Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The 101st Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Conundrum

We end the month of May with one final look back on the 101st Indianapolis 500 and we look at the story that has ruffled feathers and boiled blood in the aftermath. It is the decision over Rookie of the Year. Ed Jones was the best rookie finisher in third and did not get the award. Fernando Alonso took the honor despite an engine failure with 21 laps to go.

Some said Alonso was too experienced and wouldn't appreciate the award while Jones deserved it with the minnow team in Dale Coyne Racing and he held his own racing in the front in his sixth career IndyCar start with the likes of Hélio Castroneves. Some said Alonso was unfortunate to have suffered an engine failure and led 27 laps and was consistently the fastest rookie over the course of the month.

It was a difficult decision across the board and it is based off of four criteria: Skill, sportsmanship, accessibility and finishing position. The first three you can't put a number on and each of the first three are vague. How do you determined who had better skill or better sportsmanship or more accessibility. Jones finished third. Alonso ended up 24th. That is the easy part but let's try to dissect the other three.

Before diving into these it should be noted that everything is going to skew in favor of Alonso. More attention was spent on him. Every lap he turned was made to be important. It seemed like was interviewed after every session to get his thoughts on what he had just experienced.

If we look at the time sheet from every day, Alonso was top of the charts in the rookie orientation practice on the first Monday and he was the top rookie in the full Monday practice session later that day. Jones was the top rookie on Tuesday. Wednesday was a day hampered by wind and only 21 cars took to the track, 14 of which ran at competitive speed. While Alonso ended up fourth on the day, Jones did not run. Alonso was fourth again on Thursday while Jones was in 18th and Alonso was fourth again on Fast Friday with Jones in ninth.

Come qualifying Alonso ended up seventh and Jones tenth on day one. Jones ended up 11th on the grid, but ninth fastest on day two of qualifying with Alonso fifth on the grid and sixth fastest. In the post-qualifying practice on Monday, Jones was second and Alonso 12th. On Carb Day, Alonso ended up fifth and Jones was 23rd.

If you look at the Rookie of the Year as something that takes into account everything that happens over the course of the month and throwing out the Wednesday, Alonso was ahead of Jones in five of seven practices sessions and out-qualified Jones and he was in the top five in four practice sessions.

One other bit of skill that should be noted for Alonso is from day one, his May 3rd test, Alonso was running below the white line on a consistent basis and it led many to believe the only way he would correct his perceived over-aggressive nature in the turns was the hard way in the barrier. Some even speculate that his low line was costing him speed in the corners. Alonso never really changed his style and never ended up in the barrier despite many believing it was bound to happen and he proved that low line could be quick.

On the reverse side, Jones was able to stay at the front in the race despite using a bit of strategy to get him to the front. We have seen plenty of drivers end up at the front and get swallowed up only to end up where they were originally situated within five to ten laps. And as mentioned before, Jones wasn't just going toe-to-toe with Max Chilton, his teammate James Davison and Takuma Sato in a battle for tenth or 12th but he battled those drivers and Hélio Castroneves for the lead. He was legitimately in contention for the victory and he was on the heels of Castroneves and Sato over the final seven laps in what can only be described as a terrific piece of driving.

I don't know how to determine who was better at this. I don't know if either flipped any one off or blatantly ignored a rule or official. Neither driver was reckless on track and neither driver was chopping trailing cars in the corners. Jones was sent to the rear of the field after pitting before the pit lane was open but that was more a miscommunication because that occurred after the red flag had been lifted and the pits didn't open the next time by but rather two laps after the red flag was lifted and Jones came a lap early. Not the worst offense in the world by any means.

The one gripe that could be made against Alonso is after he retired with his engine failure he didn't immediately stop and do an interview with Dr. Jerry Punch. He did eventually do the interview and did it prior to the race ending but after he went back to the driver's lot, showered and changed. Like Jones' one mistake, I could write this down to a cultural difference between IndyCar and Formula One. In Formula One, when a car retires a driver usually gets a chance to go back to the garage, debrief with the team, change and then goes to see the media in one centralized gathering. Once again, this is not the worst offense in the world.

This is another one that skews heavily in favor of Alonso. We couldn't help but hear about how willing he was to talk to the press, go to press conferences, go to New York on the media tour and so on and how he never said no to any request.

To be fair, we didn't hear about Ed Jones spurning any media requests. This could be a case where Alonso went for 100-for-100 and Jones went six-for-six. Both were at 100% only Alonso was more heavily requested.

Finishing Position
We already covered this one but finishing position doesn't tell the whole story. Yes, Ed Jones finished third and Fernando Alonso finished 24th and Jones was ahead of Alonso when the Spaniard's engine failed but it is hard to use finishing position as the end all be all. It doesn't necessarily tell the entire story.

If future generations look back on the 2012 Indianapolis 500 and see that Takuma Sato finished 17th, they would miss so much of the story about how he worked his way to the front and made daring pass after daring pass before one final attempt just stepped over the line and left him in the turn one wall while Dario Franchitti took his third Indianapolis 500 victory.

Alonso was running in the top ten for 173 of the 179 laps he completed and he led the third-most laps in the race with 27 laps led. The exceptions were lap 114 during a pit cycle when he dropped to 11th and lap 143-147 when he dropped to 12th in a mix of pitting while the likes of Chilton, Charlie Kimball, J.R. Hildebrand, James Davison, Jones and company stayed out and this was just after a caution for debris after one lap of green. Alonso was in the top ten for 96.648% of the laps he completed and that is without mentioning that his average lap time was the best at that point of the race.

Jones, however, spent 98 of the first 112 laps and 122 of the first 138 laps outside the top ten. From lap 139 to the end of the race, Jones was in the top ten for all but two laps, lap 166, when he made his final pit stop and lap 167. He gets back in the top ten on lap 168 when the rest of the field makes its final pit stops under caution and Jones never dropped lower than fourth over the final 32 laps. Overall, Jones spent 38% of the race in the top ten and there was a spell of fortune for Jones. He pitted on the lap where Charlie Kimball lost his engine. Had Kimball not lost his engine or lost it heading into turn one a half-lap later instead of entering turn three, Jones may have been caught a lap down and this would have ruined his chances to finish in the top ten let alone be on the fringe of victory.

There is a strong case for both drivers to be Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and if there was ever a year where the award should have been split this was it. A lot of people are arguing Jones deserved it but at the same time it would be very hard to justify that Alonso didn't deserve it. Alonso was unfortunate that he pulled a short straw when it came to the Honda engines and it cost him a respectable finish. I don't think something out of a drivers' control should cost a driver the award. After all, Tony Stewart was crowned Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and his engine expired after 82 laps.

Ed Jones joins Graham Hill, who won the 1966 race, and Richie Hearn, who finished third in 1996, the year Stewart won Rookie of the Year despite not making it to halfway, as rookies to be a top three finisher in the race not to win the Rookie of the Year award. If there is any consolation prize for Jones is through six races in 2017 he has been impressive everywhere he has gone and since he is the only rookie full-time in IndyCar, he should have the 2017 IndyCar Rookie of the Year award wrapped up by Mid-Ohio and just like the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, it pays a cool $50,000.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Making It Work

Takuma Sato took a surprising and historic victory. Fernando Alonso can't escape engine failures even on ovals. The 24 Hours Nürburgring had a frantic finish. A streak ended in Monaco and McLaren had a winner of sorts this weekend on the famed streets. Pascal Wehrlein had a close encounter with the barrier at Portier. Brits defended their turf on two wheels. NASCAR had a rain delay and a race decided by fuel mileage. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Making It Work
He has done it. Fernando Alonso has run the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately, it probably ended the last possible way he wanted it to end. The Spaniard has come to the United States, ran the pinnacle of ovals, proved his competence and now he returns... well Formula One next races in Canada so he will still be in North America but after that he returns to his jet-setting lifestyle of Formula One.

Alonso may never be back to run the Indianapolis 500. I know he wants to complete the Triple Crown but we know about the best-laid plans of mice and men. Ferrari or Mercedes or even Renault could come calling this autumn and offer him a respectable pay day, a competitive car and another shot at grand prix victories and a world drivers' championship and he could be in Formula One for the next five years and by the time he is done he could be 40 years old, tired and realizing the Triple Crown will just be something that has slipped by him. Although, Takuma Sato just won the race at 40 years old so maybe the fire could still be in him at that time.

Either way, Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault probably wouldn't allow Alonso to take two weeks off, head to Indianapolis and skip the Monaco Grand Prix. None of the three manufactures have ties to Indianapolis and none of the three seem interested in participating any time soon.

However, drivers want to drive and even though Formula One drivers don't speak seriously about their motorsports dream outside of Formula One, many want to dabble in other forms of motorsports. The last six weeks and Alonso's Indianapolis attempt has revived the idea of the Triple Crown and drivers openly trying it.

Liberty Media is trying new things and saying new things and openly came out and said it would like to avoid date clashes with MotoGP, which makes sense because both are popular in Europe and have the same television presenter in multiple countries. That makes sense for business but what about what make sense for sport?

Unfortunately, some look at series as a sport. Formula One is a sport. IndyCar is a sport. NASCAR is a sport. Sports cars is a sport. MotoGP is a sport. In reality, they are all the same just mildly different disciplines. We try to view driver cross-pollination as a Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders jumping between baseball and football but it shouldn't be as revolutionary as those two. Drivers bounce between series all the time. They go where they hope they can make a living. Other athletes don't do that. Kevin Durant isn't going to switch to hockey this summer when he is a free agent. He is going to continue to play basketball. Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees might be tempting for an NBA to sign as he stands at 6'7" but he is probably going to be a baseball player for the rest of his life.

Back to the point, drivers aren't supposed to be tied to a series. Drivers should go and race everything and anything and gather a following from people from all different walks of life.

Last year, Formula One raced in Azerbaijan the same weekend as the 24 Hours of Le Mans and this year it took longer than it should have to revise the calendar to make sure the same clash didn't happen again. No Formula One driver will be at Circuit de la Sarthe come June but the door is open and not just for the race but the Le Mans test day as well and that door should remain open. Could a similar door be opened to allow Formula One drivers to do Indianapolis as well?

