Monday, April 27, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Where is Spring?

IndyCar got more sun and a first time winner. NASCAR got more rain and a not-so-popular winner. Pirelli World Challenge had some streaming issues. A Brit made history in Argentina of all place and Supercross made history in New Jersey. What a way to end the month of April. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

I wrote this prior to the Grand Prix of Alabama, which was arguably one of the, if not the best race of 2015 to this point. If anything, it still applies to the street courses.

There has been less passing this IndyCar season with the introduction of aero kits. I don't think that's a bad thing. The manufactures weren't supposed to design aero kits that made passing easier. A manufacture shouldn't want their cars being passed. However, there needs to be some passing. IndyCar can't afford to have racing mirror that of Formula One during the late 1990s and at the turn of the millennium. 

Why not adopt DRS? How hard would it be to implement mid-season? Dallara already developed a DRS system for the GP2 chassis. Chevrolet and Honda developed their own aero kits but how hard would it be to add the Dallara DRS to their kits?

DRS is met with hostility across the motorsports world. Some think it's the root to all evil and is why ISIS exists. Others are fine with it. I can live with it. If DRS was something Penske developed in 1993 and gave him another unfair advantage or Ross Brawn came up with during the golden-era for Ferrari, would it be met with such hostility? I don't think so as it would have the extremely intelligent out smarting their competitors once again. But DRS wasn't one team's advantage that everyone had to catch up on. Formula One put it on all the cars in 2011 so there was no unfair advantage, everyone got the benefit of having DRS and for some reason, people are against equality. 

If IndyCar adopted DRS, they wouldn't have to have the same rules as Formula One and GP2. If anything, IndyCar should be looser on DRS use compared to other series. Instead of having only one or two places on track a driver can use DRS and having a rule that a driver must be within one-second of the car ahead, IndyCar could do whatever they want. There would need to be some minor regulations because if every driver could just use DRS whenever or wherever then it would just negate itself. 

Perhaps allow it to be used anywhere on circuit but a driver is limited to two uses on any lap. For example, at Barber a driver could use DRS on the front straightaway and from the exit of turn three, through turn four into turn five but then the driver couldn't use it on the exit of five, through six into seven or on the straightaway between turns 10 and 11. IndyCar also has push-2-pass and maybe it should be regulated that a driver can only use DRS and push-2-pass simultaneously once a lap just so it doesn't become predictable that when a driver uses DRS, they are going to also be on the button. A few other regulations would be similar to Formula One's DRS rules: No DRS use for the first two laps of the race and for the first lap or two after a restart and no use in the rain (Also, wouldn't it make sense for IndyCar to ban push-2-pass on the start and restarts now? Then push-2-pass doesn't become push-2-defend and those first couple corners and laps are all on the driver to make a pass on their own and hold off a driver on their own with no driving aids).

I think more relaxed DRS regulations would make it more interesting as it's use would be much less predictable use and could keep drivers and fans on their toes to see when and where a driver will use it.

DRS is something for IndyCar should be considering. IndyCar won't adopt DRS anytime soon though. 1. Because IndyCar doesn't have an official with a pulse and the stone do not a damn thing. 2. Because car owners (who are living in the top 1%) will cry poor.

Why IndyCar Should Go To Thailand
IndyCar failed miserably on their international schedule that they promised for 2015. Let me help them for 2016. Begin in Thailand. Go to the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand. It's an FIA Grade 1 circuit, meaning Formula One can head there tomorrow and hold a race meaning IndyCar can head there tomorrow and hold a race. 

It has lights and there is an 11-hour time difference between the Eastern Time Zone and Buriram. A race could start at 9:00 p.m. local time in Buriram, which would be 10:00 a.m. ET. It would be just like Formula One at Bahrain and this year's Bahrain Grand Prix was the most-watched Formula One race on NBCSN to date and had a better TV rating than IndyCar at Long Beach later that day. 

IndyCar could go in January, which is the driest month of the year in Buriram. They could race on January 24th, a week before the 24 Hours of Daytona that way the likes of Sébastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon can do that event. It would be the weekend of the NFL Conference Championship Games but those are at 3:00 p.m. ET and 6:30 p.m. ET. The Asian Le Mans Series is scheduled to race at Buriram on January 10th and I don't think IndyCar could work out a deal with the ACO move that race back two weeks as Malaysia is scheduled to host the ALMS season finale on January 17th. Perhaps they could work on that for 2017. 

In case you are wondering, Buriram is about 255 miles northeast of Bangkok. The track is owned by Buriram United, the defending champions in Thai Premier League and the club had the highest average attendance last year in the Thai Premier League.

After that, IndyCar could take two weeks off for the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Super Bowl and then be back on track the week after the Super Bowl at Phoenix (It's a month before their NASCAR race but IndyCar could make it a one-day show). After a week off for the Daytona 500, IndyCar could head to Laguna Seca and just like that they have completed three races before the month of March. Join Pirelli World Challenge and the Blancpain Sprint Series at Austin in March, preferably March 13th and move NOLA to March 20th. Five races would be completed by Easter on March 27th and St. Petersburg could kick off the month of April on the 3rd. 

I could go on about what I think the IndyCar schedule should look like but I will save that for a rainy day. 

Think about Thailand though. Seriously think about it. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden but did you know....

James Davison and Kevin Éstre split the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Barber Motorsports Park. Kris Wilson swept the GTS races.

Kurt Busch won the NASCAR Cup race from Richmond and is now in the Chase.

Kris Meeke won Rally Argentina, his first career World Rally victory. It was the first WRC victory for a Brit since Colin McRae won the 2002 Safari Rally. 

Spencer Pigot swept the Indy Lights races from Barber. Weiron Tan and Neil Alberico split the Pro Mazda races. Aaron Telitz and Nico Jamin split in U.S. F2000.

Eli Tomac won the AMA Supercross event from East Rutherford, New Jersey, the first Supercross broadcasted on network television.

Denny Hamlin won NASCAR's second division race at Richmond. 

Coming Up This Weekend
FIA World Endurance Champions runs their second round of the season at Spa-Francorchamps.
MotoGP runs their first European round as they head to Jerez. 
NASCAR heads to Alabama a week after IndyCar but they will be at Talladega. 
DTM kicks off their season at Hockenheim after a 195-day offseason. 
V8 Supercars head west to Perth. 
IMSA heads to God's track, Laguna Seca.
Super GT runs their second round of 2015 at Fuji.
WTCC makes their European debut at Hungary. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

First Impressions: Barber 2015

HE DID IT! Josef Newgarden finally broke through for his first IndyCar victory.
1. It's about damn time. It took 55 starts but Josef Newgarden finally broke through for his first career victory. The merger of Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing has paid off greatly. Luca Filippi has two top tens in two races (finished 11th today) but Newgarden has looked good all season. He has three top ten finishes, has made the Fast 12 all three times and has made the Fast 6 twice. A championship assault might be just out of his reach but I bet this won't be the only race in which we find him in contention for a victory this season.

2. Graham Rahal was the best Honda all weekend and he nearly charged down Newgarden. I was a little unsure why he stayed out when he would have had to make two more pit stops to make it to the finish. I wasn't sure if a caution would have fallen his way but it was actually better that a caution didn't come. He had seven laps of fuel on the leaders and could run nearly two seconds faster while the leaders were in fuel-save mode. It nearly fell into his lap. He has to be shaking his head.

3. Scott Dixon is 6-for-6 at Barber Motorsports Park in terms of podiums. The bad news is he has never finished on the top step. When this became a fuel mileage race, I bet we all thought it was going to fall into Dixon's lap but Newgarden didn't falter and Dixon wasn't able to get control of this race. Not a bad race for him but I bet he is tired of finishing second and third at Barber.

