Monday, July 31, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Can Kubica Return to Formula One?

Josef Newgarden made it two consecutive victories for himself in IndyCar. Team Penske also continues its world takeover in Australia. Teammates continue to run into each other in Formula One. The second-best American driver in GP3 made his Formula Two debut and scored points while the best American driver in GP3 finished on the podium. Audi continues to win endurance, races as does Yamaha. There was a NASCAR race. There were first-time winners in the World Rally Championship and Formula E and Formula E concluded its third season. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Can Kubica Return to Formula One?
Wednesday will be a blast from the past. Formula One teams will be on track testing at the Hungaroring for two days and there will be a fair share of young drivers hoping to impress someone enough to overlook the fact they are short a couple million Euros of budget and keep their number in the cell phone and maybe in the near future give them a call for a race seat because of talent and not bank account. One of those driver proved he had what it took to be in Formula One and he win races. Now he has to do it all over again.

It is somewhat fitting Robert Kubica's first time in a current Formula One car since early 2011 comes at the Hungaroring, the site where he made a somewhat surprise debut in 2006. Jacques Villeneuve had been sidelined after an accident at Hockenheim but he was already on the outs with BMW Sauber and the Pole, fresh off the 2005 Formula Renault 3.5 Series championship and 12 races running free practice one, slid right in and was fit for the job.

He made the final round of qualifying on his debut and held his own in the race, running in the points for most of the day and crossing the line in seventh position, one lap down. However, excess tire wear caused Kubica's car to weigh in two kilograms below the minimum weight and he was disqualified. Kubica's first career points wouldn't be that far off. He finished third two races later at Monza. He wouldn't score again in 2006 but for the entire 2007 season it felt BMW Sauber had found someone special.

Victory was a matter of when by the time the 2008 season started. He finished second at Malaysia and picked up his first career pole position at Bahrain. Felipe Massa beat him to turn one on the start and Kimi Räikkönen passed him on lap three but Kubica held on for third. A second at Monaco made it three podiums from the first six races and he was fourth in the championship, six points behind Lewis Hamilton.

The next race was Montreal. He started second to Hamilton. When Adrian Sutil broke down and caused a safety car Kubica and the rest of the leaders dived into the pit lane. Kubica came out ahead of Hamilton and he and Räikkönen were side-by-side at the end of the pit lane waiting for the red light to go green to release the cars back onto the race track. Hamilton, not anticipating stationary vehicles swerved to his left as he braked and ran into the back of Räikkönen's Ferrari. Kubica drove away unscathed. This left no real challengers for Kubica and while a handful of drivers cycled through the lead during pit stops, the race was all Kubica's for the final 28 laps as he took not only his first career grand prix victory but the World Drivers' Championship lead as well.

Kubica couldn't remain in the championship fight and he would eventually come home in fourth but he picked up three more podium finishes before the year was out. The underdog spirit wasn't enough in 2009. He had only two points from the first ten races and BMW announced its withdrawal from Formula One just after the tenth round at the Hungaroring. The tide turned for the second half of the season and he picked up 15 points in the final seven races with his best outing being a second-place finish at Interlagos.

Free agency came at the worst time for Kubica. He was free to go anywhere but he was not the top choice for any of the top teams. Mercedes took over Brawn GP and brought Michael Schumacher out of retirement and brought in Nico Rosberg from Williams. This left the reigning World Drivers' Champion Jenson Button without a ride and McLaren quickly snatched him up. Fernando Alonso replaced Räikkönen at Ferrari. Red Bull was set with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.

His only option was Renault, a team a half a decade removed from world championship success but blackballed by the embarrassment of telling one of its drivers to crash on purpose during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. Renault's future in Formula One was still in question. Despite all the uncertainty, Kubica finished second in his second start with the team at Melbourne and he would score points in the next seven races after that, which included a third-place finish at Monaco. He would finish third at Spa-Francorchamps later that season and end the year with 15 points finishes from 19 races and eighth in the championship.

Things were looking up for Kubica and 2011 started on a good note as he topped the final day of testing from Valencia. Then there is the turn in the story that we all know: A rally, an accident with a guard rail, severe damage to his right arm and for the last six years a Formula One career that appeared to have ended too soon. He was able to return to competition in the World Rally Championship and he won the WRC-2 championship in 2013. He started 2014 with a victory in the first round of the European Rally Championship. He was ready to take on the WRC big boys of Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen. He was competitive. He won his fair share of stages, he might have won a rally or two if he hadn't had so many accidents, a few so violent you wondered why a man who frisked by death once would continue on. The victory never came and his final WRC start came at Monte-Carlo last year.

The last couple years were hard to watch. It is tough to watch a man you thought was good enough to win the World Drivers' Championship constantly be told he should give up competing altogether. Even the failed attempt to driver for ByKolles in the WEC was just another disappointing blow for a driver who had already suffered enough. I couldn't help but think in 30 years the youths learning about Formula One would look at Robert Kubica and only think of this mystery man who shined when it seemed he shouldn't have and won one race and led the championship after one race and not know the talent he actually had. He could have been world champion. I can't be the only one who watched from 2006 to 2011 and thought he was better than Rosberg.

Wednesday is a day we been waiting six and a half years for. Most of us probably thought it would never come. What comes after this test still remains unknown. We all know Renault isn't too particularly attached to Jolyon Palmer but has it been too long of a hiatus for Kubica to be anymore competitive than Palmer in the final nine races of this year? And if Kubica isn't a midseason replacement but rather the option for that second seat in 2018, how long would he have in Formula One? He will be 33 years old at the start of next season. How long of a leash would he be given before he is tossed aside? Is it all worth it if it only last a year? What about two years? I can't imagine it is realistic to expect him to stay in a Formula One race seat for three years or more if he can only bring the car home in eighth or ninth on a good day.

You just want to see a happy ending at this point. For six years, Kubica has tried to continue to be a world-class race car driver and he has accomplished quite a bit despite his physical limitations. He deserves an ending that encapsulates his perseverance. I find it fitting this test will happen at the Hungaroring, where he first stepped into the spotlight. This will either be the start of Kubica's second Formula One career or the ribbon to bring closure to a career interrupted when things were starting to swing in the right direction.

Champions From the Weekend
Lucas di Grassi won the 2016-17 Formula E Drivers' Championship after winning race one from Montreal and finishing seventh in race two while Sébastien Buemi was disqualified from race one for his car being underweight and failed to score any points in race two.

Renault e.dams picked up its third consecutive Formula E Teams' Championship.

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

Sebastian Vettel won the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Jean-Éric Vergne won the second race of the Montreal ePrix. It was Vergne's first Formula E victory in 31st Formula E start, the most starts before a first victory in series history. It was also Vergne's first victory since September 17, 2011 when he won at Circuit Paul Ricard in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series.

The #25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc Audi R8 LMS of Christopher Haase, Markus Winkelhock and Jules Gounon won the 24 Hours of Spa.

The #21 Yamaha Factory Racing Team of Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark won the Suzuka 8 Hours. It is Nakasuga's third consecutive Suzuka 8 Hours victory, van der Mark's third career Suzuka 8 Hours victory and Lowes' second consecutive Suzuka 8 Hours victory.

Santiago Urrutia and Nico Jamin split the Indy Lights races from Mid-Ohio. Anthony Martin won the first and third Pro Mazda races and Victor Franzoni took the second race. Oliver Askew and Parker Thompson split the U.S. F2000 races.

Álvaro Parente swept the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Mid-Ohio. Lawson Aschenbach and Ian James split the GTS races.

Oliver Rowland and Nobuharu Matsushita split the Formula 2 races from the Hungaroring. American and Connecticut's own Santino Ferrucci finished ninth in the first race of the weekend, scoring himself two points on his debut. Jack Aitken and Giuliano Alesi split the GP3 races. American and New York-native Ryan Tveter finished second to Alesi in the sprint race.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR race from Pocono. Ryan Preece won the Grand National Series race from Iowa. Christopher Bell won the Truck race from Pocono.

Steve McLaughlin and Chaz Mostert split the Supercars races from Queensland Raceway.

Esapekka Lappi won Rally Finland, his first career WRC victory. With Sébastien Ogier retiring from the rally and Thierry Neuville finishing sixth and picking up three points from the power stage, the two drivers are tied on 160 points for the championship lead with four races remaining in 2017. Neuville holds the tiebreaker with three victories to Ogier's two.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP is back! And that two-wheel circus will be at Brno.
NASCAR will be at Watkins Glen.
IMSA heads to Road America with all four classes in tow.
Fuji hosts Super GT.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

First Impressions: Mid-Ohio 2017

1. Josef Newgarden is up for it at Team Penske. He has the most victories in 2017 as he picked up his third victory of the season and now he leads the championship. This was a master class performance by Newgarden. He caught a break two weeks ago but today he was head, neck and shoulders above the competition today. He made a bold move on Will Power early and never looked back. This victory comes after a string of poor results at Mid-Ohio, most weren't of his doing. He could have won in 2014 if it wasn't for one poor pit stop. There are still four races to go but he hasn't been spooked yet this season. Everything he has faced in his first season at Team Penske he has been able to handle. Four races to go but I don't think he is going to blink at what is in front of him.

2. Will Power was second-best all day. He started on pole position and led a few laps but never had anything for his teammate. It is a good day, it is another 1-2 finish for Team Penske and it is another second-place finish for Power at Mid-Ohio. Surprisingly, he has yet to win at this track. He will have to wait until 2018 to get that elusive victory.

3. Graham Rahal gave it his all to finish second but third is a respectable result for the Ohioan at his home race. Rahal has consistently been the best Honda driver in the last three seasons in this aero kit-era. He has been able to go toe-to-toe with Team Penske as a single-car effort. It is absolutely impressive what he is doing and he is still in the title fight. He is going to have to probably win one of the final four races if not two but don't count him out.