The problem with Indianapolis is you would need to sacrifice two consecutive weekends because of qualifying so Monaco couldn't be moved up a week. It could be moved back a week but that would create a Monaco-Montreal back-to-back and crowd the month of June with three races in four weeks from Europe to North American and then to Azerbaijan, which is Asia but wants to be considered Europe. Moving Monaco back a week would also take away the open weekend on Le Mans test day.

If Monaco were to move up it would have to move up two weeks and that would also require the Spanish Grand Prix to move up but if Monaco went up two weeks and Spain moved up a week it would create three consecutive weekends with races from Russia to Spain to Monaco.

Any door opening to make it easier for Formula One drivers to compete at Indianapolis would require a minor shake up to the start of the Formula One calendar. The easiest thing that could be done is for Bahrain to move up to the season opener two weeks before Australia, which would allow Russia to move up a week in April and then allow Spain and Monaco to go back-to-back to start May with a three-week spring break before the Canadian Grand Prix in June and still allow drivers to run the Le Mans test day.

Formula One likely won't go for that but if for some reason they wanted to they could make it easy for their drivers to freelance but nothing is bound to change just because of this weekend. Formula One teams will still want to keep their drivers on a leash and no current drivers are going to buck the system and say he is doing Indianapolis and Le Mans and whatever other motorsports adventures that drivers so desires.

Despite the possibility of allowing the world's best drivers to do the greatest races in the world it appears nothing will be able to break the vice grip of Formula One teams. We all lose because of it.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Takuma Sato but did you know...

Sebastian Vettel won the Monaco Grand Prix.

Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600, his first career Cup victory. Ryan Blaney won the Grand National Series race.

Matheus Leist led every lap from pole position in the Freedom 100, his first Indy Lights victory.

Oliver Rowland and Nyck de Vries split the Formula Two races from Monaco.

The #29 Land-Motorsport Audi of Kelvin van der Linde, Christopher Mies, Markus Winkelhock and American Connor De Phillippi won the 24 Hours Nürburgring despite a botched final pit stop and being third with two laps to go.

Thed Björk and Nicky Catsburg split the WTCC races from the Nordschleife.

Tom Sykes won his ninth consecutive World Superbike race from Donington Park in race one and Jonathan Rea ended that streak with a victory in race two. Kenan Sofuoglu won the World Supersport race, his third consecutive victory.

The #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche of Patrick Long and Marc Leib won race one of Pirelli World Challenge SprintX weekend from Lime Rock Park. The #4 Magnus Racing Audi of Spencer Pumpelly and Dane Cameron won race two in SprintX. Rodrigo Baptista swept the GTS races.

André Lotterer and Yuhi Sekiguchi split the Super Formula races from Okayama.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar has a doubleheader at Belle Isle.
IMSA will be at Belle Isle.
MotoGP head to Mugello.
NASCAR heads to Dover.
Blancpain Sprint Series will be at Zolder.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

101st Indianapolis 500: First Impressions

1. The world came to watch Fernando Alonso conquer the greatest race in the United States. It got a winner the world had forgotten about a decade ago. Fernando Alonso was the winner the world wanted to see. Takuma Sato was the winner IndyCar need with the Formula One congregation watching on.

In light of Lewis Hamilton taking a dig at the IndyCar grid yesterday by suggesting it wasn't that talented because Alonso in his first oval experience was starting fifth, IndyCar needed Sato to win to prove someone from Formula One doesn't just come in and take the cake. Sato has been in IndyCar since 2010 after five-plus seasons in Formula One. Sato wasn't one of Formula One's best but he was respectable and since he won the 2001 British Formula Three championship everyone knew he had the speed in him but inconsistency cost him. He hasn't really gotten control of his consistency but his pace alone hasn't been enough for him to become one of IndyCar's best.

In his seven previous seasons Sato has never finished better than 13th in the championship. It took him 38 starts to get his first podium. It took him 52 starts to get his first career victory. Neither of those accomplishments were on an oval. His first top five on an oval came in his 22nd start in the first race of the Texas doubleheader in 2011. Sato's victory today was his second top five finish on an oval in his 45th start on an oval. It's not as easy as it looks.

We worry too much about the optics of the winner. Takuma Sato isn't a household name in the United States and some believe only American success will grow the sport but what the soft-spoken Sato has is passion that comes from a nation that takes great pride when one of its own succeeds. His story of a journeyman, a man everyone including myself wrote off as a speedy driver who didn't live up to the potential he showed over a decade ago. He entered this race as probably the fifth likely Andretti Autosport car to win despite starting second-best of the five cars and one of his teammates being in his first oval race. For the second year running the fifth bullet in the Andretti gun hit the target.

Sato nearly won this race in 2012. Many don't get a second bite at the apple, especially at Indianapolis. Sato did today and it was the sweetest of his career.

2. Hélio, Hélio, Hélio. He could be a six-time winner by now. At the same time, he could still be on two but let's put 2002 behind us. Three victories, three runner-up finishes in this race and he probably shouldn't have been in second. How many Indianapolis 500 runner-ups did it after driving under a car flying in the air? Castroneves did that today after the Scott Dixon-Jay Howard accident and he broke off one of his rear winglet off and never got it fixed.

Then he got penalized for jumping a restart, which is near impossible to do in IndyCar but the cautions fell his way after he served that penalty and just like that he was in the top five but slightly off strategy and then he gets the caution to get him back on strategy. And there was one restart after he was penalized for the jumped start where he went from ninth to sixth before turn one and he didn't even get called for that.

It was another year where it felt like everything was falling Castroneves way. He was mixed in with all the teams that appeared would be short on fuel with all the early challengers stuck in the back half of the top ten or out after mechanical issues or accidents. It didn't work out today. It felt like it should have.

3. Dale Coyne Racing thought its best chance at Indianapolis 500 victory was squashed when Sébastien Bourdais spun on the fastest qualifying run of the weekend, totaled the car and left him with a busted pelvis and hip. Ed Jones picked up with the ball and ran with it. He started 11th, he finished 3rd on his Indianapolis 500 debut in his sixth IndyCar start.

This kid is special. I don't know if he is going to win 38 IndyCar races, two Indianapolis 500s and two championships but he is going to be here for a while. He went toe-to-toe with Castroneves for the last 100 miles and he never blinked. He never got scared. Coyne has got a gem. How long can he hang on to him?

4. Max Chilton nearly won this race as the fourth bullet of four in Ganassi's gun. A career-best finish two weeks after he matched his career-best with a seventh in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. I don't know if this is the start of Chilton becoming a front-runner or if these are just two great weeks. He was a lap down or he was on the tail end of the lead lap after one of the pit cycles. His fastest lap was 222.779 MPH. Only eight cars had a slower fastest lap. He may have been lucky on this one but you take what you can get whether you deserve it or not. Deserve has nothing to do with it.

5. Tony Kanaan finished fifth. He looked really competitive at the start and during the first stint he appeared Ganassi would run away with this in Kanaan and Dixon. It didn't happen and after that first stint Kanaan was more on the fringe of contention but it was another impressive day for him and another top five in the Indianapolis 500.

6. Juan Pablo Montoya was quiet all day and through attrition he finished sixth. Four of the top six are over the age of 40. When was the last time that happened in the Indianapolis 500? When was the last time that happened in an IndyCar race When was the last time that happened in a race in general, not including sports cars where there could be pairs or trios of drivers? Montoya still has it to be a full-time driver.

7. One botched pit stop may have cost Alexander Rossi from going back-to-back in the Indianapolis 500 but he made some moves, caught a few breaks, avoided a few accidents and finished seventh. It doesn't tell the whole story but it could have been worse for Rossi.

8. Marco Andretti finished eighth and he had an extended stop after a rear winglet broke off and he had to change the rear wing assembly. He recovered but he could have been a contender. This is the fourth different teammate of Andretti's to win the Indianapolis 500. That has to be a record. He is in the right place to add his face to the Borg-Warner Trophy. It just has to be his year one of these years.

9. Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing in its first race as a team finished ninth in the Indianapolis 500 and this isn't just Harding Racing's first IndyCar race or first Indianapolis 500 but first race period. This isn't a team coming in from Indy Lights or expanding from a sports car program. This is a team from scratch that finished ninth on debut. Amazing. And they will be at Texas and Pocono and hope to be full-time come 2018. They might not finish ninth in the next two races but what a bright start for that team.

10. Carlos Muñoz finished tenth, A.J. Foyt Racing's first top ten in the Indianapolis 500 since 2008. This was a top ten more because of attrition and other cars being penalized. Muñoz had a great start by making up eight spots in six laps but he never really got higher than 15th in the race before the end.

11. Ed Carpenter overcame breaking a front wing by running into the back of the lapped car of Pippa Mann on a restart to finish 11th. He had a good day but the broken wing cost him a surefire top ten.

12. Graham Rahal fought his way into contention and then the timing of cautions dropped him out of the top ten and a flat tire cost him a shot at a top ten. He finished 12th. He was much better than that. We could actually say that for about ten other finishers.

13. Mikhail Aleshin wasn't a factor in this one and somehow wasn't derailed by a hole in the right side pod. He finished 13th.

14. Simon Pagenaud didn't have it today. Other that a brief stint in ninth and tenth, he wasn't close to the front. He struggled with downforce and 14th was probably as best as he was going to be.

15. Sebastián Saavedra gets his second-career lead lap finish on an oval by finishing 15th with Juncos Racing, the team's IndyCar debut. His other lead lap finish on an oval, 15th in the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. A good showing for a guy who was out of a car all of last year.

16. J.R. Hildebrand was handed a penalty for a jumped restart on the penultimate restart. He was running in fifth or sixth at the time. He probably wouldn't have gotten up to battle with Sato, Castroneves, Jones and Chilton but he never got the chance if you think about it. What a shame.

17. Pippa Mann finished 17th, one lap down and she just kept it out of any incidents, except for when Carpenter got into the back of her. She was never a factor.

