Thursday, July 30, 2015

Track Walk: Mid-Ohio 2015

Another IndyCar race means another full hillside at Mid-Ohio
Astor Cup August is here. The antepenultimate round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The most recent round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship was won by Ryan Hunter-Reay as the past IndyCar champion defeated Josef Newgarden, Sage Karam and Graham Rahal in an all-American top four. Americans took up six of the top seven with Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti finishing sixth and seventh. Carlos Muñoz rounded out the top five. This will be IndyCar's 31st visit to Mid-Ohio.

Time: Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday August 2nd. Green flag at 2:07 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: CNBC.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
Fourteen drivers enter Mid-Ohio mathematically eligible for the Astor Cup.

Juan Pablo Montoya enters with 445 points from 13 races. Forty-two points behind the Colombian is Graham Rahal. Six points back of Rahal is his former Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon. Hélio Castroneves is six points back of Dixon with Will Power rounding out the top five, a point behind Castroneves.

Sébastien Bourdais is sixth with 366 points, trailing Montoya by 79 points. Marco Andretti finds himself 87 points back of Montoya with Josef Newgarden 93 points back. Tony Kanaan trails by 121 points with Simon Pagenaud bookending the top ten for another week for Team Penske as the Frenchman sits 151 points back of his teammate.

Andretti drivers Carlos Muñoz and Ryan Hunter-Reay are 11th and 12th in the championship, trailing Montoya by 164 and 167 points respectively. Hunter-Reay is the most recent winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series after picking up his their career Iowa victory. Charlie Kimball is 13th, 170 points behind Montoya. Takuma Sato is the final driver mathematically eligible for the title, as he sits 205 points behind Montoya.

Scott Dixon is Going to Win This Race
The New Zealander is the all-time leader in IndyCar wins at Mid-Ohio with five victories on the 2.25-mile road course. Dixon won last year's race from 22nd on the grid. The previous worst starting position for a Mid-Ohio winner was eighth by Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999. Dixon's five Mid-Ohio victories all came from different positions having won from sixth, third, pole, fourth and 22nd.

Dixon leads all driver with an average finish of 3.7 at Mid-Ohio in ten starts. Dixon has six podiums, eight top fives, nine top tens and his worst Mid-Ohio finish is twelfth. He has led 201 laps at Mid-Ohio, however, every time he has led at Mid-Ohio, he has gone on to win the race. Dixon's average start at Mid-Ohio is 7.7 and he has started in the top six seven times at Mid-Ohio. Dixon has completed every lap of his ten Mid-Ohio starts.

The only other active drivers to win at Mid-Ohio are Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball. Castroneves is the only active driver with multiple Mid-Ohio victories having won back-to-back races in 2000 and 2001.

If it's not Scott Dixon on the top step of the podium, it will likely be a Ganassi driver as Chip Ganassi Racing has won ten of 30 Mid-Ohio races including the last six.

Driver Changes
Luca Filippi is back in the #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet after Ed Carpenter competed the last three oval races. Filippi finished second in his most recent start at Toronto, where CFH finished 1-2 with Josef Newgarden taking the checkered flag.

Rodolfo González returns in the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda after Pippa Mann contested the last three race rounds. González has made four starts this season with his most recent being at Toronto, where the Venezuelan led five laps during a pit stop cycle. His average finish in his four starts is 20.25 and his average starting position is 22nd.

Road to Indy
All three Mazda Road to Indy series enter their penultimate weekends of the 2015. Indy Lights have a dozen cars entered for Mid-Ohio. Jack Harvey continues to lead the championship as he returns to the site of his first career Indy Lights victory and pole position. The Schmidt Peterson driver has 278 points and leads Juncos Racing's Spencer Pigot by 18 points. Carlin's Ed Jones is two points behind Pigot in third. RC Enerson is 64 points back of his SPM teammate with Félix Serrallés rounding out the top five with 176 points.

Max Chilton is coming off his first career Indy Lights victory after winning at Milwaukee and he is three points behind Serrallés for fifth. Kyle Kaiser is a point behind Chilton with Juan Piedrahita and Scott Anderson a point back of Kaiser. Ethan Ringel rounds out the top ten with 154 points with Shelby Blackstock three points behind him. Sean Rayhall returns to competition with 8 Star Motorsports for the first time since the Freedom 100. Rayhall won on the IMS road course earlier this year and has 96 points from five starts.

Indy Lights will race at 1:55 p.m. ET on Saturday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Eighteen cars are entered for the Pro Mazda weekend. Santiago Urrutia leads the championship with 251 points. Weiron Tan jumped to second after winning at Iowa and trails the Uruguayan by 27 points. Neil Alberico finds himself third, trailing Urrutia by 33 points. Forty-one points back of Urrutia is Timothé Buret. Pato O'Ward rounds out the top five, trailing his Team Pelfrey teammate Urrutia by 48 points.

Garret Grist is sixth, eight points outside the top five. Florian Latorre is ten points behind Grist in seventh. Will Owen is eight, 13 points behind the Frenchman and Jose Gutierrez sits ninth on 164 points. Daniel Burkett rounds out the top ten on 135 points with Raoul Owens four points behind him and fellow Canadian Daniel Burkett a point behind Owens. Alessandro Latif has 108 points. Kyle Connery and Bobby Eberle round out the top five in the championship.

Rounding out the entry list are Victor Franzoni, Bob Kaminsky and Michael Johnson. This is Johnson's first appearance since suffering a fractured hip and pelvis at St. Petersburg.

Pro Mazda race one will be at 1:00 p.m. ET Saturday with race two Sunday at 8:50 am. ET.

U.S. F2000 returns to competition for the first time since Toronto with 18 cars entered for the Mid-Ohio triple-header. Nico Jamin enters as the most recent winner in U.S. F2000 and the championship leader with 292 points. Jamin leads Pabst Racing's Jake Eidson by 16 points. Fifty-seven points back of Jamin is his Cape Motorsports teammate Aaron Telitz. John Cummiskey Racing's Anthony Martin is fourth, 87 points behind Jamin. Canadian Parker Thompson rounds out the top five, 148 points behind Jamin.

Luke Gabin is five points behind Thompson. Yufeng Luo has 131 points with Garth Rickards and Nikta Lastochkin a point behind him. Rickards and Lastochkin are the final drivers mathematically eligible for the title. Ayla Årgen rounds out the top ten with 126 points. Keyvan Andres Soori is four points behind Årgen. Max Hanranty and James Dayson are also entered for Mid-Ohio.

Andrew List makes his first appearance in U.S. F2000 since St. Petersburg, where he finished 12th in both races. Four drivers will be making their first start of the 2015 U.S. F2000 season. Pennsylvanian Alex Mayer and Georgian Clint McMahon will both make their debuts with RJB Motorsports. Afterburner Autosport returns to U.S. F2000 competition with Sennan Fielding and Jake Mitchell. Fielding finished fourth in last year's BRDC Formula 4 Championship and is currently fifth in the MSA Formula championship. Jake Mitchell was one of two Team USA Scholarship winners in 2012 alongside Matthew Brabham. Mitchell finished fourth in the 2014 F1600 championship.

U.S. F2000 race one will be at 4:45 p.m. ET on Friday. Race two will be at 9:50 a.m. Saturday with race three later that day at 6:00 p.m. ET.

Pirelli World Challenge
Pirelli World Challenge returns to competition after just over a month since their last round at Road America. Fifty-seven cars are entered across the GT, GT Cup and GTS classes.

Olivier Beretta enters as the GT championship leader with 1125 points. EFFORT Porsche's Ryan Dalziel trails the R.Ferri Ferrari driver by 109 points. Dalziel has yet to win this year but has seven podiums in 12 starts this season. Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell is seven points behind Dalziel. K-PAX McLaren's Kevin Éstre has 972 points and is fourth in the championship. The most recent winner in PWC, James Davison rounds out the top five with 901 points.

Bentley driver Chris Dyson is sixth in the championship on 892 points. CRP Racing Audi's Mike Skeen is 50 points back of Dyson. Acura's Ryan Eversley has 805 points. Michael Lewis and Henrique Cisneros rounds out the top ten in the GT championship with Butch Leitzinger in 11th. Cisneros is the top GT-A competitor.

Other notable drivers competing in the GT class are Andy Pilgrim, Robert Thorne, Duncan Ende, Christina Nielsen, Bret Curtis and Frank Montecalvo. Austin Cindric will make his PWC GT class debut in the #25 Blancpain Racing Lamborghini.

In GT Cup, Colin Thompson has a commanding lead in the championship with nine wins from 11 starts. Lorenzo Trefethan trails Thompson by 442 points. Sloan Urry is a point back of Trefethan. Preston Calvert and Victor Gomez round out the top five in GT Cup.

Ford Mustang driver Andrew Aquilante leads the GTS championship with 911 points and is the most recent winner in GTS after picking up his first win of 2015 at Road America. His teammate Kurt Rezzetano is 13 points back of Aquilante. Dean Martin makes it a clean sweep of the top three for Ford Mustang drivers, as he is 87 points back of Aquilante. Jack Baldwin trails by 128 points and is fourth in the championship. Michael Cooper rounds out the top five, 148 points back.

Kia Racing's Mark Wilkins has 751 points and is three points ahead of his teammate Ben Clucas. Kris Wilson returns to competition after missing the previous two rounds. Wilson finds himself eighth in the championship with 661 points and has a GTS leading three wins. Jack Roush, Jr. is one point behind Wilson and Lou Gigliotti rounds out the top ten in GTS, 29 points behind Roush, Jr.