4. Simon Pagenaud finished fourth and this is the fourth time he has finished fourth after starting seventh in his career. He had a good start and made up a few positions but he really had nothing for the top three. Minus winning three consecutive races, this year mirrors what Pagenaud did last year. He is constantly finishing at the front. He has ten top five finishes in 13 races. Any other year he would be leading the championship.

5. Takuma Sato finished fifth and I think he over-performed his car today. He didn't really have the best car. He was really holding on to stay in sixth or seventh but the only caution bunched the field up and he made up two spots immediately on the restart. This was a good day in what has really been an impressive season for Sato and that isn't even taking into consideration his Indianapolis 500 victory.

6. Alexander Rossi looked like he would have a shot at the podium but his middle stint on the alternate tire did not go to plan. He set the fastest lap of the race but he was over two seconds off the rest of the field at the end of that stint. He probably should have finished ahead of Sato but sixth isn't a bad day.

7. Hélio Castroneves finished seventh in what was a Castroneves-esque day. He really didn't have a car to finish in the top five. He gets points and he remains second in the championship, seven points behind Newgarden.

8. Ryan Hunter-Reay is probably counting his lucky stars that he finished eighth. He had a spin early after a battle with his teammate Rossi for fifth. He got back going immediately and rejoined the race in 12th. He made a handful of passes and came home in eighth. After the rough start to his season, Hunter-Reay should be happy with an eighth-place finish. He is clawing his way back into the top ten of the championship.

9. Scott Dixon finished ninth in what was a rough day for him. He couldn't get the handling of his car to his liking and he was fighting the car for most of the race. Add on top of that a botched pit stop where the left rear changer had an issue with the air gun and the fact he came home ninth is amazing. He dropped to third in the championship from the championship lead but he only trails Newgarden by eight points. He isn't out of this at all.

10. Conor Daly finally had a good weekend. He started 11th, he finished tenth and it has to be a good boost for the team. He is changing his diet in hopes of improving his driving and I am not sure the vegan diet is 100% responsible for this result nor do I think he is going to end the season with a string of top ten finishes but it is a good day and something to build on for the final four races.

11. James Hinchcliffe was passed late by Daly and he finished 11th. He was stuck behind Sato for most of this race and he probably should have finished sixth or seventh but he got shuffled back during pit stops and he didn't have the best car in the final stint.

12. Marco Andretti finished 12th after starting 14th and Charlie Kimball started and finished 13th in two days that could have been better but could have been worse as well.

13. Mikhail Aleshin had a quiet day and finished 14th and that is a good thing. After he spun and hit the barrier in the final practice on Saturday, I was starting to think he was going to be fired come Monday. I am not sure he salvaged his career today but he isn't confirmed for the final four races. Keeping all four wheels on it today bodes well for him but the ice remains thin for the Russian.

14. Quickly through the rest of the field: Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan were lost all day. J.R. Hildebrand may have had a chance for a top ten had he not been caught out by the only caution in this race. Carlos Muñoz proved that not everything is swell for A.J. Foyt Racing. Spencer Pigot couldn't overcome the hard accident in the warm-up session and finished 19th. This was a bad day for Dale Coyne Racing. Esteban Gutiérrez damaged his front wing in the opening laps and was a lap down most of this race and Ed Jones spun exiting turn nine for the only caution in this race and finished two laps down.

15. The one sore eye from today and it is one of the few areas IndyCar has to improve on in terms of on-track competition is blue flag enforcement. We had two incidents today. The first was Carlos Muñoz. He had to make an unscheduled pit stop and came out between Power and Rahal in second and third. Rahal couldn't get by for a handful of laps and the gap between him and Power went from just over a second to over seven seconds.

Then there was Esteban Gutiérrez. He was between Newgarden and Power on the restart, which is legal, but after a few corners he still held up Power and the rest of the cars on the lead lap. Gutiérrez eventually pulled down the pit lane but at that point Newgarden's lead was over three seconds.

I didn't see blue flags being waved once and I question whether there were any present at Mid-Ohio this weekend. Neither driver had any reason to be holding up lead lap cars. I understand Gutiérrez was trying to fight to get his lap back but it was clear he wasn't and he had over 11 seconds between him and Muñoz, the next car on the lead lap.

IndyCar needs to work on blue flag enforcement and I think all the drivers would agree, including Muñoz and Gutiérrez. I am sure if the roles were reversed and Muñoz and Gutiérrez were second and third they would not want a lapped car holding them up and allowing the leader to pull away. I hope IndyCar works on it immediately but realistically I hope it is amended for 2018.

16. Mid-Ohio has a problem and that is it is running out of room to put people. Good lord, there was people lined all along the fence down the straightaway from the keyhole to turn four. This has to be the largest crowd Mid-Ohio has seen since the IRL first went there in 2007 and it has to challenge for one of the largest crowds all-time for a Mid-Ohio IndyCar race. This is what a decade of running the last weekend in July/first weekend in August does. People know when it is and they make it a yearly summer trip. It is exciting to see and you can only hope Pocono, Phoenix, Gateway and Watkins Glen are allowed to follow in the footsteps of Mid-Ohio and growth happens at those places as well.

17. We get a little summer break now for IndyCar. I like the two weeks off. It isn't a massive amount of down time but it is just enough. Besides, IndyCar will run three consecutive weeks once the series gets back to work at Pocono on August 20th.

Morning Warm-Up: Mid-Ohio 2017

Will Power will try to make it three consecutive victories for Team Penske with three different drivers
Will Power picked up his 49th career pole position with a lap of 64.1720 seconds in qualifying and he will lead the field to the green flag for the Honda Indy 200. Power is now tied for fourth all-time in pole positions with Bobby Unser. It is Power's fifth pole position of the season, leading all drivers. It is the sixth time in Power's career he has scored at least five pole positions in a season. This is the third time Power has won pole position at Mid-Ohio. He finished second in his previous two pole position starts in 2010 and 2012. This will be his sixth front row start in nine Mid-Ohio starts. Josef Newgarden picked up his first front row start with Team Penske as the Tennessean qualified 0.1347 seconds behind his teammate. This matches Newgarden's best starting position at Mid-Ohio. He started second in the 2013 race before finishing 12th after a bad pit stop. Newgarden's tenth-place finish last year at Mid-Ohio was his first top ten finish at the track.

Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal make it an all-Honda row two. This was only the second time Sato had made the final round of qualifying at Mid-Ohio. He started third in his first visit to the track in 2010 but finished 25th after an accident in turn four. This matches Rahal's best career starting position at his home race. He stared fourth in 2009 and finished eighth. Rahal finished fourth in last year's Mid-Ohio race. He is looking for his seven consecutive top ten finish. Championship rivals Hélio Castroneves and Scott Dixon will start on row three. This is Castroneves' worst start on a road/street circuit since he started 16th in the season opener at St. Petersburg. Castroneves has won three times from fifth on the grid but all three of those victories came on temporary circuits. He did it twice at St. Petersburg and once at Edmonton. Dixon's first Mid-Ohio victory came from sixth on the grid in 2007. All five of Dixon's Mid-Ohio victories have come from a different position on the starting grid.

Simon Pagenaud missed out on the final round of qualifying by 0.0448 seconds and this is the third time he has started seventh this season. His best finish from seventh on the grid in his career is fourth, which has happened on three occasions, most recently at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May and the other two times were in 2007 at Mont-Tremblant and Edmonton. James Hinchcliffe will join the Frenchman on row four. Hinchcliffe has started in the top ten for every road and street course race this season but this is his first time starting on row four in 2017. Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay make it an all-Andretti Autosport row five. Rossi finished second at Toronto two weeks ago and he is looking for consecutive top five finishes for the first time in his career. Hunter-Reay is looking for his third consecutive top ten finish. Three of his four top ten finishes in 2017 came with him starting outside the top ten including his last two top ten finishes.

Conor Daly advanced to the second round of qualifying for the first time this season and for the first time since Toronto last year. This was only the second time A.J. Foyt Racing made the second round of qualifying in 2017. Carlos Muñoz started 11th in the season opener at St. Petersburg. Esteban Gutiérrez made the second round of qualifying for the first time in his IndyCar career. Today's race comes five years and one day since Gutiérrez's most recent victory, a GP2 sprint race win at the Hungaroring. Gutiérrez has finished ahead of his teammate Ed Jones in three of his five starts including the last two races. Charlie Kimball missed out on advancing to the second round of qualifying by 0.0303 seconds while Marco Andretti missed round two by 0.1297 seconds and both drivers make up row seven. Kimball has been running at the finish of the last three races, his longest streak of the season. Andretti is coming off his first top five finish in over two years after he finished fourth at Toronto. He has yet to finish in the top five at Mid-Ohio.

Ed Jones will start in 15th position for the second consecutive race. Since completing 886 of 890 laps in the first seven races, Jones has completed 638 of 758 laps run in the last five races with his only lead lap finish being at Road America. Three of those five results have been retirements for Jones. Spencer Pigot joins Jones on row eight. He started 16th at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May and finished ninth. He finished seventh at Mid-Ohio last year after starting 19th. Tony Kanaan and Max Chilton make it an all-Ganassi row nine. Kanaan was set to advance to the second round of qualifying but he had his fastest lap rescinded after he caused a local yellow for a spin in the keyhole in the final minutes of his qualifying group. Not only is this Kanaan's worst starting position of the season but also it was the sixth time in the last eight Mid-Ohio races he has not advanced to round two in qualifying. Chilton had advanced to the second round of qualifying at every permanent road course this season prior to Mid-Ohio.

J.R. Hildebrand and Carlos Muñoz round out the top twenty. This is Hildebrand's worst career starting position at Mid-Ohio. Hildebrand's best career finish in his prior four times starting 19th was seventh at Motegi in 2011. This is the third consecutive year Muñoz has started outside the top ten at Mid-Ohio. He went from 23rd to ninth in 2015 and from 15th to third last year. Mikhail Aleshin rounds out the grid in 21st position in his return race after being bench for Toronto. Aleshin did hit the barrier after a spin in the final practice session on Saturday morning. This is Aleshin's worst starting position of the season and this is only the third time he has started outside the top twenty in his career. He failed to finish on the lead lap and in the top fifteen in those prior two starts outside the top twenty.

