Monday, April 30, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: An Idea to Fix Sonoma for IndyCar

Nick Heidfeld has made 226 single-seater starts since his most recent single-seater victory. It was windy in Baku. The Red Bulls took each other out. Sebastian Vettel locked up his tires. Lewis Hamilton's first victory of the season came after teammate Valtteri Bottas suffered a tire puncture while leading. There were two tame races for Talladega standards. Álvaro Parente had another hard accident. A Frenchman defended home turf in Formula E. The Supercross championship got intriguing with one race remaining. IndyCar will be testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for three days starting today. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

An Idea to Fix Sonoma for IndyCar
I was going to write about sports cars on the eve of the FIA World Endurance Championship season opener and how series could avoid clashes that way drivers could run in multiple series and not have to worry about missing key events and lose money but to be honest that seemed boring to me and I wanted to write about IndyCar instead.

Sonoma sucks. IndyCar has been racing there since 2005 and none of the races have been good and the memorable moments have been Dario Franchitti running into Marco Andretti and the 2015 season finale because Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya got together, Scott Dixon ended up in the lead and ended up winning the championship with a race victory giving him the tiebreaker over Montoya who could only recover to finish sixth. I guess you could add the time Dixon made contact with one of Will Power's pit crew members but once again, not an on-track pass or battle we are remember.

There are few standout moments from the racing at Sonoma and the track layout is one of the reasons to blame. There is one passing zone, the turn seven hairpin at the end of the drag strip. All the other areas on the racetrack do not allow for a car to make a run on the car in front of it. It is difficult to make a move in turn one and uphill to turn two. The run to turn four is too short. The esses keep any momentum from building up and prevent a pass from taking place in turn nine and on top of that turn nine remains too tight even after it was widened. IndyCar doesn't run the full hairpin at Sonoma and though the alternate hairpin the series now runs is further down the track than the original it hasn't provided much more passing. It has provided a bit more passing but I don't think as much as the full hairpin would allow.

Sonoma isn't falling off the schedule anytime soon and it doesn't appear any other track will usurp the honor of hosting the season finale from the Northern Californian road course. If Sonoma is going to host the finale because it is a location that sponsors like then make the layout appealing to racing. After the past 13 IndyCar races at Sonoma I am willing to give the NASCAR layout a try. It can't be worse than any iteration IndyCar has raced on. The carousel can be lost. If it is not making the racing better than drop it.

However, if the NASCAR course does not tickle your fancy than how about a layout that has not even been considered? With the multiple layouts and a drag strip, Sonoma has a lot of tarmac and it allows for many possible new concepts. After looking at an aerial of the racetrack, something came to mind:

Instead of making a right-hand turn at turn four and heading toward the carousel the cars would follow the NASCAR course to the chute. However, this track would make a right-hand turn where turn seven is currently located and the cars would run in the opposite direction of the drag strip before making a hard left-turn in a new section of the track that will have to be constructed followed by a right-hand turn re-entering what is currently turn ten of the IndyCar course. From there the cars would run the full hairpin and then proceed back to the start/finish, completing a 1.971-mile lap.

What do I like about this layout? I think there could be three and maybe four passing areas. The first would be turn four, the second could be the right-hand turn onto the drag strip, the third would be the left-hander at the end of the drag strip and the final passing zone would be the hairpin. The other nice thing is it would provide a passing zone right in front of the main grandstand. It would kind of be like Barber with cars crisscrossing back and forth.

A couple issues with this layout. For starters, it currently isn't practical because the left-right section at the end of the drag strip does not exist and it would cost money to create. It isn't impossible but my first concern would be is it possible and still have the drag strip be up to standards for the NHRA? A large portion of the wall would have to be demolished to make a left-hand corner for an IndyCar and for drag racing you need a wall there. I would hope there is an alternative, temporary wall that could be constructed for drag racing but easily be removed and allow for that left-right section to exist.

The second concern is that open section where the left-right section would be is used on race weekends. It doesn't sit empty. I think the television compound is set up there and the stage for driver introductions is stored there. If you make that racetrack then those trucks and structures would have to be moved and there isn't much area available around Sonoma. It is a pretty tight squeeze for everything outside of the racetrack. I am not sure where all that equipment could be moved.

I think the layout above is something to be excited about and in its current form Sonoma isn't all that exciting. You are probably thinking, "just wait until the universal aero kit gets there" and you could be right but I have seen Sonoma with the previous Dallara chassis, the original DW12, aero kits and with different configurations of turn seven, turn nine and the hairpin and nothing made a damn difference. The universal aero kit will help in areas but it would not be wise to expect it cause significant change.

We are in a rough place with Sonoma. The crowd isn't great, the racing isn't great but the location is what everyone seems to get drunk on. It is a destination for the series and sponsors and I get it is a sexier place than ending at Fontana, Kentucky, Phoenix or Madison, Illinois but Sonoma is uninspiring. The finale has to grab you. It is closure but also says, "see you next year" and it has to give people a reason to come back. It has to leave people itching for another hit as a five-month withdrawal is about to start.

If IndyCar wants to end at Sonoma primarily to schmooze corporate sponsors then it at least owes the fans to make the racetrack suitable for better racing.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton but did you know...

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega. Spencer Gallagher won the Grand National Series race.

Alexander Albon won the Formula Two feature race from Baku. George Russell won the sprint race.

The #3 K-PAX Racing Bentley of Rodrigo Baptista and Maxime Soulet won the first Pirelli World Challenge GT SprintX race of the weekend at Virginia International Raceway. The #80 Lone Star Racing Mercedes of Mike Skeen and Scott Heckert won the second GT SprintX race. The #77 VOLT Racing Ford of Trent Hindman and Alan Brynjolfsson won the first GTS SprintX race. The #14 GMG Racing Audi of Alex Welch and James Sofronas won the second GTS SprintX race.

Jean-Éric Vergne won the Paris ePrix.

Ott Tänak won Rally Argentina.

Yann Ehrlacher, Rob Huff and Gabriele Tarquini split the WTCC races from Hungaroring.

Marvin Musquin won the Supercross race from Salt Lake City while Jason Anderson finished 18th after a pit stop for a tire change and Anderson's gap is only 14 points heading to the finale next week at Las Vegas.

Coming Up This Weekend
Super GT will race on Friday at Fuji.
The FIA World Endurance Championship opens its 14-month season at Spa-Francorchamps.
Deustche Tourenwagen Masters opens its six-month season at Hockenheim with a farewell to Mattias Ekström.
MotoGP has its first European round of the season at Jerez.
IMSA returns to Mid-Ohio for the first time since the merger.
NASCAR will be at Dover.
Brands Hatch hosts the Blancpain Sprint Series.
Supercars will be at Barbagallo Raceway.
Supercross closes out the season in Las Vegas.

Friday, April 27, 2018

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: April 2018

We got a few days left in April but with it being a weekend and a handful of series in competition let's look at the headlines that stood out from this month in motorsports.

Once again, this is just for fun. In case you are new, this is my gut reaction to headlines without reading the article. Of course, the gripes I have may be answered in the article.

This month we have nine headlines from five different series and we will start with Formula One.

Mercedes says $150m F1 budget cap "not achievable"
"Not achievable" or "not desirable" because those are two separate things.

With how much money that has been spent in Formula One I find it hard to believe in a snap a team could work under a $150 million. Maybe it wouldn't be that hard for Sauber, Toro Rosso, Haas, Force India and Williams to get under that cap but less so for Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and maybe even Renault.

I think a budget cap is possible in Formula One but a cap of $150 million can't come after a year of unfiltered spending and has to be something that is slowly work toward. The year 2021 keeps coming up but I doubt anything could be put in place by 2019. I think 2021 could be the first season of a budget cap but it starts out high at say $450 million then for the 2022 season it drops to $400 million and by 2023 the cap is down to $300 million before lowering to $200 million for the 2024 season before finally reaching $150 million for the 2025 season.

That is quite a long window and knowing Formula One if this were to be implemented it would last the 2021 season and the 2022 season before the bigger teams cry foul and get the decision reversed and we would be back to a free for all by 2023.

If the likes of Sauber, Haas, Force India and Williams are tired of spending outrageous amounts of money then leave. That is the only way Formula One will get the message. Go to the FIA World Endurance Championship, go to the European Le Mans Series, go to IndyCar. Send a message. Maybe Formula One would change if it was down to 12 cars on the grid.

Stroll: I don't listen to Villeneuve anymore
Welcome to the club! What took you so long?

Jacques Villeneuve has become that crazy uncle you try to avoid every Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Fourth of July. He might make a good point every now and then but when you consider his batting average you know most of the time it is garage.

Quick sidebar away from this because to be honest, I have no interest in reading this article and what he had to say about Lance Stroll, where does Jacques Villeneuve stand in motorsports history?

Not many drivers have won the Indianapolis 500 and the World Drivers' Championship.

Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jacques Villeneuve. That's the list. You want to be on that list.

But Villeneuve won the 1997 Luxembourg Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in Germany and he did not win another race in any form of motorsports for over ten years and guess what? We are approaching the ten-year anniversary since he got that elusive victory at the 2008 1000km of Spa driving for Peugeot. His Luxembourg victory was is 31st grand prix start and his 11th victory. He would end his Formula One career going 0-for-132. He made some boneheaded decisions in his career but also I feel his personality had something to do with that.

He tried everything. He tried NASCAR, he tried the Speedcar Series (remember that?), he tried V8 Supercars, World Rallycross and even Formula E. He even returned to the Indianapolis 500! He drove everything and won the biggest prizes and yet his career feels like a disappointment.

