Monday, February 29, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Look Into the Lights

It is Leap Day! The quadrennial occasion for you to misdate checks as March 1st. Atlanta was a busy hub for motorsports. Jimmie Johnson tied Dale Earnhardt for seventh in NASCAR Cup Series victories. NASCAR keeps proving it can come up with even more absurd rules. The British reign of dominance in World Superbike continues from one of its old colonies. IndyCar tested in Phoenix. Formula One tested in Barcelona. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Look Into the Lights
IndyCar wasn't the only series on track at Phoenix last week. Indy Lights tested on Thursday and the sophomore season for the IL-15 is shaping up to be what we all hoped the freshman season for the chassis would have been. The grid appears to be ballooning to 16 entries and the quality of drivers appear to be at a level we haven't seen in that series in a long time. Today will go through the tentative 2016 Indy Lights grid and preview each driver. Where else would we start but with the defending championship-winning team.

Juncos Racing
Kyle Kaiser: The California-native returns for his second season in Indy Lights. Last year, Kaiser had a tale of two seasons. While he showed speed comparable to his teammate and eventual champion Spencer Pigot, Kaiser had a trend of running into the back of people. After three last-place finishes in the first six, Kaiser settled down and scored five top tens in the final ten races and finished sixth in the championship. If Kaiser can keep up on his consistency from the end of last year, he could win a race or two in 2016.

Zachary Claman DeMelo: The Canadian will be the youngest driver on the grid. DeMelo is 17 years old and won't turn 18 until April 20th. DeMelo comes to Indy Lights after a handful of races in a handful of Formula Renault 2.0 series in 2015 as he drove for Fortec Motorsports. There isn't much to go on for DeMelo. He has won three Canadian National Karting Championships but this is a big step forward. I don't see DeMelo being a championship contender.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
RC Enerson: The Floridian returns for his second season in Indy Lights. Last year, Enerson won at Mid-Ohio and scored five podiums in sixteen starts. Outside of 13th in the second St. Petersburg race because of an engine failure, Enerson finished every race inside the top ten. Enerson was the fastest in the Phoenix test and one of two drivers to run a sub-22 second lap. He is with the right team and I expect the soon to be 19-year-old (his birthday is March 6th) to be a championship threat.

André Negrão: He has not been confirmed for the 2016 season but the Brazilian did test for SPM at Phoenix and turned some heads. Negrão was third fastest at the Phoenix test. The Brazilian has raced in Formula Renault 3.5 and GP2 but didn't stand out in either series. He scored two points and 111 points in 52 FR3.5 starts and finished in the top ten of the championship once. In GP2, Negrão's best finish was fifth on two occasions (both at Monza). He finished in the points nine times in 41 GP2 starts. I think Negrão could hold his own in 2016 but not be a championship contender.

Santiago Urrutia: The defending Pro Mazda champion will graduate to Indy Lights and drive for SPM. He was second fastest at Phoenix. The 19-year-old Uruguayan won the Pro Mazda title after a year in GP3 and not scoring any points. Historically, Pro Mazda champions do well in Indy Lights. The five Pro Mazda champions prior to Urrutia won in Indy Lights the following year and two of those driver went on to win the Indy Lights title (Tristan Vautier and Pigot). I expect Urrutia to be in it until the end.

Heamin Choi: The Korean driver made his Indy Lights debut at Laguna Seca last autumn and he tested at Phoenix. While the 32-year-old driver hasn't done anything of substance in his career, he was tenth fastest at the Phoenix test. Just remember that Ethan Ringel won pole position for the Freedom 100 driving for SPM and Ringel finished 11th in the championship when only 11 drivers ran more than three-quarters of the races in Indy Lights.

Félix Serrallés: The Puerto Rican driver moves to Carlin from Belardi Auto Racing. He won at Milwaukee last year and had another podium at Long Beach but Serrallés had five finishes outside the top ten, which is quite impressive when you consider most races only featured a dozen drivers. He was also the only driver to be disqualified from a race in 2015 after failing post-race inspection at Toronto 1. Serrallés showed blips of speed in 2015 and was fourth fastest at the Phoenix test but his inability to avoid contact cost him last year and that has followed him from his days in Europe. He is with a championship caliber team but I don't see him being able to put together the results to make a title run.

Ed Jones: The Emirati driver won his first three Indy Lights starts but would fail to get back to the top step of the podium in the final 13 races. Jones would keep himself in the championship discussion throughout the season but a disastrous round at Mid-Ohio where he finished ninth in both races. He struggled last year on the ovals and a tire failure at Indianapolis didn't help. An improvement at the ovals could be the difference between winning the title or finishing third or fourth in the championship. Jones is definitely a championship contender in 2016 and expect him to win multiple races.

Neil Alberico: Runner-up in the 2015 Pro Mazda Championship, Alberico gets promoted to Indy Lights and joins a stout team. The Californian won four races in 2015 but dreadful weekends on the IMS road course and Toronto kept him from taking the fight to Urrutia. Alberico has run four seasons in the Road to Indy system (two in U.S. F2000 and two in Pro Mazda) and he had finished runner-up in the championship in each of his second seasons in those series. He knows the tracks and I think he will be able to carry that speed up to the next level but he might have to wait until his sophomore year in Indy Lights to make an assault on the championship.

Belardi Auto Racing
Zach Veach: The Ohioan returns are missing out on the 2015 season. The lone race Veach ran in 2015 was in the Prototype Challenge class at the IMSA Laguna Seca race. He finished fourth in class. Veach finished third in the 2014 championship behind Gabby Chaves and Jack Harvey after winning three races and scoring nine podiums driving for Andretti Autosport. While Veach was a championship contender the last time he ran in Indy Lights, I think the 2016 grid is a lot deeper than the last time Veach raced. He might get a victory but I see him finishing in the back half of the championship.

Felix Rosenqvist: This is the man to watch out for. If this were the year 1998, Rosenqvist would be on Chip Ganassi's radar for an IndyCar seat. The Swede is coming off winning the European Formula Three championship. He was stuck in the series for four years due to inability to find the funding to take him up the ladder. In F3, Rosenqvist beat some current Formula One drivers. In 2012, he finished ahead of Pascal Wehrlein and Carlos Sainz, Jr. in the championship. In 2013, he topped Williams F1 development driver Alex Lynn. Last year, he took the title and beat Antonio Giovinazzi, who will be moving to GP2, Ferrari Driver Academy's Charles Leclerc and son of a Canadian billionaire and Williams F1 test driver Lance Stroll. And if you go back a little further, Rosenqvist finished fifth in the 2011 Formula 3 Euro Series ahead of Audi wunderkind Laurens Vanthoor and Daniel Abt and current IndyCar driver Carlos Muñoz. No Swede has ever won in Indy Lights and I expect that to change in 2016. Rosenqvist could take the title.

Andretti Autosport
Dean Stoneman: This is a story six years in the making. At 20 years old, Stoneman won the Formula Two championship in 2010. He would test for Andretti Autosport's Indy Lights team the winter after winning that title. However, testicular cancer put Stoneman's racing ambitions on hold for three years. He would return to competition in 2013 where he won five races in Porsche Carrera Cup UK and finished second on his debut weekend in GP3. The following year he would win five GP3 races on route to runner-up in the championship. Last year, Stoneman finished sixth in the Formula Renault 3.5 championship. Stoneman will be Andretti's thoroughbred and he will be battling for the title all season long.

Dalton Kellett: The Canadian is a Road to Indy veteran and will now take the next step to Indy Lights. While Kellett has never won a race in 58 starts across U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda, he has been a driver who has consistently brought the car home with all four wheels intact and has 27 top tens finishes. He made his Indy Lights debut in 2013 at Baltimore, where he had an accident after one lap. I think Kellett will continue to be consistent and that could get him a top five every now and then but he won't light the world on fire. I expect him to finish just on the outside of the top ten in the championship.

Shelby Blackstock: Another Road to Indy veteran, Blackstock will be entering his second year in Indy Lights. He struggled in 2015 but scored a podium at Mid-Ohio and a fourth in the monsoon conditions that hit Toronto 1. Blackstock finished every race in 2015, the only driver to accomplish that and completed the second most laps behind only Ed Jones. I think Blackstock will finish ahead of Kellett in the championship but because of the depth of the grid he will fall down a few pegs in the championships standings.

Team Pelfrey
Juan Piedrahita: The Colombian moves from Belardi Auto Racing to Team Pelfrey in 2016. Team Pelfrey bought the assets of 8Star Motorsports, which won two races in 2015 with Sean Rayhall, in the offseason. Piedrahita is another Road to Indy veteran. He has made 80 starts across the three feeders series but he has never won a race. He has ten podiums in his career and that includes a third last year at Milwaukee in Indy Lights. This is set to be Piedrahita's third season in Indy Lights and with a third different team. I don't expect anything different from Piedrahita in 2016. He will have some good runs but for the most part be on the periphery.

Scott Hargrove: The 2013 U.S. F2000 champion is only signed on for St. Petersburg but hopefully this Canadian hopeful sticks around for the entire season. Hargrove lost the 2014 Pro Mazda title by ten points to Spencer Pigot after a wild Sonoma finale that saw Hargrove, Pigot, Hargrove's then-teammate Neil Alberico and Pigot's then-teammate Kyle Kaiser all making contact with one another only to have a mechanical failure end Hargrove's championship run. Hargrove made his Indy Lights debut last year with 8Star and after a fourth and sixth in his debut weekend at St. Petersburg, Hargrove was replaced by Rayhall. He would run three Pro Mazda races at the IMS road course in May and won seven of eight IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge Canada races with his one non-victory being a second place finish. Hargrove is the Canadian star IndyCar needs and they can't let him go to sports cars. He, Pigot, Kaiser and Alberico all had a wonderful rivalry brewing and those types of grassroots feuds are something that can only help IndyCar. Hargrove has plenty of talent to compete for the title but with his role at Team Pelfrey unknown beyond St. Petersburg, we can only hope he gets a shot to show what he has got.