CNBC's coverage of the Honda Indy 200 from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:37 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 90 laps.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Track Walk: Mid-Ohio 2017

Another July ends at Mid-Ohio
The lucky 13th round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season sees the series head to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the 33rd time. Last year, Simon Pagenaud won from pole position but not after a pair of cautions mixed up the field twice and a side-by-side battle between the Frenchman and his teammate Will Power that even saw contact between the two Team Penske drivers on the way to a 1-2 finish for the team. The victory helped the Frenchman keep control of the championship before heading into the final portion of the season. 

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 30th. Green flag will be at 3:47 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: CNBC.
Announcers: Kevin Lee is in the booth with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy in the booth with Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 10:00 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Second Practice- 2:15 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Third Practice- 9:55 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 2:05 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have tape-delayed coverage at 6:30 p.m. ET).
Warm-Up- 11:15 a.m. ET (30-miunte session).
Race- 3:47 p.m. ET (85 laps)

IndyCar Down to Final Five Races
The final race of July marks IndyCar entering the final two months of the season and twenty-two drivers remains mathematically eligible for the championship. 

Scott Dixon leads with 423 points and he has a three-point advantage over Hélio Castroneves. Dixon has led the championship since the first Belle Isle race. Despite the small margin between Dixon and Castroneves, this is not the closest the two have been this season. Dixon led Castroneves by two points when he initially took the lead at Belle Isle. Castroneves led the championship after the Indianapolis 500 by 11 points over a three-way tie between Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato and Dixon. Dixon has been no lower than fourth in the championship this year while Castroneves was sixth in the championship after each of the first four races and he was fourth after the Texas race. 

Pagenaud trails Dixon by 19 points and he is third in the championship with the most recent winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Josef Newgarden rounding out the top four, 23 points behind Dixon. Like Dixon, Pagenaud has been no lower than fourth this season in the championship. Newgarden has been no higher than third in the championship this season. Newgarden has led at least one lap in the last five races. 

Will Power and Graham Rahal are tied for fifth in the championship on 359 points with Power owning the tie-breaker based on more second-place finishes. Mid-Ohio is the only road/street course on the 2017 IndyCar schedule that Power has not won at in his career. He finished second at Mid-Ohio last year, his third runner-up finish in eight starts. Power has completed all 700 laps in his eight Mid-Ohio starts. Rahal was 15th in the championship after the Indianapolis 500. He has finished in the top five the last three years at Mid-Ohio after his best finish in his first six starts was eighth. 

Takuma Sato has dropped to seventh in the championship, 72 points behind Dixon, and he has lost championship positions after the last three races. He had four consecutive top ten finishes from the Indianapolis 500 to Texas but his last three finishes have been 19th, 16th and 16th. Alexander Rossi trails his teammate by 21 points in the championship. Sato has been the top Andretti in the championship since his Indianapolis 500 victory. Rossi picked up his first podium finish since his Indianapolis 500 victory last year at Toronto two weeks ago. 

Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe round out the top ten in the championship with the Brazilian 117 points behind his teammate and Hinchcliffe 126 points back. Kanaan's best finish in 15 Mid-Ohio starts was fourth in 2007. Kanaan led 13 laps in that race and that is the only time he has led at the circuit. Hinchcliffe has four consecutive top ten finishes at Mid-Ohio and three of those are top five finishes. He is coming off his 14th career podium finish but his record after podium finishes is not good. He has finished outside the top ten in the race following a podium finish eight times, including finishing 20th in the second Belle Isle race in June after finishing third in the first race of the weekend. 

Max Chilton is two points outside the top ten in the championship. He has started and finished in the top ten in three of the last four races. Ed Jones is the top rookie in the championship in 12th on 276 points. This is the lowest Jones has been in the championship all season. Ryan Hunter-Reay is three points behind the Emirati driver with Marco Andretti another five points behind his Andretti Autosport teammate. Hunter-Reay has nine top ten finishes in 11 Mid-Ohio starts while Andretti has six top ten finishes in ten starts but he has never finished in the top five at the track.

J.R. Hildebrand rounds out the top fifteen on 263 points. He is still looking for his first top ten finish on a road/street course this season. His best road/street course finish this season was 11th at Long Beach. He was running in the top ten in that race until Mikhail Aleshin ran into the back of his car on the final lap. Carlos Muñoz is 16th on 224 points. The Colombian's average finish at Mid-Ohio is the fourth-best all-time among drivers with at least three starts at 5.3. He has finished fourth, ninth and third in his three starts. Mikhail Aleshin is three points behind Muñoz despite missing Toronto. Aleshin is scheduled to be back in the #7 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this weekend. Charlie Kimball sits on 206 points. He has started in the top ten in four of his five Mid-Ohio starts. 

Conor Daly has scored 179 points this season. Daly has been 19th or worse in the championship since after Long Beach. He was 15th in the championship after St. Petersburg. Daly finished sixth in his Mid-Ohio debut last year after starting 22nd and leading 22 laps by going off strategy. Spencer Pigot rounds out the top twenty on 154 points. Ed Carpenter and Sébastien Bourdais are both mathematically eligible for the championship on 142 points and 136 points respectively. 

Dixon Heads to His Backyard
Scott Dixon dominates at Mid-Ohio. No driver has won more at the track than the New Zealander. He has won five times at the track. All his victories have come in the last ten years. Before last year's retirement after contact with Hélio Castroneves broke his suspension, Dixon had finished in the top ten in ten consecutive Mid-Ohio starts. He had completed 982 consecutive laps at the track at the time of his accident. Last year's result was his first retirement at the track.

Dixon has made the final round of qualifying eight out of ten times at Mid-Ohio. Eight of Dixon's ten top ten finishes have been top five finishes. He has led 223 laps out of a possible 1,045 laps in his career at the track. That is 21.339% of the laps run in his 12 starts. He trails Michael Andretti by 23 laps for most laps led all-time at Mid-Ohio. The next closest active driver all-time in laps led at Mid-Ohio is Hélio Castroneves, who has led 147 laps at the track. Dixon and Michael Andretti are the only two drivers to have led over 200 laps at Mid-Ohio. Andretti is the only driver with more Mid-Ohio pole positions than Dixon with three pole positions. 

His average finish of 5.25 is the best all-time at Mid-Ohio among drivers with at least three starts. He is one top five finish and one top ten finish away from tying Bobby Rahal and Al Unser, Jr. for most all-time at the track in the respective categories at nine top fives finishes and 11 top ten finishes.

Dixon has never gone more than two starts without a victory at Mid-Ohio and he has not failed to lead a lap in consecutive races since his first two starts at Mid-Ohio. He did not lead a lap in last year's race. 

Road to Indy
This year's Mid-Ohio weekend once again is jam-packed with on track action as all three Road to Indy series will be present and there will be a grand total of seven races between the three series.

Mid-Ohio marks the final doubleheader of the Indy Lights season as four races and three race weekends remain in 2017. Eleven drivers have a mathematical chance at the championship.

Kyle Kaiser stretched his championship lead at Toronto by sweeping the weekend and the Californian has scored 279 points this season. The Juncos Racing driver is 51 points clear of Carlin's Matheus Leist, who has won three of the last six races. Kaiser and Leist are tied for most victories this season with three apiece however Kaiser has Leist beat on podium finishes by a count of seven to four. Kaiser has not had much luck at Mid-Ohio. In eight starts between Pro Mazda and Indy Lights he has only one top five finish. Colton Herta had a chance to get himself back in the thick of the championship hunt at Toronto but a right rear suspension failure cost him a victory in the second race. The Andretti Steinbrenner Racing driver trails Kaiser by 65 points and since standing on the podium after three of the first four races, Herta has only one podium finish in eight races.

Zachary Claman DeMelo picked up a double podium weekend in his home country with a second and third at Toronto. The Carlin driver has 207 points, 72 points behind Kaiser. Aaron Telitz is coming off his third podium of the season and the Belardi Auto Racing driver rounds out the top five in the championship, four points behind DeMelo. Santiago Urrutia swept the Mid-Ohio weekend last year and this year the Uruguayan finds himself sixth in the championship and six points behind his teammate Telitz. Urrutia has finished outside the top ten in five races this year while he has finished on the podium fives times and he has finished runner-up in four races. Only Kaiser has more podium finishes than Urrutia this season.

Nico Jamin has not finished in the top five in the last six races and he has fallen to seventh in the championship on 189 points. Neil Alberico has not finished in the top five in the last five races and he is ten points behind Jamin. Dalton Kellett and Ryan Norman round out the top ten on 154 points and 150 points respectively. Juan Piedrahita is the final driver mathematically championship eligible but the Colombian would need to score all 132 points remaining and have Kasier not start any of the final four races.

Indy Lights will race at 3:35 p.m. ET on Saturday and at 1:20 p.m. ET on Sunday. 

While most of the Road to Indy championships are nearing the end, the Pro Mazda series is just starting the second half of its season after a month off.

No drivers have been mathematically eliminated from the Pro Mazda championship yet but it is looking to be a two-horse race through the final six races. Juncos Racing's Victor Franzoni leads the championship with 174 points and Cape Motorsports' Anthony Martin trails the Brazilian by seven points. It has been nearly equal this year between Franzoni and Martin. Both drivers have three victories, three pole positions and have led the most laps in each of their victories but where they differ is Franzoni has three runner-up finishes while Martin has finished runner-up twice and fourth-place once and Franzoni has three fastest laps while Martin only has two fastest laps.

Last year, both drivers ran at Mid-Ohio in U.S. F2000 and Martin swept the triple-header that weekend while Franzoni finished second, third and fourth. Franzoni made two Pro Mazda starts at Mid-Ohio in 2015 where he finished tenth and fourth.

T.J. Fischer is a distant third in the championship, 59 points behind Franzoni. He finished on the podium in the first four races before finishing 15th and 12th at Road America. Nikita Latstochkin finished third in both Road America races and the Russian is five points behind Fischer in the championship. Carlos Cunha Filho rounds out the top five on 103 points. 

