Saturday, April 29, 2017

First Impressions: Phoenix 2017

1. Let's start with the aero package. It is disappointing that after last year's Phoenix race IndyCar didn't say, "let's make sure that doesn't happen again." I am sure enough drivers and fans are going to express dissatisfaction and changes are going to come and hopefully before the next two short oval races later this year at Iowa and Gateway. That isn't good enough for the series and everyone within the series knows it. I have faith that changes will be made in the right direction and they will be done quickly.

2. I don't want to say Simon Pagenaud didn't deserve this victory but it felt like whoever ended up in front was going to win because you needed to have a death wish if you wanted to attempt a pass tonight. However, with passing being excruciatingly difficult Pagenaud and his team found a way to the lead and won the race, his first oval victory and tenth in his career, and that is all that matters at the end of the day. For the second consecutive year, Pagenaud leaves Phoenix as championship leader. He didn't concede it once he got it last year.

3. Will Power finished second and he finally had a fine day. He wants more horsepower and less downforce on short ovals and he has been preaching that for over a year. Let's listen to the man.

4. J.R. Hildebrand made the most passes on the night and he finished third and gave Power a run for his money for second. This is a great way to come back after missing a race due to a broken hand. Hopefully that momentum carries over to the remaining races.

5. Surprise! Hélio Castroneves finished fourth after starting on pole position and leading, I don't know, the first 77 laps? This is what he does. He finishes fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh every race but can't keep up with the leaders.

6. Scott Dixon finished fifth and did nothing. There aren't many races where you can say Scott Dixon did nothing.

7. Tony Kanaan finished sixth and did nothing.

8. Ed Carpenter went from 21st to seventh and may have made one pass all night.

9. Charlie Kimball finished eighth and did nothing. He didn't even hit anybody.

10. Josef Newgarden was contending for a podium but he had to make two wing changes and contact with the lapped car of Ryan Hunter-Reay forced him to stop from third. He went from being on Pagenaud's rear in the championship to being much further back after a ninth-place finish.

11. Carlos Muñoz finished tenth and didn't do a damn thing. Congratulations to A.J. Foyt Racing on finally getting a top ten finish.

12. Ed Jones finished 12th in his first IndyCar oval race and completed 247 of 250 laps. Not bad. He has been fun to watch this season.

13. James Hinchcliffe had horrible fuel mileage and it cost him a top ten finished and he finished 12th.

14. Ryan Hunter-Reay brushed the wall while in the top ten and he called it a night 80 laps early but still finished 13th. Conor Daly was 70 laps down the entire night after a gearbox issue but was still running at the finish 14th

15. I have no idea what happened to Alexander Rossi. I think he brushed the wall and he finished 15th. Takuma Sato smacked the wall and brought out a caution. Andretti Autosport keeps finding a new way to get hit in the crotch.

16. Mikhail Aleshin, Marco Andretti, Sébastien Bourdais, Max Chilton and Graham Rahal all failed to complete lap one. I tweeted just prior to the race that I thought there would be an accident lap one because I thought Aleshin would lose it or Hunter-Reay would lose it by going to the outside on the start. I was right on the former. Aleshin gets a lot of praise but 50/50 chance is he bins it. The other four drivers were collateral damage and unfortunately it ended the fairy tale start to the season for Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing.

17. A few off-track things I want to get to. If you didn't know, ESPN has been laying off a ton of people and included in those are Allen Bestwick and Dr. Jerry Punch. If they are gone, two men who did more than just IndyCar but also college football, college basketball and college hockey, I have to think Eddie Cheever, Scott Goodyear, Jon Beekhuis and Rick DeBruhl have all also been handed their walking papers. Bestwick and Punch have both said they will continue through Belle Isle but when Bestwick signs off after that Sunday race, he and likely all of them are gone.

A lot of people have wanted the ABC/ESPN team gutted and frankly wants the series off the network. I have been critical of the network's use of Cheever and Goodyear but I was a proponent to Bestwick taking over the reins to the IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 coverage prior to Marty Reid being fired and Dr. Punch, Beekhuis and DeBruhl are a solid pit reporting team.

There is no positive from the ESPN layoffs and it only creates more questions as the network's IndyCar deal extends through 2018 and the lead commentator and senior IndyCar broadcaster are gone and I can't imagine ESPN kept the other four guys on through 2018. I am starting to wonder if ESPN will buyout its final year but I don't think the network would do that. If the final year of the deal is honored, what does the announce team look like? I can't imagine after laying off an unfathomable number of people ESPN is going to hire a few people to do five weekends of IndyCar racing and I can't imagine ESPN bringing the NBCSN crew in on loan but it could be the easiest solution.

We knew the next IndyCar television deal was going to be negotiated over the course of this season but now a whole set of questions have arisen over 2018.

18. While one network is in flux, I have to make a comment about NBCSN's crew and in particular the pit reporters. I caught the end of the qualifying show and it featured Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt, Robin Miller and Marty Snider all sitting on the pit wall, a somewhat common thing the crew has done after a race or session dating back to the Texas rain delay when they talked to just about everyone on pit road. It is a relaxed atmosphere and it is refreshing but NBCSN has done a great job of putting together a diverse group of pit reporters.

You have Miller, the experienced some would call curmudgeon who has seen it all, Lee and Snider, generation X-ers, Lee who got into the series during the split and Snider who has covered almost every form of motorsports and Hargitt, a millennial woman who is in the same age bracket as many of the drivers and of the demographic the series tries to attract to the broadcast and race track. They all bring different mindsets and ideas to the broadcast and that is good for the presentation of the series.

19. Finally, I want to send my prayers and thoughts to John Andretti, who is fighting stage four colon cancer. It sucks. It just sucks to hear he is going through such a thing. There is so much I want to say but for now I will say John Andretti has come off as nothing but a soft-spoken gentleman and besides that he is an underrated talent as a driver. He never lit the world on fire and dominated a championship but he raced everything and anything and was competitive in it all.

20. May is Monday.

Morning Warm-Up: Phoenix 2017

Another pole position for Team Penske and Hélio Castroneves
Hélio Castroneves picked up his 48th career pole position and his second pole position of the season as the Brazilian obliterated the track record he set last year. Castroneves ran a two-lap average of 194.905 MPH, over two and a half miles per hour faster than his pole speed from a year ago. He also broke the one-lap record with a lap of 194.975 MPH. This is Castroneves' tenth pole position since his most recent victory at Belle Isle in 2014. His average finish in his last nine starts from pole position is 11.333 with two podiums but only three top ten finishes. Will Power made it a sweep of the front row for Team Penske but the Australian was nearly a mile per hour slower than his teammate at 194.017 MPH. Power has not won from second on the grid since Edmonton 2011. He finished third last year in his Phoenix debut.

J.R. Hildebrand's return to competition will come from third on the grid after the Californian missed the Barber race due to a broken wrist. Third will be a career-best starting position for Hildebrand. His previous best was fourth at Iowa in 2011 and Fontana in 2012. This will be his fifth career top five start but he has only finished in the top ten once when starting in the top five and that was finishing fourth from fourth at Iowa in 2011. Next to Hildebrand will be the man he replaced in the #21 Chevrolet, Josef Newgarden. Newgarden is coming off victory at Barber, which was his fourth career victory. Simon Pagenaud makes it four Penske cars in the first five positions. Last year, Pagenaud went from tenth to second and took the championship lead at Phoenix. Tony Kanaan rounds out row three and he is the top Honda on the starting grid.

Mikhail Aleshin was the top Honda for most of the qualifying session but he will start seventh, next to Kanaan's teammate Scott Dixon. Aleshin has five top ten finishes in ten oval starts, including a second-place finish at Pocono last year but he only has five top ten finishes in his previous 12 top ten starts. The top seven qualifiers were faster than last year's pole speed. Dixon has never won from eighth position in his career and his only podium from eighth position was a third at Milwaukee in 2001, his fifth career start. Rounding out the top ten will be Marco Andretti and Sébastien Bourdais. This is Andretti's second top ten start in the last three races after going 17 races without a top ten start. Andretti has finished in the top ten in the last four oval races he has started in the top ten. Despite having a victory and leading the championship, this is Bourdais' best starting position of the season.

James Hinchcliffe starts on the inside of row six with Ryan Hunter-Reay next to him in 12th position. This is Hinchcliffe's worst starting position of the season while Hunter-Reay matches his worst starting position of the season. Hunter-Reay went from 12th to fourth at St. Petersburg in March and he started 12th last year at Phoenix. Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball make it an all-Ganassi row seven. Chilton finished seventh last year at Phoenix in his first IndyCar oval race. Kimball has always finished better than his starting position when starting 14th with him achieving four top ten finishes from the position. Alexander Rossi starts 15th next to Ed Jones in 16th. Rossi started and finished 14th last year at Phoenix while Jones finished second in the Indy Lights race last year at the track.

Graham Rahal will start on the inside of row eight, his worst starting position on an oval since he started 26th at Indianapolis last year. Takuma Sato will be to the outside of Rahal. This will be the fifth time Sato has started 18th in his career and he started and finished 18th at Long Beach three weeks ago. While Chevrolet swept the top five, it will also hold the final three positions on the grid. A.J. Foyt Racing teammates Carlos Muñoz and Conor Daly will start on row ten. Ed Carpenter will round out the grid in 21st position. Carpenter suffered a fuel leak in practice and the team scrambled to get the car ready for the qualifying session. This is Carpenter's 12th time starting 21st in his career. His average finish in his previous 11 starts from that position is 17.0 and his lone top ten finish when starting 21st was eighth at Iowa in 2012. Twice has a Phoenix IndyCar race been won from outside the top twenty, 1987 by Roberto Guerrero from 22nd and 2000 by Buddy Lazier from 26th.

NBCSN's coverage of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix will start at 9:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 9:35 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 250 laps.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Track Walk: Phoenix 2017

Sebastien Bourdais still leads the championship. Can he be on top come May?
IndyCar makes it back-to-back weeks with races as the series heads west for the first oval race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season at Phoenix International Raceway. Last year, Scott Dixon led the final 155 laps to win the Phoenix Grand Prix, the first race at the track since 2005 and a race where passing was difficult due to the aero package. For the second consecutive year, the race will occur on a Saturday night.

