Saturday, March 30, 2013

Age and Racing

Racing has seen an influx of youth in the past decade. It is not uncommon for a driver to end up racing in the Daytona 500 or Indianapolis 500 just a year or two after graduating high school. NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula One have each seen younger and younger winners. Graham Rahal won in IndyCar at 19 years and 93 days. Joey Logano won his first NASCAR race at 19 years and 35 days. Sebastian Vettel has set virtually every F1 records in the youngest category. Youngest to compete in a practice, youngest to set a fastest time in a practice, youngest to score a point, youngest to lead a lap, youngest pole winner, youngest to podium, youngest to win, youngest champion, youngest championship runner up and the list goes on and on.

However, only a few drivers have been able to win championships at a young age, with most not winning their first championship until their late 20s, early 30s.

In 64 seasons of NASCAR Cup racing, only on 6 occasions has the champion been younger than 28 years old (Bill Rexford, 1960, 23; Richard Petty, 1964, 27; Jeff Gordon, 1995, 24; Jeff Gordon, 1997, 26; Jeff Gordon, 1998, 27; Kurt Busch, 2004, 26). The average age of a NASCAR Cup champion is 34.53 years. However, NASCAR champions on average are getting younger. In the first quarter of NASCAR's history (1949-1964) the average age of the champion was 34.125 years. The average age of the champion actual went up in quarter 2 (1965-1980) to 35.1875 years and up again in quarter 3 (1981-1996) to 36.5 years. From 1997-2012 however, the average age of the champion dropped to 32.3125 years of age.

Since 1949, thanks to two splits, there have been 78 seasons of major American open-wheel racing (AAA 1949-1955, USAC 1956-1979, CART 1979-2003, CCWS 2004-2007, IRL 1996-2007, IndyCar 2008-present). The average age of the champion over those 78 seasons is 31 years. On 16 occasions has the champion been under 28 years old, however 11 of those championship occurred during the split from 1996-2007 (AJ Foyt, 1960, 25; AJ Foyt, 1961, 26; Mario Andretti, 1965, 25; Mario Andretti, 1966, 26; Jacques Villenueve, 1995, 24; Buzz Calkins, 1996, 25; Tony Stewart, 1997, 26; Juan Montoya, 1999, 24; Sam Hornish Jr., 2001, 22; Sam Hornish Jr., 2002, 23; Scott Dixon, 2003, 23; Sébastien Bourdais, 2004, 25; Sébastien Bourdais, 2005, 26; Dan Wheldon, 2005, 27; Sébastien Bourdais, 2006, 27; Sam Hornish Jr., 2006, 27).

Despite the last seven champions being under the age of 30, the average age of a Formula One champion is 32.01 years. However, the average age of the last 15 champions has been 28.466 years. On 12 occasions has the champion been younger than 28 years old (Jim Clark, 1963, 27; Emerson Fittipaldi, 1972, 26; Niki Lauda, 1975, 26; Michael Schumacher, 1994, 25; Michael Schumacher, 1995, 26; Jacques Villeneuve, 1997, 26; Fernando Alonso, 2005, 24; Fernando Alonso, 2006, 25; Kimi Räikkönen, 2007, 28; Lewis Hamilton, 2008, 23; Sebastian Vettel, 2010, 23; Sebastian Vettel, 2011, 24; Sebastian Vettel, 25, 2012).

What's the point of all that I have listed?

Especially now, there are a lot of drivers in racing who enter at a young age and by the time they are 25 are expected to be a dominant driver. In IndyCar we have seen it with Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal. Andretti is 26 and is entering his 8th season, while Rahal is 24 and entering his 7th season. These two drivers combine for only three career wins and both have only finished as high as 7th in the championship standings. However even some of the all-time great drivers did not win their first championship until their 30s. Bobby Unser was 34 when he won his first title, Al Unser was 31. Johnny Rutherford was 42. Bobby Rahal was 33. Michael Andretti was 29. Dario Franchitti didn't win a title until he was 34.

NASCAR is no different. Kyle Busch will be turning 28 this May and while winning 25 races in 8 seasons to date, he has yet to come close to a Cup title with a 5th place finish in the standings in 2007 being his best so far. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 38 and it finally looks like this is going to be his year. Jimmie Johnson didn't win a title until he was 31 and he now has the third most championships.

The point is no matter how young a driver may enter professional racing, dominance does not come with age. Even guys who won at a young age struggle at some point in their career. Scott Dixon struggled in the three seasons after his first title in 2003, though mostly due to an under performing engine supplier and chassis manufacture. Dale Earnhardt went five years before winning his second title. Look at what Ryan Hunter-Reay went through before winning his championship. Even look at Brad Keselowski. While Kyle Busch was winning for Hendrick Motorsports in the first year of the Car of Tomorrow, Brad Keselowski was running the then-Busch Series for Keith Coleman and his best finish in 13 starts was 24th. Who would have though Keselowski would be a Cup champion before Busch at that point in time?

So, if you are wondering when the plug will be pulled on Marco and Graham, just give them a little more time and we will see what happens.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Little Things

The 2013 Izod IndyCar Series season has started out as exciting and as unpredictable as any other season in IndyCar history and there is still so much to look forward to. Turbo, the Triple Crown, of course Indianapolis. I am sure the series will do their best to keep the attention on the racing and not the front office politics. However, I have a few little requests for IndyCar. They are not add an oval in September or bring in a third engine manufacture for 2014. Rather what seem to me as small promotional or public relations initiatives in my mind.

I am going to start with the Triple Crown.

Promote The Triple Crown As The Triple Crown
I like Mark Miles' background. He comes from the ATP which has been full of noticeable tennis players for well over 40 years. The one thing that worked with the ATP is that most people know the four Grand Slam tournaments. The Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open have been fixtures for years.

IndyCar should be promoting the Triple Crown as a whole. Everybody knows Indianapolis, but how many know about Pocono and Fontana? How many non-diehard IndyCar fans could name a leg of the Triple Crown that's not Indianapolis? IndyCar should promote the Triple Crown as one entity. Each race should be promoted as a Triple Crown event. During the whole month of May at Indianapolis, it should be promoted as the first leg of the Triple Crown, the same way the Kentucky Derby is promoted for horse racing. And at Indianapolis, IndyCar should be plugging the other two legs at Pocono and Fontana every chance they get. Not to forget mentioning the first two legs are on ABC, ABC should take it upon themselves to promote the first two legs because there is something to race for at Pocono for the Indianapolis 500 winner. Not only to have a shot of the Triple Crown going into Fontana but $250,000. It isn't the full million but it's much better than the usual $35,000 bonus a race winner gets.

Unity The Triple Crown History
Using the tennis example again, what works for the tennis Grand Slam is each event has a long history. For the three events of the IndyCar Triple Crown, one would think only Indianapolis has history. Pocono hasn't hosted a race in 24 years and Fontana didn't start hosting races until 1997, with a gap from 2005-2012 of hosting no race whatsoever. All that is true but if IndyCar can bring the record book all under one banner and recognize AJ Foyt with the most career IndyCar wins at 67, most championships at 7 and Mario Andretti with the record for most career poles at 65, why can't we bring the record book together for the Triple Crown? Fontana has only been hosting races since 1997 but why not combined the history of Fontana with that of the original California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway? Back to a tennis example, the U.S. Open hasn't alway been in Flushing Meadows, New York. It was first held in Newport, Rhode Island and has also been held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Forest Hills, New York. It would nice to see IndyCar have the same approach with the Triple Crown. It would not hurt to show the fans that while racing at a new track, historically a Triple Crown race has been hosted in Southern California.

Promote Winners
James Hinchcliffe should be getting every radio interview or TV spot available before the next IndyCar event at Barber Motorsports Park. Why? He just won and the same thing should happen for whoever wins Barber and Long Beach and São Paulo and so on. Average people love to follow winners and letting them know who is winning gives them a name to follow when they turn on a race. I know Dario Franchitti is a popular name, I know Helio Castroneves is a popular name, I know Graham Rahal not only has the name but the co-car owner to get him on TV whenever he wants. However, if these guys are not winning why do they deserve the time over a guy who wins and contends for the title?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Testing and Daly at Indy

IndyCar has the weekend off for the Easter holiday before heading to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. However, some teams, especially the rookies have a busy day today at Texas Motor Speedway.

Testing At Texas
8 drivers will be testing today at Texas Motor Speedway, 3 of which hope to complete their oval rookie orientation programs for the 2013 Izod IndyCar Series Season. Tristan Vautier, Carlos Muñoz and AJ Allmendinger will hit the high-banked mile and a half oval for the first time in an IndyCar today. They are joined by Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal, James Jakes, Takuma Sato and Ed Carpenter. Vautier and Muñoz both raced on ovals last year in Indy Lights, with both winning on an oval. Vautier took the win at Milwaukee with Muñoz taking the season finale in Fontana. Allmendinger's last open-wheel race on an oval was Milwaukee in 2006, where he finished 4th in his final race for RuSport in ChampCar before heading to Forsythe. In his five oval starts in ChampCar, Allmendinger average finish was 6th, with a top five in each of his three starts at Milwaukee. Allmendinger has raced at Texas Motor Speedway 10 times, all in the NASCAR Cup Series. His best finish is 10th on two occasions at the track. 

