Friday, June 29, 2012

Train Of Thought: The Aero Kit Dilemma

It is clear the price tag on the new DW12 chassis is more than first estimated and the owners aren't happy. Due to the extra costs, the aero kits that were postponed to 2013 and the owners are now calling for another delay. I want aero kits. The fan base wants aero kits. However, the series front office and car owners are split.

What led to this situation is the ICONIC Committee and their selection back in 2010. Looking back, the selection of Dallara was a political decision by the series because they were willing to build a factory in Speedway, Indiana and create jobs. We all know that. Don't get me wrong, jobs are fantasitc in this economy, but the fact is Dallara could have very well built their factory and not needed IndyCar's decision to have them be the sole chassis manufacture. Most, if not all, the five parties with proposals, DeltaWing, Dallara, Swift, Lola and BAT thought they were vying to become the new sole supplier of IndyCar chassis. In the past two decades we have grown to accustomed to the series making the decision of what the car will be. Maybe the series should not do that anymore. The series should regulate the chassis and if a proposed chassis does not fall into the guidelines set forth then they should take action. But if the car is legal, then it should be allowed to race regardless. My opinion has not changed, the series should have allowed all five parties to take part. We would have had five different looking cars this year and no worry about this aero kit garbage.

Randy Bernard has done a great job on different levels but it has been said time and time again; he does not know what it is like to be a car owner and needs help with decisions concerning them. We have heard suggestions of a hiring former team owner to help Bernard when it comes to those decisions and that is what he needs. He needs a Derrick Walker, Steve Horne, Ron Hemelgarn, Gil de Ferran, Jim Hall, Pat Patrick, Mo Nunn or Dan Gurney to, in a way, be a representative for the team owners, just like other professional sports leagues that have a representative for the athletes through a player's associations. Not saying the team owners need to form a union, the last thing we need are lockouts and boycotts, but someone to help Bernard understand what the owners needs and why a decision is not well recieved.

We can learn from this. I still want aero kits next year but maybe introducing them halfway or two-thirds of the way in would be better. Dallara has to work with the car owners are give them some type of deal. Randy Bernard would benefit from a liasion to the car owners and the series should be PREPARING NOW for the next wave of cars. They should invite the four parties that were not selected in 2010 and other potential chassis manufactures to build cars for, let's say the 2016 season, give them a set of rules and say as long as it falls within this criteria, you will not be turned away and if teams buy that car, then they can run it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Call For More Horses

With the return of the Push-2-Pass for the remaining road and street course races being announced yesterday, the true issue is still not being resolved. After the dull race at Belle Isle, it has to be considered that the return of the system is prevent another dull show on the streets of Toronto and on two tracks that are tight and difficult to pass at, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma. After great races at Barber and Long Beach, two tight tracks where passing is tough, it seemed that passing and finding places to pass were not a problem with this new car. Now, doubt seems to have set in.

The heart of the issue is the overall power of the car. The turbocharger boost levels will now be 150 kPa, instead of 155 kPa and Push-2-Pass will give the drivers a 10 kPa boost. The cry from drivers, media and fans has been to turn up the turbochargers and produce more horsepower. Frankly, who disagrees? While these engines are developing, increasing the overall boost level should be made one step at a time. More power will produce faster times and partnered with tires that fall off will create passing that we all want to see.

What started with ChampCar, then brought and modified by IndyCar, has worn out it's welcome. ChampCar gave the drivers 60 seconds of P2P for each race. If a driver used it all up in the first 5 laps, then so be it. When it was brought to IndyCar, the series gave each driver a set number of pushes a raceand each push lasted the same amount time, normally anywhere from 12-20 seconds. But the Push-2-Push moniker has been the opposite in reality. Especially since being brought to IndyCar, the system has been used more by the drivers to protect themselves from being passed, than actually making a pass.

American open-wheel racing once had cars that produced 900 horsepower that really separated the top drivers from the bottom and great racing. While not at that point yet, the series should slowly turn up the power. Starting with the beginning of next year and at some point in the middle, the series and the engine manufactures should turn up the boost levels to realistic levels that do not put too much wear on the engines. It would be greatly appreciated by all.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Could This Be It For The Most Influential Person In NASCAR's Modern Era?

He didn't have famous last name, nor was he labeled as "greatest thing since sliced bread." He wasn't "discovered" by Jeff Gordon, but that did not stop him from becoming champion. He was not a part of a development program from the time he started in late models at age of 15 and was never considered the fans' favorite driver, but Matt Kenseth has been the most influential person in the modern-era of NASCAR.

With the announcement that Kenseth will be leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of 2012, many believe he is likely to end up at Joe Gibbs Racing. But what if Kenseth is calling it quits? Hard to believe, but Kenseth is now 40 years old. Not that Kenseth can't still win, he proved he can at Daytona, but Kenseth has hit every great mark in NASCAR. He has a championship, two Daytona 500 victories, twenty-two career Cup wins, was rookie of the year and even won an IROC Championship. Kenseth has had a great career and few can agrue against that. Kenseth very well may continue into 2013 and beyond, but if he is done, his résumé is full to the brim with accomplishments and his legacy is unquestionable.

Matt Kenseth's championship season in 2003 has reshaped NASCAR forever. With only one lone win that year, many called for change. People wanted to see winning rewarded more, not just consistent finishes. In 2004, the Chase was introduced to prevent another season like 2003. Since then we have seen three alterations to the Chase and the biggest being completely rehauling the points system before the 2011 season. In the pre-Chase part of the Modern Era (1972-2003), 17 times the champion did not have the most wins and only 15 times the champion did. In the Chase era (2004-2011), only 3 times has the champion had the most wins and last year we were only one point away from having another champion with only one win but this time under the Chase format.

Was the Chase bound to happen as then-Nextel was stepping up as title sponsor of NASCAR's top division? Maybe but, at that time, people were calling it "The Matt Kenseth Rule." Think about Matt Kenseth. How many drivers have completely changed the system? In all of sports, Bob Gibson and the season 1968 is credited for lowering the pitcher's mount and the lane was widen, inbound passes over the backboard and running starts on foul shots were ban because of Wilt Chamberlain. Like it or not, whose actions have caused as much change to NASCAR in the Modern Era as Matt Kenseth?  Notably though, while all those changes have taken place, there is still one problem. NASCAR has yet to find the system that rewards winning races the most.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Now That 2012 Is Set...

Let's ponder what venues appear possible for 2013. More oval races seem to be wanted by a fair share of the fans and with the races we have seen so far in 2012, who can blame them, especially with the decrease in downforce. When the AJ Foyt Oval and Mario Andretti Road Course Championships were created, many felt a 50-50 split of the races should make up the overall schedule but that has yet to happen. We are currently at 10 road/street course events and 5 oval. With the most recent China situation and the search for a "plan B," a few tracks were interested in taking over the vacated date but ultimately, the series felt it would be better to not pursue a new venue with a very short time for promotion. With that said, these tracks are still in play for 2013 and many have a past history with American Open-Wheel racing. We already know Houston will be added to the 2013 schedule but will any other venues join the Texas street race set for that October?

Possible Tracks:

Road America (Traditional Date- Mid/Late August): Majority wanted to see Road America be the "plan B" and IndyCar to join the American Le Mans Series in August but it was not to be. One has to feel that with the amount of fans and drivers who want this event to happen that it is inevitable. Many fear that the inclusion of Road America would hurt the Milwaukee race, but both races coexisted for many years with the Mile in June and Elkhart Lake in August. I think Road America will be added to the 2013 schedule.

Phoenix (Traditional Date- March/Early April): A return to Phoenix would be highly welcomed, especially if the Copper World Classic returns. Partnering Phoenix as a back-to-back with Long Beach makes the most sense and if the season starts in Early March, Phoenix could easily slide into an early April date, especially since the NASCAR weekend was moved up to the second race of their season. There were some talks of Phoenix being "plan B" and added after Fontana. I think we will see Phoenix in 2013.

Michigan (Traditional Date- Late July/Early August): Another track that was interested in being "plan B" and become the season finale. Track president Roger Curtis was a little disappointed that IndyCar did not select Michigan to be "plan B" but IndyCar is under pressure to put on a good event, with a great crowd and can not afford to have a season finale that does not look respectable or does not turn a profit. I would love to see Michigan added but the date seems to be an issue. The NASCAR races are mid-June and mid-August and those dates haven't changed since CART and/or the IRL ran their race in the middle but what has changed is the economy. The two NASCAR races do not sell out and an IndyCar race in the middle of them could split the fan base once more and you could be left with three dismally attended events. From 1973-1986, USAC or CART had two races at Michigan and the second was in mid-September. Two things with that date is the weather and IndyCar going up against the NFL season. Unless the race is on ABC, IndyCar has an extremely slim shot of good ratings on a Sunday. Could a Saturday race work? Maybe, but college football is just as popular as the NFL and if Michigan or Michigan State is playing then forget anyone showing up. I see Michigan as a possible venue but the date being the key factor.

