be angry with Bernard. Roger Penske, with help from Chip Gannasi, was able to get Bernard to issue double-file restarts last season at all races before the drivers asked and were granted getting rid of them on certain tracks. Penske also worked to get Belle Isle back on the schedule. Michael Andretti has been busting his back now promoting now two races (Milwaukee and Baltimore) and I would think he and Bernard should have no problem with one another but I could be wrong. This leaves Barnes, Tony George who has a major role with Ed Carpenter Racing and KVRT. Barnes and Kalkhoven were both fined, one for comments made on Twitter, the other because his cars had a technical infractions found during qualifying at Indianapolis. George has his own gripe as Bernard is his successor, running the series his created. What I fine interesting is Barnes and George were both apart of the original IRL and Kalkhoven was running ChampCar when unification occurred. Flash forward four years to 2012. Neither the man in charge of the IRL or ChampCar at that time are in charge now and it is being handled by someone from outside the sport. But, while many can bring up things Bernard has done wrong, it is hard to argue against the things Bernard has done correctly. He created a committee to oversee the development of the 2012 car after years of getting no where. Remember under Tony George they promised new cars for 2011 and we did not get them. He has been trying to keep historic races such as Milwaukee and has been trying to bring back races that have been historically beloved by the fans (Road America, Phoenix). He respects the heritage of the sport, and has actually sat down to learn the sport by going to Donald Davidson's class held each year in the spring and going to USAC races. After year after year of seeing the IndyLights champion struggle to get to the top level, Bernard created the Road to Indy which gives not only the IndyLights champion a shot at the next level but the Star Mazda, USF2000 and USAC National Drivers champions a shot to move up as well. While only in its third year of existence, all but one champion has raced in the next series in the ladder system. Bernard has also done one other thing, get the series closer to breaking even financially than it has ever before. Hard to get mad at a guy for trying.

Dragon to Split Legge and Bourdais
Moving on, as we all know Dragon Racing got Chevrolet engines at Indianapolis and for the rest of the season. However, as of now, they only have one engine program meaning they will not be able to field two cars each weekend at this time. Sebastien Bourdais will run Belle Isle and the remaining road and street course while Katherine Legge will run the remaining oval races. A 14th engine lease may be possible later in the season but there are no guarantees.

Other Notes
Will Power leads by 36 points over Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe. Dario Franchitti is now 6th in points, 64 points back after his win at Indianapolis

IndyLights and the Grand-Am Rolex SportsCar Series joins IndyCar at Belle Isle.

In the Road to Indy series Jack Hawksworth leads Connor de Phillippi by 12 points after the Night Before The 500. De Phillippi won while Hawksworth ended in seventh. In USF2000, Spencer Pigot has won four consecutive race, including the Night Before the 500. However, he leads Matthew Brabham, grandson of three-time World Champion Jack Brabham and son of one the co-drivers of 1993 24 Hours of Le Mans winning Puegoet, Geoff Brabham, by only 6 points as Brabham has finished second to Pigot in every race but the first, where Brabham won and Pigot finished in third. Last, but not least, Levi Jones leads the USAC National Drivers Championship with 400 points. Tracy Hines is second with 393 with Bobby East, Darren Hagen and Bryan Clauson rounding out the top 5.

I fell that Chevrolet comes back and takes their home race, however Honda takes 6 of the top 10. I will pick Will Power for pole but James Hinchcliffe takes his first career victory nearly 15 years to the day that Greg Moore won his first career road/street course race at Belle Isle in 1997*. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dario Franchitti round out the podium. Sebastien Bourdais gets a top five with Justin Wilson getting a top ten. Sleeper: Tony Kanaan but I wouldn't be surprised if Charlie Kimball has a great day.

*- Greg Moore won at Belle Isle on June 8, 1997. This year's race is June 3rd. It would be pretty cool to see Hinchcliffe pull it off.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Where Does The 2012 Indianapolis 500 Rank? Part 2

In the second part of this series, I look at Indianapolis 500s from 1911-1941. As I said in the first part, this is completely for fun. For the record, I was not alive for any races before the Second World War and therefore did not see or hear any of these races live. However, to the best of my ability from reading books, listening to people who have been around the speedway, especially Donald Davidson, and using box scores I will do my best to explain why these races were great.

Part One

1937 Indianapolis 500: The first of Wilbur Shaw's three Indianapolis 500 victories was probably most dramatic. At one point Shaw had lapped the field and looked to be set to ease to the checkered flag. That would not be the case as his car started to leak oil and his tires were very worn. To finish the race, Shaw slowed down to nurse the car home. Second place Ralph Hepburn notices this, got back on the lead lap and charged to overtake Shaw for the lead. Hepburn was closing the gap to Shaw and may or may have not taken the lead on the back straightaway on the final lap. Shaw gave it all he got and went for broke and held off Hepburn to win by 2.16 seconds, the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history until 1982. This race is still the hottest temperature recorded for the Indianapolis 500.

1934 Indianapolis 500: Bill Cummings led 57 laps and Mauri Rose led 68 laps with Cummings beating Rose by 27.25 seconds. Cummings came from 10th on the grid while Rose started 4th.

1930 Indianapolis 500: While it wasn't the closest race for it's time, nor was it the fastest 500 miles completed. It was the most dominating performance by an Indianapolis 500 winner. Billy Arnold took the lead on lap 3 and would lead the final 198 laps. He won 7 minute and 17.36 seconds. The top four starters finished in the top four but not all where they started. Arnold won from pole, Shorty Cantlon moved up one position to second, as did Louis Schneider to third, while Louis Meyer started 2nd, led the first two laps and ended the race in 4th.

1928 Indianapolis 500: Leon Duray and Jimmy Gleason led a combined 119 laps but both drivers would fall out of the race with mechanical failures. This gave the win to Louis Meyer his first Indianapolis 500 victory his first start at Indianapolis, however it was not his first race. He drove in relief in 1927. The margin of victory between Meyer and second place Lou Moore was 43.89 seconds.

1925 Indianapolis 500: Peter DePaolo won by 53.69 seconds in the first Indianapolis 500 completed in under five hours. He led 115 laps and held off Dave Lewis who led 50 laps. DePaolo actually had Norman Battem drive laps 106-127 as he had his hands bandaged for blisters. 3rd place Phil Shafer led 13 laps and 4th place Harry Hartz led 3 laps bring the combined total of laps led by the top four drivers to 181 laps.

1924 Indianapolis 500: In the first of two times their have been co-winners of the Indianapolis 500 L.L Corum and Joe Boyer won the race after leading 25 laps and beat second place Earl Cooper, who led a race high 119 laps by 1 minute and 23.57 seconds. 3rd place Jimmy Murphy led the other 56 laps of the race.

1922 Indianapolis 500: Jimmy Murphy becomes the first driver to win the race from pole position as he leads 153 laps and holds off Harry Hartz who led 42 laps by 3 minutes and 13.60 seconds. While not a close race, Murphy and Hartz started 1st and 2nd, were the fastest two qualifiers and finished 1st and 2nd respectively.

I think this a good list of great Indianapolis 500s. Whether or not you agree that this year's race or any of the races listed are great is you opinion and I respect it. Enjoy. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Where Does The 2012 Indianapolis 500 Rank?

Sunday's race saw a record amount of lead changes, passing all over the place, a late restart that put many drivers in contention, a last lap, balls out, dive bomb for the lead into turn one that failed and a driver win their third Indianapolis 500. Not to mention a new car with new engines. How does this rank among the all-time great Indianapolis 500s? Here is part one of two parts. This will cover races post World War II.

