Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pippa Mann to Coyne For Indianapolis

For the first time in the history of the Indianapolis 500, two women will be on the same team as Pippa Mann announced today she will be joining Ana Beatriz and Justin Wilson at Dale Coyne Racing for the Indianapolis 500.

Mann returns to Indianapolis two years after her only appearance in the Indianapolis 500 to date. She finished twentieth in 2011, the second highest rookie behind Charlie Kimball who finished thirteenth. Mann made one more start at Kentucky and was in the abandoned Las Vegas round where she suffered a pinky injury in the lap 11 accident that halted the race.

Mann's history in Indy Lights at the Speedway is not much to brag about. A twenty-first and sixteenth in her two Freedom 100 starts, however she was the pole winner for the 2010 Freedom 100 and went on to win at Kentucky later that season while finishing second at Chicagoland.

Mann is the thirty-first announced entrant for the Indianapolis 500 and the sixteenth announced Honda-powered car. Honda previously announced seventeen engine packages would be prepared for the Indianapolis 500 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and AJ Foyt Racing all rumored as potential teams to run an additional car at Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, many names have been thrown around running a Chevrolet this May. Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star reported Townsend Bell is likely to end up at Panther Racing, Bryan Clauson is working on a deal at KV Racing Technology, Buddy Lazier has bought the DW12 chassis used by Fan Force United and Jean Alesi last year and Ed Carpenter Racing is the rumored destination for the 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner. This leaves 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice, Jay Howard and Jaques Lazier on the outside looking in for the month of May. Chevrolet has not put out a limit on Indianapolis 500 engine programs.

Practice for the Indianapolis 500 begins Saturday May 11th. This weekend IndyCar will be racing on the streets of São Paulo for the fourth edition of the Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300. Look out for the For The Love of Indy Track Walk later this week.

Monday, April 29, 2013

IndyCar Ideas: Part Three

It has been almost two weeks since IndyCar Ideas: Part Two was posted. At the end I previewed part three saying it would look into expanding television coverage of the Mazda Road to Indy.

Part one and part two of IndyCar Ideas can be found here.

Part two focused on having more weekends with all four Mazda Road to Indy series at the same track giving the fans quadruple-headers to look forward to on race day. That won't solve the problems of these junior series teams finding more money though. These series need to be on television with a decent size audience.

The Idea: A Full Day of Mazda Road to Indy Racing on NBC Sports Network
When three or all four Mazda Road to Indy series are at the same track, racing on the same day, have a TV window from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. of live racing. For example, when everyone is at Mid-Ohio, show U.S. F2000 live at 10 a.m., Pro Mazda at 11 a.m., Indy Lights at noon and IndyCar at 1:30 p.m. Bring an IndyCar driver or two into the booth for the other events to give color commentary. It sounds great but this does have flaws.

Flaws In The Idea
1. NBCSN has to agree to do it and if whatever is normally shown at 10 a.m. on a Sunday would draw better than U.S. F2000, then why would they change their programming?

2. The ratings on NBCSN aren't great to begin with. Would it make a difference for a sponsor to change their decision over whether or not to sponsor a U.S. F2000 or Pro Mazda team?

3. Could it be too much racing? How many people will stay tuned for six hours of racing? It has to be damn good racing for an average fan to still tuned through U.S. F2000 to IndyCar.

In Reality...
1. As a race fan, the possibility of a day beginning with Formula One followed by U.S. F2000, Pro Mazda, Indy Lights and IndyCar for over nine consecutive hours is great but does it make sense for the network and for the Mazda Road to Indy?

2. The is no major clamoring to see U.S. F2000 or Pro Mazda. People aren't dying to see these races other than those thoroughly invested in IndyCar racing.

3. I do not know who owns the rights to U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda but I am pretty sure NBCSN does not own them.

I think NBCSN should try it once. Especially if it could be paired with a Formula One race weekend. A day full of racing from sunrise to just before dinner would be nice. It is probably something that can't be done every IndyCar race weekend but what if it was done once or twice a year? It might be good to try something different and have it be a unique day full of racing. NBC Sports Network needs something to separate itself from the likes of ESPN and needs more live sports to be able to contend not only with ESPN but with Fox Sports 1 when it launches this August.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Is This It for Dreyer & Reinbold?

They won on debut on a late January day at a racetrack in the middle of the most recognizable theme park in the United States, if not the World. It was the second and final career win for a 36-year old from the Motor City, Detriot, Michigan. To date, it's the only win for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and if the reports are true, the team will only have two more shots for win number two and one of them will be the Indianapolis 500.

The team founded by Dennis Reinbold and Eric De Bord in 1999 has been through the oval-only days of the IRL, the transition to road and street course in 2005, unification in 2008 and the disaster that was Lotus along with the reintroduction of turbocharged engines with the inception of the DW12 chassis in 2012. Now the team is facing financial uncertainty and may have only a little over a month left before the team has to close up shop for the near future.

It's been 201 races since the team won on debut in the final race at Walt Disney World Speedway on January 29, 2000. Now co-owner of the team, Robbie Buhl won that day. Though Dreyer & Reinbold has yet to return to victory lane, the team has employed some noticeable names. They hired Sarah Fisher when she was without a ride in 2003 and when she returned from a year and a half of stock car racing in 2005. Ryan Briscoe made his first start after his fiery accident at Chicagoland ended his first stint with Chip Ganassi Racing. Briscoe finished third that day at Watkins Glen. Justin Wilson ran two seasons for the team and nearly won at Toronto in 2010. They were the home of Ana Beatriz's debut at São Paulo in 2010 as well as the home for the debuts of JR Hildebrand, Mike Conway and Jeff Bucknum. They were also home to the career finales of Davey Hamilton, Darren Manning and Steve Knapp.

Though winless at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, three Indianapolis 500 winners have raced for the team. 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier ran most of the 2006 season for D&R. Al Unser Jr. made his second to last Indianapolis 500 appearance for the team in 2006. Buddy Rice ran the 2007 and 2008 seasons for D&R with his best finish being fourth twice at Iowa 2007 and Watkins Glen 2008. And just for good measure, unofficial 2002 Indianapolis 500 winner Paul Tracy made 4 starts over two seasons, including what appears to be his final Indianapolis 500 start in 2011.

The team ran Milka Duno for two seasons but we won't hold that against them. Others have made relief appearances for the team due to injuries. Graham Rahal stepped in at Iowa after Mike Conway got hurt at Indianapolis in 2010. Simon Pagenaud made his first start in American open-wheel racing in nearly four years at Barber after Ana Beatriz broke her wrists at St. Pete in 2011 and Pagenaud would make two more starts that season after Justin Wilson broke his back at Mid-Ohio.

Currently situated with Oriol Serviá, the team needs a financial miracle to keep the doors open and the car on the grid. This is not a new situation for Serviá. In 2002, the Catalan driver was at PacWest Racing when the team closed its doors before the CART Milwaukee race. Serviá missed six races before getting a seat at Patrick Racing. Meanwhile, his teammate at PacWest at the time the team closed went to Chip Ganassi Racing. That driver was a 21-year old New Zealander named Scott Dixon. Serviá career has been filled with movement. He stayed with Patrick Racing in 2003 but was driving for Dale Coyne in 2004. After the first two races of 2005 with Coyne, Serviá filled in for an injured Bruno Junqueira at Newman-Haas and the Spaniard picked up his first and so far only career win at Montreal. He moved to PKV Racing in 2006 and was without a ride at the beginning of 2007. After Paul Tracy broke his back at Long Beach, Serviá was in at Forsythe and finished second in his first race. He would would run eleven races before moving back to PKV where he stayed through 2008 and reunification. 2009 saw Serviá run Indianapolis with Rahal-Letterman and he would get another four races for Newman-Haas later that season. He sat out for all of 2010 and returned in 2011 with Newman-Haas where he finished fouth in the points. Newman-Haas closed shop after 2011 and he went to Dreyer & Reinbold. After four races with Lotus, Serviá finished fourth at Indianapolis with his first race with Chevrolet.