4. Will Power overcame a penalty for running into Takuma Sato on pit out to finish fourth. Not many other drivers can overcome penalties like Will Power. He finishes fourth, Sato finishes 17th.

5. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished fifth after using pit strategy to his favor. As did his teammate Carlos Muñoz, who finished right behind him in sixth. Hunter-Reay scored fastest lap, a week after the Chevrolets dominated Hondas in terms of fastest lap. Hunter-Reay was the only driver to run a sub-70 second lap in the race with a 69.7188.

6. James Hinchcliffe finished seventh and was on the same strategy as Rahal. If it wasn't for Francesco Dracone and Rodolfo González, he might have finished in the top five. Remember how I was saying all weekend Honda should start cheating? They had a driver on the podium, had two in the top five and four of the top seven and scored fastest lap. They might not have won the race they sponsored but Honda had their best showing by far at Barber. Let's hope they continue making strides in the right direction.

7. Frenchmen Sébastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud finished eighth and ninth. Both had speed but got caught out on the first caution having yet to make their first pit stops while everyone else had. They were never a factor from that point on but were competitive.

8. Marco Andretti finished tenth. This is what he does. He keeps his nose clean and brings the car home in the top ten. He is much more competent than most people give him credit for. By the way, three Andretti cars in the top ten compared to two Penske and one Ganassi and Chevrolet and Honda evenly split the top ten.

9. A quick look at those who finished outside the top ten. Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan in 12th and 13th. The Ganassis looked to abuse the tires more than the other cars out there today. Juan Pablo Montoya had an unscheduled stop for a flat tire drop him out of contention and he came home in 14th. Hélio Castroneves had to pit on the final lap and fell from fourth to 15th. Rough break for him considering he was going to be the points leader. Montoya holds a three-point advantage after this one.

10. Gabby Chaves was the top rookie in 16th. Sage Karam finished 18th and struggled with the tires on the first stint. Not a great race for Karam. I wonder if the pressure is getting to him. At Indianapolis last year, no one believed in him. He was starting on the last row for an Indianapolis-only team. Now all the weight has been put on his shoulders and he is only 20 years old. Plenty of time for him to develop but the problem is Ganassi will chew him up and spit him out before he can legally buy booze. Stefano Coletti finished 19th. He was tenth but had to serve a penalty for pitting when the pits were closed. Then he made contact with James Jakes and had to serve another penalty. The Monegasque driver just needs one break to go his way.

11. Rodolfo González came home in 20th but had the second slowest fastest lap only quicker than his teammate Francesco Dracone, who finished 23rd, last place. It's the first time Dracone finished last in his IndyCar career. The good news is he can make it back to Europe in time for the Auto GP season opener next week in Hungary.

12. Like I said at Long Beach, crap starts are back in IndyCar. Wait until the Indianapolis 500. Thirty-three rows of one coming to the green.

13. Two full-course caution in this one but they weren't for anything major. The first for the Power-Sato incident and it wasn't for a car stopped on track. Both continued after the contact. Some debris came off Sato but to be honest, I think it flew off and wasn't on the track at all. The other was for the Coletti-Jakes incident and Jakes stalling in turn five. Other than that, I thought this race was great and is giving the FIA WEC season opener from Silverstone a run for it's money as the clubhouse leader for best race of 2015.

14. Four races, four different winners, four different teams. Yes, three wins belong to Chevrolet but Honda looked much better today. Sébastien Bourdais will surely find himself in contention for a victory, which would be a fifth different team. These aero kits haven't been so bad after all.

15. Indianapolis is on the horizon. The teams "get a week off" by testing their oval aero kits at the Speedway. Then the Grand Prix of Indianapolis the week after that followed by the track opening for Indianapolis 500 practice. It's only April but we are a quarter of the way through the 2015 season. This is just flying by.

Morning Warm-Up: Barber 2015

Hélio Castroneves aims to make it four different winners in four race
Hélio Castroneves won his second consecutive pole position, as he will lead a Penske 1-2-3 to the green flag for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. It is Castroneves' 43rd career pole position and second at Barber. He won the pole at Barber in 2012 and he won the inaugural Barber race in 2010. Castroneves has won 12 races from pole position, his last being Motegi 2010. This is the first time he has won consecutive poles since 2008 when he won poles at Nashville and Mid-Ohio and finished third and second respectively. Castroneves has finished second in the last two races. Starting second is Will Power. The two-time winner at Barber started second at the Alabama track in 2013. He finished fifth that day.

Simon Pagenaud starts third and has finished in the top ten in all four of his starts at Barber but has never finished on the podium. He finished fourth last year. Scott Dixon starts fourth. He has five podiums in five Barber races and has finished runner-up four times. Dixon has started every Barber race in the top five as well. Rounding out the top five is Josef Newgarden as the Tennessean still looks for this first career victory. This will be Newgarden's 55th career start. Only 23 drivers have won after their 55th career start. Tony Kanaan joins Newgarden on row three. He started sixth at Barber in 2012 and finished a lap down in 21st.

Sébastien Bourdais makes it a clean sweep of the top seven for Chevrolet at a Honda-sponsored race. Bourdais' lone top ten at Barber was a ninth place finish in 2012 driving for Lotus. It was Lotus' only top ten in their one and only disastrous season in IndyCar. This will be only the seventh time Bourdais has started a race from seventh position. Graham Rahal is the top Honda in eighth position. Rahal has not won in 116 starts. The record for most starts between victories is 97, held by Johnny Rutherford. Luca Filippi starts ninth, his fifth career start in the top ten. He has two top tens in his first three races with CFH Racing. The furthest back a Barber winner has started is ninth. James Hinchcliffe rounds out the top ten. Barber was the site of Hinchcliffe's IndyCar debut in 2011 driving for Newman-Haas Racing.

Teammates Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam start on row six. Kimball has three top tens in four Barber starts and Karam has three top tens in four Barber starts between Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. Marco Andretti and James Jakes make up row seven. Andretti finished second last year at Barber and Jakes has never finished in the top fifteen at Barber. Juan Pablo Montoya starts 15th. Last year the Colombian started eighth and finished 21st. Rookie Stefano Coletti starts 16th as he still looks for his first career top ten.

Gabby Chaves starts 17th and he to is looking for his first career top ten finish. Chaves won at Barber last year in Indy Lights. Ryan Hunter-Reay has won the last two Barber races but will start 18th today. Hunter-Reay was won three times when starting outside the top ten. His first career victory at Surfers Paradise came from 12th on the grid in 2003, last year's Indianapolis 500 victory came from 19th on the grid and last year's victory at Iowa saw Hunter-Reay win from 13th. A.J. Foyt Racing rounds out the top ten with Jack Hawksworth starting ahead of Takuma Sato.

Rodolfo González will start 21st for his IndyCar debut. He will join Milka Duno and E.J. Viso as Venezuelans to make IndyCar starts. Carlos Muñoz will join him on row 11. This is Muñoz's 25th career start and third start outside the top 20. Francesco Dracone rounds out the grid in 23rd position.

NBCSN's coverage of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:37 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Track Walk: Barber 2015

Barber Motorsports Park hosts IndyCar for the sixth time.
IndyCar returns to Barber Motorsports Park for the sixth consecutive year. Chevrolet has won two of three races this season and took the top seven spots at Long Beach and eight of the top ten. Honda sponsors the Grand Prix of Alabama and put two cars on the Barber podium last year.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 26th. Green flag at 3:37 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey make his season debut and joins Townsend Bell and Steve Matchett in the booth. Kevin Lee, Robin Miller, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider will work the pit lane.