2011 Indianapolis 500: I start with last year's race because it was actually I pretty great race. 23 lead changes among 10 drivers and  thrilling closing laps were aided by the double-file restarts. It was a fuel mileage race but the 100th anniversary race saw the lead change five times in th final 30 laps. Scott Dixon led the most laps and took the lead from Graham Rahal on lap 172. Dixon still had to make one more pit stop but it seemed things would cycle back around in favor of him and his teammate Dario Franchitti. Dixon's pitstop gave Danica Patrick the lead with 21 to go. In what was her final Indianapolis 500 as a full-time driver, Patrick was in a position to finally win at Indianapolis and becoming the first women to win the race but she was short on fuel and choose to pit. This gave the lead to one-off Bertrand Baguette. The Belgian was thought to be the worst possible for the storyline for this race. An unknown, driving for the then part-time team Rahal-Letterman Racing was in position where a late-race caution would all but guarantee him victory. However he was stretching his fuel mileage as well and pitted with three laps to go. This handed the lead to JR Hildebrand who seemed confident with fuel. We know the end of this story but what happened to the Ganassi drivers? Franchitti pitted the same lap as Hildebrand but was short and had to conserve and fell out of contention and actually ran out of fuel. Dixon seemed certain he was going to make it but found at late that he was going to be short and had to save. Meanwhile, Hildebrand seemed to have the race won. He ran high in turn four, got in the marbles, hit the wall, was passed by Dan Wheldon, came home second and stopped in turn one. Dixon would soon come to stop a little behind Hildebrand out of fuel. Wheldon and Bryan Herta Autosport were the underdog team that pulled off an amazing upset. Wheldon had been passed over for a full-time ride and he wasn't going to settle for an uncompetitive ride. He got what he felt was a shot with Herta and proved that the little team could.

1995 Indianapolis 500: When Penske's two cars of 1992, 1993 and 1994 winners Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr. failed to qualify, the race got very interesting. An early throw a monkey wrench into he race and put Jacques Villeneuve in the lead. He did not know that and passed the pass car, twice. He was then penalized two laps. Michael Andretti had led 45 laps but hit the wall when in second and another potentially great 500 ended too early for Michael. Mauricio Gugelmin led the most laps but wasn't a factor in the end. Both Jimmy Vasser and Scott Pruett ended up hitting the wall while leading and his gave Scott Goodyear the lead. On the final restart, Goodyear blew by the past car and was black flagged. This handed the lead to Jacques Villeneuve who made up both laps and held on to win the Indianapolis 500. Quick note: Hiro Matsushita finished 10th.

1993 Indianapolis 500: The race saw three World Champions battling most of day. Mario Andretti led the most laps but Emerson Fittipaldi would go on to hold off the 1990 Indianapolis 500 winner, Arie Luyendyk and Nigel Mansell for his second victory at Indianapolis. Fittipaldi was able to pass Mansell on a late restart. Raul Boesel came home fourth and Mario ended up in fifth. Only the top ten completed 500 miles with Scott Brayton, Scott Goodyear, Al Unser Jr., Teo Fabi and John Andretti rounded out the top 10. This race, as in 2011, had 23 lead changes.

1992 Indianapolis 500: Not really a great race. It was cold, lots of spins and guys in the wall, lots of caution laps as well. What we all remember is Michael Andretti slowing and losing a race he dominated. This led to a closing battle between Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear that is still the closes finishes in Indianapolis 500 history.

1991 Indianapolis 500: I look at the 91, 92 and 93 races this way. In order, one was a great duel, one was a great finish, and one was a great race. 1991 saw Rick Mears on pole and Michael Andretti lead 97 laps. The final thirty laps saw these two drivers go head-to-head. One for his fourth, the other for his first. Mears made a great pass on the outside and pulled away. He joined Foyt and Unser as four time winners.

1986 Indianapolis 500: The only 500 not held on Memorial Day weekend featured Bobby Rahal, Kevin Cogan and Rick Mears end up in a late dash for he win. Michael Andretti had great day end when he needed a splash for fuel. With two laps to go, Rahal passed Cogan on the final restart and won an emotional race for Jim Trueman. Only seven drivers lead laps, they finish 1st through seventh. In order, Rahal, Cogan, Mears, Roberto Guerrero, Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr and Emerson Fittipaldi. It was also the first Indianapolis 500 completed in under 3 hours.

1982 Indianapolis 500: A frantic start took out Kevin Cogan, Mario Andretti,damaged AJ Foyt's car and left many pointing fingers. Foyt would go on to led 32 laps but have a transmission failure end his day. Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears fought toe-to-toe and both driver led a combined 134 laps. Johncock won his second Indianapolis 500 and held off Rick Mears in what is still the third closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.

1972 Indianapolis 500: Gary Bettenhausen was dominating when his day ended on lap 182. Jerry Grant took the lead but had to make a late pit stop. In the pits he overshot his pit, took fuel from his teammate's (Bobby Unser) pit stall. He was disqualified after 188 laps. Mark Donohue won the race after leading only the final thirteen laps and gave Roger Penske his first victory. Al Unser finished second and just missed out on a three-peat.

1963 Indianapolis 500: Parnelli Jones led 167 laps but he had a oil leak late that almost gave Jim Clark and the rear-engine car its first victory. After Eddie Sachs accident in turn three, Colin Chapman and J.C. Agajanian both argued with Harlan Fengler over whether or not Parnelli should have been shown black flagged. On the next lap around the leak had stopped Parnelli was not given the black flag and he gave Agajanian his first first 500 victory since 1952.

1961 Indianapolis 500: In the 50th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, AJ Foyt and Eddie Sachs' duel saw both drivers going for their first Indianapolis 500 victories. On what was thought to be Foyt's final pit stop, the crew failed to get the car full of fuel and had to come in one more time. This seemed to give Sachs the win but Sachs notice that the cords were showing on his rear tires. He decided not to risk it and pitted for a tire change. AJ Foyt retook the lead and picked up his first of four Indianapolis 500s, Sachs finished second. Rodger Ward finished 3rd and led 7 laps and the top three led a combined 122 laps. Jack Brabham finished ninth in his Cooper-Climax, the first rear-engine car to race the Indianapolis 500.

1960 Indianapolis 500: This race had the most lead changes until Sunday. Jim Rathmann and Rodger Ward started 2nd and 3rd and finished 1st and 2nd after leading a combined 158 laps. Ward had to pit late for new tires. At that time, the 12.67 second margin of victory was the second closest in Indianapolis 500 history, only behind 1937 which was 2.16 seconds.

1959 Indianapolis 500: Rodger Ward beat Jim Rathmann this year and led 130 laps. He beat Jim Rathmann by 23.27 seconds. 3rd place Johnny Thomson finished about 50 seconds after Ward after lead 40 laps. The top three led a combined 189 laps.

Quick note: Most of these races are before my time. While I did not get to see these races live in person, I have gone back and watched as many race as I can and use the knowledge gain through seeing those races, stories heard and box scores. This is just for fun I do not mean to cause a stir if you fell that I am missing something or forgot a race. Please fell free to comment or tweet me (@4theloveofindy) if you have an opinion. Look for part two, pre-World War II tomorrow.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

33 Thoughts After the Indianapolis 500

After having sometime to think about it, here are some thoughts I have:

1. Rest of 2012 is going to be great.

2. Thank God we have four consecutive races after Indianapolis this year.

3. Three of the four are ovals.

4. Two are short tracks.

5. I really hope the following drivers get a break in 2012 (in no particular order): Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Ed Carpenter, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, Tony Kanaan.

