Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Great Unknown: The Second Seat at Dale Coyne Racing

It is a mystery that is as confusing as the Bermuda Triangle and the Loch Ness Monster put together. Even experts have no clue what to believe. Fact is fiction and fiction is fact when it comes to who will be driving for Dale Coyne Racing.

A team whose driver history includes the established such as Paul Tracy, Justin Wilson, Bruno Junqueira and Cristiano da Matta, also includes some of the least talented drivers in American Open-Wheel history such as Charlie Nearburg, Hiro Matsushita, Milka Duno, Takuya Kurosawa and the list could go on and on and on.

My point is Dale Coyne Racing does not always take the cream of the crop of what is available. If it was me (it isn't and I know that), I would've put Ryan Briscoe in the seat a minutes after James Jakes signed with Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing.

We have heard the rumors of Narain Karthikeyan coming to IndyCar and Ana Beatriz being interested in doing ovals and Brazil, which has created a picture of Dale Coyne hiring both to split the second entry. That is the most likely option and it would not shock me if that happened. But it is never easy to predict what Dale Coyne will do.

Look at the last two rookies Dale Coyne brought into the series: Mario Moraes and James Jakes.

When I first heard Moraes was hired for the unified 2008 season, all I thought of was "where did Coyne find this ride buyer?" The answer: In 2007, Moraes was running British Formula Three against the likes of Maro Engel (current V8 Supercar driver), Sam Bird (current Mercedes development driver), Esteban Guerrieri (Indy Lights 2011-12) and Max Chilton (making his Formula One debut in 2013). Moraes finished 14th in the championship scoring 43 points (3 less than Guerrieri and 43 more than Chilton).

Though scoring 3 top tens in 2008, Moraes left for KV Racing where he showed promised (three consecutive top fives, including a podium in 2009) but was always an accident waiting to happened. He has not been in an IndyCar race since 2010.

I had heard of James Jakes before thanks to him racing in GP2 and he was actually under contract with Scuderia Coloni in GP2 Asia when he came to IndyCar in 2011. He was fifth in the 2007 Formula 3 Euro Series behind some recent Formula One drivers (Romain Grosjean, Sébastien Buemi, Nico Hülkenberg and Kamui Kobayashi) and managed to get one win against that crowd. Unlike some of the drivers mentioned above, Jakes proved he was not only competent but showed flashes of brilliancy in IndyCar.

He did not light the world on fire in his rookie season and actually did not qualify for Indianapolis but he wasn't a moving a chicane and his shining moments were at Baltimore where he started 11th and Motegi where he started 8th. In 2012, he continued to improved and scored a top ten at Texas and a top ten at Toronto. Not to forget mentioning he ran 200 laps at Indianapolis and was the second highest finishing rookie in 15th, behind only Rubens Barrichello.

So who will Coyne hire?

What I like to do is take the bottom half of a European feeder series standings from the year before, close my eyes and put my finger down on a name. Who is to say Venezuelan Rodalfo González won't end up joining his fellow countrymen EJ Viso on the grid for St. Pete? Or maybe the Czech Josef Král gets a shot? He has hired Czechs before (see: Jaroslav Janiš).

The Beatles sang "Tomorrow Never Knows." When it comes to Dale Coyne Racing hiring drivers, that is their anthem.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

PT on TV, Pro Mazda and Testing in Sonoma

We are heading into March and the Izod IndyCar Series is knocking on the door.

PT on TV
Paul Tracy has an IndyCar gig for 2013 but he will not be stepping behind the wheel of a DW12 chassis. Tracy will join the Rogers Sportsnet IndyCar broadcast team of Bill Adam, Todd Lewis and Rob Faulds for the Indianapolis 500, Toronto and a race to be determined. Rogers Sportsnet announced a five-year deal for the exclusive rights to the Izod IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights which will included online and mobile coverage. TVA Sports will also provide French-language race coverage in Canada.

Pro Mazda at Austin
The first Road to Indy series season kicks off this weekend at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Pro Mazda, formerly Star Mazda, will have two races during the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series weekend at the premier road racing venue in the United States. Matthew Brabham and Spencer Pigot both are expected to make their Pro Mazda debut after having a heated battle for the U.S. F2000 championship last season. Scott Anderson, who finished third in the 2012 U.S. F2000 standings will also schedule to be at Austin. Notable drivers returning to Pro Mazda for 2013 are Petri Suvanto, Diego Ferreira and Juan Piedrahita.

