Sunday, March 30, 2014

First Impressions: St. Petersburg 2014

1. Will Power did what he does best. He led the most laps, had pit strategy work to his favor and was quick all day.

2. As for the restart that took out Marco Andretti and Jack Hawksworth, was it Power's fault? Maybe. Was the restart zone to far down the front straightaway? Maybe. Personally, when the pace car pulls off the track, the leader should go, not wait until he passes a cone. 

3. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a consistent run as he finished second in Andretti Autosport's return race with Honda. 

4. Helio Castroneves had another good day in St. Petersburg as he held off the defending champion Scott Dixon for the final podium spot. 

5. Simon Pagenaud had a quiet day finishing fifth. 

6. Tony Kanaan comes home in sixth after holding off Takuma Sato, Justin Wilson and Josef Newgarden. Kanaan didn't make much noise in his first race with Ganassi.

7. Sato had a great start but was held out too long on his second stint and went from leading to fourth. Had he stopped a handful of laps earlier, he may have finished on the podium.

8. Wilson and Newgarden both made great runs from the back. Imagine what they could have done if they started better.

9. Ryan Briscoe quietly finished in the top ten. Not a bad start for the Australian.

10. Sebastián Saavedra and Mikhail Aleshin finished eleventh and twelfth. Both had clean races and other than one case where Aleshin was holding up traffic, not a bad race for the Russians debut.

11. Mike Conway could have challenged for the victory had there not been a failure in communication causing the Brit to stay out while everyone stopped under yellow. Then he passed the pace car and was penalized. The Brit had fastest lap until Will Power took it late in the race but sixteenth is all he could manage. Keep an eye on him for Long Beach in a fortnight.

12. Juan Pablo Montoya's average street course finish entering today was 15.5 and he finished fifteenth. He still has to learn the alternate tires which he struggled on. 

13. Was James Hinchcliffe in this race? The Canadian was a non-factor after having to start in the back. Not a great start for his season. 

14. Jack Hawksworth was in the top ten all day before the accordion accident on the restart. He made the Fast Twelve in qualifying. Not a bad debut weekend for him. 

15. Allen Bestwick is the best damn lead motorsports commentator ABC/ESPN has and putting him in the booth was a no-brainer. He really got Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever engaged in the broadcast beyond explaining the same things over and over again (I don't think Goodyear mentioned weight-jacker once during the broadcast, which is a first for him). I still think a driver who has been in the car more recently would do better in the booth. Three leads for a crowded at times but not bad.

16. Not the greatest race ever but not a bad start to 2014. A fortnight until Long Beach and the field is pretty even between Honda and Chevrolets. 

Morning Warm-Up: St. Petersburg 2014

Pole-sitter Takuma Sato looks to start 2014 with his second career victory.

Takuma Sato has been quick all weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg and it paid off on Saturday when the Japanese driver picked up his fourth career pole position, running the fastest lap of the weekend, a 61.8686. Sato's speed has never been an issue, it has been his ability to bring a car home at the end of a race that has kept the once factory Honda driver in Formula One driver from being a contender for a championship. Let's see if he can start the 2014 championship on the right foot.

Starting second is Tony Kanaan. Kanaan's struggles in qualifying have been well-documented but if there is one course Kanaan always runs well at it is St. Pete. In nine St. Pete starts, Kanaan has five podiums, seven top fives and eight top tens. Ryan Hunter-Reay starts third as he and Andretti Autosport are running their first race with Honda engines since the 2011 season finale after two seasons with Chevrolet. Will Power starts fourth. The Australian had won four consecutive poles at St. Pete. The Australian has never started worse than sixth in his seven St. Pete starts.

Defending IndyCar champion Scott Dixon starts fifth. He has three runner-up finishes on the streets of St. Pete. Marco Andretti will start sixth. The Pennsylvanian struggled early in the weekend to find speed but found it on the drying track during qualifying. His rookie teammate Carlos Muñoz just missed out on his first Fast Six appearance. Next to Muñoz will be fellow rookie Jack Hawksworth. The Bryan Herta Autosport driver won the Indy Lights race at St. Pete last year.

Rounding out the top ten are past St. Pete winners and former Penske teammates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves. Briscoe did not have a ride for St. Pete last year while Castroneves average finish at St. Pete is 6.375 with three victories and five podiums. Sebastián Saavedra starts eleventh with Mike Conway starting twelfth. Both are driving their first race with new teams. Saavedra with KV and Conway with Ed Carpenter Racing.

Frenchmen Sébastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud start on row seven after missing out on advancing from round one. Pagenaud's rookie teammate Mikhail Aleshin starts fifteenth on his IndyCar debut. Justin Wilson starts sixteenth with his rookie teammate Carlos Huertas in seventeenth. Juan Pablo Montoya joins his fellow Colombian on row nine. Montoya's average finish on street circuits is 15.5.

James Hinchcliffe was all set to advance from round one before he brought out a red flag, dropping him to nineteenth on the grid. The defending St. Pete race winner started fourth last year. Ninth is the worst starting position a winner has come from at St. Pete. Charlie Kimball starts twentieth. Kimball's average starting position at St. Pete is 19.75. Graham Rahal starts twenty-first after having an off in qualifying ruin his chance to start up front. He was second quickest on Friday. Josef Newgarden rounds out the field in twenty-second as the Tennessean starts his third season in IndyCar.

The Indy Lights season also begins on Sunday. Qualifying was rained out on Saturday and the field will be set on combined practice results. Gabby Chaves starts on pole driving for Belardi Auto Racing. Andretti Autosport drivers Zach Veach and Matthew Brabham start second and third. The 2013 AutoGP champion, Italian Vittorio Ghirelli starts fourth driving for Team Moore Racing. Scott Anderson starts fifth driving for Fan Force United.

Schmidt Peterson drivers Jack Harvey and Luiz Razia start sixth and seventh. Chaves' teammate Alexandre Baron starts eighth. Zach Meyer starts ninth driving for Team Moore. Juan Piedrahita rounds out the top ten ahead of his Schmidt Peterson teammate Juan Pablo Garcia. Bryan Herta Autosport driver Lloyd Read rounds out the field in twelfth. The Indy Lights race will take place at 12:47 p.m. ET.

ABC's coverage of the first round of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:27 p.m. ET.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sato Wins Delayed St. Petersburg Pole

After a three hour and four minute delay for rain, Takuma Sato took the first pole of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season and fourth of his career. After rain plagued the qualifying session, the track was dry by the time the Firestone Fast Six session started. The AJ Foyt Racing driver laid down a lap of 61.8686 seconds, nearly three tenths faster than Tony Kanaan in second.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will start third with Will Power starting fourth, over a half second back of Sato. Power had won four consecutive pole positions for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. This is only the second time in seven St. Pete appearances that Power is not starting on the front row. Scott Dixon will start fifth in the first race of his title defense and joining him on row three will be Marco Andretti.

With the pole, Sato will start with the points lead in 2014 as he is awarded one point for pole. Sato led the points last year after winning at Long Beach and held the points lead into the Indianapolis 500. Sato's last pole came last year. He won the pole for the first race of the Houston doubleheader last October.

Rookies Carlos Muñoz and Jack Hawksworth will start on row four. Former Penske teammates and St. Pete winners Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves will start ninth and tenth respectively. Sebastián Saavedra will start eleventh with fellow Chevrolet driver Mike Conway starting twelfth in his first race for Ed Carpenter Racing.

Sébastien Bourdais will start thirteenth with fellow Frenchman Simon Pagenaud joining him on row seven. Mikhail Aleshin starts fifteenth on debut next to Justin Wilson. Wilson's Coyne teammate Carlos Huertas will start seventeenth on his IndyCar debut and will be joined on row eight by fellow Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya. James Hinchcliffe was in position to advance to round two but brought out a late red flag, negating his fastest two laps and dropping him to nineteenth. Charlie Kimball starts twentieth. Graham Rahal had an off in round one and will start twenty-first. Josef Newgarden will round out the field, starting twenty-second.

Coverage for the 2014 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC with green flag at 3:27 p.m. ET.

Briscoe Tops Third Practice

Ryan Briscoe an the fastest lap of the weekend in third practice.
Chevrolet was fastest for their first session of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Season with perhaps a surprising driver leading the way.

Ryan Briscoe ran the fastest lap of the weekend, a 62.4235 second lap. Briscoe was 0.0494 seconds ahead of his former Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves. Through three practice session, three different drivers have been on top. Takuma Sato was fastest in second practice and was the lone Honda in the top five, 0.1007 seconds back in third. Sébastien Bourdais was fourth quick with Will Power rounding out the top five.

Simon Pagenaud was sixth quickest followed by fellow Honda driver James Hinchcliffe. Ganassi teammates Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon were eighth and ninth respectively. The fastest rookie was Jack Hawksworth in tenth, 0.3715 seconds back of Briscoe.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was eleventh with Mikhail Aleshin in twelfth. Justin Wilson was a half second off of Briscoe in thirteenth. Graham Rahal was fourteenth after being second in the second practice on Friday. Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top fifteen.

Carlos Muñoz followed his fellow Colombian on the time sheet in sixteenth. Josef Newgarden was seventeenth ahead of winners from the 2013 season Charlie Kimball and Mike Conway. Marco Andretti has had a rough two days of practice and was twentieth in the third session.

For the third consecutive practice session, the Colombianss Sebastián Saavedra and Carlos Huertas were the bottom two drivers. However, they weren't far off of the top time set by Briscoe. Saavedra was 0.9502 seconds off while 1.3121 seconds covers the whole field, from Briscoe to Huertas.

IndyCar qualifying will take place at 2:00 p.m. ET today.

