Friday, March 31, 2017

Ending Like a Lamb

I was aggravated on Wednesday and it was all my fault.

Maybe I keep my expectations too high even though I try to be level headed when it comes to the yearly, emotional ride that is the Indianapolis 500. It is the only race, other than maybe Le Mans, where we know when it is going to be the day after it has happened. Every Memorial Day, while reflecting on the race the day before with hamburgers and hot dogs, we circle that Sunday 360-someodd days away.

The rest of the IndyCar schedule fills the void from May to May but once the season ends, whether it is still in the thick of summer night or a pleasant autumn afternoon, eyes turn toward Indianapolis even if a half a dozen races are scheduled before it starting in March.

It is too much time and we need to excite ourselves. We get our hopes up. We believe it is the greatest race in the world therefore this year is going to be the greatest year yet. This year will be the year all the studs come out. All the world champions, NASCAR race winners and sports cars best who say they want to attempt the Indianapolis 500 are going to be there and it will be a monumental day in May that we will be telling our grandchildren about.

That day never comes and we start to realize it this time of year, when spring stretches its leg while winter is heading out the door.

Just take this year. In December, you could have found a way to have 35 or 36 cars entered through additional cars at Andretti, Foyt, Carpenter, Schmidt Peterson, etc. Who knows? Jenson Button is out of a ride. Maybe Honda gets him to Indianapolis. Tony Stewart is retired and though he says he doesn't want to race Indianapolis, maybe he has a change of heart. Maybe this is finally the year Michael Shank Racing gets on the grid. Then the bottom falls out and KV Racing is gone. Now it appears Carpenter might not run an additional car. Townsend Bell might not be back. The list of possible one offs gets a little more depressing each day. Jeff Simmons is in the conversation. Jeff Simmons hasn't raced in nine years. Nobody is getting excited over Gustavo Yacamán unless your name is Gustavo Yacamán.

Where are the days when the Formula One rejects came to IndyCar? IndyCar had a healthy heap of Formula One cast offs on the grid and many became stars. IndyCar was lined with Teo Fabi, Roberto Guerrero, Raul Boesel, Derek Daly and IndyCar was the landing pad for Emerson Fittipaldi's second career. Where is Felipe Nasr? Where is Jean-Éric Vergne? Giedo van der Garde? Lucas di Grassi? What is Charles Pic up to? Other than Nasr and Pic, the answer is paying seats whether it is in Formula E or sports cars. But what about other drivers? Scheduling conflict aside, why couldn't Andretti run both its Formula E drivers Robin Frijns and António Félix da Costa?

Why aren't GP2 drivers in limbo coming to IndyCar or giving the Indianapolis 500 a go? Alex Lynn is diving headfirst into sports cars and kissing single-seaters goodbye. Super Formula has landed the GP2 champion for the second consecutive year with Red Bull development driver Pierre Gasly driving Team Mugen Honda. Where did 2013 GP2 champion Fabio Leimer go? Luca Filippi has tried to be in IndyCar and has had marginal success but nearly five years after trying to break into the series the first time he has only been abled to piece together part-time rides and has never gotten a shot at Indianapolis despite his credentials.

And this hasn't even the mentioned the slew of Road to Indy drivers who always deserve to be a part of the conversation. I wish come May the entry list featured all the names above on top of Matthew Brabham, Jack Harvey, Zach Veach, Dean Stoneman and Stefan Wilson. How doesn't Spencer Pigot have a ride yet? He should have been smart enough to include that in his ECR deal on top of all the road and street course races. Why isn't Rubens Barrichello coming to Indianapolis each May? We would love if Barrichello visited each May.

And maybe this speaks to a larger issue with the Indianapolis 500's relationship with the Verizon IndyCar Series. It is a race that can exist without a series but organized as just another event. The current IndyCar regulations have produced competitive racing and has kept cost down (although it seems by not that much) but the limited chassis and engine lease availability has been a big drag on the series and the Indianapolis 500. Bumping hasn't come on the race track but in the boardroom for the better part of the last five years and I fear it will only get worse come next year.

The universal aero kit is being praised as helping control costs and provides a more level playing field between Chevrolet and Honda but it is going to be another expense for the Indianapolis-only teams such as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Lazier Partners Racing. Lazier has been notorious the last few years for barely scraping enough pennies together to get to Indianapolis and forcing that team to buy body work for one race is just going to be another punch to the gut.  

While IndyCar tries to decrease costs for full-time teams, it would only help the series to decrease costs for Indianapolis 500-only programs as well. The boat has sailed on allowing the previous generation IndyCar to attempt the Indianapolis 500 but something has to be done. While the universal aero kit is being introduced, perhaps the Honda and Chevrolet aero kits should be grandfathered in to allow little teams to compete without having to open the pocketbook. At the same time, with the introduction of universal aero kit, the hope is a third engine manufacture would be drawn to the series and that what hopefully see an increase in Indianapolis 500 entries. However, it could be argued the current engine regulations are still too constrictive. After all, how many manufactures have a 2.2-litre, twin-turbo V6 just sitting around? I would like to see IndyCar open the engine regulations a bit to allow existing engines to enter the series. Toyota runs a 2.0-litre, turbocharged inline-4 in Super Formula. Why couldn't that be allowed on the IndyCar grid especially if it adds a third manufacture to the series, relieves the pressure on Chevrolet and Honda and increase both full-time and Indianapolis 500 entries?

The Indianapolis 500 never turns out to be as good as it is going to be but when the day comes and the celebration is winding down we forget about the excruciating months leading up to the grand day. The only problem is Indianapolis is a yearly occurrence of marginal disappointment and it is tiring to experience every spring.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How Can Formula One Get to 25 Races?

Formula One's new owners Liberty Media has made it no secret since announcing its takeover of the global series that it wishes to race more and has even targeted more races in Latin America, Asia and the United States while recognizing the European spine of the calendar. It has even put a night race in Las Vegas on the top of its wish list. During the pre-Australian Grand Prix press conference, Daniel Ricciardo even echoed the desire for a race in Las Vegas. Lewis Hamilton said he wants a race in Miami. Sebastian Vettel wants a race in Germany.

Putting Ricciardo's and Hamilton's wishes aside because what realistic chance is there of either of those likely dull street race occurring, could Formula One possibly add five more races to its calendar?

There were 21 races last year. The drivers said during the press conference that they want to race more and would love to race more and they think the teams would like to race more but I think the teams might want to have a word about that claim. While the drivers don't see an issue with a few more races, they are the ones who likely arrive to a location on Wednesday night, have press events on Thursday and then start the race weekend Friday and are out by Sunday night. 

The teams, as in the men and women who put together the cars and make sure it gets from Europe to Australia, China, Brazil or wherever Formula One is competing, likely don't have as relaxed a week as the drivers. While the drivers are in bed or in first-class, the team is still working on the car in the garage hours before the first session begins or breaking the car down before loading it up and shipping it back to the factory or the next race on the calendar. The teams are probably gassed by Italy and still have trips to Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, the United States, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi ahead of them. 

The good news for the teams is there is at least one driver who sees the grind of the Formula One schedule. Fernando Alonso voiced that the schedule was at its limit late last year. However, we don't live in a fair world where the bourgeois owners see the backbreaking works of the teams and think enough is enough. The goal is to suck as much money out of the fan base and that means schedule expansion is inevitable. 

The problem is Formula One schedule can't expand within the current timeframe. There are 17 off-weeks between Melbourne and Abu Dhabi so there is room but there isn't. Outside of the three-week summer break in August there are no multi-week breaks this season and there are four back-to-back occurrences. 

The season will have to start earlier if a 25-race schedule is to happen. It already ends the final week of November and I can't imagine the teams want to race into December. How much earlier? It depends where Formula One expands to and maybe we should figure that out first. 

We know the French Grand Prix is coming back in 2018 at Circuit Paul Ricard and while the German Grand Prix isn't happening this year, next year it appears set to return to the Hockenheimring. That would bring the calendar up to 22 races but we also know Singapore and Malaysia are on the fence about Formula One returning in 2018. It should be noted that China, Singapore, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi don't have contracts for next year but I can't see Liberty Media not returning to at least China and Abu Dhabi seeing how popular those races are and the emphasis already on racing in Asia.

Let's say Singapore, China and Bahrain all return but at the cost of Malaysia, then the 2018 calendar would stand at 21 races, four away from the magic number Liberty Media has thrown out. Keeping in mind the three areas Liberty Media sees for potential expansion, let's tackle Latin America first. I don't see anywhere the series can go. Mexico is great but Brazil has been on the fence. Outside of that, the only Latin American country with the infrastructure for a Formula One race is Argentina, the forgotten motorsports hotbed, and I am not sure the funding is there. 

When it comes to Asia, India and South Korea each received races in the last decade and both fell off the schedule after facing financial difficulty. India has to be high on Liberty Media's list for Formula One expansion as it has over a billion people and is growing but I am not sure the FIA has cleared up its tax dispute with the state of Utter Pradesh. One place where expansion could occur is the Middle East. While the region already has two races, the region also has two FIA Grade 1 circuits in the Dubai Autodrome and Losail International Circuit in Qatar, which hosts the MotoGP season opener and has lights. There is also a Grade 1 circuit in Buriram, Thailand, which hosts Asian Le Mans Series and World Superbikes. 