Pro Mazda will race at 3:35 p.m. ET on Friday, 1:05 p.m. ET on Saturday and at 10:20 a.m. ET on Sunday. 

We are down to the penultimate race weekend in U.S. F2000 and with 99 points left on the table only four drivers remain fighting for the championship.

Oliver Askew has led the championship since the end of the St. Petersburg weekend but the Floridian's championship lead took a hit at Toronto when he was collateral damage after Alexandre Baron and David Malukas collided while battling for the lead. The Cape Motorsports driver has 283 points and he leads Pabst Racing driver Rinus VeeKay by 18 points. Both Askew and VeeKay have finished on the podium in seven of nine races this season with Askew picking up six victories while the Dutchman has only won twice.

Parker Thompson kept his championship hopes alive by sweeping his home race weekend in Toronto. It is an uphill fight for the Canadian as he trails Askew by 77 points. Last year, Thompson's championship hopes squashed after a 17th-place finish in the first race of the Mid-Ohio triple-header. He went on to finish second in the next two races that weekend but it was not enough to best Anthony Martin. Kaylen Frederick of Team Pelfrey is mathematically alive for the championship by one point and he would have to hope Askew fails to start all of the final three races to have a shot at the title.

The first U.S. F2000 race of the weekend will be at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday. Race two will be at 12:10 p.m. on Saturday.

Pirelli World Challenge
This weekend will also be the penultimate round of the Pirelli World Challenge sprint championship and the proantepenulimate round to the overall championship.

Patrick Long and Michael Cooper are tied for the overall championship on 183 points while Long holds the tiebreaker with three victories to Cooper's one victory. Long has finished on the podium in all five sprint races this season while Cooper's best finish in a sprint race was third in the first Road America race. Long leads the sprint championship with 117 points. Third in the overall championship, 18 points back of Long, is Álvaro Parente. The Portuguese driver won two of the first three sprint races but finished sixth in both Road America races last month.

Daniel Mancinelli is a surprise fourth in the championship with 141 points despite his only victory being the first SprintX race of the season at VIR and his next best finish this season being fourth. Johnny O'Connell rounds out the top five on 135 points. O'Connell is looking for his first victory of the season but he does have three podium finishes this year. Adderly Fong is two points behind O'Connell after a victory and a second-place finish at Road America. Fong will miss the Mid-Ohio round due to China GT Championship duties.

Ryan Dalziel won the second SprintX race at VIR but he has only one other top five finish this season and that was fifth in the first VIR race. His best sprint finish was sixth at Long Beach. The Scotsman sits on 130 points, five ahead of Bryan Sellers, whose best finish was third at Long Beach.

R. Ferri Motorsports returns to competition after an accident at VIR sidelined the team but it will have Kyle Marcelli as its driver instead of Alex Riberas. Jon Fogarty and Gainsco/Bob Stalling Racing is entered for Mid-Ohio after a hard accident at Road America.

Last year, Parente and Cooper split the Mid-Ohio weekend while Dalziel won four consecutive races at the track between 2014 and 2015.

The first GT race is scheduled for 4:45 p.m. ET on Saturday with race two scheduled for noon ET on Sunday.

The GTS championship is more of a runaway than the overall GT title. Lawson Aschenbach has finished on the podium in nine of ten races but he has yet to win in 2017. Despite having yet to ascend to the top step of the podium, Aschenbach has 219 points and he is 68 points clear of Martin Barkey, who has yet to stand on the podium this year. Rodrigo Baptista swept the Lime Rock Park weekend and he is 84 points behind Aschenbach. Ian James swept the Road America weekend, Panoz's first two victories in the series, and he is two points behind Baptista. Nate Stacy rounds out the top five on 131 points.

Aschenbach won the one and only Mid-Ohio race last year after the first race was cancelled due to heavy rain and was later made up at the season finale at Laguna Seca.

GTS will race at 10:55 a.m. ET on Saturday and 9:05 a.m. ET on Sunday. 

Fast Facts
This will be the eighth IndyCar race to take place on July 30th and first since 2006 when Hélio Castroneves won at Michigan.

Chip Ganassi Racing has the most victories at Mid-Ohio with ten.

Team Penske picked up its eighth Mid-Ohio victory last year.

The other six IndyCar teams combine for one Mid-Ohio victory. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing won the 2015 race with Graham Rahal.

Josef Newgarden's victory at Toronto was the first time Team Penske had won that race in consecutive years.

Team Penske won four consecutive years at Mid-Ohio from 1992 to 1995 with Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser, Jr. splitting those races with each winning in consecutive years. Hélio Castroneves won back-to-back years at Mid-Ohio for Team Penske in 2000 and 2001.

There have been seven spells of teams winning consecutive races at Mid-Ohio and those seven spells consist of twenty of the previous 32 Mid-Ohio races (Truesports 1985-86; Newman-Haas 1990-91; Penske 1992-95 and 2000-01; Chip Ganassi Racing 1996-97 and 2009-14; Forsythe Racing 2002-03).

Simon Pagenaud set the Mid-Ohio track record with a lap of 63.8700 second (127.271 MPH) in the third round of qualifying.

The winners of the last two Mid-Ohio races have each led 23 laps.

The fewest laps led by a Mid-Ohio winner were ten by Bobby Rahal in 1986.

On race day, Esteban Gutiérrez will have gone 1,827 days (five years and one day) since his most recent victory, which was the sprint race of the GP2 weekend at the Hungaroring. Max Chilton won the feature race the day before from pole position. That is Chilton's most recent permanent road course victory.

Mid-Ohio is the only permanent road course currently on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule where Honda has won majority of the races in the DW12-era. Honda has won three of the previous five Mid-Ohio races.

The average starting position for a Mid-Ohio winner is 3.6875 with a median of two.

The average number of lead changes in a Mid-Ohio race is 4.53125 with a median of four.

The last three Mid-Ohio races have had seven lead changes.

There has been at least one lead change in every Mid-Ohio race.

The record for most lead changes at Mid-Ohio is eight, which occurred in 1988 and 2007.

The average number of cautions in a Mid-Ohio race is 2.032 with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is 7.967 with a median of nine. 

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon and Hélio Castroneves are both one top five finish away from tying Michael Andretti for fifth all-time at 139 top five finishes.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 28 laps to reach the 6,000 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 23 laps to reach the 5,000 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 3 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 149 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

I am going against the current and will pick Graham Rahal to win this weekend but Scott Dixon will finish in the top five. Team Penske will have all four of its drivers make the final round of qualifying. Mikhail Aleshin has a solid return but does not finish ahead of his teammate James Hinchcliffe. Spencer Pigot finally makes it to the second round of qualifying and he will finish ahead of at least one Penske driver. At least 80% of the cars finish on the lead lap. Sleeper: Max Chilton.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

2016-17 Formula E Season Finale Preview

The conclusion for the third Formula E season takes place this weekend and like the first two seasons it will be a doubleheader. Unlike the first two seasons, the season finale will not take place in London; rather it will be on the streets of Montreal. Four drivers enter with a chance at the title and three of the final four drivers could pick up their first Formula E championship.

Renault e.dams driver Sébastien Buemi has dominated this season and he leads the championship despite making fewer starts this season than his title rivals. The defending Formula E champion opened the season with three consecutive victories, none of which surprisingly came from pole position and Buemi won five of the first eight races of the 2016-17 season. However, the Swiss driver had to miss the New York ePrix doubleheader due to his commitments to the Toyota LMP1 program and the WEC race from the Nürburgring. Buemi's two non-victories this season were a 13th in Mexico City after he spun in turn one and he was disqualified after the first Berlin race after all four of his tires were below the mandated tire pressure. He had finished fifth on the road in that race.

While Buemi did hold on to the championship lead despite his absence from the New York round, his championship lead is only ten points over constant championship rival ABT Audi Sport's Lucas di Grassi with Buemi on 157 points to the Brazilian's 147 points. Di Grassi's only victory was the Mexico City ePrix after a spectacular drive to stretch his power for the final 27 laps of the 45-lap race. He has six podium finishes and nine top five finishes from the first ten races with his lone retirement being an accident in Paris, a race that saw the Brazilian have to serve a drive-through penalty after failing to meet the minimum pit stop time.

Mahindra Racing's Felix Rosenqvist sits on 104 points and while the Swede has a long shot at winning the title in his rookie season, he has finished on the podium in three of the last four races. Rosenqvist picked up his first career victory in the first Berlin race and he rounded out that weekend by finishing second to Buemi. His season started off slow. His only finish in the points in the first four races was third at Marrakesh but he did pick up points in two of the other three races through scoring fastest lap at Hong Kong and Buenos Aires. He finished 15th and second at New York last time out. The only way Rosenqvist has a shot at winning this title is by sweeping the weekend and he will have to pick up at least five bonus points from the two races.

DS Virgin Racing's Sam Bird has a shot at the title but he will have be perfect in Montreal. Bird trails Buemi by 57 points with 58 points left on the table. Bird will have to win both races from pole position and score fastest lap in each race along with Buemi scoring zero points just to have a shot at winning the title. If Bird were to only win both races from pole position and only pick up fastest lap in one of the two races than Buemi would hole the tiebreaker over the Briton with five victories to Bird's four. Bird swept the New York ePrix doubleheader but only started on pole position in one race and could not score fastest lap in either race. He did score fastest lap at Monaco and Paris earlier this season. Bird finished second at Marrakesh and third at Mexico City but he did finish outside the points in four of the first six races, including two retirements.

In the Teams' Championship, Renault e.dams leads the way with 254 points and it has a 60-point lead over ABT Audi Sport and a 77-point lead over Mahindra Racing with 94 points left on the table. Renault e.dams is going for its third consecutive Teams' Championship.