Serviá's future is just as cloudy as D&R's. At 38, he is the third oldest driver on the grid and is turning 39 July 13. While engines and chassis seem to be of the plenty, funding is hard to come by and finding a team to step up and field another car will not be easy. Piecing together one-offs through the rest of 2013 may be the only option for Serviá.

Dreyer & Reinbold has been as much of a fixture on the grid as any team in IndyCar over the last 15 years. The lights have gone out on Newman-Haas, Hemelgarn, Walker, Forsythe, HVM and Conquest since reunification in 2008. However, Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan was part-time for the better part of three seasons and are back full-time. Vision Racing died but Ed Carpenter Racing is almost a second reincarnation. There is a chance D&R can cut back for a few seasons and come back full-time but the odds are not necessarily in their favor of that.

If this is it, it would be a loss of a great team through the years and another tough blow to Oriol Serviá. Dreyer & Reinbold and Serivá mind as well go out like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids: Giving it all, guns blazing against the armed platoon that is IndyCar.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jourdain To Return to Indianapolis; Others Still Trying

For the second consecutive year, Mexican driver Michel Jourdain, Jr. will drive for Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing in the Indianapolis 500. Jourdain will return with Office Depot Mexico as his sponsor. Jourdain was a first day qualifier in 2012, starting 22nd in his first Indianapolis 500 in 16 years and first open-wheel race in 8 years. Jourdain would go on to finish 19th, only two positions behind his then-teammate Takuma Sato, who had an accident after trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead in turn one on the final lap. Thirty driver-team pairings have been officially announced for the Indianapolis 500.

While drivers such as Jourdain, Ryan Briscoe, Conor Daly and Carlos Muñoz all knowing their plans for the month of May; a number of other drivers are on the outside looking in. Townsend Bell, a regular at Indianapolis the past half decade, is without a ride. He has driven for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports the last three years at Indianapolis, a team who have yet to announce an extra entry for 2013. Bell finished 9th last year, the second highest finishing American and has qualified in the top ten two of the last three years. Jay Howard's name has also be linked to a one-off at Indianapolis with SPM but nothing further has been announced from Howard.

Bryan Clauson sent out the following tweet, making it appear the USAC driver is attempting to find funding for one more shot at Indianapolis. In 2012, Clauson drove for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a team who has made it clear a second car for 2013 was unlikely.
Pippa Mann has been linked to Dale Coyne Racing and just four days ago Mann tweeted she has some "good news." Mann did not race an IndyCar in 2012 but ran the Sonoma round of the Auto GP series when the European series came to the United States with the FIA World Touring Car Championship. Mann finished 20th in her only Indianapolis 500 start in 2011.
Buddy Rice's name has been linked to a one-off entry with Panther Racing. The 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner last raced an IndyCar at Kentucky 2011 and was in the abandoned Las Vegas race. In his last Indianapolis 500 start in 2011, Rice drove for Panther, started 7th and finished 18th after being out of an IndyCar since 2008. Rice was recently in Brazil, driving in the RallyCross event at the X Games Brazil.

Jaques Lazier's name has been floating around about attempting a comeback at Indianapolis. The 42-year old brother of 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier has been out of a car for nearly three years and has not been a race since Homestead 2009. Lazier has said he does have a new Dallara chassis to use for the race if the pieces fall together.

With the Indianapolis 500 just 33 days away, the field is just three away from full with many respectable names looking for rides. Some may end up in the field come May 26, others may be mere spectators. The clock is ticking on Indianapolis hopefuls and finding a ride will not get any easier from this point on.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Long Beach 2013: First Impressions

1. Great day for Takuma Sato and AJ Foyt. First win for Foyt since Kansas 2002. First win for Foyt on a road/street course since Silverstone 1978. First win for Sato since the 2001 Macau Grand Prix.

2. AJ Foyt Racing is going to be a scary threat at Indianapolis. Conor Daly has got himself one heck of ride.

3. Anybody wonder what is going through Ryan Briscoe's mind?

4. Honda had a heck of a weekend.

5. I think Chevrolet has to take a look at the drawing board.

6. It was a really good weekend for Mike Conway. Sadly the result doesn't match it.

7. Great turn around for Dario Franchitti. Justin Wilson has been very consistent this season. Nice to see Graham Rahal get back on the podium.

8. Marco Andretti turned around a bad day to finish sixth. Same for Helio Castroneves to finish ninth and Scott Dixon to finish tenth.

9. The restart where James Hinchcliffe was taken out should have been waved off. Too jumbled.

10. Race control should do more to tell the rear of the field bunch up. Seems like some just lay back.

11. Not the day Andretti Autosport was looking for. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a good day before he got caught in the back after wing damage.

12. AJ Allmendinger's day could have gone better. Hopefully it can turn around for Indianapolis.

13. A top-five for JR Hildebrand and to think just a month ago he was running over guys under yellow.

14. I hate that there is a week off until São Paulo but after all the damage in this race it may be needed.

15. Sad to see Tony Kanaan get caught up in an accident on the final lap. He had a great day going.

16. Two first time winners in the first three races of 2013 and neither have been Simon Pagenaud. Who would have saw that coming? This is going to be a good season.

Morning Warm-Up: Long Beach 2013

Dario Franchitti won Honda's first pole of the 2013 season at Long Beach. The Scot out paced the most recent winner Ryan Hunter-Reay in the final moments of qualifying. Will Power came out in third ahead of Takuma Sato. Mike Conway will start fifth in his first and, as of now, only start of the 2013 season for Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing. Points leader Helio Castroneves starts sixth.

For the second consecutive qualifying session, penalties were a huge factor. Scott Dixon brought out a red flag at the end of round one, group two, negating the Kiwi's two fastest lap times and relegating him to twenty-seventh on the starting grid. Dixon's penalty appeared to elevate Marco Andretti into round two but he penalized and relegated to twenty-sixth for blocking JR Hildebrand. These two penalties would open the door for Hildebrand to advance to round two, where Hildebrand finished in twelfth position. There was a third penalty issued to Oriol Serviá for getting into the tires after Dixon had spun in turn one. Serviá was originally was sent to the back but the penalty was rescinded for it was deemed Dixon had impeded the Catalan's progress. Serviá will start eighteenth.

James Hinchcliffe just missed out on the Firestone Fast Six and will start in seventh with Tony Kanaan starting next to him in a season-best eighth position. Charlie Kimball starts ninth. Kimball is coming off a fourth place finish last week at Barber. EJ Viso and Graham Rahal made their first appearances in the second round of qualifying this season. They will start tenth and eleventh respectively.

James Jakes and AJ Allmendinger with make up row seven. Allmendinger returns to Long Beach for the first time since 2006. Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier will start seventeenth and nineteenth respectively. Vautier started sixth in the first two races of the season while Pagenaud has yet to make an appearance in the second round of qualifying. Simona de Silvestro starts twentieth with Sebastián Saavedra in twenty-first. This is the first time this season Saavedra will start behind his teammate Sébastien Bourdais. The Frenchman starts fifteenth.