Conor Daly and Foyt at Indianapolis?
According to Robin Miller, AJ Foyt is believed to be on the verge of hiring the American Conor Daly for the Indianapolis 500. Daly tested for the Texas team at Sebring in December. Daly won the 2010 Star Mazda Championship and ran a hand full of races in the 2011 Indy Lights season where he won at Long Beach, had 2 podiums and won a pole at Baltimore. Since 2011, Daly has primarily spent his time in Europe and the GP3 Series, where last year he won a race, had five podiums and finished 6th in the points. Last weekend, Daly made his GP2 Series debut at Sepang, where he finished 7th in race two of the weekend, scoring two points, becoming the first American driver to score points in a GP2 race since Scott Speed at Spa in 2005. Daly's points also came in the debut weekend for Hilmer Motorsport. Daly also won the MRF Challenge in India over the winter. 

Daly could be looking at a potential full-time season in either GP2 or GP3, both of which would interfere with an attempt at Indianapolis. Should he choose GP3, he would miss the opening day at the Speedway due to the season opening round at Barcelona. However that appears to be the only potential conflict with the next round not scheduled for mid-June. Should he choose GP2, not only would the Barcelona round and opening day conflict, but the Monaco weekend coincides with the Indianapolis 500 itself. 

Stay tuned.

Other News
Denny Hamlin is scheduled to be out for the next six weeks after his accident on the final lap of the Cup race at Fontana. He suffered a L1 vertebra compression fracture after colliding with the inside wall in turn four. Hamlin was battling Joey Logano for the lead when the accident happened.

Canadians are having a good couple of days. Hinchcliffe wins at St. Pete and Robert Wickens was the fastest at the DTM test at Barcelona for Mercedes.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

St. Pete 2013: First Impressions

1. Hell of a race.

2. I think I called Hinchcliffe. No. I DID CALL HINCHCLIFFE!

3. Heart goes out to de Silvestro. She had a hell of run and she just lost the tires late. A 6th place is still a great finish though.

4. Great run by Dixon from the back.

5. How about Marco? First road/street course podium since Motegi 2011.

6. The engine manufactures are having a terrible sophomore season.

7. NBC Sports started the season strong today with their coverage.

8. Hard to believe Dario Franchitti over drove the car on cold tires.

9. Even harder to believe Viso and Sato did not wreck anybody when making dive bomb passes in the closing laps.

10. Tough starts of the year for Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.

11. Tough break for Josef Newgarden. Was 13th, definitely could have challenged for a top ten in the second half of the race. But his clutch let him down.

12. Full course yellows are still a little too long. IndyCar should invest in some cranes for street courses and work to become more efficient when sweeping the track.

13. JR Hildebrand needs to forget about this race. Today was a disaster for him.

14. I can't wait until Barber. This 2013 season will be intense.

Morning Warm-Up: St. Petersburg 2013

Will Power scored his 29th career pole position (30th if you count his pole in the non-championship round of Surfers Paradise 2008) on Saturday as he will lead the field to the green flag for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Takuma Sato was the surprise of the day when he got his Foyt Honda all the way to the Firestone Fast Six and on to the front row for today's race. The best story of the weekend so far has been Simona de Silvestro who will start in third position in her first race with Chevrolet and first race with KV Racing Technology. James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves start fourth and fifth respectively with rookie Tristan Vautier starting sixth on his debut.

Defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay will start eighth after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying with another surprise of qualifying, Sebastián Saavedra starting a career high ninth, ahead of Dario Franchitti, who starts tenth.

The first race weekend of the 2013 season has seen many notable names unusually at the bottom of the time sheets. Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon will make up row ten after both drivers failed to make it out of the first round of qualifying. Sébastien Bourdais finds himself down in 21st position after finishing second to last in group 1, round 1 of qualifying.

With five different teams represented in the top six and four of those drivers looking for their first career win, below is a list of amount of races since the last win for each of the 15 Izod IndyCar Series teams taking part at St. Pete this weekend:

Ed Carpener Racing: 0 (Fontana 2012).
Andretti Autosport: 1 (Baltimore 2012).
Penske Racing: 2 (Sonoma 2012).
Ganassi Racing: 3 (Mid-Ohio 2012).
Dale Coyne Racing: 8 (Texas 2012).
Sarah Fisher Racing: 15 (Kentucky 2011).
Bryan Herta Autosport: 27 (Indianapolis 2011).
Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing: 73 (Watkins Glen 2008).
KV Racing Technology: 80 (Long Beach 2008).
HVM Racing*: 88** (San José 2007).
Panther Racing: 125*** (Texas 2005).
AJ Foyt Racing: 169**** (Kansas 2002).
Dreyer & Reinbold: 199***** (Orlando 2000).

Teams yet to win a race: Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Racing and Dragon Racing.

*-EJ Viso's entry for St. Petersburg is technically an HVM car, run in partnership with Andretti Autosport.
**-Last win was when the team was known as Minardi Team USA. ChampCar 2007, IndyCar 2008-present.
***-IRL 2005-2007, IndyCar 2008-present.
****- IRL 2002-2007, IndyCar 2008-present.
*****-IRL 2000-2007, IndyCar 2008-present.

Forecast for today's race is calling for mostly sunny conditions with the temperature at 73 degrees Fahrenheit. However chances of isolated thunderstorms are at 30% during the time of the race. NBC Sports Network begins their coverage with yesterday's Indy Lights race at 11 AM, IndyCar pre-race at noon and green flag around 12:40 PM.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Road To Indy at St. Pete

All three lower levels of the Mazda Road to Indy joined the Izod IndyCar Series this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg with already three races in the books.

U.S. F2000
After getting a 1st and a 2nd at the opening weekend in Sebring, Canadian Scott Hargrove took his second win of the season Saturday. Hargrove led all 21 laps from pole position in route to the victory over Wyatt Gooden and Stefan Rzadzinski. Jesse Lazare of Canada finished fourth for a second straight race while Florian Latorre of France finished fifth.

The 2013 U.S. F2000 Winterfest champion Neil Alberico had another race end early when he was taken out in a first lap accident. Alberico was taken out on lap 1 in race one at Sebring, but rebounded in race two to get the win.

Hargrove and Alberico will be on the first row for race two, Sunday morning at 9:30 AM. Hargrove leads the points standings with 90 points through three races, 36 clear of Gooden and 39 clear of Rzadinzki. Alberico is currently 10th, with only 34 points.

Pro Mazda
Florida-born Matthew Brabham picked up an impressive victory Saturday in Pro Mazda, coming from 8th on the grid to lead the final 10 laps of the 21 lap race. Diego Ferreira of Venezuela finished second, with Shelby Blackstock getting the final spot on the podium after starting from pole. Spencer Pigot finished fourth and Nick Andries rounded out the top five.

After splitting the two races at Austin and race 1 at St. Pete, Brabham leads Ferreira by three points heading into race 2, Sunday at 3:00pm. Shelby Blackstock will be on pole again for race two, Ferreira will join him on row one. Finnish driver and 2011 U.S. F2000 champion Petri Suvanto and American Kyle Kaiser will be row two, with Brabham and Pigot making up row three.

Indy Lights
For the fourth straight year, a Sam Schmidt driver won the season opener of the Indy Lights season. Defending Pro Mazda champion Jack Hawksworth of the UK, won after the Colombians Carlos Muñoz and Gabby Chaves got together in turn one while running 1-2. Hawksworth held off Irishman Peter Dempsey and American Sage Karam for the win. Mexican Juan Pablo Garcia finished fourth and American Zach Veach finished fifth.

Hawksworth looks to continue the streak started by JK Vernay, Josef Newgarden and Tristan Vautier of winning the Indy Lights championship after winning the season opener. Hawksworth leads Dempsey by 12 points, Karam by 17 and Garcia by 20.

The Indy Lights series will join the IndyCar series at Barber Motorsports Park in two weeks, while U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda have off until May 25, when the two series join USAC at The Night Before The 500 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Power Wins Pole; Sato Starts 2nd.

In a qualifying session that saw Dixon and Pagenaud fail to make it to the Fast 12, Sebastián Saavedra make the Fast 12 but not his teammate Sébastien Bourdais and Hunter-Reay and Franchitti fail to make the Fast 6, somethings went as usual. Will Power won his fourth consecutive pole at St. Petersburg with a time of 1:01.2070.

Takuma Sato kept the pressure on Power and qualified 2nd, 0.3706 seconds back. Simona de Silvestro qualified 3rd, a career best for the Swiss driver. James Hinchcliffe was the top Andretti Autosport driver in 4th, defending St. Pete race winner Helio Castroneves was 5th and rookie Tristan Vautier was 6th.

Americans Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay just missed the Fast 6 and will make up row four. Sebastián Saavedra will start a career best 9th and Dario Franchitti will join him on row five, with Tony Kanaan and Oriol Serviá rounding out the top 12.