Time: Coverage begins at 9:00 p.m. ET on Saturday April 28th. Green flag will be at 9:35 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Rick Allen is back in the booth (Leigh Diffey has Formula One duty) with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will be working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 7:00 p.m. ET (2-hour session).
Qualifying- 11:00 p.m. ET
Race- 9:35 p.m. ET (250 laps).

Bourdais On Top But Challengers Closing
The Frenchman leads the IndyCar championship with 117 points but Sébastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing have plenty of top drivers on their coattails.

Scott Dixon is one of two drivers with top five finishes in all three races this season and he trails Bourdais by six points with Josef Newgarden fresh off victory at Barber seven points behind Bourdais. Dixon won last year at Phoenix while Newgarden won the other short track race last year at Iowa and two of Bourdais' five oval victories have come at short tracks.

The top three in the championship are all on impressive streaks on short tracks. Bourdais has four consecutive top ten finishes on short tracks while Dixon has three top five finishes and five top ten finishes in the last six short track races. Newgarden has six consecutive top ten finishes on short tracks, five of which have been top five finishes and three of those have been podium finishes.

Simon Pagenaud trails his fellow countryman by 11 points and he is the other driver to have three top five finishes from the first three races of 2017. He finished second last year at Phoenix and he is looking to have four top five finishes from the first four races for the second consecutive season and third time in the last four seasons.

James Hinchcliffe rounds out the top five with the Long Beach winner 15 points behind Bourdais. Hinchcliffe is coming off his first top ten finish in the race after a victory and he is looking for four top ten finishes from the first four races for the first time since 2012. Hinchcliffe has a short track victory but since winning at Iowa in 2013 he has two top ten finishes with an average finish of 13.0 in four short track races.

Chevrolet Looks to Repeat Dominance
Chevrolet dominated last year's race at Phoenix by sweeping the top ten in qualifying, taking four of the top five and eight of the top ten in the race and Chevrolets led all 250 laps. All signs from the preseason test points to Chevrolet continuing their dominance at Phoenix.

J.R. Hildebrand was fastest at the test at 193.234 MPH, the only driver to break the 193-MPH barrier at the test and faster than the track record. Hildebrand returns to the #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet this weekend after missing Barber due to a broken hand suffered at Long Beach. Ed Carpenter was second at the test at 192.404 MPH and he will be making his season debut this weekend in the #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet. Hildebrand has never raced at Phoenix and Carpenter qualified fifth last year before retiring after slapping the wall exiting turn four. Carpenter has never finished better than 16th in three Phoenix starts.

Hélio Castroneves led the first 39 laps from pole position last year but had to make an unscheduled pit stop after his right front tire suffered a puncture entering turn one and he could only manage to finish 11th. The Brazilian was fourth fastest at the test behind his teammate Josef Newgarden. Castroneves won at Phoenix in 2002 but he has failed to finish in the top ten in the last three short track races despite starting on pole position for two of those three races.

Will Power rounded out the top five at the preseason test. Power finished third last year at Phoenix and finished second at Iowa in July. Power has had the worst start to a season of his career and he has five consecutive finishes outside the top ten, the longest drought of his career.

A.J. Foyt Racing did not have as successful of a test in February with Carlos Muñoz in 17th and Conor Daly 20th. Muñoz had two accidents last year at Phoenix, one in qualifying and the other in the race that caused him to be the first retirement. Daly completed 249 of 250 laps last year and finished 16th.

Short Track Specialists
Short tracks have been kind to Ryan Hunter-Reay as the American has won seven times on short tracks, including at least one short track victory for five consecutive seasons from 2011-15. Last year, Hunter-Reay started 12th, the second-best Honda driver and he made a bold start that saw him go from 12th to seventh and eventually he was up in the top five by his great restarts. However, Hunter-Reay would be caught out by cautions twice and twice had to come from the back but only could manage a tenth-place finish.

Like Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan has a great record on short tracks with six victories, two of which came at Phoenix, most of all active drivers at the track, but Kanaan has not won on a short track since Iowa 2010. Kanaan finished fourth at both short track races last season and he has five podiums, seven top five finishes and nine top ten finishes in the ten short track races in the DW12-era.

Graham Rahal has had a lackluster start to the season with finishes of 17th, tenth and 13th. Rahal finished fifth at Phoenix last year and he been consistently good on short tracks. He had two podiums and five top ten finishes in his first ten short track races and in his last ten short track races he has only one podium but has seven top ten finishes. This is the third consecutive season with Rahal starting with non-top ten finishes in the first and third races with a top ten sandwiched in-between in the second race and each year Rahal has finished second in the fourth race of the season.

Ed Jones might be entering his fourth career IndyCar start and his first ever on an oval but the Emirati driver has already shown he has a bit of skill on short tracks in Indy Lights. In his four short track starts in Indy Lights, Jones had three podium finishes including runner-up finishes at Iowa in 2015 and at Phoenix last year. His worst finish on a short track was eighth at Milwaukee in 2015. Jones was 18th in the preseason test.

On the Right Path
Alexander Rossi overcame his engine failure at Long Beach with a fifth-place finish at Barber, matching his career-best finish on a road/street circuit and he finds himself in the top ten of the championship. Rossi ran well at Phoenix last year and was in position for a top ten finish before needing to pit for fuel when the pits were closed and skimming the wall with two laps to go to bring out the final caution of the race. Rossi did finish sixth at Iowa last year.

Mikhail Aleshin and Max Chilton both have improved two positions in each race this year with Aleshin finishing 14th, 12th and tenth in the first three races and Chilton going from 16th to 14th to 12th. Aleshin had a fifth-place finish at Iowa last year and he finished eighth at Milwaukee in 2014. He was also the top Honda at the Phoenix preseason test in sixth. Chilton finished seventh last year at Phoenix in his second career IndyCar start. That remains the Brit's best IndyCar finish to date. He qualified fourth at Iowa but a spin caused him to finish 19th.

Looking to Buck a Trend
Takuma Sato is eighth in the championship with finishes of fifth and ninth in two of the first three races but Sato's track record on short tracks does not boded well for him this weekend. In 14 short track starts he has three top ten finishes but his most recent was seventh at Milwaukee in 2013. His average finish on short tracks is 15.07 with six retirements.

Marco Andretti had a promising start to the season by finishing seventh at St. Petersburg but an electrical issue and a gearbox issue at Long Beach and Barber respectively have derided Andretti of building on his start and he has fallen to 17th in the championship. Since his 2011 victory at Iowa, he has one podium at a short track (second at Iowa 2012) and four top ten finishes.

Charlie Kimball completed all 90 laps at Barber but his average finish in the first three races is 17.0. Last year, Kimball had only two finishes of 15th or worse and his best finish through the first three races is 15th. Kimball's best finish in 13 short track starts is ninth with an average finish of 14.153.

Fast Facts
This will be the fifth IndyCar race to occur on April 29th and the first since Will Power won on the streets of São Paulo in 2012.

Six drivers have finished in the top ten in all three races this season (Bourdais, Dixon, Newgarden, Pagenaud, Hinchcliffe, Castroneves).

Josef Newgarden has finished on the podium in the last two races, the first time he has had successive podium finishes in his IndyCar career.

Conor Daly has never finished on the lead lap in his prior six oval starts.

A.J. Foyt Racing did not have a top ten finish on an oval last year and the team's last top ten finish on an oval was sixth at Pocono in 2015 with Takuma Sato. The team's last top five finish on an oval was fifth at Iowa with Darren Manning in 2007.

Chevrolet led 546 of 550 short track laps last year.

Alexander Rossi was responsible for the four laps led by Honda on the short tracks and they all came at Iowa.

Takuma Sato has not had three top ten finishes in the first four races since 2013.

Ed Carpenter retired from four of five of his starts last year and has not finished on the lead lap in his last six starts.

Teo Fabi and Arie Luyendyk are the only European drivers to win at Phoenix.

The average starting position for a Phoenix winner is 4.33 with a median of three.

The last two Phoenix races have been won from sixth position. Never has the same starting position produced three consecutive Phoenix winners.

The last oval race won from pole position was the 2014 Milwaukee race by Will Power.

In the 28 oval races in the DW12-era, only three have been won from pole position, only nine have been won from inside the top five and 11 have been won from outside the top ten, five of which have been from outside the top fifteen.

All three oval races won from pole position in the DW12-era have been by Team Penske (Power at Fontana 2013, Juan Pablo Montoya at Pocono 2014 and Power at Milwaukee 2014).

The average starting position for an oval winner in the DW12-era is 8.714 with a median of 7.5.

However, in the ten short track races in the DW12-era, eight of ten have been won by cars starting in the top ten for an average starting position of 5.7 with a median of five.

The average amount of lead changes at Phoenix is 5.274 with a median of five.

Last year's race had two lead changes, the fewest since 1992 when Bobby Rahal led all 200 laps.

The average amount of cautions at Phoenix is 4.787 with a median of four. The average number of caution laps is 36.09 with a median of 32.

Seven of the last ten Phoenix races have had over 50 caution laps.

Possible Milestones:
Should he start the race, Tony Kanaan will surpass Al Unser, Jr. for fourth all-time in starts with his 330th start.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 3 laps to reach the 5,600 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 66 laps to reach the 5,000 laps led milestone.

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

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

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 7 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 95 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Chevrolet dominates again. Will Power gets off the snide and wins ahead of Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud. J.R. Hildebrand qualifies in the top five but only finishes in the top ten. Honda takes at least five of the top ten and gets one car in the top five and leads at least one lap. There will be at least four lead changes. Less than ten cars will finish on the lead lap. Sleeper: Ed Carpenter.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

2017 Pirelli World Challenge SprintX Preview

The Pirelli World Challenge season has already started and two rounds of the championship are already competed but this weekend marks the first of five SprintX weekends. Unlike the traditional PWC weekends, Sprint-X weekends feature two, 60-minute races and will feature a driver change in each race.

Last year, SprintX debut with a three round trail season, which saw grid size sprout from eight cars for the first two races at Mosport and Utah Motorsports Campus to two dozen entries for the final round at Laguna Seca. The season opening round at Virginia International Raceway has maxed out at 35 entries with one car put on a reserve list for the season opener due to limited pit lane space at VIR. The SprintX grid is made of GT, GTS and GT Cup cars with each class split between Pro/Pro, Pro/Am and Am/Am driver combinations. Along with the 29 GT entries there are five GTS entries and two GT Cup entries.