Pocono (Traditional Date- USAC: mid-June CART: mid-August): Pocono, in my opinion, seems to be the most interested in hosting an IndyCar race come 2013 with recent improvements to the track and the attendance of the St. Pete race by track president Brendon Igdalsky. The range of possible dates for Pocono seems wide open. A race in late April is doable but the weather is unpredictable in the northeast until mid-May (trust me, have lived in the northeast my whole life). The race could be a nice spring or cold reminder that winter didn't end that long ago. A summer date would have to be squeezed between the two NASCAR races which are only seven weeks a part. A possible late August race or a back-to-back the week after Baltimore is possible. Pennsylvania has a lot of racing fans and with this practically a home race for the Andretti family, it could get a nice draw, especially if it is well promoted in the Philadelphia and New York. markets. I think Pocono is a legitimate possibility for 2013.

Richmond (Traditional Date- Late June): Richmond has been thrown around but no serious talks that we know of. I would love to see another short oval and Richmond produced some good racing. The draw was good and it wasn't a bad market. Due to the NASCAR dates, a late June race worked for the IRL but now June is the busiest month for IndyCar. You could add it at the final weekend of June and create a six race stretch. An idea I have had is Richmond would be a good venue for an IndyCar race the Wednesday night after the MLB All-Star Game, a date that has normally been dead sports wise and a chance for IndyCar to capitalize, but I will divulge on that later. I say Richmond is a long shot for 2013 but would be a great choice.

Circuit of The Americas: The track being built for this year's Formula One United States Grand Prix has expressed interest in an IndyCar date and with the Australian based, V8 Supercars series go there in 2013, a possible IndyCar-V8 Supercar doubleheader is possible, seeing as how V8 Supercars and CART/ChampCar/IndyCar used to run together at Surfers Paradise. No word yet on the date of the Austin V8 Supercar event but if it is like other international event the series has run, a date early or late in the calendar year seems most likely. With the United States Grand Prix being in November and the V8 Supercars being in Abu Dhabi at that time, I think the V8 Supercar date will be sometime in January or February. This would work as that early season opener IndyCar has been looking for but nothing has been announced and we will have to wait and see. The American Le Mans Series has already announced their intention to race at Austin in 2013. I would not rule out IndyCar joining them.

Watkins Glen was talking to IndyCar about a return last winter but all has gone quiet on that front.
I wouldn't rule out an attempt at China in 2013.
A Fort Lauderdale street race has been mentioned but we have yet to see that materialize.
Surfers Paradise is still interested in IndyCar and with Will Power, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon is makes a lot of sense to go back there.
No word on a second Brazil race, that once seemed a guarantee up until last year.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Uncomfortable Trend in IndyCar's Second Half

With every race but Belle Isle being outstanding and a season that has seen six different winners from four different teams so far, IndyCar has to look at the remaining six (maybe seven) races and feel a little uncomfortable about what they are seeing. They shouldn't feel uncomfortable about the races themselves; those look pretty good. Last year Toronto was not bad and with the racing we saw at St. Pete, Barber and Long Beach, Toronto and the other non-permanent circuits in Edmonton and Baltimore should be decent races. Mid-Ohio and Sonoma have been duds but as I said before, if the racing can be that good at Barber, then Mid-Ohio may put on a good show and as for Sonoma, if you look at past race results you will see a fair amount of movement in the middle of the field but not a lot up front. Hopefully the series makes the decision to change the layout IndyCar runs on from the motorcycle circuit to the sportscar circuit that uses the hairpin. But what IndyCar should really notice in the remaining races is the lack of title sponsorships.

As of today, only two of the remaining six scheduled race have title sponsors. Those races are Toronto and Mid-Ohio and both are sponsored by Honda. Over the years, Honda has done a great job stepping up and sponsoring races and sponsored St. Pete and Barber at the beginning of this season, but with the fate of four of these races uncertain, a title sponsor would help ease any tension over the future. Sonoma is in the final year of it's contract, and while the racing has not been great, the crowd has been improving since reunification in 2008. The circuit itself is only located about an hour from downtown San Francisco and the Bay Area, the 11th largest market in the United States, much closer than Laguna Seca which is a little more than two hours away. Edmonton is only on the schedule until 2013 and it appears that may be the final year for the race, at least at City Centre Airport as the city of Edmonton is redeveloping it. Baltimore is on the fence after the debacle with the previous promoter. Michael Andretti stepped up to take over this race at the last minute but with ticket sales starting at the end of May and not a lot of support from the city, another street race could be gone before you know it. After seeing what Michael Andretti did with Milwaukee and the fact they found a title sponsor in XYQ for that race in the 11th hour, I have some faith that Andretti could find something for the Baltimore race. That leads us to Fontana. What once drew great crowds for CART saw poorly attended IRL races before it was remove from the schedule after the 2005 season. It is looking for this year's race to be a hit but the race is only set for 2012.

IndyCar is not necessarily responsible for the title sponsorship of a race. That is usually the tracks job, but with this appearing trend, one has to think that IndyCar has to start taking this situation into their own hands. Title sponsors, for the most part, are guaranteed money. They can pay off sanctioning fees, promotion expenses and make it possible for the track to be financially in the green before tickets are even sold. Finding title sponsors would take some pressure off IndyCar, their sanctioning fee and a major sponsor could get IndyCar more exposure through TV and Internet advertisements. Not to forget mentioning it will help keep IndyCar in good terms with these race tracks moving forward. While it may be too late to get major title sponsors for these four races, anyone that is willing to pay sponsorship dollars for these races is a start in the right direction for 2013.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Iowa: First Impressions

1. I am tired.

2. I don't care. This race was worth it.

3. Great job by Ryan Hunter-Reay again. He has won the last three races on short ovals.

4. Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport are still the only two teams to win at Iowa.

5. Great race for Marco. This has been a terrible year for him before tonight.

6. Pagenaud had the drive of the race and Kanaan did a hell of a job picking up positions.

7. Hinchcliffe, Power and Franchitti all retiring seemed very unlikely at the beginning of the night.

8. If the racing is this great at Iowa, the series needs to add Richmond, New Hampshire, Phoenix, hell get somebody to spend a little money and resurrect Nazareth or take a shot on an unknown market like Memphis.

9. This five week block of races was fantastic (other than Belle Isle). Four or five consecutive races followed by a week off is what the series needs for momentum, especially with great races like the four oval races we have seen. It gets pretty choppy for the rest of the season but hopefully that changes in the future.

10. GREAT NEWS! MORE RACING AND IT'S ALMOST 1AM! I am staying up for the Lights race.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Morning Warm-Up: Iowa 2012


Dario Franchitti won the third heat race and will start on pole position for the Iowa Corn Indy 250. Following Franchitti will be Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Briscoe, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon. Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal won their respective heats and would be on row five, but both have 10 grid spot penalties to serve for engine changes. Alex Tagliani and Josef Newgarden will move up and become row five. EJ Viso and Simon Pagenaud will also serve 10 grid spot penalties for engine changes. Viso finished fourth in heat one and Pagenaud last in heat two.

The heat races were decent. A few drivers felt that Kanaan and Rahal should have been allowed to transfer to the final heat. As I said in the Track Walk, I agree and also think some extra points should be given for winning a heat and the final heat. I would not be against the heat race format being expanded to Milwaukee or other short ovals added in the future. It's just an idea, and I am not saying it should be done, but maybe requiring a green flag, four tire pit stop would make things interesting.

This is the final race of five consecutive race weekends dating back to the Indianapolis 500 on May 27. Four of the five races were on ovals, with Belle Isle being the exception. This could be the final oval round until the Fontana race on September 15th. Depending on the decision of where to run a 16th race, Fontana could be the final round of the 2012 Izod IndyCar Championship as well. After a weekend off, the IndyCar series will head to the Honda Indy Toronto on July 8. This will be NBC Sports Network's last race until the Edmonton Indy on July 22.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Track Walk: Iowa 2012

Iowa is the ninth round of the championship. Coming off his win at Milwaukee, Ryan Hunter-Reay heads to Iowa fourth in the standings being Will Power, James Hinchcliffe and Scott Dixon. Hinchcliffe currently leads the AJ Foyt Oval Championship, ahead of Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe and the three winners on ovals, Justin Wilson, Hunter-Reay and Dario Franchitti in that order. Featured this year at Iowa will be heat races to determine the starting grid.