Notables not to make it out of round one of qualifying were Justin Wilson, Scott Dixon, Sébastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden.

Chevrolet swept Round 1 Group 1 of qualifying, while they split the 6 transfer spots from group 2 evenly with Honda. With the shutout in group 1, Hondas will take up positions 13th-20th on the grid.

Forecast for tomorrow calls for a temperature of 73 degrees Fahrenheit with winds blowing at 17mph and chance of precipitation at 20% when the green flag flies. Twice has the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg been won from pole position (2007 and 2010). The worse a winner has started from at St. Pete is 9th (2005 and 2008). The morning warm-up is scheduled for 8:45 AM with the green flag scheduled for 12:40 PM tomorrow.

Sato Gets Honda to The Top of The Charts

Takuma Sato stole the show in third practice, with the fastest time of the session at 1:01.5293. Despite his pace, Honda only had three cars in the top ten. Chevrolet controlled most of the session and Will Power was second, 0.2093 seconds back of Sato. James Hinchcliffe was the fastest from Andretti Autosport in 3rd, followed by Tony Kanaan, Sebastián Saavedra, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The Hondas of Dario Franchitti and Josef Newgarden were 8th and 9th respectively, with Simona de Silvestro rounding out the top ten. Graham Rahal was 11th, ahead of Bourdais, Dixon, Jakes and Vautier.

Other notables in the session were Helio Castroneves in 16th, Justin Wilson in 19th, Simon Pagenaud in 20th and Alex Tagliani in 21st.

The first accident of the IndyCar season occurred when EJ Viso had a accident down the bay front straightaway. He was able to get out of the car on his own power. The cause of the accident is believed to be a suspension failure. His fastest time of the session was 1:03.0992, good for 23rd in the session.

Should the times carry over to qualifying, the results of the first round qualifying groups will go as followed:

Group 1: Advancing to Fast 12: Hinchcliffe, Saavedra, Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Rahal, Bourdais. Not Advancing: Castroneves, Serviá, Wilson, Pagenaud, Tagliani, Carpenter.
Group 2: Advancing to Fast 12: Sato, Power, Kanaan, Franchitti, Newgarden, de Silvestro. Not Advancing: Dixon, Jakes, Vautier, Hildebrand, Kimball, Viso, Beatriz.

Qualifying takes place at 2:05pm, with coverage starting at 2:30pm on NBC Sports Network.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Power Fastest In Second Practice

Will Power was fastest in second practice at St. Pete with a time of 1:01.4467. Fastest in first practice Ryan Hunter-Reay was second, only 0.1785 off Power. Simona de Silvestro was an impressive third in the session, 0.2428 back, with Serviá rounding out a Chevrolet 1-2-3-4.

Takuma Sato and Foyt Racing was the fastest Honda in fifth ahead of the Penske of Helio Castroneves and the KV entry of Tony Kanaan. James Hinchcliffe, Tristan Vautier and Marco Andretti rounded out the top ten. Just like in practice one, only two Hondas cracked the top ten.

James Jakes was in 11th and Simon Pagenaud improved to 12 in second practice. The fastest Ganassi entry was Charlie Kimball in 13th, ahead of his former teammate Graham Rahal in 14th. EJ Viso dropped 11 spots in second practice from 4th to 15th.

Other notable results from the session are Dario Franchitti in 17th, Sébastien Bourdais in 18th, Scott Dixon in 19th, Josef Newgarden in 21st and JR Hildebrand in 23rd. Reports during the second practice were Newgarden may have a gearbox issue.

Through two practice sessions there have been no accidents on track and no major mechanical issues. There will be one practice session Saturday morning at 10:25 AM with qualifying taking place at 2:05 PM.

One Practice In The Bag

The first practice session of the 2013 Izod IndyCar season is in the bag. And Ryan Hunter-Reay has picked up where he left off in 2012. Car #1 was #1 on the time sheets with a time of 1:02.4534. His teammate James Hinchcliffe was only 0.0010 seconds off that time with Will Power also under a tenth of a second back. Viso was fourth in his first session with Andretti Autosport and Tony Kanaan was fifth.

Dario Franchitti was the fastest Honda in sixth (1:02.6823). Simona de Silvestro was seventh ahead of Josef Newgarden, the only other Honda to crack the top ten. Sébastien Bourdais and Marco Andretti rounded out the top ten.

The next Honda after Newgarden was James Jakes in 12th, followed by Tristan Vautier, Scorr Dixon and Charlie Kimball.

The bottom of the time sheet had names usually found at the top starting with Justin Wilson in 19th, Simon Pagenaud in 20th, Alex Tagliani in 22nd and Graham Rahal in 23rd. However, it is only first practice and there is still one more session today and one tomorrow morning before qualifying at 2pm tomorrow.

The top 22 cars were within a second of Hunter-Reay's 1:02.4534. Ed Carpenter and Ana Beatriz were the bottom two.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Track Walk: St. Petersburg 2013

And we are back! Finally, St. Pete is here and Ryan Hunter-Reay will have his first chance to defend his Izod IndyCar championship. The returning cast of characters is deep. Power, Franchitti, Castroneves, Dixon, Bourdais, Kanaan, Rahal, Andretti, Pagenaud, Serviá, Wilson, Hildebrand, Newgarden de Silvestro, Carpenter, Hinchcliffe, Viso, Sato, Kimball, Tagliani and Jakes all return from 2012, with Ana Beatriz and Sébastian Saavedra returning after running limited schedules. Tristan Vautier has been promoted to the show after winning the Lights title. And one AJ Allmendinger returns, but that story is for Barber. Let's do St. Pete first!

Where To Begin?
Well, Chevrolet won 11 of 15 races last year, as they look to repeat as manufacture's championship in 2013. The driver roster has two changes, with Ryan Briscoe and Rubens Barrichello out and de Silvestro and Saavedra in. Honda adds one to their stable of drivers with Vautier becoming the second driver at Schmidt Peterson Racing.

The 2013 field is composed of five past champions, 13 past race winners, of which 3 have won the Indianapolis 500.

The Race Itself
St. Pete will be 10 laps longer in 2013, up to 110 laps. This change was made in hopes of reducing a chance of a fuel strategy race. Penske has won five races at the track, the only team with multiple wins on the bay front street circuit. Will Power has won the last three pole positions at the track, yet has only won the race once, in 2010. The weather forecast for the weekend calls for temperature in the 70s all three days, with the chance of rain increasing throughout the weekend. Race day calls for scattered thunderstorms with a chance of rain at 60%. In 2008, Graham Rahal won a wet race at St. Pete in an upset victory after the merger of IndyCar and ChampCar. 2010 the race was pushed back to a Monday after rain made it impossible to run on Sunday. Let's hope that is not the case this year.

Starting on A Good Note
Though everyone would like to start with a victory, in the 29 combined season in American open-wheel racing since the split in 1996, only on 12 occasions has the winner of the season opener won the championship. We have had a different winner in the season opener each year since the 2007 IndyCar season, with all the winners coming from either Penske or Ganassi. Could that streak continue in 2013? An Andretti car has not won the season opener since Dan Wheldon won Homestead in 2005. Another sign you want to start on a good note: Since reunification, the worse a champion has finished in a season opener is 7th.

Could We Be Looking At A New Track Record?
Times were fast at the Barber test. Really fast. The official track record at Barber is a 1:10.1060 by Will Power in 2010. Helio Castroneves won the pole in the DW12 with a time of 1:10.4768. Power was fastest at the test last week with a time of 1:07.1329. Not bad at all.

The track record at St. Pete was set in 2003 by Sébastien Bourdais, a time of 1:00.928. Could we see a sub 1:00 lap at St. Pete? Nobody would be against that.

With those quicker times, one has to wonder how much have the engines developed since last year? Will we see fewer blow up? Will fewer teams get caught out by the 10 grid spot penalties? Just another thing to keep an eye on in 2013.

Who Is Looking For An Improvement in 2013?
Simona de Silvestro is out of the purgatory that was Lotus and finally has the equipment behind her to get some results and she was in the top half of the field at the Barber test.

James Hinchcliffe and Simon Pagenaud are the two drivers favored to get their first career wins this season.

Marco Andretti had a down season in 2012. One top-five, three top-tens, he did get a pole but he finished 16th in points, by far a career worse after three consecutive seasons finishing 8th in points.

E.J. Viso definitely has the equipment behind him now to get better results but he has to get over his crash prone ways.

Takuma Sato could have realistically won six races in 2012. Foyt Racing might not be Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan but he could still pull a victory out of the bag.

Graham Rahal came close but was not able to pull over a win with Ganassi. Granted he is still only 24 years old, driving for his father's team will give him just as good of a chance to pull off that elusive second career victory.