Testing in Sonoma
Five teams and ten drivers took to the track today for a test at Sonoma Raceway. The Chevrolet teams of Dragon Racing, Panther/DRR, KV Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing were joined by the Hondas of Schmidt-Hamilton/Schmidt-Peterson Racing at the test. The biggest surprise was the presences of defending Izod IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay at the test, who was helping Ed Carpenter Racing at the test.

Field Fillers
AJ Foyt Racing and ABC Supply have agreed to an extension through 2015.

Graham Rahal competed in the Kenny G Gold Pro-Am at the Honda Classic today with PGA golfer Rickie Fowler.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Briscoe will join Marino Franchitti and Scott Tucker and Level5 Motorsports for the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 16.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

2013 Daytona 500: First Impressions

1. Exhale.

2. Everyone seemed to be on their best behavior. Jimmie Johnson was in the right place at the right time.

3. I really thought Mark Martin was going to sneak up and win it.

4. Danica Patrick stayed up front all day and ran a clean race.

5. Waiting to make a move on the last lap proved not to work again.

6. Great runs by Regan Smith, Michael McDowell and J.J Yeley. Somebody always gets a surprise top 10 in the Daytona 500.

7. Great job by Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing getting fourth place finish after their accident early.

8. Bad day for Toyota. Had three contenders knockout in the final quarter of the race due to mechanical problems.

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had another second place finish. Can he turn this into a consistent season up front?

10. I think we will truly see how the new car races in the coming races. Restrictor plate races aren't a great litmus test for the car.

11. Overall, not a great race. I would like to see something to be done to prevent 375 miles of single file around the top racing.

12. Fox should look to improve the broadcast crew. Mike Joy is great. Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip are both knowledgeable but cars running single-file around the top of the track is not their specialty for commentary. Jeff Hammond is expendable. The pit road team is good. I'd rather they bring Dick Berggren back and put him in for Chris Myers. This broadcast team has been together since the beginning of Fox's NASCAR coverage in 2001. It's been 12 years. They have had a great run. But some new blood should be considered.

Response To Nationwide Accident

After the events at the end of the NASCAR Nationwide race yesterday I had to get away from the whole Internet to really think about what happened. I didn't want to have a knee-jerk reaction and yell and scream and hoot and holler either here or on Twitter. I went for a long walk, got dinner and just thought about many ways to prevent another accident such as that. I didn't want to blame it all on one thing and focus only on that change but rather thought about everything from the car to the fence to the stands to the banking. Please note this is not about politics. This isn't about one sanctioning body over another. My thoughts are how to improve the safety in general, for both drivers and fans.

Here is what I have thought about:

Catch Fence
Since Dan Wheldon's fatal accident, many have called for a change in the catch fences. There was a heated debate between IndyCar and Texas Motor Speedway about moving the poles from inside to outside of the catch fence. Dario Franchitti was on Twitter and called for a complete alternative to the current system. What has been suggested is Plexiglas, which is used around hockey rinks. Will Buxton  suggested using Geobrugg avalanche fence, which is used at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. Here is a video of the Geobrugg being tested. Wade Cunningham suggested raising the walls. In turn 3 and 4 at Twin Ring Motegi there is no catch fencing, rather a large wall containing the cars.

Sanctioning bodies should not be looking for the cheapest way to improve safety rather improve safety regardless of what the price will be. A new or alternative catch fence will cost money. But if it means better protecting the drivers and the fans it is worth it.

Restrictor Plates
After Bobby Allison got airborne at Talladega in 1987, restrictor plates were put on stock cars at Daytona and Talladega to slow down the race cars and prevent that event from happening again. While the cars are now slower, restrictor plates have created pack racing which has lead to big accidents like the one that happened yesterday. Taking only restrictor plates off the cars is not an option but it can be if paired with other changes such as decreasing downforce and making drivers have to lift when entering the corners.

IndyCar made aerodynamic changes going into the 2012 season to decrease the pack racing that was seen on the high-banked, mile and a half ovals. The pack racing was eliminated and the drivers had to lift at places where they were use to going wide-open.