Will Dixon Double Down?
Last week, Scott Dixon scored victory at Long Beach; a track the New Zealander had only one top ten at in eight Long Beach starts entering the weekend. For the second consecutive week, Dixon heads to a track that has been cruel to him but in the opposite way of Long Beach. In five Barber starts, Dixon has never won and his worst finish is third. He finished runner-up in the first four editions of the Grand Prix of Alabama before finished third last year. He has never started outside the top five at Barber. Dixon is always at the front at Barber but there always seems to be someone ahead of him. He has only led in two of five Barber starts for a total of 39 laps.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has won the last two Barber races. The American currently sits 14th in the championship are back-to-back finishes outside the top ten. Hunter-Reay was the top Honda qualifier at Long Beach, as he started fourth, right next to Dixon in third.

Like Hunter-Reay, Will Power is also a two-time winner at Barber and enters this year's race looking for his first victory of 2015. After finishing second at St. Petersburg, Power finished seventh in the wet at NOLA and finished 20th at Long Beach after stalling when entering the pit lane under the only full-course caution period.

Juan Pablo Montoya continues to lead the championship as he enters Barber with a three-point cushion over Penske teammate Hélio Castroneves. Both Montoya and Castroneves have finished on the podium twice this year. Castroneves won the inaugural Grand Prix of Alabama in 2010. Montoya finished 21st last year in his Barber debut after starting eighth.

Tony Kanaan is third in the championship, 26 behind Montoya and six ahead of Dixon. James Hinchcliffe rounds out the top five in the championship, trailing Montoya by 36 points. Power is three back of the Canadian with Simon Pagenaud seven back of the Australian. Sébastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden are tied for eighth on 66 points. Graham Rahal rounds out the top ten with 62 points and Marco Andretti a point back of the Ohioan.

A Stabbing Reminder How Motorsports Defies All Logic
Rodolfo González will make his IndyCar debut this weekend in the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. González made 64 starts in GP2 where he finished in the points on three occasions and tallied 10 points. His best finish in GP2 was fourth. González's last victory was August 22, 2009 in a Euroseries 3000 (now-Auto GP) at Zolder. Francesco Dracone finished seventh in that Zolder race and he will be González's teammate for Barber. Dracone is only scheduled to race through Barber. The future of the #19 Honda is unknown from the month of May onward.

Last week, Conor Daly drove the #18 Honda after Rocky Moran, Jr. broke his thumb in Friday practice. Daly finished a season-best 17th for Coyne and on the lead lap, something neither Coyne car had done in the first two races of 2015.

But On The Bright Side
Sage Karam will be back in the #8 Ganassi Chevrolet at Barber after being replaced by Sebastián Saavedra at Long Beach.

Road to Indy
All three Road to Indy series will run doubleheaders this weekend.

Ed Jones has won all three Indy Lights races this season. The Emirati holds a 26-point lead over Spencer Pigot, who has finished on the podium in all three races this year. Jack Harvey is seven points behind Pigot after retiring at Long Beach. Max Chilton is 50 points back of his Carlin teammate. Félix Serrallés finished third at Long Beach and rounds out the top five, a point back of Chilton. Kyle Kaiser retired after contact with Harvey in turn one, lap one and is a point behind Serrallés.

All six Indy Lights races at Barber have been won by the pole-sitter and there has only been one lead change in the six races. Charlie Kimball led the first lap of the first Indy Lights race at Barber in 2010 but pole-sitter J.K. Vernay was able to take the lead on lap two and go on to take the victory.

8Star Motorsports returns after skipping Long Beach and will have Sean Rayhall making his Indy Lights debut. Rayhall won the 2013 IMSA Prototype Lites championship and won two races in Prototype Challenge class last year.

Indy Lights race one will take place Saturday at 3:50 p.m. ET with race two on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET.

Neil Alberico leads the Pro Mazda championship by four points over Uruguayan and NOLA winner Santiago Urrutia. Race two from NOLA was cancelled due to heavy rain. Mexican drivers Jose Gutierrez and Pato O'Ward are third and fourth in the championship 23 and 33 points behind Alberico respectively. Defending U.S. F2000 champion Florian Latorre is two points back of O'Ward.

Pro Mazda race one will be at 11:05 a.m. ET Saturday with race two on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. ET.

Jake Eidson leads the U.S. F2000 championship by seven points over Frenchman and NOLA 1 winner Nico Jamin. Twenty-six points back of Eidson is Aaron Telitz, who has finished runner-up in three of four races this season. NOLA 2 winner Victor Franzoni is 37 points back of Eidson. Australian Jordan Lloyd rounds out the five, 46 back of Eidson.

U.S. F2000 will race Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET and Saturday at 6:20 p.m. ET.

Pirelli World Challenge
Both GT and GTS will be on track this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.

Olivier Beretta won his third race of 2015 at Long Beach last week. The Monegasque driver has the most wins this year in GT. Chris Dyson scored Bentley it's first podium of 2015 with a second place finish. Ryan Dalziel finished third at Long Beach, his fourth podium in five races. Dalziel's worst finish of 2015 is fourth. Dalziel's teammate Michael Cooper finished fourth at Long Beach while James Davison rounded out the top five.

Long Beach saw plenty of drivers involved in accidents. Johnny O'Connell, Andy Pilgrim, Kevin Éstre, Robert Thorne, Butch Leitzinger and Mike Skeen are just a sample of the drivers who were caught up in an accident at Long Beach.

In GT Cup at Long Beach, Colin Thompson made it four victories in five races this year. Mitch Landy and Victor Gomez rounded out the GT Cup podium.

Dean Martin has a victory and his worst finish is fourth through the first four races. The Ford driver leads the GTS championship by 50 points over Aston Martin's and Austin 1 winner Kris Wilson. Austin 2 winner, Camaro driver Michael Cooper is third in the championship trailing Martin by 62 points. Teammates Kurt Rezzetano and Andrew Aquilante round out the top five in the GTS championship, 68 and 76 points back of Martin respectively. St. Petersburg 2 winner Spencer Pumpelly returns for Barber. Pumpelly finished third in the first GTS race from St. Petersburg.

GTS will race on Friday at 4:55 p.m. ET and Saturday at 1:40 p.m. ET. The GT/GT Cup races will be at 11:20 a.m. ET Saturday and 10:55 a.m. ET Sunday.

Last year, Anthony Lazzaro and Andrew Palmer split the GT races. Mark Wilkins and Jack Baldwin won in GTS.

Fast Facts
This will be the fourth IndyCar race to occur on April 26th. The last to take place was in 2009 where Scott Dixon won at Kansas.

Scott Dixon set the Barber track record in 2013 when he ran a lap of 66.7750 seconds.

The average starting position for a Barber winner is 3.4. The pole-sitter has won twice (Will Power 2011, Ryan Hunter-Reay 2013) and third on the grid has won twice (Hélio Castroneves 2009, Ryan Hunter-Reay 2014). The furthest back a Barber winner has come from is ninth (Will Power 2012).

The average amount of lead changes in the Grand Prix of Alabama is 5.8. Power's 2011 victory is the only Barber race to feature zero lead changes. The next fewest lead changes in a Barber race is 6 in 2013.

The average amount of full-course caution periods at Barber is 3.2 for an average of 11 laps.

Honda has won three of five Barber races. Chevrolet has won twice at Barber.

Five drivers have completed all 429 laps run in the five Barber races. They are Hélio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Will Power and Scott Dixon.

Barber is slated to be Francesco Dracone's final race of 2015 driving for Dale Coyne Racing. He has never finished last in an IndyCar race. Can you name every driver Dracone has finished ahead of in his previous five IndyCar starts?

