Friday, February 27, 2015

Three Years Away, Many Different Views

We are 1039 days away from the year of 2018 but IndyCar fans are keeping an eye on it like it's tomorrow. The next generation of IndyCar is tentatively set to appear in 2018 and this winter has run "IndyCar 2018," a series from those within motorsports on what they think the series should look like.

Seventeen articles have been posted and more are sure to follow. Key figures such as Mario Andretti, Will Power, Rick Mears, Bobby Unser, Gordon Kimball, Randy Bernard and T.E. McHale have all weighed in. As a motorsports fan I want to see IndyCar succeed and have been reading each article posted in the series. Sometimes I agree with what others think, other times I don't. We all have our different opinions and none of them are necessarily wrong.

I've been wanting to post my responses to these articles for sometime and recently asked on Twitter if people were interested in reading what I thought. I don't have a large following but a few people said they were interested and since I didn't have anyone say I shouldn't waste my time, here we are. I am not going to cover all my thoughts from all 17 articles rather start with the most recent five and maybe down the line I will go back to some of the earlier articles.

I start with Jeremy Dale, former RuSport team manager.

I agree that the cars need anti-stall. There should never be a full-course caution for a driver who had a lazy spin, all by themselves. Dale says fewer full-course cautions would mean fewer distributions in racing. It doesn't look good when a race needs to be brought to a halt because a driver in 12th spun going into a corner and couldn't keep it going. Have you ever played a pick up basketball game and had that one guy constantly stop play to tie his shoes or get a drink of water or check his phone? That's what it feels like at times.

I also agree that IndyCar needs to take better advantage of race coverage online and use it as a "companion" to the traditional broadcast. Television is changing. There is no reason races should be geo-blocked from fans around the world. Make the product available to fans around the globe. The Bathurst 12 Hour did a stellar job earlier this month. IndyCar and their TV partners needs to stop trying to keep people from wanting to view IndyCar from doing so.

A few things I disagree with Dale on: First is abandoning all ovals except the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indianapolis 500. He is right that no oval is a model for success other than Indianapolis but I don't think that means give up on them. IndyCar and the tracks need to work together to get more people to show up. Iowa has experienced a rough patch the last few years but it wasn't too long ago they had full grandstands. The other four ovals: Texas, Milwaukee, Fontana and Pocono are on life support. Andretti Sports Marketing has done well with Milwaukee but it keeps moving dates and the start time will be 4:00 p.m. local time on a Sunday in 2015. Fontana also keeps bouncing around and has been run two of the past three years in temperatures that roasted spectators. Pocono had a good comeback year but Fourth of July traffic hurt the second year and now the race has moved to late August. I will cover more on what I think should be done with these ovals in a post for a later date.

I understand that most fans associate ovals with NASCAR but why let those lines define what IndyCar is? Why put the series in a corner even more and completely rule out an entire track discipline? It isn't set in stone that NASCAR is for ovals and IndyCar is for road and street courses. IndyCar needs to be themselves. IndyCar is ovals and road courses and street courses. One part of their identity might not be as known but instead of acting like it doesn't exist, get behind it more.

Dale is spot on that IndyCar needs to be at Road America, Laguna Seca and Austin. I would even throw in Watkins Glen. He is also right that most street courses don't last. Long Beach and Toronto are the only ones to last a step of time and St. Petersburg is developing into Long Beach and Toronto status. Cleveland, Surfers Paradise and Vancouver are also in the same air as Long Beach and Toronto but sadly they are no longer on the schedule. Other than those six street courses, most street courses last a handful of years: Baltimore, San Jose, Las Vegas twice, Denver twice, Miami three times, Houston three times, need I go on? IndyCar can't rely on street courses and bounce around from market to market until they have been everywhere. Road America, Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen have been around for over a half a century and aren't going anywhere anytime soon. They might not be in metropolitan areas but they are destinations that have stood the test of time. If fans make it a tradition of going to these tracks each year, it will become a habit.

On-track, IndyCar has six really good ovals and IndyCar really only needs 2-3 ovals to round out the schedule, preferably some mix of Phoenix, Michigan, Richmond, Loudon or Darlington. Why not go to a place such as Darlington? As Dale points out, Barber Motorsports Park is a half hour from Talladega and has drawn great crowds each year. Who is to say Darlington wouldn't work?

The schedule doesn't have to be exactly 50-50 in track disciplines. The current breakdown is 60-40 in favor of road/street courses but if you broke it down three ways, there are six ovals, five road courses and four street circuits. If IndyCar can keep their current slate of races and add Road America, Laguna Seca, Austin, Watkins Glen, Phoenix, Michigan and Richmond, I think that's a IndyCar schedule we can all be happy with.

And of course, I agree with Dale on the schedule being way too short. Eight months of racing from the weekend after the Super Bowl to the middle of October would be a great.

Next is Ryan Kowalewski, a 29-year old engineer, business student and fan.

He pushes being active on social media and I can't disagree. I do think IndyCar has done a good job in the past on their social media activities but where could they improve? IndyCar's Twitter account is professional and it should be professional but maybe it would be better as business causal. The Los Angeles Kings have one of the best Twitter accounts in team sports. It's edgy and had its slip ups but to stand out on social media you can't just be Tweeting every time a new article is posted on the IndyCar website or when drivers are at Mardi Gras. Provide commentary on things whether it's during a race and someone makes a bone head move. Don't say, "Caution for contact between Sato and Jakes." Try "Sato went for a gap that never existed and has ended his day as well as Jakes." Show that there is a real person with emotions and whit behind the IndyCar Twitter account and it might get noticed by other media platforms.

Kowalewski is spot on again on not showing races tape-delayed. If people find out the result before seeing the race, most likely they aren't going to watch the race. You can use the example of the Indianapolis 500 in the Indianapolis market but that is one city for one race and that has become an Indianapolis tradition and is not a predictor for how other major American markets want to watch IndyCar.

I disagree that the current generation won't be captivated by innovation. Yes, more and more people are less dependent on cars but I think a race with a variety of cars, from hybrid to hydrogen, diesel to ethanol might turn some heads. I am also not sure a canopy is a must for the next car. If an aero kit manufacture wants to include a canopy in their design, fine with me. I do agree with electronic screens on the car but not for sponsors or pictures but for race position. Take IMSA's Leader Lights System for example. And even better, what if the car numbers were outlined with lights so they stood out on the cars. I bet they would look good at the night races but I am not sure if they would be noticeable at day races but that would be something to work on.

Next is everyone's favorite former driver and current agent Stefan Johansson.

Let's just start off the bat with Johansson's idea for having a huge prize for winning the Triple Crown. It's sounds nice but you can't just pull $15-20 million out of your backside. I am sure a large purse would grab the attention of top drivers but that money has to come from somewhere and IndyCar isn't landing those big NFL or NASCAR-sized TV contracts.

He brings up an interesting point about there not being enough Americans competing regularly for victories. He's not wrong. Americans do like to watch Americans. The problem with IndyCar is they are being too particular in where the Americans are coming from. If you take all the Americans that participated in Road to Indy's Winterfest at NOLA and added in all the Americans with IndyCar seats for 2015, that's only 22 drivers and that's not including Indianapolis 500 one-offs Bryan Clauson, Buddy Lazier and maybe Ryan Phinny; drivers currently unattached such as Zach Veach, Matthew Brabham, Austin Cindric, Ryan Booth, Peter Portante, Adrian Starrantino and Clark Toppe or those who have rides but just didn't compete in Winterfest such as Neil Alberico and Kyle Connery. That's 34 drivers, more than an Indianapolis 500 grid but spread across four divisions. It's not the 1960s but that doesn't mean a USAC driver doesn't have what it takes. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have turned out to be mighty fine road course drivers and so was some guy named A.J. Foyt and they all started on dirt. IndyCar officials and team owners just need to give any potential prospect from USAC time. Patience is a virtue IndyCar must have if they want the amount of Americans participating to grow.

The Swede mentions adding 200-300 horsepower and I think we all want to see a more oomph on track. I don't agree with him that if the entire field is covered by 1.3 seconds, the product is dumbed down. What if you raise the horsepower and everyone is still covered by 1.3 seconds? And what is the correct interval that the field should be covered to show the field isn't dumbed down? Two seconds? Two and a half? You can't say there should be a certain margin that covers first to last on the timesheet and if it's lower than that then it is too easy. IndyCar has some talented drivers and maybe they deserve a little more appreciation.

Johansson and I are also in the same boat when it comes to drifting. I don't get it either.

Finally, he hits the nail on the head when he questions the leadership of IndyCar. He cites the leaders in NASCAR and Formula One as being racing enthusiast and questions how much IndyCar's brass cares when they look to Gene Simmons and Boston Consulting Group for help. Sure, every now and then it's good to get a fresh pair of eyes on things (see Randy Bernard) but more times than not it's not going to work out and IndyCar keeps bringing new people in but they don't know the series or motorsports in general. How is that going to help you?

I am going to quickly breeze over Derek Daly's piece because it's so all over the place that it makes Milka Duno at Chicagoland look good.

Yes, there is no quick fix to IndyCar. Yes, IndyCar needs more Americans (Let me quickly clarify what I mean by more Americans. I've always felt that IndyCar needs about half of its full-time grid, about 11-12 drivers, and 2/3 of the Indianapolis 500 to be Americans. It's strength in numbers. The current crop of Americans is good but there is room to add a few more. Foreign drivers are great. I think foreign drivers can be popular with American fans and they should have a presence as well. But IndyCar can't go the Champ Car route and have only one or two Americans on the grid. IndyCar needs a healthy portion of their grid to be American with a healthy portion waiting in the wings in the Road to Indy).

Also, I think Daly has a point with incentivizing teams hiring Americans. The series needs to do all they can to encourage teams to hire American talent. However, you can't keep giving out the incentive if a team keeps an American on board. For example, I don't think Andretti Autosport should keep getting incentives for keeping Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay year in and year out. I do think Andretti Autosport should get some type of bonus if they promote Zach Veach or Matthew Brabham or KV should get some type of bonus if they hire someone such as Conor Daly or Townsend Bell. Limit how a team gets a bonus. It should be a bonus for teams to hire young Americans and for teams to hire American veterans.

Now to where it fall off its rocker:
Let's not worry about rebranding the Road to Indy series.