History says pick a Penske to win at St. Pete or a Ganassi since it is a season opener. However, history also says we will have a different winner than other season openers. The only driver from those two teams yet to win a season opener is Charlie Kimball. Sorry Charlie, I just don't see you winning at St. Pete (Watch, I will be wrong). I do see James Hinchcliffe winning though. Second fastest at the Barber test, with the championship winning team but Hinchcliffe has quietly been overlooked. Power should be up front as well. The best finishing Honda will be Justin Wilson. Sleeper: James Jakes.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What To Look Forward To: IndyCar 2013

With today being the first day of Spring and the first race now being only four days away, it is time to preview what should be an exciting 2013 IndyCar season. From races to drivers, from on the track action to off track decisions, here we go:

1. Indianapolis 500
This was a given. We all look forward to the month of May with eager anticipation for live streams of six hour practice sessions, one-off deals being made, pole day, bump day, carb day, the pit stop competition and of course the race itself. We're intrigued with the possibility of Tony Kanaan finally breaking through, an American becoming a hero and someone joining AJ, Al and Rick at their exclusive table. May is IndyCar's month and it cannot come soon enough.

2. Turbo
This is IndyCar's big opportunity to win over a young a fan base with a animated movie featuring big name stars such as Ryan Reynolds, Snoop Dogg and Samuel L. Jackson. Will this movie all of a sudden get a 100,000 people showing up for every race or improve ratings on NBC Sports Net? Not necessarily. But, if it can pique a child's interest in IndyCar racing, heck even if it's piques the interest of  the parents, then it is a step in the right direction. Cross promotion of Turbo and IndyCar will be interesting to see over the next year.

3. Doubleheaders
All signs point to this being the one and only year for doubleheaders. They sound like a good idea on paper, however, few (if any) drivers and team owners have come out in support of them. With that being said, might as well make them a great show this year. With the first races of Toronto and Houston being standing starts, the future use of standing starts will also be in question. Should this be the only year of doubleheaders, the 2014 calendar will already down three races from 2013.

4. Chevrolet vs. Honda
It is now only a two horse race with Lotus ending it's relationship with IndyCar. Chevrolet was the top dog on the street and road courses, with Honda showing it's muscle on the bigger ovals. Honda had glimpse of success on road courses, as did Chevrolet on ovals, but can each manufacture become more competitive at the respective disciplines? Let's not forget the competition within each manufacture. Penske vs. Andretti, Ganassi vs. Schmidt Peterson Hamilton. The intra-manufacture battles should be just as fun.

5. Pocono and the Triple Crown
It has been 24 years since Pocono hosted an IndyCar race. The track has been upgraded and is much safer than it was three or four years ago. The 400-miler will be interesting as only Dario Franchitti (NASCAR race in 2008) has been to Pocono before. Three different corners to set up for, with reduce downforce should give all these drivers a challenge.

The Triple Crown is back and even at Pocono there will be something to race for. Should a driver win two of three legs, they get $250,000, with $1 million on the line for the sweep. Only once has the Triple Crown happened, Al Unser 1978 and only four other times has a driver won two legs (Rutherford 1974, Foyt 1975, Bobby Unser 1980 and Johncock 1982). This should be exciting.

6. Indy Lights
Nine cars across three teams (Schmidt, Andretti and Team Moore) are entered for the season opening Lights race at St. Pete. With the plans for a new car in 2014 being put on hold, the future of the second highest level in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system is in question. What can be done to bolstered the series? There seems to be no real movement to help the series out and no interest from teams to field a Lights car. Should the series fold, what would happen with the ladder system? Would there just be a missing rung or would Star Mazda become the stepping stone into IndyCar? No one truly knows.

7. AJ Allmendinger
Who isn't interested in seeing how Allmendinger does? Having been out of an open-wheel car since 2006, Allmendinger is only scheduled to run Barber and Indianapolis for Penske Racing. Long spells out of a IndyCar are nothing new. Michel Jourdain Jr. ran the Indianapolis 500 last year, his first open-wheel race in seven and a half years and finished 19th. John Andretti had been out of an IndyCar for 13 years before running in the 2007 Indianapolis 500 where he finished 30th after an accident. Danny Ongais had not run an IndyCar race in almost nine years before he stepped in for the late Scott Brayton at Indianapolis in 1996. He finished 7th that year. Not saying Allmendinger will dominate out of the box but he has the equipment behind him for good results.

8. Politics
Hopefully the politics of IndyCar don't hijack all the attention like it did in 2012. IndyCar needs a full-time CEO, Jeff Belskus is still interim and we will have to see what Mark Miles wants to do. Miles seems excited about moving forward in 2013 and helping improve IndyCar's brand. Let's not forget the Katherine Legge lawsuit against Dragon Racing.

9. Second Coyne Car
Ana Beatriz will be in the car at St. Pete. And that is all we really know. We thought Stefan Wilson, brother of Justin Wilson, was going to be in the car for all road and street course sans Brazil, but it seems things have changed.

According to Marshall Pruett, Beatriz will run St. Pete, Brazil and Indianapolis, with Wilson at Barber and Long Beach. After that, no one knows who will be in the car. Considering this team was given a leader circle spot, it is kind of embarrassing they were given money for that car and have not made it known whether they are committed to a full season or not. The money could have been better off elsewhere.

10. How will Racing be in Year Two?
In 2012, the DW12 provided great racing at almost every race tracks. But, let's be ready in case the racing is down at some places. No one thought Barber would have been as exciting as it was in 2012. What if 2013 proves to be less exciting? Let's not freak out that something is wrong. Hopefully the racing can transfer over from year one and hopefully it will get even better. The times at the Barber test were nearly three seconds ahead of the track record. With that being said the rush of seeing someone breaking a track record at any track should get any average fan interested in seeing these cars.

Four more days. It cannot come any faster.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

2013 IndyCar Pre-Season Fact Sheet

With the 2013 Izod IndyCar Series season approaching, I decided to sit down and answer some of the many questions in my head. Listed below are amount of races since a driver last win, last pole and some other interesting facts about IndyCar and the drivers involved.

Races Since Last Win:
Ed Carpenter- 0 (Fontana 2012)
Ryan Hunter-Reay- 1 (Baltimore 2012)
Ryan Briscoe- 2 (Sonoma 2012)
Scott Dixon- 3 (Mid-Ohio 2012)
Helio Castroneves- 4 (Edmonton 2012)
Justin Wilson- 8 (Texas 2012)
Dario Franchitti- 10 (Indianapolis 2012)
Will Power- 11 (São Paulo 2012)
Marco Andretti- 23 (Iowa 2011)
Mike Conway- 28 (Long Beach 2011)
Tony Kanaan- 40 (Iowa 2010)
Graham Rahal- 80 (St. Pete 2008)
Sébastien Bourdais- 82 (Mexico City 2007)
Oriol Servià*- 113 (Montreal 2005) *-ChampCar races 2005-2007, IndyCar 2008-present
Alex Tagliani*- 129 (Road America 2004) *-ChampCar races 2004-2007, IndyCar 2008-present
Yet To Win:
Tristan Vautier- Scheduled to make debut in 2013.
Josef Newgarden- 14 starts
Sebastián Saavedra- 19 starts
James Hinchcliffe- 31 starts
Charlie Kimball- 31 starts
James Jakes- 31 starts
Simon Pagenaud- 32 starts
J.R. Hildebrand- 34 starts
Simona de Silvestro- 46 starts
Takuma Sato- 49 starts
EJ Viso- 83 starts

Races Since Last Pole:
Marco Andretti- 0 (Fontana 2012)
Will Power- 1 (Baltimore 2012)
Ryan Hunter-Reay- 4 (Edmonton 2012)
Dario Franchitti- 5 (Toronto 2012)
Alex Tagliani- 8 (Texas 2012)
Scott Dixon- 9 (Belle Isle 2012)
Ryan Briscoe- 10 (Indianapolis 2012)
Helio Castroneves- 13 (Barber 2012)
Takuma Sato- 21 (Edmonton 2011)
Ed Carpenter- 33 (Kentucky 2010)
Justin Wilson- 38 (Toronto 2010)
Graham Rahal- 62 (Kansas 2009)
Tony Kanaan*- 80 (St. Petersburg 2008) *- Does not count pole won at the cancelled Las Vegas race in 2011 or pole drawn for second race at Texas Twin 275s in 2011
Sébastien Bourdais*- 84 (Assen 2007) *- ChampCar 2007, IndyCar 2008-present
Oriol Servià*- 111 (Surfers Paradise 2005) *- ChampCar 2005-2007, IndyCar 2008-present
Yet To Win A Pole:
Tristan Vautier- Scheduled to make debut in 2013.
Josef Newgarden- 14 starts
Sebastián Saavedra- 20 starts
James Hinchcliffe- 31 starts
Charlie Kimball- 31 starts
James Jakes- 31 starts
Simon Pagenaud- 32 starts
J.R. Hildebrand- 34 starts
Simona de Silvestro- 46 starts
EJ Viso- 83 starts

Winning Streak by Country
United Kingdom: 9 seasons
New Zealand: 8 seasons
Australia: 6 seasons (CCWS 2007, IndyCar 2008-Present)
United States: 3 seasons
Brazil: 1 season