This year's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be 80 laps, five shorter than previous years in hopes prevent a fuel-mileage race.

IndyCar morning warm-up will take place at noon ET. NBC Sports Network will air the Indy Lights race at 3:00 p.m. ET, IndyCar pre-race at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 4:45 p.m. ET. Forecast for today's race calls for 76 degrees Fahrenheit with zero chance of rain.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Franchitti Rebounds With Long Beach Pole

St. Petersburg and Barber didn't goes as planned for Dario Franchitti but Long Beach qualifying turned out well for the four-time champion as the Scot won his first pole since Toronto last year. He bumped Ryan Hunter-Reay off pole position on his final lap, with a time of 1:07.2379. Hunter-Reay just missed back-to-back poles for the first time in his career. This is Franchitti's 30th career pole position and it comes in his 250th start in American open-wheel racing.

Will Power starts third with Takuma Sato fourth. Mike Conway was fifth fastest as the Brit makes his first start of the 2013 season. Points leader Helio Castroneves starts sixth.

St. Petersburg winner James Hinchcliffe will start seventh after a short outing at Barber. Tony Kanaan starts eighth with Charlie Kimball and EJ Viso making up row five. Graham Rahal will start a season best eleventh with JR Hildebrand in twelfth.

Hildebrand advanced to the Fast 12 after two penalties. The first on Scott Dixon who brought out a red flag in the final seconds of round one, group two. Marco Andretti was disqualified before the start of round two for blocking, which elevated the Californian Hildebrand to twelfth. Hildebrand's teammate Oriol Serviá was penalize for getting into the tire barrier at the end of round one, group two. The penalty on Serviá was rescinded after review.

AJ Allmendinger starts fourteenth in his first race at Long Beach since 2006. Other notables not to make it out of round one include Simon Pagenaud, Tristan Vautier, Justin Wilson, Simona de Silvestro and Alex Tagliani.

Justin Wilson was not able to make a lap after a rear wing issue prior to heading out on track.

Morning warm-up for the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place at noon ET. NBC Sports Network's coverage will begin with Indy Lights at 3:00 p.m. ET, IndyCar pre-race at 4:00 p.m. ET and green flag scheduled for 4:45 p.m. ET.

Pagenaud Paces Final Practice

The Honda of Simon Pagenaud ran the fastest time in final practice at 1:08.0960. Will Power was second, just 0.0076 seconds back. Mike Conway continues his impressive season debut. He was third ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay and his teammate Graham Rahal.

Dario Franchitti led his teammate Charlie Kimball in sixth and seventh. AJ Allmendinger returns to Long Beach for the first time since 2006. He was eight. Simona de Silvestro and Helio Castroneves rounded out the top ten. The Chevrolets of Tony Kanaan, JR Hildebrand and Marco Andretti took the next three spots on the timesheet with Tristan Vautier in fourteenth and Sébastien Bourdais in fifteenth.

Other notables from final practice were Takuma Sato in 17th, James Hinchcliffe in 19th, Josef Newgarden 20th, Scott Dixon 22nd and Justin Wilson 24th.

There were two incidents in the session. Power went into the tires in turn one and Castroneves had a off as well.

Should the times carry over to qualifying, the teams advancing to the Fast 12 would look like this:
Group One: Pagenaud, Conway, Rahal, Franchitti, Kanaan, Vautier.
Group Two: Power, Hunter-Reay, Kimball, Allmendinger, de Silvestro, Castroneves.

Qualifying will take place at 5:00 p.m. ET and will air on NBC Sports Network at 6:00 p.m. ET.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Mark Miles: Do Not Micromanage The Schedule

I love the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, the Indianapolis 500 is the only race at the Speedway that will capture my emotions to drive me to watch live streaming practice on a Wednesday afternoon with one car on track and have me on edge everyday for a month.

Running a road course race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway any time of the year is an abomination. Let me put it to you this way Mr. Miles, it would be like playing a second tournament at Wimbledon in early December. You don't do it. You go once and you return eleven months later. 

As someone outside the Indianapolis-area, I don't give a damn about a second race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It does nothing to expand IndyCar's fan base. Sure Indianapolis has fantastic IndyCar fans but what does it do for expanding IndyCar? Even if they run a second race in Indianapolis, how well will it draw, especially if it is on the road course? Everybody knows the race would not come close to a race on the oval and even if they get 50,000 people, the place would look uncomfortably empty. Seeing 75% of the Speedway empty for an IndyCar race does not sit well with me. Thinking about it makes me want to vomit.

The season finale has been pushed back to mid-October and that is ok. I have never been a fan of those who fear going head-to-head with the NFL season. You have to counter program the NFL every now and then. Besides, Fontana will be a Saturday night. No NFL to compete with that night, some college football, but that is not as big of a threat. The season finale does not need to be fudged with. Fontana produced thrilling racing and that is expected to carry over to this season. The IMS road course has only produced good racing for MotoGP but you could put those guys in your basement and they would put on a great show.

IndyCar should work to build the fan bases at these other tracks, instead of spending two years at a place and saying "f--- it" when the crowds aren't 70,000 people. Let's be realistic, 30,000 in year one for a race isn't bad for IndyCar this day in age. That's a good base and let's work from there. That is a better crowd than the Lakers, Clippers, Ducks or Kings draw any night and a fair amount of MLB teams would kill for a crowd of 30,000 people.

Should the reports be true, Mark Miles wants to end the season by Labor Day and begin with a few international races. 

IndyCar's big problem that has been mention by virtually everyone involved in IndyCar is date equity. Where the hell would Fontana go if the season ends by Labor Day and at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the road course? What about Baltimore and Houston? Moving dates around too much is where IndyCar gets themselves into trouble. Remember Kentucky? Produced really good racing and had a stable date in mid-August. Then in 2010 the race moved to Labor Day weekend. A year later Kentucky was moved to the beginning of October with a much smaller crowd. And after one race in October, Kentucky was off the schedule. 

There are plenty of tracks IndyCar can go to during the middle of the year. IndyCars should be looking to return to Road America, Kentucky, Richmond, Phoenix, Michigan and should be trying to add Austin. Austin is the premier track in the United States and anyone who thinks IndyCar should not go there because Formula One currently has a race weekend at the track is being ridiculous. I don't care if IndyCars are running slower lap times. If they produce a great race, who gives a damn what the lap times are?

As for international races, it depends how IndyCar does it. Miles mentioned doing an international championship. Is IndyCar that popular to have a separate international season? I don't think so. Now could IndyCar run a race or two in the beginning of the year, maybe in Australia? Sure.

My fear is Miles is following the Boston Consulting Group's report too closely. The report that called for a fifteen race season over nineteen weeks with a three race playoff,  Long Beach moved to August and races in the Boston, Miami, Seattle, Atlanta and Chicago markets while leaving races that draw decent crowds today: Iowa, Milwaukee, St. Petersburg and Barber. Is Miles going to walk from his best oval event outside of Indianapolis and his best natural terrain road course? How would that go over with the fan base? Mark Miles should take a step back for the rest of 2013 and look at what races are working and I am not necessarily talking about what races draw the best TV ratings or what races have the grandstands that look the fullest but look at where the best racing is, which fans are passionate for IndyCar and where the teams and driver like to go to. After you do that Miles, then you can start making decisions. 