Then there is always Formula One's ancestral home Europe. Depending on how you look at Russia and Azerbaijan, Europe has somewhere between seven and nine Formula One races out of twenty. Even if you are being generous, Europe is less than half the Formula One schedule. It wasn't long ago that Imola was in contention for replacing Monza. Jerez once hosted Formula One. As did Magny-Cours. With Max Verstappen painting the hillside along the Kemmel Straight at Spa-Francorchamps orange maybe a return to Zandvoort should be in the cards. Heck, Mugello is Grade 1 and Algarve, Portugal has a lovely track, though I hear there is only one road to the track and not many hotels in the area. 

For the sake of this, let's just say Formula One adds Imola, Algarve, Qatar and a second race in the United States but not some street circuit in Las Vegas or Miami but let's say Formula One returns to Indianapolis or Road America bites the bullet and upgrades to Grade 1. 

The season would have to start no later than the second weekend in February, a month and a half earlier than the current season opener and it could no longer be at Australia. The season is going to have to start in the Middle East and Bahrain is going to have to move up and the addition of Qatar provides the series with a back-to-back to start the season. After two weeks off, Melbourne could take place a few weeks earlier in March before being followed by China in another back-to-back situation. 

After a week off, Sochi could be the first week in April followed the next week by Baku. After another week off starts the traditional European portion of the schedule with Barcelona and Algarve back-to-back. A week off would be followed by Imola and Monaco back-to-back in the middle of May and ten races would be completed before the start of June.

The first two weeks of June would see Formula One run in North America with wherever Formula One ends up going in the United States paired with Montreal. The final weekend in June would see Formula One back in Europe and this is where the French Grand Prix would fall. The first weekend in July would be the British Grand Prix followed by a week off. Once back to racing, the series heads to a Germany-Austria back-to-back before the three-week summer break starts the last weekend in July. 

When the summer break is over, Formula One would head to Hungary with a week off before Belgium and a week off before finishing the European portion of the season in Italy. The 20th round of the season would occur at Singapore on the final weekend of September with Japan the following week. After a week off, the Formula One season would wrap up as it does now with Austin and Mexico City back-to-back at the end of October followed by Brazil two weeks later and Abu Dhabi the final weekend in November. 

As you can see, back-to-backs would have to be the key to Formula One reaching 25 races and keeping the current slate of races. The total would skyrocket from four to ten. However, while most of these would be done strategically, it doesn't mean it would be any less grueling for the teams. There would still only be 17 off-weeks during the season but five more races when compared to 2017. And I am not sure how much earlier the season could start. 

If the season started on the second weekend of February, when would testing start? Would the quality of racing suffer because of underdeveloped cars? Teams could start with year-old cars, that was a common occurrence for most of Formula One's history but when in the world would teams have the time to test and have their new cars ready by let's say Sochi? Is the two-week break between Qatar and Melbourne going to be filled with testing and forcing the teams to work around the clock for six consecutive weeks at five different race tracks on three different continents? Is that really what is best for Formula One? 

Even Formula One's new managing director Ross Brawn sees the issue with expanding the schedule and he believes the solution would be for Formula One to follow the NASCAR model with two sets of crews and engineers rotating in and out. That sounds great but would the increase in personnel needed to run a team crush the little teams? Is it really fathomable for Sauber, Force India, Haas and Scuderia Toro Rosso to double their staffs? Even factory teams would have to be reaching the breaking point if it had to double its Formula One personnel. 

The Liberty Media-era is just starting and whether it seriously takes a look at a 25-race schedule will come in time but the question maybe shouldn't be how can Formula One get to 25 races but if a 25-race schedule is for the best of Formula One? 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Great American Cash Grab

Sebastian Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix and the last five times Ferrari won at Australia that driver went on to win the World Drivers' Championship. So congratulations Sebastian Vettel on the title. Lewis Hamilton couldn't find grip. Daniel Ricciardo had a homecoming from hell. Fernando Alonso's McLaren ran smoothly for 50 laps and then it went all to hell with five laps to go. Elsewhere, rain lingered in Qatar and delayed the MotoGP season opener. NASCAR finished up its western road trip and the Supercross championship is getting closer. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Great American Cash Grab
The 2017 Formula One season could be the last of the series, as we know it in the United States. After five seasons on the NBC airwaves, it appears Formula One could have a new broadcasting home in the United States in 2018. Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei commented at the start of March to Forbes that NBC's multi-million dollar offer to extend its broadcast rights as a "popcorn fart." Those are not comforting words if you are a U.S.-based Formula One fan.

Reportedly, NBC Sports purchased Formula One rights for $3 million in late-2012. Arguably, that is a good deal for NBC, as that comes out to less than a half a million a year for half a decade. When looking at the ratings, the deal once again seems fair to NBC, which averaged 482,000 viewers per race in 2016 and the NBCSN races averaged 429,000 per race, the most-watched Formula One season on a single cable network since ESPN averaged 755,000 in 1995.

It is understandable that Liberty Media, which purchased Formula One late last year, wants to maximize its revenue and getting more money for television rights is one way to do it but Liberty Media has also stated it wants to expand the exposure of the series, especially in the United States. While ratings look good for Formula One in the United States and it is one of the few countries to see ratings increases in recent years, it is going to be hard to sell any network on paying Formula One unfathomable gobs of money.

A year after NBC locked up Formula One rights, the network purchased the NASCAR rights in a ten-year, multi-billion deal. Formula One isn't going to get a ten-year, multi-billion deal. It wouldn't make any sense if the deal were ten years, $100 million. With Formula One's growth in the United States moving at just faster than a glacial pace, I am not sure what deal Maffei and the rest of the suits at Liberty Media thinks accomplishes both its goals of maximizing revenue and expanding exposure in the United States.

Hypothetically, a million dollars a year for ten years, if Liberty Media wanted to sell the rights that far into the future, seems fair for both Liberty Media and NBC. Liberty Media gets more money and NBC isn't that far in the hole. I can't see another networks such as Fox or ESPN going any higher than that and I can't see either network being a better option that NBC.

While many may gripe about NBCSN not being an easily accessible network and there being too many commercials and not enough races on network television or not all the practice sessions being shown live, Fox or ESPN wouldn't be better options.

The day is never coming when all 20 Formula One races are going to be on network television in the United States. It's not happening. It would be more races on network than NASCAR currently gets on network. Motorsports has always been a cable sports property in the United States. Commercials are always going to be a part of the broadcast. They pay the bills.

And while the occasional Formula One race is bumped to CNBC because of Premier League coverage or Tour de France coverage, the same would likely happen on Fox with Bundesliga coverage and Fox Sports 2 is more of an albatross than NBCSN.

ESPN is the one channel that makes some sense of picking up Formula One. SportsCenter isn't what it once was and Formula One could do a better job filling Saturday and Sunday mornings from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. than two episodes of SportsCenter. Worst-case scenario with ESPN is a few races are on ESPN2 and people can find ESPN2. However, I am not sure ESPN is interested and I have to warn you that ESPN getting Formula One rights could lead to the inevitability of Eddie Cheever being a part of the broadcast and nobody wants more Eddie Cheever in their life.

NBC is the best option for Formula One to grow in the United States. It is a consistent with its coverage and makes sure all the races are shown live, even if it has to be on CNBC and majority of the qualifying sessions are shown live as well. The network shows four races, including Monaco at 8:00 a.m. ET, a massive feat and something I am not sure ABC or Fox would commit to.

However, my fear is Liberty Media will be offered a golden carrot to seductive to pass up. A ridiculous figure that isn't close to being matched by any other bidder and Formula One will go from a steady home to a high-tier channel such as beIN Sports, which could off five-times of any other networks but for ratings that are fractions of what Formula One currently gets in the United States. Sure, beIN Sports might offer every practice session live but if only 6,000 viewers are tuning in for practice and 90,000 people are tuning in for the race, what has Formula One accomplished but only making its wallet fatter?

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

Maverick Viñales won the Qatar Grand Prix. Franco Morbidelli won his first Moto2 race in his 54th start and it is his sixth consecutive podium finish. Joan Mir won the Moto3 season opener.

Kyle Larson swept the weekend at Fontana, the first time he has done that in his NASCAR career.

Eli Tomac won Supercross race from Detroit, his fourth consecutive victory and he trails Ryan Dungey by seven points in the championship.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR returns east to Martinsville.
Formula E returns to competition in Mexico City.
World Superbike makes its European debut at Aragón.
The Blancpain Sprint Series opens at Misano.
Supercross heads to St. Louis.

Friday, March 24, 2017

1000 Words: 2007 Formula One Season

The 2007 season was exactly what Formula One needed. After the departure of Michael Schumacher, Formula One needed something to fill the void of the seven-time champion and that came in the form of a titanic title fight, the emergence of not one but two great young drivers, a case of espionage, inter-team turmoil, an unusually placed gravel trap and one glitch that opened the door for a Flying Finn.

Fernando Alonso was fresh off his second World Drivers' Championship and had finally joined McLaren after announcing his intention to join the team on December 19, 2005. Kimi Räikkönen made way for Alonso at McLaren and the Finn filled the vacant seat left by the retiring Schumacher where Felipe Massa would be his teammate. Alonso entered as the championship favorite and slotting in beside the Spaniard was the defending GP2 champion and McLaren prodigy Lewis Hamilton.

Alonso's story had been laid out for the world over the two prior seasons but Hamilton's presences stole many eyeballs from the glorious champion. Hamilton was the first black driver in Formula One history. He didn't come from a wealthy family. His parents were divorced; his father burned the candle at both ends to provide a career for his son. Hamilton was the confident kid who told Ron Dennis during the end of the Ayrton Senna-era he would one day driver for McLaren and eventually Dennis signed Hamilton to McLaren's driver development program. It was a feel good story that had not been seen in Formula One for some time.