The biggest accidents for both NASCAR and IndyCar have occurred on the high-banked race tracks of 20 degrees or more. Could reducing banking at the high-banked race tracks lead to less of these accidents? Maybe but making what would be massive renovations to decrease banking at most tracks would cost a ton of money, more than developing and install new catch fences.

If there could be one consideration of decreasing the banking at Daytona, why not in the tri-oval. A flat tri-oval would act more as a dogleg and force the drivers (whether running a restrictor plate or not) to lift. Or eliminate the tri-oval all together and have a straightaway connecting turns 4 and 1.

The Stands
Pushing the stands back and raising the stands up would reduce the risk of flying parts entering them. Daytona International Speedway has already announced renovations to the grandstand in the years to come and it appears the plan is to raise and move the grandstands further back from the catch fence than today.

Move the Start-Finish Line to the Backstretch
The stands are off the wall and catch fence on the backstretch at Daytona. While we have seen big accidents on the backstretch at Daytona, it would reduce the risk of the fans being hurt when the big accident occurs coming to the checkered flag.

These are just a few idea. Changes have to be made. That can not be stressed enough. The changes have to be made for safety of the fans and the drivers and hopefully reduce these accidents from happening again. There will always be freak accidents though. Even though changes can be made, something could go wrong in auto racing that could leave someone hurt or dead. No one wants to see that and all should be done to prevent it. However, auto racing will never be as safe as humanly possible. Death is always just around the corner in auto racing. Reducing it from jumping out on us is what must continue to be done.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Track Walk: 2013 Daytona 500

NASCAR season finally begins tomorrow with the 55th running of the Daytona 500. Danica Patrick will start on pole position, with Jeff Gordon starting in second position. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch won the Duel races on Thursday and fill row two. Defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski will start fifteenth and defending Daytona 500 winner, Matt Kenseth will start twelfth. Here are some story lines to look forward to tomorrow.

Can Ford Three-Peat?
Chevrolet is the only manufacture to ever win three Daytona 500s in a row. With Matt Kenseth's win last year Ford went back-to-back in the Daytona 500 for the first time ever and now they look to add a third. With the addition of Penske Racing, Ford powers 15 of the 43 cars in tomorrow's race, with Greg Biffle being the highest starting Ford in fifth. However, since 2007, the winner in an odd number year has come from 30th or worse. Six Fords start worse than 30th (Scott Speed, Josh Wise, Trevor Bayne, Carl Edwards, Terry Labonte and Michael McDowell).

Can Toyota Break Through?
Since entering the Cup series in 2007, Toyota has amassed 49 victories in the Cup Series but has yet to win the Daytona 500. The Japanese manufacture came close in 2008 when Joe Gibbs Racing started running Toyota power but has not be able to break through. Kyle Busch is the best starting Toyota in fourth with Clint Boywer starting tenth. Eleven Toyotas will be in the field tomorrow.

Who Will Surprise Us?
What do Scott Wimmer, Scott Riggs, Kevin Lepage, Ken Schrader, Mike Wallace, Reed Sorenson, AJ Allmendinger, David Reutimann, David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte and Paul Menard all have in common? Each have at least one top-ten finish in the one of the last ten Daytona 500s and eight of those drivers have a top-five in the Daytona 500.

Each year, somebody surprises us with a great run and some surprise us with a win (see Trevor Bayne). In the 2011 race three of the top four finishers started 30th or worse (Bayne- 32nd, Gilliland- 39th, Labonte 31st). Who could sneak up and surprise us? Regan Smith starts 38th for Phoenix Racing. Aric Almirola is unsuspecting in 26th. And how about Casey Mears who quietly starts in 17th.

Tony Stewart for the win. Danica Patrick gets a top-15. Six cars will be out of the race by lap 30. The highest finishing Ford will not be a Roush or a Penske. Sleeper: Kurt Busch.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Allmendinger Tests IndyCar At Sebring

The car is different, the sanctioning body is different, the team is definitely different, but AJ Allmendinger seemed to be back in his element. For the first time since Surfers Paradise in 2006, Allmendinger turned laps in an open-wheel car.