McCormack Racing
Davey Hamilton, Jr.: The son of two-time IndyCar championship runner-up Davey Hamilton is scheduled to run the full Indy Lights season for McCormack Racing. Hamilton, Jr. won the King of the Wing Western Sprint Car Series championship last year. He and the team tested at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in California over the winter but were not at the Phoenix test. It's not that Hamilton, Jr. will never be successful on road/street courses but I don't think he will be successful this season or even next year. He could be really competitive on the ovals but I think most of 2016 will be lengthy test session for the second-generation driver. He turns 19 years old on March 15th.

It's Leap Day
Last year, I suggested IndyCar run a race on Leap Day and make it a quadrennial event for the series to make it stand out. Read about it here.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Jimmie Johnson but did you know...

Jonathan Rea began his World Superbike title defense by sweeping the season opening round from Phillip Island. Nicky Hayden finished ninth and fourth in his first WSBK weekend since being a wild card entry at the Laguna Seca round in 2002.

Rookie Swiss rider Randy Krummenacher won on his World Supersport debut at Phillip Island. American P.J. Jacobsen finished fifth.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Atlanta. John Hunter Nemecheck won in Trucks.

Ryan Dungey won the Supercross race from Atlanta.

Coming Up This Weekend
Pirelli World Challenge season opens from Circuit of the Americas.
V8 Supercars opens its season on the streets of Adelaide.
AMA Supercross heads to Daytona.
NASCAR will be in Las Vegas.
World Rally will be in Mexico.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

What Did We Learn From IndyCar's Phoenix Test?

Two days and nights of on-track are in the books from Phoenix International Raceway. With the season opener a fortnight away, what can we take away from the first official test of the season?

1. The Chevrolets Are Still Quicker Than Honda
But not by much. Hélio Castroneves ran the fastest lap of the two days at 19.2735 seconds with his Penske teammate Simon Pageant 0.0149 seconds back. The Ed Carpenter Racing pair of Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter were third and fourth, 0.0182 seconds and 0.0581 seconds back respectively. Marco Andretti was the fastest Honda over the two days at 19.3351 seconds and Ryan Hunter-Reay was the only other Honda in the top ten, 0.1251 seconds behind Castroneves.

The Honda engines used at this test did not have the 2016 performance upgrades, which are due for the season opener. How much are those upgrades worth? Who knows? Will they give the Honda's an extra tenth or two or are we talking a few hundredths of a second? Either way, Honda got its wish and was allowed to tweak their aero kits and in my eyes, now it's time for Honda to work for that extra tenth. If anything, Honda should realize that while Chevrolet won every pole position in 2015, there were plenty of races where Chevrolets just fell to the back and Hondas moved to the front.

I am sure the politicking will go back and forth between the two manufactures all season. Which brings us to point two.

2. Downforce Has Become a Battleground
Michael Andretti wants more of it. Will Power wants less and wants the turbo boost turned up to road and street course levels.

Both are saying they are looking out for the show just like politicians saying they are thinking about the children.

I don't know whom to believe. Could Michael Andretti be saying "more downforce" because he knows Honda can compete in terms of downforce and Chevrolet has the advantage in terms of sheer horsepower? I can't imagine how these teams could get more downforce generated. Did Michael Andretti not see the times that were posted?

Personally, I am with Power. Turn up the turbo boost, take off downforce and force the drivers to lift in the corners and really drive the cars.

To be fair to both Andretti and Power, we haven't seen how these cars race after tires degradation. The good news is we are getting to these problems in February, five weeks prior to the Phoenix race instead of during the race weekend. New vice president of competition Bill Pappas has already talked about removing downforce. I am sure a solution will be found before the race weekend.

3. The Track Record Was Shattered
A lot of people wondered how fast these cars could go at Phoenix and whether the track record was in danger entering this test. Arie Luyenduk's twenty-year-old track record (granted on a different configuration), was broken by 18 of the 21 drivers who took to the track this weekend. Castroneves, Pagenaud and Newgarden were all over three-tenths quicker. The top seven from the test all ran laps over the 190 MPH average.

Depending on what the aero package is when the series returns in April, that track record could officially fall.

4. Gabby Chaves Passed the Audition
Mikhail Aleshin couldn't enter the United States due to visa issues and that opened the door for Gabby Chaves to substitute for the Russian in the #7 Honda. While Chaves was 17th fastest with his best lap clocking in at 19.5699 seconds, he showed that he deserves a sophomore season and deserves it now.

Unfortunately for Chaves, IndyCar rides don't grow on trees. I bet Sam Schmidt wants to reward Chaves for stepping up at the last minute and being so competitive but that's not going to happen. If only that Colombian coffee company that back Carlos Huertas would sponsor Chaves. Perhaps Chaves could become the road/street course driver in the #20 Chevrolet as that has yet to be announced the full-time status of that car appears to hang in the balance. I hope the 2015 Rookie of the Year returns for an extended period in 2016.

5. The Rookies Held Their Own
While Spencer Pigot and Alexander Rossi were spectators, Max Chilton and Conor Daly were on the track and neither put a wheel wrong.

Chilton was 18th but only 0.2964 seconds behind Castroneves. Daly was 20th but only 0.4755 seconds back. With the field being so close, being toward the bottom of the speed chart isn't necessarily a bad sign. Both gained experience and that is what matters most entering the season.

6. A Lot of People Showed Up When It Was Free. Now, How Many Will Open Their Wallets?
The crowd was so big for this test that the track had to open another parking lot for fans. That sounds great but this is a free test. How many will shell out $50-$75 for two tickets? I was wondering if the track would be selling tickets during the test and I hope they were. I don't know what the crowd will be like. Anything in the 25,000-30,000 range should be taken as a victory by both the track and the series considering it has been 11 years since IndyCar last raced at the track. It's a little late for a title sponsor to jump on but that is something the track and series will need, along with a healthy size crowd, for this race to become a regular occurrence on the schedule.

7. Everyone Is Glad To Be In Phoenix
The Beatles' "Long, Long, Long" should be played prior to the first practice on April 1st. Phoenix is one of the handful of tracks people can't believe IndyCar has been away from for so long. This is a track that is apart of IndyCar's identity and yet IndyCar let it go. IndyCar has had great races on short tracks and the fact there aren't five or six on the schedule is hard to fathom. IndyCar should have figured out a way to make Milwaukee work (Step one: Not moving it to a different weekend every year and at a different time of the day). Along with Phoenix, Iowa and Milwaukee, IndyCar should be at Richmond, Loudon and Gateway as well as return to Fontana and Michigan and experiment with Darlington because I think we would all like to see what IndyCars at Darlington would look like. IndyCar need to find a way to work with these tracks.

It takes years for a race to build a following and they can't be abandoned after three or four tough years. These venues that actually exist and have roots in the ground are the venues IndyCar should be going to if it hopes to grow and not street circuits, which have a shelf life that is shorter than skim milk (Boston, Baltimore, Houston, I am looking at you).

8. Announcing a Driver is Returning is Not a "Big Announcement."
KV Racing tweeted they had a "big announcement" prior to today's test and that "big announcement" turned out to be that Sébastien Bourdais would be returning for another season. That's not a big announcement. You don't know invite your parents over for dinner to tell them that you are your spouse are still married. You do that when a child is on the way or someone got a promotion. The Baltimore Ravens aren't going to have an announcement that Joe Flacco is returning as starting quarterback.

Want to know what a "big announcement" is? KV changing its mind and running a second car for Gabby Chaves after seeing how good he ran on Friday. Or announcing an Indianapolis 500 entry for someone along the lines of Townsend Bell. Or doing something spectacular and announcing that KV is bringing a third engine manufacture into IndyCar for the 2017 season.

Those all would fall in the category of big announcement. Announcing the driver you have had for the last two seasons is returning for a third isn't a big announcement.

With that cleared up, we can now turn our eyes to the final two weeks of the IndyCar offseason. Teams will be testing in Sebring later this week. Two weeks. Two more weeks.

Friday, February 26, 2016

2016 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Andretti-Herta Autosport

This is the quintessential present-day IndyCar situation. One team has a respectable season with a rookie driver. In fact, said rookie driver wins Rookie of the Year and does nothing but keeps his nose clean. He brings the car home in one piece week-in and week-out. Everything looks positive heading into the next season and then the parachute is cut just when it appears everything will fall gently into the new season. Bryan Herta Autosport appeared set to bring back Gabby Chaves in 2016 but everything fell to shambles when it appeared everything was going to work out. The bittersweet situation is one promising young driver is out but the merger with Andretti Autosport will keep an entry on the grid and another rising star will get an opportunity. That rising star is Alexander Rossi.

2015 Bryan Herta Autosport Review
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 9th (Belle Isle 1)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 12th (Milwaukee).
Final Championship Positions: 15th (Gabby Chaves)

2016 Driver

Alexander Rossi
The American driver paid his dues in Europe and after years of polishing his craft in the ladder system, Rossi finally made it to Formula One while also finishing runner-up in the GP2 Series championship to McLaren development driver Stoffel Vandoorne. Rossi made five starts in Formula One last season for Manor Marussia F1. He beat his Manor teammate Will Stevens in qualifying three times and finished ahead of him in four races. Rossi's best finish was 12th in the United States Grand Prix, the only lead lap finish for Manor in the entire 2015 season. 

Numbers to Remember: 
2- Rossi has made two starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Both were on the road course during the 2007 Formula BMW USA season. Rossi finished fourth and sixth in those two races. 

4- Victories at Road America in nine starts at the track between Formula BMW and Skip Barber National Championship. Rossi also had four GP2 victories in 53 starts. 

10- Rossi won ten races in the 2008 Formula BMW USA season. That was the last time Rossi ran full-time in United States.