Possible Milestones at Barber:

Marco Andretti needs to lead 70 laps to join the 1,000 laps led club.

Takuma Sato needs to lead ten laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 18 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 50 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs one podium to reach 50 career IndyCar podiums.

Scott Dixon makes it back-to-back victories. Honda gets one car in the top five but no more than three in the top ten. A rookie gets a top ten finish. At least two top ten finishers will have started outside the top fifteen. There will be at least one incident at turn five. There will be fewer than six lead changes in this race. A new track record will be set in qualifying. Sleeper: Charlie Kimball.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Inclusivity Please

What a difference a week makes. It was much sunnier for IndyCar. Much rainier for NASCAR. Much more Kimi in Formula One. There was contact in MotoGP, the Brits continue to dominant World Superbike, Pirelli World Challenge struggles to get green flag racing and André Lotterer continues to be one of the best drivers in the world. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Inclusivity Please
This is going to sound like a broken record. The Indianapolis 500 struggles to draw more than 33 cars. We know plenty of drivers are interested but Chevrolet and Honda don't want to field more than 17 engine programs. This year, it appears we might get a bump. A.J. Foyt Racing apparently is going to field a third-car and Alex Taglaini is the leading candidate, Conor Daly is the leading candidate for the third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports seat and that would get Honda to 17 entries while Chevrolet is already at 17.

KV Racing apparently was interested in fielding a fourth entry but Chevrolet said no. That sucks and until something changes (IndyCar offering massive bonus points in the Manufactures' Championship for putting more cars in the Indianapolis 500 than the other or a third manufacture joining) the most cars we will see enter the Indianapolis 500 is 34.

We all want the Indianapolis 500 to have a lot of bumping and all the drivers working on deals and then some showing up to attempt to qualify. The current framework is too rigid and the regulations need to become more inclusive. Do we really care if every engine in the field is a 2.2 L twin-turbocharged V6? On the contrary, I think we'd prefer if the Indianapolis 500 had an assortment of engines. In LMP1, Audi uses a 4.0 L turbo-diesel V6, Toyota uses a 3.7 L V8, Porsche uses a 2.0 L V4 and Nissan will use a 3.0 L turbo V6. Four manufactures, four different displacements, three different amounts of cylinders and if you watched Silverstone last week, you probably saw the race of the year.

Instead of being rigid, saying 2.2 L, twin-turbocharged V6 or nothing, why not relax the regulation and say no more than six cylinders and no larger than 3.0 L in displacement? Just by relaxing the regulation, the Super Formula engines, which are 2.0 L turbo inline-4s built by Toyota and Honda are now eligible as are the Porsche and Nissan LMP1 engine. Now the Indianapolis 500 has gone from two possible engine manufactures to five.

Getting a common chassis for the teams would be the next hurdle. You all know I'd love to see Dallara work with IndyCar and Super Formula to come up with one chassis for both series and makes it possible for every Super Formula team to come to Indianapolis in the month of May. If every Super Formula team entered the Indianapolis 500 and you still have 34 IndyCars with Chevrolet and Honda engines enter, the total entry list would feature 53 drivers. You don't even need every Super Formula team to enter. If just the big names in Super Formula such as André Lotterer, Kazuki Nakajima, James Rossiter, Bertrand Baguette, Kamui Kobayashi, João Paulo de Oliveira, Narain Karthikeyan and Naoki Yamamoto showed up, the entry list would still be over 40 entries and I am sure we would all be fine with it.

IndyCar needs to realize there is nothing wrong with loosening the grip so more teams and drivers can compete. When the American Le Mans Series grid size started to shrink, they allowed the Le Mans Prototype Challenge cars and GT Challenge cars to compete. In 2012, European Le Man Series had 13 cars show up for a race at Donington Park. What did they do to increase grid size? Allow GT3 cars to compete. Last week, ELMS had 31 cars compete at Silverstone. Look at how Pirelli World Challenge has succeeded by simply allowing GT3 cars to compete. MotoGP was struggling to break 18 entries in 2011. They created Claiming Rule Teams for teams working on smaller budgets. In 2012, the MotoGP grids started breaking 20 entries and for the last three seasons MotoGP has had the average grid hovering around two-dozen bikes.

Other series have taken the initiative to increase the entry list. IndyCar can do the same for the Indianapolis 500.

Under Caution
Amount of races to end under caution across IndyCar and the three NASCAR national touring divisions from 2008-2014.

IndyCar: 18 out of 121 races (14.876%). 
Races: 2008- Milwaukee, Texas, Nashville. 2009- Edmonton. 2010- Indianapolis. 2011- Indianapolis, Loudon. 2012- Indianapolis, Iowa, Toronto, Fontana. 2013- Long Beach, Indianapolis, Toronto 2, Houston 1 & 2. 2014- Barber, Houston 1.
Average amount of races ended under caution per year (2008-2014): 2.57.

NASCAR Cup: 25 out of 252 races (9.92%).
Races: 2008- Daytona, Loudon, Michigan, Talladega, Fontana. 2009- Daytona 500, Charlotte, Loudon twice, Martinsville, Talladega. 2010- Pocono, Talladega. 2011- Daytona, Watkins Glen. 2012- Fontana, Daytona, Pocono, Talladega. 2013- Fontana, Talladega. 2014- Daytona twice, Bristol, Talladega.
Average amount of races ended under caution per year: 3.57.

NASCAR's Second Division: 21 out of 238 races (8.82%).
Races: 2008- Bristol, Charlotte, Loudon, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Fontana. 2009- Darlington, Charlotte, Daytona. 2010- Talladega, Chicagoland. 2011- Talladega, Richmond, Dover, Road America. 2012- Daytona. 2013- Daytona, Talladega, Kentucky. 2014- Phoenix.
Average amount of races ended under caution per year: 3.

NASCAR Truck: 18 out of 166 races (10.84%).
Races: 2008- Martinsville. 2009- Martinsville, Kansas, Phoenix. 2010- Bristol. 2011- Dover, Michigan, Homestead. 2012- Daytona, Dover, Talladega. 2013- Daytona, Mosport, Talladega. 2014- Martinsville, Charlotte, Texas, Phoenix.
Average amount of races ended under caution per year (2008-2014): 2.57.

In conclusion, whether it's IndyCar or one of NASCAR's three national divisions, anywhere from two to four races will end under caution a year in each series. Some years it is more, some years it is less. There are much more important things to worry about in life than two races ending under caution. It's not the end of the world nor is it the majority of races run.

Also, think about what was said last night during the NASCAR race. The officials are trying to have a green flag finish for the fans. Imagine if it was the NBA and it was said the officials are trying to have a buzzer-beater finish for the fans. Think about how the latter sentence would be received. People would be pissed. It sounds like match-fixing.

Officials, whether it be motorsports or a stick-and-ball sport, should never care about how the fans feel. If they did, the home teams would almost never lose a game. Every league in the world would be like the Nigeria Premier League. Basketball fans don't want the officials calling the game in a certain way so it ends with a buzzer-beater, they want a game to end organically.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon and Lewis Hamilton but did you know...

Valentino Rossi won the MotoGP Argentine Grand Prix.

Jordan and Ricky Taylor won the IMSA race from Long Beach. Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner won in GTLM.

Olivier Beretta won his third race of the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge season at Long Beach.

Ed Jones remains undefeated as he won the Indy Lights race from Long Beach.

André Lotterer won the Super Formula season opener at Suzuka.

Matt Kenseth won the NASCAR Cup race from Bristol.

Jonathan Rea swept the World Superbike weekend from Assen.