Heat Races
Practice speeds will split the field into three, 30 lap heat races. The first heat will set the even positions, 10th-24th. The second heat sets odd positions 9th-25th. The final heat race will involve the fastest eight and set the top eight positions. It is a good format but a few things could be done to make these heats more exciting or interesting. An opinion I have is to have the winners of the first two heats, transfer to the final heat race. One problem is the transfers will have raced 60 laps by the end of the night, double that of the other competitors. If the heats were a little shorter, 15 or 20 laps, than it may be doable. Secondly, I think giving some extra points would be nice. Give the winner of the third heat, along with the $10,000 given for winning the pole, 12 points, second gets 8, third 7, fourth 6, fifth 5, sixth 4, seventh 3, eighth 2 and if you do transfer the first two winners, give ninth and tenth positions one point a piece. Even if you don't transfer them, give the winners of the first two heats a point each and the rest of the field does not score points.

Late Start Time
Iowa will be a true night race, with a 9pm start time in Iowa, 10pm Eastern, 8pm Mountain, 7pm Pacific and 4pm Hawaiian. As someone who lives on the east coast, I don't have a problem with this. A late start can benefit the series as it is a ideal start time for the fans out west and since it is a Saturday night, more people on the east coast may stay up to watch. Plus, the heat races will be shown taped before the actual Iowa race and following the Iowa Corn Indy 250 (if you are still awake), you can watch the Indy Lights event. NBC Sports Net is giving us a six hour window of racing. I'll take it. Might not be a bad thing to start later.

Will We See a Different Winner at Iowa?
Andretti Autosport has three wins at Iowa, including the last two and Ganassi Racing has won the other two races at Iowa. Both Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti have looked very strong since Indianapolis and Andretti Autosport have two drivers in the top 5 in points, the winner of the most recent race and the defending Iowa race winner. Andretti and Ganassi have actually been dominating short ovals in last few season, having won 10 consecutive races on short ovals. The last race won by a team other than Andretti or Ganassi was Ryan Briscoe winning for Penske at Milwaukee in 2008. Best shot to knock these teams off would by Tony Kanaan and KV Racing Technology because he has run very well at Iowa in the past, but he will have some work to do Saturday as he and his teammate EJ Viso have to serve 10 spot grid penalties for engine changes. Penske is always a safe bet; others to look out for are Oriol Servia and Dreyer & Reinbold, JR Hildebrand and Panther Racing, Alex Tagliani and Bryan Herta Autosport and Ed Carpenter with his own team. Surprisingly, Carpenter has actually never had a top five on an oval one mile or shorter, his best finish being a 6th at Iowa in 2007.

I see the Andretti/Ganassi Iowa streak continuing and James Hinchcliffe winning, holding off Franchitti who gets second. It seems Hinchcliffe is bound to win but it won't be easy. Franchitti and Dixon have both have been very strong only to have accidents or a black flag end great races the last two weeks. I think the top 10 is split 5-5 between Chevrolet and Honda. Marco Andretti gets a top 10, his first of 2012, Tagliani gets a top 10 and Kanaan drives his way into the top 10. Sleeper: Graham Rahal.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

IndyCar Midterm Report

Hard to believe that we are half way through the 2012 IndyCar Season. With either 7 or 8 races remaining, depending on a 16th race being worked out (which I think will happen) it is time to review the first half and look forward to the second.

The Positives:
The DW12 has put on great races this year. St. Pete was pretty good, Barber stunned everybody, Long Beach was better than ever (with a little help from Chevrolet), Sao Paulo, as always, was fun, Indianapolis was one of the best races we have ever seen, Texas saw a thrilling race with the car back in the driver's hands and Milwaukee did not disappoint and had a good draw.

There has been a great battle between Chevrolet and Honda with Chevrolet holding the edge in wins 5 to 3 but Honda seems much better than they were in the first four rounds.

The little teams have a fighting chance. Dale Coyne and Justin Wilson won at Texas, Josef Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing have shown speed but have yet to translate that into success in races, Ed Carpenter has had great runs on ovals and Takuma Sato and Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing has been in contention at a few races this year.

Beaux Barfield and the drivers have been working together to solve problems, whether it be with the car or restarts. He also got rid of the no defending rule and made the correct call of black flagging Will Power, despite the fact he was the leader at Texas, for a clear block.

The Negatives:
Lotus has been a disaster.

Belle Isle killed momentum and was the worst race by a country mile.

China fell through.

Barfield had one horrible call with penalizing Scott Dixon at Milwaukee.

Izod seems to be less involved than the previous two years and there have been open reports IndyCar is looking for their successor.

Rumors swirled that car owners wanted to out Randy Bernard and they still don't want aero kits.

The Bright Sides of The Negatives
While Lotus has been a disaster, with a Chevrolet, Oriol Servia is now in the top 10 in the driver's championship. Alex Tagliani, now with Honda, has been way more competitive and won the pole at Texas. Sebastien Bourdais now has a reasonable shot to win but sadly will only race road and street course while Katherine Legge does ovals. Sadly, Simona de Silvestro is still stuck with Lotus and has to make do.

We have had three great races since Belle Isle and we head to Iowa which has been a great race in the past and now will have heat races to determine the starting grid.

The door is now open for Road America.

Barfield acknowledged that he and the stewards completed screwed Dixon and I don't think they will let something like that happen again.

Verizon has been very active as a sponsor with their commercials. Izod may be reassessing their involvement, especially after the events at Las Vegas last October, but they may decide to stick with the series and pick up promoting the series at the end of 2012, heading into the 2013 season.

The car owners don't run the series anymore and aero kits have to be coming; eventually.

Those Who Have Impressed
Oriol Servia- Considering he was with Lotus and is now in the top 10 in points.

Simon Pagenaud- He has two podiums, five top 10s and has been respectable on ovals.

Josef Newgarden- Results don't show it but he has shown a lot of potential.

James Hinchcliffe- Second overall, leads the AJ Foyt Oval championship and if it wasn't for Belle Isle falling apart, he would probably have a top 10 finish in every race. Take out Belle Isle, his worst finish this year is 6th, with two podiums but is still searching for that first career victory.

Ryan Hunter-Reay- If he doesn't have a mechanical failure at Indianapolis and Texas, he is probably second in the standings. With his win at Milwaukee last Saturday, Hunter-Reay 2012 season has started much better than his 2011 season.

Those Who Have Held Their Own
Will Power- Three wins, leads the standings. Nothing to see here.

Scott Dixon- One win, five podiums, has led the most laps at four races and he led every lap from pole in his Belle Isle win.

Dario Franchitti- Won Indianapolis, won pole at Milwaukee, has four top tens.

Tony Kanaan- Two podiums, three top fives, four top tens.

Rubens Barrichello- Four top tens, started in the top ten at Indianapolis and finished in 11th.

Those Who Have Been A Little Disappointing
Marco Andretti- Started 4th at Indianapolis, but struggled all day before his accident. Zero top tens, best finish is 11th.

Takuma Sato- Granted he nearly won Indianapolis and Long Beach and got a podium at Sao Paulo, you have to a little disappointed he hasn't done more. Six retirements, including the last four races, all of which have been for contact.

What To Looking Forward To
Hopefully Road America.

Hopefully the heat races at Iowa are well received.

If Barber and Long Beach were great races, than the remaining five (maybe six) road and street races should be decent and we should have no repeats of Belle Isle.

Hopefully Randy Bernard can work something out to keep Texas and add a few ovals, maybe even mile and a half race tracks after decreasing downforce at Texas.

Plenty of time left in the 2012 season and a lot more to come.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How Much Pull Does The X Games Have?

Sebastien Loeb is coming to the United States. While Jimmie Johnson was winning his fifth straight championship in NASCAR's top division, Loeb was on his seventh consecutive, has since added an eighth straight championship and he is on his way for nine in a row. Loeb isn't coming to the United States to try his hand in NASCAR or head to Mid-Ohio to do the ALMS-IndyCar doubleheader. He is going to Los Angeles to run in the rally events at the X Games which doubles as a round in the Global Rallycross Championship.