VIR is the opening round this weekend with Mosport hosting round two May 20th-21st. The week after Mosport will see the third SprintX weekend take place at Lime Rock Park on May 26-27th. The penultimate round of the SprintX season will take place at Utah Motorsports Campus on August 12-13th. Circuit of the Americas hosts the SprintX season finale on Labor Day weekend, September 2nd-3rd.

CRP Racing
#2 Mercedes AMG GT3: Ryan Dalziel/Daniel Morad (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Dalziel's PWC return has been good and Morad is coming off of winning the 24 Hours of Daytona in GT Daytona as well as winning the 2016 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada championship. It is a good line-up and could break through into the top five.

Cadillac Racing
#3 Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3: Johnny O'Connell/Jordan Taylor or Ricky Taylor (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Cadillac will not announce its driver pairings until just before the first race of the weekend on Saturday. O'Connell and whichever Taylor brother he is paired with on paper should be championship contenders.

#8 Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3: Michael Cooper/Ricky Taylor or Jordan Taylor (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Cooper hasn't had a great start to 2017 and it will be interesting to see how Cadillac decides to pair the drivers. Will it put the faster Taylor brother with the fastest of O'Connell and Cooper? Will it pair the fastest of the two factory drivers with the slowest Taylor brother? Either way, this car should be competitive.

Magnus Racing
#4 Audi R8 LMS: Pierre Kaffer/Spencer Pumpelly (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Magnus Racing's entry to PWC seems to be taking a step forward. Kaffer is a top driver and Pumpelly has experience on all these circuits but with the depth of the grid this pairing will be in the back half of the top ten.

#44 Audi R8 LMS: Marco Seefried/John Potter (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Potter finished third in GTA at Long Beach after a rough season opener at St. Petersburg. Seefried might be the most underrated driver on the grid and he has won with Magnus Racing before. They should be in contention for the Pro/Am podium in most races.

K-PAX Racing
#6 McLaren 650S GT3: Bryan Sellers/Jonny Kane (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Compared to his Portuguese teammate, Sellers has been very impressive in his first few PWC races and now he is paired with the experienced Kane, however the Brit is transitioning from prototypes to GT. They should be in the top ten more often than not.

#9 McLaren 650S GT3: Álvaro Parente/Ben Barnicoat (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Parente leads the PWC championship after winning two of the first three races and he is co-drivers with Barnicoat racing in the Blancpain Sprint Series. That previous relationship only helps them and this duo should be a top contender for race victories.

#98 McLaren 650S GT3: Michael Lewis/Mike Hedlund (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Lewis unfortunately has been on the sidelines for the better part of the last year and a half after EFFORT Racing withdrew from PWC. Lewis is a talented driver and Hedlund is experienced. They should be at the front of the Pro/Am grid.

TR3 Racing
#31 Ferrari 488 GT3: Daniel Mancinelli/Andrea Montermini (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Mancinelli took the surprise pole position at St. Petersburg but he came back to earth. Someone has to be the worst of the Pro/Pro entries and this could be it.

RealTime Racing 
#43 Acura NSX GT3: Ryan Eversley/Tom Dyer (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: The Acura hasn't had a great start to the year but pairing Eversley with one of the full-time Acura drivers from IMSA gives this duo a chance to be competitive.

#93 Acura NSX GT3: Peter Kox/Mark Wilkins (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Kox's season hasn't started any better than Eversley and Wilkins drives the endurance races with Acura in IMSA. However, I think this car will be mid-pack on a regular basis.

Wright Motorsports
#16 Porsche 911 GT3 R: Jan Heylen/Michael Schein (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Schein currently leads the GTA championship after three consecutive second-place finishes. Heylen is good but he isn't even the best Belgian in Pro/Am (more on that in a moment). They could be fighting for the Pro/Am podium.

#58 Porsche 911 GT3 R: Patrick Long/Jörg Bergmeister (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: This seems like a flashback to GT2 in ALMS with Long and Bergmeister back together. They should be at the front most of the time and be in the championship discussion come Austin.

R. Ferri Motorsport
#61 Ferrari 488 GT3: Alex Riberas/Kyle Marcelli (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: The Spaniard Riberas quietly sits third in the PWC championship and Marcelli had a respectable season in PWC last year. This isn't the sexy combination but this could be a surprise team that could win a race or two.

Absolute Racing
#78 Bentley Continental GT3: Alexandre Imperatori/Yufeng Luo (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Imperatori has won in LM2 but most of these circuits will be new to him and Luo is 18 years old and is just getting used to GT3 competition. This team will be at the back of the Pro/Am entries.

#88 Bentley Continental GT3: Adderly Fong/Vincent Abril (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Fong has had a few standout races since joining PWC last year but he has had more races where he is nowhere to be seen. Abril has had success in the Blancpain GT Series but I am not sure he will have enough to carry the duo.

GMG Racing
#14 Porsche 911 GT3 R: Laurens Vanthoor/James Sofronas (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Despite being a Pro/Am line-up, don't be surprised if this duo is contending for overall victories. Vanthoor is that good and Sofronas won in GTA at Long Beach. Sofronas might not have the pace to keep up with the other pros but if he can put Vanthoor in contention, the Belgian could close it out.

M1GT Racing
#23 Audi R8 LMS Ultra: David Ostella/James Dayson (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Ostella did win the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada in 2013 but since then his career has been on hiatus for a bit. Dayson is transitioning from single-seaters to sports cars. I think they will be in the middle to back half of Pro/Am.

Black Swan Racing
#54 Mercedes AMG GT3: Jeroen Bleekemolen/Tim Pappas (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Bleekemolen is one of the top GT drivers in the world but Pappas has had a rough start to the season. Bleekemolen can compete with the big boys but Pappas could keep the team from getting top ten finishes overall.

DXDT Racing
#63 Mercedes AMG GT3: Aaron Povoledo/David Askew (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: I will be honest, I hadn't heard of either of these drivers before the entry list came out. I see they both did some Lamborghini Super Trofeo last year. Results aren't much to brag about. Someone has to finish last in Pro/Am.

Always Evolving/AIM Autosport
#75 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3: Ricardo Sánchez/Frank Montecalvo (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Nissan has cut back its factory support in PWC this year. Montecalvo has been one of the top amateurs in PWC the last few years and Sánchez has been respectable in Europe but with this team focused solely on the SprintX I am not sure it can keep up with the full-time teams.

Calvert Dynamics
#78 Porsche 911 GT3 R: Alex Udell/Preston Calvert (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Udell is still a young kid and Calvert has been around the block but the Pro/Am field might be too strong for them.

McCann Racing
#82 Audi R8 LMS: Mike Skeen/Michael McCann (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Skeen nearly won the PWC title a few years ago but he hasn't been in the series as regular the last year or two. However, maybe this combination could be a surprise in Pro/Am.

MCC Motorsports
#92 Mercedes AMG GT3: Alexandre Negrão/Alexandre Negrāo, Sr. (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: You don't see many father-son combinations in sports car racing but Negrão hasn't raced since 2015 and his father hasn't raced since 2012. How do you think they will do?

Dream Racing Motorsport
#07 Lamborghini Huracán GT3: Cedric Sbirrazzuoli/Lawrence De George (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: These two have IMSA experience in the GT Daytona class but like Udell and Calvert, they could be buried in what is a stout Pro/Am field.

Scuderia Corsa
#7 Ferrari 458 GT3: Martin Fuentes/Stefan Johansson (Am/Am)
What to Expect: Fuentes won the GTA championship last year with nine victories and he is joined by former Formula One, IndyCar and 24 Hour of Le Mans winner Stefan Johansson. The Swede is 60 years old and hasn't raced regularly since 2008. I think this will be the top Am/Am team and it's better than some Pro/Am combinations.

MOMO/NGT Motorsports
#30 Ferrari 458 GT3: Henrique Cisneros/Tyler McQuarrie (Am/Am)
What to Expect: Both Cisneros and McQuarrie have sports car experience but this is McQuarrie's first outing in a GT3 car. Cisneros finished second in GTA last year. I think they could give the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari a run for its money.

#007 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3: Kris Wilson/Drew Regitz (Am/Am)
What to Expect: This is the only Am/Am entry in GT and Wilson and Regitz have both won in GTS. They should be competitive and finish ahead of a handful of Pro/Am entries. I am really looking forward to the Am/Am battle.

Dime Racing
#111 Lamborghini Huracán GT3: Jonathan Summerton/Michael Macs (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: This is the car that is the alternate for this weekend. Summerton was once America's best Formula One hope and he was successful but lack of funding derailed his career. He has looked good in his few PWC outings. Hopefully he can revive his career.

#09 Aston Martin Vantage GT4: Kyle Tilley/Jerry Kaufman (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Tilley and Kaufman were co-drivers in Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge last year but their best finish was tenth in the ST class. There are only five cars in class so they can't do worse than fifth.

Case-it Racing
#017 Porsche Cayman GT4: Adam Merzon/Trent Hindman (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Hindman is a Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge GS champion and he won at Daytona earlier this year. Merzon made his GTS debut at St. Petersburg. I expect them to be at the front in GTS.

#018 Porsche Cayman GT4: Cameron Cassels/Philip Bloom (Am/Am)
What to Expect: Cassels is Hindman's teammate in CTSCC and they finished second last year in the GS championship. Bloom finished third in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA Gold class last year. I think Case-it Racing will be leading the GTS class.

#47 Porsche Cayman GT4: Jason Hart/Matt Travis (Am/Am)
What to Expect: Hart has IMSA GTD experience but has been out of competition for two years. Travis has limited PWC touring car experience. I think they will finish fourth or fifth in class.

Stephen Cameron Racing
#019 Aston Martin Vantage GT4: Greg Liefooghe/Aristotle Balogh (Am/Am)
What to Expect: Balogh made one start in GTS last year and two starts in TC including a sixth-place finish at Laguna Seca. Liefooghe has significant CTSCC ST experience. I think they will finish fourth or fifth in class.