Kenan Sofuoglu won his second consecutive World Supersport race of the season at Assen. P.J. Jacobsen finished fourth.

José María López and Yvan Muller split the WTCC weekend in Morocco.

Ryan Dungey won the inaugural AMA Supercross race from Santa Clara.

Johann Zarco won in Moto2 and Danny Kent made it consecutive victories in Moto3 as they were the winners from Argentina.

Stoffel Vandoorne and Rio Haryanto split the opening weekend of the GP2 season from Bahrain. Alexander Rossi finished third and fourth and is third in the championship.

Joey Logano led every lap in the NASCAR Grand National race from Bristol.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads back south to Barber.
All three Road to Indy series and Pirelli World Challenge join IndyCar at Barber.
NASCAR heads to Richmond.
World Rally heads to Argentina this weekend. I jumped the gun last week.
AMA Supercross will race on Saturday afternoon from East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

First Impressions: Long Beach 2015

1. Talk about an old school CART feel to this race. New track record, One caution, difficulty passing, pit strategy, Ganassi and Penske dominating at the front. Not a bad race considering the first two. Scott Dixon work strategy to get around Hélio Castroneves and take his first career victory on the streets of Long Beach. Both drove great races and were the class of the field

2. Great battle for third between Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan and Sébastien Bourdais with it finishing in that order. New aero kits have made it even more difficult to pass. Pagenaud made a few looks on Montoya but couldn't get by.

3. Josef Newgarden finished seventh, his first top ten at Long Beach and he rounded out a Chevrolet 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. What should we expect when we get to Barber?

4. Marco Andretti and Carlos Muñoz were the top Hondas in eighth and ninth. Quiet days for both drivers. Neither were close to victory but drove fine races. For all those who bust on Andretti, here he is leading the Honda parade and finishing in the top ten. Can he get some love?

5. Sebastián Saavedra rounded out the top ten. After going 3-for-56 in scoring top ten finishes, he is now 1-for-1 driving for Ganassi. It must have been frustrating as hell for Sage Karam, watching Saavedra finish in the top ten in the car he thought would be his for the full season and watching it from Scott Dixon's pit box couldn't have been any better. More motivation for Karam, who will be back in the car at Barber.

6. Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jack Hawksworth were the next four finishers. Honda has drivers on the door step but they just can't breakthrough. Hunter-Reay qualified fourth, might have been screwed on the start (more on that later) but faded and wasn't a contender. And it appeared Chevrolet was getting better fuel mileage than Honda. Another week, another race, another trip to the drawing board and they've won this season.

7. Charlie Kimball rounded out the top fifteen with Gabby Chaves finishing 16th. Kimball has to be a little puzzled seeing his three teammates all in the top ten while he languishes back.

8. Conor Daly didn't get in the car until Saturday morning and finished on the lead lap (something Coyne had failed to do in the first two races) in 17th. Imagine what he could do with a full race weekend. Coyne hasn't announced his drivers for Barber but he knows who he should hire.

9. Takuma Sato, and James Jakes did nothing. Will Power stalled getting into the pit lane after Luca Filippi stalled getting into the pit lane and it cost him. Power came home 20th. He can't afford many races like this especially with his teammates finishing in the top five.

10. Stefano Coletti set fastest lap, 68.0969 and finished last. I am not sure if that has every been done before. He has the pace. He had a few accidents this weekend. I am not sure what happened during the race that put him 11 laps down. He didn't hit any barrier but did have an extended pit stop. Let's see what he can do at a permanent road course next week at Barber.

11. I want NBCSN to show the drivers the start of this race and ask them what do they see? You had the front row side-by-side and that was it. Pagenaud had a massive run on Hunter-Reay and took the position with ease. I want to know if the drivers think that is acceptable and why they don't strive for better.

12. There was one full-course caution in this race and it was for debris. That's progress from the first two races but there shouldn't have been a full-course caution for that debris. Hire corner workers and use local yellows. When the coast is clear, send a corner worker out, pick it up and run back. It would take all of 15 seconds. The corner would be back to green before the drivers made it back around. If not, the drivers know how to slow for a local yellow. If they don't slow down, penalize them.

13. Moving on to Barber. My favorite road/street circuit on the IndyCar schedule. When the series first went there, everyone was nervous it would be a boring track because it was built for motorcycles and isn't that wide but IndyCar has put on some of their better races there in recent years. Can Honda turn around their success at a race they sponsor? I bet they hope so.

Morning Warm-Up: Long Beach 2015

Hélio Castroneves Starts on Long Beach Pole Position
Hélio Castroneves will start the 2015 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach from pole position, the 42nd of his career. The Brazilian broke the track record in the process with a lap of 66.6294. Sébastien Bourdais previously held the track record with a lap of 66.886. Castroneves won the 2001 Grand Prix of Long Beach from pole position. Twelve of Castroneves' 29 victories have come from pole position but he has not won from pole since Motegi 2010. Championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya joins Castroneves on row one as Penske locks out the front row for the third consecutive race of 2015. Scott Dixon starts third, a career-best for the New Zealander at Long Beach. Dixon's lone Long Beach top ten finish came in 2010 when he finished fourth after starting eighth. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the top Honda in fourth. The American has finished 20th or worse in the three of the last four Long Beach races.

Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden start on row three. Pagenaud has three consecutive top ten finishes at Long Beach. Newgarden is still looking for his first Long Beach top ten. His best finish is 13th. Tony Kanaan starts seventh. Kanaan broke the track record in round one, group one with a time of 66.7442, however, he missed the Firestone Fast Six by less than a tenth of a second. Graham Rahal starts eighth. Rahal finished second at Long Beach two years ago. Sébastien Bourdais and Marco Andretti round out the top ten. Bourdais is a three-time Long Beach winner while Marco Andretti is still looking for his first top five on Shoreline Drive. His grandfather Mario and father Michael combined to win six times at Long Beach, including Mario winning the 1977 Formula One United States Grand Prix West driving for Lotus.

Row six is an all-Colombian row. Sebastián Saavedra makes his 2015 debut in the #8 Ganassi Chevrolet and starts 11th. One of Saavedra's three career top tens came at Long Beach last year when he finished ninth. Carlos Muñoz starts 12th. He finished third last year after starting 11th. James Hinchcliffe and Luca Filippi just missed out on the second round and will start on row seven. Paul Tracy and Alex Zanardi are the only Canadian and Italian to win the Grand Prix of Long Beach in the IndyCar-era of the event. Gilles Villeneuve won at Long Beach in 1979.

Charlie Kimball rounds out the top fifteen and Jack Hawksworth joins him on row six. Gabby Chaves starts 17th. The furthest back a Long Beach winner has come from is 17th with Mike Conway winning from 17th last year and Paul Tracy doing it in 2000. John Watson won the final Formula One race on the streets of Long Beach from 22nd while Niki Lauda finished second to the Northern Irishman after starting 23rd. Will Power was caught out by a late red flag in his qualifying group and will have to start 18th. Power won the 2012 Grand Prix of Long Beach from 12th after serving a ten-spot grid penalty for an engine change. Power has done the unprecedented before. Last year, he became the first winner at Belle Isle to start from outside the top ten as he won race one from 16th position.

James Jakes and 2013 Long Beach winner Takuma Sato round out the top twenty. Conor Daly makes his second-career IndyCar start this weekend as he replaces Rocky Moran, Jr., who broke his thumb in Friday practice. Daly starts 21st. He won the 2011 Indy Lights race from Long Beach. Francesco Dracone will start 22nd with Stefano Coletti rounding out the field. Coletti was set to advance to the second round but caused the red flag in group two after slapping the turn four barrier. He slapped the turn nine barrier in third practice as well.