Enraged Rossi claims Márquez has "destroyed our sport"
Easy Valentino. Marc Márquez is aggressive and sometimes overtly aggressive and it has cost Rossi some results but to say it has "destroyed our sport" is over the top.

Regulation that would drive out four manufactures would destroy MotoGP. Shedding traditional venues such as Assen, Mugello, Jerez and Phillip Island to name a few would destroy MotoGP. Banning all Spaniards and Italians would destroy MotoGP.

Yes, this comment came in the heat of the moment after Argentina but even in fits of anger let's have some rational behind our words. Just call him dirty or a punk.

Rossi says Austin track condition a "disaster"
The Doctor makes his second appearance!

I like the idea of Circuit of the Americas but the realization of Circuit of the Americas has not lived up to the hype. Yes, the Formula One race is still alive and this is the only stop on the MotoGP calendar and the track has hosted the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA but I think it is clear management is not the best. It is run by business people with no passion for motorsports. The track is still young and that jovial mood we have when a race is taking place at Road America or Laguna Seca or even a Barber takes time to develop but I am not sure it even will develop at Austin under the current regime.

It seems like the little things are what Austin gets wrong. Make sure the track condition is suitable, make sure the curbs are up to standards, maybe make sure there is a deterrent so drivers aren't driving five-car widths on exit of each corner.

The problem is I don't see anyone who would bring that missing spark buying the track anytime soon. It will cost a lot of money and I am not sure anyone is dumb enough to want to deal with Formula One even if Liberty Media owns it.

The good news is I thought the crowd for the MotoGP race this year looked very good.

NASCAR: All-Star Race "perfect opportunity to try something different"
I guess so but sometimes too much experimentation can be a bad thing.

I know the All-Star Race is an exhibition race and who cares what the rules are but if we have learned anything is constant fluidity has not helped this race. On top of it the level of over saturation makes it seem like another event. Changing the aero package isn't going to make people tune in and every year it seems another change is made in the promise of increasing passing and we end up disappointed. Remember when they inverted the field and tried an alternate tire compound? How that go?

The All-Star Race could be fun but there is too much noise for it to succeed. The drivers have too much say, the track has too much say, the series has too much say and fans have been turned off. In all honesty, do we really want to see the drivers in another NASCAR race? We aren't learning anything new by having 20-22 Cup drivers competing against one another in a 70-lap or 80-lap race. I don't know what you could do to make it exciting. If anything, maybe an IROC-esque race would be more interesting but NASCAR botched the spec-air guns so why should we expect them to get a spec-car for one exhibition race right. I watched the Global MX-5 Cup race at Barber on Sunday and I would rather see 20 Cup guys compete in those cars than run against each other in a Cup race but that is never going to happen because it is Mazda, the manufactures wouldn't like it and it would have to be a road course.

This race can only return to being interesting when the series isn't afraid to try something crazier than playing with the aero package and putting restrictor plates on the cars for a 1.5-mile oval.

Bayne still fighting to match expectations
Unfortunately Trevor Bayne lost his full-time ride before this was posted because I had some good news for Trevor Bayne.

We had no expectations for you. We all gave up on you in about 2013. You had a lucky day a day after you turned 20 years old and that is the highlight of your adult life. It only confirms restrictor plate races are a game of roulette.

This is the beginning of the end of Trevor Bayne's career. Soon the #6 Ford will be Matt Kenseth's car full-time and Bayne will vanish and I don't think he is going to try and live off of rides with Go Fas Racing, Front Row Motorsports and what ever the team of Derrike Cope's team is.

ECR "the best we've been as a two-car team," says Carpenter
No, this team isn't. Need I remind Carpenter that in 2015 Josef Newgarden was a championship contender in the final race of the season driving for this team. The year after Newgarden made a championship push and won a few races.

This team is a long way from those days. Spencer Pigot might be promising and he could be a race winner someday but right now he is still finding his footing and cannot get out of the middle of the field. Jordan King has look good but he has also had his fair amount of shunts in practice sessions. King could be a driver who isn't reckless but getting acclimated and is going through growing pains or he is one of those talents that is fast but tears up equipment and for every good race there are a half-dozen disappointing results.

The team might be in a better place in terms of financial standing and this might be the best it has been on the engineering side but all that matters are the results and if this team is going to be having two cars finish outside the top ten every race then all the other improvements are nice footnotes.

Detroit Grand Prix: Protesters bring 'Penske Park' sign to Belle Isle
Um... ok? I am not sure what they are trying to do here.

I thought these people were mad that a race takes over a weekend of Belle Isle Park and actually more time than that when track construction is taken into consideration. I am not sure how bringing a sign calling "Penske Park" gets a message of displeasure across. Is that the best they can do? Find something shady about the deal. Is there a city tax that goes to paying for the race that could be going to fixing infrastructure or schools? Being pissed off because you lose a few weekend for weddings isn't going to cut it. Also, come on white people.

Alejandro Agag: New FE race format will blow minds
I doubt that. Agag has the most underrated ego in motorsports. He comes off as pretentious and actually makes Formula E look bad. You are running an electric racing series, not curing children with cancer. Stop acting like you are some tech big wig. You know what we have learned about all tech big wigs? They are assholes. There is no race format you could come up with that is truly astonishing to race fans and no one is looking for the wheel to be reinvented. Just line the cars up, put out the lights and go and the first one across the finish line wins. It is that simple.

The sad thing is Formula E has a bit of Stockholm syndrome and everybody within believes it is great. How much criticism do you hear from the teams or drivers? Not much. I think some ridiculous could end that. Formula E isn't going anywhere, manufactures keep flocking to it and I enjoy the series. However, if there is one change I would like to see is it stop acting like it has everything figured out and is something that is hip. It is more the rich kid thumbing its nose at everyone with fancy gadgets.

April is done and we know what comes in May. There will certainly be interesting headlines.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series First Quarter Report

The IndyCar season disappears at an alarming rate and yet I don't want it to go any slower. A month ago, one race had been completed and we were dying for the next one. Now a quarter of the season is gone after three consecutive weeks of races. In six weeks we will enter the back half of the championship and it won't yet be summer.

Four races do not seem like much and yet it is precious time when it comes to the championship. Nobody has won the championship but for a few drivers we can write off their chances of lifting the Astor Cup at Sonoma.

The universal aero kit was seen as an equalizer after the aero kit-epoch, which saw great disparity between the Chevrolet and Honda teams. With that in mind this first quarter report will subjectively rank the full-time teams through the first four races of the season.

1. Team Penske
Josef Newgarden has won two of the first four races, he has led 106 laps this season, the second most in IndyCar, and he leads the championship with 158 points. We were all worried he would struggle in year one with the team and his hiccups never got him off track. Any concerns over a championship hangover should be squashed. The man is using the tagline "Defend the 1" the season and it appears to be more than a phrase.

While Newgarden is on top, his two past champion teammates are struggling. Will Power finds himself 10th in the championship, 78 points behind his teammate and Simon Pagenaud is 15th in the championship, his worst championship position after four races in his career, and he is 92 points back of Newgarden. Power stood on the podium at Long Beach but has retired from two races. Pagenaud's best finish came at Barber but it was a ninth-place result.

Despite one man carrying the weight, it is Team Penske. The only way this team was not going to be on top was if another team had a driver leading the championship and had won at least two of the first four races. Power or Pagenaud could reel off three consecutive victories, jump to the championship lead and it would stun nobody.

2. Andretti Autosport
Alexander Rossi started the season with three consecutive podium finishes, including a victory at Long Beach from pole position. His 11th-place result at Barber dropped him to second in the championship, 13 points behind Newgarden. Meanwhile, Ryan Hunter-Reay has finishes of fifth, fifth, 20th and second and he sits sixth in the championship on 113 points. Rossi and Hunter-Reay are tied for most top five finishes this season and Andretti Autosport is the only team to have at least one car on podium in each race this season.

The other half of the organization has not been too shabby. Marco Andretti finds himself ninth in the championship, 70 points behind Newgarden and he has three top ten finishes through the first four races. Zach Veach finished fourth at Long Beach but his next best finish was 13th at Barber and the rookie sits 13th in the championship on 77 points, second best of the rookies.

Andretti Autosport has made a big leap forward. In every race this season Andretti Autosport has been in contention for victory and it is the only team that can really say that. Rossi has won, Hunter-Reay is knocking on the door and Andretti is at least in the conversation. Veach is a rookie and is making progressing. This is the best this team has looked heading into May since at least 2014.

3. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
This team has yet to win a race this season but Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has done enough that it should have stood on the top step of the podium by now. James Hinchcliffe has four top ten finishes from the first four races, only one of three drivers to have accomplished that this season and he got his first podium finish of the season at Barber. These results have Hinchcliffe fifth in the championship on 118 points.

Despite his fantastic results Hinchcliffe has not even been the most talked about SPM driver. Robert Wickens has been the darling of the season and 29-year-old Canadian has a second place finish and a fourth place finish in his first four career starts with a victory or at least podium finish at St. Petersburg fall out of his grasp and a gearbox issue cost him a top ten finish at Long Beach. He trails his teammate by 21 points and is eighth in the championship.

This team has to win a race this season and arguably both drivers should win a race this season. Hinchcliffe has made a step forward and Wickens might be the best rookie since Juan Pablo Montoya. This is a team to be excited about.

4. Dale Coyne Racing
For the second consecutive year, Sébastien Bourdais has Dale Coyne Racing at the sharp end of the grid after the first four races and this is after a less successful opening to the season than last year. He won at St. Petersburg but a pair of 13th place finishes knocked him down a few pegs. A fifth place finish at Barber has him third in the championship, one position better than he was at this time last year. On top of all that, Bourdais is the only driver to have led a lap in every race this season and he has led 103 laps through four races. He also started on pole position at Phoenix.

