Wednesday, April 27, 2016

There Needs to be a Change in Etiquette

A week and a half ago, I ran the 10k portion of a 5k/10k run. The course was set up where at the end of lap one those participating in the 5k made a right hand turn to the finish line while the 10k runners made a left and did another lap of the course. Within a half-mile of the second lap, I and the rest of the 10k runner around me caught the tail end of runners as the starts were staggered by pace. It wasn't a problem. There were four lanes of roadway plus bike lanes. Plenty of room as the 10k runners stayed to the left. However, the second part of the lap funneled from four lanes to park trails that a Smart Car would have trouble driving along. Now the 10k runners were mixed in the 5k runners with nowhere to go. Eventually it widened enough that you could pass and the left hand side of the path was open to 10k runners.

A simple "on your left" or "excuse me" would be said to let slower runners know someone was coming and they would move out of the way and let you by. No one tried to intentionally cut a faster runner off. There was nothing to gain by being rude. It was a little difficult to have to navigate the crowd but it worked out.

A charity 5k/10k event isn't at the same level of a Verizon IndyCar Series race but the same difficulty of dealing with slower competitors came into play at Barber Motorsports Park last Sunday. Back markers played a significant role in the outcome of last Sunday's race. First, Conor Daly held up leader Simon Pagenaud allowing Will Power and Graham Rahal to catch the Frenchman. Then Sébastien Bourdais held up his countryman, which set the stage for the battle between Pagenaud and Rahal that eventually ended when the Ohioan clipped the back marker of Jack Hawksworth, damaging his wing and leaving him as a dead duck running four-plus seconds slower of Pagenaud per lap.

Many commented that back markers have a right to fight to stay on the lead lap and that it is a rule. However, the word "lapped" appears in the rulebook three times and once is in the glossary. No such rule exists. The "right to fight" rule is unwritten, just like kicking the ball out of play in soccer for an opponent that is down or not flipping your bat after hitting a home run in baseball.

I covered this a little bit after the race on Sunday but the "right to fight" belief is full of traps. First, it devalues leading and takes power away from the leader. The leader should always be the most powerful car on track especially when dealing with back markers. They are the leader after all. By allowing back markers the "right to fight," we saw the leader lose his advantage but the cars in second, third, fourth and so on do not have to face the same fight. The current etiquette is you have the "right to fight" but once you are a lap down you have to lie down like a dead dog for other cars on the lead. It is absurd that the leader has to struggle while second, third, fourth and so on get a free pass by the slower car.

Second, the whole idea of "right to fight" is absurd. You race what is ahead of you, not what is behind. If you are 20th, you aren't racing the leader; you are racing for 19th. The leader is the least of your concerns. You have a long way to go until you have to be dealing with the leader. Another way to think about it is if you are 20th and let the leader by and that etiquette is held by the entire field then eventually the leader will catch 19th and put that driver a lap down and so on. Either way, 20th isn't racing for the lead and shouldn't be racing the leader. Twentieth should focus on 19th

Third, Pandora's box is on the verge of exploding open if the current etiquette continues. The limits of "right to fight" is bound to be pushed by a back marker soon and there will come a race where a back marker has been emboldened to really fight the leader and might even hit them. A back marker should never be enabled to push the leader off course or bump them or take them out of the race but "right to fight" is on the verge of promoting it. Should a back marker take out a leader, especially later in the season and that leader be a championship contender, all hell will break loose. This needs to be nipped now so IndyCar doesn't have another pain-in-the-ass storyline that make the series appear even more incompetent.

Many who have been supporting "right to fight" say it made the finish exciting and while that is true that doesn't justify its existences. If having the flag man throw thumb tacks on the track at the start/finish line made the racing exciting, should IndyCar allow it? Hell no. If the back markers are allowed to hold up the leader and allow second and third place to catch the leader then why not adopt the "caution clock" NASCAR has implemented in the Truck Series? They both accomplish the same thing: Bunching the field back up and hopefully creating passing.

I bet some of you read that and thought, "The 'caution clock' is manipulative while 'right to fight' is natural and the leader should have to pass the back marker." The problem is IndyCar is closer than ever and with the cars being so aero dependent, even passing back markers is a challenge. This isn't Formula One where Mercedes is running 3-5 miles per hour faster a lap a third of the grid. A mile-and-a-half per hour covers the entire field in IndyCar. Even with push-to-pass, passing isn't a given and the leader shouldn't have to burn push-to-passes to lap cars.

I don't understand why people care if 20th stays on the lead lap. Lapping cars is a natural part of racing. Cars should finish a lap down. Not everyone should finish on the lead lap. I won't go as far as to say the culture of participation trophies is the reason why people want to see as many cars finish on the lead lap as possible but this "right to fight" idea seems to be relatively new.

Simon Pagenaud probably would have won Sunday's race by eight-to-ten seconds had it not been for back markers hindering his progress but should slower cars really be playing that significant of a role in deciding a race? The lead lap is a privilege and not a right. Some races will see one person dominate and there is nothing wrong with that. Enabling slower cars with a "right to fight" might have provided a thrilling finish at Barber but it gives back markers way too much power. Back markers will always exist but they shouldn't be the reason why a lead goes from over four seconds to less than a second in six laps. Knowing IndyCar, "right to fight" is only bound to lead to more trouble.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Busting Balls

There was a lot of traffic at Barber. The Eiffel Tower was in the background of the Formula E race. NASCAR raced in the daylight. WTCC raced in the rain. Someone went from last to first. There were first time winner in multiple series on multiple continents. New Zealanders won all over the place but none were the New Zealander you are thinking of. There was a usual face on the top step of the podium in Spain. Speaking of Spain, Oriol Servià landed a ride for the Indianapolis 500. Stefan Wilson is close to landing a ride. Stoffel Vandoorne made an impressive debut in Super Formula with a third place finish. Imagine what Vandoorne could do in IndyCar. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Busting Balls
We are pretty much at 33 entries for this year's Indianapolis 500. A 34th entry appears to be likely. Any more is a stretch but would not be unthinkable. Andretti Autosport will have five cars. A.J. Foyt Racing, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing will all run three cars. Coyne is partnered with Jonathan Byrd's Racing. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will have two cars. That's 17 Honda entries.

Penske and Ganassi will each have four. Ed Carpenter Racing will have three. KV Racing should have three if the Stefan Wilson deal is finalized. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will return with a car and it appears Buddy Lazier will give it another go with his family's team. That's 16 Chevrolet entries.

Missing from that list is Grace Autosport, the team that was announced more than 11 months ago and led by Beth Paretta to encourage young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Grace Autosport was supposed to be an all-female team and Katherine Legge was selected to be the driver. Grace Autosport has reportedly tried to partner with a current team such as KV Racing but that appears as if it will not come to fruition.

It is hard for me to believe that Grace Autosport will not be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway come the month of May considering how the program would be such a positive for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 but it speaks to the difficulties of any one who wants to enter the series. Engines are hoarded. Chassis are tough to come by. It makes IndyCar seem like a boy's club where the only way to get in is to know the right people. With each engine manufacture committing to 17 engine leases for the Indianapolis 500, pursuing the dream of competing in one of the greatest races in the world has gone from fighting for hundredths of a second on Bump Day to a game of boardroom musical chairs.

It's not like Grace Autosport could put a stock block engine or a school bus engine in a car and give it a go. Grace Autosport, just like any other team with aspirations to race in the Indianapolis 500, are at the mercy of the two engine manufactures. If all the leases are filled then you don't even get the opportunity. It is infuriating just thinking about it. The 17th Chevrolet entry, if it happens at all, appears will be Gary Petersen's AFS-sponsored entry for Sebastián Saavedra; just another man already in IndyCar's inner-circle benefitting from being able to rub the right elbows (UPDATE: AFS will run Saavedra). That's a great message to send.

I doubt Grace Autosport announced this program last May and then waited until the 11th hour to put the pieces together like a college student with a term paper. This team has the potential to put IndyCar in a positive spotlight and attract more female viewers to a series that needs to grow. Grace Autosport could open the door of opportunity to a segment of the population that is far unrepresented in motorsports in general, let alone IndyCar. I can't believe none of the established IndyCar teams and their sponsors and neither engine manufacture sees how positive Grace Autosport could be for the series and partner with them. I can't find a negative to a team partnering with Grace Autosport. It is a win-win situation and I can't believe everyone is passing it up.

IndyCar could get actual exposure from Grace Autosport and if the team could expand into a full-time operation from an Indianapolis 500 one-off, it could be a monumental gain for the series. Grace Autosport not being on the entry list for this year's Indianapolis 500 would be another loss for IndyCar and probably be a gain for another series. Unlike in IndyCar, Grace Autosport would probably have no issues getting a chassis or engine program for the DPi class in IMSA next year or start a GT3 program. Grace Autosport might be better off moving on from IndyCar and never looking back. At least Grace Autosport might have a chance of actually getting on the racetrack.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Simon Pagenaud but did you know...

Ed Jones and Santiago Urrutia split the Indy Lights races from Barber. Pato O'Ward swept the Pro Mazda races. Parker Thompson swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Álvaro Parente and Michael Cooper split the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Barber. Jade Buford swept the GTS races in the #45 SIN R1 GT4.

Valentino Rossi won MotoGP's Spanish Grand Prix from Jerez. Sam Lowes won the Moto2 race. Brad Binder won the Moto3 races from 35th, dead last on the grid.

Lucas di Grassi won the Paris ePrix.

The #59 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 of Shane Van Gisbergen, Rob Bell and Côme Ledogar won the Blancpain Endurance Series season opener from Monza.

Carl Edwards won the NASCAR Cup race at Richmond. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the NASCAR Grand National Series race.

Naoki Yamamoto won the Super Formula season opener from Suzuka.