GTS will race at 5:40 p.m. on Friday and 11:45 a.m. on Saturday. The GT races will take place at 4:45 p.m. ET on Saturday and noon ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be fourth IndyCar race to take place on August 2nd. The previous three August 2nd race all took place at Michigan with Johnny Rutherford winning their in 1986, Michael Andretti winning there in 1987 and Scott Goodyear winning their in 1992.

Chevrolet has won nineteen consecutive pole positions. Chevrolet has won three consecutive Mid-Ohio pole positions.

Honda has won two of the last three Mid-Ohio races and has taken six of nine podium positions.

The average starting position of a Mid-Ohio winner is 3.466.

The average amount of lead changes at Mid-Ohio is 4.366. The most lead changes at Mid-Ohio is eight, which occurred in 1988 and 2007. The fewest lead changes at Mid-Ohio is one, which occurred in 1986 and 2000.

The average amount of cautions at Mid-Ohio is 1.9 for an average of 7.4 laps. The most cautions in a Mid-Ohio race are 5, which occurred in 2008 and 2010. Nineteen laps were run under caution in 2008.

Possible Milestones:
Should Takuma Sato take the green flag on Sunday, he will make his 100th IndyCar start.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 78 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 68 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 58 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 14 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon wins. A Honda finishes on the podium. Simon Pagenaud will be the top finishing Penske driver. There will be at least two incidents that race control decides to wait and review until after the race. At least five Chevrolets will make the Firestone Fast Six but two of those five will finish outside the top ten. A rookie finishes in the top ten. Sleeper: Charlie Kimball.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How Mid-Ohio Could Have Been On NBCSN

This weekend's Honda 200 from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will be on CNBC and not NBCSN because of the race going head-to-head with the NASCAR Cup Series race from Pocono.

Head-to-head races happen from time to time and while they are avoidable, sometimes they aren't. Sometimes, two races are just going to have to go head-to-head and with IndyCar and NASCAR sharing a television partner, that will mean one of the two (most likely IndyCar, nine times out of ten) will have to draw the short straw and go to the less desirable destination, which in this case is CNBC.

However, the Mid-Ohio IndyCar race could have been shown on NBCSN if some schedule rearranging occurred.

First, let's look at the current schedule for this Sunday on NBCSN. NASCAR qualifying from Pocono will be re-aired at 10:30 a.m. ET and air until noon. NASCAR America Sunday will follow for one-hour with Countdown to Green beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET and running for a half hour. The actually Pocono race broadcast is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. ET with green flag occurring shortly after 1:30 p.m. ET. The Honda 200 will be aired on NBCSN immediately after the NASCAR race from Pocono.

Now, let's look at Mid-Ohio's schedule for Sunday. Pro Mazda leads off on Sunday at 8:50 a.m. The IndyCar warm-up session is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. ET. Indy Lights follows at 10:30 a.m. ET with Pirelli World Challenge occurring at 11:50 a.m. ET. The Honda 200 is set to go green at 2:07 p.m. ET.

So how could the Honda 200 been shown on NBCSN? Well, the schedule from Mid-Ohio could have been altered. The Pro Mazda race could still lead off the day but the first change would come in the second slot of on-track action. IndyCar could have decided to ditch the morning warm-up (which is an unnecessary session to begin with) and ran the Indy Lights race at 9:45 a.m. instead of 10:30 a.m. The Indy Lights race is scheduled in a hour and five minute window to complete. Last year's second Indy Lights race from Mid-Ohio took 53 minutes to complete. Instead of giving Indy Lights a window from 9:45-10:50 a.m. to complete their race, they could have given Indy Lights a 50-minute window and ensured the race would be over by 10:35 a.m. ET.

NBCSN could have rearranged their schedule and instead of re-airing NASCAR qualifying, they could have shown NASCAR America Sunday from 10:30-11:00 a.m. The IndyCar broadcast could then follow NASCAR America Sunday with the Honda 200 going green at 11:05 a.m. ET. The race would fall nicely in that brunch window. Since the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio increased to 90 laps in length in 2013, it has take an hour and 43 minutes and an hour and 52 minutes to complete. Let's say it takes an hour and 47.5 minutes (the average of the last two Mid-Ohio races) to complete this year's Honda 200. With a green flag time of 11:05 a.m., the race would finish at 12:52 p.m. ET. NBCSN could give IndyCar until 1:00 p.m. but be open to give them a few more minutes to make sure the winner and the top three are interviewed before leading into NASCAR coverage. Worse case scenario would be IndyCar goes a little over and the NASCAR green flag occurs a little closer to 1:45 p.m. than 1:30 p.m.

The Pirelli World Challenge race could take the 2:00 p.m. spot originally set-aside for IndyCar and close out the Mid-Ohio weekend.

It would be a crowded schedule with one race leading into the next but I don't think that would be a bad thing for IndyCar, NASCAR or NBCSN. It would be non-stop action. One minute, a person could be watching a side-by-side battle between Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden into turn four at Mid-Ohio and a half hour later they could be watching Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski battling into turn one at Pocono. The good news would be everyone would get to be on NBCSN without having to be farmed out to CNBC.

But it's not going to happen. IndyCar will be on CNBC this weekend, head-to-head against NASCAR on NBCSN. It's not the end of the world. It was somewhat avoidable but it is understandable that these races are going to be head-to-head. This doesn't mean IndyCar should leave NBCSN for greener pastures. If anything, IndyCar should stay because sharing the same television partner as NASCAR means that NBCSN will have little interest having races go head-to-head and will do all they can to limit occasions of head-to-head races. This is just one race on CNBC. The good news is the final two races of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series will not have any competition and will be on NBCSN.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Hometown Heroes

The Brickyard 400 happened. The Hungarian Grand Prix happened. The Spa 24 Hours happened. The Trucks ran on dirt. The scenic Lime Rock Park hosted another race. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Hometown Heroes
This actually came to my mind when IndyCar raced at Iowa last week. IndyCar has raced nine times at Iowa and all the races have been somewhere between mid-June and mid-July. The race is pretty well attended and since joining the schedule in 2007, Iowa has arguably produced some of the best on-track action in IndyCar. The track out in the cornfield has really proven that a great event can happen anywhere despite preconceived notions.

However, when was the last time an Iowan started an IndyCar race?

It has been more recent than you are probably thinking. Twenty-four Iowa-born drivers have made an IndyCar start, the most recent being Alex Figge at Long Beach April 20, 2008. Before Figge was Paul Durant at Phoenix on March 22, 1998.

Why do Alex Figge and Paul Durant matter? I think Figge and Durant illustrate one of IndyCar's problems and that is a lack of hometown heroes. IndyCar runs 16 races on 15 different circuits in 14 different cities. The IndyCar grid will never be 100% Americans again and that's great because the series gets a mix of domestic and international talent but I have felt that Americans should be as close to 50% of the grid as possible. Currently, there are seven Americans who run regularly in IndyCar and they are all decent drivers with ties to different parts of the country.

Graham Rahal is from Ohio, is a huge Ohio State fan and has a race in his backyard at Mid-Ohio. Marco Andretti and Sage Karam are both from Nazareth, Pa and have a race in their backyard at Pocono Raceway. Josef Newgarden hails from Tennessee. Ryan Hunter-Reay was born in Dallas, Texas but for the most part has called Florida home. Charlie Kimball was born in the United Kingdom while his father Gordon worked in Formula One but he was raised in Southern California. And Ed Carpenter was born in Illinois but became a Hoosier at a young age.

Of the seven Americans, only Newgarden doesn't have a race in their state of birth or state in which they grew up. You can say Barber is Newgarden's home race but just because it's the closest to where he is from doesn't mean it's home. That's like saying Sonoma is a home race for a driver from Alaska. And to be fair, Toronto, the lone Canadian round on the IndyCar schedule does have a local son in James Hinchcliffe but as we all know he missed this year's race due to injury. So a fair amount of the IndyCar schedule has at least one driver with local ties to the events.

I am not saying IndyCar has to go where the drivers are from but if IndyCar was truly making an impact on the communities they visit, you would think at least one driver from Iowa would have been inspired to become an IndyCar driver and either be on the Road to Indy or in IndyCar after nearly a decade of IndyCar visiting The Hawkeye State. One way to make new fans is give the people someone to cheer for and if there was an Iowan on the IndyCar grid, it would give someone the locals to cheer for and go to the track to support. It's not like Iowa isn't producing racecar drivers. They are. In the eight years since the first IndyCar race at Iowa, Iowans Landon Cassill, Michael Annett, Joey Gase and Brett Moffitt have all made NASCAR Cup Series debuts.

IndyCar sent James Jakes to Iowa to promote the race this year. No offense to James Jakes but what does he have in common with the people of Iowa? This isn't a Dan Wheldon/St. Petersburg-situation where Wheldon resided in St. Petersburg. The only times Jakes has probably been to Iowa is either for the race, a test sessions or to promote the race. What does he truly know about Iowa and what do the people of Iowa have in common with him that made him the dignitary to visit?

As much as we talk about how IndyCar should return to Phoenix, Michigan, Road America and so on, my question is which driver or drivers are you sending to those markets to promote the race? Who is the Arizonan? It's not Buddy Rice anymore. The 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner has been reduced to a spotter for Ed Carpenter. IndyCar already goes to Michigan and Wisconsin and don't have a local from those states. I am not saying hometown drivers for each IndyCar race is the answer to all of IndyCar's problems but it would help the series.

International drivers can become drivers that the American fan base connect with but it is just going to take longer than a true-blue local driver. Think about baseball and hockey. There are players from all around the globe in Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League and there are international players in both leagues who have become faces of the league. David Ortiz is beloved in Boston and he is from the Dominican Republic. Miguel Cabrera has been one of the best players for the last decade and he is from Venezuela. While Ichiro is nearing the end of his career, he took MLB by storm when he came over from Japan. As for hockey, Russian Alexander Ovechkin is one of the most known players in the NHL. Notable Swedes include Henrik Lundqvist, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Daniel Alfredsson, a recently retired Swede, is arguably the greatest player in the history of the Ottawa Senators, albeit its short history. And we haven't even touched on Zdeno Chara, Jaromir Jagr, Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsuyk.

