Sunday, September 30, 2012

2013 IndyCar Schedule: First Impressions

1. Nothing out of left field but it's better than no schedule at all.

2. Terrible, long breaks in the summer. One month off from September to October is not good at all. Does not look likely but I hope and pray some race can be thrown into the middle of the month. But, there is always 2014.

3. Great to see most ovals on ABC. Those are the best races all year, show those to the average fans and they will be hooked


5. Nice to see Fontana as the finale.

6.  I wish Pocono would be a 500-miler. I will definitely be there.

7. No Providence but maybe we should try to get away from the street courses.

8. The standing start-rolling start is fine for me.

9. Plenty of time to work on the 2014 schedule.

10. Overall, I am pleased. Sure, I would have loved to see those gaps filled but maybe there is some hope of later races being announced. I think Randy has learned and will be working to get the desired dates on the 2014 schedule.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Wait For The 2013 Schedule

When Randy Bernard was first hired as CEO of IndyCar, the one comment Robin Miller had was the man needs to learn how to lie. Come the final weekend of September 2012, I think he has.

On the eve of the 2013 IndyCar schedule announcement, you have got reporters from the USA Today and Associated Press reporting different schedules, Robin Miller unbelievably quiet and Randy Bernard saying none of the "leaked" schedules are correct.

What have we been hearing? From Jeff Olson of the USA Today, 19 races at 16 venues, doubleheaders at Detroit, Toronto and Sonoma, long gaps in July and August with a month off between Baltimore and Houston and Fontana ON THE SAME NIGHT as the NASCAR chase race in Charlotte.

Jenna Fryer from the AP said Houston will be a doubleheader, not Sonoma, and some Brazilian source is saying Providence will happen the week after Mid-Ohio. Marshall Pruett of SPEED, reported the season will begin a few weeks earlier.

Kentucky Speedway was thrown in the mixer earlier this week, with a possibility of an unprecedented IndyCar-Nationwide Series double in September. The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car series announced it would be going to Austin on Saturday March 2, Kansas Saturday August 17 and not going back to Montreal. With Edmonton falling off the schedule, one must consider the possibility of Octane Motorsports making IndyCar apart of the Montreal NASCAR weekend.

OPINION: Montreal and Kansas seem like a stretch, but Austin makes sense. The thought of two two week breaks and a month break is, in my opinion, the opposite of what IndyCar should be doing.

The good news for IndyCar, nobody seems to know what is going to happen. After years of publicly discussing negotiations, could this be the year Bernard kept the cards to his chest in hopes of surprising us all? Or are we going to hear more groaning that the series blew it? We are going to have turn on SPEED at nine o'clock tomorrow night to find out.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

IndyCar Silly Season Guide, Part Two

Now that the season is over and deals have been made and are being made, it is time to look at who is still looking and what new openings there are. Ryan Hunter-Reay has signed with Andretti Autosport, turned down Roger Penske, meaning the largest domino has fallen.


Graham Rahal
Rumored Destination and Most Likely: Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan seems to be the only option for Rahal. Haven't heard him and Ganassi looking to work an extension and haven't heard any other teams that are interested and pursuing the American.

Ryan Briscoe
Rumored Destinations: Stay at Penske, Ganassi, Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan, Foyt.
Most Likely: The third Penske seat is now more interesting than ever. I can see Penske keeping him, but I can also see that seat going away. The fourth Ganassi is a possibility but the feeling is he would have to bring some money. Same goes with RLL, which SPEED's Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett discussed, where he would team with Graham. You have to feel Foyt is a possibility. Look at the Foyt's most recent drivers: Darren Manning (previously with Ganassi), Vitor Meira (Panther), Mike Conway (Andretti). Can't rule him out.

Mike Conway
Confirmed: Road and street courses only.
Rumored Destination and Most Likely: It would make sense Conway runs the #41 for Foyt on all oval and street courses, with Chase Austin running Indianapolis. Other than that, can't imagine him running next season.

Rubens Barrichello
Rumored Destinations: Schmidt-Hamilton or staying at KV.
Most Likely: Schmidt-Hamilton is more likely than KV but both will need sponsorship. KV had a disappointing 2012, I just can't see him staying.

Sebastian Saavedra
Rumored Destination and Most Likely: AFS Racing and Gary Petersen made it know through Curt Cavin at the Indianapolis Star, that he plans on going full-time in 2013.

Wade Cunningham
Rumored Destination and Most Likely: He raced at Indianapolis and Fontana for Foyt and he has done enough through Indy Lights and the few IndyCar races to date to earn a full-time ride.

Townsend Bell
No concrete rumor for Bell but he was on Foyt's list to run at Fontana after Conway pulled out. Bell has been consistent year in and year out at Indianapolis and very well could get a full-time ride.

Sebastien Bourdais
Rumored Destinations: Stay at Dragon, Penske, Ganassi
Most Likely: It looked like he had a deal done with Dragon but that has yet to be confirmed. It would make sense that the four time champion would be considered by Penske and Ganassi.

Justin Wilson
Rumored Destinations: Stay at Dale Coyne, Penske, Ganassi.
Most Likely: After years of being bounced around, he seems comfortable at Coyne with his last two victories occurring for the team. After his one season with Newman-Haas he was rumored to be going to Ganassi and has ran for the team at the 24 Hours of Daytona before. With that said, he has also ran for Mike Shank Racing in sports cars but that would seem to be an opposite of what Wilson wants.

