Monday, June 29, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Driving That Train, High On Cocaine

California was busy hosting both IndyCar and NASCAR. Two of the United States' premier road courses hosted sports cars and it rained heavily at one of them. Valentino Rossi beat Marc Márquez in arguably one of the best races of 2015. The inaugural Formula E championship came to a close. Mercedes continued their domination but it wasn't in Formula One. France had a good weekend in WTCC. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Driving That Train, High On Cocaine
There is a phrase that is used in IndyCar circles that is vilely incorrect and I need to address it. Anytime someone mentions IndyCar possibly returning to Phoenix, Michigan, Road America, Laguna Seca, Richmond, wherever, the line "you better buy a ticket" is thrown out like a parent giving their child an ultimatum about dessert depending on their vegetable consumption.

It's not realistic to expect every IndyCar fan to buy a ticket to every race they want to see and I have mentioned this before. If you are like me and live on the east coast, it's not like Phoenix and Laguna Seca are 20-minute car rides away. The same can be said for fans in the Pacific Time Zone with Michigan, Richmond and Road America. IndyCar fans aren't genies who can snap their fingers and be at every race they want and then just snap their fingers and return home.

It's illogical to expect the microscopically small fan base that IndyCar has to follow the series around like it's the Grateful Dead and have every race be guaranteed at least 10,000 fans because you have convoys of people driving cross-country following IndyCar wherever the series goes. The fate of races cannot be put on the shoulders of the common fan. The multi-million dollar racetracks and IndyCar need to do a better job of drawing new people through the gates, not expecting the current lot of people to be good enough.

Don't get me wrong, Fontana was screwed on their date after having a perfect spot in October but the track and series has to do something entirely different to draw people out into 90º F heat. People attend events in that type heat all the time, the only problem is if they aren't getting enough bang for their buck, such as Fontana, then they won't go out because it won't be worth.

When I say, "do something entirely different," I don't mean create ticket packages with free food and memorabilia, I mean do something that isn't associated with motorsports. I have always commented that races with Ferris wheels are normally highly attended. Rent one and a few other carnival rides. The Snake Pit at the Indianapolis 500 is popular and perhaps it's something that could be done at other tracks. The series doesn't have enough money to have Steve Aoki be at each race but a second Snake Pit at Fontana may have drawn more people, as it would have been a show followed by a race. Stadium Super Trucks would have been a nice inclusion and I wish they were going to be at Pocono because if none of the Road to Indy series are going to be with IndyCar at a race then some type of support series needs to help fill the bill. Have some type of festival (barbecue, wine, cheese, whatever) tied into the event. Have a flea market be apart of the event if you have to. Look outside the box and look for ways to get new people to the races and this goes for all races, not just Fontana.

It should not be on the shoulders of the current fans to attend seven races a year to prop the series up. If you can't get to a race, that's not a problem. Not everyone can afford to go to a race and it doesn't make you less of a fan. If you can get to race, then great but don't feel like you make cross-country trips multiple times a year. IndyCar doesn't give out a prize for most races attended. Go to the races you can and don't feel bad if you can't get to one. It's not a fan's job to attend all the races. It is the track owners and series job to draw as many people, diehards and curious first-timers, out regardless of the weather. If they aren't happy with the amount of people in the stands then it is on them, not you.

Formula E Year One Review
The inaugural Formula E championship wrapped up and Nelson Piquet, Jr. became it's Nino Farina, taking the title by one-point over Sébastien Buemi, despite the Swiss driving winning the Saturday race from London and holding off a second title challenger in Lucas di Grassi. It's eerie how the inaugural Formula One season in 1950 and the inaugural Formula E season 65 years later came down to the final race with three drivers fighting for the title. Is it a sign of what the future has in store? I don't know but Formula E happened and all those who didn't believe this series would even get started, let alone complete a full year and crown a champion can suck it.

Formula E isn't a perfect after year one. Like any series, it is constantly evolving and Formula E will probably look much different in the next few seasons. The car swapping will probably be replaced in a year or two. Will the technology to quickly swap out a battery be developed and used? Will cars be able to go a full 45 minutes on a single-charge? That remains to be seen. Will the series run permanent circuits? I hope so and it might happen next year at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City but I doubt they would run the full, 2.680-mile course considering the longest track Formula E raced on this year was the first race at Beijing's 2.14-mile Olympic Green Circuit. I'd love to see Formula E run a short oval such as Phoenix, Richmond, Loudon or Indianapolis Raceway Park because I think it would be a good test of longevity with the cars spending more time on the throttle and lifting in the corners.

The races weren't all that fast but neither were the first automobile races at the turn of the 20th century and then speed of races will increase and it did over the course of the season. The opening race in Beijing had an average speed of 61.2 MPH (98.492 KPH) while the season finale in London was the fastest race of the season with an average speed of 69.029 MPH (111.093 KPH). It's not setting the world on fire but next year, after some testing over the summer, perhaps the opening race will average at 75 MPH and at this time next year we could be seeing average speeds close to 90 MPH for a race. Once again, it's not mind-boggling speed but you can't look at Formula E with a mindset of over a century of development. Formula E is in its infancy stage and these are the baby steps it will make.

The one concern I have is where is this series going to race next year? Reportedly 180 cities are interested in hosting Formula E and the schedule is set to expand from ten to 12 cities but how many races return? It seems like Beijing was a success and will be the season opener again. London went well. Long Beach wasn't bad but it didn't help that it was Easter weekend. Can Formula E afford to have seven new venues while only returning to five? Perhaps Formula E is starting at the right time and has the right strategy. It feels like it doesn't matter where Formula E takes places. It feels like a 21st century series where television ratings matter more than amount of spectators and it doesn't matter where a race occurs because 100 million people from around the globe will be watching on TV. It sounds like Bernie Ecclestone's dream series.

I actually think Formula E is looking at attendance the right way. Most races only had 15-20,000 attendees but think about most sports leagues. A crowd of 15-20,000 is what most NBA and NHL teams get a night. Most soccer leagues from around globe get crowds slightly larger than that but not by much. I think most motorsports (NASCAR, IndyCar) series have been too focused on getting six-figure crowds that crowds of even 60,000 people aren't good enough but the only sports league in the world that averages over 60,000 is the NFL. I think most motorsports series (NASCAR, IndyCar) need perspective on average attendance and realize that averaging 40-50,000 actually isn't a bad thing.

Back to Formula E. The one thing I worried about Formula E was what was going to happen when it entered the traditional motorsports season in the spring? The season started in September but nearly a third of the rounds took place in November-January when they had no competition. During that time, drivers are eager to race and would love to escape the frozen Northern Hemisphere with the sunshine and beaches of Uruguay and Argentina. There was a lot of buzz but it did seem to taper off. Some of these drivers were moonlighting in Formula E and when winter turned into spring there was a feeling that drivers saw it as the end of a vacation and time to get back to their real jobs.

However, the series still had a lot of talented drivers run majority of the season and actually gained one or two for the second half. Buemi won the FIA WEC title and ran all the races. Di Grassi ran all the races. Both are with top-tier LMP1 programs and they made it work. Loïc Duval joined the series halfway through and did great. It did seem the back half of the grid was getting desperate toward the end of the season in filling seats. Aguri had Sakon Yamamoto, yes that Sakon Yamamoto who has 21 Formula One starts but hasn't won a race in a decade in Super GT and hadn't raced anything since 2010, in their car. TrulliGP put GP3's Alex Fontana in their car for the final round. Even Andretti Autosport had a revolving door in their #28 car.

Despite a few rotating seats, there was some good racing. Was it the greatest ever? No but it was respectable. Piquet, Jr., Buemi and di Grassi were the best three drivers. Sam Bird had a really good season as he picked up his second victory of the season in the season finale on home soil. E.dams was the top team but I got to give a shout out to Dragon Racing. They finished second in Teams' Championship, they had cars finish in the points 18 of a possible 22 times, the best success rate of any team and Jérôme d'Ambrosio was the surprise of the series. I liked him in GP2, his only Formula One experience was with Marussia but he showed he could hang with some of the best. I was sad to see Oriol Servià step out of the second Dragon entry after finishing the first four races in the points but, as I said before, Loïc Duval did great. It's still early but look for Dragon to challenge for the title in 2015-16.

First year of Formula E is now in the history books. The second chapter will be upon us this fall.

In case you are wondering, here is what the Formula E Championship would have looked like if they used the 9-6-4-3-2-1 points system:

2014-15 Formula E Drivers'
Sébastien Buemi- 42
Nelson Piquet, Jr.- 39
Lucas di Grassi- 39
Jérôme d'Ambrosio- 30
Sam Bird- 26
Nicolas Prost- 19
Jean-Éric Vergne- 14
António Félix da Costa- 10
Bruno Senna- 8
Loïc Duval- 8
Franck Montagny- 6
Scott Speed- 6
Daniel Abt- 6
Nick Heidfeld- 6
Jamie Alguersuari- 5
Charles Pic- 3
Jarno Trulli- 3
Karun Chandhok- 3
Stéphane Sarrazin- 1
Salvador Durán- 1

2014-15 Formula E Teams'
e.dams Renault- 61
Audi Sport ABT- 45
China Racing- 39
Dragon- 38
Virgin Racing- 31
Andretti Autosport- 29
Aguri- 11
Mahindra- 11
Venturi GP- 7
TrulliGP- 3

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Graham Rahal, Nelson Piquet, Jr.'s title, Sébastien Buemi, Sam Bird and Valentino Rossi but did you know...

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma in his fifth start of the season.

Pascal Wehrlein and Robert Wickens split the DTM races from the Norisring but they extended Mercedes' streak of victories on the Nürnberg street circuit to 11 of the last 12.

Johann Zarco won his second consecutive Moto2 race and third of the season at Assen. Miguel Oliveira won in Moto3.

Tomáš Enge, Chris Dyson and James Davison split the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Road America. There was a third race at Road America after the second Belle Isle race was cancelled due to rain. In GTS, Lou Gigliotti and Andrew Aquilante each picked up a victory.

Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook won a very wet 6 Hours of the Glen in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP. The #8 Starworks Oreca of Renger van der Zande, Mike Hedlund and Alex Popow won in PC. It was the second consecutive victory for the #8 Starworks entry. The #17 Team Falken Tires Porsche of Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers won in GTLM. Al Carter, Cameron Lawrence and Marc Goossens won in GTD in the #93 Viper.

Citroën swept their home WTCC races at Circuit Paul Ricard with Sébastien Loeb and José María López taking the victories.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One will run the British Grand Prix.
NASCAR takes their annual Fourth of July weekend trek back to Daytona.
World Rally will be in Poland.
Blancpain Sprint Series will be right next door to WRC in Russia at Moscow Raceway.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

First Impressions: Fontana 2015

1. Where to begin? I want to be respectful and start with the race winner but I want to start with the race itself. Here it goes. Graham Rahal won and it has been a long time coming. He went 124 starts between victories, breaking the record for most starts between victories, which was 97 and held by Johnny Rutherford. Rahal has been the best Honda this season and he could have won two races this year already. It just seemed it was bound to happen.

1b. With that said, Rahal had a few too many breaks. First, he left the pit lane with the fuel nozzle attached. Not his fault as the fuel man made a mistake but it's something that has to be penalized and penalized on the spot. IndyCar has to start making penalties on the spot. They can't wait for Wednesday at lunchtime to just fine teams and drivers a few thousand dollars and/or a handful of points. It should have been a drive-through penalty and instead it was a warning.

1c. Rahal also blocked a few drivers. Especially on that final run when he blocked Marco Andretti. He just plain blocked him. I know there were only two or three laps to go but it was a block and it has to be called. It can't be allowed.

1d. Rahal drove a great race but he pushed the envelope a few too many times today and the officials didn't do anything about it. He has talent but today wasn't his greatest day despite him winning a 500-mile race.

2. Before I get to the rest of the field, was this pack racing today?

As a whole, which is all 250 laps, I didn't think it was pack racing. The first 135 laps were run caution-free and the field had spread out and it was great racing. Cars didn't pull away from one another but they weren't constantly side-by-side. One car could run the other down, pass them and hold on to the position for a few laps before another driver made a challenge.

However, on the start and restarts, the cars were very close and it took 15-20 laps for the cars to spread out. Unfortunately, in the later stages, those long green flag runs didn't happen and there was an accident between Will Power and Takuma Sato with nine to go and it caused a red flag and then a restart with three to go. Of course it was going to be helter skelter.

And then there was an accident. Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay got together, they spun into the infield grass and Briscoe got airborne. Thankfully, both walked away. The accident occurred because the cars were packed together like sardines in a can and that could happen at any track with a restart with three to go, oval, road course or street circuit. Briscoe got airborne because of the grass. Grass doesn't scrub off speed. Remember, the first caution occurred when Hélio Castroneves spun off of turn two and slid on the asphalt apron on the back straightaway, which was put to prevent cars from getting airborne. It's why numerous of tracks have paved over the apron. And it's not just a safety improvement for IndyCar but NASCAR as well. Think Rusty Wallace at Talladega.

Had the front straightaway grass been asphalt I don't think Ryan Briscoe gets airborne and I don't think the reactions would be as strong for what we saw today.

2b. The officials have to start listening to the drivers. After the first practice, they came to the officials worried about pack racing. I don't think we saw pack racing but something should be done to allow the cars to spread out a little quicker and restarts. I don't understand why there was an aerodynamic change to the cars considering the last three Fontana races were all really good races. The last three years have seen 29, 28 and 18 lead changes and lots of green flag racing. Last year, only 12 laps were run under caution. Today we saw a record-breaking amount of lead changes. It was fun to see but was it necessary? This is a very deep conversation but I think if the downforce levels stayed the same as last year, the race would have been just as good. There has to be better communication between the teams and drivers.

2c. To wrap this up, a collection of things can be improved.

A. I don't think this was pack racing but if IndyCar can figure out a way so the cars are spread out in 5-8 laps instead of 15-20 laps than that would be great because this was great racing today.

B. IndyCar has to start calling penalties in race. No more waiting for midweek. Jon Beekhuis was mad about it and called out race control on the broadcast. I don't know Jon Beekhuis from Adam but he seems like a very intelligent guy who doesn't lose his cool easily and if he is calling out race control during the broadcast then something has to change. IndyCar needs to get more qualified people in race control and people the drivers respect. And don't say you can't find anybody. They are people out there. Emanuele Pirro is the race steward for Formula Three and he is cracking down on driver. IndyCar needs him. He is a six-time Le Mans winner, he made 37 Formula One starts and he would have every drivers respect and attention. And if they can't get Pirro, get someone like him. Get Allan McNish, get Scott Pruett, get Buddy Rice or Justin Wilson. If Justin Wilson can't be in a car then I would want him in race control because he has driven these cars, driven with these drivers and is respected.

C.  If removing the infield grass would decrease the chance of a car, whether it is IndyCar or NASCAR, getting airborne, then it should be done.

3. Back to the drivers. Tony Kanaan had a great race and finished second. He was up front all day and I thought in the closing stages he would find a way to finish first today. He is great on ovals and he didn't disappoint today.

4. Great day for Marco Andretti. He was up at the front at the start, faded but came back and made a smart choice to take tires before the final restart. If it wasn't for Rahal's block, he might have won instead of finishing third.

5. Juan Pablo Montoya came home fourth but to be honest, it didn't seem like he was a threat all day. He hung around in the top ten but was never making runs for the lead. He would get the Triple Crown but he still has a shot for the double and the championship lead.

6. Sage Karam scored his first career top five. This was the race he needed. It could be a confidence booster for him. He had a similar day to Andretti. They both faded at the same time and made their comebacks at the same time and both took tires prior to the final restart. Not to forget mentioning he led his first career laps today.

7. Scott Dixon finished sixth but like Montoya, it didn't seem like he was scraping for the lead much. He was up in the top ten all day though and he got a solid finish.

8. Hats off to James Jakes in seventh. Kept him nose clean and it paid off. He has had some good oval finishes. He isn't a threat on them but he can put together a good finish.

9. Charlie Kimball in eighth makes it perfect attendance for the Ganassi drivers in the top ten.

10. Simon Pagenaud started on pole but finished ninth. He faded from the start and was never a factor. It hasn't been a great first year for Pagenaud at Penske but it hasn't been dreadful. He will likely be back in 2016 and I think he will make big strides.

11. Jack Hawksworth finished tenth mostly because a half a dozen drivers ahead of him retired but you got to take what you can get and he got his second career top-ten on an oval.

12. To wrap up, Stefano Coletti finished 11th despite being a lap down at one point. Carlos Muñoz faded to 12th but after everything that happened I don't remember how. Pippa Mann finished a career-best 13th despite being a lap down at one point. Sébastien Bourdais did nothing and finished 14th.

13. Once again, I am unbelievably happy Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay walked away. I am unbelievably happy Takuma Sato and Will Power walked away from their accident and the same for Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden. All had great day, all could have finished in the top ten.

14. IndyCar needs Fontana. Despite all that happened, all the crappy things that happened and all the things that need to be fixed, this was a great race. IndyCar needs to work with Fontana. Move it back to October so people will actually show up, work with Fontana about paving over the grass and IndyCar should work on an oval package that produce what we saw in the first 135 laps without the helter skelter first 15 laps after going green. IndyCar can't afford to lose this race. The flips, the closeness of the cars that can be fixed. It's going to take time and it's going to take money (everything takes money) but it's worth. Don't leave Fontana again. The track was built for IndyCar. Don't leave. Fix the problem and return. It's a diamond; just keep polishing.

15. After a week off, I am glad there is another off week. I understand we are all passionate about it but I think we need to find common ground and be respectful. It's ok to have differing positions but it's not ok to be rude because someone has a differing opinion. Take some time off and cool down. Happy Canada Day. Happy Independence Day. Enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate and for those of you who don't have a holiday to celebrate, enjoy the start of July and the fact we halfway through another year. Whether IndyCar at Fontana was pack racing or not is so irrelevant to everyday life. It's ok to be passionate about it but it's not the be-all and end-all of life. Take a break. Milwaukee is in a fortnight.

Morning Warm-Up: Fontana 2015

Simon Pagenaud and Hélio Castroneves start 1-2 Saturday at Fontana
Simon Pagenaud won his second career pole position a year after his first as the French driver will lead the field to the green flag for the MAVTV 500 from Fontana. This is his first career oval pole position. Last year, he start on pole in Houston 1 but an accident took him out of contention for the victory. Pagenaud won the pole with a two-lap average of 218.952 MPH. Today's race occurs 48 years and two days after the last win for car #22 in IndyCar when Wes Vandervoort won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. It would be Vandervoort's only IndyCar win in five starts, all occurring at Pikes Peak.  Hélio Castroneves made it another Team Penske 1-2 as the Brazilian qualified with a two-lap average at 218.734 MPH. Marco Andretti starts a season-best third. The Pennsylvania-native qualified nearly a mile per hour off of Castroneves at 217.797 MPH. Ed Carpenter will start a season-best fourth as he was just 0.131 MPH slower than Andretti. Championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya rounds out the top five at 217.250 MPH. Montoya is looking to keep his Triple Crown hopes alive after winning the Indianapolis 500 last month.

Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon finished 1-2 last year at Fontana and they will start sixth and seventh after running identical times in qualifying. Each posted two-lap averages at 217.184 MPH. Kanaan starts ahead of Dixon as he qualified before Dixon. Chip Ganassi Racing could score their 100th IndyCar victory this weekend. Will Power starts eighth. The defending IndyCar champion won at Fontana in 2013 and he qualified 0.008 seconds behind the Ganassi duo. Takuma Sato will start ninth and Sage Karam will round out the top ten. Sato and Karam were the final two drivers to qualify above 217 MPH at 217.109 MPH and 217.060 MPH respectively. Sato and Karam got together in turn one, lap one of the Indianapolis 500. Karam's day ended while Sato continued and would manage to finish 13th.