New Zealander Hayden Paddon won Rally Argentina, his first WRC victory.

Ken Roczen won the AMA Supercross race from Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Mehdi Bennani and José María López split the WTCC races from Hungary.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One is already heading back to Russia.
NASCAR heads to Talladega.
IMSA will run split races at Laguna Seca. Prototypes and GTLM first followed by PC/GTD.
World Superbikes will be at Imola.
AMA Supercross remains on the east coast for the penultimate round in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

First Impressions: Barber 2016

1. The race was exciting but that isn't necessarily a good thing. If driving etiquette was different, Simon Pagenaud might have won by 13.7476 seconds anyway. Either way, he and Graham Rahal had a great battle and unfortunately the back marker of Jack Hawksworth made a cameo. Pagenaud is the 14th driver since 1946 to have four podiums from the first four races. He is in command of the championship through the first quarter of the season.

2. Graham Rahal worked his way to the front and nearly won. He and Pagenaud had to battle lap traffic and unfortunately Hawksworth choose Rahal's lane instead of Pagenaud's. Rahal breaks his front wing and runs laps three seconds slower than the Frenchman. He nursed it home to second, which is every impressive. It must suck to be that close and lose it in such a way.

3. Josef Newgarden snuck onto the podium. While Pagenaud and Rahal and back markers where banging into one another, Newgarden slid by Will Power as they were chasing the wounded duck of Rahal. Another good run for Newgarden heading into the month of May.

4. Remember when Will Power missed St. Petersburg and everyone thought it would kill his championship run? Third, seventh and fourth from Power in his three starts this season. He is fine. He is eighth in the championship He will be in contention for the championship. Of course, if Pagenaud keeps finishing on the podium, it won't matter what Power does.

5. Juan Pablo Montoya went from 21st to fifth. He benefitted from Carlos Muñoz tapping Mikhail Aleshin and the Russian spinning into the path of Hawksworth before the green came out and then from Sébastien Bourdais tapping Scott Dixon. Still impressive from Montoya.

6. James Hinchcliffe finished sixth. Another strong race for Hinchcliffe as he was in the top ten all day. He battle with Montoya, Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan through out the race and held his own.

7. Hélio Castroneves started and finished seventh. He did nothing sexy in this race. He never appeared to be making strides to the front.

8. Tony Kanaan started ninth and finished eighth. If it weren't for Dixon being spun, he would have started ninth and finished ninth. He and Castroneves ran the same race.

9. Charlie Kimball finished ninth. He made a few really impressive moves at the start but faded a little bit. Kimball has finished tenth, 11th, 12th and ninth through four races. So what is next, an eighth or a 13th?

10. Scott Dixon's podium streak ends at Barber, as does Chip Ganassi Racing's podium streak. He did a great job to keep the car running after being spun and worked his way back to tenth. Perhaps he could have given Pagenaud and company a run for their money. We will never know.

11. Andretti Autosport looks better in this race but not great. Ryan Hunter-Reay got up to 11th. Marco Andretti got up to 12th. They are still a step off but this is better than Long Beach.

12. A.J. Foyt Racing should petition for IndyCar races to be held on Fridays. Takuma Sato finished 13th and Hawksworth was 19th but they were both in the top five on Friday. Something is a miss and that can't be blamed on Honda.

13. Speaking of Andretti Autosport, Carlos Muñoz finished 14th despite his contact prior to the green flag and Alexander Rossi finished 15th. Rossi had a great start but the Andretti cars weren't able to take advantage of strategy like Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

14. Quickly through the rest of the field: Sébastien Bourdais spun Dixon and was penalized and never recovered. Mikhail Aleshin was spun but never was a threat. Luca Filippi continues to have great qualifying runs and terrible races. We have talked so much about Jack Hawksworth already and he only finished 19th. Conor Daly and Max Chilton rounded out the field.

15. We need to talk about back marker etiquette. A driver should never race out his or her mirrors so when a car on the tail end of the lead lap sees the leader is approaching they should let the leader by. By saying a driver has "the right to fight to stay on the lead lap" gives a back marker more power than they should ever have. Does that mean they can run the leader wide or block or make contact with the leader? No. The power should always be in the hands of the leader. If the leader is reeling in a back marker, the leader should be allowed to go by because the back marker isn't racing the leader, the back marker is racing the driver ahead of them. Conor Daly was 20th and the leader Simon Pagenaud caught him. Daly isn't racing Pagenaud; he is racing the driver in 19th.

16. What if position in the championship determined how many push-to-passes a driver received? Watching James Hinchcliffe struggle behind Tony Kanaan and losing time to the leaders during the second stint got me thinking that a varying amount of push-to-passes could spice up a race. Give the drivers a base of ten pushes but give a few more to drivers lower in the championship. There were 21 drivers in the field. The top seven in the championship could get the base ten pushes with the next seven getting 18 pushes and the final third getting 15 pushes. Instead of playing with the aero kits, just balance it with pushes-to-pass. It could lead to more passing on track. I am sure it is something the engine manufactures could make possible.

17. We are one-fourth of the way through the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season and now the month of May and two races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I need a nap after this one. Luckily there are two weeks off until the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Sleep well my friends. And don't forget to be polite to faster traffic.

Morning Warm-Up: Barber 2016

Simon Pagenaud leads the champions and will lead the field to green tomorrow
The IndyCar championship leader Simon Pagenaud will start the fourth round of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season at Barber Motorsports Park from pole position. It is Pagenaud's third career pole position and first on a natural-terrain road course. The Frenchman ran a lap of 66.7262 seconds. He won pole for Houston 1 in 2014 and at Fontana last year. Pagenaud could become the first driver since Sébastien Bourdais in 2006 to start the season with four consecutive podiums. Bourdais had five consecutive podiums to open that season. Since 1946, a driver has scored four podiums to start a season thirteen times. The driver who has scored four podiums to open a season has won the championship ten times. Will Power will start second after qualifying over two-tenths behind his teammate. This is Power's sixth front row start in seven Barber appearances. Power's worst finish at Barber is fifth.

Josef Newgarden qualified third, a career-best for him at Barber. He won last year's race from fifth and led 46 of 90 laps. He has three top tens in four Barber starts and all of those top tens have come in his last three Barber starts. Last year, Newgarden entered Barber after two consecutive top ten finishes. Another top ten at Barber would match Newgarden's longest streak of consecutive top ten finishes at three. Scott Dixon starts fourth for the second consecutive year at Barber. No Barber winner has ever started fourth. Six of Dixon's 39 IndyCar victories have come from fourth, most recently Mid-Ohio 2012. Sébastien Bourdais will start fifth, a career best for the Frenchman at Barber. Last year, Bourdais had a career-best finish at Barber when he came home in eighth. Graham Rahal is the top Honda on the grid, as he will roll off from sixth, a career-best for him at Barber. This will be Rahal's 15th start from sixth. He has finished outside the top ten in eight of his previous 14 starts from sixth.

Hélio Castroneves failed to make the final round of qualifying and will start seventh, a career-worst for him at Barber. Castroneves has failed to finish in the top ten in the last two Barber races after finishing on the podium in three of the first four Barber races. James Hinchcliffe qualified eighth, his fifth time qualifying in the top ten in six Barber appearances. He has finished seventh the last two years at Barber. Tony Kanaan will start ninth in his seventh start at Barber. Kanaan has never led a lap at Barber and has never finished better than sixth. Kanaan is attempting to get five consecutive top ten finishes for the first time since 2010-11 when he had five top tens to close out 2010 and three consecutive to open 2011. Charlie Kimball rounds out an all-Ganassi row five. This is Kimball's second career top ten start at Barber. He started fifth in 2013.

Max Chilton will start 11th after he advanced to the second round of qualifying for the first time in his short IndyCar career. Chilton finished fifth and third last year at Barber in the two Indy Lights races. For the second consecutive race, Luca Filippi will start 12th. The Italian has failed to finish in the top ten in the last five races. Only twice in his career has Filippi finished in the top ten after starting outside the top ten and both times he started 19th and finished ninth (St. Petersburg and Belle Isle 1 last year). He finished 11th last year at Barber. Mikhail Aleshin qualified 13th and matched his best starting position of 2016. He had an accident end his only Barber start in 2014. Jack Hawksworth will start 14th, a career-best for him at Barber. His best finish at the track is 12th. Hawksworth has never gone more than five races between top ten finishes. His last top ten was five races to go, an eighth at Mid-Ohio.

Carlos Muñoz is the top Andretti Autosport starter in 15th position. Muñoz finished sixth last year at Barber from 22nd on the grid. He won at Barber in Indy Lights in 2013. Takuma Sato rounds out row eight. He entered this weekend with an average starting position of 13.2 at Barber and average finish of 18.2. Sato's best finish at the track is 13th. Conor Daly starts 17th for his Barber debut. This is Daly's first IndyCar start on a natural-terrain road course. He has six starts on street circuits and two on ovals. Ryan Hunter-Reay starts 18th. Last year at Barber, Hunter-Reay started 18th and finished fifth. Only three times in IndyCar history has a winner started 18th. Those three winner were Keith Andrews at the 1954 Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Jim McElreath at the 1970 California 500 at Ontario and Bobby Unser at the 1979 Twin 125 from Michigan.

Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi will start on an all-American, all-Andretti Autosport row ten. This is Andretti's career-worst start at Barber. His worst Barber finish was 11th in 2012. This is the fifth time Andretti has started 19th in his career. He has three top ten finishes from his four starts from 19th position. Rossi is still looking for his first career top ten finish. He has regressed with each finish this year. Juan Pablo Montoya will round out the grid in 21st position. This is the second time in Montoya's IndyCar career he has started outside the top twenty. He started 22nd at Toronto 1 in 2014 and finished 18th in that race. His only victory when starting outside the top ten was last year's Indianapolis 500, where he won from 15th. Montoya's best finish at Barber is 14th. Three IndyCar races have been won from 21st position: The 1924 Indianapolis 500 (won by L.L. Corum and Joe Boyer), Las Vegas 2000 (won by Al Unser, Jr.) and Michigan 2001 (won by Patrick Carpentier).