His test at Sebring for Penske Racing didn't light the world on fire or make jaws drop, but it sure seemed like Allmendinger had very little trouble getting back in the seat. At 12:39pm, Marshall Pruett tweeted unofficially times and Scott Dixon was the fastest at 52 seconds, with Will Power second at 52.15 and Helio Castroneves third at a 52.41. Allmendinger was just under a half second off Power at a  52.64 and only Charlie Kimball, Takuma Sato and Dario Franchitti were ahead of him. He was quicker than the likes of Justin Wilson, Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia and Josef Newgarden.

Though nothing has been announced past this test, verbal cues were dropped by Allmendinger, suggesting there is more to be announced saying, "When it comes to working with my engineer, that's a relationship that is just starting." Allmendinger worked with Ron Ruzewski at Sebring.

Allmendinger left open-wheel racing when his career was just taking off. After losing his RuSport ride four races in to the 2006 season, he was picked up by Forsythe Racing, where he won five races (three in a row) and finished third in the championship after deciding to skip the final round at Mexico City to begin his career in NASCAR. He defeated the likes of Bourdais, Wilson, Power, Servia and Tagliani, all who currently race in IndyCar. He left just before the introduction of the Panoz DP01 and right before reunification occurred. We can speculate all we want had Allmendinger stayed in IndyCar but after a slow start with Red Bull Racing, he found success with Richard Petty Motorsports and Penske Racing. A failed drug test for Adderall caused Allmendinger to miss a fair chunk of 2012, costed his seat at Penske and left him with uncertain plans for 2013. Allmendinger went through the Road to Recovery program and returned to racing in late 2012. Penske is giving him a rare second shot, this one in IndyCar. He is back in open-wheel racing and is focused on turning this test into more seat time. And it appears he is well on his way.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Danica Patrick Wins Pole For The Daytona 500

The critics can say all they want but that will not change the truth. Danica Patrick will start on pole position for the 2013 Daytona 500. Her first career pole comes in her 11th start and improves on a previous best starting position of 23rd last September at Atlanta.

Patrick is the first women to win a pole in a NASCAR Cup Series event and only adds to her list of firsts for women in motorsports. Her firsts for women in IndyCar include a win at Motegi in 2008, starting fourth in the Indianapolis 500, finishing 3rd in the Indianapolis 500, first woman to lead a lap in the Indianapolis 500 and Rookie of the Year in the 2005 Indianapolis 500. Not to forget her career stats of three IndyCar poles, 7 podiums, 20 top-fives and 63 top-tens.

However there are still critics who find fallacies with all of Patrick's accomplishments. They will say this pole came at restrictor plate race and that is true. But she still won the pole. The same type of opinions came out about her win a Motegi. That she won a race with a split field (remember the recently united ChampCar teams were running Long Beach that weekend and it was the final ChampCar race) on fuel mileage in a foreign land. A win is a win, no matter how you spin it and a pole is a pole no matter how you spin it.

There is still a race to run and everyone knows that. This pole does not guarantee success in the race and winning from pole in the Daytona 500 has only happened in 9 of the 54 editions of the race. I'd like to congratulate Danica Patrick on her first career pole position and look forward to the Duels on Thursday.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

NASCAR Returns

It is February and Daytona is ready for the return of NASCAR.

Tonight, the Sprint Unlimited, formerly known as the Budweiser Shootout, takes place with nineteen driver, last years pole winners and past winners of the race. This year's race is truly for the fans, who have decided the format (three segments of 30, 25 and 20 laps) and will decide the type of pit stop for the first segment (no, two or four tires), how many drivers will be eliminated after segment two (zero, two, four or six) and will determined the starting order (either 2012 owner points, practice speeds or car number).

A notable absence from the Sprint Unlimited will be defending champion Brad Keselowski, who did not win a pole in 2012.

Tomorrow will be Daytona 500 qualifying, where 45 drivers will compete for the front row and lock themselves into the 2013 Daytona 500. Past Daytona 500 winners looking to add another to their résumé are Matt Kesensth (2009 and 2012), Trevor Bayne (2011), Jamie McMurray (2010), Ryan Newman (2008), Kevin Harvick (2007), Jimmie Johnson (2006), Jeff Gordon (1997, 1999 and 2005), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2004) and Michael Waltrip (2001 and 2003).