GT Cup
Dream Racing Motorsport
#55 Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo: Alessandro Bressan/Yuki Harata (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Bressan has one start in Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America, as he appears to be transitioning from karting. As for Harata, he seems to just be getting started in racing.

Autometrics Motorsports
#90 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup: Joe Toussaint/Cory Friedman (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Toussaint has GTA experience and Friedman has experience across CTSCC ST class and PWC TC. I think they are the favorites in class.

Along with the SprintX weekend, the GTS category will run a doubleheader as well this weekend and the Touring Car division contests its first round of the season as well. GTS will race at 2:10 p.m. ET on Saturday and 11:10 a.m. ET on Sunday. Race one for SprintX will be at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and race two will be at 1:15 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Doing It Right

Yes, this is another post about Fernando Alonso's Indianapolis 500 attempt but what else do you expect? The man is providing us with abundant fodder and not just about himself but also about motorsports in general. Alonso's attempt transcends modern motorsport. It is erasing the lines of specialization and why drivers either do or don't take a seat behind something new and unknown.

For years, when NASCAR drivers have been asked about attempting the double of running the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the same line is used over and over. Drivers say they want to "do it right." That is understandable. These drivers are professionals. They don't want to half-ass it.

Kasey Kahne expressed interest in the double prior to the 100th Indianapolis 500 last year and reportedly he was talking with teams to get it done. We know it never happened and Kahne said, "It actually was more about the team and being in the right spot and things like that."

Kyle Busch won the Brickyard 400 last July and he has said he would like to attempt the Indianapolis 500 just like his brother Kurt did. On the likelihood of him doing it, Busch said "I'd certainly look at it if the opportunities presented themselves in the right order." What is against Kyle Busch ever doing the Indianapolis 500 is his current team owner Joe Gibbs has no desire to see one of his drivers attempt the double.

Kurt Busch could have attempted to make his own bit of history this May after he won the Daytona 500 in February. Only Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt have won both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 but Busch shot down attempting this year's race on March 3rd saying "it will be difficult at this point, with a Daytona 500 win, and the emotions and the amount of responsibility that comes with it." Busch cited Ford executives calling him and asking when he would have been available to join them at the company headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan (although Busch could have said he wasn't available the entry month of May and used some of his leverage to attempt Indianapolis).

Five days before Alonso announced his Indianapolis 500 entry, Chip Ganassi shot down Kyle Larson attempting the race this year and said too often the groundswell for Larson and other NASCAR drivers to attempt the Indianapolis 500 comes in April or May, basically the 11th hour to get a deal done. However, Larson has been saying to Ganassi he would like to attempt the Indianapolis 500 for at least three years so its not like Ganassi hasn't ever had sufficient time to put a ride together for Larson.

With Alonso announcing his deal on April 12th, he is kind of debunking all of the above about "doing it right." Alonso didn't announce his deal months in advance. He will attempt the race with the defending Indianapolis 500 winning team in Andretti Autosport and he will have 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time IndyCar champion Gil de Ferran as a coach with Michael Andretti calling his race and Eric Bretzman as his engineer. Bretzman won three IndyCar championships as Scott Dixon's engineer and he was Dixon's engineer when he won the 2008 Indianapolis 500.

Alonso is doing it right but there are a few things we need to consider about putting together an Indianapolis 500 attempt "the right way":

Poor Results Don't Mean You Did It Wrong
Alonso could qualify 19th and finish 16th and he still did it the right way. Just because you didn't win or didn't finish in the top five or top ten doesn't mean you did it wrong. Alonso has done all the right things. He put the pieces around him to succeed. He met with the team this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, he has his schedule set up and he will have his own test day May 3rd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He is with a top team, he has top drivers and personnel around him to help him out and he is doing all he can to learn about the intricate things about IndyCar. Just because you do all that doesn't mean you are guaranteed to win or be in the top five. Racing isn't as easy as that.

The Pieces Are There
Gil de Ferran has come out of the woodwork to help Alonso out and if it wasn't de Ferran, there are a handful of other former or non-active IndyCar drivers who could have helped Alonso if need be. Buddy Rice, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner, has worked in recent years with Ed Carpenter Racing. Andretti Autosport could have brought Townsend Bell in to be a driver coach for Alonso (although I would like to see Bell still in a car and I hope Juncos Racing has his number). Ryan Briscoe could have been brought in to help Alonso. If you have the right connections and can make the right phone calls, a decent support staff can be put together for an Indianapolis 500 attempt.

More Good Options Than Bad
Every driver says they want to do it with the right team but there are more good teams than bad teams. There are eight full-time IndyCar teams. Six of those eight teams have had a top five finish in the Indianapolis 500 since the beginning of the DW12-era in 2012. One of the two teams not to have a top five finish in the Indianapolis 500 in that time is Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which won pole position for last year's race and had James Hinchcliffe up front for the entire race and he likely would have finished in the top five had Alexander Rossi and Charlie Kimball not been able to stretch their fuel for 36 laps. This is also not mentioning that Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has had a top five finish in the Indianapolis 500 since 2012. The one outlier is A.J. Foyt Racing, which hasn't had a top ten finish in the Indianapolis 500 since Darren Manning finished ninth in 2008.

There are better options than others. I can understand a driver wanting to be with Penske, Ganassi or Andretti over Foyt or even Coyne but Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing are all respectable teams and even Dreyer & Reinbold Racing is a good team to be associated with and in the current state of IndyCar all four of those teams could win the Indianapolis 500.

Could Always Be Done Better
In life, you could always do better and the same would be true for an Indianapolis 500 attempt. If you finish 12th, you could always have done better. Even if you win you could have done better. Alonso at some point in the days after the Indianapolis 500, should he qualify, will likely be coming up with ways he could have done this attempt better whether it would be getting more track time or trying a different set up or talking to his teammates more or being more aggressive during the race. The same would be true if any of the NASCAR drivers attempted it. I am sure Kurt Busch looks back on his 2014 attempt and thinks of at least two or three areas he could have improved on.

Doing it right comes down to how much you want it. If Ganassi thinks Larson needs more than two months of preparations than he could announce May 29th, the day after this year's race that Larson will attempt the 102nd Indianapolis 500 and have him testing cars at Pocono, Indianapolis and other ovals over the course of the next year to prepare him. Heck, the Gateway IndyCar race occurs on a NASCAR off-weekend later this August. I am sure Larson already plans on racing that weekend. Why couldn't Ganassi make it the first step to Larson's Indianapolis 500 attempt? After all, if Ganassi wants to "do it right" with Larson, getting him into an IndyCar race nine months prior can only be viewed as "doing it right." Doing it right all comes down to how much Ganassi and Larson really want to do it.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: The Next Wave

Josef Newgarden won in his third Penske start at Barber Motorsports Park. Indy Lights hit a milestone. Rain hit Bristol and postponed the NASCAR Cup race until this afternoon. MotoGP wasn't shown live in the United States even though the race was in Austin. A streak was extended and an Italian remained on fire. There was a change a top the Supercross championship. There was a red flag at Monza. A Penske driver took the championship lead. The Super Formula Championship started its 2017 season. Global MX-5 Cup is my new favorite series. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

The Next Wave
Last Thursday marked the ninth anniversary of Danica Patrick's lone IndyCar victory, a surprise victory at Motegi in the wee hours of a Sunday morning in the United States. While being the first race victory for a female driver in IndyCar it was just the start of a progressive period for IndyCar. Hours after Patrick's victory, Simona de Silvestro won at Long Beach in Atlantics, the start of what would end up being an ascension to IndyCar for the Swiss driver. Sarah Fisher's own team would debut later that season. Ana Beatriz would finish third in the Indy Lights championship that year on the back of a victory at Nashville.

All four of those drivers and Milka Duno would start the IndyCar race at Chicagoland Speedway on August 28, 2010, setting the record for most women to ever start one IndyCar race at five and the following weekend would see Pippa Mann win the Indy Lights race at Kentucky and she would finish fifth in the championship despite missing one race. Fisher would retire from driving at the end of the 2010 season but Mann would make her debut in 2011 and Fisher would end up winning a race as a car owner at Kentucky with Ed Carpenter. Katherine Legge would return to IndyCar competition in 2012.

However, things have changed in the last six years. Patrick has moved to NASCAR. De Silvestro chased a Formula One dream only to return to IndyCar for a handful of races in 2015 and is now a Nissan-factory driver in Supercars. Beatriz is gone. Fisher merged her team with Ed Carpenter Racing only to have to withdraw from ownership after her associate Wink Hartman had to pull out for financial reasons. Mann is the only one remaining and her schedule has been reduced to just the Indianapolis 500.

Currently, there are two women in the Road to Indy, Ayla Årgen and Bruna Tomaselli, both race in U.S. F2000. Mann is the most recent woman to debut in IndyCar and Indy Lights. Pro Mazda hasn't had a female driver since 2014 when Argentine Julia Ballario ran a full season, Michele Bumgarner ran majority of the season and Vicky Pria ran a handful of races. Patrick is still the most recent American woman to debut in IndyCar.

Women appeared to have become a norm on the IndyCar grid. Now the entire ladder system let alone the top series appears to have regressed to what motorsports has looked like for 85 of the previous 100 years. What happened? Where is the next generation of female drivers entering the series?

Danicamania started 12 years ago and we have yet to see a descendent from that era and that is disappointing. How is it that no ten or 11-year-old girl who started karting after seeing Patrick's breakout party at Indianapolis in 2005 is now on the cusp of getting into IndyCar? Colton Herta was eight years old when Patrick won at Motegi and he is now in Indy Lights. Where is the female equivalent to Herta? There had to be a few eight-year-old girls who went to her parents after finding out Patrick had won an IndyCar race and wanted to follow in her footsteps and started karting soon after.

It feels like IndyCar has dropped a ball it once had a firm grasp on. There could still be girls, inspired by Patrick in the early years of karting a few years away from breaking into the Road to Indy system but there has to be some successors to the Patrick-era to deem it a success. More and more girls are growing up with female athletes as role models. The U.S. women's soccer team is arguably the most popular soccer team in the United States and more girls are playing the sport each year and the National Women's Soccer League has entered its fifth season and is providing girls a chance to aspire to one day be professional soccer players.