Should the times from practice carry over to qualifying, the top six drivers advancing from each group to round two would look like this:

Group 1- Briscoe, Castroneves, Bourdais, Hinchcliffe, Kanaan, Hunter-Reay. Not advancing: Aleshin Rahal, Conway, Andretti and Huertas.
Group 2- Sato, Power, Pagenaud, Dixon, Hawksworth, Wilson. Not advancing: Montoya, Muñoz, Newgarden, Kimball, Saavedra.

Friday, March 28, 2014

First Day From St. Petersburg, An Idea for IndyCar Qualifying, Dario's in the News

Takuma Sato Was Fastest On Day One
IndyCar had its first day of the season with two practice sessions from St. Petersburg. Here is what caught my eye.

After a lackluster Barber test, Graham Rahal was ninth and second fastest in the two session. It was the turn around Rahal Letterman Lanigan has been looking for since Takuma Sato wrecked while in the top five at the 2012 season finale at Fontana. Is this just some early season magic or the signs of things to come in 2014? We will have to wait and see. 

Speaking of Sato... he was fastest on day one but that means nothing with the former Formula One driver. Time and time again we have seen Sato at the top of a timesheet only to throw it away in a race. He could win pole tomorrow and then throw it away on cold tires exiting the pit lane. 

The Honda teams had a good first day taking the top three in the first practice and top two in the second. James Hinchcliffe and Justin Wilson were the top two in the first session. They dropped to seventh and nineteenth in the second session. It appeared to be a good start for Andretti Autosport as Ryan Hunter-Reay was twelfth on day one with Carlos Muñoz thirteenth. Marco Andretti was eighteenth on the day but with the depth of the field he was ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya and Mike Conway.

Speaking of Montoya... after a good test at Barber, the first day at St. Petersburg wasn't great but as I pointed out in the Track Walk, Montoya's success on street courses has never been good. While he has two win, he averages a finish of 15.5 on street circuits. 

Montoya's teammates faired much better on day one. Will Power and Helio Castroneves picked up where they left off in 2013. They were third and fourth. Though they were in the top five, I was a little surprised that Power didn't shoot to the top like he seems to always do in a practice session. 

While Carlos Muñoz was thirteenth, the top rookie was Jack Hawksworth. The Brit was eleventh on day one driving for Bryan Herta Autosport. He could be a surprise tomorrow in qualifying. Meanwhile, Mikhail Aleshin was fourteenth. Carlos Huertas was last on day one but he picked up greatly. The Colombian only completed six laps in the first session but was within 1.7866 seconds of Sato's fastest lap. 

Just ahead of Huertas on the timesheet was Sebastián Saavedra. Let's not be surprised if these two Colombians are rounding out time sheets often in 2014.

With that said, think about this for a second. The IndyCar grid is covered by less than two seconds. Wow! Drivers such as Huertas and Saavedra may not be the ideal drivers fans want on the grid but you have to give them credit. Someone has to be last in a session when the field is deep. 

Idea For IndyCar Qualifying
I like qualifying how it is but I was wondering if IndyCar could take a page for the MotoGP playbook and make these practice session slightly matter. 

In case you don't know how MotoGP qualifying works let me explain it to you:
The top ten fastest times from the first three practice session automatically start in the second round. The remaining bikes compete in the first round with the top two times from round one advancing to the next round and competing for pole.

My idea: Take the top ten from the two Friday practice session and have them automatically start in the Fast 12. The remaining cars take part in round one with the top two advancing to the Fast 12. After those cars advance, the session would go as it is already formatted. The top six from that session move to the Fast 6 while the remaining cars fill 7th-12th on the grid. 

Why change? It makes Friday practice matter a little bit more. It allows the top ten from Friday to save a set of tires for what ever they may please. It makes qualifying go a little faster. Instead of two sessions of 10 minutes of round one, you can do one, 15-minute session for round one, a 10-minute session for round two and I would shorten the Fast 6 session to five minutes to get the cars on the track immediately. Plus I thing it makes IndyCar qualifying a little bit more television friendly as you could easily get this qualifying session into a one-hour television window.

What would it this format look like this weekend?
Top Ten from Friday and starting in the Second Round: Sato, Rahal, Power, Castroneves, Pagenaud, Hinchcliffe, Wilson, Briscoe, Dixon, Bourdais.
Starting in the First Round: Hawksworth, Hunter-Reay, Muñoz, Aleshin, Newgarden, Kanaan, Kimball, Andretti, Montoya, Conway, Saavedra, Huertas.

Dario's in the News
He may be retired but Dario Franchitti made the most waves on the first day of the IndyCar season. The four-time IndyCar champion said in a press conference today and was asked about the rivalry between Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske and had this to say:
I think it's been a great rivalry.  I think it's been going on for 25 years now.  I think Roger Penske is a class, class operator.  He's first class.  I thought Tim's comments weren't in any way.  I thought they were ‑‑ yeah, I think they kind of summed him up a little bit.  If I had the resources that he's had in his hands, I would be a little upset with the success ratio they have had recently.  I'm very proud of the record that the Ganassi organization and the Target organization has had.
That led to the following response from Team Penske President Tim Cindric to the USA Today's Jeff Olsen:
"Chip wants to think of it as a rivalry, but we don't," said Tim Cindric, president of Team Penske. "It does fit the definition of an intense competition, but rivalries take place over a long period of time. If you want to think of it in baseball terms, it would be the Yankees and the Florida Marlins — a team with a long history against a younger team that came on strong and won a couple of World Series. Maybe that's not a good analogy, but I don't see it as the Yankees and Red Sox."
Franchitti waits until he is retired to say how he feels about Tim Cindric? This is the kind of stuff IndyCar needs from active drivers, not recently retired guys that we all know and love. I like Franchitti as much as the next guy but it's a little too late. It's like when we heard Fran Tarkenton talking about Brett Favre a few years ago. Who cares?

Now, Scott Dixon taking shots at Cindric like he did last year after Baltimore? Fine. Let's see where that goes. If Graham Rahal wants to bust Mikhail Aleshin's chops for blocking at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, fantastic. Ryan Hunter-Reay wants to give Juan Pablo Montoya a piece of his mind? Great. James Hinchcliffe wants to drop the gloves and land some haymakers on Alex Tagliani at Indianapolis after the two made contact? I hope there is a camera for that and I hope the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are playing one another in the Stanley Cup Playoffs just to add more fuel to the fire North of the Border.

IndyCar need active drivers grabbing headlines. Not retired drivers for how they feel about current crew members.

Sato Fastest in Second Practice

Fastest in Second Practice: The #14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda of Takuma Sato
Honda had a 1-2 in second practice from St. Petersburg after taking the first three spots in practice one.

Takuma Sato was fastest in second practice, 0.0507 seconds faster than Graham Rahal. The Japanese driver set the fastest lap of the weekend at 62.5615 seconds. Will Power and Helio Castroneves were third and fourth respectively with Power 0.0828 seconds back of Sato and Castroneves 0.2563 seconds back. Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five.

Ryan Briscoe was sixth quickest ahead of James Hinchcliffe who was fastest in first practice. Briscoe's Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon was eighth. Just over a half second off of Sato was Sébastien Bourdais in ninth with Jack Hawksworth rounding out the top ten in the session, the top rookie of second practice.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was eleventh fastest, a tenth back of Hawksworth. Hunter-Reay's Andertti Autosport teammate Carlos Muñoz was twelfth, just 0.0018 seconds back. Fellow rookie Mikhail Aleshin was thirteenth fastest. Josef Newgarden was fourteenth. His session ended early after having an off. Tony Kanaan rounded out the top fifteen, 0.7452 seconds back of Sato.

Charlie Kimball follows his teammate in sixteenth. Marco Andretti was seventeenth with Juan Pablo Montoya in nineteenth. Montoya had a minor incident, putting his nose in the tire wall at the end of the session. Justin Wilson was nineteenth after being second in the first practice session. He was 0.9861 seconds back.

Mike Conway was 1.0721 seconds off Sato in twentieth. For the second consecutive session, Colombians Sebastián Saavedra and Carlos Huertas rounded out the time chart. Saavedra was 1.2807 seconds back with Huertas just over a half second back of his fellow Colombian.

IndyCar wil have a third practice session at 10:00 a.m. ET tomorrow morning with qualifying taking place at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Hinchcliffe Fastest in First Practice

James Hinchcliffe with teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud
The first practice session of the IndyCar season was a Honda 1-2-3 led by the most recent St. Petersburg winner.

Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe set the fastest lap at 1:02.9326 seconds as the team made the switch from Chevrolet to Honda during the offseason. The Canadian was ahead of Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson and AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato. Hinch was 0.0059 seconds ahead of Wilson with 0.1277 separating him and Sato.

Will Power was the top Chevrolet, 0.2606 seconds back in fourth place as he led a three car string of Chevrolets. Sébastien Bourdais was fifth fastest with his new team KVSH Racing, just 0.0016 seconds back of Power. The 2009 St. Petersburg winner Ryan Briscoe was sixth fastest.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was seventh, 0.3358 seconds back of his teammate. Simon Pagenaud was eighth ahead of Graham Rahal. Tony Kanaan rounded out the top ten in his first session driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. He was 0.3932 seconds back of Hinchcliffe.

Helio Castroneves was eleventh fastest, 0.4672 seconds back. Josef Newgarden was twelfth fastest, 0.5501 seconds back. Defending IndyCar champion Scott Dixon was 0.7099 seconds back of Hinchcliffe in thirteenth ahead, 0.0334 seconds ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya as he makes his first appearance in an IndyCar race since Fontana in 2000. Carlos Muñoz followed his fellow Colombian on the time sheet in fifteenth, 0.7622 seconds back of his Andretti Autosport teammate.