Two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Grönholm currently leads the Global Rallycross Championship and has won the first two rounds of the 2012 season. After Grönholm, the field has a few noticeable names in motorsports but not for their driving successes and long, extravagant résumés. Tanner Foust is a drifting champion and is known for being the host of the American version of Top Gear. Travis Pastrana was first known as a freestyle motocross rider, then the top driver in Rally America, nearly, single handily won the Race of Champions for the United States and was good enough to earn a shot from Subaru in the P-WRC class. Now Pastrana is driving a Dodge Dart in Global Rallycross and is attempting a few races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Ken Block also competes in Global Rallycross and Block has scored a total of 10 career WRC points including 2 at Rally Mexico earlier this year but is more known for being a YouTube sensation with his Gymkhana videos.

Global Rallycross also has drifters Rhys Millen and Samuel Hubinette competing, along with freestyle motocross rider Brian Deegen and BMX rider Dave Mirra. These aren't the biggest names in the racing world but they are a few of competitors Sebastien Loeb will go up against at the X Games scheduled for June 28-July 1. Loeb is not the first big star to head to the X Games. The 1995 World Rally Champion, Colin McRae competed in 2006 and 2007 and is remembered for rolling his car in 2006 and coming second to Pastrana. In 2009, the 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner Kenny Bräck defeated Pastrana and won the rally event. Last year, Liam Doren of the United Kingdom defeated Grönholm to win the rally event and Brian Deegen won the RallyCross event.

Why is Sebastien Loeb coming to the USA to race in the X Games? For starters, this is the only time Rally racing get a chance to be live on American television and secondly, Loeb is one of Red Bull's top endorsers in the world and it makes sense they want their best rally driver in this event. This is Loeb's best opportunity to show what he does best on an American stage. What happens if Loeb ends up losing to one of these Global Rallycross drivers not named Grönholm? Really, not much. While McRae and Grönholm both lost in their first years at the X Games, neither are looked upon as lesser racers. A loss for Loeb does not end his career nor will it get Brian Deegen a factory ride with Citroen in the WRC. We have seen Pastrana, Foust and Deegen all compete on a "level" international stage with the Race of Champions. While not the most reliable test to see who is the best driver in the world, the Race of Champions does put drivers in spec cars, head-to-head. Pastrana has done respectably and Foust's high points were knocking out Jenson Button head-to-head in 2008 and in 2010, beating World Champion Sebastian Vettel in the Nations Cup group stage. Deegen made his debut in 2011 and went 0-for-6 in Germany.

Loeb is clearly the best driver competing at the X Games. A win by anyone but Loeb or Grönholm would be great for that driver but winning the rally or rallycross event at the X Games doesn't mean that driver could hold a candle to Loeb at a World Rally event. The X Games maybe not be a respected event around the world but it opens the door for drivers like Seabastien Loeb to race in the United States. Something they can't do in World Rally.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

24 Hours of Le Mans: First Impressions

After sleeping through only 5 of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I have plenty of first impressions but I will cut it down to main ones for the sake of time.

1. This is the first major victory for a hybrid vehicle of any kind. Was today a turning of the page in motorsports? Great job by Audi. They are a truly outstanding operation led by Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.

1b. I feel terrible for Allan McNish but after seeing what he has done in the past you have to feel that he will return to Le Mans next year hungrier than ever before.

2. For their first race, the Toyota team and the TS030 were very impressive. Given another year of development, they should become a formidable rival for Audi.

3. For their first race and with probably only about 1/20 of Toyota's $50,000,000 budget for the TS030, the DeltaWing was holding it's own until being driven off the road. Like the TS030, the DeltaWing needs more time for development and hopefully it will run at some ALMS races and other World Endurance Championship races before the year is over. As I said in a previous post, the future of the DeltaWing is unknown and it is not clear if it will return to Le Mans with the Garage 56 spot for 2013 already been given to the GreenGT H2

4. We have got to get rid of the GTE-Amateur class. If were going to have a top LMP1 car getting into a nasty accident every year because of these teams, than something has to be down. Mike Rockenfeller was very banged up after last year's accident and we had Anthony Davidson break two vertebrae in his back yesterday. We don't need a class specifically fir gentleman drivers. There are plenty of more qualified and experienced professional who deserve a ride more than these guys. With that said, not all gentleman drivers are hazards. Seth Neiman and Tracy Krohn have proven they know what they are doing and that they are qualified. Others, though, need to either race more or get out of the race car because we don't need an accident involving a LMP1 and a GTE-Am killing somebody. I am all for one, big GT class but let's just get rid of a class meant for teams with one of three drivers being amateurs.

5. Does anyone else find it odd that the Audi Sport North America entry (the #4 Audi) does not have a North American driver?

6. Tough race for the American teams of Corvette Racing, Flying Lizard Motorsports and Level 5 Motorsports, but great races for American teams Starworks Motorsports who won the LMP2 class and Krohn Racing who got on the GTE-Am podium with a third place finish.

7. Not all bad for Corvette, as the customer French Corvette entrant of Larbre Competition and drivers Pedro Lamy, Patrick Bornhauser and Julien Canal won the GTE-Am class.

8. Hats off to Adrian Fernandez and the Aston Martin with their podium finish in the GTE-Pro class.

9. Disappointed that the United States has as many rounds in the World Endurance Championship as Bahrain and China. It would be nice to Petit Le Mans, maybe even Road America added to the WEC.

10. It would be nice to see the Factory Corvettes enter the WEC as well.

11. Wish SPEED did not leave Le Mans to cover certain qualifying and "special" practice sessions. The biggest sports car race in the world is interrupted for a "special" practice. Ridiculous.

12. With that said, SPEED still does a much better job than ESPN would if they had the rights to Le Mans. They would have shown the first two hours on ESPN2 with a half-hour pre-race, then the middle twenty-one hours on, with the final hour on ESPN2 and no post-race coverage.

13. Hopefully, more manufactures come to Le Mans and they bring new innovations for the LMP and GT classes with them like Audi and Toyota has. I know Porsche is returning in 2014, but more would be nice.

14. The podium celebration at Le Mans is one of the greatest sights in all of motorsports. Every race should allow the fans to swarm around he winning team.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Milwaukee: First Impressions

1. Great job by ABC. Race didn't stay on ABC but it was put on and the WatchESPN app, unlike Belle Isle.

2. Because of the rain, IndyFest may have lost it's advantage on TV. Didn't start until around 3:00pm EST, as we know, got bumped by the Nationwide Race, went head-to-head with two Euro 2012 matches, the Nationwide race and the U.S. Open.

3. But it was still a great race, with a fair amount of passing.

4. Was the place packed? No, but Milwaukee drew way better than last year and Michael Andretti and IndyFest will return in 2013.

5. Not sure about the Dixon penalty. I think it was because he was lingering back on the car in front of him and then getting on the gas.

6. Great race by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Well deserved win. Tony Kanaan had a great day coming in second and James Hinchcliffe bookends the podium for Andretti Autosports at an Andretti Marketing event.

7. Can we add about 100 horsepower to these cars for ovals?

8. Great top ten finish for Rubens Barrichello. He held his own all day and I don't think he was outside the top ten all day.

9. I like the blue walls.

10. If Oriol Servia ever gets a top ten start, he will win. He has passed more cars in eight races than about four current IndyCar drivers have in their entire careers.

11. Chevrolet took 8 of the top 10 and got their first victory since Sao Paulo. Not really sure who has the edge.

12. I am looking forward to Iowa and the heat races.

Morning Warm-Up: Milwaukee 2012

Dario Franchitti took the pole for the second straight year at Milwaukee as he looks to get back-to-back wins at the Milwaukee Mile. Justin Wilson qualified second but has to serve a 10 grid spot penalty after an engine change. Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Ryan qualified fourth, seventh and ninth respectively but will all have 10 grid spot penalties as well. Due to the penalties, Ryan Hunter-Reay will start second, Rubens Barrichello will start third in his first race at the Mile and Helio Castroneves will start fourth. The other KV cars of EJ Viso and Tony Kanaan start fifth and sixth with Simon Pagenaud, the only other Honda in the top ten, starting seventh. James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti and JR Hildebrand round out the top ten. Scott Dixon qualified eleventh but will drop to twenty-first after his engine failure at the Iowa test during the week between Texas and Milwaukee. Takuma Sato and Mike Conway also have to serve penalties for engine changes and will start twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth.

A lot of hope surrounds this event. Michael Andretti has made this year's race has to draw a decent crowd if he is to promote again next year. The Milwaukee Mile has seen it's fair share of promoters take over this event but it appears this could really be the Mile's last shot of saving it's place on the schedule.