18. Spencer Pigot lacked pace all day. He had the slowest fastest lap of the race at 218.872 MPH, the only driver not to break the 220 MPH-barrier in the race. He finished sixth laps down in 18th and that is an improvement over last year despite completing one fewer lap than last year.

19. This is where it all goes to hell. Josef Newgarden was involved in that final five-car accident. He got into the top ten but he was never a factor in this one. He never really got back to where he was before his practice accident.

20. James Davison was running second after starting 33rd despite not getting into the car until the day after qualifying concluded. He made a ton of passes in the early part of the race and he got up to 15th purely on pace before going slightly off strategy to get into the top three. He was got together with Oriol Servià to cause that final accident despite restarting fourth. He made a great case for being the substitute until Sébastien Bourdais comes back.

21. Oriol Servià made a bunch of passes on the outside and out of nowhere he was in the top ten. Unfortunately, his 200th IndyCar starts ended prematurely and after being in contention for at least a top five in the Indianapolis 500.

22. James Hinchcliffe wasn't ever a factor in this one and had nowhere to go after Davison and Servià got together.

23. Will Power was in the same boat as Hinchcliffe as collateral damage in the Davison-Servià accident. He went from ninth to second on lap one and then proceeded to fall back to ninth by the end of that stint. He never really had it.

24. Motorsports is cruel. Fernando Alonso's engine failure while running seventh is proof that motorsports is cruel. It was a great day. It was a successful day. Is oval racing easy? Not as some think. Is IndyCar easy? No. Alonso is a talent above all. His success today was a combination of his supreme talent, his work ethic to study up on the intricacies of IndyCar and a proven race-winning team. He may never be back. He could be back next year. I hope you cherished this.

25. Charlie Kimball and Ryan Hunter-Reay suffered engine failures and it seemed like Zach Veach also had an engine failure. Hunter-Reay might have had the best car today. This might have been the second consecutive year Hunter-Reay had the best car. It is a damn shame he has nothing to show for it.

26. Sage Karam was on the fringe of the top ten and it seemed like he wasn't done making up positions and then his battery died. That is a bummer.

27. Buddy Lazier completed 118 laps and had a hard accident exiting turn two. He had to go to hospital and I have not heard anything on his status. This was his 20 Indianapolis 500 start. It might have been his last and with the significant damage to his car who knows if his team will ever be back.

28. Conor Daly got into the wall in turn three when he tried to pass three cars on the outside. Then Jack Harvey had his first Indianapolis 500 end after he spun after clipping a piece of debris from Daly.

29. Now to the big accident. Jay Howard was respectable all month, he ran out of fuel at the end of the first stint and had nowhere to go after he went multiple laps down. He got into the marbles, hit the wall and Scott Dixon had nowhere to go, as Howard had no control over his car. Dixon got airborne after running over the back of Howard, got into the catchfence on the inside of the south chute. The damage to the catchfence brought out the red flag.

Chip Ganassi was critical that Howard was in the race considering he hasn't competed since 2011 and I understand that but Howard wasn't reckless. He didn't make an unfathomable mistake. He had nowhere to go when getting lapped and unfortunately got into the marbles. I do think more should be done to make sure drivers with race experience get seats and it is concerning when a guy out of a car for six years gets back in but no one contested it when it was announced and after Howard passed the refresher course and no one voiced concern over the week-plus of practice.

It was an unfortunate circumstance and it ended Dixon's shot at victory earlier than anyone would have expected it. Maybe the apron would have prevented it and maybe that should be brought back just to give the drivers a little more elbowroom. We have to thank Dallara once again for building such a remarkable chassis that both drivers walked away.

30. This was an odd race. It felt surreal to see Chilton, Davison, Sato and Jones battling legitimately for the lead. It wasn't a circumstance of a pit cycle and these four had yet to pit. This was the battle for the Indianapolis 500 victory and then Castroneves got in there. And the rain held off despite spending all of last week hoping for the best case scenario of the race possibly starting as late as 5:00 p.m. ET but expecting to be racing on Monday.

31. This was not ABC's finest day. Not showing live driver introductions I believe was a massive mistake. I will give them credit. They did a fun run down of the grid and it gave a little more background information on the drivers but that should have been shown on SportsCenter on Friday, Saturday and before the race on Sunday not prior to the race. ESPN spends about 17 hours a day on the NBA Finals, which don't start until Thursday. They couldn't have squeezed this less than four-minute feature on the Indianapolis 500 starting grid into one show?

The viewers were robbed up of watching the drivers come out and more importantly hearing the fan reactions. We didn't get to see Fernando Alonso walk out to the wall of people that is the front straightaway. We didn't hear the usually loud ovations for Tony Kanaan, Hélio Castroneves and Ed Carpenter. To me, it hurt the pre-race show because the driver introductions were another sign that the race was approaching. A piece about James Hinchcliffe incognito working at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum doesn't do that. I understand trying to show the personalities of the drivers but that should have been done in the days leading up to the race not in the hour prior. ABC used to win Sports Emmys for its Indianapolis 500 coverage. Today deserved a Sports Razzie.

32. Belle Isle is next week and practice begins Friday. I am going to need all four days prior to settle down after this one.

33. 364 days until the 102nd Indianapolis 500.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Track Walk: 101st Indianapolis 500

The Indianapolis 500 is approaching, will weather cooperate?
This weekend marks the 101st Indianapolis 500. Seventy drivers have won the famed event and seven previous winners are in this year's field, five of which are looking for their second victory while one is going for his third and another chases a historic fourth while 26 drivers vie for the honor to become the 71st different winner of the Indianapolis 500. This race also marks the sixth race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. There have been five different winners through the first five races of the season.

Time: Coverage begins at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday May 28th. Green flag at 12:19 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: ABC.
Announcers: Allen Bestwick, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever in the booth with Rick DeBruhl, Dr. Jerry Punch and Jon Beekhius working the pit lane.

Indianapolis 500 Weekend Schedule
Carb Day:
Practice- 11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. ET (1 hour). NBCSN will have live coverage.
Pit Stop Competition- 1:30-3:30 p.m. ET (2 hours). NBCSN will have live coverage.
Race- 12:19 p.m. ET (200 laps).

The Starting Grid
Row 1:
Scott Dixon
This will be Dixon's 15th Indianapolis 500 start.
2008 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Car #9 has won the Indianapolis 500 four times with Dixon's 2008 victory being the most recent.
Twenty times has pole-sitter won the race, most recently Hélio Castroneves in 2009.
Dixon's lone Indianapolis 500 victory came from pole position and this is Dixon's third Indianapolis 500 pole position.

Ed Carpenter 
This will be Carpenter's 14th Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 5th (2008)
Car #20 has won the Indianapolis 500 three times but not since Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989.
Eleven times has the winner started second, most recently Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000.
Carpenter has only three top ten finishes in the Indianapolis 500.

Alexander Rossi
This will be Rossi's second Indianapolis 500 start.
He is the defending Indianapolis 500 winner.
Rossi's victory was the fourth time the #98 has won the Indianapolis 500.
Eleven times has the winner started third, most recently Dario Franchitti in 2010.
This will be Rossi's best career IndyCar start and his first career front start.

Row 2: 
Takuma Sato
This will be Sato's eighth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 13th (2013, 2015).
Car #26 has won the Indianapolis 500 once, Dan Wheldon 2005.
Six times has the winner started fourth, most recently Bobby Rahal in 1986.
Sato's previous best Indianapolis 500 starting position was tenth in 2011.

Fernando Alonso
This will be Alonso's first Indianapolis 500 start.
Car #29 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Seven times has the winner started fifth, most recently Buddy Lazier in 1996.
Alonso finished second in his most recent appearance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2007 United States Grand Prix.

J.R. Hildebrand
This will be Hildebrand's eighth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 2nd (2011).
Car #21 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Five times has the winner started sixth, most recently Dan Wheldon in 2011.
This is the tenth top ten starting position for Hildebrand in his career. Nine of those starts have come on an oval and this is his fourth it ten start in the Indianapolis 500.

Row 3:
Tony Kanaan
This will be Kanaan's 16th Indianapolis 500 start.
2013 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Car #10 has won the Indianapolis once, Dario Franchitti 2010.
Five times has the winner started seventh, most recently A.J. Foyt in 1961.
This is Kanaan's second time starting on row three. He started eighth in 2012 and finished third.

Marco Andretti
This will be Andretti's 12th Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 2nd (2006).
Car #27 has won the Indianapolis 500 three times, most recently with Dario Franchitti in 2007.
Twice has the winner started eighth, most recently Kenny Bräck in 1999.
This is the ninth time Andretti has started within one of the first three rows for the Indianapolis 500. He started eighth in the 2009 race and was involved in a turn one, lap one accident with Mario Moraes. He also started eighth in 2015 and finished sixth.

Will Power
This will be Power's tenth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 2nd (2015).
Car #12 has won the Indianapolis 500 once. Peter DePaolo won in 1925 driving the #12 Miller.
Only once has the winner started ninth and that was Emerson Fittipaldi in 1993.
This matches Power's second-worst starting position in the Indianapolis 500. He started ninth in 2009 and finished fifth.

Row 4:
Ryan Hunter-Reay
This will be Hunter-Reay's tenth Indianapolis 500 start.
2014 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Hunter-Reay's 2014 victory is the only Indianapolis 500 victory for car #28.
Twice has the winner started tenth, most recently Gil de Ferran in 2003.
Hunter-Reay has not won a race in his last 22 IndyCar starts.

Ed Jones
This will be Jones' first Indianapolis 500 start.
Car #19 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Alexander Rossi became the third driver to win from 11th with his victory last year.
Jones will become the first Emirati driver to start the Indianapolis 500 and the United Arab Emirates will become the 28th different country to have a driver start the Indianapolis 500.

Oriol Servià
This will be Servià's ninth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 4th (2012).
Car #16 has won the Indianapolis 500 four times but not since George Robson in 1946.
Twice has the winner started 12th, most recently Tony Kanaan in 2013.
This marks Servià's 200th IndyCar start. This will be his 60th oval start. His best finish on an oval is second (2003 Milwaukee, 2005 Las Vegas and 2011 Loudon).