NBCSN's coverage of the Grand Prix of Long Beach begins at 4:00 p.m. ET with Indy Lights coverage preempting the IndyCar race at 3:00 p.m. ET. The IndyCar race is set to go green at 4:37 p.m. ET .

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Track Walk: Long Beach 2015

IndyCar heads to Southern California for the third round of 2015
The third round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship takes us to the streets of Long Beach. The race dates back to 1975 and the last four races have been won by four different teams and only one team has won multiple times at Long Beach since 2008. Honda enters Long Beach fresh off their first victory in eight races while Chevrolet looks to defend their Long Beach victory from last year.

Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 19th. Green flag at 4:37 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Brian Till (Leigh Diffey is still on Formula One duty. He will make his season debut at Barber), Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy are in the booth with Kevin Lee, Robin Miller, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider working the pit lane.

Back to Reality?
IndyCar puts the rain and swampy conditions of New Orleans behind them and the series returns to the sunshine and history of Long Beach.

Juan Pablo Montoya retained the championship lead after a fifth place finish at New Orleans. The Colombian sits on 84 points and leads a Penske 1-2-3 in the championship as Hélio Castroneves trails by ten points with defending champion Will Power 14 points back. Montoya, Castroneves and Power are all past winners at Long Beach. Other past Long Beach winners entered are Sébastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato. Bourdais won three consecutive years from 2005-2007 and was currently tied with Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti for 12th in the championship on 37 points. Hunter-Reay was deducted three points following the accident between him and Simon Pagenaud at NOLA. Hunter-Reay's 2010 Grand Prix of Long Beach victory is his only top five finish at Long Beach. Sato is tied for 19th with Charlie Kimball on 25 points. Sato has not finished on the podium since São Paulo 2013, 35 races ago.

James Hinchcliffe jumped to fourth in the championship after his NOLA victory. The Canadian has 65 points with Tony Kanaan two points behind Hinchcliffe. Former teammates Graham Rahal and James Jakes are tied with 43 points. After consecutive top ten finishes, Luca Filippi sits on 42 points with Simon Pagenaud finding himself sandwiched between CFH Racing drivers with Josef Newgarden a point behind the Frenchman.

Scott Dixon sits on 34 points, tied with Hunter-Reay and Carlos Muñoz for 14th, and heads to one of his worst tracks. The New Zealander lone top ten was a fourth place finish in 2010. He has finished outside the top fifteen at Long Beach in four of his eight starts on Shoreline Drive. Dixon has failed to finish in the top ten through the first two races. Dixon has never started a season with three consecutive finishes outside the top ten.

Reality Bites
Simona de Silvestro and Sage Karam will not be competing at Long Beach. Andretti Autosport did not enter the #25 Honda for Long Beach. De Silvestro finished fourth at NOLA in her second start with Andretti Autosport. She is slated to return to attempt to make the Indianapolis 500 in the #29 TE Connectivity Andretti Honda.

Karam will be replaced by Gary Peterson's Automatic Fire Sprinklers sponsorship and Sebastián Saavedra in the #8 Ganassi Chevrolet. Saavedra will be in the car at Long Beach, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Sonoma. Karam is set to return for Barber, will attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and run in the #8 until Pocono. Saavedra will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth Ganassi entry. Saavedra has made 56 starts, his best finish is eighth at Baltimore 2013 and has three top ten finishes. Saavedra has an average starting position of 18.91 and average finish of 18.32.

Francesco Dracone will return in the #19 at Dale Coyne Racing. Dracone hit Dale Coyne Racing crew member Todd Phillips at New Orleans. The Italian was fined $10,000 and placed on probation for the next six races. In four career starts Dracone has finished 22nd, 20th, 23rd and 23rd.

Dracone will have a new teammate this weekend. Carlos Huertas has been replaced by Californian Rocky Moran, Jr. in the #18 Honda. Moran, Jr. won two races in Toyota Atlantics back in 2001 and 2002. His last open-wheel start was the 2005 Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he started 18th and finished 17th due to gearbox issues. The 35-year old last competed professionally in 2011 when he and another second-generation driver, P.J. Jones, shared a Rocketsports Jaguar in the GT class. Moran, Jr.'s deal only goes for Long Beach and Huertas could return for Indianapolis. Plans for Barber are still to be determined.

Indy Lights
A dozen cars are entered for the third race of the 2015 Indy Lights season. Ed Jones swept the season opening weekend at St. Petersburg as the Emirati driver won in Carlin's first two races in the series. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' Jack Harvey and Juncos Racing's Spencer Pigot finished second and third in both races at St. Petersburg.

Californian Kyle Kaiser is tied for fourth in the championship with Canadian Scott Hargrove. Hargrove will not be competing at Long Beach as 8Star Motorsport did not enter for the street race. Nissan LMP1 driver and former Marussia F1 driver Max Chilton is sixth in the championship and finished fourth in race two at St. Petersburg. Belardi Racing's Juan Piedrahita is a point behind the Chilton.

SPM's Scott Anderson and Andertti Autosport's Matthew Brabham are tied on 25 points. Brabham will race at Long Beach. He previously was just announced for St. Petersburg. Ethan Ringel rounds out the top ten in the championship. Félix Serrallés, Shelby Blackstock and R.C. Enerson round out the championship with a point separating the three drivers.

The last European driver to win the Long Beach Indy Lights race was Austrian Philipp Petter in 2000. Note from 2002-2008 Indy Lights did not run at Long Beach. South Americans have won the last three races (Esteban Guerrieri, Carlos Muñoz, Gabby Chaves). Since Indy Lights returned to Long Beach, four of their six races did not feature a lead change.

The Indy Lights races will take place Sunday at 11:45 a.m. ET.

Pirelli World Challenge
Forty cars are entered as the GT and GT Cup classes head to Long Beach for their third round of the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge season.

Olivier Beretta enters as the points leader driving for R.Ferri Motorsport. The Monegasque driver has won two of four races and holds a two-point lead over EFFORT Racing Porsche driver Ryan Dalziel. The Scotsman has finished runner-up in three of the four races. Third in the championship is K-PAX McLaren's Kevin Éstre. The Austin 2 winner is 16 points behind Beretta . Defending champion Johnny O'Connell is 89 points back as the Cadillac driver's best finish is third through four races. Fifth in the championship, Lamborghini driver Nicky Catsburg is not entered for Long Beach.

Acura's Ryan Eversley trails Beretta by 111 points after splitting the St. Petersburg weekend. Michael Lewis is top GT-A driver, seventh in the championship but the EFFORT Racing Porsche driver could be reclassified depending on his results. CRP Racing Audi's Mike Skeen, Nissan's James Davison and Cadillac's Andy Pilgrim round out the top ten in the championship.

In GT Cup, Colin Thompson has won three of four races and leads Lorenzo Trefethen by 79 points. Sloan Urry is 118 points behind Thompson. Preston Calvert is fourth, 151 points back and Phil Fogg, winner in St. Petersburg 1, rounds out the top five, six points behind Calvert.

Last year, Johnny O'Connell took won at Long Beach ahead of his teammate Andy Pilgrim and Anthony Lazzaro.

The PWC race will take place after the IndyCar Grand Prix of Long Beach at 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday night.

Seventeen cars are entered for the third round of the 2015 United Sports Car Championship season. Nine Prototypes and eight GT Le Mans cars are heading to Long Beach.

Action Express Racing's Christian Fittipaldi and João Barbosa lead the Prototype championship after a dominant victory at Sebring. The defending champions hold a seven-point lead over Spirit of Daytona's Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook. Fourteen points back of Fittipaldi and Barbosa are their Action Express teammates Eric Curran and Dane Cameron. Ganassi drivers Joey Hand and Scott Pruett are a point behind Curran/Cameron.

Ricky and Jordan Taylor trail by 20 points after finishing runner-up at Sebring. Shank Racing's Oswaldo Negri and John Pew are three back of the Taylor brothers. The other three entries are the DeltaWing, featuring Katherine Legge and Memo Rojas and the Mazda prototypes with Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito in one car and Tom Long and Joel Miller in the other.

Corvette's Antonio García and Jan Magnussen won the first two rounds of the season and lead the GTLM championship by 14 points over the RLLR BMW drivers John Edwards and Lucas Luhr. Second through sixth in GTLM are covered by four points. Third in the championship is the other RLLR pairing of Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner. Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer are fourth with Falken Tire Porsche's Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler rounding out the top five.

Corvette's Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner are tied with Porsche's Patrick Pilet. Frédéric Makowiecki will join Pilet as co-driver with Richard Lietz joins Jörg Bergmeister. Makowiecki and Lietz replace Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, who will focus on their upcoming LMP1 duties at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans.

Ganassi won last year in Prototypes with Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas while Antonio García and Jan Magnussen won in GTLM.

The IMSA race will take place on Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Fast Facts
This will be the tenth IndyCar race to take place on April 19th. The most recent race on April 19th was in 2009 and it is the only Grand Prix of Long Beach to fall on April 19th. Dario Franchitti took the victory, his first with Chip Ganassi Racing and first since returning after running in NASCAR.

The last four Grands Prix of Long Beach have been won by four different teams (Andretti Autosport, Team Penske, A.J. Foyt Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing). Since reunification, six teams have split the seven races held at Long Beach. The other teams to win were KV Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing. Andretti Autosport is the only team with multiple victories at Long Beach post-reunification.

Five of the last seven Long Beach races have had over 10 laps run behind the pace car.

Five of the last seven Long Beach races have had five or more lead changes.

Can you name the top five finishers in the Grand Prix of Long Beach during the IndyCar-era?

Will Power has been running at the finish of every one of his Long Beach starts. Sunday will mark his tenth start on Shoreline Drive.

This year's Grand Prix of Long Beach falls on Townsend Bell's 40th birthday.

This will be the 41st Grand Prix of Long Beach, 32nd-time IndyCar as the headliner. Eight times it was a Formula One Grand Prix and the inaugural edition was a Formula 5000 race.

Toyota has never won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

In the IndyCar-era, Honda has won the most Grands Prix of Long Beach with eleven victories. Chevrolet and Cosworth are tied with nine victories. Mercedes-Benz and Illmor each have one victory.

In last year's race, eight of the top ten finishers started outside the top ten. The two exceptions were Simon Pagenaud (started sixth, finished fifth) and Marco Andretti (Started and finished eighth).

Possible Milestones at Long Beach:

A victory for Scott Dixon will be his 36th and move him into sole possession of fifth all-time in IndyCar victories.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 70 laps to join the 1,000 laps led club.

Takuma Sato needs to lead ten laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 18 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 50 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs one podium to reach 50 career IndyCar podiums.

No rain means Will Power gets his first victory of 2015 at Long Beach. There will be a new points leader after this race. Scott Dixon gets his second career top ten at Long Beach. There are at least four Hondas in the top ten including Marco Andretti. A rookie finally gets a top ten finish. Josef Newgarden finishes ahead of Luca Filippi. Sébastien Bourdais is the top finishing Frenchman. There are at least 65 green flag laps. Sleeper: Jack Hawksworth.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Bump, Set, Spike

It was a weekend full of racing from the wet in New Orleans to the wind of Silverstone. Texas hosted three major series in three major cities and a champion was crowned. Meanwhile, a man ran across the track in China. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Bump, Set, Spike
The good news: A plethora of drivers want to run the Indianapolis 500.
The bad news: The manufactures have a stranglehold on IndyCar and neither wants to supply more than 17 entries.

All 24 cars that ran at NOLA and 22 of the 24 drivers are scheduled to attempt to make the Indianapolis 500. The lone drivers not going to Speedway are Luca Filippi, who is splitting the #20 with Ed Carpenter and Francesco Dracone. Add to those 23 drivers the already confirmed Bryan Clauson, Jay Howard, Justin Wilson, Buddy Lazier, J.R. Hildebrand and driver to be named for the #19 Dale Coyne entry (which I think will be Rodolfo González seeing as he was spending time in the Dale Coyne Racing pits at St. Petersburg). That is 29 entries, 15 Chevrolets and 14 Hondas.

Coyne will probably enter a third car for Pippa Mann, Oriol Servià reportedly is working on a deal to return with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports ran a third car last year and is consider likely to enter a third again this year. That would bring the entry list to 32, 17 Hondas, 15 Chevrolets.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in partnership with Davey Hamilton's Kingdom Racing look likely to return with Chevrolet power and Townsend Bell as their driver and that would get the field to 33.

This is where it gets depressing. Ryan Briscoe, Conor Daly, Gary Peterson's unofficial adopted son Sebastián Saavedra, James Davison, Katherine Legge, Stefan Wilson and Alex Tagliani are all reportedly working on rides or are interested in attempting the 99th Indianapolis 500. The bad news is the only seats remaining are the second Coyne (which will probably be González), the possible third Schmidt Peterson entry and possibly a fourth KV Racing Technology entry. You can't squeeze seven drivers into three seats.

Let's not forget to mention Ryan Phinny, who reported was working on a deal to attempt the Indianapolis 500 with KV or A.J. Allmendinger, who wants to attempt The Double but I think he is shooting to do that next year at this point. Then there is Guy Cosmo, who wants to fulfill his lifelong dream of competing in IndyCar. And let's just throw Zach Veach in the mix considering the Indy Lights race winner is currently unemployed and wanted to make his Indianapolis 500 debut last year.

You have 42 drivers who have openly expressed they are working on an Indianapolis 500 ride or are reportedly working on one and at best 8 won't get the opportunity to make a qualifying run, at worst 9 won't get a chance.

It is soul crushing. And I bet there are another handful of drivers we aren't talking about who would love to head to the Speedway in the month of May but know they have a better chance seeing God than getting a ride to attempt to make the Indianapolis 500. Bumping was a great part of the Indianapolis 500 and now the only bumping that takes place is in backrooms with paychecks, not on the racetrack with stopwatches. We are in the fourth year of the DW12 chassis. At this point there should surely be enough chassis to get 36-38 entries for the month of May. The new aero kits are hard to come by but the Dallara aero kit is still available and while it might not be as quick, I bet you could still put a car in the field with the Dallara kit. After all, I don't see all 33 qualifiers for this year's race topping Ed Carpenter's four-lap average of 231.067 MPH so I bet a few Dallara kit could sneak their way in and that wouldn't be a bad thing.

The only downside is the new floor doesn't mesh well with the Dallara kit but why couldn't teams with the Dallara kit be allowed to run the 2014 floor and those with the new kits run the new floor? Would it really matter, especially if qualifying is dramatic and you have four or five teams fighting to make it in the field? Would fans really be upset if the floors were different? Would fans really even notice?

The engines are the difficult part. It's getting Chevrolet and Honda to open up and run more than 17. The manufactures need to watch their wallets but they can't make the on-track action and talented drivers suffer because of it.

Here is my proposal: Incentivize having more cars in the Indianapolis 500 by awarding manufacture championship points. The manufactures' championship is so important to Honda and Chevrolet and the Indianapolis 500 is the backbone of the IndyCar season, why not have a lot of points on the line? Even better, have it on a sliding scale. The more cars you put in, the more points you get. The beauty of the Indianapolis 500 and there only being two manufactures is they can't be equal. Someone will have one more car than the other.