6. Great to see Susie Wheldon at the track. She has a wonderful group of supporters there for her.

7. Rubinho looks to be the favorite for Rookie of The Year. If they award was for the whole month I would have Rubinho and Josef Newgarden split it. Newgarden had a hell of a month but the race doesn't show it.

8. Does the new car really need push-to-pass at all?

9.  How can we make bleacher cooler?

10. Will different aero kits produce racing where driver can pull away from one another?

11. Oriol Servia had a great day and one has to think he will be a factor at other races in 2012.

12. If Servia can do that with a Chevrolet, imagine what Bourdais can do with it especially on a road course.

13. Bryan Clauson had a rough day but it was his first career IndyCar race. Can't write the kid off after one race. I hope he gets a shot at Milwaukee and Iowa, if not the rest of the ovals.

14. The Lotus situation wasn't that big of an issue. They ran, they were black flagged before they became a hazard.

15. Michel Jourdain Jr. held his own. Speaking of Jourdain, what is the latest with Luca Filippi and the second Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan ride?

16. Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing finished 7th. 15 to 20 years ago if I had told you Dale Coyne would have a top 10 car at Indianapolis and be in a position late to win the race, besides the fact they were apart of CART and the series were split, you would have laughed in my face.

17. The start of the race was magnificent.

18. Double-file restarts would have made things interesting considering how thrilling they were this year as single-file.

19. When will somebody give Townsend Bell a full-time ride?

20. ABC actually did a good job for once. I was truly impressed. Marty Reid did well, so did Scott Goodyear and I would like to see Eddie Cheever in the booth for all ABC races.

21. The live in-car cameras from the WatchESPN app gave me a chance to actually walk around the house and not miss the race.

22. New car did a great job with those heavy impacts today.

23. Add Mike Conway and AJ Foyt to those who deserve a break.

24. I am going to miss listening to Donald Davidson every night.

25. Now we have two drivers going for a fourth victory.

26. I think Franchitti is more likely to do it than Castroneves.

27. Will we see Ana Beatriz, Sebastian Saavedra or Wade Cunningham again in 2012? We probably won't but tomorrow never knows.

28. Will be interesting to see what the ratings are.

29. For those who did not watch the race it is their loss.

30. I hope Jim Nabors returns next year.

31. Charlie Kimball had a great month and race and deserves a little more respect.

32. Kind of an off-shoot of #29, if anybody had a problem with today's race or did not enjoy it then I don't know what to tell you. It was exciting. A lot of great racing, record number of lead changes and if that doesn't do it for you I don't know what to say.

33. 364 days until the 97th Indianapolis 500.

Dario Franchitti wins the Indianapolis 500

Dario Franchitti joins Dan Wheldon as the second driver to win the Indianapolis 500 from the 16th starting position. After a thrilling, action-packed race, Franchitti and Honda turned around the month of May today. Franchitti battled back after an incident on their first pit stop to pass Tony Kanaan on the final restart and hold off a hard charging Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon. Franchitti joins Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser and Helio Castroneves as three time winners.

With a finish reminiscent of 1989, Franchitti gives Honda their ninth straight victory in the Indianapolis 500. Scott Dixon made it a Ganassi 1-2 and Tony Kanaan managed a 3rd. Oriol Servia had an amazing drive up to 4th and pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe came home in 5th. James Hinchcliffe took 6th with Justin Wilson, Charlie Kimball, Townsend Bell and Helio Castroneves rounding out the top 10. Rubens Barrichello was the highest finishing rookie in 11th with Alex Tagliani, Graham Rahal, JR Hildebrand, James Jakes and Simon Pagenaud rounding out the driver who completed 200 laps. Takuma Sato ended up 17th. Ed Carpenter had a late spin cost him a great finish and Marco Andretti had an accident that took him out of contention while battling with Servia for 8th. Josef Newgarden's first Indianapolis 500 did not go well and ended up 25th. Will Power took a hard hit early in the race and was out before halfway. Bryan Clauson had a early spin and ended up 30th. All results are unofficial.

Stay tuned, more to come.

Morning Warm-Up: 96th Indianapolis 500

Here we are. Race day. We have been waiting one year for this day to come again. It is the fifth round of the 2012 Izod IndyCar Season and the first of five oval races this year. This is also the first of a five consecutive race stretch. Today calls for some of the hottest temperatures in the history of the Indianapolis 500 and with the new engines, today may become a true race of attrition. Of the thirty-three drivers, three are past winners of this race and have a combined six Indianapolis 500 wins between them. Helio Castroneves has a chance to become the fourth man to win four Indianapolis 500s, joining AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. Castroneves' win in 2002 is to date the last Indianapolis 500 victory for Chevrolet. Dario Franchitti won in 2007 and 2010 but won both those races were from 3rd on the grid, today he starts 16th. The only driver to win from 16th position, Dan Wheldon in 2005. Today is also May 27th. The last time the Indianapolis 500 was on the 27th of May was 2007. Scott Dixon will start a position ahead of his teammate fom the outside of row 5. Last winner from 15th was Graham Hill back in 1966. This is Dixon's worst starting position in the Indianapolis 500.

Like Castroneves, pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe and points leader Will Power look to give Roger Penske his 16th Indianapolis 500 victory, 40 years after Mark Donohue won Penske his first. Nine Americans are in this year's race with three drivers starting in the top ten. Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti start 3rd and 4th, with their Canadian teammate of James Hinchcliffe starting in the middle of row 1. Rookie Josef Newgarden was the highest qualifying Honda and will start 7th. Ganassi teammates Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball start 12th and 14th, both ahead of their veteran Ganassi teammates. Last year's runner-up J.R. Hildebrand starts from the 18th position and Townsend Bell will start from the 20th. Ed Carpenter and rookie Bryan Clauson both had pole day accidents that forced them to be second day qualifiers. Carpenter starts 28th and Clauson 31st after a conservative run just to get the car in the field.

Rubens Barrichello starts 10th for his first career oval race and starts behind his other two KV Racing Technology teammates. Tony Kanaan starts 8th and E.J. Viso 9th. Ana Beatriz was the best of the Indianapolis part-timers and will start 13th for Andretti Autosport.

After a week and a half of practice, many think today will be another great race after a very exciting string of road and street courses to start the season. The new car punches a much larger hole in the air than before making for better drafting and probably more passing during the race. Firestone has done a phenomenal with tire selection in 2012. I hope we see a fantastic race and we all enjoy this Memorial Day weekend.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Social Media Impact of the Indianapolis 500

After winning The Masters on April 8th, knowledge and popularity of Bubba Watson exploded and his amount of Twitter followers showed. He doubled his total in just one week and is currently sitting at 590,078 followers. The Masters is arguably the biggest golf tournament in the world.

That got me wondering. How many Twitter followers can the Indianapolis 500 winner gain? It is arguably the biggest race in the world. The event has many internationally and nationally known drivers and names but how will winning the race increase a drivers following on Twitter.