Row 5:
Mikhail Aleshin
This will be Aleshin's third Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 21st (2014).
Car #7 has won the Indianapolis 500 twice but not since Bill Holland in 1949.
Four times has the winner start 13th, most recently Hélio Castroneves in 2002.
This is the second time Aleshin has started on row five.

Graham Rahal 
This will be Rahal's tenth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 3rd (2011).
Car #15 has won the Indianapolis 500 three times, most recently with Buddy Rice in 2004.
Only once has the winner started 14th and that was Bob Sweikert in 1955.
This is Rahal's seventh consecutive Indianapolis 500 start from outside the top ten and eighth time overall.

Max Chilton
This will be Chilton second Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 15th (2016).
Car #8 has won the Indianapolis 500 three times but not since Pat Flaherty in 1956.
Four times has the winner started 15th, most recently Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015.
Chilton is coming off matching his career-best IndyCar finish after he finished seventh in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Row 6:
Charlie Kimball
This will be Kimball's seventh Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 3rd (2015).
Car #83 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Twice has the winner started 16th, most recently Dario Franchitti in 2012.
Kimball has four top ten finishes in six Indianapolis 500 starts despite never starting better than 14th in the race.

James Hinchcliffe
This will be Hinchcliffe's seventh Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 6th (2012).
Car #5 has won the Indianapolis 500 six times but not since Arie Luyendyk in 1997.
Twice has the winner started 17th, most recently Eddie Cheever in 1998.
This is Hinchcliffe's worst Indianapolis 500 starting position. This is the first time Hinchcliffe enters the Indianapolis 500 with consecutive finishes outside the top ten.

Juan Pablo Montoya
This will be Montoya's fifth Indianapolis 500 start.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner (2000, 2015)
Car #22 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
The best finish for the 18th-starter is second, which occurred in 1920 by René Thomas and in 2009 and 2010 by Dan Wheldon.
Every one of Montoya's Indianapolis 500 starts has come from further back on the grid going from second to tenth to 15th to 17th to now 18th.

Row 7:
Hélio Castroneves
This will be Castroneves' 17th Indianapolis 500 start.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner (2001, 2002, 2009).
Car #3 has won the Indianapolis 500 eleven times, the most victories for a car number. Castroneves' 2009 victory was the most recent for car #3.
Twice has the winner started 19th, most recently Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014.
This is Castroneves' worst start in the Indianapolis 500. This is also Castroneves' eighth attempt to win his fourth Indianapolis 500.

Jay Howard
This will be Howard's second Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 30th (2011).
Car #77 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Three times has the winner started 20th, most recently Al Unser in 1987.
This is Howard's first IndyCar appearance since the abandoned Las Vegas race in 2011. His most recent start was the second race of the Texas doubleheader in 2011. In Howard's previous 12 IndyCar starts he has never finished on the lead lap.

Sage Karam
This will be Karam's fourth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 9th (2014).
Car #24 has won the Indianapolis 500 once, Graham Hill 1966.
Only once has the winner started 21st and that was L.L. Corum and Joe Boyer in 1924.
Karam has finished 32nd the last two years after accidents in turn one.

Row 8:
Josef Newgarden
This will be Newgarden's sixth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 3rd (2016).
Car #2 has won the Indianapolis 500 nine times, most recently with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015.
Twice has the winner started 22nd, most recently Kelly Petillo in 1935.
A Team Penske entry has never won the Indianapolis 500 from outside the top twenty on the grid.

Simon Pagenaud
This will be Pagenaud's sixth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 8th (2013).
Car #1 has won the Indianapolis 500 seven times but not since Al Unser in 1971.
The best finish for the 23rd-starter is second by Wilbur Shaw in 1933.
With Dixon winning pole position, Pagenaud now finds himself second in the championship, 21 points behind Dixon.

Carlos Muñoz
This will be Muñoz's fifth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 2nd (2013, 2016).
Car #14 has won the Indianapolis 500 six times, most recently with Kenny Bräck in 1999.
The best finish for the 24th-starter is fourth on five occasions (Denny Hulme in 1967, Mel Kenyon in 1969, Sammy Sessions in 1972, Eliseo Salazar in 1995 and Townsend Bell in 2009).
A.J. Foyt Racing has not had a top ten in the Indianapolis 500 since Darren Manning finished ninth in 2008.

Row 9:
Gabby Chaves
This will be Chaves third Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 16th (2015).
Car #88 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Only once has the winner started 25th and that was Johnny Rutherford in 1974.
This race is the debut for Harding Racing and the team will also contest Texas and Pocono later this season.

Conor Daly
This is the fourth time Daly has qualified for the Indianapolis 500 and hopefully he will make his third start.
Best Finish: 22nd (2013).
Car #4 has won the Indianapolis 500 five times but not since Emerson Fittipaldi in 1993. 
The best finish for the 26th-starter is third by Don Freeland in 1956 and by Paul Goldsmith in 1960.
Daly is still looking for his first top ten finish on his oval. His best career oval finish was 14th at Phoenix earlier this year but he finished 70 laps down.

Jack Harvey
This will be Harvey's first Indianapolis 500 start.
Car #50 has won the Indianapolis 500 once, Dario Franchitti 2012.
Only once has the winner started 27th and that was by Fred Frame in 1932.
Harvey will become the 27th British driver to start the Indianapolis 500.

Row 10:
Pippa Mann
This will be Mann's sixth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 18th (2016).
Car #63 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Twice has the winner started 28th, the inaugural winner Ray Harroun in 1911 and Louis Meyer in 1936.
This will be Mann's fifth Indianapolis 500 start with Dale Coyne Racing. No driver has made more Indianapolis 500 starts with Dale Coyne Racing.

Spencer Pigot
This will be Pigot's second Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 25th (2016).
Car #11 has won the Indianapolis 500 once, Tony Kanaan 2013.
The best finish for the 29th-starter is second in 1911 by Ralph Mulford and in 2002 by Paul Tracy.
This race is the debut for Juncos Racing. Pigot won the 2015 Indy Lights championship with Juncos Racing.

Buddy Lazier
This will be Lazier's 20th Indianapolis 500 start.
1996 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Car #44 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
The best finish for the 30th-starter was fourth in 1936 by Mauri Rose.
If he takes the green flag, Lazier will join A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, George Snider and Gary Bettenhausen as drivers with at least 20 Indianapolis 500 starts.

Row 11:
Sebastián Saavedra
This will be Saavedra's sixth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 15th (2014).
The best finish for the 31st-start is fourth in 1951 by Andy Linden.
Car #17 has won the Indianapolis 500 once, Dario Resta 1916.
This is the third time Saavedra has started on the last row.

Zach Veach
This will be Veach's first Indianapolis 500 start.
Car #40 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
The best finish for the 32nd-starter is second in 1957 by Jim Rathmann and in 1981 by Mario Andretti.
This is the first time the #40 will be in the Indianapolis 500 since Dr. Jack Miller used it in 1998.

James Davison
This will be Davison's third Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 16th (2014).
Car #18 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
The best finish for the 33rd-starter is second in 1980 by Tom Sneva and 1992 by Scott Goodyear.
Davison replaces the injured Sébastien Bourdais. Davison will not be the first driver to start the Indianapolis 500 without making a qualifying attempt. Ralph Mulford in 1920 and Jack Curtner in 1922 both started the race despite not making a qualifying attempt. This is Davison's first IndyCar start since the 2015 Indianapolis 500.

Freedom 100
For the 15th time, Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the Freedom 100 for the Indy Lights series on Carb Day. This is the seventh round of the 2017 Indy Lights season and it is the first of three oval races.

Kyle Kaiser took the championship lead after winning race two of the IMS road course weekend and the Juncos Racing driver has four consecutive podiums. The Californian sits on 139 points, 13 points ahead of Andretti Autosport's Nico Jamin, who has won two of the last four races. Colton Herta dropped from the championship lead to third after a tire puncture and electrical issues cost him in both IMS road course races. Herta sits on 121 points. Carlin's Neil Alberico rounds out the top four on 103 points.

Belardi Auto Racing's Aaron Telitz sits fifth in the championship on 97 points ahead of the Carlin drivers Matheus Liest on 89 points. Carlin's Zachary Claman DeMelo and Telitz's teammate Santiago Urrutia are tied on 87 points with Urrutia holding the tiebreaker with more second-place finishes. Belardi's third driver Shelby Blackstock is on 80 points with Juncos' Nicolas Dapero rounding out the top ten on 71 points.

Andretti drivers Ryan Norman and Dalton Kellett sit on 71 points and 64 points respectively. Juan Piedrahita of Team Pelfrey has 55 points but is coming off his best finish of the season after he finished fifth in the second IMS road course race. Carlin's Garth Rickards sits on 54 points.

Herta was the fastest at the Indy Lights test at the Speedway on Monday with a lap at 200.070 MPH with Telitz second fastest. Leist, Alberico and Piedrahita rounded out the top five on the day with DeMelo sixth quickest.

The field is evenly split with seven Freedom 100 veterans and seven Freedom 100 rookies. Kellett finished third in last year's race and he has the best finish of the veterans. Twelve different drivers have won the Freedom 100 with Wade Cunningham being the only driver to win the race multiple times as the New Zealander won three times. Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden are the only Americans to win the Freedom 100. Last year, Dean Stoneman won the Freedom 100 by 0.024 seconds over Ed Jones, the closest finish in the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NBCSN's coverage of the Freedom 100 begins Friday after Carb Day practice at noon ET. The 40-lap race is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET.

Fun Facts
This will be the seventh Indianapolis 500 to take place on May 28th (1978, 1979, 1989, 1995, 2000, 2006). The winners those respective years were Al Unser, Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish, Jr.

The only other IndyCar race run on May 28th was the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy Race held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1910 and won by Ray Harroun.

The last seven Indianapolis 500s have averaged over 160 MPH.

The last six Indianapolis 500s have had the winning pass occur on lap 197 or later.

The last five Indianapolis 500s have had the five most lead changes in the event's history.

This year's grid features:

13 Americans.

Four Colombians.