I am not sure you can tell the crews they can't have sponsorship on their uniforms.

The idea to not use the term "grand prix" for IndyCar events because it's a "Formula One term" is absurd and Daly contradicts himself five paragraphs later saying "blatantly copy" Formula One's podium celebrations. How does that make any sense?

And you can't say only the Indianapolis 500 winner is allowed to kiss the yard of bricks and every other winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can't. One, because it sounds childish and two it was started by Dale Jarrett and his crew after they won the Brickyard. Let it go and allow everybody to kiss the yard of bricks if they want to.

I don't think every road/street course race should feature a standing start. I think standings starts should be used where necessary (Long Beach, Toronto, IMS road course).

To end on a positive from Daly's article, IndyCar need cranes at all there road and street course races. IndyCar should have an "official crane of IndyCar" sponsor that gets signage around the track and is mentioned anytime a car needs to be moved to behind the barrier.

Finally, the most recent IndyCar 2018 article was from IUPUI students.

They are spot on that IndyCar should have worked to fix the standings start issues and not just given up on them.

I think a new track record at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would generate some attention. Speed is awesome and if we have two or three drivers going out and keep putting down jaw-dropping numbers, it will turn some heads. Imagine if ESPN had a week to promote the Indianapolis 500 fresh off a new track record and kept reshowing the clip of someone running four-lap average at say 237.3 MPH?

I don't necessarily agree that IndyCar has to have a women driver on the grid. IndyCar should have the best drivers possible and if that includes one woman or two or three women than great but there shouldn't be a women driver to be on the grid just to say, "hey, we have a women driver on the grid." Do I think Simona de Silvestro should be in IndyCar? Yes. Do I think IndyCar should have a development program for young female drivers? Yes. I think they dropped the ball with True Car because they were interested in developing female drivers and supported Katherine Legge, Ashley Freiberg and Shannon McIntosh in IndyCar, Star Mazda and U.S. F2000 respectively. Having women drivers open the door for IndyCar to an important demographic and IndyCar needs all the fans they can get, whether they are men or women.

The single-day doubleheader is a good idea. World Superbike has a good format with a race one and two being split by World Supersport. IndyCar could do the same with an Indy Lights in the middle and it could all be packaged into one television window. You could have an 80-minute IndyCar race than a 10-minute intermission followed by a 35-minute Indy Lights race than a 10-minute intermission and another 80-minute IndyCar race in a four-hour TV window. It would get Indy Lights on live television and make that series most enticing to sponsors. I don't think every IndyCar road/street course race should be a doubleheader but if you keep Belle Isle as it is and made Toronto a single-day doubleheader next year as well as Mid-Ohio, I think it would be worth it.

I love the idea of heat races but the heats have to mean something. You can't just have heat races to set the field, you need them to have consequences as in, if you don't finish high enough you don't make the main event and won't score championship points. IndyCar currently isn't large enough for heat races. NASCAR is the perfect size for heat races. I have been a proponent for NASCAR to use heat races, especially at short tracks. But it doesn't work if IndyCar only has two dozen cars showing up to each race. Iowa tried them and there isn't enough congestion with 8-10 cars on track to make the races interesting. If IndyCar had 30-40 cars attempting oval races than I think heats would be a great option.

As a college student, I can vouch that we are broke. Honest to God, being a college student is just above being homeless. You know about my scholarship idea for IndyCar but there should be discounted tickets for college students. You can't just let college kids in for free. We might be broke but dropping $20 on an IndyCar ticket isn't the end of the world.

I look forward to what is next from Racer's IndyCar 2018 series. Let me know what you think about the IndyCar 2018 articles and this post on Twitter.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

2015 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

After a difficult 2014 season which has seen a lot of personnel changes as well as the lost of National Guard sponsorship after one season, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing can only go up in 2015. After running one car for majority of 2014, the team will continue to do the same in 2015.

2014 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Belle Isle 1).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 2nd (Belle Isle 2).
Final Championship Position: 19th (Graham Rahal), 24th (Oriol Servià), 28th (Luca Filippi)

2015 Driver:

Graham Rahal
Graham Rahal returns for his third season with his father's team. At 26 years old, Rahal's career has already experienced the highest of high and lowest of lows. Outside of his second place finished at Belle Isle 1 last year, the Ohioan massed a total of four top tens through 18 races with his a fifth at Mid-Ohio, his home race being the only other bright spot in his season. His average finish last year was 15th and Rahal finished a career worst 19th in the championship when running a full-season.

Numbers to Remember: 113. Rahal has made 113 starts since his victory in the wet at St. Petersburg in 2008. If he ever wins another race, he will break Johnny Rutherford's record for most starts between victories. Lone Star JR went 97 starts between victories at Atlanta in 1965 and Ontario in 1973.

3. The number of Fast Twelve appearances for Rahal in 2014.

0. The number of Firestone Fast Six appearances Rahal made in 2014.

3. Since 2008, the most consecutive top ten finishes for Rahal is three and it's happened three times (Edmonton, Kentucky, Mid-Ohio 2009; Sao Paulo, Indianapolis, Texas 1 2011 and Texas, Milwaukee, Iowa 2012).

4. Rahal has had at least one runner-up finish in four consecutive season (Sao Paulo and Milwaukee 2011, Texas 2012, Long Beach 2013 and Belle Isle 1 2014).

17.166. Rahal's average finish on ovals in 2014.

Predictions/Goals: Rahal's goal should be to string together four or more consecutive top ten finishes. If you want to be a top tier driver it's about consistently being in the top half of the field. Look at Hélio Castroneves. The last two seasons he has found himself in championship contention entering the final race and it's not because he has won a half a dozen races it's because he will put together long stretches of top ten finishes. Qualifying is another area Rahal needs to improve. During his days with Newman-Haas, Rahal was consistently starting at the front of races especially in 2009 when his average start was 5.88, started in the top ten in 15 of 17 races and made the Firestone Fast Six in five of seven road/street course races and started in the top ten in six of seven. Things will improve for Rahal in 2015 but he won't finish in the top five in the championship. The goal right now should be to be on the cusp of the top ten in the championship.

The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons gets underway on Sunday March 29th. ABC's coverage will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2015 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Bryan Herta Autosport

After flirting with possibly not returning as a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series team, Bryan Herta Autosport will return for 2015 but with their third different driver for the season opener in as many years and for the second consecutive year, the team will field a rookie. This year the defending Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves will be behind the wheel of the #98 Honda for 2015.

2014 Bryan Herta Autosport Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 3rd (Houston 2).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 2nd (IMS road course).
Final Championship Position: 17th (Jack Hawksworth)

2015 Drivers:

Gabby Chaves
The Colombian won the 2014 Indy Lights championship on tiebreaker over Jack Harvey and it has landed him a full-time IndyCar ride. Chaves spent the last three seasons in the Road to Indy system. He finished second to Jack Hawksworth for the 2012 Star Mazda championship and finished second to Sage Karam for the 2013 Indy Lights crown before his breakthrough last year. Last year, Chaves won four races, including the Freedom 100 and had 11 podiums in 14 races including a string of eight consecutive podiums to end the season. Chaves has raced on 12 tracks of the 15 tracks on the IndyCar schedule and he has finished on the podium on 11 of the 12 with the sole exception being the IMS road course. The three tracks Chaves has not been to are NOLA (which will be hosting their inaugural race in 2015), Belle Isle and Texas. His average finish in two Indy Lights season was 3.076.

Numbers to Remember: 0. The number of combined IndyCar victories from the previous 12 Indy Lights champions

3. The number of combined top five finishes by the previous 12 Indy Lights champions in their rookie IndyCar seasons. Alex Lloyd finished fourth in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 and J.R. Hildebrand had his unforgettable second place finish in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 and he finished fourth at Iowa later that season.

3. Of the last 12 Indy Lights champions, only three won IndyCar Rookie of the Year (Raphael Matos 2009, Alex Lloyd 2010 and Tristan Vautier 2013).

Prediction/Goals: I will be honest that it is hard to make any predictions considering we don't know how the aero kit will perform and if one will be head and shoulders above the other. Honda could come out with a far superior aero kit and Chaves could be consistently around the top ten or the Chevrolet aero kit could end up wiping the floor with Honda's body work and Chaves could end up struggling to crack the top twenty. Chaves enters IndyCar with more experience than Hawksworth did last year and his goal should be to finish ahead of where Hawksworth ended up last year (17th in the championship, average start of 15.647 and average finish of 13.611).

Jay Howard
The 2006 Indy Pro Series champion has lined himself up a ride for the Indianapolis 500. Howard will drive the #97 Green1 Honda as a partnership between BHA and CuttersRT. Howard will be making his fifth attempt at the Indianapolis 500. The Brit has only qualified for the race once. In 2008, he was replaced by John Andretti after passing rookie orientation for Roth Racing. In 2010, Howard failed to qualify for Sarah Fisher Racing after withdrawing his qualifying time, a time that would have been good enough to make the field. He would make his Indianapolis 500 debut in 2011 driving in partnership with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He started 20th but finished 30th after completing only 60 laps. In 2012, Howard tried to return to the Speedway with Michael Shank Racing but due to a lack of engines in the first year of the DW12-era, they did not even turn a lap that May.

Numbers to Remember: 12. Jay Howard has made 12 IndyCar starts.

75. As in 75% of Howard's IndyCar starts have come on ovals.

13. As in Howard's best career starting position and best finish. Howard finished 13th in consecutive races at Motegi and Kansas in 2008. He started 13th for the second race of the lone doubleheader at Texas in 2011. The starting line-up for that race was set by random draw.

Predictions/Goals: The goals should be to make the field. If there are more than 33 entries, Howard will be one of the drivers battling not to be bumped from the 99th Indianapolis 500.

The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons gets underway on Sunday March 29th. ABC's coverage will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: To Lighten the Mood

From the suspension of Kurt Busch to Kyle Busch's accident which left him with a compound fracture in his right leg and fractured left foot to Fernando Alonso's accident that send him to hospital but fortunately left the two-time world champion with only a concussion, we got to lighten the mood. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Pace/Safety Car Driver Race
While under caution during the second qualifying race on Thursday night, it was mentioned that Brett Bodine was the driver of the pace car in NASCAR and it hit me: What if there was a race featuring pace/safety car drivers from different series around the globe?