  • Tony Kanaan has made 197 consecutive starts dating back to Portland 2001. The record is 211 by Jimmy Vasser (Laguna Seca 1993-Long Beach 2006).
  • Last driver to win in their first season in American Open-Wheel racing: Robert Doornbos, Mont-Tremblant 2007.
  • Last driver to win an oval in their first season: Sébastien Bourdais, Lausitz 2003.
  • Last driver to win a pole in their first season: Tristan Gommendy. Mont-Tremblant 2007.
  • Two Brazilians are scheduled to race full-time in 2013. That is the least amount of Brazilians since ChampCar 2007 when Bruno Junqueira was the only Brazilian to run full-time that season.
  • Last American to win the first oval race of the season: Sam Hornish in IndyCar (Homestead) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Milwaukee) in ChampCar. Both in 2004.
  • Last American to win the first road/street race of the season: Graham Rahal, St. Pete 2008.
  • In each of the three seasons of the Mazda Road To Indy ladder system, there has been a champion from the UK, France and United States. Dario Franchitti won the IndyCar titles in 2010 and 2011. Jack Hawksworth won Star Mazda in 2012. For France, JK Vernay won the 2010 Lights title, while Tristan Vautier won the 2011 Star Mazda and 2012 Lights championship. Conor Daly and Sage Karam won the 2010 Star Mazda and 2010 U.S. F2000 championship respectively with Josef Newgarden winning the 2011 Lights title and Ryan Hunter-Reay winning the 2012 IndyCar championship. Making the United States the only country to win a title in each four steps in the ladder system. 
  • The last two seasons, the top five in points have represented five different countries. In 2011, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Brazil were represented and in 2012, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and France were represented. It has actually happened in three since reunification, 2009 is the other time when the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil and the United States were represented. 
  • Since reunification in 2008, the five rookie of the year winners combine for zero career wins. Mutoh, Matos, Lloyd, Hinchcliffe and Pagenaud are the five rookie of the year winners. All represent a five different countries (Japan, Brazil, UK, Canada, France).
  • The winner of the Indy Lights opening race at St. Pete the last three seasons, has won the title. JK Vernay, Josef Newgarden and Tristan Vautier are the three champions.
  • Takuma Sato has finished 22nd twice in three races at St. Pete. He finished fifth at St. Pete in 2011.
  • Scott Dixon has finished second at every IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park.
  • Only one Brazilian has every been on the podium in São Paulo (Vitor Meria, 3rd in 2010) and only four other drivers have a top ten (Raphael Matos, 5th in 2010. Helio Castroneves, 9th in 2010, 4th in 2012. Tony Kanaan, 10th in 2010, Rubens Barrichello, 10th in 2012).
  • Only twice in the history has there been an American open-wheel series races on March 24. Fontana in 2002, won by Sam Hornish and Homestead 2007 won by Dan Wheldon. 
  • Since the split in 1996, the state of Florida has hosted the opening round for 20 of the last 29 combined seasons. 2013 will be 21 of 30 combined seasons. (CART- 1996-2000, 2003. IRL- 1996, 1998-2000, 2002-2007. Unified IndyCar- 2008-2009, 2011-2013).
  • Since joining Penske Racing full-time in 2010, Will Power's best finish in a season finale is 19th. Before joining Penske, Power had finished in the top ten in every season finale he participated in.
  • Ed Carpenter has only scored multiple top five finishes in one season: 2008.
  • Since losing his seat before the 2002 Milwaukee CART race due to closure of PacWest Racing, Oriol Serviá has finished no worse than 7th at the Milwaukee Mile.
  • The United Kingdom has won three consecutive Indianapolis 500s. The only other international country to win three consecutive Indianapolis 500 was Brazil (2001-2003). Besides the United States, no nation has won more than three consecutive Indianapolis 500s.
  • This year's Indianapolis 500 is May 26th. Winners of the Indianapolis 500 on May 26 are: Johnny Rutherford, Danny Sullivan, Rick Mears, Buddy Lazier and Helio Castroneves.
  • Carlos Muñoz is scheduled to make his debut in the Indianapolis 500. The best finish by a driver making their first career IndyCar start at Indianapolis since 2000 was Jeff Simmons finish of 16th in 2004
These are just some facts I came upon as we enter the 2013 Izod IndyCar season. Hopefully it gives you something to look forward to as St. Pete is this weekend. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Formula One and Sebring, The Racing Season Is Underway

With all the IndyCar testing this week, it is hard to believe I am almost forgot about the opening rounds for the 2013 Formula One and American Le Mans Series seasons.

Formula One Australian Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel returns and looks to add a fourth straight title to his résumé. He and his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber were one-two in Friday second practice, ahead of Nico Rosberg and the Lotuses of Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean. The Ferrari's of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were split by the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, as the Germans Adrian Sutil and Nico Hülkenberg rounded out the top ten.

The McLaren's of Jenson Button and Sergio Pérez were 11th and 13rd respectively.

The Formula One field is deep this year with five past champions (Vettel, Alonso, Button, Räikkönen and Hamitlon) and is full of young drivers looking for first career wins (Pérez, Grosjean, Hülkenberg).

Is 2013 the year Mercedes become an actual contender? After three seasons of the Rosberg/Michael Schumacher era, the German manufacture could only get one victory. Their new driver Lewis Hamilton won 10 races during that time frame as he looks to become a double World Champion.

Ferrari finished second in the constructor's champions last year, after many thought the car would have been below average. Fernando Alonso's impressive season got Ferrari ahead of McLaren and Lotus and put him only three points back of Vettel for the World Driver's Championship. With a better car in 2013, Alonso looks to be the clear contender against Vettel, while Felipe Massa looks for his first victory since the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.

12 Hours of Sebring
This will be the final 12 Hours of Sebring to feature the monster LMP1 cars before the merger of the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am in 2014. More on that below.

Audi makes one final appearance at Sebring with the teams of Fässler/Tréluyer/Jarvis and Kristensen/McNish/di Grassi. The underdogs to Audi are Rebellion Racing (Prost/Jani/Heidfeld and Beche/Belicchi/Cheng), Pickett Racing (Graf/Luhr/Dumas), Dyson Racing (Dyson/Smith/Leitzinger) and the DeltaWing (Meyrick/Pla).

The LMP2 class features four Hondas and one Nissan. Scott Sharp's Extreme Speed Motorsports moves from GT to LMP2 to go head-to-head with Level 5 Motorsports. Sharp teams with Guy Cosmo and David Brabham, while the second car will be driven by Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Anthony Lazzaro. Scott Tucker is listed for both Level 5 entries at Sebring, with 2012 IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2012 IndyCar Rookie of The Year Simon Pagenaud in the #551 and Marino Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe in the #552. Briscoe is looking for a full season with Level 5 in 2013. The lone Nissan has been entered by the British Greaves Motorsport and drivers Tom Kimber-Smith, Eric Lux and Christian Zugel.

The GT class should be a old school, dog fight to the checkers between Corvette, Aston Martin, BMW, Viper, Ferrari and Porsche. The Rahal BMW's look to win a third in a row at Sebring with Bill Auberlen, Maxime Martin and Jörg Müller in the #55 and Joey Hand, John Edwards and Dirk Müller in the #56. Aston Martin has returned to Sebring with an All-World driver lineups featuring Stefan Mücke, Bruno Senna, Darren Turner, Pedro Lamy, Billy Johnson and Paul Dalla Lana. Corvette has not won at Sebring since they were in the GT1 class in 2009. Viper returns to Sebring after a decade away as the manufacture prepares for their return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this June. The Ferraris of Risi Competizione and Alex Job Racing look to start off the weekend well for the Italian manufacture while the underdog Team Falken Tire and Paul Miller Racing look to get a win for Porsche.

United SportsCar Racing
Come 2014, the USCR is what sports car racing will be in the United States. The unified series will feature the Prototype class (LMP2 cars and Daytona Prototypes), Prototype Challenge class (current ALMS PC class), GT Le Mans (ALMS GT), GT Daytona (Grand-Am GT) and the GX class. Gone will be the powerful LMP1 machines of Audi and Toyota at Sebring and Road Atlanta.

The new series has not announced a schedule but I believe the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans will carry over, as will tracks both Grand-Am and ALMS currently race at (Austin, Road America, Laguna Seca and Lime Rock Park) and finally the two races apart of the North American Endurance Championship (Watkins Glen and Indianapolis). That is nine races with probably two to three more to be added.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

2013 IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview Part V

Testing is over and we have arrived at the fifth and final part of Team-By-Team previews for the 2013 Izod IndyCar Series season.

Arguably the top two teams from 2012 will be featured today: Penske and the defending champions Andretti Autosport.

Previous Parts: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Penske Racing
2012 Review
Drivers- Will Power (2nd in points, three wins), Hélio Castroneves (4th, two wins), Ryan Briscoe (6th, one win).
2013 Drivers- Power, Castroneves, AJ Allmendinger (Barber, Indianapolis, more may be announced).

What else can be said about Penske Racing? The team's two full-time drivers can win any race and either can win the championship. Will Power has been the bridesmaid the last three seasons as he looks to break through and get that elusive title. Meanwhile, Castroneves is also looking for his first championship but he has a shot to become the fourth driver to win four Indianapolis 500s. The team has plenty to race for in 2013.