The 2016 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama can be seen at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN with green flag scheduled for 3:38 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 90 laps.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Track Walk: Barber 2016

IndyCar heads to Barber Motorsports Park for the seventh Grand Prix of Alabama
IndyCar is at the quarter post of the 2016 season and the fourth race of the championship is the Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park. After the blend line snafu at Long Beach, Simon Pagenaud enters fresh off his first victory with Team Penske and the Frenchman has built his championship lead to 14 points over Scott Dixon. Juan Pablo Montoya is the only other driver with over 100 points through three races and trails his Penske teammate by 28 points. Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan round out the top five in the championship. There have been three different winners through the first three races of 2016. The last two seasons have seen four different winners in the first four races and there were five different winners in the first five races last year.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 24th. Green flag at 3:38 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Rick Allen, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Kate Hargritt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 12:00-1:45 p.m. ET (75 minutes). NBCSN will have live coverage of this session.
Second Practice- 4:00-5:15 p.m. ET (75 minutes)
Third Practice- 12:00-12:45 p.m. ET (45 minutes).
Qualifying- 4:00 p.m. ET. NBCSN will have live coverage of this session.
Warm-up- 11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race- 3:38 p.m. ET (90 laps).

Can Scott Dixon Find The Top Step?
Only one driver has been on the podium in every Barber race but that driver has yet to ascend to the top step. Scott Dixon is six-for-six in terms of podiums at Barber Motorsports Park but Dixon is not one of the four drivers to have won at the track.

The New Zealander has actually regressed in the last two seasons. After four consecutive runner-up finishes from 2010 to 2013, Dixon has finished third in the last two Barber races. Dixon's consistency on the podium is matched on the starting grid. He has started third twice, fourth twice and fifth twice at Barber. He is one of five drivers to have completed every lap at Barber along with two-time Barber winner Will Power, another two-time Barber winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, winner of the inaugural Grand Prix of Alabama Hélio Castroneves and Marco Andretti, who has finished on the podium twice at Barber and has five top tens in six starts with his worst finish being 11th.

Dixon finished second in the 2010 race by just over a half of a second to Castroneves after a late restart put him into contention for the victory. In 2011, Dixon finished second but was no match to Power, who led all 90 laps from pole position. Arguably Dixon's best chance at victory came in 2012 where he led 32 of 90 laps but was beat by Power, who started ninth and used a mix of on-track passes and pit strategy to get to the front. In 2013, Dixon challenged Hunter-Reay but could not catch and overtake the American and finished just over six-tenths back in second. Dixon was running second to Josef Newgarden late in last year's race but a hard charging Graham Rahal on fresh tires passed Dixon, dropping him to third while Rahal ran out of laps and finished second to Newgarden by 2.2 seconds. Outside of the 2012 race, Dixon has only led three laps at Barber.

Who Can Enter the Month of May on a Strong Note?
Juan Pablo Montoya won last year's Indianapolis 500 and his 2016 results through three races are similar to his results through three races in 2015. Montoya's victory at St. Petersburg was followed by a ninth and Phoenix and a fourth at Long Beach. Last year, Montoya finished fifth at NOLA and third at Long Beach after he won St. Petersburg. His first two starts at Barber have been marred by a trip into the kitty litter in 2014 and a flat tire last year. He finished 21st in 2014 and 14th last year. He did lead a lap in last year's race.

Tony Kanaan is one of four drivers with top tens in each of the first three races this year but is the only one of the four not in the top four of the championship. Currently fifth, 50 points back, Kanaan has finished ninth at St. Petersburg, fourth at Phoenix and sixth at Long Beach. He has never started nor finished in the top five at Barber. He has started sixth twice and finished sixth in 2011. Kanaan has also finished eighth and ninth. Kanaan has completed all but one lap at Barber.

Takuma Sato enters Barber coming off a fifth place finish at Long Beach and he finished sixth at St. Petersburg with his 15th at Phoenix being the one blemish on Sato's record this year. He has been one of the quickest Hondas at both street circuits this season. Sato is one of eight drivers to have started every Barber race and he is the only one to never finish in the top ten. His best finish was 13th in 2014. He started sixth in the inaugural Barber race but his next best start at the track is 11th.

Last year, Graham Rahal charged from eighth to finish second to Josef Newgarden. Outside of that second and a fourth in 2012 (ironically from eighth on the grid), Rahal has never finished in the top fifteen at Barber. His average starting position at Barber 13.2 and his average finish is 13.3. While Rahal is ninth in the championship, his lone top five was a fifth at Phoenix with a 16th and 15th at the two street circuits.

Charlie Kimball rounds out the top ten in championship and has been consistent this season. After a tenth and 12th at St. Petersburg and Phoenix, Kimball finished 11th at Long Beach, a career best for him in that event. Barber has been one of Kimball's better tracks. He finished fourth there in 2013 and finished tenth in 2011 and 2014. He finished 12th last year at Barber. Kimball also finished second in his only Indy Lights start at Barber in 2010 to JK Vernay.

Mikhail Aleshin finished fifth in the St. Petersburg season opener but in the last two races Aleshin has been down in the order. At Phoenix, the Russian finished 17th after a spin entering the pit lane under caution took him out of contention for a top ten. At Long Beach, Aleshin started and finished 16th. In Alehsin's lone Barber appearance, he spun in turn after contact with Sébastien Bourdais and then has his race end with an accident four laps from the finish.

Who Needs to Enter the Month of May on a Strong Note?
With the month of May approaching, drivers are running out chances for a good finish before heading to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Through the first three IndyCar, eleven full-time drivers have yet to finish in the top five and five have yet to finish in the top ten.

Thirty-nine of the last fifty Indianapolis 500 winners have had at least one top ten finish entering that season's Indianapolis 500 and thirty-six of those had at least one top five finish. Sixteen of the last fifty Indianapolis 500 winners had already won a race that season, including the last two Indianapolis 500 winners.

Off the 11 Indianapolis 500 winners who failed to score a top ten before their Memorial Day weekend triumph, three had yet to make a start that season. Graham Hill won the 1966 race on his IndyCar debut while the story of Al Unser winning in a year-old car in 1987 is fresh in our mind and we all know about Dan Wheldon's dramatic victory in 2011.

The last eight Indianapolis 500 winners who had failed to have a top ten finish entering the race were Mark Donohue, Tom Sneva, Rick Mears in 1984, Bobby Rahal, Buddy Lazier, Arie Luyendyk, Eddie Cheever and Kenny Bräck.

Josef Newgarden enters Barber off consecutive top tens for the second consecutive season. He finished sixth at Phoenix and tenth at Long Beach but has yet to really take it to the top teams through the first three races.

Top rookie Max Chilton had an impressive seventh at Phoenix but has been in the back half of the field in both street circuit races. He qualified seventh for last year's Freedom 100 but a mechanical failure prevented him from starting the race. Phoenix is the largest oval he has raced on.

After failing to finish in the top ten in four consecutive races dating back to last season, Sébastien Bourdais has consecutive top ten finishes. Last year, Bourdais entered the Indianapolis 500 with three consecutive top tens and finished 11th in the race.

Carlos Muñoz's eighth place finish at St. Petersburg has been marred by the contact he made with Graham Rahal that ruined Rahal's and a handful of other drivers' races. While Muñoz was handed a drive through penalty, he still managed a top ten. However, an accident at Phoenix and a less stellar 12th at Long Beach have negated the top ten performance from most people's minds.

James Hinchcliffe's eighth at Long Beach was his first since returning to competition. The Canadian entered the 2012 Indianapolis 500 with four consecutive top tens and when on to finish sixth in that race but outside of 2012, he has never had more than two top tens entering the Indianapolis 500.

The top driver without a top five is Conor Daly, who is two points ahead of Hinchcliffe, 16th in the championship. Daly has finished all three races this year but he has only been able to manage a 13th at both street circuits. He made one start at Barber in Indy Lights. He finished 11th after front wing damage.

Alexander Rossi is ahead of his teammate Marco Andretti by a point in the championship but they are 18th and 19th in the championship table. Both have had top tens slip through their grasps. Rossi lost one at Phoenix while Andretti lost his at St. Petersburg. Neither driver has started in the top ten through the first three races.

Jack Hawksworth just missed out on a top ten at St. Petersburg with an 11th place finish. The British driver has been quick in practice sessions but that speed has not been translated to race pace. Hawksworth won at Barber in Pro Mazda in 2012 and finished second there in Indy Lights in 2013. His best IndyCar finish at Barber is 12th.

Luca Filippi has been oddly consistent. He started 16th in the first two races and finished 20th in the first two races. He improved at Long Beach but continued to be one step forward two steps back, as he started 12th but finished 17th. He finished 11th in his Barber debut last year.

Road to Indy
All three Road to Indy Series return to competition at Barber Motorsports Park. Barber is the site of races four and five for Indy Lights. Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 last competed at St. Petersburg and each series will run its third and fourth races of 2016.

Kyle Kaiser took the Indy Lights championship lead with his first career victory at Phoenix. The Californian has 81 points and is 18 points clear of St. Petersburg 1 winner Félix Serrallés. Kaiser looks to duplicate the performance of his former Juncos Racing teammate Spencer Pigot, who swept the Barber races last year. Felix Rosenqvist won St. Petersburg 2 but a 15th at Phoenix has the Swede 28 points behind Kaiser. Ed Jones' second at Phoenix puts him fourth in the championship with 50 points, two ahead of RC Enerson, who finished third at Phoenix.