The second DCR car has not had nearly as close to the same amount of success as Bourdais. Zachary Claman De Melo has made three starts this season but the Canadian rookie's best finish this season is 17th and his best starting position is 16th and he has yet to finish on the lead lap this season. Pietro Fittipaldi made his IndyCar debut at Phoenix and he started tenth in that race but he was the first to retire after brushing the wall exiting turn four after completing 40 laps.

It doesn't appear Bourdais is going to fade away and it feels like the only things out of his control such as sliding into pit crew members and having to serve a penalty or untimely cautions will keep him out of the championship picture. It is still early for Claman De Melo and Fittipaldi but the equipment is there for those two to pick up good results.

5. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Along with Newgarden and Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal is the only other driver with perfect attendance in the top ten this season and all those results have come after adverse situations. He went from dead fucking last on the grid to second at St. Petersburg. At Phoenix, he started 12th and was in the middle of the pack for the entire race and finished ninth. He shot himself in the foot at Long Beach after he spun Simon Pagenaud and a fifth place starting position was wasted. However, through pit strategy and cautions he got back into the top ten and finished fifth. He started 15th at Barber and through the changing conditions he was able to come home in seventh.

Takuma Sato has been good but not great this season. He started in the top five at St. Petersburg but a spin after Scott Dixon ran into him from behind dropped him down the order and he settled for an 12th place finish. He wasn't that far off Rahal at Phoenix and finished 11th. He was slow at Long Beach and right when things were going in the right direction he made contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay and lost a handful of laps. It appeared Barber was going to be another rough day but in the wet he came home to finish eighth from 18th on the grid.

You could make an argument that RLLR could be ahead of DCR considering Bourdais and Rahal are tied on points and Sato has three top fifteen finishes while the second DCR car has yet to finish in the top fifteen. However, let's give DCR the nod because it has a victory and Bourdais looks scary good this year.

6. Chip Ganassi Racing
Remember when I said I thought Chip Ganassi Racing was the fifth best team in IndyCar after Barber? I was wrong. It is the sixth best team. It is head scratching. Scott Dixon has not had a bad season. He finished sixth at St. Petersburg after a penalty for spinning Sato and pit lane speeding; he finished fourth at Phoenix after starting 17th; his worst finish was 11th at Long Beach after a penalty for pitting when the pit lane was closed and he finished sixth at Barber, which seemed about right.

The mistakes stand out. It is not Dixon-esque to plow into a driver from behind going into a corner, nor is it like Dixon to get a penalty for pitting when the pit lane is closed. I think those things are why it feels like Dixon is doing poorly when he really isn't that far off from where he has always been. He has not led a lap through the first four races this season. He did the same thing in 2013 and only led one lap through the first ten races. He would go on to win the championship that season. Dixon isn't done but right now he and Chip Ganassi Racing have some work to do after not being a threat through the first four races.

Then there is Ed Jones, who sits 11th in the championship but he has finished eighth, 20th after having an accident while running second at Phoenix, third at Long Beach and 20th at Barber after a mechanical issue. After watching Ganassi for the better part of two decades I feel like Jones could finish eighth in the championship this year and get fired because he didn't do enough. He is tied with Tony Kanaan, the man he replaced, on 79 points. If he is going to be tied with the man he replaced then why did Ganassi hire him in the first place? Ganassi will hire another driver if Jones is going to finish in the vicinity of Kanaan.

7. A.J. Foyt Racing
Good news! A.J. Foyt Racing is off the bottom. Bad news! It is only marginally better and part of its rise is because there are two new teams on the grid.

Tony Kanaan has been Tony Kanaan with results of eleventh, eighth, eighth and 18th and he is tied with Jones on 79 points. Those are great results for A.J. Foyt Racing considering where the team has been for the last 35 years. He is in a good position and if Kanaan can consistently bring the car home in the back of the top ten then good for him and Foyt will be happy.

Matheus Leist has been another story. The fairy tale ended early at St. Petersburg. We are a long way away from his third place starting position at St. Petersburg. The results have been getting better as he has finished on the lead lap in the last two races but he is nowhere near where he was in March when everyone perked up and thought IndyCar might have a young talent ready to win immediately and A.J. Foyt Racing may have found its answer for the next five years.

8. Ed Carpenter Racing
I am not sure what the crossover will be with readers of this and Premier League fans but Ed Carpenter Racing is Southampton. A few years ago it was a fun team to watch with exciting young talent and the thought was it could breakthrough to compete for a top position. However, the young talent has moved on and now it is in the bottom three.

This is sad to see. It is early but the first four races have not been kind to Spencer Pigot. Last year, he had stunning drives that turned the heads of many. If it wasn't for his spins at Barber no one would have blamed you for forgetting he was on the grid this season. He has finished a lap down in every race. He has started in the top fifteen once and despite all these lackluster results he is somehow only five points behind Simon Pagenaud. So maybe it isn't that bad or Pagenaud is doing a lot worse than we think.

Jordan King has been good but it has been frustrating to watch. Not all the bad results are his fault. He brushed the wall at St. Petersburg while running in the top ten. His brakes let him down at Long Beach and cost him another top ten and then he made a bonehead move and spun Bourdais while King was a lap down. Somehow at Barber he finished on the lead lap despite multiple hairy moment and going off in the wet. The one thing King has to stop doing is tearing up the race car in third practice. He has done it in every third practice session this season. He is bound to cost this team more money than it ever hoped to spend.

Ed Carpenter has been the best Ed Carpenter Racing driver and he has only made one start. His seventh at Phoenix is the team's only top ten finish this season. Despite everything Carpenter has said, this team is not the best it has ever been as a two-car operation.

9. Harding Racing
This is a new team. Harding Racing is still developing. It has made its first road course start and street course start in the first four races. Gabby Chaves has done well for a little team. The other thing to consider is Chaves is going to places he has not been for a while. Three of the first four tracks Chaves has not raced at since his rookie season in 2015 and he had never raced at Phoenix prior to this year.

Harding Racing is going to have rough results this year and whether 2018 is successful or not is not just about getting on-track results but this team not getting discouraged during the rough times and feeling it needs to flip house without having any furniture.

10. Carlin
I don't think anyone expected Carlin to be finishing in the top five out of the box but this season has been one growing pain after another and right when it appeared the team had made a breakthrough after Charlie Kimball finished tenth at Long Beach and Max Chilton and Kimball both started on row seven at Barber, Kimball is knocked out after ten laps and Max Chilton breaks down right when the race was set to restart on Monday. It can only get better from here.

Who Is Out Of It Already?
Back in March, in the first Track Walk of the season, I went over how important it was for a driver to have a good start to a season in terms of championship hopes. To refresh the conversation, only 18 of 87 champions since the 1947 AAA National Championship season have started the season with a finish outside the top ten in the first race of the season.

The last champion not to have a podium finish in the first four races was Gil de Ferran in 2000 and only three other champions since 1947 have taken more than four races to get a podium finish (Chuck Stevenson in 1952, Jimmy Bryan in 1956 and Al Unser in 1985). De Ferran is the only champion since 1947 to take more than four races to get a top five finish. No champions since 1947 has taken more than four races to get a top ten finish.

Through four races this season Spencer Pigot, Gabby Chaves, Matheus Leist and Max Chilton are the only full-time drivers without a top ten finish. The full-time drivers without a top five finish are Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball.

I am not going to rule out Andretti, Kanaan, Sato or Pagenaud... yet. Three of those four drivers have multiple top ten finishes this season and all four have had success in the Indianapolis 500, a double points race.

It is nothing personal but Pigot, Chaves, Leist, Chilton and Kimball are not going to win the championship this year.

Where Do We Stand With the Universal Aero Kits?
Other than Phoenix (even know numbers say otherwise), every race has been as good as you could hope for and the issues with Phoenix might be something that the universal aero kit alone could not solve.

We are probably somewhat concerned about what will happen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Indianapolis 500 has been tremendous during the DW12-era and we are afraid that will be ruined. However, I think the good news is it is going to be tough to ruin the Indianapolis 500 because when the lowest number of lead changes in the last six years was 34 lead changes the series has some wiggle room. Only three other Indianapolis 500s have had more than 25 lead changes. If this year's race only has 26 lead changes no one would should be bitching about the race being worse, in fact I bet most people would not really notice the difference between 26 lead changes and 36 lead changes.

With what we have seen through the first four races I don't think we are going to see the Indianapolis 500 look drastically different. We are still going to hold our breath until practice begins but hopefully next week's test at the Speedway will calm some nerves.

The only races I am concerned about are the ovals because those seem to be more of a crapshoot and people are finicky about ovals more so than road and street courses. Will Texas be a pack race and how much will Texas come down to whether Firestone can find the right tire compound? Will Gateway have the same problem as it did last year? It was a great crowd last year and Newgarden's ballsy pass for the victory on Pagenaud saved the day but people can be turned off quickly by a semi-dull race and Gateway deserves better than that.

What To Watch For In Quarter Two?
I think we are all wondering if Andretti Autosport and Honda can keep its hold on the Indianapolis 500. The last two years have been an impressive run of domination and Andretti Autosport is looking for its third consecutive Indianapolis 500 victory. Meanwhile, I am sure we are wondering if Dale Coyne Racing can repeat its 2017 performance and whether or not Schmidt Peterson Motorsports can turn it around.