Carlos Muñoz will start 11th at 216.878 MPH with IndyCar's most recent winner Josef Newgarden starting 12th at 216.490 MPH. Californian Charlie Kimball will start 13th, which is the furthest back a Fontana winner has started from. Adrián Fernández won from 13th in 1999. Kimball finished third at Indianapolis last month, his best finish in a 500-mile race. Fernández's victory is the only time a Fontana winner has started outside the top ten. Ryan Hunter-Reay will start 14th after posting an average of 215.983 MPH. Hunter-Reay is one of seven drivers on the grid to win a 500-mile race along with Montoya, Castroneves, Kanaan, Carpenter, Dixon and Power. Sébastien Bourdais rounds out the top fifteen at 215.719 MPH.

Ryan Briscoe will start 16th and leads a train of five consecutive Hondas on the grid. Jack Hawksworth will start 17th with his successor at Bryan Herta Autosport Gabby Chaves starting 18th. Hawskworth qualified at 215.346 MPH while Chaves qualified at 213.720 MPH. Graham Rahal starts a season-worst 19th as Tristan Vautier will round out the top twenty. Stefano Coletti will start 21st with Brits Pippa Mann and James Jakes rounding out the grid. Jakes did not make a qualifying attempt after having an engine failure at the end of second practice and not having enough time to change it prior to qualifying.

NBCSN's coverage of the MAVTV 500 will begin at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 4:36 p.m. ET.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The History of 500-Milers

IndyCar and 500-mile races have a long history beyond the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500.

With this weekend's race from Fontana being the second 500-mile race, I decided to look into the history of 500-milers. I have long been wondering more about the history of 500-mile races in IndyCar. How many have there been? Who has won the most 500-mile races? What other places have hosted 500-milers?

After counting, there have been 162 500-mile races in the history of IndyCar and the track to host the most is unsurprisingly Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The famed 2.5-mile over has hosted 98 500-mile races. And I bet you just did a double take. And I bet you are saying that is wrong. And I bet you are saying Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted 99 500-mile races. And you would be wrong. The 1916 running of the race traditionally held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend was scheduled for 300 miles. While counted it is an "Indianapolis 500"it wasn't scheduled for 500 miles, therefore it can't be counted as a 500-mile race. The 162 races I have counted do count races that were scheduled for 500 miles but did not reach the full-distance. So it includes the 1950, 1973, 1975, 1976, 2004 and 2007 runnings of the Indianapolis 500, the 1975 and 1981 runnings of the Pocono 500 and the 2001 running of the California 500 from Fontana.

As you know, this weekend's race is the second leg of the Triple Crown. You may have saw the fact sheet has posted. It says there has been 21 years of the Triple Crown and the first occurred in 1971. However, 1971 wasn't the first year that featured three 500-mile IndyCar races in one year. In fact, it was 100 years ago. In 1915, there were three 500-mile races. The first was the Indianapolis 500. The next happened 100 years ago today; June 26, 1915 at Speedway Park, a 2-mile board track outside Chicago in Maywood, Illinois. The third 500-miler occurred at Twin City Motor Speedway, a 2-mile concrete oval in Fort Snelling, Minnesota on September 4, 1915. Ralph DePalma won the Indianapolis 500, Dario Resta won at Speedway Park and Earl Cooper and Johnny Aitken won in Minnesota.

It would be 55 years and 2 days before IndyCar ran another 500-mile race at track other than Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Ontario Motor Speedway hosted the inaugural California 500 on September 6, 1970. Jim McElreath won from 18th on the grid and it would be his fifth and final IndyCar victory. If you though McElreath from 18th winning was a surprise, Art Pollard finished 2nd and started 32nd and Dick Simon finished 3rd from 27th! It was Simon's first career podium and his first finish on the lead lap in ten starts. Gordon Johncock and Peter Revson were the only other two drivers to finish on the lead lap.

The following year, Pocono Raceway opened its doors and the Triple Crown was born or at least revived (got to give 1915 some type of recognition). The Triple Crown would be Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario for ten years. Only once was it accomplished. Al Unser 1978. The same year Affirmed won the American thoroughbred racing Triple Crown. Other came close from 1971-1980. Johnny Rutherford won two of three but the latter two (Indianapolis and Pocono). A.J. Foyt won the bookends the following year (Ontario and Pocono) and Bobby Unser would win the latter two (Pocono and Ontario) in 1980.

Ontario Motor Speedway would host 11 California 500s with the last one coming in 1980. Bobby Unser won the California 500 four times while his brother Al won it twice. Joining McElreath as one-time winners of the California 500 at Ontario were Joe Leonard, Roger McCluskey, Wally Dallenbach and A.J. Foyt.

In 1981, Michigan stepped up and filled the gap for Ontario. Michigan had been on the IndyCar schedule since 1968 but the longest race it held prior to 1981 was 250 miles. Pancho Carter would win the first Michigan 500. It was Carter's only IndyCar victory and it took him 78 starts to get it. Gordon Johncock won the first two legs in 1982 at Indianapolis and Michigan but finished sixth at Pocono after a gearbox failure ended his race after completing only 193 laps. Rick Mears would go on to win.

According to the Racer fact sheet, Johncock is the last driver to win two Triple Crown legs in one year and that after 1989, the Triple Crown would go dormant in IndyCar as the series did not return to Pocono after an 18-year run. However, 1989 would not be the final year to feature multiple 500-mile races in the same year. Indianapolis and Michigan still each hosted a 500-mile race. In 1991, Rick Mears accomplished The Double as he won his fourth Indianapolis 500 and the Marlboro 500 at Michigan. The Marlboro 500 victory would be Mears' 29th and final IndyCar victory. There would be two 500-mile races until 1995. And then things got messy.

We all know about the split. We all know about how dirty 1996 was. We all know there were two 500-mile races held on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend that year. The Indianapolis 500 vs. the U.S. 500. Buddy Lazier won with a broken back and Jimmy Vasser won his fourth race of the year on his way to a championship. Later that year, CART returned to Michigan for the Marlboro 500 and André Ribeiro scored his third and final IndyCar victory. The following year, the Marlboro 500 moved to the newly opened California Speedway in Fontana, California. From 1996-2001 there were three 500-mile IndyCar races a year, they were just split across two series, making the Triple Crown a near impossible task due to politics.

Politics may have made the Triple Crown a near impossible task but it was still possible and it nearly happened at the turn of the millennium. Chip Ganassi Racing went to Indianapolis for the first time since the split and Juan Montoya won the Indianapolis 500. Two months later at Michigan, Montoya won the Michigan 500. The Colombian headed into his final IndyCar race before heading to Williams F1 with a chance of being the second driver to accomplish the IndyCar Triple Crown. However, just like Johncock in 1982, it wasn't meant to be. Montoya led 33 laps and his engine failed after completing 219 laps. He would finish tenth. Christian Fittipaldi scored his second and final IndyCar victory.

After 2001, Michigan left CART to host the IRL and at that time the IRL was keen on the Indianapolis 500 being the only 500-mile race on the schedule and Michigan was shortened to 400 miles. Fontana still hosted a 500-miler though and in 2002, both the IRL and CART went to Fontana with IRL racing a 400-miler in March and CART running 500 miles in the fall. Sam Hornish, Jr. won one, Jimmy Vasser won the other. It would be the final victory of Vasser's career. CART was scheduled to run another 500-miler at Fontana in 2003 but wildfires in the San Bernardino caused what was suppose to be the CART season finale to be cancelled. The Indianapolis 500 would be the lone 500-mile race for nearly a decade.

The IRL would run 400-milers at Fontana until 2005. IndyCar would return to the track and 500-mile races places other than Indianapolis in 2012. Pocono returned in 2013 and so did the Triple Crown, however that year's race at Pocono was a 400-miler. In 2014, another 100 miles were added to the distance at Pocono. Just when thinks looked to be going up for IndyCar and 500-mile races, it appears everything is falling apart at the seams. After just two years of three 500-mile races, this year could mark the end for Fontana and Pocono. Fontana is on its fourth different date in four years and Pocono is in the final year of its deal and moved to the end of August after racing on July 4th weekend proved to be only good on paper. As someone who attended both Pocono races on July 4th weekend I am sure the mess on I-80 that the track funneled all the traffic to when the race ended turned off a few people from returning. Hopefully late August proves to be a better date and Pocono returns not just for 2016 but for many years in the future and the same goes for Fontana. Hopefully the 2-mile Southern California track is on the IndyCar schedule for a long, long time.

It is no surprise that A.J. Foyt has the most 500-mile race wins with nine (Indianapolis- 4, Pocono 4, Ontario 1). Al Unser, Rick Mears and Bobby Unser all have eight 500-mile race wins. Johnny Rutherford has five; Juan Pablo Montoya and Danny Sullivan each have four. Ninety-three different drivers have won a 500-mile IndyCar race. Nine drivers have won 500-mile races on three different tracks (Foyt, Mears, A. Unser, B. Unser, Rutherford, Montoya, Sullivan, Mario Andretti and Tony Kanaan). If Montoya were to win at Fontana this weekend, he would become the first driver to win 500-mile races at four different tracks. If Montoya doesn't win this weekend and if Tony Kanaan were to win a Pocono later this year, Kanaan would become the first driver to win 500-mile races at four different tracks. Jimmy Vasser has the most 500-mile victories to not win the Indianapolis 500 at three. The only other drivers with multiple 500-mile victories and to not win at Indianapolis are Joe Leonard, Michael Andretti and Scott Goodyear. Leonard won at Pocono and Ontario while Andretti and Goodyear both won two 500-milers at Michigan.

No surprise that the United States has produced the most 500-mile winners with 64. Brazil and the United Kingdom have each had seven drivers win a 500-miler. Four Canadians, three Italians, two Frenchmen, a Mexican, Colombian, Dutchman, Swede, New Zealander and Australian have all won a 500-mile race.

Will a 94th driver add their name to the list of 500-mile race winners? Will Montoya make history and keep his Triple Crown hopes alive? The 163rd 500-mile race in IndyCar history features a lot of interesting storylines.