Last year, di Grassi entered the London season finale with a one-point lead over Buemi and he finished fourth in race one while Buemi finished fifth, increasing the Brazilian's advantage to three points heading into the final race of the year. However, Buemi cancelled out di Grassi's lead by winning pole position for the final race and the two drivers entered tied on point with di Grassi starting behind the Swiss driver in third. Di Grassi held the tiebreaker as both drivers had three victories and two runner-up finishes while di Grassi had two third-place finishes to Buemi's one.

The two drivers came together in turn three on lap one and it became a scramble of who could set fastest lap and pick up the two points that come along with it in their respective second cars. Despite di Grassi completing two more laps than Buemi, the Swiss driver set fastest lap and ended up winning the championship by two points.

Montreal marks Formula E's first ever visit to Canada. The course will be 2.75 km, 1.71 miles in length and consist of 14 corners. This is the 16th different city Formula E has visited in its first three seasons. Race one will be on Saturday July 29th at 4:00 p.m. ET with the final race of the 2016-17 Formula E season taking place at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 30th.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Kyle Busch Accomplished Something Many Try and Fail To Do; Then It Was Wasted

Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted its final major automobile race of the season this weekend and while the Brickyard 400 has gone from the more beloved younger brother to the Indianapolis 500 to a distant third-favorite day of the year at the track (Carb Day gets a bigger crowd than the Brickyard 400, think about that) it is a weekend that still gets our attention. The biggest story after this weekend, at least maybe the story that will stick with us longer this season and into the offseason, isn't another NASCAR overtime line fiasco nor is it aero packages and whether what was run in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday could be introduced to the Cup race in 2018. Kyle Busch said he had an Indianapolis 500 seat lined up for this year. Then he was told no.

"I had it done last year, sold and everything ready to go, and I've got a boss that said no," the 2015 NASCAR Cup champion said during a Friday press conference. Let's stop and consider what Kyle Busch did for a second. He didn't say he was working on a deal and couldn't get enough funding. He didn't say he couldn't find an engine package. If he had everything ready to go that means he had a sponsor lined up to cover the cost and a team with an engine package ready for him to drive.

Marshall Pruett wrote in March that Indianapolis 500 seats were going for anywhere as low as $600,000 to as high as $1.2 million, depending on team and crash deposit. If Busch had everything ready to go you have to think he had a check closer to $1.2 million than $600,000. Regardless of how much Busch had raised it is still an extraordinary amount of money to get together and Busch wasn't the only guy trying to reach that total. Many aren't able to raise the money and don't get a ride. None of them have a name as resonate as Kyle Busch but it is still a difficult task. Busch has made a lot of money in NASCAR but I doubt he was writing a $1.2 million check out of his own pocket

Busch probably had over $1 million tied to an Indianapolis 500 ride and then it was flushed down the drain. Kyle Busch said boss. He didn't specify whom but he gave us options. "I've got two bosses," he said on Friday, "one's a male and one's a female," suggesting either his team owner Joe Gibbs or his wife put the kibosh on his Indianapolis 500 attempt. With the wrath and stupidity of people on social media, I don't understand why Busch would potentially set it up for his wife to face any unwanted and undeserved criticism. He could have just said boss and left Gibbs swinging in the wind. Bringing in a second party kind of protects Gibbs. I understand he is your boss and but who would look out for a boss over a spouse?

I understand the angst from either Gibbs or his wife that would keep Busch from taking part in this race but saying no diminishes all of the hard work Busch did to put this deal together. These deals you can't just pluck off a tree. There are plenty of talented drivers that were left on the sidelines because they couldn't put together a deal, Townsend Bell, Matthew Brabham, Dean Stoneman and James Davison just to name a few (yes, Davison would substitute for Sébastien Bourdais).

It was a complete waste of a deal. Just imagine a briefcase containing $1 million being lit on fire. I don't mean to make it seem like I am turning this against Kyle Busch because it seems anything the man does is turned into a negative by somebody (he heads to a local short track unannounced to compete and people find a reason to crucify him over it) but I wish Kyle Busch had taken the deal he had and convinced the sponsors to stick together and support another driver without a ride and it be something he put his name on. Imagine the good will Kyle Busch could have won had he helped put Bell, Brabham or Stefan Wilson in a ride to attempt to qualify for this year's Indianapolis 500. It didn't happen but hindsight shouldn't make Busch seem like a bad guy in this case.

Busch did admit some relief that he didn't get the green light to run Indianapolis this year but it wasn't because he didn't feel he would be able to drive the car. "I'm kind of glad it didn't come together because of Alonso kind of stole the headlines," he said. Fernando Alonso might have generated his fair share of attention but if Busch had done it he would have gotten plenty of attention as well. Limelight is not a limitless element. There is enough for every ego to share.

This Busch story isn't going away anytime soon. People are going to mention it every time we are counting seats this IndyCar offseason and trying to figure out where Indianapolis 500 one-offs will come from. I think 2018 will look just like 2017 in terms of a Kyle Busch-less Indianapolis 500. Gibbs has no interest in letting his drivers do anything outside of NASCAR and something in my gut tells me Gibbs doesn't care about any form of motorsports that is not NASCAR.

We can look at Busch not attempting the Indianapolis 500 as a loss for the entire motorsports world. It would have been something to have a two-time World Drivers' Champion and a NASCAR Cup champion on the same grid with a handful of Indianapolis 500 winners and IndyCar champions. Or we can look at his absence as reality and some fantasies best remain in our dreams.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Time To Say Goodbye

Rain delayed the Brickyard 400. Rain popped up out of nowhere on the final lap of the Super GT race and sent the top two in GT500 sliding off course. Rain forced teams to scurry in the final moments of the European Le Mans Series race from the Red Bull Ring where a post-race penalty cost a class victory for one team. I guess pesky rainstorms were the theme of the weekend and Kasey Kahne won the longest race of them all and he didn't win the four-hour endurance race. It didn't rain in Russia but there were plenty of hair-raising moments in the DTM. IMSA had a GT-only weekend at Lime Rock Park. The truck race took all night at Eldora. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Time To Say Goodbye
Letting go is the hard part of any goodbye and it appears one goodbye is definite when the IndyCar season ends in seven weeks but it could be two goodbyes and neither will be particularly easy.

We all know Hélio Castroneves' future reportedly is tied to the Acura DPi program in IMSA, which Team Penske will lead. Tony Kanaan's time at Chip Ganassi Racing might also be up. Both have been in IndyCar for two decades. It is going to be hard to see either of these two drivers leave the IndyCar grid but they were bound to leave at some point. It may be time to say goodbye.

Castroneves and Kanaan weren't going to be on the IndyCar grid forever and their pending departures might come at the right time for the series. While both drivers are fan favorites, somebody was always going to have to step up and take the torch from these two drivers. Instead of delaying the passing of the torch, it might be best to do it now.

Castroneves and Kanaan have both won their fair share of races and Castroneves has found himself in championship contention heading into the final race the last five years but it is time for the next wave. IndyCar can't tie itself to two drivers in their early 40s despite how much we love them. If the series wants to create more long-term fans, it wouldn't be the best if Castroneves and Kanaan were the two drivers the series promoted the most.

If you want to make long-term fans you need to tie them to drivers who are going to be there for the long-term and there are a handful of good choices and not all of them are young kids with a tad to prove. Castroneves and Kanaan might be leaving but Scott Dixon and Will Power are both champions and at the age where each has at least five years left and maybe more. Last year's champion Simon Pagenaud is in his early 30s. James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti are 30. Graham Rahal has been in the series for a decade and he isn't even 30 years old yet.

Then there are Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Conor Daly and Max Chilton, all of which are in their mid-20s and there are even younger and just as bright stars after those four. Ed Jones is 22 years old and Spencer Pigot is 23 years old, going on 24. In fact, have you taken a close, hard look at Spencer Pigot? That is a good-looking face IndyCar should want to promote.

I understand the desperate feeling of wanting to cling to the two faces that were consistently there during an unstable time for IndyCar but I do not hold that same sense of urgency that both have to stay on the grid otherwise IndyCar will be in trouble. I It will be a hit but I don't think the series will crater if both drivers are not full-time in 2018. It will take some time adjusting to having neither around but the grid is full personalities people can connect with and it is a little insulting to suggest that none of them would be able to pick up where Castroneves and Kanaan left off.

If you are concerned about the Brazilian duo being irreplaceable on the IndyCar grid, look at all the change IndyCar went through in the years prior to both making their starts in 1998, split aside of course. Rick Mears, Gordon Johncock and Tom Sneva all made their final starts in 1992. A.J. Foyt retired the following year and Mario Andretti and Al Unser retired the year after that. Emerson Fittipaldi had been forced to retired in 1996. Did anyone really think in 1998 Castroneves and Kanaan would not only be the last drivers standing from that season but they would combine for almost four dozen victories, four Indianapolis 500 victories, one championship and be beloved by Midwesterners?

One thing IndyCar should avoid doing is crown a face of the series. Don't tell people whom to love; let them decide for themselves. We have only seen more bad than good when the face is decided and not earned. Ten years ago, we and IndyCar hoped Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal would take them to the promised land however the results didn't match the hype and the last thing IndyCar needs is to find itself tied to a driver struggling to break into the top ten of the championship.

If fans need a driver to throw their support behind they will figure it out and most have the same selection process. People love winners and winners will become the face of the series. If it is Dixon, Power, Newgarden and Rahal winning races people will follow them. If Pigot breaks out and is a champion within the next four years and has two Indianapolis 500 victories then people will flock to him. A series determining a face or two to promote only muddles it if those faces end up not winning. The focus should be to promote the winners. After all, people just want to know which bandwagon to jump on.

There will be a year or two of feeling lost but someone always steps up and becomes the face of the series and they are as beloved as the ones that preceded them.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Kasey Kahne but did you know...

The #911 Porsche of Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner won the IMSA race from Lime Rock Park. The #73 Porsche of Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey won in GTD.