Rossi makes the Rookie of the Year title fight extremely interesting. He will be going up against former Manor Marussia teammate Max Chilton and fellow American Conor Daly while Spencer Pigot could also be in contention for the Rookie of the Year fight. Rossi is with a great team and the team has brought in veteran engineer Tom German to work with the American. Unlike his fellow Rookie of the Year candidates, Rossi has never run an oval. I think Rossi will have some good runs and will have a few top fives. He will be somewhere between 11th-15th in the championship and in the thick of it for Rookie of the Year honors.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

2016 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: KV Racing

KV Racing had its best season in 2015, scoring two victories while Sébastien Bourdais finished tenth in the championship for the second consecutive season. Bourdais had a competitive season but rookie Stefano Coletti struggled and scored only one top ten and one fastest lap. Bourdais will return for his third season at KV but for the first time in the Frenchman's career, he will be flying solo as KV Racing will be taking a page out of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing playbook and become a single-car team.

2015 KV Racing Review
Wins: 2 (Belle Isle 2, Milwaukee).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 3rd (Mid-Ohio).
Final Championship Positions: 10th (Sébastien Bourdais), 19th (Stefano Coletti).

2016 Driver:

Sébastien Bourdais
The four-time champion had arguably his best season since he returned to IndyCar full-time in 2013. Bourdais won the second race at Belle Isle after needing to conserve fuel in the closing laps and surviving dry to wet to dry conditions. At Milwaukee, he dominated the second-half of the race, leading 118 of 250 laps. After eight top tens in the first thirteen races, Bourdais was sixth in the championship and appeared to have an outside chance at the title but in the final three races his best finish was 17th and he fell to tenth in the final championship standings.

Numbers to Remember: 
8.8- Average podiums per season for Bourdais in his first five seasons.

2.33- Average podiums per season for Bourdais in the last three seasons.

1- Bourdais has only won one race after starting outside the top ten. That was last year at Milwaukee when he started 11th. Bourdais has 34 career victories.

Bourdais is one of the most talented drivers on the grid and he has always been considered a sleeper for the championship. Every Chevrolet team won in 2015 and I think Bourdais can get one victory in 2016 but I don't think he will be able to put together a championship caliber season. Two or three podiums aren't enough to win a title but Bourdais will get 8-10 top tens and find himself in the top ten of the championship.

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons commences with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13th. ABC's coverage of the race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

2016 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing went from cellar dweller in 2014 to legitimate contender, throwing punches with the big boys in 2015. The team put all their chips on Graham Rahal and it paid off. The team carried the Honda flag while Andretti Autosport was a sinking ship for the first third of the season. Now the single car effort looks to prove 2015 wasn't a fluke and tries to expand their operation to include another American prospect.

2015 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Review
Wins: 2 (Fontana, Mid-Ohio).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 5th (Pocono).
Final Championship Positions: 4th (Graham Rahal), 32nd (Oriol Servià).

2016 Drivers:

Graham Rahal
The Ohioan's breakout season saw him in the championship fight until the season finale only to have a spin drop him from championship challenger to fourth in the final standings. He took a controversial victory at Fontana but took a popular victory at his home track of Mid-Ohio. Rahal found a way to bring the car home in one piece and avoided trouble most of the season. While other Honda teams struggled, Rahal found a way to the front and stayed there. Now can he do it again in 2016?

Numbers to Remember: 
11.428- Rahal's averaging starting position in 2015, the best Honda driver.

6.5- Rahal's average finish improved by 6.5 positions from 2014 to 2015.

13- Lead lap finishes in 2015, a single season best for Rahal.

Rahal's qualifying struggles are dependent on the improvement on the Honda aero kit. If Rahal can rollover the confidence from 2015 into 2016, there is no reason why Rahal can't find himself in championship contention again in 2016. Rahal will get a victory but I think he falls off just a bit. We rarely see single car teams stay up at the top for an extended period. Perhaps working to get Pigot a full-time ride would be enough to keep Rahal and the entire RLLR team fighting with the big boys. He will be on the edge of the top ten in the championship.

Spencer Pigot
The 2015 Indy Lights champion will get at least a three-race rehearsal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The Pasadena, California-native is scheduled to run St. Petersburg and the two Indianapolis races. Pigot won the Indy Lights champion as a rookie driving for Juncos Racing. Along with his Indy Lights title, Pigot won the 2014 Pro Mazda championship and he twice finished runner-up in the U.S. F2000 championship.

Numbers to Remember: 
24- Victories in 72 Road to Indy starts over five seasons for Pigot.

2.1- Average finish at St. Petersburg in 10 starts. He has five victories on those streets and his worst finish is fourth.

1- One of the last 13 Indy Lights champions has finished in the top ten on debut. That was Sage Karam, who finished ninth in the 2014 Indianapolis 500.

Pigot's goals are a lot like Sage Karam's last year at the start of 2015. First, keep his nose out of harms way. Second, get results in his limited opportunity. Third, turn three races into 16. He needs to be at the front if he hopes to expand on his schedule. RLLR has added a lot of associate sponsors this offseason but whether they are enough to cover two cars remains to be seen. Hopefully it is enough but with how difficult the terrain is in IndyCar, it appears Pigot will have to be extraordinary to get a full season this year. The other goal should be to remain calm and keep confidence. Pigot shouldn't let three races define his career. If they don't go well, Pigot needs to remember that it's not enough of a sample size to truly show who he is as a driver.

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons commences with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13th. ABC's coverage of the race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2016 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Andretti Autosport

Andretti Autosport, despite being Honda's guinea pig and testing the manufactures' aero kit through the winter of 2014-15, found themselves chasing the field at the start of the 2015 season. No break went the team's way and it wasn't until a rainstorm in Detroit that the first rays of sunlight shined on the team. The team turned it around in the summer and found its old form before the season was out but the death of Justin Wilson casted a dark cloud over the turn around.

2015 Andretti Autosport Review
Wins: 3 (Belle Isle 1, Iowa, Pocono).
Poles: 0
Best Start: 3rd (Fontana, Sonoma).
Final Championship Positions: 6th (Ryan Hunter-Reay), 9th (Marco Andretti), 13th (Carlos Muñoz), 24th (Justin Wilson), 30th (Simona de Silvestro).

2016 Drivers:

Ryan Hunter-Reay
The American's 2015 season struggled to get going. Despite two top tens in the first four races, Hunter-Reay would find himself as low as 14th in the championship after struggling to catch at break in the months of May and June. However, he ended 2015 on a tear, winning two of the final four races and finishing second in the season finale. Hunter-Reay's late run vaulted him from 14th in the championship to sixth, his sixth consecutive season in the top ten of the championship.

Numbers to Remember: 
2,218- Laps completed in 2015, the most in IndyCar.

15- Starts from the 200-milestone. Hunter-Reay would become the 20th to reach it.

4- Consecutive top ten finishes. Hunter-Reay's longest stretch since his 2012 championship season.

1- One championship finish in the top five. That was his 2012 championship.

Hunter-Reay ended 2015 similarly to how he ended 2011. I think Hunter-Reay will win two races and find himself in the top five of the championship in 2016. Like all Honda drivers, any improvement in qualifying will seem to come down to the improvement in aero kits. A key for Hunter-Reay is to have a better start to the season. He has retired from at least one of the first three races of a season each of the last three years. If he can avoid putting himself in a hole early that could be crucial come late summer.

Marco Andretti
The third-generation driver had a solid season in 2015 with 11 top tens finishes. Andretti was also the top finishing Andretti Autosport driver in seven of 16 races and was the top Andretti Autosport qualifier five times. He completed every lap of the season until his accident on lap 139 of Pocono but he did recover to complete every lap at Sonoma. He finished ninth in the championship ahead of racer winners Sébastien Bourdais and Carlos Muñoz and ahead of Penske's Simon Pagenaud.

Numbers to Remember: 
76- Starts since Andretti's last victory. He went 77 starts from his first victory in Sonoma and second in Iowa.

990- Career laps led.

8.8- Andretti's average championship finish.

Andretti gets a victory this season and remains one of the most consistent drivers on the grid. However, I don't see him challenging for the title and with the depth of the IndyCar grid, one victory doesn't even guarantee a driver finishing top ten in the championship. I think he does finish in the top ten of the championship but no higher than seventh. A goal should be to score more top fives on road and street circuits.

Carlos Muñoz
The Colombian broke through and scored his first career victory in adverse condition in Detroit and that was the first step in the right direction for the team. While Muñoz was the first Andretti driver to win in 2015, he was stuck in the middle of the field for most of the season. On five occasions he failed to get out of the first round of qualifying on road and street courses. While the Honda aero kit didn't help, his average starting position for the entire season was 14.21, ahead of just six drivers who ran at least six races.

Numbers to Remember: 
37- Career starts and laps led.

39.13- Muñoz has finished in the top ten in 39.13% of his road/street course starts (9 for 23).

50- Muñoz has finished in the top ten in 50% of his ovals starts (7 for 14).

Muñoz needs to improve in qualifying and he needs to improve on road and street courses in general. He is impressive on ovals but he needs to take that aggressive to the road and street courses and be competing more in the top ten. I see Muñoz making a slight gain in 2015 but I think he will just miss out on the top ten in the championship.

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons commences with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13th. ABC's coverage of the race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Chase History

There were two photo finishes at Daytona. One finish set a record. Two manufactures scored their first victories in Daytona races. Daytona is behind us and now the floodgates are starting to break with many motorsports seasons about to begin in the next few weeks. Formula One teams are unveiling their 2016 machinery and IndyCar teams are scrambling to find funding and hire drivers. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Chase History
Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500. It is a legendary race with a nice payday. A position in the Chase has been pretty much locked up for Hamlin. It's not that hard to finish in the top 30 after 26 races and the chances of more than 16 drivers winning in the first 26 races is slim to none. The next six months or so are just going to be going through the motions for Hamlin, trying to earn another win or two to collect three or six more bonus points for the beginning of the Chase.

Why not try to do something great? Why not try to do something that few have ever done? Why not etch your name in the history and be immortalized as one of the greatest in motorsports history? You have just added the Daytona 500 to the list of accomplishments. Why not go after the Indianapolis 500?