Four Britons.

Two Spaniards.

Two Brazilians.

Two Australians.

One New Zealander.

One Japanese.

One Emirati.

One Russian

One Canadian and...

One Frenchman.

Ed Carpenter, Josef Newgarden, Gabby Chaves and Jack Harvey could become the first driver to win the Freedom 100 and the Indianapolis 500.

Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Marco Andretti and Ed Jones look to join Alex Lloyd, Jack Harvey and Dean Stoneman as the only drivers to win both on the oval and road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The pole-sitter has failed to win the last seven Indianapolis 500s.

All five Indianapolis 500s in the DW12-era have been won from outside the top ten.

The average starting position for an Indianapolis 500 winner is 7.62 with a median of five.

The average number of lead changes in the Indianapolis 500 is 13.01 with a median of ten.

The average number of cautions in the Indianapolis 500 is 7.738 with a median of eight. The average number of caution laps is 44.47 with a median of 43.5.

This will be the 68th Indianapolis 500 victory for Firestone.

This will be the 17th Indianapolis 500 victory for Dallara. Dallara is the all-time leader in Indianapolis 500 victories for chassis manufactures.

Should Honda win, it would be Honda's 12th Indianapolis 500 victory, putting Honda in a tie for second all-time in Indianapolis 500 victories for engine manufactures with Miller.

Should Chevrolet win, it will be its tenth Indianapolis 500 victory, putting Chevrolet level with Cosworth for third all-time.

Possible Milestones:
Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 133 laps to surpass Al Unser for fourth most laps led in IndyCar history.

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.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 153 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 5 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

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

Another race with three-dozen to four-dozen lead changes. At least two Honda engine failures but Honda also leads majority of the laps completed. Sage Karam and at least two of the Penskes will pick their way into the top ten. Fernando Alonso will lead at least one lap. At least five Indianapolis 500 veterans will improve on their career-best finish in this race. There will be a pass for the lead in the final five laps.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Five Thoughts Five Days Prior to the 101st Indianapolis 500

Only a few days now...
A lot has happened at Indianapolis Motor Speedway despite preparations for the Indianapolis 500 being reduced to a little over a week. Race day is a few days away and the cars won't return to the race track until Carb Day practice at 11:00 ET on Friday. This down time allows us to look back at a few things that occurred over a busy qualifying weekend.

That 33rd Spot
Sébastien Bourdais' accident on Saturday put IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 lovers in an existential crisis. Not about safety or speed but about the field of 33.

It was clear Bourdais wasn't going to be able to continue and that car was done but it left a haunting feeling of what happens if only 32 cars complete a qualifying attempt all month? That ended up happening and the possibility of having fewer than 33 cars line up for the race for the first time since 1947 seemed like a very real possibility.

Thinking about it Saturday night I accepted 32 starters was very possible and I didn't fret about it. One, it was going to be the first time in 70 years 33 starters didn't happen. It wouldn't be the end of the world. Two, the entry list was only at 33 entries but despite the struggle to get enough cars for bumping there is enough interest in doing the Indianapolis 500 that we are going to have at least 33 entries for next few decades without any problems. Three, if it is going to end having it end because the 33rd car had an accident and a team couldn't repair the car is the way to do it. It gives you the caveat of having 33 entries but as with all forms of motorsports force majeure got in the way.

Then I thought about just allowing the #18 Geico Honda for Dale Coyne Racing into the race despite the entry not completing a qualifying attempt. The Indianapolis 500 has had starters before that had not completed a qualifying attempt, Ralph Mulford in 1920 and Jack Curtner in 1922. That's not even mentioning Alex Tagliani, who last year completed an attempt on Saturday but spun on his Sunday qualifying attempt and is listed without an official qualifying speed so it's been done before. I thought it wouldn't hurt anyone if the car was just slotted in 33rd position on the grid and sure enough that is what was decided and I don't mind it.

I understand the idea that every car has to complete a qualifying run but the 33rd entry is there and ready to go. There isn't a 34th entry coming along at the 11th hour to fill the grid. What does IndyCar stand to gain by not allowing this car to race? If anything, it only would have ended up hurting Dale Coyne Racing. The team already has to write off a car and its top driver is done for the season. What is there to gain by deciding not to allow that car to start and withhold at least $225,000 in prize money?

Some are concerned that this sets a future precedence in case there aren't 33 entries that all it will take is adding cars once qualifying is all over. I get that but this isn't a team seeing that the field is stuck on 31 or 32 entries and decides once qualifying is over to enter the race with an entry or two and IndyCar tacking those cars onto the end of the field. This car is a full-time IndyCar competitor, was out on track all week and arguably was the fastest entry all week.

If there had been 34 entries then Dale Coyne Racing would be shit out of luck but there weren't and this odd and unfortunate scenario adds to Indianapolis 500 lore. James Davison gets an opportunity to pull a Denmark by winning the Indianapolis 500 without even qualifying and from 33rd on the grid nonetheless.

Enticing Bumping
The easiest solution to this weekend's qualifying scenario would have been if the entry list had 34 cars or more. It would have been a case of Bourdais' accident making it easier for the rest to make the field, as it would have been one fewer car to worry about.

However, bumping is difficult because of the limited engine leases and chassis and let's face it, it makes no financial sense to be bumping cars. This year's race has two new teams on the grid. How would it be beneficial if Harding Racing had not made this race? The team would have been dead on the spot had the last qualifying attempt been completed and its entry with Gabby Chaves been outside the 33 fastest times and IndyCar needs new teams.

With that said, I don't like that the Indianapolis 500 has become a handout race where all the entries are guaranteed a payday and can pussyfoot it during qualifying. A 34th entry would keep everybody honest and teams can't afford to ride around and hope a 219.282 MPH four-lap average gets them in the field. It wouldn't and people love competition. Unfortunately in competition people have to lose but what if there was a way teams could still benefit even if they are bumped from the Indianapolis 500?

The Premier League in England has something called "parachute payments" for the teams relegated each season. This year Hull City, Middlesbrough and Sunderland were all relegated from the Premier League and not only are they no longer in the top-flight of English soccer but next season won't get the equal slice of the television money, which was £85,000,000 per club for 2016-17. However, the Premier League will distribute to those three clubs over the next few years some of the television money, otherwise known as "parachute payments" to help those clubs transition and be able to keep players, staff and cover other expenses.

What if for the Indianapolis 500 there was prize money for the 34th, 35th and 36th fastest qualifiers that way missing the race wouldn't be a crippling blow especially to new teams trying to get into the series? On top of that additional prize money for those three teams what if those team were also allowed to enter three races later in the season with no entry fees charged and tire allotment for the weekend covered by IndyCar? It goes against the ethos of bumping but IndyCar needs to be forward thinking when it comes to getting new teams into the series. It can't afford to kill its young once it comes out of the womb.

An issue with this would be the overall Indianapolis 500 purse would have to go up and that is easier said than done. If we are going to start paying three non-qualifier than the prize for making the race is going to have to go up significantly and likely have to be doubled so the least a car can take home for starting the race is $400,000 and if the floor is going to go up than the ceiling has to go up as well and the winner and the rest of the top five is going to have to receive more as well. Hopefully, the upcoming television deal for 2019 and beyond will help but I doubt any network is going to throw gobs of cash at IndyCar and we are taking about a multi-million cash infusion into the purse for one race.

It might be easier said that done but IndyCar needs more entries and this is one way to support teams who want to come in but are afraid of the ramifications if they struggle with growing pains at the start.

Why Does Fernando Alonso's Result Have to be a Measuring Stick for IndyCar?
I have been thinking about this a lot for the past month. Is Fernando Alonso winning the Indianapolis 500 good for IndyCar?

For exposure? Yes. For credibility? Maybe not. A driver with no oval experience comes in and wins the Indianapolis 500 on his first attempt. It only adds to preconceived notions that IndyCar isn't as good as it is made out to be.

But then I thought why does Fernando Alonso's result dictating what kind of series IndyCar is? Not only is it a disservice to Alonso's talent as one of the best of all-time but also plenty of drivers have come from across the pond to IndyCar and not wiped the floor with the competition. Yes, Alexander Rossi won the Indianapolis 500 last year but the driver who spent most of his abbreviated Formula One career at the back of the order in a Manor did anything but dominate in his rookie year in IndyCar and his former Manor teammate Max Chilton only had two top ten finishes his entire rookie season in IndyCar.

Rubens Barrichello was respectable in his only year in IndyCar but never once stood on the podium and finished 12th in the championship. Takuma Sato has spent all of his seven years in IndyCar being a slightly below-average driver.

I am tired of Alonso's Indianapolis 500 attempt being turned into a barometer of how competitive or difficult IndyCar is as a series. I am tired of any success Alonso has being spun as a poor reflection of the state of IndyCar.

Speed Draws
The crowd was noticeably up for qualifying this year and without a doubt the man mentioned above had a hand in that bump and Mr. Alonso advancing to the Fast Nine session only helped draw more people out for the Sunday evening session as the rookie had a shot at pole position.

Something else might have played a hand in more people coming out for qualifying weekend and that is speed. We love speed. We love watching it. We love the sound of an engine at full song. We love the drivers on the edge.

While Scott Dixon's four-lap average of 232.164 MPH for pole position wasn't new, this type of speed isn't something we are familiar with. Yes, Arie Luyendyk set the track record 21 years ago at 236.986 MPH but that run is more of an anomaly than we all realize. Scott Brayton won pole position the year the track record was set but was more than three miles per hour slower than Luyendyk. Dixon's time would have put him sixth on that grid.

Nobody was making the Dutchman sweat yesterday but I think the current speeds are within the ballpark of where IndyCar should be. You need a speed that is getting people on edge and 225 MPH isn't fast enough. The limits need to be pushed and breaking the track record should be a goal. I have said this before but there is a limit of how fast you can go but IndyCar has to get to a place where the track record is in danger as it will be something people will be dying to see in person.

Overlooked Nuggets of Notoriety
Even though there were only 33 entries there are still so many things that get overlooked in the one week of practice and one qualifying weekend.