List of 500-mile Race Winners
A.J. Foyt- 9
Al Unser- 8
Rick Mears- 8
Bobby Unser- 8
Johnny Rutherford- 5
Juan Pablo Montoya- 4
Danny Sullivan- 4
Louis Meyer- 3
Mauri Rose- 3
Wilbur Shaw- 3
Hélio Castroneves- 3
Dario Franchitti- 3
Mario Andretti- 3
Jimmy Vasser- 3
Al Unser, Jr.- 3
Gordon Johncock- 3
Tony Kanaan- 3
Emerson Fittipaldi- 3
Tommy Milton- 2
Bill Vukovich- 2
Rodger Ward- 2
Arie Luyendyk- 2
Dan Wheldon- 2
Mark Donohue- 2
Joe Leonard- 2
Michael Andretti- 2
Scott Goodyear- 2
Bobby Rahal- 2
Tom Sneva- 2
Ray Harroun- 1
Joe Dawson- 1
Jules Goux- 1
René Thomas- 1
Ralph DePalma- 1
Dario Resta- 1
Howdy Wilcox- 1
Gaston Chevrolet- 1
Jimmy Murphy- 1
L.L. Corum- 1
Joe Boyer- 1
Pete DePaolo- 1
Frank Lockhart- 1
George Souders- 1
Ray Keech- 1
Billy Arnold- 1
Louis Schneider- 1
Fred Frame- 1
Bill Cummings- 1
Kelly Petillo- 1
Floyd Roberts- 1
Floyd Davis- 1
George Robson- 1
Bill Holland- 1
Johnnie Parsons- 1
Lee Wallard- 1
Troy Ruttman- 1
Bill Sweikert- 1
Pat Flaherty- 1
Sam Hanks- 1
Jimmy Bryan- 1
Jim Rathmann- 1
Parnelli Jones- 1
Jim Clark- 1
Graham Hill- 1
Jacques Villeneuve- 1
Buddy Lazier- 1
Eddie Cheever- 1
Kenny Bräck- 1
Buddy Rice- 1
Gil de Ferran- 1
Sam Hornish, Jr.- 1
Scott Dixon- 1
Ryan Hunter-Reay- 1
Mark Blundell- 1
Adrián Fernández- 1
Christian Fittipaldi- 1
Cristiano da Matta- 1
Patrick Carpentier- 1
Ed Carpenter- 1
Will Power- 1
Teo Fabi- 1
Pancho Carter- 1
John Paul, Jr.- 1
Nigel Mansell- 1
Scott Pruett- 1
André Ribeiro- 1
Alex Zanardi- 1
Greg Moore- 1
Jim McElreath- 1
Roger McCluskey- 1
Wally Dallenbach- 1
Earl Cooper- 1
Johnny Aitken- 1

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Track Walk: Fontana 2015

IndyCar returns to sunny Southern California
After a week off, IndyCar is back in action as the eleventh round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The MAVTV 500 is the second leg of the IndyCar Triple Crown. Juan Pablo Montoya enters as the championship leader and having won the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Indianapolis 500 make in May. This will be the 14th IndyCar race to take place at Fontana and first to take place in the month of June. This could be the final IndyCar race at Fontana.

Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday June 26th. Green flag at 4:36 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett (Townsend Bell is racing at Watkins Glen) and Paul Tracy are in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kelli Stavast and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
Juan Pablo Montoya has 374 points and holds a 27 points lead over Will Power. Montoya is one of three drivers with two victories this season. The Australian Power has won five pole positions including the last two. Scott Dixon is 45 points behind Montoya and won the most recent oval race at Texas. Dixon also won pole position for the Indianapolis 500 earlier this season. Hélio Castroneves makes it three Penske drivers in the top four of the championship as he sits 52 points behind Montoya. Graham Rahal is the top Honda driver, fifth in the standings with 283 points.

Sébastien Bourdais is sixth in the championship, nine points behind his former Newman-Haas teammate and 100 points behind Montoya. Marco Andretti trails the Frenchman by two points while the most recent winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Josef Newgarden is eighth on 268 points.  Tony Kanaan won last year at Fontana and returns with himself ninth in the championship on 244 points. Simon Pagenaud rounds out the top ten, 142 points back of his Penske teammate who is leading the championship.

Charlie Kimball is eight points outside the top ten in the championship. Carlos Muñoz is a further eight points behind Kimball. Takuma Sato is thirteenth with an even 200 points. Ryan Hunter-Reay is six points behind Sato. Gabby Chaves founds out the top fifteen with 168 points. James Jakes is four points behind Chaves.

Driver Changes
There are four driver changes heading to Fontana.

Ed Carpenter steps into the #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet. Carpenter has finished on the podium in the last three Fontana races having won in 2012, finished second in 2013 and finished third last year. Carpenter has had two retirements in his two starts this season. Luca Filippi finished second in the #20 at Toronto, giving CFH Racing their first 1-2 finish.

Ryan Briscoe will be back behind the wheel of the #5 Arrow Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Briscoe will be making his third start of 2015. He finished 12th in the Indianapolis 500 from 33rd on the grid and finished 8th at Texas from 19th. The Australian will be making his third start at Fontana. He finished 17th in 2012 and seventh in 2014. Conor Daly drove the car at Toronto and finished 12th.

Sage Karam is back in the #8 Big Machine Records Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. Karam has made seven starts this season and has finished 12th in his last two starts. This will be Karam's first career start at Fontana. His lone Fontana appearance in Indy Lights came in 2013 where he finished 3rd, good enough for him to clinch the title. Sebastián Saavedra finished 16th at Toronto in the #8.

Pippa Mann will make her third start of 2015 as she will replace Rodolfo González in the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Mann finished 22nd at Indianapolis and 17th at Texas. This will be her second start at Fontana. She finished 25th in 2013.

Fast Facts
Juan Pablo Montoya has won four of nine 500-mile IndyCar races he has started.

Al Unser is the only drive to win the IndyCar Triple Crown having done it in 1978. That same year, Affirmed won the American Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. On June 6th, American Pharoah became the first horse since Affirmed to win the Triple Crown.

Chevrolet has won the last 16 pole positions dating back to last year. In that time frame, three races had the starting grid set by owners' points. The last Honda pole position came for Houston 1 where Simon Pagenaud won his first career pole position.

This will be the eight IndyCar race to take place on June 27th. The most recent race to take place on June 27th was in 2009 at Richmond and Scott Dixon won that race. That has been the most recent IndyCar race at Richmond.

Jimmy Vasser, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Adrián Fernandez each have two race victories at Fontana. Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Tony Kanaan are the only active drivers with victories at Fontana.

Chevrolet has won the last three Fontana races and five of the last eight. Honda has three victories at Fontana. Ford also has three victories at Fontana. Mercedes and Toyota each have one Fontana victory.

Only two of the previous 13 Fontana races have been won from pole position. Dario Franchitti (2005) and Will Power (2012) are the two drivers to accomplish that.

Only once has a Fontana winner started outside the top ten. Adrián Fernandez won from 13th in 1999.

Chevrolet has swept the top four positions in the last two Fontana races.

The least amount of lead changes in a Fontana race is 13, which occurred in the inaugural Fontana race in 1997, won by Mark Blundell. The average amount of lead changes in Fontana races is 30.769.

This will be the third IndyCar race of 2015 in which Steve Matchett will be a color commentator. Matchett was in the booth at Barber and Toronto. Josef Newgarden won both of those races.

Possible Milestones:
Should Will Power take the green flag, he will make his 150 IndyCar races.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 164 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 162 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 65 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led club.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 45 laps to join the 1,000 laps led club.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 97 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 300 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 24 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball needs to lead 5 laps to reach the 100 laps led milestone.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 3 laps to reach the 100 laps led milestone.

Hélio Castroneves is one second place finish away from passing Bobby Rahal for second all-time in second place finishes. Rahal and Castroneves are tied with 37 runner-up finishes.

Dan Wheldon would have turned 37 years old on Monday. Can you name the drivers who finished runner-up to Dan Wheldon in his 16 IndyCar victories?

Juan Pablo Montoya keeps his Triple Crown hopes alive and wins his fifth 500-mile race. Less than three Honda cars qualify in the top ten. One Honda will finish in the top five. There will be at least 22 lead changes. At least one driver will lead their first laps of the season during a pit stop cycle. At least one driver will either gain two positions in the championship standings or lose two positions in the championship standings after this race. Sleeper: Takuma Sato.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

Summer is here. A nice bow has been placed on Spring 2015 and now it is summer's turn to take center stage. Someone hit the century mark this weekend. There was another endurance race in France. It was a great weekend for Nissan after an abysmal weekend at Le Mans. NASCAR keeps getting rained on and their top series was off. A certain Belgian keeps on winning. Nico Rosberg won the Austrian Grand Prix with Lewis Hamilton making it a Mercedes 1-2 and Felipe Massa rounding out the podium. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't
Last Tuesday, the story broke that IndyCar could be on the verge of returning to Road America. When I first saw it I thought, "Didn't we just do this with Cleveland? Didn't we just have a story that Cleveland was on the verge of returning and that all turned out to be as good as ocean front property in Arizona?"

I am skeptical. I want Road America to return. Many people want Road America to return. Then there was the kicker: Road America's return would likely come at the cost of Milwaukee. IndyCar can't lose Milwaukee. The problem for Milwaukee is it has had three different dates the last three years. Of course the crowd size is going to fluctuate with that kind of inconsistency. Not to mention that this year's race will begin at 4:00 p.m. local time on a Sunday. Could they have picked a worse time for that race to start? The answer is no. Milwaukee needs one date and start at a reasonable time of day (perhaps brunch time). One date that would forever be known as Milwaukee weekend.

Milwaukee had that. It was the week after the Indianapolis 500. It needs that weekend back. NASCAR did the right thing this year after a decade of stupidly running the Southern 500 on a weekend that wasn't Labor Day weekend. IndyCar needs to put Milwaukee back to the week after the Indianapolis 500.