Patrick proved women could compete at the top level of IndyCar and there had to be a fair number of girls that aspired to followed in Patrick's footsteps but that next wave of female drivers has yet to come in and because we are so accustomed to motorsports being a place full of white, heterosexual males I am afraid that in a few years there could be no women across any of the four Road to Indy series and plenty will just shrug their shoulders and accept it.

There has to be a handful of young women out there, whether they are American, Canadian or from somewhere in Europe, Asia or Australia good enough to be in the Road to Indy system and it should be a norm to have at least two or three or four women full-time in each series. In 2017, motorsports grids should start looking more like the actual world with men and women from multiple races on the grid. A diverse grid can only attract more fans from different demographics to the race track, the television, tablet, computer screen or however they view a races. As more series struggle to remain relevant and try to keep the bottom from falling out on television ratings, you would think all series, not just IndyCar, would realize something has to be done to make the motorsport fan base more diverse in order to survive.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden but did you know...

Nico Jamin and Colton Herta split the Indy Lights races from Barber. Herta won the 400th Indy Lights race. Oliver Askew swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Marc Márquez won MotoGP's Grand Prix of the Americas. Márquez has won 11 consecutive races in the United States. Franco Morbidelli made it three-for-three this season in Moto2. Romano Fenati won in Moto3, his second consecutive victory at Circuit of the Americas.

Erik Jones won the NASCAR Grand National Series race.

Kazuki Nakajima won the Super Formula season opener from Suzuka.

Fabian Coulthard and Chaz Mostert split the Supercars races from Phillip Island and DJR Team Penske's Coulthard now holds the championship lead.

The #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Christian Engelhart, Mirko Bortolotti and Andrea Caldarelli won the first Blancpain Endurance Series race of the season from Monza.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race at Salt Lake City and has taken the championship lead by three points over Ryan Dungey with two races remaining.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar crosses the country for a Saturday night show at Phoenix International Raceway.
Formula One heads to Sochi.
The Pirelli World Challenge runs the first SprintX round of the season at Virginia International Raceway.
World Superbike heads to Assen.
NASCAR will be at Richmond.
Monza has another date this weekend with the World Touring Car Championship coming to town.
World Rally crosses the Atlantic for Rally Argentina.
Supercross heads to its penultimate round of the season in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

First Impressions: Barber 2017

1. Josef Newgarden gets his first victory with Team Penske and today was a day of redemption after a disappointing qualifying effort. Newgarden didn't advance to the final round when it appeared he should have and he looked like the best car on the opening stint. He leapfrogged up to the top two just like that from P7 after one stint and he held on. He came out behind Scott Dixon on the final stop but he made an audacious move to take the position back in the final few corners and he was in the catbird seat when Will Power had to pit for a tire puncture. Newgarden held off a hard charging Dixon for the final dozen laps. Any of those three deserved to win today.

2. For the fifth time Scott Dixon has finished second at Barber. He has seven podiums in eight Barber races. He gave it his all to get back by Newgarden. He was up at the front all race. He could have swept the first three races this year but he is still in a great position for the championship.

3. Simon Pagenaud had nothing for Newgarden, Dixon and Power but championships are built on podium finishes that should have only been top fives. He has been in the right position in all three races and he is bound to win two or three races this year.

4. Hélio Castroneves finished fourth and wasn't mentioned once. That is a typical Castroneves day. Never be mentioned and finish in the top six. He has some pace but I am not sure he has enough to get that elusive race victory let alone that elusive title.

5. Alexander Rossi used the alternate tires on his first two stints and it got him up to seventh from 18th. He then got by James Hinchcliffe and benefitted from Power's unscheduled stop and finished fifth in what has to make up a little bit for the Long Beach disappointment.

6. James Hinchcliffe didn't do much all day but finished sixth. He was in the top ten all day. It was a solid day for him on top of an already solid start to the season.

7. Tony Kanaan and Sébastien Bourdais ran nose-to-tail for what seemed like 70 of 90 laps today and they finished seventh and eighth. Neither really showed the pace of the front-runners but they had good days and Bourdais will head to Phoenix with the championship lead.

8. Takuma Sato quietly finished ninth, his first career top ten finish at Barber! I have longed said we know who Sato is and he is never going to turn his pace into the results that match it but through three races with Andretti, this is the best he has looked since he won with Foyt at Long Beach.

9. Mikhail Aleshin used a late move on Ryan Hunter-Reay to finish tenth. Aleshin's day was almost ruined by a kink in the fuel line that only put four gallons of fuel in the car on the first stop but the caution fell his way. Hunter-Reay had to stop early after a damaged front wing after contact with Hinchcliffe on lap one. I have to think Hunter-Reay could have been in the top five had it not been for that contact. It has been a rough two races for Hunter-Reay.

10. Max Chilton wasn't mentioned once all day but finished 12th and that is good for Chilton. It is about time for him to get more respectable results.

13. Graham Rahal finished 13th after starting 21st and this was probably the best he could have hoped for. He just didn't have it this weekend.

14. And now Will Power. I said Dixon could have swept the first three races; Power could at least have two of the first three. Nothing has gone his way this season. It is still early but he is going to need to be on it for 13 of the remaining 14 races. He has at most one more mulligan and it can't come in either of the double-point races.

15. Run down through the rest of the field: Charlie Kimball completed all 90 laps and tried to go off strategy but finished 15th. Ed Jones had wing damage after the debris off of Hunter-Reay's car hit his car and he could only manage 16th. Neither Foyt car looked good with Carlos Muñoz in 17th and Conor Daly in 18th although Daly looked better than his teammate all race. Zach Veach had a good debut and finished ahead of his teammate Spencer Pigot, who spun exiting turn five while in eighth. Veach has a long way to go and Pigot has been really good through three races though two of the results would say otherwise. Marco Andretti had a gearbox issue at the start and he lost three laps immediately and all he could manage was 21st.

16. It looked like it would rain all race and it never came. There were some raindrops on the camera lens but it never escalated to anything that sent teams scrambling.

17. It is still early to talk about the championship but Bourdais leads Dixon by six points, Newgarden by seven points, Pagenaud by 11 points and Hinchcliffe by 15 points. Then Castroneves is 33 points back with Hunter-Reay, Sato, Jones and Rossi all 52-57 points behind Bourdais. Now, IndyCar heads straight to Phoenix and Chevrolet dominated there last year and looked particularly strong at the test in February, although Bourdais and Jones also looked good at the preseason Phoenix test as well. Last year, Phoenix wasn't great and the aero package doesn't appear to be changing. Qualifying could be massively important and it is all just six days away.

Morning Warm-Up: Barber 2017

Will Power took another pole position at Barber Motorsports Park
For the second time this season and 46th-time in IndyCar history, Will Power will lead the field to the green flag as the Australian took pole position for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama with a lap of 69.9614 seconds. This is Power's fourth pole in eight Barber appearances. This is the first time Power has won at least two of the first three pole positions of the season since 2011 when he won three consecutive pole positions to start the season. Power won from pole position and led every lap at Barber in 2011. Joining Power on row one will be his teammate Hélio Castroneves, who missed out on pole position by 0.1815 seconds. This is Castroneves' third career front row start at Barber but he has only finished better than or equal to his starting position at Barber three times in his career. Only three times has Castroneves won a race where Power started on pole position (Barber 2010, St. Petersburg 2012 and Texas 2013).

Simon Pagenaud made it a sweep of the top three for Team Penske but he was 0.4203 seconds off his teammate in the final round of qualifying. Pagenaud has never won at a track in back-to-back years but that could change this weekend and his nine victories have come at eight different tracks. The only repeat is the IMS road course. Scott Dixon was the top qualifying Honda on the outside of row two. This is the third consecutive year Scott Dixon has started fourth at Barber. He has never started worse than fifth at the track but he has never started on the front row either. Ryan Hunter-Reay rounds out the top five with James Hinchcliffe joining him on row three. Hunter-Reay had started 18th the last two years at Barber. The previous two times Hunter-Reay made the Fast Six at Barber he has won the race. Hinchcliffe has qualified in the top ten in six of seven Barber appearances

Josef Newgarden just missed out on the final round of qualifying but he will start seventh, his fourth consecutive top ten start at Barber. This will be the fifth-time Newgarden has started seventh in his IndyCar career. He has three top ten finishes in his previous four seventh-place starts. Mikhail Aleshin joins Newgarden on row four in what is the Russian's best career start at Barber. However, in Aleshin's 11 previous top ten starts, he has finished outside the top ten in seven of those and six of those have been finishes outside the top fifteen. Ganassi teammates Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan swept row five. This is Chilton's sixth career top ten start. Ninth is the furthest back a Barber winner has started from. Kanaan has never won a race from row five in his career.

Ed Jones made the second round of qualifying for the first time in his career and he will start 11th. He out qualified his teammate and championship leader Sébastien Bourdais, who will start 12th. Bourdais has made at least the second round of qualifying the previous three years at Barber but he failed to finish better than his starting position in those three races. Marco Andretti missed the second round of qualifying by 0.0031 seconds and he will start 13th with his teammate Takuma Sato joining him on row seven. This is the third time in his career Andretti has started 13th at Barber. This will be the seventh consecutive Barber race where Sato has started outside the top ten. Charlie Kimball and Carlos Muñoz will start on row eight. Kimball is looking to avoid a third consecutive races with a first lap accident while A.J. Foyt Racing has only one top ten finish at Barber (seventh by Mike Conway in 2012).

Spencer Pigot and Alexander Rossi will start on row nine. Pigot has won all four of his starts at Barber in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. Rossi started 20th last year in his first appearance at Barber and finished 15th. This will be the ninth time Rossi has started outside the top fifteen in his IndyCar career. Zach Veach will make his IndyCar debut from 19th on the grid ahead of Conor Daly with Graham Rahal rounding out the field in 21st. Veach will be the first driver to start an IndyCar race with a first name beginning with the letter Z since Zak Morioka at Texas on October 15, 2000. Daly finished 20th last year at Barber. Rahal matches his career-worst starting position at Barber and he finished 21st from 21st in 2013 at the track. This is the 20th time Rahal has started outside the top twenty in his IndyCar career. He has only four top ten finishes when starting outside the top twenty.