The season started in Australia and started with Räikkönen and Alonso going toe-to-toe with the Finn taking pole position in qualifying with Alonso in second. Räikkönen was able to hold off Alonso at the start while Alonso dropped to fourth behind the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld and Hamilton. Räikkönen would win the race handily on his Ferrari debut while Hamilton and Alonso were both able to get on the podium with Alonso shuffling up to second with Hamilton in third through pit stops.

Massa started on pole position at the second round of the season at Sepang but Alonso and Hamilton were able to jump to 1-2 at the start. Alonso pulled away from the field and Räikkönen challenged Hamilton for second but the Briton held off the Finn. Massa started on pole position again at Bahrain and would win the race ahead of Hamilton and Räikkönen with Alonso finishing in fifth. This result left Alonso, Räikkönen and Hamilton tied on 22 points after three races with the series heading back to Europe.

Massa won his third consecutive pole position at Barcelona with Alonso starting second in his home race with Räikkönen and Hamilton on row two. Alonso made a challenge for the lead into turn one off the start but ran wide through the gravel and fell to fourth. Alonso would move up to third after Räikkönen retired with an electrical problem after nine laps. Massa took his second consecutive victory with Hamilton moving into sole possession of the championship lead with another second-place finish with Alonso two points behind his teammate after finishing third.

At Monaco, Alonso flexed his muscle by winning pole position and handling winning the famed race over four seconds ahead of Hamilton and lapping up to fourth-place. Massa finished third, over a minute and nine seconds behind the Spaniard. Räikkönen started 16th after hitting the barrier in qualifying but climbed up to eighth, scoring a valuable point. From Monaco, Formula One crossed the Atlantic for its North American tour with Alonso and Hamilton tied for the championship lead on 38 points but Hamilton yet to stand on the top step of the podium.

Hamilton started the Montreal weekend winning his first career pole position handily over Alonso with Räikkönen and Massa starting fourth and fifth behind Heidfeld's BMW Sauber. Alonso ran wide in turn one and dropped to third. Alonso would run wide in turn one three more times during the race and adding insult to injury Alonso was caught out by a safety car for an accident involving Adrian Sutil and he had to stop when the pit lane was closed for fuel, handing Alonso a ten-second stop-and-go penalty.

Shortly after the restart, Robert Kubica had his infamous accident heading to the hairpin. Kubica's BMW Sauber clipped the grass, slamming head first into a concrete barrier, ricocheting his car back toward the racetrack, somersaulting once before the car slid into the outside barrier and ending with Kubica on his side. Kubica escaped with a concussion and a sprained ankle.

The race restarted and Hamilton comfortably won the race ahead of Heidfeld and Alexander Wurz, who started 19th and used a one-stop strategy to get to the front. Heikki Kovalainen and Räikkönen rounded out the top five. The 2007 Canadian Grand Prix not only will be remembered for Hamilton's first victory but the greatest day for Super Aguri-Honda as Takuma Sato ran most of the day in the points and passed Alonso on track for sixth. It was the best finish for the team and Sato's final time in the points. Even Anthony Davidson appeared to headed for a points-paying finish until he hit a groundhog and had a poor pit stop, leaving him to finish 11th.

Hamilton doubled up the week later by winning the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He started on pole position again despite being behind Alonso in the first two rounds of qualifying. He held off Alonso while neither Ferrari had anything for McLaren with Massa and Räikkönen finishing third and fourth. While Hamilton was on top again, BMW Sauber had a new driver. Kubica was not deemed fit for the United States Grand Prix and in came a German named Sebastian Vettel. He started seventh and finished eighth, scoring one point and becoming the youngest driver to score a point at 19 years and 349 days old.

Hamilton headed back to Europe with 58 points, ten clear of his teammate, 19 points ahead of Massa and 26 points ahead of Räikkönen. Just when it appeared this dream start to a Formula One career was turning into a historic season, everything hit the fan off the race track.

In the days following the United States Grand Prix, Ferrari filed a formal complaint, which launched a criminal investigation by the Modena district attorney into Nigel Stepney, head of the team's performance development. The complaint and later investigation stemmed from a white residue that was found in the fuel cell of the two cars at Monaco, leading to a suspicion that the team was sabotaged at Monaco.

While the investigation took place, Formula One returned to competition at Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours. McLaren had won three consecutive races and three consecutive pole positions and appeared on track for a fourth consecutive pole position as Hamilton was fastest through the first two rounds of qualifying with Alonso right behind him. However, it all started to unravel on McLaren in round three. Alonso had a gearbox problem, keeping him from turning a lap and forcing him to start tenth and Massa beat Hamilton for pole position by 0.070 seconds. In the race, Massa kept the lead into turn one but Räikkönen got by Hamilton into the first turn. Räikkönen would leapfrog to the lead during a pit cycle and score his first victory since the season opener ahead of Massa and Hamilton with Alonso only managing a seventh-place finish.

Two days after the 1-2 finish in France, Ferrari fired Nigel Stepney and a legal case was filed against Stepney and a McLaren employee over the alleged theft of technical information from Ferrari. The McLaren employee was Mike Coughlan and in a police raid on Coughlan's house Ferrari documents were discovered. McLaren suspended Coughlan.

Three days after the dismissal of Stepney, Formula One was back on track for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. On Saturday, Alonso was on top through the first two rounds of qualifying, ahead of Räikkönen and Massa. Hamilton stole pole position on the final lap of qualifying while Räikkönen jumped to second, knocking Alonso to third on the grid. A botched first pit stop cost Hamilton the lead as he fell behind Alonso and Räikkönen. Alonso was short-fueled on the first pit stop but it would cost him on the second set of stops as Räikkönen was able to get ahead of the Spaniard and not look back as he took his second consecutive victory ahead of Alonso and Hamilton.

Two days after Räikkönen's victory at Silverstone, Coughlan's case went to the London High Court and he is accused of being in possession of stolen confidential documents. The next day, Coughlan reached an agreement with Ferrari for the Italian manufacture to drop its High Court case in exchange for Coughlan's for full disclosure and cooperation. The day after that, the FIA announced that the World Motorsports Council would have an extraordinary meeting with McLaren on July 26th in Paris over charges of breaching Article 151c of the International Sporting Code.

Four days prior to the meeting was the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. Hamilton entered with 70 points, leading Alonso by 12, Räikkönen by 18 and Massa by 19. Hamilton had started the year with nine podium finishes in nine races. He had yet to start worse than row two. A wheel failure sent Hamilton into tire barriers during the final round of qualifying, forcing him to start tenth in the race as Räikkönen took pole position ahead of Alonso and Massa.

As the cars rolled on the formation lap, rain clouds hung over the Nürburgring and while the start was dry, those conditions would be completely different by the end of lap one. The heavens opened and cars slid off track, cutting corners and drivers were just trying to survive to get back to the pit lane. Conditions were so horrendous Räikkönen hydroplaned passed the pit lane and had to do another lap on slick tires.  While 21 cars scattered, one rolled the dice and switched to wet tires after the formation lap in anticipating for the rain. Spyker's Markus Winkelhock took the lead on lap two.

Almost the entire field switched to intermediate tires, which proved not to be good enough for the conditions. Many were caught out by the running water across turn one. Jenson Button spun into the barriers and within a half a minute Sutil, Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Scott Speed, who would be making his final Formula One start, as he would be replaced by Sebastian Vettel midseason at Toro Rosso, and Vitantonio Liuzzi all joined Button in the gravel trap, leading to the race being red-flagged.

Winkelhock restarted in the lead on wet tires but most of the teams switched to intermediate tires during the red flag period. Winkelhock lost the lead almost immediately and he would retired after only 13 laps due to an hydraulics failure. It was his only Formula One start.

Massa would dominate most of the race as the track dried. Räikkönen was forced to retire just after halfway. Another shower hit the circuit in the final ten laps; forcing everyone back to intermediate tires and created a battle between Massa and Alonso for the victory. Alonso passed Massa with four laps to go after slight contact with the Brazilian. Alonso ran away from Massa, winning the race by over eight seconds. Massa voiced his displeasure to Alonso prior to the podium ceremony in a memorable shot that was caught by the television cameras. Hamilton failed to score points for the first time in his career and Alonso left Germany trailing him by two points.

At the FIA World Motorsports Council meeting in Paris, McLaren was found guilty of possession of confidential Ferrari information but received no penalty, as there was insufficient evidence that this possession affected the championship. The FIA reserved the right to reconvene should more evidence become public. Ferrari was understandable furious that McLaren received no penalty despite being found guilty and the FIA International Court of Appeals announced it would hear the case in August.

With the Paris meeting in the past, Formula One headed to Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix and just when it appeared McLaren could regroup, the fight between Hamilton and Alonso boiled over. Hamilton was quicker than Alonso through the first two rounds of qualifying and was in position to take another pole position until a cycle in the pit lane. Alonso was first in for fresh rubber and when his crew finished his stop, he sat idle in the pit box for almost 30 seconds with Hamilton behind him in the pit lane, waiting for his scheduled tire change. Once Alonso left, there was not enough time for Hamilton to complete another lap in qualifying, handing Alonso the pole position.