Mike Conway was sixteenth in his first session with Ed Carpenter Racing. Marco Andretti was 0.8481 seconds back of his teammate Hinchcliffe in seventeenth. Charlie Kimball was eighteenth, 0.9697 seconds back, the final driver within a second of the fastest time.

The bottom four features three rookies. Jack Hawksworth was 1.1215 seconds back in nineteenth. He won the Indy Lights race at St. Petersburg last year. Mikhail Aleshin was twentieth in his first session driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Two Colombians took the final two spots on the time sheet. Sebastián Saavedra was twenty-first, 1.7455 seconds back in his first session driving for KV AFS Racing. Carlos Huertas was 4.8380 seconds back in twenty-second driving for Dale Coyne Racing. He completed six laps in the entire session.

IndyCar second practice will take place at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Track Walk: St. Petersburg 2014

And we are back! The Verizon IndyCar Series season is finally here and let's get to it. Scott Dixon defends his title with a new engine powering him and Ganassi Racing in 2014 as the team has made the switch to Chevrolet. Joining Dixon as a returning drivers from 2013 are Castroneves, Pagenaud, Power, Andretti, Wilson, Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Kimball, Kanaan, Bourdais, Newgarden, Sato, Rahal, Saavedra, Conway and Briscoe. Juan Pablo Montoya makes his IndyCar return, over thirteen years since his last start while Carlos Muñoz, Jack Hawksworth, Carlos Huertas and Mikhail Aleshin comprise of the 2014 rookie class.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET. Green flag at 3:27 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: ABC.
Announcers: Allen Bestwick, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever in the booth with Rick DeBruhl, Jamie Little and Vince Welch working the pit lane.

Can Chevrolet Hold Off Honda?
Since returning to IndyCar in 2012, the American manufacture has gone 2-for-2 in the manufactures' championship but saw a much more difficult test in 2013. After winning 11 of 15 in 2012, Chevrolet won the manufactures' title in the final race at Fontana and edge Honda on victories 10-9. The manufactures have swapped Ganassi and Andretti while Chevrolet has lost full-time competitors from Panther and Dragon Racing.

Honda will run a twin-turbo engine after two seasons using the single turbo. At the preseason Barber test, Will Power led the way both days but the manufactures split the top ten evenly. Chevrolet's struggles have been on the street courses where Honda won 7 of 10 in 2013. At the Barber test, Honda's five drivers in the top ten were represented by four different teams while the five Chevrolet teams came from Penske and Ganassi.

Engine Rule Changes
A slight change in 2014 will be engine allotment. Each team will only have four allotted engines, down from five and they must last 2,500 miles.

There will no longer be 10-grid spot penalties for engine changes prior to the mileage threshold. Instead the manufactures will lose 10 points in the manufactures' championships for each engine failure. Unapproved engine changes will results in a team moving to the rear of the grid for the next race. Entrant-initated engine changes will result in a 10 point deduction in the driver and entrant standings.

St. Pete's Assortment of Winners
In the six St. Pete races since reunification, we have seen six different drivers.

Helio Castroneves is the only driver with multiple wins on the streets of St. Pete with three to his name. Penske Racing has dominated at St. Pete having won the race five out of ten runnings. Andretti Autosport became the second team with multiple wins when James Hinchcliffe picked up his first career victory last year. Hinchcliffe finished fourth in his only other St. Pete start.

Will Power has won four consecutive poles at St. Pete but has progressively finished worse since his win in 2010 with finishes of second, seventh and sixteenth. Ryan Briscoe returns to St. Pete after not running their in 2013. He finished fifth in his last St. Pete appearance in 2012. Graham Rahal has three top ten finishes at St. Pete but his best finish in his last three St. Pete starts was 12th in 2011.

Other Drivers Past St. Pete Results
Tony Kanaan has five podiums and eight top tens in nine St. Pete starts.

Justin Wilson has six top tens, in six St. Pete starts with two podiums coming in 2009 and 2010.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has two podiums in seven St. Pete starts. Unfortunately for Hunter-Reay those are his only two top tens at St. Pete as well.

Sébastien Bourdais started from pole on his IndyCar debut at St. Pete in 2003, however the Frenchman has never finished in the top ten in three St. Pete starts.

Mike Conway's best finish in four St. Pete starts is nineteenth and average St. Pete finish is twenty-first. His team owner and co-driver for the 2014 season Ed Carpenter's average finish in six St. Pete starts is 17.5 and finished fourteenth last year.

Marco Andretti's third place finish last year at St. Pete was only his second top ten in eight starts.

Takuma Sato has finished twenty-second in his two previous St. Pete starts in even years. In odd years, Sato has finished top ten each time, 5th in 2011 and 8th in 2013.

Juan Pablo Montoya has not raced on a street circuit in IndyCar since Surfers Paradise on October 15, 2000. Despite having two street courses victories (Long Beach and Vancouver, both in 1999), Montoya's average finish in twelve street course starts is 15.5.

Road to Indy
The three ladder series join IndyCar in opening their seasons on the streets of St. Petersburg.

U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda will each run a doubleheader while Indy Lights will have one race.

R.C. Enerson won the 2014 U.S. F2000 Winterfest title over British driver Michael Epps. Recent Team USA Scholarship winner Jake Eidson finished third in Winterfest ahead of Frenchman Florian Latorre. Clarke Toppe rounded out the top five. Twenty-two drivers are entered for the U.S. F2000 season opener and joining the top five from Winterfest are Daniel Burkett, Aaron Telitz, Peter Portante, Austin Cindric, Adrian Starrantino, Henrik Furuseth, Jeroen Slaghekke and Victor Franzoni.

In the inaugural Pro Mazda Winterfest, Spencer Pigot won the title over defending U.S. F2000 champion Canadian Scott Hargrove. Andretti Autosport drivers Garrett Grist and Shelby Blackstock finished third and fourth with Brazilian Pipo Derani rounding out the top five. Twenty drivers are entered for the Pro Mazda season opener. Entered along with the drivers above are Neil Alberico, Kyle Kaiser, Vicky Piria, Dalton Kellett, Brandon Newey and Kyle Connery.

Indy Lights will feature a dozen drivers. Sam Schmidt Motorsports are the defending champions and will run four cars. Two notable drivers are coming over from Europe. Former Team Lotus (now Caterham) test driver and 2012 GP2 runner-up to Luca Filippi, Brazilian Luiz Razia will make his Indy Lights debut for Schmidt. Brit Jack Harvey will join Razia at Schmidt after finishing fifth in the 2013 GP3 Series championship. Juan Pablo Garcia moves from Team Moore Racing to Schmidt and Juan Piedrahita will move up to Indy Lights after four seasons in Pro Mazda.

The runner-up in the 2013 championship Gabby Chaves returns but driving for Belardi Auto Racing after leaving Sam Schmidt's team. He will be joined by 2012 French F4 champion, Frenchman Alexandre Baron. Baron won two U.S. F2000 races late in 2013.

Zach Veach returns to Andretti Autosport for his second season in Indy Lights and will be joined by defending Pro Mazda champion, Australian-America Matthew Brabham. The grandson of triple World Drivers' Champion Jack Brabham and son of 1993 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Geoff Brabham has won back-to-back titles in the ladder system and looks to become the first to win the championship in each ladder series in successive seasons.

Other graduates from Pro Mazda are Scott Anderson, Lloyd Read and Zack Meyer. 2013 AutoGP champion Vittorio Ghirelli will join Meyer at Team Moore Racing in 2014.

Pirelli World Challenge
Joining IndyCar and the Mazda Road to Indy at St. Petersburg is the Pirelli World Challenge which opens their 2014 season with two races. Fifty-two cars are entered this weekend with 24 in GT/GT-A and 28 in GTS. Johnny O'Connell is the defending GT champion driving for Cadillac with Andy Pilgrim as his teammate. James Sofranos returns driving an Audi R8 GT3 after losing the title in the final race. Other notable GT entries are Mike Skeen (Nissan GTR), Alex Figge (McLaren MP4-12C GT3), Tomáš Enge (Lamborghini Gallardo FL2), Anthony Lazzaro (Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) and Dane Cameron (BMW Z4).

The GT-A class is for gentleman drivers. Notable GT-A drivers are Albert von Thurn und Taxis (Lamborghini Gallardo FL2), Bret Curtis (Audi R8 GT3) and Tim Pappas (Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3).

Lawson Aschenbach is the defending GTS champion driving a Chevrolet Camaro. Jack Baldwin finished second in GTS in 2014 driving a Porsche Cayman. Nic Jönsson and Mark Wilkens return driving Kia Optimas. Other notable GTS drivers are Andy Lee (Chevrolet Camaro), Nick Esaysian (Aston Martin GT4) and Jack Roush, Jr. (Ford Mustang Boss 320R).

Race one for PWC at St. Petersburg will take place Saturday March 29th at 3:25 p.m. ET with race two at 11:25 a.m. ET before the IndyCar race on Sunday March 30th.

Fast Facts
Facts are inevitably brought up at every race weekend. With that said, new to the For The Love of Indy will be a dedicated fact page called the "Telemetry Center." On this page, you can find out how many podiums a driver has, how Fast Six appearances a driver has, how many laps a driver has lead, where does a driver rank among active drivers when it comes to pole positions in a career and more.

There will still be fact sections specific to race weekends but the "Telemetry Center" is where you can go to find facts on the season as a whole.

On to facts specific to St. Petersburg:

St. Pete track record is 1:00.928 set by Sébastien Bourdais in 2003.

This is the first IndyCar race on March 30th since George Follmer won at Phoenix in 1969. The only other race to occur on March 30th was at Trenton in 1958 and was won by Len Sutton. Like St. Pete, both those races were season openers.

An American driver has not won the season opener since Sam Hornish, Jr. won at Homestead in 2004.