Most have some type of racing experience. Brett Bodine had a victory in the NASCAR Cup Series and he nearly won the inaugural Brickyard 400. It wasn't a stellar career but it was respectable. Formula One safety car driver Bernd Mayländer won one DTM race in his six year career but prior to that was Porsche Carrera Cup Germany champion and won the 24 Hours Nürburgring. Mayländer also finished second in the GT class at the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans. Johnny Rutherford and Arie Luyendyk split time as IndyCar safety car driver. I think you already know a fair amount about those two. Either one of those two could represent IndyCar. Rutherford is much older so I think Luyendyk would be more likely to participate and would be more competitive.

Other safety car drivers from around the world include Jason Routley, who appears to still be the V8 Supercars safety car driver. Jürgen Kastenholz is DTM safety car driver. Portuguese Bruno Correia is the WTCC safety car driver and he was the safety car driver for the inaugural Formula E race from Beijing.

Unfortunately, I don't know the safety car drivers for FIA World Endurance Championship, IMSA, European Le Mans or Blancpain GT Series but they could also compete. And while we are at it, throw in the safety car drivers from Super GT and Super Formula. If you know who the safety car drivers for any of the six series listed above, please let me know on Twitter at @4TheLoveofIndy.

That would be twelve drivers, just like IROC from many years gone by. Unlike IROC, I think this would just be one race, most likely on a road course with a neutral car. Perhaps something like spec-Miatas would be suitable. It would a great race to have in a warm climate at the beginning of December when every season has ended and it could be used to raise money for charity.

The days of IROC are dead but a fun, 45-minute race featuring safety car drivers might be a good alternative. Now we just need a proper acronym. IROP/SCD (International Race of Pace/Safety Car Drivers) doesn't really roll off the tongue. Maybe RPGP (Race Pacers Grand Prix).

The only question is who would be the safety car driver for the safety car drivers race? We would probably have to get an active driver behind the wheel. Jeff Gordon is retiring and looking for work. I am sure he would be a competent safety car driver.

2015 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Previews
Starting this week our first batch of 2015 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Previews will be posted. We are still just over a month away from the start of the IndyCar season but it will be here fast. If Brasilia wasn't cancelled, we would be just under a fortnight but thanks to the Brazilians dropping the ball and IndyCar deciding not to tag along with Pirelli World Challenge at Austin that weekend as a replacement race, we have to wait just a little longer.

At least Two teams will be previewed each week starting tomorrow until the week leading up to the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. We will also have previews for the upcoming Road to Indy seasons as well as other IndyCar-related posts that I hope you find interesting.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the first preview tomorrow. I will give you a hint of which team you can prepare for tomorrow to read about tomorrow: They have won the Indianapolis 500. That narrows it down... barely considering only three teams haven't won the Indianapolis 500.

Winners From The Weekend
You know about Joey Logano, Ryan Reed and what happened in the qualifying races but did you know...

Chad Reed won the Supercross race from Atlanta.

Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam split the World Superbike opening round from Phillip Island. Jules Cluzel won the World Supersport opener.

Jack Aitken won two of three Pro Mazda races at NOLA Motorsports Park for the first of two Winterfest rounds. Weiron Tan won the other race. Jake Eidson won two of three U.S. F2000 races with Victor Franzoni taking the other.

Tyler Reddick won the Truck race from Daytona, his first career victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
V8 Supercars kick off their season on the streets of Adelaide.
All three NASCAR series head to Atlanta.
AMA Supercross remains in Atlanta for another race.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Joey Logano Wins 57th Daytona 500

Joey Logano won his first career Daytona 500 after leading 31 laps under the yellow flag for a last lap accident. Logano held off defending champion Kevin Harvick, defending Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson on the first and only green-white-checkered attempt for the victory.

Casey Mears finished sixth, his third career top ten finish in the Daytona 500 and the second consecutive year the nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears has finished in the top ten in The Great American Race. Clint Bowyer finished seventh with his former teammate Martin Truex finishing eighth. Washingtonians Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle rounded out the top ten.

David Gilliland came home 11th for Front Row Motorsports with Sam Hornish, Jr. in 12th, a career best finish for the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner in the Daytona 500. Michael Annett finished 13th in his first race for HScott Motorsports. Austin Dillon finished 14th and Aric Almirola rounded out the top fifteen in the #43 Ford.

Regan Smith finished 16th after stepping into the #41 Chevrolet on short notice substituting for the suspended Kurt Busch. David Ragan finished 17th with Truck Series regulars and ThorSport teammates Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton 18th and 19th respectively. Crafton made his Cup series debut substituting for an injured Kyle Busch. A.J. Allmendinger rounded out the top twenty.

Danica Patrich finished 21st with Cole Whitt in 22nd. Jamie McMurray overcame right side damage to finish 23rd. Carl Edwards finished 24th in his first race with Joe Gibbs Racing. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip finished 25th. Former Cup champion Bobby Labonte finished 26th. Paul Menard finished 27th in the #27 Chevrolet. Menard's Richard Childress Racing teammate Ty Dillon came home in 28th. Roush Fenway Racing teammates Ricky Stenhouse, Jr and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top thirty.

Michael McDowell, Reed Sorenson, and Jeff Gordon were the final cars on the lead lap after get together on the back straightaway, drawing the caution that ended the race. Kyle Larson was also involved and finished one lap down.

Matt Kenseth couldn't overcome early damage after getting into the back of Ryan Blaney and finished a lap down in 35th. Mike Wallace finished 36th in his first Daytona 500 since 2007. Justin Allgaier retired from the race after being involved in an accident with Ty Dillon. Allgaier's caution was the one that forced the green-white-checkered finish. Ryan Newman finished 38th. Ryan Blaney's engine failed on his Daytona 500 debut and he finished 39th.

J.J. Yeley, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Landon Cassill round out the top field. Keselowski and Cassill each had engine failures while Stewart suffered suspension damage after cotntact with the outside wall in the first quarter of the race.

This is Team Penske's second Daytona 500 victory. Ryan Newman won for the team in 2008. This is Ford's 14th Daytona 500 victory. Ford becomes the first manufacture to sweep the three national touring division races at Daytona with Logano's victory. Tyler Reddick won the Truck race Friday night and Ryan Reed won the Grand National race Saturday.

The second round of the NASCAR Cup season will be held at Atlanta next Sunday.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ryan Reed Scores First Career Victory at Daytona

Ford scored their first victory in the February Grand National Series race at Daytona since 1995 as Ryan Reed picked up his maiden victory driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Reed's best finish entering this race was fourth which came in the July Daytona race last year. Chris Buescher made it a Roush Fenway 1-2.

Reed past Brad Keselowski on the final lap after missing an accident involving Kyle Larson and Ross Chastian. Keselowski was leading at the start of the final lap but the gap between him and the rest of the final left the Penske driver hung out to dry as the Roush Fenway teammate blew by in turns three and four.

Austin and Ty Dillon would pass Keselowski coming to the line to finish third and fourth. Keselowski would round out the top five. David Starr took a surprise sixth place finish, a career best in NASCAR's second division for the four-time truck series race winner. His previous best finish was ninth at Talladega last year. Aric Almirola finished seventh. Larson and Chastain were the last two cars on the lead after their accident and finish eighth and ninth respectively. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished tenth, one lap down. Earnhardt, Jr. lost his lap after pitting off sequence and having to serve a penalty for a pit lane violation.

Dakota Armstrong, Darrell Wallace, Jr and Mike Wallace all finished one lap down as well in 11th, 12th and 13th. Jeremy elements was two laps down in 14th. Mario Gosselin rounded out the top fifteen with Jeffery Earnhardt finishing 16th.

There were two red flags in the races. The first occurred after Daniel Suárez spun into Regan Smith coming out of turn four, ending both their days as well as Ryan Sieg, Scott Lagasse, Jr., Chad Boat and Justin Marks.

The second red flag occurred after when Erik Jones spun toward the outside wall exiting the tri-oval. Chase Elliott, Elliott Sadler, Kyle Busch, Brian Scott and J.J. Yeley were all contenders taken out in the accident.

Kyle Busch was taken to the hospital after the accident. Busch suffered a compound fracture in his right leg and mid-foot fracture fracture of his left foot and will not participate in the 57th Daytona 500. Two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton will substitute for Kyle Busch in the #18 Toyota. This will be Crafton's first career Cup Series start.

The second round for NASCAR second division will occurred next Saturday from Atlanta.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hendrick Motorsports Sweeps Qualifying Races

Last year, Joe Gibbs Racing became the first team to sweep the Daytona 500 qualifying races. This year, Hendrick Motorsports made it back-to-back years with a team sweeping the 150-milers.

In race one, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. charged from last on the grid to win his fourth career Daytona 500 qualifying race. Earnhardt, Jr. had to start last after having his qualifying time disallowed after failing post-qualifying inspection last Sunday. He will start third on Sunday. Jeff Gordon finished second in his final career qualifying race. He will start on pole for the 57th Daytona 500. Joey Logano came home in third position ahead of Tony Stewart. Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five with defending champion Kevin Harvick finishing sixth. Earnhardt, Jr., Logano, Stewart, Bowyer and Harvick will fill in the inside of rows 2-6.

Kasey Kahne finished seventh with 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray in eighth. Landon Cassill and Cole Whitt rounded out the top ten. Chevrolet had seven of the top ten, Ford had two of the top ten and Logano was the lone Toyota in the top ten of race one. Kahne, McMurray, Cassill and Whitt will start on the inside of rows 7-10.

Paul Menard, Michael McDowell, J.J. Yeley, Michael Annett, Kyle Larson and Ty Dillon were the final drivers to race their way into the 57th Daytona 500 from race one. They will occupy the inside of rows 11-16. Ty Dillon will make his Daytona 500 debut.

Matt Kenseth led 32 laps, the most in race one but finished 17th and will get in by his qualifying time. Justin Marks finished 18th with Brad Keselowski in 19th and use a provisional. Aric Almirola rounded out the top twenty and get in by his qualifying time. Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Trevor Bayne were the final two cars on the lead lap. A.J. Allmendinger and Johnny Sauter were both eliminated in a lap 27 accident. Casey Mears had an engine failure end his day on lap 17.

Marks and Hornaday, Jr. had to race their way in and will not be in the 57th Daytona 500.