Hunter-Reay Continues Andretti's Success. Fastest in Second Practice

Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest in Friday second practice at Long Beach with a time of 1:09.4224. Mike Conway was second for the second consecutive session 0.0379 seconds back. Will Power jumped up to third on the time sheet, ten positions up from first practice. Tristan Vautier made a big jump from twenty-first to fourth in second practice with Helio Castroneves rounding out the top five.

Just like first practice, Honda took positions sixth through ninth. This time with James Jakes, Alex Tagliani, Dario Franchitti and Takuma Sato. James Hinchcliffe, fastest in the first session, was tenth in second practice.  For the second consecutive session, eight different teams were represented in the top ten.

Justin Wilson and Simona de Silvestro got together during the session. Wilson ended up in the tires in turn eight and the Chevrolet of de Silvestro then made contact with the Brit. They were 15th and 16th respectively in second practice.

Other notables from second practice were Scott Dixon 11th, Simon Pagenaud 12th, Marco Andretti 13th, JR Hildebrand 17th, AJ Allmendinger 19th, Josef Newgarden 21st, Charlie Kimball 24th and Graham Rahal 27th. Rahal only ran five laps during the session.

IndyCar third practice will begin at 1:40 p.m. ET, with qualifying at 5:00 p.m. ET tomorrow afternoon. Qualifying will air on NBC Sports Network at 6:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. tomorrow.

Hinchcliffe fastest, Conway Second at Long Beach First Practice

James Hinchcliffe may have been fastest in IndyCar first practice at Long Beach but second fastest Mike Conway was the most impressive. Conway was fastest most of the session but ended only 0.0133 seconds off Hinchcliffe's fastest lap of 1:09.8157. This is Conway's only announced race of the 2013 season and his first since Baltimore last September. Takuma Sato was third followed by Simona de Silvestro and Barber race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Hinchcliffe and Conway were the only two drivers to break into the 1:09 bracket.

Eight different teams are represented in the top ten with Honda taking positions sixth through ninth with Justin Wilson, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden and the Chevrolet of JR Hildebrand rounding out the top ten. The third Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan entry of James Jakes was eleventh fastest, ahead of Simon Pagenaud and Will Power. Dario Franchitti found himself in fourteenth with Helio Castroneves in fifteenth.

Other notables from the session include Tony Kanaan 16th, Marco Andretti 17th, Tristan Vautier 21st, Alex Tagliani 23rd and AJ Allmendinger 26th.

One second covered the top eighteen times with ten of those cars being Hondas and eight being Chevrolets.

Second Friday practice will take place at 5:30 p.m. ET.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Track Walk: Long Beach 2013

Andretti Autosport heads to the streets of Long Beach coming off back-to-back wins with James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The team looks for it's third consecutive win to start the season and it's third win at Long Beach in the last four races on Shoreline Drive.

Who Can Keep It Up?
Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti and Justin Wilson are the only four drivers to have a top ten in the first two races. Since returning to Long Beach in 2009, Castroneves has not finished better than seventh. Dixon's best finish is fourth at Long Beach; his next best finish is fifteenth. Marco Andretti has finishes of sixth, fourteenth, twenty-sixth and twenty-fifth at Long Beach. Due to racing in ChampCar, Justin Wilson has more appearances at Long Beach than those three, with six top-tens in nine Long Beach Grand Prix. Wilson more impressively has started in the top ten in eight of his nine Long Beach Grand Prix, with his worst start being eleventh in his first career ChampCar race in 2004.

Meanwhile, other unlikely names occupy spots in the top ten in points. Charlie Kimball finished fourth at Barber and ran well all weekend. He currently sits sixth in the points. EJ Viso has been clean in two race weekends and is tenth in points with finishes of seventh and twelfth. Kimball's two finishes at Long Beach are twenty-fourth and eighteenth and Viso has one top ten, a ninth back in 2008.

AJ Allmendinger: Round Two
Allmendinger was impressive at Barber, being in the top ten in every session between Friday and Saturday. He was running in the top ten most of the day before stalling after a pit stop put him a lap down. He would get himself back on the lead lap under green flag conditions and finish nineteenth. Allmendinger returns to Long Beach for the first time since the opening round of the 2006 ChampCar season. Allmendinger was teamed with Justin Wilson at RuSport and started fourth before getting caught up in a lap one, turn one accident with Oriol Serviá, Paul Tracy and Bruno Junqueira.

Another driver making a return to the streets of Long Beach is the 2011 winner of the Long Beach Grand Prix, Mike Conway. Conway raced in the FIA World Endurance Championship opening round at Silverstone last week. He drove the #26 LMP2 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan with John Martin and Roman Rusinov to thirteenth overall, seventh in class.

Busy "Off Weekends"
Conway wasn't the only one on track last weekend. Takuma Sato ran the opening round of the 2013 Super Formula (formerly Formula Nippon) season at Suzuka. Sato started sixth and finished fifteenth. Notable drivers Sato raced against former Formula One drivers Kazuki Nakajima and James Rossiter and past IndyCar drivers João Paulo de Oliveria and Hideki Mutoh.

Other Notes
Dario Franchitti will be making his 250th career start this weekend.

Ten cars are entered for the Indy Lights races with Canadian Matthew Di Leo making his Lights debut.

2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice will be competing in RallyCross at X Games Brazil. Other drivers competing include Ken Block, Brian Deegen, Tanner Foust, Travis Pastrana, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Scott Speed.

Interesting fact: Charlie Kimball has lead more laps this season than his teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti combined.

Zero chance of rain this weekend. Temperatures call for 81 degrees on Friday, 77 on Saturday and 73 on race day.

The track record at Long Beach on the current layout was set by Sébastien Bourdais in 2006. He ran a lap of 1:06.886.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has a really good track record at Long Beach with one win. Will Power has been on the podium in five of his seven Long Beach starts. I'm going out on a limb and taking Simon Pagenaud. He had a great race at Long Beach last year and is in great position to take his first career victory this weekend. Castroneves should be able to hold on to the points lead. Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing finally gets its first top ten of the season. Dario Franchitti will finish better than twenty-fifth this weekend. Sebastián Saavedra will not qualify in the top ten this weekend. Sleeper: Tony Kanaan.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

IndyCar Ideas: Part Two

Part two looks at the Mazda Road to Indy. The ladder system is suppose to be the home to the future of IndyCar. However, low car counts affect Indy Lights and the three series have little presences on television.

Part one can be found here.

The United SportsCar Racing series set to debut in 2014 will surely mean the Izod IndyCar Series will lose a partner at some road and street courses events and a few series in the ladder system will probably lose spots at sports car weekend which could feature the USCR, Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, IMSA Prototype Lites, IMSA GT3 Cup and the American DTM series. Losing sports cars at IndyCar weekends would create a gap at certain places such as Long Beach and Baltimore and leave U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda with fewer race weekends.

The Idea: Expand the Road to Indy Presence At IndyCar Weekends
Should the USCR bump U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda from the inn during their race weekends, finding a home should not be difficult. It may actually be welcomed. Bolstering an IndyCar race weekend to include all series in the ladder system would give the series a platform for it's drivers to be seen by IndyCar team owners.

Moving all series of the Mazda Road to Indy would also be beneficial for fans attending the race. A race day can be promoted as a quadruple header. Four races, one day. Not many other series can promote that.