The #32 United Autosports Ligier-Gibson of Filipe Albuquerque, Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer won the ELMS race from the Red Bull Ring. The #11 Eurointernational Ligier-Nissan of Giorgio Mondini and Davide Uboldi won in LMP3 after the #2 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan of John Falb and Sean Rayhall were handed a 25-second penalty after the race due a full course caution infringement. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott won in GTE.

René Rast and Maro Engel split the DTM races from Moscow. It was Engel's first career victory in his 52nd DTM start. His previous best finish in the series was sixth.

William Byron won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Indianapolis. Matt Crafton won the Truck race from Eldora.

The #1 Lexus Team SARD Lexus LC 500 of Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate won the Super GT race from Sportsland SUGO. The #11 Gainer Mercedes AMG GT3 of Björn Wirdheim and Katsuyuki Hiranaka won in GT300.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar will be at Mid-Ohio. The Road to Indy series and Pirelli World Challenge will join them.
Formula One has one more trip to Hungary before its summer break.
Blancpain Endurance Series runs the 24 Hours of Spa.
Formula E concludes its season with a doubleheader in Montreal.
NASCAR will be at Pocono.
Supercars head to Queensland Raceway.
Rally Finland is the ninth round of the 2017 World Rally Championship season.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

2017 Formula One Midseason Review

We are just over halfway through the month of July and ten of 20 Formula One races have been complete this season. Hungary is just over a week away and after that will be the summer break. This season has seen a reintroduction of wider tires and greater downforce and it has brought the field closer together and has tightened the championship battle in the process.

How should we look back on the first half of the Formula One season? Let's answer these eleven questions:

Is Mercedes Winning Every Race?
No they are not but Mercedes is still at the front and are the team to beat. The German squad has won six of the first ten races and leads the Constructors' Championship by 330 points but despite that record, neither Lewis Hamilton nor Valtteri Bottas lead the World Drivers' Championship.

Sebastian Vettel leads the World Drivers' Championship with 177 points after three victories and four runner-up finishes in the first ten races. He is only one point ahead of the Lewis Hamilton, who picked up his fourth victory of the season at Silverstone last Sunday but Vettel's consistency has got him the championship lead while Hamilton has struggled to consistently be on the podium. Since starting the season with finishes of second, first and second, Hamilton's only other podium finishes this season have been his victories at Spain, Canada and Great Britain.

The blemishes on Hamilton's results have mostly been out of his control. He battled overheating issues at Sochi and could not advance beyond fourth position, he was caught out by an accident on his qualifying run in Q2 at Monaco and had to start 14th, he and Vettel got together at Azerbaijan and a loose headrest forced him to make an unscheduled stop and dropped him to fifth and he had to serve a five-spot grid penalty for Austria and went from eighth to fourth in the race.

While Vettel and Hamilton live up to their previous success, Valtteri Bottas gained his footing quickly at Mercedes and the Finnish driver trails Vettel by 23 points. Bottas picked up his first career victory at Sochi and he doubled his win total at Red Bull Ring. Bottas has stood on the podium more times in 2017 than his teammate (seven to Hamilton's six), he has four consecutive podium finishes and his only retirement was an engine failure at Barcelona.

Meanwhile, Kimi Räikkönen has had a respectable season. He was going to win at Monaco before team orders swapped him and Vettel and he got the better of Vettel at Silverstone last week prior to the pairs' dueling tire failures in the final two lap of the race that cost Räikkönen a podium and then gave it right back to him as Vettel had to nurse his car back to the pit lane.

Mercedes is still the Mercedes we have seen the last three seasons. When everything is clicking nobody can beat that squad but this year we have seen more minor trip ups in the first ten races of 2017 than we did in the previous 59 races over the last three years. Vettel and Hamilton will likely go at it over the final ten races and there will probably be one or two races where Bottas and Räikkönen will be carrying the flag for each manufacture.

Has Red Bull Been Competitive?
Red Bull has been getting better since the start of the European portion of the season. The Austrian team was the distant third manufacture but the team has clawed itself back into a competitive form. The team only qualified in the top four twice through the first ten races but after only two podium finishes in the first five races, Red Bull picked up four podium finishes in the second quarter of the season.

After the emergence of Max Verstappen last season, Daniel Ricciardo has regained hold of the top spot within the Red Bull team. The Australian had five consecutive podium finishes from Spain to Austria and he picked up the team's first win of the season at Azerbaijan. Ricciardo finds himself fourth in the championship, 60 points behind his former Red Bull teammate. Ricciardo's most notable performances this season have come despite poor starting positions. He won Azerbaijan after starting tenth and he finished fifth at Silverstone after starting 19th. Ricciardo has twice started sixth and finished third.

Verstappen on the other hand has not been able to avoid misfortune in 2017. The Dutch driver has retired from five of ten races in 2017, most because of things out of his control but his only podium finish remains a third-place finish at Shanghai in the second race of the season after starting 16th on the grid. He has had mechanical issues end his race on three occasions while a collision he was directly involved in took him out in Spain and another collision where he was collateral damage took him out in Austria.

Red Bull has slowly been rolling out updates to the RB13 and another set of updates are coming in Hungary but it is hard to remember a time when we have seen a midseason update boost a team from perpetually third-best on the grid to being the team to beat halfway through a season. Red Bull might get another win or two before 2017 is out but they appear to be too long gone to be a championship contender this year.

Has There Been Any Other Team That Should Have Won This Year But Shot Itself In The Foot?
Why yes, yes there has. Force India did not just shoot itself in the foot once but did it twice. First was the Canadian Grand Prix where Esteban Ocon had the pace to chase down Daniel Ricciardo for third only he was held up by his teammate Sergio Pérez and instead of Force India getting a car on the podium by invoking team orders and telling Pérez to get out of the way, both Pérez and Ocon were passed by Sebastian Vettel and Force India had to settle for fifth and sixth place finishes.

Two weeks later at Azerbaijan, Force India once again found both cars at the front but contact between the two punctured Ocon's tire and forced Pérez to retire from the race. After Hamilton was forced to stop to secure his headrest and Vettel forced to serve a ten-second penalty for contact with Hamilton during a safety car period, Ricciardo took the lead and went on to win the race. If Ocon and Pérez had not gotten into each other it would have been Force India 1-2 on track after the stops by Hamilton and Vettel. Instead, Ocon was the only points scorer for the team in sixth.

Pérez and Ocon are seventh and eighth in the championship respectively with Pérez nine points ahead of his teammate. The Frenchman has scored points in nine of ten races, one more points-paying result than his teammate. Force India rarely gets the chance to be on the podium and it blew two opportunities already this season and one was an opportunity for a victory. I am not sure they can count on a third podium opportunity coming.

Has Lance Stroll Been As Bad As Most Hoped He Would Be?
No, but most will not admit that is the case. Stroll has not been the greatest thing since sliced bread. He has made his mistake, most of them came in preseason testing, and a few things have happened to him that were out of his control (see him getting spun on lap one at Sochi by Nico Hülkenberg).

Stroll''s first home race of his Formula One career was as close to a dream as you could get, going from 17th to ninth at Montreal and while everyone ahead of him ran into each other at Baku, he avoided contact and found himself in second at the start of the final lap only to have Bottas beat him to the line by a tenth of a second but the Canadian got his first career podium in his eighth start. Stroll made it three consecutive points-paying finishes with a tenth in Austria.

Don't get me wrong; Stroll has not taken Formula One by storm. He trails his senior teammate Felipe Massa by five points and he has been out-qualified nine to one through ten races. Stroll has a way to go but he has not done anything boneheaded enough in a Formula One car to deserve the vitriol he has been getting every week regardless of how he does.

Which Pair of Teammates Are Not Getting Along The Most in 2017?
Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Daniil Kvyat and it is not getting any better any time soon. They nearly got into each other at Baku with Sainz, Jr. swerving to avoid the Russian rejoining the circuit. Kvyat has caused collisions the last two races and at Silverstone it was between him and Sainz, Jr. The Spaniard's race was over before the end of lap one, his third retirement in four races and Kvyat continued only to finish a lap down in 15th.

In 27 races as teammates, Sainz, Jr. has outscored Kvyat 79-8 and Kvyat's best finish since returning to Toro Rosso is ninth while Sainz, Jr. has finished better than ninth 12 times in those 27 races. Sainz, Jr. clearly is the superior driver, however he has had his own missteps in 2017 (see Bahrain and Montreal) but he wants a promotion from the Red Bull B squad. That is understandable but there is no room at the big team and both Ricciardo and Verstappen are being paid handsomely.

It is hard to see how these two will remain teammates through the rest of 2017 and we will get to that in a moment.

How is Haas Doing?
The American team is doing well. Haas has 29 points from the first ten races, matching their points total for the entire 2016 season. The team has eight points-scoring finishes, three more than it did during the entire 2016 season and the team picked up its first double points finish at Monaco with Romain Grosjean finishing eighth and Kevin Magnussen finishing tenth.

While Haas has matched or succeeded previous results, the team is still seventh in the Constructors' Championship. Grosjean was really competitive at Austria and he has made the final round of qualifying five times through ten races. Magnussen trails his teammate by seven points in the championship and has yet to make it to Q3 once in 2017.

The good news for Haas is Toro Rosso is on the verge of imploding and Haas only trails STR by four points in the Constructors' Championship. The bad news is Renault trails Haas by only three points and could be shaking things up in hopes of scoring more points. It is going to be a tough fight for Haas if it wants to improve on its final Constructors' Championship result from its debut season.

Is McLaren Making Strides In The Right Direction?
No. Not really. I mean... yes. Things are looking better and the car has its moments and the car is making it to the end of the race occasionally but McLaren is still lost and its future with Honda could not be any more uncertain and Fernando Alonso appears to be on his way out unless McLaren returns to Mercedes engines in 2017 and Stoffel Vandoorne is just along for the ride this year.

Alonso has been a stud this year. His impressive qualifying run at Barcelona to end up seventh on the grid is the stuff of legend. Unfortunately for Alonso, he has had the car die on him at least three times in the final five laps and it cost him points at least once. The small moral victory for Alonso is he got on the board with a ninth-place finish at Baku.