NBCSN's coverage of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 90 laps.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Track Walk: Barber 2017

Can Simon Pagenaud become the third driver to win back-to-back Barber races?
After a week off for Easter, the third round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship will be the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park. This is the eighth-time Barber Motorsports Park has hosted this race. Last year, Simon Pagenaud led 84 of 90 laps from pole position but faced a late charge from Graham Rahal only to have Rahal's challenge negated after the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver made contact with the back marker of Jack Hawksworth. Since 2013, three different drivers have won the first three races each season.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 23rd. Green flag will be at 3:30 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey makes his IndyCar debut this season with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy in the booth with Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 11:45 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Second Practice- 3:25 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Third Practice- 12:00 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 4:15 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have taped coverage of this session at 4:30 p.m. ET).
Warm-Up- 10:45 a.m. ET (30-miunte session).
Race- 3:30 p.m. ET (90 laps)

Dale Coyne Racing Leads Honda Into Its Backyard
For the second consecutive race, Sébastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing enter leading the IndyCar championship. With a victory and a second-place finish, the Frenchman leads with 93 points. This is the second time in Bourdais' career he has started a season with consecutive podium finishes, the other being 2006 when Bourdais started the season with four consecutive victories. He could achieve three consecutive podiums for the first time since he won at Long Beach, Houston and Portland in 2007.

Barber has not been one of Bourdais' better tracks. His best finish in six starts is eighth and he has only one other top ten finish. Despite Bourdais' lack of success, he has completed 518 out of 519 possible laps in his six career starts and he started fifth last year but was handed a penalty for spinning Scott Dixon on lap two in turn five.

While Bourdais has deservedly gotten a significant amount of the attention, his rookie teammate has been holding his own through two races. Ed Jones finished sixth at Long Beach and became the first driver with two consecutive top ten results to start an IndyCar career since Neel Jani in Champ Car in 2007. Jones could become the first driver to start a career with three consecutive top ten finishes since Tony Renna in 2002 when he finished tenth at Nashville, fourth at Michigan and seventh at Kentucky.

Nineteen points behind Bourdais is the 43rd Grand Prix of Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe. While Hinchcliffe has three consecutive top ten finishes at Barber, the Canadian has been known to suffer severe hangovers after victories. His average finish in the race after a victory is 20.75 with three finishes outside of the top twenty and he has never finished in the top ten. Hinchcliffe's teammate Mikhail Aleshin enters Alabama 14th in the championship with finishes of 14th and 12th. In his only two Barber starts Aleshin retired after a heavy accident in 2014 and finished a lap down in 17th last year.

Scott Dixon's streak of six consecutive podium finishes ended last year at Barber but the New Zealander was able to recover from that early spin by Bourdais to finish tenth. Dixon finds himself entering Barber fourth in the championship trailing Bourdais by 23 points. While Dixon once again finds himself at the top of the championship, all three of his Ganassi teammates are outside of the top fifteen. Tony Kanaan sits 16th after finishes of 12th and 15th. Max Chilton is 19th after finishes of 16th and 14th and Charlie Kimball has been in two first-lap accidents in the first two races this season and sits firmly at the bottom of the championship on 21 points.

While Graham Rahal, driver of the #15 Honda is 15th in the championship after two races, Barber has been a springboard for the Ohioan the last two seasons as Rahal has finished second in each race having led a combined 23 laps. He has started in the top ten in both races as well and was the only Honda to make the final round of qualifying and one of two to start in the top ten for last year's race.

Veach In, Hildebrand Out
The unfortunate news heading into Barber Motorsports Park is J.R. Hildebrand will miss the third race of the 2017 season due to a broken hand suffered at Long Beach. Hildebrand's hand was broken after contact with Mikhail Aleshin while battling for tenth on the final lap at Long Beach. Hildebrand left Long Beach 11th in the championship despite the incident.

Replacing Hildebrand will be six-time Indy Lights race winner Zach Veach. The 22-year-old Ohioan will be making his IndyCar debut just over a month earlier than originally planned as Veach has already made a deal to attempt the Indianapolis 500 in the #40 Chevrolet for A.J. Foyt Racing.

Veach has 85 starts across the Road to Indy series, 44 in Indy Lights. He has seven starts at Barber across the three development series and his second-career Indy Lights victory came at the track in 2014. He also finished third twice at the track in Indy Lights.

While Veach will be making his Indy Lights debut, his teammate for this weekend Spencer Pigot will be making his Barber debut. Pigot has won all four of his previous starts at Barber in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. Pigot finished eighth at Long Beach, his third career top ten finish but first on a street circuit.

This is not the first time Pigot and Veach have been teammates. Both drove for Andretti Autosport in the 2011 U.S. F2000 season. Pigot finished second in the championship that season to Petri Suvanto while Veach finished fourth in the championship.

Andretti Needs to Rebound With Special Guest Looking On
Andretti Autosport had a promising start to the Long Beach weekend with two cars starting in the first three rows and three cars starting in the top ten. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi both ran in the top five for most of the race and Hunter-Reay led 28 laps but both him and Rossi retired with engine/electrical issues while running second, Marco Andretti retired with an electrical issue while in the top ten and Takuma Sato also retired with an engine/electrical issue while in 11th position.

Now the team has to rebound and it will have a little extra pressure on its shoulders as Fernando Alonso, a man who has had his fair share of mechanical problems this season, will visit the team this weekend in preparations for his Indianapolis 500 attempt next month.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won back-to-back years at Barber in 2013 and 2014 and his average finish at the track is 8.0 with Hunter-Reay having completed all 609 laps contested in the seven previous Barber races. Marco Andretti has also completed all 609 laps and he has the fourth-best average finish all-time at Barber at 7.3 with five top ten finishes in seven starts. He finished second to Hunter-Reay in 2014 and led 58 of 90 laps in the inaugural Barber race before finishing fifth. Takuma Sato has never finished better than 13th at Barber and outside of starting sixth in 2010 his next best start is 11th. Alexander Rossi started 20th and finished 15th in his Barber debut last year.

Andretti Autosport has not won on a road/street circuit since Carlos Muñoz led an Andretti Autosport 1-2 in the rain-shortened Saturday Belle Isle race in 2015 with Andretti finishing second and Hunter-Reay's 2014 Barber victory is the team's most recent victory on a natural-terrain road course.

Chevrolet On the Snide
While Honda has started the season 2-for-2, Chevrolet heads to Barber looking to prevent Honda from winning three consecutive races for the first time since Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal split the Iowa, Mid-Ohio and Pocono races in 2015. Chevrolet did not lead a lap at Long Beach, only the third time that has happened since the manufacture returned to the series in 2012 (Belle Isle 2012, Houston 1 2014).

Simon Pagenaud is the defending race winner at Barber and he returns as the top Chevrolet driver in the championship as he sits third, 22 points behind Bourdais. Pagenaud has six top ten finishes in six Barber starts but last year was his first podium at the track. His newest teammate Josef Newgarden sits fifth in the championship and his first career victory came at Barber in 2015 and he finished third last year after a late pass on Will Power.

Power is tied with Scott Dixon for best average finish at Barber at 3.4 and he has seven top five finishes in seven starts at the track but his two victories in 2011 and 2012 are his only podiums at Barber. Hélio Castroneves won the inaugural Barber race in 2010 and he has three podium finishes at the track and he has made it to the final round of qualifying on six of seven occasions. Team Penske leads all teams with four victories at Barber.

Carlos Muñoz is coming off his first career top ten finish with A.J. Foyt Racing after he came home in seventh at Long Beach. His teammate Conor Daly has not had as great of a start as he is the penultimate driver in the championship after finishes of 15th and 16th. Muñoz's results at Barber have been erratic with a retirement in 2014 due to a suspension failure, a sixth in 2015 from 22nd on the grid and a finish of 14th last year. Daly finished a lap down in 20th last year.

Chevrolet has won the last two years at Barber and four of five there since rejoining the series in 2012.

Road to Indy
Barber marks the second round for the Indy Lights and U.S. F2000 championships.

Andretti Autosport's Colton Herta leads the Indy Lights championship with 59 points after finishing second and first at St. Petersburg. Ten points behind Herta is the defending Pro Mazda champion, Belardi Auto Racing's Aaron Telitz, who won race one from St. Petersburg and finished fifth in race two. Telitz won at Barber in U.S. F2000 in 2015 and finished second in both Pro Mazda races last year. Pato O'Ward won both Pro Mazda races at Barber last year and he is third in the Indy Lights championship on 39 points as he returns with Team Pelfrey.

Belardi's Shelby Blackstock and Juncos Racing's Kyle Kaiser are tied on 34 points, one point ahead of Blackstock's teammate Santiago Urrutia, who finished second to Herta in race two from St. Petersburg. Urrutia won the second race at Barber last year, his first career Indy Lights victory. Carlin's Neil Alberico scored his first career Indy Lights podium in race one from St. Petersburg but didn't complete a lap in race two and sits on 28 points, one ahead of his teammate Zachary Claman De Melo.

Juncos' Nicolas Dapero and Andretti's Ryan Norman round out the top ten of the championship on 25 points and 23 points respectively. Nico Jamin is two points behind his teammate in 11th. Team Pelfrey's Juan Piedrahita, Carlin's Garth Rickards and Andretti's Dalton Kellett are tied on 18 points. Matheus Liest rounds out the championship on 16 points for Carlin.

Indy Lights will race at 3:00 p.m. ET on Saturday and 12:45 p.m. ET on Sunday. The Sunday Indy Lights race will be the 400th race in series history.

In U.S. F2000, Cape Motorsports' Oliver Askew leads with 58 points after finishing second and first at St. Petersburg, 11 points ahead of Rinus VeeKay of Pabst Racing. Exclusive Autosport's Parker Thompson swept the U.S. F2000 races at Barber last year and he is third in the championship on 40 points. Team Pelfrey teammates Kaylen Frederick and Robert Megennis round out the top five on 36 points and 34 points respectively after Frederick scored a pair of top five finishes at St. Petersburg while Megennis won race one and hit the wall while in podium contention late in race two.