2013 will see two rookies attempt full-time schedules. The defending, back-to-back Nationwide Series champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Roush Fenway Racing after the departure of Matt Kenseth to Joe Gibbs Racing and Danica Patrick will race for Stewart-Haas Racing, as that team expands to a three team operation.

On Thursday, the Budweiser Duels will set the field for 2013 Daytona 500 and determine who will miss the first race of 2013.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Momentum Is Gone. But WE Can Get It Back

153 days gone, 37 remain. No leaders. No promotions. IndyCar's momentum from 2012 is gone.

A great race at Fontana, an American winner, an American champion who made a dramatic comeback, all was well. Since then all the air has been released from the balloon.

The bureaucracy of IndyCar and IMS could not help themselves from letting things be. The firing of Randy Bernard isn't the only reason for the deflation. PR guru Steve Shunck, who lived and breathed IndyCar was fired and he was the mastermind behind ideas such as getting Graham Rahal to deliver the Super Bowl picks for ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown at Super Bowl XLVI.

What does IndyCar have? Currently a interim-CEO and no PR person in sight. The season is approaching and I have yet to see any promotion for the upcoming IndyCar season on NBC Sports Net (But I have for the MLS season which begins March 2). Sure there is plenty of time until St. Petersburg, but will someone in the offices of IndyCar and IMS step up, grab the bull by the horns and get the ball rolling? NASCAR drivers are going to have plenty of TV interviews and appearances over the next week as their season is on the door step. Will we see the same for IndyCar? Will our champion Ryan Hunter-Reay be interviewed by the national media and get a shot to promote the series on shows such as Mike & Mike or The Dan Patrick Show? Time will only tell.

If there is one person I have to give credit for being the best spokesperson, it's Josef Newgarden. Not only does he do "The Offseason" sketches with fellow drivers James Hinchcliffe, Will Power and Charlie Kimball, but has been the guy for the Twitter campaign, #Indy500orbust and does things like this. If we have to promote Newgarden as the "Rob Gronkowski of IndyCar," I am all for it. He is engaging, open and joyful. But more importantly, it appears he is doing it all naturally. He WANTS to be that guy. What fan roots against Josef Newgarden? I cannot think of one.

If we could get five, six or seven drivers to be half as entertaining as Newgarden, people will start to take notice. Hell, if Newgarden has to do "The Harlem Shake" at driver introductions at each race, I am all for it.

Anyway. The point being IndyCar has lost it's momentum. But we (yes we) fans, drivers, team owners, bloggers, journalists, front office executives, etc. have to give the ball of momentum a good quick swift kick in the ass. There are 37 days until St. Petersburg. 37 days to build momentum.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

And Then There Were Two

Sebastián Saavedra will be promoted back to the Izod IndyCar Series after a season in Indy Lights. The Colombian driver won one race last year in Lights, finished fourth in the standings and competed in the Indianapolis 500, Sonoma and Fontana for Andretti Autosport will return full-time with Dragon Racing and team with Sébastien Bourdais.

With Saavedra signed, that makes 13 Chevrolet teams announced (4 Andretti, 2 Penske, 2 KV, 2 Panther/D&RR, 2 Dragon and 1 Carpenter), 10 Honda teams (3 Ganassi, 2 Schmidt, 2 RLLR, 1 Fisher-Hartman, 1 Herta and 1 Foyt) and leaves the 2 Hondas of Dale Coyne Racing as the only unannounced seats. Tentatively, IndyCar is looking as a 25 car grid, on par with what was seen most of 2012.

The car will be sponsored by TRUECAR, which was brought to the team by Katherine Legge last year. Legge was thought to be returning in 2013 and now appears she will not be on the grid come St. Petersburg March 24.

As for the two Coyne Hondas, Justin Wilson is believed to be returning to the team and the future of the second seat is unknown. Ryan Briscoe is still on the outside, while James Jakes, who ran the second Coyne car in 2011 and 2012, is now at Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Champions Crowned, An Idea for Iowa and The Never Ending Offseason

Champions Crowned
It may only be February, but that does not mean it is not too early to be handing out championship trophies.