First off, Ed Jones will start 11th and he has been quick all month. Dale Coyne Racing was lost on ovals the last few years and the team likely would have been a legitimate contender had Bourdais not been injured but that is not to say Jones has no shot of winning. He is in the first third of the field and if he can stay up with the big boys anything is possible. Jones has been impressive everywhere he has gone this season and the de facto IndyCar Rookie of the Year is shaping up to have a bright career.

While Jones looks promising, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was disappointing in qualifying as none of the team's three cars made the Fast Nine one year after winning pole position and having two cars start seventh and tenth. SPM even had the speed in the days leading up to qualifying but it didn't come out on Saturday.

I want to give a shout out to Harding Racing as it announced it will be at Texas and Pocono later this season, hopes to be full-time next year and Gabby Chaves has a two-year deal with the team. It's been a respective debut for the team. Juncos Racing has looked good as well all things considered even though Spencer Pigot and Sebastián Saavedra will start on the final two rows. Buddy Lazier deserves some credit as the 49-year-old wasn't the slowest qualifier either day and he starts on row ten. He likely won't win but perhaps he could run longer than he has in his first three starts with his own team.

I was talking to a few of my friends last week and they are watching IndyCar a bit more than before. They are mostly NASCAR fans but are dabbling with IndyCar. They said they are getting used to looking at the cars and how unlike a stock car where they know where to look for the number and sponsors it is a little bit more difficult with an IndyCar. The one thing they said to me was how they like how the numbers are on the back of the rear-wheel guards. I didn't tell them that the new universal aero kit coming next year will likely mean that spot for the number will go away but the lack of real estate for the numbers is something IndyCar should consider when adopting the new kit and perhaps something could be done to give the cars a prominent place for the numbers. My friends also said they like the leader light system.

That's all I got.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: The Devalued Jewel

Scott Dixon won pole position for the Indianapolis 500 with a four-lap average of 232.164 MPH. Fernando Alonso ended up fifth on the grid. Ed Carpenter Racing proved to be nothing but a bunch of sly dogs. The Formula E season continues to be predictable. The option tires left many deflated at the NASCAR All-Star Race. Rain won Sunday at Mosport. There was an odd accident in the Moto3 race at Le Mans. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

The Devalued Jewel
The Memorial Day weekend is littered with historic events on the motorsports calendar. Each race could have its own respective pantheon for the winners of the esteemed events. The Indianapolis 500 is the biggest race on the IndyCar schedule. The Monaco Grand Prix is the biggest race on the Formula One schedule. The 24 Hours Nürburgring is arguably the most important race to the German manufactures. Then there is the Coca-Cola 600...

The longest race in the NASCAR season has been around since 1960, just a year after the inaugural Daytona 500 but the race has lost some of its luster while Daytona remains king. It not that the Charlotte race ever really challenged for the crown but historically Charlotte is one of NASCAR's crown jewel events. 

During the Winston Million-era of NASCAR, Daytona, the Winston 500 at Talladega, Charlotte and the Southern 500 made up the four-legged series with a million dollars the prize if a driver could win three of the four races. The Winston Million was last run 20 years ago and none of the races carry the same potential financial reward but outside of Daytona the series has seemed fine with the lack of marquee races standing above the rest of schedule. 

One reason has been NASCAR's emphasis on the championship. In the series' growth, it followed the footsteps of other sports and now we have the Chase. The talk heading into Charlotte isn't about a driver adding his or her name to a list of past winners such as David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson but about locking up a Chase spot or playoff points. 

The 600-mile race came at a different period for NASCAR. Dirt was still a prominent part of the schedule. Most of the tracks were under a mile in length. Besides Daytona, Darlington had two races but it didn't compare in track size. NASCAR went to Hanford Motor Speedway in California in 1960 but it would only be the second of three times the series went to the 1.4-mile oval. Atlanta opened the same year as Charlotte.  

Charlotte came before the big track boom of the late-1960s and early-1970s. Michigan, Texas World, Talladega, Ontario and Pocono were all two miles or greater in length and built in a four-year period and all would be on the 1972 NASCAR Cup schedule, a 31-race schedule with no dirt races, marking the start of the modern-era. Besides two road course races at Riverside, 15 of the 29 oval races in 1972 were on tracks less than 1.5 miles in length. Only five races took place on 1.5-mile ovals, two at Charlotte, two at Atlanta and the kidney bean-shaped Trenton Speedway. Charlotte had the third-largest purse on the schedule behind Ontario and the Daytona 500. 

Forty-five years later and NASCAR's schedule has evolved. It has grown by five races but there are still only two road course races. Purses are no longer disclosed but in the final year (2015) purses were made public Charlotte was fifth behind Daytona, Indianapolis and the two Texas races. Thirteen of 34 oval races are on tracks less than 1.5 miles in length. The amount of 1.5-mile oval races has more than doubled, now sitting at 11 of 36 total races and one more is on the way in 2018. 

Charlotte's 600-miler no longer stands out. It is now the intermediate track race that just happens to be 100 or 200 miles longer than the other ten races on intermediate tracks. The 1990s track boom led to cookie-cutter tracks, all pretty much a clone of Charlotte. There isn't even a Trenton that stands out with a slight kink. All the tracks pretty much produce the same race almost a dozen times over.

By increasing the number of 1.5-mile race tracks NASCAR turned the Coca-Cola 600 into just another event on the schedule. It can't stand out because the same race happens about every third week in NASCAR. While Daytona has remained a must-see race and the two road course races have become favorites on the NASCAR schedule, Charlotte has become a race people can skip because another 1.5-mile race track will be coming up soon enough.

Add Indianapolis and the Brickyard 400 as another reason for the lost prestige of the Coca-Cola 600. The fight over what the triple crown in NASCAR is or what the majors are is highly contested unlike twenty years ago. Daytona's place is safe at number one. Talladega was only special because Winston sponsored the race. Now it is just another restrictor-plate race. The Southern 500 hit a snag when it was moved from Labor Day weekend but now that it is back to its traditional date I think it has returned to the second-biggest race on the NASCAR calendar. The night race at Bristol has some supporters for being considered one of NASCAR's prestigious races. 

Whether the 600 or the Brickyard or another race is one of NASCAR's pinnacle races is a matter of debate and one where a consensus will never likely be established. NASCAR adding a fourth stage to the Coca-Cola 600, which means more stage points and playoff points doesn't really swing the argument but the 600 might have an edge considering the future of the Brickyard is in the air and we don't know whether it will continue on the oval or road course or if it will continue at all. I think the Coca-Cola 600 can breathe easier in third. A very distant third. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon but did you know...

Maverick Viñales won MotoGP's French Grand Prix, his third victory of the season, after a last lap pass on Valentino Rossi. Franco Morbidelli won in Moto2, his fourth victory of the season. Joan Mir won in Moto3, his third victory of the season. 

Sébastien Buemi won the Paris ePrix, his fifth victory of the season.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR All-Star Race. Kyle Busch also won the Truck race. 

The #8 Cadillac of Michael Cooper and Jordan Taylor won the only PWC SprintX race from Mosport as rain on Sunday forced race two to be postponed to a later date. Jade Buford swept the GTS races. 

Lucas Auer and Jamie Green split the DTM races from Lausitzring, just as they did at the season opener at the Hockenheimring. 

The #36 Lexus Team au Tom's Lexus LC 500 of Kazuki Nakajima and James Rossiter won the Super GT race from Autopolis. The #25 VivaC Team Tsuchiya Toyota 86 MC of Takamitsu Matsui and Kenta Yamashita won in GT300. 

Scott McLaughlin and Shane Van Gisbergen split the Supercars races from Winton Motor Raceway. 

Sébastien Ogier won Rally de Portgual. 

Coming Up This Weekend
Indianapolis 500. 
Monaco Grand Prix. 
Coca-Cola 600.
24 Hours Nürburgring. 
WTCC runs a doubleheader at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. 
World Superbike will be at Donington Park. 
Pirelli World Challenge heads south to Lime Rock Park for another SprintX round. 
Super Formula heads to Okayama. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

101st Indianapolis 500 Sunday Qualifying Preview

Can Chevrolet shock Honda again on Sunday?
Sunday's qualifying session for the 101st Indianapolis 500 will be run in two segments. Twenty-four cars will participate in Group 1 qualifying, which will start at 2:45 p.m. ET. Group 1 will set rows four through 11 of the grid and each car will have one qualifying attempt starting with the slowest qualifier from Saturday and going in reverse order and ending with the tenth-fastest qualifier from Saturday.

Zach Veach did not make a qualifying attempt on Saturday after his crew repaired his car from an accident that occurred late during Friday practice. He should be the first car to make a qualifying attempt on Sunday.

The big story from Saturday qualifying was Sébastien Bourdais' accident on the third lap of his qualifying attempt. The Frenchman's car started to step out in the middle of turn two and Bourdais' attempt to save the car caused an over-correction and his car to hit the turn two wall right front first before rolling over exiting the turn and ending up back on all four wheels before sliding to a stop on the back straightaway.

Bourdais suffered fractures to his pelvis and a fractured right hip from the accident but underwent a successful surgery on Saturday night. Dale Coyne Racing has not made it known what it will do with the #18 Honda for the rest of this weekend. Through two laps, Bourdais' average speed was 231.534 MPH, by far the fastest car of the session and he was likely to have ended Saturday as the top qualifier.

Pippa Mann was the slowest qualifier to complete an attempt at 219.282 MPH with Buddy Lazier 30th on Saturday over two miles per hour faster than Mann. Juncos Racing's two entries were 28th and 29th on the day with Sebastián Saavedra topping his teammate Spencer Pigot at 225.815 MPH over Pigot's 223.631 MPH. Conor Daly ended up 27th, less than a tenth of a mile per hour faster than Saavedra with Gabby Chaves qualifying 26th at 226.875 MPH.

Jack Harvey was 0.019 MPH faster than Chaves with Oriol Servià just over two-tenths of a mile per hour quicker than the British rookie. Carlos Muñoz was 23rd at 227.438 MPH with Jay Howard just over four-tenths of a mile per hour quicker in 22nd. Sage Karam was 21st at 227.943 MPH. Simon Pagenaud was the slowest Penske qualifier in 20th at 228.393 MPH with last year's Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe just ahead of Pagenaud at 228.557 MPH.