Whether a driver gains 250,000 followers or not does not really matter to the diehards and it really does matter to me either. But we live in a social media world. People are on Twitter and Facebook constantly, from sunrise to sunset and one of IndyCar's partners, ABC/ESPN, uses Twitter in almost everyone of their programs today. Many things factor into this massive increase of Twitter followers though. Watson beat Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff after an exciting final round. If the Indianapolis 500 winners walks away with the race by leading 174 laps and laps the field will the impact be positive? Will people praise a dominating performance or think the race was boring? Another factor into Watson's rise on Twitter has to be the fact he is an American. Social media is without a doubt most used by Americans and I am sure Americans want to see an American in victory lane tomorrow. I think a American winner would gain more Twitter followers then most of the non-Americans if they win.

Of the 33 starters tomorrow, 32 have personally Twitter accounts (Sebastien Bourdais is the 1 not on Twitter). Here is a list of how these drivers' Twitter accounts stack up (Americans first, as of Saturday Night May 26).

1. Ryan-Hunter-Reay- 22,130 followers
2. Marco Andretti- 44,491
3. Josef Newgarden- 4,708
4. Graham Rahal- 26,532
5. Charlie Kimball- 6,045
6. J.R. Hildebrand- 13,237
7. Townsend Bell- 4,720
8. Ed Carpenter- 10,586
9. Bryan Clauson- 4,834
10. Ryan Briscoe- 23,688
11. James Hinchcliffe- 17,863
12. Will Power- 28,009
13. Helio Castroneves- 62,210
14. Tony Kanaan- 504,827
15. E.J. Viso- 18,821
16. Rubens Barrichello- 1,663,951
17. Alex Tagliani- 59,778
18. Ana Beatriz-30,713
19. Scott Dixon- 23,962
20. Dario Franchitti- 61,372
21. James Jakes- 3,513
22. Takuma Sato-12,544
23. Justin Wilson- 17,961
24. Michel Jourdain Jr.- 8,187
25. Simon Pagenaud- 5,814
26. Sebastian Saavedra- 7,703
27. Wade Cunningham- 3,371
28. Oriol Servia- 11,715
29. Mike Conway- 10,805
30. Katherine Legge- 7,015
31. Simona de Silvestro- 17,513
32. Jean Alesi- 5,499

Friday, May 25, 2012

Track Walk: 96th Indianapolis 500

As today is Carb Day, it is a good time to look ahead to the Indianapolis 500. Today is last day for on-track action for the IndyCar teams before race day and their last chance to work on any final setups. Lots to do at the track but here are some points to look forward to for race day.

Can Chevrolet Stay Dominant?
They have won the first four races and wiped Honda in qualifying. The Chevrolet engine has also proved to get better mileage than the Hondas and that was well illustrated at Long Beach with Will Power beating Takuma Sato and Simon Pagenaud. The past two years, Indianapolis has came down to full mileage and it looks that if comes down to a fuel derby, Chevrolet will have the upper hand.

Andretti vs. Penske
These two teams seem to be the favorites and the battle between them will be an interesting one. The three full-time Andretti cars ended up 2nd (Hinchcliffe), 3rd (Hunter-Reay) and 4th (Andretti), while Penske took the pole with Briscoe and both Will Power and Helio Castroneves made the Fast Nine and will start 5th and 6th respectively. Not to forget the two Andretti one-offs of Ana Beatriz, starting 13th and Sebastian Saavedra who was the last driver to lock himself in on Pole Day and will start from the 24th position.

Who is Honda's Best Bet?
The Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team has beaten Ganassi all month long with Josef Newgarden and Bryan Clauson has had a very good month other than his Pole Day accident. Can Newgarden as a rookie lead the Honda charge for a victory? Rahal and Kimball have had good months but Dixon and Franchitti have to be disappointed with their 15th and 16th starting positions. Could the defending champions, Bryan Herta Autosport be the lead Honda team? Alex Tagliani was the second fastest Honda and will start 11th ahead of Rahal who will start 12th.

Can Hildebrand Make The Ultimate Comeback?
The buzz has been around JR Hildebrand a little bit this month. He has an article by Lars Anderson in the most recent Sports Illustrated focused on him and he was on Sportscenter talking about the race. Everyone has praised Hildebrand on how he has handled last year's race the questions that come with it. Hildebrand has showed pace at the first four races and starts 18th. Panther Racing has had four consecutive second place finishes in the Indianapolis 500. They are ready for a win.

Dan Wheldon
I can not go out without mentioning the 2005 and 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner. It is sad that he is no longer with us but Wheldon loved Indianapolis. We should celebrate the Speedway as Wheldon celebrated it. We should love the Speedway as Wheldon loved the Speedway. While he is gone we will always have the great memories of Dan. My prayers are still with his wife Susie, his two boys Sebastian and Oliver, and the rest of his family. We miss you Dan.

Normally I make a prediciton of who I think will win. But I won't do that. I can not pick one because in all honesty I personally would like to see one of eighteen drivers win. There can only be one though. Here is what I will say; we will see a great pre-race ceremony, even though Jim Nabors is in Hawai'i, "Back Home Again in Indiana" will still be great, Taps will give many chills, we will see a true flying-start of 11 rows of 3, the race will be exciting and whoever wins will be celebrated by the fans and he or she will have drink of milk.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Four Great Days

Beginning tomorrow morning, auto racing begins a great weekend of racing. From Formula One to IndyCar to NASCAR, Monaco to Indianapolis to Charlotte, some of the best drivers in the world will be taking part in one of the biggest races for each one of their respective series.

Formula One heads to the principality of Monaco for another year and with the racing we have seen this year, one shouldn't expect a parade around the streets. Last year's racing had an amazing finish between Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, with a late red flag adding to the mix. The most recent Formula One winner, Pastor Maldonado has had a  lot of success at Monaco, winning twice in GP2 and having a total four podium finishes. Ferrari looks as they have made improvements to the car and are ready to be contenders at the remaining races. The two Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean have been quick so far in 2012, with Raikkonen scoring podiums in the last two races and Grosjean also ending up on the podium with his teammate at Bahrain two races ago. The Lotus E20 chassis also has accomplished two fastest laps this season, Raikkonen did it at Malaysia and Grosjean picked up his first career fastest lap at Spain two weeks ago. Also, taking place at Monaco this weekend will be the GP2, GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 Series, two of which will be having American drivers competing. Alexander Rossi and Jake Rosenzweig will be racing in the Formula Renault 3.5 race, while Conor Daly and Ethan Reigel will be running in the GP3 series races. Daly won the sprint race at Spain and is currently second in the GP3 standings.

We all know about Indianapolis. Friday is Carb Day where one can see the final practice for the Indianapolis 500, the Indy Lights Freedom 100 and the pit-stop competition. Over the course of Friday and Saturday one can go see the Hoosier 100, the Little 500 or the Night Before the 500 where you can see USAC's best as well as the Star Mazda and USF2000 series. Of course Sunday is race day and you I will be posting more on the Indianapolis 500 over the next two days.

Then comes Charlotte and the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's longest race. The day-to-night race has produced some dramatic finishes over the past few seasons. Jimmie Johnson is coming off wins in the Southern 500 and the All-Star Race. He currently sits 5th in the standings. Greg Biffle is the points leader, ahead of Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Denny Hamlin. Last years winner Kevin Harvick is 8th in the standings and best finish of 2012 was a 2nd at Phoenix. Not to forget the Nationwide Series race on Saturday afternoon.

There is plenty of racing to watch this weekend, enjoy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What Will The Storyline Be?