Neil Alberico won the 2013 U.S. Winterfest championship on Sunday at Palm Beach International Raceway. Alberico swept the three races at Sebring midweek and won the final two races on Sunday at Palm Beach. He defeated Canadian Scott Hargrove by 29 points, who won the first race at Palm Beach on Saturday. Brit James Fletcher finished third in the standings. Three Canadians, Garett Grist, Stefan Rzadzinski and Jesse Lazare, took fourth, fifth and sixth respectively with American Jason Wolfe finishing seventh. Matthew Di Leo of Canada finished eighth and American Peter Portante took ninth.

Meanwhile in India, Conor Daly took the 2012-13 MRF Challenge championship in style. He entered the final race 14 points behind Jordan King of the United Kingdom. After King won race one, all he had to do was finish four positions ahead of Daly. Daly finished sixth in race one and started on pole for race two.

King spun in the first corner in race two and Daly went on the win the final race of the year and take the championship by five points over King.

An Idea for Iowa
A few nights ago I was on Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee discussing expanding IndyCar's online coverage to include practice and qualifying and most notable the Iowa heat races. After a few days thinking about it, a clear conclusion came to mind:

Make the heat races full championship races and put it on the schedule which would now be 20 races. Why? Because then it would have to be on television. Instead of giving out a certain number of points for the heat races only, give each finisher the amount they would get in an actual race.

For example: keep the three, 50 lap heat race format, keep the transfers and keep it as the way to set the field for the feature on Sunday. However, instead of giving those who don't qualify for the final no points, give them what they would have receive with the normal race points system. If race 1 sets the even-numbered positions then pay second in heat 1 tenth place points (20) and so on and do the same with race 2. Then have the final heat fight for normal championship points from first place through eighth. What this does is put an emphasize on getting out of the heat. Instead of receiving one point more than those who don't qualify, a driver could transfer to the final, score 50 points for the win and have a thirty point swing.

Counting heat races as full point events is nothing new. From 1973-1975, the qualification races for the California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway paid normal championship points. If it was done then, it could be done now.

The Never Ending Offseason
It's days in the mid-60's like the one today in Pittsburgh where I am wearing short sleeves around that make me long for the season to start earlier. This past weekend, my cousin and I went out for lunch and wondered, now that football season is over, what is there to watch in the afternoon? Starting the week after the Super Bowl is what IndyCar should shoot for. I don't care if it's Phoenix or Austin or New Orleans or Homestead or anywhere else where an oval in a warm climate is located.

Testing may be around the corner, but it is just not the same. There are still rides left open, too many stories to do not with the product but executive decisions and to be honest, boredom. Maybe this time next year the season opener will only be days away.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Leader Circle and Start-And-Park

When it comes to racing, money, at times, is more essential than talent, winning and heart.

IndyCar and NASCAR, despite the difference in fan base size, field of drivers, schedule and technology just to name a few things, if there is one thing the two sanctioning bodies share is money distribution. Recently, both series announced changes to how and how much teams will receive.

IndyCar will continue their Leader Circle program which will give 22 teams, $1 million for the full season, which can be viewed as the financial base for these teams to start their 2013 budgeting. NASCAR announced changes to race purses at the back of the field, where from 39th to last place (43rd) each position will be receiving $4,000 less than the position ahead of them. This is planned to discourage start-and-park teams, which have become more relevant since the economic downturn began last decade.

To be honest, I disagree with both decisions.

Let's start with IndyCar. The Leader Circle program has worked out well, giving each entry a base amount of money that they know they can count on and the teams know how much more they will need to complete their budget for a full season. However it does have some flaws. In my opinion, to encourage teams to "go for it" if you will, their should be some difference from the top and the bottom. The champion receives the same amount as 20th in the entrant points. Why? My opinion is the top should reward more than the bottom.

Currently, Ryan Briscoe, a winner last season is on the outside looking in. Leader Circle should have a bonus program for teams that hire past winners and past champions. Depending on how large the bonuses are, this could discourage teams from hiring a ride-buyer, whether it be domestic or from abroad.

With $1 million being given to 22 teams and roughly $4 million dollars being available to the non-Leader Circle teams, a rough, educated estimate of the total amount in the Leader Circle pot is $26 million. My proposal is $1.25 million be given to the top ten in entrant points (total: $12.5 million). Give 11th-15th each $750,000 (total: $3.75 million) and 16th-20th receive $500,000 (total: $2.5 million). So off my rough estimations, $7.25 million remains of that original $26 million.