Every St. Pete race has had more than 10 laps under full-course caution. The fewest caution laps in a St. Pete race was 11 laps in 2006

Every St. Pete winner has come from one of five positions.

The pole sitter has won twice (Castroneves in 2007 and Power in 2010).

Twice has the winner started 2nd (Paul Tracy in 2003, Dario Franchitti in 2011).

Twice has the winner started 4th (Briscoe in 2009, Hinchcliffe in 2013).

Twice has the winner started 5th (Castroneves 2006 and 2012)

The furthest back a winner has come from is 9th (Dan Wheldon in 2005 and Graham Rahal in 2008).

Carlos Huertas will make his IndyCar debut at St. Pete driving for Dale Coyne Racing. He will become the fifth Colombian to start an IndyCar race. Four will participate at St. Pete (Huertas, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastián Saavedra and Carlos Muñoz). The lone Colombian not competing? 1992 Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter Roberto Guerrero.

I'm taking Justin Wilson for the opening round of the championship. The top Chevrolet will be Tony Kanaan. Takuma Sato will break the trend of finishing twenty-second at St. Pete in even years but won't be in the top ten. Mike Conway gets a top ten. Carlos Huertas will not finish in the top fifteen. Juan Pablo Montoya will start the weekend well but will fall back during the race. Andretti Autosport will put three cars in the top ten. Sleeper: Ryan Briscoe.

2014 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Chip Ganassi Racing

Alas, we have reached the twelfth and final preview and I am sure you have used process of elimination to figure out which team it is, the defending IndyCar champions Chip Ganassi Racing.

2013 Chip Ganassi Racing Review:
Wins: 5 (Pocono, Toronto 1 & 2, Mid-Ohio, Houston 1).
Poles: 6 (Long Beach, Belle Isle 1, Toronto 1 & 2, Sonoma, Baltimore).
Final Championship Position: 1st (Scott Dixon), 9th (Charlie Kimball), 10th (Dario Franchitti),.

2014 Drivers:

Scott Dixon
The New Zealander had a miraculous comeback to take his third championship in thirteen seasons in IndyCar. He went on a tear in July, winning three consecutive races including the return to Pocono and picked up $100,000 for sweeping the Toronto doubleheader. Dixon took advantage of Helio Castroneves' mechanical issues and won the first race at Houston and finished second in race two to take the championship lead while Castroneves had mechanical problems ruin his day again. Dixon was able to hold off the Brazilian at Fontana and clinched Ganassi's fifth title in six seasons since reunification. Not only has Dixon won a race every year since 2005, he has won multiple races every year since 2006.

Number to Remember: 7. As in 7th in the championship, the position the last two champions (Dario Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay) have finished the year after their titles.

Prediction/Goals: Scott Dixon will be a championship contender entering the season finale at Fontana. Chalk up another two or three victories for the Kiwi and Mid-Ohio would be your best bet for being one of his wins. If there are any goals it is to avoid the misfortunate start of the 2013 after a handful of mechanical problems left Ganassi winless through the first nine races.

Charlie Kimball
Kimball had a fantastic 2013 season where he won his first career race at Mid-Ohio and ended up finishing not only in the top ten in the championship but finished ahead of Dario Franchitti in the championship (though Franchitti missed the final round due to injury). Kimball accumulated ten top tens including a ninth at Indianapolis, the top of Ganassi's four entries in that race.

Number to Remember: 18. Amount of career top tens for Kimball out of fifty career starts.

Prediction/Goals: He won't win a race but he will be consistent by bringing the car home in one piece and on the lead lap in most races. He will have a few top fives. Kimball has to improve on qualifying.  His average starting position is 15.84 and has qualified in the top ten on ovals only four times in eighteen oval starts. He will be on the edge of the top ten.

Tony Kanaan
Nearly six years after nearly signing with Ganassi to replace Dan Wheldon, Kanaan has finally joined the team, one year after winning the Indianapolis 500 driving for KV Racing. Kanaan struggled down the stretch in 2013 with six consecutive finishes outside the top ten before finishing third at Fontana. Kanaan had five finishes outside the top twenty in 2013, as many as Sebastián Saavedra and Alex Tagliani and only behind Takuma Sato who had seven.

Number to Remember: 12.19. Average starting position for Kanaan since leaving Andretti Autosport at the end of 2010. Average starting position for Kanaan in his final three seasons at Andretti (2008-10, all after reunification): 10.41.

Prediction/Goals: Kanaan will get one victory but only one. He will be at the back half of the top ten in the championship. Kanaan needs to hope the mechanical issues that ruined a few races for him in 2013 will not bite him at Ganassi.

Ryan Briscoe
The most untalked about, forgotten signing of the offseason was Ryan Briscoe to Ganassi Racing. He returns to team he made his IndyCar debut with in 2005. Briscoe finished twelfth driving an Indianapolis 500 one-off last year before getting a few opportunities to drive for Panther Racing. Briscoe picked up six LMP2 class victories in ALMS last year driving for Level 5 Motorsports and finished second overall at Petit Le Mans while also making his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut. Briscoe also had a podium in the V8 Supercars race at Surfers Paradise, sharing a ride with Russell Ingall.

Number to Remember: 7. As in 7 career wins at 7 different tracks (Milwaukee, Mid-Ohio, St. Petersburg, Kentucky, Chicago, Texas and Sonoma) and if you want to count his victory at Sufers Paraadise in 2008 when it was an exhibition event, it's 8 wins at 8 different tracks.

Prediction/Goals: Briscoe was been quietly quick at the Barber preseason test ending each day sixth and fifth respectively. He won't beat Dixon but his goal should be to beat his other two teammates. Briscoe's average finish in the championship when completing a full season is 5th. He won't win a race but he will be consistent and will be in the double figures when it comes to top ten finishes at the end of the season. A top ten in the championship is not out of the question.

Other Notes: Ganassi may field a fifth car for the Indianapolis 500 with the likely candidate being 2013 Indy Lights champion Sage Karam.

To recap these twelve team-by-team previews, here is what I said (Note: None of these listings are in any particular order).

Championship Contenders:
Will Power (4-6 wins)
Simon Pagenaud (2-3 wins)
Marco Andretti (2-3 wins)
Scott Dixon (2-3 wins)

Definitely in the Top Ten:
Helio Castroneves (1-2 wins)
Sébastien Bourdais (1 win)
Ryan Hunter-Reay (1-2 wins)
Tony Kanaan (1 win)

Fighting For A Top Ten:
Josef Newgarden
Graham Rahal (1 win)
Justin Wilson (1 win)
James Hinchcliffe (1 win)
Charlie Kimball
Ryan Briscoe

Won't Finish in the Top Ten:
Juan Pablo Montoya
Takuma Sato
Sebastián Saavedra
Carlos Muñoz
Jack Hawksworth
Mikhail Aleshin
Whoever Coyne puts in the #18.

Won't Finish in the Top Ten Because They Are Splitting a Ride but Will Combine To Finish In the Top Ten of the Entrant Standings:
Mike Conway
Ed Carpenter

And there you have it. The season is is on the verge of starting and the long wait is nearly over.

The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season opens this Sunday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC with green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Andretti Autosport

The penultimate team-by-team preview features Andretti Autosport who won five races in 2013, over a quarter of the races. Andretti Autosport has switched to Honda after two seasons with Chevrolet.

2013 Andretti Autosport Review:
Wins: 5 (St. Petersburg, Barber, São Paulo, Milwaukee, Iowa).
Poles: 5 (Barber, São Paulo, Milwaukee, Pocono)
Final Championship Position: 5th (Marco Andretti), 7th (Ryan Hunter-Reay), 8th (James Hinchcliffe), 15th (E.J. Viso), 28th (Carlos Muñoz).

2014 Drivers:

Marco Andretti
The third-generation driver had his best season in 2013. Though he went winless, Andretti match his personal best for top fives in a season (6) and set a personal best for top tens in a season (15) and finished a personal best fifth in the championship. He also won two poles at Milwaukee and Pocono and was a contender in each before an engine failure and poor fuel mileage took him out of contention. His two podiums came at St. Petersburg and São Paulo, his first career podiums on street circuits.

Number to Remember: 13. Top ten starts for Andretti in 2013.

Prediction/Goals: Marco Andretti will be a championship contender entering Fontana. He, like Will Power, ended 2013 hungry for more and after the improvements he made from 2012 to 2013, you can't rule him out for finding that little bit more. He is going to get multiple victories in 2014, with short ovals being Andretti Autosport's cup of tea, winning seven of the last eight. A goal for Andretti should be to continue to work on his road and street course prowess.

James Hinchcliffe
The Canadian broke through for three victories in 2013 but if he wasn't on the top step of the podium, he was in the wall or garage with mechanical issues. Eleven top tens was a career high for Hinchcliffe   but with all his retirements he finished eighth in the championship for his second consecutive season. He has a new sponsor and livery that causes flashbacks to the days of Player's/Forsythe Racing with United Fiber and Data replacing GoDaddy as primary sponsor.

Number to Remember: 14.7. Hinchcliffe's average career finish on permanent road courses.

Prediction/Goals: A goal should be to finish more races. Breaking through and getting his first career pole should also be a goal for Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe will get a win and be in the tough fight for top ten in the championship.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
The 2012 IndyCar champion was on a great title defense with two victories and six podiums in the first half of the 2013 season but once Takuma Sato kamikazed him on the pit lane at Pocono, Hunter-Reay score only one top five and three top tens in the final nine races. Mechanical issues also bit Hunter-Reay along the way with electrical issues at St. Petersburg, Baltimore, Houston 1 and Houston 2.

Number to Remember: 5.666. Hunter-Reay's average starting position in 2013.