Takuma Sato
Rumored Destinations: Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan, Herta, any Honda team.
Most Likely: Hard to see Honda's golden boy out of IndyCar for good. He has done well with RLL but  if Graham is signed, he will definitely become the teams number two driver. While winning two poles for KV in 2011, this was with out a doubt his best season with podiums at Sao Paulo and Edmonton, while contending for victories at Long Beach, Indianapolis, Baltimore and Fontana. If he does not stay at RLL, Honda will make sure he has a seat somewhere.

EJ Viso
Rumored Destination and Most Likely: Starting his own team. He has a ton of money behind him with Citgo and his team would become a way for Venezuelan drivers to make it to IndyCar. Viso has torn up a lot of equipment where ever he has gone. Would he start from scratch or buy a current team? Really isn't clear but it would be a big investment for anyone who plans to back him.

AJ Allmendinger
Rumored Destinations: Mike Shank, Penske, Foyt, Staying in NASCAR
Most Likely: Shank and Allmendinger are partners in Shank's IndyCar program, Penske brought Allmendinger to Fontana for the IndyCar race and Foyt has said he would consider the American if he cleaned up. Well he has been reinstated in NASCAR meaning he must have cleaned up his act. Could he be in Penske's third car? Maybe. Well a lot think he blew the "Penske Image" for his failed drug test, it has to be noted that being the fastest reinstated driver with NASCAR's road to recovery program and entering immediately is a class act and shows Allmendinger wants to race. Foyt is a reasonable guy and after a decade since his last victory, a proven winner maybe the way to go.

The Rest
Andretti Autosport is considering a fourth car. Ana Beatriz is a possibility. Oriol Servia seems set at Panther/DRR, same for Alex Tagliani at Herta. James Jakes is believed to be staying at Dale Coyne. Nothing new from the Italian team Scuderia Coloni or drivers Giorgio Pantano and Luca Filippi. Simona de Silvestro has a contract with HVM. HVM and Ed Carpenter Racing have both been rumored to merge with KVRT. Carpenter's team is also rumored to add a second car for 2013.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Around The World Of Racing

News has been happening all around the motor sports this week on all different topics.

Circuit of The Americas Has Been Approved
50 days before the first day of the United States Grand Prix race weekend, the FIA's Charlie Whiting has said the Austin circuit is ready for racing. In an article written by SPEED's Adam Cooper, Whiting says, "The guys have done an awesome job – it really is quite fantastic! It’s built to the highest quality, exactly as we expected, and I’ve got absolutely no complaints whatsoever."

Barring any eleventh hour disaster, it appears the United States Grand Prix will be run for the first time since 2007.

More Schedule Releases
Formula One, Moto GP and NASCAR have all released their 2013 schedules. Formula One has 20 races planned, with the Grand Prix of America planned for June 16 on the street of Weehawken, New Jersey. Bernie Ecclestone has come out saying no contract currently exists between Formula One and the organizers of the New Jersey street race. The European Grand Prix on the streets of Valencia will not take place in 2013, as it plans on alternating the Spanish Grand Prix with the Circuit de Catalunya. The season is scheduled to start March 17 in Australian and end November 24 in Brazil. Austin is scheduled for the week prior to Brazil in 2013. 

Moto GP will open, as usual, under the lights in Qatar on Easter Sunday (March 31) and end at Valencia's Circuit Ricardo Tormo on November 10. Two TBCs exist on back-to-back weeks for April 14 and 21. The races are believed to be Argentina and the third American round at the Circuit of The Americas. The other two American rounds will occur back-to-back just like 2012. The United States Grand Prix will be July 21 at Laguna Seca and Indianapolis will be on the 18th of August. 

NASCAR's scheduled remains almost unchanged in 2013. Kansas Speedway and Talladega swap dates in October with Kansas now on the 6th and Talladega on the 20th. The season begins at Daytona on February 24 and ending at Homstead on November 17. 

Sports Car Action This Weekend
The Rolex Sports Car Series wraps up the 2012 season at Lime Rock Park on Saturday. Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas look to win another title and hold off Ryan Daziel and Starworks Motorsport. Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal clinched the GT title at Laguna Seca. 

Meanwhile, the sixth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship will take place in Bahrain. Coming off their first victory at Interlagos, Toyota looks to hold off Audi for a second straight race. The American Starworks Motorsport leads the LMP2 standings, while Krohn Racing and AF Corse-Waltrip with Brian Vickers competes in the GTE-Am class. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Helio Puts On His Dancing Shoes, Randy's Going To The Wind Tunnel, Drivers Keeping Busy

IndyCar season maybe over but that does not mean the drivers and those involved aren't keeping busy.

Back To The Dance Floor
Helio Castroneves returns to the ABC show Dancing With The Stars after winning the competition five years ago. This year, Castroneves competes against other past competitors on this "All-Star" season. His dance partner this season will be Chelsie Hightower. Julianne Hough was his dance partner five years ago. Season premier is tonight at 8:00pm on ABC.

Schedule To Be Released On Wind Tunnel
Next Sunday night on SPEED channel's show, Wind Tunnel, Randy Bernard will release the 2013 schedule with Bob Varsha and Robin Miller co-hosting. With the announcement late last week of Edmonton's departure, it is uncertain the goal of nineteen races will be met. Doubleheaders could make the goal attainable but the call has been for nineteen different venues. With the addition of Houtson and the belief Pocono will be added, other races being thrown around are the street race in Providence, NOLA Motorsports Park and a return of Kentucky Speedway.

Drivers Being Drivers
This past weekend, Pippa Mann competed in the Auto GP series at Sonoma Raceway and finished ninth and eighth in the two races. Takuma Sato headed to Japan and finished ninth in the Formula Nippon race at Sportland SUGO.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is scheduled to compete at Petit Le Mans with the SRT Viper in a little less than a month. Townsend Bell is expected to be at Petit with Alex Job Racing and their Lotus Evora.