Ron Dennis was visibly upset at Alonso's pit lane balk, throwing his headset in disguise. The stewards reviewed the incident and handed Alonso a five-spot grid penalty, dropping him to sixth and elevating Hamilton to pole position, Heidfeld to the front row and Räikkönen to third. The FIA also decided that McLaren would not be awarded constructors' points for the Hungarian Grand Prix and not be allowed to accept a trophy should the team win at Budapest. Things had become so sour within the McLaren camp that on the morning of the Hungarian Grand Prix Alonso allegedly threatened Dennis that he would give the FIA emails between himself and McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa that would incriminate Dennis in the FIA investigation.

Hamilton led every lap in the race but was hounded by Räikkönen throughout, holding off the Finn by 0.715 seconds at the finish line. Heidfeld rounded out the podium with Alonso in fourth. Hamilton left Hungary and entered the summer break with 80 points, seven clear of Alonso and twenty clear of Räikkönen.

At Turkey, Massa started on pole position with Hamilton on row one but Räikkönen would get by Hamilton into turn one. Hamilton's challenge for second was cut short by a tire puncture, which allowed Alonso to take the final podium spot and dropped Hamilton to a fifth-place finish, cutting his lead over his teammate to five points with Massa and Räikkönen 15 and 16 points behind respectively.

On September 5th, two days prior to the first practice for the Italian Grand Prix, the FIA announced a second hearing in the espionage case would be held on September 13th, the day before the start of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. McLaren dominated the Italian Grand Prix. Alonso won pole position and never looked back, leading 48 of 53 laps with Hamilton rounding out the McLaren 1-2 in Ferrari's backyard. Massa retired from third position after a suspension failure. Räikkönen was able to get on the podium but finished over 27 seconds behind the Spaniard. Hamilton's lead was down to three points over Alonso but he was 18 points clear of Räikkönen and 23 points clear of Massa with McLaren leading Ferrari in the constructors' championship 166-143.

At the second hearing, the FIA threw the book at McLaren, fining the manufacture $100 million, excluding it from the 2007 constructors' championship and required a submission of its 2008 car design by December 2007 and possibly excluding McLaren from 2008 if it contained any Ferrari intellectual property. The next day it was revealed Alonso and de la Rosa did receive confidential Ferrari information from Coughlan.

With McLaren already covered in egg before the Belgian Grand Prix even took place, it didn't help ease the pain that Räikkönen and Massa would start 1-2 and finish that way with Alonso in third and Hamilton in fourth. With three races remaining in the season, four drivers were alive for the world drivers' championship with Hamilton on 97 points; two ahead of Alonso, 13 ahead of Räikkönen and 20 clear of Massa. Ferrari's 1-2 finish at Spa-Francorchamps would clinch the manufacture the constructors' championship.

Two weeks after Belgium, Formula One headed to Japan but for the first time since 1977, the Japanese Grand Prix was held at Fuji Speedway instead of the familiar home of Suzuka. Rain dominated the weekend but on a drying track Hamilton won pole position with Alonso in second ahead of Räikkönen and Massa. On race day, the torrential rain forced the race to start behind the safety car for the first 19 laps. The Ferraris had to make pit stops before the race ever went green due to being on the standard wet tires and not the extreme wet tires. Hamilton led until a pit stop cycle saw Sebastian Vettel lead his first laps of his career and become the youngest lap leader in Formula One history.

Hamilton would retake the lead on lap 41 and later that lap Alonso suffered a severe accident heading to the hairpin due to hydroplaning. It was the first retirement of the season for a McLaren. Hamilton would comfortably win at Fuji with Heikki Kovalainen scoring his first career podium finish in second and Räikkönen finishing third. Hamilton left Japan with a 12-points lead over Alonso and a 17-point lead over Räikkönen and a second-place finish for Hamilton at the Chinese Grand Prix would clinch him the world championship.

Like Japan, China started with wet conditions. Hamilton was on pole position ahead of Räikkönen and Massa with Alonso in fourth. Teams started on the intermediate tires and as the track dried out, it became more of a race for survival and finding each wet patch of asphalt available to extend the life of the tires. Hamilton lost the lead to Räikkönen prior to his first pit stop but Hamilton was still positioned to finish second and clinch the world championship.

When entering the pit lane for his stop, Hamilton slid off and into a gravel trap positioned on the outside of the entrance road to the pit lane. With his car beached, Hamilton tried to get out and marshals tried to push the McLaren free but it was of no use and for the first time in his career, Hamilton had retired from a race.

Räikkönen would retake the lead on lap 34 after Kubica retired due to a hydraulics failure and he would win by over nine seconds from Alonso with Massa in third. Hamilton's championship lead was cut to four points over Alonso and seven points over Räikkönen heading to the season finale at Interlagos.

At the season finale, Massa won pole position in front of his home crowd with Hamilton qualifying second and Räikkönen and Alonso on row two. Massa held on to the lead at the start with Räikkönen jumping up to second ahead of Hamilton and Alonso. Alonso made a move on Hamilton into turn three and forced Hamilton to lock up his tires and fall to eighth. At the end of lap one, Alonso was in position to be world champion with 109 points, a point ahead of both Räikkönen and Hamilton.

Hamilton passed Jarno Trulli on the next lap and by lap six was up to sixth but suffered a gearbox issue exiting turn three. Hamilton stopped on track as he reset the car and was finally to get back going but not before dropping to 18th.

Massa and Räikkönen pulled away from Alonso and Räikkönen tried to jump his teammate during the first pit cycle but was still over three seconds behind Massa after his first stop. Kubica passed Alonso for third on lap 34, as he was lower on fuel and running a three-stop strategy. Massa came in from the lead on lap 50 while Räikkönen set consecutive fastest laps. The Finn came in on lap 53 and exited leading his teammate. Alonso was in fourth until Kubica stopped from third and Hamilton was only up to eighth. Hamilton would make up one more position after Trulli made his final pit stop but it was not enough to take the title as Räikkönen won the Brazilian Grand Prix and the World Drivers' Championship by one point over Hamilton and Alonso.

It is hard to believe ten years have passed from the 2007 season. When it ended, I don't think anyone thought Fernando Alonso could ever have become a sympathetic figure let alone become a McLaren driver again. Not only has Alonso become both but he was in talks to becoming Lewis Hamilton's teammate at Mercedes! How after everything that happened in 2007 could that nearly have happened? I completely forgot about the emails. Imagine if WikiLeaks was around then.

In a way, Alonso is living through a curse of that 2007 season. After being the cut throat, selfish driver he was at McLaren, the last ten seasons of his career have been turning over the hearts of Formula One fans as a great driver who has failed to make it back to the pinnacle because of underperforming car after underperforming car and it seems only fitting the worse of all has come at the team where he scorched the earth.

It is hard to imagine what Formula One would have looked like if Hamilton didn't beach it entering pit lane at Shanghai. A rookie world champion. Would he have doubled up immediately the next year or would he suffer a hard sophomore slump? Would Räikkönen have ever won a title? Entering 2007, I think we all expected Räikkönen would win a title with Ferrari. He had shown he had world championship talent at McLaren. Something happened after he won the title in 2007. I don't want to say something shut off but something changed in the Finn in 2008. He trailed Hamilton by five points after the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix, then failed to score points in four consecutive races and handed Felipe Massa first in line at Maranello. The Ferrari F60 was a dud in 2009 and soon Räikkönen was gone from Formula One.

Räikkönen returned after two years out of the series but he has never been in the thick of it and has for more or less played a supporting role as Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Webber and Rosberg continued to be the main cast while Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen are the next wave of stars drawing attention on stage.

I think the 2007 season was the greatest season in Formula One history. It had everything but a murder and a love triangle. Räikkönen won the World Drivers' Championship despite entering the finale third in the championship. The only other previous occurrence of a driver going from third to first in the championship in the final race was Giuseppe Farina in 1950, the first season of Formula One. The 2007 season made everyone forget about Michael Schumacher and two of arguably the greatest drivers in Formula One history made their debuts in Hamilton and Vettel. Besides those two, the only leftovers from 2007 are Alonso, Massa and Räikkönen. Of the 11 teams on the 2007 grid, nine of them have roots that extend to the present. Renault became Lotus and then became Renault again. Honda became Brawn, which became Mercedes. BMW Sauber reverted back to Sauber. Spyker became Force India the following season. Super Aguri closed up shopped during the 2008 season and Toyota left Formula One after 2009.

There should be a documentary about this season and the completely unfathomable idea that a one team member intentionally gave a rival confidential information. The United States couldn't stop talking about the air pressures in footballs for two years. How aren't we still talking about the year espionage hung over the Formula One world? Seriously! Hell, Stepney was even sentenced to one year and eight months in jail by Italian authorities, none of which he served. By the way, Mike Coughlan now works for Richard Childress Racing in NASCAR. Who knew?

Tragically, if a documentary would be made of this great season, the man at the center of it all wouldn't get to tell his side of the story. Stepney was killed on May 2, 2014 after being hit by a truck. He will never get a chance to tell the world what he was thinking, what led him to do it and if he had any regrets. Maybe that adds to the legend of all this. Part of it will never be known. It is a secret that never can be leaked.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

2017 MotoGP Preview

The 2017 MotoGP season sees a shuffle of some of the front runners while the number of manufactures has increased from five to six and the grid will expand from 21 bikes to 23 bikes. Seven different nationalities from two continents are represented on the grid with nearly half the riders hailing from Spain.

The season starts under the lights at the now traditional season opener at Losail International Circuit in Qatar. After two weeks off, the bikes will head to Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo in Argentina for the second round of the season on April 9th. The lone visit to the United States will be April 23rd at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The first European round of the season will be May 7th at Circuito de Jerez.