Can any other Chevrolet team please stand up? A.J. Foyt Racing is having a better year but the truth is there is a massive split between Team Penske and the other four Chevrolet teams and that is kind of disappointing. Even worse is I am not sure what Chevrolet team or driver could step up. Kanaan seems like the obvious choice but he has only six podium finishes in the last 53 races and three of those have come at Texas with one at Fontana, one at St. Petersburg and one at Road America. Look at it this way, Chevrolet drivers not named Newgarden, Power, Pagenaud and Kanaan have combined for two top ten finish through the first four races and one of those top tens was the part-timer Carpenter.

If there is one final thing to watch between now and Texas it is how the championship gets jumbled up. With double points at the Indianapolis 500 we have been accustomed to seeing a few drivers make big leaps in the championship and a few drops take noticeable drops. Some of those movers are just a flash in the pan and the results will correct themselves by the time we reach Sonoma but could a strong May and early June bring the likes of Power or Pagenaud back into the championship picture? Could these six weeks be the determining factor over whether or not Bourdais and DCR can be title contenders? Can an Andretti driver take the point and be the hunted heading into the summer?

The beautiful thing about the IndyCar schedule is there is no lull. We get started and there are a few races to feel out how things could play out but not long after that we are at a point where we are finding out who can swim and who have sunk. The entire second half of the season is a staring contest and those who blink are quickly dispatched from the championship picture. The season is still new but soon it will cutthroat and the business end of the schedule will jump us from behind and leave us wonder where another season has gone.

Monday, April 23, 2018

First Impressions: Barber 2018

1. Josef Newgarden had this race in the bag even when it appeared he didn't. No one really pushed Newgarden today or yesterday. He pulled away from Will Power yesterday and today he was gone from Sébastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay. He was gone and could afford to switch to wet weather tires a few laps earlier than everyone else. After the condition worsened to the point where Bourdais could no longer stay out on slicks Newgarden cruised to victory, running almost two seconds slower than Hunter-Reay in second and he still won by over nine seconds. He has yet to hit a rough patch at Team Penske and he is back in the championship lead. Now Team Penske sits on 199 IndyCar victories and right now Newgarden is the only one that seems capable of getting #200.

2. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a bit of a rebirth in the rain at Barber. After everything but the pace car ran into him at Long Beach he narrowly missed Power yesterday when the Australian hydroplaned on the front straightaway. This put him in third and he wasn't challenged for this position. He was set for a podium finish and the decision to go to wets while Bourdais slid as far as he could on slicks got Hunter-Reay a runner-up finish. This has been a good year for Hunter-Reay and he is keeping himself in the championship conversation but he is going to need to pick up a few victories.

3. Another race and another top five for James Hinchcliffe and even better than a top five as he finished third. Hinchcliffe had a good car and put himself in a good position to get on the podium. This is refreshing because for the last few seasons we got used to seeing Hinchcliffe have stop-start seasons where he would get a result and then have two or three poor finishes. It is still early in the season but this is the best I have seen Hinchcliffe in IndyCar.

4. One of the reasons for Hinchcliffe's improvement has to be Robert Wickens, who finished fourth. I was rough on Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Hinchcliffe in the preseason preview because this team had been underperforming and Hinchcliffe was pretty much allowed to hand pick his teammate. That seems to have worked out and the results are coming in. Wickens has been marvelous this season and if it weren't for a bump at St. Petersburg and gearbox issues at Long Beach I bet he would be ahead of Hinchcliffe in the championship and not three positions behind his countryman.

5. Sébastien Bourdais might have deserved a podium finish today but his roll of the dice didn't go his way. Fortunately it wasn't snake eyes, as he only fell to fifth. Bourdais is third in the championship and has led a lap in every race this season. I am still skeptical to say he will be a championship contender because it is still early in the season but nothing is pointing toward a decline for Bourdais. He is motivated.

6. Scott Dixon finished sixth, which somehow hurts his average finish at Barber. I don't want to say something off for Dixon but it seems Chip Ganassi Racing is currently the fifth-best team on the grid behind Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing. That sounds crazy but we have yet to see Dixon challenge for a victory this season while three of those four teams have won a race and SPM has had two podium finishes and four top five finishes from four races. Ganassi has some work to do in May.

7. I am not sure how Graham Rahal finished seventh but he did. He pulled out a good result on what was looking to be a tough day.

8. Takuma Sato sets a career best finish at Barber in eighth and once again I am not sure how he did it. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has been a little disappointing considering the preseason testing pace but Rahal is fourth in the championship, tied with Bourdais with Bourdais holding the tiebreaker and this is Sato's first top ten finish of the season. Things might not be that bad but it feels like it should be better.

9. Simon Pagenaud finished ninth in what was an odd day for him. The call to allow cars to refuel before the restart cancelled out the alternate strategy Pagenaud had but he still had a great restart but he still finished behind the likes of Rahal and Sato, two drivers he appeared to be better than. He is still 15th in the championship after today. It is odd to see him struggle this much.

10. Marco Andretti rounded out the top ten and he, like Pagenaud, had his alternate strategy cancelled out when refueling was allowed before the restart. He started seventh, finally a good starting position, and he spun exiting turn eight. I bet he thinks he should have done better.

11. Alexander Rossi tried to stretch it on slicks and went off, costing him a surefire top ten finish and he probably should have finished in the top five. He drops to second in the championship but he has done a fine job through four races. He will rebound from this result.

12. Rounding out the cars that finished on the lead lap: Matheus Leist survived to finish 12th. Zach Veach faded after great positioning at the end Sunday's portion of the race and finished 13th. Jordan King had a few squirrelly moments, went off late and still finished 14th.

13. Rounding out the field: Spencer Pigot went too damn long on slicks and spun. René Binder finished 16th, how about that? Gabby Chaves did something to piss off Simon Pagenaud. Tony Kanaan had a mechanical issue followed by a penalty for unapproved pit work cost him. Zachary Claman De Melo lost two laps for unapproved work on the car under the first red flag and he set fastest lap in the race. Ed Jones race ended early after a mechanical issue. Will Power got some laps in today after his accident yesterday but still finished 21st. Carlin had a disastrous end to what appeared to be a promising weekend. First, Charlie Kimball was spun and Max Chilton broke down before the restart, lost his position and only completed 48 laps.

14. Let's go over the decision to allow cars to refuel prior to the restart. Nothing in the rulebook says a car cannot be allowed to refuel and change tires as long as IndyCar approves it and that is the key distinction. Making a change under a red flag under a team's own volition could be a penalty but if IndyCar approves it then it is ok.

It makes sense for teams to be allowed to change tires after a red flag especially after the track conditions have changed. It makes no sense to force everyone to go out on wet weather tires on a completely dry racetrack and force everyone to do one lap before everyone had to dive into the pit lane for changes and vice versa. If a red flag had come out when the track was dry for a large accident that needed clean up or barrier repairs and then it started pouring rain the teams shouldn't be forced to run a lap on slicks and hope to make it back to the pit lane in one piece. This is where common sense should prevail.

Refueling under a red flag makes less sense but Jay Frye made a statement over why it was allowed and IndyCar had no way of impounding the cars and assuring a team would not take advantage of the situation. I hope that could be rectified for future situations. Resetting the race took something out of it and it would have been interesting to see how it would have played out if everyone restarted on the fuel loads they had at the end of yesterday.

15. Are rainstorms getting rainier? I was disappointed the race was not completed on Sunday but it does feel like we have more road/street course races get called because of rain than ever before. It is not that there isn't a thing as too much rain for a wet race. There is but it seems to occur more frequently than ever. We had St. Petersburg in 2010, São Paulo in 2011, Toronto in 2014, NOLA and Belle Isle in 2015 and now this year at Barber where races were significantly hampered because of rain. It isn't unprecedented. Bobby Unser once won a race that was called after six laps at Mosport due to rain and full points were awarded for that race.

So are rainstorms rainier or are wet tires worse or are drivers softer or are drainage systems less sophisticated? Yesterday didn't look that bad compared to some other wet races. Toronto in 2014 didn't look that bad. NOLA was a shit show because of standing puddles and cars on slicks. Belle Isle 2015 is the one race I understood calling because of standing water and lightning was in the area.

It isn't popular to say this but sometimes we worry too much about safety. I think race control should put its foot down and say we are going to go racing and if you do not feel comfortable partaking then park the car. No one is forcing the drivers to compete and you had a lot of drivers that wanted the red flag but a handful wanted to keep going yesterday because it made no sense to stop because it wasn't going to get better. Why red flag an event and wait for the conditions to improve when the conditions aren't going to change? If it is going to continue to rain then the water running across the racetrack isn't going to get better. It isn't going to only rain over the grassy areas and allow the track to remain dry.

We talk so much about bravery in motorsports and testing the limits. Yesterday seems to contradict that. Sometimes you have to compete in adverse conditions. The Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts played a game in December with snow up to players' ankles. It was not the greatest conditions, it was not the greatest game and you could say it was dangerous to play in those conditions but the game went on, the fans that could make it went and it was the talk of the following Monday. Yes, I know football is different from motorsports and yes, one is more dangerous than the other but something inside me says not competing is not always the correct decision.

16. Excluding Indianapolis and Pocono, I would have to say Barber is one of the top three or four events I would like to attend most on the IndyCar schedule and I have been a fan of the track from the start. It is more than the racing. I want to go for the facility and for nine years Barber has impressed us. First off, the racing is better than we ever thought it was going to be when the track was first put on the schedule and second, it is a well attended event. Over 34,000 people were there for Saturday and unfortunately because of the rain we will not know how many were at the track Sunday but every year Barber has been on the schedule it seems like the Sunday draws about 45,000 people and it might have pushed 50,000 this year. Kudos to the track for allowing free admission to today's resumption of the race.