Earnhardt, Jr. becomes the ninth driver to win at least four qualifying races. His father, Dale Earnhardt won 12 with Cale Yarborough second all-time with six. Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon all have five victories. Junior Johnson, Bobby Isaac and Bill Elliott all have four victories.

Jimmie Johnson won his second career Daytona 500 qualifying race in race two. Johnson led 41 of 64 laps. He was already to slated to start second based off qualifying. Joe Gibbs teammates Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards finished second and third. Greg Biffle and Martin Truex, Jr. rounded out the top five. Busch, Edwards, Biffle and Truex will start on the outside of rows 2-5.

Ryan Blaney finished sixth and will make his Daytona 500 debut on Sunday. Reed Sorenson over came a qualifying accident to finished seventh. Mike Wallace finished eighth and will make his first Daytona 500 since 2007. He finished fourth in that race. Justin Allgaier and Danica Patrick rounded out the top ten. These five drivers will start on the outside of rows 6-10.

Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, David Gilliland, David Ragan, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. were the final drivers to race their way in and will start on the outside of rows 11-16 on Sunday.

Brian Scott finished 17th with Denny Hamlin finishing 18th. Michael Waltrip was the final car on the lead lap. Bobby Labonte finished 20th, 7 laps down after an accident late in the second race with Patrick, Scott and Newman. Labonte will get in thanks to the past champions provisional.

Jeb Burton, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Alex Bowman were all caught up in a lap 37 accident. They all retired from the race.

Josh Wise had a mechanical failure before the second race had even begun and will not race in the 57th Daytona 500.

Joining Marks, Hornaday, Jr and Wise as those who failed to qualify for the 57th Daytona 500 are Brian Scott, Jeb Burton and Alex Bowman.

The sweep gives Hendrick Motorsports' 12 qualifying race victory. Richard Childress Racing is the only team with more Daytona 500 qualifying race victories with 15. Earnhardt, Jr.'s victory ended a streak of three consecutive qualifying race victories for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kyle Busch won the second race in 2013 while Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin swept 2014 for Gibbs.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Better Business For Whom?

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had to make the best business decision. That decision was to hire James Jakes for their #7 Honda. However, what is best for SPM may not have been what is best for IndyCar.

We all know Jakes got hired because of the paycheck he brings. We all know his father runs Acorn Stairlifts. We all also know that Jakes sat on the sidelines all of 2014 after losing his ride at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He didn't find a ride in Europe, he didn't run a year in sports cars, whether it be LMP2 or Prototype Challenge, he didn't even take a step down and run Indy Lights. Jakes raced nothing in 2014 and it's paying off in 2015.

Conor Daly spent 2014 making the best running for the weakest team in GP2. After finishing third in GP3 in 2013, the best he could manage for Venezuela GP Lazarus was a seventh place finish in the Hungary sprint race but was running at the finish of 15 of his 18 starts. It became clear that Daly's time in Europe was up and he made IndyCar his focus for 2015.

It is no secret that I thought Daly was the best driver for SPM and it's nothing against Jakes. Jakes is a competent driver. In 2013, he was running at the finish at 15 of 19 races with two mechanical failures.  His average finish improved each year he was in IndyCar. However, what is he bringing to IndyCar besides a check?

Jakes raced nothing in 2014. He wasn't on a TV screen doing interviews. He wasn't signing autographs at a race track, mingling with fans. He has tweeted 31 times since the start of 2014. At least drivers such as Martin Plowman or James Davison are running FIA WEC or IMSA and are int the mind of race fans. When they run Indianapolis, someone has seen them race somewhere and those fans have someone to pull for. How many people are going to be turning on an IndyCar race because James Jakes is in the field?

The same can be asked of Daly but it's more likely Daly will draw a fan to a television screen than Jakes, especially globally. Daly raced in nine different countries last year. How many people saw Daly race in 2014? How many fans did he mingle with who might turn on an IndyCar race late one night in say Austria and realize that they got his autograph at Red Bull Ring? Or someone in England might see him competing and met him Silverstone when he was in GP2. Here in the states, Daly has some presence, not a large presence but he does have an Indianapolis 500 start to his name, won a Star Mazda championship and won in Indy Lights.

Not to forget to mention Daly's use of social media. You might wonder why the hell does that matter but he is going to promote himself. He is going to show personality. He mentions Taylor Swift at least once a month in a tweet and while that seems juvenile what if he were to win the Indianapolis 500 (crazier things have happen) and then ask her out on a date? That would get some type of attention from circles that never mention IndyCar and that might make him even more of a household name than winning the race. Let's not forget that IndyCar needs Americans on the grid and Daly fits that mold.

Stefan Johansson was the latest subject in's IndyCar 2018 series and the Swede mentioned the one strength NASCAR and Formula One have had is they are run like dictatorships. IndyCar needs to get more heavy handed. IndyCar is too laissez-faire when it comes to who the teams hire. If the series wants to have the best drivers in the world, they need to discourage teams from signing drivers who are bringing nothing to the table in terms of sociability and only a paycheck.

If IndyCar wanted to send a message to the teams, that accepting pay drivers who are not up to a certain standard, especially those who did nothing the season prior, they would not give SPM Leader's Circle funding for the ride Jakes will occupy and if they really wanted to show no mercy they would not give SPM funding for Hinchcliffe either. That would probably run Schmidt Peterson completely out of IndyCar but every good dictatorship has a few political prisoners.

If IndyCar wants to show who has control, they need make sure the teams are hiring drivers in the best business interest for the series. Teams need to make money as well but the series needs to work more hands on with making sure the right talent is in full-time rides.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Musings From The Weekend: Give the Ball to Anderson

NASCAR is back, World Rally was in Sweden, and coming up this week is a Road to Indy tradition that should become an IndyCar tradition as well. We will also talk about New Zealand. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

It has no TV coverage, won't be talked about at any great length but the 2015 Mazda Road to Indy Winterfest begins this Wednesday at NOLA Motorsports Park with Indy Lights testing Wednesday and Thursday and Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 racing Thursday and Friday. The second leg of Winterfest will take place February 24-26 from Barber Motorsports Park.

Dan Anderson has come up with a lot of great idea since taking over coverage of the Road to Indy ladder system and here is one that he and IndyCar should capitalize on and make their own. While Winterfest is currently just test days for Lights and a preseason series for Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000, IndyCar and the Road to Indy should use it as the kick off to their season. The same way NASCAR has Speedweeks at Daytona and Daytona Bike Week was the kick off to the AMA schedule, IndyCar needs their own kick off event. 

We all know IndyCar needs to start it's season earlier and Winterfest could be back-to-back weekends with all four series racing in warmer climates is the way to kick off the season. NOLA and Barber already have their own set race weekends in April but this could allow for an addition or two to the schedule. Laguna Seca has lovely weather all year and the highs this past Saturday and yesterday were in the 80s! And instead of running Fontana at the end of June, run it the weekend after the Super Bowl. The weather is as close as possible to perfection. A 500-miler would be a great way to start the season and running the second weekend in February would be about six weeks before Fontana's NASCAR race. That is a fair amount of time between events. 

Winterfest could become open-wheel racings' California vacation. An escape from the frigid and snow covered midwest to the green fields of Northern and Southern California. IndyCar has been so set on international events in places such as the United Arab Emirates and Brazil filling in the winter months but realistically all they have to do is rearrange the races here at home. After the disaster that was Brasilia, IndyCar has to be much more selective when deciding to race abroad. Brasilia might have offered a massive paycheck but one problem, the track was in worse condition than an abandon K-Mart parking lot just outside Detroit. If IndyCar is going abroad, I'd rather IndyCar take less money from a European venue that actually exists such as Mugello than go for the jackpot with incompetent politicians.

You can't go to most Europe tracks this time of year but you can go to California. Go west old men in suits who run these series. 

Duel Races
I mentioned it last year and I will mention it again. I love the Daytona 500 qualifying races but I think the races should mean more. The only drivers that should be locked in after pole position qualifying is the front row and any six of the remaining 47 drivers should be at risk of going home. Get rid of locking in the four fastest drivers on speed from qualifying. Get rid of provisionals and for the love of all that is holy, get rid of the past champions' provisional. The top twenty finishers in each qualifying race not including the front row starters should fill in the 3rd-42nd on the grid with the 43rd and final spot being determined by a 10-lap LCQ. 

This year's LCQ would only feature seven drivers but if there had been an LCQ in 2014 six drivers would have battled for the final spot, including past Cup champion Brad Keselowski and the man who would end up winning the 2014 title, Kevin Harvick after he was disqualified from race one for failing post-race inspection. The other four drivers would have been Joe Nemechek, Reed Sorenson, Morgan Shepherd and Eric McClure. You are probably thinking that the LCQ would be predictable and it would have been either Keselowski or Harvick that would have advanced but we don't know that. Who is to say they wouldn't have taken each other out, opening the door for say Reed Sorenson to race his way in?

Seven cars isn't a lot but you don't need many to make it interesting at Daytona. A Daytona 500 LCQ would give NASCAR exactly what it wants. More drama. At least a Daytona 500 LCQ would be more organic drama than the contrived Chase to determine the champion.

Toyota Racing Series
I have been meaning to talk about the Toyota Racing Series for the last month and just never got it in. The New Zealand-based series runs what are pretty much Formula Three spec cars and just wrapped up their five week series on Sunday. 

Ferrari Driver Academy's Canadian Lance Stroll won the championship after winning four of 16 races and finishing on the podium in ten of 16 races. Stroll is the son of billionaire owner of Circuit Mont-Tremblant and once rumored potential buyer Sauber F1 Lawrence Stroll. Ferrari Driver Academy's Frenchman Brandon Maïsano finished second with five victories and finishing on the podium in half the races while 16-year old American Santino Ferrucci finished third with a victory and six podiums. 

Ferrucci will compete in European Formula Three this year for Mücke Motorsport. He ran part of the European F3 last year as well as a few rounds in German and British Formula Three. The Connecticut native won two of the three races he contested at Brand Hatch late in the British F3 season. Ferrucci finished eighth in last year's Macau Grand Prix, directly behind current Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen.

I don't know what Ferrucci's future holds. Hindsight says his Formula One dream will have a depressing end and he will probably be heading toward IndyCar by 2020 but he has talent and he is only going to continue to develop. He beat Artem Markelov, who raced in GP2 last year and ahead of Alfonso Celis, Jr. who raced in GP3 last year, will run GP3 this year along with Formula Renault 3.5.

The most interesting driver (to me at least) from Toyota Racing Series was Ferdinand Habsburg. Yes, from that Habsburg family. His grandfather, Otto von Habsburg was the last Crown-Prince of Austria-Hungary and his great-grandfather, Charles I of Austria was the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  

Winners From The Weekend
You know about Jeff Gordon's pole position but did you know...

Matt Kenseth won the Sprint Unlimited.

Sébastien Ogier came from behind entering the final stage to win Rally Sweden.

Ryan Dungey won the Supercross race from Arlington, Texas.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Budweiser Duels are Thursday night with the 57th Daytona 500 on Sunday.
World Superbike kicks off their season from Phillip Island. 
AMA Supercross heads to Atlanta for back-to-back rounds at the Georgia Dome. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jeff Gordon Wins 2015 Daytona 500 Pole Position

In his final Daytona 500 start, Jeff Gordon will lead the field to the green flag as the four-time champion won pole position for the 57th Daytona 500. This is the second Daytona 500 pole position of his career and 78th of his career, good enough for third all-time. Gordon started on pole position in the 1999 Daytona 500 and led 17 laps on his way to victory.

This was the first time pole position for The Great American Race was determined by knockout qualifying and Gordon laid down the fastest lap in the final round at 44.711 seconds (201.293 MPH). Gordon is the first driver to win the Daytona 500 pole position with an average speed over 200 MPH since Bill Elliott set the track record of 210.364 MPH in 1987. This is only the fifth time the Daytona 500 pole-sitter has broken the 200 MPH barrier.

Jimmie Johnson qualified second and will start on pole in the second qualifying race. This is Johnson's fourth career Daytona 500 front-row start. Gordon and Johnson are locked in the field.

The Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five in the final round of qualifying. Hamlin and Kenseth will start second in the first and second qualifying races respectively. Busch will start third in the first race. Kasey Kahne made it three Hendrick cars in the top six and will start third in race two. Carl Edwards was seventh fastest in his first qualifying session with Joe Gibbs Racing. He will start fourth in race one while Ty Dillon will start fourth in race two as Ty Dillon looks to make his Daytona 500 debut. 

Austin Dillon was ninth quickest in qualifying and will start fifth in race one. Last year's Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. qualified tenth and starts fifth in race two. Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex, Jr. were the slowest two drivers in the final round of qualifying and will each start sixth in their respective qualifying race. Edwards and McMurray are each locked into the field based on their qualifying speed. They will set their starting position for the Daytona 500 in their respective qualifying races.

Update (6:58 p.m. ET): The cars for Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. failed post-race inspection. They will start at the back of the field for their respective qualifying race on Thursday. 

Race One Grid:
Johnny Sauter will start a surprising seventh in race one driving for BK Racing. He will be join by 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne on row four. Rounding out the top ten for race one will be Aric Almirola and Brad Keselowski. Almirola was the fastest qualifier on Sunday with a lap average of 202.370 MPH in group B of round one. Almirola is locked in by his time but his starting position will be determined in his qualifying race. 

Joey Logano starts 11th in race one and BK Racing's J.J. Yeley joins the Penske driver on row six. Paul Menard and A.J. Allmendinger will start on row seven. Defending champion Kevin Harvick rounds out the top fifteen. His Stewart Haas Racing teammate Tony Stewart joins him on row eight. Casey Mears and Michael Annett will start on row nine as Kyle Larson and Michael McDowell round out the top twenty. 

Clint Bowyer is slated to start 21st but will go to a back up car after getting into an accident in group A's session of round one. Justin Marks starts 22nd as he looks to make his Daytona 500 debut. Cole Whitt, Landon Cassill and Ron Hornaday, Jr. round out the race one grid. 

Race Two Grid:
Greg Biffle will start seventh with Sam Hornish, Jr. making it an all-Ford row four. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. ended up ninth. He ran the second-fastest lap during all of qualifying and is locked in by speed. The Mississippian will set his starting position in his qualifying race. Ryan Blaney starts tenth in his first career Daytona 500 qualifying race. 

The average age of row six is 50.5 years as two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip is joined by 2000 Cup Champion Bobby Labonte. Alex Bowman will line-up 13th in race two. Ryan Newman is slated to join Bowman on row seven but will go to the back of the field after an engine change prior to qualifying. Just like in race one, Stewart Haas Racing teammates lock out row eight with Kurt Busch on the inside and Danica Patrick on the outside. 

Brian Scott and Justin Allgaier start on row nine while David Gilliand and Jeb Burton round out the top twenty in race two. Reed Sorenson was scheduled to start 21st but after being in that accident with Bowyer in qualifying, the Georgian will drop the back of the field. David Ragan will start 22nd. Rounding out race two are Josh Wise and Mike Wallace.

The Budweiser Duels are scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET on Thursday. The races can be seen on Fox Sports 1. The top fifteen in each qualifying race will set rows two through sixteen on the Daytona 500 starting grid. Rows seventeen and eighteen will be set by the fastest four drivers from qualifying who did not finish in the top fifteen in the two qualifying races. The final seven positions will be set by provisionals. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

2015 Speedweeks Preview

Another frigid February has led us to Daytona International Speedway for Speedweeks and the start of the NASCAR season. Everything begins this weekend with the exhibition Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night and Daytona 500 Pole Position Qualifying Sunday afternoon.

Twenty-five cars are entered for the Unlimited which features pole winners from 2014, past winners of the Unlimited/Shootout/Clash, past Daytona 500 pole-sitters and last year's Chase drivers. Denny Hamlin looks to join Neil Bonnett, Ken Schrader, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick as the only drivers to win the event in consecutive years. All three of Hamlin's Joe Gibbs teammates join him in the field. Kyle Busch won the event in 2012 while this will be Matt Kenseth's ninth start in the Daytona exhibition. The Wisconsinite's best finish in the event is 3rd in his 2003 championship winning season. Carl Edwards will make his Joe Gibbs Racing debut on Saturday night. The former Roush driver qualifies based on his 2012 Daytona 500 pole. Edwards has drawn pole position twice for the Unlimited/Shootout.

All four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers are in the 25-car field. Defending Cup champion Kevin Harvick looks for his fourth Unlimited/Shootout victory which would put him second all-time in victories in the event. Dale Earnhardt won the then Busch Clash six times. Tony Stewart is also sitting on three victories in the event and could move into sole possession of second all-time. Kurt Busch is eligible based off his 2011 Shootout victory; Danica Patrick thanks to her 2013 Daytona 500 pole position. 

Jeff Gordon will make what is likely his final Unlimited start on Sunday. He is a two-time winner of the race but last won the race in 1997, the final year it was known as the Busch Clash. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is also a two time winner of the event. Jimmie Johnson won the 2005 Shootout. Kasey Kahne is eligible based off making the Chase last season. 

Brad Keselowski finished second last year as he looks for his first career victory at Daytona. His Penske teammate Joey Logano will also be in the field. Both Ganassi drivers will be in the race. Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson are both fresh off victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona three weeks ago. This will be McMurray's ninth appearance while Larson makes his Unlimited debut. 

The only other drivers making their Unlimited debut is last year's Daytona 500 pole-sitter Austin Dillon. Five drivers have won the Clash/Shootout/Unlimited on their debut. They are Buddy Baker (who won the inaugural event in 1979), Dale Earnhardt (1980), Jeff Gordon (1994), Dale Jarrett (1996) and Denny Hamlin (2006). Ryan Newman joins his Richard Childress Racing teammate in the Unlimited. 

Last year's Chase drivers Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola are in the event. Biffle qualifies by his 2004 Daytona 500 pole-position. Almirola is the most recent winner at Daytona. The Floridian won last year's rain-shortened July race. Martin Truex, Jr. qualifies for the race based off his 2009 Daytona 500 pole position.

Four drivers who were qualified for this year's race are not participating, three of which were pole winners last year. David Gilliland won pole position for last year's Daytona July race but will not be in the Unlimited after Front Row Motorsports pulled the entry due to a lack of sponsorship for the event. Gilliland isn't the only one that had to withdraw due to a lack of sponsorship. A.J. Allmendinger was a Chase competitor last season but JTG Daugherty Racing was not able to come up with the funding for the Watkins Glen winner. Both drivers are entered for the Daytona 500.

Brian Vickers will not be competing after undergoing heart surgery in the offseason. Vickers is scheduled to return to Cup competition at Las Vegas on March 8th. Brian Scott will not make his Unlimited debut despite winning his first career pole position at Talladega last May. Scott does has a ride for the Daytona 500 in the #62 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet. 

Clint Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Casey Mears and Paul Menard will replace the four eligible drivers who will not be on the grid for this year's Unlimited. 

Chevrolet has not won this event since 2010. The Bowtie Brigades longest winless streak in this event is five years from 1998-2002. This is the second time the event has fallen on Valentine's Day. The 1983 race was scheduled for February 13th but pushed back a day due to rain. Jamie McMurray is the most recent winner on Valentine's Day. The Missourian won the 2010 Daytona 500 on Valentine's Day.

Along with the 25 cars entered for the Unlimited, another 25 cars are entered for the 57th Daytona 500. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip will substitute for the recovering Vickers. Waltrip will attempt to make his 28th Daytona 500. Another former Daytona 500 winner on the entry list is Trevor Bayne. The Tennessean will be in his first Cup championship-eligible season after running 58 races over the last five seasons for the Wood Brothers.

Ryan Blaney is one of four drivers looking to make their Daytona 500 debut as the son of former World of Outlaws champion Dave Blaney replaces Bayne in the Wood Brothers' famed #21 Ford. Jeb Burton is another second-generation driver who could make his Daytona 500 debut. The son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton will drive the #26 Toyota for BK Racing. Former 24 Hours of Daytona class winner Justin Marks is attempting to make his Great American Race debut in the #29 RAB Racing Toyota. Ty Dillon will drive for his grandfather Richard Childress as he attempts to make his first Daytona 500 in the #33 Chevrolet.