Two drivers have won both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. They are Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt. Who wouldn't want to be apart of that company? Think about how revered Andretti and Foyt are. They didn't get that way by being one-trick ponies. They were great across the board. Let's not act like there isn't an active driver who could be successful in anything they get behind the wheel of. They are out there but the landscape of motorsports has turned drivers into silent puppets who do not seek greatness but passive, paycheck accepting pawns.

These drivers waste their talent and waste their potential greatness in fear of losing the cushy bubble they have been trapped in for their careers. They don't throw caution to the wind and risk failure. They don't want any blemishes but they don't realize that blemishes make them real. They want to be gods but they are merely humans.

They want it handed them. That is why you always hear them say they want to do it with the "right team" as if there is a magically team that exists that if you join a win is guaranteed. Instead of making an attempt with anybody and feverishly working to succeed regardless of the pieces around them, they would rather sit back and not even attempt to make history. How disappointing.

Don't we want drivers to chase down history? Don't we want drivers to be greater than anything to have come before them? Don't we want drivers to realize the money and material wealthy is temporary but monumental accomplishments stand the test the time and provide future generations with something to strive for?

And this isn't just on Daytona 500 winners. Why wasn't Scott Dixon at Daytona? Where was Juan Pablo Montoya? Ryan Hunter-Reay lives in Fort Lauderdale; it would practically be a home race for him. Tony Kanaan? Hélio Castroneves? There is a financial barrier that stands in the way but what sponsor would turn down a chance to be apart of something so extraordinary? It has only happened twice in the 58 years that both races existed. It's the equivalent to Oscar Robertson averaging a triple-double for an entire season. If it were to happen again, no one would roll their eyes and say "been there, done that." It would have the masses in awe.

Kenny Bräck almost ran the Daytona 500. Imagine if he did and imagine if he won it. He would have a whole different place in motorsports lore. Who wouldn't want that? Hamlin would have the chance to win both in the same year. His name would standout greater than any driver that came before him should he achieve an unfathomable feat.

The five active Indianapolis 500 winners should be dying to be in Daytona come February and Hamlin, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Trevor Bayne and Matt Kenseth should be dying to be Indianapolis come May. A rare place in history is within their grasps.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Denny Hamlin and what happened on Thursday but did you know...

Chase Elliott won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Daytona.

Johnny Sauter gave Chevrolet its first victory in the Daytona Truck race.

Ken Roczen won the AMA Supercross race from Arlington, his second victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
This week, Formula One begins testing from Barcelona and IndyCar tests at Phoenix.
NASCAR heads north to Atlanta and AMA Supercross will also be in Atlanta.
The World Superbike season opens at Phillip Island.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Denny Hamlin Wins Closest Daytona 500

The 58th Daytona 500 was won by Denny Hamlin by 0.011 seconds over Martin Truex, Jr., the closest Daytona 500 finish. Kyle Busch made it a Toyota 1-2-3. It is Toyota's first Daytona 500 victory and Toyota is the first foreign manufacture to win the race.

Hamlin was fourth on the final lap before making a move on the back straightaway that gave him a run on the leaders entering turns three. Matt Kenseth was leading and attempted to block his teammate but Hamlin made an over-under move on Kenseth and left Kenseth hung out to dry on the outside. Hamlin was side-by-side with Truex, Jr. from the exit of turn four and the Virginian held off the New Jerseyan by 0.011 seconds, tied for 13th closest in NASCAR Cup history.

Hamlin led a race-high 95 laps. It is Joe Gibbs Racing's second Daytona 500 victory. Joe Gibbs Racing won the 1993 race with Dale Jarrett.

Kevin Harvick finished fourth. Carl Edwards made it four Toyota in the top five. Edwards suffered right front damage after an accident on lap 57 with Trevor Bayne after Brian Vickers spun in front of them. Last year's Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano was the top Ford in sixth.

Kyle Larson finished seventh with Regan Smith in eighth. This was Larson's first top ten finish in the Daytona 500 while it was Smith's third top ten in the race. Austin Dillon matched his best Daytona 500 finish by coming home in ninth. Dillon finished ninth after starting from pole position in 2014. Kurt Busch rounded out the top ten. It is Kurt Busch's first top ten in the Daytona 500 since finishing 5th in 2011 while driving for Team Penske.

Ryan Newman finished 11th while Aric Almirola came home in 12th. Kasey Kahne was the top Hendrick Motorsports driver in 13th. Kenseth fell to 14th after being hung out to dry on the final lap. Kenseth had led the 40 laps prior to the final lap, good enough for second most in the race. Michael McDowell was the top finishing open entry in 15th.

Jimmie Johnson finished 16th with Jamie McMurray in 17th. Paul Menard, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top twenty. A.J. Allmendinger finished 21st but ran the fastest lap in there race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 22nd ahead of Landon Cassil and Brian Scott. Ty Dillon finished 25th.

Brian Vickers finished 26th ahead of Michael Annett. Trevor Bayne finished 28th. Since winning the Daytona 500 in 2011, this is only the second time Bayne has finished better than 30th in the Daytona 500. David Ragan finished 29th ahead of his BK Racing teammate Michael Waltrip. Bobby Labonte was the final car on the lead lap as he finished 31st in his 24th Daytona 500 start.

Casey Mears and Clint Bowyer each finished one lap down. Greg Biffle was two laps down. Danica Patrick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and pole-sitter Chase Elliott all had their races hampered by accidents. Robert Richardson, Jr. finished 38th. Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto both retired after a lap 92 accident. Both Buescher and DiBenedetto were making their Daytona 500 debuts.

Next week, NASCAR will be in Atlanta.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch Split Daytona 500 Qualifying Races

Hendrick Motorsports extended its Daytona 500 qualifying race winning streak to three consecutive and then Joe Gibbs Racing ended it. A few top contenders suffered a set back after an accident on the final lap of the night.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won his fifth Daytona 500 qualifying race, putting him in a four-way tie for third all-time with Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon. It is the second consecutive year in which Earnhardt, Jr. has won a Daytona 500 qualifying race. He also won qualifying races in 2003, 2004 and 2008. Last year's Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano finished second with Ryan Blaney finishing third, the top open entry. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five. Earnhardt, Jr., Logano, Blaney, Harvick and Hamlin will start on the inside of rows 2-6 in the Daytona 500.

Daytona 500 pole-sitter Chase Elliott finished sixth in his first Daytona 500 qualifying race. Kasey Kahne finished behind his Hendrick Motorsport teammate in seventh. Three Fords rounded out the top ten with Greg Biffle leading rookie Chris Buescher and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Kahne, Biffle, Buescher and Stenhouse, Jr. will start on the inside of rows 7-10.

Austin Dillon finished ahead of 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne in 11th. Brad Keselowski finished 13th and Michael McDowell finished 14th. Since Blaney was the top finishing open entry, McDowell will qualify for the Daytona 500 based on his qualifying time. Regan Smith rounded out the top fifteen. Dillon, Bayne, Keselowski and Smith will start on the inside of rows 11-14.

David Ragan finished 16th with Josh Wise in 17th. Wise will not race in the Daytona 500. Clint Boywer, Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Paul Menard and Cole Whitt rounded out the results in race one. Whitt did not qualify for the Daytona 500 after spinning and bringing out the only caution in the race. Scott spun on the final lap coming to the checkered flag.

Ragan, Bowyer, Labonte, Scott and Menard will start on the inside of rows 15-19. Since McDowell qualified on his time from time trails, he will start on the inside of row 20.

A final lap accident sealed the second race for Kyle Busch. It is his third Daytona 500 qualifying race victory. It is Joe Gibbs Racing's third qualifying race victory in the last six and the team's ninth overall. Jamie McMurray finished second after blocking Jimmie Johnson entering turn one on the final lap, causing contact and causing Johnson to spin and collecting Martin Truex, Jr., A.J. Allmendinger and Matt Kenseth.

Kurt Busch finished third despite suffering significant damage from contact with Johnson's car on the final lap. Carl Edwards and Ty Dillon rounded out the top five in race two. Kyle Busch, McMurray, Kurt Busch, Edwards and Dillon will start on the outside of rows 2-6.

Kyle Larson finished sixth with Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Danica Patrick and Brian Vickers finishing seventh and eighth. Matt DiBenedetto was the top finishing open entry and Michael Annett rounded out the top ten. Landon Cassill finished 11th. Larson, Patrick, Vickers, DiBenedetto, Annett and Cassill will start on the outside of rows 7-12.

David Gilliland finished 12th with the four cars that got caught up in the final lap finishing behind Gilliland. Gilliland did not qualify for the Daytona 500. Johnson, Truex, Jr. and Allmendinger tentatively are schedule to start on rows 13-15 but if any or all three go to backup cars then they will have to start from the rear of the field. Kenseth was scheduled to start on the front row but if he goes to a back up car, he will relinquish that position and start at the back.

Casey Mears ran out of fuel on the penultimate lap and finished a lap down in 17th. Since DiBenedetto raced his way in, Robert Richardson, Jr. qualified for the 58th Daytona 500. Aric Almirola and Michael Waltrip rounded out the top twenty. Both finished a lap down. Reed Sorenson retired four laps from the finished and will not race in the Daytona 500. Ryan Newman had a mechanical failure end his race just prior to halfway.

Mears, Almirola, Waltrip and Newman are scheduled to start on the outside of rows 15-19. Richardson, Jr. will start 40th after getting in on his qualifying time.

The 58th Daytona 500 is scheduled to take place at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.

2016 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: AJ Foyt Racing

AJ Foyt Racing expanded to two cars in 2015 and unfortunately the results did not improve for the team. Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth both failed to score a victory and both failed to finish in the top ten of the championship. Both drivers did score five top ten finishes but outside of Sato's second in Belle Isle 2, none of the top tens were all that impressive. Both drivers have been retained for 2016. You have to think the results have to improve for either of these drivers to be retained for 2017.