I know Belle Isle has claimed that weekend but deep down we all know Belle Isle could be any weekend from the middle of June to Labor Day weekend in terms of climate and draw the same type of crowd. Chevrolet wants it the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 and with Roger Penske in charge of the Belle Isle weekend he probably likes that it's the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 as well.

However, what if it's for the better of IndyCar to have Belle Isle be a weekend other than the weekend after Indianapolis? We have seen the schedule from hell the teams were up against this year. It was non-stop from May through the middle of June and the Belle Isle weekend was the midway point. Perhaps it would be better for the teams, both physically in terms of the human bodies that comprise race teams and in terms of equipment that Belle Isle move to another date in the summer.

IndyCar needs to release the vice grip that is currently on the IndyCar schedule. It is benefitting no one. It would have been one thing if IndyCar condensed the schedule to end by Labor Day if IndyCar was making billions of dollars a year, team members were making on average $85,000 a year and there were sixteen races on the schedule with an additional two dozen race tracks from around the globe lining-up to host an IndyCar race but IndyCar isn't making billions of dollars a year, team members aren't making on average $85,000 a year and tracks aren't lining up to bring IndyCar to town.

It is time for IndyCar and the bigwigs led by Mark Miles to realize they are not as powerful as they think they are and it is time to do what works for the best everybody, from the crew members who work on the cars to the track owners around the country to the drivers and teams owners.

Here is my proposed schedule for next year and this isn't a wild, nostalgia-glazed schedule. This is a realistic schedule.

March 20: St. Petersburg
April 3: NOLA
April 17: Long Beach
April 24: Barber
May 14: Grand Prix of Indianapolis
May 21-22: Indianapolis 500 qualifying
May 29: 100th Indianapolis 500
June 4: Milwaukee
June 11: Texas
July 2-3: Belle Isle
July 10: Toronto
July 16: Iowa
August 7: Mid-Ohio
August 21: Pocono
August: 28: Sonoma
September 4: Boston
September 17: Road America
October 1: Fontana

This is a schedule I think makes more sense than the abominations IndyCar produced the last two seasons. The first four races would take place over six weeks. We might need to find a replacement for NOLA. Perhaps Phoenix? Or Laguna Seca? Or Austin? We can worry about that later. There would be two weeks off before heading into the Indianapolis races. I put Milwaukee on a Saturday so it doesn't fall on Le Mans test day and it would allow the drivers to get to Le Mans if they needed to seeing as IndyCar would be off for the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 18-19.

There would be a five-week stretch from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis to Texas but there would be two weeks off after that. Belle Isle would be 4th of July weekend and be apart of a three-week stretch of races but that would be followed by two weeks off. After Mid-Ohio would be an off-week before a three-week stretch from Pocono to Sonoma to Boston. After Boston would be a week off.

Then would come Road America. While the people in charge of IndyCar are deathly and I mean DEATHLY and irrationally afraid of racing during American football season, all I can say to them is suck it up. For the better of the series, they have to do it. Now racing in football-loving Wisconsin isn't ideal, but racing on a Saturday made more sense than Sunday. First, you can't possibly go head-to-head with a Green Bay Packers game. That makes no sense. The Wisconsin Badgers are very popular but they are scheduled to play Georgia State on September 17, 2016. I think a race could have a chance against a non-conference game, especially if it's an IndyCar-Pirelli World Challenge doubleheader with it being the PWC season finale. Plus, with IndyCar and NASCAR both being on NBCSN, the IndyCar race could lead-in to a NASCAR Grand National Series race.

Slightly off-topic but IndyCar has to race in September and it would probably be smart if IndyCar raced somewhere that isn't football crazy in September. The first place that comes to mind is Portland, Oregon. Would a return to Portland be successful in September? I don't know but it's what came to mind and it's a city where IndyCar could be the premier event and not have to worry about having a college or professional football game hogging up the spotlight. To be fair, the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer are huge in the city and if they had a match it would take away from the race but perhaps IndyCar and the Timbers could work together to make sure the race occurs when the Timbers are on the road. But I digress. IndyCar isn't returning to Portland anytime soon even if it makes sense to.

Back on-topic. After a week off following Road America, the season would end the first weekend in October, a Saturday night race at Fontana. And this race can't begin at 10:00 p.m. ET. The race would have to begin no later than 8:00 p.m. ET and buy the drivers sunglasses to deal with the setting sun. Hell, Sunglass Hut could sponsor the damn race. The only problem with this weekend would be it possibly falling the same night as Petit Le Mans, the final race of the IMSA season. Hopefully, the two series would be able to work something out so the two season finales don't go head-to-head, like they did in 2013.

The benefits of this schedule would be IndyCar does something popular and moves Milwaukee back to the week after the Indianapolis 500, Milwaukee and Road America would both be on the schedule and there would be enough spacing between the two races, there would be more off weeks during the season and the season would end in October at Fontana, a date Fontana has wanted.

IndyCar might want to end by Labor Day but the series can't end by Labor Day. It has strained the teams too much and has forced tracks to dates they never wanted. IndyCar needs to focus on being a racing series. IndyCar needs to accept that racing in September and October are what is best for the series even if it's not what the suits really want.

Fratelli d'Italia
While IndyCar has the prospect of choosing between either Milwaukee or Road America, Bernie Ecclestone is creating a similar situation in the Formula One world with the great motorsports nation of Italy.

The Formula One money czar is looking to have Imola return to the Formula One schedule but it may come at the cost of Monza. The 84-year old Brit is suggesting the two-famed circuits share the Italian Grand Prix on a rotating basis, similar to how the Nürburgring and Hockenheim shared the German Grand Prix up to this year. Imola hosted 27 Formula One Grands Prix but has not been on the Formula One calendar since 2006. Monza has hosted 64 of 65 Italian Grands Prix since 1950. The only year Monza did not host the Italian Grand Prix in that time frame was in 1980 when Imola hosted the famed race.

Just like IndyCar with Milwaukee and Road America, why doesn't Formula One go to both? Revive the San Marino Grand Prix and have Imola kick off the European portion of the Formula One season like it did for so many years. Instead of heading to Azerbaijan, a country with human rights records worse than Indiana Hoosiers football, have a second race in a country that is already Formula One crazy.

The talk about "money lacking" to save the Italian Grand Prix from Ecclestone is complete and utter crap. Formula One isn't hurting for money. Formula One isn't IndyCar where it lives and dies on sanctioning fees. It hasn't been that way for nearly two decades. Formula One, just like the NFL and the Premier League, lives on television revenue. Television revenue covers everything for Formula One. Sanctioning fees are just lining the pockets, the icing on the cake, the refrigerator, washer and dryer that come with your new home. Formula One doesn't need to worry about sanctioning fees and there is no reason why sanctioning fees increase every year. Formula One should work with tracks for the best deal for both sides; deals where both sides can make money and be happy or is that just too logical to actually happen?

What a World We Live In
After writing the two sections above, I find myself once again baffled at how all these major motorsports series from around the globe are in the same place: They aren't happy with themselves and others aren't happy with them.

As much as IndyCar needs to go to Milwaukee, Formula One needs to go to Monza and yet both are willing to rip each out and leave a hole in their respective quilts. NASCAR is having issues with aero packages. IMSA is in a state of uncertainty. The honeymoon ended at Long Beach for Pirelli World Challenge. World Rally teams are upset with the length of their events. Is anyone happy?

And yet we are coming off the greatest story of the last decade, perhaps two decades, in all of motorsports and that's Nico Hülkenberg, a full-time Formula One driver, bucking the trend of specialization in motorsports, running the 24 Hours of Le Mans and winning it with Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy. Hülkenberg's victory has created sparks, making people realize what once made motorsports great: Drivers bouncing around the globe, driving anything and everything and letting their talents shine on many different stages. Whether Hülkenberg's sparks ignite a fire of the top drivers globetrotting and getting behind the wheel of everything imaginable remains to be seen.

As much as I want to type that the FIA World Endurance Championship is the one major series in the world where everything is positive, we have the potential debacle that could be the 2017 LMP2 regulations close to becoming reality. And yet, despite the LMP2 issues, I am still going to say FIA WEC is the one major series where everything is going right. I look at FIA WEC and you manufactures allowed to be manufactures. The competition we've seen in LMP1 has been as close as it has ever been in the premiere prototype class and it is all coming with the three leading manufactures running producing three entirely different engine packages and the competition in GTE has been just good as in LMP1. To me, the strength of WEC is that the series is worried about being a motorsports series first. They aren't worried about television ratings. They let the manufactures be manufactures.

I think we as fans lose sight of why these series exist and why all sports leagues exists. These leagues and organizations were created for people to compete; for people of a certain skill set to go head-to-head. They weren't created to make billions of dollars in television revenue and millions of dollars off tickets and hot dogs. Over time though, people chose to watch these people compete in these many different sports and all of a sudden organizers found another way to make a few dollars. These organized professional leagues across many different sports weren't created to entertain us fans; we chose to watch. Now, however, it has become too much about the fans. We have lost sight of why these leagues exist. They are not to entertain, they are to allow for competition, whether people chose to watch is up to them but many chose to watch. However, more and more series are focusing on the "wow factor" and worried about getting attention while ignoring competition.

Instead of series trying to be something they are not, they should focus on who they are. Motorsports series should stop pandering, stop jumping up and down saying, "look over here! Look at me! Watch this!" and just be themselves. Do your own thing and people might start noticing a series' originality instead of trying to be another fish going with the flow.

Going to end on European Formula Three and it has been a terrible last two rounds for the championship.

Let's go back to Monza on the final weekend of May where two of the three races ended under a red flag. The second race of the Monza weekend ended after multiple safety car periods. The first major incident occurring on lap four as Canadian Lance Stoll forced Italian Antonio Giovinazzi to the edge of the race track and caused contact. The incident flipped the Canadian multiple times. Both would get out of their cars under their own power. The incident that would end the race involved Michele Beretta, who clipped the back of another car on lap thirteen and it sent him into a barrel roll. He would also walk away and the race was called after 14 laps.