That same weekend, a total thirteen drivers with a combined 881 starts, 71 wins and 76 poles in American open-wheel racing will take part in the V8 Supercars' Armor All Gold Coast 600 from Surfers Paradise. These thirteen drivers include nine drivers who competed this past season (Andretti, Bourdais, Briscoe, Conway, Hinchcliffe, Pagenaud, Power, Rahal and Wilson) and four other drivers (Nicolas Minassian, Franck Montagny, Max Papis and Mika Salo).

Rubens Barrichello is going stock car racing. No, not in NASCAR. He will compete in the season finale of the Stock Car Brazil series at Interlagos on December 9th.

Friday, September 21, 2012

It Doesn't Get Any Easier, Does It?

As of now, IndyCar will be heading to Canada once in 2013. Edmonton is off the schedule after years of speculation. Octane is backing out of there contract with the city of Edmonton, and the city isn't looking for another one. This won't be another Baltimore with Michael Andretti saving the day. This race can join the list of failed temporary circuit with the likes of San Jose and Denver.

However the search for a nineteen race season just became much harder. With it appearing the other fourteen races on the 2012 schedule to be returning, the additions of Houston and unconfirmed Pocono,  IndyCar is still three away from the magic number. Providence is interested in a street race which would be seventeen. The report of doubleheaders would make it possible for IndyCar to reach nineteen but that would not solve the problem of country wide summers. Between July and August, IndyCar is scheduled to have only three races in that time frame. With Fontana looking to move to October, September could become just as open.

The question is can these gaps be filled? We can all list race after race that we want on the schedule but that does not mean it is going to happen. However, with Edmonton's vacancy, that opens the old date of the Michigan CART date. Michigan expressed interest in being the 16th race for this season and was talked about for 2013 but it appeared that was off the table during the summer. Road America is in the same boat, with sanctioning fee being the sticking issue. Richmond has been talked about but a race in July would probably be a Saturday night, however no talk has been serious. What else is possible? Maybe IndyCar can work something with NASCAR to make a double or triple header with the Nationwide and Truck Series at Chicagoland possible but that would be very difficult.

We can list dream race after dream race until we are blue in the face, but the business has to make sense. But IndyCar may have to make something to work. I am sure no one is for six races over a four month stretch. Austin and New Orleans have been mentioned but both have been rumored to be early in the season, not the summer.

For IndyCar, the board and Randy Bernard, it doesn't get any easier. As usual.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Well, Now What?

With the season in the books, what are we to do now? Lots of speculation on schedule, silly season, the champions media tour and much more.

Hunter-Reay Making The Rounds
Let's start with our champion. Ryan Hunter-Reay is in New York today. He was already on CNN with Soledad O'Brien this morning, was at SiriusXM for a couple hours and last time I checked he was on top the Empire State Building with the Astor Cup. Hunter-Reay will stop by to see former car owner David Letterman tomorrow night on The Late Show.

Silly Season
Here is what we know: All of Andretti Autosport is returning, as is Franchitti and Kimball, Simona is locked up with HVM, HVM needs an engine, Power and Castroneves are set, Pagenaud as well with Schmidt, Katherine Legge has a deal with Dragon and we think Bourdais does as well, Newgarden and Hildebrand are returning to their respective homes and I think Ed Carpenter has a deal done but I am not quite sure.

The big openings are Ganassi's fourth and Penske's third. Barrichello has been linked to the fourth Ganassi, as has Justin Wilson. Some people see Wilson as a possibility at Penske or Briscoe returning. There is still the chance the Captain shuts that team down.

A surprise opening is at Foyt Enterprises. I see one of three in the number fourteen in 2013. Either Wade Cunningham (raced for the team at Indianapolis and Fontana), Townsend Bell (apparently was called to race at Fontana) or AJ Allmendinger (Foyt himself said he was interested in the American). As for Conway, I very well see him running road and street courses in the number forty-one with Chase Austin running at Indianapolis (already confirmed).

It looks like Graham is going to run for his father. Sato's status is unknown. Barrichello is linked with a second Schmidt entry. Kanaan looks to be set at KV but is still looking for sponsorship. It appears Viso is gone and may start his own team. Mike Shank is still trying to field a car. Allmendinger would be a strong contender for that seat but if he goes to Foyt, it is not clear who would take that seat. Jay Howard was trying to run with Shank at Indianapolis but that never came through.

It looks like Pocono is a go for 2013 and it would be 500 miles. Providence is in the air but would likely occur in August if it happens at all.

Fontana wants to be the season finale again. A few problems with that though:
1. Series wants to keep dates consistent. Moving it one month would not be ideal.
2. Moving it from mid-September to mid-October would create a month opening that would have to be filled.

Positives to keeping Fontana as the season finale:
1. Cooler temperatures.
2. Great race for the last of the season.
3. If moved to October, race could be on the Sunday following the Charlotte chase race, just like Vegas and on ABC.

Just a few facts real quick: For those interested in ratings, Vegas got a 1.5. Did the events play into that rating? Maybe. Still, going against the NFL is not as scary as it seems. Race begins around 3pm, one o'clock games are close to over, some are blow outs and people switch to other stuff. In October, NFL teams are on byes. A fans team is on a bye, they are more likely to take a Sunday off from football. As we saw with Fontana, if it's on a Saturday, it won't be on ABC. If it's on a Sunday, the door is open. ABC is network, CBS and Fox are right around it, people bump into the race on accident if their is no good game on. Just things to consider.