The one difference as to why international players can go to the MLB or NHL and become local heroes is these players live in these cities and are playing for the people. If they succeed and bring home a title they are adopted as one of the cities' own. IndyCar doesn't have that. The teams aren't spread out around the country and aren't crucial in the communities they are in. Sure, Penske is located in North Carolina, Coyne is in Illinois and Rahal Letterman Lanigan is in Ohio but the rest are in the Indianapolis-area. The drivers don't go and live in Iowa or Detroit or Milwaukee. It is rare to have a Dan Wheldon/St. Petersburg-situation.

There is no quick and easy way for IndyCar to get more hometown heroes. USAC drivers are overlooked. IndyCar could start taking the top two or three drivers from karting from each state and put them in an extensive development academy but that would be an expensive adventure and IndyCar is cheap and doesn't have any interest in developing drivers.

The quickest and easiest way for IndyCar to have hometown drivers at races is to run one or two wild card entries at each round. For example, when IndyCar goes to Iowa, try to get one of the four Iowans mentioned above or get someone who is known in Iowa, such as eight-time Knoxville Nationals winner Donny Schatz. Who would be against Donny Schatz in an IndyCar and who knows? Maybe a couple thousand people who wouldn't have gone to the IndyCar race otherwise would go if Schatz was in the field. I would also like to see what Bryan Clauson could do at a short track and he would be another option for wild card entry at Iowa and Milwaukee. IndyCar already has drivers from the Sonoma-area in J.R. Hildebrand and Townsend Bell, so that would be an easy race for wild cards. Wild cards could also be used to give Indy Lights drivers a taste of IndyCar. It would give the likes of Jack Harvey, Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones and Max Chilton a chance to audition for future suitors.

Once again, IndyCar is cheap and has no interest in developing drivers but IndyCar could have a team that isn't full-time in IndyCar such as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing or Juncos Racing run the wild card programs.

What has made the Indianapolis 500 a great event is the local community getting behind the race. How many other IndyCar races get a fraction of that type of support? IndyCar fans want races at Milwaukee, Road America, Phoenix, Michigan, Richmond and so on but those races can only exist for an extended period of time once the local communities get embrace them. If these races can get strong local support then the series and track promoters do not have to rely on IndyCar fans becoming Deadheads with 10,000 people following the series to every race.

They're Just Bricks
Kyle Busch did burn outs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and people went nuts. Listen. They are just bricks. They aren't holy bricks; they aren't hunger-ending bricks. They are just bricks. No different than the bricks that make up my front porch or are used in buildings across the United States. They are just bricks and Indianapolis Motor Speedway is just a racetrack. Realize that worst things have been done at Indianapolis Motor Speedway than burn outs across the start/finish line. Have you seen pictures of the snake pit?

To be honest, Kyle Busch's celebration, whether it be from Saturday or Sunday, isn't even close to the most disrespectful that happened at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year. This is:
Or maybe this is most disrespectful:
Bricks are inanimate objects. They have no feelings. They can't be offended. What if a driver has an engine failure on the front straightaway and they get oil on the bricks? Did the driver with an engine failure do something offensive? You realize people run across the bricks during the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon at the start of the month of May and there is a chance someone could hurl giving it there all in the event. Maybe we should stop having the Speedway be apart of the Mini-Marathon course in case someone loses their breakfast on the bricks. The Speedway hosts a dog walk in the spring. Who knows what a dog will do on the brick. And you know what, those bricks are exposed to nature 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day and perhaps a bird has a bowel movement and it lands on the bricks. Oh the humanity! We can't let that happen. Perhaps the bricks should be covered in tarp everyday the track isn't being used by racecars.

They are bricks people. No harm, no foul.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Kyle Busch and Sebastian Vettel but did you know...

The #46 Marc VDS BMW Z4 GT3 of Markus Palttala, Lucas Luhr and Nick Catsburg won the Spa 24 Hours. The #47 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Gianmaria Bruni, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Stephane Lemeret and Pasin Lathouras won the Pro-Am Class. The #24 Team Parker Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra of Benny Simonsen, Callum MacLeod, Julian Westwood and Ian Loggie won in the AM Cup class.

Pol Espargaró, Bradley Smith and Katsuyuki Nakasuga won the Suzuka 8 Hours.

Mike Guasch and Tom Kimber-Smith won the IMSA race at Lime Rock Park. Michael Marsal and Dane Cameron won in GTD.

Alex Lynn and Nobuharu Matsushita won in GP2 at the Hungaroring. In GP3, Luca Ghiotto and Kevin Ceccon were victorious.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Indianapolis.

Christopher Bell scored his first career NASCAR Truck Series victory at Eldora.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar begins Astor Cup August at Mid-Ohio.
All three Road to Indy Series and Pirelli World Challenge will also be at Mid-Ohio.
NASCAR heads back to Pocono.
DTM will be in Austria.
V8 Supercars goes to Queensland Raceway.
World Rally treks up to Finland.
World Superbike heads to Malaysia.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I Don't Know What To Make Of It

IndyCar has wrapped up three consecutive oval races. Each race was pretty exciting. Each race had decent amount of viewers on the tube. Attendance is debatable. Each race ended with a fair amount of buzz.

Has IndyCar found something? That question sounds like IndyCar has had a eureka-moment when really it isn't that simple. While some would love IndyCar to go all ovals and rid themselves of road and street courses, that isn't practical and isn't going to happen. But perhaps a few more oval races can help IndyCar grow. If fans are watching oval then maybe it would be smart to add a few more. I am not saying return to having 14 oval races because that was only practical in a short period of time when the series were split and a series was looking to survive against a much larger rival but IndyCar has room to expand their schedule. I know, easier said than done.

However, I think this recent summer surge for IndyCar isn't just because of ovals. Scheduling has it's own part. The same schedule we were ruing just a little over a month ago has evolved into something that is manageable for IndyCar teams. Three races in four weeks gives the teams regular work but isn't stretching them thin and it also allows IndyCar to be regularly available without being a week-in, week-out viewing regimen. After a decent Milwaukee race, fans were treated with a just as exciting if not more exciting Iowa race six days later. Three in four weeks isn't overkill for either the teams or fans and spreading the races out, especially at the start of the season, would be welcomed by all.

Another factor for IndyCar's stretch of growth is none of these races went head-to-head with NASCAR. It's not realistic to have every race avoid going head-to-head with NASCAR but having a fair share not head-to-head is possible and we are see it. Only five times were NASCAR and IndyCar races schedule simultaneously with a sixth occurring due to the NASCAR race at Richmond being postponed to Sunday, the same time as IndyCar at Barber. Last year, four times there were head-to-head races schedule with a fifth occurring when the July Daytona race was postponed to Sunday and went head-to-head with IndyCar at Pocono. In 2013, head-to-head races occurred nine times, or another way to put it, half the IndyCar schedule was head-to-head with NASCAR races.

While some feared the day NASCAR returned to NBC as it seemed like a death blow for IndyCar, it may turn out to be a blessing as it gives the series a common partner who has zero interest in scheduling races head-to-head. Yes, the Mid-Ohio IndyCar race and Pocono NASCAR race will go head-to-head, meaning IndyCar will be on CNBC but this will be the first time IndyCar has been farmed out to CNBC, something almost every other NBC Sports property has had to do at some point (Formula One is on CNBC this weekend, a few Premier League games each year are shown on CNBC, even NHL Playoff games are shown on CNBC). On the bright side, while Mid-Ohio will be on CNBC, the final two races of the IndyCar season at Pocono and Sonoma will not be head-to-head with NASCAR as NASCAR will run the Saturday night prior to Pocono at Bristol and the Cup Series is off the weekend of Sonoma.

So what can IndyCar do to show that the last month hasn't been just been a blip of success but rather the start of something for an extended period of time? Promotion is key but it is how they promote it. You can put the drivers out there but they need a reason to watch these drivers. For example, I have been calling the final three races "Astor Cup August" because this is it. August is the final month of the season. The champion, the driver who will be hoisting the Astor Cup, will be decided in August. Promote that. Promote that with three races to go, mathematically there are fourteen drivers still eligible for the title. IndyCar doesn't need to follow NASCAR's path and make a structural change to promote the final handful of races that will decide the champion. All they have to do is promote the races that already exist. The same way baseball in October is special; IndyCar should make the most of ending the season in August despite it being the worst time to end the season.

Going back to ovals: I think IndyCar has six strong ovals in terms of what occurs on the race track and the series really only needs two to three ovals more with a fourth to get to an even ten ovals being nice but not necessary. IndyCar puts on really good racing on short tracks and in recent years IndyCar has left some good ones such as Richmond and Loudon. It would be nice to see Phoenix and Michigan return with another short track or two being added as well.

For the last decade, we have heard people around IndyCar and NASCAR talk about weeknight races, more specifically, running on one of the two days after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which are labeled as some of the slowest days in North America for sports. However, a decade later and no series has decided to bite the bullet and take a shot on a race the Wednesday or Thursday after the MLB All-Star Game. Why? No track wants it because of the difficulty to get a crowd to come to a racetrack on a weeknight and probably a little fear from the series that running a race during one of the slowest sports days of the year would not provide the bump in viewership that is expected.

But picture this though: IndyCar resurrects Thursday Night Thursday and run at Indianapolis Raceway Park.  I've heard plenty of people say IRP is too small for IndyCar, which I disagree with, but I think IRP is big enough to have a dozen IndyCars race on it at the same time. IndyCar could split the field in half, run two 75-lap heat races with the top four from each advancing to a 125-lap A-Main and the drivers who fail to advance from the heats heading to a 40-lap LCQ with the top four from that rounding out the field. It would be a throwback to short track roots in IndyCar's backyard. Keep the tickets at an affordable price of $15-$20 and you might get a respectable crowd without having 40,000 empty seats saying otherwise.

Ultimately, whether it is an oval, road course or street course, IndyCar needs to do a mix of improving their promotional efforts and rolling the dice. IndyCar needs to differentiate themselves from other series, whether that's running on a Thursday, doubleheaders or one-day shows. Being different isn't a bad thing and IndyCar should embrace it.

I don't know what to make of the last month for IndyCar. The racing has been really good and numbers are up but I don't want to get too excited. It's kind of like being a Philadelphia Phillies fan this season and if they go on an eight-game winning streak. That's nice but they are currently 19 games out of the division lead and 18.5 games out of the second wild card spot. Winning eight straight is nice but to make the playoffs Philadelphia needs an 18 game winning straight and then end the season just as strong. Maybe if the numbers continue to increase over the next season and a half I will start to get excited but for now it's just a drop in the bucket. When that bucket gets closer to half-full then I might start to believe the last month has been something substantially positive for IndyCar.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Jules Bianchi

We lost a good one this weekend. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Jules Bianchi
Jules Bianchi passed away very early Saturday morning in Nice, France, succumbing to injuries suffered at last year's Japanese Grand Prix.

There is so much I want to say and yet I can't. Nearly two days have passed since finding out Bianchi went up to that Great Racetrack in the Sky as I type this and I can't fully form what I want to say.

I recommend reading Motorsports Talk's Tony DiZinno's piece on the passing of Jules Bianchi. He nails it on the head.

I don't want to say Jules Bianchi would have been world championship. There is no way to know if he was going to be world champion. But I will say this: We didn't see his best. Ninth in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix wasn't going to be the top item on Jules Bianchi's résumé had he raced for another two decades. Jules Bianchi was going to be do great things. Whether it was winning the World Drivers' Championship, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, winning the Indianapolis 500 or hell becoming the first European-born NASCAR Cup champion, Bianchi was going to doing something great. Unfortunately, we will never know exactly what he would have accomplished. We are left grasping, trying to find the right words to capture the career of a man who did not get a sufficient amount of time to accomplish anything.

I hoped he was going to wake up. I hoped he was going to regain all physical and cognitive functions. I hoped he was going to get behind the wheel of a car. I hoped for the Hail Mary pass. I hoped to see Jules Bianchi define the odds and become the example for never giving up no matter how bad things were going to get.

While he never woke up, while he never got back behind the wheel of a car while, Jules Bianchi left us, he still is an example to never give up. Two hundred eighty-five days. Jules Bianchi fought for 285 days. Jules Bianchi did not lose. He gave it his all. He set an example we should all live by.

I don't think the #17, the number Jules Bianchi selected to use in his final year of Formula One, should be retired. I don't believe in retiring numbers. Right now, there is probably a young person in France who is starting karting and admired Jules Bianchi. Her name could be Sophie or Emma or it could be a gentleman named Paul or Thierry and from this day forward will have the #17 on their kart and who knows? Ten years from now they could be entering Formula One and will want to continue to honor the man who inspired her or him to become drivers and follow their dreams and want to use the #17. I wouldn't want to rob them or anyone of that opportunity to honor their hero.

This world proved once again that while another young soul was lost, it is all ok. Max Chilton, Bianchi's teammate at Marussia last year, scored his first career Indy Lights victory at Iowa Speedway of all places. What would Jules Bianchi have thought seeing his former teammate driving an oval? Would it have piqued his interest to try them? Would he think Chilton was nuts for trying ovals in the first place? Regardless of what he would have thought, I am sure Jules Bianchi had a front row seat to Chilton's victory and I am sure Jules Bianchi will have an eye on many future races, whether they are Formula One or Max Chilton competing in Indy Lights, FIA WEC or IndyCar down the road.

May Jules Bianchi rest comfortably for eternity.

Unfortunately, They Come In Threes
Bernat Martinez and Daniel Rivas Fernandez lost their lives competing in the MotoAmerica race, a support race to the World Superbikes weekend, at Laguna Seca. Martinez was 35 and Fernandez was 27. Both riders hailed from Spain. Martinez was fifth in the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Ryan Hunter-Reay and Max Chilton but did you know...

Chaz Davies swept the World Superbike races from Laguna Seca.

Kyle Busch picked up his third NASCAR Cup win in four races as he won at Loudon.

João Paulo de Oliveira won the Super Formula race from Fuji.

Weiron Tan won the Pro Mazda race from Iowa.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Loudon.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Spa 24 Hours.
Formula One heads to the Hungaroring.
NASCAR runs the Brickyard 400.
The Trucks will be at Eldora on Wednesday.
The Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona classes head to Lime Rock Park.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

First Impression: Iowa 2015

1. Ryan Hunter-Reay gets out of the rut and picks up his first win of the season and third career victory at Iowa. Honda might not have qualifying pace but they have race pace and that's what really matters. He was up front all race and gave the top Chevrolet's a run for their money despite being a few miles per hour slower than them in practice and qualifying. Hunter-Reay likely won't win the title this year but he had an awful start to the 2011 season before winning at Loudon and ending strong and 2012 turned out to be his best season ever. It's never too soon to start looking toward the future and this might just be the cornerstone for a spectacular 2016 season for Hunter-Reay.

2. After having a great race at Milwaukee only to finish fifth, Josef Newgarden had another stellar drive, as he was able to keep up with the Ganassi and Penske entries. He has a great season and while there have been down spots for CFH Racing, Newgarden has been able to comeback from them. The negatives haven't piled up. The combined resources have done wonders for him and even Ed Carpenter and Luca Filippi.

3. Sage Karam gets his first career podium and pisses a bunch of people off in the process. He's 20. He arguably was over-aggressive at times (he was blocking Jack Hawksworth who was a lap down) and he needs to relax but you can't blame him for taking advantage of every chance he gets. He's only 20 but in the results driven world of IndyCar, especially driving for Ganassi, he can't take a year to just learn the tracks and car. He has to show results now. Ganassi isn't giving him two years to learn and that might hurt him. Look at Newgarden. He struggled his first two years. He made mistakes but Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman stood behind him and now look. Karam has a loaded gun to his head and has to get results now without tearing up equipment or else he will end up like Ganassi's other development drivers (see Alex Lloyd). It's a good run for Karam and I am sure he will have Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti talk to him about what he did right and what he can improve on.

4. Another top five for Graham Rahal as he overcame gearbox issues that put him a lap down at one point. He has overcome adversity a few times this year and he is having a career season. I think mental maturity is overlooked when it comes to racers. We just assume that when a driver starts at a young age such as Rahal that they will be as experienced with a 100 starts at 23 years old as a driver with a 100 starts at 29 years old and I don't think that is the case. You might have the same amount of starts but it's all about growing up as a person, not as a driver. I don't think it is a coincidence that Rahal's turn around in results occurs right after getting engaged. He has settled down a little. He has found someone he loves and perhaps that comfort outside the car translate to being more comfortable behind the wheel.

5. Two Andretti cars in the top five as Carlos Muñoz comes home fifth. Another good drive for him and watching Muñoz you can tell he is aggressive but in a different manner than Karam. Muñoz has been aggressive since his first start in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 but what separates his aggression to Karam is it comes out in the corners, not on the straights. Karam is aggressive on straightaways and that's what I think annoys drivers. Karam is going wheel-to-wheel with guys who are inches away from the wall and any slight nudge will lead to a hard impact. Muñoz will throw a car low and ride the razor's edge around a corner but on the straights he is polite and will let a driver go and fight to get them back in the next corner. It's interesting to think about because when drivers talk about Muñoz they admire him but Karam has rubbed one too many drivers the wrong way, no pun intended.

6. Ed Carpenter brings the car home in sixth and was most notably upset with Karam. This has been a nice rebound for Carpenter after his first three races. It's a shame he only get's one more start this season. He has to be the driver lobbying the hardest for IndyCar to add another two to four oval races. I wish we could see him more because six races aren't enough.

7. Marco Andretti made it three Andretti cars in the top seven and six Americans in the top seven. This is what Andretti does: He finishes in the top ten. While he isn't winning races at the pace of his father and grandfather, Marco brings the car home and gets results. And I would throw him into the same boat as Rahal. Sure, he got a lot of starts by a young age but as a person he matured at an average rate. Now as he approaches 30 he is a different driver than he was at 23 and that might have to do with him becoming more settled off the track. He is still very young and race victories and championships might still be in his future.

8. Let's stop for a second and realize that six Americans finished in the top seven. And yet all I can think about is that Penske is going to hire Josef Newgarden and move him and the Verizon sponsorship to the NASCAR Cup Series once Sprint leaves and Sage Karam will be moved to Cup as well by Ganassi as he expands to three cars. If only J.R. Hildebrand, Conor Daly and Matthew Brabham could get full-time rides and Bryan Clauson could get a shot at a short track. There are talented Americans out there and they deserve opportunities. IndyCar will never be 100% American drivers again and I am ok with that because IndyCar has always had international ties but IndyCar needs Americans to survive. Champ Car struggled for many reasons but having one American didn't help. I have always felt half of the full-time grid needs to be Americans but just over a quarter of the grid isn't bad either. This was a great night for American drivers and hopefully there are more to come.

9. Another solid run for Ryan Briscoe. He needs to be a full-time driver. He keeps driving from the back to the front and imagine what he and James Hinchcliffe could do if they were teammates.

10. Speaking of from the back to the front, Sébastien Bourdais went from 24th after brushing the wall in qualifying to ninth. He somewhat used pit strategy as he kept stopping under the first caution to top off to be able to go a handful of laps longer than the leaders and it worked out. He and KV Racing have meshed well and I hope their partnership continues for quite sometime.

11. Here we are, the 11th thought and we have yet to mention a Penske entry. That all changes now. Will Power finished tenth but he was never in contention. He started sixth but he just couldn't hang with those front-runners as the night wore on. Same with Hélio Castroneves, who came home 11th despite winning pole position. He led a fair amount of laps but faded. Simon Pagenaud faded once the green flag fell and he has done that a bunch this season. He qualifies well but he loses five to ten spots before the first stint is over. Then there was Juan Pablo Montoya, who had a suspension failure end his night before the sun even set on lap nine and now the championship is wide open. I was starting to wonder if Montoya was going to have the title locked up before Sonoma even with double points. Now that looks certainly unlikely. Three races to go and Montoya has led the championship from the start. Will he be able to go wire-to-wire as the championship leader?

12. Shoutout to Tristan Vautier coming home 12th and Jack Hawksworth in 13th. James Jakes finished 15th.

13. Let's get to the rest of the Ganassi drivers. Tony Kanaan is off like gangbusters at the start and then he has a mechanical issue end his night while in the top five. Scott Dixon has mechanical issues and his night is ruined but he was able to finish the race. Charlie Kimball had a spin off of turn two end his night. As much as it seems Penske and Ganassi have dominated this season, they haven't While Penske and Ganassi dominate qualifying, when it comes to the race, the other teams seem to be able to run with the big dogs. On a night when Dixon and Kanaan were given a free race to make up as many points as possible on Montoya, they were snake-bitten and they are probably ruing this night.

14. A week off before the start of Astor Cup August. Scott Dixon will be happy IndyCar is heading to his house, Mid-Ohio before Pocono and Sonoma. While it sucks the season ends so soon it has been a great battle and after this night I can't see this not being decided at Sonoma.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Morning Warm-Up: Iowa 2015

Tony Kanaan led the way on Friday at Iowa
As with Milwaukee last week, both qualifying and the race will occur on the same day at Iowa, meaning two practice sessions were completed on Friday in preparation for the 13th round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Tony Kanaan was fastest in both sessions with his top lap coming in the second session at 17.7544 seconds (181.273 MPH). Kanaan is looking for his second career Iowa victory and the Brazilian has finished on the podium in the last five Iowa races. Scott Dixon made it a 1-2 for Ganassi on Friday. He was 0.0043 seconds behind Kanaan. Last year, Kanaan and Dixon led a combined 264 of 300 laps before being passed late by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden and having to settle for third and fourth. Will Power was third quickest in practice. While Power averages a starting position of 5.5 at Iowa, his average finish is 14.8 in six starts. Simon Pagenaud was fourth on Friday as the Frenchman looks for his second podium of the season. He finished third at Belle Isle 1. Pagenaud has never finished on the podium in an oval race. He has two top five finishes on ovals. He finished fifth at Iowa in 2012 and fourth at Texas last year. Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top five. The top five were covered by 0.0786 seconds.

Charlie Kimball was sixth. Last year, Kimball finished a career-best tenth at Iowa. His average finish at Iowa is 13.8. The most recent winner in IndyCar, Sébastien Bourdais, was seventh fastest as he looks for his second consecutive victory and third on the season. His best finish in two Iowa starts is 14th. Hélio Castroneves was eight fastest as he searches for his first victory of 2015 and tries to stay in the championship hunt. Ed Carpenter is looking for consecutive top ten finishes after starting the season with three consecutive finishes outside the top twenty. Carpenter has two consecutive top fives at Iowa. Sage Karam bookended the top ten for Ganassi. The rookie was 0.174 seconds back of his elder teammate.

Josef Newgarden made it a clean sweep of the top eleven for Chevrolet. The top Honda was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was 12th fastest, 0.2769 seconds back of Kanaan. No Honda was able to run a lap in the 17-second bracket during practice. Justin Wilson and Marco Andretti followed their teammate Hunter-Reay on the timesheet. Graham Rahal rounded out the top fifteen, 0.3331 seconds back. Rahal has consecutive podium finishes. He has never had three consecutive podiums in his career.

Stefano Coletti was the slowest Chevrolet in 16th, as he was 0.0019 seconds back of Rahal. Carlos Muñoz was 17th followed by James Jakes. Takuma Sato was 19th with rookie Gabby Chaves rounding out the top twenty and sandwiched between AJ Foyt Racing cars, as Jack Hawksworth was 21st. The Dale Coyne Racing entries of Tristan Vautier and Pippa Mann were 22nd and 23rd respectively. Ryan Briscoe rounded out the timesheet, as the Australian was 0.9396 seconds back of his former Ganassi teammate.

Qualifying for the Iowa Corn Indy 300 will take place at 4:00 p.m. ET. NBCSN's coverage of the race will begin at 8:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 8:50 p.m. ET.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Track Walk: Iowa 2015

Iowa is the preantepenultimate round of the 2015 IndyCar season
The penultimate oval race of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place under the lights at Iowa Speedway. This will be the ninth running of the Iowa Corn Indy 300 but only the second year of the race being a 300-lapper. Sébastien Bourdais picked up his first oval victory in over nine years at Milwaukee last week and he looks for consecutive victories for the first time since 2007. This will be the final race in the month of July and final night race of the season before the series enters Astor Cup August.

Time: Coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. ET on Saturday July 18th. Green flag at 8:50 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
Seventeen drivers enter Iowa with a shot at the Astor Cup.

Juan Pablo Montoya continues to lead the championship as the past champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner has 439 points from 12 starts. The Colombian holds a 54-point lead over Scott Dixon. Both drivers have won two races this year. Sixty-nine points back of Montoya are Graham Rahal and Hélio Castroneves with Rahal holding the tiebreaker over the Brazilian thanks to his victory at Fontana. Will Power makes it three Penske drivers in the top five, as the defending champion is 70 points behind Montoya.

Sébastien Bourdais jumped to sixth in the championship after his victory at Milwaukee, however the Frenchman is 96 points behind Montoya. Past Iowa winner Marco Andretti is seventh in the championship, 107 points behind Montoya. Tony Kanaan, another past Iowa winner, is 18 points behind his former teammate Andretti. Two-time winner this season, Josef Newgarden is 130 points back of Montoya in ninth. Simon Pagenaud bookends the top ten in the championship for Penske as he trails by 161 points.

Charlie Kimball is 12 points outside the top ten. Carlos Muñoz sits on 251 points in 12th. Takuma Sato is 13th with 229 points and Ryan Hunter-Reay trails the A.J. Foyt Racing driver by two markers. James Jakes and Gabby Chaves are tied with 197 points. Jakes owns the tiebreaker with his best finish being third at NOLA to Chaves' best finish being ninth at Belle Isle 2. Jack Hawksworth is the final driver mathematically eligible for the championship. The British driver is 255 points behind Montoya with a maximum of 266 points remaining on the table.

Andretti's Backyard
Andretti Autosport has won six of eight Iowa races, including the last five. Five different drivers have won at Iowa for Andretti with Ryan Hunter-Reay being the only driver to win multiple times at Iowa for the team. Dario Franchitti won the inaugural Iowa race in 2007 driving for then-Andretti Green Racing and Franchitti won the 2009 Iowa race driving for Ganassi. The only other non-Andretti victory at Iowa came by a former Andretti driver, Dan Wheldon, who won on his birthday in 2008.

Other Andretti winners at Iowa are Tony Kanaan (2010), Marco Andretti (2011) and James Hinchcliffe (2013).

While Hunter-Reay has won two of the last three Iowa races, he has failed to finish in the top ten in the last four races and has only three top tens this season. In the 18 races since his Iowa victory last year, Hunter-Reay has one podium, two top fives and five top tens with an average finish of 13.333 and only 31 laps led.

Iowa is the sight of Marco Andretti's most recent IndyCar victory, 72 starts ago. When Andretti won at Iowa in 2011, it had been 77 starts since he scored his first career victory at Sonoma in 2006. That stretch from Sonoma 2006 to Iowa 2011 is the third most starts between victories in IndyCar history behind Graham Rahal (124, St. Petersburg 2008-Fontana 2014) and Johnny Rutherford (97, Atlanta 1965-Ontario H2 1973). Fun fact, those three streaks are all between a drivers first and second career victories.

Carlos Muñoz will be making his second career start at Iowa. He finished 12th last year after starting fifth. In two Indy Lights starts at Iowa, Muñoz finished seventh in a field of 14 in 2012 and eighth in a field of eight in 2013, despite starting on pole position.

Justin Wilson will be making his eighth start at Iowa. His best finish at the 7/8th of a mile oval is tenth, which occurred in 2012. His best start at Iowa is tenth, which occurred in 2009. His average finish at Iowa is 14.285.

Road to Indy
Indy Lights will be on track for the second consecutive weekend with Pro Mazda returning to competition for the first time since Toronto.

Jack Harvey continues to lead the Indy Lights championship with 261 points and a 14-point lead over Spencer Pigot. Twenty-nine points further back is Ed Jones. RC Enerson is 69 points behind his teammate with Juan Piedrahita rounding out the top five, 104 points behind Harvey. Scott Anderson is a point behind Piedrahita with Milwaukee winner Félix Serrallés a point behind Anderson. Kyle Kaiser is three points behind Serrallés. Ethan Ringel and Max Chilton round out the top ten with 144 and 141 points respectively. Shelby Blackstock is two points behind Chilton.

Indy Lights did not run at Iowa last year. None of the 11 drivers entered this weekend have raced at Iowa in Indy Lights. Seven different drivers have won the seven Iowa Indy Lights races and that streak will expand to eight this weekend. Previous Indy Lights winners at Iowa are Alex Lloyd, Dillon Battistini, Ana Beatriz, Sebastián Saavedra, Josef Newgarden, Esteban Guerrieri and Sage Karam.

The Indy Lights race will take place at 6:20 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Pro Mazda also makes their return to Iowa after not running the 7/8th of a mile oval the last two seasons with 14 cars entered. Santiago Urrutia leads the championship with 234 points. Thirty points back of the Uruguayan is Neil Alberico. Timothé Buret is 36 points behind Urrutia. Weiron Tan won the only other oval race on the Pro Mazda schedule at Indianapolis Raceway Park back in May. The Malaysian driver trails Urrutia by 43 points. The most recent winner in Pro Mazda, Garret Grist rounds out the top five by 49 points. Pato O'Ward is four points back of Grist. Florian Latorre sits on 172 points with Will Owen 11 points behind the Frenchman. Jose Gutierrez has 149 points and is ninth in the championship. Raoul Owens rounds out the top ten with 122 points. Canadians Daniel Burkett and Dalton Kellett are 11th and 12th with 116 and 105 points respectively. Alessandro Latif is 13th on 100 points. Bobby Eberle rounds out the entry list. He is 15th in the championship.

This will be the fifth Pro Mazda race at Iowa. Peter Dempsey won the inaugural Iowa Pro Mazda race in 2009. Conor Daly won in 2010. Sage Karam won the last two Iowa races in 2011 and 2012. All 14 drivers will be making their first appearance at Iowa.

The Pro Mazda race is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Fast Facts
This will be the ninth IndyCar race to occur on July 18th. The most recent race on July 18th was Toronto in 2010. Will Power won that race. The only driver to win multiple races on July 18th is Gordon Johncock, who won at Michigan on July 18, 1976 and won at Michigan again on July 18, 1982.

Chevrolet has won eighteen consecutive pole positions and the last two pole positions at Iowa.

The pole-sitter has never won at Iowa. In fact, no one starting on the front row has ever won at Iowa. The best finish for an Iowa pole-sitter is fourth (Scott Dixon in 2008 and 2014). The average finish for an Iowa pole-sitter is 11.375, having only finished in the top ten in four of eight Iowa races.

Four of the eight Iowa races have been won from row two with third producing three winners (Dario Franchitti 2007, Dan Wheldon 2008, James Hinchcliffe 2013) and fourth producing one winner (Dario Franchitti 2009).

Three of the eight Iowa races have been won from outside the top ten. Last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay won from 13th. In 2010, Tony Kanaan won from 15th and in 2011 Marco Andretti won from 17th.

The only other position a winner has started from is seventh (Ryan Hunter-Reay 2012).

The average starting position for an Iowa winner is 8.125.

Last year's Iowa race had the fewest amount of lead changes in the race's history with six. Four of eight races have featured double-figures in lead changes with the most being 16 in 2010. The average amount of lead changes at Iowa is 10.25.

The fewest amount of cautions in an Iowa race is three for 29 laps, which occurred in 2013. The most amount of cautions in an Iowa race is seven, which occurred last year. The most amount of caution laps in an Iowa race was 72 laps during five caution periods in 2011. The average amount of cautions at Iowa is 5.25 with the average amount of caution laps being 56.75 laps.

Scott Dixon has the best average finish among average drivers at Iowa at 6.5, just better than Ryan Hunter-Reay at 6.7. Dixon has five top fives and seven top tens in eight Iowa starts but his best finish at the track is third. Dixon has won three pole positions at Iowa.

Only once has there been a green flag run at Iowa to last more than 100 laps. The final 127 laps of the 2009 race were run under green flag conditions.

Possible Milestones:
Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 128 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 138 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 136 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 73 laps to reach he 2,500 lap led milestone

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 58 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 14 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 96 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 4 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

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

Marco Andretti protect his father's team's house and picks up his first victory in over four years. There will be at least one green flag run to last at least 100 laps. Ryan Hunter-Reay gets a top ten. Juan Pablo Montoya will be the top Penske finisher. Both CFH cars finish in the top ten. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has at least one car finish in the top ten. No more than a dozen cars will finish on the lead lap. A driver who hasn't scored a fastest lap this season will score fastest lap. Sleeper: Simon Pagenaud.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: It Makes Sense But It's A Work In Progress

A Frenchman dominated in Milwaukee. Rain continues to follow NASCAR but it all passed by race day. There was a great battle at Mosport. There was a first time winner in the Netherlands. A certain Spaniard regained their form for at least one race. There was racing all over the globe this weekend, from Portugal to Australia. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

It Makes Sense But It's A Work In Progress
I like the idea of the FIA Super License points but I am not sure it has been well thought out.

This past week at the World Motor Sport Council in Mexico City, the FIA announced changes to the FIA Super License points system.  The series that doesn't even exist, Formula 2 will pay 40 points to the top three finishers in the championship; the top two in GP2 will each receive 40 points. FIA European Formula 3, World Endurance Championship LMP1 and IndyCar will still pay 40 points to the champions of those respective series while the Formula Renault 3.5 will get 35 points, a five point increase. The GP3 champion will still get 30 points and the Super Formula champion will still get 25 points.

There were also three series added to the list of series that will receive FIA Super License points. Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, Indy Lights and the World Touring Car Championship were all added and the three champions from those three series will receive 15 points. The other addition was the Formula E champion will automatically be granted an FIA Super License but no points will be given out for that series. So congratulations to Nelson Piquet, Jr. on earning a super license.

One of the problems I have is there are still series not getting recognized, most notably for Americans, NASCAR. You can make all the jokes you want about NASCAR you want but there are talented drivers there are they deserve something. I am not sure the NASCAR Cup champion deserves a full 40 points for a title but it deserves something. I almost feel 25 points would be a good amount for the Cup champion with the Grand National and Truck champions receiving 10 points respectively.

What about Super GT's GT500 and GT300 champions? The GT500 class is going to the same technical regulations as DTM and they get squat... actually they get less than squat. What about Blancpain Sprint and Endurance Series? Should each series get their own points or should the combined Blancpain GT Series results determine who gets what Super License points?

What about GTE-Pro in WEC? Plenty of talented young drivers who had success in single-seaters such as Davide Rigon, James Calado, Richie Stanaway and Marco Sørensen and former Formula One drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Olivier Beretta in that class. What about IMSA? Shouldn't the Prototype and GTLM champions get some type of love? What about Pirelli World Challenge? ADAC GT Masters? World Rally? British Touring Cars? I could go on and on.

Of course, I think some series should be valued more. DTM, WTCC and Indy Lights should not be on the same level. I actually think WTCC and Indy Lights are go at 15 points but the DTM champion should full 40 points as should the Formula Renault 3.5 champion and the Super Formula champion. I still don't get the logic of FIA European Formula 3 champion getting 40 but GP3 champion only getting 30. If anything, after seeing the driving in Formula 3 this year, I am not sure that champion should receive more than 20 points. And I am not going to try and wrap my head around the logic of national F4 champions receiving 12 points but national Formula 3 champions only getting 10 points.

The other thing I would like to see is bonus points awarded for winning races. Take Alexander Rossi for example. He currently has only three FIA Super License points from finishing ninth in the 2013 GP2 Series championship. If he wants an FIA Super License he needs 37 points so he would need to win the GP2 championship or finish second this year. If he finishes third, he would be seven points shy. My idea would be to pay bonus points to drivers who win races that way a driver can't make up some of those points that they can't pick up in the championship. My idea would be to pay three points for each victory a driver scores in a championship that pay 40 points to the champion, or as I would like to call them "Tier 1 Championships." For series that pay less than 40 points but more than 12 points or "Tier 2 Championships," it could be two points for each victory and for series that pay 12 points or less to their champions, "Tier 3 Championships," it could be one point per victory.

Alexander Rossi wouldn't be the only driver to benefit from bonus points from victories. While Rossi currently sits second in the GP2 championship, Rio Haryanto is third and the Indonesian driver currently has zero Super License points and like Rossi has to finish first or second in GP2 in hopes to earn a Super License. Haryanto already has three race victories and if he were to get one victory more then it would allow him for wiggle room in case he finished third in the GP2 championship.

I like the idea of it but it still has many holes. I do like that drivers will have to pass a test on the sporting regulations in order to receive the license. It's important that the competitors know the rulebook. For those who watch the NFL, it's embarrassing to hear players after a game say they didn't know a game could end in a tie. It's important to know the rulebook boys and girls.

The Pseudo-One Day Show
I liked the format of the Milwaukee IndyCar race this past weekend but I think it could have been scheduled better. There was one practice on Saturday before a practice session, qualifying session and race on Sunday. It was condensed but I liked it however the timing was off. Scheduling the race to start at 4:35 p.m. local time could work for a Saturday but not for a Sunday. Milwaukee got a decent crowd but if the race was at 1:00-1:30 p.m. local time, the crowd probably would have been better. How much better? We will never know.

How much practice do we want to see? Do we really care if the drivers get one hour of practice or two? Last year, I believe it was Will Power who was asked if he liked the doubleheader format last year and he said something along the line of yes and that fans don't pay to watch practice, they pay to watch races. If the drivers got one hour of practice, followed by qualifying and then the race, would we really care? I think the non-Triple Crown oval races should just be one-day shows. At Texas there could be practice at 5:30 p.m. local time, qualifying could be at 6:45 p.m. and the race could go green at 7:50 p.m. They could practice at Milwaukee at 9:00 a.m. local, have the Indy Lights race at 10:15 a.m., qualify at 11:30 a.m. and start the race by 1:15 p.m. Iowa could be spread out a little more because Pro Mazda and Indy Lights are also on the bill so IndyCar practice could be at 2:00 p.m. local with qualifying at 5:00 p.m. and the race starting at 7:50 p.m.

Forget the what-ifs. It might rain and throw a monkey wrench in the entire schedule but it doesn't have to ruin the day. If it rains, just worry about getting the races in because they are what matter. Some don't like the one-day format because the pole-sitter can't be promoted. To be honest, it's irrelevant to an extent. How many more people are going to turn because they find out Tony Kanaan is on pole or Josef Newgarden is on pole or Marco Andretti is on pole? The people who are going to go to the race are going regardless of who is on pole. Have anyone ever honestly said they aren't going to a race because a certain driver is on pole? That's like a Chicago Blackhawks fan saying they aren't going to a game because Scott Darling is starting between the pipes instead of Corey Crawford. No one does that.

If anything, the one-day show allows for the series to promote drivers in a new light. If anything, IndyCar needs to get the drivers away from the track to draw fans. Instead of having a day of practice and qualifying the day before the race, have the drivers get out. If anything, have a big party the night before race day with all the drivers attending and allow people to rub elbows with them and just hang out and get to know who they are. Rent out a bowling alley the night before a race and have a big party. Throw a street party. Do something different to let people know the race is in town and if people have a great time hanging out the Friday night before Texas or Iowa or the Saturday night before Milwaukee, then perhaps they will keep the party going the next day at the race. And that should be done for all the ovals, not just the non-Triple Crown races.

The one-day show isn't a bad idea but it will require a different outlook of the weekend. Instead of relying on qualifying to draw people out, engage the fans in local communities. I have been harking on IndyCar and IndyCar races not to rely on their fans to become Deadheads and have 10,000 people travel to every race. There are a lot of people in markets such as Milwaukee and Dallas-Fort Worth and Pocono, which is between New York and Philadelphia and has the entire state of New Jersey as it's neighbor. Engage the people and they may engage you. It's not bulletproof but it just might work.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Sébastien Bourdais but did you know...

Marc Márquez finally got back to the top step of the podium as he won the MotoGP German Grand Prix.

Kyle Busch was his second NASCAR Sprint Cup race of 2015 as he took the victory at Kentucky.

Marco Wittmann and António Félix da Costa split the DTM races from Zandvoort. It was da Costa's first career victory in the series.

Mark Winterbottom swept the V8 Supercar races from Townsville.

Jordan and Ricky Taylor won the IMSA race at Mosport in the #10 Corvette DP. The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca of Jon Bennett and Colin Braun won in Prototype Challenge. The #911 Porsche 911 RSR of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet won in GTLM.

The #38 Jota Sport Gibson-Nissan of Harry Tincknell, Filipe Albuquerque and Simon Dolan won the ELMS race from the Red Bull Ring. The #60 Formula Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Mikkel Mac, Johnny Laursen and Andrea Rizzoli won in GTE. The #62 AF Corse Ferrari of Stuart Hall, Francesco Castellacci and Thomas Flohr won in GTC. The #3 Team LNT Ginetta-Nissan of Chris Hoy and Charlie Robertson won in LMP3.

José María López and Ma Qing Hua split the WTCC races from Portugal.

Belgian Xavier Siméon scored his first career Moto2 victory at the Sachsenring. Danny Kent scored his fifth victory of the Moto 3 season and extended his championship lead.

Félix Serrallés won his first career Indy Lights race at Milwaukee.

Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Kentucky. Matt Crafton won the Truck race on Thursday.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar will be under the lights at Iowa.
World Superbike comes stateside and the British Empire looks to avenge the Revolutionary War at Laguna Seca.
NASCAR is at Loudon.
Super Formula returns to competition at Fuji.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

First Impressions: Milwaukee 2015

Sébastien Bourdais won at Milwaukee. But how?
1. Let's get the story out of the way. I didn't see this race but I did follow along to timing and scoring and to Twitter and it's sounds like I was fortunate due to some NBCSN audio problems. Anyway, why did I miss the race? A family friend's niece is an actress and apparently won an Emmy Award and she was performing in a play. Not going to this play was not an option. So I got to follow the race and see a show. I will try and watch the race replay tomorrow and if I don't catch that I will watch it when it is posted on YouTube. After that I may write a second impressions but for now, my first impressions will be from what I picked up following along on my phone.

2. Where did Sébastien Bourdais come from? He was up in the top ten from the start but things fell into his lap with pit strategy. When the leaders Josef Newgarden, Tony Kanaan and co. stopped under a caution, Bourdais stayed out and couldn't be caught and he was running laps better than Newgarden, Kanaan and co. despite pitting 16 laps prior to them. How did Bourdais open up a 17-second lead on tires that were 16 laps older? What an impressive drive and now we have four winners with multiple wins this season.

3. I honestly thought this race was going to end up falling in Hélio Castroneves' lap. He started last because of not getting in line for qualifying on time and he nearly pulled off a Mike Mosley. He past a fair amount of drivers on his first stint and he did that under each stint. When the final caution occurred, Castroneves was second and must have been a lap or two away from stopping because he had done 53 laps on that stint and there were about 25 to go and Bourdais was good on fuel. Castroneves made a slight charge but all he could do was pick up his 38th runner-up finish, second most in IndyCar history.

4. Solid day for Graham Rahal and that's what his season has been made up of, solid runs. This is the turn around season Rahal needed. I don't know if he will have enough to make a championship run. He will probably need to win at least two of the five four races to have a shot but a top ten in the championship would have been great for him after the last few seasons. I am sure he will be happy with this season even if he doesn't win the title.

5. Speaking of the title, championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth despite a pit lane speeding violation. He was one of three drivers along with Bourdais and Ed Carpenter to not pit under the final caution and it got him a top five. These are what championship runs are made of. Look at Will Power. Every time Power appeared to stumble last year, he would still find a way to get a top five. Montoya is doing the same thing in 2015.

6. Josef Newgarden finished fifth but had a better race than that. He dominated the first half and then he pitted under the first caution when Bourdais stayed out and he had nothing for him. And Newgarden wasn't that far into a stint when that caution occurred. He could have easily stayed out when Bourdais did and he might have won this one. It was a great weekend for him but when you are fastest in every session going into the race, anything but winning will be a disappointment.

7. Good day for Tony Kanaan finishing sixth. Could have been a little higher if it wasn't for Castroneves and Montoya catching breaks. He was up front all day.

8. Scott Dixon finished seventh. He seemed to be just on the outside of the top five all race. Like Kanaan, he probably would have finished a little better had Castroneves and Montoya not caught the breaks they did. The championship might be slipping from his grasp, especially if Montoya keeps finishing in the top five. Like Rahal, Dixon will have to win at least two of the final four races to have a shot at the title.

9. Not a bad day for Marco Andretti in eighth. Simon Pagenaud finished ninth. Ed Carpenter benefitted by not having to stop under the final caution and got a top ten despite not being near the top ten all race. Gabby Chaves was around tenth all race and he finished 11th.

10. Just a few other things I noticed: Sage Karam had a good day going and then he hit the barrier and it ruined his day. Ryan Briscoe had a bad pit stop take him out of contention and a spin took himself and Will Power out and that's a shame for the both of them. James Jakes was up in the top ten until an engine failure but I don't think this was Honda's fault. It seems like Jakes has had a lot of engine failures this year and I doubt Jakes gives rolling snake eyes in the Honda engines lot. He had a failure at Fontana. He had a failure in practice for the Indianapolis 500. I just wonder if his driving style has something to do with it.

11. I hope this wasn't the final Milwaukee race. IndyCar can't afford to lose any races especially one that has been apart of the series for so long. If Indianapolis is IndyCar's heart, Milwaukee is IndyCar's stomach and you can't live without your stomach. Or as I called it a few weeks ago, Milwaukee is to IndyCar what Monza is to Formula One.

12. On to Iowa and don't think there are any family friend's nieces that are doing anything important.

Morning Warm-Up: Milwaukee 2015

Josef Newgarden topped the lone Saturday practice session at Milwaukee
With both qualifying and the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 taking place on Sunday, IndyCar completed one practice session late Saturday afternoon in preparations for the twelfth round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Josef Newgarden topped the session with a lap of 21.5415 seconds. Newgarden is looking for his first career pole position. The CFH driver has two victories this year and he has qualified second on three occasions in his career and he has five career front row starts (Long Beach 2012 he started second after Chevrolet drivers served engine penalties. Fontana 2014 he started third but the race featured rows of three. Just 0.0277 seconds behind Newgarden was Simon Pagenaud. The Frenchman is looking for his second consecutive pole position of the season. His best Milwaukee finish in three starts is seventh. Takuma Sato was 0.1084 seconds back in third in the #14 ABC Supply Co. Honda. Sato has finished in the top ten in two of his four Milwaukee starts. Both those top tens came in a year ending in an odd-number. The most recent winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series Graham Rahal was fourth fastest in practice, 0.1964 seconds back. Rahal has a two top fives and three top tens in six Milwaukee starts. Tony Kanaan rounded out the top five, 0.2471 seconds behind Newgarden. The Brazilian has two wins, five podiums, seven top fives and ten top tens in 15 Milwaukee starts.

Kanaan's Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon was sixth, 0.0361 seconds behind his teammate. Dixon is looking for his second career Milwaukee victory. Three-time Milwaukee winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was seventh as he started 14th or worse in the last eight races after starting the first three races of the season in the top ten. Hélio Castroneves was eighth quickest, 0.0352 seconds behind Hunter-Reay. James Jakes was ninth fastest, only 0.0045 seconds behind the Brazilian. Will Power rounded out the top ten. He was 0.4526 seconds slower than Newgarden and was the final driver to run a lap in the 21-second bracket during the session.

Ryan Briscoe was 11th, 0.0190 seconds behind his fellow Australian and past Milwaukee winner Power. Sébastien Bourdais, another past Milwaukee winner, was 12th, 0.5305 seconds off Newgarden. Charlie Kimball was 13th at 22.1151 seconds. Colombians Carlos Muñoz and championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top fifteen. Montoya was 0.0469 seconds behind Muñoz and 0.6403 seconds behind Newgarden.

Justin Wilson was 16th in his first IndyCar session since taking the checkered flag for the 99th Indianapolis 500. He was 0.7059 seconds off Newgarden. Sage Karam was the fastest rookie in 17th, 0.0062 seconds slower than Wilson but 0.0086 seconds faster than Gabby Chaves in 18th. Tristan Vautier and Jack Hawksworth rounded out the top twenty. Stefano Coletti was 21st with Ed Carpenter, Marco Andretti and Pippa Mann rounding out the time sheet.

The top 23 were covered by 1.1247 seconds with 1.9233 seconds covering the two dozen drivers in the field.

Final practice will take place at 10:15 a.m. ET and the session will be 45 minutes long. Qualifying for the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 will take place at 1:30 p.m. ET with NBCSN's coverage beginning at 5:00 p.m. ET. Green flag is scheduled for 5:35 p.m. ET.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Track Walk: Milwaukee 2015

IndyCar returns to Milwaukee for a 250-miler
The antepenultimate oval of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the Milwaukee Mile for the second of three consecutive oval races. Two weeks ago, Graham Rahal won at Fontana, breaking a record 124-race winless streak. It was Honda's third win of 2015. His father Bobby never won at Milwaukee in 18 starts but he did finish runner-up on the mile on three occasions. This will be the 113th IndyCar race to take place at the Milwaukee Mile and first to be run in July since 2006 when Champ Car ran there in June and the IRL ran in July.

Time: Coverage begins at 5:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 12th. Green flag at 5:35 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will all be in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
With five races remaining, Juan Pablo Montoya has led the championship since the first checkered flag fell at St. Petersburg and the Colombian has expanded his lead to 46 points over Will Power. Montoya is the only driver so far to crack 400 points as he sits on 407 points. Scott Dixon is three points behind Power in third. The top three in the championship all have a victory at Milwaukee. Montoya won in 2000, Power last year and Dixon in 2009. Graham Rahal has not won at Milwaukee but he did finish second there in 2011. Rahal's victory at Fontana vaulted him to fourth in the championship, trailing Montoya by 73 points. Hélio Castroneves rounds out the top five in the championship, four points behind Rahal. 

Marco Andretti is sixth in the championship, 99 points behind Montoya. Two of Andretti's four career pole positions have come at Milwaukee, including his first career pole in 2008. However, both times Andretti started on pole at Milwaukee ended in a retirement. Sébastien Bourdais makes it four Milwaukee winners in the top seven of the championship as he sits on 290 points. Tony Kanaan has won back-to-back races at Milwaukee in 2006-07 and he sits eighth in the championship, five points back of Bourdais. Josef Newgarden is ninth in the championship on 277 points. He finished fifth at Milwaukee last year and picked up fastest lap along the way. Simon Pagenaud bookends the top ten for Team Penske, 151 points behind Montoya.

Charlie Kimball is eight points outside the top ten. Carlos Muñoz is twelve points behind Kimball. Takuma Sato has 213 points and is three points ahead of three-time Milwaukee winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Hunter-Reay leads all active driver in Milwaukee victories. James Jakes rounds out the top fifteen with 190 points. Gabby Chaves is the top rookie on 178 points with his predecessor at Bryan Herta Autosport, Jack Hawksworth, trailing him by seven points.

Twenty-two drivers remain championship eligible. The remaining drivers with a chance at the title are Luca Filippi, Stefano Coletti, James Hinchcliffe, Sage Karam and Tristan Vautier. 

The Grid Got A Little Taller
While most races have seen at least one driver change from the previous race, all twenty-three drivers who were entered for Fontana will be at Milwaukee. Ryan Briscoe will continue in the #5 Arrow Electronics/Lucas Oil Honda. Sage Karam is in the #8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet. Pippa Mann and Tristan Vautier return in the #18 and #19 Dale Coyne Racing Hondas respectively and Ed Carpenter will be behind the wheel of the #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet.

However, there will be an addition to the IndyCar grid for Milwaukee and for the remainder of the season. Justin Wilson will drive the #25 Andretti Autosport Honda for the final five races of the 2015 season. The Sheffield-native has made two starts this season and he finished 24th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and 21st in the Indianapolis 500. Wilson will be making his tenth Milwaukee start. His best Milwaukee finish is second, which came in 2006. He has two top five and five top tens in his previous nine starts.

Indy Lights Returns
After a month off, Indy Lights is back in action at Milwaukee. The series has four race weekends, six races remaining in 2015 with a third of the remaining races on ovals.

Jack Harvey leads the championship with 242 points, 11 clear of Spencer Pigot. Pigot swept the Toronto weekend with Harvey finishing second in both races. Harvey finished fifth in his first Milwaukee start last year and Pigot won last year's Pro Mazda race at Milwaukee. Twenty-four points back of Harvey is Ed Jones, who had a tire failure end his first oval start at Indianapolis back in May. RC Enerson is 76 points behind his Schmidt Peterson teammate Harvey. Kyle Kaiser rounds out the top five, 101 points back of Harvey.

Two points behind Kaiser is Scott Anderson. Juan Piedrahita is coming off his best career finish in Indy Lights after finishing fourth in Toronto 2. The Colombian sits on 135 points. Ethan Ringel has 133 points and finished second in the Freedom 100, his first career ovals race, after starting on pole position, however his next best finish this season is sixth. Shelby Blackstock is coming off his best weekend of 2015 after finishing fourth and sixth at Toronto and the Andretti Autosport driver has 129 points. Max Chilton rounds out the top ten in the championship with 126 points, despite missing the Toronto round due to competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Félix Serrallés sits a point back of Chilton.

Six of the last seven Milwaukee Indy Lights races have been won from pole position including the last five. All seven of those races have been won from the front row. The worst starting position for a Milwaukee Indy Lights winner is seventh, Derek Higgins in 1998 and Jeff Simmons in 2005.

The Indy Lights race is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. ET Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be the sixth IndyCar race to take place on July 12th. Last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay won at Iowa on July 12th after making a late charge to the front after changing tires under the final caution period while the leaders stayed out.

Chevrolet has won 17 consecutive pole positions and three consecutive Milwaukee races and has swept the top four in all three of those races.

The Honda to score a top five at Milwaukee in the DW12-era was Josef Newgarden last year when he finished fifth.

Twelve times has the Milwaukee winner started outside the top ten. The most recent Milwaukee winner to come from outside the top ten was Ryan Briscoe in 2008, who won from 11th. The furthest back a Milwaukee winner has come from is 25th, when Mike Mosley won in 1981 as a promoter's option. Since Mosley's victory in 1981, the only other Milwaukee race to be won from outside the top ten was Al Unser, Jr. in 1994 when he won from 11th.

The average starting position for a Milwaukee winner is 4.464.

In the last 40 Milwaukee races, the average amount of lead changes is 6.35. In that time frame, only four races have featured a double-figure amount of lead changes. The most recent race to feature a double-figure amount of lead changes was in 2013 when 11 occurred as Ryan Hunter-Reay took victory.

In the ten IRL/IndyCar-sanctioned Milwaukee races, five races have had five lead changes occur (2005, 2008-09, 2011-12), four races have had eight lead changes occur (2004, 2006-06, 2014) and then there was the 2013 race that saw 11 lead changes occur.

Here is how the 13 drivers in the 250 starts club did in their 250th start:
Mario Andretti- Laguna Seca 1984. Finished 2nd, started on pole.
A.J. Foyt- Ontario 1977. Won the race from 6th on the grid.
Al Unser, Jr.- Mid-Ohio 1998. Finished 6th, started 7th.
Al Unser- Michigan 1982. Finished 4th, started 12th.
Michael Andretti- Fontana 1999. Finished 21st after an oil fire, started 6th.
Johnny Rutherford- Pocono 1982. Finished 12th after an accident, started 3rd.
Hélio Castroneves- Texas 2012. Finished 7th, started 15th.
Tony Kanaan- Milwaukee 2012. Finished 2nd, started 6th.
Paul Tracy- Surfers Paradise 2006. Finished 4th, started 3rd.
Bobby Rahal- Nazareth 1998. Finished 6th, started 9th.
Dario Franchitti- Long Beach 2013. Finished 4th, started on pole.
Gordon Johncock- Road America 1984. Finished 9th, started 12th.
Bobby Unser- Atlanta 1981. Finished 13th, started 2nd.

Possible Milestones:
Should Scott Dixon take the green flag, he will make his 250th IndyCar start, the 14th driver to reach that milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 141 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 136 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 58 laps to become the twenty-seventh driver to join the 1,500 laps led club.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 14 laps to join the 1,000 laps led club.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 96 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 9 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball needs to lead 5 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.

Scott Dixon becomes the first driver to win three races in 2015. Andretti puts two cars in the top ten. There will be at least one green flag period of over 100 laps. A driver in the top five of the championship will not finish in the top half of the field. A driver with three or fewer top ten finishes this season will score a top ten finish. The pole-sitter will lead less than half the race. Penske will not sweep the front row. Sleeper: Ryan Briscoe.