There are at least seven or eight other events on the IndyCar schedule that do not draw 34,000 for the race. Nobody thought an IndyCar race in the South would be this successful let alone in Alabama and the success of this race has me thinking maybe IndyCar should have a few more races in the South. Though it is billed as NASCAR country the truth is the South is full of motorsports fans. Petit Le Mans is a very well attended sports car race in Georgia and IMSA also races at Virginia International Raceway. The NHRA makes a handful of stops in the South.

IndyCar would probably fare better in some places more than others. Atlanta did not work for IndyCar but when you look at last year's ratings and consider that three of the top five metered markets for IndyCar over the entire season were Richmond, Greenville and Greensboro there are a few areas that could probably draw a good crowd. Richmond did well during the IRL-era and Baltimore, though two and a half hours up the road, Baltimore drew well in the mid-Atlantic region. Charlotte hosted a race during the early days of the IRL and yes, that race ended under terrible circumstances after three fans were killed but that was nearly two decades ago. I think there are untapped areas for IndyCar to explore in the South and done right there could be another one or two successful events with healthy crowds, something I bet the series would love to have.

17. Now we get two weeks off before we head to Indianapolis.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Getting to Know the Neighborhood

The IndyCar race got rained out from Barber and will be at noon ET on Monday. To recap the first 22 laps, Josef Newgarden dominated, Will Power spun and Ed Jones may have turned Charlie Kimball. Oh, and James Hinchcliffe pissed his pants. While Barber was wet, Austin was dry and Marc Márquez picked up his 12th consecutive victory in the United States. The last time he didn't win a race in the United States was 2010. NASCAR had a lot of green flag racing at Richmond. DJR Team Penske had a great weekend at Phillip Island. The Brits have regained their stranglehold on World Superbikes. Jason Anderson has one hand on the Supercross championship. Super Formula and the Blancpain Endurance Series both held season openers. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Getting to Know the Neighborhood
IndyCar has saddled up with NBC Sports and come June every IndyCar race from then until the end of 2021 will be broadcasted on an NBC Universal property and at least eight races will be shown on network NBC. There is still a lot of time before IndyCar can officially call NBC home but IndyCar is already moving boxes into the house.

With IndyCar getting comfortable I think now is a good time to take a look around the NBC neighborhood. IndyCar and its fans need to know the boundaries. The neighborhood isn't going to make concessions for IndyCar. The present parties have property and IndyCar and its fan base must respect that. The best way to do this is go through the NBC portfolio is looking at the event month-by-month.

Let's start with February because if IndyCar were to start its season earlier it would most likely start in February.

This year was the Winter Olympics, which took place from February 7th to February 25th. NBC had prime time and late night coverage every night and NBCSN was virtually 24/7 Olympics for nearly three weeks. It is a quadrennial event but something to keep in mind.

On top of the Olympics, NBC had the Super Bowl this year on February 4th. Like the Olympics, the Super Bowl is not an annual but a triennial event as it is shared with CBS and Fox. The Super Bowl is only one day but it is likely outside of when IndyCar would start its season. If anything, the earliest IndyCar would start would be the weekend after the Super Bowl to maximize the football offseason and get in as many races as possible before the next season starts in September.

With the extraordinary events out of the way, regular NBC Sports properties in February are the National Hockey League and the Premier League. The NHL usually has a game of the week shown every Sunday on NBC with most start times at 12:30 p.m. ET. Premier League weekends usually consist of morning matches with perhaps a match shown on network at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturdays.

Things start to pick up in March. The NHL and Premier League continue but golf starts to take off as events are held in the warmer climates of Florida, California and Mexico.

Next year sees a shift in the golf schedule with The Players Championship moving from the middle of May to the middle of March as the PGA Championship moves to May. Like IndyCar, the PGA wants to avoid clashing with football in September as well.

The Players Championship joins an already congested month of March when it comes to golf. NBC already shows four prominent tournaments during the month of March. This year had NBC broadcasting the WGC-Mexico Championship March 1-4th; the Valspar Championship took place the same weekend as the St. Petersburg season opener (March 8-11th), the Arnold Palmer Invitational was March 15-18th and rounding it out was the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on March 21-25th.

If you thought March was full of golf well guess what starts off the month of April? That's right, golf! The Houston Open is held typically on the first weekend of the month just prior to the Masters Tournament. After the Houston Open there is a bit of a reprieve of NBC's golf coverage with CBS taking over most of the tournaments held from the Masters on but we are not done talking about golf.

The Premier League season continues into April and the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in the middle of the month with NBC having regular weekend coverage of games. This season most playoff games on NBC have started at 3:00 p.m. ET and each Saturday so far has had a game at 8:00 p.m. ET. A bit of a change considering in past years NBC has had playoff games begin as early as 12:30 p.m. ET. This is something to keep in mind.

Let's start with the first Saturday in May and the Kentucky Derby. It takes up that entire day. Besides the Kentucky Derby, two weeks later is the Preakness Stakes and that usually falls on Indianapolis 500 qualifying weekend and we know the history of Indianapolis 500 qualifying clashing with the Preakness Stakes.

Besides horse racing, the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue and the Premier League season is coming to an end. The Premier League usually takes place in the morning so there should not be many conflicts but there could be a massive headache if the events of 2015 repeat. The final day of the 2014-15 Premier League season occurred on May 24th. NBC went from the Monaco Grand Prix straight into Premier League coverage with an abbreviated post-race show and Premier League took up the rest of the morning and early afternoon. That same day was the Indianapolis 500, which has started at noon ET in recent years.

The Indianapolis 500 is the one event I feel sure NBC is going to show but a clash between the Premier League's Championship Sunday and the Indianapolis 500 will likely piss a lot of people off. Would the start of the Indianapolis 500 be delayed a half-hour or more? Would the race get no pre-race show and rather dive right into the pre-race ceremony followed by the command to start engines and the green flag? It is rare for the Premier League to end that late in May and that was the season after a World Cup year. Next year's Premier League is tentatively set to end on May 19th so crisis averted for 2019 but it should be kept in mind for 2020 and onward.

On top of Championship Sunday and the Indianapolis 500, another major sporting event taking place in late-May is the French Open. This year's tournament will be May 27th to June 10th. The interesting thing about the French Open is early round matches are shown tape-delayed on weekends with the semifinals and finals shown live. This one might be less of a worry for IndyCar fans.

On top of the conclusion to the French Open, we have finally reached the Stanley Cup Final and the end of the NHL season. Also occurring is the Belmont Stakes, which is typically the second Saturday in June, occurring six weeks after the Kentucky Derby.

The back half of June is rather open once all these events have concluded but this open period does not last long.

IndyCar bumps into an old friend in July and it is NASCAR! NBC picks up the second half of the season and we are all familiar with the NASCAR schedule. This season sees only one NASCAR event on network television in July and that is the Daytona race on Saturday July 7th.

But NASCAR isn't the only event to be concerned about. The Tour de France takes up nearly the entire month and while the time difference takes care of any conflicts the race does take up entire mornings and NBC will re-air coverage in the afternoon on weekends.

Another European event to keep an eye on is The Open Championship, golf's oldest major. This year's tournament is held July 19-22nd so there is no clash with an IndyCar weekend but there has been in past years and each round ends in the middle of the afternoon here in the States.

This is where we should also mention the Summer Olympics and this quadrennial event returns in 2020 from Tokyo. The 2020 Summer Olympic Games will take place from July 24th to August 9th so the Mid-Ohio weekend would fall in the middle of it. The good news for IndyCar is the time difference should allow for the race to be broadcasted in-between taped coverage of events that happened overnight from Japan.

NASCAR season continues and we know about the back half of the 2020 Summer Olympics but the Premier League returns in the middle of August. The month does remain rather tame despite the start of a new Premier League season and NASCAR does have an off week at the end of this month. The Watkins Glen Cup race will be on NBC this year.

The conclusion of the IndyCar season comes during a busy period for NBC Sports.

The final three rounds of the PGA Tour's Fedex Cup occur during September. It is unclear how exactly the end of the golf season will look next year after the movement of the PGA Championship but this year has the Dell Technologies Championship held over Labor Day weekend, the BMW Championship the weekend after that and the Tour Championship two weeks after the BMW Championship.

On top of the golf, NASCAR has reached the Chase with Darlington, Las Vegas and Charlotte all being shown on network NBC this year and the NFL season begins with NBC showing Sunday Night Football. NBC will also broadcast the Ryder Cup this year but that is after the IndyCar season on the last weekend in September.

What was the point of this exercise?
I think it is important to know the landscape and consider the consequences of IndyCar's new television deal. We were all excited about an IndyCar move to NBC on paper but will we be as excited as it comes to life? IndyCar isn't taking over NBC as its number one sports property. There is a pecking order and just because IndyCar has a race does not mean it usurps a golf tournament or Tour de France coverage.

The other thing to consider is what it will take for a race to get on network television. It sounds great of having Iowa shown on network television well what if the only way it gets on is by moving the start time further back in the afternoon? Or what if the only way Road America could be shown on NBC is if the race started at 4:00 p.m. local time? There is this delicate balance in motorsports in doing what is best for a television partner and doing what is best for a race promoter and we know television dictates start times. Television seems to want later start times but we have seen races struggling to draw a crowd with later starts.

