Thursday, March 31, 2016

Track Walk: Phoenix 2016

IndyCar's first night race of the season takes place at Phoenix
IndyCar's 62nd race from Phoenix International Raceway comes 11 years after the 61st race around the one-mile oval. The wait is finally over and IndyCar's return will come under the lights for the 250-mile Phoenix Grand Prix. Juan Pablo Montoya enters as the championship leader after the Colombian won his second consecutive Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Four of the 22 drivers entered for the Phoenix Grand Prix were in the last IndyCar race held at Phoenix.

Time: Coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. ET on Saturday April 2nd. Green flag at 9:15 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Rick Allen calls his first IndyCar race (Leigh Diffey is on Formula One duty) and Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy join Allen in the booth. Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Kate Hargritt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 1:00-2:15 p.m. ET (75 minutes). NBCSN will have live coverage of this session.
Qualifying- 5:00-6:00 p.m. ET. NBCSN will have live coverage of this session.
Final Practice- 6:15-6:45 p.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race- 9:15 p.m. ET (250 laps).

KV Racing Transporter Fire
The 2012 Indianapolis 500 winning team KV Racing nearly had its race weekend end before the team even arrived to Phoenix International Raceway. The team's transporter suffered a fire just outside Peoria, Arizona that damaged the vehicle. Fortunately, neither of the two team members were hurt and the car and equipment was undamaged.

It appears the team will compete at Phoenix as scheduled. 

Eleven Years Later
Four drivers were in the last IndyCar race from Phoenix 11 years ago. 

Sam Hornish, Jr. won the race with Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan rounding out the podium. Both Castroneves and Kanaan have won at Phoenix. Castroneves won at the track in 2002 while Kanaan won consecutive races in 2003 and 2004. Castroneves has five starts at Phoenix and finished in the top six four times. His worst start and finish at Phoenix came in his Phoenix debut in 2001 when he started 17th and finished 18th after an engine failure. Castroneves has led in four of his five Phoenix appearances. 

Kanaan has only made three starts at Phoenix so the Brazilian has perfect attendance on the podium with his two wins and third. In 2005, Kanaan went from 21st to third. He has completed all 600 laps and has led 272 of those laps. 

Scott Dixon finished 12th in the last Phoenix race, two laps down. The New Zealander has finished outside the top ten in two of his three Phoenix starts. He finished 20th in 2003 after a gearbox issue after leading 34 laps, the only laps he has led at Phoenix. His lone lead-lap finish at Phoenix was in 2004 when he finished second. 

Ed Carpenter makes his first start of 2016 at Phoenix, a track he has raced at twice previously. He finished 19th in 2004 after starting 16th and finished 16th in 2005 after starting 19th. He finished seven laps down in 2005 and had an accident end his race in 2004 after 132 laps. Carpenter also ran one Indy Lights race at Phoenix. He started 12th and finished 13th in 2003. 

While these four drivers all have IndyCar experience at Phoenix, they aren't the only ones who have been around Phoenix. 

Juan Pablo Montoya made 14 starts in NASCAR at the one-mile oval. Montoya's best finish was fifth in the spring of 2010, where he led 104 of 378 laps, and he had two other top ten finishes. His average finish was 15.1 in NASCAR at Phoenix. He completed 4,439 of 4,446 laps in those 14 starts. 

Will Phoenix Become Another Playground for Andretti Autosport? 
Andretti Autosport dominates short tracks and Phoenix is the sight of Michael Andretti's first victory as a car owner. The team has won the last six Iowa races and seven of nine at Iowa and Andretti Autosport won two of the last four Milwaukee races. Dating back to 2008, Andretti Autosport has won ten of seventeen short track races. 

The team has two Phoenix victories, both at the hands of Tony Kanaan. Kanaan's victory in 2003 was Andretti Green Racing's first victory after Michael Andretti bought into Team Green and the team moved from CART to the IRL. Michael Andretti's only Phoenix IndyCar victory as a driver came in the autumn of 1986 when he led 166 of 200 laps. It was the final IndyCar season that featured two Phoenix races. Michael Andretti also won twice at Phoenix in the SCCA Super Vee Series, both coming in his 1982 championship winning season. 

Andretti Autosport has a habit of winning first races at tracks or return races. Andretti Green won the first Iowa race and won the return (and farewell) race at Loudon in 2011. Andretti Green also won the return races at St. Petersburg, Sonoma and the first return to Belle Isle in 2007. 

Andretti Autosport victories have also been the kiss of death for tracks as the team has won many final IndyCar races at tracks. Besides Loudon, Andretti Autosport has won the most recent IndyCar race at Michigan, Nazareth, Pikes Peak and São Paulo, all tracks currently not on the IndyCar schedule. 

Indy Lights
The third round of the Indy Lights season will take place this weekend. Just like IndyCar, this is the first time Indy Lights returns to Phoenix for the first time since 2005. 

Carlin driver Félix Serrallés enters as the Indy Lights championship leader. The Puerto Rican driver leads American and Juncos Racing's Kyle Kaiser by one-point and Swede and Belardi Auto Racing's Felix Rosenqvist by two points. Serrallés and Rosenqvist split the St. Petersburg races while Kaiser finished third and second at the season opening weekend. 

Scott Hargrove is tied for fourth with André Negrão, 17 points behind Serrallés. Hargrove finished second in race one at St. Petersburg but finished 14th, a lap down in race two. The Canadian is confirmed for Phoenix and Barber but continues to work on a full season with Team Pelfrey. Negrão finished sixth and fifth in his debut weekend with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Belardi's Zach Veach had a victory slip through his fingers in race one at St. Petersburg but rallied for a third in the next race. Veach trails Serrallés by 20 points. Andretti Autosport's Dean Stoneman is a point behind Veach and defending Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia is a point behind Stoneman. RC Enerson is a point behind his SPM teammate Urrutia.

Ed Jones and Juan Piedrahita are tied for tenth in the championship on 25 points. Jones holds the tiebreaker with his best finishing being seventh to Piedrahita's eighth. Scott Anderson is five points behind Jones and Piedrahita but he will not be in the car at Phoenix. Korean Heamin Choi will replace Anderson. Andretti teammates Dalton Kellett and Shelby Blackstock are tied on 17 points. Zachary Claman De Melo and Neil Alberico both have 15 points. 

Fast Facts
This will be the first IndyCar race on April 2nd since 2006 when Hélio Castroneves won at St. Petersburg.

IndyCar raced at Phoenix on April 2, 1995. Robby Gordon scored his first IndyCar victory that day.

Chevrolet has won at Phoenix seven times, the most recent being in 2002 with Hélio Castroneves. 

Honda's has won at Phoenix twice, both won by Tony Kanaan in 2003-04. 

Fifty-two of 61 Phoenix IndyCar races have been won by American drivers. Teo Fabi was the first foreign driver to win at Phoenix in 1983. Fabi's victory was the most recent caution-less race at Phoenix. 

Chevrolet has won the last 21 pole positions in IndyCar. The last Honda pole position was Simon Pagenaud at Houston 1 in 2014.

Honda has not won a pole position for an oval race since Dario Franchitti won pole position for Iowa in 2012. 

The average starting position for a Phoenix winner is 4.311 with the median starting position being third. 

Sixteen times has the pole-sitter won at Phoenix, the most recent being Tony Kanaan in 2003.

Twice has a Phoenix winner started outside the top twenty. Roberto Guerrero scored his first IndyCar victory from 22nd on the grid at Phoenix in 1987. Buddy Lazier won from 26th in 2000. 

Two other times has a Phoenix winner started outside the top ten. In 1968, Gary Bettenhausen won from 13th on the grid. It was Bettenhausen's first career IndyCar victory. In 1974, Mike Mosley won from 19th starting position. 

The average number of lead changes at Phoenix is 5.34 with a median of five. The most lead changes in a Phoenix race is 11, which occurred in the spring of 1986 with Kevin Cogan winning and in Robby Gordon's victory 21 years ago.

Since the CART-era, the average number of cautions at Phoenix is 4.75 for an average of 35.5 laps. The most cautions in a Phoenix race since 1979 are ten on two occasions (1998 and 2003). The most caution laps was 86 in 1997 during nine caution period.

Possible Milestones:
A victory for Scott Dixon would make him the first driver to win a race in twelve consecutive seasons.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 48 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 41 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 70 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 76 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti gets his first IndyCar victory in 77 starts, matching the same amount of starts between his Sonoma victory and Iowa victory and Andretti starts inside the top ten. Tony Kanaan leads at least 75 laps. Josef Newgarden will rebound for a top five finish. Will Power will be the top finishing Penske driver. There will be at least five cautions and there will be a record-breaking amount of lead changes. At least seven drivers will lead a lap during the race. Not all of the top ten will finish on the lead lap. Sleeper: Jack Hawksworth.   

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

2016 Long Beach ePrix Preview

Formula E returns to the United States and Long Beach plays host to the all-electric series for the second time. This year, Long Beach is the sixth of eleven races on the 2015–16 Formula E Championship schedule. Last year, Nelson Piquet, Jr. scored his first career Formula E victory on his way to the 2014–15 Formula E championship. The Brazilian held off then-Andretti Autosport driver Jean-Éric Vergne and Audi Sport ABT driver Lucas di Grassi.

Renault e.dams driver Sébastien Buemi enters with a 22-point lead over di Grassi. Di Grassi cross the line first at the inaugural race in Mexico City but was disqualified for his car being underweight. This disqualification gave Dragon Racing's Jérôme d'Ambrosio his second-career Formula E victory. Ironically, d'Ambrosio's only other Formula E victory came after di Grassi was disqualified at Berlin last year. DS Virgin Racing's Sam Bird is third in the championship, 38 points behind Buemi and two points ahead of d'Ambrosio.

Dragon Racing is the top American team in the championship and trailing d'Ambrosio by 14 points is his Dragon Racing teammate Loïc Duval. Duval has finished fourth on three occasions this season. Nicolas Prost is six points behind his fellow Frenchman Duval. Prost was elevated to third in Mexico City after di Grassi's disqualification. It was Prost's first podium in just over a year when he won at Miami. Andretti Autosport's Robin Frijns is seventh in the championship with 31 points. The Dutchman is one of two drivers to finish every race in a points-paying position. His average finish is 7.2 through five races.