Vandoorne has finished the last four races and Silverstone was by far the Belgian's best race of the season as he made the final round of qualifying for the first time, qualifying ninth and starting eighth after Bottas served a five-spot grid penalty and he finished 11th.

I think McLaren will finish in the points again this season but how good of a result will it be? Will it be just surviving to a ninth or tenth place finish or can McLaren recreate Alonso's Barcelona glory or what Vandoorne did at Silverstone, start in the top ten, finish on the lead lap and potentially pick up a handful of points and could McLaren be able to do that three or four times in the final ten races?

Are Any Drivers' On The Verge Of Being Replaced Midseason?
Yes but Renault will keep saying it is not replacing Jolyon Palmer until they replace Jolyon Palmer. The British driver has yet to score a point this season while his teammate Nico Hülkenberg is responsible for all of Renault's 26 points and the German matched his season-best finish of sixth at Silverstone.

Palmer has been close to points. He had finished 11th in three of the four races prior to his car dying on the formation lap for his home race, a race where Palmer was going to start 11th.

The en vogue rumor is Renault wants to replace Palmer with Carlos Sainz, Jr. but it appears it would cost Renault $8 million to buyout the Spaniard. If Sainz, Jr. were to move, it appears Pierre Gasly, the defending GP2 Series champion and current Super Formula driver, would take over the open spot at Toro Rosso.

If Sainz, Jr. does not switch to Renault and the French team wants to replace Palmer, who is plan B? Sergey Sirotkin is the team's reserve driver and the 21-year-old Russian, who will turn 22 years old the day of this year's Belgian Grand Prix, finished third back-to-back years in the GP2 Series championship and he finished in the points in his only two Formula Two races this year at Baku.

Am I Forgetting Anybody?
Yes! Sauber! The little Swiss team using Ferrari hand-me-downs is ahead of McLaren in the Constructors' Championship with five points.

Pascal Wehrlein has overcome missing the first two races of the season after a back injury suffered in the Race of Champions and he finished eighth at Barcelona and tenth at Baku with his only retirement coming at Monaco. Marcus Ericsson has not scored this season but he has finished 11th twice. Ericsson has not scored points in his last 38 starts.

Can Sauber hold on to finish ahead of McLaren? It could be closer than the team wants. McLaren just needs one eighth-place finish in the final ten races to regain control of the battle for ninth in the Constructors' Championship. Sauber has to hope its reliable year-old Ferrari engine package can hold off whatever Honda throw out there in the second half of the season and get a few more finishes in the points.

What Driver or Drivers Are Setting Themselves Up For a Formula One Seat in 2018?
Ferrari Driver Academy product Charles Leclerc is making it really hard for nobody to hire him in 2018. The Monégasque driver has won five Formula Two races this season and he has won pole position for all six feature races this year. Leclerc leads the Formula Two Championship by 67 points over Artem Markelov.

Where could Leclerc land in 2018? Ferrari has not given a driver a Formula One debut since Arturo Merzario in the 1972 British Grand Prix and the last driver whose first full season in Formula One was solely with Ferrari was Gilles Villeneuve in 1978. The good news for Leclerc is his career ascendance comes at a time where Ferrari is not solidly committed to two drivers for the long-term. Kimi Räikkönen will be 38 years old by the time the 2017 season comes to a close. Leclerc will only be 20 years old but if he is coming off back-to-back titles in GP3 and Formula Two then there will be no better time to put him in a Formula One car than 2018 and it would not make any sense for Ferrari to hire another driver for a few seasons and farm Leclerc out to Haas or Sauber.

Then there is the left field return of Robert Kubica. The Polish driver has not raced a Formula One car since the 2010 season after he suffered severe injuries in a rally accident in early 2011. Kubica tested a three-year old car for Renault at Circuito Ricardo Tormo in Valencia last month and he tested at Circuit Paul Ricard in France about two weeks ago. Kubica could participate in the Hungary test after the Hungarian Grand Prix later this month. There are a lot of hurdles in his way to getting a full-time seat besides his physical limitations but perhaps his outing at Hungary could cement a return come 2018.

What Will Happen In The Final Ten Races?
Your guess is as good as mine. I expect Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull all at least get one more victory. I expect the title to go back-and-forth between Vettel and Hamilton. I think Mercedes will minimize the errors that cost them through the first ten races of the season. I think Palmer will be ousted at Renault before the season is over but I don't expect Sainz, Jr. to be that replacement. I think we are more likely to see Gasly replace Kvyat at Toro Rosso than Sainz, Jr. leave. McLaren will announce its divorce from Honda and Honda will announce its withdrawal from Formula One entirely.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Hate Kills

Team Penske did something it had never done before at Toronto. A young Canadian gave his home crowd something to cheer for and another young Canadian gave some Canadian expats in Britain something to cheer for. A second-generation French driver picked up his maiden victory. The rain didn't show up before the checkered flag at either Toronto or Silverstone. Jim Clark had someone join him at the table. Porsche picks up where it left off at Le Mans. Sebastian Vettel got dizzy. Sébastien Buemi kept the Formula E championship lead despite not even showing up for the Brooklyn race weekend. I didn't know the World Touring Car Championship was in competition this week. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Hate Kills
For the longest time, we were told hate is good. It didn't matter what series it was. Hate is good. People started tuning out and we were told these series needed hate, regardless if it was NASCAR or IndyCar. The belief was drivers were too chummy with one another and the solution was to go back to when drivers didn't get along and didn't socialize away from the track. All these series needed was a little hate to get people back through the doors and in front of the television screens.

This was really a concept that bloomed just over a decade ago. NASCAR was stilling flying high but had a slight descent in altitude and the turbulence shook enough people that they were spewing solutions. IndyCar was split and once reunification happened everyone was looking for a way to get the series back to the heights the series previously obtained before the split. Corporate sponsorship was cozy in both.

There have been rivalries each series has tried to push for years but none really stuck and none were really believable. In NASCAR, you had Kyle Busch vs. Carl Edwards but that was mostly for who was fifth best as Jimmie Johnson was winning championship after championship after championship. It was akin to the Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks in the NBA during the 1990s. It was fun but regardless of who came out on top in that matchup the Chicago Bulls ended up winning the title. There have been other clashes but most have been flashes in the pan. Kyle Busch vs. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano vs. Denny Hamlin, Logano vs. Tony Stewart.

IndyCar has an entire campaign devoted to promoting rivalries but none of them mean much. It tried to make any little moment into something more than it was. It tried to make contact between James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Muñoz into something but that was never going to stick. Other than Dario Franchitti and Will Power battling for the title for three consecutive seasons and having their dust ups, there is no rivalry of substance in IndyCar.

You can't just make people care about a rivalry and a rivalry has to be for something more than an occasional battle between drivers who are mostly in the middle of the pack. A rivalry needs to be a week in and week out occurrence at the front of the field. See Prost vs. Senna, Schumacher vs. Häkkinen, Hamilton vs. Rosberg and Bourdais vs. Tracy.

While the drivers don't seem to hate one another there is one group that takes the hate seriously. That happens to be the fans and it is killing the series in American motorsports.

The American fan base bought into hate is good and decided to hate everything. The Busch brothers became the black hats of NASCAR. People pick apart reasons to hate Kasey Kahne. In IndyCar, all the hate seems to be reserved for Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton, aero kits and ABC's coverage but the beloved is few and far between. Even in IMSA hate seems to win out whether it is about prototypes, BOP, driver ratings, you name it. Fans end up hating more than they love and it becomes a toxic environment that leaves people ready to get out and stops plenty from even bothering in the first place.

Beloved drivers are leaving soon. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is in his final full season of Cup competition. Hélio Castroneves appears to be in the same boat in IndyCar and Tony Kanaan doesn't have that much time left. All that is going to be left are drivers people hate just to hate them and the "ok crowd" of drivers that don't draw strong opinions out of most. Fans are partial to one driver and when that driver goes so do the supporters.

The Earnhardt, Jr. crowd isn't going to find a substitute. As much as people hope the 60% of the grandstand in Earnhardt, Jr. gear will flock to one of his disciples, whether it be Martin Truex, Jr. or Brad Keselowski, most won't and most don't want to. Most will see it as the final nail in the coffin for a series that hasn't had their best interest in mind for close to two decades and were only hanging on because of the man in the #88.

I am not sure it can be reversed. People love to hate. If you are a NASCAR fan and have hated Kyle and Kurt Busch or Jimmie Johnson for over a decade you aren't going to make a 180 on them now and become even modest supporters and maybe buy a hat and if people don't give youngsters a chance than series are going to die. More fans are leaving each year than are coming in despite NASCAR and IndyCar both having strong waves of young drivers already in place for the next 10-15 years. If a talented young driver pool isn't enough to keep people interested than I don't know what can be done.

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

Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix.

Sam Bird swept the New York ePrix.

The #2 Porsche of Neel Jani, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber won the 6 Hours of Nürburgring, the team's second consecutive victory. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Gibson of Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent won in LMP2, the team's second consecutive victory and third in four races this season. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi won in GTE-Pro. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Christian Ried, Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli won in GTE-Am.

Kyle Kaiser swept the Indy Lights races from Toronto. Parker Thompson swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Charles Leclerc and Nicholas Latifi split the Formula Two races from Silverstone. George Russell and Giuliano Alesi split the GP3 races.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR race from Loudon. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race.

Yann Ehrlacher and Norbert Michelisz split the WTCC races from Argentina.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Brickyard 400.
The NASCAR Truck Series runs the only race that matters all year, Eldora and it will be on Fox Business Channel.
IMSA takes GTLM and GTD to Lime Rock Park.
Red Bull Ring hosts the European Le Mans Series.
The DTM heads to Russia.
Super GT heads to Sportsland SUGO.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

First Impressions: Toronto 2017

1. Timing is everything and Josef Newgarden entered the pit lane at the right time, as Tony Kanaan slid into the tire barrier in turn one after locking it up after he had just made his pit stop. Newgarden went from fourth to first in a blink of an eye as the rest of the front-runners had yet to stop and no one who had stopped before the Tennessean leapfrogged him in the running order. Newgarden was also fortunate that Ed Jones and Charlie Kimball stayed out and created a buffer between himself and Alexander Rossi. Newgarden was never challenged once he got the lead. He didn't put a wheel wrong and it paid off with his second victory of the season and his second victory at Toronto.