Also, the issue IndyCar had this year with the St. Petersburg coverage ending with only Sébastien Bourdais hastily being interviewed from inside his car and the likes of Robert Wickens not being interviewed and completely forgotten because of an NBA games doesn't go away. IndyCar is still going to be subject to hard outs. If an IndyCar race is scheduled to be broadcasted at 12:30 p.m. ET prior to the start of a Stanley Cup playoff game at 3:00 p.m. ET the hard out still exists. If the race ends at 2:59 p.m. ET it might get an additional five minutes and a bit of pregame will be missed but IndyCar isn't going to get 15 minutes of post race coverage with the top three being interviewed with the maybe another two drivers also getting air time. NBC has a hockey game to get to.

I am sure I am not the only one who is curious what IndyCar races will be on network television next year and whether races with great action are shown or if the races that are broadcasted on NBC are the ones that fit easiest into the network schedule. IndyCar will still get eight races on network television, which is a win for the series but the concern is how will these network races be handled? Will they be carefully considered or mechanically plugged in? After seeing how NBC has handled the NASCAR schedule I do have faith the network will have a master plan to how it schedules IndyCar's network races.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about the wash out at Barber and Márquez's success but did you know...

Patricio O'Ward swept the Indy Lights races from Barber. Parker Thompson and Harrison Scott split Pro Mazda races.

Francesco Bagnaia won the Moto2 race from Austin, his second victory of the season. Jorge Martin won the Moto3 race, his second victory of the season.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Cup race from Richmond. Christopher Bell won the Grand National Series race.

Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes split the World Superbike races from Assen. Jules Cluzel won the World Supersport race and he is the fourth different winner in four races.

Scott McLaughlin swept the Supercars races from Phillip Island.

The #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Dries Vanthoor, Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas won the Blancpain Endurance Series race from Monza.

Naoki Yamamoto won the Super Formula season opener from Suzuka.

Marvin Musquin won the Supercross race from Foxborough.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One makes an earlier stop to Azerbaijan.
NASCAR makes its first stop at Talladega.
Pirelli World Challenge holds its second SprintX weekend of the season from Virginia International Raceway.
Formula E returns to Paris.
The World Rally Championship makes another trip across the Atlantic and specifically to Argentina.
The Supercross season has reached the penultimate round of the season in Salt Lake City.
The World Touring Car Cup has its first European round at the Hungaroring.

Morning Warm-Up: Barber 2018

Josef Newgarden looks to defend his Barber victory and retake championship lead
Josef Newgarden took his third career pole position and first of the 2018 season at Barber Motorsports Park. The American had the fastest lap in the final round of qualifying at 67.4413 seconds. This is Newgarden's second career pole position on a road course. He started on pole position at last year's season finale at Sonoma where he finished second. He has led the most laps in both races he has started from pole position. Newgarden has started in the top six in four of the last five Barber races and he has five consecutive top ten finishes at this track including three consecutive podium finishes. Every time Newgarden has led a lap at Barber he has gone on to win the race. He has completed 519 out of 519 laps in six Barber starts. Team Penske's shot at its 199th IndyCar victory will start on a good note as Will Power makes it an all-Penske front row. This is Power's eighth front row start in nine Barber appearances. He has led 208 laps at this track, 105 laps more than the next closest driver all-time.

Sébastien Bourdais starts third in not only his best starting position at this track but also the best starting position for Dale Coyne Racing at Barber Motorsports Park. The previous best for the team was eighth in 2013 with Justin Wilson. Bourdais has only led two laps in his career at Barber, both coming in 2015. Ryan Hunter-Reay has led 93 laps in his career at Barber, tied for second-most all-time with Hélio Castroneves and Hunter-Reay will start fourth. With rain inevitable for this race it is a good reminder that Hunter-Reay won a wet race at Barber in 2014. Only 69 laps were completed in that time-shortened race. James Hinchcliffe will start fifth. This is the first time Hinchcliffe has started a season with four consecutive top ten starting positions. He has five top ten finishes at Barber but his career-best finish at the track is sixth. Like Bourdais, he has only led a career total of two laps at Barber, one in 2012 and one in 2015. Scott Dixon rounds out the top six. This is Dixon's worst career starting position at Barber. Dixon has won three times in his career from sixth on the grid (Pikes Peak 2003, Mid-Ohio 2007 and Phoenix 2016).

Marco Andretti will start seventh at Barber. This is Andretti's best start on a road/street course since he started seventh for the second Belle Isle race in 2015. Andretti finished second from ninth on the grid in that wet Barber race in 2014. He also finished second in the wet in the first Belle Isle race in 2015. Andretti has been running at the finish of 16 consecutive races. Championship leader Alexander Rossi makes it an all-Andretti row four. Rossi bettered his career-best starting position at Barber by ten positions. With three podium finishes from the first three race Rossi has matched his best single-season total in that category. This will be the fifth time Rossi has started eighth in career, his most frequent starting position in his IndyCar career. Simon Pagenaud starts ninth, snapping a streak of three consecutive years making the Fast Six at Barber. Pagenaud's worst career finish at Barber was ninth in 2015. Robert Wickens matches his career worst starting position of tenth.

Zach Veach has a new career best starting position, as he will roll off from 11th on the grid. This was the first time Veach made the second round of road/street course qualifying. Veach is one of four drivers on the grid who could become the first driver to win at Barber in IndyCar and Indy Lights. One of those other three drivers starts next to Veach on row six and it is the man who finished a position ahead of Veach last week at Long Beach, Ed Jones. In six permanent road course races last year, Jones finished five of them with his lone retirement coming at Sonoma due to a suspension problem. Carlin made a massive breakthrough in qualifying, as both its drivers will start on row seven with Max Chilton a position ahead of Charlie Kimball. Chilton has been in the top fifteen in every session this weekend while Kimball has been in the top fifteen for all but second practice. Carlin won with Ed Jones in Indy Lights at Barber in 2016. Andretti Autosport is the only team to have won in both IndyCar and Indy Lights at this track.

Graham Rahal starts 15th in the #15 Honda. Last year, Rahal started 21st and finished 13th in this race. He started 15th in the first Barber race in 2010 driving for Sarah Fisher Racing and he finished 17th, one lap down. Rahal's former teammate Zachary Claman De Melo joins him on row eight. This is Claman De Melo's best career starting position. His previous best was 21st. He is still looking for his first career lead lap finish. Spencer Pigot will start 17th with Takuma Sato joining him on row nine. This is the 26th race in Pigot's career and he has yet to start in the top ten. Two of Pigot's five career top ten finishes have come from 17th on grid including his most recent top ten finish, which was tenth in the first Belle Isle race last year. This is the sixth time Sato has started 18th in his career but only once has Sato started 18th and finished in the top ten. That was an eighth place finish at Sonoma in 2015.

Jordan King will start a career worst 19th. For his third consecutive appearance King had an accident in the third practice session but unlike the prior two he was not able to breakthrough to the second round of qualifying. Gabby Chaves will start on row ten for the third consecutive week but this time he will start 20th. Chaves has started 20th three times in his career and two of those were a tenth place finish at Texas in 2015 and a fifth place finish at Texas last year. Chaves started 17th and finished 16th in his only Barber start in 2015. Matheus Leist will start 21st, his worst career starting position in his short career. René Binder returns for his second career start and he has improved his career best starting position by one position, as he will roll off from 22nd. Tony Kanaan rounds out the grid in 23rd position. He lost his fastest two laps after he caused a red flag during the second group's session in the first round of qualifying. Kanaan started 24th and finished sixth in the 2011 Barber race and he went from 23rd to ninth in the 2014 Barber race.

NBCSN's coverage of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag moved up to 3:08 p.m. ET due to weather. The race is scheduled for 90 laps.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Track Walk: Barber 2018

IndyCar makes a return to glorious Barber Motorsports Park
The fourth round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Barber Motorsports Park. This will be the ninth Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and it concludes three consecutive race weekends. This also marks the final race weekend before the start of the month of May. Team Penske has won five of eight Barber races including the last two years with Chevrolet having won five of six races during the DW12-era. American drivers have won four of the last five Barber races. Three of the last four seasons have had four different winners through the first four races.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 22nd with green flag scheduled for 3:42 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt, Marty Snider and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 12:10 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Second Practice: 3:50 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Third Practice: 11:50 a.m. ET (45-minute session)
Qualifying: 4:05 p.m. ET (CNBC will have live coverage of this session)
Race: 3:42 p.m. ET (90 laps)

Americans On Top
After three races the top three drivers in the championship are all Americans and represent three different teams.

Alexander Rossi's Long Beach victory combined with a pair of third place finishes at St. Petersburg and Phoenix have the Andretti Autosport driver on top of the championship for the first time in his career. Rossi sits on 126 points and he heads to Barber, where last year he had an impressive drive from 18th on the grid to fifth. Rossi's three consecutive podium finishes is the longest stretch in his career and he has nearly doubled his number of total career podium finishes as he entered 2018 with four career podium finishes. Rossi has finished 15th in the fourth race of each his first two IndyCar seasons including a 15th at Barber in 2016 and a 15th last year at Phoenix.

Josef Newgarden lost the championship lead after his seventh place finish at Long Beach but the defending champion finds himself 22 points behind Rossi. Newgarden won last year's Barber race after Will Power had to make a late pit stop for a deflating tire. He has three consecutive podium finishes at Barber and five consecutive top ten finishes at this track. Newgarden also topped the Barber test in March. The Penske driver started the 2017 season with four consecutive top ten finishes and he looks to match that feat this year. Regardless of the result this is the fourth consecutive season Newgarden has started with at least three top ten finishes in the first four races.

Graham Rahal has yet to win a race this season but he is 33 points behind Rossi. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver has started his season with a second, ninth and fifth place finish through the first three races. This is the first time Rahal has started a season with three consecutive top ten finishes and it is the first time he has had at two top ten finishes from the first three races since 2009. Before his 13th place finish last year at Barber Rahal had finished runner-up at the track in 2015 and 2016. However, this has been a hit or miss track for him. He has finished outside the top fifteen in four of eight Barber starts.