Call it what you want. Foreshadowing, looking too far into the future, unnecessary. Every driver has a storyline if they win the Indianapolis 500. Now, the race itself will factor into said headline. If last May 1st I told you Dan Wheldon was going to win the Indianapolis 500, many would of looked at the obvious, a veteran driver with  shot at only Indy winning with a team only in their second IndyCar race ever. But throw in the last turn accident by leader JR Hildebrand and the uncertainty of who was second adds to that storyline. Not knowing what the race beholds for us, these storylines only cover what we already know.

Either of the two Lotuses.
If either Lotus wins, let alone get past lap 10, it will be one of the greatest upsets in sports history, period. Especially if Simona de Silvestro wins and becomes the first women to win the Indianapolis 500.Alesi would win in his first oval race and first open-wheel race since 2001.

Ryan Briscoe
After years of being the third driver at Penske and being questioned when Penske gets rid of him, Briscoe wins the race, from pole, and gives Penske his 16th Indianapolis 500 victory, 40 years after Mark Donohue won the Indianapolis 500 to give Roger Penske his first Indianapolis 500 victory.

Marco Andretti
After having a great month and starting from 4th position, Andretti now joins his grandfather as Indianapolis 500 winners. Six years after losing the race coming to the checkers, Andretti has finally done it. Many questioned when Andretti would arrive and become a big star, a 500 victory would do it.

James Hinchcliffe
Remember the last time a Canadian, in he second Indianapolis 500 start raced car number 27? Worked it well for Jacques Villeneuve that day and for Hinchcliffe, with his well-known sponsor, would make one of IndyCar's best personalities one of the most known IndyCar drivers in the United States. And he does it with Greg Moore's glove, how special would that be.

Helio Castroneves
The obvious, fourth, four time winner, joins the three Americans of Foyt, Unser and Mears. He gives Penske his 16th victory, 40 years after his first with Mark Donohue. Castroneves' four will be questioned due to his first coming during the split but either way it is a great accomplishment.

Alex Tagliani
One year after winning the pole, one year after car owner Byran Herta won the race with Dan Wheldon, the little-team-that-could does it again. After the disaster with Lotus, the team comes back and in its first race back with Honda, makes it back-to-back Indianapolis 500 victories.

Josef Newgarden
The new American star has arrived. After being fast all month long, the rookie has won the Indianapolis 500 in his first career start, becoming the ninth to do so. Sarah Fisher becomes the second, second women to win the Indianapolis 500 as a car owner, joining M.A. Yagle who owned the 1929 winning car driven by Ray Keech. This must be a start of a great career for this young driver.

Rubens Barrichello
How about this? Rubinho gets his second win at Indianapolis, first on the oval, and does it while the Formula One teams are in Monaco. Rubinho left Formula One as its most experienced driver and after only running road course for all his life, in his first oval race ever, he wins the Indianapolis 500.

Dario Franchitti
After a tough month, Franchitti now has won his third Indianapolis 500. The defending champion adds even more to his resume as he storied career continues.

Sebastien Bourdais
He's back. Bourdais wins his first race since leaving ChampCar in 2007. The four-time champion gets the engine he needs to compete with the big boys and has now become a threat at the remaining IndyCar races and maybe the championship. Now to mention Jay Penske beats his father for his first Indianapolis 500 victory, 40 years after his father's first.

Will Power
After back-to-back years of losing the championship late in the season, Power has now won four of the first five races. He and Chevrolet now looks unstopable for the rest of 2012. As with the other two, Power gives Penske another 500 victory, 40 years after his first.

Bryan Clauson
After questioning whether USAC drivers could still make it to the Speedway, Clauson answers that question loud and clear. He does from further back for a winner than ever before. The Road to Indy programs gets a huge promotion as it and it's USAC scholarship program has produced what it was kind of set out to do. Giving drivers a road to Indianapolis, where anything is possible.

Michel Jourdain Jr.
After being away from Indianapolis since 1996, Jourdain wins for Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing and joins Pedro Rodriguez and Memo Rojas as Mexico's greatest drivers.

Wade Cunningham
He wins at Indy, after three victories in the Freedom 100. He give AJ Foyt a sixth victory at the Speedway.

Mike Conway
After missing the race in 2011, Conway in his first 500 since he was injured in the 2010 races wins from deep in the pack and gives AJ Foyt his sixth victory.

Katherine Legge
She becomes the first women to win the Indianapolis 500 in her first career start. After years away from American Open-Wheel racing and racing German Touring Cars, she wins in only her second career oval start. Just like her teammate and two other cars, she wins in her first races with an engine other than Lotus.

Takuma Sato
After great races at Long Beach and Sao Paulo, Sato wins his first races in over a decade. After years of promise and showing quickness, the former Formula One driver finally wins and does it for Honda and Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing.

Scott Dixon
Same as his teammate Franchitti in a way. Had a poor qualifying day and come back to win his second Indianapolis 500.

 EJ Viso
After his first few years were filled with crashes, Viso wins after a month that started slow but turned around qualifying weekend. He wins just after fellow Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado won his first Formula One Grand Prix at Spain and Maldonado has a great record at Monaco in GP2. He could easily win the Monaco Grand Prix, and if Viso then goes on to win Indy that would be a great day for Venezuela.

Ana Beatriz
She becomes the first women to win the Indianapolis 500 and does it for Andretti Autosport with a partnership from Conquest Racing. She had success in Lights but never found her stride in IndyCars until now.

James Jakes
From missing the race to winning the race. Someone who many thought to be a ride-buyer proves them wrong and wins as a rookie.

Justin Wilson
He comes back to the Speedway and wins the second race ever for Dale Coyne Racing. After missing the back half of 2011, Wilson finally has his best career race on an oval.

Sebastian Saavedra
In his third time to the Speedway, Saavedra wins. After being bumped in his first year, only to end up back in when Paul Tracy and Jay Howard both pulled times good enough to make the field and not making the race in 2011, the young Colombian joins Juan Pablo Montoya as Colombia's only two 500 winners.

Oriol Servia
After starting on the front row in 2011 and leaving Lotus for Chevrolet at the beginning of the month, Servia becomes the first Spaniard to win the Indianapolis 500 and, as a Maldonado-Viso wins would be great for Venezuela, a Alonso-Servia pairing of winning Monaco and Indy would be great for Spain.

Simon Pagenaud
After a great start to 2012, Pagenaud joins fellow Frenchmen Jules Goux and Rene Thomas as rookie winners. Sam Schmidt gets his first Indianapolis 500 victory a year after winning his first Indianapolis 500 pole with Tagliani.

Townsend Bell
This Indy one-off finally does it. After years after great races at Indy, Bell beat the full-timers and give Sam Schmidt his first Indianapolis 500 victory.

Charlie Kimball
A year after being the goat if you will for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, Kimball beats his experienced teammates and wins, what many would consider a upset for the American driver.

Graham Rahal
Rahal gets his second career win and joins his father Bobby as an Indianapolis 500 winner. He gives Chip Ganassi another Indianapolis 500 victory and gets Honda's first victory of 2012.

Ed Carpenter
Becomes the first Hoosier since Wilbur Shaw to win the 500 and does it with his own team.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
One year after buying his way in, Hunter-Reay makes up for it by winning for Andretti Autosport from the front row.

Tony Kanaan
One year after one of his best friends Dan Wheldon won, Kanaan wins, honors his late-friend and joins his three teammate from the great 2004-2005 Andretti Green Racing teams as Indianapolis 500 winners.

JR Hildebrand
One year after coming so close, Hildebrand seals the deal and gives Panther Racing it first Indianapolis 500 victory after four straight second place finishes.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Field is Set for Indianapolis

While we saw no bumping on bump day, the remaining nine positions were filled. Sebastien Bourdais was fastest and will start in the 25th position. One has to think now that Bourdais is in a top engine, he will be a very serious contender, especially on road and street courses. Oriol Servia,  Ed Carpenter and Bryan Clauson all recovered from accidents yesterday and they will start 27th, 28th and 31st respectively. Indianapolis 500 rookie, Wade Cunnigham joins Bourdais and Servia on row nine with his Foyt teammate of Mike Conway starting directly behind him in the 29th position. Katherine Legge, another Indianapolis rookie, will start beside her fellow Brit. She will start 30th come race day and she is the ninth woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Joining Clauson at famed Last Row Party will be the two Lotuses of Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi. Jean Alesi was the slowest qualifer with a four-lap average of 210.094 mph. We did see one accident today in practice. Charlie Kimball spun and hit the turn one wall.

While today did not have the last minute drama as the past few years, the field is full, all those who said we would not get 33 cars are wrong and now we can look forward to race day. Next Friday is Carb Day and we can look forward to the Indy Lights Freedom 100, along with the Pit-Stop Competition. Not to mention other open-wheel races such as the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway, the Night Before the 500 at Raceway Park, the Tony Hulman Classic at Terre Haute and the Hoosier 100 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ryan Briscoe Is The Indianapolis 500 Pole-Sitter

After a day that saw Chevrolet take eight of the fast nine and the lone Honda being that of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and not one of the four Ganassi entries, Ryan Briscoe won the pole for the Indianapolis 500. The fast nine shootout proved to be thrilling once again with Briscoe holding off James Hinchcliffe by 3 thousandths of a mile an hour. He also held off a last minute effort from Ryan Hunter-Reay as Roger Penske now has 17 pole positions for the Indianapolis 500.

Once again, Chevrolet has 8 of the top 9 and also 9 of the top 10. The KV guys showed up today with all three cars in the top 10 and Kanaan and Viso in the fast nine. Josef Newgarden proved to be the best shot for Honda but could only manage 7th. The Ganassi drivers had what can only be discribed as a disappoiting day. Rahal and Kimball bested their veteran teammates, past Indianapolis 500 winners Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti by qualifying 12th and 14th respectively. Dixon and Franchitti ended up 15th and 16th.

There were three hard accidents today that put sure fire first day qualifiers Carpenter and Clauson into Sunday drivers along with Oriol Sevia. Both Foyt cars wer knocked out of the top 24 and will have to qualify Sunday as well. The Lotuses did not see the track today as they are expected to be well off the pace. Former Lotus team Dragon Racing also has to put their two cars into the field.

Heading into tomorrow three rows have to be filled and with only nine cars yet to get in the field it is expected that no bumping will occur. It seems some teams were trying to get last minute deals together but nothing official has been announced. It appears tomorrow may be uneventful but keep an on the track, and the garage area, just in case.

Track Walk: Pole Day 2012

Here we go folks. Tomorrow positions 1st to 24th will be filled for the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Over the past week the teams have been working on their DW12 chassis' as they will be making their debut race come May 27th.

Who Wins The Pole?
Fast Friday seemed to be the day Chevrolet flexed their muscles. The top 4, 8 of the top 10, 10 of the top 15. Marco Andretti was fastest with a lap at 227.540 mph. Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves were second and third as they aim to give Roger Penske another pole at the Speedway. Driver of the month to date, Josef Newgarden was 13th, the third fastest Honda behind Dixon (5th) and Franchitti (9th). Other notables were Ana Beatriz in 7th, Hildebrand in 8th, Kanaan 10th, Carpenter 16th, Rahal 18th, Rubinho 21st, Clauson 23rd and Tagliani in 24th.

Now to the question at hand and more pole day predictions. The last two American pole winners were Buddy Rice (2004) and Sam Hornish (2006). They did pretty well in the race if I remember correctly so Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Newgarden and the rest of the American should real confident if they end up on top when the last car has completely their qualification attempt. The last Chevrolet pole was Bruno Junqueira in 2002. I think the pole winner will be a Chevrolet, and it will be an American. I will go with Marco Andretti. All the Andretti Autosport cars have been fast and that includes Beatriz and Saavedra. I think Chevrolet and Honda will split the top 9 at 5-4 in favor of Chevrolet. Newgarden will give it his all and end up on row two with Franchitti and Hildebrand. Rubinho, Clauson and Bell will all be in the top 24 when 4:00pm comes along. With the fast nine shootout format there has been always been a surprise that has to qualify on Sunday. 2010 it was Vitor Meria and Tony Kanaan and last year it seemed almost all the drivers should have been well in the field on Saturday. Paul Tracy, Ryan Briscoe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Danica Patrick and Alex Lloyd were all on the outside come Sunday morning and when the gun sounded and the checkered flag waved one last time, Andretti had bumped Hunter-Reay out. Sure Hunter-Reay would get in with some help but it seemed nobody had bump day ending like that. This year I don't think it will be all that shocking. Unless someone backs it into the wall. You never know.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Positive Thursday Leads to Fast Friday

The great news today was Dragon Racing officially getting Chevrolet engines and hitting the race track. Now we have thirty-three car and engine combination and I think everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. Tomorrow will be the first time these times get to practice with their extra turbo boost that will also be allowed for the qualifying day. I would like to make a few observations known that came to mind to me today.

What is up with KV Racing?
If you look at the combined practice results after Thursday, the primary cars were 21st (Kanaan), 26th (Rubinho) and 30th (Viso). Unless they have only been focused on race day setup to this point, they have been the slowest of the Chevrolet teams. One had to expect that Rubinho would have struggled a little bit due to the fact that he had never been on an oval before the month of May. However, Kanaan knows Indianapolis very well and too many is the best driver at Indianapolis who has yet to win there. Maybe I am speaking too soon but I think many expected Kanaan closer to the top ten.

Is Justin Wilson finally getting a hang of ovals?
He was fifth fastest today andthat time was good enough for ninth fastest for the whole month. When unification occurred, Wilson was seen as only a threat on road and street course but many felt once he got a hang of ovals he would become a force to be reckoned with and a few people had him rumored to be going to Ganassi Racing a few years back. Well that did not happen as we all know and he did not have the best of luck at Dreyer & Reinbold. But Dale Coyne seems to be his team. If he qualifies as well as he has been practicing, this maybe a great jump start for Wilson as the season heads into summer.

Could we see a 34th entry?
Now I know this seems far fetched but I cannot stop thinking about it. First off, as long as AJ Foyt is alive anything is possible. Ed Carpenter left his second entrant on the entry list so could we see an eleventh hour deal there and what hope is there for Mike Shank?