Still Plenty Of Racing Left
IndyCar may be over but there is plenty of racing left. NASCAR, Formula One, MotoGP, V8 Supercars. Plenty of IndyCar drivers are going to Surfers Paradise, I expect a few to show up at Petit Le Mans, Curt Cavin tweeted Ryan Hunter-Reay will be doing the Race of Champions in December. Plenty of racing left in 2012, just no IndyCar until 2013.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ryan Hunter-Reay: Champion

Looking back on Ryan Hunter-Reay and his career path, he was one of the few Americans able to enter the dying CART series while everyone was prepared to jump to the IRL. In 2002, Hunter-Reay finished 6th in the Atlantic Championships behind Americans Jon Fogerty, Alex Gurney, Rocky Moran Jr, Canadian Michael Valiante and Mexican driver Luiz Daiz. While these five drivers have found great success in sports cars, they only have a combined four starts in American open-wheel racing. Hunter-Reay was the lucky one who got a shot. American Spirit Team Johansson signed him and fellow American Jimmy Vasser for that 2003 season. He slowly improved throughout that season, scoring a podium at Mid-Ohio, a fastest lap at Mexico City and scored a surprise win at Surfers Paradise in a rain-shortened event.

But after that 2003 season, American Spirit Team Johnansson closed it's doors and put Hunter-Reay in the now all too familiar process of looking for a ride. He did find one with Herdez Competition (now HVM Racing) and the highlight of his season was his grand chelem, leading all 250 laps from pole and scoring fastest lap at Milwaukee. But he would still end up looking for a ride in 2005. He found one with Rocketsports but his season ended when he was replaced by Michael McDowell for the final two races.

In 2006, he did not get a ride in ChampCar or the IRL. He did not get another opportunity until August 2007 when he replaced Jeff Simmons at Rahal-Letterman Racing at Mid-Ohio. Despite running only the final six races of the IRL season, he did enough to win rookie of the year and get a full-time ride with Rahal-Letterman for 2007. Hunter-Reay scored a surprise win at Watkins Glen, along with ten top tens and more importantly, sign an important personal sponsorship with IZOD. Despite his success and his sponsors, Rahal-Letterman had to leave IndyCar racing for 2008 and Hunter-Reay was unemployed once again.

Struggling to get a ride, he got a race-to-race deal with Vision Racing, literally a day or two before opening Friday practice for St. Pete. He would go on to score a podium that weekend but struggled at Indianapolis and could only get the deal through Texas. However, there was an opening at Foyt Enterprises after Vitor Meria hurt his back at Indianapolis. He would score two top tens with Foyt but had to look for another team for 2009 as Meria was to return.

With IZOD stepping up to be title sponsor, Hunter-Reay got a shot with Andretti Autosport, but only through Indianapolis. Just like the year before, he starred in the season-opener and nearly won before being passed by Will Power late. He would go on to win three races later at Long Beach and scored a fifth the following race at Kansas. He had done enough to extend his deal through the rest of 2010 where he would get nine more top ten finishes, including a podium at Toronto.

2011 could not have started any worse. While picking up DHL and SunDrop as sponsors, IZOD left to sponsor Ryan Briscoe at Penske, he did not score a top ten in the first four races and he failed to qualify for Indianapolis. He was caught in the middle of an unpopular decision to put him in the second Foyt car, which was qualified by Bruno Junqueira. The second half of his season was a complete 180. He scored podiums at Toronto and Mid-Ohio before taking a victory at New Hampshire. In final half of the 2011 season, Hunter-Reay scored a top ten in every race but Motegi.

Then comes the 2012 season. Hunter-Reay scored a podium in the season opener at St. Pete. He had a podium at Long Beach revoked after late contact with Takuma Sato but finished second at Sao Paulo, again behind Will Power. He qualified on the front row for Indianapolis but a suspension failure end his race. Another mechanical failure would end his Texas race but the following week at Milwaukee, Hunter-Reay turned his luck around, scoring his first victory of the year and the first of a great three race stretch. After those wins at Iowa and Toronto, Hunter-Reay was right in the championship hunt and a pole at Edmonton showed he was a serious threat. A ten grid spot penalty for that Edmonton race ended any shot at four in a row and he finished seventh. After losing an engine at Mid-Ohio, Hunter-Reay lost the points lead and was looking at falling completely out of the hunt. A great race at Sonoma ended when he was spun by Alex Tagliani and with two races to go, it looked like the Australian was destined to win his first championship.

Hunter-Reay did not give up. Despite the thirty-seven point margin, Hunter-Reay took a big win at Baltimore and narrowed Power's lead to seventeen points heading into Fontana. With Hunter-Reay in an almost must-win situation, his weekend could not have started any worse with his accident testing at Fontana. But Power spun in front of Hunter-Reay during the race, easing the pressure on the American and only needing to finish 6th. In what was a great effort, the Penske team did all they could and forced Hunter-Reay to score a top five if he wanted to become champion. In a race that saw uncertainty about a right rear shock and pressure from the likes of Kanaan and Castroneves, Hunter-Reay was able to score the top five needed to win the title after front runners Tagliani and Sato fell out of the race while ahead of him.

While making an amazing comeback, Hunter-Reay became the first driver known to man to turn down Roger Penske to stay with his current team. While his professional life saw ups and downs, his personal life was not any easier. His mother past away from cancer and Hunter-Reay has taken it upon himself to do all he can to find a cure for cancer and he reminds himself everytime he gets in the race car. He choose the number twenty-eight, for the twenty-eight million people battling cancer around the world. But not all has been bad for Hunter-Reay. He met and married his soul mate Beccy along the way. While things have been tough and uncertain for Hunter-Reay along his path to becoming champion, he now finds himself in a comfortable place and an ambassador for a greater cause. He is a champion in more ways than one.