Flaws In The Idea
1. You can't make an event take on the other two series. Long Beach, for example, does not have to take on the two series if sports cars were to not return in 2014. Same as Baltimore. The truth is U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda are not as big of a draw as either one of the two sports car series. For a promoter, 9 out of 10 would probably take ALMS or Grand-Am over U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda any day of the week. Some promoters maybe more willing than others but they have to do what will make more business sense for them and if a sports car series is going to draw (hypothetically speaking) 10,000 more people on a race weekend than the lower two rungs of the ladder system, can you blame them?

2. Is there any room at the IndyCar inn to begin with? U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda aren't going to Pocono, Texas and Fontana. The only other oval option would be Iowa. They can't go to Brazil. Barber could be possible if sports cars don't return. The Izod IndyCar Series is the only series going to Belle Isle and Sonoma but Grand-Am is going to Belle Isle in June and it is an IndyCar doubleheader. This season, only St. Pete, Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Houston host all four series. With sports cars future at Barber, Long Beach, Belle Isle and Baltimore in question, the quickest call to fill a void if needed would be on the ladder systems.

3. Could the teams in the ladder system afford these weekends? U.S. F2000 has seven race weekends in 2013, four with IndyCar, two with sports cars and one with USAC. Pro Mazda has nine race weekends, five with IndyCar, two with sports cars, one with USAC and one stand alone event. Say come 2014, each series loses their sports car weekends and fills in at the IndyCar weekends losing sports cars, would that exacerbate the teams funds? Could U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda be able to run two extra weekends? And, more importantly, would the drivers be able to find funding for those extra weekends?

In Reality... 
1. IndyCar has to make the ladder system desirable. They have to go to a promoter and convince them all series in the ladder system racing during the same weekend would be able to draw in more fans by giving them more on-track action.

2. It would not hurt places such as Barber and Belle Isle if the Mazda Road to Indy filled should these tracks lose Grand-Am. Barber has been a great track for both Indy Lights and IndyCar while Belle Isle would showcase the cars in a major market.

3. Funding could balance itself out should Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 not return to supporting sports car races when unification takes place in 2014. Losing two or three sports car weekends and replacing them with two or three IndyCar weekends may not affect the costs of running a full season for these teams. That would be good not only for the teams but the drivers as they look for funding for a full season.

Bringing the Road to Indy to more IndyCar race weekends seems easier than trying to get 40 cars to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. It would only help out the teams and drivers in the lower two series get noticed by IndyCar team owners and part three of these IndyCar Ideas will look at expanding the TV coverage of the Mazda Road of Indy and expanding IndyCar coverage.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

IndyCar Ideas: Part One

Last weekend was an off weekend for IndyCar but that does not mean my mind stopped thinking about the premier open-wheel racing series in North America. If anything, the off time allowed me to think about the sport and where it needs to be strengthen. It was a time of brainstorming and trying to use creativity to help the series going forward. A few things have been on my mind in particular the past few weeks. Indianapolis and the ladder system are just a few of the things that came to mind. These ideas aren't perfect and each have their own flaws which I hope to cover as well as the positive things these ideas could do for IndyCar.

Originally I had plan to do just one post but after typing I realized how long the post was going to be and have decided to break it into multiple parts. Keep an eye out for the following parts over the next through days.

Bump Day at Indianapolis
There is nothing wrong with the day itself. It is fine the way it is; however, there has been a lack of bumping over the past decade. 2010 and 2011 were the highlight years for bump day since the split in 1996 and bump day has mostly been a calm Sunday afternoon and this year appears will be no different. Everyone optimistically wants 34 or 35 cars for Indianapolis this year and with Honda already announcing they will have 17 engine packages on the ready for May, one hopes Chevrolet matches and we will see 34 car going for 33 spots.

Part of me wants to see 40 cars show up and having more than one or two team frantically sweating out the final hours on bump day. These current times do no really promote that type of competition though. If IndyCar still had a third manufacture and that manufacture actually had the funds necessary to run an IndyCar program (unlike Lotus), then it could be possible. Should a time come when three manufactures each pony up 13 cars for Indianapolis, then 40 isn't even a question. As of today though, 33 with a slim possibility of a 34th entry is what we are left with.

The Idea: Raise Car Counts at Indianapolis
I know, easier said than done. However, what if IndyCar could work with the manufactures so each had to be able to supply a certain number of entries for Indianapolis? Kind of like what IndyCar does now for the full season. After Lotus withdrew in late 2012, Chevrolet and Honda each had to be able to field 60 percent of a 26 car grid. What if IndyCar raised that number for Indianapolis? What if IndyCar said to the manufactures for Indianapolis they had to be able to field 60 percent of a 33 car grid? Currently, the manufactures have to be able to field 16 (rounded up from 15.6) of 26 cars. If IndyCar were to say the manufactures had to be able to field 60 percent of 33 cars, that number would increase to 19.8, or a nice round 20 cars.

Flaws In The Idea: This idea is not bulletproof. 1. You have to get the engine manufactures to agree to this before you can enforce it.

2. Resources are stretched as it is for teams. There is almost no possible way the current amount of teams could be able to prepare 40 cars and engines for the month of May. You would need outside teams to come in for an Indianapolis one-off but how can you get team interested to do a one-off program they are currently not interested in?

3. Even if you were to raise the minimum, there is no way to force each manufacture to run the full allotment. All the rule says is each manufacture has to be able to supply 60 percent, not each manufacture must supply 60 percent. You can enact the rule but Chevrolet and Honda still may only run 17 cars a piece and show IndyCar they have the ability to field the full quota if needed to do so.

What Steps Could Be Taken To Make This a Reality?: 1. Talk to the manufactures about the importance of bumping. Instead of having an hour of qualifying on Sunday because only the first eight rows are filled on Saturday and five hours of practice afterward, get the manufactures excited about bumping cars. Bump day is a big chance for Indianapolis 500 promotion. Besides the six-plus hours of coverage NBC Sports Network gives, talk to ESPN about having an Indianapolis 500 preview special on bump day the week before the race. Have it air after the gun has sounded. Once again, there is no way you can force ESPN to do that and ESPN probably isn't interested to begin with.

2. As for getting other teams interested, talk to the manufactures about bringing teams from other series to the Speedway. Hypothetically, Chevrolet could bring in Wayne Taylor Racing, Bob Stallings Racing and Action Express Racing from Grand-Am not to mention the possibility (though awfully unlikely) of getting a NASCAR team to do Indianapolis. Honda could call upon Greg Pickett Racing, Extreme Speed Motorsports (owned by Scott Sharp) and Level 5 Motorsports from ALMS. For this to happen though, the manufactures have to get the other teams engage and show how important winning Indianapolis is to them that they are going to the depth of their arsenal and bringing out all the big guns. The next obstacle for this to happen is supplying the teams with the necessary chassis and engine packages. Chassis and engines are not cheap, even for an Indianapolis one-off. I bet Chevrolet and Honda could cut a deal on engines for the teams doing Indianapolis but I doubt Dallara would do the same. Even though we are in year two of the DW12, it's not like there are chassis galore for everyone and their brother. Even technical alliances with current IndyCar teams are unlikely.

In reality, this idea of a 40 car, all-out, Chevrolet vs. Honda dogfight on bump day is never going to happen. Even if it were to, it's another two or three years away or whenever Dallara or somebody else comes up with a new chassis and the DW12s are grandfathered in. The resources, both manufactural and financial, are not available at the current moment to make it possible nor is the outside interest of running Indianapolis high enough to get the necessary one-offs. It is a stretch but getting 40 cars with hopefully some recognizable drivers for the average racing fan to attempt Indianapolis would not hurt the series or the race.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Briscoe at Indianapolis, Formula One in China, NASCAR in Texas

Approaching the middle of April, it is that time of the year when racing is fresh and the month of May is getting close. Which means rumors are new each and every day and announcements are expected to be made. With that said, the first big pin has fallen.