A point behind Enerson is his teammate André Negrão, who is a point ahead of another Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, Santiago Urrutia. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has only one victory at Barber and that was the first race in 2010. Andretti Autosport's Dean Stoneman trails Urrutia by a point and is three points clear of former Barber winner Zach Veach. Andretti Autosport leads all teams with three Indy Lights victories at Barber. Scott Hargrove rounds out the top ten with 40 points. The Canadian Hargrove is not scheduled to compete in any races after Barber and he finished second in the first race of the season.

Juan Piedrahita is six points behind his Team Pelfrey teammate Hargrove. Dalton Kellett has 28 points with Neil Alberico on 27 points. Alberico won at Barber last year in Pro Mazda. Zachary Claman DeMelo has 25 points and is one ahead of Shelby Blackstock. Scott Anderson returns with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after Heamin Choi drove at Phoenix. Anderson scored 20 points at St. Petersburg.

There has not be a lead change in the last seven Indy Lights race at Barber. The only lead change was on lap two of the 2010 race when JK Vernay passed Charlie Kimball. Indy Lights race one from Barber will be at 1:00 p.m. ET on Saturday with race two Sunday at 1:20 p.m. ET.

Pato O'Ward and Aaron Teltiz both had a victory and a second at Pro Mazda's opening weekend from St. Petersburg but the Mexican O'Ward has 59 points to Telitz' 57 points because O'Ward took fastest lap in each race. Team Pelfrey has the top three in the championship as Weiron Tan sits on 39 points. Defending U.S. F2000 champion Nico Jamin is a point behind Tan with his Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Jake Eidson two points behind Jamin.

Juncos Racing drivers are the next three drivers in the championship. Jake Parsons is on 30 points with Garret Grist two points behind the Australian and Will Owen a point behind the Canadian. Mexican Jorge Cevallos has 26 points with Nicolas Dapero and Bobby Eberle rounding out the championship with 22 points and 20 points respectively.

Pro Mazda will race at 5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and 12:15 p.m. ET on Sunday from Barber.

Pabst Racing Services swept the U.S. F2000 St. Petersburg races with Jordan Lloyd and Yufeng Luo each winning a race and finishing second. Lloyd has 58 points and leads Luo by two points. Luke Gabin trails his fellow Australian by 22 points in the championship. Robert Megennis is the top American and he is a point behind Gabin. Anthony Martin rounds out the top five with 29 points.

Cape Motorsports teammates Parker Thompson and Nikita Lastochkin are tied on 26 points with Victor Franzoni two points behind them. Jordan Cane finished third in race two after an accident in race one. Cane has 23 points with Ayla Ågren rounding out the top ten with 19 points. Garth Rickards has 16 points. Clint McMahan, Dakota Dickerson, TJ Fischer and Tazio Ottis are all tied on 15 points.

U.S. F2000 will race at 5:30 p.m. ET on Friday and 6:35 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Pirelli World Challenge
Like IndyCar, the Pirelli World Challenge also heads to Barber Motorsports Park fresh off of a weekend at Long Beach.

The GT category enters after a bit of a controversy. Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell won Long Beach on the road but was handed a ten-second penalty for overboost. This promoted K-PAX Racing McLaren's Álvaro Parente to victory, the first for the Portuguese driver in only his fifth start in the series. O'Connell finished second. EFFORT Racing Porsche's Patrick Long finished third at Long Beach with Nissan's James Davison in fourth and CRP Racing Audi's Kyle Marcelli rounding out the top five.

EFFORT Racing's Michael Lewis finished sixth with Acura's Ryan Eversley in seventh. Martin Fuentes won in GT-A with an eighth for Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. Adderly Fong finished ahead of his Bentley teammate Andrew Palmer for the first time in 2016 at Long Beach with Fong in ninth and Palmer in tenth.

Michael Cooper entered Long Beach as the championship leader but his 15th dropped him in the championship standings to third, 51 points behind his Cadillac teammate O'Connell with Lewis 41 points back in second. Parente trails O'Connell by 60 points with Long trailing by 95 points in fifth. Davison is 112 points back in sixth and Marcelli is 127 points back in seventh. Eversley is eighth on 322 points, nine behind Marcelli. Palmer and Thompson round out the top ten on 314 points and 298 points respectively. Fuentes is 11th with 289 points, a point ahead of Bryan Heitkotter. Jon Fogarty withdrew from Long Beach after a practice accident and Bob Stallings Racing hopes to have that McLaren repaired for Barber. He has 259 points and is 14th in the championship.

The GT races will be at 2:45 p.m. ET Saturday and 10:15 a.m. ET Sunday.

After not running at Long Beach, the GTS class will compete at Barber Motorsports Park. Brett Sandberg has a victory and two second place finishes from four races and the KTM X-Bow driver leads the GTS championship with 396 points. Two-time GTS champions Lawson Aschenbach trails by 32 points in his Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro. Twenty points behind Aschenbach is Ginetta driver Parker Chase. Ford Mustang driver Nathan Stacey trails Sandberg by 64 points. Jack Roush, Jr. swept the St. Petersburg races and is fifth on 272 points. 

Maserati driver Jeff Courtney is four points behind Roush, Jr. Sandberg's teammate Dore Chaponick, Jr. is seventh in the championship on 260 points. Blackdog Speed Shop's Tony Gaples has 230 points. Scott Dollahite skipped the St. Petersburg round but the Lotus driver is still ninth in the championship with 181 points. Maserati driver Mark Klenin rounds out the top ten on 176 points.

GTS will race at 2:15 p.m. ET Friday and 10:45 a.m. ET Saturday.

Fast Facts
This will be the first time IndyCar has raced on April 24th in fifty years. Rodger Ward won at Trenton on April 24, 1966. It was Ward's 26th and final IndyCar victory and in his penultimate start. He would retire after finishing 15th at the Indianapolis 500 a month later. The only other IndyCar race to take place on April 24th was in 1949 at Arlington Downs Raceway in Arlington, Texas. Johnnie Parsons was victorious. It was the final IndyCar championship race held at the track.

Scott Dixon holds the track record with a lap of 66.7750 seconds. He set it in qualifying in 2013.

Honda and Chevrolet each have three victories at Barber but Chevrolet has won three of the four Barber races since returning to the series in 2012.

After winning the first three Barber races, Team Penske has only had one podium finish at the track in the last three Barber races. Hélio Castroneves finished third in 2013.

Chip Ganassi Racing has taken eight of 18 podium spots in the six Barber races and has at least one car on the podium in every Barber race.

Chevrolet has won the last 23 pole positions in IndyCar. The last Honda pole position was Simon Pagenaud at Houston 1 in 2014.

The average starting position for a Barber winner is 3.667 with a median starting position of third. Every Barber winner has started in the top ten with five of six starting in the top ten.

The average number of lead changes at Barber is 6.5 with a median of seven.

The fewest lead changes at Barber were zero in 2011. The next fewest lead changes were six in 2013. Last year, a record ten lead changes occurred.

The average number of cautions at Barer is three with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is 10.667 with a median of 9.5.

Possible Milestones:
Should Hélio Castroneves start the Grand Prix of Alabama, he will tie Johnny Rutherford for sixth all-time in IndyCar starts at 315 starts.

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.

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

Will Power needs one podiums to reach 50 career IndyCar podiums.

Scott Dixon finally gets that elusive Barber victory. A caution will occur in this race and at least one caution will be for an incident in turn five. Honda has at least one car finish in the top five. Andretti Autosport recovers from Long Beach and has at least three of its cars finish ahead of the best Dale Coyne Racing driver. Chevrolet will not sweep the top six positions in qualifying. At least two drivers lead their first laps of 2016 this weekend. Sleeper: James Hinchcliffe.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Does Anyone Know the Rules?

A few days have passed since the Grand Prix of Long Beach and I sit here wondering if anyone knows what IndyCar's rules are. From the blend line to track limits to qualifying, the rules were constantly being tested at Long Beach and either not enforced or not enforced to the extend everyone thought they should have been.

Let's start in chronological order and with what has already been forgotten: The extension of the final qualifying session to allow each driver one more lap. Will Power went off course at turn nine and brought out the red flag. While corner workers restarted Power's car, the clock for the final round of qualifying timed out. By the letter of the law, the session must have at least five minutes of green flag and it did on Saturday. The clock expired and the session should have ended. However, everyone was allow one more lap and it altered the starting grid as Juan Pablo Montoya dropped from third to fifth because everyone was allowed one more lap. 

I can understand IndyCar's decision for allowing everyone to run one more lap. Nobody wants to see a session end prematurely and have the clock just run out with the cars in the pit lane but when all the facets of the rules have been met, people want to see rules followed. When a football game ends with a kneel down, the officials don't give the opposing team one more chance for victory. The game went to completion, one team was on top when the clock hit zero, the games is over, regardless if the final play was a kneel down, sack, Hail Mary or field goal. 

On the to race where you had Max Chilton cutting the inside of turn five. He was the only one to do it all race and only did it three or four times but he still did it. The only punishment for the Brit was a warning. 

After the race, Chilton shared his understanding of the rules:
Since when has the inside of curbing been fair game? And if it is fair game, why do the curbs exist at all?

Now lets get back to what everyone remembers from Sunday: The blend line.

Matt Archuleta (@indy44 on Twitter) put together this video of Scott Dixon's pit lane exit and Simon Pagenaud's pit lane exit.

As you can see, Dixon's left-side tires are over the blend line but the right-side tires don't cross the line while Pagenaud crosses the line with all four tires.