2012 IndyCar Season: First Impressions

1. Unbelievable.

2. Both Hunter-Reay and Power are great drivers. Both are champion caliber.

3. An owner-driver won an IndyCar race. Who saw that coming in this day in age?

4. This has to be one of the greatest season ever. The car was amazing in it's first year.

5. The crowd looked pretty good. The Houston Astros would kill for the crowd Fontana got.

6. 500 milers at Pocono and Michigan are welcomed.

7. The red flag situation was such a non-issue in the end. Let's not do it again.

8. How about Ed Carpenter? He has won the last two season finales.

9. Cool to see the Fuzzy's car in Fuzzy's victory lane.

10. I am sorry it is my tenth thought but, Bob Jenkins, you will be missed. Best to you and your wife. Hope to see and hear you at the Speedway come May.

11. Will Power should be happy if the season ends at Houston next year.

12. Hunter-Reay also won the AJ Foyt Oval Championship.

13. The offseason is going to suck.

14. How about this: Americans won five races, more than any other country, won the championship, an  American manufacture won that title, American driver had more fastest laps than any other nation and we had more Americans in the series than any other nation. Talk about an American year.

15. As for complaints about attendance and ratings, who gives a damn? Was that not a great race? If the rest of the world does not realize that, then they are ignorant. What else can I say? If people, whether it's ESPN, major American television or sports radio personalities, fail to see great racing and a great series going forward then screw them. Somebody has to be watching because a lot of IndyCar related stuff was trending worldwide on Twitter.

16. Well, it is late, I am exhausted. Have a great offseason. I will still be posting but for right now, I am done for the night. Congratulations Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Morning Warm-Up: Fontana 2012

Marco Andretti won his second career pole, first since 2008, yesterday and will be joined on the front row with Ryan Briscoe. Fourteen of the twenty-six drivers in the field will have to serve a ten grid spot penalty for engine changes. After all the penalties were enforced, Chevrolets take up the first eight positions with the drivers Tony Kanaan, JR Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter, Rubens Barrichello, Katherine Legge and Oriol Servia rounding out the top four rows. The defending champion, Dario Franchitti will be the highest starting Honda in ninth position.

Championship Leader Will Power will start thirteenth, while the main contender Ryan Hunter-Reay will roll off twenty-second. The surprise story of the weekend was Mike Conway announcing he would be stepping away from oval racing and was replaced by Wade Cunningham. Conway stated he was no longer comfortable on ovals and felt it would be better if someone else was in the car. Conway did not completely retire from racing and their is still the possibility of Conway racing on the road and street courses in 2013.

More news coming from the title fight was Ryan Hunter-Reay signing a two year extension to stay with Andretti Autosport. Reports came out at Baltimore that Penske was interested in signing the American. The forecast calls for temperatures near 100 tomorrow, but it should drop into the 80s by the end of the race. Coverage starts at 7:30pm ET on the NBC Sports Net with green flag around 8:50pm ET.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Track Walk: Fontana 2012

The final and championship deciding round of the 2012 Izod IndyCar Series season will take place at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Will Power leads by seventeen points over Ryan Hunter-Reay heading into the five hundred mile, Saturday night race. Hunter-Reay is coming off a win at Baltimore and has won the last two oval races. This is the first race at Fontana since 2005.

Already Been Busy
Testing happened on Wednesday in California and Ryan Hunter-Reay had an accident in turn two during the day. He said the accident occurred on a mock qualifying run. He was not hurt. Scott Dixon had an engine failure and it appears he will have to take another grid penalty this week. EJ Viso also had an accident during the evening part of the test, just like Hunter-Reay in turn two. Ryan Briscoe made contact with the wall at the end of the session. According to Marshall Pruett of SPEED, unofficially Dario Franchitti was fastest during the day at 214.3MPH, followed by Power at 214.1MPH and Hunter-Reay was third at 214MPH. At night, his teammate Scott Dixon was fastest at 215.861MPH, followed by Marco Andretti (215.779MPH), Power (215.761MPH), Briscoe (215.133MPH) and Josef Newgarden (214.948MPH).

The AJ Foyt Oval Championship
I know the award is not taken that serious, many don't even realize it exists but the AJ Foyt Oval Champion will be crowned at the end of the Fontana race. Currently, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan are tied a top the oval standings with 136 points with Hunter-Reay owning the tiebreaker. 7 other drivers (Hinchcliffe, Castroneves, Wilson, Dixon, Briscoe, Rahal, Franchitti) could win the oval title. Marco Andretti and Simon Pagenaud could tie for the oval title but would have to score maximum points this weekend and would still lose the tiebreaker to Hunter-Reay.

Last Chance
If a driver wants a win in 2012, this is their final opportunity and for some drivers heading into free agency, this would be a great bargaining chip. Pagenaud and Hinchcliffe are still looking for their first career wins, Kanaan is looking for his first win since Iowa 2010 and a win would lock up the oval title for himself, Franchitti could sweep the five hundred mile races this year, Rahal is looking to make up for Texas, could somebody new step up and take a surprise win to end the season? Meanwhile other teams are just looking for good finishes. Newgarden, while being fast, has yet to score a top ten, Ed Carpenter is looking for another good oval finish, Andretti should want to end what has been a lackluster season on a high note and Simona de Silvestro, HVM and John Judd hopes the Lotus can finish the season by taking the checkered flag (granted probably a few laps down) and not in the garage.