Newman Wachs Racing's Dakota Dickerson finished sixth in both St. Petersburg races and he is sixth in the championship on 30 points, one point ahead of Luke Gabin of Exclusive Autosport. Pabst's Calvin Ming is on 25 points, tied with Cameron Das. Das is contesting the BRDC Formula 3 Championship full-time this year and will be replaced at Newman Wachs Racing by Flinn Lazier, son of Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar champion Buddy Lazier. Flinn Lazier is a two-time SCCA Regional Formula Vee champion. Kory Enders of DEForce Racing rounds out the top ten in the championship on 19 points, tied with Pabst's Lucas Kohl but Enders holds the tiebreaker with a best finish of eighth to Kohl's 11th.

Race one of the U.S. F2000 weekend will be Friday at 1:30 p.m. ET with race two scheduled for 5:45 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Fast Facts
This will be the fifth IndyCar race to take place on April 23rd and first since Emerson Fittipaldi won at Nazareth in 1995. That was Fittipaldi's 22nd and final IndyCar victory.

This year's race will fall 50 years to the day Mario Andretti scored his tenth career victory at Trenton.

A Honda-powered car has finished second in every Barber race.

Sébastien Bourdais has six consecutive top ten finishes, the longest streak of his career since nine consecutive in 2007.

Scott Dixon has finished in the top five in the last two races. He hasn't had three consecutive top five finishes since he had four consecutive top five finishes in the final four races of 2014.

Nine of Ryan Hunter-Reay's sixteen career victories have come after races in which he finished outside the top ten and six of those were races were when he finished outside the top fifteen, including both his Barber victories.

Come race day, it will be 2,500 days (6 years, ten months and four days) since Mikhail Aleshin's most recent victory, a Formula Renault 3.5 Series race at Magny-Cours on June 19, 2010.

Tony Kanaan has finished outside the top ten in four consecutive races, the longest drought of his career since he finished outside the top ten in six consecutive races in 2013.

Will Power has finished 19th and 13th in the first two races. He has not failed to finish in the top five in one of his first three starts of the season since he rookie year in 2006.

Zach Veach becomes the fourth driver all-time to make an IndyCar debut at Barber joining Bertrand Baguette, James Hinchcliffe and Rodolfo González. The average finish of those three debuts is 21.333 with Baguette and González each finishing 20th and Hinchcliffe finishing 24th.

The average starting position for a Barber winner is 3.285 with a median of three.

The pole-sitter has won three times with the worst starting position for a race winner being ninth.

The average amount of lead changes at Barber is 6.142 with a median of seven.

Five of seven Barber races have featured more than five lead changes.

The average amount of cautions at Barber is 2.714 with a median of two. The average amount of caution laps is 9.285 with a median of nine.

Possible Milestones:
Should he start the race, Hélio Castroneves will surpass Al Unser, Jr. for third all-time in starts with his 330th start.

Should he start the race, Tony Kanaan will tie Al Unser, Jr. for fourth all-time in starts on 329 starts.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 5 laps to reach the 5,600 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 69 laps to reach the 5,000 laps led milestone.

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

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

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon finally ends up on the top step of the podium at Barber and Sébastien Bourdais does not finish in the top five. Will Power is the top finishing Penske driver and Simon Pagenaud is the worst of the Penske drivers but finishes within the top four Chevrolet drivers. Andretti Autosport puts two cars in the top ten. NBCSN interviews Fernando Alonso and it's not by Robin Miller. Sleeper: Marco Andretti.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Yeah, I Wrote About Fernando

Sebastian Vettel retook sole possession of the World Drivers' Championship lead with a victory in Bahrain. Lewis Hamilton balked Daniel Ricciardo entering the pit lane and earned a five-second penalty but still finished second. Meanwhile, at Silverstone, Porsche got outpaced. Zak Brown's week got better. Christian Horner is stuck in a bubble. I had way too much Easter candy. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Yeah, I Wrote About Fernando
I didn't plan to write more about Fernando Alonso and his Indianapolis 500 adventure but it is hard not to. There is a lot to unwrap from what is possibly the most shocking motorsports story in the 21st century. That is a bit of hyperbole but what else has been this surprising across multiple disciplines of motorsports?

Juan Pablo Montoya leaving McLaren to drive for Ganassi in NASCAR is up there. One week, Montoya's race is over on lap one of the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis and the next he is sitting in the media center at Chicagoland Speedway announcing he is going to be a Cup driver in 2007. Nobody saw that coming. It was a surprise that Sunday morning he made the announcement and it wasn't a pretty divorce between Montoya and McLaren. Maybe IndyCar reunification is up there as well. It came out of nowhere and all of a sudden, less than a month before the season was to start that 12-year squabble was over and teams were transitioning from Panoz DP01's with turbocharged V8 Cosworth engines to Dallara IR07s with naturally-aspirated V8 Honda engines.

Let's start with the man himself and what this means. Alonso has expressed his desire to do Indianapolis and Le Mans for a few years. I don't know if this was his dream growing up in Asturias or if it is something he realized he could do five or ten years ago because he knows the opportunity he has. Only one man has won Indianapolis, Le Mans and Monaco. That is rare air and you can collect grand prix victory after grand prix victory and world title after world title but becoming the second driver ever to accomplish such a feat as the motorsports Triple Crown, something only Graham Hill has accomplished, is just as noticeable if not more.

Alonso has been saying all the right things about his Indianapolis attempt. He says he has been watching past races, watching pit stops to see how they work and is going to be at Barber this weekend to meet with the team. I wouldn't be surprised if he heads to Indianapolis some time this week or after Barber to do a seat fitting and actually see and walk (or maybe like Montoya, take a tour bus) around the race track.

As for how Alonso will do? Who knows and one performance will not define who he is as a driver and it won't mean IndyCar drivers are just as good as Formula One drivers either. He could go out there and be 26th in qualifying and finish 15th in the race either the last car on the lead lap or first car one-lap down. That doesn't diminish his talent. He could be running 14th all month and be running in the top ten in the race only to have an engine go sour or an electrical problem end his race around halfway. I feel like many want to make this attempt as some type of statement either about IndyCar's talent or Formula One's talent but it isn't.

While I am happy Alonso is doing this, I want to see more. There is no Formula One race the week after Indianapolis. The Canadian Grand Prix is two weeks after Indianapolis. IndyCar does race the week after Indianapolis. IndyCar is at Belle Isle the week after Indianapolis. I am actually more interested in seeing how Alonso would do at Belle Isle or another road/street course than Indianapolis. I want to hear his comparison of the downforce levels between a Formula One car and an IndyCar. I want to see if he goes out there and wins the pole position by a half-second or is just another driver in the mire.

Plus, I think Alonso should run Belle Isle because what if he wins Indianapolis? One, I think it would be a great boost to Belle Isle to just have Fernando Alonso there but imagine if he won Indianapolis, how many more people would be interested in buying a ticket or tuning in to see him race again the following week? It could be a big ratings bump. If he doesn't win at Indianapolis, he should still be there, one because it would benefit Belle Isle and two he isn't doing anything that weekend anyway and it is right on the Canadian border.

However, Alonso might be too busy to do Belle Isle because Zak Brown's other race team, United Autosport, has an open seat in its LMP2 car at Le Mans and that car just won at Silverstone in the European Le Mans Series season opener. Le Mans test day is the same weekend as Belle Isle. Alonso is a platinum driver and is exempt from the test day but I still think he would want to be there and would need the experience seeing as how he has no experience with the car. So the dream of him doing Belle Isle is dashed but possibly for something a bit greater.

During the past week I was curious if Alonso had ever done a race as long as 500 miles and the answer is unsurprisingly no but at the same time I am shock at how consistent his schedule has been for nearly two decades. Alonso has been in Formula One since 2001 and he didn't race in 2002 because he was a Renault test driver but before that he won the Euro Open by Nissan title and finished fourth in International Formula 3000. That is it. He didn't do any sports cars. He didn't do an odd one-off at an endurance race. He has been doing nothing but 307 km (190-mile) races for nearly two decades. However, that lack of long-distance race experience is nothing new. There was a time when all the drivers heading to Indianapolis had done nothing but 100-mile dirt races. Maybe there was the odd 200-miler or in the era of board track racing when you had more 250-mile or 300-mile races but nothing came close to Indianapolis.

I guess to wrap this up, let's talk about the Formula One paddock's reaction to this. Red Bull's Christian Horner insulted Zak Brown calling McLaren's decision "mad" and calling the Indianapolis 500 "nutty." Multiple drivers said they would never skip a Formula One race for another race. Bernie Ecclestone even said he would have made sure he would have never let it happen. I am going to break this down piece-by-piece.

First, I get this is an odd situation and nine times out of ten it makes no sense to race somewhere else if you are a Formula One driver but this isn't just another race. Alonso isn't skipping Monaco to run a GT4 race in Algarve. This is a crown jewel event. Horner has been stuck in the Formula One bubble for so long that he can't possibly imagine something else worth experiencing, which is disappointing because while an IndyCar race might not have the glitz and glamour and world attention of a Formula One race, it is just as exciting and the same could be said for multiple series and races around the world. How has Horner not seen any of the positive attention from all this? When has both sides of the Atlantic had this much buzz about anything motorsports-related? He may think it is mad but it is genius.

Second, drivers saying they would never skip a race makes sense but that is the environment of Formula One. You can't openly flaunt your desire to race elsewhere. Why? Because you will be on the curb. If an active Formula One driver said he or she (but right now just he) wanted to race IndyCar then the teams won't waist their time with that driver. The teams see it as if he or she wants to do IndyCar than go to IndyCar and the same can be said if the series is the World Endurance Championship, Super GT, Supercars, NASCAR or whatever it might be. It is sad because drivers lose out and fans lose out as well. We end up with two-dozen likeminded individuals whose passions are suppressed by the teams.

Third, I am not sure Bernie would have been able to twist the arms of Alonso and McLaren. He said he would have reminded Alonso he has a Formula One contract and that he should honor this contract but his Formula One employer wants to take him to Indianapolis. What could Bernie really do? Ban McLaren? For what? They have a right to change drivers if they want to. Suspend Alonso? For what? His contract is with the team, not the series. I think this would have been a case where Ecclestone would have been completely powerless, just like when Nigel Mansell joined Newman-Haas Racing.