While this is the Morning Warm-Up for Milwaukee IndyFest, I can't help but mention that the 24 Hours of Le Mans will begin in the hours leading up to the IndyCar race. Audi swept the front row with the #1 diesel-hybrid Audi R18 e-tron quattro on pole and the #3 diesel powered Audi R18 ultra second. In it's first race, the #8 Toyota TS030 Hybrid will start third. The #2 diesel-hybrid Audi will start fourth ahead of the #7 Toyota TS030 Hybrid and the #4 diesel Audi is in sixth. Current IndyCar driver, Sebastien Bourdias is in the #17 Pescarolo Team Dome S102.5-Judd and will tenth. The DeltaWing will start twenty-ninth out of fifty-six cars. The factory Corvettes start third and fifth in the GTE Pro class.

Here is a list of notable past and present IndyCar drivers and American teams and drivers racing at Le Mans.
#15 OAK Pescarolo 01-Judd: Bertrand Baguette (Belgium)
#17 Pescarolo Team Dome S102.5-Judd: Sebastien Bourdais (France)

#28 Gulf Racing Middle East LolaB12/80-Nissan: Stefan Johansson (Sweden)
#33 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b: Scott Tucker (USA), Luiz Diaz (Mexico)
#44 Starworks Motorsports HPD ARX-03b: Ryan Dalziel (Scotland)

#73 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6.R: Antonio Garcia (Spain) Jan Magnussen (Denmark), Jordan Taylor (USA)
#74 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6.R: Oliver Gavin and Richard Westbrook (England), Tommy Milner (USA)
#80 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 997 GT3-RSR: Patrick Long (USA)
#97 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Adrian Fernandez (Mexico)

#57 Krohn Racing Ferrari 458 GTC: Tracy Krohn (USA)
#61 AF-Corse-Waltrip Ferrari 458 GTC: Robert Kauffman and Brian Vickers (USA)
#75 Prospeed Competition Porsche 997 GT3-RSR: Bret Curtis (USA)
#79 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 997 GT3-RSR: Seth Neiman and Spencer Pumpelly (USA)

#0 Highcroft Racing DeltaWing-Nissan: Marino Franchitti (Scotland), Michael Krumm (Germany), Satoshi Motoyama (Japan)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Indy Lights Edition- Milwaukee: First Impressions

I sat down to listen to the Lights race and a few things came to mind. Mind as well do a first impressions page for it.

1. There is  big gap from the top to the bottom. Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Andretti Autosports have got the field cover by far and I can not wait for a new car. In junior formula racing, I believe the drivers should be the key factor and I feel that currently in Lights the car has been developed to the point where unless you are with one of the two top teams you don't have a great shot.

2. Lights need more teams. Six teams fielded the 13 cars. Schmidt, Andretti, Belardi Auto Racing, Fan Force United, Team Moore Racing and Jeffery Mark Motorsport. Bryan Herta Autosport is gone from Lights, the Juncos guys are gone. 2007-2009 were some good years for Lights and teams such as Guthrie Racing, Anderson Racing who had a partnership with Rahal-Letterman, Panther Racing, Walker Racing, Vision Racing and Brian Stewart Racing are all gone. Those three season produced drivers Alex Lloyd, Hideki Mutoh, Wade Cunningham, Dillion Battisini, Richard Antinucci, Raphael Matos, Ana Beatriz, J.R. Hildebrand, Sebastian Saavedra, James Hinchcliffe, Mario Romancini, Charlie Kimball, Pippa Mann and Martin Plowman and those are only the guys who got a shot in IndyCar. Some of those drivers deserve a better shot at IndyCar than just one race or two. A few other talented drivers still have not gotten a shot at IndyCar and most probably never will. A few of those guys are James Davison, Jonathan Summerton, Daniel Herrington, Logan Gomez and Robbie Pecorari. Lights fields have to be in the 25-30 range to show off more young talent and the IndyCar teams need more involvment in Lights, whether that is running a car of their own or creating an alliance with another team.

3. Bring double file restarts to Lights. If these drivers are eventually moving up to IndyCar than have them run double file restarts at the tracks that IndyCar runs double file restarts. It would make the race a little more interesting as well.

4. The crowd in this picture tweeted by Justin Wilson doesn't look too bad for a Lights race on a Friday evening. I hope tomorrow's race is a great draw and Milwaukee IndyFest is a massive success.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Track Walk: Milwaukee 2012

Milwaukee IndyFest is the eighth round of the championship. After uncertainty following last year's Milwaukee race, Michael Andretti stepped-up and decide to promote this year's IndyCar race at Milwaukee. The two day event begins Friday and general admission is free. Infield activities include a Ferris wheel, zip lines, a snake pit (just like the one at Indianapolis) as well as a stage where there will be a battle of the bands on Friday night and a Smash Mouth concert on Saturday after the IndyCar race.

How Well Will Milwaukee IndyFest Be Attended?
Last year only saw about 15,000 people show up for the race but moving the race from Father's Day to the day before is believed to help attendance numbers. The race will start at 12:30 local time after last year's race started at 2:30pm. Andretti does have his back to the wall in the sense that he had far less time to promote this race but he and his colleagues have worked hard to get a decent crowd. Tickets are at a very reasonable price. Two day infield admission is $29 for adults and grandstand tickets for Saturday's race start at $26 until the 15th when the price will increase to $31. Tickets in the north terrace start at $19 pre-race weekend, with an increase to $24 on Friday. The Family Fun Zone, IndyCar Fan Village, Snake Pit and Smash Mouth concert are all included with the purchase of a ticket. IndyCar drivers Graham Rahal and Alex Tagliani both set-up bus trips to the race from Indianapolis.

I am praying this race is attended well but I can understand if this isn't far better than less year. 25,000, while still low, would be good enough for me. I think Michael Andretti should give IndyFest at least another year, if not two to build up a fan base. It takes time to bring fans back and Andretti and IndyCar should not give up after just one year. If they had more time to promote this event I think it could easily sell out.

Another Oval
After a great Texas race, that may have saved the race from falling off the schedule, IndyCar is on another oval. Five former winners at Milwaukee will be in this year's race. Unlike Indianapolis and Texas, Milwaukee is a flat mile. Honda had the advantage on the two previous ovals but it will be interested to see how the Honda engine does here. Drivers are off the throttle more here than the previous two rounds (even after all the downforce reductions at Texas). The Honda single turbo had more time to wind up where it will not have nearly the same about of time at Milwaukee. Chevrolet and the twin-turbo engine could have the advantage at Milwaukee like they had at the first four rounds on road and street courses.

Bryan Clauson Returns To Lights
After a decent month of May, Bryan Clauson returns to the Firestone Indy Lights Series for Milwaukee and Iowa with Fan Force United. Last year, Clauson finished 4th at Milwaukee and 3rd at Iowa. Clauson is joined by Mike Larrison of Belardi Auto Racing as the only two Americans in the Lights field. Last year's Milwaukee Lights winner, Esteban Guerrieri currently leads the Lights standings ahead of Tristan Vautier and Sebastian Saavedra.

What I Learned From An IndyCar Driver
I learned that Ryan Hunter-Reay never actually saw the Ansan Circuit in South Korea during his 2005 visit to promote the ChampCar race that eventually never happened. I could not find any proof that circuit was ever built or if they even started construction. Until now. I have found of video on YouTube of a man doing a lap of the Ansan Circuit.

After a tough second at Texas, Graham Rahal takes Milwaukee in front of a good crowd and all the fans that took his bus trip to the race. The Chevrolets, however will take six of the top ten, which will include Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Will Power. I see Scott Dixon rebounding with a top ten. Last week's winner Justin Wilson has a good run but nothing too spectacular. Sleeper: Oriol Servia.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

American Open-Wheel's Long, Tumultuous Histroy In Asia And Today's Search For A Plan B

What finally seemed to actually be happening, even though the majority had to see it to believe it, looks as it will not be happening after all. Many expect that the Indy Qingdao 600 will not happen and American open-wheel racing's bid to race in China has failed yet again.

American open-wheel racing's history with Asia dates back to 1966 and a non-championship race at Fuji Speedway. America's best along with Grand Prix drivers Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon went to take part in the race but it ended up a few big names would not start the race. Clark was one of the many drivers with a DNS next to their name for this exhibition race, along with Mario Andretti, Gordon Johncock, Al Unser, Wally Dallenbach and Cale Yarborough was actually replaced by Amon for the race. Jackie Stewart and Bobby Unser were the only two drivers to complete all 80 laps and Stewart took his only win in American open-wheel win in this exhibition event. AJ Foyt was one driver who did not make the trip to Japan.