But what is the rule? Are the left sides allowed over? In Formula One, zero tires are allowed over the blend line. The car can't rejoin the racing surface until after that line. Crossing the line at any point is improper blending and subject to a penalty. But IndyCar isn't Formula One and the rules are rarely consistently enforced in IndyCar. Even worse is IndyCar is using the lines of the roadway to be the blend line. It's like when I was a kid and the lamppost and a tree were foul poles for kickball. I understand that IndyCar can't necessarily paint more lines on the roadways but look how deep into turn one that double-yellow line goes. The drivers would be making almost more that a 90-degree turn should they go completely pass the yellow line before reentering the racing surface.

Pagenaud only got a warning, the only other driver penalized for the same infraction was Carlos Muñoz and he also only received a warning. Blending properly back into racing line is important because it is a safety issue. You don't want drivers just swinging right into the middle of the racing line when going 20 MPH slower than the cars on track because it is dangerous. However, by only giving Pagenaud a warning for just tip-toeing over the line, that now means everyone gets one free improper blend per race and that could embolden a driver to push the limits on what they can get away with and that should never be the case. The officials should penalize all dissident behavior to make sure it doesn't happen again, whether it is by the perpetrator or any other driver in the field.

What would have been proper punishment for Pagenaud? It seems most think a warning is good enough. Some think Pagenaud should have given the position to Dixon but I don't think that is severe enough. He would have lost the lead but would have had over 20 laps to try and retake the lead. How is putting him on Dixon's gearbox a punishment? The punishment should have been something to take him out of contention for the race victory. It should have been at least a drive-through penalty. It would have ruined Pagenaud's race but it would have been a lesson for him and the rest of the field not to take liberties with the rules.

I don't want to throw the new trio in race control under the bus after three races but this was race control's chance to show the drivers who are boss and that minor transgressions would not be tolerated and they failed to capitalize on the opportunity. IndyCar now heads to another race weekend with drivers, teams, media and fans confused over what is allowed and what is not allowed and confused wondering whether race control knows what the hell it is doing.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Is This Year's Indianapolis 500 Really That Important?

There were a host of disqualifications this weekend, a penalty and a punishment that wasn't severe enough and Nico Rosberg practically clinched the World Drivers' Championship with his victory in China. A Porsche spun a Corvette. It snowed at Silverstone. It rained at Assen. NASCAR ran heat races. A winner was disqualified. Supercross ran during the daylight but in a dome. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Is This Year's Indianapolis 500 Really That Important?
I think people have convinced themselves that if they keep saying this year's Indianapolis 500 will be the most watched, most important and whatever superlative you can add to it then it will be. What makes people think that is the case?

While this year's race is the 100th Indianapolis 500 and that is a big deal to all those who follow IndyCar, the excitement within doesn't necessarily transfer to the multitude outside the circle. Sam Schmidt thinks it will be the largest viewership in person and on television. So does James Hinchcliffe. Writer Lewis Franck was on the radio broadcast during Saturday practice from Long Beach and said everyone around the world will be watching this race.

I appreciate the spirit of all three but I doubt any of their prophecies will come to fruition.

Everyone is talking about the 100th Indianapolis 500 as if it is IndyCar's "messiah moment." As if this is the race that will finally turn the tides. After years of trying and having a little gain here and a little gain there, the 100th Indianapolis 500 will be the floodgates opening with millions of people taking the bait and going along with the IndyCar ride for decades to come. Since many think the 100th Indianapolis 500 will finally be IndyCar's day, everyone wants it to be perfect and that is partly what the fight over the domed skids have been about. If it's not perfect, the masses will not bite.

I doubt this will be the most watched Indianapolis 500. What evidence suggests that more people are going to tune in? Just because it is the 100th? There are plenty of people who haven't seen any of the previous 99 Indianapolis 500s. What makes anyone think all of a sudden they are going to tune in for the 100th? It's kind of like Star Wars. My older brother has not seen one of the now seven Star Wars films and when I asked if he wanted to see the seventh installment of that series with me he said no and he had no desire to see it or any of the previous six films. There are plenty of people probably in that boat in terms of the Indianapolis 500.

What if isn't as great as many are expecting? What if the television rating is in line with recent Indianapolis 500? What if the television rating goes does compared to previous years? What if the television rating goes up but the remaining 10 races in the 2016 IndyCar schedule continue to flounder with a few drawing more people but others seeing decreases in viewership?

There is a sense that many think this is IndyCar's last stand. If the 100th Indianapolis 500 doesn't get people to tune in nothing will. There could be a real sense of defeat come over the series sometime after May 29th. It could come immediately when the television rating is release and it is an average Indianapolis 500 rating. It could come in the middle of July when television ratings are stagnant from 2015 and there are reports that Pocono isn't happy with ticket sales and the Boston race has hit a snag. It could come in September when another season ends and another champion is crowned and IndyCar once again disappears into another six-month offseason.

I am not telling people to expect the worst but people should be practical. The 100th Indianapolis 500 won't make it more affordable for team owners. It won't add a third manufacture, which would relieve the pressure on Chevrolet and Honda to support a full season worth of cars and the Indianapolis 500 field. It won't make corporations dumped hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars into the series. IndyCar's issues won't be solved by one race. The problems will only be solved with cooperation between series officials, team owners, drivers, race promoters and track owners to make the series more attractive to sponsors, manufactures, teams and fans and that is going to take more than 500 miles.

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

The #2 Porsche of Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Neel Jani won the FIA WEC Six Hours of Silverstone after the #7 Audi of André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer was disqualified for being under the 20mm minimum on the front skid block. The #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier-Nissan of Felipe Albuquerque, Bruno Senna and Ricardo González won in LMP2. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird won in GTE-Pro. The #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas won in GTE-Am.

The #38 G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan of Giedo van der Garde, Harry Tincknell and Simon Dolan won the ELMS season opening race from Silverstone. The #2 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of Alex Brundle, Christian England and Mike Guasch won in LMP3. Andrew Howard, Darren Turner and Alex MacDowall won GTE in the #99 Aston Martin. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Rory Butcher and Robert Smith had finished first in GTE but were excluded because of an illegal splitter.

Jordan and Ricky Taylor won their second consecutive IMSA race from Long Beach in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP. Mikhail Goikhberg and Stephen Simpson won in the PC class in the #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca. The #911 Porsche of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet won in GTLM.

Álvaro Parente won the Pirelli World Challenge race from Long Beach after Johnny O'Connell was disqualified for overboost.

Jonathan Rea won both World Superbike races from Assen. Kyle Smith won the World Supersport race.

Scott McLaughlin swept the V8 Supercars races from Phillip Island and became the first multiple race winner in 2016.

Carl Edwards won the NASCAR Cup race from Bristol. Erik Jones won the Grand National series race.

Tiago Monteiro and José María López split the WTCC races from Slovakiaring.

Ryan Dungey won his eighth AMA Supercross race of 2016 at St. Louis.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads south to Barber Motorsports Park.
All three Road to Indy series and Pirelli World Challenge will join IndyCar at Barber.
MotoGP starts its European season at Jerez.
Formula E will run in Paris for the first time.
The Blancpain Endurance Series opens its season at Monza.
NASCAR will be in Richmond for a Sunday race.
Super Formula opens its season at Suzuka.
World Rally will be in Argentina.
Supercross will be in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
WTCC heads to Hungary.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

First Impressions: Long Beach 2016

1. At least there was drama. Simon Pagenaud wins the race but his blend line violation was the talk of the race. The Frenchman clearly cut over the line but he was only issued a warning by race control. Many were adamant that the officials said in the drivers' meeting that warnings would not be issued. If race control is consistent with its calls, then I can live with every driver being allowed to violate the blend line rule once a race. But the blend line rule exists so drivers don't just swing out on track after a pit stop. Pagenaud may have violated it at the last possible moment but he still did it. It shouldn't come down to whether or not a driver is making a kamikaze move or just being careless, it should be black and white.

2. With that said, Scott Dixon made one last gasp effort to get Pagenaud at the hairpin and finished 0.3032 seconds back in second, the closest Long Beach finish. He may have had a little help with lap traffic. Pagenaud is fortunate Dixon is a classy driver. Others may have plowed into him and I would have consider it as well. Pagenaud may not be as lucky the next time.

3. Hélio Castroneves dominated the start of the race but got caught in traffic before the final pit stop and was jumped by Pagenaud and Dixon. Another good showing for Castroneves but if he can't master the simple things like lapping cars or pitting ahead of time so that won't be an issue, Castroneves won't win a championship.

4. Juan Pablo Montoya ran in the top five all race but was never a factor in this one. 

5. Takuma Sato went from eighth to fifth. He saved his pushes to pass until late in the race and he got by the likes of James Hinchcliffe and Will Power through strategy. He passed Tony Kanaan on the track and gave Montoya a run for his money for fourth. I don't know if this is the season Sato is consistently finishing races and bringing equipment home in one piece, I doubt it, but this was a good weekend for Sato.

6. Tony Kanaan finished sixth but wasn't really a factor in this one. He faded a little bit. 

7. If Will Power had not caused that red flag in qualifying, who knows what would have happened in this one. He really couldn't compete at the front today.

8. James Hinchcliffe ran in the top ten all day. It was a good race for Hinchcliffe. He needed a race like this. He got laps in and he ran with the big boys. He had a good race at Barber last year. Maybe he is in the top ten again next week.

9. Sébastien Bourdais is the only Chevrolet that is struggling and he still pulled off a top ten by finishing ninth. If only he can find his form in qualifying.

10. Josef Newgarden finished tenth but he was rarely mentioned. He had a good day but good days aren't going to win a championship. He will be returning to the site of his first career victory next week at Barber. Let's see if he can feed off the emotion of return to the site of his first time on the top step of the podium. 