A Few Anniversaries
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Rodger Ward's second victory, fortieth anniversary of Mark Donohue's victory, thirty-fifth anniversary of AJ Foyt's fourth victory, thirtieth anniversary of Gordon Johncock holding off Rick Mears, twenty-fifth anniversary of Al Unser's fourth victory, twentieth anniversary of the closest finished in the history of the Indianapolis 500 with Al Unser Jr. beating Scott Goodyear and this is the tenth anniversary of the infamous 2002 Indianapolis 500. The trophy and record book say Helio Castroneves but Paul Tracy begs to differ.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Speeds Increase; Dragon Needs Engines

Marco Andretti ran the fastest lap of the month to date yesterday, with an average speed of 223.676 mph. Second was three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves. James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top 5. Some notables from yesterday were Charlie Kimball who ended up sixth, Takuma Sato in ninth and the defending race winning team of Bryan Herta Autosports were eleventh with Alex Tagliani. The two Sarah Fisher Hartman entrants of Josef Newgarden and Bryan Clauson were twelfth and sixteenth respectively. Only one Lotus, Simona de Silvestro, took to the track and her fastest lap of the day was 210.315 mph, nearly a second and a half off the twenty-ninth fastest time of Rubens Barrichello. Through four days of practice, there have yet to be any accidents and only one blown engine on track which belongs to Graham Rahal.

The other recurring headline has been the legal battle between Dragon Racing and Lotus. As we are now only three days from pole day and four days from bump day, the two Dragon cars have yet to hit the track and do not have an engine at this time. The story with the driver is still the same as it was yesterday and day before that; Katherine Legge still has to complete her rookie orientation and Sebastien Bourdais has to complete a refresher program. The report has been they will have Chevrolet engines but nothing has been officially announced.

Other Notes
The total purse of this year's pit stop competition will be $100,000, with the winner receiving $50,000.

Gustavo Yacaman was the fastest at the Lights test at the Speedway on May the 11th. David Ostella, Senastian Saavedra, Tristan Vautier and Oliver Webb rounded out the top 5. Mike Larrison was the fastest American driver in seventh position. Anders Krohn was in the Bryan Herta Autosports entry and ended up ninth. Chase Austin returned to the Speedway with Juncos Racing and was eleventh and Peter Dempsey ended the day in fifteenth position. Esteban Gurrieri was the slowest of the sixteen drivers but was only 0.6765 seconds off Yacaman.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Morning Starter

As we began another day of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, still many things to look forward to.

1. Will Jean Alesi pass his rookie orientation today? He needs to run 15 laps above 210MPH and has yet to do one at that pace, his best being a little above 209MPH. Not to mention Simona de Silvestro has been slow her first two days at the track as well as Lotus struggles on.

2. Will Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing keep it up? While there have only been two days of practice, one has to wonder if this young team can keep up this speed for qualifying.

3. If it wasn't for SFHR, the Dale Coyne guys would be getting a lot more attention. Both Jakes and Wilson have looked good through the first two days but it is still early. 

4. When will Dragon get their engines? Legge still has to complete her rookie orientation and Bourdais has the refresher.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Opening Day Thoughts

First day for the whole entry list to take to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as teams start practicing for the Indianapolis 500. After only three days of on track action between the rookie orientation sessions and today, one can not help but wondering about what this month beholds with a new car, new engines and new drivers.

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: It is only Opening day, but one has to wonder if the Honda powered team could steal the show. With two rookie drivers Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing was 1st and 3rd. Granted it is only day one and the top teams aren't pushing it but Josef Newgarden was fastest and has shown a lot of promise through the first four races. Bryan Clauson is the real unknown. This is his first time in an IndyCar and held his own in his few Lights races last year. But Clauson has a lot more riding on him. As I've said before, Clauson is the first driver to come to the Speedway, with a unified series, with a USAC or short track background in a long time. Tony Stewart, Davey Hamilton, Billy Boat all got a shot at Indianapolis during the split and in reality, Stewart probably would've been the only one ever to get a shot at CART and I am not sure even he would've gotten a chance (Think About Jeff Gordon). Clauson could get a shot at other oval races this season if he runs well at Indianapolis but Clauson may also open the door for some of the other talented drivers of USAC to get to the Speedway.

Look Who Is Second: It's JR Hildebrand and Panther Racing. Panther has had a four year run of second place finishes in the 500 and they start this year where they ended last year. The road course programs has improved greatly for the Panther Racing team through the first four races and one has to think Hildebrand is ready to prove any naysayers from last year wrong.

Lotus: They seem to always be in the news. They finally got on track and after a slow day for Alesi on Thursday, he passed his first two phases of ROP on Friday afternoon but has yet to get by the third and final phase. Can the Lotus get Alesi passed the final phase? Maybe but time after time we have seen guys on the razor's edge and had their month end in the wall.

More Boost Please: For Fast Friday (May 18), Pole Day (May 19) and Bump Day (May 20) only, the turbocharger boost levels will be raised from 130 kPA to 140 kPA. That isn't going to produce a new track record but it may increase speeds by 4 to 5 miles per hour. In all honesty, this is fine. Speeds may not be Earth shattering but if Pole Day comes down to the gun and the fans are pleased, then it will be deemed a success.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Big Stories Heading Into Rookie Orientation

Tomorrow activity begins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as drivers look to complete their rookie orientation program or refresher program. In total, 13 drivers are schedule to hit the track, 8 for rookie orientation and 5 for their refresher. The veterans include drivers Ana Beatriz, Townsend Bell, and Sebastian Saavedra, all who attempted to make the race last year, Beatriz and Bell both qualified while Saavedra failed to make the field. Sebastien Bourdais heads back to the Speedway after a six year absence. In his only Indianapolis 500 appearance in 2005, Bourdais qualified 15th and finished 12th after hitting the wall with two laps to go while running in 6th position. Michel Jourdain Jr. also returns to the Speedway after a sixteen year absence. If Jourdain qualifies, his sixteen year gap will be the second longest between Indianapolis 500 starts for a driver. Jourdain last ran an open-wheel car in 2004 at the Mexico City Champ Car race.

Of the eight rookies looking to complete their orientation program, four will be running on the oval configuration for the first time in their careers. Rubens Barrichello and Jean Alesi each ran the United States Grand Prix on the road course configuration at the Speedway, while Katherine Legge and Simon Pagenaud will be making their first laps ever at the Speedway. Bryan Clauson, Josef Newgarden, Wade Cunningham and James Jakes have all run at the Speedway before. Newgarden and Cunningham have each won the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100, with Cunningham having three wins to his name. Clauson started from pole in last year's Freedom 100 and came home with a 5th place finish. Jakes completed rookie orientation last year for the Indianapolis 500 but failed to make the race and has to complete the program again this year.

Many interesting questions arise as the track opens for tomorrow.
How will Lotus fare on their first oval?
Lotus has yet to run an engine on an oval and Jean Alesi will get the honor of being the first man to ever do that. The engine has been underpowered compared to their two rivals at the first four rounds and has been the most unreliable as well. With four of the original five Lotus powered cars leaving the engine manufacture, Simona de Silvestro and Alesi, as of now, will be the only entrants with Lotus power for the month of May.

Will Dragon have engines?
Nothing has officially come out about the Dragon engine situation. While many believe Dragon will be Chevrolet powered, their has been no announcement that Dragon will have engines for tomorrow's rookie orientation or refresher programs.

How does Clauson compare to his fellow rookies?
Clauson is the only driver coming from a USAC, short, dirt oval track background. The other 12 drivers all come from lower levels of formula racing and that has been the trend in American Open-Wheel racing since the early 1990s. Clauson had good runs on ovals in the few Lights races he ran but the results don't added up on all occasions. Clauson spun on lap 1 from second position at New Hampshire and fell a lap down, only to drive his way up to 7th before the day was out. He started midpack at Las Vegas and was caught in a lap 8 accident with Duarte Ferreira and Rusty Mitchell. Many eyes will be on Clauson as he flies the flag for the old trail to the Speedway.