2015 AJ Foyt Racing Review
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Belle Isle 2)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 4th (Belle Isle 1)
Final Championship Positions: 14th (Takuma Sato), 17th (Jack Hawksworth), 37th (Alex Tagliani).

2016 Drivers:

Takuma Sato
The Japanese driver reached the century make in terms of career starts at Mid-Ohio last year and ended the 2015 season with 102 starts. While finishing second at Belle Isle 2 was Sato's high of 2015, he had little to brag about. Sato retired from four of sixteen races. He did end the season with consecutive top ten finishes and he did have a respectable season in qualifying, a place where Honda struggled mightily in 2015.

Numbers to Remember: 
2- Most consecutive top ten finishes in Sato's career and he had done that on seven occasions.

4- Sato has had three consecutive finishes outside the top twenty on four occasions.

19.166- Sato's average finish in the Indianapolis 500 with 13th being his best on two occasions.

Sato is going to have another Sato type season. He will have a few great qualifying runs. He will have one race (likely a street course) where he is around the top five all day but for the most part he will be mediocre and end up finishing around 15th in the championship. He's not going to change. Despite having the speed to be one of the best on the grid he has never had the consistency since winning the 2001 British Formula Three championship. Sato turned 39 years old in January and this has to be his final straw, at least with AJ Foyt Racing. Another average season won't be enough to get him another year with the Houston-based team.

Jack Hawksworth
The British driver's sophomore season was his first for AJ Foyt Racing and while it started out well with an eighth at St. Petersburg, Hawksworth never found himself in contention for a race victory. He did pick up a pair of seventh at Belle Isle. Just like his teammate, Hawksworth retired from four races but unlike his teammate Hawksworth struggled in qualifying.

Numbers to Remember: 
21- Hawksworth was 21st in average starting position among drivers who made at least six starts in 2015.

5- Hawksworth has scored five top tens in each of his first two seasons.

17- Hawksworth has finished 17th in the championship in each of his first two seasons.

This will be Hawksworth's third season in IndyCar and it is make or break time for him. He enters 2016 with 33 career starts and should he start all 16 races in 2016, he will have 49 career starts, right on cusp of the 50-start plateau. Only 28 drivers have taken 50 starts or more to get their first career victory. I don't think Hawksworth can win in 2016 but I think he could jump his teammate in the championship. The only problem for him is even if he jumps his teammate, how well will he finish in the championship? Ten of the top thirteen in 2015 belonged to Ganassi, Penske and Andretti. I think Hawksworth can get a half a dozen top tens and if he sneaks a top five or two and finishes ahead of Sato, that might be enough to earn himself a third season with Foyt.

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons commences with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13th. ABC's coverage of the race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

2016 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' 2015 season started out in a surprising fashion with a victory in the second race of the season but SPM's season was shaken up when their lead driver James Hinchcliffe was sidelined with severe leg injuries. The ragtag team of Ryan Briscoe and Conor Daly split the role of substitute for the Canadian and scored five top tens in the final 11 races. James Jakes ran all 18 races and finished third at NOLA but scored only three top tens in the next 14 races.

2015 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Review
Wins: 1 (NOLA)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 2nd (Milwaukee)
Final Championship Positions: 16th (James Jakes), 18th (Ryan Briscoe), 23rd (James Hinchcliffe), 28th (Conor Daly), 33rd (Mikhail Aleshin)

2016 Drivers:

James Hinchcliffe
The 2015 season ended unexpectedly prior to the Indianapolis 500 after Hinchcliffe suffered a significant leg injury on the final practice day. The Canadian took a surprise victory in the monsoon that hit NOLA on race day. A seventh at Barber would follow two weeks later. When Hinchcliffe's season ended he was tied for seventh with Josef Newgarden and was the second best Honda driver in the championship behind only Graham Rahal.

Numbers to Remember: 
25.8- Points per start for Hinchcliffe in 2015. The tenth-best amongst drivers with at least five starts.

20.75- Hinchcliffe's average finish in races after victories.

11- Eleven of Hinchcliffe's 36 career top tens have come in races prior to the Indianapolis 500.

First goal should be to run all 16 races. I don't see his injuries having any carry off effect into 2016 and I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports could be a threat for more victories and the team should be able to climb up the championship. A lack of consistency has plagued Hinchcliffe ever since he joined IndyCar. He has never finished in the top ten after a victory. He has yet to earn his first career pole but has started second on nine occasions. He has one victory, three top fives and seven top tens in those second-place starts. I think Hinchcliffe can get another victory in 2016 and I think he will be in the top ten of the championship.

Mikhail Aleshin
After a year running an LMP2 car in European Le Mans Series for SPM Racing, Aleshin returns to IndyCar for his sophomore season. The Russian's rookie season ended in a hospital bed after suffering injuries in final practice for the 2014 season finale from Fontana. He made a cameo in the 2015 season finale at Sonoma for SPM and finished tenth from 14th on the grid. In 2015, Aleshin finished 13th in LMP2 at Le Mans and fifth in the ELMS championship with three consecutive podiums to close out the season.

Numbers to Remember: 
8- Top tens in 18 career starts.

4- The longest stretch in his career between top ten finishes. Also, Aleshin has led four career laps led.

3- Career top ten starts.

Aleshin's rookie season was noted for his consistency and his controlled aggression. He had seven top tens from 17 starts but only two of those top tens were finishes better than seventh. Aleshin made a few mistakes and he did not do well in qualifying. Only three times did Aleshin qualify in the top ten and one of those was an eighth at Fontana, where he didn't take the green flag. I think the combo of Hinchcliffe-Aleshin is a dangerous one and SPM could put both cars in the top ten of the championship but that will all come down to whether Hinchcliffe can be consistent and whether Aleshin can take a step forward from 2014. Aleshin will be on the edge of the top ten of the championship and will surprise a few people with a top five or two on ovals.

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons commences with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13th. ABC's coverage of the race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

2016 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Team Penske

Three of the six drivers mathematically eligible to win the Astor Cup at the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale from Sonoma belonged to Team Penske. Instead of leaving with a second consecutive title, the team left with its tail between its legs after losing on tiebreaker. All four drivers from 2015 return for 2016 as the famous team looks to shake off another blown title.

2015 Team Penske Review:
Wins: 3 (St. Petersburg, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Indianapolis 500)
Poles: 11 (St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Barber, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Belle Isle 1, Texas, Toronto, Fontana, Iowa, Pocono, Sonoma)
Final Championship Positions: 2nd (Juan Pablo Montoya), 3rd (Will Power), 6th (Hélio Castroneves), 11th (Simon Pagenaud).

2016 Drivers:

Juan Pablo Montoya
The Colombian led every single day of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season except the last one and even then he had a share of the lead but the title went to Scott Dixon based on the New Zealander's three victories to Montoya's two victories. Entering Iowa, it appeared not only would Montoya win the championship but could possibly locked it up before Sonoma, even though the finale was worth double points. An accident nine laps into that race opened the door and the dominoes started to not fall in Montoya's favor. A closed pit-lane at Mid-Ohio cost him a top five and contact with his teammate Will Power put him behind the eight-ball in the finale and left him chasing instead of being the chased.

Numbers to Remember: 
1- Podium since his Indianapolis 500 victory. He finished third at Pocono.

294- Days between his last victory (Indianapolis) and the season opener St. Petersburg, which he won in 2015. Montoya's win at Indianapolis is also Team Penske's most recent IndyCar victory.

30- Montoya led 30 of 1,448 oval laps in 2015. That's 2.07%.

Despite all these years of Penske choking a championship away, the team always rebounds and rarely struggles at the start of the season. Montoya is 40 years old and doesn't turn 41 until two days after the 2016 season. He is a young 40 but could this be his final year in IndyCar? It's hard to see Montoya regressing significantly in 2016. He likely won't be able to repeat his near wire-to-wire championship lead but he can never be ruled out of a 500-mile race. A win or two and another bid for a top-five finish in the championship is on Montoya's horizon.

Will Power
The Australians championship defense in 2015 started off promising. A victory and two runner-up finishes saw Power trailing Montoya by only 25 points after the Indianapolis 500. However, once the calendar switched to June, Power found himself being in the wrong place at the wrong time. An accident in Belle Isle 2 with Hélio Castroneves, contact with Takuma Sato at Fontana and a nudge from Ryan Briscoe at Milwaukee left Power with an average finish of 15.2 in a five-race stretch. He scored a pair of fourths after ten races but he hasn't scored a podium since that fateful day in May.

Numbers to Remember: 
10- Starts since Power's last podium, matching his longest podium drought since joining Team Penske.

100- Career top tens.

9- Consecutive seasons with a victory.

Like I said with Montoya, I don't see Power regressing. I think 2016 will be another season with Power competing for the title into August and September. He only won once in 2015, the fewest victories for Power in a season since his abbreviated 2009 season when he was a substitute for Hélio Castroneves at St. Petersburg while he settled his tax evasion trail and was rewarded with a smattering of other races. However, last year was the first time since Power's rookie season in 2006 that he did not win on a street/temporary circuit. Power should score two-three victories in 2016 and be in the championship hunt until the final race of the season.

Hélio Castroneves
The Brazilian enters his 19th season in IndyCar and 17th with Roger Penske. Castroneves had a Castreoneves-esque season in 2015: No victories but five podiums, six top fives and nine top tens. It was also a Castroneves-esque season in another way. He failed to score a top ten in one of the final four races. The season before that, Castroneves failed to score a top ten in the final five races. With the three-time Indianapolis 500 looking to get his fourth, he is also running out of time for that elusive title and it appears he might not have what it takes to put together a collection of 16 finishes good enough to take the Astor Cup.

Numbers to Remember: 
199- Career top tens.

27- Starts since Castroneves' last victory. The most starts between victories for Castroneves is 29 from St. Petersburg 2007 until Sonoma 2008.

45- Career pole positions. He is four behind Bobby Unser for third all-time.

Despite Castroneves' career waning, I still think he will win the Indianapolis 500 this year because the stars have aligned for him to do. Can the stars align for him to get that elusive championship? I don't think so. In fact, I think Castroneves will finish in the "Tony Kanaan Zone" of the championship. Somewhere between seventh and 12th. He will have another Castroneves type season and get good results but he won't be sensational.

Simon Pagenaud
The Frenchman's first season with Team Penske went as while as a lead balloon. A bagel in the wins column, two podiums and seven finishes outside the top ten. Anytime it looked like it was going to be Pagenaud's day, he faded. When other Penske drivers faltered, Pagenaud wasn't able to carry the weight. He finished 11th in the championship, ending a streak of three consecutive top five championship finishes and a career worst for him when competing a full-season.

Numbers to Remember: 
5.2- Pagenaud's average starting position in 2015.

-5.375- Pagenaud lost on average 5.375 positions from his starting position in 2015.

17,794- The amount of days between the last IndyCar victory for car #22 and St. Petersburg. The last victory for the #22 was Wes Vandervoort on June 25, 1967 at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. It was the only victory of Vandervoort's IndyCar career.

I can't see Pagenaud going another season without a victory but it just didn't seem to click at any point in 2015. If Pagenaud had finished the season strong with a string of four or five consecutive top ten finishes then I might look at him as someone who will come into 2016 hot and potentially be a championship contender. I think he wins a race but finishes in the "Kanaan Zone" with Castroneves.

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons commences with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13th. ABC's coverage of the race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Roll Call

Cars are on track at Daytona. One season already ended in New Zealand. World Rally Championship nearly grounded to a halt in muddy Sweden. Valentine's Day came and went. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Starting this week, team-by-team previews for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season will be posted. At time of posting, we are 27 days until IndyCar's season opener at St. Petersburg. These previews will be rolled out over the next month. They will not come out one day after another so just keep an eye out for them in the coming weeks.

Roll Call
With team-by-team previews coming up, it would be good to look at the IndyCar grid at a glance.

Here are the confirmed drivers for the 2016 season. Let's start with Chevrolet.

Ganassi will have four cars. Scott Dixon is returning to defend his championship. Tony Kanaan is back. Charlie Kimball returns and it appears he will have a new livery. Max Chilton is set for his rookie season.

Penske is bringing back the same band from last year: Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud.

KV Racing will be a one-car team with all the chips on Sébastien Bourdais.

CFH Racing is now Ed Carpenter Racing with Josef Newgarden in the #21 Chevrolet and Ed Carpenter set to return in the #20 Chevrolet for the oval races. The road/street course driver for the #20 has yet to be announced.

That is 11 Chevrolets confirmed for 2016. On to Honda.

Andretti Autosport has three drivers confirmed: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Muñoz.

A.J. Foyt Racing is retaining Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin pairing up for 2016.

Graham Rahal is back at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Conor Daly will be at Dale Coyne Racing.

That is nine Hondas confirmed. What are we waiting on?

Bryan Herta Autosport appears likely to return but the team has yet to confirm the return. The team would like to bring back 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves.

Dale Coyne Racing will have a second car.

Those are two yet-to-be-confirmed-but-extremely-likely-to-happen Hondas. The full-time grid would be 22 cars.

There have been some rumblings about a fourth Andretti entry. Some signs have been pointing to Andretti's Formula E driver Robin Frijns being that driver. Some signs have pointed to that being a part-time car. Some signs point to that being a rotating cast of characters.

Defending Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot is scheduled to run three races for RLLR but that could be another possibility for a full-time entry.

The other concern is does the #20 ECR Chevrolet run the full season? It doesn't make much sense to run a car for only five races but things are tight in IndyCar and if ECR can't find a suitable second driver for the #20 car than it could only been seen at ovals.

It looks like there will be at least 21 full-time entries with as many as 24. It doesn't appear as if there will be anymore on the Chevrolet front. The size of the full-time IndyCar grid will be dependent on Honda.

While we are looking the full-time IndyCar grid, we mind as well look at the potential Indianapolis 500 entry list. Believe it or not, people are already crying that there won't be 33 cars for the 100th Indianapolis 500. It has become a topic that some use to highlight the inadequacies IndyCar fans feel about the series they love and they do it to make waves of fear.

But let's come down and let's use rationale to think this out. There will 33 entries. The series always finds a way to get 33 cars on the grid.

Let's take the 22 teams we have already looked at. They will all be there.

We know Spencer Pigot will be there. That's 23.

Matthew Brabham is scheduled to run both Indianapolis with PIRTEK Team Murray in partnership with KV Racing. That's 24.

Jonathan Byrd's Racing will return with Bryan Clauson and they have partnered with Dale Coyne Racing. That's 25.

Katherine Legge and Grace Autosport are working on a program for the Indianapolis 500. That's 26.

Sage Karam has been announced with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. That's 27.

So we are six away and the rest of these entries are pure speculation.

Pippa Mann seems likely to be back with Dale Coyne Racing and that would be 28 entries.

Buddy Lazier failed to qualify last year but he hasn't (at least publicly) thrown in the towel. Should Lazier and his family-run team return that would be 29 entries.

You have to think Andretti Autosport will run a fourth car. That would be 30. However, Andretti Autosport has entered five cars for the Indianapolis 500 every year since 2010. Should the team keep that streak going, that would be 31 entries.

You have to think Ganassi will run a fifth car, especially since Ryan Briscoe is on the team's books with the Ford GT program. That would be 32.

Just recently, Bryan Herta Autosport has made it know they are interested in running a second car for Indianapolis. That would be 33.

There. We made it. And we aren't done yet.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has run three cars the last three years. A fourth year with three SPM cars would make it 34 entries.

Last year, then-CFH Racing ran a third car for J.R. Hildebrand. Should ECR run a third car that would be 35.

The rumor has been Dreyer & Reinbold Racing could run two cars. That would be 36.

KV Racing ran four cars at Indianapolis just two years ago and last year ran two cars and partnered with Jonathan Byrd's Racing. With the PIRTEK Team Murray partnership, that could leave room for another KV entry. That would be 37.

A.J. Foyt Racing said they weren't going to run a third car last year and then they entered a car for Alex Tagliani. A third AJFR Honda would be 38.

Thirty-eight is the off-the-wall, IndyCar hits the lottery twice, buying ocean front property in Arizona scenario. All 38 entries aren't impossible. They are all plausible. It's just a matter of the manufactures and how many engine leases they want to release. Above, there are 19 Honda programs, 18 Chevrolet programs and the one unknown being Grace Autosport.

If Honda and Chevrolet are going to go all out for the 100th Indianapolis 500, then 19 apiece would be something but I am not sure either manufacture would go that far. Eighteen apiece, maybe. Last year, both fielded 17 programs. Each adding one for the 100th would hardly be earth shattering.

Now, who would be the drivers for these remaining entries? Well we came up with 29 driver-team combinations and the following drivers are still free agents: Townsend Bell, J.R. Hildebrand, Ryan Briscoe, Tristan Vautier, Jack Harvey, James Davison, Sebastián Saavedra, Simona de Silvestro, Stefan Wilson, Oriol Servià and Alex Tagliani. That is 11 drivers and who knows if there are other drivers who want a shot at Indianapolis and want to be in the 100th running. Sam Hornish, Jr. is unemployed. Who is to say he couldn't return for the 100th and 10th anniversary of his victory? (Hornish will not be at Indianapolis. He doesn't care and it isn't worth his time. But just remember that Michael Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls so never say never).

At ease everyone. There will be 33 and there will likely be more than 33. Will there be more than 34? That's the real question.

Average Age
I have been writing these team-by-team previews for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season and the amount of older drivers caught my eye. Tony Kanaan, Hélio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya are all over 40. Takuma Sato is 39. Heck, Sébastien Bourdais is 37 and Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay are 35. I thought I would look at the average age of a few series to see how they compare.

For IndyCar, I took the 21 drivers with confirmed seats for at least three races and the have the average age of 31.19 years.

For Formula One, I took the 21 confirmed drivers for 2016 and the average age for them is 26.9 years.

The average age of the Daytona 500 entry list is 32.72 years.

The average age for last week's Formula E race from Buenos Aires was 29.833 years.

Mercedes-Benz just announced their drivers for the 2016 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season and the average age of the two dozen DTM drivers will be 28.79 years when the 2016 season starts on May 7th.

The 18 LMP1 factory drivers from Porsche, Toyota and Audi will average 33.777 years of age when the season starts at Silverstone.

I am not surprised the LMP1 factory drivers are the oldest but I am surprised NASCAR is just above IndyCar considering all the youth that has entered the series in the last two-three seasons. However, NASCAR has two drivers over 50 (Bobby Labonte and Michael Waltrip) but even if you take them out, the average age is still older than IndyCar but is only 31.833.

No surprise that Formula One is the youngest with Kimi Räikkonen being the oldest at 36. Jenson Button is also 36 but Räikkonen is three months older. It's interesting to see that the two other "European based" series in DTM and Formula E are the next youngest. Both are full of drivers who are talented enough for Formula One but didn't have the funding and are under 30 (Bird, Buemi, Vergne, da Costa, Wickens, di Resta). DTM also has a handful of development drivers. The 19-year-old Esteban Ocon heads to DTM fresh off his GP3 championship. Lucas Auer is 21, Tom Blomqvist is 22, Nico Müller is 24 and Adrien Tambay is 25.

To be honest, I was hypothesizing that the reason why a series like IndyCar is struggling to attract younger fans is because of the age difference of the drivers. I was wondering if the grid is too old for younger fans to relate to. While that may be true, Formula One is struggling with declining television ratings around the globe and the Formula One grid is significantly younger. FIA WEC and Formula E are experiencing a lot of positive buzz and FIA WEC are the oldest of all while Formula E is in the middle.

A confounding variable: Manufacture involvement. FIA WEC has it. Formula E is getting it. Maybe that is the reason. I don't know. Then I think about race distance. We hear about short attention spans and how the length of races hurt growth for some series. But it's ironic because while Formula E races are all under an hour in length, eight of nine FIA WEC races are six hours long and the other is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But what about schedule length? FIA WEC and Formula E have the fewest amounts of races. Maybe the less is more approach is a reason.

Champion From the Weekend
With his victory in the New Zealand Grand Prix, Lando Norris won the 2016 Toyota Racing Series championship. Norris is the first British driver to win the New Zealand Grand Prix since Jackie Stewart won the race in the 1967 Tasman Series season.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Chase Elliott winning Daytona 500 pole position but did you know.

Denny Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited, his third victory in the event.

Sébastien Ogier won Rally Sweden. It's his second consecutive Rally Sweden victory and his third consecutive rally victory dating back to last season.

Ryan Dungey won the AMA Supercross from San Diego; his fourth victory of the season.

Ferdinand Habsburg and Brendon Leitch won the first two races of the final round of the Toyota Racing Series season from Manfeild Autocourse.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Daytona 500 qualifying races on Thursday.
The Daytona 500.
NASCAR's other two national touring series will be at Daytona.
AMA Supercross will be in Arlington, Texas.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Chase Elliott Wins 58th Daytona 500 Pole Position

Chase Elliott won his first career NASCAR Cup Series pole position and Elliott is the youngest ever Daytona 500 pole-sitter at 20 years, two months and 18 days. This will be Elliott's first race in the #24 Chevrolet after replacing the retired Jeff Gordon. Elliott ran five Cup races last season. Three of the last four Daytona 500 pole positions have been won by rookie drivers. Danica Patrick and Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 pole position in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Gordon won it last year.

Matt Kenseth qualified second and will start first in the second Daytona 500 qualifying race on Thursday night. Kenseth is a two-time Daytona 500 winner. This will be his best career start in the Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. qualified third and he will start second in the first race on Thursday night. Earnhardt, Jr. was the fastest qualifier in the first segment of qualifying. Kyle Busch qualified fourth and Busch will make it an all-Joe Gibbs Racing row one for the second qualifying race. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was fifth fastest in qualifying and he will start third in race one with Jimmie Johnson starting third in race two.

Ryan Blaney was the fastest "open entry" and he has locked himself into the Daytona 500. Blaney was seventh fastest with Austin Dillon eighth quickest. They will start fourth and fifth in race one on Thursday. Carl Edwards qualified ninth and he will start fourth in race two. Denny Hamlin rounded out the top ten and he will start sixth in race two. Kurt Busch and Joey Logano rounded out the second round of qualifying. Kurt Busch will start fifth in race two with Logano starting seventh in race one.

Race One Grid:
Kasey Kahne starts on Logano's outside on row four. The 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick will start ninth with Ty Dillon rounding out the top ten. Aric Almirola will start 11th with Greg Biffle making it an all-Ford row six.

Brian Scott will start 13th with Michael McDowell starting 14th. McDowell is second best starting open entry. The top finishing open entry in each qualifying race will make the Daytona 500. If Blaney is the top finishing open entry, McDowell will make it on his qualifying time. Regan Smith and defending NASCAR Grand National Series champion Chris Buescher will start on row eight. This will be Buescher's in his first ever Daytona 500 qualifying race.

Bobby Labonte is the oldest driver entered for the 58th Daytona 500 and he will start 17th. The youngest ever Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne will start 18th. Clint Bowyer and Cole Whitt round out the top twenty. David Ragan and Josh Wise will start on the final row. Whitt and Wise have to race their way in.

Race Two Grid:
Casey Mears will start sixth in the second Daytona 500 qualifying race. The 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman will start seventh and Paul Menard will start eighth. Brad Keselowski and Brian Vickers will start on row five. Vickers is substituting for the injured Tony Stewart. It's an all-Ganassi row six with Jamie McMurray starting on the inside and Kyle Larson starting on the outside.

Matt DiBenedetto starts 13th. DiBenedetto is locked into the Daytona 500 on his qualifying speed. He was the second-fastest open entry. If DiBenedetto races his way in, McDowell would get in based on his qualifying time. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip will start 14th Danica Patrick and A.J. Allmendinger will start on row eight.

Michael Annett and Landon Cassill will start on row nine. Robert Richardson, Jr. and David Gilliland will start on row ten. If both Blaney and DiBenedetto race their way in, McDowell and Richardson, Jr. will make the Daytona 500 on their qualifying time. Gilliland can only race his way into the Daytona 500. The eleventh row for race two features Reed Sorenson and Martin Truex, Jr. Sorenson has to race his way into the Daytona 500. Truex, Jr. did not make a lap in qualifying after a problem with his roof flap.

The Daytona 500 qualifying races will take place at 7:00 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Friday, February 12, 2016

2016 Speedweeks Preview

The 2016 NASCAR season begins this weekend with the Speedweeks from Daytona International Speedway. Saturday night features the exhibition Sprint Unlimited (formerly the Shootout) and this Sunday is Daytona 500 qualifying.

Twenty-five cars are entered for the Unlimited. The race is open to pole position winners from 2015, past winners of the Unlimited/Shootout, past Daytona 500 pole-sitters, 2015 Chase drivers and any other driver who finished in the top 25 of the championship last season.

Matt Kenseth won last year's race and returns with all three of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates also in the race. Kenseth could become the fifth driver to win the race in consecutive seasons. Neil Bonnett was the first to do it in 1983-84. Ken Schrader did it in 1989-90. Tony Stewart won the 2001-02 races for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kevin Harvick won the 2009-10 races. All four occurrence of back-to-back winners occurred in GM cars. All but Stewart won in Chevrolets. Stewart did it in a Pontiac.  Defending champion Kyle Busch won the race in 2012 while Denny Hamlin won in 2006 and 2014. Carl Edwards has never won on a plate circuit.

Martin Truex, Jr. finished second to Kenseth last year. This marks Truex, Jr.'s and Furniture Row Racing's first race as a Toyota team. The team had been a Chevrolet team since it's first race in 2005. The team has formed an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Kevin Harvick leads all active drivers with three victories in the Unlimited/Shootout. His Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick will also compete. Tony Stewart was scheduled to compete in this race but will miss the start of the 2016 season after suffering a fracture vertebra in an off-roading accident during the offseason. Brian Vickers will replace Stewart in the Daytona 500. Vickers has also been allowed to compete in the Unlimited in place of Stewart despite not meeting any of the criteria to make the race.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is a two-time winner of the race but has not won the exhibition since his first race with Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. Jimmie Johnson won the race in 2005. Kasey Kahne will also be in the race. Hendrick Motorsports is third all-time in winners of this race with six but Earnhardt, Jr.'s victory is the teams last. Hendrick is between Joe Gibbs Racing, who has won seven times and Richard Childress Racing, which has eight victories.

Speaking of Richard Childress Racing, all three drivers will be in the race. Ryan Newman and Paul Menard qualify for the race based on making the Chase last year. Austin Dillon qualifies based on his 2014 Daytona 500 pole position. Childress' eight victories have come from two drivers. Dale Earnhardt won the race five times for RCR and Harvick won it three times.

Ford has not won this race since Dale Jarrett won in 2004 for Robert Yates Racing. Team Penske's Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are both in the race. Penske has won the race twice. Roush Fenway Racing will have both Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in the race. Roush has only won the race once and that was in 1999 with Mark Martin. Aric Almirola is also in the race by finishing in the top 25 in the championship.

Chip Ganassi Racing has Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson. Ganassi has never won this race. Clint Bowyer will drive for HScott Motorsports. Bowyer is spending one year with the team before the moving to Stewart-Haas Racing to take over for the retiring Tony Stewart. A.J. Allmendinger will drive for JTG Daugherty Racing. Casey Mears rounds out the field for Germain Racing. He qualified just by being in the top 25 of the championship last year.

The following teams are entered for the Daytona 500.

Front Row Motorsports will run three cars including one for the defending Grand National series champion Chris Buescher in the #34 Ford. Landon Cassill will drive the #38 Ford for the team. David Gilliland will drive for Front Row Motorsports. He will not run the Unlimited despite his 2007 Daytona 500 pole position.

Buescher leads the rookie class that also includes Ryan Blaney, Brian Scott and Chase Elliott. Blaney will drive for the Wood Brothers, who return to full-time competition for the first time since 2008. Scott will drive the #44 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. Scott scored zero victories in the Grand National series after 208 starts. He had four runner-up finishes. Elliott replaces Jeff Gordon in the #24 Chevrolet. Of the four rookies, other Buescher and Elliott will be running in their first Daytona 500.

Past Daytona 500 winners Trevor Bayne and Michael Waltrip are entered for the race. Bayne will drive the #6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing while Waltrip will be in the #83 BK Racing Toyota. David Ragan, a past winner at Daytona, will be Waltrip's teammate at BK Racing. BK Racing will also run two other cars for Robert Richardson, Jr. and Matt DiBenedetto.

Bobby Labonte is scheduled to return to competition in the #32 Ford for GO FAS Racing. Should he qualify, this would be Labonte's 24th Daytona 500. His best finish was second in 1998 to Dale Earnhardt after starting on pole position. He has three top ten finishes in his previous 23 Daytona 500 starts.

Circle Sport-Levine Family Racing will run two races. Michael McDowell will be in the #59 Chevrolet while Ty Dillon is entered in he #95 Chevrolet. Regan Smith will drive the #7 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Michael Annett will be Clint Bowyer's teammate at HScott Motorsports. Cole Whitt is entered with Premium Motorsports. Rounding out the entry list are Reed Sorenson, who will drive for Hillman Racing, and Jose Wise, who will drive for The Motorsports Group.

With NASCAR's new charter system, the 36-chartered teams are locked into the Daytona 500 with the remaining eight drivers competing for the final four sports.

The non-chartered drivers are Blaney, Richardson, Jr., Wise, Gilliland, Sorenson, McDowell, DiBenedetto and Whitt.

The top finishing non-chartered driver from each Daytona 500 qualifying race on Thursday night will make the Daytona 500 with the two fastest non-chartered drivers from qualifying getting the final two spots in the race.

The Sprint Unlimited will be Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET. Daytona 500 qualifying will be at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Age of Maturity

The Denver Broncos are Super Bowl champions. Records fell at Bathurst. The Formula E season resumed in Argentina. A Brit is one step closer to a title in New Zealand. Someone scored their first victory of the Supercross season in Phoenix. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Age of Maturity
Max Chilton will be driving for Chip Ganassi Racing this upcoming season in IndyCar. Sage Karam, after an abbreviated rookie season, has the Indianapolis 500 on his plate and a still to be determined schedule with Lexus' GT3 program in IMSA.

Did Karam deserve to lose his IndyCar seat? Do we have enough to go by?

Some think Karam's IndyCar career should be over because they aren't impressed from his first 13 starts. Think about that. Thirteen starts. Not even a full season but enough to be deemed not good enough by some.

Thirteen starts aren't enough. Whether it is this generation or previous generations.

Motorsports have changed a lot from the generation of Foyt, Andretti, Jones and Gurney. Karam entered IndyCar with 52 starts in four years in the Road to Indy system. He ran only five races in 2014, including a ninth in the Indianapolis 500, the year after taking the Indy Lights championship. Let's not forget that Karam doesn't turn 21 years old until next month. When Foyt, Andretti, Jones and company entered IndyCar they were much older and had hundreds of races under their belts. They were way more prepared. Of those three, Foyt was the youngest when making his IndyCar debut. He was 22. Andretti didn't debut until he was 24 and Jones was 27.

If you look at other drivers through 13 starts, you will see that isn't enough time to judge what a driver will be.

Let's note that Karam has one podium, two top fives, three top tens and an average finish of 15.3 from 13 starts and has three retirements and one could be pinned on Takuma Sato.

"Driver A" had a podium and eight top tens in his first 13 races, good enough for an average finish of 9.76 and that driver didn't have an accident in any of those 13 starts.

"Driver B," in 13 starts had one top ten and an average finish of 17.3 and retired from four races due to accidents.

"Driver C" had six top tens from 13 starts, averaged a finish of 12.76 and had only two accidents in that timeframe.

Then there is "Driver D" who had just two top tens, averaged a finish of 17.23 and had six accidents in his first 13 starts.

"Driver E," like Karam, had one podium in his first 13 starts and four top tens but averaged a finish of 14.61 and retired from four races due to accidents.

"Driver A" would only go on to run 40 more IndyCar races and score only one more podium and eight more top tens with an average a finish of 14.825 in those 40 races. This driver never won in IndyCar That driver would be Hideki Mutoh.

However, "Driver B" went on to win four championships, three Indianapolis 500s and is considered one of the best of his generation after his first 13 starts and that driver would be (if you haven't already figured it out) Dario Franchitti.

"Driver C" would win his first career IndyCar race in his 23rd career start but would only have three podiums and nine top tens in his final 43 IndyCar start average a finish of 15.76 over those 43 starts. He had 11 of those 43 races end because of accident. He is Jaques Lazier.

"Driver D" would finish second in his 15th career start and then win his 16th start. He would go on to win two championships, finish runner-up in the championship twice and third in the championship. He would also win an Indianapolis 500. This driver is Gil de Ferran.

Finally, "Driver E" hasn't won a championship and didn't score his first victory until 46th career start but this driver has won three Indianapolis 500s, has 29 career victories and is the active leader in career starts with 311. And by know you know this is Hélio Castroneves.

Thirteen starts aren't enough, 20 starts aren't enough; heck 30 starts aren't enough. The make or break point is about start 50 when you consider only 28 drivers have scored this first career victory in their 50th start or later and even then 50 might not be the best barometer when you consider age. I truly believe actual maturity plays a role into a driver. Look at Graham Rahal. Until last year, everyone thought he was a disappointment. Rahal is still 27 years old and Franchitti didn't win his first "500" and title until he was 34 years old.

Patience people. Hopefully, Karam gets another chance at IndyCar. If only IndyCar grid had a half a dozen more cars that way Karam, Chilton and J.R. Hildebrand could show what they have got at the same time.

When Denver was Last Super Bowl Champions
The Denver Broncos won their third Super Bowl championship last night. Denver's last Super Bowl title came on January 31, 1999. I thought I would look back on what the motorsports world looked like on the day of Super Bowl XXXIII.

The American open-wheel landscape was split and the 1999 IRL season was already a week old. Eddie Cheever won at Walt Disney World Speedway in a race that saw 28 drivers take the green flag.

Speaking of Eddie Cheever, he won the Indianapolis 500 the year prior.

In CART, Alex Zanardi had just won his second consecutive title but he was heading back to Formula One. Kenny Bräck was defending IRL champion.

While the 1999 IRL season opener had 28 starters, the 1998 CART finale also had 28 starters.

Juan Montoya had yet to make his first IndyCar career start.

Scott Dixon had yet to race in America.

Bobby Rahal had just retired.

Team Penske hadn't won an IndyCar race since May 24, 1997 when Paul Tracy won at Gateway, the first race at that track.

Engines in CART were Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Ford-Cosworth and Toyota. In the IRL, it was nearly 90% Oldsmobile with the rest Infiniti.

The Hawaiian Super Prix was still 25 days way from being announced.

Mika Häkkinen was fresh off his first World Drivers' Championship.

Rubens Barrichello was a driver at Stewart Grand Prix.

Other teams on the Formula One grid besides Stewart were Jordan, Prost, Benetton, Arrows and Minardi.

Tyrrell had just run its final race.

BAR had yet to debut.

Red Bull was just a sponsor on the side of Sauber.

Jenson Button was defending British Formula Ford champion.

Fernando Alonso was still two months away from running his first single-seater race.

Porsche had just won Le Mans for the 16th time. Porsche added its 17th Le Mans victory last year.

Audi had yet to win at Le Mans. They now have 13 Le Mans victories.

Tom Kristensen had one Le Mans victory.

Scott Pruett won the 24 Hours of Daytona only once.

Bill France still ran NASCAR, Winston sponsored the Cup Series and the Chase format had yet to ruin the world.

Dale Earnhardt was the defending Daytona 500 winner.

Jeff Gordon had just won his third NASCAR Cup championship.

NASCAR raced at Rockingham twice, Darlington twice and Atlanta twice.

Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson had all yet to make NASCAR Cup debuts.

Pontiac was still a NASCAR manufacture.

Valentino Rossi was a 250cc rider.

Mick Doohan had just won his fifth consecutive world championship.

The top manufactures in the World Rally Championships were all Japanese: Mitsubishi, Toyota and Subaru.

Max Verstappen was one year, four months and two days old.

How things have changed.

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

Sam Bird won the Buenos Aires ePrix over Sébastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi.

Lando Norris won two of three Toyota Racing Series races from Bruce McLaren Motorsports Park in Taupo, New Zealand. Jehan Daruvela won the other race.

Ken Roczen won the Supercross race from Phoenix.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR runs the Shootout (or whatever it's called) on Saturday night and Daytona 500 qualifying will be Sunday.
AMA Supercross returns to San Diego.
WRC are tentatively scheduled to run Rally Sweden.
The Toyota Racing Series concludes the 2016 season with the New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfeild Autocourse.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tekno Autosports McLaren Holds Off Nissan At Bathurst

Nissan charged hard for its second consecutive victory in the Bathurst 12 Hour but the Japanese manufacture fell just short as the #59 Tekno Autosports McLaren 650S GT3 of Shane Van Gisbergen, Jonathon Webb and Álvaro Parente took the victory after completing 297 laps, a new record for most laps completed in Bathurst 12 Hour history.

With fifteen minutes to go in the race, Van Gisbergen led the #1 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of Katsumasa Chiyo by over 13 seconds. Chiyo picked away at the New Zealander's lead but ended up finishing 1.276 seconds behind the McLaren. Chiyo and co-driver Florian Strauß were going for their second consecutive Bathurst 12 Hour victory. Rick Kelly, the third driver in the #1 Nissan, was looking to become the eighth driver to win the Bathurst 12 Hour and Bathurst 1000.

In third was the #10 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT3 of Guy Smith, Matt Bell and Steven Kane. The Bentley finished a minute and 18 seconds back of the winning McLaren. The final car on the lead lap was the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS of Laurens Vanthoor, Markus Winkelhock and Alex Davison, which finished over two minutes back.

Rounding out the top five, one lap down was the #36 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Nico Bastian, David Reynolds and Thomas Jäger. The top A Class amateur team was the #5 GT Motorsport Audi of Greg Taylor, Barton Mawer and Nathan Antunes, who finished sixth, three laps down. The #31 Bentley of Andy Soucek, Maxime Soulet and David Russell finished four laps down in seventh with the #75 James Pem Racing Audi of René Rast, Garth Tander and Steve McLaughan finishing eighth.

The #60 Tekno Autosport McLaren of Rob Bell, Andrew Watson and Will Davison finished five laps behind its teammate in ninth. Six laps down in tenth was the #32 JBS Australia Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX of Luke Youlden, Roger Lago and Steve Owen. The #82 International Motorsports Audi of Andrew Bagnall, Rick Armstrong and Matt Halliday finished ten laps down in 11th.

The B Class winning #4 Grove Racing Porsche of Earl Bamber, Scott McLaughlin and Steven Grove finished 12th overall, 12 laps down. Thirteenth overall was the I Class winning #93 MARC Cars Australia Focus V8 of Jake Camilleri, Morgan Haber and Aaron Seton, 17 laps behind the overall winners.

This is McLaren's first victory in the Bathurst 12 Hour and McLaren is the fifth different manufacture to win in the last five years. Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Nissan had won the previous four editions. Van Gisbergen joins Craig Baird as the only New Zealanders to win the Bathurst 12 Hours. Parente is the first Portuguese driver to win the event and Webb is the 20th different Australian to stand on the top step of the podium. Not only did this year's Bathurst 12 Hour see a record set for most laps completed but there were a record 29 lead changes.

The second round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge will be the Spar 24 Hours on July 30-31st.