Two weeks later, MotoGP ventures north to Le Mans for the French Grand Prix before heading south for the Italian Grand Prix on June 4th, the first of four-race in five-week stretch. June 11th sees the series return to Spain, this time to Barcelona. After a week off, the famed Dutch TT will take place on June 25th from TT Circuit Assen. The German Grand Prix marks the halfway point of the season on July 2nd. The Sachsenring also marks the final race before MotoGP's summer break.

When the teams return to competition, they will race three times in four weeks starting with the Czech Republic Grand Prix on August 6th from Brno. The following week Red Bull Ring host the Austrian Grand Prix with the British Grand Prix from Silverstone rounding out that stretch of races on August 27th. September 10th will be the San Marino Grand Prix from Misano with Motorland Aragón hosting the first race in autumn on September 24th.

The traditional Asia-Pacific swing starts on October 15th with the Japanese Grand Prix from Twin Ring Motegi with the Australian Grand Prix from Phillip Island following on October 22nd and the Malaysian Grand Prix from Sepang rounding out the road trip on October 29th. Valencia once again host the season finale, this year on November 12th.

Repsol Honda Team
Marc Márquez: #93 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2016: He won his third MotoGP world championship and won five races.
What to expect in 2017: Márquez will keep the bike upright, win when he can, finish when he can't and be in the championship fight all season long.

Dani Pedrosa: #26 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2016: He finished sixth in the championship and won one race while missing three races due to a broken collarbone.
What to expect in 2017: Pedrosa has lost the near-championship pace he once showed but he is still quick and respectable and be in the middle of the top ten of the championship.

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
Valentino Rossi: #46 Yamaha YZR-M1
What did he do in 2016: He finished second in the championship and won two races.
What to expect in 2017: At 38 years old, Rossi has not lost a step and he will win a handful of races but he will have a handful in his new teammate.

Maverick Viñales: #25 Yamaha YZR-M1
What did he do in 2016: He finished fourth in the championship and scored his first career MotoGP victory at Silverstone, which was Suzuki's first victory since 2007.
What to expect in 2017: Viñales was the fastest rider in all four preseason tests at four different tracks. He will finish ahead of his veteran teammate in the championship and give Márquez a run for his money.

Ducati Team
Andrea Dovizioso: #04 Ducati Desmosedici GP17
What did he do in 2016: He finished fifth in the championship and won at Malaysia, his first victory since 2009.
What to expect in 2017: The Italian was quicker than his much more successful teammate and I think Ducati will continue to be a challenger with Dovizioso winning a race or two and in the top five of the championship.

Jorge Lorenzo: #99 Ducati Desmosedici GP17
What did he do in 2016: He finished third in the championship and won four races in his final season with Yamaha.
What to expect in 2017: After eight years with Yamaha, Lorenzo heads to Ducati and I think he will finish behind his teammate in the championship but still win a race or two.

Team Suzuki Ecstar
Andrea Iannone: #29 Suzuki GSX-RR
What did he do in 2016: He finished ninth in the championship and won at Austria, his first MotoGP victory and Ducati's first since 2010 but he missed four races due to injury.
What to expect in 2017: Iannone had a rollercoaster 2016 and he was at the top of the first few test sessions. I think he can mix it up with the top riders but he might not be able to do that on a regular basis.

Álex Rins: #42 Suzuki GSX-RR
What did he do in 2016: He finished third in the Moto2 championship and won two races.
What to expect in 2017: Rins is the one of two rookies with a factory team. I think he will finish in the top ten of the championship and be consistent with his results.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3
Johann Zarco: #5 Yamaha YZR-M1
What did he do in 2016: He was the Moto2 champion with seven victories.
What to expect in 2017: The Frenchman will be in the back half of the top ten in the championship and provide a good fight for top rookie.

Jonas Folger: #94 Yamaha YZR-M1
What did he do in 2016: He finished seventh in the Moto2 championship and he won one race.
What to expect in 2017: The German won't be too far from his French teammate and he might be ahead of Zarco more than anyone expects.

Octo Pramac Yakhnich
Danilo Petrucci: #9 Ducati Desmosedici GP17
What did he do in 2016: He finished 14th in the championship with his best finish being seventh after missing the first four races of the season due to injury.
What to expect in 2017: Petrucci never got his footing in 2016 after a promising 2015. He is going to be on the current Ducati but the testing results weren't comforting.

Scott Redding: #45 Ducati Desmosedici GP16
What did he do in 2016: He finished 15th in the championship and his best finish was third at the Dutch TT.
What to expect in 2017: Redding held up his own to his teammate during testing but I think Redding will be just outside the top ten in the championship.

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini
Sam Lowes: #22 Aprilia RS-GP
What did he do in 2016: He finished fifth in the Moto2 championship where he won twice.
What to expect in 2017: Lowes will be a rider whose results aren't good at the start but improve noticeably in the second half of the season.

Aleix Espargaró: #41 Aprilia RS-GP
What did he do in 2016: He finished 11th in the championship with his best finish being fourth at Motegi.
What to expect in 2017: Espargaró was in the top ten at two of four tests, which is encouraging, however, I don't think he nor his teammate will be challenging for podiums.

LCR Honda
Cal Crutchlow: #35 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2016: He finished seventh in the championship and won twice, becoming the first British rider to win a top flight race in 35 years.
What to expect in 2017: Crutchlow was the surprise of 2016 and he was on the fridge of the top five in every test session. He could steal a victory or two again in 2017.

Reale Avintia Racing
Héctor Barberá: #8 Ducati Desmosedici GP16
What did he do in 2016: He finished tenth in the championship with his best finish being fourth at Malaysia.
What to expect in 2017: Barberá broke into the top ten in the championship last year but was well off the top ten during testing on a year-old bike.

Loris Baz: #76 Ducati Desmosedici GP15
What did he do in 2016: He finished 20th in the championship with his best finish being fourth at Brno.
What to expect in 2017: Don't expect much for Baz on a two-year-old bike but he was competitive to his teammate's times during testing.

Pull&Bear Aspar Team
Karel Abraham: #17 Ducati Desmosedici GP15
What did he do in 2016: He finished 18th in the Superbike World Championship where his best finish was ninth.
What to expect in 2017: Not much. He failed to score a point in his last 15 MotoGP starts and retired from nine of them.

Álvaro Bautista: #19 Ducati Desmosedici GP16
What did he do in 2016: He finished 12th in the championship with his best finish being seventh.
What to expect in 2017: Bautista looked quite competitive during testing considering he is on a year-old bike. He could be fighting for a spot in the top ten of the championship.

Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS
Jack Miller: #43 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2016: He finished 18th in the championship and won the Dutch TT, a surprise victory in the wet.
What to expect in 2017: More races hanging around the back of the points with the occasional glimpse of something greater.

Tito Rabat: #53 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2016: He finished 21st in the championship as a rookie with his best finish being ninth in Argentina.
What to expect in 2017: More races fighting just to score a points.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing
Bradley Smith: #38 KTM RC16
What did he do in 2016: He finished 17th in the championship with his best finish being seventh at Mugello.
What to expect in 2017: Frustration followed by encouragement followed by frustration and the results getting better as the season goes on.

Pol Espargaró: #44 KTM RC16
What did he do in 2016: He finished eighth in the championship with his best finish being fourth at the Dutch TT. He was also a member of the Suzuka 8 Hours winning team.
What to expect in 2017: Same as his teammate.

The first practice of the MotoGP season takes place at 12:55 p.m. ET on Thursday March 23rd. There will be two practice sessions on Friday at 11:00 a.m. ET and 1:55 p.m. ET. The final practice session will be at 12:55 p.m. ET on Saturday with qualifying following at 1:35 p.m. ET. The Grand Prix of Qatar is scheduled for Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2017 Formula One Preview

New regulations are expected to shake up the Formula One grid in 2017 but not necessarily mix up the order when it comes to who finishes atop the championship. Ten teams featuring twenty cars will comprise the 2017 grid and there are two new full-time drivers as two world champions have moved on from the glamorous world of Formula One.

Melbourne, Australia hosts the Australian Grand Prix for the 22nd time and this will be the 20th time Albert Park hosts the opening round of the Formula One season. The 14th Chinese Grand Prix will be the second round of the season on April 9th with the first night race of the season taking place a week later in Bahrain on April 16th, Easter Sunday. After a week off Formula One heads to Sochi, Russia for Russian Grand Prix with the first western European race being the Spanish Grand Prix on May 14th. 

The Monaco Grand Prix once again falls on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, May 28th. From Monaco, the teams head to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix on June 11th. This year, Baku hosts the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on June 25th after hosting the European Grand Prix last year. For the fourth consecutive season Formula One heads the Red Bull Ring on July 9th with the halfway point of the season coming the following week with Silverstone hosting the British Grand Prix on July 16th. 

Hungary marks the first race of the second half of the season on July 30th, the final race before the summer break. The teams return to action on August 27th with the Belgian Grand Prix from Spa-Francorchamps. One week later will be the final European round of the season, the Italian Grand Prix from Monza. Two weeks later the teams head to the second night race of the season, the Singapore Grand Prix. The Malaysian Grand Prix round out the third quarter of the Formula One season on October 1st. 