11. Charlie Kimball made three pit stops and came home in 11th. He scored fastest lap. For all the work he did, to only gain four position from his starting position is kind of a disappointment. By the way, this is Kimball's best Long Beach finish. 

12. Quick round up: Carlos Muñoz finished 12th but was never mentioned. Conor Daly finished 13th but he had a better day than that. Max Chilton finished 14th but was cutting turn five like a motherfucker. Graham Rahal faded and a top ten slipped from his grasp. He finished 15th. Mikhail Aleshin did nothing and finished 16th. Luca Filippi scored his best finish of 2016 with a 17th. The Andretti cars were lost all day. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi rounded out the top twenty. Jack Hawksworth went from the best Honda on Friday to the worst car in the entire field. 

13. Here are the fastest laps for each driver at Long Beach by manufacture:
Kimball: 67.6661
Newgarden: 67.9674
Chilton: 68.0288
Power: 68.5893
Kanaan: 68.6639
Pagenaud: 68.8640
Montoya: 68.9418
Castroneves: 68.9995
Bourdais: 69.0223
Dixon: 69.0460

Aleshin: 68.2593
Filippi: 68.5054
Sato: 68.8606
Hinchcliffe: 68.9907
Rossi: 68.9952
Rahal: 69.0000
Hunter-Reay: 69.0795
Daly: 69.2215
Muñoz: 69.2281
Hawksworth: 69.2427
Andretti: 69.3295

Chevrolet clearly had a slight advantage at Long Beach. Nobody is going to tune into a race to watch Chevrolet wipe the floor with Honda. Forget tinkering with the aero kits. Allow Honda to run a little extra turbo boost and let's mix it up a little bit. No one is going to complain if there is more passing. 

14. Nobody saw a caution-free race coming. This was apparently the fastest Grand Prix of Long Beach. The drivers are calling for more laps so drivers can't make it in two stops. Regardless of the distance, drivers and teams are always going to try and do it in as few stops as possible. And this race was shortened so drivers could do it in two stops and not have to worry about stretching it to three. I like caution-free races. It's nonstop action. It's better than four laps of green, eight laps of caution. Nine laps of green, seven laps of caution. There was something pure about today's race, aside from the blend line snafu. 

15. Barber is next week. When IndyCar first went to Barber everyone said there would be no passing. Barber has turned out to be one of the best IndyCar races every year with a fair amount of passing. Everybody loves back-to-back weekends with races. Let's see if we are still talking about blending in Alabama. We probably will.

Morning Warm-Up: Long Beach 2016

A tire failure derailed Hélio Castroneves' race at Phoenix. What can he do at Long Beach?
For the second consecutive race, Hélio Castroneves starts on pole position. The Brazilian ran a lap of 67.1246 seconds to earn his 47th career pole position. This is Castroneves' third pole position at Long Beach. Castroneves won at Long Beach in 2001 from pole position and he finished second last year  from pole position to Scott Dixon. Dixon starts second. It is the twelfth time Castroneves and Dixon have started on the front row together, the first time since Belle Isle in 2008 when Dixon started on pole position. The last time Castroneves started on pole position with Dixon starting second was Motegi 2008. Last year at Long Beach Dixon led 44 of 90 laps while Castroneves led 31 laps, the second most. Castroneves has won from pole position twelve times but has not done it since Motegi 2010.

Championship leader Simon Pagenaud will start third. The Frenchman enters with consecutive podium finishes, something he had never done in his career until Phoenix. Pagenaud has finished in the top five in three of five Long Beach starts with his worst finish being in 2007 when he finished 14th, five laps down. Tony Kanaan will start fourth. Kanaan has only one podium finish at Long Beach and has only led at Long Beach twice in his career. The last time Kanaan started fourth was last year's Indianapolis 500, which ended early after Kanaan suffered an accident. Juan Pablo Montoya rounds out the top five. He has a victory, a third and a fourth in four Long Beach starts. His victory at Long Beach in 1999 was his first career victory in his third start. Will Power rounds out the top six. The Australian had his two fastest laps invalidated after he brought out a red flag in the final round of qualifying.

James Hinchcliffe was the top Honda qualifier in seventh. This is the Canadian's best start since starting fourth at Sonoma in 2014. Hinchcliffe finished fourth and third in his first two Long Beach starts but has failed to crack the top ten in his last three appearances. Takuma Sato qualified eighth. It is the third time Sato will start in the top ten at Long Beach. He started sixth in 2012 before being spun by Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final lap and finishing eighth. He started fourth in 2013 and won the race. Josef Newgarden qualified ninth. It is the third consecutive time he has qualified in the top ten at Long Beach. In 2014, contact with Hunter-Reay ended his race when he was in contention for a victory. Last year, he finished seventh. Carlos Muñoz rounds out the top ten. It is his first top ten start since starting sixth at Pocono last year and first top ten on a road/street circuit since starting ninth at Sonoma 2014.

Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified 11th. Hunter-Reay qualified in the top four in the last six Long Beach races but he has also failed to finish three of the last five Long Beach starts and has only one top ten finish at Long Beach since winning the Grand Prix of Long Beach in 2010. Luca Filippi will join Hunter-Reay on row six. The Italian had started 16th in the first two races of 2016. Filippi has made it to the second round of qualifying in eight out of 13 chances. He has finished 21st, 24th, 20th and 20th in his last four starts. Conor Daly starts a position behind his Dale Coyne Racing teammate. This is only the second time in Daly's career he has started in the top fifteen. He started tenth at Belle Isle 2 last year and finished sixth. All three of Daly's lead lap finishes have come on street circuits, including last year at Long Beach when he substituted for an injured Rocky Moran, Jr. Sébastien Bourdais starts 14th. Bourdais' eighth at Phoenix ended a run of four consecutive finishes outside the top ten.

Charlie Kimball starts 15th. Kimball started and finished 15th last year at Long Beach. Fellow Californian Alexander Rossi will also start on row eight. Rossi made contact with the turn five barrier in first practice on Friday. The only Californian to win the Grand Prix of Long Beach was Jimmy Vasser in 1996. It was Vasser's third career victory. Graham Rahal starts 17th. A Long Beach winner has started 17th twice. Paul Tracy won from 17th in 2000 and Mike Conway won from 17th in 2014. Mikhail Aleshin makes it an all-Honda row eight. Aleshin's first career IndyCar top ten came at Long Beach when he finished sixth in 2014. He has finished in the top ten in four of his nine street course starts.

Max Chilton and Jack Hawskworth will start on an all-British row ten. Chilton finished fifth last year at Long Beach in Indy Lights. Chilton will try and become the first driver to win an IndyCar race in car #8 since Will Power won the 2008 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Hawksworth has finished 15th and 14th in his previous two Long Beach starts. Marco Andretti rounds out the field in 21st. This is the 13th time in Andretti's career he has started outside the top twenty. He has finished in the top ten in three of the previous 12 starts outside the top twenty, including finishing seventh at Long Beach from 25th on the grid in 2013. Andretti has not finished in the top ten in the last four races.

The 2016 Grand Prix of Long Beach can be seen at 4:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN with green flag scheduled for 4:38 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 80 laps.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Track Walk: Long Beach 2016

The third round of the 2016 IndyCar season will be IndyCar's 33rd trip to Long Beach
IndyCar remains out west for the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Scott Dixon is the most recent winner in IndyCar and the defending Long Beach winner. Dixon's victory at Phoenix two weeks ago put him in a tie with Al Unser for fourth all-time in IndyCar victories. That victory also vaulted him up to second in the championship, four points behind Simon Pagenaud, who has finished second in each race this season.

Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 17th. Green flag at 4:45 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Rick Allen (Leigh Diffey is on Formula One duty), Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Kate Hargritt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 1:00-1:45 p.m. ET (45 minutes). 
Second Practice- 5:00-5:45 p.m. ET (45 minutes)
Third Practice- 1:00-1:45 p.m. ET (45 minutes).
Qualifying- 5:00 p.m. ET
Warm-up- 12:00-12:30 p.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race- 4:45 p.m. ET (80 laps).

Will Someone Buck the Trend?
Five different teams have won the last five Long Beach races. Mike Conway took a surprise victory in 2011, driving for Andretti Autosport. He passed Ganassi driver Dario Franchitti and Penske drove Ryan Briscoe to score his first IndyCar victory. In 2012, the grid was jumbled up after all Chevrolet entries took ten-grid spot penalties for engine changes and Will Power won from 12th on the grid. Takuma Sato scored his first career, and so far only, IndyCar victory and A.J. Foyt Racing's first victory in over a decade at Long Beach in 2013. Mike Conway doubled up on Long Beach victories in 2014, this time for Ed Carpenter Racing and he won from 17th starting position, matching the furthest back a Long Beach winner has come from. Last year, Scott Dixon won at Long Beach for the first time.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is another past Long Beach winner. He won the 2010 race when he was on trial for Andretti Autosport. Outside of that victory, Hunter-Reay has struggled at Long Beach. He has finished outside the top ten in the last three races and outside of the top fifteen in three of the last five Long Beach races. Marco Andretti has finished in the top ten in the last three Long Beach races but his best finish in seven starts is sixth. Carlos Muñoz finished third on his Long Beach debut in 2014 and won the Long Beach Indy Lights race in 2013. Three of Muñoz's five career podiums have come on street circuits. Californian Alexander Rossi will make his Long Beach debut. Rossi has not had much success on street circuits. He made nine starts at Monaco across Formula Renault 3.5 and GP2 and while he had two podiums he also had two finishes outside the top fifteen and three retirements. Rossi made his Formula One debut last year at Singapore, where he finished 14th.