There will be plenty to write about over the next six weeks but as Alonso watches the past races and tries to figure out how to properly handle a pit stop, do you think he is imagining what it will be like in the lead up? The practice and qualifying days, the events around town, Carb Day, maybe the Carb Night Burger Bash, the parade. As much as Alonso is doing this for the race, is he imagining what it will be like to walkout at driver introductions with over around 300,000 people looking at him? Will he be prepared from that after years of being in the more secular world of Formula One? Then again, he wasn't able to go back home after he won his world championships.

The shock that gets Alonso might not be the race but the culture around it.

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

The #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima won the 6 Hours of Silverstone. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Gibson of Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent won in LMP2. The #67 Ford GT of Harry Tincknell, Andy Priaulx and Pipo Derani won in GTE-Pro. The #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Weng Sun Mok and Keita Sawa won in GTE-Am.

The #32 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan of Felipe Albuquerque, Hugo de Sadeleer and Will Owen won the 4 Hours of Silverstone. The #2 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan of Sean Rayhall and John Falb won in LMP3. The #90 TF Sport Aston Martin of Nikki Thiim, Euan Hankey and Salih Yoluc won in GTE.

Artem Markelov and Charles Leclerc split the Formula Two races from Bahrain.

Roberto Colciago and Dušan Borković split the TCR International Series races from Bahrain.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads to Barber Motorsports Park.
Indy Lights and U.S. F2000 will be back in action at Barber.
MotoGP makes its lone stop to the United States in the Lone Star State at Circuit of the Americas.
NASCAR will be at Bristol.
The Super Formula season opens at Suzuka.
Supercars will be at Phillip Island.
The Blancpain Endurance Series starts its season at Monza.
Supercross will be in Salt Lake City.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Indianapolis 500 Entry List Update: April 2017

Long Beach seems to be when the pendulum swings in the right direction on Indianapolis 500 seats being announced and this year was no different as three drivers confirmed their programs for the month of May over the weekend... and then Fernando Alonso stole the show midweek.

With Easter, the final major holiday before Memorial Day, on the horizon how is the Indianapolis 500 entry list shaping up with about a month until the track opens for action?

We know about the 21 full-time entries, the 13 Hondas represented by four from Andretti Autosport, four from Ganassi, two from Dale Coyne Racing and two from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with one from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and the eight Chevrolets, four of which belong to Team Penske with two from A.J. Foyt Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing each. 

Juan Pablo Montoya has long been the 22nd entry and he will attempt not only the Indianapolis 500 in the #22 Chevrolet for Team Penske but the Grand Prix of Indianapolis as well. Oriol Servià was confirmed in a second Rahal Letterman Lanigan entry over the winter and he will also run the Belle Isle doubleheader. Sage Karam returns for the third time in four years with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Just prior to the start of the IndyCar season Jay Howard was announced in the #77 Tony Stewart Foundation Honda with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and between St. Petersburg and Long Beach Pippa Mann confirmed her return with Dale Coyne Racing. 

On Friday of the Long Beach weekend, Zach Veach announced he would drive the #40 Chevrolet for A.J. Foyt Racing as the Ohioan will make his first attempt at the race after three seasons in Indy Lights, where he logged six career victories. On race morning at Long Beach, Andretti Autosport confirmed twice Indy Lights vice-champion Jack Harvey would run the #50 Honda for the team in partnership with Michael Shank Racing. Harvey won six times in Indy Lights, including the 2015 Freedom 100. Harvey spent all of 2016 on the sidelines as he tried to put together an IndyCar program. Monday saw the third entry announced in four days as Gabby Chaves will drive the #88 Chevrolet for Harding Racing, a team that will be making its debut in May. Harding Racing is owned by Mike Harding of Harding Group, an asphalt paving company and will be run by former IndyCar team owner Larry Curry. The team has a technical alliance with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. 

That is 29 confirmed driver and team combinations with Juncos Racing having confirmed it will at least enter one car for the race with a driver to be determined. A second entry was not ruled out for Juncos Racing.

On Wednesday, Fernando Alonso kicked the door in and got everyone's attention. The Spaniard is coming to Indianapolis and skipping Monaco with McLaren partnering with Andretti Autosport. That is the 18th Honda entry. They have got to tap out at that point. I am not sure where a 19th entry could come from. Honda probably doesn't want to run a 19th engine program but money talks and if someone throws enough money on the table it would materialize but I don't think Ganassi, Coyne, RLLR and SPM are opening their pocketbooks any time soon for another Indianapolis 500 entry.

As for Alonso, talk about the best kept secret since Nigel Mansell coming to CART? Or reunification? Either way, nobody saw this coming but we are all glad it did and timing played a key part. The McLaren is crap in Formula One but Alonso is getting the most out of it and has been stellar. However, at best Alonso is going to finish seventh this year in a race and scoring ten points for the entire season would be immaculate. The title isn't realistic. Alonso wants to run Indianapolis. McLaren needs something positive and April 12th was the greatest day of the year for McLaren as it made us forget about its disastrous Formula One program.

On top of Alonso's perpetual state this Formula One season, this Honda engine program was already set up for the Andretti-Shank partnership with Stefan Wilson slated to be the driver, however Wilson stepped aside to allow Alonso to attempt the race.

Alonso coming to Indianapolis doesn't signal a rising tide for IndyCar. This doesn't mean we are going to see Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen are all attempting the Indianapolis 500 in the coming years. This doesn't mean Alonso is going to be attempting the Indianapolis 500 for the next few years. This could be a one-and-done for the Spaniard. This doesn't mean the Indianapolis 500 rating is going to shoot through the roof and the IndyCar ratings across the board is going to triple. None of that is going to happen and if you want to know how Fernando Alonso running this year's Indianapolis 500 benefits IndyCar in the long-term, it doesn't but this is for now. The Indianapolis 500 got people's attention on April 12th. That probably never happened even in the hey days.

There likely is no long-term gain even if Alonso wins the race. Any long-term gain will have to come with the series capitalizing on having an international star and making sure the race is easily viewable for the common fans in Spain, the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe as well as seeing how positive this announcement was and doing all it can to repeat it in the years to come. 

Now that Honda will field an 18th entry, where do the additional Chevrolet entries come from? After that one guaranteed Juncos Racing entry, it is getting harder to fill the grid as we have 13 Chevrolet entries with it assumed Juncos Racing will be a Chevrolet team. Buddy Lazier's father Bob said the family was once again pursuing an Indianapolis 500 entry and Lazier Partners Racing has been a Chevrolet team since its inception in 2013 with no signs of that changing. Even with the return of the Laziers, getting that 33rd entry is still an uphill battle. 

Like the Honda teams, all but one full-time Chevrolet team has confirmed an additional entry for May. Ed Carpenter Racing is the lone exception and it appears the team does not have the resources to field an additional car this year. Maybe Foyt could run a fourth car. That is a team that doesn't shy away from fielding additional cars at Indianapolis but I don't know if the team has the resources. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's hands likely are full with Harding Racing. Maybe another new entry could enter. Jimmy Vasser and former KVSH Racing partner James Sullivan are reportedly still interested in fielding an IndyCar. Maybe some type of mega-collaboration with Vasser, Sullivan and Juncos or Carlin could get a car on the grid but that is a stretch.

I think Juncos Racing running a second car seems most likely to fill that 33rd entry. Kyle Kaiser has been linked to one of Juncos' seats and the team has said it wants a veteran with IndyCar experience and experience at the Speedway. 

While getting 33 entries is going to be tough, IndyCar always finds a way to get there and I don't see that changing in 2017. The bright side is it appears there will be at least two new teams at Indianapolis with Juncos and Harding but how likely is it for both those teams to become serious IndyCar teams? Lazier Partners Racing has been here since 2013 and has made zero progress from the bottom. The good news for Juncos is it has depth in the Road to Indy system and has roots in the ground with its own shop in Speedway, Indiana but Harding is another story. We don't see many successful businesses like asphalt paving services end up running race teams in this modern-era of motorsports. Harding is setting itself up for success by partnering with D&R, a team that has remained competitive despite running as an Indianapolis one-off since 2014.

Aside from Juncos and Harding, Michael Shank Racing is finally going to be at Indianapolis but it isn't going to be solely a Michael Shank Racing program and that is another hurdle IndyCar has to clear. With engine lease, chassis and crew members being so limited teams can't just enter Indianapolis and do it themselves. Everything it seems has to be done in partnership with somebody already inside IndyCar and the series has to work to get away from and make possible for the likes of Shank or Wayne Taylor Racing or even a NASCAR team to enter Indianapolis without needing crutches to get through the door.

On top of the teams, there are plenty of drivers on the outside who want to attempt Indianapolis and won't even get to turn a wheel. I know many are lauding Stefan Wilson for his noble decision to allow Alonso to attempt Indianapolis but first, let's not act like he is giving up a seat on a row boat and getting back on the sinking Titanic. It is a very nice gesture and it is unfortunate that Wilson likely won't be driving a car at Indianapolis. I want Indianapolis to be a place where Alonso and Wilson can both be on track trying to make the race as well as Townsend Bell, Dean Stoneman, Spencer Pigot, Matthew Brabham, Luca Filippi, James Davison, Ryan Briscoe, Katherine Legge and other drivers from the world of sports cars, NASCAR and even USAC. The current climate doesn't allow the amount of seats to meet the demand and it is excruciating when you consider the talent on the sidelines. 

Another minor negative this year besides the struggle of getting 33 entries is the lack of teams entering the Grand Prix of Indianapolis as well as the Indianapolis 500. Montoya is the only additional entry for that race while Servià plans to run Belle Isle but since its inception the Grand Prix of Indianapolis has drawn a few additional cars each year. Every Grand Prix of Indianapolis has had 25 entries. I don't want to say 25 is to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis what 33 is to the Indianapolis 500 but I would hope the combination of the two races both being on network television would help teams get sponsorship to do the additional race. 

Despite the struggle for 33 entries and the lack of additional entries for the road course race, it is promising to have at least 30 entries confirmed about a month before the first practice session for the Indianapolis 500 and to have two new teams entering the series. I know the last few paragraphs are negative but I am really excited for this May and IndyCar's future. There are things that need to be worked on, we all know that, but it doesn't come in a snap. Let's enjoy this period of happiness and maybe this is just the start of more glorious things.