The first incident in the third race was on the start and involved American Ryan Tveter ran into the back of Fabian Schiller. On lap four, Canadian Lance Stroll proved exactly why paving over the exit of the Parabolica was a mistake as he drove himself and Dane Mikkel Jansen off course. Heading into turn one the following lap, Jansen clipped the back of Stroll, ending his race. The race was so bad that the stewards actually put the entire race under investigation and put up a graphic saying exactly that. Think about that. The stewards actually had to conduct an investigation into whether it was a good idea to be running that race at all and they called it after eight laps.

Fast forward to this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps. In race two of the weekend; Stroll and Jansen were involved in another accident. This time on lap six. As the Canadian was leading the Dane heading down the Kemmel straight when Jansen made a move to the outside of Stroll and Stroll's teammate, Felix Rosenqvist in third made a look to the outside of Jansen. Stroll drove into the Dane, forcing Jansen into Rosenqvist and ending all three of their races.

That wasn't all. On lap ten, American Gustavo Menezes had a massive accident after being blocked heading down the Kemmel straightaway by Frenchman Brendan Maïsano. The Frenchman forced Menezes to track limits and Menezes clipped the back of Maïsano. Menaces race was over, Maïsano ended up finishing fourth.

The good news is penalties were finally handed down. Stroll was banned from taking part in race three and Maïsano was handed a three-grid spot penalty for race three. They both should have been banned for race three and Stroll should have to sit out at least the next round at Norisring in a week's time and Zandvoort in the middle of July. These poor driving standards isn't just a Formula Three issue, it is a general problem around all junior series around the globe. See Indy Lights at Toronto. Drivers have no problem forcing another car to the edge of racetrack or trying to slam the door on another driver entering a corner. The current generation of drivers has grown up at a time where their first taste of motorsports was likely on a video game where you can wreck a thousand times a day with no consequences whatsoever. Guess what? In the real world, you can't just hit restart when you have an accident. Someone is going to get hurt or worse if this quality of driving continues.

This is a very serious issue. You might be thinking, "it's just a Formula Three race, what's the big deal?" The big deal is that someday in the very near future these drivers will be in Formula One or IndyCar or DTM or FIA WEC or Blancpain GT or Pirelli World Challenge or IMSA. These drivers will enter the professional ranks and if they aren't punished for making moronic driving decisions now, they will continue to make them as they move up.

While you were probably thinking, "well these drivers causing the accidents are just the bottom of the barrel and won't make it to a professional series," you're wrong. Stroll and Maïsano are apart or were of the Ferrari Driver Academy.  They are top prospects and they have shown it on the track. Stroll and Maïsano finished first and second in the Toyota Racing Series this past January and February and Stroll won the 2014 Italian Formula 4 championship. They have talent but they need to hone in their skills.

I notice in these junior series that drivers don't realize how long a race is. Sure, these races are only a half hour or 45 minutes in length and compared to a Formula One or IndyCar race, which are close to two hours in length, they are shorter but that doesn't mean it's not a long race. There is a lot of time in a junior series race and drivers aren't making sure they at least bring the car home. They are driving as if every single lap is the final lap and that is a terrible strategy. It sounds great on paper but it's horrible. That's like if a quarterback acted like every pass was the final one of the game and it had to be a Hail Mary to the end zone. That quarterback would not make it very long playing like that and the same can be said for these drivers.

In junior series, the key thing is getting track time and these drivers won't get that if they keep running into each other four laps into a race. Drivers need to be sidelined if they are reckless and sidelined for a significant period of time to get that point across. I don't care that Lance Stroll's daddy is a billionaire. His son is driving like a dangerous idiot and he needs sometime away from the car to get the message that if he keeps driving like that, he will not be a racecar driver very long.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Nico Rosberg but did you know...

The #23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 of Alex Buncombe, Katsumasa Chiyo and Wolfgang Reip won the Blancpain Endurance Series 1000km at Circuit Paul Ricard.

Stoffel Vandoorne continues his streak of winning GP2 feature races as the Belgian won his fourth consecutive of 2015 at the Red Bull Ring. Rio Haryanto won the sprint race. American Alexander Rossi finished sixth and eighth in the two races.

Luca Ghiotto and Óscar Tunjo split the GP3 races in Austria and Ghiotto took the championship lead with his victory and a fourth.

Chaz Mostert won the first V8 Supercars race at Hidden Valley Racing. Craig Lowndes won the second race and that was Lowndes' 100th V8SC victory. David Reynolds won the Sunday race. It was Reynolds' second career V8SC race victory. Mostert now has three career race victories.

Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea split the World Superbike races at Misano. Jules Cluzel won his second consecutive World Supersport race. P.J. Jacobsen finished second to Cluzel in WSS.

The #46 MOLA Nissan GT-R of Satoshi Motoyama and Masataka Yanagida won the Super GT race in Thailand. The #3 NDDP Racing with B-MAX Nissan GT-R GT3 of Kazuki Hoshino and Mitsunori Takaboshi won in GT300.

Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb split the WTCC races in Slovakia.

Erik Jones won the NASCAR Truck race at Iowa on Friday night. The Grand National Series race at Chicagoland was postponed due to rain to Sunday and Erik Jones won that race as well.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads to Fontana for 500 miles.
NASCAR is also in the Golden State except further north at Sonoma.
Formula E ends their inaugural season with a doubleheader in London.
MotoGP will run the Dutch TT.
DTM head to the Norisring.
Speaking of Road America, Pirelli World Challenge will be in Elkhart Lake this weekend.
IMSA will run the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen.
Paul Ricard is busy for a second consecutive week as WTCC heads to the track in southern France.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Brunch and More

Records fell at Le Mans. IndyCar had another wet-to-dry race. NASCAR had races in two different states hampered by rain. Marc Márquez has suddenly morphed into Takuma Sato. And World Rally was in Italy and I genuinely have no clue what happened there. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Rapid Fire
First, I will be taking a week off after Monday. Fresh off Le Mans and with IndyCar finally taking a week off and NASCAR taking a week off, I am going to take a week off. No posts for a week. Twitter will be mostly quiet for a week. I am taking a break. But I will be back.

This week I am just going to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. If you like anything you read below, let me know on Twitter.

Most IndyCar races should begin at 11:00 a.m. local time. Why? Because it would be unique. IndyCar would become the brunch series. When you think brunch, you'd think IndyCar. Plus, people love brunch. I dare you to find someone who hates brunch. IndyCar needs something positive to associate with and brunch would be the perfect partner.

Races would be completed before NASCAR races start and that is crucial as NBC picks up the latter half of the NASCAR schedule. The Mid-Ohio IndyCar race will be on CNBC because NASCAR at Pocono will be happening simultaneously. If the Mid-Ohio race began at 11:00 a.m. it could be completed by 1:00 p.m. and could lead into Pocono on NBCSN, which could go green a little after 1:30.

What about support series? Run a few before and a few after. Take Toronto for example. Have U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda prior to the IndyCar race. Then have the IndyCar race. After the IndyCar race could be Indy Lights, GT3 Cup Canada and Stadium Super Trucks. There could be a post race autograph session for the fans. Race would be over by 1:00 p.m. At 2:30 p.m., have a post race autograph session, fans could be out of there by 3:30 or 4:00 p.m. and home at a reasonable time for dinner.

Think of the sponsorship opportunities for brunch races. Pillsbury, General Mills, Tropicana, Folgers, Keurig, etc. And it would benefit viewers around the world. Instead of making European fan wait until 9:00 p.m. for a race to start, a race such as Toronto would begin at 5:00 p.m. in Europe. West coast races, such as Long Beach, would begin at 2:00 p.m. ET and 8:00 p.m. Central European. Texas and Iowa could still be night races. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis could still be Saturday afternoon and the season finale could be at another time but the remaining races should be held at brunch time.

Can IndyCar get rid of the morning warm-up session? It's an unnecessary 45-minute session and if the teams really wanted to save money they would support it being dropped as well. The morning warm-up is just another chance to damage equipment. There is nothing else that can be learned between qualifying and the race because no one is going to take a risk and try an entirely new setup at the last minute. Get rid of it. You would have more time for support races and the IndyCar race could start earlier.

We all know Ford is return to sports car racing with the Ford GT and Chip Ganassi is fielding the cars. I don't know if there are going to be two IMSA teams and two WEC teams or if it's going to be like Porsche where drivers run both IMSA and WEC but here is my idea for what Ford and Ganassi should do next year:

Have the full-time drivers be Joey Hand, Ryan Briscoe, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Kevin Éstre. All are solid drivers and experienced in GTE competition. For Le Mans, bring in Richard Westbrook and Andy Priaulx, two more drivers with loads of GTE experience. Then, depending on if the ACO gives Ford an invitation for a third Ford GT, run a car of Scott Pruett, Scott Dixon and Jeff Gordon. This would be a final hooray for Pruett before retirement. Dixon is a no brainer because he is a New Zealander and it will be the 50th anniversary of New Zealanders Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon winning Le Mans in the Ford GT40 Mk. II. Gordon is poetic. We know he has said he wants to run Le Mans and he says with Corvette because he has been in NASCAR and brand loyalty is shoved down everyone's throat. But offer him a chance to drive a Ford GT in its return to Le Mans and dare him to say no. Plus, it would be poetic because over two decades ago Gordon was driving for Ford and Bill Davis Racing and they let him go to Hendrick Motorsports and the rest is history. Money wouldn't be the issue, Ganassi and Ford will just have to be willing to part with it.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden and everything that happened at Le Mans but did you know...

Jorge Lorenzo won the MotoGP Catalan Grand Prix, his fourth consecutive victory. Johann Zarco won in Moto2 and Denny Kent ended his winless streak in Moto3 at two.

Spencer Pigot swept the Indy Lights weekend at Toronto. Florian Latorre and Canadian Garret Grist split the Pro Mazda race. Jake Eidson and Nico Jamin split the U.S. F2000 races.

Kurt Busch won a rain-shortened NASCAR Cup race at Michigan. His brother Kyle won the second division race in his return to the series after suffering his leg injury at Daytona. Cole Custer won the Truck race at Gateway, which was significantly delayed by rain.