Other Notes
Sebastien Saavedra is back for his third race of 2012. This is an identical tire to the one used at Texas. Dario Franchitti's best finish on an oval, other than his win at Indianapolis is fourteenth. The Lights champion will be decided on Saturday as will the U.S. F2000 champion. Either Tristan Vautier and Esteban Guerrieri will be Lights champion, while Matthew Brabham looks to hang on and hold off Spencer Pigot in U.S. F2000. While the Lights title will be decided at Fontana, the U.S. F2000 will be determined at Virginia International Raceway as the series is with the American Le Mans Series this weekend.

I hope this comes down to final laps and both Hunter-Reay and Power are in the top five, both pushing hard for the title. There are reasons why I would like to see Hunter-Reay win the title, there are reasons why I would like to see Power win the title. Who do I think will win? Hunter-Reay averages 15.5 points more than Power on ovals. Can Hunter-Reay get that 15.5 points needed and win on tiebreaker? He sure can, will he though? I think he will make the comeback on bring home the title. Marco Andretti will get a top ten to wrap up his 2012 season, Dario Franchitti will be a bigger factor for the race win, Hinchcliffe has a good day. Sleepers: JR Hildebrand and Justin Wilson.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

IndyCar Can Do No Wrong

No matter who comes out on top Saturday night, IndyCar can do no wrong from the a marketing sense. Think about it for a second. Which active IndyCar driver has been featured in more commercials over the last two years? Will Power has been the main man in Verizon commercials and what do you think will happen if Power wins the championship? You can bet Verizon is going to make known the fact they sponsor a champion and feature him more now than ever.

As for Ryan Hunter-Reay, I can not recall off the top of my head any DHL or Sun Drop commercials featuring the American driver but an American champion would sure be celebrated. He and the beautiful Astor Cup could make the rounds on the ESPN shows and could make a stop at some bigger shows such as Good Morning America, maybe even a late night talk show or two.

As for personalities, neither Power or Hunter-Reay has a "bad" personality. Both are engaging, fan friendly, have some type of sense of humor and are not afraid to say what is on their mind. But the only way to get these guys in the public eye is if IndyCar can get these guys booked. They did a great job touring the Astor Cup around to different television shows and studios earlier this week but now it is the time to have a driver touring with the trophy they won. NASCAR does a great job of getting their drivers in the public eye. Doesn't matter who they are, where they come from or what type of accent they have. Let the people know who the champion is. IndyCar can do no wrong, as long as they plan to get the champion in the spotlight, no matter who it is.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Going To California

With the final race of the championship heading to California, a lot has happened in the final week off and a lot is still to come.

The Passing Of Scott Roembke
Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing principal Scott Roembke passed away on Sunday. He was 50 years old. Roembke loved the Indianapolis 500 as much as anybody and will be truly missed. My thoughts and prayers go to his wife Darcy and his son Chris.

Zanardi Wins Gold, Gold and Silver; Wants A Shot at Indianapolis
Alex Zanardi won a medal in each one of the three handcycling events he competed in this year's Paralympic Games. It started on the 5th, with his gold in the individual H4 time trial, winning by over 27 seconds. Then on the 7th he picked up his second gold in the road race where he won by one second. In the team time trial on the 8th, Zanardi and his Italian team finished second, 43 seconds behind the American team that won gold. All handcycling events took place on the Brands Hatch circuit.

After his first gold medal, Zanardi mentioned a phone call between him and his former teammate Jimmy Vasser, where Vasser said if Zanardi could win a gold, he would give him a car for the Indianapolis 500 and it looks like Zanardi wants that opportunity. More reports came out that Vasser and their former car owner Chip Ganassi are trying to work a deal to get Zanardi a ride for Indianapolis next year. Earlier this year, Autosport reported Zanardi was interested in a ride in the 24 Hours of Daytona for 2013.

Road To Indy Seasons Are Wrapping Up
Jack Hawksworth locked up the Star Mazda Championship at Laguna Seca this weekend. They have one more race weekend at Road Atlanta in October. Matthew Brabham leads the U.S. F2000 Championship standings with one round, two races remaining. He leads Spencer Pigot by 41 points. The U.S. F2000 Championship wraps up on September 15th at Virginia International Raceway. Indy Lights will come down to the final race at Fontana between the Schmidt teammates of Tristan Vautier and Esteban Guerrieri. Last year, Guerrieri finished second to Josef Newgarden and Vautier won the Star Mazda title. After winning the last two races from pole and picking up fastest lap in each, Vautier leads Guerrieri by 11 points.

Legitimate questions can be raised about promotion of drivers through the ladder system. While it looks Hawksworth and the U.S. F2000 champion will move up, whether the Lights champions moves to IndyCar is unknown. The Lights series is the weakest step on the ladder, most races only field around 11 cars, with most of the drivers being ride buyers. Guerrieri was in talks about moving to IndyCar earlier this year but no deal ever formed. Vautier would move up to the top level after one year at each but is that what the ladder system is all about? You win a championship and then it's on to the next one. The other factor though is who in IndyCar is willing to give them a ride. Schmidt has been reportedly interested in a second ride for Rubens Barrichello and did not give JK Verney or Newgarden IndyCar rides after their Lights championships.

Bob Jenkins' Final Race
This is scheduled to be Bob Jenkins final race as lead commentator for the NBC Sports Net broadcast. Bob's wife, Pam is currently battling cancer and Bob choose to miss the Baltimore race to be with her. Jenkins has been a voice as recognizable with IndyCar racing as any other announcer. He has done very well since coming back to television with the NBC Sports Net team and it has been a joy listening to the chemistry that the current crew has together. I don't know who the next lead will be but whoever it is will have big shoes to fill.