Chevrolet engines are in half of the cars on the entry list. The remaining Chevrolet drivers are four-time Truck series champion Ron Hornaday, Jr. (#30 The Motorsports Group), Alex Bowman (#7 Tommy Baldwin Racing), Landon Cassill (#40 Hillman-Circle Sport LLC), Reed Sorenson (#44 Team Xtreme Racing), Michael Annett (#46 HScott Motorsports), Justin Allgaier (#51 HScott Motorsports) and Joe Nemechek (#87 NEMCO Motorsports).

Former Cup champion Bobby Labonte leads the rest of the Ford line-up in the #32 Go FAS Racing Ford. Sam Hornish, Jr. could join A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only drivers to win both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. The 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner drives the #9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. Both Andretti and Foyt won driving a Ford Motor Company brand. Andretti won in a blue oval while Foyt won in a Mercury driving for the Wood Brothers. Joining Gilliland at Front Row Motorsports are David Ragan and Cole Whitt. Michael McDowell and Jose Wise round out the entry list for Ford in the #95 Levine Family Racing and #98 Phil Parsons Racing entries.

Mike Wallace is teammates to Brian Scott at Premium Motorsports but the 10-time Daytona 500 starter will be in the #66 Toyota. Wallace's last Daytona 500 start was in 2007 and finished fourth. The final two Toyotas on the entry list belong to BK Racing. J.J. Yeley will be in the #23 Toyota and Johnny Sauter is in the #83 Toyota.

Nine former Daytona 500 winners are on the entry list. Jeb Burton is the lone Rookie of the Year candidate entered for this year's race.

The Sprint Unlimited takes place on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on FOX. Daytona 500 Pole Position Qualifying will take places at 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday and can also be seen on FOX. This will be the first time Daytona 500 qualifying will use the knockout format.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The IndyCar Post I Am Writing As Therapy

I write this as therapy. I write this because deep down in all of our souls there is optimism. Optimism that the grandest picture we can paint in our minds is a possibility. Painting this picture becomes a warm blanket, wrapped around us, keeping the wind and snow from giving us hypothermia.

You need to share your thoughts. You need them to allow to be oxidized and not be preserved in your conscious. Otherwise these thoughts can agonize you. They will always be there. The elephant in the room. You will never be able to move on unless you break the glass vacuum and let others hear what is on your mind. 

What I am about to write is not going to happen. I know this but I need to write it. It gives me hope. This isn't something obscure. This isn't dreaming of Cleveland returning. This isn't a prediction IndyCar will have a magical 2015 where ratings and attendance will multiple like fish and loaves of bread and the names Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Will Power and Scott Dixon will galvanize the nation. 

With so few full-time seats remaining, I wish IndyCar could carefully choose who would be rounding out the group of drivers that will be traveling to all 16 Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2015. Each year it is a game of musical chairs as there are always more participants than there are seats and there are going to be at least four or five drivers on the outside that will make you sigh in disappointment.

If you are keeping score at home, you know 18 seats have been confirmed and no more than six remain unclaimed. Team Penske will run an unprecedented four cars. Andretti and Ganassi each have their own trios confirmed. Foyt is expanding to two cars. The newly merged Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing has two cars. Bryan Herta Autosport will be back after there were moments over the winter where we wondered if that would be the case. Rahul Letterman Lanigan Racing has one car confirmed and that will probably be it from them. KV Racing Technology and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports each have one confirmed. 

Those seats still empty: Andretti and Ganassi each have an open fourth seat. KV and SPM have second seats to fill and Dale Coyne is doing what Dale Coyne does best: Having two seats open with no great feeling of who he will hire and we are just over a month away from the start of the season. 

These remaining half a dozen seats are precious. They should be filled with care because the IndyCar driver line-up is only as strong as it's weakest link. This does beg the question if no one in IndyCar is recognizable, does the weakest link matter anymore than the strongest? Filling the driver line-up with a name that the causal IndyCar follower (oxymoron I know) might have the slightest idea who they are would be better than having fans do a reenactment of the scene in Major League where everyone is saying "Who are these fucking guys?"

Sage Karam makes the most sense for the fourth Ganassi seat and it looks as if Karam is the only driver Ganassi is pursuing for that seat and that is likely to become a reality. The other five though? Your guess is as good as mine as who will be sitting behind their wheels and shifting gears. 

I'd put Justin Wilson in the fourth Andretti and that is the hot rumor. Wilson to Andretti would come about five years too late. Wilson should have had this opportunity with a big team a long time ago. What the record book would look like if he had been hired by Penske to substitute for Hélio Castroneves during the Brazilian's tax evasion trial or if Ganassi hired him to replace Dan Wheldon in the #10 and the money had not dried up on Dario Franchitti's NASCAR excursion. Wilson could get great results at Andretti and his experience would lift all three current members on that team. 

Conor Daly would get the Schmidt Peterson seat and while this could become reality, it is much less likely compared to Karam to Ganassi or Wilson to Andretti. I think we are all waiting on SPM to get that bigger check from another driver sending Daly back to the sidelines. He has the support of current SPM driver James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti and let's put it this way, if salary cap constraints were not a factor and Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy went to the Green Bay Packers front office this offseason praising Demaryius Thomas and saying they need him, you bet your ass they would do everything in their power to make sure Thomas was in green and gold this autumn. The support is behind Daly's talent, now we need to see if the financial support is behind him as well. Imagine how much he could shine if he was given the stage to do so.

I'd bring Simona de Silvestro back to join Sébastien Bourdais at KV. She left IndyCar on a high note. She had just finished a career best in a championship, she had five consecutive top ten finishes, the longest such streak in her career which included her first career podium and first career top ten on an oval. 2014 was setting up to a break out season for the Swiss driver. Her talent hasn't vanished just because she decided to chase a chance at Formula One with Sauber. Hindsight says it was a mistake but we all make mistakes. A return of de Silvestro could lead to that break out season just a year later than expected. 

Which brings us to Dale Coyne Racing. They were talking with Alexander Rossi and I would love to see the Californian get an opportunity in any major series at this point. For the second seat, why not make Dale Coyne Racing "Team California" and hire J.R. Hildebrand? Hildebrand deserves a second chance at IndyCar after being treated like trash by Panther Racing. Coyne is a proven race winner,
being one of just four teams to win in each season of the DW12-era and a young, aspiring driver line-up could elevate them to an upper echelon IndyCar team. 

Even by filling the seats with personal preferences, I am leaving out so many talented drivers. Oriol Servià should be a full-time driver, as should be Ryan Briscoe. I have always wondered what Townsend Bell could do in a full-time season. I'd love to see Jean-Érice Vergne get a full-time opportunity. Tristan Vautier should have gotten a second season in IndyCar because you can't expect any driver to show everything they have in just one season. There are plenty of other drivers who deserve a better crack at IndyCar: Wade Cunningham, James Davison, Bertrand Baguette, Alex Lloyd, Richard Antinucci. 

As stated in the beginning, I know this is not going to happen. Some of it might but not all of it will. De Silvestro will likely never be in an IndyCar ever again in her career. Hildebrand will be lucky if he does any IndyCar race after the Indianapolis 500 this season and while Daly is part-Irish, he clearly doesn't have any leprechauns in his family and will likely be on the sidelines once again. 

Like I said, I wrote this as therapy. You have to share what you are thinking every now and then. Doesn't matter how far-fetched it is as long as you admit from the beginning it is far-fetched. We got to get things off our chest and that is what this blog is at times. A place where I can air out thoughts like socks on a clothes line. I hope you enjoyed looking at my mental laundry. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Racing To Obsolescence

Three endurance races totaling 60 hours of racing in six weeks. I am spent. From Dubai to Daytona to Bathurst, I have seen more racing in the last 30 days than some will watch all year. And we are just getting start. NASCAR season begins next week and we know they go from Valentine's Day until the Sunday before Thanksgiving with off weeks for Easter and a random Sunday in June and August. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Racing To Obsolescence
The recent news about Marussia F1 not being allowed to return to the 2015 Formula One grid as Manor F1 Team with an updated MR03 has me worried. Worried for Formula One but also motorsports in general and this will tie into IndyCar.

We can get into the specifics of how the F1 Strategy Group, which is comprised of Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Force India, rejecting the Marussia/Manor return benefits them because that is one less team they have to share the massive pie that is Formula One prize money with. That is probably why there won't be a tenth team on the grid. The teams, especially Sauber and Force India, want/need the extra money and I am sure Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren won't mind the extra pocket change. It all comes down to money but let's just look at the car for a second.

The MR03 was a crap chassis from the start. It was never going to win races and with the other nine teams having newly developed cars for 2015, a car that was merely updated weeks before the start of the season would struggle to make it within the 107%-rule let alone win a race. Not saying it would be impossible for them to update the car but it would have been difficult. Let's say the teams rejected the Marussia/Manor return because the car was going to be even crappier than 2014 and were going to be a modern example of Life or Onyx where they failed to qualify more than they actually raced (By the way, Stefan Johansson finished third for Onyx, a team that had 27 did not qualifies compared to 25 starts, in the 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix. Johansson benefited from Ayrton Senna being taken out by a black-flagged Nigel Mansell. It was also the only race in which Minardi led a lap, thanks to Pierluigi Martini. But I digress).

I understand why the teams would be hesitant to have the field rounded out with a car well off the pace but the car is still perfectly good. This isn't a chassis that is nearly a decade old being rolled out on the grid. Remember, Super Aguri used the Arrows A23 chassis, a car that was three years old, as the base for their 2005 car and no one batted an eye on that. A year old car on the grid wouldn't be the end of the world and I fear that modern motorsports too quickly rushes to make things obsolete (Actually, is that the way of society today? You get the latest iPhone or HDTV and within three weeks there is something much better out? But I digress again).

Take IndyCar for example. I stated prior my feelings when the DW12 chassis came out that the series should have allowed teams to use the old IR-03/05s chassis and old Honda V8 for the Indianapolis 500 to bolster the entry list and allow teams struggling to get a DW12 chassis and current Honda or Chevrolet V6 to make an attempt. There was once a time where year old cars were all the rage at Indianapolis and some guy named Al Unser even won in a year old car. It happened before and it could happen today and we would have possibly seen more bumping.

Now IndyCar has the same issue but with aero kits. With the Honda and Chevrolet kits debuting this season, the Dallara kit will fade away but my question is why couldn't a team show up to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 with a Dallara kit? The car is expected to be much slower than the new aero kits but who is to say the car wouldn't make the field? A Dallara aero kit most likely would not be competing for pole position but the pole position isn't everything for the Indianapolis 500, making the field is. If a team could run a Dallara aero kit and qualify on row seven, why should the sanctioning body stop them from using the Dallara kit?

With the cost of motorsports being controlled more than ever, sanctioning bodies should be encouraging teams to show up with recently used chassis, aero kits, engines, whatever. Inclusion is better than exclusion and if, for example, IndyCar could get another four or five teams to show up for the Indianapolis 500 with the Dallara aero kit or Formula One can get to twenty entries by allowing an updated year-old car, than by all means allow it.

The tides of motorsports have to change. It is time to start realizing that just because something isn't new, doesn't mean it needs to be scraped.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about the Bathurst 12 Hour but did you know...

Trey Canard won the Supercross race from San Diego.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR returns with their exhibition Sprint Unlimited from Daytona and Daytona 500 qualifying.
World Rally puts on the snow tires for Rally Sweden.
AMA Supercross heads to Arlington, Texas.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

NISMO Outmuscles Audi, Aston Martin and Bentley for Bathurst Victory

Katsumasa Chiyo timed the final restart to perfection as the Japanese driver was able to maneuver around the dominant #15 Phoenix Racing Audi of Laurens Vanthoor heading into turn one for second and around the #10 M-Sport Bentley of Matthew Bell up the mountain straight for the lead. Chiyo would lead the final two laps as #35 NISMO Nissan GT-R GT3 won the world class GT3 affair, completing 269 laps.

It is Nissan's first Bathurst 12 Hour victory and it is the first Bathurst 12 Hour victory for all three drivers; Chiyo, Florian Strauß and Wolfgang Reip. Strauß becomes the seventh different German to win the once-around-the-clock classic at Mount Panorama while Chiyo and Reip become the first Japanese and Belgian respectively to take the top step of the podium in this race.

Vanthoor with co-drivers Markus Winkelhock and Marco Mapelli have to settle for second in pole-sitting #15 Phoenix Racing Audi while Stefan Mücke was able to make a last lap pass on the #10 Bentley of Bell to get on to the podium for the #97 Craft Bamboo Racing Aston Martin with co-drivers Darryl O'Young and Alex MacDowall. Bell, Steven Kane and Guy Smith will have to settle for fourth.

The #36 Erebus Motorsports Mercedes of Jack LeBrocq, Dean Canto and Richard Muscat round out the top five as for the second consecutive year, the top five cars all finish on the lead lap. The #49 Vicious Rumour Racing Ferrari of Andrea Montermini, Benny Simonsen and Renato Loberto were the first car one lap down in sixth while the #32 JBS Australia Lamborghini made it seven different manufactures in the top seven positions with Roger Lago, David Russell and Steve Owen.

The #33 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of GT World Champion Toni Vilander, Matt Griffin and Mok Weng Sun finished eighth. The #16 Phoenix Racing Audi of Stéphane Ortelli, Christopher Haase and Felix Baumgartner finished ninth while the #9 Hallmark/Network Clothing Audi of Christopher Mies, Marc Cini and Mark Eddy nipped the #12 ICE Break Porsche of Patrick Long, David Calvert-Jones and Chris Pither for the final spot in the top ten. Both the #9 Audi and #12 Porsche finished two laps down.

The Jamec Pem Audi both finished four laps down with the #75 of James Winslow, Steve McLaughlin and Dean Koutsoumidis besting the sister #74 Audi of Warren Luff, Alessandro Latif and Greg Crick in 12th. The #2 Fitzgerald Racing/Evolve Technik Audi of Matt Halliday, Peter Fitzgerald and Michael Almond finished 14th, five laps down.

Rounding out the top fifteen is the Class I winning #93 MARC Cars Australia Focus V8 of Garry Jacobsen, Adam Gowans and Ben Gersekowski. They completed 262 laps.

Sixteenth overall was the Class B winning #47 Supabarn Supermarkets Porsche of Marcus Marshall, Sam Power, James Koundouris and Theo Koundouris having completed 261 laps, two ahead of the class runner-up, #4 Grove Group Porsche Ben Barker, Luke Youlden and Stephen Grove.

The #54 Donut King Lotus of Tony Alford, Mark O'Connor and Peter Leemhuis won Class C by finishing 24th overall, completing 249 laps.

The #23 Bruce Lynton BMW of Beric Lynton, John Modystach and Robert Thomson were victorious in Class D, finishing 27th overall after completing 242 laps.

Nissan becomes the third different Japanese manufacture to win the Bathurst 12 Hour. Mazda won three consecutive years from 1992-1994 and Mitsubishi won back-to-back editions in 2008 and 2009. The last four Bathurst 12 Hours have been won by four different manufactures.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Erebus Mercedes Leads Halfway Point at Bathurst

The first half of the 14th Bathurst 12 Hour has been littered with safety cars and when the clock clicked to the six-hour mark the race has between the safety car once again and the #36 Erebus Mercedes of Jack LeBroq leading as the field cycles through pit stops. Last year's Gulf 12 Hour winner Stephan Wyatt runs in second in the #77 AF Corse Ferrari with the #10 M-Sport Bentley of Steven Kane in third.

The #35 NISMO GTR GT3 is in fourth position with Katsumasa Chiyo behind the wheel. Pole-sitter Laurens Vanthoor rounds out the top five in his #15 Phoenix Racing Audi. The #15 has been up at the front all race long and pitted under the safety car period at the halfway mark. Stefan Mücke makes it six different manufactures in the top six as the German has the #97 Craft Bamboo Aston Martin in sixth with the #16 Phoenix Racing Audi of Christopher Haase in seventh, the final car on the lead lap. The leaders had completed 134 laps at the halfway point.

The first car one lap down is Erebus' #63 Mercedes featuring young driver Natham Morcom, Simon Hodge and Austin Cindric. Morcom is currently behind the wheel. The #49 Vicious Rumour Racing Ferrari of Andrea Montermini is ninth and the #8 Flying B Bentley with defending race winner Peter Edwards rounds out the top ten.

Graeme Smyth has the #27 T F M Ferrari in 11th with the #12 Ice Break Porsche of Chris Pither in 12th. Andy Soucek and the #11 M-Sport Bentley is the first car two laps down in 13th. GT World Champion Toni Vilander has the #33 Clearwater Racing Ferrari in 14th with two time Bathurst 12 Hour winner Christopher Mies rounding out the top fifteen in the #9 Hallmarc/Network Clothing Audi. Steve Mclaughlin is 16th in the #75 Jamec Pem Audi and the #32 JBS Australia Lamborghini of Steve Owen is the final car two laps down.

Greg Crick is 18th, three laps down in the #74 Jamec Pem Audi. The Class B leading #4 Grove Group Porsche of Luke Youlden is in 19th with Matt Halliday rounding out the top twenty, four laps down in the #2 Fitzgerald Racing/Evolve Technik Audi.

The #93 MARC Cars Australia Focus of Adam Gowans was the Class I leader at the midway point. Gowans was 22nd, four laps down.

Peter Leemhuis has the #54 Donut King Lotus leading Class C, 30th overall and 11 laps down.

Beric Lynton has the #23 Bruce Lynton BMW on top in Class D, 34th overall, 13 laps down.

Friday, February 6, 2015

2015 Bathurst 12 Hour Preview

The winter of endurance races heads to Mount Panorama for the 14th running of the Bathurst 12 Hour. Twenty-eight Class A GT3 cars are entered alongside 11 Class B Porsche GT3 Cup cars, three Class C GT4 cars, six Class D Invitational Production cars and five Class I Invitational Non-Production cars.

The event has already had a major development as defending champions Maranello Motorsport are on the brink of withdrawing the #88 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 after a practice accident. Australian Tony D'Alberto was involved in an accident with the #99 Craft Bamboo Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Jean-Marc Merlin. D'Alberto was taken to hospital for precautionary measures. He has since been released. Mika Salo is slated to be in the #88 and is looking to go back-to-back after winning last year. British journeyman Ben Collins is set to round out the driver line-up. The team is trying to repair the car and make it to the grid.

Peter Edwards and John Bowe still have the opportunity to win back-to-back Bathurst 12 Hours in the #8 Flying B Motorsport Bentley Continental GT3 alongside David Brabham in what could be the final professional race in the Australians decorated career. Bowe has the most Bathurst 12 Hour victories with three. Brabham won the 1997 Bathurst 1000 with his brother Geoff. Two factory M-Sport Bentley are also on the entry list with an all-British line-up in the #10 with Guy Smith, Steven Kane and Matt Bell. The #11 features recently signed 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series Champion Maximilian Buhk joined by Formula Two champion Andy Soucek and Harold Primat.

A British driver has never won the Bathurst 12 Hour. Only seven European drivers have won the event with Salo being the only non-German to stand on the top step of the podium.

The #32 JBS Australia Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 of David Russell, Steve Owen and Roger Lago was fastest in first practice with a time of 2:05.923. The other Lamborghini on the entry list is the #48 Interlloy/M Motorsport Gallardo featuring three-time Bathurst 1000 winner Steven Richards, 2007 Bathurst 12 Hour winner Craig Barid and Justin McMillan.

NISMO with their #35 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of Florian Strauß, Katsumasa Chiyo and Wolfgang Reip. They were third fastest in first practice with the #88 Maranello Ferrari second. The Nissan was sandwiched between Ferrari as the #27 T F M Ferrari Motorsport NZ 458 Italian GT3 of Jono Lester, John McIntyre and Graeme Smith was fourth quickest.

The #36 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Jack LeBrocq, Richard Muscar and Dean Canto rounded out the top five. Erebus's #63 Mercedes features a line-up of promising talent. Simon Hodge, the holder of the all-time fastest lap at Mount Panorama will be joined by ADAC GT Masters driver Nathan Morcom and Mazda Road to Indy driver Austin Cindric, son of Team Penske's team president Tim Cindric. The final Mercedes on the entry list is the #7 VodkaO SLS AMG GT3 of Dean Grant, Ash Samadi and Max Twigg.

Austin Cindric isn't the only America down under. Patrick Long leads the #12 ICE Break Porsche GT3 R with Australian David Calvert-Jones and New Zealander Chris Pither as his co-drivers. Long and Calvert-Jones finished second in Class B last year. The only other Porsche in Class A is the #51 IMAK-KWIKMIT 911 GT3 R of Andrew MacPherson, Brad Shiels and Matthew Campbell.

We have yet to mention an Audi of which there are seven R8-LMS Ultras entered, the most entries from any manufacture in Class A. Phoenix Racing has entered two cars. The 2014 Blancpain GT Series champion Laurens Vanthoor leads the #15 Audi alongside Markus Winkelhock and Marco Mapelli. The 2012 Blancpain Endurance Seris champions Christopher Haase and Stéphane Ortelli will be joined by former record holder for highest place dive Felix Baumgartner in the #16 Audi.

Jamec Pem has also entered two Audis with Alessandro Latif, Warren Luff and Greg Crick in the #75 Audi. Steve McLaughlin, James Winslow and Dean Koutsoumidis will be in the Jamec Pem #76 Audi. Fitzgerald Racing/Evolve Technik will run the #2 Audi with Peter Fitzgerald, Michael Almond and former Champ Car driver Matt Halliday as the drivers. Oliver Gavin is the lead driver in the #5 Skwirk Audi and will be joined by Rod Salmon and Nathan Antunes. The final Audi is the #9 Hallmarc/Network Clothing Audi and will bring back the same driver line-up from 2014 with Christopher Mies, Marc Cini and Mark Eddy. Mies is a two-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner.

With the withdrawal of the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari, the leading prancing horse is arguably the #33 Clearwater Racing 458 Italia GT3. Asian Le Mans Series race winner Mok Weng Sun is joined by World Champion Toni Vilander and European Le Mans Series champion Matt Griffin. The #29 PIRELLI Ferrari features former Formula One driver Ivan Capelli being joined by Jim Manolios and Ryan Miller. Another former Formula One driver is in the #49 Vicious Rumour Racing as Andrea Montermini splits the seat with veteran Benny Simonsen, brother of the late-Allan Simonsen and Renato Loberto. The final Ferrari comes from who else but AF Corse as the Italian team brings back their Gulf 12 Hours winning combination of Stephen Wyatt, Michele Rugolo and Davide Rigon in the #77 458 Italia GT3.

Three Aston Martins are entered, two belonging to Craft Bamboo Racing. You know about the #99 with Merlin which will also feature Frank Yu and Jonathan Venter. The #97 Craft Bamboo Vantage V8 GT3 features a world class line-up with two-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner Darryl O'Young being joined by AMR factory drivers Alex MacDowall and Stefan Mücke. The final Vantage V8 GT3 belongs to with former British Touring Car Champion Gordon Shedden being joined by Peter Storey and Ben Gower in the #52 Aston Martin. All three drivers competed last year in Class C.

The only McLaren is the #59 VIP Petfoods MP4-12C of Tony Quinn, Klark Quinn and Kevin Éstre. Tony Quinn and Klark Quinn won the 2008 Dubai 24 Hour and finished fourth last year. Éstre was runner-up in the 2012 Porsche Supercup championship to René Rast and holds the fastest lap on the Nürburgring Nordscheilfe/GP combined circuit.

Should Maranello Motorsport withdraw, only 27 cars will compete in Class A.

The #32 JBS Australia Lamborghini was fastest on the day and fastest in two of four Friday practices with the #15 Phoenix Racing Audi fastest in the second session and second fastest on Friday. Third fastest was the #9 Hallmarc/Network Clothing Audi, which was fastest in final Friday practice. The #35 NISMO Nissan GTR was fourth quickest Friday was the #33 Clearwater Racing rounding out the top five.

Qualifying schedule is scheduled to take place Saturday at 12:55 p.m. local time (8:55 p.m. ET Friday night) with Class A qualifying scheduled for 2:05 p.m. Saturday (10:05 p.m. ET Friday night).

The 14th Bathurst 12 Hour will start Sunday at 5:50 a.m. local time (1:50 p.m. ET Saturday).

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Challenge Accepted

IndyCar has cleared March 8th on all of our schedules. The series has decided not to join Pirelli World Challenge at Austin or run a race or test elsewhere in place of the Brasilia failure. Two hundred and ten days will pass between IndyCar races when the engines finally fire on the streets of St. Petersburg on March 29th.

It's a shame. I was optimistic that IndyCar was going to pull something off. I knew it was going to be a struggle but like I was saying last week, fans are starving for racing. Getting a race together anywhere would have been a positive for the series. It wouldn't have the type of promotion or crowd of a race that was on the initial schedule but this was a case where IndyCar should have sacrificed a profit and made sure they supplied the fan base with a race on a date that fans were preparing to finally see their favorite drivers and teams on track. If anything, the piecemeal event with PWC at Austin could have been the launchpad to a future long-term event at the United States' premier road course with a bigger and better event being prepared for 2016.

IndyCar gets a bad wrap for bonehead decision after bonehead decision that makes them appear run worse than Chivas USA but I truly believe they could have pulled this event off. Remember, they got reunification worked out in a month. They got Champ Car teams Dallara chassis and Honda engines and fitted Long Beach and Edmonton onto the schedule. The entry list for the season opener at Homestead was 52.9% greater than if reunification had not happened. Homestead 2008 was the largest grid outside the Indianapolis 500 since the 2002 IRL season finale at Texas. If IndyCar could have done that in a month's time, I have faith they could have gotten their 22-24 teams down to Austin for a race on a weekend a race was already scheduled to take place.

While there won't be a race March 8th, I still think IndyCar should add a race. Squeezing one into the schedule is tough and adding a points-paying race to the end would not sit well with Sonoma as they have been promoting their race as the season finale.

A exhibition race at the end of the season would be an acceptable option but it has to set itself apart from the other 16 championship races. The Mazda Road to Indy series and PWC end their seasons at Laguna Seca on September 12-13th. I stated an IndyCar exhibition race alongside the PWC and Road to Indy coronation ceremonies would be acceptable replacement for the Brazilian cockup and one of my followers suggested bringing back the Marlboro Challenge.

For those of you who don't know about the Marlboro Challenge, it was IndyCar's equivalent of an all-star race. Back in the days when tobacco money funded motorsports like an 85-year old oil tycoon to a 21-year old girlfriend, Marlboro offered a million dollar prize for any driver who could win the Marlboro Grand Prix at the Meadowlands, Marlboro 500 at Michigan and the Challenge, a sprint race held the day before a schedule CART race. If a driver won two of the three legs, they were rewarded with a $150,000 prize. The 100-mile Challenge was held six times with the streets of Miami, Nazareth and Laguna Seca each hosting it twice.

The field for the Challenge was filled with race winners and pole winners between Challenges, the defending champion and defending Indianapolis 500 winner with the highest drivers in points yet to meet the criteria above added if the field was not big enough. Ten drivers started each edition of the Challenge. The neither the million dollar nor $150,000 prize was ever rewarded.

The more and more I have think about it, the more and more I think IndyCar should bring back the Challenge. Obviously it wouldn't be sponsored by Marlboro but this could be a big opportunity for Verizon.

1. There were eleven winners last year in IndyCar. There are two less races on the 2015 schedule but does anyone envision any fewer than eight drivers winning this year? Filling the field wouldn't be difficult.

2. Many want to return to Laguna Seca and here is IndyCar's opportunity to get back to the most beautiful race track in the United States. Plus, with seven months until the scheduled race weekend, there is plenty of time to plan it properly.

3. September 13th is a Sunday and NASCAR is off that day as they run Richmond the night before. It might be the season opener for the NFL season but forget about the NFL and do your own thing. NBCSN won't have much on that Sunday afternoon and knowing typical Laguna Seca weather, that wouldn't prevent a crowd from showing up.

I would keep the 100-mile distance but I would have the field feature a dozen drivers. Naturally being filled by race winners first before considering other competitors. I would reserve a spot for the Rookie of the Year considering the possibly rookie class for the 2015 schedule. Gabby Chaves and Luca Filippi have been confirmed, Sage Karam is likely to be in Ganassi's fourth car and we can only hope and pray Conor Daly finally gets the opportunity he deserves. If there are still spots open, I would then fill with remaining pole-sitters considering Verizon sponsors that as well.

Using the results of 2014 season Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Mike Conway, Hélio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan, Sébastien Bourdais, Carlos Huertas and Ed Carpenter would all get a spot, leaving one remaining. If you were to give the final spot to the Rookie of the Year, Carlos Muñoz would be in. If you were to give it to the winless drivers with the most pole-positions, then it would be Takuma Sato. I could live with either of those drivers being in the event.

To make this event different from the other 16 IndyCar races, I would make the "Verizon Challenge" a chance to draw in young fans by doubling not only as an exhibition race but a scholarship opportunity for college students.

Each driver would represent a selected student. The winning driver would earn a $200,000 prize, half going to the team and the other half being a scholarship to the student the driver represented. This would be the case for the other 11 drivers and students with second place splitting $150,000, third $125,000, fourth $100,000, fifth $80,000 and sixth $75,000 with each finisher in the back half of the grid splitting $50,000. As someone experiencing first hand the struggles and worries of being able to pay off tuition and student loans, IndyCar would look great if they could throw a lifeline out to a few individuals.

I am almost inclined to say the participants should not necessarily be IndyCar fans. This selection process should not be on the hands of IndyCar but of those of Verizon. Have it be a big campaign through the summer in Verizon stores across the country. Have ads promoting the chance to win at least $25,000 a scholarship with a chance for a $100,000 scholarship. This wouldn't necessarily become an IndyCar thing but become a national scholarship project being run and funded by series and their title sponsor.

Another reason why I would rather have the participants not be IndyCar fans is because the series has to grow their fan base. Instead of trying to get me or another 20-year old who watches every race even more interested, try to get 18-year old Susie Smith from Boise, Idaho who has never been to an IndyCar race interested because they could help her pay for her college education as well get a trip to Northern California to be at the race. Try to get Bill Johnson, a junior at Clemson University who is struggling to get by, interested because any drop in the bucket will help.

If you can slowly turn the Susie Smith's and Bill Johnson's into Simon Pagenaud fans or Ryan Hunter-Reay fans or Will Power fans because they share a bond by that driver helping them pay for college, I am all for it and if you were to do that every year, slowly but surely you are getting another batch of 18-25 year olds interested in IndyCar. College students need all the help they can get and IndyCar taking a step forward to help others could go a long way.