Three of the four Penske drivers have won at Long Beach. Juan Pablo Montoya won the 1999 race, his first career IndyCar victory in his third start, and Hélio Castroneves won in 2001. Montoya has finished fourth and third the last two years at Long Beach while Castroneves finished runner-up last year but prior to that Castroneves' best finish at Long Beach since 2009 was seventh with an average finish of 10.0. Simon Pagenaud has finished in the top ten in the last four Long Beach races with his best finish being second in 2012. Power has won at Long Beach twice and has six podiums in ten Long Beach starts but has finished outside the top fifteen in two of the last three Long Beach races. Last year was only the second time Power failed to finish on the lead lap at Long Beach.

Sato is in his fourth season at A.J. Foyt Racing. He has finished 18th or worse in four of six Long Beach starts. Jack Hawksworth has not had much luck at Long Beach. He has finished 15th and 14th in his two appearances and he was taken out before completing a lap in his lone Indy Lights start at Long Beach in 2013.

Josef Newgarden is the only Ed Carpenter Racing this year at Long Beach. Newgarden's first Long Beach start was in 2012 and he started second on the grid after all the Chevrolets had to serve grid penalties. Newgarden didn't make it through turn one that year after Dario Franchitti made contact with the Tennesseean. His seventh-place finish last year was Newgarden's best Long Beach finish. Newgarden has qualified in the top ten the last two years.

Chip Ganassi Racing has won six Long Beach victories, tied with Newman/Haas Racing for the most. While Dixon won last year, the New Zealander has finished outside the top ten in seven of nine Long Beach starts. Tony Kanaan has one podium, five top fives and seven top tens in 12 Long Beach starts. Kanaan has lead in only two Long Beach races. He led 44 laps in 1999 and seven laps in 2009. Charlie Kimball's best finish in five Long Beach starts is 15th, which came last year. He has retired three times and all three have been because of mechanical issues. Max Chilton is coming off his first career top ten at Phoenix. Chilton finished fifth after starting tenth in last year's Indy Lights race at Long Beach.

Who Could Continue the Trend? 
Four teams could extend the streak of different teams winning at Long Beach to seven and of those four teams only one has previously won at Long Beach.

KV Racing won the final Champ Car at Long Beach in 2008 with Will Power behind the wheel. KV Racing's driver Sébastien Bourdais leads all active drivers with three Long Beach victories. Since returning to IndyCar in 2011, Bourdais' has finished in the top ten only once at Long Beach and that was his sixth-place finish last year. He has failed to finish on the lead lap in three of the last five Long Beach races.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has never won at Long Beach in Indy Lights but has won at the track twice in Indy Lights. James Hinchcliffe finished fourth and third in his first two Long Beach starts but his best finish in the last three trips to Long Beach is 12th and has twice retired because of accidents. Mikhail Aleshin finished sixth after starting 20th in his only appearance at Long Beach in 2014.

Dale Coyne Racing has only one podium at Long Beach. That came in 2013 when Justin Wilson finished third. Conor Daly made his Long Beach debut last year for Dale Coyne Racing, substituting for an injured Rocky Moran, Jr. He finished 17th and completed every lap. Daly's lone Indy Lights victory came at Long Beach in 2011. Luca Filippi made his Long Beach debut last year and finished 22nd after stalling entering the pit lane and losing three laps.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has never won at Long Beach but has six podiums and has had a driver finish runner-up four times. Graham Rahal finished second in 2013 but has only one other top ten finish in nine Long Beach starts. His father Bobby finished runner-up four times in 15 Long Beach starts.

The third round of the 2016 IMSA SportsCar Championship season will be held at Long Beach. Prototype championship leader Extreme Speed Motorsports will not be at Long Beach as it starts its 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship campaign at Silverstone. Scott Pruett is second in the championship and he will not be racing at Long Beach after running the first two rounds with Action Express Racing.

The de facto championship leaders will be two-time defending champions Christian Fittipaldi and João Barbosa in the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP. The Brazilian-Portuguese duo have 60 points and lead their #31 Action Express Racing teammates Dane Cameron and Eric Curran by one-point. Marc Goossens is two points back in the championship and he will be joined by Ryan Hunter-Reay in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP as Ryan Dalziel will be on FIA WEC duty with Extreme Speed Motorsports. Hunter-Reay will be the first driver to run a sports car race and an IndyCar race in the same weekend since Ryan Briscoe ran at Lime Rock Park and Pocono on July 6-7, 2013. Briscoe won in LMP2 at Lime Rock Park and finished 14th at Pocono.

Ricky and Jordan Taylor won last year at Long Beach and they trail Fittipaldi-Barbosa by five points in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP. Rounding out the entry list will be the two Mazda prototypes. Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito will be in the #55 Mazda and Tom Long and Joel Miller will share the #70 Mazda. The #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier-HPD of John Pew and Oswaldo Negri, Jr. will look to extend Ligier's winning streak to three consecutive races. Katherine Legge and Andy Meyrick return in the #0 DeltaWing.

For a second consecutive year, Corvette enters Long Beach off victories in Daytona and Sebring but this time the #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin are leading the way. They are ten points ahead of the #912 Porsche of Earl Bamber and Frédéric Makowiecki. Two points behind the Porsche is the #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMW of Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner. Auberlen and Werner won last year at Long Beach. Antonio García and Jan Magnussen trail their Corvette teammates by 16 points. The #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander is a point behind García and Magnussen with the #68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Daniel Serra and Alessandro Balzan another point behind the Risi Ferrari.

The Ford GTs return with Joey Hand and Dirk Müller in the #66 and Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in the #67. Hand and Müller won in GT at Long Beach in 2011 driving a RLLR BMW. Müller also won at Long Beach in GT2 back in 2008 driving a Tafel Racing Ferrari with Dominick Farnbacher. John Edwards and Lucas Luhr will drive the #100 RLLR BMW and Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy will drive the #911 Porsche.

The Prototype Challenge class returns to Long Beach for the first time since 2013. Jon Bennett and Colin Braun won that 2013 race and they both return in the #54 CORE Autosport Oreca and are coming off a victory at Sebring. Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon lead the PC championship after finishing second in the first two races in the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca. They are three points of the #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports drivers Stephen Simpson and Mikhail Goikhberg. Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow are third in the championship in the #8 Starworks Motorsports Oreca and they are six points back.

Johnny Mowlem returns in the #20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca and will be joined by Tomy Drissi, who drove with BAR1 at Daytona but not Sebring. James French and Kyle Marcelli will drive the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca will Mark Kvamme and Ashley Freiberg in the #88 Starworks Motorsports Oreca.

The IMSA races will take place on Saturday April 16th at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Pirelli World Challenge
Long Beach will be the third round of the Pirelli World Challenge season and 24 cars are entered for this year's race.

Cadillac's Michael Cooper and Johnny O'Connell are first and second in the championship. Cooper has 362 points in the #8 ATS-V.R.GT3 and leads the #3 of O'Connell by two points as Cooper has three podiums from four races while O'Connell has a victory, a third and two fifths. The #41 EFFORT Racing Porsche of Michael Lewis swept the St. Petersburg weekend and is third, 21 points behind Cooper. The K-PAX Racing #9 McLaren of Álvaro Parente and the #31 EFFORT Racing Porsche of Patrick Long rounds out the top five of the championship with 281 points and 273 points respectively. Long won the first race of the season at Austin and Parente's best finish was second at St. Petersburg.

James Davison is sixth on 262 points in the #33 Nissan, three ahead of the #99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing McLaren of Jon Fogarty. The #13 K-PAX McLaren of Colin Thompson's is two points behind Fogarty. Andrew Palmer has 254 points in the #87 Bentley Team Absolute Continental GT3 and is three ahead of the #05 Nissan of Bryan Heitkotter and #2 CRP Racing Audi of Kyle Marcelli. Ryan Eversley is a point behind Heitkotter and Marcelli in the #43 Acura.

The #76 Calvert Dynamics Porsche of Andrew Davis has 239 points and is 18 points ahead of the #07 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Martin Fuentes, the top GT-A driver. K-PAX's #6 McLaren driver Austin Cindric rounds out the top fifteen with 219 points. The #88 Bentley Team Absolute Continental GT3 of Adderly Fong is the top driver to have yet to finish in the top ten through four races with 191 points. Peter Cunningham is eight points behind Fong in the #42 Acura. GT-A entry Frankie Montecalvo has 172 points in the #66 DIME Racing Mercedes-Benz with the #67 TRG-Aston Martin of Duncan Ende 16 points back. GMG Racing's James Sofronas returns in the #14 Porsche after missing St. Petersburg. Sofronas is 20th in the championship and finished ninth in the second Austin race.

There are four more GT-A entries. Jorge de la Torre is back with #4 TRG-Aston Martin after missing St. Petersburg. Tim Pappas has missed the first two rounds but he has entered his #54 Black Swan Racing Dodge Viper GT3-R. Bill Sweedler is set to make his PWC debut in the #11 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. Brett Holden will drive the #44 GMG Racing Porsche.

The Pirelli World Challenge race will be held at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 17th.

Fast Facts
This will be the sixth IndyCar race to take place on April 17th and first since Mike Conway's victory at Long Beach in 2011.

Hélio Castroneves set the track record last year with a lap of 66.6294 seconds in the third round of qualifying.

Chevrolet swept the top seven finishers last year at Long Beach and had eight of the top ten.

Honda leads all manufactures with 11 victories at Long Beach. Chevrolet is second with ten victories.

Foreign drivers have won the last five Long Beach races. The longest gap between American victories at Long Beach is seven years (2003-2009).

Chevrolet has won the last 22 pole positions in IndyCar. The last Honda pole position was Simon Pagenaud at Houston 1 in 2014.

The pole-sitter has not won at Long Beach since Sébastien Bourdais won in 2007.

The average starting position for a Long Beach winner is 4.375 with a median starting position being 2.5.

A Long Beach winner has started outside the top ten five times. Alex Zanardi won from 11th in 1998. Will Power won from 12th in 2012 after a ten-spot grid penalty. Michael Andretti won the 2002 race from 15th. Twice has the winner started 17th, Paul Tracy in 2000 and Mike Conway in 2014.

The average number of cautions at Long Beach is 2.9 with a median of three. The average number of caution laps is 11.84 with a median of 12.

Last year's Long Beach race had four laps under caution, the fewest since the race went caution-free in 1989.

Possible Milestones:
With a victory, Scott Dixon would become the fourth driver in IndyCar history with at least 40 victories.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 9 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.

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

Will Power needs one podiums to reach 50 career IndyCar podiums.

Tony Kanaan needs one top ten finish to reach 200 career IndyCar top ten finishes.

Scott Dixon wins his second consecutive race of 2016 and his second consecutive Grand Prix of Long Beach. Simon Pagenaud scores his third consecutive podium. A Honda does finish in the top five. A Californian finishes in the top ten. At least two drivers score their first top tens of 2016. There will be at least four caution periods. At least one incident will involve four cars or more and one will be because of an incident at the hairpin. Sleeper: Conor Daly.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: It's Not 1966 Anymore

Kyle Busch swept the weekend again and rain made its first appearance on the NASCAR schedule. Andrea Dovizioso can't catch a break. A few series open their 2016 seasons this weekend and some very familiar faces were victorious. Someone is getting closer to another championship. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

It's Not 1966 Anymore
Have aero kits been a disaster or has Honda been a disaster?

I go with the latter. Honda got caught with its pants down at the start of 2015 but slowly Honda made gains at the end of last year. Honda was given a waiver to improve its aero kit and it appears Honda has fallen flat. It made up zero ground whatsoever, at least that is how it appears through two rounds.

However, Honda's failure isn't held on Honda, its held on IndyCar. Why? Because we love to sucker punch IndyCar. It has been the most inept organization in all of sports; constantly one-step forward two steps back for two decades. It's an invertebrate that you can torture every way without breaking its back. And in someway, the current aero kit situation is IndyCar's fault.

It's not the 1960s or 1970s or 1980s or 1990s where teams could test four days a week and constantly tweak a car. The aero kits are frozen for the season. As much as the teams would love to tinker, they can't because tinkering has been effectively been banned by the rulebook in hopes of saving teams money but now the teams are spending more money than prior to the aero kit era just to have their hands tied behind their backs and pelted to death.

There are no alternatives for the Honda teams. It's Honda or nothing. They can't switch to Chevrolet nor does Chevrolet have the resources to take on additional teams. They can't take the Chevrolet aero kit. They can't go outside of IndyCar and find another manufacture to construct an aero kit that potentially could make up the gap to the Chevrolet aero kit. Along with no testing and tinkering, the teams can't turn up the turbo boost to 200 kPa and hope to make up the aero deficiency with loads of horsepower.

You can see why the Honda teams are defeated. Everyone yells at the Honda teams to work harder but the truth is they can't work harder because they aren't allowed to work at all. This is why the teams are looking for a lifeline and that lifeline is rule 9.3, which IndyCar created for this exact reason. If the Honda teams were allowed to test like crazy or turn up the turbo boost than they would have nothing to be upset about but they can do neither and this is why IndyCar has to step in.

The other issue that exacerbates the difference in speed is reliability. Reliability is not an issue in 2016. Things don't break like they use to. Look at past Indianapolis 500 box scores. Majority of the retirements were because of mechanical issues and there would be a handful of accidents. In the last two decades, that has flipped around. Mechanical failures are rare and pretty much everybody can make it 500 miles. Think back to all the great cars from Indianapolis 500s of yonder. Building the best mousetrap wasn't just building the fastest car but the fastest car that could go 500 miles.

People who saw the Novi gush over it but it never won the Indianapolis 500 despite the Novi setting the track record on multiple occasions. Jim Clark and the Lotus 34 won the 1964 Indianapolis 500 pole position by a mile per hour over second but a suspension failure ended his day before the quarter post in that race. The turbines were the fastest cars in 1967 and 1968 but they all had mechanical failures and it never won. There are plenty of occasions when the fastest car didn't win the Indianapolis 500 because something broke. That doesn't happen today. Honda can't even hang its hat on the hope of the Chevrolets not being able to go 500 miles.

IndyCar finds itself in an ideological crisis. There is the old school train of thought that the Hondas are crap and should be beaten to a bloody pulp and there is the new school train of thought that does not want the predictability that all it is going to take to win is having a Chevrolet engine and aero kit. The one thing IndyCar shouldn't want is the belief a driver's success is all because of the car. Some people discredit motorsports for not being about skill and simply being about leasing the right engine. People want sport to come down to skill, not a team having superior equipment. Gregg Doyel's Louisville Slugger vs. aluminum bat analogy is an easy one to understand, especially for people who aren't diehard fans. Imagine if the Milwaukee Brewers were the best team in baseball and it hit seven home runs a game and it was the only team in Major League Baseball using aluminum bats. People wouldn't bother tuning in if the result was that predictable.

What can IndyCar do? If IndyCar does anything to narrow the difference, which it is allowed to do by rule 9.3, it is going to be perceived as handicapping Chevrolet for the benefit of Honda. An older generation will lose its mind while a younger generation sighs in relief and looks forward to a return of unpredictability. The only guarantee is anger will persist no matter what is decided.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Marc Márquez and Kyle Busch but did you know...

Laurens Vanthoor and Frédéric Vervisch won Blancpain Sprint Series season opener from Misano in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS. The #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 of Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet won the qualifying race.

Defending GT500 champions of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli won Super GT season opener in Okayama in the #1 NISMO Nissan GT-R. The #65 K2 R&D Leon Racing Mercedes SLS GT3 of Naoya Gamou and Haruki Kurosawa won in GT300.

Álex Rins won the Moto2 race from Austin. Romano Fenati won in Moto3.

Ryan Dungey won the AMA Supercross race from Indianapolis.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar makes it annual spring trip to Long Beach.
Pirelli World Challenge and IMSA join IndyCar on the streets of Long Beach.
The FIA World Endurance Championship opens its season at Silverstone.
The European Le Mans Series also begins its season in Silverstone.
The third round of the Formula One season will be the Chinese Grand Prix.
The third round of the V8 Supercars season will be at Phillip Island.
NASCAR heads to Bristol.
Assen hosts the fourth round of the World Superbike and Supersport seasons.
The WTCC heads to the Slovakiaring.
AMA Supercross heads to St. Louis.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Márquez Remains Undefeated in Austin

Fresh off his victory in Argentina last week, Honda's Marc Márquez won his second consecutive race of the 2016 MotoGP season as he won his fourth Grand Prix of the Americas from Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Márquez has won all four editions of the race in the Lone Star State.

The Spaniard won from pole position and held off early challenges from Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. Rossi would drop to fifth behind the Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso and Honda of Dani Pedrosa. The Italian would lose the front end entering turn six and he would be the first retirement of the race. This is the first time Rossi has retired at Austin and his first retirement in the United States since the 2012 United States Grand Prix from Laguna Seca when he was at Ducati. Rossi's only other retirement in the United States was the 2006 United States Grand Prix, which was won by eventual world champion Nicky Hayden.

Andrea Dovizioso worked his way up to second for a couple laps before being relegated back to third by Lorenzo. While in third, the Italian was taken out by the Pedrosa's Honda after the Spaniard lost the front entering turn one. For the second consecutive race Dovizioso was taken out while in a podium position but this time the Italian was not able to pick up any points. Pedrosa was able to continue for a few laps before he pulled his bike in while running in 18th position.

Márquez won by 6.107 seconds over Lorenzo with Andrea Iannone rounding out the podium just a week after he took away a double podium for Ducati in Argentina. Maverick Viñales scored a MotoGP career best fourth position. His previous best finish was sixth on three occasions, most recently being this season's opener from Qatar. Viñales' Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaró rounded out the top five. This was Espargaró's best finish since his second in the 2014 Aragón Grand Prix when he was riding an "Open" class Forward Yamaha.

Scott Redding finished sixth with Pol Espargaró in seventh. Michele Pirro scored points in his second race substituting for the injured Danilo Petrucci with the Italian finishing eighth. Héctor Barberá finished ninth with Aprilla's Stefan Bradl rounding out the top ten. Bradl's teammate Álvaro Bautista finished 11th with Eugene Laverty in 12th. Tito Rabat has scored points in all three of his MotoGP starts as he finished 13th. Yonny Hernández picked up his first points of 2016 with a 14th-place finish. Loris Baz also picked up his first point of the season as he came home in 15th.

Cal Crutchlow fell in turn 11 while running seventh and he missed out his first point of the season by finishing 16th. Bradley Smith had finished eighth in the first two rounds of the season but fell just seconds after Crutchlow fell in the same corner. Smith was the final finisher in 17th. Smith had scored points in the last 26 MotoGP races.

Márquez has won all eight of his MotoGP starts in the United States and he has won ten consecutive United States races going back to his days in Moto2. Márquez leads the championship with 66 points from the first three races. Lorenzo jumps up to second with 45 points. Rossi drops to third with 33 points and Pol Espargaró jumps up to fourth with 28 points. Pedrosa rounds out the top five with 27 points. Barberá is two points behind Pedrosa and two ahead of Dovizioso and Viñales. Laverty and Aleix Espargaró are tied on 21 points with Iannone, Redding and Smith tied on 16 points. Bradl has 15 points, Bautista has 14 points, Pirro has 12 points and Rabat has 11 points. Jack Miller, who missed Austin due to injury, is tied with Hernández on two points. Baz rounds out the championship with one point.

MotoGP's next race will be the Spanish Grand Prix from Jerez on April 24th.