On October 9th, Suzuka hosts the Japanese Grand Prix, the final Pacific round of the season. October 22nd and October 29th will be the United States and Mexico back-to-back with the Circuit of the Americas leading off before Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez. November 12th marks the Brazilian Grand Prix from Interlagos with the season finale taking place on November 26th at the Yas Marina Circuit for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 

Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport
Lewis Hamilton: #44 Mercedes F1 W08 EQ Power+
What did he do in 2016: Hamilton finished second in the World Drivers' Championship, losing the title by five points to former teammate Nico Rosberg despite winning ten of 21 races. 
What to expect in 2017: There is no reason not to expect Hamilton to be the championship favorite and be at the front of most of the races. He should lead his new teammate during most of the season and Hamilton will likely win the most races in 2017. 

Valtteri Bottas: #77 Mercedes F1 W08 EQ Power+
What did he do in 2016: Bottas finished eighth in the World Drivers' Championship with his best finish being third at Montreal.
What to expect in 2017: I expect Bottas to be competitive but under the thumb of Lewis Hamilton. He is going to try and buck his senior teammate but fall short. He will get at least three victories and finish somewhere in the top five of the championship. 

Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer
Daniel Ricciardo: #3 Red Bull RB13
What did he do in 2016: Ricciardo finished third in the World Drivers' Championship and won the Malaysian Grand Prix. 
What to expect in 2017: The expectation is the Red Bull will provide a greater challenge to the Mercedes this season although the pace wasn't there for Red Bull during testing. Ricciardo is going to contend for a few races and should end up on the top step of the podium at least one if not twice. Ricciardo should finish in the top five of championship.

Max Verstappen: #33 Red Bull RB 13
What did he do in 2016: Verstappen finished fifth in the World Drivers' Championship and won the Spanish Grand Prix in his debut with Red Bull Racing.
What to expect in 2017: Verstappen ended 2016 as a star in the making and a pest to some at the same time. He should give his teammate Ricciardo a run for his money as the best at Red Bull and he should win multiple times in 2017.

Scuderia Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel: #5 Ferrari SF70H
What did he do in 2016: Vettel finished fourth in the World Drivers' Championship with three runner-up finishes.
What to expect in 2017: The Ferrari was the fastest during preseason testing and should that speed carry over during the season, Vettel should be on the top step of the podium at least once and be somewhere in the top five of the championship, if not in the championship fight. 

Kimi Räikkönen: #7 Ferrari SF70H
What did he do in 2016: Räikkönen finished sixth in the World Drivers' Championship with two runner-up finishes.
What to expect in 2017: Räikkönen was responsible for the fastest time during testing but the Finn is the oldest driver on the grid and defeating his teammate will be hard enough let alone defeating two Mercedes and two Red Bulls. He should be on the podium a few times and could get a victory.

Sahara Force India-Mercedes
Sergio Pérez: #11 Force India VJM10
What did he do in 2016: He finished seventh in the World Drivers' Championship with two third-place finishes. 
What to expect in 2017: I think Force India as a whole takes a step back in 2017. Pérez will still be best within the team and have a handful of promising races but he will be on the edge of the top ten in the championship. 

Esteban Ocon: #31 Force India VJM10
What did he do in 2016: Ocon ran the final nine races of the Formula One season with Manor with his best finish being 12th in the wet at Interlagos.
What to expect in 2017: He will score some points in 2017 but finish behind his teammate in the championship and his best finish will be no better than fifth. 

Williams Martini Racing Mercedes
Lance Stroll: #18 Williams FW40
What did he do in 2016: Stroll won the FIA European Formula Three championship and won 14 of 30 races.
What to expect in 2017: Stroll spun multiple times in testing and has been chastised for his inexperience. I think he will start the season slow to get miles under his belt but he will have at least three or four magnificent races where he is the darling of the day. He will also have at least two or three bonehead moves.

Felipe Massa: #19 Williams FW40
What did he do in 2016: Massa finished 11th in the World Drivers' Championship with his best finish being fifth.
What to expect in 2017: Massa retired but with Bottas moving to Mercedes the team brought Massa back and the Brazilian was fifth during testing. I think Williams could repeat its 2014 success and get a handful of podiums with Massa just outside the top five of the championship.

McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team
Stoffel Vandoorne: #2 McLaren MCL32
What did he do in 2016: Vandoorne finished fourth in the Super Formula Championship with two victories and finished tenth in his Formula One debut at Bahrain.
What to expect in 2017: McLaren is a disaster and Vandoorne is a promising driver. Perhaps his talent can get him a few points and perhaps the car improves as the season goes on but at best McLaren will finish seventh on track.

Fernando Alonso: #14 McLaren MCL32
What did he do in 2016: Alonso finished tenth in the World Drivers' Championship with his best finish being fifth
What to expect in 2017: This will be Alonso's final season in Formula One. He is gone. He is taking the money and running. I don't know if it is to sports cars or maybe he does the Indianapolis 500 but even then I think he would say no if offered by Honda. He will get a few points and then be out the door. However, I bet he is able to find some humor through all the turmoil. 

Scuderia Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: #26 Toro Rosso STR12
What did he do in 2016: Kvyat finished 14th in the World Drivers' Championship with his best finish being third but his best finish with Toro Rosso was ninth.
What to expect in 2017: Toro Rosso could be the Force India of 2017 but Kvyat was over a half-second slower than his teammate in testing. I think Kvyat will better his best finish with Toro Rosso in 2016 but finish outside the top ten in the championship. 

Carlos Sainz, Jr.: #55 Toro Rosso STR12
What did he do in 2016: Sainz, Jr. finished 12th in the World Drivers' Championship with his best finish being sixth.
What to expect in 2017: Sainz, Jr. will finish in the top half of the championship and ahead of his teammate and Sainz, Jr. could be on the cusp of a podium finish in a race or two. 

Haas F1 Team Ferrari
Romain Grosjean: #8 Haas VF-17
What did he do in 2016: Grosjean finished 13th in the World Drivers' Championship with his best finish being fifth.
What to expect in 2017: Haas was respectable during testing but the brake problems have continued into 2017. Grosjean did a great job in year one with the team but the car isn't all there for him. He will get a handful of points finishes but won't better his championship position.

Kevin Magnussen: #20 Haas VF-17
What did he do in 2016: Magnussen finished 16th in the World Drivers' Championship with his best finish being seventh.
What to expect in 2017: The Dane is with his third Formula One team since his debut in 2014. He will score more than seven points, his 2016 total but he won't improve on his best finish from 2016.

Renault Sport Formula One Team
Nico Hülkenberg: #27 Renault R.S. 17
What did he do in 2016: Hülkenberg finished ninth in the World Drivers' Championship with his best finish being fourth.
What to expect in 2017: Pressure is on the German as he has yet to finish on the podium after six seasons in Formula One. Renault scored eight points in 2016 in a car that wasn't design for a Renault engine. Hülkenberg was eighth in testing and I think he can sneak on the podium once and finish in the top ten of the championship.

Jolyon Palmer: #30 Renault R.S. 17
What did he do in 2016: Palmer finished 18th in the World Drivers' Championship with his only point coming at Malaysia.
What to expect in 2017: The Renault is better in year two of Palmer's career but he will finish behind his teammate despite the Briton increasing his scoring. Palmer will be outside of the top ten in the championship.

Sauber F1 Team Ferrari
Marcus Ericsson: #9 Sauber C36
What did he do in 2016: Ericsson failed to score any points in 2016 with his best finish being 11th at Mexico.
What to expect in 2017: Sauber is using the year-old Ferrari power unit. The car is going to continue to be at the back of the pack but it should be reliable. Ericsson might get a point in 2017 but it will have to come in a race of high attrition. 

Pascal Wehrlein: #94 Sauber C36
What did he do in 2016: Wehrlein finished 19th in the World Drivers' Championship with his only point coming at Austria.
What to expect in 2017: The 2015 DTM champion was able to squeeze a point out of a back marker in 2016 at Manor. It is going to be a stretch for the German to score points again in 2017. 

Friday practice at Melbourne starts at 9:00 p.m. ET on Thursday March 23rd with second free practice scheduled for midnight Friday March 24th. Free practice three will be at 11:00 p.m. Friday night with qualifying at 2:00 a.m. ET on Saturday March 25th. The Australian Grand Prix will take place at 1:00 a.m. ET on Sunday March 26th. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: For Nothing But Fun

Wayne Taylor Racing doubled up on its endurance race success with Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor and newcomer Alex Lynn winning at Sebring. Antonio García, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller won in the #3 Corvette and prevented the #66 Ford GT of Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais from holding all three endurance triple crown at once. The #33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Mario Farnbacher got the manufactures first victory in GTD. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of Pato O'Ward, James French and Kyle Masson doubled up after their Daytona victory and won in Prototype Challenge. With Sebring out of the way, here is a run down of what got me thinking.

For Nothing But Fun
A few weeks ago, new Formula One head honcho Ross Brawn threw out the idea of re-introducing non-championship races to the Formula One schedule and use these events to experiment with new rules, race formats and etc.

Non-championship races were once all the rage in the Formula One world. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were some occasions where there were more non-championship races in a given year than there were championship races. In 1963, Jim Clark's first world championship season, there were 14 non-championship races compared to the ten that comprised of the world championship schedule. Non-Championship stops included Pau, Goodwood, Imola, Enna Pergusa and Kyalami. Clark won five non-championship races on top of his seven championship race victories that year.