Josef Newgarden and Juan Pablo Montoya were 17th and 18th respectively on Saturday with less than a tenth of a mile per hour between the Penske teammates. Graham Rahal ended the day in 16th at 228.835 MPH with Mikhail Aleshin ending up 15th at 229.217 MPH. Hélio Castroneves was just ahead of Aleshin at 229.390 MPH with Ryan Hunter-Reay in 13th at 229.533 MPH, the slowest of the Andretti Autosport qualifiers.

Max Chilton was the slowest Ganassi qualifier at 229.636 MPH in 12th with his teammate Charlie Kimball just ahead of the Briton at 229.713 MPH. Rookie Ed Jones ended Saturday tenth fastest at 229.717 MPH.

Once the Group 1 qualifying session is complete, the Fast Nine will take place with that session scheduled to start at 5:00 p.m. ET.

Marco Andretti will kick off the Fast Nine session, as the Pennsylvanian was the only driver to make the Fast Nine and not break the 230 MPH-barrier on Saturday. Andretti's four-lap average on Saturday was 229.924 MPH. Tony Kanaan was eighth quickest at 230.007 MPH. Fernando Alonso was the only rookie to make the Fast Nine session with his four-lap average of 230.034 MPH putting him seventh-fastest on Saturday.

Will Power is the only Penske entry to make the Fast Nine with the Australian ending up sixth on the day at 230.072 MPH. Defending Indianapolis 500 Alexander Rossi will set a career-best Indianapolis 500 starting position regardless of where he qualifies and he ended up fifth on Saturday at 230.148 MPH. J.R. Hildebrand ended up fourth on the day at 230.205 MPH.

Scott Dixon was third fastest on Saturday with a four-lap average of 230.333 MPH. Like his teammate Rossi, Takuma Sato will also set a career-best Indianapolis 500 starting position regardless of where he qualifies as Sato was the top Honda on Saturday at 230.382 MPH. Ed Carpenter was the surprise of the session with him ending up as the fastest qualifier at 230.468 MPH. Carpenter is a two-time Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter and he could become the ninth driver to win at least three Indianapolis 500 pole positions.

Coverage of Group 1 qualifying will begin at 2:45 p.m. on WatchESPN with ABC's coverage of qualifying beginning at 4:00 p.m. ET.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

101st Indianapolis 500 Saturday Qualifying Preview

Sébastien Bourdais enters the first qualifying day the fastest of the month
Saturday marks the first day of Indianapolis 500 qualifying. The goal of today's session is to finish in the top nine and advance to the Fast Nine session scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. Each car will be guaranteed one attempt. Once the session has gone through the qualifying line each team will be able to make additional attempts to move into the top nine. The drivers that end up 10th to 33rd will take place in the first group of qualifying tomorrow afternoon and will decide the starting order from row four to row 11.

Today's session is scheduled to take place from 11:00 a.m. ET to 5:50 p.m. ET.

Honda had a dominated day on Friday as the manufacture took 13 of the top 15 overall times and 12 of the top 15 times on the no-tow report.

Sébastien Bourdais was fastest on the day with a lap of 233.116 MPH with Ryan Hunter-Reay in second at 232.132 MPH. Hunter-Reay had the fastest no-tow lap at 231.273 MPH and Bourdais was second at 231.192 MPH on the no-tow report. Takuma Sato was third overall at 231.969 MPH with Fernando Alonso making it three consecutive Hondas on the overall time sheet at 231.827 MPH. Alonso was fifth-quickest on the no-tow report at 230.966 MPH. Juan Pablo Montoya was fifth overall and the top Chevrolet at 231.682 MPH but the Colombian was only 20th on the no-tow report.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' three cars were sixth, seventh and eighth with James Hinchcliffe leading Mikhail Aleshin and Jay Howard with all three cars over 231 MPH. Aleshin was the quickest of the three on the no-tow report in ninth. Ed Jones was ninth on the day at 231.252 MPH but he was the only driver not to have a lap registered on the no-tow report. Alexander Rossi and Tony Kanaan round out the top 11 but Rossi and Kanaan were third and fourth on the no-tow report with each driver registering a lap over 231 MPH without a tow. Scott Dixon was 12th overall and sixth on the no-tow report.

The top Chevrolet on the no-tow report was Will Power in seventh at 230.730 MPH but Power was only 16th on the overall speed chart. Hélio Castroneves was 13th overall but was 21st on the no-tow. Simon Pagenaud was 23rd overall, just ahead of Josef Newgarden but the French was 13th on the no-tow report. Newgarden was 22nd on the no-tow report.

Ed Carpenter Racing has Ed Carpenter in 17th and J.R. Hildebrand was 19th overall but Carpenter was 12th on the no-tow with Hildebrand in 18th. Marco Andretti was the slowest Andretti Autosport car on Friday in 15th but was 11th on the no-tow report.

There were two accidents on Friday. Spencer Pigot spun in turn two while Zach Veach hit the wall exiting turn one. Pigot was 32nd fastest overall on Friday but was 28th on the no-tow report. Veach was 30th overall but 26th on the no-tow report yesterday.

Pippa Mann will be the first qualifier with Montoya second and Kanaan scheduled to go out third. Fourth on the draw will be Power followed by Howard, Jones, Castroneves and Sage Karam. Ryan Hunter-Reay will be the ninth qualifier with Dixon and Pagenaud rounding out the first-third of the qualifiers.

Veach was scheduled to be the 12th qualifier. Hinchcliffe and Conor Daly are slated to follow Veach. Graham Rahal, driver of car #15, will be the 15th qualifier. Fernando Alonso should be the 16th driver on track and Pigot is supposed to follow the Spaniard. Max Chilton is scheduled to be the 18th driver to make a qualifying attempt and his teammate Charlie Kimball will follow him. After the two Ganassi cars will be Bourdais. The Andretti Autosport entries of Rossi and Marco Andretti rounding out the second-third of qualifiers with Takuma Sato being the 23rd car in line.

Newgarden will be the 24th qualifier. Sebastián Saavedra should follow Newgarden and then should come Jack Harvey and Oriol Servia. Buddy Lazier is tentatively 28th in the qualifying line and then will be Ed Carpenter and Carlos Muñoz. The final three qualifiers should be Aleshin, Hildebrand and Gabby Chaves.

Qualifying will be shown streaming from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET on WatchESPN with ABC's coverage of the final two hours of qualifying starting at 4:00 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Brain Dump: May 2017

I just need to write about a handful of things I have been thinking about over the last two weeks and instead of saving it all and trying to dedicate time for a post for each I need to get it out all at once.

What Is a Good Race?
Will Power led 61 of 85 laps in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hélio Castroneves led the other 24 laps. All four lead changes occurred during pit cycles. Power won by over five seconds. For a portion of the race Power and Castroneves was nearly ten seconds clear of Scott Dixon in third. There were no cautions. Some wanted a debris caution. 

However, beyond the front two, there was a sufficient amount of passing from third to 16th. Graham Rahal went from 20th to sixth. Spencer Pigot went from 16th to sixth back to 15th after stalling on his first pit stop and back up to fifth. As the race went on, Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud worked their ways by Castroneves. Takuma Sato went from 22nd, last on the grid to 12th. Josef Newgarden got two pit-lane speeding penalties and clawed his way back to 11th on the final stint. 

There was passing and plenty of battles but not for the lead. Most will say it was a boring race but a race isn't just the leader. Do we watch races incorrectly? Should we stare at the leader and wait for someone else to come into frame or freelance and jump from watching the leader to watching 12th to watching fifth to watching a car who makes a pit stop and is the first to do so? The problem is we can freelance while at the track and watching in person but for majority of people who view a race over television we are subject to the director. We don't get a say over what car we watch. 

That aside, if one driver dominates a race, can it be a good race? There are going to be days when a driver is clicking on all cylinders and no one can hold a candle to him or her. A race can be a beat down and be a good race especially if you look beyond the leader. 

One final thing, the hypocrisy of fans. Some wanted a caution Saturday just to mix it up. We had an untimely caution at St. Petersburg and people were aggravated, especially Scott Dixon and company because it shuffled the deck and leaders during that first stint were now mid-pack. So if people were upset that a caution cost a fast driver a victory in one race, why are they rooting for a caution to cost a fast driver in another? You can't have it both ways.

Alternate Tires
This kind of connects to the point above. You couldn't go off-strategy in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. It couldn't be stretched into a two-stop race. Everyone had to make three pit stops for fuel. Everyone was forced to do the same thing. A team couldn't strategize a way to the front. Some will say that is a good thing but if people are going to complain about a race being boring then they should be ok if a team goes off strategy to have a fighting chance. 

This got me thinking about the tires. We have a primary and an alternate tire. The alternate is faster but the problem is the tires last the length of the stint regardless of compound. I can't remember what driver said this but I think it was Ryan Hunter-Reay; either way a few years ago someone said something along the lines of drivers should have to pit once for fuel but pit three times for tires. Instead of everyone trying to conserve fuel it would all be about tire conservation and that is a little more varied as tire degradation comes down to how hard a driver is on tires, downforce level and if the driver is in traffic. 

If people want to get rid of fuel conservation then the tires shouldn't last a fuel stint and the alternate compound should be gone halfway into a stint. Take the race on Saturday where the stints were about 22-24 laps for fuel. The alternate tire should be junk by about lap ten or 12 of a stint and then it becomes a catch-22. You could have the extra bit of grip for the first half-dozen laps of a stint but by halfway through they are junk and you either need to come in early and make an extra pit stop or try to tough it out and make it to the end of a tank and hope you don't drop through the field like a rock. 

Imagine how a race would change if drivers on alternate tires pulled away over the first few laps of a stint but by halfway through were running over half a second slower than drivers on the primary tire. I know the goal with the universal aero kit is to remove topside downforce from the cars and hopefully that will help the racing but the alternate tire could be much less durable. 