Prediction/Goals: Hunter-Reay will be contending for a top five spot in the championship come Fontana. He will get a win or two and like I was saying earlier about short ovals, of those seven wins for Andretti, Hunter-Reay has been responsible for four of them. A goal for Hunter-Reay should be avoiding the mechanical failure bug that plagued his team in 2013. If anyone was happiest about the move to Honda, it will be Hunter-Reay.

Carlos Muñoz
The Colombian took IndyCar by storm in 2013 despite only make three starts. He started and finished second in the Indianapolis 500, earning him the honor of Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. He finished seventeenth as a last second replacement for Ryan Briscoe in the second Toronto race after Briscoe suffered a broken wrist in race one. He also substituted for E.J. Viso at Fontana where he started tenth and was running well in the top ten before a lap 100 accident ended his day. Muñoz won six races in Indy Lights over the last two seasons and finished third in the 2013 Indy Lights Championship behind Sage Karam and fellow Colombian Gabby Chaves.

Number to Remember: 10. Muñoz's Indy Lights career total for podiums in 24 career starts.

Prediction/Goals: Muñoz is the favorite for rookie of the year, although Jack Hawksworth put up impressive laps during the Barber test. Muñoz will get a handful of top tens and be around fifteenth in the final championship standings. I don't see a victory for the Colombian (although Andretti Autosport has won the Iowa race five times with five different drivers and Muñoz's three teammates have all already won the event) but a podium would not be a surprise in his rookie season (seeing as how he finished second on debut in the Indianapolis 500 last year).

Kurt Busch
The 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion becomes the first driver to attempt the double since Robby Gordon attempted it in 2004. Busch passed Indianapolis 500 rookie orientation last year driving Ryan Hunter-Reay's car but did not make an attempt in 2013. This year, with the blessing of his NASCAR team owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, Busch will make his first attempt for the Indianapolis 500. Busch has 24 career NASCAR Cup Series wins, 5 Nationwide and 4 Truck Series wins, a podium in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, competed in the NHRA Pro Stock division at the 2011 Gatornationals and tested a Rahal Lola before the 2003 CART season at Sebring.

Number to Remember: 19.38. Busch's average career finish in 13 Brickyard 400 starts. His best finish at Indianapolis in the Brickyard 400 is 5th in 2001. He finished 4th in the final IROC race at Indianapolis in 2003.

Prediction/Goals: If there are more than thirty-three entrants, the goal is to qualify. Once qualified the goal becomes complete 200 laps. Busch will do well in qualifying but traffic and the car setup in race trim will make it a little difficult for Nevadan. He will crack the top twenty but finish a lap down.

Eleven down, one to go. The final team preview will be posted tomorrow. Use process of elimination to figure out who it is. The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season opens this Sunday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC with green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2014 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: KVSH/KV AFS Racing

The tenth team for this team-by-team preview for the 2014 IndyCar season is the defending Indianapolis 500 winner KVSH/KV AFS Racing as he team returns with two new drivers for 2014.

2013 KVSH/KV AFS Racing Review:
Wins: 1 (Indianapolis).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 3rd (St. Petersburg).
Final Championship Position: 11th (Tony Kanaan), 13th (Simona de Silvestro).

2014 Drivers:

Sébastien Bourdais
The four-time IndyCar (technically ChampCar but 6-of-1, half a dozen of another) champion moves to his third team since returning to IndyCar in 2011. He had a rough start to 2013 but ended strong with three podiums in the final half of the season and six top tens in those nine races with a strong run at the season finale, leading thirty-five laps before spinning with twenty-one laps to go while in third. The Frenchman is looking for his first victory since Mexico City in 2007, the last race before reunification in IndyCar.

Number to Remember: 103. Races since Bourdais' last victory.

Prediction/Goals: Last year I predicted Bourdais would win a race. This year, he breaks through and gets a victory but only one. Add a handful of top fives and Bourdais will finish in the top ten of the championship for the first time since returning to IndyCar in 2011.

Sebastián Saavedra
The Colombian driver returns for his third season in IndyCar and joins Bourdais at KVSH/KV AFS after both teamed at Dragon Racing in 2013. Saavedra finished twenty-first in the championship last year, the lowest of the full-time competitors and only three points ahead of Oriol Servià, who missed seven races. Saavedra picked up his first career top ten in the second Belle Isle race and improved his best career finish later in the season at Baltimore where he finished eighth. Saavedra also set his best career starting position last year when he started sixth at Milwaukee but finished two laps down in thirteenth.

Number to Remember: 10. Amount of lead lap finishes for Saavedra in 38 career starts.

Prediction/Goals: Don't expect a big jump for the twenty-three year old. He will be toward the bottom of the championship picture again. A top ten may fall his way but don't hold your breathe. To only think, Gary Anderson returns with his company Automatic Fire Sprinklers to sponsor Saavedra and JR Hildebrand, a driver who was sponsored by AFS when he won the Indy Lights championship, has a dozen top ten finishes in his IndyCar career and was in contention for the win in the 2013 season finale at Fontana before an engine failure is without a ride and career is all but over barring he wins the lottery or stuns everyone and wins Indianapolis in an Ed Carpenter Racing one-off.

Other Notes: KV Racing is strongly considering a third car for the Indianapolis 500 and Townsend Bell is the leading candidate for that ride.

The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season opens this Sunday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC with green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Are The Point Systems Too Complicated and Earnhardt, Jr. to Drive an IndyCar

IndyCar announced last week changes to the points system as follows:

The Triple Crown races (Indianapolis, Pocono, Fontana) are worth double points, so 100 for a win, 80 for second, 70 for third and the least amount of points that can be scored is 10, not five.

The Indianapolis 500 qualifying will have points awarded for both days. The thirty-three qualifiers that make the field on day one will each receive points. The fastest driver will receive thirty-three points, second-fastest will receive thirty-two and so on until thirty-third fastest receives one point. On day two, the nine drivers going for pole position will be award points nine down to one with the pole-sitter receiving nine and ninth receiving one.

Along with the additional points, a driver will now lose 10 points for an entrant-intiated engine change.

The manufactures' championship also sees a change. The top five drivers from each race will count toward the manufactures' title. For 15 races, the points will pay as follows: 50, 40, 35, 32, 30 and for the Triple Crown races: 100, 80, 70, 64, 60. The top five from each day of Indianapolis 500 qualifying will also count toward the manufactures' championship. Bonus points will also count toward the manufactures' title, 2 points for the manufacture that leads the most laps, 1 point if the manufacture leads a lap and 1 point for the pole winning at the 17 races outside of the Indianapolis 500. Manufactures will also receive ten points for each engine that reaches the minimum 2,500 miles. However, any engine that fails before the 2,500 mile threshold will result in a deduction of 10 points.

Do you follow?

After all my years following motorsports I have started wondering, are these increased point totals and increased ways to score points turning people from following a championship from start-to-finish? Think about how dedicated you have to be to know that St. Pete, Long Beach, Barber and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis will be scored one way but the Indianapolis 500 will be scored another and so will Indianapolis 500 qualifying but not the qualifying of the two other Triple Crown races that use the same system as Indianapolis. And look at the amount of dedication you need to follow the manufactures' title? I can't blame people if they can't keep up. I can barely keep up.

It's hard enough for me to get people to understand why the both teams in hockey receive a point if a game goes to overtime, how am I going to get them to understand that winning pole for Pocono is different than winning pole at Indianapolis but the points for the race are paid the same?

I have always liked the old Formula One system of 9-6-4-3-2-1. It's easy to remember and easy to add. No bonus points. No points for pole. Fans don't need to feel like they have to immerse themselves into every race of the championship to get it. If anything, the championship should be a little more open for fans to move in and out from and not feel like they will struggle to keep up if they miss a race or two. Points are becoming too much like participation trophies, all you have to do is show up and you get them. Points use to be earned through a top six or eight or ten. Now, congratulations, here are five points or 20 points, or in the Indianapolis 500's case, at least 11.

People went to Indianapolis 500 qualifying to see who would win pole, possibly a track record and who was going to be bumped, not who was going to score thirty-three points or who was going to score twenty or could driver X catch driver Y in the standings before the race itself. Making the Indianapolis 500 alone was enough of a reason to get drivers to go for it. Let's make one thing clear first, track records were never a gift from God guaranteed year after year at Indianapolis. They happened when a team and driver had all their ducks in a row and put together a four-lap run for the ages. People didn't go knowing it was going to happen but they held on for six hours knowing the possibility was there. IndyCar doesn't necessarily need to guarantee that fans will see a track record but tease the fans into thinking, "it could happen on this run."

Will points cause more fans to turn into Indianapolis 500 qualifying? They have been doing the Fast Nine format and handing out additional points for Indianapolis 500 qualifying since 2010. The qualifying crowd has looked good the past few years but the ratings haven't been something to do backflips over.

I stand by simplifying the points systems by awarding less points to less drivers and getting back to why people showed up for Indianapolis 500 qualifying in the first place.

Moving on...

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is going to drive an IndyCar. Not in a race but he will swap rides with Graham Rahal at some point. Maybe this year, definitely by next year. Rahal was at the Fontana NASCAR race yesterday and tweeted the defending Daytona 500 asking what he thought and it appears Earnhardt, Jr. is interested. While Rahal suggested the IMS road course, Earnhardt, Jr. appears willing to try an oval. While not much as been flushed out on this idea, Earnhardt, Jr. said he was down to four tracks he'd be interested in doing the test at. He didn't say whether the tracks were ovals or road course or even a street circuit for that matter.