The third car will be taking on a new role. Gone is Ryan Briscoe after a 2012 season that would have been satisfying at the 12 other teams. Results were not the only reason Briscoe lost his full-time seat, money was a factor. AJ Allmendinger, however, will be making his IndyCar comeback at Barber Motorsoprts Park, thanks to sponsorship from Izod. At the test his best time of the two days was a 1:08.1666, faster than Viso, Newgarden, Hildebrand, Andretti, Bourdais and Rahal. Yes, it was only a test and teams are not going 100%, but it is a positive to take as Allmendinger gets ready for his return.

You can almost pencil in both Power and Castroneves for a victory. Both are championship contenders but can they become champions? Penske has not won a title since Hornish in 2006. Every year it seems as all Power has to do is avoid one mistake. As an outsider, that one mistake seems as a heavy burden to have on one's mind. He has the speed to get the job done and the time is now.

Andretti Autosport
2012 Review
Drivers- Ryan Hunter-Reay (Champion, four wins), James Hinchcliffe (8th, two podiums), Marco Andretti (16th, best finish 2nd at Iowa).
2013 Drivers- Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Andretti, EJ Viso, Carlos Muñoz (Indianapolis).

Ryan Hunter-Reay had a great comeback in 2012. When all seemed lost after Sonoma, he won Baltimore and got the top five he needed at Fontana, with some misfortune for Power. Three straight wins at Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto helped get the championship run going in 2012 and Hunter-Reay looks to become the first American to go back-to-back since Sam Hornish in 2001-02 and first to do it in a unified series since Bobby Rahal in 1986--87.

Hinchcliffe looked like a definite win after the first five races in 2012, where his worse finish was 6th. However, once he hit the asphalt at Belle Isle, his season was never the same. Marco Andretti had a season to forget as well. Indianapolis was going well until a bad pit stop left him running in the back and he got caught in an accident trying to make up ground. He managed a second at Iowa and results a got better as the season went on, ending with a pole and 8th place finish at Fontana.

The team brings in EJ Viso, who finished 20th in points in 2012 with one top five and four top tens. Carlos Muñoz finished fifth in Indy Lights in 2012 with two wins, as he is scheduled to make his debut at Indianapolis.

Hunter-Reay is a championship contender, no question about that. Hinchcliffe can break through and get a victory in 2013. Andretti Autosport has been a stalwart on short tracks winning four of the last five race on tracks a mile and a half and shorter. Marco's best shot will be on an oval and the goal for Viso is to bring the car home in one piece.

After doing this five part preview a three things came to mind:

1. The IndyCar field is as deep as it gets.
2. Easily 14 driver could win a race in 2013 and no one would be surprised if they won.
3. There are 7 drivers that could win the championship and no one would be surprised if they won.

IndyCar does not lack talent, the cars were faster at the Barber test than they were in 2012, which could a great sign for the rest of the 2013 season and the fan base is ready for race one. 10 days to the green flag, only 10 more days.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

2013 IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview Part IV

Today is the second day of testing at Barber Motorsports Park for the Izod IndyCar Series. Times were quick yesterday as three drivers were in the 1 minute, 7 second bracket, almost two seconds faster than the track record. Will Power, Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe were the fast three, with Mike Conway testing the #16 RLLR in place of James Jakes, being fourth overall and the fastest Honda.

With all that covered, today part four of the Team-By-Team preview of the 2013 season features Dragon Racing and KV Racing Technology.

The previous three parts: Part I, Part II, Part III.

Dragon Racing
2012 Review
Drivers- Sébastien Bourdais (25th in points, best finish 4th at Mid-Ohio), Katherine Legge (26th, best finish 9th at Sonoma).
2013 Drivers- Bourdais, Sebastián Saavedra.

Another of the Lotus refugees, Dragon Racing had to downsize to one car, being split by two drivers after Indianapolis. Bourdais had the only highlight of Lotus' one season in IndyCar and Lotus' only top ten in IndyCar, when he drove from 17th to 9th at Barber.

Since the end of last season, Dragon Racing has received a lot of talk for actions off the track. Katherine Legge was let go and is suing the team saying she still has a contract. This has yet to be settled and may carry on throughout the 2013 season. Meanwhile, Sebastián Saavedra has been promoted back to IndyCar after one season in Indy Lights.

With a legitimate engine package, Bourdais will be a factor to win a race or two in 2013 and, with the balance of road/street course races and ovals, he could sneak into the championship conversation. The four-time champion has not won in open-wheel racing since the final round of the 2007 ChampCar season at Mexico City. Saavedra is in IndyCar for his second stint. He has yet to score a top ten in IndyCar and with the depth of the IndyCar field, it will not be easy for the young Colombian to get one in 2013.

KV Racing Technology
2012 Review
Drivers- Tony Kanaan (9th, three podiums), Rubens Barrichello (12th, two top fives), EJ Viso (20th, best finish 5th at Milwaukee).
2013 Drivers- Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro.

2012 did not go the way many thought it would for KVRT. The pairing of Kanaan-Barrichello did not get a win, which seemed likely before the season began. After one season, Barrichello left, though after some respectable results and hopefully a new appreciation for IndyCar racing, and he is reportedly interested in coming back for Indianapolis.

Enter 2013. Kanaan is back and is looking for that Indianapolis 500 win, which has evaded him his whole career. He also has a new teammate, Simona de Silvestro. She survived running a Lotus in every round of the championship and is now in a competitive ride. In her three previous years in IndyCar, her highlights are a fastest lap at São Paulo, pushing hard Kanaan for third at St. Pete in 2011 and surviving some unfortunate accidents at Texas, Indianapolis and Iowa.

If testing from yesterday was a sign for things to come, de Silvestro was over a quarter of a second ahead of Kanaan, sixth overall at the end of the day. Kanaan cannot be ruled out for a win. Whether it be at Indianapolis, Milwaukee or Iowa, Kanaan is a threat, especially at ovals. Oddly enough, Kanaan has not won a road or street course race since Belle Isle 2007. De Silvestro results will be a vast improvement from 2012 and a few top tens would not be a surprise at all. With the move to KV, she should have better results on ovals as well. Her best finish on an oval is 14th at Indianapolis 2010 and Iowa 2012.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

2013 IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview Part III

Testing has finally arrived. The IndyCar teams are scheduled to hit the track today and tomorrow from Barber Motorsports Park as the 2013 preseason is underway.

Today, in part three of five, we take a look at Ed Carpenter Racing, Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Ganassi Racing.

Part I can be found here.
Part II can be found here.

Ed Carpenter Racing
2012 Review
Driver- Ed Carpenter (18th in points, 1 win)
2013 Driver- Carpenter

Owner-drivers are rare in all forms of major motorsports. Ed Carpenter took the bull by the horns in 2012 and was able to win the season finale on a late pass on Dario Franchitti. While Carpenter did win another oval race, he still has to improve on road and street courses. His paces is much better than a few years ago and he did sneak into the Fast 12 in qualifying at Baltimore but his finishing positions have to improve even more.

Although, Carpenter is viewed as an oval driver, he has never scored a top five on a track under a mile and a half in length. Speaking of top fives, Carpenter has only had multiple top fives in one season of his decade long career and that was in 2008.

With all that said, this team has an extra bit of confidence in their step. They can compete with anybody on ovals and they know they can win. Realistically, this team should be looking for top tens at all ovals in 2013. Road courses should be about finding a little more speed each time out and bringing the car home in one piece. Do not rule out Carpenter for another victory in 2013.

Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
2012 Review
Drivers- JR Hildebrand (11th, 2 top fives), Oriol Serviá (13th, 4 top fives)
2013 Drivers- Hildebrand and Servia

Let's start with Dreyer & Reinbold. Stuck in the black hole that was Lotus, Serviá and D&R got a Chevrolet engine for Indianapolis, started 27th and finished 4th. From that point on, his season did a 180 and the strategic alliance between Panther and Dreyer & Reinbold carries into 2013.

Hildebrand's sophomore season was anything but a slump. Two top fives, six top tens and had a great race going in the season finale, leading 56 laps before falling down to 11th.

The pairing of Serviá and Hildebrand is not a high profile one-two like Dixon-Franchitti or Power-Castroneves, but it is a fine driver line-up. Serviá has been in position to get a win the last two seasons and Hildebrand would like to become the first Indy Lights champion to win a race at the top level since Scott Dixon.

With the depth of the IndyCar field, a win for Panther/D&R would be an upset. Both drivers should be frequently fighting for top tens and have shots for top fives at a few events.

Ganassi Racing
2012 Review
Drivers- Scott Dixon (3rd, 2 wins), Dario Franchitti (7th, 1 win), Graham Rahal (10th, best finish 2nd at Texas), Charlie Kimball (19th, best finish 2nd at Toronto).
2013 Drivers- Dixon, Franchitti and Kimball.

This team is going to win races, there is no question about that. How many is another story. Who would have thought three wins, including Indianapolis would be a down year for Ganassi. Franchitti won three consecutive poles and his best finish in those three races was 17th. He did salvage a third and a second at Sonoma and Fontana respectively but after winning four championships in four consecutive years of competing in IndyCar, anything else seems like a let down.