Quick switch to NASCAR. I saw this story last week about NASCAR bringing back merchandise trailers after doing a giant tent for the last few years. 

Lee Spencer of wrote that the tent was not popular with fans because, "they missed the interaction with the retailers and regular visits by their favorite drivers." I haven't been to a NASCAR race in a few years and it was probably a few years before the tent became the thing but my question is why did drivers stop doing appearances because of the tent? They couldn't figure out how a driver could do an hour of autograph signings at the tent? It seems like a bullshit excuse as to why drivers stopped making those visits. IndyCar and IMSA and other sports car series have figured out how to do autograph sessions without each driver having a merchandise trailer. Nobody at NASCAR could figure that out? 

I understand why the series went with the tent but the merchandise trailers were what made NASCAR different and it was fun to mosey around and when a driver or two or three came out it was fun watching people get excite and seeing the slightly disorganized chaos of it all. People would flock to a trailer getting a hat or t-shirt or die-cast car signed. 

As for giving people a climate-controlled experience, which I get because I have been to tracks when it is pushing triple-digits and you want a relief from the heat. Instead of a tent, couldn't tracks build a cover paddock area? I keep thinking of Adria International Raceway, which has an entirely enclosed paddock. Each track could have that and allow the merchandise trailers to be at the track while giving the fans a more comfortable shopping experience.

The Brickyard 400 Future
Staying on NASCAR but circling back to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the Brickyard 400 appears to be one of the final hurdles keeping the 2018 NASCAR Cup schedule from being released. The cause for the delay is over whether the race should be moved to the IMS road course and whether the race will move up a few weeks in the schedule.

Moving it to the road course aside, there are a few things wrong with moving the Brickyard 400 up a few weeks. First off, it is situated at the end of July and is the fourth race in the NBC portion of the schedule. Last year, the Brickyard 400 was the highest rated race on NBCSN, which was also the highest rated Cup race on cable, third-highest rated NBC property race and this year's race will be on network NBC. Unless the race is only moving up a week or would follow the July Daytona race I can't see NBC letting this race go to the Fox portion of the schedule and there is nothing from the Fox portion of the schedule that could be moved to NBC's portion that would rival the numbers the Brickyard 400 does for the network. Unless Fox would start alternating Daytona 500 coverage every other year like it did with NBC from 2001-2006 and I don't think Fox is game for that.

Second, moving the Brickyard up a week or two would put Indianapolis-Kentucky back-to-back, the closest track to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I can't help but think this will only negatively affect attendance at both races and the Brickyard 400 attendance can't afford to get any worse. You could already say having Kentucky and Indianapolis two weeks apart is spreading the fan base thin. Unless Kentucky is moving up a few weeks or back a month or so, I am not sure where Indianapolis could go if it moves forward in the schedule.

Of course if you are moving Indianapolis and Kentucky up another race has to move back and the races in June prior to Daytona are Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma. Pocono already has a race the last week of July and Michigan has a race mid-August. Sonoma could move but perhaps Fox really wants one of the two road course races.

Ending with the Indianapolis 500 entry list, 25 of 33 cars are numbered under 30. The only entries above 30 are Zach Veach (#40), Buddy Lazier (#44), Jack Harvey (#50), Pippa Mann (#63), Jay Howard (#77), Charlie Kimball (#83), Gabby Chaves (#88) and Alexander Rossi (#98). 

That is kind of boring. It just seems like everyone just takes the lowest available number. Somehow the #6 wasn't picked and the #13 was neglected yet again. Those are the only numbers under 20 that aren't being used. 

I want to see someone try something different. For example, the #85 has only made the Indianapolis 500 once and that was in 1971 with Denny Hulme. The #87 has only been in the Indianapolis 500 twice (1959 with Red Amick and 1987 with Steve Chassey). The #69 was last in the race in 1989. The #66 hasn't been in the race since 2001. Gary Bettenhausen was the last driver to race the #46 and that was in 1980. The #79 has only been in the race four times and most recently was in 1994 with Dennis Vitolo. 

I want to see some variety, which is why I kind of like competitors selecting numbers in Formula One and MotoGP. You get drivers choosing numbers for there own odd reason. Maybe a driver choses #72 because he or she was born on July 2nd or maybe a driver picks #64 because his or her father wore that number playing offensive tackle in college football. Maybe a driver picks #58 because he or she grew up on 58 Farm Road.

I wish teams and drivers were more creative with number selection that is all. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Let Them Have It

Penske won again at Indianapolis. Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all had one car retire at Barcelona. Jonathan Rea did not win this weekend. Formula E returned to Monaco. A rabbit ran onto the track at Monza. There were few fiery incidents, one at Imola and one in Kansas. Thoughts and prayers to Aric Almirola after suffering a compression fracture to his T5 vertebrae in an accident. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Let Them Have It
The last month has been dominated by Fernando Alonso's Indianapolis 500 attempt. It had the world talking about the Indianapolis 500 on April 12th. The Indianapolis 500 has never had that much attention on April 12th. His appearance on Barber was just as much of an event as the Barber race. His rookie orientation program was streamed online and a couple million people watched it and it trended in many European countries.

During Alonso's initial trip to the United States, after the Barber weekend, he headed up to Indianapolis and visited Andretti Autosport's shop, got his seat fitted and got to use the simulator but he also got a glimpse of the Borg-Warner Trophy in person.

I am guessing it was his first time seeing the trophy although he may have seen it during one of his handful of appearances at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the United States Grand Prix but he got to study the trophy at the Andretti shop. He described it as beautiful and said he would proud to take the trophy home.

Of course, as most IndyCar fans know, the trophy is not something the race winner keeps and drivers are awarded the affectionately known "Baby Borg," an 18-inch replica.

While the "Baby Borg" is just as beloved by race winners as the behemoth, there is something dissatisfying with the lack of time the winning driver gets with the actually Borg-Warner Trophy. Outside of a few appearances and maybe the occasional trip to the team shop, the Borg-Warner Trophy is pretty much kept at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

We are in the middle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and since 1994 each member of the winning team gets a day with the Cup and the trophy has had some famous moments. It has gone worldwide, took a dip in Mario Lemieux's pool, used for baptisms and even been a dog bowl. These moments have added to the lure of the Stanley Cup and each player gets a chance to have his own special moment with it.

It may be copying but there is no reason why the Indianapolis Motor Speedway couldn't allow the Borg-Warner Trophy into the hands of the race winner starting the night of the Indianapolis 500 Banquet the night after the race. A race team is slightly different than a hockey team. The driver gets the glory but there are plenty of men and women behind the scenes who work their fingers to the bone that we don't see and for a race like Indianapolis where crew members work all day and in some cases all night for at least two weeks if not more, the least they deserve is a day with the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Here is my proposal: The Borg-Warner Trophy is released to the winning team once the banquet is completed. If the Speedway wants to hire a "keeper of the Borg" to keep an eye on the trophy and the same way Phil Pritchard is "keeper of the Cup" then fine but give it to the team and the team keeps it from the banquet until let's say December 1st. On December 1st, it is returned to the museum and it is on display for six months until the next race.

In the six months the team gets the Borg-Warner Trophy, they can split it however they would like. Let the driver get it for a few days and then maybe pass it on to the front right tire changer and then the fueler and so on. I bet there are some crew members who would love to take it to their families and show it off to their father or mother who have been following the race for 60-plus years. If someone wants to take it on vacation to the Grand Canyon, let them. Think of all the great places this trophy could go and think about all the positive publicity it could be seen.

I could be wrong. Maybe the teams get more time with the Borg-Warner Trophy than we know but it should be something that is celebrated and shared if that is the case. I am sure everyone has a story worth sharing.

Let's just take Fernando Alonso as an example. Should he win, imagine if he was allowed to take the trophy to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks later and Baku two weeks after that and imagine if he was able to bring it to other dates on the Formula One schedule. That would only increase the Indianapolis 500's exposure around the world. Once Alonso was done with it, the men and women who worked on the car could get their own moments with the trophy.

The Speedway and the series seems to have become more relaxed with the Borg-Warner Trophy and with bright minds like Doug Boles in charge of the track I could see him realizing how allowing the Borg-Warner Trophy out of the track's grasp for a period could be beneficial for the race.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Will Power but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Spanish Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc and Nobuharu Matsushita split the Formula Two races at Barcelona. Nirei Fukuzumi and Haas development driver Arjun Maini split the GP3 Series season opener.

Nico Jamin and Kyle Kaiser split the Indy Lights races from the IMS road course. Victor Franzoni swept the Pro Mazda races. Oliver Askew swept the U.S. F2000 races again.

Sébastien Buemi won the Monaco ePrix.

Chaz Davies swept the World Superbike races from Imola. Kenan Sofuoglu won in World Supersport, his second consecutive victory. American P.J. Jacobsen finished third in Supersport.

The #22 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Gibson of Ryō Hirakawa, Memo Rojas and Léo Roussel won the 4 Hours of Monza. The #19 M.Racing - YMR Norma-Nissan of Ricky Capo and Erwin Creed won in LMP3. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Jody Fannin, Robert Smith and Jonny Cocker won in GTE.

Roberto Colciago and Stefano Comini split the TCR International Series races from Monza.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race from Kansas. Kyle Busch won the Truck race.

The #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Christian Engelhart, Mirko Bortolotti and Andrea Caldarelli won the Blancpain Endurance Series race at Silverstone, the team's third consecutive Blancpain Endurance Series victory dating back to last season and fourth consecutive Blancpain GT Series victory in 2017.

Tiago Monteiro and Mehdi Bennani split the WTCC races from the Hungaroring.

Coming Up This Weekend
Indianapolis 500 Time Trials.
NASCAR All-Star Race.
Formula E heads north to Paris.
MotoGP will be at Le Mans.
Pirelli World Challenge contests its second SprintX weekend at Mosport.
Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters heads to its second round of the season at Lausitzring.
Super GT runs its third round of the season at Autopolis.
Supercars will be at Winton Motor Raceway, its final race before a one month break.
World Rally Championship will be in Portugal.