American open-wheel would not go back to Japan until 1998, but this time they raced on an oval at Twin Ring Motegi. CART ran five races on the oval with Adrián Fernandez winning the first two races at Motegi. Michael Andretti, Kenny Bräck and Bruno Junquiera won the final three races before the Motegi race switched over to the IRL. Scott Sharp took the first IRL sanctioned at Motegi with Dan Wheldon taking the following two. Brazilians Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan would also claim victories in the land of the rising sun. The 2008 race was won by Danica Patrick, the first win by a female driver in American open-wheel history. While 18 cars raced in Motegi, 20 cars were lined-up to race the "final ChampCar race" and the final race for the Panoz DP01 chassis. From 2009-2011, the Motegi race was moved from the middle of spring to mid-September. 2009 was a race that factored heavily into the championship. An accident exiting pit road by Ryan Briscoe opened the door for Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon and Franchitti would end up taking the championship that year. The final race in Japan was moved from the oval to the road course at Twin Ring Motegi due to damage that resulted from the Tohoku earthquake that March. Scott Dixon won the last race at Motegi in dominating fashion.

Other than Japan, American open-wheel racing has had no success running in Asia. ChampCar tried year-after-year to race in South Korea. First was an attempt at a street race around the capital city of Seoul in 2004. In 2005, ChampCar was scheduled to race at a permanent facility in Ansan, South Korea in October but that race was postponed until 2006. When 2006 rolled around, the race as cancelled once again. ChampCar gave up on South Korea after 2006, but they weren't done. In 2007, a race was scheduled for May 20th in Zhuhai, China. That race would also be postponed but eventually cancelled after the promoter and the FIA failed to agree upon a replacement date. When unification occurred in 2008, all talks of racing in China faded away.

Until now. What seemed to be a done deal with Qingdao, China is now on the verge of not happening. The new mayor of the city is against the race that his predecessor had agreed upon. The positive in China is the sanctioning fee they would pay and how that would help the series. If IndyCar had a sign deal with the city, which it seems they do, then China has to buyout the contract and pay IndyCar race or no race. But things don't always work to logic and it would terrible for the series if they end up getting nothing for all this work.

With China on the fence, the term "plan B" has been thrown around. The American Le Mans Series is at Road America the weekend that China was scheduled for and majority thinks it makes perfect sense for IndyCar to race with them that weekend. However many believe that the series will not head to Road America in fear it may effect the Milwaukee IndyFest scheduled for this weekend. Another thought is a race could be added after the Fontana race in late September. Many see Phoenix as a possibility to become the season finale. Other "plan B's" mentioned are Pocono and Laguna Seca. It will be interesting to see what happens but it's just another page in the book of American open-wheel racing's attempts to race on the continent of Asia

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Future and Innovation of Auto Racing

Next Saturday, the long journey of the DeltaWing comes to fruition as the car will take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. What started as a project given to Ben Bowlby by Chip Ganassi to design a new IndyCar, the DeltaWing was shown at the Chicago Auto Show in 2010 and it was the design that got the ball rolling for the ICONIC Committee. Eventually, what is now known as the DW12 chassis was selected to be used in IndyCar. Many were uncertain what the future held for Bowlby and his design after not being selected but Bowlby did not accept the defeat and give up. During the year after the ICONIC Committee's decision, Bowlby went to meeting after meeting with the likes of Don Panoz, sanctioning body of the 24 Hour of Le Mans, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest and Duncan Dayton of Highcroft Racing. At the 2011 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was announced that the DeltaWing would be the Garage 56th entrant, an entry reserved for innovative race cars, for the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans. With additional help from Dan Gurney's All American Racers, Bowlby's design is finally going to be on a race track. Other partnerships include those of Michelin and Nissan.

A few weeks ago, it was announced that the 2013 Garage 56 entry will be given to GreenGT and there hydrogen-electric race car, the H2 that will release no emissions. The car will use hydrogen to power two electric engines and the goal is to have the car under 1000kg for 2013, as well as run the car in the full 2013 World Endurance Championship.

This year's 24 Hours of Le Mans will see two diesel-hybrids Audi R18 e-tron quattro and the first race ever for the Toyota TS030 hybrid. Clearly, innovation is present at Le Mans and manufactures are willing to try new technologies to evolve the sport into a more efficient product. One can only wonder what else is being discussed by engineers across the globe as each looks for a great advantage over the competition.

After Le Mans, the future of the DeltaWing is unknown. It is an unclassified car for this year's race meaning it does not belong to either the Le Mans Prototype or Grand Touring class. With no other races schedule for 2012, it is uncertain if the ACO will allow the DeltaWing to return to Le Mans in 2013 and it is uncertain where the car will be racing, if at all in 2013. Many think the American Le Mans Series makes perfect sense for the DeltaWing but is it all possible that the DeltaWing ends up where it originally meant to be and IndyCar? Innovation was once a major part of the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar racing and if the ACO says no after this year, IndyCar should capitalize on this opportunity.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Texas: First Impressions

1. Randy Bernard, and Eddie Gossage, work something out and keep Texas on the schedule. With less downforce, Texas was a hell of a race. This may open the door for returns to Kentucky, Chicago and other mile and a half tracks.

2. Great job by Justin Wilson. Graham Rahal had the field cover during that final stint. Rahal has nothing to hang his head about and should be looking forward to Milwaukee and Iowa.

3. Hildebrand had a great drive. Pagenaud was impressive and James Jakes bookended the top 10 for Dale Coyne.

4. Great call by Beuax Barfield with calling a block on Power. Tough call but the correct call.

5. Besides Rahal, Dixon had a great run with nothing to show for it and Andretti probably would have been in the top 10, maybe even the top 5 if he didn't come back in thinking his car was still on fire.

6. After starting in the back, Newgarden had an eventful day but did well and Legge held her own and took the checkered flag.

7. After having a terrible start, Franchitti did a great job with a below-average car and finished 14th.

8. Back to the racing seen tonight, if IndyCar can bring this what they did tonight to Chicagoland and Kentucky and Phoenix and Richmond then IndyCar very well can bring fans back. This was a fantastic race. The drivers had to drive the car and it clearly showed that flat-out, pack racing is not always necessary to have a great race. You can have just as good of race, maybe even better, if you have the drivers backing out in the corners.

Morning Warm-Up: Texas 2012

Alex Tagliani stole the show in qualifying and took the pole for the Firestone 550 from Texas. Tagliani's pole is the first for Bryan Herta Autosport. He leads a Honda 1-2-3-4 and has Dario Franchitti, Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon right behind him. Four drivers will serve a 10 grid spot penalty for engine changes. Mike Conway will go from 8th to 18th, Takuma Sato goes from 10th to 20th, Simona de Silvestro drops from 23rd to 24th and Josef Newgarden, who did not post a time in qualifying, will start 25th. Newgarden was 3rd fastest in the first practice and 10th in the final practice. Look for him to be on the move. With the penalties, Chevrolets will start 5-6-7-8 with Will Power, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti and Simon Pagenuad and Ryan Briscoe jump into the top ten.

IndyCar has been working with the teams and drivers this weekend with decreasing downforce. During the practice session, a few drivers got their hands crossed up, something normally never seen at Texas. The drivers have had to clearly drive the car more than ever before at Texas.

Looking beyond the race and into the future, tentatively, this very well maybe the last IndyCar race race at Texas Motor Speedway. The track, drivers and IndyCar have different opinions about placement of the catch fence poles and that is just the first of a few issues between Texas and the series. Track president Eddie Gossage is not happy that the Izod IndyCar Series is heading to Houston in October 2013. Gossage feels that a second Texas race would detract from his event and openly voiced that he did not want to see a revival of the Houston race. Thanks to Google Maps, we can find that the distance from Texas Motor Speedway and Reliant Park, location of the Houston Grand Prix, is 285 miles or 4 hours and 53 minutes apart. There has also been a discrepancy between the track and IndyCar over sanctioning fees. If this is the last Texas race, I am sad that the series loses a race that as normally been the best attended race besides Indianapolis. However, certain things like the accident that nearly ended Kenny Bräck life, let alone his career and the most recent banter between the drivers and the track over the catch fence poles has left Texas and it's relationship with the series with a dark cloud hanging above it and it may in fact be time to look go else where. If tonight's race is a great show, I hope the two parties can work something out.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Track Walk: Texas 2012

Back to an oval for the seventh round of the championship, as the Izod IndyCar Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway. This is the third race of a five consecutive race stretch and the first of three ovals in a row. Last year, two 275 km races were split by Dario Franchitti and Will Power. This year will revert back to one, 550 km race. Texas Motor Speedway is the first mile and a half track for the series since the fatal accident of Dan Wheldon and the first mile and a half track for the new DW12 chassis. As with last weeks Track Walk, lots of big news after Detroit, let's start at the top.