Newgarden and Rossi have won the last two races and three different American drivers have not won three consecutive IndyCar races since 2005 when Sam Hornish, Jr., Bryan Herta and Scott Sharp won at Milwaukee, Michigan and Kentucky respectively. Three different American drivers have not won three consecutive races that all occurred on road/street course races since 1990-91 when Danny Sullivan won the 1990 finale at Laguna Seca with John Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. splitting the first two races in 1991 at Surfers Paradise and Long Beach respectively.

That Second Pack
Through three races the championship standings has kind of broken up into a few chunks with the top three followed by another pack of three drivers.

St. Petersburg winner Sébastien Bourdais has finished 13th in the last two races but despite the lack of results he is still fourth in the championship on 88 points. Bourdais is looking to avoid having three consecutive finishes outside the top ten since 2015-16 when he finished outside the top ten in the final three races of 2015 and in the 2016 season opener. Last year, he matched his career best Barber finish by coming home in eighth. In his Champ Car career, Bourdais won the fourth race of a season four times out of five and finished second in that other race. Since he returned to IndyCar competition he has only one top five finish in the fourth race of a season.

James Hinchcliffe's trio of top ten finishes puts the Canadian fifth in the championship, five points behind Bourdais. Hinchcliffe has four consecutive top ten finishes at Barber and five top ten finishes in seven starts at the track but he has never finished better than sixth in this race. Hinchcliffe has started in the top ten in six of seven Barber starts and he has made the Fast Six session on three occasions.

Scott Dixon had his streak of 13 consecutive top ten finishes snapped at Long Beach with an 11th place finish. The good news for Dixon is he sits sixth in the championship on 79 points and he heads to one of his most successful but frustrating racetracks. Dixon has an average finish of 3.2 at Barber, the best all-time at the track, but he has yet to win the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. He has seven podium finishes with his worst result being tenth in 2016. Last year was Dixon's fifth runner-up finish in this race and he has finished runner-up to four different drivers.

A Large Middle
After the top six, the next seven drivers are covered by 13 points after three races.

Ryan Hunter-Reay's pair of fifth place finishes have him on 73 points and seventh in the championship despite his 20th place result in a disastrous Long Beach race. Hunter-Reay has won twice at Barber but he has finished 11th the last two years in this race and he has only made it out of the first round of qualifying in four of eight Barber appearances.

Will Power is one point behind Hunter-Reay. Like the American, Power is a two-time Barber winner but the Australian has seven top five finishes in eight starts with his 14th place finish last year breaking up a remarkable run of results. Power has four pole positions here and he has started on the front row seven times but he won here from ninth in 2012. He should enter Barber on a confident note, not only because he finished second but because Power has won the race following a runner-up finish on the last four occasions. Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Power and Hélio Castroneves have all completed all 699 laps held in eight Barber races.

Ed Jones' third place finish has him ninth in the championship on 69 points and it was Jones' best finish on a road/street circuit in the Emirati driver's short career. He finished 16th last year in his first IndyCar race at Barber but Jones won at the track in Indy Lights in 2016 and he finished second in the other race that year. Last year, Jones started 11th in this race and it was the first time he made the second round of qualifying in his career. He has not advanced to round two in the last six road/street course races.

Marco Andretti rounds out the top ten on 68 points. He finished sixth at Long Beach after starting 20th for the second consecutive race. He has not started 20th or worse in three consecutive races since 2011 when he started 27th at Indianapolis and 23rd and 27th for the Texas doubleheader. Note that a draw determined the the grid for the second Texas race. Andretti had completed every single lap at Barber before last year's race where a gearbox issue prevented him from taking the green flag and by the time he joined the race was already two laps down and he would lose another lap before the race was over.

Tony Kanaan is a point outside the top ten but his worst finish this season was 11th at St. Petersburg with a pair of eighth place finishes in the last two races. Kanaan holds a dubious distinction with Hinchcliffe as both drivers are tied for most top ten finishes at Barber without a top five finish. Kanaan has five top ten finishes at this track, including a seventh place finish last year. He has never led a lap at Barber and has completed 698 of 699 laps in the eight races.

Despite being the talk of the season Robert Wickens finds himself 12th in the championship on 65 points after his accident at St. Petersburg and his gearbox issue at Long Beach cancel out his runner-up finish at Phoenix. This is another relatively new track for Wickens. He did test here in March but was 19th fastest that day however Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have made great leaps from testing pace at a race weekend. Wickens and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had poor results at the Phoenix test but had both cars run and finish in the top ten when it came time to race.

Zach Veach finds himself only five points behind Wickens for top rookie honors after he finished fourth at Long Beach. Veach had a good record in Indy Lights at Barber. He finished ninth in his first race at the track in 2013 but he won there in 2014 with a third place finish in the second race of that doubleheader. In 2016, he finished third and tenth at Barber and he was tenth fastest in the March test. Veach made his IndyCar debut at this track last year substituting for an injured J.R. Hildebrand at Ed Carpenter Racing. Veach would finish start and finish 19th and he did finish on the lead lap.

Bringing Up the Rear
Veach has some breathing room as the next closest drivers in the champion trail him by 16 points.

Takuma Sato and Spencer Pigot are tied on 46 points with Sato holding the tiebreaker. Both drivers are suffering a significant drought. Sato has not picked up a top ten finish in the last seven races and he has finished outside the top ten in ten of the last 11 races. Pigot has not finished in the top ten in his last nine starts. Sato picked up his first career top ten at Barber last year with a ninth place finish. Pigot had a good race going last year before a spin in turn six ended his race. Pigot swept the Indy Lights race at Barber in 2015.

Simon Pagenaud has only one top ten finish through three races and that was a tenth place finish at Phoenix. He sits 16th in the championship on 44 points. This is his worst championship position since he was 24th after the 2013 season opener at St. Petersburg. Pagenaud also had his streak of 22 consecutive lead lap finishes snapped at Long Beach. The good news for the Frenchman is he has won the fourth race of the season three of the last four years including the last two seasons, one of which was at Barber in 2016.

Charlie Kimball got Carlin its first top ten finish with a tenth place finish at Barber, a career best for Kimball at the famed street race. However, he sits on 43 points and is 17th in the championship. He has had some good results at Barber with one top five and four top ten finishes in seven starts.

Gabby Chaves is still looking for his first top ten finish of 2018. The Harding Racing driver is a point behind Kimball in the championship. Chaves won at Barber in Indy Lights in 2014 but he was 23rd fastest out of 24 cars at the test ahead of only René Binder, who will be back in the #32 Chevrolet for Juncos Racing.

Max Chilton has finished 19th, 18th and 17th in the first three races respectively and he has only picked up 36 points. He has made it to the second round of qualifying in each of his first two Barber appearances but he has finished 21st and 12th in those races respectively. Chilton was the best Carlin driver at the test in 14th with Kimball 20th quickest.

Matheus Leist got his first career lead lap finish last week at Long Beach but he was still on the wrong side of the law as he was forced to give up a position on the final lap for blocking Sébastien Bourdais and that dropped the Brazilian to 14th. Last year, Leist finished fourth and seventh in the Indy Lights races at Barber.

Jordan King returns for his third race of 2018. He had a good race going at Long Beach before brake issues cost him a lap and then a penalty for spinning Bourdais dropped him further down the order. King was 21st fastest in the March test but he was ahead of his teammate as Pigot was 22nd fastest.

Zachary Claman De Melo is also back for his third race of the season. His Long Beach race ended in the turn nine barrier after completing 58 of 85 laps. Claman De Melo made four Indy Lights starts at Barber. In each of his two appearances he finished fifth in the first race but finished seventh and 14th in the second races in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Road to Indy
After a month off, Indy Lights and Pro Mazda will both be back in action at Barber with doubleheaders scheduled for this weekend.

Belardi Auto Racing's Santiago Urrutia heads to Barber with the Indy Lights championship lead after the Uruguayan finished second and first at the opening round at St. Petersburg. Andretti Autosport driver Patricio O'Ward won the first race at St. Petersburg but a collision with barrier in race two while leading cost him a sweep and he now find himself eight points behind Urrutia. Shelby Blackstock is the top American in the championship after attrition got him a second place finish in race two at St. Petersburg, his career best Indy Lights finish but he will not be at Barber as Team Pelfrey has not entered the race. Blackstock sits on 42 points. Victor Franzoni finished fourth in both St. Petersburg races with Juncos Racing and has 38 points.

Ryan Norman finished third in race two at St. Petersburg and he has 37 points, two point ahead of Andretti teammate Colton Herta, who retired from race two after an accident. Neil Alberico sits on 31 points but the absence of Team Pelfrey means he will not be competing. Dalton Kellett has 28 points and Aaron Telitz's weekend from hell has him on 19 points.

The bad news is Blackstock and Alberico will not be at Barber and there will be no cars from Team Pelfrey. The good news is Alfonso Celis, Jr. will make his Indy Lights debut after missing St. Petersburg in the #7 Mazda for Juncos Racing.

Andretti Autosport swept last year's Barber races with Nico Jamin and Herta each picking up a victory. Andretti Autosport has the most Indy Lights victories at Barber with four. Ten of 12 Indy Lights races at Barber have been won from pole position and the other two races were won from third position.

Indy Lights will race at 2:50 p.m. ET on Saturday April 21st and at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 22nd.