As the Formula One calendar grew in the 1970s, non-championship races became less prominent and fewer of the big name drivers participated. By the 1983 Race of Champions, a traditional non-championship race held at Brands Hatch, only 13 cars participated with back markers such as Theodore Racing, Arrows, Ligier, RAM Racing and Spirit Racing outnumbering the likes of Williams, Ferrari, Brabham, Tyrell, Lotus and McLaren. Renault, which fielded Alain Prost and Eddie Cheever, didn't even bother entering a car. There hasn't been a non-championship Formula One race since (although there was the Formula One Indoor Trophy held from 1988-1996 except for 1994 but I guess that is another story).

Thirty-four years later, why does it seem like a good idea to bring back non-championship races to the Formula One schedule when the calendar is already filled with 20 races on five continents? First, it would allow Formula One to try things and tinker before having a full-scale roll out. Remember last year when the new qualifying format was introduced and how poorly received that was? A handful of non-championship races might have either prevented that format from ever getting to the top stage or allowed it to be worked on and perfected before being introduced to the larger fan base.

Another reason non-championship races should be brought back is it would allow Formula One and its drivers to go to places the series currently aren't at. I know you are thinking Formula One hits enough spots with 20 races but the truth is there is still a good amount of the globe that doesn't get to see Formula One machinery and the talented drivers in person. These races would be a good chance for forgotten places to experience Formula One again.

Non-championship races could be an affordable way for people to see Formula One's stars. These exhibition races could happen in conjunction with an already existing motorsports event and give people a reason to go out and support a domestic series. My idea would be year-old cars could be used for the non-championship races and the top five teams in the World Constructors' Championship run two cars with one car reserved for a guest driver and the bottom five teams run one car. The non-championship rounds could be two, 45-minute races with one on Saturday and one on Sunday with teams rotating there full-time drivers and possibly even allowing a reserve driver a chance to race a Formula One car.

I think five or six non-championship rounds would be sufficient. Imagine one round being held in conjunction with the DTM round at Zandvoort, allowing Max Verstappen to race in front of his home fans or another being held with IndyCar at Watkins Glen or Formula One returning to Argentina or a race held in conjunction with the Supercars season opener at Adelaide or heading to Fuji with the World Endurance Championship. Imagine the likes of Scott Dixon getting a shot in a Formula One car and sliding behind the wheel of a Mercedes and trying to best Lewis Hamilton or Robert Wickens in a Williams against fellow Canadian Lance Stroll or André Lotterer in a Ferrari racing side-by-side with Sebastian Vettel.

Non-championship races could not only benefit Formula One by giving more drivers experience with a Formula One car or trying reverse grids or experimenting with a new tire compound but also be a fun way to connect Formula One with the rest of the motorsports landscape. Non-championship races could create memorable events with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo get to rub elbows with other great drivers from other series, visit tracks that normally don't host Formula One or haven't hosted Formula One in a long time and allow fans to see and possibly interact with the best in the world at a more reasonable price than a normal grand prix weekend.

Non-championship races have a place in an already crowded Formula One calendar and they could be just one of the ways Formula One reconnects with some fans once forgotten.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Sebring but did you know...

Ryan Newman won the NASCAR Cup race from Phoenix his first victory since the 2013 Brickyard 400. Justin Allgaier won the Grand National Series race on Saturday, his first victory since Montreal 2012.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Indianapolis, his third consecutive victory and sixth of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One season opener from Melbourne, Australia.
MotoGP season opener from Qatar.
NASCAR runs the final race of its western swing at Fontana.
Supercross will be in Detroit.

Friday, March 17, 2017

1000 Words: Mark Donohue

I finished Mark Donohue's legendary book The Unfair Advantage last week and tomorrow would have been his 80th birthday. Now is as good a time as any to write about the man critical to the history of Team Penske and a visionary way ahead of his time.

Mark Donohue couldn't exist in the modern motorsports landscape and that has nothing to do with the guy bouncing from an IndyCar to Can-Am to NASCAR and another three series in one year. He bought a Corvette at the age of 20 and his first race was a hill climb at the age of 21. Today, most drivers are at a crossroad at the age of 21, whether it is deciding between open-wheel and sports cars or having already finished three seasons in Formula One and without a ride and no one willing to take a flyer on someone with only a few million dollars in funding. 

After joining the SCCA and becoming one of the top amateur drivers in the United States, Donohue ended up in the Ford GT program in 1966. Think about the line-up Ford brought to Le Mans last year. All those drivers had years of professional experience. Some had already been factory drivers elsewhere, two were IndyCar champions and the least known driver on the team had been a Ford factory/affiliated driver for almost a decade. Donohue got the job on the word of Walt Hansgen. He would have been vilified if Ford hired him with that résumé in the present.

After Ford came Team Penske and without Donohue, who knows if Team Penske would be celebrating its 51st anniversary this year or maybe the team wouldn't be as successful or as celebrated or as diverse as it is without Donohue. The man wasn't just Roger Penske's driver; he was Roger Penske's right-hand man. A Tim Cindric before Cindric was even born. They bounced decisions off one another and Penske gave Donohue the slack he needed when it came deciding what car to drive or how a car should be set up.

Throughout the book I was astounded at the level of doubt Donohue had within himself. Most of the time he was winging it, he was making adjustments mostly through trail and error, even though he had an engineering degree from Brown University. Donahue was before shaker rigs and wind tunnels revolutionized car development. The only way to make a car better was on the track or, in many cases for Donohue, the skid pad where Donohue was ahead of the game when it came to suspension development and the importance of having speed in the corners as well as in a straight line. 

Donohue's doubt wasn't just around early in his career when he was with Ford and at the start of his time at Team Penske, it carried throughout his career, even after winning the 24 Hours of Daytona and multiple Trans-Am championships. He talks about his frustration in preparations for the 1970 Indianapolis 500, his second year at the Speedway. He describes his qualifying effort as disappointing. He started fifth. He finished second. 

The man can only be described as a perfectionist. It continued after another year at Indianapolis, finishing third on his Formula One debut in the 1971 Canadian Grand Prix and winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1972. When developing the Can-Am killer or better known as the Porsche 917-30, it wasn't good enough to be just a second and a half faster than the rest of the field. In some ways, the unreachable goal and determination to wring every tenth of a second out of car is what made Donohue one of the greatest. He was never satisfied and once he reached a state of satisfaction he stopped driving... for a year. 

Through each chapter from the McLaren MB16 to the Eagle-Offy to the Porsche 917-10 and 917-30 and Porsche Carrera I felt I was reading Donohue go mad. He reached a point of constant observation and every little vibration and movement in the race car that most drivers would never notice he could feel and he wondered what the car was doing. He wanted every answer about the car. Take Donohue's own obsession to have complete knowledge of car and add that on top of the pressure to not just win but dominate, especially when driving for Porsche. I am surprised Donohue didn't have a mental breakdown or a heart attack before the age of 35. 

After his Can-Am title in 1973 in the Porsche 917-30, Donohue couldn't have done anymore than that. You only get so many opportunities to go out with a car that was two seconds faster than everyone else in the field and having won six consecutive races to end a championship season. Winning the inaugural International Race of Champions, beating contemporaries such as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, David Pearson, Richard Petty and Formula One invitee Emerson Fittipaldi was just the cherry on top of his retirement sundae. 

I can't help but feel Mark Donohue had to die in a race car for him to have ultimate satisfaction in his life. That sounds morbid but he couldn't stay away. He retired because he said most drivers don't go out on top and that is true. Even today, drivers hang on about three to five years too long when they have become shells of their former selves. But Donohue returned to driving when Penske entered Formula One. He admitted he needed the money but I bet Donohue was like many others who retire from much less glamorous positions than race car driver and feel worthless. He was the President of Team Penske but even that could not make up for the void of running hundreds of miles of testing in the middle of the week at Road Atlanta. He needed to be in a car and having found success at every level in the United States he had to take on the world.

I wonder what Donohue would think of motorsports today. In the final chapter of his book he laments that he is retiring at what he believes is the end of the greatest era of motorsports. He writes:
We will probably never see unlimited 1200-horsepower motors, exotic aerodynamics, engineering freedom, giant leaps in racing technology, and continually higher speeds and lower lap times. The individual driver's performance and safety are rightfully becoming more important, but I'm glad I didn't miss all the rest. 
While I am sure there is a generation who agrees with Donohue's quote, he was right but he was also wrong. The eras changed and innovation persistent. Donohue probably would have been ecstatic over ground effect and active suspension in Formula One. He would have been at the forefront of Penske's PC-23 500I project. I think he would have loved the turbo-diesel behemoths from Audi. He probably would be disappointed about the current state of IndyCar and the Daytona Prototypes-era but there would be plenty he would have loved and he might be surprised how much lap times have fallen all around the world. Maybe Donohue would be leading the charge for hydrogen-powered automobiles and be working on a rival to Formula E and a car that could go two hours on a charge with battery swaps taking five-seconds to complete. 

The man would have turned 80 years old tomorrow. I can't help but think the motorsports world would be further down the line in development if he were preparing to blow out some candles. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Auditing IndyCar Seats: March 2017

One IndyCar race is complete in 2017 so we mind as well look ahead to the Indianapolis 500 because there aren't three races in April and another race in the month of May that separate us from the 101st running of that 500-mile race.

The 21 cars entered for St. Petersburg, 13 Hondas and eight Chevrolets are going to be there come the month of May meaning we are a dozen cars away from that not-so-magical but crucial number of 33. 

In addition to the 21 full-time cars we know Juan Pablo Montoya will be driving a fifth Penske entry and not only will the Colombian be attempting to make the Indianapolis 500 for the fourth time but he will enter the Grand Prix of Indianapolis as well. Montoya is currently the only additional entry announced for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. 