Aero Kits Rejected Again
The IndyCar team owners again voted again to postponed the launch of aero kits for another season. They believe that the extra cost brought on by the aero kits will be too great due to the higher-than-announced price tag for the Dallara DW12 chassis and engine leases. They also feel the racing has been good enough this year that new aero kits are not necessary.

My Take: Many have brought up the teams owners do not run the series anymore. They do not get to decide what is allowed and what is disallowed. I feel that the series should introduce the aero kits next season but you can not force the teams to buy new aero kits. If all the teams want to run the 2012 Dallara aero kit then fine. At least make the aero kits available in case any of the teams want to a new aero kit in 2013.

China On The Fence
The decade past battle with American open-wheel racing racing on mainland Asia is back. ChampCar tried multiple times to race in Ansan, South Korea and Zhuhai, China but never went. Now, IndyCar is struggling to finalize their deal with Qingdao, China. It seems the new mayor of Qingdao does not agree with the August 19 date like the previous mayor did. There are talks to either push China until after Fontana, remove it from the schedule completely and run a new race or work out a deal to get this race run on the scheduled date. August 19 is the day after the American Le Mans series races at Road America and many have Road America as the favorite to be that "plan B" if Qingdao does not happen.

My Take: While many fans do not agree with the China race, I kind of do. It makes financial sense for the series and by racing in Qingdao, the series would make anywhere from an estimated $8-10 million dollars. Removing it from the schedule would be a massive financial blow. A best case scenario could be this: Qingdao gets pushed to September 30th and becomes the final race of the season. This would create a three week gap between Mid-Ohio and Sonoma. IndyCar ends up going to Road America and we have 17 races. Also, could we start Qingdao at 10pm in China? A new night street race in China could then be shown in the late morning in the eastern part of the United States and be a breakfast special for those living on the US Pacific. Another scenario, China gets pushed to September 30th, becomes a non-championship round so the season can end in the United States at Fontana and Road America takes the August 19th date and becomes he 16th points-paying event.

I will predict that Texas will be a duel between Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti for the win. Honda will have a slight advantage again on this oval like they did at Indianapolis but the top 10 will be split even five-to-five. Oriol Servia continues his string of impressive finishes. The series will allow Simona de Silvestro to race until the field catches her and they may even let her race for longer after that if she is a hazard. Graham Rahal gets a well earned top 5. James Hinchcliffe rebounds after a tough break, literally, at Detroit and Josef Newgarden gets a top 10. Sleeper: Ed Carpenter.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

UEFA Euro 2012: IndyCar Edition

Why mix Football/Soccer and IndyCar? Because both have international participants and this is just for fun. IndyCar has had a lot of great European drivers and with the European Football Championships beginning Friday I have decided to take the best driver from the sixteen participating nations to represent their respective nation in a simulation of the upcoming tournament. Each driver will go head-to-head against one another to decide which country moves on. I would like to thank our friends at for being my source for some of the drivers and their information. Let me stress this is just for fun.

Group A contains co-host Poland, Czech Republic, Russia and Greece. Not a flashy group of drivers here.
Poland: Driver: Louis Zborowski- Ran one race, the 1923 Indianapolis 500. Started 5th, finished 20th in a race with only 24 cars.
Czech Republic: Driver: Tomas Enge- Ran 17 races between 2004-2006 in the IRL. Best finish was a 5th at Sonoma in 2005. It is his only career top 5 and he had 3 top 10s. Best start was 2nd at Texas in 2005.
Russia: Driver: Baron de Rachewsky- Had one start in 1926 at Atlantic City. Started and finished 15th after only 11 laps.
Greece: Driver: George Buzane- Born in Athens, Greece, raced as an American but will represent Greece on this occasion. Made 14 starts between 1915 and 1919. Buzane did have 7 career top 10s.

Group A results: Matchday 1: Greece def. Poland 3-0; Czech Republic def. Russia 3-0 Matchday 2: Czech Republic def. Greece 1-0; Poland draw Russia 0-0 Matchday 3: Czech Republic def. Poland 4-0; Greece def. Russia 3-1.
It is really isn't close. Tomas Enge has the upper hand but you can argue for Buzane in that second match up, however I have Enge edging Buzane. Zborowski and de Rachewsky are equal and neither make it to the knockout stages.

Group B is the group of death for the actual Euro but here it isn't as scary and unpredictable.
Netherlands: Driver: Arie Luyendyk- Won the 1990 and 1997 Indianapolis 500. Won 7 races in his career, five poles, fastest lap and qualification run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 35 career top 5s.
Denmark: Driver: Ronnie Bremer- Started 12 races in the 2005 ChampCar season. Best start 8th, finish 6th.
Germany: Driver: Bernd Rosemeyer- Won his one and only race in 1937, the Vanderbilt Cup after starting second on the grid. He was also the 1936 European Grand Prix Champion.
Portugal: Driver: Tiago Monteiro- Started 17 races in the 2003 CART season. Best start 2nd, finish 6th, both at Mexico City. Monteiro also scored a podium in the 2005 United States Grand Prix, a 3rd with Jordan, a race where only the six cars on Bridgestone tires started.

Group B results: Matchday 1: Netherlands def. Denmark 3-0; Germany def. Portugal 1-0 Matchday 2: Portugal def. Denmark 2-1; Netherlands def. Germany 2-1 Matchday 3: Netherlands def. Portugal 3-0; Germany def. Denmark 2-0
Luyendyk scores nine points with his three wins. Rosemeyer advances with six points and Monteiro falls short with three points.

Group C is a little interesting and I think I may get the most people talking with this group.
Spain: Driver: Oriol Servia- Only Spaniard to win in American open-wheel racing, 2005 at Montreal. Scored one pole, Surfers Paradise in 2005. 46 career top 5s.
Italy: Driver: Alex Zanardi- The 1997 and 1998 CART champion, 15 career wins, 10 career poles, 35 career top 5s, however he never finished fifth in his career. All his top 5's are either 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th place finishes.
Republic of Ireland: Driver: Derek Daly- Best finish was 3rd at Milwaukee in 1987. 5 career top 5s. Best start was 2nd on occasions.
Croatia: Driver: Mario Andretti- I know he is Italian-American and was born in what was Italy atthe time, but his birthplace is now known as Motovun, Croatia. Besides this is only for fun, who minds Mario being involved? Second in all-time wins with 52, 65 career poles, 4 time champion, 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner.

Group C results: Matchday 1: Italy def. Spain 2-0; Croatia def. Republic of Ireland 3-1 Matchday 2: Italy draws Croatia 4-4; Spain def. Republic of Ireland 2-1 Matchday 3: Croatia def. Spain 3-1; Italy def. Republic of Ireland 2-0.
Zanardi and Andretti advance with 7 points each both are tied on goal differential (+4) but Andretti takes it on goals for with 10 to Zanardi's 8. Defending champions Spain and Oriol Servia go no further than the group stages.

Group D makes a great case for being the the group of death in Euro 2012 IndyCar edition.
Ukraine: Driver: Ben Brandfon- The other co-host, never even started a race and had three DNS/DNQs. He was the best I could do. Sorry folks, it is tough to find a Ukrainian driver.
Sweden: Driver: Kenny Bräck- 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner, 9 race wins, 1998 IRL champion, finished 2nd in the 1999 IRL season and the 2001 CART season.
France: Driver: Sebastien Bourdais- 31 career wins, tied for most among active drivers, four time champion, 32 career poles.
England: Driver: Dan Wheldon- Dan is the top Englishmen (Dario Franchitti is Scottish). 16 career wins, 2005 and 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner, 2005 IRL champion, 5 career poles, 62 career top 5s.

Group D results: Matchday 1: France draws England 2-2; Sweden def. Ukraine 6-0 Matchday 2: France def. Ukraine 12-0; England def. Sweden 1-0 Matchday 3: England def. Ukraine 5-0; France def. Sweden 2-1
France and England advances with 7 points, France wins the group with a goal differential of +13.

Knockout Stages
Czech Republic (Tomas Enge) v. Germany (Bernd Rosemeyer) Result: Germany def. Czech Republic 2-0
Croatia  (Mario Andretti) v. England (Dan Wheldon)  Result: England def. Croatia 1-0 (a.e.t)
Netherlands (Arie Luyendyk) v. Greece (George Buzane) Result: Netherlands def. Greece 4-0
France (Sebastien Bourdais) v. Italy (Alex Zanardi) Result: France draws Italy 2-2 (a.e.t, France wins 4-3 on penalties)
Summary: Rosemeyer edges Enge. You must be thinking, "how can Wheldon defeat the man with the second most wins in American open-wheel history, not to mention a former World Drivers' Champion?" Well, it was close, it went to extra time and Wheldon sneaks to victory, just like he did on May 29, 2011. What can I say, upsets happen. Luyendyk easily handles Buzane. Bourdais and Zanardi may be the worst possible quarterfinal match possible. It could have gone either way, but Bourdais bests Zanardi in penalties in a match fit for a final.

Germany (Bernd Rosemeyer) v. England (Dan Wheldon) Result: England def. Germany 2-0.
Netherlands (Arie Luyendyk) v. France (Sebastien Bourdais) Result: France def. Netherlands 3-1 (a.e.t)
Summary: Wheldon clearly beats Rosemeyer. Luyendyk forces extra time late but he can't hold off Bourdais as he adds two in extra time to advance to the finals.

England (Dan Wheldon) v. France (Sebastien Bourdais) Result: France def. England 2-1 (a.e.t)
Summary: In the rematch of their group meeting, Bourdais has to go 120 minutes for a third straight
match. Both are each others equal until the dying minutes of extra time. Bourdais puts away the game-winning goal and avoids penalty kicks. Wheldon can't get an equalizer and Sebastien Bourdais take IndyCar Euro 2012.

Note: This is all just for fun and there is no deeper meaning to this post.

Back to A Familiar Beast

The date is October 12, 2003. In what was suppose to be a thrilling, five-way fight for the championship, ended just a few laps shy of the scheduled distance and with a veteran driver heading to hospital not knowing what the future held for he and his family. A driver is crowned champion, a decorated driver retires in victory lane celebrating a final victory and a young, future champion wins rookie of the year.

The date is October 16, 2011. In what was suppose to be a thrilling, two-way fight for the championship, ends after only 13 laps. A driver is crowned champion, a decorated driver appears to have raced for the final time and that rookie of the year has gone to join Ayrton Senna, Dale Earnhardt and Greg Moore at the great racetrack in the sky.

Kenny Bräck's accident at the end of the final race of the 2003 season raised some eyebrows about IndyCars racing on the high-banked, one and a half mile racetracks. The term "Death Race 2000" was labeled to these races. Bräck would battle back from the injuries he sustained that day to race in the 2005 Indianapolis 500, where he was the fastest qualifier. On September 11, 2005, another accident into the catch fence occurred. This time at Chicagoland Speedway with Ryan Briscoe getting into the back of Alex Barron and leaving Briscoe with broken clavicles and a bruised lung. He would return to racing the following season, running four races for Dreyer & Reinbold as well as the final two ChampCar races of that 2006 season for RuSport. We arrive finally to the day where "Death Race 2000" went from a playful label to reality at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last October with the fatal accident of Dan Wheldon.

Texas, Chicagoland and Las Vegas are all one and a half mile racetracks with 18 degrees of banking or more. Each of these three tracks has the tendency to produce large, pack racing with IndyCars which leaves many holding there breath all race long. The question is how can this pack racing be prevented? On the automotive side you can reduce downforce by removing the wings and turning up the turbo levels to increase power. The one thing I look at though is the track itself. Take Kentucky Speedway for example. It is a one and a half mile racetrack like the others but never really produced pack racing to the degree of the other three. The amount of bank at Kentucky is only 14 degrees. Same when IndyCar raced at Kansas Speedway The pack racing was not as severe and that track has 15 degrees of banking. Finally look at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Not now but before it was renovated. It is still a mile and a half but the banking in the turns was only 9 degrees then and not the 20 degrees as it is now. The racing was fine when ChampCar raced there in 2004 and 2005. There was no pack racing and the races were exciting.

Why shouldn't the racetracks lower there banking? Well, these tracks were not built for the general safety of all forms of racing. They were built for NASCAR. With that said, shouldn't a track make sure it is safe for all series that race there? Yes it should. We can change the cars all we want but if the track is still producing dangerous pack racing and getting cars airborne into the catch fence then something else has to be changed. Jackie Stewart fought and continues fighting to make racing safer. With help from Professor Sid Watkins, Formula One was made much safer and better prepared for accidents. I have no problem if drivers such as Oriol Servia, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan voice that they feel the track is unsafe. A track should not just stand and shrug it's shoulders when a problem occurs. If the drivers feel changes must be made for the safety of the drivers then do not ignore there calls. Act because they are speaking up to protect there lives and the lives of their competitors.

To be honest, I do no thing the banking has to be this high. There has been great racing on tracks with 12-15 degrees of banking. Will this be the last time IndyCar races as Texas Motor Speedway? I hope not because it draws a great crowd, however if they leave I would be relieved. If Texas Motor Speedway and the drivers could compromise on such things as the banking and the catch fence, that would be great. Sadly though I see one side not willing to make a change and I will give you a hint on who I think it is, they would be in a race car on Saturday night. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Belle Isle: First Impressions

I don't know where to begin.

1a.  If Penske wants American races and is promoting this race, why not promote a race at Michigan International Speedway? Race would be ten times better.

1b. The track wouldn't fall apart.

1c. I wonder what Houston will be like in 2013?

1d. Penske had a hell of a day as a team owner.

2a. ABC/ESPN dropped the ball.

2b. It's one thing to move from ABC to ESPN. It's another to go to ESPNNEWS.

2c. How the hell is the IndyCar race not even on or the WatchESPN app?

2d. I am applying to be either director or lead announcer for the remaining ABC races.

3. I understand why the races on ABC begin at 3:30pm (NASCAR begins at 1:00pm) but to those who say you have to race when nothing else is on my answer to that is every race will have to be shown at 2:00am EST. You're going to be head-to-head with something. How about starting before the NASCAR race? Noon was a wide open start time.

4. IndyCar: DO NOT PLAY INTO ABC's HANDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

5. Hell of a day for "momentum after the 500."

6. Great job by Dixon and Honda.

7. Servia had another great day.

8. If you look at IndyCar's unofficial box score, Hinchcliffe didn't even race. Castroneves finished 17th and 21st.

9. I can not believe I am saying this: I am looking forward to Texas.

10. One reason is for NBC Sports Net. As for the racing, I am holding my breath.

Morning Warm-Up: Belle Isle 2012

Honda scored it's first pole of 2012 with Scott Dixon beating Will Power by 0.0044 seconds. A few surprises to the Firestone Fast Six this weekend. Alex Tagliani ended up third followed by the Honda of Simon Pagenaud. EJ Viso cracked the top five, just ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay. Graham Rahal qualified 7th put will drop back ten spots after his engine failure during practice at Indianapolis. In his first road course race with Chevrolet, Sebastien Bourdais will start from 9th on the grid. Row seven will be occupied by James Hinchcliffe and our most recent winner Dario Franchitti. One now has to wonder, who will be first to 32 career wins between Bourdais and Franchitti. Bourdais has not won since the final ChampCar race of the 2007 season in Mexico City. However he not race at any IndyCar races between 2008 and 2010 due to Formula One and sport car commitments. Other notables deep on the grid will be the aforementioned Rahal in 17th, Tony Kanaan 18th, JR Hildebrand in 19th, Rubens Barrichello in 20th and Marco Andretti in 23rd. Simona de Silvestro will start 25th after an engine change as well.

With five great races to start 2012, Belle Isle very well could be the first snoozer of the season. Passing has always been difficult here but we said passing would be difficult at Barber and Long Beach and almost everyone was wrong about that. One thing that could factor in this weekend is rain. After not missing a second of practice at Indianapolis, rain played a key role Friday and today the forecast calls for a few showers during race time. The chance of rain is listed at only 30% but all we need is one steady shower for thirty minutes to make things interesting.

Some fun facts: Last two winner at Belle Isle (Tony Kanaan in 2007 and Justin Wilson in 2008) started fourth. The previous two Belle Isle races did not go the scheduled 90 lap distance. In 2007, 89 laps and in 2008, 87 laps were completed. The last American winner at Belle Isle was Michael Andretti in 1996. He started 9th that day. Today, the highest starting American is Ryan Hunter-Reay in 6th place. The pole sitter has only won at Belle Isle twice, Robby Gordon in 1995 and Helio Castroneves in 2001 and the second place driver has won twice as well, Bobby Rahal in 1992 and Alex Zanardi in 1998. Danny Sullivan won in 1993 from 10th place, the furthest back a winner has come from the grid.

The IndyCar morning warm-up is at 10:45am. Coverage of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix begins at 3:30pm on ABC and green flag will be around 3:45pm.