The Other Battles
While there is the fight for the championship, there are other battles through out the championship table.   Castroneves leads Dixon by one point for third, two points separate Hinchcliffe and Kanaan for seventh, eleven points cover Barrichello, Servia, Hildebrand and Wilson in the eleventh through fourteenth battle. Seven points covers Tagliani, Sato and Andretti for fifteenth. Only six points separate Kimball in eighteenth and Viso in twentieth with Conway in nineteenth. Finally, James Jakes leads Ed Carpenter by five points for twenty-first. Plenty of drivers fighting for something at Fontana.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

IndyCar Hindsight

Sadly, hindsight is 20/20. I thought about it long and hard, asked Twitter whether it was a good idea or not, but ultimately I felt I would be doing this not to hash up bad thoughts and the bad taste of the split but just look at what could have done differently.

The ALMS/Grand-Am merger has got me thinking a lot about American Open-Wheel unification. Like I said, hindsight is 20/20, we can all look and say this and that should have been done but it will not change a thing. So why then should I do being those? To compare the two different unifications.

Granted the sports car unification is just beginning and the more is still to come out but they are not in a rush to form one series again. They will let 2013 go as planned and work as one in 2014. IndyCar and ChampCar announced unification in February 2008, one month before the start of the unified season. To be honest, IndyCar and ChampCar could not wait any longer. With all the bad blood, the series could not continue as two separate entities. ChampCar was already pushing bankruptcy while both series struggled for car count. IndyCar did their best getting ChampCar events on the schedule. They sacrificed having one large race for having one last weekend with two races in Motegi and Long Beach. Edmonton was pushed back a week later than scheduled, while Surfers Paradise became a non-championship event. I skimmed over both that IndyCar calendar and the ChampCar schedule that never happened to see if anything else could have been done. Cleveland was scheduled for June 22, the same day as Iowa. The week before was open and a race could have been pushed up a week. The Kentucky IndyCar race was scheduled for August 9th, with Road America scheduled for the 10th. The following week, August 17th was open. The American Le Mans was running at Road America that same weekend and they also had the August 17th week off. Could they've work with ALMS to make that weekend happen a week later? Maybe. The problem that arises would have been a fourteen race stretch from Indianapolis until the final race at Chicago the Sunday after Labor Day. Could one year with lots of travel to keep popular races on the scheduled been worth it?

I am not sure but think about the prices for the teams. Would have keeping the DP01 and turning up the Honda engines output been cheaper for the team? I think we all know Honda was keeping the lid on their IndyCar engine once it became sole supplier and it was not impossible for them to make it more powerful to compete with the Cosworth and the DP01. We all know there were plenty of Honda engines and Dallara chassis to go around, they proved it in 2008. If there were any problems with the Panoz chassis' availability or parts, there were extra Dallara that could've been loaned. One thing is sure, if the Panoz was allowed, the rush for a new Dallara and new Honda engine would have came earlier than 2012.

We can't go back and fix what happened, nor should we dwell on what could have been. The facts are the current series we have has been great. If all that I typed above happened, would the racing this year have been as good as it has been? Would there be less turmoil? More? Would the owners be calmer? Would we fans be happier?  We shall never know but let's enjoy 2012 and the championship race that awaits.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The ALMS/Grand-Am Merger

Wednesday September 4th will go down as a day in American racing history where an era of splits and political bad blood comes to an end. The American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am will announce a merger that will unify American sports car racing.

First reported over the weekend, John Dagys has listed a few details of the unification. The Panoz Motor Sports Group is being bought by NASCAR Holdings. This includes Road Atlanta and the lease of Sebring. Jim France will be Chairman of the series with Don Panoz and Scott Atherton having other roles. Television deals for 2013 pushed the merger back to 2014.

The class structure has not been finalized.

As an IndyCar fan and with American Open-Wheel unification happening only four and a half years ago, memories of the many questions, hopes and wishes are still fresh in my mind.

Looking back on that February day in 2008, I wondered about cars and teams; races and dates. I wished for a series that would make the process as quick and easy as possible. Just allow whatever car  a teams has to race, go to the important race tracks and try to have as many dates as possible.

What happened? The one year old Panoz DP01 chassis was scrapped, while gaining Long Beach the unified series lost Road America, Surfers Paradise after one year as a non-championship race and a few teams disappeared along with some talented drivers.

My hope is whatever form of American sports car racing comes out of Wednesday's announcement will be a true merger and not a takeover/overhaul like the one in 2008. I hope the relationship with the ACO stays and will allow for the big name teams, manufactures and drivers to run at Sebring, Le Mans, Daytona, Spa, Petit and Silverstone like they once did. No class will be mothballed in favored of another. The schedule will be made of the best dates for the series and not simply forget the tracks with a long history of sports car racing.

IndyCar took four years from unification to get a new car, still have yet to get all-time favorite tracks such as Road America and Phoenix back on the schedule but have been slowly making headway both on and off the track when it comes to sponsorship and overall attention.

What the new series should not do is enforce totalitarian rule and make all LMP and GT cars worthless, forcing them to use the Grand-Am spec Daytona Prototypes and GT cars. Allow for all to be on the race track. Comprise one large schedule of the great races at their normal date on the calendar. Fans and teams will not be in an up roar because they have to go to Daytona, Sebring, Long Beach, Road America, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen, Mosport, Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio and Lime Rock Park with a trip across the pond for Le Mans and whatever other World Endurance Championship races are on the schedule. Scheduling does fall into favor with this unification more than the IRL/CCWS one because of the amount of tracks ALMS and Grand-Am both already go to just at different times in the year.

While some things could have been done differently, the events of 2008 greatly helped American Open-Wheel Racing and IndyCar has had one of their best season ever this year. American sports car racing could very well be in a better place after tomorrow but after what cost, if any? The powers at be must work for the good of all in the situation to come out truly as united series.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

2012 Izod IndyCar Championship Round Breakdown

With Fontana two weeks away and the championship on the line, it is time to look at the possible outcomes and what has to happen for each driver to win the championship.

Ryan Hunter-Reay simply must finish seventeen points ahead of Will Power to win the championship on a tiebreaker. The minimum amount of points Hunter-Reay can score and still win the championship is 27 points. Here are the scenarios for Hunter-Reay to be champion:

RHR scores 53 points: Power must finishes 3rd or worse.
52: Power: 3rd or worse, score no bonus points.
51: Power: 3rd or worse, score no bonus points.
50: Power: 4th or worse, score no more than one bonus point.
43: Power: 7th or worse, score no bonus points.
42: Power: 8th or worse, score no more than one bonus point.
41: Power: 8th or worse, score no bonus points.
40: Power: 9th or worse, score no more than one bonus point.
38: Power: 10th or worse, score no more than one bonus point.
37: Power: 10th or worse, score no bonus points.
36: Power: 11th or worse, score no bonus points.
35: Power: 12th or worse, score no bonus points
34: Power: 13th or worse, score no bonus points.
33: Power: 14th or worse, score no bonus points.
32: Power: 15th or worse, score no bonus points.
31: Power: 16th or worse, score no bonus points.
30: Power: 17th or worse, score no bonus points.
29: Power: 18th or worse, score no bonus points.
28: Power: 25th or worse, score no more than one bonus point.
27: Power: 25th or worse, score no bonus points.

Baltimore: First Impressions

1. First, thoughts and prayers to Bob Jenkins and his wife Pam.

2. Now the championship is on.

3. Ryan Hunter-Reay's restart to take the lead and his drive into turn one has to be one of the top plays of the day.

4. Nothing wrong with Hunter-Reay's restart. Clearly the green was out. When will the teams learn the rules. This is not NASCAR. You go when the green comes out, not when the leader choices to go.

5. Even after all the problems with the chicane, it proved to be a great race.

6. Rain surely made the race interesting.

7. Briscoe is proving his worth. Maybe Penske keeps him after all.

8. Sato, Bourdais and Kanaan all had great days and finishes that did not stand up to what happened.

9. Barrichello sure has done well the last two races.

10. Brian Till did a good job in the booth.

11. The Lights also have an interesting championship battle.

12. This has been one of the best seasons on road and street courses and the DW12 has a lot to do with it.

13. Only thirteen days until Fontana. Five hundred until a champion is crowned. Going to be fun.

Morning Warm-Up: Baltimore 2012

Will Power won another pole, as he looks to lock up the championship this weekend with a race to go. Mike Conway surprised a few and ended up second but will have to serve a ten grid spot penalty. Other shockers in the top twelve were Bruno Junqueira who qualified tenth for his first race in the DW12 and Ed Carpenter ended up eleventh. The other championship contenders ended up third (Dixon), thirteenth (Hunter-Reay) and sixteenth (Castroneves). Other notables from qualifying are Bourdais in fourth, Franchitti in fifth, Hinchcliffe in sixth, Kanaan in seventh, Briscoe in fourteenth, Barrichello in seventeenth, Andretti in twentieth and Graham Rahal in twenty-third.

The front straightaway and the railroad tracks that intersects it remained a hot topic on day two of the race weekend. After installing a chicane to slow the cars down and prevent them from launching, the problem has yet to be truly solved. At the end of the final practice, JR Hildebrand had the back end step out exiting the chicane. Those caught out by the chicane in qualifying were Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud. The series will look to make changes by moving the walls for the race.

Forecast for tomorrow predicts a sixty percent chance of rain but it is most likely the rain may hold off until after the Grand Prix. Coverage for the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT will begin at noon ET with IndyCar 36, followed by the Lights race at 12:30pm ET and the IndyCar race coverage beginning at 2:00pm ET. Green flag will be around 2:47pm ET.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cars And Tracks, Part II

Years after Champ Car learned their lesson about racing over railroad tracks, you'd think IndyCar remember to listen. Sadly that was not the case yesterday. The chicane removed from the front straightaway on the Baltimore street circuit will return after cars experienced a launching effect while driving over the tracks at high speeds during the first practice.

Am I disappointed with what happened to IndyCar or is this just the kind of thing I expect to happen to the series? No and no. While it is inconvenient, it is CART at Texas 2001. The race is still going to happen and Come Monday, it'll be alright. But when will prior events make us realize that somethings are just not going to work? Most of us remember San Jose and the motocross jump that was featured and the only highlight of the circuit. Why would anything have changed? Cars running over tracks at over 100 miles per hour does not go pleasantly. If tracks are in the middle of a slow corner, like they are on this circuit around turns five and six then it is manageable. But other than that, IndyCars and railroad tracks just don't mix. IndyCar, next time somebody brings a street course proposal to the table, first question is, are there railroad tracks cutting through the circuit that the car will be running over? If the answer is yes tell them to comeback at a later date with a better design. As simple as that. It's like going green flag on an oval when it is raining. Who does that?

Once practice got back going, Will Power was fastest as he looks to clinch the championship this weekend. Simon Pagenaud was second, ahead of Dixon, Barrichello and Hinchcliffe. Bourdais was in sixth with Ryan Hunter-Reay in seventh. Other notables, Franchitti was in ninth, Castroneves in twelfth, Briscoe fourteenth, Rahal sixteenth, Andretti eighteenth and Junqueira in twenty-third.