Sébastien Ogier won Rally d'Italia Sardegna.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One heads to Von Trapp country.
Blancpain Endurance Series will run 1000km around Paul Ricard.
V8 Supercars will spend the winter solstice at Hidden Valley Raceway.
The British Empire looks to continue their World Superbike domination at Misano.
Super GT makes their second trip to Thailand.
WTCC will be in Slovakia.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

First Impressions: Toronto 2015

1. Sometimes they fall into your lap. That's what happened today. Race started in the wet, the track quickly dried and everyone switched to slicks. Josef Newgarden and Carlos Muñoz made pit stops, a caution came out for James Jakes stalling and they were in the catbird seat as the rest of the field had to pit. Muñoz unfortunately retired but Josef Newgarden went on to dominated and won his second race of his season and his career. Newgarden kept his nose clean, held everyone off and he wasn't caught by a caution. Sometimes they fall into your lap.

2. Luca Filippi finished second, his first career podium in IndyCar. He is a talented driver and this is what he can do. He has had some hiccups but he has four top tens this season. He made a very nice pass on Hélio Castroneves when it appeared Castroneves was going to come out behind Newgarden and it was a massive pass as Filippi's second gave CFH Racing their first 1-2 finish in the teams history.

3. Speaking of Hélio Castroneves, he finished third as he went somewhat off strategy and was able to pit and come out inside the top five. These are the races Castroneves puts together. He doesn't dominate races. He piles up top tens and that's what keeps him in the championship hunt. But while it keeps him in the hunt, it has yet to get him the title and only time will tell if it works this season. So far, though, Castroneves still has some ground to make up.

4. Will Power finished fourth. After everyone switch to slicks, Power wasn't a factor. He couldn't keep up with Newgarden and unfortunately for him, Castroneves was able to come out ahead of him after his pit stop. Power had a podium lined up and it just didn't come his way. He has had a good season after winning his championship but this isn't the Will Power we are use to seeing.

5. Sébastien Bourdais with a fifth at Toronto, his fifth consecutive top ten at Exhibition Place. It's been a solid season for Bourdais. He is constantly on the heels of the Penskes and he has a victory. It would not be surprising if he got another victory this season. As for the championship, it's probably just out of his grasp unless he wins out.

6. Tony Kanaan finished sixth. He led a few laps during the final pit cycle and that was it. Kanaan has never been a great road course driver. He is good on road courses and can run solidly in the top ten but he's not great. Look at the facts. He has two road/street circuit wins in his career and both came pre-reunification IRL. He can qualify in the top ten and stay there but he has never had it to turn a good car into a winning car on a road or street course. That might be tough for some of you to hear.

7. Juan Pablo Montoya scores his best career finish at Toronto with seventh. Prior to that, his best finish at Toronto was 18th. He loses a little ground in the championship but not a lot. Heading to three consecutive ovals (Fontana, Milwaukee, Iowa) could play right into his hand as he looks for his second IndyCar championship.

8. Scott Dixon finished eighth. He was never a factor in this one but he stayed out of harms way and he got a top ten.

9. Graham Rahal was the top Honda in ninth and he made some nice passes, including two in consecutive corners where he passed Takuma Sato in turn four after being side-by-side in turn three and then picked off Simon Pagenaud in turn five, a corner where passing is near impossible.

10. Takuma Sato finished tenth. Not bad. He kept his nose clean and it paid off.

11. Highlights from the back half of the field: Simon Pagenaud finished 11th after starting second. He needs a break. Conor Daly finished 12th after starting 19th. I understand why Schmidt Peterson Motorsports would hire Ryan Briscoe for the remainder of the season but someone has to give Daly a shot. Marco Andretti was the top Andretti car in 13th. As you know from above, Muñoz retired and Ryan Hunter-Reay had a problem on the final lap cost him a few positions. Jack Hawksworth finished 14th and Gabby Chaves was the top rookie in 15th.

12. After the disaster in NOLA, IndyCar has had three good races in the wet. Both Detroit races were pretty good and this one, which some predicted would be mostly laps under yellow, was pretty good. Now the teams get a much-deserved week off. Fontana rounds out June. It could be worse. It could have been Houston.

Porsche Scores 17th Victory in 83rd Le Mans

For the first time since 1998, Porsche has won Le Mans. The #19 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Nico Hülkenberg, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy took the checkered flag, completing 395 laps, giving the German manufacture a record extending 17th Le Mans victory. Hülkenberg and Bamber win on their Le Mans debuts while Tandy wins in his third Le Mans start, first in the LMP1 class.

Tandy becomes the 30th different British driver to win at Le Mans, breaking a tie with France for country with most winning drivers for a nation. Tandy's win is the 42nd time a Brit has won at Le Mans and the United Kingdom is now tied with France for most wins for a nation. Bamber becomes the first New Zealander to win at Le Mans since Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon won the 1966 race in the Ford GT40 Mk. II. Hülkenberg is the 18th German to win at Le Mans and this is Germany's 29th Le Mans victory.

The #17 Porsche of Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard came home second, one lap down and top of FIA World Endurance Championship eligible entry. The #7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Benoît Tréluyer, André Lotterer and Marcel Fässler rounded out the overall podium, two laps down. The #8 Audi of Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval and Oliver Jarvis finished fourth, four laps down with the pole-sitting #18 Porsche of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb rounding out the top five, eight laps back.

The #2 Toyota TS040 of Alexander Wurz, Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin finished sixth with the #9 Audi of Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and René Rast in seventh. The defending world champions, #1 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima finished eighth.

The #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan of Richard Bradley, Matthew Howson and Nicolas Lapierre won in LMP2 and finished ninth overall. The KCMG Oreca started on pole in class and dominated the race. It is the first Le Mans class victory for all three KCMG drivers. Jota Sport made a valiant effort for back-to-back LMP2 victories at Le Mans but fell short, as the #38 Gibson-Nissan of Oliver Turvey, Simon Dolan and Mitch Evans finished second in class, tenth overall. The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Sam Bird, Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal rounded out the class podium, 11th overall. The top three in LMP2 all completed 358 laps.

Corvette overcame the adversity of having to withdraw the #63 Corvette after a practice accident on Thursday as the #64 Corvette of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor won in GTE-Pro, completing 337 laps and finished 17th overall. It is Corvette's first win since 2011. Gavin picks up his fifth class victory but first since 2006. This is Milner's second Le Mans class victory. He was apart of the winning Corvette in 2011. This is Taylor's first class victory at Le Mans, joining his father Wayne as a class winner at Le Mans. Like Porsche, the Taylor family's last Le Mans victory was in 1998 when Wayne won in LMP1 driving a Ferrari 333 SP with Eric van de Poele and Fermín Velez.

The #71 and #51 AF Corse Ferraris finished second and third in class. Davide Rigon, James Calado and Olivier Beretta take second with Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella in third. The #51 was leading until two hours to go when they suffered a mechanical failure, forcing them into the garage for nearly a half hour. The #71 finished five laps back of the #64 Corvette with the #51 seven laps back.

The big surprise came in GTE-Am. The #98 Aston Martin had a two-lap lead entering the final hour but Paul Dalla Lana had accident with 45 minutes to go at the Ford chicane ending his hopes as well as those of Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda. The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Viktor Shaitar, Andrea Bertolini and Aleksey Basov won the GTE-Am class; completing 332 laps with the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Marco Seefried, Patrick Demspey and Patrick Long finishing second, one lap back. The #62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Jeff Segal, Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, all Le Mans rookies, finished third in GTE-Am, two laps off the #72 Ferrari.

The next round of the FIA WEC season will be August 30th from the Nürburgring.

Morning Warm-Up: Toronto 2015

Will Power looks to take championship lead from Juan Pablo Montoya at Toronto
For the fifth time in 2015, Will Power will start on pole position. This is the Australian 41st pole position, tying him with Rick Mears for fifth all-time. Despite winning being a two-time winner at Exhibition Place, Power's average finish at Toronto is 9.6 with four consecutive finishes of 15th or worse before Power finished ninth and third last year. Simon Pagenaud makes it an all-Penske row one, his best start since starting second at St. Petersburg. Pagenaud's best Toronto is fourth. Juan Pablo Monotya makes it an all-Penske top three. The Colombian and championship leader has an average finish of 20.75 in four Toronto starts. Montoya's best Toronto finish is 18th. Scott Dixon will start fourth. He is looking for consecutive victories for the first time since 2013 when he won three straight by winning at Pocono and sweeping the Toronto doubleheader. Only once has Dixon won consecutive races in a season and not won the title; that was 2007. Last year's Toronto 1 winner, Sébastien Bourdais starts fifth. The Frenchman has four consecutive top ten finishes in Toronto. Luca Filippi rounds out the top six. This is the Italians best start since starting since starting sixth in Toronto 1 last year.

Hélio Castroneves starts seventh. The Brazilian finished second in at least one Toronto race the last two years but his average Toronto finish is 13.25 in twelve starts. Takuma Sato will start eighth. The Japanese driver has finished 20th or worse in five of seven Toronto starts but he did finish fifth in race two last year. Tony Kanaan starts ninth. He finished third and second last year at Exhibition Place. Graham Rahal rounds out the top ten. His father Bobby won the most recent IndyCar race to take place on June 14th. Bobby won at Portland on June 14, 1987. It was Bobby's first win of that season as he went on to win the 1987 championship. Josef Newgarden and James Jakes will round out row six. Newgarden has never finished in the top ten at Toronto while Jakes' best Toronto finish is eighth.

Carlos Muñoz starts 13th, which is the worst position a Toronto winner has started from. Muñoz's team owner Michael Andretti won from 13th in 2001. Jack Hawksworth starts 14th. The Brit finished sixth in Toronto 2 last year. Charlie Kimball rounds out the top fifteen. Kimball's first career podium came at Toronto in 2012. He finished second. The man Kimball finished second to in 2012 is the man who will join him on row eight, Ryan Hunter-Reay. The 2012 champion has yet to lead a lap in 2015.

Sebastián Saavedra starts 17th. He was set to advance to round two of qualifying but had his best lap invalidated for causing a yellow flag within the final five minutes of his group. Marco Andretti joins Saavedra on row nine. Andretti has six top tens in eight Toronto starts and his average starting position at Toronto is 15.5. Look for Andretti to make up some ground in the race. Rookies Conor Daly and Stefano Coletti round out the top twenty. Daly finished sixth in his most recent IndyCar start at Belle Isle. Coletti will make his debut at Exhibition Place.

Tristan Vautier will start 21st. He finished 19th and 16th in his only two Toronto starts in 2013. Gabby Chaves will start 22nd. The Colombian finished third and second in his two Indy Lights starts at Toronto. Rodolfo González will round out the grid in 23rd. The Venezuelan had an accident in qualifying that caused a red flag and negated his two fastest laps.

NBCSN's coverage of the Honda Indy Toronto will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:37 p.m. ET.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Track Walk: Toronto 2015

IndyCar heads to Toronto, the final street circuit of 2015
The 2015 Honda Indy Toronto marks the tenth round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. For the 31st time, IndyCar will head to Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Scott Dixon is coming off his second victory of 2015 and second career victory at Texas. He led a Ganassi 1-2 with Tony Kanaan finishing right behind him. Hélio Castroneves rounded out the podium at Texas.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday June 13th. Green flag at 3:37 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett (Townsend Bell is racing at Le Mans) and Paul Tracy are in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
Juan Pablo Montoya remains the championship leader for another week as the Colombian and 2015 Indianapolis 500 winner sits on 348 points. Thirty-five points behind Montoya is his Penske teammate and defending champion Will Power. Scott Dixon is eight points back of Power. Hélio Castroneves is 62 points behind Montoya as Penske holds three of the top four position. Graham Rahal rounds out the top five, trailing Montoya by 87 points.

Marco Andretti is 93 points back in sixth and coming off three consecutive top five finishes. Sébastien Bourdais is 11 points behind Andretti. Eighth through eleventh in the championship are covered by two points. Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan are tied for eighth with 215 points. Newgarden owns the tiebreaker with his victory at Barber. Kanaan's second at Texas is his best finish this season. Charlie Kimball rounds out the top ten, a point behind Newgarden and Kanaan. Toronto is the sight of Kimball's first career podium, which came in 2012. Simon Pagenaud has 213 points in 11th.

Andretti Autosport teammates Carlos Muñoz and Ryan Hunter-Reay are 12th and 13th in the championship respectively. The Colombian has 208 points while the American has 183 points. Takuma Sato is 14th with 180 points. James Jakes rounds out the top fifteen with 155 points. Rookie Gabby Chaves is two points behind Jakes and Jack Hawksworth is 20 points back of his fellow countryman.

Can Bourdais Repeat?
The four-time champion Sébastien Bourdais has a victory this season and finds himself on the fringe of championship contention. Last year, Bourdais scored his first victory since returning to IndyCar in the first race from Toronto. The Canadian street circuit has been one of the better circuits to Bourdais with two victories, five podiums, seven top fives, ten top tens, four pole positions and an average finish of 5.18 in 11 starts in Toronto.

This season, Bourdais has the best average starting position for a non-Penske or Ganassi driver at 8.57. The Frenchman is one of four drivers to advance to the second round of qualifying in all five road/street course qualifying sessions this season but has only advanced to the Fast Six twice. Bourdais also has the seventh best average finish this season at 9.44.

Can CFH Bounce Back?
Most have overacted to CFH Racing's rough weekends at Belle Isle and Texas and have labeled the season as a disappointment to this point of 2015 despite Josef Newgarden being eighth in the championship and having picked up his first career victory at Barber. Luca Filippi has three top ten finishes, more than Mike Conway had in a dozen starts last season. The only difference is that Filippi's three top tens have been finishes of ninth, tenth and ninth while Conway's two top tens were each victories, one of which came at Toronto last year.

Filippi raced at Toronto last year for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and started sixth in race one but retired after 17 laps. In race two, the Italian had to start last because the field was set by entrant points and he finished on the lead lap in 16th despite causing a safety car and having a 30-second time penalty added for having work done when the pit lane was closed.

Toronto has not been kind to Newgarden. He was in position for his career in first Toronto start in 2012 but he was blocked by Simon Pagenaud in the closing laps, causing damage to Newgarden's car and forcing him to finish a lap down. In 2013, Newgarden stalled on the start in race one and he finished 23rd. In race two, Newgarden finished 11th. Last year, he finished two laps down in 20th in race one and finished 13th in race two despite leading seven laps.

Driver Changes
Conor Daly returns to the #5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Ryan Briscoe was in the car at Texas but the Australian is competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Daly finished 19th and sixth at Belle Isle in the #5 and he led 12 laps. Briscoe finished eighth at Texas meaning the #5 heads to Toronto off consecutive top ten finishes.

Sebastián Saavedra will return to the #8 AFS Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The Colombian is back after suffering a foot injury in the Indianapolis 500. He replaces Sage Karam. This will be Saavedra's third start in the #8. In five starts at Toronto, Saavedra's average finish is 19.2.

Rodolfo González will return to the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. The Venezuelan has made three starts this season and his average finish in those three races is 21st. He retired from both races at Belle Isle.

Tristan Vautier will be in the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda for the third consecutive weekend. The Frenchman finished fourth in race two at Belle Isle but he has averaged a finish of 17.25 in four starts. Vautier finished 19th and 16th in his only appearance at Toronto in 2013.

Road to Indy
All three Road to Indy series will be on track at Toronto.

Eleven cars are entered in Indy Lights. Schmidt Peterson's Jack Harvey leads the championship with 192 points and have won the last two races. Thirteen points back is Carlin driver Ed Jones. Juncos Racing's Spencer Pigot is 24 points back of Harvey with SPM's RC Enerson 56 points back of his teammate. Scott Anderson is 76 points back. Félix Serrallés sits on 111 points while Ethan Ringel has 108 points. Kyle Kaiser is two points behind Ringel with Juan Piedrahita a point back of Kaiser. Shelby Blackstock has 95 points.

Formula E championship leader Nelson Piquet, Jr. will make his Indy Lights debut driving for Carlin. Max Chitlon appeared at the first eight races but is at Le Mans driving for the factory Nissan LMP1 team. Notably absent from the Toronto entry list is 8Star Motorsports. Scott Hargrove finished fourth and sixth for the team at St. Petersburg and Sean Rayhall scored a victory, a second place finish and four top tens in five starts with the team.

Race one for Indy Lights will be at 4:45 p.m. ET on Saturday with race two at 11:45 a.m. ET Sunday.

Santiago Urrutia enters Toronto as the Pro Mazda championship leader with 201 points. Eight points back of the Team Pelfrey is Cape Motorsports' Neil Alberico. Juncos' Timothé Buret is third on 162 points with Andretti Autosports' Weiron Tan four back. Will Owen rounds out the top five with 142 points. Owen's Juncos' teammate and Canadian Garett Grist is seven points back of Owen. Pato O'Ward is a point back of Grist with Florian Latorre is two points back. Jose Gutierrez has 127 points with Canadian Daniel Burkett on 111 points. Dalton Kellett, the third Canadian in the Pro Mazda field has 110 points. A total of 18 cars are entered in Pro Mazda this weekend.

Pro Mazda will race at 1:35 p.m. ET on Saturday and 10:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Nico Jamin leads the U.S. F2000 championship with 233 points. The Cape Motorsports driver holds a 15-point advantage over Pabst Racing's Jake Eidson. Jamin's teammate Aaron Telitz is 30 points back in third. Anthony Martin sits on 168 points in fourth. Canadian Parker Thompson is on 125 points, fifth in the championship. Yufeng Luo has 108 points with Keyvan Andres Soori is a point back of him and Nikita Lastochkin on 104 points. Ayla Ågren has 100 points while Luke Gabin and Garth Rickards are two points back. Max Hanratty and Canadian James Dayson round out the entry list.

U.S. F2000 will race at 12:40 p.m. ET on Saturday and 9:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This year's race at Toronto will be the 73rd IndyCar race in Canada. Of the previous 72 Canadian IndyCar races, 68 have featured at least one Canadian driver. The first four IndyCar races in Canada did not feature a Canadian, Mosport on July 1, 1967 and Mont-Tremblant on August 6, 1967.

This year's race will be the 13th IndyCar race to take place on June 14th. The last IndyCar race to take place on June 14th was at Portland in 1987 and won by Bobby Rahal.

This will be the first Toronto race to take place outside of the month of July. The previous earliest date for a Toronto race was July 7th in 2002. Cristiano da Matta won that race.

Four drivers have won at Toronto. Sébastien Bourdais has two victories (2004 and 2014 race 1) as does Will Power (2007 and 2010) and Scott Dixon, who swept the doubleheader in 2013. Ryan Hunter-Reay won at Toronto in 2012.

Seven of the previous 30 Toronto winners have come from pole position.

The average starting position for a Toronto winner is 3.633.

Mike Conway's victory in race two last year was just the second Toronto race to be won from outside the top ten. Conway won from 11th. The worst starting position for a Toronto winner is 13th, where Michael Andretti won from in 2001.

Can you name the Canadians who have won in IndyCar?

Possible Milestones:
Marco Andretti needs to lead 45 laps to join the 1,000 laps led club.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 24 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball needs to lead 5 laps to reach the 100 laps led milestone.

Will Power could tied Rick Mears for fifth all-time in pole positions should he win his 41st pole position at Toronto. 

Hélio Castroneves is one second place finish away from passing Bobby Rahal for second all-time in second place finishes. Rahal and Castroneves are tied with 37 runner-up finishes.

Sébastien Bourdais makes it consecutive years with a win at Toronto. A Penske car does not start on pole position. At least one Honda makes it to the Fast Six. At least one Honda finishes on the podium in the Honda Indy Toronto. At least two Ganassi cars finish outside the top fifteen. Gabby Chaves' top ten streak will end at two. Josef Newgarden's streak of finishes outside of the top twenty will end at two. Sleeper: Marco Andretti.