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend at St. Petersburg and he leads the championship on 62 points. Parker Thompson trails VeeKay by 19 points with VeeKay's Juncos Racing teammate Carlos Cunha 20 points back. Thompson finished second and fifth in the season opening weekend while Cunha finished fourth and third over the weekend. David Malukas is 23 points behind VeeKay and he finished second in the second St. Petersburg race. Team Pelfrey's Sting Ray Robb rounds out the top five on 35 points.

Oliver Askew started on pole position for the first race from St. Petersburg but a fifth and a sixth place finish have him on 33 points. Askew swept the Barber races last year in U.S. F2000. Robert Megennis finished third in the first race of the season but a 16th in race two has him tied on 27 points with Askew's Cape Motorsports teammate Nikita Lastochkin. RP Motorsport drivers Harrison Scott and Lodovico Laurini round out the top ten in the championship with both drivers on 21 points.

The first race of the Pro Mazda weekend will be at 1:50 p.m. ET on Saturday April 21st with race two scheduled for 10:45 a.m. ET on Sunday April 22nd.

Fast Facts
This will be the seventh IndyCar race to take place on April 22nd and the first since 2007 when Sébastien Bourdais won at Houston.

Bourdais holds the Barber track record after he ran a lap of 1:06.6001 during the second round of qualifying in 2016.

Graham Rahal finished second in that Houston race and it was his first career podium finish. Simon Pagenaud finished fifth and it was his first career top five finish.

Will Power is the only other driver on the grid who was in that Houston race and he finished 11th.

At least one American driver has finished on the podium at Barber in the last five races and three of the last four races have had two American drivers on the podium.

Josef Newgarden is the only driver to pick up a maiden IndyCar victory at Barber.

A.J. Foyt Racing has only one top ten finish at Barber Motorsports Park. Mike Conway finished seventh in the 2012 race.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has had at least one car finish in the top ten in the last six Barber races.

The average starting position for a Barber winner is 3.75 with a median of third.

The pole-sitter has won three times at Barber.

The worst starting position for a Barber winner was ninth (Will Power, 2012).

The driver that has led the most laps has won five times at Barber.

All three Barber winners that did not lead the most laps were Penske drivers (Hélio Castroneves 2010, Power 2012 and Newgarden 2017)

The average number of lead changes in a Barber race is 6.375 with a median of seven.

Outside of the 2011 race, where Will Power led all 90 laps, the fewest number of lead changes in a Barber race was four in 2016.

The average number of cautions in a Barber race is 2.625 with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is nine with a median of eight.

Six Barber races have had two cautions or fewer.

There has never been a caution-free race at Barber.

Possible Milestones:
Graham Rahal needs to lead 43 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Alexander Rossi needs to lead one lap to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon gets the victory because we are picking him at Barber until he wins one. He is beyond due. Nobody can have this many podium finishes at a track without a victory unless it is Scott Dixon. We will not have a fourth different championship lead in as many races. A Penske driver wins pole position but at least one Penske driver does not make it to the final round of qualifying. It will be a wet race but all 90 laps will be completed. At least one podium finisher will not have been on the podium in the last 25 races. René Binder will not wreck the car and neither will Zachary Claman De Melo. Sleeper: Marco Andretti.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Keeping the Lights On

Alexander Rossi bossed the Long Beach weekend. A handful of drivers had a weekend to forget. There were passes to remember from IndyCar to Pirelli World Challenge to European Le Mans Series to Formula One. Max Verstappen continues to allow people to question his maturity. Toro Rosso drivers got together. Formula E visited the Pope, got blessed and put on its best race of the season. Coincidence? World Superbike returned to Europe and was in Spain. NASCAR had another race rained out to a Monday. Neither Taylor brother get a victory at Long Beach but Cadillac keeps winning. Jason Anderson is another step closer to clinching the Supercross championship. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Keeping the Lights On
We all know about IndyCar's new television deal and many are excited about what it could mean for the future of the series. Most have viewed the move to NBC as the sole television partner as a positive for the series. However, this television not only impacts IndyCar but the Indy Lights series as well.

IndyCar will have eight races on network NBC next year while the remainder will be shown on NBCSN but it is unclear what Indy Lights' presence on television will be in 2019 and beyond. All we know is Indy Lights will be a part of the IndyCar package on NBC Sports Gold and purchasing that package will allow fans to see every Indy Lights race live. However, Indy Lights doesn't need to be put behind a pay wall. It needs the opposite.

The grid was down to nine cars for this year's season opener at St. Petersburg and we aren't sure two of those cars will be back for the second round of the season at Barber. The grid once thought to be growing with the introduction of a new chassis three years ago has fallen back to pre-Dallara IL-15 levels and once again we find ourselves wondering what is next for the series.

The series did see a boom as Carlin came over to the series, 8 Star Motorsports moved over from sports cars and Juncos Racing expanded its operation. The grid had 13 cars for the 2015 season opener and the following year saw more additions to the grid with 16 cars including the likes of Felix Rosenqvist and Dean Stoneman coming over from successful careers in the European junior series.

However, the last two seasons saw Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Carlin both withdraw from the series to focus on IndyCar operations. No other teams have entered the series since 2015. Andretti Autosport is propping up half the grid. It seems a series with a $1 million scholarship to move up to IndyCar should be doing better than this.

Everyone keeps saying IndyCar should incentivize IndyCar teams to field cars in Indy Lights but the problem is there is not enough for IndyCar to offer to change the minds of Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi and Bobby Rahal to enter the series or Sam Schmidt to return. Indy Lights isn't a cheap series. Mike Hull estimated on The Marshall Pruett Podcast it costs $1.8 million to run an Indy Lights program. Penske has a three-car IndyCar effort; Ganassi and Rahal both run two cars. An extra test day from IndyCar or an extra set of tires each race weekend isn't going get these guys to spend almost $2 million to run one Indy Lights car.

Making Indy Lights into a profitable series is what could draw some of these car owners to the series and with a new television deal and the chance that every race could be showed on television is a step in the right direction. It is not clear if it will be possible for Indy Lights to get a few races on network NBC next year along with IndyCar races but the series desperately needs that to become attractive to sponsors. I can't imagine more than five Indy Lights races being shown on NBC next year but five Indy Lights races on NBC would give a sponsor more possible exposure than the current predicament.

Indy Lights cannot completely control its television exposure but it can control the series and the costs and if the series is hoping to increase the grid maybe it could look to reducing the schedule as a cost-cutting measure. It was not that long ago where doubleheaders were rare. The 2013 season had 12 races and no doubleheaders and in 2014 the street course races were single-race events. The change would take something away from a weekend schedule and it would create a vacancy on either a Saturday or Sunday but it has to be considered and maybe in turn of doubleheaders Indy Lights could run slightly longer races. Instead of having a 35-lap race and a 40-lap race at St. Petersburg there could be one 50-lap race.

Cutting back on doubleheader races could allow Indy Lights to allow a few more oval races on the schedule. Currently, there are ten tracks that make up the Indy Lights calendar; five road courses, three ovals and two street courses. If each track had one race it could allow for two tracks to be added to the schedule and the current IndyCar weekend without Indy Lights races are Phoenix, Long Beach, Belle Isle, Texas, Pocono and Sonoma. Phoenix and Pocono would likely be the two tracks to benefit the most from an Indy Lights race.

It would be a change but a change is necessary if we want Indy Lights not only survive but become a thriving series. It might be difficult to pull off Indy Lights races on network television because time is precious. An Indy Lights race fits nicely into an hour television window but will NBC have an hour to offer before or after an IndyCar race? IndyCar isn't NBC's only sports property and every sports governing body holds events on weekends and is hoping for a big draw to impress sponsors. However, IndyCar doesn't need NBC to bend over backward to accommodate Indy Lights. A reduced schedule with a few network races could enough to turn the tide for Indy Lights and get the grid back up to 16 cars or more.

We have been so focused on IndyCar but we cannot forget about Indy Lights. The series was on the right foot not too long ago but now it has to redefine itself once again. The car is not the issue this time. Incentives are not going to get more teams into the series and incentives should not be what it takes for teams to join Indy Lights. The series needs to make more business sense for teams.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Alexander Rossi but did you know...

Daniel Ricciardo won the Chinese Grand Prix.

The #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac of Filipe Albuquerque and João Barbosa won the IMSA race from Long Beach. The #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin won in GTLM, their second consecutive class victory at Long Beach..

Daniel Mancinelli won the Pirelli World Challenge race at Long Beach.

The #24 Racing Engineering Oreca-Gibson of Oliver Pla, Norman Nato and Patrick Pilet won European Le Mans Series season opener from Circuit Paul Ricard, a victory on Racing Engineering's ELMS debut. The #15 RLR Msport Ligier-Nissan of John Farano, Rob Garofall and Job van Uitert won in LMP3. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Miguel Molina, Liam Griffin and Alex MacDonald won in GTE after Molina made a pass on the final lap on the #88 Proton Competition Porsche of Matteo Cairoli.

Sam Bird won the Rome ePrix.

Ryan Preece won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Bristol.

Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies split the World Superbike races from Aragón. Sandro Cortese won the World Supersport race, his first career victory in his third start and his victory since the Moto3 race at Phillip Island in 2012.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Minneapolis, the final triple crown race of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar ends its three-week stretch of races at Barber Motorsports Park with the Road to Indy back in play.
Marc Márquez looks for another MotoGP victory in the United States and in Austin, Texas.
World Superbike heads north to Assen.
NASCAR has its first night race of the season at Richmond.
Supercars will be at Phillip Island.
Super Formula opens its season at Suzuka.
The Blancpain Endurance Series opens its season at Monza.
Supercross will be in Foxborough, Massachusetts.