Dixon was strong but his Honda engines let him down at times in 2012. He was on his sixth engine before any other Honda and that was with five races to go. He was dominating Texas and had led 133 laps before he lost the car in turn four. He was wrongly called for a jumped restart at Milwaukee, ending his chance for a win there. Two wins, six podiums, four times leading the most laps and a pole. Not bad but not enough for the championship.

Kimball had a surprise podium at Toronto but four of his six top tens in 2012 were 8th place finishes and he had a 10th at Fontana. With Kimball moving from fourth to third on the Ganassi depth chart, he should be in position for better results.

For 2013, Dixon and Franchitti are championship contenders. They both should be able to win multiple races but they could be limited if Honda can not keep up with Chevrolet on road and street courses. Indianapolis and Mid-Ohio have both been in Ganassi's wheel house for a while now. The only question is can they break through and take away more wins from the Chevrolets. As for Kimball, he has to get respectable results compared to his teammates. He needs to be more of a feature in the top ten and, while unlikely, he maybe be able to do what Rahal was not able to do at Ganassi and that is win.

Monday, March 11, 2013

2013 IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview Part II

Today is IndyCar Media Day from Barber Motorsports Park and with that comes part II of the five part series of Team-By-Team previews for the 2013 Izod IndyCar Series season.

Three teams will be featured today and they are Dale Coyne Racing, Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing and Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports.

Part I can be found here.

Dale Coyne Racing
2012 Review
Drivers- Justin Wilson (15th in points, 1 win). James Jakes (22nd, best finish 8th at Toronto).
2013 Drivers- Wilson and TBA.

Very few had Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing winning a race 2012, let alone winning at Texas. After years of being one of the top road course drivers in IndyCar, Wilson's win at Texas was his first on an oval and Coyne's second overall win in 28 years of racing.

James Jakes left the team for Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan but he was able to score two top tens, a 10th at Texas to go along with his 8th at Toronto in 2012. Since 2008, only one Coyne driver not names Justin Wilson has a top five finish (Alex Lloyd, Indianapolis 2010, 4th). Whoever teams with Wilson, will be facing an uphill battle for results. The lead driver rumored to be heading to Coyne is Ana Beatriz but other names, such as Narain Karthikeyan, have been thrown around.

Update, 2:44pm
Looks like Stefan Wilson, brother of Justin, and Ana Beatriz will split the second seat at Coyne. Stefan will join his brother at the Barber test. Though nothing is confirm for an actual race, the deal would be Wilson running all road and street courses, sans Brazil, while Beatriz would run Brazil and all the ovals. 

Stefan had a respectable track record in Lights. He ran a handful of races for Derrick Walker in 2009, most of the races for Bryan Herta in 2010 and a full season for Michael Andretti in 2011. He has amassed 2 wins, 7 podiums, 13 top fives and 23 top tens in 32 career Lights races. He ran one Lights race in 2012, Fontana where he finished 6th. 

Beatriz ran two races in 2012, apart of a partnership between Conquest Racing and Andretti Autosport. She finished 20th at São Paulo and 23rd at Indianapolis. 

Wilson should be able to score solid results at all tracks in 2013. As for the second seat at Coyne, a few top ten finishes would be sufficient and, to some, a great success.

Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing
2012 Review
Driver- Takuma Sato (14th, 2 Podiums).
2013 Drivers- Graham Rahal, James Jakes, Mike Conway (One-off at Long Beach).

The best return to IndyCar in 2012 may not have been Chevrolet but Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing.  However, despite the good results, the team had great chances to win multiple races and came up with null.

Now, Graham Rahal heads to drive for his father and looks to end his five year winless streak. Rahal had Texas in the bag before brushing the wall, handing the win to Wilson. Should RLLR keep the speed from 2012, Graham will be in great position to pick up a win, something he failed to do at Ganassi.

James Jakes had a fair sophomore season, but looks to improve even more in 2013. Heading to RLLR should give him a better opportunity for top ten finishes. Mike Conway's one-off at Long Beach gives the team an extra bullet at the race the team nearly won in 2012. A third car is expected for Indianapolis, though no plans have been announced.

Graham Rahal will get a race win in 2013 and Jakes should be hanging around the top ten at most races as RLLR looks to take a big step forward in 2013.

Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports
2012 Review
Driver- Simon Pagenaud (5th, 4 podiums).
2013 Drivers- Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier.

Though out of a full-time seat in American Open-Wheel Racing since 2007, Pagenaud had one of the best seasons in 2012. Had Long Beach been two laps longer, he probably would have passed Will Power and scored his first career victory. Ovals seemed not to bother the Frenchman as he picked up a sixth at Texas and fifth at Iowa.

Tristan Vautier has won championships the past two years and is now in IndyCar, just the way the Road To Indy ladder system is suppose to work. He is now in the big time and all reports from testing have been positive for the rookie.

The team has the speed to compete with the old guard of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. SPHM will get a win in 2013 with Pagenaud and Vautier, the de facto Rookie of The Year, should be competing for top tens on a regular basis. Do not be surprised if Pagenaud is a title contender and do not be surprised if other teams start poaching him for 2014.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2013 IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview Part I

Two weeks from now the 2013 Izod IndyCar Series season will be underway when the cars take the green flag at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. With thirteen teams scheduled to run a car full-time in 2013, this five part preview takes a look at each team entered for 2013.

Today, three teams, Sarah Fisher-Hartman Racing, AJ Foyt Racing and Barracuda Racing, will be featured.

Sarah Fisher-Hartman Racing
2012 Review
Driver- Josef Newgarden (23rd in points, best finish 11th at St. Pete).
2013 Driver- Newgarden

Despite all the positive energy Josef Newgarden brought to IndyCar in his rookie season, the 2011 Indy Lights champion failed to score a top ten. He had a wonderful chance at Long Beach where he started second, next to Dario Franchitti due to all the Chevrolet taking penalties for engine changes. That ended in turn one when Franchitti gave Newgarden enough of a tap to put him in the tire wall.

What we did learn about Newgarden is he is fast. He scored three fastest laps in 2012 (São Paulo, Toronto and Edmonton), tied with Will Power for the most. He was in position for a podium until Simon Pagenaud blocked Newgarden, forcing him to make slight contact with the wall.

Newgarden did not make many mistakes in 2012 but he has to bring the car home more in 2013. He showed a lot of promise, enough to create rumors Roger Penske was interested in signing him. He had a great month of May, only to have a mechanical failure during the race.

The goal for SFHR and Newgarden should be to keep the pace they had in 2012 and turn it into better results.

AJ Foyt Racing
2012 Review
Driver- Mike Conway through Baltimore (21st, 1 podium), Wade Cunningham at Indianapolis and Fontana (28th, best finish 14th at Fontana).
2013 Driver- Takuma Sato

To be frank, AJ Foyt Racing has not had much success in the past decade but every year they find a way to pull off an impressive finish. Mike Conway was able to snag a second place finish at Toronto in 2012. Though not impressive, Foyt Racing has scored at least one top five a year since the 2006 season, with three podiums in that time frame. However it has been over ten years since Super Tex has won a race, when Airton Daré won his only career race at Kansas.

Viewed as a seat for those on the back nine of a driver's career, Takuma Sato heads to Foyt after his best season in IndyCar. Sato had great chances for wins Long Beach, São Paulo, Indianapolis, Edmonton, Baltimore and Fontana, but could only manage two podiums, with two last lap crashes.

The pairing of AJ Foyt-Takuma Sato is as odd as it gets. The pairing seems promising of stealing a win but so did Vitor Meria at Foyt and the best that could produce was 1 podium and 3 top fives in three seasons. The pairing has potential, but as history has shown, a surprise top five, with sporadic trips in the top ten seem more likely.

Barracuda Racing
2012 Review
Driver- Alex Tagliani (17th, best finish 5th at Mid-Ohio, 1 pole).
2013 Driver- Tagliani

Barracuda Racing (really Bryan Herta Autosport) abandoned the Lotus ship after Long Beach last year and sacrificed a trip to Brazil in doing so, but managed a pole at Texas and 8 top tens in their 11 races with Honda. A full season with Honda is expected and Herta's team should be a factor to win a race.

Tagliani has scored poles in the last two season at unexpected times. With the speed needed to compete on ovals, one can not rule out Tagliani to pick up a win in 2013. However, winning is much easier said than done. Tagliani's only career win came in 2004 at Road America and Tagliani has not scored a podium since Surfers Paradise 2006. Since reunification in 2008, the break down of different amount of teams winning a races goes as followed:

2008- 5 Teams (Ganassi, Newman/Haas/Lanigan, Penske, Andretti, Rahal-Letterman)*
2009- 3 Teams (Penske, Ganassi, Dale Coyne)
2010- 3 Teams (Penske, Andretti, Ganassi)
2011- 5 Teams (Ganassi, Penske, Andretti, Herta, Sarah Fisher)
2012- 5 Teams (Penske, Ganassi, Coyne, Andretti, Ed Carpenter)
*- KV Racing won at Long Beach in 2008. Technically the final ChampCar race and final split race.