Sage Karam will return for a second consecutive year and for the third in four years with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and the entry will again be a Chevrolet. Juncos Racing will move up this year from Indy Lights and have at least one entry for the Indianapolis 500. The team has not announced an engine supplier but it is believed it will be Chevrolet after the team purchased some of the assets from KV Racing. Juncos Racing has also left the door open for a second car for Indianapolis. 

On the Honda side, it was announced last week that Jay Howard will make his first attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 since 2011 as he will drive the #77 Tony Stewart Foundation Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Oriol Servià was confirmed over the winter to be driving an additional entry with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the Indianapolis 500 and the Belle Isle doubleheader with the hopes to extend the Catalan driver's schedule beyond those two rounds. Andretti Autosport has also announced it will run a fifth entry for the Indianapolis 500 with a driver to be announced. 

That puts us at 27-28 entries depending on if Juncos Racing runs two entries. Where could we find those remaining five to six entries?

A.J. Foyt Racing runs a third car even when the team announces it won't be running a third car. This year might be a little tougher seeing as how the team has just switched to Chevrolet and could be low on spare parts but let's at least pencil in an additional entry for the team. 

Dale Coyne Racing and Pippa Mann have become a fixture at the Speedway in the same vain as George Snider with the aforementioned A.J. Foyt Racing. It has been quiet on both fronts but even if Mann weren't the driver I would count on Dale Coyne running an extra car in May. After all, winning the season opener and leading the championship should increase the value of his team a bit.

Ed Carpenter Racing has been quiet about an additional entry for Indianapolis after running an extra car the last two years for both the road course race and the "500." It is hard to see how ECR doesn't run an extra car and it is hard to see how Spencer Pigot isn't the driver in that extra car should it come to fruition. I think the funding will come together and Pigot is there. 

This is where it starts getting tough because we currently have 30-31 entries with 17 Hondas and 13-14 Chevrolets. Perhaps Ganassi could roll out an additional Honda entry but that team is still fully invested in the Ford GT program and that team again has four cars going to Le Mans and the Le Mans test day is still the weekend after Indianapolis. That team appears to be stretched too thin to run an 18th Honda.

There is going to have to be at least one or two more Chevrolets to reach 33 entries. Bob Lazier, father of Buddy Lazier, was at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and said the team was working to return to Indianapolis. It would be Lazier Partners Racing's fifth consecutive attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 with the team successful on three of four occasions. 

The one rumor that has gone quiet over the last few weeks is former IndyCar mechanic Larry Curry running an entry out of the Dreyer & Reinbold shop with Gabby Chaves. That doesn't mean the possible entry is dead on arrival and there is still two months until practice starts for the race.

Should both Lazier Partners Racing and Curry's team materialize it would increase the Chevrolet total to 15-16 and leave the entry list at 32-33. With Honda's increased attention to the IndyCar program this year, it can't be ruled out that the manufacture would be willing to field an 18th entry should Chevrolet only be able to support 15 entrants. If Ganassi isn't the team fielding that 18th Honda entry, it is tough to think of who it could be. Coyne has supported four entries before, as has Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Another option could be a team currently outside of IndyCar, whether that is an Indy Lights team like Carlin or Belardi Auto Racing or a team from IMSA like Michael Shank Racing, could provide the crew to support an Indianapolis 500 entry with an existing team providing the chassis. 

As for the chances of more than 33? Slim to none, which is unfortunate, but there is a chance should Chevrolet field 16 entries and Honda field 18 entries. However, the lack of active Chevrolet IndyCar teams and the difficulty to get a DW12 chassis, an engine lease and the proper aero bits makes it a stretch for there to be any kind of drama over who will make the 101st Indianapolis 500. 

It is to no surprise that while we scrape together 33 entries there are more than 33 drivers on the market for the month of May.

Besides the already mentioned Mann, Pigot, Lazier and Chaves, Townsend Bell, Alex Tagliani, Matthew Brabham, Stefan Wilson and Jack Hawksworth all contested the 100th Indianapolis 500 and are currently with out rides for this year's race. Juncos Racing's Indy Lights driver Kyle Kaiser has been rumored as potentially running one of the team's entry at Indianapolis. Dean Stoneman is interested in an Indianapolis 500 entry. Other 2016 Indy Lights drivers reportedly looking for a shot to make their first Indianapolis 500 are Zach Veach, Félix Serrallés and current Belardi Auto Racing driver Shelby Blackstock. RC Enerson made three IndyCar starts last year for Dale Coyne Racing and turned 20 years old last week.

Other drivers who have raced the Indianapolis 500 in recent years and still active in racing include Ryan Briscoe, Katherine Legge, James Davison and Tristan Vautier.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: An Exceptional Event

Sébastien Bourdais went last-to-first in St. Petersburg while brakes stole the storylines for most of the St. Petersburg weekend. There was a historically young winner in Indy Lights. The Pirelli World Challenge season started pretty much where it left off in 2016. The Supercross season got a little bit more interesting in Daytona. The World Superbike world may be in trouble. World Supersport had another first time Italian winner. NASCAR will voice its displeasure publicly about the post-race incident at Las Vegas but privately celebrates a new addition to the promotion montage. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

An Exceptional Event
Racers flock to Florida during winter. If you are a retiree with a winter home and enjoy racing, you can fill your winter with big events just within the Sunshine State. The 24 Hours of Daytona commences the North American racing season in late-January, two weeks later Daytona 500 practice and qualifying begins followed the next week by the race. Then comes March and just before the 12 Hours of Sebring you can head to the left side of the state and another high-class event.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has reached a new level. It is no longer a street course race waiting to die. It has reached a level of Long Beach, Toronto and Surfers Paradise, street courses that have withstood incompetent promoters, disinterested local governments and pissed off locals. The race is approaching two decades on the calendar and the event has only gotten better since its inaugural running in 2003.

From an obscure CART event during a transition period for that dying series to the first street circuit race for the IRL, St. Petersburg survived reunification and has moved from February to March to April and back to March again. The event has gone from an IRL-ALMS doubleheader to a four-day weekend full of IndyCar, all three Road to Indy series, Pirelli World Challenge and Stadium Super Trucks to round everything off.

For almost 15 years, St. Petersburg hasn't disappointed race fans. Sure the early IRL days weren't that inspiring but at least you had the LMP1 monster Audi R10 competing head-to-head with Penske's Porsche RS Spyders and the Acura ARX program. It hasn't produced the greatest IndyCar races ever but they are far from the worst. We saw Andretti Green Racing sweep the top four positions in 2005, Graham Rahal become the youngest winner in IndyCar in 2008, the introduction of the DW12 chassis in 2012, James Hinchcliffe score his first victory in 2013 and this year's race where plucky Dale Coyne Racing went from 21st-to-1st with Sébastien Bourdais and they get to be kings for a day... or until Long Beach.

More important than stunning on-track action though is the locals have embraced the race and Dan Wheldon moving to the area helped in that matter. Most drivers don't win somewhere and then decide to move there. The Hunter-Reays aren't living on a farm at Iowa because of Ryan's success at the 7/8ths of a mile oval. Will Power doesn't live in wine country because of his Sonoma success. Scott Dixon isn't shacking up in the middle of the Buckeye State because he has dominated Mid-Ohio. Wheldon became an adopted son and his presences was great enough that the city honored him with a memorial statue and street named after the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner after his death in 2011. Honoring Wheldon was enough but even Bourdais, who lives in the St. Petersburg-area, got the local treatment leading up to this year's race.

St. Petersburg isn't perfect. I wish the straightaway to turn four and the straightaway to turn ten was slightly longer to create two more passing zones and I don't necessarily believe the IndyCar season has to open in St. Petersburg or St. Petersburg has to be the first round in the United States should IndyCar start the season abroad but St. Petersburg is a destination if you are a IndyCar fan and maybe if you are a motorsports fan in general.

Practice begins on Thursday! It continues on Friday and then there are two days full of races with on track action from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. each day. Pirelli World Challenge might not have the jaw-dropping LMP1 machines of the ALMS days but the grid is full of talented names such as Johnny O'Connell, Álvaro Parente, Patrick Long and Ryan Dalziel with a more impressive list of manufactures from Cadillacs to Chevrolet Camaros, Mercedes to McLaren, Porsche to KTM, Audi to Ford. Each Road to Indy series gets a doubleheader and the likes of Josef Newgarden, Spencer Pigot and Sage Karam have all started their pursuit of IndyCar on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Bayshore Drive and the view of the marina are just as notable to IndyCar as Shoreline Drive and the Queen Mary in Long Beach. While Long Beach's future is tentatively unknown for IndyCar, St. Petersburg doesn't appear to be heading anywhere. If you have free time next March or are on spring break and are a race fan, maybe consider a trip down to St. Petersburg.

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

Aaron Telitz and 16-year-old Colton Herta split the Indy Lights races at St. Petersburg. Anthony Martin swept the Pro Mazda races. Robert Megennis and Oliver Askew split the U.S. F2000 races.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. Joey Logano won the Grand National Series race.

Álvaro Parente and Patrick Long split the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from St. Petersburg. Andrew Aquilante swept the GTS races.

Jonathan Rea swept the Superbike races at Buriram and he is 4-for-4 this season. Federico Caricasulo won the Supersport race.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race at Daytona.

Kris Meeke won Rally Mexico.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR remains out west and heads south to Phoenix.
The 12 Hours of Sebring.
Supercross heads to another motorsports mecca in Indianapolis.