2. Speaking of Alexander Rossi, he held on for a second-place finish. He had a good car but was stuck on the edge of the top five. He leapfrogged James Hinchcliffe on the first round of pit stops and he couldn't get by Jones after that restart, allowing Newgarden to pull away. It was a good day for Rossi after a rough stretch of races since the start of the summer.

3. Another year starting sixth at Toronto and another year finishing third at Toronto, as James Hinchcliffe stands on the podium again in his home race. He struggled on the first stint but, like Rossi, he benefitted when Kanaan put it in the tires. From that point on he was fine. He couldn't challenge Rossi for second but he wasn't challenged for third either. He ran much better on the primary tires and he got a good finish.

4. Marco Andretti picks up his first top five finish since Fontana in 2015. Andretti caught a break with the caution but he had a solid car and held his own at the front. He held off his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay and then he held off a late charge by Simon Pagenaud. This was a really good weekend as a whole for Andretti.

5. Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five. He didn't make the most of his pole position, as he was blown by at the start by his teammate Hélio Castroneves for the lead but Pagenaud got around the Brazilian during the middle stint of the race and was able to put some space between him and his teammate. This was a really good day for the Frenchman and he picked up fastest lap at 60.2357 seconds.

6. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished sixth after losing a tough battle with Pagenaud for fifth. He benefitted from the Kanaan caution but sometimes you catch a break. This is Hunter-Reay's first top ten finish at Toronto since he won the race in 2012. Hunter-Reay had some rotten luck at Toronto but he has also had some rotten luck in 2017 as a whole. He finished third at Iowa, he finished sixth today and maybe Hunter-Reay can put together some finishes at the end of the season to help him climb up the championship and maybe he steals a victory.

7. Max Chilton finished seventh in what was a quiet day. He didn't do anything flashy. He said he didn't overtake anybody on the race track all race. He benefitted from his teammate's misfortune, he kept his nose clean and he leapfrogged a few faster cars on the final pit stop. It might not be a performance to show off but it is a respectable result nonetheless.

8. Hélio Castroneves made a ballsy move on the inside of turn one from third on the grid to take the lead and led the first quarter of the race until the Kanaan caution shuffled him back in the running order. Once that happened, he never really had a shot at victory.

9. Graham Rahal was caught out by the Kanaan caution and he could only manage a ninth-place finish. He was running third at the time and he never really threatened Castroneves and Pagenaud for position. I am sure this is a frustrating result because the car was better than ninth but it is still a good day.

10. Scott Dixon may be the second winner of today because he was hit by Will Power in turn three on lap one, had to pit for a flat left rear tire and repairs to the brake duct and Dixon had to serve a penalty for pitting when the pit lane was closed and he still managed to finish tenth but even better than that he kept the championship lead with Dixon holding a three-point advantage over Castroneves. This day could have been much worse.

11. Sebastián Saavedra gets an 11th-place finish in a substitute role for Mikhail Aleshin. This was a good day for Saavedra. He kept his nose clean, he completed every lap and he was in contention for a top ten finish. I am not sure what this means for him. It seems like Aleshin was just benched for a race but if Aleshin puts a wheel wrong in another race or two before the season is out I wouldn't be surprised if Saavedra gets a call to do another race.

12. Charlie Kimball went off strategy at the start and could only manage a 12th-place finish.

13. J.R. Hildebrand had nothing all day and finished 13th.

14. Esteban Gutiérrez gets a 14th-place finish and finishes ahead of his teammate Ed Jones, who had a mechanical issue end his race ten laps early. Carlos Muñoz rounded out the top 15. Takuma Sato made contact with Spencer Pigot and both had to make unscheduled stops. It was a shame because Pigot was the darling of the first stint, driving from P13 to P5 by making audacious passes on the likes of Kanaan, Andretti and Hunter-Reay. Conor Daly had another long day.

15. Speaking of Kanaan, he lost two laps after getting into the tires and could only manage a 19th-place finish.

16. And now for Will Power. His race was over before turn four. Even worse is he won't even be credited with completing a lap because of where the pit lane is located. This is a tough blow to his championship hopes.

17. The rain somehow held off. It looked like it was going to start raining any time after lap 30 in this race. I still think this race should have started earlier. It started a half hour after the NASCAR race and that race started at 3:15 p.m. ET and both races were in the Eastern Time Zone. The weather was beautiful at noon in Toronto. The race could have started then and been completed with enough time for an hour pre-race show for the NASCAR race on NBCSN.

If the race started at noon, it would be over by 2:00 pm. If that was the case, since there would be so much time left in the day, IndyCar could put on a post-race party with driver appearances and a post-race autograph session while the Indy Lights race closed out the day. I understand why the race started as late as it did but I think there is an advantage to starting earlier and it could make for a fun event off the track for fans in attendance.

18. We get a week off before Mid-Ohio. It should be another good one.

Morning Warm-Up: Toronto 2017

Simon Pagenaud will lead the field to the green for the Honda Indy Toronto
Simon Pagenaud won his first pole position of the season with a time of 58.9124 seconds in the final round of qualifying for the Honda Indy Toronto. Pagenaud's most recent pole position had come in last season's finale at Sonoma, a race Pagenaud would win on his way to locking up the title. He has also won his last two starts from pole position as he won at Mid-Ohio last year after starting first. The French driver's previous best starting position on a street circuit this season was seventh at Belle Isle. Last week, Pagenaud led two laps during the final pit cycle at Iowa. Those were the first laps he had led since his victory at Phoenix in April. Graham Rahal starts on the front row for the second time this season. He won from pole position at Belle Isle in June. He also finished second to Pagenaud at Sonoma last year. This is the first time Rahal has started on the outside of the front row since Kentucky in 2011 and Rahal finished 12th that day.

Hélio Castroneves and Will Power will start on row two. This is the first time in 2017 that neither Castroneves nor Power is the top Team Penske qualifier. Power had the better record, qualifying on top six times to Castroneves' five times. Castroneves won last week after starting third on the grid. Castroneves has only won consecutive races twice in his career. He did it in 2006 at St. Petersburg and Motegi and he did it in 2010 at Kentucky and Motegi. Power won from fourth position last year at Toronto. Scott Dixon will start fifth. Dixon won from fifth position at Road America three weeks ago. He also won from fifth position in the first Toronto race of the 2013 doubleheader. James Hinchcliffe qualified in sixth position for the second consecutive year at his home race. This matches his career-best start at Toronto. He went on to pick up his career-best Toronto finish last year by coming home in third.

Josef Newgarden missed the final round of qualifying and he will start in seventh position. He started fourth of the four Penske drivers in seventh position at Barber and he went on to win that race. This is Newgarden's best starting position at Toronto. Newgarden has only finished in the top ten once at Exhibition Place. That was his victory in 2015. Alexander Rossi joins Josef Newgarden on row four. Rossi started eighth at St. Petersburg in March and he finished 11th. Max Chilton qualified ninth. This is the tenth top ten start of Chilton's career. He has yet to finish in the top ten on a street circuit with his best finish being 11th. Takuma Sato rounded out the top ten. This was only Sato's second time making it to the second round of qualifying in 2017. Every time Sato has started in the top ten at Toronto he has gone on to finish in the top ten in that race.

Marco Andretti will start 11th with J.R. Hildebrand next to him on row six. Despite completing 800 of 801 laps at Toronto since 2009, Andretti has never led a lap in the event. He led seven laps at Iowa last week. It was the first time Andretti had led since the 2015 season finale at Sonoma where Andretti led four laps. Hildebrand gets a career-best starting position for himself at Toronto but he hit the wall during his qualifying run. This was the first time Hildebrand advanced to the second round of qualifying since São Paulo in 2013. Spencer Pigot matches his career-best starting position by landing 13th on the grid. In the seven races they have been teammates, Pigot has qualified ahead of Hildebrand four times. Tony Kanaan joins Pigot on row seven. Kanaan had his chance of advancing to round two erased after Esteban Gutiérrez brought out the red flag in the final seconds of the group two session of round one. Kanaan has started outside the top ten in four of five street course races and his best street course finish this season was tenth in the second Belle Isle race.

Ed Jones qualified 15th for his first trip to Toronto in an IndyCar. Jones has three top ten finishes from the first four street course races and all three top ten finishes came after he did not make the second round of qualifying. Ryan Hunter-Reay will start 16th. This is the third consecutive year Hunter-Reay has started outside the top fifteen at Toronto after he had started seven consecutive Toronto races in the top ten. He has not finished in the top ten at Toronto since his 2012 victory. Charlie Kimball starts 17th for the second consecutive year at Toronto; he finished 11th last year. This is the eighth time he has started 17th in his career. He best finish in those previous seven races was tenth at São Paulo in 2013 and again at Barber in 2014. Conor Daly joins his fellow diabetic driver on row nine. This is the tenth time Daly has started outside the top fifteen this season.

Carlos Muñoz and Sebastián Saavedra will start on an all-Colombian row ten. Muñoz has been out-qualified by his teammate in four of the last five races. He has finished 17th four times at Toronto and 22nd in five starts at Exhibition Place. Saavedra starts 20th for the eighth time in his career. He has only finished on the lead lap once when starting 20th and his best finish is 15th. Esteban Gutiérrez was in position to advance to round two of qualifying when he slammed into the wall exiting the final corner of the circuit. Gutiérrez will roll off in 21st position. He has been cleared to drive by medical officials on Sunday morning after experiencing concussion-like symptoms on Saturday afternoon.

NBCSN's coverage of the Honda Indy Toronto begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:47 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 85 laps.