Cars will be on track tomorrow from 9:00am to 2:30pm.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Yearly Indy Topics

As it is the month of May, IndyCar takes center stage and to fans like myself we normally hear topics each and every year and they never change. For a while it was that IndyCar can no longer be a spec series. It needs multiple engine manufactures, multiple chassis manufactures and it doesn't matter if the engine is turbocharged or not, inline-4 or V6. Well, in a sense we can put that story aside with Chevrolet and Lotus joining Honda and both running twin-turbos to Honda's single turbo. But their are still those story lines that we will probably all hear when the track opens for practice and qualifying. My plan is to quickly run through those yearly topics right now.

Let's start with one that has been in the forefront since the beginning of the season:

Will we have 33 cars this year?
It seemed definite but soon became a shaky situation when Lotus stopped funding Herta and Dreyer and Reinbold and Mike Shank was struggle to get a Honda or Chevrolet but the addition of Jean Alesi and Fan Force United gave the entry list a 33rd combination and all seemed well. Until now. It appears Dragon Racing is going to get out of it's deal with Lotus and that would bring the entry list back down to 31 cars if neither Dragon runs. Dragon is trying to work out a deal with Chevrolet starting at Indianapolis.

The Apron
Since the earlier 90s this has been discussed and it continues today. Many argue it would bring more passing back while other say it was done for safety reason and the apron should not change back to original form. I am in that crowd who wants the apron back. The car safety has improved since 1993 especially with the addition of the SAFER barriers in 2002 and I think even if only half of the apron was brought back, the racing would be much better and the marbles would not be as much of an issue as it is today.

It's going to happen. A day at the track will be a wash, nothing we can do about it. Let's just hope it isn't pole, bump, carb or race day.

Bump Day
Since unification, bump day has seen bumping, but just like a few years in the early 2000s the question of will bump day have any excitement is back to the forefront. If the 33 confirmed entrants all qualify and Mike Shank gets the engine of his choosing but if he doesn't bump day will be a shake down day once positions 25-33 are settled.

The Speedway Is For Sale
No it isn't. Mari Hulman George is not going to sell it. We all know what her father did to save the place after the Second World War, we know she wants to leave it for her grandchildren and the fact that most of them currently work for the speedway in some way shows that they are interested. So when you see articles saying Bruton Smith, the France Family or anybody else is going to buy the Speedway, just know its nothing but a lie.

Tony Stewart Is Going To Do The Double
No he isn't. Granted I would love to see him do it, even Robby Gordon would be fun but it is not going to happen. Now maybe in a year or two if the Speedway moves the start time up an to 11am and have testing at the Speedway all month long. Then we may see something, but as I said before if guys like Stewart, Robby Gordon, and Hornish were to come back or drivers who never have raced at Indianapolis for the 500 but are talented enough to do so such as Allmendinger, Kahne, Newman, Johnson, the Buschs, Jeff Gordon, Keselowski etc, I would love to see it.

For the most part this is the first time you will be hearing these subjects during the month of May and it probably won't be that last time either.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Drivers Testing in Texas With Indy Insight

Monday will see IndyCars on an oval track for a public test, as 11 drivers head to Texas Motor Speedway. The test will be used to see if any changes are needed to the aero specs for the oval event at Texas in June. This test will involve 6 Honda teams and 5 Chevrolet teams and none of the 4 Lotus teams entered for the Indianapolis 500. Rubens Barrichello will be at the test and will be working on his IndyCar rookie oval orientation program on Sunday night. Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Bryan Clauson all completed their oval programs at Texas in early April. None of those three drivers will be at tomorrow's test. Wade Cunningham will be making his first appearance of 2012 at the test as both he and his Indianapolis 500 teammate Mike Conway will be on track for Foyt Enterprises. In three official races last year, Cunningham finished 29th and 26th in the Twin 275s at Texas after qualifying 8th in race one and drawing 2nd for race two. After starting 15th at Kentucky, Cunningham finished in 7th place and ran up in the top 10 for most of the day. Joining the three drivers mentioned above will be Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Will Power in Chevrolet powered cars, while the four Ganassi drivers will be rounding out the Honda line-up.

The Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Programs will take place on May 10th and Opening Day at the Speedway is May 12th.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

33 or Bust!

The new engine manufactures and new cars have led to some of the best racing in quite awhile, but these three companies are reaching their limits as the Indianapolis 500 is right around the corner. Currently the entry list has 33 cars, 32 with engines and Michael Shank's lone engine-less entrant. While Shank did release Jay Howard to presue other options, he has not totally withdrawn from the attempting to make the race as he looks to secure a Honda or Chevrolet engine. Shank was one of the first teams to commit to Lotus last fall but that deal fell through. Both Ed Carpenter Racing and Newman-Haas Racing had cars on the entry list but Carpenter decided it would be best if he ran his lone car instead of two and Newman-Haas Racing seems to have decided, just like Shank, that Lotus would not be option.

That leaves IndyCar, IMS and the three engine manufactures at a tough crossroad. Two teams are interested in running but don't want Lotus, Honda and Chevrolet want to cap there engine totals at 15 and 14 respectively and the Speedway surely doesn't want this to be the first Indianapolis 500 since 1947 to have less than 11 rows of 3.

What will happen? I feel that the majority of fans want Shank to receive the engine that he wants, even if the higher powers in IndyCar and at the Speedway have to get involved. The other saving grace to this 33rd car situation would be if Dragon Racing or HVM run a Lotus for Jean Alesi. Even though Alesi has never raced on an oval, has been in only one serious race car since retiring from the DTM in 2006 when he ran a GT2 Ferrari F430 at Le Mans in 2010 and hasn't been in an open-wheel car since the 2001 Japanese Grand Prix, he still wants to run at Indianapolis. My take is I would rather see Shank and Jay Howard get a shot than Alesi in any Lotus.

Considering where we are now, imagine if both Shank and Alesi end making it to qualifying? Right now it seems impossible and I can barely see it happening, but if it happens, and if is a big two letter word, then Bump Day gets some meaning to it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

It's That Time of The Year

What an exciting day. It is the month of May. It is only a matter of time before we see the teams back at the speedway, for most the first time with this new car. Every team is going in blind in a way. Not sure what the limit is for the car when trimmed out, uncertainty about how the racing will be, uncertain about the engines lasting for 500 miles come race day. Some of this has been missed over the past 7 years but it is back this year. Sure we may not see any bumping come the final day of qualifying and sure bump day can be as exciting as the race it self, but if this is only down year where it is struggle for 33 then we should just endure this situation. When the three engine manufactures get another year to research and develop their engines they should all be able to run more cars next year. This also means enduring only one available aero kit for this year. We all believe both Honda and Chevrolet will produce aero kits (I think Nick Wirth has been working on Honda's aero kit for a few months now) but it would be great if IndyCar could get a few independent companies, not affiliated with an engine manufacture to produce aero kits as well, to allow for many different combinations.

This year, let's enjoy what we have. The speeds maybe down but what if the racing is great? Sure we want speed but think about the Kentucky Derby for a second. Now I know its stretch but the horses don't get faster every year. They are pretty much with all around two minutes but some years the race takes two minutes on the dot, others take two minutes and four seconds but if it is a great race down the stretch, who cares? Let's wait and see before we jump to a conclusion. I for one am ready for opening day and it can't come fast enough.