Venturi Grand Prix's Stéphane Sarrazin is a point behind Frijns and is the other driver to finish in points-paying positions in every race. Sarrazin has finished ninth in every odd-number race and fourth in every even-number race. Mahindra Racing's Nick Heidfeld trails Sarrazin by three points despite missing Punta del Este due to injury. Team Aguri's António Félix da Costa rounds out the top ten in the champions with 16 points. Daniel Abt also has ten points but da Costa holds the tiebreaker with two sixth-place finishes and Abt's best finish this season is seventh.

NEXTEV TCR's Oliver Turvey has ten points while DS Virgin Racing's Vergne has eight points and Piquet, Jr. returns to Long Beach with only four points. Piquet's finished eighth at Putrajaya, his only points-paying finish this season.

Simona de Silvestro is the only driver to have competed in the first five races and have yet to score points. She finished 11th at Punta del Este. Andretti Autosport has yet to win in Formula E. Mike Conway and Salvador Durán have competed the last two rounds for Venturi Grand Prix and Team Aguri respectively. Neither driver has scored points.

The 2016 Long Beach ePrix has been extended by two laps from 39 laps to 41 laps. The race is scheduled to take place at 7:00 p.m. ET on Saturday April 2nd. Fox Sports 1 will show the race live with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Pack a Lunch

Easter Monday is here and not much happened over the holiday weekend. No NASCAR overtimes, no Formula One qualifying debacles, no high-flying Supercross action, no IndyCar traffic jams and no grimes about Balance of Performance. Despite it still being March and spring being a week old, it was a refreshing weekend and it's good to have the batteries fully charged with an appetizing April and a monumental May ahead of us. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Pack a Lunch
The 11-year wait is over. IndyCar will have a twilight party in the desert at Phoenix Raceway with the 250-lap Phoenix Grand Prix. We have been longing for quite sometime. Mark Miles gets his balls busted quite often and at least 95% of the time it is warranted but the five-percent of the time he isn't being tortured is because Phoenix and Road America have returned to the IndyCar schedule under his watch.

Everything has sounded positive about this race weekend. The track seems happy with ticket sales. The test at Phoenix a month featured a crowd so large the track had to open another parking lot for spectators. Desert Diamond West Valley casino was announced as title sponsor for the race early last week. The quarrels over downforce level and what the race package should be have died down since the February test and I think some are still concerned about what the racing will be like but I am sure a balance will be found. While some fear the race will be processional and cars will have difficulty getting out of line to make a pass, if Firestone brings a tire that falls off like the one they bring at Texas than I think that could make up for any downforce concerns.

The one issue have with the Phoenix Grand Prix weekend is the schedule. Both Indy Lights and IndyCar will be at Phoenix with the Indy Lights race taking place at 1:30 p.m. local time (4:30 p.m. ET) and the IndyCar slated for a 6:15 p.m. local start (9:15 p.m. ET).

Why is there a four-hour gap between the two series? Who is going to head to the track in the heat of the afternoon to watch Indy Lights and then spend at least four hours putzing around the race track waiting for the IndyCar race to start? I am sure someone came up with a reasonable explanation for such a schedule but to me it makes no sense at all. It does a disservice to Indy Lights, which put on really good oval races last year at Milwaukee and Iowa in year one of the IL-15 chassis. It does a disservice to the fans who either have to show up at the track by 1:30 p.m. if they want to see both races and will force them to be there for as long as eight hours.

The Indy Lights race should be much closer to IndyCar race time. Consider MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3. This weekend at Argentina, the Moto3 races is at 1:00 p.m. local time, Moto2 is at 2:20 p.m. local and the MotoGP main event is set for 4:00 p.m. local. At most, there will be an hour between the Moto2 and MotoGP race. The races aren't spread out with Moto3 at 9:00 a.m., Moto2 at noon and MotoGP at 4:00 p.m. That would be too much down time between races. Races should come right after the other.

The Indy Lights races should have been scheduled for a more reasonable hour. A 4:00 p.m. local start would have the race over by 5:00 p.m. and give fans a little over an hour until the IndyCar race. Heck, I would be alright with the Indy Lights race starting thirty minutes later and there being about 45 minutes between the races. That won't happen because of pre-race festivities. Every race needs to have the drivers on a stage and a ceremonial lap around the track to wave to the fans and the whole schtick. I would rather they introduce the drivers on stage, get them to their cars, sing the anthem and then fire the cars up. Not every race needs the pageantry and I am sure people would get over if they didn't see driver X ride by in the bed of a pickup truck with a cheap smile and unaffectionate wave.

But if the only downside to this weekend is the Indy Lights race starting too early in the day then that's not a bad problem to have at all.

Head-to-Head With the Final Four
Ok, another downside with Phoenix is it is the same night as the Final Four of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. There are four sporting events you don't go head-to-head with if you are IndyCar: The Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, the World Cup Final (Men's and Women's) and the men's Final Four.

However, maybe IndyCar can catch a break here. While the Final Four is highly watched, it doesn't draw a Super Bowl-level number (nothing but the Super Bowl does). Last year's Final Four game between undefeated Kentucky and Wisconsin had 22.6 million viewers, the most-watched semifinal game in 19 years and the most-watched college basketball game in cable TV history. Don't expect those types of numbers this year but they will still be around 20 million. In 2014, Kentucky-Wisconsin set the record for most-watch college basketball game in cable TV history with 16.3 million viewers.

I don't see the ratings dropping to 2014 levels and there are some interesting storylines in this year's Final Four. Villanova looks to win its first national championship in 31 years and they will take on Oklahoma and arguably the best player in college basketball Buddy Hield in the first semifinal, but that game will be finished well before the IndyCar race starts. North Carolina-Syracuse starts at 8:49 p.m. ET and when the IndyCar race goes green, that game will almost be at halftime. Both schools have massive followings and 10-seed Syracuse could become the highest seed in tournament history to win the national championship game. North Carolina, as we all know, is a big motorsports market. It might be known for NASCAR but there are a lot of general motorsports fans in that area.

Will a decrease in viewers in North Carolina kill the IndyCar rating? Probably not. The IndyCar rating could be Dead On Arrival for all we know. The good news is Arizona got bounced early from the tournament, Notre Dame lost in the Elite Eight, Indiana was out in the Sweet Sixteen and Butler and Purdue didn't make it past the first weekend. If Arizona had made it, the track could have been hurt at the gates. If any of the Indiana teams had made it, it would have dented the TV rating.

IndyCar and Phoenix were fortunate this year and should try to avoid this weekend next year. Either that or race on Sunday afternoon when there is no basketball and the NASCAR race will be on the East Coast. However, I do like the idea of a Saturday night race and to preserve that IndyCar and the track might have to shift this race weekend back a week but the only problem with that is the second weekend in April is when NASCAR runs on Saturday night at Texas. Next year, the third weekend of April is Easter weekend.

So what do IndyCar and Phoenix want to do? Do they want to keep playing roulette and hope none of the Final Four teams are from Arizona or Indiana, move the race to a Sunday afternoon or do they grease some palms and see if they could work something out so this race can be on a Saturday afternoon but not go head-to-head with NASCAR?

Decisions, decisions.

Winners From the Weekend
There wasn't a lot going on this weekend but did you know...

In Taupo, New Zealand, Ash Blewitt, Ryan Yardley and Michael Scott won the final races of the 2016 Toyota Finance 86 Championship season from Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar's Phoenix Grand Prix from Phoenix Raceway.
Formula E comes to the United States and will race in Long Beach.
MotoGP heads to Argentina.
Formula One will be in Bahrain.
NASCAR returns to Martinsville.
World Superbike is at Aragón.
The second round of the V8 Supercars season is at Symmons Plains.
World Touring Car Championship opens its season at Circuit Paul Ricard.
AMA Supercross heads to Santa Clara, California.

Friday, March 25, 2016

IndyCar Officials State Their Policy By Not Stating Anything at All

We are nearly two weeks removed from the IndyCar season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and no penalty has been handed down to Carlos Muñoz for causing the lap 57 caution that ruined Graham Rahal's race as well as a handful of other drivers.

Last year, IndyCar officials attempted to retroactively punish drivers when causing accidents that ruined another driver's race. Last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay was deemed to have caused an accident with Simon Pagenaud and Sébastien Bourdais at the one and only Grand Prix of Louisiana. Hunter-Reay was placed 19th, Bourdais 20th and Pagenaud 21st. Hunter-Reay was fined three points, dropping him from 11 points scored to eight points, fewer than the two French drivers. Later that season, at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Hélio Castroneves ran into the back of Scott Dixon at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Both drivers would continue but Castroneves would go on to finish sixth while Dixon clawed his way to tenth. Castroneves was fined eight points so he would leave the Grand Prix of Indianapolis with one fewer than Dixon but appealed and his penalty was changed to a three-point deduction to be consistent with Hunter-Reay penalty.

These types of deductions have a precedent in IndyCar. In 2003, Tora Takagi finished third at Texas but scored only 12 points from that race after causing an accident that ended Scott Sharp's and Felipe Giaffone's race. Takagi left with one fewer than the Brazilian instead of the 35 points third place paid.

The penalty actually makes a lot of sense and doesn't intrude much on the results. Instead of issuing time penalties post race, this penalty keeps the results intact, not stripping those attending the race from what they saw and a driver is punishment so they cannot significantly benefit other those they wronged during the race.

At St. Petersburg, Muñoz hit the back of Rahal, putting the American in the barrier and causing five other drivers to lose positions and putting Bourdais and Oriol Servià a lap down. Muñoz would be given a stop-and-go penalty on lap 64 but Muñoz would remain on the lead lap while Rahal, Bourdais and Servià never made it back on the lead lap. Muñoz ended up benefitting as the Ganassi cars of Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball all made pit stops for overheating issues and moved the Colombian up the order. Bourdais ended up retiring while Rahal and Servià both finished outside the top fifteen.

Nearly two weeks later and Muñoz has had no points deducted nor has he been fined for his actions. I don't want to throw the new trio under the bus already but I can live with this if this is the standard going forward. Muñoz was punished in the race and there is no need to punish him afterward. I can live with that. But perhaps penalties should be a little harsher, especially if drivers lose laps because of another driver's actions. Muñoz was punished but he stayed in contention while at least three drivers were taken out of contention because of his mistimed move. Shouldn't Muñoz at least been held for one-lap, putting him on the same level as those he wronged?

Rahal, Bourdais and Servià lost their laps because they could not be restarted and were at the mercy of the marshals to restart not only their cars but also the cars of a handful of other cars. Perhaps IndyCar should automatically throw a red flag when anymore than three cars need to be restarted that way races are not ruined because of the order in which the cars are restarted. This also speaks to the issue IndyCar has without on-board starters or a properly working anti-stall system.

Muñoz admitted his mistake and he doesn't have a history of running over other competitors but the bigger take away is how the officials handled it and what this means for the rest of the season. The officials are not going to wait for a Tuesday press releases stating who lost points over what infraction. It is going to be taken care of during the race. While that is something I think most will appreciate, the next step is making sure the penalties are severe and not just slaps on the wrist.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Honda Wants More Manufactures and IndyCar Should Oblige

Part of IndyCar struggle for the last five seasons has been the strain on Chevrolet and Honda to supply the entire grid. While both manufactures have met the demands, they are at maximum capacity and that leaves little room for the series to grow in terms of entrants. The series needs to spread its eggs around and Honda is willing to help find another partner to get in the IndyCar bed. 

Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr wants more competition in IndyCar and it sounds like he is willing to make concessions if it means adding a manufacture or two for IndyCar and that is very important. No manufacture is going to enter with the current technical regulations. Chevrolet and Honda are on year five of this engine cycle and no other manufacture is going to spend the time or money to make up the difference in year one. No one tests like they once did. Teams don't go out and test every day for a month over the winter and that wouldn't change if a new manufacture were want to enter IndyCar.

Think about when the DW12 was being tested for the first time. It wasn't tested until August 2011, about seven and a half months before its first race at St. Petersburg the following March. When you compare how much was gained in terms of time on track, the pole-time at St. Petersburg from 2011 to 2012 went from a 61.9625 to a 61.3721. This year the fastest time in St. Petersburg qualifying dropped to 60.0658 seconds. I just can't see why a manufacture would decide to jump into IndyCar now and start an engine program from scratch when they will be years behind and struggling to compete for top tens. People were complaining last year when the Hondas were a quarter of a second behind the Chevrolets and the entire field was covered by a second or 1.2 seconds. Imagine how people and teams would feel when the fastest car from a third manufacture would be at best a second back. 

However, instead of forcing a manufacture to develop a 2.2 L, twin-turbo V6 engine, which the manufacture likely doesn't make, IndyCar can be open to something that is different but not radical from the current engine package. IndyCar needs to have wiggle room and to be honest, no body cares if engine manufactures different slightly. We were all ok when Honda ran a single-turbo and Chevrolet ran a twin-turbo at the start of the DW12-era. The first Indianapolis 500 was a hodgepodge of engines. You had four-cylinder and six-cylinder cars. You had 4.65 L to 9.78 L. While the range of displacement probably can't be that great in this era, the range of cylinders is doable. 

If IndyCar were to relax the engine regulations, the door could be opened for many manufactures that are already making engines slightly smaller and slightly larger than the current IndyCar engine formula. Toyota's Super Formula engine is a 2.0 L turbocharged inline-4 and it has been whooping Honda's Super Formula engine. Mazda's IMSA prototype engine is also a 2.0 L turbocharged inline-4 and Mazda would be a great addition for IndyCar considering how invested the manufacture is in the Road to Indy ladder system. It makes too much sense for Mazda to be involved in IndyCar as well. Porsche's LMP1 engine is a 2.0 L turbocharged V4. While a Porsche return to IndyCar would be phenomenal and highly unlikely, the series should at least leave the door open. Another LMP1 engine that should be in play would be the AER's 2.4 L turbocharged V6. AER currently builds the Indy Lights engine and this could be an engine that is badged by another manufacture, just like how Mazda badges the Indy Lights engine. 

The problem would be finding a balance between these newer engines and the current IndyCar engines and after seeing the struggles IMSA and other sports car series have had with Balance of Performance, the question would be if IndyCar wants to go down that road. I think it could be figured out and some toes might be stepped on but that is the nature of motorsports now. As long as IndyCar can be fair, I am sure it could be figured out. 

These are just four examples of engines that exist already and are developed. What IndyCar needs is for one or two or more of these manufactures to enter the series and take the load off Chevrolet and Honda. Think about what Chevrolet and Honda have had to do the last four seasons after the Lotus debacle. Each has had to supply about a dozen entries and then add almost another half-dozen for the Indianapolis 500. When it comes to Indianapolis, Chevrolet and Honda are fielding IRL-size grids. You have to give them credit but they need some of the weight taken off their shoulders. 

IndyCar can't grow in the current climate and it needs to grow. Think about it. The only team that tried to enter IndyCar during the DW12-era was Michael Shank Racing and he was rejected like a shot by Hakeem Olajuwon. The series hasn't recovered from that and it makes the series seem insular. IndyCar needs new blood but it needs somewhere for new blood to go. Indy Lights teams Juncos Racing and Carlin have each expressed interested in expanding to IndyCar and so has GP2 team Racing Engineering but despite their ambitions Chevrolet and Honda couldn't take either on any of those teams. 

In an ideal world, a manufacture or two would enter, Chevrolet and Honda would drop to fielding about eight-nine full-time cars with say Toyota and Mazda entering and taking on four-five full-time entries. That would give IndyCar about 24-28 full-time entries and if each manufacture could add three-four entries for the Indianapolis 500, you would have bumping and lots of it. Bringing in a manufacture or two would allow teams like Juncos, Carlin, Racing Engineering and others to come into IndyCar while taking the load off Chevrolet and Honda. 

IndyCar needs additional manufactures and it shouldn't be stubborn. The series should have the more the merrier mindset especially if the engine is similar to the current specs. It should be a series where an outsider could potentially bring its own engine package and not be living on one or two manufactures. Honda seems willing to new competitors and competitors bringing what they are already producing. IndyCar should be willing as well.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Line Them Up

Spring began and Romain Grosjean finished sixth on Haas F1's debut. Oh, and Nico Rosberg won the Australian Grand Prix. We will get to the qualifying in a moment. A flat tire ruined one driver's day on the final lap. Ignoring marshals ruined another's. The MotoGP season started and I bet you missed it if you live in the United States because the beIN Sport picked up the rights for 2016 and not Fox Sports making grand prix motorcycle racing all but nonexistent in the United States. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Line Them Up
Formula One modified its qualifying format as the series tries to spice up its races. The qualifying session itself was a met with a large majority of negativity about the lack of cars on track opposed to the previous format. The goal was for a mixed up grid and we ended up with another all Mercedes front row, Lewis Hamilton scoring his 50th pole position and Nico Rosberg once again in second. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen started on row two. Max Verstappen might have been the one surprise in the session, as he started fifth ahead of Felipe Massa, Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo.

A mixed up grid normally means a more intriguing race. A race with Lewis Hamilton start 12th and Nico Rosberg starting sixth and Sebastian Vettel starting eighth with Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo on the front row on paper is a lot more intriguing than if Hamilton and Rosberg were on the front row again with Vettel starting third with Bottas fourth and Ricciardo back on row four.

Formula One is trying to shed its predictability but its chase for excitement could end up being just as harmful as another race with the Mercedes on the front row. A series should never make the competition too complicated, the simpler the better. People want an easy and quick explanation. If you can't explain it in ten to thirty seconds than people will give up on it. In this high pace world, people don't have time to spend five minutes trying to learn something as inconsequential as how the grid for any motorsport series is set.

Why are grids set the way they are today? There isn't a decree from above saying all races must be set by a qualifying session with the fastest starting first and the slowest starting last. That is how it is because that is the simplest way to do it. It's not contrived. It's easy for everyone to understand. Time ballast is an interesting concept but it is contrived and it can be difficult for people to understand. One race, a driver could get a half-second penalty and dropping from fourth to ninth on the grid. A race later, they could be getting no time ballast at all.

If series do not want to use a single qualifying session to set the grid, it should use something that is quick to explain and easy to understand. Series could go IROC style where the starting gird was the inverted results from the previous race. Last became first and first became last. It is easy to explain and it is easy to understand, however, the IROC format would introduce a whole new set of predictable outcomes to Formula One: The Manors being overwhelmed at the start and dropping to sixth and seventh before turn one and it would also probably increase the amount of accidents as you risk faster cars running over back markers. The other problem with the IROC format is it encourages poor finishes. If a team isn't have a great race, it could choose to retire its cars to set them up better for the next race and no one wants to see that.

During the IndyCar opening weekend from St. Petersburg, I wondered if you could set the grid based on the results of all sessions. Instead of using one session to set the grid, have the Friday practices and the Saturday morning session factor into the process. The results from each session could be averaged and the lowest average would start on pole position with the highest starting last.

For example, using the results from the two Friday practice, Saturday practice and qualifying from St. Petersburg, Simon Pagenaud had the lowest average across the four sessions with a 3.25 followed by Hélio Castroneves and Will Power tied a 5.0 and Jack Hawksworth at 5.5. How would ties be broken? I think who every had the best result in any of the sessions would be a sensible tiebreaker and Power was fastest in three of the four session so he would get the outside of row one and Oriol Servià would still have to drop to the back.

The front row would have flipped, Castroneves would still be third and Hawksworth would jump from tenth to fourth. The rest of the grid would have been as follows:

Scott Dixon (No change from actual grid position).
Juan Pablo Montoya (-2).
Takuma Sato (+4).
Graham Rahal (-1).
Ryan Hunter-Reay (-3).
James Hinchcliffe (-1).
Sébastien Bourdais (-3).
Carlos Muñoz (+1).
Josef Newgarden (-1).
Marco Andretti (+1).
Charlie Kimball (-1).
Tony Kanaan (+4).
Mikhail Aleshin (+1).
Alexander Rossi (+1).
Luca Filippi (-3).
Max Chilton (-3).
Spencer Pigot (+1).
Conor Daly (-1).

Looking at how the IndyCar grid would have lined-up, its not as drastic of a change as I thought it would be. If anything it confirms that qualifying is a true representation of who is fastest and who isn't. However, these Friday sessions would now matter and cars would force to take to the track even if it rained. One poor session, could hold a driver back while consistent speed throughout a weekend, like Hawksworth would be rewarded. A team couldn't choose to sit out a session because it would negatively affect its grid position.

Lets look at what the Formula One grid would have looked like with this format:

Lewis Hamilton (No Change. 1)
Daniel Ricciardo (+6. 5.75)
Nico Rosberg (-1. 6.25)
Kimi Räikkönen (No Change. 7.25)
Nico Hülkenberg (+5. 8)
Sebastian Vettel (-3. 8.75)
Max Verstappen (-2. 9)
Fernando Alonso (+4. 9)
Sergio Pérez (No Change. 9.25)
Carlos Sainz, Jr. (-2. 9.5)
Jenson Button (+2. 10)
Daniil Kvyat (+6. 10.75)
Felipe Massa (-7. 11.25)
Valtteri Bottas (-3. 12)
Kevin Magnussen (No Change. 14)
Jolyon Palmer (-2. 15.5)
Esteban Gutiérrez (+2. 16.75)
Marcus Ericsson (-2. 16.75)
Pascal Wehrlein (+2. 17.75)
Felipe Nasr (-3. 17.75)
Romain Grosjean (-2. 17.75)
Rio Haryanto (No Change (after the grid penalty). 19)

There would have been a lot of change because some drivers choose not to participate in Friday practices because of the wet weather but with this format drivers would have to go out otherwise they would end up hurting their average. Vettel was eighth, third and third in free practice two, free practice three and qualifying but since he never did a timed lap in free practice one, he was credited with 21st as he ran eight out laps but never did a timed one. Had Vettel even did a lap that was 11th, his average would have improved from 8.75 to 6.25, the same as Rosberg.

All this talk about qualifying format and after looking at the actual results from Formula One qualifying I thought to myself, "what's the big deal?" Hamilton was always going to end up on top. The Mercedes were always going to sweep the front row. The search for a system that punishes the mighty is a futile effort. How much different would the results have been if the previous format been retain? Maybe a Red Bull cracks the top three rows? Maybe Valtteri Bottas cracks the top ten? Maybe Daniil Kvyat starts ninth instead of on row nine? Maybe the Haas cars would have jumped the Saubers?

People cried about the lost of track time but what's the point of all that track time if the results would have been near identical? If anything, the new format is the most honest of them all. No more wasting our time, filling us with hope only to get the same predictable results. It gets right to the point: Mercedes is the fastest and everyone else is chasing them. Did anyone really expect the Mercedes to be caught out by this season and both end up starting outside the top eight? Did anyone really expect a Manor to end up 13th ahead of a Williams, Red Bull and Toro Rosso?

Qualifying isn't supposed to be entertaining. It is suppose to set the field. No more. No less. The increased television coverage of motorsports made qualifying into another one-hour programming and race directors and television executives have been looking for a way to make it must-see programming. It has made qualifying something it was never suppose to be. It is like batting practice. Go to a batting practice before a Major League Baseball game. You will see dozens and dozens of home runs. You will see excited children chasing down what their idols have smashed into the bleachers. Other than that, it is nothing more than players stretching, jogging in the outfield and shagging those balls that don't end up in the seats. It's not exciting and it doesn't matter. The game matters. What happens between the first pitch and the 27th out is what matters.

The same is true for a race. Think of all the great races. Think of all the great battle. When has a great qualifying session been brought up? Other than the new track records and the bump days of yonder in preparation for the Indianapolis 500 and the famous 1997 European Grand Prix session when Jacques Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen all ran the identical lap time, qualifying sessions don't stand out and they shouldn't. Once Sebastian Vettel split the Mercedes on the start of the race and Kimi Räikkönen followed, notice how the qualms were silenced and forgotten.

This issue about the lack of excitement in a qualifying session is a 21st century issue that should only bothers television executives because they need justification as to why it should be shown and needs ratings to prove why it should be shown over another sports competition. Beyond that, it should bother no one. We will only remember the race anyway.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Nico Rosberg's victory and Romain Grosjean's sixth but did you know...

The #2 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier-HPD of Pipo Derani, Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown won the 12 Hours of Sebring. The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca of Colin Braun, John Bennett and Mark Wilkins won in Prototype Challenge. Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and Marcel Fässler won in the GTLM class in the #4 Corvette. Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen and Jeff Segal won in GTD driving the #63 Scuderia Corsa.

Defending champion Jorge Lorenzo won the MotoGP season opener, the Grand Prix of Qatar. Thomas Lüthi won the Moto2 race. Niccolò Antonelli won in Moto3.

Jimmie Johnson surpassed Dale Earnhardt for seventh all-time in NASCAR Cup Series victories as Johnson scored his 77th career victory at Fontana.

Jason Anderson won the AMA Supercross race from Detroit after Ryan Dungey was penalized two positions after Dungey failed to adhered to the red cross flag for a down rider.

Austin Dillon won the NASCAR Grand National race from Fontana after Kyle Busch had a flat tire and Daniel Suárez ran out of fuel on the final lap.

Shane Van Gisbergen won three of four V8 Supercars exhibition races from Melbourne. His Red Bull Racing Australia teammate Jaime Whincup won the other exhibition race.

Coming Up This Weekend
Easter weekend and it appears every major series is taking the holiday off. The only events I can find next week are the Toyota Finance 86 Championship at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo, New Zealand and the FIM Motocross World Championship, which will race on Easter Monday in Valkenswaard, Netherlands.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Baby Steps Will Be Victories For Haas in 2016

Thirty years and forty years.

The amount of time since the last time an American team was on a Formula One grid and the amount of time since the last time an American constructor won a Formula One grand prix.

Haas F1 Team will end the first streak this weekend when its two VF-16 slot on to the grid for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix. After the debacle of USF1 in 2010, an American Formula One is a reality. All the doubters have been silenced as the cars have completed testing and completed testing in a respectable fashion and now the questions of if the team will ever show up are changing to about performance.

Can Haas score points this year? Can it beat Manor in the Constructors' Championship? What is the ceiling for this team in year one?

The lack of an American team never stunted my Formula One viewing or enjoyment of the series but now everything has been heightened. It feels like I have some skin in the game. I am not going to live and die with the team but I want the team to succeed. Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez aren't Americans and Gene Haas was totally wrong when he said that there was no American driver that made an impression on him and then Alexander Rossi went out and made five Formula One starts and finished second in the GP2 championship but that doesn't matter. Grosjean is a talented driver and has what it takes to run with the big boys.

I know championships and podiums are highly unlikely in year one but Haas F1 is an infant and each step must be treasured. Getting both cars to the finish of a race is a victory. Getting both cars to finish on the lead lap is a victory. Finishing in the points is a victory. Finishing ahead of the other Ferrari customer teams (Sauber and Toro Rosso) on pace is a victory. Once those little things can be ticked off, then the bar can be raised to shooting for podiums and actual race victories but that may be another five years to a decade away and even then it is not a given.

Manor's roots extend back to that 2010 season when four news teams were slated to join Formula One. USF1 turned out to be glitter and not gold and a bruise to the heart of American Formula One fans who bought into the idea. Team Lotus, Hispania Racing F1 Team and Virgin Racing all entered the ring and were slaughtered. The following season Hispania became HRT and Virgin became Marussia Virgin and the slaughter continued. HRT would return for one more season but disappeared after 2012. Team Lotus and Lotus F1 got into a legal battle that morphed the three year old team into Caterham while Marussia Virgin dropped the Virgin. The name changes did not provide any aid to the results. Both teams slogged at the back of the grid making little progress.

In 2014, Marussia finally scored points when Jules Bianchi finished ninth at Monaco while Caterham missed out on points in the same race by one position. We know how the rest of the story goes. Bianchi is severely hurt at Suzuka. Both teams struggle financially and miss rounds late in the season. Caterham failed to return for 2015 but Marussia, revived as Manor Marussia, comes back but were not able to replicate Bianchi's performance in Monaco once in 2015 as the Frenchman succumbed to his injuries.

In year seven, a finish in the points is still a victory for Manor and the same could be true for Haas if team owner Gene Haas has that type of patience. By year three he could be fed up with the amount of money drained into an effort that can't even score a podium once over twenty-some odd races and decide to sell the team off to a sheik or oligarch the stars and stripes could be gone from the Formula One after as many seasons as Vel's Parenlli Jones Racing and quicker than the Eagle and Penske.

Hopefully that isn't the case. Hopefully we see the streaks end. Hopefully an American team scores its first points since Alan Jones finished sixth for Team Haas, run by Carl Haas, in the 1986 Italian Grand Prix this year. American constructors have won two Formula One races that weren't the Indianapolis 500. We all know Dan Gurney's famed win in the Eagle at the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix. Penske's lone victory was the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with Northern Ireland's John Watson; a year after Mark Donohue's fatal accident at the Österreichring. Penske's victory is also the last podium for an American constructor.

A third American victory is not expected in 2016 but hopefully it is in the cards in the near future. For 2016, the baby steps are what should be celebrated.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: The Fish Aren't Biting

IndyCar opened it season with a respectable race from St. Petersburg. Lucas di Grassi can't catch a break. Brits continue to dominate. A German won in Canada. There was another photo finish in NASCAR but a usual face was victorious. Pirelli World Challenge had a first-time winner. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

The Fish Aren't Biting's Mark Glendenning interviewed IndyCar's chief marketing officer C.J. O'Donnell prior to the start of the IndyCar season. O'Donnell is in, arguably, the toughest job in motorsports. When we critique IndyCar's marketing strategy, or the lack thereof, this is the person at the helm that we are critiquing. He is the captain of that ship, which sometimes appears to be just circling around in the ocean hundreds of miles away from shore.

One of O'Donnell's jobs is getting people through the gates and IndyCar races on television screens and tablet screens and computer screens in homes where it currently isn't being viewed. Easier said than done. It is easy to throw O'Donnell under the bus and I don't mean to do that but there were a few things in the interview that left me scratching my head.

When talking about target audience O'Donnell said, "eventually we have to start thinking about Millennials." While Millennials might be the most hated generation in the history of the United States, they are becoming a more powerful part of American society. By definition, a "millennial" is someone born from 1981-1996. Those people are somewhere from as old as 35 years old to as young as 20 years old. So from newlyweds expecting their first child to juniors in college. He should be thinking about Millennials now.

The upper end of that generation are in the workforce, hopefully making money, hopefully have some type of disposable income but likely not much because of the mountain of student loans. The lower end of that generation are slowly drowning in student loans while balancing studies, a part-time job and scrapping money together to pay rent, purchase the basic necessities and try and have fun every now and then.

While neither of that sounds great for IndyCar, those people who are struggling are who IndyCar should be trying to appeal to now and while that do that with the Snake Pit every year at the Indianapolis 500, what is it doing to attract people to St. Petersburg, Iowa, Pocono, Texas, Toronto, Barber and Road America?

O'Donnell pointed out that the youngest and most diverse crowds are in cities, like Long Beach and when mentioning changing the scheduled O'Donnell added, "if your goal is to attract a younger audience, you're got to go fishing where the fish are."

When Glendenning brought up a shift from ovals to more street races, O'Donnell admitted that is something to think about down the line. First off, how many fewer ovals could IndyCar have? It's already down to five and IndyCar just added Phoenix. If history tells us everything, street circuits are not a stable foundation for a series to grow.

Look at the list of street courses that have come and gone in less than five years: Baltimore, Houston (twice), São Paulo, San Jose, Miami (on three separate occasions), Denver (twice), Las Vegas (twice).

Fishing where the fish clearly isn't a bulletproof plan. IndyCar's growth ultimately comes down to making an IndyCar race something people want to go to. Look at the Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival. The event drew nearly 200,000 people and grossed over $84,000,000 in 2015. The event is held in Indio, California, a city around 85,000 in population and two hours outside of Los Angeles. Here is an event far from where the fish are that draws a crowd smaller than the Indianapolis 500 and probably makes more than IndyCar makes in an entire year. Why does it succeed? Because it is an event people want to go to. It is an event that draws the Millennial generation.

There are plenty of permanent venues, ovals and road courses, that are within two hours of metropolitan cities. Fontana is an hour away from Los Angeles and the IndyCar race drew well when it raced in October and only suffered when someone (Mark Miles) thought racing in June was a brilliant idea. Phoenix International Raceway is about a half-hour from the city of Phoenix. Richmond is within a half hour of downtown Richmond. Gateway is right down the road from St. Louis. Circuit of the Americas is a half-hour outside of Austin. The Milwaukee Mile, Kentucky Speedway and Chicagoland are three more tracks within an hour of U.S. cities. All have been IndyCar venues and all could be IndyCar venues in the future.

IndyCar and permanent venues need to figure out why IndyCar can draw people to street races such as Long Beach, St. Petersburg and Toronto but can't get people in other cities to travel a half-hour to an hour to see the same series and arguably better races. I love racing and I love IndyCar but clearly a race in and of itself isn't enough. IndyCar races need to be social events that draw the community out in droves. It needs to be more than a race but the race needs to critical to the existence of the event.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Juan Pablo Montoya but did you know...

Michael Lewis swept the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from St. Petersburg. Jack Roush, Jr. swept the GTS races.

Felix Serrallés and Felix Rosenqvist split the opening weekend of the Indy Lights season from St. Petersburg. Pato O'Ward and Aaron Telitz split the Pro Mazda races. Jordan Lloyd and Yufeng Luo won in U.S. F2000.

Lucas di Grassi took the checkered flag in the Formula E race from Mexico City but a disqualification gave the victory to Jérôme d'Ambrosio, whose only other victory came in Berlin last year after di Grassi was disqualified.

Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes split the World Superbike races from Buriram, Thailand. Jules Cluzel won the World Supersport race.

Ken Roczen won the AMA Supercross race from Toronto, his third victory of 2016.

NASCAR race from Phoenix. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One starts with the Australian Grand Prix. 
MotoGP opens under the lights in Qatar.
The 12 Hours of Sebring. 
NASCAR will be in Fontana
V8 Supercars runs its second round from Symmons Plains. 
AMA Supercross heads to Detroit. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

First Impressions: St. Petersburg 2016

1. Juan Pablo Montoya is back on top. After losing the championship in the final race in 2015, Juan Pablo Montoya finds himself back on top of the IndyCar championship as he scored his second consecutive victory at St. Petersburg. He drove a smart race and had to nurse the car home after having something break in his steering. His team had great pit stops and he made a great restart to pass Conor Daly for the lead. He never really felt any pressure once he got out in front. I don't think we are seeing 2015 repeat itself but Montoya on top of the podium at St. Petersburg is the one thing that is the same from last year.

2. Simon Pagenaud had a great race. He was up front all race and led a bunch of laps at the start. He kept his nose clean while others found trouble. He did nothing wrong all weekend but now Pagenaud has to take the great results from race one and turn it into something in race two. He couldn't stay at the front last year and that is why he finished 11th in the championship. This is Penske's first victory and first 1-2 finish since last year's Indianapolis 500

3. Ryan Hunter-Reay was consistently in the top ten and he squashed Penske's hopes of a 1-2-3 by passing Hélio Castroneves in the closing laps. This is Hunter-Reay's fourth podium at St. Petersburg. This is a much better start than 2016 and IndyCar heads to Phoenix and Andretti Autosport excels at short tracks. Honda appears to have closed the gap to Chevrolet and hopefully a less political and controversial IndyCar season than last year.

4. Hélio Castroneves finished fourth. He had a good race but not a great race. He never seemed like a threat for the victory. He stayed at the front though and it paid off. One thing I noticed was the primary tires really didn't work for Castroneves. He lost a lot of positions at the start and lost a lot of time in the final stint which allowed Hunter-Reay to get the final podium spot.

5. Mikhail Aleshin finished fifth and was all over Castroneves for fourth. If they hadn't run into lap traffic, Aleshin very well could have finished fourth. He showed he hasn't lost his touch despite only running the season finale last year. I think Aleshin is a driver to keep an eye on for the rest of 2016.

6. Takuma Sato finished sixth despite a flat tire on the opening lap of the race. Unlike other races where Sato finds trouble, he didn't in this one and it paid off. A.J. Foyt Racing had a great weekend as a whole but this team also has one or two great weekends a season and then 11 duds. Can this team have five or six great weekends with only three or four duds?

7. Scott Dixon finished seventh after being hampered by overheating issues late in the races and he wasn't alone. All the Ganassi cars struggled with overheating and they appears to be the only cars on the grid to have extra long pit stops to clear the radiators. Not a bad day despite having to make a 27-second pit stop at one point.

8. Carlos Muñoz finished eighth despite running into the back of Graham Rahal and causing a parking lot at turn three. It is kind of amazing Muñoz was able to finish eighth after that accident. He also benefitted from three or four innocent bystanders stalling because of that accident and falling a lap down as the marshals scrambled to restart cars.

9. Tony Kanaan finished ninth after starting in the back, pitting early, ending up in the front, almost ending up a lap down, ending up in the front after pitting off strategy and then falling to the middle of the pack after overheating issues.

10. Charlie Kimball was around the top ten all race and ended up tenth and in the tires as he spun on the final lap. The race was so hectic that only nine cars finished on the lead lap and an incident like the one Kimball had wouldn't be a gut-punch.

11. Jack Hawksworth finished 11th but could have finished better. He was one of those innocent bystanders because of the Muñoz incident. Not bad and hopefully he can make an improvement at Phoenix.

12. Alexander Rossi was the top rookie in 12th but Conor Daly in 13th had the best race of the rookies. Went off strategy, ended up in the lead after a caution, hung with the big boys of Penske and ran second to Montoya for about a dozen laps and then a slow pit stop and another pit stop for overheating dropped him from a possible podium to outside the top ten. Daly should have a lot of confidence heading into Phoenix. And Spencer Pigot finished 14th in his debut despite getting bumped around a bit. I wish Pigot would be at Phoenix but it appears we won't see him again until May.

13. Quick recap of the field. Marco Andretti had a great race going and one ambitious move on Luca Filippi ruined his birthday. He was a lot better than 15th and could have finished in the top five. Graham Rahal recovered to 16th despite being ran over by Muñoz. Max Chilton finished 17th after making a late pit stop. He was quiet all day. Oriol Servià was caught up in the Muñoz incident and could only manage 18th substituting for Will Power. He did a great job despite being thrown in the car this morning. James Hinchcliffe had a flat and then was caught in the Muñoz incident. Luca Filippi had a much better car than 20th shows. He could have had a top ten. Sébastien Bourdais disappeared after being caught in the Muñoz incident and Josef Newgarden set fastest lap but had electrical gremlins end his race after 47 laps. A lot of drivers will be looking for a do-over at Phoenix.

14. ABC improved its graphic but not its announce team. Eddie Cheever is an ass. Scott Goodyear is a broken record. ABC should put Jon Beekhuis in the booth, move Goodyear to the pit lane and get rid of Cheever. Cheever mentioned the Indianapolis 500 over 700,000 times in this race. Why? Focus on the race in front of you. That is what makes the NBCSN broadcasts so great. There is no point about talking about the Indianapolis 500 during a race that isn't the Indianapolis 500. Focus on the race in front of you and give it the respect it deserves.

15. A week off for the 12 Hours of Sebring and another week off for Easter after that. This was better than the typical St. Petersburg race. Now we get two weeks off. To be honest, I need to be eased into the season.

Morning Warm-Up: St. Petersburg 2016

New year, same pole-sitter. Will Power starts first at St. Petersburg
For the second consecutive season, Team Penske has swept the first two rows for the first round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. Will Power won his 43rd career pole position and broke the track record again. The Australian won the pole position with a lap of 60.2450 seconds, over four-tenths faster than the record he set last year but his fastest lap occurred in the second round of qualifying when he ran a 60.0658. However, Will Power will miss the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg due to a stomach illness. Oriol Servià will drive the #12 Chevrolet and drove the car in the warm-up session. Servià will go to the rear of the field.

Simon Pagenaud will start second and he was 0.1971 seconds off his teammates pole position winning time as the French looks for his first victory with Team Penske. Three-time St. Petersburg winner Hélio Castroneves and last year's winner Juan Pablo Montoya will start third and fourth. Power, Pagenaud, Castroneves and Montoya started first through fourth last year. The last three St. Petersburg races have been won from fourth on the grid.

Scott Dixon made it a clean sweep of the top five for Chevrolet and was 0.2945 seconds behind Power. Dixon has three runner-up finishes at St. Petersburg. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the top Honda qualifier and his best lap in the qualifying session was a 60.5530, which came in the second round.  Hunter-Reay has three top tens in the last four St. Petersburg races. Graham Rahal missed out on the third round of qualifying by 0.0363 seconds. This is Rahal's best start at St. Petersburg since he won his first career pole position their in 2009. Rahal is the only American to win in IndyCar at St. Petersburg. Sébastien Bourdais will start eighth, right next to his former Newman-Haas teammate. Last year, Bourdais scored his first top ten at St. Petersburg in his fifth start on the Floridian streets. He finished sixth.

James Hinchcliffe's IndyCar return will start from ninth on the grid. This is his third top ten start in five St. Petersburg appearances. Jack Hawksworth rounded out the top ten. This is the first time Hawksworth has qualified in the top ten since he started third at Belle Isle I in 2014, his sixth career start. Five times, Hawksworth has qualified in the top ten and four of those came in his first six starts. He started eighth last year at New Orleans but that field was set by points. Takuma Sato will start 11th. Sato had made it to the final round of qualifying in the last three St. Petersburg races. Sato's first top five came at St. Petersburg in 2011. Josef Newgarden joins Sato on row six. He finished 12th last year after starting tenth.

Carlos Muñoz will start 13th after finishing 13th in the championship last year. Charlie Kimball will join Muñoz on row seven. Kimball has never started better than 13th at St. Petersburg. Birthday boy Marco Andretti will start right behind his Andretti Autosport teammate in 15th. Andretti has never finished in the top ten at St. Petersburg in an even-number year. His best finish in an even-number year at St. Petersburg is 12th and three times he has finished outside the top twenty. Should Andretti win, he would be the tenth driver to win on their birthday. Luca Filippi makes his Dale Coyne Racing debut from the 16th position. Last year, Filippi went from 19th to ninth in his debut for CFH Racing.

Max Chilton makes his IndyCar debut from 17th on grid with Mikhail Aleshin starting 18th. Chilton finished 12th after an accident and fourth last year at St. Petersburg in Indy Lights. Alehsin's lone St. Petersburg start came in 2014 and he started 15th and finished 12th. Alexander Rossi will start behind his former teammate Max Chilton from the 19th position. Rossi finished 14th in his Formula One debut last year in Singapore. He also finished third in his GP2 debut in 2013 from Bahrain. Tony Kanaan rounds out the top twenty. This is Kanaan's worst start since Houston 1 in 2014, where he started 22nd. Three times has Kanaan won from outside the top ten and the furthest back was 15th at Iowa in 2010. A victory would tie Kanaan with Al Unser, Jr., Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon for most victories when starting outside the top ten.

Conor Daly and Spencer Pigot make it an all-American, all-rookie final row. Daly won at St. Petersburg in then-Star Mazda in 2010 and finished second in Indy Lights at the track in 2011. Pigot finished third last year in both St. Petersburg Indy Lights races.

The 2016 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg can be seen at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC with green flag scheduled for 12:52 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 110 laps.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Track Walk: St. Petersburg 2016

IndyCar Returns This Weekend
The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season opens from St. Petersburg, Florida for the 13th Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Scott Dixon is the defending champion after winning the 2014 title on tiebreaker over Juan Pablo Montoya. Dixon won the season finale last year and he looks to win on the streets of St. Petersburg for the first time in his career. Montoya is the defending winner at St. Petersburg and the Colombian could become the second driver to win in consecutive years on the streets of St. Petersburg. Fifteen drivers entered for the 2016 season open have won IndyCar races and nine of those drivers were race winners in 2015.

For those in the United States and Canada, do not forget Daylight Saving Time begins this Sunday and to set your clocks forward by one-hour.

Time: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday March 13th. Green flag at 12:52 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: ABC.
Announcers: Allen Bestwick, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever in the booth with Rick DeBruhl, Dr. Jerry Punch and Jon Beekhius working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 10:50 a.m. ET (75-minute session).
Second Practice- 3:40 p.m. ET (75-minute session).
Third Practice- 11:55 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 3:40 p.m. ET.
Warm-Up- 9:00 a.m. ET (30-miunte session).
Race- 12:52 p.m. ET (110 laps)

Has Balance Been Restored? 
The first season of aero kits was scarred by the consistent disparity between the Chevrolet and Honda entries. While Honda did win six races, including two of the three 500-mile races, the manufacture was shut out for pole positions and had one front row start the entry season. Honda was allowed to make a few aero kit upgrades during the offseason in name of competitive balance.

Will those upgrades be enough for Hondas to compete with Chevrolets not just for pole positions but on street circuits? Honda won one of five street circuit races in 2015 and that was the rain-shortened Belle Isle 1 where Andretti Autosport drivers Carlos Muñoz and Marco Andretti managed their tires the best and switched to wets at the right time.

During the preseason test at Phoenix, barely anything separated the Hondas and Chevrolets but the Chevrolets still came out on top in the test with the four fastest times and eight of the top ten. While the Honda entries did not have the 2016 engine performance upgrades at the Phoenix test, the question is how much are those upgrades worth? Marco Andretti was the fastest Honda at Phoenix and was 0.0616 seconds behind the top time set by Hélio Castroneves. Will those upgrades give Andretti and the other Hondas teams that tenth of a second that could make or break the season for Honda?

Debutants and Returnees
Three drivers are set to make their IndyCar debuts at St. Petersburg while another has been around but retains rookie status and another returns after spending most of 2015 racing abroad.

Alexander Rossi comes to IndyCar after finishing second in the 2015 GP2 Series championship to ART Grand Prix and McLaren development driver Stoffel Vandoorne and Rossi made five Formula One starts with Manor Marussia. Rossi won three GP2 races last year driving for Racing Engineering.  Rossi will drive the #98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda after Bryan Herta Autosport formed a partnership with Andretti Autosport for the 2016 season.

Defending Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot will make his IndyCar debut this weekend in the #16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. St. Petersburg is one of three races Pigot earned by winning the Indy Lights championship. He will attempt to run the two Indianapolis races this May. Pigot has five victories in ten Road to Indy series starts at St. Petersburg and his worst finish in St. Petersburg is fourth.

Max Chilton joins Pigot as the drivers making the climb to IndyCar from Indy Lights. Chilton started 13 of 16 Indy Lights races last year. His car failed to start prior to the Freedom 100 and he missed the two Toronto races because of Le Mans duty with the Nissan LMP1 program. Chilton won at Iowa last year and he finished fifth in the championship despite missing three races. He finished retired from race one last year at St. Petersburg after an accident with Félix Serrallés but recovered in race two to finish fourth.

Conor Daly is the fourth rookie on the grid and the Noblesville, Indiana-native will run his first full-season of IndyCar in 2016 after making five starts over the course of two seasons. Daly made his debut in the 2013 Indianapolis 500, where he finished 22nd driving for A.J. Foyt Racing. After a year in GP2, Daly's next IndyCar start would be Long Beach last year when he substituted for an injured Rocky Moran, Jr. He qualified for last year's Indianapolis 500 but failed to take the green flag after a fuel leak on the pace laps. Daly would make three more starts in 2015 substituting for the injured James Hinchcliffe. He best finished was sixth in the second Belle Isle race.

Mikhail Aleshin returns to IndyCar full-time in 2016 after spending most of 2015 driving in the European Le Mans Series for SMP Racing. Aleshin had three podiums in five ELMS starts and he made his Le Mans debut where he finished 13th in the LMP2 class, 33rd overall. Aleshin did make a surprising return to IndyCar for last season's finale at Sonoma driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He finished tenth. The Russian missed two tests this offseason due to visa issues but those have been resolved and he will be in the car for St. Petersburg.

Road to Indy
The three Road to Indy series also open their 2016 seasons from St. Petersburg. A total of 52 cars are entered across the three series.

The Indy Lights grid has ballooned to 16 drivers. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports brings back Floridian RC Enerson and Coloradan Scott Anderson while promoting Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia and hiring André Negrão.

Carlin brings back Ed Jones, who swept the St. Petersburg races last year on his Indy Lights debut and has promoted Neil Alberico from Pro Mazda. Félix Serrallés moves over to Carlin after running for Belardi Auto Racing in 2015.

Andretti Autosport has expanded its Indy Lights operation to three cars. Dean Stoneman comes across the Atlantic after running in Formula Renault 3.5, GP2 and GP3 the last few seasons. The team retains Shelby Blackstock from 2015 and Dalton Kellett has been promoted from Pro Mazda.

Juncos Racing retains Kyle Kaiser while Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo replaces outgoing champion Spencer Pigot. Belardi Auto Racing hired defending Formula Three champion Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach, who sat out in 2015. Team Pelfrey will run two cars for Juan Piedrahita and Scott Hargrove, who is only confirmed for the St. Petersburg round.

A dozen cars are entered in Pro Mazda with two of those being National class entries.

Garett Grist finished third last year in the championship and returns with Juncos Racing as does Will Owen. Australian Jake Parsons and Argentine Nicolás Dapero join Grist and Owen at Juncos Racing.

Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing has promoted the top two finishers from the 2015 U.S. F2000 championship: Nico Jamin and Jake Eidson. Jamin won ten of 16 races, including the final six races and had 15 podiums while Eidson won four races and stood on the podium 14 times.

Team Pelfrey has entered three cars for St. Petersburg. Weiron Tan moves to Team Pelfrey as Andretti Autosport will not field cars in Pro Mazda this season. Aaron Telitz finished third in the 2015 U.S. F2000 championship and will move up to Pro Mazda with Team Pelfrey. Telitz won a race and had 11 podiums last year. Pato O'Ward returns with Team Pelfrey after finishing sixth in Pro Mazda last year with three podiums. O'Ward is only confirmed for St. Petersburg and Barber.

Mexican Jorge Cevallos will run for JDC Motorsports while the two National class entries are Jay Horak and Bobby Eberle.

The U.S. F2000 entry list has two-dozen cars on it for St. Petersburg and only two are National class entries.

Anthony Martin finished fourth last year and is the top returning driver. Martin will move to Cape Motorsports w/WTR and his teammates will be Nikita Lastochkin and Parker Thompson, two other drivers returning for another season.

Pabst Racing Servies has three entries with defending Australian Formula 4 champion Jordan Lloyd leading the way with Garth Rickards and Yufeng Luo returning for a second season in U.S. F2000.

Four cars belong to Team Pelfrey. Americans Robert Megennis and TJ Fischer are joined by Briton Jordan Cane and New Zealander James Munro. Cane is 14 years old and won four of 11 SCCA F1600 starts in 2015. Munro recently finished seventh in the Toyota Racing Series earlier this year.

John Cummiskey racing will have Ayla Årgen and Lucas Kohl as its two drivers. Austin McCusker and Sam Chastian will drive for Chastian Motorsports and Chastian is one of three teams will all-American line-ups. RJB Motorsports will have Michai Stephens and Clint McMahan. JDC MotorSports will have Tazio Ottis and National entry Robery Allaer.

Afterburner Autosport will have Brazilian Felipe Ortiz and Team USA Scholarship winner Dakota Dickerson. ArmsUp Motorsports will have Max Hanratty and bring back Victor Franzoni, who won a race last season. Australian Luke Gabin returns after finishing sixth last year. Gabin will drive for JAY Motorsports. The second National class entry is Eric Filgueiras, who will drive for Spencer Racing.

Both U.S. F2000 races will take place on Saturday. Race one will be at 8:40 a.m. ET and race two will go green at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Pro Mazda race one is scheduled for 10:50 a.m. ET on Saturday with race two set for 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Indy Lights will race at 12:55 p.m. ET on Saturday and 9:45 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Pirelli World Challenge
A week after the season opener from Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas the Pirelli World Challenge returns to St. Petersburg for the second round of its 2016 season.

Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell enters fresh off a victory at Circuit of the Americas and is the GT championship leader. Patrick Long won race one in Austin but an accident at the start of race two after contact with the Nissan's James Davison has the EFFORT Racing Porsche team scrambling to make sure Long does not miss the St. Petersburg races. Davison had finished fourth in race one but a penalty for the contact with Long relegated him to 13th in race two.

Michael Cooper and Jon Fogarty are coming off podiums in their debut weekends in the GT class. Cooper finished third in race one and was second in a Cadillac 1-2 in race two and Fogarty finished third in his first race in the #99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing McLaren. Nissan's Bryan Heitkotter finished second in race one at Austin but a puncture ruined his race two. K-PAX Racing Racing McLaren's Álvaro Parente and Bentley Team Absolute's Andrew Palmer were both in position for podiums in Austin but time penalties knocked them down to eight and tenth respectively in race two. Parente's teammate Colin Thompson had a respectable GT class debut with a ninth and fourth while the third K-PAX driver Austin Cindric struggled with an 11th and 14th on the weekend. CRP Racing Audi driver Kyle Marcelli finished fifth in race two.

A total of twenty GT cars are entered for St. Petersburg. EFFORT Racing's Michael Lewis is entered, as is the Acuras for Peter Cunningham and Ryan Eversley. Duncan Ende will return with TRG-Aston Martin. Andrew Davis finished seventh in race two for Calvert Dynamics Porsche and he is entered for St. Petersburg, as is Adderly Fong in the second Bentley Team Absolute entry. Only three GT-A entries for St. Petersburg: Jorge de la Torre in the #4 TRG-Aston Martin and Martin Fuentes, who swept the GT-A races at Austin in the #07 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. DIME Racing Mercedes driver Frankie Montecalvo struggled in his first weekend in the GT class with his best finish being 11th and he will be a GT-A entry.

Four GT Cup cars are entered for St. Petersburg with Austin winners Alec Udell and Sloan Urry returning. Preston Calvert and Corey Fergus are the other two entries.

Fifteen cars are entered in the GTS class. Lawson Aschenbach finished first and second in the two Austin races while Brett Sandberg won in KTM's debut weekend. Ford's Nate Stacey finished second and fourth at Austin while Lotus driver Scott Doolittle finished fourth and third. Ginetta scored a podium in its debut weekend thanks to Parker Chase's third in race one. Chase would finish fifth in race two. Chase will be the lone Ginetta at St. Petersburg.

Aschenbach's Blackdog Speed Shop teammate Tony Gaples looks to rebound after a tough Austin weekend, where Gaples best finish was ninth. The #09 TRG-Aston Martin will be split once again by Derek DeBoer and Jason Alexandridis. DeBoer finished fifth in race one at Austin while Alexandridis finished 12th in race two. Maserati's Jeff Courtney finished in the top ten in both Austin races. Mark Klenin will return with his Maserati for St. Petersburg while Charles Espenlaub will get behind of the wheel of the #93 RT Motorsports, LLC Maserati, which Ron Ballard drove at Austin.

Lotus driver Kevin Marshall finished seventh in race two after a 14th in race one. Jack Roush, Jr. struggled at Austin, retiring in race one and finishing five laps down in 15th in race two. The Mantella Autosport KTMs will return for St. Petersburg. Anthony Mantella finished ninth in race one but was disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct and was excluded from participating in race two. Martin Barkey finished 12th in race one and retired in race two. The addition to the GTS grid is the #73 Compass360 Racing Audi with five-time PWC champion Pierre Kleinubing set to drive.

GTS race one will be Friday at 12:20 p.m. ET with race two Saturday at 5:10 p.m. ET.

The first GT race from St. Petersburg will be at 9:35 a.m. ET on Saturday and race two will run after the IndyCar race at 3:15 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be the first IndyCar race to take place on March 13th.

Marco Andretti will turn 29 years old on race day. He could become the tenth driver to win on his birthday. Here are the previous nine:

Dario Resta: August 19, 1916. Turned thirty-four years old and won at Chicago's Speedway Park.
Joe Boyer: May 30, 1924. Turned thirty-five years old and won the Indianapolis 500, splitting the ride with L.L. Corum.
Lou Moore: September 12, 1931. Turned twenty-seven years old and won at Syracuse.
Tony Bettenhausen: September 12, 1953. Turned thirty-seven years old and won at Syracuse.
Al Unser: May 29, 1971. Turned thirty-two years old and won the Indianapolis 500.
Nigel Mansell: August 8, 1993. Turned forty years old and won at New Hampshire.
Sam Hornish, Jr.: July 2, 2006. Turned twenty-seven years old and won at Kansas Speedway.
Scott Dixon: July 22, 2007. Turned twenty-seven years old and won at Mid-Ohio.
Dan Wheldon: June 22, 2008. Turned thirty years old and won at Iowa.

Team Penske has won seven of 12 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Hélio Castroneves has the most St. Petersburg victories with three and Will Power has won twice.

Since 2012, Chevrolet is unbeaten on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Last year, Will Power set the track record in qualifying with a lap of 1:00.6509.

Chevrolet has won the last 20 pole positions in IndyCar. The last Honda pole position was Simon Pagenaud at Houston 1 in 2014.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner gone on to win the championship four times. Those four were Paul Tracy in 2003, Dan Wheldon in 2005, Dario Franchitti in 2011 and Will Power in 2014.

The average starting position for a St. Petersburg winner is 4.1667.

Juan Pablo Montoya became the fourth St. Petersburg winner to start fourth on the grid last year. No position has produced more winners at St. Petersburg. The other three winners to start fourth were Ryan Briscoe in 2009, James Hinchcliffe in 2013 and Will Power in 2014.

The pole sitter has won at St. Petersburg twice (Castroneves 2007 and Power 2010).

Twice the winner has started 2nd (Paul Tracy 2003 and Dario Franchitti 2011).

Twice the winner has started 5th (Castroneves 2006 and 2012)

The worst starting position for a St. Petersburg winner is ninth (Wheldon 2005 and Graham Rahal 2008).

An American driver has not won the season opener since Sam Hornish, Jr. won at Homestead in 2004.

The fewest amount of lead changes in a St. Petersburg race was two in 2003. The most lead changes was ten in 2010. The average amount of lead changes is 6.1667 and the median amount is 6.5.

The average amount of caution periods at St. Petersburg is 4.667 for an average of 20.0833 laps with the median being 21 laps.

The fewest amount of cautions in a St. Petersburg race is two for ten laps. Seven cautions is the most to occur at St. Petersburg and that happened in 2009. The most caution laps was 29 laps during six caution periods in 2008 and four caution periods in 2013.

Seven St. Petersburg races have featured twenty caution laps or more.

Possible Milestones:
A victory for Scott Dixon would make him the first driver to win a race in twelve consecutive seasons.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 48 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 41 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 70 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

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

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 76 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Team Penske's St. Petersburg dominance will continue and Simon Pagenaud silences the critics with his first victory for the team. Chevrolet will hold a firm grasp on this race with at least four of the top six finishers and Chevrolets will sweep the front row in qualifying. A rookie will finish in the top ten. At least two top ten finishers start outside the top fifteen. There will be at least five caution periods during this race and one incident will feature a Ganassi driver. The driver who scores the bonus points for most laps led will lead at least 65 laps. Sleeper: Spencer Pigot. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: My How the Rhetoric Changes

NASCAR was in Las Vegas. The Pirelli World Challenge season opened this weekend in Austin and two familiar faces were victorious. A manufacture won on its debut weekend. There was a surprise winner in V8 Supercars as rain spoiled the opening party in Adelaide. Daytona Bike Week began with Supercross under the lights. World Rally was in North America and South of the Border in Mexico. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

My How the Rhetoric Changes
Up until about 15 minutes ago, no one referred to Formula One or IndyCar as "open-cockpit racing." As if the reason why people tune in is because a driver's head is expose for the entire world to see and for all the debris to target. But with Ferrari having run a few laps with a halo all of a sudden the rhetoric has changed.

Drivers all of a sudden don't want to see "open-cockpit racing" disappearing from the face of the earth in the same vain as dinosaurs. The problem is "open-cockpit racing" has never existed. People have created that moniker. "Open-wheel racing" exists the same way. "Open-wheel racing" was never meant to exist. The first automobiles just happened to be built without fenders and that was raced and continued to be raced and then fenders started popping up on automobiles and some race cars added them and some did not.

When people defend "open-cockpit racing" or "open-wheel racing," they are defending labels that exist on accident and those labels have no meaning. The early pioneers in motorsports didn't start racing with the premise that all cockpits must be open and all wheels must be exposed. They raced what they had at the time and as time has progressed we have mistaken the innocence of competition as some type of canon law from up above.

And the Formula One and IndyCar paddocks are no different than NASCAR. NASCAR loves rhetoric more than a preacher and they change it so frequent that they paper is permanently grey. Ever since Daytona you hear Larry McReynolds talk about how all the grass needs to be paved over at all race tracks because of the damage that is caused when a car's splitter digs in. It's the grass's fault. Let's not put any onus on NASCAR for adding the splitter and causing the cars to be suction cupped to the ground, it's all on the grass because the grass has learned to throw uppercuts when a car invades its territory.

The worst part of all these changes in rhetoric is people of equal clout to the McReynoldses of the world don't question them. They let the changes go unchallenged. An alternative is never brought up. He screams pave over the grass and everyone follows and no one bigger or equal in voice challenges with the retort of removing the splitters and raising the ride height of the cars. Even worse is "driver safety" gets added and then it becomes heresy to challenge it even though there is more than one way to improve driver safety.

People need to be more critical when they hear this rhetoric and media, whether it be television networks, newspapers or magazines should not hire a staff completely of like minded people who allow these changes in rhetoric to fly by unchallenged. More than one voice should be at the table and disagreement isn't bad. Just make sure it can be shown in a professional manner.

Winners From the Weekend
Patrick Long and Johnny O'Connell split the opening weekend of the Pirelli World Challenge GT season at Circuit of the Americas.

In GTS, Lawson Aschenbach won race one and Brett Sandberg scored KTM its first victory.

Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Cup race from Las Vegas.

Holden swept the opening weekend of the V8 Supercars season from Adelaide with Jamie Whincup and James Courtney winning the Saturday races. Nick Percat scored his first V8SC victory since being Garth Tander's co-driver and winning the 2011 Bathurst 1000 in a rain-shortened Sunday race.

Jari-Matti Latvala won Rally Mexico, his first WRC victory of 2016.

Eli Tomac scored his first victory of 2016 by defeating Ryan Dungey at Daytona.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Las Vegas.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar season begins at St. Petersburg.
The three Road to Indy series and Pirelli World Challenge will also be at St. Petersburg.
Formula E makes its debut in Mexico City.
AMA Supercross heads to Toronto.
NASCAR heads to Phoenix.
World Superbikes runs its second round of 2016 from Buriram, Thailand.

Friday, March 4, 2016

2016 Pirelli World Challenge Preview

The 2016 Pirelli World Challenge season begins this weekend from Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The series returns with 27 GT cars, seven GT Cup entries and 19 entries in GTS.

Johnny O'Connell has won four consecutive PWC GT championships and he will be attempting to surpass Randy Pobst as the all-time leader in PWC championship should he score his fifth consecutive in the #3 Cadillac. O'Connell will have a new teammate in 2016 as defending GTS champion Michael Cooper has been promoted from Blackdog Speed Shop. Cooper will drive the #8 Cadillac, replacing veteran Andy Pilgrim.

While a Cadillac driver won the title, Porsche won the manufactures' championship and despite EFFORT Racing losing Ryan Dalziel, the team has employed Patrick Long to drive the #31 Porsche with Michael Lewis returning to drive the #41 Porsche. Other Porsches entered in GT are the #14 GMG Racing Porsche of James Sofronas and Brent Holden, the #76 Calvert Dynamics Porsche for Andrew Davis and there are two Porsches that have GTA designation for amateur drivers. Michael Schein will drive the #16 Wright Motorsports Porsche and Joseph Toussaint will be in the #90 Autometrics Motorsports.

Four McLarens are entered and three belong to the K-PAX Racing. Kevin Éstre and Robert Thorne are out while Álvaro Parente, defending GT Cup champion Colin Thompson and Austin Cindric are in for the team. Cindric will drive the #6, Parente will be in the #9 and Thompson will drive the #13. The fourth McLaren is the #99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing entry for Jon Fogarty.

Nissan retains its two drivers from 2015. James Davison will continue in the #33 Nissan and Bryan Heitkotter will be in the #05 Nissan. Davison finished fourth last year in the championship after winning two races and finishing runner-up on six occasions.

Team Absolute has replaced Dyson Racing as the Bentley team in PWC. Team Absolute will run two cars with Andrew Palmer returning to PWC after a season in Blancpain Endurance Series to drive the #87 Bentley and Adderly Fong joining the series in the #88 Bentley.

Peter Cunningham and Ryan Eversley will return to drive the #42 and #43 Acuras respectively. Kyle Marcelli joined CRP Racing to drive the #2 Audi, replacing Mike Skeen. Defending GTA Frank Montecalvo has been promoted to GT and will drive the #66 DIME Racing Mercedes.

TRG has entered the #67 Aston Martin for Duncan Ende and the #4 Aston Martin for GTA driver Jorge de la Torre. Two more Audis are entered in GTA. Drew Regitz will drive the #19 Stephen Cameron Racing Audi and Walt Bowlin and Larry Pegram are entered for the #23 M1 GT Racing Audi. Michael Mills will run the #46 Mills Racing BMW in GTA. Black Swan Racing's Tim Pappas returns in GTA with the #54 Dodge Viper. The only Ferrari entered for the Austin round is the #07 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari for Martin Fuentes. Fuentes is entered in GTA.

Three of the top five finishers from GT Cup in 2015 return for 2016. Sloan Urry finished runner-up to Thompson last year and will drive the #20 TruSpeed Autosport Porsche. Alec Udell finished fourth in the 2015 championship and will be the #17 GMG Racing Porsche. Preston Calvert finished fifth last year in his rookie season and he returns in the #77 Calvert Dynamics Porsche.

The other four GT Cup entries are the #18 WPD/Moorespeed Porsche for Will Hardeman, the #91 Wright Motorsports Porsche for Anthony Imperato, the #00 Motorsports Promotions Porsche for Corey Fergus and the #08 GMG Racing Porsche for Alex Welch.

GTS is a smorgasbord of interesting machinery.

Lawson Aschenbach returns to Blackdog Speed Shop after a year in Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. The three-time PWC class champion Aschenbach will drive the #10 Camaro and Tony Gaples will be his teammate in the #11 Camaro.

Four KTM X-Bow GT4s are entered this season in GTS. Anthony Mantella will drive the #8 Mantella Autosport Inc. KTM. Martin Barkley will drive the #80 KTM for Mantella. ANSA Motorsports has entered two KTMs. Dore Chaponick, Jr. will drive the #12 KTM and Brett Sandberg will drive the #13 KTM.

Two Ginetta GT4s are entered, both for Performance Motorsports Group. Parker Chase will drive the #19 Ginetta and Nick Esayian will be in the #34 Ginetta. The other interesting new addition to the GTS grid are two SIN R1 GT4s, which will be run by Racers Edge Motorsports. Patrick Byrne is entered in the #45 SIN and Bob Michaelian and Conner Kearby are entered for the #54 SIN.

While there are the exotic KTMs, Ginettas and SINs, two Ford Mustangs are entered by Roush Performance Road Racing. Nate Stacy is entered in the #14 Ford and Jack Roush, Jr. is entered in the #60 Ford. TRG has two Aston Martins entered in GTS. Max Riddle will drive the #07 Aston Martin and Derek DeBoer and Jason Alexandridis are entered for the #09 Aston Martin.

Three Maseratis are entered by three different teams. Mark Klenin will drive the #62 Klenin Performance Racing Maserati. Ron Ballard will be behind the wheel of the #93 RT Motorsports, LLC Maserati. Jeff Courtney will pilot the #99 JCR Motorsports Maserati. Kevin Marshall is entered in the #44 VSA Motorsports Lotus. The other Lotus is entered for Austin's own Scott Dollahite and Bill Dollahite. The Dollahites are entered for the #46 SDR Motorsports Lotus.

This is the third time PWC will run at Circuit of the Americas. The four GT races have been won by four different manufactures. Johnny O'Connell and James Sofronas split the races in 2013 for Cadillac and Audi. Last year, Ferrari's Olivier Beretta and McLaren's Kevin Éstre split the weekend that featured a dry race on Saturday and a very wet race on Sunday. In GTS, Blackdog Speed Shop has won three of the four races that have taken place at COTA. Lawson Aschenbach and Andy Lee swept the 2013 races while Michael Cooper won race two last year. TRG-Aston Martin's Kris Wilson won race one last year in GTS.

GT race #1 will be at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday with GTS race #1 following at 5:15 p.m. ET. On Sunday, GTS race #2 will take place at noon ET with the final GT race scheduled for 3:15 p.m. ET.