Earnhardt, Jr. was suggesting testing an IndyCar at Daytona or Talladega. If he does go to an oval, IndyCar current races at six (Indianapolis, Texas, Pocono, Iowa, Milwaukee and Fontana). There are twelve other ovals at which IndyCar have raced at that Earnhardt, Jr. has also raced at (Chicago, Homestead, Kansas, Michigan, Phoenix, Richmond, Atlanta, Charlotte, Kentucky, Las Vegas, New Hampshire and Dover). Sonoma is currently the only road course on both the IndyCar and NASCAR schedules while IndyCar last raced at Watkins Glen in 2010.

The two drivers are both sponsored by the National Guard.

I'd love to see Earnhardt, Jr. test an oval. Of course everyone would love to see him test Indianapolis. I think he would do well at Iowa or Milwaukee. If he tests a road course, I'd suggest Barber. It's in Earnhardt Country. The Alabama track would draw as many people for the test as they do for the IndyCar race and they would be completely different people who had never been to Barber Motorsports Park before.

Realize that if Earnhardt, Jr. is testing an IndyCar, than Rahal will have to test a stock car and most likely at the same place. Rahal expressed interest in running the Nationwide Series race at Mid-Ohio last year but a ride never materialized. I think Rahal would do well on a road course especially as seeing the success of drivers such as Allmendinger, Tagliani, Carpentier, Ranger, Papis and Villeneuve in NASCAR road course races.

I think this is going to happen. Both drivers are interested, the sponsor will love it, any race track that hosts it will love it. Chevrolet would be upset more than Honda but they'll have to get over it. It would be a positive for all parties. Now, whether it happens this year is another story but I think you can count on it happening. And NBC would be smart to cover it, especially since they will be broadcasting both series in 2015.

2014 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Dale Coyne Racing

We are down to the Final Four Team-By-Team Previews! Today's team featured will be Dale Coyne Racing as they enter their thirtieth season in IndyCar with a returning veteran behind the wheel but the team lost two key engineers during the offseason.

2013 Dale Coyne Racing Review:
Wins: 1 (Belle Isle 1).
Poles: 1 (Belle Isle 2).
Final Championship Position: 6th (Justin Wilson), 23rd (Mike Conway), 29th (Ana Beatriz), 31st (Pippa Mann), 32nd (James Davison), 33rd (Stefan Wilson).

2014 Drivers

Justin Wilson
Wilson had a career year after finishing sixth in the championship but fell short on getting his eighth career victory. Wilson had four podiums, seven top fives and thirteen top tens but along with coming up winless, his season ended with a pelvic fracture after being caught up in a six car accident in the season finale at Fontana. Wilson has recovered and is ready to go but will be without engineers Bill Pappas and John Dick as both left Dale Coyne in the offseason to go to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Number to Remember: 3. Appearances in the Fast Six qualifying out of 19 possibilities over last two seasons.

Prediction/Goals: With the loss of Pappas and Dick, Wilson and Coyne Racing goal should be stay in the top ten of the championship. From the statistic above, Wilson and Coyne have to work on getting further in qualifying. Of Wilson's four podiums in 2013, three of them came with Wilson starting outside the top ten. Wilson and Coyne will break through and get a win in 2014 and it will be on a road or street course. Wilson will be a contender for the top ten in the championship.

Ok, I waited until the Monday before St. Petersburg to do the Dale Coyne Racing's preview thinking, "oh that should be enough time for them to have their second driver announced." Guess what? In true, blue Dale Coyne fashion we are less than a week from the season opener and we don't have a damn clue who will be in that car but we do know it has a leader circle position and will be a full-time entry unless Coyne wants to pay a penalty for violating the leader circle rules. My guess is that Coyne isn't bringing in a driver from Europe for the opening round, otherwise he would have made sure that driver would have gotten experience at the Barber test last week, although rumors emerged today that Colombian Carlos Huertas has agreed to a deal with Coyne. If you remember, Huertas raced in Formula Renault 3.5 in 2013 where he won one race in the rain at Aragón and tested for Panther Racing earlier this offseason.

Number to Remember: 5. Amount of different drivers that drove the #18 car in 2013 (Ana Beatriz, Mike Conway, Pippa Mann, James Davison and Stefan Wilson).

Prediction/Goals: Multiple drivers will cycle through the #18 again in 2014. Sam Bird, Luca Filippi, Pippa Mann and Peter Dempsey will all get a race with the team. I tweeted last week that if I won the $400 million Mega Millions draw I would fund JR Hildebrand in that car full-time. That's still a goal for 2014 if Hildebrand doesn't turn an Indianapolis one-off at Ed Carpenter Racing into more. The goal for the #18 is to be as competitive as it was in 2013 and complement Justin Wilson in his championship efforts.

(Update: 5:20 p.m. ET March 27, 2014)

Carlos Huertas
Dale Coyne waited until the day before the first practice to announce the driver of the #18 Sonny's BBQ Honda but they finally announced one. Carlos Huertas will make his IndyCar debut at St. Petersburg. Huertas won one race driving in Formula Renault 3.5 last year, a very wet race from Aragón. The Colombian would only have two other points paying finishes, totaling for five points in the remaining thirteen races. The year prior in FR3.5, Huertas had five points paying finishes in seventeen races for a total of thirty-five points with his best finish being fourth. In 2011, Huertas was teamed with current McLaren F1 driver Kevin Magnussen in British Formula Three. Huertas won one race that season compared to Magnussen's seven and Magnussen finished second in the final championship standings, fifteen points ahead of Huertas in third.

Number to Remember: 0. Amount of miles Huertas drove in testing for Dale Coyne Racing. He did test a few times with Panther Racing.

Prediction/Goals: It was interesting to see Dale Coyne Racing not announce Huertas as their full-time driver or Huertas was going to be making a run for rookie of the year. Huertas will run until the checking account runs out and someone else will get behind the wheel on ovals.

Others Notes: Coyne fielded a third car in the Indianapolis 500 last year. Keep an eye on them possibly doing it again this year.

The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season opens this Sunday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC with green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Marc Márquez Wins On One Leg

Six weeks after breaking his leg in a dirt bike accident, defending world champion Marc Márquez said it would be foolish to pick him to win the MotoGP season opener from Qatar. Foolishness has never felt so good as Márquez held off a hard charging Valentino Rossi for the victory.

Márquez started on pole but quickly fell to fourth behind Jorge Lorenzo, Stefan Bradl and Bradley Smith by turn one. Lorenzo fell later on lap one handing the lead over to the German Bradl. Rossi charged his way up to second from tenth in six laps but not before Márquez got back around the Italian. Bradl would fall while leading just like Lorenzo, handing the lead over Márquez.

Márquez and Rossi would battle for the last half of the race as many other rides had trouble. Andrea Iannone fell while in the top five but was able to continue. Dani Pedrosa and Álvaro Bautista were going back-and-forth for third with Bradley Smith keeping the Spaniards in his sights in fifth. Smith would fall with three to go, the same lap his Tech3 teammate Pol Espargaró pulled into the pit lane and retired. The next lap Bautista would fall, gift-wrapping the final podium spot to Pedrosa.

At the front, Márquez was able to hold off the charging Rossi and pick up his first career MotoGP win at Qatar. He won the 2010 Moto2 Qatar Grand Prix. Aleix Espargaró would finish fourth in his first race for Forward Racing, the top "open" class bike. The Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow finished fifth and sixth with Crutchlow coasting to the line. In his MotoGP debut, Scott Redding held off a hard charging Nicky Hayden for seventh with Colin Edwards finishing ninth for Forward Racing. Iannone recovered from his early fall to finish in the top ten.

Hayden's Drive M7 Aspar teammate Hiroshi Aoyama finished eleventh with Yonny Hernández in twelfth. Karel Abraham finished thirteenth. Danilo Petrucci finished fourteenth with Australian Broc Parkes rounding out the points in fifteenth, scoring on debut.

Márquez starts 2014 where he left off in 2013, leading the championship. He holds a five point lead over Rossi with Pedrosa nine back. A. Espargaró is twelve back. Dovizioso has eleven points, one ahead of his teammate Crutchlow. Redding has nine points, Hayden eight, Edwards seven, Iannone six and Aoyama five. Hernández had four points while Abraham has three after scoring five points through the whole 2013 season. Petrucci has two points with Parkes has one. 

The next MotoGP race takes place on April 13, three weeks away, from Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Marc Márquez picked up his first career MotoGP win in the inaugural Grand Prix of America last year from pole position. It will be the first of two races in the United States as Laguna Seca and the United States Grand Prix was left off the 2014 schedule. The Indianapolis Grand Prix will take place August 10.

Friday, March 21, 2014

2014 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: One-Offs

This was suppose to be Panther Racing's preview but since it appears they will not make the full-time call and may be reduce to an Indianapolis 500 one-off, I thought we'd look at other possible Indianapolis one-offs. Note this post does not include one-offs for full-time teams. If you would like to read about Jacques Villeneuve, Martin Plowman, JR Hildebrand or Kurt Busch, you can go to their respective team's preview (I realize the Andretti Autosport preview is not available yet. Be patient. It will be posted next week).

2013 Panther Racing Review
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 5th (Long Beach).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 7th (Iowa).
Final Championship Positions: 22nd (Oriol Servià), 26th (Ryan Briscoe), 35th (Townsend Bell).

2014 Drivers:

No one has a clue. Panther Racing's offseason has been one of disappointment from two stand points. One, it's disappointing the team appears unable to compete a full-season and IndyCar loses another full-time entry and a team that has been around for around fifteen years. Two, it's disappointing John Barnes is suing everyone and their uncle over National Guard leaving Panther for Rahal Letterman Lanigan instead of trying to bust his back to find funding and keep his team afloat.

It appears Indianapolis will be the only race for Panther in 2014. They tested Colombian Carlos Huertas a few times this offseason. Huertas won a very wet Formula Renault 3.5 race at Aragón but finish in the points only two more times in the final thirteen races and finished sixteenth in the championship. I can't imagine Panther throwing a rookie who has never raced the DW12 and never been on an oval in the car for Indianapolis but of course if the paycheck is large enough, chalk him up as the fourth Colombian.