Here is what I envision: If a manufacture puts 17 cars in the field, they get 500 bonus points. If a manufacture puts 18 cars in the field, 700 bonus points. Nineteen cars, 900 bonus points. Twenty cars, 1000 bonus points. Limit it at 1000 points though. If a team puts in 21 in the field, they would still only get 1000 points.

Now it's a game of cat and mouse. If Honda enters 17, Chevrolet has to enter 17. They aren't going to give away 500 points to Honda. This means someone will be bumped. What if Chevrolet decides to enter 18? Honda can't run the risk of conceding 700 points and if Honda believes their super speedway aero kit is better than Chevrolet, then why not call the Bowtie Brigade's bluff and match their 18. Now you have 36 cars entered and at least three teams going home.

And what about the possibility of a team buying their way into the race à la Scott Goodyear in 1992 or Alex Tagliani in 2009 or Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2011? Make a regulation that if a team sells their seat their manufacture forfeits all manufacture points they accumulate for the Indianapolis 500 and that includes the bonus points. Does a team really want to get on a manufacture's bad side by being the reason why they lost 500-1000 points? I don't think so. To be fair, you will need to make an exception if a driver can't compete due to injury or worse and you can't punish a manufacture if that happens. Bring back the first alternate or if a driver replacement is made due to injury or worse, then no forfeiture of points.

Throw the gentleman's agreement out the window and have an all out war on qualifying weekend. I'd love to see Pole Day return to Saturday and Bump Day on Sunday but IndyCar brass seems set on setting pole position on Sunday. I will make a concession. Fill the field and set the Fast Nine on Saturday. Run the Fast Nine session at noon ET Sunday and put it on ABC. Once the Fast Nine is over, start Bump Day at 1:00 p.m. and go until 6:00 p.m. ET with coverage split over ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3. Maybe show 1:00-4:00 p.m. on ESPN3, then 4:00-5:00 p.m. on ESPN2 with the final hour on ESPN as a lead in to SportsCenter.

We have seen the Snake Pit return to the Indianapolis 500 and qualifying averages are back above 230 MPH and are expected to go up again this year. Let's bring the drama of bumping back as well.

Hindsight: New Orleans
1. Had IndyCar decided to postpone yesterday's race, you know that majority of the fans would be upset and make comments about the series ineptitude to run a road course race in the rain just like Toronto 1 last year. Then fans would be upset that the race would be moved to a Monday afternoon and they would be unable to watch it live. Ultimately, IndyCar was in a lose-lose yesterday and it wasn't their fault.

2. Notice that everything started going haywire when the teams switched to slick tires. The first 15 laps were fine and drivers started slipping off course when they got into the puddles or just off the dry line. Stefano Coletti wasn't at fault for his accident. He hit puddle. I am sure we all would have lost control if we were in his situation. If anything, the teams made the wrong choice to switch to slicks. The track might have been drier than when they started but it wasn't dry enough for slicks.

3. As for the man who pushed Gabby Chaves out of the grass, I just wonder how fast the cars were going around that corner? I know it was a "hot track" but how fast were the cars going? Forty-five MPH? Maybe 50 MPH? He wasn't any closer to the cars than if you or I are walking down the street to get a doughnut. If we are crucifying him for being in harms way than we are in harms way every day of our lives and should never leave our house because we are in constant danger. Come on people! Gabby Chaves was even praising him. Instead of making him into a bad guy, maybe the series should use this as a way to increase the presence of corner workers and use of local yellows. After all, that full-course caution took four laps and if that caution never happens, perhaps we see an entirely different race.

A Positive
We need some good news or just a positive thought to end on. J.R. Hildebrand and Justin Wilson are not only entered for the Indianapolis 500, they are entered for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis as well. It's nice to see one-offs for other races beside the Indianapolis 500 and I think this race being on ABC (as well as being at Indianapolis) has something to do with it. For their next television deal, the word exclusivity should not be used at all unless a network is paying IndyCar over $1 billion. IndyCar can't afford to have an exclusive network partner and exclusive cable partner. They need partners that are going to work together both on network and cable TV. That means NBCSN and NBC showing races as well as ABC and ESPN.

A little more network exposure could go a long way in terms of growth and attracting sponsors. Four-to-five ABC races with four-to-five NBC races with ESPN and NBCSN splitting the remaining races is what the goal should be and seeing how the series wants around 20 races, that would work perfectly. Half your races on network, half your races on cable with each channel getting a quarter of the schedule.

Back to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis: It's grown on me. It's nice to have a race a fortnight before the Indianapolis 500 and it drew a decent crowd last year, much larger than opening day for Indianapolis 500 practice. It's not so bad. With that said, I still think IndyCar should ran Indianapolis Raceway Park the Friday night of Brickyard weekend.

Champion From the Weekend
Ryan Dungey clinched his second career AMA Supercross championship with a second-place finish at Houston. There are three races left in the 2015 AMA Supercross season (Santa Clara, New Jersey and Las Vegas).

Winners From the Weekend
You know about James Hinchcliffe but did you know...

The #7 Audi of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer won the FIA WEC season opener from Silverstone. The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Sam Bird, Romain Rusinov and Julien Canal won in LMP2. Defending world champions Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander won in GTE-Pro in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. Aston Martin extended their GTE-Am winning streak to seven consecutive races as the #98 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda were victorious.

Marc Márquez is undefeated at Circuit of the Americas as he won his third consecutive Grand Prix of the Americas.

Lewis Hamilton won the Chinese Grand Prix, his second victory of 2015.

The #41 Greaves Motorsport Gibson-Nissan of Jon Lancaster, Björn Wirdheim and Gary Hirsch won the European Le Mans Series season opener from Silverstone. The #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche of Adam Carroll, Phil Keen and Micahel Wainwright won in GTE. The #59 TDS Racing BMW of Franck Perera, Dino Lunardi and Eric Dermont won in GTC. Olympic gold medalist Chris Hoy and Charlie Robinson made history as the first winners in LMP3 in the #3 Team LNT Ginetta-Nissan.

Andrew Palmer, Jeroen Mul and Fabio Babini crossed the finish line first in the Blancpain Endurance Series season opener at Monza in the #19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán. However, the team was excluded after using an illegal fuel restrictor. It was the debut race for the Huracán and Palmer. Palmer would have been the first American to win a Blancpain GT race before being excluded. The exclusion promoted the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Rinat Salikhov and Norbert Siedler to victory.

Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Cup race from Texas, his second victory of the year and he is now in the Chase.

Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies split the World Superbike weekend at Aragón. Kenan Sofuoglu won the World Supersport race while American P.J. Jacobsen made it a Kawasaki 1-2. Sofuoglu now leads the WSS championship by 13 points over Jacobsen.

Sam Lowes won the Moto2 race from Austin and Danny Kent won the Moto3 race.

Santiago Urrutia won the Pro Mazda race from New Oreleans. The second race was cancelled due to rain. In U.S. F2000, Nico Jamin and Victor Franzoni split the doubleheader.

Cole Seely scored his first career AMA Supercross victory at Houston.

Erik Jones scored his first career NASCAR Grand National Series victory at Texas on Friday night.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar runs the 41st Grand Prix of Long Beach.
IMSA, Pirelli World Challenge and Indy Lights joins IndyCar at Long Beach.
Formula One runs their first night race at Bahrain.
MotoGP heads south to Argentina.
Super Formula starts their season at Suzuka.
NASCAR heads to Bristol.
World Superbike goes to Assen.
World Touring Car Championship makes it six different continents with major series in competition as WTCC heads to Morocco.