The possibility is there for Herta and Tagliani to score a win but will not be easy. The Barracuda Boys should be a threat to win but continuing their string of top tens at the end of 2012 would be a large boost for this team.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Welcome Back Allmendinger

Red Bull decided to form their own NASCAR team when Toyota entered the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series in 2007. At that time their racing résumé was not as grand as it is today. They had recently ended their partnership with Eddie Cheever's team in IndyCar, their Formula One team had only one podium finish and Scott Speed was going to be the savior for F1 in the United States.

For NASCAR, Red Bull picked up Brian Vickers from Hendrick Motorsports and a race winning, Red Bull sponsored driver, who contended for a championship despite having to switch rides midseason. That driver was AJ Allmendinger.

That 2007 season did not go well for Allmendinger. He had more did not qualifies than starts (19 DNQs to 17 starts) and finished better than 30th on only four occasions. Slowly Allmendinger improved. In 2008 he made 27 races, had only 3 DNQs and won the Sprint Showdown to get him in the NASCAR All-Star Race. But more importantly, he scored his first career top ten in NASCAR. A tenth at Indianapolis, his first race at the famed track.

This May, Allmendinger will attempt to qualify for his first Indianapolis 500 with Penske Racing. Currently, he is only scheduled for Barber and Indianapolis, but additional races have not been ruled out.

Allmendinger had a career year in NASCAR in 2011 where he got a top five, ten top tens and finished 15th in the points standings. This success and Kurt Busch getting on Penske's last nerve, created an opportunity for Allmendinger to jump to a top team, capable of competing at a higher level in 2012. What is remembered most from Allmendinger's 2012 season at Penske is not his pole at Kansas or second at Martinsville, rather a failed drug test in July for Adderall, ending his first stint at Penske.

Allmendinger completed the Road to Recovery program and was back in NASCAR that October, driving for James Finch and Phoenix Racing. Allmendinger's ability to get clean got him a second chance with Penske and that does not happen often.

Now he is scheduled to return to American Open-Wheel Racing, six and a half years after his last start at Surfers Paradise in 2006. Unfortunately, Allmendinger's seat at Penske comes at the price of losing Ryan Briscoe, a race winner in 2012 and the pole sitter for the 2012 Indianapolis 500.

Allmendinger heads to IndyCar with with a team that can win, Izod backing and a warm welcome back from many involved.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Positive Day For IndyCar

March 5, 2013. A positive day for the 2013 Izod IndyCar Series season.

Let's start at the heart, Indianapolis. Though it was cold and raining, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Sarah Fisher and the most recent race winner in the Izod IndyCar Series, Ed Carpenter, were at the Lids Locker Room in downtown Indianapolis, celebrating the IndyCar Kickoff Celebration. Show cars and the street legal two-seater were present for this occasion.

There may have had only been three active drivers and one car owner their, but no one can question how positive and fan friendly these four have been for IndyCar. Maybe next year this event will feature closer to the full grid of drivers and be a month earlier.

While all this was happening, the two Andretti promoted events made big announcements. All fans 12 and under, accompanied by an adult general admission ticket, will get into the Grand Prix of Baltimore for free. Meanwhile at Milwaukee, tickets for 12 and under have been reduced from $18 to $5. Both are positive developments as IndyCar looks to expand their younger fan base, especially with the DreamWorks Animation movie, Turbo coming out this July.

Finally, the first commercial promoting the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg aired today on NBC Sports Net. 19 days prior to the race, the ad showcase Ryan Hunter-Reay as he attempts to repeat as champion. While F1 is going to have a countdown show before their season open, IndyCar slowly gets on the radar. Maybe we will see a little extra IndyCar coverage this season. Who knows?

This day was one for the IndyCar win column.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Boston Report

In October 2012, Hulman & Co. hired Boston Consulting Group to evaluate their business interest, which include IndyCar. After a little over four months, the report is out.

Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press reported on some of the ideas BCG has recommended to take the IndyCar to the next level.

Here is what was reported by Fryer as just a few of the ideas from a 115-page report:

1. 15 race US-schedule from April to August with a possible winter international calendar.
2. A three race playoff that includes Texas, Long Beach and the Indianapolis road course.
3. A schedule going as follows: Houston, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Pocono, Toronto, Seattle, Sonoma, Fontana, Texas, Long Beach, Indianapolis road course.
4. One television partner. ABC/ESPN or NBC. Pick one.
5. Less Leader Circle money.
6. Resetting prices for the Indianapolis 500. Top tier at $200, next at $150, others between $5-20. Reduce ticket prices for the Brickyard 400 and Indianapolis Grand Prix.

As a diehard fan here is my response:

1. IndyCar has to start earlier in the year and end later than August. I understand nobody wants to go head-to-head with the NFL but being counter programming may be a benefit. For 2013 the season ends in mid-October. Not too deep in the NFL season but not ending before the beginning of autumn. This is not a bad thing. A five month season is more suicide than running two races during the NFL season, one of which is on a Saturday night.

Fans are dying for action. It has been nearly six months since the last time IndyCar raced. Imagine if the fans had to wait eight months? That is not going to fly. As for the start of the season, begin the week after the Super Bowl. People are going to be bored that weekend. Give them something exciting to watch.

2. All together now, "No, no, no, no, no, no no- Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go." No playoffs. To quote the report, "the current IndyCar lacks consequence and the television ratings are at the lowest at the end of the season because the series does not have a mechanism to create suspense."

ARE YOU KIDDING ME! No consequence? Will Power has to live every waking moment knowing he did not have to pass Hunter-Reay at Fontana! He has to play in his mind when he fall off the face of the planet after the first round of pit stops at St. Pete where he went from favorite for the win to 7th. He has to think about what happened at Indianapolis. Iowa. Baltimore. There are plenty of consequences.

Let's not forget Briscoe exiting the pit lane in 2009 when they were etching his name on the trophy, only to scratch it out and have to wait nearly a month until Homestead to put Franchitti's name on it.

IndyCar fans are like diehard football, I mean soccer fans. They want a round robin, aggregate championship based on every single race that takes places. They don't need a phony bologna playoff that is more of a punishment to those who bust their asses to be their best day in and day out. Some years you will have dramatic championship battles (just like the ones both IndyCar and the English Premier League had in 2012). Other years are dominated and do that have a dramatic fight to the final seconds or laps.

3. Some minor problems with BCG's proposed schedule. There is a reason Houston wants to be in October and not April. You cannot just say to a race promoter, "your race is moving up 6 months."

Homestead-Miami crowd shrunk over the years, running it in June makes no sense, same for Atlanta. If you expand Boston to the Boston-area, than New Hampshire would be an option. Chicago is tricky since the NASCAR Nationwide Series runs their in July. If you expand Seattle to Pacific Northwest, then Portland is in the picture.

The back end of the schedule makes no sense. Move Texas from a hot June night race to even hotter August night race. Move Long Beach from a beautiful spring day, a date it has had since 1976, to August makes as much sense as NASCAR moving the Southern 500 from Labor Day weekend to the penultimate round in November.

As for the Indianapolis road course. I am against it. Note: I am not yelling. I am calmly stating my opinion. It would not help the Indianapolis 500, it would hurt it. TV numbers would be just as low for a race on the road course. As I said in a tweet to NBC pit reporter Kevin Lee, everything can't be in Indianapolis. It is a great fan base but IndyCar has to try and expand to fans in other places.

The other problem with the BCG proposed schedule is it alienates Milwaukee and Iowa, places a lot of people hold near and dear to IndyCar's heart and produces great racing, it does not focus on getting back to natural terrain road course such as Road America, Austin and Watkins Glen and lacks any real character. It is bland. It is market hopping. Just going from big market to big market, forgetting it's roots. Sound familiar?

4. I am on board with one television partner. While NBC Sports Net has produced fine coverage, the ratings have been low, however that could change if races were put on big boy NBC. ABC/ESPN are very below average when it comes to coverage but would expose IndyCar to a larger audience.

5. I already talked about the Leader Circle program.

6. I am neutral with ticket prices. I don't think they should be changed. But if they are I do not see a massive backlash. I don't expect the attendance for the Indianapolis 500 to go from around 275,000 people to only 50,000 if the prices are increased by what BCG has suggested but their will be some who would be against paying more and that is understandable.

What I did find interesting from was BCG's statement about IndyCar being, "the best pure racing motorsports league in the U.S. ...but the series suffers from a lack of awareness."

That is quiet a compliment. And true. Yes, IndyCar is paying them but consulting groups would not (at least I hope not) lie if there were some serious problems with a business. I hope they are very ethical.

IndyCar has a lot going for itself. However it needs a bigger footprint. It needs to make a splash that makes heads turn and jaws drop.

From what has been made public, I think the Boston Consulting Group's advice is sound in a few areas and is off in others. IndyCar should take a look at their television partners and Leader Circle program but when it comes to races, the schedule and the championship format, their is little the series should do different.