Bonuses should be given out for the hiring the following type of drivers, winners from the year before and past champions. Last year, eight drivers won a race, seven have rides for 2013. Give $500,000 for each winner in 2012 (total: $3.5 million). Five past champions have been announced for 2013 (Hunter-Reay, Franchitti, Dixon, Bourdais and Kanaan). Give the five drivers $500,000 each (total: $2.5 million). That leaves $1.25 million, which can be split amongst the 19 races and added to the lack of race purses.

While this looks like padding the pockets of the larger teams, it could be helpful for keeping winners in the sport. Briscoe would receive a $500,000 bonus for winning in 2012.

But the ride-buyer situation would not simply go away. For those five teams only getting $500,000, hiring a race winner or past champion is easier said than done. If anything it could encourage the back of the grid to hire a ride buyer. Reforming the Leader Circle program is not a quick fix. Easiest thing to do would be to get rid of the program and bringing back serious race purses to the all event. However, that just not seem to be in the cards.

When it comes to NASCAR trying to discourage start-and-park teams, it presents a unique situation. For starters, what are start-and-park teams doing wrong? The start-and-park teams are not keeping Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski out of the race, hell if it were not for the start-and-park teams most of the NASCAR races would not feature full fields. When it comes to competing, we can debate whether or not these team actually compete in the races they start. Taking away money from these teams is not going to solve problem and shrinking the maximum starting field would just make it worse. All this change does is give them a reason to compete for 38th. 38TH PEOPLE! If there is one thing NASCAR could do is instead of taking money away, encourage these teams to compete in a different way. While most of these teams bring very few crew members to the track, encourage these teams to use who they have to do pit stops. It may take them 30 to 45 seconds but no fan or big wig NASCAR executive would criticize a team for trying as best as they can.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Viso to Andretti/HVM Partnership

Money may not be able to buy you love, but it sure can get you an IndyCar ride.

EJ Viso has been confirmed to the fourth Andretti seat, which will be a partnership with HVM Racing and use their Leader Circle position. The team will be entered as PDVSA Team Venezuela/Andretti Autosport. Viso entered IndyCar with HVM and Michael Cannon as his engineer when reunification occurred in 2008. He scored a fourth place finish in his second race at St. Petersburg and scored six top tens in his rookie season.

However, Viso has been more known for his tendency to wreck cars, despite a fast pace and changing numbers every season. He scored a podium at Iowa in 2010 but successful results have been few and far between for Viso. He has scored top tens in each of his five seasons in IndyCar but for his 17 career top tens, he has 26 finishes of 20th or worse in his 82 career starts and has never scored higher than 17th in the final championship standings.

Viso will be occupying one of the 22 Leader Circle positions, bringing the tentative full-time grid to 23. He is the 13th Chevrolet driver announced and his partnership with HVM ends any possibility of Katherine Legge being loaned to the team from Dragon Racing.

Leader Circle, Allmendinger and Winterfest

NOTE: Tonight I am scheduled to appear on Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee. Show airs from 8pm-10pm EST on 1070 the Fan. Live streaming can be found here.

Leader Circle Spots Handed Out
Yesterday, 22 Leader Circle spots were handed out, an increase from 20 in 2012. 19 team finished in the top 22 in entrant points, while Sarah Fisher-Hartman, HVM and Dragon Racing were each award a spot for being the next three in 2012 entrant points. With HVM being awarded a spot, it all but confirms the team will be back in 2013, after the Lotus debacle put the teams continuation in IndyCar in question.

Of these 22 spots, three have drivers yet to be named. HVM and two Dale Coyne entries, although Justin Wilson is believed to be returning to the team. Rumors have been out there that Katherine Legge may be loaned to HVM from Dragon for 2013.

The second Schmidt-Peterson entry and second Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan entry are the only announced team outside the Leader Circle so far. A fourth Andretti and a second Dragon are expected to join Vautier and Jakes as non-Leader Circle teams. Other potential non-Leader Circle teams for 2013 are a fourth Ganassi entry and Michael Shank Racing.

Allmendinger to test an IndyCar for Penske
It has been a little over 6 years since AJ Allmendinger last raced an open-wheel car for Forsythe Racing at the penultimate round of the 2006 Champ Car season at Surfers Paradise. Now, the past race winner is looking to start act two. Allmendinger has a test scheduled with Penske Racing at Sebring. Currently, Allmendinger is scheduled to run the four races in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Allemdinger only has a test scheduled but if a sponsor can be found, would make his return at Barber April 7, while running Long Beach and Indianapolis later in the year.

Interesting enough, the Barber race is scheduled the same day as Martinsville, one of the four on Allmendinger's NASCAR schedule. Allmendinger was suspended for a failed drug test before the July race at Daytona, was released by Penske but returned for the October race at Charlotte.

2013 U.S. F2000 Winterfest
The first championship of the 2013 Mazda Road to Indy ladder system is under way.The past two days, three races for the U.S. F2000 Winterfest took place at Sebring. American Neil Alberico swept the three races and leads Canadian Scott Hargorve by 21 points. Third, fourth and fifth in the points are Canadians Garett Grist, driving for Andretti Autosport, Jesse Lazare and Stefan Rzadzinski. Brit James Fletcher is sixth with Jake Eidson being the next highest American, however Eidson will not be competing in the final three races at Palm Beach International Raceway this Saturday and Sunday.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

James Jakes to Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan; Few Seats Remain

The popular belief was Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing would expand their operation to two cars in 2013 and they will be. However their new second driver was not pegged as their first choice. James Jakes will enter his third season in the Izod IndyCar Series with RLLR in the #30 Acorn Stairlifts Honda.

After a below-average rookie season where his best finish was thirteenth and he failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, Jakes scored two top tens in 2012, an eighth at Toronto and a tenth at Texas. Jakes leaves Dale Coyne Racing for RLLR who will field two cars for the first time since 2007, when the team fielded Scott Sharp and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who took over for Jeff Simmons after he was released mid-season.

Jakes joins Graham Rahal who will also be in his first season with his father's team. Mike Conway was announced to be running a one-off at Long Beach. Nothing has been announced about a possible Indianapolis 500 only entry this season. The team has not won a race since Watkins Glen in 2008 and the team ran Indianapolis only from 2009 to 2011.

Jakes becomes the tenth announced Honda entry making the tentative full-time line up at Ganassi (3), Schmidt-Petersen (2), RLLR (2), Foyt (1), Herta (1) and Sarah Fisher-Hartman (1). Chevrolet has tentatively twelve full-time entries announced, Andretti (3), Penske (2), KV (2), Dragon (2), Panther/D&R (2) and Ed Carpenter Racing (1). Other rumored additional entries are a fourth Andretti, fourth Ganassi, third Penske, third Dragon, second Foyt, second Coyne and Michael Shank Racing.

With Jakes being signed, Ryan Briscoe and EJ Viso are the only two full-time drivers from 2012 to have yet announced their plans for 2013. Rubens Barrichello has announced he will be racing in Stock Car Brasil and Mike Conway is still working on a full road and street course program.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Andretti Looks At Expansion

After contracting to three cars and winning the Izod IndyCar Series championship, Andretti Autosport is looking to expand their operations.

According to Marshall Pruett of SPEED, the team has hired Craig Hampson as engineer to James Hinchcliffe, a combination that led Hinchcliffe to his Rookie of the Year in 2011 at Newman-Haas Racing and Michael Cannon to engineer a fourth car with a driver still to be announced. Cannon worked for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2012 and previously worked at Forsythe and HVM.

While the driver has not been named, a clue dropped in Pruett's article can be found in the line:
"A formal announcement on Andretti's expansion to four cars is expected next week, and when that driver straps into his chassis..."
The key word is obviously "his," meaning it will be a male driver, negating any chance Ana Beatriz or any other female driver get the ride.

A few male drivers on the outside looking in are Ryan Briscoe, James Jakes, EJ Viso and Sebastián Saavedra. It could be possible Andretti Autosport sign a driver away from their current team to fill in the open seat. Jakes, Viso and Saavedra all have money following them where ever they go, while Ryan Briscoe is a proven race winner and won pole position for last year's Indianapolis 500. Other drivers rumored to being looking to make the move to IndyCar are Gustavo Yacamán and Esteban Guerrieri from Indy Lights and Narain Karthikeyan from Formula One.