Briscoe at Indianapolis
Ryan Briscoe will return to Chip Ganassi Racing for this year's Indianapolis 500. The defending Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter will drive the #8 NTT DATA Honda. Briscoe ran for Penske Racing the past five season, where the Australian scored seven wins, twelve poles and never finished worse than 6th in the points standings. This attempt at Indianapolis will be Briscoe's first race with Honda since Kentucky 2011.

In seven starts at Indianapolis, Briscoe has 2 top-fives, 3 top-tens and has started in the first three rows in five of his seven starts. Briscoe completes an impressive four driver line-up at Ganassi with Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball.

Briscoe is the 30th announced entry to go along with the 25 full-time cars, AJ Allmendinger, Carlos Muñoz, Conor Daly and a to be determined third driver at Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing. Rumored teams that could be adding a car for Indianapolis are Schmidt-Peterson, Ed Carpenter, Dale Coyne, Sarah Fisher-Hartman Racing and Panther Racing.

Formula One in China
Formula One heads to Shanghai for the third round of the championship. Sebastian Vettel leads the World Driver's Standings after winning the Malaysia Grand Prix three weeks ago. In Friday second practice, the Ferrari of Felipe Massa was quickest ahead of Australian Grand Prix winner Kimi Räikkönen and teammate Fernando Alonso. Defending Chinese Grand Prix winner Nico Rosberg was 4th fastest in second practice after leading first practice. Mark Webber was fifth ahead of Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta and Vettel.

Qualifying takes place Saturday morning at 2:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Network with race coverage starting at 2:30 a.m. Sunday.

NASCAR in Texas
The first night Cup race of the 2013 season is this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson leads the point standings after his 8th career win at Martinsville Speedway last Sunday. Brad Keselowski jumped up to second and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell to third after last week with Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne rounding out the top five. Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth both entered the top ten after Martinsville while Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin dropped out. Hamlin will miss his second consecutive race with a broken vertebra. Brian Vickers will be in the #11 Gibbs Toyota this weekend.

The last two spring races at Texas Motor Speedway have been won by Roush Fenway Racing with Greg Biffle winning last April. Last fall, Jimmie Johnson won at Texas, holding off Brad Keselowski in the race but would fall in the final two races, giving Keselowski the championship and dropping Johnson to third in the final standings. The race can be seen tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. on Fox.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Testing at Pocono and 27 for Long Beach

After a great battle between Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves for the win at Barber Motorsports Park, the Izod IndyCar Series takes this weekend off before heading to Long Beach. But some are busy in the Keystone State.

Testing at Pocono
For the first time since 1989, IndyCars will being running at Pocono Raceway. Pennsylvania native Marco Andretti leads Dario Franchitti, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud to the 2.5 mile triangle racetrack in Long Pond, Pa for a Firestone tire test. The aero package they will be using at this test will be the same aero package used at Indianapolis and Fontana, the other two legs of the IndyCar Triple Crown.

Of the four drivers, Dario Franchitti is the only one to have ever raced at Pocono. He started 14th and finished 41st after 137 laps in a NASCAR race in June 2008. Since then the track has been repaved and safety improvements were made. The July 7 Pocono IndyCar 400 will be the first race in the state of Pennsylvania since 2004, when Dan Wheldon won at Nazareth Speedway. The test is open to the public with the gates opening at 9:00 AM.

27 for Long Beach
Though 11 days away, the Long Beach Grand Prix will feature 27 entrants. Besides the 25 drivers who ran St. Petersburg, AJ Allmendinger will run for a second consecutive week after a positive weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. Allmendinger was in the top 10 in every session on Friday and Saturday and was 12th in the morning warm-up before the race on Sunday. He was running in the top 10 before stalling after a pit stop dropped him to 19th. Allmendinger has run three Long Beach Grand Prix from 2004-2006. His best start is 4th and best finish is 8th in the Southern California street race. He did win his first career Atlantics race at Long Beach in 2003 from pole position.

Mike Conway returns to the Izod IndyCar Series for the first time since Baltimore last year. Conway announced his retirement from ovals prior to the Fontana race last September. Conway returns in a third Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan entry and looks to pick up his second career win at Long Beach. He won the 2011 Long Beach Grand Prix driving for Andretti Autosport after passing Dario Franchitti for second and then running down Ryan Briscoe and passing him for the win 14 laps to go. Conway will be one of six past Long Beach Grand Prix winners in the field joining Helio Castroneves, Sébastien Bourdais, Will Power, Dario Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Other News
Carlos Muñoz won the Indy Lights race at Barber on Sunday, ahead of Schmidt-Peterson teammates Jack Hawksworth and Gabby Chaves. Americans Sage Karam and Zach Veach were 4th and 9th respectively. In the points, Hawksworth leads Muñoz by 12, with Irishman Peter Dempsey, Karam and Chaves rounding out the top five.

In bike news, Jorge Lorenzo won at the MotoGP Grand Prix of Qatar ahead of teammate Valentino Rossi and fellow Spaniard Marc Márquez. Dani Pedrosa was 4th with Americans Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies finishing 8th and 10th respectively and Colin Edwards retiring from the event. Next round for MotoGP will be at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas on April 21st.

The Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette Daytona Prototype of Max Angelelli and Jordan Taylor won at Babrer on Saturday ahead of Gainsco Racing's Jon Fogerty and Alex Gurney. Richard Westbrook and Ricky Taylor of Spirit of Daytona Racing rounded out a Corvette DP 1-2-3. The Ganassi BMW of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas still leads the points standings. They are 2 points up on Fogerty and Gurney and 5 ahead of Angelelli/J.Taylor. Next round for the Rolex Sports Car Series is Road Atlanta on April 20th.

The 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship begins this weekend at Silverstone. Audi and Toyota are each fielding two hybrid entries in the LMP1 class. Americans to look out for are Chris Dyson and Michael Marsal. Both are competing in LMP2 in the #41 Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan. They are teamed with Tom Kimber-Smith, a three-time class winner in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, having won in the LMP2 class the past two editions of the French classic.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Barber 2013: First Impressions

1. Great race all around. You had Ryan Hunter-Reay pull away in the beginning. Then Helio Castroneves run him down and open up a massive lead. Hunter-Reay gets by Will Power and reels in Castroneves before taking the lead and having a nice back-and-forth with Scott Dixon, holding him off for the final 10 laps.

2. Great weekend for Charlie Kimball by finishing 4th.

3. Charlie Kimball has led more laps this season than Dixon and Franchitti combined.

4. Congratulations to Josef Newgarden and Tristan Vautier on their first career top tens.

5. James Hinchcliffe was waiting a long time to get back to the pit lane. Tough break for the Canadian coming off his first career win.

6. Nice to see Simon Pagenaud bounce back with a 6th place.

7. Not a bad race for Marco Andretti in 7th.

8. Chevrolet may have won but Honda had six of the top ten.

9. AJ Allmendinger may have finished 19th but he ran much better than that. Great to hear he will be at Long Beach, a track he has been to before. Wouldn't be surprised if he gets a top ten if he continues the pace he had all weekend at Barber.

10. Another bad break for Dario Franchitti with an electrical problem. Two 25th place finishes is not the way anyone saw his season beginning.

11. Good news for JR Hildebrand is no one mentioned him today which means he didn't pass anyone under yellow or run anyone over. However he didn't do anything that impressive finishing in 17th.

12. Simona de Silvestro had a quiet race despite her pace all weekend, finishing 18th.

13. Mixed day for Dale Coyne. Justin Wilson in 8th. Ana Beatriz in 24th.

14. Terrible race for Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing. Graham Rahal finished 21st and got caught in an early accident with Oriol Serviá. James Jakes had a mechanical issue and finished 23rd.

15. Another disappointing race for Sebastián Saavedra. Starts ninth for the second consecutive race but finishes 20th.

16. Can't wait for Long Beach in two weeks. I was going to pick Ryan Hunter-Reay for that race before today. He has always been fast there and it's one of his favorite race tracks.

17. Great start of the season for Andretti Autosport. Two wins, their three drivers are 3rd, 4th and 6th in the points. If I am Michael Andretti, I am satisfied but not going to lay back and settle for what I got. I am going for the jugular this season.

Morning Warm-Up: Barber 2013

The defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay will start the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from pole position after beating out the likes of Scott Dixon, Tristan Vautier, Will Power, Charlie Kimball and Helio Castroneves in the Firestone Fast Six.

The bigger story out of qualifying was the blocking penalty issued to Takuma Sato after the Fast 12, relegating the Japanese driver from the Fast Six to twelfth of the grid and promoting the rookie Vautier into the final round of qualifying. Sato had impeded Justin Wilson entering turn eight. Race director Beuax Barfield made the call and Sato lost his two fastest laps from qualifying.

Marco Andretti starts seventh, with Justin Wilson right next to him in eighth. Sebastián Saavedra makes another appearance in the top ten, starting ninth while his teammate Sébastien Bourdais struggled again and could not make it out of the first round. AJ Allmendinger starts tenth in his return to IndyCar with James Jakes joining Sato on row six. 

For a second consecutive week, big names are starting in the back half of the grid. Simon Pagenaud and Simona de Silvestro, the two fastest from the final practice session before qualifying, both were seventh in their respective groups and missed out on the top 12. Dario Franchitti finds himself in seventeenth with the winner of the most recent race, James Hinchcliffe down in twentieth. The Americans of Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden make up row eleven.

In other news, all signs point to Ryan Briscoe driving a Ganassi entry for the Indianapolis 500. Briscoe raced for Ganassi during his rookie season in 2005. He ran 14 races before having his season end in a crash at Chicagoland Speedway. Last year, Briscoe won the pole position for the Indianapolis 500. As of now the unofficial Indianapolis 500 entry list is at 30, with the 26 running Barber today, Briscoe, Carlos Muñoz at Andretti, Conor Daly at Foyt and a third Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan entry.

Forecast today is mostly sunny at 75 degrees with zero chance of rain. NBC Sports Network will broadcast the Indy Lights race at 2:00 PM with IndyCar pre-race coverage at 3:00 PM and green flag around 3:40 PM. All times are Eastern.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Car 1, P1. Hunter-Reay wins Pole at Barber

For the first time since Assen 2007, car number 1 will start from pole position as Ryan Hunter-Reay won the pole for tomorrow's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The American beat out Will Power with a time of 1:07.0871. Tristan Vautier starts third after replacing Takuma Sato in the Fast Six because Sato was given a blocking penalty during round two. Sato will start twelfth.

Scott Dixon set the fastest time of qualifying, a 1:06.7750 during round one, but he could only manage fourth. Charlie Kimball has had a great weekend and that carried over to qualifying where he starts fifth, ahead of Helio Castroneves in sixth.

Marco Andretti will start seventh for the second consecutive race with Justin Wilson next to him on the grid. Sebastián Saavedra made another appearance in the Fast Twelve and will roll off from ninth for the second consecutive race. AJ Allmendinger will start tenth in his first race back in IndyCar. James Jakes and Takuma Sato make up row six.

Big names failing to make the Fast Twelve is becoming nothing out of the ordinary in IndyCar. Dario Franchitti, Simona de Silvestro, Simon Pagenaud, James Jakes, Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal will all start in the back half of the grid after failing to advance from round one.

IndyCar morning warm-up will take place at noon ET tomorrow with the NBCSN broadcast beginning at 3:00 PM ET and green flag around 3:40 PM ET.

de Silvestro Fastest in Saturday Morning Practice

Simona de Silvestro set the fastest time of the weekend with a 1:07.4073 this morning, ahead of the Hondas of Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon. The past two champions Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dario Franchitti were fourth and fifth respectively.

JR Hildebrand was a surprising sixth but even more surprising than him was AJ Allmendinger in seventh, the fastest Penske entrant. Tristan Vautier, Justin Wilson and Will Power rounded out the top ten as Honda appears to have closed the gap from St. Petersburg. Both manufactures had five representatives in the top ten.

James Hinchcliffe was 11th ahead of Castroneves, Tagliani, Viso, Bourdias, Jakes, Kanaan, Rahal, Kimabll and Serviá.

The bottom six were Newgarden, Saavedra, Andretti, Sato, Carpenter and Beatriz.

The biggest news from the morning was the announcement AJ Allmendinger will run the Long Beach Grand Prix in a fortnight.

Should the results from third practice carry over to qualifying the following drivers would advance to the Fast 12.
Group One: Pagenaud, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Franchitti, Allmendinger and Tagliani.
Group Two: de Silvestro, Hildebrand, Vautier, Wilson, Power and Hinchcliffe.

Qualifying takes place at 11:25 AM ET.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Rookie Vautier Fastest in Morning, Castroneves Fastest in Afternoon

Friday at Barber Motorsports Park saw times plenty fast enough to break the track record at the natural terrain road course.

In the morning, rookie Tristan Vautier was fastest at 1:09.0120 with Scott Dixon only 0.0526 seconds behind the Frenchman. Defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was the fastest Chevrolet in third with the Ganassi driver Charlie Kimball in fourth and Will Power in fifth. AJ Allmendinger was ninth fastest in his first practice session back in an IndyCar since 2006. So much for Chevrolet dominance as the top ten was an even split five-to-five between them and Honda.

Other notbales in first practice were Takuma Sato 13th, James Hinchcliffe 15th, Marco Andretti 17th, Graham Rahal 21st and Justin Wilson 22nd.

Second practice saw the Chevrolet of Helio Castroneves fastest at a 1:08.5540 but Honda took six of the top ten. Alex Tagliani made an appearance in second with Vautier backing up his morning success in third; Simon Pagenaud and Will Power rounded out the top five. Allmendinger also backed his morning success by running eighth in the afternoon. James Jakes and Sato rounded out the top ten respectively.

Notables in second practice: Ryan Hunter-Reay 12th, Dario Franchitti 14th, Hinchcliffe 15th, de Silvestro 17th, Sébastien Bourdais 20th and Rahal 22nd.

IndyCar will run a 30-minute practice session Saturday morning at 9:00 AM ET with a qualifying at 11:25 AM ET.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Track Walk: Barber 2013

Coming off his first career win at St. Petersburg, James Hinchcliffe leads the Izod IndyCar Series to Barber Motorsports Park for the fourth edition of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The Canadian looks to double up while Will Power goes for his third consecutive victory at Barber Motorsports Park.

Top Names At The Back
Dario Franchitti is last in the standings with five points. That is how unpredictable St. Pete was two weeks ago. Misfortune hit many big names at St. Pete. A good weekend was never in Simon Pagenaud's cards as he was an after though all three days. Mechanical problems ended the days of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tristan Vautier and Josef Newgarden and Will Power's chances at victory vanished when JR Hildebrand got in the back of the Aussie under yellow. To better illustrate how bad the weekend was for these six drivers, Ed Carpenter is ahead of all of them in the standings (But round of applause for Carpenter who had a really good race and passed Sébastien Bourdais for position under green flag conditions. By far his best career street race).

Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay, Franchitti and Power were all preseason favorites and will have to keep their noses clean and avoid any further mechanical issues if they would like to get back in the championship picture quickly.

The Names Up Front
As mentioned earlier, James Hinchcliffe leads the Izod IndyCar Series point standings after his first career win at St. Pete. The Canadian held off Helio Castroneves for the win and now looks to turn this victory into momentum for the rest of 2013. Joining Hinchcliffe and Castroneves on the podium was one Marco Andretti, who had a wonderful weekend at St. Pete, a big improvement from 2012. Tony Kanaan finished fourth while Scott Dixon drove his way up from 20th to fifth. Simona de Silvestro finished sixth after running in the top five most of the race, a fresh change from her 2012 season with Lotus. EJ Viso, Takuma Sato, Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani round out the top ten.

The Return of AJ Allmendinger
Barber marks the anticipated return to IndyCar for AJ Allmendinger, six and a half years since his last start at Surfers Paradise. Allmendinger won five races in his final year before heading to NASCAR and he now returns with Penske Racing. Allmendinger has tested on three occasion, once at Sebring, Barber and most recently at Texas to complete his rookie oval orientation program. While only Barber and Indianapolis have been confirmed for Allmendinger, Long Beach has been rumored as potentially being added to his schedule.

Allmendinger was a little over a second off the fastest time at the Barber test last month. No one expects Allmendinger to come in and pick up right where he left off in 2006 but he should improve after each day during the weekend and if he does indeed run Long Beach, he could be on the fringe of the top ten.

On-Track Action
Last year, Barber surprised everyone with plenty of on-track action. Power drove from ninth to first. Bourdais went from seventeenth to ninth in a Lotus, while Franchitti drove from eighteenth to tenth, heck Serviá went from twenty-sixth, dead last to thirteenth in a Lotus. Now can Barber replicate the racing from 2012? That has yet to be seen but everyone is hoping

Other Notes
Ana Beatriz will drive the #18 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing through Indianapolis. Stefan Wilson was thought to make his debut this weekend. Nothing has been announced about any future races for Wilson.

The track record of 1:10.1060 set by Will Power in 2010 maybe in jeopardy as the fastest time at last month's test was a 1:07.1329 by Power.

James Hinchcliffe looks to become the first driver to get his first two career wins back-to-back since AJ Allmendinger did it at Portland and Cleveland in 2006. Allmendinger would go on to win a third in a row at Toronto.

There will be an open tire test at Pocono Raceway on Wednesday April 10. Marco Andretti, Dario Franchitti, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power will each testing at the 2.5 mile triangle. The test is open to the fans for free with gates opening at 9 am.

This Sunday's race will be the fourth race in American open-wheel history on April 7th. The other three have been won by Unsers. Bobby won at Phoenix in 1968 and Trenton in 1974, while Al won at Texas World Speedway in 1973.

Weather for this weekend at Barber calls for a slight chance of rain Friday at 20% with temperatures in the mid 60s. Saturday and Sunday temperatures should be in the mid 70s with no chance of rain.

While Power was fastest at the Barber test, Hinchcliffe was second. Both should be a factor at Barber. This will be the weekend Josef Newgarden finally breaks through and gets his first career top ten. Ryan Hunter-Reay will have a much better weekend than his weekend at St. Pete. Pagenaud turns it around and finishes ahead of his teammate. JR Hildebrand will not make the same mistakes he made at St. Pete. AJ Allmendinger keeps his nose clean and runs mid-pack all weekend. I want to take Scott Dixon this weekend but Honda's pace has been concerning. Give me Hinchcliffe again. He has the momentum, was quick during testing at Barber and seems in the zone. Sleeper: Oriol Serviá.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Daly Confirmed for Indianapolis, NASCAR at Martinsville, MotoGP Season Opener

With the Easter break behind us, racing returns this weekend with IndyCar and NASCAR returning to the race track while the MotoGP season begins under the lights in Qatar.

Daly To Attempt Indianapolis 500
Conor Daly will drive for AJ Foyt Racing in the Indianapolis 500 this May. Daly, an Indiana native, won the 2010 Star Mazda Championship and has spent the better part of two years racing in Europe. Daly has won in the Indy Lights Series and Indianapolis is scheduled to be his IndyCar debut. In his Star Mazda Championship season, Daly won the two oval events at Indianapolis Raceway Park and Iowa Speedway. Derek Daly, Conor's father, raced in the Indianapolis 500 on six occasions with his best finish being 12th in 1985.

Conor Daly ran in the GP2 weekend in Sepang with Formula One before Easter. He scored two points after his 7th place finish in the second race of the weekend. Nothing has been announced about his future racing endeavors in Europe.

With Daly being confirmed for Indianapolis, that brings the unofficial Indianapolis 500 entry list to 28 cars, the 25 full-timers, AJ Allmendinger, Carlos Muñoz and Daly, with speculations of Schmidt, Ganassi, Sarah Fisher-Hartman, Ed Carpenter, Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan and Panther Racing all running additional cars for Indianapolis as well.

NASCAR at Martinsville
NASCAR returns to Virginia without Virginia's top driver. Denny Hamlin will miss Martinsville after breaking a vertebra in a last lap accident at Fontana 10 days ago. Mark Martin will replace Hamlin this weekend, while Brian Vickers will run the Gibbs Toyota at the following four races.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the points standings after finishing in the top ten in all five events. Brad Keselowski averaged a finishing position of 3.5 through the first four races before a 23rd at Fontana. Keselowski is second in points. A new name in the top 10 in points is Paul Menard in 8th, after finishing in the top ten in the last three races. Names outside in the top 10 are Matt Kenseth in 11th, Clint Bowyer in 14th, Kevin Harvick in 15th, Jeff Gordon in 18th, Ryan Newman in 20th and Tony Stewart in 22nd.

Last year, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson led a combined 440 laps, only to have both drivers finish outside the top ten after getting together with Clint Bowyer on one of the green-white-checker attempts. Ryan Newman went on to win the race.

MotoGP Season Opener
The 2013 MotoGP season begins in Qatar this weekend as Jorge Lorenzo looks to defend his championship. He is teamed again with Valentino Rossi who returns to Yamaha after two seasons at Ducati. Dani Pedrosa will be teamed with fellow Spaniard Marc Márquez at Honda after the retirement of Casey Stoner. Márquez won the Moto2 championship last year after winning nine of seventeen rounds. The factory Ducati team will be Italian Andrea Dovizioso and American Nicky Hayden. Dovizioso moves back to a factory team after one season at Tech3 Yamaha. American Ben Spies moves to the customer Ducati team, Pramac Racing, after a dreadful 2012 season at Yamaha.

At the official test in Sepang last month, Pedrosa led Lorenzo with Rossi, Márquez, Cal Crutchlow and Stefan Brandl all within a second of the Honda. The Ducati's of Hayden and Dovizioso were 9th and 10th respectively with Ben Spies down in 15th.