I wish this was a seat a James Jakes (more on him in a bit) or E.J. Viso could have saved.

What other veteran drivers are out there? Robby Gordon and Paul Tracy are rumored to be exploring rides for Indianapolis but could they possibly be considering Panther? At this point, who knows who Panther is talking to, if they are talking to anybody. With all these drivers returning for Indianapolis, I wouldn't rule out Billy Boat at this point.

Number to Remember: 8. Amount of Indianapolis 500 top ten finishes for Panther Racing with five different drivers (Scott Goodyear, Buddy Lazier, Vitor Meira, Dan Wheldon and JR Hildebrand).

Predication/Goals: We will see the #4 attempt to make the Indianapolis 500 but a goal for me is to see that team bought by someone else, turning that ship around and getting the team back on the grid full-time in 2015. John Menard, Gerry Forsythe, Keith Wiggins, hell Paul Stoddart, please buy Panther. Adrián Fernández, we would love to see you return as car owner (maybe even get behind the wheel at Indianapolis but we understand if you decline).

2013 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Review
Wins: 0.
Best Finish: 4th (São Paulo).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 13th (São Paulo and Indianapolis)

2014 Drivers:

No news yet as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing tries to return to IndyCar after having 2013 cut to only five races. Paul Tracy has reportedly been talking to D&R about returning for Indianapolis and is on a short list of possible drivers. Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin tweeted James Jakes is a possibility. Dreyer & Reinbold did field a rallycross car for Scott Speed at the X Games in 2013.

Other possible drivers with past ties to Dreyer & Reinbold who could get behind the wheel are Buddy Rice, Ana Beatriz (note: Beatriz has a ride in Stock Car Brasil for 2014 and a Chevrolet none-the-less. Stock Car Brasil does not have a race in the month of May, opening the door for a possible return) and at this point you couldn't rule Tomas Scheckter out of making a come back.

Number to Remember: 4. Amount of Indianapolis top ten finishes for Dreyer & Reinbold with four different drivers (Buddy Rice, Townsend Bell, Justin Wilson and Oriol Servià) all coming after reunification in 2008.

Prediction/Goals: Paul Tracy is behind the wheel for D&R at Indianapolis. The goal of course is to convince whatever sponsors they have for Indianapolis to fund a full-time entry and a great finish at Indianapolis may do that. Tracy has yet to get behind the wheel of the DW12 chassis and last time he was at Indianapolis in 2011 he started twenty-fourth and finished twenty-fifth driving for D&R.

2013 Lazier Parnters Racing Review
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 31st (Indianapolis).
Poles: 0.
Best Start: 32nd (Indianapolis).
Final Championship Position: 38th (Buddy Lazier).

2014 Drivers:

Buddy Lazier
The Lazier name returned to Indianapolis for the first time since 2008 last year with 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier driving a family owned car. Lazier was never a threat and completed only 44 laps before retiring due to a mechanical failure. Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin reported the team is "an absolute yes" to return and maybe even with a car for Jaques Lazier.

Number to Remember: 44.5. Average age of Buddy and Jaques Lazier.

Prediction/Goals: We will see Buddy but not Jaques. He will be at the last row party and a finish inside the top thirty would be a victory. If Buddy, Jaques and their father Bob want this team to become a full-time IndyCar team, they are going to need to invest in a younger driver and maybe form a partnership with a current team (i.e. Ed Carpenter Racing or KV). Until they do that, it will be Indianapolis 500 one-offs for this team and they will continue to get a spot in the race until IndyCar does something to increase car count and bring back bumping to the Indianapolis 500.

Remember, the first round of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and can be seen live March 30th at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

2014 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Today we look at the winners of the 2004 Indianapolis 500 and that would be Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The Ohio-based team hasn't won a race since Ryan Hunter-Reay took victory at Watkins Glen in 2008.

2013 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Long Beach, Belle Isle 2).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 2nd (Belle Isle 2).
Final Championship Position: 18th (Graham Rahal), 19th (James Jakes).

2014 Drivers:

Graham Rahal
In his first season with his father's team, Graham Rahal struggled, scoring only five top tens in nineteen races and is approaching six years since his first career victory at St. Petersburg in 2008. He had a few flashes of success in 2013. At Long Beach, Rahal fought his way up to second from eleventh on the grid. He scored a pair of ninths at Belle Isle. Iowa saw Rahal win his heat and advance to the final heat. He started in the top ten and came home in fifth. His final top ten came at Houston, when he started 24th in race one after an engine change and finished seventh. However, Rahal average start in 2014 was 17.7 and average finish was 14.7.

Number to Remember: 12,698,967.47. Budget requested by RLLR from the National Guard to run the car.

Prediction/Goals: Rahal has to win a race and he has 12,698,967.47 reasons to do so. Rahal arguably has one of the largest budgets on the grid and after seeing Panther Racing going 0-for-104 with a larger budget, the team has to get results this year. One thing Rahal has to improve on is qualifying. In 2009, Rahal started in the top ten for fifteen of seventeen races. Last year, he started in the top ten for two of nineteen races. Rahal will improve, get a win cause he has to and be fighting for a spot in the top ten of the championship.

Oriol Servià
The Spaniard's 2013 season was a typical year for him. Dreyer and Reinbold Racing closed their doors, leaving Servià without a ride only to put together a partial season with Panther Racing. He started 2013 off on a good foot with a sixth at Long Beach, fourth at São Paulo and an eleventh at Indianapolis but it wasn't enough to keep D&R afloat. Servià's 2014 is already lining up to be a mirror of 2013. He has four races lined up with RLLR (Long Beach, Barber, Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500). After that, your guess is as good as mine.

Number to Remember: 10.3. Servià's average finish in 40 starts in Honda-powered cars.

Prediction/Goals: The goals should be to turn four races into eighteen. Servià is the veteran driver RLLR needed last year when they were lost and we will see Servià in a car beyond Indianapolis for RLLR. Servià has never been a flashy driver but two or three top ten in his four scheduled races is not out of the question.

Remember, the first round of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and can be seen live March 30th at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: AJ Foyt Racing

We have reached the half way point of the team-by-team previews and today will take a look at AJ Foyt Racing.

2013 AJ Foyt Racing Review:
Wins: 1 (Long Beach).
Poles: 1 (Houston 1).
Final Championship Position: 17th (Takuma Sato), 34th (Conor Daly).

2014 Drivers:

Takuma Sato
The Japanese driver was the points leader after the first four rounds of the championship and appeared to be a championship contender after picking up his first career victory at Long Beach, Foyt Racing's first win since 2002, and finishing second at São Paulo. However the former Honda F1 factory driver would go on to score only one top ten in the final fifteen races of the season. Sato is entering his fifth season in IndyCar and second driving for Foyt.

Numbers to Remember: 24 and 17. Twenty-four finishes outside the top twenty in his 68 career IndyCar starts. That's a rate of 35.3% of his starts ending in a finish outside the top twenty. Compare that to 17 career top tens in IndyCar, which is a rate of 25%.

Prediction/Goals: I don't see Sato making it a full season with Foyt. He needs consistent finishes at the front of the field and that has been difficult for Sato since winning the British Formula Three Championship in 2001. He has all the speed in the world to be a contender and Foyt Racing has the equipment to complement that speed but the AJ and Larry's patience is probably getting thin and a string of retirements at the start of 2014 could spell the end of Sato at Foyt.

Martin Plowman
Plowman is coming off winning a world championship in 2013. The British driver won the LMP2 championship in the FIA World Endurance Championship driving for OAK Racing and sharing a drive with former IndyCar driver Bertrand Baguette and Mexican driver Ricardo González which also included the trio taking LMP2 class victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Plowman returns to IndyCar to drive the #41 Alfe Heat Treating Honda in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indianapolis 500. He made three starts in 2011 driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Mid-Ohio, Sonoma and Baltimore.

Number to Remember: 8.9. Plowman's average finish on ovals in twelve Indy Lights oval starts.

Prediction/Goals: Plowman has never made a start in a DW12 chassis but he adapted quickly to LMP2 cars. He won't be a contender for a victory in either Indianapolis race but he will be the top dog for Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year against the likes of Jack Hawksworth, Mikhail Aleshin and Kurt Busch. A top fifteen in each race for Plowman should be his goal and two good results may put him on the top of AJ and Larry Foyt's list of drivers to replace Sato should it come to that point. Note that Plowman does not yet have a deal for the 2014 World Endurance Championship season.

Remember, the first round of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and can be seen live March 30th at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Power Doubles Up At Barber

Will Power Fastest On Day Two
New day, same result. Will Power was fastest for the second consecutive day of IndyCar testing, setting a lap of 1:07.0608. Justin Wilson was second quickest, 0.0038 seconds back with Scott Dixon rounding out the top three, 0.0183 seconds back of Power. Takuma Sato was fourth with Ryan Briscoe rounding out the top five.

Helio Castroneves was sixth quickest ahead of the Andertti Autosport teammates of Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe. Juan Pablo Montoya was ninth on day two and Simon Pagenaud roundedout the top ten. The top ten was split 5-5 between Chevrolet and Honda with all the Chevrolet cars represented by Penske and Ganassi while Coyne, Foyt, Andretti and Schmidt Peterson Hamilton represented the Honda teams.

Tony Kanaan was eleventh with Jack Hawksworth twelfth, the top rookie on day two. Charlie Kimball was thirteenth ahead of Sébastien Bourdais and Marco Andretti. Andretti's teammate, rookie Carlos Muñoz was sixteenth ahead of fellow Colombian Sebastián Saavedra. The top seventeen was covered by 0.9128 seconds.

Josef Newgarden was eighteenth ahead of Graham Rahal and Mikhail Aleshin. Mike Conway was twenty-first with Oriol Servià rounding out the field in twenty-second, 1.3335 seconds back of Power.

A dozen thoughts from two days of testing.

1. Is anyone willing to bet against Will Power?

2. Despite losing key engineers Bill Pappas and John Dick, Justin Wilson is still at the top. More on Coyne Racing in a moment.

3. Ganassi made a seamless switch to Chevrolet and Ryan Briscoe is still the forgotten signing of the offseason.

4. Takuma Sato was fourth. He was seventh in preseason testing last year and look how that turned out.

5. Andretti Autosport appear to have had almost no issues moving to Honda. Not the quickest Honda team but consistent over two days.

6. Another good day from Juan Pablo Montoya in ninth. Going to be interesting to see what he does at St. Petersburg.

7. Jack Hawksworth had a much better day two. Still a little surprised Carlos Muñoz wasn't the top rookie in either day of testing but let's wait and see what happen at the first race weekend.

8. Sébastien Bourdais had a nice recovery after a rough first day.

9. A little concerned for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Nineteenth and twenty-second today. It's only testing but after a rough 2013, you'd think they'd like to start 2014 on a better foot.

10. Back to Coyne. The #18 Honda never got on track during this test, meaning the first we will see that car is at a team test or at St. Petersburg. The car has a leader circle position meaning it has to attempt a full season or could face a penalty from IndyCar. Its a shame they haven't announced a driver because that car won a race last year and pair up a talented, young driver (Sam Bird, Conor Daly, Sage Karam) with Justin Wilson and that team could become the 1994-95 Blackburn Rovers of IndyCar (if you don't get that reference, look it up).

11. Something that I noticed is the imbalance of teams per manufacture. Honda has Coyne, Foyt, Andretti, SPH, Herta, Fisher Hartman and RLLR. Chevrolet has Penske, Ganassi, KV, Carpenter and Panther Racing is MIA. It looks to me that come St. Petersburg Honda teams will out number Chevrolets 7-4 and cars on the grid 12-10. It appears two Chevrolet teams have dropped to limited time roles in the past two seasons (not to forget mentioning the loses of Conquest and HVM) and that is a little worrying but even more so is who is looking to enter IndyCar and field a team? Remember the Coloni rumors? Or Carlin? Or Oreca possibly making aerokits? How are those three doing in IndyCar? Don't get me wrong, it's not the end of the world and Oreca may still field an aerokit (doubt it but being optimistic) but two more cars on the grid from two, single car teams would be nice and it'd be nice to see the amount of full-time entries remain consistent and not take another dip.

12. The season cannot start soon enough. Twelve days until the first race.

2014 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Ed Carpenter Racing

Our fifth team preview takes a look at Ed Carpenter Racing as they have a new driver on tap for majority of the 2014 season.

2013 Ed Carpenter Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Fontana).
Poles: 1 (Indianapolis).
Final Championship Position: 16th (Ed Carpenter).

2014 Drivers:

Ed Carpenter
Owner-driver Ed Carpenter went winless in 2013, the first time since 2010. He did extend his streak of consecutive seasons with a podium to five after finishing runner-up to Will Power in the season finale at Fontana. Carpenter picked up his second career IndyCar pole position last year when he won pole for the Indianapolis 500. His other pole came at Kentucky in 2010. He had a career-high three top five finishes and five top tens in 2014 as he finished seven points shy of cracking the top fifteen in points while finishing fifth in the oval championship behind Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan and Power. Carpenter returns but with a limited schedule for 2014.

Number to Remember: 6. Amount of starts Carpenter is scheduled to make in 2014. All on ovals.

Prediction/Goals: A win for Carpenter would not be a surprise especially at Indianapolis where the Hoosier led a race-high thirty-seven laps in 2013. Carpenter will pick up at least four top tens in his abbreviated season. A goal for Carpenter should be to try and negotiate a sanction fee with Phoenix, Kentucky, Michigan and Richmond for IndyCar to return and expand Carpenter's 2015 schedule to ten races.

Mike Conway
Conway will drive all road and street course races in place of Carpenter. The British driver ran a part-time schedule in 2013 as he split time between IndyCar and the FIA World Endurance Championship where Conway drove in LMP2 for G-Drive Racing and won four races. Conway made seven starts in 2013, six for Dale Coyne Racing and one for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Conway won the first race at Belle Isle and finished third in the second Belle Isle race from pole position. He would pick up three top tens in his final four starts. 

Number to Remember: 0. Career starts in a Chevrolet-powered car.

Prediction/Goals: Conway will pick up a few top fives and a handful of top tens but won't win a race. One thing Conway has to work on is qualifying. While he made the Fast Six three times in 2013, he started outside the top fifteen on the three occasions and has eleven career Fast Six appearances in thirty-eight career road/street course starts.

Conway and Carpenter will combine for a top ten finish in the owners' championship.

JR Hildebrand
Hildebrand had a rough start to 2013 when he was fired after five races by Panther Racing. The Californian had a fifth place finish at Long Beach but an accident on lap four of the Indianapolis 500 after starting in the top ten ended his time at Panther. He would return for his home races at Sonoma and Fontana driving for Bryan Herta Autosport. At Sonoma he finished a position ahead his former employer coming home in sixteen. At Fontana, Hildebrand worked his way to the front and was one of the top Hondas all night before his engine failed while running third with thirteen laps to go. He would finish eleventh.

Number to Remember: 4. Amount of top ten starts for Hildebrand in 41 career starts.

Prediction/Goals: Hildebrand will have a decent car underneath him but Indianapolis 500 one-offs success is hit and miss. For every Townsend Bell there is a Pippa Mann or Jay Howard. Hildebrand will be midpack all month and be one of the last cars on the lead lap or a lap down. His goal is easy: Prove me wrong and turn a one-off into a full-time ride.

Remember, the first round of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and can be seen live March 30th at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Penske 1-2-3 At First Day of Barber Test

Will Power had a Good First Day
The first official session of the 2014 season looks a lot like when the final checkered flag flew in 2013: Will Power on top.

Power set the fastest lap of day one of testing on his 39th of 48 laps, with a  time of 1:07.6492. A Penske teammate was second but it wasn't a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner or runner-up in the 2013 championship, it was Juan Pablo Montoya who was 0.0678 seconds back as the Colombian makes a return to IndyCar for the first time since 2000. Helio Castroneves rounds out the top three, 0.0722 seconds back of Power. Montoya and Castroneves recorded 55 and 51 laps respectively.

Scott Dixon made it a Chevrolet 1-2-3-4, 0.1733 seconds back of Power. Takuma Sato was the top Honda in fifth place ahead of Ryan Briscoe in his first official session since returning to Ganassi Racing in sixth. Justin Wilson was seventh and his fastest lap came on his 31st and final lap of the day. Andretti Autosport Hondas of James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top ten.

Charlie Kimball was eleventh ahead of his new Ganassi teammate Tony Kanaan. Mike Conway was thirteenth in his first official session driving for Ed Carpenter Racing. Graham Rahal was fourteenth ahead of Josef Newgarden rounding out the top fifteen with 0.9306 seconds between Power and Newgarden.

Sebastián Saavedra was seventeenth ahead of Marco Andretti. Mikhail Aleshin was eighteenth in his first official IndyCar session. The Russian driver's day ended early after needing a tow back to the garage after a fire cause by a fuel issue. Aleshin was the top rookie driver with Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Muñoz nineteenth and twentieth respectively. Oriol Servià was twenty-first after completing only seven laps while Sébasten Bourdais was twenty-second, 2.0176 seconds back of Power after his day ended with contact around turns six and seven. The Frenchman only completed ten laps.

A few thoughts from the first day of IndyCar testing:
1. I did not see Montoya being this quick, this early.

2. There are no "bad" drivers on the IndyCar grid. A driver could finish 18th and be competitive from start to finish.

3. A little disappointed we didn't see the #18 Dale Coyne Honda on track. The car has a leader circle position and I am sure Coyne will find a driver for at least St. Petersburg. Whether that driver appears on track for the first time tomorrow or for first practice at St. Petersburg remains to be seen.

4. Rough day for Bourdais. Needs a rebound for day two.

5. A little surprised Sato was top Honda but it's day one, he was quick last year and how did his season go as a whole.

6. I wouldn't have though Muñoz would have been the slowest rookie on day one.

7. Ryan Briscoe may have been the forgotten signing this offseason. No one has talked about him returning to Ganassi thanks to the return of Montoya, Kanaan moving to Ganassi and the buzz around the Indianapolis 500 with Kurt Busch doing the double, Jacques Villeneuve returning and Robby Gordon and Paul Tracy reportedly working on rides for the month of May. Meanwhile, Briscoe was sixth quickest.

8. A few livery updates:
Josef Newgarden's livery looks good.
Bourdais will have Hydroxycut as a sponsor for seven races. Not a bad livery.
Sebastián Saavedra's AFS Chevrolet has a nice silver stripe.
Oriol Servià had an all black look. Probably a testing-only livery
Jack Hawksworth and BHA had a black and blue livery with Charter on the side.
Simon Pagenaud's car looks naked. Someone get him a sponsor.

9. It appears 22 cars will be the average IndyCar grid, down two from 2013. That's not necessarily a bad thing after looking at the depth of the field but wasn't it seven years ago we had two series each with eighteen full-time cars? There were some casualties from reunification and 36 full-time car was never practical but decreasing full-time entries is a trend IndyCar should be looking to buck. Lose two more cars and a lot of red flags will spring up.

Day two of testing will feature two session, one in the morning from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET and an afternoon session from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET.